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Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . .

22 April 2015

I seek ???

So many folks today are searching for meaning in their lives.  Because of the values of our secular society, they look for satisfaction in the accumulation of wealth, power, prestige, or sexual conquests.  But so many folks remain unsatisfied in their search.  They have all of these things, but still want more.  It is an unfortunate reality that accumulation of material things really never satisfies the basic human search for meaning and truth. 
 
This search is not at all helped by the modern philosophy that maintains that one can select, like a cafeteria, those things that have meaning and purpose for their lives without out regard to others.  Modern society not only embraces this relativism but encourages folks to be selfish about their lives.  One is encouraged to look better, have more, be more, by acquiring all of the latest gadgets, vehicles, clothes, makeup, body spray, toothpaste, prescription drugs -- and the list is endless.  But it never seems to satisfy, because folks continue to search for the next "greatest thing" in their lives.  "If only....." or "I'll be happy when ....." have become the plainsongs of the modern age.
 
Well, why does this search even exist?  Why do folks need to "find" that one thing that will satisfy their every need?  What are they looking for, really??
 
I think that each of us, through our creation as humans, is embedded with a natural thirst for something bigger and better than ourselves -- something that will provide us with the raison d'ĂȘtre for life.  This search is our essence and is manifest from the very beginning of our lives deep in our mother's womb.  If we are not shown a way to relieve this thirst, then we will make up an answer; and, modern society has created consumerism to satisfy this quest for meaning. 
 
I suggest that never will we find satisfaction through consumerism or any other modern ploy.  They will only provide little moments of happiness, albeit fleeting.  We need something much more satisfying to ease this essential tension in our soul.  I think that the Psalmist says it best in this little excerpt: 
2As the deer longs for streams of water,a
so my soul longs for you, O God.
3My soul thirsts for God, the living God.
 Psalm 42
 
Yes, we need something much bigger than our selves.  Inherent in our inner being, our soul, is this drive, this search, this thirst for a living water that will satisfy our longing.  You see, when we decide to exert our natural freedom of choice, we often choose a path that does not bring us to satisfaction; rather, we get only that fleeting joy of accumulation of things. 
 
We should aim for a higher goal; and that goal is a life centered on "the living God" -- not the gods of power, wealth, prestige, or sexual conquest.  The "living God" provides us with "living water" that will fully quench our thirst.  And, we find this "living God" in all those people we meet every day -- the poor, the lost, the homeless, the prisoner, the hungry, the destitute, the marginalized.  Virtually, everyone we meet has some issue that can be identified by a broad definition  of these categories.  But, each of us must first get out of ourselves, center our purpose on the other, and change the direction of our lives. 
 
We can do this because we accept that there is a "living God" who loves us so much that he constantly showers us with His grace.  But, we have to acknowledge His love and respond accordingly.  And Jesus tells us how:
 15i “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”                                                                              Mark 1
5Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.d                                                       John 3
 35* Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.q. . . . 37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,                                                                                                          John 6
So, if we are searching for something to satisfy that natural thirst in our inner being, we have the answer: give our lives to Jesus -- not the Jesus of selfish "Christians" who have succumbed to the world's ways, but the Jesus preached in the Bible -- the one who loves us all, but still admonishes us to straighten out our lives ("repent and believe" & "go and sin no more").  So, we can satisfy that inherent thirst, but the "rules" still apply; we can't just do what ever feels good and expect that the "living God" will be happy with that.
 
But, when we give our self over to this way of life, we find a new freedom that is so satisfying that we cannot describe it except:
 
1A psalm of thanksgiving.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
2serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
3*Know that the LORD is God,
he made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the flock he shepherds.a
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name;b
5good indeed is the LORD,
His mercy endures forever,
his faithfulness lasts through every generation.
Psalm 100
 
May God Give You Peace!

On the death of Cardinal George

Cardinal Francis George, at his residence in Chicago, talks with Tribune reporter John Kass about choosing a new pope.
Chicago Tribune Photo during interview
I didn't know Cardinal George of Chicago all that well.  It is only through his writings, speeches, and news articles that I became familiar with him as a Cardinal, pastor, and priest.  I had worked with his predecessor, Cardinal Bernadin as part of the Catholic Conference of Illinois representing the Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois.  I must admit that I was, and still am, quite a fan of Cardinal Bernadin.  So, when he died and Bishop George was appointed to Chicago, I was skeptical about what he would be like.
 
Well, I was not disappointed at all!  In Father Barron's fine article about Cardinal George, he enumerated many of the accomplishments of Cardinal George, but what stuck me most, and what I observed over his years as the leader of the Archdiocese, was how he confronted modern society with the calm passion of our Catholic faith and showed us how to live in this society while retaining our Catholic values.  He showed us how to live; he taught us how to remain faithful to our faith; he explained why we must remain faithful; he challenged those who compromised our trust in priests by strongly addressing those who had strayed from the true path; and, he led us to a deeper understanding of the challenging, yet fruitful theology explained to us by Pope St. John Paul II, the Great.
 
Even though I didn't know him well, I celebrate his ministry and hope that I can live up to his expectation for us as faithful Catholics in the United States.
 
May the perpetual light shine and May God Give You Peace, Cardinal Francis George.

07 April 2015

A New Life

We are celebrating Easter 2015 right now.  We celebrate all week because this is such an important event in, not only our individual lives, but in the history of the world.  There is no doubt in my mind that something very important happened 2,000 years ago that began the process of creating this Christian faith and the Church that continues to profess its mysteries and glory.
 
It is hard for me to believe that such a rag-tag group of people from an insignificant place in the Roman Empire made such an impact upon society unless something very, very dramatic changed their lives.  Can you just imaging Peter, John and James getting together on Saturday after the crucifixion and figuring out how to steal the body and then begin this movement?  Or, this guy named Saul who was on his way to Damascus to persecute this small group of Jesus people being so dramatically changed so quickly that he became one of the new movements strongest apologists and evangelists?  No, it had to be something miraculous and dramatic.  They really did see the Risen Lord!  They really did see Him in his changed body, the kind of body that we will all see one day.  They witnessed the aftermath of the Resurrection and it completely changed their lives forever.  They changed from men afraid to bold men (& women) prepared to risk everything, even death, to proclaim this wonderful message of grace, hope, and life.
 
That's why I believe the Easter Story.  It is not some fairy tale.  If it were, I just can't see how it would have grown to be such a large organization in the present time - something like 2.1 billion people profess to being Christian - 33% of the world's population!
 
That's why I believe that there is more to life than gaining more money, power, prestige, and things than any one else.  That's why I believe that turning our lives around and placing the needs of others is more important than anything else.  Because Jesus showed us how to sacrifice ourselves for others with his remarkable example.  Not only that, but
 
16For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.k 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn* the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
John 3
 
The LORD God had been sending this message of love for so many hundreds of years, but determined that the only way that he could get the message across was to send his Son to show us the way.  And how we have misrepresented that message of love, gift, grace, and joy over the centuries.  But it doesn't have to be that way.
 
In today's society, where so many people pursue their own trivial, selfish pleasures, we can still make a difference.  If each person who claims to be Christian will just return to the message of grace, love, forgiveness, compassion, and charity that the LORD God sent through Jesus, we can begin the dramatic change that started this movement so many centuries ago.  This remains our challenge.  In so doing, I believe that we can find a way to create the kind of country that our founders sought in the late 18th Century.
 
May God Give You Peace!

06 April 2015

Indiana & "It is finished "

There are those who are screaming at the top of their lungs about the so called discrimination of the recent law passed in Indiana.  In their fervent ardor for their particular cause, they have succeeded in doing to others what they claim will happen to them through the implementation of this law, e.g., the closing of a small pizza shop due to discriminatory harassment by vocal protestors.   I'm wondering who the bigots are.
 
Are we witnessing the end of civil society?  Has the First Amendment reached its climax and the pursuit of the original white settlers dream, the freedom to practice one's faith and the freedom of speech, expired?  Will people of faith and Good Will a minority be subjected to the same kind of harassment and prejudice directed toward similar folks throughout history? Do we need to form Ghettos where people of faith can live amongst themselves and in peace unhindered by the secular "righteousness" demonstrated so recently in Indianapolis?
 
OK - are you hot under the collar now?  Good!  That was the point!  Now, before you get all disturbed and hurl your iPad across the room, just wait a minute and read on.
 
The Constitution does grant folks the right to worship as they choose, in First Amendment.  In fact it says (in part)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
As long as one worships quietly and stays sequestered in their church, there are no problems.  "The free exercise of" clause seems to really be the sticking point, doesn't it?  So what kind of latitude does that give a person who says that they adhere to a Christian belief and own a business anyway?  Well, I'd like to suggest that if they single out a specific group of people to exclude from their business, they are wrong; especially if they base it upon a single verse of Leviticus (18:  22).  Rightfully, they should not do business with all of the categories in both Leviticus 18 and 19, some 66 verses and 60 or so prohibitions.  In addition, if they consider what Jesus said, then they should include thoughts as well.  Shucks, that list would cover the entire front door! (How would you like the job of asking someone trying to enter a business where you work if they have slept with their neighbor's wife?)

Or, are we just talking about the so called "gay marriage" issue?  Well, that is a horse of a different color, one might say.  In a pluralistic society, like the US, used to be, government has the right to recognize any grouping it wishes for awarding tax benefits.  Until recently, the words "marriage & family" carried a specific historic definition of the nuclear family, meaning a father (man),  a mother (woman), and children (parents being legally married).  Because this had been a stable definition for centuries, the government, in its all-foreseeing wisdom, created tax laws and other rights around this concept.  People of the same sex living together was not a factor when these "tax incentives" originated.  
 
As society has moved to a freer definition of this family unit, various groups have demanded similar rights for their family unit.  Government does have the right to grant those rights based upon its own principles of equality. Unfortunately, government has erroneously appropriated the word "marriage" to define that group of rights.  The difficulty is that for centuries folks have associated marriage with the "family unit" of a man (father), a woman (mother) (both married), & children. Many, because of their religion (and not just Christian) believe that this "family unit" was created in the very beginning of time.  One could easily support this view; even so, the civil legal practice of marriage existing for 4,000 years or so does seem a rather convincing argument for the traditional definition of marriage. Government, rightly, should have and still can, select a different terminology to define its tax unit, e.g., civil union, and that should apply to all who wish to have the benefits bestowed by the government for the "family unit".  (NOTE: "civil union" is probably too emotionally charged now and way too simple for the government; they would use some other government speak designation like BECON - Basic Economic Unit of the Nation. Gotta have an acronym.)  Those who want to be "married" in the traditional sense will have to conform to the Church's definition and rules to achieve this sacramental title.  The idea of "marriage" is and should be a specific sacramental concept controlled by the tenets of the faith group and in no way regulated by the government.
 
But that logical approach and possibility doesn't address the current furor over "religious freedom".  How do we address this controversy?  I suspect that one thing that folks need to address is the concept of truth.  What is truth?
 
Well, philosophers have trying to answer that question for quite some time now.  Just a few days ago, the Church commemorated the trial of Jesus in which Pilate asks this very question:  "What is Truth?"  George Weigel writes in his Roman Pilgrimage:

Jesus's testimony to truth before Pilate is particularly striking in the cultural circumstances of the early twenty-first century, in which, for many, the only secure truth is that there is no such thing as the truth, only partial and personal truths. 
 
One group, working on their answer to this question over the last 4,000 years, have recognized the supremacy of Adonai and His tenets as the ultimate truth in the universe - the foundation of the Judeo-Christian faith.  The philosophy that has developed around these tenets is much like the "scientific laws" that we recognize today, only these tenets are called the "natural law".  They define a just society and detail how folks should act and interact in that just society. Now, granted, some of those tenets were based upon the nomadic and agrarian societies and probably are no longer applicable to modern living, but their basic principles of human interaction are quite valid even today.  Throughout history, other groups have held differing views and have tried to impose their beliefs upon people of good will; but most, if not all, of those other societies no longer exist.  Oh, certainly, their ideas recycle, but the "natural law" folks have persisted, largely due to the caring and selfless nature of their tenets when properly lived.
 
Oh, yes, there have always been some rotten apples in the barrel.  That's one of the natural laws, I think; but the basic ideas of caring for others before yourself have more than proven the test of time.  Today's society seems bent on reversing these time worn tenets and, once again, is trying to force its ideas of personal prerogative and pleasure upon all of society - as it were, forcing all peoples to worship its gods - power, money, possessions, greed, sexual "freedom", and so on.  One might ask, how is this any different from the Christian or Jew or Muslim insisting upon their code of conduct?

Over and over again, these selfish tendencies of society have been the downfall of many a civilization.  Nevertheless, today folks are insistent that all must believe as they do with regard to many issues that are just plain contrary to this "natural law".  And we who endeavor to live by this law are vilified as bigots.  No - we just have a completely different system of beliefs that are based upon 4,000 years of history and have been validated many times over those 4,000 years. 
 
So, how do we resolve this conflict?  Well, first, let's remember that the idea of the First Amendment is that all are free to "exercise [their religion]".  Secondly, the true Christian of today will not alter their views because society demands it; but, also the true Christian will demonstrate grace, forgiveness, and charity, even though they believe the acts of the person are contrary to their beliefs about social mores - following the example of Jesus Christ - just as Pope Francis is trying to demonstrate.   Third, it is apparent that society will not divert its progress towards a more secular, all-inclusive system of relationships.  What a conundrum we have!
 
It appears that, once again, people of Good Will are faced with persecution by society because we do not and will not accept these concepts of morality.  I am sorry, folks, but a system built upon 4,000 years of practice just will not compromise its structure because you say so.  For those who point out Pope Francis' comment, "Who am I to judge?" and that Jesus didn't condemn the women caught in adultery, please remember that implied by the Pope and stated by Christ is
"Then, neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more."                       John 8: 11

As long as society does not accept the concept of sin, then this clash of moral imperatives will continue to occur.  The Bible is full of stories about this clash of ideals.  People of Good Will must persist in their belief of the rightness and truth of the tenets of the LORD God.  We will just have to take our lumps, as it were. 
 
However, the story that has the most poignant conclusion is the Easter story.  Jesus did come to the world, sacrificed his life for our sins, and rose again in the glory of Easter.  His final statement on Calvary, "It is finished," is the clue that the sins of mankind are wiped out and that we can have a new life in Christ--a life that will give so much greater satisfaction that the enticements of modern living; and, His resurrection fully demonstrates what is waiting for us - a new life; a body transformed into a glorious one; an eternal celebration of the good that God made us for in the first place.  Some may denigrate this event, but something happened 2,000 years ago that changed the world dramatically.  George Weigel writes (Roman Pilgrimage):
These things happened; but they are pregnant with meaning, and the interplay of event and meaning is the key to grasping that this is indeed the axial moment, the turning point of human history.  Moreover, this "moment" is so rich in meaning that it will continue to resonate throughout history.
Because of these beliefs, I will never stop loving those who think differently.  I will never stop praying for them to finally understand that what they seek is right before them, but is not in the selfish gratification of today's allurements.  I will never stop loving those,  especially members of my family, who are living the same sex life.  I will never stop recommending, to those who ask, Pope St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body as a reference as to why we believe the way that we do and what the appropriate response is.  I will never stop recommending, to those who ask, the life promoted by the Courage Apostolate.  I will never stop challenging those who call themselves Christian to look at the fullness of Jesus testimony and live by its principles.  I will never stop calling on all people to stop yelling at each other, to sit and talk, and really try to understand the "other side" without condemnation, bigotry, and judgment.

May God Give You Peace!!

27 March 2015

Who am I to judge? part deux

The important thing about this statement by the Pope for us to understand is not that one can just do what they want as I wrote about in the previous entry, but that, as the Pope is following the Lord's example, grace is abundant and free for the taking.  The whole judging thing is tied up in a couple of statements made by Jesus:
 
1"Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2"For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.…
Luke 7 
 
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
Luke 6:41

 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."
John 8:  7
In this context then, one who "is seeking God" (and how do we know the heart of another person) and is a "person of Good Will", is probably working out their own situation with the LORD God.  Most of us have enough of our own problems to be concerned about, so we really don't need to be overly concerned about someone else who is trying to resolve their issues.  Pray for them and focus on cleaning out our own closets!
 
God's grace is plentiful for everyone.  His love is great, expansive and generous.  All each one of us has to do is to recognize that we have made mistakes in judgment, action, speech, and interactions enough that we ought to be seeking some kind of remission for what we have done or failed to do to others.  God forgives the repentant heart.  God loves you.
 
I have found this to be very much true.  In my own case, I have had a number of serious illnesses and surgeries some of which were nearly fatal.  But I am still here and am quickly approaching the beginning of my seventh decade.  I am still here!  Those are real comforting words for me, because I could have died during my senior in high school.  I firmly believe that the LORD God has kept me alive to accomplish something good for Him.  I am hoping that through these frequent messages that someone will be inspired to open their hearts as well to his love as we discuss some of our more important national issues. 
 
In any event, I know that His love has been working in my life and I try to rejoice each day with that knowledge.  Does that mean that everything if always peachy?  No way!  Because we still have the freedom to choose, we often choose unwisely and turn our backs on His intended way.  But that's why we have reconciliation in the Catholic Church - to return to Him and make another effort.  I think that as long as we are honestly trying that's what's really important.  AND - I believe that's what the Pope was talking about in his statement:  "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"  There is a lot more there than meets the eye.
 
So, we forge ahead trying to find solutions to our issues and we trust in the LORD God to provide us with His wisdom and grace to aid our journey.  As we begin the 2015 Holy Week, may God give all of your His Peace!

18 March 2015

Who am I to judge?

"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"                 -- Pope Francis
Boy, did the media pounce on those last five words. Suddenly, the Church has changed its entire position on everything.  Even though this was quite some time ago, it seems to still carry traction with those wishing for the Church to approve all of the modern ideas about relationships and freedom.  Well, I hate to be the one to disappoint, but I don't think that is going to happen.
 
The problem that everyone seems to ignore (except Church commentators) is the first part of that sentence:  "If a person. . . seeks God and has good will. . ."  I left the specific  word out on purpose, because one could put any of the common issues that are hot topics today, e.g., gay, pro-choice.  You see, the big issue is what does it mean to "seek God".  The Pope's, and certainly not the Church's, definition of "seeking God" has not changed, just the response to it.  More on that later.
 
The media, and much of the world, is so hoping that the standards of the Church will loosen so that many of the practices of today's society will suddenly become acceptable.  Part of the problem is that everyone else's idea of freedom means license; but, the Church still holds to the idea that
1731    Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.                            --Catechism of the Catholic Church

That doesn't mean you can do what ever you like or whatever "feels good".  Actually quite the opposite:
1740    Threats to freedom. The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.”33 Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth. (2108, 1887)              --Catechism of the Catholic Church
But, this is exactly what so many folks want.  People seems to forget, as well, that Jesus sort of had something to say about this concept as well.  His first words are reported in Mark 1
 15“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
When he cures the beggar at the pool of Bethesda,
14After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.”  --John 5
After the folks left the woman accused of being a prostitute,  
11Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”   -- John 8
The words "repent" and "do not in any more" are kind of important in the whole scheme of things, you know.  Interestingly, I think that Pope Francis is being the kind of pastor that Jesus emulates in that last quote from John: loving, caring, forgiving, but still with the admonition of "do not sin any more". 

Of course for modern authors to even understand what this is all about, they will have to return to the days when folks actually knew what sin meant.  God forbid that they remember the Gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord; or the Capital Sins: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth, or even the list of virtues from Paul's famous treatise on Charity: 
4* Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d 5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e 6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.f                                         --1 Corinthians 13
 Yes, the concept of SIN is critical to fully understanding what all of this is all about.  And, one must remember that Jesus didn't say that he was replacing the Old Testament Law found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. What he actually said is a little scary:
17* “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
18Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.
19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
20I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.     --Matthew 5
 So all of those things considered sin are still relevant folks; but, what Pope Francis is trying to tell us is that we are not the judge and we are required to be open, honest, loving, caring, graceful, and, most importantly, forgiving.  WE DO NOT KNOW THE HEART OF ANOTHER PERSON!!!!!

All of us who want to become Christian have a lot of responsibility to try to live this way of life: Beatitudes, Gifts of the Spirit, Capital Sins (avoid these), definition of love by Paul and a whole host of positive concepts by which we can live our lives.  And we must do that by actually living the life, not just talking about it.  Not easy, but it's the right thing to do!

So, during this Lenten season, buck up and go to Confession.  Clear the air and move on.  Remember God loves you very much and will forgive you.  (Luke 15:  11-32 - The Generous Father)

16 March 2015

Wealth and the world

Psalm 73

1A psalm of Asaph.
How good God is to the upright,
to those who are pure of heart!
2But, as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped,
3Because I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.a
4For they suffer no pain;
their bodies are healthy and sleek.
5They are free of the burdens of life;
they are not afflicted like others.
6Thus pride adorns them as a necklace;
violence clothes them as a robe.
7Out of such blindness comes sin;
evil thoughts flood their hearts.b
8They scoff and spout their malice;
from on high they utter threats.c
9*They set their mouths against the heavens,
their tongues roam the earth.
10*So my people turn to them
and drink deeply of their words.
11They say, “Does God really know?”
“Does the Most High have any knowledge?”d
12Such, then, are the wicked,
always carefree, increasing their wealth.
13Is it in vain that I have kept my heart pure,
washed my hands in innocence?e
14For I am afflicted day after day,
chastised every morning.
15Had I thought, “I will speak as they do,”
I would have betrayed this generation of your children.
16Though I tried to understand all this,
it was too difficult for me,
17Till I entered the sanctuary of God
and came to understand their end.*
18You set them, indeed, on a slippery road;
you hurl them down to ruin.
19How suddenly they are devastated;
utterly undone by disaster!
20They are like a dream after waking, Lord,
dismissed like shadows when you arise.f
21Since my heart was embittered
and my soul deeply wounded,
22I was stupid and could not understand;
I was like a brute beast in your presence.
23Yet I am always with you;
you take hold of my right hand.g
24With your counsel you guide me,
and at the end receive me with honor.*
25Whom else have I in the heavens?
None beside you delights me on earth.
26Though my flesh and my heart fail,
God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.
27But those who are far from you perish;
you destroy those unfaithful to you.
28As for me, to be near God is my good,
to make the Lord GOD my refuge.
I shall declare all your works
in the gates of daughter Zion.*

We consider for a moment the nature of today's society: the large difference between those who hold much wealth and those who have little.  In fact, in 2010, the top 1% in the United States held 35.4% of the net worth (Wealth, Income, and Power by G. William Domhoff - 2015).  The article is quite interesting because it shows a large number of comparisons of income, wealth, and the commensurate power that comes with this status in today's world.
The disturbing thing is that this information shows the great disparity between the top and bottom of today's society.  I wrote a long time ago, near the beginning of this blog, that it seemed to me that the Middle Ages are, in fact, alive and well.  Huffington Post wrote in 2013:
Today, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, it seems we are approach a new Middle Ages in America, as inequality increasingly spreads through the land. It is as if the super-rich are like the new royalty and the top 1 percent are living in mansions like the old castles of kings in the kingdoms that eventually melded into Europe and the U.K. Meanwhile, the media wields the power of the medieval church, placing its blessing on those with wealth and celebrity, who are protected by their retinue of publicists, handlers, lawyers, chauffeurs, and servants. They are much like the landed nobility who were part of the king's court, who formed a protected and privileged enclave far removed from the much larger class of peasants who worked their land and paid their taxes, which supported the royalty and monarchy in their grand style.
So, we see that this condition exacerbates as life continues on in the US today. The concerning thing is that the leadership of our states and nation seem to have turned their back upon the poor.  Congress is mired in political intransigence.  State governors are hailed for gutting past progress in labor and retirement benefits.  More and more people are struggling to get by and are blamed for their own situation while companies reward their CEO's with more and more benefits, even when they fail and are fired.  All is completely out of proportion.  Sanity appears to have left the country.  Callousness toward the poor is rampant.  People are blamed for their laziness despite the fact that many are faultless for having lost their jobs due to their company moving either out of the country or thousands of miles away.  Where is the voice of reason?
 
The Psalmist writes about this situation.  The rich seem untouchable but have received their reward.  The poor have the LORD God and unending joy forever.  But, we have the power to change the situation here and now  and make things more equitable.  Our country's premise was not based upon the Middle Ages governance of Europe. 

All we need are a few courageous people. The common folk need to demand that their leaders either rectify the situation or we need to change the leaders.  It will take courage for this to happen and until someone steps forward it probably will not happen.
 
What I don't understand is how so many ordinary folks are so comfortable with this situation and don't seem to recognize that the leadership of their chosen party will only continue to support this system that favors the corporate leaders and the rich and powerful - because it keeps these leaders in power to do essentially nothing except continue the status quo.  But I guess as long as folks pay less taxes and have their guns they will be just happy with that.
 
Unfortunately, the moral decay of this country will eventually be its undoing.

12 March 2015

Logan Act

The Logan Act states:
§ 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments.
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply himself, or his agent, to any foreign government, or the agents thereof, for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.
 Recently, a group of US Senators wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran stating among other things, that if this "executive agreement" is not approved by the Senate, then the next president could reverse its terms with the "stroke of a pen."  Well, from the new stories (The Daily Mail called these Senators traitors), this is an very unusual step for citizens of the US to take.  The Logan act specifically prohibits US citizens from interfering with discussions with foreign nations, especially with the intent to "influence the measures or conduct" of a foreign nation.  It appears that these Senators, in fact, broke this law.

The Daily Beast reports:
But even among Republicans whose offices have signed the letter, there is some trepidation that the Iran letter injects partisanship into the Iran negotiations, shifting the narrative from the content of the deal to whether Republicans are unfairly trying to undercut the president.
So, they wrote this letter, sent it, a big uproar ensued, and now some are privately saying, "Oops".

The acrimony is so bad in DC!  The GOP from the very beginning of this Presidency has wanted to do everything in its power to discredit this man as President (See Robert Draper book) that it has finally stooped to potentially breaking a federal law.

Now, the Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei has made fun of the US.  The NY Times reports:
"All countries, according to the international norms, remain faithful to their commitments even after their governments change, but the American senators are officially announcing that at the end of the term of their current government, their commitments will be considered null and void,” Mr. Khamenei wrote. He said the letter was a “sign of declining political ethics."
So, now what?!  Not only have these Senators embarrassed themselves, they have brought ridicule from the International Community upon the United States.   How can we hold our head high as a nation now?  

Today's OT reading is from Jeremiah.  In part it says:

   This is the nation that does not listen
      to the voice of the LORD, its God,
      or take correction.
   Faithfulness has disappeared;
      the word itself is banished from their speech.
 
These Senators hold such contempt for the man who is President that they will do anything to discredit his efforts here and abroad.  These "Christian" men and women certainly affirm the passage from Jeremiah today.  Their hatred for the man who is President is so great that they betray their own "Christian" belief and, in so doing, appear to betray their country as well.
 
Now
Republican aides were taken aback by the response to what they thought was a lighthearted attempt to signal to Iran and the public that Congress should have a role in the ongoing nuclear discussions. Two GOP aides separately described their letter as a “cheeky” reminder of the congressional branch’s prerogatives.
The Daily Beast; 11 MAR 2015
 
So, now it's King's X, I was just kidding around.  Well, that doesn't show a lot of maturity!  Forty-seven Senators signed this Joke.  Some of these guys are quite old enough and have been there long enough to know better.  One senior Senator (29 years in Senate) remarked,
 It was kind of a very rapid process.  Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm.
 I saw the letter, I saw that it looked reasonable to me and I signed it, that's all.  I  sign lots of letters.
 I am sorry, but I think that this whole thing was the wrong thing to do.  It demonstrates a clearly political motivation that has nothing to do with peacefully resolving issues at home or abroad.  Out of someone's deep seated disregard for the President, they have crafted this missive to embarrass the President and in the process have brought dishonor to our country.
 
There is even a theory that some ultra conservative groups are behind this letter and provided favorable advertising to Mr. Cotton to the tune of nearly 1 million dollars prior to this letter being written.  (See Mondoweiss article)  If this is true, then this further shows the unfavorable impact of unlimited political contributions favoring big business.    
 
Our whole purpose in the Iran negotiations is to prevent them from achieving nuclear weapons.   This should be done in a peaceful and diplomatic way. Feedback is achieved through regular updates by the Administration to the appropriate Senate committee, responsible for eventually ratifying the treaty.   Whatever happened to get this letter to see the light of day was inappropriate, self-serving, and just plain wrong.  I thought that we were better than this, but it appears that our country is getting ready to head down the tubes and fast.
 
I can hardly wait to hear the acrimony during the next two years as we face, yet another, presidential campaign.  It's started already.  Walker and Bush are already taking pot shots at each other.  When will we end the insanity?

 

09 March 2015

Goodness

Psalm 145

8The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in mercy.f
9The LORD is good to all,
compassionate toward all your works.g
 
Psalm 19
 
8The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.b
9The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart.
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
10The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The statutes of the LORD are true,
all of them just;
11More desirable than gold,
than a hoard of purest gold,
Sweeter also than honey
or drippings from the comb.c
 
These Psalms really say everything for one who is a believer.  The LORD God, who made everything and is still in control, has showered us with so many gifts that they are countless.  I just look at the wonders of the world and the human body, especially after the last three months of illness, and cannot help but be amazed.  I have a really hard time wondering how anyone can say that there is not someone above all of this who set it all into motion - who created this complex universe.  How everything works in the body is simply amazing.  And we still know so little about it all.
 
The quality of pride cause so many of us to believe that we are in charge of everything.  But when you step outside and look up, especially here in the rural parts of the world, you can see just how insignificant each of us are.  How can anyone not be humbled by that experience.?!
 
Much of the problems in our country, with Congress, state legislatures, administrations, police, citizens, has to do with this one obsessive quality - and its relative envy.  Pride means we are totally in control and envy means that we are really worried about someone else having more power and being in control.  If we could all realize just how little we are, recognize that the LORD God is really in control, and just step back one or two steps, much could begin to heal.
 
This may sound rather simplistic to the sophisticated person, but if each person would just begin this process, wouldn't it begin to spread.  Look how the Church began in the first place.  Twelve guys went out and began to tell about their experience with Jesus of Nazareth.  Why couldn't we begin this process again.  Re-commit ourselves to the Jesus Way and begin to broadcast it to everyone who we meet.  Wouldn't that humility and service catch on?  I think so.  Isn't is worth trying?  Sure couldn't hurt.  Look how bad everything is right now.  Maybe this is just the ticket to a different society.
 
Again, recognize our humble origins, the nature of our sinful behavior, repent and believe in the original message of Jesus and just start over.  I think that is what Pope Francis is trying to get us to do.
 
So, why don't we just try it?!!!

Immigration

The first few verses of Chapter 20 of Exodus provide for us what is know as the Ten Commandments.  Many places in our country have argued, sued, and protested about whether these ten commonsense rules should be displayed in the public arena.  Many folks really believe that these ten rules are the basis of their idea of essence of our country.  But just like those who pounce upon verse 22 of the 18th Chapter of Leviticus to forbid homosexual activity, ignoring the other 29 verses that deal with all sorts of other sexual activity that is prohibited, few people recognize that these first 10 rules are only part of what Exodus 20 has to say about moral conduct.  Folks ought to read Chapters 21 - 23 as well to get the full effect of the rules for life provided by the LORD God to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. 
 
I find it interesting, if not amusing, that folks who clamor for the posting of the Ten Commandments are the most vocal about our current situation of immigration in the country.  The point that I'm trying to make is that  Exodus 20-23 provide a whole lot of rules from the LORD God about how to conduct ones life, individually and in society, and actually touch upon this issue of immigration.  Here are a few select verses from Exodus that relate to this topic:
 
Exodus 22
 
20You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.
 
Exodus 23
 
9You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
 
 As one reads all of these four chapters, one gets a better understanding of the purpose of these Commandments.  One readily can see that relationships and concern for the less fortunate are extremely important part of this new Covenant with the Israelites.  It suggests to us that if we believe that the first 17 verses of Chapter 20 are so important, the remainder really should carry the same weight, simply because all four Chapters are included in the instruction provided to the tribes of Israel for their betterment.
 
How we apply this to our current situation as Christians is really a simple matter.  The first emotion should be mercy.  Many folks are distraught about how these immigrants take away American jobs.  Part of the problem is that we blame the wrong people.  These needy folks wouldn't get the jobs if they weren't hired in the first place.  So, the problem is not the folks looking for work, it's the people hiring them in the first place and the rest of us demanding very low costs for our food, housecleaning, construction, and a whole host of items. 
 
It seems that everyone wants to look the other way about these employers who actually are violating US employment laws.  So, the solution begins with shutting down the supply of jobs in the first place.  Do you really think that folks would flock here if there were no jobs for them and no governmental assistance as a result? 
 
But, more importantly, the Commandments cautions us to "not oppress" the immigrant.  We must provide a sane policy for people to immigrate to our country and with a compassion and mercy that to this point has been ignored - especially all those whom we have allowed to come here to take those "illegal" jobs. 
 
What are you going to do - send back 11 million people to their countries?  I don't think that anyone in their right mind can think that this government will pay for such a reverse migration.  Besides, unless we deal with the source of the jobs, it won't do any good. 
 
Let's be fair to all of those people:  they are not illegal people, the jobs they have are illegal - and we have allowed, even encouraged,  this to happen.  We must find a compassionate and merciful way to allow those folks to incorporate themselves into this society.
 
Now, for those "cheap" jobs.  So, if "they" are taking those jobs, then our society has to figure out how to stop it. 
  • First, those jobs need to made legal by at least conforming to the employment laws of the states and nation. 
  • Then, we would need to provide some means for relocating those citizens on welfare to those jobs or find some other way to get the millions without work and the available jobs together. 

I suppose that we could implement a "Great Depression" style migration policy.  But part of the reason for many of our governmental program was because of the disaster that befell so many people in the 30's.  But some compassionate means of getting the two together must be managed.

And let's face it, some people really ARE disabled and can't work.  Jawing on about their unwillingness isn't going to change the status of a paraplegic or a stroke victim.  Remember - mercy and compassion!!!

Not a comprehensive plan, but a recognition that WE (the entire US society) have caused the problem ourselves and the folks who are here are not at fault for doing what we do every day:  try to improve our economic future for ourselves and our children.