Friday, March 31, 2006


The church exists to take care of its own, and all sentient beings everywhere, and the environment that holds it all together. That’s a simple mission statement for any church, anywhere, any time. If you want to do that and tell people about Jesus, that’s fine. But don’t neglect to do that. Taking care of one another, and all others, and the environment that keeps us all going is the essential work, the work that must be done. Anything else is optional.

Now, in calling Jesus “optional,” I don’t mean to imply that he is not the way. He is very much the way. “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” I’m quite happy to let that statement stand—with a radically different interpretation that that of orthodox Christianity.

Jesus is credited, particularly by the writer of John’s Gospel, with saying “I am the way”; “I am the door”; “I am the vine”; “I am the good shepherd.” We don’t take this to mean that Jesus IS a door, or a vine, or a shepherd, bad or good. Just so, HE, personally, individually, is not The Way either. His way is the way, his path is the path, the way he does it is the way it must be done. But, this doesn’t mean wearing sandals and bathing every second Friday.

WWJD? misses the point. The point is not morality, for instance, the way Jesus might have practiced morality. The point is integrity. Compassion. Justice. Radical equality. THAT is The Way. It has nothing to do with believing Jesus died for your sins so that you can get to heaven when you die. It has everything to do with doing right by yourself and your neighbor; with loving your neighbor as you love yourself; with doing justice, living rightly, and walking with God.

Jesus is the way in the sense that integrity is the way. In the sense that authenticity is the way. In the sense that vulnerability is the way. In the sense that intimacy, and honesty, and justice, and compassion, and hospitality, and grace, and kindness… are the way. You will not advance at all along the spiritual path without advancing in these ways. Advancing in these ways is “the way of Jesus.” And, if you live in these ways, you will pay a nice price. Dying is also “the way of Jesus.” You will die in a thousand ways. And, you will be raised from the dead. Resurrection is also “the way of Jesus.” You will experience resurrection as new birth. Being born again (and again, and again) is also “the way of Jesus.”

You will live out the wonderful old themes of the scriptures. The Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane; bondage and freedom; the Exodus, the Wilderness, and the Promised Land. The stories of the Bible are the stories of our lives, our stories, us. David Connell says, “We are the lion, and the lambs better watch out for us; and we are the lambs, and had better watch out for the lions; and we always have to gauge how much space we are taking up in the world in light of how much we actually need.” That is the struggle of the church, of the way of Jesus for each of us. How much for me? How much for you? How can we take care of our own, and all sentient beings, and the environment that holds it all together? What is being asked of us? What response shall we make? That’s it. There is nothing more to it than that. Everything else is optional.


I live to redeem having lived. I’m going to die before I get it done, the work of redemption, that is. Making our peace with blown chances and missed opportunities, and being so damn casual with our place in life and in the lives of others, so flip, so cavalier, as if this present moment isn’t the most absolutely precious and irreplaceable moment ever, as though one moment is just like any other moment, and if I sleepwalk through this one, fine, it will cycle back around again tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. So what if I don’t see the moment, or the person in the moment? So what if I don’t treat the moment and the person in the moment with gentleness and care, with compassion and kindness and grace? They will get over it. The moment and the person can take care of themselves.

We might call that a callous disregard for the fragile nature of time and life. I missed a lot looking out for me. I continue to miss a lot. I am only somewhat more sensitive to the moment than I was when I was twenty-five, say, or forty. I wonder how old I would be before I got it right.


Our world is always changing on us, without warning, without permission. We turn a corner, and BOOM!, as John Madden would say, it’s a new world. The old is always passing away, the new is always coming to stay. We are always at the point of transition.

Transition is hell. Adjustment is not what we do best. But, it’s what we do most. We just get used to having kids and they are having kids. We just get used to being married and our spouse dies, or divorces us. And, the new world comes complete with a new set of rules. New requirements. New restrictions. New limits. New boundaries. New duties. New obligations. We can’t do it like we’ve always done it. We have to do it differently. And, we don’t have to like it. Which is good, because we won’t like it.

What helps with the adjustment? That’s helpful, knowing what helps. Maybe music helps. Maybe the ocean helps. Music is always there. The ocean is always there. That’s some constancy in the midst of upheaval and transformation. Where do we go to be grounded, centered, at-one with ourselves and the universe? Where do we go to heal the fragmentation and to gather the scattered pieces of our lives, and to constellate around the core. Where do we go to relocate the core? To reconnect with the foundation?

When worlds change, what remains the same? What is the thread running through all worlds? What is the good in every world? What is precious and delightful and wonderful about all worlds? What is the source of joy and life? Warm bread, perhaps? Chocolate? Waterfalls and mountain vistas? Wildflowers? Pandas? Coffee?

When the old passes away, everything about the old doesn’t disappear. Something of the old remains. We are not all alone at the points of transition. We have our binki and our teddy. And, we damn sure better hang on to them. It’s real hell without them, there in the darkness, between worlds.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


We have to have enough stability in our lives, enough consistency and dependability, to pay the bills, and enough flexibility and spontaneity to be innovative and creative, and have the freedom to “follow a wild hare” down weird little rabbit trails. If we drift too far to either extreme, we fail to live as well as those with an interesting mixture of opposite tendencies.

We have to consciously bear the tension of the polarity. Living with both stability and spontaneity is one of the keys to a well-lived life. We live to be dependable without being tied down. We live to be like the wind and solid as a rock.

We need to know where we are going, yet, have the freedom to follow our heart and our hunches into unfamiliar places and the company of strangers. We cannot be so regimented that there is “nothing new under the sun,” or so uninhibited that you never know what’s next with us. You have to know that you can count on me, and I have to be able to disappear on a whim. Both things have to be true about me. I cannot be one way only. I am a magnet with opposite poles. So are you.

We plot our course and retain the right to change direction. Some things we need to see through; some things we need to quit before we begin. How do we know which is what? There is no knowing. Make up your mind. Change it if you must. Decide. Reverse your decision. Waffle. Agonize. Decide again. There is no value in being Steady Eddie to every bitter end. But never riding out any storm is nothing to be proud of either. When do you stick it out? When do you pull up stakes? “You have to know when to hold ‘um/Know when to fold ‘um/Know when to walk away/Know when to run.” How do you know? You take a chance every time. What are you going to do this time is the question. Make up your mind.

You would think we would make better calls over time, better choices, better decisions. It doesn’t work out that way. Experience doesn’t tell us a damn thing about the future. We never know what to do now to insure the best possible outcome. But, some things are obvious. “You don’t spit into the wind.” You learn that much from experience. The critical matters don’t have much to do with when and where to spit. You never have so much experience that you don’t have to take a chance. That’s one side of the equation. The other side is that refusing to take chances is a kind of death itself.

What’s at stake? What do you stand to gain? To lose? You probably can quit your job and find another easier at 30 than at 60. How safe do you really have to be?


Inhibitions are great things, up to a point. After a certain point, they get in the way. Where’s the point? Would somebody please point out the point to us? Geez. Everything comes down to knowing where the point is. No one can be so finely tuned as to know the turning point when it arrives. We guess ourselves to the grave.

Guessing is as good a game as any. Knowing what we are doing isn’t more likely to achieve a better outcome. I’d rather live with a good guesser than with a knower. Know what I mean?


It’s amazing how hard it is from time to time, feeling good about ourselves; believing in what we are doing; being with how things are. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, in effect, that without novelty our thinking deteriorates into chaos and despair. Construction or destruction seems to be the spiritual/emotional (Where DOES that line lie?) reality. If we aren’t involved in something that involves us, we’re going to feel increasingly poorly about ourselves and our place in life. To feel good about ourselves and the way things are with us, our lives have to coalesce around things that generate enthusiasm and interest, and challenge us creatively, and bring our skills and abilities to life. We have to be doing things we enjoy doing. We have to be living with heart. We have to be having, yes, fun.

But, it’s a different kind of fun than going to Disney World. It’s the kind of fun that comes with concentrating on getting your forehand down, or with finding the right word to complete the sentence. It is the kind of fun that engages you in the pursuit of what is important to you. I walk four miles a day and call it fun. I get up before dawn to take a picture of the sky before sunrise in the Smokies and call it fun. Sometimes fun can look like nothing but work. And, you may not think of it as fun, until you think about it. And then, you realize you can’t remember ever having more fun.

So, if you find yourself being gloomy about yourself and your life, and glum about your prospects, don’t try to think yourself into a better frame of mind by telling yourself you have no reason to feel as you do. Of course, you have a reason to feel as you do. Lack of novelty. Absence of something about which to be enthusiastic. Nothing compelling you to make a complete investment of the self. Not enough fun in your life.

Don’t just sit there! Go do the thing that looks like it has the best chance of being interesting, and see where it leads. Get out of your head and let your heart lead you. Your head can set limits. “No more than ten miles from home.” “No more than $15.00.” Put yourself in your car and see where your heart takes you. What can you do no more than 10 miles from home for less than $15? The adventure alone will lift your mood. And, you have absolutely nothing to lose.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

03/26/06, Sermon

I talked with two guys yesterday “in the field,” that is, taking photographs, who believed that “the matting makes all the difference.” That’s how denominations get started. Photo denominations are built on the differences in cameras (Nikon or Canon, digital or film, 35mm or medium or large format) and other equipment (tripods, printers, storage devices, software…the possibilities and their combinations are quite many), and presentation (black and white or color, matting, framing, size of print). These things matter to a lot of people. They build strong cases for their position, and actually argue about who is right, and how everybody ought to see and do things as they do.

And, then, there are those of us who argue about the absurdity of arguing. We have our own denomination, and consider ourselves True Purists because we will not succumb to discussing the merits of matting, or any of the rest. We say things like, “It’s all relative,” and “Everyone has a right to her or his own position,” and “It isn’t important.” Sometimes we emphasize the “isn’t” because it matters to us that it doesn’t matter, and any idiot ought to be able to see as much.

How do you live in light of what is important to you without pulling all stops in trying to make that important to everyone? If you believe animals should not be raised to be killed so that people can wear furs, why aren’t you content with not wearing furs yourself? Why do you persist in getting me to not wear furs? Or, why do you go only so far in getting me to not wear furs? Why do you stop with writing occasional letters to the editor? Or, with putting bumper stickers on your car? Or, with carrying signs? Why don’t you bomb fur storage locations and burn down retail outlets that sell furs? Why do you draw the line in one place and not the other? With a little encouragement, could you be influenced to change tactics? To redraw your lines?

How do we live together in ways that respect the right of the other to positions and opinions different from our own? It is easy enough to say, “You go your way and I’ll go mine,” when there is an entire country that we can put between us (But, even then, it’s too bad for the Native Americans who get in our way!). We can “Agree to disagree,” when the stakes are low and we have nothing really to lose. Up the ante, make it matter, believe that there is no acceptable alternative to doing it your way. What happens then?

When we think, “Everybody should think like I do! Nobody should think differently than I do!”, things get sticky. When you cannot disagree with me, it’s tough going. That’s when I bring in the thugs to convince you to see it my way. The religious right is co-opting the Republican Party to do its thug work. It’s strategy is simply “vote the people who don’t think like we do out of office.”

You have to wonder if the founders of democracy saw it coming. What’s the point of everyone getting to vote, if it only takes one more than half of those who do vote to control the forces of history and carry the will of one more than half of those who vote into the far distant future? What’s the point of everyone getting to vote, if everyone thinks like they are told to think, if everyone votes like they are told to vote? You have to wonder if the founders of democracy realized that they were creating the Propaganda Wars, where those who control the minds of the voters control the country. Did they know they were inventing the Political Machine? Did they know they were creating a monster?

Karl Rove doesn’t have to be President, if he can control who is President. The founders of democracy could not have imagined Karl Rove, and the power of the media to create images, and enflame emotions, and substitute catch phrases and slogans for substance. Image is everything. The people one more than half of us elect sound like our kind of people—like the people we would want to have a beer with—like the people who value the kinds of things we think we are supposed to value, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, NASCAR, mother, freedom, and the dear old US of A. If you can be made to sound like one of us, at least one more than half of us will vote you into office every time, particularly if the person running against you can be made to sound like an emotional air-head. The founders of democracy could not have seen this coming.

But, give them credit. They did what they could to make it difficult to swing the country back to where they came from. They invented, not just democracy, but constitutional democracy. They made it hard for one more than half of us to elect someone who could do anything he or she wanted to do. But, that only makes it hard. The Bill of Rights can be neatly ignored by those who say they are not at all ignoring the Bill of Rights (Just as the polar ice caps can melt while those responsible for the melting say there is no such thing as global warming). The constitution can be amended, with a little work, to allow and prohibit whatever will guarantee the continuation of the vote going the way those in power want it to go. They will give us anything as long as we give them control.

Democracy cannot survive the tactic of block voting. To force your way, you only have to get more of your people to vote than their people. To ensure your way forever, the people who vote for your way only have to have more babies than the people who vote against you. In democratic Israel, the Palestinians are having more babies than the Israelis. What impact do you think that is going to have on democracy there in the next generation? Conservative Christian voters in the US are moving toward the “more than 50% of registered voters” category. You think you’re playing on a level field? You think the deck isn’t about to be stacked resolutely against you? You think it’s about finding “the right candidate” to espouse your views and win the election? Your candidate is on the verge of not ever having a chance, no matter how smooth she or he is. Where does that leave you?

Democracy is a tool to achieve the purposes of those who can turn out the vote. You can soothe yourself with romantic visions of free and independent voters electing the person with the platform and the persuasive power to effect the best future for all concerned, but if the Shiites turn out more voters than the Sunnis, it is going to be a Shiite future, and the Sunnis aren’t going to have much fun.

Can democracy be saved? I don’t know. It’s easy to imagine democracy working among those with small range of disagreement about what is important. If you are in agreement that creation science is in and science is out, and you are only debating whether the indoctrination process should start in the third grade or the sixth grade, and you are electing candidates based on those choices, you probably can have a fully democratic, in the best sense of the term, election. Religious Right Republicans could elect Religious Right Republican candidates in a “free and independent election.”

But, make the outcome matter, with world-views and religious principles hanging in the balance, and anything goes. We will gerrymander precinct and district lines, punch cards for the infirm and invalid, and figure ways to get the dead to vote (for our candidate, of course). And, we all can chuckle and laugh when the race is for the police jury, or the county commissioners, or the mayor of Chicago, but let it Really Matter, let the FUTURE hang in the balance, and see how you like it when they have theirs coming in by the bus loads and you have yours dropping by if its convenient. As the stakes increase, the chances of a free and independent election diminish, and quickly disappear.

When controlling the outcome forever (or, at least for the foreseeable future) matters, democratic principles go out the window. Then, anything goes in the effort to have our way prevail, because our way is THE way! Our way MATTERS! What’s the point in having a way if you don’t think it should be everybody’s way? How can you have a way that is only one way among many, without serving that way, and saying there are many ways, and no one has the right to force one way only upon the people, and doing everything you can to guarantee the practice of many ways in the land? And, when the Muslims say, “One Way! Our Way!”, how do you get them to embrace the importance of many ways and simply voice their objection to the depiction of the Prophet in political cartoons without killing the cartoonists, because they respect other ways as much as their own way? What happens to respect for other ways when your way really, really matters?

And, I know you well enough to know that at this point, you are thinking, “He has lost his mind.” We have come to the end of the time appointed for me to talk to you and I haven’t said a think about God, or Jesus, or the Bible. You’re thinking, “This isn’t a sermon. It’s an Op-Ed piece for the News and Record.” Well, if you are going to give me anything, give me the benefit of the doubt, and another five minutes.

Where do you think democracy came from? Geneva, Switzerland, John Calvin, and the Presbyterian way of doing things. Okay. Calvin got it from the Romans, who got it from the Greeks, but the point is that Presbyterianism is hanging in the balance here. We cannot be Presbyterian and vote in blocks. Representative Democracy is the Presbyterian Way. And the representatives don’t represent us. We elect them to think for themselves. To listen collectively for the wind of God moving among them, and to vote out of their hearts for the best that can be imagined. We do not elect them to vote along Party lines, or even to vote as they think their constituency would want them to vote. They vote for themselves.

For Presbyterianism—for Democracy—to work we have to be thinking for ourselves. It is the vote of individual conscience that serves the Good. When we pack our votes together to insure that our way is served, there goes the Good. It is presumptuous and vile and evil to assume that our way is the good way. This gets to the heart of Presbyterianism and spirituality.

We don’t know which way is the good way. We have to listen prayerfully to the leading of the spirit of God. And, who do we listen to when we are listening for God? Each other! Presbyterians understand the importance of listening to each other! We don’t come to the vote with our minds made up—we come to the vote with hearts, and minds open to the conversation, to the dialogue, to the dialectic.

Spiritual growth is a dialectic. It is a conversation with all aspects of experience. Everybody comes to table with everybody else. Everybody says how they see things. Everybody puts their perspective on the table. Everybody’s perspective enlarges everybody else’s. After we talk, we may decide not to vote, but to think about what we have heard, and come back, and talk some more. Everything hangs, in the church and out of it, on our ability and willingness to engage one another in honest conversation from the heart, with no ax to grind, and no bone to pick, and no case to make. Conversation free from the controlling influence of vested interest carries us to the heart of God and serves the Good. We have to engage one another with compassion and grace, and keep the dialectic alive. We have to speak our hearts and minds in free and open exchange, not to compel others to our point of view, but to see things we have never imagined, and to grow beyond our wildest dreams.

Friday, March 24, 2006

03/24/06, The Ten Things

Those of you who read much here have already come across the following, in one form or another. But, here they are, all grouped together like the ten commandments.

The first thing is: Intention not Outcome. Now, we are used to dismissing the importance of intention and emphasizing outcome. “The road to hell,” as you well know, “is paved with good intentions.” And, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Intention, in our book, means meaning to do something. Winning means actually getting it done.

We all know that meaning well doesn’t mean anything. We all know it doesn’t matter what you intend, it matters what you do. We all know you can’t eat intentions. We all would like to live in a world where intention is all you need to get by. Where we could say to our boss, “Oh, I intended to come in to work today, but somehow wound up at the golf course.” But, we do not live in that world, and intention does not rank very high in the world in which we do live.

That’s because in the world in which we do live, doing is everything, and intention is understood exclusively as meaning to get things done without having any necessary connection to actually doing them. So, for me to have any chance with you with the “Intention not Outcome” suggestion, you’re going to have to shift from a doing, achieving, accomplishing, getting things done perspective to a being perspective. Intention, as I am using the word, is not concerned with “what,” but with “how.” It is not about what you mean to do in the world, but how you mean to be.

All your lives long you have been directed toward the what. The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” isn’t about being at all. It is about doing. The proper answer is “A doctor.” Or, “An airline pilot.” Or, “A teacher.” Or, “An astronaut.” We would never say, “Compassionate. I want to be compassionate when I grow up.” Or, “Kind.” Or, “Just.” Or, “Trustworthy.” Or, “Peaceful.”

All our lives long, we are trained for the “what,” not the “how.” We take courses to prepare us for what we want to do, not for how we want to be. And, too much of the focus on the “what” is about money. What we really want to be when we grow up is wealthy. What we really want to be is financially secure and retired by 45. And, then what? Ah, then we will travel and enjoy spending money.

Our entire orientation is about doing, having, getting, acquiring, amassing, going, achieving, succeeding, conquering, winning. And, we come to college, and pursue graduate degrees, to hone our skills, and master the techniques, of conquest and domination. We will prevail. We are empty, hollow people, armed with the power to prevail. There is nothing more pitiful in all the world. Or appalling.

How can we live all our lives and miss the heart of the whole operation? How can we live all our lives and think life is about the external matters of what we eat, and drink, and put on, and what clubs we belong to and what sailboats and summer homes we own? How can we live all our lives in the service of the “what” and not the “how”? How can we live all our lives and think it is about Doing and not Being?

I’d bet you $20, if I still did that kind of thing, that in all the courses you have taken, from kindergarten to this very day, you have not had one course devoted to connecting you with the heart of life, with your heart, and soul, and self. I know the church hasn’t done it. The church has done everything it can to disconnect you from your heart, soul, and self. The church has told you that you are sinful, and have to disappear, and be born again, and let Jesus run things from here on out, and let someone else tell you what to do.

But, there is a spirit within you that resists the process. There is something within that knows. There is a voice that will not be silent, that will not go away. That protests every shift you make away from the “how” and toward the “what.” There is hope for us all. And, the hope is that we will wake up. And pay attention, And be aware. Aware of what? Aware of the resistance, the protests, the pleas of the voice within. Aware of the orientation, the compass reading, the landmark, the beacon, the direction, the impetus, the organizing principle, the core, the heart, the focus, the determination, the identity around which YOU coalesce. I’m interested in what you mean by, with, and through the life you are living. Who and how do you want to be, intend to be?

Here’s a little exercise for you. If you were going to disappear on us in the next thirty seconds, but wanted to leave behind some symbolic thing or object, something that would capture the essence of you and remain with us as a reminder of who and how you already are and, more importantly, intend to be, what would it be? What would you leave behind as the symbolic, essential you? What pops into mind?

Now, here’s the next part of the exercise. You have to live consciously, deliberately, intentionally in ways which express this symbolic, essential you, which is your essence, your core, your “intention,” throughout your life. What does “this,” whatever you are doing, or being asked to do, or thinking about doing, have to do with “that,” your center, your heart, your YOU? How does your life exhibit your intention? How is your essence, your essential core, exhibited in what you might verbalize as your intentions for your life? How is your intention served by your intentions?

You don’t think successful living—you don’t think a life well lived—is about packing around yourself all the accoutrements of success do you? Wealth, power, possessions, influence? You aren’t thinking that if you look successful enough you will, in fact, be successful, are you? You aren’t here to figure the quickest way to wear the right clothes, and drive the right cars, and be seen with the right people, are you? You haven’t bought into the cultural conviction that if it looks like a successful duck, and walks like a successful duck, and quacks like a successful duck, it IS a successful duck, have you?

Which, luckily enough, leads smoothly into the second thing. Which is the foundation of success. If you get this down, you will have it ever so made. It is absolutely, fundamentally, unquestionably, undoubtedly, indubitably, the single most important thing you can ever do for yourself and others.

The second thing is: Learn the difference between a tool and a prop. Tools express, exhibit, reveal, disclose, unfold, unveil, serve, and make known your YOU in the world. Props merely create an image. Props help you look like a successful duck. You have to know what is a tool and what is a prop, and spend your time with, and your money on, the tools, and let the props go. That’s it. That is all there is to it. That is the key to successful living. It is a tool, or a prop? That’s all you ever have to know. Of course, to know that, you have to know YOU. You have to know your heart, your core, your intention in order to know what tools you need to unfold, express, become YOU in the world.

What do we need to be who we are? We need enough money, to be sure, but don’t think that we need all the money we can acquire. We only need enough money to be who we are. After that, money becomes a trap, a prop, keeping us from serving the cause of heart in the world. What are the tools that enable us to be who we are?

The third thing is: Having it all figured out, having the answers, won’t do anything for you. You still "have to solve your own problems each day for the rest of your life" (Sheldon Knopp). You’re still going to have to get up and do what needs to be done. You cannot design a life worth living. You can only live a life worth living. No one lives a life worth living by design. You can’t draw it up and then step into it. You can only live from your heart one day at a time.

Do you have what it takes to walk the path with heart? Do you have what it takes to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and get back on the path with heart? Can you do the grub work day in and day out as an expression of who you are, when it doesn’t seem to be paying off, and when it doesn’t seem to matter, and what good is it doing, and what difference does it make, and who cares whether you do it or not? Can you be YOU in the world no matter what? Can you play it out all the way to the end? Without having to make it work for you? Can you understand that the boon, the blessing, the payoff is being you without having to have anything to show for it? Being you whether you have anything to show for it or not?

The fourth thing is: Who knows better than you what is right for you? Who are you going to trust with everything on the line? Who are you going to trust to help you put things back together when you blow it with everything on the line? Where are you going to go to establish and maintain connections with, and reconnect with, heart, and soul and self?

The fifth thing is: Sit with it. Sit with it. Sit with it. We have the idea that we have to solve it. The truth is that we have to sit with it. We have to spend time with it. We have to get to know it. We have to allow it to know us. What’s “it”? Whatever is in your way. Whatever is blocking you. Whatever is keeping you awake nights; making you jittery, anxious, angry, afraid, depressed. Whatever is “not right” about your life. Whatever is making you “out of sorts.” What are the conflicts that are making you crazy, tense, stressed-out? Sit with them; sit with the conflicts. Sit with the questions, the uncertainty, the doubt, the fear, the not-knowing. Sit with the feeling that you have to know and yet don’t know. The feeling that you have to have it figured out by bed time.

Who are you going to marry? Where are you going to live? What will you do to earn a living? How will you afford the life you aspire to? What are you going to do about your parents, or your children, or your spouse, or your heart attack, or your malignancy? What’s gong to happen and what are you going to do in response? All of that, and more, is “it.” Sit with it. Sit with it. Sit with it. BE with it. Make room for it. Spend time with it. Welcome it. Say “hello” to it. Sit with it. BE with it. Let it be, because it is.

The sixth thing is: In the Star Wars’ epic, Yoda is a highly advanced spiritual being who lives in a hole in the ground. If you can understand that, there is very little else that you need to know.

The seventh thing is: We can imagine a better world that we can live in. How well we handle the pain of that discrepancy will go a long way toward determining the character and quality of our life, and the legacy we leave behind.

The eighth thing is: We live to have the advantage, gain the advantage, get the advantage, exploit the advantage, maintain the advantage, parlay the advantage into an ever greater advantage. What’s the real advantage of the advantage? How does living to have the advantage screw everything up? What would it mean to live without having an eye out for the advantage? Or better, perhaps, to know that the true advantage is to be free from having to have the advantages?

The ninth thing is: When we try to gather the boon unto ourselves we miss the point that the gift, the genius, the talent is for everyone. Our genius is not our own. Our genius is for everyone. We live to share the boon.

The tenth thing is: The task is to be true to ourselves AND do right by one another. To be a self in relationship with other selves.

Monday, March 20, 2006

03/20/06, Sermon

The Advantage is The Problem. Trying to get the advantage; positioning ourselves to have the advantage; living to achieve the advantage; maintaining the advantage; increasing the advantage; developing the advantage… We parlay the good into the better. Nothing is good enough for long. We work the angles; cover our bases; keep our eye on the ball; intent on winning the game, or the prize, or the war. Then, on to the next one.

It’s stupid. There is no end to it. We never run out of advantages to amass. And, what do we do with them? We try to turn them into even more advantages. And, if it begins to look as though we don’t have a chance. If it seems that we are going nowhere fast, spinning our wheels, losing ground, with no hope of gaining the advantage, we seethe, rage, and explode, or despair and disappear. Life is with the advantages, about the advantages. What would life be without them?

Jesus drops into this world with its focus on the advantages, and talks about “the kingdom of God” consisting simply of radical equality around the table and across the board. No advantage. That’s Jesus’ gospel. “Blessed are you poor,” says Jesus. “Blessed are you who have no advantage whatsoever,” says Jesus. “That’s the idea,” says Jesus. It makes no sense. Until you think about it.

In the kingdom of God there is complete equality. If God were running things there would be complete equality. Every mountain and hill would be made low, and every valley and plane would be lifted up. The lion would lie down with the lamb, and the bear would eat straw like the ox. The haves would not be set over against the have-nots. The rich would not get richer and the poor poorer. Everyone would work for the good of everyone else; they would serve the interest of others as well as their own. They would love one another. That is a wildly, radical, idea if there ever was one. Wow. How are you going to do that, practically speaking? How are you going to institute the kingdom of God? How are you going to live toward radical equality in this world?

The foundation of equality is engagement. There is no equality “in principle,” only “in practice.” We can say, “all men are created equal,” but, already, we have left out the women. And, if we leave out the women, you can bet we are also leaving out a good portion of the men. No one is equal who is not engaged, who is dismissed, who is excluded, who is uninvited, who is not welcome. If we are going to live toward radical equality in this world, we are going to have to make ourselves available for relationship with all people. And, we are going to have to recognize and exclude those who come to do harm and not good—who come seeking their advantage at the expense of our own, like the wedding guest who crashed the party. For the practice of radical equality to work, everyone has to come dressed for the occasion, and be ready to do the work of being equal.

The slackers and lay-abouts, the free-loaders and scam-artists, have always been the bane of the practice of radical equality. They were called “Christ hustlers” in the early days. They were drifters, transients, who lived on the benevolence of a local Christian community for as long as grace could tolerate them, and when they were kicked out, they would move on to the next Christian community. It’s the age-old refusal to dress for the occasion.

We are back to the advantages. There are those who are glad to take advantage of the kindness and generosity of their neighbors. There are those who are glad to be carried along on the shoulders of everyone else. The rules of engagement require us to do our part in tending the relationship of radical equality, around the table and across the board. Everyone is welcome in the work of engagement, and everyone has to do the work—has to pay the price—of being engaged.

The practice of radical equality means no one tries to take anything from anyone, or give anything to anyone. No giving. No taking. Just being. Just being together. When we practice just being together, something shifts. Then, there is no patronizing (giving) and no scheming (taking), but a genuine sharing and meeting of legitimate need.

For the practice of radical equality to work, we have to learn how to be a self in relation with other selves. We have to set limits, draw lines, establish boundaries, in light of the New England observation that “good fences make good neighbors,” and the Biblical injunction, “Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor’s landmark.” We have to know where we stop and others start. There is no radical equality without radical respect, and that means respect for differences, respect for privacy, respect for the person behind “the fence.”

Radical equality does not erase differences. We are different in an infinite, and increasing, number of ways. We live to be different! We live to expand our interests, and enthusiasms, and capabilities, NOT to reduce them to some lowest common denominator so that no one will feel “unequal,” or “excluded.” Equality is not identity! Oneness around the table and across the board has nothing to do with being alike in any significant way. We do not have to be like one another to be equal with one another, but we do have to be willing to live together in ways that do not permit the things that separate us to keep us apart.

We have different levels of income, and we will not allow that to keep us apart. We have different levels of education, and we will not allow that to keep us apart. We have different ideas about God, and the Bible, and Jesus, and all things religious, and we will not allow that to keep us apart. Some of us like NASCAR and some of us like silence; some of us like tour buses and cruise ships, and some of us like walking alone in the woods; some of us like Willie Nelson, and some of us like Johann Sebastian Bach. We have different tastes, and interests, and aptitudes, and temperament, and we will not allow what is different about us to keep us apart.

We can engage one another on levels that have nothing to do with any of the things that separate us! We do not have to look at each other and see differences! We do not have to listen to each other and hear differences! We do not have to react to one another based on our preferences and disinclinations! We do not have to withdraw from people who are not like us! Engagement is possible around the table and across the board.

Equality and oneness are not about erasing or reducing the distinctions and differences that exist among us, but about seeing through those things to the solid core that unites us all. At the level of the heart, there is not gay and straight, male and female, black and white, first world and third world, Israeli and Palestinian, Moslem and Christian, west and east… At the level of the heart all of our dichotomies are false dichotomies. All of our divisions are about the advantages, and the power, and protection, necessary to maintain the advantages. The work of radical equality is the work for rights and privileges not accorded us by the structures of inequality and injustice which support the good of the few at the expense of the many.

The work of radical equality means we consciously, deliberately, extend ourselves to one another, engage one another, commune with one another, past and in spite of all that separates us in order to honor and serve the Great Oneness out of which we come and in which we live. Radical equality implicates us in reducing the distance that separates us, and impels us to find ways of establishing connections with all people. We cannot withdraw to small (or large) camps of those like us, secluded by our wealth and walls, off limits to, and out of touch with, those who are so unlike us in every measurable way. The fact that we are equal requires us to extend ourselves to one another past all that separates us in order to look and see, listen and hear, and treat with compassion and gentleness, justice and kindness that which is seen and heard. Radical equality makes us one in spite of all that stands between us.

“Breaking down the dividing walls” (while respecting each other's landmark!) is what we must do best if we are to bring to life what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.” Who do we associate with, and what do we think about those with whom we do not associate? Who is welcome in our company? Who is unwelcome? Who are we comfortable with? With whom are we uncomfortable? What are our “rules of engagement”? How do those rules need to be amended to include those people who are not “like us”? Radical equality depends upon our ability to extend ourselves to one another, and upon their ability to receive us. Upon their ability to extend themselves to us, and upon our ability to receive them. No giving. No taking. Just engagement.

Engagement trumps the advantages. We are here to be engaged, not to garner the advantages; not to gather the boon unto ourselves; but, to engage one another at the level of the heart and to help one another toward the true good of all. Disengaged, we care only about our own good, and the good of those “like us.” Engaged, we are one with all, and their good is our good. Moving from disengagement to engagement is the work of radical equality and the scope of the “life in Christ.” How do we do that, is the question. Practice and awareness, is the answer.

We live to be engaged with one another and all others out of our commitment to the practice of radical equality. We will break down the dividing walls. We will not withdraw into enclaves and encampments of people just like us. We will look and see, listen and hear, and treat with justice and compassion what is seen and heard. And, we will be alert to those who will not dress for the occasion, or come into relationship prepared to pay the price and do the work of radical equality around the table and across the board.

Friday, March 17, 2006


How many chances have you had? How many times have you blown it, only to have someone make allowances, give you the benefit of the doubt, say something on the order of, “You really don’t mean to do it that way, do you?”, and set you back on your way? How much of a safety net do you have, and how often have you used it? With me, it’s past counting.

Where would any of us be without the benefit of beginning again? Without the lowest grade being thrown out? Without someone saying, “I’m going to let this go this time, but don’t let it happen again”? We are all here by virtue of the timely suspension of the three strikes and you are out, three outs and it’s over rule.

And, we have used our opportunity—our second, and third, and who can remember how many, opportunities—to our advantage. We woke up, just in time. We realized what we were on the brink of losing. And, we said, something on the order of, “Oh, you’re so right! I don’t mean to do it that way!” We figured out the game. We played by the rules.

We dressed for the occasion, minded our manners, and showed up for work on time. We paid our bills, mowed the lawn, helped our kids with their homework. And, here we are today. Evidence of what dedication, discipline, and a ton of chances will do for you.

We could not have done it on our own, and we would not have done it without what we “brought to the table.” “We” are a combination of the resources we have had in our lives and our response to those resources. We, for whatever reason, were able to receive, and, to some extent, make the most of, the help our lives gave us.

How long does it take to wake up? How long must we be carried by those who make allowances, and help us to our feet, again, and dust us off, again, and say, “Give it another go”? How long before we get it, kick in, and start doing our part?

When we were 15, 18, 25, we were too arrogant, too cocky, too unimpressed by the shaky, tenuous, fragile nature of the future to think that we had to take care of anything, especially our future. We thought we could do whatever we wanted, try it all, live however we felt like living, because there were thousands of futures out there, all more or less alike, and they would be there waiting for us to show up and receive their gifts. The future will take care of itself, we thought. Our task was to seize the day and live for the moment.

They probably tried to wake us up. They probably said things we couldn’t hear. They probably posted warnings. We probably broke their hearts. But, give it to them, they didn’t give us up. Not all of them, anyway. Enough of them were with us when it mattered. One or two of them helped us up, dusted us off, gave us a job, or a scholarship, or a ten dollar bill, and said something on the order of, “Don’t let your mistakes stop you. Give it another go.”

And, over time, we woke up. We realized that the future is not a sure thing. That we mold and shape what happens there through our response to what happens here, now. We build the future with materials available in the present. Karma, you know.

And, we are, in part, evidence of the karmic influence of those who didn’t give up on us; who didn’t quit; who kept us, if not in the center, at least somewhere in the circle of their concern. They kept us floating until we learned to swim. And, we can celebrate their influence, and appreciate their saving presence, and look for ways to continue their legacy by being present for good in the lives of those who are sound asleep and would sink like a stone except for the hands that keep them floating.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


How can we ever expect to be happy when we are capable of seeing ways things can always be improved? Happiness implies that things are just fine as they are, but we can imagine a better world than we can live in. In order to be happy, we have to be up to our necks in denial, or on some serious medication.

This is the only deal there is. It is our work to come to terms with it, make our peace with it, accept it for what it is, bear it as well as we are able, and do what we can with it. After we change all that can be changed, we are still going to have to live with what we don’t want, much of which will have to do with paying the price to change what can be changed. At some point, we are going to have to take a deep breath, and say, “This is how it is. Now what?”

The “Now what?” is about building a life we can be proud of with the materials at our disposal. What do we do with who we are, where we are, when we are, and how we are? How shall we live with what we have to live with? What will we do with the life that is ours?

What future will we shape, form, create, bring into being with the decisions and choices and the way we live in the here-and-now? What legacy will we leave behind? What is the character of our living? The nature of our life? What are the important things that we honor, and serve, with our lives? What are our lives about? What do we want them to be about?

What is the genius, the gift, that is ours to bring to life in the life we are living? What is our work? We live to express, to serve, to do what? What must we do? What nags us, pulls us, tugs us, pushes us, keeps after us? What do we keep wondering if we could do? What do we keep wishing we could do? Dreaming of doing? What, when we do it, immerses us in peace, disconnects us from “the real world,” and makes time stop? What keeps us from doing more of that?

Our job is often not our work. Our job pays the bills. Our work brings us to life, and is life. And, we don’t know why we do it, except that we love it so, and, really, cannot not do it. And, if we have to work to find a way to do our work, then we must do the work required to do the work that is ours to do. “What now?” is about doing what we must to do what we must. It is the solid, sure, path to living happily ever after.


Being a photographer is about being awake, being aware, being conscious, being present, being attuned to this moment right now. It is about seeing—seeing what is, and what also is, as it is, and as it will be, as it might be, as it could be. The photograph is just a step on the way to seeing the next scene better than we saw the last scene.

No one sees. Everyone is learning to see, hoping to see, trying to see, coming to see. And everyone sees what is to be seen a little differently from everyone else. No one takes the same pictures someone else takes. The differences may not make a difference, but they are there. We are not trying to see the way Ansel Adams saw. We are trying to see the way we see. When we look, what do we see? How can we photograph that in a way that expresses what we see? The effort to see and photograph what we see enables us to see better what is to be seen. We take pictures so that we might see what is before us. If they help you see what is before you, that’s fine, we do want you to see what we have seen, but we do not take pictures with you in mind. We take pictures to see, ourselves, what we have seen, and how we might have seen it differently, and what we might look for next time.

A photograph is an exercise in seeing. Photography is about learning to see. We take pictures to show ourselves how to see. To live unseeing is not what we want for ourselves or others. We believe deeply that we must not live unseeing. And so, we get up early, and stay out late, hoping to see what is to be seen. We live in the service of seeing.

Monday, March 13, 2006

03/13/06, Sermon

You don’t have to read John Dominic Crossan very closely to be able to jump to the conclusion that the heart of Christianity is table fellowship. And, if we choose not to use the word “fellowship” because of its suggestion that women may not be welcome (“Only fellows here, my dear!”), the word “commensality” will do. The heart of Christianity is commensality. Equality at table. Everyone is actually, literally, completely, unquestionably, eternally, absolutely, always and forever welcome at the table, and, by implication and extension, at the water cooler, and the coffee maker, in the sanctuary, and everywhere else that people gather. We are one. The heart of Christianity is recognizing, and treating one another as though, we are one.

The scriptural texts that underscore the essential nature of oneness with each other as the heart of the faith are scattered throughout the Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, there is the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One,” and the idea that we are to be as God is, “You must be holy as God is holy.” “You must be perfect (and here the idea is not moral perfection, but completion, wholeness—we must be holy and whole) as God is perfect (as God is whole).” It seems that holiness and wholeness go hand in hand. We cannot be holy without being “seamlessly integrated” within, at one with ourselves; and without, at one with one another. The work of the church, you might say, is the work of achieving and exhibiting this “seamless integration” within and without. The idea is continued in the Christian addition to the Hebrew Bible.

There, we find Jesus’ prayer in John’s gospel, “that they might be one even as we are in one,” and, in Paul, the idea that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28), and “There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all and in all!” (Col. 3:11). Jesus, says Paul in Ephesians, has “broken down the dividing walls” (2:14) making all one.

The heart of Christianity is that we are one. One with ourselves, with each other, with Jesus, and with God. The heart of Christianity is the realization that in looking at me, in looking at each other, you see God. We are all one. And, our work is to realize and express this oneness, to live seamlessly integrated with ourselves, with each other, with Jesus, and with God. That is the work of the church in the world.

Of course, it doesn’t take the church long to turn the idea of oneness the church’s advantage. Turning things to our advantage is what we do best. There is not a culture, there has never been a culture, where human beings do not look to their advantage. And this, gentle people, is the essence of sin. Sin, as those of you who know me know, is, in my view, being wrong about what’s important. And, what we take to be important is “me and what I want.” My advantage. My good. My wealth, My power. My wellbeing. My wishes. My desires. My way. As Sue Stinson said last week, “I’ll be happy for you to have what you need as long as I don’t have to give up what I want.” When your needs interfere with what I want, too bad for you. And, more to the point, when my needs interfere with what I want, too bad for me!

As it is with us, so it is with every human institution, including the church. We can turn anything to our advantage, individually or corporately. Therein lies the problem. If it weren’t for trying to gain and maintain the advantage, there would be more than enough for all. Of course, we would probably still be in the caves. Neanderthal may be extinct because they didn’t care if Cro-Magnon got all the advantages. Sin may not be all that bad, actually, now that I think about it. Maybe it’s just the price of progress. Where would we be if we were happy with nothing at all? Plant us with the cabbages and the carrots, we’ll be fine. It’s getting complicated. We may be here for a while. I hope you don’t have plans. Maybe we should send out for pizza.

The church took the idea of oneness and turned it to its advantage. The church placed itself in the position of brokering our relationship—our oneness—with ourselves, each other, and God. The church made itself indispensable to us by declaring what oneness required, namely, doing what the church tells us to do. “If you want to be one with God, you have to live like we tell you to live!”, says the church.

As you know, it wasn’t long before part of the church bucked and snorted at another part of the church’s idea of what constituted oneness, and Constantinople (or was that Byzantium) went its way and Rome went its way. Then Protestantism went its way and Rome went its way. And, before you know it, there were rifts and divisions everywhere, with everybody telling everybody else they were going to hell because they weren’t doing it the right way. And, there was great disagreement within the various branches of the church over who was more holy and whole, and one with God.

Great wars, in a manner of speaking, were fought over whose idea of what constituted oneness and how to achieve it was right. People were burned at the stake for having a minority opinion regarding the nature of oneness. You can see how that would pretty well put an end to the whole notion. Oneness is lost when you have to be like me (or I have to be like you). Oneness is not identification; it is not agreement; it is not submission; it is not subordination; it is not domination; it is not assimilation; it is not concordance; it is not creedal concurrence; it is not group consensus; it is not “being in full accord and of one mind,” except, of course, being in full accord about not having to be in full accord, and being of one mind about the importance of being free to have different ideas, beliefs, and opinions about very nearly everything.

You blow any chance of oneness when you say something on the order or, “As long as you put your feet under my table you will cut your hair, take that ring out of your nose, and stop being gay.” This is not being one around the table. Oneness does not have anything to do with people at table being like one another. We have the happy fantasy that to be one is to be indistinguishable, interchangeable. Our “soul mates” are those who see things as we do. We want to marry ourselves. And, we communicate to our true loves, in a manner of speaking, “If you love me you’ll do it my way.”

Well. You can guess how long that lasts. But, on the other hand, you might be surprised at how long it can last. You might be surprised, shocked, appalled, horrified to know how much is sacrificed, swallowed, buried, denied, in the name of, for the sake of, maintaining the appearance of oneness. The core problem is dissociation, disconnection, dismissal, dissolution. We do not know how to be a self in relation to other selves. We only know how to forsake ourselves for the sake of other selves. I have to give up me to be in relationship with you. That’s the only kind of oneness I know. I lose me and embrace you, and oh how happy we will be.

The church contributes to the dissociative drift with its talk of sacrifice and surrender, and its flesh/spirit dichotomy, and its emphasis upon the necessity of submission to the will of God. According to the church, we have to disappear into God. We have to die and be reborn as those who would love to do, not what we like, but what God likes. “If you love me, you will do it my way,” becomes God’s prerequisite for heaven and life eternal.

And, who tells us what God’s will is? The church, of course. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how it works out like this? The church brokers oneness with God in a way that is always to the church’s advantage. And if that works to our disadvantage, if that results in our being splintered, and divided, and at odds and at war within, and among, ourselves, the church will tell us that is evidence of sin, and proof that we aren’t working hard enough at being faithful to God’s will in our lives. I trust that you perceive the potential for craziness at work here. The church divides us against ourselves and tells us it’s God’s will. The church, simply put, makes us crazy.

The healing agent becomes a toxic wasteland by turning the advantage to itself. There is no advantage. That is the theme of Jesus’ proclamation. He says, “Blessed are you poor!” “Don’t worry about what to eat or wear!” “The Kingdom of God is like a vineyard owner who pays all workers the same amount.” “Seek first the Kingdom of God (which is nothing other than the radical equality of commensality around the table, across the board)!”

“Do not seek the treasure!”, warns Pete in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It is excellent advice, always applicable. Do not seek the treasure. There is no advantage. Or better, the heart of true seeing lies in knowing what the true treasure is, where the true advantage is to be found.

It is to be found in the integration of self with self, and with other selves, and with God. We are aware, for instance, of the opposites within, but we are not aware of the degree to which our conflicts within and without interfere with our health and contribute to stress-related illnesses. Without conflict there are not many dissociative disorders. “In the desert, you can remember your name, cause there ain’t none there for to cause you no pain.” It’s amazing, the healing, restorative, regenerative power that comes with freedom from conflict. If you want to heal us, teach us to integrate the opposites within and without. If you want to know the source of Christ’s healing power, you don’t have to look any farther than that. “Come to me you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” “I will not yell at you for being who you are. I will not tell you that if you want to put your feet under my table you will have to do it my way. I will ask you how you are doing it, and I will listen as you tell me, and I will ask how it’s working, and what the problems are, and what you think it will take for things to work better, but I won’t tell you that you are wrong and ought to be ashamed. I will tell you are the greatest, and help you find the conflicts that keep you from feeling at home with yourself, and help you integrate the opposites within, and it won’t be long before you are helping others do the same thing, and before you know it, the world will be holy, and whole.”

Friday, March 10, 2006


We have to start somewhere, so let’s start with the assumption that we all want to do it well, do it right. Life, that is. We all want to enjoy the satisfaction of having lived well. Who is to say what constitutes a well-lived life? Who sets the standards? Assesses the effort? Determines the worth? How do we gauge success?

There are models all over the board. Abe Lincoln. Winston Churchill. Gregory Peck. Donna Reed. Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi. The Buddha. Jesus of Nazareth. Rosa Parks. Helen Keller. Anne Sullivan. Albert Schweitzer. Oscar Romero. Groucho Marx… The list is long. Whose name would you add to the collection? What sets them apart? The people on the list lived very different lives. Some of them took vows of poverty and lived as, and with, the poorest of the poor. Some of them enjoyed the opulence of wealth and celebrity status. What is it about each of them, all of them, that suggests successful living? How would we decide, looking at them, that here are people who did it well, who did it right?

Whatever it is, it comes in different packages. It is expressed in different life styles. It comes out in different ways. They all don’t wear a robe and walk in sandals wherever they go.
We have the idea that there is a mold, a form, our lives have to fit into if we are to live well. There is an ideal that we have to emulate. Service we must render. We have to forget, abandon, neglect self, for instance, and live for others. On what level? I’d say both Gandhi and Winston Churchill forgot self and lived for others, but they did it on very different levels, for different periods of time.

Not many of us are truly comfortable with the response we are making to the call to “live well.” We are sure we aren’t doing enough. We are sure we should be doing more. We should be more “that” way and less “this” way. We think we should be doing it like they are doing it over there, or like they did it back then. We do not think anyone should do it like we are doing it. We have some strange ideas about “successful living.”

The Ideal Christian Life used to mean “everything in moderation” and no smoking, drinking, gambling, cussing or carousing. Now, you can cuss if you want to, but you have to be involved regularly in service/mission projects to the poor and underprivileged. And, you cannot drive an SUV, or eat real butter. You have to experience “the joy of giving.” Yet, how much of a gift is it if you have to give it? You can’t ask the question. And, you can’t think of yourself as a “successful Christian” if you don’t comply with the ideal. But, who sets the standard, and how is the standard changed? How do we decide what we have to do in order to live successfully, whether as a Christian or not?

Who do we admire? What is admirable about them? How do we come to value “these” attributes and not “those”? We are flirting here with the idea of “the cultural ideal.” The cultural ideal—and the culture can be “the west,” or “IBM,” or “Christianity,” or one of a thousand other sub-cultures within The Culture—is there from the start. “We,” collectively, have an idea of how it ought to be done. “We,” individually, feel more or less guilty and uncomfortable with our perception of how far we fall from achieving the cultural ideal. It is one of the functions of “the culture” in our lives to keep us pointed toward “how we ought to be.” It is one of the tasks of maturity and spiritual development (And I do not know how those two things can be separated. I cannot imagine an immature person with a well-developed spirituality) to stand apart from the cultural ideal and decide for ourselves who and how we shall be. As we do that, we are creating a “counter-culture.”

Spirituality is necessarily “counter-cultural.” Spirituality says, “Hey! Wait a minute!” about very nearly everything. Everything passes in review. Everything comes up for evaluation. We don’t do anything just because it’s being done all around us. And, we can’t do any of this on our own. Alone, we can be anti-cultural, but not counter-cultural. We need a culture to counter the culture! Which means that we have to find people who are able to ask the questions that need to be asked about the cultural ideal, in order to ask the questions and form “our,” collectively speaking, own ideal, and live to align ourselves with it.

Who, and how, is it important to us to be? Who are the people with whom we can talk this through? Think this through? Where do we go to figure out, to decide, who, and how, it is important to us to be? Who represents the counter-cultural force in our lives? Who helps us resist the common assumptions of the day and create alternative models of the life well lived? To what extent do they value our voice, enable us to “speak our mind,” and encourage us to develop our own ideas of the ideal—our own ideal of who and how it is important to be? We need to hang out for a while with the people who help us in these ways—if we are fortunate enough to know any of them. If we don’t know any of them, the plan is to “become what we need”—to be as much like them as we can be—and see who is attracted to us. We create community according to the Zen maxim, “When the flower opens, the bees appear.” We “bloom where we are,” to the extent that is possible, and see what happens. There is a lot of waiting around, and very little hurrying along, on the way to living the way life ought to be lived.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

03/08/06, Sermon

Fat Tuesday. Use it up! (The fat in the house, that is) Get it out! (Anything that might have pleasure attached to it) Have a party! Mardi Gras! We get rid of temptation by indulging in temptation. We blow it out in one wild night on the town, and then submit to the ashes and the destitution of Lent. Forty days of penitence and depravation. So that we will be deserving of Easter and the Blessed Event of Resurrection, and be able to partake of the Body and Blood, broken and spilt, for us.

Whose idea was all this? Who thought THIS up? How would you start a cultural practice of this magnitude? How would you get all these people to go along with you? You’d have to have some leverage. You’d have to have a monopoly on the minds of the people. You’d have to be able to order up a feast and a fast and have everyone jump to comply. You’d have to be Somebody. And, you would have to have a propaganda, excuse me, public relations, machine at your disposal. Joe Dufus couldn’t do it. Unless he were Pope Joe. Or, at least a Bishop.

It takes a Pope, sometimes, to bring some things off. Or, at least a Bishop. It takes the power of the church (when the church had power) to proclaim and declare. The practice of fasting for the forty days prior to Easter was unknown before the time of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who lived between 296 and 373 CE, and Ambrose who was Bishop of Milan between 374 and 397. And, following them, it becomes increasingly popular until, by now, it is practically everywhere.

It takes a Pope, sometimes, to bring some things off. Or, at least a Bishop. It takes the power of the church (when the church had power) to proclaim and declare. But, there is more to it than that. Vatican II had a Pope (John XXIII) and the power of the church behind it. Vatican II was the most far-reaching, revolutionary, progressive, indication of hope, and compassion, and vitality, and justice the church has ever made (including the Reformation). We’re still celebrating Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. In less than a generation Vatican II has dissipated and disappeared. What’s the difference? Dig into that, if you dare.

If you dig into that, you will find the heart of what Lent would exorcise, of what we need to repent, of what penitence and preparation for resurrection are all about. You’ll find exactly why we don’t have what it takes to be raised from the dead.

Vatican II asked hard things of us. Compassion. Justice. Things like that. Ug. You know what I mean. Let’s just party hearty, don the ashes, and fast for forty days. It’s so much easier to make the gestures, and assume the postures, and play the roles, and speak the language. It’s hell, actually living in ways that do justice, and love mercy, and humbly, relentlessly, evidence the presence of God in the world. It’s hell, doing what’s right over time. So much better just to strike a pose.

If you are going to get the people behind you, and keep them with you, don’t ask them to do what’s right over time. Give them a party and ask them to make a symbolic gesture as a token of their sinfulness, which will be forgiven (again and again), and conveniently laid aside by the power of resurrection and new life, which is never, ever, actually new, or even any different, at the level of the heart, from the life they ever lived (you know, the life that is sinful and will have to be forgiven again next year about this time). Give them a ritualistic cycle, and don’t expect them to change.

Give them the ashes, and the chants of confession and praise and thanksgiving. Let them castigate themselves for forty days, and then declare them to be forgiven, and raised from the dead. But, don’t actually expect them to rise from the dead. Don’t ask them to change. Don’t tell them to stop the whining and live with justice and compassion for all people everywhere. Don’t tell them to allow homosexuals to have the full rights of personhood. Tell them to feed the hungry, if you like, but don’t tell them to change the structures and the systems that keep hunger in place, that make homelessness an ever-present reality, that guarantee the poor will be with us always. Don’t tell them to stop killing their enemies in the name of their own safety and security and peace of mind. Don’t tell them to be as vulnerable and helpless, and as at-one with their neighbor, as the one they call Lord. Don’t mess with their lives. They will turn on you in an instant, and turn away from you forever.

Vatican II has evaporated like the morning mist, vanished like the phantom for good that it was. And, we are still holding our Mardi Gras parades, and our Ash Wednesday services, and counting mournfully the forty full days of Lent. Well. Whose side are we on?

That’s the only question. Whose side are we on? And, you’re thinking this is where I bring God into the discussion, aren’t you? Yes, you are! Don’t deny it! That’s how these things always go. Asking whose side are we on is always used to highlight the disparity between ourselves and God, and to get into the meat of the matter which is why we should be more godly. And, you’re all getting geared up for that. You know what’s coming, and you’re thinking that you only have about ten minutes of it before I’m done with you, and surely you can take that much, but some of you are measuring the distance between yourselves and the nearest door, just in case I drone on, and you reach your maximum tolerance level, and have to leave, when you’ve heard about as much about how you ought to be more godly as you can stand. I hate to disappoint you, but, you should have seen that coming, too.

The choice, gentle people, is not between ourselves and God, as in the Garden of Eden, but between ourselves and our other selves. This is the dichotomy between Fat Tuesday and Vatican II. Between striking a pose and forming a life. Between reading the script (And, Julie and I talked about thrusting a Lenten Litany into your hands. You know, one of those mournful, penitent things, wherein we confess our evil nature and profess gratitude for the grace that loves us anyway, and promises Easter morning to those who are properly prepared. But, it’s just too scripted. It’s too easy to read the words. Besides, how gracious is grace that withholds the blessing from those who aren’t properly prepared? But, back to the point)—the point is that the dichotomy is between reading the script as those who know what they are supposed to say and living the life we know—on some level—must be lived. The choice is between ourselves and our other selves.

Our other selves are always taking the whole into account. We, however, have eyes only for ourselves. We think it is about us, about our part, our piece of the pie, what’s in it for us. Our other selves know that what’s really in it for us is identification with the whole. When we are at-one with one another we have what we seek. But, we think it’s about taking care of ourselves first and then, with spare time, and extra money, and left over compassion we can do something for others. “Those who seek their own life, their own good, their own boon,” says the ancient wisdom, “will lose it. While those who lose their life in the service of a good which is greater than their own, personal, good, will find it.”

It isn’t about living in the service of the self or not living in the service of the self. It is about knowing what constitutes the true service of the self. It is about being self-serving in the surest, truest, deepest, best sense of the term. Our other selves know what we need to be whole, complete, fulfilled, and at peace, but, we have eyes for other things. We like the things that sparkle and shine. We like the glass beads and mirrors and the fruit on the forbidden tree. It is forbidden because it is not what we need. We don’t care what we need. We know what we want.

We want what we have no business having. The division is within. We want to say we have sinned, and go on with our lives. We want to confess our sin, but we don’t want to do anything about it. We want to serve the good that is good for us and give $20 in support of the common good of all. It’s all right there in the discrepancy between Fat Tuesday and Vatican II. We want to be credited with feeling bad about how things are without having to go to the trouble of changing, of transforming, how things are. We are kidding ourselves, of course, and we know it. Our other selves know it. They know when we live with integrity, and transparency, and authenticity, and up-front-ness, and when we live for the personal gains at the expense of the truly good.

The truly good asks a lot of us. Vatican II was about the transformation of the world. The transformation of the world requires the relentless pursuit of the truly good over time forever. Justice is episodic, not institutional. You can’t devise a system that will do justice, make it operational, and go on about your life. You don’t have a life in the service of justice! You live to serve justice. That is your life. Do you begin to see the problem with Vatican II? Do you begin to see why Fat Tuesday is to be so much preferred? With Fat Tuesday, we can have any life we want, and say we are ashamed for not doing better, and be forgiven for it every year, and raised from the dead every Easter, to go right on with the way we are living, unchanged and unchanging, world without end, amen.

We could, of course, take Lent seriously, and drop the self depreciating act, and actually live toward the good our other selves know to be good. It’s a painful choice, to be sure, and so the ancient wisdom talks about the way of the truly good being like bearing a cross. It is very much the way of personal pain. It’s the pain of realization. It’s the pain of knowing what our other selves know. It’s the pain of seeing the degree to which civilization, which we invented as a buffer between ourselves and the Void, champions the good of the few at the expense of the many. It’s the pain of waking up and living in the service of a good that is greater than our own good. It’s the pain of doing what can be done where we are to make things more equitable, more just, more compassionate, less violent, less dismissive and more aware than they are. It’s the pain of keeping alive the spirit of Vatican II, when it would be so much easier to give up chocolate for forty days and let it go at that.


Cultures exist in companies and churches. There is “the IBM way,” for instance. “First Church” has a particular “mind-set” in every community across the land. There are distinct “corporate personalities” which set one group of people off from other groups of people. “This is the way we do it here.” “You’re in the Army now.” And, you cannot be “in the Army” the way you are back home with that “dear old gang” of yours. Different groups require different ways of thinking and being.

When we come together over time, we participate in the unconscious creation of a “group mind.” We are, on some level, like a flock of blackbirds, taking off together, turning together, landing together, with no one in particular directing the movement, and no one trying to follow the lead, and everyone taking off, turning, landing as one. We all know what is permissible and what is disallowed without drawing up bylaws, establishing rules, making motions, passing legislation. What we think and how we act, how we live, is conditioned, if not determined, by our primary group membership. We are of “like mind” with some group which provides us with identity and stability, which orients us in time and space, upholds, supports, sustains us, and points us “in the right direction.” We do not have a mind of our own. Without the group, some group, we don’t have a mind at all.

Think of “mind” as a particular configuration of perspectives, a certain way of thinking, seeing, and being in the world. A “culture” of its own. We don’t know what we think about something until we “make up our mind.” When we tell someone what we think about an issue important to us, we give them “a piece of our mind.” But, our mind is not actually “ours.” It is the joint construction of our primary group. How differently can we think, and be, from the way things are thought, from the way people are, around us?

Some groups are sub-groups of a larger group. The culture—the “mind-set,” the “mind”—of the religious right, for instance, permeates civic groups, retail marketing associations, churches, and social clubs. You could be a member of Rotary, work for Wal Mart, belong to the big white church on the corner, and dance each Friday night with the Jolly Swingers, and the larger, cultural mind of the religious right would be reinforced in each of those smaller groups. And, you probably would not be a member of a sub-group that reflected and espoused a different mind.

Indoctrination and repetition is the process of deprogramming and reprogramming, of replacing the previous mind-set with a new one. We immerse ourselves in the language, particularly the catch phrases, of the group, absorb the mind of the group, become one with the group, and have to return to the group to be reinforced by the group and remain connected with the mind of the group in order to live as extensions and expressions of that mind in the world.

It is an interesting phenomenon how we break ties with one group mind, establish ties with another, perhaps competing, or entirely contrary, group mind. We “grow out of” one group and into another. We shift allegiances. We abandon practices. We walk away. Sometimes, we are shut out. We drift for a while and then are absorbed by a new group. Or, we are “proselytized” by one group while still a member of another group. Perhaps we think we are joining a sewing club which is really a clandestine Bible society, but it meets our needs, and we embrace its tenants and become one with its mind.

Or, we find ourselves resisting the imposition of a perspective and philosophy that we cannot condone or tolerate, much less espouse. We reject the group mind. We assert our independence. We think for ourselves, yet, shrivel and die, spiritually, if not physically, without the supportive presence of those who think like we do. We look for like-minded-ness, for eye-to-eye-ness. We cannot live well without it.

The tendency to move from mind to mind, so to speak, suggests mind searching for mind, suggests mind beyond mind. The experience of transcendence may be the ultimate form of like-minded-ness, may be absolute eye-to-eye-ness, belonging in the fullest, deepest, sense of the word—being a part of, being at-one with, the whole; “getting it,” at last.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


The bad news is that our work is cut out for us. I don’t think you understand. Our. Work. Is. Cut out. For. Us. Here’s what that means: Our work is cut out for us. Let me explain. Miracles don’t diminish our work load. Give us a miracle, there is work to be done. After enlightenment, the laundry. And worse. Hit the big time and hit the ground running. There is no turning a corner in this world and not having to work a lick at anything any longer.

We have the happy fantasy that escape is possible. But keep discovering to our everlasting dismay, horror, disbelief, and depression that “when we climb over the fence, we are still in the world” (Charles Schultz).

We wake up in a life not of our dreams. We wake up in a nightmare. We cannot stand the facts that define us, limit us, suffocate us. We don’t want this life. We want another, better life, now. Not this spouse, these children, this house, this dog, this car, this lawn, this social circle, these prospects and this view. We have to get out. We have to do something. This cannot be how it is with us forever! We’ll join the circus if we have to. We want to see the world. We want to do something worthwhile. We want to be somebody. We want to be going somewhere.

It doesn’t occur to us that at that very moment, someone in some circus somewhere is waking up in a nightmare. We don’t think that at some point everybody wants to bail out of their lives into some other better life. Overwhelmed by “these facts,” we don’t consider “those facts,” namely that when we step off the bus we have to take up the work of being us in that context, in those circumstances, with other restrictions, and limitations, and obligations, and duties…

We pray for deliverance. We pray for a miracle. The people in circuses are praying for deliverance and miracles. The people in the big time are praying for deliverance and miracles. The people in the Canadian Rockies (believe it or not) are praying for deliverance and miracles.
Where are you going to go? Where are you going to go that you won’t wish were different, better, somewhere else? Here’s the bad news. The work is there ahead of you. You cannot get out of the work. You cannot avoid the work of being who you are within the context and circumstances of your life. It is hell at some point everywhere. At some point everywhere you wake up in a nightmare, and realize that you have to live on life’s terms, like it or not.

You don’t get to pick the cards. You don’t get to order up your options. You don’t get to select what you deal with in a day. “Blood clots! Who asked for BLOOD CLOTS?” You think it’s going to go one way, and it goes some other, less attractive, way instead. And so, you ask for deliverance. You ask for a miracle. And, maybe you work to arrange for one or the other, or both. And, “Poof!”, let’s say, you get what you wanted. Think your prayers are answered? “You run from a snake and a bear gets you,” says the Good Book. There you are.

This is the way deliverance works. We are delivered from “this” into “that.” Our work is cut out for us wherever we are. It is the work of adjusting ourselves to what has to be done within this context, within these circumstances, or, within that context and those circumstances. It is the work of coming to terms with life not on our terms. It is the work of accommodating ourselves to the turns our lives take, to the things that come our way, to the nightmare we wake up in no matter what dream world we said goodnight to when we went to sleep.


Here’s the deal: Live out of your heart, out of your genius, out of your gift, and let the outcome be the outcome. Be true to yourself, doing what you love, to the extent that is possible, within the context and circumstances of your life, sharing your genius and your gift, with compassion and justice for all, and let the outcome be the outcome. Once you start living with a particular outcome in mind, it’s over. You’re lost. You’re off track. You’re off the beam. You’re off center. You’re wandering without direction in a wilderness of obstacles, and obstructions, and frustrations, and disappointments, and compromises, and sell-outs, and the ending will not be as happy as you think it will be, no matter what outcome you manage to arrange.

It is not about the arrangement of outcomes. It is about serving your genius, your gift, with compassion and justice, regardless of the outcome, all your life long. When you start positioning yourself to achieve a particular outcome, you’ve gone over into arranging and maintaining what you think are the proper appearances and have abandoned integrity and essence.

Integrity is not profitable. Not profitable enough, anyway. You sacrifice essence to achieve ends that are not related to essence. The struggle is to be who you are—to be true to yourself—to serve your genius and your gift—within the context and circumstances of your life. The struggle is to “bloom where you are” (NOT “where you are planted”!), understanding that doesn’t mean you never leave a toxic, pathological situation for a better one (You certainly do!), but that blooming where you are is going to ask you to swim against the current, and do what is not fashionable, no matter how good your external circumstances are (and they should be the best you can arrange without sacrificing your integrity, your essence, your soul, your self).

Do you know when your integrity is at stake? Do you know when your essence is being threatened? What the compromises are that you cannot make? Where you draw the line? Do you have any idea of where the line lies? Education is useless that gives us information without connecting us with our essence. So what if we know all the answers, or questions, on Jeopardy, and do not know what is integral to that which is deepest, best, and truest about us?

What is our gift, our genius? What is our heart’s true love? What is the path with our name on it? What must we do, or die? What good is a graduate degree that doesn’t enable us to answer these questions? That doesn’t allow us to explore the nature of our essence, the character of our soul? That enables us to make a living but not to know what we are living for?

Friday, March 03, 2006


I wish I weren’t such a literalist—such a fundamentalist. But, we are all Southern Baptists at heart. We like it like we like it, and people who don’t like it the way we like it can just go to hell. That’s me, I’m sorry (not really) to say.

I actually think language matters. It isn’t “just words.” It is not “just a matter of semantics.” We are not all “saying the same thing.” It is not a matter of saying, “It doesn’t matter what the words are, it’s what in our hearts that counts.” What counts is what we say and what words we use to say it.

We cannot sing the old gospel hymns and think we can ignore the language because we like the rhythm and the beat and the feeling of community when we sing them. We cannot recite the creeds and mean something with the words that the words don’t say. The words matter. Don’t use words that don’t say what you mean.

If we mean that God exists independently of us and separately from us as an almighty, invincible, omni-everything, supernatural, spiritual being in a dimension, on a plane, in a realm, apart from space and time, that’s what we should say. And, if we see all of creation, including every possible dimension, plane, realm that is as being a matrix, an interconnected whole, where everything participates in the oneness of the all, and the whole is in each part, and each part is inseparable (and, from a certain perspective, indistinguishable) from the whole, then, that’s what we should say.

The word “light” is a better metaphor for God at this point in the history of the world from the point of view of western culture than the word “king.” And, it is biblical. And, it suggests “perspective” which is fundamental, foundational, to “being.” We cannot just “be.” We have to “be” this way or that way. We have to be “somehow.” Some way in particular. We have to “be” “in light of” a particular, a peculiar, perspective. How we see is how we are. We are seeing/beings.

God is a certain perspective. A certain way of seeing/being. When we see and become as God, we are one with God, and where do we stop and where does God start? When we love as God loves, the distinctions drop away, and people, seeing us, see God. Put that in a creed and I’ll say it. But don’t expect me to say God is a King who hates me and loves me and has to kill me because I’m not pleasing and impregnates a virgin named Mary to birth a god-man named Jesus to live a wholly pure and pleasing life and die as a sacrifice acceptable to God for my sins and the sins of everybody who ever lived and will ever live, which is efficacious only if we believe the scenario with all our hearts and say we are sorry for our sins and try to do better until we die and go to heaven and live eternally joyfully and gladly forever, Amen. And, don’t ask me to say any part of that, or any variation of that, without meaning it because “the words don’t matter.” Words matter. There are days I wish they didn’t, but I deeply believe they do.

It is the struggle to say what we think that enables us to think. We all know what we are supposed to say about God (and our grandmother’s apple pie). And, we know where what we are supposed to say begins to part company with what we wish we could say, or with what we might say if we allowed ourselves to think about it, but why bother when you can’t say it anyway, so the old formulas stay in place, and we say the drivel that keeps us from thinking anything that hasn’t been thought—that keeps us from thinking at all. Words matter.

We have to do the work of saying what we mean, and of thinking about what we say, and of moving away from what we are supposed to say to what we have to say, to what may never be said if we don’t say it. That is, as much as anything else, the true work of being human, the true work of the human soul, what, you might say, we are here for.


Healing, which is different from curing, is about resolving the conflicts that keep us from living with integrity-of-being; that keep us from integrating our living with the values that are at the heart of life; that keep us from living aligned with that which is deepest, best, and truest about us; that keep us from being centered in, and living out of, that which is most important. Illness, which is different from disease, is soul-sickness, indicating an out-of-synch-ness between our lives and our souls.

Or not. What do I know? If we lived soulfully, mindfully, justly and compassionately, in synch with the deepest, best, and truest about us, I’d like to think we would be healed, and whole, and fully human, even if we had AIDS, or cancer, or heart disease. But, we might have as many tics and inhibitions, and deficiencies as anyone ever. Let’s check it out. Are the soulful, mindful, in-synch people you know also what you would call healed, and whole, and fully-functioning, and fully-human, and the most god-like people you know? Live in observation. Keep a record. Let me know.

If I’m right, if healing is about resolving inner conflict and living with integrity, then our work is clear. By practicing presence in the world (being with what God is with and loving what God loves without having to convert, change, alter, transform, improve, perfect—just being with in loving, supportive, compassionate, accepting ways) we become healing agents, facilitating the resolution of conflict and the consummation of integrity—just by being the right kind of company.

Being the right kind of company is a complete act of faith. We have to believe in the importance of being the right kind of company before we see evidence of it. We have to step, trusting and unseeing, into being the right kind of company. It is hard to believe that being the right kind of company alone has the power to transform the world, or to change anything or anyone. Well. Believing is seeing. You’ll never see it if you don’t believe it. This doesn’t mean playing tricks on yourself and believing something to the point of imagining that you actually see it. It means acting as though something is true in order to enable it to actually become true. We believe healing into existence by living in ways that produce healing before we see evidence of the validity of living in those ways. It’s Faith Healing in the truest sense of the term.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


The fundamental spiritual reality is resonance. Something resonates with us. We are “in tune” with something. The idea is to explore that thing, always sensitive to the resonating “vibes.” The idea is to follow our heart’s true leaning; to walk the path “with heart,” even when it leads to dead ends and into blind canyons. When we find ourselves at a dead end or in a blind canyon, the idea is to follow our heart’s true leaning away from, or out of, there.

What we need to hear at any point in our lives may not be what we think we are “supposed” to hear. It may not be what anyone we know has ever listened to. And, at the same time, there are pirates of the spirit out there, saying smooth things and stealing souls away. Where’s the protection? How do we create a stable enough personal center for ourselves so that we aren’t victimized by those who would prey on our neediness? How can we be a wise old fox and an innocent young dove at the same time?

Spiritual growth presumes a certain degree of physical, economic, and emotional safety and security and well-being. We have to have enough stability in our lives to be able consider justice and compassion. In the grip of a migraine, you aren’t going to think about your spiritual practice. We have to be okay enough, on a number of levels, before we can contemplate ultimate things. Take us down below subsistence and we will not move beyond the religion of our ancestors.

This is not to say that spirituality is a preoccupation of the elite, but that spiritual depth is a function of social stability. Spiritual movement, or awareness, or eclecticism, or pluralism, or borrowing, or inquiry—the spiritual imagination, say—increases in direct proportion to the quality of our okay-ness on physical, economic, and emotional levels. It all depends on what we bring to the table. We cannot be more spiritual than we are ready to be. We can entertain new ideas about God and the purpose of life only after our lives have reached a certain degree of safety, security, and stability. Until then, we will repeat what we have always heard without thinking about it. Or, throw out what we have always heard without worrying about it.

So, the preliminary spiritual question is “How are you?”, or, “How is it going?”. The preliminary spiritual question concerns the quality of stability in our life at any particular moment. We cannot be more spiritual than we are stable. Where is instability at work in your life? What can you not count on? What are you missing? Where are the holes? If what you need is loving presence that isn’t going to take advantage of your vulnerability, and is going to help you hold things together until things stabilize, where are you going to find it? Don’t think you are looking for concepts, and doctrines, and talk about God and the spiritual path, if what you need is presence.

A spiritual community is a therapeutic community. It is a healing community. Its primary practice is presence. It spends more time listening to you than it does talking to you. It does not indoctrinate you. It simply cares about you and leaves you completely free to come and go, to stay or leave. It does not “mind your business,” or “run your life.” It grants you the right to your own mistakes, and simply promises to be good company and a safe place, and endeavors to be exactly what you need to recover, and regroup, and do what needs to be done. No answers, just presence. An enclave of justice, compassion, and stability in an uncertain and fearful world.
Got a place like that in your life? Start one. Start one by being good company; by being a caring presence, and following what resonates with you. See what happens.


The world will never be what we want it to be, what we need it to be. There are no shifts to the good out there, waiting for the right combination of prayer and effort, to come forth and bless us with life as we would like it to be. People have always been waiting for Nirvana. The Elysian Fields. The Kingdom of God. Where the lions lie down with the lambs and everyone has more than enough to eat and no one has any reason to cry and kindness and justice reign. It ain’t going to happen.

Life is going to be pretty much what it has been. What do you need to make it in a world that isn’t going to become the kind of place you need it to be? Where can you act to bring justice and compassion to life in your life? Where can you act to make the world more like it ought to be than it is—knowing that it isn’t going to “make any difference” in the over-all scheme of things? Can you love what needs to be loved the way it needs to be loved whether it “does any good” or not?

Compassionate, caring presence helps us all. Justice is always in season. There is never a time we can step out of the action without being missed. The world is not going to shift toward the good, and we can make things better by the way we carry ourselves through the day, by the way we offer ourselves as a reliable source of attentive, caring presence in the lives of others.
But, don’t give me a sunny cheeriness that disallows my gloom! Being a caring presence has nothing to do with putting on a happy face. When I die and go to hell, God is going to put me on a tour bus filled with bright, smiling faces, and send me off through eternity. The Lawrence Welk Singers. Just make me go on tour with the Lawrence Welk Singers. A world where the Lawrence Welk Singers are the norm is a world the Star Trek crew would beg to be beamed up from.

How present can you be with gloom? How happy do I have to be around you? If you have to make me happy, you cannot be present with me in my current state. You’ll be trying to pry me out of that state. Into a “better place.” I need you to just be with me as I am. I need for you to believe that’s enough. I need for you to believe in the power of being present with me as I am. It’s a radical notion, I know. An essential, radical, notion.