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Archive for March, 2019

The latest annual survey of happiest nations on earth is out.

Have a happy day!

In the happiness rankings of every nation in the world, America — God bless her — has dropped from 18th to 19th, this in spite of a booming economy and America’s greatness restored to that of the roaring 20s (which didn’t end so well).

You would think a nation that codified “the pursuit of happiness” at its inception would not have such a sinking case of the blues, but there you go.

According to this year’s survey, the happiest nation is (drum roll please) Finland, followed by the other Nordic nations of Denmark, Norway and Iceland.

(Our good neighbor Canada, where your average citizen is happy to sit at home with a Moosehead Beer and watch nonviolent curlers go at it, came in No. 9.)

Read it and weep, ye whose American hearts are so restless for more and more of the things that money and prestige can’t buy.

Here’s a Lenten reflection for you, right out of your Good Book, which concludes with a verse on how to achieve the perpetual joy of noonday brightness in spring.

ISAIAH 58 (With my italics for emphasis)
1 Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.

2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,

    as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;

they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.

3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”

    Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.

    4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
    Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.

5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

    6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
    to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?

    7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
    when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

10

    if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
    then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.

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The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

— Deuteronomy 29:29

Stunned people at one of the mosques attacked in Christchurch, New Zealand.
PHOTO BY Mark Baker/Associated Press, via The New York Times

The Bible tells how the world is, complete with all the suffering, hatred and wrenching violence, and how the world could be, and should be — and ultimately, how it will be.

With the advent of the Internet, “modern evil,” if you will, seems to make our ability to counter it futile. In the chilling, 74-page manifesto written by the young man who mowed down Muslims as they prayed in New Zealand, he noted this about the Internet:

    “You will not find the truth anywhere else.”

Like the Jews and Muslims, we Christians live in hope, which lies at the core of Abrahamic faith.

But how can we, as Christians in a world so modern that technology seems to outpace our ability to cope, counter the kind of suffering, hatred and violence that took place in a hospitable city ironically named Christchurch?

The Torah (the first five books of the Bible’s Older Testament) insists that we in fact can and must counter our seemingly endless inhumanity toward one another.

As Deuteronomy 29:29 notes, some things are not for us to know; some things only God knows and God keeps God’s secrets.

But the rest of the verse is a reminder that God has revealed to us how to do all the good we can do, individually and communally, for our sakes and the sake of our children.

Whether we live in Christchurch, New Zealand, or Bump-in-the-Road, Texas, there are wrongs around us that we, in community and individually, can set right.

There is suffering we can alleviate.

There is brokenness we can repair.

We always have the power of choice. We can choose the greatest good or the worst evil. We can be a blessing to others or we can be a curse.

The worst thing we can do is be complacent, waiting for God to set things right in the world while we obsess over our personal salvation, not that our salvation is not important.

Waiting for God to set things right assumes that God never expected us to respond to others in obedience to God’s own will for mercy and peace on earth, with justice.

I believe in the efficacy of prayer, but also believe in putting prayer into action. And here is my prayer for this day of Lent:

    Lord in your mercy,

    Give us the spiritual eyes to see the infinite number of wrongs around us that are in need of being set right.

    Give us the spiritual ears to hear the cries of those who are hurting and vulnerable because of the biases and prejudices that we, in our fears, harbor toward other religions, cultures and customs.

    Help us to develop fuller God consciousness, not just on days of worship in our churches, but in every moment we live, being mindful every moment of the Golden Rule.

    Help us to live and act every moment in the stream of your grace that flows through the cracks in the world, starting in our own homes and neighborhoods, our businesses and workplaces, our houses of worship.

    Deliver us Lord from complacency.

    Deliver us Lord from despair.

    Deliver us Lord from evil, and forgive us as we forgive those who offend us.

    Help us to be inspired by the horrific events in Christchurch, New Zealand — and by horrific events that happen around the world every day and threaten to overwhelm us with complacency — to do all the good we can do.

    Amen.

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“Leave the past in ashes.”

1. I’ve heard it said a thousand times: “I’ve done so many terrible things in my life God could never forgive me.”

As if God has no desire to forgive even the worst of the worst.

The Ash Wednesday service in The Book of Common Prayer includes this line:

    “Return to the Lord with all your heart; leave the past in ashes and turn to God with tears and fasting, for He is slow to anger and ready to forgive.”

Ash Wednesday is a sort of “Ask Wednesday.”

Ask for forgiveness with a penitent heart.

Ask for an Easter heart that points on a new pathway.

God in God’s grace has been wooing you and waiting for you to surrender your whole life.

2. I have to say that seeking forgiveness and turning one’s life around to follow Jesus does not absolutely require “tears and fasting,” per The Book of Common Prayer’s Ash Wednesday manual.

Conversion only requires the sincere desire to align the heart with God’s heart. The payoff happens to be holistic health of the mind, body, soul and spirit.

3. There is always the temptation in Lent to become a spiritual athlete in order to show God how mighty strong we are.

But Lent is not about becoming strong. Lent in fact is about allowing our weakness to be penetrated by God.

4. Thomas Merton wrote:

    “Nevertheless, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not focused on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God. The question of sinfulness is raised precisely because this is a day of mercy, and the just do not need a savior.”

    ~ From Seasons of Celebration, 1965

Mercy.

Mercy.

Mercy.

Mercy.

Mercy.

It’s all about that divine Mercy.

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