Saturday, December 31, 2005


The church has set itself up as the broker of prosperity and happiness in this life, and of eternal delights in the world to come. That’s a strong selling point. If you do it the way the church tells you to do it, you’ll have it made. And, if you don’t have it made yet, it’s only a test to see if you are really deserving of having it made. Just believe, and, eventually, you will have it made. Oh, and drop those coins in the offering plates, children, as evidence of your faith and dedication.

It’s a scam.

Life is a simple matter of being alive. And we all are only one slight perspective shift away from being alive. The perspective, of course, is the one Jesus had regarding what is important and how to live in light of it. It’s about being true to yourself within the context and circumstances of your life. Bringing your best to bear upon the moment of your living. Living toward the good in ways that express what is deepest, best, and truest about you. Relishing the wonder of the experience of life. Seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, intuiting, sensing, imagining, creating, wondering, playing, laughing, loving… with the true good of all in mind, at heart.

Here’s the deal. Life, true life, joyous life, abundant life is the difference between Mary and Jesus on the one hand (And the Mary can be his mother or Mary Magdalene, call her his true love if you would like), and Adam and Eve on the other. If you comprehend the difference between Mary and Jesus and Adam and Eve, you understand the nature of life and what you have to do to be fully, completely, absolutely alive. And, if you don’t get the difference, sit with these people until the difference begins to dawn. I’ll give you a hint. Being alive is about being true to yourself without living with an eye out for what’s in it for you.

Being alive is about living with yourself at the center without being self-centered. Jesus always did exactly what was “Jesus.” But, he never did it with himself in mind. He did not live to secure the advantages, to enjoy the boon, to get all that he could get out of being alive, and he got all that could be gotten out of, or squeezed into, being alive. He and Mary would have never stood with Adam and Eve and said, “You know. I’ll bet that if I eat this fruit, I’ll be happy forever.”

Being alive is about enjoying the gift of who we are and what we love, and sharing the gift with those about us, with all of life, without trying to parlay it into double and triple what it is. “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands.” Saul has to understand that’s the way it is. Saul can’t be jealous because his gift isn’t the greatest gift. Saul has his gift, and David has his. The gift is to be enjoyed and shared, not despised and rejected. The gift is always who we are and what we love, and it is to be used in the service of the good, in the service of the way of God, without trying to use it to achieve our own good.

Whose good is served by the good we serve? How good is the good that serves our own good at the expense of everyone else’s? When we begin to wonder, “What good does it do me to serve the good?”, we have wandered away from the way. “What’s in it for me?” “What am I getting out of it?” “When will it be my turn?” are questions that lead us away from the way.

We are here to serve the gift. To serve the good, the way of God, with the gift. The gift is who we are and what we love. There is nothing beyond the gift to get. The “getting,” such as it is, is in the realization, the expression, the offering, the sharing. If we can give the gift and “make ends meet,” that’s as much as we can ask. The idea of “getting ahead,” and “having it made” with “all our worries” being “over,” is incompatible with, and contrary to, the way of God. We are here to serve the gift, not to be served by the gift. Serving the gift is all we get. That’s all there is. The gift is its own reward. If we cannot be happy with that, we cannot be happy.

All of this meshes rather well with the Zen idea of being aware of, and taking care of, the moment of our living. “Eat when hungry, rest when tired.” “When you’re doing the dishes, do the dishes.” We simply bring our best to bear upon the moment of our living and let that be that. We give the gift to the moment, without expecting to get anything from the moment beyond being able to offer who we are and what we love to the moment.

This also meshes with the Buddhist idea of karma. We get what we give. We create the world we live in. What goes around comes around. We reap what we sew. What goes out comes back. The quality of our life depends upon the quality of our focus, of our intention and desire. Giving the gift is its own reward.

Life is about receiving the gift (of who we are and what we love) and giving it, sharing it. If we want more than that, we are standing with Adam and Eve, and we have our reward. If we are quite happy with that, we are standing with Jesus and Mary, and we have our reward.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


It’s like teaching yourself to swim. Or, ride a bicycle. There is no instruction manual, and if there were, it wouldn’t help. You just get in the water and see what happens. Over time, with persistence, you’ll figure it out. As you mingle with other swimmers, you pick up pointers, improve, learn to dive. Wow. Look at you go. It’s like that.

The Way of God is like that. Being the church is like that. Christianity is like that. You don’t get to be a Christian by reading the manual and believing you are a Christian. You get to be a Christian by getting in the water and seeing what happens. The path, as the Zen masters say, begins under our feet. The Way of God unfolds before us in the moment of our living. There is nothing to think. Nothing to know. We feel our way forward toward the good, toward the compassionate, toward the best we can imagine. We bring our best to bear on each moment. That’s all there is to it.

Over time, our best gets better and the cumulative impact of each moment adds up, and the world is transformed. Well, maybe not the WORLD, but, you know, lives are changed. People and circumstances are healed by our presence. Magic happens. Often, without our being aware of it, ever knowing it. “Lord, when did we see you sick and minister unto you, or in prison and visit you?” Don’t underestimate the power of a life bent unconsciously, but with full awareness, toward the good over time.

The awareness has to do with the intention to the good. The unconsciousness has to do with accounting practices, with measuring success and keeping track of outcomes. We are conscious of bringing our best to bear on the moment. We are unconscious of the impact and implications of our efforts, because the next moment is already upon us, and a different good is called for there.

And, what does sin have to do with it? Absolutely nothing. Sin is what enrages God and sets God against us. We had to figure out why things weren’t working out so well back in the long ago and far away. And we figured it must be something we had done, because God wouldn’t be out to get us for no reason. So, we cooked up sin. If bad things happened to us it was because God was punishing us because we had sinned. Avoiding sin was our way of controlling God, and insuring that good things came our way. Sin is sinful because it’s all about manipulation and control. Getting what we want. Having our way. The whole point of living sinlessly is to acquire the things we sin to get. Surely, you can see, even if your name isn’t Shirley, even if you are dead, the stupidity of the entire edifice!

Let’s start with the idea that we cannot enrage God or set God against us, and that the things that come our way are just the things that come our way. They are not sent from God with a message about repent or else attached. Sinless purity is no hedge against the encroaching terrors. The game is not to get what we want by giving God what God wants. The game is Here Is The Moment—Do Your Best With It. Don’t let anyone tell you that isn’t the game, or that there is some other game instead. That’s the game. It’s the only game. Here Is The Moment—Do Your Best With It.

Ah, but why should we? Right? What’s in it for us? Right? Motivation. Motive. Incentive. Provocation. Inspiration. Encouragement. Enticement. We cannot just do the good, can we? We have to have a reason, don’t we? Else we will just recline on our couches and call for more beer. What’s the good of doing the good? And, why should we bust our can in the service of the good when everybody else is slacking off and lying about?

It’s like learning to swim. Or, ride a bicycle. You can’t do it before its time. Forcing people to do the good—bribing them, threatening them, compelling them, shaming them, slamming them, commanding them—is not going to get the good done. Giving people reasons to do the good isn’t going to get the good done. If you need a reason to bring your best to bear upon the moment of your living, it won’t be your best, in the first place, and, in the second, you won’t have the heart to sustain it over time in the face of resistance and opposition and the complete absence of results. If you need a reason to go swimming, you aren’t ready for the water.

Where do you get eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand? Where does readiness reside? Who can give us what we are not interested in having? Who can tell us what we cannot hear? We cannot use the answers to questions we aren’t asking. Where do the questions come from? Live on, live on.


Whose good is served b y the good we serve? How good is the good that only serves our good?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


It didn’t take his followers fifteen minutes to transform Jesus’ message and mission from a way of being in the to world to a way of escaping from the world, and escaping the “wrath of God” that was about to be visited upon the world. Jesus’ images of leaven in the dough, seeds in the earth, salt of the earth, light in the darkness were about carrying life out in the world as sojourners on the way of God. But with his death, the apostles changed the focus from living aligned with the Way, to believing in Jesus and looking forward to his return when he would demolish the forces of Caesar and Satan and establish—institute—the long-awaited rule of God upon the earth. Jesus had worked to redefine the king and the kingdom, but his followers refused to follow, and used stories about Jesus’ resurrection to further their own cause in the service of the old apocalyptic vision and the end of time. “He’s coming! You better be ready! You better do what we say!” Fear is better than sex when it comes to capturing an audience and taking them where you want them to go.

Of course, the apostles were sincere. Of course, they really believed that Jesus was coming back any day now to destroy the Romans, right wrongs, reverse fortunes, and bring forth the kingdom of goodness and light. And, of course, they missed the point.

The point is that there is no end in sight. There is no Messiah, there is no Christ, there is no Lord in the sense of the One Who Is Coming to deliver us from our enemies, save us from our problems, and make things just grand. The point is that This Is It. What are we going to do about it?

Jesus’ genius was the leaven in the dough, seeds in the earth, salt of the earth, light in the darkness angle. The Way of God is right here, right now, it’s only a matter of having eyes that see and ears that hear. In other words, it is only a matter of perspective. We can live right now as sojourners on the Way of God. We don’t have to wait for the Messiah! We ARE the Messiah! WE are the Christ! The Messiah, the Christ, is nothing if not a servant of the Way of God; an emissary of the Way of God; a champion, you might say, of the Way of God upon the earth. And, that is characteristic of everyone who takes up the Way.

In living as God would live right here, right now, we bring forth the Way of God; we unveil the Way of God; we produce the Way of God, and make it visible, tangible, real upon the earth. That’s all there is to it. No Horsemen of the Apocalypse. No angelic battalions descending from the sky. No final combat between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. No Great Beast to defeat and destroy. Just this moment, right here, right now, and the next one, and the one after that, through the long string of moments flowing from this one, and the opportunity to live in each one as God would live in them, bringing justice and compassion to life; bringing hope and life to life; being sources of goodness and light and peace upon the earth, in the individual moments of our living.

That’s the vision of Jesus, and it won’t sell. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God—for yours is the Way of God—because, what do you have to lose?” That song won’t play to the poor. They have being not-poor in mind. Not the Way of God. Good news to the poor is not that they have an easy walk into the Way of God because they don’t have anything to lose, because they don’t have anything standing in their way. Good news to the poor is all the food they can eat, and all the wine they can drink, and all the TV they can watch, in the finest house they can imagine—the splendors, say, of their heavenly reward; their just compensation for being so miserable in this life. You talk to them like that and you have their full attention, and whatever coins they can spare, as an investment, you know, a stake in the glory that is coming.

Give it to the apostles. They took a production that had run its course, and turned it into the longest running show on Broadway. “From Leaven to Heaven”—an overnight sensation, and still going, still going, forever. “From Rags to Riches” is an eternal theme that will always pull them in. It’s exactly what we want to hear. And, it’s a far cry from the insight of the itinerate Jewish peasant from Galilee.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Practice, practice, practice. That’s all there is to it. After we understand that it’s all about bringing our best to bear on each moment of our living—about living toward the best we can imagine in each moment—about living in light of the best we can be in each moment—about bringing that which is deepest, truest, and best about us to life in each moment—about refusing to let what little can be done keep us from doing what can be done—about consciously, deliberately, intentionally, willfully enacting, and acting out of, our vision of how it ought to be, and ought to be done, in each moment—about crafting a life, moment by moment—about designing and living a life we would be proud to have lived, in each moment—about being true to our best self within the context and circumstances of our life—about doing what ought to be done in the way it ought to be done in light of what can be done—about bringing to life the best that is within us—about serving our vision of the good (which will not necessarily be good for us, and which will not necessarily do any good) throughout our lives—about being fully, deeply, joyfully alive, and living so as to bring others to life, all our lives long—about doing what we love—about having something to look forward to every day—about enjoying all that can be enjoyed about each moment of our living—after we understand that, then, it is only a matter of practice, practice, practice.

Each moment is a laboratory, a practice field, where we work to do it as it ought to be done, as we would be proud to do it. Each moment is where we redeem what we blew in the last moment; where we create the memory of how it ought to be done in every moment that follows. And, our only tool is attention.

Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Practice. Practice. Practice. That’s it. It is never more difficult, more involved, more complex or complicated than that. What interferes with awareness? What prevents practice? Something else to be aware of. Something else to practice overcoming. But, that is all there is to it.

We want there to be more to it. That’s the foundational premise of the metaphor of the Garden of Eden. There we are in Paradise, and we want something more. We are sure the Forbidden Fruit will do it. The rest is, as they say, history.

“This” can’t be “it.” There has to be more to it than this. This will never do. What about the glory? What about prosperity? What about having it made, without a worry in the world? What am I, what are we, getting out of it? What will I, what will we, have to show for it? What’s the good of doing what is good, especially when it does no good? We wouldn’t have anything if that were the organizing principle of our lives. Progress depends upon dissatisfaction, disenchantment, disillusionment, despair. We can’t have people content with doing what is good in each moment of their living whether it does any good or not. That won’t sell any Plastic Wonders. That won’t pave the parking lots and build the high-rises. It will destroy the economy. They won’t have anything more than rice bowls. They won’t do anything more than beg from each other. You cannot run a society, a country, on the basis of Awareness and Practice. Somebody has to kill the damn Indians!

How spiritual can we be and still pay the bills? What did Yoda do to earn a living? How did Obi-Wan Kenobi pay for food and clothing? Where do we draw the line? How do we improve the conditions under which life is lived without “killing the damn Indians”? Without destroying the ozone? Without cutting the rain forests? Without creating problems as we solve problems? How would Yoda run the government? How would Obi-Wan Kenobi manage garbage collection and mass transit? Who would pay the bills?

The spiritual easily comes to grief upon the rocky shores of the social and political. Where has there ever been a spiritual society that anyone would want to live in? Do you seriously want to take off your clothes and go live among the Aborigines? Do you want to live in a country where Islam is in charge of all things political/social? With George Bush, we have a taste of how it would be with the Religious Right running things. And, you can only shave your head and live as a Buddhist monk by closing your eyes and meditating all day, by tuning out and turning off, and blissfully disconnecting yourself from the world in which you live. Whiskey and cocaine will do the same thing for you, and you won’t have to deal with the flies.

There is a limit to how spiritual we can be and still pay the bills. And still have air conditioning, and central heat, and running water, and indoor toilets, and half-and-half, and medical insurance. Someone has to kill the Indians, or do what has to be done for society to exist. Ob-Wan dispatched the forces of the Empire, and the Force that was with him seemed to operate out of the principle that the end justifies the means. How spiritual is that? How just and compassionate is that? How just is a society that is built on the ashes of heretics or the graves of its enemies? How different can we be and live together with compassion for one another? If Jesus were Prime Minister, how would he handle suicide bombers? How social and political can the spiritual be?

It’s a pickle. A koan. A conundrum. There is no solution. Justice and compassion are the tools of spiritual practice within a social/political order that is, by its nature, unjust and discompassionate. The more successful a particular spiritual movement is in enforcing it’s political agenda, the more unjust and discompassionate it becomes. To live justly, with compassion, is to live on the periphery of society. It is to exercise very little power, say, none at all. It is to be vulnerable and at the mercy of forces quite beyond us—to be, so to speak, always on the cross, which is never anything more than a symbol of political oppression, aggression, and tyranny.

There is no political alternative to the Empire. It is the spiritual task to nudge every Empire toward justice without ever achieving a just political state. We can only be more or less just, more or less compassionate, more or less good, holy, righteous, pure. The idea is to be more than we are at any point; to be more just, more compassionate than we have been up to any point; to be a spiritual gadfly, goading the Empire toward right thinking, right seeing, right doing, right being, keeping alive the dialectic, the tension, between how things are and how things ought to be, always living toward the good without ever arriving, building homes, settling down.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

12/25/05, Sermon

The kingdom of God is not systemic, it cannot be systematized. Theology can be systematic, but not the kingdom of God. Justice is not systemic. There can be no such thing as a just system, whether it’s a family, or a commune, or a school, or a government on the local, state, or federal level. One person’s good is another person’s evil; we have to give up this to have that; and the whole will suffer for the sake of the parts, or the parts will suffer for the sake of the whole; someone’s best interest will be sat aside for the sake of something, and justice will not be done. Life is not fair.

And yet, and yet, the kingdom of God is nothing if it is not the experience and expression of compassion and justice. And yet, and yet, the kingdom of God is not systemic. Injustice is systemic. It is the inescapable characteristic of systems to be unjust. Discompassion is systemic. It is the inescapable characteristic of systems to be discompassionate. “Don’t blame me, I just work here.” “You can’t fight City Hall.” The kingdom of God is not and cannot be systemic. It is, and can only be, episodic; sporadic; periodic; occasional; unpredictable, surprising; astounding; disconcerting; unnerving. Justice is episodic. Compassion is episodic. Justice and compassion can only happen here-and-now as a shock, to the system.

The kingdom of God is the experience and expression of compassion and justice within the normal operating structure of the systems of life. The kingdom of God brings life to life within the systems of life. We are to do justice, exhibit compassion, and walk humbly with God—within the structures of the culture; within the systems of life in the world of normal, apparent, reality. We are to bring justice and compassion to life in the world, to shock, amaze, and confound.

That is our work. That is the only work we have to do. It will always be our work. We can never create a system, or a structure, to do our work for us. We are responsible for bringing justice and compassion to life in the world. We can never tag out. The work is never done. We pick up our cross daily and take our place in the service of the one who is Christ and Lord. We continue the work of the one who is Christ and Lord, because the work is never done. The cross is the call to do justice, exhibit compassion, and walk humbly with God. As we take up that work, we become the Christ. The Christ is the one who does the work of the kingdom of God. The king of the kingdom is the servant of justice and compassion. As servants of justice and compassion, we become kings of the kingdom. But “king” is a chauvinistic term that leaves women wondering where and how they fit in. “King” and “kingdom” are terms that worked well given the low level of personal consciousness and awareness in Jesus’ day, but they are out of place in our day.

The term “kingdom of God” was coined to counter the idea of the “kingdoms of the world,” particularly the “kingdom of Rome” and the rule of Caesar. The “kingdom of God” was an alternative reality, like leaven in the dough, to be worked into the reality of life as we know it. The “kingdom of God” was the experience and expression of justice and compassion being worked into the experience of life as we know it. It was not a separate, competing, reality, like another, only better, kingdom of the world. It was, and is, an idea, a perspective, an orientation to the good, a way of being in the world. In a word, it is the experience and expression of justice and compassion.

Jesus talked about the kingdom of God and lived to exemplify it in his life and evoke it upon the earth, within the structure of the systems of the world. Jesus was the servant of the kingdom of God and served beautifully to redefine the Christ, the anointed one, who was to come and institute the kingdom of God. But, the kingdom of God is not an institution! This was Jesus’ particular genius. “My kingdom is not of this world.” Who would have thought it? And the Christ is not a king in the ordinary sense of the term, but anyone—everyone!—who takes up the work of bringing the kingdom into being, who takes up the work of being the servant of justice and compassion within the structures of life in the world.

So, we need new terms. Not “kingdom of God,” not “king.” I will substitute “way of God” and “sojourner” for them until a better idea comes along. The way of God is justice and compassion. Jesus was a vagrant “king,” an itinerate “king,” a “king” without a throne, or a castle, or a command center; a “king” among the people; a passerby, one of us, a sojourner on the way of God, on the way to God. So are we all. Amen. May it be so!

Monday, December 19, 2005

12/18/05, Sermon

The part that really gets to me is the part about God playing a trick on God. The story, as you know, goes like this: God has been radically, essentially, offended, and cannot just freely forgive the offending parties. Unlike the father of the Prodigal, God must have restitution. There must be recompense. Someone has to pay. So, God comes up with the Messiah Scheme, whereby God pays God. God comes to earth in the form of Jesus, who is part God and part man—NO!, this part also gets to me, FULLY God and FULLY man. No questions allowed. We have to take all of this on faith. Don’t roll your eyes at me! Just believe what you are told to believe! The unity of the Church, of all of Christendom, is at stake here. It is NOT a house of cards, you have to take that on faith, too, but don’t sneeze, or ask questions.

Where was I. Oh, yes. God comes to earth as God/Man to live a sinless life, which no man could do because of Original Sin. It takes a God/Man to be sinless, but somehow, the way God keeps score, that counts, even though it’s cheating, and God says, “Ho, ho! Now we’ve done it! I’ll take the undeserving death of the sinless God/Man as payment due for the sins of every sinful man and woman ever! Now, we are even! IF they believe.”

This part also gets to me, the believing part. The death of the sinless God/Man counts only for those who believe the whole scenario. Which is a strong case for believing it, or claiming to. It is certainly a strong case for not sneezing. For not asking questions. You have to hand it to the folks who cooked this up. They covered their bases. “This is the way it is and if you don’t believe it, you are going to hell, because the Bible says so, and everybody knows the Bible is the irrefutable, inerrant, infallable Word of God, and if you don’t believe it is, you are really going to hell, and you can’t sneeze, remember, or ask questions, or you’ll go to hell for sure. And, to give you a sense of what that is like, if you sneeze or ask questions, we will burn you at the stake.” You could build quite a Church on that kind of foundation.

Orthodoxy is grounded upon the ashes of heretics who dared to sneeze and ask questions. Who dared to say, “Hey, wait a minute.” Who dared to offer a competing perspective. We ironed out the wrinkles, and solidified the dogma, and ratified the doctrines, and systematized the theology into one holy, catholic, and apostolic Christianity by killing the people who disagreed with us and burning their writings. We made that kind of treatment acceptable by calling them heretics, and explaining that they were enemies of God, blasphemers and sons of Satan, but in a different way from the one who is Lord, who was only called a blasphemer and a son of Satan by those who were the actual blasphemers and sons of Satan. Of course, you will have to take our word for this, or we will burn you at the stake.

The stake doesn’t get enough credit for the church as we have it, but it’s all about the stake. Without the stake, the church would be quite different in practically every way. The stake cut off conversation, dried up imagination, disappeared creativity, and guaranteed that no one would ever say anything they had not already heard about God, Jesus, and things religious. The stake created Orthodoxy, and the rest is, as they say, history.

The entire edifice is a shameful sham. Jesus would have nothing to do with it. Jesus was not about the purification of truth and the unification of the Church. Jesus was about right relationship, compassion and grace. Who would Jesus have burned at the stake?

The essence of Jesus is No Doctrine, No Dogma, just doing right by one another and all others. “I was sick, and you ministered unto me, in prison and you visited me, hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” It is not about believing, it is about expressing compassion, extending mercy, being gracious and kind. And, it is about sneezing, and asking questions.

The problem with this, of course, is that you don’t need much in the way of structure to be gracious and kind. You don’t need paid clergy and a hierarchy of officials to oversee your believing and make sure your doctrine meets the standards for entry into heaven. The way of Jesus has no need of pipe organs and administrative offices. There isn’t much to it. It was formulated by an itinerate, probably illiterate, Jewish peasant. How difficult can it be? Love one another. How hard is that? Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself. How hard is that? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How hard is that? What is there about that that requires an undergraduate degree and three years of seminary education?

But, organized religion needs more than the way of Jesus to justify its existence and pay its bills. It needs hell and heaven, and all the doctrines and dogmas required to avoid the one and attain the other. It needs legitimacy. It needs exclusivity. It needs monopoly. It needs to create dependency and guarantee unwavering devotion to its policies and procedures. The way of Jesus won’t do it.

You cannot create a tightly organized structure with benefits and a retirement plan based on the way of Jesus. You cannot “do justice” and make a profit. Not consistently. Not reliably. And loving your enemies is no way to run a country, or a business, or a church. We need the doctrines in order to know who our enemies are—in order to know who we are—in order to define ourselves in relation to them, and run them out of town, so that everyone might know that we are right and they are wrong, and they had better side with us or else.

And, not only that, but you also have to understand that you can’t have a church based on the way of Jesus without dissention and schism and chaos and pandemonium, with everybody settling into small camps claiming to be “more Christian” than all the other camps because their way of understanding and practicing The Way is more accurate than everyone else’s, and if you were REALLY initiated into the secrets of divine knowledge, as they are, you would do it like they do it.

You have to have a canon, a plum line, a guide, a standard by which to determine everyone’s degree of faith, else you’ll have a situation in which one person’s opinion, or insight, or understanding, is as good as anyone else’s, or better, depending on their need for domination and dominion. The way of Jesus easily leads to interesting conversation, but it does not lend itself to the kind of structure that will govern the lives of its members from beliefs to birth control.

The way is also in the way of, and thrown away by, those who have no patience with “asking, seeking, and knocking,” but who say, in a manner of speaking, “Just tell us what to believe, Preacher, and let us get on with our lives.” “Just tell us what to believe, and don’t ask us what we think!” Enlightening, expanding, deepening conversation is the last thing on their minds. They have fence posts to set, quotas to meet, appointments to keep. They have no time for wool gathering or walk abouts. They want a sleek, trusted, time honored tradition to buoy them up and help them along. Give them a nice creed to memorize, or a catechism to consult, and step aside. They have things to do.

The way is clearly not for everyone. Which sets us all up for the “superior/inferior” game, the “us/them” dichotomy, the “we have the real truth and they are too stupid to matter” madness. The Way is slippery and it is easy to fall away from The Way. We lose the way when we make too much of The Way. When we make too much of it, we loose the whole point of it.

The trick to master is this: We have to avoid the way that proclaims itself to be The Way. We have to understand that the essence of The Way is not taking itself too seriously. Isaiah (11:6) stoutly proclaims, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” And Jesus says, “Unless you turn and become as children, you will never enter the kingdom.” And, we gather at the manger to behold, what? A child! The messiah is the child! We cannot get too far from the child if we hope to walk along The Way.

The Way is so simple a child can walk it. A child knows when something is just and when it is not; when something is fair, and when it is not; when something is right, and compassionate, and kind, and good, and when it is not. A child knows what it means to be well treated, and what it means to be mistreated. You don’t have to have an undergraduate degree and three years of seminary education to know that. And, knowing that doesn’t make you the wizard of the universe, or the holy master of humankind, or the next Great Prophet to come along.

The lesson is plain: We are not to get all blown up about what we think is The Way. We are to just do the good we perceive to be good without thinking that everyone should do it our way. We are to grant them the right to their own good, and do what we can to serve the good together with them and all others, without burning anyone at the stake, consigning anyone to hell, or running anyone out of town because their thoughts are not our thoughts, nor their ways our way. Give it time, give it time. The Way becomes apparent over time. All our ways become more like The Way over time. May it be so!

Friday, December 16, 2005


Jesus did not come so that we could go to heaven. Jesus’ mission was to choose his own path. And Jesus chose his own path, as much as any of us choose our own path. Jesus did not have to be the Christ any more than any of us have to be the Christ. Jesus woke up one day and realized that the way it was being done around him—the way he was being told to do it—was not the way to do it. Jesus realized there was a better way than the way being espoused and followed by those living with him in his particular time and place. Not that there weren’t already in place plenty of alternatives. The Essenes had their way; the Zealots had their way; the Pharisees had their way; the Sadducees had their way; John the Baptist and his followers had their way; the Romans had their way… There were different ways to do it all over the place. Jesus saw through them all. “I am the way!”, he said. “You have heard it said,” he said, “but I say unto you!” And, he went on to outline for all those who listened his idea of what God required.

It wasn’t much. Human decency. Compassion. Respect. Right-thinking, right-doing, right-seeing, right-being. Jesus’ ethic, his sense of how things ought to be done, was not radical, or even new. Anyone hearing, “Love your neighbor,” or, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” would not be surprised. “Well, Duh!”, they might reply. The kicker is how Jesus defined “neighbor.” It was everyone. YOU are the neighbor, he said, to everyone! The poorest of the poor, women, children, Roman legionnaires, The Enemy. Everyone is raised up. Everyone is brought low. Everyone is my, your neighbor, neighbor. That was a new twist.

Jesus’ attitude toward the Law was also different. The Law was not sacrosanct. The Law had to serve the best interest of the neighbor. “The Sabbath was made for humankind,” said Jesus, “not humankind for the Sabbath.” When the Law forbade what was needed, the Law was ignored.

And he gave Caesar a hard time. His message about “the kingdom of God” was in direct defiance of the Roman idea of the divinity of Caesar and “the kingdom of Rome.” In today’s world, the United States is likely to put you on its bad list, or in one of its prisons, if you speak out against the policies of the United States, particularly if you do it in the Middle East, where unrest is rampant and people are on edge. Conditions were worse in Jesus’ day. The Romans did not deal kindly with opposition to their principles and policies. Jesus’ idea of how it ought to be done created a lot of enemies for him to love.

And, love them he did. Jesus practiced what he preached. And, it killed him. Jesus was who he said he was, who he said we all ought to be. Jesus lived in each moment the way that moment ought to be lived. When he was crucified, executed, he was crucified, executed, the way one ought to be crucified, executed. He died exhibiting compassion for those around him. Right-thinking, right-living, right-seeing, right-being all the way to the end.

Nowhere in any of that was there much concern expressed for himself. Even the phrase, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was a quotation from Psalm 22, which is a bold statement of faith on the order of the Habakkuk passage about no grapes on the vine and no cows in the stall, and being faithful, living faithfully, no matter what. It was an affirmation of faith: “Even if God forsakes me, I will be faithful to my idea of how it ought to be done to the very end!” That’s how to do it. That’s how it ought to be done.

Doing it that way doesn’t leave much room for “me,” “mine,” or, even, “ours.” “What about me?” “When it will it be my turn?” “What’s in it for me?” “What do I get out of it?” “Where’s the pay off?” “What’s the point if there is no profit?” are all questions that the way of Jesus leaves politely, and pointedly, un-asked. It is another of the sad ironies of history that we have turned Jesus into the ultimate Me-Item. “Jesus died for ME!” “Jesus loves ME!” “Jesus is coming to take ME to heaven!” Pick up any church hymn book and scan through the songs. They are all about ME. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like ME.” “Jesus walks with ME, and he talks with ME.” The religious emphasis is upon Jesus and ME. “Jesus is MY best invisible friend!” It doesn’t seem to matter how clearly you see and describe the way. Even if you are Jesus, your followers aren’t going to follow it in your absence. Everybody has to find it for herself, for himself. No one can give the way to anyone.

Which makes the structure of the church absurd. The church cannot be the place where people are handed the way; where people are told what to believe and do. The church can only be the place where people come together to talk about what they are believing and doing, where they talk about what they think is the way, as a way of expanding their awareness, deepening their consciousness, waking up to other possibilities and seeing things differently.

What does it mean to live well? We have to talk about that. We cannot be told that. What does it mean to be fully alive? We have to talk about that. We cannot be told that. What does right-thinking, right-living, right-seeing, right-being mean? We talk about these things, we are not told them. We live our way to understanding. We experience our way to truth. It cannot be explained to us (he said, explaining how it works).

So, where do we go from here? What’s next? What’s the next step? How’s this for a plan: You take your next moment, whatever that is. You take whatever happens next, and you deal with it as well as you can imagine anyone dealing with it. You do as well with the next thing as anyone could do it. You live in the next moment in light of your best idea of how to do it (Without letting the “ME” questions, objections, considerations to un-track you). Bring your absolute best to bear on the next moment. Then, as soon as you are able, reflect on that experience. What happened? What did you do in response to what happened? How do you feel about what happened and about what you did in response? How can you imagine responding, living, doing, differently? How can you imagine improving your response? That’s it. That’s the plan. For every moment for the rest of your life. Bring your best to bear on each moment and process the experience to see how you might improve your response, to see how you might do it better, next time. And, if you are lucky, find a community of folks, a gathering, a “church,” where you can talk about these things with those who are talking about them, too.

This will require you to clarify your idea of what is good, and what is important, and what is the way to do it. That’s all Jesus did. He had a very clear idea of what was good, of what was important, of what was the way to do it. And he lived out of that idea in every moment of his life. When he says, “Come, follow me,” that’s what he has in mind. When he says, “No one comes to the Father but by me,” he means we get to the heart of truth by doing it like he did it—not by doing what he did, but by being clear ourselves about what is good, what is important, and what is the way to do it, and doing it. This is quite different from memorizing the creeds, and the catechisms, and the doctrines and waiting for Jesus to come take us to heaven. It’s living in each moment the way that moment ought to be lived, and letting the outcome be the outcome. It is being clear about what is good, what is important, and how it ought to be done, and doing it that way, no matter what. Even if God forsakes us.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Jesus was ahead of his time, and a child of his time, at the same time. Aren’t we all. Nobody falls far from the tree. Everyone is limited in his, in her, understanding by the way things have been understood up to that point. We can only see so far ahead. For example, Jesus saw slavery as it was seen in his day. He would not have thought that the world was round. We would have to explain to him the implications his words about “the least of these” have for homosexual rights. And, while he granted women more of a place in society than any thinker of the times, Women’s Lib would be hard for him to swallow. After all, Martha did do the serving, not one of the boys. There is always a limit as to how visionary we can be. The most any generation can do is open up the possibilities for the next generation. No one can see all there is to see, or see all of the implications of what he, what she, does see. We can only see a little at a time, and move slowly into our grasp of the All.


Jesus had some very good things to say. Things that will not be surpassed in the long future of speaking. “You have heard it said, but I say unto you,” is probably the most important thing he said. That opens the way to deciding for ourselves how our lives ought to be lived. With the freedom of choosing our path comes the responsibility of being right, but we learn about being right over time. “But I say unto you, ‘Oops. Never mind,’” is one of the things we learn to say. And, there is no safety in letting someone else choose our path for us. What we have heard said can be just as wrong as anything we might say. Jesus opens the way to having a way—to living out of our own sense of how life ought to be lived.

Jesus also died in the service of his own integrity, in the service of his sense of how life ought to be lived. Integrity will do that to you. It’s better, he would say, to have a live soul and a dead body than a live body and a dead soul. He lived among the soulless, and knew what he was talking about. Hook up to your own heart, he would say, and live wide open until they shut you down. But not, he would add, at the expense of others. Live with compassion for all people, and don’t think you are better than anyone just because you are willing to risk your life in living your life. The last will be first, you know, so don’t be putting yourself at the head of the line, even in your own mind.

Jesus was a rare mix of vision and mercy, of justice and love. And, he had a strong sense of how life would be in a kingdom with God on the throne. He lived in the kingdom of Rome as a citizen of the kingdom of God, and said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It is the blurring of the kingdoms, the mixing of the kingdoms, the merger of the kingdoms—it is at the point of contact between the kingdoms that the Christ comes into being.

“Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Both words mean “the Anointed One.” That is, “the one who will be king.” Specifically, “the one who will be king in the new kingdom that God is preparing for Israel after the order of the old kingdom of David.” Jesus understood the new kingdom to be nothing like the old kingdom of David. Jesus was indeed the Christ of a brand new order. “My kingdom is not of this world.” The new king will not rule a political entity. The new kingdom will not have political, or geographical, boundaries. The new kingdom will be like yeast in the dough, like seeds in the earth. Everyone will be “the Christ” in that kingdom. No hierarchy. No pecking order. If you see something that needs doing, you do it, or arrange to have it done, and you love your neighbor as yourself. No waiting for “the King” to do for you what is to be done, or, even, to tell you what that is. You see, you do. It’s simple, and seeing is everything. “Whoever has eyes to see, let him, let her, see!”

And, it is not difficult, seeing. It is only a matter of looking. It is like a man finding a pearl and selling everything he has to buy the pearl; or like a man finding a treasure in a field, and selling everything he has to buy the field. Or, like fishermen sorting out a haul of fish, keeping the ones fit for selling or eating, and throwing the rest aside. Anybody can see the value of a pearl. Anybody can see the value of a treasure. Anybody can sort a net full of fish. Anyone can see what needs to be done. We only have to open our eyes.

In the new kingdom, people will live with their eyes open, and do what needs to be done. Jesus leads the way, and calls us to follow him, to follow his lead, to follow his example, by opening our own eyes, stepping into our own lives, and doing what needs to be done. Living at the cusp between the kingdoms, we become the Christ, doing things here, in this world, as they would be done there, in that one. There is nothing beyond us about that.

So, our task, as citizens of the new kingdom, the new order—our role as the Christs, the anointed ones, of the kingdom of God—is simply to do in each moment what needs to be done there. It’s like this. When you are standing in line at the post office waiting to buy stamps, or mail a package, do it the way it ought to be done. Stand in line really well. Do that moment, handle that experience, as well as it can be done. Bring your best to bear on that moment.Don’t lose yourself in the grandiose. Ending poverty. Stopping the war. Coming up with a solution to homelessness, and AIDS, and genocide. Wake up to the immediate. Come alive in the here-and-now. Make standing in this line the best performance of your life. See what needs doing right here, right now, and do it. The kingdom comes in moments just like this one. And, living as we do at the cusp between the kingdoms, we herald the new order and champion the cause of right-thinking, right-doing, right-seeing, right-being, right-here, right-now. That’s really all there is to it. We make it difficult because, otherwise, it’s too hard.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


What I look for from religion is a satisfying construct around which to build a life I can believe in. I look for a way of structuring reality which enables me to deal with the day and live toward a worthy future no matter what. I look for things to tell myself that will not only keep me going, but will also inspire me to give it my best when any sane person would say to hell with it and quit. I look for help formulating what it means to live well, and for the encouragement and motivation to do that in the face of hopelessness and despair fostered by the questions: So What? Who Cares? Why Try? What’s The Use? What’s The Point? What Difference Will It Make?

I look for life from religion, in religion. I look for that which enables us to be alive, fully, deeply, truly, joyfully alive. So, I look at the proponents of the respective religions and ask myself how alive they are. I don’t care what they say they believe. I believe in life, in living, in being alive, and I want to know how well their religion enables, allows, them to live, to come to life, to be alive. How alive are they? Do they have lives I would trade for? Do I wish I could live like that?
I don’t have to tell you that a quick walk through most Christian congregations, through most Christian denominations, through most of the world’s religions, results in a resounding, “NO!” Religion as it is being practiced around me is not bringing people to life. Where are those who understand what the man meant when he said, “Come to me you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”?

Take away the long lists of things you have to believe and things you have to do in order to be accounted worthy and receive the blessings of prosperity and happiness in this life, and get to heaven when you die, and what is left of religion as it is practiced anywhere in your experience? It’s nothing but an endless series of “can’s” and “can’t’s,” “do’s” and “don’t’s.” Easy yoke, and light burden, my eye! We have to make, and keep, God happy, or else!

Religion as we know it revolves around making, and keeping, God happy. And, what right does God have to be unhappy about anything? Didn’t God foresee all of this “in the beginning”? And, didn’t God go ahead anyway? So, what, exactly is God’s beef? What was God thinking? “I’m going to create Creation, and then be really sorry I did because it isn’t going to turn out like I want, and then I’m going to take it out on Creation for disappointing me so.” And, we want to be cooped up for eternity in heaven with a God like that? What are WE thinking? But, don’t get me started. And, don’t give me a religion that is focused on making, and keeping, God happy.

Give me a religion that helps me live the best life possible within the context and circumstances of my living. Give me a religion that enables me to dance and sing and be alive in the midst of any, of every, context and circumstance. Give me a religion that enables me to laugh, and love, and live, with all that is in me, toward the best that can be imagined in every moment of every day for as long as life is possible. Give me a religion that enables me to be fully alive for as long as life is possible. Give me a religion that enables me to live in the service of the good, anyway, nevertheless, even so. Give me a religion that helps me live a life I would be proud of, that helps me live well, that provides me with what I need “to get up and do what needs to be done,” and to do it the way it ought to be done, in season and out of season, in all weather conditions, around the clock, no matter what. My bet is that to give me a religion like that, we’ll have to cook it up ourselves, using whatever suitable ingredients we can find. My bet is that it doesn’t come pre-packaged, ready to heat and serve, right out of the can.


What helps you with your life? What do you tell yourself, what do you do, to deal with the things that are difficult to deal with? What are your strategies for “toughing it out,” for “holding your breath,” for making it through the tough times? What keeps you going?

Projects keep me going, things like crafting the book and taking photographs, and having something to look forward to in every day, things like morning coffee and evening wine and a long walk through the neighborhood and writing. What keeps me going are the things that enable me to distance myself from the things that make it difficult to keep going. I have to get away from the hard things, create some space, carve out some breathing room, some being room. I have to work something fun into my life. It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to allow a bit of an escape, something that brings me into this moment with this good thing.

We have to have our coping strategies. Life is too much for us without them. And, it helps to have strategies that don’t add to our burden, like cocaine does, or alcohol abuse. Watch an old movie, don’t get drunk. That’s my advice. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot trying to dodge bullets.

Monday, December 12, 2005

12/11/05, Sermon

Self-esteem depends upon how we feel about what we do. No kidding. How we feel about ourselves and our lives depends upon how we feel about what we do. It works like this. If our expectations outstrip our achievements, no matter how high our achievements are, our self-esteem will be low. If our achievements don’t amount to much but are higher than our expectations, we will feel better about ourselves than those who achieve more but have expectations that are higher than their level of achievement. We cannot raise anyone’s self-esteem without adjusting the ratio between their achievements and their expectations.

It’s all very complicated, and my suggestion is that we leave it alone. It’s like this. Most of you that Julie Strope had a triple by-pass two weeks ago. All of you surely know that you can’t have a by-pass without sustaining as much physical trauma as anything ever in the history of physical trauma, and she was absolutely beaten up by the deal. The good news is that on the other side of the next four-to-six months, she is going to have a better life and a better future than she has had in the last ten years. The bad news is that she can’t fast forward past the next six months. All she can do is wait it out. The process has its own rhythm and flow, and can be assisted, but not hurried. The best she can do is relax herself into it, into the healing process, do what is asked of her, and wait it out. Resisting, opposing, rebelling; insisting, commanding, demanding (even noticing, minding, caring) are useless and counter-productive. We can only cooperate with the process and wait it out.

Life is like that. We cannot arrange the life of our dreams; life like we think it ought to be. Whether we are talking about applying the right amount of self-esteem, or hurrying up and getting well, we cannot force our way. We do not sit at the controls of our lives. Just try to feel better about doing what you are doing, about living the life you are living. You can think up all the reasons you should feel better, but you cannot make yourself feel better. Any more than you can make yourself well.

We cannot maintain the right ratio between expectation and performance. We will always feel better or worse about our lives than we have any right to feel. We will never feel “exactly as we should feel,” at least, not for very long. How we feel is just how we feel. It will be different tomorrow, or next week, or in the next fifteen minutes. One thing is sure: feelings change. Never do anything in the grip of a mood. Wait until morning, or until next Monday. Sleep on it. Sit with it. Mull it over. Toss it around. Put it on the back burner. Forget about it. Come back to it. Think some more. Wait.

We don’t give waiting enough weight in our lives. We don’t think much of it. It has no place. Yet, waiting in the right spirit, in the spirit of waiting, is the most important thing we can ever do. We have to wait to see what to do, what to think, how to respond. We have to wait for clarity, for inspiration, for revelation, for confirmation, for affirmation, for insight, enlightenment, understanding, awakening, awareness. We cannot hurry awareness. We cannot “get it” before we do. We have to wait. Productively. Expectantly.

Productive, expectant, one might say, pregnant, waiting, watchful waiting, is waiting with our eyes open. Like a cat waiting on the robin. Even if it doesn’t see a robin. Native Americans on “vision quests” are waiting for a robin they don’t see. Productive, expectant, pregnant waiting is a very active kind of endeavor. It just looks like we are doing nothing. In truth, we are ready for anything, for everything. We are alert, open, attentive, seeking, searching, looking, seeing, imagining… Fully alive to the moment and its possibilities. We cannot be fully alive to the moment and its possibilities if we are living in the service of our will for the moment.

To be fully alive to the moment and its possibilities, we can’t have a particular agenda for the moment. We can try to guide the moment toward our idea of the good, but the moment may have different ideas. The moment has a life of its own. Our lives have a life of their own. “Just ’cause you want it, doesn’t mean it will be so.” Can you participate in your life on its terms? One small step into the by-pass experience, and you have no voice whatsoever in the twists and turns of that experience. You can assist the outcome, or delay it, but you do not control it.

We could look at our life as a by-pass experience. Our options and choices are limited. The nature of our life up to this point is going to restrict the nature of our life from this point. Can we be cool with that? Our life can be different than it has been, but it probably cannot be as different as we would like for it to be. Our expectations/desires are going to mess with our performance, with our outcomes. Which is something else for us to be aware of, as we wait, and watch.

Here comes the next moment of our living, of our life, how can we assist it toward the best possible outcome? What can happen there, in the next moment? What are the possibilities? What are our options, our choices? In every moment, we live toward the best in light of what’s possible. And, that is simply it. That is all that can be asked of any of us, that we live toward the best in light of what’s possible. But, it is essential, crucial, that we do that much. Nothing matters more than our willing participation in each moment of our lives, in the service of the best in light of what’s possible.

Did you catch how easily we slipped back into the matter of expectations and outcomes and how we feel about our lives? Taking up the service of the best in light of what’s possible is going to mean that we won’t always feel so hot about our lives. Too often, what we want, what we expect, what we desire will not be possible. We will have to settle for less than we can have. We can imagine, remember, a world we cannot live in. If that doesn’t depress you, you’re dead. We have to make room for feeling bad. We have a to wear the blues like a badge. It shows we are paying attention. We know what we are up against. And, we aren’t letting that stop us in the work that must be done. We will not let how little can be done stop us from doing what can be done. Don’t think Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks were thinking about themselves. They were thinking about their children and grandchildren. It couldn’t have looked to them like much could be done, but that didn’t stop them from doing what they could.

So, we dream up a dream, and live toward its realization. So, we imagine a worthy future and work to create it. We envision a better world and serve that world as agents of change and transformation in this world, just as it is. We live in this world, within the restrictions and limitations of what is possible, in light of that world. Our expectations must always surpass our outcomes. Which means we have to learn to feel good about feeling bad, as we live in the service of the best we can imagine, no matter what. We cannot stop when we begin to feel better about our lives. Feeling better isn’t the goal. Living in the life-long service of the best we can imagine is the goal. We are not about feeling better about ourselves; accepting ourselves and our lives; and “letting be what is.” Racism “is.” Sexism “is.” The oppression and denigration of homosexuals “is.” Injustice “is.” Poverty “is.” The list is long of things that have no business being. Our work is cut out for us, and we will not live to see its completion. That makes the time that is left to us all the more important, all the more precious. We cannot waste a minute of it, because we don’t have enough of it to throw any of it away. We have to use every moment in the service of the best we can imagine.

Who do you want to be in the time that is left to you? How do you want to live? What will it take to live well in the time that remains? Everything rides on how we answer these questions, on what we envision, on what we intend, on what we mean with the life that is left to live. We cannot live without meaning something, without intending something. We cannot just live from one thing to the next like a nuclear powered ping-pong ball whose life is slowly winding down. What is our sense of who we want to be?

Here is the origin of good and evil: We become what we think about. We become the focus of our own intention, will, desire, imagination. We serve the good we think is good, so we better be right. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is beautiful, whatever is just, whatever is exactly as it should be… If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We have to surround ourselves with the best we can imagine. We have to mingle with the best people. We have to read the best books.
We have to go to the best movies and the best plays. We have to listen to the best music and view the best art. We have to make it our life’s goal for the rest of our days to associate with the best, experience the best, resonate with the best, immerse ourselves in the best, so that we might express the best, exhibit the best, emulate the best in the time that remains.

And, you are wondering what all this has to do with Advent. And, you can’t for the life of you see how it relates to the sad, soulless couple in American Gothic. It’s like this: If we don’t intend the best; if we don’t will the best; if we don’t associate with the best; if we don’t consciously, deliberately, dependably live toward the best—no matter how we feel—we will end up like the couple in American Gothic. That couple doesn’t feel like doing anything differently than it’s been done all their lives long. Advent is the hope that we will do what needs to be done, exactly as it needs to be done, regardless of how we feel. The spirit of the Christ does what must be done in spite of how we feel about it. Advent says, “Don’t let your feelings stand between you and what is important!” Do the good when they say it is immoral! When they call you a heretic and a blasphemer! When they say you should be ashamed, and ask you who you think you are! Lose yourself in the service of the best you can imagine, and don’t let feeling bad about what you are doing keep you from doing it! That’s the message of Advent, from Mary, and Joseph, and Jesus to us, and the couple in American Gothic.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Jesus didn’t have to be the Christ, and there is no such thing as Original Sin. If you take those two positions as starting points, everything changes about the Christianity that has been handed to us. We have to start thinking about “Christianities,” in the plural. There is a wide variety of ways to perceive the person of Jesus and the implications of his living and dying. The concept of sin is central to some; the experience of love is central to others. The idea of God playing a trick on God by sending Jesus to die in our place and save us from hell if we believe because God loves us so much but not enough to save us from hell if we don’t believe just won’t do it for a lot of us. We have to find a different center for our faith to coalesce around. It’s already there, we just have to weed out the nonsense and focus on the heart of truth (as we perceive it).

The parable of the tares and the wheat speaks to the task before us. At night, a malicious neighbor seeds a person’s newly planted wheat field with weed seeds. When the two sets of seeds germinate, the workers realize the problem and wonder what to do. Wait until the harvest, the owner advises, we’ll separate things out then. This parable has always been taken to mean that true believers and the infidel live side by side in the world, and will be separated on Judgment Day, with the “wheat” going to everlasting life and the “weeds” going to purest hell. Well. We are at the point of understanding the Bible as the wheat field, containing valid, helpful, insight and a wealth of misinformation, to be separated out by those who have reached the place of mature judgment (A different take on Judgment Day) and understanding.

My suggestion is that we take the parable of the prodigal; the story of the good Samaritan; the parable of the sheep and the goats; the “Golden Rule;” the command to love God, neighbor, and self; the list of “the fruits of the Spirit;” the recommendation to “think about” “whatever is good, true, honorable, etc.’” the Sermon on the Mount; and other, similar, Biblical texts as “the heart of truth,” and live in ways which exhibit our affinity with this “core of faith.” Our “faith,” then would consist of trusting this “way” over all other competing, and contrary, “ways.” Our “faith” would be our understanding of, our belief in, the way our life ought to be lived. It would be the answer to the question, “Toward what—In light of what—do we live?” And, we would throw away all the other stuff about sin, and hell, and Armageddon, and the Apocalypse as being unnecessary, in the way of “the way,” and completely absurd.

And, if it appalls you to consider this kind of snipping and sewing, I will remind you that the Bible as we have it exists by virtue of this very process. The Bible as we have it was snipped and sewn together. I’m simply saying that the people who did the snipping and sewing had their agendas, and their perspectives, and their interests which they served by choosing these texts and discarding others, and that we are not only free, but are also required, to decide for ourselves the extent to which we will be bound by their orientation and outlook and ideas about how things should be. The people who complied the Bible were no smarter, and had no more authority, than the people who sort through the Bible, keeping “this,” and relegating “that” to the trash pile, or the museum show case. We decide for ourselves what it means to live well, and what we need to do it. But, this doesn’t mean that anything goes, or that one person’s ideas are as good as another’s.

The Holy Obligation—the Divine Imperative—is to determine what is good, and do it. What is the core around which our lives coalesce? We choose, but we cannot take the choice, make the choice, lightly. Ah but, what’s to keep us from it? What’s to keep us from living any way we like? This is the question that fueled the fires of organized religion. The people cannot be trusted to do what is right—to love God, neighbor, and self, for instance. They must be compelled to take the best interest of others, even those who aren’t like them, especially those who aren’t like them, into account. They must be forced to care about the welfare of all people. They must be threatened with the agony of hell, and promised the wonders and joys of eternal life. You see, I’m sure, the problem. What’s to keep your neighbor from stealing your cows, or putting weed seeds in with your wheat, if he, if she, doesn’t fear the wrath of God? The masses need hell to keep them in line.

It’s one thing to build a life around loving our neighbor if we can depend on our neighbor loving us in return. In a world where our neighbor is glad to take advantage of our love, we have to set limits, draw lines, establish boundaries, build fences, post guards, wear guns, because our neighbors have no respect for us and what is ours. You and I may be able to live together in a caring community of mutual concern, but those people down the street, or on the other side of town, don’t have a clue.

And, if you don’t have a clue about the people I mean, come with me while we take this love one another show on the road to, say, Osama bin Laden. Do you think he’s going to buy it? “Osama, won’t you come be our neighbor, and we will all live in peace, and toast marshmallows in the courtyard together?” And, we don’t have to go as high up as Osama. We could stop by the headquarters of a few war lords, or talk to some pirates, or visit with some drug dealers and pimps. I don’t see any of them buying into what I’m selling here. What’s in it for them? They won’t get their kicks walking the way I’m suggesting.

So, we better include in the parts of the Bible we keep, that passage about being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” and the story about the shrewd business manager. We had better love our neighbors with our eyes open. And set clear limits. And draw firm lines. And walk carefully along “the way.”

Friday, December 09, 2005


I need a project that connects me with and expresses what I enjoy and what I love. I’m as happy as I can be with that in hand. Between projects, I’m, well, between projects. Casting about. At loose ends. Searching. Seeking. Wandering. Looking. Not wanting that, or that, or that. Grousing. Grumbling. Down in the dumps. Mulleygrubbing around.

It is a psychological law that an idle mind settles into a repetitive, if chaotic, pattern of negative absorption. It is as though we entertain ourselves with a fascinating barrage of spontaneous, pandemonium; unruly and disconnected thoughts of how hopeless, miserable, and pointless our lives are. When we are not concentrating and focused, we are awash in the game of Prosecution and Defense, with the balance tipped heavily in favor of the Prosecution, and the Defense haplessly whispering, “Guilty as charged.” With a cow in the kitchen, we would at least avoid the downward spiral of self-effacing thoughts and negative conclusions about our past, present, and future. Projects that we love and enjoy are to be much preferred over the cow.

One of the problems is that we have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do things we love and enjoy. Another problem is that we don’t know what we love and enjoy. So, we opt for television. How many of us have a daily routine with things we love, enjoy, and look forward to tucked away in it through out the day? How many of us have personal projects that we can “get into,” and be “swept away” by? If the focus isn’t on what we love and enjoy, it will be on what we fear and detest.

Don’t believe me? Okay, here is the test. Take a day, say Saturday, and spend it doing nothing. No TV, no music, no reading, no raking leaves. Just sitting, looking out the window. Time yourself. See how long it takes before you start feeling down, before you sense the blues coming on, before you begin to pick your life apart and recount all the things that are wrong with you. Let’s see how long you can go, with nothing to occupy your mind, before you conclude you aren’t worth another breath. A mind that isn’t occupied is a fertile field for negative thoughts and emotions. After the test, I am sure you will believe in the importance of projects that you love and enjoy.

We have to give ourselves a life. It will not happen accidentally. We have to give ourselves to things we love and enjoy. People will not stop us on the street and invite us to go with them into the light of our life. They don’t know what would light us up. They are looking for their own fires.

We cannot be passive about our life. We cannot take the “Whatever” approach to living, taking what comes along, and making do with it until we die. That’s the prescription for the pose in American Gothic. What would be your best advice to those people in that picture? Well. Tell it to yourself. Follow it yourself. Take yourself in hand and lead yourself to life. Give yourself projects that you love and enjoy. Don’t die without being alive. That’s my best advice.


No, this is: Don’t ask too much of your job. Except for a small percentage of us, our job is not our life. Too few of us are paid to do what we love and enjoy. The work we do pays the bills and enables us to do what we love and enjoy. The question is not what do you want to do. The question is what can you do that will pay you enough to enable you to do what you want to do. Ask the right questions. That’s my best advice.


No, this is: Surround yourself with the best. Spend your time with the best people, the best books, the best music, the best art, the best movies and plays. We are what we think about, what we focus our attention on, what we spend our time with. Immerse yourself in the best life has to offer. That’s my best advice.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


If we were starting over, we wouldn’t do anything like it has been done. God, for instance. We wouldn’t do God the way God has been done. The biggest difference in the God we would come up with over the God that has been handed to us is that we wouldn’t see God as the source of all that is. Hurricanes, for instance, are not God’s will. AIDS, for another instance, is not God’s will. God does not spend the days making weal and creating woe. What, exactly, DOES God do?

To get a sense of that, we have to drift over to Lao Tsu and the Tao Te Ching. What does the Tao do? Nothing. Everything. There you are. Some things cannot be improved. The new is the old. Turning, turning, round, and round, what’s the T.S. Elliot line about the still point? We wind our way back to where we started and understand it for the first time. Scrap the Doctrine of God and embrace the Tao. That’s my best advice.

Understanding slices easily through the Gordian Knot of explanations and doctrines and dogmas and proclamations and pronouncements and decrees and apologetics (They damn sure should apologize!) which turn back on, and into, each other in a wild tangle of mad house logic. To understand is to laugh deeply, and to know that when you get it, you can’t give it away.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


War is a stupid way to settle differences, or to deal with one’s enemies. The Japanese waltzed into Pearl Harbor, for what? We waltzed into Iraq, for what? It’s a bit cloudy, these days, isn’t it? But, one thing we can say with crystal clarity about the Pearl Harbor decision and the Iraq Invasion decision is that the deciders overestimated their own strength and power, and underestimated the resiliency and determination of the opposition. There seem to be a lot more people out there willing to blow themselves up to kill a few Americans than we thought. War always reveals something someone didn’t think about. After the Battle of Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull dismissed the coalition forces he had gathered to destroy General Custer and the Seventh Cavalry because he though a defeat of that magnitude would send a message to Washington to leave the west alone. The hardest lesson is learning that “they” don’t think like “we” think they think.

But, what are you going to do? Not stand for it? Rail against it? What would constitute effective resistance? How would you form a movement against war, against violence of all varieties? How would you practice peace? Who would you include? Who would you exclude? How would you enforce compliance to your practice? Would you ostracize, excommunicate, those who don’t follow along? How violent that? Is coercion ever non-violent on all levels? Are boycotts non-violent? How do we ensure cooperation without threatening someone with something? Hitting them is just a quicker way to get what we want. The more we want, the more violent we are going to be. Want to be peaceful? Limit your wanting. That was the Buddha’s idea. Limit your wanting to a rice bowl and a robe. No war. Nothing to it. Until we try it. It as difficult as anything there is. Could it be the way to peace? Instead of getting them to give us what we want, we give up wanting. What do you think?

I think we have to figure ways to rein wanting in. We have to live within legitimate limits. We’re back to what is a prop and what is a tool. What serves the image we would like to project, and what serves the genius, the gift, the self in its emerging? We have to move away from the idea of constructing an image to the idea of unfolding a self. This is the heart of revolution. This is an act of war, this talk of moving from image-making to self-development. This is as radical and as subversive as it gets. We join the revolution when we rein in wanting.

Join the Revolution! Live Soulfully! Could be a bumper sticker. How could we live as long as we have lived without knowing better than we do what feeds our soul? What is Soul Food? And what is merely attractive to the eye? We can be addicted to many things that do not serve the soul. Discernment is the spiritual task. Knowing what we are doing is all there is to know. It takes a while to settle on what matters. Live on! It will all become clear with time.

The path to peace is limiting our lives to the things we need for the soul’s joy. What’s it take to bring our soul alive? Imagine your life, and start taking things away that don’t serve your soul. What are you left with? What are the things you can’t lose without your soul shrinking, and shriveling, and wasting away? Ask of everything you consider buying, “Is this a prop or a tool? Does it serve the soul?”

Don’t think I’m talking about living cheaply. My soul has expensive tastes. My camera equipment alone constitutes many rice bowls. The chair I write in, and the key board I write with, and the computer I use to print the photos, and the car, and the house… These things are not cheap, and I would be empty without them. So, I am not suggesting vows of poverty and lives of destitution. I’m simply saying, “Know what you need, and how it serves your soul.” Spend time with those things. Let the rest go. Let’s see how that impacts the world.

Monday, December 05, 2005

12/04/05, Sermon

Tis’ the season to be jolly. “For behold, I bring you good news of Great Joy for all people...” Hold that thought. And, come with me to the Great Plains of the Midwest, to, say, Eldon, Iowa, the location of Grant Wood’s painting, American Gothic. You remember the work, a stern, rigid, lifeless woman and man, dressed in the practical working clothes of the day. He is holding a three pronged pitch fork in front of a farm house with an arched gothic-cathedral-inspired window beautifully placed between, and above, the pair.

Ah, yes, these folks know how to put in a day’s work. But they can’t remember the last time they had a good time. Good times are not something they let roll. A wheelbarrow is about it with them. Church socials, with a bit of ice cream, and maybe one of those chocolate chip cookies, that one there, without too many chocolate chips. You don’t want to over do it, you know. God is watching, and God is not too high on high times.

And, how do we know about God and high times? It is interesting, and instructive, to note how our views about the nature of God reflect so closely the nature of our lives. It is tempting, of course, to see it the other way, to say that our view of God gives us our life. But, I think, the reverse is true. Our life gives us our view of God. God is the way our lives are. Or, to put it another way, we can see only what our lives allow us to see. Or, to put it another way, our view of life, and God, and all things bright and beautiful, is limited by our experience with life. We cannot see what our lives do not permit, or prepare, or enable, us to see.

American Gothic was painted in the early 1930’s, depicting life in the late 19th century. The couple staring back at us from the painting are not too far from scraping by, and they know it. There is fear in their hearts. They know what life can do. They know it doesn’t pay to live without a care in the world. They know you can’t be too careful. You can’t hold your cards too close to the vest. You can’t count on anything in this world. It all can be taken from you in a wink. You have to be guarded in this world. You have to be shut tight in this world. You have to be steeled against the encroaching hazards, ready for anything, because life is full of nasty surprises. It comes at you with enough grief and sorrow to turn the most hopeful heart to stone.

There is nothing like a life time of experience to teach you how things are. There is nothing like a life time of living to enable you to know what’s what, what to expect, what the deal is, and what’s going on. If you have been where this couple has been, and all those like them; if you see what they have seen, and know what they know, you know what it takes. You know you have to live with your head down and your nose to the grindstone; you know you have to take care of business and make hay while the sun shines, because times are tough, and the wolf is never far from the door. And, don’t call attention to yourself by laughing too loudly, or flaunting the rules that hold things together. Just do you part and hope for the best. You’ll be lucky if you get something you can live with.

Living can take the life right out of you. It can skew your perspective. It can destroy your ability to relax and trust yourself to your future. It can keep you from ever being able to believe that you have it made; that you have nothing to worry about; that you can borrow money and expect to pay it back; that you can afford a little frivolity, a little jocularity; that you can take a vacation; that you can enjoy yourself and have a good time, that God doesn’t hold it against you if you laugh.

Our life experience is the truest truth we know. Our life experience is how it is! We have lived it; we have seen it with our own eyes; we know what we are talking about. You cannot tell us anything our lives haven’t prepared us to hear. It is a mistake to think that we hear with our ears, that we see with our eyes. We hear with our lives, we see what our lives have shown us to be true.

What would you tell the couple in American Gothic to break the spell cast by their lives, wake them up, and restore them to life? What would you tell them to put a light in their eyes and a smile on their faces? What would you tell them to relieve them of their burden and enable them to step freely and unrepressed into the rest of their days? What Good News of Great Joy would it take to bring them alive?

“To you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”? Would that do it? Do you think they haven’t heard that, every Christmas, for as long as they have lived? There is a remarkable disconnect between what we know with our heads and what we know with our lives. “To you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” “The moon is 186,000 miles away.” Both of those statements mean roughly the same thing to the couple in American Gothic. The truth that directs their lives was formed in the heat of their experience with life. Tell them anything, it won’t change their minds, or their lives. If you were going to change their lives, you would have to ask their permission. You would have to ask them to look at their lives and decide if their lives were satisfactory. Are they good enough lives? Good enough for whom? Good enough for them. Are their lives good enough for them?

We don’t need the old constructs about sin, and Satan, and death, and hell, and the wrath of God, and grace, and forgiveness, and the sacrificial death of Jesus, and our having to believe in it all, and “straighten up and fly right,” in order to atone for our sins and square things with God We only need to clarify for ourselves what it means to live well. We only need to know who and how we want to be.

We only need to recognize Christmas as the symbolic birthing of our souls. Never mind what has gone before. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come. Christmas is the reminder of the ever-present possibility of newness. We gather at the manger to behold the Christ we have the capacity to be.

Do you think the development of the Christ is accidental? That the Christ just grows up as we grew up, without meaning anything with his life, bouncing from one thing to another, playing baseball, and basketball, and football, trying a little pot, perhaps, or smoking cigarettes behind the barn, making out in the back seat of a 55 Chevy, wondering about college and a career, being drafted, going to Nam, coming home to drift through the west and travel to the far east to find himself, getting married, settling down… With no intention anywhere? With no guiding vision, no centering core, no grounding focus, no idea on earth of who and how to be?

Jesus did not have to be the Christ, you know, any more than the couple in American Gothic had to be who they were. Where do you think the intention, the vision, the core, the focus, the idea of the Christ come from? From Mary? From Joseph? From the local rabbi? From the outside? Do you think you can change the couple in American Gothic from the outside? By threatening them with hell? By punishing them severely for not smiling? By yelling loudly at them to lighten up and have a little fun? Do you think you can pull the Christ out of Jesus, or force the Christ into Jesus, from the outside? Well. If not with them, why with you, why with me, why with us? Why do we think we need to be compelled to be who we need to be from the outside? Why do we think we need to be beaten, and molded, and shaped, and formed, and preached, and lectured into somebody else’s idea of who we ought to be?

Come to the manger. Look at the child. How will that child become the Christ? Where will the intention, the vision, the core, the focus, the idea come from? It is entirely up to the child. What does he want? Who decides that for him? He decides it for himself. How does he want to live? Who does he want to be? Who decides that for him? He decides it for himself. The Christ becomes the Christ by intending to be the Christ—by envisioning Christ-like-ness and living to align himself with the vision. Who sets that goal for him? He sets it for himself. As with Jesus, so with us.

We come to the manger to behold our soul aborning. What happens next is up to us. Who do we want to be? How do we want to live? What would it take for us to be truly, deeply, completely, absolutely satisfied with our lives? We have to know. To avoid becoming the couple in American Gothic, we have to know. To become the Christ, we have to know. The spiritual task is envisioning the self—the Christ—we are built to be and taking up the work of aligning ourselves with the vision.

It does not matter what has gone on before. “To you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Every day is Christmas day. Every day we are saved by the vision we serve of the Christ. Every day we are put back on track by the vision. Every day we begin again to become the Christ.

The future is more important than the past. Our work is to become more than we have been. To be more like we ought to be than we are. And who says who we ought to be? We do. We decide for ourselves who and how we shall become. Our future is up to us. And so, we have to decide who the Christ should be and live to effect the vision. Without living intentionally toward the vision of who and how we ought to be, we become who our lives make it easy to be. We take the path of least resistance to Eldon, Iowa and take our place in the long line of those waiting to pose for the next rendition of American Gothic.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

11/27/05, Sermon

Julie Strope (the Associate Minister) greeted me on Monday with, “We begin a new season (of the church year) on Sunday.” Well, it’s hard to wring new out of a cycle. Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Advent, and so on, as year succeeds to year. We can call it new if we want to, but nothing changes. Take a look around. It looks like we have stepped back in time. Things are almost exactly what they were last year on the First Sunday in Advent. Things are this way every year at this time. We ring in the new with the same old same old. What are we thinking? Who are we kidding?

We take Advent, and really, the whole Christmas experience, and freeze it in place, mold it in concrete, chisel it in stone, keeping it carefully the same forever. What is that all about? Nostalgia? We don’t want anything to change from the way we remember it when we were young? Sentimentality? We like to be reminded of a gentler, simpler time? A time when a Coke was a Coke? A time when we were wrapped in the warmth of love and happiness, and hope for the future? What do we think hope is about?

It’s an interesting thing about hope. Hope hopes for what is not, perhaps, for what has never been. Advent and Christmas are sometimes described as the season of hope, yet, we don’t want anything to change. We want things to be different without anything changing. Advent—anticipation, hope—forces us to confront the need for things to change and the desire for things to stay the same. Something has to go. The desire for things to stay the same seems to have the advantage.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has an office on the denomination level for New Church Development. The churches which the office develops aren’t new. Only the buildings are new. Only the area of town is different. The churches that are developed are just like every other church. How new can a “new church” be? Not very.

One of the motto’s of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is “Reformed, Always Reforming.” It’s a catchy phrase. It rolls right off the tongue. Sounds good. But, the truth is, as Bill Hamilton points out, there hasn’t been a fresh idea about God in two thousand years. Our best theologians in our best seminaries are simply rehashing the old hash. Serving up serving after serving of the old, old story. We like to say we are “always reforming,” but it’s ho-hum, heard it before, and there is nothing new under the sun.

Where would we go for something really, wildly, radically, unnervingly new? Here we are at Advent, again, stuck in the middle of the same old story as it carries us to the manger, and then to the cross, and then to the empty tomb, and then back to the manger. Our problem is how to break the cycle. We begin to do that by thinking about what we are doing. What are we doing? What are we doing going to the manger, again? What are we doing singing, “O Come, O Come, Emanuel,” again? And, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” again? We stand around, singing, hoping, waiting, always waiting, for what, exactly?

We keep going to the manger and waiting for Emanuel, but the waiting is over! Jesus talked about the harvest being plentiful but the laborers few, and the angel at the ascension asked the disciples what they were looking for when there was work to be done, or words to that effect.
“Here I am! Send me!” How about that for an Advent hymn? Why don’t we understand Advent as our stepping forth into the world? As our becoming? As our unveiling? As our bursting forth? With that perspective in hand, we wouldn’t be waiting eternally again for another year. We would be waking up, moving about and actually doing something—aligning ourselves with that which is deepest, best, and truest about us, and living so as to exhibit that in each moment of our lives. Advent then would be about the unfolding, the emerging, the creation, the becoming of the self we are built to be. It would be about our particular interpretation and expression of the qualities of God in our lives, in the way we alone could set those qualities loose in the world.

Love, joy, peace, patience—you know them as well as I do—kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-discipline, not to mention compassion, and hospitality, and grace, and the like. Those are the qualities that we are to bring to life in the world, and we are all going to do these things differently. We aren’t going to love the same way, or exhibit peace the same way. Bit, it is all going to be beautiful with each of us out there, and in here, bringing God to life as well as we can—as only we can—in each moment of our lives. Boom!—as John Madden would say. That’s Advent! Bringing God to life here and now is Advent.

We don’t come here, in this place, at this time of year, to talk, again, about something that happened two thousand years ago. We come here to remind ourselves to get cracking, because we have something to bring to life in the world. We aren’t waiting on Emanuel! Emanuel is waiting on us! Emanuel is wondering what we are waiting on!

Remember the Angel’s word at the empty tomb. Don’t be standing around here looking for Jesus. He’s gone before you into Galilee. If you hurry, you may catch him. If we hurry, we still might. If we hurry and wake up, and realize that what we seek, that what we wait for, isn’t coming to us from out there, but it is in here, within us, waiting to be given expression, waiting to come to life, waiting to bloom in Galilee and all the world. We wait for what is waiting for us. We are what we are waiting for. How crazy is that?

We are waiting for Jesus, when you’re Jesus, I’m Jesus, we’re all Jesus. We are Emmanuel! We are the Messiah! We are the Anointed One! We have a little bit of God tucked away inside of us waiting to be given a shot at life, at doing it right, at doing it the way it ought to be done, at doing it as only we can do it. The only reason we might even consider gathering at the manger once a year to peer down at sweet little Jesus boy is to remember that, as with Jesus, so with us.

Desmond Tutu said it as well as it can be said at the recent Bryan Lecture: “You and I are created by God to be like God. We each of us have a God-space within us.” There is that which is of God within each one of us, and the spiritual task is clearing the path to the core, the genius, the wonder that is of God within us, so that it, not only shines through, not only comes to light, but also comes to life in our lives. We are those in the wilderness, clearing the path of God, preparing the way of the Lord, by living in ways which evidence God to those about us, and the wilderness is within us!

We don’t go to the manger to see Jesus. We go to the manger to see ourselves, to see us, to see what we are capable of, to remember that which is of God within us. Last week, Dave Fox, and this morning Jim Ritchey, provided us with a glimpse of that which is of God within him, with the graciousness, kindness, creativity, imagination, and subtle elegance which he exhibited in sharing his talent and his mastery of the art of music with us. It was, he is, a beautiful, wonderful gift unto us. And I told you then, and I’m telling you now, as it is with him, so it is with us.

We cannot do music the way Dave, the way Jim, does music, but we have the capacity to shine before others in our lives the way they shine before us in theirs. We have the gift of us to share with the world. And, when we dismiss our gift, our genius, our capacity to grace the world with the beauty and wonder of that which we bring to life in ourselves, other people, and the world around us; when we discount ourselves and refuse to consider that we have a gift, a genius, as surely as the baby in the manger did, we disparage that which is of God within us, and live in denial of the truth we were born to reveal.

This is the thing: The revealed truth of God does not come in the form of pronouncements, or concepts, or doctrines, or explanations. It comes in the form of a baby in a manger; in the form of a Samaritan exhibiting the goodness of compassion to a Jew; in the form of a father welcoming home his prodigal son; in the form of kindness extended, and grace expressed, and love conveyed. The revealed truth of God comes to us, and flows from us, in the form of experiences which disclose the heart of God for all to see. That heart beats within each of us. We only have to believe it, and begin living in ways that exhibit it, to know that it is so. The hope of Advent is precisely that we will wake up to the fact that there is that which is of God within us, and that if we don’t live so as to align ourselves with it and express it in our lives, it will die unknown. We simply cannot allow that to happen. We cannot forsake our birthright. We cannot refuse to be ourselves.

The return to Advent represents the continuing saga of the unfolding, the emerging, of us in the world. It reminds us again of the importance of bringing to life that which is of God within us. We need to remember that at least once a year!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


If you are a rancher in Wyoming, say, or Montana, what keeps you going? The ranch, right? You live to serve the ranch, and the various aspects that make up the ranch. You live to serve the cattle, and the horses, and the fences. You go to keep it going. It all depends on you.

Well, when you move away from the ranch, and take up residence in the Big City, doesn’t matter which one, all that changes. Nothing much there depends on you. If you don’t show up for work, they will find someone to replace you. If you don’t drop by the coffee shop, they will sell your coffee to someone else. You were essential to the ranch. You are expendable in the city.
Sandra Day O’Conner, the Supreme Court Justice, was reflecting on her importance as a judge after she announced her retirement. “Someone once told me,” she said, “that the amount of real difference you make in your life is the amount of difference your finger makes in a cup of water after you pull it out.” That’s a city girl talking. If she had spent her days on the ranch, working cattle, shoeing horses, mending fences, hauling hay, she would have a different take on things. No one notices you in the city. They can’t get along without you on the ranch. Our perspective is setting-dependent. If we want to see things differently, we are going to have to move around. If we want to see things differently, we are going to have to do things differently. We’re going to have to shoe horses, for instance.

And we cannot take the way we see things for the way things are. We can’t be going over into despair and depression because “nothing we do matters.” We would feel differently if we had a few cows counting on us to be fed, or milked. The surest cure for depression is to buy a cow, and keep her in the kitchen. You cannot be depressed with a cow in the kitchen. If you don’t believe me, ask around. See how many depressed people you find with cows in their kitchens.

To keep going, we have to have something to keep us going. There has to be something in our lives bigger than we are. A cow is definitely bigger than we are. So is a ranch. To keep going, we have to have attachments—essential attachments—to things and people beyond ourselves. We have to have crucial dependencies—the cows upon us, and us upon the cows. Self-sufficiency and independence will curl us up and cut us off from all that is good and worthy. There never was a rancher who didn’t need the ranch as much as the ranch needed her, or him.

Of course, it isn’t really as simple as buying a cow or owning a ranch. And, I don’t mean to make light of those of you who have struggled with depression throughout your lives. Having to clean up after a cow in the kitchen would depress Polly Anna. There have been plenty of depressed ranchers over time. There have been ranchers who didn’t want to get up and do that any more. The key is not in the cow. The key is in understanding there is no key. We are going to feel like staying in bed from time to time. We are going to feel badly about our lives. It’s going to seem like it’s going nowhere; like we are wasting our time; like there is no point to any of it. Enthusiasm for living comes and goes. And there are too many factors involved in that coming and going to isolate (or even count) them.

When it feels like we are just going through the motions, it is essential that we continue to go through the motions. When our heart isn’t in it, when we wonder what’s the point; when we can’t get past the questions, “So what? Who cares? Why try? What difference does it make?”; when we wish we could just quit; it’s critical that we continue doing the best we can do even when it makes no sense and we don’t want to. We have to know that enthusiasm for living comes and goes. We have to know that living well doesn’t depend upon how we feel about our lives. Going through the motions keeps us going. And, that is enough.

If we are going to believe anything, we have to believe it is enough to keep going. Its value will be borne out over time. In the meantime, keep going. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. One day at a time. Easy does it. Here and now. Breathe in, breathe out. Plug away. Do what needs to be done and don’t worry about motive. Live through the mood and it will lift with time. All feelings change eventually.

When you find yourself in a place in your life where you just don’t care about anything, add that to your list of things you don’t care about--don’t care about not caring. Don’t invest not-caring with more importance than you invest in anything else. Don’t become so suddenly seized with the realization of not-caring that you begin to care about it to the exclusion of everything else—that you begin to love not-caring, and serve not-caring, and live your life not-caring because your identity is suddenly centered on the realization that you don’t care, can’t care, won’t care.

When you find yourself not-caring, believe in the cow anyway. Believe in the importance of feeding the cow, anyway. Do right by the cow, whether you care about the cow or not. Don’t let caring about the cow be the determining factor in how well you care for the cow. You can care for the cow, the way the cow ought to be cared for, without caring about the cow. You may not want to, but you can. What you do, and how well you do it, doesn’t depend upon what you feel like doing, or on what you want to do.

Enthusiasm for life comes and goes. Enthusiasm for the tasks of life comes and goes. Understand that well. Let come what’s coming, and let go what’s going, and live in the moment to the best of your ability, doing right by the moment, offering the moment what it needs, being good for the moment, no matter what. And, do it again in the next moment. And, watch your feelings for the moment, your feelings about the moment, come and go. You can live well regardless of how you feel. The cow doesn’t care whether you care about feeding the cow. If you do right by the cow, the cow will do right by you.