Financial and Spiritual Stress Test

Financial Stress Test:

More than half of us do not…

A financial stress test lets an individual, business, or institution simulate an economic crisis under a variety of circumstances. My suggestion is if you are considering improving your spiritual foundation – conducting a financial stress test of your finances with “eyes wide open” is an excellent place to start. The details of your earnings, spending habits, planning, and overall financial wellness will be insightful for anyone seeking spiritual transcendence – regardless of overall financial wealth. It is hard to be there for God or others when your finances are in disarray or distress. “If your struggling with Money, Read this” article from NPR or listen to the 17-minute podcast.   

Or perhaps these other resources may be helpful as well. How Exactly Do You Stress-Test Your Financial Plan? This Kiplinger article explains the basics for both everyday living (budget, emergency fund, and what to do with cash liquidity) and portfolio management. This is not the article to read for the do-it-yourself (DIY) guy. It provides just enough information to recommend you get a financial planner! Perhaps that is best. Would you pass a financial stress test today? What is in your emergency fund today? What is your debt to income ratio? Do you know this without having to look now? More than half of us do not keep a budget or know how much we spend! I strongly suggest you start here – with an honest appraisal of where you are now. Most Americans reach financial safety by small victories accruing overtime over the long haul.   Start or revisit your financial plan today! My suggestion is to find a way to budget and track your money first in a manner that you can maintain over time – whether by an app, an excel sheet, a fancy tool (Quicken), or simply pen and paper!  

I am putting money here ahead of Spiritual practice for a reason: 

Matthew Chapter 6 has much to say about money, including 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” These biblical verses almost seem to say, do not worry about tomorrow or money! That is not the case. 

Spiritual Stress Test and Financial Stress Test Relationship:

A financial stress test lets an individual, business, or institution simulate an economic crisis under a variety of circumstances. My suggestion is if you are considering improving your spiritual foundation – conducting a financial stress test of your finances with “eyes wide open” is an excellent place to start.

The chapter teaches daily life management and setting priorities – not avoiding fiscal or other responsibilities. It concludes with  34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” 

If we handle your priorities today and give the rest to God, we will be prepared to handle both adversity and prosperity (in whatever form) that may come our way. 

Handling money and finances by being aware of every dollar’s intrinsic value and putting it to work aligned with your priorities in life will feed your spiritual soul if done correctly. Look at where you spend your money now – does it bring you closer to peaceful living and spiritual harmony or farther away? Does it support your financial stability today and prepare for tomorrow or create instability? Does it help others? Know yourself financially, and you may well be on the way to greater awareness of your spiritual wellness. Money remains a top stressor in American life.

As an anecdotal point, one study published in 2020 entitled “Worldview Under Stress: Preliminary Findings on Cardiovascular and Cortisol Stress Responses Predicted by Secualrity, Religoisty, Spirituality, and Existential Search found that “Contrary to our expectation, self-identification as atheist was not associated with an advantage in dealing with social stress. Atheists’ stress responses were substantially higher than those shown by self-identified religious participants. Self-ascribed atheism may (theoretically) suggest an orientating worldview, but it does not appear to be a predictor of healthy stress regulation.” In essence, your spiritual health could affect your ability to handle stress physiologically, as evidenced by this study.

Tv Preacher Memes

Before going any further, let me make a personal claim – I do not believe a strong faith will guarantee prosperity! I believe our faith can sustain us in strength, hope, and dignity in times of prosperity or great poverty. Both prosperity and poverty can wreak havoc with our spiritual or moral vision of how we should live our lives.   P.S. some very fine people and spirituality happen in prosperity churches in spite of a disproportionate amount of energy being “spent” on wealth acquirement – this claim is not directed at Joel Olsteen or any church for that matter.

Spiritual Stress Test:

There is a lot out there on the financial stress test. Not so much on Spiritual Stress Test. Who wants to do that at all. Life presents enough spiritual crisis every day! I fear we have become numb to a spiritual crisis in the face of commonplace human misery:  poverty, hatred, war, violence, hatred, and other human conditions that devalue life. If we genuinely conducted a spiritual stress test, we

110 Spiritual Quotes About Inner Peace and Love (2021)

would, in all likelihood, come up in the Red.    We also may be afraid that taking a self-assessment may call for more spiritual activity – where would we find the time and would not take us away from our worldly responsibilities? To the contrary, many believe and find it deepens our involvement with the world and the people around us.

There are many attempts to clinicalize spiritual assessments in the mental health field to tap into patients’ spiritual strengths as part of recovery.    Borrowing from the International Journal of Palliative Care, whose discipline routinely works with the spiritual needs of patients at the end of life or while dealing with uncontrolled chronic medical illnesses, one might check out the “Hope” tool. The American Family Physician offers a review of several tools in this article called “The Spiritual Assessment” by the American Family Physician Journal, including the Hope tool in a modified form:

H:  What are your sources of hope, strength, comfort, and peace? What do you hold on to during difficult times? 

O:  Are you part of a religious or spiritual community? Does it help you? How?

P:  Do you have personal spiritual beliefs? What aspects of your personal and spiritual beliefs do you find most helpful? 

E:  Does your current situation affect your ability to do the things that usually help you spiritually? 

Adapted with permission from Anandarajah G, Hight E. Spirituality and medical practice: using the HOPE questions as a practical tool for spiritual assessment. Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(1):87.

The medical field has recognized spirituality is a vital source of patient care during times of medical crisis. I do not want to be searching for spiritual answers when amid a crisis. Like knowing my financial picture – I want to know where I stand spiritually daily and be aware of how my actions and thoughts align with my spirituality all the time.  You can do this on your own today or seek out a spiritual advisor that you trust.

Yet our spirituality or prayer life is not much better than how we handle finances: “A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 found that 45% of Americans – and a majority of Christians (55%) – say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions. The same survey found that 63% of Christians in the U.S. say praying regularly is an essential part of their Christian identity.”

How did I get here to this moment, reflecting on spirituality and financial stress testing? I woke up this morning not wanting to read spiritual material or pray and ask my wife to join me to start doing taxes. Both sentiments are a form of “sloth” or spiritual and financial laziness in today’s terms. I thought about blogging and felt empty there too. I turned to the live cam at Lourdes and sipped my coffee – the rosary was in process in French with no sub captions. I grabbed my rosary beads. I was watching and holding the beads – still not aware or connected to what I should do…my computer went to a black screen (froze), and my rosary beads separated. I went and checked on family! Then I went back to my room and started my morning prayer and reading. 

The words that came to me were writing on prayer’s difficulties after my morning readings. Life’s stressors (finances as an example) and immense human suffering are barriers to my prayer. It sometimes seems as if prayer is very far removed from daily reality. 

Prayer’s Place:

My morning reading hit a few points on this challenge. The author, Joseph A. Tetlow, S.J. hit on the following points, among others that resonated with me today paraphrased into my words:

  • Our prayer time is to talk to and listen to God; it is not in a vacuum but an interactive and searching revelation.
  • Sloth is a refusal to accept gifts given to us (we are inherently creatures of action with given talents and abilities)
  • Sometimes we could go the other way and pray like a “workaholic.” Fill our time with business; even in prayer can turn into purely human activity, denying God’s spirit to talk to us genuinely.    Tetlow advises, “wastetime with God.” Or, in other words, for me – be patient and be present – more will be revealed if I am open. 
  • Avoid intolerance and a notion of “praying better.” This may be more spiritual pride than a spiritual discipline, spiritually gluttony rather than divinely inspired prayer.   

Prayer and Action:

Many churches or religious organizations have come to realize that financial well-being of their congregation and of the institution is vital for continued focus on spiritual development and acts. Some even hold events like Dave Ramsey workshops and other activities in addition to ministries to the poor. Getting a grip on our own financial and spiritual wellness is pivotal for our ability to go to the next level of genuine spiritual altruism. I dislike the word “warfare” below – but I love the message it may send to readers that relate to sports or western competitive notions.

Giving time or money to good causes when we have excess is a key to individual and universal peace. I personally sometimes put more investment into a sports game or chess game than I do into say fighting for social justice, eradicating poverty, or simply being mindful of someone suffering nearby in my community. The discipline to the latter rather than seeking refuge in games of leisure requires a game plan…though both have their place, one should almost always take priority. Even recreation has a place in our lives. Enjoy that football game – and then do what the Cheifs fans – a 13 dollar donation drive to a Bills player charity Not the ending the Bill’s wanted – but a subscript for the ages in football.

Slide 8 (JPG) | Life, Money, Legacy | Financial Peace University | Free  Church Resources from Life.Church

Mystic or Cynic?

An open window view over a green backyard bracing for fall. The trees gently sway as I listen to a Catholic audio meditation regarding Lectio-divina. The reader ask me to listen closely to a few lines of scripture. After setting the passage and the scene my eyes close and listen, and a few lines in I hear and pay close attention to the following:

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

During that last line a wind blew in and back out closing and opening the door behind me and my eyes. I see the wind departing as the early fall leaves settle down.

The reader continues, did any word or phrase leap out at you? A mystic might say yes, the Holy Spirit entered my house and passed over me as you said, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. For most of us, it was just a breeze, no more.

The reader continues with guidance on lectio-divina as I watch the trees and leaves remaining still. The reader ask us to listen a second time, and I close my eyes listening to Christ words as written in scripture.

Again, a gentle breeze blows in and out, at that exact phrase “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” At no other time during my reflection and prayer time are the leaves disturbed or wind pronounced.

The mystic says you have your proof Joseph. The cynic says your eyes and senses deceive you and your imagination mistakes coincidence for spiritual consolation.

Spiritual consolation or Spiritual imagination? It is unanswerable. But both identified the phrase “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The contemplation that followed, the prayer and seeking understanding, followed by action is what is important. My personal struggles are not heavy relative to my brothers and sisters. My nations hypocrisy and moral failings are deeply concerning, but not imminently causing me great pain and suffering (except for the compassion and love I have for oppressed people of the world). And yet I feel my burden large and sometimes grossly unfair, fanned by righteousness and anger. My sin unveiled in an instant.

Without going into details, I have been given much to be grateful for, more than my individual merit and effort can account for given my limitations and grave errors over my life time. God has provided me a light burden, though at times, I felt the opposite.

Contemplatively, have I placed an undue burden on others? Do I expect to much from others to meet my expectations? Am I too quick to anger or to quick to judge when others fail me. Yes.

What I seek from God should I not be seeking to provide to others when I am able to do so?

At the end of the day, mystic or cynic, I have journeyed with Christ words and arrived at a raised consciousness of some traces of my spiritual sloth.

I am not called to disappear from the secular sphere of expectations, but I am called to know where that line ends between secular expectations and my Catholic orientation. There is a great terrain of higher demands for Catholics to live by that exceed secular law but should not be imposed on secular society. In fact, there is a great deal of Catholic values that my church and fellow believers hold to be true but do not ourselves demonstrate by practice (despite genuine effort and desire). My role calls for me to vote, to send a few dollars to political campaigns, and to have a reasoned and balanced voice. In place of anger, is sadness and compassion. In place of harboring negativity, harbor hope.

More close to home, double down on caring for others than chasing my own desires. Double down on the burden I place on others being light and when disappointed my response being compassionate and merciful. That is not to say to let go of expectations or responsibilities that others have, but to let go of justified anger and unnecessary drama.

In neither politics or our personal life are we called to be a door mat. We are called to be active and a living testament. That will place us with standing up for ourselves and our beliefs and shaping a dialogue of mutual respect and understanding.

One reading, one prayer, two breezes…..

https://youtu.be/Ciup-ygN0pg

Morning Dew # 8

Some journeys can be slow.  The book of Genesis finished this a.m.  The importance of patriarchy and wisdom passed on from father to son is not lost in this book.  Like modern times, fathers of the past had errant sons too.  Jacob, while preparing for death, tells his sons, “Simon and Levi are brothers; Instrument of cruelty are in their dwelling place.  Let not my soul enter their council” for the various ill-deeds their tribes performed.  The rest of the brothers seemed to get off very well with their father’s blessings and prophecy, with Joseph being the leader of them all.  Families are not perfect and Joseph forgave his brothers their ill will even after his father passed.

Meanwhile, in Matthew, Jesus is growing his ministry with miracles and words of confounding wisdom.   The scribes and Pharisees are asking for signs and laying traps for Jesus.  He is foretelling many will not listen to what is before their eyes.  They listen with the intent to carry out their agenda – not the agenda of God or truth.  Jesus drops the artificial ties that we all define our relationships by, even his blood relatives, by declaring, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”  This is telling me my brother and sister are not defined by blood alone.  it is also telling me if I listen with an agenda in mind, I am apt to not truly be listening.

And today, my meditation speaks to the “Mysticism of the Streets.”[i]    Richard details the 1100 years of the desert fathers and then introduces St. Francis bringing monastic life and theology into the practice in the streets with other people.  In ordinary life, the Friars of the Franciscan order followed not a life of solitude, but life among the people:

Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”

IMG_0204My Grandfather’s hard work, stoic nature, and disciplined mind came into my heart this morning.  He was a quiet man.  If whispers came to him that I broke a window or a fence in the community, he would, without words, ask me to join him to help with some project.  There I was with him in hand mending a fence I broke, or a window shattered—no words needed to be passed.  Quiet work, job done, no words exchanged.  None needed.  I was not moved to write this morning, which happens often enough.

I had the day off today by surprise.  The governor made Juneteenth day a holiday.  I was going to go to the gym but instead scheduled to give blood at the blood bank and visit a friend I had not seen in some time.  I like to think I was doing a service, but a small part of me thinks I was avoiding the gym!

At the blood bank, a German lady serving the juice and cookies decided my name was German, and I was not to spend the 15 minutes reading a book alone.  She pulled in another German lady to boot.  We discussed Germany, my Grandfather, and Grandmother, the town of Ubrirkichen, stonemasons, the arbitrariness of money, and families torn apart by WWI and WW II. She knew exactly where the town was and her accent mimicked by Grandmother.

I had not thought of my Grandfather before this morning for some time, and an hour or IMG_0205two later, his immigration to the United States and strong character are celebrated.  Elsa, his wife, my grandmother, is remembered as well for her love, principles, and tenderness.   I do not remember her being beautiful in the way she is in this picture.  I remember her being beautiful as a grandmother with a warm and delicate smile.  Both of them were quiet people, but stronger than anybody I knew, perhaps that is still true today.

Happenstance?  I think not.  Patriarchy, history, and remembrance made real hours after my a.m. spiritual reading bought my Grandparents’ love and lives into my mind.

My day did not include much solitude or prayer today.  It did include giving blood, sharing history with two German ladies, visiting an old friend, returning home to plant some flowers,  joining my wife for dinner out, giving up the television room to my daughter and her friends just when I wanted to sit and watch the bloody news, and now writing this morning dew as the silences from the past and present have blessed me today.

Somehow scripture seemed intimately connected to my day without any conscious effort on my part – just gentle whispers of grace.  These two grandparents left indelible images in my heart, and one of them gave me stubbornness as well, which sometimes serves me well and other times, not so well!

What would their words be today if they were here?  I don’t think they would have to say a thing.   They might start pruning a tree or inspecting a crooked door for repair, but words of guidance no need, they teach only by doing.

The Old Testament and The New Testament came alive for me today in subtle ways.  Someone else reading the same exact passages would walk away with different sentiments and thoughts.  How these sentiments and thoughts guide our lives is the test of true spiritual discernment.

[i] Richard Rohr Daily Meditations page 43.

Morning Dew # 7

Esau gives away his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. A steep impulsive decision considering the firstborn gets double or more of the inheritance when their father passes! A youthful and rash decision for immediate gratification. Jacob manipulated his brother’s immaturity to have the firstborn birthright. At first glance, we could interpret this as merely brotherly gesturing and joviality. However, the Old Testament does not tend to present joviality or gestures. Every passage has intended purpose, and this passage captures brotherly jealousy and hatred and foreshadows further division.

A Baylor University Graduate thesis summed it up this way: “The primary thesis is that YHWH both uses and engages in deception for the perpetuation of the ancestral promise (Gen 12:1-3), giving rise to what I have dubbed a theology of deception. Through a literary hermeneutic, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between both how the text means and what the text means, with theological aims, this study examines the various manifestations of YHWH as Trickster in the Jacob cycle. Attention is given to how the multiple deceptions evoke, advance, and at times fulfill the ancestral promise.”[i]

220px-Horst,_Gerrit_Willemsz._-_Isaac_blessing_Jacob_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis is truly horrific. Isaac calls to his son Esau and says, “Behold now, I am old. I do not know the day of my death.” He then asks Esau to go and prepare him an exquisite “savory meal” so that he may eat it and then bless Esau in the presence of God before his death.” Esau takes off at once to prepare the meal. Jacob and his mother, however, prepare and execute an elaborate scheme and deceive Isaac. Jacob brings him a meal first, dressed up as Isaac, and received the blessing reserved for Esau.

Prepostouris?   $36.5 billion is stolen from the elderly every year by financial abuse.  Jacob clearly deceived his father and would be defined as financial elder abuse today!  “It is estimated that $30 trillion will be inherited in the next 30 years . The result is a significant percentage of children and grandchildren fighting for what they believe is their fair share of inheritance while either one or both aging parents are still alive.”  If your getting on in years, please save your loved the trouble and lock down your intentions now by a legal will and make peace with everyone so that their are no surprises.  That is a legacy worth sharing.  

download (3)My vision of Jacob has always been somewhat colored by Jacob’s Ladder story, which comes a little later on in Genesis. He rests his head on a rock and settles in for a night’s sleep while on his journey away from Esau’s wrath and has a beautiful epiphany known historically as Jacob’s ladder.  God speaks to Jacob in this dream:  ‘And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest'” Jacob exclaims, “How full of awe is this place!”  This is the Jacob my Christian roots celebrate and remember!  Jacob, by this point, has now entirely supplanted Esau and becomes a patriarch in Jewish biblical history. 

In Matthew chapter 11 today, Jesus entirely supplants John the Baptist, who is sitting in jail at the moment.   Poor John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ.  He bought people knowledge of the Messiah’s coming, as Jesus proclaimed John the Baptist is a prophet, as it was written:

“Behold, I send My messenger before your face, Who will prepare your way for you.”

John the Baptist life demonstrates extreme faith, humility and obedience.  Biblically, both John and Jesus miraculous birth were predestined and revealed by an Angel.  John was born first, and Jesus later.   

Jesus preached that the time for preaching and prophets are done.  He is bringing us final knowledge. 

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”    

Paul MccCarren, SJ captures this message as Jesus telling us now is the time to “take on the burden he carries, the hardship of turning to God’s desires rather than our own.” 

IMG_0175 (1)
Practice over Knowledge

Before my hand hit the keyboard this a.m. my paint brush etched out the above drawing.  The Old Testament representing Knowledge and the New Testament capturing practice. Esau replaced by Jacob.  John the Baptist replaced by Jesus.  Esau and Jacob account replaced by John the Baptist and Jesus Account?   

I am left feeling Jesus and YHWH perhaps do have a sense of Jovialty.  I do not believe following the way prepared by John the Baptist, foreshadowed by the Old Testament, and bought to fruition by Jesus Christ presents us with a “light burden.”   

Hidden within both text are linkages and foreshadowings that unravel one moment and disappear next.  Everyday is a new canvas.  

We are left in the present moment practicing the embodiment of our knowledge in our everyday actions. 

The moral lessons in these two accounts are too many to draw out here except one:    My first born son owes me a savory dinner!  

Jesus Christ is my bodhisattva.  Walking in his steps is filled with challenges, failures, and ever unfolding mystery.  Everyday starts afresh with a blank slate for which I can live in the present moment relying on the knowledge of the past and the practice today of being aware of what is God’s will.  

While it is true we will have our share of adversity and suffering here on earth, truly walking God’s path provides the ability to project calm, joy, and peace to others no matter what the circumstance.   We do not have to wear suffering on our sleeves, we can carry that weight in prayer and with others when called to do so.  

Have a beautiful and blessed day where ever you find yourself physically and spiritually today.   

peacerule


[i] https://baylor-ir.tdl.org/handle/2104/8017

Morning Dews # 6

old_testament_stories_abraham_isaacPoor Isaac asks his father, Abraham, “look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.”[i]  Think of the trauma Isaac must have felt as his father a short time later bound him up and prepared to kill him with a knife and burn him on the altar.  There is no mention of Isaac’s response to his near-death experience or if he heard the angel of the lord that directed Abraham not to lay a hand on the lad and provided a lamb in to stand in place of his Son.  The Church of the Latter-Day Saints provides this beautiful resolution to the story pictorially:

old_testament_stories_abraham_isaac (1)

I am not buying their version of these events.  They may have it right, all I am saying is that boy should not be smiling the way he is just after his father almost killed him like that sheep in the background smoldering on the altar.

My trusted Jewish scholar[ii] tells me that Abram (short for Abraham) was called by the one true creator to leave his family, and God would make him a great nation.  This was called a b’it or covenant between mankind and God.  The contract required rights and obligations on both sides, and the oral traditions captured in scripture for us capture Abram’s departing from home and ten tests of faith, including sacrificing his Son Isaac.  The fact is that biblical Hebrew was hardly aware of a distinction between simile, metaphor, parable, and allegory.[iii]  The story bought to us has only the slimmest of details.

Let’s leave the literal versus the allegory interpretation to the scholars.  Abram reportedly smashed his family many idols in the house, and when the parents returned home, he said the more prominent idol broke the smaller ones!

unnamed (2)

How true is it today that often adolescence and young adults leave home by way of conflict rather than peacefully without ever having to break free from parental protections by defiant statements of independence?

Abram is the story of a young man finding his way in the world with only God as his overseer.  He is tested all along the way.  The almost sacrifice of his Son demonstrates a pinnacle of trust that he developed in his faith that he was ready to do the unthinkable.

In our times, we find both Abram’s actions and God’s test implausible.  However, if told the same story within our cultural norms and context, the narrative would not be so peculiar.  A young adult leaves his childhood home on not so good terms.  Within him still resides the embers of faith to guide his lonely journey into adulthood.

At some juncture, he is faced with a spiritual crisis that calls on him to take a considerable risk, or stands up for the oppressed, denies himself something he loves, or makes a decision between to evils, trying to pick the lesser of the two we imagine.  In making these decisions, he leans on the one thing he has close, his God.  The narratives we hear today are mostly not as grandiose as about to murder one’s own Son.    We are ordinary people, not Abraham of Genesis! If you are not challenged, you are not looking.

Still, today the message is if we put our trust in God, he will not ask us to do things we cannot handle.  He will offer us alternatives at critical times if our eyes of open to experience the presence of God in our midst.

My morning read did not get any more comfortable with the leap to Matthews Gospel 400 plus years later, when Christ told the disciples:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother, and a mans’ enemies will be those of his own household.”   (Matthews 10:34)

We are not four centuries removed from this writing as Matthew was from Genesis, but 18 plus centuries.

In Matthew 10, Christ prepares the Disciples to be carriers of the message and word of images (38)God.  He prepares them for the hostilities that they will face, even amongst their people and their families, perhaps even more so among the Jewish peoples than the gentiles.    They were being sent out into the world like Abram to face social, political, and religious divisions without any power or legitimacy other than Christ’s word.

Where are we today?  In America today, we have the most divisive president in the history of the United States, shy I guess of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis as the leader of the confederate losing side during the civil war!

We are a nation divided politically.  Religiously there are about 4300 religions in the world.  Seventy-five percent are represented by the top five religions:  Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. And within each of these five are many divisions.  Our nation-states have never stopped warring with each other.  Check out a history of war entitled “Population control, Marauder style.”

We have been killing each other since the dawn of time.  What are we to do in the face of such division?  Jesus proclaims:

“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

I am pretty confident that the five major religions above can accept this teaching as a reflection of sacrifice to God.  To put one’s trust solely in God and God’s teachings above politics, religiosity, social norms, and even family is perhaps equal to the challenge of Abram and the disciples.  While our task is presumable a thousandfold less challenging, must of us have not seen a burning bush, healed the sick with a prayer, or spoke to Christ directly in the flesh.  If you have, please contact me!  I have a favor to ask.

We are even amongst our family and friends divided, sometimes vehemently and without any trace of humility.  There is not an inch of hope of the “other” genuinely switching sides.  At best, as happens in so many families, they agree to disagree without finding the time to ground out the truth in all things.  The truth will not be all good for either side.

Twenty-two centuries ago, Abram was tested in his faith.   Eighteen Centuries ago, the apostles were tested as well.  Today we are on God’s testing ground.  We have the advantage of centuries of traditions and written scripture.  We have advancements in philosophy, the sciences, communications, and data points on the smallest nuances of human behavior normed, evaluated, and examined.  We have at our disposal the ability to command almost all of the earth’s resources, and wealth in a manner that could tend to every human being’s need and have minus our mortality and human struggles, real peace on earth.

time

I personally feel like roughly 20 centuries is enough time to actualize the teaching of Christ or have God return and provide us further direction!  And if not Christ, then the fulfillment of any of the other world great religions.  I said 18 plus centuries before regarding the Gospel of Matthew as scholars disagree no when the gospel was authored specifically.  Our Gregorian Calendar is pretty accurate that Christ lived and died twenty centuries ago.

What if God said to you today, I can visit tomorrow and come and judge you and all the men and women on this earth.  I will weigh each according to his deeds and actions.  I nowwill take the righteous with me to heaven, and the rest will get their due elsewhere, I will leave that to your imagination.  So, do you want me to come tomorrow at your calling to judge the living and the dead?  Or, you can defer my arrival to a time of my choosing as I had intended to on my time?    I know my answer.  What would yours be?

Before I go, let me return to Isaac.  It appears as if he did okay and maintained his be46144e84c3fa4540bc88df707e2d85relationship with his father, Abram.  Two chapters later, Abraham provides Isaac at God’s direction, a beautiful virgin wife named Rebekah from the distant land of Mesopotamia as directed by God.  I can say he did not see that coming when he was the awkward boy smiling above having just escaped being sacrificed.

Do you have any blessings today in your life that you did not see coming 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even last week?  My blessings are too many to count.  Sometimes they are obscured by my own blindness, contemporary challenges, and human suffering beyond my own suffering.   Perhaps I could learn a little more from my Buddhist brothers and their pursuit of mindfulness meditation practices?  And they perhaps can learn from the ultimate suffering of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ?

What if all the religions of the world had a piece of the puzzle?  I do not encourage polytheism or anyone to stray from their religious beliefs unless the fruit of those beliefs are showing you they cannot truly be holy.  In both the old and the new testaments Idols were smashed – sometimes they were religions and sometimes they were just material things man valued above God or above human relationships.  Ultimately you have to own responsibility for your actions as measured by something greater than yourself and hopefully greater than contemporary man!

Are you ready to meet these five today if they were sent back here by God?    

unnamed (3)

Thanks for visiting and may this post find you humble in God’s words and vision…

[i] Genesis 22:8

[ii] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/abraham

[iii] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/allegory

Aquinas’ Shorter Summa (Part III:  The Humanity of Christ – The Second Treatise on Faith)

images (1)

The sins of Adam, the first parent, have been transcended to us as his descendants including suffering and death.  It is not that God has punished us by an addition – but merely withdrew his blessing and left us with our base selves.  Is this “Original Justice” for eternity until the end of time anyway for a just God to act?   Did it really take 4000 years for God to figure out how to reach mankind by sending his only son, the great Redeemer, Jesus Christ?  And why did not the great Redeemer not only lift “Original Sin” but lift and restore us to original mint condition – with eternal life and an end to suffering?

I cannot answer my own critique of this biblical narrative successfully with resounding confidence – no less explain the faith to the unbeliever.  Christology has answers within its theological system – which Thomas Aquinas thoughtfully described before he gave up writing all-together, perhaps recognizing the impossibility of truly representing the Holy Trinity with human language.

The take away of this second treatise on Faith is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (human body, true rational soul, and perfect deity), born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born, suffered and died for our salvation.

th (1)

Aquinas delves into the heresy’s and errors of his time and painstakingly answers and clarifies the mystery of the faith amid much controversy.  The questions raised back than are just as pertinent today. As cradle Catholics we may fall into error in just accepting or taking for granted our beliefs as we have been taught by tradition and scripture.   This is a grave error and risk.  Our living faith is not meant to remain at the level of an infancy narrative or elementary school rote memory of church history.  We are called to progress within our life times as well as from generation to generation.  But are we ready for his calling?

“My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me.  Never the less, not as I will, but as thou will.”

If you pray what Jesus prayed, with awareness of its potential consequences and full commitment to integrating God’s will as best you can discern, life at once is exponentially more joyful and frightening.  Spiritual enlightenment comes with both joy and suffering.

th

I could answer the questions above – but they would only invite more questions, and the answers to those the same, and so on to eternity.  It is unfathomable.   That does not mean God and the Holy Trinity do not exist much the same as atoms and particles exist despite that I cannot discern them with the naked eye.  It is just as difficult to disbelieve as to believe in God – both require a leap of faith at the end point of human inquiry (after exhausting all scientific, philosophical, theological, and historical artifacts at our disposal).   It is an unbearable reality that the more we know, the more we become aware of how much we do not know.  Yet, we have a natural calling to pursue and have intimate knowledge of all that is knowable and unknowable.

th (3)

This “dumb ox” named Thomas Aquinas, was born about 1225 A.D.  He is recognized as one of 35 Doctors of the Church.  “The whole basis of his thought is this:  If it is wrong to give up the Faith for the sake of reason, it is also wrong to give up reason for the sake of the faith.”

In public dialogue it is nearly impossible to dialogue on the essence of our faith as we see it through the eyes of man today and by the sins of our fellow man, sadly our clergy, and our own shortcomings.  The volumes of debris we have littered amidst our holy traditions and teachings is strangling the true essence of our faith.   So sometimes we have to reach back in time in addition to reading scripture.

download (2)

The final take away:  Thomas Aquinas was known to pray before he wrote and to ask God’s guidance.  Whatever your calling in life, this sounds to me like a great take away before you go off to perform your calling each day and as you retire at the end of the day.    Knowing your calling requires knowing your faith – both theologically and through a personal relationship with God.

th (2)

Thanks for visiting.

Radical Transformation: Part Two

Transformation In Christ, by Dietrich Von Hildebrand (Chapters 2 through 6):

After chapter one on Readiness to Change Dietrich dives into house cleaning:  Contrition, Self-knowledge, True Consciousness, True Simplicity, and Recollection and Contemplation! It has been about a month for me to traverse this material and attempt to reapply principles and practices revealed within these pages.  It is not an easy process as most of us have a fundamental belief that our spirituality and our intentions are generally aligned with being good.  A familiarity with prayer rituals, an investment in other people, a general intention to behave well, and an absence of atrocious behavior relative to others can leave one comfortable in blissful self-adoration, or at least not fully alive and receptive to the potentiality of God having greater or at least different expectations for us today.

If God were our employer, would it be good enough to ride the wave on what we have accomplished yesterday, to have good intentions, to lazily commit errors that we have identified in the past as requiring immediate and sustained improvement?

Thankfully God is not our employer.  I would have been terminated and Godless long ago if not for God’s infinite mercy and the saving grace of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

On Contrition:

The first action involved a trip to my spiritual director and a rehashing of prior sins, both recent and long ago.  A compelling need to place my imperfections before God and my spiritual director provided a base from which to seek and renew a process of seeking sanctification.  This step was taken pursue fluidity and continuity of my continued journey to seek proximity to God.  Dietrich describes our tendency to resist change this way:

“This tendency to self-affirmation and petrification, as opposed to the readiness for being transformed in all these points and for receiving the imprint of the face of Christ instead of the old features, is the antithesis to what we have meant here in speaking of fluidity.”

Contrition is an act that counteracts this tendency.  A conscious effort to clean house through informed and guided true penance:

“Turn away Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities,

Create a clean heart in me O God:

And renew a right spirit within my bowels,

Restore unto me the joy of Thy Salvation,

And strengthen me with a perfect spirit.”

On Self-knowledge:

The second action is to truly examine acquire the following:

  • Knowledge of any actions or behaviors that would offend God and
  • Knowledge of the “discrepancy between what we ought to be and what we are” including our metaphysical situation, our destiny, and our vocation(s)!

This is not a sociological, psychological, or philosophical knowledge – but an earnest examination of ourselves through the eyes of God, or at least as close as we can come to approximating his will and desires for us.

This is daunting.  It can be utilized to merely validate how good we have been or dive into the martyrdom of our long list of omissions, negative actions, missed opportunities, and regrets.  That is not the intention.  There is nothing that we may discover that God does not already know.  It is starting point or a re-engagement of our spiritual path.  It may require minor or drastic course altering’s in the now (temporary actions) or down the road.

On True Consciousness:

The pillar continues as Dietrich lies down foundational steps one on top of the other.  Achieving a mode of living in “true consciousness” where through the “conscious center of his soul a person comes of age morally and acquires the ability to utter the “yes” in the face of God which He demands of us.”

This is a steep hill as it is mode of living where everything is taken out of the mundane, out of the temporal, out of autopilot, and placed in the divine sphere – every thought, action and deed.  We all have different gradients spirituality.   I enjoy strategy games of chess and Texas hold’em poker.  How does my enjoyment and time given to these activities pair with God’s intentions? I am at the moment unwilling to give up either entirely as the first has been a life time hobby and the second a monthly social gathering.   For argument sake, let us say that through divine revelation or merely a recommendation by my spiritual advisor, that both these activities were deemed unworthy of any of my time.

Would I be able to disavow both entirely?   Would I be able to further develop my discipline to have such an “act of disavowal render the impulse in question nonexistent or to eradicate it; yet that the impulse is invalidated, as it were, and in a sense decapitated and deprived of its malignant potency?”     I presume I would struggle with this request from my human spiritual advisor but if I was so blessed with a vision of divine revelation they would not be hard to give up!

Our position in life, our strengths and weaknesses, our vocational calling will provide us guidance on how we direct out attentions.  What we attend to we become. How much do we attend to God’s presence and what if anything takes precedence over God?  That is not to say we are all meant to be cloistered Monks.  However, within our metaphysical position in life we do have to carefully discern our God-given minutes here on earth and how best to deploy their use in a conscious manner.

On True Simplicity:

Seventy-four pages in Dietrich bring us back to put it all together and decipher how to live on the “sacral sphere” as opposed to the “motley variegation of life.”  He states the goal this way:

“One supreme point of view governs our entire life and in subordination to that point of view all else is judged and settled.  It is the principle of conduct enjoined in the words of the lord”  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all things shall be added unto you.”  (Matt6.33)”

Or we can live on the flip side:

“The protean vastness of untruth, the maze of arbitrary and extravagant but witty errors and sophistries are considered with great interest – if only they divert the intellect from platitude and simplicity.”

Our intellects, important to guide our discernment of spiritual things and worldly matters, can easily be used to avoid the immense responsibility and obligations that come with living a spiritual life and seeking proximity to God.  Any number of human frailties can have us running towards the “cult of the abstruse.”  We see this every day in entrenched partisan politics. People run into their comfortable bubbles of ideological beliefs and utilize maelstrom intellectually dishonest strategies to defend their self-interest and position regardless of concrete evidence of the contrary.

Dietrich explores man traps and nuances of leading the simply life, more than I can enunciate here.  Suffice it to say “Metaphysically speaking, the higher an entity is, the greater its simplicity.  The soul is so simple as no longer to admit of a disjunction of form and matter.”

On Recollection and Contemplation: 

What is the difference? Recollection in my words, is freeze framing a situation and point in time.   We take control of our thoughts and our mind by slowing down the rapid-firing of neurological signals excited and engaged in current worldly concerns and pressures.   We become mindful of their presence but through recollection create the distance from our entrenched connection to and enmeshing of feelings and attitudes associated with human events.  From afar we can deconstruct and place complex situations on a table for deferment or right sizing against the backdrop of our spiritual orientation.  When we are able to “empty our soul of all current concerns and are no longer possessed by the things which fill our life” we can turn to contemplation.

Here is the rub:  “In order to recollect ourselves, we must shun everything that appeals to our craving for sensation.”  This seems rather unfair to me.  Has not my creator provided me five senses and a robust pleasure reception network to enjoy all that he has created?   Perhaps not all, but certainly more than my eye can see?     Dietrich takes us through the value of contemplation as when we are in true contemplation, with a focus on something greater than ourselves, something truly worthy of our adoration; we can come as close as we can to rest in the divine while still alive in our mortal skins.  The author in each of these chapters takes hard shots at my comfortable sense of Christianity, at my fragile practice of prayer, and at the lack of mental and physical discipline present in my life contrasted with seeking living a truly sanctified life.

There are roadblocks and always will be roadblocks.  The mystery here is God’s grace and mercy we seek to open our hearts to what is always within us, around us, and in proximity to our action and thought.  My journey is never-ending and is not a future place but being, truly being where I am right now.

Academically, philosophically, and theologically speaking this is an apparent truth of reality.  I cannot live in yesterday or tomorrow. Recollection and Contemplation in concert will and can inform our actions today and every day.  Action without either is highly vulnerable to answering to artificial hierarchies established by other men or by ourselves, unguided by a central and eternal uniting principle of diving guidance.

Talk about not creating obfuscation?  How is this simple?  He answers this from many vantage points.  For example, he says “First, we should consecrate every day space of time to inward prayer.”  Simple enough.  Leaving our worldly concerns behind he provides the following:

“I will forget everything that was, and is to come; nor think of what lies ahead of me.  Whatever I am wont to carry and to hold in my arms I will let fall before Jesus.  It will not fall into the void:  standing before Jesus.  I deliver it all up to him.  Everything belongs to him:  all burdening worries and all great concerns, both mine and those of the souls I love.  I am not abandoning them as I would abandon them in seeking diversion:  I know that in Jesus they are truly in a safe harbor.  When at his call I relinquish and abandon all things.  I am not casting them away; on the contrary, I am assigning everything to its proper place.”

There are many jewels in this chapter including the value of silence, solitude, appropriate rest.   At the end of the day these activities are primary to action, but nonetheless action is than required in all our activities.   The prose and elegance of his writings address the roller coaster of life and prayer.

So it is Ash Wednesday today.  A forty day pilgrimage begins.  Some devout Christians will sacrifice some element of themselves (actions, time, and commitments) and practice the prescribed attendance at Mass and perform various acts of fasting on specified days.

My spiritual director and I briefly discussed this Lenten period.   Without getting into the weeds of our discussions, here are some of his ideas and mine for lent that one can consider:

  • Prayer space and time: Establish a prayer space that provides you solitude and time without interruption.
  • A.M. prayer: Add a few extra minutes to your established prayer
  • Guided content: Consider reading daily scripture at the start of the day including commentary on the contest and meaning of the literary form.
  • Weekday mass: When possible add in weekday masses (Noon?) where the daily scripture can be revisited and of course the gift the Eucharist present.
  • 3 P.M. Pause: Set a bell or reminder for reflection at 3 P.M.
  • P.M Prayer: Consider the Ignatius Examen as a peaceful close to your day:
  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow.[i]

Where to start?  Today’s reading is as true today as it was when it was written, now is the time:

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”[c]

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor: 5:11 to 6:2)

May you have an enriching Lenten journey with fruitful recollection and contemplation!

Sacred

Addendum:  Check out Pope Francis message:

Pope Francis offers a “worksheet” for Lent: Check it out!

[i] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen

 

Praying the Psalms, Merton, Thomas[i]

A tight rope walk with Thomas Merton on one side of the chasm and King David (and several lesser known authors) on the other still leaves me struggling with the wisdom of the Psalms.  Our busy lives present many valleys to ponder.  Thomas Merton short book explores how the Psalms can be used in prayer to traverse chasms in life.

chasm

The barriers for me I believe is the context of King David’s time and the Old Testament language and experience being applied to modern times in modern vernacular.  More than that the Psalms are not meant to be read – they are meant to be sung in praise and celebration.  Experience any psalm played by talented musicians at the Psalm Project.[iii] Surely this how King David envisioned the Psalms to be used to praise God.

You can really feel the power of the psalms when attending charismatic churches that embrace full musical choirs.  It can be a powerful experiential spiritual journey.  Yet, even alongside hundreds or perhaps thousands of believers (mega churches), you can be left with only fleeting grace, fading before you exit the parking lot.  What is missing is substance.  Your substance:

The problem is therefore not to learn from the Psalms a totally new experience, but rather to recognize, in the Psalms, our own experience lived out and perfected, orientated to God and made fruitful, by the action of loving faith. Ultimately we do this by uniting our joys with the joys of Christ in the Psalms, our sorrows with the sorrows of Christ, and thus allowing ourselves to be carried to heaven on the tide of His victory.[iv]

 20150218-theme-verse-psalms

[v]

Merton knows just how to state things so plainly, so intuitively that you may miss the depth of what such a simple statement implies.  The substance of the Psalms applied to our own life with sincere contemplation (meditation), shared devotion (songs of praise at church or temple), and action (a continual awareness of God’s presence and ability to have all of our actions and decisions be guided by humble discernment).

This is not as hard as it sounds.  Merton describes it as merely only listening and acting to what we already know:

  “I delight to do Thy will, O my God, and Thy law is in the depths of my heart.” [vi]

But there are real human barriers for us all to content with every day:

Obedience:  It is interesting how people struggle with the idea of obeying an omniscient God.  I ask where people think their sense of right and wrong is derived from as individuals and as a collective.  When we are at our best are we not intuitively listening to “something” instilled on our nature, something profound, something universal that we have all come to recognize that all humans share across nations?  Call it the human spirit.  We know when the human spirit is distorted.  We recognize it immediately in our guts whether wrong actions are committed by the individual (Charles Manson), by extreme religiosity (ISIS today, The Crusades, and other religious wars), or by nation states (Hitler’s Germany).

Politics:  Nation states are particularly frightening today recognizing that charismatic leaders can bring their nations down the road of evil through fear, intimidation, and false patriotism with massive arsenals at their disposal. We live in and have a responsibility to be engaged in society.  You can be deceived into believing you are fighting for goodness.  In America we believe we stand for righteousness.  One TV interviewer had a Trump supporter saying whatever Donald Trump says is what God wills. This is a distortion of epic proportions.  Some other nations believe we have it deadly wrong.  Our current President has shaken the world’s confidence that we can stand for moral principles in times of turbulence.  Internally our nation is divided and torn by both politics and race.  We have put our faith in men and parties rather than our minds on truth and God.

Discernment:  It is not political.  It is not a party.  It is not a nation.  It is an individual responsibility.  It is to be actively lived and to be actively engaged with the world.

Selfishness:  How often our own self-interest is put ahead of the world’s poor.  How often are we challenged by our own desires or simply to avoid boredom?

Estrangement:  As a nation gone astray we can especially feel estranged from discernment, feeling isolated and definitively alone with our struggles where we may exclaim something akin to Psalm 12:

 “How long, O Lord, wilt thou utterly forget me? How long wilt thou hide Thy face from me?”[vii]

It can be grueling when as believers we have a “feeling” of spiritual dryness, a struggling moment or many moments piled high days on days on days on end?  Some refer to this as the dark night.  I cannot say I have experienced the “Dark Night.”  I have had many dark nights and times of misery — though I fear experiencing the depth that some saints have experienced before me or even the dark nights that others are experiencing tonight as I sit hear contemplating God and writing about psalms.

All of the above challenges and many more can take us away from truly knowing God or having a proximity to conscious awareness of God’s way from which to draw on for support and guidance.  It is a terrible lonesomeness.

“As the hind pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and see the face of God? My tears have become my bread day and night, whilst they say to me daily: Where is thy God?”[viii]

Many great mystics and believers feel this same way often.  Many priest.  It is not something we can demand – it is a gift to have even a passing fragrance of God’s presence.

It is easier to fight man’s wars with man’s tools.   We can easily join the noise and fight fire with fire, anger with anger, violence with more violence — especially when we cannot “feel” God’s presence.  How weak are we that we need or year for that presence on demand when we are suffering? If we always felt God’s presence discernment and living God’s will certainly be a great deal easier.

Why turn to God’s way when revenge or counter attack seems called for and perhaps even on its surface, morally the right thing to do?

The reason why we submit entirely to His will is because He is good. We do not obey merely for the sake of obedience, but as a testimony to the supreme goodness of God Himself.[ix]

Again, Merton nails it with simplicity above.  Not with the nails of the cross, but with the reality of the majesty and unknowable goodness of God himself.  Meditating on why we should surrender to God’s way and continue to seek God’s way can be guided by spending serious time with different Psalms.  Doing so can prepare you for any circumstance every day, including the final circumstance, when our physical body surrenders to mortality.

 The Lord is my shepherd: I want for nothing; he makes me to lie in green pastures. He leads me to waters where I may rest; he restores my soul. —Psalm 22: 1-2.[x]

 We cannot by mere human ingenuity or talent exhaust all that is contained in the Psalms. Indeed, if we seek only to “get something out of them” we will perhaps get less than we expect, and generous efforts may be frustrated because they are turned in the wrong direction: toward ourselves rather than toward God.

God knows you – Psalm 139[xi]

psalms

[xii]

End notes:

[i]               Citation (APA): Merton, T. (2015). Praying the Psalms [Kindle iOS version].

[ii] https://www.google.com/search?q=chasm+definition&rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiwiq-Fh_vVAhVG64MKHQigAtsQ_AUICigB&biw=1366&bih=589#imgrc=-gYZF55lwKu83M

 

[iii]              http://thepsalmsprojectband.com/

[iv]              Page 25 · Location 161

[v]               http://overviewbible.com/psalms/

[vi]              Page 31 · Location 208

[vii]             Page 32 · Location 224

[viii]             Page 36 · Location 253

[ix]              Page 39 · Location 277

[x]               Page 41 · Location 287

[xi] Psalm 139New Living Translation (NLT)

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me,[b] O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!

19 O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
Get out of my life, you murderers!
20 They blaspheme you;
your enemies misuse your name.
21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
for your enemies are my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Footnotes:

  1. 139:8 Hebrew to Sheol.
  2. 139:17 Or How precious to me are your thoughts.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

[xii] https://www.google.com/search?q=book+of+psalms&rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG4Ljqo_vVAhWIxIMKHQkbBowQ_AUIDSgE&biw=1366&bih=638

 

Cousins: Immortal Enemies?

A sibling rivalry between half-brothers began when the youngest received his father’s birth-right and the eldest went off to a foreign land with a different blessing to prosper as well.

Generations later great religions would wage holy wars claiming true authenticity to a covenant with God.  To put it another way, 3.6 billion people (54% of the world’s population) belong to one of three Abrahamic religions:  Christianity (33%), Islam (16%), and Judaism (.2%).[i]

Abrahamic religions are religions that derive their lineage from the original covenant God had with Abraham.  There were covenants before with Adam and Eve, with Noah, and later with Moses.  However, Abraham had a formal unwavering Covenant from God.  The Old Testament mentions the word covenant 280 times!  The Covenant with Abraham was a lasting promise where God promised land and success to all of Abraham’s descendants.

Much of our law and our societies are based on agreed covenants between people, states, and nations that it is worth defining the term here:

Definition of covenant

  1. 1: a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement :  compact… international law, which depends upon the sanctity of covenants between rulers. — George H. Sabine
  2. 2a:  a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action the deed conveying the land contained restrictive covenantsb :  the common-law action to recover damages for breach of such a contract[ii]

These three religions all believe in one God but have very different and clashing views.  The half-sibling connection?   Abraham had two sons:  Ismael the first son and Isaac the second.  Ismael went off to a land that would become Muslim and predominately Arab.  Islam claims lineage from Ismael while Judaism and Christianity from Isaac.  It is not as simple as I have stated here – but this enough detail for the purpose of this writing.

Portions of the nation of Islam are at war with non-Muslims today.   The Koran and other teachings of Islam have plenty of Holy Scripture references from their prophet Muhammad that legitimize violence in the name of God.  You either live within the “Abode of Islam” or “Abode of War.”  Mohammed’s early years in Mecca and later years in Medina saw a military shift in both his actions and his revelations (114 Suras) that were not written down until about 118 years after his death in 750 Common Era (CE)!   His prominent preaching occurred from 610 CE until his death in 632 CE.  The move to Medina marks the end of “The Era of Ignorance” in 622 CE and is called the Year of the Hegirae!

Death to the Pope

Christianity, a little bit older than Islam had its periods of violence as well.  However, it is difficult to attribute Christianity’s Crusades with the writing and teaching of Jesus Christ.   Their folly into violence I place squarely on human beings misusing scripture and being all too human.

Crusades

Judaism is the oldest and is accepted by both Christianity and Islam!   However, Judaism does not accept the Prophets Jesus Christ or Mohammad.  Christians do not accept Mohamad!  Both believe their Prophets were the last messengers from God.  The Old Testament has many different references to violence and war.  To be fair, most of the references are from the Jewish people seeking relief  from oppression or slavery.

violence

All three religions have roots in helping the poor and being oppressed in different epochs of time.  By sheer numbers alone, and if one is not a Holocaust denier, the Jewish people have endured the brunt of religious oppression.

To put this time period into perspective let’s look at time along a continuum with the Creation of the World being the year 1 and today being the year 5777 if time were linear without the B.C. and C.E.

Day 1:  Creation of the World

Day 6:  Adam and Eve – Garden of Eden (say 3500 – 3900 BC)

Year 1656:  Noah and the Great Flood

Year 1812:   Abraham (The Covenant)

Year 2240:  Moses

Year 2494:  David unites the Israelites!

Year 2594:  Israel finds itself in-between Egypt and Assyria – two great powers that would overrun them many times.

Year 3490:  Jesus Christ is born.

Year 3525:  Jesus is crucified at age 34 (say 30 CE).

Year 3565:  Earliest writings begin somewhere from 40 to 60 years after Christ death.

Year 3815:  Emperor Constantine adopts/converts to Christianity.  This is troublesome in the long run.  The church that started out as non-political gets wedded to the state.  Pope Urban the II and Pope Innocent the IVth would condone force for converting non-believers down the line.   Nowhere is this in the writings and preaching of Jesus Christ or in his actions.

Year 4100:  Mohammad is Born (say 610 CE).

Year 4132:  Mohammad Dies (say 632 CE).

Year 4236:  Koran written capturing Mohamad’s revelations (Suras).

Year 5777:  The actual year is now 2017.

If each generation passed every 40 years on average we have only been around 144 generations.  How far back does your family tree go?  How far back does your oral tradition go?  How knowledgeable are your kids regarding the history of your family, your nation, your faith?

There is plenty room for error in almost 6000 years of human existence.

The three religions

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam:  The Monotheists Course Guide by F.E. Peters, PHD (A Modern Scholars Course) attempted to provide an objective viewpoint of the similarities and differences between these three religions.  I enjoyed his detailed views on Abraham, Jesus Christ, and Mohammad and the traditions and sacred writings that later formed the three great religions.   I am Catholic and hence a subjective reader.   The history of Islam here and the life and times of Mohammad were very troubling in this course.

The degree to which Jihad is ingrained in the prophet’s actions and the religions sacred writings is utilized today to justify ISIS and other violence.

The history of Judaism has war and violence as well both in actions and in scripture.  However, their beliefs and practices have had many reformations over the last 6000 years and they account for only .2 percent of the world population.

Christianity does not have the scriptural or the prophet example to justify violence accept it does accept the Old Testament.  However, Jesus Christ is a redeemer who gave us a new covenant that for all practical purposes abolished many old ways.

If you are a Muslim reading my post please reply and explain how the “Abode of War” and Muhammad’s violent history is not applicable today?  If you are Jewish, please explain to me where and when the second coming will be here and how a God is only here for the “Chosen People.”  If you are a Christian, it has been a longtime since Christ death.  When exactly is the end of the world?   There are too many questions!

E Peters covered an excellent review on how people pursue an understanding and achieving a proximity to God: Direct revelation (thru no effort on our part – as revealed to our ancestors and given to us in scripture), Theology (formal study and pursuit of knowledge), Asceticism (self-denial of worldly things and pursuit of God’s way), and Mysticism.   The latter is the most intriguing and dangerous.  We have very few true mystics in our history.  How many of us have truly heard the voice of God talk to us? Too often men of this world purport to be mystics for evil purposes or believe they are mystics without having a true relationship with the God of Abraham.

I raise these avenues of pursuit of a higher understanding of a spiritual transcendence as religion as it is today cannot be static.   People of the word of God, of the Abrahamic line, are not acting and promoting a lifestyle that portrays a transcendent God.

To be Holy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is to aspire to live a holy life.    If F.E Peter’s description of our religions being cousins is at all close to reality, we have in 6000 years destroyed our sense of kinship.   In the name of man alone each has claimed moral authority without legitimate sanction over the other.

As a member of the Christian faith, I am saddened by the lack of evidence and historical verification that is present for Islam and its founder.  Much of what is written cannot be verified by other sources.  My inclination is Islam cannot be an extenuation of the Abrahamic line.  The Jews feel about Jesus Christ.

Yet, I know many Muslims that are peaceful people and follow a reformed set of Islamic principles.   But they cannot define for me the justification for deviation from the Koran and the more orthodox Islamic scholars.  There is a bridge between me and Muslim beliefs that escapes my yearning for ecumenical thinking and bridging our faiths on our commonalities.   I know the orthodox Jews may feel the same way about Christians – but at least I can understand their disbelief in Jesus Christ and my church.

I am living in a glass house as well.  I cannot throw rocks at my cousin religions as my own house is in a state of disrepair in many ways.

Are we Immortal Enemies?  Have we created a hatred and suspicion so deep that we cannot possibly approach a transcendent God?

Let us assume, that tomorrow was the day of reckoning.  And we were called to be accountable for our actions in threes.   Together, three cousins we are with Three faiths o facing a transcendent God together.   And we are asked to explain just how is it that the three of us, cousins by descendants, linked by the covenant, stand before God without working out our differences before this day?

Or even without the messianic end of the world coming in our time, how are we living up to being holy, to striving to create heaven on earth, to preparing ourselves and our brothers to live in harmony now?

If the age of Ignorance was truly over as proclaimed by Islam would we not be farther along at this time in our history?

transcendent

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrahamic_religions

[ii] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/covenant

Are we keeping our part of our covenant with God as we understand him, whether we be Jewish, Catholic or Muslim?

broken

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel

Most of us Christians do not have the resources or time to complete a pilgrimage dedicated to exploring our historical faith, visiting holy places close and far, interviewing experts on both our theology and the historical accuracy of the bible.  A majority of us have the luxury of being raised in the faith which provides a solid foundation for belief, hopefully re-enforced by lived actions and a faith driven life-style.  However, sometimes being born and raised in a tradition is a disservice.  The religion of our heritage goes untested, the theology taken for granted, and the believer reduced to being a passive recipient rather than an active and engaged believer testing the word inside and outside the bubble of our community of believers.

Throughout history from the apostolic age to present Christians have faced criticism from Judaism, Secularism, Atheist, other world religions,  philosophers, and others.  Generally educated and ethical critics have not been a threat to our existence of safety.  They have refined and tested our faith.  We continue to develop our believers and message in-line with Jesus Christ while ensuring our institutions are teaching and being held accountable for preserving the word of true Christianity.  If Christ were to return today I am confident that more than a few teachings would be upended and many a tabernacle laid bare and empty.  The many splinters of Christianity today demonstrate the enormity of the task of humans preserving the message and striving to be close to the divine.   I worry more about the safety of our faith and the safety of Christians at the hands of blowhards with shallow understanding, politicians with a political motivation, and mobs instigated by fear and hate.  These are real and ever-present realities.  Having critics and apologist debate sincerely and with intentional benevolence is divine pursuit.   Having an uneducated and fear driven populous acting on mis-informed secular representations or false prophets rhetorical call to violence is our real enemy.

About the author:  Lee Strobel is commonly called a Christian apologist today despite once being atheist.  I see him as a mass market/motivational speaker, not necessarily a theological source.  He has a history in journalism which he utilized to explore his found faith.  At the end are links to his web page and a documentary on this book.

I hate the word “apologist.”  It sounds too much like apology!  “Apologetics is about rationally defending a position or view whose truth is challenged.”

apologist

Strobel does this by interviewing expert Christian Apologist and challenging them on the most common attacks from modern-day critics of Christianity.  In one book he has covered the vast majority of criticisms that you will hear from people who have not had the time to delve deeply into investigating each new age or old age attack on Christian identity and theology.  It is an “inside baseball” book as it is a dialogue of a Christian convert  interviewing Christian apologist.  However, having read many criticisms of Catholicism and christianity, listened to countless uninformed representations of the faith, and having a background in philosophy/psychology/social work – it is refreshing to read an unapologetic, easy to read, defense of the faith.  It is not error free and clearly not exhaustive.  The review I provided on Zealot prior covered many of the same points – in some cases reaching different conclusions.  These are the types of books that everyday people are reading.  Who these days goes and reads comphrehenisve documents from Antiquities in the native language of the day?   However, if you are exploring the faith and the ongoing attacks on the christian faith – every Christian needs to understand the arguments for and against Christianity.  This book is an excellent primer on the subject.  No believer should take their faith for granted.  We are all apologist!

That being said, we have no need to sell one version of the divine, to convince others of our beliefs, or to denigrate others not in the faith.   Faith sharing will not be one by theological arguments  but by lived faith and the grace of God.  We are not here “to win” but to serve the faith and our shared God.

Book rating:  10

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-case-for-christ/

http://leestrobel.com/

resurrection

%d bloggers like this: