Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Joy Is Strength

"Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength." -[Nehemiah 8: 8-10].

It is very difficult today to admit that one is a Christian. I am not talking about the prospect of violent persecution. That kind of severe backlash is all too common in our world, as it is.

What I am talking about is the constant commentary about Christians, even in the supposedly enlightened developed Western world.

I am hearing of a new movement among Christians, which is essentially a vow to live under the radar as a Christian; because it is all too difficult to explain that, being Christian does not mean that one is ignorant, uneducated, backwards, or superstitious.

Misperceptions about Christians die hard. In the early days of the church, some observers believed that Christians were so "unnaturally" joyful, that they must be either drunk, or insane.

In today's world, Joy is in short supply. To be joyful is to be labeled foolish or seriously in denial.

HOW can one ever be joyful- (Pick one)- 1) With this American President?; 2) With global climate change?; 3) With pervasive racism and patriarchy?; 4) With nuclear weapons in the hands of madmen?; 5) With gender inequality and even sexual assault?; 6) With layers of poverty and despair in our society? - Oh, I could go on and on.

The inventors of social media, such as Mark Zuckerberg, sincerely believe that outlets such as Facebook open the world to a global discussion, and have the capacity to "change the world."  But in many ways, social media has promoted the negative, the scurrilous and the downright dangerous.

Today, people who are joyful are viewed with suspicion. Joy has become synonymous with naivety.

Today, St. Paul's advice to the Colossians seems antiquated and ridiculously idealized: "Therefore, as the elect [representative] of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on Love which is the bond of perfect unity."

Today, as Pope Francis has said, we have become the Gotcha Police. The news and social media are rife with calling out others' bad behavior.

In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks commented: "Back in the old days, morality was about loving and serving others. But now its about displaying indignation about things that other people are doing wrong."

We seek to gain daily points in gloating over the mistakes and sins of others. We believe that we are elevated, only to the extent of tearing others down, and in a very public way. Jesus was perhaps the greatest warrior against sin and corruption, but I have never read of one instance where he broadcast His finding of personal Sin across the land to humiliate another, or publicly gloated over it.

Jesus was compassionate, kind, loving, humble, gentle, forgiving, joyful and patient. And yet, He quite fiercely fought against injustice and corruption, with all He had. In fighting the corruption and sin of Rome, He gave His very Life. No one would call Jesus, with all of His compassion, humility, joy or kindness - weak. No one would call Him deranged. Or on the wrong side of the Fight.

Or naive. Jesus knew exactly what Sin was. He was resolute and powerful in the battle against Evil.

I truly pray that today's Christians are not afraid to shine their Light onto the world.  Matthew says, "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick. Let your light shine so before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father . . in Heaven."

Many cannot understand why or how Christians can be so joyful? Or they cannot understand why this joy is not misplaced, or a sign of weakness. The answer lies in our Faith.

For God always has the last word. We say to God: "Yet, You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel. My body and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart." -[Psalm 73: 23-26].

We pray, as St. Paul did, "I have fought the good fight. I have kept the Faith. I have completed the race."

[Related Postings: "Rejoice!!, 12/18/17; "Comfort and Joy", 12/15/14; "Got Faith?", 11/28/12].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Martin Luther King and #MeToo

"Remember- if I am stopped, this movement is not stopped because God is with the movement."

Martin Luther King, Jr. did not just "cast himself" as a man of God - He WAS a Baptist minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

No, he did not always preach in a church, but his speeches bore the unmistakeable cadence of a Baptist preacher.

King's roots in Baptist culture ran deep, so deep that he counted Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson as an inspiration AND a friend. Often, when King was on the road, he would call Mahalia just to hear her sing.

It was Mahalia Jackson who prompted Martin Luther King to the heights of preaching, during the 1963 March on Washington. King had written a well-thought out and logical speech. But when King stumbled a bit over a complex sentence, Mahalia Jackson called out, "Tell them about the area, Martin!"

It was then that King improvised, crying out, "Go back to Mississippi . . to Alabama . . to South Carolina. . to Georgia. . to Louisiana. . to the slums and ghettos. . "

We would not have Martin Luther King, Jr. in all his greatness without Mahalia Jackson, and without the Baptist church.

Yet - almost lost to history is the personal story of Martin Luther King, Jr.    King cast himself as a family man, with a beautiful wife and four children. But there was a darker side.

The FBI considered King equal to a Communist for his beliefs. The FBI surveilled him and recorded tapes of King having intimate relations with women who were not his wife. Then, the FBI would call his wife at home, and play the tapes over the phone.

There are even whispers that King was abusive to some of the women he was with.

We long for our heroes to be perfect. I know I DO. But I don't know any human being who is perfect.

In this day of #MeToo, I wonder, would the long tendrils of social media dig up the dirt on Martin Luther King, if he were alive today? Would the newest rights movement - #MeToo- chew up and toss out Martin Luther King?

As a woman who has had my full share of #MeToo moments, I can never accept, condone, excuse or forget what some men have done to women.

And yet - I cannot foresee nor accept a world without Martin Luther King.

As a Christian, I live with the power of Forgiveness. Martin Luther King, himself, said- "Forgiveness does NOT mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. . There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us."

As a Christian, I remember the story of David and Bathsheba.  King David is relaxing on the roof of his home, while his army is off fighting in other nations, when he spies the beautiful Bathsheba. Despite knowing that Bathsheba is already married, he sleeps with her. Then he commands his military chief to put her husband on the front lines, so that the husband is killed in battle. David is well aware of the depths of his evil sin.

And yet, King David goes on to be the root and ancestor of Jesus Himself.

There are other stories in Christian lore of, for example, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton. Newton was an evil slave trader, who went on the become a minister, and the author of this beloved hymn. He underwent a complete conversion, which allowed him to change history.

In his book, "Just Mercy", Bryan Stevenson asks, 'Can a man be summed up entirely by the worst thing he has ever done?'

Christianity recognizes fully our Sin. It also recognizes the power of Redemption. Forgiveness never accepts the Sin, but forgiveness does mean a process of working THROUGH the Sin and coming out the other side.

I once went to my pastor because of the weight of the abuses that had been heaped upon me as a child. I was living a kind of Spiritual Death. It was as if the abuses inhabited me like a dark Spirit that would not leave. I asked my pastor, "Is there anything that is unforgivable?" To my utter surprise, he said, "No! Because Jesus forgave absolutely everyone, even his crucifiers."

Suddenly, I saw my chief abuser as a complete human being. Nothing could even condone what he had done. But I saw my abuser as a man hounded by torment, a pain that caused him to carry out unspeakable things. He became far more than the embodiment of the Sin itself. He became all too raw and human.

As I contemplated this, the burden lifted from me. A friend told me that I looked ten years younger.

IF a person commits a terrible Sin . . IF he recognizes his Sin and is willing to atone for it - CAN we ever allow him that redemption, and the possibility to accomplish all that is good in the world ?

This is the challenge of Christianity. Without that process of atonement and redemption, how many good people will we sacrifice at the altar of eternal Unforgiveness?

How many Martin Luther King's and John Newton's will we never even know about?

[Related Postings: "The Need For Martin Luther King", 1/16/13; "Martin Luther King's Dream", 1/15/14; "Martin Luther King", 1/17/11; "Martin Luther King - The Man", 1/14/18; "The Enduring Wisdom of Martin Luther King", 1/8/17; "What would Martin Luther King Say?", 1/14/16]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The True Handmaid

"Mary set out to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.' " -[ Luke 1: 39-45].

Mary, mother of Jesus, has been identified as the "handmaid of the Lord".  In Luke 1: 38, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary to announce that she will bear the Son of God, Mary replies to Gabriel: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."

A handmaid is a female servant in ancient times. She may have been at times a slave, or a lowly employee. In some stories of the Bible, she is the consort of the mistress's husband.

In 1985, Margaret Atwood wrote the widely read, "The Handmaid's Tale", a dark inversion of the Biblical story, in which powerful, abusive leaders subjugate women, forbidding the women to own property, to work, to manage their finances or even to read. The Handmaids become a fertility class, organized and subjugated, to repopulate the earth after world-wide infertility.

And now this Christmas season, Professor Eric Sprankle, Minn. State University,  has posted on social media that "the virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen."

Besides the immense unfairness of overlaying our modern sensibilities upon an ancient story and expecting a different result, the Atwood and Sprankle interpretations are subversions bordering on blasphemy.

At the same time, I know more than a few Christians who are amused by these misguided interpretations.

At Mary's meeting with Gabriel, she famously says, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."

Mary also says, "For nothing shall be impossible with God." -[Luke 1:37]. In accepting with joy her assignation as Mother of Jesus, Mary recognizes the Infinite Possibility of God. This is not a grim "sentence", it is the possibility of redemption and healing in the corrupt world of Rome.

After Mary gives birth to Jesus in the stable, Wise Men from the East visit to pay homage. Luke 2: 18 says, "After they had seen the child, they spread the message they had received about Him. But Mary treasured up all these things in her heart."  Mary knew the special, even Divine qualities of her experiences. And she marveled over them.

Not only did Mary consent, she was honored, she marveled at this event, she was in awe.

Many who are not Catholic forget to keep reading their Bible until they stumble upon the Magnificat, also known as the hymn of praise of the Virgin Mary.

In Luke 1: 46-55, Mary sings glory to God: "My soul magnifies the Lord"- i.e., Mary's soul is a Light to reflect and amplify the glory of God.

"And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; Because He has regarded [held in utmost esteem] the lowliness of the handmaid; for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."  Mary is no victim here, she has willingly accepted the honor bestowed upon her by God. All generations shall call Mary blessed, because God has esteemed the "lowliness of His handmaid." God has stooped low to make Mary great.

"And His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him. He has shown might with His arm, He has scattered the proud conceit of the heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty."

Mary is no subjugated and abject victim here. She is a heroine, who is lifted up from lowly status, to become the Mother of Love, and the Mother of a worldwide, eternal movement to topple corrupt power and to elevate the lowly. Through Mary, God has "scattered the proud in [their conceit], and has put down the mighty from their thrones. . . the rich he has sent away empty."
The rich, already being filled with their own conceit, have no room for God. They have already possessed more than enough bounty in this Life, and so they do not thrive in the Next.

Mary is the epitome of, "The humble shall be exalted."

Mary is no passive subject, but an active catalyst for spiritual and social change.  To say she is nothing more than a victim of Divine violence is a total mischaracterization and misreading of the very words on the page.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, "Mary is like a magnifying glass that intensifies our love of her Son."  If we all could emanate only half of her Light, we would live in a vastly brighter world.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.