Silent Sunday Morning Musings

asta65_29[1]What has the Eternal One really asked of us?
Ah! To concern ourselves with loving justice,
To show mercy, filled with the Spirit of mercy,
And to walk in humility with our mothering God.

What has the Ever-Redeemer really asked of us?
To love God heart and soul, mind and strength;
To love the other as much as we love ourselves;
To love the other, filled by the Spirit of Love.

What has the Shepherdess of souls asked of us?
To live in meekness, deference and respect;
To stand for right with the might of heaven;
To fight the plight of the poor and wretched.

What has our Saving Isus really required of us?
To show compassion even to the most detestable;
To extend hospitality to even the most avaricious;
To … lay down our lives for friend, for beloved.

What would it mean, then, if we were so to live?
New world born, perhaps? Transformation of creation?

Ah! But these are only my silent Sunday morning musings…

.

Spend an Old Penny to Help the Many

poor-old-woman[2]What’s the old woman worth, who can’t afford to pay her bills and eat her meals?
Just o’er the poverty line, she wears a sign, “I’m not poor, and so benign.”
Cereal, one piece of toast, days to wait for medicine, and nothing to boast
On the heels of check so small, no one to call, while the rich stand oh-so tall.

Spend an old penny to help the many, outdated information not counting inflation,
Methods suggested generations ago, still guarded today like the prize of our nation.

Millions upon millions pay the billions to keep afloat the boat of corruption
With no interruption or disruption in Washington nor Wall Street, and ne’er eruption
From the downtrodden mass of the poverty class, stumbling thru life o’er broken glass;
With in hand checks so small, and no one to call, and trump-rich standing oh-so tall.

Spend an old penny to help the many, outdated information not counting inflation,
Methods suggested generations ago, still guarded today like the prize of our nation.

He makes painful sacrifice only to ride wind of change; to end and begin again,
New chapter, new pen to break the baneful chain, to live on peaceful plain;
His children running free in soft-falling rain, no fear of lack or broken back
Under load too heavy for any to carry ~ this, his dream shoved in a haversack.

Spend an old penny to help the many, outdated information not counting inflation,
Methods suggested generations ago, still guarded today like the prize of our nation.

Crawling out from safety hole, little girl takes the park stroll, no one to console,
To see what she stole just to fill her breakfast bowl; ah! tis only a sweet roll
And lump of coal to keep her warm on winter night, safe from blight but not from fright;
They may take her yet, the seamy crowd so proud to do with her what’s not allowed.

Spend an old penny to help the many, outdated information not counting inflation,
Methods suggested generations ago, still guarded today like the prize of our nation.

In God we trusted, divine love busted; justice burned, and charity’s court adjourned.

The Truth About Altruism: Part II

The congregants (or participants) at St. Gianna’s Wednesday evening SSS meeting seemed energized and especially happy. The previous Wednesday’s meeting ended with everyone milling around, getting to better know each other, talking, laughing … just having good, healthy fellowship. It was terrific, Joy thought, especially since Morris and Angelica Graver stayed, and Justin Case as well! Now, however, it was time to get back on track … or, maybe, a new track altogether.

“Here we are again, presumably to tackle altruism, but I’d like to make an amendment, if I may,” Joy began. “Although the definition from last week was fine and every part applies, for our purposes here I would like to narrow the definition…” She paused for any possible reaction from her comic relief crowd, or pastoral pundits as she sometimes called them, but nothing came. “I think we should narrow the definition down to ‘the belief in and practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of another,’ and of course by ‘another’ I include the non-human world, such as dogs and cats and the even the environment. Another is other than self. Now … let me get some feedback. Tell me what you think?”

Joy didn’t have to wait at all. Forgetting to raise her hand, an attractive, slightly gothic high-school senior popped up. “It sounds great but, ya know … I mean, why does it have to be so … you know, intellectual and all? I mean, to me this just means not being an arrogant ass-hole.” Several people laughed, Joy was rather shocked (but amused), and the girl just chortled before continuing. “You know, my God, I’ve known a lot of jerks in my life. Ya know, the stuck-up pricks that just walk right by you like you’re not even there. Or, like, the bubble-headed divas who won’t even say ‘hello’ when you speak to them.”

“But you’re talking about what altruism is not,” Moxie, who was sitting nearby and knew the girl, jumped in. “What about what it is?

“Sorry, Mox, I can’t give your kind of grand, philosophical definitions … hell, half the time I can’t even understand what you’re saying!” Moxie half smiled but let it go. “What is it? It sounds like it’s just, you know, being down to earth … ya know, kind, courteous … polite. And it’s, like, helping when you can, not just, like, saying ‘Oh God, man! I’m so sorry! That’s some real …” she caught herself, “that’s a real bummer, man.’ It’s really caring and helping when and how you can, ya know. To me, that’s altruism plain and simple, but Moxie could probably put all of that into some huge, monstrous definition for the intellectuals here but, anyway, that’s my simpleton definition.”

“And my dear Dracula maiden,” Moxie looked her square in the eye, “you need to, like, ya know, sit down now, cause the Mox is about to box and, like, that would really be a bummer, ya know.”

“O.k. O.k. That’s enough!” Joy jumped in immediately. “I don’t know why you two do this. You’ve practically lived side by side and known each other for years, and like each other whether you want to admit it or not.” The girl sat down and Moxie turned around without saying another word. Joy was right, of course; they did like each other but sometimes… sometimes!

“Anyway … yes, that’s an excellent way of looking at altruism. Yes, it’s a very down-to-earth way of understanding altruism with, of course, some nicely provided illustrations of what it is not.” Joy had wondered for about two years now why Aggie – Aggie Tate was her name – always downplayed herself. She made good grades; she was smart; she had a lot of abilities… “Anyone else? Yes, Aura.”

“Really, then, altruism is both a state of being as well as the actions that proceed from that state of being,” he offered. “Ah, but I see I may be corrected again.” Aura Amity smiled broadly as he noticed Moxie’s hand held high. “Shall I learn another valuable lesson now?”

“No, not really,” Moxie smiled back at Aura. “Actually, you’ve hit on an important point. I believe you are right, but I would expand and just slightly modify what you’ve said to include virtue itself, which I’d like to define now, if I may take a shot at it?” She looked and smiled at Joy, who shook her head.

“Where, oh where would I be without my Moxie?” she moaned while most everyone else freely expressed their amusement. “Woe is me! I forgot again! What will become of me? Yes, Moxie! By all means, define our principle term…! Or better yet, come take the podium!”

“Oh no! Not me, Mother Joy! You keep the clerical collar, podium, pulpit and everything else ecclesiastical, ‘cause this girl’s sure not ready for any sacred vows!” Everyone, including Joy laughed, except Able. “Oops! I mean, there may very well be one exception.” She looked at her fiancée and smiled. “At any rate, back to virtue and virtues. I think the distinction between state of being and action made by Aura is important, but I would define Virtue – in the singular, with a capital ‘V’ – as the soil, if we might use last week’s analogy, from which the virtues – plural, lower case – grow. To elaborate just a bit, Virtue is, one might say, the Soil of the Soul, the Disposition of the Spirit, the Heart … the Whole Character-Inclination of the Whole Self. This is Virtue as a state of being. Out from this good works, or deeds – the virtues – spring forth, or grow.”

“So modesty and altruism are virtues that grow up from the rich, healthy soil of Virtue, capital ‘V,’ much like the wonderful vegetables I grow in my garden?” Aura offered and Moxie nodded. “Very good, very good. I understand … so, if one does not possess the good, rich and healthy soil, one will not produce the good, hearty and healthy vegetables. This is akin to what Jesus said about the tree bearing fruit; that is, one will know the tree – the person – by the fruit – the good works, or virtues, being produced.”

“Bingo!” Joy called out. “You hit the nail on the head, Aura, and thank you Ms. Moxie for your very clear and erudite definition and explanation.” Both Aura and Moxie smiled and said “thank you,” then sat back down.

Now for the first time, Justin Case held his hand aloft … and with rather a serious, even somewhat sad, look on his face.

“Yes, Justin, please stand.” Joy Brighterday was happy he felt comfortable enough to participate.

“If Virtue is the Soil of the Soul, as Moxie has put it, and it must be good and healthy, rich and fertile, as Aura noted … What of the person whose soil is mere dirt, deficient of minerals and nutrients, or … maybe just sand? Is that man precluded from any and all virtuous actions? And if so, what is his fate, then? Is it possible for him to … well, I suppose, somehow change the Soil of his Soul, the Disposition of his Spirit?”

“Ah … Now I am going to be strictly pastor, and perhaps even theologian,” Joy replied. “First, Justin, very good question. Thank you so much for asking, too, because it’s an important question that was bound to come up or, at any rate, it needed to be asked. Secondly, as I know you know, analogies only go so far, although this analogy is an excellent one. Thank you again to Moxie, and also Aura for both his horticultural and scriptural contributions.” She nodded to both of them. “But now I’m going to turn this analogy on its head and say, thirdly, the Soil of the Soul can most certainly be changed. In fact, the Soil can be transformed by the plants, so to speak … the fruits and vegetables themselves.”

“What I am saying is simply this: You work good works – exercise the virtues day to day – no matter the Disposition of your Spirit, and your Disposition – the All-Encompassing Character of your Self – will change over time to accord with your … produce, so to speak. Of course, you also know that if you do something long enough, it becomes habit. I’m taking this one step further. You see, I honestly cannot believe that someone without good, rich, fertile Soil – say, a philanthropist – can practice philanthropy year after year after year without cultivating within her Self some degree of genuine altruism … and, perhaps of course, other virtues as well. Now I know some of you want to protest the likelihood of someone being a philanthropist if s/he has no sense of altruism whatsoever, and that’s a valid objection.

However, I’m asking you to trust me on this one; I’m submitting to you that, in fact, there have been and are individuals who can rightly claim to be philanthropic yet possess not even a kernel of altruism in their hearts. Why are they philanthropic? Probably for many reasons, often having to do with tax write-offs and/or their public image … and it is also, I believe, an unseen spark of divine goodness with an attendant heavenly whisper-call to be something, someone better. So, I am saying I believe it is extremely unlikely that they can practice philanthropy for years upon years without the Soil of their Soul being transformed, at least to some degree, for the good, if only for two reasons: 1) the foundation of all goodness is God and 2) ultimately all good actions are, knowingly or not, directed toward the God who made them possible in the first place. Of course, I may very well be wrong; but in spite of this possibility, if one intentionally begins working good works, practicing good deeds, living out the virtues, then it’s almost inevitable. The Soil of the Soul will change. The Disposition of the Spirit, the Heart will eventually be Virtue.”

“There is only one thing lacking in this process,” Joy continued, scanning her listeners, then returning her attention to Justin. “No one is able to do this … on his or her own. Period. Before anyone gets discouraged, though, there is the Helping One, who is able and willing to help – or, really, to ultimately initiate, guide and make transformation possible – with our necessary cooperation. And what is our cooperation? It is prayer and work… Work and prayer; prayer and work; together, hand in hand. You see, in order to change the Disposition of our Spirit, we need the Spirit … that is, the Spirit of God; therefore, we pray and we ask the Spirit of the Everlasting One to initiate this vital transformation, then to guide us in our transformational work, and finally to bring it to completion… Does this all make any sense?”

“Yes … yes, it does.” Justin answered soberly. “Thank you,” he said as he sat down with the same serious, concerned look on his face. Evidently, he hadn’t counted on struggling through this short series on four random virtues, but only half way into it Justin was having to look at himself and really take stock.

“You’re welcome,” Joy replied. “Anyone else?”

*

So We Pierce His Side … Again

We turn away from the wink and handshake with nothing said,

Flee from the decrepit, starving man as if we had no bread,

Pretend we don’t notice the beautiful girl the monster has eyed;

So unsheathe the silver sword; once again, we pierce His side.

 

Merchant tyrants laugh and brag and swag at suave cocktail deals,

While babies die, bombs explode, whole families look for meals;

Churches with groomed pastors naively sing and never play their part;

So unsheathe the silver sword; once again, we pierce His heart.

 

Where are my children, my boy and girl; do I hear their silent cries?

Does the sound rise above the nooks, crooks and preachers of lies?

Or have they been deadened already, never the chance to start?

So should their father take the sword to again pierce His heart?

 

Speaking on Behalf of Volunteering

I recently had the privilege of speaking with the local news on behalf of volunteering.

Volunteers Give Back Through 2-1-1

Of course, volunteering is an opportunity to show my own gratitude and appreciation in a concrete way.  And, as I also mentioned, it is a proactive, tangible way to help alleviate pain and suffering in our world, which is fundamentally important.

JDN4If I’d had the opportunity ~ and, obviously, time with the news camera is limited ~ I might have added that reaching out in the spirit of genuine love and compassion is one important way we express our solidarity with one another.

After all, the human creature is a communal creature; we are quite literally made for one another. As the old saying goes, “No man is an island unto himself,” so that separation and isolation are really rather unnatural.

Consequently, when we help or benefit another, we indirectly held and benefit ourselves. And because this is true, strange as it may sound, being other-centered is ultimately the greatest act of self-service possible, whereas self-centeredness is in the end quite destructive.

Listen Up! Help May Be As Simple As 211

211It’s almost too easy to watch television, read the newspaper, or surf the Internet where you see and hear about the pain and suffering of people in your community and around the world; it’s quite another when you actually talk to someone who opens a window into their life and asks you  if you  can help… Actually, it’s both an awesome privilege and moral responsibility.

Like Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the beautiful compensations in this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” This is something to which I can personally attest in so many ways, but especially since I began volunteering at the Wiregrass United Way 2-1-1 call center here in southeast Alabama.

2-1-1 is a nationwide service that provides free, confidential information and referral for people in need of particular services or help with food, housing, employment, health care, counseling and much more. You know, ordinary folks who find themselves in dire straights, like the woman who phoned in a couple of weeks ago.

I answered the call and, after providing some basic information, this lady told me simply that she needed someone to talk to for advice, for some guidance and direction. Then, of course, she elaborated on her situation and the problems she and her family were currently facing … difficulties they’d never encountered before.

She was married with two teenage children. Her husband was disabled and hadn’t been able to work. He had applied for disability but had been turned down. She still worked full-time, but things had just gotten tighter and tougher. They were doing the best they could to keep up, but she mentioned they’d fallen behind in the mortgage payments on their house.

So she needed to talk to someone, she said, just for advice … to find out what to do next. And that’s really how she expressed her need. She just needed to sit down with someone – someone qualified – to help her figure things out. She wasn’t quite sure where to go, however, but it had to be somewhere or someone inexpensive, if not free.

Well … that may seem a bit vague, but I focused in on the first significant thing she told me, namely that her husband was disabled, unable to work, and had been denied disability. Consequently, I was able to provide two resources to (hopefully) put her in touch with someone she could talk to about that specific concern.

We didn’t stop with this one need, though, and this is one of the beautiful benefits of the 2-1-1 service. We didn’t stop with her need for counsel because she’d also said something about falling behind on mortgage payments. This was not something for which she’d specifically  asked help; she’d just happened to mention mortgage payments when she was telling me about her overall situation.

So in addition to connecting her with a couple of agencies for legal counsel, I was thankfully able to also offer information about resources to address this other very real concern for her and her family… But we didn’t end here, either. I went on to ask her how she and her family were doing on other fronts, too: food, clothing, fuel, etc. You see, this is what I’ve been trained to do at 2-1-1. This is an important part of the service provided by 2-1-1 all across the country: to listen carefully and assess the needs of the caller, even those needs they may not be specifically  tackling at the moment.

Thankfully, she said they were doing alright in these areas, but then – and this had to be the best part of the call – she very genuinely thanked me and asked me again for my name. I told her, of course, and then she asked me if I was a volunteer. Naturally, I answered, “Yes…” But then came the question that kind of caught me off guard, an altogether beautiful question, really.

She asked me, “why?” She wanted to know why I had decided to volunteer my time at 211… And I was able (and privileged) to tell her that I had decided to volunteer my time quite simply because I love people and I want to help people who need help … people just like her and her family. And 2-1-1 provides me, and so many other truly wonderful folks, the opportunity to do just that: to connect people with the resources they need and can utilize in any number of areas, addressing all sorts of needs.

Evidently she appreciated this because she then wanted to talk to someone about possibly volunteering! She wanted to help people just like she’d been helped! And this is what it’s all about, really. You see, in a very real sense, the world comes in on the phone lines, live at 2-1-1 … real people talking to people who really care and are able to provide an exceptional service of which I’m very honored and truly blessed to be some small part.

2-1-1 is an easy-to-remember telephone number that, all across the country, connects hundreds of people each and every hour with important social, health and human services. Whether they (or you!) are looking for help paying a utility bill, counseling, affordable housing, food pantries or assistance with any number of other needs, 2-1-1 is an easy phone call available 24 hours a day, seven days a week … one phone call to tap into a host of available resources.

Remember 2-1-1.  It’s an easy-to-remember phone number that you, a family member, or friend may need one of these days.  If so, isn’t it nice to know you can pick up the phone, dial 2-1-1 and talk to a real person who really cares, and will help put you in touch with the appropriate agencies, churches, or organizations providing the help you specifically need?  I sure think so! And now that I’m involved, I know an awful lot of other people who’re thankful, too!

Karim and the Gift of Generosity

There is something about charity, liberality of the heart, that has always ranked high in the estimation of humanity; perhaps some latent memory of divine generosity at the beginning of the life of this world that impels the human soul to imitate its Maker. However that may be, unfeigned generosity is given an especially high place in faith-religions throughout the world.

In the Hebrew Psalms of David we are taught:

Blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord delivers him in the day of trouble.  (41.1)

And in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit we read that charity, or almsgiving, leads to eternal life:

Almsgiving is death’s avoiding, is guilt’s atoning, is the winning of mercy and of life eternal…  Tobias (Tobit) 12.9 (Knox Bible)

Buddhism teaches us that even the poor should be generous:

A poor man who himself subsists on charity should give charity.  (Dhammapada 224)

Generosity is inextricably linked to authentic faith:

Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbor, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest.  (Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 15)

One Native American religion goes so far as to threaten death as the result of stinginess:

See to it that whoever enters your house obtains something to eat, however little you may have. Such food will be a source of death to you if you withhold it.

So generosity is a spiritual gem, an invaluable virtue, an admirable quality, and for many thousands of people in the world on the receiving end, life-saving.  But does God take care of those who care for others?  I would like to believe so – and I’m not asking the question in a sacrilegious manner – but sometimes it seems the most genuinely giving people are left with little or nothing.  Perhaps they’ve given too much?  This is certainly possible, I suppose, and that would mean they should have been more frugal.  But what of the person who has simply, and quite literally, been sincerely generous, and has given out of love more than a sense of duty?

I know a man –  call him “Karim,” which actually means “generous” –  and he has been very openhanded through the years.  Like everyone, of course, Karim is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but no one could ever accuse him of the deadly sin of greed.  Who knows how much he’s given in dollar amounts?  Is an account kept in heaven?  I don’t know, but from what I do know the figure would hit well up into the tens of thousands … no small amount for Karim because he’s never been a wealthy man.  But there you go!  Maybe he would be wealthy if he hadn’t given away so much!

Karim doesn’t think so.  He is a bit of a non-materialistic idealist, who believes that genuine generosity, especially to those in greatest need, is its own reward.  Consequently, true wealth comes from giving away what you have been given because, according to this dear soul, it has been given precisely to be given again … and again and again.  Life for Karim, in fact, is lived best when it’s lived for others, and life is satisfying only to the extent that it’s given away.  Well, he probably hasn’t perfectly lived out this ideal,  but he’s been materially and financially generous, for sure, and that must mean something.  Does it?  Enter now my doubt.

I know for fact that he has given to many people who have, seemingly at least, forgotten poor Karim (and he is poor now).  What especially vexes me, however, are those who promised to repay Karim, though he gave what he gave as a gift.  But they insisted at the time, and then quite promptly forgot … or did they?  Why should it bother me?  Well, perhaps it shouldn’t; after all, Karim gave what he gave freely, without thought of repayment. Besides, he himself insists that generosity is its own reward;  maybe he is at peace and satisfied.  And, too, maybe an infinitely benevolent God will grant mercy and life eternal to Karim as promised in the Wisdom of Sirach.

Here and now, though, Karim seems to have very little, at least materially, and I couldn’t help but feel sad for him this Christmas.  He received precious few holiday cards and most of the ones he did receive were from charities to which he’s donated … asking for more money, of course!  It’s enough to make you laugh and cry at the same time!  (Actually, I’ve done both, but anyway…)  Karim just goes on, though, living the days God has given him, holding out for something more and better … some day.  Well, maybe he’s right after all; perhaps generosity is it’s own reward.  At least I can say Karim doesn’t seem too bruised by the callousness of others;  he does seem happy when he’s giving. And that, at any rate, is something to ponder a while.