Thursday, December 29, 2016

13 Books for Your Reading List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Some Advice for Mr. Trump from the Baseball Gods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2016

I Met God at the Theater

The two things we’re taught early in life is that it’s not polite, nor safe, to talk about politics and religion with your family at Thanksgiving. I find that very unfortunate, especially in days like these. The problem with having a nice, polite, safe Thanksgiving dinner is that nothing important is discussed and everyone leaves with the same opinions they arrived with—that their beliefs are the right beliefs.

So instead of having a potentially uncomfortable conversation about God at the dinner table, I went to the theater. There I encountered a ninety-minute conversation about the provocative nature of the character of God in the play An Act of God.

Emmy Award winning comedy writer David Javerbaum wrote the play, which was based on his book The Last Testament: A Memoir by God. Javerbaum was the Executive Producer and Head Writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as well a writer for David Letterman and Stephen Colbert. I found the play ironic, sarcastic, and theologically astute. I could easily imagine that Christopher Moore’s book Lamb and the movie Dogma, has some influence on Javerbaum. Unfortunately though, when the curtain went down only about a quarter of the audience stood in applause. In light of Paige Davis’ (God) marvelous performance, I had to assume the patrons either didn’t get the jokes or didn’t find them funny.

God appearing as a woman brought feminist issues to the forefront, though Javerbaum didn’t really address feminism in the play. I was also disappointed that in the opening monologue, the character of God set aside the topic of Islam for the evening. I had to wonder if the playwright did so because of the Arizona audience?

But then the play moved quickly to take on most of the controversial Judeo-Christian topics. God starts with the stunner that she is not perfect—creator and omniscient, yes, without fault, no. God gives the example that she was trying to make the perfect beetle and it took her 400,000 attempts. God also tells us she supports the use of the King James Bible because it’s the only version basketball star Lebron James has approved. Then she tells us that the bible was meant to be interpreted metaphorically and not literally. Of course, the 4,000 year-old earth and six day creation theories are brought to their knees with sarcasm. And regarding human creation and sexuality? God originally created Adam and Steve and that worked out just fine for a while. And what about Jesus? Yes, Jesus was God’s son, but not the only child. There were also Zack and Cathy, Jesus being the middle child. And that explained a lot about Jesus’ need to be the mediator, especially from the point of view of the birth order theory. In the last ten minutes of the play, God tells us that Jesus did not die for our sins, but instead for the God’s atonement.

That idea of the God’s atonement could have been lifted from Carl Jung’s The Answer to Job. In Jung’s book he wrote that at the time of the writing of Job (600 years before Jesus) humanity’s view point of God was that the divine was a parent was who simultaneously violent and loving (irascible). This perspective, Jung said, needed to be redeemed. Jung says that from the time Job until the arrival of Jesus, humanity had been working out its issues of God. They did so by constructing God as a parent who was filled with unconditional love. That was Jesus’ message. And they began to let go of the view that God was filled with the need for violent retribution—in other words, the need for a child sacrifice (that was actually dispensed with in the story of Abraham and Isaac). In the old view, Jesus of course, was the child that had to die a horrible death on the cross for human sin. In another view, Jesus died at the hands of the hands of the Romans because he threatened their status quo. Jesus’ followers subsequently then saw this as an act of God’s love (God being present with Jesus in death) instead of an act that demanded human sacrifice for sin. God was atoned and a new perspective of the divine was born.

Finally, Javerbaum offered a few positive words about the future. Here, he borrowed from what is known as Open Theology. Open and Process Theology rely on a positive and cooperative effort between humanity and the divine in order to create a future for the sake of both. That theology says that if we, as human beings, accept our role as co-participants in re-creating the earth then maybe life on earth will be saved for future generations (and the presence of the divine within humanity). However, if we continue on our present trajectory our course will not be reversed and our days on earth will be numbered. Javerbaum, however, leaves us with a hopeful belief that humanity can and will do its best to protect and re-create the earth on which we live.

I found David Javerbaum’s An Act of God as an excellent place to begin a conversation about how we talk about God without using theological terms. Anytime we can allow ourselves the permission to consider that God has a sense of humor, we are closer to discovering the truth about ourselves—and possibly to realize that we might be taking ourselves, on one hand too serious (as in we hold the absolute truth), while at the same time not taking our responsibility serious enough (as in our days as humans of earth is dependent upon how we take care our island home).

Maybe it’s time for a bible study using Javerbaum’s The Last Testament?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Church has become Politically Irrelevant

The most contentious presidential election in modern times is over. The division in our country is visibly pronounced. If our congregation and the Episcopal Church is representative of America, and I imagine it is, then twenty-five-percent of you voted for Donald Trump and twenty-five- percent of you voted for Hillary Clinton. And sadly, fifty-percent of you who were eligible to vote, didn’t. Without regard to whether you voted or not, we are all in the continuing chaos of this divide that will not go away. Maybe you came to church this morning to get away from the political conflict? Maybe you came this morning to hear some comforting words; some words of inspiration or some words that would ensure you that all will be well?

As synchronicity would have it, this morning’s assigned gospel reading offers not one word of solace. (Luke 21:5-19, assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary) The reading contains the final teaching of Jesus before he was to be crucified. The Roman government executed him because he was a threat to the status quo. Jesus’ message in this reading was not inspiring, uplifting, encouraging, or comforting. To the contrary, Jesus told his followers to expect doom and gloom: war, revolution, family betrayal, famine, and natural disasters. He didn’t promise them personal security. Jesus didn’t tell them they would be saved from their troubles. He didn’t tell to be calm and that all would be well. Instead, he told them to prepare for more oppression.

He acknowledged the reality of their suffering. And then he offered them a way to move forward. The only thing Jesus promised his followers was his wisdom. (21:14-15) Jesus doesn’t say where this wisdom will come from or what it will look like. But Jesus’ brother, James, tells us his interpretation of what Jesus meant. James said, “You must understand this my beloved, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19) James is echoing the words from the wisdom text of the Hebrew Bible, especially Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. James is saying that listening is the source of wisdom.

We are a divided nation because we have not listened to one another. But in the days, weeks, months and years ahead, if we are going to have chance to move a bit towards unity, we must listen to those who don’t agree with us. And that will not be easy. It might even make us angry, something James warns us against.

If the church has anything left to offer our country, it is to create a safe space where we can gain wisdom through listening to one another. In my opinion, the church has failed to create this space.

Basically, the church has avoided providing safe space for the conversation about the painful fears we have experienced during this presidential election. While millions of Americans stayed up until wee hours of the night to hear the results of the most tumultuous election in modern history, the church remained on the sidelines, silent. The church was unable, or unwilling to offer a place for us to talk about our divisions. Why—because the church has been afraid of offending the offering plate.

The church didn’t want to face the painful and difficult conversations about the political world we live in, the world that causes us to be afraid, to hide, and to avoid talking to one another. Listening, deep listening, the kind of listening that brings true empathy, the place where it hurts to listen—the church has been afraid of that kind of listening because it might offend someone. And that failure has made the church politically irrelevant.

One of my mentors is Hugh O’Doherty. I met Hugh at the Clergy Leadership Project. He’s a faculty member at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He’s from Northern Ireland and has worked for decades on issues of peace and reconciliation in many war torn countries. I have learned from him that to be leader, I must listen, even when it’s most risky.

Hugh stood before our class one morning, simply holding silence. Standing perfectly still, he made eye contact with each of the twenty-five people sitting in our circle. His eyes continued to go around the room for what was easily twenty minutes until finally one person couldn’t stand it anymore and broke the silence with a question.

Then Hugh told us a story that changed my life. He was working with a Para-military group in Northern Ireland. It had taken him months to gain their leader’s trust. He convinced them that if the group would meet with him, he would listen, and only listen. For safety sake the Para-military group felt they had to meet in secret. Secrecy and safety are illusions.

About halfway through the meeting, a few men from the opposing Para-military group entered the house where they were holding their secret meeting. They demanded that Hugh follow them outside. At that moment he said he knew his life was at risk. He knew that whomever he faced outside might kill him. But he willingly went with them. First they began to threaten him. But he held silence. Eventually, they started to tell him their version of the troubles in Northern Island. He listened. He held silence. Finally, they felt heard. They drove off and he went back into the house. He told the group inside what the opposing group outside wanted them to hear. Both groups simply wanted to be heard.

I asked Hugh what brought him to the place where he had the courage to listen under such great risk. He told me it was through his practice of meditation. In meditation, he said, he held silence. There he listened to the silence of God.

To listen like Hugh means to hold silence with no intention of responding to what is being said. Listening like this means that we take the other person’s pain into our heart. By doing so, we know that their story will effect us in ways we couldn’t imagine. Trying to listen like Hugh has been painful and risky for me, but it has changed the core of my being. I don’t listen because it’s a leadership strategy. I don’t listen so that I can convert someone to my way of thinking. I listen because I know it will have a deep, deep transformative effect on me. Listening has changed how I see the world, and how I respond to other people.

Jesus has taught us that there aren’t any easy answers. Empty platitudes that sound like comfort and solace are meaningless in times like these. Only the wisdom of listening can help us. Jesus said there would always be wars, international conflict, and natural disasters. The question is, will we listen for Jesus’ wisdom? Will we do what Jesus told us? Will we feed the hungry and listen to them? Will we clothe the naked and listen to them? Will we give water to the thirsty and listen to them? Will we visit the sick and listen to them? Will we visit people in prison and listen to them? Will we welcome immigrants into our country and listen to them? Will we listen to the homeless? Will we listen to those without insurance? Will we listen to women? Will we listen to people of color? Will we listen to the gay person, the lesbian person, the bi-sexual person, and the transgendered person? Will we listen to the disabled person? Will we listen to the Republicans? Will we listen to the Democrats? Will we listen to the Independents? Will we listen to the Tea Party? Will we listen to the Socialists? Will we listen to those who didn’t vote? Will we listen to our neighbors? Will we listen to our enemies? Will we listen to Jesus?

Friday, November 04, 2016

Rohr's Magical Metaphors Breathe Life into the Old Tradition

Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation
by Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell

Richard Rohr once again has delivered an imaginative light to shine on the path of the “Old Tradition” of Christianity. And Mike Morrell has beautifully gifted us with this possibility. With Rohr’s encouragement, Morrell took two of Rohr’s conferences, The Divine Dance and The Shape of God, and artfully wove them into a masterpiece. Having attended several of Rohr’s conferences, I could hear his voice in every word, yet, there is a fresh component that illuminates the work but does not impede the message—that is Morrell’s hand in crafting The Divine Dance.

Rohr dares ask the question that lies hidden in the plain sight of the Christian story—all things must die before being reborn. “Maybe our Christian religion in its present formulation has to die for a truly cosmic and love-centered spiritual path to be born.” (127) He narrows the scope a bit for the intent of this book by asking, “What would it look like to rebuild a Trinitarian metaphysic and recreate a truly human full personhood?” (75) The purpose of Rohr’s proposed reformulation of the Christian language, grounded in the Perennial tradition, is for the sake of the “quantum era,” in which we live and the next age to come. (73) He suggests that this “re-verbed” Christianity must take a vastly different shape and cosmology, “not only of God, but of everything.” (136) For Rohr, everything is witnessed in the “spiral” that contains “the divine circle dance,” (31) the “web of communion that we call the Blessed Trinity.” (136)

Rohr shows the courage to invoke the ancient tradition of Christian Hermeticism (though he doesn’t make a direct reference to the existence of such a philosophy). He writes, “The of magic of three breaks us out of our dualistic impasses, and always invites a fourth world for us to enter into.” He then cites Cynthia Bourgeault and her book, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, in a lengthy footnote. He credits Bourgeault for the heavy lifting in regards to the obscure Hermetical references. It is the Hermetical tradition that uncovered the language of nature’s constant movement from the three to the four. The natural flow, Rohr says, brings the Trinitarian language of relationship into full view. Within this relationship of flow, all creation, human and nonhuman, can participate in the divine circle dance. Without the spiral-circle image constantly in flow from three to four, the Trinity has remained trapped in a three-way hierarchical pyramid, a configuration from which conversation is impossible. Instead the triangle becomes a model that dispenses truth, wisdom, and judgment from on high. Rohr, instead, uses several magical metaphors for the divine that invite us into the flow. Without raising the eyebrows of traditional Christians, he is able to use a variety of images that help the reader reimagine theological words that have lost their substantive value in today’s lexicon.

With all due respect to Richard Rohr, whom I admire and respect, The Divine Dance, at times, feels like he is doing a two-step by using dusty theological words that traditional Christian believers can’t seem to let go of; words like blessed Trinity, sin, salvation, transcendence, incarnation. Rohr goes as far as to defend the need for the continued use of the Trinitarian formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With all the creative work Rohr has done to provide a new imagination for the radical reformation of the relational God language there seems to be no need of clinging to old tired words that are on life support. Rohr’s words that define the Divine as, “flow,” the “Life force of everything,” absolute relatedness,” “Divine wave,” “web of communion,” and the “Divine circle dance,” can breathe new soullife into an old tradition.

Still, I find Rohr’s work exciting as he provides a platform for the conversation that must take place in order for Christianity to finds its new place in the constantly unfolding cosmos. Even as Pope Francis has called for a synod at the 1,700th anniversary of the Nicene Creed, we can only imagine what new words might enliven the old creed. And, yes, what old words will discover new life. I pray that Richard Rohr will able to contribute to that conversation in 2025. The Divine Dance has done so in 2016.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Racism Hiding in a Blind Spot

Have you had one of those moments when you were driving down the freeway, you decided to change lanes, you checked all your mirrors, turned on your blinker, started to move into the other lane—and suddenly, in a flash, out of nowhere, there was a car right next to you, the car that had been hiding in your blind spot. You jerked your car back into your lane; now disorientated from an abrupt realization, jarred out of your comfort zone, relieved that you didn’t collide into a disastrous future.
I have had several of those moments. One of them was a month after I thought I had finished my book, Wisdom Walking: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life. I had met the publisher’s deadline and thirty days later was headed to a writer’s workshop at the Collegeville Institute on the campus of Saint John’s University, northwest of Minneapolis.
I arrived at the Minneapolis – Saint Paul airport with the instructions needed to find the Fun Van that would take me to the Collegeville Institute for a week of writing. I’m not the best of travelers. I get lost easily and turned around quite often. When I reached the spot where I thought I was supposed to meet my ride, there were vans from hotels, car rental companies, shuttles to other terminals, but no Fun Van. I panicked. I read the instructions for the fourth time.
And then I saw her, a woman wearing a Chicago Theological Seminary t-shirt. I just knew in my heart that she had to be going to the same workshop. Before asking her, I had to overcome my profound introversion—admittedly, I have problems striking up conversations with people I know.
“Um, are you going to the Collegeville Institute?”
I gave her a bit of start. Still, she offered this over-sixty white-guy with long hair a kind but curious look.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m Gil.
“Hi. I’m Renee” She was holding her phone in one hand and a small bag in the other with her carry on propped against her leg. She was calm. Her brilliant brown eyes crackled with energy. This African-American woman exuded presence and that was reassuring to me in my moment of anxiety.
I kept talking. “I’m going to the Collegeville Institute. I saw your t-shirt and just thought maybe you were going there as well.”
Her smile was warm. “Oh, yes, my t-shirt, of course. Yes, I’m going to Collegeville.”
She told me she has already received a text from the van driver, who was waiting for all the passengers to arrive before heading to our pre-arranged pick-up. I was relieved. I wasn’t lost and I had met someone who confidently knew where she was, and that’s what I needed.
The van arrived and we boarded. We sat down next to each other. Made introductions with our fellow passengers and started off on what turned out to be a long, sweltering ride. I came to learn that my new colleague is the Reverend Doctor Renee C. Jackson, a United Church of Christ pastor. Renee and I, weary travelers and possibly two introverts, dozed off while the other passengers chatted pleasantly.
I had been looking forward to this workshop for months and I was confident my hopes to learn something valuable would not be disappointed. Our workshop officially began the next morning. It was all I had hoped. Karen Hering, author or Writing to Wake the Soul was our facilitator. She made the space feel safe and at the same time creative. Karen quickly engaged us in her writing process of “contemplative correspondence.”
Then the afternoon session began. Karen had prepped us that before arriving we needed to choose a metaphor that we had been working with in our writing. A word we would be willing to share with the group. When it came my turn I said I had chosen the metaphor pilgrimage and that I would use alchemical language to unpack its meaning. One of our classmates asked me if I would say a bit more about alchemy.
I gathered my thoughts. I had read nearly a hundred books and spent thousands of hours studying alchemy. Now I had to boil it down to an elevator ride explanation. “We begin in the chaos and confusion of blackness and through the many shades of darkness we eventually move into the burning of the white ash, which gives rise to the multicolored phase of the raven with the peacock tail, who eventually becomes the rising Phoenix who flies into the sun of the healing red tincture for the sake of other’s healing.”
Karen then said, “Your language is very poetic. However, we need to be mindful of the baggage our words carry. Words like “black” and “white” can be very heavy words packed with racial associations. How we use them in relationship to what is good and bad is important to our awareness of racism functioning in society and our language—especially in these charged days of heightened racial tension following the death of so many black men.”
A pall of chaos fell over my soul. The stormy clouds of shame rushed into my heart with lusty vengeance. I thought I had searched through all the secrets corners of my life looking for latent racism. I had been open in the past that in 1850 my great-great-grandfather had enslaved a black man and women, and their baby. My great-great-grandfather died in 1860 in Alabama at the age of forty-one, a year before the Civil War broke out. He left behind a wife, four children, and the three people he had enslaved. One of his sons became my great-grandfather and I have no idea what happened to those three souls who had been liberated from his subjection. I have tried mightily to wrest the DNA of enslavement out of my life.
One of my good friends and teammates in high school lived two-doors down the street. Clyde Cunningham, was one of a dozen African-American kids in our school of 5,000. My high school baseball coach was Gil Trejo, a Hispanic man and the best coach I had ever played for. He didn’t tolerate racism of any kind and he would become the model for my twenty-years of coaching college baseball. After high school, the Houston Astros drafted me and my five-year professional baseball career began. Most every team I played on, Caucasians were the minority. The teams were filled with Latin players of every shade of black and brown, then African-American players, and then the rest of us. 1973 was my third year of professional baseball. Our manager was Bernie Smith, the first African-American minor league manager in the history of professional baseball. I loved playing for him. When my playing career was over my wife and I took teaching jobs in Coolidge, Arizona. The collective minorities were the majority in that town. The Black, Hispanic, and Native kids wove their way deep into my heart. Twenty years later, when my sister-in-law and her two-year-old African-American son were in desperate straits, they moved in with us. For five years we provided a safe and loving place for them to heal. I thought I had worked through the ancestral DNA of racism that had lurked in my life. Evidently not.
Karen Hering’s words felt like she had shoved a rusty railroad spike into my heart; cracking open the stone egg of my soul—and from it oozed the putrid smell of an unconscious blind spot. At that moment my book was sitting on the publisher’s desk. I had spent four years writing this book. I had studied Carl Jung inside out. And yes, I know he was a racist, a sexist, and a philander. But his ideas on alchemy, pilgrimage, and individuation helped make sense of my life. Somehow, though, the names of the phases of alchemy, the words, black, white, yellow, and red hid in my unconscious blind spot. How could that have happened? How did I not see the weight of those words?
Sitting in that conference room at the Collegeville Institute, I wanted to run and hide. I felt like I was going to vomit. Synchronicity, however, had brought me to that moment of suspended timelessness. Months before, I had been notified that I had not been selected as one of the twelve who were invited to attend the workshop. I was, however, asked if I would be an alternate in the rare case that someone else would decline. A month later, I was notified that a slot had opened and asked if I would I accept. Synchronicity had brought me to that moment, for that workshop with Renee, Karen, and my blind spot. I could not run. If there is one solitary thing I have learned from pilgrimage it is that when I feel like I can’t take another step forward, I must keep walking in order for any chance of transmutation to emerge in my life.
That evening, as our group went to dinner, I walked along side Renee. I said a few inane things about the weather. Then I apologized. I told her I didn’t mean to offend her or hurt her in any way. I was simply using alchemical language. She told me she wasn’t offended. She understood the context.
Gently and graciously, but firmly, she said, “But I did have a reaction. I wish we could find other words so that black isn’t always bad and white is always good.”
I knew what I had to do. I contacted the publisher. I told him I needed to make a major revision in my book. I wanted to take any color language that smacked of racism out of the alchemical metaphors. I would need to create new names for the alchemical phases, replacing them with more expressive words, void of the baggage of racism. I explained my reasons and waited for a response.
The next day I was walking toward the Saint John campus and Renee was walking in the opposite direction back toward the Institute. Synchronicity was working overtime. We stopped under a large oak tree for needed shade and more conversation. I asked for her permission to tell this story. Renee said she’d think about it and then quickly got to the heart of the matter. She told me that our conversations were building racial and cultural bridges. “Our work is about more than a book. It is about more than you or me. I believe this is God’s work, truly a marvel to behold.” Then she asked me a question that would further pry open the egg of my soul.
“So Gil, where are you on your pilgrimage?”
I told her that I am still on pilgrimage. I am still experiencing the surprising, yet confusing, moments of synchronicity that turn up the heat in my life. I am still being transmuted by the pilgrimage of writing and living as a pilgrim. I am still returning again and again back to the beginning, back to the chaos of the alchemical process—still doing the dangerous work of turning up the heat, phase by phase. And why do I do this—because, consciously or unconsciously, I never want to enslave another soul with my words. I have to keep searching for all the blind spots in my life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Blind Jesus and the Disabled God

For the last ten years Jesus has joined me on my morning walk. Not the Jesus I imagine you’re thinking of, no it’s Jesus Jameson, my dog. In the last six months, his age has really started to show and he became less willing to walk with me. And then a few months ago, he began to lose his eyesight. The doctor said he had glaucoma and that he was going blind. We tried the eye drop routine but that didn’t work. Not only was he blind, the doctor said the pressure in eyes was so bad he was suffering from what amounted to a 24/7 migraine. The doctor recommended that we have his eyes removed. She said he would find a “new normal.” I wondered what that might mean being Jack Russell Terriers are more than a bit psychotic. After we got over the initial shock of the idea, we decided to follow the doctor’s recommendation. That was two months ago and now Jesus seems to be fine, except for the fact that he is blind. He used to be very active, now he walks around very slow and deliberate. He feels his way around the house with his nose, and every once in awhile he does run head on into something. But, he does seem to be learning how to walk in the dark. I have come to realize I’m watching my own future play out in the life of my dog.

Saint Francis of Assisi had something to say about walking in the dark. As a young man Francis had a life-changing dream that led him to begin following Jesus’ way of living. To get away from the noise of the world he went to live in cave outside Assisi. In the darkness of the cave he began to find the light within himself. In darkness and the quiet of the cave he began to hear the words of Jesus. In the darkness, Francis learned how to walk in the dark.

Francis lived most of his life out-of-doors, walking from town to town, preaching the message of charity and the virtues of poverty. Francis wasn’t a sturdy man and his hard life began to take a toll on him. A year before he died at the age of forty-four, he began to lose his eyesight. Whatever was wrong with his eyes caused him a great deal of pain, so much so that it also drove him into a deep depression. He was in such great pain that his doctor decided that the only way to relieve his pain was to cauterize his eyes. Francis agreed and prayed for strength during the ordeal. As horrible as it is to thing about such a thing, the treatment worked and Francis was relieved of the pain. Francis lived his life as if he could see in the dark.

In many ways, these stories are frightening, yet, at the same time, these stories can be encouraging to us. These stories are about the disabilities we all encounter in our lives, the disabilities, real of metaphoric, of being blind, lame, mute, deaf, our poverty of mind, body, soul, or spirit. The question is how can we live with these disabilities—accepting that we may not be healed from them.

Francis could walk in the dark, he said, because the light of Christ went before him. Blind and disabled, Francis lived his life emulating Jesus. Like Jesus, who suffered in life and even after the resurrection still bore the scars suffered on the cross. His hands, his feet, his side, still bore the wounds of crucifixion. Through Jesus’ death on the Cross, God is not only empathetic towards our suffering and disabilities, but God has suffered the pain of our cross. God became the disabled God.

Jesus brings us hope, not in being spared from our disabilities, nor healed from our pain, but instead, Jesus brings us the hope that the disabled God is with us as we have to learn how to make our way in the dark.

Friday, September 30, 2016

You No Hear Me

Dinah has Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), caused by a random deletion or mutation of chromosome-15, which is typically not inherited. PWS affects one in every 10,000 to 30,000 people worldwide. At birth, they have weak muscle tone (hypotonia), difficulty eating, poor growth, and slow development, resulting in a high infant mortality. They have distinctive facial features like a narrow forehead, almond shaped eyes, and a triangular mouth. They are also typically small in stature, have small hands, and feet. If they survive infancy, during childhood they develop an insatiable appetite resulting in chronic overeating (hyperphagia) and food hoarding often resulting in morbid obesity. People with PWS have significant intellectual impairment, low IQ (in the range of 40-60), and learning disabilities. Most suffer from temper outbursts, stubbornness, and compulsive behaviors like picking at their skin. PWS people require a lifetime of care and supervision and while life expectancy continues to improve, the average age is forty, more often dying of complications that result from morbid obesity.

Dinah fits the general profile of a PWS person, except for two anomalies. What had further complicated Dinah’s situation was that she had suffered from pneumonia and a 108-degree temperature at nine-months-old. My mother had kept Dinah breathing using CPR while my dad drove them to the nearest hospital over an hour away. Some doctors have speculated that the high temperature and lack of oxygen caused brain damage, subsequently effecting Dinah’s future ability to form words and sentences. Still, Dinah has beaten the odds of survival due to PWS and her lack of ability to communicate effectively. Leading to the second unusual aspect of her life, as I write this in 2016, at sixty-one Dinah is the oldest known living Prader-Willi in Arizona.

In 1998, while at ArtWorks in Tucson, Arizona, Dinah created a piece of art she titled Blue Jesus. It is an 8x10 linocut print. She carved her childlike stick figure of Jesus on the cross, onto a large piece of rubber-like material. From that carving, one print was made and I have it. Jesus’ head is oval as is his mouth. His eyes are somewhat square in shape. The eyes and the mouth are hollow; there are no pupils, neither are there teeth, just simple shapes. The trunk is a square box, out of which the arms extend at odd angles. The bottom half of the trunk in distended from which the legs jut, neither equal in length nor width. The arms and legs are not in proportional balance with the trunk. The way Dinah drew the figure it appears to be androgynous. Her sketch of Jesus makes him look misshaped, strange, odd, broken—disabled. Around the cross, she carved out, what look like, tears drops radiating upward from the cross. When the ink was applied, Jesus became aquamarine blue and the tears drops, dark red. Our eyes are drawn to the center of the painting by the contrast of the colors, as if it were a mandala.

I think Blue Jesus is Dinah’s self-portrait. Her art speaks for her, if only we can listen to what she and Blue Jesus have to say. Sometimes when my sister is trying to tell me a story, I simply don’t understand what she’s saying. If she gets weary of trying different ways to help me figure out what she’s trying to tell me, she’ll say, “You no hear me.”

In Jesus’ parable of the Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), I think Jesus might be feeling a bit of my sister’s pain. At the end of the story, Jesus says almost in frustration at not being listened to, “Even if someone were to rise from the dead, we wouldn’t listen to them.” I wonder if Jesus were still roaming around the earth today, 2,000 years old, would we listen to what he would have to say? Or would he simply be a freak of nature and someone we’d become so comfortable seeing that we’d stop listening? Like yesterday’s news as it were, no longer a novelty.

Today it seems that those who profess to be Christians don’t pay much attention to Jesus’ teachings. Jesus’ statement that we should love our enemies seems to be long forgotten. Most of Jesus’ teachings are difficult to follow, if at times, impossible—I imagine for most, much easier to ignore. For what seems to be the majority of those who call themselves Christians, it appears to be more convenient to worship Jesus, which he never asked us to do, than to follow his teachings—like love our enemies.

I wonder if Jesus were blue, would that make him interesting enough to listen to? Or would we find Jesus saying to us, “You no hear me?”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Peacemaking: Hope for the Future

Sunday was the fifteenth anniversary when two airplanes flew into New York City’s twin towers, destroying both and killing thousands. At the same time another airplane flew into the Pentagon, causing massive destructive. All the while, a fourth airplane crashed into the Pennsylvania landscape before it could be flown into the US Capitol. Since that infamous day, terrorism has become a chief topic of concern in our daily lives. Our concern for our safety has been expanded beyond our travel, to athletic events, concerts, and our schools; anywhere a crowd can gather. While political, economic, and culture issues are central to terrorism related issues, what draws the most heat in the conversation is religion; primarily the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have all played some role in international terrorism scene.

What seems to be at threat is our spiritual safety. Interfaith groups have taken on the topic of creating safe space in order to express one’s religion, while learning about other religions.

In March of 2010, I was invited to attend an interreligious conference at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) along with my colleague, Ahmad Shqeirat, Imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe, Arizona. The conference was funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Twenty Anglican (Episcopal) and twenty Muslim leaders were invited to discuss a peaceful response to what would then be the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Ahmad and I had been invited because we were leaders of a gathering on September 11, 2009 in Tempe, which was held in response to the threatened burning of the Holy Quran by Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida.

The VTS conference was three, twelve-hour days packed with listening to intense stories. One of the most disturbing stories came from my friend, Ahmad. On November 20, 2006, he and five other imams were escorted off of a US Airways flight bound for Phoenix out of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. Before boarding the plane, the imams had said their noonday prayers in Arabic, apparently making some passengers waiting to board the flight, uncomfortable. Ahmad told us that one imam was blind. All six were handcuffed with their hands behind their backs, escorted off the plane, forced to walk unassisted down a ramp, placed in separate police cars, and taken to a detention center for interrogation. After hours of questioning, a federal agent determined their detention was unwarranted and the six were returned to the airport. US Airways refused to issue them new tickets or let them board another flight. The imams had to purchase new tickets from another airline in order to get home.
This kind of treatment of innocent Muslims who are US citizens is alarming.

Since that time Phoenix mosques, including the one in Tempe, have been defaced and picketed and their members threatened. And of course, in our current Presidential election, the basic rights of Muslim-American citizens have been called into question and the debate has extended to Muslim immigration. Because of fear, the atmosphere in America and Arizona has called into question one of this country’s most cherished constitutional rights—the freedom of religion.

I am not going to try and make any generalized statements about how Christians or people of faith should respond to terrorism, US citizen’s rights, or immigration. I would, thought, like share with you how I try to understand the hard work of peacemaking, creating safe space, and listening.

Let’s take a look at Micah 4:1-5 as an example of how to be peacemakers. Micah was a prophet in the 8th century BCE. He was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. Micah said that religious worship without social justice is meaningless. He was concerned with ethical issues and the exploitation of the unemployed, those who had jobs, and landowners. In chapter four, Micah offered a formula for peacemaking, which I believe still applies today.

Inclusivity—Being in the presence of God is inclusive and welcoming experience. (4:1) God invited all people to the sacred mountain. What does that mean for me? I want to use language that is inclusive and welcoming. I don’t use language like “my God.” God is not my personal God, nor is God exclusive to Christianity.

Accessibility—Everyone has access to the divine teachings. (4:2b) I try to use language about God that doesn’t create a barrier between someone and the divine. In other words, when I speak, preach, or write, I work hard at not using theological lingo, words like sin, salvation, incarnation, or Trinity. Most clergy can’t agree on what these words mean and many people that come to our churches don’t agree on the definitions or these words or don’t know what they mean. Frankly it doesn’t matter. My language should not be a barrier to someone hearing the divine message.

Non-violence—God’s people will lay down their tools of war and become peacemakers. (4:3b) Howard Thurman (1899-1981) scholar, teacher, preacher, prophet, and mystic wrote that, “Non-violence is not merely a mood or climate, or even an attitude. It is a technique…a discipline…it is a rejection of physical force, a renunciation of the tools of physical violence. (Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, 125) He goes to say that, “Not to fight at all is to choose a weapon by which one fights…Of all the weapons, love is the most deadly and devastating.” (122) I personally can’t find any other way to follow the ways of YHVH than to be a pacifist.

Safety—God’s people will accept other people’s differences by creating safe space for all people. (4:4) My own experience has taught me that the only way I can create safe space for another person is to listen to their story. When I went to the VTS workshop we listened to one another’s stories. I listened to Ahmad and he has listened to me. I know about his faith as a Sunni Muslim from his perspective, which is also different from being Shia or Sufi. And he knows about my religious ideas. We have prayed together. We have shared meals. We know about each other’s families because we have met them. And we have been honest with one another about our differences in religious beliefs and practices. In the words of Micah, Ahmad and I sit under our own fig tree and neither of us has made the other one afraid.

For some of us September 11, 2001 is raw in our memory. It’s an event that is seared in our mind. For others, though, 9/11 is something that happened in history, like Pearl Harbor Day—while you understand the significance of the event, it happened before you could remember of before you were born. Or maybe you’re from another country and September 11, 2001 is something you can relate to because attacks like that have happened in your country. Whatever your relationship to September 11, 2001 might be, the threat of terrorism and war is present in our daily lives like a societal cancer. The question is how do we now, fifteen years later, bring about healing and peace?

Yes, we must respect the dignity every person that has suffered; with reverence for those who lost their lives, with grief for families who lost loved ones and friends, with honor for those who willingly gave their lives to save others. But, then, what do we do next? For me, my only response is to live a life of inclusivity, accessibility, non-violence, and creating safe space by listening. By working at peacemaking I feel that this is the best way I can honor those who have suffered—it is also the only way I can imagine that we have any hope for a peaceful future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Upside Down Thinking

Recently I was invited to attend a writing workshop at Collegeville Institute, which resides on the campus of Saint John’s University, northwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The workshop was a transformative experience for me, much of which I am still processing. I’m trying to write about what happened through the workshop experience, but putting those thoughts out in the open air will take some time.

Besides being at the writing workshop, the campus of Saint John’s had many benefits; one being that our workshop group of twelve members was given a private viewing of the Saint John’s Illuminated Bible.

The bible is kept in an environmentally controlled vault. Tim Ternes, the Director of the Saint John’s Bible, met us outside the building where the bible is kept below ground level. He laughingly told us he was going to treat us like first graders and asked us to wash our hands; we were going to be able to touch the Saint John’s Bible. After we washed our hands thoroughly, we entered the vault through a security door that had a 60-second timer before it automatically closed. Once inside, we had to remove our jackets, sweaters, and handbags and back packs. All these precautions were required because we were going to be within inches of this priceless bible.

The Saint John’s Illuminated Bible is the first handwritten and illuminated bible that has been created in last 500 years. The project began in 1998, taking fifteen years it was finished in 2011, at an estimated cost of $8 million dollars. Artist Donald Jackson created a new script for use on the bible (using the New Revised Standard Version in English) and oversaw the work of seven calligraphers and artists. The bible is not illustrated, as in pictures designed to re-create a scene, but instead the bible is illuminated, meaning the artwork enhances the symbolic expressions of the written word.

The book is two feet high and three feet wide. That’s the standard size of an easel pad of paper. The bible was written on over three hundred pieces of vellum. Vellum was used for its historic and artistic value. Each side of vellum contains two pages, four pages per piece of vellum for a total of 1150 bible pages. Each piece of vellum weighs approximately two-three pounds. The artists used a unique 19th century Chinese ink for the calligraphy and the artwork pieces are combinations of vibrant colored ink and 24-karat gold.

The bible is currently unbound. If it were bound, the bible would easily weigh over 500 pounds. The book was made so large to emphasize that the bible was never intended for one individual but instead for the entire community.

The theologian’s and the artist’s intent of using calligraphy and illumination is to bring the word of God alive on the page. I’ve seen the Book of Kells in Ireland. I’ve seen famous art and artifacts in some of the best museums in the world, but there was always glass or space between the artwork and me. But, when we had this rare opportunity to view Saint John’s Bible, nothing stood between the art and us. The colors were brilliant, the art gave depth and new meaning to the scriptural stories—the illuminated bible is a living thing that gives the ancient words a twenty-first century understanding. The illuminations offer us new words to describe our experience of the divine.

For me, there are two illuminations in the Saint John’s bible that provide a symbolic representation of the central images of Christianity—the crucifixion and the resurrection. The illumination is found in the Gospel of Luke and the resurrection in the Gospel of John (The Saint John’s Bible: Gospels and Acts).

Set against one another, these pieces of art disrupt our commonly held views of the events of crucifixion and resurrection. Typically, we think of the crucifixion being the darkest moment in the Christian story. We often think of this scene in the dark hues of a terrible storm at its apex. The crucifixion is when Jesus died on the cross and the writers of the gospels put the psalmist’s words into his mouth. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The scene is filled with storms, abandonment, and death.

In contrast, we have imagined the resurrection to be the moment when the shining light of Christ bursts forth in a moment of victory over death. In the Episcopal Church our vestments on Easter are filled with gold in order to give us that feeling.

The illuminations of the Saint John’s Bible, however, do their best to disturb these commonly held views of the crucifixion and the resurrection.

In the Saint John’s Bible, the crucifixion, instead of being dark and foreboding, is depicted in the brilliant light of pure gold. The gold is thick, raised off the page, bringing the crucified Christ into three dimensions. This scene is the most brilliant of any page in the Saint John’s Bible.

In contrast to the brilliant light of the crucifixion scene, the resurrection is depicted in dark blues. Here, we only see the hooded Christ figure from the back. We do see the face of Mary Magdalene, who is clad in a deep red robe. The only gold we see in this scene is on the hands of Mary Magdalene.

Why are these scenes depicted in such paradoxical contrast? I think what we are seeing is what Jesus has taught us. At the moment of the cross, God became human in order to experience pain and death. God is present in the poor, the marginalized, the weak, the sick, those who are imprisoned, the alien among us—God is present in the suffering of the cross. God is present in the humiliation of the cross. God is present in the death of the cross. Through God’s experience of human suffering and death—God can then fully experience our pain and suffering. God is not absent in our pain and suffering—actually that is when God is most present.

And what about the resurrection, where is God in that scene? God is present now in the hands Mary—the one who will carry the good news that God is among us in our suffering and pain—and God is present in us as we live out this good news in the twenty-first century. We are now the twenty-first century Mary Magdalene. Now our hands are covered with the gold of the presence of God, the God who has been present to us in our own crucifixion is the God that we carry as a healing agent into the world’s suffering.

Sisters and brothers do not shy aware from the suffering of the cross. Instead, lean into the soul gold we find from God’s presence at the margins of life, because at those times we experience loss, suffering, pain, abandonment, death—there we will discover a true golden resurrection moment.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Fear: A Weapon

Tuesday I was on my way to Tucson very early in the morning. I stopped at the rest area just north of Casa Grande. There weren’t any cars there when I pulled in. When I came out of the restroom, I noticed there was another vehicle in the parking lot. There was a man about my age walking down the sidewalk towards me. He was wearing a gun on his hip. I didn’t think too much about it—I’ve seen people wearing guns before. But, as I got within about ten feet of the guy, he turned and looked right me—he put his hand on his gun. I’m not sure what look I gave him, but I just kept on walking towards my car. I really don’t like wearing my clerical collar, but that’s one time I thought it might have been a good idea—or not? When I got in my car, I wondered why he put his hand on his gun? If he knew me he’d know I the last person to be afraid of. What was he afraid of? Seems like everywhere I turn I feel like fear is surrounding me.

The last two weeks I’ve watched bits and pieces of the Republican and Democratic Conventions. I’ve listened to speeches by the candidates and key players. And I’ve subjected myself to the subsequent rhetoric from the pundits as well as Facebook friends. The only common theme I can gather from this presidential election is that it is like none other. Even the oldest of commentators, and those who study the history of presidential elections have declared that this election season stands alone in its uniqueness.

I’ve spent probably too much time wondering why? What is the one thing that has created this kind of political atmosphere in our country? I think the common factor among all the political voices that keep turning up the volume is, “fear.” Fear is in the driver’s seat of our country. Fear has control over America. Fear has become the doomsday weapon of mass destruction that looms over our heads like never before.

I hear people tell me that they’re afraid of Donald Trump being elected president. Then I hear other people say that they’re afraid of Hillary Clinton being elected president. So, what’s underneath all this fear? What are people really afraid of? I think it’s the fear of death.

Death comes in many forms, but all forms are manifested in the fear of “change.” From the moment we’re born, we are destined to experience a lifetime of daily change that eventually leads to death. We experience change from the moment we get up in the morning until we lay our weary heads down at night. We experience so much change on a daily basis that you’d think we would get used to change—that we would be able to embrace change and death with ease. But that’s not what happens. Actually, the thing we resist the most in life is change and the thing we fear the most is death. Does it have to be that way? I don’t think so.

George Morrell was one of the founders of Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Tempe, Arizona. He was one of the first person’s I met when I started as vicar there in 2006. He was an alum of ASU when it was Arizona State Teacher’s College. George was a fighter pilot during World War II and served active duty during the Korean War. Before and after his stints in the military, he worked in the administration at ASU for forty years.

Near the end of George’s life, I had the privilege of listening to his stories and pondering with him about the big questions of life. He told me that he had had four specific moments in his life when he experienced the divine. It was at those instances, he said, that he knew for sure that God was fully present.

George had been very active in politics and during the last few weeks of his life he talked a lot about the primary elections. He had definite opinions and expectations. He we invested in the outcome of the election, but he didn’t live in fear of the outcome. Nor did he live his life in fear of the outcome. As he came to the last days of his life, I marveled at how he was dying with dignity and grace. George Morrell died well. At his funeral in February of 2008, Saint Augustine’s was packed with many well-known ASU administrators, coaches, and academic figures. He was loved and respected.

These last two weeks I can’t stop thinking about George, how he lived his life and how he died with dignity. He definitely had ideas and opinions and he wasn’t afraid to tell me, in a gracious way, what he believed. He had the presence and the confidence that allowed him to speak truth to power without ever raising his voice or using anger to express his views. Indeed, George had politic opinions, but he wasn’t afraid of the outcome no more than he was afraid of death. George Morrell trusted his family, his church, his country, and God. He relied on the faith he placed in each of them. During these very bizarre days we are living in, I’ve been relying on the voice of George Morrell to guide me.

Listen to words of Psalm 49 as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message. These are words of wisdom about how to approach life and death without fear.

Listen, everyone, listen - earth-dwellers, don't miss this.
All you haves and have-nots,
All together now: listen.

I set plainspoken wisdom before you, my heart-seasoned understandings of life.
I fine-tuned my ear to the sayings of the wise,
I solve life's riddle with the help of a harp.

So why should I fear in bad times, hemmed in by enemy malice,
Shoved around by bullies, demeaned by the arrogant rich?

Really! There's no such thing as self-rescue, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
The cost of rescue is beyond our means, and even then it doesn't guarantee Life forever, or insurance against the Black Hole.

Anyone can see that the brightest and best die, wiped out right along with fools and dunces. They leave all their prowess behind, move into their new home, The Coffin,
The cemetery their permanent address.
And to think they named counties after themselves!

We aren't immortal. We don't last long. Like our (beloved pets), we age and weaken. And die.

This is what happens to those who live for the moment, who only look out for themselves:
Death herds them like sheep straight to (the pit); they disappear down the gullet of the grave; They waste away to nothing - nothing left but a marker in a cemetery.

But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death, he reaches down and grabs me.

So don't be impressed with those who get rich and pile up fame and fortune. They can't take it with them; fame and fortune all get left behind.

Just when they think they've arrived and folks praise them because they've made good,
They enter the family burial plot where they'll never see sunshine again.

We aren't immortal. We don't last long. Like our (beloved pets), we age and weaken. And die.

The Psalmist is trying to teach us that to live in fear is to deny the existence of God’s power in our lives. George Morrell didn’t base his opinions on fear. And I don’t want to base my opinions on fear. I don’t want to live in fear—I want to live in the confidence that God will be always be with me, walking with me, talking to me, guiding me away from the Black Hole of fear.

If I live to be as old as my mom did, I have twenty years left and that’s optimistic. But if I’m fortunate to live that long—after this presidential election I’ll watch four more. And, if I’m able, I’ll vote in every one of them. I’ll express my opinions openly. But the one thing I will not do is live in fear of the outcome, nor the fear of life, nor the fear of death. For me, to live in fear is to deny the existence of God’s power in my life and indeed, to squander life itself.

Please hear me, I’m not trying to tell you how to vote. Actually, I’m telling you something much more important—I’m telling you how to live in the presence of a loving God who will snatch each and every one of us out of the Black Hole of fear so that we can breathe deep and live freely.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Hope birthed from love.

For those that read my blog, the following is a talk (sermon) I gave recently, which includes the story I told about my sister in my last post.) I felt I needed to say that so you don't think I've totally gone blank in the head.

Last weekend Cathy and I were at Family Camp. This was a diocese-wide event led by the Canon for Children’s Ministries, Jana Sundin. The weekend was a beautiful experience in the Prescott pines at Chapel Rock, the diocese camp and retreat center.

The theme was “Unplug and Connect.” The idea was to unplug from the distractions of the world and connect with our family, our friends, and with God. Jana planned a wonderful weekend where all who attended had plenty of opportunities to unplug and connect.

Those who attended represented the lovely diversity of the Episcopal church; multi-generational families, kids of all ages, grandparents with their grandchildren, single moms, single dads, bi-racial families, just about everyone was represented.

I had so many fantastic experiences, but there isn’t time to share all of them. But there was one particular moment that especially captured my imagination. Saturday night, Jana planned what she called a “silly talent” show, meaning anyone, any age, could be silly or serious; tell silly jokes, put on a silly skit, or sing a serious song—and all of those things happened that night.

The final “act” was a single dad and his two-year-old daughter. The duo sang some heavenly spiritual songs from the Jewish tradition. As a finale, the young dad and his daughter danced. As he lifted her above his head, she laughed and giggled as he twirled her around.

In that moment, I saw myself twirling my own children above my head. And I saw my son twirling his sons above his head. And then I saw my dad twirling my sister above his head. And then I saw my granddad twirling my mother through the air. And then I could see my grandsons dancing with their children and twirling them above their heads. Then I began to see the relatives of the other people at the retreat dancing with their ancient/future ones. And then there were people of all the nations dancing with their children. In that moment I was caught up in the synchronicity of timelessness. In that moment I felt at one with the divine and all of God’s creation. In that moment, I felt love and hope.

Living in our world today, it can be difficult, at times, to feel like there is any love and hope to be found. Indiscriminate violence and hateful murders use to be something that happened in far away countries—now it happens in the streets of America on a daily basis. Hope seems hard to come by.

I think hope is the promise of Abraham’s vision. (Genesis 18:1-10) He was meditating under the oak where he had built an altar to God. In his meditation three men appeared to him. He insisted that they sit with him while he washed their feet and prepared a meal for them. Abraham sat with the three strangers and listened to them. In the synchronicity of the moment he heard that something new, something unimaginable was going to be born into this world—that something was hope.

We can experience hope when we entertain the visions of the impossible; when we think outside the boxes of accepted reality—it is then that hope becomes a possibility.
Hope becomes possible when we entertain the stranger, welcome them into our home, wash their feet, feed them, and listen to their story. At those moments the impossible becomes possible—in that moment, despair is transmuted into hope.

After the recent release of violence on our world, I was depressed and that drove me into the Black Sun of silence. I felt that all hope was gone. I knew then I had to go see my sister. I was sure she would know how to bring healing in to our broken world.

Dinah, at 61, is the oldest known living person in the Arizona who has Prader-Willi Syndrome. She is mentally and physically handicapped—she also suffered brain damage that resulted from a high fever when she was two weeks old. The temperature affected her ability to speak—over the years her vocabulary has increased to about 50 words.

When we sit at dinner, she is mostly silent. When I ask her questions I have to watch for answers that are found in a raised eyebrow, the tilt of her head, a smile or a frown, a gesture, and if I’m lucky, a word or two, some of which are impossible to understand.

That night the conversation turned to her friend, Brent. Jo, Dinah’s beloved care-giver, filled in the gaps of my sister’s story about this man who lives in another house for handicapped men. Brent has multiple-scoliosis—he’s paraplegic and can’t speak.

When they go to his house, Dinah sits with Brent, holds his hand, strokes his arm and says, “I luv ou.” She knows what Brent needs—human touch, a kind face, and the words of love that heal.

Dinah doesn’t see the color of your skin. She doesn’t care about your ethnicity. It doesn’t matter to her if your religious or not. She’s not concerned with how you identify your sexuality. I’ve watched Dinah interact with the diversity of humanity and she treats everyone the same way—a smile, a big hug, and pure love.

I’ve wondered a thousand times what it would be like to get inside Dinah’s head, to walk around in the world in her skin, to be Dinah. I’ve witnessed her frustration at not being able to tell her story. I imagine that’s why she connects so well with people who have been marginalized—people of color, people of various religions, people who are lesbians, people who are gay, people who are bi-sexual, people who are transgendered, people who are queer. They know what it’s like to not be able to freely, openly, safely tell their story. Dinah knows that feeling because she lives in the borderlands of unique difference. That night, listening to Dinah’s story, I was reminded once again that all for but a twist and turn of a tiny piece of Chromosome-15, Dinah and I would trade places. But, then again, I could say that about everybody I meet—we’re all just a breath of fate away from being in some other circumstance, living in someone else’s skin. That night I felt that Dinah was asking me if I could live my life like she lives hers.

That night Dinah taught me that if I really want to love someone, I have to touch them, dance with them, imagine myself being them, walk around in this world as if I am them. I have to let go of the idea that I am different than anyone else in the world, for by the very twist of a sliver of DNA, I could be that person. Maybe that’s what “love your neighbor as your self,” and “respect the dignity of every human being,” really means.

Dinah has changed Brent’s life with her love. Dinah has changed my life with her love. Indeed, Dinah’s kind of love could change our world. Dinah has taught me that by holding hands and loving indiscriminately, I can find hope. And I saw that hope last weekend in the vision of a single dad twirling his two-year-old daughter over his head. That vision brought me to the moment of parents of all colors, races, religions, and sexuality, loving and dancing with their kids. Love doesn’t see difference; love sees the presence of the divine in every human being. Love listen. And if we don’t listen to other people’s story; well that be the end of all our stories. It’s all so weird isn’t it? But it changes everything when we listen.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Want to Change the World? Love Like Dinah for a Day.

The evil violence that was unleashed on our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in Orlando drove me into the Black Sun of silence. I had to go see my sister. She would know how to bring healing in our broken world.

Dinah, at 61, is the oldest known living person in the Arizona who has Prader-Willi Syndrome. She is mentally and physically handicapped—she also suffered brain damage that resulted from a high fever when she was two weeks old. The temperature affected her ability to speak—over the years her vocabulary has increased to about 50 words.

When we sit at dinner, she is mostly silent. When I ask her questions I have to watch for answers that are found in a raised eyebrow, the tilt of her head, a smile or a frown, a gesture, and if I’m lucky, a word or two, some of which are impossible to understand.

Last night the conversation turned to her friend, Brent. Jo, Dinah’s beloved care-giver, filled in the gaps of my sister’s story about this man who lives in another house for handicapped men. Brent has multiple-scoliosis—he’s paraplegic and can’t speak. When they go to his house, Dinah sits with Brent, holds his hand, strokes his arm and says, “I luv ou.” She knows what Brent needs—human touch, a kind face, and the words of love that heal.

Dinah doesn’t see the color of your skin. She doesn’t care about your ethnicity. It doesn’t matter to her if your religious or not. She’s not concerned with how you identify your sexuality. I’ve watched Dinah interact with the diversity of humanity and she treats everyone the same way—a smile, a big hug, and pure love.

I’ve wondered a thousand times what it would be like to get inside Dinah’s head, to walk around in the world in her skin, to be Dinah. I’ve witnessed her frustration at not being able to tell her story. I imagine that’s why she connects so well with people who have been marginalized—people of color, people of various religions, people who are lesbians, people who are gay, people who are bi-sexual, people who are transgendered, people who are queer. They know what it’s like to not be able to freely, openly, safely tell their story. Dinah knows that feeling because she lives in the borderlands of unique difference. Last night I once again was reminded that all for but a twist and turn of a tiny piece of Chromosome-15, Dinah and I would trade places. But, then again, I could say that about everybody I meet—we’re all just a breath of fate away from being in some other circumstance, living in some else’s skin. Dinah was asking me if I could live my life like she lives hers.

Last night Dinah taught me that if I really want to love someone, I have to touched them, imagine myself being them, walk around in this world as if I am them. I have to let go of the idea that I am different than anyone else in the world, for by the very twist of sliver of DNA, I could be that person. Maybe that’s what “love your neighbor as your self,” and “respect the dignity of every human being,” really means.

Dinah has changed Brent’s life with her love. Dinah has changed my life with her love. Indeed, Dinah’s kind of love could change our world. You want to hold hands?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Guns or Rosaries

“Taste and see that God is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

I have two rosaries that I carry with me everywhere. One I’ve had over twenty years. The other I’ve had almost ten years.

The rosary I’ve had for ten years, Cathy gave to me as I prepared to walk across Ireland. The rosary has been bathed in holy wells all across Ireland. I held the rosary in my mom’s hand as she died. I dipped the rosary in the water as I baptized my two grandsons. I’ve prayed with dozens of people as they wept; they held one end of the rosary and I held the other. A month ago I prayed with Justino, a young friend of mine who at the time, was undocumented. He was preparing to walk across the border, back into Mexico for the first time in eleven years. He was given an immigration hearing and his hope was that he would be granted a Visa to become a permanent resident of the US. We held the rosary as we prayed. When we finished I told him to take the rosary with him as he walked across the border. I told him I wanted it back, but not until he could cross back into the US. Thankfully, he was granted a Visa and last week he gave me back the rosary.

The older rosary my daughter made for me with beads she had brought from Spain. I carried that rosary on every pilgrimage I’ve walked in Ireland. I’ve dipped it in the holy wells in Ireland and in the healing dirt of Chimayo, New Mexico. I’ve held the rosary in the hands of the dying and in the hands of women giving birth. Last week, I prayed with the young people of Saint Peter’s as they prepared to go to camp. We formed a circle around the altar, two of the young people completed the circle by holding the rosary between them. I asked them that would, over the course of the week, pass the rosary between them. I prayed that the rosary would be the very presence of God for them.

These two rosaries have taken on profound meaning for me—they, among other things, have become more than symbols—they have become the presence of God in my life. There have been times in my life when I wished I could have seen, heard, touched, smelled, or even tasted God. At those times I felt like I needed more than my imagination to connect with the Divine. And I don’t think I’m alone in my desire to have a physical experience with God. I think that’s been the desire of most spiritual people.

Historically, Christians have had a propensity for collecting relics that had been in the possession of a saint, an apostle, or even Jesus. (See Caroline Walker Bynum’s Christian Materiality) For centuries Christians have made pilgrimages to places like the Santiago de Compostela in order see the relics of Saint James of Zebedee. In other churches around the world there are relics from the wood of Jesus’s cross, Jesus’ sandals, the bones of saints, and the chains that bound Saint Peter. The point of having such relics is the belief that the relic has an inherent healing agency by the virtue of having been touched by the saint.

The theology behind the belief in the power of the relics comes from two scriptural references. 2 Kings 13:20-22 tells the story of a dead man who had been thrown into the tomb of Elisha. And when the dead man touched the bones of Elisha he came to life. And then in Acts 19:11-12 there is a story of people taking a cloth that had touched the skin of Saint Paul to the sick in order to heal the afflicted.

The basis of this kind of spiritual practice resides in the belief that God is present in all matter. We just have to be willing to open our eyes and see it at those thin places in life; like at birth, at healing, at baptism, at the Eucharist, or at the moment of death. What makes the spiritual practice of seeing God in all of creation so powerful is that you don’t need massive amounts faith to believe in the power of the material—you simply have to experience it. When the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith, he told them that they already had enough faith; they simply needed to activate the faith they already had within them. (Luke 17:5) It’s what Richard Rohr means when he says we were born with the DNA of God within us.

In the letter to the Galatians (2:15-21) Saint Paul tells us that we already have the “faith of Jesus Christ,” emblazoned in our soul. For centuries we have been taught that we were responsible for having enough “faith in Jesus Christ” in order to have a complete and lasting experience with God. But now, scholars of Saint Paul are telling us that this text has been miss-translated. The text should not read that we need “faith in Jesus Christ.” But instead, “the faith of Jesus Christ” has already been implanted within us. In others words, our being made whole was done by the work of Jesus’s faith in God and not reliant on our faith or our belief in Jesus. (See Paul Among the Postliberals by Douglas Harink)

The faith of Jesus Christ was made evident by the life he lived—a human life that he lived to the fullest; he was born of women, he walked the dusty roads of life, he was hungry and thirsty, he suffered, and he died. He knew the full range of the human experience. And the experience of his life taught him that God is love and that love is everywhere, in everything, and in everybody. He lived that truth and he taught us that truth—God is love; a love found in birth, a love found in living life, a love found in dying. God’s love is the kind of love we can see, touch, feel, smell, and taste. God’s love is found in the bread we eat and the wine we drink. When we begin to allow ourselves to see God in everything around us, it will change the way we live, move, and have our being in this world.

We are all stunned by the mass murder committed in Orlando, Florida Sunday morning. We are appalled by the violence that is escalating in our country everyday. I wonder, do we trust more in God’s presence in our lives, or we do we trust more in our need to feel protected by guns?

I have to wonder why giving everyone in the US the right to own a military style automatic weapon is necessary? What if the sale of military style weapons were banned to the general public? If the killers in Orlando, San Bernardino, Newtown and countless number of almost daily incidents didn’t have automatic weapons, would the number of deaths be less? Or would the killers even have had the courage to carry out such tragic, senseless acts? I wonder what keeps us, as a people of faith, from crying out to our governmental leaders to stand up to the NRA and pass legislation banning the mass killer’s weapon of choice?

Personally, I don’t own a gun. I don’t want guns around me. True, it would be unthinkably tragic if a gunmen killed my family. But, in the end, no one can kill the presence of God within me. Truthfully, I’d rather carry a rosary than a gun.

“Taste and see that God is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wisdom Completes the Trinity

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?” (Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31)

I think it is most appropriate that one of the readings for Trinity is about Wisdom; for Eternal Wisdom is the feminine aspect of the Divine. She makes the Trinity complete.

Wisdom is found at the intersection of our existential experience with the mystery of the unseen. Such an experience rocks our world, yet defies explanation. Our mind and words fail miserably to translate what our heart aches to express. Wisdom is found by living an allegorical, metaphorical, mystical life filled with uncertainty and question.

Carl Jung said that wisdom is “a spirit of light…a living spirit that lives in all creatures as the spirit of wisdom.” (Mysterium)

I love hiking in Prescott, especially in the area above Lynx’s Lake. My dad built a small cabin in that area years ago. I’ve been roaming those mountains since I was nine-years-old. The last couple of years I’ve made friends with four ravens who have their rookery just across the ridge from our cabin.

A few years ago I was preparing for my walk across Ireland. So, I spent a lot of time hiking the hills around our cabin. Most mornings, just before sunrise, the ravens would be just outside our cabin, talking. Praak, praak, praak—begging me like children to come outside and play. With their encouragement, I was out the door before dawn. Most every morning the ravens would be at the bottom of the hill below our cabin, picking the ground for bugs. They would let me get just so close and then they would taunt me, hopping, joking, teasing and then they would fly low down the ridge. I knew they were headed to their little morning playground. I followed them down the road a few miles. One morning, the largest raven was sitting on a branch next to the road. For reason, I stopped and I told the raven that in all the years I had walked through the area they had never left me a feather. Of course, he mocked me. Praak, praak, praak. Who am I to ask for such a thing?

So, I kept on walking. I made my way down the road a ways before I reached the usual place I stop for a rest before heading back up the mountain. As I headed back to our cabin I didn’t expected to see the ravens anymore because it was getting later in the morning. But as I got close to their playground the big raven flew behind me and across to the more narrow side of the road. When I got to where he was perched in a tree by the road, there I found a feather lying on the ground. It was a long deep wing feather, with a band of fans missing. The feather was a gift from the leader of the rook.

I was awed and humbled. I bowed to the raven and thanked him for the gift. As I continued moving up the road I kept staring at the aged and beaten feather. Within a few dozen steps the raven passed in right in front of my path. Now he was ahead of me twenty yards in a tree on the wider side of the road. The giant bird was squawking at me. I stopped. He peeked out from behind the trunk of a giant pine. He beckoned again. I started to walk away. He screamed louder. The noise was so startling I stopped dead in my tracks. I made my away across the road. The raven was on the backside of the tree away from the road. As I stared up to see the bird I heard a truck barreling down the road. I turned to see the truck clip the rocks on the blind, narrow side of the road—exactly where I would have been walking. The driver would have struck me head on without ever having seen me.

My heart froze in my throat. My lungs had shut off. I felt like my soul would leave my body. I bent over with my hands on my knees. I wanted to vomit but my stomach was shriveled at the bottom of my bowels. My eyes quivered. I leaned into the tree knowing I was going to faint. Then I heard the raven drop down a few branches and cluck that guttural affection they can share with one another. I held onto the tree and looked up. The bird turned his head to the side to get better look at me. The great raven was making sure I was okay. Convinced I would soon breathe again, the giant bird dropped wing and swung down over me and then glided into the gulley below.

I know you expect me to give you some explanation of what happened. You would like for me to say, “Oh, the Great Creator moved his creature the raven to draw my attention and get me across the road.” Or maybe you would like me to say, “Wow, what an amazing moment of synchronicity.” Possibly you’re saying, “God saved your ass.” And you might be saying, “That’s weird.” Well, you may believe whatever you like—because I don’t know what happened. But I do keep reflecting on that experience. I feel like I heard the spirit of wisdom call me into the weird uncertainty of it all. Eternal Wisdom appears in the cross roads of death and life.

Carl Jung wrote in Mysterium that “Life wants not only the clear but the muddy, not only the bright but also the dark; (life) wants all days to be followed by nights, and wisdom herself to celebrate her carnival.”

Wisdom is born out of our relationships (Joanna Macy). The relationship begins with our with our own Self. Without a relationship with our Self how can we have a relationship with God or anyone else? Wisdom arises from the integration of our muddy relationships, found in the four directions of the four dimensions of our Self (Bill Plotkin). Wisdom calls when we are willing to listen to all our relationships, with our Self, the Divine, each other, and Mother Nature and all her creatures, animals, birds, trees, and the stones.

The sun rises in the east with our innocence. The sun swings south where we find our sensual Self. The sun moves west so that our visionary muse will emerge. And then the sun moves north into the region where our Self becomes a sage; the full integration of our Self brings us into a humble moment of being able to share our wisdom.

To share wisdom we must make our way through our pilgrimage of the four directions. Finally, up in the mountain of the north. There we draw a circle on the face of earth. We sit in that circle and wait for others who seek our wisdom. We wait for them to ask questions. Then, and only then, can we share our own stories—allegorical, metaphorical, mystical stories that are filled with uncertainty and question.
Wisdom is found at the intersection of our existential experience with the mystery of the unseen. Such an experience rocks our world, yet defies explanation. Our mind and words fail miserably to translate what our heart aches to express. Wisdom is found by living an allegorical, metaphorical, mystical life filled with uncertainty and question. Wisdom is found the completeness of the four; Eternal Wisdom completes the Trinity.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Black Sun

I have heard the Spirit speak to me in her fire. The fire that refines is not to destroy us but instead to heal our wounds with spiritual gold. The Hebrew Bible has several references to the Spirit of God being the refiner’s fire—Malachi 3:2, Ezekiel 1:3, Zechariah 13:9, Jeremiah 9:7, and Daniel 12:10 which reads, “Many shall be purified, cleansed, refined…and the wise shall understand.”

The refiner’s fire burns hot. The heat can become so intense that the sun appears black—what Saint John of the Cross described as the Dark Night of the Soul. At those moments we are being prepared for our descent into the unconscious so that we might experience some of the most numinous imaginations of the psychic life. (Stanton Martin, The Black Sun) The Black Sun is a paradox; it is blacker than black while at the same time it shines with dark luminescence that opens the way for us to find a healing path.

In The Acts of the Apostles (2:1-21) we hear Saint Peter quote the Book of Joel (2:28-32); metaphorically, he is making a reference to the resurrection of Jesus as a path to our spiritual healing, our resurrection. For us to be able to see wisely and to understand our psychic resurrection, our salvation, we will have to experience our own metaphoric crucifixion, the Dark Night of the Soul, when the “sun shall be turned to darkness.” (Psalm 22:1)

Some of you may be familiar with the song “Black Sun” by Death Cab for Cutie. The lyrics of the song were inspired by the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which recognizes the beauty of broken things. The artist takes broken ceramics and repairs it with gold.

Front man for Death Cab, Ben Gibbard, describes the beauty of broken things, the beauty of suffering in the lyric of his song “Black Sun.”

There is an answer in a question
And there is hope within despair
And there is beauty in a failure
And there are depths beyond compare
There is a role of lifetime
And there’s a song yet to be sung
And there’s a dumpster in the driveway
Of all the plans that came undone
How could something so fair
Be so cruel
When the black sun revolved around you.

It would be nice if our only experience of the Holy Spirit were her gentle breeze that refreshes our soul. Or those times when she comforts us in our despair. Indeed, the Spirit does bring refreshment and comfort to us. But many us have experienced the Dark Night of the Soul when sun turned black. At those times, we can be oddly reassured, that even though we are suffering and feeling abandoned, forsaken, and our dreams may have been dashed on the pavement and thrown in a dumpster, we will be restored with the refiner’s gold of the Spirit, who heals our woundedness with spiritual fire.