November 25

Living In The Promiseland

Merton Homeless

It is the week of giving thanks.  The US holiday of Thanksgiving is tomorrow and most of those in the country will be doing their cooking, baking, basting, and often traveling to be with family and loved ones, to celebrate the holiday or at the very least, to enjoy the time off of work.  It is one of those magic holidays where, regardless of your beliefs, religion, or stance on any issue, being grateful for what you have and giving thanks for things is a universally recognized virtue.

It seems rather ironic that, at such a time, there is now a raging debate in the United States about whether or not to welcome and care for refugees fleeing from atrocities in their homeland that most of us cannot even begin to imagine.  The governor of my state, along with many others, issued a decree that our state would not welcome these refugees until such time as the federal government “made assurances” that proper security measures are being followed.  While I often refrain from posting and commenting on political issues, this one seemed to jump out to me as being an issue that is neither political nor difficult to understand, but rather, a crystal clear moral issue at its root – whether or not to welcome and care for refugees who have abandoned everything they’ve known and risked their lives to ensure the safety of their families and loved ones – and yet it is sadly being used as political fodder, religious rage, and fear mongering.  What is most disturbing to me is the response I have seen posted on social media and in the news from “Christians”, who have vehemently stated that such refugees should NOT be welcomed and cared for by the United States, UNLESS they are proven to be of no threat, or, even more unbelievable, ONLY if they are also “Christians”, in which case they would be considered “safe.”  I find myself wondering at times…often, actually…if I believe in the same “Christ” that these other loud voices believe in, or if there is some disconnect with the words and the Man and how that is lived out.  The times are very strange, and so, to be as informed and certain as possible, I have read factual documents on refugees and the processes they must go through to legally enter the US, and I have also reviewed the Gospel writings and saying of Jesus as well, to be sure that I understand what is written and what He told His followers to do, and you know what…I still can come to no other conclusion than that it is a fundamental responsibility of anyone claiming to be Christian to care for those that seek help and to welcome them.

You see, the thing that gets me in the end, is that Jesus didn’t give any caveats or loopholes to this…anywhere…especially when He said things like, “…they will know you by your love…” or “…when I was a stranger you welcomed me in…”  He didn’t say, “When I was a stranger you welcomed me in…once you verified I wasn’t a security threat and believed the same things that you believe and ensured that you had nothing to fear.”

This brings up the only other point I’ll make here, and that is this issue of fear, since it seems to be the driving force behind keeping refugees from entering our state and country.  Jesus addressed fear in his sermons as well, including, and most poignantly, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” (Matthew 10:28a)  The interesting thing about this is that, when added to something recorded by Matthew later in the same book, with Jesus stating, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” we hear a direct answer about what will happen to those who refuse to fulfill the basic needs of the “least of these”, and it does not include exceptions for fear or safety.  This is not a threat, but rather a call to remember.  The point is that, to care for those who most need it, regardless of fear of bodily harm, is, at the most, commanded to all who call themselves followers of Christ, and at the very least, basic human kindness, regardless of your religion or lack thereof.  

Refugees-arrive-LesbosAs Pope Francis recently stated, “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity.”  I agree wholeheartedly, and would add to that, nor are they objects to be used for political posturing or moral outrage; they are real people, with lives just like our own, who have families, children, traditions, music, art, culture, and religions of their own, all of which are being obliterated by a marauding group of psychotic, iconoclastic, fundamentalist, religious fanatics, with whom they too do not agree nor wish to have any association with, because they simply want the opportunity to practice their religion and live out their lives with their families in peace and prosperity, and to give thanks for those basics of life along with the rest of us.

So, at this time of Thanksgiving, I hope, and I pray, that everyone would remember ALL that we are privileged with in this country, the men and women who have indeed sacrificed to give us the freedom to peacefully celebrate such a holiday, that many of our ancestors were once refugees in a foreign land in need of help – without which we would perhaps not be sitting around tables filled with a bountiful harvest – and especially for those who call themselves Christians, the absolute responsibility of feeding, clothing, and welcoming strangers in need, of any race, religion, creed, or culture, regardless of how you feel about them.

America was once a nation that was defined not by its politics and religions, but by its peace, prosperity, and refuge for people of all nations.  I still believe that America can be beautiful – the land of the free and the home of the brave – a people who love unconditionally and who set an example for the rest of the world by our actions and not our words, when we welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse, the homeless, and the tempest-tost into our land, our homes, and our lives. (The New Colossus)   However, such words are meaningless if they are just letters on a brass plaque at the base of an unmoving statue – they need meaningful action.

America-the-BeautifulFinally – something to leave you with – let’s call it an inspiration and a challenge.  The great singer/songwriter, Willie Nelson, was recently awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and at his award ceremony, where thousands of lawmakers and fans had gathered, he performed a song he had recorded a couple of decades ago, called “Living in the Promiseland”, that he thought would be good to “bring back” at this time in America.  After seeing a clip of the performance and the standing ovation he received, and after listening to the entire song, I couldn’t agree more.  I post it here in closing, for your consideration, and with the hope that you are as moved as I was to try to make it so, for truly, against all odds, we Americans still live in, what is for us and many others, The Promised Land.  Lest we forget who we are as a people, and the things that once made us great, let us all pause to reflect, remember, and to give thanks for such a gift.

With great love for all, I pray a blessed, joyful, and light-filled Thanksgiving for you and your families!


Give us your tired and weak
And we will make them strong
Bring us your foreign songs
And we will sing along

Leave us your broken dreams
We’ll give them time to mend
There’s still a lot of love
Living in the Promiseland

Living in the Promiseland
Our dreams are made of steel
The prayer of every man
Is to know how freedom feels

There is a winding road
Across the shifting sand
And room for everyone
Living in the Promiseland

So they came from a distant isle
Nameless woman
Faithless child like a bad dream
Until there was no room at all
No place to run, and no place to fall

Give us our daily bread
We have no shoes to wear
No place to call our home
Only this cross to bear

We are the multitudes
Lend us a helping hand
Is there no love anymore
Living in the Promiseland

Living in the Promiseland
Our dreams are made of steel
The prayer of every man
Is to know how freedom feels

There is a winding road
Across the shifting sand
And room for everyone
Living in the Promiseland

October 6

That They May Have Life…300:1

Good Shepherd 1“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:10-11

***An initial disclaimer… This is not a post that is intended to stir up political debate, but rather ask some hard questions.  It is also targeted primarily at any who claim to follow Jesus and identify as Christian. ***

As a rule, I am not an overly political person.  I dislike labels and boxes and in general, work hard to be, as the Apostle Paul said, “all things to all people.” (1 Cor. 9:19-23)  This is not to be flaky or to dodge having to answer tough questions when asked them, it is more out of a simple desire to meet everyone where they are at in life, and to make no assumptions about their heart, motives, or beliefs before truly getting to know them as a person; in essence to see everyone not as “the other” or an object to be dealt with, but persons to be loved.

I mentioned in my last post that I have, at times, struggled with depression and anxiety due primarily to loss and grief, and also to poorly managing my own mental health as I ought.  It wasn’t until I walked through that valley with my own two feet however, that I truly understood how others who struggled similarly felt on the inside, no matter their exterior demeanor.  Life has a way of kicking the crap out of you and leaving you beat up, bedraggled, and bleeding on the ground.  This is not news to anyone who’s lived for some time and suffered any sort of loss.  The difference on this side of the fence is that, once you’ve walked through the “valley of the shadow of death” or experienced “the dark night of the soul”, you often find that things are now cast in a completely different light, and if you let it happen, hopefully you find yourself a much softer and more compassionate person. Continue reading

September 17

Sorrow, Shrapnel, & +A.D.+

“Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.” – Thornton Wilder, The Angel that Troubled the Waters

Yesterday, September 16th, 2015 marked the 4th anniversary of the miscarriage and loss of our son, Aidan Daniel.  His death at 12 weeks was a devastating blow to my wife and I, for many reasons. First and foremost, his was the first and only pregnancy for us, after, at the time, 9 years of marriage, and trying for children, fertility testing with the diagnosis that nothing was wrong, and no idea why “this isn’t happening for us.”  Second, we had just said goodbye 1 year prior to 3 of our Godchildren who’d lived with us for 3 years and brought us joy beyond measure or understanding, making us a family that we will never forget, and bringing out some of the best parts of us as individuals and as a married couple.  Finally, with his conception being an unexpected and seeming “miracle” for us, his loss seemed like an immeasurable cruelty, and caused us both to question our faith and belief in the Divine, especially for me more than my dear wife, whose faith runs deep and wide, and I often found myself crying out in both sorrow and anger, raging against the injustice of it all. Continue reading

August 31

Asses & Dust, Moth & Rust

“One of the greatest dangers for Christian mission is that we become forgetful in the practice of the cross and create a comfortable type of Christian who wants the cross as an ornament, but who often prefers to crucify others than to be crucified himself.”

– Archbishop Anastasios

During Holy Week in the Orthodox Christian church, we hear all of the Gospel readings where Jesus derides the religious leaders of the day, for their strict adherence to their traditions, laws, and practices, while having cold and closed hearts and unable to have mercy on those they lead.  Every year, hearing these, I can’t help but wonder, often, are we Christians the modern day Pharisees or are we still followers of the gentle Man from Nazareth? What would the Christ have to say to us if He came back today? I read Matthew 23 and substitute “Christians” every time Jesus says “Scribes & Pharisees”, and then I meditate on that…and I lament and ask for mercy and help because I see parallels everywhere and am convicted in my own heart that truly, often we are they, as “they” were the “us” of their day.  I fear that, as Dostoyevsky wrote in “The Grand Inquisitor”, if our Lord returned today, we may not recognize Him, or worse, denounce Him because He’s not acting “Christian” and is interfering with the mission of our Church, and we no longer have need of Him or His miracles and mercy.

Continuing on from my last post, I’ll say again, that I’ve noticed a lack of genuine dialogue amongst people of differing beliefs.

Continue reading

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