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This is Banned Books Week. Have you read a book today?

Exercise your freedom to read by reading a banned book. Many are classics.

Reading books expands one’s mind.

Celebrate the freedom to read. Thank a librarian.

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The Office of Intellectual Freedom.

The Center For the Book in the Library of Congress.

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Hat tip: Sherry Chandler

…If we are called by God to holiness of life, and if holiness is beyond our natural power to achieve (which it certainly is) then it follows that God himself must give us the light, the strength, and the courage to fulfill the task he requires of us. He will certainly give us the grace we need.

Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness (New York: Image, 1963) p. 17

To tell the truth, I’m not sure, Jeanie.  I’m familiar with Bonhoeffer but not sure if I’ve read The Cost of Discipleship or not.  It sounds familiar.  History does, indeed, teach us many things. But if we just read history from the same point of view (usually old, white men), we fail to see all of history.  Have you ever read Before the Mayflower by Lerone Bennett?  When I first did, it read like fiction.  I thought he was making stuff up.  It was so foreign to what I’d been taught.  But the more I studied (I got a master’s degree at Wake Forest, mostly in African American studies) the more I knew it was truth.

Have you read Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community by Martin Luther King Jr.?  This one is as relevant today as it was in 1964 when King wrote it. In it, King explains that America must rid herself of racism poverty, and war (working on all of them simultaneously) in order to be the nation she can be—the nation that was “promised to all men” by the founding fathers but attained by only a few.

People love to claim King and quote his famous “I have a dream” speech at took place in 1963.  And, of course, they are sad he was assassinated in 1968.  But few know anything of the history that went on during those five years. They don’t know or have forgotten that he took a stand against the Viet Nam War (and war in general) and that he was preparing to lead the “Poor People’s Campaign” to Washington, or that he said there needs to be a “distribution of wealth” in the US.  Check it out.  History can teach us many things but only if we know that history.

The fight for voting rights was hard and, in many ways, is not over.  The election of Obama seemed like a step forward toward equality. But it is proving to be more of the same old junk.  After the inauguration ceremony was over, Republicans started in, making sure Obama could not govern in a way that would right the many wrongs. Obama is trying to be a continuation of King’s dream. The Republicans want us to think they are a continuation of the “Christian” founding fathers’ vision.  Which dream is Christian—the one that  offers equality or back to the “good ole days”?  In the “good ole days” blacks couldn’t eat at a lunch counter; is it Christian to want that?

Sadly, Christians have joined this fight by questioning Obama in every way (his citizenship, his middle name, is he a socialist?).  This has made even Democrats fail to follow our elected president.  The problems we face cannot be solved by reading Bonhoeffer.  They could be solved if Christians acted Christian—if they treated Obama like exactly what he is, our brother—the brother who has been elected to lead us to the promised land.  Others are so busy proof texting, they fail to see the big picture (that “not seeing the forest for the trees” thing).  The truth is so much more important than the mere facts.

Equality is the goal. It was always the goal of black people in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.  White people are still willing to settle for improvement. Of course, things have improved.  But when black people make 75 cents for every dollar white people make, we don’t have equality.

White people get tired of civil rights because they are on top. And poor white people, sadly, identify with rich white people rather than with poor blacks.  Racism is alive and well in the US, and Christians are as involved as they were when the KKK ruled.  Their involvement is subtle now and very, very dangerous. Christians no longer lead this nation; they follow Republican leaders who are using (and distorting) the Christian message.

Ah, but there is a church with the church. God will not fail. Calvary still matters.  The Spirit does, indeed, indwell.  And we shall overcome.  Only when we do, men alone will not make the decisions.  The world is a mess, but heaven is still to come.  Read some of King’s sermons, if you want real hope.

Here’s a poem from my new manuscript that gives an example of something we can learn from history.

Seriously Dangerous

The evening begins with kudzu—
summer memories submerged
in a deep southern swamp—
where spirited black boys, old dryers
bob beside alligators.  Late in hot night,
flashes of yesterday surface in pain
like the prick of a thorn, the mock
of a crown that continues its burn.

Low whispers, deep shadows remain
where trials by fire have left actual trails
after a tromp in slime & muck,
with tell-tale footprints from society’s
work boots.  Seriously dangerous,
the cross without a savior—
deniable today, but for masks, hoods—
cannot burn away filth & dross,

nor wash us clean, ’til truth bleeds.

Love,
Helen

How do we live in creation? Do we relate to it as a place full of “things” we can use for whatever need we want to fulfill and whatever goal we wish to accomplish? Or do we see creation first of all as a sacramental reality, a sacred space where God reveals to us the immense beauty of the Divine?

As long as we only use creation, we cannot recognise its sacredness because we are approaching it as if we are its owners. But when we relate to all that surrounds us as created by the same God who created us and as the place where God appears to us and calls us to worship and adoration, then we are able to recognise the sacred quality of all God’s handiwork.

emphasis mine

When God took on flesh in Jesus Christ, the uncreated and the created, the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the human became united. This unity meant that all that is mortal now points to the immortal, all that is finite now points to the infinite. In and through Jesus all creation has become like a splendid veil, through which the face of God is revealed to us.

This is called the sacramental quality of the created order. All that is is sacred because all that is speaks of God’s redeeming love. Seas and winds, mountains and trees, sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals and people have become sacred windows offering us glimpses of God.

emphasis mine

When Jesus says: “Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33), he shows us a direct way to eternal life. The words of Jesus have the power to transform our hearts and minds and lead us into the Kingdom of God. “The words I have spoken to you,” Jesus says, “are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).

Through meditation we can let the words of Jesus descend from our minds into our hearts and create there a dwelling place for the Spirit. Whatever we do and wherever we go, let us stay close to the words of Jesus. They are words of eternal life.

emphasis mine

By “prayer of the heart” we seek God himself present in the depths of our being and meet him there by invoking the name of Jesus in faith, wonder and love.

The prayer of the heart introduces us into deep interior silence so that we learn to experience its power. For that reason the prayer of the heart has to be always very simple, confined to the simplest of acts and often making use of no words and no thoughts at all.

Thomas Merton. Contemplative Prayer. (New York: Image Books, 1996). pp. 30-31, 42

Bill Diskin has written a Poetry Feature on me for the Independent Tribune. The print edition will come out tomorrow, but the online edition is already available.

He has also posted the entire interview on his blog Piedmont Poetry Project.

Born in Pittsburgh, Bill Diskin moved to North Carolina with his family in 2007. One of his  interests is celebrating the poetry and creative writing of local poets and writers. With that goal in mind, he is currently writing a monthly poetry column for the Independent Tribune in Cabarrus County. For that project, he encourage poets from in and around the Cabarrus County region to submit poems to be published in the newspaper. He also encourage poets from the Piedmont region of North Carolina to share their work as part of the Piedmont Poetry Project.

Many thanks to Bill Diskin and the Independent Tribune.

Everything that comes from God asks for an open and faithful heart. We cannot live with hope and joy in the end-time unless we are living in a state of preparedness. We have to be careful because, as the Apostle Peter says: “Your enemy the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8). Therefore Jesus says: “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life. … Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to hold your ground before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36). That’s what living in the Spirit of Jesus calls us to.

emphasis mine

I have a poem, “In This Season,”  in the fall issue of The Smoking Poet.  Many thanks to the editors.

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