Thursday, June 30, 2022

Blessing Enemies

One of the consequences of being a pastor is that I am a public figure while in active ministry – which is both good and bad. Those who like what they hear will let me know, and the same with those who do not like what I say. I am finding this to be as true in retirement as it was during my forty years of fulltime pastoral ministry.

Of course I could have chosen to keep my mouth shut in retirement. That would have been the easy way to go. I know retired clergy who do that. My father-in-law was a Baptist preacher, who never entered a pulpit again after age 65. But upon my “retirement” I simply moved from a physical pulpit to a virtual one. I took to the internet. In retirement I am connecting with more people than I did when I was a local church minister. Now I reach thousands with my podcast, YouTube channel, blog and books.

People regularly contact me to respond to what I say or write. I receive emails daily from around the world from people who have heard me online or read one of my books. The overwhelming majority of the responses I receive are positive. But there are always the ones who consider me dangerous and let me know it, often using emotionally charged language. Some see me as a threat to the evangelical gospel that I once espoused.

Some of these angry people I know personally. Most of them are strangers, who hide behind the anonymity of the internet to launch their attacks. In both cases these people feel threatened by what I am saying. They see me as the enemy. They try to discourage me from speaking through psychological intimidation. They accuse me of theological and spiritual sins, and they threaten me with divine judgment. To be honest, it hurts.

So I have sought the Comforter and the advice of Jesus as to how to respond. Jesus had a lot of enemies and had a lot to say on the topic – especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Speaking from personal experience he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

One saying of Jesus has been particularly helpful: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” His instruction to “bless those who curse you” stood out. My first instinct is to defend myself. It is our animal instinct. It is also the American way! We consider self-defense to be our constitutional right, including both free speech and the right to respond to violence with violence.

Jesus teaches an alternative way. He instructs his followers NOT to defend themselves verbally or physically. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

I am a slow learner, but I am slowly learning not to defend myself. When someone verbally attacks me, I now know enough not to respond in kind. Any immediate response is likely to come from the ego. It is best to give the ego time to calm down.  Let the Silence speak. Let the Spirit take control. 

Now when I am attacked I offer a prayer of blessing upon my attackers – silently or verbally. I rejoice in the opportunity to obey my Lord’s teaching in such circumstances. It is such a relief not to have to justify myself. The ego should not be defended, and Christ does not need me to defend him. Jesus did not defend himself when he was accused of blasphemy and treason. As his disciple indwelt by his Spirit, I am inspired to do the same.

It is a relief not accommodate the ego by fashioning a well-worded defense. Now I can remain silent – just as Jesus did when he was on trial. If I speak I can simply say “Bless you” or “God bless you” and leave it at that. There is no need to justify myself. All I have to do is love my enemies, bless those who curse me, and do good to those who wish me ill.

The miraculous thing about blessing enemies is that the blessings I give return a hundredfold. To bless those who see me as their enemy is to be blessed by God! “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” How wonderful to be able to sincerely bless others, rather than to return anger with anger! How liberating it is to forgive – for it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, as Jesus taught.

Anger is a poison that harms the soul of the one who is angry more than it hurts the one the anger is directed against. Unresolved anger can easily turn into hate. Anger is increasingly used in political discourse these days. Our nation’s public forum is a cauldron of anger and fear. Anger is infectious. It replicates itself within us like a virus. It has produced a pandemic of anger in our country worse than any coronavirus. The way of Christ stops this cycle of emotional, verbal and physical violence by overcoming hatred with love.

I have recently finished reading a biography of Peace Pilgrim, who was one of the most Christ-like figures of the twentieth century. I first heard about her in the 1980’s, and it was a joy to rediscover her. Her message is timeless, as all genuine spiritual teachings are. She summed up her teaching in these words: “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” My experience with my online detractors is a testimony to the truth of her words. God bless you.

 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Unburnt Bush

I turned aside and eternity called my name.

“Here I am,” I said. “Who are you? Who am I?”

 “I am that I am,” said the Lord.

I am the Emptiness in which all things appear.

I am the Silence in which all sounds arise.

I am the Eternity from which time is born.

I am the Infinity in which all space resides.

I am the Awareness within which all consciousness occurs.

I am the Being that holds all creation.

I am the Love that connects all creatures.

I am the Compassion that ends all suffering.

I am the Truth to which all religions point.

I am the Life that conquers death.

I am the Way which is the beginning and the end.

I AM.

 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

People Kill People

You have heard the meme: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Like all marketing slogans, this one is designed to obscure the facts. It takes both people and guns to kill people. The facts concerning mass shooters reveal that young men with guns kill people. Take away the guns and you just have angry young men. Take away semi-automatic weapons, and the death toll drops dramatically.

Recently a variation has become popular: “Guns aren’t the problem. Mental illness is the problem.” Even if the Uvalde shooter was mentally ill, how many children would he have killed if he did not have an assault rifle? Without a gun all you have is a disturbed young man. Furthermore, blaming the mentally ill for gun violence just adds another layer of stigma to mental illness. It makes it even less likely that those with mental illness will seek the help they need.

These slogans come straight from the gun lobby’s playbook. Those who repeat such things are being led to the slaughter by those whose only motive is to sell more guns. To identify the problem of gun violence all you have to do is follow the money. Who makes money off the corpses of school children? Gun manufacturers, of course!

They turn every act of gun violence into a reason to buy more guns. They tell people they need more guns to protect themselves from bad guys with guns and from a government that wants to restrict guns. “Buy them while you still can!” The gun lobby uses fear to manipulate people. They turn patriotism into a gimmick to sell guns. No one notices the irony of using the second amendment, which speaks of the necessity of a “well regulated militia,” for a crusade to oppose regulation.

But as much as I can see through the duplicity of the slogans, I have to admit that ultimately it is true that people are responsible. With or without sophisticated weaponry people will kill people. Not as efficiently perhaps, but they will still kill. The source of violence is humans.

Presently I am researching an upcoming podcast episode on the biblical tale of Cain and Abel. The Book of Genesis tells the story of the first murder. No firearms in sight, but Cain managed to use a primitive weapon – likely a farming tool - to spill his brother’s blood. People kill people. They always have.

The only permanent solution to violence is if people choose nonviolence. Government restrictions on weapons may decrease the death toll, but the problem of violence is deeper than anything that can be solved by legislation alone. Violence is ultimately a spiritual problem.

That is what Jesus taught. He said that the cause of murder is anger in the human heart. Jesus’ brother James said that external violence come from inner violence and greed. For that reason Jesus advocated a spiritual discipline of nonviolence, telling his followers to turn the other cheek and refuse to return evil for evil.

Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence and nonresistance is for individuals. It cannot be translated into national or international policy. Any nation that follows the Way of Jesus will undoubtedly be crucified, just as Jesus was crucified. There is no such thing as a “Christian nation.” The term is an oxymoron. At his trial for treason Jesus made it clear that he had no interest in earthly government. He said, “If my kingdom were of this world my disciples would fight…. But my kingdom is not of this world.”

The earliest Christian movement was an intentional community that practiced unconditional love for all, even enemies. Jesus understood the Kingdom of God as an alternative to political and military kingdoms. Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom. The Church is to be a light to the nations, not a nation among nations.

Jesus’ solution to human sin – including gun violence – was a radical one. Jesus told his followers to put away their weapons, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” He instructed his followers NOT to defend themselves … or him. Once again it is ironic that so many Christians find a reason to ignore Christ’s clear teachings on this subject.

Jesus was not a conservative. He was not a liberal. He was not a zealot, who were the patriots of his day. Jesus was a radical spiritual reformer. He was more like Buddha than Muhammad. Jesus’ vision for the Church is more like the Sangha than the Caliphate. It was a spiritual movement, not a political party. Jesus set up an alternative community that lived by a different standard than the state or political ideologies.

Jesus knew that the only real solution to the problems of suffering, evil, and violence in society was to live by the standards of the Kingdom of God now. That is what his Sermon on the Mount was all about. It is a Declaration of Independence from the cycle of human violence. It is the Constitution of the Kingdom of God.

The way to stop gun violence is to address the root of violence in the human heart, the anger and hate that is so clearly displayed in the nastiness of political rhetoric today. Peace begins by addressing the violence in our own hearts – not others’ hearts. Our heart is the only one we can change, and even that changes only by the grace of God.

As Jesus said, some evil cannot be driven out by anything but prayer. Gun violence is a spiritual issue more than a political one. When our words and actions begin to flow from a reservoir of inner peace rather than political strife, only then will there be peace on earth. Only then will people not kill people. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Shall the Fundamentalists Win ... Again?

This month marks the centennial of a landmark sermon in American Protestantism. On May 21, 1922, Baptist preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick delivered a famous sermon from the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in New York City, entitled "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" You can read the text here.

It was a decisive moment in the Fundamentalist–Modernist controversy of the time. This sermon cost him his position at the church, but it established his reputation as a champion of what he called “an intellectually hospitable, tolerant, liberty-loving church.”

In the sermon he addresses both the doctrines and the attitudes of fundamentalists. He is more concerned with how the fundamentalists behave than what they believe. He says:

Fundamentalists are giving us one of the worst exhibitions of bitter intolerance that the churches of this country have ever seen. As one watches them and listens to them he remembers the remark of General Armstrong of Hampton Institute, “Cantankerousness is worse than heterodoxy.” There are many opinions in the field of modern controversy concerning which I am not sure whether they are right or wrong, but there is one thing I am sure of: courtesy and kindliness and tolerance and humility and fairness are right. Opinions may be mistaken; love never is.”

Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” If that is true, then then the 2020’s are rhyming with the 1920’s. American religion seems to be fighting the same battles it fought one hundred years ago. Furthermore they are the same battles as when I was in seminary in the 1970’s.

In one sense nothing has changed in the last one hundred years. There are still fundamentalist and modernist Christians, although now they are known as evangelicals and progressives. There is still a struggle for control of denominational structures, institutions, seminaries and churches. In one way the fundamentalist spirit is more powerful than ever. Today it has joined forces with politics to take over the government as well as the churches.

In another sense much has changed. We live in a post-denominational landscape where nondenominational megachurches are the big players. There is a growing vocal opposition to religion of any type. Atheism and agnosticism are on the rise. Churches of all types – including evangelical churches – are losing members at an alarming rate. The fury of fundamentalism today sounds more like a death rattle than the rumble of an advancing army.

Yet human nature has not changed. Fosdick ended his message with these words:

The present world situation smells to heaven! And now, in the presence of colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake, the Fundamentalists propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration. What immeasurable folly!

“Well, they are not going to do it; certainly not in this vicinity! I do not even know in this congregation whether anybody has been tempted to be a Fundamentalist. Never in this church have I caught one accent of intolerance. God keep us always so and ever increasing areas of the Christian fellowship; intellectually hospitable, open-minded, liberty-loving, fair, tolerant, not with the tolerance of indifference, as though we did not care about the faith, but because always our major emphasis is upon the weightier matters of the law.”

The irony is that, unknown to him, there was intolerance in his church. Fundamentalists succeeded in driving Fosdick out of his positon as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. John D. Rockefeller Jr. came to his rescue and built him the Riverside Church, where he could preach freely without fear of retaliation.  His ministry eventually earned him the cover of Time magazine.

If there is any lesson to be learned from Fosdick’s historic sermon it is that intolerance is a persistent flaw of human nature. Furthermore religion is a permanent part of human culture. Our species is Homo religiosus – incurably religious.  Unfortunately religion often serves the purpose of tribalism, sexism, racism, nationalism and countless other –isms.

The good news is that we are also Homo mysticus. There is a part of us that sees beyond the sectarian madness. This inner intuition cannot be extinguished. It glimpses our essential union with the Divine and all humans. It is only imperfectly expressed by progressive preachers like Harry Emerson Fosdick. It finds full expression in the mystics of Christianity and all faiths. It is the antithesis of fundamentalism.

This means the fundamentalists shall not ultimately win. They may dominate nations or cultures for a season, but ultimately fundamentalism is a lost cause. If we survive as a species, someday spiritual inclusiveness, tolerance and love will reign. I see it already beginning, like spring shoots poking through winter’s dead leaves. 

Isaiah’s vision of the Peaceable Kingdom will become a reality. Jesus called it the Kingdom of God. May that Kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Keeping Cool in Florida

After arriving in Florida for an extended vacation this spring, the air conditioning in our 2014 Dodge minivan gave out. That would not have been a serious problem in New Hampshire, but in the Sunshine State AC is a necessity. We could not envision a month in Florida and a three day drive home without air. So we took it to a nearby auto repair shop. Their website said they had been in business for over 30 years and that they serviced AC. Plus they would pick me up and drop me back off at our rented condo while they serviced the vehicle. Great!

So began a saga that lasted for four weeks. At first all seemed fine. They replaced the condenser for $1200, which was more than we expected, but at least it was done (so we thought). Two and a half weeks later the AC failed again. This time they told us it was the rear condenser and line. The dealer did not have a necessary part so they were going to get one custom made. Another $800 in all. That was $2000 we were not expecting to put on our credit card this trip. We foolishly thought we were saving money by driving instead of flying this year!

The cost was not the worst part. We brought the repaired vehicle back to our rented condo, and the next morning it was blowing warm air again. Long story short, for eight more days I went to the shop daily. Bringing in the vehicle, getting it checked, getting a ride back to the condo, getting a ride back to the shop again and again. Day after day, something went wrong.

They said the newly installed rear condenser was defective, but not to worry; it was under warranty. It would not cost us anything. More delays. Then the custom-made part was not working. More delays. Four weeks after we had originally brought the vehicle to get fixed, we finally have our car back. The air conditioning is working for the moment, but I would not place any bets on its longevity.

I tell this story because of the emotional rollercoaster it caused within me and how I handled it. On the outside I was polite – assertive, but not aggressive. Honest with the repair shop about my frustration, but not accusatory. On the inside I went through a full range of emotions, from initial satisfaction to anger to disgust. I imagined heated arguments with the manager which never materialized. I thought about getting the credit card company involved or calling an attorney. In my mind I planned a scathingly accurate review that I would post on Yelp.

Then during prayer I saw what I was doing and cooled down. I began to think of this situation as a spiritual exercise – a gift from God. The whole process was a wonderful opportunity to exercise mindfulness and practice patience. I watched my emotions as they did somersaults. I observed my ego defend itself and justify itself. I watched my self play both the victim and the avenger. What a masterful performance!

All this time I also saw that this was just a show in my mind, like a drama I would watch on television. I was creating roles, playing roles, and casting others in roles. I was the producer, director, and playwright of my own story. I was writing the roles of villains, hucksters, incompetent mechanics, and wronged customer who is victorious in the end.

Shakespeare famously said that all the world’s a stage and we are players. But we are more than that. We are the whole process. We are also the audience, the theater, all the actors and stage hands, the stage, and the theater. We are the play. 

These things are happening within us. We invent them. We include and transcend them all. It is okay to play our part in this human drama wholeheartedly. It is fine to exercise emotions. We could not stop them if we tried! But we need to remember that this is only a role we play and not our identity.

We are the One behind the process. We are the One who is seeing the whole process unfold. This seeing fills me with joy in the midst of the frustration. It cools me off like AC never could. I can enjoy the divine drama without getting attached to it! I see again – as I have seen countless times before – that divine joy and love and peace trump all the emotions displayed within the play.

Furthermore it all works together for Good, as the apostle Paul observed. This divine “Good” has nothing to do with the relative “good” and “bad” aspects of life. Those sparring roles are just part of the script. The greater Good includes all good and bad. This Good Life is God’s drama. Sit back, keep cool, and enjoy the show!   

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Importance of Music

I love worship. It is the highlight of my week. While we have been in Florida I have not been able to attend in-person worship as I normally do. For one thing they do not take COVID seriously here in the Sunshine State, and churches are packed like discount airlines. Secondly, Floridians wear too much cologne and perfume. I can hardly breathe amidst the haze in these churches. So we have been doing online worship.

Last Sunday there was an outdoor Easter Sunrise service at seven o’clock on the beach, so we went. Two evangelical churches got together and held a large Easter worship service. At least it was large by my standards. I estimate there were at least five hundred people sitting on beach chairs or beach towels.

There was a worship band with guitars, drums, amps, and a half-dozen vocalists. They even brought huge television screens so people could sing along. If you preferred you could get the words displayed on your cellphone. The musicians were talented and enthusiastic, but the music was bland. Each song was indistinguishable from the previous one. Too much noise. Too much whining. I find that true of most contemporary worship music.

Most disappointing was the fact that the lyrics said nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. The closest they came was a reference to the “living Lord.” I can only conclude that the band did not know any Easter music. They played what they knew, which was mostly about salvation and feelings about salvation. Few on the beach sang these songs because they did not know the songs. You would think that if a church was designing a worship service for the public that they would pick well-known Easter songs.

For the first half of the service I pined for traditional Easter hymns. Once the half-hearted sing-along ended the service got better. A resurrection scripture from John’s gospel was read and a good sermon on “doubting Thomas” was delivered, relating Thomas’ experience to doubt in our lives.  Then there was communion. The Lord's Supper is bit unusual for evangelical churches on Easter, but I assumed they had skipped Maundy Thursday.

The service ended with a rendition of a hymn everyone knew: Amazing Grace. It is not an Easter song, but at least the congregation knew it. Then there was the obligatory evangelistic altar call by the pastor, followed by an invitation for ocean baptism for anyone who had been converted on the spot. We skipped the baptisms, as did 99% of the congregation.

After the hour-long service I went back to our apartment feeling like I needed something more. I felt like I had gone to dinner but been served only appetizers. I immediately got online and joined a live worship service where I could sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and other Easter classics. By the time Easter Sunday ended I had enjoyed two online services in our churches in New Hampshire (one live and one recorded at sunrise) and read an online sermon given that morning in a friend’s church in North Carolina. I was filled with the Easter Spirit! He is risen indeed!

My Easter experience got me thinking about the important role of music in worship. Everyone has their own musical tastes. You can't please everyone. I understand that. I do not enjoy most contemporary Christian worship music, but I know that others find it inspiring. Yet someone should write some contemporary worship songs about the resurrection of Jesus. If someone has already written such songs, then church bands need to sing them often enough to have a couple to play on Easter Sunday.

Worship music is important. It is the soul of worship. It communicates the Spirit more directly than words alone. It does not have to be professional, although the more talented the musician, the better. But it needs to be sincere. How it is sung is as important as how well it is sung. I go to worship for three things: music that lifts my heart to worship God, an inspired word from Scripture, and spiritual community. This is the holy trinity of worship for me. I received all three this Easter, but not all at the same time. It took four churches to satisfy my soul this Easter.  

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Missing Easter Stories

On this Holy Saturday I am pondering a strange and little-known Easter story, nestled within Matthew’s account of the death of Jesus. It says that when Jesus died, “The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Matthew 27:52–53) In other words lots of people were raised from the dead on Easter, not just Jesus!

That is a story you likely won’t hear this Easter Sunday! Instead Christians will hear the familiar favorites. They will hear the tale of Mary Magdalene at the garden tomb, the two disciples on the Emmaus Road, and the eleven disciples in the upper room. They will hear about women coming to an empty tomb, the stone being rolled away, and angels descending and declaring that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Other stories, like the one quoted above, church-goers will not hear. They also will not hear the story of when the risen Lord appeared to his brother James. They will not hear the account of when the resurrected Christ appeared to 500 disciples at the same time. These are listed by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, but they are missing from the gospels.

Those events are mentioned only in passing by Paul, and their full stories are never told. Why? A resurrection appearance to 500 people at once seems important enough be included in a gospel, but no gospel writer mentions it. An appearance to a member of Jesus’ family who would become the head of the Jerusalem church also seems worthy of a few verses, but the gospel writers are silent about it.

Isn’t it important to know that other people besides Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday? What were their names? What happened to them? What stories did they tell of their death and resurrections? Their first-hand accounts would put modern Near Death Experiences to shame! 

Furthermore why don’t other ancient historical documents record such a dramatic event? The resurrection of “many” people (dozens? hundreds?) in Jerusalem would seem to merit at least a footnote by Josephus.

Why aren’t these other resurrection stories told? One possible answer is that the gospel writers did not know about these other resurrection stories. If they knew about them, then they made an editorial decision to exclude them. They either omitted them because they did not believe the stories to be true, or they omitted them for theological and ecclesiastical reasons. I go with this latter reason.

These stories are not told by the gospel writers for the same reason they are not told from pulpits today. Something about those stories did not fit conventional Christian theology. The mere existence of untold Easter stories means that the compilation of the New Testament is more complex than most Christians know. It makes you wonder what else was intentionally omitted.

What other gospels were refused entrance into the New Testament and why? These censored gospels and letters reveal that early Christianity was much more diverse than the proto-orthodox version that made it past the canonical watchdogs. These missing Easter stories seem to indicate that Resurrection Sunday was much richer than the canonical gospels suggest!

The best part of this fuller vision of Easter is that it includes us. Like the apostle Paul, we have our own Easter stories to tell. Easter is not just for the original apostles of long ago. 

That is why I have always liked the original ending of Mark’s gospel, which is the earliest of the four canonical gospels. It contains no resurrection appearances. It is open-ended. It concludes with the message of an angel saying that if we go forth, “you will see him, as he told you.” 

Like the apostle Paul, we may have been “untimely born,” but we are not too late. The Easter story is our story. It is now. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Holy Friendship

This Holy Week I am pondering friendship. It started off very personal. In my previous blog about Palm Sunday entitled “Everything is Holy Now,” I mentioned two friends of mine: a transgender woman and a gay man, both very spiritually-minded persons. I also spoke against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. I wrote, “Everyone is holy.” A longtime friend of mine wrote a scathing response to that post.

He accused me of rejecting the Biblical values, embracing cultural standards, and setting myself up as my own authority above God’s Word. In a second email he said that I “reject the biblical norms and accept sodomy and all the other violations of Gods commands.” I was stunned at the self-righteousness and judgmental tone of these emails. I was hurt. The sad part is that he knew he was hurting me, justifying his behavior by quoting the often misused proverb: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

Last Sunday – Palm Sunday - another longtime friend of mine, Dwight Moody, mentioned me several times in his sermon to his congregation in North Carolina. I watched the service online. He was preaching about friendship. It was entitled “No One Like You.” His text was from the Letter to the Philippians, where the apostle Paul speaks about his friend Timothy.

Paul writes: “If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon for a visit. Then he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. But you know how Timothy has proved himself.”

Dwight said, “I think about Marshall when I read this letter Paul wrote. He said, “I have no one else like you.” He was talking about friendship, and partnership in the gospel, and the best of life.” 

I emailed him and told him his words were balm for my soul. When he spoke those words from the pulpit he did not know about the email exchange with my other friend. But he later told me that God had known and had led him to speak those words. The Spirit has a way of inspiring just the right words at the right time.

This series of events has led me to look at the Holy Week passion narrative with new eyes. I am looking at it from the perspective of friendship. As I read the stories of Jesus’ final days and hours I am looking carefully at Jesus’ friends, and how they related to him. I am especially looking at Jesus’ friends Peter, Judas Iscariot, and John.

Judas undoubtedly convinced himself that he was doing the right thing by betraying his friend. There are many theories about Judas’s motives - from simple greed, to patriotic zeal, to believing he was obeying the will of God. We will never know exactly what he was thinking when he betrayed his friend with a kiss. 

Likewise Peter had a lot going on in his mind when he denied his friend Jesus. These two disciples responded to the realization of their error in different ways. Of the twelve apostles only young John had the courage to stay with Jesus at the cross.

Jesus’ most faithful friends were women, who were at the cross on Good Friday and at the garden tomb on Easter morning. It seems his closest female friend was Mary Magdalene, who is called by Thomas Aquinas and Pope Francis “the apostle to the apostles.” Women’s stories are not adequately told in the gospels. One can only imagine what the biblical passion narrative would have been like if their stories had been highlighted.

Friendship is a priceless gift. Friendship with Jesus is the greatest of all gifts. Jesus said to his disciples “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” I count Jesus as my closest and greatest friend, with my wife is a close second! (Dwight, you are third!)

Jesus is my spiritual identity. He is my life and my soul. It is said that a true friend is one soul in two bodies. I am one soul with Jesus. Jesus is my soul. I concur with Paul when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” There is no “I” in “my” life. There is only Christ. Christ is my life.

In his so-called “High Priestly” prayer offered on Maundy Thursday, Jesus promised his disciples oneness with God and himself. Such holy union is foreign to traditional binary thinking. Yet this unitive awareness is our birthright. From Christ-consciousness one loves all people unconditionally. There are no distinctions. One especially loves those whom the dominant Christian culture scorns. Jesus ate with friends whom religious culture had declared unclean and unholy. He still does. That is why I love my friend Jesus.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Everything is Holy Now

Recently I attended an online memorial service for a spiritual friend who died in January. Her name was Fran Bennett. She was a transgender woman who was influential in my spiritual life. I spoke with her at length ten years ago during a spiritual crisis in my life that bloomed into spiritual awakening. At that time she was still presenting as male and had recently left a Trappist monastery where she had been a monk known as Brother Francis. 

At her memorial service the song “Holy Now” by Peter Mayer was played. If you haven’t heard it, you can listen to it here. The song is from his 1999 album Million Year Mind. Fran loved the song and often sang it at her retreats. It echoes the spiritual awakening she experienced in 2010 while taking the Eucharist. The first stanza says:

When I was a boy, each week

On Sunday, we would go to church

And pay attention to the priest.

He would read the holy word

And consecrate the holy bread

And everyone would kneel and bow.

Today the only difference is

Everything is holy now.

Everything, everything,

Everything is holy now.

That song came to mind this week while I was walking the beach here in Florida. The upcoming Palm Sunday celebration was on my mind. I love Holy Week. I love Maundy Thursday communion. I love Good Friday and Easter Sunday. This year we will not be in New Hampshire to celebrate the holy days with our church. So I was rehearsing the events of Palm Sunday in my mind as I did a walking meditation on the beach with my friends, the egrets and sandpipers.

I recalled the words of Jesus as he descended the Mount of Olives on a donkey. The Pharisees were complaining that Jesus’ followers were praising God for him. His critics told Jesus to command his disciples to stop. His response was that even if the people kept silent, the stones of the road would take up the chorus of praise. That is when I heard the grains of sand on the beach singing the praises of God. The psalm sings, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

I am reading a book entitled Bewilderment by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Powers. The main character is an astrobiologist. He tries to explain to his nine-year-old son how many planets there are in the universe capable of sustaining life. First he calculates the number of stars:

“Multiply every grain of sand on Earth by the number of trees. One hundred octillion.” I made him say twenty-nine zeros. Fifteen zeros in, his laughter turned to groans. “If you were an ancient astronomer, using Roman numerals, you couldn’t have written the number down. Not even in your whole lifetime.” How many have planets? That number was changing fast. “Most probably have at least one. Many have several. The Milky Way alone might have nine billion Earth-like planets in their stars’ habitable zones.”

There are more earths than the number of grains of sand in all the beaches of earth. How many billions of different types of creatures exist on all these planets? All are praising God! Every bird I see is praising God. Every child playing in the sand is part of the Kingdom of God. Every creature in the ocean, on the ocean, and on the beach is sacred. Every elderly couple walking the beach is an expression of the Divine. Everyone is holy.

Last week the Florida legislature passed – and the governor signed - the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It implies that LGBTQ people are somehow less acceptable than other humans. It says that children need to be protected from knowing about their existence. Florida lawmakers are now making plans to strip Disney World of its tax advantages because Disney opposes this bill.

Everyone is holy. My transgender friend Fran was – and is – holy. My friend David was my roommate in college and a groomsman in my wedding. He was gay, a seminary-educated ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, a lifelong friend, and one of the best people I have known. He ended his earthly life twenty years ago because the anti-gay hate of our culture was more than his sensitive soul could bear.

Everyone is holy. Everything is holy. Sometimes it takes a moment for our human minds to remember what the soul always knows. Every day is Palm Sunday. Every day is Easter. Every day is holy now. All we need to do is abide in the now, and this is clearly seen. I finish this post with the final stanza of Peter Mayer’s song, which could be the soundtrack of my life.

This morning, outside I stood

And saw a little red-winged bird

Shining like a burning bush

Singing like a scripture verse.

It made me want to bow my head,

I remember when church let out,

How things have changed since then,

Everything is holy now.

It used to be a world half-there

Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down

But I walk it with a reverent air

Cause everything is holy now. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Compassionate Resistance

Regular readers of this blog know that I try to balance Christian spirituality and social activism. In my podcast and YouTube channel I focus chiefly on the spiritual dimension. I use the phrase “Christian nonduality” to describe my approach. I explore the mystical dimension of Christianity and other faiths. In my blog I often tackle the political and social issues. Inevitably the two areas intermingle.

Recently I received an unexpected email from Rev. Dr. Christopher Schelin, Dean of Students at Starr King School for the Ministry in Oakland, California. Starr King is a Unitarian Universalist seminary, a member of the Graduate Theological Union, affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Schelin also holds the positions of Director of Contextual Education and Assistant Professor of Practical and Political Theologies.

He wrote to inform me that he had written a research paper entitled “Compassionate Resistance: Opposing Trumpism in the Nondual Political Theology of Marshall Davis.”  This month he presented it to the Annual Meeting of the Western Region American Academy of Religion. For those who are interested in reading the paper, it can be found at academia.edu.

I was surprised – but pleased - at his announcement. Even though I had corresponded with him previously, I did not know he was researching my work. I certainly did not consider my work worthy of an academic paper. Furthermore I have never thought of myself as a political theologian. Yet … come to think of it … of course I have a political theology! All people who intentionally seek to live out their faith in the public arena are political theologians! Mine just happens to be more public than most.

First of all, Dr. Schelin did an excellent job in his research. He understands my approach better than most people, who know only bits and pieces of my writings. I also like his choice of the term “compassionate resistance” to describe my approach.  I have compassion toward those who disagree with me on political and social issues. I try to enter into the hearts and minds of those who hold views different than my own.

The key factor of this approach is the spiritual teaching to love one’s enemies. That is the essence of both the Apostle Paul’s and the Lord Jesus’ social engagement. This is what is missing in secular politics, especially the extremist forms gaining popularity today. Both the Right and the Left are afraid that listening to and understanding their enemies will undermine their position. Without someone to fear and hate, they think the motivation for their position will dissipate.

Fear and anger are the twin engines of politics these days. They are sources of disinformation and misinformation. One must demonize one’s enemy in order to justify them being enemies. If we turn our enemies into devils, it is easier to justify our own cause as righteous. So the facts become distorted in order to confirm our fears. In time we start to believe our own rhetoric.

The truth is that our enemy is more like us than we wish to believe. Enemies are mirror images of ourselves. They are us. As the comic sage Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” That is why we fear them. That is why they stir such anger in us. They expose our true selves. There is nothing we hate more than seeing what we really are. We will do almost anything to prevent ourselves from acknowledging that painful truth.

When we love our enemies, we recognize our enemies as neighbors. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We love our neighbors when we realize that at a deep level they are ourselves. We are one. Jesus said that the commandment to love our neighbor is “like unto” the command to love God. When we love our enemies we see God in them.

Loving our enemies tears down the “dividing wall of hostility.” That is how the apostle Paul described Jesus’ sacrificial love. Love destroys our enemies by turning them into brothers and sisters. As Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

This does not mean that we give up on the political process. It means that we engage in political thinking and action out of compassion and love - not from fear and anger. We do it from a position of unity rather than division. We are one. As a country we are the United States of America. When we forget the “united” part, we have lost before we begin. When we keep the union front and center, all things are possible.  That is nondual Christian politics. That is compassionate resistance.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Beyond the Culture Wars

I struggle with how to address today’s culture wars from a spiritual perspective. These political movements use the language of religion, morality, family and patriotism. For that reason it is difficult to address them from a spiritual perspective. When I use spiritual language to warn about the dangers of such movements, my words sound like I am part of the culture war.  

The truth is I am not interested in fighting the culture wars. My loyalties are not to parties, leaders, or ideologies. My loyalty is to the Peaceable Kingdom. I can see the Kingdom of God from where I stand. I stand in it. It is here now, and it is breaking into history for those with eyes to see. I endeavor to speak from a Kingdom perspective.

At times I speak in the language of the biblical prophets. “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God!" At other times I use the language of the mystics, speaking of union with God. At such times it is tempting to remain neutral, to abide in a lofty spiritual realm that transcends earthly battles.

Yet biblical spirituality does not allow for that option. The prophetic witness of scripture will not let me. To remain neutral when evil surges is to side with evil. As Martin King said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Jesus spoke out against the collusion of “church and state” and was tried for treason in the culture wars of his time. At his trial Jesus declared, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to keep me from being handed over…. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” I choose Christ’s Kingdom over the worldly kingdoms. The Kingdom of God is not the possession of any nation, religion or political party.

From the Kingdom of God I watch earthy kingdoms rise and fall. There will always be wars and rumors of wars. There will be always be earthquakes, fires, floods, and natural disasters. Jesus said the poor will always be with us. Scripture says there are antichrists and false prophets in every age.

Human history is a play of good and evil, light and dark, right and wrong, yin and yang. It has always been this way. As actors in this drama of history we play our roles. We work for good against evil – as we understand them – always realizing that we see through a glass darkly. We might be wrong, yet we must persevere nonetheless. To do any less is to surrender to fatalism.

In the midst of it all we remember that our citizenship is in heaven. We are children of God. The flesh is temporary, but the Spirit is eternal. It is important to keep an eternal perspective on temporal matters. The great causes of our day will be forgotten. When the earth is swallowed by our dying sun and humankind is a distant memory in the mind of God, it will not matter if Republicans or Democrats prevailed in 21st century America.

I will still speak out, vote, contribute to causes, and protest in the streets when necessary. I will write, blog, podcast and record videos. As I do, I will keep my eyes focused on the Kingdom of God. I will not trust in leaders, armies or political parties. I will not trust ideology. I will trust the God who is beyond my human understanding. As the apostle Paul says:

“For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Amen. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

I Am Not Dust

Even though I am a pastor, I am not much for religious rites. I am more interested in the spiritual meaning. Ash Wednesday was always out of my religious comfort zone. That changed during my last year in fulltime ministry when I participated in an ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service.

I told the host pastor I would not be receiving the ashes, but when she offered the option of having ashes placed on our hands rather than on our foreheads I changed my mind. That felt safe enough for this old Baptist preacher. Now I love Ash Wednesday and the words, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

Dust is everywhere, especially in these final weeks of winter when our homes are longing for a spring cleaning. I get ashes on me daily as I tend to my woodstove. I scatter sand on our driveway. I track dirt into our entryway. Dust cohabitates our home with us, in spite of our attempts at “dusting.” Dusting just moves the dust around.

Likewise ashes are everywhere. They are piled in the ash bucket next to the woodstove in our living room. They coat my eyeglasses. Daily I find soot on my hands, arms and clothing. Sometimes I feel like Job “covered in dust and ashes.” The omnipresence of dust and ashes make them excellent symbols for the omnipresent God.

Dust is also an apt metaphor for our human nature. Our bodies are made of dust. Carl Sagan called it stardust. God told Adam in Genesis that one day our bodies will return to dust. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” as the burial ritual says. That truth was made real while I was writing this post and got news that a friend and colleague in active ministry here in New Hampshire died suddenly while returning from vacation.

Contemplating our mortality points us to the immortal. Contemplating our material nature points us to our spiritual nature. Having my face smudged with ash points me to my True Face, which is not made in the image of my simian ancestors but made in the image of God.

A Zen koan says, "Show me your original face before you were born.” My ashy face points me to my unborn face. Ashes remind me of the inevitable dissolution of my physical form, which leaves only the unformed, which is my true nature. There is a poem I have often read at graveside services. It reads in part:

I am the thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints in snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle, autumn rain.
As you awake with morning’s hush,
I am the swift, up-flinging rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight,
I am the day transcending night.

The refrain “I am” reminds me what I am. Jesus called himself the “I am” that precedes all predicates.  Jesus was pointing his hearers to the Divine Nature that was revealed to Moses in the burning bush. The bush on Sinai burned but did not turn to ashes. “I AM” is indestructible. “I AM” is in the body and beyond the grave. “I AM” is in human forms and beyond form.

Tonight I will be attending a contemplative Ash Wednesday service. When the pastor places ashes on my forehead and intones “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” I will remember that though this body is dust, I am not this dusty frame. I do not have to return anywhere. I am here now. I remember who I am. I am what I was before I was born and after I die. So are you. Remember.

Monday, February 21, 2022

On Being Quaint

I have been called a lot of things during my career as an ordained clergyman, but until this week I have never been called quaint. I feel like I have been labeled a hobbit. A new book published last week by Glenn Packiam uses the word “quaint” to describe clergy.

In his book entitled The Resilient Pastor, the Barna senior fellow examines the newest surveys and confirms what pastors already know — that ministers are not as respected and influential in American society as we used to be. In summarizing his findings Packiam writes: “Pastors, for the most part, are peripheral and ornamental. Quaint, but not entirely necessary. Kind, but not wholly credible.”

Ouch! That hurts! Especially that “ornamental” part. It sounds like irrelevancy. Clergy do not want to be thought of as irrelevant. But, alas, I think he is speaking the truth, which is why it hurts. Most people in today’s society view clergy as anachronisms. They are “quaint,” like a country cottage or a New England white clapboard church. It doesn’t help that I live in in the country and served such a church!

One interesting aspect of the research is that clergy concur with the study’s findings. We are aware of the trend, and we are part of it. Pastors do not find their fellow clergy as trustworthy as they used to be. I find clergy increasingly unreliable in many areas: science, history, politics, sexuality, ethics, and even spirituality. Many seem vulnerable to conspiracy theories.

Part of the problem is the lack of education. Many pastors these days lack a basic undergraduate liberal arts education, much less a graduate theological education. Consequently many pastors are unknowledgeable of science and history, as well as biblical and theological scholarship. Not trained to think critically, these pastors follow the trends of popular evangelical culture and its celebrity pastors.

Even seminary-trained clergy have seen the writing on the church wall. They know that to be “successful” they need to play the game. They have to give the people in the pews what they want. Increasingly church folk want what they hear on Christian radio, television, and online. I find such clergy “not wholly credible,” to use Packiam’s phrase.

Now about the “quaint” label. As I think about it, perhaps I am quaint. If so, I am okay with that. Quaint is defined as “unusual or different in character or appearance.” Synonyms are “unusual, bizarre, eccentric, curious, peculiar, queer, odd, whimsical, strange, and outlandish.” I am okay with all those designations. I will wear the slur of quaint as a badge of honor.

Even “peripheral” is not such a bad term. Jesus was on the periphery of the religion of this day. He hung out with the people on the margins of society, yet his influence was not marginal. Seeking to follow my Lord, I am definitely on the periphery of today’s Christianity. Does that make me “peripheral?” If so, I am glad. I would not have it any other way.

I am connecting with a wider range of people now than I ever did when I was in mainstream ministry as a fulltime pastor. I reach more people with my books, podcasts and videos than I did with my weekly in-person sermons and Bible Studies. So call me quaint. Call me peripheral. Call me “unusual, bizarre, eccentric, curious, peculiar, queer, odd, whimsical, strange, and outlandish.” But please don’t call me ornamental.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

A Christian Reads the Gita

Recently my daily devotions have included reading a chapter from the Indian spiritual classic the Bhagavad Gita. Each morning I read a chapter from the Hebrew prophets (I am presently reading Isaiah), a section from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ, and then a chapter from the Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita is probably the most famous Hindu scripture, written about the same time as the Hebrew Torah was being finalized.  I first came in contact with it while in college. I was offered a copy of The Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is by a shaved head, chanting, dancing devotee of the Hare Krishna movement who was visiting campus. I read it and kept it for years.

I studied the Gita again in seminary while studying the world’s religions, but I have not read it since. I thought it was about time to buy a new translation and explore it again. This time I purchased Stephen Mitchell’s new translation. His edition of the Tao Te Ching is my favorite, so I was eager to see how he approached this beloved Indian scripture.

I have been surprised at how this reading of the Bhagavad Gita has affected me. Although I do not resonate with it as much as the Upanishads, which have been very influential in my spiritual life, I find it is helping me work through a moral dilemma that I am struggling with at this time.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Bhagavad Gita, it is a conversation between the Indian warrior Arjuna and his charioteer, who is actually Krishna, an incarnation of God. Arjuna is about to go into battle against some of his kinsmen when he has crisis of conscience. He cannot bring himself to fight and kill people that he knows. He decides to lay down his bow and become the ancient equivalent of a conscientious objector.

At that point Krishna starts up a dialogue with Arjuna, attempting to persuade him to fulfill his duty as a member of the warrior caste and fight. This conversation is the substance of the Gita, which itself is part of the larger epic the Mahabharata. During the conversation Krishna explains various ways that one comes to know God. He speaks about the true nature of Reality, God and human beings.

These topics are interesting, but it was the subject of war that got me thinking the most. This has been a struggle in my life ever since the Vietnam War. Over the years my approach has fluctuated between an ethic of nonviolence and just war theory. I consider the major American wars during my lifetime – Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – to have been unnecessary and costly in human lives and suffering. I opposed them all. But I cannot rule out the possible need for military action when the situation requires it.

I consider the United States to be at a crossroads at the present time. For the first time in my lifetime American democracy is being threatened by a domestic enemy. The January 6 attack on the US Capitol building was just the opening salvo. Christian nationalism and the right-wing anti-democracy movement are gaining strength. It is working at the local, state and national levels to rig elections, censor books and roll back basic rights.

There is a large portion of lawmakers and the American population who are willing to dismantle our two-century-long experiment in democracy in order to advance their political, religious, and social agenda. So far it has not resulted in widespread violence, but I can see where it could end in armed conflict if this trend is not reversed.

I have been contemplating how far mainstream Christians should go in defending our democracy against these anti-democracy forces. I have not come to a decision. Part of me wants to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. Another part of me wants to exercise my second amendment right. Do I practice nonviolent resistance or do I use force to stop fascism before it gets too powerful?

Last year I penned several blog posts about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian who was faced with a similar dilemma in Germany during the 1930’s and 40’s. He ended up working as a double agent in German intelligence and becoming part of the plot to assassinate Hitler. He was executed by the Third Reich for his choice. I admire his Christian faith and his courage.

In a recent radio/podcast interview on The Meetinghouse, my friend Dwight Moody and I talked about the threat of Christian Nationalism and how it is affecting churches and pastors. We both agreed that this was not the time for clergy to keep silent about these threats to American freedoms. But what more can we do than just talk? I think we can learn from the example of the 20th century Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.

At the end of the Gita Arjuna is persuaded by Krishna to fight in the upcoming battle. In chapter after chapter of the Book of Isaiah, God declares war for his divine purpose. Yet Isaiah also has the most beautiful images of the peaceable kingdom in the Bible. For a Christian the ethic of Christ supersedes the Old Testament ethic. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said of old, but I say unto you…..” In the same spirit Gandhi concluded, “The Gita does not decide for us.”

Reading the Bhagavad Gita has been a way for me to have an internal debate about how far a follower of Jesus can engage in earthly battles. For now my pacifist roots are prevailing. Nonviolence seems like the only long-term solution. Violence sows the seeds of future violence. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth only makes the whole world blind and toothless.  And my dentist says I have no teeth to spare. Yet if the redcaps try to do to my house what they did to the People’s House, I am not making any promises. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Unforgivable

According to Jesus there is a sin that can never be forgiven. As a child my wife thought the unforgivable sin was calling someone a fool. Her childhood fear was based on the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” That is a pretty heavy load for a child to carry!

An unforgivable sin is mentioned in Mark’s gospel where Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

Matthew’s version expands upon it a bit. “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

It is interesting that the “unforgivable sin” is not some blatantly immoral act like genocide, torture, child abuse or voting for Donald Trump. It is not something one does; it is something one says. Yet it is not thoughtlessly saying “You fool!” in the heat of the moment. It is speaking against the Spirit because one’s heart is set against the Spirit. Words are a window into the heart.  As Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

The context of Jesus’ pronouncement of an “unforgivable sin” is important. The statement is given during an altercation between Jesus and some Pharisees. These devout, religious believers were telling people that Jesus’ ministry was not inspired by the Spirit of God but by Beelzebul, the prince of demons. In other words they were saying that Jesus was Satanic.

These Pharisees were so indoctrinated that they were unable to recognize the Spirit of God in someone who was not part of their religious group. Not only that, but they believed that anyone of a contrary religious persuasion was evil. They labeled the work of the Spirit as demonic.

They could no longer tell the difference between good and evil. As the prophet Isaiah warned, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil!” The Christian version of the unforgivable sin is not recognizing the Spirit of God in other faith traditions. Some Christians go so far as to repeat the sin of the Pharisees, labelling other religions demonic.

If we cannot recognize the Holy Spirit in the Buddhists like Thich Nhat Hanh, then we do not know the Spirit who was in Christ. If we do not see the Holy Spirit in the Hindus like Ramana Maharshi, we do not know the Spirit of Jesus. If we do not hear the Holy Spirit in the words of the Muslims like Rumi, we cannot hear God’s Word anywhere.

That does not mean that all religions and religious leaders are equal. Some faiths and faith leaders are more transparent to the Spirit than others. Some are clean windows through which the Spirit shines. Others are windows obfuscated by dogma, tradition, and legalism.  But wash away the grime and you can glimpse the omnipresent Spirit behind all windows.

To be unable to recognize Jesus when he walks the Emmaus Road with us in the form of a person of another faith is spiritual blindness. But is this unforgivable? That assessment sounds like a “spiritually correct” form of exclusivism and intolerance, until we see it is not a matter of whether God forgives; it is a matter of whether we are open to forgiveness. If we are blind to our own blindness, then we see no need for forgiveness. That is the definition of unforgivable.

For some Christians, acknowledging that God is present in other faiths is considered the unforgivable sin. It is thought to be a betrayal of the Christian gospel. It feels to them like a denial of Jesus. It feels like apostasy or heresy. It feels like unbelief, which some consider to be the unforgivable sin. With their eyes and ears firmly clenched, they cannot discern the presence of God.

But is this unforgivable? The God I know is Unconditional Love. Nothing is unforgivable for Love except unforgiveness, as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus prayed, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He went on to explain, “If you do not forgive people their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” We receive forgiveness to the extent that we forgive. Unable to forgive, we are unable to accept forgiveness.

Are we willing to forgive those who will not accept our religion? Are we willing to forgive those who do not understand God the way we do? Are we willing to accept them as spiritual sisters and brothers? Are we willing to forgive ourselves for our religious arrogance? Are we willing to forgive God for transcending our religion and welcoming people of all faiths? If so, nothing is unforgivable.