Living With Uncertainty When Certainty is Expected

I question almost everything in life. No, I wouldn’t and don’t consider myself a skeptic by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a seeker and someone who’s always looking for a deeper truth in almost any place I can look. There isn’t a stone unturned that isn’t examined from every different perspective imaginable, despite the fact that the stone will always be a stone. In moments of questioning, as I do, there is always a truth to hold onto; the stone remains a stone, even if smashed. Just the same that, who I really am, in the eyes of God, will always remain, no matter how much it feels like what I have known is also falling apart.

It’s easy to analyze a stone, but when it comes to our lives, we live with a much greater amount of uncertainty, despite our most basic of instincts wanting to grab onto something we can be certain of, bringing us some sense of peace, albeit momentarily, in moments when it feels as if everything is falling apart around us. I only know it because I’ve been there in my own life, my natural inclination to return to what I am most comfortable, not wanting to live with the uncertain and the uncomfortable. It’s as if, at times, where in my life I am playing a game of ping pong between the two, not always wanting to sit in the tension of the two, in finding another way of going forward. However, more often than not, even that feels like the unknown and uncertainty in my life because we have become so accustomed to our own way of thinking, tribal thinking, nonetheless.

We all want to belong. It might be the one thing we can be certain of in life. It begins with our desire to be a part of a family, and then peers, coworkers, church, political party, for it gives us some kind of definition in our lives and also provides us a platform to stand upon and something to stand up for in our lives, especially if we haven’t found our own voice. It gives us the certainty that we want in life, that helps to keep us feeling safe, despite its very rooting in fear. What we fail to see is that so much of it isn’t worth standing for and yet we’re willing to go to the stake for it, defending something that merely lies at the surface of who we are and never moves to the deeper understanding of our soul, of our identity in Christ and who we are as people.

I have found myself struggling greatly these days, in particular for a man that does question and seeks deeper meaning in life and in the world. I have found myself struggling with our inability to see ourselves in a different light, where we have gone wrong and where the Gospel demands us to look at our own fragility and shadow side that only seems to loom larger with each passing day and week. I struggle with how we can be so certain about where we go as a country, often locked in our tribal thinking that only seeks to destroy us as a people, when, even in my own life, I am almost never certain of direction. Something is dying and yet we fear it so greatly that we must clamp down on what we know and what we’re certain of, all the signage that has defined us as a tribe, digging our heels in all the more rather than allowing ourselves to sit without reacting and learning as to what it’s revealing about me and my life and what I’m holding onto and where I need to let go, a nonviolent resistance towards myself. Whether we like it or not, we don’t need to build walls as a nation because we’ve already done it with each other and our tribes. The mere desire of building walls rather than bridges should not surprise us, for that is what and who we have become and now we reflect it outwards. For all intensive purposes, the wall has already been built and each of us has helped to lay the bricks over these years.

Sure, maybe it’s not our tribe that wants to build walls, cutting ourselves off from foreign land. That doesn’t exclude me from my own fears and building of walls in our own ways. If it’s not our bricks we can almost be certain that it’s our cement that is helping to hold it together. We become name callers and step onto the world stage with a pride that dampens my ability to see the other as myself. We demonize and put down and think less of because of my own certainties rather than questioning and opening myself up to the possibility of doubt. In this quest for deeper meaning, it becomes unsettling and raises anxiety for our humanity, and maybe because of such tribal thinking, we must always view everything as winners and losers, and yet, when we do we all remain losers, giving into our own fears and continuously reacting, out of our own fear and often self-righteousness, while gradually cementing the walls of separation, each certain of the answers and direction yet neither seeking “a more perfect union” but rather a win for my America, not ours. A win for my tribe, not the common good.

Do I see walls as an obstruction, of course, but I also believe we live in a finite world, often plagued by sin. Do I believe that when the dignity of any human person is being violated we must, if anything, be open to providing out of our abundant resources, absolutely, but I am also aware of my own mortality and fragility in always getting it right. It’s what makes me question and seek deeper understanding and meaning and to examine that stone I’m ready to throw from all different perspectives before I cast judgment, knowing I may have missed a perspective different from my own. I also believe that we must also serve our own. I see them daily from the comforts of my office window, encountering them as they go and wait, often times in the biting cold, waiting for food. They’re not moochers and lazy, they’re my brothers and sisters to whom it’s often more comfortable to journey with in life. That I am certain of; so much else doesn’t matter much anyway, many times simply seeking the necessities of life.

It’s easy to talk and it’s easy to cast judgment from behind my computer screen; really easy. I hike myself upon my high horse and cast the stones that I have accumulated, building a wall around myself, a tribe of one at times. How easy it can be to start throwing, free of reason, free of reflection, free of understanding, free of love, and yet, not free at all. That’s the irony of so much of our circumstances and the way of thinking that has plagued us. We fight for freedom for all and yet we’re not even free ourselves. I’ve learned that so much is theory, even the Gospel, until we have that personal encounter with the other who hurts and who we have walled out over time. I think of the homeless I have ignored. I think of someone who looks different that I feared. I think of someone who spoke in derogatory ways when I didn’t speak out of fear or wanting to be liked. Then the encounter. Then the uncertainty. Then the breaking down of the walls and ego. Then the change of heart. Then the comfort with mystery and unknown. Then the discernment. Then the nonviolent resistance. Then the real change that is needed.

All too often we pick and choose what it is we think is most important and what we’ll speak out against, so often as it’s been defined and spun for us, but at the heart of all of it are fragile human beings, often used and abused as consumers to get what we want for our own gratification and to stroke our own ego. Over the years, in particular since 9/11, we have gradually laid bricks and cemented them into place tightly around the heart of this country that found itself deeply wounded, an innocence lost and taken away, trying so desperately to fill that void with something, with a certainty we think we once had, the city on a hill, the beacon of hope to the rest of the world. It’s time we “tear down that wall” and no longer band-aid what has ailed us as a country. My fear is we will only continue to build the walls higher and with stronger cement; but one day Troy will fall, as every empire eventually does in time, when it can no longer sustain it’s own perceptions and illusions that it thinks it is, an illusion of strength, an illusion of superiority, especially when everyone else knows otherwise.

You can only avoid your own pain and hurt for so long before it catches up with you. That I am certain of and have experienced. The greatest challenge is, that when that uncertainty and doubt begins to creep into our lives, as it always will, that we don’t quickly react to it, laying yet another brick and stone; rather, to respond to it with love, for it is only love that begins to crack walls and move us forward and inward to our deepest identity that promises life and death, always uncertain and yet seeking, discerning what is necessary to lead not to more certainty to hold onto, but rather, the wings needed to fly above and beyond while descending me to greater depths of meaning and understanding while encountering my own deeper humanity in the other.

It’s not about our tribes and this reptilian brain that wants to trap us into our way of thinking and this need for certainty. Rather, it’s about our consciousness of it happening within me and setting it free. Then, and only then, do I begin to find the space necessary in my life for certainty and uncertainty, known and unknown, fact and mystery, superficiality and deeper meaning, tribal and yes, our truest identity, all of us, that holds all things together in Christ. That is why I question. That is why I seek. And for me, that is what it means to live with faith, with uncertainty, when all too often people demand certainty. If I’m so certain, I then question where God is in my life.

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Silence

For those who venture to enter into Silence, don’t be surprised if you find yourself leaving with more questions than answers about the struggle of faith of the lead, Father Rodrigues. Both him and Father Garupe, young priests with a sense of conviction, find themselves questioning where it is that God is leading them, firmly believing that they are being called to head to Japan, despite the known reality that they are to face of severe persecution, living in constant hiding, and the possibility of death as so many others had to face.

Father Rodrigues is a rather complex character throughout the story, especially in relation to the faith of the Japanese who are willing to go to their death because of their faith. Yet, throughout, on a deeper level, Father Rodrigues has this aching fear of death as he watches them, one by one, marching toward their own. Both Rodrigues and Garupe make this journey, despite the doubt of their superior, in order to seek out their once mentor who was believed to have renounced his faith. Garupe never makes it that far. From the beginning there seems to be an intersection of faith and lived reality for him, a disconnect that often follows Rodrigues throughout. Garupe’s blood will be spilled long before Rodrigues encounters their former mentor.

But for Rodrigues, it’s more than just seeking the mentor who, in his mind, could not have apostatized. For Rodrigues it was about seeking this truth that he becomes angered over many times in his questioning by the Inquisitor. The Inquisitor, who’s about as creepy as you can get, feels him to be arrogant. It may be the one quality of his that the Inquisitor is correct in identifying. That place of arrogance, which stands in the way of him finding the deeper faith, in the form of pride, becomes the place of rub for Rodrigues. He knows the truth, which for him, is a belief that he knows it all and is the bearer of it all, a gap between the intellectual faith and this faith he witnesses in the people, and in Garupe, for that matter, at times only seems to wane. He struggles greatly allowing this penetrating silence to enter into the depths of his heart and soul, to feel the pain and be one with the pain that the people experience.

The simplicity of the faith of the people only makes it a more stark contrast to what it is that Rodrigues seeks and believes. They seem to lack the fear that he has held onto about this God. It’s as if they know something that even he doesn’t know about the Christ, willingly accepting before renouncing. As the story progresses, Rodrigues questions time and again who it is that he’s praying to in the moment. He seems to simply pray to silence without any answers, despite knowing what he knows and questions who this God is. It is this God, or image, that seems to crumble with each persecution and death that Rodrigues witnesses but holds to so tightly. The Japanese believers, on the other hand, question who’s willing and able, living not from a strength that follows pride, but one that follows love.

In the end there seems to be no resolution nor reconciliation with Rodrigues. The look on his face mirrors a man who continues to angst up to the bitter end. In the end he too will have to confront his own demons of surrendering while beginning to know deep in his heart that he had done something wrong. He still hangs on to an image of who this God is supposed to be rather than opening himself to a bigger God, a God that can somehow even embrace a mentor who has disappointed and a friend who has betrayed, while he continued to allow perfection to stand in his way. The fear of the Japanese was that the spread of Christianity would begin to break down the world order that they had experienced and created, opening the door to questioning and revolt. Yet, they never much seemed to fear Rodriques, despite their persistence in persuasion. Maybe deep down they too knew of his own fear and didn’t see him as that same threat as it was for the people. It wasn’t the power of fear that threatened, rather, the power of love; and for Rodrigues, it was his deepest fear and struggled to accept.

Gratefully Living Without

Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 16-21

Like most of you, I spent part of this Christmas week with my family, which includes all the chaos with kids and such but also reflecting back on Christmas past. At one point some of us commented on how much Christmas has changed since we were kids. As you may know, I’m one of six. We were by no means rich but also not living in poverty, but we certainly learned to live without. As a kid, that seems like torture. You always want what is new, bigger, better, more advanced, and so on. But now, I can look back, as I’m sure many others can, and to see that that is a great lesson to learn in life, learning to live without and not having this constant need to be stimulated with the latest gadget. It’s hard to be grateful when I’m never quite satisfied and certainly only plays into the hand of the consumer culture. We can never have enough and yet, in the end, we only find gratitude without.

There’s a lot that stands in contradiction with the stories we hear throughout this Christmas season, including the continuation of the Christmas gospel we hear on January 1st each year. The shepherds finally find their way to Mary and Joseph and the new born babe to share what has been seen and heard. But there they stand at the center, Mary and Joseph, overwhelmed by what has taken place and the enormity of what has unfolded. But the story is really just beginning for them. If they had to carry with them what we have come to expect on Christmas morning they would never be able to make this journey. They really become refugees and go with nothing but what they have and of course, what is most important, the Christ, who will lead them on the way. As a matter of fact, they would face demise if they carried what we carry and maybe that’s the real point of the story. If we keep it at historical level we miss the point as to how their journey is our journey. It’s a journey of faith and trust and learning to take nothing with us along the way. It only slows us down in the first place and quite frankly, if we need to clutter our lives externally, we most likely are doing it internally as well leaving no space in the crib for the Christ. It will even become the message that Jesus conveys to the disciples of taking nothing with them for the journey while learning to trust and have faith in something and someone much bigger than themselves, in the unseen deep within them.

It is a day that we pray for peace, and of course, that’s first making peace with our own lives but we we also celebrate the Motherhood of Mary who ponders all this within her heart. She doesn’t stand demanding anything of anyone. She already has the space within to try to absorb the mystery that has and is unfolding and to be grateful for the real gift that has been given, of Love Incarnate. For today is also a day to give thanks and to be grateful as we begin a new year. But we too must make that space within our hearts to be grateful rather than trying to accumulate more and more. We too must learn to live without and to find God within what seems like nothingness. The journey Mary and Joseph embark on, and we too, demands us to go to that place of poverty. As refugees they must now flee the terror of Herod and head to Egypt only to eventually make their return at another time with an even deeper sense of trust and faith. They allow the Christ to lead them to the place of exile, to foreign land where they are without, only to find what has always been there and leading them along the way, the Savior that walks and meets them in that very place.

It’s what Paul also speaks of in today’s second reading to the Galatians. He speaks of the fullness of time taking on flesh under the law. Now it’s not just law as we understand it, but rather into the suffering of our lives, that place within us that keeps us bound and weighed down by what we carry. Maybe it’s not the Christmas gifts we may or may not have wanted, or the expectations we had of the holiday that weren’t met, but it could be the grief and pain that we continue to carry with us that makes the journey nearly impossible. Again, Mary and Joseph stand as the iconic figures of the season of making this journey while going without and finding the gift in the midst of it all. We so want to find the Christ in the joy and wonderment of the season, and that’s true, but the Christ is more than that. The Christ meets us where we have allowed our hearts to become exiled. This Christmas invites us to that place of poverty and to give thanks for the gift of living without.

As we continue this Christmas season and begin the new year, we pray for the grace to accept the invitation and walk with Mary and Joseph to our own hearts. Maybe we have to drop things and let things go as move along, but they promise us that what we find, that has always been, will satisfy every longing, where we will no longer be nagged by what seems to be never enough in our lives. Ironically, in the gift of going without, in our own nothingness, we learn the greatest gift, the gift of being grateful not just for what we have but for who and whose we are. Happy New Year!

It Begins With Me

2 Thes 3: 7-12; Luke 21: 5-19

By now I suppose most have had enough of politics. I’ve stayed out of it as much as I can because I believe as a preacher that it’s not my place to tell people how to vote and to take away their freedom to choose. But it’s over now and we now move towards a new reality, not only with a president but with a mayor of this city. I spent some time reflecting and blogging this week, even down to the point of how hard it was up to the point where I was filling in that oval square as to how I would vote. But I also reflected upon who are the losers in all of this. You know, I think the greatest losers in all of this are the two political parties with religious institutions a close third. It gets more and more obvious as to how politics influences religion much more than the other way around. We can tell simply by our reaction to it and we ask ourselves where it is we place our faith.

I thought of the losers coupled up against this gospel we hear today. If you ask me, the major parties as they stand have to lose. They have lost touch with people and in particular people who are truly suffering for a variety of reasons. Jesus makes the point at the beginning of the gospel today about the people that have become distracted by “costly stones and votive offerings”. It’s like the shiny object over here that distracts us from the real issues going on in people’s lives. It’s this facade that both of these parties have projected outwards that distract us and even worse yet, we begin to think that they are identity. I am red or I am blue. But you know what, it simply becomes another way for us to judge and distract. We not only judge by skin color, by sexuality, by religion, we can now judge by the color of our vote and because one votes one way I am somehow better than. We can keep going down this road, but the parties are going to destroy us as they continue to divide and even manipulate in a way that benefits them. Yet, all along, there’s war, famine, poverty, destruction, and great suffering going on over here being ignored.

We cannot keep dividing ourselves in these ways that continues to separate. Even the way we look at poverty. Sure there is great poverty in this city of Baltimore alone, but we even make judgements about that. We think somehow our poverty is greater than the poverty in rural America and we cast judgments upon them. You don’t need to drive very far to see it all around us. So yes, our politics has influenced our religion much more than the other way around because we’re called to something more and we hear that from Paul this morning in our second reading. He understands quite well in these communities how there can be divisions. He would understand our reds and blues. But Paul makes a point to lead people to their deeper identity, that there is something more than the color of my vote, there is the very fact that we are to model Christ, and Christ crucified at that. That is who we really are despite what these parties want to tell us. They want to convince that we are these parties and our lives depend on it. You know what, Christ crucified. That’s who we are and no one can tell us otherwise.

Of course, people even ask what Pope Francis has to say. He says he’ll certainly pray for the president but he says what matters most is what’s happening with the poor, the migrant, the immigrant, and the list goes on. We must continue to work for peace and justice but not because red or blue tells us to but rather because our faith demands it of us. However, in order to do that we must begin with ourselves. If we want peace we must first find it within ourselves. If we want to work for justice, we must first work to identity the injustice of our own lives, that’s me and you. I have judgements, I have stereotypes, I have all this going on in myself and I get easily distracted by the shiny object just as much as the rest, but this is a time to come back to center and come back to our truest identity. We cannot become what it is we hate. We cannot continue to blame others for the problems of the world. We must first begin with us, with me and with you. I must recognize my own injustice and my participation in the injustice of the world before I can begin to bring about justice in the world. We are more than all of it. If we want to be love and forgiveness and mercy, we must reconnect with our deepest identity in Christ and detach ourselves from our attachment to red and blue. It will destroy us because it’s not even real and we know deep down that we are more than it all.

This is a time of reflection for all of us, individually and collectively, to ask ourselves where we have become distracted and attached ourselves to something other than we really are and move towards oneness. We have to stop believing that we are this facade when we know deep down we are something much more. As Jesus says, it will all pass anyway. There’s no point holding onto it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It never is to let go of something we believe to be our identity. He speaks about how it does turn family and against family and against friend. But we must keep our eye on all who are suffering, including those beyond the bubbles we live in. We must keep our eye on the poor, the suffering, the fearful, the hurting, all suffering from famine. We don’t like to keep our eyes there and would prefer to be distracted, but that’s where we find our truest selves in Christ crucified and it is Christ that we are called to model to the world. We work for peace and we work for justice, but let it first begin with me.

Increase Our Faith

Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4; Luke 17:5-10

Increase our faith. It seems like a rather simple request coming from the Apostles in today’s gospel, but when we speak of any of these virtues, we seem to have a tendency to use them rather loosely. We can often throw them around without ever recognizing the magnitude of the request being made, as it is with the disciples in today’s gospel. We tend to limit faith to dogma or doctrine, something we can hold onto, but that doesn’t even begin to come close to the biblical faith that they truly desire or the faith that Jesus is going to lead them to in their journey.

It’s safe to say, though, that they’re primed for something. If you think about all that we’ve heard the past weeks and months, they really are aware of the tension that is building between Jesus and so many of the leaders. They’ve witnessed it in their interactions and in his story telling, only seeming to escalate things, allowing the drama to unfold until we come to an encounter with the Cross. It’ll be in that moment when they finally come up against something they can’t explain or rationalize, and certainly can’t control, before they can finally be pushed through and begin to make sense out of what they are asking today when they ask for an increase in faith, a faith that can move mountains.

It may be the anonymous programs where we find a deeper meaning to what it means to be faithful. It’s not something that can be taught. It’s only where we can be led in our lives and be open towards. Step one of the programs, and probably the most difficult of all of them, is to recognize and accept that we are powerless and that there is a higher being than ourselves. It’s so hard but it’s such a movement towards the faith we desire in our lives and the faith given to and show to us by Jesus.

There may be no others in Scripture where we see it exemplified than in the Prophets. Today we hear from the prophet Habakkuk. For the entire chapter Habakkuk does nothing but lament to God for all that he has seen and witnessed. All the violence, the injustice that has unfolded, the vast amount of darkness that seems to rule the land. It’s not much different than our own lives and the world in which we live. It can push us to a place where we begin to feel helpless and even lose hope, wondering why God can ever let such things happen. At times all we can do is also lament to the Lord. Finally, God gives some response to Habakkuk. The Lord hears his plight and the plight of the people, but simply assures him that it’s in God’s hands and will occur in God’s time. It’s so often at those moments of surrender when we can finally begin to let go of our own need to try to control and fix things and simply place them in the hands of God. I am powerless to so much of it and all I can do is surrender it to a higher being. It’s trust. It’s faith.

For the disciples it will come in the form of a Cross. It’s going to be the pinnacle moment of tension in their lives when they recognize that what they are truly seeking is not something they can hold onto. As a matter of fact, dogma and doctrine isn’t worth a hill of beans if there’s no faith in a higher being and a mystery always trying to reveal before and within us. Quite honestly, we can practice religion our entire lives without ever going to this deeper place, this vast place within ourselves, where we truly learn to let go of that which has power over us, and so often it’s the way we think and it is what we have believed. There’s no final point to the journey. Faith is always leading us deeper and yet beyond ourselves, into mystery with another opportunity to let go, surrender to this ever-manifesting God.

Increase our faith. It does seem so simple a request asked by the disciples in today’s gospel, but there’s nothing easy about it. It is an invitation that remains with us throughout our lives to once again be pushed where we’d rather not go, to the place of great suffering where we will once again need to give up control and our need to know and simply learn to trust. It’s God who will push us through and lead us to this place. It’s God who will push us through to this place of faith, where we once again surrender and let go, and in God’s time, allow our hearts to grow to greater depths of faithfulness.

Parade of Heroes

Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19; Luke 12: 32-48

If you watched any of the Opening Ceremony at the Rio Olympics this week, you know one of the most impressive parts is the parade of athletes from all around the world. It’s the one time where the best of the best gather every four years. Although we’ve made it so much into winning and losing, as we do life, the ideal remains the same that the greatest honor is just having been chosen to participate. I was struck by one young man walking in who was just trying to hold back tears. He may never win anything, but he was chosen to participate and accepted that invitation.

I thought of that image when I read this second reading we hear today from the writer of Hebrews. Actually, it is probably worth a second or third reading for all of us it is so well crafted. This chapter in the Letter is often referred to as the Roll Call of the Heroes of Faith. In many ways, it’s the writers own version of the parade of athletes at the Olympics. It’s the best of the best of these iconic figures that have done something great by accepting their own invitation to something bigger than themselves, like those participating in the Olympics. However, one stark difference is that it isn’t only about participating in something bigger than themselves, it’s also a humility that this comes from some great depths within them and yet beyond them that is beyond explanation. It has nothing to do with athletic ability or anything like that. It has to do, as the writer tells us, about faith and a trust in that which we cannot see.

So we hear of two of the ancients today, Abraham and Sarah, whom we just heard about a few weeks ago with their own struggle to give birth to a child. Today the writer of Hebrews reflects on their lives and their uncanny ability to trust and deepen their faith in something they can’t see, this great mystery that keeps leading them to places that are beyond their imagination. You see, we probably spend to much of our lives trying to trust everything we can see and hear, holding onto so many things that are tangible or make us feel secure but fear allowing ourselves to go to a deeper place, below the surface and learn to trust the power of the Spirit already present within us. It’s the only thing that can explain their lives and why they are our ancestors in faith and stand as witnesses not only to something bigger than themselves, but also deeper than they could ever imagine.

How else do you explain their sojourn in the promised land as in a foreign country, or at times hopelessly wandering, or this idea that somehow God should give them what they want in the birth of a child. None of it seems to happen in their lives. Yet, they never give up. There is always this desire for more within them that keeps them going, trusting that this God will provide. Maybe their prayers won’t be answered the way they want them to be or think they should be, but in the face of such adversity, they don’t turn away only continue to fall deeper into this mystery and trust in this love that is beyond explanation.

But the disciples aren’t there yet. They still are seeing with their eyes and hearing with their ears and have not moved below the surface. That’s really why Peter even asks the question about whether what he is saying is meant for them. They can’t see a deeper meaning, or as Jesus says, where your heart is will be where you find your treasure. Until they can move to a place of trusting in what they can’t see it’s going to be hard to understand. Remember what it is that they are experiencing with political and religious authorities at that time where there was so much abuse of that power that so many feared them. They, of course, in turn feared Jesus because there was something different about him. Jesus, in some ways, in what seems to be a rather negative message, is trying to lead them to that deeper place. That’s not who they are to model their lives. It’s no different today. There remains corruption and mistrust in these authority figures because they so often don’t live from that interior place of faith and trust, in what we cannot see. It’s so often about the immediate and my own gratification that we don’t even allow ourselves to live into the adversities of our lives to learn to trust in something deeper and bigger.

At the same time, we learn from our own ancestors. We have a responsibility to the next generation and the generation after that, just as Abraham and Sarah did for their own. All of that impacts the way we live our lives. It doesn’t mean that it will look and sound the way it did for us. If it’s a living faith it can’t. But the heart of it remains eternal, our trust in this great mystery that is constantly calling us into the role call of heroes of faith. We mustn’t tell ourselves that it’s only for someone else. It’s the culture of blame and victimhood that we embrace all too often. This call is for all of us and all of us must model, as best we can, this faith into something bigger and yet deeper within ourselves. What do we do when we face such adversities in our own lives?

Maybe we can’t always understand Jesus and this call especially to take up the cross, but there are so many others in the roll call of heroes that show us the way. We understand unanswered prayers. We understand hurt, loneliness, and abandonment. We understand it all but when it comes our way, as it did for Abraham and Sarah, what are we going to do with it. They too show us the way on this pilgrim journey. When we allow ourselves to fall into it all, we find ourselves being suspended in mystery and learning to trust and deepen our faith so that like them we can be taken to the places that even seem unimaginable in our own lives.

Make America Great Again?

Please note…just because I’m using Make America Great Again as the title of this blog, it in no way means I support the candidacy of Donald Trump. This is a spiritual reflection on why I think that slogan works and a deeper meaning behind such a statement. This is simply one perspective on a much more complex issue.

It is said that there is a beginning to everything. Certainly there is a beginning to our lives, a beginning to a relationship and marriage, even a beginning to an end. Something that I have reflected upon greatly these past years is the beginning of that end for the United States, happening on a fateful day back in 2001, September 11th. Any of us alive can remember where we were and what we were doing. I can still remember the silence that night as I walked on the grounds of the seminary, very few cars and no planes flying overhead. There was something distinctly haunting about the whole experience.

If we study the development of human beings, there is nothing that takes a toll more than trauma, to the body and the psyche. We have certainly seen that as part of the cost of war, the ongoing violence in our cities, and terror that is thrown upon us with no warning. Think about the amount of disbelief we had when those planes struck. I can still visualize them slamming into the World Trade Center and the ash heap next to the Pentagon. It was said even then, terror struck at the heart of this country. Of course we now know the other plane was also enroute to similar locations but cut short by courage. Just think about it, the heart of who we are, the epicenter of both the military and finances both struck, and yet we describe that as our heart. Is it really the heart of who we are as people, as country, or better yet, should it be? They’re questions for all of us to reflect upon.

But something happened that day. When trauma hits an individual, as I said, it does something to the psyche and the body. It wants to shut down and the mind wants to keep reliving it, over and over again, an ongoing nightmare. In the span of literally minutes, any illusion we tried to cast upon the world about who we are had been shattered. We were the country that couldn’t be hit, invincible. We were the youngest on the playground, still filled with such innocence. Yet, in those very moments, it all came crashing down and the illusion we portrayed showed its dark side. For a period of time we sat in disbelief but then it became time to react, and we did. We would do anything to try to recreate the illusion of something that was never real in the first place but a persona we felt we needed to portray and one that protected us from any outside harm.

Since then, it has seemed like a patchwork, trying every which way to recreate the illusion rather than collectively allowing ourselves to stop and fall into the question of identity that it opened up for us. We’ve managed to continue to fight wars now for longer than we could have imagined. We’ve also allowed ourselves to be duped into believing we needed to somehow shore up the banks a few years back, for fear of a total collapse. If we can learn anything from our history and certainly of the great empires that have existed over the centuries, is that they all eventually fall. An illusion of greatness and strength, built on realities that will not last, such as war and greed will undoubtably fall, and as usual, just as our faith has tried to teach us, those on the bottom are the ones who are most impacted, the normal everyday folk who work to make ends meet from week to week, scraping pennies together, sending their kids off to war, and for what? To try to defend an illusion that for all intensive purposes, crumbled before our very eyes on that beautiful day in September. Everything we thought we were was no more and all we can do is seek out a new way, a new greatness, one with greater depth, a truer identity and a heart that had gotten lost by divisiveness, darkness, despair, war, and greed, among other things.

In walks Donald Trump and this campaign to make America great again. How can anyone argue against that? But the question we never seem to follow up with is, but what made us great to begin with? Was it winning as he suggests or better yet, strength that we can somehow destroy every enemy out there, a restoration of authority to the rest of the world that we’re back. But is it once again, merely an illusion of what once was. Growing up I think about what made America great. Now growing up in small town Pennsylvania seemed rather vanilla. But I learned of this sense of the melting pot that first established this country. Give me your tired and your poor, yearning to be free. Somehow there was a sense of unity despite and in relation to our diversity. That’s what made us great and different from the rest, our greatest strength.

Times have changed and sure there are still people I meet that want their kids to have it better than them; that too has been part of our greatness. However, I’ve also met a lot more younger people, the next generation, that has a respect for the other and a willingness to seek out the common good for all people, but in particular, the poor. The greatness and strength of a country is often grounded in how it treats the poor. But in the process of trying to rebuild the illusion of what was, we’ve had to play the victim game and with the victim game comes the blame game. We fight and we divide, but all of it comes down to that very question of what makes us great in the first place, and for that matter, what will once again make us great.

There is a struggle for the soul of this country, if we can move beyond the superficialities and our politics that has often taken the place of our moral compass. The illusion wants and lives off of us fighting and reaching for something that could never be attainable and will never fulfill and decide how we go forward. If making us great again is built on more war and the endless pursuit of defeating enemies, greed and the stockpiling of money, then we will once again find ourselves casting an image of a country that just isn’t anymore, and for that matter, never was. If we look at it in terms of development, the United States has reached a critical time. Not in the sense that politicians like to portray it, as an impending apocalypse, but rather as a time to grow up and become no longer the kid on the playground, often bullying others around, but rather a responsible adult who finds strength through its people and the very heart and soul that can give us the true strength, direction, and life we desire. That’s how America can be great.

The election gives us all pause to reflect upon what we want, yet, distracted by smoke and mirrors and clashes of personality that in the end helps no one, certainly not this country nor the world. It’s time for us to grieve what was lost and that’s ok. That’s what adults do. We weep for what was, knowing in faith, that it’s the only way for a new direction to be revealed. I have never lost hope in the country, despite what has unfolded the past years, because I believe with all my heart that this is where we are. And you know what, I’ve been there and so have many others. What I thought made me great as a child no longer seems to fit and no longer works. Scripture tells us through Paul, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” He goes onto say that giving up chilling things challenges me to think about what I value. As a country, it’s time for us to ask the tough questions and not be so glib and quick to react, but rather to reflect on what we really want and desire as a nation. That can only happen when we allow it all to fall away, all that will pass, and seek what lies at the heart of who we are and what we are. Our history has not always been great because we sought greatness through an illusion all too often. At this moment in history, we the people, in order to form a more perfect union, must seek the greater good, the greater strength, that can only come from deep within our very being. Yeah, it is time to make America great again, but it’s time to root it in reality and a strength that comes from our ability to love, not an illusion nor war nor money, but the people that make it up from wherever they have come, seeking a better life, a great life, that only this country can offer.