Caged Bird

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

This poem, by Maya Angelou is a wonderful parable about privledge and oppression. It was no doubt drawn from Angelou’s experience in the segregated South, but it’s universal message speaks for all oppressed peoples everywhere. It is also a powerful reminder to those of us who fly freely that the sky is not our own. In fact, Christ promised that it was the poor who would receive the Kingdom of heaven and the persecuted that would be called children of God. It was the slaves, not the Pharaoh, that God demonstrated His power to in the wilderness. To be on the side of God is to sing for the caged bird.

 Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

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“Is Anybody Up There?”

A man was hiking on a large mountain when suddenly he looses his footing, trips, and goes stumbling off the side of a steep cliff. He has the presence of mind to reach out and grab a branch half way down. Clutching his branch, he looks down at the jagged rocks below and then at the impossibly steep cliff above. Not knowing what else to do, he looks up at the sky and cries with all his might’ “Is anybody up there?”

Suddenly some clouds parted, revealing a bright shaft of light and a deep soothing voice sounded from heaven, sayin, “It is I, God! You must have faith my child. Let go of the branch and I will catch you.”

The man thinks for a second, looks up at the sky, and cries, “Is there a body else up there?”

Faith is casting your lot entirely with God, no matter what. There is no plan B. The life of faith is letting go when it is not clear that we will be caught. If we knew how everything would work out, it would take no faith. The saying may seem trite but it’s also true: there comes a time in which we must let go and let God.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Ant and the Dove

One day the ant was thirsty and travelled to a nearby stream to drink some water. The current of the stream was so strong that it pulled him in and soon he had been whisked along toward certain peril. Several yards ahead, on a branch, overlooking the stream, sat the dove. Noticing the distressed ant coming his way, the dove kindly dropped a leaf. So well timed was the leaf that the ant was able to climb on it and ride to safety. Some minutes later, a hunter was silently creeping up on the dove from some distance away. The ant saw the hunter with his bow drawn to strike the bird that had just rescued him and he bit the hunter on his toe so hard that he let out a yelp. The startled bird then took wing.

How we care for the least among us is a central concern for Christians. This parable, pulled from Aesop’s fables is a reminder that it is always good to help those that you might think could never pay you back. Like the dove, we are unable to see what benefit may come from our small acts of mercy, but that is all the more reason to do them. Whoever is an ant to you, whoever is weak and seemingly unable to repay your kindness, that is precisely who Jesus is talking about when he says, “Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

“Give it everything you’ve got!”

imageA father tells his 12 year old to go into the back yard and a remove a tree stump. The boy, eager to show his dad how he can master this manly task, runs out and begins pushing on the stump with all his might. After about twenty minutes of huffing and puffing, the stump hasn’t budged.

The boy turns to realize his dad has been outside watching him. Embarrassed, he tells him, “I’m sorry Dad, I can’t do it.”

His Dad just smiles and says, “Son, give it everything you’ve got!”

Now the boy, more determined than ever, kicks, pulls, takes running starts, and pushes and pushes and pushes until his arms are limp. Collapsing with exhaustion, the boy tells his father, between heavy breaths, “I can’t do it.”

His father looks at him and says, “Give it everything you’ve got!”

The boy picks himself up and decides to give it one last try but after 30 more minutes of grueling, the stump is no more loose then when he started. Now he is entirely spent. He sits on the stump and looks up at his dad. ” I’m sorry Dad. I gave it everything. I really did. It just wasn’t enough.”

The father looks at the son, smiles and says, “You didn’t give it everything you have, son. Because you never once asked me for help.”

This is one my dad likes to tell. I have no idea where he got it so, if you know, tell me. Too often in life, we let our capabilities be defined by our own strengths and weaknesses. This parable reminds us of the untapped resources we have in the people around us and, most importantly, in our Heavenly Father. Ask any wise old saint and they will tell you: the times they struggled most in life were the times they refused God’s help. As the old hymn says:
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!”

Whoever has ears to hear, Let them hear!

“I Control Your Fate”

image

This humorous Calvin and Hobbes strip simply illustrates a profound truth: we don’t have as much power as we think we do. We are at the mercy of circumstances beyond our control. A false sense of security and control are one of the greatest hindrances between modern people and faith in God. Humility before the awesomeness of creation and it’s creator gives us the proper perspective of our place in relation to things. As the Psalmist declares: “The earth is The Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all who live in it.” Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Wolf of Gubbio

imageWhile St. Francis of Assisi was staying with his fellow brothers in a small town called Gubbio, a wolf began attacking animals outside of the town gate. The men of the city tried to put the wolf down but the more they attacked him, the more ferocious he became. Within weeks, he had begun outright attacking humans. By the end of the month, the city was under siege. No one was allowed to leave town for fear the wolf would attack and kill them.

One evening, after his prayers, Francis went out to meet the wolf, against the townspeople’s wishes. When the wolf leapt at him, Francis made the sign of the cross and the wolf suddenly became docile. Francis spent a great deal of time preaching to the wolf, explaining to him the gospel and what it meant to be a Christian. Finally, he asked the wolf if he would like to be a Christian and the wolf put his paw in Francis’ hand.

Francis entered the city, as the wolf trotted peacefully behind. Then he announced to the crowd, “People of Gubbio, this wolf has received pardon for his sins from our Lord and now seeks our pardon as well. It is his hunger that drives him to attack you, so I beg of you to take care of him and love him as your brother in Christ.”

From that day forward, the wolf was a friend to all in Gubbio. He stood watch at the gate to protect his brothers who kept him happy and fed.

In this wonderful legend, Francis sees the good in a creature most see to be an unlovable beast and actively works to bring about peace through redemption. Sometimes violence is the simplest answer to a problem but the simplest answer is not always the best answer. It is not always possible to bring about peace but Christ does teach that peace should be our first inclination and he does promise that those who make peace will be blessed on the Kingdom of God.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The History Teacher

Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

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This great poem by Billy Collins reminds of the essential truth that we must bear witness to the darkness of the past if we are to strive toward a brighter future. To shelter children from the more brutal aspects of our history is to deny them their lessons. God repeatedly in scripture instructs us to teach His laws to our children. Education is about more than the mere recitation of facts. It is also about moral development. Perhaps the 34th Psalm puts it best: “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Hermit and the Samurai

imageTheir lived on a distant mountain an old hermit who spent day and night meditating. He was famous for his deep insight and wisdom. It was said that he would answer any question for a truly honorable traveler seeking spiritual guidance. One day, a noble Samurai approached him as he was in a state of deep contemplation. The Samurai had travelled for weeks, making the arduous trek up the top of the mountain to seek the hermit’s wisdom.

Not looking up at him, the hermit asked, “What is your question?”

The Samurai replied, “I have come, O wise one, to ask you the difference between heaven and hell.”

The hermit, still not looking up at the Samurai, began to berate him, saying, “Why should I answer your idiotic questions, you dishonorable pig? You come to me with hands stained with the blood of the innocent and expect to attain wisdom? Away from me, you foolish butcher!”

Overcome with rage, the Samurai lifted his sword to strike the old hermit dead!

Suddenly, looking up at the Samurai with a serene gaze, the hermit told him, “That is Hell.”

Realizing what had happened the Samurai dropped his sword, sank to his knees, and, through his tears, begged the hermit’s forgiveness.

“This”, whispered the Hermit, “is Heaven.”

The difference between Heaven and Hell is found in the human heart. In the Sermon on the amount, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:22-23) Jesus makes it clear that when we let our anger rule us, we are playing with fire!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Check out this parable’s original source here.

 

A King’s Pardon

frederickopenerpg1Once Frederick the Great of Prussia was touring one of his country’s largest prison facilities. Word  had quickly spread among the prisoners that the king was in the building and their excitement grew at the prospect of receiving a king’s pardon. As King Frederick passed each of the cells the prisoner would call out to him pleading their case. They yelled things like, “I’m innocent!”, “I was framed”, or “Give me justice!”.

Occasionally he would stop and listen to a prisoner’s account of how he had landed in the prison despite his innocence of the crime he’d been charged with and then, unmoved, continue on. Finally, King Frederick passed one particular cell and it was completely silent. His curiosity was aroused. In the back of the cell, in a dark shadow, a man sat on a bench looking down at the floor. The king called out to him, “Sir, aren’t you going to plead your case to me as well?”

The man, paused for a moment, looked up at him, and said, “No, your highness, I’m guilty of everything they said I did. I’m right where I belong.”

King Frederick immediately turned to the guards and cried, “Free this guilty man at once, before he corrupts all the innocents!”

I’m not sure how historically grounded this anecdote is but it serves as a powerful parable about the freeing power of confession. We live in an age that teaches that guilt is unhealthy and that we need to learn to be OK with ourselves. The problem is that we cannot find true freedom if we are only in the business of guilt management. If we delude ourselves into thinking we are merely the product of our social environment or forced into our actions by a series of incidents beyond our control, we never truly come face to face with our true sinfulness and never experience the redemption and liberation that comes from God’s grace. The scripture says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive them, but until we look the king in the eye and tell him we’re guilty as charged, we cannot receive His pardon. St. Augustine said it best: “Assume nothing; one thief was saved. Presume nothing; one thief was damned.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…