Wednesday, May 31, 2006

05/31/06

God Becoming God

We are God, stirring, stretching, coming to life, slowly waking up to what it might mean to live as God in the land. We are God with different ideas of what it might mean to be God. We are God figuring out what it is to be God, here and now, in the present moment of our lives. How would God do it, with no more resources than we have available to us, with no more power and control than we exercise within the events and circumstances of our lives? That is the problem of God, and, it is our problem. How do we live here, now, as God would live in our place?

There are no answers in the back of the book. There is no script, no formula, no list of rules to go by. God is not bound by a manual of operations or a Book of Order. God is like the wind, you know, that blows where it will. God makes it up as it goes along. God figures it out along the way. God has the soul of a jazz musician, the uninhibited freedom of movement of a small child dancing. “What works best?”, is God’s only concern. “What is needed, here, now?”, is the guiding question of God.

Of course, it is complicated. When one person’s good is another person’s bad, it’s a pickle. What do you do, then, even if you are God? It is not easy, sometimes, even if you are God. So, what do you do? Who knows? Who knows what ought to be done? Sometimes, there is no knowing. We live with the burden of the complete freedom of God, wondering what is best, what is needed. Wondering how we bring the good to bear upon, to life in, this situation, here, now. Not knowing. Stumbling our way into Godhood, into holiness. Leaving behind traces of the kingdom in the wake of our living.

God Unfolding, Emerging, Within Us

You have to admit that the idea of God becoming God has it all over the idea of God as immutably and irrevocably in charge of every little detail (like the number of hairs on our head). The God of the Bible is only a bigger, meaner us. In the Bible, God’s way of dealing with those who oppose God is to kill them. And, send them to hell. Where they will regret for all eternity opposing God. In the Bible, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart and then destroys the chariots and horsemen of Pharaoh. That’s the best God can do. Which is no better that anything we can do.

Jesus may talk about loving our enemies, but, by the Book of Revelation, it’s all forgotten, and we are back to God being the Killer of the Beast and all the Little Beasties. And, everyone is supposed to admire that God, and fawn all over that God, and spend their time in heaven singing praises to that God forever. But, that God is more of a monster than a god worthy of the name. There is nothing admirable about a God whose idea of justice is the destruction of those who don’t do it God’s way.

Jesus seems to catch on to a different way of being God in the world. The prodigal’s father is glad to welcome home the prodigal, and you get the idea that if the prodigal took off again, and came back again, for an infinite number of times, the father would still be there to welcome him home every time. The Samaritan helps the Jew without doing a reference check to see if the Jew deserved to be helped. Of course, the Jew did not deserve to be helped! This is a Samaritan doing the helping! No Jew could deserve being helped! The Jews and Samaritans despise each other. There is no such thing as a good, deserving Jew from the perspective of Samaritans (and vice versa)! Yet, there he goes, tending and caring for his enemy, without even a hint of a suggestion that his enemy start doing things like a Samaritan would do them.

Jesus talks about yeast in the dough, and salt in the soup, and light in the darkness, and seeds in the earth, as a way of suggesting that the way of the good, the way of God, is to become good, to become God, over time. That God is working within “the scene,” within the moment, within the circumstances of life, to transform and deliver, renew and redeem.

Of course, as I sometimes say, Jesus hadn’t been dead fifteen minutes before everything changed. What changed was that everyone thought about God the way they had always thought about God. Gone was the yeast in the dough idea of God and back was the fist in the clouds idea. Back was “do it the way we tell you to do it, or else!” Or else, there will be hell to pay. Somehow, I cannot imagine the prodigal’s father saying, “If you ever do anything like that again, there will be hell to pay!” You just cannot square the idea of the prodigal’s father with the idea of a vengeful, wrathful God requiring the death of Jesus and the belief of all the people in the redemptive power of the death of Jesus, “or else.” Yeast in the dough, or fist in the clouds? I think we have to choose which idea of God is going to be the operative idea of God, and everything, you might say, hangs on the choice.

The Work of God

The work of God, of being God, of becoming God, is the work of aligning our lives with the idea of the best we can imagine. Whose good is served by the good we serve? How good is a good that serves only our good? I don’t think we can do better than Jesus’ ideas about the foundation of community, and working to incorporate those ideas into our lives.

How do we love our neighbor as ourselves? How do we do unto others as we would have them do unto us? How do we love our enemies? How do we love one another? How do we live in ways that do right by ourselves and right by each other and right by all others? The work of God is to do it the way it ought to be done in every moment of life. The work of God is to envision the good and do it in every moment of life. The work of God is to take Jesus’ image of the sheep and the goats and make it the foundation of our life in the world.

The upshot of the parable is that we have to do right by ALL of the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. And, that the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters have to do right by all of the rest of the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters: “In as much as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it unto me.” No one is off the hook here, and no one can slip by any of us unnoticed, unseen, uncared for. We are here to do right by ourselves, one another, and all others. That’s our life’s work. We would have to be God to get it done. There you are.

Good Company

Who are we going to “throw in with”? That’s as important as knowing what to do. Who are we going to be with? Whose company are we going to keep? Who is the right kind of company? Who is good for us? Being good company, and being in good company, are the two essential requirements for life. We cannot hope to be alive, in the fullest, deepest, best sense of the term, without being good company and without being in good company. Do we even know what “good company” means? We had better be figuring it out. There is no future worth having without it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

05/21/06, Sermon

There can’t be much to it. Why would it be complicated? Why do we think it has to be hard? Why do we think it has to be “out there,” “over there,” “up there,” “down there”? We think we have to go to India or China or Japan, sit past aching knees and sore rear ends, waiting for it. We think we have to be indoctrinated, initiated, inculcated, inundated. We think it could not possibly be free and easy. It has to be a secret reserved only for the deserving. Held back as a reward for those who have paid their dues, submitted to the regimen, and earned the right to be enlightened.

What is it that we think enlightenment does for us? What do we seek when we seek understanding? Oneness with the universe? Inner peace? Do you think inner peace would do anything about obtuseness in the White House? About being over weight and out of shape? The Buddha could have lost a pound or two. If inner peace keeps us from minding so much how things are—if that’s what we get out of it; if that’s why it is so attractive to us—why don’t we just chew peyote or smoke pot, drink beer and let the world go around?

What is it that we want? What are we after? To feel good about our life, and our place in life, and our lot in life? What would it take for us to relax and feel like we have it?

Here’s what I think. “Ommmmm.” Hear that? There is something innately right about it. You can’t improve it. It has it. “Whigggh!”, on the other hand, does not. The Ode to Joy has it, is it, chalk scraped on a blackboard does not, is not. There you are. We are looking to align ourselves with, to immerse ourselves in, what is right, and to distance ourselves from what is not right.
There are places, and people, and experiences, and thoughts, and ideas, and sights, and sounds that are right, and there are those that are wrong. We are looking for more of what is right and less of what is wrong. Gatlinburg is wrong, but the trail to Grotto Falls is right. We submit to what is wrong, sometimes, for the sake of what is right.

We yearn for what is right. For what is good. For the ought to be. We cannot get enough of it. It’s beautiful. Wonderful. Magnifique! That’s all there is to it. Simple as that. Become aware of it. Spot it. Name it. Love it. Spend time with it. Go back to it. Become it. Be sources of good, and beauty, and wonder in the world. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. There is nothing hard about it.

We only have to cultivate, as Jesus says, “Eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand.” We only have to develop “an eye for IT”; an ear for IT; a heart for IT. That’s all there is to IT!

And that, of course, is the problem. When we talk about knowing IT when we see IT, or hear IT, or sense IT, we move into the spiritual realm. We move into mystery. We cannot say what we are talking about. “Spiritual” is for “more than meets the eye.” How do you develop an eye for “more than meets the eye”? How do you see past the surface, into the depths? How do you develop “taste”? How do you cultivate an ear for music, and for truth? These are the questions we should be asking, and answering, in religious education classes. We should be talking about how to apprehend the reality beyond the apparently real, not discussing the doctrines and reciting the clich├ęs and commonplaces of worn-out religion.

We have to figure out how to live with right-seeing, and right-hearing, and right-being at the center of our lives. There has to be some center around which we coalesce. It can be anything, but we have to form around something, around some idea of what is worth our life. Our lives take shape around our idea of what it means to be alive. Worthy lives require worthy centers, but already, with the idea of worthy, we have some sense of what shape that life should take, of what the center of that life should be. We are born with an incredible affinity for what is right. Amoebas know what is right, and what is wrong; what is good, and what is bad. Plants turn to the light. We can recognize where we belong and where we have no business being.

We can override That Which Knows. We can ignore the signals. We can “develop a taste” for things that are not good for us. We can live recklessly, carelessly. And, we can hold back when we should step forward. We can be inhibited, and intimidated, and fearful. We can refuse to “boldly go where no one has ever ventured.” We can be stupid. Shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best. But we know, in Joseph Campbell’s term, “when we are on the beam and when we are off it.” We know that much.

It is crucial that we know what we know, and live in light of it—to the extent that is permitted by the nature and circumstances of our lives. Poets can do a little plumbing and serve on the city council or the school board, but they cannot think that they are plumbers or politicians and not poets. We cannot make sense of things in a cosmic fashion, but we can know what makes sense for us, personally. We can know whether it makes sense for us to go into the auto repair business, for instance, or to go to vet school.

What is worthy? Worth while? Worth our life? What is our life worth? We are going to spend our life in the service of what? The ultimate decision is a values decision. What are the values that will shape our lives? Where do they come from? How do we decide what is valuable and what is not?

Or, to ask the same thing in another way, “Who does the grail serve?” We seek what for what? We seek “the grail” for what? To do what with it? What is the point of our lives? We live toward what? Away from what? What is “the good” around which our lives coalesce? How do we know what is worth our time?

To say, as I do, “We are here to bring out the best in each other,” is to open the door to wondering what constitutes “the best” and how we will know when it has been “brought out.” I think the question of “the good,” or “the best,” is fraught with complexity and paradox, and takes us to the heart of what it means to be human—to the heart of the struggle, if you will, to be human. I see the struggle to be human to be the struggle to do right by ourselves and by one another, and all others. That is the cross we all bear, who would be “fully human and fully divine.” Humanity, at the level of the heart, is divine. How to get there is hell.

Of course, there is no way to know if I know what I’m talking about here, so, let’s assume I do not. Never mind the business about being human and divine at the level of the heart, but hang on to the idea that the essence of the work/struggle to be human being the effort to do right by ourselves and all others. Or, as Jesus would say (Paraphrasing Hillel), “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s it. And, it is hell.

This is only one theory about what belongs at the center, about “the good,” “the best.” But, it is a good theory. An excellent theory. I can’t think of a better gauge for a life well-lived than the extent to which it does right by itself and all others. And, if we are going to bring out the best in each other, we are going to live toward enabling one another to do right by ourselves and all others. We are going to live in ways that take “the other” (a generic term for all others) into account. We are not going to dismiss anyone as being inconsequential or unworthy of our concern. We are going to recognize that WE are the neighbor (The answer, by the way, to the lawyer’s question—Luke 10:25 and following—to Jesus about “who is my neighbor.” “Who was the Jew’s neighbor?”, asked Jesus at the end of the tale. “The one who did right by him!”, said the lawyer. “Go and do likewise,” said Jesus). We are the neighbor who loves, and does right by, everyone. If you think that’s easy, give it a whirl. That’s the work of bringing God to life in our lives; it is the work of birthing God into the world. And, it’s our work. We are here to bring out the best in one another; to help one another with the work of bringing God to life in our lives. We do that best by being clear about what belongs at the center, at the heart, of our lives, around which we coalesce.

It would be easy for me to nominate “the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth” as the center around which we coalesce, but that’s just a way of formulating, of talking about, what is at the center. If Jesus is our model of “doing it the way it ought to be done,” there is, beyond Jesus, an idea of “the ought to be,” which Jesus reflects. The key is “the ought to be.” The idea of what ought to be is reflected in Jesus by those who have the right idea of the ought to be and can see it in him. Everyone who looks at Jesus does not see the same “ought to be.”

People have looked at Jesus and burned other people at the stake, and drowned reputed witches, and shamefully discriminated against black people, and gay people, and physically and mentally handicapped people, and mentally ill people, and women, and children, and, well, the list is pretty much endless. And, they claimed to have Jesus at the center of their lives.
The Jesus at the center of their lives reflected a world view that was really at the center of their lives. We see Jesus in a way that exhibits, expresses, and justifies our view of the good. Jesus rarely ever calls into question what we think of as good. We see “the good” in Jesus because we already think of it as “good,” and not because we see it in Jesus.

At the same time, however, “the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth” can be instructive and transformative—a source of revelation and enlightenment—if we approach them with open-minded awareness/mindfulness, and allow them to call into question our assumptions about “the good.” Attitude is everything. The spirit with which we seek truth and understanding determines the outcome of the search. We have to be aware of our heart and mind if we are to change them. What do we think is good, how do we know it is good, and how does the life and teachings of Jesus stretch, challenge, oppose, reflect our views? That is the kind of question we ask in the company of one another as a way of bringing out the best in each other, and enabling each other to bring God to life in our lives.

What is the good we think of as good? How good is it? How do we know? Who says so? Who says not so? Whose good is served by the good we serve? How good is a good that serves only our good? That benefits only us? What is good for us is one thing; what are we good for is another. How do we use the good that is good for us in ways that are good for others? How shall we live so as to do right by ourselves, and by one another, and all others? How shall we resolve the conflict of good, when what is good for me is bad for you, and what is good for you is bad for me? Our answers to these questions—and those like them—are the ones which shape our character and determine the value of our lives. Where do we go to ask, and answer them? It is no more difficult than finding a place to have the right kind of conversation.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

05/14/06, Sermon

In the Zen story of the master butcher, the butcher sharpens the knife and gets out of the way. The knife finds its own path. We have to understand what “sharpening the knife” means for us and our lives. What is the “knife” for us? How do we “sharpen” it? Once we know that, then it’s only a matter of getting out of the way and allowing our “knife,” our “knack,” so to speak, to find its own path and lead us along the way.

The problem with this, of course, is that the path may not be the path we have in mind. We may wish for ourselves a bigger, better, finer path. We may not want to be a butcher. We may want to be king. Or queen. We may want the shine and sheen of stardom. Or the invisibility of a face in the crowd. We have our ideas, you know, about our lives and how they should be lived. There you are. That’s the problem.

Who is running the show? That’s the problem. Who is in charge here? That’s the problem. We don’t have what it takes to “sharpen the knife and get out of the way.” We have to be in control. “Give us the baton!”, we shout. “We’ll direct the orchestra!” We like to think we know what we are doing, and discount all evidence to the contrary, while continuing to formulate our plans and adjust our design, and create something on the order of a Rube Goldberg cartoon. Except that our apparatus doesn’t work.

Architects are always putting sidewalks where people do not walk. We think we know how things ought to be, but we do not allow things to tell us how they ought to be. We impose our ideas for our lives on our lives, and do not listen to our lives, or live within legitimate limits, or restrain our desire for beer and chocolate and cocaine and plastic in light of the impact of our desire on the whole of life. If we want it, we get it, and then go after the next thing we want. We are a way stop to the land fill for ten billion things. We pour sidewalks where people do not walk.
We are in a hurry for things to be better. We cannot stand how things are. We will not sit and listen. We will not take our time. We will not see and serve what needs to happen. We know what we want and what’s in our way. We cut the trees and pour the concrete. We attack Iraq and give them democracy. We think everyone should have democracy. We think we will be safe if everyone has democracy. And, overlook the fact that gay people in this country have democracy, and are not safe. Poor people in this country have democracy, and are not safe. We look at democracy and see something else. Democracy is not what we think it is. Democracy does not work the way we think it works. We also overlook the fact that we cannot tolerate democracy ourselves, and have dispensed with it, and erected in its place Rule By The Special Interest Group With The Most Votes (or, sometimes, just the most money).

We do not listen. We do not see. We do not seek to understand. We impose our way on the world. We push our way through the world. We compel the world to align itself with our ideas for the world. We cut the trees. Pour the concrete. And smile.

Lao Tsu says, “Do your work and step back. That is the secret to serenity.” Maybe so, but it doesn’t work for us. We can’t step back. We have to force our way forward, and make sure that our work has the desired effect, achieves the proper results, does what we want it to do. Doing our work and stepping back sounds too much like sharpening the knife and getting out of the way. The knife cannot possibly find its own path.

We cannot trust our lives to be worth living on their own. What do our lives know? What does our “gift,” our “genius,” our “knack,” our “knife” know? Who does the grail serve? That’s the question we don’t permit ourselves to ask. We have been given “the gift” for the good of whom, of what? Who exactly is it who is to profit from our “knack”?

The easy assumption, of course, is that we are the ones. The grail serves US! WE are the ones who should profit from our “knack.” After all, it is OUR “knack”! The grail blesses US! And we make it our life’s goal to profit from our gift, talent, interest, genius.

Making ourselves the point of our lives misses the point of our lives. Our lives don’t serve us. The grail doesn’t serve us. But, we cannot grasp this fundamental concept. Egocentricity makes gods of us all. Even God serves us, saves us, loves us, is obsessed with us, and will do anything to get us to heaven. As it is with God, so it must be with the grail, and every other thing. Our benefit, our advantage, our profit, our best interest are what our lives are all about.

What’s the point of having a fine young stallion if you can’t ride him to the big time? Here’s the bad news: It isn’t ours to say what the purpose and function of the fine young stallion is. Our place, our role, is the care and feeding of the horse. We are stable hands. We sharpen the knife and get out of the way. We serve the grail.

Our problem is not how to make the gift work for us. It is not how to profit from our association with the horse (or the “knack,” or the “knife”). It is understanding what it means to sharpen the knife, to serve the grail. How do we honor our genius and allow it to find its own path? How do we hone our talent and get out of the way? I think it is done with silence, and awareness.
We empty ourselves of ambition and desire and wait in the silence for direction, for instruction, for the opening of the way. In the meantime, we take care of business. We do the work that is to be done—the work that is ours to do—and step back. And get out of the way. We pay the bills. We mow the lawn. We wash the dishes. We take out the trash. And, we wait, mindfully, with awareness, attending the things that arise in the silence, seeing into the heart of things and responding to what is needed in the moment it is needed, allowing the knife to find its own path.

And, when it begins to look as though we are wasting our lives, we look at that. We see into the heart of that, and respond as needed to that. What does it mean to “waste our lives”? What is wasteful? What is to make the most of our lives? What is the measure by which our lives are to be evaluated? The standard by which they—by which we—are to be judged? What are the qualities, the characteristics, of a worthy life? How shall we know, how shall we determine, if ours has been a good life—a good enough life? Or, one that is being “wasted”?

The master butcher is, after all, only a butcher. Is his life good enough? Good enough for whom? For what? How shall we decide what constitutes “good enough”?

I don’t know about you, of course, but for me, a good life is an integrated life, a life of integrity, a life that reflects, exhibits, those qualities that are integral with what is deepest, truest, and best about us. It has little to do with achievement and acquisition; little to do with power, position, possessions, and prosperity. It has everything to do with being aligned with the essential values—justice, compassion, peace, gentleness, generosity, kindness, transparency, authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, understanding, grace, joy, patience, self-discipline, empathy, and the like. It is living in synch with the things that are truly important; being grounded on the right foundation; living in right relationship with all beings and things. A butcher, living well, transforms the world.

So, we serve our talent. We practice our art. We hone our skills. And, we wait to see where that takes us. We ride the horse, but the horse finds the way. In the meantime, we exhibit the wonderful old values, and qualities, and characteristics that are essential to our life together. We enjoy what is to be enjoyed, and celebrate what is to be celebrated, and cherish what is to be cherished, and love what is to be loved. And let the life that unfolds around this kind of orientation, that coalesces around this kind of center, be our life.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

05/09/06, Sermon

Jesus is an ink blot. Jesus is who you say he is. Who do you say he is? Don’t tell me who Paul says he is, or John, or Matthew, or Mark. Tell me who you say he is. If you say he is the savior of the world, tell me why you think so. If you say because the Bible says so, tell me why you think the Bible knows what it’s talking about. Tell me where you get your ideas about Jesus and what makes you think they can be trusted. If you say you “just take it on faith that Jesus is the savior of the world,” tell me why you decided to take that on faith and not something else instead. Why do you say what you say about Jesus?

I say Jesus is God as God is in God’s essential being. God can’t do better than Jesus. Jesus is God as I would be God if I were going to be God. I couldn’t do better than Jesus. Jesus has it down. Jesus gets it right. You cannot understand Jesus without saying, “Yes! That’s it! That’s how it’s supposed to be done!” Jesus is the self-affirming, self-validating, self-evident way to live.

What’s so godly about Jesus is his integration of the essential values with his life. Justice, compassion, peace, grace, equality, kindness, generosity, gentleness, self-discipline, honoring and respecting self and others, and the like were not just ideals that he espoused, but realities that he lived out in the world. Jesus knew what was important and did what was important. He exhibited what he knew mattered. With Jesus we get complete integrity of being. We get a person aligned with the principles, qualities, and characteristics that are at the heart of life—that are at the heart of God. We can’t do better with life than Jesus did.

Jesus lived without compromising his understanding of how life should be lived. He took “love your neighbor as yourself” to its logical end. He took “love your enemies,” and “love one another,” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “judge not,” and gave them concrete, consistent, and reliable expression in his life. He lived life as God would live life if God were alive. He took the right idea of God and brought it to life.

The other side of the story is that if you live like Jesus did, you will be marginalized or killed. You will be dismissed, or lynched, or executed. In a different social, religious and political climate, Jesus would have been ignored. He would have been excused as being a little off his rocker, but a good person at heart. And, he would have lived out his life in obscurity, and died without fanfare or recognition.

That’s because it is easy to overlook God. The God of right relationship, of right being, of the right kind of company is easily lost in a world consumed by, and obsessed with, the “p” words: power, position, possessions, and prosperity. To be a God recognized by this world, you have to be the right kind of God. You have to be the kind of God the world would acknowledge as God. You have to be about dominion, and domination, and control. You have to be about winning, and victory, and obliteration. You have to earn the world’s respect if you want to be accorded the accolades of the world. If you want to be God in this world, you have to be God on the world’s terms.

Jesus was killed as much for the kind of God he was as for being God. The Romans killed him because they couldn’t tolerate a competitor, no matter how insignificant, to Caesar. The Jewish authorities sanctioned his death because Jesus represented the wrong kind of God. If Jesus had been the right kind of God, the kind of God they looked for and adored, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Levites and Sanhedrin would have been very much on his side. To be God the way Jesus was God is to ask for it.

To say Jesus is God, to see Jesus as God, is to raise the question of the nature of your God, of our God. Who do we understand God to be? We aren’t going to see God in Jesus if we don’t understand God as Jesus. God is Jesus. Jesus is God. “The Father and I are one.” We are to be who they are. We are to be as God is. “You must be perfect, as whole, as integrated and complete, as God is.” “You must be holy as God is holy.” We bring God to life through the life we live. What is the nature of our lives?

The story of theology, doctrine and the church is the story of trying to have it both ways. It is the story of trying to have the God we want to be God and the Jesus who lived as God is. It is the story of dismissing Jesus and explaining him in light of our idea of how God should be. The Romans killed Jesus and we dismiss him.

As we tell the story, Jesus is no longer God as God is, but the measure by which the God who is God the way we want God to be judges humanity, and condemns the wicked (to the everlasting fires of hell, of course), and ushers the righteous (by faith alone, you know) into the eternal habitations. As we tell the story, Jesus becomes the means by which the mess of life is all worked out to the complete satisfaction of true believers everywhere. We improve Jesus to the point of total dissolution, and lose what he was about by making him about the redemption of the world—and, say that at some dim future point in time he will return again to turn things inside out and make all things finally good, while we sit on the side lines, with our hands in our laps, believing and cheering him on.

What Jesus was about was the transformation of civilization NOW through the reordering of the lives of each one of us NOW. We cannot live in light of the goals, and purposes, and ends that we are currently living in light of and change the world. Just as going on a diet means to quit eating, so changing the world means to live differently. Jesus came talking about living differently. “No siree sir!”, said the Romans. “No siree sir!”, said the Jewish Authorities. And, they did exactly what had to be done to maintain what we today would call “the American Way of Life.”

Jesus has to go, or the American Way of Life has to go. What’s your pick? You don’t think you have to make a pick? Well, okay, you tell me how loving our enemies squares with having the most powerful armed force in the history of the world. You tell me how loving our neighbor as ourselves squares with the homelessness, and poverty, and hopelessness and destitution that are evident on every street in every city of the land. You tell me how doing unto others as we would have them do unto us squares with a foreign policy that is focused exclusively on serving what we perceive to be our national interests and national security. And, when you are quite done embarrassing yourself, I will tell you again that you have to pick between Jesus and the American Way of Life.

But, it isn’t just the American Way of Life. It is the British Way of Life, and the Irish Way of Life, and the French Way of Life, and the Spanish Way of Life, and the Italian way of life… It is the way of life of civilization. We have to pick between Jesus and the way life is lived, because no culture, no society, no tribal group is living the way life ought to be lived. And, we cannot change the world without changing the way we are living our lives.

It’s easier to change Jesus. Here we go. We can say this together by now: “Jesus hadn’t been dead fifteen minutes before everything changed.” We see evidence of the changes inside the New Testament. In Matthew (23:8 and following) we get the admonition, “You must not be called ‘Teacher,’ because you are all equal and have only one teacher…Nor should you be called ‘Leader,’ because your one and only leader is the Messiah. The greatest one among you must be your servant. Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great” (TEV translation). Then, in Matthew 16:18 and following, we get, “And so I tell you Peter, you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church… I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven” (TEV translation). So. Which way is it? No hierarchy, with everyone being equal, or Peter, the head of the church, jingling the keys to the kingdom of heaven? The church was before the Bible, which means the Bible serves the church and Matthew is laying a foundation for life in the church to go right on being the way life has always been lived.

Paul does the same thing. Paul dilutes, to the point of disappearing, Jesus’ radical pronouncements about the Kingdom of God and its complete juxtaposition with, and alternative to, the Kingdom of Caesar, by saying things like “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), and “taxes to whom taxes are due” (Romans 13:7). He reverses Jesus’ insistence upon equality and inclusiveness—the implementation of which would have had extreme implications for the practice of patriarchy and slavery—by saying things like “Wives, obey your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22), and “Slaves, obey your masters” (Colossians 3:22). Paul changes Jesus, and keeps the way life is lived wonderfully in place.

We cannot embrace Jesus—we cannot be who Jesus was—without changing our lives—without changing the way life is lived. And, I don’t mean no smoking, no drinking, no gambling and no cussing. I mean doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, loving our enemies, loving God with all our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves. I mean welcoming homosexuals into full inclusivity in the life of culture and society. I mean health care for all people. I mean an end to the systems that produce and support poverty, and homelessness, and the marginalization of human beings. I mean an equitable distribution of the world’s resources. I mean life styles that are environmentally friendly. I mean an end to privilege, and exclusivity, and domination. I mean the transformation of life as we know it. It’s a lot easier to change Jesus, and look forward to the second coming.

It’s easier because we have no idea what the mechanisms are to achieve the end of community, world wide, around the table and across the board. We don’t know how to institute the principles Jesus espoused, how to love one another as we love ourselves. But, that’s the work that is ours to do. Let the conversation, and the revolution, begin!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

05/07/06

The top twelve photos of the Yosemite and Death Valley trip are up on the web site (www.outlandspress.com). I hope you like ‘em. Whether you like them or not, you’ll have to admit it’s the way to view vacation photos, and I don’t mean looking them up on the web. I mean looking at the top twelve. People should show you only the top twelve. They should not dump all 500 in your lap.

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Vegas is a cheap ticket. Vegas will always be a cheap ticket. Two of us can fly to Vegas for less than one of us can fly to Jackson Hole, or Calgary, or Halifax. And Vegas is not far from some great places. Like Death Valley, and Zion, and Bryce. Time spent in those places is time well spent.

And Las Vegas offers a staggering contrast to the truth and beauty of Death Valley, and Zion, and Bryce. The people who would spurn those places for Vegas can’t hear anything I have to say. We have erected in the desert the vice capital of the world. And, I’m glad, because it’s a cheap ticket to the virtues of Death Valley, and Zion, and Bryce (And Canyonlands, Capital Reef, and Arches aren’t too much farther up the road). But, the experience of Vegas is a shock to sensitive systems. And, it is a testimony to the vast differences that exist among people. We do not all think the same thing is fun. Or good. Amazing. And wonderful, in its own weird way.

Where was I? Oh, yes, I was about getting you to Vegas to get you to Death Valley (and back to the other places) in a month other than May through September. Go to the desert in April, or March, or February. I understand that the flowers are every where in late February. And there is water in Badwater, which would allow you to take a photograph of Telegraph Peak and its reflection at sun rise, which you can’t do in late April because the water has evaporated by then and you only have a vast salt flat, and salt flats don’t, as you know, reflect much of anything at any time.

Death Valley ranges from 280, or so, feet below sea level to over a mile above sea level, which in itself presents a range of contrasts. And, there are abandoned mines, and ghost towns, and sand dunes, and canyons, and vistas, and things you have never seen in your back yard or down the street, and you just need to go. You just need to take yourself to the desert in April, or March, or February. Vegas is a cheap ticket. Rental cars aren’t much. You have no excuse. Go.