Monday, October 31, 2005

10/30/05, Sermon

It’s going a lot better than I feel like it is. At least, on a personal level. Always has. Always will. I take that to be a reflection of the absence of emotional safety and security in my childhood and youth. It was not safe to be me during the early years. It was not as unsafe as it is could have been, but it was unsafe enough. It was also safe enough.

It was safe enough for me to be relatively sane and apparently normal. I can “meet the public,” pay my bills, keep my appointments, and fulfill my duties and obligations. It was unsafe enough for me to learn how to be unsafe. I don’t know a thing about being safe, unguarded, not watching. Even when I’m safe, I’m sure it’s a deception of some sort. I know in my bones that you can’t trust anything. Everything is a potential hazard. It’s really all out to get you. Life is an unsafe place to be.

That’s the orientation I developed as a child. It’s practically impossible to out-grow your upbringing. All I have managed to date is to be aware of it, and to know that I’m going to put myself at risk (by calling the Orthodox concept of God too shallow to splash, for example)—or will think that I am at risk, whether I am or not—because I know more about being unsafe than about being safe; because I’m more comfortable figuring out how to avoid danger, or respond to it, than living a life that is free of danger.

Of course, that’s crazy. And, it’s real. Childhood sets us up for the rest of our lives. Just try to live as though your childhood wasn’t your childhood. Just try to compensate appropriately for never having had a good enough childhood. We live out the lessons learned in childhood all our lives long.

There are children who are severely abused physically, emotionally, who never have a place of any kind where they are safe, where they belong, who grow up feeling like they don’t belong anywhere. Who can’t go into a 7/11 without thinking someone is going to tell them to leave because their kind has no business being there. They feel as though they are aliens from another planet, with green fur and red eyes, pretending to be human, but standing out somehow as fundamentally, irrevocably, wrong, and never fitting in. They survive by being invisible. If anyone sees them as they are, they will be asked to leave. Explaining to them that this isn’t the case will not make them feel differently. If you try to give them experiences to the contrary, they will think it is a trick. They know what the deal really is. It was borne out too often, too long, in their childhood and youth. They cannot live as though they don’t know what they know.

I don’t know what you know that isn’t, or is no longer, so, but I know the early lessons are hard to set aside. It helps to have supportive relationships with the right kind of people, who understand that we walk with a limp for very good reasons, and who don’t try to fix us, or make us like they are. But, who can remind us, with warmth and healthy laughter, that things are going a lot better than we feel like they are, and we are doing much better than we think.

When we baptize babies, as we did this morning, we promise, in behalf of all congregations everywhere, to do right by the child. We promise to provide the kind of environment that child needs all its life long to be healthy, and whole, and thoroughly capable of living life to the fullest. We promise to give that child the right kind of help all along the way. It is a promise that carries over from the children we baptize to all the adults who find their way into our presence. We promise to be the kind of help that help is all about. We promise to be good company.

In the presence of the right kind of company, we are quite capable of living in the tension of contrary truths. We can be terrified and know there is nothing to fear. One doesn’t cancel out the other. Both are true at the same time. We can feel as though we don’t belong, and know that we own the company and they can’t fire us, or ask us to leave. “This” is true, and “that” is true as well. Making room for contrary truths allows us to live with a foot in two worlds, the world of our past and the world of our present.

To say “That was then, this is now,” doesn’t quite get it. “This” doesn’t cancel out “that.” It would be more accurate to say, “This is now because that was then,” with the “this” of the “now” being the fact of the two worlds, and not just our personal safety in the present moment of our lives. The “then” impacts the “now.” This is the karmatic influence of past on present and future. We never get entirely “over” our past. Where we are is always a reflection of where we have been. We carry our past with us wherever we go. Recognizing that means accommodating ourselves to the two worlds, to the world of what is true, and to the world of what is also true. We are afraid, and we have nothing to fear.

And, it helps to be able to say as much to those who can understand. Nothing has quite the healing power of being able to say how it is with us, and how it also is. We may not have invented language to enable us to cope with the emotional impact of life, but it’s a good spin-off. Life is too much to bear unsaid. We lighten our load by saying how heavy it is. We feel better about our lives by saying quite specifically and completely what we feel so bad about. I have no idea how it works. It sounds as magical as, as, prayer.

We feel better when we pray. Prayer is where we say who we are, and how it is with us, and what we think we need. It is therapeutic to pray. It is not accidental, I think, that we began seeing psychotherapists at the time the culture began to drift away from the idea of a personal God who answers prayer. We have to say what we have to say to somebody who cares, or seems to. We cannot bear our lives alone.

The primary human need is for the company of the right kind of people. Good company. If you are going to aim for anything, aim to be good company. Be the kind of person the world is dying for. If you are going to give me anything, give me caring presence with no strings attached. Unconditional positive regard. The benefit of the doubt. Benevolent attentiveness. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-discipline. Create that kind of atmosphere, and welcome me there. I’ll be glad to take you up on your offer. So will the rest of the world.

Creating this kind of atmosphere is one of our primary tasks. It may be our only task. We come together to form ourselves into the kind of place, and the kind of people, that can save the world—that can save the world by listening to the world—by listening to one another, and all others, in a way that allows us to hear ourselves; that enables us to know what is true, and what is also true, and to live with a foot in both places.

We do not come together to rehash the doctrines; to hypnotize ourselves into believing what we believe must be believed in order to please God and get to heaven when we die; to read from the script and pass along what has been handed to us, without editorial comment or alteration. It is instructive, I think, that the Jews no longer sacrifice bulls; that they no longer have a temple; and that they have no idea of what happened to the Arc of the Covenant. All of those things were, at one time, central to their identity as the chosen people of God and to their life as a nation, and they all have disappeared from their repertoire as a community of faith. Things come, and things go. Ideas evolve, change, transform, fade, dissolve, disappear. We out-grow some things and grow into other things. And, some things stay the same forever.

The idea that God is love, and that we are called to be as God is by being loving, belongs to this last category. It is an “eternal idea.” It is with us for the duration. The essential things, the “eternal things,” are, and always will be, things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, goodness, gentleness, and self-discipline.” Things like compassion and acceptance and understanding. Things like grace, mercy, and peace. But, the other things are like the Temple and the sacrificial slaughter of goats and bulls.

We have long understood that we do not have to mindlessly embrace the ideas of the verbal inspiration, and literal interpretation, of scripture. Presbyterians have quietly placed John Calvin’s seminal work Predestination in the burning barrel. And, we are moving away from referring to God as “he” and “him,” and are increasingly less likely to think of God as “the man upstairs.” We do not gather here unthinkingly to maintain the old ways of thinking about God; to hear again what we have always heard; and to walk slowly in a pious circle until Jesus comes. We gather here to form ourselves into the kind of people and the kind of place that save the world.

The work of the church is the salvation of the world. That salvation is effected, not by telling the world about Jesus so much as by living in the world as Jesus—by being Jesus in the world. We are as Jesus was, we are as God is, when we live so as to exhibit and express those wonderful old qualities and values of God in the land; when we live to be good company; when we live to make wherever we are the kind of place others need to live the best life they are capable of living. May we be who we are needed to be in each moment of life. Amen. Let it be so!

Friday, October 28, 2005


There are no short cuts on the spiritual path. To make the most of the journey, we have to process the trip. We have to pause and reflect. We have to talk about what’s happening, and how it impacts us, and what we are doing in response, and how well that’s working. We have to live as slowly as possible if we hope to live well. No spiritual master ever lived on the run. None of the saints rushed from one thing to the next. They all took their time. They sat for long periods doing nothing. They had quiet routines. They relished silence. We cannot have their outlook, insight, and wisdom with our approach to life. Slowing down is the fastest way spiritual growth. Slowing down and speaking up.

We have to say how it is. We have to look in order to see. We have to listen in order to hear. And, we have to speak in order to know what we have to say. What is happening in our lives? How do we feel about that? What do we need to hear that we are not hearing? What do we need to attend that we are ignoring?

Awareness is the spiritual path. What needs our awareness now? What are we choosing to not notice? How can we know if we don’t think about it? If we don’t open ourselves to our physical/emotional response to the experience of being alive? What is the headache saying? What is the backache communicating? What is up with that tightness in our stomach? The trick is to ask the aches and the tightness what is going on. And listen to the reply.

It only sounds weird because we live in the culture of the west and think of our bodies as machines to transport “us” where “we” are going. Things “we” use to get about. Other cultures know that our bodies know more than “we” do. Other cultures know that “we” don’t live in “our” heads. We are one with our bodies, and have to remove the division the culture implants if we hope to be whole. We do that by listening to our bodies, but that takes time. We are in a hurry. We want someone to shrink the spiritual journey to a short list of rules, or pithy little phrases, to remind us what it’s all about as we run through the day. But we are living at odds with what life requires, and can only be spiritual to the extent that we “stop, look, and listen.”


Of course, prayer works. Prayer works the way horoscopes work, the way astrology works. Prayer works the way the I Ching works, the way Ouija Boards work, the way reading tea leaves, and casting lots, and tossing bones work. Prayer works the way voodoo dolls and self-hypnosis work. All these things work. But none of them can reduce the price of gas. Or repair a cavity.

Beyond “working,” we have to consider the matter of prayer’s influence. Joseph Campbell said, “The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” What does the influence of a praying person do? Anything? Does prayer have an influence? Look with me at prayer as a means of exerting our will upon the events and circumstances of our lives. Can we will the future to be different in any respect from what it would have been apart from the influence of our will?

There is a claim, untested and unsubstantiated, so far as I know, floating about that certain forms of group meditation, with the intentional orientation of peace and compassion, have the effect of reducing the crime rate in the cities where the meditators meditate. It leads me to wonder what the geographical limit of their influence might be. And, what the minimum number of group participants is required to impact the crime rate. Do we have a greater influence if we pray together than if we pray apart? Is there a certain form our prayers must take in order to be optimally influential? A certain amount of time spent praying? A particular time to pray? Are morning prayers more influential than evening prayers? Are the prayers of grizzled veterans in the art more influential than those of novices?

I believe we feel better when we pray. I expect we live better as well. Prayer influences those who pray on a feeling, living, level. And, that positions us to influence the world. Whether prayer itself is influential is another matter. If a butterfly just thought about moving its wings, would that effect weather patterns on the other side of the world? It does seem to me that history bears out the emergence of similar ideas at about the same time in widely separated locations. Darwin wasn’t alone with the notion of evolution, for example.

And we are, I assume, familiar with the concept of “the spirit of place.” Some places have a “mood” about them which sets them quite apart from other places. Something about us senses when we step onto “holy ground,” or enter into “sacred space.” And, the animals, you will remember, got out of the way of the tsunami. We seem capable of knowing more than we know how we know. It is not too much of a jump to think that prayer can serve to focus the power, the energy, of attention in a way that is influential in the world of normal, apparent, reality.

The major fault I find with prayer and praying is the flippancy with which we engage in the practice, or withhold ourselves from it. Either way, we fail to honor prayer. We pray without respect. Or, we refuse to pray out of contempt for the very idea. We use prayer to open meetings, and to begin meals, and to start football games. Prayer never keeps us from having the meeting, eating the meal, or playing the game. It is as though we are saying, “Here is what we are going to do, let’s ask God to bless us as we do it.” We limit the possibility of influence by refusing to be influenced ourselves. We know what we want, and we want God to give it to us. And, just to make sure the Big Guy doesn’t get offended, we close by saying, “Oh, and your will be done.” We go through the entire prayer without seeking a will other than our own, and then, in passing, at the end, we say, “Your will be done.” It cheapens the entire enterprise.

Prayer is a holy communion. It is the opening of the self to the self and to all that is beyond the self. It is the path of awareness. We cannot pray if we will not pray attentively. Prayer is listening as much as it is speaking. We don’t just call up God and place and order. Prayer is God talking to God through us. God listening to God through us. Prayer is the mechanism by which consciousness expands, deepens, emerges, unfolds, develops. The words we use to pray are inconsequential. The quality of our attention is everything. When we get to the place of attention without words, we won’t have to ask about the nature of prayer or the influence of prayer. But, we cannot get there quickly. We cannot be in a hurry and pray. There are, after all, no short cuts on the spiritual path.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


I would like to pick a place and go wait there for a photo to come along, and stay there as long as it took to take all the photos I wanted to take, and then move on to the next place, and do it again. And, have you bring me coffee and pastries while I waited. Well, not pastries. I’m no longer eating pastries. It’s part of my plan to lose 25 pounds by Christmas. I’ve already lost 18. Nothing white, nothing sweet. Wine and half-and-half don’t count. Seven pounds to go. Then, the plan will be to keep it off for next Christmas.

I’m also walking 3 or more miles a day. Every day. I feel so righteous. And, if you brought me a pastry, I would decline. Now, there have been people in my life who would take it personally, and pout, if they brought me a pastry and I declined, particularly if they baked the pastry themselves, from scratch. There have been people in my life who have been more interested in being appreciated for baking pastries from scratch than in being helpful. The right kind of help is hard to find.

What is necessary, needed? What is helpful? Those are the questions. We cannot just give people what we want them to have. What is necessary, needed, helpful? In order to answer the questions, we have to see and hear. In order to see and hear, we have to look and listen. Anew, in every moment. We have to pay attention.

That’s about the hardest work there is, paying attention. Being aware. Being mindful. Being in touch, tuned in. Noticing. Knowing. We have to stand apart from ourselves to see things as they are; to see what is, and what also is; to apprehend what is apparent, and what is concealed; to perceive reality on all levels at once. That’s the Master’s trick. Everything flows from seeing, knowing, apprehending, understanding. And, that’s the goal—to see, know, apprehend, understand. To “see, know, apprehend, understand” what? To see, know, apprehend, understand what is before us—what is with us and within us—in every moment.

If you are going to be anything, be aware; be open to your experience; be perceptive; be present and awake. Subtlety is everywhere. Nuance. Change. Things can look the same, can appear to be what they have always been, and be very different. Can you spot the differences? Don’t look and think you see. Look! See! Listen! Hear! And, do it again in the next moment. Sustain the practice for a life-time. You will transform the world.


Coincidental. Coincidence. Coincide. These are the words that describe the ground of our experience. Everything is a marvelous, or not so marvelous, coincidence. Nothing is planned, predestined, determined. There is no reason for anything. It’s all accidental, coincidental. We call coincidence “Providence.” But, it’s strictly coincidence. That’s all there is.

Nothing has to be what it is. Everything is unfolding, emerging, becoming what it is according to its own rhythms, and opportunities, and interests, and options, and bumping into everything else, and being impacted, influenced, by the confluence of chance and timing, for better or for worse, altering its course and setting up its encounter with the next thing.

Our lives are a string of coincidences, which our brains form into patterns and use for its, for our, own ends. “Providence” is what our brains do with coincidence. We see, we interpret, coincidence as providential. And give ourselves goose bumps.

Out of all the things that happen to us, we select those that suit our purpose and ascribe meaning to them. Our lives are meaningful when we live in light of particular goal, with a particular direction and intention in mind. The things that happen either carry us forward, or block our path, or influence us in another direction. We respond by redoubling our efforts and forcing our way, or by changing our minds and “going with the flow,” or by quitting in hopelessness and despair. But, whatever happens in our lives, whatever we do with our lives, is a function of our brain responding to our particular opportunities and options. Can we see what is before us and make the most of our circumstances?

So much comes down to being in the right place at the right time—and realizing it, and taking advantage of it. Ansel Adams could never have set out to be Ansel Adams. He could only intend to photograph the scenes he loved in ways that he liked. It took forces beyond Ansel Adams—the ecological movement that used his photos to further its cause—to propel him to photographic stardom. And, being able to use one’s contacts within the movement to get one’s photos used by the movement is as important a skill as taking quality photographs—and both skills may be necessary in taking full advantage of “time and chance.” But, we cannot dial up “time and chance,” and place an order.

On the other hand, every moment is the right time and the right place for something. Maybe it’s just a really good cup of coffee. Don’t miss the coffee looking for the golden ring. Be aware of what is in the moment with you. Rock the grandchild. Walk the dog. Wonder is coinciding with your present. You only have to be open to it to know that it is so. Receive it, and be glad!

Monday, October 24, 2005

10/23/05, Sermon

Saving realizations enable us to get up and do what needs to be done. Saving realizations keep anything from being too much trouble, and enable us to give ourselves unceasingly to the service of the good. Saving realizations restore us to the right order of things: Right Thinking, Right Living, Right Doing, Right Being; Harmony of being within and without; in tune with our lives, at one with the universe; God, neighbor, self—one thing; Thou art that; This is now.

The saving realization is that we cannot hurry the time of our own unfolding, our own emerging, as who we are in the world. “When the flower opens, the bees gather.” “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” In the heart of darkness, the way unfolds. When our eyes adjust to the “dark night of the soul,” we see the faint glimmer of the light of life. The stream can be trusted to find its own path down the hillside.

The saving realization is that it is never too late to begin living what remains of the life that is ours to live. It is never too late to begin living in ways that are integral to, and aligned with, that which is deepest, best, and truest about us. It is never too late to begin being true to ourselves within the context and circumstances of our lives. It is never too late to do right by ourselves, and right by one another. It is never too late to begin right now, being who we are in right relationship with one another and all others.

The saving realization is that we have something to give; that there is more to us than meets the eye; that we have more of the gift with each giving. The saving realization is that keeping things carefully as they are is death, and allowing, assisting, enabling things to become what they need to be is life; that exploration and accommodation are more important for life than indoctrination and preservation; that nothing will be what it is; that everything is becoming what it is.

The saving realization is that God waits with us, unfolds with us, emerges with us. The saving realization is that God becomes God through us in the world when we become ourselves in right relationship with other selves. Right Living, Right Thinking, Right Doing, Right Being brings God to life in our lives and in the world.

The saving realization is that it is never any more difficult than realizing what we have always known; than remembering what we have forgotten; than returning to what we have abandoned. It was all there, and it is still all there. It is only a matter of being restored to the self we have always been. At the end of our rope, we only have to change our minds about what is important in order to be healed, and whole, and saved, and well.

The saving realization is that we are never more than a short little perspective shift away from being in the center of our lives, from Right Living; Right Thinking; Right Doing; Right Being. When we are off center, out of synch, out of alignment, disconnected, out of the flow, unfocused, lost, disoriented, anxiety ridden, and at the end of our rope, we are only a short little perspective shift away from the heart of all that is good, and right, beautiful and true. What do we need to hear to find the center? What do we need to see? Listen! Look!

We are the man wearing his hat, looking for his hat! We are the woman holding her keys, looking for her keys! We are the fish swimming in the water wondering what water is! We only have to wake up to know that it is so. Let the panic go. Listen! Look! Listen for what? Look for what? Just listen! Just look! Just know how it is with you, and how it also is. Just wait. Just see. Just wait and see. It is only a matter of waking up to know that it is so.

How to wake up is the question. Pay attention to what is happening now, and to what is also happening, is the answer. We wake up when we see what is happening, and what is also happening. We wake up when we say how it is with us, and how it also is with us. We wake up when we say how it is, and how it also is, and how that impacts us, and how we respond to it. It is the process of articulating our present experience that is the awakening force in our lives. As we say how it is, we see how it is, and our perspective cannot shift until we see.

The saving realization is that “this” is not all there is. The saving realization is that whatever we say about “this” is not all that can be said. Whatever we say can be said differently. And, in saying it differently, we see it differently, and our perspective shifts, and things change. The perspective shift is the heart of salvation. We are never more than a slight perspective shift away from hope, and encouragement, and life, and light, and peace. It’s all in how we see things. It’s all in what we say about what we see. It’s all in what we tell ourselves about how it is with us. It’s all in being aware of what we are telling ourselves and in being aware of what else there is to say.

Victor Frankl observed the resilience of hope in a death camp setting in Hitler Germany. Some people despaired and gave up. Some people embraced what could be embraced of the good, and lived lives of hope and meaning in the heart of hopelessness and meaninglessness, exhibiting grace and extending compassion to their fellow prisoners, and bringing life to life in the camp. Whether you belonged to one group or the other depended upon what you told yourself about your experience; depended upon how you saw it; depended upon what you said about what you saw; depended upon what else you saw; upon what else you said.

Our lives are replete with “existential pain,” with the pain of existence. It hurts just to be alive. And, what hurts so much about being alive is that things don’t go our way. And, when they do go our way, we aren’t as happy about that as you’d think we would be. When we get our way it isn’t enough, which is enough to make us really crazy and depressed. We don’t know what we want. Nothing we think we want seems to be it. We don’t know what it would take, and we hate it all. How’s that for a situation? Is there any wonder that we are the most medicated nation on earth in the history of the earth? We hate our lives, and have to have drugs, legal and illegal, just to keep going.

It is as though we are prisoners in a death camp without guards and fences, without depravation and ovens. With all of those things removed, and with the freedom to go where we want to go and do what we want to do, we are still separated from rich, full and satisfying lives. And, we don’t know how to get there, and we are running out of time. Of course, overstatement is what I do best. However, I do catch a sense of uneasiness about us, as a culture, that borders occasionally on panic, stemming from what seems to me to be a quasi-conscious realization that this isn’t it and we don’t know where to find it. And, we attempt to calm ourselves with some variety of addiction, or despair of ever grabbing the golden ring and living happily ever after.

The saving realization is that “it” isn’t “out there” to be “grabbed,” or “achieved,” or “acquired,” or “amassed” and stored away. The “philosopher’s stone” is “in here.” The magical source of transformation is within. We, WE, have the power to turn base metal into precious stone. To turn our old, sorry, boring, hum-drum, going nowhere, doing nothing lives into marvelous, magnificent sources of life, and light, and beauty, and goodness, and peace. We are never more than one slight perspective shift from having it made.

And having it made is being in possession of a point of view that knows the importance of doing what you love; of being who you are; of being true to yourself within the context and circumstances of your life; of being true to yourself in loving relationship with other selves; of being true to yourself while being the right kind of person in the service of the good; of being alert to the needs of the moment and to the particular gifts you bring to the moment; of being true to yourself while offering what the moment needs out of your store of gifts, and interests, and aptitudes, and abilities; of being YOU in loving relationship with other people and all of life.

Having it made is living so as to exhibit the qualities and characteristics of God in the tiniest details of our lives. Having it made is knowing there are no throw-away moments; no moments in which we are excused from the tasks of kindness, and gentleness, and compassion, and generosity, and hospitality, and awareness, and patience, and mercy, and all the other wonderful old necessary and essential ways of being with one another in the world. Having it made is waking up to the saving realization that “it” isn’t about what we find, or get, or gather to ourselves, but about who we show ourselves to be through the process of living our lives.

The prisoners who saw the camps as places to exhibit compassion, grace, mercy and peace—as opportunities to experience and express as much good as could be experienced and expressed—had quite different lives than the prisoners who saw the camps as closing them off from any possibility of the good. It makes a difference whether we see the world as an oyster and our lives as the search for the pearl, or whether we see ourselves as the pearl and our lives as the opportunity to enrich the world.

Friday, October 21, 2005


If we think of prayer as an altered state of consciousness, we don’t have to think of it as contact with the Big Guy, who takes our orders and tells us he will see what he can do. An altered state of consciousness can be a religious experience. Peyote, for example, can expand, or deepen, depending on your preference of direction, whether you want to go out, or down, our capacity for sensory input and reception. We can achieve similar results with some varieties of meditation. With a little effort, we can move beyond the world of normal, apparent reality and encounter what we are wont to think of as transcendence.

What we are moving beyond are the filters that keep us from experiencing sensory overload. At any moment, we are capable of perceiving an unmanageable amount of sensory experience. With the right kind of receivers we can pick up television and radio transmissions from around the world, without the advantage of a tuner on the receivers, all those signals come in as one signal. We couldn’t begin to make sense of it. Without volume control, or an on/off switch, we would have to leave the room. Quickly.

What if we could suddenly see all there is to see? ALL the colors, for instance, in an expanded spectrum? The movement of a mouse a football field away? Infrared? Microscopic activity? Waves of light? If we only caught a glimpse of some of that, on rare occasions, we might consider it a religious experience. If we couldn’t get away from it, ever, it would drive us mad.
Religious experience is sensory experience beyond the norm. Spiritual experience is physical experience, somatic experience, sensory experience, sensual experience. The physical transports us to the spiritual. We don’t know where the line lies separating the two experiences. They are not separate experiences. They are one experience.

We are capable of perceiving much more than we realize. We pick up “vibes.” We sense opportunity knocking and danger lurking. We talk about our “intuition.” We speak of “reading a room,” and “getting a feel for things.” Our bodies are sensory receivers; our brains are, in part, sensory filters, keeping from consciousness the information, the input, that doesn’t suit our purposes; that would just get in our way; that would prevent us from functioning and keep us from reproducing. Maybe Neanderthal didn’t survive because they were tuned into more frequencies, and spent too much time lost in other worlds to make it in this one. And, maybe not, but part of the evolutionary process is devising brains that allow into consciousness only enough of the “right kind” of sensory information. Too much, or too little, and we become extinct. There is a lot of “non-essential,” yet very interesting, and potentially helpful, information “out there,” just waiting to be accessed. Could it be that when some of it “breaks through” to us, we call it “God”?

We generally think of God as directing the action of life and of living from the outside. Heaven is a realm apart, and God has this Divine Plan that is being incessantly and inscrutably worked out as “year succeeds to year.” We like to think there is a purpose for everything, that there are no accidents, that we will be amazed and delighted when we see how all the pieces fit together, and how the tiniest details compose the wonderful whole, when all is revealed to us and we “understand.” How about, NOT!?

Most of the stuff we have told ourselves about God is nothing more than compensation for our helplessness and vulnerability. Our dreams are demolished, our hope is lost, our lives are constantly at the mercy of forces quite beyond us, and we console ourselves with the idea of a plan, and a planner, who is really compassionate and caring and has our best interest at heart, and we only have to wait to see that it is so. All the bad things happen to keep something worse from coming our way. No matter how awful it seems, God is in control, and it is all a part of God’s Eternal, Immutable, Purpose. It is a position that is increasingly difficult to maintain.

Are you telling me THIS is the best GOD can do??? Any theory, even theories about God, has to take into account the inconsistencies, incompatibilities, and incongruities that are a part of every theory. No theory explains everything. At some point, every theory leaves us with “having to take it on faith” that the theory knows what it’s talking about. It is at that point, or those points, that every theory is capable of being revised, abandoned, or transformed into a different theory. A “doctrine” is just a pretentious theory.

Where do you think the doctrines came from? Not from on high. From down below. And, I don’t mean hell. I mean earth. I mean me and you, or people just like me and you. Here’s one for you: The church was before the doctrines. Not one doctrine existed prior to the church. We, you and I, or people just like you and I, came together and cooked up the doctrines. And, the people who would not go along with us, who refused to agree with us, who wouldn’t buy into the majority report, were excommunicated or discredited or executed. That’s how you solidify support for a theory.

The church was also before the Bible. And, the church was before God. Of course, we like to think, because we have been told, that God was before Abraham, and Moses. That God was just waiting around all those years for the time to be right to talk to Abraham, and Moses, and kick the Plan in gear and get things going, but, our position could just as easily be without Abraham and Moses, where would God be? Who says what God says? The prophets, priests, and kings, right?. Who says the prophets, priests, and kings know what they are talking about? History, right? History bears them out, right? Well, with history as our Rosetta Stone for reading rightly the words of the prophets, priests, and kings, we ease smoothly into the position that experience, or history, bears out the truth of astrological signs and that you only have to read your horoscope every day to know that it is so. The same thing could be said for reading tea leaves, and casting lots, and finding patterns and meaning in tossed chicken bones.

The church, people, me and you, or people just like me and you, was/were before the Bible, the Doctrines, and God. If we cooked it up, and we did, we can throw it out, and start over. Well, not really. Once we cook something up, and serve it through the centuries, there will be a lot of us who stick with it no matter what.

There is a principle at work which first came into my awareness through the work of Paul Watzlawick. He says a theory expands to fit the facts. Instead of being discarded, we get elaboration. Theories that should be abandoned because of their inconsistencies and incompatibilities with “the facts,” with observation and experience, become increasingly complex and inscrutable, which makes them increasingly beautiful, and believable, wonderful and true in the minds of their adherents. Genesis’s idea of creation is an example of this in action. Rather than say Eden is a nice story, but the facts don’t support it, we get Creation Science.

It seems that we are capable experiencing the sacred truth of our most preposterous propositions. You only have to believe to see that it is so. And, the longer something is believed, the longer it will be believed. If we treat something seriously over time, it becomes serious. People kill one another over their views of God. Christian people kill one another over their views of the God who said, “Thou shalt not kill,” and “Love your enemies.” It’s all in how you look at it. Perspective governs everything. Anything can be justified in the heat of the moment, or through years of calm, reasoned, reflection following the moment. Which is to say that we aren’t likely to throw anything out except those who suggest that we throw something out. We don’t like people screwing with our preferred way of seeing things. We like to think that we see things the way they are. And, want to be left alone, so we can get some sleep. If you try to wake us up, too bad for you.

So, there will only be some of us who are capable of throwing anything, much less everything, out and starting over, and we will have to proceed very carefully so as not to wake the rest. If you are coming with me, you will have to tip-toe. And whisper.

I propose starting over, not with a substitute cosmic design which explains everything better than the theory we are replacing—replacing the doctrines with more doctrines—but with some basic agreements about how we are going to treat each other, and all others. I propose that we start over with compassion, and, not only with compassion, but with all of the “qualities and characteristics of God.” I propose we start over with the conviction that it is our place, our role, our calling, to bring God to life in our lives; to exhibit God; to express God; to incarnate God; to make God real through our way with life, in the way we live our lives. I believe this is what Jesus did, and I believe that this is what those who call themselves Christians must live to do. We live to make God visible in our lives; to be as God is.

We won’t need much of a structure to do this, certainly nothing on the order of organized religion. We will need to come together to process our lives, to say what is happening, and how that is effecting us, impacting us, and what we are doing about it; to say who we are and what we are about; to remember, and to be reminded, of what is truly important, of what the vision is, of why we are here. We will need to come together to be encouraged, and sustained, and enabled in “the practice of the presence of God,” in the work to bring God to life in our lives.
We could do that in a pub, over a cold beer, with two or three friends who gather to keep one another going in the service of the good of all. Or, we could do that in a weekly “gathering of sojourners,” or, in any way that works to provide us with what we need for the task at hand.

Once we embrace the vision and begin to live out of the realization that we are here to bring God to life in the world, we find ways of serving the vision. The central element in those ways is that we cannot do it alone. We need one another. We are more like God together than we could ever be apart. Together, we have a clearer view of what it means to “be like God” that we could ever have apart. We need one another to make God known. More specifically, we need the insight, the perspective, the wisdom, the compassion, etc. of one another to “see” God and make God known.

Of course, it works like this only if ALL the voices are heard and given equal weight by those gathered. When we start discounting, dismissing, ignoring, the children, and the women, and the poor, and the disenfranchised, and the uneducated, etc., and listen with respect only to “the leaders,” it’s all over. The simple act of listening to one another is replete with difficulty. Already, in that act, God ceases to be present when we step out of God-like-ness and go over into patronizing those whom we think have nothing to say. Are you catching on to how difficult it is to be God in the world? Waking up to how much we need one another, and from one another, to allow that to happen?

The story, stories, actually (You do know that there are two creation stories that have been combined into one in the early chapters of Genesis, don’t you?), of the Garden of Eden is a perfect description of how difficult it is to remember, and be, whom we are called to be, whom we are capable of being. We get distracted by the least little thing. We lose the way. We forget who we are and what we are about. “Oh, that looks lovely,” we say. “I think I’ll have some of that.” And, we wreck our lives, again, wanting what we have no business having. It’s the story of the species. There are no immunities. It is awfully hard work, being God.

Fooling ourselves is what we do best. Shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best. Wandering away from the path is what we do best. Getting lost is what we do best. Sabotaging ourselves is what we do best. Getting in our own way is what we do best. We are always at the point of waking up, turning around, starting over in the work to live in the service of the qualities of God. We need one another to have a chance.

And, if we don’t listen to one another, we blow the chance. We have to listen. Here’s the secret. Listening to one another allows us to hear ourselves. The voice within is the voice we have to hear. That’s the voice the others help us hear by listening to us. That is the voice we help them hear by listening to them. Listening to one another re-establishes our connection with ourselves. It isn’t what is told to us that is so important, but what we hear ourselves saying. When we listen to one another, we bring to life that which is struggling for life within the other. God is born in the act of hearing God speak. In the beginning is always the word.

It is essential that we know how to listen; that we understand The approach used in Focusing is especially valuable, and the questions that help us hear ourselves. We have to appreciate fully the deep value of attention, and awareness, and sensitivity to tones of voice, and facial expressions, and body language, and all that is being communicated through what is said, and how it is said, and what is not said. We listen God to life. The primary task is developing ears that hear. And eyes that see. And hearts that understand. That’s the work that will keep us busy all our lives long.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


There is no right way to take a photograph. There is only how we see a particular scene at a particular moment and whether we can record that on film, or “magnetic media,” in a way that allows someone else to see something of what we saw. Some photographs are “alive.” Others are not. What’s the “magic” that is there, or not there? The magical elements are subject, composition, lighting, exposure, focus, and the eye, the soul, of the photographer who brings these elements together in a way that produces “aesthetic arrest,” stopping those who view the photo in their tracks, forcing them to look again, taken in by what is “there.”

We cannot very well hope to take a photo that “grabs” those who see the photo if we are not “grabbed” by the scene we are photographing. We cannot communicate the power of an emotion that isn’t there, that didn’t exist at the time the shutter was released. We cannot do anything for a scene that doesn’t do anything for us. We have to experience the power of a scene if our viewers are to have a chance at experiencing that power. If there is nothing there for us, there will be nothing there for them, no matter how expensive our equipment is.

The task is to place ourselves in scenes that open us to the heart of beauty, goodness, wonder, awe, amazement, delight, and the like—that reveal to us, that expose for us, the truth of “more than we can ask, or think, or imagine.” Photographs that “work” convey a sense of the mystery, of the more, of the depth and wonder of life. The work of photography is seeing these things so that we might show them to others.

We can’t do anything with a scene that doesn’t do anything for us. Finding the scenes that impact us is the photographic task. To be touched by a scene is the essential ingredient of a successful photograph. If we aren’t “arrested,” we can’t expect others to be. And, we can practice seeing scenes every day, all the time, without a camera in hand. Photography is the art of seeing the world. We can’t see if we don’t practice. Constantly. It takes a lot of looking to be able to see.
We only need enough money to do what we love. Poverty isn’t about a lack of money so much as no idea about what we love. We love money as a substitute, as a surrogate, love object. We don’t know what else to love. Once we know what we love, we will find enough money to do it. We are living to find what we love and do it. The spiritual journey is to the heart of who we are, what we love. How does what we have help us do what we love? How will the acquisition of what we want help us do what we love? What exactly do we need in order to do what we love?

We think it is about prosperity. With enough money our worries will be over and we can give ourselves to the experience of enjoying life. That is the most stupid premise ever devised. There is no connection whatsoever between money and an end to worry, between money and happiness, between money and enjoying life. We only need enough money to do what we love. When we don’t know what we love, we need a lot of money to distract ourselves from the emptiness within, to take our minds off the fact that we don’t know what we love, that we don’t have anything worth our time, that we have no reason to get up in the morning. The spiritual journey is for a reason to get up in the morning. The spiritual quest is for what we love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


You think it is easy to take a picture of the full moon rising, don’t you? It happens once a month, that’s 12 photos a year, right? Well, it’s actually 24 times a month, or, even better, 36 times a month, because the day before and the day after are “as if” it’s full. You can’t tell the difference. It’s so close we may as well give the moon credit for being full three days each month. It doesn’t matter. It’s still difficult to get a picture of the full moon rising.

Let me explain it to you. Residual light. Without enough residual light, a photo of the full moon is a white dot in a black sky. I had a slide like that on the light table during a visit from the Grandees. The oldest, upon seeing it, said, “Look! A hole!” She was right. It looked exactly like a small white hole in an otherwise solid black slide. The requirement of residual light negates the third day the moon appears to be full. On the third day, it is too dark by the time the moon rises to take a photo. We’re back to 24 full moons a month to work with. But, because of the residual light requirement, it’s more like the original 12, but whether it is the day before, or the day of, the actual full moon, depends on when the sun sets.

To arrange for the right amount of residual light, the moon has to rise in conjunction with the sun setting (or, if you are trying for a picture the next morning of the full moon setting, it has to set in conjunction with the sun rising). If the moon rises much before the sun sets, the moon is likely to be too high in the sky by the time the light fades enough, and the moon becomes reflective enough, to stand out. Too high in the sky, that is, to use something on the ground as a “compositional element”—a lake, say, or mountains, or the branches of a tree. It helps for the sun to go down between 5 and 15 minutes before the moon rises. And 15 is pushing it. How many days a year do you think that happens?

I haven’t counted them up, but let’s say, for the sake of the discussion, 12. One day, each month. Out of the three full moon days, there is one day when the moon rises within 5 to 15 minutes of the sun setting. You get 12 chances. And, here’s the catch, you have to be there. To get a sense of how difficult that is, ask yourself how many times in the past year you were present and available when the moon rose (within 5 to 15 minutes of the sun setting). It’s amazing how much is going on in our lives to keep us from being present and available with the full moon rises. But, even if you work that out, it isn’t enough.

Here’s another catch. You have to be present and available within the right context. At the right place, at the right time. You will need some interesting “compositional elements” to help frame the moon rising. A grain silo, say, in a field of wheat. The Memphis skyline with the Mississippi River bridge in the foreground. Grandfather Mountain reflecting in Price Lake. Oops. You’ll never get that one for a moon rise. You’ll have to get up early and get the moon setting over Grandfather Mountain, with both reflecting in Price Lake.

And here’s another catch. You can’t count on the moon rising, or setting, in right relationship with your compositional elements. In October, for instance, the moon sets 10 degrees too far to the west to offer much impact to the Grandfather Mountain, Price Lake setting. The moon isn’t always where you want it to be. To be at the right place, at the right time, you are going to have to dig a little. You’re going to have to do some research. You are going to have to know your camera position relative to the compositional elements, relative to the horizon, and where the moon is going to be when it rises.

And, if the wind is whipping up white caps on Price Lake, there goes your reflection. And, if it is overcast, there goes your moon rise. That’s two more catches, wind and thick clouds, or even thin clouds at the wrong place, at the wrong time. I haven’t been counting them, but I know enough without counting to know that’s enough catches to make any but the most determined among you say the hell with it. All but the craziest among you can live out the entire rest of your lives without ever having to take a picture of the damn moon rising. And, my hat’s off to you.

You are wise beyond your years, and will live long and happy lives, not taking a picture of the moon rising, or setting. Just don’t make the mistake, at any point during those lives, of seeing a picture of a full moon rising and think it’s easy to do that kind of thing intentionally. Don’t think to yourself, “Anybody could do that.” It’s only easy if you stumble upon one—if you “just happen” to be in the right place at the right time with the right weather conditions. Trying to arrange the right place and time and weather will make you crazy, or, at the very least, old before your time. Be content with stumbling around, lucking into the right time, place, and weather. Be happy with whatever you come up with. Don’t aim toward anything. I think that was the Buddha’s advice. Don’t aim toward anything. All suffering comes from desire, I think he said. He was probably talking about the desire to take a picture of the full moon rising.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


How differently are we willing to live, is the question. How different are we willing for our lives to be? We cannot keep living the way we are living and expect different results. If we want different results, we have to live differently. We have to do what it takes to arrange what we want to have.
What do we want to have? How do we want things to be? What are we looking for? What would it take to be satisfied with our lives? With our level of spiritual development? These are essential questions. We cannot answer them on the run. And, we cannot answer them with our heads, as if we already know what the answers are supposed to be, and all we have to do is think, or remember. The important answers don’t come from our heads. They come to our heads, from the outside. Our heads are useful in hearing the answers, but our heads don’t generate them. In order to answer the important questions, we have to shut our heads up, and listen.
We have to listen to our bodies. No kidding. We feel the answers to the important questions in our bodies, before we know them in our heads. Our body communicates with our head in a particular way. There is the it-really-doesn’t-matter-do-what-you-do feeling, and the something-is-not-quite-right feeling, and the not-on-your-life feeling, and the absolutely-unquestionably-indubitably-yes feeling. We have to read our body’s signals if we are to find our way through the world. There are plenty of occasions when we have to over-ride our body’s response to experience, and plunge on because of circumstance and obligation (We do have to visit the in-laws, and the parents, and the children, from time to time), but, we cannot ignore our body’s messages without paying dearly with our lives. We can override when we must, but we cannot ignore.
The idea that our bodies know things our heads don’t is a tough one for us to embrace. We are used to thinking our way through everything. We don’t feel a problem in our bodies, we solve it in our heads. We make those long lists of pros and cons; run those cost/benefit analysis’s; do that research; collect that data. Then we get married, move to California, take the job, buy the house, have the two children, take up tennis, and wonder why we aren’t happier. We aren’t happier because our heads are always giving our bodies things they cannot tolerate. It happens with religion.
We explain “the plan of salvation,” and “take on faith” all the parts that make no sense. We talk ourselves into believing the doctrines, which were devised, formulated, created, to explain why Christianity is the best darn religion ever, and why we had better buy into it or else. It’s all explanation. It’s all intellectual formulation. It’s all head stuff. A starry night is all the religion our bodies need.
There is an African tribe whose elders regularly, one might say religiously, watch the sun set and rise. It is said that their witnessing the setting and the rising keeps the sun on course, makes it happen. That’s how religion gets built up around a spiritual experience. They didn’t start gathering to watch the rising and the setting because they thought they had to. They started it because they liked it; because there is something about sun rise and sun set; something they can’t put their finger on; something beautiful, wonderful, delightful, and good.
On vacation, I’m always out there photographing sun rise and sun set, moon rise and moon set, and I am rarely alone, and it is not always photographers who accompany me. In the Grand Canyon, at Mather Point, there were probably 300 people, maybe more, gathered for sun rise. Old and young, Europeans and Japanese, South Americans, North Americans, Central Americans…it was as diverse a congregation as you will ever find, and it was a worshipful moment. Sun up, silence, then cheers and laughter. Everyone seemed to be glad to be there. No one had to explain why they were there. It wasn’t something that could be said. It was a must that couldn’t be articulated. That’s spirituality for you.
Spiritual experience is somatic experience; it is physical experience; it is sensual experience. We get to the spirit through the body. I wouldn’t lie to you about this. We become spiritual by becoming physical. We do not become spiritual by turning off the body and becoming mind in touch with the mind of the universe. The ascetics who deny themselves fundamental physical experiences don’t become spiritual so much as crazy. They may be revered as spiritual, but they are basically nuts, and you wouldn’t want to spend much time with them. Spiritual people are good company. They are a joy to be around. They bring life to life in us, and rarely judge, condemn, or negate anything about us. They are accepting, loving, laughing people, who understand the power of awareness developing over time, and are glad to give us the time to develop our awareness and transform our lives from the inside out. The people who try to make us like them, who try to make us spiritual from the outside in, don’t have a clue about the things of the spirit, and we would be wise not to spend much time with them, which we would know if we listened to our bodies.
Watch children and dogs. They know who to be with and who to be away from. They know where they belong, and where they have no business being. We know it too, but we are so used to ignoring the body’s signals and doing what we think we are supposed to do in order to be whatever it is that we think we are supposed to be, that we aren’t aware of what we know, and have to spend a lot of time consciously forgetting what we think we know in order to realize what we have known all along. The whole spiritual journey can be reduced to realizing what we have known all along. And, that begins with learning to listen to our bodies.
Here’s an exercise for you: Settle into your present physical experience. Be aware of your breathing. Be aware of your body and your present level of physical comfort. What are you most acutely aware of about your body? Let that awareness spread throughout your body, so that you are attuned to the physical sensations of this time and place. Now, ask yourself, “How is it with me?”, and see how your body responds. What physical sensation are you aware of in response to the question, “How is it with me?” Attend that physical sensation. Feel what you are feeling. Sink into that feeling and see where it comes from, see what comes to mind. Take whatever comes to mind and check it against the feeling. Ask, “Is this it? Is this what this feeling is about?” You are looking for a “click,” for a physical shift in your body that lets you know that whatever comes to mind is connected with the physical feeling. Now, put that aside, and return to the original question, asking, “Except for that, how is it with me?”, and see how your body responds. And, continue with the exercise until you get the sense that “That’s it. Except for those things, things are just fine with me.”
You are looking for how you feel about your life, for what is in place and for what is out of place, for where the rubs are. Now, of course, you think you know. Your head likes to run things, and is quick to come up with list after list of things that are right and wrong about your life. And, if I could give you three wishes, you would know immediately, without pausing to think, certainly without pausing to feel, what to wish for. Time, Money, Health, right? I knew it. With Time, Money and Health, we’ll figure the rest out, won’t we? Well, we won’t if we don’t begin listening to our bodies.
A good source for giving our heads something to think about when it comes to listening to our bodies is the book Focusing by Eugene Gendlin, and the book, The Power of Focusing, by Ann Cornell .Or, you can do a Google search for “focusing,” and read until your head is content. The point, though, is knowing how it is with us; knowing what we need; knowing what we want; knowing what we are seeking; knowing what is important; knowing what it will take to be satisfied with our lives. These things constitute “essential knowing,” and are at the heart of spiritual growth, and are the “soul,” so to speak, of spiritual reality.
And they aren’t things we think up in our heads, or things that are told to us, explained to us, by someone else. What is truly important to us isn’t handed to us by someone else. Our place is to listen to our bodies and to trust them to know more than we do. Communion with our bodies is fundamental to spiritual growth. Our bodies aren’t here just to transport our heads through the world. Our bodies are sources of knowing at a level that is deeper and truer than our heads can imagine. Our bodies connect us with “the essential things.” When we are in tune with, aligned with, synchronized with, the essential things—the things that are truly important, the things that truly matter—we are centered in the essence of spirituality, and are as spiritual as we can be without dissipating and becoming holy ghosts.

Friday, October 14, 2005


Acting like we know what we are doing is a step on the way to knowing what we are doing. The Alcoholics Anonymous folks say, “Fake it until you make it.” I say, “If you want to know God, live a God-like life.” We don’t find God the way we find antique stemware or sinus relief medication. God isn’t “out there” somewhere waiting for us to take up the search, and dust off our Bibles, and start knocking at the doors of the famous Gurus asking if they know where God is. We don’t find God. We birth God. We bring God to life in the world through the quality of our living in the world. We bring God to life by living Godly lives.
And, these aren’t austere lives of pristine asceticism. We have the wrong take on Godliness. It isn’t about toeing the line and walking the straight and narrow and minding your P’s and Q’s. It isn’t about living a wooden, scripted, robotic existence with the Ten Commandments in one hand and The Four Spiritual Laws in the other. It is about living straight from the heart toward the best that can be imagined in each moment. Sometimes that’s a cold beer with a handful of friends as we process the day. It’s different things in different moments. It’s never the same response to every moment. The moment has its own needs. The God-like thing is to listen carefully to the moment and offer to the moment what is needed out of our unique store of what we bring to the moment. Some moments need more than we have to offer. We have to recognize that and be what comfort we can be to the moment, exhibiting as much grace, and compassion, and peace, and justice as we can muster. And letting that be it.
The God-like thing is to be as vulnerable as we are. To be as helpless as we are. To offer as much of God as we can give, and let that be that. Too often, all we have to offer is a lap, or a lap-like experience with caring presence.
Never underestimate the power of a lap, or the lap-like experience of caring presence. Mostly all we need is a little encouragement, a kind word, a gentle place to be for a while. If we can offer that to one another over a cold beer, say, we make tomorrow possible. Laps don’t DO anything, but they transform everything. Everything looks different from the perspective of a lap. We can shake off a skinned knee and get back on the bike with a lap in our lives. The first step in being God-like is being lap-like. Just be a source of comfort and consolation in the lives of others. That will make a difference beyond anything you can imagine.
This isn’t to say that a lap, or a lap-like experience with caring presence, is all that is ever needed. It is to say that at least that much is needed. At least that much is necessary. I’m saying that God-likeness begins with our learning to be gentle, caring, presences. We can’t very well be God-like if we can’t be gentle and caring. And, there is a place also for granite-like determination and persistence in the service of the good. We don’t just gently go away in the face of resistance and opposition. We live to serve the good, even when it seems to do no good.
Poverty is a place where we have given up too easily in the service of the good. Even Jesus despaired in the face of poverty. “The poor will be with you always,” he said. Why didn’t someone ask “Why?”? What makes poverty so pervasive? We need to figure that out and start providing more paths out of poverty.
One thing that contributes to poverty is our own, personal, economics. What is economical for us, destroys the economy. We buy inexpensive clothing and shut down the cotton mills which move to China to find cheap labor to sell us inexpensive clothing. In order to stop that cycle, we all have to re-think the profit motive. When we try to have more money at someone else’s expense, we create poverty.
What is “enough”? When the culture, the society, as a whole fails to answer that question, poverty is created. What is a “tool” and what is a “prop”? What do we need to do the work that is ours to do? There is a place, of course, for distraction, diversion, denial and escape. We have to “step back” in order to “step in.” Maybe a portable DVD player is just the thing we need to gain a clearer perspective and restore our souls. We certainly cannot make a list of acceptable purchases and boycott everything not on the list. But, we do have to think about what we are buying, and how much money we need, and what we need it for, and what we are doing to help others out of poverty. And, what we are willing to do.
Are we willing to pay higher taxes, for instance? For housing? For job training? For child care? For education? Poverty asks more of us than caring presence. So does racism, and sexism, and, well, the big problems are on all sides. Godliness requires us to pick a direction and wade in, with as much imagination and creativity as we possess, living resolutely toward as much of the good as we can make out, whether it does any good or not, for as long as we are able.
It is the quality of the life we live that brings God to life in our lives and in the lives of others. We are all the Virgin Mary, bearing God, birthing God, nurturing God to life in the world. We are all the Baby Jesus, the incarnation of God, the spitting’ image of God, chips off the Old Block, exhibiting the truth of God in the way we live our lives. Instead of wondering where God is, ask where your life needs a little dose of God, and go there, and get to work.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


As God unfolds, emerges within us, we begin to exhibit more and more the signs of what the New Testament writers call “the kingdom of God,” but which we might think of simply as “the way of God.” The way of God is the unveiling of God, the incarnation of God, in the world. As we develop our affinity for God, align ourselves with God, and live out the way of God, we will become increasingly “as God is.”
This is the very thing Jesus was talking about when he said, “The Father and I are one,” and what the Old Testament writers described as being “holy as God is holy”; as being “perfect as God is perfect.” When we live in this way, we will be the expression of “God presence” in the world, and people will sense in us the essence of God. This will not come about by our attempting to emulate a particular idea of holiness, or perfection, or presence, by refraining from alcohol, say, or cursing, but will simply be a perceived side-effect of our being who we are in our lives. We will be us, ourselves, in a way that bespeaks of God, without our doing anything to try and “be God,” or “model God” to the people.
The sense of God Presence will be a natural result of our affinity for God, of our accession to the unfolding of God within. As we accede to the unfolding, as we voluntarily participate in the emergence of God within us, and through us, into the world, we will be less and less enamored with, and interested in, descriptions of how we are supposed to be in order to “be Godly.” We will mostly be creative. We will mostly be imaginative. We will mostly be bringing into existence that which has never been. We will mostly be ourselves being God as only we can be God.
We birth God like a baby into the world. We are the mothers of God, the fathers of God. This is the method of birth: “Here is my body, broken for you. Here is my blood, poured out for you. Do this—present your body, broken, your blood, poured out, in the service of the Good, in the birthing of God—in remembrance of me.” Or, this: “Have this mind among you which you find in Christ Jesus, who did not count equality with God as something to be exploited for his own personal gain, but, being found in human form, lived to serve the Good regardless of the implications, in spite of the outcome, and became faithful to his vision of the Good unto death, even death on a cross.” That’s it. That’s how we bring God to life in the world.
We are the bearers of God. God comes to life in our lives. God is as alive as we are. As we live out of, and toward, the best we can imagine, there is God. The better the best is that we can imagine, the more vivid and vibrant is God. No imagination of the Good, no God. Resplendent imagination of the Good, resplendent God. It’s as simple as that.
I can’t tell you how difficult it is to bring into being something that has never existed—the church as it ought to be, for instance. It’s as tough as a virgin birth. All who attempt it are the Virgin Mary. And, of course, this shifts us right over into contemplation of all the biblical images, themes, stories, and how the literal has to give way to the metaphorical. The Bible as literal depiction of how things are—with a literal judgment day, for example, and a literal Satan, and a literal hell, and a literal heaven, and a literal throne, and, a literal God-king on the throne, for other examples—is as lifeless as it gets. We have to read the Bible as metaphor if it is to be of any help to us at all.
And, here, we get into the discussion of the difference between “factual truth,” (or “literal truth”) and “poetical truth” (or “metaphorical truth”). The Garden of Eden, for instance, is not factual in any sense of the term. Yet, it is as true as it gets. There was no actual, factual, Original Sin, yet, shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best, and we are always turning our backs on ourselves and our best interest in the service of what we take to be our own, personal gain. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to save us from the wrathful punishment of a vengeful God who had to be appeased with the deaths of those who deserved it. He died in the service of his own integrity and the message of the cross is “There is a price to be paid in being true to—in living in ways which are integral with and aligned with—that which is deepest, best, and truest about you, and which exhibit the best that can be imagined.”
If you are paying attention, you noticed that I’m comfortable with a literal Jesus literally dying on a literal cross. I also think there was a literal Paul, and a literal Jeremiah, and a literal King David. There is a large amount of factual, historical, literal data recorded in the Bible. The biblical interpretations of the literal facts are not literal representations of how it was/is really. When you take a fact, the establishment of Israel as a political entity, say, and explain that fact in terms of hows and whys, wherefores and therefores, and elevate the explanation to the level of fact itself, and enshrine the explanation as factual as the fact it explains, you screw up. The trick is to let the facts that are facts be facts, and to let our understanding of the facts unfold and emerge, flow and develop, in ways that deepen us, enliven us, awaken us to the truth of how it is with us and how we can best respond to that truth in ways that are truly good.
The cross as fact represents clearly how it is with us, how it has always been with us, how it will always be with us. We will pay a price for being true to ourselves. The cross is a real fact that has to be taken into account if we are to really bring to life that which is deepest, truest, and best in the world. “Ain’t that how it is though?”, is the message of the cross. And, “Don’t let this stop you!” We cannot let the fact of the cross stop us from living in ways that serve the Good and bring hope, and joy, and peace, and justice and life to life in the world, just like Jesus did. The message of Jesus is, “This is how it is. Don’t let it stop you! Come, follow me!” We pick up our own cross, daily, and follow Jesus when we live in light of the common good and bring the best we have to offer to life in each moment of our lives.
And, we follow the path of Adam and Eve when we put off allegiance to the Good in favor of our own personal gain. When we think life is about gathering the boon to ourselves, getting ours, having it made, socking it away, and then, with whatever time and resources are left over, giving something back to the world, we make the mistake of Adam and Eve and fail to live the life that is ours to live. And, it may well be that that’s the worst thing that ever happens to us, that we fail to live the life that is ours to live. Maybe we make a few million and sail around the world and never experience anything resembling a cross, and the only cost to us is that we fail to live the life that is ours to live; we fail to be true to that which is deepest, best, and truest about us. It’s a small price to pay, don’t you think, to have the life of our dreams? We can deal with it. A little more cocaine (or a little more of some other addiction, some other diversion, some other distraction) and we won’t even think about it.
We forsake ourselves for the sake of having it made, and that’s the story of the Garden of Eden. How do you get back the lost chance at life? How do you make it up to yourself that you exchanged life for money and a sail boat? How do you redeem your failure to be who you are? How do you make atonement? Where do you go to be forgiven, set right? How do you get back what you lost? Easy. You pick up your cross and step into your life, at any point in your life.
The cross is the cure for what ails us. And the cross is the price we pay for being true to ourselves, for living in ways that are integral with that which is deepest, best, and truest about us. It is the ever-present antidote to the poison of the Forbidden Fruit. Remember the angel with the flaming sword of death that guarded the entrance back into Eden? The way back into Eden is the way of death—death to our own ego, our own desire for personal gain—it is the way of the cross. Simple, really.
Well. If it’s so simple, how come no one every thought about it in these terms? How come the Bible misses what the Bible is all about? How come the Bible conjures up this fantastic picture of a convoluted after-life with demons and Satan and God and Jesus and angelic armed forces battling it out over the future of our souls? And, what makes us think that we have it right and the Bible has it wrong?
Each age has to understand its own story in light of its best guess regarding what the deal is and how things work. We know more than they knew in the days the Bible was being written. Our world-view is broader. Our understanding of the psyche is deeper. We can throw out more theories than they could throw out. If the Bible were being written today, it would be radically different. There is a sense in which each age has to re-write the Bible in light of its present understanding of the world and how things work, how things are. This is the work of interpretation, of homiletics, of theology—and of psychology, and philosophy, and epistemology, and linguistics, and…well, where do you draw the line? All of the disciplines are there to help us decipher who we are, what we are about, and how we can best be about it. To help us understand reality, and what is real, and how the world works, and what it means to live a good life, and what we have to do to live well upon the earth. And, we have to listen to all that is being said to us, allowing it to broaden, to deepen, to enlarge, to expand our understanding of the possibilities, and align ourselves, as well as we are able, with the highest good, one might say with the best good, we can imagine.
We cannot be limited in this work to understand the good and do it to the Bible’s understanding of the good 2,000 years ago. Jesus said, “Every scribe fit for the kingdom of heaven, takes from his treasure something old and something new.” There are aspects of the Bible that can certainly be carried forward. The Philippian Hymn, for example; the Fruits of the Spirit; the Songs of the Suffering Servant; Paul’s soliloquy on Love and on Whatever Is True, are all timelessly beautiful and spring from the heart of truth. But every word in the Bible is not equal to every other word. There is very much a “canon within the canon.” And our task is always that of determining what is scriptural and what is not, adding to, and separating out, taking “something old and something new” into the struggle to live well upon the earth every day of our lives.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


I recommend doing the things you need to do, the things you must do, without having to understand, or explain, why you are doing them. Work them in. Do them in your spare time, maybe when everyone else is asleep, or no one is watching, so that you don’t have to spend your time defending, excusing, justifying, and explaining. It doesn’t matter if nothing ever comes of it. If you have to write, then write, even if no one ever reads what you have written; even if nothing is ever published; even if you never read one poem to the local garden club. If you have to draw, draw; if you have to paint, paint; if you have to fish, fish; if you have to read, read. If you have to go to the mountains, or to the beach, go.
Where are you most “yourself”? If it were up to you, what would you spend your time doing? Do more of that. This is the best advice you’ll ever get.
I love two cups of coffee in the morning, two glasses of wine in the evening, writing for an hour or so before going to the office, a hot shower, and going to bed. I love at least those five things about every day. They are rituals, of sorts, cherished moments with their own time-within-time. Time stops for them, and waits until they are done. I don’t have fifteen minutes in which to drink the coffee or the wine, or an hour in which to write, or ten minutes in which to take a shower, or eight hours to sleep. I have as long as it takes. These moments are immune to the clock, off limits to “hurry.” And, they are part of every day. And, redeem the day; and, make the day possible.
I think a ritual has to be loved, relished, cherished, in order to be worth anything. The church is dead, and dying, in part because the things we do there don’t mean a thing to us. The standing and the sitting, the creeds and the hymns and the prayers. Crystallized rituals. Who are we kidding? I don’t drink two cups of coffee because someone else thinks I ought to. Or two glasses of wine because I’m supposed to. Not many of us love what goes on “in church.” Most of us are glad when it’s over. We are very aware of the clock. If it goes past an hour, we are hacked. We bear it grudgingly week after week, and don’t miss it when we skip it. What would it take, do you think, to get our hearts into the rituals, to love what we are doing? I think we would have to change the rituals, for one thing. And, we would have to change our mind-set, our perspective, for another. We would have to change what we think and what we do.
To what, is the question. To a more conscious awareness of who we are, and how it is with us, what we are about, and what we need to be about it, and what needs to happen in order to make these things possible. We gather on Sunday mornings for what? To do what? We have to sit with these questions and feel our way into the answers. “To be with one another” feels right to me. “To be encouraged and sustained by each others’ presence,” feels right as well. “To be reminded of how it is with us and what we can do about it,” feels right as well. “To put a little distance between ourselves and our lives”; “to get our feet back under us”; “to recover from the past and store up for the future”; “to be enabled to live toward as much as we know of God, to live toward as much of the good as we can imagine, within the circumstances and conditions of our lives”; “to gather ourselves for another go at the lives that are ours to live”; “to find what we need in order to get up and do what needs to be done.” These are the things that occur to me.
None of these things has much to do with prayers of confession, assurances of pardon, the Creed, and the Our Father, three hymns and an offertory and a Gloria Patri. We need new rituals. New ways of being together. We need to reinvent Sunday morning. We can’t just play the organ louder.

Monday, October 10, 2005

10/09/05, Sermon

There are only two questions: What do we need? And, How can we help one another get it? Or, how’s this for phrasing: What is truly necessary? What is truly helpful? That’s it. The sum total of life and spirituality: Knowing what is necessary; knowing what is helpful. There is nothing else to know.
What is necessary and what is helpful varies from time to time, place to place, person to person. We have to always ask the questions, and listen carefully for the answers. We have to constantly be looking for what is needed, for what is helpful. And, we have to be aware of the larger context in which the questions are asked: Needed in terms of what? Helpful in terms of what? What exactly do we have in mind regarding the optimal conditions that we are trying to arrange?
If we are just trying to keep the baby from crying, that’s one thing. If we are trying to cure the baby of an ear infection, that’s another. What we think is needed and helpful will depend upon what we are trying to do. And, of course, this is all complicated by ten million things. A baby with an ear infection is one thing. A 25 year old daughter with a drinking problem is another. What is needed? What is helpful? Fix that, if you can.
It doesn’t take long for us to be hobbled and blocked in our efforts to know and do what is needed and helpful. We have to learn to live with problems for which there are no solutions. What is needed there? Helpful there? How do we deal with wanting what we cannot have, particularly when what we want is absolutely essential, needed, necessary and good? What is needed, helpful, to us in our inability to know and do, what is needed and helpful?
How shall we cope? Wailing walls and caring presence are more necessary and helpful than cases of Budweiser and fifths of Jack Daniels. We have to have caring communities without answers who can simply be good company as we grapple with the twin monsters STU and PID who keep things from being what they need to be in our lives and in the life of the world. We do not need to be fixed and cured so much as upheld and supported, encouraged and sustained, as we come to grips with our inability to know and/or do what is necessary and helpful. And we most certainly need to be saved from surrender to despair and hopelessness before the omnipotent and ever-present power of STU and PID.
Like water dripping on a rock, we refuse to quit, and, over time, wear down the mountain. Or not. It doesn’t matter if we wear the mountain down. We aren’t going to be alive to see it. We live as though we are going to wear the mountain down, because we know what is necessary and helpful, and we will not take no for an answer. We will not quit in the service of the good even if the world is too STU-PID to know what it needs or receive what is helpful. We may change tactics. We may back up. We may stand aside. We may take a different approach. But, we will not relent in the work for what is necessary, helpful, and good.
This is the true place of the church, of the caring community of the right kind of people. Its place is that of sustaining one another in the work for what is necessary, helpful, and good. We come together because we cannot stand long alone before the unrelenting madness of STU and PID.
What is worse, not knowing what is needed, or what is helpful, or knowing and being unable to implement the good because it is not wanted and will not be accepted? Either way, the agony is too much to bear alone, and we need one another to know how it is and say, “Yep. That’s how it is all right. Don’t surrender. Don’t quit.”
God is like water dripping on a rock. God doesn’t surrender. God doesn’t quit. That is the work of God, the work of creation, and it is the work of the children of God, the people of God, your work and mine.
It is up to us. We are the ones who are going to do whatever is done. And, we are going to do it by plugging away. By refusing to quit in the service of what is necessary and helpful. By serving the vision every day for the rest of our lives. Look around. There is no one here but us. It would be nice to think that there is a benevolent benefactor out there, with a checkbook in hand, to bail us out, and pave our way, and make a worthy future both possible and easy. It would be nice to think that we will be rescued, saved, delivered from the work at hand, which is the work of trying to find our way forward to the good, and create a space that is a good place for all people to be, the work of doing what is truly needed and truly helpful.
The message of the Messiah is that there is no Messiah. The message of the Messiah is that we—WE—are all the Messiah we will ever get, or need. We have what it takes, and it is up to us. THAT’S the gospel truth. And, if we get tired of plugging away, and if we wish for someone to clear the path, and show the way, and usher us into the Kingdom come, well, that’s part of it. That’s part of plugging away. We will get tired of plugging away. We will wish it were different, easier, better. We have to plug away through the weariness with plugging away.
The Messianic task is as much the on-going courage and determination to perceive and do what needs to be done as it is doing it. The Messianic task is the day-to-day expression of the high values in the service of the good when what we really want is to be relieved of the task and to sit with a glass of wine and marvel at the beauty and wonder of our achievement, with everything in place, and everyone on the same page, and nothing but how it ought to be for as far as we can see.
Let me explain this to you. We aren’t going to live that long. The wine is going to come as a pause at the end of a long day as a way of gathering our strength for facing what must be faced and doing what needs to be done the next day. We are here to face what must be faced and to do what needs to be done. We are not here to be delivered from that task and to sit in a swing in the shade to enjoy the view until we die. Or to move from happy pastime to happy pastime, exchanging gifts to commemorate the occasion, and planning teas and outings with those who have it made.
Having it made means having the spirit of the Messiah about us, who did not, if you will remember, count equality with God as something to be exploited for his own personal benefit, but accepted the role of a servant, and served the high values as the human being that he was, doing what needed to be done as servant of the good every day of his life, all the way to his death, even death on a cross. Having it made means understanding fully what it is about, embracing our role, and giving ourselves to the task of getting up, again, and doing what needs to be done, again, every day for the rest of our lives, plugging away in the service of the good, no matter what, for as long as we are alive. Like water dripping on a rock. Even a really big rock. Like Mt. Everest.
All we need is a little encouragement, a little kindness, a little compassion. I don’t know why that is so hard to come by. Everybody seems to need it. No one seems to offer it. What we get is sarcasm, criticism, cool receptions and cold shoulders. Mercy is an endangered species. Or, perhaps, extinct. What are we thinking? That we can bludgeon someone, everyone, into being pleasing? Into doing it our way? Into doing it like it ought to be done?
If we aren’t swinging emotional clubs, we are cowering in anticipation of being clubbed, or hiding in the shadows, hyper-vigilant and ready to run. We do not present ourselves for relationship because relationship cannot be trusted. We learn that by the third grade. Life is tough after that, with everyone trying to get what they want from everybody else and no one offering anyone what is needed.
Where do you go for encouragement, kindness, compassion? Understanding, acceptance, grace? Mercy? Peace? Where do you go to find those who know what is needed and are working to bring that to life in the world? Well, let me talk to you about the power of the sheep being led to the slaughter. It is the power of an encouraging, kind, compassionate, understanding, accepting, gracious, merciful, peaceful presence in the world of sarcasm, criticism, cool receptions and cold shoulders. Where do you think it is going to start, if it does not start with us? Do you think “they” are going first? Do you think “they” will lead the way? Those who see what is needed die in the service of what is needed. If we wait for everyone to “see” before anyone takes up the task of being what is needed, we will all be bereft and deficient forever.