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Heroes…

One of the best things about working at the farm is the time I have for prayer. It’s been a difficult season for me. Christmas wasn’t the same after my father passed in 2002. Dad was our family’s Christmas spirit. Then Mom passed in 2017. My sister and her husband live in Georgia so there wasn’t much family left. I had Jeremy and the grandkids but negotiating holidays with different families often meant a quiet Christmas with my son Adrian. When Jeremy died last year, I decided the best thing about Christmas was December 26th

My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. I was told that if Jesus’ birthday wasn’t mentioned by date, then we had nothing to celebrate. It was that old “we have the line on the truth” thing that the Church of Christ was known for. We didn’t celebrate Easter either even though the dates are obvious – even if it is on the Jewish calendar – but that’s another story. I feel a little cheated to be honest. Presents are nice but it wasn’t the same…

Anyway, I’ve grown and changed over the years. I may not have much Christmas spirit – the whole tree, family, and presents thing – but I feel a deep gratitude and joy over the birth of a Savior. I’m especially fond of Advent. It was thoughts of anticipation of Immanuel – “God with us” – that stayed in the fore front of my mind today as I worked and prayed.

My thoughts turned to the “heroes of the faith” – at least my faith. I thought of Ms. Opal (she said I don’t have to call her Dr. Lee…) and all the years of service as not only a civil rights activist, but as a Deaconess in her church. I thought of her mantra – “If someone can be taught to hate they can be taught to love”.

I thought about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker – “It would be foolish to pretend that it is always easy to remember [that Christ is present in the ordinary stranger] … If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet [Revelation 12:1], then people would have fought to make room for her. But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for Himself, now when He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.”

– Dorothy Day, “Room for Christ,” Selected Writings: By Little and by Little, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1992), 96.

I thought of Father Daniel Berrigan. I had the privilege of being arrested with Father Berrigan at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Facility at a Plowshares demonstration. I don’t know why I thought of that: especially since I came to be very ashamed of all the times I went to jail for reasons I’d rather not recall – addiction sucks…

He was on my mind when I got home and went through email and found this in my inbox:

“So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ — the life of the world.”- Daniel Berrigan, “Advent

I may lack Christmas spirit this year, but I’m not confused by the gift given to God’s kids on that night a little over two thousand years ago. I’m waiting in quiet anticipation for the birthday of Jesus Christ – “the life of the world.

May you all be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus. May the new year bring justice and peace for us all.

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A Vision Check Up

I have “senior moments” – those times of forgetfulness that are becoming all-too frequent as I get older. I’ve tried organizing my life with lists, calendars, and self-help books on ordering my world. Unfortunately, I usually forget where I put the list, leave the calendars on my desk, and the books find their way back to the shelf in favor one something more compelling. I need to apologize for my forgetfulness; more often than I care to admit.

Fortunately, the “to Do” lists still get done, I manage to get to the necessary appointments on the calendar, and I constantly re-read books I already have which cuts down the cost of new ones (I’m blessed to have an extensive library). I’ve found that repeated reading shines new light on things. I see it differently than I did and often, I find things I never saw before.

I was talking to my friend Charlie the other day about one of the miracles mentioned in the Gospels called “The Feeding of the Five Thousand”, and the one most people are familiar with. I’ve read the story hundreds of times over my life, but Charlie shared a perspective I’ve never thought about – the miracle of self-lessness.

The feeding of the five thousand is one of the miracles found in each of the Gospels. Each of the authors found this to be important. My favorite, and the one that started my discussion with Charlie, is from the Book of John, Chapter 6:

“After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee… the crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick…

When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Phillip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Phillip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.

Phillip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.”

One of the disciples – it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter – said, “There’s a little boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down “… about five thousand of them. The Jesus took the bread, and having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.

When the people had eaten their fill, he said to the disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets from the five barley loaves.” (John 6.1-13 The Message – paraphrase mine)

I’d always believed the miracle was the five loaves and two fishes being enough to feed five thousand people. That certainly is a miracle, but after my conversation with Charlie and a fresh reading of an old story, the real miracle is much deeper than that.

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Imagine five thousand hungry people – the other Gospel’s say it was late in the day and the disciples were concerned enough to ask Jesus to send them away. In fact, they interrupted his teaching to bring this matter to his attention. Jesus’ response – “Nope, you feed them.”

I can only imagine the look on Phillip’s face when Jesus handed the problem back to him. He must’ve been thinking Jesus had been in the sun too long. Andrew, ever the one bringing people to Jesus, brings him a young man with 5 loaves and two fishes and says, “This is what we have to work with.” I’d like to think Andrew’s faithfulness came into play, but I have a feeling it was to say “This it. It’s all we could find.”

Traditional teaching focuses on Jesus’ blessing and the multiplication of a miniscule amount of food to feed the crowd but a deeper look reveals an even more miraculous occurrence. A crowd of hungry people take just enough and everyone has their fill.

Let that one sink in a moment. A large crowd of mostly strangers has been out in the sun all day to hear this new prophet. They haven’t eaten all day and suddenly a basket of food comes by. Without ever looking in the basket they take enough and pass it on. Sounds simple enough, right?

The Miracle I Never Noticed

It was a miracle that five thousand hungry people didn’t try to take everything in the basket. Had they looked inside they would have seen the small amount and yet the Gospel writers tell us everyone was fed. They didn’t record any instances of hoarding (they couldn’t say the same of pandemic era consumers!). Everyone passed the basket along. It was assumed there was enough for everyone.

That is a miracle indeed. For a moment in time, no one looked through the lens of scarcity. Jesus’ world was a world of “enough” – enough for me and enough to go around. It runs counter to the prevailing world view of scarcity -get it before it’s all gone. Everyone should have a slice of the pie, but there’s never enough pie. Even if there is, my slice needs to be bigger than your slice. Economists call this capitalism, which is a fancy, more politically correct way of saying selfish and self-centered.

That’s why I’m captivated by stories of people who step out of “scarcity” and into “enough”. Scarcity demands competition. It separates and divides people into “Us” and “Them”. It’s credo of “Do unto others before they do unto you” sows seeds of superiority and distrust. Fear is at its root and discord, violence, and strife are its fruit. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all of the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic show religion (can anyone say TV evangelism and prosperity gospel… my thoughts added); paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming, yet never satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on”. (Galatians 5.16-20 The Message)

“Enough” on the other hand, drives people to be self-less and kind towards everyone. “Enough” says just that – enough – “there’s enough to go around so why don’t I enjoy what’s here and pass some of it along to someone else who really needs it?” Again, the Apostle Paul says it much more eloquently than I:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a basic conviction that holiness permeates (all) things and (all) people (even those we don’t like or don’t like us… my thoughts again added…). We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”  Galatians 6.22-23 (The Message)

“Enough” is the lens through which we see the world as it was meant to be. “Enough” is God’s gift to His kids.

Sometimes I forget to put on my new glasses, or the lenses get fogged up with “stuff” (a nice word for fear and worry) and I begin to see a hostile world of scarcity out there. Sometimes I forget for a long while. I make myself miserable until I remember my new lenses and my vision becomes clearer.

For example – when I came to work at Opal’s Farm and Unity Unlimited, Inc. I quit taking new clients in my writing business. The farm would take all my time to make it successful. I had a contract salary with Unity, but I also knew that there was little to no funds for the farm. As Ms. Opal often reminds me – “we’ve done so much for so long with so little that we can do anything with nothing”. Donations and consequently, my salary were small and intermittent for the first year.

My wife and I are fortunate enough to have retirement income. It covers our living expenses – sometimes – but we count on my work to provide for the shortfalls with our bills. We burned through what little savings we had those first few months. By October that first year I finally had nothing to pay the mortgage with. I was in a deep depression. I was sure I’d made the wrong decision and announced to my wife one evening that I had really screwed up, that I should give up a go get a job that paid even if it paid a little. Her response threw me a little…

“Greg, we prayed about this, and I know this is where God wants you to be.”

“I know, but (another case of being a know-it-all and a “but” head as my friend Jim would say) is we don’t pay the house payment tomorrow they’re going to start foreclosure’. Where will we go then?”

She was silent for a moment. “You’re right, but we’ll go somewhere. Why don’t you give it one more month and we’ll decide then.”

“Okay, but we’ve got to do something, and I don’t see anything we can do (echoes of the disciple Phillip?)”.

I didn’t sleep well that night – there was too much on my mind – but I got up, dressed, and off to the farm. The phone rang as I drove (Relax folks, I have a hands free phone system). It was our Executive Director, Dione. “Guess what? We just received a grant from one of our donors. Come by my office today and pick up a check.” When I got there, I was in shock. The check was just enough to pay all our bills through the end of the year.

I got home, shared the joyous news with Margaret, and went back outside to have a little chat with God. I had to confess my thickheadedness and distrust. After all, how many times in life have I been on the receiving line of blessings I most certainly don’t deserve (It’s that thing called grace). In hindsight I know that God has had my back 100% of the time. I told God, “I get it. I won’t worry about how we’re going to make it anymore.”

I haven’t worried about the bank balance since that October night three years ago. Somehow there’s always enough – the bills get paid, seed gets planted, and crops grow (rinse and repeat). We don’t have all the things I used to think we wanted, but we live simply, have everything we need, our home is peaceful, and life’s storms just don’t seem that bad anymore (Yes, Virginia, it still gets stormy…).

How do you see the world – through scarcity (there’s never enough) or through God’s “enough”? When we have enough,” we always have “enough” to share. If you have “enough” already, please be sure to pass it on. If you don’t, give me a call. I bet we can do a better job on those lenses if we work together…

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Hidden Gems

“When you looked at me

your eyes imprinted your grace in me;

for this you loved me ardently;

and thus my eyes deserved

to adore what they beheld in you. . . .”

Let us go forth to behold ourselves in your beauty.

—John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle,” stanzas 32, 36

This was in my email this morning from the Center for Action and Contemplation. Fr. Richard Rohr goes on to share his own paraphrase of John of the Cross’ poem…

“You give a piece of yourself to the other.

You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously).

This allows the other to do the same in return.

You do not need or demand anything back from them,

Because you know that you are both participating

In a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving—

One that fully satisfies and creates an immense Inner Aliveness.

(Simply to love is its own reward.)

You accept being accepted—for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever!

This is the key that unlocks everything in me, for others,

and toward God.

So much so that we call it “salvation”!”

I grew up in a religious tradition that often failed to share the words of the early Christian mystics. I wish that I had brought their words to life earlier in my journey with God. Yet, everything comes in its’ right time. For that I am so grateful.

When a Pharisee came to Jesus, he asked the question, “what is the most important commandment?”. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love other as well as you love yourself. These two commandments are the pegs: everything in God’s law and the prophets hang from them.” (Matthew 22. 37-40 (The Message – emphasis mine).

Everything – just do these two and the rest will take care of itself…

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“The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner brothers with him.” – Clarence Jordan

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