Friday, December 17, 2010

If You'[re Going To Put The Christ In Christmas . . .

I have been getting tired of hearing myself say some of the same things over and over and over again.  As the so-called "right wing" of our political scene rallies against what the decry as the "liberal socialist agenda," and latch on to phrases like "redistribution of wealth" as though these were bad things, I often notice that these folks are often the same ones who claim to be Christian and say that this was -- and should be again -- a "Christian Nation."

And I find myself asking, "Have they ever read The Book?"

Because in the Bible that I read, there are passages that make the most radical proposals in play today look weak and timid.  In the book of Leviticus there is described a plan known as "the year of jubilee," in which all slaves were to be freed, all debts were to be forgiven, and all land was to be returned to its original owners.  What would that do to our economic system today?

In the book of Matthew, Jesus is rememberd as saying that the Kingdom of Heaven will be like a place where the owner of a vineyard goes out in the early morning and hires workers, arranging with them a fair salary for a day's work.  Throughout the day, the owner goes out and hires more workers, telling them only that he'd do right by them.  At the end of the day, he pays everyone the same amount -- from the ones who'd worked all day to the ones who'd only been there for the last hour.

In the book of Acts we're told that the earliest Christians lived communally, combining all their possessions so that everyone might have all that they needed and that no one might be in want.

If these right wing folks want this to be a Christian Nation, I say over and over again, then how about getting behind some of the things that the God of the Christian Bible makes pretty clear a priority.  (Read the well-known "Magnificat" of Mary if you have any question what the whole thing's supposed to be about.)

I was recently overjoyed to hear someone else sounding this same call:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive

Thanks, Stephen.

In Gassho,


Friday, December 10, 2010

I Have Some Idea Where I Am Going Thanks To You

Today, December 10th 2010, is the forty-second anniversary of the death of the Trappist monk, Father Thomas Merton.  The Trappists are traditionally a silent order, yet Merton's voluminous writings continue to inspire generations of seekers -- Catholic and non-Catholic alike.  Although many of his works seem dated now, and certainly his language could be more inclusive, Merton had a way of getting to the heart of things which still speaks to people, and his willingness to see past dogma and doctrine to what one might dare call "spirit and truth" is still inspiring. 

When Merton met the then relatively unknown Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh he declared that he had more in common with him than he did with most Catholics, because in this fellow contemplative monastic he recognized someone who'd gone deeper than the surface and found the place where all was One.  (It didn't bother Merton that for Christians it was all One Presence while for Buddhists it was all One Emptiness; it didn't bother Nhat Hanh either.  They both recognized that they'd had similar experiences of life's essential and underlying Oneness.)

One of my favorite prayers -- and I've written about it before -- was first uttered by Thomas Merton.  He published it in his book Thoughts in Solitude, an excellent book and well worth reading.  In my own book on prayer, Simply Pray, I confess that I think this prayer of Merton's is more perfect than the so-called "Lord's Prayer."  It speaks so eloquently and so clearly to the situation in which I so often find myself, and it manages to both challenge me and comfort me at the same time:
My Lord God,  I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.  Amen.
In Simply Pray I analyze this prayer at some length.  Most days, though, I simply find myself praying it.  Meditating on its words.  And finding that while I do not see the road ahead of me with any greater clarity, if I am honest with myself, and truly cannot know for certain where it will end, I often feel (at least) that I have some idea of where I am going thanks to the wisdom, and the compassion, and the love Father Merton shared with the world.
In Gassho,
and in gratitude for the life of this monk,

Friday, December 03, 2010

A Sign and a Symbol

This morning I saw a link to an article while on FaceBook that had a photo of a woman wearing the hijab, the head scarf that some Muslims understand Islamic tradition as requiring a woman to wear.  In the past few years, the hijab has become the focal point of international ire -- a symbol, some say, of repression or a sign for religious rights.  (The photo at right is of Sura Al-Shawk, a Swiss citizen of Iraqi origin, a twenty-year old woman who has been told that she cannot play professional basketball unless she removes her hijab.  She is considering appealing the case the the Switzerland's highest court.)

When I looked at this photo this morning, though, I suddenly saw another image -- one I grew up with.  Oh how I loved the comedic exploits of Sally Field as Sister Bertrille, the Flying Nun.  Yet she wore her habit whenever she went out in public.  (And often wore that absolutely ridiculous hat, too!)  Where was the furor then?

And I have colleagues who always where a clerical shirt when they go out and about.  They want to be identifiable as ordained ministers, visible signs to the world of the vows they've taken and the vocations that have taken them. 

Perhaps you may argue that these folks have all chosen to wear what they wear.  And perhaps so.  But then it seems to me that those countries -- and those individuals -- who would consider banning the wearing of the hijab are making the same mistake as those who would require it.

In Gassho,


Thursday, December 02, 2010

All Will Be Well

One of the most well known phrases to come out of the Christian mystic tradition would have to be:  All Will Be Well.

It came to the English mystic Julian of Norwich, a fifteenth century anchoress at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich.  In her 30s she suffered from a terrible illness and thought she was dying.  During this time she had intense visions of Jesus which, after her recovery she wrote down in both a short form and then, twenty years later and with more commentary, a longer form.  Within these visions she saw and heard God say to her, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

This morning I awoke with a similar vision, although I am sure in a form quite different than that experienced by Julian.  I feel as though the message was much the same, though.

In Gassho,