Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How to Avoid Those Annoying Little Blisters

On this third Sunday of Lent we encounter two readings that focus our attention on life’s pilgrimage. The first reading (Exodus 17:1-7) reminds us that our journey through the wilderness of life is done in stages. The second reading (John 4:5-42) is a story about the spiritual pilgrimage of Jesus, a Samaritan woman, her friends, and the disciples. Everyone in this story was at different stage on their life’s pilgrimage.

Thirteen years ago, as I prepared for my first walking pilgrimage in Ireland, I asked three young friends, who had walked their own pilgrimages, for some advice.

I asked the first one what was the most important thing she thought I needed to know about going on a pilgrimage. “Well,” she said. “You’re not going “on a” pilgrimage. You’re already “on” pilgrimage. The moment you decided to be intentional about pilgrimage was the moment your pilgrimage began. Life is “the” pilgrimage,” she said. “Walking Ireland is just one stretch of the journey.”

I asked the second young friend what advice he could give me about hiking. He said, “Buy the best leather boots you can find. And don’t be cheap. Good boots will cost you something but in the end, worth every penny you spend.”

I asked my third young friend what was the most important piece of equipment I should take with me. “Silk sock liners,” she said without hesitation. “They don’t cost much but they’ll save you from getting blisters.”

Wisdom from three wise souls. Not only for walking my many pilgrimages, but also for gaining wisdom from the metaphors about walking the pilgrimage of life.

My first young friend taught me that on life’s pilgrimage, I will need spiritual guides. It doesn’t matter what age the guide is—what matters is that they’ve walked the way before. In the story of the Samaritan woman, we understand that Jesus will be our spiritual guide. But also in the story, the woman would become a spiritual guide for many of her friends. They followed the way of Jesus because she pointed them to the path.

I’m not very fond of being called a Christian. But I do want to be known as a person who is following the way of Jesus. So, I look for guides, mentors, teachers who know the way. People who will hold me accountable. Who won’t let me hide or avoid things in life. Six weeks ago, when my pilgrimage took a dramatic turn, I called some friends who I know are experienced at leading churches through similar situations. During this time, I need their guidance and wisdom to keep me on the path.

Regarding my second young friend’s advice, I did buy an expensive pair of leather boots and I haven’t been sorry one step of the way. What he also taught me was that there will be a significant cost that accompanies my spiritual pilgrimage. In the story of the Samaritan woman almost everyone in the story took some significant risk. Jesus risked his reputation as a rabbi by talking to the woman. The woman risked humiliation by telling her friends that she had met the Messiah. And the people that followed her back to Jesus risked their time. The disciples, however, didn’t risk anything. They took the safe route. Instead of asking Jesus why he had been talking to the woman, they asked Jesus if he was hungry. There wasn’t anything wrong with their well-meaning question. But without taking a risk that would cost them something they weren’t going to grow spiritually.

Jung said that if there isn’t an outward journey, there will never be an inner journey. A spiritual pilgrimage requires the risk of going somewhere and doing something. We may not go to Ireland and walk the Wicklow Way or go to Spain and walk the Camino, but by being involved in a ministry that makes us uncomfortable and that costs us something, there we will be on pilgrimage and growing spiritually.

And I also followed my third friend’s advice; I bought sock liners. The thin silk socks cost less than three dollars. But I’ve hiked a thousand miles since that point and I’ve only had one tiny blister. What I learned from her advice was that I need to pay attention to the small details that will be important in my spiritual growth. Jesus told the disciples, “One person reaps and one person sows.” Often times, I tell my spiritual director that I’m overwhelmed. He typically tells me, “Gil, say your prayers and do your little bit.” As Anglicans, people of the Prayer Book, we understand that our prayers shape our belief. In other words, how we pray effects how we act. By focusing our attention on our prayer life, we trust that we will actually live a life of prayer; meaning we will naturally be doing God’s work in the world; feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, and embracing the stranger in our country (Matthew 25:35). Our prayer life will guide us into living a life of service. To paraphrase Jesus, one person does one ministry and someone else does another. We all do our little bit.

I don’t want to skip over this important detail and make the assumption that we all understand what a life of prayer looks like. We all will be drawn to a different way of praying. Some will take the Prayer Book and follow the pattern of praying morning prayer, noon day prayer, evening prayer, and compline. Some will pray just one of those services of prayer.

Some will pray one of the small prayers at the back of the Prayer Book. Some will pray the rosary, which includes the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Some will pray the Eastern Orthodox Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Some will pray extemporaneously. The point is not so much the form of prayer. The point is that we pray with the intention that the prayer shapes the way we act. There’s a subtle but important difference here, prayer shapes the way we believe and act, not the reverse, which is belief shapes the prayer.

I was in Canterbury Cathedral in England several years ago. We happened to be there at noon when someone said over the intercom that it was the custom of the cathedral that everyone stop for a moment and say the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. I was in the undercroft standing near a tiny side chapel just large enough for four people to kneel at the rail. As I knelt and began praying the Lord’s Prayer, I realized I was kneeling on a stone kneeler, where the prayers of people for over a thousand years had worn out the stone. The prayers of the people shaped the stone. And that’s what our prayers do to our mind, body, soul, and spirt. We are shaped by our prayer. While this life of prayer will protect the tenderness of our soul from the burden of life’s blisters, it will also activate us to live a life of service.

Wise words from my young pilgrim friends. Listen to our spiritual guides. Be willing to pay the price of spiritual growth. And pay attention to the small details of life’s pilgrimage. Life is a pilgrimage. How we walk it will make a difference in our life as well as everyone around us.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

It's the Temptation of the Good that Get Me in Trouble

In my thirteen years of preaching in the Episcopal Church, I don’t think I’ve preached on sin and temptation, per se; at the most a few times. I’ve probably preached around the topic, or used another word for sin, like “mistakes,” or “those things that separate us from the divine.” Having grown up in the Southern Baptist Church, sin was a popular topic, particularly those obvious “Big Sins” that dealt with sex, money, and power. For the most part now, I think the majority of people who attend church do their best to steer clear of the sins of the obvious.

We work hard to avoid these temptations. But, temptation is actually a good thing. St Anthony of the Desert said that temptation is necessary for our spiritual growth. Which is probably why we heard in the Gospel of Matthew (4:1-11) that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. St Anthony also said that the more mature the person is in their spirituality, the subtler the temptations would become.

We can’t study Jesus’ temptations without first making some sense of the other major character in this story, Satan. We can get some clue about who Satan was in this story by looking back at the Book of Job. In that story, all the heavenly beings were with God. There, Satan told God he had spent time on earth among God’s people. God asked Satan if he had seen Job, God’s servant, the man among men of earth that had turned away from evil and walked God’s path. Satan challenged God, suggesting that Job just hadn’t been tempted severely enough. So, God let Satan have his way with Job. Job might be considered the Old Testament Christ figure—a son of God would never turn his back on God, no matter what lie ahead. And who is Satan? Well, an easy way to look at that character would be to consider Satan like the older brother in the story. The one who always tells you, “Go ahead, it’s okay, you can do it, you won’t get in trouble.” But in the end, big brother leads you astray. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Jesus’ temptations.

First, Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. It is interesting that Jesus would, later in his ministry, turn “stones” into bread. At the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus would take the meager lunch of a boy and use it to inspire the disciples “hearts of stone” of disbelief, into enough food to feed the hungry masses. So, turning stones into bread wasn’t the temptation. The real temptation for Jesus was to do something good, at the wrong time for the wrong reason.

I’m pretty familiar with that temptation. There are a lot of things I’m asked to do that are good things to do—things I can do, things I’m qualified to do—the problem is, either the timing or my reason is wrong. I’m constantly being asked to serve on a committee, teach a class, train a group of people, take on some assignment—the issue is timing or my reason for accepting. Is this the right time for me? The better question is, “Do I have the time to do a good job?” The other question is, “What’s my reason for considering doing this thing?” Is it my ego that’s feeling good by being asked or is this something I’m really supposed to do?”

What did Jesus do in this circumstance? He looked for the deeper meaning. The answer wouldn’t be found by feeding his ego. Instead, he would discern by listening to the voice of God. Turning the stones into bread wasn’t a bad thing—it was just a “Good thing, at the wrong time for the wrong reason.”

Second, Jesus was tempted to jump off a pinnacle and rely on God to save him. Once again, Jesus would actually do this later in his ministry; he would crawl high upon the pinnacle of the Cross and leap off into the dark abyss of death, relying on God to save him. The real temptation here, though, would be that Jesus was tempted to avoid the hard work that needed to be done on the Cross.

Well, I’m pretty familiar with this temptation as well. There are things that I know are going to take a lot of hard work—dark night of the soul kind of stuff. And I know it would be a lot easier to avoid that work in my life, to simply turn around and walk away. The problem is, when I avoid walking through the storm, I miss all the work the Spirit will do in my life. It takes about two hours to drive the 100 miles of Ireland’s Wicklow Way, while it takes seven days to walk it. As Carl Jung would say, without the outer pilgrimage, there is no inner journey; no walking, no inner pilgrimage. Jesus didn’t avoid the hard work of the Cross. And he challenged us to take up our cross, to do our hard work in the dark night of the soul. Giving in to the temptation of avoidance will reduce our opportunity for spiritual growth.

Jesus’ third temptation in the desert was even more subtle than the first two. Typically, we take this temptation on face value—Jesus was tempted to worship Satan. But was Jesus really tempted to worship Satan? Maybe we could go a bit deeper and say that Jesus was tempted with power. Again, that doesn’t seem like anything Jesus would really be tempted by. Truthfully, after 400 years after Jesus walked on the earth he would be worshipped by the kingdoms of the world. So, how was he being tempted? I think Jesus was tempted by the sin of immediacy. “It can all be yours, now. You don’t have to wait.”

Oh, I know this temptation so well. My lack of patience tempts me to say, “We can fix this problem right now if we just do it my way.” The old adage my dad used to tell me rings in my ears, “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” But the immediate solution is not often the sustainable or systemic way to solve the problem. God’s way is outside the equation of time. God’s work has a long arc and takes a lot of patience.

Like Jesus, we too are tempted to do good things, though the timing and the reason might be off. We are also tempted to avoid the hard work of the dark night of the soul. And we are tempted to by the sin of immediacy.

Like Jesus, we must slow down and listen to God through our prayers. There we will find the strength to persevere those temptations that plague us. And like Jesus, eventually the tempter will leave us and then the angels will minister to our needs.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Child's Song

I grew up in home where we went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and every other time the church doors were open. And during the summers I went to Vacation Bible School that lasted not one week, but most of the summer. We learned all the Bible stories and learned all the songs. Of all that the one thing that has stayed with me through the darkest days was the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, red and yellow, black and white, Jesus loves all the children.” That has been the song of my theology.

My theological thinking has been grounded in Jesus’ teachings on love. Jesus said the two most important commandments are “To love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” He went on to say that God is pure love, the one who loves unconditionally. My own faith in the unseen God and my following Jesus is built upon these teachings. Everything else is another room built on the house of my theology, but Jesus’ teaching on love is at the dinner table of my life.

But then in today’s reading (Matthew 5:21-37) we hear Jesus’ most difficult teaching; “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” We might ask ourselves why we should try to do such an impossible thing? Because, Jesus says, this will bring about a “perfection,” a full-bodied maturity within our souls. In other words, by loving our enemies we will take on the very nature of God. But what would “loving our enemies” look like in real life?

On October 2, 2006 Charles Roberts, a local milk man, walked into the Amish one-room school house in Pennsylvania. He had a gun at his side. He ordered the boys and the four adults to leave the building. Then he told the ten school girls, ranging in ages from 6-13, to lie face down on the floor. He tied their hands behind their backs and summarily shot them, killing five. Then he turned the gun on himself. In his suicide note, he told the story of the death of his infant daughter years before. The note said that he blamed God. Hating God, he decided to punish God by killing those innocent girls.

The story is horrific. When the event happened, most people probably expected the Amish to hide away in their grief. And most of the world would have thought nothing of it if the Amish community spoke out in condemnation of the killer and his family. But that’s not what they did.

Within hours of the shooting, the grandfather of one of the victims told the boys who had been at the school not to hate the killer, for Jesus, he told them, said that we must forgive. That very night, parents of the murdered girls went to the home of Charles Roberts parents and consoled them in their moment of shock and disbelief. Robert’s mother told the Amish she knew she would have to move far away. But the Amish convinced her that she truly needed to stay in the community. At Robert’s funeral, the Amish outnumbered those who were not Amish, praying in solidarity with his family.

When I heard this story ten years ago, I was overwhelmed by the tragedy of loss and at the same time the love and forgiveness of the Amish community. I tried to picture myself in the shoes of the Amish parents. Could I have loved and forgiven as they did? I don’t know.

Then a mentor suggested a meditation that I might use to explore my depth of love and forgiveness. My mentor said I should picture a person who had wronged me or someone in history that had done some terrible act, like Charles Roberts. Once I had the image of that person in my mind, then I should say their name and then say, “love.” Then my mentor said I should repeat that ten times. “Charles Roberts…love”—ten times. My mentor recommended I do that once a day for a week and then reflect on my experience. My mentor told me that if I wasn’t experiencing any transformation in my soul, then I could keep repeating the meditation every day until I noticed something happening in the essence of my being. I’ve been sitting with that meditation for years, experiencing its subtle work on my heart.

I think this kind of meditation can also have a powerful effect on a community. As individuals, picture the person that has wronged you or wronged someone else that you love. Focus on that image. Silently mouth their name. Now mouth their name and whisper, “love.” Let’s do it together, silently mouth the name, then “love,” -------, “love.” (Repeat ten times). I encourage you to keep repeating this meditation for a week. Then ask yourself, “What is this meditation working in me?” Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Maybe this is a way to follow Jesus’ most difficult teaching because in loving our enemies we are being transformed through the act of loving the body of Christ.

From the 12th century writer, Symeon the Theologian:

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens in our body…

And everything that is hurt, everything
that seems to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparable
damaged in him is transformed.

And recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in his light.
we awaken as the beloved
in every part of our body.


Monday, January 30, 2017

The Kaleidoscope of Integration

It’s the good times we remember, it’s the bad times that make us what we are. When I look back over my life, I feel so blessed—honestly, I have had countless wonderful and beautiful experiences. I remember those special moments with so much joy. But, truthfully, it’s been those failures, rough spots, and tragic moments that have caused me to stop, reflect and re-imagine how I was going to live my life. The events, good and bad, haven’t shaped me in and of themselves. Instead, it was the work they forced me to do; that work of moving me toward the integration of the mind, body, soul and spirit. The work has been continually forming me. And what I have discovered is that integration is the work of a lifetime. Carl Jung said it would take him ten lifetimes to integrate. If that is the case, it will take me 10,000 lifetimes. The work of integration is a process.

So, what is integration? Integration is the process of becoming one’s True Self, the person we we’re intended to be from the very beginning. Integration is re-integration, bringing together the best parts of ourselves, which creates then a healthy, wholesome, calm, mature, and wise person. We become the best of our True Self then in relationship with God, with others, and with creation. How then, do we accomplish this work?

As I said, I have had lots of failures, serious rough spots, and some tragic moments in my life. What I have learned along this pilgrimage of life is that I must incorporate the teachings and practices that could bring about a transformation in my life. Of course, the Bible and Jesus’ teachings have been the foundation from which I’ve done my work. But there are countless others who have been my teachers about the mind, the body, the soul, and the spirit. Some have worked with me face to face, like my mentors Scott Haasarud and Michael O’Grady.
Others, I learned from them through their books, like Carl Jung and Richard Rohr. The point is that we are always on a path of learning how to be our True Self. And because we are always being confronted with change, we will also be given the opportunity to learn new ways of being our True Self.

In the crude drawing I’ve provided below, you’ll see my most recent musings about a possible way to understand integration. The circle in the center of the page is what I hope my True Self is working toward. As you can see, my desire is for YHWH, the Divine One, to be at the center of my life. And because the divine is in all and is all, YHWH could not be confined within me or anyone or anything else, YHWH is in all the other circles, too: other humans, plants, animals, all of creation and all of the cosmos. I am connected to all of these people and entities through what Jesus taught us, love. And this love is manifested in and by my relationship with my neighbors, my enemies and my Self.

What surrounds this movement of divine relationship is my interior work as described by the prophet Micah (6:1-8): do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. The interior work is justice, kindness, and humility, these are the interactive God-like characteristics from which we live, move, and have our being. This interior work then is visibly manifested in the exterior work of Action (doing), Pilgrimage (walking) and Love. Action is the work of the mind. To do what we have learned to do, what Jesus has taught us to do. Pilgrimage, walking, is the work of the body. And Love, which is the work of the relationship with the soul and the spirit; love God, love our neighbors, love our enemies, love all creation, and love our Self.

Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Daniel Siegel in his book Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human, says that the mind is more than our brain, even more than our brain and our body. He says that the mind is a relationship between our brain and our body along with our relationships with other humans and all creation. In other words, he says that integration is the work of being in healthy relationship with our mind, body, soul, and spirit, and the mind, body, soul, and spirit of other humans and all of creation. He even suggests that possibly all of these interactive integrated relationships might be the complete essence of who we call God. This rudimentary diagram, then, may also be an image of the Trinitarian divine. A 360-degree, multi-dimensional sphere of the dynamic motion of the characteristics of YWHW, the unspeakable name. It looks like a gyroscope in action seen through the lenses of a kaleidoscope—beauty in motion.

Cynthia Bourgeault in her book The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, reminds us that the triune God is not an anthropomorphic projection of the faces of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but instead a limitless, timeless, movement of creation in constant action. I like to think that we are created in the image of this limitless, timeless, movement of creation in constant action. And that we also are a 360 degree-multi-dimensional potential of integration.

What does all this mean in practical twenty-first century terms?

First, it means that we must live in the presence of the now of God. For there, and only there, resides the potential of wholeness and health. We must let go of the past and stop worrying about the future. Now is where we live and now is where we must act. If there is something that you know will help you live a more integrated life, begin now.

Second, it means that we have to pay attention to our teachers by acting on what they have taught us. Jesus said love your enemies. That’s a pretty straight-forward directive. It will also change our life by moving us toward becoming integrated human beings.

Three, it means that we need to stretch our mind, challenge old concepts and look for new ways to be wise humans in this world. Reading and studying people like those I’ve mentioned, Jung, Rohr, Siegel, and Bourgeault are good beginning points to help us see beyond the horizon of our current beliefs.

And four, working through the process toward integration demands a lifetime of effort. The difficult challenge is to trust the process. To say that I trust God, is to say that I trust the process of becoming an integrated True Self. Indeed, trusting the process is the work of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.


Monday, January 16, 2017

The Dog Story: Lessons on Holy Listening

The Dog Story: Lessons on Holy Listening (Thanks to my friend Blair Braden for this title.)

My wife and I founded an interfaith wisdom school three years ago. Over the course of the two-year program we have two goals for the students. One is to help them develop spiritual practices that will sustain them in their daily living. The second goal is probably the most important and that is to teach them how to listen. It sounds so easy, but learning to listen, holy listening, deep listening, takes intention, and practice.

One of the skills in learning how listening is to hear someone’s story without responding with your own story. Try this the next time someone tells you their “dog” story. Everyone has a story about their dog or favorite pet. You’ve probably told someone a story about your dog and what does the other person always do? They respond with their story that’s even more amazing, or unbelievable then your story. So, the next time someone tells you their dog story, listen to their story, and then ask them a question about their story. But don’t respond by telling them your dog story. It might be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. That’s listening.

In today gospel reading (Luke 6:27-36) we hear Jesus’ most difficult teaching and he starts by telling us to listen. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Do to others as you would have them do to you…Be merciful as God is merciful.”

It is interesting that Jesus’ didn’t end his first sentence at “love your enemies.” He put some action into the commandment. He went on to say that we must “do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us.” Then Jesus took his teaching even further by saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Still Jesus ups the ante to another level. Here, he demands that we be merciful to those who show us no mercy; that we be merciful like God is merciful. The key to following Jesus’ almost impossible teaching is first, learning how to listen.

Today in the Episcopal Church, we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, a man who followed Jesus and lived out his teachings, as difficult as that might have been for him to do at times. King was a defender of the poor and the marginalized. He led this country to confront racism and the injustice it caused. For his efforts, Martin Luther King, Jr. lived his life in the wake of constant death threats. His home was bombed. He was nearly stabbed to death. And then on April 4, 1968 he was shot down while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis.

Martin Luther King taught us that racism, poverty, and militarism are intertwined. He taught us to stand strong for the weak and oppressed; to be firm in our convictions for justice and freedom for all. And while he suffered the prejudice of those who hated him for who he was and what he taught, Martin Luther King resisted oppression through peaceful non-violent resistance.

In the face of hate and violence, King would say that he had “decided to stick with love. Hate,” he said, “is too great a burden to bear. (For) hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” King preached the words of Jesus, “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” The words of Jesus and King still ring in our ears today.

This past week, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker speaking at Jeff Sessions hearing to become the next Attorney General paraphrased King by saying that, “The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve towards justice, we must bend it.” I believe we must bend ourselves toward love instead hate, toward justice instead of injustice.

President Obama, in his farewell speech, spoke to the issue of racism. “After my election (in 2008) there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race,” Obama said, “remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.” But the President did offer Americans a way forward. He urged us to begin listening to one another. By listening to one another, together we can begin to meaningfully cross the divide of race and all other differences that divide us.

We must listen to one another by honoring our uniqueness as human beings. We must listen to one another with compassion. We must listen to one another with love and mercy. We must listen to one another like we want others to listen to us.

We can’t love someone if we don’t know them. And we can’t know someone if we don’t listen to them.

This kind of intense listening takes hard work. Recently, several of us gathered here at St Peter’s to study the writings of Howard Thurman. He was a scholar, preacher, visionary and civil rights leader. His teachings had a powerful influence on Martin Luther King, especially Thurman’s work on non-violent resistance. Our conversations were intense and, I thought, productive.

To follow up on this work, during Lent this year, we will offer an opportunity for folks to enter into “Trust Circles.” (These small groups will follow the model taught by Quaker Parker Palmer.) The goal of these circles is to create a space so that we can talk about difficult issues, like race, but also talk about our political and religious differences. We have been told that at church politics and religion don’t mix. But I think that has been a failed mistake. The church should be the place that creates safe space for people to talk about difficult topics. The church can create safe space when we follow the teachings of Jesus. Love you neighbor, love your enemies, treat others the way you want to be treated, and in the end, be as merciful as God. If we can talk about difficult issues at church, then maybe this model can spread into other places of our country. But in order for that hope to be fulfilled we must be vigilant in our efforts to listen and show mercy, and in our prayers.

I think a good place to begin is the prayer the Episcopal Church offers for our celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

O Holy God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

13 Books for Your Reading List

I grew up in home where reading was a natural part of life. My parent’s idea of reading was having four to five books going at the same time and being able to talk about each one at the dinner table. I kept that habit. Fortunately, I married someone who reads at the same pace. Our home is a veritable multi-dimensional library. Our two children adopted the same reading style. Whenever we get together, books are at the center of our conversations. And our two grandsons have already shown signs of having a ravenous appetite for reading.

A lot of the folks I hang out usually spend a considerable amount of time talking about the books we read. So I thought I would put together my top thirteen books I read in 2016. I have not included two books that I wrote reviews for Mike Morrell’s Speakeasy. You can find my reviews on this blog. Those books were The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski and The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell.

Here are the other eleven books that fill out my top thirteen. I’m listing the books by author and not in any particular order. Hope you might find some of these titles intriguing.

The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, Nancy Eiseland. This book should be mandatory reading for anyone with any leadership role in any religion. While Eiseland writes from a Christian perspective, she challenges the religious notion that God has a “perfect image.” She demands that the church create imagery of spiritual access for those who find simply getting inside the church building a challenge.

Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, Grevel Lindop. This is the first biography of the esoteric and eccentric Charles Williams. I have been fascinated with Williams’ novels and theology as well his involvement in the hermetic ideals. Lindop took years to research and write this book, which contains fresh materials unavailable to previous researchers. If you want to get a different insight on the Inklings, C.S. Lewis, T.S Eliot, and Dylan Thomas this book is not shy on detail.

Alchemical Psychology, James Hillman. He wrote, “Metaphor is the dream work of language,” and “Alchemical soulmaking is illuminated lunacy.” Either quote was enough to get me into the book. Hillman is a renowned Jungian psychologist that has brought his own brilliant insights to the world of depth psychology. This book is a collection of Hillman’s lectures on fives phases of alchemy. He includes a profound chapter on “blue” and his understanding of the value of living in the world of being “in between.”

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human, Eduardo Kohn. My good friend, anthropologist and theologian Gaymon Bennett, recommended this book. Anthropologist, Eduardo Kohn, spent four years among the Runa people who live in Ecuador’s Upper Amazon. If you’ve ever wondered if your dog dreams or if trees think, Kohn takes on both subjects through witness and personal experience. The book has insights and implications for understanding the world as the presence of the divine, but never speaks of God.

Revelations of the Magi, Brent Landau. My daughter-in-law gave me this book for Christmas and I couldn’t put it down. Landau was a high school classmate of my daughter-in-law. He studied at Harvard and Cambridge. This book is a translation with his commentary on a rare and forgotten second century book written in Syriac. Landau’s conclusions shed new light on the universal nature of pre-Nicene Creed Christianity.

The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, Amy Jill-Levine. Colleague, the Rev. Nordon Winger recommended I read this book. The author is an excellent storyteller. She uses her humor and personal stories to allow us access into the “Jewishness” of Jesus. This book is approachable while offering unique insights and details into Jesus’ world and his life.

Spiritual Doorway to the Brain, Kevin Nelson. My friend, Dr. Candace Lewis who is a neuroscientist recommended this book. Medical doctor and neuroscientist, Nelson has studied thousands of near death experiences. His open approach to the question of what happens at the moment of death is refreshing and enlightening. He uses his research in RIM sleep as a means of accessing a platform to analyze what happens as we approach death. As a scientist he makes no claims about the existence of God or the afterlife, but leaves the question open for the reader.

The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction, Peter Rollins. His most recent book, The Divine Magician: The Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith, is a follow up to this volume. Rollins writes in terms of Radical Theology. He is imaginative and is creating a new way to engage the biblical stories of God, Jesus, and Paul. A lot of “spiritual but not religious,” and “nones” are showing up to hear him speak.

The Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human, Daniel Siegel. My son is a psychologist and recommended this book to me. Siegel, a psychiatrist, if proposing some integrated pathways to understanding the mind as being more than confined to our brain, or even our bodies. His ground breaking work is proposing the mind as a relationship beyond the individual, both with sentient beings as well as creation itself.

Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, Howard Thurman. I had previously read some of Thurman’s work. This book is a compendium of his best writing. I used the book as a study guide on the issue of racism in America. The others in the group were taken with Thurman’s work and moved by his poetic style, interfaith understanding, and universal faith.

Time and Timelessness: Temporality in the Theory of Carl Jung, Angeliki Yiassemides. This is a unique, concise, and brilliant approach to a yet unstudied concept of Jung’s understanding of time. Jung never wrote specifically about the topic, making Yiassemides work much needed. This study brings some light to Jung’s ideas on life in the now and what might be to come. Her style is approachable, yet substantial.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Some Advice for Mr. Trump from the Baseball Gods

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the church had become politically irrelevant because it sat silent on the sidelines during the most continuous presidential election in history. I still believe that the church is politically irrelevant. I want that to change. So instead of simply being a critic, I want to offer some thoughts about how a follower of Jesus can make wise decisions concerning leadership in the state of our American political arena, one that is now being described as a post-truth, post-rational era.

Let’s start with some common sense advice from one of baseball’s most colorful managers, Earl Weaver. Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles from 1968-1986. His teams played in the World Series four times, winning it in 1970. Following his retirement he was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame, having been one of baseball’s most winning managers.

Weaver was never at a loss for words. Regarding leadership he said, “There are twenty-five guys on a baseball team. As a manager you must realize that five guys love you and five guys hate you. The other fifteen guys haven’t made up their mind yet. Your job as manager is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the fifteen who haven’t made up their mind.”

In light of Earl Weaver’s words of wisdom, here’s some advice for President-elect Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump, 25% of Americans believe you are going to change their lives for the better. They believe you are going to return America to a previous era they enjoyed.
They believe you’re going to retool America’s economy so they will personally benefit. They believe you’re going to create a safer America by removing an unwanted element that they think are dangerous, specifically immigrants and Muslims. And they believe you will appoint Supreme Court Justices that will roll back the cloak on abortion and same-sex marriage.

On the other hand, 25% of Americans believe you have the potential to become a dangerous demigod that could lead America into the darkest days of its over 200-year history of democracy. These people believe that you have promoted racism, sexism, and homophobia that has emboldened your followers to act out against people of color, women, and those who are LGBTQ. These people are afraid they are going to lose their insurance, their Social Security, their freedom and their right to vote.

Mr. Trump, that leaves the 50% of Americans who haven’t made up their minds. They are waiting to see what you will do as the 45th President of the United States. They will make up their minds based on what you have done in their best interest.

In the words of Earl Weaver, my advice to you is to keep those who believe you are a dangerous leader away from the 50% who haven’t made up their mind. Of course, we all know that is an impossible task.

What will be more helpful is for you to take a page from Jesus’ leadership book. Jesus’ holy book was the Hebrew Bible, which had a lot to say about leadership. The Hebrew Bible was written and read in such a way as to be open for an interpretation, making it still relevant today.
Take for example the Book of Isaiah. (Today’s reading are from Isaiah 11:1-10.) The oracles of Isaiah were written about 2,700 years ago. Interestingly enough, their situation sounds very similar to ours. Isaiah’s community was suffering from political turmoil. The community was divided over who should be their leader. Eventually, because they had become a divided nation, both sides were defeated by foreign nations.

Isaiah was speaking to the remnant of people were still willing to listen to God. His oracle provided the people with some straightforward counsel about the characteristics of good leadership. Isaiah said a leader should be wise, understanding, and knowledgeable and be in an intimate relationship with God. Isaiah said that a wise leader should do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, and defend the helpless and the poor.

Isaiah said the wise leader should build bridges of peaceful reconciliation between those who stood in opposition of one another—those who were as opposite as a wolf and a lamb. Isaiah went on to say that the leader must be as gentle as a child who would be willing to reach tenderly into a den of snakes in hopes of making peace with the enemy.

I have found psychologist Edwin Friedman's books to be extremely helpful in understanding human relationships and how they work and why they don’t. In his book, A Failure of Nerve, Friedman offers leaders four guidelines that sound like Isaiah could have written them.

1. Playfulness will get the leader out of a rut more successfully than seriousness.
2. Pitting people against one another defeats communication.
3. Leaders must expect sabotage. (Friedman must have been an Earl Weaver fan.)
4. A colossal misunderstanding is to assume that rational thinking will work with people who are not motivated to change. Friedman said the best strategy of enacting change is: 1) stop trying to convert others to your way of thinking, 2) instead, build peaceful bridges of reconciliation through developing relationships with those who won’t listen to you, and 3) work on changing yourself before trying to change others.

Being a leader is extremely difficult. And being the President of the United States is an almost impossible task. But, to be a successful president requires a combination of opposing skills of leadership, boldness and humility, strength and mercy, power and grace.

Honestly Mr. Trump, I have yet to witness any humility, mercy, or grace from you.

But, instead of only being a critic, I vow to pray you, Mr. Trump as you begin your pilgrimage of being the President of the United States. And I also vow to share Isaiah’s leadership model with the remnant who are still listening to God.

I’ve taken up praying YHWH as a breath pray. Breathe in YH. Exhale WH. This prayer reminds me that God has given me the air to breathe. God has given my neighbor this same air I am breathing. God has given my enemies this same air. Everyone on this planet is breathing this same air. God has given Donald Trump this same air to breathe.

This prayer reminds me that we all have the same concerns about the earth, the air, our families, our children, and how to take care of all of creation. This breath prayer reminds me that we all have a responsibility to be leaders in the places God has called us to lead. And this prayer reminds me to heed the words of Isaiah; do good and seek justice.