Pope Francis and Krill

It is like a movie, Indiana Jones and the raiders of the lost Ark, and subsequent movies or books that link religious history and mystical power to current evil men seeking that power to conquer the world.

In this real-life tragedy the religious split between three sects of Christianity are in the spotlight: the Roman Catholic Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Ukraine Church. Putin has completely coopted the Russian Orthodox Church and utilized religious conservatism and nationalism to proclaim a moral, religious, and national agenda to invade Ukraine. His elevator speech includes defeating nazism, proclaiming no gay parades will come to Russia, and a call for national purity. Krill is completely by Putin’s side.

The Roman Catholic Church has been seeking unity with the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Ukraine and Russia) for several years now. Putin’s war has taken a path to unify the two eastern Churches by military conquest.

Pope Francis went directly to the Russian Embassy as well as had a direct video conference with Krill. He has condemned war publicly and called for war to stop. Like Popes before him, he has not named the aggressors, Russia or Putin by name.

The war on Ukraine has nothing to do with God or Christianity. Putin has used a thin veneer of religious, cultural, and geographical history to present a false mandate that he is conducting a national/holy military operation to save Russians being oppressed and killed by Nazi’s in Ukraine.

It is a month now of death, destruction, and a massive humanitarian crisis. No external voices are deterring Putin. Not the churches, not China or other Russian allies, or the Western alliances.

There is to my eye two spiritual themes that are evident from a Christological perspective. The first is more appealing to our sense of human responsibility and courage. Russians inside and outside Russia are condemning their own country. This is Christ-like – to be a revolutionary willing to be condemned, tortured, and killed by the establishment for a belief in a higher principle then Russian nationalism or Krillian Russian Orthodox Christianity silence or outright support and blessing of Putin. This is human responsibility at its finest. And for courage, the Ukraine people defense of their nation has created thousands of seen and unseen acts of heroism, compassion, and unbelievable faith.

The second theme is not popular or acceptable to our human spirit. When Christ accepted his fate to be given up by Judas, condemned, and crucified he disappointed the hopes of his followers by not rising to be a conquering messiah, a warrior, a king. Instead he was a suffering messiah, embracing suffering and death at the hands of his oppressors. His handling of oppression, suffering, and death from a Christological perspective taught Christians that somethings are more important then human life.

In our own hearts we all mostly believe this sentiment that somethings are more important then our own comfort, peace, tranquility, or even our own lives. We sacrifice and may even suffer for other people or for principles all the time. We embrace suffering as a necessary price when we have to for the greater good.

Christianity takes this suffering one step farther – it proclaims we embrace our suffering with and for our God, not for our own ego driven needs or long term material desires. In every tear drop of suffering and every unnecessary death is a spiritual opportunity to transform human tragedy into spiritual ascendency not only in real time, here and now, but in contemplation of eternal time.

I would fail as A Pope as I would call out Putin and Krill perhaps if I sat in the papal chair. All that would do is secure further splitting and put more Catholics at risk in these territories – it certainly would not deter Putin. Pope Francis has no authority over Putin or Krill, as neither accept his Papal authority and rightful ownership of head of the mystical church. Very similar to Nazi Germany failure of the church and the world – too little and too late response to Hitler.

I would also call out more vigorously the details of those suffering everyday, joining them in sorrows publicly, sharing on the meaning of suffering, and calling the world to share this burden. This would be largely unpopular and also not very beneficial unless wedded to a call for true sacrifice to help those suffering directly and meaningful global action to stop the war – not vague calls to action, but detailed support by every Catholic believer to protest, boycott, and take action at every-turn. Be a spiritual Zelensky. To be fair, our Pontiff is very old, but he has at his disposal many skilled orators that could carry the message with more pointed and consistent force of spirit.

Fortunately I am not the Pope. I would certainly bring the church beyond its calling and probably bankrupt it and cause great internal and external turmoil. Many accuse the current Pope of doing just that already – and he has only moved the needle of church reform a few degrees.

The answer to Ukraine is not one world leader, nation, or religion. It lies in the heart of soul of individuals like you being active, committed, persistent, and vigilant wherever you are today, to stand up for what is morally right and just.

NYT Article on Pope Francis response:

www.nytimes.com/2022/03/18/world/europe/pope-francis-ukraine-russia-war.html

Pray for Maria Ovsyannikova

Ms. Maria Ovsyannikova interrupted a live Russian Broadcast with a poster saying no to war. It of course went viral outside Russia. Inside the censors took it down quickly. Maria is now in custody.

Russian citizens, knowing the price is steep including jail, hard labor or death…are still standing up. Modern day saints and martyrs in my eyes, without the religious adornments, perhaps even a greater courage, alone standing for humanity.

Here is reporting from CNN:

Russian state news agency TASS confirmed OVD-Info’s reporting, citing a source, and added that she could face prosecution.

OVD-Info also obtained a video purportedly made by Ovsyannikova before she interrupted the news broadcast.

“What is happening now in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor country, and the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin,” Ovsyannikova says in the video, noting that her father is Ukrainian, and her mother is Russian. 

“Unfortunately, for the past few years, I have been working on Channel One and doing Kremlin propaganda, and now I am very ashamed of it,” she says. “It’s a shame that I allowed to speak lies from the TV screens, ashamed that I allowed to zombify Russian people.”

“I am ashamed that we kept silent in 2014, when all this was just beginning,” she says. “We didn’t go to rallies when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny, we just silently watched this anti-human regime and now the world has turned its back on us forever, and another ten generations of our descendants will not be able to wash away from the shame of this fraternal war.”

“We are Russian people, thinking and smart, and it is only in our power to stop all this madness,” she says. “Go to the rallies and do not be afraid! They can’t transplant us all!”

Videos of the interruption quickly were posted on social media shortly after it aired. CNN obtained the video from a live feed from Russia Channel One VK’s profile. 

Within minutes, that live feed was removed.

War Part 2 – Unconditional Surrender

My Bible, the New Testament, does not provide acceptable answers to the Ukraine Russia War.

Oxford bibliographies cite “publications explicitly on war in the New Testament itself are relatively scarce, tend to allegorize or spiritualize the topic, and/or focus on the battle scenes and eschatological warfare of the Book of Revelation.” The reason for this is Jesus Christ and his primary audience in the first and second centuries were more often the victims of war or aggression. They did not have armies or power.

The exception is the book of revelation which “revels” in apocalyptic violence at the end times.

Still, most scholars accept Christ’s teachings and the teachings of the early Christian fathers as more aligned with pacifism and non-aggression. One writer quoted Mark Twain that the early Christian community put the emphasis on the afterlife and not current action:

“Such violent images of final judgment owe to an increasing preoccupation with the afterlife, something of little concern in the Old Testament. This shift in focus between the Testaments once caused Mark Twain to observe that only after the Deity “became a Christian,” did he turn “a thousand billion times crueler,” by inventing and proclaiming hell.” (Shelly Matthews, Passages article)

If we want answers to war, we may have to turn to Judaism or Islam. However, I take no solace in these scriptures for guidance as they have misled man to kill in God’s name the same as the Christian Crusaders misused Christianity.

Intuitively and Spiritually we know in our soul aggression and war are wrong. What we don’t know is how to respond to it when our general acceptance of this moral position is not accepted as a social contract. Putin has basically thrown the gauntlet down and proclaimed Russia will take Ukraine and is doing so right now.

In spiritual terms, President Biden has taken the non-violent response by coalescing countries to condemn and sanction Russia. The GOP is purely reactionary and divided on foreign policy. They have lost their way and elected populists with shallow foreign policy understanding. The U.S. itself is morally weak and divided, in a state of disunity being driven by a hunger for political power rather than democracy and principles.

I am thinking the unpopular thought now. Perhaps the Ukrainian President should tell his troops and the citizens to lay their guns down and take the pacifist approach.

My internal sense of justice and inclination is defiance and like those 13 Ukrainian soldiers now dead on Snake Island, accept death before surrendering. However, to commit others to death and watch the country’s infrastructure get destroyed for the inevitable – is not surrendering an act of egotism or bravery?

Soberly and non-passionate thinking says this may be the smartest and most noble action? Zelensky gets on national TV and advises the nation to stand down in the name of life preservation and humanitarian concerns? This would be an example of selective pacifism – because his war is not winnable today?

The American Jesuit Magazine today encourages prayers for peace despite the feeling that prayer is useless. I advise letting your local politicians, community, and the international world know you are willing to sacrifice as well for world peace. Most of us only have money to donate, time to give, and a pen to alter the course of human misery.

I try to end posts with opportunities to take part in solving world suffering or supporting causes. Please consider these two options:

International Committee of the Red Cross: Responding to Humanitarian crisis across the world.

St. Judes Cancer Research Center: Personal fundraiser by the author for an international cancer treatment center. (Top rating by Charity Navigator).

There are no coincidences? 

Last week I pondered the lack of certainty that is embedded both in the Bible and by the priest and theologians that dedicate their lives to sharing the Bible throughout the ages:  

When we turn to the Priestly caste, by whatever title we bestow on them, in times of suffering or when our mortality is near its end, we don’t want uncertainty or insincerity. We want hope, consolation, and support. Sometimes we may want answers that cannot be answered by the best spiritual leaders in our community. Many priests fail here, not out of lack of trying, but out of over trying to help. They simply do not want to not deliver their faith in a manner that can bolster your faith when your tank is running on empty.

On Friday, two days after that post, I had 30 minutes to kill why in town before picking up my wife

from work. I had just recently bought three fiction books via Amazon and had no reason to go to the public library but went in anyway. Two books were in the new arrivals section display caught my eye. The Pastor, by Hanne Orstavik translated by Martin Aitkin and Birds of North America by the Audubon society.    Hanne Orstavik book was translated from Norweigen. 

The book itself looked tiny and is a work of fiction. When I picked it up, I did not read or delve into the background, which led to one funny revelation. I was many pages in before it was revealed that the Pastor was a woman. I had assumed the Pastor was a man. On revelation, the irony of my error perfectly matched some of the conflicts that the main character endured in the book.    

I have just finished the book. As described in Amazon today, the book is “A thought-provoking, existential novel – as Liv searches for meaning and identity in her own life, she must find the words to connect, comfort, and lead others.” I would have known that the main character was a woman and that the book would cover some serious spiritual questions if I had taken a moment to reach the prologue. I did not, as I was rushed and had other books to read anyway. But for some reason, I picked up The Pastor that night. This was backup. About halfway through, I ran into this passage on page 193 by the main character Liv. Liv had a visceral reaction to a conference speaker describing how he was increasing church membership and outreach by, in essence, “dumbing down” the message and delivering it in terms that young believers could grasp and believe with assured certainty. Liv, having recently come face to face with untimely deaths caused by suicide, was shocked at the speaker’s cockiness and self-assuredness.     She fled the conference in the confines of her room said these words:   

“Stay with me. Tears trickled down my cheeks. There I sat, the Pastor weeping. With no way of comforting myself, unable to save me. The man who’d been giving the talk, going on like that about blessing, how certain he’d been. “I speak from the Spirit of God.” How could he be so certain? I didn’t have it in me to say anything of which I was certain. I couldn’t, I wasn’t capable. But they could, just how unfathomable to me. My job, which I’d accepted by joining the clergy, was it to be able to point and say that somewhere certainty exists? Something solid and true? Something that won’t ever fail?”

And a little further on down the page, Liv reaches the following conclusion: 

“But trying to get rid of contradiction and ambiguity couldn’t help, the fall would still be bottomless, for the Bible couldn’t ever be as tightly woven as that. And what kind of certainty would it give, if not a single question were left?” 

Two powerful statements answer a question I had reflectively posted the day before about the quandary priest face when consoling the bereaved, especially the bereaved for unexpected and untimely deaths. In the fictional character named “Liv,” the humbleness required to be a devout follower of Jesus Christ and the complex mystery of the Bible are clarified in the art of a fictional character living a complicated Pastors life in a foreign land. 

Finding this book was completely random and unexpected. Finding the passage above resonated with the spiritual question of the day regarding uncertainty (of laypeople or priests) and sincerely supporting the bereaved was timely. I would say more about these two statements – but I think they speak for themselves better than me muddying them with my interpretation. 

Many would say mere coincidence.    Bernard B. Beltman M.D. wrote an article in Psychology Today

entitled “There Are No Coincidences,” where he points out the contradiction on that phrase and summarizes the challenge here:     

“Coincidences exist. Coincidences are real. Saying that there are no coincidences stops inquiry. Challenging the statement forces us to make sense of its ambiguity and explore our potential involvement. You can choose the random perspective and with a wave of a mental hand, dismiss most coincidences as not worth further attention. Or, you can seek out their possible personal implications and make life into an adventure of discovery both about yourself and the world around you. As you explore, you may uncover the latent abilities hidden within you.”

Subjectively I believe in Coincidences.  Of that I am certain! Too many have occurred to me that have knocked me off my center of objective stoicism and non-belief in such events.  They are unexplainable.  The above example is only a trifle and easily explainable as a consumer of vast amounts of literature is bound to find countless crossover connections between materials.   I do not intend to convert stoics or non-believers of coincidence – they have a faith of sorts all their own, defended by a different set of principles or philosophers.  As Beltman suggests, rather than fight over the unknown, let’s just delve into the mystery of the potential meaning of coincidences when they arise with discernment and dialogue – open to whatever may come. 

I don’t know if I recommend Hanne Orstavik’s book.  I found the writer intriguing and the storytelling good.  The subject matter dancing around suicide and deep theological challenges spun in a time-warping manner.  However, if you expect existential answers and certainty – you may be left wanting more.   Perhaps the Audobon Bird book can provide more certainty! 

Perhaps this quote from the internet web of images captures the mystery of coincidences.

Post-note: The hardest tragedy is the loss of a child. The following resource is scored 100 out of 100 by Charity Navigator. If you are interested in giving consider the Sudc Foundation: https://sudc.org/grief-resources/#

If you have lost a child recently or ever – my heart, compassion, and prayers have you in mind today. No discussion of coincidences, theology, mystery, causation, or other abstractions can change the reality of the loss of your loved one. I found this message particularly powerful.

Motherhood turns you into a fountain that flows and flows. Then it shows you that you will run out. | America Magazine

So much is transient: our physical beauty and strength, our mental capacity, our relationships, our ability to care for the people we love. Our capacity to fix problems. It will run out. It is a relief that it will run out. What I gave, I gave. What I accomplished, I accomplished. What I failed, I failed. No doubt I am only at a plateau, and soon enough the mindless panic and distress will set in again.
— Read on www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/09/03/motherhood-birth-rebirth-jesus-241281

The author above was addressing the experience of motherhood – a calling where nothing is left on the table, an utterly emptying of oneself until nothing is left.

As men we may choose this path as well with sports, work, or family. We leave “nothing on the table” for reserve when we are all-in. The elite among us can apply that same vigorous love demonstrated by motherhood to walking a humble, spiritual path.

The latter is quite a contradiction, as it is difficult to at once we be “all-in” with an athletes competitiveness or a warriors mentality while remaining genuinely humble and spiritual, living a holy life one breath at a time. Our downfall can be swift and merciless or beguilingly slow. Grand missteps for all to see or perhaps even more treacherous, small transgressions that we never even notice the road of spiritual descent.

The article nails motherhood and spirituality. The quote above nails the challenge we all have to just be good human beings. It can be tiresome and selfless living a moral and ethical life. Navigating our desires, our instinctual survival skills, and our collective shared needs creates explosive collisions of “individual self-will run riot.” We are called often and frequently to leave nothing on the table. Our mortality gives us only 1 lifetime to live with no promise or certainty of an afterlife or second run. We will, most of us anyway, hit a final apex point before descending towards deaths door.

Whatever you put your mind today…leave nothing on the table! The outcomes and results will be what they will be. Imagine if we applied the archetypical mother loves to everything we did collectively? Certainly our moral and ethical bar for societal expectations would rise dramatically.

The author goes a several steps father for an example by closing with the archetype “Son of God,” Jesus Christ, who emptied himself (Kenosis) – gave his self-will up was receptive to and accepted God’s divine will including a gruesome and painful death.

Who among us is ready for this type of sacrifice?

“I believe because it is absurd”

The Gospels are “Neither biographies nor objective historical accounts, the gospels resembled religious advertisements.”

I believe because it is absurd

The modern day Christian apologist[i] face a steep hill today defending the faith. The mystery of Christ Life, Death, oft forgotten visiting of hell, and Resurrection and the trials of the the traditions of the Catolicism have led to the mocking of Catholics apologist stance as being “I believe because it is absurd”[ii] . This accusation arose during the enlightenment period as a twist on Tertullian’s work. On this good Friday, it resonated with me after taking some time out this day off for Good Friday Readings[iii] and Stations of the Cross.[iv] I cannot imagine any sincere and honest Catholic believer not feeling absurd at different points in their spiritual life, if not personally, then at least when defending the history and current positions and actions of the church.

The mere word apologist implies to some confusion with the word apology!  From the very beginning an apologist maybe fasley accused of admitting wrongfullness and seeking forgiveness.   Christian Apologist are not seeking your forgiveness – they are seeking to give humanity faith and hope in Jesus Christ. 

What is the steep hill?  It is very difficult to “speak in defense” of Christianity theologically when the Catholic Church itself has torn itself into shreds by:

  • Committing grave sins in the name of Jesus Christ historically like the Crusdades,  
  • Complicity by errors of ommission, silence, or support of political systems or political leaders that oppress, victimize, and persecute people,
  • And Hypocrissy such as the Church on-going confrontation with Sex abuse, demonization of LGBTQ individuals, cafeteria style application of church social teachings, abandonment of the poor and the oppressed, and unwillingenss as both an institiution and as individuals to sacrifice status, money, and power to truly pursue a Christian life life.

This is less a condemndation of Jesus Christ then it is a condemnation of the Church and of Christians as G.K. Chesterton said:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”[v]

Our multitudinous failures to live the Christian ideal for me proclaims our apologist history, while theologically important for inter-faith dialogue and preservation of the faith and on-going unveiling of humanities spiritual development, is misplaced when targeted at the common man. It is the cart before the horse. We have no place for apologist or evangelization if our hearts and our institutions of faith are not presenting a coherent belief and actions that bring to life the Christian ideal here and now.

I fear that for many believer’s evangelization and apologetics becomes less about sharing a life worth living and more about self-preservation, egotism, and squashing spiritual fragility within themselves and within the church.   It becomes about the best defense of our faith is a good offense joining military and philosophical thinkers like George Washington, Mao Zedong, Machiavelli or Sun Tzu.   

This was not the way of Christ. To know the way of Christ we have to know both Christ words and Christ life. His life of course is the greater testimony. His words though left behind provided us lessons in the form of parables or direct guidance on how to live a holy life. Mankind has ever since struggled with the literal versus the allegorical, the context, and the authenticity of the Gospel narratives. PBS did a Frontline piece that reduced the Gospels to “Neither biographies nor objective historical accounts, the gospels resembled religious advertisements.”[vi]

These are fighting words that jolt many believers into non-Christian actions including offensive attacks on the messenger, shabbily constructed defenses of the biblical texts, obfuscation or flight.  Christians and those attacking Christians are often very skilled at rhetoric and avoiding carrying any argument forward with an open heart and mind.  This is as true today as it was in Christ time.  So how did Christ prepare the Apostles to go forward without him knowing the road would be unwelcoming:   

“And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. And He said to them, Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece.”

“Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” Luke 9:16

Christ instructed them to go out in twos, to represent him (power and authority), to proclaim his words and message, to heal, to do so selflessly, and to walk away from those who choose to not believe and continue on.  He did not say to remain in argument with unbelievers or create laws to enforce his message.  Nor did he offer to validate their unbelief but rather in perhaps the least non-confrontational manner, they were to shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against those refusing the message.   

How did this teaching and parable take form in two-thousand years past Christ death and resurrection is a testament to both the good and the bad of Christianity’s application of the life of Christ?  Paul the apostle shared in Philippians 2:1-30 (roughly written mid-50s to early 60s A.D.) the following: 

 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4

This is not the typical message we hear from apologist, the pulpit, or conservative Catholicism today.  To provide anyone encouragement in Christ Paul says nails the meaning of humility and evangelization in 4 lines.  He nails the actions we must demonstrate to be able to encourage any participation if belief in Christ.  He speaks to the demand for unity and a coherency in “full accord and of one mind.”     

The life of Christ and his death exemplified this message in his birth, his ministry, death (Good Friday), visit to Hell (Holy Saturday), and Resurrection (Holy Sunday or Easter). 

The life of Christ is not historically disputed.   He was born, he preached, and he was executed by crucifixion.  All three of these elements are historically supported and accepted by historians and theologians.  After that, the debate begins on everything else:

  • Born of the Virgin Mary
  • Healing stories (real or allegorical) 
  • The meaning of the last support (and the Eucharist)
  • Human prophet or Son of God
  • Who was responsible for his death
  • Holy Saturday
  • His resurrection
  • Post-houmous sightings

The power of spirituality and the life of Christ does not lay within the contextual disputes of religious and philosophical scholars, but on the lives we live.  My morning reading of scripture and my time reflecting on the 14 stations of the cross have no meaning to anyone I will encounter later today or tomorrow.  Nor should it have any meaning or context other then guiding my interior thought and exterior actions. 

Achieving spiritual coherence is not easy. If my Catholic belief and practice is coherent and in “full-accord and off one-mind” my encounters with everyone will be embodied with love, compassion, humility, sacrifice, and faith.  Not a single word about my faith need be said in the secular world.   They will know by my light and by my actions.  That is the horse, that is what comes first.  Without that, they will have no interest as to what is in the cart.  What is in my cart?

  • The living word of God including the old and new testament
  • Two thousand years plus of church tradition
  • Two thousand years plus of my faith’s success and failures
  • A guide to universal human dignity and life affirming principles
  • A tool-kit for unveiling suffering, bearing suffering, and sharing the burdens of suffering of others  
  • Humility
  • Awe of everything around me, of the universe, and the unknowable eternal
  • Unending writings, biographies, and testimonies of people who have tapped into glimpses of spiritual transcendence and living a meaningful life, not limited to Christian and Catholic believers
  • Openness to non-duality
  • Appreciation of things large and small
  • Knowledge of the temporality of the human condition
  • Mentors, priest, family, friends, and living fellowship
  • Moments of fleeting spiritual consolation (selfishly sought and desired beyond my station in life!)
  • Faith and Hope in the essential meaning of life

In my own life, my faith is “certain because it is impossible.” This was the original Terrellian defense, “prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est” or “It is certain because it is impossible.”

Original Intent and wordage of Tertullian

Today in Catholic Tradition Christ will have walked a little less then a mile to be crucified on a cross.  The carrying of that cross (weighing perhaps 80 to 110 pounds or more) in his depleted body due to the scouring and beatings by the Romans was no small feat.  He passed roughly at 3 P.M. today and yet we call it Good Friday for what is to come. It is impossible to integrate this series of events into a rationale spiritual account as it is for the non-scientist to explain the origins of the universe, the exactness of blackholes, and what lays beyond the depths of our most powerful tools exploring the galaxies beyond our gaze. For that matter it is impossible for the theologians and scientist as well to present a definitive explanation.

What he did during his life and what comes after is what fills my spiritual cart.  Your cart maybe different then mine and that is okay by me if the horse that pulls it shines with the radiant light of holiness that transcends our human shortcomings. 

I have a preference for the Eastern Orthodox interpretation of Christ storming the gates of hell between the time of his death today and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. 

Christ descends into hell to liberate those imprisoned priors including the Adam, the prophets and martyrs of the Old Testament.[vii]  The split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church along with the many denominations of Christianity has left us with ample opportunity to be open to interpretation of biblical history and meaning.  I raise this as an example of how easily we can be divided on the interpretation of the life of Jesus Christ and subsequent teachings, symbolism, and images used to convey the faith.  The image below is clearly different then the one above, yet both represent Jesus storming hell to conquer Satan after his death. What exactly that means is open to interpretation. There is not one expert among us.   I, for example, believe we create hell on earth more so then I am worried about hell after my death. I take comfort rightly or wrongly in the idea that the knocking down of the gates of hell and the defeat of Satan is a message of hope for us in the eternal life coupled with a message to seek to create heaven on earth now.

The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr [viii] presents such an open interpretation of “Christ” that will challenge all Catholics (conservative and progressive) to reevaluate our interpretations of Jesus Christ the son of Man and “Christ” the eternal. 

Richard Rohr and other contemporary priest like Bishop Barron, James Martin and even Pope Francis himself are targets of conservative Christianity on many fronts.  The early church fathers[ix] as well as Christ himself were often labeled rebels or heretical by the authorities and people of their time and Tertullian who I included here.    Even Thomas Merton is accused these days as a dangerous thinker by many.    One writer completed a complete list of the tip ten heretics of all time[x] that include people like Thomas Jefferson, Donald Trump[xi], Joan of Arc, Saint Paul, and Jesus himself!  Sometimes heretics turn out to be saints. 

Time may reveal to the critics that these spiritual authorities are simply revealing spiritual truths that we failed to recognize before now.  The book “The American Catholic Experience Through Stories, Memoirs, Essays and Contemporary Saints and Sinners” brings live the dynamic tension of trying to live a holy life in a modern western culture:

“A holy life, like a poem, a painting, or a piece of sculpture, is, as its linguistic roots attest, something of a whole.  The root of the word holy is kailo, which is old English for hal, or whole, as in halsum, or wholesome.”[xii] 

Achieving holiness through the narrow lens of a specific religious doctrine put into the hands of undeveloped or immature spiritual leaders and their equally unprepared believers is a higher task then that of the great apologist!   It is a recipe for disaster that we have seen play out repeatedly over history.  If we are not humbled by the errors of our religious and political institutions, we are either ignorant or willfully blind. 

Living a holy life offers greater riches then a secular life, but that is not why one lives a holy life.  Striving to live a holy life is written in our core, imprinted on our souls.  When we ignore that calling, we suffer greatly.  

I don’t believe you have to be martyred or crucified to achieve a semblance of a holy life.  An interesting post by Adam Powers provides 10 questions for self-evaluation if you horse and cart are aligned with a Holy Life. 

The depths of spiritual belief, the actions of daily life, and the mystery of transcending oneself present mystical challenges beyond any post.    Catholicism has served as my cart.  I have no name for “The Horse” with authority as any attempt by humanity to define it falters by the limitations of our capacity to understand the infinite.   

My Catholic faith provides me names of God the father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ (the Holy Trinity).  Delving into this framework is a long path down the road of theology which is worth taking – but not at the expense of our humility and calling to live a holy life. The cost of this path is beyond what most of us are willing to pay, and frankly most of us professed Catholics have not invested fully in what we profess to believe. An yet I believe as evidenced by this writing to you on Good Friday hoping you find yourself living a holy life, content with both your blessings and your suffering, prepared for the challenges of today, and for your last mortal days, and for eternity.

Believe in the Impossible today – take a leap of Faith!

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

References and footnotes below. All pictures are available on internet and not my own – easy to find by simply using quote attached, referenced below, or subject phrase.


[i] A person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial or a branch of Christian theology that defends Christianiity against objections (wikipedia)

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credo_quia_absurdum

[iii] https://bible.usccb.org/

[iv] https://youtu.be/iEIvGC1WsbM

[v] G.K. Chesterton, What’s wrong with the World

[vi] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/gospels.html

[vii] https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1997-04-28-9704280142-story.html

[viii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KD7B3wr3xeY

[ix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_Fathers

[x] http://www.thehypertexts.com/Famous%20Heretics.htm

[xi] Out of intellectual honesty and spiritual obligation I request you exclude Donald Trump from the list of Heretics or Saints.  He deserves no honor with the others on any list of heretics or saints as his positions have proven to be amoral and completely predatorial and self-serving without any substantiative content or individual merit – purely a political figure in history that wielded power of portions of Christian Evangel churches and roughly half of Catholic believers.  The Church leaders that supported or defied him are another story.    

[xii] Saints and Sinners, Eugene Kennedy Article page 109

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….

(0) Endings Always Bring; New Beginnings

(0) Endings Always Bring; New Beginnings

https://orionbrightstar.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/agape-is-gods-love-for-all-souls/
— Read on orionbrightstar.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/agape-is-gods-love-for-all-souls/

A blogger that writes pieces longer than myself! The art of deep thought and wrestling with life’s meaning does not fit well in. Tweet or a meme. This post hits resentments, loss, and worries. My spiritual response….

What lamentations or resentments do I hold today against others? I can think of a few, and despite having gently nudged them out to sea, sometimes the damn fools wash back up on shore!

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?

____________________________________________________________________________________________

[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.

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