The Wandering Desert Monk

The Wandering Desert Monk

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Some thoughts on the state of the Church in America


The Christianity of present-day American evangelicalism has none of the rugged reality of the New Testament about it. There is nothing about it that needs the death of Jesus Christ about it. All that is required is a loud worship band, a coffee bar serving lattes and a service that last less than 59 minutes. This type of experience is not supernatural nor miraculous. It does not cost the sufferings of God, nor it stained with “the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11). It is not marked or sealed by the Holy Spirit as being genuine, and it has no visual sign that causes people to exclaim with awe and wonder, “This is the work of God!” Yet the New Testament is about the work of God and nothing else.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent - A time to renew our faith











Faith alone can give us the light to see that God's will is to be found in our everyday life. Without this light, we cannot see to make the right decisions. Without this certitude we cannot have supernatural confidence and peace.

To keep ourselves spiritually alive we must constantly renew our faith.

Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude. (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux): 38

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Today is the First Sunday of Advent


Today marks the beginning of the church calendar called Advent.

The point of this season is to prepare oneself for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

Some people make Advent a family experience by having a Advent Calendar where someone opens a window and uncovers something which represents the coming of the Christ child.

Here is some history about Advent calendars from Wikipedia:

The origins of the Advent calendar come from German Lutherans who, at least as early as the beginning of the 19th century, would count down the 24 days of Advent physically. Often this meant simply drawing a chalk line on the door each day, beginning on December 1. Some families had more elaborate means of marking the days, such as lighting a new candle (perhaps the genesis of today's Advent wreath) or hanging a little religious picture on the wall each day.

The 24 candles might also be placed on a structure, which was known as an "Advent clock". In December, 1839, the first verifiable public Advent wreath was hung in the prayer hall of the Rauhes Haus (relief house) in Hamburg, although it had been a family practice in parts of German-speaking Europe since the 17th century.

The first known Advent calendar was handmade in 1851. According to the Austrian (N÷) Landesmuseum, the first printed Advent calendar was produced in Hamburg in 1902 or 1903. Other authorities state that a Swabian parishioner, Gerhard Lang, was responsible for the first printed calendar, in 1908.

Lang was certainly the progenitor of today's calendar. He was a printer in the firm Reichhold & Lang of Munich who, in 1908, made 24 little colored pictures that could be affixed to a piece of cardboard. Several years later, he introduced a calendar with 24 little doors. He created and marketed at least 30 designs before his firm went out of business in the 1930s. In this same time period, Sankt Johannis Printing Company started producing religious Advent calendars, with Bible verses instead of pictures behind the doors.

The practice disappeared during World War II, apparently to save paper. After the war, Richard Sellmer of Stuttgart resurrected the commercial Advent calendar and is responsible for its widespread popularity. His company, Richard Sellmer Verlag, today maintains a stock of over 1,000,000 calendars worldwide. His company has now been established as one of the biggest sellers of advent produce. Other companies such as Cadbury's who specialise in the making of calendars have similar stocks, if not higher.

When our children were smaller we ocassionally used an Advent Calendar during Advent.

Do you have an Advent Calendar or have you used one?

Ron

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Advent"

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent in the Calendar of the church. Advent is the four weeks prior to Christmas or The Feast of the Christ Child where Christians prepare for the coming of the Christ.

Here is a poem by Thomas Merton:

Advent

Charm with your stainlessness these winter
  nights,
Skies, and be perfect! Fly vivider in the fiery dark,
  you quiet meteors,
And disappear.
You moon, be slow to go down,
This is your full!

The four white roads make off in silence
Towards the four parts of the starry universe.
Time falls like manna at the corners of the wintry
   earth.
We have become more humble than the rocks,
More wakeful than the patient hills.

Charm with your stainlessness these nights in
   Advent,
holy spheres,
While minds, as meek as beasts,
Stay close at home in the sweet hay;
And intellects are quieter than the flocks that feed
   by starlight.

Oh pour your darkness and your brightness over
   all our
solemn valleys,
You skies: and travel like the gentle Virgin,
Toward the planets' stately setting,

Oh white full moon as quiet as Bethlehem!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where is your exemption, America?

Where is your exemption, O America,
You claim from the judgment of the Almighty?
God did not let his children, Israel
Escape her judgment of her idolatry.

With what special favor do you seek
Some exception from the Laws of the Divine?
No “City on a Hill’ is absolved
By mere assertion from its holy obligation.

Your storages overflow with useless goods;
The hungry stand in lines at your food banks.
You pray, “God bless America”
While you curse those who are without.

Your bunkers creak at the overflow
Of missiles, bombs and riflery.
Yet shelves beg for a can of soup
While you sit in deluded safety.

Where is your exemption, O America?
If the Almighty judges the chosen;
Justice demands judgment on the land
of the free and the home of the brave.

© 2011 Ronald Friesen

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A humble attempt to Complete the Dark Night of the Soul

St. John of the Cross wrote a famous poem and commentary on the poem called The Dark Night of the Soul. I have copied St. John's poem below and then I have written my "completion" of the poem in another poem. I will never be St. John so this is not an "improvement" but rather a poetic reflection on life after the experience of the dark night.


Stanzas Of The Soul


1. One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.


2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.


3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.


4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.


5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.


6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.


7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.


8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

Here is my attempt to continue the story:


The Dark Night Completed

O, the bliss of the those lilies
amongst whom my cares rest.
Trumpets of white and yellow
sanctuary the heart’s burden
in tenderness and refuge..

I sought this field of care
with abandon and forgetfulness
asearch for the Beloved
who alone could satisfy my soul
pained in hungering desire.

Now filled I take the love
the Beloved has bestowed
to a world covering its soul pain
in accumulated goods hiding
its true diagnosis.

O, how my heart desires
To bury my face in the breast
of holy love, yet
true love is only known
in generosity.

Dandelion and thistle around me
testimonies of false promises
of beauty and refuge..
Only those who rest in lilies
know Beauty and Protection.

Light and hope unfold in the leaving
To touch those whose hearts,
Dark and concealed,
Cry out for the Beloved
-       Ah, the sheer grace! –

Ronald Friesen © 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Self-transcendence












Man does not have to transcend himself in the sense of pulling himself up by his own bootstraps. He has, rather, to respond to the mysterious grace of a Spirit which is at once infinitely greater than his own spirit and yet which, at the same time, offers itself as the total plentitude of all Gifts, to be in all reality his "own Spirit."

Merton. Thomas, Faith and Violence (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press: 1968) 117-118

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why the poor and middle class might be angry

I am thinking about why the poor and most of the middle class have a right to be angry.

Both groups see 4.2% of their earnings taken away each month as a payroll deduction and put into Social Security (SS). Now there is a limit at which this amount is capped. If you earn more than $106,800 (in 2011), you will see a maximum $4,485.60 deducted for the year. If you make $212,000 your tax ratio is 1:2 compared to the person making the average median income of $50,035 of a Glendale, AZ household.

There is a common argument going around the blogsphere that says, "The poor pay no taxes." What they really mean is the poor don't pay any income taxes. The poor pay lots of other kinds of taxes, e.g. gasoline, electricity, heating oil, property, food, etc. Those making more then $106,000 pay those taxes as well.

There is a problem in the calculation which is why the poor actually pay more than the rich in taxes: the rich are spreading their tax base over a larger portion of their income. Here is the US Department of Agriculture chart on how much Americans spend on food eaten at home: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/usdafoodcost-home.htm. On the Thrifty plan the average family of four spends $544.50 a month while on the Liberal plan the family of four spends $1,056.30. In Glendale, Arizona, the food tax rate is 1.8%. The family living on the Thrifty plan would pay $9.50 in taxes while the family on the Liberal plan would pay about twice that amount. While the US 2011 poverty level for a  family of four is $22,350; the median household income for 2009 in Glendale, AZ was $50,035. (Median means that there are an equal number of people living below $50,035 as above $50,035.) For argument sake, let's use the median income and the SS cut off family and the Thrifty food plan. Each family pays $114 a year on food taxes. The ratio of taxes paid between the median income family and the SS cut off family is more than 2:1.

One could go through the rest of the household expenses and tax rates and soon discover the same kind of ratios.

There is a I use the SS example above because US citizens have been told that they are paying in that hard-earned 4.2% because it will be there for them when they retire. Here is George H.W. Bush's statement: "We rescued the Social Security system eight years ago on a bipartisan basis. When we did, we made a promise to every American who receives Social Security benefits, to those who support the system today, and to those who will rely on it when they retire. We have worked together to assure that today's benefits are protected and that the system will be strong enough to continue providing benefits to future retirees. I intend to assure that we keep our promise." (http://www.ssa.gov/history/bushstmts.html) This kind of statement has been made over and over again by the leadership of the United States.

Here is the true state of the Social Security Trust fund:

"Social Security expenditures exceeded the program’s non-interest income in 2010 for the first time since 1983. The $49 billion deficit last year (excluding interest income) and $46 billion projected deficit in 2011 are in large part due to the weakened economy and to downward income adjustments that correct for excess payroll tax revenue credited to the trust funds in earlier years. This deficit is expected to shrink to about $20 billion for years 2012-2014 as the economy strengthens. After 2014, cash deficits are expected to grow rapidly as the number of beneficiaries continues to grow at a substantially faster rate than the number of covered workers. Through 2022, the annual cash deficits will be made up by redeeming trust fund assets from the General Fund of the Treasury. Because these redemptions will be less than interest earnings, trust fund balances will continue to grow. After 2022, trust fund assets will be redeemed in amounts that exceed interest earnings until trust fund reserves are exhausted in 2036, one year earlier than was projected last year. Thereafter, tax income would be sufficient to pay only about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through 2085." (http://www.ssa.gov/oact/trsum/index.html)

There are some wondering why the poor and middle class are angry.

Sources:
http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/240/~/2011-social-security-tax-rate-and-maximum-taxable-earnings
http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/11fedreg.shtml