Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Bravery

The past instructs.
The future entices.
The present bewilders.

What have I learned?
That history can go bad.
Really, seriously, bad.

What have I learned?
That history can move to the light.
That people wake up and make the better choice.

What have I learned?
That the moment can be horrible.
That people can shout Heil Hitler and never bat an eye.

What have I learned?
To be brave.
As brave as I can be.

What have I learned?
Some are a whole lot braver than I am.
Thanks be to God.

What have I learned?
That such bravery is never lost.
Never wasted.

What have I learned?
Keep on learning.
Keep on trying to be brave.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Was He Guilty?

Was he guilty?

Maybe ... or so the court said.
Or was it a jury?
Or a judge?
Or a failed system?

So, maybe he was guilty.
And lets just say, "Guilty as sin."
He caused pain and death.
For another human being.

And the family of the killer will have to live.
Live with the painful memories of a love one's life.
Snuffed.
Dead and gone.

Was he guilty?
Maybe.
Perhaps.
Looks that way.

So, now what?
Kill him, some say.
The state can kill, they say.
It's okay to kill, if the state does it, they say.

Angry preaches love to talk about wrath.
God's wrath and all those folks who should be snuffed.
Snuffed out like a candle.
Kaput, done away with, killed.

So, maybe we kill the man.
Then what?
The world goes on as it has.
Kill or be killed is the code for too many.

The death of the killer makes some feel better.
Would I feel better if it were my kin being avenged?
I don't know.
Maybe ...

But, then, on the other hand.
Does the killer's death right the wrong?
Make things better in this sad and broken world?
Are there other ways of dealing with loss?

Other than killing the killer?
Killing the man who did the first killing?
I mean, killing.
Cold-blooded killing, by the state.

On a gurney.
With straps.
And tubes.
And chemicals.

So, we kill the killer.
Now what?
Death wins.
Life loses.

Anyone keeping score?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Can a Nation Hate Itself?

Self-hatred?
Is it possible for a nation?
To "enjoy" such a misery?
To lacerate itself with its own contempt?

When hope is gone for reason and wellness?
Then to jump into a cauldron and be done with it?
To make a mess of the mess even messier?
To cheer the insanity of failure?

Because self-hatred is the flower of all hatred:
Our racism, a cancer of the soul.
Our misogyny, a disease of the spirit.
Our willingness to throw one another away.

And our religion:
Oh God, what a foolish business it is.
From Billy Sunday to Billy Graham.
Megachurches and miracles and always the quest:

For the golden day, the 5 easy steps.
Into the kingdom of fraud, and to be with Jesus.
And along comes the pretender king.
And all the pretending grows all the more harsh.

And foolish.
And ugly.
And full of deception.
And all the more, the lies.

Self-hatred?
When there's no one else left to hate?
Can a nation hate itself?
... out of shame?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Making Jesus

Jesus is, in part, what we make of him.
Because the very gospels are what:
Have been made of him.
By Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It ought to warn us to make Jesus, then.
With care.
With attention given to what we want him to be.
And why we would want such a Jesus, after all.

The fact that we have four distinct gospels.
Reveals, for me at least.
That God is okay with how we do this.
Yet, only four, makes it clear: there are some boundaries.

Which makes it a requirement that when.
We say something about Jesus.
We be sure to say: As I see it.
And then God's not offended, but pleased.

That we have the courage of our convictions.
To state our case as our case.
And not put words into God's mouth.
Or claim that our opinion is God's opinion, too.

What's wrong with humility?
We can state our case firmly.
But it's still our case.
What with study and prayer and consultation.

It's still our case.
And maybe God will push us in some other direction.
Sometime along the road.
And our case may change.

It's happen before.
To Saul.
And to Luther.
And to all of us.

It's a good thing we can change.
To make a case and it keep it small case.
Bearing the finitude of our thoughts and opinions.
Taking care to take care.

About what we say.
And say it with heart and mind and soul and strength.
But always open to something more.
As God makes God's case for the world.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Not a Happy Note

This is not a happy note.
It speaks of God's abandonment.
When God turns her back to all.
And walks away in sorrow.

Only for a time, of course.
But time enough to undo God's blessings.
And give the nation what it truly wants:
Money, power, prestige and wantonness.

And in getting what it wants, it dies.
And the good, the bad and the ugly die right along with it.
There is no choice in all the dying.
Once the wheels of divine abandonment are set in motion.

No choice at all, once the choosing-time passes us by.
And then the course of history.
The slow grind of time.
When all is lost, and tears flow hard and hot.

And people wonder where their god has gone.
And why now all of this horror.
Because the choosing-time is gone.
You had your chance, but Baal you choose, and so the story goes.

This is not a happy note.
It speaks of God's abandonment.
When God turns her back to all.
And walks away in sorrow.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Nearing the End - from a good friend, Tom Lenert

I've had the pleasure of knowing Tom Lenert since moving to Los Angeles now almost ten years ago. Tom's been an inspiration to me, in so many ways. 

As a boy, 14 years old, it was off to a Roman Catholic Seminary, then studying in Rome for seven years, and then heading a university in the Philippines.

And then love ... marriage ... children and career ... and years of involvement with social causes and the hopes and dreams that everyone has.

Yesterday, April 17, 2017, in our study group, Tom shared these thoughts about life, aging, death and dying - now in his "twilight years" as he says, in his 86th year of life, soon to turn 87.

I think the reader will find his reflections helpful, because they're honest in all regards. In such things, fluff and bluff are not helpful. Tom is the kind of guy, given his keen education and training, who can only speak the truth, as clearly as he can.

Thank you Tom, for your friendship, your inspiration, your thoughtfulness and your witness to the power and goodness of the Christian Faith.

-----------------------------

Discussion Paper

Some thoughts, personal observations and several questions

As I approach the twilight years of life, I become more aware of the inevitable end of my earthly existence. I am staring death in the face. As such, I am confronted with many basic questions of life. My body requires more rest. My spirit says get up and exercise but my body says no. It the old story “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Even my mind is slowing down as my eyes tire and reading becomes more difficult. I often lie awake at night ruminating over my many experiences in life.

Why was I born? Why me? I did not choose to be born!

What am I? Who am I?

Is there some superior being that gave rise to my being?

Does my life have any meaning?

Does God have a plan for my existence? Though I didn’t have any choice in my birth, It seems I must make the best of it.

Have I taken advantage of the many opportunities presented me?

Can I give an accounting of the talents given me?

How many times have I failed to respond to the promptings of conscience?

Awareness of our mortality is unique to human beings. All living sentient beings suffer and ultimately encounter the finality of their corporeal life, but for human beings a kind of reckoning persists. The very fact that I pose such questions suggests that there must be an answer to them, that there is something more to life than this bodily existence. Throughout history there has always been a sense that death is not final, that there is more to life than mere earthly existence. But is there?

Human consciousness allows me to reflect on my existence. Life is a mystery in search of answers.

As I look back on my 86 years of life, I am aware of the vast advances and radical changes that mankind has achieved in fields such as travel, communications, agriculture, medical science, education, understanding of the evolution of the universe and of human life over the span of my lifetime.

As a child, I accepted the biblical history of creation literally. Now our growth in scientific understanding shows that we are the result of billions of years of evolution. Does it still have meaning in this world of change? Beyond its primitive cosmology, I believe there is much wisdom in those chapters of Genesis. Evil exists. Why does God allow it? Man’s innate selfishness is the cause of much of the evil we see in the world. But much of human suffering is due to natural causes. Though the human spirit seems to growing towards a greater sense of justice, yet it remains ambivalent. War among nations, genocide, innocent refugees struggling to survive, hunger, starvation, killing of enemies and theft from those who have more are still commonly chosen means of settling differences. Yes, the problem of evil is great. There seems to be no satisfactory answer. Do you believe in the devil?

As the human spirit expands, our physical bodies remain limited. In spite of the advances of medical science, our bodies wear out with time, our joints become arthritic, our skin loses its texture, cartilage grows thin and our inner organs begin to fail, our hearts grow tired pumping blood until they finally cease to beat. Then the lights go out! But is that all there is? Does the story end there?

One thing I fervently subscribe to is embracing the fact that life without death would be unbearable in our human condition. When the body wears out, the time to welcome death has come. It is the only alternative worth considering. Already at my stage in life, many of my bodily failures are unwelcome and embarrassing facts of life. Flagging eyesight, hardness of hearing, rusty joints, blatter leakage, indigestion, constipation, shortness of breath, difficulty in sleeping, forgetfulness are just a few symptoms of old age that have made themselves painfully obvious of late.

Something within us suggests that there must be something more. Humankind has always shown an understanding of right and wrong, even though studies show a gradual growth in moral sensitivity. The fact that we have consciences and a sense of accountability for our behavior implies that there must be some kind or reckoning. It is obvious that justice is not always attained in this life. Is there a time and place for an accounting in some kind of afterlife?

What about hell as a place for those who die unrepentant of the evil they have done during their lives on earth? May I suggest replacing the concept of hell with the idea of purgatory as a time and place where sinners are cleansed of their sinful ways before being admitted to the company of the saints and the heavenly presence of God? It certainly better suits my idea of God. Eternal banishment from the sight of God seems inconsistent with the belief in a loving, forgiving and merciful God that offers a chance for conversion.

Heaven remains a bit hard to imagine what with the number of heavenly citizens crowded into one place. Does it consist of physical companionship of loved ones living in eternal bliss where suffering, hardship and want are no more, or is it a place of everlasting happiness contemplating the beatific vision of God. These questions defy satisfactory human answers.

Throughout human history we have lived and died fighting personal, tribal and lately national wars to stake out our place in life. In our time, however, there has been a tendency to grow in acceptance of new ways to settle differences. As a child, living in an all-white suburb of Chicago, there were only two Jewish families, and no blacks (they had to be out of town by dark of night). The only Latino people living in town worked for the railroad and they lived in shacks along the tracks at the extreme end of town. Jews were labelled ‘perfidious’ because they failed to recognize the Messiah. In any event, they were considered to be interested only in making money. At that time, the only serious division was the clash between Catholics and Protestants. We were taught that they going to hell because they rejected the one truth faith. Protestants considered us Catholics as unfaithful to and ignorant of the revealed ‘word of God,’ which we replaced with the Baltimore Catechism.

Within our lifetimes, we have witnessed a rapprochement of the various forms of faith. One of the triumphs of the Second Vatican Council was the acknowledgment that the covenant between God and the Chosen People is still valid because God does not go back on his word. Furthermore, that God rejects nothing that is holy in other religions. Today it is my affirmative faith that it is incumbent upon us to be open to dialogue, participation and cooperation with other people of faith by respecting their consciences.

Does life have meaning? Though we did not choose to be born, we still have to face the choice of accounting for the many blessings we have been offered in this life. Facing the inevitable fact of death, we acknowledge that, like life, death is a mystery to be reckoned with. St. Bob Quinn, were you satisfied with the answers you so diligently hoped to learn?


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bless the LORD - Psalm 34

Psalm 34, from the Lectionary ... some thoughts ...

It begins with a blessing, a blessing of the LORD, a blessing to be uttered, contemplated, thought about, "at all times."

If read in isolation from the rest of the Psalm, one might be given to a particular kind of spirituality that lives in dreamy lands and exulted places, far away from the maddening crowd, lost in wonder and lost in praise ... or something like that.

Which, sometimes, is very attractive, as the maddening crowd is just that - maddening. Who doesn't want some escape now and then?

But the Psalm presses on, relentlessly, taking the reader into the world, even as the reader blesses the LORD. The upward gaze, to the LORD, is very quickly matched by a searing awareness of the surrounding world and its times.

vs. 4 - a hint of hard times for the writer, and, yes, the LORD's deliverance.

vs. 6 - "the poor soul" it says - again, hinting at spiritual poverty, harsh times, troubles, and, yes, again, deliverance.

vs. 7 - "angels encamped around," as guardians of the reader, needed guardians, in times of distress, and, yes, again, the note of deliverance.

The Psalm presses on with notes of deliverance and provision. The phrase, "fear of the LORD" occurs - that strange and powerful image of devotion, dedication, allegiance, awe and mystery. To fear the LORD is to cleanse the soul of all other fears, imagined or real ... to set the self before the majesty of sovereign love, a love that will never ever let the reader go; a majesty unto whom all hearts are open, and to whom all belong, with provisions of mercy, without question.

vs. 11 - teaching others ... and the hint of what is to come, "keep your tongue from evil" ... and if one wonders what "evil" may be, the writer clarifies, and speaks of "deceit."

vs. 14 - "depart from evil," that is, an evil tongue (to read the Book of James right now might be appropriate), and all the deceit that characterizes evil ... with then the positive note: "do good," and "seek peace" (which is the opposite of deceit, and then, not only "seek," but pursue ... run after it, don't let it get away, pursue until caught, full-out effort, full speed ahead.

vs 16 - evildoers (those who rely upon deceit to further their own interests) do not fare well ultimately.

vs. 18 - the LORD is near to the broken hearted and those crushed in spirit ... reality ... REALITY ... broken and crushed for good reason, because of the evil, the deceiver, the topsy-turvy times, when evil has its day.

vs. 19 - no laughing matter, no momentary glitch ... "many are the afflictions of the righteous," but rescue is at hand.

vs. 21 - death is given to the wicked, and "those who hate the righteous" ... and why do the wicked hate the righteous? Because the righteous remind the wicked of how wrong they are with their deceit, with their self-serving ways, their lies and corruption. As long as there are good and decent people who love the LORD and pay attention to the needs of others, the wicked will always gnash their teeth (Psalm 37.12) and be angry.

vs. 22 - the final note of the Psalm, deliverance, redemption, great promise for those who take refuge in the LORD, who stand by truth and love, social awareness of the poor; people who are willing to be broken and crushed by the trials of the times, not just personal trials, but the trials of a weary land gone berserk, which happened a good many time in Israel's story.

And so much of this, a hint of what is to come in the preaching of Jesus, his beatitudes, his life, his cross and death ... and the ultimate and final word, deliverance!

Such things, considered at "all times," is what it means to bless the LORD.