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Jesus looks into our hearts and minds from the vantage point of the cross--that should humble us in our views of Judgment. Watercolor by Christian artist James Tissot (1836-1902).

Jesus looks into our hearts and minds from the vantage point of the cross–that should humble us in our views of Judgment. Watercolor by Christian artist James Tissot (1836-1902).

Christ from the cross looks down on us every day in judgment as we in our sin delude ourselves into believing we have no sin–that we’ve done no offense to the one who suffered all for us, in order to be with us in our suffering. (More on suffering from Henri Nouwen below.)

In our conceit we tend think that we’ll be fine on Judgment Day, don’t we?

We convince ourselves that it will be OTHERS who pay for THEIR sins.

That serious writer and serious God seeker Aldous Huxley said, “There’s no such thing as Judgment Day; every day is Judgment Day.”

I think he was onto something. I submit that every day is indeed Judgment Day, that Christ is looking down on us from the cross–-and not just on Good Friday.

By all means, let us praise and glorify him and be thankful to him for his extreme, radical love on this special Holy Day! This is a day when we look up at the crucified Lord our Savior on the cross, in awe of his love for us, as well we should.

But we might do so with utter humility, mindful that he looks back at us and sees right into our hearts and minds.

And let us be mindful on a day such as this special Holy Day mindful of our own immortality.

Christ challenges us to look within, to look unflinchingly at how we might be judged if we were to meet him face to face today–in the next five minutes, for that matter.

If only we knew that anointed hour a year or a month or a week before our last breath–wouldn’t we be on our best behavior with our Judgment Day closing in on us.

Surely Christ is glad for the praise and thanks we give him today–while challenging us to greater love, to greater mercy and forgiveness.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

— From Luke 23

jesus-christ-crucifixion-150

“When we say “Christ has died” we express the truth that all human suffering in all times and places has been suffered by the Son of God. There is no suffering — no guilt, shame, loneliness, hunger, oppression, or exploitation, no torture, imprisonment or murder, no violence or nuclear threat — that has not been suffered by God. There can be no human beings who are completely alone in their sufferings since God, in and through Jesus, has become Emmanuel, God with us. The Good News of the Gospel, therefore, is not that God came to take our suffering away, but that God wanted to become part of it.

Henri Nouwen, from Christ of the Americas


“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

— From the Gospel of John 13

For Maundy Thursday (see here)

Belizeans walk miles and miles on rocky, dusty roads. The feet can get plenty dirty, as when Jesus walked.

Belizeans walk miles and miles on rocky, dusty roads. The feet can get plenty dirty, as when Jesus walked.

Back when Jesus walked, washing the feet of a guest in a home was far from being a glamorous job. But cleaning feet was an act of hospitality and a custom.

Somebody had to do it.

And it was usually the servants who had to do it.

Here in Belize, where most Belizeans struggle through life outside the purview of all those tourists covered in oil, relatively few people can afford to own or maintain cars and trucks. Those who do own them typically own prehistoric vehicles that come with odometers that have turned over multiple times since the 1980s.

Most car owners keep their driving to a minimum because Belize’s roads and streets are literally some of the worst in all of this great, big world. The ruts and rocks and potholes–Belize me, you can’t even imagine the sizes and number of potholes in the ultra-narrow streets of bustling Belize City–can do violence to a set of wheels in short order.

So Belizeans walk and walk a lot on roads and streets, which right now–in the peak of the six-month dry season–are as dusty as they are hot and dry. It’s not uncommon at all for the every-day Belizean to walk ten, fifteen and even more miles a day, in sandals or ragged shoes.

And the feet show it.

I’ve become aware of just how dry and cracked and callous and dirty the feet can get in an environment of the sort that Jesus and the people of his time walked in.

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Back when he walked with his disciples, Jesus was the man!

Jesus was the master!

So imagine the shock of the disciples when he took up a basin and towel and started washing their feet. Peter–that always peppy, child-like, pre-Resurrection Peter–was so taken aback that he told his Master Jesus that there was no way he’d be washing the Master’s dusty, dirty feet.

Of course Peter was bound to get his dirty, dusty feet washed by Jesus, who told him and the other disciples that he was setting an example of servitude for them, and disciples for all times, to follow.

In a way, we Christians are called to be cops of the Kingdom–the utterly good cops who advance the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

We’re called in advancing the peaceable Kingdom that Christ ushered in to “Protect and Serve.”

That is, to protect and serve one another in fellowship and protect and serve the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they struggle through a day with tired, cracked, calloused feet.

What a journey it was to Jerusalem for that strange mystic who had powers to make the broken whole again.

Along the way he’d demonstrated the power even to walk on water, revealing to us his ability to walk with us above all the turbulent waters of fear, anxiety, worry, illness.

palm-sunday

I can look out any window in my home and what I’ll see are the branches and leaves of palm and coconut trees all around. If I step outside and walk a few yards I can see the sturdy greenery of such trees nearby and miles away, too. Palm branches are strong and durable, able to withstand fierce wind and rain and blazing heat as well.

Jesus casually walked across the turbulent waters and triumphantly road across the “pavement” of palm branches and garments spread before him.

The whole of what happens in a lifetime is contained in the stories of Jesus walking across the stormy waters and his riding triumphantly into town on a humble donkey.

One day you’re on top of the world, riding high, honored, respected, feeling so good about yourself.

The next day somebody, if not life itself, is knocking you on your ass.

Jesus picks you up at the bottom of your slide and walks with you and, if necessary, carries you.

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”

Still Life With Woman Reading Bible, San Jose Succotz Village.

Still Life With Woman Reading Bible, San Jose Succotz Village.

The sun is hot but the water's not.

The sun is hot but the water’s not.

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Belize is now in the peak dry season--won't be any rain until late May--but the dryness brings out big, colorful, gorgeous blooms.

Belize is now in the peak dry season–won’t be any rain until late May–but the dryness brings out big, colorful, gorgeous blooms.

Some places never get hot and dry though..

Some places never get hot and dry though..

Elmo is one of the sweetest of the town characters in San Ignacio. He lives with his mother, a retired principal, by one of the parks in town. He also ushers and takes up the tithe offerings every Sunday morning at St. Andrews Anglican Church.

Elmo is one of the sweetest of the town charactersin San Ignacio. He lives with his mother, a retired principal, by one of the parks in town. He also ushers and takes up the tithe offerings every Sunday morning at St. Andrews Anglican Church.

Sunday afternoons, attendance is high at the Mopan River.

Sunday afternoons, attendance is high at the Mopan River.

My friend Bubba from the States is a Vietnam vet who used to counsel vets suffering from post trauma. He has opened a vegetarian restaurant in San Ignacio.

My friend Bubba from the States is a Vietnam vet who used to counsel vets suffering from post trauma. He has opened a vegetarian restaurant in San Ignacio.

The tiny, tasty apple bananas are in season.

The tiny, tasty apple bananas are in season.

Until next time, may you find your own beat and march to it.

Until next time, may you find you own beat and march to it.

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 13
KEY VERSES: (1, 2, 5, 6): How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? 
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

P1050813

“Broken cutters, broken saws,

broken buckles, broken laws,

broken bodies, broken bones,

broken voices on broken phones,

take a deep breathe,

feel like you’re chokin’,

everything is broken.”

— From “Everything is Broken,”
Written and recorded by Bob Dylan

When a poor person says, “I’m broke,” it’s not just a lack-of-money-thing. The poor person tends to be “broke” in countless ways.

One day while riding my motorbike on Belize’s Western Highway, I happened upon a Mayan friend of mine named Chanzy. His car was parked on the side of the road and he had his legs outstretched on the gravel, with his back leaning against a back tire.

He had his cap covering his face because he was crying like a baby, and crying hard.

Once he’d composed himself, Chanzy explained that he’d saved his hard-earned cash to buy the car for $600 U.S. while plopping down another $200 for repairs to get it running.

It ran for a couple of days before it broke down and reduced Chanzy to tears on the side of the road where I found him.

His Greatness Bob Dylan wrote and recorded a song called “Everything is Broken”—a song that, to my way of thinking, is all about the brokenness that comes with being poor.

In poverty, everything breaks down—everything from people’s hearts, minds, bodies and spirits to the cars they drive and the beds that they sleep in (assuming that a poor person has a car to drive or a bed for rest at all).

So it was with Chanzy. He actually said to me on the side of the road, before I drove him to a mechanic in town, “There’s no use trying to have anything; everything in Belize is broken.”

* * * *

Honestly, I can say from living in solidarity with the poor in Belize that many days I look around in the neighborhoods and villages and see so much brokenness that I wonder if anything in this country ever works or keeps working, other than operations at the high-dollar resorts and casinos. Even with the frequent blackouts where I live here in San Ignacio, the one place in town where the electricity never, ever stops working is at the casino at the luxurious San Ignacio Resort. Even the generator at the hospital has been known to fail when the power fails.

But the flashy, seductive lights at the casino are flashing all hours, non-stop, enticing the poor as well as the rich and well-to-do to come in and take a chance.

The only thing that never breaks down–not completely–in my friend Chanzy’s life is his faith. After I gave him a ride after his brief but intense breakdown and his lamenting of the brokenness of everything in Belize, I offered to pray with him. His face lit up as he removed his cap and reached out and gripped my hand.

Claro!” he said excitedly, which means “of course.”

When I finished praying and said my “amen,” he immediately started praying for me.

* * * *

Psalm 13 is one of the many “lament Psalms” in which a Psalmist feels so broken down that he feels he can’t go on. In his anger or frustration, the Psalmist cries out to a God who can feel as far away as a planet in a universe yet to be discovered. But always the Psalmist comes back around, at the end of his Psalm, to express trust in the goodness of the Lord, as Chanzy, God bless him, came back to his faith that day in our encounter.

The poor have precious little, and yet much to teach us about faith.

“But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13: 5-6.)

994528_10151569137776275_983235606_nI have nothing against rich people. In fact, I’d verily love to be rich myself.

Honestly, who but a few saints who’ve taken vows of poverty wouldn’t love to be rich.

Personally, I like to think I’d do a lot of good for people who need lifting up if I had the wealth to help people (while enjoying the comforts and conveniences that wealth could bring me).

But it seems to me we’ve lost our moral bearings with the way our Congressional leaders–most of whom are wealthy–are damning all the poor while enhancing their bank accounts and the accounts of all the wealthiest of Americans.

There’s no shortage of shouting about the poor “gaming” the systems, but if you dare to point out the way the rich and powerful are gaming systems in far, far costlier ways for those of us who are middle class, you stand a chance of being labeled a socialist, communist or–worst of all–a librul!

What follows is Thursday’s New York Times column from his greatness Nic Kristof about the current state of the nation’s “trickle-up economics,” with some points he makes that I’ve put in bold type for emphasis.

What’s wrong with this picture he presents (with dripping sarcasm for emphasis)?

What’s wrong, God help us, with this country?

This ain’t how capitalism, or a nation of moral, fair-minded people, is supposed to work.

In the debate about poverty, critics argue that government assistance saps initiative and is unaffordable. After exploring the issue, I must concede that the critics have a point. Here are five public welfare programs that are wasteful and turning us into a nation of “takers.”

First, welfare subsidies for private planes. The United States offers three kinds of subsidies to tycoons with private jets: accelerated tax write-offs, avoidance of personal taxes on the benefit by claiming that private aircraft are for security, and use of air traffic control paid for by chumps flying commercial.

As the leftists in the George W. Bush administration put it when they tried unsuccessfully to end this last boondoggle: “The family of four taking a budget vacation is subsidizing the C.E.O.’s flying on a corporate jet.”

I worry about those tycoons sponging off government. Won’t our pampering damage their character? Won’t they become addicted to the entitlement culture, demanding subsidies even for their yachts? Oh, wait …

Second, welfare subsidies for yachts. The mortgage-interest deduction was meant to encourage a home-owning middle class. But it has been extended to provide subsidies for beach homes and even yachts.

In the meantime, money was slashed last year from the public housing program for America’s neediest. Hmm. How about if we house the homeless in these publicly supported yachts?

Third, welfare subsidies for hedge funds and private equity. The single most outrageous tax loophole in America is for “carried interest,” allowing people with the highest earnings to pay paltry taxes. They can magically reclassify their earned income as capital gains, because that carries a lower tax rate (a maximum of 23.8 percent this year, compared with a maximum of 39.6 percent for earned income).

Let’s just tax capital gains at earned income rates, as we did under President Ronald Reagan, that notorious scourge of capitalism.

Fourth, welfare subsidies for America’s biggest banks. The too-big-to-fail banks in the United States borrow money unusually cheaply because of an implicit government promise to rescue them. Bloomberg View calculated last year that this amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of $83 billion to our 10 biggest banks annually.

President Obama has proposed a bank tax to curb this subsidy, and this year a top Republican lawmaker, Dave Camp, endorsed the idea as well. Big banks are lobbying like crazy to keep their subsidy.

Fifth, large welfare subsidies for American corporations from cities, counties and states. A bit more than a year ago, Louise Story of The New York Times tallied more than $80 billion a year in subsidies to companies, mostly as incentives to operate locally. (Conflict alert: The New York Times Company is among those that have received millions of dollars from city and state authorities.)

You see where I’m going. We talk about the unsustainability of government benefit programs and the deleterious effects these can have on human behavior, and these are real issues. Well-meaning programs for supporting single moms can create perverse incentives not to marry, or aid meant for a needy child may be misused to buy drugs. Let’s acknowledge that helping people is a complex, uncertain and imperfect struggle.

But, perhaps because we now have the wealthiest Congress in history, the first in which a majority of members are millionaires, we have a one-sided discussion demanding cuts only in public assistance to the poor, while ignoring public assistance to the rich. And a one-sided discussion leads to a one-sided and myopic policy.

We’re cutting one kind of subsidized food — food stamps — at a time when Gallup finds that almost one-fifth of American families struggled in 2013 to afford food. Meanwhile, we ignore more than $12 billion annually in tax subsidies for corporate meals and entertainment.

Sure, food stamps are occasionally misused, but anyone familiar with business knows that the abuse of food subsidies is far greater in the corporate suite. Every time an executive wines and dines a hot date on the corporate dime, the average taxpayer helps foot the bill.

So let’s get real. To stem abuses, the first target shouldn’t be those avaricious infants in nutrition programs but tycoons in their subsidized Gulfstreams.

However imperfectly, subsidies for the poor do actually reduce hunger, ease suffering and create opportunity, while subsidies for the rich result in more private jets and yachts. Would we rather subsidize opportunity or yachts? Which kind of subsidies deserve more scrutiny?

Some conservatives get this, including Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. He has urged “scaling back ludicrous handouts to millionaires that expose an entitlement system and tax code that desperately need to be reformed.”

After all, quite apart from the waste, we don’t want to coddle zillionaires and thereby sap their initiative!

The grandsons, making a joyful noise together.

The grandsons, making a joyful noise together.


I’ve been in Texas this week, having good times with my grandsons. Trey just turned 11 and his little brother Rhys just turned Terrible 2.

The grands are my bundles of joy, which ain’t to say that they always make me happy. Just yesterday, Rhys-the-Terrible threw a mini-basketball in my face, rearranging my glasses. In that moment I was not happy with him, and was made unhappier still by the joy he seemed to take in PawPaw being whacked smack in the face with his mini-basketball.

But it all amounted to a fleeting moment of unhappiness that couldn’t begin to diminish the joy of having my grandson Rhys in my life.

All of which brings me to joy and happiness, and love and sorrow.

    ——————–
    We’d never know joy in the fullest measure if we didn’t know sorrow. And the more we know suffering and love, the deeper the roots of joy extend.
    ——————–

Being the theology nerd that I am, I’ve long had this quiet fascination with the likenesses and differences between spiritual joy and happiness. In seminary I once wrote a lengthy paper on what the ancient saints and traditional “doctors of the church” had to say about joy and happiness and sorrow, and the interplay of all three.

The blame for this quirky interest lies with the Apostle Paul, with his list of “the fruits of the spirit” cited in his letter to the Galatians–followers with whom he was quite unhappy, by the way, judging from the harsh tone of the epistle.

“The fruit of the spirit,” Paul wrote in a more gracious part of his unhappy letter, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.”

I go through that list in mind several times a day as a way of keeping tabs on how I’m doing in terms of loving others, embracing joy, being at peace with myself and others. I continue through the whole list, also monitoring my patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

If I had any self-control and a lot more patience, not to mention faithfulness and other stuff, maybe I’d make the grade as a spiritual “A student,” or at least a high-C pupil, maybe.

* * * *

My aforementioned fascination in the difference between joy and happiness began one day long ago when I realized that “happiness” was not included in Paul’s fruits of the spirit. But “joy” was high on the list, second only to “love,” which came in at Number 1.

Maybe joy ranked, and happiness didn’t, because joy is embedded within our hearts and souls. That which brings us momentary joy can certainly be that which brings us fleeting happiness, but what makes us happy doesn’t necessarily equate to joy.

Because it lies as deep within us as the roots of an evergreen, joy is living in grace, gratitude and peace. And one can live in grace and gratitude and peace with God even through times of enormous pain and suffering.

Sorrow, not happiness, is the flip side of joy. We’d never know joy in the fullest measure if we didn’t know sorrow. And the more we know suffering and love, the deeper the roots of joy extend.

Jesus connects love and joy in John 15: 1-17, where he talks about his being the “true vine” and our being the branches and urges us to abide in him as he abides in us in the Father’s love. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete,” he says in verse 17.

The power of Jesus as a liberator was in the power of the joy he brought to masses of people who were denied joy in their oppression. In his superb book Jesus Before Christianity, Albert Nolan writes:

    “Joy was in fact the most characteristic result of all Jesus’ activity amongst the poor and the oppressed. The meals he had with them were festive celebrations, parties. Jesus obviously had a way of ensuring that people enjoyed themselves at these gatherings. The Pharisees were scandalized by this . . . The poor and the oppressed and anyone else who was not too hung up on ‘respectability’ found the company of Jesus a liberating experience of joy” (pp. 50-51).

* * *

Relishing an ice cream cone for five minutes can make anyone in the world happy for five minutes. A flush debit card on payday may bring happiness until the bills are paid. Many things can bring us fleeting joy, in the sense of happiness, in many ways every day.

But spiritual joy—like the love we have for family and friends—endures.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come into his presence with singing.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he that made us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; 
his steadfast love endures for ever,
 and his faithfulness to all generations.

— Psalm 100

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