Monday, July 24, 2017

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: A Review

Ed Cyzewski's latest book is subtitled An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God Through Contemplative Prayer. But even if you don't have an Evangelical background, his book is relevant, revealing and refreshing.

Early on, Cyzewski describes two places in the Bible where God (the Father) speaks directly to Jesus. At the time Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (at the start of his ministry) and when Jesus was transfigured, standing with Elijah and Moses. 

Both times God emphasized his love and affirmation, saying "This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

Cyzewski says we need to receive this same message to grow spiritually; to know that God loves us, unconditionally.

Cyzewski breaks down the Father's message to his son:

You are my child.
Whom I love.
With you I am well pleased.

Cyzewski says it's important to receive this because we can't give away to others what we don't have.

And through contemplative prayer we learn to be in the present moment with God.

It seems like these truths would lead Christians to a profound unity and love of each other and others, but Cyzewski says instead "it's far safer to treat people who disagree with you as threats, dangers and heretical outsiders."

This leads to "a perfect storm for anxious religious people who are always trying to outdo each other in their commitment and purity...We are so eager to be on fire for God, to make extreme sacrifices for God and to prove without using the word 'prove' that we are holy and worthy of Jesus' ultimate sacrifice on the cross."

Cyzewski suggests that much of the answer to relieving this spiritual anxiety lies in Contemplative Prayer.

When prayer isn't working, Evangelicals seem to think it's because there must be something wrong with them. They're focused on results and progress. But Contemplative Prayer teaches that God's love is always there and very little is dependent upon us. 

Cyzewski quotes Francois Fenelon: "How can you grow in maturity if you are always seeking the consolation of feeling the presence of God?" 

Contemplative Prayer begins by acknowledging God is present. It pulls us away from striving, fear and defending boundaries, says Cyzweski. It focuses on God's presence.

So what is Contemplative Prayer?

Cyzewski sites a Catholic tradition of Contemplative Prayer stemming from the Desert Fathers & Mothers, monks who fled to the desert to seek God. Most recently Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton and Brennan Manning were/are modern-day advocates.

At it's core, Centering Prayer consists of entering into God's presence by sitting down for 20 minutes or so, in a comfortable, upright position, closing your eyes and silently repeating a word that reminds you of a character of God (i.e. love, grace, mercy, forgiveness). When distractions come, and they will, you gently come back to repeating the word you have chosen.

It's simplicity is a bit deceiving. Cyzewski notes his own journey to remain silent wasn't easy. To sit still and enter into the presence of God, letting Centering Prayer do its work.

Other than a willingness to set aside the time, there really isn't a lot else you can do to make it work. Except be patient and practice.

However, Cyzewski suggests that there are a couple of things you can do to supplement Contemplative Prayer.

One is to read short passages of scripture, out loud, four times, using the Lectio Divina method, which consists of asking:
- What does the text say?
- What is God saying to me in this passage?
- What do I want to say to God about the text?
- What difference will the text make in my life?

Cyzewski says that the goal of the Lectio Divina method of reading scripture "is to rest in God's presence and let the (Holy) Spirit and scripture do its work."

"We read the Bible in order to be present to God," Cyzewski writes. "Prayer is the practice of becoming present for that love"

Another practice that Cyzewski suggests comes from Ignatius of Loyola's Examen who gave us a series of steps for reflection. They are:

- Become aware of God's presence
- Review the day with gratitude
- Pay attention to your emotions
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it
- Look toward tomorrow

The whole idea of the Examen, writes Cyzewski, is to "sift away our thoughts and emotions so that we can see the present moment with clarity It can also shut down ongoing loops of negative thinking, internal commentaries or mounting stress and anxiety."

On the importance of using the Examen, Cyzewski quotes Richard Rohr: "In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of the pain before we have learned what it has to teach us."

Cyzewksi quickly notes that the Examen also allows us to take a look at what has gone well, spiritually, in our lives. He suggests using the Examen first, along with reading from the Daily Office - a series of daily prayers - before moving on to Contemplative Prayer.

He also recommends getting rid of "digital distractions" (like smartphones and ipads) which he sees as "a far greater threat to Christian spirituality that any mindfulness practice that may allegedly resemble an eastern religious practice."
Ed Cyzewski


Cyzewksi describes the difference between solitude and action, and the place for solitude in building up our faith. He says "I can only surrender to the deep mysteries of God in the silence." It is in silence that we create the space for our truest self to emerge.

Cyzewski quotes Brennan Manning who wrote, "If I am estranged from myself, I am likewise a stranger to others."

When we become silent, writes Cyzewski, we remove ourselves from the noise around us and keep ourselves from contributing to it. "Silence can be a tool of transformation, freeing us from entanglements of slander, offense, arguments, deception and angry words."

Centering Prayer, writes Cyzewski "is not an out of body experience or spiritual epiphany," but it's intention is "surrender and connection with God."

Flee, Be Silent, Pray also includes a great discussion on what has been called The Dark Night of the Soul, which are defined as seasons of doubt and uncertainty. Evangelicals tend to avoid any discussion of spiritual dark seasons, other than to try to fix them. But from a Contemplative Prayer point of view, these seasons are a natural part of our faith journey. In fact, such seasons can help us face our false self, which Cyzewski calls "an image of ourselves based on our relationships, accomplishments and actions." 

"We need intimacy with God," writes Cyzewski. "We need prayer. We need contemplation. We need to be united with Christ." And that's the whole point of Centering Prayer, the Examen and the Daily Office.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ethics & The White House

Walter Shaub, Jr. the current head of the Office of Government Ethics is resigning this week. He's the government's top ethics watchdog and gave an extensive interview to the New York Times over the weekend. 

One of Shaub's top concerns was that the current president and his administration "is flouting or directly challenged long-standing norms that threaten to undermine the United States' ethical standards."

As a case in point, the Times noted over the weekend the US Women's Open was held at one of the 45th's golf courses. The Women's Open paid to have their tournament held there. The 45th has visited his family's business properties on at least 54 days within the first (almost) six months of his presidency.

(It's also been reported that a sister of Jared Kushner has been offering special EB-5 visas to Chinese business folk as an incentive for them to invest at least $500,000 in family properties). 


Such activities, say Mr. Shaub "create the appearance of profiting from the presidency." And misuse of position is what the Office of Government Ethics investigates.

Meanwhile, a growing list of high-priced lawyers have been hired by the 45th and members of his administration to defend against on-going investigation of possible ethics violations. 

Shaub has offered a few recommendations to help cut down on such potential conflicts of interest. Among them are:
. Give the Office of Government Ethics limited power to subpoena records (like tax returns)
. Mandate that presidential candidates release their tax returns
. Revise financial disclosure rules

As Shaub prepares to leave his job, Chair of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, and the top-ranking Democrat on the same committee, Elijah Cummings, are set to meet with him.

In a released statement, Cummings said that "The Office of Government Ethics has had an impossible job under this administration because President Trump has ignored its advice, undermined its authority and openly flouted ethics rules."

The Times article noted that every other president in recent decades has voluntarily sold their assets before taking office to avoid conflicts of interest. Instead, the 45th has "put his hotels, golf courses and other buildings and marketing agreements into a trust controlled by his adult sons and other Trump Organization executives."

It's significant that Shaub is resigning from a position that is typically held for five years.  He was appointed by President Obama in 2013.

The Times story included a quote from Hui Chen, who served as an ethics expert in the Justice Department's Fraud Section. She said, "Anytime when we see a company with a chief compliance officer making what we call a 'loud withdraw,' it is considered a red flag for a company."

Mr. Shaub said, "Historically presidential candidates and office holders have voluntarily released their tax returns and divested their holdings. Mr. Trump has not."

To avoid appearance of partisanship, Shaub is considering recommending that new rules for the Office of Government Ethics, if enacted, not take effect until 2021, after the current president's term.

Shaub explained, "My goal from the start has been to advance the ethics program, not a political goal."

NPR had earlier reported on Shaub's seeking help from the House Oversight & Government Ethics Committee in handling investigations in response to the current president filling White House and federal agency positions with former lobbyists and consultants with potential conflicts of interest. These individuals were appointed to leadership positions without having to fulfill ethics requirements.

As a final thought, faith-minded individuals can recall that there are numerous references in the Bible to "false scales" or weights (for example: Leviticus 19:36, Deuteronomy 25:13 and most of the 11th chapter of Proverbs).  In a nutshell, God doesn't appear to like them and offers lots of warnings against unscrupulous dealings. We're cautioned to stay away from unjust, unethical individuals. It doesn't turn out well for them or their associates.
-----

If you're curious as to Mr. Shaub's recommendations, take a look.



Photo Credit: NPR (top)
NSW Dept. of Justice (bottom)


Monday, July 10, 2017

Rainy Day Thoughts

This morning I woke to a thunderstorm.

It started off in the distance and, as the thunder got closer, the rain came.

Liquid sheets of it.

The kind of rain that goes deep into the earth. Waking up dried out roots. Soaking everything in its path.

In Michigan, June was a dry month and July, until today, hadn't been much better.

So the wetness was very, very welcome and refreshing.

I lifted one of my cats, Abbott, up to an open window and he immediately began to smell it. The scent of the raindrops. Distinct and subtle and even sweet.

Rain can oftentimes be viewed as an inconvenience. But to farmers, like my brother David, who manages an apple orchard, it's lifeblood. No rain, no crops. It doesn't get much simpler.

Then I got to thinking about virtues. Like generosity, forgiveness, patience, love.

They are lifeblood too.

Generosity is defined as the quality of being kind and understanding. It's thinking of others. Putting others first. Reaching out to help. Being inclined to put the needs of our neighbors and those in need above ours. Among the benefits of being generous are that it keeps stress in check, it's beneficial to the greater good, promotes mental health and leads to a longer life.

Forgive is the root of forgiveness, which is "to stop feeling anger towards someone who has wronged us, to stop blaming them." Forgiveness isn't dependent upon if the other person asks for it. In fact, forgiveness is a decision, not an emotion.

Normally what happens when we perceive that a wrong has been committed against us, we have two choices. We can choose to remain angry. Among unresolved anger's consequences are a weakened immune system, increased anxiety, depression and a shorter life span.

Not surprisingly, the consequences of not forgiving are the exact opposite of being generous.

Patience is "the ability to wait, or continue doing something despite difficulties." It's also "the ability to suffer without complaining or being annoyed." So patience doesn't always express itself by remaining still or being inactive. In fact, some of the most striking examples of patience involve a steadfast pressing on despite circumstances.

Of course, to know when to wait, or when to keep going requires wisdom. I will freely admit that I'm not, by nature, a patient person! So I find myself daily needing wisdom. (Thankfully, the Bible speaks about God freely giving wisdom to those who ask for it. James 1.5) The Message translation puts it this way: "If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it."

And how about love? Well, one definition is "a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person, attraction that includes sexual desire."

Although love can certainly include strong feelings and physical attraction I would submit that love is a lot more than that.

How about this classic definition from the apostle Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians?

"Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable and keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance." (1 Corn. 13: 4-7).

Paul goes on to say that "love never fails."

So, according to this definition, love isn't an emotion (although it can cause you to feel things at times), it's primarily a decision.

Here's something I'm beginning to understand. If I focus solely on current events I can easily become very cynical and my emotional state can turn into parched earth. (I am, by no means, advocating for ignoring what's going on in DC or elsewhere in the world. But I do feel the need to keep focused on the reality of the underlying good that exists in God and us - if you choose to believe in God - and virtue. Some faith traditions call it focusing on what is "good and true.")

We can choose to look for opportunities to be generous, forgiving, patient and loving. And by doing so, help make the world a better place and actually promote our own health and well-being at the same time.

Of course, always seeking wisdom to know how and when to put these virtues into practice.

And when it comes down to it, wouldn't you rather be leaving the world a better place each day because you are in it?

Photo Credits:
Top - elenakalisphoto.com
Middle - imagarcade.com
Bottom - Public Domain Pictures

Note: All definitions that are quoted, with exception of the definition of love from the NIV Bible, are from Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary.


Monday, July 3, 2017

D.L.Mayfield - Assimilate or Go Home

D. L. Mayfield lives and writes in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two small children. Mayfield likes to write about refugees, theology, and downward mobility, among other topics. Her book of essays, Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith was recently released by HarperOne. 

You mention, of your early days as a teenager, “we didn’t yet understand what it means to stick around long enough to experience the fullness of how messy life is on the margins.” Why was this such an important impression/lesson for you?

I think when you are young you have simplistic solutions to everything. I also really believed that right beliefs would always lead to right actions, and that if you are truly following God then everything would be taken care of. As I got older, I saw how damaging that theology can be (“if things go wrong then I must have done something bad and God is mad at me.”) Now I really cling to the idea that Jesus is present with us in our suffering, not that he promises to instantly deliver us from our life circumstances.

You write about a nun, principal of a Catholic school on Chicago’s south-side in the 1970s. When “white flight” left neighborhoods mostly African-American, reflected in this school’s population. One day she goes into each classroom and changes each crucifix that has a white Jesus dying on the cross with a black one. A student asks her why she’s doing this and she replies, “Well, we don’t know exactly what Jesus looked like, but I am sure he looked more like you than he looked like me.” Why did this nun’s actions stick out in your mind?

This story came from an episode of This American Life I heard and to me it was such a good picture of how we have completely made Jesus (and Christianity) into something that venerates and perpetuates the myth that whiteness is the norm. But it’s not the norm, and Jesus certainly wasn’t white (or culturally like the west, for that matter)! And as someone trying to live like Jesus it became important for me to think about dismantling all the white Jesus’ I had put up, without ever realizing it.

You write, “A refugee, for all intents and purposes, is someone who has no past to go back to.” Why would understanding this truth help us understand and empathize more with refugees and immigrants?

I primarily wanted to distinguish between immigrants and refugees here, because I think many of us believe refugees want to be here, they want to work our jobs, take our resources, etc. But it’s the opposite. They want to live in their own countries, they want to raise their kids how they themselves were raised, they want to be at peace in their own culture. They have been forcibly removed through war and trauma and violence, and they have no choice in where they are resettled. They didn’t choose to come to America and take advantage of the mythical “dream.” They are the products of suffering, and their life in America contains similar elements of sadness and suffering, even though they might not be in the immediate threat of death anymore. Hopefully this does give us empathy, and allow us to see them in a larger, more complicated narrative than the ones being told to us by politicians.

You mention that “the best way to humanize an issue is to be involved in it.” How do you view today’s current level of polarization in America, in light of this statement?

True proximity means becoming involved in the suffering of others, to the point where you will never be truly at peace until justice comes. Until we get to that point, issues are just issues we can either ignore or dismiss or gloss over. I don’t really want to be a depolarizing force in the world, because the language surrounding refugees and immigrants is incredibly dehumanizing and deserves to be confronted. But I am interested in imagining ways to get people in proximity to those who are suffering at the margins of America.

There’s a story you relate of a mom who comes to an English class you’re teaching and one of your students,  Nadifa, says something in Somali then hurriedly leaves, very distraught. One of the other students translates that Nadifa forgot to give one of her kids anti-seizure medication. The student goes on to explain that Nadifa’s husband just left her and she has five kids. The students begin to say “Alhamdulillah!” (meaning, “It is God’s will.”) You tell your students “No, no, NO Alhamdulillah!” How would you answer the question, What is God’s will?

I think the simplest answer is God’s will is for the kingdom of heaven to be here on earth. The kingdom of God is made plain by Jesus, who in his sermon on the mount shows us that it is the exact opposite to the ways of the world. Living with Muslims has shown me how similar some of my own beliefs are to theirs--that since God is in control, God must be ok with suffering and sadness. But I don’t believe that! In the movie Selma Martin Luther King, Jr.  tells a man who just had his grandson shot in cold blood by the police that “God is the first to cry.” What a beautiful theology. A God who suffers with us, not one who bestows suffering at will. God’s will is that we would all know how beloved we are, and that we would love our neighbors in the same way.

You write: “God also loves the oppressors, the abusers… the gluttons and the cowards.” Why is this so hard to believe?

I’m a pretty black-and-white person, so this one is hard for me--but it’s the truth of the gospel! No one is a monster in the kingdom of God. There is always a chance for repentance, for change, to write the wrongs that you have done. The people in the Bible were absolutely terrible.  And God still loved them with an everlasting love, just like he loves me, how he loves ISIS, how he loves Christians who commit terrorist attacks here in America. This doesn’t mean we can’t stand up to evil and oppression but it brings us back to the central point that everyone is made in the image of God, and no one escapes the love of God.

How about “God loves everybody, exactly the same. No matter what you do.” I don’t remember hearing this as a kid growing up!

Isn’t that sad? I definitely grew up hearing that God loved me but I also picked up the subtleties that weren’t exactly said aloud--that God really loves people who do amazing things, who work hard, who get results. But as I said in my book, absorbing the hierarchies that religions create led me to the place where I was using my work in refugee communities to prop myself up, to make me appear better before the eyes of God. This meant that I was using my friends and neighbors. This was a crushing realization, but led me to a better place: there is nothing I can do to earn the love of God. To be honest, I still struggle with this concept. I still don’t quite believe it. But I am trying.

“He (God) is asking us to run, run in the direction of the world’s brokenness. Is this the crux of Christianity, the essence of God?

I think it is a good way of viewing the life and work of Jesus. He was obsessed with really dangerous people--both the demon possessed and the sick and also the powerful religious folk who he knew wanted to kill him. There are so many kinds of brokenness, and Jesus seemed to find it all irresistible, because he was in the business of liberating people. I want to believe more in this liberating, all-consuming love, and just like Jesus I have discovered it in the margins of society.

I love your description of King David. That the “man after God’s heart” was also an adulterer, murderer and terrible parent. David showed his humanity and the fullness of his ability to take everything to God. Would you like to elaborate?

David is such an interesting example. I actually originally wrote that David was a rapist (because he was, if you think about the power differentials--was Bathsheba even able to say no? Most likely not). He is such a problematic person. He did terrible damage and suffered enormous consequences. But through his psalms we discover the pathway to a relationship with God, which is authenticity. God wants us, not our religious words or ways. If we are hiding who we are, the fullness of our broken selves, then we aren’t actually in relationship with God, and we can’t be transformed by the love of God.

The example of King David sort of goes along with what you write later in your book. “To be the one in need. It confirms that this is quite possibly the only posture that Christians in this day and age can take, to be in a place where we freely admit our shortcomings, where we desperately need our neighbors.” How does taking this outlook help us be better followers of Jesus?

It’s hard not to make comparisons between my community (white evangelical Christians) and the religious folks in the gospels. The Pharisees and others were so obsessed with their own holiness and right beliefs that they walked away from every encounter with Jesus without being liberated. Who were the ones who are the faithful of the gospels? The needy ones--either physically, emotionally, or spiritually. They are the ones to whom the good news of Jesus is actually good, and I want to be in this category so badly.

How about “Everything Jesus said is true, not just the parts I want to believe.” What parts of what Jesus said do you find hard to fathom?

This is such a big question! I guess the big one would be forgiveness--how vital it is to our spiritual health. But forgiveness is so hard, especially in such an unjust world. And yet, this is what Jesus calls me to. Same thing with his call to love our enemies, and live lives of self-sacrifice for our neighbors. All of this is incredibly difficult in practice (although it’s easy to talk about!).

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I’ve been working on a few big articles and one or two essays, but currently my life is very full between taking care of small children, hanging out with my neighbors, teaching English classes, and helping start a nonprofit aimed at welcoming immigrants and refugees in the Portland area. Thanks so much for these thoughtful questions--I hope it sparks some discussion.


To find D.L.Mayfield on the web

To purchase Assimilate or Go Home 

It's on SALE for $1.99 on Kindle!!!

To follow D.L. Mayfield on Twitter

Photo Credits: d.l.mayfield.com

Monday, June 26, 2017

Bringing Preemptive Love to Mosul

Families fleeing Mosul
Fighting between the Iraqi army and ISIS in Mosul is reportedly winding down. But according to a UNICEF official, the fight for the city is by no means over.

Unfortunately, the combat is being waged in neighborhoods, mostly in the Old City section of Mosul, where there are 50,000 civilians left trapped. This is near the al-Nuri mosque that ISIS blew up last week in retaliation for the advancement of Iraqi forces.

The al-Nuri mosque was an important historical and religious symbol, having been used for 800 years. Now it's gone, the ground that it sat upon still controlled by ISIS which knows it's time in Mosul is coming to an end.

Hundreds of families have already fled Mosul. They were the lucky ones. Those remaining in the Old City section are trapped and desperate for help.

That's where Preemptive Love Coalition has come in.

For almost 10 years, Preemptive Love Coalition, founded by Jeremy and Jessica Courtney, has been offering an alternative to hate that leads to violence. The organization is mostly based in Iraq and Syria where it has been a dependable front-line presence.

According to Preemptive Love, these civilians in the Old City "are the only thing standing between ISIS and total defeat in Mosul."

And during this time the organization has been delivering life-saving food and water in neighborhoods torn apart by war.

But that's not all that Preemptive Love Coalition does.

"At the core of violence and conflict is fear," states the organization's website. "We fear loss. We fear shame. We fear ideologies and religious. We fear vulnerability. So we fight with attitudes and words, then with fists and bombs."

The solution as Preemptive Love Coalition sees it, is stated in their core values, which are: "Love anyway. Show up. Get out of the way."

The getting out of the way after providing initial support is essential because "peace, healing and sustainable change only come when we allow others [natives] to own their future."

The solution, in the eyes of Preemptive Love Coalition, looks like this:

1. Life saving heart surgeries for children.
2. Emergency relief for families victimized by ISIS.
3. Empowering grants for small businesses owners.
4. Education for at-risk children.
5. Peacemaking in conflict zones.
6. Counsel to policymakers in Washington, D.C., London, Baghdad and beyond.

The organization's foundation is in the power of love, used fearlessly, to remake the world.

It sounds like a dream, but Preemptive Love Coalition, working on the front-lines, is helping to bring that dream to reality.

Jeremy Courtney gave a powerful TED talk a few years back. His message stands true today.

I encourage you to find out more about Preemptive Love Coalition and support their mission.

Sometimes the challenge is difficult, but the solution is ultimately very simple.

Photo Credits:
Top photo: New York Times
Bottom photo courtesy of Preemptive Love Coalition


Monday, June 19, 2017

What's God Like?

What can we know of God?

Assuming that you believe in God, we can take a look at the Bible, the Quran and Torah in an attempt to answer the question.

For purposes of this discussion, let's get it down to a few things that, hopefully, we can agree on.

God is diverse.

Regardless of your particular brand of religious practice, this is fairly evident. The Bible even talks about having no excuse not to believe in God's existence. Because God is found in what God created. (Romans 1:20)

And it's astonishing the level of diversity found in creation.

There isn't one kind of rose, but 150. Not one kind of hosta, but thousands. According to WorldStory.net there are 20,000 species of fish, 6,000 species of reptiles, 9,000 species of birds, 1,000 species of amphibians and 15,000 species of mammals. That's a lot of diversity, isn't it?

Among many religions there is a tendency to believe that a particular denomination (or brand) of belief is the truest one. Why? Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life. He also said no one comes to the father except through him. (John 14:6). But he didn't say you had to be an evangelical, or Congregational, or Catholic or Presbyterian, Reformed or Orthodox Jew, or Muslim. We need to be careful that we don't value our own brand of belief over God.  If we do, then, like the Pharisees, we are totally missing the point. (Matthew 14:13+)

God is forgiving.

Sometimes religion preaches a God of rules. And yes, it's true that God gave us the Ten Commandments. And we should obey them. Almost every other form of religion has some rules or precepts. But, on the other hand, God is also forgiving.

The Qu'ran, mentions forgiving multiple times. So does the Bible. Jesus taught that we would be forgiven to the extent that we forgive others. He talked about removing the beam from our own eye before we judge the splinter in our neighbor's eye. The Jewish faith teaches that forgiveness is a divine command. In the Bible, when the apostle Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive, and guessed seven, Jesus told him seventy times seven. Implying there's no limit, so we shouldn't be counting.

Anyone who claims to be a Christian, Jew or Muslim who doesn't include forgiveness in what they are preaching isn't really giving you the full story of who God is. Case in point, Al Quaida, ISIS and ISIL are NOT legitimate God/Muslim-believing organizations. They are paramilitary political entities. When it gets down to it, there is no such thing as a radical Islamist organization because members of such groups aren't practicing the Muslim faith.  Ditto any Christian or Jew who claims to be following God when killing people.

God is merciful.

This point flows from God's forgiveness. But it's a bit different. Mercy is defined as compassion towards someone when it's in our power to punish.

Considering the history of the human race in general, and each of our own individual lives, it's probably safe to say that God has been merciful to us.

There is no such thing as an unpardonable sin. With the exception of Jesus saying that if we blaspheme the Holy Spirit, it's unforgiveable. This is defined as a willful, purposeful hardening of your heart against God. It's knowing that there's a God and a Spirit of God active in your life, but denying it. If you're concerned as to if you've done this, then you haven't.

The bottom line of it is that God doesn't hold grudges. God isn't waiting around the corner to ambush you with punishment. In fact, the Bible notes that God doesn't delight in sin, but wants to help us avoid it. (You could even make a case that the definition of sin is an action that harms our relationship with God. And God is a relational being).

If religion is an attempt to know God, then, from God's point of view, the whole point of religion is to "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God." (Micah 6:8). This same passage, verbatim, is in the Torah (Michah = Micah). A very similar passage can be found in the Qu'ran 2:177)

When all is said and done, it's helpful to remember just how big God is. That, this side of heaven, there is much left of God to ponder. That's where faith comes in. And humility.



Photo Credits:
1. serviamministries
2. harvesthousepublishers.com
3. streamingglobedevotional.com



Monday, June 12, 2017

Wonder Woman & the 45th

Current happenings in Washington have, more and more, begun to resemble an old-fashioned morality play. Sort of like the current WONDER WOMAN film.

James Comey, former head of the F.B.I. testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Mr. Comey's testimony had millions tuned in to hear what he had to say.

Among other things, Comey called the current president a liar. Saying that the 45th's original reason for firing him (that he was incompetent and that the Bureau was not being run effectively) were "lies, plain and simple."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was Sessions who suggested that the 45th fire Comey. Earlier in the year, Sessions recused himself from heading up the on-going investigation into possible Russian influence in the US presidential election last fall. Sessions flatly refused to answer any questions involving conversations he had with the 45th about Comey's firing or the Russian investigation, citing executive privilege to protect himself.

The 45th found out about Session's decision to recuse himself during a public event and was furious about being blindsided. It didn't help that the 45th has also blamed Sessions and the entire Department of Justice for two failed attempts to institute a travel ban against Muslims. As well as the appointment of an independent special counsel to head the investigation into Russia. (One thing Sessions can't be blamed for is the recent legal challenge filed by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia against the 45th, alleging that the 45th's failure to get rid of his businesses "has significantly harmed public trust and violated the Constitution's laws against self-dealing.")

It seems as if there's a gigantic tug-of-war going on.

And in the middle of it, the 45th can't seem to keep quiet. In fact, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a republican, has noted of the 45th:"You may be the first president in history to go down because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that, if you were just quiet, would clear you."

The Achilles heel for the 45th seems to be his thumbs, or more specifically, his Twitter account. Which conveniently and continually offers up to the public his spur-of-the-moment thoughts, leaving no doubt as to his true intentions, which can then be used in legal proceedings.

Meanwhile the current administration is left scurrying to explain the unexplainable. Not to mention they are being kept from focusing on much of anything else. You don't have to be a politically-minded individual to see these proceedings being played out as some sort of 21st century Greek tragedy.

Which leads one to muse, is it happenstance that the latest WONDER WOMAN film was released a couple of weeks ago?

As those who have already seen the film know, it takes place in 1918 as WWI is winding down.
At the same time in Themyscira, Diana, princess of the Amazon women there, is growing up. Diana is anxious to defeat Ares (god of war) but her mother warns her against it.

Until Steve Trevor, a member of the American Expeditionary Forces, crash-lands his airplane on Themyscira's coast, causing Diana to rescue him.

Steve is quite willing to go it alone, but she heads back to Europe with him to engage in the fight, becoming Wonder Woman in the process.

It seems that Germany has one last chance to win before the Armistice kicks in. A powerful chemical weapon developed by Dr. Maru ("Dr. Poison") under the direction of General Erich Ludendorff.

Wonder Woman supposes that General Ludendorff is actually Ares. If she can take out General Ludendorff evil will be crushed, the war will end, and people will stop being so hellbent on destroying each other. So, she's disappointed when, after defeating Ludendorff, the war continues. But Steve hijacks an airplane full of chemical weapons headed to the frontlines.

Meanwhile, in a fascinating twist, Wonder Woman learns that the seemingly mild-mannered Sir Patrick (who is heading up spy activities for the Allies) is actually her nemesis when he shows up on the scene in the weapons plant deep in German territory.

Sir Patrick, when cornered, reveals he is actually a counter-agent and tries to channel Wonder Woman's rage into killing Dr. Maru. After all, he says, I'm not actually evil. I just offer suggestions and people, being inherently evil, pick up on them. It's not my fault.

But Wonder Woman, in a series of flashbacks, realizes that people are also capable of great good - so they can't be all bad - as Ares suggests.

So, we're left to ponder, is the current administration fighting against Themyscira?

Is the 45th's inability to control himself turning him into General Ludendorff?

Is the 45th's Twitter account under the influence of Dr. Poison?

Is Steven Bannon a fourth-rate Ares?

Could Elizabeth Warren be Wonder Woman?

Fortunately, in the WONDER WOMAN film, Diana remains on earth, becoming Diana Prince, curator for the Louvre's Department of Antiquities as she continues to combat evil.

Let's hope her eyes are on D.C.

Here's the trailer to Wonder Woman.

Photo Credits:
James Comey - CNN
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) - The Independent. UK