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Posts Tagged ‘persecution’


Esther 7: The Persecutor

Giovanni Andrea Sirani: Esther Before Ahasuerus

Saturday, February 17, 2018 

Yesterday we assessed the narcissism we might discover in ourselves and how unilateral listening governs our world circumstances. Today we reflect on how Esther and Mordecai operate in their world – and what we might learn from them.

It is clear that Haman is consumed by envy of Mordecai and while we cannot analyze this character from a Biblical story, we can certainly learn from his actions. It is also clear that Esther – as a woman but especially as a Jewish woman in a non-Jewish court – fears for her life, and the life of her nation. The kingdom of Xerxes is an ancient one in which individual rights are denied to most. We might believe that we as a species have evolved and it is true that in general, we have. However, many peoples in our modern society have no benefit of personal rights. When this happens, we might speculate, it is often the result of someone, or some group, behaving in a narcissistic manner. Navigating these troubling conditions is difficult at best. What does the story of Esther have to tell us?

Queen Esther answered, “If it please Your Majesty to grant my humble request, my wish is that I may live and that my people may live”.

Humility is usually an ineffective tool against brutality; it seems to encourage even more violence. Yet, here we see that despite her humble behavior and words, Esther acts in order to save a people.

“If you keep quiet at a time like this, help will come from heaven to the Jews, and they will be saved, but you will die and your father’s family will come to an end. Yet who knows—maybe it was for a time like this that you were made queen!” (Esther 4:14)

On Ash Wednesday when we explored Chapter 4, we considered Martin Neimöller’s advice that if we do not speak against evil and injustice, we guarantee not our safety, but our sure demise. Despite their fear, Esther and Mordecai form a solidarity of two as they begin a quiet, patient assertion of justice and truth.

An article from Psychology Today gives us guidelines to manage the effects of narcissism. These experts advise that we evaluate both our surroundings and the narcissist to look for context, that we maintain a firm sense of purpose along with a sense of humor, and that we remain realistic about how much we can accomplish when working with the self-centered. If we are in dangerous surroundings, controlled by a persecutor as Esther and Mordecai are, we begin by turning to God and finding others with whom to form solidarity. We move forward with patience, reliance on the Creator, persisting in hope, and acting in mercy.

Tomorrow, fighting back.

When we read varying translations of this story by using the scripture link and the drop-down menus, we find an opportunity to transform a world beset by narcissism.

For more advice, read the August 14, 2014 post “Eight Ways to Handle a Narcissist”. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201408/8-ways-handle-narcissist

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Hubble Space Telescope: The Pillars of Creation

Creation: And it was Good

The Sixth Day of Christmas, December 30, 2017

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six geese a-laying.  

Light and dark, heaven and earth, plants of many kinds, stars and heavenly bodies, creatures that live in the water and on land, humanity. With each of the six days of creation, God sees that it was good.

Arguments continue between those who believe in a literal progression and those who turn to science for a deeper understanding of our origins. No matter our perspective, the stories in the opening of Genesis bring us an opportunity for deeper intimacy with God.

And it was good. When we understand that God has created all that surrounds us, we often leap to the conclusion that this goodness must continue unchallenged and unchanging. We struggle to understand why natural and man-made catastrophes harm and even destroy the innocent. How does God allow such suffering to take place? How do we handle the stress that comes with persecution both perceived and real? The Apostle Paul writes his first letter to the people of Thessalonica as they struggle to maintain the community they established when Paul was with them.

And it was good. Paul’s letter is so brief, and so inspiring that it is easily read with commentary. Today, particularly if we struggle with the de-creation of a community we hold dear, we find a path forward through chaos with Paul’s verses. They give us an antidote for the suffering we feel when we witness the destruction of our work or the severance of ties that once sustained us. When studying Paul’s words, we remember that, despite the circumstances surrounding us, God always turns harm to good, even when it is difficult to perceive this goodness. Destruction of someone or something we have loved brings us to our knees and asks us to pass through the narrow gate of transformation when we rely on God’s promise that all things are possible. The ruination of some idea or some structure that produces goodness brings us into deeper intimacy with our creator when we realize that goodness supersedes harm always.

Charles (Charlie) Pellerin: NASA’s former director of astrophysics

And it was good. Today we ponder the loving act of creation, our willingness to believe God’s promise of love, and the belief that God will always lead us out of the darkness of de-creation.

And it was good.

Read about recovery from disaster: “What went wrong with the Hubble Space Telescope (and what managers can learn from it) NASA’s former director of astrophysics, Charlie Pellerin, has learned a thing about leadership and project failure” at https://www.cio.com.au/article/420036/what_went_wrong_hubble_space_telescope_what_managers_can_learn_from_it_/

For more information on the M16 Eagle Nebula pictured above, click on the image or visit the NASA site at: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-goes-high-definition-to-revisit-iconic-pillars-of-creation

For notes and commentary on 1 Thessalonians, visit: http://biblehub.com/1_thessalonians/

To learn about connections between Paul’s letter and the stress produced by persecution, visit: https://bible.org/seriespage/3-stress-persecution-1-thessalonians-213-20

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Psalm 80: Prayer for a Persecuted People

Friday, March 24, 2017

Restore us, O LORD of hosts; let your face shine upon us, and we will be saved.

Persecution often follows us when we answer God’s call to act as God’s disciples, when we carry truth to people who do not want to see it. When we witness to an injustice, we want to rely on God’s wisdom, strengthen our resolve with Scripture – a manifestation of Christ among us, and rest in prayer with the Spirit.

Several years ago when I struggled with a particularly challenging set of circumstances, I left the student dining hall to go to my classroom where I might find some quiet. I had to prepare a report I knew would displease our leaders in that it spoke to a truth they did not want to hear. In the hush of that noontime, I flipped open the Bible that always lies near my desk and the pages fell open to Psalm 80, a prayer for those living through persecution. Had I come across an immediate answer to my prayer?

The opening lines call for help and restoration, and are followed by an image of the vine brought out of Egypt, an allegory familiar to the prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea and Micah. Jesus uses this symbolic tale to describe his relationship with us: he is the vine, we are the branches (John 15:1-17). He sustains and nourishes; we are the fruit of Christ’s labor and love in us.

Anyone familiar with vineyard work knows that each winter the vines are cut back drastically in order that the plant become stronger and the fruit more dense and fine. Father Richard Veras writes that our hearts are encrusted and that Jesus must break through that crust in order to soften our hearts. “This crust is a barrier between him and the heart, and he will never respect or politely tolerate any such barriers”. Veras uses the examples of the Samaritan Woman at the well and Pontius Pilate to make his point. “The Samaritan woman’s barrier was doubt that true love and friendship could exist. Pilate’s barrier was power and position”. Jesus prunes their hearts and gives them the opportunity to do what is right. They have the option to choose.

And so do we. Each day. In every encounter with each person we encounter. DO we withdraw to hide within a structure of deceit and authority, or do we call for help and pruning? DO we turn away from the Creator, Savior, and Keeper, or do we ask for redemption?

Restore us, O LORD of hosts; let your face shine upon us, and we will be saved.

If we spend time with this psalm today, we might find our own prayer for the times when we are persecuted in Christ’s name.

Adapted from a reflection written on March 13, 2007.

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 3.13 (2007). Print.  

 

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Matthew 5:10-11: The Inverted Kingdom – Part IV

Saturday, January 14, 2017matthew-5-11

Jesus proposes that we set aside our desire for honor and fame. Today we consider the qualities of steadfastness and fidelity that Jesus tells us are essential if we want to follow his Way.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (NSRV)

This vision of the world sees persecution for Jesus’ sake as a sign of our fidelity.

Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. (GNT)

This picture of the world sees mockery and hatred against us as a consequence of our persistence in adhering to the Law of Love.

Those who are treated badly for doing good are happy. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them. People will say bad things about you and hurt you. They will lie and say all kinds of evil things about you because you follow me. But when they do these things to you, you are happy. (ICB)

This view of the world sees suffering for Christ as an antidote to animosity and evil.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. (MSG)

This picture of the world sees rejection for God’s sake as the deepest kind of blessing.

The Gospels show us how Jesus hopes to prepare each of us to follow him. They show us that God will persist in transforming evil with that goodness. They show us that the Spirit abides in loving understanding that the Way of Love is difficult but unconditionally rewarding.

How do we persist in our hope to put aside honor for the authentic recognition that each of us is loved beyond measure? How willing are we to ignore the mockery, persecution, exclusion and hatred of others . . . and greet all with the open arms of Christ’s love?

When we compare varying versions of these verses, we better understand that persecution becomes blessing when we agree to follow Christ.

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Micah 4: Restoration of the People

Friday, June 17, 2016blindspot

Here again is the image of the shepherd brought to us by the prophet Micah. God gathers his scattered people and guides them to safety. Just as Yahweh sent Moses to shepherd the people from Egypt, through the desert, and eventually to the Promised Land, so too, does Jesus arrive in Bethlehem to shepherd us to our own promise. And this is what Micah predicts. He tells of the one who comes to rebuke nations yet to teach us his ways and paths. Micah warns of the coming persecution, but from that persecution and suffering come redemption and restoration. There will be universal peace.

These are comforting words. These are words we need to hear.

Adapted from a reflection written on April 1, 2007.

Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald have written BLINDSPOT: HIDDEN BIASES OF GOOD PEOPLE. As we consider how we follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, we might listen to an On Being interview with Banaji at: http://www.onbeing.org/program/mahzarin-banaji-the-mind-is-a-difference-seeking-machine/8719 

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

restoration_449x3181[1]Psalm 69:4-5

Extremes

I am weary with crying out; my throat is parched.  My eyes have failed, looking for my God.  More numerous than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause.  Too many for my strength are my treacherous enemies.  Must I now restore what I did not steal?

When life’s extremes weigh us down and wear us out there is only one place to go for restoration.  When too many lies evil and too much denial tax us beyond our reserves there is only one path to take for transformation.  When all roads close, when too much is asked of us there is only one person who understands our experience of extremes.

God says: I never intend for you to go beyond your limits; pushing you too far is a sure sentence of death.  Your voice has disappeared from too much crying, your eyes are weary from so much looking.  You are outnumbered and overdrawn.  You are beyond weary; you are spent.  When your body fails and your mental powers ebb, place your heart in my hands.  I will not let you vanish into dust.  I will champion you against your foes.  I will restore even that which has been taken from you.

Also visit the Noontime reflection for October 14, 2013 at: https://thenoontimes.com/2013/10/14/without-cause/

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Wednesday. August 21, 2013

bigstock-Worship-to-God-Element-of-des-18657185-1[1]John 16:2-4

Knowing God

They will expel you from the synagogues; in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.  They will do this because they do not know either the Father or me.  I have told you this so that when the hour comes you may remember that I told you.   

Jesus explains the cost of discipleship to his followers; he warns that the price for their loyalty to him is high.  But with this risk also comes a security that no amount of money can purchase.  No walls, no alarm system, no weapons can guarantee.  He tells the faithful that although their constancy in following God may bring them rejection and pain . . . it also brings the peace the world seeks.

God says: So many of you ask what I am thinking and doing.  You only have to look at the actions of my Word to you, the Christ, to know.  You want to know how to find me.  I am with you even now.  You seek deep knowledge and understanding of my ways.  It is for this knowing that I prepare you.  It is for this intense relationship that I teach you.  If you want to fully see me and recognize my Way, watch my son and do as he does.  You must expect denunciation, mistreatment and even death because of me.  Those who beat you and deny your ways may believe that they reverence me by killing you.  They believe this because they do not rightly know me as you do. So do not be afraid.  When you know and understand my son you know and understand me.  Remember all that I have shown you. 

When we know God we also know that any persecution we suffer in God’s name is balanced by immeasurable joy.  When we follow God’s Way we live in a security that is unmatched by any human fortress.  When we live in God’s Word we come to know the peace that is promised for eternity.  This is the knowing of God that will carry us when the hour comes.

For an insightful reflection on the difference between familiarity and intimacy in knowing God, click on the image above or go to: http://www.lawrencewilson.com/knowing-god-the-difference-between-familiarity-and-intimacy/

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Saturday, May 5, 2012 – Acts, Chapter 26: 24 and 25 – Reactions to Paul’s Speech

Richard Serrin: Paul in Chains

Paul presents a defense to King Agrippa of his work with The Way in Chapter 26 of Acts and these two verses give a succinct report of the reaction to his words. He is “speaking words of truth and reason” yet people think he is “mad.” You may want to read further into Acts to see how the courtroom scene continues to play out.

Paul’s experience tells us this: Having people believe that we are crazy is often the cost of discipleship.

We hear God’s word, we convert ourselves, we begin to perform acts of truth and mercy and reason, we do God’s work, we no longer fit the mold we were in, we move out and into a strange and liminal newness . . . and others notice this. They do not like the change of dynamic. They were comfortable with “the way things were.” They want the old “games” to continue. Our newness is a challenge to the “oldness.” We are new wine in old wineskins . . . and the old skins know that they will break. So, much like Paul before the Pharisees and King Agrippa, we will encounter derision.

In each of the Gospels we hear the story of the crippled man whom Jesus cures and in each version of this story (Matthew 9:6, Mark 2:11, Luke 5:24, John 5:8) Jesus tells the man to take up his mat and walk.  In the Synoptic Gospels all are amazed; in John’s story Jesus causes a stir because he heals this man on the Sabbath – a day when no work is permitted . . . not even the carrying of a mat.  We notice that Jesus supersedes this old Sabbath law and heals those who ask for his help regardless of the day or time.  In Mark’s Gospel the man’s companions lower him through the roof of a house and challenge even the rules of physics by bringing their friend into the very space where Jesus stands.  We wonder if we are persistent enough to act in this way for our own friends. 

We notice something else about these stories.  Jesus does not tell the man he heals to walk away from the mat that has served as his home for so long, nor does he say that the mat is to be hidden in any way; rather, Jesus says: Go and take your mat with you.  The mat becomes a symbol of what has been endured and overcome through the healing generosity of Christ.  We can choose to see our own mat as a burden and curse . . . or we can choose to see it as a symbol of God’s love for us and his presence in our lives.   The manner in which Paul defends himself and his story before Agrippa reminds us of the mat which he has taken up in Christ’s name – his work with and for God. 

A few days ago I was asking what I should do with the mat I now carry around which serves as an outward sign of my work with and for God. Paul gives me an answer.  He does not fear the derision or persecution that may follow.  And he regards his “mat” with honor rather than embarrassment.   Paul is not afraid to be amazed by and though and for Christ.  He moves forward, still with the mat; and in quiet, persistent confidence in God and God’s plan, he does not back down, he does not step away. He stands and witnesses.  

And so must we step forward.  So must we witness in truth.  So must we act . . . for who can say what effect our words and actions will have on ourselves and others? Perhaps, like Paul, we will hear the words he heard from the Agrippa before whom we stand to testify, “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian.”

For a blog on the Cost of Discipleship with poetry and reflections, click on the image above or go to: http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2012/02/unquenchable-desire.html

First written on March 22, 2007 and re-written today as a Favorite.

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