TAPESTRY OF MERCY

It is my great privilege to include this guest blog by my great friend and mystic, Thomas Telhiard:

GLACIER-TAPESTRY2

“I was at prayer in the city of Joppa when in a trance I had a vision, something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me.”

As we move into the 4th week of the Easter season, Spring is brimming over and rushing forward with the Good News Joy of the empty tomb and beyond.  Seeds planted in the earth break the ground and blooms take their turns at glory in the Sunlight, coloring the waking earth that shakes the drowsiness of death from its eyes.  All that has been bleak and bland, dormant and reclusive, now bursts forth with vigor.  The protecting mulch both nourishes and uncovers new beauty’s rebirth.

It’s amazing how fast-paced the Acts of the Apostles is, recounting the seedling Christian church that struggles and flourishes in somewhat equal proportionality, through the efforts and openness of Peter, Paul and many other disciples.  In today’s first reading, (ACTS 11: 1-18), we hear the description of how Peter was enlightened through a trance, wherein a revealing tapestry drops down from heaven and he must cast away the prejudices that he might have regarding the particular manner in which we can participate in the Good News story.  At question is the holiness or cleanliness of that which we can consume or eat.  Peter, in the dream, is invited to partake of food that is considered “unclean” in the Jewish culture.  In correction, he is told outright, “What God has made clean, you are not to profane.”

We discriminate by nature.  Our conceptual mind allows us to do so, and this is an important faculty that permits us to operate in our lives on a daily basis.  But the odd thing is that it is precisely the discriminating nature of our mental faculty that can lead to destructive forces in our relationships.  In a world of diversity, we struggle to allow and tolerate, much less embrace and celebrate, the differences that we have as cultures, societies, and even families and individuals.  Peter was criticized for eating in the household of uncircumcised people in the Acts story.  It took not only a heavenly screen in front of his eyes, but the company of strangers that enabled him to grasp the value and necessity of, shall we say, meeting people where they are and walking and talking with them, i.e., MERCY…

Just then three men appeared at the house where we were, who had been sent to me from Caesarea.  The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating.”

It was in the company of these strangers as well as others, that it was revealed to Peter, a most important lesson…”If then God gave them the same gift he gave us…who was I to hinder God?”

Life is nothing without the diversity of giftedness.  Paul called this the body of Christ.  Yet, we so often unjustly treat the lives of each other in a way that dishonors, demeans and dehumanizes the precious particularity that we have all been given.  In doing so, unwittingly, we are disrespecting ourselves.  Why would we be given a gift not to share?  We poke fun at re-gifting presents that we have received, but I am amazed at how at white elephant or dirty Santa parties, a gift that did not mean much to one person truly ended up surprisingly enough to be precious to another.  I think this says something about discrimination and discernment, mercy and giftedness.

Just as Peter was instructed to accompany these men without discriminating, so are we led to accompany each other in our differences that can cause us skepticism, irritation and even pain at times.  If we can bracket our seemingly natural powers to discriminate and walk far enough along in the company of differences, my experience has been that the Spirit of openness begins to stir.  Appreciation is born from patient journeying.  To sit long enough with something or, more importantly, with SOMEONE, grants a gift beyond measure.  The gift of realizing that, as the Scriptures say, is that the Holy Spirit “falls upon” all of us without discrimination.  We simply must have the eyes of compassionate discernment to see that there is nothing that God has created that is profane  – nothing unredeemable!

Ironically, the most beautiful experiences in life are oftentimes birthed from pain, suffering, and something perhaps what we would initially consider ugly or unreasonable.  If you have ever spent time with someone who is nearing death, you may have witnessed what I am speaking about here.  It’s the letting go that leads us home to each other and empowers us to replace discrimination with participative mercy.  Again, we have the image of the Body of Christ that feeds us – our selves as community.

Interestingly, in the Gospel story today (JN 10: 1-10), we have the image of Christ as the Sheep Gate.  Coming off of yesterday’s celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday, we now have the image of Christ as not just the Shepherd, but the gateway that provides care and protection.  I love the image of Christ as the Shepherd who lies on the ground across the opening in the hilled-in areas where the sheep can rest peacefully within.  Though, I wonder if the thieves and marauders that the ‘Christ gate’ is protecting us from could actually refer to our own attitudes toward ourselves and others.  Could Christ as the Sheep Gate be referring to the Holy Spirit’s field of openness that can pervade our hearts and minds so that we can, not so much look beyond differences, but actually look into them, celebrate them, let them speak to us and bring out the graceful and specific giftedness of ourselves in a way that would otherwise be unimaginable.

The tapestry dropped down from heaven before Peter’s eyes becomes present in the strangers who became his companions in the sharing of the Holy Spirit.  This is the way in, the Christ opening or gate where the only strangers that can harm us are those attitudes of death that trample the precious uniqueness that always returns in the Spring and blooms in our gardens of Mercy!

Peace

Thomas

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WE’RE A RESURRECTION PEOPLE (and I’m really trying)

Tears stung my eyes and my emotions welled up as I took part in recent Good Friday services. I tried to identify the source of my emotions. Sadness? Grief? Of course – this would be expected as we commemorated the brutal death of Jesus the Christ. Yet, there was something deeper going on within me – something mingling with the tears . . . . That’s it – it was anger! We’re doing it again, I thought. We keep on doing it again – over and over! Jesus was tortured and put to death in the most horrific fashion that the Jesus scourgingoccupying Romans could muster, not to mention being deserted and betrayed by those closest to him. Why was he put to death? It was because he dared to challenge the religious establishment. He dared to love and embrace those in the margins – those who were despised and outcast from the temple and society. He dared to turn the church law upside down in order for all to really understand what the love of God really means, even if it meant going against those in power. . . and, yes, even among God’s people, we continue inflicting the violence . . .

Yes, we continue with the persecution of people throughout the world who dare to speak and act prophetically, often at a severe cost – torture, banishment, excommunication, and even death – at the hands of religious and civil authorities and individual members of society. This includes those of us who are members of the LGBTQ+ community and our allies, created as we are by a loving God, who have no choice but to speak our truth and work for a society which is loving and violence imageinclusive, as Jesus taught us to do. The abuse continues, though, in spite of information from reliable science along with the testimony of our lives that a wide diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity is indeed quite natural and has always been with us. (My heart is freshly broken as I write this post. Last night, I learned of the news of  the 23-year old African American transgender woman who was beaten unconscious in a Dallas apartment complex where she lived three months ago was shot to death yesterday on a Dallas street! I was also informed in the same message that an 18 year-old transgender person from Louisiana was recently kicked out of her home and was homeless – looking for a safe place to reside. Our circle is feverishly working on finding immediate and long-term resources for this precious person.) Quite naturally, then, I continue to be frustrated, frightened, perplexed; and, yes, angry at this situation. It seems that we, as a society, often take two steps forward and one step back when it comes to issues of social justice and our ability to embrace “the other”.

So, what to do as we continue to experience these constant waves of crucifixion? In the midst of this latest round of internal malaise and despair, I have prayerfully turned to some mystics of our time. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton insists that “we must have complete faith in the resurrection” In his 2019 Easter homily, he recounts a time in the life of Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador when, in the height of violence in his country several decades ago, a reporter asked him, “Why don’t you flee the country, leave? They’re going to kill you.” His name was on the death list; everybody knew it. But the archbishop said, “Of course I’ve been threatened with death many times, but I don’t believe in death without resurrection. Even if they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.” (1). I must also remember that, even though there is often a “one step back” within our “two steps forward”, these steps still are an important part of an Oscar Romeroevolutionary process within our own God-given humanity, which is part of the cycle of dying and rising. Sr. Ilia Delio breaks this open so well when she states, “Because we humans are in evolution we must see Christ in evolution as well – Christ’s humanity is our humanity, Christ’s life is our life . . . . To live Christ is to live community; to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of community” (2).

I therefore must believe (not always easy) that, in our often difficult “rubber meeting the road” moments in our ministry to build a just, loving, and inclusive community for all, death is not the end nor does it signal defeat. On the contrary, we must be prepared for our small and large deaths – which will inevitably lead to resurrection. I must believe and trust that to live Christ is to live community and to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of this community. As Gumbleton said of Archbishop Romero (a human being who experienced his own process of evolution), “Here is a person who, like John in the Gospel, has complete trust, belief, confidence that Jesus is risen from the dead and that his resurrection is a sign, a promise of our resurrection that we too will rise from the dead and share everlasting life and joy, fullness of peace and happiness forever in our risen life” (1). These words have helped me to articulate what is honestly on my soul: “’Yes I believe, but help my unbelief because it’s a struggle.’ Sometimes we think that faith is a gift and once we have it, we’ll never falter. Not true. Faith is a choice” (1). Thanks, Bishop Gumbleton.

 

 

A CHALLENGE TO COMPASSION

My good friend and fellow member of the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative LGBT Initiative, Beth Garascia, wrote this wonderful essay which was published in the latest edition of Justice Jottings, a monthly publication of the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative. I was so moved after reading it, I requested permission from her to re-publish it in my blog. She graciously granted my request. In in, Beth calls us to “work on improving our language about LGBTQI persons and continue to strive to live with the compassion and mercy our faith calls us to.” Thank you, Beth, for your prophetic voice and actions in the name of love, peace, and justice.

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Recently Bill, a friend of my husband’s and mine, forwarded us a Richard Rohr column in which Rohr referred to LGBTQIA persons. Bill wrote “I know what LGBTQ means (lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and queer), but what does the I and A stand for? I immediately replied, “intersex and asexual.” Tony didn’t see my reply and wrote “inquiring and allies.” I’m not sure which of us is correct, or if we both are. However, that interchange as well as watching Hannah Gadsby’s new comedy special “Nanette” and listening to a sermon by Justo Gonzalez, inspired me to reflect on how very much I don’t know about what it means to be LGBTQIA in today’s world. These experiences also revealed to me how vulnerable some of these persons are and challenged me to become more merciful and compassionate to others.

First, here’s a short clarification of terms. Psychologists are now telling us that not only is sexual orientation on a continuum, but gender identity, biological sex, and gender expression are not the clear-cut binary phenomena that many of us were taught.

Sexual orientation is the internal experience that determines whether we are      physically and emotionally attracted to men, women, both, or neither (asexual).

Gender identity is one’s internal sense of being male, female, somewhere in between, or fluid. Since gender identity is interior, it’s not necessarily visible to others.

One’s genitals, chromosomes, and hormones all play a role in determining biological sex. Most of us are either male or female, but those of us born intersex can have any mix of sexual characteristics.

Finally, gender expression is how persons represent/express their gender identity to others, a combination of behavior, dress, hairstyles, voice, body characteristics or other gender-related behaviors.

These unfolding ways of looking at our gender and sexuality can cause deep internal conflict for some of us since they challenge our previous assumptions about a complex personal and important subject. Others of us may simply throw up our hands in confusion and wonder why young people present themselves in ways a more traditional person might label weird or just plain bizarre. What’s the matter with kids today anyway?

Consider the case of Caster Semenya, the 2016 South African Olympic track and field
phenomenon. It’s a complicated situation because she registers for track and field events as a woman and has a female phenotype (observable physical characteristics), but she has XY sex chromosomes. According to several news articles, she has broad shoulders, narrow hips and a prominent Adam’s apple. Her voice is deep and masculine. So despite having the morphology of a woman, she has many of the traditional attributes of a man. She definitely challenges the conventional understanding of our binary system of classifying individuals as men and women. If one considered who she is by using our traditional binary system of classification, one might label her with the previously mentioned adjective, weird. She is, however, a child of God, and as such deserves to be treated with dignity and love just as all of us do.

When one reflects on how Jesus responded to the outcast, our path forward is clear. Among those Jesus reached out to were women, the poor, the unclean, and racial enemies. Jesus spoke directly and tenderly to women although it was not the social custom at the time for men to speak openly to women. Jesus called one woman he cured “daughter” (Luke 8:48). He told His disciples that when they had a banquet, they should invite the poor (Luke 14:13-14) even though it was important for Jewish people at the time (and most people everywhere) to consider themselves better than the impoverished. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10-:25-37) is perhaps the
best-known example of Jesus teaching us to reconsider our stereotypes. In the story, a racial enemy of the Jews, a Samaritan, cared for the victim of robbery and was thus the merciful one. In Mark 1:40-45, Jesus is approached by a leper, a member of the most stigmatized unclean group of His time. In this story, Jesus not only cures the man, he touches him. In all of these stories Jesus is tender, merciful, and compassionate to the other.

In our culture today, LGBTQI persons are definitely the other. Although their situation is
improving, still there are pockets of prejudice where they are unaccepted and even bullied. In his sermon to the United Church of Chapel Hill, Justo Gonzalez tells with great emotion the story of his young Catholic friend of Hispanic heritage, Julio, who was told by his dad that he could never disgrace the family and that he must be macho. Julio, who was gay, eventually died by suicide rather than cause scandal to his family by coming out. Gonzalez labels this rigid way of acting by Julio’s father bullying. In her 2009 study of LGBTQI youth and their families, Caitlin Ryan and her colleagues document the importance of families accepting and supporting their LGBT youth in concrete and loving ways. Struggling with family expectations, and sometimes the rigid way they are enforced, is one problem many LGBTQI young adults contend with.

Finally, in her comedy special “Nanette” Hannah Gadsby challenges stereotypes of LGBTQI persons with humor and personal stories. Gadsby jokes about growing up as a lesbian in Tasmania in the 1980’s. The general attitude, she says, was that gay people were not welcome: “You should just get yourself a one-way ticket to the mainland, and don’t come back.” While some of Gadsby’s stories of her experience as a gender non-conforming woman are uproariously funny, others are chilling. Americans are no better at welcoming LGBTQI persons than Tasmanians. The cases of Matthew Shepherd, the firings of many Catholic LGBT persons from Catholic institutions, and the gunning down of 49 gays at the Pulse nightclub in 2016 come to mind. Let’s continue to examine our deeply held assumptions about gender and sexual orientation, work on improving our language about LGBTQI persons and continue to strive to live with the compassion and mercy our faith calls us to.

 

Peace vs. Violence

Within many civilizations throughout history, members of sexual minorities have frequently been met with exclusion and even violence. I recently read a passage from a book written by two respected authors who noted, “[LGBTQ+ persons] have often been thought of as embodiments of evil, creatures of darkness, or carriers of the worst traits of humanity.” Evidence abounds, both past and present, in official church doctrines and civil anti-sodomy laws in many countries that these persons are condemned. Thousands were imprisoned and murdered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In February 2014, Washington Post writer David Gibson reported that the leader of the Nigerian Catholic hierarchy fully supported that country’s new harsher antigay laws, violence imagewhich unleashed a wave of violence against gays when the laws passed. Over seventy countries have criminal laws against sexual activity by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex individuals. Four countries impose the death penalty for those convicted of engaging in same-sex acts. The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey indicates that people who identified or perceived to be transgender experienced much higher rates of physical and mental trauma, murder, loss of employment, homelessness, and suicide ideation compared to the general population. According to the 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately 75% of bisexual women and 46% of lesbians within the United States report experiencing sexual violence as compared to 43% of heterosexual women.

Two 2018 news items exemplify more recent violence or threats of violence aimed at sexual minorities in the United States. One is about the violent attacks, both physically and emotionally, against Aaron Bianco, a gay married man, who had been part of the pastoral team at St. John the Evangelist parish in San Diego, California. After more than a year of harassment by anti-LGBTQ+ people who identified as Catholics, Bianco arrived to work one morning to find the message “No Fags” spray-painted on the side of a building. He eventually resigned his position, but vows to continue his work in confronting such evil in the Church.

The other item concerned the burning of a rainbow liturgical banner at a Catholic Parish in Chicago by the pastor and several parishioners, in spite of previous order from the Archdiocese to stop this planned action. The banner was created in the 1990’s to be hung in the church’s sanctuary as a sign of the parish’s welcome to members of the LGBTQ+ community. The pastor who led the burning revealed that they  said a prayer of exorcism over the banner, cut into seven pieces, and was burned over stages in the same fire pit that is used for Easter Vigil mass.

It is little wonder then, that LGBTQ+ people, who live counter-cultural lives, often feel alienated, are fleeing oppressive homelands, and are increasingly leaving any type of organized religion behind. In the United States, for instance, a Pew Research Center 2013 study reveals that 48 percent of the LGBTQ+ population identify as having no religious affiliation compared with 23 percent of the general population.

I often wonder what is within the human psyche that cause individuals to have such visceral negative reactions when it comes to encountering people whose lives are outside of cultural norms, particularly in sexual identity and expression. It is even more appalling when there is violence perpetrated by people who identify as Christians. This is true in cases such as Bianco’s and the burning of the rainbow liturgical banner (a banner which was created to symbolize the very people being welcomed). Should violence and hatred be the appropriate Christian response? Would Jesus recognize this behavior?

Within Catholic liturgies, how often do we say the words “peace” and “love” each time we gather? How many times does Jesus say these same words in sacred scripture? The answpeace doveer, of course, is many times. The basis of Catholic Social Teaching is the dignity of and respect for the human person. In the case of gay persons, Church teaching (Always Our Children, USCCB 1997) tells us that:

“God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation . . . the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them.”

In his major writings during his papacy, Pope Francis constantly admonishes us to sincere encounter and to engage in genuine dialogue. It is through these actions that we will be able to recognize our common humanity and to build bridges of understanding, which lead to peace and life.

Are we even paying attention?

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?

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 . . .