Thursday, February 28, 2008

Friday 29 February 2008

Here is some thought about why Gandhi took on the fast unto death.

Gandhi's symbolic acts (which were meaningful as symbols only because they marked his own flesh with the stamp of their acute reality) were aimed at three kinds of liberation.

  • he wanted to to deliver Indian religious wisdom from the sclerosis and blindness into which it had sunk by reason of the gross injustices of a system which had become untrue to itself.

  • he wanted to liberate the untouchable, the Harijan, not only from political and economic oppression, but from the incubus of their own self-hate and their despair.

  • he wished to liberate the oppressors themselves from their blind and hopeless dependence on the system which kept things as they were, and which consequently enslaved everybody both spiritually and materially.

First, I must comment on Merton's words about symbolic acts (meaningful as symbols only because they marked his own flesh with the stamp of their acute reality). This was no mere protest with a sign out from of some event after which I can go home -unharmed and untouched- like going to a show. This symbolic act was one that placed life into a new that could have severe consequences - real consequences - unknown consequences....but he enter into it completely. I must be honest, I find in this action of Gandhi the reason why he find that in true non-violent resistance, there is no room for the coward. For it these actions, one must be brave and willing to encounter the suffering or pain or rejection or dismissal that will come when action is taken. In that way, symbolic means...very real action...full-of-life action...vulnerable action...action filled with purpose and peace and strength that no other power can simply overcome and defeat. For once the action is taken, others are empowered by its "symbolism"...which is really its life. Sometimes I wonder how people like this act as they do.

Connection: We need each other in order to begin to act like living symbols for one another and those who are looking on.

Help us, O God, to keep in mind those who are all around us and long for help and support and solidarity even when it means that when we keep them in mind, we keep them within the actions of our lives that bring us into solidarity with them and even our enemies. Amen.l

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Thursday 28 February 2008

Now a word about Gandhi's approach to evil.

Gandhi took upon himself the evil of India, not in a spirit of masochism or with the spiritual frivolity of self-punishment that believes itself to have a magic efficacy over sin. Nothing is more deeply serious than the Gandhian fast unto death for the recognition of the Harijan (outcastes, untouchables) and for their admission to the temple, in a word their integration into the sacred public life of the Indian people.

There is no way that one avoids the pain and the power of death like a fast unto death. One of the powerful images of the fast is that he was going to go all the way to death in order to resist the life that kept the system of untouchables in place. He would not cooperate with it in any way...even if it meant he would not eat and that would only lead to his death. That is amazing. What is most powerful here is that he does this when he has attained a position of great influence and power in his life. He could have stopped and simply let himself go along with the accomplishments that had taken place. But no...he was not going to let the evil of the system find an ally in him. Resistance, because of a love of life that is so deep that it can be sacrificed for others, is a power that turns people's heads...for it is so alien. This is the power of the Good News...when was the last time you saw that power...alive and resisting the powers of the world.

Connection: Sometimes, power is not what it seems. Sometimes, it comes wrapped in the boldness of acts of simplicity.

Your creative power, O God, takes hold of nothing at all and begins to whip up a world of new life and beauty and justice and hopefulness. We pray that this power of life will continue to whip up this life in us even now...and forever. Amen.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Thomas Merton now offers a reflection on evil.

One can overcome evil by taking it upon oneself, whereas if one flies from it he is not certain to escape and may, even if he seems to escape, be overwhelmed. The only way truly to "overcome" an enemy is to help him become other than an enemy. This is the kind of wisdom we find in Gandhi. It is the wisdom of the Gospels.

I suppose we could argue that running from evil is like becoming a part of it. We are not overcome by it directly...but its power continues to grow as we leave the space. I always have to keep reminding myself of that strange situation. I've always seen myself as quite the coward. And yet, when I stay close to the words of the Good News of the Reign of God, I often find the encouragement to move forward to face situations rather than turn and run from I would like. It doesn't always happen. In fact, I would say it usually doesn't. Again, that is why I find it so important for us to be vulnerable with each other within the church so that we are able to face the evil within us and rally the hopefulness that brings us into acts of bold faith. We are invited to be be just who we are in God's eyes. That is quite a powerful place to be when we are afraid to face evil with a life of peace.

Connection: How can we help each other stay put within the life of the Reign of God when there are so many powers that bid us to come and follow them? Prayer - yes. Community - yes. Conversation of all types - yes.

Be for us the word of life that helps us to see the creativity of your Reign, O God. For without such vision, we are too easily persuaded to follow only the life that is going on all around us. We long for the life you create since the beginning of all things. Amen.

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Again Merton turns to Erasmus on good and evil.

To the objection that rendering good for evil only lays one open to greater evil, Erasmus replied:

"If you can avoid evil by suffering it yourself, do so. Try to help your enemy by overcoming him with kindness and meekness. If this does not help, then it is better that one perish than both of you. It is better that you be enriched with the advantage of patience than to render evil for evil. It is not enough to practice the golden rule in this matter. The greater your position the more ready you ought to be to forgive another's crime."

Here, as usual in Erasmus, one finds no platitudes. the apparently simple suggestion that one can avoid evil by suffering it contains an arresting paradox.

I was especially taken by this comment: "It is better that you be enriched with the advantage of patience than to render evil for evil." Unfortunately, it is so easy to react to the world around me. Patience seems to not exist when I am in the middle of the "grip" of the moment. What I have found is that the community of faithful followers of Jesus is the power that enables me to gain patience and look again at what I will do and who I am. Rather than first being merely reactive, I am then able to at least contemplate a new way to engage evil without becoming a part of its power. It doesn't happen often...but when it does, I am usually very thankful for the presence of others who are able to encourage a perspective of loving kindness.

Connection: "It is not enough to practice the golden rule." It is a good rule...but we are invited into something that transforms and doesn't simply keep us orderly and civil.

Spirit of Abundant Life, how often we find ourselves living the less than abundant life that you have promised to us. Too often, we settle for a version of what is and do not look out to the horizon to see how you bid us too come and walk with you. Again we pray, lift up our eyes. Amen.

Monday 25 February 2008

This week Merton draws on the writings of Erasmus in order to comment on force and violence and evil.

When asked if it was lawful to overcome force with force, Erasmus answered that this might be permissible according to "Imperial laws" but he wondered how it could be relevant for a Christian, who is bound to follow the law of Christ, "granted that human laws do not punish what they have permitted. Yet what is Christ your leader going to do if you defraud this law... If your enemy is hungry, give him to eat... In so doing you will heap coals of fire upon his head, that is to say, you will enkindle the fire of love in him."

We are go a bit farther than the law. The law helps to maintain order and provides security. That is fine and good and necessary. But then there is the call and invitation to follow Christ. That is a journey to the cross. Actually, it is the cross all along the way. When that is the case, the simplicity of a law of the land - for all the good it does - is not able to bring about the transformation of life that comes as one walks the way of the cross and begins to live as though one is already living according to the Reign of God. Somehow - and we say under the power of the Holy Spirit - we are empowered to bring about a new action that does not go along with the expectations of us against them. We are called to remember that they are the beloved and are to be treated just like that...just as our God treats God's Beloved. In that action, we become open to experience the surprise of new life that brings about radical change of heart.

Connection: This is no easy road. Once we have created an enemy, it is quite difficult to turn them into one we will treat as a beloved one.

Blessed God, turn us into the instruments of your peace so that your loving presence will be with us no matter who we encounter as we walk through this day. Amen.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday 22 February 2008

The week ends as we continue with the freedom that really does liberate all sides of the violence in the world. Again, from Thomas Merton:

True inseparable from the inner strength which can assume the common burden of evil which weighs both on oneself and one's adversary. False freedom is only a manifestation of the weakness that cannot bear even one's own evil until it is projected onto the other and seen as exclusively his. The highest form of spiritual freedom is, as Gandhi believed, to be sought in the strength of heart which is capable of liberating the oppressed and the oppressor together. But in any event the oppressed must be able to be free within himself, so that he may begin to gain strength to pity his oppressor. Without that capacity for pity, neither of them will be able to recognize the truth of their situation: a common relationship in a common complex of sins.

"The truth will set you free." It is the truth that faces our evil - our dark side - our sin - our stumbling block. It is the reality of life that hounds us all - we are broken. Even when we would rather simply make someone else the broken one - the less than - the worth-less, so that we can project our own sin onto another, the truth is...we are just as the ones we at whom we point our fingers. Therefore, that notion of the oppressed having pity on the oppressors is sheer, spiritual genius. It is the way we begin that foreign adventure of peace making that really does restore both sides to a fullness of humanity that is willing and able to recreate the world within the bounds of reconciliation. This may be a journey that is utterly impossible...and it is, but it is the journey that is handed to us as the way of Christ is handed to us. The way has been made...we are invited to walk within the promise that brings us to a new life where enemies and oppressors are also able to be brothers and sisters so that all can be new....born again to new life.

Connection: In various ways, we all have "oppressors" in our lives...and we are most likely "oppressors" to others. That makes the day quite interesting...and quite sad. We are all being invited into the spiritual genius of the freedom that comes with reconciliation and truthfulness.

Blessed Lord, breathe on us. When we face those around us and it can be so easy to uproot and destroy, hold our hearts and warm us up to the way of your peace and truth so we may all be set free. Amen.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thursday 21 February 2008

Thomas Merton once again draws on the writing of Hannah Arendt as he continues to comment about the way of non-violence in the life and teaching of Gandhi in India.

A violent change would not have been a serious change at all. To punish and destroy the oppressor is merely to initiate a new cycle of violence and oppression. The only real liberation is that which liberates both the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time from the same tyrannical automatism of the violent process which contains in itself the curse of irreversibility. "The freedom contained in Jesus' teaching of forgiveness is the freedom from vengeance which encloses both the doer and the sufferer in the relentless automatism of the action process, which by itself need never come to an end."

It is important to hear the many levels on which this is a necessary part of our lives - from the most personal to the global. The need for the liberation of all sides is so vital - we cannot move into a new realm unless it takes place. Otherwise, we are always carrying a load that is unnecessary and tends to drag down our relationships and the truthfulness of those relationships. If both "sides" - the doer and the sufferer - continue on in their roles and the paths of life that are needed to sustain those two "sides," I would suspect that when the day of "liberation" comes, it would be so easy for the two sides to simply flip over and be as the other...never creating a new reality...never taking hold of the power of forgiveness...never experiencing the power of resurrection. Rather, the same cycle is passed down from one to another. The pain...the evil...the abuse...the violence...the hatred - all continues even when it takes on a different face with a new name.

Connection: So, do we dare to face the brokenness within our lives so that we can begin to live new lives within situations that so easily remain broken?

Refreshing Spirit, when your wind of new life blows around us, we are caught off-guard and our hearts begin to be open to the expansiveness of your realm of hope and resurrection. We pray for that wind to whip around us...again...and...again. Amen.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Merton introduces a quote by Hannah Arendt to highlight how non-violence is different from the working of tyrannies.

Non-violence has a different logic. It recognizes that sin is an everyday occurence which is in the very nature of action's constant establishment of new relationships within a web of relations, and it needs forgiving, dismissing, in order to make it possible for life to go on by constantly releasing people from what they have done unknowingly. Only through this constant mutual release from what they do can people remain free agents, only by their constant willingness to change their minds and start agains can they be trusted with so great a power as that to begin something new.

Saint/Sinner. If we are unable to see this...we fall...and it will be a great fall. Arendt seems to know a bit about Lutheran theology here. "Sin is an everyday occurence" and we cannot get rid of it. It is a part of all the relationships and all the adventures in which we find ourselves as we move on down the road. If we are to be able to enter the practice of non-violence, we really do need to be this honest with ourselves and with our world. We will not be able to control things...but we will be able to be a part of the creation of something not ruled and led by fear and anxiety. Then again, we always need each other to help us see the truthfulness of this saint/sinner adventure.

Connection: Let yourself see the whole picture - be not afraid.

When we are fearful, O God, we lose touch with what it means to be your people. We forget about the power of your presence and how the day at hand can always be transformed into life that is beyond our expectations and therefore out of our control. We thank you for being the way, the truth, and the life. Amen.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

I find Merton's discussion of tyranny and the need to be open to dialogue and the dark side of our lives as challenging and greatly needed.

The greatest tyrannies are all therefore based on the postulate that there should never be any sin. That therefore what happened either was not a sin or else it has been immediately wiped out. Since sin is what should never be, then it must never be, therefore it will never be. The most awful tyranny is that of the proximate Utopia where the last sins are currently being eliminated and where tomorrow, there will be no more sins because all the sinners will have been wiped out.

Whoa! This is one of the reasons I find it hard to listen to those who launch into the need for a government to be a theocracy. It is as though they are saying...if we can be in charge, we will get rid of what is wrong among us. The wrong among us in such a group of people is always - them. Then again, it doesn't take a theocracy to do such work as this. This can happen in totalitarian states and even democracies like our own. The thought of a utopia being possible...a leadership that will make all things right and, quite frankly, not the best way to go about creating a society that will be open to all the people. Utopias seem to be places with tall walls so that no one can see if it really is working or if something else is working better. Fear reigns and the fearless are eliminated.

Connection: What is the option to elimination of the "other"? We need to always keep our mind on that so that our vision is never restricted.

When you save your people, O God, you open doors and you flatten out the rough ways so that all will find a place to rest and settle and invite others to live. Keep this vision of life among us. Amen.

Monday 18 February 2008

Last week Thomas Merton led us through thoughts about the irreversibility of evil and how it can lead to fanaticism. We continue today.

This is the familiar mental machinery of tyrannical oppression. By reducing necessities to simple and irreversible forms it simplifies existence, eliminating questions that tend to embarrass minds and slaken the "progress" of the relentless and intolerant apparatus. Sin is thus prevented from entering into the living dialectic of society. And yet a dialectic that ignores the presence of evil is itself dead because it is untrue.

The machine will keep on moving. It moves on by making sure that anything that is different or calls for reflection or review or reconsideration, is removed - eliminated. "Sin is thus prevented from entering into the living dialectic of society." If it is not a part of the discussion...if it is not acknowledged...if we try to make sure it is not within our conversation...isn't everything we do a lie? Lies do not allow the whole truth to surface. Full truthfulness is necessary...even when it disturbs our "version" of the truth. Without it, how can we claim to be people who bring new life to the world.

Connection: We are always being invited to live within the mix of people who make up our society and world. To refuse to enter the mix is to refuse to live fully.

Come, Lord God, and shine among us. Open up our hearts and encourage us to face all who may be excluded and denied life among us for many and various reasons. We need the wideness of your love to bring us into the truthfulness of your Reign. Amen.

Friday 15 February 2008

Today we follow up directly from yesterday's piece.

Such tolerance is already complicity and guilt, and must be eliminated in its turn. As soon as it is detected it becomes irreversible.

Fortitude, then, equals fanaticism. It grows with unreason. Reasoning itself is by its very nature tinged with betrayal.

Conscience does indeed make cowards. It makes Judases. Conscience must be eliminated.

"Fortitude, then, equals fanaticism." Wow. The end of reasoning...the end of dialogue...the end of forgiveness...the end of self-reflection...the end of critical thinking, is all a part of the the close-minded notion of the irreversibility of evil. In such a time and place, we learn to be always watchful and skeptical of everything "they" are doing or...we think they are doing. People who are able to look at situations with an open mind and a heart that will allow for many sides to be addressed and seen and heard are labeled as something less than loyal...even dangerous to the common good. That's a bit fanatical isn't it. Unfortunately, we don't have to live within a fanatical regime to see this kind of a life.

Connection: We can be just one step away from becoming a bit fanatical...something to consider.

Lord, you are our strength and our fortress. Therefore, we are able to be available to the world around us without fearing what will take place if we listen and bend and stand up and face the day as ones faithful to you alone. Continue to be our foundation. Amen.

Thursday 14 February 2008

Today's note from Thomas Merton is one we would do well to consider as we go about our warring ways as individuals and countries in today's world.

...non-violence implies a kind of bravery far different from violence. In the use of force, one simplifies the situation by assuming that the evil to be overcome is clear-cut, definite, and irreversible. Hence there remains but one thing: to eliminate it. Any dialogue with the sinner, any question of the irreversibility of his act, only means faltering and failure. Failure to eliminate evil is itself defeat. Anything that even remotely risks such defeat is in itself capitulation to evil. The irreversibility of evil then reaches out to contaminate even the tolerant thought of the hesistant crusader who, momentarily, doubts the total evil of the enemy he is about to eliminate.

I find this a chilling piece to read. It is chilling because I can see myself in all this. How easy it is to want a world in which we can simply eliminate that which is not like me or that which makes me look at myself and the rest of the world with new eyes. There is still that miracle called dialogue that gives us the breathing space to have our eyes opened and our hearts moved to new vision for life. But if we are not able or willing to enter the dialogue, all we can expect in our lives is warfare and destruction, misunderstanding and division. It is also quite odd that the mere act of attempting to enter into dialogue or to simply give time to listen to those who are "other" often is seen as lowering our standards, or lowering our guard, or even, taking the side of "them." It is as though there can be no fluid place in which to live our lives. It is either here or there...our side or their side. Sad...tragic.

Connection: Though it is so hard to be open and vulnerable and listen and hope for more, that is what we can do.

Peacemaker and Lord of Love, you bring us into the creative possibilities of this day so that when we are anxious and longing for war, you remind us of your Reign of peace and non-violence. Grant us the wisdom to walk with you. Amen.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wednesday 13 February 2008

I love the image offered here.

The "fabric" of society is not finished. It is always "in becoming." It is on the loom, and it is made up of constantly changing relationships. Non-violence takes account precisely of this dynamic and non-final state of all relationships among people, for non-violence seeks to change relationships that are evil into others that are good, or at least less bad.

So it is with our lives...on the loom. This takes me back to the Quaker hymn I so often quote and even sing to myself when I need to review what I must be doing. "To bow and to bend we shall not be turn, turn, will be our delight and by turning, turning, we come down right." And yet, we are always turning...always having another thread moving in and through and under the weaving of our life together. In the middle of all this movement, comes the possibility of enemy becoming friend and disharmony become harmonious....and, evil (in them and us)....becoming less evil.

Connection: It is always a risk to turn and be a part of the unfinished and the "becoming." I know I often fear what the turning will bring...will I be able and willing to turn again if needed?

Precious Lord, when you set the cosmos spinning, your creativity was set in motion for even now, it is in our spinning around that we are introduced to more and more of your creative adventure. Though it is so easy to stop spinning and turning and settle only for what we would want in life, your Spirit is always inviting us beyond ourselves and into the mix of others. Amen.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

I'm not one who enjoys uncertainty, but Merton speaks of its necessity for growth and resisting evil.

A belief in the finality and irreversibility of evil implies a refusal to accept the precariousness and the risk that attend all finite good in this life. Indeed, the good that people do is always in the realm of the uncertain and of the fluid, because the needs and sufferings of people, the sins and failures of people, are constant, and love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminatiing evil one for all but by resisting and overcoming it anew every day. The good is not assured once for all by one heroic act. It must be recaptured over and over again. St. Peter looked for a limit to forgiveness. Seven times, and then the sin was irreversible! But Christ told him that forgiveness must be repeated over and over again, without end.

"The good that people do is always in the realm of the uncertain and of the fluid" So it was good work today...well, it is not over. "Without end" is a long time and yet it is also a time that is present and ready for us to be a part of what it will be...right now. It seems to be quite important to keep being able to reevaluate what has been done and what needs to be done. People change, situations change, what each of thinks about the people and the situations change and therefore, nothing can be carved in stone. Even the "tablets of stone" call us into a life in which uncertainty must be considered so that we can best apply the life of the Reign of God to the life that is taking place all around us. Bean-counters will figure out what 70 times 7 will be. It will become a life-leading and life-controlling vision. Rather than being blown wide open by the power of forgiveness, we are cut short and limited and actually in prison to the controlling factors we place on our world. To be a part of such a "without end" life is a risk that will not always place us on the side of those who have become the powerful and the influencial. For in that world, "without end" is merely "nice" but always comical.

Connection: Enough is enough. We have to be willing to let go and attempt to try one more than 70 times 7.

Merciful God, when we are rigid and in control, come and blow us over with your Spirit of new life. Too often we cannot see the world from any other perspective than the one we think we control And yet, you are able to open each of our lives to the mercy and grace of your Reign. Amen.

Monday 11 February 2008

Let's start the week with Thomas Merton again turning to Thomas Aquinas.

St Thomas continues this remarkable analysis by considering those who are "obsessed" with the notion of insult, either because they have suffered a humiliation or because they intend to humilate another.

"They are provoked to anger and aggression, which are virile passions. These make a person think that s/he is in danger of suffering some future evil (which s/he intends to resist). When people are so disposed, they do not have mercy on others. Likewise the proud do not have mcery because they despise others and look upon them as evil, taking it for granted that these people deserve to suffer whatever they have to suffer.

We are a fragile people. How quickly anger and aggression can slide its way into our lives. Too often, in the midst of hurt and pain and embarrassment and shame and insult, we turn to to the "other" and place the blame of all things on "them." We slip into believing what we are in danger and must, in some way, "dispose" of them. How quickly we can lose the ability to have mercy. We cannot have mercy or even think about mercy because we have built up a world of potential threat and the only way to resist that threat is by our own anger and aggression directed toward those who we have somehow created as our enemy and as ones "after" us. More and more when I hear candidates speak of the "radical Islamic terrorists" being the greatest threat in the world, my breath is literally taken away from me for a moment. How in the world will there be change the world when we are so easily "set up" for war and not for mercy?!?

Connection: It would do us well to take the chance at catching ourselves in the act of being mercy-less. It often happens too quickly for us to even see it pass through us.

Merciful Lord, when it is not like us to act within the Reign of your mercy, pull us in...pull us in. Amen.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Friday 8 February 2008

Again, we are continuing from yesterday and looking at evil and forgiveness and the possibility of being a part of new life.

This is a splendid analysis of the mentality of power and greed which makes evil irreversible! Such a mentality lacks the interior strength necessary to assume the suffering of another as its own and thus to change his condition by forgiveness and acceptance. Instead of seeing the sin of another as punishment and suffering, as a motive for compassion, it looks on that evil as a despicable moral blemish which must be eliminated and punished, removed from sight and from experience. Only the admission of defect and fallibility in oneself makes it possible for one to become merciful to others.

Jesus looked at the woman and those who were about to stone her and said something like, "Let the one without sin cast the first stone." As we know, they all drop their stones. Then again, it is not only that we see that we too are sinners/separated/broken. It is also that we are able and willing to assume the suffering of the see their condition and how the separation within their life is, in itself, more that we can heap on them as we point fingers and condemn. At that point, we eliminate the 'us' and 'them' that so often makes for dividing lines that set one side up as righteous and the other as evil or sinful. To be quite honest with you, it would be difficult to attempt to see the hell that is being experienced by those who have acted in ways that break relationships. And yet, it is vital to the healing of both our lives.

Connection: What is the hell the other is going through and how might each of us be a part of the reconciliation of a new day.

Come, Reconciling Lord, and turn around our judgments so that when we are tempted to judge, we judge others as wounded and in need of our attention and a bit of Good News. In that moment, you have a way of healing both sides. Amen.

Thursday 7 February 2008

After spending a few days looking at evil within tyrannys and in the specific case of Hitler, today we have another take on evil.

In St. Thomas Aquinas, we find a totally different view of evil. Evil is not only reversible but it is the proper motive of that mercy by which it is overcome and changed into good. Replying to the objection that moral evil is not the motive for mercy since the evil of sin deserves the indignation and punishment rather than mercy and forgiveness, St. Thomas says that on the contrary sin itself is already a punishment "and in this respect we feel sorrow and compassion for sinners." In order to do this we have to be able to experience their sin as if it were our own. But those who "consider themselves happy and whose sense of power depends on the idea that they are beyond suffering any evil are not able to have mercy on others" by experiencing the evil of others as their own.

Imagine if we were able to look at sin as already a punishment...not something that must be punished. And yet, how very true it is. "Separation for God and others" (a definition of sin) is to attempt to live cut off. It is to be alone and trusting only in one's self. It is like the view of hell as a place where people live separate from one another - no contact and always moving away from the nearest neighbor. We are all moving away from others. It happens for so many reasons. And yet, when we move away, we miss out on the life of healing that may take place for all of us when we are able to be in relationship. Why wish condemnation on each other because of our sin? When we are living separate (for any number of reasons) we are not able to be as whole as we were intended to be. So...the invitation of our lives is to step up and enter into the sin of the other as though it was our though we know what it is to be like them. Imagine stepping into the skin of a brutal racist. I would imagine that it must be a fear-filled and angry place to be - a real hell. What is it that wounded someone so deeply that they would find themselves stuck within such a life? Or what about someone lost in their own need for revenge against another. Their sin - their separation - is built on fear and hatred that is really limiting their own life - residing in hell again.

Connection: Sometimes it is good to listen to stories and begin to see what utter punishment is going on in the life of others as they live within their brokenness. It is then that we can be a part of the healing we are all called to take on as our life. We may also begin to see our own stories more closely and more critically

We long to be made whole by you, O God. It is too easy for us to separate ourselves from others and we are very good at coming up with "good reasons" for separation. In the meantime, we are building our own world of separation and pain and sin. Teach us the way of your forgiving Reign. Amen.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Wednesday 6 February 2008

Thomas Merton continues with reflections of Hitler as he continues to deal with Gandhi's world of non-violence.

Hitler's world was built on the central dogma of the irreversibility of evil. Just as there could be no quarter for the Jews, so the acts that eliminated them were equally irreversible and there could really be no excuse for the Nazis themselves. Even the arguments of an Eichmann, pleading obedience, suggest deep faith in an irreversible order which could not be changed but only obeyed. Such was the finality of Hitler's acts and orders that all the trials fo all the Nazis who have been caught, whether they have been executed or liberated or put in prison for short terms, have changed absolutely nothing. It is clear that Hitler was in one thing a brilliant success: everything he did bears the stamp of complete and paranoid finality.

Too often, "brilliant success" is built on a vital lie. What is terrifying is that the lie cannot be let go. It must be maintained. If it cracks, the whole of what was created falls with it. That can be too great of a burden for anyone. And yet, the truth must be told and we must be willing to face the consequences and, in that, be open to a storyline that is new and life-giving and honest. I have known people in leadership who maintain their position of leadership behind a veil of lies. That might be too strong. Others may say selective dishonesty or even protective dishonesty. However we say it, it is not easy for the one who lives within this lie to keep the lie in tact. There are too many people who are able to tell the emperor that he is naked. When this happens, it is sad to see that some keep living as though the truth they heard is really not a all a part of their world. Unfortunately, if the naked ruler claims not to be naked, too many people actually believe the ruler rather than the truth.

Connection: Don't be afraid to say it like you see it...naked is naked.

Be for us, O God, the eyes of truthfulness so that we can see how the lies of our lives prevent us from living fully within your gracious Reign. Then when we are able to see where truth rules, help us to draw near to others who see the truth and are willing to let it shine. Amen.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Today the reading becomes even more frightening - no stumbling allowed.

It is no accident that Hitler believed firmly in the unforgiveableness of sin. This is indeed fundamental to the whole mentality of Nazism, with its avidity for final solutions and its concern that all uncertainties be eliminated.

In such a world where certainty is a must, one stumble, one fall, or one shortcoming can be the ruin of everything. Therefore, a stumble, a fall, a shortcoming cannot exist. If there is such a thing, it must be eliminated. What comes to be so horrific is that the ones who seek to eliminate others because of their "unforgiveable" sin, are ones who cannot and would not ever allow themselves to be seen or see themselves in such a light. When we see ourselves as being "right" to this point, everything else is wrong and must be seen as that. Doubt cannot take place. Questions about what we are doing must not be answered. We must speak from the voice of power over others as though it is the truth. When that happens, many people listen and follow and are willing to do the obscene in order to rid ourselves of any uncertainties.

Connection: Keeping everything in question is an important part of any group of people. Without the freedom to question, is is easy for people to be overwhelmed and turned into a mindless mob.

Liberating Lord, you do not allow the voice of oppression and limits to take control of your people. So in this time, be our strength as we move toward truthfulness and continue to imagine what is not yet and then live within a place we thought we would never reside. Amen.

Monday 4 February 2008

This piece by Merton is a bit un-nerving. is not unusual in all political life, whether totalitarian or democratic, to incriminate the political novice in order to test his mettle and make sure of his commitment. He must be willing to get his hands dirty, and if he is not willing he must be framed so that he will have a record that can, when necessary, be used against him. Then he will be a committed man. He will henceforth cooperate with acts which might have given him pause if he were not himself marked with guilt. Who is he to complain of certain shady actions, certain discreet deals, certain white lies, when he knows what is in his own file at headquarters?

To what is such a person "committed"? I would think it would be quite difficult to not fold under such pressure even if s/he was framed. Once stories circulate, there is no stopping them. Therefore, the only way to keep someone loyal, it seems in this piece, is to have something on them that would make them think once or twice about doing or saying anything outside the stated policy or position.

Keeping silent kills - others and even one's self. I find it odd that even within a system like the church where forgiveness is so central to who we are and who we are called to be, there can be such fear about what was, and that this fear can wipe out any boldness that is needed to reshape the community of faith. One incident of mismanagement or miscalculation or misstepping and without a sense of the real power of forgiveness, a person can become weak and then a part of the system that builds itself up within the realm of shadows and control.

Connection: We need not be so afraid to step forward that we do not step at all. Sometimes, it would be good for each of us to help one another act boldly. This takes a sense of true solidarity. This is also something that not many are willing to enter.

Even when we fall short, O God, you lift us up so that we can start again within the power of your gracious Reign. It is necessary that your Spirit continue to remind us of the power of such grace. Amen.