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The Healing Sanctuary

March 8, 2013
A Family finds a Home in the Homeless …
Two nights ago they stayed in [name] apartment (7 extra people), and last night, they stayed in the father’s truck overnight – all 7 of them. 3 of the children are students at the [name] Elementary School; the other 2 are not yet of school age. [name] Center has agreed to help them out with a room voucher for a week at the [name] Inn in [name]. But because of the [name] County fire laws, they cannot allow 7 people in one room there, and [name] Center cannot afford to give them 2 rooms. We will fund the second room for them from the church funds; we can afford to do this for one week and it is always the Lord’s will for us to help others in need. We are also looking for ways to help the man find a job; he is a young man without a high school diploma, but he is willing to work at most anything for his family.  They are presently OK concerning food, since they have food stamps and WIC. But the cold weather shelters in [name] are full and cannot accommodate 7 more people. So, we will help. I know you will all dig deep into your pockets to help replenish the church funds and gather extra for them in their need.
Since almsgiving is one of the 3 pillars of Great Lent and the one of the three that we are usually most unwilling to do, God has sent us this opportunity early. The big plastic water jar will now be placed in a conspicuous place for you to drop your cash into. But understand what I am asking for in this email: I am asking for each of us to come up with a check to the church (Entrance Mission) over and above our tithe – whatever is possible for us – in order to help this poor family. We should also purchase some gift cards from Sheetz and/or WalMart to give as well. Please purchase what you can in 10 or 15 dollar amounts, give them to me, and I will pass them over to the father discretely. The thought of an entire family with 5 children spending the night in a truck during a snow storm is more than any of us can bear. Lord have mercy!
This is a striking example of a limited mission parish doing what it can to help those in need (I substituted [name] for privacy purposes). The priest of this parish is exemplar. There are not too many like him in Religion, and this is just a small example of what his parish does as part of its mission. What I find significant in this is the “receive it as it comes” act within the calling of this mission, for too often parishes present themselves as mission parishes but ignore those moments presented – those opportunities to demonstrate the truth on the Word of God. I suspect that part of the reason the priest and his wife are highly sensitive to the needs of others in this way is because of something that happened to them not too long ago. [Name], the Orthodox priest , knows what it is to be without his home, and received this call as a gift, rather than a burden. His former parish was taken from him. The bishop booted him out [quite literally], and for nothing he had done wrong in the name of God, but possibly what he had done wrong in the name of Religion. Also, he is a father of five, and judging from the urgency and intensity of his last two sentences in the email, was able to put himself in the shoes of this homeless family.
I brought attention to this email for two reasons. The other is to help the reader better understand the work of the spiritual artist. The Orthodox priest in this situation may see this opportunity as one in his understanding of a more persistent need in giving or helping out others during the time of Great Lent. Orthodox spirituals, and particularly, spiritual artists, those called to special tasks in His Name, view every day as a day of opportunity. Those called into this service are rarely of an organization, but if called into Truth, are of a Community; and those within this Community are not always visible to the eye. I suspect the Orthodox priest is a spirrealist to some degree, but is required to follow the laws of his order, which may or may not hinder him in his own calling.
Now, there is something important that I want to point out in the life of the spiritual artist, particularly those few of us in Spirrealism. We do not have a lot of money that we can spend our days painting at leisure, or writing on this venue because we have a bone to chew about this or that. And we pay our taxes just like any individual or family, without any special status within our communities, and yet, the art, both painting and writing, which are often one in the same, serve to teach, and very importantly, to provide healing for those in need. We are called to specific works that others might benefit in truth. Like doctors on emergency, as the Orthodox priest demonstrated in his action to help the homeless family, we are on call, when and how the Spirit directs. I breathe this as one breathes to survive. My days are filled, and I am immersed. To not engage in this would be alien to self. This is what it is to be in Spirrealism. Yes, we could use money to keep our family growing, but this must come to us as a gift, earned through our faith, love and works, as Saint James has stated.
Below is an article I found while trying to better understand the status of Religion in our country: America. I have not posted the full article but have provided the link.

5 Ways Churches Get Preferential Treatment and Benefit from Legal Loopholes

US law is honeycombed with examples of special benefits that organized religions enjoy

 

Many conservative religious leaders insist that houses of worship in America today struggle under intense persecution. To hear some of the Catholic bishops tell it, religious freedom may soon be a memory because they don’t always get their way in policy debates.

It would be highly ironic if the United States, the nation that perfected religious liberty and enshrined it in the Constitution’s First Amendment, had become hostile to the rights of religious groups.

But that’s not what’s happening. In reality, U.S. law is honeycombed with examples of preferential treatment and special breaks for religion. Some of these practices may grow out of the First Amendment command that the “free exercise” of religion must not be infringed. Others are traditions or were added to the law after lobbying efforts by religious groups.

Here are five ways American law extends protections and preference to houses of worship.

1. Tax Policy

Tax exemption is given to a variety of religious and secular groups, but in the case of houses of worship, they get one huge advantage: They are tax exempt by mere dint of their existence. They don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, nor, absent highly unusual circumstances or blatant law-breaking, can they lose it.

Contrast this with secular non-profits. If a group of people get together and decide to solicit donations to protect endangered species, they have to apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS, fill out voluminous paperwork and jump through various hoops. If the IRS has problems with the application or determines that endangered species won’t really be protected, tax-exempt status can be denied.

The IRS closely monitors secular non-profits to ensure that they are operating within the law. For example, tax-exempt groups are supposed to serve the public good, not enrich individuals. If non-profit executives receive compensation packages that the IRS determines to be too high, the IRS can act against those groups.

In theory, this could happen to a religious organization as well – except that it never does. Numerous media outlets have exposed the high-flying lifestyles of TV preachers, many of whom own fleets of cars, numerous mansions and even personal jets. Prodded by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a Senate committee began looking into some of these abuses a few years ago, but in the end, the only thing that emerged was a tepid report that was quickly shelved.

IRS audit procedures also favor churches. Congress actually passed a special law requiring the IRS to institute heightened procedures before auditing a house of worship. The IRS can audit a secular non-profit at the drop of a hat. The procedures for auditing houses of worship are so onerous that few, if any, have ever been audited – even where there’s evidence of financial irregularities.

(By the way, tax exemption for churches is not a constitutional right. The Constitution says nothing about tax exemption for anyone. The practice has long roots in Western culture, but it’s not enshrined in the Constitution.)

2. Criminal Investigations

The sentencing of Catholic cleric Msgr. William J. Lynn of Philadelphia to three to six years imprisonment for knowingly covering up evidence of clerical abuse of children by priests captured national headlines – because it was so unusual.

Lynn is the only church official sentenced to date in a long-running scandal implicating Catholic clergy nationwide. Victims of clerical abuse have had to resort to civil lawsuits to get justice, and even there have encountered numerous roadblocks.

Plenty of evidence indicates that church officials knowingly reassigned offending priests to other parishes instead of alerting law enforcement. In one especially egregious incident, a year-long investigation by the Dallas Morning News in 2004 found that priests accused of child molestation were often given special treatment by law enforcement, and in some cases priests from other countries were allowed to return home.

Observed the newspaper, “Since the clergy sex-abuse scandal exploded anew in 2002, Catholic leaders have taken the brunt of the blame. Overlooked is the role of police, prosecutors and judges – the people expected to hold abusers accountable when the church itself will not. Law enforcement typically has helped through inaction, but sometimes the aid has been direct.”

Efforts by victims to hold top church officials accountable have been stymied by the U.S. government. When victims charged in one lawsuit that Pope Benedict XVI had helped cover up the sexual abuse of children by priests, the Bush administration filed a legal brief asking the court to dismiss the case, arguing in part that the Vatican is a sovereign nation. Similar lawsuits have been filed since then, and the Obama administration has taken the same stand.

3. Political Lobbying

Non-profit groups that want to lobby Congress in Washington, DC, are subjected to strict rules. There are limits on the amount of lobbying these groups can do and the amount of money they can spend on such efforts. The rules for what constitutes lobbying and who qualifies as a lobbyist go on in mind-numbing detail. Non-profits must file detailed quarterly reports. Violations of these regulations can result in fines and even revocation of lobbying privileges.

Religious groups are exempt from all of this. Have you ever wondered how much money the Catholic hierarchy spends lobbying against abortion or marriage equality in DC? Too bad, because the bishops aren’t required to tell anyone.

Laws in the states vary, but most have limited or no regulations that provide oversight of lobbying by religious groups. Many houses of worship resist even minimal disclosure of their spending on political issues. When officials in Montana attempted to require a church to disclose what it had spent supporting a 2004 ballot vote to ban same-sex marriage – arguing that every other group that worked on the issue had to file – the church claimed that giving this information to the public would violate its rights. It filed a lawsuit in federal court and won.

4. Employment Law

People who work for houses of worship and ministries have little protection when it comes to being summarily fired from their jobs. This is to be expected with clergy, but the law seems to be moving to a place where even people in clerical positions and other slots without specific religious duties can be let go at will.

In the secular workforce, laws protect whistle-blowers from retaliation. These laws don’t apply to religious groups in many cases. Women clergy have been fired for reporting sexual harassment in churches. Ministers who are subjected to forms of bias – be it based on race, gender or sexual orientation, have no recourse in the law.

To many legal observers, this makes a certain amount of sense for clergy. The Catholic Church can’t be forced to hire women priests, for example. But some ministries have taken to declaring all of their employees as “ministerial,” a designation that allows them to manage staff with no oversight or protections for employees.

Religious private schools are governed by similar rules. They are free to fire staff for any number of “moral” offenses. Women have been fired for getting pregnant out of wedlock; other teachers have been let go after being outed as gay. This happens even in states where religious schools receive taxpayer support through vouchers, tax credits and other mechanisms.

5. Ceremonial Uses of Religion

Government is supposed to be neutral on matters of theology – in theory. In reality, the government leans on religion pretty frequently, especially for ceremonial purposes. In the process, it creates a symbiotic relationship and a climate of preferential treatment that similarly situated secular groups don’t get.

Members of the clergy are frequently called upon to deliver invocations before government bodies at the local, state and federal levels. Although some jurisdictions make occasional efforts to add a little diversity to the pool by reaching out to non-Christian groups, it’s rare for representatives from secular communities (humanist, atheist, etc.) to be included. In fact, there’s often great hostility to the very suggestion of including them.

Some jurisdictions even hire chaplains at taxpayer expense. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have chaplains. They are well compensated with excellent benefits. Some state governments have them, too.

***

These are just a few examples of the privileges religion enjoys in America. There are many more. Consider marriage ceremonies: Clergy are automatically granted the right to preside at wedding ceremonies and sign licenses on behalf of the government. In some states, it’s very difficult for secular celebrants to win the same right. Zoning laws, which under federal law extend special treatment to houses of worship, are another example.

In other areas, such as access to “faith-based” funding to provide social services, legislators’ default position is that religious groups provide services more effectively and cheaper than secular organizations, even though no objective evidence bears this out. Thus, some religious groups have become very adept at tapping the public purse.

Religious groups enjoy plenty of benefits in America, so why do some religious leaders complain so much about persecution? It boils down to this: When religious leaders cry “persecution,” what they usually mean is that they’re angry that the government won’t act as the enforcer for their theology. Having failed to persuade people to voluntarily adopt their rules, they’d like a little government muscle to make people “moral” or “decent” – as they define those terms.

http://churchandstate.org.uk/2012/07/5-ways-churches-get-preferential-treatment/

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The Weeping Prophet – L. Thiel Hewlings
In time, Alfred, my Spirrealism collaborator and dear Brother, and I, hope to have a brick and mortar – a studio sanctuary – where we can unify the gifts, offer a place of more tangible sharing, and work in the spiritual arts as one in the Community.
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