26 May 2018

On Memorial Day, Jesus Is Rising Again. Reclaiming Jesus

Reclaiming Jesus

I am not a Christian, I am not a worshipper of Jesus Christ. I am a Jew converted some years ago to Quakerism.

Christ's teaching and writings have given me moral and cultural inspiration and comfort and guide me today in so many ways. His work has helped provide a foundation for my idea of The Army Of Good and its commitment to supporting the poor, the forgotten and the vulnerable.

We are skeptical of the rich, and of a society that favors them over everyone else. I have always assumed that members of the Christian faith would embrace and work on behalf of the ideas that he so clearly expressed as a political radical and champion of the poor and the "stranger."

We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and civic lives.

I am sorry to see that this is not the case, some of the  most visible and influential of the people who worship and seek power in Christ's name ignore the poor and their children and preach hatred for the refugees and the immigrants, and the people in need of health care. They are, in fact, the wealthy and disconnected priests he drove out of the Temple. They better pray he does not return.

On Memorial Day, I chose to honor the lost Jesus, the one his own faith seems to have forgotten, and pay tribute to his lost ideals. I also am happy to celebrate a new and growing movement, the one to reclaim the lost Christ.

I was surprised – and once again inspired – to read this week that religious leaders across the theological spectrum have gathered under the banner "Reclaiming Jesus: A Confess Of Faith In A Time Of Crisis." Finally, I thought.

These leaders and believers are not speaking from the left or the right, they are not interested in our crippling partisan politics, they are reclaiming the teachings of Christ, and denouncing religious nationalism and bigotry. They are reminding us that God favors no nation, and that religion is not about amassing  wealth.

"We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake," they declared. "It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else – nationality, political party, race, ethnicity,  gender, geography – our identity in Christ precedes every other identity."

The identity of Christ does not precede every other identity or value for me. But it has never been more important to the moral underpinning of our country.

I don't worship Christ as a god, but an idea, a direction our most celebrated Better Angel.

It is a landmark thing – sadly – in 2018 for powerful and influential Christian leaders to gather to reclaim the truth about Christ and what he stood for, even as millions of people who claim to be Christians seem to have forgotten him for political gain. This is the "crisis" of faith that is harming so many other people, Christians or not.

I think of the Mansion residents, many of whom are poor and forgotten, and of the growing attacks on refugees and immigrants, the target of vicious and  cruel efforts to exploit them to divide our country, and do them great harm in the process.

When politics undermines theology, say the religious leaders, than it's time to examine that politics.

Politics today is something Jesus Christ would have despised and condemned. In fact, it was this kind of politics he did  despise and condemn. "Come now,  you wealthy ones, weep and how for the miseries that are about to come upon you," wrote Christ's disciple James in epistle."

The authors of reclaimingjesus have risen about the polarization and rage in our country and reminded us of what it means to be people of faith. They come from every religious and political spectrum They seem to have their spiritual feet on the ground.

"…we reject the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God," said the religious leaders.

"We strongly deplore the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees, who are being made into cultural and political targets, and we need to remind our churches that God makes the treatment of the "strangers" among us a test of faith (Leviticus 19:33-34). 

We won't accept the neglect of the well-being of low-income families and children, and we will  resist repeated attempts to deny health care to those who most need it. We confess our growing national sin of putting the rich over the poor. We  reject the immoral logic of cutting services and programs for the poor while cutting taxes for the rich."

In his powerful and quite brilliant new book,  The Soul Of America, The Battle For Our Better Angels, historian Jon Meacham writes of the gospel that became the ethos of the American experiment, espoused most clearly by Franklin Roosevelt as the Judeo-Christian  ethic, the moral underpinning of the United States and the free world for many years

"The world was not perfect, nor was it perfectible," wrote Meacham, "but on  we went, in the face of inequities and inequalities, seeking to expand freedom at home, to defend liberty abroad, to conquer disease and go to the stars. For notably among nations, the United States has long been shaped by the promise, if not always by the reality, of forward motion, of rising greatness, and of the expansion of knowledge, of wealth, and of happiness."

Could anyone describe us in that way today?

Jesus was not a comforter of the rich, he was a  radical advocate for the poor.

The disciple James, says author Reza Aslan in  his book Zealot, The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth, goes so far as to suggest that one cannot truly be a follower of Jesus at all if one does not actively favor the poor. "Do you with your acts of favoritism towards the rich really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?, " James asks in the gospels.

The revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee gathering an army of disciples with the goal of  establishing the Kingdom Of God on earth, the magnetic preacher who defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, the radical Jewish nationalist who challenged the Roman occupation and lost, has been almost completely lost to history, and to many in his own faith, the one that carries his name.

It seems many in the modern faith needed a different story, they rewrote the old one.

That is shame, because he seems to me to be someone truly worth believing in, not the slick TV preachers and religious entrepreneurs who sell faith to power today for money, our new priests.

I am happy to see true Christians begin to rise up and show their moral DNA.

I was thinking that if Jesus really was or is the son of God, then the moral religious leaders speaking up, his true followers, are the new zealots, they are walking across the new Galilee to defy the corrupt priests in the new temple. Religious scholars have no doubt how Christ would feel about the persecutors of the poor and the refugees.

Every day, someone messages me to tell me how depressed they are, how gloomy the news is, how frightened and  despairing they are. But that is not my view, any more than the left and the right is. If you open your eyes, and turn off their news,  you can see it all around you.

I feel a new moral awakening, you can see it and feel it everywhere, from women marching, to blacks and Hispanics and women seeking political office, the students marching against violence,  in moral books and declarations, in marches and the stirrings of so many souls. And surely, in The Army Of Good.

Those of us who were asleep, are waking up, and in so many cases, doing good. I honestly believe, as someone who really belongs completely to no religion, that we are reclaiming the spirit and message of Jesus Christ who, was, after all, a warrior for the poor and the vulnerable, whether one worships him or not.

If he is not being reborn, then he seems to be  being reclaimed. For me, an admirer but non-worshipper, that is just as good.

On Memorial Day, I honor his sacrifice for us all.

Posted in General

Emergency Mansion Heat Run: Summer Pajamas And Outdoor Cushions

Emergency Heat Run

I went over to the Mansion today to check on the residents during our first heat wave of the summer, it was in the high 80's today. Under state regulations, the heat in the Mansion cannot be turned off until June 1, and it's sometimes quite warm in some of the Mansion rooms.

The residents can't use the air conditioners we bought last year until the heat is turned off, and some of the rooms can't be cooled because of electrical issues. Where possible, the Army Of Good has provided fans.

When I came up on the porch,  Joan threw arms wide in welcome, and then got up to give me a big hug. It is hard not to love Joan, her radiance always finds a way to shine through. I asked  her why she wasn't wearing the new socks I bought her yesterday, I noticed hers were different colors, and she laughed and said, "what socks?"

I brought Joan a pair of cotton pajamas to wear at night, her winter pajamas were making her uncomfortable and warm. I ordered four other pairs of pajamas for the other residents who need summer cotton pajamas, they should be here early in the week.

The staff is kidding me about being like Batman, whirling in and whirling out on my missions

Now that it's warm, more of the residents are sitting out on the rocking chairs in the porch, and several told me the chairs needed cushions, they were sometimes hard on their backs. I ordered four rocking chair cushions, they will be here early next week.

Sometimes I go to thrift shops for low prices on clothes, but for many things, I prefer to buy new things, I want to feel confident about anything that the residents use often, I like to read the reviews and be careful about it. Cheaper is not always better, I have learned.

Joan was very happy to touch and hold her new pajamas, but just to be sure, I gave them to Lorlisa, who was on duty. I got another hug for that. Two of the residents complained about the heat, Joan just threw her arms open to the world and laughed at it.

Posted in General

The Gardens Come To Life, The Back Porch

The Gardens Come To Life

We came  home with a big load of new flowers for the garden, Maria has been out there for hours in the sticky heat, this is something she loves so much it is a joy to watch her. I'm in charge of regular watering and some weeding. This garden is going to be great.

Posted in General

Methodist Church Yard Sale. The Gardening Season Is On

Methodist Church Yard Sale

Maria says the best flower sales by far are the church sales, and church flower sales in the Spring are a deep and enduring tradition in our town, as in many others. One of the many threads of community run through a small town.

Maria bought a  trunkful of flowers from the Methodist Church gardeners on Main Street, she said she got about five times as many flowers as she would have gotten at a commercial nursery. She spent about $50 and was delighted. We went out looking for a tree to buy were not successful.

The Methodist plant sale was great fun. Many of the garden club people had read my books and wanted to know about Simon and the dogs. Some had been following me for years. They were eager to talk about their plants, some of which had been around for centuries, but we never heard of them.

Maria was excited to get an "Outhouse plant," more about that later. She said she could only have gotten three plants for $50 at the nursery. Our gardens will be exploding this year, we are both into them. This weekend, we are also going to plant the Three Sisters Garden.

Memorial Day is the official season kickoff for many gardeners, we have six or seven gardens now at Bedlam Farm, gardening really touches Maria's heart and soul.

I can't take as much of the heat or humidity as she can, and the heart medication doesn't like the sun,  but I do try to pitch in, mostly by weeding and watering.

We are planning for a quiet weekend, maybe a movie on Sunday (The Rider). Lots of reading, talking, writing, gardening. We are grateful for our lives and our time together.

Posted in General
25 May 2018

The Struggles Of The Busy Man And The Illusion Of Security.

Creating Space For Your God

I have a friend – a valued friend, I should say – who I rarely see or speak to. It is common for men to have friendships like this, they have meaning and importance, but they are glancing, male friends slide past one another like wet seals on a slippery rock.

Even though I haven't actually spoken to him in depth for weeks, perhaps months, my friend and I stay  in touch as best we can, he messages me frequently, always on the fly, always on the run.

When he does  call, he is always heading out the door, sitting down for dinner, going to take a more important call. He is always asking me how I am, but never really knows, because that takes time and there is no space in his  head to know. He is always complaining about how busy it is, but he does not know that this is because he wants and needs to be busy.

And he is one of my best friends.

Men ask me all of the time how I am, and I always say the same thing: "fine." I know if I say anything else, I will be wasting their valuable time. They don't really want to know.

Better to seem to want to know, but not actually know. There is no time for that, we are not available for that.

He is familiar to me, most of the male friends I have known are very much like him. I am very much like him. Many men are like both of us.

In recent years, I have come to value solitude.

"I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,"  wrote Henry David Thoreau. "We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers."

Every bit of true self-awareness and spirituality that I have ever experienced has come out of solitude and inner reflection. And I have  so long a way still to go.

"All of us are alone," says Henri Nouwen."No other person will completely feel like we do, think like we do, act like we do. Each of us is unique, and our aloneness is the other side of our uniqueness. The question is whether we let our aloneness become loneliness or whether we all it to lead us into solitude. Loneliness is painful. Solitude is peaceful."

The enlightened man acknowledges how far he has to go, he never thinks he is there. He knows he is not yet enlightened, and seeks for more understanding. He knows he has not created space in  his mind for divinity and true friendship.

You know men like this, I am sure.

They always have an out in case things get too close, they always have a foot out the door, a hand on the phone off button.  They are always busy, rushing from one place to the other, spinning in circles, they are afraid to pause or their world will collapse, their idea of security will implode.

I was one of these men, and I suppose I still am sometimes. I didn't  realize  how broken I was until I was getting older. But so what? It is never too late to awaken.

Like so many men raised to be afraid of life, many men work day and night, day after day, to search for the security that was denied them earlier in life. What, really, do most men learn in their youth? To catch a football? To hide their feelings? At some point, say the prophets, the wise man understands that security can only come from the inside, not the outside. It has nothing to do with money.

This is the only way many men can find security, by moving so quickly and continuously that they never really have to come nose to nose with life, to truly know themselves, or be available to others,   even their wives and children. Men like us put up walls around everyone. We go outward, not inward.

Every spiritual or respected spiritual writer and philosopher – Plato, Aristotle, Merton, Richard Rohr, Erich Fromm, the Dalai Lama, Henri Nouwen, C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, Christ himself – has written or preached the power of solitude to discover the center of ourself, to go inward, to  get close to our idea of God, to heal ourselves to set us free to live the lives we were destined to live, not the lives chosen for us by others, or that we blindly pursue.

This is how we make ourselves available to others. Or not. This is where true friendships – or meaningful worship – begins.

Men, write Rohr, are afraid of real life, and have  created the great myth of western civilization – their own sense of security and significance.

The myth of men is written by men who have controlled the power, the money, the corporations, the church, the military, the media discussions on morality. What they believe to be reality is mostly a construct mostly of men who have never worked on their inner lives.

They have not gone inside, they have not learned  trust, empathy, vulnerability, contemplation or poetry. The civilization they have built is increasingly broken and sick, violent or in conflict.

Their myth is crumbling, under siege from almost everyone else in a troubled world. More and more, it seems their time may soon be up. As always, they have no sense of this, many see the new world as radical and escaped genies that have to be stuffed back in the bottle.

Mostly, they struggle to go backwards.

In his solitude, Christ went to lonely and isolated places to pray, there to grow in the awareness, says Nouwen, that all the power and meaning he had was given him by others. He saw his own humility, and was thus able to stand in the shoes of others and understand them. He shed judgement and intolerance in that way, he said

It is quite remarkable to see this strain of uniformity in early Christian and contemporary spiritual thought. They all say the same thing, really, in order for men to find the space to be available to others, they must find the time to go inward, not outward, and be alone with themselves. Solitude is their gateway to spiritual awareness.

"Ask me not where I live or what I like to eat," wrote Merton, "ask me what I am living for and what I think is keeping me from living fully that."

Solitude, each of them writes, is what creates the space in our minds and heads and souls to find out who we are and wish to be. Solitude creates the space to be available to others, to have true friendships.

When society is made up of men who know no interior solitude," wrote Merton, " it can no longer be held together by love; and consequently it is held together by a violent and abusive authority deprived of the solitude and freedom which are their due, then society in which they live becomes putrid, it festers with servility,  resentment and hate."

Watch the news.

Men, writes Rohr, do not have a movement of their own because they are not aware that they need one, they deny the sorry reality of themselves.

Men who cannot abide solitude or a life of balance, will move naturally towards the outer world of things .They will build, manipulate, excuse, legislate, dominate, order and flirt with whatever they bother to touch, but they will not really touch it at all, because these men never learn the inside of things.

They have little subtlety or the ability to harmonize or live with the paradox of mystery.

Life surprises, confounds and thwarts them.

The unenlightened man, who never knows solitude,  engineers and tinkers with reality, but never really lives in reality or truth.


Posted in General