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Archive for August, 2017

A few days ago a delivery service left me a package that was supposed to go to someone else living in our apartment complex.  I was expecting a package and so when the driver handed me the package and used my name I ‘assumed’ that this was the package I was expecting.  I opened the package and it contained a medical device.  I then looked at the name on the package.  The name was, of course, not mine and the address was not my address.

I wondered for a bit how the driver could have made the error – he even used my name when he handed me the package.  I also thought of taking the package to the apartment office; but it was late afternoon and the device in the package was a medical device.  Perhaps, I thought, the person might need the device that day and so I decided to deliver the package.

The apartment was located in three buildings from mine.  After locating the building I quickly found the apartment.  A car was parked in the appropriate car port so I assumed someone would be at home.  I knocked on the door, a dog barked and after a bit a voice on the other side of the door asked me what I wanted.  I told the person I had a package for ‘S’ and that it had been delivered to my apartment by mistake.  The door opened a crack and a face appeared.  I immediately saw the fear in the person’s eyes.  As calmly as I could I showed the person the package with the address label on it.  The person, took the package and shut the door.

I walked away thinking how fear-full we have become.  We are, it seems, a fear-full people.  The more I thought about this as I drove back to my apartment the more overwhelmed I became by the fear-fullness that is running amok among us.  I asked myself: Do we no longer know what a life without fear is like? 

Today, more than ever before, there always seems to be something to fear: it begins ‘in here’ of course.  It begins within ‘me.’  Fear also resides ‘outside’ of me.  Fear is close by and fear is far away.  Fear is visible in my eyes and in the eyes of the other; fear is also invisible, it is part of the climate.  When was the last time we, as a nation, had a fear-free moment?  When did our neighborhood have a fear-free moment?  When was the last time I could knock on a ‘neighbor’s’ door and be greeted with a warm, welcoming, trusting smile rather than with eyes full of fear and mistrust?

Fear-fullness seems to be omnipresent; it is like a cloak we cannot shrug off.  Perhaps the cloak of fear is representative of the heart of fear that resides within each of us?  Like our physical heart, our heart of fear provides the life-blood that nurtures and sustains our fear-full life.

In subtle and not-so-subtle ways ‘fear’ victimizes and controls us.  Fear nurtures our anger and suspicion and mistrust.  Our fear can open the pathway to depression or, worse, to despair.  Fear can also envelope us in darkness, a darkness that opens another pathway that leads to destruction, if not death.

Fear can become so overwhelming, so intolerable, that one is willing to do almost anything in order to get relief.  At this point one might seek relief by shunning, ostracizing, marginalizing or guilt-free killing the ‘threat’ (think: the ‘stranger’ or the ‘other’ – the one, not like us).  Some turn the fear upon themselves and end up killing themselves.

How often today is ‘fear’ an acceptable tap root that nurtures our decisions and that feeds our view of the world or that feeds our suspicions or our stereotypes, or prejudices or judgments or. . .?   How often does our fear confirm our worst fears about the other(s)?

Fear corrupts. –John Steinbeck

 

 

 

 

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Maximilian Kolbe — Martyr

Maximilian Kolbe

In one of his books, the great theologian, Henri Nouwen refers to Maximilian Kolbe as an example of a person who loved others to such a degree that he literally laid down his life for a stranger.  Today, during these difficult and painful times I think that it is important that we are reminded of the power of love.  So, gentle reader, I offer us Maximilian Kolbe as an example and a role-model.

In 1919, as a young priest, Maximilian Kolbe returned from his studies in Rome to his native Poland.  At the start of the Second World War, Kolbe was residing in the friary at Niepokalanow, the “City of the Immaculata.” By that time, it had expanded from 18 friars to 650 friars, making it the largest Catholic monastery in Europe.

When Poland was overrun by Nazi forces in 1939, he was arrested under general suspicion on 13 September, but was released after three months.

Kolbe and many Polish and Jewish refugees sought sanctuary in the monastery. Kolbe and the community at Niepokalanów helped to hide, feed and clothe 1,000 Polish refugees and 2000 Jewish refugees. In 1941, he published an edition of “The Knight of the Immaculate” offering strong criticism of the Nazis.  He wrote:

“What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is an inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”

Shortly after this publication, on 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo for hiding Jewish refugees. He was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp and branded prisoner #16670.

Despite the awful conditions of Auschwitz, people report that Kolbe retained a deep faith, equanimity and dignity in the face of appalling treatment.  In July 1941, three prisoners appeared to have escaped from the camp; as a result the Deputy Commander of Auschwitz ordered 10 men to be chosen to be starved to death in an underground bunker.

When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, heard he was selected, he cried out “My wife! My children!” At this point Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

The Nazi commander replied, “What does this Polish pig want?”

Father Kolbe pointed with his hand to the condemned Franciszek Gajowniczek and repeated “I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”

 Rather surprised, the commander accepted Kolbe in place of Gajowniczek. Gajowniczek who miraculously survived Auschwitz later said:

“I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me – a stranger. Is this some dream?

 I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this.”

 The condemned men were led away to the underground bunker where they were to be starved to death. It is said that in the bunker, Kolbe would lead the men in prayer and singing hymns to Mary. When the guards checked the cell, Kolbe could be seen praying in the middle. Bruno Borgowiec, a Polish prisoner, later gave a report of what he saw:

“The ten condemned to death went through terrible days. From the underground cell in which they were shut up there continually arose the echo of prayers and canticles. As they grew weaker, their prayers were only whispered. At every inspection, when almost all the others were now lying on the floor, Father Kolbe was seen kneeling or standing in the center as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS men.

 One of the SS guards was heard to remark: ‘This priest is really a great man. We have never seen anyone like him…”

 After two weeks, nearly all the prisoners, except Kolbe and three others had died due to dehydration and starvation. Because the guards wanted the cell emptied, Kolbe and the others were executed with a lethal injection. Those present say he calmly accepted death. Their remains were unceremoniously cremated.

The deed and courage of Maximillian Kolbe spread among the Auschwitz prisoners, offering a rare glimpse of light and human dignity in the face of extreme cruelty. After the war, his reputation grew and he became symbolic of courageous dignity.

Kolbe was beatified as Confessor of the Faith in 1971. He was canonized as a martyr by Pope John Paul II (who himself lived through the German occupation of Poland) in 1981.

Pope John Paul II decided that Kolbe should be recognized as a martyr because the systematic hatred of the Nazi regime was inherently an act of hatred against all religious faiths, meaning Kolbe’s death equated to martyrdom. At his canonization, Pope John Paul II said:

“Maximilian did not die but gave his life … for his brother.”

 

 

 

 

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Gentle reader, you might recall that recently I have been writing a bit about ‘seeing God within’ each person you meet.  To ‘seek to see’ the human other in all persons who come into your view and within the human to seek to see ‘God within.’  I shared with you the story of the aboriginal tribe that greeted one another with ‘I see You!’  If I am able to ‘see’ the other as fully human and if I am able to ‘see God’ within the other then I am more likely to lead with care, compassion, love, and acceptance and I am less likely to lead with fear, anxiety, defensiveness, or prejudice.

This morning I received a gift from my friend, George.  He sent me a poem.  George knows a great deal about who I am and one of the things he knows about me is that I love poetry and that one of my favorite Spanish poets is Antonio Machado.  So, George was looking for another poem when he came across this poem by Machado.  George gave me a gift…I now pass his gift on to you, Gentle Reader (the last stanza connects us back to my first paragraph and moves us from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’).

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.   –Antonio Machado

 

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One – perhaps ‘THE’ – redeeming quality of man lies in his ability to sense his kinship with all men.  Yet, there is a deadly cancerous infection that inflames our eyes causing us to not see or to distort the uniqueness of each human face.  In order to ‘see’ you, I need to humanize you.  I am thinking of an aboriginal tribe where the greeting is ‘I see you.’

How many woundings must we endure in order to realize that ALL of humanity has a stake in the well-being, in the freedom, of one person?  What will it take for each of us – beginning with ‘me’ – to accept the reality that when one person is wounded, offended, marginalized, or shunned that we are all wounded, offended, marginalized and shunned?

Consider that for theists, prayer and prejudice cannot dwell in the same heart (which is why so many of us have developed our capacity for compartmentalization).  Worship without compassion, without healing, without reconciliation and without forgiveness is, at minimum an abomination.

We theists profane God’s name when we refuse to embrace the other; when we refuse to ‘heal the wounded stranger’ in our midst (for Christians, the parable of ‘The Good Samaritan’ provides us ‘the model’ and ‘the lesson’ – how many ‘Good Christians’ ignore this parable).

More than 150 years ago our great President, Abraham Lincoln, signed ‘The Emancipation.’  Lincoln affirmed that all are free and equal.  How many of us are still striving to embrace all and relate to all as if each of us is truly free and equal?  How many of us, by our silence, continue to support the wounding, the offending, the marginalizing and the shunning of those who are not ‘like us’?  How many of us, by our silence, support these types of oppression?

Consider, gentle reader, that there is a form of oppression that is more painful and more scathing and more demeaning that physical injury or economic privation.  This oppression is public humiliation.

As I noted in PART I, I am a 72 year old, white male and I spent the first 18 years of my life living in a small city that was close to being 100% white.  For years I looked upon the color of my skin with pride – if not hubris.  Today, what disturbs my conscience is that my skin happens to be white and instead of my white face radiating ‘God’s Image’ it is taken by others as an image of arrogance, overbearance and intolerance.

Whether justified or not, I have become a symbol of arrogance and pretension, giving offense to other human beings without my intending to do so.  This is the effect of what ‘we’ the old ‘white’ majority have sown and nurtured into life for hundreds of years.  For others, my very presence inflicts insult.  William James reminds us that ‘we convince by our presence.’  Marshal Mcluhan reminds us that ‘the message received is the message.’

When I stop and step-back and observe my heart is saddened and sickened as I observe the cup of humiliation that is running over; the cup of life seems too often to be sitting empty in a locked cupboard.

The great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted this: ‘Bloodshed,’ in Hebrew, is the word that denotes both murder and humiliation.  The law demands: one should rather be killed than commit murder.  Piety demands: one should rather commit suicide than offend a person publicly.  It is better, the Talmud insists, to throw oneself alive into a burning furnace than to humiliate a human being.’ 

Consider that we theists must first ask for forgiveness of those whom our society has wronged before asking for the forgiveness of God.  How many of us theists have humbled ourselves and asked for the second forgiveness and have ignored (continued to ignore) the first forgiveness?

I leave us with the words of Thomas Jefferson: ‘I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.’

 

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I am a white child of the 1950s.  When I was growing up it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a person of color to cross certain high school and university campuses.  The ‘Exodus’ for people of color began more than a 150 years ago.  This year once again we have been painfully and powerfully reminded that this second ‘Exodus’ is far from being completed.

This morning I looked into the mirror and found myself saying: Don’t dodge the issues!  Don’t yield one more inch to bigotry.  Make no compromise to hate, to callousness, to evil.

The great social reformer William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) stated it clearly: I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice.  On this subject [slavery] I do not wish to think, to speak, or to write with moderation.  I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – and I WILL BE HEARD!

Religion and social issues go hand-in-glove (think: racial/minority issues of equality and justice, for example).  ‘Religion’ is rooted in ‘religio’ which means to bind together, to make whole, to heal.  To act rooted in ‘Religion’ is to strive to unite what is divided, to heal what continues to be wounded, to serve so that ALL persons grow.  All wisdom traditions (faith-based, humanistic-based) teach us that each person is inherently endowed with dignity.  As a theist I believe that ‘Humanity’ is God’s child – created in God’s image.

In our culture we continue to separate us humans by ‘race.’  To act in the ‘spirit of race’ too often leads to wounding the ‘other.’  How can we theists honor our ‘Father’ by torturing His ‘Child’?

‘Race’ – a mere thought, becomes a way of thinking, a pathway to being insolent, a core value that seeks to negate the truth, beauty and goodness of humanity.  ‘Race’ transforms into ‘Racism.’  For a theist, ‘Racism’ is worse than idolatry.  ‘Racism’ is unmitigated evil.  If you believe in Satan, ‘Racism’ is Satan’s child.

‘Racism’ is our gravest threat to our humanity.  ‘Racism’ provides a maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason; it provides a maximum of cruelty for a minimum of consideration and it provides a maximum of judgment devoid of compassion.

For theists, we cannot worship God and at the same time look at another human being as if he and she were non-human.

Shortly before he died, Moses spoke to God’s people: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose Life!

This morning I am setting before all theists ‘religion and race,’ ‘life and death,’ ‘healing and wounding,’ and ‘blessing and curse.’  Choose Life!

The great theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr noted that ‘Race prejudice, a universal aliment, is the most recalcitrant aspect of the evil in man – a treacherous denial of the existence of God.

Another great theologian, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted that Racial or religious bigotry MUST be recognized for what it is: blasphemy!

For Christian theists, Jesus’ words are an affirmation and a challenge: Love one another as I have loved you.

Simple and clear.  Challenging and disturbing.  Inviting and commanding.  Choose Life!  Choose Love!

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Most people living in our country would, I believe, agree with the following statement: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. [AN ASIDE: When I write ‘man or men’ I am referring to ALL HUMAN BEINGS.]

That ‘Equality,’ then, is a good thing – a goal to be sought and achieved and ‘Equality’ is generally affirmed and accepted by those who live in the United States.  What appears to be lacking, however, is a sense of the monstrosity of inequality.

History continues to remind us, if not teach us, that ‘Inequality’ is a major tap root that supports, nurtures, and sustains the abuse of power and justifies man’s cruelty to man.  ‘Equality’ is an obstacle, if not direct hindrance, to both.  Among other things, ‘Equality’ sets a limit to power.  One way of describing mankind’s history is to describe it as the ongoing tension between ‘Equality,’ ‘Inequality,’ and ‘Power.’

At its core, ‘Equality’ is an interpersonal relationship that involves both a claim and a recognition.  My claim to equality (and yours, gentle reader) has its reasonable basis in my recognizing my fellow human’s identical claim.  A question I continue to hold: Do I not forfeit my own rights by denying to my fellow men the rights I claim for myself?  For me, this continues to be a disturbing, if not motivating, question.

As a theist I believe that ‘Equality of Man’ is the intended consequence of God’s love and commitment to all humans. The ultimate view of man is due to God’s virtue.  Whenever you and I see even a trace of man, there God is present.  God is not only ‘Love’ – God is ‘Equality.’

‘Equality,’ then, is a religious commandment and goes far beyond the principle of equality before the law.  Consider, gentle reader, that ‘Equality’ as a religious commandment means ‘personal involvement, fellowship, mutual reverence, compassion, and mutual caring.’  It means being hurt when the ‘other’ (think: stranger or minority) is offended.  It means that I am grieved, if not enraged, when the ‘other’ is disfranchised.

God is One and Humanity is One!  God is either the ‘Father’ of ALL MEN or of NO MAN!  God’s image is either in EVERY MAN or in NO MAN.  There are few ‘either-or’ statements that I hold – these are two of them.

Moral philosophy tells us that it is our ‘duty’ and our ‘obligation’ to have positive regard for every man.  Such regard, however, is at times contingent upon the moral merit of each particular man.  From the point of view of religious philosophy it is our duty and obligation to have positive regard and compassion for every person regardless of his or her moral merit.

God’s covenant (‘covenant’ is a powerful commitment) is with ALL humans.  Man, created in the ‘likeness of God’ has ‘divine dignity.’  To state it another way: the image of God is in the criminal as well as in the saint.  How can my regard for man be contingent upon his merit, if I know that in the eyes of God I myself am deeply flawed and hence, without merit?

The symbol of ‘GOD IN THE WORLD’ is not a tree or an ocean.  The symbol of ‘GOD IN THE WORLD’ is MAN!

When we choose to support inequality for one we choose against God.  We cannot escape this judgment by saying that ‘I did not directly support inequality.’  The great Jewish Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us: Some are guilty, but all are responsible!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear!  — Jesus

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I continue to be engulfed in a tsunami of pain and anguish.  What had been mere waves washing over me these past months were transformed into this tsunami.  I began to feel relief as I heard the resistance and the healing stories emerge.  AND THEN, the tsunami was re-intensified by the very person who could have continued to add to both the resistance and the healing.

I wanted to write about this and each time I put finger to key what emerged seemed more like noise than nurture, more like wading in the shallows rather than diving into the depths, more like… Well, I think you get my meaning.  Yet, I still wanted to offer something.

I awoke this morning and immediately began to, once again, think about what I might offer us.  As I was listening to a commentator he offered me a gift when he asked: ‘Can the center hold?’  I immediately knew what I wanted to offer us this morning.  I offer us TWO POEMS. I invite us to reflect upon them and perhaps even invite another person or two into a searching conversation.  Here, then, are the TWO POEMS:

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?    –William Butler Yeats

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

 

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. –William Stafford

 

Gentle Reader, I leave us with the question that the great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado offers us, a question for each of us to hold and a question for our Nation to hold:  ‘What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?’

 

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