Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Emmanuel: God Is With Us!

Yesterday as I was out with Tritty I met my neighbor on the road walking with his son. My neighbors son moved to Boston and had become a pediatric heart doctor. He was always a very fine boy and he had grown into a very fine young man. He had recently become a father and he asked us to stop by to see him. I asked him what he had named his son. He answered Matthew. It gave me reason to pause because my nephew Matthew passed away seven years ago a few days after Christmas. After a third relapse Matthew succumbed to Leukemia at the tender age of sixteen.

Later that evening my family gathered at Matthew’s home for a wonderful Christmastide celebration. The house was packed with the aunts, uncles and children of four families. The food, drink, music and gifting created a festive air of joy but the mirth of the season is always tempered by Matthews absence and the association of his death with Christmas. This time of year is particularly difficult for Matthew’s father. They were exceptionally close and my brother-in-law carries Matthew’s absence in a somber heart that seems to grow a bit larger this time of year. As the evening passed I related my story about meeting my neighbors son on the road that day and the appearance of Matthew. This news uplifted my brother-in-laws spirit. He smiled and said “thats Matthew letting us know he’s around.” Matthew continues to be a real presence in the lives of those who knew him and loved him. In a most real sense he continues to dwell with us.

Emmanuel, means God is with us. God dwells with us. Many believe this to be patented nonsense. They point to the endless string of calamitous events and abhorrent tragedies that plague humanity. If God was loving why does the Benevolent One allow such misfortune to befall his children? If The Omnipotent One is all powerful why does he not come to their aid? If God is the embodiment of love why does the power of evil and the treachery of man seem to multiply and grow laughing in the face of an impotent God? I must admit as a person of faith it can be difficult to answer these questions. Asked in the spirit of truth they are not easily dismissed. A Pollyannish response is not sufficient to halt the eroding power of pessimism, the ambivalence of fatalism and the cynicism it voraciously breeds.

What is our answer?

We have sifted through the rubble strewn streets of Port-Au-Prince.We have extracted our beloved ones from their prisons of concrete and twisted rebar. We worked until utter exhaustion overcame us. We labored in the fervent hope that our exertions would not be in vain to find and liberate one more soul awaiting deliverance. We administered inoculations to ward off the plague of cholera. The awful stalk of the grim reaper has been arrested. The indiscriminate threshing of souls has abated. The construction of new dwellings arise out of the rubble to house those saved from the prisons of concrete and the sickle of disease.

America’s wars rage on. The conflict has mercifully ended for some combatants. Some will experience the joy of a reunion with families, others will find rest in an eternal heavenly peace.   A fragile peace reigns for yet another day on the Korean Peninsula. Dispassionate reason has cooled the temper of belligerence as blessed ones continue to witness for peace to end the abomination of all these unjust wars.

The egregious ecological wound of The Gulf of Mexico is beginning to heal. The good work of vigilant environmental stewards deeply engaged in the work of restoration remain in attentive loving service to our gracious Mother Earth.

The economic distress of the unemployed has been salved with government service and the kindness of family and friends.

The plight of the evicted has been eased. The foreclosures on millions of families has peaked, homes have been opened to those seeking a places to live, shelter workers keep the light of rooms brightly burning so the those in need of a bed may find one.

Sudanese huddling on the windswept desert of the Great Rift Valley, Mexican immigrants crossing hostile borders of the Sonoran desert and the terror stricken LGBT community will come to realize that it will get better. That their situation is not hopeless. The ardor of intolerance will abate and the peace of reconciliation will reign on the throne of understanding and acceptance. All will find sanctuary.

Israeli’s and Arabs with a dogged determination come to the table yet again to talk about the prospects for peace in Palestine.

Missionaries of hope spread the message of peace and reconciliation.

Healers without borders doctor to the distressed.

Carpenters are building hospitable habitats for the homeless.

Teachers are reaching troubled children and adults most needing to hear kind, thoughtful instruction.

Emmanuel! God is with us. Yahweh is forever faithful. The Beneficent One moves across the trouble waters of time to unite Gods Children in a single river of humanity, where justice flows and the Good Shepard finds all lost sheep. Allah softens the hearts of the zealous. God informs a sober reason to the obstinate. The Holy Spirit swaddles all in a blanket of divine love. The Prince of Peace is with us.

As I walked through the doors for Christmastide services I was asked by a church brother if I would sit in with choir. Like the Prophet Samuel I heard the call and answered “here I am.” It was a special unanticipated grace to process into the church on Christmas Eve. The Lord asked me to make a joyful noise and walk with him on this Holy Night. It is a blessing to walk with the Lord as a real presence.

After the nights services as I was leaving the church I witnessed two brethren sitting side by side in the now empty pews. They were father and son. About the time that Matthew died, the boys mother, the mans wife passed away after a heroic fight against cancer. As they sat in the presence of their God, father and son were present for each other. I imagined them also to be in a rapturous communion and loving embrace of their very present mother and beautiful wife.

Emmanuel!

God is with us.

Our expectant hope is realized.

The Word has been made Flesh.

God has broken through.

God remains ever faithful.
God dwells with us.

A good and present helper

guide our hands

open our hearts.

Selah

Christmas 2010

You Tube Music Video:

Soul Stirrers, Were You There

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December 28, 2010 Posted by | faith, family, holiday, seasons | , , , | Leave a comment

Sense of Gratitude

For this years Thanksgiving, I have decided to focus on developing a sense of gratitude. The world is full of real bad stuff happening to too many people and its easy to let the darkness of our times cast long shadows of resentment, anger and ill will over our outlook on life. So today as I travel to a relatives home to gather for our national day of thankfulness I choose to leave resentments at home and cultivate a sense of gratitude.

I’m grateful for my eyes. My sight allows me to perceive the million graces The Almighty abundantly confers upon the inhabitants of the good earth each and every day. My eyes help me to discover the pressing needs of others and respond to it. My eyes help me to discern light from darkness, distinguish the forest from the trees and eschew pedestrian views to behold a beautiful vista. My eyes are a pathway to my soul moving me to contemplate the good, forsake the bad and move against evil in service to truth.

I’m grateful for my ears. The grace of hearing permits me to listen. My ears alert me to the cries of my brothers and sisters and enables me to understand our shared human condition. My ears tune my spirit to the chords of exquisite music and the natural symphonies of Mother Earth’s angelic chorus of singing birds, heaving oceans, the majestic pause of silent mountains and the fleeting rush of the swelling wind are all divine voices singing the joyful hymns of life.

I’m thankful for my sense of smell. Graciously my nose breathes in the inviting aroma of a lovingly prepared home cooked meal, the wholesome scent of baking bread wafting from the door of the corner bakery, a briny snort from the boundless sea, the rich compost of the deep woods after a soft summer rain, the bouquet of an infants hair and the perfume of a lovers embrace.

I give thanks for my ability to touch. Hands engaged in productive work and gainful employment is a blessing absent from too many Thanksgiving Day tables this year. We yearn to connect and the sense of touch invites our ability to feel. Feeling is the father of empathy and the mother of compassion. Caring for our animal friends we live in communion with all sentient beings.  As we touch one another and allow others to touch us; the hardest of hearts is softened, the most grievous wounds are healed to liberate the sensual yearnings dwelling in the deepest recesses of ourselves. Feeling allows us to become fully present, fully aware and fully alive in the celebration of what it means to be fully human.

I’m thankful for my sense of taste. As Sinatra croons “from the brim to the dregs” the wine of our lives may not all taste good but it all flows clear and true. Sample, savor and learn. Taste and see the glories of the Lord’s banquet so abundantly placed before us. The bitter herbs, the sweet cakes, the leisure repast, the fortifying meal and unrequited hunger is the daily bread of being human.  Pause to consider those that are lining up for the tenth Thanksgiving Day meal in Afghanistan and Iraq and pray that the awful rations of war fed to our young soldiers be supplanted with the good manna of peace.

Perhaps we loose our sense of gratitude because expectations of ourselves and others always seems to come up short of the mark. Imperfection is our most endearing quality. It informs our ability to forgive transgressions, form bonds of friendship and unconditionally love each other. I remain grateful for the sense of my imperfection as I overlook your imperfections and remain ever hopeful that you  will extend your hand to help me over come mine.

Happy Thanksgiving.

You Tube Video: Jean Ritchie, Shady Grove

risk: resentment, gratitude, peace, metal health,

November 25, 2010 Posted by | armed services, community, culture, faith, family, life, psychology, recession, seasons, Spirituality, war | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prison Ministries: Speaking for Those Without a Voice

MARK 13:1-8 – Restorative Justice Sunday – November 15, 2009

Submitted for the John Hines Preaching Award by the Rev. Pamela Bakal

I recently came back from a Prison Ministry conference and one of the exercises that the participants were asked to do was, “Build the kind of prison that Jesus would want.” They gave us all wooden blocks and we worked together to come up with the ideal prison. We thought surely there should be a large worship space, and a place for multiple classrooms so that the inmates could learn job skills and education. We created an area for a garden so that the splendor of God’s creation would fill both guards’ and inmates’ souls with beauty and peace.  We constructed bridges so that the men and women could physically walk through the emotional changes and transitions they would be making in their lives. No matter what we tried the presenter kept shaking her head. And then it dawned on us; Jesus would have torn down the walls of the prison and set the captives free.

In a perfect world there would be no prisons. Building prisons is not the answer. If punishment really worked the recidivism rate would not be at its present statistic of more than 50%. The problem is so much more complex than using the crime and punishment formula. If we are going to solve the problem of our enormous prison population (There are as many in the prison population as there are Episcopalians – 2 ¼ million!) we are going to have to change the way we structure our prisons, and all work together to support our less fortunate neighborhoods.

How do we redesign a society that needs to put so many people in prison? That is precisely what the work of Jesus is about – changing the world and the way we understand it, so that all might be free.

Most of you have probably never seen the Essex County Jail, on Doremus Ave in Newark, New Jersey. Whenever I visit there I feel like the disciple who said to Jesus, “Look, teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”  (Mark 13:1) That jail is huge! There are 3200 inmates housed there!  And what is Jesus’ response…” Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Could this be the prison that was conceptualized in the Prison Ministry conference?

This Scripture passage is what we call apocalyptic Scripture. It is about the end time. It can create fear and trembling in some people because one way to read it is that the end of the world could be imminent, and when it arrives we will witness the terrible wrath of God. Those who are good and faithful will be saved, and those who are sinners will be damned forever. They say that when it comes to apocalyptic Scripture, there are two kinds of people; those who love to scrutinize it for symbols and hidden meanings, and those who pass over these texts as quickly as possible. For me apocalyptic Scripture passages contain tremendous hope. Apocalyptic Scripture tells us that God has a mission which God is in the process of fulfilling and perfecting. God is shaping our future, this world’s future, toward an end that is grace filled and loving. When we read and hear these scripture passages about “the end time,” we are challenged to bring them into a meaningful perspective of how God’s reign, God’s Kingdom will be brought in.

And who would not look forward to the end of a world that binds people and keeps them from living out their God given gifts.

Apocalyptic Literature has something in common with Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is a process that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior, both to the victim and society. It is best accomplished through a cooperative course of action involving victim, offender, community, and government. Rather than viewing the current system of justice as reparations being doled out in dollars and cents, and the “penal” system as punishment for a crime, its focus is to be a system of healing for all parties concerned. These principles are the principles of Jesus: repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal, healing. We speak of these all the time in church, and as Christians it becomes our mission to bring these values of Jesus into fruition in the world.

Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray.” (Mark 13:5) Haven’t we indeed been lead astray by our retributive system of justice? Punishment is equated with revenge and revenge only multiplies anger and violence. These times look like the end time. We have “kingdoms rising against kingdoms,” (Mark 13:8) such as we might see in gang wars.  Violence is creating a vortex that drags our children into the criminal justice system, and any attempt to climb out only gets swallowed up as a tenuous earth cracks beneath them.

Ah, but these might in fact be “the beginning of the birth pangs”. (Mark 13:8) As we see that retributive justice does not work, we will begin the change. Jesus’ sense of justice asks us to respond to evil with love. God’s love for us in Christ Jesus extends grace to all; even those we do not think can be loved. Grace is unearned forgiveness and unearned generosity of spirit. Restorative justice allows a place for grace. To discover how grace operates in the justice system might just bring about the change and transformation needed. As we come to realize the old ways no longer work, as we tear down the old institutions, we allow for grace to enter in. Grace naturally focuses on the future and how things can be changed for the better, both for the victim and for the offender and the community.

Followers of Jesus do not need to fear such a time when all will be thrown down, or wonder what it all means. What might at first appear to be foreboding and anxiety provoking is now transformed into hopefulness and anticipation. We can face the troubles and anxieties of this age because we know that this is not the final state of things. We have reason to be excited that the salvation of the world draws near, and that we too can join with Christ in bringing in a time when the walls of our prisons will be cast down, and our prisoners set free. I thank God that the day is coming when Jesus will make all things new, all things right, all things just, all things infused with grace.

This is very good news.

 

The Rev. Pamela Brownlow Bakal is Rector of Grace Church in Nutley, NJ and President of Prison Ministry, Diocese of Newark.

Mark 13:1-8 (NRSV)

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” [2] Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

[3] When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, [4] “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” [5] Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. [6] Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. [7] When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. [8] For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

You Tube Music Video: Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues

Risk: social justice

December 26, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Christianity, community, culture, faith, family, prisons, social justice | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lasting Sanctuary: 911 Remembered

Corkscrew_Swamp_SanctuaryEight years ago today,  I was running down Wall Street fleeing a protoplasmic cloud that I believed was intent on claiming my life.  Fortunately as it was about to overcome me a revolving door of a Charles Schwab office offered me an escape portal from the deadly billows of powered cement, asbestos and other matter emulsified by the collapsing South Tower of the World Trade Center.

I was fortunate to have access to a sanctuary of  safety and ready escape.  The brokerage office was filled with confused, terrified and wounded people.  All consumed in a maelstrom of an iconoclastic force that at the time laid beyond our understanding or comprehension.  The hysteria in the room was balanced by the command of resolve summoned by the afflicted to survive and a compassion that recognized our shared humanity and common plight.  Most responded with a spirit of action that held out a hand to help those in distress.  It was heartening to witness such a selfless demonstration of empathy and commitment to others.  It was how we escaped and survived the terrible fate that too many suffered on that infamous day.

On this day as I sit watching family members read the names of those lost at the World Trade Center,  I am moved by the endless tears they shed for the dearly departed.  The aggrieved wear shirts with images of the fallen.   They hold photos of people captured in the light of the victims finest day.  Children wear medals and the caps of fallen fire fighters.  I  marvel at the depth of their love and wonder how they will find a portal of escape and a lasting sanctuary from the deep wounds and loss afflicted upon them that day?

We all need to discover and walk through a portal of escape to a sanctuary of restoration.  As a nation we desperately need  to heal the seemingly fathomless wounds of loss we all so keenly feel as a result of 911.  A sanctuary is a place of transcendence.  It is a place where the faithful can meet the divine and are in turn transfigured by the miracle of grace.  We must prepare ourselves to enter the sanctuary.  We need to find a place where this national nightmare can be laid to rest on an alter in God’s sanctuary.  God hears our cries for justice.  God understands the depths of the dark places in our hearts that scream and wail from the deep wounds of loss suffered.  God’s justice holds out a hope that we become fully restored from the deep loss we experienced.  God’s wisdom  requires us to shed our sense of victimization so as we can realize our restoration.

The events on 911 has deeply transfigured our nation.  We have sacrificed civil liberties, entered two wars and raised fear, xenophobia and the pursuit of righteous vengeance to a national obsession.   Vengeance is a bitter bread to feast on.  The wisdom of the Bible instructs that vengeance is the province of the Lord.   We must prepare to enter the sanctuary by practicing peace.  It is the best way to honor the loss of our beloved brothers and sisters and it is the only way this terrible wound will ever heal.   Together we can eat the bread of peace and drink from the chalice that promises to heal and restore that which has been lost.

Rest in peace beloved.  I offer prayers of restoration and healing to those who lost loved ones.

Loping Wolf:  Christo Redentor

Risk:  war, restoration, peace, faith

September 11, 2009 Posted by | 9/11, Bible, culture, faith, family, life, love, politics, psychology, religion, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Suicide of a Friend

mounts_bay_sunrise_2This is one of those mornings in our lives when we welcome a rising sun with grim dread. This is one of those mornings where we become loosed from our moorings of certainty. This is one of those mornings where words fail and the throne of faith is overthrown by shame and guilt. This is a morning to put on a nice suit and proper tie to attend a funeral of a friend who died by suicide. So final. So silent doth the dead speak to us. Crying out their pain with a clarity we never heard or understood as they walked among us here on earth. My friend continues to speak to us from the beyond.

This man was more then a friend. He was a father, husband, brother and a son. He held many occupations, enjoyed diversions, displayed passions and imperfections like all human beings. He was also a child of God. Though tormented and sick he was never forsaken. He deeply loved many and was unconditionally loved by many. In the end an addled brain led to a desperate alienation. Self medicating himself to find sanctuary in the hollow solace of prescription drugs and booze. It would in the end consume him. Enabling him to close the door on a life that family and friends diligently tried to keep ajar. All we wanted in return was his continued presence among us. My friend choose to slam the door shut.

Anger rises. We put so much into him. How could he slap us in the face like this? As we gathered about his coffin, in hushed whispers we sought out information, confirmation and consolation to alleviate a sense of guilt and quiet the shame that enveloped us. The deceased’s mother, shaking with Parkinson’s disease, stares down at a bare coffin holding the remains of her son. How much did she invest in this boy? She suckled him at her breast. She mothered him under her roof for two decades. She continued to mother him with a pervasive love that continued till the end. Did the child squander this love? Has this mother loved wastefully? I see no anger in her. Only a continued extension of her abundant love. “Sleep well my child. I’ll soon join you.” I could hear her coo silently to herself as she softly touched the burnished wood of her child’s casket. Any anger was mine, certainly not hers.

My friend’s sisters were his loving attendants to the end. They were heroic in a desperate attempt to save their beloved brother. They gave him refuge under their roof. They nursed him within the sanctuary of family. One may think that their deeds of heroism now matter little or count for less. But such shamelessly squandered love is what our hurting world needs more of today. I marvel and cherish their example, as I witness one sister arrange an errant ribbon on the cluster of roses sitting atop the casket. A loving touch, a caring hand, an attending heart remembered to bring their brothers beloved Boston Red Sox cap also placed on the casket.

My friend’s daughters and former wife arrived to the service late. One daughter entered the crowded room nestling flowers. She moved quickly toward her father’s casket. Her expression was like that of a child racing toward a Christmas tree on the blessed morning. Did Santa come? Is it really here? Has this thing arrived? Her breakdown into tears confirmed her worst suspicion. A terrible expectation realized. Her father was really dead. Now laying in state in a room full of awkward people. The other daughter fraught with grief remains in the protective arms of her loving aunt. She sobs into the woman’s bosom. Tears saturate her blouse. Women absorb the pain and transform it into strength and a curious wisdom that remembers how to endure future pains to come.

How do you approach the daughters of the deceased? What can you say that has any meaning to them during the nadir of their young lives? How do you expect them to understand the sincerity of your pain when theirs is fathomless? You fear for them. Has the actions of their father bound them to a lifetime quest to seek answers to questions that cannot be answered, motives that cannot be understood, truths that will remain forever hidden?

The grace of my friend’s former wife was sorely tested. She is devastated to discover her ex husbands casket on display at the front of a crowded room. She sobbed, embracing and kissing many as she made her way toward the casket. Her painful separation from my friend after 27 years of marriage was difficult for her but was a consequence of her husbands spiral of decline. She loved him greatly and it was greatly returned to her by my friend. College sweethearts, they joined together in a youthful promise to love and endure all things as one. I pray she isn’t consumed by the demons of nostalgia and fall into a black hole of guilt. I don’t think that will be. She is a spiritually centered, emotionally healthy woman. She does yoga. Her next life chapters are waiting to be written.

On the day they were married I wore a new gray suit and tie to the affair. During the cocktail party a man played musical glasses. It was a bit quixotic and it stamped their union as something that was uniquely blessed. I liked it very much. I also liked the open bar. I got sloshed. As I would continue to do until I got sober 27 years later.

My friend knew of my sobriety and participation within AA. I asked him to join me at a meeting one week before he died. He left a message on my cell phone. He said he was going off to rehab to start the process of recovery. He said he would call me when he got out. He left the rehab after one day because of insufficient insurance coverage, checked into a hotel room and killed himself.

When I entered the room for the funeral service my friends crying sister met me with an embrace. Her tears stained a new tie I chose for this service. She thanked me for trying to help her brother. She said that her brother called her on the terrible day asking for a slip of paper that had telephone numbers of important people. I was number two on that list. I shudder and ask myself, for the want of a phone call?

As I left the service I stopped by to wonder at a small aviary of tiny exotic birds that was in the lobby. The multicolored birds were nesting and gleefully chattering at the roil of life. They flitted among hanging flowers of verdant vines of ivy. They were beautiful. Seeing such beauty is one of life’s simple affirmations.  My friend is now winging home.

Vaya Con Dios Amigo

You Tube Video: JS Bach Badinerie Wine Glass Music

You Tube Video: Vaughn Williams, Lark Ascending

August 15, 2009 Posted by | children, culture, faith, family, life, love, psychology, religion, seasons | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lark Ascends

Lark
John James Audubon

This weekend I attended a memorial service for a six month old child that passed this world. The service was moving and emotional. The young parents and the departed’s two year old sister were gracious and carried a quiet strength through their visible grief. The service was attended by many friends and family members that were eager to offer support and love. Life is fragile and sometimes fleeting but time spent on this earth has little to do with the quality of a life lived.  It is how one is loved and how much one has loved that marks the quality of a life well lived.

Christmas reminds us that every child that comes into this world is a profound gift. Honor the gift of life by respecting the grace of childhood. Children embody beauty, innocence, purity, the miracle of life and the power and presence of unconditional love.May we be always mindful of the special needs of this world’s children and take action to help and nurture those whose needs are apparent. By giving help and offering a hand we truly receive the grace of love.

A poem composed for the dearly departed.


The Lark Ascends

The lark ascends on light wings
Taking flight toward a heavenly home
It lingered here but a short while
Certain of the course she must go
A delicate beauty and playful grace
And twittering eyes revealed
Deep trust for love and sturdy branch
Of her verdant and earthly home
We reveled in her abundant joy
She fed our spirits and fondest hopes
Her gossamer wings a fragrance breath
Her heart angels hath divinely blessed
The lark is light!
The lark is life!
Her song forever young
The lark is kind
The lark is Thine
The lark is winging home

LAP
God Speed Beloved
12/20/08


You Tube Video: Janine Jansen, The Lark Ascending

Part 2: Janine Jansen, The Lark Ascending

You Tube Video: Josh Groban, What Child is This?

Risk: sanctity of life

December 23, 2008 Posted by | children, classical, faith, family, love | , , , , , , | Leave a comment