Chaos and Anger


Sometimes we want to think that churches and other religious centers should always be places of peace and calm. That will never be. Churches, and all organizations, face a common, insurmountable problem. By definition, they are made up of people.

In a society were interdependence is de-emphasized, many people choose to keep their contact with all organizations to a minimum. In a way that makes sense. The fewer people we interact with, the fewer people we can have conflict with.

When Christians contemplate the life of Jesus, they are faced with a different view. We are taught that one person of the Divine trinity chose to leave an environment of perfect love and peace to spend more than 30 years with human beings and all their passions, mistreatment and, in his case, to suffer crucifixion at their hands. He knew what was going to happen and he came anyway.

It has long been the teaching of the church that the interaction of members of the church helps us learn how to love one another. The ancient Christian teacher and writer Tertullian once said “Solus Christianus, nullus Christianus” – A Christian alone is no Christian.

I have heard this put many ways over the years. One preacher told us we were all rocks on the bottom of the river and the way we push against each other is what polishes us to get ready for heaven. However we put it, it is easy to say and follow when everything is going smoothly. It is quite a different thing to remember it and live it when a given church (or parish) is in the middle of chaos.

This question has become totally not theoretical for me and the fellow members of my local church in the last few weeks. A month ago we had two full time priests and, as far as most of us knew, everything was going well. Now both of those priests are gone, maybe permanently, and we have fill-in priests and are dealing with our bishop to get help to keep the parish going.

In addition to all the chaos and confusion, we are seeing people leave while others stay and people are taking sides. Instead of a spirit of love and cooperation, we are in danger of creating an environment of anger and self-righteousness. The question is now whether love or anger will prevail.

I am reminded of an episode called “The Day of the Dove” from the original Star Trek television series. In that episode, the Enterprise crew find themselves trapped on the ship with an equal number of Klingons in an endless series of battles. They realize that when they are killed in a battle, they return to fight again. The solution comes when they realize there is a creature on board who has created the conflict and feeds itself from the hatred it is generating.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was telling this story in a science fiction format in a setting “where no man has gone before.”  But there is nothing new in this concept.

The Christian teaching is very clear that there is one who wants to destroy our souls and poison everything good in us that God put there. Whether you call our adversary the devil, Lucifer or the destroyer of souls or any other name, he exists. He seeks to put us at each other so that we forget we are here to show God’s love.

In times of chaos and anger, we have to decide what we want for our souls and those of our neighbors. There is obviously hurt and anger and shock. We may feel the need to lash out. At a minimum we need to express our hurt and anger. Hopefully our friends involved in the situation will be able to provide ears or shoulders as needed.

But we need to keep in mind that at each moment we are feeding ourselves either the “good food” of love and understanding and peace or the “bad food” of hatred, anger and self-righteousness. No matter how much we feel wronged by others, if we dwell in that hurt or anger we harm ourselves, not them.

The “winners” in this will be those who turn to God the soonest. The more it hurts, the angrier we feel, the more important it becomes to turn quickly. He is waiting to help us. He will help as much as we let Him. He is calling to each of us, no matter what “side” we are on, to turn to Him now. He won’t make us turn. If we insist on being miserable in ourselves and to others, He will honor our choice.

In some ways we want to cry, “Why us?” but in a sense it is a tribute to our spiritual readiness. We are being offered a test at the next school grade level in our spiritual journeys. How soon will we be able to “pass the test” or “win the game” by turning completely to God?

It is my fervent hope that we all choose God sooner rather than later. May our parish become a place where all who come, or return, are welcome and see only the love of God.

Who Do You Trust?


The essential question about our spiritual journey is "Who do we Trust?" We can say we are trusting God, but our actions may show something else.

The easiest trap is to believe that because we are "doing something for" God or our church, our community or even "the good of the world" we are helping our salvation. God wants us to trust in Him. Our "good works" (the Jewish term is Mitzvahs) are something that should flow from our trust in God instead of being a way to "earn" his love.

There are many ways we can get distracted from focusing on God. Many of them occur in the context of a church or other place of worship. Sometimes we let our task become the most important thing and argue with other church members about how things should be done.

Yet, the workings of a house of worship are where we learn to practice love. The problem with every church or church hierarchy is the same: It is filled with human beings who have faults and issues. If we are truly following God’s direction, our time with our fellow sinners will give us more trust in God and a better understanding of His love for them.

There are many temptations outside of church which try to present themselves as an object of trust. Money, cars, homes, IRA’s and jobs can all be false sources of security. In tumultuous economic times it is easier to see how this security is false. Yet we want to cling to that hope.

There is another group which more actively competes to be our focus of trust. This is governments and politicians. Jesus’ famous direction to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s" becomes at some level a threat to Caeser.

It is becoming more obvious by the day that some political groups, from the local level to the international level are becoming more opposed to churches and traditional morality than they have ever been.

Robert Nisbet, in an out of print book called The Quest for Community, talks about the role of "intermediate associations" and how they cause problems for any political entity which seeks to totally control its citizens. These groups come between the individual and the state. They offer a different focus of loyalty. The two major "associations" are the family and the church, or other religious group.

In Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg talks about Otto von Bismarck and the German Catholic Church. Bismarck was a Prussian, from the Northern, largely Lutheran section of Germany. He was concerned that Catholics in Southern Germany, particularly Bavaria, would focus on the religious differences and delay the coming together of the German state. The German word Kulturkampf or what we call "Culture Wars" is part of this effort. It is an attempt to push the churches aside to prevent their interference with either the goals of the politicians or the loyalty of the people to the governing class.

Let me de direct. No political party or political leader can save us. The bible is clear:

(Psalm 146) "Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation."

It is our duty as citizens to look into the various candidates, parties and programs and vote our best judgment about the better path. But no party or politician can save us. Heaven on Earth will not happen because someone is elected to or voted out of office.

Even if we are highly committed to a service group, a charity or any group trying to help the world, that group can’t save us.

We eventually realize that no person, group, policy or action will save us or protect us. It the end, when we tire of searching anywhere us, we can turn to the only One who can be trusted, God.

Childlike Trust


We have all seen the self-confident child running around and exploring everything there is to see. Then, sometimes, the child looks around and can’t find their parent or older sibling and a look of confusion or fear comes to their face.

It reminds me of the gospel story of Peter walking on the water from the boat to Jesus. He is fine until he looks down and lets a doubt come into his mind. “I can’t walk on water!” Peter was doing just that, but by thinking of what he was doing instead of looking at Jesus, the “impossible act” becomes impossible for him.

We copy the child and Peter. When things are going well, we sail along. Then something happens and we look around to try to find the one who is always there.

Fortunately, God understands our weakness and provides various means to help us get on track. In my recent readings, God has repeatedly led me to understand that I need to live knowing He is there even without thinking about it.

This is a message He repeatedly sends to me. Years ago, I was in what is usually considered a “New Thought” church, part of the Unity School of Christianity . It would be considered liberal by many people. James Dillet Freeman (1912-2003) served as their “poet laureate” Most Unity churches end their service by saying Freeman’s “Prayer for Protection”:

The Light of God surrounds Us 

The Love of God enfolds Us

The Power of God protects Us

and the Presence of God watches over Us

Where ever we are God is! And all is well!

Amen.

It is a wonderful reminder that there is no place we can be where God isn’t. Whatever we do and wherever we are, He knows it and is watching over us and watching for us.

And yet, let us find something that bothers us or doesn’t go the way we want and we start asking “Where is God?” The answer, of course, is right there, next to us. But we decide to ignore that and believe that “if God were there” the result would be different.

I have just been introduced to Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest. It is a set of daily devotions originally published in 1935. In his entry for August 20 he writes that “A child of God never prays to be made aware of the fact that God answers prayers, because he is so restfully certain that God always answers prayer.”

That indeed is childlike trust. To be so certain of God’s presence and love that we don’t have to continually ask if He is there.

In Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning talks about how to move all of this from an idea to something we live.

Our trust in Jesus grows as we shift from making self-conscious efforts to be good to allowing ourselves to be loved as we are (not as we should be). The Holy Spirit moves us from the head to the heart, from intellectual cognition to experiential awareness. An inward stillness pervades our being, and the time of prayer is characterized by less rational reflection and speaking and more contemplative quiet and listening.

I would love to be able to add my own experiences and observations to all this, but I can’t. I have been blessed with moments of this peace but, all too few. I spend far more time trying to do it myself or “be good” or whatever I can think of instead of relying on God.

I started this site because I know I need to get the message and God could use my writing efforts to give me another way to hear Him. That is certainly the case for this subject.

I know God is waiting for me to have a childlike trust in Him. I am currently far from that. I hope my writing this will help anyone who reads it. I don’t know if they “need to hear this.” I know I do.

Perfexion


It is humbling to write a blog about letting God’s love fill your life.  The obvious question is “Who do you think you are to write on a subject like this?” It’s simple – I have to think, pray and write about it because I don’t know how to do it.

I am clearly the older brother in the Prodigal parable and the busy sister Martha trying to make everything right in hosting Jesus.  I try to do it right. My career choice shows that. I spend my life writing computer programs which don’t work if I put a period in the wrong. place

The problem for the perfectionist is that no matter what I do it is never enough. I know my faults and even imagine some. It took me years to understand that in order to love others as I love myself, I have to love myself.  After all, God loves me.  If He can love me, why can’t I?

The idea is to learn to relax in God’s love and enjoy the incredible truth that He loves me even when I don’t get it rite!

The Pianist and the Child


A young mother took her child to a concert by a famous pianist. Near the end of the intermission, the child walked on stage, went to the piano bench and started “playing.” The embarrassed mother started toward the child, but the pianist gently waved her back.

Sitting beside the child on the bench he let the child keep playing and played in such a way as to incorporate the child’s efforts into a beautiful piece of music.

Ever have one of those days when you think you’re just plunking?

Life’s Mystery – It’s Awesome


The Rush of Everyday Thoughts

It is a typical Sunday night and the most routine of tasks. I move around the condo gathering all the trash for the morning pickup. I’ve done this uncounted times before. My mind is off in a whirl of thoughts.

My wife has been away helping care for her ailing mother. She is about to start the thousand-mile journey home. I am a little worried about the journey. I’m worried about her. I’m worried about her mother.

My daughter has been here for her summer visit. I took her back yesterday. I wonder about her coming school year. How will she do? She fell from a horse last year and broke her collarbone. Even with that, her love of horses is so great she is dropping other activities to have more time to ride. I’m reminded of a famous actor who was recently paralyzed in a fall from a horse. I wonder about my daighter’s safety and know she won’t stop riding.

Tomorrow starts another work week. My mind starts to race through the details and schedules of the coming days. Which meetings are the most important? How do I balance the requirements of various co-workers and activities? What surprises are waiting?

Creating a New Life Story

In counseling, I’ve found that I often fall into a very negative story about my life. It is a story of suffering and hurt and pain. There is doubt about God’s love and kindness. My counselor has suggested I create a new story about why I am on this earth. Why did I come here and what do I want to accomplish?

I remember the words of the gospel hymn that tells how Jesus shows his love by leaving the “splendor of Heaven” to save the world on a cross. It is a moving and powerful hymn.

In my down moment, I wonder: Did I leave heaven to empty trash on a Sunday night in a lonely condo? Did I give up all that glory, even temporarily, to live in uncertainty and confusion and all the unknowns of human existence?

Like a bolt of lightning, the answer hits me. Yes. It’s exactly the routine moments and a life of unknowing that I came for. It’s a chance to spend a life time in the sheer wonder of what the next moment holds.

Science Fiction is full of super races who know everything there is to know. But my boredom is temporary. Those beings can’t possibly be surprised. They know all the answers. Nothing is unknown for them to wonder about.

Have you ever watched your favorite team play on videotape? Even if you don’t know who won, it isn’t the same thing as watching it live. You know you can get the score if you wanted it, and you know that mystery has vanished.

But life constantly surprises me. I can plan and figure and analyze to my heart’s content. It makes little difference. Life will happen the way it does. The only thing I know for sure is that it will surprise me. Sometimes I’ll like the surprise. Sometimes I won’t.

The Blessings of Wonder and Trust

Yet I can do something the super races and divine beings of the universe can’t. I can wonder what the next moment holds without knowing the answer. I can wonder what the future holds for my loved ones. I can go to a game and cheer for my team and I’ll be completely surprised by the result.

There’s more. I am sure to be surprised by the answer to the most fascinating question of all. “How did my life turn out?” The answer: “I don’t know yet.”

I have the chance to learn the meaning of trust. Trust is irrelevant when you know how things turn out. How can I learn trust if there’s no possibility of disappointment? Yet what a great gift. Only by not knowing the future can I learn to trust.

Routine Becomes Awesome

Then another feeling flooded over me. It was awe. This surprised me. In the Catholic church, I learned awe in the observance of expertly and exquisitely executed ritual. I felt the splendor of God in those moments. I was filled with awe.

But I never expected to feel awe in collecting trash. Then, I understood. I was in awe of me! Somewhere, sometime, I agreed to this. It may have been before my birth. It may not have been before this moment. Still, it has happened.

I have agreed to completely put my trust in God. I’m willing to give up the right to know what the next minute holds, or even if I will have another minute.

Peter was willing to step out onto the water at Jesus’ word. In the same way, I am out on the ocean of life. I cry a lot. I holler and complain a lot, and still, there are those moments when my trust is complete.

In those moments I am in awe of everyone. That any of us have the courage to leave the “splendor of heaven” and to live in a sea of the unknown is amazing. That we all do is awesome.

Gathering the trash will never be quite the same. In the routine of day-to-day life, I encountered a moment of awe.

This article originally appeared in the April, 1996 edition of Unity Magazine