Monday, March 27, 2017

The Path of Nonresistance (and Friends)

From a service given at First Parish Church in Fitchburg Massachusetts February 5, 2017

Meditation: Breathe. As you draw air in and out feel the rush of oxygen and nitrogen as it whooshes through your nostrils. As you exhale picture yourself sliding and sinking down into your seat. Feel the weight of your shoulders and allow them to relax. Feel the tension in your legs. Allow them to release. And breathe…

Picture standing with a brick wall in front of you. You can’t see the top of it. You can’t see around it. For all you know it’s as thick as it is high. You could rightly decide that this wall is impenetrable. But one thing you do know: you know this wall is standing in your way. Would you push against it? Would you go and get a battering ram? A bulldozer? Would you design a weapon to explode it? These won’t work. Somehow you know this. But you are not defeated.

You get a sudden inspiration to do something radical. You slowly turn away from the wall and look at the open space behind you. You breathe in the openness. As you exhale you literally feel the wall crack behind you. A sprinkling of dust hisses slightly as it lands on the ground. You start to imagine that the openness you see in front of you is your new reality. This is what life is really about, you think to yourself. The wall starts to crumble from the other side. Through the wall you can hear the sound of bricks falling, landing with soft resonant thuds you can feel in your feet.

Empowered now, you imagine that everyone’s reality is as open as this. Behind you the bricks start falling faster now. Slabs of brick land with a distinct, heavy thud. Thud. You’re aware of what’s happening but now you really lean into this new way of thinking.

You visualize how people will react to experiencing openness. How much joy they will feel once they have been released. How much more joy they will experience now for once having been walled in. Freedom is so much sweeter.

You have become so absorbed in this thought you have forgotten about the wall entirely. Until you turn around and find it’s gone.  Just a pile of bricks you can now use to make something beautiful. You feel nothing but peace and you walk forward. Peaceful. Empowered. Compassionate.
Breathe. Slowly come back to the room now. All is well.

Message: [brackets indicate thoughts added later]

We have seven principles in Unitarian Universalism. At the risk of oversimplifying them, they are: inherent worth, justice, acceptance, freedom, conscience, world community, and the interdependent web of all existence. Not always simple to remember. We most of us remember some of them. They were chosen by a process which was informed by a series of philosophies. Ways of viewing the Ultimate Reality, each developing in their own age and culture, slowly unifying over time, ultimately converging together into an organized group search for individual truth. An ever-widening series of spiritual opinions coming together. If there is a categorical miracle existing in Unitarian Universalism it is that many opinionated heads have come together in a world trying so hard to tear itself apart. But light finds a way.

My point is that these varying spiritual opinions, which were likely discussed as the Seven Principles were first being drafted, came from somewhere. The spiritual opinions of these people came from somewhere. They came from the books these people had read, the things that they had each been taught, resulting in ideas and inspirations which came to them all on their own. This is what they each brought to the table when composing our Seven Principles. These were their sources.
What are your sources? It’s a worthwhile question to have to answer. Who or what informs your reality? What books have influenced you? Movies, television, people? Sports figures? Politicians? Money? Everyone puts their faith in something based on their sources of inspiration. If you want your life to be different, consider your sources.

“In 1952, President-elect Dwight Eisenhower, speaking to the Freedoms Foundation in New York, said, “Our sense of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply religious faith, and I don't care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion that all men are created equal.””

He wasn’t saying an organized religion should rule the country. Eisenhower believed that we must practically make a religion out of the act of seeking equality and fairness. That our prime directive must be to make better this world and all who inhabit it with the same fervor of the religious. He didn’t care what religion you believed in, what god you prayed to. But that one another’s equality should be our faith and doctrine as a people. It’s an early mention of the concept of the Judeo-Christian ethic. But clarifying.

In Unitarian Universalism we have six sources from which we derive our traditions and principles. Six places from which we may ask questions, understand our history, take advice. Not all of them pertain to all of us. For we are free to reject as well as proclaim.

The six sources of Unitarian Universalism are:
  1. THE SELF - Your own experience. What you think matters. What you observe counts.
  2. THE PROPHETS - The recorded words and writings of the experiences of others called to make change in the world.
  3. THE WORLD'S RELIGIONS - Where do the different organized religions agree? And where do they not? What does the examination of these things reveal?
  4. THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN ETHIC - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. [God is our neighbor.]
  5. REASON - Science and humanity. What can we see, touch, taste, smell, or experience in some literal way.
  6. GAIA - The Earth-based traditions like Paganism, Wicca, Celtic, Druid, Native American as well as the indigenous teachings from around the world that follow the wheel of the year.

These are where we get our ideas from. Today we talk about the fourth source of the six sources of Unitarian Universalism. The Judeo-Christian ethic. Which has five basic parts. The Judeo-Christian ethic is not about theology, or even religion. Although, religion was a carrier of the message. The ethical stance to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, however, is independent even of a belief in God. It has purely to do with how we tread upon this earth.

But doing unto others as we would have them do unto us is a virtual fantasy goal, nearly impossible to universally enact. We say it so often, we actually think we live up to it. What a crock. The fraction of our time we spend actually treating people well would probably surprise us. Especially if you begin to configure our carbon footprints, the leaders we vote for, the way we treat our domesticated animals, the plastic bottles we throw away, the cigarettes we still smoke. We may donate to charity, we may volunteer, we may religiously smile at every person who walks down the street. But we most of us average out to not being very friendly to the world at all.

Yet every little bit still matters. Each of those smiles sends a ripple into the Universe like a bell being rung. But we ring many bells. Some good, some not so much. Even the Liberty Bell has a crack in it.
‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is much like the US Constitution. It is a gleaming ideal toward which we must always strive, written well in advance of our ability to fully enact it. The debate has always been on how to strive for it.

The Judeo-Christian ethic arrives at us first through Judaism, then processed and specified by the teachings of Jesus. He provided a synthesis of understanding regarding the old laws; which ones were still valid, which ones needed updating. His most specific update was regarding the old Hammurabi Code of ‘Eye for an Eye’ which by Jesus’ time still haunted Judaism even though the practice was becoming a bit less literal by then.

The Judeo-Christian ethic was summed up by Jesus in the following passage from the book of Matthew chapter 5, verses 38-48. It’s actually quite a challenging passage, as it asks us to be things that seem impossible, even dangerous.

The New American Standard Bible translates the original Greek as follows: 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than anyone else? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So, it gives the appearance he is saying we need to learn to take abuse in order to be perfect. But that’s not what’s really going on here. I think he’s being very literal in a nonliteral way. I think he’s encouraging us to respond differently than we traditionally do. I think he’s saying to be radical in our way of creating a loving response to hateful action. We are being taught here how to truly disarm an opponent. I think he’s teaching us that if we do things differently, we may just get a different end result over time. You know what they say about the definition of crazy, afterall. It’s doing the same thing over, and over, but expecting a different result. The teaching here is do things differently.
That particular passage encompasses it all. It is about the teachings of nonresistance, forgiveness, compassion, empowerment, even hospitality. And they are the five teachings of the Judeo-Christian ethic:
  1. Nonresistance
  2. Forgiveness
  3. Compassion
  4. Empowerment
  5. Hospitality
    Do these for yourself and others every day.

The infamous Christian quotable from the above passage is “Turn the other cheek.” It’s not about continuing our abuse. It is about nonresistance. It’s about turning away. It’s about not placing our energies on that which we do not want any longer. The plant you waters is the plant that grows. The wolf you feed with your attention and resistance is the one who survives. The adversary you battle against is the same one developing bigger weapons against you. The one you stop fighting against is the one who falls over from the weight of their useless armor and weaponry. The terrorist organization who fails is not the one we war against. It’s the one whose funding we locate and withdraw.

[The bigots, the racists, the politically enraged. We demand their failure and their silence. But that has not worked. The right side of history has demoralized those who are afraid of change. We should be in the business of softening hearts not building weapons. The hearts who soften are the one we have listened to.

Even when what they say is hard to hear, listen between the lines of their anger and fear. Listen honestly. Silencing hate will not end it. We must be brave enough to listen to it. Besides, hate doesn't really exist. Only fear. Fear can be comforted. But only if we turn from resisting it. What we resist persists. What we love grows.]

To stop a sailboat, you can’t do it with more hot air. One must stop the wind altogether. Mother Theresa knew all about this. She was quoted as saying, “I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.” That is what the practice of nonresistance asks of us.

Nonresistance is connected to the second of the five teachings—forgiveness—because we must learn to let go in order to stop resisting. Anger and frustration fuel resistance. And while it’s perfectly logical that anger and frustration are the responses to stress, they’re just more of the same old way of coping with things. They don’t change outcomes. Forgiveness means letting go. Not necessarily forgetting, but ending the cycle of resentment about a reality over which we never have nor ever will have any real control. When someone’s tailgating you it’s the difference between between driving slower and pulling over to let them pass. What if you knew the reason they were tailgating you? Would it make a difference in how you feel about their actions? I personally would feel much better about pulling over if I thought the reason they were in such a rush was because they really needed to go to the bathroom. Pulling over is easy because you’re able to let go of your frustration—we’ve all been there.

Forgiveness leads us to empathy and compassion. We have compassion for someone who’s about to wet themselves. We are able to put ourselves in their place and recognize ourselves in their story. Compassion is the next of the five teachings of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It’s doors are opened by learning to be forgiving. Compassion is active. It leads us to be sympathetic of another’s situation and use our own privilege—whatever it may be—to the assistance of another.

But there are pitfalls to compassion if not practiced carefully and mindfully. It’s easy to mistake the difference between helping someone and serving someone. Helping is giving them a fish. Serving is teaching them to do it for themselves. [Helping is condescension. Serving someone makes equals of them.] Compassion, when approached mindfully is not always the easiest because we must remember another of the five teachings: Empowerment. If we are compassionate without empowering we are just creating another dependent.

Empowerment is the hardest of all because it means that we not only have to make our decisions about how to engage with others on this level, we also have to engage with ourselves. We have to be constantly mindful of what will best serve us, not merely help us. Quitting a bad habit is empowering, but not easy. It’s easier to just keep on helping ourselves. And when someone comes to us asking for our help, we need to think about what it is they really need. Sometimes, it’s not help.

I know a story of a young man addicted to drugs who, after he'd had enough, called his stepmother for money to come home to Massachusetts from California. She said, “You were smart enough to get yourself into this situation, you’re smart enough to get yourself out.” She then hung up. Who knows what might have happened if she had just helped him out and sent him the money for the ticket? The young man began to get clean after that. He credits the moment when she hung up on him for doing it. Tough love is painful, but often empowering. [If we are courageous enough to listen honestly to it.]

And finally, if one is able to be nonresistant, leading them to being forgiving, which opens up our ability to be compassionate, we find the only way to truly serve is to empower. From there we are able to be truly hospitable. We are free to be welcoming in the face of difficult realities. Hospitality is a natural extension of the first teaching, nonresistance. Our doors are open because we understand the human heart.  Because we have been non-resistant to it. Because we have let it in. We understand weakness and love them in spite of themselves. Because to love something challenging is not the same thing as authorizing its behavior. It’s taking it and allowing it to exist without resistance, flooding it with love and compassion and empowerment with the expectation that this action will have the best chance of transforming it into the best of all possible forms.

These are the teachings of the Judeo-Christian ethic. These are what informs the original basis of both Unitarianism as well as Universalism. They are what gives room for all the others to exist within the same spiritual framework and by whose grace we know that we are worthy, we all deserve justice and equality, to be accepted, not merely tolerated. To be free to act in accordance with our own conscience. To engage with the world around us. To recognize our inherent unity. To know that all life is not only special, but sacred.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 25, 2017 - “Minister” is a Verb

            I ended up in a perfect little church. The Universe saw fit to guide me into a version of ministry so attuned to my calling to serve the City of Fitchburg I can tell It knows me better than I know myself.
I came to intern at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Fitchburg in my second year of seminary as a Student Minister under the supervision of its then half-time Minister. Following his departure for a full-time position (understandably for his growing family, but disappointing nonetheless), I was kept on as the Student Minister for the remainder of my internship. I was assigned a replacement supervisor, the beloved Rev. Susan Suchocki Brown of the First Church UU of Leominster.
At the end of my internship, First Parish officially decided to become a “Lay-Led” Congregation while retaining me as its Spiritual Coordinator. At First Parish (as with a growing number of congregations nationwide) ‘minister’ is now a verb, not a job title. There is no longer a Capital-M Minister in the historic church at the head of the Upper Common.
That is not to say I don’t have my pastoral role in caring for people who need to talk to a spiritual ear. That will always be my honor when it occurs. But the congregation has taken a leadership role in making sure people are being noticed, being held. Being heard.
First Parish has been lay-led before. The members themselves, the “laity” have twice in the past run the church and engaged various speakers for periods in between Ministers. Other churches do it periodically or permanently as well; more all the time due to economic necessity. However, in choosing to retain a “Spiritual Coordinator” to essentially oversee the general spiritual direction of the church—but not as the defacto CEO—First Parish has done something a bit unusual. It’s a nuance, really. But with larger implications for ministry as a profession.
I am a member of First Parish. We all lead together. Each with our specialties and gifts which we are empowered to use for the betterment of all. Some old school churches are run like a constitutional monarchy. The Board of Trustees technically runs things, but at the pleasure of the Minister King. That model is not always empowering, nor does it always instill trust.
Lay-led congregations are springing up all around the country in various forms. Some for financial reasons, some for spiritual or even political ones. But it represents the wider shift toward creating a personal relationship with the Ultimate Reality.
Members of the clergy have made mistakes in the past, even in our own community, which undermine trust in the profession the way it used to be. As a result, we are increasingly relying upon ourselves to minister to one another. It appears the evolution of “church” is bringing us to a point where we need fewer intercessors. Perhaps it is within the purpose of world scripture to systematically release us from the nest. It’s a good thing. It may have been the point all along.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Colossal Impact of Colossians

The Apostle Paul   5-67 CE
            In a survey of roughly 100 attendees at the 2011 British New Testament Conference in Nottingham, England. Only 51% felt Colossians was actually written by the apostle Paul.1 Split right down the middle. Clearly nothing is certain, yet I find the debate makes an impact on my approach to the text. Epistles like Romans, 1 Thessalonians, etc., texts which scholars do not debate their authenticity, these somehow seem easier. Attempting to discern a document that is a 50/50 toss up regarding authenticity forces me to conclude the possibility of an agenda in the true author’s intent, should it not be Paul himself. It places a coating over the entire text for me. That is not to say it doesn’t have its value, both sociological as well as theological. But it asks me to read between the lines and to my heart when examining them.
This becomes especially problematic for me considering the Christological importance of the Epistle to the Colossians. It is particularly defining of Jesus as consubstantial2 with God which the later Council of Nicea, nearly 300 years hence, would advocate to the level of theological pissing contest. So the Christology of Colossians challenges me and I take it with a grain of salt.
Whoever did write Colossians, however, was clearly desirous of thwarting movements such as the “Colossian Philosophy” within Christianity as well as other traditions that seek to remove the intermediary between humanity and God. Scholars have proposed Gnosticism, mysticism, “visionary experiences involving angelic worship,” and the promotion of spiritual wisdom to be the undercurrent of this “heretical” Colossian philosophy of the day.3 Paul’s (or Pseudo Paul’s) retort to this is, No. “Christ is all, and is in all.” In other words, you can’t get there from here. Christ is God, ergo Christ is the only pathway to God.
Colossians describes Christ as “the head of the body, the church,” the “firstborn of all creation,” “not begotten.” It elevates Jesus to the deity we have since defined him to be, for better or worse. To me, this disproportionate emphasis on Jesus-as-God—whether or not it be true—has caused confusion and subversion of Christ’s salvific teachings. The teachings are physically evident. But there has been placed an unnecessary level of importance on elements of the sacred story which are arguable at best, namely the value of the cross being Jesus’ death and resurrection rather than Luke’s description of remarkable forgiveness while still living (23:34). It is not a spiritual opinion that Jesus practiced forgiveness. These teachings are recorded. That he saved humanity in the cosmic realm by dying on earth has no practical value and is commentary by comparison, as insulting to believers as that may sound.
If the epistle has been written by a subsequent follower of Paul, rather than Paul himself, who felt Paul’s teachings about Christ needed a bit more emphasis on the consubstantial, the text becomes a manipulation of the understanding of the person of Christ to the degree that later debates would be entirely underpinned by it. If it is truly Paul, however, then what? Did Paul suddenly need a bigger argument in favor of it? Did he suddenly need a greater level of licensing authority to testify on God’s behalf? Was this simply the next level of rhetorical weaponry needed to combat the individualism of faith?
I wonder why Paul felt it was even necessary to extrapolate the celestial origins of Christ in the first place. In hindsight I resent it for all the theological power struggles it has created since the very beginning; subverting and even weaponizing the love of Christ for its own political ends.
I hope the Epistle to the Colossians was not Paul. In my heart it cannot be.
It is important to say, since I have dared to boldly editorialize in the first place, I do not deny the Resurrection, nor the miracles, nor even the possibility that Jesus was consubstantial with God. All I am saying is that I can have no earthly idea about their reality and to spend my time conjecturing the Cosmos when I could be doing the work of Christ seems a pitiful waste of breath.

1. 100% maintained that Paul wrote Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 Thessalonians.
99% agree that he wrote Philippians and Philemon;
57% 2 Thessalonians;
36% Ephesians;
24% 2 Timothy;
23% Titus;
21% 1 Timothy;
0% Hebrews.”
 (Paul Foster, “Who Wrote 2 Thessalonians? A Fresh Look at an Old Problem,” JSNT 35 (2012):150-75 (on 170-71)).

2. Consubstantial in this usage is the term used to refer to Jesus as being of the same substance as God, or that Jesus is God. This is the view of the Trinity. The opposite view is that God and Jesus are not the same being, which the Council of Nicea in 325 CE voted against in favor of Jesus being consubstantial with God.

3. Bruce W. Longenecker and Todd D. Still. Thinking Through Paul: A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, 223-4

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fulfilling the Flickers

I have been feeling flickers of recognition regarding my calling. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s also specific. That’s exactly how it feels like. Like flashes of recognition. An Ooh! I get it! kind of sensation. Since beginning the Hopeful Thinking column especially I have noticed moments when I know I’m saying the words I truly mean to say. And people are listening. Maybe not a lot, but just those stalwart few are making an impact on my confidence.
I’ve had a lifelong “sensation” that I would later describe as a “calling” once ministerial language became available to me. It’s unfortunate that this description also renders a vague sense of destiny; I don’t conclude that. It is what it is. The sensation was an inner directive to provide comfort on the individual and community level, and the word community will mean wider things over time. It’s become specified into a directive of empowerment as a vocational term. Empowerment is the intersection of both the religious and the secular values systems. This is the epicenter of intercultural dialogue. It has no aisle to reach across. Empower an individual and they have the ability to empower others. The ripple effect. Subjugate them and we have a cripple effect, at the risk of being cute. Which one brings about Peace?
All present-moment problems are like a disease in a tree. They are best solved by intervention, collaboration, by the grafting in of new ideas in ways that do not ignore or devalue the existing reality of the tree. Nonresistance.
Future problems, however, are solved at the root. That’s where empowerment efforts are best directed. The reality of the future tree is still forming. If we don’t focus our efforts on the human developmental level, on the hometown community level, of what value will the larger world be? It will be an eternal exercise in the extinguishing of fires.
I am a self-styled Community Advocate. I don’t remember specifically when I adopted that term for myself, and I hope it isn’t hyperbolic, but I know I’ve used it for some time. Long before seminary. I needed it because I am what is known as an “Entrepreneurial Volunteer.” Self-starting (even if not always self-finishing) and visionary (meaning there might be a good reason no one’s ever thought of it before). Ergo, hard to describe, easy to overwhelm. It’s a career-long struggle to develop elevator speeches about one’s “work” when there is no boss, no likelihood of reasonable profitability, and everyone wants you to keep on doing it. I needed a vocational descriptor.
I think the term has done me a service over the years, to be honest. I have often thought that no one should ever want me as a spokesperson. I’m am too opinionated to be a mouthpiece for anything. I am an advocate. The spotlight operator. A cheerleader. I don’t represent an idea, I share one. Don’t just feed, seed. At least that’s what I mean to do. When I don’t, when I begin to assume a pushiness or obstinacy or attempt to speak on another’s behalf, I am able to recall the term advocate and remember that is the essence of the non-anxious presence in public service jargon.
I’ve always described my calling as a ‘sense of duty’ when the path was difficult. And it often is. What I offer in creativity does not always make up for what I lack in administrative willpower (no pun intended). To continue despite my challenges using the thought of duty as a mission statement is to accept the value of the difficulty for its own sake. It benefits me in the end to just be here now. Warts and all. Perhaps being slowed down by things which appear out of our control (including our own behaviors) are where God exhibits Its presence most noticeably. Perhaps there’s a point to taking things at the speed at which the treadmill is going.
Regarding the “sensation” I’ve had since childhood, there was always a “push” to it.  I’m sure that I’ve had free will to accept or reject it. But I never felt the desire to reject.  It was not a sense of coercion by, or submission to, but duty toward. Duty implies a personal choice, a vow, an acceptance of both the burden and the light. On some level I always knew what I’d be getting myself into. But I leapt anyway, knowing the net would appear. Falling is still scary.
Now that I’m on the precipice of being able to do the work I’ve dreamed of my entire life I am less afraid. I think that’s what helps me to realize that the “sensation” is becoming fulfilled: I am not afraid of it anymore. I think I know what to do.
Ordination is necessary. I see that now. Especially for the process that I will undertake to achieve it. I need the ordination process far more than I need the letters Rev in front of my name. I feel that an Doctorate in Education (with a focus on Transformational Leadership) is also necessary to do the work on the level at which I can truly be of wider service. It also adds a secular balance to the religious credentials.
So it is often the words used which help me define my identity. We eschew “titles” but unfairly. They are brands, mission statements, value declarations. Therefore I will brand myself for the expressed purpose of understanding who I am when I forget. I am not a minister. I am a practical theologian.
Praxis. Action. The Evangelism of Doing. Speak? Sure. Do? Definitely. Take what the Universe has given you and make something with it. Be the Mayo. Be the Surfboard. Take scripture and ask it what to do, not say. Resurrection, the miracles, the oral traditions mean nothing on their own. They are the vessels which are filled with the calling to take action to bring about peace on earth. We have worshiped the vessels long enough.
The dharma of Christianity—its suggested life practice—encourages an active, daily and dedicated life of nonresistance, forgiveness, compassion, hospitality and empowerment. For ourselves and others. These are the salvific practices Jesus taught us which will bring about the Kingdom we anticipate. This message may be my purpose. The active and public practice of it is my example.
I look forward to seeing how it all unfolds from here.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Jawbreaker Meditation (Yes, the Candy)

Hold a jawbreaker candy in your hand (or imagine one) as you read the following...

Picture your life as a candy like this. Unlike this brand new one neatly wrapped in your hand, you life is somewhere in the middle of this sweet reality. Some layers already gone. Plenty left to go. Unknown. Honor the yet-revealed layers. They are as much a part of your story as the layers which have already been sucked away, or the one visible now.

Picture the layers within. Imagine the colors of yourself that are hidden beneath. The stories you have yet to tell, the facts about yourself you have yet to discover.

Imagine this simple piece of layered candy as a symbol of your intentionality. Imagine it as a prayer. A wish. A wish for better service to others through self-awareness, through the fearless exploration of self. Layer by layer by layer. For who we are to others is based entirely on who we are to ourselves.

Inside both the candy as well as us is a potential far grander than the outside would suggest. A complex series of strata each unto their own. Special, unique. A multi-dimensional reality that far exceeds the imagination of everyone who looks at it. Even knowing that layers exist beneath, we are still surprised by them, by their vibrancy, by their individuality.

Will you choose to see more? Let appreciation and gratitude—for even the things about which ,you still don't know—be your mantra. Unless you do, you’ll miss the wonder, the awesomeness, the possibility. And life will do to you just what you do to the candy. Suck.



Monday, March 13, 2017

My Favorite Passage: The Crux of Christianity

It appears only once in the Bible. Which I find to be deeply interesting since, in my opinion, it is the epicenter of the whole Christian faith. Only Luke tells us of this story from the cross when Jesus prayed aloud, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” as they tore his clothes for souvenirs among them.

There are many ways to view Christianity. Far more than the number of denominations, cults, or schisms that have ever, or will ever, exist. Every religion is a spiritual opinion regarding the Ultimate Reality and what It has manifested in the world. Every opinion is different, even when they agree.

My opinion about Christianity is that we cannot know the truth of most of it. We can opine, deduce, speculate, capitulate, and ultimately, agree to disagree. That is one principle thrust of its sacred gift. For I believe the earthly purpose of the Christian message is Relationship. We are meant to learn to get along with one another, not just in spite of, but because of our differences. Discernment of God cannot emerge from uniformity of belief. It can only occur with considered debate. The Jewish tradition of havruta would concur. The Kingdom of Heaven is a metaphor for the experience of a fuller love—such as that imagined to be the experience of God—here on earth. Peace among all humankind.

What might come from a fuller experience of peace? In truth we cannot even imagine it, or else it would already be here. But God can. Love understands what It’s capable of accomplishing even when we cannot. The view is obscured by our clenched fists and squinted eyes. It is my religious opinion that God, understanding what it would take us to get from Point A to Point B, would grant us the opportunity to save us from ourselves through a systematic teaching—a relational practice—brought by a master. Regarding the divinity of Jesus, make him as divine as you wish. Whether Trinity or Unity, the argument is moot. His level of divinity does not alter the fact that serving our neighbor is the better option for us all.

The purpose of the teaching is to get us from Point A to Point B. From war to peace. From vengeance to reconciliation. From ignorance of one another to knowing one another. For only in peace shall we see the remainder of humanity’s true destiny. We have no idea what we are truly capable of as a species while we are still at war with one another. Even our limitless imagination cannot comprehend the result of world peace. Too many resources are directed toward protection rather than promotion. Resistance as an objective builds only walls.

The various theological commentaries given over the centuries about this particular prayer of Jesus suggest that his petition was limited to those in front of him; those who were performing the act by command. Commentators have concluded he could not possibly have been asking for the forgiveness of Pontius Pilate or for the Jews who forced his hand. But there is nothing to suggest at all that his plea for mercy on those who had trespassed against him was in any way limited. His prayer was for all those whose eyes were closed to what was before them. He had compassion for any who could not comprehend the fullness of love. He knew the struggle in men’s hearts. The difficulty of change. The time it takes to move, to shift.

Most importantly, this petition to God for the forgiveness of each of those who had led him to Golgotha was the moment when he practiced what he preached to the ultimate degree; the very purpose of his ministry. The teachings of the dharmic Christian life practice (rather than the dogmatic) are nonresistance, forgiveness, compassion, hospitality and empowerment. We must do these for ourselves and others every day to bring about the Kingdom of Peace to our world. The first of these is nonresistance. Jesus did not resist the cross. He succumbed to it willingly, purposefully. The second is forgiveness, at all times and for all reasons. These naturally guide us toward the others.

His exceptional example from the cross is the watershed moment of all scripture. This is the instant when his lack of resistance and his all-encompassing ability to forgive proved possible within us a future of mercy, of welcoming, and of personal strength for all humankind. Literally saving us from ourselves over time. Giving us space to comprehend the fullness of love. We have only to accept it within ourselves—no matter our faith, no matter even our belief in God—one generation at a time, one piece of legislation at a time, one heart at a time to bring about the completion of his deepest desire for us: our universal reconciliation with one another.

Everything occurring before that future moment of our ultimate peace will be remembered by history as our age of barbarism. Everything after, our age of salvation.

If Jesus can forgive his own murderers, who are we to do anything less.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Age of the Whistleblower

There is an app for that. In fact, there are several. There are encrypted apps which help people anonymously raise a red flag when something isn't right. Secure email, file sharing systems, disappearing message apps. ProPublica has a webpage dedicated to listing ways in which people can securely and anonymously leak information to them.

Staffers in the White House are using an app right now called Confide, according the the Washington Post. Ostensibly to securely talk to one another. But one wonders exactly who’s confiding in whom. The conversation White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had with his staff about leaks was leaked.

We are living in an age where our vast connectivity and technological advancement—while at times contentious—is making it easier for people to stand up to oppression and harder for oppressors to hold onto their power. Control was once easier to maintain with fear propaganda, the swift punishment of dissent, and the systematic separation of people. But we are no longer separate. The old tactics are still used, but now they often backfire. We are increasingly too smart to fall for it like the old days.

Overall, this is a good thing. But it will not be without its challenges. The Old World is not giving up easily. They have managed to convince a large and vocal part of the world’s voting population that we should return to our old ways, both religious and societal. Civil rights are a bad thing, fossil fuels are good for jobs, and old white men are the best people to decide what happens in a woman’s uterus. In their zeal, the mathematical minority is over-shouting the conversation right now. They are panicking and making mistakes. And people are telling on them.

The Eric Snowdens of the world are forcing into the conversation the most important question of our modern age: Will Truth Really Set Us Free? Believers in world scripture should be able to rest on that article of faith and trust that real honesty will in time equalize and democratize us all. If we have the stomach for it.

Looking behind the Green Curtain is not easy. It’s not supposed to be. The man in the mirror has a flawed complexion. It’s hard to look at sometimes. But it’s our tears which blur the view and distort our reality. We are far more breathtaking than we appear. Our courage makes us beautiful. It burns away the former self like a phoenix.

If we stay the course and celebrate truth where it is known to appear we shall in time rise from this fearful moment. It’s easy to see doom and gloom around us. There’s lots of that message for sale on every channel and website. If you want to buy it, that’s your right. But I encourage you to read between the lines.

We may feel like history constantly repeats itself in an endless cycle. Change your perspective. We are not moving in a circle. We are traveling up a spiral.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 4, 2017 - The Orphan Frog

It didn’t even try to run away from me when I first saw it. My six year old hands easily snatched up the little green frog on the ground at my feet. (The same over-curious hands which also sucked the puddles dry with the house’s central vacuum cleaner the week before, destroying it utterly. The hose was just long enough to reach out into the biggest puddle in the driveway.) I was proud of myself for saving the frog. Clearly it had been abandoned by its mother. There was no doubt this frog wouldn’t survive without intervention.
    I went into the house to find a container for the baby frog’s new home. I protected it from running away in the meantime by tightly wrapping it up in a thick towel. My little brother was only two so there were still remnant baby food jars fulfilling all matter of utilitarian tasks in the house: paperclip holder, safety pin holders, beads, thumb tacks, rubber bands. I chose to evict the rubber bands from their jar by eminent domain in service to our newest member of the family. Orphan Frog.
    Since all frogs swim, of course, it would need water in the jar. I filled it up to the top. And since frogs need to breathe air, of course, I poked holes in the lid with a nail and a rock. I gently unwrapped the frog from its terrycloth mummification and plopped him into the jar. Lid screwed down tightly.
    Orphan Frog immediately reacted violently. Desperately trying to escape the water, it jumped up for the lid and stabbed itself repeatedly into the jagged points of the air holes I had so lovingly prepared. The frog was bleeding. I couldn’t get the lid open. I tried and tried but the jar was now too slippery for my little hands. He died. I caused it to happen. It was a terrible death.
    That incident has haunted me my whole life. Of course, I understand what happened and why. I wanted to protect something which, in my view, needed protecting. It was noble, compassionate. But what I failed to grasp then—and still often fail to grasp now—is that not all things which appear to be in danger require saving. Some people are not asking to be saved. Some are doing just fine as they are and need nothing more than a little company and a non-anxious presence. Our job is not always to save the world but to simply bring hope into it.
    That little boy was first and foremost a compassionate soul, however. I know this because of how deeply that event was imprinted upon my psyche. How permanently I was scarred on behalf of that frog. My eyes cannot forget the suffering. I don’t want them to.