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.

Monday, November 21, 2005

11/20/05, Sermon

When it comes to deciding who we ought to be—to knowing what we ought to do and how we ought to do it—to what, exactly, constitutes Right Seeing, Right Thinking, Right Doing, and Right Being—my recommendation is that we throw out all the rules that we have been handed. Forget what your mother told you, and your father, and your Sunday school teacher, and your preacher. Don’t have anything to do with the Ten Commandments. Nobody ever lived a full life of high quality with an eye on the Ten Commandments. Who in your experience was worth spending any time with who lived his or her life based on the Ten Commandments? See what I mean?

And don’t even think about living so as to win the approval of those with Moral Rectitude and a fixed since of how it ought to be. You want to stay away from anything fixed, rigid, unyielding and absolute. If you are going to do it right, you are going to have to dance a little, sway with the music, swing your partner, cut a rug.

Here’s my suggestion. If you want to do it right, the way it truly ought to be done, pick out the people who have done it right, who are doing it right, and do it like they did it, like they are doing it. Copy their style as the first step in developing your own. Have an image in mind. Become a character actor. Assume a role. Play a part. Place yourself in the shoes of those who do it the way it ought to be done. Act out their way of doing things in your life. Imagine how they would do it, and do it like that. Get “in character,” and step into your day, or into a particular situation in your day. Let your vision of them doing it the way it ought to be done become the way you do it.

We cannot hope to do it right, to do it the way it ought to be done, to be who we ought to be, without the guiding images of those who have done it right, with us and before us in our lives. If we cannot think of anyone who has ever done it right, who has ever done it the way it ought to be done, who has ever been who they ought to be, we may as well go down to the soda shop and have a milk shake or two and wait for the undertaker to come lay us to rest, because it’s all over for us. Without a sense of those who have done it right, we don’t have a chance of getting it right ourselves. Without the image of those who have done it the way it ought to be done before us, we are flying blind, dancing with our fingers in our ears, driving in the dark with our eyes closed, walking a tight rope with an instruction book in hand trying to read directions about balance and strategy. It won’t work.

What works is doing it like the people who do it right would do it for as long as it takes for us to develop our own sense of how it is to be done. Apart from the compelling influence of our personal guides, we are lost and alone in the darkness and gale force winds, trying to find a match to light our way. We have to forget matches and find those who know what they are doing, and do it like they are doing it; and live as they are living.

So, who are they? Who are the people—real or fictional—in your experience who have done it the way it ought to be done? The way you wish you could do it? You know some of the people on my list. Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof. Zorba the Greek. I would add the poet Mary Oliver, the writer Annie Dillard, the actress Donna Reed. Lao Tsu, Jesus of Nazareth, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Yogi Berra. To mention a few.

Who is on your list of personal guides? Who has done it the way it ought to be done? The way you would be proud to have done it? The way you wish you could do it? Don’t step into your life without your guides. Not only will they help you along the path, they ARE the path! More than that, they are YOU!

Okay, don’t let me get too far ahead here. Let me take you back to the spiritual task. It is nothing more than being you in the world. The spiritual task is connecting with yourself and living as yourself in the world. Doing it the way it ought to be done is doing it as you would do it. It’s like, say, arranging your hair. When you arrange your hair, you don’t ask your parents, or your Sunday school teacher, or your preacher if that’s the way you should wear your hair, if that’s the way you should like your hair. You just arrange your hair the way you like to wear it. Your hair is you. And, in order to get it right, you look in the mirror. It is hard to know without looking whether your hair is right or not. The same thing applies to your spiritual development.

It is hard to know what is “you” without looking in the mirror. The people on your list of those you admire most are your mirrors. They reflect you back to you. They help you see what is important to you, about you, the way an actual mirror helps you see your hair. Invite them all into the room with you. Sit among them. Get to know them. The things you like best about them reflect the ideal you. They help you see clearly, specifically, how you are to be in the world. They live with you as reminders, as models, through-out your day, of how to do it. The people on my list show you and me things about me we might never guess would be true. If you want to know me, get to know the people on my list. If you want to know you, get to know the people on your list.

The spiritual task, journey, path, quest is simply a matter of surrounding ourselves with the best people, real or fictional, that we can imagine, and emulating, incorporating, modeling, copying, stealing, identifying with, their best qualities in living our life in the world. As we become who they are, we become who we are. We become ourselves in introjecting the best we admire of those we admire.

And, if you think this copy-cat approach to spirituality sounds anti-American and heretical in light of our cherished doctrine of the rugged individualist, I will ask you two quick questions. What do you think was the point of the Marlboro Man if not to make everybody like him right down to his choice of cigarettes? And, what do you think we in the church have been doing all these years ingesting the body and blood of the Christ? We eat the God to become like the God. We call ourselves “Christians” which means “Little Christs.” We understand the wisdom of John the Baptist who said, talking about Jesus, “He must increase and I must decrease.” We become who we are when we become as Jesus was, as God is. And, we do that, not by laying aside all that is good, and true, and valuable, and worthy about ourselves, but by envisioning those things, embracing those things, exhibiting and embodying those things. We lay ourselves aside and become ourselves. It’s a little paradoxical, but you get used to it after a while.

I become myself, not by being Zorba in the finite details of his life, but by using what I admire about Zorba to expose, reveal, reflect what is valuable to me and about me and my own life. In becoming who Jesus was (and who God is), we don’t give up anything essential about ourselves, but come to a clearer understanding of what is essential, and live to express that in the world, not as robots living from a script, but in ways that are uniquely, beautifully, wondrously, individually “us.”

The qualities we admire in the people on our “most like to be like” list are the qualities that reside within us as latent, undeveloped, perhaps unrecognized and unacknowledged, aspects of ourselves. They are “also us,” and need only to be consciously recognized and incorporated into our actual lives in order to become real. We admire in others what we cannot recognize in ourselves.

Of course, we also hate in others what we cannot allow ourselves to see in ourselves. So there is another list, a list of people we most don’t want to be like. Those people on this other list have qualities that are “also us.” And, we have to recognize that latent potential as well, and integrate it with our positive qualities, consciously working out the “reconciliation of opposites,” in developing our character, which is the spiritual task.

We are shaping ourselves here. We are forming ourselves. We are molding ourselves. We are birthing ourselves. We are becoming ourselves. That is our spiritual practice. We practice being who we are, by recognizing who we also are, working to integrate the opposites, and living to bring into focus, into existence, the best we are capable of being.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Some people don’t like Community Coffee’s New Orleans Blend with Chicory with lots of Splenda and half-and-half. I know it’s hard to believe, but it cannot be denied. Tell them about the antioxidants and the social advantages and they still don’t like it. People are funny that way. We have our own tastes. Our own interests. Now, here’s the quizzical thing about us. We can draw a line with Community Coffee, for instance, and say, “No thank you.” And, trust our own sense of taste and decorum to guide us to a different drink, without asking for directions to what we should drink. But, then, writhe and cower inside in fear of the judgment of those who might look and find us lacking in some other area of our lives. We cannot draw lines with confidence and assurance everywhere. Coffee is about it with some of us. Some of us live at the mercy of those who are, or might be, easily offended by us, put out with us, all our lives long.

Some of us cannot live on the basis of the presumption of grace. We do not think grace will be granted. We think it all depends upon how carefully we live our lives, on how well we please those who must be pleased, or else. We think we will never be given the benefit of the doubt. We do not believe in grace.

I wonder if we who do not believe we will be the recipients of grace can easily be its grantors. Can we grant grace graciously, if we do not believe it will be freely given unto us? How gracious are we who do not presume that grace will be extended to us? What about you? Do you give more grace than you receive? If you were to grade your life on the basis of its graciousness, generosity, and hospitality, what grade would you give it—both in terms of what you receive from life and in terms of what you give to life?

Here’s the key. How gracious can you be AND draw appropriate lines? Gracious can be just another term for victimization. Door-mat-ness gives rise to various kinds of symptoms and ills. We equate “being nice,” with being gracious. “Being nice” leads us to plot the deaths, or the eternal misery, of those who are a plague and a toxic presence, or to think fondly about our own. “Being nice” leads to bed rest and heavy medication. There are times when “being nice” is all we can muster, but we cannot sustain it over time without breaking down under the pressure. Grace presents us with an entirely different way of being.

We cannot be gracious if we cannot draw lines, set limits, establish boundaries, say “No,” with grace, and kindness, and compassion, and firmness, and resolution. Grace encases us in a protective shield of personal immunity. We are free from the angry reactivity of those who encounter our lines. We know that beyond them the world is a gracious, kind, safe and nurturing place to be, and that their angry tirade, or cool distance, regarding our insensitivity and selfishness is just a passing blip on the long line of our life. And, we can be gentle in response, knowing that there is relief in the wings, and our boundaries are intact, and we are actually quite safe and secure. Believing in grace enables us to be gracious.

If we do not believe in grace, we have to be hard and unyielding, which is a life posture that leads to brittleness and disintegration. If you are going to believe in anything, believe in grace. Expect to be graciously received. And, when you are not graciously received, grant the ungracious ones among you the benefit of the doubt. Tell yourself they would be more gracious if they weren’t so brittle and rigid and incapable of taking “No” for an answer. Don’t spend any more time with those people than you have to. Surround yourself with those who exude grace, and make it easy to believe that grace is everywhere. Grace begets grace. Living graciously will increase the grace quotient of your life. And, make it easier to be you.


Grace isn’t just, according to our view of justice. When grace calls for justice, it does so without demanding retribution, or, even, apology. Grace does not need remorse; does not require public censure; does not insist upon full disclosure of wrongdoing, does not lay blame and assign responsibility. Grace just says, “That is wrong. This is right. We need to stop doing that and start doing this.” Period. End of discussion.

The popular idea of justice requires us to get to the bottom of things, at which time someone must pay. No payment, no justice, in our view. We are sure that amends must be made, or justice is not done. As if.

But, we do act as if amends is an actual possibility. Juries award large settlements as if cash can do it. Or, we sue the people who have wronged us for a one dollar bill as if the verdict of guilty can do it. We aim for retribution, for retaliation, with firm belief in the Old Testament notion of “an eye for an eye,” except that we settle for an eye-substitute, a surrogate eye. Public humiliation will do.

Tibetan Buddhists were expelled from their homeland by Chinese Communists. Those who did not escape were killed, with numbers perhaps in the hundreds of thousands. The Pol Pot regime in Cambodia executed thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Cambodian Buddhists. During the time of these atrocities, and through all the years following them, we never once heard a Buddhist demanding justice. The Dali Lama talks without ceasing about the need for compassion, an essential component of grace. Thich Nhat Hanh preaches the same message. Jesus called for blanket, compassionate, gracious forgiveness for those who carried out his death.

These three people, the Dali Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Jesus of Nazareth are all very clear about what needs to stop happening, and about what needs to start happening: “Not that, this!” None of them thinks in terms of retribution, revenge, retaliation, or in terms of extracting remorse and requiring restitution—in any form. With us, justice is a power play. With us, it is about making someone sorry, about making someone pay. With them, justice is grace in action.

Monday, November 14, 2005

11/13/05, Sermon

What do you care about? How do you like to spend your time? What is your idea about how life ought to be lived? Our answers reflect our character, our depth of soul and spirit, the quality of our lives. The people at the heart of the urban violence in France have their answers. The pirates operating along the coast of Africa have their answers. Gang members in Chicago and LA have their answers. Buddhist monks and Catholic friars have their answers. Poets and philosophers have their answers. Our answers are not the same, but they say a lot about us, perhaps, all you need to know about us. Our answers create the culture which shapes our lives and forms our future.

The forces of anarchy and destruction have no need of a future. What do they hope for beyond burning and looting? And, what good is the loot beyond the thrill of snatching it, the power to take it? What do they envision for retirement? What do they want for their children? Servants of the forces of anarchy and destruction can only laugh and shoot people who ask such questions. They cannot ask them themselves.

How to move people beyond the questions they are asking to the questions they cannot imagine is the question. Our questions define us, determine us, but, what determines our questions? Ah, we’re in the spiritual soup now, Mattie. Where do our questions come from? Why these and not those? Why this one and not that one? The pirates and the pillagers don’t worry with such things. They rip, rape, burn and loot to rip, rape, burn, and loot tomorrow.

When the values that form the foundation of culture are not valued by a high-enough percentage of the population of a particular culture, there is going to be a problem for the culture. Wealth is not a value. Loot is loot no matter how you acquire it. What are you going to do with the loot is the question. If you only care about loot; if you like to spend your time getting loot; if your idea of how life ought to be lived is that it ought to be lived stockpiling and acquiring loot, there is going to be a problem for the culture.

The Enron executives used the booty of their corporate pillaging to buy fine artwork. That did not make them cultured, and it did not advance the culture. There have been cases in which students who needed a certain grade point average for membership in the National Honor Society cheated on exams to raise their grades to join the club. Whether we are dealing with pirates on the high seas or in corporate offices or in high school classrooms, the problem is the same one. How do we get people to value the values that serve life in the deepest, best, truest sense of the term? How do we transform the world?

The church has always tried to transform the world by shaping others into its idea of who (okay, whom) they ought to be. It has never been content with shaping itself into who (okay, whom) it ought to be. The church has lost the ideal of the Ought To Be in trying to give others what it does not want itself. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that the church has never believed in the efficaciousness of grace over time. Here is where the two problems become one: The church refuses to focus its energy on becoming who (okay, whom) it ought to be and waiting. So, if we are going to not be the church of our experience, this is where and how we have to not be the church. Or, if we are going to be the church as it ought to be, this is where and how we have to be the church as it ought to be. We have to focus our energy on becoming who we ought to be and waiting.

Three questions immediately arise in response to that statement: Who ought we to be? How long must we wait? How do I know what I’m talking about? Let’s deal with them in reverse order. How do I know what I’m talking about? How would two thousand years of doing it the other way do for an answer? Four thousand if you take the Jewish effort into account. Between the two groups, Christians and Jews have been forcing their way on the world for four thousand years, and the world is getting worse all the time.

Well, okay, maybe it isn’t getting worse. Overstatement is what I do best, you know. But, it certainly isn’t getting remarkably better. It’s better for those of us with means, and it is easier for more of us to have means than it was four thousand years ago, but that’s due to the structure of the world economy as much as anything, and if you a marginalized, malnourished, individual in Somalia, say, or the Sudan, you probably wouldn’t experience much difference in the quality of your life over four thousand years. At any rate, my case is that four thousand years of experience suggests that telling the world to repent or else hasn’t worked.

Now, I know the Jews didn’t spend the first two thousand years telling the world to repent or else, but they did have that “chosen people” idea which caused them to separate themselves from the world, much like some evangelical Christians have done with their idea of the Rapture, in a “you can go to hell if you want to, but we are going to be sooo saved” kind of way. And, there were others within Judaism, like Jonah, for instance, and some of the prophets, who envisioned the entire world being saved through its repentance and emulation of the Jewish way. The Apostles picked up that theme and proselytized the world of their day and tried to force discipleship upon all nations by telling them to repent or else. Well, it isn’t working.

And, what isn’t working most obviously about the repent or else approach to the transformation of the world is not the four thousand years. The time factor is inconsequential in my scheme, and cannot be used to determine the ultimate value of a particular way of achieving a desired end. Once I say we have to wait to see, you can say, well, we just haven’t waited long enough for the repent or else message to take hold. But, then I would say that there is no evidence anywhere that anyone has ever repented.

Of course, that isn’t quite true. Jesus is a wonderful example of repentance in action. Jesus was a man of his word. He lived the life he envisioned as worth living. He clearly perceived how he ought to be and he lived to align himself with his vision. Jesus was the church as it ought to be. And, there have been others like him through all the years. The Suffering Servant of 2nd Isaiah, Lao Tsu, the Buddha, Rumi, all come to mind as living images of how it ought to be done, of what repentance and reorientation can mean in the lives of human beings. But, overall, we have mostly talked about repentance without repenting.

We have wagged the Bible about all these years without ever once applying it to ourselves, or, without applying it to ourselves for very long. Specifically, we have not embraced the story of the Pharisee and the Publican in the temple, or the story of the Good Samaritan, or the story of the Prodigal Son, or the story of the sheep and the goats, or the story (and here we get into the importance of waiting) of the yeast in the dough, or the seed in the earth, or the light in the darkness. We have taken the idea of repentance to mean that other people should do it the way we tell them to do it, the way we think it ought to be done, and we have used the Bible as a weapon to effect our way upon the earth.

The Ten Commandments are a beautiful example of what I’m getting at. “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” How’s that for clear and precise language? And, some of us want to place large replicas of stone tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed upon them in our court houses, and court rooms, where people are regularly sentenced to death. We wield the Bible to achieve our ends without ever allowing it to confront our own excesses and deficiencies. We will not understand that the Bible is only about us—that, along with David, we, WE, are the ones, that, along with the goats, we are always saying, “Lord, when did we see you and not recognize you?” That, along with the Pharisee, we are always saying, “We may not be perfect, but at least we don’t gamble, or carouse, or flirt, or go to bars, like those poor lost souls who are going to be left behind when the Rapture comes.”

The approach “repent or else” hasn’t worked in four thousand years because in that time, we can count on our wrists and elbows the number of people who have repented and lived life as it ought to be lived. So, instead of telling the world to repent or else, I’m suggesting that we simply concentrate on becoming who we ought to be and waiting. Waiting for the transformation of the world over time. I’m suggesting that we focus on doing it right—on doing it the way it ought to be done—and waiting for as long as it takes for Right Seeing, Right Thinking, Right Doing, Right Being to transform the world. Of course, that is going to require us to know what we are doing. Awareness is the foundation of enlightenment, you know. So, we will continue to gather here to wake up and know what we are doing. At least, we know that much. May we know the rest over time!

Saturday, November 12, 2005


What creates a slum? What constitutes “slum mentality”? What are the elements that come together to make a slum a way of life? How does hopelessness fit into the picture? What kind of hope would people have to have to keep where they live from becoming, or remaining, a slum? How does the rest of society contribute to the hopelessness of those who reside in slums? What does the rest of society need from the slum dwellers in order to help them transform the slums? How can “they” help “us” help “them”? What do slum dwellers need to be able to “bring to the table”? Where are these questions being asked, and answered?

Who is “getting to the bottom” of homelessness, and poverty, and un, and under, employment? Who is addressing the hopelessness and despair which keep people from believing in their own future? Our dreams have to be attainable in order to motivate us toward their realization, otherwise, they become fantasies which serve only as escapes from the reality of our lives. Kids in the slums might fantasize about being the next Michael Jordan, but they don’t “have a dream.” We have to dream “within our means,” and we have to have means to achieve our dreams. What means do we have to have to fuel our dreams and prevent us from sinking into slumdom? What are the minimum expectations that we need to have for our lives to keep from slipping into slumdom?

It seems to me that three principles that have to be embraced by slum dwellers are “first things first,” and “one step at a time,” and “plug away.” I can see where the prospect of escaping, or transforming, the slum would be overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you stay at it? What do you have to work with? How do you keep going? Where does encouragement come from? I couldn’t do it alone. Where would I find a supporting community that understood the nature of my life, and helped me with the task of knowing what the “first things” are, and with the task of taking “one step at a time”? And, who kept me at the task of “plugging away”?

It appears to me that slum dwellers are on their own. Not one person who is living well in the rest of society is on her, or his, own. If we are to break the slum cycle, we have to create caring communities within the slums that foster awareness and compassion, provide encouragement, nurture hope, offer direction, and help people dream realistically and find the means of realizing their dreams. I don’t think we can transform the slums from the outside. I think that to have a chance at transformation, about a dozen of us are going to have to move into a slum and create a saving space there for people to be. First things first, you know. One step at a time. Plug away. Did you think we could order up a take-out remedy and have it delivered?


All of the fixes for the real problems of life require us to take our lives in one hand and hurl them as hard as we can broadside into the problem. It takes a life to save a life, or lots of them. We cannot do it at a distance. If we want to make a difference in the lives of others, we are going to have to be involved with them in their lives, in the experience of life. We cannot send them postcards from our home in the mountains. We can become too comfortable for our lives to mean anything to anyone, including ourselves. Comfort lends itself to meaninglessness. Something else to watch for. Crossing the line. Becoming so comfortable we aren’t alive.

Friday, November 11, 2005


There are people who rise up in the morning and go to sleep at night thinking about how to kill Americans and Jews. I don’t know how you strike an accord with those people, reach an agreement, make peace. And, it isn’t as though if we were better people they wouldn’t hate us so much. The fanatical fringe can find things to hate in the people they hate. They can imagine, invent, things to hate. Of course, they use the way we retaliate in creating their case against us, but they will use anything. It will make their propaganda a bit tougher sell if we don’t torture prisoners or obliterate neighborhoods and cities, but we cannot think that “being nice” is going to win points with the bad guys or with their recruits.

We have to understand that the fanatical fringe wants us dead. They aren’t going to be happy with anything less than the deaths of all Americans and all Jews. And, that is just a start. It will, over time, become the deaths of everybody not like them. And, there is no talking them out of it. What are you going to say? If someone just wants you dead, what are you going to offer him, or her, instead? If they are willing to kill themselves to kill you, you have no terms of negotiation. There is nothing they want more than your death. You cannot offer them anything as a substitute for you. You can let them kill you sweetly, easily, or you can make it as difficult for them to kill you as you can, but you cannot get them to the place of not wanting you dead and not working day and night to effect your death.

If you cannot bring yourself to believe that that is the way some people are, then I am wasting my time with you. You are too deep into denial, too removed from how it is really, too immersed in how you want it to be, in how you wish it were, to be able to assess your situation with any degree of accuracy and acumen. You need a Keeper. I hope you have a kind one.

The rest of you have to take up the task of accommodating yourselves to a world in which there are people who just want you dead and will do whatever it takes to kill you. One thing the task of accommodation will mean is that you are going to have to learn to live with contrary values. You’re going to have to love your enemies while you are using all necessary means to restrict your enemies’ ability to kill you. We have to learn to live in opposition to ourselves. We have to make our peace with the tension between contrary goods, compassion and survival. We have to integrate our opposites and be “two-faced.” And that is the hardest thing.

Take Jesus as your model. Here is a guy who could forgive a guilty woman (the woman “taken in adultery”) and curse an innocent fig tree (the one which didn’t have figs because “it was not the season for figs”). Here is a guy who could raise the dead on one hand, and leave the dead to bury the dead on the other. He could tell the story of the Prodigal Son, where the father did right by the son, no matter what the son did. And he could tell the story about the Vineyard Workers, where the owner of the vineyard did as he pleased with no regard for what was right or fair. And here is the coup de grace. He could say, “Love your enemies,” and tell stories about a king killing people who refused his invitation to a party (and killed his messengers), and about another king killing people who took possession of his vineyard, and about innocent, if shortsighted, bridesmaids being left out in the darkness because they didn’t have extra oil for their lamps. Jesus was not Mr. Consistency, Mr. One-Sided-Ness-Of-Being.

We have the idea that goodness means the complete absence of anything that would not qualify for sweetness, kindness, gentleness, humbleness, and the like. You can’t draw a hard and fast line and deliver harsh consequences if you are good. You cannot love your enemies and kill your enemies. You have to turn the other cheek, go the second mile. You cannot bust your enemy in the chops. You have to be simply, and purely good. You cannot be a complex blend of contrariness. You cannot be bad in the service of good.

Oneness of Being does not mean One-Sided-Ness of Being. Integration, wholeness, oneness, completion means living in recognition of, and in tension with, the opposites, the contraries, within. “There is a time for every purpose under heaven.” Sometimes we do this, and sometimes we do that. We draw lines in the service of the best we can imagine. We say “No.” We say “Or else.” And we carry through with the delivery of whatever consequence it takes to enforce the line. We will not stand blandly by, or sit with our hands in our laps, while our enemies make us dead. And yet, we live with restraint and compassion. It is a contradiction. Get used to the idea. It is our future.

If there is an area in particular that has been neglected in the work of spiritual development it is here with the matter of the integration of opposites. We have worked to repress, or at least, suppress, those sides of ourselves we have considered beneath us and unworthy. Well. Carl Jung is reported to have had his affairs. Allen Watts is reported to have been an alcoholic. And, Dietrich Bonhoeffer plotted the assignation of Adolf Hitler. It could not be said of any of these men that they stood for adultery, alcoholism, or murder. Yet, there they are. Living in ways they would have held to be contrary to the way life ought to be lived. We cannot square who they were with who (okay, whom) they also were. As with them, so with us.

There is more to us than we like to admit. We are not only who (okay, whom) we say we are. Integration requires an openness to the opposites within. Integrated opposites do not disappear into a complete and proper whole. They remain separate and distinct in right relationship with each other, and all the others. They are recognized, they are accepted, they are welcomed, they are given their place in the whole. We learn that we are capable of drawing lines and delivering harsh consequences with restraint and compassion. There is a significant difference between wholeness and hypocrisy, and it has to do with our degree of awareness of what we are doing, and with the spirit, the attitude, with which we do it. The work of integration is the primary spiritual task for the foreseeable future, and perhaps, for the rest of time.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


If I’m right about the spiritual path, journey, quest, coming down to, revolving around, being simply a matter of Right Seeing, Right Thinking, Right Doing, Right Being, the questions at the heart of the enterprise then become: How ought we see and think? What ought we do? Who ought we be? These are the questions which comprise the depth and scope of spiritual practice. We will spend our lives answering them.

Right Seeing sees things as they are—and as they also are. And, not only that, but it also sees things as they can be, might be, ought to be. Right Seeing sees the “is” and the “also is” in relation to the “ought,” in light of the “good.”

Right Thinking stands between Right Seeing and Right Doing as the mechanism which enables what is seen to inform what is done. Right Thinking appraises. assesses, evaluates, the “is” and the “also is,” and imagines, creates, formulates, produces an appropriate response in service of the “ought,” the “good.”

Right Doing exhibits the “who” eternally engaged in the struggle between the “is” (including the “also is’) and the “ought.” Right Doing is the “what” produced by the “who” in relationship with the “is” and the “ought.”

Right Being is the foundation, the core, the center, the “who,” which shapes, forms, determines, directs our perception of, and response to, our experience of life. We live out of who we are in the world. Right Being is the organizing principle of our lives. We live from and toward who we are (including who we also are and who we ought to be) in responding to our experience of life. And our experience of life wakes us up, deepens our awareness, and enables us to increasingly improve our ability to live with Right Seeing, Right Thinking, Right Doing, Right Being.
There you are. The spiritual task. Spiraling through eternity to the wonder of being itself. May we appreciate the beauty of it. And step consciously into it, to be graced/cursed by it all our lives long.


With a camera in hand, I am conscious of looking for ways to photograph a scene in a way that would produce a “Yes! That’s it!” in you when you view the image. Sometimes the “That’s it!” is too obvious to miss, and is missed in the attempt to avoid yet another rendition of a “classic view.” Tunnel View in Yosemite is Tunnel View. The Grand Tetons at the Snake River Overlook, or at Schwabacher Landing, or Mount Moran at Oxbow Bend, or the Maroon Bells at sunrise, are just what they are. You screw them up, and do them a disservice, by being cute with them. Cute photographs are worse, in my opinion, than classic photographs, than post card views. “Look, Ma! No hands!” becomes just another cliché when seen in light of all the other kids saying, “Look!, Ma! No hands!” You may as well not take a photo of a scene if you are not going to take it the way it ought to be taken.

The way a photo ought to be taken is the way in which the image produces a “Yes! That’s it!” in its viewers. It is the way in which the viewers don’t see the image, the photograph, as such, but see in the image, through the image, the wonder, beauty, joy, majesty, marvel, etc., that is at the heart of the image. We aren’t taking a picture of sun rise at Mt. Rundle. We are taking a picture of more than can be said. “Here,” we are saying. “Let this sit you down and shut you up, if only for thirty seconds.”

So, I look for how to see a scene that will enable you to see the scene for its “wonder potential” at the time I took the picture. How can I do right by this scene? How can I bring this scene home to you in a way that lets you see the wonder of it? How can I see it in a way that reveals the wonder of it? The task of photography is the search to see. It’s also the task of life. And, it is what the “spiritual quest” is all about.


Why we hobble along with a first century concept of God is beyond me. God is angry because we sinned (vicariously, now, through Adam and Eve), and is going to get us, if we don’t say we are sorry and mean it, and believe in the sacrificial death of God’s Only Son Jesus Christ Our Lord, who died in behalf of all of us in order to appease God’s need for Justice in the form of a blood sacrifice, because God is enraged and someone has to die. The wages of sin is death, you know, although it seems to me that should be “are death.” The wages of sin are death. Well, just try to change it. Just try to change any of it. We have to see it the way they saw it in the first century or go to hell when we die.

Who says so? Why, they say so, of course. The first century sayers say so. We can’t change what the first century said about God because they said back then we would go to hell if we did. Oh, shiver, shiver, quake, quake. They are pointing at us with the Stink Eye!

Well, let them point, I say. They don’t have a corner on how to think about God. What makes us think that what they think is the way to think? First century formulations simply represent their best efforts to talk about God and the Christ Event within the givens of their world-view. It is impossible for any of us to think very far “outside the box,” or beyond the boundaries of conventional thinking. We think the way we think because that’s the way thinking is done around us. Thinking advances slowly, in small increments, over time. How long did it take to move beyond the wheel and axle to the horseless carriage? There you are. And, if things are changing at a faster rate today, they are just changing faster on the same level. We aren’t changing the way we think across the levels, or beyond the level of current thinking. When is the last time we had a Great Idea on the level of, say, Democracy? There you are. It takes a while to think up something new and different. Really new and really different. If you think it’s easy, come up with something really new and really different by bedtime.

But, two thousand years is plenty of time to come up with at least a small advance in the way we think about God. Not that it hasn’t been done. It just hasn’t been done within Christendom. We call them heretics who come up with new ways of thinking about God, and kick them out of the church. Or, we would, if they didn’t do us the favor of leaving before we can kick them out. It’s a pity. Where would you go to think about God? Certainly not the church! You wouldn’t go to the church to think about God. Thinking about God isn’t allowed in the church. Or anywhere else. You can’t think about God anywhere.

If you are going to think about God anywhere, you can only repeat the formulas and catch phrases that pass for acceptable God thinking. You can’t say anything that hasn’t been thought/said. Don’t believe me? Try it. Spend the next week saying things about God that haven’t been thought/said. Let me know how it goes. I would particularly like to know where you have the most success in being heard. The shower doesn’t count.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


There is the idea that function follows form. And the idea that the end does not justify the means. And the idea that the medium is the message, or “massage,” as Marshall McLuhan put it, emphasizing the steamrolling aspects of the manner in which the message is couched. And the idea that substance is communicated by its packaging. And the idea that content is dependent upon process. And the idea that how we do something is as important as what we do. After a while, we begin to get the idea. If you are going to sell grace to the people, you have to be gracious. If you are going to sell life, you have to be alive.

If you were going to look for grace and life, say for a scavenger hunt, you probably wouldn’t knock on the door of a church, or make inquiries to a group of preachers. You know what I’m talking about. The church, and the preachers, of our experience don’t know a thing about being gracious, or about being alive. They know about fear. They are good at fear. They have being afraid, say of thinking a thought they haven’t been taught to think, down. And, the rules. They have the rules down. The rules help them fight the fear. If they keep the rules, they think they don’t have anything to be afraid of. But, between the rules and the fear, they don’t have a chance of being gracious, or of being alive.

If we believe that function follows form, and the rest of those ideas about the importance of process and presentation, we have to be concerned about the way in which we carry ourselves through the world. How gracious are we? How alive are we? How loving are we? How kind are we? How generous are we? To what extent are we good company? To what extent do people enjoy being around us? These are the kinds of questions we have to ask, and answer. Not do we believe in the Holy Trinity and in the Infallible Authority of the Bible. We can believe what we want to about the Holy Trinity and the Bible as long as we are fearlessly compassionate, kind, and generous, and gracious, and alive, and good, restorative, places for others to be.

There was a softness of spirit about Jesus that welcomed women and children, tax-collectors and prostitutes, foreigners and the people on the fringe of society. And, there was a hardness about him that dealt coolly with the bearers of the religion of his day because they were not softer themselves. It is not about hoops to jump through, and rules to keep, and appearances to maintain. It is about being genuinely good places for other people to be. It is about being gracious; it is about being alive.

We cannot be alive without loving life. What’s to love about your life? How deeply do you love it? How well does it show? Do people, looking at you, know you love your life? Know what you love about your life? Why aren’t you spending more time recklessly loving what is to be loved about your life?

You want to be spiritual? Recklessly love what is to be loved about your life. And, if someone gives you grief about daring to love your life, be gracious to them. Loving your life and being gracious is the best springboard you will ever get into spirituality. Stop waiting for someone to give you the rules. Start loving your life and being gracious. And work laughter into your days. You will develop a healthy spirituality in no time at all.


Ambivalence. Ambiguity. Paradox. These are the watchwords of spirituality. It’s the Yin/Yang principle of spiritual development. Spirituality is necessarily oppositional. When we see into the heart of things, we see what is true, and what is also true. Everything exists in tension with everything else. Everything lives along a continuum with everything else. Opposites are more alike in their extremes than in the middle ground between them. Our sworn enemies are more accurate reflections of who we are than our best friends are. At lease, we can see things about ourselves in our enemies that we would never see about ourselves in our friends. With only our friends around us, we can forget how it also is with us. We hate in others what we cannot face in ourselves.

A healthy spirituality says “Yes” to it all. And, it lives away from evil and toward good, even as it knows the good is not without evil, nor the evil without good. Both/And not Either/Or. That is the essence of the Yin/Yang principle and the foundation of spirituality.

Being gracious includes graciousness for our own littleness of spirit and smallness of heart. We will never be as big-hearted as we wish we were. We will never be as thoroughly and genuinely kind as we would like to be. The father along the spiritual path we travel, the more we realize we are only at the beginning of the journey. The Master knows that if we knew the Master like the Master knows the Master we would know there are no Masters. Don’t follow anyone who thinks she, who thinks he, should have disciples. If you are going to follow anyone, follow someone who sees you as someone to be followed. And be gracious. And be alive.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Attention is all we have to work with. What do we think about? Where is our focus? What is on our mind? That’s where it begins. Life as we know it unfolds according to the quality and direction of our attention.

Generally, we have too much to think about. There is too much going on. You never see a spiritual master with a PDA, or even a date book. Their work is to “be here, now,” not to worry about where they are supposed to be in five minutes, or next week. Spiritual masters don’t juggle a lot. They couldn’t keep up with a single mom, or dad. They don’t even have 8 to 5 jobs to take them away from the here and the now. Yet, we think we can make progress along the spiritual path while keeping everything else in our lives neatly ordered and finely balanced. We had better wake up. And pay attention.

Spiritual masters don’t worry about grocery shopping, or soccer practice, or cleaning the gutters, or getting the dog to the vet, or the oil changed, or the piano tuned, or the refrigerator repaired, or the bills paid, and they are rarely anywhere on time. It is no accident that spiritual masters live in monasteries, or in caves, or in deserts, where the distractions are few and they can focus on one thing at a time. If you gave them our life, with our obligations, and duties, and schedules, things would fall apart before breakfast. It would be such a mess by bedtime that we would never be able to straighten it out.

Two things here: We have to get off our backs about our failure to be “more spiritual” while we are doing all that we are doing to keep our lives, and the lives of those who depend on us, going. And, we have to understand the place of focused attention in creating the kind of life that is worth living. We don’t live well accidentally. If we are going to increase the depth and breadth of our spirituality, which I take to be an essential component in “living well,” we are going to have to pay attention. And, we are going to have to let some of the things go that divide our attention, rob us of the moment, and keep us from being “here, now.” We cannot do all that we do and be more spiritual than we are.

And, this means we have no business worrying about increasing the depth and breadth of our spirituality while we have children at home and careers to launch and all the responsibilities of young parenthood, of young adulthood, to tend. How many spiritual masters do you know under 40? Under 50? Under 60? What does that tell you? The Japanese had a rule at one point, whether it is still intact, I don’t know, which reserved spiritual development for the second half of life. It is a worthy rule. Young adults could then spend time with their elders to learn how to be an elder, not to learn how to be a young adult. And, they wouldn’t worry about being more spiritual than they are, which is really worrying about being more spiritual than they can be. Young adults cannot be more spiritual than they are. Their time and attention is consumed by the tasks of young adulthood! Leave spirituality for the second half of life, when you can let some things go, and narrow your focus, and concentrate your attention, and “be here, now.”

And, when we get there, what do we attend? Mostly, the moment. Mostly, spirituality is about being alive in the moment of our living, alive to the moment, awake in the moment, aware of the moment. If you think that’s easy, I recommend you try it some time. See how long you last. It’s easier to ride a bull. You can stay on a bull longer than you can stay in the moment. But, it all starts with the moment, in the moment, and flows from the moment.

Of course, we have to intend something, we have to mean something, we have to have some sense of direction, some drift of soul in the moments of our living. “Fearless compassion,” for instance. We have to intend to live in the moment with “fearless compassion.” We have to intend to direct our moments toward the experience of “fearless compassion” for all people in every moment everywhere. That’s a spiritual thing, living in the moment with that kind of intention for the moment.

We cannot be spiritual and live in any moment with a kind of “whatever” attitude. We may well “go with the flow,” but we have a direction in mind, and will use “the flow” in serving the purposes of “fearless compassion,” say, or “justice,” or “grace, mercy and peace.” We may not resist the flow of the moment, but we will find ways of turning that flow toward the good as we perceive it, intend it, serve it.

So, we don’t just “experience the moment.” We bring something to the moments of our living, something that would not be there without us. We bring something to the table. We mean something with our lives. We have an idea of how things ought to be, and we live in the moment to see how much of the good we can bring to life in the moment. The work to envision the good and bring it to life in the moments of our living is the spiritual task. And, the good is our own, personal, good as much as it is the “good of the world.”

We have to know what is good for us; we have to sense what we need; what is struggling to come to life in us, and through us, in the world. We have to know what we enjoy, what we love, and we cannot neglect those things. There is no spiritual master who doesn’t love her, who doesn’t love his, life. Loving life and living life to the fullest is the heart of spirituality. And living so as to enable others to love life and live life to the fullest is also the heart of spirituality.
But spirituality is not so much a “doing thing” as it is a “being thing,” a “being aware thing.” A “being aware of ideas and perceptions and outlooks and prejudices and possibilities thing.” A “being creatively tuned in to different ways of seeing thing.” Perspective is everything.

Spirituality expands perception. Spiritual development enables us to see all things well. The spiritual task is to see into the heart of things; to see things as they are and as they also are. The spiritual task is to see what else there is to see. The spiritual task is to live in the moment, seeing. Right action springs from right seeing. Right seeing, right thinking, right doing, right being, right now. That is the sum total of spirituality. That’s the formula. That’s the recipe. That’s all you have to do to be as spiritual as you can be. It’s easier to ride a bull.


How we feel about our lives has no necessary connection to our lives. We can be living a lot better than we feel like we are living. We can feel really bad about a life that nobody could live better than we are living. We take our feelings way too seriously. We devote way too much attention to how we feel. We spend way too much time and energy trying to feel better. What do feelings know? How long do good feelings last? How long do bad feelings last? Why spend all that time devoted to making bad feelings feel better when the good feelings are gone in a blink? Tell you feelings to go to hell, I say. They are just out to run your life and don’t care a thing about you.

Bad feelings, good feelings, so what? What matters is not how you feel but what you see that needs doing and what you do about it. And, don’t tell me you can’t do it if you don’t feel like it. Like we have to get our feelings’ permission to do right by the moment. Like the moment has to wait for our feelings to come on board. Being aware of the moment means being aware of how we feel in the moment and doing what the moment needs done, regardless of how we feel. It doesn’t mean waiting until we are in the mood to do what the moment needs done. Feel the way you feel, and do what needs to be done, and be who you need to be in the moment of your living, whether you feel like it or not. That’s spiritual practice. We practice being who we need to be no matter what, including no matter how we feel about it.