Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Christmas Story

I wrote this story many years ago.  I was driving somewhere near Iowa where I’d been to a writer’s conference, I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular when the whole story simply appeared in my mind.  I pulled over to the side of the road and scribbled the outline on a scrap of paper.  Later, as I wrote it, it simply flowed from my pen.  In recent years I’ve read it to my grandchildren on Christmas Eve.

The Gift

            In the time before the star shone over Bethlehem, there lived a shepherd and his wife who had six sons. The husband was very proud to have such a family of sons, but the wife longed for a daughter.   After the fourth boy, she had expressed that wish to her husband.  He scolded her, saying it was sons, not daughters that every good Hebrew should pray for.   Although she dearly loved and cared for each son, she never stopped yearning for a daughter.  After the birth of her sixth boy her heart became heavy, realizing she was passing out of her childbearing years and was not to realize her hope.  But to their surprise, she conceived again, and a year later, she gave birth to a girl!  She immediately declared the child to be God’s blessing, and requested of her husband that the baby be named Johanna, Hebrew for ‘gift of God’.  They so named her.
            The baby was very beautiful, strong and healthy—except for a twisted foot.  Faithfully during the child’s infancy, her mother massaged and molded the foot, which improved from the care, but it was never to be fully cured.  Throughout her life, Johanna was to walk with a limp. 
            The husband—being a good Jew—went frequently to the temple.  As his fellow worshipers became aware of the child’s deformity, some would shake their heads and say this was punishment for his sins.  When he repeated this to his wife—who usually made no retort to his chidings—she scolded him: “Do not question God!  His ways are not our ways . . . this child is a gift; God has plans for her.”  The husband just shook his head and walked away.
            Johanna had a loving nature and sweet disposition, but she did not speak.  At first they thought nothing of it—with six lively and boisterous brothers, there was always commotion to which she was alert, so they simply thought her quiet.  One day a physician said her tongue cleaved to her jaw and she would never speak. 
              “—A curse of God for sure!” said the people.
            As she grew, the girl learned household tasks as befits a Hebrew woman, but she also had a great love of the sheep of her father’s flock and took delight in shepherding them in nearby fields that were not hard to walk to.  Later, as she matured, Johanna took on the task of bedding them at night when they were stabled . . . and she gently soothed the delivering ewes at lambing time.  Several times she saved both ewe and lamb in a difficult labor.  Always she was kind and gentle.  The knowledge of her skill spread through the village and at lambing time all welcomed her.
            As the years went on, each of the brothers in turn took wives . . . but no marriage could be arranged for Johanna.  Only the mean or stupid would accept so flawed a woman for wife, and her parents would not agree to such a match.
            As her parents grew old, the daughter cared first for her father, then later her mother thru their aged infirmities, always with kindness and a loving disposition.  Her mother never ceased saying Johanna was God’s gift and blessing.
            After the deaths of her parents, Johanna went to live with and assist the elderly devout long-widowed Anna of the tribe of Asher, who spent much time in the temple praying.  In addition to the duties of Anna’s house, Johanna continued to watch over the stables and tend the lambing of the village.
            One December evening, on her rounds of the stables, Johanna came upon a man sitting dejectedly with his head in his hands—at her approach the man leapt to his feet saying, “You are the answer to my prayers . . . Can you help me? I am Joseph; my wife Mary is about to give birth . . .” Johanna gave no response. “I am a carpenter and do not have knowledge of such things.  We came for the census.  I could find no lodgings or midwife for her, but we were given shelter in this stable . . . her time has come.  Now she is napping between her labor pains—and I feel so helpless.  I called upon the Lord God to send help . . . and here you are.  Will you help us?”
            Johanna nodded.  Joseph soon realized she could not speak, but he did not question God.  He thanked God for sending this kind young woman as he handed her the supplies they had carried with them for this need.  She moved with self-assurance and, though not a midwife, all the years of tending the ewes gave her the needed inner confidence.  Her kindness, warmth and gentleness soothed both the travelers.
            At the moment of birth, gently she received the newborn into her hands, cleared the mucus, patted his back to encourage his first breaths of air, wiped him with the linens, and tucked him into Mary’s arms.
            With gratefulness, Mary received the baby and said, “He is to be called, Jesus.”  At that moment the infant’s tiny fingers curled around Johanna’s index finger—she opened her lips and whispered “Welcome, Jesus” . . .

                                                                      THE END

Thursday, November 30, 2017

0f #MeToo

I, along with most women, have lived with awareness of the smug presumed superiority of men . . . a ‘knowing’ that their position of being in control is exactly as it ‘should be’.  I am pleased to see signs of that assumption being challenged with the #MeToo movement.  It is bringing to light one piece of a deep human flaw.

Prejudices exist, some very overt, while others are often subtitle and even unrealized.  Do men today realize that the treatment of women as sexual objects (there for their personal gratification) is the ultimate expression of humankind’s deepest, most lasting prejudice—male superiority over women?  [prejudice: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason; dislike, hostility or unjust behavior deriving from unfounded opinions]

For thousands of years women have been silenced, kept from participation in decision making, dictated to about what ‘place’ they were allowed to occupy—various restrictions were imposed, while a male expectation was that women were there for a man’s pleasure.

In a primitive world ‘might means right’ made a lot of sense, brute strength was often the criteria for survival.  Men, being stronger took the lead and it eventually developed into a system of patriarchal rule—a system of society or government controlled by men.  Women were subjugated—and their perspective was left out.  Thus was meaningful contribution of one half of the human race lost to the world.

Men and women view life and the world through different lenses—that is not pejorative, it is simply fact.  The differences are not absolute and there are many nuances but surely no one would argue against the reality of fundamental difference between men and women that is more than simply anatomy.

We no longer live in a primitive world and women have awakened.  About 150 years ago women began demanding that their voice be heard.  They won the vote, began to pursue higher education and in the 1960’s led a women’s liberation movement, jobs opened up—but old habits and prejudices die hard; some men continued to expect that women were ‘there for their pleasure’.  That assumption is now being challenged.  Social Media with the #MeToo surge is shining a bright light on that flaw and I applaud it—BUT I caution over zealousness, let’s not accuse every man who pats a fanny of harassment, they came from a culture that endorsed it.  Save your anger for the real perverts who molest children, expose themselves, and draw a woman into an unwanted sexual contact.

                                                                                                                                 * see Feb 20, 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cells in God's Being

A central tenet of Christianity is the Trinity.  I accept Trinity but I believe it is a mistake to continue to refer to God as three ‘persons’.  By continuing to refer to ‘persons’, defining ‘Father’ as the first person, we cannot help but conjure up the image of an old man with a long white beard looking down from afar.  I say there IS a God beyond our knowing, who had been manifested to humanity in three ways.

Creator God is the energy force of creation—of the entire Universe.  You can’t fit that into ‘a person’!  Can I understand God as a causal energy force?  Of course I can’t—but neither can I understand how falling water, or wind, or burning coal, or reflecting sunlight can be the cause of the electricity flowing through wires to light our homes and run our machines and computers at the touch of a button.  I don’t understand it yet I accept it.  So too, I believe God is the energy force of creation because I am here, and the world exists.  St. Paul states: ‘God is All in all.   All exists in God’.  The human person is of God and God is in the human person.  We are free to accept or reject that.

God as Savior chose to manifest the God-self as a human to demonstrate how we are to live this life and to give evidence to immortality.  Jesus was clearly ‘a person’, living the individuality of a singular human being, thus demonstrating the sacredness of our individuality.  He shared a limited existence in time.  Time is limiting, sequential, and one-directional.  Eternity is none of these.  Eternity is infinite, all encompassing and a totality.  God’s Being is in eternity.  Life and material being exists in God within that eternity but has the limit of time.  As Jesus, God accepted life’s limitations, in so doing, connected humanity to the God-self—then empowering God’s spirit to guide us if we but make that choice.  God never insists.

That spirit is the third manifestation of God, known as the Holy Spirit.  Teilhard de Chardin added to our understanding of Holy Spirit in his book The Divine Milieu. Divine of course refers to God.  Milieu is a French word that does not have an equivalent meaning in English.  A dictionary may define it as ‘environment’ but the meaning of milieu is so much deeper, it is the ‘everything’ that sustains one—the air you breath, sunlight, nature, the people and things that surround you.  Holy Spirit/Divine Milieu is God’s spirit of love and goodness that envelops us and seeks union.  It is ever-present.  The meaning carried by the term ‘divine milieu’ brings us to see more clearly that we are all connected.  We are of God, we live in God, and we each carry a spark of God within us whether or not we acknowledge and accept it.

We can say all this but it is beyond our ability to actually grasp, yet we are called to trust (have faith) that it is so . . . accepting that it is the key to a higher consciousness wherein we as a people come to recognize our interconnectedness and begin to live differently—emulating Jesus’ call to “Love God with your whole heart and soul and your neighbor as yourself.”

I like the analogy of humans as cells in God’s Being.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Of Morality

There is much talk these days about our nation having lost its moral authority—of abandoning the ideals that made this nation great.  A threatened loss of something taken for granted makes us realize its importance.

Our previous administration was clearly focused upon what is commonly called the ‘greater good’—that which benefits the greatest number of people or the human race in general.  The current administration has systematically reversed almost every prior initiative taken in health care, climate change, immigration reform, clean energy, involvement with international organizations, and the use of diplomacy in conflict resolution.  How is that NOT shocking?

A few brave Republicans have put principles above party and spoken out against Donald Trump’s fitness to be president and proclaimed him a danger to our democracy.  There is a new book out to which 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts have contributed, titled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has no respect for truth, he lies uncontrollably and winning by whatever means is the only value he holds.  He gives all indications of being amoral.  Amoral is defined as: lacking a moral sense; one unconcerned with rightness or wrongness of something.  --This also is the definition of a sociopath.

In our secular world we don’t talk too much about morality any more, but I want to make some comments about morality.  First, a few definitions:
     --principles concerning the distinction between right & wrong, good & bad
     --values and principles of conduct/behavior
     --the extent to which an action is right or wrong.

Morality is uniquely human.  We share many qualities with other animals, but morality is the hallmark of the human species.  It arises from reflective awareness, the highest level of consciousness.  It is the expression of the god quality inherent in us.  We can only be fully human when morality becomes central to our choice making.  We have the great gift of free will and that means equal access to good and evil.  We are called to make the free choice for the good—therein do we approach God.

The secular society has tried to regulate behavior through legality.  The law is necessary as foundational to civilization but without the injection of morality into the decision-making, legality dissolves into nit-picking fine points of laws and manipulating them to win a dispute.  Law is of the ‘without’, morality is of ‘the within’; both must be considered to arrive at justice.

Anyone without a sense of moral order is unfit to lead a nation.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Standing vs Kneeling

I’m not a sports enthusiast and I don’t support any team.  I consider myself a loyal American and I’m concerned about the controversy over standing vs. kneeling during the national anthem at football games.

The issue first arose as one or two players, then whole teams, chose to kneel rather than stand during the playing of the anthem to bring attention to the injustice toward blacks that is still present in our society.

I want to address the heated arguments claiming that kneeling is insulting and disrespectful to our flag.

As far back as history goes, kneeling has always been a sign of reverence and respect—subjects knelt before kings, people kneel to pray, a man kneels to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage . . . kneeling does not disparage, it is in no way disrespectful.  In this instance it is a request that our nation face the imbalance that is still present in our society.  Those accusations of disrespect arise from resistance toward facing those prejudices that still mar our nation. 

Too often in recent times protests have resulted in violence—in which case the good of the justice sought, is lost to the injustice of the destruction that ensues.  Martin Luther King Jr. awakened our nation to peaceful protest—the method used by Gandhi and Mandela to win freedom and justice in their countries.  Our segregation battle was won by sitting at lunch counters, taking a seat in the front of a bus, and a peaceful march of thousands . . . kneeling at the games is in the same category, and I praise it.

Clearly the imbalance and injustice we are being asked to look at is very real and multifaceted, it will take time and agonizing efforts to resolve, but let us look at the peaceful way this protest is being expressed and admire the courage of those ‘stepping outside the box’ to bring it to light.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

YouTube Song

My daughter sent me a message about a song on YouTube, “My World Needs You” . . . so beautiful . . . so true.     Listen to it.

Our secular world has moved away from God; and the world is in crisis!  It is God that focuses us on the good.  Religions—so needed to help us keep God in mind—have alienated so many thinking people because they have misinterpreted God and encouraged an absolutist mentality that insists, ‘only this way is right’.  Our God is the God of Love and infinite diversity, not a god of vengeance nor a god of magic, bestowing special favors on those who ‘pray correctly’. 

In rebelling against those false concepts many have rejected not only those concepts, but also God.  The error is in human misinterpretation, not in God’s being.   God is God of this incredibly wondrous complex Universe . . . mystery beyond our knowing; the source of all that is good and true.

Consider the ending statement in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Indeed, ‘my world needs you right now’.  Too long we’ve been shortsighted, failing to heed your directive to ‘love one another’.  In seeing and hearing how, through the recent tragedies of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and mass killings, people have reached out to help and comfort one another . . . in this we see the face of God.