Defying discouragement

When I look around and I see the cruelty and the inconceivable apathy of those in my small and greater community, I want to shut down and avoid people all together. The Covid pandemic has made it easier to self isolate.

Perhaps the overwhelming negativity reached its peak for me when I received letters from my caged people chastising me for not writing more often than I had been. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, I gave some very personal art to a friend to say “I am with you in this time of struggle” and it was not only dismissed; but, at one point I was lectured for caring. (It was how I took it after an unkind outburst on her part).

I am not seeking pity. I am just frustrated. I find myself hitting the bottom of a very dark hole. We live in extremely selfish and shallow times. Kindness often encourages suspicion and on occasion rudeness. I don’t want to be unkind, I just want to be alone most of the time.

Yet, there is something deep inside that is rebellious in me. Maybe its because of what happened to my son. Maybe, I don’t want to let the bastards have their immoral victories. Maybe, I refuse to believe that all the sweetness has gone out of this world. Maybe, I love too much and I don’t want that to ever be extinguished because I could see myself becoming an empty shell, a dead person walking.

So, I plan days of RAK (random acts of kindness). It’s challenging and yet invigorating. It’s my way of defying discouragement. It’s my way of being part of the sweetness in this world instead of contributing to the darkness.

I got a wonderful message from a woman who is one of my heroines. She has an ugly degenerative disease that racks up the surgeries. We, meaning my guys and I, sent her some funds. She was able to buy an air conditioner. Yep, many of us still live on the edge where buying an window air conditioner is a really big thing. She was so grateful.

I was a part of that. I was encouraged to be able to do something needful for her. I have to learn to practice what I preach daily. BE GRATEFUL Life is a pain in the ass most times; but, there are people out there who need us to be encouragers in this struggle.

Love is an action. Words are only as good as the action that define them.❤️❤️❤️

Social democracy and the real follower of Jesus

Eugene Debs on the Real Religion of Jesus

BYEUGENE DEBS

In December 1914, socialist leader Eugene V. Debs sent a Christmas letter to a man in a Michigan prison. We reprint the message here in full.

Eugene V. Debs. (1855–1926)

Eugene V. Debs was a skeptic of organized religion. He’d seen too many pastors and preachers, ostensible promulgators of the word of Jesus Christ, fulminate from the pulpit about the “ungodliness” of unions and radical politics.

But Debs was also a devoted Christian. The aim of socialism, as he saw it, was to create a human brotherhood that stretched across the Earth, freeing prisoners and oppressed workers from despotism. Genuine democracy would replace the rule of Mammon in the cooperative commonwealth to come.

In December 1914, Debs opened his hometown newspaper, the Terre Haute Tribune, to find a reprinted letter from a Michigan prisoner who had sent two dollars to a “Good Fellow Club” to purchase toys for disadvantaged kids. Debs was touched. On the sixteenth, Debs wrote a short message to Inmate No. 9756 in Jackson, Michigan, praising the imprisoned man as a better representative of the spirit of Jesus than the supposedly Christian society that had locked him up.

We reprint it here, in honor of Christmas.

My Dear Brother:

I do not know who you are but I have read your Christmas letter and I send you my greeting with my heart in it. You may be a convict, but you are my brother and when your message came to me I was touched to tears.

There is more to the real religion of Jesus Christ in the spirit you breathe out to the world from behind your cruel prison bars than in all of the orthodox sermons ever preached. You love the little children even as He loved them and you are in prison, while He was crucified. It is well that you are patient and forgiving. The world moves slowly. It may still be said: “They know not what they do.”

You had the misfortune to be born in a world not yet civilized. Jesus loved the erring into righteousness. His professed followers shut them out from God’s sunlight and torture them into degeneracy and crime. The erring did not make themselves. God made them. Let Him judge them.

The society that sent you to prison devours its own offspring. Thousands of little children are starved, stunted, and ground into dividends in the mills of mammon. It is the Christian society’s homeless, neglected babes to whom you, one of its condemned convicts, feel moved to send the pennies coined from your own blood and agony. What a sermon and what a rebuke!

If you ought to be in a penitentiary I know of not one who ought to be out.

Believe me with heart and hand, your brother and fellow-man,

Eugene V. Debs

A man after my own heart. It’s about love.

Who rushes to murder?

I asked myself this question when Brandon Bernard was murdered by the State on December 10th. Why murder? “Premeditation and aforethought with malice” is one of the definitions. And you might say, “Well, he is only getting what he deserves because he murdered two people.” The fact of the matter is he was a party to the murder. He didn’t pull the trigger that killed two young youth ministers.

A little bit of history: there are currently 60 people on federal death row in the Terre Haute, Indiana. Well, that’s an achievement for the state, eh? Three people were executed back in 2003 meaning it is not routinely carried out. It’s been 130 years since a sitting president enacted execution during a lame duck period.

Brandon went to prison when he was 18 and he was 40 when he was murdered. He was crocheting blankets and sweaters for fellow inmates. Everyone who knew him, knew he regretted his involvement in a terrible crime and his remorse. The question isn’t who deserves to die for their crime; but who has the right to take the life of another human being?

So, who benefitted from his death? Brandon wasn’t going anywhere and he was doing good for others. His life was an act of serving others. Why the rush to extinguish his life? Are we not about about encouraging the growth, the change, the rehabilitation and taking of responsibility for one’s actions or is that just a word salad we spew to make ourselves feel good as we murder people sadly defined “an act of justice?”

I write a woman who murdered her father for drug money. She received 40 years. She is one of my most humble, kind and gentle people who is also my friend. She, too, speaks candidly about her crime and how she regrets the horrible decisions she has made in the past. Her heart is full of kindness and concern for others. She demonstrates it by sending me her small checks that she works so long and so hard for to help other prisoners. She believes she will die in prison and accepts it. Me, I just feel heart broken.

Here are the 5 countries that kill people regularly: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan and the US. Wow, how dare we point fingers when we are in league with the same nations that are brutal to their own citizens.

RIP Brandon Bernard.

And for those who dole out the judgment of death: James 2:13 “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”

We have a chance to make a difference in the chaos

Okay, let’s face it. This year is quickly coming to a close and yet not quite fast enough it seems. Yes, we have cowards, fleecers and cruel people running the government. We have seen so much unnecessary suffering and destruction of dignity not to mention lives. We have seen a nasty tenacious virus wound and kill people all over this world.

It is overwhelming, it is grievous and it is often times very scary. But, we are not alone. There are those out there who try and do what they can to feed, clothe, speak out for and share some compassion and kindness. We all have a chance to make some difference large or small in someone else’s life.

I say this because I want to thank the person who started #OpSafeWinter many years ago. He lives in the UK and has a heart for the homeless and those struggling just to survive. His rallying the troops on social media caused a worldwide event. I began making my “gift” bags to hand out to those on the streets because of him.

So, it’s another winter here in the states and I have begun to fill my bags again. There are many more desperate folks this year. If you are one of these people, I pray that good and generous souls will rise up and come to your rescue. If those of us who can help, give of ourselves to those around us, we can surely save a life.

To my friend, t0p, you inspired me to do more and I have taken up the challenge. Thank you and may the richest of blessings fall on you. Hugs.

Alone

Perhaps you have had a tragedy in your life that has been so deeply traumatizing you can’t put it to words. Oh, maybe you could; but, unless that someone has experienced what you have, how could that person ever understand?

Tonight, I watched a movie based on a true story about a family who faced fear, persecution, and being pushed to do something that could cost all of their lives. In a way, it was strangely therapeutic to know there are people out there in this world who have had similar trauma.

Some days, I wish I had a counselor who I could confide in. Someone, who could and would understand the damage done. Sadly, I trust no one here to provide that kind of support. So, we carry our baggage in silence. We deal with the nightmares and the physical ailments of stress resigning ourselves that this is our burden to bear.

Maybe this burden is what makes my little family care so much about others suffering, about justice, about mercy, about honesty and truth. If this makes us better people, then I am all in. One day, we hope to meet others who have faced evil like we have, talk about it out loud and realize we are not alone with just our scars.

“It’s better to be a lion for a day then a sheep all your life.” Elizabeth Kenny

Flesh and blood and stuff

I spoke to a friend the other day. We hadn’t talked in over a year and it was so good to reconnect again. We chit chatted about a number of things and specifically about the value of people.

My friend, Karen, has an enormous heart for troubled kids. She becomes their mom, grandmother, aunt, teacher; whatever it takes to reach them and encourage them. She told me about a young bi racial lad she has spent time encouraging because he was pretty much left on his own. He stole from her and she knew it.

He took her husband’s favorite handmade necklace; but, returned it when confronted. Karen said that it was disappointing; but, she realized that those who have nothing will be tempted to steal. She explained that it was an opportunity to teach him about integrity and respect. She believed he was more valuable than any of the stuff he took.

Martin Luther King, jr. once said that white people value their property over human life. Hard as it is to swallow, he was and is certainly accurate. When more attention is given to a piece of stone or bronze memorializing someone long dead instead of providing for real flesh and blood, I would say we live a very screwed up world.

I thank God for my friends like Karen who seem to be rare. I asked her what she thought of the “desecration” or “tearing down” of monuments as of late. She laughed and said, “What good are they? They don’t feed the hungry and they certainly don’t provide love to the “least of these.”

Way to go, Karen. There are a lot of young people out there who will remember you as a lady who loved them for them.

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

A measure of maturity and honesty

We live in a time where only certain parts of history are discussed and others are quietly buried. We live in a time when those who do not want to leave the truth intact; but manipulate it into something digestible and often a lie.

I am speaking about racism and the Confederacy that evolved in this country. Unfortunately, you can’t have one with out the other. I watched a lecture given by Jeff Robinson, lawyer and lecturer. You must watch in entirety and then meditate before you decide what to do with his challenge. I promise that you will need a measure of maturity and honesty if you have never heard these facts before.

Violence

In the past few weeks, I have been in conversations with a number of people, who have been angered by a few protesters (relatively speaking) causing chaos by looting, burning toppling statues and destroying stuff; because that is what it is, stuff.

First of all, I do not advocate stealing, burning or destroying; but, I do understand rage and what happens when people have lost hope. Statues, well, they are only monuments that can be put in a museum. Second, I doubt that “protesters” caused all the damage. We have people out there, who given a chance to steal or wreak a bit of havoc, will do so motivated by their own agendas.

The destruction angered my friends and they felt quite justified in blaming all protestors for their “violence.” I asked what they thought about the peaceful protestors who outnumbered those causing “violence.” I also asked if brutal force against individuals was equal to or worse than say burning down of a Wendy’s restaurant.

When one soul refused to answer, I told her that rebuilding a restaurant was not an issue. It can be done quite easily. It happens all the time. Rebuilding a life, a family, a community is a whole different animal. See, one can’t make a dead person undead. One can’t take away the pain and irrevocable loss in a family and a community. So, I asked again, is a life worth less than stuff?

If they were honest with themselves, they would admit that perhaps they believe a person of color might not be worth a Wendy’s, a monument, or even a television set. Because, at one time, a short while ago in our history, slaves stood on blocks in markets to be sold like objects. I stood in one such market in South Carolina. I could feel the ghosts of oppression in my bones.

The burning of buildings and cars is destruction. Violence is choking and unarmed man to death.; shutting a mentally challenged man in a prison shower and turning on scalding water while watching him scream and die; shooting a Latino in the back because he’s running for fear of police; tasing a man in his car until he dies; allowing a woman to give birth in her cell as she cries for help and refusing to help her baby as he dies; destroying a town’s water and air without regard for the poor who live there.

This is violence. So, I ask, “What is life worth?” I am still waiting to finish this conversation with my now silent friends.

“Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” I don’t see color, gender, creed or stuff mentioned by Jesus when referring to our neighbor.

Just a privileged guest

I am sitting at my sewing table and looking out a window that faces the forest. As I sift through my stash of fabric contemplating the next project, a bit of tawny brown movement catches my eye. Two young deer are having breakfast provided by the brush and saplings.

In this time of chaos, unrest, and pandemic, the deer are just leisurely strolling through the woods and nibbling at whatever suits their fancy. I spied one of the deer making a beeline to my front yard. I knew exactly where it was going. I have some gorgeous hostas growing in my garden beds just in front of the house.

I made a mad dash to the picture window in my living room. Sure enough, the deer was happily chewing the large green leaves of my plant, a choice salad if you will. But, is it really my plant? No. It was there before I bought the house and I am just the blessed recipient.

I couldn’t get even a bit irritated because the sight of this lovely creature just enjoying a few luscious leaves of the hosta made me stand in awe. I am surrounded by so much life. The forest and the wild creatures that inhabit it have been here longer than I.

Where I get to reside is such a privilege. I feel so much alive because everything around me is saturated in living beauty. I am allowed to drink in every rich smell, see every shade of color the human eye can decipher, hear the myriad of bird songs and see nature, small to large, making my property their homes. But, in truth, it is their world and I am just a privileged guest to enjoy community with them.

So, I just received my third message this week from a friend asking if I believe Covid 19 is just a hoax. No, I don’t. I have lost people and two dear friends are on ventilators. Wearing a mask out has garnered some irrational pushback by some small minded folks. My prayer is that they don’t get a dose of reality having the virus foisted upon them.

I have returned to my little window and another deer has entered my view. Just beautiful. What a privilege.

The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a must read…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Today’s Movement for Racial Justice
Sam Ben-Meir
11/06/2020
stop_police_killings_640x495_-_florence_dabby.jpg
Artwork by Florence Dabby

“Walking through the park this weekend I noticed a man on a bench reading Metaxas’ acclaimed biography of German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And it occurred to me then and there that this is indeed a moment in our history when we may acquire much needed insight and inspiration by revisiting Bonhoeffer’s extraordinary life and legacy.

Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, Germany into a large and prominent family – which included his father, noted psychiatrist and neurologist, Karl Bonhoeffer. The younger Bonhoeffer graduated from the Protestant Faculty of Theology at the University of Tübingen and went on to complete his Doctor of Theology degree from Berlin University in 1927.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer went to the United States for postgraduate study and a teaching fellowship at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary. Perhaps the most important part of his stay in the US was being introduced to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he would not only teach Sunday school and form an abiding love for black spirituals – recordings he brought back to Germany would become “some of his most treasured possessions” – Bonhoeffer would also hear Adam Clayton Powell Sr. preach the “kingdom of social justice.” Powell had the fire of a revivalist preacher, combined with “great intellect and social vision” – he actively condemned racism and “minced no words about the saving power of Jesus Christ.”

Finding in Powell the gospel preached and lived out according to God’s commands, Bonhoeffer became acutely aware of the injustice and subjugation experienced by minorities and began to adopt the standpoint of the oppressed. He remarked, “Here one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God…the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision.”

Returning to Germany in 1931, Bonhoeffer lectured in systematic theology at the University of Berlin – but his promising career as an academic would be derailed by the rise of Nazism, and Hitler’s installation as Chancellor in 1933.

Bonhoeffer resisted the Nazi regime from the very beginning and never wavered. Within days of Hitler’s election, he gave a radio address in which he denounced Hitler and admonished the people against forming an idolatrous cult of the Führer (leader), who could easily turn out to be Verführer (or misleader) – a distinction Donald Trump’s blind followers would do well to remember.

In April 1933, Bonhoeffer was the first to assert the church’s opposition to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews and insisted that the church cannot merely “bandage the victims under the wheel,” but must “jam a spoke in the wheel itself.”

Bonhoeffer’s theology was a theology of the oppressed, and his active involvement in the German resistance against Hitler followed from his moral awareness that “the structure of responsible action includes both readiness to accept guilt and freedom,” as he wrote in his Ethics – for “If any man tries to escape guilt in responsibility he detaches himself from the ultimate reality of human existence…” A life spent in fear of incurring guilt was itself sinful. In this respect Bonhoeffer is essentially in agreement with G.F.W. Hegel: only a stone can be innocent; all meaningful action entails guilt – and we must act. As Bonhoeffer observed: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

The Cost of Discipleship (1937) – an extended commentary on the Sermon on the Mount – is generally regarded as Bonhoeffer’s masterpiece. In Chapter 4, he considers that passage from Mark 8:34, where Christ says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” From an ethical standpoint, this is all-important: as Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” This may not mean actual martyrdom (though it certainly might): it means first of all that we must die to ourselves. In his commentary he writes, “Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion.”

To ‘deny oneself’ has nothing to do here with asceticism or suicide, both of which retain an element of self-will. Rather, “it is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.” Self-denial then is inseparable from the obedience of the responsible one who hears the call and says, “Here I am” (hineni) – for “faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience,” not to any man-made law or worldly authority, but to God, whose call reaches us through the voice of our oppressed and persecuted neighbor.

Bonhoeffer makes the crucial distinction – as important now as it ever was – between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Cheap grace means grace without price, without cost, “everything can be had for nothing.” Bonhoeffer reminds us that we are still in the fight for costly grace, “which calls us to follow… It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Costly grace affirms that you can only discover what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions – questions such as, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ “You are the neighbor. Go along and try to be obedient by loving others… Neighborliness is not a quality in other people, it is simply their claim on ourselves… We literally have no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not. We must get into action and obey – we must behave like a neighbor to him.”

Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo – two years later, at dawn on 9 April 1945, he was led naked to the gallows and hanged to death, a few weeks before Hitler would commit suicide.

Throughout the last two weeks, we have witnessed across the country protests against systemic racism and police brutality – and indeed protesters have gathered in cities around the world, from London to Hamburg, from Pretoria to Brisbane. Blacks and whites are rising up in unison to oppose the systematic subjugation of people of color – a subjugation which began over four hundred year ago when the first slave ships arrived on these shores.

Bonhoeffer’s life holds an important lesson for us today, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. And simply put it is this: you are called upon; you are called on behalf of your neighbor. When you are called to be responsible that is not an obligation which you can decline, discharge or acquit yourself of – it is an infinite responsibility, a “forever commitment” as Charles Blow recently put it. And we all must be prepared to make any sacrifice necessary when we are called.

At times like these we see the difference between those who are satisfied with cheap grace and those who know that true grace comes at a price, and that price is obedience to the call of God which we hear in the choking, gasping cries of our neighbor, in the desperate pleas of the man who is down on the ground with an oppressor’s knee on his neck.”

  • Sam Ben-Meir is a professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy College in New York City.