And I wept . . .

Jesus on crossFor those of us who identify as Christian, the observance of Good Friday services is a commemoration of the suffering and death of Jesus the Christ. A time-honored tradition during this most somber of days in our church calendar is the reading of the Passion account from one of the gospels during this service. I have participated in this presentation in various forms for all of my life; yet, I felt that this one was taking on a deeper meaning for me – especially at yesterday’s service which I attended. It could be best encapsulated by my really taking notice of how some individuals and institutions (religious and civic) throughout history have inflicted the utmost cruelty and agony on people with whom they disagreed and posed a threat to their status and power. Quite often, the victims are those who have spoken prophetically and proclaimed messages of peace and justice. These gospel accounts certainly describe the worst of both religious and civic leaders, and this realization jumped out in front of me as though I had heard these words for the first time. They especially yanked at my emotions since such abuses still continue in our world.
“Where is God now?”, boomed the impassioned voice of the presider during the homily of the service. He was quoting someone from the well-known true story written by Elie Weisel Nazi concentration camp entranceabout his days as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. In the gruesome scene, a young boy was being hanged by the prison guards and the inmates were forced to observe the execution. Taking a relatively lengthy time to die from suffocation due to his light weight, he struggled for breath, his tongue was protruded, and his face turned blue. The anguished question came from someone within the crowd, and the response from someone else was, “He is hanging at the end of the rope.” Our gifted homilist then began to remind us that Jesus, who is love personified – God with us – became human in order to become one of us – to enter into humanity’s suffering – to walk with us.
Thus, who are the suffering in our midst today with whom this Jesus suffers? Our presider listed several:

• Families who are being torn apart in our country due to arrests and deportations of parents who are undocumented.

• Refugees from a number of countries who are mistreated by and dying at the hands of cruel people from their own country, the often-dangerous voyages they must make to find safety.bullied child

• Children who are being bullied at school.
As he shared these thoughts, my emotions were deepened, and tears began to sting my eyes.
What happened next, though, caused the tears to flow. As we processed forward to kiss the feet of the corpus on the large crucifix, I imagined examples of the above-mentioned people actually lying on the cross in agony. They also included AIDS/HIV patients whose emaciated bodies are wracked with misery and often die alone because of family body of toddler washed on beachrejection; the iconic news image of the body of the toddler from a Middle Eastern country which was washed ashore on a European beach after he drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as he and his family were escaping his war-torn country; images of loved ones for which many of us take care due to serious illnesses; women who are sexually abused and suffer other forms of mistreatment within a patriarchal society; and people who are members abused womanof sexual minorities (LGBTQ/gender non-conforming) who are often disowned by family members, lose their jobs, abused and killed, and thrown out of their church communities because they are trying to live their lives authentically.

If those of us who profess to be Christians believe that we are all members of the Body of Christ, then shouldn’t we recognize that when we venerate the broken Body of Jesus the Christ, we are also venerating all those in our midst who suffer? Then, what should be the consequences of this acknowledgement? How willing are we to “kiss their feet” and to embrace them as bona-fide members of the human community, treating them with dignity? Will these actions build a peaceful world?

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Spiritual direction – walking the path to peace

Some of you may be aware that an important part of my ministry is providing spiritual direction. There are several ways to describe this important work. Spiritual Directors International provides this description:

Spiritual direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human. Simply put, spiritual direction is helping people tell their sacred stories every day.  Spiritual direction has emerged in many contexts using language specific to particular cultural and spiritual traditions. Describing spiritual direction requires putting words to a process of fostering a transcendent experience that lies beyond all names and yet the experience longs to be articulated and made concrete in everyday living. It is easier to describe what spiritual direction does than what spiritual direction is. Our role is not to define spiritual direction, but to describe the experience. Spiritual direction helps us learn how tSDI logo improvedo live in peace, with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names.

I am particularly drawn to the last sentence of this particular description since I am indeed trying to live out my life as a humble servant who is a man of peace and compassion who promotes justice. Besides serving as a spiritual director, I am also on the receiving end of this practice, since I also visit with a marvelous spiritual director on a regular basis.

There is another description of this practice on the SDI website that I also really like:

[Spiritual direction is] the contemplative practice of helping another person or group to awaken to the mystery called God in all of life, and to respond to that discovery in a growing relationship of freedom and commitment.

James L. Empereur, SJ, supports this when he aptly states that “Spiritual direction is as much about becoming a more fully appropriated person as it is about being in union with God .” By this he means that this is a “humanization process which is salvational . . . To seize for oneself or as one’s right to be a full human being . . . . “ He also tells us that all people have a right to a spiritual life.

Thus, this sacred work of being human, finding our mysterious, beautiful innermost being as we have been created by a loving Creator is definitely holy work. Spiritual direction (some people prefer “companioning”) thus involves one person walking with another.

As we walk through life, we soon discover, at various points and at different levels, depending on one’s life experiences, how indeed beautiful and unique that we are at our deepest levels. However, because our fellow world denizens may not always understand other individual groups and individuals in their differentness, conflict often arises. This often can result in violence and even death. We all know that humans have been doing this through all of history, with disastrous consequences. As people of this earth, we should know by now that this is not the loving thing to do. It is only when we take the time and have the courage to encounter the other can we build bridges of peace, healing, and understanding.

One of the groups to which I am referring are those who belong to sexual minorities; more specifically, members of the LGBTQ+ community: the reference to all people in sexual minorities who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and gender non-conforming people. It is extremely important that loving and appropriately informed ministers such as spiritual directors be available to journey with members of marginalized groups such as this one. I myself am involved in various forms of LGBTQ+ ministry, including the service of spiritual direction. Realizing that this is a rather specialized area of spiritual direction, I am happy to announce that I will be soon be sharing information with my colleagues on a world stage. Next month, I will be attending the Spiritual Directors International conference, “Seeking Connection”. I will be one of the workshop presenters, presenting both on Friday and Saturday of the conference weekend. The title of my workshop is, “Walk With Me: Spiritual Direction With the LGBTQ Community”. I look forward to sharing my knowledge and experiences with my contemporaries as well as learning from fellow experts.  I look forward to reporting on my experiences post-conference!

 

Why do we do this to each other?

A good friend of mine recently forwarded an article to me which spoke of the discovery of the remains of a 1,600-year-old Byzantine basilica at the site of the Councils of Nicaea, at the bottom of a lake in northwest Turkey. According to a local expert, the church was most likely built in the 4th century in honor of St. Neophytos, who was martyred by Roman soldiers (in a most brutal manner) during the time of Roman emperor Diocletian in 303.

Reading this has once again caused me to reflect on how, throughout thburning at stakee ages, we have used violence to silence people who dare to threaten the status quo – those who dare to speak truth to laws, dogmas, and social mores which are not life-giving. To take it further, what of using violence against each other in the name of religion? The fruits of such behavior can be manifested in many ways, such as through racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, xenophobia, and classicism. This certainly also gives us an opportunity to consider our image of God. Is it one who is “all-powerful”? Angry? Vengeful? Or, what about a God who is vulnerable, peaceful, and loving? To go even deeper, what or who is God to mdove of peacee?

On a personal level, I know that I, as an imperfect human being, must also consider what violence lurks in my own heart at various levels, even if it be in thought only. I pray that I will always strive to have a heart which is peaceful and compassionate.

Seeing More Clearly

HELLO! Well, I’ve returned from a 2-year hiatus. Happy to be back! I hope to be more faithful to sharing my thoughts and impressions of living a peaceful and just life in the years to come!

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I’ve long been terribly nearsighted. In fact, I’ve been wearing glasses since the 5th grade. The thing was, back in the elementary school days, I really didn’t realize what I was not able to see. Since I had no prior experience, I was oblivious to so many sights and corresponding understanding of life that I was missing.

. . . and then it happened . . .

I still recall it vividly: My Mom brought me to the optometrist’s office to fetch my new glasses (yes, the black, plastic-framed nerdy kind; but hey – it was the 1960’s) on a clearClear vision, sunny morning. On our way home, we stopped at a grocery store and I remained in the car as my Mom shopped. As I gazed through the windows, I looked up at a billboard that had long stood adjacent to the parking lot. Lo and behold – I could actually read the words and see the images clearly – something that I had never been able to do, or realize that it was even possible! With my limited life experience, I had just assumed that was how things were. My sense of wonder and amazement continued as I gazed upon buildings, various flora and fauna, vehicles, etc. with much more clarity! It was amazing! As the days and weeks unfolded, the astonishment continued through other events such as being able to read the chalkboard at school and to be able to watch TV at home farther than 3 feet away!

Such it is with life, I believe. As I struggle with the current divisiveness in our country’s politics and the discrimination that many people living on the margins endure worldwide, I often catch myself saying, “Good Lord! It’s the 21st Century! Don’t they ‘get it?’” Why do horrible things such as racism, sexism, classicism, homophobia, and xenophobia still exist? Yet, as I do honest assessments of myself, I can see parts of myself in my former years (and even present-day) embracing some of those same “isms” and “phobias” on different levels. Why? Well, for various reasons, mostly due to my lack of life experience, along with being a child of the 60’s and 70’s, I wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t seeing clearly – until certain life events nudged me into seeing things with more clarity and reacting (hopefully) appropriately.  My prayer is, then, that as I work for justice for those living on the margins. I also have a heart filled with compassion as I build bridges of understanding with those whose vision is not the same as mine.

Deep peace to all . . .

 

 

 

 

 

My response (?)

With the capability of today’s news media technology, it is a “no-brainer” to expect to daily hear and read of stories from around the world which are filled with tragedy, violence, oppression, exclusion, and many other blatant forms of injustice. Receiving such news often brings me to the point of tears: tears of anger, frustration, and sadness. Quite often, my response is, “It’s 2015! Don’t they know better????” I also try to be thoughtful of my reactionary thoughts and words: are they also violent (which can cause their own ripple effect in the world)? Are they compassionate? Do I take the opportunity to reflect on how I could possibly see part of myself in the perpetrators, confronting the violence within my own heart? How do these experiences assist me to continue opening myself up to further transformation? Do I just ignore this opportunity and run away? Am I paying attention? Am I making any attempt to walk through the door to meet “the other”?
Joe Grant of JustFaith Ministries has recently released a book entitled, Still in the Storm, and it contains many beautiful passages which inspire and challenge (rattle?) us in the area of social justice. I thought that I would quote one of them here which richly speaks to me on this day (and I hope to you as well):

Switching the Sign

storefront sign
How do you respond when gunshots blast precious
lives away? (For surely we must respond!) And, when drought
sets in,
or famine, flood and fire come to visit , what do
you do?

When so many are seeking refuge
from the violations of war, and the changing of the
weather,
from the worries of debt or illness, and the despair
of grinding poverty,

and from that sinking, powerless feeling
in the face of it all.
Where do you turn? How are we to respond?

It is here, suspended in the crux
of this penetrating question
That prayerful presence makes all the difference.

First, resist the instinct to flee –
that urge to change the channel
and fritter away attentiveness on frivolous
preoccupations.

Instead, pause, breathe,
and hold open your life
to the frightening fullness of the moment.

Visualize through the glass of a storefront door,
a hand reaching for a sign,
flipping it from CLOSED to OPEN.

Listen for that persistent voice,
the breath behind every cry,
that invites you to turn and be changed.

It starts as a fundamental re-orientation –
turning our lives, our attention, inside out,
with a deliberate desire to switch the sign to OPEN.

Music

Brad at organ 1973I’ve been a musician for most of my life.
I recall my first attempts at the piano at about the age of 5 when I taught myself to play a popular church hymn by ear, one note at a time. (Sorry, folks – no Mozart-type child prodigy here.) The next step was my oldest sister teaching me the basics for a few years; then, I began private lessons at about 8 years of age, continuing this wonderful experience until my high school graduation. Coupling this with belonging to marching and concert bands on the high school and college levels (I played baritone horn), I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to learn from some great teachers and play alongside other talented musicians. (No, I still can’t hold a candle to Mozart or any of the other great classical composers, but I have fun.) Having said all of this, the vast majority of my musical contribution to the greater community has been that of playing liturgical music – from elementary school until the present. It is something that I enjoy immensely and plays an important role in my spiritual journeymusical-clip-art-8[1] and ministry. However, I enjoy many types of music, from Cajun to soft rock to Caribbean to various types of African.
There’s just something about music.
It does something to one’s soul – one’s psyche – one’s body. It can cause one to relax, to become excited, become drawn into meditation, get whipped into a frenzy, incite some to war, and draw some to peace.
There’s also something about singing or playing along with other folks who also love to play and sing. There’s a beautiful power in that – something sacred.

 
It can be cathartic.jumping%20joy%20best%20blog[1]

 

It can cause us to weep, to become melancholy, disturbed, happy. We play music for happy occasions and we play music for sad occasions – in important rituals in our lives, from birthday parties to football games to weddings to funerals. Music indeed plays an important function in all of these events; and, for most of us, things are just not right if music is missing during these times.

griefseptic[1]
Today, I had a bittersweet experience in which music played an important role. I provided music and singing at the funeral service of one of my former students, taken away from us much too soon. She was only 35 years old, succumbing to cancer after a battle of less than one year, leaving behind a husband and four young children along with her own immediate birth family to grieve for her. It was a particularly poignant moment since today’s musical (and personal) involvement was a bookend to another important event in her and her husband’s lives which occurred 11 years ago – that of their wedding, in which I also provided the music and singing.

 
I chose the musical selections carefully today, wanting every song to be meaningful.

 
As I reflect on the day, I wonder just how were they received by the members of the mourning congregation? Were they mere pretty words and notes, or did they resonate with them? Did it assist in their grieving process and openness to healing their traumatized souls? Did it have any effect on their individual images of God/Creator? Did this music-filled liturgical, communal experience, coupled with the other sights, sounds, and smells, move them closer to embracing the Mystery of this whole human condition thing or did it wedge them away?
I guess that I’ll never fully know, but I was honored to be part of it.

 

 

Yep, there’s just something about music . . .

“Peace be with you” . . . did I really mean that?

I’ve heard it said that peace is not simply the absence of war, but the work of justice.
For those shaking handsof us who adhere to the Christian faith tradition, we often say words such as, “Peace be with you”, “Go in the Peace of Christ”, “Grant Us Peace”, or simply, “peace” to each other during our formal liturgies and other gatherings. The other great faith traditions offer similar utterances as well within their own ceremonies, rituals, and daily conversation. These words, either spoken or sung, are often accompanied by some physical gestures such as a handshakes, hugs, kisses, or waves – some carried out with stiff formality and sometimes with great gusto and passion. As with many such rituals which we humans do on a regular basis, I feel that we often forget what we’re really saying and what this really is supposed to mean as we perform them. This thought entered my mind this morning as I participated in this practice with members of my local faith community. Was this am empty gesture on my part? What are the implications if I really meant it and acted upon it?
. . . which leads me to my main point:
What are leading causes of war and other forms of civil strife, both foreign and domestic?

bombed village
I have spent 30+ years as an educator – teaching at the high school and university levels and serving in state-wide administrative and coordination roles. These roles have provided me with the great privilege of working with youth, their parents, fellow educators at various levels, elected officials, agricultural professionals, business people, and government representatives. During these years, I have also had the great opportunity to travel to and work in foreign countries (the latest one is struggling to rise from the ashes of a protracted, bloody civil war) in agricultural and diverse people talkingeducational development projects. I have witnessed great blessings and kindness as well as deep suffering and struggle. I have seen great humility and unselfishness and I have seen great pomposity and corruption. These experiences have indeed helped to shape my world view and better understanding of the complex human condition.
In all of these experiences, whether they be domestic or international, I have found that a common denominator to a particular society’s travails has been deep misunderstanding and corresponding mistrust of the other: the person or culture who is different from the prevailing majority. An important link to establishing peaceful, just societies, but which is often broken (or never allowed to become established), is that of listening to the other with an open mind and a softened, contemplative heart – the building of healthy, “right” relationships.  Have I been doing a good job of that? What about all of us as citizens of the world? More to come (I’m trying to stick to my rule for publishing short posts) . . .
Peace be with you.

Well, that just put me over the top . . .

As I continue to allow this blog to unfold and naturally evolve, I can’t help but going back to the “first things first” reasoning behind this blog. As the days (and corresponding posts) go by, I will do my best to present my case as to why I am doing this blogging business in the first place. I’m learning the basic mechanics of actually physically organizing it, which includes all of the functions of the WordPress platform. (I might add that there’s plenty of cool stuff, but I still have much to learn.) In viewing blogs that other folks are producing, I see lots of interesting content andNorthern horizon II a variety of layouts, with many of them looking really spectacular with clever wording along with the horns and whistles! I know that I will probably embellish my own site as I continue “learning the ropes”, but I feel at this point that I’ll probably keep mine on the simpler side, which is a reflection of the direction of my own life – simplifying and removal of clutter. Having said this, this does not mean that I am becoming complacent and unproductive in this second half of my life. In many ways, I am feeling a new surge of energy and resolve in my life as I focus my life-force into working with kindred spirits to address issues of justice and peace in our society. This is reflected in the company that I keep, my longing for more solitude, my perpetual commitment to lifelong learning, and the continued deepening of my prayer life. More details will come later . . .

Thus, to address the title of this post, just what “put me over the top” in making my decision to establish a blog? In many ways, a lifetime of events has occurred which has brought me to this point of where I am and who I am. One of them was the establishment of my own LLC a few years ago which focuses on education, spiritual direction, retreat facilitation, corporate training in leadership development and diversity/equity issues, and international agricultural development; anKeep Calm and blogd I know that it wtolerance1[1]ould be beneficial to “put myself out there” through a variety of media. However, there were two recent events which really gave me the final nudge to launch this effort. First, I received an invitation from WordPress a few weeks ago to take part in a month-long e-course, “Blogging 101”. Although this piqued my interest, I still wasn’t totally sold on the idea. However, soon after that, I was made aware of a news item which occurred in a major U.S. city which I found to be quite unsettling and embarrassing. It was reported via print and video that one established societal group in that city was publicly exhibiting disrespect and intolerance against a more recently arrived group of people of a different culture who were engaged in a peaceful, educational program to a legislative body. It was at that point that I decided that I could no longer remain silent. However, the reader will see that my style of engagement is within the realm of education and dialogue and not harsh confrontation; in other words, building a bridge. Through building non-threatening relationships, I firmly believe that we can establish peace.

Oops, I hope that I haven’t gone too long . . .

 

So . . . just what does that word mean?

For a number of years, I was (and always will be) always very curious about the statement which I saw on signs and bumper stickers, “If You Want Peace, Work for Justice.” Scratching my head over this statement, I had two problems: 1) unclear definitions of the terms (well, I kind of understood what the term, “peace” meant), and 2) the seeming disconnect between the two. So, since I needed more work on the term, “justice”, I looked at several dictionary sources for some academic –type definitions, but I still knew that something was missing. I would dare say that most folks in our society generally equate the word with retribution and revenge. However, as the Spirit would have it, I had the great fortune of hearing an expert on social justice teaching speak in my area several years ago, who explained this concept with a different angle. He stated that the Christian notion (and, I might add, that of all of the world’s great religions) of justice is “the ‘righting’ of relationships.” Well, a light came on for me at that point – a moment of greater clarity. That experience assisted me in understanding thishands-on-globe-diversity[1] shift from retributive to restorative justice. Unless all are treated fairly and with love, there can be no peace. When dealing with human beings of all stripes, I am aware that this can be challenging at times; yet I feel in my heart of hearts that this must be done. So, that is why I am blogging here with all of you: to be with fellow seekers and to challenge myself to get to the ever-deeper meaning of what it means to love and act justly.

What’s this all about?

I’ve been giving this blogging thing lots of thought: 1) in what manner should I articulate my thoughts and, 2) to whom am I writing and what would we discuss? Who would I like to have in my list of faithful readers? Who would even be interested?

Gentle rainThe answer to #1 came a couple of days ago during the early morning hours as I was preparing to engage in an important component of my morning ritual, which is centering prayer. As dawn was breaking, it was accompanied by a slow, comforting, soothing rain. Yes, I thought, this is how I wish to express myself – like a gentle rain which slowly soaks into the soil, helping to sustain life. Rather than communicating my bull-in-china-shop-iclip[1]thoughts like a hurricane, bulldozer, or the proverbial “bull in a china shop”, I hope that my words and ideas will gently soak into the very soul of the reader, providing nourishment, solace, peace, and fruitfulness. Of course, my words may also challenge the reader to think about life’s issues in a new way (maybe an occasional downpour?).

Now, what about question #2? Most certainly, I would be willing to share my thoughts with anyone who is willing to read my words. However, as I mentioned in my first entry, I really hope to be able to connect with kindred spirits: those who thirst for a non-violent, just world where all are welcome at the table; fellow contemplatives who are unafraid to meet the world as it is and to integrate one’s spirituality with these realities; and those who are interested in growing and evolving as a whole person through studying different types of spirituality, prayer forms and through civil discourse diversity[1]about issues for which we have a passion. Yes, this list will evolve as this blog and I continue to evolve.

So, any takers???