Seek Good.

If the prophet Amos were around today and on social media, he’d probably be canceled. He lived in a time when the people of Israel were fat and happy, and pretty much living the high life. As long as they went through the motions of what God had told them to do, they could pretty much do whatever else they wanted. Amos called them out on it.


Seek Good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts…” Amos 5: 14-15a

A bit of good in the morning.

Some things never change. It’s been….oh, about 2700 years (give or take a decade or two) since the time of Amos, and we’re still dealing with the same stuff. We live in pretty cushy times, at least in our corner of the planet. While Christians and Jews (and anyone who truly values and lives by love and compassion) would all no doubt agree with Amos’ extortion to “hate evil, love good,” we don’t always agree on what’s evil and what’s good.


This isn’t to say we don’t know right from wrong; we do. But we’re busy, distracted creatures and so we tend to rely on institutions and “experts” to interpret things for us. We are told by media (traditional and social) and pundits how to be good. They may or may not have good advice, but how many follow along without truly questioning? How often do we really question whether or not there are diversionary tactics in play?


Life isn’t always as simple as “X is good, and Y is bad,” and most rational people would agree with that. Why, then, are so many quick to agree with statements and stances such as “guns are bad,” “unvaccinated people should be shut out of society for the good of all,” and “mask refusers are haters who want to infect us!” Oh, and let’s not forget “save the planet! Eliminate plastic waste!” Seriously, a quick perusal of Twitter or Facebook will show you all of these, and more, with “likes” piling up – often from those folks we thought were rational and could have at least a conversation on any one of those hot-button topics.


Such statements and responses aren’t hating evil. It’s more like division….and doesn’t Evil just love division?


Evil can masquerade as righteousness, charm and smile and make you think you are doing The Right Thing while you fall right into line. None of us are immune, and we must constantly seek good – especially when there’s no real cut and dry good vs. bad.


Besides, people have reasons for believing as they do. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have an actual conversation with an exchange of information? A friend recently told me (in reference to something related to CoVid) “I don’t know where you get your information, but….” I provided her with some of the information upon which I had based my decision – not to try and change her mind, but simply to show that yes, there is a lot of information out there and I wasn’t just being clueless or a selfish jerk. We can have different opinions based on the facts – but we are often exposed to different facts.


Amos summed it up simply. Hate evil. Do good. Maintain justice. (Real justice, not qualified justice.) Seek God, and seek knowledge and information with open minds and hearts.


Like Amos, our eyes will be opened to the hypocrisy in our world and in our country. We all wonder “how can we fix this?” The most important step is to bring God not just back into our lives, but back into our society. Amos saw this 2,700 years ago. We need to see this today.


Dive a little deeper. Be willing to have conversations. Recognize that it is the duty of each one of us to do what we can to bring God back into society. If you are at a meeting, request to start the meeting with a prayer. Give thanks before shared meals, even (especially) in public. Don’t let a few atheists get in the way of your civic display of faith. Support freedom. Be compassionate.


Even though it may be hard to discern, seek good.

First Christmas without….

There are many articles out there for dealing with grief during the holidays, as the holiday season is traditionally a season spent with family, loved ones, friends, and – well, tradition.  Everybody knows it’s tough facing Christmas or Thanksgiving without a loved one. This year has special meaning for me, as it will be our first Christmas ever without Pop. Sadly, I could name quite a few others who are going to experience their first Christmas without…. Someone they love.

I’ve found myself thinking back to the years I spent working as a Social Worker (LCSW – I keep my license current, though am not in full time practice) and things I learned from patients. (I worked mostly in oncology.)  I’ll share some inspiration I learned from those grieving (and a few ideas of my own):

~  Take the word “should” right out of your vocabulary. And don’t feel guilty about it.

~  Change things up. (If you don’t like turkey, maybe this is your chance!) In south Louisiana, food is sacred and this might be the year to switch to pork roast or turducken or brisket. What, you don’t know who’s going to make the rice dressing now that MawMaw isn’t here? Gather family members and learn how to cook it together. I remember a family who couldn’t imagine Christmas without MawMaw because she always cooked. It was an opportunity for them to gather at MawMaw’s kitchen and cook together (they’d been banished from her kitchen before as she insisted on doing everything).

~ Make a donation in honor of your loved one. If you find yourself teary-eyed while shopping and thinking how much “they” would like something, donate the money you would have spent to a worthy cause. Or be a “secret Santa” for a community or church giving tree.

~ If you can’t face a holiday dinner, consider volunteering at a local food bank or community kitchen.

~ If you do have the holiday dinner, remember your loved one and drink a toast to them. Have a slice of their favorite pie for them. They aren’t gone, they’re just quiet, in another room (and it’s a much nicer room that we can’t see on this earth).

~ Gratitude goes a long way. Find things to be grateful for, and start with the life of that loved one.

~ Cherish the memories, and cry when you feel like it.

~ Worship, whether with a community, with family, or just alone if you can’t face a crowd.

~  Remember that everyone grieves differently, in their own way, in their own time.

~Above all, try to focus on the hope of this season. Each year at Christmas, we are reminded that in spite of the fact that humanity is broken, sinful, and generally messed up, God still gave us the gift of his son Jesus. No matter what trials befall in this life, we have the promise of redemption. The miracle of the Incarnation is indeed a miracle; God didn’t have to do any of this. But what better way to show Divine Love than to take on human form, walk among us, and show in unmistakable ways how much we are loved?

We know this world is upside down, and the loss of a loved one only makes the feeling heavier.  We felt Pop’s absence at Thanksgiving, and will feel it even more sharply at Christmas. But I’ve been looking at photos of him from last Christmas and grinning.  I’ve been remembering being a child, waking him and mom up at 5 AM saying look what Santa brought and chuckling over his and mom’s bleary-eyed excitement for my brother and me. We had him for decades, and no amount of grief can ever take away my gratitude for having him as my father.

May God bless you and yours this beautiful Christmas season.

A Prayer

Lord God of all, we ask your grace, mercy and protection over all Americans and those who have helped us and are in danger in Afghanistan. Lend aid to those who would help them escape in safety, and let none be left behind. Strike fear into the hearts of the enemy, Lord; hold their fire and destroy their weapons so that our people may escape. I know that You are all powerful and all knowing, and ask Your protection for those who fight against evil and those who desire death. Amen.

I have been following the news of the American military’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan with growing horror, disgust, and a feeling of utter helplessness.

While I can’t disagree with the need to get out of Afghanistan, I am astonished over the way it’s been done. I’ve asked a few military friends about their thoughts on the matter, and the answer was unanimous; this was NOT the way to do it.

A prayer from August 16 in my desktop Jesus Today calendar says “This world is increasingly dark, but the Light of My Presence is as bright as ever.” Well, the world is very dark for Americans and Christians in Afghanistan. Americans are being told to “shelter in place” and cannot be guaranteed to have safe passage to the airport. Another slap in the face is that the State Dept Overseas Security Advisory Council stated (August 14) that “Repatriation flights are not free, and passengers will be required to sign a promissory loan agreement and may not be eligible to renew their U.S. passports until the loan is repaid. Cost may be $2,000 or more per person.”

I call that adding insult to injury. Meanwhile, people from other countries pour across our southern border and are given free passage to various cities throughout the country. They don’t need a covid test, either. In what universe does all of this make sense?

Americans, as a kind and caring people, most of whom believe in God (or at least some sense of morality) can’t really wrap our heads around the fact that the Taliban think nothing like we do. This is a culture of death, where children are recruited as sex slaves or as suicide bombers. Immediate beheading is considered an appropriate punishment for possession of a Bible, and women and children are considered chattel.

Deep breath. Serenity prayer. OK. Right now, I have work to deal with. If all I can do right now is to work, do my job, and pray, I’ll do that and invite you to do the same.

Friends

My friend Keith pointed out that August 1 is National Friendship Day. How timely! Over the recent years, many friendships (and family relationships) have been tried over deep divides in our country, many of them political.

It’s pretty insane, when you think about it. For decades, I never really cared that I have a lot of friends who are on the “other side of the aisle” from me politically. I still don’t. Politics has nothing to do with why I love them and consider them friends. There are more important things in life, and those are the things that we hold in common and that has led to our friendships.

Sadly, this isn’t always the case. My sis-in-law sent a link to a very thoughtful (and nonpolitical) article on the loss of friendships and family relationships caused by disagreement over CoVid. You can find it here: LOSING FRIENDS AND FAMILY DURING CORONAMANIA | by Mark Oshinskie | Jul, 2021 | Medium

I won’t tell you that I haven’t experienced some difficulties (and shunning) because of the Wuhan Flu. But what the hell are we doing here, letting something like this divide us?

I can hear some outraged comments: “It’s a matter of public health!” OK, fine, I don’t exactly agree, but that’s ok. I’ve written before about public mental health; suicide is a lot more deadly than the Wuhan Flu.

As people of faith, we must not give in to letting something worldly divide us. I have actually heard comments stating “well, I don’t feel sorry for so-and-so, s/he wouldn’t get vaccinated!”

Wow. Just…wow.

Sadly, I don’t think this mindset is going away anytime soon – but we can combat it by avoiding the trap of division.

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. ~ Mark 3:24 – 27

My friend Keith Horcasitas shares this invitation for August 1 at 7 AM in Baton Rouge:

National Friendship Day, August 1, 2021. With all the discord and polarity in the world, I have a modest proposal for fellow Redstick citizens – to tie in to the great “Let There be Peace on Earth” song which notes “…and let it begin with me!” A friendship Promenade for Peace, sponsored by Prayer Care, LLC – in line with social distancing and masking – will be held tomorrow, Sunday, August 1, 2021 – National Friendship Day, 7 AM, Baton Rouge City Park, starting by the City Park Labyrinth. Come out for a simple meet and greet as we, of all walks of faith and life, come together as friends to exercise and encourage one another to promote peace in our hearts. And please bring your 4 legged friends, who sometimes help us at meeting and greeting!

This is a 15 minute walk with unitive prayers and songs. If you can’t be there in person, be there in spirit, and let the Spirit remind you of what is truly important.

Woke?

Jesus was “woke.” Or…was he?

According to that bastion of knowledge, Wikipedia, “woke is a term referring to awareness of issues that concern social justice and racial equality. Originating in the United States, it has also been used to refer to awareness about broader social inequality on issues such as gender and sexual orientation.” Wikipedia, accessed 7/6/21.

Well, Jesus was certainly concerned about unqualified justice and equality. As for prejudice, well, just ask the Samaritan woman. According to this definition, Jesus was a pretty woke guy.

So I wonder how he’d feel about so many corporations and highly visible individuals who fall over one another in order to display their wokeness (or would that be wokedness)? I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty tired about reading that “Company blah blah is proud to support fill-in-the-blank.” Well, goody for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all against corporate (or other) donations, and they certainly deserve to have a thank-you sign or banner at the ball game or their name on a teeshirt or a big thank-you plaque. I also really appreciate that some companies have causes that are sincerely close to their heart, and they spread information about their causes through their business (such as the Dave Thomas Foundation and Wendy’s Hamburgers).

But I roll my eyes when wokeness is clearly an afterthought. I wonder about those company board meetings: “Quick! Who’s in the such-and-such category can we give some money to so we’ll look like we’re not the robber barons that take home millions in bonuses every year? How fast can we get it on the Twitter feed?”

Jesus spoke about this:

“When you give to needy people, do not announce it by having trumpets blown. Do not be like those who only pretend to be holy. They announce what they do in the synagogues and on the streets. They want to be honored by other people. What I’m about to tell you is true. They have received their complete reward. When you give to needy people, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Then your giving will be done secretly. Your Father will reward you, because he sees what you do secretly. “When you pray, do not be like those who only pretend to be holy. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners. They want to be seen by other people…

Matthew 6:1-5, NIRV

Do not be like those who only pretend to be holy.

Wise words from the original “woke” guy.

A Holiday of Faith

Yesterday we had a conversation in the choir loft about secular vs. religious holidays. While not a religious holiday, Memorial Day is a day of faith, and yes, a sacred one that should transcend all faith traditions.

We in the USA mark the last Monday of May as a day to honor and remember those who gave the gift and sacrifice of their lives in their service in the armed forces of the country. Sounds secular, right?

One of our most basic recognized rights in this country is the freedom to worship freely. While we take this for granted, we don’t often stop to think how rare this was in 1791 when it was included in the Bill of Rights.

Without the sacrifice of those we remember today, there’s a good chance we would not have been allowed to worship as we please.

As it is, church attendance has dropped to an all-time low, perhaps in part because of the avoidance of government to support religion in any way. When I was growing up, heaven forbid that any school would host a sports tournament that included play on Sunday morning. This is no longer the case.

Whatever you think of the reasoning for certain wars in our history, never forget that each individual who took an oath in the armed services agreed to pay whatever price was asked by our nation, including the cost of their lives. 

I don’t know who said this, but it’s worth repeating:

(This may be said of some of soldiers of certain other countries as well, but right now I’m talking about our own Memorial Day)

Today, please take time to remember and give thanks for the sacrifices of those who gave their lives so that we may worship as we please and live in freedom.

Alleluia!

This is the second Easter of CoVid. How strange it feels. Last year, we understood the need for being locked down. Besides, it was only to be for a few weeks. But a year later, we still aren’t doing the usual Easter things today; no vigil service in the early morning. Easter egg hunts for children – at least public ones – are few and far between. Everything is curtailed, muffled, depressed and suppressed.

In CoVid Year 2, we need Easter more than ever. But then, we always need Easter. Right now, the message of Easter – salvation and the eternal, fierce, unending love of God – is more necessary to our psyches and souls than I can ever remember.

We are a world in uproar; a nation divided by many foolish, superficial things. “How can the saving of human lives be foolish and superficial?!” you may ask? It’s not, and I’m not referring to masks and lockdowns etc. Besides, the saving of lives is never superficial. What IS superficial is where our focus lies. This is no political commentary; rather, I believe we would all be better off if we were to focus on something other than fear, division, who feels insulted and “offended”, what someone’s preferred pronouns are – and instead focus on the promise of Easter, which is open to all of humankind, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, gender, and so on.

For those who might cry “enough of prayer and talk, we need action!” I would ask what greater action could there possibly be than a loving God who gave humankind the greatest gift imaginable?

To simplify (greatly), can you imagine this loving God saying “how can I POSSIBLY make these people understand how much I love them?!? And how much I want them to know me, to join me in heaven to be with me forever? Ah! I know, I will send my own son to earth. Maybe HE can get it through their thick skulls. I will ask him to do whatever it takes to make them realize my love.”

Jesus did whatever it took. That, my friend, is action.

Yet we divert our attention away from the most amazing, freeing, incredible gift in the history of humanity and stand around quibbling about…oh, I don’t know, the correct amount of social distancing at the Easter egg hunt?

The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is the miracle of Easter, and the core belief of Christianity. It doesn’t matter what Christian tradition you follow, and it doesn’t matter what you read and study as “Science.” It really doesn’t. None of us gets out of here alive in body, but through the love and sacrifice of Christ, we can all get out of here alive…forever. With a God that loves us beyond all understanding. Isn’t that a relief? Isn’t that something you’d rather focus on? We cannot seek the living among the dead, and never forget that the strife and division that we see daily in our country and in the world is death to the spirit.

The cross is empty. The tomb is empty. Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

Another Easter post you may enjoy is from 2017: The Gift of Skepticism.

The Saint Formerly Known as Maewyn

Ah, Patrick! Patron saint of Ireland, and perhaps of green beer as well. Today is yet another commemoration turned into countless opportunities for marketing (and green beer). Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love St. Patrick’s day. I have my shamrock leggings on even as I write this, and my 4-leaf clover earrings as well. You won’t catch me drinking green beer, though – Guinness is too dark to turn any color but…well, Guinness.

Amidst the parades and parties is the life of a man who was an amazing figure. The nuns told us he used a shamrock to teach the trinity (no evidence for that, though – but when did that stop the good sisters?) and that he drove the snakes out of Ireland (no evidence for that either. In fact, no evidence that snakes ever DID exist in Ireland. If they also lack mosquitos…I’m moving).

You can read in many places about the life of Maewyn Succat, who changed his name to Patricius when he became a priest. (Interesting tidbit of info I found; according to legend, that was Patrick’s birth name.) It’s fairly common knowledge that he was born in Britain around the end of the 4th century, was captured and enslaved in Ireland for some years, and then returned to that country as a priest.

Perhaps a good way to celebrate this rock-star-among-saints is to read some of his own words:

Another night – I do not know, God knows, whether it was within me or beside me– I heard authoritative words which I could hear but not understand, until at the end of the speech it became clear: “The one who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks in you”; and I awoke full of joy.

Another time, I saw in me one who was praying. It was as if I were inside my body, and I heard above me, that is, above my inner self. He prayed strongly, with sighs. I was amazed and astonished, and pondered who it was who prayed in me; but at the end of the prayer, it was clear that it was the Spirit. At this I awoke, and I remembered the apostle saying: “The Spirit helps the weaknesses of our prayer; for we do know what it is we should pray, but the very Spirit pleads for us with unspeakable sighs, which cannot be expressed in words.” And again: “The Lord is our advocate, and pleads for us.”

from the Confession of St. Patrick found at Confession | St. Patrick’s Confessio

When reading the words of Patrick, I am struck by his humility and his courage. Take some time today to read a bit before you head out to drink green beer.

As for me, I’m going to read more from Patrick – and then head out to have a Guinness and listen to bagpipes!

Cancelled?

The other night, after enjoying my egg drop soup from Hot Wok (a local excellent Chinese restaurant), I cracked open my fortune cookie. Would I read a gem of wisdom or a glimpse into the future? Neither. It said: “you will have a successful year.”

I dropped the fortune and laughed out loud. Really? REALLY? 2020? We’d seen the accountant for the business the day before, who summed up 2020 by saying “It’s a good year if one’s still in business.” Sadly, that is true as far too many businesses (large, such as Stage Department Stores, and small, such as our former favorite Mexican Restaurant, Los Mayas) have had to close permanently. Not even an economy that was rocking and rolling at the end of 2019 survived the CoVid shutdowns.

Christmas this year has taken on a somewhat surreal aura. Some countries have embraced their inner Grinch and have “cancelled” Christmas. I understand urging people to avoid large crowds. That’s a good idea even in a garden variety flu season for people with compromised immune systems. But how does one cancel Christmas?

Every year we grumble about the commercialization of Christmas. This year I shake my head as retail outlets feature sparkly holiday wear. Where are we gonna wear the glitz this year? Matching family pajamas are quite the rage this season, as are holiday themed masks. Never doubt the power of American ingenuity when it comes to marketing even in the midst of a crisis.

I know I’m not alone when I say that the Christmas spirit has been late in visiting me. I didn’t put up the usual tree this year, just a tabletop decoration, a tiny creche, and stockings. But…no Advent music. No choir practice for Christmas. No choir at Christmas – no vocal music at all in church. The human voice is the only musical instrument crafted by God – and it is silenced.

Yesterday, music partner Joshua and I played through some Christmas music – everything from O Come all Ye Faithful to Jingle Bell Rock. My family’s Christmas Eve celebration will be substantially smaller this year, limited only to those in our “isolation pod.” We’ll play music, and yes, sing Christmas Carols. Music is a way of prayer for me. While we always need prayer, we’ve needed it more than ever in 2020.

Too, the promise of Christmas is more timely than usual: The promise of redemption, of salvation, and the mystery of grace. Christmas should remind us that the unexpected can yield miracles. The world was waiting for a savior; and it was thought that this savior would be a mighty warrior king who would save the Jewish people from the tyranny of Rome.

Instead, they got a tiny baby who grew into a man who spoke in parables, healed the sick, worked miracles, and became enraged at the money changers in the temple. He didn’t take up arms against the Romans; instead, he became a sacrificial lamb. His disciples didn’t get it until the resurrection. We don’t get it either, but such is this human lifetime, seeing through a glass darkly.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

So much has been written by great theologians about the miracles of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. This year, though, the words of the great philosopher Dr. Seuss are most appropriate:

“Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”

Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Joshua and I played and sang through Christmas carols, I felt my mood lighten. It was starting to feel like Christmas. No country, no government, no one can cancel Christmas. They can try to cancel gatherings, events, etc. But Christmas? No. Christmas comes just the same, and we are blessed and redeemed because of it.

Clanging cymbals

Right now, our world is running on hatred and fear. Just look at the news (you can’t escape it), and you’ll see riots, destruction, fear spreading and a focus on division.
I am told by talking heads and pundits that I should “speak out.” Others say that I have “no right” to say anything. Don’t forget – I am also told that I should stay home to avoid being an unwitting spreader of a deadly virus. I am told that I should/should not/should/should not wear a face mask.

I’m not alone when I say that I am tired, weary, and worn out.

iris small

 

People are asking a question that is hard to answer: How do we fix the many wrongs of the world and of our society?

In this cacophony of voices crying for attention, we really need to hear this:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:1 – 13

We usually hear this passage read at weddings.  But interestingly, Paul’s letter was sent to a church that was experiencing – you guessed it – division. It is timely, and timeless.

I’m sure many will say this approach is too simplistic and downright impossible.  Please, please – go back and read it again. Let it sink into your bones. Let this be our starting place and returning place for healing.

It’s difficult, I know. As humans, we may never have enough love. But if we draw from the endless well of the love of God, we have a never-ending supply of love and compassion. That’s what we need.

Because without love, we truly have nothing. And only with the love of God can we have any hope of making sense of this mess.