Wednesday, November 24, 2021

P4E.277 The Impossible, Unbearable, Ennobling Burden

 

Social media has provided a mask of anonymity that encourages us to write things that we would self-censor in person. In augmented reality, we create avatar-personas that we allow to be much more judgmental and verbally hostile than we are in real-life. The social media feed-back loop that reinforces and rewards our arrogant attitudes is ever present and urges us to write more and more outrageous things and to espouse shocking ideas. We have been brought to a place where so much is considered “unforgivable” and so many are “cancelled”, that many people fear for their future.

In this social/political/cultural atmosphere we’d do well to remember the virtues that Judeo-Christianity has advanced to humanity since the beginning of recorded time.

Humility: If there’s one virtue that Judeo-Christianity has promulgated, it is humility. In the face of an Almighty God, in the Books of the Old and New Testament, the stories that unfold repeatedly teach the lesson of humility. Humility is at odds with arrogance. The arrogance of knowing that the position/opinion/values that one holds are absolutely, undoubtedly correct. Not only correct, but morally true. And that means if another disagrees, they must be immoral liars. Jesus taught humility in Luke 13:


23 And someone said to Him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, 24 "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!' then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.' 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; 27 and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers .'28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. 29 And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last."

This idea of thinking that you have a relationship and would be able to enter only to be told you are not known and to depart must be meant to impart humility. What could be more direct than to be told that the last will be first and the first will be last?

Non-Judgment: Christ repeatedly reminds us that we should not judge. Why? Jesus tells us in Luke 6:

 
36 “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.”

It seems so easy, in these times, to judge and condemn others; so difficult to extend mercy and pardon. But we must consider the humility necessary to be aware that we are guilty of the very things that we are judging and condemning. Later in Luke 6 Jesus says:
 
42 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.” 

Forgiveness: It is Judeo-Christianity that has promulgated the virtue of forgiveness in the western world. The One God is presented as the highest good, to be reverenced and followed and emulated. He is described by Moses in Numbers 14:
 

18 “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in loving devotion, forgiving iniquity and transgression.”

 

When Jesus gives us the template for prayer in Matthew 6 He says:
 

12 “…forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us…

14 If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

 

Love: The binding force between all the other virtues is Love. Love provides the humility to consider others before ourselves. Love curbs and softens our hearts towards those whom we would judge and condemn. Love gives us the moral imperative to let go of a grudge. When asked what the greatest commandments were, Jesus responded in Mark 12:
 
29 “…This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

 

I have said that Judeo-Christianity holds the key…has always held the key…to the current social/political/cultural climate. The One God is to be held in highest esteem and is to be reverenced, followed, emulated, and loved above all else. Even knowing that it isn’t possible to achieve oneness with God, that the burden is great and un-bearable, we are ennobled even in the pursuit.

Give Thanks!


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

P4E.276 My Will Be Done

 

The Pastor of our church used the phrase “My will be done” in a homily a few weeks ago. He contrasted it with “Thy will be done” in The Lord’s Prayer. It’s stuck with me.

As I look back over my life, it’s been blessed. I grew up in Highland Park, California. That’s considered “East-LA”. My father immigrated from China when he was a child and my mother is of Mexican descent, born in La Mesa, New Mexico. My father was a federal bank examiner and my mother worked for financial institutions and the local school district. When I was around 10 years old, we moved to Orange County, California. I would say we progressed from lower middle-class to middle middle-class.

I graduated from the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, was married at 21 and am still married to the same lovely wife 44 years later. We had 3 sons and now have 3 daughters-in-law and 3 grandchildren. I’ve had a long, fulfilling career as an architect and engineer. I was raised Catholic, left the Church for Protestant/Evangelical/Non-Denominational churches and have now since returned to the Catholic Church.

There have been no major disasters in my life. No tears in the fabric of my being. No huge holes in my heart. I’ve had a good life. For me, this has become a double-edged sword. All this good fortune has brought about expectations. Because things have fallen into place in my life, I expect them to continue to do so. When they do not, even on the smallest level, I find myself put out. I’m impatient, frustrated, and angry. Strangely, when the relatively bigger challenges arise, I’m more patient, more resolved to accept the fates. It’s the small things that gnaw at my longsuffering. Let the paper misload in the printer; let an important phone call be missed; let the customer service person be less than helpful and I’m undone.

My wife regularly (and rightly) points out my lack of gratitude. I used to wonder what gratitude had to do with the challenges I was experiencing. How it would help me endure the internet service that keeps buffering and cutting out?

I want MY WILL to be done! That means, things go right. Without a hitch. No problems. “Well,” my wife wonders, “Where in the world did you ever get the idea that you were entitled to a world with no problems?” She’s right about that. She is right about that.

Becoming aware of the strength of people who are struggling with cancer, who’ve been molested or harassed or mistreated, who’ve lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, who’ve lost a limb, or become completely paralyzed, who’ve failed repeatedly, who are caring for a loved one who’s health is failing, or worst of all, who are losing hope should and does make me feel grateful for my lot in life.

But the Holy Scriptures of my Faith also point out that I should not only be grateful for the good things that have happened in my life but also be grateful for the trials that befall me.


“Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

I need to be reminded that these trials are meant to turn my attention to the One who is the source of the comfort that gets me through them and why.

 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

In these times, I’m not looking for relief from suffering. I will suffer. If I'm not suffering now, it will surely come. Who will I be when the suffering comes? Will I purposely make it worse? Will my response compound the grief and sorrow? Or will I endure and be a source of strength and comfort to those who need it? I fervently pray that I am the latter. Not mine, but His will be done.

Monday, October 18, 2021

P4E.275 Suddenly

 


Yesterday
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as if they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

Suddenly

I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hangin’ over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly
Lennon-McCartney

Being closer to the end of my life than the beginning, these words are resonating with me lately. Not because of a doomed romance, but because of a lost love. The love that seems suddenly lost and dying is the culture that has come to unify the western world over centuries (and possibly millennia or even eons).

My holding to the values and culture that, in my view, best define and direct humanity has me feeling suddenly irrelevant and invisible. Suddenly overshadowed. Suddenly so…yesterday. But I’m not apologetic for holding to those values. The zeitgeist of the 2020s has taken a dark turn. An accusatory, unforgiving, malevolent, destructive turn. It’s as if every institution that gave solidity to existence has been drawn into question. As if every baby is to be thrown out with the bath water.

Let me expand on that metaphor for a minute. The baby is what is considered valuable. The baby’s value resides in its inherent value as a human being. It resides in the baby’s potential and in its innocence. The baby has no power over itself or others. It relies completely on those in whom the baby’s well being has been entrusted. But the baby messes itself. It drools. It plays in the dirt. It can’t completely be fed without getting the food all over itself. It needs a bath.

So, the basin is prepared with warm, clean water. The universal solvent. As soap is applied and the baby is sponged, the dirt, the drool, the mess, and the excess food are washed away into the water. Now baby is returned to its pristine state and the water is no longer clean. Here the metaphor becomes clear: when emptying the basin, the valuable baby should not be tossed away with the dirty water.

The institutions that have held us together are so under fire that they seem close to collapse. There are those that seem intent on throwing them out with the bath water. Are they dirty? Yes. Flawed? Yes. In need of attention/repair/improvement? Yes. But should we destroy them?

Religion and Christianity, in particular, have receded in our culture’s value system. The emphasis on science has unnecessarily relegated Christianity to the sidelines of relevance in the zeitgeist of the 21st Century. Science and Christianity need not be mutually exclusive. They need not and cannot consistently be mutually affirming. They feed different parts of human need.

I recently heard a podcast interview with Jaron Lanier. If you haven’t heard of him, see here: jaronlanier.com . He purposefully has no social media accounts. He started talking about people’s interest in UFOs.

“…(it) fills a human need. People need to have something to obsess over. People need to experience their brains thinking beyond the edge of what’s official. They need to be able to have common quests. The need to be able to explore things that might not be true, because otherwise truth calcifies. This is something that we all need. This is legitimate. Being able to be obsessed with things that are at the edge of thought is really important. Being able to do it with other people is very healthy and maybe even vital.”

Even though he wasn’t talking about religion, and he might even disagree that his words could be used in reference to religion, I found the similarity of thought interesting.

I draw comfort from the shared Judeo-Christian Scriptures: The idea of One Creator God, Who exemplifies eternity, good, truth, light, wisdom gives me solace. He cannot be proven. Those who have ears to hear and eyes to see hear and see Him. But the “not knowing” can and should be the impetus to explore what “might not be true”. There is a man I know and admire who responds to the question, “Do you believe in God?” by saying “I try to act as if there is one.”

There are reasons why the ancient Holy Scriptures encourage us to honor our father and our mother (Deut 5:16), ideally the source of the wisdom of the past. There is a reason why Christ said

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

(Matt 5:17-18)

 We toss aside these ideals at our own peril. The promise associated with the command to honor father and mother: “so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” literally promises longevity and well-being to those who keep the wisdom of the past. The alternative?

Returning to the baby and the bath water metaphor, Jesus brought a child before His disciples and said,

“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world for the causes of sin. These stumbling blocks must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” (Matt 18:5-7)

Sometimes I do feel as if the world sees me as “half the man I used to be,” but it helps me to not care what the rest of the world thinks. Not in that regard. I will try not to be the man through whom stumbling blocks come.

 Blessings.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

P4E.274 Honor Your Father and Mother

The commandment to honor your father and mother is vital to the stability of humanity. Historians date the writing of Exodus, where the commandments are recorded, to be as early as 1,450 BC, almost 3,500 years ago. Even then, man had been around for a very long time. Long enough to know, or be taught, how to live and how to live with each other. God and man also both knew the wickedness that man was capable of and what boundaries needed to be put in place. 

The genius of the commandment is that it burdens both parents and children. Parents are obliged to behave honorably by representing God properly and passing down the lessons of the past (I confess that I could have done better in this regard). And through the generations, fathers and mothers were charged with raising their children in the way they should go. Children, in turn, honor God by honoring their parents and carrying on the accumulation of millennia of traditions and values . Children were urged, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, And do not forsake your mother’s teaching.”

But Christ knew that men’s hearts are rebellious and that He, Himself, would cause division: “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division…They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother…” 

Ultimately, parents die, and their children become parents and all are responsible for their own behavior. Sometimes the evil prosper and bad things happen to good people. And, because God is sovereign and men are inclined to evil, justice is hardly expected here on Earth. 

In the end, the wisest man said that all was futile. When all had been said, he advised us to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”