Tuesday, January 31, 2006


John Dominic Crossan (in “The Birth of Christianity” and “The Historical Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography”), along with other biblical scholars, archeologists, and anthropologists, deals with the healing miracles of Jesus by making a distinction between “curing diseases” and “healing illnesses.” You might say it takes a Real Physician, with all the accoutrements of her, or his, trade at her, at his, disposal to “cure diseases.” But, anyone with the right attitude and sense of Presence about her, or him, can “heal illnesses.”

The “illness” is the social and cultural and political and economic impact of the “disease.” The “illness” is what the “disease” means in the life of the person who is “sick.” It is how the “disease” both affects, and effects, her or him. Lift that burden, lighten that load, alter that impact, change the way the “disease” is perceived and carried by the person who is “sick,” and, perhaps, by all those person in her, or his, social circle, and you “heal the illness” which may, or may not, “cure the disease.” Crossan uses the movie “Philadelphia,” where Tom Hanks plays the part of a gay lawyer with AIDS, to illustrate how a person can be healed of an illness without being cured of the disease.

Bring that idea into your life and into mine. Physicians, and the entire medical industry, are swamped these days with sickness and disease. Physicians can’t spend fifteen minutes with one patient before the next one is banging on the door, demanding to come in. Physicians are in a race with time each day to see patients and cure diseases. And, they often prescribe medication for a disease that doesn’t touch the illness.

Crossan (in “The Birth of Christianity,” p. 296) quotes Rodney Stark as saying, “Modern medical experts believe that conscientious nursing without any medications could cut the mortality rate (of epidemics) by two-thirds or even more.” The right kind of company can heal illness and, in some cases, cure diseases. Imagine a physician’s office with a waiting room, and listening rooms, and examination rooms. Imagine listening rooms staffed by volunteers (people like you and me) who are practiced at the art of being the right kind of company. Imagine patients being listened to in caring ways for twenty or thirty minutes before seeing the physician (you wait that long alone in an examination room, currently). Imagine the potential for good in the lives of diseased persons that kind of healing experience could make. Wonder with me why it isn’t happening.

Why isn’t medical science enabling it to happen, and why aren’t we doing everything we can, right now, to hone our skills in the art of being the right kind of company? If caring Presence can heal illnesses, why aren’t we doing everything we can to learn how to be a caring Presence in the lives of others? Why isn’t that the primary focus of the educational program of every church in the world? What could possibly be more important than being the right kind of company? Than being a caring, healing, Presence on the loose and running freely through the world?

Monday, January 30, 2006

01/30/06, Sermon

The perspective I’m working from says we have to live our lives, and we have to have something worth living for, and we have to help one another, and all others, live their lives and find something worth living for. We have to hold things together for ourselves, and we have to live in ways that we would be proud of, and we have to help others do the same. We have to solve the problem of food, clothing, and shelter, and we have to solve the problem of why solving the first problem is important. We have to solve the problem of the purpose of solving the problem of food, clothing and shelter; the problem of what is beyond food clothing and shelter; the problem of why bother. And, we have to help others solve both problems as well. That’s my perspective. That’s what it’s about from my point of view.

Now, there are perspectives all over the place out there. This is only one. Why should you prefer it over all the others? “Money is all that matters!” Why not go for the “money is all that matters” motive? “You only go around once—grab as much as you can!” Why not “grab as much as you can”? I don’t know if you have recently, or ever, tried to talk someone into or out of a perspective, but, if you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to give it a whirl. Make a project of it. Reform your spouse or life partner, or a parent, or a child, or your neighbor next door, say, by dinner, tonight. Let me know how it goes.

One great way to NOT be the church as the church ought to be is to tell people they ought to do it the way you are doing it, the way we are doing it, and why. The way to be the church as the church ought to be the church is to do it the way you are doing it, and let them do it the way they are doing it. No kidding. The way you are doing it is enough. That is as reformative as you have to be. The way you are doing it, particularly, if you are truly doing it as it should be done, will eventually, have implications for the way it is being done around you. That’s when the stuff will hit the fan.

If John Dominic Crossan were talking to you, he would tell you that the Kingdom of God movement that Jesus created was a brand new thing in the realm of movements. It was launched in direct and intentional opposition to the “kingdom of god” that was Pax Romana. Rome had the monopoly on the phrase “kingdom of god,” and, of course, Rome meant the “kingdom of Caesar,” and, since Caesar was god, the “kingdom of God” would be thought of in Roman terms. Caesar was the savior of the world. Jesus deliberately comes up with a Kingdom Movement that was the opposite of Rome in every way.

“You have heard it said, but I say unto you…” Don’t take that to be only about Old Testament theology. “This is the way you see it being done, but this is the way it is to be done…” “This is the way Rome does it, but this is the way God would do it.” The Kingdom Movement is about doing it the way God would do it. It is about living our lives as God would live them in our place. And, we think, “Oh, we can’t do that. Are you crazy? We don’t have the almighty power of God at our disposal. Who can live like God when we aren’t God?” To which Jesus would say, “You can.” And then he would redefine God before our eyes. He would take that almighty, omnipotent, invincible stuff right off the table, and lay out there, a loaf of bread and a cup of wine.

And, if that doesn’t wake you up, if you still don’t get it, he would scootch over the bread and the cup, and he would plop onto the table the manger and the cross. And, if you still don’t get it, he would put on the table the Good Samaritan and the prodigal’s father. And, if you still don’t get it, he would sit on the table himself. And, if you still don’t get it, he would roll his eyes, slide everything into a knapsack, fold up the table, and walk away muttering to himself, shaking his head. It seems that not everyone is ready at the same time for the Kingdom Movement. It takes a while to be able to see what it is all about. And you can’t change a perspective before its time.

Fundamental to the Movement is the redefinition of God. Jesus’ God is not the warrior God of the Old Testament, and Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, and George Bush, and the Book of Revelation. Jesus’ God is vulnerable and helpless and unrelenting, like yeast in the dough, or a seed in the earth, or a wheat plant which, in dying, produces more wheat than it ever could alive.

The signs of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus saw as already present in the world, were things like healing Presence, exemplified in transformations of body and spirit, and human equality, exemplified in sharing from the heart the things that matter, and radical non-violence, exemplified in the no staff, no sword, no purse directive. It was a stupid way to carry out a revolution. And, it was still standing when all things Roman had fallen away.

Jesus was the leader of a political, social, cultural, and religious revolution, the likes of which the world has never seen—and the foundation of which was a radically alternative perspective, which envisioned, and lived out of, a radically alternative reality. “You have heard it said, but I say unto you…” Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7) as a political, social, cultural, and religious manifesto. Jesus’ perspective is a threat to every perspective! Jesus’ perspective is a challenge to all perspectives! Jesus had a vision of how things are and ought to be, and lived out of it—without trying to talk anyone out of theirs and into his (“If you enter a village or a town and they don’t receive what you have to say,” he said, “walk on to the next village or town”).

Jesus’ vision was for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear. It was not for everyone. And, Jesus didn’t try to convince anyone that his was the right way to see and hear. He simply lived out of his vision before the people, and let the outcome be the outcome. The way he did it, eventually had implications for the way it was being done around him. That’s when the stuff hit the fan.

From Jesus on, there has been confusion among his followers, among his companions on the journey, on the way to seeing, hearing, knowing, understanding, and living as those who see, hear, know, and understand—there has been confusion about who God is and who we are to be. The term “kingdom of God” has been used in ways that are completely contrary to Jesus’ original depiction, namely a “kingdom without walls” (or geographical boundaries, or standing armies, or social programs, or a gross national product, etc.), a kingdom that is already, presently, right now, “cast upon the earth,” as a radically alternative reality to the kingdom of Rome, of Caesar, in particular, and to all of the kingdoms, and empires, and governments of the world, in general.

Those of you who know me, know I get a kick out of saying that Jesus hadn’t been dead fifteen minutes before everything he stood for changed. Two things in particular happened to transform Jesus’ message. The first is that a hierarchy was created. Peter became “the head of the church,” with “the twelve” following him in importance, and “the rest of the apostles” bringing up the rear. Jesus dies, and there is an immediate jockeying for position and power, with the idea of proximity to Jesus being the determining factor regarding who is “in” and who is “out.”

Peter is “in,” but he is not without his detractors. The gospels are written one to two generations after Jesus’ execution, and there it is “remembered” that Peter denied Jesus. Why was that important to be remembered, do you think? If Peter had been more popular, it could have easily been forgotten, or presented in a more favorable light. Thomas is just above Judas in the pecking order of importance, and is remembered to this day as “Doubting Thomas,” because of his insistence on seeing the risen Jesus. The disciples as a whole were said to be “doubtful” (actually it is said they didn’t believe the words of the women announcing Jesus’ resurrection), but only Thomas is singled out (by John) for shame and humiliation. What was it about Thomas that John didn’t like? And, speaking of John, he is the only gospel writer to talk of “the disciple that Jesus loved.” Now, who would that be? Himself? It wasn’t Peter or Thomas, of that we can be sure. But he is creating a foundation for himself by saying through all the ages, “Jesus loved me best!” The establishment of a hierarchy was the first thing that changed with Jesus’ death.

The second way Jesus’ message was changed after his death has to do with the orientation toward the future. Jesus had said, “Take no thought of tomorrow, but let today’s own trouble be sufficient for today” (or words to that effect). With Jesus’ death, the disciples began to talk about the immediate future as the time of Jesus’ return to set things right. The shift toward apocalypseticisim and the emphasis upon the coming “wrath of God” was a dramatic reversal of Jesus’ message of radical non-violence, and his imagery about the yeast in the dough and the seed in the earth. With Jesus, the present moment was the time in which his followers were to act to heal, create equality, and live non-violently in the service of the best that could be imagined here and now. Healing, equality, and non-violence were the hallmarks of Jesus’ idea of how it ought to be. Where did the book of Revelation come from? It came from the radical abandonment of what Jesus was all about.

Living in the moment to heal and create equality non-violently was not nearly as much fun as spinning fantasies about God coming “soon” to deliver destruction to the bad guys, right wrongs, and institute justice and peace forever. We tend to want a better deal than Jesus got. And, we tend to live in the service of what we want. It’s the story at the heart of the scriptures. God is not who we want God to be. And, we have yet to come to terms with that, face that, acknowledge that, turn from that, and take up the work of healing, equality, and non-violence, living as God would live in our place, here and now, in this moment and all moments flowing from this one.

But the option is always before us. And the hope is that we will wake up, and take each moment of our lives, and live there as Jesus would live there, as God would live there, and transform the world, one moment at a time.

Friday, January 27, 2006


There is no ideal arrangement. No optimal steady state. No lasting configuration of the way it ought to be. All we get are momentary flashes. A glimpse, a hint, an ephemeral sense of the possibilities, a taste of what could be. We see, from time to time, how things might be only if. And, then it is gone. And we are wondering how we could be out of coffee, or what happened to the half-and-half.

We place too much emphasis on getting things right. Not that things shouldn’t be as right as we can make them. Not that we should be satisfied with “government work.” Not that we shouldn’t keep the house dusted and vacuumed, and the leaves out of the gutters. We certainly should do the things that need doing. And this is exactly my point. We will never get them done. We should just do the things that need doing. And, when we think of, or see, something else that needs doing, we should do it as well. That’s it.

We aren’t trying to achieve perfection here. We aren’t out to arrange the world like it ought to be by nightfall, or in our lifetime. We are just doing what needs to be done. Right now. In this moment. And, letting that be that.

And, we have to draw the line. We have to say, “I know that needs doing, but I need a nap. I’ll see you in the later.” There have to be overriding commitments. “I’m going to take a walk.” I can’t think of many things that trump a nap or a walk. Or a cup of coffee. We have to take a solemn oath to do the things that really need doing, and get to the other things as we are able. We have to know what is important. We have to draw lines.

We are much too driven by the compulsion to serve someone else’s needs at the expense of our own. It is right to take our lunch hour to visit a neighbor in the hospital, but it isn’t right to take our lunch hour to nap in the car. My advice is that you work the things that are important to you, personally, into every day. Certainly into every week. Putting ourselves last all the time is no more admirable, or healthy, than putting ourselves first all the time. We are working to integrate our needs with what has need of us. Get that down, and that’s truly it. There is nothing else to consider, ponder, or worry about. And, we can’t do that without drawing lines.

Drawing lines means saying “No.” There are two necessary skills: Saying “No.” And, taking “No” for an answer. Get those babies down, so that you know when to do which, and you have it made. Or, close enough. Which do you do best? Is it easier for you to say “No,” or to take “No” for an answer? Spend the next week doing what’s hard. Practice your “inferior skill.” Look at it as one more thing that needs doing.

We never run out of things that need doing. We never get it done. We never get to quit, except on those occasions when quitting needs doing. But, then we only quit one thing to pick up another. So, we aren’t trying to achieve some Golden Age where things are exactly as they should be. We are just puttering around, trying to get things more like they ought to be than they are. Living this moment as well as we are able, and doing it again in the next moment. And, being conscious of the importance of incarnating God in every moment.

Did I say “incarnating God”? You might know I would add something ridiculous to the pile. Of course, we hear the phrase so often, it sounds doable, but not. The God-like qualities are the biggie. Whose idea of God are we going to incarnate? The people who denigrate homosexuals have an idea of God. The people who blow up themselves and other people with them have an idea of God. Would the real God please stand up? The real God is practically invisible. Practically incognito. Practically unrecognizable. Practically gone. In exile. Banished to the far outback of the distant hinterlands by the clamoring hoard of Mighty Sleek Pretenders to the Title.

Whose God is God, is the question. The world is full of possibilities. Maybe we should take a vote. How else will we ever decide? We could have run-off elections. That would be better than shooting it out, which seems to be the popular method of determining whose God is God. After the smoke clears away, the real God is still standing. You have to admit that it is hard to match the sheer stupidity of this approach. But, what are we going to do?

Whose idea of God are we gong to incarnate in the moments of our living? What are the God-like qualities that we are going to enflesh with our flesh, aerate with the oxygen in our blood? Who is to say? How do we know?

Why would you believe me—take my word for it—adopt my view—over Jerry Falwell, or Pat Robertson, or Joel Osteen, or Rick Warren, or the Mormons, or the Muslims, or the Orthodox Jews, or the Reformed Jews, or the Hindus, or the Tibetan Buddhists, or the Cambodian Buddhists, or the Bahais, or any of the rest of the ten million ideas of God? I’d say you have a problem. Everything hangs on how you solve it, and there is no solution in sight. Is there any wonder that so many people say to hell with religion in all forms? Who can blame them? It, at least, solves the problem of having an insoluble problem. It’s taking a sword to the Gordian Knot. But, even then, they have to live in light of something, toward something, away from something. They can say to hell with religion if they want to, but they have to have some idea of what is worth their life.

We cannot escape the need for an organizing principle, a core value, or core values, around which our lives coalesce. We cannot live well without some sense, some idea, of who we are and what we are about. I don’t care who you are, where you are, when you are, it comes down to Identity, Focus, Purpose, Vision, Clarity, and Awareness. There has to be something at the center, something pulling us forward, something pushing us on.

We cannot avoid the question. Who do you say God is? What are you going to do about it?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

01/22/06, Sermon

Encouragement. Direction. Affirmation. How about that for a Holy Trinity? There are days when we feel all alone here. Days when we think we have gone about as far as plastic can carry us. Days when we realize we have to build a life on something, around something, toward something, and we don’t know what that is. We have a job, which pays us enough to pay the bills, but, sometimes, we lose sight of why we are paying the bills. There are days we would die for encouragement, direction, affirmation.

On those days, it would help to be heard. Where can we go to say what we have to say to those who can listen and hear what we are saying? I think we can talk ourselves through hopelessness and despair if we have those who can hear us well. And ask the right questions at the right time. The questions that carry us deeper into our experience, not out of it, or away from it, and enable us to explore it, and to see it, eventually, from a different perspective. There is no substitute for the right kind of company. In the presence of the right kind of company, we find all the encouragement, direction, and affirmation we need.

The culture is not geared to produce the right kind of company. It is not to the culture’s advantage. The culture is geared to produce the right-kind-of-company-substitutes. There are self-help books aplenty in the culture. Why so little evidence that anybody ever reads them? The culture gives us advice columns in the newspapers, but they seem to provide more in the way of comic relief than genuine help. Which is symptomatic of the culture. The culture helps us deal with our problems by taking our minds off our problems. The thrust of the culture is entertainment and escape. The eyes of the culture are on the far horizon, just beyond which things are surely to be better, no, wonderful and glorious and grand. The culture does not see the ground under our feet. It does not see this moment, right here, now. This is not where we get to work. Oh, please not! Oh, please do NOT let this be what we have to work with. There has to be more to it than this.

Let me take you back to the story of the feeding of the five thousand. As incredible and unlikely as it seems, the point is wonderful and well taken. “What do you have to work with?” asks Jesus. “Three fish and four loaves of bread,” say the disciples. “And a bottle of ketchup, and two lemons, and an over-ripe banana” (or words to that effect). “Make it work,” says Jesus. It is indeed ridiculous. Yet, the beauty of it is that is exactly where we always are. There is no way what we have to work with can begin to solve, or even impact, the problems we face. We need deliverance! We need salvation! We need redemption! We need divine intervention! Where IS that very present help in time of trouble, that’s what we want to know! And, Jesus says, “Start with what you have. Make it work.”

This is where we are. This is what we are up against. This is what we have to work with. What are we going to do? We don’t have a clue. And, we don’t know where to go for one. Where do we go for an answer? Where do we find someone to tell us what to do? Remember the parable of the woman with the vessel of grain. She thought she was doing one thing, and she was doing something else instead. She thought it was about one thing, and it was about another thing. We think we need someone to tell us what to do, when we actually need someone who can hear us out, who can listen us to the heart of our pain, and anxiety, and fear, and anger, and confusion. We think it is about escaping the burden of the problem, but it is about getting all the good out of the problem; letting the problem show us what it has to show us; allowing the problem to give us what it has to offer; following the problem through the unmapped regions where “there be dragons,” which we may also discover to be the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.

We cannot do that on our own. It takes the company of the right kind of people to listen us into the good of the problem, and beyond. The culture does not make it easy to find that kind of company.

It is such a going, doing, getting things done culture. No one has time to talk, not from the heart about things that matter. And, if you tried it, who would listen? No one has time to listen in this culture. We patch things up and go on. We dismiss difficulties. We discount troubles. We tell people to shut up and get going. “You think you have problems?”, we say. “You don’t have problems. You have your health. You should be thankful. The people on life support, now, THEY have problems. Until you are on life support, don’t complain.” That’s about as deep as conversations go in this culture. Is there any wonder that we are the most medicated culture in the history of cultures? Our pills help us get by in the absence of the right kind of company.

The church has to form itself into the company of the right kind of company. The church has to listen to itself listening, and abandon its shallow, trite, cure-all approach to telling people they don’t have any real problems and, if they do, they only have to pray about it and have faith. The church has to teach itself to be the church one listening opportunity at a time. May we look and see; may we listen and hear; and may we deal compassionately with what is seen and heard!

Oh, but we feel so inadequate, don’t we? So, we rush to patch up and fix and dismiss the problem and the person with the problem, because we don’t know what to do. There is an old psychotherapy saw, a saying, that goes like this: “When someone with a problem comes through the door into the psychotherapist’s office, the psychotherapist has a problem, namely what to do with the person with the problem.” Those with the problem become our problem, and we get rid of our problem by getting rid of theirs—by telling them they don’t have a problem, and if they do, to pray about it and have faith. If we are going to listen well, we are going to have to bear the pain of not knowing what to do.

We cannot listen with the answer in hand. We cannot hear what is being said if we are looking for an opening to thrust The Solution into the hands of the other person. Not knowing what to do is essential for helpful listening. And, it is an agony. It is death.

Let me flash you back to the New Testament, to the book of Hebrews. The writer advises his readers to “run with perseverance the race that is before you.” The Greek word that is translated “race” is “agone,” from which, you guessed it, we derived the English word agony. The word is used one more time in the New Testament, in 2nd Timothy, where Paul says, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” “Run with perseverance the agone, the agony, that is before you.” I have fought the good fight. I have finished the agone, the agony.” We must not be surprised if we meet with a little agony along the way.

Not knowing what to do; not knowing what to say; is essential for helpful listening. And it is an agony. It is death. It exposes us, don’t you see, to the same vulnerability, the same helplessness, that the speaker is looking to us to relieve them of. What will we do? What to do, of course, is to listen. To listen so deeply that a shift occurs in the perception of the person with the problem—a shift that either disappears the problem entirely, or reduces the problem to something manageable. But, you have to listen without knowing what to say or what to do. You have to listen believing only in the power of listening alone to bring healing and hope to life in the lives of the people we listen to. That is called living by faith alone!

Ah, but, how do we get there? Practice, practice, practice. And, that takes time. But, we have time. By when do we have to have it down, is the question. If you want to have it down by lunch today, so that you can go on to something else, something more fun, perhaps, I’m here to remind you that that is the culture’s way of keeping the culture unchanged and unchanging. The culture robs the church of its power to transform the culture by having us think we have to be in a hurry to get the job done. We cannot hurry transformation. We cannot complete the task before its time. We carry out the total transformation of the culture incrementally, one moment at a time. Which means we have to exercise incredible patience. Which means we have to believe deeply in the process of which we are apart. Which means we have to do what we can do and wait it out.

The image, remember is yeast in the dough, a seed in the earth. You work in the yeast, you plant the seed, and you wait, trusting in the power of transformation that works in the darkness to change the world. It is as though we are selling electric skillets in the outback of Alaska. We may drive around with the skillets in the trunk of our car practicing our sales pitches, but we have to wait until the utility company runs the power lines before sales are going to take off. There is a lot of waiting in this business. We wait for the transformation. And, while we wait, we practice. And the practice creates the need that produces the urgency that motivates the utility company to run the power lines that transforms the countryside. We cannot just wait for the transformation. We have to practice the sales pitch that produces the transformation.

In our case, we are not selling electric skillets. We are brokering healing and wholeness. And we aren’t practicing sales pitches. We are practicing listening. We listen the transformation into being. And, we listen without knowing what to say; without knowing what to do. We listen believing in the power of “deep listening” alone to effect the shift in perspective that transforms the world. When we are heard deeply, we see things differently. When we see things differently, everything changes. If you want to change the world, listen to the world. Listen to the world in a way the world has never been listened to before. And, be amazed.

Monday, January 23, 2006


I would like to listen in on a conversation between Paul and Jesus. It feels to me as though Paul took Jesus’ idea of the kingdom of God and mutated it, morphed it, into Christianity. For instance, Paul says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Jesus said “The kingdom of God is in your midst, among you.” The kingdom becoming flesh and blood is what Jesus was all about.

The church is the incarnation of the kingdom of God, just as Jesus was the incarnation of the kingdom of God. When Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” he didn’t mean it wasn’t, or that it wasn’t to be, a physical, actual, tangible, visible, incarnated reality within the world. He didn’t mean it was “spiritual” or “heavenly,” without worldly implications or impact. He meant it did not operate as a political entity in the world of political entities. He meant it was grounded upon a different reality that that of the world of normal apparent reality, where armies clash with armies to determine whose will will, whose way, will prevail. He meant it was radically non-violent, just, and compassionate.

We are to incarnate, to live out of, live in light of, the alternative reality of God (the “kingdom of God”) in each moment of our living. We cannot do that without paying attention to what we are doing. We have to live with our eyes open, thinking about who we are and what we are about. We have to be conscious, aware, of Identity, Vision, Focus, Purpose, Clarity, and Values (like Justice, Compassion, and Peace, for instance) in each moment of our living. Each moment is the place we bring to life the alternative reality of God within the ordinary world of normal, apparent, reality. And, we do not do that without meaning to, without being deliberate and intentional with what we say and do, and how we say and do it.

We bring God to life in the moment, or not. In each moment the Word of God, the Radical Alternative Reality of God, comes to life in us and through us, or not. To pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus is to bear in our bodies the tension of the two kingdoms, of the two worlds, of the two realities. How do we live in this world as those who belong to that world? How do we incarnate in this world the alternative reality of that world? That is the work of the church in the world.

As the Kingdom Movement of Jesus was “transitioned” into Christianity, through the centuries to here and now, doctrines and belief became more important that living faithfully in light of the alternative reality of the kingdom of God. We could “believe” our way into the kingdom that “flesh and blood” would not inherit. Right belief replaced faithful living—living faithfully aligned with the values and the orientation of the kingdom of God—as the essential element in Christianity. People were told “Prosperity now and heaven when you die,” if they repented of their sins, confessed faith in Jesus, and were baptized into the church. And pagans and heretics were burned at the stake for not believing what should be believed. How did THAT work its way into what Jesus left behind?

The stake, as much as anything else, represents the failure of the church to carry forward Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom of God. The church is always at the place of returning to the source, to the core, to the heart of “who we are and what we are about.” We are here to live faithfully aligned with the values and orientation of the kingdom of God. We are here to incarnate the kingdom of God within the ordinary world of normal, apparent reality. We are here to envision and live out of the alternative reality of the kingdom of God. Not to do it the way the world does it, and expects it to be done, but to do it the way God would do it if God were in our bodies, wearing our clothes.

I see the following as being characteristic of the alternative reality of God:

Being good for nothing—doing what is good whether it does any good or not.

No hierarchy. The Priesthood of All Believers. Equality up and down the line.

No plan for achieving victory—giving to the moment what is needed in the moment and letting the outcome be the outcome.

The power of attentive, compassionate Presence—looking and seeing, listening and hearing, without bias or prejudice, in the best tradition of “judge not.”

Not looking for the advantage—being here to serve not be served—not gathering the boon unto ourselves but sharing it with all others, equally, across the board.

Taking what we have, where we are, and working with it toward the good of all things.

Radical non-violence.

Respecting differences, honoring those who are different.

Allowing, embracing, a world full of varied responses to the experience of the Holy Among Us.
Understanding justice as the equitable distribution of resources, goods and power, or, distributing resources, goods and power equally, or giving everyone a place at the table and a voice in the conversation.

Living an unscripted life. Living extemporaneously in response to the moment. Improvising our response to the moment out of the materials available to us in the moment. Having an idea in mind, but being able to express that idea in unique and creative ways, without being bound to The Book in any way.

The list will be lengthened over time…

Friday, January 20, 2006


Integration, integrity, wholeness, completion, wellness, healing… These things are the work of soul. The work is done within and without, inner and outer, internal and external, the self and the world. The primary tools are seeing and hearing—having eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. When things are seen, heard, and understood—when they are greeted with, welcomed with Presence—when they are seen to be, known to be, and allowed to be what they are, as they are, something happens. A shift occurs. Things change. It may be more gradual than we would like, but nothing can remain as it is once it has been seen for what it is. Or, if it does remain as it is, its impact will change. It will not mean the same thing it meant before it was seen, heard, known, understood. And, if a thing’s meaning changes, it doesn’t matter if it changes or not.

Integration, integrity, wholeness, completion, wellness, healing… These things come about when we attend the world within and without; when we listen to what is being said, and to what is also being said; when we see what is being done, and what is also being done; when we witness what is happening, and what is also happening. Nothing is forced. Everything is received, welcomed, honored. Everything is allowed its rightful place at the table. The lion lays down with the lamb, and all are safe in the compassionate mindfulness of attending presence.

There is movement when something is seen for what it is. This might be called “the shift of recognition.” The phrase, “Oh, NOW I see,” is always accompanied by a physical shift in the person seeing. Her, or his, facial expression changes. Her, or his, posture becomes more erect. There is a different tonal quality to her, to his, voice. Seeing has a physical component, a physical impact. We see and we shift. We see and things change.

Once we see, we cannot live as though we do not see. We can deny what is “there” only so long as we do not see what is “there.” Once seen, we have to act in the service of the vision. We have to live out of the truth we know to be true. We can only kid ourselves so much. When our eyes are opened, the pretense is over, and we live in light of “that which is.”

It is not surprising, given the power of seeing, and hearing, and understanding, that so much effort goes into “spinning” perceptions and describing how things are in terms of how we want them to be, or how we want them to be perceived. “I’m not getting older; I’m getting better.” “I’m not grotesquely obese; I’m just a tad overweight.” Of course, negative spins are also popular with some. “I’m old and over the hill, and can’t do anything but sit here and wait for the undertaker.” And, anorexic young people cannot get out of their minds how fat they are. Right seeing changes everything. Moves everything toward the center; toward itself; toward what it is, and toward what it needs to be.

If we saw everything there is to see regarding the implications and outcomes and results of our behavior and attitudes, we would behave, and think, differently. We live as we do because we have narrow little limited perceptions of reality. It pays us to not know what we are doing. We get by with a lot more that way. We build the factories that pollute the air that warms the earth by telling ourselves there is no correlation between our factory and the disappearance of glaciers and the melting the ice caps. If we had known then what we know now, our now would be vastly different.

It hurts to see. We cannot see without things changing. And, we like things as they are. We hate turbulence and chaos and transformation. We hate not having life like we like it, not having what we want, not having things our way. Seeing changes everything. Not just the things we want changed. Once we see, we have to serve the vision, or cut ourselves off from our soul. That’s the story of Eden and Gethsemane. Not Seeing has its outcome, and Seeing has its outcome. Pick your poison.

Integration, integrity, wholeness, completion, wellness, healing… These things come with a price. We can want what we have no business having, which can include wanting to stay within the safety of the “tried and true,” and never venturing beyond how things are “supposed to be,” to push against the limits and stroll through the unmapped regions where “there be dragons.” How does what we want contribute to disintegration, fragmentation, separation, and division? In order to be married, goes the saying, we have to give up our idea of marriage. In order to be healed, and whole, and integrated, and “at-one,” “in synch,” with ourselves, we have to give up our idea of what it means to “have it made.” We may find that integration means being okay, at home, with parts of ourselves, for instance, that we never thought we could tolerate and always wanted to “disappear.” Once we see, things change, but the change may not be what we had in mind.

It takes courage, resolve, willfulness, intention, deliberation, commitment and determination to live toward integration, integrity, wholeness, completion, wellness and healing. There are strong forces pulling us apart, interfering with our ability to see, and hear, and understand. The seeing, hearing, and understanding have to take those forces into account and attend them, become aware of them, bring them into focus, and see them, hear them, understand them for what they are. Only then can things shift and move forward.


Goalless, purposeless, pointless good. How’s that for a goal? A purpose? A point? How’s that for what we are here for? Not systemic, institutional, strategic, structured good, but good for no reason, with no result or outcome in mind? Reading a story to your child, or grandchild, because you enjoy reading stories to your child, or grandchild, and not to teach a lesson. Not to have an impact. Just to read a story.

Let today’s good be good enough for today. How’s that for a working principle? So that we aren’t worried about cumulative good, about stacking good up, about one thing leading to another, about accomplishment, and achievement, and progress, and success? So that we aren’t getting anywhere? So that we are just being in this moment, today, offering what this moment needs? And doing it again in the next moment? Without organizing a united effort to, say, end poverty, or war, or wars on poverty?

Think that will ever catch on? How much good do you think we avoid by working diligently in the service of the good? How much good do we walk past, ignore, never see because we are fixated on corporate, universal, wide-spread good? Who will not have the benefit of our compassionate, caring, attentive presence today because we are Doing Good? Who are we kidding, failing to do good by Doing Good?

What’s the plan? There is no plan! How’s that for a plan? Do you think Jesus had a plan? Living as though the kingdom of God was at hand was Jesus’ plan. Living as though the kingdom of God was breaking into the world through the way he lived in each moment was Jesus’ plan. Living to do things like they would be done in the kingdom of God was Jesus’ plan. It wasn’t a five-year-plan, with graphs and pie charts and statistical data. He couldn’t have told you how doing this was going to effect that over there. But he didn’t walk by good that needed to be done, unseeing, because he was caught up in Doing Good, on a Mission to Do Good.

Jesus was not beyond doing good that did no good—offering cold water and kind conversation, for example, in places where those things were welcome. Jesus did not run a cost/benefit analysis before touching and talking with those who shared the moment with him, before being present with them in a way that was good whether it did any good or not. Jesus’ good was episodic, momentary, and transformational. He didn’t mean anything by it beyond it, yet we are still experiencing the impact of it.

We have an idea of how good ought to be done. Identify a need. Identify the steps required to meet the need. Take the steps. Evaluate the process, in order to become increasingly effective in the service of good. Implement the changes. Repeat the process. Oh, and get a 501c3 designation. You can’t do any serious good without a 501c3. Jesus didn’t have a 501c3. Jesus was not tax-exempt. Think about that. The implications are staggering.

A good that isn’t deductible? How good can a good be that isn’t deductible? That does it! We’re out of here now, aren’t we? Forget it! We have better things to do, don’t we? The good that we do has to match our idea of how the good ought to be done. Jesus’ idea was to step into the moment and do there what needed to be done, and do it again in the next moment, without any necessary connection or carry-over between the moments. Without any momentum, progress or direction. Without any way of quantifying outcomes or measuring success. We cannot do it that way, can we?

What good is a good that does no good? It’s a waste of time, not to mention money, and other resources! We have to have something to show for our effort! We have to feel as though we are doing something, getting somewhere! We can’t just spin our wheels! We can’t just “rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic”! We have to see progress! Achievement! Accomplishment! Success! You can’t transform the world one moment at a time!


We organize our lives around our understanding of how things are, how things work, what it takes to get what we want and have our way. If we think praying loudly to God every day, so that God will know we are serious believers and take our prayers seriously, will get God to heed our requests and give us what we want, then we will pray loudly every day. And, you cannot take that away from us, by outlawing praying loudly, perhaps, without doing harm to us. Without doing violence to our lives and leaving us without foundation.

When the United States “won the west” in its war with Native Americans, rounded up the tribes of the Indian Nations and herded them onto reservations, we destroyed their foundation, their culture, their spirit, their lives. Drive through a reservation, any reservation. Evaluate the quality of life you find there. Let that be an eternal reminder to you of the essential nature of our foundations. We cannot lose our orientation to the good—to our good, to what is good, to what it takes to do the good, to how the good is done—without losing every essential thing. In the aftermath of that loss, we may remain 98.6 and breathing, but we will not be alive.

Now, take a quick scan of the culture around you. Your culture. Your life. How is the culture robbing you, robbing us, of your, of our, orientation to the good? What is there of value in the culture beyond the (hope of) accumulation of money? Beyond becoming wealthy, being prosperous? Then, drive through the estates, or, rather, the compounds, of the Enron executives. Evaluate the quality of life there. There is a lot more stuff there than on a Native American reservation, but how different, really, is the quality of life? What is the life within the stuff like? What is the relationship between money and life? How much money is a soul worth?

When we lose our orientation to the good, we lose our souls. Soul loss is not symptom free. Take a quick scan of the culture. What do you see there that might be symptomatic of soul loss? What are you going to do about it?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

01/17/06, Sermon

It takes a lot of living to be able to see. “Oh. NOW I see.” How often have we said that during the course of our lives? We don’t see at first because our ideas about how things are, or ought to be, keep us from what is. Our thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, inferences, and convictions get in the way. We have to live past what we think we know in order to know what to think.

Things are not what they seem to be. We think things are one way, and they are another. One of my favorite parables is the parable of the woman and the jar of meal. It’s found only in the Gospel of Thomas, and goes like this: Jesus says: “The Kingdom of the Father is like a woman who takes a vessel of flour and sets out on a long road. The handle of the vessel broke: the flour spilled out on the road behind her without her knowing it and stopping it. When she arrived at the house she put the vessel down and found it was empty.” We think we are doing one thing, and we are doing something else entirely.

It takes a while to figure that out; to know what the deal is, what game is being played, what is going on. You might think, for instance, that church is where people go to learn about God. But, that is not the game. People do not go to church to hear anything they don’t already know about God. Bill Hamilton has been overheard to say, “There hasn’t been a fresh idea about God allowed into the church in 2,000 years.” There have been fresh ideas about God in that period of time, but they have not been permitted to come to church.

For a long time, fresh ideas about God were burned at the stake. That is a very effective technique for keeping the status quo. After the stake was banned, the church had to resort to treating people as though they had been burned at the stake. It ostracized and excommunicated and defrocked people who dared to have a fresh idea about God, and had to content itself with burning books at the stake, or using the stake for kindling to get the books going. So, if you are going to survive in the church, you have to understand what the game is. It is not telling people something they don’t know about God. It takes a while to be able to see that. It takes a lot of living to be able to see. And, a lot of looking. And, a lot of looking again.

We cannot look once and think we have seen, and think we get it, and think we have it down. We have to remember the parable of the woman with the jar of meal. We think it’s one way, and it’s another way. We think we have religion figured out. We think we know how the church should be. But, how standardized does religion need to be? “Compassion,” might be standard enough. You should be able to count on compassion. If you want to add anything else, how about “Awake”? We should be able to count on religion being awake. Or, “Aware.” Same thing. “Aware and Compassionate.” “Awake and Compassionate.” Oh, and one more thing. “Presence.” We should be able to count on experiencing “Presence” in the church, in the religion, we experience, with “Presence” as simply being with that which is present with us. These three tings, “Awake, Compassionate Presence,” may be all we need ever. If there is anything else, it would flow from these three, a Holy Trinity, you might say.

How much does religion need to say about God? How much CAN religion say about God with any degree of assurance that it knows what it is talking about? Very little. Practically nothing. Religion spends most of its time talking about God when it should be working to be god-like. The church should concentrate on being God, bringing God to life in the life of the church, in the lives of the people who are the church, not talking about God.

Doctrine doesn’t have much of a place in the life of the church. You don’t “lead people to God” by handing them a doctrine, or by explaining it to them. Doctrines, and creeds, and books of confession, and catechisms, and attempts to define “what we believe” are practically useless. Scratch “practically.” Doctrines (and all the rest) become blinders, keeping us from seeing what is true. The people of Jesus’ day were sure they knew what to look for in a Messiah, and didn’t “know the time of their visitation.” We can think it’s about one thing, when it’s about another. But, honest conversation is helpful. Speaking from the heart about things that matter. Now, we’re talking! The trick is to keep talking. The trick is to keep every conclusion in the category of “tentative.” We are learning to see, a little at a time.

Religion at its best is about learning to see. The church at its best is where we learn to see. We don’t go to church to be told how it is. We go to church to talk about how we see, and to hear others talk about how they see, and to have our seeing enlarged by the seeing of one another.

Jesus saw things differently. Jesus saw things in a way no one of his day saw them. The foundation of the church is perspective. It’s all about having eyes that see and ears that hear and hearts that understand. It’s all about asking, and seeking, and knocking. It is not about knowing, possessing, defending, explaining, guarding, protecting, expounding. It is about seeing. And the essential ingredient in seeing is seeing how we see things.

We are not in charge of our own seeing. We cannot make ourselves see what there is to see. All we can do is look, and look again. How we see things is just how we see things. Our perspective is not ours to command. Now, our perspective changes, but in its own time. We can lay the groundwork for a perspective shift, but we cannot hurry it before its time. Some perspectives are slow to change, some are instantaneous. It takes a long time, sometimes, for an alcoholic to change her, to change his, mind about beer. And, sometimes, it only takes one more beer too many.

The perspectives that have the hardest time changing are the ones that think they are just fine as they are. And, have something at stake in remaining as they are. With some people, it is as though if they change their perspective they will lose face and be shame-ridden forever, and, somehow, cease to be a human being. “This isn’t how I see things,” they say, “This is how things ARE!”

We lay the groundwork for a perspective shift by having a perspective that takes itself into account. We have to see our seeing. We have to understand that what we see is a function of how we see it; of what we need of it; of what use we have of it; of where we have been and what we have seen that reminds us of it. What is the meaning of a rock? Or, a cow? A rock means one thing to a geologist and another thing to a boy with a sling shot. A cow means one thing to a dairy farmer and another thing to a bull.

What’s the meaning of life? Of God? Of religion? Of the Sacraments? It all depends, don’t you see, on how we see? Ah, but, how SHOULD we see? That, too, all depends on how we see. Do you think Pat Robertson, for example, would ever agree with Pope Benedict XVI, or with Rabbi Fred Guttman, about how we SHOULD see? Or that Osama Ben Laden would ever agree with George Bush about how we SHOULD see? How long would it take, do you think, for these people to begin seeing things in the same ways? Seeing is a function of the stake we have in things being the way we say they are.

The way we live is a function of how we see. And, of course, the converse is also true. The way we see is a function of the way we live. If we would see differently, we have to live differently, yet, how differently can we live given the way we see? And so, we have to see our seeing. Our perspective has to take our perspective into account if we hope to assist our perspective in its own becoming, in its own emerging, in its own development.

A fully developed perspective is an enlightened perspective. It is Enlightenment. It is seeing into the heart of things, and understanding how things are, as they are, right now. And, we live toward that by expanding, and deepening, and enlarging our perspective—our consciousness—on a regular basis. By seeing our seeing and wondering what else there is to see and how we might see what we see differently, and what it is that we don’t see at all.

The things we don’t see at all are the things we have seen for so long that they have disappeared into the background of our lives. Our life-partner, our children, our parents can all disappear right before our eyes. We can look at them and not see them. We know them so well we ignore them completely. Which can lead some people into outlandish behavior patterns, just trying to be seen by those who say they love them. You can make me crazy by not seeing me. If you are going to see me, you are going to have to see your seeing. You are going to have to develop a perspective that takes itself into account. And, to do that, you are going to have to have someone to talk to who can allow you to be who you are.

Where do you go to get permission to see things the way you see them? Who simply listens as you say how things are? Who asks you to say more about a certain thing you see? Who asks you what you mean by what you say about what you see? Who is willing to poke around in what you see with you so that you might see it better—so that you might see things you don’t see at all?

If we hope to see, we have to develop the knack of simply being present with what we think we see without having an emotional investment in it, and we have to spend time with people who can be present with us—who can practice Presence with us—without having an emotional investment in how we see. “The practice of the presence of God” can be the practice of being present as God is present, and it is a necessary step in seeing as God sees, so that we aren’t thinking we are doing one thing, seeing one thing, when we are doing, seeing, another.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Presence is being with whatever is in the moment with us. It is being with what is, as it is, with no need for it to be different than it is. Of course, there are obvious, and legitimate, limits to what we are able to “be present with” in the external world of normal, apparent, reality. You have to draw lines in that world, and set limits, and establish boundaries, and say, “No!” The Buddha, for example, said, “Yes,” to his rice bowl and “No” to his palace (and wife and child, among other things). The external world of normal, apparent, reality is very much a world of “Yes” and “No.” Of “this” and “not that.” You can talk about identification, and say, “Thou art That,” as much as you want to, but the lamb is not the lion, and they both know it. The rapist is not the rape-ee, and cannot truly “become” the rape-ee, without ceasing to be the rapist.

In the external world of normal, apparent reality, certain constellations of perspectives and values called the “I,” can be merged, to some extent, with certain other constellations of perspectives and values also called the “I,” but not with all constellations, not with all “I’s.” We have to BE an “I” before we can consider “becoming one” with another “I,” and will never manage “oneness” with all “I’s,” mainly because some “I’s” have their own agenda, and cannot be trusted to have “the highest good of all concerned” at heart. And, even with the “merger of selves,” there are boundaries that must be respected and honored and revered. “Oneness” is not “obliteration,” or “consolidation,” or “absorption.” It takes two “I’s” to make a “We,” to be a “We.” And, “We-ness” is the source of the continuing development and strengthening of the “I-ness” of the “I’s” that make up the “We.”

So, don’t think “Thou art That” is an invitation to disappear into the “That.” The lamb does not become the Lion, except in its fondest dreams. The phrase is an invitation to explore the “thou-ness” of the “that,” the “that-ness” of the “thou.” “Thou art That” in some ways, but not in others. And it is as valuable to note the points of demarcation as the points of identification. When “Thou art That” completely, absolutely, then thou aren’t “Thou,” and that isn’t “That.” We cannot identify, or identify with, “that” which isn’t distinct, separate, apart from “thou.” Identity before (and after) identification.

And, of course, identity is simply our awareness of our particular take on things, our perspectives and our values. What is “me” are “my” perspectives and “my” values. “I” am, you might say, the meanings “my” life has for “me.” And, “I” am always the same, but different. The particular constellation of perspectives and values that is “me,” is constantly changing with the impact of experience, yet it remains recognizeable. The strength of the “I,” the core, the foundation, is the “I’s” sense of the rightness and wrongness of things, the “I’s” ability to distinguish “Yes” from “No.” We are binary beings, organized to “open” and “close” our way through the external world of normal, apparent reality.

Or not. Who knows what the deal is “at the core,” or if there is a “core”? But we have to say something, or not, we have to say, “Yes” or “No.” I’m going to say that it is crucial, essential, absolutely necessary that we become aware of our perspectives and values. That we know where we stop and others start. And, that we greet one another in the external world of normal, apparent reality, with Presence, by being with that which is with us in the moment, to the extent that is possible without encroachment or the violation of legitimate boundaries. I see that as the second step in the radical transformation of very nearly everything.

The first step requires us to extend this kind of Presence to the internal world of how it is with us now, in this particular moment of our lives, in every moment of our lives. You know those parts of you that you hate, despise, and can’t get far enough away from? Presence. Presence is the solution to all of your problems with you. Well, maybe not the solution, but the critical ingredient in the solution.

Here’s the deal. Instead of identifying yourself with the part of you that hates part of you (“I hate myself!”), take a step back and simply experience part of you hating part of you. “Something in me hates something else in me.” Be Present with whatever is most present with “you.” If the something in you that hates is stronger than the something in you that is hated, be Present with the hating something. Invite it into your Presence. Say “Hello.” Say, “I’d like to hear what you have to say.” Listen to what comes.

And, if it is too big, too powerful, too scary to be Present with, find a therapist to help you through the experience. Therapists who are trained in a process called Focusing (do a Google search for more on the process, if not for a list of therapists in your neighborhood) will know what I’m talking about. Ann Weiser Cornell’s book “The Radical Acceptance of Everything” is a good introduction to this approach to healing the divisions within. It is simply what those who know have always known. We cannot be where we are not until we can be where we are. The path begins under our feet. Be here now (with all that is here with us now). You know. Like that. Like “That.”

Thursday, January 12, 2006


If we throw it all out, what’s left? That seems to be the concern. If we take a “non-theistic” approach to the understanding of God, and say there is no omnipotent, invincible, almighty, omniscient, ever-present Power “out there,” no “man upstairs,” who has to be appeased by the sacrificial death of Jesus, and who, if we believe in Jesus, answers prayer and rescues us from tight spots, then where does that leave us? With no more than each other to count on for the right kind of help along the way? If we throw out the doctrines, and the dogmas, and the creeds, and the catechisms, what are we going to offer as replacements? The Existential Courage To Be?

Five things come to mind: 1) There is no value in doctrines, dogmas, creeds and catechisms whose only response to inquiry and examination is “The Bible says so!” or “You have to take it on faith!”. 2) If we throw it all out, we are no worse off than we have always been. 3) There is more to life, to living, to being alive, than meets the eye. 4) Help is available and comes from the strangest places in the strangest ways. 5) There is nothing like living fifteen minutes with our eyes open to know the previous four points are valid.

Eyes open! How’s that for a viable alternative to the doctrines, dogmas, creeds, and catechisms (whose only foundation is “The Bible says so,” and “You have to take it on faith”)? Wake up! Pay attention! Be aware! That’s far enough from what the church has typically said to be radically new. Throw it all out and wake up! How’s that for “what’s left”?

So, what’s waking up going to do for us? Will it save us from the fires of hell and give us our heart’s desire (that land flowing with milk and honey, you know)? It will definitely deliver us from the fires of hell. And, it has more going for it than our heart’s desire (If the Chosen People had known what they were doing, they would have held out for a land flowing with oil and natural gas). Waking up is it.

Awake, we have everything we need to deal with, manage, make the most of life in the moment of our living. And, awake, we are aware of, and tuned into, the more than meets the eye that is a part of every moment. And, we are alert to the help that comes out of nowhere to startle, surprise, amaze and sustain. And, we know better than to make up stories that explain the more than meets the eye and the “very present help in time of trouble.” We can embrace the realities without perpetuating the fiction.

One of the things we have to wake up to is understanding, learning, knowing, being sensitive to the difference between willfulness and willingness. We can live willing a particular outcome to the moment, and we can live as willing participants in the moment. Two very different ways to think about the word “willing.”

We can live from the standpoint of wanting, willing, desiring life to be something other than what it is, and we can live from the standpoint of willing participation in life as it is, as it comes to us. The critical point is about motive, and modus operandi, and intention, and agenda, and purpose, and what we spend our time thinking about, serving, and trying to arrange.

Who are we? What are we about? Our answers to these questions set us up for the rest of our lives. How we answer them determines the direction and flow of our lives. But, it isn’t as though we answer them once and for all. We are constantly answering them. In each moment comes the choice between willfulness and willingness. In each moment comes the decision about who we are and what we are about. Over time, the moments add up, and our life takes on a particular flavor, a certain cant, character, style, and we find that we have formed a life with our living, one moment at a time. All of which is clear to those who are awake.

The questions, Who are we? What are we about?, are about motive, purpose, direction, intention, and the like. We live toward something and away from something else. We do not abandon desire. We cannot live without wanting. We will to live toward one thing and away from another. Wanting, desiring, willing are very much a part of our lives, whether our foundation is willfulness or willingness.

The difference between willfulness and willingness is critical. It is the difference between a tool and a prop. It is the difference between forcing and assisting. The stream finds its own path to the ocean. Forcing nothing, it finds the way.

You could say the stream desires the ocean. And, you could say the ocean desires the stream. And, you could say we are streams looking for the ocean. And, you could say we are the ocean looking for the stream.

So, it isn’t a matter of not wanting, not desiring, not willing, but a matter of willing participation in the moment with a certain hope, a certain dream, for the moment in mind. The hope and the dream are grounded in our “stream-ness,” in our “ocean-ness,” in the developing awareness of who we are and what we are about.

It takes a lot of living to be able to see. To wake up. To be alive. And, we are always forgetting, closing our eyes, going back to sleep. There is no steady state called “Awake,” or “Enlightened,” or “Aware.” In each moment, we are more-or-less awake, more-or-less enlightened, more-or-less aware. The more awake, enlightened, aware we are, the more in touch we are with the more than meets the eye that is present in each moment; the more alert we are to the help that comes from nowhere to sustain and enable, delight and amaze.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


God is the whole that is more than the sum of its parts. We are of God and participate in God and bring the light of God to life in the world of ordinary, apparent reality. Why does life evolve toward greater complexity? Why is there so much in the way of fecundity? Are we trying to beat the clock? Is there so much to express in the physical realm that it “falls all over itself” coming to be? Is it just life’s way of ensuring its future?

Life has a spiritual dimension. Life invents its own purposes. Life hatches its own meaning. Life is God waking up to God. Life is God waking up. Life is waking up to God.

Life evolves toward consciousness, toward awareness, toward waking up, toward enlightenment, toward God.

What do we see when we see? We see that the Tao of Lao Tsu and the Kingdom of God of Jesus are one thing. It’s like this: “The Tao that can be said is not the eternal Tao.” It’s like this: “The Kingdom of God is like a woman who goes to market and buys a jar of meal. She hoists the jar to her shoulder and walks home, not knowing that there is a small crack in the bottom of the jar and that the meal is falling out behind her. When she arrives home, the jar is empty.” You think you are doing one thing, and you are doing another. You talk about the Kingdom of God, about the Tao, about God, and you think you are saying something. But, all the while, your jar is empty.

What do we see when we see? We see the absurdity of thinking we see. We see the hilarity of looking. “The Tao is like a man riding his ox looking for his ox.” “The Kingdom of God is like yeast in the dough.” “The Kingdom of God is cast broadly upon the earth, and no one sees it.” Because they are looking for the wrong thing. Because we think it is about one thing and it is about another.

We can assist the process, resist the process, oppose the process, but we cannot co-opt the process and use it for our own ends, our own agenda. We can find our way, but we cannot force our way. Like the water that finds its way down hill, without forcing its way. Like the knife that finds its way through sinew and joint, without forcing its way. We find our way without forcing our way.

We belong to the process. The process does not belong to us. We come to serve, not to be served. We come to offer the gift of who we are and what we love to the service of the process, to the unfolding of life, to the emerging of God, to the Way.

It is not serious business. It is play. It is joy. It is wonder. It is life. It is being alive. It is love. It is compassion. If you try to hard, you do not learn to swim. If you fight the water, you sink. Swimming is about learning to trust the water, relax into the water, become one with the water. But, being one with the water does not mean that we are water.

When we see, what do we see? When we hear, what do we hear? When we are aware, what are we aware of? When we know, what do we know? When we understand, what do we understand? The moment. This moment right now. We see the moment, hear the moment, are aware of the moment, know the moment, and understand what is happening, and what needs to happen, and how we might assist the moment in becoming exactly what it needs to be.

All of this is complicated by our own needs. We cannot see the moment because we are in the way. We have fears, desires, motives, intentions, resentments, hostilities, purposes, and see the moment as being here to serve our interests. How can we use the moment to get what we want? What needs to happen in any moment is what we want to happen in that moment. We recognize no needs beyond our needs.

Consciousness, awareness, insight, understanding, enlightenment, waking up are about recognizing needs beyond our needs. They are about seeing that the moment has a life of its own. We can look at the moment of our living, and see it or not see it. “The Kingdom of God is cast broadly upon the earth, and no one sees it.”

What’s in it for us? What do we stand to gain? What are we going to get out of it? Where is the gain? How can we use this to our advantage? How might this serve our agenda, our goals, our ends, our good? What good is a good that isn’t good for us? This set of questions sets us up for a related set of questions: So what? Who cares? What’s the point? What difference does it make? Why try? What’s the use? The focus of all these questions is Me, Mine, and Ours. This is the focus that is the foundation of the politics of domination and control, which is the heart of life as we know it.

We cannot see the moment of our living because we look at it wondering how we can use it to serve our ends. We cannot see the Way because we are in the way. See?


It may be too much to think of “God’s will,” or of “God willing,” as though God is an external, all-knowing, invincible, controlling, master mind, causing this and preventing that. Even to use the word “God” sets people up to think, “Oh, THAT God,” or enables them to think that I mean the same thing by “God” that they do. “God” is an entrenched pattern of thinking that is carelessly perpetuated when we use the term.

We get a different response in our hearers when we talk about “the will of the Way,” or “the Way’s will.” The Way doesn’t have a will the way God has a will. The Way’s will is the will of the right order of things. It is the will of the way things are, of how they need to be. It is not imposed from without, but uncovered from within, discovered, intuited, assisted, as we might assist the will of the rose, for instance, by fertilizing and watering the bush, and keeping it free of insects and disease.

The will of the rose is to be itself, to become itself. That is, we might say, the will of the Way for the rose. The will of the Way is built into every living thing, and, beyond that, it encompasses all living things in concern for the whole. The will of the Way is for the good of the all. And so, we have to move carefully along the Way because the good of one is not necessarily the good of the other. What’s good for the rose, for instance, is bad for the insects that feed upon the rose. You see the problem. Serving the good of the all is no easy thing.

We have avoided the difficulty in the past by declaring something to be “God’s will,” and marching resolutely toward its realization no matter how much harm we did in doing it. It is interesting that “God’s will” always seems to favor those in power, or those interested in seizing power. “The will of the Way,” however, has more to do with laying power aside.

We cannot follow the Way in a powerful way. It is not a crusade, a conquest, a “win the world for Jesus” kind of campaign. It is a walk, a slow walk through the moments of life, with gentle, compassionate concern for each moment. What is good here, now? It takes looking and listening, seeing and hearing, to know. We cannot be in a hurry. We cannot rush to the good. What we found to be good in the last moment, may not be good in this one. We have to wait, and watch, to see. The will of the Way is listening, hearing; looking, seeing. The will of the Way is knowing what needs to be done and doing it. The will of the Way is the realization of the good, the expression of the good, in each moment. Whose good is served by the good we serve? How good is the good that serves only our good? The will of the Way is that we live with compassion in the service of a good that may not be good for us.

God always exists for the benefit of those serving, believing in, being faithful to, God. Everybody who loves God expects to get something out of the deal. Generally, heaven. But, also protection, and blessings, and prosperity. What does the Way have to offer us? How about “participation of the coming-to-be-ness of that-which-is”? Think that will sell in Peoria? Think that will pull ‘em in off the streets in Memphis? It’s easy to sell God. With heaven to gain and hell to avoid, you would be a fool not to sign on with God. But, living a life aligned with the Way? What’s in it for us? If you have to ask the question, you don’t have what it takes to take up the journey. You cannot be concerned about the good with your good in mind.

Well, you can imagine how this limits the number of people who will be on the Way at any given time. It seriously jeopardizes the capacity of the Way to be realized upon the earth. You have to offer incentive. You have to provide motivation. You have to encourage the people to do what needs to be done. You cannot depend on them to live well out of the goodness of their hearts. You cannot expect them to love their neighbor as they love themselves for no reason. You cannot say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and think that they will do it, just because you told them to. If you are going to be a successful proponent of the Way, you have to have a whip in one hand and a bribe in the other. You cannot talk people into serving a good that they don’t immediately see as being good for them.

There is an unspeakable difference between those who believe in Jesus and serve God in order to get to heaven when they die, and those who seek enlightenment for its own sake, and take up the Way because they must. There is no way to move rationally, logically, from the first group to the second. There is only waking up. And, it is not the nature of the Way to wake anyone up, but to wait, until they wake themselves up. The Way does not make disciples, or seek converts, or evangelize the uninitiated. It is beneath the feet of everyone, and they don’t know it.

Monday, January 09, 2006

01/08/06, Sermon

We need a safe place to reflect on who we are and what we love to do, and how we want it to play out from now until we die. How do we want to spend our time, given the nature and circumstances of our lives? Given the possibilities and limitations of our particular context? How are things with us? How do we want things to be? What can we do to begin living toward the difference we have in mind?

In the past, religion has been used to take our minds off how things are with us; it has been used to accommodate us to the world in which we live, and to tell us fanciful things to keep us going. “Not here, there. Not now, then,” has been the message of the religion of our experience. We have been told to tolerate the hell of our lives in light of the heaven that is going to take all our tears away. Religion at its best connects us with the way of life in the here and now, and enables us to do what can be done right here, right now to redeem what can be redeemed and do the work of transformation and renewal.

Religion at its best enables us to understand that we are to use the gift of who we are and what we love here to make things as good as they can be now. To make real the best that is possible in each moment of our lives. It takes intention to do that. And deliberation. And defiance. And determination. And dedication. And courage. It takes one another to do that.

We are about the transformation of the world. And, the world is geared to take the power of transformation away from us. To show you how this works, take the statement, “We are about the transformation of the world,” as a starting point. My hunch is that your first response to that is a question. It’s the world’s question coming out of your mouth. The world has trained us well. You are wondering: “What’s the plan?” There has to be a plan, right? If we are going to transform the world, the world assumes we must have a plan, a strategy, tactics, and, of course, a timeline. Well. How transformed is the world that is transformed according to the world’s idea of transformation? If you are really going to transform the world, you are going to have to do it without a plan. The minute you formulate the plan, you have become the world you would transform. If we are going to transform the world, we have to believe in the magic of being what is needed in each moment of our lives, and letting the outcome be the outcome. If you want a plan, that’s the plan. And, it isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it is more effectual than you think. Right thinking, right seeing, right doing, right being. That’s the sure path to the radical transformation of very nearly everything. Of course, we have to believe in it to do it. But, we have to believe in something. We may as well believe in our ability to transform the world one moment at a time.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says “Whether we like it or not, our lives leave a mark on the universe.” This is the Chaos Theory principle of the butterfly effect, where it is posited that the movement of a butterfly’s wings in Peking impacts the weather patterns in San Francisco. We do not live without impact. Csikszentmihalyi says, “Each person’s birth makes ripples that expand in the social environment: parents, siblings, relatives, and friends are affected by it, and as we grow up, our actions leave a myriad of consequences, some intended, most not…One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself…An active responsibility for the rest of humankind, and for the world of which we are a part, is a necessary ingredient of a good life” (Quotes from Finding Flow, pp. 131 & 132). And, he recommends a Buddhist perspective which says, “Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you do, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.”

We are here to remind one another of this because it easy to forget what we are about. The world is organized to sap our enthusiasm for the task of transformation. Living will take the life right out of you. Heart is the easiest thing to lose. Nothing is more difficult, fruitless, pointless, useless, stupid than picking ourselves up and running into the solid stone wall of reality, again. Who are we kidding? Who do we think we are? What do we think we are doing? How long can we keep going in the absence of evidence of impact? When the difference we make doesn’t make a difference, what keeps our heart in the effort? We need each other to remind us of the importance of living as lights in the darkness no matter what.

The world does not need just a little tweaking. It needs a complete make-over. An upgrade won’t do it. It is going to take a totally new operating system. We do the work of creating that operating system “on the fly,” so to speak, by imagining and living out of the alternative reality of the way of Jesus and all enlightened people everywhere.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus did not coin that phrase. It existed before him. It forms the heart of all pure religion. “Love one another, including your enemies.” “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” There is nothing here about withdrawal, seclusion, exclusion. That is not the way of transformation. The way of transformation is the way of engagement, participation, presence and respect. It is the way of honoring one another, even those with whom we strongly disagree, even our enemies. It is about according one another the grace of benevolent intention. It is about giving one another the benefit of the doubt. It is about loving one another.

The way of transformation is the way of enjoyment, conversation, and play. There isn’t a plan for playing. Play is free form all the way. Improvisation. Jazz at its best. And, it is the path to transformation.

Religion at its best serves an alternative reality to the world at its worst. We have to be grounded in the alternative reality. We cannot see as the world sees and transform the world. We cannot think as the world thinks, and value what the world values, and transform the world. We cannot be as the world is and transform the world. We do not find our reason for living toward the best we can imagine here and now, no matter what, in the world of normal, apparent reality. Our energy for the task does not come from the results of our efforts. And, all of this is easy to forget. Living takes the life right out of us, and heart is the easiest thing to lose.

And so, we gather here to remember and be reminders of the crucial, essential, importance, not of faith, but of faithfulness—faithfulness to the dream, the vision, the service of the good. Our task is to bring the gift of who we are and what we love to the service of the good no matter what. Whose good is served by the good we serve? How good is a good that serves only our good? We come here to envision a good beyond our good, and to be encouraged in the service of that good through all the reasons to lay it aside, and focus on our own best interest in the time that remains. It will not be easy. It may not be much fun. But, it will be deeply, essentially good.
Living in light of the good is good. It doesn’t matter whether it is fully and finally realized. We are not about the realization of the good, the instutionalization of the good. We are about being good for one another—and all others—no matter what. And the world would ask, “What good is a good that does no good?”

The world can be counted on to ask questions that take the spring out of our step, and the light out of our eyes, and the life right out of our living. “So what? Who cares? What difference does it make? Why try? What’s the point? What’s the use? Who are you kidding?” We deal with the questions by living on in the service of the good, by being good for one another—and all others—no matter what.

Joseph Campbell tells the story, remember, of the Native American tribe where young men are told at the point of their transition into adulthood, “When you leave home to seek your fortune in the world, the birds of the air will poop all over you. Don’t even pause to wipe it off.” That’s how you deal with the world.

The point is to bring the gift of who we are and what we love to bear upon the here and now of our living. What do we have to offer the moment that the moment can use for the good of the moment? What does the moment need? How can we be of help? What is the blessing that we can be in the moment of our living? It takes perceptivity to answer the questions. It takes discernment. It takes attention. It takes awareness.

I asked Steve Collins to take down the gutters at our house and repair sections of rotted facial board behind them and either reinstall the old gutters, or put up new ones. He thought he could do it without much time and effort. Well, you know, once you get into something like that, you make discoveries that weren’t apparent upon preliminary inspection. The way the old gutters had been installed changed everything about his plans. I came home to check on his progress and found him sitting on top of his ladder, lost in thought. “What’s going on?” I asked. He said, “I’m adjusting myself to what has to be done.”

You might look at this place as the top of Steve Collins’ ladder. We come here to adjust ourselves to what has to be done. And, we leave here to go do it. In the spirit and manner with which it ought to be done. We come here to remind ourselves to live in the service of the best we can imagine, in each moment of our living, no matter what. The divine imperative is to be good for one another—and all others—no matter what. We are here for one another. We are here to bring the gift of who we are and what we love to bear upon the moment of our living, and to live in ways that are a blessing and a grace to the time and place of our living. And, the hope is that we will do that very thing!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

01/07/06, The Book

The book is within easy reach. “The Evolution of the Idea of God (and other essays).” The link under “Links” will carry you to it. The bird, as the story goes, is in your hands.

Here’s the way it is in two parts. The first part is the book. It says what I have to say (at this point in my life) as well as I can say it. Whether it is worth saying is your call. I don’t know if it is worth saying. I can’t tell. How am I to know? I have to say it and see. “The response,” says Deena Metzger, “determines everything that follows.” So, I wrote it to see if it was worth writing.

The second part is marketing the book; getting it “out”; putting it “within easy reach” of folks who might want to read what I have to say. It’s easy enough to place it with Amazon (and it should be there within two weeks); and it is easy enough to get it on the “Local Interest” shelf of the Barnes & Noble just down the street (But not so easy to get it into Borders, also down the street, which is interesting. Why not? I don’t know.). But, when it comes to Barnes & Noble in High Point, NC (15 miles away), or Winston Salem (30 miles away), or Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Charlotte, it’s a story with a different outcome. The people at Barnes & Noble are kind, gracious, and genuinely want to be helpful, but they have to make a buck, and they wonder how I plan to pack ’em in at a book signing in Charlotte, or Raleigh, or even Winston Salem. Where is my audience in a location where I am a “complete unknown”? How do I sell a book to those who have never heard of me? I’m sure you see the problem. It’s a visibility problem. It’s a promotion problem. It’s an advertising/marketing problem.

Writing the book is the easy part. Wrestling it into shape to be printed is a bit more difficult. Selling it, now that’s a bear. This, of course, is where you come in. Is it worth buying? You don’t even have to buy it to know whether you would be interested in buying it. But, the number of sales generated by this blog and my web site (outlandspress.com) will determine how much effort I put into regional promotion. And that would take a lot of effort, and I have better things to do than waste effort at this point in my life. So, here’s my spiel about the book:

Everybody knows what they are supposed to think about God, and everybody knows what they think about God, but not everybody knows what to do with the discrepancy. Everybody in the church discounts, dismisses, discredits, diminishes, disappears, denies the discrepancy. Nobody in the church talks about it. If the discrepancy is such that you cannot ignore it, you just leave the church, because no one there will listen to your problem, or admit that discrepancies exist.

William Hamilton says there hasn’t been a fresh idea about God in 2,000 years. He is quick to amend that by saying there hasn’t been a fresh idea about God allowed into the church in 2,000 years. There have been plenty of fresh ideas about God. Most of them were burned at the stake. After the stake was disallowed, the fresh ideas about God were ostracized, tarred and feathered, run out of town. They were condemned from the pulpits and promptly ignored. They were not permitted to enter the “main stream” of the church.

Source Criticism has known the Bible isn’t what it appears to be—what it is believed to be—for, what, four generations, at least. Do you think that is reflected in any of the Bible studies conducted in any of the churches of the land? Source Criticism may be taught in some of the seminaries, but it doesn’t “work” at the “local level,” because, while people there pay you to talk to them about God, you can’t tell them something they haven’t already heard.

Rudolph Bultman’s “demythologizing the Bible” was a fresh idea that created a ripple, and disappeared. No one in the churches of the land talks about “demythologizing the Bible.” Probably, no one under 35 has even heard the term. The “God is Dead” controversy was a blip on the smooth surface of how the church likes things to be, and then it was gone. “Liberation theology,” produced a small wave and was lost. The Feminist movement made a run at transformation, yet the number of churches today that make a concerted effort at something as simple as inclusive language is pitifully small. The Jesus Seminar presented the church with the possibility of recasting the gospel story, and the church wasn’t interested. The church is interested only in perpetuating the fiction it wants to be true.

“But it IS true!”, proclaims the church, dismissing and denying the discrepancies which crack, rend and shatter the truth it holds so dear. “The Evolution of the Idea of God” is a book about those discrepancies, and about forging a new synthesis between some of the old ideas and some of the fresh, new, insights generated by the work to reconcile the contradictions between what we know about how the world works and what we have been told about how the world works. It offers a fresh way of being the church to those who are interested in a church that is quite different from the church of their experience. The hope of the book is that there are those who are interested.

So. What do you think?

Friday, January 06, 2006


We are here for one another. That’s the fundamental realization. If you are grounded in that understanding, that’s it. Everything else is just a pass-time. Our business is helping one another. The bottom line is being with one another for the good of the other. “What do you need, now? How can I help you with that?” That’s the basic orientation. The basic orientation is the good of the other. In order for it to work, we have to see ourselves as “the other” on the same level that others are “the other.”

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We have to see ourselves as another among others in order to share the wealth of our attention among all. How much for us, how much for them, is the eternal perplexity. We will never figure it out. Sometimes, it will be too much for us. Sometimes, it will be too much for them. It will never be equal shares all the way around, all the time. Don’t worry about it. Just don’t think it’s always about your good at the expense of everyone else’s good. Or, that it is always about their good at the expense of yours. As long as “you” are one of “them,” you will get enough and they will get enough. See yourself as one of “the others,” and don’t treat yourself as God, or as garbage, and you’ll be fine.

On, the other hand, you can’t help anyone if you don’t know where you stop and they start. “How can I help you today?” has to be balanced with, “I’ve helped you enough, already!” or with, “I’ve helped you all I’m going to help you!” We are here for one another, but that doesn’t mean we are going to allow ourselves to be taken to the cleaners. Help is an investment, not a subsidy. If your level of neediness is a black hole, you can’t be helped. My ability to be helpful depends upon what you bring to the table. What are you doing to help yourself? I’m not going to take in your laundry, or pay your car note, or your vet bill. I’m willing to be helpful, but I’m not willing to be used. And, I’m the one to say when I begin to feel like I’m being used. I’ll draw the line. I’ll say, “Nope. That’s it. No more.” Don’t say “Yes” if you can’t say “No.”


David Connell says, “You can’t see what isn’t ready to be seen.” He’s talking about your future; about what’s going to become of you; about what’s going to happen, and what’s going to happen after that, and how it is all going to impact your life, and whether you are going to like it or not. You have to wait to see some things. Some things sneak up on you, and you never see them coming, and you lie steamrolled in their wake. We can only be so smart, so insightful, so perceptive, so aware, so ready. We cannot see it all, or know what we wish we knew. We just have to live it out. Wait it out. In the meantime, we do what needs to be done with as much acumen as we can muster, with as much compassion as we can generate, with as much good-will and bigness of heart as we can manage.

We cannot see anything before its time. Before the time of its unveiling. Before the time of its coming out. We can wait expectantly. Trusting. Hoping. Trusting in ourselves. Hoping that we will find a way to deal with what comes. To let come what’s coming and to let go what’s going. To adapt. Adjust. Accommodate. Acquiesce. And go on. Chances are, we will. Chances are, we will have enough of what it takes to take what comes, deal with it, and go on. To the next thing. Which we also cannot see before its time.


I would love to be able to look and see. To listen and hear. I don’t know why that is so hard. But, if I had a wish, it wouldn’t be for a riding lawn mower or a life-time supply of Community Coffee (New Orleans Blend with Chicory). It would be to look and see; to listen and hear. We should start earlier with our children, getting them to practice the art.


We are here to create an alternative reality, perhaps alternative realities. We do that by finding the path with our name on it and allowing it to carry us into the heart of what we love. We do that by understanding our primary task to be that of bringing life to life within ourselves, of simply being alive to the moment of our living, to be alive in the fullest, deepest, best sense of the term. Of all the things we might say about the couple in American Gothic, “being alive” isn’t one of them. If we are going to “be” anything, we have to be alive first. It all starts with being alive. It all flows from being alive. Being alive flows from who we are and what we love.

The gift of who we are and what we love transforms the world. If you are going to believe in anything, believe in that. As we give the gift of who we are and what we love to the moments of our living, we transform the world one moment at a time. How does it work? Magically. You have to believe in magic if you are going to take up the practice of giving the gift of who you are and what you love to the moments of your living. But, we have to believe in something. Why not magic?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

01/01/06, Sermon

To understand the Kingdom of God, which I’m calling “the Way of God,” as I do is to believe unquestionably in magic. “Live aligned with the way of God, identified with the way of God, and magic will happen.” That’s the cornerstone to my faith and my theology. It’s magic, all the way.

And, it is completely unpredictable. You have no idea what you’re going to get. It’s better than Christmas morning. Live a life that is integral to, that is integrated with, the way of God, and be surprised. You will be surprised because you will never know what’s going to happen. This puts me a full 180 degrees away from those who say, “Want a pink Hummer? Pray for a pink Hummer.” I say, live a life of integrity—a life that is integral with that which is deepest, truest, and best about you—and your life will take it from there. Maybe you will like it, and maybe you won’t, but it isn’t about your liking it. It’s about living toward the best you can imagine and letting the outcome be the outcome.

If you have AIDS, for instance, the way of God isn’t the sure path to a cure. You don’t sign on in order to be cured. You simply live with AIDS the way God would live with AIDS. You live the best life possible given the restrictions and limitations that AIDS imposes on you, and let that be that. Magic will happen, but you may not be cured. You probably won’t be cured. It isn’t about being cured. It’s about bringing magic to life in the world, and seeing what happens.

The way of God—the way God would do it—is the way of justice and compassion; the way of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness and self-discipline.” It is the way of “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

The way of God is characterized by a certain drift of spirit, a certain cant of soul, a certain quality of life, a certain perspective, a certain orientation to the good. It is recognized by a certain presence, an attentive, caring presence. It sees with the eyes of compassion into the heart of things. It knows how things are and how they also are. It knows what is, and what also is. And, it responds to the moment of its living out of its recognition of the needs of the moment and out of the particular gifts it brings to the moment. It lives to redeem the moments of its living by bringing to life in each moment all of the hope, love, joy, goodness, etc. that the moment is capable of producing, receiving, bearing.

The way of God is not going to organize the world of normal, apparent reality according to someone’s (your) idea of how things should go. It’s a mess now. It will be a mess then. The way of God doesn’t iron out wrinkles, or clean up messes, or disappear problems. You think Jesus had it easy? You don’t take up the way of God to ease your way. You take up the way of God, and you deal with your problems the way God would deal with your problems. But, you are still going to have problems.

The way of God is not the way to get what you want. It is not a shortcut to prosperity. It is not a slick strategy for catapulting into the life of your dreams. It is simply the way of bringing your best to bear upon each moment of your life and letting the outcome be the outcome. You may not like it. Jesus wasn’t what you would call real happy with it. But, magic will happen. The world is transformed one magical moment at a time because of the way some people have lived their lives. Well, okay, maybe not THE world, but some world, someone’s world is transformed one magical moment at a time because of the way some people have lived their lives.

Each one of us can think of the difference that someone made in our lives. Our lives are different, better, you might say transformed, because of the crucial influence of a very small number of people. Where would we be without them? And, the impact they had was not calculated, premeditated, planned. They probably have no idea of the good they brought to life in our lives. They were just being who they were. They may not even have been trying to incarnate the best they could imagine. The way of God can happen unintentionally, one might say accidentally. The impact is most certainly accidental. Unintentional. Magical. We strive to live as God would in our place—we try to do it better than God could do it—and something happens. Something magical. Unpredictable. Transformative. And we may not like it. Sometimes, that’s the way magic is.

We serve the good for the sake of the good. Whose good is served by the good we serve? How good is the good that serves only our good? And so, the Way of God is the way of learning to be good for nothing. It is the way of learning to do what is good even if it doesn’t do us any good, even if it isn’t good for us, even if there is nothing in it for us. The first question is not the question about our benefit, our advantage, our gain or loss. The first question is what does the moment need? What is the moment asking of us? What do we have to offer? What do we bring to the moment? How can we help the moment in its unfolding toward the good? How can we bring the good to life in the moment of our living—whether it does us any good or not? The New Year is as good a place as any to begin asking, and answering, the questions. And, to begin living so as to bring magic to life in our lives, and be surprised.