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The Greatest Thing(s)…

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It was raining this morning so rather than riding a bike to church I used Lyft as I didn’t want to arrive soaking wet. As I left church it was still raining and I snapped this photo just outside the door. It always amazes me when I see buds bursting open after a long winter. How do they know just when to do it? Though it was raining I walked home and it felt good to be in the elements (I also had an umbrella). And as I walked in the rain I thought about a few things. One was how fragile life is; we are here for such an incredibly short time. And also in the end it doesn’t matter how much money we have or things that we’ve acquired. What matters is how we treat each other, right now in this life. If we are made in the image of the creator then how we treat each other reflects on how we treat the one who created us. And this is what I thought about while I walked home in the rain on a chilly Palm Sunday in April…

And then he was questioned by those in power. Taunting him, hoping he would slip up. They asked him: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~Matthew 22:36-40

 

But who is my neighbor?

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Photo taken from the Brooklyn Bridge, June 2014

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The above words are what is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a portion of the poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus. I’ve been thinking about these words a lot lately. Mostly, I think, because of what has been in the news, and by this I really mean some some of the things spoken by people “in power” with hardened hearts that can’t seem to see beyond their own egos.

Some weeks ago one of these–I shan’t glorify him by mentioning his name, but you know him…the brother and son of former presidents and is in fact running for office himself–referred to first born immigrant children as “anchor babies.” Meaning, I suppose, that the American born baby can anchor it’s immigrant parents here without deportation.

And then just this morning I saw a video clip of that other guy–you know, the one with the fake looking hair who is always yelling–where he said if he wins he will deport every Syrian immigrant because they don’t belong here and they can’t be trusted. What really broke my heart, though, was when he said this the crowd to which he spoke broke out in applause.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but both of these guys–among countless others–would like to “build a wall” to keep immigrants from coming through our southern borders.

If you are like me, and countless other Americans (including the two guys I just mentioned), ancestors on both sides of my family came through New York harbor as they entered this country for the first time. It is doubtful that, even if they could see it, they could read the inscription on the statue because it was written in English, but she is likley one of the first things they saw…welcoming them.

I’m the son of an “anchor baby.” And my anchor-baby-daddy fought in the second world war, and in fact lost hearing in one of his ears defending our country. Two of his brothers (also anchor babies by that politician’s definition) also fought in the war.

I just can’t help but wonder if people (not just the two mentioned above) who are so afraid of others coming to this country (who may seem different than themselves) ever consider what the words on Lady Liberty say, and the fact that our country was founded and populated by immigrants.

And on a different slant, I also can’t figure out how so many of these people, who like to quote the bible (yes, I’m aware that I’m generalizing), don’t see that the very message of Jesus was not segregation, hate, or exclusion, and that his entire short ministry while on this earthly plane can be distilled down to one word…Love.

Some of my favorite passages in the gospel are the parables, which are told in such a way that makes you think but are also meant to be so simple that anyone can understand them, if they listen. And one of my favorites is the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

It begins by an “expert in the law” (today, could this be one of the men aforementioned?) asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. And by this, I take it as not so much in the next life but this one, what must he do to be free, or to use other terminology, enlightened. And clever as he was, Jesus answered the question with a question, to make the person think for himself. He asked him, “What is written, and how do you read it?” The expert of course was able to recite the scripture exactly…”Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength of your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You answered correctly,” Jesus told him, “do this and you will live” (do this and you will live…let those words sink in for a moment).

But the expert needed to justify himself, so he asked, “Who is my neighbor?

And this time Jesus answered him with a story (parable), and I am paraphrasing…it began with a man who was walking down a deserted section of road where he encountered thieves. They stripped him, robbed him, beat him, and left him for dead on the side of the road. As people passed the dying man they crossed to the other side of the road and looked the other way. One of the people was a priest, the other was a Levite (I may be wrong, but I believe the beaten man was also a Levite). Anyhow, finally a Samaritan came along, and correct me if I’m wrong again, but I believe during those times a Samaritan was not supposed to socialize with, let alone physically touch, a Levite. But the Samaritan, being filled with compassion, cleansed the man’s wounds with oil and wine and bandaged him. He then carried the man on his own donkey to an inn, where he paid the inn-keeper money to care for the man, and even went so far as to tell the inn-keeper that he will return and pay additional money if needed.

After telling this story Jesus then posed another question to the expert…”Which of these men do you think were a neighbor to the fallen man?” He answered correctly again…”The one who had mercy on him.”

To which Jesus replied simply…”Go and do likewise.”

Our nation was founded and populated by immigrants, yet there are many who forgot this (or choose not to remember or acknowledge it).

And there are some who hold the bible as a shield and claim (incorrectly) that we are a “Christian nation,” yet fail to show compassion, or to quote directly…”Go and do likewise.”

And yes, I know many of these statements (my personal statements) are rash generalizations, but it seems (to me) that somewhere along the journey–with all of our technology allowing us to be connected 24/7–we have become less connected than ever before. In many respects we have lost our way. We as a nation have become more about “I” than “we.”

The fear that I have is not of being over-run by immigrants, my fear is that one of the men previously mentioned actually wins the presidency.

Sorry for my mini-rant; I’ll get off my soapbox now. But before I do I have to pose this question that was spoken more than two millennia ago… Who is my neighbor?

Urban Simplicity.

Tomorrow will worry about itself (because a little bird told me so)…

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So this is interesting, or funny, or coincidental, or whatever. Without revealing too much personal information, these past few months have been difficult for me financially. And yesterday I was stressing about money (but what is money…just pieces of paper, right?) so I did what I often do and took a long walk with headphones and music. This usually helps. It did for the most part (I also stopped for a beer). Anyhow, on my way home I passed a bank that had recently closed (it seems weird to see a bank close; I didn’t know they did that) and the place where there was once an ATM machine was covered with plywood and had this graffiti on it. I laughed aloud to myself; I’m sure I looked like a crazy person to passersby. Anyhow, I thought I’d share this and a bit of scripture which came to mind as well.


 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

Urban Simplicity.

 

Five photos, two scriptures, a song, and a bad day made good…

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So I had a “bad day” today. I know it sounds silly, but I did. Everyone has them from time-to-time, and today was my turn. It’s a very busy week for me at work and in my personal life and stress can really affect me in a negative way. I tend to internalize things. The thing is that I am fully aware that a person can choose how they want to feel. Yes it is true, and I fully believe this. But sometimes when I’m in the midst of stress and chaos I forget. All too often I forget. And when I left work today it was beautiful outside…still cold but the sun was out and the sky was blue. And I’ve mentioned this before but photography can, in a way, be a form of personal therapy for me. So I heeded my own previous advice and took a few photos of our Creator’s miracles that are right in front of me. But I have to say, and I even chuckled about it to myself (and that’s a good sign) that as I was removing my camera from its bag a lyric from the R.E.M. song, Bad Day, rang in my ears…”It’s been a bad day, please don’t take your picture.” (click here to watch them sing it live on Letterman) 

Anyhow, staring through the lens and really focusing on something has a calming effect on me. It really does. I’m sure it lowers my blood pressure. And as I took in the sights and sounds around me I couldn’t help but think how I had a change of mind. And that’s really all it takes sometimes…change your thoughts and change your world. And as I rode home feeling the cool air (cold, actually) on my face and taking in all the greatness that was right in front of me, all around me, and in fact within me, I felt grateful. And these two scriptures come to mind when I think of this.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2
“Be sure to fix your mind on Me and to apply your intelligence for Me and you will live in Me for certain and never suffer any doubt thereafter.”

Bhagavad Gita 12:8 

And then later in the evening–just a few minutes before writing this post–I had a text conversation with a very dear friend of mine. A friend whom I treated poorly earlier in the day. We both forgave each other. And it made me remember what is truly real and what matters to me in this lifetime. People matter. So does beauty. So does love. Stress (fear) is unreal and something I fabricate myself. So if I am able to choose my thoughts and feelings, then I choose love and compassion. This is what I choose to start my day tomorrow (and to end my night tonight). It’s not always easy, but it is possible. Tomorrow is another day, and another very busy day for me, but it’s okay…I’ll view it as a challenge, one which is able to be overcome.

Urban Simplicity.