The path to happiness

“Covering up our emotional reality removes the power of Jesus in our lives. The cover up elevates our self-reliance.”

Jean-Marie Jobs.

Regulating my emotions in another Lockdown feels like a crucible. It hurts. However one of the most important tasks of growth is to understand how I hurt and suffer. Suffering is negative but it’s part of life. I ease mine by being in nature in Phoenix Park. I prayer-walk. I meditate on the psalms, a running commentary on overwhelm and suffering. The Psalter shows us how to be real with God i.e. fully engaged in what is true for us.

David wrote most of the psalms and he “slept with his Soldier’s wife, got her pregnant, and then had that soldier sent to the front lines so he would be killed in battle. This same David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel while Saul still sat on the throne, and His son Jonathan was heir. There were terrible consequences for his actions, but David was known as a friend of God, a man pursuing God’s heart. Just as God appointed David, he appointed pharaoh to harden his heart and show his glory, he appointed Hitler and his destruction that would follow, he brought forth Israel (Is. 66) in a single day. He appoints all rulers and authorities.” Kalister Harmon.

In the world’s views, the path to happiness is “having it all together.” But what we really need is to experience the path to pain, anxiety, overwhelm, and suffering and allow it to heal us and make us better people. 

I can move through all the emotions below in about an hour during these challenging times.

How do YOU respond to your experience of suffering, anxiety or overwhelm?

Swimming at Martello Tower Seapoint

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

-Saint Augustine

Swimming long distance at Seapoint is a great self-reflection exercise. I’ve build up my confidence a little. It’s popular too. My challenge is to swim around all five lined up yellow marker buoys, about 1.6 km. Swimming straight and managing my breathing is tricky.  I’ve made new friends, accompanied nervous swimmers into the sea and the energy in this place has refreshed my soul. I’ve wondered if there’s an outpouring of God’s spirit in this swimming spot.

I start my swimming from the Martello Tower which looks like an upside down flower pot. Whilst swimming I see Howth Head when I breathe on one side and then the Victorian terraced houses along the road on the other side. The tower is my marker finishing up. Thirty-nine Martello Towers are still standing in Ireland. The circular or oval stone or brick gun-batteries were erected around the Irish coast from 1804 as a response to an expected Napoleonic invasion. The tower at Sandycove is now called the James Joyce Tower and is celebrated for its association with Ulysses.

The circular Prince of Wales and Rochdale plaque below is just below where I stand to  undress and dress. I didn’t know Dublin Bay was so dangerous until I found this quote;

“The bay of Dublin has perhaps been more fatal to seamen and ships than any in the world, for a ship once caught in it in a gale of wind from ENE to SSE must ride it out at anchors or go on shore, and from the nature of that shore the whole of the crews almost invariably have perished.”

– Captain Charles Malcolm of George IV’s royal yacht.

Come and join me! 

Wisdom in post-quarantine times!

“Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.”
(Proverbs 3:15)

God appeared to Solomon and gave him the opportunity to ask for anything he desired. What did Solomon desire more than anything else?

WISDOM

He chose wisdom over gold, oil, a NYTimes Bestseller, women, power, popularity, or long life. Why? Because wisdom is supreme. God was pleased with his request too so he granted it to him. It’s great to be intellectual or book smart, but it’s much more valuable to have wisdom AND apply it appropriately.

I’m reading ‘The Shape of Living’ by David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University. It’s a simple and rich read, providing spiritual directions for everyday life, especially when overwhelmed.

Living through this pandemic is overwhelming. During quarantine a lot of people were overwhelmed with their hair. A solution, and a funny one, was to just hack it off because no-one you knew was going to see it. I cut my fringe, crookedly. It costs 50 Euro for a good haircut in Dublin!!! Perhaps growing it out is wise stewardship.

In a season full of loss; movement, community, hope, job, finances, beauty appointments, freedom there is wisdom and strength in deliberately focusing on our gains.

What have you gained in these past few months?

There are two kinds of wisdom. What are they?

“Who is wise and understanding among you?
Let him show it by his good life,
by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
(James 3:13)

Compassion – what is it and have you got it ?

The dictionary defines compassion as sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian. His interests were rooted primarily in psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice and community. He said that Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.

The picture above is of two women I met yesterday in Dublin from Iraq and Sudan. The Iraqi Irish poets event was a great bridge builder. Although not without serious content. More on that later.

In the US, I worked for Compassion International for a season. Compassion International is a child sponsorship and Christian humanitarian aid organization headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado that aims to positively impact long-term development of children living in poverty, globally. I was surprised and impressed by how efficiently this humanitarian organization was run.

Compassion is needed in all areas of life. Its a trait worthy of attention in Churches, government, leadership, the workplace. There is growing evidence that leaders can LEARN to be more compassionate. Companies are putting the “human” back into human resources and work with a renewed focus on showing care for others who are suffering.

Now you know what it is, do you think you have it?

How might you develop it more ?

The shaming and torture of women in Ireland goes before the UN

This week a delegation of 21 Irish officials were part of a public hearing by the UN Committee on Torture which is reviewing the Irish State’s human rights record on Magdalene Laundries and Mother-and- baby Homes, and other aspects of Ireland’s social history. The Irish State has said there was no serious harm done to women and children in the Magdalene laundries but the UN rapporteur has said “there is a great deal of evidence that there has indeed been abuse.”

My mum, as well as many other children, was a religious prisoner of the Irish state. The treatment she received by the religious orders responsible for her care and protection has been called abuse.  This got me thinking, when does consistent and repeated abuse of a child become torture ?

The UN committee on torture wants answers. These are just a few questions ;

  1. Why has the interdepartmental committee set up to investigate the religious orders that ran the Magdalene laundries destroyed its copies of evidence from these religious congregations?
  2. What is preventing the government providing public access to the Archive?
  3. Why has Ireland not thoroughly investigated alleged abuses at mother –and- baby homes including alleged forced illegal adoptions of children born out of wedlock and without the permission of the mothers?
  4. Is the Irish state “walking back” from the famous apology by Enda Kenny to survivors of Magdalene laundries and going back to a view that the State is not liable?

The UN rapporteur also asked the Irish delegation how they could claim there was no serious harm when it made no public call for evidence. The Irish State has only investigated 18 institutions when there may be as many as 70 involved. So the UN rapporteur asked the Government if they would expand the scope of and terms of reference of the commission of investigation to identify deceased children at the sites of the mother-and- baby homes.

I’d like to end this blog on a cheerful note. This song is part of my own social history. My mum played it when I was a youngster. I dedicate to her memory this week.

 

 

High ways of honor for veterans in Oregon

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” Jose Narosky.

A road trip to Portland revealed that Oregon is a great state for honoring veterans. I don’t think I saw an unmarked road or highway NOT dedicated or designated to veterans.

U.S. Highway 395 is designated as a World War 1 Veterans Memorial Highway.
Highway 5 is designated as Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway and Purple Heart Trail. U.S. Highway 97 and Interstate 84 is known as World War II Veterans Historic Highway and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway join up and is a way to recognize veterans from border to border. There are 70,000 miles of highway designated as Blue Star Memorial Highways in the US.

I don’t know a lot about American veterans but a little research revealed of the 331,600 veterans living in Oregon, almost 1 in 12 Oregonians, nearly 90,000 served in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan or Iraq wars. Unlike most wars in the 20th Century, the wars of today can often be overlooked or ignored by citizens at home. I was surprised to hear recently that less that 4% of the US population serves in the military.

On my coastal route from Portland to Sacramento, every next stop yielded a more beautiful vista. During a coffee stop I discovered a project by David Jay. Veterans reveal what they look like after more than 10 years of war in the Middle East. Some of these images in the link below may be uncomfortable for the viewer. Jay writes, “This project creates an opportunity to open up a dialogue about issues we are not necessarily comfortable with and also issues that we are responsible for.”

Veterans reveal what they look like after more than 10 years of war in 10 breathtaking pictures

The images caused me to reflect on our often limited definitions of health, service, leadership, courage and even attractiveness. Are we more focused on perfectionism, people pleasing, performance and the plastic ?

I’ve noticed, sometimes, in Church circles, a self-righteous service (moral arrogance) can be used as a divisive and manipulative force, as opposed to true service which unifies others. My own experience of war in Ireland and service in different spheres got me thinking; do we consider leaders less attractive, or less of a leader because they’ve had a body part hideously blown off by a bomb in the Middle East ? Also, how do we remember the past without being imprisoned by it ? That last question was stirred just a few days ago when I found myself torn between remembering an atrocity in the past and releasing forgiveness and bitterness towards the perpetrators. The day remembered was July 21, 1972–Bloody Friday. The IRA exploded 20 bombs across Belfast in 80 minutes killing nine people. Learning from the past, recovery, changes in perspective, and healing, is a process.

I read in the Wall Street Journal there is a push today to overhaul the VA which is struggling to serve military vets. According to a few veteran friends the transformation process is taking a long time. My prayer and meditation for the VA is informed by the bible verse below and my hope is that veterans everywhere would truly experience the love, affection and honor they deserve.

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10).

 

Cathedral thinking in a California redwood

Walking through a redwood forest along the coast of northern California or Oregon is an unforgettable experience. A great grace finds me. The same reverential awe stirs within whenever I step into a great medieval Cathedral in England or northern France. Spiritual values and history lessons are obtainable from both environments.

Before I took the nature trail in Humboldt Redwoods Park, Facebook shared memories from that day-four years ago. I was leading a Vacation Bible School in “South Fork”, Colorado.  Today I stand in  the place called home from time immemorial for the Sinkyone people. Sink-yo-kok is the Indian word for the “South Fork” of the Eel River. Father God was letting me know that these people and this place  matter to him.

I like how my mind slows down in a redwood grove. The majestic giants command respect and attention. I enjoy the silence and solitude all around. I breathe more deeply too. I can hear myself think. I sense my small stature when I’m surrounded by trees that are the tallest and one of the most massive tree species on Earth.

A great stillness and peace surround me. There’s a real power and grace in standing still for thousands of years. “Be still, and know that I am God” comes to mind. (Psalm 46:10). Tables and chairs are sculpted from fallen trees. This gets me thinking about learning how to sit still, at a desk and in a chair, at primary school. It was a learned skill for me. In a transient world where everything is more disposable, stillness allows us to be present for others. The forest is a good teacher of simple things.

My foot-steps become amplified, walking on the forest carpet through Gould Grove. Other sounds are reduced to the musical gurgle of water trickling amidst ferns and mossy rocks. I lift my eyes to the tops of the trees. They ‘re twice the height of the Statute of Liberty. It’s no wonder scientists took so long to discover the hanging gardens at the top of the redwoods. Climbing to the top is dangerous work.

On the river trail leading to my car I greet a giant fallen redwood from 912 A.D. Other date tags, on the innards of the tree provide a free history lesson :

1000 Vikings discover N America
1096 University of Oxford founded
1218 Genghis Khan conquers Persia
1620 Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock
1773 Boston Tea Party

Walking through a redwood forest is a wonderful way to increase spiritual awareness. Thank you for journeying with me. Here’s a Jewish man singing about Jesus and the spirit in the sky on rare footage from French TV !

My year of Jubilee

The Church is sometimes not easy to love. Ego, pride, control, competition can run rampant. My motivation for Church life and structure has taken a beaten this season. I still enjoy a good bible study. I explored a new Church this week-end Jesus Culture in Folsom High School. I needed fresh inspiration. It was my first “out of Bayside Church” experience. I was blown away by the  sermon, worship, welcome and sense of celebration in the community. Spiritual revival is happening in Northern California. It’s powerful, audacious and the primary reason I’m still here.

This year marks the 500 year anniversary of The Protestant Reformation.  Israel celebrates the 50 years after the 1967 six day war, an astonishing triumph of strategy and the reunification of Jerusalem. I was born on November 22, 1967, 50 years ago. Psalm 50 describes a God who;  “Shines forth and will not be silent, a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.” This psalm of Asaph also describes the destruction caused by wicked people, a wicked tongue and what happens to those who forget God.

My cultural adjustment back into California life has been slow and challenging. The isolation of suburban America, and lack of close bonds to thrive (I’ve lived here just under 3 years) has been a hard rain. This sense of social dislocation was not my norm growing up. After losing my mum in Ireland, I’m still journeying through a wilderness of grief.  The sense of loss that accompanies the mourning part of the journey has eased up a lot. I’m still angry at God. The Institutional Church in Ireland hurt my mum badly in her formative years. I’m struggling to let it go.

This morning I had coffee with an Irish American friend. We talked about the excavations of the mass grave of babies and children found at the Taum care home in Galway, Ireland. Excavations at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home have uncovered an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing “significant quantities of human remains”, the judge-led mother and baby homes commission said.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/03/mass-grave-of-babies-and-children-found-at-tuam-orphanage-in-ireland

The power structures are changing in Ireland; culturally and politically. There’s a new hope amongst the younger generation. I was encouraged by this article describing the religious revolution taking place there. A bold and audacious faith is emerging unencumbered by the cruelty, dysfunction and repressiveness of the institutional church ;

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/a-religious-revolution-is-taking-place-in-ireland-1.3092198

I was comforted when I heard that many Holocaust survivors did not want to talk to God either, due to their anger. I can understand that. I’ve heard too that those who were part of Ireland’s Lost Babies describe this as a “selective mute” experience. It was their way of handling the trauma and taking control. One friend told me she was mute for 2 years, after being sent to America from Ireland for adoption, at the tender age of 3. Her only crime was she was born out of wedlock. My mum was mute for a period after being released from captivity in the Sisters of Mercy convent in Cork.

In ancient times the Hope of Israel was that they served a God who was and is full of mercy. Intellectually I know that he prefers that I speak to him, and seek his presence,  He wants to hear my heart no matter what I’m feeling. Most of the psalms of the bible are lament psalms which is foreign to today’s nice, picture perfect Instagram culture. God can handle my pain or anger. Hebrew is more physical linguistically than Greek or English and it describes a God who is “truly slow to get his nose going in anger.”

The prophet Moses understood this better than anyone. In Exodus, the most important book in the bible, God tells Moses he is sending a messenger to accompany him and Israel into a holy war; to war and to possess the land and then give them peace. Moses was to strictly obey this angel, a messenger who walks between God and the people on earth. The messenger was their heavenly protection. But Moses knowing how stiff-necked the people of Israel were warned God about their stubbornness. He said if they sin the messenger won’t forgive them. He asked God to personally accompany them because he understood the mercy nature of his God. If and when Israel disobeyed Moses knew he could call on God’s presence, grace and mercy to save them. The angel wouldn’t cut it.

Reflection:
1. If I choose to be disobedient, selectively mute, angry, stiff-necked, stubborn, God can take it. He can also use it for good purposes.
2. I can ask for what I need just as Moses did.
3. The Protestant Reformation was a catalyst within Christianity but don’t romanticize the Protestant Church. It hasn’t rid itself of its hypocrisy and capacity for cruelty.

Student Corner:
1. Moses understood the nature of Israel.
2. Moses understood the nature of God and used it to help Israel get to the Promised Land.
3. Only the Sovereign Lord can forgive our sin.
4. The Sovereign Lord has too too much mercy.

Bible Verse: Psalm 73 was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s (German pastor martyred by the Nazi’s) favorite psalm.  The last verse of the psalm says ;

“Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”