The world is always ending somewhere, be it in a California bar where college kids have gathered to dance the stress away or in a hospital emergency room near you, where someone will pass unexpectedly today.

Jan Richardson, the gifted poet, painter, spiritual director and United Methodist pastor, wrote this poem in response to the slaying of 49 people in an attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

It was published in her superb book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. (See here for more.)

She blogs at The Painted Prayerbook (here).

“Blessing When the World is Ending”
By Jan Richardson

Image: End and Beginning © Jan Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook blog

Look, the world
is always ending

the sun has come
crashing down.

it has gone
completely dark.

it has ended
with the gun,
the knife,
the fist.

it has ended
with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.

it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the television,
the hospital room.

it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.

But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.

It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins


Further proof that Thomas Merton is as relevant today as he was when he wrote this — during the McCarthy Era of the fifties:*

“A mass movement readily exploits the discontent and frustration of large segments of the population which for some reason or other cannot face the responsibility of being persons and standing on their own feet.

Thomas Merton: “Here is the great temptation of the modern age, this universal infection of fanaticism, this plague of intolerance … which flows from the crippled nature of man who is afraid of love …”

“But give these persons a movement to join, a cause to defend, and they will go to any extreme, stop at no crime, intoxicated as they are by the slogans that give them a pseudo-religious sense of transcending their own limitations.

“The member of a mass movement, afraid of his own isolation, and his own weakness as an individual, cannot face the task of discovering within himself the spiritual power and integrity which can be called forth only by love.

“Instead of this, he seeks a movement that will protect his weakness with a wall of anonymity and justify his acts by the sanction of collective glory and power.

“All the better if this is done out of hatred, for hatred is always easier and less subtle than love. It does not have to respect reality as love does. It does not have to take account of individual cases. Its solutions are simple and easy.

“It makes its decisions by a simple glance at a face, a colored skin, a uniform. It identifies an enemy by an accent, an unfamiliar turn of speech, an appeal to concepts that are difficult to understand. He is something unfamiliar. This is not ‘ours.’

“This must be brought into line – or destroyed.

“Here is the great temptation of the modern age, this universal infection of fanaticism, this plague of intolerance, prejudice and hate which flows from the crippled nature of man who is afraid of love and does not dare to be a person.

“It is against this temptation most of all that the Christian must labor with inexhaustible patience and love, in silence, perhaps in repeated failure, seeking tirelessly to restore, wherever he can, and first of all in himself, the capacity of love and which makes man the living image of God.”

— Adapted from Disputed Questions, “Christianity and Totalitarianism,” Thomas Merton
*Mind you, the book, comprising a few essays, wasn’t written about Sen. Joseph McCarthy and or other American political leader of the time.

Still, it’s from an essay about totalitarianism and speaks to how weak people (who fear love and are “afraid to be persons,” Merton says) lap up the lies of political leaders and find meaning in misguided mass-movements.

As in the Trump Era.
H.T. Beth at Louie Louie

IN THIS PHOTO by Hilary Swift for the New York Times: Mourners gathered for Joyce Fienberg’s funeral in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Story of the funeral here.

The president of The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) noted in a statement — released shortly after the slayings at Pittsburgh’s The Tree of Life Synagogue Saturday — the terrible irony of the massacre.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote:

    “The murders took place during a prayer service in the Tree of Life congregation where, like synagogues all around the world, they were reading from Genesis recounting how Abraham welcomed perfect strangers into his tent.

    “How painful and ironic that we live in a time when we have to temper our loving welcome of strangers as we protect our communities from violence and hate.”

What the Jews call Torah — the first five books of our Christian Bible’s Older Testament — granted equal protection under the Jewish law for non-citizens with this command:

    “You shall not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

This commandment appears 36 times — that’s thirty-six times — in the Torah.

The commandment stems from the extravagant hospitality of Abraham, the first Jew. He literally ran out of his desert tent to bow down before three perfect strangers as they approached, showering them with God-like grace as told in Genesis 18:1-8.

    The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.

    He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.

    He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.”

    Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.

    Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on — since you have come to your servant.
    So they said, “Do as you have said.”

Acting as their servant, Abraham then “hastened into the tent” to his wife Sarah and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.”

Then, Abraham literally ran — again — this time to his herd, where he “took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to his servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

Abraham’s sense of urgency in making strangers feel at home stands out in bold relief.

The story of Abraham is considered by many American Jews and Christians, myself included, as the clearest mandate we have in America, the richest and greatest nation in the world, to welcome aliens with our hands open in abundance, not closed like a fist in scarcity.

And yet our U.S. government policy toward migrants from south of the U.S. border continues to run from harshly deceptive to downright evil.

Go to this link to learn how the Trump Administration is putting legitimate asylum seekers in Catch-22 traps.

* * *

The story of Abraham and others in the Older Testament aren’t the only ones that underscore our call as Christians to hospitality to aliens among us.

Hebrews 13:1, for example, says to “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

According to his posts on social media, the man who attacked and killed 11 people and critically wounded others at a synagogue in Pittsburgh believed that Jews were the people behind the much-publicized caravan of Central American migrants fleeing violence in their homelands.

I doubt that all those making the trek through Mexico, where many of them will stay, are angels. I have little doubt that a small percentage of those few thousand migrants have no intention of seeking asylum.

But the notion that every one of the 3,500 men, women and children — all unarmed — are marching like an army to “invade” America is a sign of severe paranoia caused by the consumption of way too much toxic, political Kool-Aid.

The very word invasion implies intent to conquer a country by occupying it and taking prisoners — and taking lives.

Needless, draconian measures to defend against unarmed men, women and children fleeing violence and poverty in their native lands makes good politics for hack politicians.

Tragically, it all makes for lousy Abrahamic hospitality.

With patience, we must bring together the sparks and rays.

“This is an age of spiritual blackout, a blackout of God. We have entered not only the dark night of the soul, but the dark night of society. We must seek out ways of preserving the strong and deep truth of a living God theology in the midst of the blackout.

“For the darkness is neither final nor complete. Our power is first in waiting for the end of darkness, for the defeat of evil; and our power is also in coming upon single sparks and occasional rays, upon moments full of God’s grace and radiance.

“We are called to bring together the sparks to preserve single moments of radiance and keep them alive in our lives, to defy absurdity and despair, and to wait for God to say again: Let there be light.

“And there will be light.”

— Rabbi Abraham Joshue Heschel (1907-1972), Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity
More on Rabbi Heschel here.

Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Return of the Prodigal Son, inspired by a parable included only in the Gospel of Luke.

Today is the Feast of St. Luke, by far my favorite biblical writer.

A physician who happened to be an excellent writer, Luke gave voice to women and all the powerless people like no other author in the New Testament.

Along with his history of the early church in Acts–which reads like an adventure novel–Luke left us the most full-bodied portrait of Jesus.

Only the compassionate Dr. Luke gave us the tender stories of The Prodigal Son (read it here) and The Good Samaritan, the stories of the rich man and Lazarus and the widow who wouldn’t give up in seeking justice.

In all, Luke provided us with a whopping 16 parables included in no other Gospel, most all big on social justice.

(All that said, I don’t want to diminish Matthew’s Gospel where social justice is concerned. Only in Matthew do we get the chilling story of the separation of the sheep from the goats on judgement day. Read that here.)

Luke’s gospel is big on liberation because he saw the crucifixion and resurrection as ushering in a second exodus comparable to that led by Moses. We see this in Luke’s account of the transfiguration, where Elijah and Moses talk to Jesus about the exodus Christ is mightily determined to complete in Jerusalem.

Let us now praise St. Luke with this prayer from The Book of Common Prayer:

    Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician
    to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your
    Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power
    to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus
    Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
    of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

In my book The View From Down in Poordom, I have an entire chapter that was my response to a newspaper column my dear friend the Rev. Christy Thomas had written when she was an active church pastor.

My dear friend and clergy colleague, the Rev. Christy Thomas, is a brave and superb writer. She recently shared with the world that she was a rape victim who, as is so typical, remained silent about the traumatic event.

Like me, Christy is a now-retired minister in the United Methodist faith tradition. She’s also an excellent writer. That’s why the aforementioned newspaper column she wrote years ago, which was about her turning down a jobless mother’s request for church charity, stimulated an idea for that chapter in my book.

Today, I’m sharing another column Christy wrote for The Denton-Record Chronicle in Denton, Texas, in which she revealed to the world that she is a rape victim.

She writes in part:

    I don’t remember where. I don’t remember when except I was 19. There were no witnesses. No one can support my account. I do remember being raped. And I am 100 percent sure who did it.

    I never said a word. As a perceptive columnist in The Washington Post noted, one reason was that I didn’t want to hurt my father, who knew the young man in question. I didn’t want to see his anguish or experience his anger. I didn’t want him to go out in a murderous rage and bring disgrace on our family.

    I buried it. It stayed buried for 20 years, my hidden trauma, my hidden shame.

Now. I hope you’ll take the time to read the entire column, at the link below, about Pastor’s Christy’s traumatic life event. It of course was written in response to the recent reactions to the Senate testimony of a woman whom I have precious little doubt was a victim of the new Supreme Court Justice.

That woman, the studious professor Christine Blakey Ford, is still being raked over hot coals for daring to share her story with the world.

Which of course is the reason victims of all kinds of sexual abuse suffer, and suffer deeply, in silence. Some for their entire, long lives.

I know, because I know rape and harassment victims who confide their stories of quiet suffering with trusted friends and family only. (One woman I know lives with the double pain of having told her husband years after they were married, only for him to tell her it was a long time ago and she just needed to get over. She’s never brought it up again. She never told her parents but confided in a sister and a couple of friends after the rape. She told me after we became close. She, by the way, is also a pastor.)

Repeat after me: men are not being targeted by hysterical, radical women.

If you’re a man or boy and don’t want to be accused of sexual abuse or harassment, treat women and girls with the kind of respect you treat your moms and aunts and your own daughters–or daughters-to-be.

It’s not hard.

Please go here and read Pastor Christy’s powerful story.

Repeat after me: men are not being victimized by hysterical women who make up stories of harassment and rape. Why would they want to make it up, knowing they’ll be crushed by bad guys and the women who empower them?

Watching the news yesterday, I saw a state official in Florida standing and talking in the middle of utter destruction–his voice cracking with emotion.

For the victims of Hurricane Michael, with gratitude for blessings.

He was talking about how so many of his fellow Floridians who had everything they ever wanted have been robbed and rendered penniless by Hurricane Michael.

“They had homes and cars and boats,” he said. “They had no flood insurance and the places where they made their livings have been destroyed. Even the places where they kept their money and savings are gone.

“They’re never going to recover from this. They’re going to be sleeping under bridges.”

What an arresting word picture of the untold numbers of Americans who’ve been dropped like stones into the Valley of Poordom.

What a stark reminder that so many untold millions of the poor and homeless in America are not lazy bums or moochers.

I always have prayer candles around the house, but keeping a special one for the victims of Hurricane Michael, who’ve been abruptly dropped into Poordom, temporarily or perhaps permanently.

I’m keeping a special candle lit to remind me to keep praying for all the victims of wicked Michael, those who have the ways and means to recover and those who don’t.

I have intentionally chosen a lifestyle based on the value of simplicity. I have a humble house with all the creature comforts I need, complete with a wide-screen TV and a good fridge and oven and a lot of books and a beautiful big mahogany desk my Belizean landlord and dear friend gave me for my office for as long as I want it.

I am writing this on the sort of wonder that only a free-market system that rewards incentive could produce: a MacPro Apple computer–what may be the most valuable tool-and-toy I own. Probably the one possession I would hate to lose the most.

Not counting, of course, certain family mementoes and certain Bibles and sentimental valuables that money can never replace.

When we weep, he weeps. When we suffer, he suffers. He’s been there.

Many of those victims of the storm are torn up today by the divisions within their very souls. By turns, they are angry even at God (and perhaps feeling needlessly guilty for anger at God) and thankful to God for being alive and for the opportunity of hope.

Like every other American, I am extremely sad, as we all have to be, over all the loss of lives and the ways of life lost in Florida, Georgia and other states.

The special candle I have flaming every minute that I’m home is also to remind me to be grateful to a God for all the many blessings I take for granted every day.

Lord in your mercy, hear it all: our confusion, our tears, our anger, our pain, our suffering, our gratitude.