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.
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.
You Tube Music Video:
We welcome the arrival of Kwanzaa. People of good will everywhere welcome this opportunity to bring more light into a world shrouded in darkness. Kwanzaa celebrates community as a vessel to receive and dispense the flow of hope and service required to minister and serve others. It is a wonderful reminder on the importance of community and excellent opportunity to strengthen the bonds of the individual within communities.
The Seven Principles
- Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
- Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
We welcome Kwanzaa and wish its celebrants an enriching and transforming experience.
You Tube Music Video: Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, Kawaida, Kamali
Risk: holiday, culture, faith
Hanukkah reminds us to bear faithful witness to the miracle of hope. The lamp burned for eight days on oil sufficient for one. Yahweh is the author of all hope. Its light will never be extinguished as long as we remain mindful to tend the candles and trim the wicks by vigilantly guarding against cynicism, pessimism and hopelessness. Hanukkah commands us to stand firm in resolute faith. Celebrate Hanukkah, meditate and rejoice in the light of hope. Darkness is banished. Yahweh is forever faithful.
Thanks be to God.
You Tube Video: Lich’vod Hachanukkah -Chaim Nachman Bialik – Chanukah song
Risk: pessimism, cynicism, hopelessness
This 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.
Like everything in life there are two sides to every coin. If the recession is hampering your ability to put some new coin into your piggy bank or if it drives you to break it open to help make ends meet, there may be some unintended positive consequences of this period of economic duress. Yesterday during a hike in the hills of beautiful Harriman State Park, a member of our troop spoke of a recent article she read in the New Your Times. The article was about how some people are responding to the loss of their jobs by taking up a physical fitness regimen. People who are now blessed with the gift of unoccupied time, excess energy and the need to quell anxiety are burning off the exigencies of fear with a vigorous workout. Some people are using the opportunity of being unemployed as a way to get back into shape. A good thing and an unexpected and unintended consequence of the recession. We began to think about some of the other positive unintended consequences born from the recession and we came up with the following items. Its good to accentuate the positive.
Lower Gas Prices: We see it and celebrate it at the pump every time we pull in to fill up. The economic downturn has quelled the worldwide demand for energy and oil. It is reflected in the lower prices we pay. The price of gas in Jersey has dropped by over 50% since the summer.
Healthy Environment: The demand for oil is falling because factories are operating at diminished capacities. Unoccupied office space needs less light and heat. People are turning down their thermostats to save money. Businesses are delivering less goods while people are commuting less to work and business travel is way down. The diminished use of fossil fuels is lessening the amount of carbon based emissions being released into the atmosphere. This gives Mother Earth a brief respite from our all out assault on her delicate ecological sensibilities. There is also a lot less noise pollution in my surburban neighborhood. The constant drone of speeding cars and the decelerating roar of jet engines initiating a landing has lessened greatly. Silence is golden.
More Time with Family: Spending less time at work provides more time to be with family. The kids need help with homework. Your spouse needs to know they are loved. Kids love to see you at their JV basketball game or watching them practice Tae Kwon Do at the local dojo. Little ones will forever remember the bed time stories you read to them. Goodnight Moon and the Run Away Bunny are bed time classics that will make you smile for the rest of your life. More time at home also allows you to turn off the Nanny Cam and stop being a virtual parent. You can now become one in the flesh. A virtual presence is good. Being physically, emotionally and mentally available for your family is better.
Eating More Healthy Foods: The recession may require us to trim down the food budget. One way to do this is by replacing all the processed foods we have become accustomed to buying and consuming because we didn’t have the time to cook meals using wholesome fresh foods. Now that we are blessed with more time and incented to save money we can replace the box of mac and cheese with the protein rich rice and beans. We can replace the frozen fish sticks with a fillet of fresh broiled fish accented with a sprig of rosemary. Yum Yum!
Reading More Books: Last week I needed to visit the main branch of the NY Public Library. I was pleasantly surprised to find a large line queuing at the entrance waiting for it to open. People can take the opportunity to fill their free time to read more books. Libraries are free and provide a rich offering of mind enriching services. Some will go back to school to get a degree, learn a new trade or acquire a new skill. Reading books also provide a wonderfully constructive escape from the harsh realities of a recession.
Quality of Life: It may seem counter intuitive but the recession can help you to upgrade your quality of life. Eliminating the expense of all those extra cable channels will dampen the temptation of watching “All in the Family” reruns or “The Titanic” for the sixth time. The changing economic realities of our lives will certainly create the possibilities for looking at new opportunities and explore the benefits of a simpler more active life. Getting back into nature, sports, learning, family, community service and pursuing the personal projects and dreams we have all sought to do can become real and can enhance the quality of our lives beyond our wildest imaginings.
Spiritual Development: Trying times will create opportunities for people to explore their inward selves. The Apostle James says we should consider difficulties as opportunities for growth. Growth occurs if one is faithful and willing to connect to solutions that are larger then oneself. That connection is made possible through an optimistic application of faith that believes that all things are possible and that the joy is truly in the journey. Living through tough economic times may not be fun but it can be a joyous experience. If we are mindful we can detect the presence of the heavenly born opportunities that are the unintended consequences of our time of trail. If we remain grateful we will be blessed with sight to realize the abundant grace we enjoy in the midst of our trying circumstances. As we live life abundantly we need to remember to share it with others so that our portion of joy may double.
You Tube Video: Bing Crosby & Bette Midler: Accentuate the Positive
Risk: negativism, pessimism, faith
Amidst our poverty of riches we tremble with fear and loathing. We resent the blessings The Almighty has so richly conferred upon us. A maddening clamor of a million incessant voices ceaselessly whisper “be afraid, be very afraid” dispatching us on an endless war with the infinite armies of darkness that we perceive to encircle us. This provokes an intense inner struggle with a seditious soul, a self saboteur, that endlessly works to undermine our emancipation from the ghetto of fear.
Our state of the nation mirrors our psychic state. Barraged with a fusillade of negativity from a multichannel digital discourse of real time bad news our physical state of being and virtual emotional resources are more depleted then the Treasury Department’s account balance after a TARP payment. War, terrorism, recession, home foreclosures, wealth dissipation, culture wars, job losses, the calamities go on ad infinitum. This is our daily bread. During the height of the Civil War in Northern Ireland I recall the picture of a child passing a graffiti strewn wall scripted with the question, “what will the monster bring today?” Indeed, what will our monsters bring today? Most likely more of the same. And it is the ongoing sameness of ever increasing distress that makes the crisis du jour just another routine day. Crisis has become the new normal.
We think ourselves to be unique in our victimization. Victimhood is a bad damn hood to be from if there ever was a bad hood to be from. Our national posture during the past 8 years under Bush has exclusively been about our victimization at the hands of the terrorists. We believed our victimization to be peculiarly ours because the evil doers hate us for who we are. Bush nursed it into a xenophobic obsession that led us to surrender our civil liberties, invade a sovereign nation to depose its head of state and use interrogation methods and tools refined by Spanish Iquisitioners 4 centuries ago. We rationalize it by promoting the fear that the consequences of another strike will be to terrible to suffer. It as if the entire history of civilization had never known the slaughter of innocents, the sacking of cities, the devastation of blight, plague and famine and the excessive collateral damage from the clash of civilizations. Indeed if history teaches us anything it is that egregious conflict is just another day at the office.
Fear has taken up full residency within many houses of worship. Too many sermons emanating from the pulpit preach of a vengeful God, heard by the trembling souls of congregants filling the pews responding with an affirmative amen. Fundamentalist preachers, imams and priests of all religious stripes and secular ideologies carefully construct a theology of fear to avoid eternal or temporal damnation. They warn against having your soul cast into eternal lakes of fire. Said Thomas Paine, “Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.” The admission price to the eternal paradise promised demands a vengeful soul fired by the vulcanism of fear.
Guarding your eternal well being or next life manifestation is available only by strict adherence to the fundamental precepts of a narrow belief. Non-believers are damned. Backsliders are shunned. Heretics are tortured and beheaded. Given the choice between a beheading and fearful submission to a jealous deity most will eat the bread of fear a jealous deity abundantly offers. Thomas Paine wrote that “Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst. Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in, but this attempts a stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity.”
These victims of conviction don’t get better they just continue to be victimized. The Pharisees warned Jesus that it was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath. Right wing conservatives need to consult this passage to understand why they should support universal health care. True conservatives are fearful this program is the sure road to socialism. Jesus asks what is more important, to cure the sick or worry if it meets the criteria of some stale dogma? I agree with Jesus and ask conservatives not to be fearful to heal on the Sabbath.
There is a comfort with the certitude the ideology of fear offers. One need no longer wrestle with the great cosmological questions of a universe that is older then 6,000 years or Darwin’s theories of natural selection and the theory of evolution to understand how species evolve. The tenants of secularism, liberalism and humanism as flowering ideals of the Age of Reason can be dispensed with as well. As we disallow the satanic verses concealed within the learned tomes of humanist literature; America, the grandest political expression of the Age of Enlightenment democratic foundations will crumble due to a poverty stricken citizenry ignorant of the cradle that suckled our legacy of liberty.
Fearful that these ideas threaten a fundamental understanding of God as the source and creator of all things they demand that their deity hide away from the prism of science, anthropology and history. Such a God is a small God indeed. It demonstrates how fear robs the human experience of a rich spiritualism and deeper relationship with a God of their understanding; condemning the true believer to a bankrupt religion of stale dogmas and inert ritualism. The Infinite One’s knowableness surpasses all understanding. All of humanity’s trite scientific inventions and worldly philosophies occupy but a minuscule portion of a single cell within God’s cranium. The All Knowing One would not have allowed the sciences, arts, philosophy and other branches of knowledge to flourish if it was not useful to serving the development of humanity and enriched our understanding of the Beneficent Ones love for all creation.
A truth I heard spoken in the rooms is that as children we are afraid of the dark. As we grow into adulthood we become terrified of the light. This profound truth speaks plainly about our mental, emotional and spiritual condition. Children fear darkness because they think that they are alone. They tremble under their covers unaware of the protection and security of their home and a guardians presence in an adjoining room who sits ever mindful of a duty to protect the child. Darkness confronts children with a wall of uncertainty conjured from an untamed imagination. The capability to comprehend and understand the condition of darkness is merely an absence of light and is not a lair of monsters and bogymen. In workplaces all over the world workers tremble with fear in the cubicles and workshops fearing the delivery of the dreaded pink slip that condemns the worker to an awful redundancy and a certain downsizing in their standard of living. It may come or it may not. Fear and conjecture will not make it go away.
Fear is abolished when the child becomes safe in the knowledge that their guardian is near and remain fully secure in a comfortable bed. Darkness then becomes a place that doesn’t threaten but is an ideal condition where rest and the restorative power of sleep can be realized. We should engage the darkness that surrounds our nation not hide under the blankets or blindly flail away at it in an exhausting exercise of shadow boxing. It presents numerous opportunities for our nation to engage our demons and gain a better understanding of our country’s enemies and how we can disarm conflict by discovering the common ground of our shared humanity.
Paradoxically as adults we become fearful of the light. We ignore Socrates advise about the undesirability of an unexamined life. We prefer pathways of avoidance to stay secure in our ignorance. Agonizingly fearful about confronting the personal demons that continually haunt us we prefer to sit in darkness content to engage our guilt and shame in an ongoing conversation with ourselves; chaining us to the paralysis of a broken past.
We are only as sick as our secrets. Think about the sick soul of Bernard Madoff. Had he only brought to light many years ago that some of his investments did not perform well. His clients would have understood and forgiven him. He would have been off the hook and not beholden to the damnable demands of a larcenous ego and the financial ruin it brought to the people who trusted him. Or think about the obsessive mania of Dick Cheney to withhold information about events and discussions he held with parties that determined the fate and well being of all Americans. Transparency shines the light of disclosure and assessment on things vitally in need of clarity. Mature adults shine a light on themselves to conduct sober assessments and initiate corrective actions to grow and become more perfect.
The Apostle Paul reminds us not to be anxious in anything. It is an unfortunate circumstance that we don’t embrace this teaching. We have allowed fear to move into our neighborhoods and it has fully expropriated the fine residents of our communities. Fear has commandeered our country and bent it to its ugly will. Fear forces us to react to challenges with anger to engage in an endless vendetta that imprisons and tortures our spirit. It has separated us from one another with suspicion and denigrates our sacred relationship with the natural world.
We have allowed fear to become the omnipresent existential condition of our soul. It has fully eradicated the holy spirit from its rightful place as the unifying force that brings us all together in the human family. Fear is a pernicious millstone that grinds away our earthly home. Fear can be eradicated with courage reason, tolerance and faith. Certainly worthy vehicles to consider for an exodus from the ghetto of fear.
You Tube Video: War, The World Is A Ghetto
You Tube Video: Elvis Presley, In The Ghetto
On Thanksgiving Day in 1973 I trotted off a football field knowing I played my last game. In my mind I kept repeating the words, “when I was child I acted like a child and now its time to put away childish things.” Like many teenagers, athletics had been a very large part of my life and comprised a good portion of my identity of who I was as a person and how I defined myself. I was a good athlete but a not so good student. I intuitively realized that if I were to succeed in college I would have to devote the energy and attention to academics that I had previously given to athletics. So as I walked off that field with my team as league champions I knew it was time to put away childish things if I were to progress to the next stage of life as a young man. It was a turning point where a teenager begins a journey to manhood by stepping away from the loves of his youth.
President Obama’s Inaugural Address cited the same verse from Corinthians. Apostle Paul’s words are often cited at Christian weddings as testimony to the supremacy and power of love. President Obama’s purpose in citing St. Paul was to wed Americans to his clarion call to come to the service of the nation in a dire hour of need. Yet on a deeper level the citation is more of a transformational call that asks us not to reassemble the vestiges of a broken past but to engage in the earnest work to grow into a more mature, sober and steadfast nation.
In the history of civilization the USA is a very young nation. Its been only 234 years since the America declared its independence to end colonial rule. As political cultures go we are but a precocious adolescent. Our adoringly daring and quixotic youthfulness has marveled the nations and people of the world. For the last century America has roamed about the aisles of the globe like a bull in a china shop at times seemingly ambivalent to the collateral damage the path of its will has wrought. The ego of an unrestrained adolescent is a difficult bull to tame. President Obama’s call to leave the childishness and sometimes foolish selfishness of youth is a call most worthy of our attention and may help to preserve this more perfect union for the future generations of citizens.
The stultifying behaviors Americans need to leave behind are numerous. None more so then the selfish sense of entitlement that warps our value system and cripples our sense of a shared humanity. Too many people believe that the pursuit of property is a divine right encoded into our cultural DNA entitling American’s to anything they can grab. Many believe this is codified in some celestial capitalist manifesto bill of rights that assures that we must be first in line, receive the greatest portion, can go through anyone or any thing to realize desires, can rationalize aggressive behavior with a socio-religio creedo “that God helps those who help themselves”, is recused from answering the question “when enough is actually enough”, and will act on the principle of “never ask permission because you can always apologize later”. Like a child tethered into a shopping cart seat grabbing everything off the supermarket shelves as his perplexed parent wanders down overstocked isles we need to recognize these behavior flaws and learn not to be slaves to them.
Many believe this sense of personal entitlement is the well earned dividend of American exceptionalism. But American exceptionalism is more a gift of grace then an entitled dividend. Yes America is an exceptional place because of its democratic ideals, affirmative culture and freedoms protected by our constitution. It is not about being above the rules all others must live by. American exceptionalism is about responsibility. This exceptionalism requires us to be stewards of our natural abundance and guardians of liberty’s light. The Pilgrims understood this well and thought that this would be the celestial yardstick by which the Beneficent One will judge the recipients of these divine gifts.
As a culture we have badly confused the meaning of freedom as a society with freedom to consume and acquire material things. Americans need to take only what one needs and bless their equitable share of apportionment. We need to share in the reward for responsibility that others assume while affording patience to let others equally deserving have their earned turn and make a genuine effort to give something back for the general good.
A definition of adulthood is one who accepts responsibility for choices. If American’s want to fight wars in Iraq we must be prepared to suffer the loss of opportunities the cost of war surely brings with it. If American’s don’t want to pay taxes they better be prepared to suffer the closing of the local firehouse, poor roads, dangerous bridges, decrepit schools, lax regulatory protections, no social security and masses of people falling through safety nets creating social discord and displacement. Mature adults prioritize what issues are most important and live with their choices. Americans need to make sober assessments of what is needed and discern wisely how it will act.
The healthy soul of a mature nation treasures the meaning of democracy and the responsibility its protection places on its citizens. That means serving on jury duty and voting in elections. That means getting involved in the schools and communities. That means preserving and strengthening public schools because the defeat of ignorance is liberty’s surest sentinel. That means transparency in government and an undying commitment to civil discourse and the protection of liberty for all citizens.
Adults believe it is better to desire mercy then demand sacrifice. Americans must understand that the projection of its power as a nation is not measured in military capabilities but how effectively it can mitigate conflict with diplomacy, arbitration and the relentless pursuit of justice. Our nations expenditures and exertions in pursuit of war denigrates the respect for life, erodes our world leadership, bankrupts our treasury and defies the spirit of the people.
The time is now America. We must put away the childish things that prohibit our national growth. The clothes of our former selves no longer fit. We must don a new golden fleece that we alone can weave. As we take up the call of our new president to set aside childish things we will begin to perceive as we peer through the glass darkly a new vision of what we are capable of becoming. It is then that we will rightfully reclaim our birthright affirming that our nation is that shining light of liberty and freedom that cannot be extinguished.
That will be something to behold.
You Tube Video: Song of the Sirens, Go To Sleep Little Baby
Risk: refusing to grow up
I live in the burbs of Northern New Jersey. My home is nestled in the bucolic hills of the Ramapough’s. Its very woodsy and the animal population is diverse and pretty prolific considering the fact that the George Washington bridge is only 20 miles to the east.
One of the unfortunate consequences of having a large and thriving animal population is the ugly carnage of road kill that litters community streets and highways. The decaying carcasses of deers, squirrels, woodchucks, chipmunks, Canadian geese, cats, dogs, skunks, opossums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, snakes, rabbits, turtles, assorted birds and an occasional bear are common sights one expects to encounter each time you take the car out for a spin. Needless to say, driving in my neighborhood is difficult and dangerous. Particularly for the scurrying critters that mindlessly dart into the road and are crushed under the tires of unmindful drivers.
I raise this observation this morning in reverence for the ministry of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis has long been associated with a love and respect for animals and a deep reverence for our environment. In today’s homily, my Episcopal priest offered that St. Francis was asking us to find more balance and more harmony in our relationship with the natural world. The rising death toll of poor creatures that litter our roads are symptoms of a radical imbalance due to habitat destruction and a broken food chain that is horrifically corrected under the unforgiving wheels of rampaging Hummers. As sentient mindful beings who are called by God to be stewards of our planet home; we can find better corrective measures to address this radical imbalance that tilts our earth away from realizing this divine call.
This election has highlighted our need to pay more attention to a changing global climate and the need to become better stewards of our environment and to equitably share the rich bounty mother earth offers all its citizens.
St. Francis reminds us to seek more balance in our lives and in our relations with others and nature. Its a worthy reminder to consider when we vote, when we drive and as we walk along the pathways of our daily life.
May the Lord’s Peace be upon you and all God’s creation this day and always.
Prayer of St. Francis, “Lord make us instruments of your peace.”
Canticle of St. Francis Canticle of Brother Sun, Sister Moon.
Film Clip: Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon song by Donovan.
Music: The Muppet Show, Rodger Moore Talk to the Animals
Risk: balance, proportion, stewardship, unity