Saturday, April 25, 2015

"One Nation Under God? Be Careful What You Ask For

Please pray for this man and his family. He doesn't belong in prison.

Quintin Alonzo

I've known Quintin- QT's- story for nine years and it still scrapes the skin off my soul every time I pause to consider it. Convicted more than ten years ago of shooting another teen at a West Dallas party, in spite of the fact that evidence did not add up to a guilty verdict, he has languished in prison while he, family and friends have made attempt after attempt to have his trial reviewed and numerous wrongs set right.  If you want to read about the particulars, you can go here: Recreating a Murder. I don't understand a country like the US that won't do everything within its power to to see that EVERY innocent human being is released from their chains. It seems to me that we trot out the doublespeak about liberty and freedom only when we want to send people off to kill and be killed.

We wave the bloody shirt when one US citizen gets killed while we lock up thousands without due process or a chance to genuinely redress their wrongful convictions.

A System Unable to Face Its Mistakes

To watch the television one moment while listening to a Texas politician scream about freedom and liberty then to hear on the phone THE VERY NEXT minute about an open admission by a state functionary that an innocent man's case won't be heard again because the state sees but will not admit its own faults-- that is the kind of thing that turns my blood cold.

It is almost unimaginable to contemplate what QT is suffering through.  I am most in touch, however, with the intense, no-end grief that has been foisted on his mother, his siblings, his cousins, grandparents and aunts and uncles.  In the words of one aunt, Joanne, 

"It's been a long time since I've woken up from a dream crying, but this morning was my turn. I dreamed of my nephew QT when he was about 2/3. . . . The dream was so real and clear his voice sounded just like when he was 3 and his hair I touched his hair and his curls were so thick and his eyes so big! . . . the smell of him, the smell of a baby...woke me crying with an aching in my heart so bad. He said, "tia don't leave me" Wow what away to start the morning."


Witnessing the suffering QT and his family have been made to endure has shaken my belief in one of the dearest rituals of democracy I have engaged in, the pledge of allegiance.  Since I was a child I have treasured the moment of taking the pledge a thousand times in classrooms, on football and baseball fields, and at civic events.  Thinking of it now brings back sense-memories of hot summer breezes, purple horizons brought about by setting suns, freshly mown grass and most of all the physically palpable sense of belonging to a community that stretches from "sea to shining sea."

My friends' experience, however, makes it very hard for me to believe in the pledge of allegiance nowadays. The fact that some people are livid about the slight possiblity that "One nation under God" may get taken out of the pledge makes me want to laugh. And to cry.

Condemning Ourselves

Because EVERY TIME we mouth that false promise we are condemning ourselves for our failure to dedicate ourselves to liberty and justice for every human being, so help us God. 

I believe even now that God is judging this country.  I believe with just as much conviction that our judgment is not based on the negligible sins of some "others." I am convinced that we stand in the dock today because of our hypocrisy in claiming that we are a "Godly nation" while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the every-day promise of justice for all.

So, Christ follower, faithful church goer, 
bible thumper, advocate for putting the ten commandments on the courthouse lawn, be careful that your zeal does not carry you right over the precipice of a false and sadly deluded piety.  We will surely reap what we sow.

People who believe most deeply in God should be rushing to take that phrase out of the pledge because we are condemned by it each and every time we speak it. "I hate your solemn assemblies, your sacrifices and your religious services," says the Lord God. (Amos 5:21)

Who Is The Hero and Who the Villain?

Meanwhile QT Alonzo remains in prison, not the only person by far whom our state has required to pay for the sins of others, but one more flesh-and-blood reminder of the cruelty that comes of mouthing phrases we do not have the courage to back up with our sacred honor- we "free people" who freely pledge to defend the rights of freedom "for all."

And what, might you ask, has QT's response been to the steady grinding of a system that so carelessly took away his rights as a citizen?  Read for yourself:
"The day the verdict was gonna be handed down I remember it so clearly that I got on my knees in my cell and I said "God you know the truth, I know I have done alot of things wrong in my life.. I'm not perfect but you know that I am not guilty of this but if this is where you want me to be send me I will go".. I remember seeing all of my family there and Santos family and friends there too.. Sometimes people ask me if Im angry, if Im mad, is there hate in me . . . I thank God for my family and friends who have stayed on their knees, praying not only for me but for the family of Santos Gauna (the murder victim), because I know I serve a God who is just."

It isn't that the phrase "One nation under God" is empty of meaning. Quite the opposite. It is overloaded with the true meaning of our hypocrisy, our cruelty, 
our failure to pursue justice and liberty for ALL.

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"And what does the Lord require of you? That you do justice, love kindness and walk humby with your God."  (Micah 6:8)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Happy Belated Earth Day

Photo Credit: HD Wallpapers

“We need the tonic of wildness—to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
– Henry David Thoreau, American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Give A Little Bit

"Linda and I have often talked about how grateful we are to give to our government at tax time. I don't agree with lots of things the government does- separating children from their families in border detention centers, giving handouts to robber barons while denying basic necessities to the people on whose backs this country was built and spying on its own citizens being chief among them.

HOWEVER, I've made a covenant to live in this place with my fellow citizens and as far as I'm concerned, everything I can do to keep the roads paved, to get food to families who need it, to see that the soldiers who protect me and my family at least get something to help them with the basics of life, and to fund education for the people who will be making decisions for me when I am in a nursing home- EVERYTHING I can do to make those and many other things possible comes to me as a sacred privilege.

I believe it enlarges my heart and makes me a better patriot. There is so much more to be doing beyond that- way more than enough work to go around- but I refuse to complain when Uncle Sam taps me on the shoulder and tells me that it is time to contribute.

I'll take the good with the bad until the day I am convinced there is no hope, then I'll move on to some place where I think I can do some good, but until that day comes, I am more than happy to give.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Courage to Be

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Thanks to end-of-life care, Amy Culley isn’t dying — she’s living

Amy Culley has worked as a nurse at Baylor Scott & White Health for more than 10 years. More than two years ago, she received the worst news of her life. At age 38, she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Since that time, she has become a passionate advocate for supportive and palliative care and encouraged us to help her spread the word about how life-changing these services are for people like her with life-limiting or chronic illnesses.

Read more about Amy and her campaign to spread hope at Baylor Scott & White Health's Scrubbing In blog.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Our Hearts and the Word of God

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“So it is no surprise that Jewish teaching includes frequent reminders of the importance of a broken-open heart, as in this Hasidic tale: A disciple asks the rebbe: “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”38”

― Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bidden or Unbidden . . .

“St. Teresa of Avila wrote: 'All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause: praying as if God were absent.' This is the conviction that we bring with us from early childhood and apply to everyday life and to our lives in general. It gets stronger as we grow up, unless we are touched by the Gospel and begin the spiritual journey. This journey is a process of dismantling the monumental illusion that God is distant or absent.” 

― Thomas Keating, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fare Forward, Voyager

Photo Credit: Free Wallpapers
Thanks to friend and colleague Beth, who has to be one of the great internet curators of all time. She passed on this pairing of an extraordinary wall paper photo with an equally extraordinary excerpt from T.S. Eliot's Dry Salvages from Panhala's Joe Riley. 

An electrifying inspiration.

The Dry Salvages

Fare forward, travellers! Not escaping from the past 
Into indifferent lives, or into any future; 
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
And on the deck of the drumming liner
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think 'the past is finished'
Or 'the future is before us'.
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)

Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: "on whatever sphere of being
The mind of man may be intent
At the time of death" - that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which will fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare Forward.

O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination."
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.

~ T.S. Eliot ~

(Collected Poems)

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Joyfully Breaking the Rules

Photo Credit: Mark Grace
The poet Samuel Hazo once remarked on the instinctive ability children have to frame day-to-day life in poetic terms. He quoted one child who, after bouncing a ball, stated, “Look how I made that ball happy!” 

Another child observed the swirl of autumn leaves stirred by a passing car and exclaimed, “That car woke up all those leaves.” 

My favorite poem is by a Japanese boy fulfilling a school assignment. He wrote,
I wet my bed today.
My father is angry with me,
My sister won’t speak to me.
Everyone thinks I should be ashamed.
I’m not ashamed.
In fact, I’m happy!
These children all express ways of seeing life and of feeling about themselves that could be called wrong. We know that balls don’t feel, that leaves don’t sleep, and we may wish that all young children would approach the task of potty training with great seriousness.

I want to suggest, however, that there may be a price to pay when we too zealously pursue an “adult” way of looking at the world. Or take for granted our adult emotional responses (or lack thereof) to certain situations. While genuine faith certainly requires all of our reasoning and intelligence, it also requires a devoted imagination.

The Gospel encourages us to purposefully respond to life in ways that are often very different from what social and cultural conventions lead us to expect.

The Apostle Paul begged us to "be not conformed to this current age, but be transformed by the renewing of your understanding . . ."

Christ challenged us to become like little children, so that we might see the kingdom of heaven. We are also encouraged to respond to spiritual poverty, hunger, thirst and persecution as potential blessings, and to rejoice when we encounter difficult, character-testing circumstances in life. 

Applying the Gospel to our lives requires that we determine to lay aside our ideas and expectations of the world as we have been taught to see it. 

The Holy Spirit is even now coaxing us to trust that God might have something different and infinitely better in mind for us than the rules that we have made up in our heads. 

Photo Credit: Mark Grace

That kind of faith has the power to create prophets and apostles. 

Faith like that also sustains a legion of everyday heroes. 

Like the executive who begins to treat her job as a God-given vocation, or the father who sees parenting as more than telling and teaching but who eagerly seeks to discover the ways his children are pointing him to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Or you, sitting there as you read this essay, pondering what it is that you could possibly be happy about in a week like the one you have been experiencing.

How have you let the Spirit open your eyes and make your heart receptive to wonder and joy?  Leave a comment!


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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Facing Domestic Violence

Facing Domestic Violence
There are images burned indelibly into my memory.
They elbow their way into consciousness at unsuspecting moments. They grip memory by the throat, throttling it until memory turns purple, until hazy black dots swim in front of its eyes and a scream tries to force its way out of the pit of my stomach, only to remain lodged there like a white-hot rock that won’t go down and cannot come up.

They are images of violence.  Click Here to Read More

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Monday, October 13, 2014

The Illusion of Faith As Certainty

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"Place no hope in the feeling of assurance, in spiritual comfort. You may well have to get along without this.

"Place no hope in the inspirational preachers of Christian sunshine, who are able to pick you up and set you back on your feet and make you feel good for three or four days—until you fold up and collapse into despair. 

"Self-confidence is a precious natural gift, a sign of health. But it is not the same thing as faith. 

"Faith is much deeper, and it must be deep enough to subsist when we are weak, when we are sick, when our self-confidence is gone, when our self-respect is gone. 

"I do not mean that faith only functions when we are otherwise in a state of collapse. But true faith must be able to go on even when everything else is taken away from us. Only a humble (person) is able to accept faith on these terms, so completely without reservation that (s)he is glad of it in its pure state, and welcomes it happily even when nothing else comes with it, and when everything else is taken away.” ― Thomas MertonNew Seeds of Contemplation

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