Our desire for acceptance may render us invisible

July 17th, 2014

Jim Carrie shared this remark in a recent valedictory speech.  Rings true.

How does that work?  How does our desire for acceptance render us invisible?

Start with this idea from the 12 Step tradition … addicts are ego maniacs with an inferiority complex.   Most of us I believe harbor an addict’s soul somewhere in our lives.  Most of us, at least part of the time, live there, in an ego driven place both of superficial puffery and deep self loathing. We feverishly desire to both stand out and fit in. Or at least the ego does.   So we press ourselves into roles and persona’s that effectively render us, in terms of our souls,  invisible.  In trying to be all things we end up no-thing.

Our true selves however show us something far different.  They light a way, they sound a call to a settled place beyond standing out or fitting in.  It is a place of service, a place of love, a place of connection, a place of a blessed self forgetfulness, where questions of status or rank remain mute.  In the Epistle of James one striking line reads that we must judge by “The law which gives freedom.”  (James 2:12)   What is that law?  How does it fit?  What does it mean to judge things in such a way that we both discover and allow for such sweet freedom?

And there I have no clear, simple, communicable answer.  But I know God does.

Learning to Fall In Love With Everything

July 10th, 2014

Learning how to see. Not an easy task. And what I get more and more clear on is that God is asking us to learn to fall in love with everything, from our loved ones, to our enemies, to the present moment.

Many of you are following, no doubt, the events in the Gaza strip. The current strife was set off by the kidnapping and eventual murder of three Israeli teens. An article written while the boys were still missing recounted the stories of two moms, one Israeli and one Palestinian, each with a missing bed in their house where their teen son had been.

The empty bed and the suffering is not what connected them. Instead their religious beliefs and historical animosities filled that space with disconnection. The only connection remaining … a desire for vengeance in every widening spasms of violence. Their losses flung them apart.

So the work of love is not easy. Vengeance is many times simpler.

And that is where our role lies – for what churches could be/ should be. Not as collections of hurt but as voices for a re-imagined future where we willingly and sacrificially do the hard work of falling in love with everything.

Hidden at the bottom of a story about the violence in Gaza was a simple note. 350 Israelis going to the home of a slain Palestinian teen to stand in solidarity with his grieving family. A different connection.


Is Better Possible?

July 8th, 2014

A beautiful question by Seth Godin.  And one he sadly noted in which “many people are far more comfortable saying ‘no’”

But better is always possible.  As Rev. Peter Gomes noted, the very definition of Christianity is that we are more than our biography.

That pursuit of better is not a chasing after the wind.  It is about the enlivening, God-centered work of being a good person, “… the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence, in a life affording them scope.”  We live such a life and in living such a life come to witness our capacities expand proportionally for just such a life.   Simply put, we get better…and the walls expand.

I remember coming of age in Pittsburgh as the steel industry, the very economic heart of the region, fell on hard times and eventually collapsed.  The Homestead Steel Factory I toured as a youth, which employed 5,000 plus at its peak, is now the cite of a water park.  There was little thought or conversation of “better” or “change” at that time, only a frenzied desire to stake out claims to a fast fading past.

I wonder if many churches are at that point.  I wonder if there is room for other conversations, specifically the question “Is better possible?”



Imagine better worlds

July 6th, 2014

William Blake always capitalized the word “Imagination.”  Blake did that because he saw “Imagination” as the Holy Spirit, as what pulls us from what we see to what we don’t see.

So it is very close to the concept of faith.  Faith is not the search for knowledge.  Instead it is the search for meaning.  In that search for meaning, we find better worlds.


Lost at 200 Miles Per Hour

July 3rd, 2014

We get caught.  We get caught in believing that one more hour at work will make the difference, that one more call will seal the deal, that all work left for tomorrow creates a permanent stain on life’s chances.  There is almost no-one who dares to say slower might actually be better.

So we steer through life in a style that becomes increasingly complicated.   Look at this steering wheel from a Formula 1 Race car.  For many, we might view this steering wheel claiming “I could never drive that complicated a car.”  To which I would kindly add, “Many of you already (figuratively) are.”

It is hard to find our way out.  We struggle with financial pressures as well as pressures more spiritual in nature that mistakenly link our worth and value to job performance.   And I imagine if you are like me there is a very quiet voice deep within that knows the pace and complexity we place ourselves in is simply not sustainable.

Prayer, peace, contemplation, connection, family are.

What is true power?

June 27th, 2014

I remember in my public school teaching days running across students in various locations.  It was always startling in a way to be seen outside of the high school’s “habitat.”  Odd no doubt for the student as well.  Seeing a teacher in civilian garb, one person noted, was as odd as seeing a dog walking on its hind legs.

Maybe part of it was being separated from the normal structures of power, or what I supposed to be “power.”

I think power though is far different now than the formal structures that sanctioned my ability to discipline students within the confines of the high school’s walls.  Power, simply put, is more subtle and more profound than the ability to give a student a detention.

Emanuel Swedenborg captured it in these words.  “Spiritual power is to desire the well–being of another, and to desire to give to another as far as possible what is within you.”

That is big.  That is universal.  That is humanity.

A friend on finishing up cooking at a Franciscan Homeless Shelter felt that power. “At the end of the dinner I thought WOW they will do this all again tomorrow and every single day…. 365 days a year. An amazing place!!!”  That is spiritual power worthy of celebration.

God’s Life And A Simple Place To Stand

June 26th, 2014

What is God’s life in us?  Simply put it is the where “the life of love and charity dwells.”  When we stand in that space, a place beyond the normal tensions of our human existence, I think we can often sense the wider and settled leading that is God.  The cosmos, a word derived from what is orderly, harmonious, systematic, shines down.  Nothing profound.  Just a simple acknowledgement that God is and maybe within our deep longing, that all is right in the world.

Excommunication in the Mormon Church and Notes of Caution for what Religion Can Become

June 24th, 2014

From the New York Times, June 23, 2014…

“Kate Kelly, who unsettled the Mormon Church by founding a movement to advocate opening the male-only priesthood to women, was excommunicated by her bishop and his two counselors in Virginia on Monday….

Bishop Mark Harrison informed Ms. Kelly by email that she had been excommunicated “for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church,” according to a partial text of the decision shared by an Ordain Women spokeswoman.

The bishop said in the email that Ms. Kelly may not take the sacrament, hold a voluntary position or give a talk in the church; vote for church offices; contribute tithes; or wear the sacred Mormon undergarments.

To be considered for readmission to the church, “you will need to demonstrate over a period of time that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the church, its leaders and the doctrine of the priesthood,” the email to Ms. Kelly said. “You must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the church.”…

Mormons believe that excommunication breaks the eternal ties to one’s spouse and other family members who were sealed together in temple rituals.”

What is written above can be true not just of Mormonism but of many faiths who come to view themselves and their ordained as gate keepers.  From outbreaks of unspeakable violence between Sunnis and Shiites on down these kind of events should signal a caution about the dangers of organized religion when it comes to no longer value an inclusive humanity but instead holds that there is but one path and one way.  Something then as incredibly beautiful and helpful as organized faith can degenerate rapidly in such a toxic environment.

And how do we know when faith has crossed that line?  How do we support religion in holding to the necessary bonds on human conduct that actually allow for a healthy flourishing while at the same time being appropriately wary of the extremism that a fundamentalist approach can engender?  Some ideas.

In this denomination, we believe that the greatest of evils grow out of a love of power for selfish reasons.  We flip consequently from seeing ourselves as servants to instead seeing ourselves as entitled to be served.   We are no longer embedded in a world of fellow travelers on life’s journey but instead become band leaders knowing both the tune and the formation in which all should march.

That kind of narcissistic orientation works it way out into both distorted reasoning and distorted action where we come to truly believe that “killing” in its various forms somehow serves God.

And God’s Word is co-opted by that whole process, a process where the Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Koran is used to legitimate and rationalize behavior that falls far from the clear spirit of a loving God.  The wisdom of revelation is “recruited” and then “distorted” as Emanuel Swedenborg noted.  (Divine Love and Wisdom 274)  It can be”transformed step by step into something false.” (275)

So truth, if it is distorted, no longer serves as the protector but instead serves as a way to mask what in not of God.

Love then remains the ultimate answer.   But this is not sloppy love.  This is not “anything goes” or “nothing matters” or “everything is relative.”  This is agape love …. “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.”  (Thomas Oord)   Agape love creates a wisdom that returns religion to its best self and in so doing turns us towards God and each other.

Part of the Covenant

June 22nd, 2014

God’s covenant with humanity – a promise of love, of faithfulness, a holding – is easy to project as “out there,” some distant document as it were propped up as a hoped for or dreaded contract.  But ‘covenant’ settles far deeper than the legalism we, not God, remain prone to.  The biblical book of Isaiah spoke to that several thousand years ago….

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.  (Isaiah 42:6-7)

The meaning of these words … subtle and unsettling.  God’s desire for you … to see yourself as part of the covenant, as a living embodiment in some small way of the agreement between the divine and humanity, humble carriers of a life giving heart song.


Pockets of Meaning

June 18th, 2014

We were not created to be busy.  We were not created to live in fear.  God created us for purpose, for use, for service, for love finding its way into action.  He created us for happiness.

And we know that place don’t we, those pockets of meaning, that place in our lives where purpose happily breathes, where actions grow not from an inertia-tainted pushing but from a heartfelt pull, a longing as it where.  Such a place feels like home.

That place in many ways places our lives as running against cultural trends of speed, self interest, and consumerism.  The math … far different.  Calculations, qualifications, credentials of a new sort.   A gentleness, a more wide-eyed wonder settles in.  Conviction and voice focus and grow.

These words in the Bible from Isaiah speak to that place….


“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out,

or raise his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

he will not falter or be discouraged

till he establishes justice on earth.

In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42)


Beautiful!  A place where we sing.