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Archive for September, 2017

Be Not Afraid! — God

This statement occurs more often than any statement in the ‘scriptures’ for the People of the Book (Jews, Christians, Muslims).  This statement is also one that occurs most often in all other faith, philosophical and humanist traditions.  As a Christian Ecumenist, I often find myself focusing on Jesus-the-Christ when it comes to this statement.

Jesus seldom accepted the questions posed to him.  He often exposed them as coming from a heart of fear.  In addition to exposing the question as rooted in the heart of fear, Jesus transformed the question.

How often are we, who claim to be followers of Jesus-the-Christ, seduced by the fear-full questions the world presents to us?  To what extent are we awake and aware to how anxious, nervous, fear-full we become when we embrace and integrate these questions?  How often do we equate the questions with our ‘survival’ – or with the survival of those we love or with the survival of humankind?

Once we embrace and integrate them, these survival questions become our guiding-life questions.  They are so power-full that we tend to then dismiss works spoken from the ‘heart of love’ as unrealistic, romantic, sentimental, pious, useless or just plain crazy.  When someone offers ‘love’ as an alternative to ‘fear’ how often have we heard – or said – ‘Yes, yes, that sounds good, but. . .’

Our ‘but’ reveals how much we live in a world rooted in fear – perhaps humankind’s identity is fear.  Our ‘but’ also reveals how the faith, philosophical and humanist traditions who claim to be rooted in love are seen as ‘naïve’ and their questions are ‘unrealistic.’  Here are some of the fear-full questions that are meant to enhance our fears: What if you grow old and there is no one to care for you?  What if you lose your job and you can no longer support your family? What if we continue to accept refugees and immigrants who, as we know, present a ‘real threat’ to our way of life? What if the Chinese become the dominant economic force in the world?  Gentle Reader, the questions are legion  and I invite you to add your own.

When we emerge, embrace and integrate these ‘realistic’ questions we repeat again and again in a ‘cynical spirit-voice’ which speaks to us, not as the Spirit of Love does in ‘whispers’ but shouts to us from the ‘wall of protectionism’: Words about peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, love and a new way are wonderful, BUT the REAL ISSUES cannot be ignored.  These REAL ISSUES require that we do not allow others to mess with us and that we retaliate when we are offended, that we let the world know that we are always ready for war, and that if necessary we will build walls of all types that will keep you out and in your place.

These ‘real issues’ are dominating us today such that we are rooted in fear.  The root of fear has become a major tap root that feeds us, sustains us and transforms our identity into an identity of fear.  Oh, we keep uttering words of love and at times we actually demonstrate love for neighbor (think: How we are responding to Harvey and Irma).  If we follow the path we have taken before, once we have enough distance from Harvey and Irma, we will quickly resort to being fear-full.  For example, we will, once again, become fear-full of the very neighbors we are helping to recover (talk about a paradox, or is it an irony).

I leave us, this morning with a question: Is it possible, in the midst of this fear-inducing world to live rooted in love and listen to the questions raised by the God-of-Love or by the philosophical and humanist traditions rooted in love? 

 

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When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed.  But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak. –Audre Lorde

What are some of my (our?) fear-full questions?

Here are some of the ‘fear-full’ questions I have held (Gentle Reader, I invite you to emerge or recall the ‘fear-full’ questions you have held, or are holding):  “What if I am not smart enough to finish college?’  ‘What if I can’t find a job?’  ‘What if I cannot find a pathway forward?’  ‘What if I cannot find ‘meaning’ for my life?’  ‘What am I going to do now that I no longer have a job?’  ‘What if life is just one, BIG, joke?’ ‘What if…’ 

I remember one of my first fear-full questions.  I was six years old.  Everyone was asleep.  I was sitting on the top stair in the dark.  I was crying softly.  I found myself asking this question: ‘What if I am not loveable?’  My little heart ached.  The year – 1950.  I did not receive a response until 1997 (I have shared my ‘dream-response’ in earlier posts).

In addition to holding ‘What if…’ questions, we also hold ‘How…’ questions that nurture, feed, support and sustain our ‘Fear.’  Here are a few that I have heard others offer up: ‘How can I raise good children in a world that is so corrupt?’  ‘How can I prevent hunger, poverty, and war’?  ‘How can we protect ourselves from the terrorists?’  ‘How do I know if I am saved?’  ‘How do I know if there is a hell or a heaven?’  How do I know that God is Love?’  ‘How can I learn to trust the Stranger?’

How many fear-full questions wash over us each day?  How many fear-full questions do we hold for years and years?  How many fear-full questions actually determine how we live each day?  How many other folks provide me the ‘fear-full’ questions – questions that I take on and live into (think: our elected officials)?

Once we embrace and integrate these, and other, fear-full questions into our beings we become more and more identified with ‘fear’ – we risk becoming our fear.

With fear running amok in the world it is easy to understand why a message, a voice, of love has little chance of being heard, embraced and integrated.

Consider that fear-full questions do not lead to love-filled responses.  Underneath a fear-full question resides another fear-full question.  It appears that life is truly guided by ‘fear-full questions’ – all the way up and all the way down.

For example, once I become convinced that the immigrant is the main threat to me/us then more and more fear-full questions emerge (think: security, economic, political, diplomatic, religious).

Fear engenders fear.  Fear does not give birth to love.

If this is the case, then the nature of the questions we muse is more important than the answers.  The questions we muse will determine the paths we choose.  What are the fear-full questions that I embrace today?  Which ones have I made my own?  Which questions deserve my undivided attention and commitment?

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. –Plato

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The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. –FDR

These past few weeks I have been reflecting, once again, on FEAR.  I am aware of the ‘fear I carry’ and I am aware of the ‘fear that we humans carry.’  My conclusion: We are fear-full.  The negative power of fear is whelming us all over.  It seems that fear not only covers us like a shroud, it also permeates our very being – it permeates our mind, our heart and our soul.  Do we, today, know what a life without fear is like?

There always seems something for me, for us, to fear.  This ‘something’ exists outside of ourselves and exists within ourselves.  Our ‘fear-free’ moments seem more and more fleeting.  It seems that when we think, speak, respond, or react that fear always seems to be present.  It seems that we are unable – or is it unwilling – to throw the shroud of fear off or to exorcise the fear-demon that resides within.  How extensively does ‘fear’ impact, if not control, our choices and decisions?

Fear is a major tap root that feeds and nurtures our anger and rage.  Fear is the tap root that feeds and nurtures our depression.  Fear opens a pathway to the land of darkness and despair.  I know the power of fear.  Earlier in my life my fear became so intolerable that death became the way to relief; self-destruction was, paradoxically, liberating.

It seems that the 21st Century is well on its way to becoming the Century-of-Fear.  Not only are we ‘residing in fear’ we are ‘becoming fear.’  How many of us have already taken on ‘fear’ as our ‘identity’?

‘Why, I ask, are we so terribly afraid?’  This is question is followed by another: Would fear be so rampant if it was not use-full?  And then another question emerges into my consciousness: What needs are being met by our being so fear-full?

I have been holding these questions. A word emerged: ‘Power.’  It seems to me that there is a close connection between power and fear.  One primary use of power is to instill fear (turn on the daily news and this connection will not be hard to discern).  The use of power instills and maintains fear.  I am now thinking of all of the fear-full children, the fear-full students, the fear-full teachers, the fear-full parents, the fear-full employees, the fear-full executives, the fear-full politicians, the fear-full ministers, the fear-full. . .(you, gentle reader can easily add to this list).

Behind each of these fear-full humans stands another human – or an organized group of humans – who are deemed to be ‘power-full’ and who seek to hold them/us under their control (or who, by default find themselves in power-full positions).  These power-holders are, paradoxically, also fear-filled.  Their fear-filled agenda becomes ours (or they want us to embrace their fear-filled agenda).

The ‘agenda of our world’ – the issues and stories that fill social media, that permeate the news, that are instantly available to us, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – is, to a great extent, an agenda of ‘power’ and ‘fear.’

Consider that the things we worry about, think about, reflect upon, prepare ourselves for and spend our time and energy on are in large part determined by a ‘world’ which seduces us by its fear-full questions.

What, you might be asking, are some of these fear-full questions?

 

 

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As a theist, I believe that ‘God is Love’ and that God, through many diverse voices, says to me – says to us – over and over: ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’

This was Jesus’ voice – the voice Jesus wants us to hear.  It is a voice that calls us back, that calls us to return to ‘love’ and to return ‘to love.’  Judas, immersed in his despair, was not able to hear or to believe and hence to trust the voice of love calling him back.  Peter heard this voice and was able to hear, to believe and to trust.

Both cried bitter tears. Peter’s tears were cleansing; Judas’ tears were confirmations of his being ‘loathsome’.  Peter’s tears were tears of remorse and hence tears of healing.  Judas’ tears were tears of judgment and hence were tears of death.

I know firsthand that it is not easy to allow the voice of God, the voice of Love and Mercy, to speak to me when I am feeling un-love-able.  I know what it is like to believe that I am ‘not worthy’ of God’s love.  I know what it is like to forget that I cannot earn God’s love because God’s love is a gift that does not have to be earned – it is a gift that ‘simply’ has to be accepted.

What powerfully shapes our lives – my life and your life, Gentle Reader – are the voices to which we listen.  Today more than ever before, as a consequence of technology alone, there are many more voices that call to us, that compete for our attention.  Add to these voices the traditional voices of family, teachers, religious leaders, friends, and authors AND our own ‘inner voice’ (the critic, the cynic, the guide, the teacher within) and we are quickly whelmed-over by the variety and intensity of these voices.

Which of these voices do we pay attention to?  When they conflict, how do we sort out the ones to listen to and the ones to ignore?  How do we go about choosing which voices to silence?  How, then, do we actually go about silencing them?  How do we make space so that we can hear ‘God’s Voice’ (the wisdom figures tell us that God speaks to us in whispers)?  How would you be different if you believed that ‘God is Love’ and that God is ‘Searching’ for you?

I leave us today with a conclusion offered to us by Eric Fromm:

The mature response to the problem of existence is love.

 

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Self-perception and self-rejection form, inform and support each other.  When one is immersed in self-rejection one still has choice.  During the week after I had contemplated suicide, my therapist and I were talking about the self-loathing and self-rejection I was experiencing (gentle reader you might recall that in the winter of my sophomore year in college I was, literally, one step away from killing myself; my therapist was a psychologist and a Catholic Priest – the perfect combination for me).

My therapist told me a story of self-rejection rooted in betrayal.  Within the span of a few hours two of Jesus disciples ‘disowned’ him (‘betrayal’ does not capture the immensity of the ‘disowning’).  One of these disciples was Judas and the other was Peter.

Immediately after their act of ‘disowning’ both became aware of the immensity of their actions.  Both ‘wept bitter tears.’  Both were full of self-loathing and self-rejection.  One’s perception was that ‘forgiveness’ was available.  The other’s perception was that what he had done was unforgiveable.  One sought forgiveness.  Forgiveness was granted.  The other wallowed in despair and took his own life.

Both are role-models.  My therapist asked me which role-model was the role-model for me.  My therapist also noted that to believe that forgiveness is not possible is the height of arrogance: Look at me, I am so terrible that I am not worthy of forgiveness!  I was on the verge of this type of arrogance.  Like Peter and Judas I wept bitter tears.  Then, like Peter, I chose to seek forgiveness.

I know the power of ‘despair.’  I know that sometimes ‘despair’ seems the most attractive choice.  ‘Despair’ solves everything.  Nouwen captures the ‘voice of despair’ when he writes:

I sin over and over again.  After endless promises to myself and others to do better next time, I find myself back again in the old dark places.  Forget about trying to change.  I have tried for years.  It didn’t work and it will never work.  It is better that I get out of people’s way, be forgotten, no longer around, dead.’

This strangely attractive voice (one I am all too familiar with) is ‘liberating’ for it takes all uncertainties away and opens a way to the end of the struggle.  It invites me into the darkness from which light is unwelcomed.  This voice offers me an identity: ‘I am loathsome!’

There is another voice.  This one reminds me that I have been made in ‘God’s Image.’  That ‘God is Love.’  That, as God’s child, I am loveable and love-able.  More importantly that God is always waiting to forgive, for this is what love is all about – love is about forgiveness and healing.  God is always calling me back.  God, in Rabbi Heschel’s words, is always searching for me.

Like Judas I can walk away into the darkness of despair.  Or like Peter, I can turn and walk toward God and forgiveness, healing and love.  My therapist once told me to close my eyes.  To look into the darkness and then to turn my head just a bit and see God patiently standing there waiting for me to take a step toward love.  This continues to be a powerful image for me.  Sometimes when I am in the darkness I turn and I only see little pieces of light and if I step toward the light I have a glimmer of God waiting for me.

Do I believe the other voice?  The voice that says, I am your God – the God of mercy and compassion, the God of pardon and love, the God of tenderness and care.  Please do not say that I have given up on you, that I cannot stand you anymore – that there is no way back.  There is!

 

 

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