Reflections On Lent, Day 2

I began today, the second day of Lent, as I usually begin any Thursday morning.  I groaned as the alarm went off next to my right ear, turned that infernal contraption off, put on my glasses so that I could clearly see how dark the room still was and heaved myself out of bed.  Thursdays are work days, and I knew that this Thursday would be a challenging one.

I turned up the heat and closed the window so that the room would be warm by the time my wife arose from bed long after I had begun to labor at my own work.  I prefer to sleep in the cold. I then stumbled down the hallway toward the kitchen, where I would first take several supplements on an empty stomach and then cook my breakfast.  Today it was four strips of bacon and a pile of collard greens and kale; not the conventional diet for a person seven months after having bypass surgery, but one which my blood tests and blood pressure record confirms is working for me.

But here is where the routine changed.  Normally I would catch up on my Facebook communications, especially a group that I’m part of called “Ranting and Raving”.  This group is composed of very opinionated people of both liberal and conservative persuasions who argue their positions passionately, but with civility.  We may hold diametrically opposed opinions concerning gun control, Obamacare, the Imperial Presidency or liberal bias in the mainstream media, but we will also pray for each other when we share our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, or just the times when life slaps the shit out of us.  I love those people.

But this morning I didn’t check my Facebook.  And since I was not doing media, I did not turn on the BBC News on channel 131 either.  Instead, while my greens were steaming and my bacon was sizzling I wrote in my journal for the first time since November 16 of last year.  It wasn’t much of an entry; mostly I griped about work.  But I also mentioned to myself that I had prayed to and meditated on God the night before.  I enjoyed minimal success at best in this endeavor, but I had at least engaged in it and the next morning reflected upon it, and that hadn’t happened much for a very long time.  I was not aware of that being anything special at the time but I am beginning to believe that God may be doing something worth paying attention to now.  I’ll keep you posted on that.

My day was not at all unlike any other day at work.  Too much to do, too few to get it done.  Nothing new there.  And when I got home to an empty house I settled butt-in-chair to relax after the trying day.  I texted my wife, poured a glass of wine and turned on the television to a channel which often carries stories about World War II.  I scored, and watched a story about the Normandy invasion, a chapter in man’s story that I have studied at length.  When it ended however, the temptation to vegetate in front of the idiot box was resisted and in the eerie silence which filled my house I went to prayer.

I will not share all of the details of this encounter with God but there was one conversation which I feel is worth relating.  My church has begun to open its office space at six in the morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays and offers coffee and conversation to all who would drop in.  Initially, this included only members of my church – those who knew about this event – and that was very pleasant to me.  We like each other a lot and sipping free coffee while we get to know each other even better has proven to be a wonderful thing.  But something hapened two days ago which has thrown this practice into a new and promising direction.

My church meets in an old but functioning theater (have I written of this before?) in the downtown core of a very old city; old for the American Pacific Northwest that is.  Like just about any downtown core of any city in America there are homeless and otherwise marginalized people living there, mostly where we “decent” folk can’t see them.  When a place opens up that gives away free coffee and withholds free judgement, word gets around and so it seems to have happened here.  After getting off of a graveyard shift I drove to the office to spend a few pleasant minutes with good Christian friends.  Instead, I spent time with a guy I’ll call “Joe”.

Joe is homeless and doesn’t mind telling you so.  Joe also, in my opinion, tends to live in a little bit of a fantasy world.  On the other hand, Joe loves music like I love music.  When I told him that I had seen the Beatles and Janis (if you need to know her last name, you wouldn’t really know her anyway) he was as impressed as I was when he told me about meeting Arrowsmith’s front man Steve Tyler.  We both loved history too, and in may ways we were very much alike.

Except for the torn shirt, the stained green sweat pants, and the obvious attention deficit disorder that made it hard for him to keep on any one particular train of thought for any length of time.  I was annoyed by the need to ditch what seemed a promising thread of conversation to change directions and plunge down another interesting and promising rabbit hole, knowing that in a few moments’ time the course of our conversation would change directions on a dime and a great point of debate that I was about to make would be left shipwrecked upon the rocky reef of dementia and I/we would start all over again.

So tonight I was speaking with God and He showed me the picture of Jesus, His Son, walking up a dusty road into a Judean town and being invited to dinner by the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the drunkards, and the other flotsam and jetsam of society.  What Would Jesus Do?  Would He deliver a theological treatise that would make Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards and Joshua Ryan Butler listen with intense devotion and bated breath at Jesus’ feet?  I don’t think so.  I think Jesus would have listened to their broken earthly babble and broken in only when the moment was most promising with whatever nugget that these poor, broken creatures could deal with.

And that made me think of how I had related to “Joe” the other morning, and I don’t think that I did all that badly.  I made no effort to hide my love of Jesus and happiness in my membership in His body on earth, but at the same time I treated Joe’s love of history and music in the same way that I treat my own, and seemed to score my best points (points which I had no interest and design to score at all really) when I mentioned that my favorite rock concerts were viewed while stoned on acid.  I don’t endorse it, but I don’t deny it either.  And it lent to Joe an authenticity that made other things that I said worth listening to by him.

I feel like Jesus was saying “that’s a little bit how it felt to me.”  Jesus, of course, really LOVED the broken people with whom he dined and congregated.  I do not yet share that love.  In fact, Joe’s penchant for bouncing from topic to topic and his steady delivery of fantastic bullshit as he spoke of his musical exploits and historical research were to me more annoying than anything else.  Still Jesus told me that at last I’m getting a glimpse of what He is saying.  Maybe this will be the only insight that I get from Lent.  If it is, it will certainly be worth every minute that I am not chattering on Facebook.

Disturbing News from Europe

The news which is lately coming out of Eastern Europe is anything but encouraging.  Old nationalisms and hatreds which more properly belong to past centuries are popping up as if the blood soaked tragedy that was the twentieth century never happened.  A person with no sense of history will find the events occurring in Ukraine unfortunate and confusing but will most likely decide that it is none of the West’s, and especially none of America’s, business.  We should keep our focus on domestic problems and leave Ukraine for somebody else to worry about.  Such a position would be understandable, and regrettable.

A person who is more familiar with the history of that region will instantly recognize patterns which played a prominent part in the horrors of the previous century.  Adolph Hitler claimed that his aggression in Czechoslovakia and Poland was aimed at protecting the rights of ethnic Germans.  The claim by Vladimir Putin that Russia just gobbled up the Crimean peninsula, which was sovereign Ukrainian territory, for the purpose of protecting the rights of ethnic Russians is virtually identical to the tactics of Der Fuehrer which unleashed the dogs of war in Europe and around the world seventy five years ago.  Five years before the war began Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland with no response from the Allies.  Three years later the ‘rights’ of the Austrians and Sudeten Germans provided the pretext for German annexation of Austria and western Czechoslovakia with only impotent acquiescence from the British and French.  A year and a half after that the war was unleashed on humanity with all of its hideous cruelty.

Equally disturbing is the recent distribution of pamphlets in eastern Ukraine demanding that Jews register their names and property with the rebel ethnic Russian “government” there.  Somebody may know who it really was that distributed these pamphlets, but the general public is not being told who that might be, nor the reason why.  The import of the event is not lost on the Jewish population in Ukraine and everywhere else in central and eastern Europe however, as the intimidation and murder of Jews and the theft of their property is a European tradition that dates back to the ninth century, and there are Jews yet alive who remember the orgy of anti-Semitism that occurred in Europe just seventy five years ago.  This pamphlet, which seems crass and perhaps a little silly to a modern American who is ignorant of history, is loaded with centuries of meaning to a Ukrainian Jew.

The saddest part of this to me is that the pamphlet could have come from either side, Russian or Ukrainian.  Both countries have a sordid history of violence against their Jewish citizens, and in one essay in the book “Shatterzone of Empires” the author relates the story of a captain in the retreating German Army in WW II rescuing a group of Ukrainian Jews from an imminent and cruel death at the hands of a mob of “Christian” Ukrainians.  The adjective merits quotation marks because these actions speak nothing of Christ and, in fact, are quite the work of Christ’s opposite.  The point of this is that the anti-Semitism which drove Jews out of England and France in the thirteenth century and Spain in the fifteenth, which murdered and robbed Jews throughout Europe for a thousand years, and sought to exterminate them in the twentieth century is still alive and well in Russia, Ukraine, and anywhere else where such an event as the pamphlets is met with silence and inaction.  Does anyone wonder why Jews in Israel will not budge one inch in defending the only place on the planet where a Jew need not feel threatened because of his or her ethnicity?

In summary, the actions in russia and Ukraine of the last month or two are carbon copies of the events which led to total destructive war and mass murder less than a hundred years ago.  People with a sense of history and a determination to not let it happen again could stop it now if forceful measures were taken.  Forceful measures, however, are not popular on college campuses, in hipster coffee shops, and wherever fun-worshiping Westerners gather.  Nor are they popular with politicians who deny their own resemblance to English Prime Minister Chamberlain and his French counterpart Daladier, who gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler, while in fact their actions are identical.  Bullies and dictators notice weakness and act accordingly.  the world in the twenty first century looks as if it could be in for one hell of a ride.