What Won’t You Do?

Mark Collins, the ex-Navy seal navy, took a liking to the Kid from the quiet corner of the bar. He finished his whiskey and set his draft gentle down, and sighed. The Kid’s back was to him, but he had seen the fear in his eyes when he came in and knew trouble was following. Sure enough, the Thompson street gang entered the bar less than a minute later, not rushed, but not aimless either. They had a mark, and the Kid knew it was him. He turned to face them with nowhere to turn. The bartender slipped in the backroom for an errand as if he had seen this movie before. 

Mark had only been out three months from active duty when he stood up quiet-like and the gang boss Malcolm noticed. Malcolm stared past the Kid’s shoulder and made eye contact; no words said. Malcolm saw Killers’s eyes, he thought, much like his own. Without a word exchanged, he changed direction and headed for the door. His four delinquents followed him faithfully – somehow trained to know spontaneously and without direction when to retreat. 

The Kid had no idea why they retreated – he remained frozen, just staring at the door. The bartender returned as if he had missed nothing. 

Mark gently but firmly guided the Kid to his table and said Kid, you can’t fear those that can kill you, and after that have nothing more they can do to you. But I will warn you, fear him who can take more than your life, fear him. And then he ordered the Kid a burger and a soda. This was not the end of it, Mark knew, but for now, things were peaceful. Malcolm would be back for the Kid or maybe even Mark. He would have to chew on that a bit and develop a plan. 

Jeremiah was the Kid’s name. Mark had a feeling Jeremiah could handle himself against anyone of the delinquents with a bit of training – but not four, and not Malcolm. Something had to be done and done quickly. Jeremiah was about to learn about fear, men, and faith. Faith in good men, faith in himself, and faith in God. Some things are worth more than your life, Mark thought, but he preferred living nonetheless if he could manage it without sacrificing his integrity. The first step would be to see Father Jimmy for some projects around the church to keep the Kid busy and watched. The second stop would be solo recon work on just what sort of trouble he was facing.   The Kid’s future will be up to him, but Mark knew how to mentor kids; it came second nature to him at the core. He was not worried about this one finding his path – if just given time. 

Tom Cruise in 'Jack Reacher,' Based on a Lee Child Book - The New York Times
Scene from Jack Reacher film

Have you seen this script before? What do you expect from these archetypes? How would this fictional novel portray how we hope we would act and behave if in the same situation. Would we act or find a way out?

I am not a fiction writer. Here, the opening scene sets the stage for a pending battle between good and evil, with a Kid’s life in the balance. The principal thought of one’s integrity being worth more than one’s life is not something we genuinely contemplate in our daily lives, at least not most of us. It is a frame we hear often in Hollywood – there are things worse than death.

Yet we face integrity challenges every day, only most of them are not life and death decisions. They are more nuanced and less visible. You know what integrity means, right? But do we all share the exact Definition?    Websters gives us a starting point: 

1firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic valuesINCORRUPTIBILITY

2an unimpaired conditionSOUNDNESS

3the quality or state of being complete or undividedCOMPLETENESS

Still, even with an agreed definition, we are left guessing what the measuring stick is for incorruptibility, soundness, and completeness. I guess Putin and Biden feel they are incorruptible, sound, and complete with their own “moral code” of belief and principles. Arguably two of the most influential and powerful individuals in the world today – and I fear we do not know what they “won’t do” to maintain or increase their nation’s interest in the world.  What is your True North? Your moral compass?

Set Your Moral Compass True North - Ethics Sage
On Being an Ethical Person Blog by http://www.stevenmintzethics.com

Meatloaf’s I will do anything for Love album uses the undefined “that” to frame the struggle with the phrase “but I won’t do that!” Meatloaf meant the “that” to be defined by the listener, not his songwriter. I guess he had a code for integrity as well. His own life story included a meteoric rise and crash – and a comeback with Bat out Hell. He passed at the age of 74 recently.   

Back to my fictional hero Mark, the Navy Seal, who we assume will be the good guy, knew to fear somebody who could take more than your life? 

It is easy to violate our integrity with words or actions in this world. If we let someone or some group take our integrity, we will suffer a thousand deaths before our life ends. When we sacrifice that, we create our own hell on earth, living with the consequences of having betrayed our own code, hurt others, and offended the deity we hold to be supreme for the spiritual among us. Mark knew if he stayed seated and did not stand up for the Kid, he would be a silent accomplice to whatever came next. To be silent would haunt him the rest of his days. Malcolm would have taken a piece of his soul from him, today in this world, and into the next. 

Whatever your vacation or spiritual belief,  whether politician, musician, writer, plumber, or any other profession or trade, you have personal code written indelibly within your conscience. It is built into the “karma” of life and death. Violate it, and you suffer as do others. Sometimes you are given a chance to redeem yourself – take it. 

In my faith, Jesus Christ taught his disciples the following:

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that, have nothing more  that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 

That “him” in my world frame is the God of my understanding who prescribes a way of living that is hard and sometimes unconventional with western society and perhaps even with the religious institution that tirelessly carries the faith’s message generation after generation.  I must face that “God” moment to moment and be judged by the high standard set by his example, Jesus Christ. 

Let no man or institution sway me to violate the integrity of the message as delivered by the beatitudes, guided by love and compassion, mediated by reason and discernment, practiced with firm adherence, soundness of mind, and completeness of action. 

The battle of evil and good is played repeatedly in our daily lives, in our work, our social life, and in the cultural expressions of our great artists and writers.   It is not a metaphysical “devil” or “angel” on our shoulders, but our mind’s eye has all the tools to know what the next right thing is to do. We must know, though, before our foot hits the floor each morning – What we won’t do to get what we want!

Somethings cannot be taken from us – we must actively consent and be willing participants. That is when we cross into the metaphorical threshold of hell. Walk carefully.

Sadly very few Hollywood films capture man’s search for spiritual wholeness in a manner as theatrical and compelling as what today’s movie audience desires. That is part of why they are so comforting – the swiftness of good conquering evil while we enjoy buttered popcorn in the fancy theater seat or other food comforts from the luxury of our homes. We combat evil vicariously without the risk of actual confrontation with our own evil demons.

in hell swerk GIF

Thought for the day

Do so soberly, calmly, creatively.

On the idea of praying for my enemies – Jesus was an example as he invited us to pray for those who persecute us. A paradigm shift transcended – who sees me as their enemy, whether accurate or simply based on how they perceive me? Are they praying for me? And if so, what would they want for me and my soul?

Am I hated based on my social status (white, male, authority figure of sorts), for my political ideology, my Catholic faith, or even perhaps for just being American and privileged? How well off are you financially: Global Comparison Calculator.

Whether I am a capitalist or not, I am certainly benefitting from American Capitalism and am represented, for better or worse, by American geopolitics and military action. As such, in many places in the world right now I am despised by people who have never met me or my neighbors. This is humbling and very sad.

Inside the U.S. we have a great divide as well over many division points. Do Republicans hate my political ideology and me? Are they praying for me genuinely? What would they ask for to change? Am I praying for people with opposing political views who I think are perpetuating persecution in our society and globally?

No matter where you stand – you will find trouble if you stand up. But stand up you must, not based on ignorance, but as Jesuit Tetlow said when describing fearing God he said to do so “soberly calmly, and creatively.” The same can be applied to standing up for human dignity worldwide.

Henry M. Terry | a flautist; a monk with a glass of wine | MutualArt

MutualArt
Henry M. Terry |

No we don’t mean soberly in terms of not being under the influence of alcohol – but that would probably help too when serious things are being discussed or done!

Imagine if we all acted and spoke “soberly, calmly, and creatively” when confronted with our own flaws, our neighbors flaws, or our larger societal conflicts. What fun would there be in that – an authentic and humane conversation well thought out and stripped away of falsehoods and misdirections – and sober to boot.

Regardless, we must try and we will pay a price for doing so. Do you happen to know who Marty Babcock is? I don’t. He is credited with saying the following:

Jesus promised his followers three things: They would be entirely fearless, absurdly happy, and always in trouble!

Starting with the premise that we are all sinners – it is reasonable to conclude that our personal sin or collective sin is responsible in some small or grand way for the persecution of others.

God be merciful to me and may those who we have offended or presecuted forgive me, forgive us.

In the meantime, perhaps we all can make amends for the harm we have done to others and try, with the knowledge that we are imperfect, to avoid adding more offenses by actions or words. This will mean standing up within our sphere of influence to change the wrongs being done in our name, one word, one issue, one action at a time…leaving the results to that unknown future that we cannot control individually.

O greatly Merciful God,... - Pray The Holy Rosary Daily | Facebook

A Joyous 2022 – An Invitation

Last year presented insidious challenges to our collective well-being. We suffered significant losses to the original COVID variant and an explosion of the Omnicron variant, deaths unrelated to COVID, ongoing “populism” politics spurning unhealthy anxiety and hate, economic hardships, and the not-so-hidden repercussions of global warming.

These external challenges are in addition to whatever personal demons (metaphorically speaking) we each individually carry on our shoulders. Past traumas, personal failures, relationship difficulties, disabilities, medical issues, and personal challenges are common baggage we all carry on our shoulders.

Is it normal to feel this exhausted all the time? Drawing. | Alien  drawings, Drawings, Tire art

The continuous and unrelenting nature of suffering in its multifarious presentations can be overwhelming, depressing, and draining. Pervasive tiredness can overcome the strongest among us. For some, this can even leap over into clinical depression or other mental health or physical manifestations requiring professional medical interventions.

A Tzu Chi USA described the Buddhist handling of the term suffering – referred to as dukkha in Pali and duhkha in Sanskrit – as indescribably with a single English word either. According to Buddhist sutras (scriptures), three root sufferings and three cravings contribute to suffering. Pain, anxiety, stress, distress, discomfort, frustration, and “unsatisfactoriness” are words used to capture suffering. If interested in knowing your “enemy” of peace and joy well – the Buddhist traditions provide a pretty good road map.

My own faith has an apostolic letter devoted to suffering by Pope John Paul II called “Salvific Doloris” which, in part, concludes, “Suffering is certainly part of the mystery of man. Perhaps suffering is not wrapped up as much as man is by this mystery, which is an especially impenetrable one.”  Despite this open-ended answer to the question of suffering, the Pontiff within this letter also prescribes spiritual answers for facing immense suffering. Its teachings help me attribute meaning to my trials and provide me, at times, deep consolation spiritually in my times of darkness.

The Beauty of Suffering: Salvifici Doloris « Catholic Insight

The pontiff points out where in scripture suffering is referenced: “Sacred Scripture is a great book about suffering. I would be lying to you if I did not own that sometimes great spiritual aridity leaves me feeling alone with today’s problems. These times, I am challenged to double down on my faith and persevere in faith. The Pontiff quotes from the books of the Old Testament a few examples of situations which bear the signs of suffering, and above all moral suffering: the danger of death(5), the death of one’s own children(6), and, especially, the death of the firstborn and only son(7); and then too: the lack of offspring(8), nostalgia for the homeland(9), persecution and hostility of the environment(10), mockery and scorn of the one who suffers(11), loneliness and abandonment(12); and again: the remorse of conscience(13), the difficulty of understanding why the wicked prosper and the just suffer(14), the unfaithfulness and ingratitude of friends and neighbours(15); and finally: the misfortunes of one’s own nation(16).” Do these sound familiar to you today?

Why am I spending so much space on suffering on a blog on a Joyous 2022? I know joy will not be possible for us if we do not accept the reality of suffering and the potentiality for its destructive force in our lives going forward. Understanding suffering, preparing for suffering, and perhaps even maturely embracing suffering (for the spiritually transcendent few among us) is what both religious traditions above teach. Both of those paths are long paths of contemplation and significant commitment – which I encourage.

In the meantime, however, I recommend a lighter path today or preferably simultaneously with one of the above paths.

“Gratitude, thankfulness or gratefulness, from the Latin word gratus “pleasing, thankful,” is a feeling of appreciation felt by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favors, or other types of generosity, to the giver of said gifts. The experience of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions.” (What post is complete without a Wikipedia quote?)

However, achieving this feeling is not my recommendation for a joyous 2022, though I hope you

have these feelings often! Transforming these feelings into action consistently and progressively throughout 2022 will profoundly increase your joy. If done so with a genuine and humble spirit, it may synergetically have a profound impact on those around you. USC University of Southern California noted that spiritual or philosophical gratitude has its roots throughout history. Not a USC fan, how about “Harvard Health Medical School: Giving thanks can make you happier” or “Healthline: The Benefits of Gratitude and How to Get Started.”

The 12 step self-help community also relies heavily on the nurturing of gratitude and service (action) all throughout the program, but especially in the 12th step. Click here for an audio story of one of the founding members of Alcohol Anonymous entitled “Gratitude in Action.” Epidemiologic studies, as well as studies in treatment-seeking populations, converge to support the finding that

Groan. Groan. Not Another Gratitude Meeting – AA Beyond Belief

early-life trauma is common in people with alcohol dependence. Battling alcoholism or any other addiction in addition to healing from early childhood trauma is not easy. This is not surprising. The 12 step self-help community, although not a religious group, does espouse a spiritual foundation that culminates with the 12th step: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs. In this step, people in recovery get to most practice gratitude in action in a humble manner. Some A.A. groups devote an entire weekly meeting to the topic of gratitude alone. Look at Cleveland Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland article – Gratitude in Early Recovery. If alcoholics and addicts recover using Gratitude in part as medicine – it can work for everybody. There is no condition or ailment they have not experienced or faced in their fellowship.

Practicing Gratitude is so easy and so accessible to everyone. It is a great starting point to a new you and a more positive future. It may lead you to have enough strength and motivation to take other challenging steps as well – with things on your “to-do” list you have put off or never thought was possible.

Here are some additional tools if you do not know where to start or need more motivation:

Life Hack: 4o simple ways to practice gratitude.

Positive Psychology: 7 Best Gratitude Apps to increase your well being

The above links may lead to sponsored or “pay for apps” as well. Gratitude and peaceful living are in high demand and are big business. If they help you get started or keep going – they may be worth the investment. Regardless of how to get started and keep going – discipline is required to actually “do” rather than just read, understand, and feel gratitude.

Everything you need is in this post or one of the links provided for alternative ideas. Your local library also has free resources.

I acknowledge you may be suffering; I know I cannot fully grasp your situation or enduring pain. I invite you to seek Joy anyway in 2022 by practicing the action of Gratitude every day in whatever form you decide.

Sincerely if you managed to read this entire blog and are committed to at least five minutes a day – please leave a comment now with that commitment on my blog and report back later!

Regardless, may peace, joy and health follow you in 2022!

Regards,

P.S. I made a small contribution to Tzu Chi USA while writing this post in gratitude for their detailed description of the suffering and the work they do….gratitude in action. I have no affiliation with this group.

Institutional and Personal Failure

Catholicism today is out of the orphanage business. Catholic Answers does a horrendous job of defining the holy calling of caring for orphans without detailing the horrific failures to protect those in their charge from abuse and unnecessarily death:

https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/Orphans-and-Orphanages

St. Josephs

St. Joseph’s pictured above is renowned for abuse and unnecessary death. It is “estimated more than 5 million Americans passed through orphanages in the 20th century alone. At its peak in the 1930s, the American orphanage system included more than 1,600 institutions, partly supported with public funding but usually run by religious orders, including the Catholic Church.” A recent news story in Canada just unearthed mass graves: https://mol.im/a/9630875. Still, a Times article https://time.com/3194832/orphanage-study/ even makes the case Orphanages maybe better. America’s foster care system is ripe with problems.

We are an amoral world guilty of massive indifference to human life and human dignity: https://insamer.com/en/2020-orphan-report_2928.html. The 2020 Orphan report eviscerates the American Pro-Lifer narrow focus on abortion while ignoring world poverty – the typical Anti-Abortion falls into the trap of being hypocritical by failing to support human dignity after birth as evidenced by their silence on the orphan issue. The extent of their advocacy is the march with the sign, the expression of villainizing the other, seeking legalism for enforcing a religious view, and going home feeling morally superior without personal sacrifice to address the systemic societal issues pre and post birth. Who can blame them – shhhh, don’t answer that…

It is an easy reach to criminalize an impoverished women or adolescent teen then to take on world poverty, excessive capitalism, abusive dictatorships, and other systems of government and economic policy that and fail people everyday. We are willing to scapegoat the lowest denominator and stop there. Going any further requires sacrifice that as a society we are not willing to take collectively. The pro-choice movement falls short of the bar as well by ignoring the cost of abortion – physically, morally, and spiritually on women. If we could harness the energy of Pro Choice and Pro Life into fighting the social determinate issues that create the conditions that promote poverty or unwanted pregnancies – we would have sustainable change.

When the demonstration ends or the law is amended – pregnant women living in terrible circumstances are in the same position the day after the protest as they were the day before the protest. Any changed law may increase their immediate legal or medical risk – but will not improve their pre-birth, post-birth, or post-abortion life at all. As a global society we will not own world poverty and collective systems failure. We will blame the victims of indiscriminate economic violence and limit its impact on our collective consciousness by passing persecutory laws or ignoring the issues. The two issues are intrinsically linked as in both – we do not want to look at the larger picture of what our collective and personal responsibility is for the atrocities committed in our names by fiat (law), by our silence, or by our lack of action and sacrifice. Unwanted pregnancies going full-term adds another level of poverty onto the previous levels – not that this is an acceptable answer for the morality question of abortion.

This post started with the plight of orphans and the failure of Catholic orphanages in particular. The larger issue is institutions carved out of society and hidden away behind walls are bound to fail – whether run by Catholics or other well-meaning entities. They by in large are taking in victims of a larger societal issue, put on a poorly managed time out, and returned to the same communities they were in before, more often then not, more damaged then when they went into the institution.

The Catholic Faith has not walked away from its calling to be advocates for Orphans worldwide: https://crosscatholic.org/project-catalog/children/. A better focus noted in this mission is “Building homes for the poor is one of our primary missions at Cross Catholic Outreach, especially in rural areas with limited resources and following devastating natural disasters. Our housing for the poor projects build sturdy and sustainable homes in impoverished communities to help families thrive while supporting spiritual development and offering the love of Jesus Christ.” This is an idealism view built on scripture – but it is a band aid for social ills – much the way the police and the lower-level criminal pay the price for intersection violence that comes from the “haves” and the “have nots” or on a larger scale military soldiers and innocent civilians when societies clash over resources.

Before we blame the victim or the criminal, before we blame the historical institutions or current ones – it is relevant to fully understand what our role is and how we benefit or not from any recommended solutions. In the west, we are hard-wired into a scarcity model where competition and individualism reign to our detriment to live a spiritual life.

The idea of higher taxes is anathema for many Americans. The risk of a lower socio-economic state by the imposition of fair wages here in the west and globally is not discussed. Nor is the dynamic tension of poorer nations need to rise. An economic shift is needed for a “no-growth or slow growth” economy – as world population growth in Richer countries is declining and resources are being challenged. These macro forces create winners and losers – and the losers are the orphans of tomorrow. Band-Aids will be applied to the degree possible by public charity, religious missions, and governmental interventions – often weeks, months or even years to late.

When we farm out personal responsibility to political parties, religious institutions, or other governmental institutions without investment and sacrifice ourselves – we are the problem.

I personally do not have wealth to make a significant difference. I do not have the charisma to ignite or change world sentiment. I do not have the “ear” of God to talk to and demand intervention. It is seemingly a choice of hopelessness or rage.

It is not a binary choice

What to do – to quell our powerlessness or handle our rage? Harness the emotions into action. Quiet the irrational and listen to the calm. Yes, for me, the first tool is prayer its many forms – despite a disquiet understanding that my desires and intentional prayer may not impact the situations for which I pray in the way I want. This step helps sort out the gap between what I can do and what is beyond my influence. After that letting go – other actions and things fall into place. What is my calling? What can I do better today? What can I do additionally after that perhaps outside my calling?

I have just sent in a few dollars to “Save the Children” via the charity navigator tool below. They do the work of rating charities so you don’t have to do it.

https://www.charitynavigator.org/

Or perhaps this resource – the Lazy Mans guide to saving the world is for you:

https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/takeaction/

You can improve a kids life from anywhere in the world!

Lazy people illustration Free Vector

If you spent the time to read this blog – please spend an extra fifteen seconds and click on one of the two charity links above and give something extra today – no matter your view on the politics of poverty and the dignity of life issues. Be a part of the solutions.

Givelight Foundation Is Partnering With TCF To Give 200 Orphans A Brighter  Future | TCF - USA | The Citizens Foundation

God’s answer in the mail?

My search for living a spiritual life has been hard fought. Not worthy of mention compared to the great biographies of Christian mystics or to the great sinners who eventually had a dramatic conversion experience.

Here I am now on my God quest reading Catholic theology, early Christian writers, the lives of the saints and the primary source – holy scripture. Here I am now actively praying and partaking in sacramentals and the sacraments practiced by my faith.

I am still living in mediocre spiritually. The great veil that hides God’s presence to mankind rarely is parted for me. On the brief encounters where I have felt this grace, while in the moment they are undefinable, afterwards the genuineness and authenticity of these events become suspect, or at least dulled by long periods of aridity.

I am a high maintenance Christian. I need continual spiritual nourishment in my life and crave spiritual consolations more so then I deserve!

Alas, I can put the books and prayer aside. I can rest at home and simply pray on this Prayer Rug:

Never mind that the rug is paper. If I pray right and stare into Jesus’s eyes that are now closed, they will open. I only have this miraculous rug for 24 hours and must return it Saint Matthews Church so they may send it on to other homes. One women’s prayers were answered with 47000 dollars!

Reward

Yes, this wonderful prayer rug will provide many blessings if I pray on it tonight and mail it back tomorrow. If I do, a blessed medal will follow. I am guessing after that a request for money will come. After a second of internet research you can see the mailer I received is from James Eugene Gene Ewing representing a by mail ministry loosely affiliated with a brick and mortar church: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Matthew%27s_Churches. The mailer came with several papers and a return envelope pre-stamped addressed to a P.O. Box.

It is easy to see the fraud here. Yet, Eugene lives a very luxurious lifestyle with this pitch. According to wiki above he targets low income, Hispanic, and elderly believers.

How about the prosperity churches? Joel Osteen will tell you praying (and giving) will make you rich. There are over 700 denominations of Prosperity churches that stress prayer, attending services, and a strong emphasis on tithing. Their delivery and message can be quite a theatrical production with charismatic preachers, singing, music, and multi-media assault on the senses. Motivationally a rock concert vibe with a chanting crowd. Like Eugene, Joel has perfected getting super rich and has an entourage beneath him flourishing as well – a spiritual ponzi scheme with building funds, special missions, and other calls for tithing…which will be returned to you ten fold!

Let not my cynicism stop there. My own faith requires tithing, has built immense church structures, has its own city (Vatican City), and once had a system of monetary exchange for indulgences to atone for ones sins!

It is not just the priestly type that may pose as sheep while being wolves. We see it in all vocations: lawyers, doctors, teachers, police, and especially politicians! The common thief has more honesty and spirituality then some of these who pretend to be what they are not. They know what they do and sometimes are even remorseful about their actions.

How do we know the difference between a true “teacher” and a false prophet? We know it when they tell us what we want to hear even when we know it is not there’s to promise. We know it in our intuitive gut if we listen and develop a personal prayer life. And even if they still fool us awhile, they will reveal themselves in short order given human time.

Note I used the word teacher rather then prophet. Theology wise the prophet line ended with Jesus, though the Muslim community would disagree and the Jewish community are still waiting for the true Messiah.

False Prophets

Very few men or women today can or should be put on a pedestal above your own discernment. Guide yes, but not with blanket authority or trust. That is earned.

There are no short cuts to a relationship with God. We can draw closer by prayer, asking, and acting rightly. None of that guarantees anything. We do it because we have come to believe and we have a matured religiosity beyond simply being told to believe. It is wrapped in a thin concept of faith and hope that must be lived and experienced. The experience must over time intrinsically have both internal and external validity and cohesion. When it doesn’t you know it is probably a human desire rather than a divinely inspired influence.

Who aspires for mediocrity? I do aspire to live a holy life that is coherent in thoughts, belief, and action. I do seek out examples of those before me who possess elements of these qualities. I do not seek the fame of some of the great martyrs nor do I have the courage to ask God for more challenges or more suffering! Perhaps I am more apt to ask
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” for the most trivial inconveniences to more serious suffering that I may face.

In essence, I don’t believe our church leaders should be in the promise business. I believe they should be in the dialogue and lead by example business. The dialogue emphasis on what actions are expected of us to live a coherent spiritual life. What God does with that is where we have faith and hope.

We need spiritual leaders to be visible markers in our society initiate and continue the dialogue. We don’t need them to be sending out prayer rugs and promising prosperity or any other human request or fox hole prayer answer. What a disrespect to God and to all those whose prayers are not answered and tragedy visits them personally.

How much damage is splintered Christianity doing today to the faith as delivered to us 2021 years ago? Is it that bad that we expect a mass mailing campaign and prayer rug are the solution?

No, we expect more of each other and of our own individual actions. The rest we give to faith and hope that either our needs or prayers will be answered or that we will have the courage and strength to bear our crosses well. Priest or not, we are not God. We can act in his likeness and share each other’s triumphs and struggles.

Anyone need a prayer rug? I have one cheap….

Is there a God?

An honest and ethical man has after 60 years of life, and much experience remained steadfast that there is no God.  His conclusions are based on a well-rounded education, including post-graduate psychoanalytic education, reasoned philosophical and scientific influences, and six decades of lived experience.  He is not ignorant of knowledge regarding the faith of his youth (Catholicism) or about the faith of others.  He has studied Catholicism and Judaism more than most believers.  He has due to his profession been present and intimate with priestly types who seek out professional counseling when spiritual manna alone was not enough.

He has searched for God.  Incidentally, while flying on a plane, he was seated next to a Airplane-Travellarge case that resembled a giant musical instrument case.  On further inquiry, he discovered the seat next to him was occupied by the Holy Statue of Fatima (also known as the Mary Statue).  The religious relic was accompanied by a caretaker as it traveled the United States for the faithful to see.  Many swear it has healing powers.  That coincidence did not result in an epiphany of Belief.  He has not found God by accident or by searching.  Nor has God granted him the Grace to allow him to know God.

If pinned down to articulate his metaphysical opinion, he would probably say he was a friendly atheist, or perhaps a pro-god atheist.  If discussing this with a fervent believer, he might even offer up an Agnostic position, avoiding threatening the foundation of Belief held by his audience.  Like religious believers, not all Athiest are the same and fit under one umbrella.  Check out the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Agnosticism and Atheism.[i]     You will find atheist old and new, friendly and militant, divided into roughly the same factions as any religious faith has within its congregation.

However, he is not just an Athiest.  He is my elder brother.  He has mentored me in education, in human relationships, philosophy, and life.  We have enjoyed life together on many occasions.  We have also shared suffering, misery, and death of loved ones.  We have applied the God test over the decades to many of our personal lived experiences and world events.

Faith:

It always came down to the word faith.  I have faith, and he does not.  He is no less a man than I and perhaps in the eyes of God, more generous and holy in action and thoughts.  If we were to visit a foreign land together where our faith or lack of faith was unknown, people would not be able to distinguish between us our good intentions for others and principles regarding social justice issues.  We are cut from the same tree.  We are both social workers.  He went the route of clinical orientation and therapy, where I went the hybrid route of social determinants and mental health wellness.   We also share some of the same fault lines within our character that has caused us both more than a small degree of trouble.   And yet, I have faith, and he has none.

Faith, in my view, can be given to you without your willingness.  An all-powerful God could easily bludgeon you across the head until you got it (my case) or reveal himself in more subtle ways.  Having a spiritual experience is consoling and sustains faith.  Receiving spiritual consolations is, however, for most people, an invisible or transient experience quickly discounted as coincidence, subjective experience, or spiritual imagination in overdrive.

Why has an all-powerful God not given faith to my brother?  Biblically many turn their eyes and ears from hearing God or God’s message.    I do not believe this to be the case for him or many others in the atheist camp.

He is a serious man who has given much thought to metaphysical realities and who lives a life dedicated to the betterment of humanity.  I mentioned earlier we both share the same fault lines, so I am not putting him up on a pedestal.  We are not undiscovered saints, just regular people meaning well.

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This man a day ago or two ago texted me a response to one of my posts.  He said, “I wish I had your soulful outlook and faith, but I don’t think that will ever come.” He does not need to challenge my faith or criticize my Religion[ii]. This was just what it was, a general reflection on our polar outlook on the existence of God.  His view is sort of a Kantian philosophy that religion is “basically resolvable into ethics, that everything else that preoccupy religious people – liturgy, sacraments, prayer, preaching, pious practices, etc.–is all finally about making us morally upright people.”  His non-belief and my belief stand as a testimony against the very identity of the other.  Without open dialogue, this can be very tragic.  Is this what Christ meant when he said he will turn brother against brother?

We both have reached a stalemate.  Not one of animosity or a brotherly intellectual battle, just an acceptance that all roads have been traversed, and neither of us can move the other on this issue regarding the existence of God.

The Morning Line?

My return text was a parable of sorts that his actions and behaviors would speak forracing themselves here on earth. After that, we both would meet roughly the same judgment when our day comes. Spiritual handicappers in the afterlife, perhaps even deceased relatives of ours, might be studying a daily racing form on how we will both finish the race, giving us morning lines and odds, give or take a few spiritual points. If there were bookmakers in Heaven, how would they set my morning line?

Mystics?

PrayerPierreLouisDelavalHommeEnPriere1826-312x380The day after this communication, my morning reading was called Experiential Knowing.[iii]    Richard Rohr states, “Mysticism is when God’s presence becomes experiential and undoubted for a person.” Mystics don’t say “I believe,” they say, “I know” with quiet confidence and Humility.   Whereas most believers say “I believe” as they were taught to say in their respective faiths and strive to live up to the expectations of what their faith teaches.   He refers to this as a “Creedal Belief.” Creedal Belief gives us guideposts until we achieve a deeper level of understanding that is personal and experiential.

Survey 100 faith-based believers and ask them if they know and have experienced God in their lives?  Or take a short cut and visit Pew Research Surveys.[iv]   I was pleasantly surprised that in one study, 74% of Americans say they talk to a higher power, and 28% say God talks back to them!    This study looks at what Americans mean when they say they believe in God.  The study does not provide me with a percentage of people who would define themselves as believers (believe and follow a creed) versus Mystics (have experiential and personal experiences that they know without a doubt that God exists).

My estimate is if asked privately and confidentially, most believers would fall under the creedal belief side.  To doubt is a human experience.  The apostles showed their doubt and lack of understanding despite having witnessed miracles and spiritual consolations beyond our imagination.   In my opinion, genuine everyday believers have aspirational hope and faith.  They have had enough given to them to by historical precedence and spiritual traditions to lay a foundation for Belief.

Not everybody gets that foundation.  War, famine, poverty, trauma, suffering, disease, natural disasters, accidents, and other tragedies may destroy or strengthen the potential for Belief.  Where and when you are born will shape your spiritual orientation.  What you experience in life may bring that spiritual orientation to its fullest potential or extinguish it into non-existence.  There is no equity or fairness applied here.  Nor is self-determination, a primary driver who gets faith or spiritual consolation and who does not.   And yet, faith lives in the hearts of many.

My Belief:

I am no theologian and am not fit to speak for Catholic theology or any other faith.  I downloadknow there is a God today, but I am not a mystic!  My faith is too flimsy, and my discipline too weak.  A gentle breeze can move my Spirit into desolation and set me adrift in fear and desperation.  I need regular spiritual maintenance.

Prayer, reading, meditation, and fellowship provide me a guidepost for reflection and an anchor to being able to meet the responsibilities that come with suffering, success, joy, sadness, hatred, failure, or any other human experience.  Every situation is grounded in spiritual responsibility outside my self-interest.

My generation and my brothers have only witnessed roughly 3% of the years that have passed since Jesus Christ was here on earth.  We are missing witnessing directly 97% of the years that have passed since Christ was here on earth.  That 3% gets very small if we go back in time to Judaic traditions and beyond.  We both have minimal information first hand and volumes of conflicting information second hand passed down generation after generation.  Our sense of existence when mapped out against a spiritual timeline going forward or backward into eternity gives one a sense of the impossibility of truly knowing anything.

Catholicism provided me my central paradigm.  I am also a spiritual thief and willing to learn from the faith of spiritual cousins in Christianity, more distant cousins in Judaism and Buddhism, and fellow human beings with other belief systems or atheists and agnostics shy of heresy!  What do I mean by that?   Religious institutions and people can sharpen my faith by how they deal with suffering, hardship, and success.  We will know what is right by the results they produce.

Catholicism and some of its cousins, for example, have lost their way as evidenced by the child sexual abuse scandal and enmeshment in political issues that reflect poorly on the faith.  Historically religions have been used to wage war, persecute people of other faith, or denigrate and discriminate against people.   My current Pope is trying to rectify some of the serious errors and mistakes of the past.   This works for me, in addition to fulfilling my callings in life as they keep evolving and changing.

Parable:

images (40)Let me tell you what I told my brother yesterday in response.  I told him the story of two decades ago when kids had just spray-painted graffiti on my fence many years ago in New York City.  I was at that time in the right spiritual place.  I kept a large can of green paint in the shed and welcomed new graffiti as it came with an opportunity to paint that portion of the fence.   I was not at all vested in catching or worrying about the fence being spray-painted again by an emerging artist.  My Cuban neighbor came out and stopped by.  He was incensed and livid.  In a Cuban accident, he yelled with expletives, “they should be a church on every xxx corner, not for me, but those little xxx kids.” I received his support with a smile but advised him, Andre, we were once kids too, and I am sure we crossed a line somewhere.  He absorbed my calmness, and we resumed a peaceful day.  I painted as he talked.

The idea presented by Andre the Cuban was those kids needed a church.  He did not need a church, in his opinion.  This struck me twenty-years later enough to raise it in light of my brother’s lack of faith.  Perhaps, God gives faith to those who God has determined to need faith to handle their situations or to promote a higher purpose of God’s divine will.  Andre does not need a church to know not to spray-paint my fence!  He may benefit from a church or other spiritual consolations for other life challenges – but he knows to destroy another person’s property for social status amongst a peer group is wrong without a church on his shoulder.  Neither one of us did a thing to help the kids who were vandalizing people’s property—a missed opportunity to turn a negative into a positive all these years later.

The atheist around the corner may be living God’s will without knowing God by a name – a name prescribed by the various world religions who mostly genuinely believe their scripture or tradition to be the most accurate path to the divine life.

I can say “I know God Exist,” or I believe in such and such Creed.  I cannot tell an Athiest, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or another religious believer that I know my faith, and my Creed is the only way for them to achieve a holy life.  I simply do not know to a person God’s divine plan or divine destiny; I can only know my own experience.

Moral of the story?

  • Many paths: It is a mystery as to what is the best path to a holy life.  I suspect there are many paths, and some of us do not need a religious guidepost.  The non-religious among us may serve a purpose that we who are adorned with the garments of religiosity or spirituality cannot fulfill.  Divine Providence and Divine Mystery leave us all in the dark.
  • Judgment day: Every day, we are judged by ourselves, our fellow man, and an eternal benchmark against the history of humankind. The Athiest and the Believer leave the morning gate at the same time.  The spiritual oddsmakers assign weights and probabilities to each one when they should cross the line based on their circumstances and abilities.  It is the greatest horse race of all-time.  Much is given, much is expected.  Neither the Athiest or the Believer can judge each other’s performance relative to the other.  The Oddsmaker does not tell them today what to expect, where to finish, what pace to run, or if this is their last race.  Run today as if it was your last race.  Run according to your abilities and potential.  Every split second is clocked and measured.  It is not what you are labeled as belonging to, but how you perform your calling that matters at the end of the day.  What matters is the good you do today – tomorrows will take care of themselves.
  • Mystery: The moral of this story is that very few of us can claim to be true mystics.  If we are in the faithful camp, we cannot claim we have earned that faith through self-will and action.  We cannot even explain why we have faith and why others do not or have an equal or greater allegiance to another faith.  If we are truly blessed to be able to say consistently, and with the conviction that we know God exists by personal experience and revelation, we have truly been blessed through no fault of our own.  Perhaps, by God’s humor, we have only been called as God said, let me reveal some to this one, or he will destroy a lot of things in my house!
  • Living God’s word: We can undoubtedly offer people an explanation of our Creed of beliefs.  If they are attracted to how we are living and how genuine we are, we may be able to share our faith.  This assumes our faith is producing people living holy lives, as evidenced by our actions and behaviors.   Whether we are believers or mystics, it still comes down to what we do and not what we say.
  • Humility: We cannot assume or declare moral, religious, or spiritual supremacy.  Perhaps it is God’s will that my brother lives his life within an existential framework practicing humanist love for humanity free of religiosity.  That paradigm may have enabled him to reach specific people through God’s will.
  • Love: My Catholic faith does not separate me from the Athiest or other religious faiths.  In almost all issues, we will have common ground on what is the ideal moral and ethical action in most circumstances.  The areas of divergence and conflict are where I will and am challenged.  I am called to practice Humility while still be able to state what “I Believe.”  Liberation theology is an example of where religious beliefs can bring me into conflict with the current social and political order of western culture and unchecked capitalism.  The ideals of the dignity of life issues in light of scientific advances and medical options available that can alleviate unnecessary suffering or end life prematurely create animosity and confusion.  I love those who hold different interpretations of what is the right thing to do, especially when presented with choosing between two terrible choices, both of which will bring pain and suffering.
  • Legal law versus spiritual laws:  One question that pesters me, is should my faith determine the law of the land, or should my faith attract believers to follow my Creed when societal values differ from my spiritually discerned values?   I must walk patiently and, with wisdom, indeed discerned.  With human history teaching me how quickly religious institutions and nation-states can persecute thousands by genocide, alienation, and other acts of our evil, I am cautious about advocating my interpretation or that of my faith needs to be the law of the land.  I would much rather people desire what I have then be told to do what my faith says.

The Advocate:

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My Sunday readings today touched on the paraclete, or the Advocate, or the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit or Advocate helps us discern “true from false” and “good from the bad.”  Catholicism Catechism says that “From the beginning until the fullness of time, the joint mission of the Father’s word and Spirit remains hidden, but is at work.”

For Two Thousand Years, the Holy Spirit hidden in the background doing God’s work.  Athiest maybe holier than religious types if they are taping into consistently choosing “true from false” and “good from the bad.”

The 28% of Americans who reported they hear answers back from God, if you interviewed them, I could tell you most of them did not hear a clear auditory command or see a burning bush.  More likely, they experienced a gentle whisper or an epiphany of thought that may mirror the same revelation atheist experiences when deciphering right from wrong in certain situations; only the latter has no direct knowledge of the “Holy Spirit” at work.

For us believers, do we believe the Holy Spirit is only working with the faithful?  Of course not.  The logic, education, and set of moral principles that an Athiest uses to stand up for human rights or bash a corrupted religious institution may be inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The Athiest may not see or have gratitude for the gifts of oratory, a clever pen, or other talents that they possess as coming from any special dispensation cultivated within him, but God just maybe slowly at work. It is not that he is ungrateful, it  is simply that he cannot be grateful for what he cannot see.  His gratitude is more likely expressed directly to the people around him – and that should happen anyway!

download (2)My brother may not know God.  Neither the Paschal Mystery or Pascal’s wager bring him any closer to God.  He and many like him can be painted as an Archetype Athiest.  One who is blameless for being an Athiest and mostly living a meaningful and loving secular life.

Special dispensation:

Perhaps he has been given a special dispensation by the God of my understanding.  He is blind to a spiritual awareness of a defined God and free of the religious binds and toxicity that exist in many of our religious institutions.  He is at once outside the church or synagogue and yet unknowingly within it.  He is guided by a human conscience to do what is right – and he ascribes these principles originating from education and the power of human development, which is undoubtedly part of what makes him able to identify right from wrong.

Unknown to him is a gentle whisper, sometimes heard and heeded, sometimes unheard or ignored, just like the faithful.  He has a harder road than the believer for each action, and the decision appears to be uniquely his own.    He also must carry the weight of no afterlife, and the knowledge that all there is in life is what he has now.  As the clock winds down on him, every moment becomes more precious.   There may be no tomorrows or an afterlife.

Many a believer, despite knowing there is a God, will have the same existential crisis as their time nears an end.  Only the rare mystics face death with solemnity and confidence in the eternal.

In my God’s tent, the God of my imagination, there is room for many special dispensations.  Some will receive them here on earth and others only after.

How many artists died in poverty before their artwork was valued?  How many saints or now revered spiritual writers were once deemed heretical before being acknowledged as owning some spiritual truths.

There is a place for good men outside the church to hold the church accountable indeed and to be there for those in need who cannot, for one reason or another, turn to God.

I see God and humanity in my brother.  He is a good man and has lived a truly human life with great joys and great sorrows.  He sees the good in people as well and can see past people’s limitations too.   I hope he and other archetype Athiest can see goodness and principles in me and in the majority of people that share my faith.  Neither he nor I can claim a higher spiritual or moral ground.

If I am right about God existing through my 3% lense, I am confident that same God has a broad tent that will include Mystics, Believers, Agnostics, and yes, Athiest.

This is not faith, but Grace.  By the Grace of God, may our errors and human folly be overlooked and our genuine strivings to do good be captured in the odds maker’s books.  If there is a God, I honestly cannot say my brother’s odds are any better or worse than mine.

We have two brothers and parents that have already come to know the answer.  They aren’t sharing it yet with us.  May Grace be with them, with my brother, and each of you that have managed to read this post on brotherly love and spiritual divisions.

Is it God talking to me when the day after my brother makes that comment about the belief that my guided meditation is on mysticism versus creedal belief and the Sunday mass sermon focused on the Holy Spirit?   Was it God talking to my brother when the Lady of Fatima was sat next to him on a plane?  The faithful among us say of course while the atheist among us are unmoved.  Yet we coexist pursuing a moral world, living with suffering, and promoting compassion and love.

Artist Paul Gaugin was very much unappreciated in his day as are many artists, theologians, Catholics, and even Athiest today.   He died in poverty and obscurity.   Some say the following painting captures the artist expressing his own suffering and isolation, a self-portrait as opposed to the suffering Christ.  It is a shame that we value people more when they lay horizontal in the grave than when they are vertical and alive with us.

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How is his spirituality captured in this painting?  How is our spirituality (for believers) and morality (for Athiest) captured on the canvass that represents our life?

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[i] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/

[ii] We both have ample opportunity to criticize the Religion of our youth.  Religion, though, we both firmly agree, is prone to the errors of men.  No religious organization is exempt from minute mistakes and severe grave actions that can only be called evil or, at the very least, not representative of any divine will.

[iii] Yes, And….Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr, page 42.

[iv] https://www.pewforum.org/2018/04/25/2-beliefs-about-gods-involvement-in-the-world/

Morning Dews – #5

Where was I again since I last wrote, someplace in Genesis with Abraham and his descendants making a mess of things and their covenants with God and with each other.  Yes, that is right, I said you were dammed.  Unfortunately, your fate has not changed since then; we are all still heading for a date with death.  Our human flesh and our earthly existence have no defined time.

images (36)This fatalistic reality only further illuminates the valuable time we have this moment.  It is of great value whether we are “joyous, happy and free” or suffering, miserable, and confined physically or mentally by some variation of human tormentors, real or imagined.  Our state of being is always moving in one direction or another, always temporal.

But where is our compass to direct our purpose and mission in life?  Our human state of affairs reasonably and appropriately must command our due respect.  To disregard care for ourselves or others is easily seen by even the simplest minded among us to be pure folly.  And then there are those among us that with very bright thinking, run with this hedonismmotto to the extreme, pursuing every greater emotional bliss regardless of how these emotions are obtained.  Who could blame them running hard and fiercely to avoid at all cost any taste of suffering, miserable mood, pain, or some other human calamity?   This activity, although important, is rubbish and meaningless if not grounded in a higher transcendent meaning.  Perhaps seeking Nirvana is the answer?

Inner-Peace-Help-Me-God (1)The great mystics of history invariable point out the only unchangeable is the absolute, unknowable one, the one we call God. Today we don’t see stodgy bearded men out in the wilderness or working with the poor in the streets.  We are more likely to see mega-church preachers or self-help books with covers like the above.  I dare you to go find a rock like that and sit on it for 30 minutes the way that lady is sitting.   I have a feeling you will not be the picture of Nirvana at the end of the prayer session.   That being said, she may indeed have developed a sesne of prayer and stillness that it matters little where she sits, in nature or in the middle of a highway.

Read the great religions and prophets, and they will, as did the old testament, describe man’s search for God and his graces.  The languages and literary devices may vary, but at the end of the day, man (and woman) is found seeking God and most often found wanting.  Amid this yearning, he is most unfairly plagued by human calamity even when blessed with great fortune.  Nothing is ever enough.  Seeking God is admirable, but if you are seeking God for spiritual gluttony you will probably be searching in the dark or fall prey to profit driven preachers.

The Gospel of Matthew (chapters 6-9) has some of the answers to these riddles for me.

  • Do good to please God (no other, expect no reward here on earth)
  • A form of prayer, converse with God, and the provision of the Lord’s prayer
  • Lay up your treasures in heaven
  • Do not worry about your life
  • Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened for you
  • Build your house on a rock

Matthew repeated these words of Jesus and many more in rapid-fire succession in three pages.  No back and forth or interpretation.   A grave warning to those who choose not to listen that Jesus will declare, “I never knew you” when it is their time.

Today in the public sphere, our eyes roll at the mere mention of any theoretical framework like existential philosophy, transcendent morality, or cross-societal ethical considerations.  Most of the time, if someone is raising this, it is because they are trying to cleverly tell us why we can’t or shouldn’t do something.  We would probably not listen if not for the rule of law that has developed over the centuries to codify what little humanitarian gains we have made over the centuries.

tinaI can see the eyes rolling now if a man without credentials or status told us the things Jesus told the crowds.  They had perhaps an advantage over us.  God knew their hearts were hardened, so he gave them signs again in rapid-fire from Matthew’s account, a leper was cleansed, a servant healed, and Jesus even saved Peter’s Mother in Law.  I am unsure if Peter appreciated the last miracle.  Other miracles would follow as Jesus marches towards his suffering and crucifixion.

These miracles and the written scripture handed down to us have meaning and value to guide what little time we have left on this earth.  Despite this, the disciples still panicked even with Jesus present when the “great tempest arose on the sea,” threatening to capsize the boat.  Jesus awoke with disappointment, “Why are you fearful, o you of little faith.”

Jesuit Paul McCarren describes the disciples being as puzzled by Jesus Christ’s indifference to the storm as Jesus was disappointed by their fear and lack of faith.

In four pages of scripture, I am presented with a guide to prayer, evidence of the credentials of the prophet being able to perform miracles, validation that faith is not easy as even the disciples who saw with their own eyes struggled, and Jesus Christ response when they shoe their weakness.

desicplesDid this “great tempest arise on the sea.” It is highly possible given the geographical area and the routes that Jesus and the disciples traveled.   However, more importantly, most of us don’t make our living on the seas.  Very few of us have life-threatening events flash before our eyes while having a spiritual prophet at our side.  What does it mean?

Let’s put it all together as to why I think these chapters in Matthew give you the solution to being damned to suffering and death.

First, the Bible (old testament and new), lets sets the framework that you and I are not very special in the sense of the challenges and tribulations we will face.  Our ancestors before us have seen it all.     The wisest among them were ready for when their time came.  If you have ever known someone truly ready when that time comes, you are truly blessed.

Now, Matthew first lays out how to pray and communicate with God.  In essence, he focused our attention simultaneously on the eternal and how to live a holy life now.  The words of Jesus Christ, as captured by Matthew, lay down straightforward guidance on how to develop a relationship to permanence no matter what our temporal state of affairs is today.

  • Act now: Do what Christ says above, and no matter what storm comes your way, you will be okay.  He did not promise storms will not come.  As we know from the Bible, a series of storms came that could not have been imagined by any of the disciples.
  • Prepare now: Prepare for storms by living rightly today.  Sadly, I have known human beings to say things like, as long as you follow the policy and blah, blah, I will support you.  You have all probably had a time when someone said something like that, and when the going got tough, all of a sudden, you were alone.  The lesson for me is trust in God as the only permanent trust one can have.  That is not as sad as it sounds.  I trust in many people today.  I love many of those same people.  Some of them will, at some point, disappoint me.  I will be hurt to the degree that I trusted them.  My feelings, though, will subside as I reconcile that I gave them trust for good reason, and I see they’re coming up short is just what it is a sad and disappointing outcome.  This is perhaps the most common type of storm when people do not do what we expect them to do!
  • Living rightly: What does that mean?   In my view, it means pursuing doing the next right thing now with the right intentions all the time and having an on-going dialogue with the God of my understanding to discern those intentions for what they are.  Find a way to still live and ground it in unchanging principles that transcend you.
  • Professional Help: Authors note, not all human conditions and suffering can be handled by prayer and good intentions and behaviors alone, some of us need a little help from professionals in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, psychiatric crisis, economic wisdom, or spiritual guidance.  Nor reason why anyone has to go through human toil alone (keeping in mind social distancing).  Self-help groups can be very beneficial, like Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 step groups.
  • Compassion: No matter where you are on the journey, have compassion for yourself and others without putting yourself in harm’s way unless necessary. Let’s face it; we are not all called to be martyrs or saints.  Most of us have other callings.  It is improbable. I hope that we will be asked to deny God or be executed, go on a starvation protest, or say take my life in place of the child!  Seek to do the most good without treating yourself poorly.  We can have compassion for an addicted gambler without giving him a loan.  We can forgive a person who violated our trust or hurt us without inviting them back in to do the same again.  Letting that happen again not only hurts us but hurts the gambler or the one who cannot responsibly manage trust given to them.

Jesus saw a great need for compassion and love.  This was not reserved for those who were perfect.  It was for all of us.

These steps match the steps for any profession.  Find the manual and start working (act now).  Prepare for setbacks, you can never have enough knowledge and will learn by trial and error (Prepare for storms).   Do the best you can with the tools you have now and keep adding tools (live rightly).  Know when a project is over your head and get help fast, be humble (Professional help).  Have compassion for everyone you meet, including yourself.

There is so much in these few pages and this post.  How can you translate this into anything worthwhile?  Build on what you have now (strengths).  Develop a routine (schedule) and stick to specific times for prayer and reflection.  Throw in extra time when needed.  Journal, read, and be curious.  Let others in that will support you.

images (37)On the surface, it looks all pretty straight forward and easy.  I remember my brother Jimmy out in front of the house with a unicycle.   About the only joy that bike bought us was  watching him crash.  The Bible (and many surface teachings) can look deceptively easy until you have to take the “things” out of the box and start building the damn thing.  Trying to live a holy life can meet the same end and people will also enjoy watching you crash.  Seeking God requires great humility internally and externally.

Everyone wants a cheat sheet.  The bible does not lend itself to be a cheat sheet.  Centuries after its formation it is still be deciphered and argued about by theologians and historians.  If you wait for them you will probably miss out on the most famous book ever written.  Sometimes you can only be helped to get on the bicycle and get a good shove.  The rest is up to you.   I don’t recommend a unicycle!

The answers are not only in the bible.  Fifteen percent of our population is 65 years or older.  A good number of them, certainly not all, carry wisdom and solemnity in their final years.  They not only have six decades of lived experience, but they also have what was passed onto them from their ancestors sifted through and weighed against current times.

My chariot is built on the teaching of Jesus Christ.   His followers are far from being free of error.  There are many examples of “living right” that I can model from around my current day and in history.  I am not limited to models from Christianity as well.  Buddhist monks and meditation practices examine and handle the red hot embers suffering and impermanence by literally being able to walk barefoot over them.  They are not free from error either.  At the end of the day, we are all too human, imperfect vessels, seeking transcendence.

I have not mentioned 25% of the world who are followers of Allah.  The Muslim faith’s true essence alludes me in the chaos of the middle east.  Subsumed in that chaos is also orthodox Jewish traditions as well and the state of Israel.

Whatever faith we find to guide our lives, we become living testaments to an ideal higher authority.   Our faith and our religious affiliations will be judged in real-time by our actions.  Writing a blog on how to pray and seek a sanctified life is useless if after I close the browser I leave my house and treat people with ill-will or are driven by selfish motivations.  Any great religion is judged by the actions and lives of its followers.

You can have glimpses of transcendence every day if you look for it.  It is all around you in nature, in the acts of other people, and hopefully present in most of your actions and thoughts.  This has been a hard post to finish.  My prayer life is up against needless human suffering and death compounded by an unforgiving political and economic system that thrives on uninterrupted growth.   Sometimes my prayers leave me feeling empty and drained rather than consoled and restored.  I am not a mystic or a priest.  Just a working family man trying to make sense of tragedy and suffering.

Regardless of the external turbulence, you can be a beacon of calm, humility, love, compassion, strength, and peace to others, if within your heart you are building on a solid rock that is greater than our temporal desires.   Your faith or religious identity may provide you a vehicle for life’s journey, but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility to learn to ride it.  No religious leader, sermon, or homily can define you.   They too can make errors.

To what end is this post.  It is written for all of you who everyday strive to be responsible, work hard, and are in general morally upright people.  You toil and work hard for your self and your loved ones.  You have faced constant changes and pivoted and acclimated to changing times.  Although not perfect or faultless, you count yourself as generally a good person, like Job from the Old Testament.  And now, tragedy strikes beyond your control even though you practiced spiritual and ethical decision making daily.

If your eye is set on the absolute and the infinite God, all troubles and joys will be minute in comparison.  If your faith is made strong by your commitment, actions, and God’s grace, any storm that envelops you will be faced with calm and strength regardless of the outcomes.   You will posses a new reality to be able to sit with uncertainty and mystery while still working to do what you can in the face of exterm adversity, upto and including death.    Sure, you may have moments of trepidation and angst, but like the disciples, you will find your way back to your core.

covid deathToday, three thousand people will perish from COVID.  An estimated 50 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty.  Upright hard working people just like me and you.  Political and economic forces beyond our control will lessen or amplify the pain and suffering we have already experienced.

In my view, we only have one answer.  Still the storm and take refuge in prayer.  Take stock in your circumstances.  Find acceptance for what is today.  Ask God for what you think you need and ask him for the strength to handle whatever he gives you!  They maybe two different things.  Pray a little more to sit with the suffering of others.  Pray for them.  Contemplate what you can do now, today or tomorrow, to do God’s work in whatever is your calling in life.  Leave your refuge of prayer and carry it with you as you go back into the storm to face whatever life has instore for you.

6138-reading-bible-nathan-dumlao-unsplash

 

 

 

 

Free Funeral and Cookies

So, my wife takes a call and explains to someone how you can donate their body for scientific purposes. They take your body and use it for nine medical schools in a respectful manner. They cremate and send back ashes if the family wants their loved one ashes. No expense or funeral cost attached.

reaperHumanity Gifts Registry[i] is the organization closest to me with no transport cost attached.  I jumped on their website and found a simple one-pager to sign.  They are associated with nine local medical schools, including one my daughter attends.  They get to practice medicine before your body goes on its way. Impulsively I went to print one copy; my wife was not onboard for herself.  Printer failed.  I forgot my other daughter, not in medical school,  changed the router password, now all sorts of things don’t work around the house, but our router is safe, and so is my deceased body.  But should it be?

organBefore we even consider donating our body to science, have you signed up to be an organ donor to save a life now should you meet unexpected death?  Twenty people will die today waiting for an organ match, and 112,000 people are on the national waiting list at Organdonor.gov[ii].    Just one donor can save eight lives.  I already have an organ donor label on my driver’s license.  It seemed like the appropriate thing to do when my wife and I purchased motorcycles. St. Joseph University Institute of Bioethics summarizes that the Catholic Church position as it “applauds and encourages organ donation as a morally good act of self-giving.”[iii]  The Catholic Catechism states:

“Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. (CCC, 2296)

But what about forgoing a traditional funeral, my body being shipped off for medical students to learn their trades?  The Catholic National Register[iv] summarized the church position:

“A Catholic donating her body for scientific research is not only allowed, but considered a noble act when it’s done for the true common good. That means it must be done in the spirit of service to other human beings and not for financial gain or product research (commercialism).”

creaNor is the Chuch opposed to cremation.  The Church does not support spreading ashes, keeping them on the bookshelf, or being formed into a coral reef.  They have Eternal Coral Reefs.   You can visit your loved ones while on vacation and scuba diving.

It appears as if there is no reason why I should not donate my body to science.  I can also save cremation and funeral costs though Catholics must still find a respectful place for the urn of ashes.  If you are interested, visit ScienceCare.org.[v]

bloodI understand organ donation and body donation are beyond the comfort level for many.   You can give now by making an appointment to give blood,  visit the Red Cross[vi] web site. There is a national shortage due to the Covid 19 Pandemic.  So, now what do you do?  If nothing else, please complete an Advanced Directive.  You can find guidance here:  https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/advance-care-planning-healthcare-directives.  That will show love and caring for your family when your time comes.  In the meantime, you have three choices to consider while we are isolated in our homes (if we are lucky to be home and not in a hospital):

Three choices:

  • Organ Donation after death
  • Body Donation after death
  • Blood Donation (and even Organ donation while living if you’re a match)

I have not acquiesced yet with Body Donation after death.  I probably will after some prayer and will hope my time does not come until after my daughter finishes medical school!

Do all three, and you can save eight lives, get a free cremation, free juice, and cookies, and give your pursuit of being a decent human being a boost!  Sorry, no promises here of virgins, everlasting peace, knighthood, sainthood, or otherworldly honors!  This is something we can all do – at least one of the three regardless of our faith, religious or political affiliation.  In the U.S, we expect to see 100000 to 200000 deaths.  We have 2100 thus far.  It is unimaginable.  In this time of significant loss and death, impending poverty for many, and social isolation, we can all reevaluate our priorities and commit actions now and in the future to helping humanity.  Quietly and unseen, we can be heroes in the solitude of our prays.

sjjj

 

[i] http://www.hgrpa.org/

[ii] https://www.organdonor.gov/register.html?gclid=Cj0KCQjwjoH0BRD6ARIsAEWO9Ds9wPXnwwImHIOvh85ZmrgCVYMG9AN9bU5pXq-G1xRnJ8nemYlTYfwaAmy3EALw_wcB

[iii] https://sites.sju.edu/icb/position-catholic-church-organ-donation/

[iv] https://www.ncregister.com/blog/mfenelon/donating-our-bodies-to-science-service-or-scandal

[v] https://www.sciencecare.com/blog/organ-donation-vs-whole-body-donation-can-you-do-both

[vi] https://www.redcrossblood.org

 

The way home

My page is dark. I have travelled deep into the forest while remaining in the company of others, working, toiling, loving. The silences between my writings are not absences of thoughts, only absences of thoughts worthy of the toil of exploration and expression.

Momentary emptiness, aloneness, silence screaming. Peace. The sentiment is I have gone as far as I can go. The path back to secular concerns is necessary as is the suffering, joys, and bewilderment that is our human condition.

Back to mundane task, simple prayers, reading the spiritual insights of others, and living in and of this world as I turn the corner towards home.

Tired.

This moment will pass and may prove to be pure folly, but for right now, everything is insignificant other then doing the next right thing over and over again on the journey back home.

Perhaps that was always the principle hidden by my distance from the quietness of the forest.

Where is the House of Worship?

On my little travels, I invariably find time to visit at least one local church.  Anecdotally the church had six American Flags adorning the interior prominently.  This struck me as IMG_3074perhaps over the top nationalism within a holy place, though our nation supports religious freedoms better than any country on earth.  No canon law or church doctrine encourages or prohibits such practices.  Just a novelty I note without judgment or concern that is particular to the prominence of the American flags in this church.  The artwork, stations of the cross, stained glass windows, and architecture are beautiful.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus Basilica offered me refuge yesterday morning and services (confession and Eucharist celebration).  The confessor, the Franciscan priest, was from Connecticut, and we spent a few moments discussing catholic schools and churches in New York City.

Visiting a service on a weekday that is not a holy day is something I should do more often.  The “experience” is quite different than Sundays or holy days. Let me say I do not visit churches or go to service seeking an “experience” though secretly I do sometimes yearn for the grace of spiritual consolations[i] more so than what is deserved or for what I am ready to receive.  Mass for me is living prayer and an opportunity for further discernment and conversation with God directly or through the mystery of the Eucharist, Scripture readings, the Holy Spirit, and the congregation of the faithful.  More importantly, perhaps is Mass provided me with an opportunity to encounter myself by giving a time and place outside secular time and pressures.

Yesterday a.m. mass celebrated with about twenty people.  I cannot say these people were or are better Catholics or holier Catholics than those attending on required days of observance.  For all I know, they could of all just rolled out of a local shelter or rehab facility and were merely seeking refuge on this cold morning!  I can say that they collectively possessed an aura of spirituality and intensity that was tangible and present.  That presence and sharing the mass with them feeds my spirit.  About a quarter of them were at the confession service earlier that a.m.  My judging mind could not imagine they needed confession at all based on their outward projections of warmth and serenity!

A significant portion of the sermon focused on seeking wisdom rather than foolishness.  funWe can find foolishness even in our pursuit of spirituality.  We could, for example, go looking for God in all the wrong places, delving into numerous theological treatises, and all the while miss who the artisan is who provided us all that is to begin our journey of questing for God.  We can get so busy on our “I” finding God that we can miss the evident truth and his presence wherever we are right now:

1 Yes, naturally stupid are all who are unaware of God, and who, from good things seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is, or, by studying the works, have not recognised the Artificer. (Wisdom, Chapter 13)

I did not have to leave my hotel room to find God.  I did not have to stand outside the Brasschurch in the rain because I arrived early yesterday morning.  I did not have to be greeted by a warm, Hispanic man who opened the church doors that a.m. or witness an elderly lady who carrying a chair, rags, and polish cleaner was quietly attending to the details of this majestic church.    Wherever I am, God is, and all I have to do is seek his presence.

And yet, I personally, not having the spiritual discipline of hermetic monks nor the spiritual calling to be in constant contemplative prayer, require high maintenance spiritually due to my characterological flaws and the profoundly flawed secular society in which I live.  I am envious of those who seemingly do not need spiritual booster shots!  Add envy to the characterological flaw list!

A quiet hour or so visiting a minor Basilica provided me a place to have gratitude for the many blessings in my life, a place to pause life and appreciate this moment and turning point of yet another bend in the road of my spiritual journey, and the gift of two Catholic Sacraments (Confession and the Holy Eucharistic Mass).

Returning that evening to my hotel room, I was reminded that God is never far away.  nightThe lights are always on.  As it turns out, my room has a view of the Basilica.  God is not contained within those walls.   It is I who must-visit houses of worship to contain my mind and my actions to seek wisdom and minimize foolishness.

The wisdom imparted by the Franciscan priest was to get plenty of rest, eat well, have patience with self and others, and pray.  We are and can expect to be imperfect, but we must strive with good intentions and take care of ourselves, for when we are weak we are more prone to error.

The House of Worship is where you are – and if you cannot find it where you are – there is a literal house of worship built with bricks and mortar nearby where you can find yourself and your God.

Thanks for visiting and reading!

[i] https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/ignatian-spirituality/discernment/discernment-consolation-and-desolation

 

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