Tuesday, September 28, 2021


After nearly three months on Mailchimp’s blacklist, I have finally been exonerated. Early in July I received notification that my account was being terminated “for violating our Standard Terms of Use and Acceptable Use Policy.” I asked why, but got no response. I appealed the ruling, but again got no reply. Apparently by linking the site of a far right group (which I clearly opposed) in the blog I had tripped an algorithm that flagged my blog as dangerous.  

I had no other recourse than to find another service to send out my blog posts to subscribers. I chose Follow.it, which provides a similar product but at a price. Unless I chose the most expensive option it also added advertisements to the bottom of each blog email, something neither I nor my subscribers liked.

After deciding to pay more to eliminate the annoying ads, I contacted Mailchimp one more time. Yesterday I received a response. They explained that a real human had checked my blog and determined that it was safe. In their words: “After a careful review of the account and the content, we can see that it's ok and we've made an adjustment to help prevent this specific flag from intervening.” I got a follow-up email saying that my account had been reinstated.

I am not sure whether to be happy or not. I was kind-of proud to be declared so notorious that I had been “canceled” by the electronic media culture. I wrote a blog post about it. To be labeled “safe” is not nearly as interesting. I am wondering if a blog by Jesus of Nazareth or the apostle Paul would have been considered safe.

Anyway now I have to choose which service to use and perhaps switch back, which is why I am writing this blog. I think that this post will be sent out by both Follow.it and Mailchimp, hopefully with all my previous settings intact. So do not be alarmed if you get two emails with this same post. You don’t have to do anything. It will not happen again. Also some who unsubscribed from Follow.it may get it from Mailchimp anyway. Sorry about that. You can unsubscribe again.  

Others don’t have to do anything. If I decide to go back to Mailchimp, I will make sure to export every email address from the other service. I am going to take a look at both of them, compare them and go from there. Those who read this on the blog website don’t have to worry about this at all. Hopefully soon everyone will be able to read one “safe” post, until I walk too close to the algorithmic line and get canceled again! (I hope!) What good is playing it safe!

Sunday, September 26, 2021

I Hope You Don’t Recover

My wife and I were “under the weather” for most of the summer. As a result we did not do many of our normal summer activities. We are trying to make up for it this month while the weather is still warm – like visiting the ocean and the mountains.

She contracted Lyme disease early in the summer and did not have the energy to do much. Fortunately she was diagnosed early, received prompt treatment for Lyme, and is doing well. A while back when someone asked how she was doing, I responded, “She is recovering.”

Later I was thinking about the word “recover.” It seems to imply that during illness something is uncovered that is later covered again - re-covered. In his poem “Mending Wall” Robert Frost muses, “Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out.” In like manner I’d like to ask what it is we are uncovering and recovering.

The Greek word for revelation in the New Testament means “to uncover” or “unveil.” It is sometimes transliterated as apocalypse, which is the title of the Book of Revelation. It is literally the Book of Uncovering.  It refers to spiritual truth that had been hidden but is now disclosed.

The Letter to the Colossians speaks of a “mystery that was hidden for ages and generations but is now revealed (uncovered or unveiled)...”  The author, traditionally considered to be the apostle Paul, goes on to say that this uncovered mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Illness can uncover this mystery. “Christ in us” is uncovered when our body fails, especially when illness signals possible death. The veil between the spiritual and the physical – heaven and earth – is lifted a little whenever our mortality is glimpsed.

I am reading an interesting sci-fi novel entitled The Humans by Matt Haig. It is a humorous account of an immortal alien who comes to earth and becomes a human being. He endeavors to learn about humans and discovers that people spend a lot of time trying not to think about their mortality, which is why they tend to handle death so poorly when it approaches.

Illness uncovers the truth of our impermanence. We are confronted with the reality that we are perishable organisms destined to return to the elements. Like those items in our refrigerator, we have an expiration date. This is something most people would rather not contemplate. So we cover it up as soon as we are feeling better and get back to our normal lives.

Perhaps what is uncovered should not be hastily recovered before it is examined. When we do some serious self-inquiry, we get a glimpse of what is beneath the flesh and bones. Illness reveals that we are not what we thought we were. We are more than these earthy bodies.

We discover the treasure hidden within these earthen vessels. We see what Solomon described as “eternity in the hearts of men.” We see what Colossians calls “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” We uncover the truth that we are more than physical. In that moment a rebirth or resurrection occurs. As Paul says, “the perishable puts on the imperishable, the mortal puts on immortality” and “death is swallowed up in victory.”

We are not what we thought we were. This is what many people glimpse in Near Death Experiences, and their lives are changed. These bodies are mortal, but we are not. We are what is uncovered when the mortal falls away. This is revealed a little more with every illness and every passing year. That is the gift of aging. It is forgotten every time we “recover,” when we cover up this reality with the old mortal consciousness.

Why recover? Why choose the old wineskins? Why not drink the new wine of our immortal center? The reason why people cover up their true nature is because to embrace it means the death of our self. We are very attached to the self. In fact we mistake the self for who we are. But we are not ourselves. The self is a product of this body/brain and will die with it. But the self will not go gently into the night; it rages against the dying of the light, to paraphrase the great Welshman. It wants to live forever, or at least pretend it will.

But if we slough off the self now like a worn-out garment, as we will one day slough off our bodies, then we can live our selfless lives now. We die before we die, and we see we are Life Itself. We are reborn. Resurrected. We discover who we really are. That is what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” No need to wait for heaven. It is heaven now! Jesus called this Eternal Life and the Kingdom of God. I hope you discover this. I hope you don’t recover.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Finding God in Islam

To be honest, it has been difficult for me to discern God in Islam until recently. It is not that I am unfamiliar with the religion. I took a graduate seminar in Islam when I was in seminary. I studied Islam under a Muslim scholar while on sabbatical in Israel. I have read the entire Quran several times in my lifetime, which is more than most Christians can say of the Bible.

I have had long theological discussions with Muslims. Among those discussions were a series of live radio shows that I did with an imam of a Pittsburgh mosque in the wake of 9/11. He invited me to his mosque. My wife and I met his family, and he gifted me with a beautiful copy of the Quran. I gave him a New Testament in return.

Yet I have had a hard time finding the God of Jesus in the religion of Islam, even though Islam claims Jesus as one of its prophets. They believe Jesus performed miracles. They even believe in the Virgin Birth. Mary has a surah (a chapter) of the Quran named after her. They also believe Jesus will return to earth one day to defeat “the false messiah” known as the Antichrist.

In spite of Islam’s reverence for Jesus, the Quran has felt more like the Old Testament than the New Testament. Muhammad seems more like Joshua than Jesus. Muhammad, after all, was a warrior. He led an Islamic army that conquered most of the Arabian Peninsula during this lifetime. I viewed his sword in the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul. I find it hard to reconcile the life of Muhammad with the teachings of Jesus.

Recently I read a novel of historical fiction that changed my perception of Islam. It is entitled The Forty Rules of Love by Turkish-British novelist Elif Shafak. It is mostly about love for God, although the author connects it to human love was well. It is the story of the friendship between the thirteenth century Persian scholar Rumi and the wandering dervish Shams. Shams changed the Islamic leader’s life and turned him into a mystic and a poet.

I found the Spirit of Jesus Christ in these two Islamic mystics: Rumi and Shams. After finishing the novel I was inspired to purchase a book of the sayings and poems of Rumi. I had read Rumi earlier in my life, but at that time I did not see what I now see. Here were medieval Islamic spiritual teachers who knew the God I know in Jesus, which means they knew the eternal Christ.

Most Sunni and Shiite Muslims – certainly the fundamentalist varieties - believe that Sufis are heretics, but that is alright with me. Fundamentalist Christians would consider me a heretic for finding God in faiths other than Christianity. For conservative Christians the only God is the Christian God, and Muhammad is a false prophet who proclaimed a false deity. For conservative Muslims the only God is the Islamic God, and Christians are blasphemers for believing in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus.

For me, the only God is God, as the Shahada of Islam says. God is One, as the Shema of Judaism says. “I and the Father are One” and we share that Oneness, as Jesus said. I see this One God as bigger than any religion – Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. I see God in Jesus, and I see God in the words of Rumi. This is the God of love, forgiveness and grace. This is the God revealed in the mystical branches of all spiritual traditions.

On both of my visits to Istanbul I visited the Hagia Sophia, which was built in the sixth century as a Christian church and converted to a mosque in the 15th century. At the time I visited this sacred site, it was a museum. Last year it was converted back into an active mosque. It is an example of one religion taking over the sacred space of another religion, which is a common practice in the history of religions.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is another famous example of a space that has been used for worship by Jews, Romans (temple of Jupiter), Christians and Muslims. I see this coopting of sacred space as an unconscious recognition that it is the same God worshipped in all three Abrahamic faiths, as well as ancient Roman religions.

It is the same God known in the Baha’i faith and Sikhism. It is the same God accessed in Buddhism, even though early Buddhism was nontheistic. It is the same God found in Hinduism, even though that religion has many gods. I see this Divine One in the sacred texts of many traditions, and now I see the One God in the Sufi expression of Islam as well. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Politics & Spirituality

I read something last week, and I have been pondering it ever since. A woman I know wrote online, “Life is politics.” She went on to make it clear this was not an offhand remark, but something she had contemplated for a long time. Several years ago another woman said to me, “Everything is political.”

A lot of people would agree with them. Many people are passionate about politics. Especially these days when politics has become so intense that it threatens to tear apart our national unity.

For me life is not politics, and neither is everything political. I would say, “Life is Spirit” and “Everything is spiritual.” I am interested in politics but not overly so. I hold to certain political views. My views tend not to follow party platforms. I belong to a political party, but it is an uncomfortable fit. I often vote across party lines when I prefer another candidate.

I have an interest in politics, but politics is not very important in my life.  Apparently a lot of people agree with me because only half of eligible Americans vote. Sixty percent in a good year – like 2020. I do not view the world through a political lens. In fact I think that politics can be dangerous to one’s mental health. It can distort one’s view of life. Political ideologies can be so intense and all-consuming that they take on the characteristics of religious cults.

The way I see it, politics is a mental exercise. It is all in the mind. Political views are ideas that we use to organize society. They have no reality outside the human mind. You cannot see politics or smell it or touch it or taste it. If humans ceased to exist (as they certainly will someday) politics would cease to exist. They are an imaginary world.

I can hear the rebuttal by political activists as I write these words. Don’t political positions have consequences in real life? Yes, they do. Acting on them can mean life or death for real people. They can mean freedom or bondage for people. For that reason politics needs to be taken seriously. That is why I keep informed and vote.  But politics is not real life. A hug is real life. An act of kindness is real life. Politics is not life.

When I am standing on a sidewalk protesting some injustice or listening to a candidate give a stump speech, I am aware that I am playing a political role. It is no more real than an actor playing a role on a stage or in a movie. I am an actor playing a part. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” as Shakespeare so eloquently said.

I am not the parts I play. I am not the masks I wear. I am not the political role I play. Neither am I the religious role I play, or the family role, or the economic role. I am not even the human role that I play. I have been playing the role of human being for 71 years, but that is not who I am. When that role ends with the death of this human body, who I really am will remain. I am playing the roles, but I am not the roles.

I know what I am. I am that space within which all roles are played. That sacred space is my true identity. For that reason I am not too attached to political opinions. Hence I am free to listen and change. I have changed much over the years. Politics is interesting and elections are exciting, but so is a Patriots game. They are not part of my identity. Being a pastor for forty years was great, but it was a role. It is not who I am.

I am Spirit. Life is Spiritual. It is true that Spirit cannot be seen or smelled or touched or tasted or heard. For many people spirituality seems as imaginary as politics. Many people think that spirituality is all in the mind. From Freud to Dawkins, thinkers have believed that religion is a delusion or an illusion. They may be right. But in my experience Spirit is real. This physical world feels illusory compared to Spirit.

I will continue to express political views, just as I will continue to express opinions on a variety of matters, religious and secular. But I am not invested in them. I know from experience that they fluctuate. Opinions come and go. Reality is what does not come and go. I know what I am. As Moses learned as he knelt before the burning bush, immediately before he embarked on a campaign to free his people from bondage in Egypt: I am that I am. That is what I am. That is Spirit. That is Life.

Friday, September 10, 2021

An Indigenous Gospel

I love the vast variety of Bible translations. I grew up on the Revised Standard Version back when it was controversial to read anything but the King James Version. Then I discovered the simplicity of the Good News Bible. In college I appreciated the accuracy of New American Standard Bible. In seminary my favorite was the New International Version. During my ministry I have most often used the New King James Version and more recently the English Standard Version. So many wonderful translations!

Having studied Hebrew and Greek in seminary I have not been a fan of paraphrases, such as the Living Bible and The Message, even though they have been popular with members of my churches. In recent years I have moderated my opinion of such “thought for thought” translations of the Bible, appreciating their value.

Today the internet gives us access to dozens of translations free of charge through sites like Bible Gateway and Bible Hub. Every year or two another new translation will hit the shelves, each with their own intended audience, whether it be conservatives, liberals, women, men or youth. Recently a new translation of the New Testament has piqued my interest. It is the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament, published by InterVarsity Press on August 31.

The Lead Translator and Project Manager is Terry Wildman, who is of Ojibwe and Yaqui ancestry. He was aided by a translation council selected from a cross-section of Native North Americans. The First Nations Version is translated by Native Americans for Native Americans. These native peoples also intend it as a gift from Native Americans to the dominant culture, as a way to communicate the unique way that First Peoples understand the gospel.

There are unique elements in the FNV not found in other translations. It has the cadence and feel of an oral storyteller. This not only reflects indigenous spirituality, but is likely how the stories of the New Testament were originally preserved. It also follows Native American naming traditions by using the meaning of biblical names for persons and places. For example, Abraham is Father of Many Nations. Israel is Wrestles with Creator. Peter is Stands on the Rock. Paul is Small Man. Jerusalem is Village of Peace. Galilee is Circle of Nations.

My favorite aspect of this new translation is the names for the Divine. Usually God is referred to as Great Spirit or Great Mystery. Other names are Creator, Maker of Life, Giver of Breath, One Above Us All, and Most Holy One. Jesus is called Creator Sets Free. The title of Christ is translated Chosen One. The Gospel is the Great Story.

These descriptive names add a freshness that I have not found in any other version. They tie the Christian gospel to Native American culture. The God that native peoples have always known through indigenous spiritual traditions is the God revealed in Creator Sets Free. Most important to me is that it gives me permission to use creative terms for the Divine.

I am presently writing a book that I am calling The Gospel According to Jesus: A Nondual Version of the Story of Jesus. It tells the familiar gospel narrative from the perspective of Jesus. I use the Gospel of Mark as my basic text, much like Matthew and Luke used Mark’s gospel as the basis of their works. I also use the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas as a source for sayings of Jesus, much like Matthew and Luke used an anonymous non-canonical source, which is called Q by biblical scholars.

In writing this gospel my dilemma has been how to translate important terms: Son of God, Son of Man, Christ, Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven. They need to be accurate while also communicating the meaning in a fresh way. Reading the First Nations Version freed me to use nontraditional language: the Divine One, the Human One, the Presence of God, Union with God, the Divine Realm, the Spiritual Realm. Jesus is the Liberated One, the Liberator, or the Free One.

The FNV ties Christian spirituality to indigenous spirituality. I tie Jesus’ spirituality to nonduality. In a similar fashion the apostle John tied the message of Jesus to Greek philosophy. There is one gospel. Whether it is the gospel of Christianity, the wisdom of indigenous peoples, the truth at the heart of the major religious traditions, or the message of a Jewish carpenter from Galilee.

There is one Truth. It is a matter of recognizing and communicating that Reality the best we can. The First Nations Version is helping me to do that. That translation is a true gift from Native Americans. It is aiding me to communicate the timeless wisdom of the ages in terms that reveal the nondual essence at the heart of the teaching of the Liberated One. 

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Meanness Virus

There is an epidemic spreading across our nation that is worse than the COVID-19 pandemic. This societal disease does not have an official name, but I call it the “meanness virus.” It is as contagious as any coronavirus. I do not remember Americans ever being this mean. There have always been bullies and verbally abusive people, but I don’t ever remember such behavior being socially acceptable, especially among elected leaders and people running for office.

This bad behavior has spread to all levels of society. Listen to any talk show on the radio. They are easy to find on the dial. You will get an earful of overt contempt, scorn and ridicule from the host and callers. The attitude is also exhibited in countless Letters to the Editor in local newspapers.

On our town’s local Google group, which serves as a public forum for our small New Hampshire town, it is now common for people to speak condescendingly toward others, treating them as if they were stupid or evil or both – simply for holding a different political position. It is not limited to online comments. In our town there is a yard sign that uses a vulgarity in reference to the president. So much for public civility. Bedford Falls has become Pottersville.

The meanness virus has spread to Christian venues. I was shocked when I tuned into a Christian radio channel and heard the same vitriolic memes I hear on secular talk radio. Christianity used to be known for niceness. In fact “being a Christian gentleman” or a “Christian woman” was synonymous with being nice. Now Christianity has a reputation for being mean.

It is hard to overestimate the damage this plague of meanness, which is spewing from Christian pulpits and pens, has done to the cause of the gospel. People – especially young people - are voting with their feet. The meanness virus is emptying the churches faster than the COVID pandemic.

Some Christians derogatorily call those who hold a different political position “sheep” or “sheeple.” One devout family member taunted me with cries of “Baa, baa” when I voiced a position that differed from his standard of “evangelical correctness.” He seems to have forgotten that “sheep” was Jesus’ term for his followers. Another church-going family member praised a politician she described as a “strongman,” apparently without realizing that “strongman” was Jesus’ term for the devil.

What is the solution? Is there an antidote? Is there a vaccine? If there were, undoubtedly some would exercise their right not to receive it. People would see it as their God-given right to exercise meanness in the name of free speech. Religion does not seem to have a cure. At least not the type of Christian religion that dominates American media. If that were the case Christianity would not have become so nasty.

As a Christian I can only speak to my own religion. I will let those of other faiths speak to their traditions. I believe that Christians need to repent of meanness. As the turn of the century Methodist revivalist Sam P. Jones used to preach: “You better quit your meanness.” I include myself in this admonition. I am not immune to the temptation to return evil for evil. “None are righteous, no not one.”

There is a need for spiritual renewal. The old wineskins of the Christian religion need to be exchanged for new wineskins.  I regularly hear Christians calling for a national revival today, but these calls tend to be for a return to the “old-time religion” that got us into this mess. They want to repair the worn-out wineskins. We need something entirely new.

We need an antidote for the toxic Christianity that has poisoned American culture. Megachurches ruled by mega-personalities with mega-egos and media megaphones need to be replaced by local, homegrown, face-to-face, inclusive spirituality that focuses on loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Fortunately that is already present in many small churches.

If love means anything at all, it means treating people with honor and respect. It means focusing on what the apostle Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” As he concludes, “against such things there is no law.” Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Lying Awake

I love reading fiction, and I love reading books on spirituality. Yet it is rare to find a quality work of spiritual fiction. Too much religious fiction is pabulum – filled with New Age memes or Christian platitudes. So when a listener to my podcast recommended Lying Awake by Mark Salzman, I bought it. It is a brief book, less than 200 pages, but rich in spiritual insight.

It is about Sister John of the Cross, a member of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, founded by Saint Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth century. Sister John is cloistered in the monastery of the Sisters of the Carmel of Saint Joseph in present day Los Angeles. 

She is a woman of unique spiritual insight and intimacy with God, who has developed a reputation outside the monastery as the author of a book of essays and poems about contemplative life entitled, Sparrow on a Roof, based on her vibrant spiritual experiences. 

Sister John suffers from terrible headaches and seizures. The seizures become so severe that they disrupt the community, and Mother Mary Joseph insists that she seek medical care. It turns out that she has temporal-lobe epilepsy caused by a small meningioma under her skull. This noncancerous brain tumor appears to be the source of her headaches and seizures, and likely the cause of her mystical experiences as well.

She is faced with the decision of whether or not to have surgery to remove the tumor. Her dilemma is that if the tumor is removed, it may also remove her sense of closeness to God. I won’t reveal what she decides and what follows, so as not to spoil the book - just in case you decide to read it. The reasons for her decision are the best part of the book.

This slender volume made me ponder the relationship between health and spirituality. Recently I recorded a podcast episode and YouTube video entitled, “Was Jesus Mentally Ill?” I explored the relationship between mental illness and spiritual genius. The gospels record that Jesus’ family thought he had “lost his senses,” and “has a demon and is insane.” I wonder aloud if Jesus’ family members, who knew him the longest and best, were correct.

In discussing the topic with a friend I joked that if there had been antidepressants in biblical times, we would not have half of the prophetic books or psalms of the Old Testament! Indeed we might not have the New Testament at all! There seems to be a relationship between mental illness and spirituality, as well as between epilepsy and religious experience. These connections are explored in this book.

Lying Awake made me look at both spiritual experience and suffering from a different perspective.  How much of our religious beliefs and spiritual experiences are due to physiological factors? What if spiritual experience is nothing more than a chemical imbalance in the brain? Does that make religion a symptom of mental illness? Does that make spirituality invalid or less authentic?

How is suffering linked to spirituality? There is an oft-observed connection between severe illness, personal tragedies and spirituality. Just read the Book of Job!  Often the onset of catastrophe or severe illness drives a person to examine his or her priorities. Countless times I have ministered to people who were seeking God because of a dramatic change in life’s circumstances.

People assume that health is good and suffering is bad. People go to great lengths to be free of emotional, spiritual and physical suffering – including taking solace in religion and spirituality. Buddhism says that suffering prompted Gautama Siddhartha to begin his spiritual search.

The book made me take a second look at suffering in my life. I have not suffered greatly in life, but I know what great suffering looks like. As a pastor I have ministered to people who endured great suffering – emotional, spiritual and physical. That is how I know I have been spared the worst that life can inflict. Yet I have had my share of suffering and pain.

We all suffer. Life is suffering, as the Buddha taught. We all have to decide how to approach suffering and how it fits into our spiritual life. My life is better for suffering. Suffering has forced me to look at life without flinching. 

Witnessing evil and suffering has caused me to wrestle with the theological “problem of suffering” and the “problem of evil.” That in turn has forced me beyond the easy theodicy that Christians so hurriedly embrace. It propelled me into the fathomless Mystery at the heart of existence.

I am grateful for the suffering I have known. It has revealed God and softened my heart. It has prompted compassion and made me a better pastor. Suffering is intimately connected to the Great Mystery that we call God. That is the meaning of the Cross. 

Throughout the book Sister John’s prayers returned to the suffering of Jesus. Her thoughts led me to ponder anew the Cross, the central symbol of our shared faith. There is no easy answer to suffering, but one can see the answer from the Cross.