“Forgiveness: Admitting Our Wrongdoing” (Fr. Richard Rohr)

 

I love Richard Rohr; a Franciscan priest who founded and runs the Center for Action & Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM and the author of numerous books.  Although he is a “normie” he writes prolifically about the power of the 12 Steps to transform our lives spiritually; and outside of actual A.A. literature, his is a grand interpretation of the 12 Steps.  So enjoy his words on Recovery and Forgiveness.  Niles

Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. – Step 5 of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

When we human beings “admit” to one another “the exact nature of our wrongs,” we invariably have a human and humanizing encounter that deeply enriches both sides—and even changes lives! It is no longer an exercise to achieve moral purity or regain God’s love, but in fact, a direct encounter with God’s love. It is not about punishing one side, but liberating both sides.

If you are still inside the economy of merit—a quid pro quo universe—you will undoubtedly not understand this at all. In fact, you will find it abhorrent. Forgiveness is not a popular or easy path, but some wise ones have shown us how. Desmond Tutu’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa exemplified the economy of grace after the fall of apartheid. All had to take proper and public responsibility for their mistakes, not for the sake of any punishment, but for the sake of truth and healing. In fact, the healing was the baring—and the bearing—of the truth publicly.

This is revolutionary and almost unheard of in human history but it is biblical, starting with the prophet Ezekiel during and after the Exile and dramatically lived out by Jesus.

Ezekiel lays the biblical groundwork for truth-speaking, accountability, and restorative justice. For him, the cement that holds the whole thing together is YHWH being true to YHWH’s Self, and not merely reacting to human failure (or God would not be free). For Ezekiel, God always acts with total freedom—from divine integrity and unilateral faithfulness to the covenant with Israel, whether they keep their side or not—without this foundational message, “grace would not be grace at all” (Romans 11:6).

God resists our evil and conquers it with good, or how could God ask the same of us? Think about that. God shocks and stuns us into love. God does not love us if we change; God loves us so that we can change. Only love—not duress, guilt, any form of shunning, or social pressure—effects true inner transformation.

The ego expects this pattern: sin à punishment à repentance à transformation.

Ezekiel recalibrates this process after experiencing [God’s] purifying love for Israel. The pattern becomes: sin à unconditional love and forgiveness à transformation à repentance.

If this is indeed God’s pattern, as I believe it surely is, this is a very different universe that God is creating. Jesus called it “the Realm [or Kingdom] of God.”

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 37, 39-43.

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The Poor You Will Always Have With You

“The poor you will always have with you…” – Jesus recorded in Matthew 26:11

There has been much misinterpretation regarding the verse about the poor as spoken by Jesus when he said “The poor you will always have with you.”  What is misunderstood about it is not the truth of the matter – that there will always be people who are poor – but that this is used as an excuse to not help and serve the poor.  I constantly hear Christians say since Jesus said the poor will always be with us then there is no use “helping” the poor, as if it is a waste of time.

What is misunderstood about this particular verse is that Jesus was NOT saying don’t do anything to help the poor because it is fruitless and hopeless because they will always be with us.  Rather he was speaking of God’s command to the Hebrews through Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (15:11),when God says to Moses:

For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I [Yahweh] am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’

It is precisely because the poor will always dwell in the land that we are commanded, as followers of Jesus, to be willing to help and serve and be with the afflicted and poor among us.

And in case there is any doubt as to the scope of Jesus’ Mission on earth regarding the poor and oppressed let us look to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus ‘announced’ his very mission – his Messianic Proclamation if you will – reading in the synagogue from the Book of Isaiah (61:1-2) where Jesus reads:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because [God] has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  [God] has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  [Jesus] then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him.  [Jesus] began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled. 

My frustration is with people who say they love God but in truth and reality show little or none of that love to those who are poor, afflicted, oppressed (or addicted).  In fact, one of the most pervasive beliefs in American Christianity is a “blame the victim” mentality – one that holds the poor to a higher standard of morality than the rich are held to.  Most people I speak with regarding the poor and service to them hold a belief that the poor deserve their lot, are lazy and shiftless, or hold to the tenet, “that’s just the way things are…”

I disagree and so do the Scriptures and more importantly so does Jesus.

How can we say we love God when sometimes we fail to show some of that love to our neighbors?  And Jesus clearly spoke to the question, “just who is my neighbor?” when he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan: our neighbor is anyone, anyone we see in need.  These are tough words to hear in this busy, me-first, stressed out, hurry up, Microwave Society.

Yes, it is true, we may always have the poor ‘with’ us for reasons of divine and human doing, I could go on about that forever.  But maybe, just maybe,  if we stepped out of comfort zones and took God at his word we’d begin to realized there is no “us” and “them” – there is only US.  If we began to live like that, by God’s grace, then maybe the world would truly start to see and believe in God’s amazing love as it is being lived out through the followers of Jesus.

Going About…Doing Good

“You know…what has happened all over Judea…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power and He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed…for God was with him.”  (Acts 10:37-38, New American Bible)

“Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, p. 77)

Sometimes I get bored by Scripture; I find it dull.  I think the reason is that I too get caught up in the “this and that” over Scripture – is it literal, myth, inerrant, or imperfect.  But in the end for me, it will always be a collection of stories about real people and their interactions with each other and more importantly with God.  And when I forget that, it bores me and dulls me.

I can also find Scripture and my faith dull when I forget or ‘overlook’ the humanity of Jesus.    Yes, Jesus was utterly and completely human, I forget this, and he was filled with the Spirit and power, and I sometimes forget that as well.

What did Jesus do with his Spirit of God power? He used it to go about doing good, and healing all those who were oppressed.

Now honestly, if I had that kind of power – filled to the brim with God’s Spirit power operating in me, I can’t say I’d use it to go around doing good or healing people.  I’d probably start a religion, travel, and make my living, money and reputation off of said power.

But not Jesus.  He had ALL the power of God within him and he chose to go around doing good and freeing those who were oppressed.

We don’t talk much about Jesus and the liberation of the oppressed here in America.  I think that’s because quite frankly we know more about being the oppressor than being the oppressed.  And since in modern society the oppressed are often the ones without access to power and media, they inevitable remain in their silent suffering and tossed about by the every whim of the elite, the wealthy, and the controllers of mass media.

And when I look around at the Christians, I am often left wondering and amazed at just how power hungry some God mongers are.  Wouldn’t it be grand if most of “Christendom” and the professed followers of Jesus were known more for going around doing good and healing the oppressed rather than what most of Christians are known for now: gay bashing, immigrant hating, gun-toting, angry reactionary close-minded isolationist or narcissistic self-help gurus seeking wealth and promoting earthly riches.  The list goes on…

Truly, I sometimes feel that if Jesus were alive today, we would lock him out of our churches.  Why? Because if Jesus were here today he’d be walking around doing good and healing the oppressed – like he’d be hanging out with whores, drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, plumbers, janitors, money-launderers, and those people who smell funny and talk to themselves when they walk down the street.

Can you hear the complaints from most American Christians?  “Just exactly who does this Jesus think he is?  How dare him.  Well, he’ll mess up my agenda.  He’ll mess with my Constitutional Rights!  He’ll come across as unpatriotic…un-American even.  He’ll offend the neighbors…!!!!”  Blah, blah, blah.

Damn right Jesus will mess with you!  For you see going around doing good and healing the oppressed got Jesus killed!  He did not win some local civic award, or the Nobel Prize, nor did he get 1 million hits on his YouTube viral video or have the most popular Facebook account.

What Jesus got for preaching and living love, and going about doing good and healing the oppressed was that he got strung up on a tree.  It is important to remember that in the time of Jesus, much like today, the poor were maligned for being poor because it was their fault – they had sinned or committed some heinous error that had caused God to punish and curse them with poverty…that was the predominant zeitgeist of the era of Jesus.

Jesus screws all that merit-based theology right to hell.  Jesus does not focus on why people are poor, Jesus simply focuses on healing them and preaching good news to them (Luke 4:18-19; Luke 7:22; Matthew 11:4 for starters).

Now I’d like to be all pious and sanctimonious and say I am or want to be like Jesus.  Well, I do want to be like Jesus, just without the cross.  I do want to be filled with the Spirit and go about doing good and being a source of God’s healing for the oppressed.  But I am afraid: afraid to trust God that much, and afraid because those who love the poor the way Jesus did often times suffer the same fate as the poor.  The truth is I want to be like Jesus, but not like most Christians.  It seems I have less in common with Christians today than I ever have.

You see I want to be known more for HOW I LOVE than what I hate or am against. 

I want to follow Jesus by imitating him – loving the poor, loving my enemies, doing good to all regardless of whether I like or agree with them.  I want that kind of power flowing in and through me, the power of servanthood.  But I get scared and let fear hold me back, or I let old alcoholic behaviors hold me back, instead of praying for God to transform my defects into virtues and stepping out in faith.

So I ask myself, what will the stories be about me after I die?  What will the legacy I leave be? Will I be known for going about doing good?  Or will I be known for being a selfish SOB?  What will you be known for?  Will you be known about going around doing good?

The answer lies within…

 

I Dare You…

I dare you to seek at ALL cost the Life you are being Called to Live (stop running away and start running towards).

I dare you to make prayer, gratitude, and meditation a part of your daily life.

I dare you to practice daily radical compassion towards everyone but especially the poor, the hungry, the broken and the brokenhearted (including yourself).

I dare you to build a more just, caring and peaceful society (starting with where you are planted).

I dare you to BE true to yourself every day.

I dare you to look your demons, your addictions, and your pain right in the Face, and walk through them to freedom and recovery (I dare you to get help if you need it).

I dare you to look honestly, deeply, and thoughtfully at ALL the addictions in life – to spending money, consumerism, and materialism and seek to heal them.

I dare you to stop letting Fear rule and ruin your life.

I dare you to Love truly, madly and deeply.

I dare you to get closer to God daily.

I dare you to open wide to the Beauty of your hearts and live it.

I Dare you to Dream a life — God’s Dream for you — and go for it!

God is Dangerous

It is important that I communicate this particular truth to everyone, important because we supposedly live in dangerous times, and we are told to fear “dangerous” people.  But here is a more important Truth: God is dangerous!

Americans (and all Westernized Cultures) have tried to tame God, but to no avail, the Holy One will not be confined or consumed by our whims or appetites.

We have tamed God, un-Deified God, molded him to our desires forgetting that the clay has no say to what the potter will make it into.  We have made Jesus the Messiah into Casper Milquetoast…a spineless, mushy, materialistic Messiah.

We have taken the very Bread of Life and turned Him into a palatable tea-time snack.

We have made Jesus into a comfortable suburban soccer mom/dad, who comes alongside our best intentions for the best life we can have: a house, 2.5 kids, a Prius or SUV, designer clothes, and a pittance of our time and money to give to the majority of the world that lives in poverty, under oppression, hungry, hurting, addicted and chained to despondency.

We in the West have tried but to no avail; God will not be tamed.  God is dangerous.  God is an all-consuming Fire (Hebrews 12).  Jesus came to divide mother from daughter and father from son.  Jesus came to bring a sword and Fire (Matthew 10).  Jesus came to preach good news to the poor…and friends do not be deceived: good news for the poor is always bad news for the rich.

Jesus is dangerous, for He will turn our worlds upside down in order to turn them right-side up.  We’ve made Jesus an addendum to our agendas and desires rather than the Prime Motive, the divine Modus Operandi to our days and lives.

Following Jesus is dangerous and deadly:  doing so will break our hearts (in order to heal them in a healthy way); it will kill us (the cross we are called to carry will slaughter our ego, our will, our plans, and maybe even our lives).  It is a dangerous thing to love our enemies, give to the one who asks, to go two miles when we are asked to go one, to sell all that we have and give it to the poor (ref. Sermon on the Mount, Gospel of Luke).  These things are scary as shit.

Make no mistake about it, God is dangerous.  God brings down the rulers and rises up the broken and poor (Luke, ch. 1 – 6); God humbles the proud and breaks the arrogant and gives life to the downtrodden.  God comes to us, not in the gold of kings or presidents, but in the distressing disguise of the poor and homeless.

God is dangerous.

God loves the unlovable and the unlovely, is not interested in our suits or ties or Gucci or DKNY.  God cares not for our fancy words, smooth talking, nor our degrees, licenses, or certifications.

Jesus is radical but we care more about the whiteness of our teeth than the words that come out of them; we care more for the way things “look” rather than the way things are.  We keep Jesus in the background, the backseat, the closet, or the dark.

We should tremble and remove our fine leathered shoes and realize we are on Holy Ground, for God is a consuming fire and He will burn up all the dross that we call precious and priceless.

God longs for us to surrender everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – to Him and to love Him more than others.  Oh yes, God is zealously jealous and will remove anything that stands between us and single minded devotion to Him if we are not careful.

Oh yes, God is dangerous.  So shut your ears to the manicured hands of those with expensive suits, whitened smiles, big churches, nice homes, and realize that one day, the Good Shepherd will come and separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25).  I tremble when I realize that the sheep and the goats have one thing in common: they both bleat.  So how do I tell the difference in what they say?  For according to this dangerous God, the only difference between the sheep and the goats was what they did and did not do for the poor!

God is dangerous…and His love will turn you upside-down, but in the end you will find that the world looks so beautiful, so radically different when seen through the eyes of (our) dangerous God!

“Alcoholics Anonymous” (Frederick Buechner)

Once again I turn to the great and grateful words of my hero, Frederick Buechner.  I am a recovering alcoholic & addict.  I love A.A., but I do not speak for A.A.  I love Narcotics Anonymous too.  Heck, I love all 12 Step fellowships because the 12 Steps and those who seek to live and practice them are some of the most loving, kind, real people you will ever meet; they are God’s ragamuffins.  Someone once told me God has a special love for fools, children and drunks.  I meet two of the criteria.

I’m posting this because it is a beautiful essay on A.A. from a non-alcoholics’ perspective.

And I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Enjoy Rev. Buechner’s words.

Alcoholics Anonymous

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS or A.A. is the name of a group of men and women who acknowledge that addiction to alcohol is ruining their lives. Their purpose in coming together is to give it up and help others do the same. They realize they can’t pull this off by themselves. They believe they need each other, and they believe they need God. The ones who aren’t so sure about God speak instead of their Higher Power.

When they first start talking at a meeting, they introduce themselves by saying, “I am John. I am an alcoholic,” “I am Mary. I am an alcoholic,” to which the rest of the group answers each time in unison, “Hi, John,” “Hi, Mary.” They are apt to end with the Lord’s Prayer or the Serenity Prayer. Apart from that they have no ritual. They have no hierarchy. They have no dues or budget. They do not advertise or proselytize. Having no buildings of their own, they meet wherever they can.

Nobody lectures them, and they do not lecture each other. They simply tell their own stories with the candor that anonymity makes possible. They tell where they went wrong and how day by day they are trying to go right. They tell where they find the strength and understanding and hope to keep trying. Sometimes one of them will take special responsibility for another—to be available at any hour of day or night if the need arises. There’s not much more to it than that, and it seems to be enough. Healing happens. Miracles are made.

You can’t help thinking that something like this is what the Church is meant to be and maybe once was before it got to be Big Business. Sinners Anonymous. “I can will what is right but I cannot do it,” is the way Saint Paul put it, speaking for all of us. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19).

“I am me. I am a sinner.”

“Hi, you.”

Hi, every Sadie and Sal. Hi, every Tom, Dick, and Harry. It is the forgiveness of sins, of course. It is what the Church is all about.

No matter what far place alcoholics end up in, either in this country or virtually anywhere else, they know that there will be an A.A. meeting nearby to go to and that at that meeting they will find strangers who are not strangers to help and to heal, to listen to the truth and to tell it. That is what the Body of Christ is all about.

Would it ever occur to Christians in a far place to turn to a church nearby in hope of finding the same? Would they find it? If not, you wonder what is so Big about the Church’s Business.

– Originally published in Whistling in the Dark

Short Musings: Surrender or Resignation?

Surrender.

Resignation.

One of them is giving up and one of them is giving in?  One of them is active; one passive. Is there really a difference?  And if so, would I even know what that difference is?

As I ask these questions I am merely speaking to myself, not to anyone else.  At this point in my journey of recovery, and my journey with God, I’m not sure where I stand: am I at a place of Surrender or Resignation.  It could be one, the other or both.

I truly do not know.

The good news is that God does and when it comes to giving up or giving in, faith and fear become guides that in some ways ‘will’ me forward.  The question is which one will I choose to be my guide: fear or faith?

Surrender involves faith; faith in a Loving God.  Resignation is about fear; fear that is a poisonous and ruinous drug.

Surrender is about journeying towards something while resignation is about running away from something (or Some One).

If truth be told, I have much and little of both.  But the choice is mine.

So which one will it be?  Faith or fear?

The answer will change the world.