Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve

For unto us this day is born in the City of David a child....

Life in the Roman Empire circa 30 BCE was probably a grind for most of the population.  Getting enough to eat and keeping a roof over one's head probably occupied a major portion of daily life.  While there have been thousands of innovations and the number of material possessions have increased exponentially, for many the same two basic worries - paying bills especially for food and shelter -- remain a basic background daily concern.  It is difficult to put one's focus on the spiritual dimension when you are unsure from where your next check is coming and how much it will be.

So, given the spiritual vs tangible living split, what does Christmas Eve really add to your life?  For too many it adds a weight to the cost of living by having to buy gifts so as not to appear too pathetic. For many others it harbors the discomfort of long-standing family conflicts.  Many hate the holidays where people who haven't gotten along in forever get packed around a dinner table in a too-small space with the portends of a ticking time bomb going off. All through the season Christmas carols jingle in the background while our pockets are being emptied subliming the Ho Ho Ho of good cheer and Hark! the herald angels sing.  That may be the closest you get to spirituality even if you're religious.  Yet, wherever our heads and worry is directed, Christ Consciousness still exists.  That Consciousness is grounded in the imaginings and work of sages and wise prophets through eons; imaginings of peace, love, and eternal bliss.  How do we capture those imaginings for ourselves?  Or, do we just allow ourselves to succumb to the catatonic holiday robotic movements that get us through this paradoxical time warp called "The Holidays?"  

Much of the "spiritual not religious" popularity sprinkled through society is a recognition, at least, that the spiritual does have a place in our lives.  Spirit is really about finding meaning.  Spirit always has been about locating the higher, deeper, broader, life-enhancing meaning of life.  Christmas represents the incarnational in-breaking of the ancient rites of life-giving reconciliation and progress in expunging conflict, hostility, and difficulty from life.  To tune in and find it requires a desire to claim a space in which for it to arrive.  Christmas is the recognized space we strive to claim.  It travels on the waves of silence and beauty.  We join it figuratively by kneeling at the simple rustic side of a manger crude in concert with lowly beast and simple furnishing, a star overhead -- or even the overhead moon-silhouetted jingle of a passing sleigh and 8 tiny reindeer.  Those moments are the touch-points between the divine and the human.  They instill a memory, a longing to return to peace and goodwill that can last a year if we just set aside the silent time daily to revisit the memory and bask in it's gentle presence. The more we re-visit those memories, be it for 2 minutes or 60 minutes daily, the more we will find them influencing and pushing aside the worries and anxiety that so commonly occupy uncomfortably large parts of our lives.  That is the deeper underlying purpose of these kind of spirit-based annual observances -- to re-orient and put the whole on the same page again. 

Merry Christmas!  Peace and Goodwill to All!

Sunday, December 8, 2019


Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. -- Romans 15:7
Welcome is one of the nicest words.  It is full of hospitality and portends receiving what we need, be it shelter, food, a resting place, warmth, acceptance, or tea and good conversation.  Paul implies here that when we welcome another, we welcome the beauty and wonder of God into our midst.  He explicitly says to welcome as Christ welcomed us.  Have you ever thought about the ways Christ has welcomed you?  Have you ever sensed being welcomed by Christ?  If you have had that feeling/sense, it is what incarnation feels like.  Incarnation is what we celebrate at Christmas and what all the looking for it during Advent is about.  Incarnation is where our needs and hopes, which most often exist as a thought in our head or as some ethereal concept, become real, experienced, and appreciated.  Often the depth of appreciation we feel is tied to how in need we are when someone welcomes us and provides us just what we were needing.

The holidays are often a time when people are more generous.  Food banks fill up.  Community meals are served for the hungry.  Money is donated to charitable organizations.  All of these acts are acts of welcome.  All of them are ways Christ welcomes each of us -- in our own place, in our own particular need.  It is always odd to me that welcoming and generosity take place so readily during the holidays, while during the rest of the year there is often more grumbling and complaining -- about the poor and homeless (in particular.) 

Welcome isn't just an act that we do for or receive from others.  Many of us could use learning how to welcome ourselves.  Anxiety, stress, regrets, feeling unworthy are all emotional needs where a welcome would be welcome.  There is a meditation practice taught by Catherine Bourgeault called Welcoming Prayer.  It is a meditation process where you take what you are feeling and you spend some quiet time scanning for where in your body you are feeling it.  Feelings have a residence in various locations in our bodies.  When we've located it welcome it and then thank that body part for welcoming and holding those feelings for us.  We stay with those thoughts as long as it takes to appreciate what that body part does for us when we are stressed.  Finally, after our thanks are given we can take our leave and let it go.  I have found it a remarkably powerful practice.  Oftentimes, just connecting the body with the feeling is all it takes to remove the distress that the thought/feeling was causing.

May we welcome the stranger, the friend, our own beloved self and pour us a cup of tea by the fire of Christ's love.  Amen.

Actionable Suggestions:

  1. Welcome yourself with a spa day, or by giving yourself a break from this busy season. 
  2. Think of a friend or someone who you haven't seen for awhile and give them a call or an invitation.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Be the Glory

The sun will no longer be your light during the day. The light from the moon will no longer be your light at night.The Lord will be your light forever.  God will be your glory.  -- Isaiah 60:19b

The sum of Isaiah 60 is the prophet's encouraging word.  The people have been beaten down, they have little.  They're in exile. Isaiah promises that things are going to change.  God has heard them, seen them. The expansive resources available to them from God's good countenances are there and will be their's -- from material prosperity ("I will turn your copper to gold... v.15) to ethereal brilliance that will light their way. It is an excellent chapter to read in these times of gathering political gloom -- from whichever side you're seeing it.

While the sun and moon are big shiny objects with solid certainty of remaining in place, they don't have the same positive intentionality that set them in motion.  That intention, God by many names, still holds all the brushes and paints to existence as we know it. A minority deny that there is any intention at play in the universe, but the majority of us have had enough spiritual experiences to know there is something profound going on that we can't prove or touch.

This is where Incarnation appears.  Incarnation is where spiritual becoming physical, the invisible becoming visible, and the intangible becoming tangible.  The glory referred to in the verse above is that inner beautiful light that emanates from within us when we are kind, compassionate, generous, collaborative, forgiving, and loving.   The Advent journey is an Incarnational journey of fostering and growing the glory of God's intention for us to be Love in all our interactions - be they commercial, political, religious, familial, personal or interpersonal.  It's a journey into gentleness and kindness -- first to our own sacred image in which we're made, and then to the rest of the world.  In the words of Matthew, the gospel writer, "Don't hide your light under a bushel."  All the power and resources to make a difference in your life and the lives of those around you grows from purposely demonstrating the wealth available in your own spiritual connection with Love that has always built and is building the universe with your partnership. 

Grant us the courage to shine Love into the world at every turn.  Amen.

Actionable Suggestions:

  1. Arrange time to hang out with positive people through Advent.  You could call these get-togethers sun and moon meetings.
  2. Practice being an advocate for Light by calling people on their negativity -- in a loving way of course!  In every way possible, offer alternatives rather than just chastising for wrong.
  3. Think about getting a therapist or spiritual director to work on any parts of yourself that perpetually trip you up and throw you into negativity.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Breaking With The Past.

In those days and in that time I will cause to grow up a righteous Branch of David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. -- Jeremiah 33:15 
Genealogy has a few of my relatives caught up in the ancient ways where knowing who you came from mattered.  Rooted in a common myth, if you were the child of a crook the chances were deemed pretty good that you'd become a crook.  Yes, simple minded - but most stigmas that get stuck to a person are more lie than truth.

Understanding of the ways we inherit stuff from the past have expanded a great deal.  Long ago inheritances were passed on by family relationships, usually father to eldest son.  This was the Biblical context.  Early Christian writers, like Matthew and Luke, worked hard to trace the familial lineage to "prove" Jesus fulfilled this ancient Biblical prophecy of who the Messiah would be.  The underlying expectation of a Messiah was that he would be a new kind of king, a holy ruler who would vanquish all the other imposter rulers.  Jesus claimed a different kind of messiahship and with it a different definition of power.  Jesus didn't see power arising from the tip of a sword or other forceful means.  Jesus embraced the power of everlasting connection with truth and wisdom.  This power was present in the true self and in the true community of believers.  Another word for this power is Love.   

Then Mendel came along and demonstrated that genes carry information forward, mainly physical traits.  Current thoughts embrace ideas that familial energies get handed over, family system dysfunction gets passed on, and there are a growing host of ways genes can get turned on or off like switches. Perhaps the definition of sin is how all the mistakes and misperceptions of the past come to roost in our psyches.  Voices, stigmas, and messages we've accrued from our long lineage tell us we're not good enough, that we can't trust, that only through control and force can we be safe, that watching out only for myself is how to gain security. We believe these partial truths and dismiss spiritual virtues of love, generosity, kindness, gentleness, compassion, inter-dependence... as "sucker fluff for losers." Yet in fact, it is those very virtues that comprise the invisible web of life that keeps the environment and humanity in existence.

The "righteous Branch of David" is the truth that lays hold of us and feeds the roots we share with the human family - those living and those past.  All humanity possesses the very same needs to be accepted, loved, kept safe, possessing hopes and dreams. We are blessed by that Jesus kind of messiahship.  It is our present state.  Will you live it into the future?


May we put down our insufficiencies and need for control to pursue our adopted state within the Divine.  Amen.

Actionable Suggestions:

  1. Journal about the implicit and explicit messages you received about yourself that still control your self-worth and confidence.
  2. Search Youtube.com for videos on how to do tapping and use it to diminish the internal messages you no longer want to be living out.
  3. Interview older members of your family about any messages that they've carried through the years that probably held them back from accomplishing more.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

A Revealing Light

The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. -- John 1:7 (Christian Standard Bible)
The word used in the Greek for light is phos.  In the Greek semantic nuance, phos is the kind of light that reveals something.  John is saying there is a revelation here for all to see, and you're all going to know it.  Given that most of us have read ahead in the story, we already know what gets revealed is the forerunner bearing the essence of God.  This forerunner has the lamp that will light our pathway to a new place we've not been taken before.  The prophets of old foretold it.  In our own moments of deep or profound meditation or prayer it is whispered or we lightly touch that revelation.  Something deeper, calmer, more in perfect synch with everything - there, just beyond -- a sweet gentleness just outside the swirling chaos of our busy lives.

Advent is an intentional time to set ourselves apart from all our hustle and bustle; to slip into warm incarnate waters of peaceful spirit and soak in its revelatory light.  In that shimmering mystery, which has been described as angel choirs or cleansing spirit, all fear, anxiety, and stress is vanquished.  We know in that moment what it is simply to Be -- be present and aware, something greater -- beyond what we experience of life when we're scrambling to make ends meet.  In this space of presence and awareness we meet our true self.  The self as God created it -- pure, sacred, in God's own image, able to connect authentically with Divine Purity. God welcomes us.  It is our false self, our ego that lies and tells us no.  Advent calls us to exercise our power to push aside the untrue voices in our heads and put more of our will and spirit into the soft light -- that soft, sweet, gentle light that is pregnant with the infinite possibilities that Jesus opens for us all.


Oh Self-Revealing One gift us with the ability to open ourselves to the revelation of truth and love that Jesus showed us.  Silence all doubts about our goodness in your eyes.  Bless us with beauty and acceptance.  Amen.

Actionable Suggestions:

  1. Set a timer for 3 minutes.  Darken the room.  Light a candle.  For the 3 minutes breathe slowly and deeply and focus only on the light of the flame asking it over and over, "What do you have to reveal to me?"
  2. Ask Alexa/Google to play Handel's Messiah.  While it plays, try to imagine all the people who have heard it and the places that piece has been played. One outcome from this is a deepening appreciation of the common experiences we share with millions of other people -- around the world and all across time.
  3. While you're sitting in a restaurant or at bus stop or anywhere in public, close your eyes and try to name to yourself all the sights that are around you.  This is an exercise in training your brain to notice what is being revealed.  Much that goes on in our life passes us by because we are just checked out from what is being revealed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The World Can't Win the Dualistic War

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.-- John 1:5
For more than 4,000 years humanity has carried on a dualistic theology of tribal warfare.  Each tribe, feudal state, or nation has held near it's own god who led them into their respective wars against "infidels."  I strongly believe that our spiritual beliefs/systems transmit deeply subconscious ideas about God and they direct our impulses and inclinations on the social level.  To change our reality we have to believe it to be different. To put it bluntly, humanity has not outgrown their warring theology in 4,000 years and it's killing the planet.  Isn't it about time we moved out of this dark place into one of light?  To skip all the history of war gods, in our present time "Evangelical Christians" support a U.S. president who promises them racial purity and legal constraints on particular "sins" they deem abhorrent.  They see their mission as protecting God from the Satanic world.  As we believe so follows concrete decisions in politics and society to battle what we fear,.

From this ancient faith mindset it is easy to interpret light and darkness in the same war-god framework.  Light wins.  Darkness loses.  Goodness wins.  Evil loses.  That's how the Star Wars movie is supposed to work.  There is no denying that Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) has threads woven through it of Assyrian/Babylonian gods influencing their faith as there are New Testament threads-- notably Gnostic-- of evil and goodness.  But, has this warring dualistic theology led us anywhere near to what the Incarnate One (Jesus) taught us?  If we are intent about adopting an incarnational life for ourselves, are we nearer to revealing the God of all Love if we continue the long history of singling ourselves out as chosen ones and eliminating all competition?  I don't think so.

Light and darkness were two elements of a simple fundamental pattern the God of Love first created.  God provided for sleep and activity, life and death, waxing and waning, growth and burial. Much of it is cyclical and follows the wholistic pattern of birth-transformation-death-rebirth.  Our whole lives long we are growing - a change process of giving up the old and adopting the new.  Neither light nor darkness overcomes the other.  The two just ebb and flow in and out of the other and in that flow life thrives.

Changing our dualistic warring ways opens the door that we see Jesus fling open.  Healing occurs.  Love gains traction.  Acceptance and care for the least of these prospers.  Reality transforms to a life-giving and eternity sustaining proposition for the good of all -- humanity and all of creation.

God of life and love, may we gain the vision and insight of a loving existence that will grow as a mustard seed into a large new reality where war is no more.  Amen.

Actionable Suggestions:

  1. Work, support, and vote for political candidates who show stronger incarnational leanings to inclusivity, wholeness, and love of neighbor.
  2. Study the costs and implications to our social net from the warring drive to keep the world tamed to our will.
  3. Begin the process of changing your theological underpinnings from dualist imaging to studying the growing body of teachings about non-dualistic faith and belief.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Watching into Wholeness

What I say to you I say to all: "Watch." --Mark 13:37
When the realization of wholeness dawns, the last vestiges of fear, doubt, and separation dissolve. -- Deepak Chopra

Spirituality is an absent element in so many lives. Culturally, we have grown suspect of all religion, while simultaneously seeing a vast expansion of specialization and division that emphasizes physical and emotional dissociations. But Hildegard of Bingen taught that the unity of body and soul is where wholeness and health is found and separation creates illness.  Spiritual perspectives raise the bar of our awareness to the transcendence of beauty and nature.  More recent scientific investigations into health have found that people who spend time in nature, surrounding themselves in beauty, and practicing prayer and meditation experience stronger immunity, reduced stress, and better health.

To begin getting to know your spirit only requires one thing: awareness.  Life in the Western 21st century world is cram-packed full of doing from the moment one's eyes open until they close at night.  Stress is one of the most common ailments in our social order; fatigue is tied for that spot. Taking any amount of time, two minutes or more a day, just to experience quiet awareness of your breathing, of your being, or of your connections with things that fill you with joy or happiness will begin expanding meaning and your wholeness when done consistently.

Wholeness is the sum total of the universe.  You only lose connection by choosing not to be connected. This is what watching is -- maintaining a conscious awareness that everything you are going through is of smaller significance than the power brought by a divine kinship with Love, Perennial Wisdom, and Everlasting Blessing.

God of all waking, bestow on me, a seeker of deeper meaning, the gift of presence with the realm where peace, joy, and acceptance rule.   Amen.

Actionable Suggestions:

  1. Do an internet or youtube search for guided meditations.  Try out ones that resonate with your personality, faith, and experience.  UCLA has a research program into meditation and they have meditations available on their website and phone apps.
  2. While sitting quietly with a pen and paper try to quiet your mind.  Help your mind empty by writing down each word or phrase that disturbs the quiet.
  3. Let a Bible fall open, close your eyes, and point to a spot on the page.  Read a couple verses.  What word or short phrase jumps out at you.  Spend time just saying that word or phrase over and over to yourself in silence for 2-5 minutes.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Being an Incarnation Partner

God is faithful, through whom you were called into the fellowship with God's son Jesus Christ our Lord.  -- 1 Corinthians 1:9 (NAS)

Fellowship is one of those words that many outside church circles don't hear.  To the modern ear it is archaic.  Archaic vernacular often disconnects us from the meaning, so how can we connect with the meaning?  In the original Greek text the word is (transliterated) koinonia.  According to Strong's Concordance, koinonia can also be translated as partnership.  God calls us into partnership with Jesus. This should be heard as a seriously proactive statement.

In much of Christian theology the heavy historic emphasis has been that God/Jesus does everything for us if we just submit to the "right way."  This "right way" tells us we are saved by a blood sacrifice, by the Holy acting to make the secular sacred (if we have crossed all the "authorities'" t's and dotted all their i's.) But instead if, in fact, we are present to and aware of our own connectedness to the Love of the universe, then we are primordially linked in a partnership with Incarnate Love that Jesus tangibly (and faithfully) lived out in the New Testament witness.  Through our present consciousness of Being within the reality of Love, we are in a partnership with all others of presence and awareness who make all existence sacred -- from the lowly electron to the interstellar galaxies, but in particular, our own swath of existence -- our own "front porch." We work in the partnership by sweeping our front porch with kindness, healing, beauty, and love for all who happen by. 

May the peace of all understanding lead you more deeply into the wisdom and love that supports the universe.  Amen.

Actionable Suggestions:

  1. Pray where one focuses not on ego-driven wants and desires but on the magnificent love it would take to create a universe. Then concentrate on enfolding yourself and each of your loved ones and acquaintances into that transformative love.
  2. What partnerships are you part of, or could join, to find encouragement and comradery in making a difference in your community supporting the environment, health, indigenous populations, the homeless, the disadvantaged, or expanding beauty?
  3. Could your family or group you're part of build a little shelter to house a neighborhood book exchange or food pantry?  

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Incarnational Journey Begins Now

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  -- Romans 13:11 (ESVUK)
Time is.  Time is not will be, because we don't know for absolute certain what our future holds or that we won't meet our end in the next minute.  Time is not was, because that can never happen again and persists only as a memory (if at all!)  The present moment is all we have.  This is the root nature of Incarnation - it is now. It is the Divine Present if we are aware.

The irony of Advent is that it is a preparation time leading to Christmas, as though all earth is waiting for Incarnation.  The suggestion of preparation implies a future that we are a building toward rather than knowing that what we do, pray, and think now folds into and manifests the future.  Perhaps I should define incarnation.  Simply, it is the physical manifestation of Divine Love, which can be seen all around us if we simply pick up our awareness and look.  I think what is meant by "salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed" is that Emanuel (God with us) doesn't need to be hoped for or even expected.  Rather, Incarnation is unfolding moment by moment whether we include ourselves in it or not.  The moment of Incarnation consciously is that moment we see ourselves as an intricate part of the indwelling Love that holds the universe intact. Incarnation is the looping of all time into the present.  We eat, interact, love, worship -- and are saved -- all only in the present moment, in this time, in this hour.  We miss it only by choosing to step outside it and put ourselves - our needs, our desires, our self-pity, our self-centered importance -- anywhere but in God's flowing love and wholeness. It's always nearer than we believe!

O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.*  Amen.

Actionable Suggestions

  1. Be thoughtfully present for ways you can tangibly lift someone else's spirits today -  a smile, a kind word, a donation.
  2. Send 3 Christmas cards addressed to a local nursing home addressed to "One Who Needs Their Spirits Raised."
  3. Make up a few bags with some gloves, a hat, some protein bars, a bottle of water... and hand them out to homeless people at intersections.  (The Dollar Store may have other items you might discover as being helpful.)
Make Incarnation real today!

* United Methodist Hymnal, c. 1989; "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go."  Words by George Matheson, 1882.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Father's Day

Apparently, the first Father's Day was held in Spokane, Washington on June 19, 1908.  It was initiated by a man's daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd.  Her mother had died and she had been raised by her loving father.  While listening to a sermon on Mother's Day, she had the idea of honoring her Father who had given so much to her.  The idea spread to Virginia and then Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday.  Eventually, Congress got around to legislating it as the 3rd Sunday in June and to date we're stuck with it.

The Sad State of Affairs
Father's Day takes on a near oxymoronic quality in a nation where the abortion debate leaves fathers invisible in every discussion and where one recent national estimate found 30% of fathers owe back child support of an amount averaging $7,705(1). Add to this the vast numbers of people who have lost their fathers to death, had their fathers abandon them or abuse them, the fathers incarcerated, or fathers not even aware of their offspring and it would seem that more fathers are missing than are around to be honored on the day.  I believe every father has done the best they can with the cards they were dealt, and herein I acknowledge that the misfortune of the deal may well have left awful wreckage in the wake, wreckage that often plays forward into the next generation.

A Way Forward
If you are one of the many without a father, what does Father's Day mean?  How does that Father in Heaven theological imagery ring on your soul?  This is a Christian theological blog.  How can/do we respond as the Church on Father's Day knowing full well that a sizable chunk of our congregations have fathers who are missing in one way or another?  Too many churches gloss over the absence or abysmal records and "celebrate" fathers with token gifts as though all dads are "the best.".  It leaves many feeling irritated by the sham on top of the reminders of loneliness, abandonment, and emptiness.

Instead of playing into the social charade, I'd propose the possibility that the substance of healing with our fathers lies in the direction of discovering forgiveness.  I don't mean shallow lip service forgiveness. I mean the much deeper root of forgiveness that is entwined with our spiritual lives where rests a deep understanding about the nature of human brokenness.  To grasp this forgiveness one must go farther back in time than the relatively short span of our own disappointments, hurt, grief, or absence.  It goes back further than the life of our fathers... back to a time when God's love was complete and God's hope for human potential was greater than humanity has proven itself capable of living into. The Biblical witness portrays brokenness entering into the picture and like a long string of dominos tipping into one another, brokenness begat brokenness begat brokenness.  There are only two things that I can imagine breaking the fall of the dominos. One is forgiving the failings of our fathers begotten from the failings of their pasts.  The second is a firm resolve to claim and live out a set of healthy actions.  These include:

  • gracing ourselves with prayer,
  • taking regular deep soaks in God's Original Blessing & Mystery,
  • working to understand our family dynamics and systems and appropriately set safe boundaries while re-interpreting what we may have gotten wrong or misunderstood,
  • naming and processing our emotions with others who have understanding ears to hear, and
  • focused attention on our spiritual journey to live into the command to love one another while seeking the original hope God instilled into life.
All kinds of events in life can separate us from those we love (or once loved) - illness, death, alcoholism & multiple other addictions, shame, sexual abuse, mental illness...the list defies counting the ways.  But, we live in the faith and knowledge that the love Jesus demonstrated is the best course on which to align our life compass.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -- Romans 8:38-39
Let's reset our compasses and begin building a future in the New Spirit with an end to family dynamics that hurt and lessen us all. 

(1) Citation: Turner, Kimberly J.; Waller, Maureen R. “Indebted Relationships: Child Support Arrears and Nonresident Fathers’ Involvement With Children," Journal of Marriage and Family, February 2017. doi:10.1111/jomf.12361.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Palm Sunday 2019 Sermon

“The Gullible Crowd”                                                                                                 Palm Sunday 2019
Luke 19:28-40                                                                                                          St. Luke’s Episcopal

Palm Sunday... it’s traditionally treated with such jovial triviality. I even had a dear friend refer to it this week as the fun and games before the serious stuff that comes later in the week. But I sincerely believe that Palm Sunday is Jesus’ and the Gospel writer’s last gasp living summary message to us all before the inevitability of coming events in Holy Week swallow us – swallows us in the eventuality of evil despair inherent in all human fear and the human purposeful destruction of God’s will & purpose. The question facing us this Palm Sunday, is the same question that has always faced the church and humanity every Palm Sunday – namely: Do we idly wait for a magnificent do-gooder Monarch to rescue us or do we roll up our sleeves and set about the hard Holy task of building a world of love and healing? That, my friends, is the stark reality Jesus rides into Jerusalem carrying that first Palm Sunday. Sadly, because the maturity that is required to build a world materiality that is rooted in the deepest Jesus spirituality is so beyond the lazy banality of the typical human soul the answer to Jesus’ challenge has gotten consumed in the partying fluff of waving palm branches while secretly and ignorantly advocating: “Crucify Him.”

Perhaps I’m being overly, and I know sacrilegiously, harsh – “Hey Mark, WHERE is your party spirit, yer killing it here.”  But this Palm Sunday I trust I am speaking to serious adults not a bunch drunken freshman at a frat party. Because the stakes are too high, and the suffering too great for any mature adults to be eating, drinking, and making merry right now.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer for my entire adult Christian life has weighed heavily on my spirit. There is nary a month that goes by that in my prayer and meditation I don’t push out against The Veil – you know that veil – the one between this life and the one we only struggle to imagine – push against the veil hoping to touch Bonhoeffer’s shoulder, his arm, his hand trying hard to hear his voice or receive just a look from him.  In his book The Cost of Discipleship, he explicitly lays out the stakes of a Church & people who are bent on living out, what he calls, “cheap grace.” His execution at the concentration camp he spent the last years of his life in was testimony to how the vast number of people still silently let the crucifixion of Love happen while giving lip service to “Hosanna in the Highest.”

Let me lay out the meaning Of the statement Jesus was making on that colt 2000 years ago. Human beings are fundamentally lazy. I know because I frequently fall into it. My immaturity continues to haunt nearly everything I do. I want someone else to do the hard work for me. I look for a Messiah to rescue me. I can’t tell you how often I’ve howled at the full moon for Jesus to come and rapture me into heaven. Who of us can’t identify with “Calgon Take Me Away!”? So, the crowd has been living, LANGUISHING under the sadistic iron fist of Roman rule. The ONLY ones doing well are the toadies of the Roman Emperor - doing the Emperor’s bidding – Pharisees/Saduccees scared to death their own shadows might rock the cushy boat they’ve constructed for themselves. So they strive hard to keep the masses calm, cool and imbibed with hopes of a Messiah who will come and sweep the Romans away with his terrible swift sword. A conquering Messiah of this stature would come to the seat of power riding on a grand huge stallion breathing fire.  It’s true.
Jesus knew the seat of power in Judaism was Jerusalem. He had great faith in the Jewish people, but they were being duped. To affect a change he had to go there. He had become so acclaimed he could go nowhere without a mass of people in tow. He comes to Jerusalem on a colt. A wee donkey by some tellings. All 4 gospel writers are uncharacteristically unified on this point: it WAS a colt. Yet the gullible mob – under the influence of the snitches, the fakers, the fawners after the crumbs of the powerful – are whipped up to frenzy to believe AND WANTED their superhero. To believe this was their guy- the king awaited one, the defender, rescuer, and Savior. The celebration in anticipation was exuberant!  BUT he was on a colt. No sword. No army on chariots & in armor. A cloak and empty hands: proof positive this was no Messiah. And this dangerous public display of obsession with the “King of the Jews” was a public act of sedition against Rome itself. It would bring real horses and real swords falling upon all the wealth & power the Jewish hierarchy had worked so hard to carve out for themselves. This FAKE must die.

The message Jesus was sending that day was his last public statement: “This is NOT about me and what I can do. I’m not your Savior. I’m not going to do the growing up work that you all need to be doing for yourselves. I’ve been modeling and showing you the way. The way to salvation is through your love of God and of your love of neighbor. You must be thinking all the time of the other- healing, sheltering, clothing, feeding. Basic needs, basic thoughtfulness, basic caring for everyone around you.  Therein, IS YOUR SALVATION.

Power and wealth are frightened to death by one force - the rising of a mass action of compassion, hope, and mass sharing and defense of all - and by all I mean all- not just human mind you (though we aren’t even doing a good job with just humans), but I mean defense of all creation that gives and sustains life for the entire planet; that gives us the very air we breathe and water we drink. Those are fundamental to all life on this planet and they cannot and should not be for sale by the ones who have wealth or power! Any more than they should control who we love or who we feed or who we clothe.
Do you see? Do you hear? Do you feel? A humble man on a burro rides into a seat of power with open hands offering love as the example for all of us to do the same. And the forces of greed, violence, and graft - like they have historically done every damned time throughout the ages inside the Church and outside have done the same damned thing- they’ve done their best to crucify Love.

Palm Sunday is not a party or a celebration. It is a call to roll up your sleeves and take Love to the masses. It is the call to pry open tight little fists grasping to collect more & more for me and mine and open them up and share it with the whole world- to give our all and trust in a God capable of spinning out galaxies, that we’ll (TOGETHER) have enough for everyone. That is called faith. That is what forces of evil call “socialism.” That is what Jesus called Love.
Love, our love broken and poured out is what saves us. Fight the internal lazy immature temptation to hole up dig in and hope for a rescuer to come on mighty steed to save you. Look. Listen, Feel the power of Christian faith and community in action. Trust in it!  Then, pour your heart and mind and hands into the task of facing down the rich & powerful with your own style of little colt and open hands.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Monday the First Week of Lent

Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.  -- Matthew 25:46
This is verse is part of the larger passage (Matt. 25: 31-46) of separating sheep from goats and emphasizing that the way we treat the less fortunate is the way we treat Jesus.  It has frequently shown up in various ways on social media as a not-so-subtle message that U.S. border policies are not measuring up to the standard. While that is sure to set up a debate steeped in political wrangling, there are a couple of points that should be considered.  

First, in Jesus day the weight of caring for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, or in prison was not a task the government(s) felt any compunction to handle.  So, the government's approach should come as no surprise.  The Realm of God doesn't depend on government spending or taxation to bring it about.  Perhaps some of the insensitivity and even hostility directed at the less fortunate is a direct result of the Church's surrender of it's compassionate servant power to secular governmental welfare? 

Second, as the environment continues its downward spiral through lack of international cooperation the world will know millions more in all of the less fortunate categories.  Homes are already being lost to wildfires, hurricanes, rising seas. As this is being written, it's not lost on me how the anxiety level rises just mentioning it all.

What can we do?  This most important principle to hang onto as spiritual sojourners is just do your best. God knows our puniness and does not expect us to be Saviors or even be successful.  Just do your best.  Sweep your own porch - offer care where you can in whatever way(s) you feel drawn and called to plug into the great project of "Making A Difference."  There are tens of thousands of ways that we each can bring an uplifting, kinder, gentler presence to the throngs around us.  Nearly everyone has been, is, or will be in need of such a presence. Offering it, in the best way you can, is the essence of community.  It will be the world-wide community that stands in the way of Jesus and brings hope to all.

Questions for journaling or discussion:

  1. When did you feel in a "less fortunate" space?  Did a community of people surround you, or did you pull yourself out of it?
  2. What situation or who were you a friend to this week?
  3. An early possible beginning point is always praying.  Who might you invite to pray with you to hear the call in addressing any needs you know about?

Great Spirit of grace and influence, instill within us the heart for those less fortunate, and if we are the ones in need shower us with abounding love from others.  Amen.  

Sunday, March 10, 2019

1st Sunday of Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you... you shall take some of the first of all the fruit from the ground....and give it to the Lord....and celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
Right off the bat we need to realize that much of the Bible is written through the paradigm of the Jewish people.  The Bible follows their story closely.  The Bible does not have the capacity to be overly introspective about all that the authors take credit for or overlook in their telling.  So one of the first realities to note is that the possession (and control) of land did not often flow easily or peacefully.  To take possession of a land "being given by God" meant taking it by bloody force. Humanity has been pursuing land acquisition for roughly 10,000 years. Since the Agricultural Revolution, land has been a key commodity that people have fought for, died for, and lost fortunes over.  Real estate has always had a significant "shady" component -- the "swampland in Florida" cliche has it's humor rooted in many a real life swindle.

So I don't hear the "gift" from this passage of scripture in the land ownership piece.  It may more powerfully be found in the giving back to God a measure of what we gain in life. Gratitude, humility, awareness of others' needs, sharing, understanding are all virtues that God has prized from the beginning long before possessing land was a thing.  They are often virtues overlooked in our times of strident wealth accumulation, obnoxious political wrangling, and winning as the only truth regardless of how it is done. 

Giving back a strong portion of what we have received to aid the less fortunate is a good way to stay in tune with the sense of lack that forms the daily reality of millions of people around the world.  Giving back helps us stay plugged into the depths of God's own compassionate giving.  It keeps us aware of others' struggles, and builds a relationship of understanding in both God and those who do not have as much as we might have.  Taking possessions for granted and ignoring mindfulness of our good fortunes leads to the craving of thinking we need more at all costs.  Keeping portions flowing back to God though, is a healthy way to remain connected with spirit and the goodness of humanity and God's creation.

Questions for Discussion and/or Journaling:

  1. In what ways do you consider yourself fortunate?
  2. If you were God, what would you want from the world's people?
  3. Notice that God didn't ask for money, but for fruits of their labor.  What fruits of your labor (skills, knowledge, products/money, time) would make a "strong portion" to return to God? 
Great Spirit, re-energize and infuse us with gratitude, humility, awareness of others' needs, sharing, and understanding.  Bountifully teach us to share.  Faithfully lead us to walk with you.  Amen

Saturday, March 9, 2019

1st Saturday of Lent

"If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?"  - Matthew 5:46
"...observe these statutes and ordinances...with all your heart and all your soul."  --Deut. 26:16

When the "statutes and ordinances" term is used most of us think of the written down laws and rules that humans created - from the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain to the mountains of growing laws added through time.  But if we pull our lens back to take in a much wider scope of history, we might be able to see that there were statutes and ordinances that our Creator laid down long before humans got in the business of law-making.  First, the Creator put into play all the laws of physics: gravity, centrifugal force, thermodynamics, etc. Because of those ordinances and statutes the universe was established and the earth hung into its space.  Laws and rules of chemistry & biology set the pace and development of life on planet earth.  Once humans were walking the planet -- made in the image of God we're told -- we  were instilled with fundamental emotions and concepts of fairness, nurture, caring, and living out concern about shared purpose and survival.  We knew and worshipped the God who loves us all.  And then, religions came and laws got made as we found more ways to be mean, cruel, and selfish.  Often Love got shoved to the sidelines.  We pejoratively think ancient peoples were "uncivilized," but the farther we've come on the human timeline, can anyone seriously argue that the genocide perpetrated on Native Americans, nuclear weapons, or the wars -- WWI, WWII, Korean, Viet Nam, Persian Gulf 1&2, Afghanistan, Iraq -- were leaps of great civilized progress in human development? 

Now our more common shared statutes and ordinances seem to revolve around decimating the planet for our personal benefit, being on the winning side while squashing the opposition, and dying with the most wealth in the bank. But the original statutes are still in place, buried in our primordial hearts.  We love because God first loved us.  We can return to the ancient Wise Ones' ways - walk tenderly on the earth and treat one another with caring, generosity, and empathy.  That approach needs to expand far and wide - way past just those living under our own roof.  We have to stop our "warring madness" and find ways to cut through the barriers we put up based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.  To our knowledge, we are the only creatures like us in the entire universe.  I use the word creature intentionally to include all the two, four, eight, and 100 legged creatures... all life on this tiny blue marble whirling through space.  We've been loved profoundly in the good fortune of embracing our life.  It is life that is shared uniquely across the planet and ages.  Let's do our part to keep it going!

Questions for Discussion and/or Journaling:

  1. In what way might Love be the most important "statute" that exists?
  2. Where do you find examples and proofs that civility is still alive?
  3. What is one way you might love the earth or her creatures this week?

Great Spirit, you have patiently brought us so far along the trail of life.  Many of us are "getting it" and beginning to coax things back toward what is more in your intent for us.  Bless and empower our small efforts.  Amen.


Friday, March 8, 2019

Walking Gently and Proudly

Is this not the fast that I choose?
To break the chains of wickedness
To untie the ropes of the yoke,
To set the oppressed free,
And to tear off every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and the homeless into your house,
to see the naked and to cover them
And not to turn away from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn
and your healing shall spring forth speedily
and your righteousness shall go before you
the glory of the Lord will be your rearguard
Then you shall call and I will answer
You shall cry and he will say, "Here I am." 

If you take away the yoke from your midst
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of wickedness
If you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday sun.

And the Lord will guide you continuously
and satisfy your desire in the scorched places
and make your bones strong
and you shall be like a watered garden
like a spring of water that never fails.

Isaiah 58:6-11

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Original Commands

If you obey the commandments of the Ruler of the Universe that I am commanding you this day; by loving your God, walking in God's ways, and observing the commandments, decrees, and ordinances given, then you shall live...  -- Deuteronomy 30:15-20
By the time of Moses the religion of Judaism was rapidly establishing itself as a legalistic code that operated from a place of male power.  The Agricultural Revolution had already occurred across much of the Middle East before Moses. The tribes and kingdoms were all about the wretched business of slaughter and land acquisition.  Land and the possession of it was now the most highly valued material object.  The religions served as vassal servants in supporting the aggregation of wealth into the hands of a few. The Hebrew children had left Egypt landless so they were behind in the property accrual game, but the observations and experiences with the cultures around them were not lost to them: the way to power and land that will secure your future goes through the Warrior God who would fight for them. So much of the Old Testament tells of the consuming bloodshed.

Reading the passage from that vantage point has a vastly different feel to it than the one from the vantage point of love directed at us by a God who loves us, wants a relationship with us, and desires that we love each other.  The interesting part of this section of Deuteronomy is that it is such a hodge podge of both stances happening simultaneously.  If they love God and avoid getting lead astray they will get land and the prosperity that goes with it.  At what point do they then cross over the line from loving God to loving the land?  History reveals that they fall in love with the reward rather than with the One who provides.  We are still in that life draining quest even today.

If we read scripture carefully with a discerning eye, we will find through the words and the life of Jesus Christ that God doesn't care about the land except as a sustenance to all God's people.  God doesn't care about kings or empires, doesn't care about wealth, success, or prestige/honor.  What God does care about is us staying faithful to the upholding of community and interpersonal relationships based on wholeness, healing, cooperation, and collaboration for all.  That is at the core of the commandments, decrees, and ordinances. If we follow them to care for "the least of these" we will find life.

Questions for discussion, reflection, or journaling:
Prior to the Agricultural Revolution humanity survived and thrived in small bands of 7-15 or tribes up to 30 or so.  Their focus had to be on cooperative sharing and working together to find food and shelter for each member.  

  1. In your imagination, can you see that happening in your family, church, city?  What makes that difficult?
  2. What effect might this consciousness have on the homeless?
  3. How confident do you feel in your tribe's/community's ability to manage conflict in loving ways? (You can consider your tribe/community in whatever way you choose to define it.)
Dear Love of Our Lives, bless us in our endeavors, dreams, and visions to re-imagine our world more in keeping with your original intents.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ash Wednesday 2019

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.  Joel 2:12
For too long -- approximately 10,000 years -- humanity has been on a wilderness march.  A wilderness marked by land grabs, dividing and conquering, oppressing the least, and profiteering off the wonders of the earth which belong to all humans. On the present trajectory the journey appears headed toward a fully scheduled rush to a horizon filled with smoke and ashes.

In Chinese medicine Five Element theory, all things arise out of water, earth, fire, metal, or wood.  As Charles A. Moss calls it: "Fire is the element associated with joy, happiness, and emotional protection of the heart. It is the energy that leads to open-heartedness, intimacy, generosity of spirit, optimism, joy, and the heart-felt expression of love."1

Love is what rises from the ash of what has been lost.  Like the mythological phoenix, love often appears to be dead and turned to ash. But love bursts into new life when we set aside our differences, our prejudices, our grudges, and our selfish attitudes to reconnect with life that is holy-grounded in the Presence of God in our physical lives.  God is not dead.  God is not ash.  God is alive in the human experiences where we seek and find intimacy, relationship, and joy. Christianity has an ancient historical connection to the earthly life cycle of death to life, winter to spring, ash to fire, absence to Presence.  

This Ash Wednesday rather than following the classical pathway of "lamenting our sinfulness and acknowledging our wretchedness" go spend sacred time in nature.  Reflect there upon what might be arising or bursting forth from the seed of love God placed in your heart at your birth.  Imagine that spark, and reach out for joy, optimism, and generosity of spirit to nurture and fan that spark into a full blown celebration of your own holy blazing display of heart-felt love.    

"It only takes a spark to get a fire going.  And soon all those around are warmed up by its glowing.  That's how it is with God's love, once you've experienced it. You spread God's love to everyone.  You want to pass it on." 

Questions for discussion, reflection, or journaling:

  1. What experience(s) in life have you had where it has it felt like ash that turns out to be a good thing?
  2. What do you feel when you sit quietly searching inside yourself for joy, happiness, or generosity of spirit?
  3. How many ways can you think of where you can connect yourself to love?

Prayer: God, we may be standing here with feet in the ashes of life, but we know this is not the end and from whatever place we stand love lives on, in us, through us, around us, and beside us.  Thank you.  Amen.

1. Moss, Charles A., Power of the Five Elements: The Chinese Medicine Path to Healthy Aging and Stress Resistance, c. 2010, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.