4th of July

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On this 4th of July, I am thinking of my parents and their generation of Americans. My mother and father were born in the 1920s in the American South and grew up poor, during the Great Depression. My father served overseas in World War II, came home and married my mother, moved to the suburbs and raised a family, and worked the same blue-collar job all his days. My mother partnered with my father to bring us up (my siblings and me) in a stable home. Love, Kindness, civility, discipline, and morals were the natural ambient environment. No one ever thought to question this foundation, only how to implement the details, occasionally. The foundation remained secure and so did we.

My parents and their generation had a very different experience and worldview from ours today. Their values were simple and solid, built on decency, goodness, civility, fairness, compassion, and the common good. They had a “can do” attitude, no matter how tough times got. You might lose everything but you never lost your values, and you never lost yourself. I am fortunate to have grown up in a family where these values were the common currency of all our days.

By the time my generation came along (the 1960s), things had begun to change. Fast forward to today. I sit here in my home in the country, in a small Midwestern town that I sought out consciously, to forge a life based on the values I had from my beginning; for my child’s sake, for my own sake, and for the good of us all. I am not an anachronism but I am certainly not mainstream anymore. It is not I who have navigated to the periphery; the center has disintegrated during my lifetime. What would my father think of what our society has become? My elderly mother has trouble making sense of any of it. So do I. I am concerned for my child’s future.

For me, because of a fortunate personal history, there is hope. The murky waters and turbulent seas of our current relativistic and fractured society would easily drag me under if not for the solid ground my parents gave me. I feel sorry for some of the younger (and not so younger) people out there now who seem to have missed out on a solid foundation for their lives. A misinterpretation of individual liberty has done them no favors. Many of them (not all) are indeed adrift and unhappy. The results speak volumes. Their lives are in chaos and it spills over into society.

What can I do? What is my part? It is my personal responsibility to live out the values my parents gave me, while constantly refining them and securing them, passing them along to my son, not so much in words as in the way I live and who I am. It is the best and the most I can do. I reach out to young people wherever I go, just as I saw my father and mother do all of their lives. Now, as I slide into old age and prepare to hand the reigns over to younger people, I am constantly wondering: What can our common future, our common good, be if we have no meaningful and coherent worldview or solid moral foundation? It would be the end of human freedom.

I am so grateful for my parents and their generation.

Fatherhood

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(Father’s Day)

From a personal perspective, being male and married and having a son, I can tell you fatherhood is a very special fulfillment of being a man. It is definitely a calling. These days, it is common to call into question so-called traditional roles of gender. That’s fine. Questions are good, as long as they really are questions and not condemnations. “Gender fluidity”, as people call it, probably has some goodness at its heart and I do not wish to be critical of anyone enamored of such interpretations of their human freedom, but there is a goodness in specifically following the calling that comes from being male and a husband and a father. There is nothing inherently wrong or oppressive about being a man and being a father.

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Eventually, if you want to have a meaningful life, you have to land somewhere and stake a claim and stand in one sacred place and call it home. You have to accept its limitations and its challenges. God can work there. God’s grace and love will find you there and fashion you into a blessing for others, even calling into life (through you!) new souls that never existed before. To participate in life this way is to touch upon something more profound than even the best intentions and creative self-inventions and re-interpretations of human freedom can ever achieve. It is something beyond our limited hearts and minds. We cannot and we do not completely invent ourselves.

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On this Fathers Day, I can’t imagine any greater blessing or freedom as a specifically male human person than being called to share in God’s power to bring forth life and to nurture life and to love that life more than myself.

Listening

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After the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.

(see 1 Kings 19-9a, 11-16)

God’s voice is not the tumult in me and around me; not the accouterments of culture, or the flash and dazzle of popular trends; not the political dramas unfolding and manufactured; not the myriad manifestations of self-generated experiences. Those are waves. God is the ocean. God is the stillness. The calm at the center of every storm.

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Silence. Open space. Solitude. Freedom from images and distortions. The gentle whisper. If I want to hear this, I must become still and silent. (“Be still…and know that I am God.”) Yes. Right here. Now. Within me and around me. Creation’s secret force. Unmoved. All motion’s source. I am listening for the sound of a gentle whisper.

 

No Nonsense

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 5 a.m.  Morning prayers. Before the day begins.

The Sabbath day. Our day of rest. One day in seven, to remember what matters and what does not.

There is a full moon in the western sky and a few stars are still visible. The first light of sunrise is on the eastern horizon. A few birds bravely chirp, tentative, anticipating what is soon to come. The day is just about to come forth.

It is the Sabbath, our day to rest and reflect, to be grateful and aware. For Jews, it is a little Passover, a commemoration of liberation from social and political oppression and persecution. For Christians, it is the Lord’s Day, a little Easter, a commemoration of liberation from the oppression of sin. For our family, it is these and more. For us, it is also a commemoration of our liberation from nonsense.

My wife and I have recently discovered we now share one more important perspective on life: we have both experienced a closeness to death, then a return to life. For her, the oppressing agent was cancer. For me, addiction. For both of us, liberation includes the sacred space called recovery. The oppressor may still exist but it has no power to control us anymore. Liberation brings a new perspective. We have both discovered that our experiences helped liberate us from the tyranny of nonsense. We have no time or patience for nonsense, and almost everything people habitually concern themselves with is nonsense. The world seems to run on nonsense.

What is not nonsense? Love: entering a personal communion with God and with the precious few who are willing and capable of participating in it with you; those not in love with nonsense and the worship of it. Also, a communion of solitude, prayer, silence, with the perfection and beauty of nature; the communion with things not made with hands; signs of the heart and the mind of the One who gives life to what was dead and existence to what did not exist. This. This is not nonsense.

Now the sun rises and the day truly begins. The birds sing a more joyous rhapsody.

So, a Sabbath prayer for our family and yours: Lord, give us the ears to hear the song of your presence with us and in us on this day. Let us enter communion with you, with one another, and with what you have made. Help us to find our souls again, away from the nonsense we sometimes substitute for the one thing necessary. On this day, let us enter your rest and become what we are, and nothing else. No nonsense.

For this day of rest, I am grateful. Nonsense has no home here.

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See for Yourself

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(John 20:19-31)

The other disciples said to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see…I will not believe.”

Some church people claim to believe in God and/or the risen Christ, but do they know? There is a difference between believing and knowing. One believes in Santa Claus or in the government, or in certain ideas and postulates, but one must know a person.

Thomas was right to not simply accept what others told him, even if they were correct. Hearsay is not faith. It may be belief but it is not knowing. The life of faith is much more than believing what you are told by people of faith or even by the Bible. You must have your own personal experience of what is being claimed, even if you do believe what you are told. You must check it out.

It is not enough to settle for belief without also knowing. It is fine to “fake it ’til you make it” if you are all the while seeking to see and know for yourself. Otherwise, accepting the seemingly outrageous claims of religion without a direct personal experience is not belief or faith, it is folly. It is false. The claims of religion are too important to accept as lightly as a weather report or a sundry news item. ( There was a house fire on Maple Street this morning, Christ rose from the dead, and it’s going to rain tomorrow; further details at five.) You must see for yourself and know. Then, you can truly believe.

Questions are healthy. Doubt is a good thing if it is not a closed door and is open to further questions. When we doubt we engage with what has been proclaimed. There is a question rather than a closed door. There is hope. There is a possibility. This is the healthy seed of faith and not sheepish consent to the (perhaps empty) claims of others who may have no experience themselves.

Every person must see and know for herself/himself. Without a direct personal experience of God’s presence in your own life, in your own circumstances, the claims of belief are indeed nonsense. If your faith is built only on what you’ve been told and not on any personal experience, it is not faith. So, ask…seek…knock…and see for yourself with the eyes of direct personal experience and of knowing; the eyes of faith.

“A God who is risen but remains distant does not fill our lives; an aloof God does not attract us, however just and holy he may be. No, we too need to “see God”, to touch him with our hands and to know that he is risen for us.” 

– Pope Francis

 

 

Emmaus Bread

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He was made known to them in the breaking of bread.

(see Luke 24:13-35)

The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Christ in his perfect exegesis of Scripture, although it caused their hearts to burn within them. They recognized him only in table fellowship and the breaking of bread. A personal bond of love formed in the midst of something ordinary opened their eyes.

There is a real difference between knowing about a person and knowing a person. Religion is great but love is greater. Neither the stale bread of cynical intellectual relativism nor the bitter wine of prideful intellectual religiosity will sustain anyone for the duration on this road of life. Only a direct personal encounter and relationship with the one thing necessary will suffice for a human being.

God is love. Love alone matters. Love alone is everything. Love is the Bread of Life. Anyone can recognize this.

The Paradoxical God

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Holy Thursday. The feast of the paradoxical God. Love, kindness, non-violence, and self-sacrifice over anger, hatred, rudeness, violence, and selfishness. The power of love over the power of power. Not the God of human expectations and false desires. Ultimately, God was and is powerless to stop human violence once it has been chosen, but there is a power greater than power. The paradoxical power of the God who is love is a kind of powerlessness.

The power of love is not the power of sentiment and nice thoughts; it is the non-violent power of the One who speaks love and creates a universe; it is the power of the One who breathes the spirit of life into every living thing; it is the power that calls into being what did not exist and gives light and life where there was only darkness and death.

You can deny this power, this non-violent power of love, you can crush it and kill it, but it is the source and substance of your very self and of all things. If you kill this love you kill your authentic self. The paradoxical God does not come with guns and bombs and money to manipulate the world into a human paradise.

Tonight, Holy Thursday, we make the pilgrimage from the power of death to the power of life.