LOVE WINS

The year was 1922. The place was Kiev, in the Soviet Union. The occasion was a large anti-religious rally. The featured speaker was the revered Soviet politician and orator Nikolai Bukharin. Thousands had arrived to listen to listen to him speak. He stood up and spoke for over an hour – preaching atheism and pouring insults on those who believed in God. Finally he sat down. The air was thick with blatant oppression, tyranny, and bullying. The chairman asked if there were any questions. There was only silence.

     But then, a man stood up near the back. He was elderly, with a beard, and dressed in the habit of an Orthodox monk. He slowly made his way forward, passing row after row of people, until he reached the front, and climbed onto the stage. He turned stood facing the crowd. They sat looking at him with silent expectation. Then, he raised his arms, and in a loud, confident voice cried out, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!” And at once, the huge crowd bolted to their feet and thundered out, “The Lord is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!”

     Resurrection was in the spiritual DNA of those people. No matter how much they were told the opposite, how much they were forced to live as if there were no God, the seeds of hope lay deep in their souls, latent and waiting. The seeds had been planted within them by their ancestors and preserved by the stories over the ages. And now their time had come as they stood together in solidarity one another and with God.

     In order to experience the freedom and joy of new life, we must first experience death – or many deaths – in our life. So the question becomes this: What in my life needs to die in order for new life to spring forth? What old ideas do we need to let go of in order to make room for a new vision? What darkness lurks in the shadows of the soul that needs to be brought into light in order to move forward into freedom? And freedom, my friend, is always the freedom to love fully.

     We live in a culture that is in many ways being held hostage by fear. When we are controlled by fear, we cannot truly give ourselves to compassion, we cannot love fully. But the dynamic of death and resurrection can offer us hope. If we can just be honest enough with ourselves to face the real issues that are around and within us there is hope. In order to foster true equality, we must first allow the idea that some lives are more valuable than others to die. We move to a place where we know that all people are equally beloved by God. Old ideas need to die. We cannot, as Jesus says, pour old wine into new wineskins. Resurrection is about new horizons, new ideas, new ways of seeing one another and new opportunities to love without strings attached that carries with it hope for our future.

     But the good news of resurrection must continue to live beyond this moment – beyond this weekend. If we as Christians are to have integrity and authenticity beyond the four walls of the church, then we must be able to bring the good news of resurrection in ways that are vital and relevant for the current time in which we live. And these are not easy times. But we as Christians have other breaking news for the world. Because the message of Easter isn’t about the principalities of darkness, it’s about the light of Christ. It’s not about despair, it’s about hope. It’s not about hate, it’s about love.

     The time is now for us to live our Christian lives right out front and center like that monk in Kiev and show the world that the reality of God that we see in the risen life of Christ is alive in us and is to be had for all people regardless religious tradition, denominational stripes, political affiliation, gender, race or who we love or how we love. God is bigger than all of that. Our time has come to show the world a love that cannot be buried in a tomb; to share a light with others that cannot be swallowed up by darkness. Hope is what this time is about, my brothers and sisters. And it is a hope that we can bring into the world. It is a hope that we must bring into the world. It’s a hope that says God wins. One that says love wins. And that is real good news.

BROTHER DENNIS 

   

       

 

 

PROPHETS OF PEACE

I sit to write this reflection on Monday, the national observance that honors the life of The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Like so many, I am once again encouraged to remember his life, his prophetic role in the American Civil Rights Movement, and his call to peaceful non-violent resistance as the means to achieve social justice. All of which truly changed the course of history.  

The America of King’s time was different from our time today. In the 50’s and 60’s the Jim Crow laws that sanctioned the oppression of people of color forced our African American sisters and brothers to live less than the life which they were created for. During the later years of his life, King’s prophetic witness extended beyond the racism that plagued the soul of humankind and also into the issues of poverty and war – particularly the Vietnam War – that also tore away at the moral fabric of our society.

Martin Luther King inspired real change in our country and in the world. As a result of his commitment to true justice and civil rights, laws were changed to ensure a degree of equality among all people of this nation. But maybe even more important was how he changed how our African American brothers and sisters – as well as all oppressed peoples looking on – saw themselves. He helped to restore and protect human dignity. He reminded all oppressed people that they were somebody. He reminded us that we are all created in the image of God – and that means everybody.

Like all true spiritual leaders, King’s civil rights prophetic vison was born of a faith rooted deep within him. It was the unwavering moral conviction of his beliefs as a Christian that inspired his leadership. It was the contemplation of the core values of his faith that propelled him into action. This is essential truth because protests without this contemplative core is just noise, but true prophetic action comes only from first giving oneself to deep listening to God’s desire for us. This is why The Reverend Martin Luther King was so grounded in his truth – a truth that had the power to eventually change the moral compass of our country.

As an Episcopal Christian, I look to the life and teachings of Jesus as core values. In our baptismal covenant, we vow to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.” All persons, all people, every human being. This means everybody. No exceptions. This is the type of moral compass that was at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, the man who accepted the leadership role of that movement, and the people who were a part of it.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King wasn’t the first to conceive of a peaceful, non-violent approached to oppression. Nor was he the first to teach the power of loving your neighbor, especially your enemies. These teachings came from Jesus. King took them to heart and reminded us all of who were are to be as Christians.

We are living in times that are more divided than we have seen in quite some time. Some rightly feel that the very moral fabric of our nation is at stake. Not unlike sixty years ago that sparked the Civil Rights Movement, we are in need of prophetic voices to point us back to the truth of who we are as individuals and as a nation. As Christians, we should take seriously what we have been taught by the one whom we profess to follow. The core values are simple and yet can have a profound effect on the direction of our common life: justice, peace, respect, dignity, radical forgiveness and unconditional love – and yes, even love for those we are tempted to consider our enemies. If we can reconnect our moral and spiritual compass that points us to these values, we just might be able to stop yelling at each other and begin to listen. Once we do that, we are ready to love again.       

BROTHER DENNIS

    

      

 

Living Love and Justice

In today’s complex times, I am aware of the importance of the words of the prophet Micah, who encourages us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Sadly, it sometimes seems today that the spirit of justice, mercy and humility is all too often met with more than just mild resistance to these spiritual principles. It can sometimes feel like the loudest voices are those who favor discrimination over justice; punishment over mercy; and arrogance over humility.

     But there are other voices calling out to us now. It is the voice of Micah encouraging us to justice, mercy and humility. It is the voice of Isaiah reminding us that the spirit of God is upon us and that we have been anointed so that we can bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty and freedom to those imprisoned, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. It is the voice of Jesus who calls the peacemakers blessed as children of God.

     These are anxious times in so many ways. Now is the time – and always is the time – to help the world elevate the conversation to a higher plane. We can bring the voice that speaks the language of the heart of God to the world, and we can do that best by living authentic lives of peace, justice and love. Because if not from us, from whom will it come? We must help others know what we know. That there is no “us” or “them,” that there is only “us.” We must help others understand what the prophet Martin Luther King meant when he said that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  

     We also must stand firm in our resolve for unity and peace. Sometimes that means we must join the protest, and that protest is not just with our lips, but with our lives. Sometimes we must march as we strive for justice and peace among all people. Sometimes we must defend our defenseless brothers and sisters in respect for the dignity of all people.

     So from where, as the Psalmist asks, is our hope to come? It comes from the profound awareness that the way Jesus comes to us in peace and humility, the way he lives his life for non-violence, peace and justice; that is also the way we should live our own lives for God and for the world. It is staking one’s life on the fact the God we see in the life of Jesus is alive within us. It means that when Jesus looks government or religion or society squarely in the eyes and says, “Something is wrong,” we too can never accept the status quo if others are being injured or treated unjustly or marginalized because of national, societal or religious interests.

     But is also means that the pattern of life we see in Jesus as he forgives his persecutors, this is to be our life too. When he forgives those who are putting him to death, that pattern of forgiveness is a freedom that can never be match by hatred or vengeance. It means that when he gives himself to others in love – selfless love – we too can do that, and find that there is true liberation and real freedom in such acts of love.

     This is no time to be timid in faith. This is a time to remind the world of the spiritual values that are characteristic of a God-centered life – values such as truth, honesty, respect, forgiveness and love. The God-centered life also stands boldly for justice and freedom for the most oppressed and marginalized among us.

     The Dalai Lama once said, “It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others.”  This is surely a time of great adversity for many. We are learning much about the truth of who we are as a nation and as a society. Some of those truths are hard to swallow. But this is also an opportunity to discover – or rediscover – some of the better attributes of who we are as people of God – our goodness, kindness and our compassion, because that is who God created all of us to be. This is our most authentic self – our Sacred Self. Just as the prophets of old called us to elevate our self-understanding, in our own time we are called by God to help one another remember who we are at our best.  

BROTHER DENNIS

I SEE YOU

     A couple of weeks ago we were in Austin, Texas for the tri-annual Episcopal Church General Convention. It’s a big affair with roughly 15,000 people attending from across the landscape of The Episcopal Church. There were a lot of important conversations, resolutions being explored, Cuba being received as a diocese of TEC, and lots of fun and Episcopal fellowship. We were there to represent the Community of Divine Love with the rest of the CAROA (Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas) members and talk with people about the monastic life and our ministry in the jails. So, there was a lot going on, but for me there was one in particular that is memorable in a unique way and I’m sure I will not soon forget, if ever. 

     On Sunday, July 8, roughly 1,000 people boarded nineteen charter buses, while others joined in private vehicles and we all made the hour-long trip to the Hutto Women’s Immigration Detention Center near Taylor, Texas, where I found myself standing on the road with other hearts beating for social justice. We stood there on the road outside Hutto bearing messages of compassion for our incarcerated sisters and surely in hope that our presence that day would make a difference. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said it so well that day under the hot Texas sun: “We do not come in hatred, we do not come in bigotry, we do not come to put anyone down, we come to lift everybody up. We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus, and Jesus taught us love.” This is the Episcopal Church that I love.

     I stood looking at the building that was about a hundred yards off with its rows of narrow vertical windows. They were familiar. Twin Towers Correctional Facility here in Los Angeles as well as many other facilities have the same design. I knew that the women were on the other side of those windows. As I fixed my attention, suddenly I saw it. There was something white moving up and down one of the windows. They were waving at us. I waved back and started yelling ‘I SEE YOU,” over and over again. Soon all of us were waving and yelling the chant of “I SEE YOU! – Te Vio! Others began chanting YOU ARE NOT ALONE,” in both English and Spanish. This holy exchange between chants of solidarity and white waving went on for a good thirty minutes before we were asked to disperse and return to our original gathering place up the road.

     This experience deeply touched the hearts and energized the souls of all who were there. Little did we know that what happened next would leave us in tears. At least it did me. We learned later that evening that the women incarcerated at Hutto had telephoned the Episcopal Church. Their message was that they saw us, and that the women were huddled around those windows weeping and watching. They never left those windows until the last of us had left for our return trip. They wanted us to know that it meant everything to them that we had shown us in such a force of solidarity and they felt seen and indeed not alone that day.

     To see people on the margins is everything. To be seen while ensconced in the margins is everything. I’m proud to be a part of The Episcopal Church that is taking social justice concerns seriously, but this is not just the work of well-meaning Christians. This is not just the work of those of us who are striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being. This needs to be the work of all people everywhere. These are troublesome times when people are being separated in alarming new ways. More than ever in recent history we need to see one another; and not just the women of Hutto and millions of other refugees, but also the person standing next to you; the lonely neighbor, the confused teen, the addicted sister or brother, the overwhelmed mother, the one on the other side of the political debate. We need to see each other now. We need to show that the eternal power that brings us together in solidarity as human beings is more powerful than any lesser power than wants to confuse and divide us.

     That day on the road in Texas changed me. I am more aware than ever of the importance of really seeing people and of the power of love that springs from being mindful of really looking at people; of really seeing people. In doing so, I am more open to people really seeing me for who I truly am. I just know that this is what God desires for us; to be connected to one another. To really see each other. I encourage you to try it. You don’t have to be yelling form the side of the road. You can quietly say to someone: “I see you,” and see what happens next. It just might change your life.

BROTHER DENNIS

Dennis - Hutto.jpg

Elements of Love

Love is not Envious

     Each week we are focusing on one element of Paul’s exhortation to love taken from his First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:4-7). This week we are reflecting on Love is not Envious.

Envy can be a real distraction, especially in a keeping up with the Jones’ culture. We are blitzed with marketing that tempts us to be like someone else, to have what they have or even something better. Smart phones quickly become old news after they hit the market. Pressure comes for every side to have the latest and the best.

     But the monastic way is a different way, a counter-cultural way. It’s the way of simplicity and one that gradually over time can help us loosen the grip of envy. In the monastery, we learn over time that being content with what we have is a path to true happiness. Envy can block us from loving freely. Paul reminds us that envy can be a real stumbling block to both giving and receiving love in full measure with no strings attached. 

BROTHER DENNIS  

       

TAKING IT TO THE STREETS

     The year was 1922. The place was Kiev, in the Soviet Union. The occasion was a large anti-religious rally. The featured speaker was the revered Soviet politician and orator Nikolai Bukharin. Thousands had arrived to listen to his words. He stood up and spoke for over an hour – preaching atheism and pouring insults on those who believed in God. Finally he sat down, and the chairman asked if there were any questions. There was silence.

     But then, a man stood up near the back. He was elderly, with a beard, and dressed in the habit of an Orthodox monk. Slowly he made his way forward, passing row after row of people, until he reached the front, and slowly climbed onto the stage. He turned stood facing the crowd. They sat looking at him with silent expectation.

     Then, he raised his arms, and in a loud, confident voice cried out, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!” And at once, the huge crowd rose to its feet and thundered out, “The Lord is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!” Resurrection was in the spiritual DNA of those people. No matter how much they were told the opposite, how much they were forced to live as if there were no God, the seeds of hope lay deep in their souls, latent and waiting. The seeds had been planted in their DNA by their ancestors long ago and preserved by the stories over the ages. The time had come. This was the moment that they had been waiting for.

     In the midst of all of the chaos that swirls around us in our nation and in our world today, could it be that this is the moment we have been waiting for? It surely feels for many that we are a breaking point that is forcing change. Within these tense and confusing times, where is our hope to come from?

     This past Saturday, millions of people – young people took to the streets to protest the indignity of sacrificing human lives on the altar of the right to own assault weapons. As I watched the sea of mostly young people speaking truth and demanding change, I knew that this was a moment that many have been waiting for. And like that seed of truth that had been planted within the hearts of those in Kiev by their ancestors, so too our seed of hope is beginning to break the hard-pan surface of oppressive ways that are not serving the common good. The March For Life campaign is just the most recent seed of hope that is breaking through. The past two years have featured yet millions more people marching and demanding dignity and the end of oppressive violence against women as the Women’s March continues and is not going away. The voices of the oppressed are literally crying out from the streets and they will not be silenced.

     So, this is where Jesus and the hope of Easter Resurrection comes in. Where do you think Jesus would be today? I am quite certain that he would be in the streets with those protesting and standing for the most marginalized and vulnerable among us. His history proves that he most assuredly wouldn’t be anywhere else except in the thick of it all, his face and feet would not only be part of the sea of protest, but he would most likely  be right up front with Emma Gonzalez and the other prophets of our own time that are calling for change.     

     The resurrection story of Easter is one of startling and profound hope that has changed the world, but if we as Christians are to have integrity, authenticity and authority we must be able to bring the good news and hope of resurrection to the world in ways that are vital and relevant today, such as the many faith communities that are out there marching in the streets with women and young people demanding change. 

     Our baptismal covenant with God calls for us to “seek and serve Christ in ALL PERSONS, loving our neighbors as ourselves…to strive for justice and peace among ALL PEOPLE, and respect the dignity of EVERY HUMAN BEING. To encounter all persons, all people, and every human being, we must move beyond ourselves. We must think beyond borders and divisions. We must be brave and bold enough to call for change that can affect the lives of generations to come.

     This is a movement, a movement of Christ’s life and love into all the world. This is about loving as Christ loved. It’s about respecting the dignity of others in such a way that our brothers and sisters of all faiths or no faith are freer, more able, safer to fully and proudly claim who they are because of our presence, not in spite of it.  Otherwise, we bear witness to a movement that is dying, not rising.

     This is how we show the world who we are. Our time has come. This is the moment we have been waiting for.

Our time has come to show the world a relentless love that knows no bounds. Our time has come to truly be true to a faith that is guided by love in community and one that inspires real hope for all people, especially the poorest and most at risk among us. Our time has come to become all that God desires us to be, so that people will not just watch, but will want to join the movement that seeks true freedom for all.

SPRING CLEANING

SPRING CLEANING

A French priest says it actually happened to him. An armed robber accosted him on a dark back street in Paris and demanded his wallet. As the priest opened his coat to reach for the wallet, the thief caught sight of the clerical collar for the first time and immediately apologized saying: “Never mind, Father, I didn’t realize you were a priest – I’ll be on my way.” The priest was relieved, of course, and good naturedly offered the man a cigar, to which the man replied: “No thank you, I’m giving up smoking for Lent.” Obviously, the man hadn’t gotten the whole idea of the meaning of Lent.  But then again, this story has something to say about human nature, life in modern society, and social etiquette.

The time of Lent is much more than mere social etiquette. It’s more than just giving up a cigars. Lent, is the forty days of spiritual practice that can help us examine and calibrate the human heart. It is a time for us to look inward, to delve deeper into ourselves and what it means to be a Christian and for that matter, what it means to be a decent human being. This is a time of really examining ourselves and hopefully getting honest about who we are. It’s a time of prayer, of spiritual discipline, of giving, and a time of cleansing our hearts.

The word “Lent” comes from the old English word for “spring”, a reference not only to what is happening in the natural world, but also what is happening in the spiritual world. Lent covers the six weeks before Easter, the great Christian festival of new life. For Earlier Christians it was a time for the greening of the soul, which began with penitence and fasting. New converts where prepared for holy baptism on Easter eve, or what we know as the Great Vigil of Easter, and people whose sins had separated them from the community were invited back. Those who accepted the invitation knew that more would be required of them than just showing up (or just giving up cigars). During Lent, they would join the whole congregation in the solemn work of self-examination and repentance, designed to renew their faith in God and restore their fellowship with one another. Who wouldn’t feel that same spirit is needed in today’s world?

But as I like to say: If you want to change the world, start with yourself.

In the context of our life today there are several ways to approach the examination of conscience. One that is well-known in the Christian tradition is what we refer to in the Episcopal Church as The Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent understood by some as Confession. There is also the Ignatian method of The Daily Examen, which is an ongoing daily prayer to help one examine their conscience. I also like the approach taken by 12-Step Spirituality of a “fearless and searching moral inventory” that first helps build one’s foundation in recovery, and then is applied on an ongoing basis as a way to continue to take personal inventory, to admit shortcomings and amend one’s life. In all of these methods of turning inward for self-examination, the words of the Psalmist seem appropriate: “Create in us a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within us.”

 So what does this all mean for each of us personally? What does it mean for us as a society and as a global community? Because although the Christian calendar marks this time of Lent for us, is it not important for all of us everywhere, regardless of spiritual tradition, denominational stripes, national origin, or political affiliation to take time to assess where we are, to re-evaluate, to look at where we are off the mark, and to think about how we might do better for ourselves as well as for the common good of all?

There seems to be a great need in our world today for the type of introspection that can promote honest appraisal, truth-telling, reconciliation, and amendment of life. We live in a time when the work toward a unified consciousness and mutual respect and love seems more urgent that ever. It is a time when people are really questioning what truth means, what honesty is, and what true integrity looks like. Maybe we are moving into a time of “Lent” in the grander scheme of things – in the broader national and global consciousness. Maye it’s time to take stock honestly about who we are as individuals, as a nation, and as a global community. The time seems critical for us to decide who we want to be as we move on from this moment.

Yes, create in us a clean heart of God, and renew a right spirit within us. This seems like a good place to start. For all sorts of good things can spring from such a desire for goodness.

BROTHER DENNIS