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“The love is from God, and of God and going to God.”

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These are words spoken by the old man in the desert to Lawrence of Arabia.

Does this not make sense?  If God is Love and God is Creator, are we not from Love and, all things considered, journeying back to God by design, in concert with our nature, and God’s nature?  If so, then isn’t our reluctance to journey – unnatural, and does this not explain the chaos we see that is in the end simply godlessness?

It follows that we are born in Love and yet know little of it, or God until we enter the journey of life, living from child to adult – from knowledge that is interior and present more in instinct and nature than it our knowing.  It is in life, a life fully engaged and lived as it presents itself, that we come to know love/Love/God.  We journey from unknowing, to knowing.

This knowing enlivens the soul – joins what is innate with what is known, as our life deepens and our platform broadens – such that we find peace in our understanding and leave ultimately all below what is God.  In knowing love/Love/God there is a tranquility and a resignation that we in aging come to a companionship with Love and all other people and things which are love, or journey to love.  Ah, yes – wisdom comes, too – and compassion, and certainty.

“… from God, … of God … to God.”

This is the journey, and it is one of knowing – being open to knowing, not thinking we know without God, relationship with God, with love/Love.

Yes, we come to “know” what we can neither know fully, nor possess exclusively or in its entirety.  Yes, we enter that which is larger than us – both beginning and end, Alpha and Omega – inexhaustible beyond either parameter.  Yes, coming to know what is Eternal, everlasting, all-governing.

Yes, love/Love/God: that which is here and not here at the same instant – present but never fully possessed.  Rather in the good journey, the journey of knowing, taken without reservation, it is we who are possessed and known by the One who Knows each of us.

Shalom.

Christian simplicity is the very perfection of the interior life – God, His will and pleasure as the sole object.

Jean Nicolas Grou, in The Hidden Life of the Soul

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” … Reagan was – I use the word simple, as in simplicity … What you saw is what you get, it’s not phony … I mean the guy cared about the country, he cared about the people.  He wasn’t a phony …”

So says Dennis Le Blanc a young California highway patrol officer assigned to Ronald Reagan’s security detail when he served as Governor of California and who worked side by side with the Governor at his ranch when he became President and after he served as President.

When I say “worked side by side” I mean that literally.

You see, Ronald Reagan always did manual labor on this ranch.  He maintained the land, improved it, created trails where once thick wild brush thrived.  He added small improvements to his very modest home there.  He made and laid fence.  He worked alongside Mr. Le Blanc and shared lunch with him and others who helped in the work.

As Le Blanc reports, never asked anyone to do work that he himself would not do.

This was an everyday occurrence and truth is: he loved it.  It was part of his day, every day – rain or shine.

Yet more impressive, and so critical content in understanding the nature of the balanced and good life of Ronald Reagan was this: he was grounded in a relationship with God.

Indeed, simplicity and God go together as Jean Grou says.  They form a contented and fulfilling life of service to God and others, a life with and for God and others.

As Mr. Reagan’s daughter Patti notes: he saw God in creation, in the land and its beauty.  He saw the human being as being responsible to care of what God created.  He saw man not as a problem but as God’s humble problem solver.

As author Peggy Noonan says “He saw the sanctity of ordinary things” and acted accordingly.

Indeed, here was a man who occupied a position of enormous power but never clung to it, nor lauded it over others. No $200 haircuts.  No retribution.  No superiority.  No family foundations taking in millions and blurring the lines between proper and improper, lawful and unlawful.

No need to sustain a public presence after his service was complete.

Rather, here was a man willing to get his hands dirty, happy to be a private citizen, a retiring presence, a contented man.  A simple man with a relationship with God who he saw in all things, in others, in His beautiful creation.

A grateful man who never forgot his early life of poverty and his mother’s enduring trust in God.

Yes, he perfected, without fanfare, his interior life and, yes, his simplicity was real and connected to his relationship with God.  This: a lesson for all of us.

How we need public figures like this.  Authentic people, those who serve God and others – not themselves.  Not problem makers but problem solvers.  Humble servants.  Good people.

Christianity … makes a man’s greatness consist in the amount of service he renders to the world.

Theodore Parker, in Thoughts on Labor

Shalom.

Note – Credit goes to Peggy Noonan for her chapter “The Ranch” in When Character Was King.  She has written such a good and useful book.

The truth is incontrovertible.  Panic may resent it; ignorance may deride it; malice may distort it, but there it is.

Winston Churchill

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When I see this week’s events in Baltimore I am reminded how people shy away from the truth in preference to their own prejudiced views, preferred notions and myths.

As to truth, in Baltimore I see how politics and policy does not change hearts, only a relationship with God does that.

I see in Baltimore that five decades of government attention to race and poverty has institutionalized both race and poverty in our culture and our major cities.

In Baltimore, like many other major cities, I see low high school graduation rates, fatherless children born to young single mothers, high rates of murder and other violent acts, young men with no job skills or disciple; I see widespread drug use and tensions between police and citizens.

In Baltimore, I see a one party city – a city governed by Democrats and its African-American population and I see dependence on government and an erosion of personal responsibility.  I see, sadly, inter-generational poverty and a welfare system in place of work.  I see, in this, people who are trapped by a political party and narrative that keeps its supporters enslaved and chokes off economic growth. Likewise, I see LBJ’s “Great Society” idea of throwing money at “a problem” is not a helpful way to provide for human development and prosperity – but rather the opposite.  In Baltimore, I see one party of the Left that cannot recognize their own failure and the punishment it foists on its impoverished followers. In this I see: truth denied.

We know with certainty that people exceed the grasp of poverty if: they graduate from high school with skills reflective of a serious secondary education, they live in an intact family, they reserve having children until marriage, they stay free of addictions and criminal conduct.  Our jails, addiction treatment centers, medical clinics and welfare rolls are full of people who have not done these things.

Truth is right there.  When, oh when will we acknowledge it?

God has made us for so much more.  In truth there is peace and prosperity, and harmony among free and independent people.  Are we not of one God?

If now isn’t a good time for the truth, I don’t see when we’ll get to it. 

Nikki Giovanni

Shalom.

Thank you for sharing this blog with others.  We are in this together – no divisions by faith or race, or age, gender, ethnicity, work, income or what-have-you.

Listen.  Remember God’s sorrowful call: “Where are you?  What is it that you have done?”  And in time God’s Son answers for us: “Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.”

We stretch between the two: Eden and the Cross.  Yes, amid the pain and comfort of life, connected with all in their embrace and rebellion, in the dark and the light.

A Reflection

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Sometimes early in the morning when it is still dark as night I hear music that touches my heart and soul and makes me live again the moments when I have loss someone dear to me, that bitter sweet sadness of knowing love and loss at precisely the same moment – that moment and experience that melds both loss and love into memory – inseparable memory, my own moment under the Cross of Christ.

Gabriel’s Oboe composed by Ennio Marricone and played by cellist Yo-Yo Ma is one piece of music that transports me to that place of love and loss.  It is beautiful, simply beautiful; it tells of life, of living.  It is, in its beauty, able to embrace the truth of life – even the sobering knowledge that evil as it is in the world is subsumed by beauty, and love.  A heart of pain and the certainty that hope comes to its fullness in time – mortal and everlasting.

In the midst of the music and the memories it summons the bitter sweet truth that there is no loss, no hurt, no evil – no matter how brutal and heartless – that exceeds God.

Yes, I feel in the memories the heinous deeds of the deranged, the hatefulness of dictators and those with darkened hearts.

Yet, I feel as well this certainty: above it all is God, and love and eternity waiting for those who believe and struggle to grow in humility and the Spirit, in understanding and compassion, in forgiveness and mercy.

It is some powerful mix this life event.  We must, each of us, live this to be fully grown and ready for what is after mortal life.  While the world continues to crucify Christ and we suffer this heartache and humiliation, again and again we come to this: there is beauty, and love, and God and these prevail and never end.

In the gray twilight of my wife’s life, on the cold, windswept late November night in which she died – there was love and heartbreaking loss, a repetition of losses that came before as if to prepare me for more of the same but only harder to endure.  Yet, in this: God.  In this, intimacy.  In this, love that lasts and pain that is blunted if not extinguished over time.

It is this composition, this human equation, which humbles and strengthens, and deepens us, and creates in us a place for beauty, God, others, and love everlasting; in this we become human, and can touch the victims of man’s cruelty in ages past and ages to come.

We are in this in the continuum, witnesses linked with witnesses from the Garden to the Cross in centuries past and centuries to come … and the music plays and touches heart and the soul as if it is God’s hand.

Shalom.

Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

The U.S. exerted new pressure against Israel by leaving open the possibility of letting the United Nations set a deadline for a Palestine state, in what would be a departure from using the American veto power to protect its close Mideast ally.

The Wall Street Journal, March 28-29, 2015, p. 1

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In Chapter 22 of the Gospel of Luke reminds us that when Passover approached the chief priests and teachers of the Law looked for a way to put Jesus to death. It recounts how Satan entered Judas Iscariot and he went to the chief priests and officers of the temple guards to discuss how he could betray Jesus.  They were pleased and offered to pay him money.  Judas began, we are told, looking for a way to hand Jesus over to them.

Lest you think that faith has nothing to do with politics, remember Judas and the “powers that be.”

All that we do or fail to do is measure of one thing: Are we sheep or are we goats?

Each of us has some serious thinking and praying to do at this Easter time.

Jesus was still speaking when a crowd arrived, led by Judas … He came up to Jesus to kiss him.  But Jesus said, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you betray the Son of Man?” … Then Jesus said “… this is your hour to act when the power of darkness rules.”

Lk 22:47-48, 52, 53

Shalom.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Ex 20:16

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This is the Eighth Commandment.  A cursory read of it suggests that you are not to lie as to your neighbor.  However, it means so very much more.

Its plain language says this: you are not to present yourself to others as a witness for what is false, what is not true.

This is a proposition that is far broader than simply saying you cannot lie about your neighbor.  Rather it is saying that you cannot convey untruth in any form to your neighbor, to your community.  Indeed, it says that you have an affirmative duty to speak truth.

We may not, plainly speaking, misrepresent the truth in our relationship with others.  We are, in this instruction, expected to uphold the vocation of truth-teller because we profess our devotion to a God who is Truth and wills our witness to truth.  To fall short of being truthful is to deny God, reject God.

This affirmative duty is a fundamental building block to a good society, to human relations and to a relationship with God.

If you wonder why we are awash in corruption, you have your cause in the failure to apply this Commandment to life, to daily life.  Further, you can see in rampant corruption the central role that lying plays.

Untruth is the bedrock of corruption.

Remember the word the press used to gloss over untruth in the Clinton era?  It was “spinning.”  We talked about “spinning” as if it was an acceptable and clever “art-form.”  Ironically, the press was lying about lying by calling it something that it was not.  It was not “spinning;” it was promoting what was not true and making the practice acceptable.  Such conduct deconstructs civil society and undermines human wellbeing.

Recently the press has fumbled around with the present inability for some in Washington to correctly name terrorism as it appears.  We are unable as to this matter to say simply: a failure to speak truth is presenting what is false.  But more to the point, we are far from understanding the fundamental tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition and its articulation in religion and the foundation of civic society and we manifest this failure by not demanding truth in public discourse.  This is shameful and fundamentally destructive.

It was said to the men of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.”

Mt 5:33

Look around each day and ask yourself: is this person telling me what is true?  Or are they shading the truth in a way that presents what is false?  Ask this of politicians and those who make or discuss the news and public affairs and especially of those special-pleading “advocates” who wish to conform you to their desires?

Are you listening to truth tellers?  You had best ask this vital question.

Shalom.

He who represents himself has a fool for a client.

Abraham Lincoln

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The above statement is clear.  He who acts unilaterally is a fool – more so in complex matters.  From a faith perspective one might observe that this proposition is a divine “fail safe” – a way of insuring that we do not act as if we are God, for we are prone to errors and imperfection.

In grand things and small – unilateral action most frequently breeds folly, fundamental error, destruction – and death: individual and collective.

Yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal carried an article by Max Boot who is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and in it Mr. Boot describes how Mr. Obama is pursuing a policy to shift the United States away from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and other allies in the Middle East in favor of Iran – a state that has vowed “death to America,” engaged in persistent terrorist acts against the U.S., and articulates an intention to destroy Israel.

Mr. Boot characterizes the American troop withdrawal from the Middle East as “disastrous and destabilizing.”

The article is worth reading.  It provides a concise and detailed account of the President’s actions in that important strategic area.

What is most stunning about the President’s action is his unilateral action.

He acts alone, without consultation.  He is a loner, acting without the counsel of select foreign policy experts or the input of either the military or elected members of Congress.

Mr. Obama, it seems, is not apprised of history.

A reading of the consequences of unilateral actions in foreign and military policy are clear in Hitler’s disastrous command of the German military in his invasion of Russia, a former German ally.  Closer to today, a review of “Arab Spring” as it has played out in Libya shows our failure to retain a post-Gadhafi American presence has produced anarchy.  Ditto, Iraq.  Power, of course, abhors a vacuum.

Shifts such as the realignment which Boot discusses require national conversation for they present profound alterations.

Let the President make a public case.  Let us decide if this is right for us and all those who will suffer its consequences.  We are after all a sovereign people.  We might want to put to the test the President’s demonstrated judgment on matters foreign and domestic and then we can decide if preceding Presidents and policy makers have been wrong in the Middle East all these years.

Failures on grand scales have wide and costly consequences.  Reading Boot’s article brought to mind this account of the actions of German military guards at the Auschwitz concentration camp:

Others are carrying a young girl with a missing leg; they hold her by her arms and by her one remaining leg.  Tears are streaking down her face as she whispers sadly, “Please, please, it hurts, it hurts …”  They heave her into a truck, among the corpses.  She will be burned alive, together with them.

From We Were in Auschwitz

The stakes are personal and faith is very much in play.

Shalom.

… to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your full height against some higher nature that will show you what real smallness of your greatness is.

Phillips Brooks

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Stand at full height against “some higher nature.”  ” … some higher nature?” God.

Can we be humble without God, without a belief in God?  Without a relationship with God?  Humble in comparison to what?  To what but God?

It is difficult to imagine humility but for a belief in God.

We live in times of great conflict.  Today we will hear a speech in the U.S. Congress by the Primer Minister of Israel. Those who listen to it will realize we have drawn closer to nuclear confrontation in that last seven years.

A review of the news today tells me that the IRS is providing tax “refunds” to immigrants who have paid no taxes. And, that the public services unions in the nearly bankrupt city of Chicago are intent on gaining further control over the Mayor’s office by electing one of their own.

The benefit of this drumbeat of calamity, if it has any redeeming value, might be this: it might make one seek a relationship with “some higher nature.”

Constant calamity might revive humility, might teach us that we are not as grand as we think we are.  Perhaps, abject selfishness and pride and the material and spiritual bankruptcy it means might just reintroduce us to God.

One would think the threat of nuclear conflict might clear the nostrils and the head.  Perhaps even tenderize the heart and collapse our knees.

Godlessness and its calamity makes this blogger think that the life of a hermit in prayer is likely to be on the up-tick among those who say “enough.”

Shalom.

I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me … I will not take my steadfast love from him …

2 Sam 7:14,15

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If you did not identify these words as coming from the Old Testament, you might think of them as those assigned to Jesus.  But they are not; they are the words spoken to the Prophet Nathan to be delivered to King David who God anointed King over Israel.

I have often wondered about David in contract to Jesus.  David was proclaimed by God as His son, as was Jesus.  Yet, David’s behavior was far from that of Jesus.

For those who have not read of David’s life, I strongly urge you to read the fascinating account in the First and Second Book of Samuel.

Reading about David will have you wonder as I do about this contrast and will, I offer, teach you about the transition God seems to expect of us from the tasks assigned to David and those assigned to Jesus.  Indeed in the present environment where politics is so pervasive and faith discounted, the contrast can be a great teacher.

David’s mission, while maintaining a very mortal and flawed relationship with God, was to establish for the Hebrews, after many years in a nomadic existence and perpetual conflict, a permanent place to live – Jerusalem.  His task was, it seems, a specific part of God’s plan that heralds Jesus mission to come.

Now what might be learn from the contrast between each of these chosen sons?

A recent book by Rabbi David Wolpe (David), he makes the point that despite his many regrettable actions David returned to God always and that he had with God a more stable and faithful relationship than he often had with people.  That alone makes David interesting and God bestowing favor on God even more interesting.

It is hard not to conclude from David’s story that God expects us to maintain a stable relationship with Him at all costs and despite what failures we may exhibit in doing His earthly work.  As a corollary, it can be said that had David not maintained a constant relationship with God he would have been dispatched as were other prior Hebrew kings from the Northern and Southern kingdoms of the tribes of Israel.

How does this contrast with Jesus?

Jesus is not asked to secure an earthly state or kingdom.  Not asked take a political role.

Indeed, Jesus directs us to the Kingdom of God that is within us.  In this, the focus changes from the exterior to the interior – and so, it seems, must we.  Yes, what worked for David was maintaining that central focus on God – exactly what is raised up for us by Jesus.

Politics, despite its prominence today in our lives, is not our central need or task. Indeed, if we learn from David that a constant and stable relationship with God is essential to governance we would not cast God aside in favor of anything: science, money, celebrity, material goods, influence, personal or political power, status, appearance, etc.

It is fair to say that we have not learned the lesson taught by God in David’s story and seem to ignore what Jesus in this divine progression is to teach us: that having Jerusalem, the Kingdom is now within us and our conduct requires we place that reality at the center of our life.

A plainly stated, and we have work to do.

Shalom.

“Jesus said … ‘ … love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you … be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Mt 5:43-48

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Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?  Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect?

These seem like tall orders for the mortal person made in the imperfect image of God.  And they are to one thinking as a human thinks.  But what if we receive them as God might think?  And how might we exceed the bounds of reason which so often limits us in our understanding?  One technique is to ask: Why is Jesus saying this to us?  What is he trying to achieve in us?

The presumption should always be that God asks of us only what is good for us.  So what are we to understand by the call to love one’s enemies and be perfect?

When Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, he is doing so in order that we may become “the children of (our) heavenly Father.”  This instruction, then, is laying out our trajectory – we are called to be closer to the Father and doing as Jesus asks brings us closer to that destination.  We are invited to be like God in this life, to love like God, live like God.

And perfection?

The perfection sought here is not flawless living but the completion (i.e. perfection) of our being as imperfect humans.  We are made for a relationship with God – to know, love and serve God.  That is why we are created to pursue the ends to which we are called (to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us) – so that we may experience ourselves complete, perfected – as the humans we are made to be: the children of a loving God.

Yes, we are called to live a sacred existence – a way that far exceeds what is secular and our own design or a way that is dictated to us by the culture we occupy and that occupies us.

Shalom.

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