Category Archives: Spiritual & Religious Writings

Jesus as Liberator

 

There is a convergence today between the Biblical view of Jesus as Liberator, and the cry of oppressed peoples for liberation. For our own day, to “see the world through the eyes other than our own” has simply got to mean seeing it through the eyes of the poor and dispossessed. When the story of Jesus and the story of human oppression are put side by side, they fit. They are simply different versions of the same story. The cry of the hungry is overwhelming. The cry of the politically and economically exploited is overwhelming. The cry of those in prison and under torture is overwhelming. The cry of parents who know that their children are doomed to stunted and warped lives is overwhelming. . . . There may have been other emphases needed at other points in Christian history when talking about Jesus as Liberator, but I am persuaded that for this time and this place, the claim of Jesus to bring freedom, and the cry of the oppressed peoples for freedom, converge and cannot be separated.

                                                                                                                                        Robert McAfee Brown

none are so blind

I have a vision of a world without hunger. And I am committed to ending hunger in our lifetime. Like Gandhi, I know that “this world has enough for every man’s need, but not enough for every man’s greed.”

Meeting the real needs of the poor and hungry simply requires sharing the abundant resources with which we have been so richly blessed. And the amount needed is far less than we might imagine.

A $175 billion a year would easily meet the Millennium Development Goals. That breaks down to less than $250 a year for the 850 million of us that have an above average income (based on the average income of Portugal, the lowest income nation in Europe).

This amount, $175 billion, would allow us to cut the number of poor and hungry in half. Think about it, less than $250 a person could save millions of lives a year and bring even more millions out of the shadow of crushing poverty.

Why don’t we make it happen? Are we too selfish to care? Or is the deeper truth that we are in chains ourselves, too chained by our riches to break free enough to act on behalf of those dying from our refusal to see the truth?

The words of Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage in the third century seem appropriate.

Their property held them in chains…chains which shackled their courage and choked their faith and hampered their judgment and throttled their souls…If they stored up their treasure in heaven, they would not now have an enemy and a thief within their household…They think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they rather who are owned: enslaved as they are to their own property, they are not the masters of their money but its slaves.

getting the record straight

Let’s get the record straight: God don’t make no junk.

According to the account of creation in Genesis, God created the world perfectly. We read in Genesis 1:31 that, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

God don’t make no junk. That means that there is no reason for even one child to suffer from hunger in a world perfectly created. That is the world in which we live.

Do not think, even for a nano-second, that 25,000 die every day from hunger and hunger-related causes because there is not enough food for everyone.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s get the record straight. There are plenty of resources.

Here is the truth. These are the facts taken directly from Wold Hunger: Twelve Myths, by Frances Moore Lappé. I quote:

The world today produces enough grain alone to provide every human being on the planet with thirty-five hundred calories a day. That’s enough to make most people fat! And this estimate does not even count many other commonly eaten foods–vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. In fact, if all foods are considered together, enough is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day. That includes two and a half pounds of grain, beans, and nuts; about a pound of fruits and vegetables; and nearly a pound of meat, milk, and eggs.

No child dies from hunger because there is not enough food. God created the world perfectly.

There’s more than enough food for our entire human family. We just need to share. God don’t create no junk.

 

the ultimate truth

I am a poet. And although I enjoy almost all poetry, I am especially drawn to the work of mystical and ecstatic writers. The struggle to express the inexpressible is a powerful magnet for me.

One poet I read a great deal is the the great Indian mystic, Rabindranath Tagore. I recently came across a quote from him worth repeating.

In love we find a joy which is ultimate because it is the ultimate truth.

Tagore is right. Love is the ultimate truth. As the Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, wrote, “He who loves brings God and the world together.”

Isn’t this exactly what our broken and hurting world needs? Isn’t this what will lead us to a world where hunger is nothing more than a distant memory?

Abdul Baha, who lived in the mid nineteenth century, captured my feelings perfectly in I HEARD HIM SAY, when he wrote:

Let us have love and more love; a love that conquers all foes, a love that sweeps away all barriers, a love that aboundeth in charity, a large-heartedness, tolerance, forgiveness, and noble striving, a love that triumphs over all obstacles.

This is the love of dynamite power. This is the love that heals the world. This is the love that can end hunger in our lifetime. This is the love in which we can truly find the joy that is ultimate. This is the love that is the ultimate truth.

the principle of existence

As we fast approach St. Valentines Day, I thought a word or two about love might be in order. Experience has taught me that many of us have some misconceptions about the day itself, and even the subject of love.

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” Saint Augustine

The truth of Augustine’s words continue to echo down through the centuries since they were first penned by this saint. True love is manifested in action. Love is not gushy sentiments, Hallmark cards, expensive chocolates, and dozens of roses. Love is the active response to those around us most in need.

Benjamin Disraeli wrote that, “We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end.”

“perfection of the body” comes first

Several days ago I read an excellent article in the HUFFINGTON POST by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth.  It is so well written and so forceful that I want to share it in it’s entirety.

All of us need to take the words of Rabbi Sacks to heart.

Why Fighting Poverty and Hunger Is a Religious Duty

Posted: 01/26/2013 7:48

One of my favourite Jewish sayings is, “Many people worry about their own stomachs and the state of other people’s souls. The real task is to do the opposite: to worry about other people’s stomachs and the state of your own soul.” Or as Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883) used to put it: “Someone else’s material needs are my spiritual responsibility.”

I was reminded of these sentiments by the massive campaign, Enough Food for Everyone IF, currently being mounted by NGOs and religious groups, among them several from the Jewish community, to campaign for stronger action on the part of the nations of the world to address the still acute need for food in many countries.

The facts are devastating. Close to a billion people — one-eighth of the world’s population — still live in hunger. Each year 2 million children die through malnutrition. This is happening at a time when doctors in Britain are warning of the spread of obesity. We are eating too much while others starve.

This is not just an economic and political challenge. It is a religious one as well. The Hebrew Bible contains multiple provisions to ensure that no one would go hungry. The corners of the field, forgotten sheaves of grain, gleanings that drop from the hands of the gleaner, and small clusters of grapes left on the vine were to be given to the poor.

Everything that grew in the seventh year belonged to everyone. In the third and sixth year of the septennial cycle, a tithe of all produce went to those in need. As 19th century social reformer Henry George put it, the great concern of Moses was “to lay the foundation of a social state in which deep poverty and degrading want should be unknown.” It was the world’s first welfare state and the first form of redistributive taxation.

One contemporary translation of these biblical imperatives is Leket (“gleanings”), Israel’s national food bank, which rescues surplus food and agricultural produce that would otherwise be destroyed from catering halls, farms and Kibbutzim, restaurants, corporate cafeterias and bakeries and distributes them to the disadvantaged. Where there is a will, there is a way.

In the Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides said that though the ultimate aim of religion is “perfection of the soul,” nonetheless “perfection of the body” — by which he meant this kind of alleviation of poverty and the fight against injustice — came first. You cannot, he said, give your mind to higher things if you lack food to eat or a home in which to live. That is why the alleviation of poverty is a religious duty.

The problem today, as the organisers of the campaign put it, is that the world produces enough food for everyone but not everyone has enough food. There are places where farmers are being forced off their land, and countries in which international corporations avoid paying local taxes. Food prices are often kept artificially high. The result is that the millennium development goals set out by the United Nations at the start of the new millennium are not being reached. Fine words have not yet been turned into deeds.

As chance or providence would have it, today is Tu Bishvat, the special day in the Jewish calendar known as the New Year for trees. Throughout history this served to remind Jews to bring a tithe to Jerusalem where fruit was shared with friends and strangers, or on other years given to the poor.

We are, Jews believe, not owners of the wealth we produce, merely guardians — “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” — and one of the conditions of our guardianship is that we share our blessings with others.

One of my favourite Jewish stories is of the great mystical rabbi Shneor Zalman of Ladi, who awoke one night to hear his grandson crying. He went downstairs and found his son so intent on his studies that he had failed to hear the cry. So the grandfather went into the child’s bedroom and gently rocked the baby until it went to sleep again. Then he went to his son and said, “My child, I do not know what you are studying, but it cannot be the word of God if it makes you deaf to the cry of the child.”

Today, even in a world of plenty, too many of the world’s children are crying. Let us not be deaf to their cry.

Originally published in The Times of London.

the Great Old One

Without a doubt, my favorite poet is Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz,  Born in Shiraz, Persia in the early 14th century, and Iran’s most treasured poet, Hafiz is also considered one of the greatest lyrical poets of all time.

What draws me to Hafiz is that his poetry is both inherently ecstatic and sacred. All his poems are solidly rooted in what Daniel Ladinsky calls "the Mystical Ground of Unreason – and a love and experience that surpasses the intellect, time and space." There is always a wonderful playfulness in the poems of Hafiz, but there is also an inescapable logic and truth.

I love that Hafiz was fearless in his renderings of our human condition, and even more importantly, of the depth and passion of God’s love for each of us. I also love Hafiz’s unique vocabulary of names for God.

For Hafiz, God is so much more than the Father or the Mother. Hafiz knew God as the Sweet Uncle, the Generous Merchant, the Problem Giver and even the Clever Rascal. God is the Music, the Dancer, the Wine, the Beautiful Companion. God is the Tavern Keeper, and above all, the Beloved,

Known for centuries as "The Tongue of the Invisible," Hafiz sings wild and beautiful love songs to us from the heart of God. Even though diluted through time from the 14th century, his poetry is so rooted in God’s love that it continues to offer courage, hope and joy to a world hungry for the presence that only comes from walking with the beloved.

All to often we forget that God loves us far more than we can ever imagine. We forget that we live and move and breathe surrounded by a love that infuses all creation with a glory and power beyond comprehension. Hafiz is one who helps bring that truth back into focus for me.

BEAUTIFUL HANDS

This is the kind of Friend
You are —

Without making me realize

My soul’s anguished history,

You slip into my house at night,

And while I am sleeping,

You silently carry off

All my suffering and sordid past

In Your beautiful
Hands.

true love for the hungry

Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador, has long been a source of inspiration for me. His words are filled with both a deep  indomitable courage and real poetic beauty. Yet, at the same time, they are spoken with an utter humility that demonstrates a spirituality born of years of communion with the Father.

His words are always touched with suffering; his countrymen, his flock, his friends, and his own. Even though his life was ended by an assassin’s bullet, Oscar Romero’s spirit lives on. His spirit, and his challenge to all of us can never be silenced.

It is a caricature of love to try and cover over
with alms what is lacking in justice,
to patch over with an appearance of benevolence
when social justice is missing.
True love begins by demanding what is just
in the relations of those who love.

Oscar Romero
April 13, 1979

Stop Hunger Now provides food for millions of otherwise hungry schoolkids every year. Those meals are necessary to sustain life, but feeding hungry children has nothing to do with true love.

True love has to do with creating a just world, one where we do not allow children to suffer from hunger. That’s why we work so hard to engage others in the fight to end the obscenity of hunger. Working together we can achieve a world where hunger is just a memory. That is what true love demands, a world of justice, where hungry is nothing more than a distant memory.

Please join in the movement to end hunger in our lifetime. We can make it happen. It just takes true love.