Says Who??

Verstehen, through shared perspectives


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A VERY BLESSED CHRISTMAS

The first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas, signals the start of the New Year for the Church. Throughout Advent we consciously await the Nativity, which is then joyously proclaimed through triumphant music, beautiful decorations and pageantry, and renewal of the reverence and faith that accompanies the wonder of the manger scene. Sharing this time together as a church community gives strength to our love for each other and for our shared walk in faith. It is both a fitting and necessary beginning to each new year.

Not everyone is always able to be present at the festivities, however. Many are shut-ins, too ill or disabled to attend. Others may be away from home, serving country and faith in other lands while being homesick, and being equally missed at home. Still others have either abandoned the church, or felt abandoned by it, and will not be a part of this renewal. Christmas is not always a time of joy for many reasons.

Today, Christmas Day 2014, although I had planned to participate in all events at my church home, as well as get-togethers in the homes of friends, I am confined to home on this day. Despite having had two flu vaccinations in the past ten months, I was afflicted with the particular strain of flu that this year’s vaccinations won’t protect against. For once, I was grateful for email and the telephone! Friends and family kept up with me, kept me entertained, and projected the warmth of their personalities into my days, even when they were mad a me for refusing to let them anywhere near me. If nothing else, I was going to make sure that the particular bug that infected me would not infect anyone else!

That still meant a lot of time alone, and time to reflect on present days and past blessiings. As I relived this past year, I recalled so clearly the long days and nights of a year ago when in my pain and illness I begged God to deliver me from this life. He did, but not as I expected. For most of this year my pain has subsided to very manageable levels, and my activity has returned to near normal. My various physical conditions have been identified and treated, and in the New Year I will begin teaching again as an adjunct at a local University. The year 2015, unlike its predecessor, is a year filled with hope and purpose for me.

I am reminded of a similar year, half a lifetime ago, when at the end of my resources and without hope I made a decision that took me on a 33-year journey of challenge, adventure, and great satisfaction in life. https://maryleejames.com/2014/06/19/this-is-why-it-matters-to-me/   The satisfaction came from knowing that my purpose was to share with others the gift of education that had been given to me, and I have been allowed to do that on two continents.

Now it appears that I have been blessed with a third chance to rise from the shambles of my life, escape the worst effects of chronic pain and illness, and live again. This time, in order to give back, my time and efforts will be made on behalf of that huge segment of our society that lives in chronic pain and is way too often discriminated against by a range of people within their own families and friends, all the way to departments in our state and local governments. Equally distressing, the very physicians who actually do listen and try to help them are also targeted for discrimination, if not actual harassment.

Some progess has been made, but not nearly enough. At some point, we must stop blaming inanimate objects for our social ills and accept the facts that guns, pills, alcohol, cars, computers, cell phones , money and other material things are not at fault for our misuse of them.

Today, I realized anew that the pageantry, decorations, music and companionship are not the real Christmas. The real Christmas is within me, and has filled me with peace and joy on this blessed day.

I humbly pray for the same for all of you. A very blessed Christmas, and renewed peace and joy for the New Year!

 xmas scene


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I CHOOSE…..

Death, shadowy lifelong companion

So familiar, so often close as to be almost

A visible presence;

Sometimes longed for,

Too long not feared.

 

But in the darkest night of death’s lurking essence:

“Do you want to be healed?”

Jesus asks the cripple at the poolside.

Do you want to be healed?

The words echo in my heart,

Reverberate in my soul.

 

And again:

Do you want to be healed?

I find it hard to say yes!

The Spectre is close to me,

Promising an end to the pain, to the loneliness

Cessation of the everlasting demand to measure up

To life’s demands, to the expectations of others.

Life has been too long, and I am so weary.

 

Do you want to be healed?

The words won’t go away.

I doubt that I have a choice.

What will be, will be. Right?

Death is close. Accept the inevitable. Go gracefully.

But—“Do you want to be healed?”

Dare I say yes?

 

What if it is a hoax—a lie offered by a brain

Too old, too confused, too shattered by pain?

“What have you got to lose?” the challenged brain responds.

“Choose Life!”

I don’t think I really have that choice, I respond.

Besides, to choose life means to once again pick up

All those burdens, all those challenges.

The ones known are bad enough;

What about the unknown suffering that might come?

Can I bear it?

 

“Choose Life!”

No longer imperative, now seductive.

“Think of all that tomorrow brings of joys, and blessings!

Would you not love to see what happens?

Would you not enjoy the adrenaline rush of a new challenge?

Would you not treasure the companionship of new friends?”

 

Yes, but—what about the ever worsening pain?

What about the continued failings of an aging body and brain?

What about…..

“Choose Life!”

This time the words come encased in humor, then laughter.

I think I am beginning to understand.

 

To be healed IS to choose life,

But it is not defined by the healing of a worn-out, diseased body,

“What we are is God’s Gift to us, What we Become is Our Gift to God,”

I have written.

Winston Churchill said “Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts.”

 

Perhaps God is not finished with me yet, even though I feel finished with me.

And just perhaps, another day, another year, even another decade

May find me laughing at Death’s scary faces and threats

While walking with the confidence of Gratitude

For a life wherein I have been, as C.S. Lewis states:

“Surprised by Joy.”

 

Even in the pain, the possibility of making a contribution may be real;

Even in the fear, the possibility of Joy may be real.

If I choose Life, the possibility of Life may be real.

 

I choose life.

 

Hopejpm82114


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BLESSED ARE THE RICH????? NOT REALLY.

1587_landing_of_the_pilgrims_at_plymouth_-_color_versionThe mythology got mixed up with theology and became canonized byScene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States our founding fathers somewhere between the 16th and 18th centuries. That didn’t make it Biblical, or even an unsacred truth, but somehow because of the nature of our patriotism and need to believe that those who “started” us were wonderful, upstanding people who got it all right, there are people today who still believe the lie. Mostly they are wealthy people. The same ones who believe that the beatitude “Blessed are the poor” ends right there. Look it up—there’s more. Because the “more” is also somewhat opaque for our understanding, I will leave that to those trained in exegesis. However, there is little doubt as to the nature of scriptural direction about wealth—in particular, excessive wealth.

For example, in the New Testament we read about the Rich Fool, who refused to help the beggar at his feet but instead tore down his barns to build bigger barns so that he could hoard more wealth. Wealth was not just money, then or now. It included material possessions like land, cattle, crops, and even family. His reward for such activity was to burn in Hell, pleading for a drop of water from the hands of the beggar he never helped, who was in heaven. (He was denied, by the way.) Sure, this is a just a parable; it is a story with a moral point– “Moral” being the key word.

Another story, this one repeated by eye witnesses, is about the rich young ruler who came to Jesus, claiming to have kept all the religious laws from his youth. He inquired “What must I do to be saved?” and Jesus replied “Give all that you have to the poor, and follow me.” The young man could have lived in America today, because he turned away sadly and left the followers of Jesus.

Maybe that is why scripture also tells us that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Old and New Testaments alike repeatedly tell us to take care of the poor, the widows, and the orphans, the sick and disabled. The commands are unequivocal: Don’t hoard wealth. Don’t succumb to greed.   Take care of those who are in need. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. What’s more, most religions have similar values and ethical concerns about matters of wealth, poverty, and human relationships.

For example, in many cultures one who would be holy must give up all material things as well as family and other relationships, wandering alone and without visible support in order to meet the requirements of holiness. In the Christian traditions, the closer one is to God, the more likely it is that one would join a holy order and renounce wealth and personal possessions. We have a long history of people defined as saints because they dedicated their lives to caring for others, rather than for themselves. Nowhere in anything I have ever read or experienced has anyone achieved sainthood by loving and caring only for themselves.

st francis

 So how did the Puritans—and our founding fathers—get it so wrong? What made them believe that being rich and powerful was a sign that they were truly better than others? Well first of all, they came from a country steeped in the mystique of the aristocracy. Even though they came here to found a new nation that would denounce the way of life they left behind (yes, our forefathers were rebels and immigrants!) there were some ideas deeply rooted in their zeitgeist, to which they still clung.

Reinforcing the belief that wealth and power signified a better race of human beings was the Calvinistic belief in predestination. Actually, the concept of predestination was not the problem. The problem entered AFTER these people were taught to believe that there was a heaven and a hell, and that God knew and had always known who was destined for each place–and the outcome could not be changed. The problem came to life because these folks needed to believe that they were among the chosen. After all that they had sacrificed, and all the difficulties they encountered in the new world, they needed to believe that there would be some post-death reward to make it worthwhile.

So, the Puritans were smart and lived well. They worked hard, saved for the future, and circulated their money in the community.   They prospered accordingly (see Max Weber’s Puritan Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism for a classic sociological analysis of this phenomenon). And when they prospered they chose to believe, lacking evidence to the contrary, that they were among the Chosen. They prospered, therefore they believed that they were special, and that God was showing them that they were predestined for eternal life in His heaven.

This need to connect prosperity with God’s blessing returns again and again in our history. A few years ago the “prosperity gospel” gained in popularity with the promise that God would prosper those who followed Him according to the tenets of that particular line of interpretation. Followers of this belief system may still exist, but they are much quieter now. Louder are the voices of those who were disappointed by the lack of evidence that the purpose of Christian living is to gain wealth.

I believe that right now we are experiencing a far more malignant resurgence of the myth that the wealthy are superior beings, blessed by God (in those cases where they claim a belief in any God but money). Their belief not only justifies to them the dehumanization of the vast majority of the world who are not wealthy, but also the hoarding of wealth. Many of the latter—exemplified by the pre-Christmas Scrooge of Dickens fame—care for nothing more than wealth and power. scroogeLike Scrooge, they are quite literally insane with this addiction, justified by an ancient myth that has been repeatedly denounced by philosophers, poets, theologians and followers of holy writ from every religion. In their insanity, these believe they are doing the “right thing” to destroy all that has been good about our nation.

As it happens, I have met very few people of wealth and power who also were people of integrity. Some who began public service with honorable intentions to change the system from the inside soon succumbed to the seductive nature of wealth and power. But not all of them. There are a few truly fine people who hold positions of power, and who manage despite everything to remember the nature of wholesomeness, trust, and accountability.

Accountability is vitally important. I must be accountable to others if I am to be an ethical person. Moreover, alone I cannot effect  positive societal change. I can speak out, and I can join others who recognize our need to be free of the idea that our nation should be returned to a time when people believed that a few wealthy persons were of a superior race. But, unlike those of the present, the Puritans of our past usually knew that if you would prosper, you had to build up the people around you as well. The necessary recirculation of wealth and resources made communities stronger. They were accountable. There was no such lie as “trickle-down” economics.

The past is done. Today the idea of strength in numbers can still be applied: Together, we can reclaim the excellence in education, health, and industry that once made us strong. It is a new day, a new time, and the ways and means of doing this have changed. But the values that built our nation have not. Those values are timeless.people-holding-hands-th

How many times are we going to have to renounce the mythology that the rich are superior beings, blessed by God and destined for a heaven populated only by their “own kind?” Probably again, and again, and in ever more determined and righteous ways. Of course, those who actually believe that ethical rules or the holy writings of many religions are just nonsense will laugh at all this, and return to the pleasures that help to salve the perceived injury they suffer from constantly being challenged by the resilient presence of those they would choose to ignore, to dehumanize and disenfranchise. But we who do not buy into any belief in “superiority” simply by virtue of wealth are not going away. The scriptures attest to that, as well.   And we are many.

 

People are hungry for God.

People are hungry for love. Are you aware of that?

Do you know that? Do you see that?

Do you have eyes to see?

Quite often we look but we don’t see.

We are all passing through this world.

We need to open our eyes and see.

 

Mother Teresa