A Path To Peace

Christmas Narratives continued…

There’s a belief that the problems we face and encounter in our lives are often of the psychological nature, which tells us there are a great deal of issues that encompass a broken humanity.  At the same time, though, it’s believed that the solutions to the problems are spiritual, a matter of the heart, which explains why problems seem to never end and this pursuit of peace seems rather insurmountable.  We’re not very good at matters of the heart.  It’s a challenge with problems and difficulties we face individually and so as a city, a country, and the world, handling heart and soul begins to make us feel helpless in the face of such suffering.  You may have heard Pope Francis mention yesterday on the eve of the New Year that humanity wasted 2017 on war and lies.  When we avoid the matters of the heart the pursuit of peace never seems possible.  It becomes much easier to inflict our pain and hurt onto others.  It’s easier to stay in war and locked in a violent cycle here in Baltimore than it is to do the difficult work of heart and soul that the gospel demands.  And so as we begin the new year we pray for peace but first in our own hearts and souls.

It is a theme that threads through Luke’s gospel even as we hear in the continuation of the Christmas narrative we hear on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  She reflects and ponders and holds all these things in her heart.  Luke returns to it throughout the gospel but he’s not meaning the beating heart that keeps us physically alive.  He speaking of the oneness and union of mind, soul, and spirit.  He’s talking about how Mary steps back from all that is happening and allows the space of this mystery to unfold.  There’s no need to react or explain.  There’s no reason to attack their enemies.  Mary and Joseph, for that matter, have found that gift of peace and are at peace with the overwhelming gift which will now see them through the darkness of Herod as we hear on Epiphany on Sunday.  The gift that is given to them is then freely given to anyone who dares open themselves to it being offered.  When we find that peace and become that peace within our own hearts, as Luke describes, not even the harshest reality of war will stop us from facing the broken humanity and to truly work towards peace.

When we fail to seek healing and solutions as a heart matter and rather resort to a shallow political system here in the city as well as the country, we’ll continue to get the same results, trying to solve issues from the same level in which they were created.  Both extremes of the political narrative use fear to control and manipulate, just as Herod and Caesar Augustus did, who Matthew and Luke reference.  They try to bring about a peace that is rooted in fear, as we heard on Christmas.  They thrive on keeping people in the dark, separating and dividing.  At some point we have to face the fact that it no longer works for the people, especially the Joseph and Mary’s of the world, the poorest of the poor.  It no longer brings peace nor the pursuit of the common good.  Like Herod and Caesar Augustus it’s about building their own kingdoms and making politics into a god.  It’s how we have the problems that exist and that’s not the way to solve it.  It’s a matter of the heart.  It’s a matter of the soul that is necessary in these days.  We can’t stand for another year as we did in 2017 here in Baltimore.

It’s easy to pray for peace and we’ll continue to pray for peace on this World Day of Prayer for Peace but we also turn to Mary as our model on this feast of the Mother of God.  She is the one that teaches us to ponder, to reflect, to hold all these things in our hearts.  When we lose that space, as we have as a society and culture, we react and react and react to every blessed thing that is thrown our way and we become part of the problem not part of breathing peace and healing into hearts that hurt.  We become what we hate about the other.  Demonize the other.  Cut off the other.  Fearing what we don’t know and clinging to what we think we do.  We no longer have that space in our own hearts, as individuals, community, city, nation, world, for the sense of mystery that Mary ponders.  We hold on, and hold tightly, to what we know, what we see.

Our problems may be psychological but the solutions are a matter of the heart, are spiritual.  The path to peace is a difficult one.  It lies beneath the surface and is often what we can’t see or know.  It’s what we so often fear.  Yet, if we want that peace we have to work at it, not politically but in prayer, in silence, pondering the healing that is needed and take a contemplative stance towards a hurting world.  The Herod’s of our time can just as much be us if we don’t do our own work and on this feast we turn toward the Mother’s guidance in Mary, to ponder, reflect, and hold this mystery close to who we are that we may seek that oneness and union, not only within our own lives, but in the city and nation.  The pain runs deep in this city and nation and if we’re not willing to do it differently we’ll only perpetuate and mirror 2017 by wasting another year and another chance for the breaking in of the Christ which calls us to a new way, to a changed heart, to an opportunity for hope and peace that is rooted in the Christ, looking up and gazing into his mother’s eyes, pondering what sort of greeting this might be.  If we want peace then it must first begin with me.

Winners and Losers then No One Wins

I enjoy watching sports as much as the next person. It’s ingrained in our culture and certainly a part of Americana. We all want to see our teams win; yet, with a win, someone else must lose and experience the agony of defeat. It was that way Saturday evening at Camden Yards, all tied up in the bottom of the ninth, Red Sox versus Orioles. It would take an extra inning, but the Orioles, with a walk-off home run, would pull one out on one of their fiercest rivals, the Boston Red Sox. It was a thrilling win and hopefully a turning point after a rough start to a season.

As much as winning and losing in sports is a part of the fiber of our being in this country, life isn’t always that way. Yet, it has trickled over into other aspects of our lives where I must be superior over the other, come out on top, be the winner despite the fact that someone then must lose. What does that do to the relationship? Can a relationship exist when it’s about winning and losing, rather than finding ways for a ‘win-win’, understanding, and reconciliation? Where does that leave the one that ‘lost’? What does it do to my own ego, the self-proclaimed winner in the face of the agony of such defeat and who else must I defeat to build on that thinking?

On Saturday evening, the winning and losing at Camden Yards was the backdrop of a larger reality that unfolded outside the stadium. Late in the game it was announced that fans must stay put in the stadium rather than venture out onto Eutaw Street to go wherever it is they were heading. Peaceful protests, regarding the death of Freddie Gray, turned sour with people injured, property destroyed, more than thirty arrested, and a city trying to grapple with a reality that, as we do so often, has drawn a line in the sand asking the wrong question of who’s the winner and who’s the loser, who’s right and who’s wrong, within the context of the death of a young man and yet problems that are much larger and deeper than his death. That’s what we like and it’s what we want, or so says our minds and our ego. It deepens divides that already exist and we never find resolution and healing. It gives one side proof that they’re right while the other is wrong and vice versa. It makes for great news drama and the way the story is spun by different broadcasts. It fuels tension and an already deep-seeded anger and mistrust which will always find a way to makes its way out into the world, often violently against ourselves and others. We find ourselves at a stalemate. We find ourselves between a rock and hard place, so wanting to choose sides, and how easy it is to do when one man is dead on one side and the “proof in the pudding” on the other as the violence erupted on Saturday evening and continues to unfold. Who am I to side with on this; who wins and who loses? Yet, I feel helpless, trying to sit in the tension of what is happening trying to make sense and peace with all of it.

If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to put yourself in the place of Freddie Gray. His life is not my own and his reality, if stories are correct, was nothing like the reality that I grew up and the reality I live in, despite living in the city of Baltimore. First of all, I’m some white guy trying to put myself in his place, which I can’t do; but I also believe it should not be so difficult for any of us to empathize with him, considering his life was cut short, and if it were someone in my family or yours, we too would be outraged. It’s safe to say, no one deserves that type of treatment and to be stripped of his dignity, regardless of his lived reality. However, ever-so subtly, lines are drawn and speculation is presented. He was dealing drugs. He was in trouble with the law many times over. The police were just trying to be preventative. The bottom line, so it is said, he was a troublemaker. All of that, begins to cloud my vision and what I see and the person I see as Freddie Gray. I begin to make judgment, no thanks to the news. Maybe he got what was coming to him? There’s one less ‘problem’ in the city. He brought it on himself. How can I even begin to think like that?!? I begin to make winners and losers in the case. It’s hard for my mind and my own brokenness not to devolve in such unhealthy ways and to react out of judgment; it happens in an unconscious way for all of us, especially if we’re not aware of it happening, and before you know it, sides are chosen, winners are chosen and resentment and anger builds and spills out into the streets.

But I also have a hard time putting myself in the place of police officers and politicians, including the mayor. I wouldn’t want any of their jobs. I can’t even begin to imagine what the roles they play does to one person. However, like Freddie, they too are human; something we can all relate to. They face a reality everyday unlike my own with much bigger problems that I would say, just as in the life of Freddie Gray, are beyond my understanding and can be extremely complex. The city faces problems that go way beyond politics, a reality that goes beyond judgment, it just is the case. Poverty, inequality, and so on go much deeper than the color of one’s skin or their mental state. Yet, that automatic pilot within me kicks in once again. I make judgments on what I have seen. If the police can break minor traffic laws that I’ve witnessed in my neighborhood, who’s to say what else is done when I’m not or someone else is not looking? Does it automatically put an element of doubt in my mind, especially after seeing the violence on Saturday evening? Maybe the police are right? What if I were in their place and pushed to such limits at times, what would I have done? Maybe they’re just doing their job and we all just have to live with the consequences and chalk the whole thing up as a mistake? Can we then live with such a reality since it then defines how we go forward in the future? How can I even begin to think like that; and yet I do, and maybe it’s my own uneasiness of such anger and the loss of control, but can’t that be said of everyone? Have I not been outraged at injustice and hurt in my own life, burying it deep within, only to have it spill out into my own life and actions? Again, sides are chosen, winners and losers are drawn; feeling helpless becomes the lived reality.

Winners and losers are great with sports, but in real life, when there are winners and losers, we all come out as losers and no one wins. No one wins when everything is kept on the surface, judged by behaviors, and within my thinking patterns and never moving below the surface because I will always dig my heels into the ground. We so often refuse to deal with the deeper issues at hand because it forces all of us to look at ourselves, no matter whether we are police or citizen, black or white, or however else we have drawn the line and split reality, because then we all are put in a position to change our thinking and our behavior and the way we respond to issues that present themselves, responding with love, compassion, and understanding. When we can no longer see each other as the same, and I’m not always sure that’s entirely possible, but when we no longer even try to see each other as the same, violence will always erupt because sides will be chosen, my position in the community will define where I stand, winners and losers will happen, resentment will grow deep within us, and a split reality will take shape, where in the end, a win-win becomes impossible, relationship breaks down, and unfortunately, no one wins and everyone loses.

That is the true reality of where we are at in this city, lost in the midst of a great divorce, trying to pick up pieces, not speaking to one another or simply speaking past one another, questioning the truth and lost in speculation, wondering what’s next, deciding on who’s right and wrong, what side will I choose, and so on and so on; the unending conveyor belt of questions that loom in my mind, split from my heart and quite possibly, the heart of the city. Anger, bitterness, and resentment loom on this cloudy afternoon. The city, after a tumultuous weekend and now spilling over into a new week, is left with such questions engulfed in a debate of the culture within, but also an invitation into the deeper questions on identity and who the city wants to be; can it be reconciled and healed? That can only come through honest dialogue, free of judgement and legalities, through person to person, side to side, coming to a common ground, found at its core, charm city as she’s known, a winner in my books. The city, and each of us, stands at a threshold before we are too quick to choose sides, draw lines and act out of our own judgments, a few things for all of us to ponder as we try to breathe deeply these days, trying to respond with dignity, love, and compassion. Do I go back to what has been once again and a reality that has not worked and is not working, leaving all of us lost in the end or do I use the opportunity to cross over into something new, a greater lived reality where we all come out with a win and free? It’s not just a question for the mayor or the police department or any one neighborhood; rather, it’s a question we all must sit with and reflect upon if we are to confront problems and change culture, honestly and head-on, and rise above to become what we all dream this city to be, a city that has lost a lot but lives with the opportunity for some great wins in the future.

Reconciling the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Acts 4: 8-12; IJn 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18

Every year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter we hear from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel and his account of the the Good Shepherd, on what we call, Good Shepherd Sunday. Yet, for what we know of this image, which is probably the most prevalent in all of Scripture, it often seems to stand at odds with Jesus and even the words, good and shepherd seem to be more in conflict than anything. However, Jesus manages to pull together these seemingly opposing opposites and identifies himself as the Good Shepherd.

In the gospels, when Jesus is confronted by the rich young man he even questions him in calling him good. His reply is, “God alone is good.” And the shepherds, well, we know how unfaithful they have often been from David right on down to the shepherds who become the chosen ones of the incarnation that we hear at Christmas, because they are seen as suspicious, dangerous, involved in risky business, at times thieves, and even to this day, some who live in isolation from the rest of the community because of how they have been labeled and looked down upon and so often living down to that level.

Yet, Jesus says I am the good shepherd. Jesus manages to reconcile the good and the shepherd of our own humanity, and through the Crucified Christ now raised from the dead, is salvation, the kingdom, brought to fruition in the life of the community. It’s the debate that Peter finds himself in today. Now this is nothing new for Peter. He’s been in this situation before when him and the other disciples question Jesus in the gospels about those who are being healed by others than the “chosen” ones. Now he’s in a different position. Now he knows in his very being, Christ crucified, now raised from the dead, as more than just an event but a reality in his life and that of the community. He pretty much tells them the details of the healing of the crippled man really don’t matter. How it happened or what took place. What matters is that he was healed and can now be with the community in the fullness. It was and is through the power of the Crucified One now raised that we believe he has been healed. As a matter of fact, it is only through Christ that we seek and find healing, forgiveness, reconciliation. The Christ goes to the place where we have been isolated. Christ goes to the place where there has been hurting. Christ comes into the world and appears to the least, the shepherds in the fields, to offer a message of hope in the midst of the their lives.

But Peter had another issue to deal with and one we deal with in our own society and culture. He emphasizes that salvation and the breaking in of the kingdom comes in and through Christ. Yet, so often they were led to believe that it came through the Emperor or the political leaders of their day. We know from Herod that it was more out of fear that leaders often rally the troops. If we wait for leaders to bring healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation, we will be waiting for quite some time.

Now we find ourselves as a city facing some deeply-seeded hurting going on these days and for the past weeks and it is us, the believers, as it was in the early community with Peter, who are called to be love to the community and this city. If we reduce everything to politics, we find ourselves in ongoing situations like this one, with hurt leading to more hurt, divisiveness leading to more divisiveness, and trying to prove one’s right and one’s wrong. As it was for Peter, we’re missing the point. We’re missing the point that it is healing that needs to take place. We’re missing the point that it is reconciliation that needs to take place. We’re missing the point that it is forgiveness that needs to take place. It is Christ crucified, now raised from the dead, that comes and brings reconciliation. Christ reconciles the good and the shepherd. It’s Christ that reconciles the shepherd and the sheep. It’s Christ that reconciles the good, the bad, and ugly of our own lives. For it is only in Christ in our own lives, that when healed, we no longer have to respond to violence with more violence, but rather with love. We are God’s children and so we are as John tells us in the Second Reading.

There’s a lot of good in our lives and city, but there’s also, at times, a lot of bad and ugly that takes place. We find ourselves as reactionaries more than responders of love. Christ, the Good Shepherd, comes to the place where we have been and have isolated in our own lives, to love and comfort, to seek out what has been lost and can now be found, just as he did with the shepherds. As we celebrate this Good Shepherd Sunday we gather mindful of the heavy burden of hurt and pain in our lives, our community, our city, and certainly our world. We’re not called to fix and solve. On this Good Shepherd Sunday we are called to reconcile as the Great Reconciler did and continues to do in our lives and world. It doesn’t matter how it happens for this mystery of healing and reconciling is within and yet beyond each of us. We are called to manifest God’s love to our community, city, and world, by being the wounded healers, reconcilers, and forgivers, for it is that that we witness to by our very lives in trusting the Good Shepherd, leading the ewes with care, devotion, and great love.