On my run this morning I looked behind me and saw the sunrise. So I sat to enjoy one of my “sunrise meditations,” a time to take a few contemplative moments to engage with this particular aspect of the manifestation of the divine. In this case, as can happen sometimes, something came to mind that I think could lead to an intention. It occurred to me as we begin a new year that I could pursue the intention to also manifest the divine in ways similar to that sunrise. To be a filter, or conduit, for the light which represents the energy source which gives life to all things. To filter it in ways that are colorful and beautiful, that add value to the life experiences of those who encounter it. In order to be that, to exist above the problems and difficulties of a world grappling with how to stay in balance in spite of circumstances. Just another way, I suppose, of visualizing my new motto. Be cool, be kind.
One of the questions being asked in my circles these days is whether or not there is the possibility of something good and useful arising from the wreckage of religion and Christianity in particular. Increasingly, I have trended toward thinking that they may be, although certainly not having a lot to do with the toxic version created some hundreds of years ago by people who were not Jesus that the institutional church seems to be having such a hard time unmooring itself from. In any event, for me that process has largely boiled down to re-defining a lot of terms and phrases that I grew up with but which mean very different things to me at this point. To that end, I've been thinking a lot about attempting to create my own theological lexicon, a dictionary of terms and concepts the way I currently consider them. Below is a list of those, with a comment about what I don't think they are. What replaces that will hopefully be the subject of a series of posts over the coming months.
Not: an individual transaction to get you to heaven
Not: belief in a dogma
Not: God was mad at you, but now he’s OK with you
Not: the happy place you go when you die
Probably this is one that should be deleted from the lexicon altogether, but for now:
Not: a place of eternal conscious torment for “non-believers”
Absolutely a candidate for being deleted from the lexicon, but for now:
Not: bad things you do that makes God not want to hang with you
-wrath of God
Not: God is angry with me because I’m a bad person
-forgiveness of sins
Not: God looking the other way at your "sin" (see previous definition)
Not: correct behavior according to your institution’s particular moral code
Not even going there on this one. I'll just explain why it absolutely needs to be deleted from the lexicon
Again, delete from the lexicon. Replace with Jesus the Christ
not: God's chosen blood sacrifice so he could "forgive our sins" (see previous)
Not: a being outside of creation who occasionally messes with it
Note: Amy and Peter met para-gliding, and it remains one of their go to recreational options that they enjoy together. Also, if you want to see a video of the affair based on the songs that I wrote for the processional and the recessional, go to https://youtu.be/Ot2E-AkOyhs
Well, Amy and Peter: it appears that you’re ready to launch this thing. I think that’s true: you seem to have done some pretty good pre-flight, things seem to be in order..
But here’s the thing: once you turn and launch and your love is in the air, you’re committed. None of this “I think I’ve changed my mind, I’m going to bail out of this harness” stuff. Not without severe injury. That’s because, in part, that there’s a sense in which the two pilots who stood on launch have become one. So the only question left to answer is, “how do we make this the best flight possible?”
With regard to that, let me just say that in the many years I’ve been doing so I have observed relationships falling along a continuum between 3 basic types. The first is when both partners are primarily asking the question, “What’s in this for me? What does my partner have to offer me in this?” Those kinds of relationships, if they’re lucky, will just be a quick sled ride to the bottom. Otherwise they will suffer multiple collapses and eventually, inevitably, a hard landing with the only question left being how wounded will the pilots be walking away. Because that one pilot will have been split back into two, and nobody survives being cut in half without scars.
Moving along the continuum, however, you can come to a relationship where at least one of the partners is primarily asking a different question, that is “what do I have to give here?,” but with the other partner mostly responding, “yeah whatchyoo got for me? I’ll take that.” Those are relationships that have at least a chance to maintain some altitude, but they are asymmetrical and subject to multiple partial collapses that will prevent them from ever attaining the heights that they’re capable of.
But if you continue along you begin to approach a type of relationship where each partner is primarily asking what it is that they have to give. In the wisdom tradition we come from it is spoken of like this:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider the other better than yourself; not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others.
Just imagine that. Not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interest of the other. That’s when you get this amazing dance of people attempting to out-serve and out-give each other and there are literally no limits to how high you can go. Bring your oxygen. Always keeping in mind that it is about what you have to give, not just how you feel. There are plenty of emotions in these situations, as there should be, but those are not what will take you the distance. It is love manifested in concrete acts of selfless service that will do the trick.
But that is only half of this wing called marriage. The other half is just as important and is simply this: mercy. Grace. Forgiveness, because newsflash, Amy: in spite of the epic quality of the DNA he has inherited, Peter is a flawed human. Likewise Peter, in spite of her beauty and charm, her joyful demeanor and intelligence and immense ability to love…dogs. And some humans, Amy is also not perfect. And let’s face it: perfection is boring. Plus, it doesn’t get us anywhere. Because nothing grows unless it’s stressed and in every crisis is an opportunity.
It is these two halves of the wing: mutual, selfless, sacrificial service as well as the mercy and grace necessary when one falls short, that is rightly spoken of as unconditional love: rumored by some to be not just a characteristic of, but the very nature of the divine, as well as what we are called to reflect in this world. So pursuing your relationship in these kinds of ways becomes one of the ways in which you pursue your very purpose in life. This is a big deal you're getting yourselves into.
So here is my charge to each of you as individuals and the two of you as a couple: every day of your relationship, so long each of you endures, make every effort to take advantage of what I guarantee will be the multiple opportunities for selfless sacrificial acts of service and unyielding grace. If you do this the wing of your marriage will stay inflated and stable, able to handle the turbulent air that will come as well as to take full advantage of the nice lifty thermals that will take you to the heights you’re capable of. There will be adventurous days and bumpy days and days when you will be soaring along on that smooth buttery air, as the reverend Jesse would say. And ultimately you will come to a nice soft landing. Amy will remember to flair, and I along with all those here, those who wish they could be, and those yet to come who will be on your side, will celebrate with you here and now and we will celebrate with our then and there. Because there’s a party over there.
Sunday I managed a long overdue wander through the woods, eventually finding myself in Todd Creek Redwood grove above Saratoga. These sorts of meanderings seem to be particularly helpful in processing whatever it is that is currently stewing in my brainpan. Simmering near the top of the stew lately, especially given that my wife and I both lost our fathers recently, is this whole “what happens when we die?” question. Lately I have run into various posts/podcasts on the question of whether our consciousness endures, as well as the latest from the world of quantum weirdness: to wit, it appears that rather than asking how consciousness derived from matter, what we should be asking is how matter derived from consciousness, the true building block of the universe. That makes my brain melt, I’ll admit, but on the other hand seems consistent with a creation narrative as I have understood that, as well as aligned with my current thinking on the nature of the divine. Rather than the bearded dude separate from creation “out there” somewhere, I am much more inclined toward considering God as “I Am,” pure existence, and as being “over all and through all and in all:” the reality we all live in the midst of and are a part of, “In whom we live and move and have our being,” if you will. It would certainly be theologically and scientifically consistent, in my mind, to call that consciousness God.
So there I am, finally at the grove after too long of a hike (took a bit of a rabbit trail for a bit, quite literally, before it petered out) and I found myself thinking about the dads and asking, “Are you there? Are you now a part of that consciousness that undergirds reality? Are we here together?” Then came one of those memorable mystical moments that sometimes occur on occasions like that, and the answers in the affirmative were as clear as if they had been spoken.
I have always had the notion that our consciousness endures, something the tradition I come from certainly affirms. But that has always assumed a distinct disconnect between realities, “going to heaven,” wherever that is, but it certainly isn’t here. In this case what was particularly meaningful to me about the experience was the sense of presence that felt more like an overlap than a disconnect. Considering the way in which their present spiritual reality and my physical reality were connecting in that grove reminded me of another time years ago as I sat by a stream in a different part of the forest (same mountains). I was pursuing a contemplative moment when my prayers became words which became sounds which became melded with the sound of the stream and turned into music: an interplay of melody, rhythm, harmony and yes, meaning, that was so incalculably complex even Beethoven or Frank Zappa wouldn’t have been able to understand it’s structure. But they would have been entranced as I by the immeasurable beauty of it all. And I was a part of it, integrally integrated into the substance of creation. It was a completely overwhelming experience made more so by the sure knowledge that I had the barest hint of what that existence is really like. Last Sunday at Todd Creek Redwoods, I felt the presence of those who had so recently passed and thought about the chance they were experiencing in its fullness that which I had only glimpsed, and I was glad for them.
Then I wondered, we seem so near and so intertwined in spite of our current realities, could they manifest in this world if they chose? I have no idea, actually, but if they are experiencing the complete reality that I had only a glimpse of, why should they? They don’t need to come back for dolphin rides: they experience everything because they are a part of it.* However, I considered one who did choose to incarnate at one point, someone who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself human, and offered us an example and teachings as to how to manifest the God consciousness in this world. He died, as do we all, but apparently didn’t stay that way. And that is spoken of in the sacred texts of my tradition as something that reconciled not just every human, but the entire cosmos, whether “things on earth or things in heaven” to God. Somehow all that exists in the physical and spiritual realms were brought into alignment with a plan and a purpose. The hows and the whys and the (quantum) mechanics of that are beyond me. But in speaking about his conviction that this “resurrection” is destined to be a universal phenomenon for everyone, Paul elaborates what the end game is pretty well, I think. In his central discourse on the subject in 1 Cor. 15, he speaks of a process of defeating those things that are not in alignment with the prime objective until finally God is “all in all.” To me that is a picture of finally getting to the point where there are no boundaries between the physical and the spiritual, and the little overlaps like I experienced become the totality. Death itself is spoken of as the final enemy to be destroyed, so there is no more going from “here” to “there,” because here and there become one thing. This is the mystery of God’s will to be completed when everything is fulfilled spoken of by the author of Ephesians: “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth.”
My thinking on stuff like this continues to evolve, but at this point here’s what I can say regarding where I’m at on this whole “what happens after you die?” thing:
For me, that means that everything I do in this life which is aligned with the objective of the God who is love- every act of compassion, service, caring for the marginalized, all the kinds of stuff Jesus showed and taught about how to manifest God consciousness: all of it is a piece of the process of getting to the goal, and I believe a piece of the process of getting me to become a more useful part of the program now and even after my Zoom memorial (God help us all).
All of creation is saturated with meaning and purpose and hopefulness as it continues to evolve toward a positive goal the nature of which none of us can possibly imagine, but every day we are a part of the process, now until time itself no longer exists.
I’m all good with that.
*in discussing this with a friend, he mentioned to me that the story of the transfiguration might be an example of a possible answer to that question. Why didn’t I think of that?
** see 1 Cor. 3:10-15, among other passages, for a description of this sort of process
Recently I found myself on a journey outside of my normal cultural context for reasons of attending a funeral, hanging out with family, and a little vacationing action in a different part of the country. Prior to embarking on my journey, I had determined to avoid conversations related to politics or religion. Other folks don’t always have that same determination, of course, so following through on my decision became at times a bit of an exercise in self discipline. Fortunately, I am by nature committed to conflict avoidance, but I couldn’t help but reflect on what input I might have had absent my wonderfully self righteous form of non-engagement.
One such conversation I overheard was regarding the appropriate attitude for a Christian toward same sex relationships. I realized as I was dawdling in the adjacent room that somehow my name had entered into the conversation, so avoiding being drawn into it included physically walking away and pretending I didn’t know it was going on.
Later in the weekend I listened to someone else describe the estrangement he currently experiences from his gay son, whose wedding to his partner he graciously attended but nevertheless sees as having gone to the “dark side.” I thought it impolite just to remain silent, given it was just the two of us chatting, so I made some bland remark about how love is stronger than our divisions and can find a way to ultimately heal them. General enough and sufficiently lacking in anything challenging to engender an “amen” from any well meaning believer.
Perhaps these were meant to be opportunities to try to make a contribution toward helping people consider different ways of approaching something that can cause that kind of pain, but my life’s journey has left me with very little stomach for that sort of thing. It caused me, however, to reflect on an experience I had recently related to why my name had come up in conversation #1. The reason for that referred to a reflection I had offered for the funeral of someone who is generally revered and regarded as an example of a Christian leader by the folks attending this gathering. As such, it was asserted that he would agree that same sex relationships were something God would not approve of. However, in my funeral reflection I had noted how the two of us were together at the last service he was able to attend of the church he had chosen as his final spiritual home. That was the service in which they installed their new female pastor, which might have been strange enough for some churches he and I have been a part of, but in this case the new pastor's wife was also there. I recalled how we had reflected together regarding the way in which that experience would have, at an earlier times in our lives, been the cause of some significant theological consternation.
That is not the experience I speak of, however. That came later as one of the former members of a church this man had pastored reached out to me after having listened to the reflections I had to offer at his service. He told me of a time when he had come out as gay to the man who was his highly respected pastor at the time, and had been told that God would never be able to accept who he was with regard to his sexuality. This man seemed very interested in the ways his former pastor had clearly evolved with regard to his thinking, and desirous of some kind of assurance that today he would receive a different response. It is one of the great pleasures and privileges I have had in my life to be able to assure him that, were he to still have a voice today, he would repent of what it was he had said to him so long ago and embrace him completely for all of who he is without reservation. That was clearly a healing balm for this man, and to be able to offer that for someone post-mortem is a unique opportunity to be a small part of making some kind of amends for what can clearly be deep and lasting pain our attitudes in the church have caused people.
So I suppose that if I had the integrity or the spine to actually engage with these kinds of conversations in these kinds of contexts, what I would say is that it is possible to go on a journey that enables you to avoid inflicting that kind of damage to people, or have to experience the pain of estrangement or fear for your loved ones that so many people in the church have inflicted and/or endured. And you can do so in a way that does not require any compromise to a right understanding of the nature and character of God or how and in what ways that is revealed to us. I won’t try to describe that journey here: I think it is different for everyone. For some it is deeply intellectual and theological and all about biblical interpretive frameworks, blah blah blah. For others it simply boils down to seeing the fruit of a dogma as inconsistent with love, so it must not be from God.
Taking that sort of a journey can be a frightening prospect when our worldviews have been so tied to particular ways of thinking about things. But if you have known the good and gracious heart of someone who has been gravely wounded by a rejection that needn’t have happened, and subsequently have watched the cauterization of those wounds via a willingness to embrace the offer of an enlightened compassion, even if it is post-mortem via a stand-in, I cannot imagine how someone who claims to embrace the God who is love would not at least consider taking a few steps down the path.
My father in law and I had a unique relationship, especially as it relates to our spiritual journies. The video below has some intel about that, feel free to get in touch if you have questions or want to chat about just what the heck I'm talking about. Rest in peace, Werner.
Up until now my family has been mercifully spared from trajedy due to Covid 19. But now dad is among the statistics, which never had to be as large as they were. That pisses me off, not gonna lie, but I hope we're all still doing what we can to support our immune systems as well as the societal systems that will help us get to the other side of this thing.
In a previous post I had some comments about whether the Coronavirus pandemic could be seen as the wrath of God, and if so in what way. Now we have the one-two punch of a pandemic and racial unrest that reveals a soul-sick society still in great need of redemptive healing. And the voice of one segment of that society cries out in rage.
Let me just re-iterate the basis of my comments on the virus founded in a Pauline notion of the divine: that God is not a being “out there somewhere”, somehow separate from their creation, but is “over all and through all and in all,” and “in whom we live and move and have our being.” A reality that transcends creation, but that creation is a part of, that we as humans are integrally connected with, and which is ultimately defined by one word: love. In that way, who we are and how well we reflect that definition will in part define the health and wellness of God themselves.
I combine that with the story of a man who is said to be the ultimate example of what that reality would look like as an actual human being living among us. He was an ethnic minority living in territory occupied by a nation obsessed with its own power and economic well being, daily witness to all of the injustices which accompany that. A nation with a political structure that was in bed with religious leaders who used a fear and shame based religion to keep people subjugated physically and spiritually. A system controlled by religious and political leaders who based their power and privilege in defining who the outsiders were and who was less than equal.
The God-man raged against it. He excoriated the religious elite with no-holds-barred teaching to lay bare their hypocrisy. He raged through the marketplace with a whip, disrupting commerce and calling out their unjust and unequal economics for the ungodly travesty it was.
That was the wrath of God. That was the voice of God raging against the injustice that is the opposite of love. Today that is what I am hearing in the rhetoric and seeing in the overturning of tables.
I began with the notion that the voice of one segment of our society cries out in rage. I hear in that voice the wrath of a God crying out in sickness and pain, who is still not well, not entirely whole. Because we shouldn’t be able to even describe our brothers and sisters as a “segment” of our society. It has been 2,000 years since a movement began with the declaration that there are no segments, we are all one and a part of the one that is all. But here we are.
The winds and the rain are beating against our house, revealing a foundation that is cracked and unstable. It remains to be seen if the great crash is what’s next, and if so whether we are able to rebuild a better foundation in order to construct something more durable.
I had a conversation the other day with someone about whether the Coronavirus outbreak is going to be considered an “act of God.” This apparently has some financial implications related to insurance and stuff, but for my part I was wondering how it is those who purport to be followers of God would think about something like this, if it is indeed a deliberate act.
I start with the presumption that the usual way to think about deliberate acts of God like this have something to do with God being angry and pouring out judgment, the so-called “wrath of God.” For a long time now I’ve thought a little differently about that phrase. Wrath, or orge, is derived from the notion of a plant swelling with liquid and “crowding out” what doesn’t belong. To me, that’s a perfect analogy to our immune system: if we are attacked by something like a virus our immune system sends white blood cells to attack it and drive it out.
Combine that understanding with how I have evolved theologically (my term: not everyone would consider it an evolution) to think about God more along Pauline lines: that God is “over all and through all and in all,” and “in whom we live and move and have our being,” but especially that God is love: absolute compassion in action. The leads me to think of the "wrath of God" as their immune system: a built in response that crowds out whatever does not conform to that ideal.
A couple of examples of “natural disasters” which were also “acts of God” described in the bible come to mind. One is the great flood annihilating everyone because the earth was corrupt and full of violence. I no longer subscribe to a dualistic view of God as a deity out there somewhere full of anger who devolves into a genocidal maniac. However, there is a story here that says something true: bad things happen when we are corrupt and hostile toward one another. But when the waters have subsided there are always those left who have evolved to understand peace better and able to declare “never again.”
Likewise, the sin of Sodom was that “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49) We know what the “act of God” was in that story.
This is a god-awful mess we’re in right now. But is it an act of God? I’m hoping so. Not as a deliberate judgment from a wrathful deity being poured out on us from elsewhere, but an immune response that will help us make progress in crowding out those things that do not conform to love, to compassion in action.
As I write there is a conversation going on as to whether it is worth sacrificing potentially millions of lives on the altar of the markets. I pray that God’s immune response during this crisis will help to crowd out and destroy that kind of thinking. There are even so-called “Christian” leaders joining this pathetic godless chorus. I pray that this will help to hasten the demise of that particular “strain” of Christianity.
I hope you don’t mind me referring to it as that. I’m not suggesting that brand of fundamentalism is a virus that humanity has contracted.
Really, I’m not.
I pray that God’s immune response will help us to evolve beyond the lessons of coronavirus into ways of thinking about our economic systems that advance the cause of justice, what the Bible calls righteousness: everything working right for everyone.
I pray that God’s immune response will help us to evolve in our understanding that our common humanity knows no borders and we are all in this together because we are all one thing, God in us and us in them.
I no longer believe something like the Corona epidemic could be a deliberate act of God who decided for whatever reason to do this to humanity. I could never even like a God like that, much less love them. But I have no trouble thinking of this as a divine immune response that will help us to be stronger and better as a human race on the other side: a people more just, more compassionate, and more committed to the systems and processes that will achieve that kind of wellness: that kind of salubris.
So this is the “year of the bible,” or it’s supposed to be according to someone. I have no idea who decides on these things but I’m thinking that if I ever got volunteered for that committee I would subsequently be ejected with all due haste. In any event, hearing that this year had been designated as that by those in the know reminded me of one of the great “here’s how we should think about the bible” passages that I grew up with, towit:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12,13)
So yeah, that is how most “bible believers” think about the bible, and the mental image I also had of it growing up: as a sword doing those things that swords do, in this case including judging us because this is, after all, a metaphor regarding the way God wants to weaponize their word. But I find myself wondering if this is actually how the author is suggesting we really think about it? Keep in mind that the bible he’s talking about is the Old Testament, the law and the prophets and the writings. Here’s what he has to say about that as he sets the tone at the beginning for the rest of the book:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (1:1,2)
That is, if you’ll excuse the expression, a big but. That’s how God used to speak to us. We’re on to a new reality here, something characterized by things like entering God’s rest and being freed of the slavery of our fear of death. Allow me to side-step into a geek moment and say that although nobody knows who actually wrote Hebrews, I’ve always thought of them as a disciple of the apostle Paul. Death for Paul is code for living in a reality of shame and condemnation because you think you’re still subject to religious rules, which is why he can speak of the Old Testament law (specifically the 10 commandments) as the “ministry that brought death,” because it is the “ministry that brings condemnation.” (2 Cor. 3:7-9) It seems to me that the author of Hebrews agrees when he speaks of the work Christ did for us as cleansing our conscience from “acts that lead to death.” (9:14) That phrase is nekron ergon. Dead works, useless rituals: religious rites we think we have to perform to appease God.
So, I’m suggesting that perhaps we can read the passage in question differently from what we’re used to. What if the author isn’t affirming these aspects of the “word of God,” but critiquing them as the ways in which we used to think about it but should be over with in the new reality? Let’s be honest here: just how is it that we ever thought that being skewered by a sword and sliced up was a positive metaphor? That’s how people get killed. Spiritually speaking, that’s what will happen if you allow the “word of God” to make you feel judged for failing to comply.
So by all means, let’s make it the year of the bible. A time when we can finally get past thinking of it as God’s little book of rules to follow or else we’ll get spanked. After all, getting skewered and sliced in half makes it really difficult to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace. (4:16)