Ready, Willing & Able

My husband began volunteering at our local food shelf a few months ago. He always has a story or two to share after he has been there. There is never a tone of judgment in his reporting -something cute a small child said or a story of an elderly person who needed extra help in selecting food. I am glad we have this wonderful service in our town. I know that while people go through tough times they often need help to tide them over until the next meager paycheck. This is the least we can do. Feed the hungry, Jesus said.

But I don’t think the least is what we should be doing. I read an article this morning about an organization in New York called Ready, Willing & Able (Parabola, Winter 2014-15) It was started by George McDonald who began passing out sandwiches to the homeless in Grand Central Terminal. He noted how the people were treated like trash. The citizens wanted them out of sight. On Christmas morning 1984 a woman known as “Mama” was found frozen to death outside the Terminal after being evicted by police. Trash removed. I doubt that the story made the headlines, but it shocked McDonald. She was found clutching the scarf he’d given her the night before.

The organization grew to meet real needs over the years as McDonald discovered who the homeless really were – veterans, those new out of prison who could not find jobs, addicts who had no place to go after treatment accept to the streets. The central need was to provide work. Those who participate in the program help clean the streets of New York gaining a sense of accomplishment and pride for a job well done. Ready, Willing and Able gives the participants food and a room as well as providing transitional programs, education, job training, and rehab programs. The assistance to a participant can extend six months into a new job. During those months they are given $200 for every month that they are documented to do their job faithfully and well.

Programs such as this are peppered throughout the country but very few of those who need them are reached. They operate because someone saw the suffering of human beings and responded because they, too, were human. They are rare programs because they extend their services as far as possible to help those in need. They aren’t just a hand-out and a goodbye. They recognize that people’s needs are complex and difficult.

I live in a country where the poor and homeless are looked upon as freeloaders, takers, folks who deserve what is happening to them because of the bad choices they have made or because they are lazy. Programs to help them are barely financed. The government doesn’t consider it the responsibility of the general public to care for these people. I myself disagree. I believe we should be doing the best we can to help our homeless veterans, the poor, the disabled. I celebrate when my tax dollars go toward programs that are thorough, that help people get on their feet, that move them into the work force. Giving a hand-up, they call it. I would call it walking along with a person until they can stand on their own.

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Living with Paradox

Reading Richard Rohr’s meditation this morning, he writes about Paul’s conversion. He said that Paul’s way of thinking was changed as he, a persecutor and possibly a murderer, was now a chosen vessel. “This overcomes the artificial line between perfectly good and totally bad, between evil and virtue,” says Rohr. “He now knows that he is both sinner and saint, as we too must trust.”

Reading Paul’s story in the bible would lead one to believe that once he was zapped by the light, his change was instant. I don’t believe this and a careful reading of his letters will show a Paul that was egotistical and continued his tendency to judge. In other words, his character flaws hung on. I suspect his  transformation was gradual once he experienced his awakening and there was probably work to be done right up to the end of his life. Rohr suggests a lingering conflict in Paul, as well. “(He) often presents  two seemingly opposing ideas, such as weakness and strength, flesh and spirit, law and grace, faith and works, Jew and Greek, male and female.” He goes on to talk about us: “Our normal, dualistic thinking usually wraps itself fully around one side and fully dismisses the other – thinking this truth is truth – when it is much more just a need for control or righteousness. Like Jesus, Paul invites you to wrestle with the paradox.”

For me the paradox is that I  myself am both saint and sinner. I mean now, today. I sometimes have loving thoughts and sometimes mean thoughts. I sometimes am self-centered, at other times other-centered. I sometimes feel self-righteous and other times am humble. I know I have a long way to go but I think I am getting better, at least I hope so.

I have been watching the political jargon and am getting depressed by it. I think it is because I see what Rohr is seeing – dualistic thinking, that “wraps itself around one side and dismisses the other – thinking that truth is truth – when it is much just a need for control or righteousness.” Find this judgment hard to swallow? Then look at the fruits of the jargon. Does it bring people closer to or further away from the love that Jesus calls us to? Does it open our eyes to  seeing that that all are children of the same God or does it lead us to blindness? Are our feelings moving toward fear and hate and depression or toward  joy and love and serenity?

I myself try to refrain from the jargon of division and hate, but I continue to be effected by it for it is very loud right now. Very loud.

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True Conversion

I am reading The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, a classic that I come across all the time in my reading of books on spirituality. It is a book one would find on a required book list for a college course. In other words, it is tedious to read. But it is well worth the tedium.

I am learning a lot and there is much for me to comment on. James gives a whole chapter (or lecture) on conversion. He gives many examples of what this looks like in people’s experience. But in the end, he is not impressed by showiness and drama. He finds it more worthy to talk about the fruits or after effects of conversion.

He names three characteristics of those who have had a true conversion experience:

  1. “A loss of worry, the sense that all is ultimately well with one, the peace, the harmony, the willingness to be, even thought the outer conditions should remain the same.”
  2. “…the sense of perceiving truths not known before. The mysteries of life become lucid…and often…the solution is more or less unutterable in words.”
  3. “…the objective change which the world often appears to undergo. ‘An appearance of newness beatifies every object…This sense of clean and beautiful newness within and without is one of the commonest entries in conversion records.”

What is particularly interesting is that James says that these experiences don’t necessarily have a religious language to them. There are those whose lives have been turned around independently of any religion. They might use terms like higher power or universe as an object of their trust, if there is an object at all.

I know a lot of people who have had this kind of experience and their way of explaining what happened to them varies depending on their religious or non-religious views. I don’t question a person’s sincerity when I see the above characteristics in their lives. I notice that these people will often go through dark times but this initial state seems to form a new foundation and to carry them through those times in a way that they formerly floundered. The terms I hear about this state is “serenity” or “inner peace”, a gift that all would want to have.

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Back to Blogging

I want to return to blogging. I finished the writing project I have been working on for about five years. I wrote the final chapter of my book two days ago. Yesterday I was in limbo. I hate limbo. It is a nothing place and everything I did felt like wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. I did these wrong things anyway because I didn’t know what else to do. Today, I hope will be better.

I need to write. I had set my blog aside a while back because I wanted to get the damned book done. Now I need to return or I think I will go crazy.

This is a fertile time to write. A political hot-time-in-the-old-town-tonight kind of time. A look at the blogs I wrote during the last few elections will show you that I have plenty of opinions about politics so you’d think I would be thrilled to get back into the ring.

But I’m not. I posted on Facebook yesterday that I am taking a break from politics. I think it is a temporary break but I am not sure. If I can find a way to bypass politics all together, not just in my writing but in my life, I might take that path. As a citizen, I should keep informed about what is happening in my country, right? The problem is I am not sure what informed means. I am getting increasingly angry and depressed over hateful comments coming from the Left and the Right. I yearn for sanity. You might say I want an objective voice. But even more than that,I yearn for someone who can talk about what is happening in the world in a way that is not fearful or frantic or judgmental.

Maybe that person is me. Maybe. But for now, I am not sure I know how to do that. What does writing about fearful things without fearfulness look like? It looks rather saintly to me. Or extremely naive.

My book is about the Kingdom of God. (I won’t tell you more. You will have to wait for the book to come out). But I can tell you this much. I believe that the Kingdom of God is here and now. All this shit going on- the angry stuff all over Facebook and the news and in Washington and on the streets – is about the earthly kingdom. I think what I need to do is to learn how to live in the Heavenly Kingdom as though what Jesus said about it is true.

I will start working on that today. As soon as I am done posting this blog.

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The Teaching of the Cross

The great teaching of the cross is that if Christ lives in us, we are compelled to keep walking in Love even if it should lead to death. Love is always the standard for the Christian.

The implications? Go to all lengths to help the suffering even if it puts my own well-being is at risk.  Make room for the immigrant even if the job I seek is taken. Assist the criminal even if the next crime he commits is turned against me. Help the poor even if my gift is foolishly squandered. Feed the hungry even if, in the end, there is not enough for me. Welcome the refugees even if  my assassin is among them. It all seems so illogical – and it is in this earthly world. The logic of the earthly world says that my survival is paramount for the whole point of my being here is to protect my precious life. But this clearly not what Jesus modeled. He modeled total surrender to  Love at all cost.

Some say that Jesus will come again. I say that Jesus is always on the edge of coming. He stands at the door waiting for one of us, any of us, all of us, to open the door and let Love enter. This kind of Love is not received and held like water in a cup. Rather it is a Love that will gush right through us, and will stop at nothing, not even death.

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Third Way

I have to write a blog today. I am frustrated by my schedule of the last few months. Too packed with commitments and, most important, finishing a writing project. So blogging has gone by the wayside. But I have so much to say. I thought I could satisfy my need to make comment about life in this place we call the world by commenting on Facebook or forwarding cool spiritual snippets that reflect my own spiritual views. But, as it turns out, this is not satisfactory. Somehow, I am going to have to find time to blog.

This morning, I read something in Richard Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance, that prompted me to write. Like every American, I have been distressed by the divisiveness that permeates our country right now. We were divided before but never has this chasm been so blatantly in our national face. It hurts. The differences are breaking families and friendships apart. It makes me think of the Civil War when men were forced to take up arms against their own siblings or Nazi Germany when neighbors were called to betray neighbors. Unless we put a check on our own selves, such an extreme outcome is a real concern.

Rohr’s book is about the Holy Trinity. I struggled to get his drift about why believing in this ancient doctrine is so important. This morning I read why Rohr thinks that believing in the Trinity changes how we look at life in general. (Any theology fails to get down to the living level for me, I tend to discard it, or at least put it on a shelf for future consideration.) Here he uses the example of political differences. The way we view the world is that there are two sides to everything. In politics it is the right and left or conservative and liberal. This is not a Trinitarian view, he says. One might think of a stool with only two legs, bound to fall over and crash. Trinitarian thinking believes in a third way. We may not know the third way, but we can believe that it is there. We of faith believe it because we believe in a God of love. So, even in the midst of discord, we can trust that given time and willingness to not let our differences separate us for good, we go forward waiting for God to intervene.

Rohr writes: Trinitarian thinking, thinking in terms of three-ness instead of two-ness, “means that we can hold our first-force or second-force perpectives (our deeply held opinions) with earnestness, while fully awaiting a third force to arrive and surprise us all out of our neat little boxes.” He gives some examples but I think a clear one is when a natural disaster such as a flood or fire brings neighbors together in service to one another, neighbors who the day before may have felt actual hatred due to their differences.

One of the things I am noticing among those around me who are resisting what we believe a dangerous turn in the way our country is going, is that there a voices that speak of building bridges. You know the chant, “Build bridges, not walls”. There are those who take this very seriously and are seeking ways to come together with people of opposing political opinions to come to a deeper understanding of why they believe what they do. Listen, learn, allow yourself to be changed. See the commonalities, the deeper yearnings that we share. When I see this, I think I am witnessing Rohr’s third way emerging.

It reminds me of that moment during World War I or II (can’t remember), when German and American troops in opposite bunkers came together on Christmas Eve to share their faith through the singing of Christmas Carols. These men got a glimpse of the third way that night. “Silent Night, Holy Night”.

There is a third way besides the divisiveness we are witnessing in our country today. Those of us who believe in it need to find ways to live it and in living it, bring it to fruition. The Lord’s Prayer that Jesus gave us says, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of love doesn’t happen by some intervention from the cosmos. It comes when those of us who are of the earth live it by our word and actions.


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Pay Attention Guru

I don’t mean to complain but I don’t know what else to do but complain. When I go to my blog, I first have to reenter  my password even though I keep telling it to remember me. I recently changed the password. (Maybe it has some kind of memory loss issue.) When I give the correct password, it goes to my blog, but my last blog entry is not there and I find I have to reenter my password all over again. This blog of January 2,2017 is an experiment. I want to see if when I go to my blog now will I be missing the last two posts or just this one. If I can’t figure it out the Guru will get a call.

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