Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Silent Awe

Several days ago, I went for a walk around sunset. It was one of those rainy days in Southern California where the sky is full of dark clouds, but then these patches of bright blue break through. Misty clouds hung low upon the foothills. The air was cold and crisp. Everything had this golden tinge from the sunset. And it was all I could do to not drop to my knees in the street and weep in praise and thanksgiving.

"Look out your window. It doesn’t matter which one. They all will do. What do you see? Trees, hills, grass, concrete, metal bars, trash, crap, and all the other debris of modern life? No, you see something wonderful, something magical and wondrous.

... What you see is a gift. A gift more precious than anything, ANYTHING that has or ever will be imagined by human intelligence. You see our reason for existence, our life’s work and mission: to be a song of praise about life itself.

... You know it is true. You’ve felt it in your heart, in your soul. It’s that little piece of you that gets caught up in the drama of life, the drama of nature, the drama of history. That feeling in the back of your throat that you are part of something that you can’t quite grasp and yet you know is there. That just makes you want to cry because it’s so big and bold and beautiful. That makes you want to scream out in joy and ecstasy, thanksgiving and praise for being a part of it.

In that moment, in that very moment, whether it lasts a second or a lifetime, you know that you have touched the face of the divine. Whatever name you want to call him or her or it, you have touched that face and you will never be the same. Nothing will ever be the same again."

"But we talk too much. It makes it all seem so trivial. Just let us be who we are. Just let yourself be. It will be enough."

Sometimes, silent awe is enough.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Abortion, Fear, & Love

Yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It was a day full of editorials and essays, voices on all sides of the abortion debate shouting to be heard. If there's one thing we should be sure of after forty years, it's that none of them have found the solution. Legal or not, abortions will happen, women will suffer, and babies will die, all because of fear. Fear of judgment; fear of abandonment; fear of failure; fear of all the unknowns. A fear that cannot be cured by lawyers, or doctors, or politicians, or even well-meaninged activists. A fear only dissolved by an embrace. An embrace that says I will help you, I respect you, I forgive you, I love you. So maybe it's time for us to shut up, just shut up for a while, and embrace all those who fear, and simply love them.

"There is more love in every atom, every molecule than in all the romances ever conceived. We are the song of life, of love, of a mother and father who made us by sheer force of will. So much of life is a paradox, but it is there that we find God the most. It is there, in the confusion and that mess that we must dwell. It is there that we experience true beauty, true joy."

"From your perspective, you see love and hate, good and evil, right and wrong. I see what is and what will be, and what I see is love and good, always."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Kaleidoscopic Family

As we celebrate both Martin Luther King Day and President Barack Obama's Second Inaugural, my mind keeps returning to two images from election night last November. One was the amazing display of diversity at Obama's victory party in Chicago. The other was the sea of white faces at the gathering of Romney supporters in Boston. The contrast between the two struck me so powerfully, that it is still difficult to put my thoughts into words. Our future and our past, all colliding so visibly to highlight a topic we so desperately wish would just go away and leave us alone: race.

We want to believe that we live in a post-racial America. The election night images say otherwise, as does the personal experience of too many of our fellow citizens. There's only so much we can dismiss as misperception. We need to face the reality that "our kumbaya era" was a fantasy of denial. Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks, who has written about racist rhetoric in politics and racist behavior in Orange County in the last few months, said it best: "There's hope. But real progress will only come when we are willing to deal honestly with uncomfortable, homegrown truths."

And the simplest of these truths is that we only love some of our neighbors. No, our watchword is tolerance. It sounds enlightened. But it has nothing to do with love. You can tolerate people you find annoying, people you despise, people you're so indifferent to that you would never in a million years bother to learn their names. Yes, it sounds enlightened. But it's just a fancy word for politeness. We deserve better.

"We come from a common source. We are children of the same parent. Like it or not, we are family."

And you don't tolerate family, you love them, all of them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Poverty & Greed

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." - Mark 12:41-44
3 December 2012: Almost time for children to learn a valuable life lesson. Santa loves rich kids more. - GS Elevator Gossip (Twitter)
The U.S. Catholic bishops declared January to be Poverty Awareness Month. In that spirit, two recent articles from the Los Angeles Times are instructive. Last week, we were introduced to Shahbaz and Shahzad, two children who, along with their parents and millions of other Pakistanis, are indentured servants. They are forced to accept loans from their employers to survive, but are not paid enough for their work to be able to repay them. The family debt, currently a mere $200, is the only inheritance Shahbaz and Shahzad are likely to receive. On a brighter note, luxury house flipping made the front page on the day after Thanksgiving. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

We are a nation in love with greed. In a commentary on the Gospel passage above, Professor Beth Haile wrote about a class discussion on tithing. One student said “If Jesus wanted us to give all our money away, why should we work so hard to get an education and a job?” I heard many similar remarks when I taught high school. It's all about the money. We seem to be comfortable with a world where some are trapped in a lifetime of servitude over a $200 debt, and others flip multimillion-dollar homes to sell to "house hobbyists" "looking for second and third homes." We may not say it out loud, but our actions state pretty clearly a belief that God loves rich people more.

There's no simple fix for poverty. Throwing money at it has not and will not work. We need to make an attitude adjustment. Jesus praises the widow for donating "her whole livelihood" not because poverty is good, but because sharing everything that we have is an imitation of the divine. The Truth is that God loves Shahbaz and Shahzad every bit as much as our own children. The only question is do we?

"Family is about loving one another, not using one another. Family is about sharing all that we have, not hoarding it. We do not earn anything; it is all a gift from our Parent. Family is about supporting our siblings, not controlling them. Family is about hope, not fear. It is time for us to embrace our family."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Beyond Politics

Since just after Christmas, I've been watching "The West Wing" on Netflix. What I love about the show is that it proclaims both the nobility of politics and the ugly competitive nature of the American political system. In fiction and real life, these are good people, looking to do good things, but they are still human beings, with all the ego and fallibility that are part of the package. So we divide them into two teams, human nature takes over, and the very predictable result is a game where winning trumps everything. Not always, but far too often, and with too much collateral damage.

The most recent episode, of course, was the whole "fiscal cliff" fiasco, but the game is played in so many arenas: health care, guns, immigration, etc, etc. The common good, and common sense, seem to take a back seat to scoring points. It doesn't have to be this way. The Los Angeles Times recently published an opinion article written by the four leaders of the California Legislature during our state's budget crisis in 2009.
We spent weeks in early February with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and together concluded there was only one way out: Both sides had to cross over and vote for budget solutions antithetical to our interests and desires.
There was no great "kumbaya" moment. The negotiations were difficult, exhausting and extremely frustrating. Each side sought a little more of one solution and a little less of the other. But over time, the four of us, all with different backgrounds and beliefs, went from being suspicious of one another to developing a strange but genuine camaraderie as we pulled the budget deal together.
... Our story and the current federal crisis are not identical. But we tell this story because the current circumstances are close enough. Sometimes what matters most is the future of the state or the nation.
"Sometimes what matters most is the future of the state or the nation." In other words, the family comes first. When politics is played as a game in which one party wins and the other loses, we all suffer. Compromise is not weakness, when doing so advances the common good. And stubbornly holding to your principles is not integrity if it violates that same good. When we stop playing the game, politics becomes an instrument for serving the needs of our family. That is noble and righteous by any standard.

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Follow God's will.

That is my resolution this year, and it is the only one worth making. It may seem hard, but it's actually pretty simple. We know what God asks of us; our greed, vanity, lust, and violence are forms of denial, not ignorance. And living in denial is exhausting and depressing. I'm tired of it. Aren't you?

"Why do you babble so much about me? So much time and energy, for what purpose? What more is there to understand about us than love? You think too much and feel too little. You talk too much and love too little. It is the curse of your consciousness. You can see enough to open the door, but not enough to find your way through it. Close your eyes and the path will be illuminated soon enough."