Saturday, March 31, 2018

UNITY OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES: AN ENDLESS TASK FOR SOME, WISHFUL THINKING FOR OTHERS ?


v from statistics to conflicts
v  a children's "denomination" very much alive in a  small town

v some wounds to be healed

v Words from  Pope John Paul II,  Billy Graham

v salvation: two different beliefs

v final words: The Body of Christ at a Nazi death camp

                        "  I do not ask  in behalf of these [ His disciples ] alone,
                        but for those who also believe in Me…that they may all
                        be one. "  ( Jesus praying  to God : John 17: 20 , 21 )

                        Ecumenism: Efforts by Christians of different Church
                        traditions to develop closer relationships and better
                        understandings…[ leading to ]…unity. ( Wikipedia;
                         a generally accepted definition )   

                        " Unity in all that is necessary, freedom in all that is
                        subject to opinion, and charity in everything. "
                        ( Saint Augustine of Hippo )



A few first words…Last month's Exodus Trekkers reported how a large segment of our American culture continues  to change radically due to  polarization on all levels, in Congress in  communities,  neighbors and between  friendships of  two individuals.  Americans having coffee together are  heard bemoaning that the fallout from this  polarization division  has sapped  goodness from traditional American values, including  fundamental morality.
             Michael McGillicuddy, a globe-trotting , licensed social worker  , blames this polarizing on an unwillingness of Americans of all ethnic backgrounds   to  find common ground  among themselves when issues divide them. He says that an attitude of I'm right and you're  " is "headed for disaster ."  (1 )
            Let's look at some statistics that arguably  show why some of us wish or pray for Christian  church  unity in America …    
I   From statistics to conflicts… According to a 2017 report of the website  The Complete Pilgrim, there are no less  than 2,000 different  Christian  denominations  in America that are under common leadership and  linked ( many rather loosely ) to a  themselves as Christians. (2 )   Visits to  Christian book stores will reveal as many as 50 different versions of the Bible ; most Biblical scholars  maintain there  is only one  foundation  Bible with many translations of it. (3)
            With these numbers in mind, it could explain why Christians in America have different  religious beliefs and which  sometimes  ignite conflicts  in the work place, politics, and in  the family .  Still,  different  denominations  sometimes  find common ground ( as I have observed  as a  journalist )  when engaged in  ecumenical  dialogue . Nevertheless, cynics of  labors  towards  church unity will argue that humans  will always  espouse different beliefs on critical issues simply because we are different--  different  DNA, different  personalities.  At a panel discussion about love and  forgiveness,  I heard sincere yet different  beliefs voiced by a rabbi, two Protestants and   a Catholic ;  a Buddhist  and Muslim were also  on the panel. (4) 

II    A children's "denomination" very much alive in Polo,  Illinois…The most encouraging--and delightful--scene of Christian unity I witnessed occurred in June, 2006 in Polo,
Illinois, population then not quite 3,000.  I was on assignment for a newspaper article , which  I have edited for this report…
            For five days the rafters of the small church reverberated  with cheers of more than 200 children of all ages whose parents belonged to the town's  l3 churches . The kids had suspended their summer fun to hear a uniquely delivered Christian  message.  Doctrinal differences—if there were any amidst this  youthful congregation—were dispelled by the kids'  laughter and zealous applause incited  by the antics  performed on the "altar". The Rev. Monte Cox, pastor of Polo's Church of the Open Bible, beamed  with profound satisfaction as he sat in a back pew. He was seeing  awesome evidence that doctrinal differences didn't matter here , but  Jesus Christ did..
            The Polo Community Vacation Bible School (VBS) , then  its 20th year, was the payoff from 30 years of  give-and-take of the Polo Community  Council of Churches. ( More satisfying  to Cox and to Mrs. Nancy Taylor, the VBS chairwoman, would be  the 45 Bible school grads who, two weeks later, would approach their various pastors to talk about God and salvation. )   "A lot of these kids don't go to church but their parents do, "  said Mrs. Taylor, mother of two  children  and member of the  host church, the Church  of the Brethren.
            Asked about bumps in that council's ecumenical road, Cox said ,  " We just don't bring up doctrinal  issues. We know we have common bonds such as reaching out with  the Gospel to the community. "  He added, however, that "years ago the council had some pretty liberal pastors, one saying, ' I don't need Jesus. ' "  Efforts then  to form a pastor's Bible study group didn't  "pan out," according to Cox, who has pastored his Polo church for 27 years.  Nowadays, whenever a pastor leaves a Polo  church, Cox  prays that God sends the right replacement pastor, "one who is Biblical orientated and who has their head on spiritually."  
            What keeps ecumenism well and alive in Polo, according to Cox, is the weekly, one hour meeting of pastors, who come together for fellowship and to share and pray about their various needs and frustrations.  Pastors  will disagree with their  denomination's stand on some issues such as  abortion or homosexuality, Cox said. 
            The only doctrine  "preached" during  two of those five  days I was with the  VBS was salvation. A man  named "Uncle" Tim Marsh made sure the  theology  was assimilated smoothly and happily. With puppets, humor, and his own brand of " Gospel Magic ,"  Marsh wove in Biblical stories, moral exhortations, and religious songs  that actually left the kids  chanting their approval as if at a homecoming football game.  " It's a gift the Lord gave me," Marsh said..  "You would not believe the stories that come back to me about how lives have been changed. Kids get saved and then eventually they influence their parents to the point where the parents start going to church."
            How does he deal with denominational differences?  "I preach the love of Jesus," he told me . " Nobody complains about that. I don't preach hell and damnation. The kids know what's going to happen to them. Now and then  a pastor comes in and doesn't  like what I preach about salvation, who thinks  kids  [ in his church ]  are already good enough and don't need to confess anything to the Lord."
            Marsh and his wife manage the Independent  Children's Bible Mission, a non-profit, non-denominational children's ministry headquartered  then in Plainwell, Michigan. He's traveled several states for 27 years with his ministry, absorbing many faith beliefs but always, he said, with a focus on Jesus and the Bible. He recalls the time when his own denomination told him they didn't like what he was doing. " I told them I'd keep doing it. " 
            Polo church denominations represented at the VBS were Baptist, Church of the Brethren,  Community Church, United Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Christian Church, and Church of the Open Bible.       

III   Some wounds to be healed… So, what's the real problem here ? McGillicuddy spends his time examining and trying to heal  the social wounds caused by what sees as current epidemic in America—polarization. "Good people fear rejection if they let down their guard and share unscripted opinions, so we don masks to protect ourselves ,"  he said during our interview. "Trust is eroding. Friendships are fraying. Families members walk on egg shells for fear of becoming estranged.  We seem to be detaching from our common roots and retreating into parallel universes. "        
An ecumenical dialogue about "love and forgiveness" in front of a public 
library audience by two Protestants, a rabbi, Catholic, Buddhist, and Muslim.  

    
       
            McGillicuddy believes that more transparent and empathetic dialogue  between Americans would be a healing agent for this polarization and also—he would likely argue—for today's disunity of church denominations.
     Speaking this winter to a large library audience  ,  he advised  how Americans can "untie the knots" of polarization. It went as follows:        
            Is your faith  [   church ] community polarized ? Do you feel safe sharing your views and telling your story? 
            Know  that  an attitude of I'm right , you're wrong  " is a formula for   disaster…We live in a world of gray;  it's not either-or, but both-and…"
            Know that having  all friends  "who think as you do is a  drawback  to un-polarized thinking .
             Find common ground .  We must first  form a heart-relationship before a rational relationship. 
            McGillicuddy   then had his audience pair-off and ask each other  the following questions:
            What do those who deeply disagree with you misunderstand about your core beliefs and values ? What would you most like them to understand about your perspective ?
            What assumption do you make about people who hold very different beliefs and values than yours ? 
            A summing up of  the  opinions of many ecumenical-minded Christians is that a Christian's calling makes him or her open to others,  is able to reach an understanding with the most diverse kinds of people, regardless of their age, their   cultural background, their personality or their character.
 
IV    Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II… Yet  road blocks to the unity of Christian denominations clearly  remain numerous ; community church councils throughout America continue to dialogue about ecumenism.  Opinions of devout church-going  men and women will say it's the culture itself which prevents this unity, or simply it's  the exercise of human free will ; they might  dismiss the entire issue as a socio-economic dynamic—with the cliché, you know,  birds of the same feather like to flock together. Then there's the agnostic with the comment,  Maybe, just maybe, a Higher Power or whatever, wanted  this variety of churches . A mystery, of course.  Or maybe there's bitter-sweet truth to be found in this stanza of a Stephen Foster melody, popular melody during the Civil War:

We live in hard and stirring times,
Too sad for mirth, too rough for rhymes;
For songs of peace have lost their chimes,
And that's what's the matter!
The men we held as brothers true,
Have turn'd into a rebel crew;
So now we have to put them thro',
And that's what's the matter!
That's what's the matter,
The rebels have to scatter;
We'll make them flee,
By land and sea,
And that's what's the matter! 

            A recent Wall Street Journal column  by Peggy Noonan,  a Catholic and celebrated author and former speech writer  for President Reagan ,  was  headlined " Billy Graham , the Ecumenical Evangelist " .  In explaining why Graham was considered by  several denominations as " America's Pastor " , Noonan quoted the archbishop of Philadelphia , who told her, that Catholic families  felt that Billy  Graham was the Protestant preacher they could feel a real kinship with  because "he had the ability to reach across all the fractures in Christianity and speak to the common believing heart. " ( 5 )
           
Changes in the English language and translations  have 
resulted in  50  different Bible versions without any 
fundamental change in the original King James  version .  
In his 1985   encyclical  epistle on ecumenism,  Pope  John  Paul II  writes   that "unity… is neither absorption nor fusion. Unity is a meeting in truth and love, granted to us in the spirit. "  He adds, " Every local  church must remain open and alert  to the other churches and  traditions… One of the fundamental aspirations  of humanity today is to   rediscover unity and communion for a life   truly worthy of man  on the worldwide level. "  Writing in another  encyclical, "The Joy of the Gospel ,"  he warns his own church of "remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe…when we speak more about the church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about   God's word. "  (6 )   And Thomas Aquinas cautions that the good of  ecclesiastical  unity  ,  to which schism [ i.e., a split or division in a church ] is opposed, is less than the good of Divine Truth.   (7 ) 
            We talked with the Rev. Elizabeth Jameson, pastor of St. Simon's Episcopal Church in Arlington Heights (IL)  and a member of the Arlington Heights Ministerial Association, which meets monthly for 90 minutes with 15   to 20 clergy from  other denominations.  The group has give-and-take dialogue, but not always finding common ground, Jameson said . Ministers discuss a broad range of ecumenical topics  that include mutual  understanding and ways to support various church goals. She asks herself, "What can I learn from someone who thinks differently than I do ?"  She sees ecumenism as a "complex issue, "  adding  "I see oneness [ of churches]  in a different way . She admits to being  "unsure on the wisdom  " of there being only one  Christian denomination . " We'd have to give up ways that are meaningful to us . " She paused, then said, " I can find oneness in people.  In  Christ, we are already one. "                                                  
            There is a hint of similarity and also a tension  between the   dynamic of religious fervor and that of the human passion for freedom. American  patriotism .   Many Americans demand they be allowed to  behave and decided on what is best for them, the individual, while many devout Christians  believe that the truest freedom comes from dying to one's self,  that is, one's ego  ( admittedly a tall order ! ) .
            When it come to building consensus and community, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice Rice and other political figures with a  bent towards philosophical answers  and sociological solutions are not fans of that traditional slogan  "lift yourself up by the bootstraps " ;  some  also sound skeptical about a lifestyle of individualism  as a way of life.
           
V   That sticky question about salvation …The doctrinal question of how does one receive salvation—a  pass to heaven— undoubtedly occupies  minds and hearts of millions of Christians. The question asked  is:  Who goes to heaven and who to hell ?
            Put  simply, Catholics believe that the   final decision is God's , while Protestants proclaim that an individual is saved in the moment that he confesses with his mouth  his or her sins   and accepts Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of his life  ( There is some disagreement, however, between some Protestant denominations about  whether a Christian who makes his or her  vow is "saved" for the remainder of his life.  )                    

VI   Final words: The Body of Christ…Would denominational unity coalesce if there was a united educational effort  to  churches all over this country ( and world )  to preach the Biblical truth that each  Christian  is a member of one and only   Body of Christ and that these churches teach it with life examples with workshops and other experiential learning . Then maybe a living mission for church unity will be sparked , giving birth to a universal creed , one which stirs in the hearts of  many non -Christians , a creed of WE'RE ALL IN THIS  TOGETHER !
            That creed  literally took on human flesh at the Nazi concentration camp Dachau during World War II  among the 2,579  Protestant and Catholic clergy from more than 10 countries  imprisoned there . Today at the  site of than camp northwest of Munich is a Catholic chapel, an Orthodox chapel, a Protestant church and  Jewish memorial--all honoring   those inmates, especially the more than thousand who were executed, tortured, and  died of starvation, disease, and brutal surgical experiments without anesthesia.            
            Wrote one  survivor, Fr. Münch: "Dachau was, , in the designs of Providence, the cradle of ecumenism lived out completely. Never in history of the   people of God had there been so many secular and religious priests of all Christian confessions united in a community of life and suffering, as  during the great witness of Dachau … In Dachau, we were united fraternally in the breath of the Holy Spirit, strengthened in Christ t o serve Him behind the watchtowers, the electrified fences and the barbed wire. We sought unity in our discussions and our dialogue…In authentic fraternity and common prayer, we laid the foundations for new relations between different churches. ,,,The priests in Dachau and the Christian laymen took home with them,  to their churches and their families, the lived experience of unity. "  (8 )
           
             I have  to wonder if Jesus ever told a parable  to make the point that all who believe in  Him  are  one  body and He the head.  Yes, though  His Father might have seen wisdom in creating us to believe differently  , but  to  love and work as this one body.   An hour ago I learned from that there are many varieties of  common corn—in fact , 55 varieties grown in Peru alone.   Assuming that though  many of these varieties have  similar taste and color and that harvesting them  requires  different soil, climate, and resources to bring them to market…Well?


The End
Robert R. Schwarz

All comments are welcome.
rrschwarz7@wowway.com
© 2018  Robert R. Schwarz


____________________ NOTES



( 2 ) TheCompletePilgrim.com…several other
websites cite similar statistic which, their
authors admit, are estimates at best .

(3) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/list _  of_ english _bible-translations
Changes in the English language since the 1611 King
James version and the ensuing translations have
resulted in these different versions. For a list of the
English versions, go to the above website. 

(4) From the " Interfaith Dialogue on Love,       
Understanding and Forgiveness " at  the
Arlington Heights (IL) Memorial Library

(5 ) The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24-25, 2018,
p. A13 
(6) National Catholic Register, Feb. 24-25, 2018
issue, p. 9, "News Analysis" by Edward Pentin

(7)  Summa Theologiae II-II, q.39. a.2) 

 ( 8 )  Maurus  Münch , Pretres allemands  a
Dachu, ( Amiens, France: Fraternite
Saint-Benoit, 1977 ) ,   93 .
From the book The Priest Barracks by
Guillaume Zeller , translated by
Michael J. Miller ; Ignatius  Press, 2017






               

             

           

                                      





 









    

  


 





  

Saturday, February 24, 2018

MAYORS' PRAYER BREAKFASTS ANYTHING BUT 'BUSINESS AS USUAL'


A Mother Stirs Audience with Her Victory Over Deafness


        Though neither a businesswoman  nor  local political celebrity at this mayor's prayer breakfast , a young mother  received the most applause and a standing ovation from  the  nearly 300 in the   audience.   In  telling her detailed story of  battling sudden deafness  , Kari Olson obviously added an added  spiritual dimension to this annual event ..  ( Later in this report we'll let Kari tell her own story word by word.  )
            This  breakfast in the Chicago land suburb of Arlington Heights was  one of thousands to  be held  this year throughout America . The National Prayer Breakfast was  held Feb. 8 in Washington, D.C. , the first one  held in 1953 with President Eisenhower.   The  Arlington Heights breakfast  ( as do most  mayor prayer breakfasts ) sought to inspire its attendees with Bible readings, prayers, and song.  Like the National Prayer Breakfast, these events make  time for personal reflection and re-dedication to God, as well as an opportunity to restore and reaffirm the spiritual heritage of America . 
            At this  Arlington Heights event  on last Feb. 1 , there were prayers by three pastors  of different denominations, an Old Testament reading by a Jew , and two soul-lifting songs sung by  baritone Paddy Homan—and  bountiful and delicious food.  I asked the master of ceremonies and executive director of the Chamber of Commerce,   Jon S. Ridler ,   what value he saw
in  the breakfast: " People connected to each other ," he replied.  " They were touched by the Gospel messages ."   And the business-oriented men  and women there ?  "They came away hearing how their faith is of value to their business."

The  Mayor: ' It's Important to Have People
 Of Different Faiths Together Here '
            As I was preparing this report, Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas  Hayes sent me this email: 
            " We are truly blessed that Arlington Heights has supported the Mayor’s Community Prayer Breakfast for 31 years now. It says a lot about our community. My goal as mayor has been to make the Prayer Breakfast a truly meaningful event for all who attend and to ensure that they leave spiritually encouraged and inspired.  
At the Arlington Heights breakfast, Mayor
Thomas Hayes with his predecessor Arlene
Mulder   
            "As a village of strong, but varied faith, I believe the Prayer Breakfast is a very important way for our community to kick off each new year. The focus of the event is on the importance and power of prayer in our daily lives, and as Kari Olson said this year, 'We can’t do it alone. We are not meant to.'  It is my hope that all who attend -- whether they be local leaders, business people, or just interested citizens — understand that there is an abundance of both help and hope out there for those in need.  
       "I am a Christian, but do believe it is important for us to bring people of different faiths and traditions together to develop closer relationships and understanding as we both work and live together. Our common beliefs and goals are definitely more alike than they are different. " 

Kari Olson. a Brave Trekker,  Tells  Her Story

            The large hotel dining room in Arlington Heights went quiet and the waitresses  stop moving when Kari Olson  began here story. These were her words:
         
 Kari Olson sharing  her story about
overcoming deafness to am audience of 300  
  
Everything seemed to be going as planned in my young life! Until...another first, a very unexpected and unwanted first. 8 years ago, I started to lose all of my ability to hear; eventually going completely deaf. I had never even heard of this happening to someone, didn’t know it could happen to someone my age. This is the story I want to tell you this morning...what happened, what it was like, and then 2 lessons that I learned along the way.
             The first problem I remember having with my ears was in November 2010. I was 8 months pregnant [ with our third baby when I was struck with paralyzing episode of vertigo. The vertigo left a shrieking tinnitus and full feeling in my ears that an ENT [ ear, nose, an throat doctor ]] guessed would go away after I delivered the baby. Well, these problems did not go away after he was born; in fact they were getting worse. I was in and out of the ENT’s office for 2 years after that: hearing tests, steroids, an MRI and CT scans, diet changes, autoimmune testing, vertigo testing.There were no conclusive answers as to why this part of my body was giving me such trouble. We couldn’t really even pinpoint what the problem was!
            Finally, the result of one hearing test showed that compared to the test before it,  I had lost a significant amount of hearing, and was now “profoundly deaf”. All my other problems (vertigo, tinnitus, fullness, stiffness in my neck) were side effects of the hearing loss. I was fitted for hearing aids and saw an audiologist regularly to track the rate of my hearing loss,  which seemed to be declining quickly. And in August of 2014, I finally lost it all. I had been sent to an ear specialist that year, Dr. Sam Marzo,  We asked him, “We never really were told what happened or why… What do you even call this?!” He said, “You have what we call SUDDEN HEARING LOSS”.!      ( Aw man That’s not even a cool name! )
            Life with my hearing in decline was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Sudden Hearing Loss had a negative effect on every part of my life:
● Body: As my ears were losing their proper function, my body was under such duress! Vertigo was random and debilitating, straining to hear caused stress in shoulders and neck, stress from tinnitus had me tense for years. Even my voice became lower, I couldn’t hear myself speak and annunciation was on the verge of getting sloppy.
● Our marriage felt the effects: It was so difficult to communicate!
● Energy and ability to parent our small children well was very low.
● I became awkward and distant with extended family, friends, neighbors,  church members: One day at church, I was welcoming a new family, and I was struggling to hear, frustrated to the point of tears...I grabbed my kids and I left the building sobbing. That’s a super awkward way to meet the pastor’s wife!
● My emotional health: Prolonged grief (grieving every time a hearing test showed more loss, grieving  for a “normal” life and future), depression set in and panic attacks started. I felt like I was failing at everything, especially my family) everyday. I knew it was my ears that were failing...but I felt like I was a failure. “I am such a failure, I can’t do anything well…”
● My personality: Deep insecurity in social situations;  became withdrawn and quiet, isolated and self-conscious. My usual confident approach to life was replaced; I was  a cowardly lion that I hardly recognized.
● We began to tell more people and asked for prayer regularly. Now our friends and church knew that we were struggling and needed help.
● We had new rules of communication in our house: Tap mommy to get her attention, point to what you’re talking about, face her and make sure she can see your lips, tell her when a timer is beeping, or when someone is calling her name. They became my ears, my family.
● I lost the ability to talk on the phone, listen to music, or understand anything amplified. I relied heavily on my ability to lip read, our family learned a little sign language .
● We installed a flashing light for our doorbell, I used closed captions whenever I could .
● I was always worried about safety, fearful that I wouldn’t respond when someone was hurt, fearful I would neglect something important. One morning I couldn’t find my car keys, searched the house, only to find them in the car...I had left it running all night in our detached garage!
● I was constantly on edge, constantly dealing with changes and uncertainty.
● Every morning, every single morning, I would wake up and wonder  if I could hear again...but I could not.
            I had to come to terms with my irrevocable hearing loss, It was so ODD when my husband or the kids had to introduce me as "this is my wife Kari, she can’t hear you.”  Or, "Kids, “that’s my mom, she’s deaf!”

Finally, Cochlear Implants
             I did finally, admit my need for a permanent hearing intervention and received 2 Cochlear Implants in 2015. Based on my type of hearing loss, and the fact that I was a hearing person for the first 30 years of my life, Cochlear Implants were the right choice for me. The Cochlear Implant is an amazing invention! It’s essentially an artificial nerve threaded through my cochlea, activated by two magnets that open up my ears to hear! The inventor, Graeme Clark, is one of my living heroes! This was  not a restoration of what I had before, this was  NEW hearing, electric hearing...
            At first,  sounds were very distorted, my ears were opened and I heard so much ; I just didn’t understand what I was hearing. I remember running into the room where   my kids were playing because I had heard a huge crash...They looked at me like I was crazy when I asked , “Are you ok, what happened?!” They said, “Tommy sneezed.”
            The longer I’ve had my Cochlear Implants,  the more familiar these alien sounds become. I am at the point now where almost everything sounds like how I remember it...Music is slower, but should get clearer as time goes on. (I am still deaf when I take off the external part of the implants. )  I'm  100% dependent on this device to hear. I see my Audiologist periodically for tune-ups and tests, and I will for the rest of my life. BUT I have had great success, I can hear very well with my electric ears! It’s an answer to our prayers. My family and I couldn’t be happier with the life Cochlear Implants allow us to have.; I rejoice every morning when I put them  on .

' 'Lessons in the Silence'
            There are many things I learned over these years and from  the trials I just described to you, and I call them my “lessons in the silence”. Here are two I think are appropriate to share with you this morning at this event: 1. Prayer Matters​:  I have heard it said, and I believe it’s true: that the power of prayer lies in the power of the God I pray to...Not in the size of my faith or the eloquence of my prayers...and it’s a good thing too! Because often my prayers were so simple. Simple like:  “Help Me!” (When I didn’t know what to do next, when I didn’t know how things were going to work out and I  was discouraged and tired and knew I couldn't t do this on my own​...
            Oh , how often would I pray “help me”!  I have to be honest with you here: As my circumstance became bleaker and bleaker, my thoughts and my heart hardened in anger, bitterness, and jealousy, pride…”I don’t deserve this!”
            My reactions and responses to my circumstances were so strong sometimes they shocked me! One day I thought,  Yes, my goal is to hear again, and we are doing everything we can to help my broken ears ...but if I continue to let bitterness take root in my heart, and anger control the pattern of my thinking, I’ve got a bigger problem on my hands than just my ears. Now we’re talking about a broken soul. So, I did what the Scriptures teach us to do in the Lord’s Prayer…”Oh Lord, Forgive my sins.” And I give all the glory to Jesus Christ, who loved me and died on the cross for my sins so that I can ask for complete forgiveness. I had a friend in MI who recently passed awa;, she was chronically ill her whole life. A few years ago she wrote to me, “Kari, you have a secret weapon at your disposal and you need to use it!” She said that secret weapon was thanksgiving, the act of giving thanks in prayer.
            This advice is in step with Scripture:  1 Thessalonians tells me “in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”. So I made a concerted effort to say thank you often for anything and everything. AND WOULDN’T YOU KNOW… Thanksgiving changed me! It changed my outlook and gave me joy! Once I started to look for things to be thankful for, they just kept rolling in. So, three  simple prayers: Help Me, Forgive Me, and Thank You!. These cause me to look UP to God, taking my focus off myself and my overwhelming circumstances, changing me from the inside out . Prayer Matters!
            The second lesson I want to share is : Your work matters​. It mattered to me, it mattered to my family… and I THANK YOU [ the breakfast audience ]for your work! The time, expertise, talent, service, and the effort you put in your work could make a difference to someone else! We could not have gotten through this tragic loss without you, the faithful members of this community. Your difficult circumstances or your trials, may be different than mine, but I know you have them! Hear from my story that we CANNOT do this on our own...My hope for you is that you’ll remember that  Prayer Matters. Even 3 simple prayers like Help Me, Forgive Me, and Thank You could make a difference for you!
            We all stood and applauded—and applauded.
A Prayer from the Rev. Elizabeth Jameson
            The Rev. Elizabeth B. Jameson , rector of the local  St. Simon's Episcopal Church, offered this prayer:
            And may we love one another: May any pain or suffering we experience in body, mind or spirit be that which binds us in love to friends and strangers alike. Rather than isolating us, may our challenges alert us to the suffering of all Your beloved children and this fragile earth our island home.  As we allow You to touch with love our trauma and pain, may we be inspired to touch with love and tenderness the pain of all Your people.  We ask that our struggles be the catalyst for our compassionate action in the world, inspiring us with the courage to speak truth to power and to judge all decisions—political, economic and personal—by whether they align with  Your command to love each other as You have loved us.

            Finally, we ask Your blessing upon this gathering that You may reveal Yourself to us through the stories we hear, the fellowship we share and the food which nourishes us.  We give thanks to You for the blessing of our life and for all who are serving us this morning, at our tables, and through the offering of scripture, story and music. May Your love and joy permeate us that we may embody Your love in the living of our lives for the transformation of the world You so love.   In Your holy name we pray. Amen. 
Robert R. Schwarz
The End
            All comments are welcome.
rrschwarz7@wowway.com
© 2017-18  Robert R. Schwarz



Saturday, February 3, 2018

Will Our American Culture Ever Get a Postmortem ?

[ Please note that Feb. 15  is the deadline
for emailing  article requests to Bob
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                                      Better to reign in hell than
                                      serve in heaven ( Lucifer when
                                      cast from heaven, from Milton's
                                      poem " Paradise Lost " )

A Commentary

By Robert R. Schwarz 

            You've  seen this  sign on front lawns--haven't you?  HATE HAS NO HOME HERE.  Maybe the message  is for those who too often  don't know the difference between good and bad , or those who demand  "freedom"  as a pass to ignore the rules. Perhaps you and I are  voices crying out in the wilderness of our culture, asking God to rain down his Fatherly mercy  upon us as we struggle to bridge the ever-widening   the gap between  this  country's moral and  immoral lifestyles ? ( We are those--aren't we--with that willing Spirit to follow  rules with which  our conscience spurs us through  day-to-day living ? )
          As a retired newspaper editor  and a former manager of leadership development  for Lions Clubs International , I'm sort of compulsive about not minding my own business; for years I've been listening  to friends and strangers--liberals and conservatives, et al --talk intelligently ( often passionately )  about our American culture , including the bipolarity of its ethics.  Thanks to the 5 o'clock news, I think that many of us  have perceived that a number of those who recklessly or irrationally  foment  violence or try to oppose  traditional American principles , that they are ignoring tried-and-true Christian values.  Should we admit that the thinking and  behavior of some has shown a dismissal of God , even at times,  a hate of Him ?  ( More about that later. )  One word I'm hearing more and more to describe our wonderful America actually frightens me : it's  Post-America, a kind of ominous  synonym for  a Postmortem America.
        So, what  will it take to resuscitate our culture ?
             
            Let's start with the  global  and  licensed social worker   Michael McGillicuddy  . ( The two of us had a recent  conversation in my home . )  He   believes there is a current epidemic in America,  and he   calls it  POLARIZATION 
           " There is an accelerating crisis of polarization in America today, he says . " Political events of the last two years lay to rest any pretense that our conflicts are in the tolerable range. Good people fear rejection if they let down their guard and share unscripted opinions, so we don masks to protect ourselves. Trust is eroding. Friendships are fraying. Families members walk on egg shells for fear of becoming estranged.  We seem to be detaching from our common roots and retreating into parallel universes. " 
            McGillicuddy  wants more transparent and empathetic dialogue  between Americans as a healing agent for this polarization . This seventy-year-old married man says  has harnessed  energy and skills to this desire . He  also related a past life of helping  marginalized people around the world and serving with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps .  He quoted a  close observer of the 2016 national elections : "Any common ground between the two [ political ] sides has nearly disappeared.”  Himself a watchdog of our country's political  landscape , McGillicuddy  mentioned  that  many of the  one-fourth to one-third of Americans who are  politically active verge on hatred for those " on the other side."
         
McGillicuddy   ( right ) replies to an audience member's
question after his program at St. James
 Catholic church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. 
   Arguably, other social workers and  some  history scholars and  theologians  would see  this polarization as the   catalyst of many horrific events in human history such as racism ( and white supremacy ) , our own Civil War and, of course , the crucifixion of  that "hated " Jew from Nazareth    demanded by those  scribes and Pharisees  who were polar opposites from the people on who they imposed without compassion  over 600 religious  rules. 
            McGullicuddy's  perspective of polarization   played a role in the hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent people in Nazi death camps and Soviet gulags during World War II . McGillicuddy would likely agree  that this war might have been avoided  if ,   decades before it,  if only there had been less fear and mistrust among the rulers themselves and they had summoned the courage to engage in open-heart dialogue--without an  attitude of  its either this— or it's  that. 
       As  a journalist and  Christian most of my life, I can not  avoid  the reader's  question of:  what role does evil itself play  when polarized people , including authorities ,  inevitably cross the line that separates lawful from unlawful  behavior, from a moral to an immoral lifestyle?   It's difficult to imagine a critical decision that leads to  war, a holocaust, or  mob violence which didn't germinate within  an exchange of unresolved viewpoints. . ( Here the reader might want to read my blog post of   April 1, 2017, " Forgiving: Often a Hard Pill to Swallow . " )     

'Freedom'  Some of You Shout ?  Freedom to  Do What ?
            How  often  do we read or see on  television an   angry demonstration   fanned into  violence by passions and rebellious mindsets demanding  freedom for this and that.  Though many a  group's outcry for freedom appears justified,  one needs to have a   heart-to-heart talk with some of the  protesters and ask: What  do you want to do with this freedom?  Is it to decide  for  YOURSELF what is wrong and right in life ?  To  be free to pick and choose what  social or governmental  rules YOU care to obey or disobey  ?  The freedom to do what YOU believe is moral ? 
            And , if you have time, get their opinion on  how reliable they believe  their conscience is in telling  them the real truth of the matter  and making wise  decisions about being a good neighbor .   (But you will keep in mind, won't you , that a human conscience is also formed what its been taught, how its been exercised. Adolph Hitler's elite and often  demonized  SS troopers prided   themselves on their  physical purity,  social morality,  and what they believed was  virtuous  obedience to Adolph's omniscient and omnipotent  authority ) .

            Commenting  on freedom  and truth , Pope Benedict  XVI  writes in his book (pg. 102 )  Reason Open to God,  " Freedom is a precious value, but a fragile one; it can be misunderstood and misused .  Today , a  particularly insidious obstacle  to the task of educating  is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self   with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison  for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person  into his or her own self. With such a relativistic horizon therefore , real education is not possible without the light of truth . "
             A theologian likely would assert  that getting to the  absolute  truth   of any  hotly debated and polarized  belief might  require reflecting on a  fundamental  Christian  belief,  that absolute truth begins and ends with the  One sent from heaven to tell us that He is not only the  Way and the Life , but also the Truth. ( Now, there's a  knot for our Congress  to  untie.  ) 
            Profound comments made about freedom and related to the fickleness of  human truth  came from  the archbishop of Philadelphia when interviewed recently outside  a hotdog stand in his city. When asked on the television "why faith in God is so essential to human freedom, archbishop Charles Chaput stated:   " If there isn't something above the state or us personally, then we become the arbiter of  all issues, we're the person in charge, we decide what's valuable and what's not valuable ;  [then ] we can change things if our mind or mood changes…In  order for us to have a stable country as well to have stable lives  within the country,  it's necessary to have a higher authority that guarantees  our freedoms ; otherwise someone else interferes and tells us what to do. It paves the way for dictators  and for the dictatorship of relativism , so that what we considered valuable 20 years ago is no longer valuable at all. That really undermines our capacity to live together as American citizens ."
            Adding to these thoughts is   Fr. Francis Fernandez Carvajal, who writes, "True freedom  is threatened by disordered sensuality , narrow-mindedness originating in selfishness, and the desire of doing one's own will.  These obstacles are overcome by  obedience, which raises and broadens one's personality ( from his five-volume opus ,  In Conversation with God, Vol 1, pg. 366 ).
            A horrible example  of polarization leading to  loss of freedom for a  society occurred in lst
Two in McGillicuddy's  audience engage each other with
questions about polarization. 
Century  Israel when a ruling group of men (  Pharisees and scribes ) stoned to death a  devout Christian named Stephen, recognized today as Christendom's   first saint. This group of extreme legalists  passionately believed they  were daily  obeying every word of God  handed down by Moses. But in  fact, as Bible scholars tell us,  their obedience was rife with hypocrisy and displayed a  cold-heart ,  slave-like rule over  the people. The polarization between what they believed   and what the people so desperately needed and what Jesus  taught ,  was cleaved  to   canyon. depths .
            I wonder if many   psychologists and behaviorists today understand why  these   Pharisees and scribes hated Stephen so intensely that they stoned him to death.  I've heard it said  and I believe  that they hatred Stephen because of his goodness and love of God , and therefore he was a living example of what they, the country's religious leaders ,  should have  but  ( outrageously)  did  not possess  . He was a constant reminder of their lack of love and wicked hypocrisy.  ( Talk about a corrupt heart and self-denial ! )
            So, when Stephen  told them one day, You men are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,  always resisting the Holy Spirit, You who received the law as ordained by angles, and yet did not  keep it  ( Acts: 7:51 ) , they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.  They then drove him out of the city and stoned him  until he fell on his knees, crying with a loud voice, Lord do not  hold this sin against. them.

Unexplained Hatred  Against One 21st Century Christian Man

      Now,  dear reader, allow me an aside to report on  a  sometimes  lethal , hidden  dynamic of polarization: ENVY.
          In a rehabilitation center in Niles , Illinois, Bruce Kuss is one of  many patients  whose care comes mainly from a monthly  Social Security check. Bruce, a  boyhood friend of mine,  is 83 and has had  two heart surgeries and now is  afflicted with Parkinson's disease , which has attacked  his throat  , disabled  his legs and  forced  him into  a wheelchair
            Bruce is mentally quite normal and  loves to talk ; unfortunately , when  we converse during my weekly visits,  I can decipher only few of his words.  His diet is largely liquid  and, soon, according to his doctor, he will have to be fed by tubes . Bruce is firm about no tubes for him, which means he will soon be on hospice care.
            For most of his adult life, Bruce has literally shied  from churches , marriage , and  social interactions .  On the top of his  room dresser are several family photographs and  movie CDs given as birthday or Christmas gifts--mostly from a niece . She and I are his only visitors.  Also on this dresser stands  a framed portrait of Jesus ,  which he  acquired  when his father died when Bruce was a young  teenager. .  A few months ago, when Bruce spoke a bit clearer, he told me: " I look at  it often when I think of someone with a problem, someone hurting . I say a prayer for  them. " Then , looking over my shoulder at the Jesus portrait, he said to me  ,  " Wherever you go , whatever you do, He's looking over you."
            Two weeks ago, I asked one of the nursing aids what the staff thought about my friend . "He always has a good story to tell and something cheerful to say," she  said.  Cheerfulness and a you-before-me  philosophy  has remained  Bruce's  life mantra ; tragically, it also tied that knot which  social worker McGillicuddy  keeps trying to untie for people. . 
            One might characterize Bruce as a   sweet and pleasant fellow who (as far I know)  never uttered an obscenity, crude joke,  enacted  manipulative behavior , nor broke the rules laid down by the large retail store which had employed by for 45 years . Bruce sold  cameras, then shoes, and finally, when management would no longer tolerate his not  being aggressive enough with customers to sell his daily quota  credit cards--Bruce disliked the contract's  obscured   penalty clauses, which were as  draconian as the employee  rules-- Bruce  was assigned to  restocking inventory  shelves . Climbing that tall shelf ladder   pained his back,.  This last assignment was designed apparently to force my aging friend out of the company . But a more forceful event preceded it (an event which relates to a deeper level of polarization: Envy. (This and other facts related to Bruce's last days with this national  store  I had   to drag out of my  friend. )

                                    Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious
                                    to us…merely to see him is a  hardship for us…
                                    because his life is not like  other men's, and
                                    different are his ways. ( Wisdom: 12, 15 ) 

                                    They were unable to cope with
                                    the Spirit with which he was
                                    speaking. ( Acts:6 : 10 , before
                                    they  stoned Stephen to death)

            On an evening near the end of 2011, Bruce did not leave his work area with his fellow department workers at quitting time. Instead , he walked near  his manger, who was sorting out some sales documents .   The manager was in his forties ,  a "company" man who had come  on board a month ago . Bruce told me that the manager three times in the past and  for no apparent reason, had raised  his voice in giving a routine directive to Bruce.  His voice was  louder each time, until on third time it was almost  a shout. According to my deductions from what Bruce told me , the manager  appeared to be the polar  opposite of Bruce: he was aggressive, but in a quiet , disciplined way and without a show of pride or the defensive  behavior of someone lacking confidence . In fact, since the manager's arrival, there had been nothing--not even the credit cad issue-- about  behavior or words exchanged  between the two to there was any  conflict or" bad chemistry" between them.
            Nevertheless, I suspected something was festering in this manager, something hidden in his character which  he himself  was not aware of. I saw that as a threat to Bruce.
            It all  reminded me of a few occasions in grammar school  when  several buddies of mine and I , with jeers and disdain ,  expressed our dislike of three classmates by calling them  Goodie, Goodies .  It took years for us to realize that , in truth, our irrational--and sometimes intense dislike of this fellow classmates--came from our  envy of their disciplined behavior, good manners, and  grades always way better than ours . It was a daily , ill-rubbing hint that reminded us  of what was missing in us . We should try  harder to be more like them ? we thought.  No way !    For whatever reason, it was a truth we denied entry to our minds.  They had become in a sense, un-friends.
             Bruce stood  several feet  from his manager,  waiting to be noticed, ready to  help if asked,  and prepared to  reply calmly  to any burst of irrational temper from his superior . 
            The manager turned around and, according to Bruce , showed no emotion except what his lingering gaze might reveal  to a therapist's eye.
            " What are you hanging around here for ? "  he said in a  low  voice.
            "I thought you might need some help after hours ,"  Bruce said cheerfully, knowing, of course,  there would be no overtime pay. (I knew for a fact he had had no raise in several years ; he had always been  intimidated by the fact that requests for a  raise often meant an employee's hours would be lowered to a part-time status .   
            In that moment--and I imagine--the manager felt a strange despair overtake himself.  If only all my staff could be a  Bruce   If only I….No, who wants to  be a Bruce !  Merely to see him is a hardship  !    
            There was no thank-you to Bruce for his kind offer . Instead, the manager began yelling, again and again , not a tantrum, not blood-hot  anger, but hate expressed  incoherently with bursts that made no sense to Bruce nor, likely , to the manager himself  . It was over in five, maybe ten seconds . Both me stood and stared at each other. The manager turned swiftly and walked away.  All Bruce knew was he had become a threat to this manger. Utterly  confused and wounded, Bruce slowly walked out of the store and went home to his bachelor's apartment and watched the Andy Griffith show. 
           
            A week later three co-workers arranged a retirement party for Bruce in the cafeteria. No wrist watch or severance pay. But there  was coffee and two strawberry cakes. The manger a month later quit . Neither Bruce nor I ever found out what happened to him. 

Solutions  and Advice from McGillicuddy  ?

            Speaking to an audience of nearly 100 in the library of the St. James Catholic Church library, Michael McGillicuddy  lectured--he has master degrees  in sociology and industrial relations --for 90 minutes on "untying the knots " that polarize  people. Included among  his emphasized  comments  were:
            An attitude of I'm right , you're wrong  "is a formula for   disaster…We live in a world of gray,   It's not either-or, but both-and…"
            Having all friends  "who think as you do is a " drawback"  to un-polarized thinking .
            " Find common ground .  We must first  form a heart-relationship before a rational relationship. "
            McGillicuddy   then had his audience pair-off and ask each other  the follwiing questions:
            What do those who deeply disagree with you misunderstand about you core beliefs and values? What would you most like them to understand about your perspective ?
            What assumption do you make about people who hold very different beliefs and values from you ?
            Is your faith  [   church ] community polarized ? Do you feel safe sharing your views and telling your story?  
            Summing up,  McGillicuddy--he marched with Martin Luther King--told his audience, " We have to learn to live with each other. " 
I'm right, you're wrong   "is a formula for disaster ."


The End
            All comments are welcome.
rrschwarz7@wowway.com
© 2017-18  Robert R. Schwarz



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