Monday, December 28, 2015


There is a sense of timelessness about Christmas. Our daughter lives in Seattle and one her goals in life appears to be, spoiling her two nephews, especially on Christmas Day. She loves them dearly. Cole, our oldest grandson will be four in February and Zane just turned one. Last week, a few days before Christmas, Cole told Cathy that he saw gifts under the tree. She told him that on Christmas Day there would be presents under the tree for him. With innocence and wonderment he said, “Gifts for me?”

For not being four-years-old, Cole knows everything about construction equipment. He knows all the about frontend loaders, backhoes, excavators, and cranes. He knows the brand name of the equipment by color. He knows the difference between a John Deere, a Caterpillar, and a Mack. So, for Christmas, our daughter bought him his own riding frontend loader with a backhoe attachment. She had it shipped to our house. When it arrived, looking at the picture on the box, I realized it had to be put together. I didn’t want our grandson to have to wait on Christmas Day for his dad and I to put it together. And for our daughter, I wanted to take a video of Cole when he saw this amazing gift she had bought him. So, I dumped out the nearly 100 pieces and four sets on instructions on the garage floor.

Honestly, I’m not very good at this kind of thing. But, being a grandpa, I started in. Truthfully, I lost track of time. After awhile, I was taken back in time to when I put gifts together for our children. And then, I began thinking about the Christmas when I was nine and my dad bought a basketball goal for our driveway. The day after Christmas being outside with him while he put it on the house. And then I found myself thinking about the Christmas’ I had spent time with my granddad, riding in his truck and listening to his stories. And that took me back to when I was Cole’s age, being with my great grandfather at Christmas. He was an enigma, a mysterious man.

While I was putting Cole’s little tractor together, I was caught up in a thin space of timelessness. I felt a connection with everything past. At that moment, everything past felt like it was present to me in that space. My great grandfather, my grandfather, my dad surrounded me while I was working on Cole’s gift. There was a deep sense of being fully present to the moment. There was no longer any past or any future. Everything was now. It was as if I was meant for that moment in time—that present moment was my purpose. Upon reflection, I realized that day in our garage was a very contemplative experience for me.

Today’s reading is from the opening of the Gospel of John; such beautiful, mystical poetry. I think John is sharing with us one of those holy present contemplative moments in his life when he was with Jesus Christ. John’s vision appears to be one those moments when he was caught up in the timelessness of his experience.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

I can imagine John’s words were inspired by his contemplation on the scripture. The words from John sound like Proverbs, the Wisdom book of the Hebrew Bible.

“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth…When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep…I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” (Proverbs 8:22-31)

And the words from Proverbs sound a like the opening of Genesis, words I am sure he had memorized.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness Night.” (Genesis 1:1-5)

I think John was sharing his contemplation of the scripture with us. John was seeing the Wisdom of Jesus in the Word of the Hebrew Scripture. John had learned from Jesus how to be caught up in timeless moment of the now…the moment when we are connected to the Divine.

In the moments of being caught up in the timelessness of God, there is no past and there is no future. There is only the present moment. We lose track of time. What happened in the past—is now—and now is the future—because we are here—now in this moment and time. In God’s time, “in the beginning” is now.

This means we can let go of the expectations and anxiety we have about tomorrow. This is the season of Christmas, the twelve days of Christmas. We are suspended in God’s season of timelessness. The season of “now.” We are not waiting any longer. We don’t have to fret about tomorrow. Twelve days of Divine completeness. “Twelve” is used 187 times in the Bible as a symbol of completeness; the 12 tribes Israel, the 12 disciples, the first recorded words of Jesus was when he was 12, the 12 gates of New Jerusalem are guarded by 12 angels—the Trinitarian number times the number of completeness. We are in the season of God’s complete act—we are in a season of timelessness—where there is no past and there is no tomorrow—there is only now. Jesus came to teach us to live in the authentic, raw, naked now of every moment of life.

The season of Christmas lasts until January 6. Until then, just for these few days, focus on the now, the very presence of being present to every moment. Live for this moment of time of being One with the Holy Living God

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Adventures in Soulmaking, a book review

Adventures in Soulmaking, a book by Troy Caldwell
Review by Gil Stafford

Troy Caldwell has presented an excellent entre into the world of spiritual direction from a Jungian perspective for his intended audience. He makes it very clear on the first page that he is writing his book for orthodox evangelicals who are mental health care providers, spiritual directors, and pastors.

Caldwell is a psychiatrist and spiritual director. His book contains countless interesting anecdotes about his life and those of his clients. Chapter 5 “From Fragmentation to Higher Things,” is the story of Caldwell’s psychiatric treatment of Andrea, a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I found the story fascinating. But, the story would be out of place for anyone who is not a mental health care provider. Caldwell does not make this point clear in his book. Instead, Caldwell uses the story to “illustrate the fragmentation that can occur as we grow up in a fallen world.”

What drew me to Caldwell’s book was my curiosity as to whether someone could bring together Jungian depth psychology with orthodox evangelical theology. For example, his view of a fallen world and original sin are clearly orthodox. Then, Caldwell quotes liberally from Carl Jung, Evelyn Underhill, and Charles Williams. He includes information about archetypes, dreams, and the Tarot. I found his presentation intriguing. Caldwell says, “I am convinced from scripture, convinced from empirical observation of patients, and convinced from personal experience that the opening to the ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of (Jesus Christ)’ involves activating the symbolic mind.”

I applaud Caldwell’s valiant attempt to convince orthodox evangelicals that Jung, Underhill, Williams, and the many others he quotes have something valuable to offer them. However, as someone who reads those authors and is not an orthodox evangelical, I take issue with some of Caldwell’s interpretation of Jung as a way of supporting the author’s orthodox theology. For example, Caldwell equates the “shadow” with “sin.” On this issue, Mary Ann Matton in her book Jungian Psychology in Perspective writes that Jung’s view is that, “although ‘sin’ and ‘shadow’ are identical to some people, the designation of ‘shadow’ implies the possibility of embracing the dark side for the sake of wholeness while ‘sin’ suggest rejection of the dark side in pursuit of perfection.” In this regard, Caldwell falls short of Jung’s goal of the non-duality of individuation, in other words, the union of opposites. Instead, he chooses to maintain the orthodox view of Christian dualism. At this point, and some others, in my opinion, I think Caldwell misinterprets Jung and maybe Jesus as well.

One last point, in reviewing books I have chosen to read several self-published authors. I think self-publishing has an important place in our world of independent authors. My humble opinion is that self-published books fall into two categories: authors who invest in an excellent editor and those who don’t. Unfortunately, Caldwell must have done the later. Caldwell’s writing is, at times folksy, clumsy, and rambling. A good editor could have challenged him to move beyond those possible stopping points for his reader.

I would, though, still recommend Caldwell’s book for his intended audience. Adventures in Soulmaking has much to offer. For those outside the realm of Christian evangelical orthodoxy, just know Caldwell has not written this book with you in mind.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Longest Night

Winter Solstice 2015

“Hello, from the other side.” Adele’s haunting lyrics are dripping with possibility. She grants me permission to include my story in the next line; like pure alchemical poetry.

On the longest night of darkness,
I wait in the charcoal hues
for the full moon of Mother’s morning.
Hello, from the other side not yet light;
for there is no bright Morning Star
without the dark of the Brother’s Night.
No bridegroom Sol without bride Luna.

There is pleasure
still in the pit of the cold
of starlit shadow.
Oddly, I can find rest in night’s bosom of love.
Plenty of light shines out
from Sister Moon’s near full crescent.
The leafless tree casts her shadow
across my pilgrim soul’s journal.
Writing in the dark is no metaphor. And
neither is the owl
that flies like my shadow across weary brow.

A voice…
from the other side of my reality;
Ancient bards and
Poets Romantic past,
still present in eternal timelessness.
Words with souls tumbling
through the Solstice
Winter night.
Listening to the rhythm,
the rhymelessness,
the pace,
the gravel in the heart.
Adieu. Tears to—night.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Only Forgiveness Will Heal the Fear of Terror

John the Baptist would never get ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I mean, just imagine John the Baptist as your pastor. He had a gnarly untrimmed beard and he hadn’t had a haircut in years. He would refuse to wear vestments. His clothes were dirty and torn. He didn’t wear shoes. He looked more like a homeless person than he did a priest. I’m very confident that by today’s standards, John the Baptist couldn’t get a job as pastor at any church, Episcopal of otherwise. He wasn’t interested in church growth. It’s pretty obvious he didn’t care if people gave money to the church or not. And he was critical of most everyone around him, the government, religious leaders, and even those who wanted to be his followers.

When people showed up at the Jordan River, did he put out his hand and say, “Welcome to the Jordan River Episcopal Church?” No. He yelled at them. “You snakes! Why did you come out here?”

When John the Baptist preached, his message was often hard to understand. “The ax is at the root of the tree.” What could that mean? He was saying that we need to change our way of thinking. The tree John is talking about is the Tree of Life referred to in Genesis. In biblical mythology, the Tree of Life had two components; the first, the tree you could see above ground, which was mirrored by the second, the tree you couldn’t see because it was below ground. John was saying this Tree of Life you now see, our current way of thinking, is going to be cut down. What will then grow in its place is the tree below ground, which will be the new Tree of Life. And this new Tree of Life will be a cross.
On this cross will be a man, a unique man, a new Adam. This new Adam will be the Messiah. He will tell us that we will see him when he is raised up on this new Tree of Life, the cross, just like when Moses raised up the serpent on his staff. This Messiah will be the image of both innocence and evil. This new Adam will look like the old Adam. But, the new Adam will tell us that we need to take up our own cross. And that no matter how innocent we think are—we must crucify the serpent that lives within each of us on our own cross. How do we do that? Pray like the Messiah prayed. Like Jesus, the Messiah, the new Adam, taught us to pray. Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Then Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This type of prayer brings God graced humility into our life.

When I heard about the shooting in San Bernardino, I was stunned. Then when I heard that it happened at a center for people with development disabilities, I got angry. All I could think of was what if that happened at the center that supports my sister. What if her beloved caregivers had been shot? Now, when I look at the faces of the fourteen people who were killed, all I can see is the faces of the two women who take care of my sister on a daily basis. My anger came right to the surface. At that moment, I realized I could kill.

What do I do with this anger? I own it. I say—that’s me. I could kill. By owning the fact that I could be just as violent as the two people who killed fourteen people in San Bernardino, I see myself for who I am. I put my sin of anger on the cross and I crucify it. And then I can pray, “Father forgive the terrorists for they know not what they do. Father, forgive me of my willingness to kill, as I forgive those who sin against me.

When any kind of injustice, any act that does not show love to another human being, is done—I must search in myself to find that sin in my own life. Then place that sin in my life on the cross and crucify it.

John the Baptist was teaching the people that came out to the Jordan River to be baptized into a new way of thinking. That way of thinking would be to think like the man Jesus, who was raised up on the new Tree of Life.

We must think like Jesus. As Saint Paul said, we must put on the mind of Christ, humble ourselves, empty ourselves, and be willing to crucify the things in our life that prevent us from being the love of Christ into this world.

What stops us from crucifying our own sins? We’re afraid. We’re afraid of terror—the terror created within us when we recognize we are no different than the two people that killed fourteen other people in San Bernardino. Fear and terror bring death—physical death a death of the soul. Only forgiveness will heal the fear of death and terror.

The ax is at the root of the Tree of Life. Are we ready for a new way of thinking? Can we pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Can we pray “Father, forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.” Only forgive can bring healing.

I know this all sounds weird. But if we seriously pray for forgiveness, for others and for our selves, it will change everything. It will change what we eat, what we buy, how we think, how we treat people, and how we vote.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The National Football League Reflects the Addictions of Our Culture

Some of us have struggled with addictions in our life. Typically we think of addictions related to some substance abuse. The drug, though, isn’t the problem; it’s the symptom. The problem lies behind what we are using the drug to mask.

As much as substance abuse is a troubling issue in our society—I think the most troublesome addictions in our society are greed, violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia.

What’s strange about addictions is that the drug of choice is usually starts out innocent enough. Then it creeps up on us. It starts out as something recreational and then before we know it, what was so innocent now consumes us.

Let me give you an example. The National Football League was born in 1920 as a fledging entity that struggled to exist until games started appearing on national television. It wasn’t until the first Super Bowl in 1967 did the NFL really exploded as a reflection of our national psyche. Today, it seems that the NFL reflects the addictions our American culture.

First, the NFL reflects the greed that permeates American culture. The NFL reported last week that 106 million people, one third of the U.S. population, watch the NFL each week. The average NFL game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes, of which the ball is in play only 11 minutes. During those three hours you are exposed to 100 commercials.

Of course, the NFL is a big business. In 2014, the NFL had revenues of $10 billion. Their stated goal is $25 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money to be spread between 32 teams.

Ah, you say, what about all the money the players make? There are 1,696 players in the NFL. The average salary is $1.9 million a year per player. The total payroll burden for the NFL players is $3.2 billion. That leaves about $7 billion for the owners to operate their businesses. All sounds cool, doesn’t it?

Except for one thing, 78% of NFL players are bankrupt or in financial distress within two years after their career is over. Surely with all that money, there must be a safety net? An NFL player can collect retirement at age 55. For each season they played the player collects $470/month. The average career of an NFL player is 3 years. That nets the player $1,400 a month in retirement.

Second, the NFL reflects the aggrandizement of violence in America. In last week’s NFL games, 2 players suffered neck injuries from legal hits that required surgery. In addition to the legal contact, 3 players were fined $20,000 for illegal hits to the head and 3 other players were fined nearly $10,000 for other types of illegal hits. The players continue to get bigger, stronger, and faster each year. No amount of rules or fines will control violent nature of an NFL game. The NFL is a violent game.

In the NFL, 30% of the players will suffer from long-term cognitive ailments and are 4 times at greater risk for Alzheimer’s than the average American. The average life span of an NFL player is 55 years. Oddly enough, the players can start taking retirement at age 55. So the average player never lives long enough to collect the meager retirement.
Third, the NFL reflects the ugly nature of racism that permeates our culture. 70% of NFL players are African-American. Yet, of the 32 teams, only 5 of the head coaches and 7 of the general managers are black. No owner of an NFL team is a person of color. In fact, of the 122 teams between the NFL, MLB, NBA, and the NHL there is only one majority owner of color. There is something really wrong with the color of that picture because it looks like racism.

Sexism? That’s easy. Here’s what an NFL game looks like: the men are in the middle of the field engaged in highly technical, very physical, and financially lucrative maneuvers; while the women are on the sidelines happily cheering them on dressed in very skimpy costumes. Ever wonder why there aren’t any women announcers in the booth?

Is there homophobia in the NFL? That’s even easier to point out than sexism. How many players in the NFL are openly gay? Zero. Does that mean there aren’t any gay men playing NFL football? No. Given that 4% of the male population is gay, there are probably sixty plus closeted men playing in the NFL. Yes, last year the NFL drafted the first openly gay man. But he was cut early in training camp. Yes, the NFL is homophobic.

The problem is not the game of football. The real problem is that the NFL reflects the addictions of our American society.

I’ve have wondered, though, how the league would look differently if Oprah owned a team and Condoleezza Rice was the commissioner. I’d start watching the NFL again if that happened.

I guess I could say that the good news is this: the NFL, like every other institution, including the church, will come to an end one day. That’s what Jesus was trying to explain to his disciples in the Gospel of Mark (13:1-8). As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Every institution has a life cycle—the institution is born, matures, gets old, and then dies. History has proved that over and over again. Jesus was just pointing out the obvious.

What Jesus and our new PB Michael Curry are calling us to do is give up our addictions and get on board with the Jesus Movement. To follow Jesus’s teaching: Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart…Blessed are the peacemakers…Jesus said to Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus came to show us that real power is in powerlessness. Jesus came to show us that love heals fear.

I know it might be really weird not to watch the NFL this weekend. But being a follower of Jesus will affect what you eat, what you buy, how you treat other people, what you watch, and how you vote. Amen.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Arizona Episcopal Clergy and Theological Conversations

There are at least three things I have learned in my brief time as Canon Theologian. First, for the most part, the clergy in our diocese are very eager to talk about God, to do theology. Second, they are looking for ways to engage the congregations they serve in a theological conversation. Third, the theology of the clergy in our diocese spans the theological spectrum, from traditional orthodoxy to Richard Rohr like higher consciousness to something even more ambiguous. My hunch is that we could say the same about the laity in their breadth of theology and their desire to have meaningful conversations about God.

In August, the clergy of our diocese gathered for a theological conversation in response to Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond.

The conversation was held in three locations.

7 attended at Saint Luke’s, Prescott
13 attended at Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix
21 attended at Grace-St. Paul’s, Tucson.

As a follow-up to those conversations, a survey was sent to every clergy person seeking feedback about the gathering. I also asked some questions about what future theological conversations would pique their interest.

54 responded
21 of those responded did not attend one of the Rohr gatherings
23 did attend one of the Rohr gatherings.

In response to the question about the value of the gathering:

20 clergy said the gathering was “Worth my time.”
2 clergy said it “Somewhat worth my time.”
1 clergy person said it was “Not worth my time.”

When asking those who did not attend, why they didn’t, the majority said they had a schedule conflict or were too busy working. A few said they simply weren’t interested.

In response to the question, “How do we make future gatherings better,” the dominant suggestion was to break the larger gathering into smaller groups of three or four people—allowing opportunity for more folks to engage in the conversation.

In regard to suggestions for future topics, the response was evenly divided between the three suggested topics, “Various Atonement Theologies,” “Theology of Alternative Liturgies,” and “Theology of Various Leadership Models.” However, there were twenty-eight (28) divergent suggestions for other topical considerations including, inviting clergy and the laity into doing theology together, progressive theology, social justice theology, sacramental theology, apocalyptic theology, life cycle and spirituality, role of clergy as chief versus shaman, and a few Anglican specific questions.

When thinking about book discussions here are the top six in rank order:

1. The Fourth Gospel, John Shelby Spong (20 votes)
2. Reading the Bible from the Margins, Miguel De La Torre (18)
3. The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault (17)
4. Mary Magdalene, Cynthia Bourgeault (16)
5. The Gospel of Thomas, Lynn Baumen’s (14)
6. The Red Book, Carl Jung (12)

Thirty other books were suggested including PB Michael Curry’s Crazy Christians three times (the only book listed more than once). Some authors listed more than once were Walter Bruggemann and Dallas Willard. The book titles included Jesus, God, Paul, social justice, and eschatology, to mention just a few.

As to when to have the next conversation, after Epiphany had the most respondents.

One thing I heard from the survey itself was that there is a clear interest in offering a venue for theological conversations with and among the laity. I’m going to plan an event for the laity after Epiphany to follow up on the Richard Rohr conversation. I’ll use a similar location format. I am hoping that some of my colleagues from the three regions will be willing to serve on a panel. I’ll moderate and we’ll have a thirty-minute dialogue followed by thirty-minutes of Q&A. Then divide those who attend into small groups for more intimate conversations. Followed then by thirty minutes of comments and more Q&A. This might be adventurous, but I’d like to give it try. Val Webb wrote in her recent book, Testing Tradition and Liberating Theology: Finding Your Own Voice, “Theology cannot be shaped only through the experiences and in the minds of a few theologians talking together in academic halls, but through the experiences and reflections of the majority of the people of God, the laity.” (Thank you Dn. Tom Lindell for sharing this book with me.)

I was very encouraged by the number of clergy who would take the time out their very busy schedules to attend the first theological conversation. I was also pleased with the number of clergy who responded to the survey with excellent feedback and outstanding suggestions. One resounding comment I received from the three locations was to please continue having these events in the north, central, and south. I will heed that wise counsel.

Here is my plan for the next two clergy conversations in 2016. The first will be after Epiphany but before the next Presbyter’s Retreat. The dates will be announced shortly. We’ll be using three books from the clergy response. With the option of reading a book not listed. At the gathering we’ll divide into four small groups to discuss the book of your choice. Then the four groups will report back to the larger group for comments and Q&A.

Jesus is the theme of the three books.
1. The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, John Shelby Spong
2. The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message, Cynthia Bourgeault
3. Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus, Michael Curry
4. If none of these books about Jesus interest you, bring one that does to the gathering and you can join the fourth small group and share your book about the theme of Jesus.

The second clergy theological gathering in 2016 will happen after the Presbyter’s Retreat, April 5-7. That round of clergy gatherings will be a conversation regarding the retreat presenter’s topic and book.

Again, thank you for your participation and response. My prayers are that these opportunities will be meaningful and supportive of your life and work.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Long Arc of the Coach/Athlete Relationship: Until Death do We Part?

2015 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture
The Spirit of Sports
Presenters – Marlene Bjornsrud and Gil Stafford

Topic – “The Long Arc of the Coach/Athlete Relationship: Until Death Do We Part?”

I had been retired several years from my coaching career. Late one night, I was awakened by a text from a former athlete who played on a team I coached thirty years ago. The person was in a panic. Their life was a mess. Desperate, they had turned to me for counsel. When I phoned, I found myself feeling like we were trapped in a black and white photo taken when we were both in another dimension of life. The former athlete wanted me to still be that spiritual guide who existed years ago. But my understanding of faith and life were in a much different place now. The question is, had I built a relationship that would sustain thirty years of change?

The coach/athlete relationship has many possible facets, among them, teacher, mentor, advisor, and spiritual guide. Like all human relationships, the coach and the athlete build a bond developed across the arc of several phases—getting acquainted, growth through sharing a common interest, building trust by surviving defeat, creating a safe environment in order to get beyond the personality masks, imagining the possibility of a sustained relationship.
As intercollegiate athletics rapidly changes into a revenue-based, winner-take-all pressure cooker, is it possible for a coach and athlete to develop a relationship based on authenticity, reciprocity, and evolving spirituality?

Some would say that the business of college sport has diminished its purpose as an integral part of educating the whole person. Coaches are evaluated on the basis of the competitive performance of 18-22 year olds and the revenue stream, or lack thereof, derived from their sport. Recruiting demands a focus on finding the next class of athletes rather than being present to those currently on the team.

What does this mean to a coach who is a person of faith? Is it possible for a coach to seek success and significance simultaneously?

The coach/athlete relationship has two unique factors that shade the color of their experience—the intensity of competition and the expected predetermined length of the relationship. Bjornsrud and Stafford’s presentation will explore the facet of the coach as spiritual guide during the competitive phase of the relationship, one that can be sustained years after competition.

Spiritual relationships between the guide and the mentee are often reliant upon concepts found within commonly held values concerning faith and religion. How can coaches create spiritual relationships that are not confined within the language and theology of one specific faith tradition?

This session will explore three elements essential for the creation of sustainable spiritual relationships between coaches and athletes:

1. RECIPROCITY: Developing a team culture based on mutuality and responsibility for coaches and athletes alike empowers the athlete to accept the outcomes of their behavior in all relationships and establishes trust between the coach and the athletes. Relationships exist as a two-way street.

2. AUTHENTICITY: Building an environment that encourages athletes and coaches to bring their whole self to the team - their interests outside the sport, their family circumstances, sexuality, faith differences, and whatever else distinguishes them as an authentic human beings – builds a relationship platform that extends beyond the field of play.

3. EVOLVING SPIRITUALITY: Cultivating an atmosphere of curiosity about life allows coaches to be vulnerable enough to admit they do not have the answers to life’s “Big” questions. While athletes may need answers and guidelines during the first half of life, learning how to ask questions will sustain them in the second half of life. Coaches must model an evolving and individuated curiosity about the journey called life. This will foster the trust that grows sustainable relationships.

Postscript: At this presentation, Marlene Bjornsud presented the basis of thought as stated above. She told a personal story of a long term coach/athlete relationship, particularly in an athlete's time of need. She went on to say that she and I do believe that the coach/athlete is, indeed, a lifetime endeavor.

For my part of the presentation, I told two stories that have not had happy endings. In both stories, I shared the pain and risk of reciprocity. In both cases, I share my own part and failure in the complex and troubled lives both athletes have suffered after leaving the game of baseball. Coaching is a very messy endeavor with few easy answers.

Gil Stafford is an Episcopal priest and the Canon Theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He spent twenty-four years at Grand Canyon University. He was the head baseball coach for twenty years winning three NAIA National Championships. He was also the school’s Director of Athletics. In 2000, Stafford became the president of GCU, serving for four years. He was the only standing president to simultaneously be an NCAA Division I coach.

Marlene Bjornsrud is the Executive Director of the Alliance of Women Coaches. She coached collegiate tennis at Grand Canyon, winning the first NAIA National Championship for women. At GCU she also served as an athletic administrator. Later, she was an athletic administrator at Santa Clara University. Followed by being the first general manager of the San Jose CyberRays of the professional Women’s United Soccer Association.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Mystery, Knowledge, and Sacred Magic

This weekend we celebrate Dia de Muertos, All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. These four events often merge into one. And I think they embody the Mystery, Knowledge, and Sacred Magic of the roots of our Anglican heritage. Yes, Saint Peter’s is an Episcopal Church. But, the Episcopal Church’s roots are deep in the Anglican tradition. Which comes out of Roman Catholicism. And, of course, we are part of the tradition of the Hebrews. Which means we have adopted practices and beliefs from other traditions including Egyptian, Zoroastrian, as well as Roman and Celtic pagans. The Anglican tradition is truly the gold made from the alchemist’s crucible.

Let me offer two stories as a metaphor of the concepts of mystery, knowledge and sacred magic.

This past summer I was walking the Wicklow Way. It was late in the day. Hot for Ireland. There were too many blisters, bad ankles, and sore knees in our group. Up and down. Heavy legs. Burning lungs. Weary back. My soul was sore. Then I saw a small wisp of cloud drifting towards me. No bigger than my Mini Cooper—barely a few feet off the ground. No one else seemed to see the cloud or paid any attention. Their heads were down. The cloud settled in my path. I was enveloped is this cool yet warm fog. I was suspended in the thin space. Time stopped. My heart was pounding. I sucked deep at what I felt was the Holy that surrounded me. And then I was standing alone. The tears burst from the dark inner space of my heart. I was awake. Yet I was walking in a dream.

The second story happened before I went to Ireland. I had cataract and lens replacement surgery. I had to be awake for the surgery. The doctor numbed my eye. Then he put this device on my eyelid that prevented my eye from closing. I was forced to stare into the light shining in my eye. The cataract removal only took a few seconds. That part was painless, almost unnoticeable. Then the doctor removed the lens from my eye. The world became a blur of white light. I realized at that moment that if the doctor didn’t insert the latex lens, all I would see for the rest of my life was that blurry white light. That caused me a bit of anxiety to say the least. But, all was well. The doctor put in a new lens and I can see wonderfully.

You’re probably thinking those two stories are totally unrelated. In sense, that’s correct. But the two stories do help explain the Anglican way of seeing the world.

The first story of my walk on the Wicklow Way describes a mystical experience. I didn’t cause the experience. Ii simply happened. I was in the right place at the right time to encounter the mystical. I’m sure everyone here has had a mystical experience of some kind. You beheld a splendid sunset and you were brought to tears. You held your newborn baby for the first time. Your soul soared to new heights. You heard a song that reminded you of some beautiful experience from the past. Mystical experiences are not reserved only for people like Saint John the Divine, or Saint Teresa, or Saint Peter. We are all a part of the communion of saints. We’re all saints and most of us have had a mystical experiences.

The second story I told about having the lens in my eye removed and then seeing a bright light. The lens was removed. I saw a bright, all encompassing white light. The experience caused me some anxiety. But, the experience was not mystical. The experience was the result of twenty-first century medical technology that fortunately had a happy ending.

One of the beauties of the Anglican Church is that you don’t have to check your brain at the door. We use knowledge to help us understand the world in which we live, the scriptures we read, and our own lives. The universe was created by a Big Bang thirteen billion years ago. Dinosaurs walked the earth. Humanoids have lived on the earth for over a million years. You don’t have to deny that stuff when you enter an Anglican Church. In fact, you really need to bring your brain into this church. You’re going to be asked to think about heady stuff all the time. No one’s going to tell you what to believe or think in this church. You are responsible for what you believe. That’s what Saint Paul meant when he wrote to the church in Philippi, that you are responsible to “Work out your own salvation.”

A major component of having knowledge is to help us understand the mysteries we experience as well as those found in our scripture. We’ve heard a reading from The Revelation to John (21:1-6). Unfortunately, the visions of Saint John the Divine have been co-opted by the bad theology of Rapture and the subsequent Left Behind series. Rapture theology is escapism and eliminates any Christian responsibility for doing the work of God. The theology of The Revelation of John is not that all Christians are going to escape the complexities here on Earth—it’s actually the opposite. The mystical Revelation was given to the seven churches in Asia, and to us, as a map of our work. Saint John the Divine says, “See, the home of God is among mortals.” In other words, God’s home is here with us. Christian’s are to spread God’s peace and love on earth as it is in heaven. Our work is to be God’s love for others.

Much of our Eucharistic liturgy, the work of the people, is lifted right out of The Revelation of John. The Revelation is our work and our mystical vision. We are saints who participate in the dailyness of God’s mystical vision for us. Our two sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, are clearly part of God’s mystical vision for our Church.

And that’s where the magic comes in. The definition of magic is that someone preforms an act to change someone’s mind. Everyday, artists, musicians, and poets change our minds about the mundane—they are doing magic. In the church, the congregation participates in the sacred magic. Together, the priest, the people, and the Spirit offer simple bread and wine so that those elements of nature will become for us the very Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ. Don’t confuse what I just said with Roman Catholic theology, which teaches that the priest alone, by word and action, calls upon the Spirit to turn the bread and wine in to the flesh and blood of Jesus. Anglican priests do not celebrate private Eucharist—Holy Communion in the Trinitarian act of the priest, the people, and the Spirit. The same sacred magic happens at Baptism. Together, the priest, the people, and the Spirit engage in the sacred magic of blessing the water, which through the mystery of the Spirit will infuse the baptized with the very mystical Presence of Christ.

Mystery is the action of the Undivided Trinity. We, the Church, are responsible to bring our knowledge and to participate in the sacred magic in order to bring “Thy Kingdom Come on earth, as it is in Heaven.” Such work is evolutionary.

The main reason I come to church is to understand the ever-evolving meaning of life. That meaning, the purpose of life, is to become an integrated person. Mystery without knowledge is dualism. Mystery without sacred magic eliminates our responsibility in a relationship with God. Mystery and magic without knowledge is a dangerous cult. We need the mystery, the knowledge, and the sacred magic in order to become integrated human beings. As well, we need the mystery, knowledge, and sacred magic to become an integrated evolving church. If coming to church and what I believe doesn’t change what I eat, what I buy, and how I vote, and how I treat other people, then it’s all a waste of my time. It’s weird that way. And it changes everything.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Jesus Died for the Sake of God

Let’s start with a multiple-choice question. What do believe about the nature of God?

A. Do you believe God is violent?
B. Do you believe God is love?
C. Do you believe God is both?
D. Do you believe God is neither?
E. You don’t know?
F. You don’t care?

Why is this question important? What you believe about the nature of God should impact what you eat (the environment), how you spend your money (the economy), and how you vote (politics). What you think about the nature of God should influence every aspect of your life.

Many of you are doing the hard work of thinking about the nature of God. There are at least 50 people in our congregation that are reading Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond. I’m not going to apologize for the difficult and controversial nature of the book. I do commend you for your courage to accept the challenge. I want to encourage you to hang in there and keep up this difficult and important work. I also want to encourage those of you who are not in one of our House Church groups to read the book. Rohr is challenging us to think differently about the nature of God and how that changes how we think about every aspect of our lives.

To better understand Rohr’s work, I’ve been reading two of the authors that have influenced his ideas. Those of you who read Rohr’s daily meditations know that he continues to mine the writings of twentieth century psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung considered Jesus Christ to be the archetypal Self, as Rohr puts it, the True Self. Jung and Rohr believe we should model our exploration of our True Self after Jesus’s personal process. (See Jung’s Aion, especially Chapter 5, “Christ the Symbol of the Self)

Rohr has also spent a lot of time with the integral philosopher Ken Wilber, particularly his books The Theory of Everything and Integral Spirituality. Wilber’s ideas integrate spiral dynamics with ancient/future thought and practice. Wilber is attempting to create a philosophy that includes the complexity of our world in our efforts to evolve in every aspect, of mind, body, and soul.

When I’m doing this kind of difficult work, I also like to balance my non-fiction reading with good fiction, which can amplify my thinking. I’m re-reading one of my favorite novels Cloud Atlas by Irishman David Mitchell. His book was a New York Times bestseller for quite some time. A film based on Mitchell’s book starring Tom Hanks and Hallie Berry quickly gained a cult following. I think Mitchell is a contemporary blend of W.B. Yeats and Charles Williams. Cloud Atlas is a post-postmodern epic about the transmigration of souls. He has nested six stories in his complex novel—a story within a story within a story within a story within a story within a story within a story—a story about souls traveling across time. Mitchell has crafted a novel that dares to engage the philosophy of the spiral evolution of the soul.

Together, Rohr, Wilber, and Mitchell have provided me with an integrated way of re-engaging the stories of the Bible—stories like Job.

Today we’ve heard a portion of the story of Job—an ancient myth that typically makes us cringe. Job is a metaphor about the suffering of humanity and God’s complicity in that suffering. (See Carl Jung’s Answer to Job.)

In case you don’t know the story of Job, it goes like this—God and Lucifer are sitting in heaven admiring Job’s wonderful life. Lucifer wagers God that if Job had to suffer, Job would deny his love of God. The Divine One takes the bet. In the next scene, Job tragically loses everything—his wealth, his family, his health. He’s left homeless, his children are dead, and he suffers from an incurable disease. To make matters worse, Job’s friends tell him his suffering is due to his sin. Even Job’s wife tells him to curse God and die. But Job would have none of it—he had done nothing wrong. He would not accept blame. Nor would he turn against God. Finally, given the opportunity, Job, like Jesus, cries out to God, “Why have you abandoned me?”

This is when we hear the terrible words coming from the mouth God, violent, vengeful, immature, irascible words. These words make us look away. How can The Divine One stomp his feet and act like an abusive father? Then, in a weird twist, the story ends with Job gaining new wealth and a new family. But, really nothing was fixed. Job, like Jesus, still bore the scars of feeling abandoned by God, the grief of losing his children, and the physical pain he endured. Job still suffered. Jesus still suffered.

Unfortunately, throughout the history of Christian theology, the story of Jesus has not been nested within the story of Job. By reading Job in isolation, God has been left in the unfortunate position of being a blood thirsty God. Christianity has not allowed its view of God to grow up, mature or evolve from the irascible God of Job to the God of Jesus who is an unconditional lover. Christians have been left with a God who willingly sacrificed his only son as a ransom for the soul of humanity. The majority of Christianity still believes that God needed to sacrifice Jesus for their personal sins—and that, most unfortunately, leaves God trapped in the story of Job, a blood thirsty, violent, angry God. It also allows Christians to justify their own acts of anger, vengeance, and violence.

However, if we read the story of Jesus nested within the story of Job, where God is God and Job is Jesus, the story of Jesus redeems the irascible God of Job. Rohr says that Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about humanity, but instead to change humanity’s belief about God. If we nest Jesus’s story within Job’s story, we realize that Job and Jesus’s stories are about humanity’s evolution in their thinking of God—Job’s God of violence, matures into Jesus’s loving Abba, daddy.

So why did Jesus have to die a horrible death on the Cross? So that God could experience Job’s pain, Jesus’s pain, humanity’s pain. God came into this world at the moment Jesus became vulnerable enough to become One with his heavenly Abba. At that moment, God, the Lover, began to experience, through Jesus Christ, human fear, suffering, pain, and death. Jesus suffered so that God could suffer. Jesus did not die for our sake. Jesus died for the sake of God.

So what does this mean? It means that through God’s suffering, God became One with us. It means, we don’t have to worry about whether we are going to heaven or not. That decision was already made through God’s desire to be One with us—to suffer as Job suffered, to suffer as Jesus suffered, to suffer as we suffer.

What Richard Rohr is trying to teach us is that in order to bring love to earth, we must realize that we are One with God the Lover. Like Jesus, we must contemplate on God’s love for us. Like Jesus, we must love God like God loves us. Like Jesus we must love our neighbors like God loves them. Like Jesus we must love our enemies like God loves them. We must love like the Jesus we follow. Love is the answer, radical love, evolved love, a God matured love.

Jesus did not die so that we would have it easy. Jesus came to show us how to live in this complex and painful world. Jesus came to help us see that we are One with God, The Undivided Trinity, The Lover, The Beloved, The Spiritual Wisdom of Sophia. I know, this is all weird—but this will change everything.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Soul Conversation: Another Word for Theology?

What is another word for theology, incarnation, resurrection, salvation, sacrament, and every other theological word that the most people in the pew can’t define much less the person in line at Starbucks?

Several years ago, a good friend of mine, the Reverend Daniel Richards and I would regularly meet for coffee. Somehow the conversation always turned towards the theological end of the table. We talked about life among young adults. We asked big questions. We talked about God. We were doing theology. We carried those conversations into our Thursday night gathering with young adults; something we called Peregrini. The topics for those caffeine stoked nights were always built on a question; “God?” “Life after Death?” “Resurrection?” You know. Those small topics. What Daniel and I were discovering was that theology is best done out of the context of a conversation. The problem is, no one knew what the word ‘theology’ meant—much less words like Eucharist, incarnation, resurrection, salvation, or sacrament. Most of all, they didn’t care. They did have some reactions—mostly adverse feelings towards words like baptism, conversion, and sin. While words like grace and forgiveness felt better, few had little experience with those words when it comes to the church. But, having conversation, that was another matter. Young adults, and truthfully, most people, want to have a conversation, even about God. A conversation between two souls wrestling with God, questions can be helpful, even hopeful.

The word theology is typically a turnoff to anyone but certain clergy and academic types. Theology, simply put, is the study of religious faith, practice and experience. Words, especially religious words, are so loaded with negative baggage that most everyone, including those in church, has lost interest. I’ve begun to wonder if we could find ways to re-ensoul these ancient words with new life? Or do we have to find new words, or forgotten words without baggage in order to have soul conversations about God?

At times our Peregrini group got close to re-ensouling words. Peregrini reminded me of a more famous gathering who struggled with faith and words. I can imagine the Inklings gathered around a pint in Oxford. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams working at changing the course of art, thought, and theology. Instigating a revolution by evolution. They were doing theology through conversation. They were using old words in new ways—creating a fresh look at language to express their musings, fears, wonderings about the divine. They took bold risks. They made up words. Used ancient words in new ways. They didn’t think outside the box. They created a new box.

Barfield said that words have souls—souls that contain the souls of the ancients of the past; as such, they tell the story of consciousness; the souls of the words carry the consciousness of the ancients into the future. (Fellowship of the Inkling, 107) Something like what Saint John the Divine was imagining when he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God is a verb, not a noun. That changes everything. I think Saint John was struggling just like we do to find a poetic artistry in order to describe our evolutionary experience of the divine. The Anglican poets John Donne, George Herbert, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, R.S. Thomas were also crafting alchemical artistry through the words of life to tell us about their spiritual experience. They had a soul-centric worldview. A word-centric worldview. They had mystical experiences. They crafted their words. Their work was bathed in soul conversations with others who dared the same experiment.

Con-versation is the idea of creating a living poem—of verse flowing from one soul to another soul, through time. Having a vulnerable soul conversation in a public setting, a coffee shop, a pub, on a sidewalk, on Facebook can invites others and the holy to listen in. These soul conversations can create the possibility for words to evolve. We can explore how to use language to describe our experience with the divine. This public action of doing soul conversation about God with others, which includes God, is similar to what the Zohar teaches—rabbi’s interpreting scripture (doing Midrash) in community. They were practicing a personally felt spirituality of the soul that was steeped in the murky milieu of conversation. (Meditations on the Tarot, 267)

Words matter. The words we use in conversation matter. The words in soul conversation can matter the most. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Old Testament theologian Walter Bruggemann, Franciscan monk and Roman Catholic priest Richard Rohr, and post-postmodern philosopher Ken Wilber agree on one at least one thing—words matter, a lot, more than that, words are the I, the She/He, the IT, the We in human understanding. I suggest that we must be willing to have public conversations about God. Now is the time to have these public conversations using words of the “World Come of Age.”

We must search for words that are devoid of Renaissance, Reformational, Enlightened, Modern, and even Postmodern baggage. We may have to reach back for those words to a time even before Jesus. Or we may need to strain forward to find new words. We definitely will have to re-ensoul heavy theological words. Old words and new words, words that are open to new meanings and new interpretations. We must do this work for a time in the future we can only imagine but may never experience. We are compelled to do this work in order to have vital conversations about God—today—so that we may have conversations about these soul experiences, today, and tomorrow. If words like “theology” have lost their souls, then we have to either re-ensoul them or bury them. I wonder, what words do you imagine we could use to describe our conversations about God, with God?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

God is Weird and that Changes Everything

I’m writer. I do a lot of research and some I do on the Internet. In researching for this series of sermons on the Beatitudes I got a pop up add for this T-shirt I bought. Which reads, “Blessed are the weird people, the writers, the artists, the dreamers, the outsiders, for they force us to see the world differently.”

Twelve years ago, as part of my training to become a priest, I worked as a hospital chaplain. I worked nights and weekends. One night, sometime after mid-night, I received a page from the psychiatric ward. Actually, because I worked nights, I spent most of my time between ER, ICU, and the psychiatric ward. When I arrived at the front desk to the unit, the nurse told me the room number. She also asked me not turn on the lights in the room. She said the lights really upset the patient.

I taped on the door. There was no answer. I eased into the room without opening the door very wide. I taped on the inside of the door. “Hello. I’m the chaplain. My name is Gil.” A voice from the dark said, “Sit down.”

I slid down the wall and sat on the floor. The only light in the room was from the smoke alarm in the center of the ceiling. I had hoped my eyes would eventually adjust to the darkness. “Is there something you would like to talk about?” I asked. I sat in silence for quiet a long time.

Then the person sitting somewhere in the room said, “God is weird.”

I said, “Yeah, I know.” We sat in silence. And that changes everything.

I’ve thought about that exchange so much my head hurts. God is weird and that changes everything.

I was created in the image of God. I was created to be a unique and authentic person. That means no one is like me. Therefore, I am weird. You were created in the image of God. You were created to be a unique and authentic person. That means no one is like you. Therefore, you are weird. God created us in God’s image. No one is like God, but everyone is like God. That’s weird. That changes everything.

My sister is mentally and physically handicapped. She’s the most spiritual person I know. That’s weird. That changes everything.

My grandson is three and half years old. He was outside with my wife a few months ago. He and my wife were sitting on lawn chair swing for two people. He was lying on the seat with his head in Cathy’s lap. She asked him if he wanted a snack. “No, Gaga. I just want to lay here and look up at God’s beautiful world.” That’s weird. That changes everything.

Did you know that ravens can talk? I met one in Ireland who talked to me. That’s weird. That changes everything.

You have atoms in you that are13 million years old? That’s weird. That changes everything.

We’re breathing the same molecules of air that the dinosaurs, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus breathed. That’s weird. That changes everything.

There was a recent discovery in a cave in southern Africa. Fifteen remains of a human-like creature, part ape/part man. Scientist believe because of the way the remains were placed in the cave that those people, who lived 3 million years ago, were capable of ritual behavior. That’s weird. That changes everything.

The Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew bible was written over 2,500 years ago. The book is about Ezekiel’s vision of a chariot coming down out of the sky. The chariot held four creatures, each with four faces, one a human, one a lion, one an ox, one an eagle. Some scholar’s think Ezekiel might have been mentally ill or at least taking some psychedelic drugs. That’s weird. That changes everything.

Owen Barfield (one of the Inklings) said that words have souls—those words carry the consciousness of the ancients from the past into the future. The writer of the Gospel of John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and Word was God.” Someone told me that in the Spanish translation of this verse it reads, “In the beginning was the Verb and the Verb was with God, and the Verb was God.” That’s weird. That changes everything.

Jesus told people to love God. Jesus told his followers to love each other. Religious people said he was a heretic. Political people said he was dangerous. So, they killed him. That’s weird. That changes everything.

Matthew Bellamy, lead singer for the band Muse wrote, “Love is our resistance.” That sounds like Jesus. That’s weird. That changes everything.

Jesus said, “Follow me.” He never said worship me. That’s weird. That changes everything.

If you want to follow Jesus, then you’ll have to love God with same intensity Jesus loved God. And you’ll have to love other people with the intensity that Jesus loves us. When you do that, people will think you’re weird. And that will change everything.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The More I Experience, the Less I Believe

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

I’ve walked four pilgrimages in Ireland—once I walked across Ireland almost 400 miles. The mountains of Ireland can be daunting; at times the weather can be harsh. I’ve walked alone. I’ve walked with groups of twelve. I’ve walked a twenty-three mile day. I’ve fasted during eight-hour walks. My pilgrimages have built on one another. I’ve encountered the mystical and the magical.

Before going on a walking pilgrimage I had to spend significant time preparing. I bought good boots. I took the time and walked the miles to break in my boots properly. For every 100 miles of pilgrimage, I walked 400 to get ready; that’s twenty-five miles a week for four months.

Still, after all this walking, I have a constant ache to walk another pilgrimage. I hunger to be on a perpetual pilgrimage. I’ve come to realize my life has been a series of one pilgrimage after another. Life is a spiral of what is above and what is below. Every event is connected, becoming integrated—mind, body, soul interwoven with nature and the Divine.

Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes is about a spiritual pilgrimage; a hunger for righteousness and purity. The English definitions of righteousness and purity can make us feel that Jesus’ goals are impossible to achieve. I feel that I can never be righteous and pure.

But in the Greek, the word righteousness, in this context, means we hunger and thirst for a ‘second chance.’ And the word purity is a chemical term, meaning a ‘heart of gold.’ Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a second chance for they will be filled with a heart of gold and they will see God.

The point of Jesus’ teaching is that if we make the best of our second chance the process will lead to heart of gold. The second chance is walking another pilgrimage with God in order to create a heart of gold within us.

So, what does walking a pilgrimage with God look like? In our Book of Common Prayer, on page 236, there is this beautiful prayer of how to live a life walking with God. “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scripture to be written for our learning; Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life…” To spend our time immersed in the scripture is to walk with God.

In 1960 I was seven-years-old. My parents gave me this bible as a Christmas gift. As a child I made notes in the bible. Then, in 1967, my grandmother gave me this bible as a Christmas gift. There’s lot of underlining in this bible and more notes. At some point I had to tape the back on the bible to hold it together. In 1974, my sister-in-law gave me this bible for Christmas. (There seems to be a pattern forming.) This bible is filled with notes, underlining and colored highlights. In 1993, I bought a Harper Study Bible. I used this bible so much I had to tape the cover on it—the back broke and the pages started falling out. Then, ten years ago, at my ordination, the bishop presented me with this bible. It is also filled with notes and marking and the cover has fallen off this bible as well.

These bibles mark the progression of my spiritual pilgrimage with God; they are the symbols of the process of the spiral of my spiritual work. The first bible, I was a child—I thought like a child, talked like a child, and acted like a child. The second bible was during my teenage years. It was a period of stretching, testing, rebelling, and growing. The third bible was my young adult years. I was conforming to the way of world in which I lived. Cathy and I had young children. It was the first half of my life and I needed boundaries and guidelines. The Harper’s Bible is the symbol of moving from the first half of life to the second half—leaving the answers behind, to instead search for the questions that lead to more questions. The bible I’ve carried for the last ten years is a symbol of the pilgrimage of life. This bible is a symbol of the great paradox I’m experiencing. For the more liberal my theology becomes, the more mystically deep it goes. Honestly, I don’t believe anything anymore—however I continually have deep mystical magical knowledge filled experiences with the Divine. The less I know and believe, the more I experience. I’m starting to wonder if it’s time for a new bible?

A dear friend of mine told me a story about her dad. At the beginning of every year he would buy a new bible. He read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested that bible throughout the year. At the end of the year he would look back over the previous year’s bible to see if he’d changed his thinking in any way, which he often did. Even in retirement he kept up the practice of buying a new bible at the beginning of every year. Finally, near the end of his life, he couldn’t see very well nor hold his bible. It was then my friend would go see her dad everyday. And everyday she would read his bible to him. And regularly, he would stop her and say, “Ruth, underline that, make a note in the margin.”

This experience of spiritual pilgrimage is not unique. Everyone can walk this path with God—it never too late in life to begin spiraling above and below. You only need three things, a bible, a prayer book, and a pencil. In the back of the BCP are the daily readings. Ten minutes a day is all it takes to go on this mystical, knowledge filled, magical pilgrimage. Listen, read, mark, learn, inwardly digest—start walking.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Ode to William Rhodes

The Reverend Canon William Rhodes has slipped through the veil that shadows the world of the unseen from our eyes. His presence has moved beyond our vision but not from our hearts. His enchanting smile, though missed, will remain. His words, though not heard, will still remind. His beckoning of the saints to the Table will now be ours to fetch him to come.

Bill Rhodes was a living poem; he was wise, encouraging, an exact enigma. He was the master of the Table, keeper of the High Way. His theology was precise. His ethics made the margins as wide as the love of Christ he followed and as narrow as the path He walked.

Many of us have our favorite Father Bill story. Those remembrances will inspire us towards his path of courage and endurance. Bill Rhodes walked that dusty road, which was often filled with pain, pointing us to look at the redeemer and healer, God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We when hear those words, we will also hear the Sanctus Bells, smell the incense, see the fine vestments, taste the transmuted bread and wine, but we will only touch the priest in our souls. Grief can be as heavy as the aroma of years of frankincense. Let our tears mingle in the wine.

As was typical of Bill, just last week he gathered with his colleagues to discuss the challenging works of Franciscan Richard Rohr. The opinions in the room were as wide as the Anglican Communion. Some quoted scripture in defense of their position. Others referred to their experience of the Divine as the basis for their understanding. Bill Rhodes recited lines from the Eucharistic Prayer. His life of service to others was enmeshed in the liturgy he enveloped at the Table. Bill Rhodes had become the liturgy.

W.B. Yeats wrote, “Have not poetry and music arisen out of the sounds the enchanters made to help their imagination, to enchant, to charm, to bind with a spell themselves and the passers by? And just as the musicians or the poet enchants and charms and binds with a spell his own mind when he would enchant the mind of others, so did the enchanter create or reveal for himself as well as for others the supernatural artist or genius.”

William Rhodes was a living poem, the genius artist of the supernatural. He was an enchanter who invited us into the mystery of the Table. William Rhodes intimately knew the Triune God he so passionately celebrated as he opened the window for us to share a glimpse.

The poet may be hidden from our eyes, but his charm lingers in our hearts.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
“The Elixir,” George Herbert

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blessed are the Depressed

My sister has Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS), a disorder of chromosome-15. Dinah is mentally and physically handicapped. While the life expectancy of someone with PWS continues to increase, many die in adolescence. Dinah just celebrated her sixtieth birthday as the oldest person with PWS in Arizona.

When our mother died in 2012, I drove the 150 desert miles from Phoenix to Tucson to give her the terrible news. When I told her our mom died, I thought her wailing would shatter the windows of heaven. I prayed her screams would drive God to cower in the corner. A few hours later we drove home together in silence. Within three days, Dinah and I would stand at the foot of mom’s grave and throw dirt on her casket.

Three months after the funeral, Dinah and I were having lunch. Despite her low IQ and difficultly speaking, she has the wisdom of a crone. She also has the connection with God of that of a mystical saint. A few people have dared ask if she really understands that our mother has died. I try not to bite back in anger when I’m thrown that ridiculous question.

Admittedly, though, even after our sixty years together, my conversations with Dinah can appear like a combination of playing 50 questions and charades. She starts by naming our children. I tell her every obscure detail I can think of. She’s always most interested in our grandchildren and our dog, Jesus. On the day of our lunch she worked her best to tell her stories, stringing three or four words together, followed by silence. Then she would say another word or two. I ask a question. More silence. Often, no matter how hard I try I don’t understand what she’s trying to tell me. At those times she usually says, “You no hear me.” Then she ponders her next words. She usually gives me a couple of attempts before she gets frustrated and says, “No mind.” She moves on. I miss my mom the most then because she understood Dinah the best.

Lunch finally arrived at our table. Dinah is always very intent on eating, part of being PWS. There is very little conversation during the meal. That day I idly offered a few rambling stories. When the plates were taken away. She resumed her questions about the family and the dog. Somewhere in the little strands of conversation she told me she had washed her hair that day.

“Do you wash your hair every day,” I asked.
She nodded an affirmative yes, as if to say, “You idiot, don’t you?”
I smiled the sheepish grin of an older brother who has just stepped into a little sister storm. I tried to recover. “Do you blow dry and style your own hair. It looks nice.”
“No, Joey,” she said making reference to her beloved caregiver.
“You have beautiful silver hair Dinah,” I said in truth.
She said without hesitation, “My momma’s hair.”
I wanted to cry, but I held my emotions below the surface. Silence was the best I could afford.
After a few minutes she said, “Momma no more.”

We sat there for five minutes in pristine silence. It was at if the entire restaurant, the outside world, and God herself had stopped breathing in communal grief waiting to hear what Dinah would say next. Then she shook her head as if to drive the thought of her dead mother out of mind. She looked at me and changed the subject back to the dog.
Driving away from her apartment hours later, I wondered why she said momma no more instead of my momma gone, or bye-bye momma, which she said at the viewing before the funeral. I have heard a few people tell her mom is with God in heaven, but she didn’t say any of those things. No. Just, “Momma no more.”

Was she giving testimony to the cold hard existential reality of death? Or was she making a comment about the loneliness we experience as sister and brother without our mom? Or does she know something about the afterlife? Can she see the other side, or the lack of it?

Listening to my sister is like doing dream work. The conversation is full of odd images, strange messages, and unfamiliar characters. What did that word mean? Did her lifted eyebrow have a hidden meaning? I couldn’t figure out exactly what she was saying. Was that about her friend at work or a neighbor? Maybe she was making a connection to some larger meaning about life? Listening to Dinah is like hearing the collective unconscious deliver some hidden message of archetypal importance.

I can’t always understand what she is trying to tell me. I can only do the hard work of listening and continuing to process and reflect, hoping I will uncover some koan. It’s impossible to know what she knows or feel what she feels. I can only know what I feel when I listen to her. The silence between her words has been transformative in my life.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

The divorce rate for parents with a PWS child is eighty-percent. Siblings of a PWS person are most likely to be estranged from their brother or sister. People with Prader-Willi Syndrome, their parents, and their siblings are all usual candidates for chronic and severe depression. My family beat the odds on two-out-of-three of those statistics. My parents maintained a loving relationship for sixty-four years. My sister and I are extremely close. But, my sister, my mother, and I have suffered from life-long chronic and at times severe depression. It took me fifty years to admit that, seek help, and then have the courage to say that publically. My family has been poor in spirit. And we have suffered grief.

Grief results from loss. Typically we think of grief being associated with loss from the death of a loved one. My mom, however, suffered depression from the loss of “what she had hoped for and what might have been.” She suffered as well from the simple and complex daily life of living with a mentally and physically handicapped child. Depression can be the result of grief, though not always. Sometimes depression just is—there is no cause—it just exists in someone’s life. Depression is not cured—it is only managed.

One of the tragedies that exist in our world today is that depression and all other forms of mental illness are typically hidden and rarely talked about. It’s okay to admit that I have some physical illness. People even offer to pray for us.

But what about mental illness—it’s not something we are typically willing to share with others. And usually if we do, people feel awkward around us when we talk about it. So what do we do when our family or friend tells us they are suffering from depression or some other form of mental illness?

First, be present by listening to them. Truly listen. And don’t offer any advice, like, “Just turn it over to God and everything will be okay.” That is not helpful. The most frustrating thing in the world for me is when my sister says, “You no hear me.” But, honestly, I feel equally as frustrated when I’m trying to explain to someone what it feels like to be depressed and I know they just can’t or won’t listen. I probably should start saying to them, “You no hear me.”

The second thing you do is to take their illness seriously. People who are depressed or suffer from other mental illness need support and care. Tell them you will pray that they will find the help they need so that they will have relief from their suffering.

It’s strange to think that Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Being poor in spirit doesn’t feel very heaven-like. But, when someone really listens and is present—that person feels like they are being God for me. I feel blessed when they listen. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Does the Church have Evolutionary Purpose?

I started my career in professional baseball player as a catcher. Wasn’t too long though I became a utility player. Over the five years I played I logged at least an inning at every position. Being a “Jack-of-all-trades” also made me a “Master-of-none.” Labels are hard to shake.

When I started my new job a few weeks ago, someone from the diocese office sent me an email asking me to proof my new business cards. I’m not accustomed to having business cards—haven’t used one in ten years. When I saw my title on the card as “Canon” I laughed. I know I’m the Canon Theologian, I just didn’t expect it to show up on a business card. I had to look up what the title “Canon” meant on the Episcopal Church website. Fortunately, the title is honorary. I was afraid it was going to say, “Someone who shoots off their mouth very loudly.” I promise I’ll do my best to stay away from such a thing.

I’m uncomfortable with labels. I know my Myers-Briggs type and my Enneagram number. The type and number is important—I just don’t want to be pigeon holed. I think I’m more interested in the shadow side of the Myers-Briggs and wing and stress number of the Enneagram for reasons that make my type and number too obvious. While these types of labels can be valuable for self-reflection, they can also be dangerous.

James Fowler’s faith stage development and Ken Wilbur’s integral spirituality (spiral dynamics) are helpful when thinking about personal progression. However, it does seem rather presumptive to self-identify as being at the highest level in either model. Ten years ago, I wondered though, if an organization could be identified with a label using Fowler or Wilbur’s model. Recently, I read Frederic Laloux’s excellent book Reinventing Organizations where he has adopted spiral dynamics as a way of identifying the evolution of an organization.

Laloux has borrowed the color scheme of spiral dynamics as a means of measuring the higher consciousness development of for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations. Red is a tribal organization where the leader’s power is absolute. In Amber organizations there are more formal roles, but the power of leadership is still held at the top of the pyramid. At the Orange level the business or group is after growth and innovation, management by objectives; still leadership is pretty much top down. Green organizations follow the classic pyramid structure as well but use culture and empowerment to motivate the employees. They typically call themselves a family and their employees partners. At the height of the spiral are Teal organizations. These highly evolved businesses and non-profits are guided by three principles—self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose.

In Teal organizations, 1) the employees have real decision-making power, self-management. The owners and CEO are no more powerful than the employees. 2) Everyone is encouraged to bring his or her whole self to work, wholeness. And 3) the purpose of the company will be expected to change over time, evolutionary purpose. The company must be agile (to use another business term) in management, operation, and vision. Teal organizations have self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose.

Laloux is a researcher, not a businessman. I think his work could be important for the church for three reasons. 1) He included non-profits in his examination of sixteen companies. 2) In his work he included the Roman Catholic Church as an example. 3) In Teal organizations, he recognized that employees who were allowed to bring all of them selves (wholeness) including their spirituality to work, contributed more fully at work, home, and in the community.

So where did Laloux place the Church on the spiral? He included the Church, the military, most governmental agencies, and public schools in the Amber level. That’s top down command and control where stability is valued as the most important commodity in order to preserve the past so that it may be repeated in the future.

So what does all this color stuff really mean? The Rev. Gae Chalker, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, recommended I check out Laloux on YouTube. She has hopes that Laloux might be offering something very powerful for the church. I watched the YouTube for ninety-minutes. Laloux is an excellent speaker who described his research using understandable examples. I bought the book because in it he gave the recipe for taking an existing organization, like a church, to the Teal level.

Not surprisingly, the ingredients needed to take an organization to the Teal level are simple—yet rare to find. First, the leader must him or herself be at the Teal level in their personal life and then must be willing to take the risk to lead their organization to the next level. Second, the owners of the organization (board, vestry) must be willing to step back and let the CEO and the employees (church members) lead through self-management; while bringing their whole self to work (church), and allowing for an evolving purpose (something not imagined yet). In other words, the CEO and owners must let go of their control and power.

Is this possible? Laloux is hopeful because he believes that Teal is the next stage of human consciousness. He believes the old ways will naturally die and a new model will evolve. He suggests this is already happening and sites the global economy as an example.

Are all these labels useful? Could be, as long I, we, and the church are not checking our navels for labels. Self-reflection is valuable if it produces action. When the synthesis of contemplation and action are achieved we might recognize a resurrection happening in our midst. I pray I will live long enough to see the church with the beginnings of a teal hue.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Words are the Same but the Meaning Keeps Changing

My granddad was a great storyteller. Most of his life he was a truck driver, often hauling cattle from Elk City, Oklahoma to Cozad, Nebraska. During the summers our family would visit my granddad and I’d get to ride along with him on his 24-hour turn around trips. On those trips he would tell me stories about his dad, his brother, my grandmother, who died before I was born, and my mom—story after story. He repeated those stories over and over again. While he died twenty-five years ago, I can still repeat almost every one of those stories word for word.

My granddad used to tell me, “With age comes freedom.” When I was nine, I thought that meant that I was old enough to have the freedom to ride along with him in his eighteen-wheeler. Then when I was a teenager I thought it meant that soon enough I would be old enough to drive his truck. Later I thought he was telling me I was old enough to get married. With every transition in life, I thought, the phrase, “With age comes freedom,” was about that particular place in my life. Now at sixty-one, with age comes freedom, is taking on a whole new meaning. The phrase changes meaning with time.

There’s a sentence in the bible that has had that same long-term resonance in my life. In John 3:30, John the Baptist says, “Jesus must increase and I must decrease.” I’ve been using that sentence as a prayer for thirty-seven years. For the last ten years as an Episcopal priest, I’ve prayed that prayer before I preach every sermon.

The sentence found me in 1978. I had taken a youth group to a Baptist camp in New Mexico. A young seminarian was the preacher for the week. He was very dynamic and he quoted that verse before every sermon. Southern Baptist’ rarely open their sermons with a sentence of prayer. So this young man was doing something very unique. Shortly after that camp I became the interim pastor for our church. I was twenty-five years old. I started using that sentence to open my sermons. I used the prayer so much that a friend of ours made a crossstitch of the verse as a gift. It has been hanging in every office I’ve had since.

But, what that verse meant to me thirty-seven years ago is much different than today. Then, it meant that I needed to be a better Christian. What I knew about being a Christian then really didn’t have much connection to who Jesus really was. Being a Christian was learning and following the rules and knowing all the right answers according to the church. It was, however, the Jesus I had grown up with—and that’s all okay. That’s just where I was 40 years ago.

My journey of trying to live into John the Baptist’ statement, “Jesus must increase and I must decrease,” has taken me down many roads. Over the years I’ve prayed that prayer, so many times, it’s been like placing a rough stone in a river. Rushing water smoothing the jagged stone of my soul in the river of prayer. My soul stone is still in that river. A lot more work needs to be done.

What’s happened over the years is that I have been shaped by the rushing water of prayer, scripture, and writer’s like Marcus Borg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, Miguel Da Le Torre, Barbara Brown Taylor, Mary Oliver, Carl Jung, and a host of others. I’ve also been shaped by the ministry of presence of Tom Wiles, Glenn Hinson, Rebecca McClain, Veronica Ritson, and scores of others. In every one of these people I could recognize that they saw themselves as moving to the backstage while Jesus was moving front and center in their life. The Jesus they saw was a Jesus I had not imagined existed—a living Jesus Christ who was no longer trapped in the confines of the New Testament. They sought a Jesus Christ who is bigger than the bible, the church, and Christianity itself.

Fifteen years ago I went to a retreat led by one of the great Baptist’s of our time, Glenn Hinson. In my opinion he’s great because the fundamentalist fired him and he survived to teach again. He had been terminated from his professorship at a Baptist seminary because he was too liberal. One of his mistakes had been befriending Thomas Merton. Hinson took his young Baptist seminarians to meet Merton. Yep, that’ll get you fired. Anyway, Hinson introduced me to the idea of walking and praying every morning. When he first suggested it to me, I asked him what in the world I could talk to Jesus about for an hour. Hinson said to just tell Jesus what was going on in my life. He must have seen the horror on my face so he suggested I simply repeat a prayer as I walked. “You mean like, Jesus must increase and I must decrease.” Absolutely, he said. And that’s where the idea began that pilgrimage is a shaping force in the formation of soul. Pilgrimage as a way of life.
I’ve walked across Ireland, almost 400 miles of soul shaping, one step at a time. I’ve taken several walking pilgrimages in Ireland—this past summer with a singing choir group. Each journey has had a profound impact on my life. I have gone on pilgrimage to find wisdom, to have a mystical experience, to embrace the dangers of the four elements, to understand the fullest experience of the world, to have a total experience of the mystical, to gain spiritual knowledge, and engage in the sacred magic of Jesus. I want to not only be a follower of Jesus I want to be like Jesus. Jesus must increase and I must decrease.

That sounds so simple—but the meaning keeps changing with age.

In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus said, “Divine Reality exists inside and all around you. Only when you have come to know your true Self will you be fully known—realizing at last that you are a child of the Living One.”

What I think Jesus meant was that I have to know my Self fully in order to be fully like Jesus. If I want Jesus to increase in my life I need the 360-degree of self-awareness. Jesus went through the process of discovering his true Self. He was laying out a mystical pilgrimage so that we could follow him and know our true Self as well. For Jesus to increase, and for me to decrease, I must be more like him and less like me—but to be more like him, I must be my true Self and more like me. That statement is so paradoxical it has to be true.

Jesus must increase and I must decrease. To be more like Jesus, I must decrease so much so that my true self will emerge from the realm of the union of the conscious and the unconscious. That’s what I’ll be working on the rest of my life.

When I walked the Wicklow Way this summer I prayed the prayer, “Jesus must increase, and I must decrease, keep vigil with the mystery. That phrase has been shaping my soul for the last two months, like it has for the last forty years—and the meaning keeps changing, even over the last two months. The phrase continues to trouble my soul. The more trouble it causes in my soul the more likelihood I will experience the mystery, the knowledge, and the sacred magic of Jesus. The more likely Jesus will increase and I will decrease.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Strange Glory - A New Book with Fresh Revelations about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh
A Book Review by Gil Stafford

Twenty years ago Ray Anderson introduced me to the enigmatic Dietrich Bonhoeffer. My seminary professor taught me that to understand Bonhoeffer I had to read across the span of his short life and compact theological career. To read Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship outside the context of Life Together is to see someone who is, yes disciplined in the faith, but without community. But, to read either without daring to wade into the challenging waters of his Ethics is to miss the opportunity to be witness to his evolutionary theology. Still, to read Letters and Papers in Prison, as did the “God is Dead” contingent of the 60’s without the backdrop of Bonhoeffer’s entire work is to give it a disservice that would lead one to unsound theological conclusions.

Anderson’s enthusiasm and guidance led me to write a dissertation five years later using Bonhoefferian Christocentric theology. Bonhoeffer’s post-modern, post-church, post-Christian theology has much to say to our world. In him, I found Christ in the face of the other. This was, as still is, my model for leadership. My interest in the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer has continued. Admittedly, however, after writing a dissertation, I had little interest in reading yet another biography of Bonhoeffer, especially after having consumed the thousand pages of Eberhard Bethge’s definitive Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography; Theologian, Christian, Man for His Times. Bethge was after all, Bonhoeffer’s best friend and confidant. Who could add anything to Bethge’s twenty-year commitment to the biography? Actually, no one really dared until five years ago. But upon a quick glance, I surmised those two authors had little new to offer.

What then, enticed me to read Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer? The reviews said Marsh had access to primary documents that few scholars had seen before. Marsh also had committed to writing his book without the use of any secondary reference material. The lure of something new was too much to resist.

Marsh’s non-fiction narrative reads like a novel. His access to new information, creative style, and provocative insights make Marsh’s book worth the investment of time to read. Whether you are interested in Bonhoeffer, the life of a provocative Christian, a theology for a new age, World War II, or biographies, I recommend this very approachable, yet erudite and extensively referenced work.

Marsh is Director of The Project on Lived Theology, which “explores the social consequences of theological commitment.” The website is intriguing. Marsh calls “lived theology,” unleashed theology—a theology that is removed from academic restraints, grounded in the life of community, translated into the world, messy. The effects of Bonhoeffer on Marsh are obvious. I look forward to Marsh’s work with more in depth, especially with its implications on my own new endeavor as Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Arizona.

Given all that, however, I wonder if Marsh didn’t overreached his felt importance of theology in his book on Bonhoeffer. In his analysis of the German Christian Church’s theological impact on Adolf Hitler and Nazism, he states that “Theology has always mattered: the heretical turn of the German Christians can be directly connected with the catastrophe that followed.” This causes me to pause. Even Marsh’s later analysis of Hitler seems to contradict his provocative statement on the power of theology in the German modern world. What importance does theology play with those who do not have ears to hear? While I agree that theology matters, the question is to whom? And if not to everyone, does theology that is misguided then, drive an entire national scheme into evil? What does Marsh think that has to say about the pluralistic world in which we now live?

Regarding Bonhoeffer as a man, Marsh presents him stripped of the “mythology” and “hagiography” that has built up around the theologian. The author paints Bonhoeffer as spoiled, privileged, pretentious, yet artistic, athletic, and brilliant—a young man who seems to be in constant search of a meaningful relationship with God, community, and the other. Aside from his twin sister, Marsh says Dietrich was a lonely man. Bonhoffer’s longing for a personal intimate relationship, Marsh concludes, was eventually realized in his “soul mate,” Eberhard Bethge. Was Bonhoeffer gay? Marsh never uses the word. He leaves what he considers to be the obvious conclusion up to the reader.

Marsh’s “new” revelation that Bonhoeffer might have been gay will probably throw Dietrich under the conservative’s bus. For years, however, in Bonhoeffer circles, the thought that he was queer was readily accepted. But, I must give Marsh the credit for having the courage to print such a likely notion. I think, though, with the access Marsh had to fresh primary documents, letter, and papers, he missed a real opportunity to explore Bonhoeffer’s inner world. For Dietrich, this realm of self-discovery was where he would connect in an intimate relationship with the divine, nature, humanity, and his own personhood. Regardless of Bonhoeffer or Bethge’s sexuality (which Marsh assures the reader Bethge was not gay and the two never sexually consummated their relationship)—I am interested in what might be learned from the “soul mate” relationship between these two men. A model of an intimate soul mate relationship between two men seems to be absent in the twenty-first century. Marsh could have explored Bonhoeffer’s thoughts and ideas in order to develop a theology for intimate love between two men that might not include sex.

Instead of looking into the soul of Bonhoeffer, Marsh seems to be annoyed by his apparent “immaturity.” At twenty-one, with two doctorates, Marsh expected Bonhoeffer to be a wise old soul. Dietrich’s father, who was a neurologist and empirical psychiatrist, disdained Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis. This, Marsh says, influenced Bonhoeffer’s apparent unwillingness to do any interior self-reflection. Interestingly though, while Marsh constantly cites Bethge’s biography, he decided not to mention Eberhard’s statement that Bonhoeffer had a copy of C.G. Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Given Jung’s last chapter of that book, I have to wonder what effect it might have had on Dietrich. I also wonder if Marsh missed an opportunity to explore Bonhoeffer’s psyche in deeper light. In Modern Man, Jung is clear to point out that anyone in the first half of life (Bonhoeffer was executed at thirty-nine) is not ready to make non-individuated life choices. Then, as conflict arises, individuation begins. At those many moments of tremendous stress we see Bonhoeffer making dramatic shifts in his worldview and maturation. Being that Marsh is so willing to make constant analysis of Bonhoeffer’s personality, I wish he had used Jung’s book to provide a well-informed reference point for a look into Bonhoeffer’s psyche.

All that said, the proof of Marsh’s work for my own life is found in my desire to sit down with him and have a long conversation about Bonhoeffer. The author has opened a new page in a fresh journal for my return to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who has had a profound impact in my own theological work in this “world come of age,” a world that is still moving towards, “a religionless Christianity.”

In this new era in which we live, Bonhoeffer has much to say about the Christian life, theological education, and the church. Each must be agile (to use a new business term), pragmatic (in the world), and relevant (for the world). And finally, the Christian who dares to live a radical life in our murky era must always ask him and her self Bonhoeffer’s most relevant question, “Who is Jesus Christ for us, today?” Marsh did an excellent work in confronting us once again with that profound and haunting question.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Sacred Cauldron - The Wisdom of Ritual

Wisdom's Way has gathered seven pilgrims at the Tearmann Spirituality Center in Glendalough, Ireland for a five day retreat; Sacred Cauldron: The Wisdom of Ritual.

Cathy and I have just completed a ten day pilgrimage with Vox Peregrini, a pilgrimage choir. The choir walked the hundred miles of the Wicklow Way and then performed two concerts in Dublin. Hard work. Magical experience. Cathy and I symbolically represent the transitional constancy of life. We live life as pilgrims. Embracing the transformational process of pilgrimage. Knowing pilgrimage as a way of life. Moving from one pilgrimage experience to another; all intertwined, all built upon one another.

Daily transition is the substance of a pilgrimage. Transitioning out of the routines of our life into an unfamiliar setting; leaving home to come to Ireland. Walking a hundred miles in eight days pushes my body through several transitions of soreness to discomfort to pain. Every night settling into a different hostel. In the morning, rising from a strange bed, packing once again, walking another unfamiliar trail. To pilgrimage is to embrace the dailiness of transitions.

Cathy and I, making the transition from one form of pilgrimage to another. Accepting the transitory nature of life. Making friends, if you will, with the human condition of change.

Transitions have challenged humankind from the first moments of self-realization. Humans watched the sun rise in the east. Travel across the sky. Then settle into the darkness. Humankind wondered if the great ball of fire would return. The transition of the Sun created the daily transitions of human life. Creating rhythms, cycles, and seasons. All transitions. With the realization of the human self came the questions: Who am I? Who is the Other?

To know who I am is to realize that I was born, grew into an adult, and face the reality of all humans, death. To experience the Other is to imagine I might be a part of the great cycle of life. Maybe when I return to soil I become a part of the Earth. To rise into the life of the plants. To bath once again if the light of the Sun.

Humankind has pondered the questions of life's transitions and created rituals to mark the greatest moments of life. Transition and how to memorialize life changes has been the genesis of ritual. Naming ceremonies at birth. Vision quests to mark adulthood. Union rituals brought adults together. Counsel circles sharing a pipe to make communal decisions. Burial rites at the transition from life to death.

Here is Ireland, where the Tuatha Da Danaan, the people of Danu, built the remarkable burial mound and tomb, Newgrange, 5,000 years ago, the ideas of ritual have been considered before the pyramids and stonehenge. In the land of gods and goddess', faeries and wee people, where the myths of ancient religions morph, we gather to consider our own transitions and rituals to mark and honor them.

For five days we will study the rituals of the ancient peoples of Ireland. We will examine our lives through the art of mandala. We will create a personal ritual for the transitions in our lives. Cathy is working on a Croning ceremony. And I am creating a ritual for the transition from one pilgrimage to another. Each person at our retreat is processing the work of their own ritual. Creativity. Art. Birth. New life. I am excited and deeply curious.