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Archive for August, 2019

CONSIDER – PROPHETS, PART II. . .

They abhor him who speaks the truth. –Amos 5:10

For the Prophet, God’s presence is not a comfort; God’s presence is a challenge – an incessant demand.  The Prophet reminds us that God is compassion, not compromise; God is both Justice and Mercy.  The Prophet is not infallible for the Prophet’s predictions can always be proved wrong if people change their conduct.  What is certain, however, is God’s unceasing compassion and love for all.

Unlike God, the Prophet does not speak in whispers.  The Prophet’s word is a scream in the night.  While the world is asleep the Prophet is awake, aware and disturbed.

The Prophet faces a coalition of established authority, and undertakes to stop a raging river with mere words.  Too often we forget that a major purpose – perhaps ‘THE’ major purpose – of prophecy is to change the inner person and thus to change the nation.

There have been and continue to be many false-prophets.  Those pretenders who predict peace and prosperity…if only…  Those offering cheerful words.  The true prophet predicts disaster, pestilence, agony and destruction.  Jeremiah was clear: You are about to die if you do not have a change of heart and if you do not cease being unheeding of the word of God.  Pretty stern stuff!

I am not a scholar but it seems to me that none of the Prophets were actually enamored with being a Prophet.  What drove Jeremiah, for example, to be a Prophet?  Let’s hear what Jeremiah said:

Cursed be the day
On which I was born! . . .
Because He did not kill me in the womb,
So my mother would have been my grave, . . .
Why did I come forth out of the womb
To see toil and sorrow,
And spend my days in shame?    Jeremiah 20:14, 17, 18

Being a Prophet is often more of an affliction than a distinction.  The mission is distasteful to him and repugnant to others, no reward is promised him and no reward could temper its bitterness.  The Prophet bears scorn and reproach.  He is frequently stigmatized as a mad-person by his contemporaries; some modern scholars view the Prophet as abnormal.  Amos (5:10) reminds us: They hate him who reproves in the gate/They abhor him who speaks the truth.

Jeremiah was mocked, reproached and persecuted.  He thought, more than once, of casting away his task:

If I say, I will not mention Him,
Or speak any more in His name,
There is my heart as it were a burning fire
Shut up in my bones,
And I am weary with holding it in,
And I cannot.   –Jeremiah 20:9

Now, it is also important to remember that the Prophet is never abandoned by God.  When Jeremiah was chosen to become a Prophet the Lord said to him: ‘And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land.’ [Jer. 1:18]  Later on Jeremiah is reassured: ‘They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you.’ [Jer. 15:10]

 You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear…–Jeremiah 25: 3

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CONSIDER – PROPHETS, PART I. . .

Few are guilty, but all are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Good morning Gentle Reader.  During these past few months I have been thinking about ‘Prophets.’  Many people believe that there are no more prophets.  Some of us, on the other hand, believe that God will continue to provide us with the Prophets we need – our charge is to be open to ‘hearing them;’ to keep open a space for their voices to be heard and then to hear their voices; perhaps even to heed their voices.

My goal in the next few posts is not to convince you, nor convert you to my belief.  My goal is to remind us of the Prophet’s charge and given the charge to then decide whether God does, in fact, continue to provide us with the Prophets we need.  As always, all I invite you to do is simply ‘consider’ what I have to offer.

Traditionally, the Prophets are charged with reminding us of the moral state of a people, a Culture, a society, a Nation.  As Heschel reminds us: ‘WE’ are responsible, even though only a few might be guilty.  This is why the Prophet addresses the community and not individuals.  To put it another way: An individual’s crime discloses – reveals – society’s character (both her virtues and more importantly her vices).

Consider that in a community not indifferent to suffering, uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood, continually concerned with God and with every person, crime would be infrequent rather than common.

The Prophet is called by God (sometimes directly by God and sometimes by God via another ‘voice’ – a ‘voice’ might be an experience, a situation, spoken words or written words).  The person called (being a Prophet is a ‘calling’ and not a ‘career’) is gifted with prophetic sight and to the prophet most others seem blind.  The prophet discerns God’s voice and to the prophet most others appear to be deaf.

The prophet despises the approximate and shuns the middle road.  The prophet knows that we must live on the summit in order to avoid the abyss.  For the prophet there is nothing to hold to except God.  The prophet is carried away by the challenge, the challenge always includes challenging folks to mend their ways.  For many the prophet is strange, one-sided, uncompromising and is also an unbearable extremist.  No wonder few folks are open to the prophet and the prophet’s message.  Over the centuries how many prophets have been deemed to be ‘insane’?  I am thinking of Dostoevsky’s ‘The Grand Inquisitor.’

We humans are often terrorized by an awareness of our existential aloneness.  The prophet is whelmed over by the grace and grandeur of the Divine Presence (the Divine Presence, for example, that the prophet experiences residing within each person met).  The prophet is incapable of isolating the world.  This alone is a burden that the prophet must carry.  Like all prophets, today’s prophet often cries out: Why me, Lord?  I am not capable of doing what you ask.  The prophet does not go gently when it comes to embracing the ‘Call.’

Men do not accept their prophets and they slay them, but they love their martyrs and worship those whom they have tortured to death. –Doestoevsky

 

 

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Awareness does not bring comfort. –Robert K. Greenleaf

Consider that Evil often comes in the guise of the sane.  Thomas Merton wrote ‘A Devout Meditation on the Memory of Adolf Eichmann.’  Merton wrote that what worried him about Eichmann was not Eichmann’s banality but his sanity.  The doctors who examined Eichmann found him to be a very sane man.  To quote Merton, ‘We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction.  And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are most dangerous.  . .’

 Psychotics will be, for the most part, suspect.  Few suspect the sane.  And (remember, Gentle Reader, there is always an ‘AND’), as we have too often seen, the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical reasons and well-adjusted reasons, for ‘firing the first shot.’ 

Sane ones obey sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. We can no longer assume that because a person is ‘sane’ that one is therefore in their ‘right mind.’  The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning or have been adulterated for idolatrous means, has itself become meaningless.  By-the-by, history tells us, over and over and over, that once a society has ‘lost’ its spiritual bearings destruction becomes reality.

Sane people see themselves as guilt-free as they continue to behave in inhuman ways to others – especially to women, children, the marginalized, the immigrants, the ‘strangers’ and the refugees – those who are ‘different’ and those who don’t agree with their biased definitions of…(fill in the blank).

Sane people tend to embrace dualism – ‘Good over Evil’ becomes one mantra for them – and ‘evil’ is too often defined as ‘different from us.’  ‘If you are not with us then you are against us!’ is another popular mantra uttered in our Culture by the sane ones.

Remember: It is a small step for the ‘sane’ when it comes to moving from marginalizing, to banishing, to ‘killing the other[s] guilt free.’   It is not, I think, the rational that will protect us; the sane are truly rational.  What will protect us is rooted in the spiritual and in the community nurtured by love and enhanced by diversity [in its broadest and deepest sense]. Not just Sanity…Sanity, Plus. . .

 God judges us from the inside out; we judge one another from the outside in. –Criss Jami

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There is sacredness in tears. –Washington Irving

When do we experience receiving ‘comfort’ and ‘consolation’?  Do we experience it when we are taught how to think or act?  Do we experience it when we receive advice?  Do we experience it when we hear certain words – say words of hope?  Perhaps.

In my experience, when I am immersed in emotional or spiritual pain/suffering and someone simply ‘walks with me’ [or sits with me] then I experience ‘comfort’ and ‘consolation.’  To put it simply: Someone is being present with me with an attitude of deep caring.  When I am in an emotional or spiritual crisis and the caring one says to me, ‘I don’t know what to say or what to do, but I want you to realize that I am with you; I will not leave you alone.’  I experience ‘comfort’ and ‘consolation.’     

 Today we live in a time that is over-flowing with methods and techniques designed to shift, change or transform people – at minimum to influence them so they think differently, which might well lead them to act differently

 It appears to me that we have lost the simple and oh so difficult gift of being present to the other.  I know that I am always tempted to find the right words or the right actions with the belief that if I am able to do so that the other will be comforted and consoled.  Too often I forget that my caring presence is far more powerful and is more likely to be experienced as comforting and consoling.  I lead with ‘doing’ rather than with ‘being.’

I know others who ask, ‘Why should I be with so and so?  I can’t do anything and I certainly don’t know what to say – what use can I be?  They, too, have forgotten that their caring presence might well bring ‘comfort’ and ‘consolation.’

Simply being with another during their dark times is extremely difficult for many of us for the empathy we experience moves us into the darkness as we feel the pain, the suffering, the hopelessness, the despair of the other.  We might well want to cry out as they do.  The paradox is that our caring to empathize and our willingness to simply be present to and with the other brings comfort and consolation – in fact, hope is often rekindled as little pieces of light break through the darkness that envelops the other.  I am thinking of the words of one of my mentors: ‘Don’t just do something; just be there!’  

I’m here.  I love you.  I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. –Elizabeth Gilbert

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RELIGION IS NOT. . .PART II

RELIGION IS NOT. . .PART II

The narrow-mindedness that leads one to see whatever is outside the bounds of one’s own people… as ugly and defiled is a terrible darkness that causes general destruction to the entire edifice of spiritual good. –Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Good morning Gentle Reader.  As I noted last time, I have a further concern about Religion generally.

We were warned, beginning with the Jewish prophets, that as imperfect human beings we can be easily seduced into splitting the holy and the good.  The holy focuses on our duties to God; the good focuses on our duties to our fellow human beings.  This interdependent whole, the holy-good, continues to be split.

Today, for example, there are those for whom serving God means turning inward – to the soul, to prayer, ritual and to the house of worship (think: we are ‘Christians’ for 2-3 hours every Sunday and the rest of the week we are anything but).  Then there are those for whom social justice has become a substitute for the religious observance of God.

The message of all faith traditions is that serving God and serving our fellow human beings are inseparably linked – they are interdependent.  The split deletes the essence of both.  Consider that unless the holy leads us outward toward the good and the good leads us back, for renewal, reconciliation, healing, and sustenance the health of both are depleted and become dis-eased.

We are not without hope.  We are blessed with many role-models that demonstrate how the holy and the good can be reunited.  Sadly, our role-models’ stories do not make the front page news.  We have to consciously search them out – which is not a bad thing for us to have to do.  If we search for them we will find them.  Moses blessed these folks: ‘May it be God’s will that his presence lives in the work of your hands.’  We will know those who have reunited the holy and the good by their works not their words.

Throughout my life I have been blessed – and inspired by – the community-building, life-transforming, hope-creating, and healing-energy of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Bahai.  I equally value the moral force – the holy-good – of humanists (even though they might not use the concept ‘holy’ as I do – they do embrace the concept ‘good’ as I do).

‘Being Good’ is as near as we get to a universal concept.  ‘Being Good’ commits us to seeking to rid our world of poverty, hunger, disease/dis-ease, homelessness, and deep wounds inflicted (physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual wounds).  Those who are the ‘healers’ are truly doing God’s work.

If you search for the ‘holy-good’ you will find little pieces of light breaking the cover of deep darkness.  You might even discern the great light of the ‘holy-good’ shattering the darkness.

The darkness around us is deep. –William E. Stafford

 

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RELIGION IS NOT. . .PART I

May it be God’s will that his presence lives in the work of your hands. –Moses

Good morning Gentle Reader.

Consider this:  Religion is Not the cause of conflict in our world.

Imagine that Religion is a fault-line and we take sides on either side of this line – a border if you will; at times it is more like a no-man’s land that both separates the ‘sides’ and is a place of great danger – and opportunity – for those who might enter it.  The formation of this fault-line is serious stuff.  However, this line-boundary becomes absolutized when conflict – especially political conflict – is religionized.

When we choose to do this then what are virtues – compromise, the search for understanding, the willingness to listen and learn and to embrace one another as fully human beings created in God’s image – become, in Religion, vices.

Religion is adulterated.  Religion is no longer a pathway to conflict-resolution.  Religion becomes conflict-intensification.  This transformation is not new; we humans have been engaging in it for thousands of years – we are, as you know, at our best imperfect beings.  What is new for us, the post-modern human beings, is that technology enables us to up the ante on all fronts – all is intensified; and we are good at intensifying stuff.

As a consequence, we are living in what I have come to call a religious fundamentalism of hate.  What we need is a counter religious fundamentalism of love [think: love, care, compassion, understanding, empathy, reconciliation and healing – all religious traditions and many humanist and philosophic traditions continue to call us to love one another as we have been loved].

Aristotle reminds us that we become our thoughts.  Gandhi counsels us to become the change we want to see in our world.  God reminds us to love one another as I have loved you.

Why do we continue to build walls and create no-man’s lands?  Why do we continue to choose to embrace the darker angels of our nature?  Why do we continue to choose to see the splinter in the other’s eye and ignore the log in our own?  What helps us engage, guilt-free, in life-depleting actions and ignore life-nourishing actions that we could take?

Ironically, we do all of this – and more – because we have become rooted in fear.  We have become our fear.  We are fear and we are fear-full.  Fear has become our identity and who wants to give up his/her/their identity.  It seems all faith-traditions see themselves as victims AND (remember, Gentle Reader, there is always an ‘AND’) ironically, all faith-traditions are perpetrators and persecutors.

What fears enable us to build and sustain the walls, the boundaries and that help us create the no-man’s lands?  We fear the other, the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, the one ‘not like us’ (think: tribalism).  This is another irony for all faith traditions tell us that every one of these folks is our ‘neighbor’.

Some faith traditions teach that each human being is created in God’s image.  Those same traditions think and act as if the other is a manifestation of the devil (perhaps IS a devil incarnate).

The final irony for today: In all faith traditions the most repeated phrase is: Be not afraid!

Now, Gentle Reader, I have another concern about ‘Religion’. . .

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Aid the oppressed. Uphold the rights of the orphan.  Defend the cause of the widow. –Isaiah 1:17

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Love one another as I have loved you. –God

Today, more than ever before in our human history, we are called to and challenged to embrace a disturbing and liberating paradox: each of us is, potentially, a fully human being AND each of us is also a member of the human community – we are ‘wholes’ and ‘parts’ at the same time.  We are truly in it together.  We are truly interdependent.  More than two thousand years ago a person asked a wise man: ‘Who is my neighbor?’  The answer is: EVERY SINGLE PERSON INHABITING OUR GLOBAL COMMUNITY.

Sadly, for me at least, today, more than ever before in our human history, we are tearing our global family apart.  Our darkest angels continue to run amok amongst us.  The better angels of our nature are struggling to survive.  In too many ways our better angels are losing the struggle.

We also have an opportunity.  More than ever before in our human history we have the opportunity to help heal our global family.  Most of us are not able to engage in ‘big healing’ AND yet each one of us can become healers.  And if each of us consciously chooses to help heal in small ways then over time our global family will experience healing.

Gentle Reader, you might remember the ‘Starfish Story.’  One early morning a person was walking on a beach.  The person noticed a young person picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the ocean.  There were thousands of starfish lying on the beach.  The person asked the young person: ‘Why are you doing this? You cannot possible make a difference to these thousands of starfish!’  The young person responded: ‘No, but it will make a big difference to this one!’

Gentle Reader, you and I can help to make a difference – little or big – to others we meet.  AND, if we believe in the power of prayer we can also make a difference.  Will you and I become effective when it comes to healing our global family?  Yes AND No.  As I look at this short sentence I am recalling Mother Teresa’s words: ‘I am not called to be effective, I am called to be faithful!’  AND, she was also effective.

We are called to love one another.  Mending our world bestows spiritual dignity on those who strive to eliminate the evils of the world – one act at a time, one life at a time.  Each generation, says the sages, has its own seekers and search – ours, it seems to me, involves seeking and searching ways to mend our world, to help heal our global family.

Each of us has our own challenge, our own charge and we each have been blessed with our own unique gifts, talents, abilities and potentials.  No one can make the contribution we are called to make.  For each of us there is a healing that no one else can do – this, I believe is one of the reasons each of us was created.

As long as there is hunger, poverty and treatable dis-ease/disease in the world there is work for us to embrace.  As long as nations fight, and men hate, and corruption stalks the corridors of power; as long as there is unemployment and homelessness, depression and despair, illiteracy and ignorance there is work for us to embrace.

If we become silent and listen intently and receptively we might hear the whisper of God asking us: ‘Where are you?’

To live a life of love, compassion and empathy is to hear and respond in healing ways to the silent cry of the afflicted, the lonely, the marginal, the poor, the sick, the disempowered, the refugee, the immigrant, the ‘stranger’ and the ‘other’ who is not like me/us.  As we know, today this cry is not so silent.  In fact it is so intense we, in our Culture, have to up the inner and outer noise in our lives so we can block out those cries.  Awareness of all of this does not bring comfort but disturbance and we do not want to be disturbed – especially ‘by them!’

The world needs mending; our global family needs healing.  God has empowered us to take on this challenge.  God has entrusted us with a family – a large, diverse family.  AND SO. . .

Did I offer peace today?  Did I offer words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive?  Did I love?  These are the real questions.  I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits of healing. –Henri Nouwen

 

 

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