Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Epiphany Gifts

Epiphany is coming up on January 6. It celebrates the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem, where the Wise Men worshiped the Christ child and gave him gifts. This is where Christians got the idea of giving gifts at Christmas.

This week I read a very insightful post about Epiphany by Jim Burklo on his blog “Musings,” which is one of the few blogs that I read regularly. It is entitled Epiphany in a Box. In it he describes an intriguing variation on holiday gift-giving. He writes:

Years ago, my dear wife, Roberta Maran, came up with an idea at Christmas that enchanted me.  “In addition to other presents, let’s give people Christmas boxes that have nothing inside of them – except messages that are deep and pithy!”

Last Sunday they introduced that practice to their church in Simi Valley, California, where he serves as pastor. He explains:

So I put slips of paper into little Christmas-ey boxes and put them on the altar.  We sat in a circle, and I passed them out to the congregants to present to the person next to them and then open and discuss with each what they found on their slips of paper.  Lively conversations ensued.

Here is a partial list of the messages in the boxes:

  • A day’s supply of laughter
  • A sigh of relief
  • An opinion you need to release
  • A bright idea
  • An argument extinguisher: in a relationship emergency, put this box over your face and breathe deeply
  • A beginner’s mind
  • A creative spirit
  • A new beginning
  • Nothing you can’t live without
  • Nothing that matters
  • The silence between notes that makes music beautiful
  • The sound of Jesus meditating for 40 days in the wilderness
  • The sound of Buddha meditating at the Bodhi Tree
  • What is left when you strip away all your illusions about who you are
  • A scoop of wind from the top of a mountain

There were many more, but you get the point. We are so used to giving material gifts at Christmas that it is good to remember that the best gifts are immaterial. Indeed the greatest gifts are ones that are already ours, given to us by God. We simply need to open them.

Here are some gifts I invite you to open this Epiphany. The story of the Magi mentions only three gifts, so I will limit myself to that number as well. Choose any one of them as your Epiphany gift:

  • A glimpse into who you were before the creation of the universe
  • The feel of the silence that underlies all thoughts and emotions
  • A taste of the peace that is your true nature 

At first glance these epiphanies may sound cryptic, but I assure you they are very real. They are more real than any store-bought present you received on Christmas day. In fact in your heart of hearts you already know the Reality that these words describe. 

Just take time to meditate upon one of them and see for yourself. I promise that if you open just one of these treasures, you will desire no other gifts … ever. 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Watching Christmas Movies

It is December, and that means it is time to watch Christmas movies. This year my wife and I sampled a couple of new releases. First we watched Spirited, starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. It is a musical remake of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We were hoping Ferrell had created a worthy successor to the holiday classic Elf, which my son’s family watches every year religiously. Spirited is no Elf, but it is well-done. There’s lots of singing, great choreography, and a clever twist on the familiar tale.

The second holiday film we saw was The Noel Diary. We chose it because the lead actor, Justin Hartley, starred in This is Us, which is one of our favorite television dramas. The Noel Diary is a typical heartwarming rom-com (romantic comedy) where boy meets girl, with a little parent-child reconciliation thrown in for good measure. We enjoyed it.

Shortly after watching those movies I read an article by the Religion News Service entitled Everyone Gets Their Love Story, subtitled How Christmas Rom-Coms Have Taken over the Season. It chronicles how Christmas movies have changed over the years. There are now more faces of color and even some LGBTQ romances. Times have changed. It is all an attempt to cash in on the $700 billion Christmas industry, which the article calls “the Christmas Industrial Complex.”

Anyway it got me thinking about how holiday movies nowadays are so different from the ones I grew up watching - films like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, and A Christmas Carol. It also got me thinking about how all these Christmas films – new and old – have so little to do with the themes of the Christmas accounts found in the gospels.

Holiday movies are “feel good” flicks. They are often about romantic love, designed to pull on our heartstrings, and invariably have happy endings. How different from the Bible narratives. The biblical Christmas stories have no romance. Mary and Joseph are in an arranged marriage, which got off to a rocky start due to suspicion of adultery.  There is no mention of any love between the two lead actors in the nativity drama. There is no post-Christmas sequel to tell us how the holy couple eventually fell in love and lived happily ever after in Nazareth.

Most importantly there is no happy ending. The Christmas story in the Gospel of Matthew ends with mass murder, traditionally called “The Slaughter of the Innocents.”  King Herod decides to eliminate a possible rival for his throne by murdering all the children in Bethlehem age two and younger. As the camera fades on the exiting Wise Men, we hear the sound of young mothers weeping in grief.

True, God warns Joseph about the murder plot, and the holy family escapes safely to Egypt. But God does not intervene to save the other little children of Bethlehem or warn their parents. That is troubling to anyone raised on the Sunday School song “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

The holy family lived as refugees in a foreign land for several years. One can only imagine how difficult those years were. Then Joseph died at some point after Jesus’ twelfth birthday, leaving Mary as a single mom raising a houseful of kids on her own. She did not remarry a rich, handsome stranger and grow old together, like Ruth in the Old Testament story. No Hallmark ending for Mary of Nazareth.

The biblical Christmas stories are so different from the plots of Christmas films that it makes me wonder how rom-coms came to dominate holiday flicks and why Christians are okay with that. Indeed nostalgic Christians seem to be the target audience for many of these “family-friendly” films. The most likely explanation is that Christians - like everyone else – tend to only see God at work in happy endings.

Yet by insisting on storybook endings we are missing the most powerful truth of Christmas: God is present in the unhappy times as well. God’s presence includes the good and the bad. God is the light shining in the darkness of real life, which includes grief, sorrow and hardship.

That is why the gospel writer Matthew reminds us: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” which means, “God with us.” God is with us no matter what. To that Christmas ending, I say, “Amen.”

Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Calm of Advent

I know the “holiday season” is supposed to be a busy time. All the decorating and shopping and cooking and concerts and parties normally make people hurried and harried. Yet it doesn’t feel hectic to me. It feels calm. It feels like I am in the eye of a storm. Society twists in circles while I enjoy peace at the center.

Perhaps it is because we started off the holidays with a quieter than normal Thanksgiving. Due to COVID my wife and I were alone on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in our lives. The virus symptoms had passed, but we still could have been contagious. For that reason we played it safe and stayed home to protect our family. Even though we wish we could have been with family, it turned out to be one of the most restful Thanksgivings we have ever had.

Thanksgiving Day set the tone for first Sunday of Advent a few days later. On that Sunday morning we attended a beautiful “Hanging of the Greens” at our church. Nothing centers the soul like singing contemplative hymns such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

Then there is the cold weather. There has not been much snow, but the rain and strong winds have kept us inside more than normal. So we fired up our woodstove for the first time this season and have enjoyed the mesmerizing flames viewed through the glass front of our Jøtul. It felt like we were in our very own Christmas card.

Lastly there is the spiritual dimension of the season. Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. My attention naturally returns to the Holy of Holies within my soul. In the Bible the Spirit of God was said to occupy the innermost chamber of Jerusalem’s temple. I see the temple as symbolic of the human heart. As Stephen told the Sanhedrin, God does not dwell in temples built by hands. God dwells within us.

Peace is within. Regardless of what is happening around the world, the country, or in our lives, peace always abides at the center of the soul. On Christmas night the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, goodwill to men.” The peaceable kingdom the herald angel proclaimed is not an external kingdom. There have been “wars and rumors of wars” continually during the 2000 years since Jesus’ birth.

Advent peace is inner peace. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” He promised, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” He said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Peace dwells in the heart. To enjoy that peace, all we have to do is look within.

People search for peace of mind all their lives. They work for peace in the world. They yearn for peace in relationships. The peace that people seek is already here. People are simply looking in the wrong places. Peace will never be found outside of ourselves. It dwells at the center of the human heart. That is where the Prince of Peace makes his home.

Perhaps that is why I like the symbolism of the evergreen wreath so much. We have three wreaths on the outside of our home. I have often made my own wreaths during Advent. A retired forester friend conducts a wreath-making workshop every year, and I often attend. 

The wreath reminds me of the eye of a storm. In the center of the wreath is empty space. Like the space above the Ark of the Covenant, that empty space is where God abides. For that reason the Christ candle is lit in the center of the Advent wreath. Christ is the center. If we want peace, that is where we find it.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Always Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving Day my wife and I may not be dining at a heavily laden table surrounded by extended family as we had hoped. For first time in our lives it might be just the two of us for Thanksgiving dinner. We will have to wait and see.

The reason for the uncertainty is that we came down with COVID recently. Even though we are feeling better now, we want to make sure we are not contagious. We certainly do not want to give our loved ones an unwanted viral holiday gift! That is a gift you do not want to regift!

So we are waiting the recommended ten-day period, and we will take a COVID test the day before Thanksgiving to make sure we are safe. The whole ordeal has made us appreciate how much we are grateful for the presence of family during the holidays. Consequently I have been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving and what it means to give thanks.

One of the Bible’s most well-known passages on this topic was written by Apostle Paul. He says to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Sermons on this text often follow the natural breakdown of the passage: rejoice, pray, give thanks.

The underlying theme is the word “always.” Paul says, “Rejoice always.” The word “always” is unexpected. We tend to rejoice only when good fortune comes our way. Then he tells us to “pray without ceasing.” In other words, pray always. We tend to pray only when we feel the need to do so. He says, “give thanks in all circumstances.” We all give thanks when blessings are flowing. The difference in Paul’s approach is that we are to do these three spiritual practices always.

He is not asking us to do the impossible, namely to wear a happy face all the time regardless of circumstances. He is not instructing us to shout “Praise God!” when tragedies befall us or those we love. He does not intend for us to be muttering prayers under our breath 24/7. He is not suggesting that we thank God when we witness injustice or see people in pain. In calling us to engage in these spiritual practices always, the apostle calls our attention to what is always present in the midst of the vicissitudes of life.

He is pointing us to the Divine Presence that is always here now. He is calling us to look beyond the fabric of time and space to what is eternal. He is pointing us to the Peace that dwells at the hub of the wheel of life. The wheel of life turns round and round. Sometimes it brings joy and sometimes sorrow. Sometimes pleasure and sometimes pain. Sometimes laughter and sometimes tears. “For everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes reminds us. All emotions have their appropriate time and place.

Yet at the center of all seasons of life there is a place of deep peace, joy, and gratitude that is always present. It is a deep spring from which flows living water even in the middle of an emotional desert. It is the eternal eye at the center of the storms of life. This is where God dwells, even when there is suffering and death on the surface.

Knowing this ever-present peace is “the will of God in Christ Jesus,” according to the apostle. The indwelling Christ is present in sickness and health, wealth and poverty, sadness and happiness. “I will be with you always,” said Jesus. Christ is always. The only way to “give thanks in all circumstances” is to pay attention to what is present in all circumstances. It is a matter of where you are looking.

This Gift of Eternal Presence is eternal life. It is beyond time and space. It is knowing now – and always - the Reality of the Omnipresence of God. Jesus referred to this as the Kingdom of God. This is as present in the suffering of Good Friday as in the joy of Christmas Day. It is present on Thanksgiving Day and every day. In other words it is always Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Living in an AFib World

I was feeling out of sorts recently. I didn’t have the energy to stack cordwood with my grandson one Thursday afternoon. I was dizzy, light-headed and had to rest. I felt the same way the next morning while doing chores around the house. Something wasn’t right. So we took a trip to Urgent Care. They examined me and sent me to the ER.  That was on a Friday. I did not emerge from the hospital until Monday afternoon. My hospital stay lasted exactly 72 hours.

Long story short, after many tests they discharged me with a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, often called AFib. It is a common type of heart arrhythmia, which means my heart is beating irregularly. Because I have no other risk factors besides age, my type of AFib is no big deal. My blood just needs to be thinned a bit to prevent blood clots. I was told I just had to live with the symptoms when they occur.

It seems like there are an increasingly number of ailments I have to “live with” these days. It is the geriatric theme song, “One More Thing to Live With.” Oh, the joys of aging! Anyway I had a follow-up appointment with my primary care physician a few days later, and I have an appointment with a cardiologist scheduled for next month.

During the process I learned about atrial fibrillation. AFib happens when the top chambers of the heart (the atria) beat rapidly, irregularly, and out of synch with the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles). In my case my lower heart is plugging along at a steady 70 beats or so, while the top part of my heart is dancing like it is at a rave.

My physician explained that the atria are the heart’s natural pacemaker. She compared the atria to a conductor. Normally the ventricles take their cue from the atria. That works fine when the heart is functioning as it should. But in AFib the atria start racing, and the ventricles often rush to keep pace, sending the whole heart pounding as if it is running from a predator. Fortunately my heart does not follow instructions very well. My third grade teacher said the same thing.

Being who I am, I immediately saw a spiritual analogy. The world is running at a frantic pace. Our country is in AFib. Sometimes it feels like our country is going crazy. Our minds, emotions, and bodies follow suit. That is the problem. Our brains and bodies evolved during a simpler time. They were not designed for the complex stressors of modern culture. That is the reason for the high levels of anxiety and depression in our society.

Beneath all the fury of the world – including social media and political turmoil - is the slow steady beat of the Spirit. It is the rhythm of the Song of God. It is all a matter of which rhythm you listen to. Thoreau observed, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Good advice! There are two levels of life. The upper level of emotions and thoughts are spinning out of control, while the lower level of the Spirit is doing just fine. There is no way to control outward stimuli or emotional reactions. The only other option is not to be governed by them. Let the world be as it is. Let emotions respond as they will. Let thoughts go where they will. All we need to do is keep our attention on the Spirit.

The good news is that this Spirit is the same Spirit that ultimately governs the universe. Its nature is Love. Its core is Peace. It is our Home. When our “heart” (not the physical organ but our spiritual center) is beating in rhythm with the heart of God, then all is right in our lives. That is “the peace that surpasses understanding.” That is the Kingdom of God. I say this from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Tao of Scripture

It is a well-established practice in Christianity to discern different layers of meaning in Scripture. The number of these layers have varied over the centuries, but most often four layers are identified. Likewise the labels for these layers have varied. I identify them as: literal, theological, moral, and spiritual.

Many Christians focus on the literal meaning of scripture. They insist that everything that the Bible says must be taken literally, including matters of history and science. This is the approach of fundamentalist and evangelical forms of Christianity. Their stand for “biblical inerrancy” has them down the dead end of rejecting the findings of natural and historical sciences. These Christians fight lost causes, such as a literal six-day creation and a worldwide flood.

Others see the Bible as a textbook of theological truth, which can be condensed into creeds and confessions of faith.  For these folks religion is chiefly about doctrine – believing the right things. Using a list of essential doctrines (“the fundamentals”) as their standard, they draw sharp lines between true believers and unbelievers, orthodoxy and heresy, the saved and the lost. It is a dualistic approach.

A third layer of interpretation focuses on the ethical application of scripture. Scripture is understood to be a sourcebook for morality. Christianity is about doing the right things. The religious life is understood to be primarily an ethical life. These believers see the spiritual life in terms of divine commands, laws, and moral principles. This moralistic approach leads them to see a world divided between good and evil, right and wrong, saints and sinners.

These first three layers of meaning are not mutually exclusive paths. Often the literal, theological and ethical approaches are combined into unique religious systems that define themselves in terms of carefully prescribed orthodoxy and orthopraxy. This has given birth to a myriad of religions, sects and denominations, each believing they alone have a “biblical worldview” and do God’s will.

There is a fourth way. Throughout history there have been mystics in all faith traditions who have seen a Way that transcends worldviews, beliefs, and ethics. They see a deeper meaning in Scripture. For them Scripture points beyond itself to its Source. Words are windows to the Word. The Bible is more about the Author than the autographs. Scripture bears the scent of Heaven and opens a door beyond human understanding.

This Way sees worldviews as cultural constructs. It sees doctrines as creations of the human mind. Morality is seen as more than obeying laws and applying principles. It goes beyond a relationship with God to know the intimacy of union with the Divine. It embraces dualities as parts of a greater unity. It is not about drawing lines, but abiding in the center of an ever-expanding circle with no circumference.

This mystical Way is direct awareness of the One for which all religions and spiritualties strive. It is intuitive rather than emotional or intellectual. It is experiential, yet it is not itself an experience. It is apprehension of God beyond theism, philosophy or religion.

The Tao Te Ching calls it the Tao, normally translated “the Way.” That phrase is also what that early followers of Christ called the Christian movement, according to the Acts of the Apostles.  Confucius called it the Way of Heaven. The author of the Gospel of John called it the Logos. Jesus called it the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, or simply “the Father.”

This Spiritual Reality was Jesus’ sole message. According to the Gospels most of Christ’s followers did not understand what he was saying. Consequently after Jesus’ death the Church quickly exchanged the message of Jesus for a message about Jesus. Thus began Christianity’s rapid downward spiral into secondhand religion.

This Eternal Way is at the heart of all Scriptures. Not just the holy texts of my own faith tradition but all religious traditions. Huxley called it the Perennial Philosophy, but it is not a philosophy. It is not a religion, but all spiritual practices seek it. It is not a theological system, but all doctrines point to it – some better than others. This Way is at the heart of the Scriptures. It is why I love the Bible.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

White Jesus

My wife and I just finished watching the second season of the FX television series Reservation Dogs. It follows four Native American teenagers trying to find their way on a reservation in present-day Oklahoma. It has a (nearly) all indigenous cast and is a fascinating – and at times hilarious - glimpse into today’s Native American culture.

As a pastor I found the references to spiritual beliefs and practices particularly interesting. I especially liked that the show did not take indigenous or Christian spirituality too seriously, poking fun at both along the way.

Most interesting to me were the references to Jesus.  A traditional church portrait of a fair-skinned Jesus hangs on the wall of one of the family homes. The teens repeatedly refer to Jesus and even pray to Jesus, always referring to him as “White Jesus.”

That phrase “White Jesus” called my attention to the distorted way that Jesus has been presented in America. The historical Jesus was not white, yet he has usually been pictured as Caucasian in American Christian art. Most white folks do not think this is a problem. We see nothing wrong with having a portrait of a White Jesus hanging in our churches. We like the image. It feels comfortable to us.

But imagine for a moment if every church you entered had a picture of a black African Jesus on the wall. How comfortable would you feel then?  That is how people of color feel when they are expected to worship a White Jesus.

Can you imagine Southern Baptist churches depicting a black Jesus in their stained glass windows and Sunday School material? They can’t even remove the names of slaveholders from the buildings at my alma mater - The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary! That is how tone deaf white Christians are.

White Jesus is not the real Jesus. In my sermons I have often pointed out that the historical Jesus was not a fair-skinned man with an aquiline nose, thin lips, and light brown hair, even though that is consistently how he is depicted in traditional portraits. Even recent film depictions do not go far enough in correcting this misperception. Jesus was a Sephardic Jew with dark skin. He looked more like today’s Palestinian Bedouins than Ashkenazi Jews.

In the television show Reservation Dogs the spirits of indigenous ancestors regularly show up to give advice and guide the characters. One is a warrior who died at Little Big Horn. Another is a medicine woman who walked the Trail of Tears.  There is one scene where a group of ancestors gather around one of the girls. She felt their presence and it brought her to tears. It reminded me of the “church triumphant” and the biblical “great cloud of witnesses.”

In the concluding episode of the season White Jesus finally makes an appearance, played by Incubus front man Brandon Boyd. The teens have traveled to Los Angeles to honor the wish of a deceased friend by visiting the ocean. Their car is stolen while they are in a restaurant, and they do not know where to turn for help. At that point White Jesus appears and guides them the final five miles to the beach. He gives them verbal directions and walks with them.

Jesus is a homeless man who offers to share his humble shelter in a homeless encampment for the night. The police raid the area at dawn and everyone scatters. The teens lose track of White Jesus, but they follow his directions until they reach the ocean. 

On the beach one of the teens offers a prayer, and they proceed to wade into the ocean, where they have an emotional visionary reunion with their deceased friend. The camera cuts to White Jesus on the Beach. Reminds me of the Easter story.

I loved that Jesus appeared as a homeless man, although his use of Elizabethan language is cringeworthy. I loved that these teenage sinners, whose language is consistently “salty” and whose behavior is often illegal, feel so comfortable following Jesus. At the same time they realize that White Jesus is part of the White man’s religion and culture, which is suspect because of its history with Native Americans. Yet they are open to Jesus.

The name of the show brought to my mind the gospel story of Jesus meeting an indigenous woman. She is identified as a Canaanite, who were the indigenous people of the land of Canaan. She calls out to Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus replies with what appears to be a racial epithet. His remark sounds disturbing to our modern ears, which are so sensitive to verbal insults.

Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Her reply: “Yes it is, Lord. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus then praises this woman’s “great faith” and heals the girl. I think Jesus recognized and overcame his own ethnic bigotry at that moment. Jesus learned from this encounter.

The idea that Jesus may have learned something from this indigenous woman may be controversial to Christians who think of Jesus in terms of unchanging perfection, but the Bible tells us that Jesus “grew in wisdom” and “learned obedience.” In his willingness to learn and change Jesus is our example in the spiritual life.

I don’t know if the writers of the show had this biblical scene in mind when they named the show. But I see parallels between the “reservation dogs” (which is the name the teens gave their gang) and the Canaanite woman. I see “great faith” in both. I see indigenous faith in both. I see a type of faith that White Christians with our White Jesus need to learn from – in order to overcome our racism and ethnocentrism as Jesus did. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Friday, September 30, 2022

The Gospel of Ruth

I am presently part of an online Bible Study at our church. I am not the leader, just a participant. So I get to throw in my “two cents” along with all the other two-centers. It is the first time since I retired six years ago that I am participating in a study at this church. God bless the present pastor for welcoming me!

We are studying the Old Testament book of Ruth. Ruth is a favorite of many Christians. It ordinarily presented as a love story about a righteous man who meets a virtuous woman and live happily ever after. While focusing on the romance, the radical nature of the book is often overlooked.

It is one of only two books in the Old Testament that has a woman as the main character. The other book is Esther, which was likely written at about the same time. The Book of Ruth is written from a woman’s perspective. The husbands of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, are killed off in the opening verses before we get to know anything about them. The other men – except for Boaz – are minor characters in the story.

Because it is written from a woman’s perspective, it is thought by some biblical scholars that the Book of Ruth may have been written by a woman. That would make it unique in the Bible. Of course we don’t know the book’s authorship for sure. The book is anonymous, which is what we would expect if it had been authored by a woman. If it was known to be written by a woman, it never would have made it into the canon.

Not only is the central character a woman, she is a Moabite. Moabites were the historic enemies of the Hebrews. This Moabite marries Boaz, who is the son of Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute from Jericho, a “sinner” in the eyes of religious society.  Yet the genealogy at the end of the book informs us that Ruth and Boaz were the great-grandparents of David, the greatest Jewish king.

That genealogy in the final sentence of the book is the reason Ruth was written. It reveals that foreigners were an integral part of the history of Israel. In doing so, it challenged the teaching of the Torah, which said that no descendant of a Moabite could enter the temple. Yet David had such ancestors, and his son Solomon built the temple.

The book of Ruth is “protest literature.” It was written at a time when anti-women and anti-foreigner moralists had taken over the government in Jerusalem. It is probable that the Book of Ruth was written in the fifth century BC, when Ezra was purging Israel of all foreigners – Moabites in particular.  Ezra required all Jewish men who had married foreign women to divorce them publicly and send them and their children away.

Nehemiah followed up on Ezra’s reforms with a building program to construct a wall to keep foreigners out of Jerusalem. It does not take much thinking to see parallels to policies popular in American society today. The Book of Ruth was written to challenge the narrative that religious fundamentalists were preaching. It was pointing out that if one looks into the history of Israel one can see that diversity did not threaten Israel but rather strengthened it.

I call the Book of Ruth radical. The etymology of the word “radical” means “root.” We get the English word “radish” from it. The root of true Biblical spirituality is not about building walls to keep people out but drawing the circle wider. It is not about priding ourselves on being God’s chosen people and excluding others. It is about seeing that God’s people have always included all types of people.

That is the root of the gospel of Jesus, who reached out to foreigners and sinners. Jesus declared that a Roman soldier had more faith than anyone in Israel. He said that “sinners” were entering the Kingdom of God ahead of the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were the heirs of Ezra. This is the Gospel of Ruth. It is as controversial today as it was when the Book of Ruth was written.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Living in the Moor

This summer my wife celebrated her seventieth birthday, thereby joining me in exploring the eighth decade of our lives together. I have another seventy-something birthday coming up in a few days. The other day we were chatting with a friend about this milestone of life. This friend said her mother used to call this stage of life “living in the more.”

She explained that Psalm 90 describes the human lifespan as “threescore years and ten” (seventy years) and if “by reason of strength” we are granted more, it is an added blessing. She called that additional time “living in the more.”

When she said “living in the more” I thought I heard “living in the moor.” I immediately imagined the moorland of Britain. Sherlock Holmes’ case of The Hound of the Baskervilles came to mind. In that tale a demonic hound was said to inhabit the moors. 

Dr. Watson describes the moor as “gloomy,” “sinister,” “so vast, and so barren, and so mysterious,” “like some fantastic landscape in a dream.” It is an “enormous wilderness of peat and granite,” where squalls drift across the russet face of “the melancholy downs” and “heavy, slate-coloured clouds” trail “in grey wreaths down the sides of the fantastic hills.”

Brrrr! I feel like pulling up my collar and turning down my deerstalker cap just reading about it! In a personal letter to his mother, Arthur Conan Doyle called the moor “a great place, very sad & wild.” In Wuthering Heights the moor is described as “unleashed, mad and dangerous.” Hmm! Perhaps I better go back to the Shire.

When I looked to the dictionary, it defined a moor as “a tract of open uncultivated upland; a heath.” That sounds a bit better. My experience of my seventies is very much like that. It is an uncultivated land filled with possibilities and pitfalls. There are not many roadmaps for this territory. Everyone seems to blaze their own trail. My type of place.

When they age, some people seek to relive their earlier decades, warding off old age by trying to recover their youth. It is the senior equivalent of a midlife crisis, except in our seventies we are not midway to anywhere. No one lives to be 140. 

Others retreat into the past, reliving old memories. Still others spend their later years entertaining themselves with television and small talk until the undertaker arrives. A few reinvent themselves with a “second act” or perhaps a “third act.” Good for them!

The seventies are not without their physical limitations as the body ages. Instead of going to the doctor for cures, more often we go to manage symptoms. Either that or opt for new bionic joints, which are not without their problems. 

So far I have found my seventies to be a time of spiritual adventure and discovery. In retirement the restraints of theological norms and ecclesiastical pressures are gone. I am free to be “unleashed, mad and dangerous.”

Classical India understood the latter part of life to be a time to put aside the concerns of earlier stages of life and dedicate oneself to spiritual concerns. Having spent my whole adult life in religious concerns, I find this stage to be doubly spiritual. Old dogmas fall away in the light of direct spiritual awareness. Prejudices and divisions are seen as petty exercises in egotism. There is no longer any time to waste in fear and anger. The psalmist sang:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away…. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

It is important to number our days. Whether our years be threescore years and ten or “by reason of strength” fourscore years or more, one day they will be cut off, and we will fly away. As the gospel hymn reminds us: “One glad morning, when this life is over, I'll fly away.”  In the meantime I am “living in the moor,” and I have found it to be the Kingdom of God.

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Preacher as Gadfly

Here in New Hampshire we have a healthy population of biting flies. In fact we have a season named after one variety: black fly season. It comes after mud season and before tourist season. In May and June one cannot walk down the street of our village without being swarmed.

But black flies are nothing compared to deer flies and horseflies, which can really take a chunk out of you all summer long. Biting flies hurt! They are a nuisance. For that reason I think they are a good metaphor for a preacher. Good preaching should have a bite! Preachers should function like horseflies in a congregation and community.

There is a well-known adage that the pastor’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I agree, but there is a lot of comforting going on in churches these days and very little afflicting. In this time of declining church attendance, pastors are afraid that if they engaged in prophetic preaching, pew warmers might take their checkbooks and leave. So pastors pamper the remaining church members instead of challenging them.  That is why so many adult church members have not advanced beyond Sunday School faith.

It is time for some prophetic preaching from Christian pulpits. Better yet, some Socratic preaching. Socrates famously said that his role as a philosopher was to be a gadfly, which is a generic term for all varieties of biting flies. He saw his mission as causing discomfort to his fellow Athenians. He was so successful that he was put on trial for “impiety.” He "failed to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges." The Greek word for impiety is asebeia, defined as "desecration and mockery of divine objects" and "irreverence towards the state gods." 

He was also charged with “corruption of the youth of the city-state.” The Greek word is polis, from which we get the word political. It does not take much thinking to see current applications. This reminds me of the charges brought against Jesus by Jerusalem’s religious and political leaders. Both Socrates and Jesus were found guilty of blasphemy and treason and were executed. Both could have escaped execution but chose not to.

Socrates carried out his teaching mission by the now-famous “Socratic Method.” Socrates did not provide answers. He asked questions. Lots of questions. No statement went unchallenged. He questioned every belief of his students and insisted that every assertion be backed up with evidence. This technique exposed a person’s unexamined presuppositions and assumptions. It revealed that most people live by borrowed ideas.  

Practicing this discipline of critical thinking makes us very aware of how many of our cherished beliefs have been unconsciously adopted from our families and communities, rather than tested and proven by reason.  The process of Socratic thinking is much needed in our time when conspiracy theories are rampant in America, especially in Christian churches. 

I find myself using the Socratic Method more and more in my preaching and teaching. By posing rhetorical questions while preaching and asking pointed questions when conversing, I encourage people to question everything in their spiritual and political worldview. In other words, I commit asebeia (impiety) and “corrupt the youth [and elderly] of the state” and church. I "fail to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges."

I question the false gods of all religions, especially my own Christian religion. As I said in a recent podcast episode entitled “Smashing idols,” I demolish false gods, of which there are many in American Christianity. To use the apostle Paul’s term, I “demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God….”

Not the least of Christian idolatries is bibliolatry, which is the deification of Scripture. There is also the divinization of doctrine and church tradition. Finally there is the idolizing of Jesus himself. The God worshipped in many churches is a false god fashioned in our cultural image and likeness. As the gadfly Voltaire famously said, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.”

The Socratic Method goes against the current trend of American culture. We live in a post-modern and post-truth society. There is no search for truth, just opposing self-interests. There is little self-reflection or self-examination these days. Every discussion degenerates into a debate, rather than being a shared search for deeper truth. Preaching has become polemic, and dialogue is replaced with diatribe.

Amid this decaying American culture I seek to play the role of the gadfly. Be careful! I bite! I preached a sermon recently in our community church entitled “Hiding from God,” showing how churches develop elaborate systems for hiding from Divine Truth. It is the preacher’s task to expose such self-deceptions. 

It is gadfly season in the church. It is time for some preaching with a bite. We preachers are to afflict people so they have nowhere to turn but to the Balm of Gilead, the Living God. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Footprints in the Soul

The summer drought has uncovered some interesting finds throughout the world. As waters recede, relics long hidden have been revealed. In Europe the lowered Danube River has exposed German WWII ships, complete with 10,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance. The foundation of a 2000 year-old bridge was exposed in the Tiber River near Rome. West of Madrid a 5000 year-old megalith comparable to Stonehenge came to the surface. Of more recent vintage, a receding Lake Mead has produced several human remains, perhaps reminders of Las Vegas’ mobster era.

The most interesting find comes from Texas. The drought uncovered evidence of a lost species: a Texas liberal Democrat! Only joking! Although what they found was almost as rare. The footprints of a 113 million year-old dinosaur were discovered at Dinosaur Valley State Park. The prints of the three-toed Acrocanthosaurus were found in the dry river bed of the Paluxy River, southwest of Fort Worth. They were preserved by sediments of the river.

In his novella (and movie) “A River Runs Through It,” Norman Maclean remembers the people of Big Blackfoot River in Montana. He concludes the book, “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

A mountain stream caused MacLean to ponder the “timeless raindrops” etched into stone and write his novel. As I ponder the ancient footprints of dinosaurs, I think of what can be found in ancient depths of the human soul. Some say each soul is unique, formed at birth, which means mine is a mere seven decades old. Others thinks that the human soul is at least as ancient as our species, and probably as ancient as life on earth.

In my experience the spiritual essence found in the depths of my being is older than that. It is eternal. Ecclesiastes wrote: “God has placed eternity in the heart of men, yet they cannot fathom the work that God has done from beginning to end.”

Before there was the idea of God, there was the Nameless. This is what was revealed to Moses in the burning bush. “I am that I am” explained Yahweh, when Moses’ asked God’s name. “Before Abraham was, I am,” said Jesus, thereby exposing himself to charges of blasphemy, which resulted in this execution.

The human soul bears witness to this Divine Reality. For most of our lives this Timeless Truth is hidden beneath the rushing waters of daily life. When a spiritual drought descends upon our lives in the form of the Dark Night of the Soul, the waters dry up and the soul is revealed. At those times we can see the footprints of God etched across its surface.

Our human soul bears evidence of its ancient and divine origin. The soul (if you want to use that term) is older than we are, existing long before our birth. It is older than the human race, older than mammals, older than the dinosaurs that roamed Texas, older than the first one-celled organism that was born from earth’s primeval ocean. Older than the Earth, our solar system and our galaxy. Older than the Big Bang that formed the universe.

Its human form is just the most recent expression of this ancient Reality. Some want to give this Ultimate Reality a name and build a religion around it. Some people want to claim this ancient Truth as their sole possession, with them as the sole spokesmen and apostles. I harbor no such fantasy. This is bigger than my religion or my human race.

I am nothing in comparison, no more than a rain drop in the mud. No more than an eddy in an earthly river. Yet my roots go deep into this ancient bedrock. From it I draw upon the waters of life. This is my life. This alone is real. All else is as transient as footprints in the mud, even if those footprints are hardened into rock that lasts 113 million years.

Dinosaur fossils will melt away in time. Our human species will disappear, as longer-lived species have died out before us. Our names, nations, cultures and religions will be forgotten, but the Nameless One is eternal. To find ourselves in this Nameless One is to find our true selves. That is what the Bible means by being found “in Christ.”

Droughts are difficult times, but they can reveal priceless treasure, if we keep our eyes open. This is what Jesus called the “pearl of great price,” and “treasure hidden in the field.” It is worth all we possess, even our lives, if we are willing to pay that price. Why not? As Jim Eliot famously said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Beyond Relationship with God

Many Christians talk about having a relationship with God. Evangelicals in particular speak of the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They usually say this begins when one “receives Jesus into your heart” or “accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior.”

Evangelicals frequently distinguish themselves from mainline Protestants and Catholics by saying that these other groups have religion, but “born again” believers have a relationship with God, and that makes all the difference. The slogan goes something like this: “It is not a religion. It is a relationship” or “It is not about religion; it is about a relationship with God.”

I go one step further. I say, “It is not about religion or relationship. It is about realization.” By “realization” I am referring to waking up to the Spiritual Reality that Jesus called the Kingdom of God. Jesus referred to this as being “born of the Spirit” and “born again,” by which he meant something very different from the evangelical conversion experience. Jesus also called it eternal life, which is likewise very different from popular Christianity’s fantasy of a heavenly theme park.

Mainline and Evangelical Christianity may be fine as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough. There is nothing wrong with religion when it is psychologically and socially healthy religion. Likewise there is nothing wrong with having a relationship with God when it is a healthy relationship. But there is more to the spiritual life than a relationship. 

You have heard the saying, “The good is the enemy of the best.” A relationship with God can be the enemy of the best. Jesus invited this followers to go beyond religion and relationship to realization.

According to the Gospel of John, on the night before his death Jesus offered a lengthy prayer, which is often referred to as his High Priestly Prayer. First he prayed for himself, and then he prayed for his apostles. Finally Jesus prays “not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” He is talking about his followers in future generations. This is what he prays for us:

“that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Jesus says we are meant to know the same oneness with God as he knew. Jesus is talking about more than having a closer walk with God. He is speaking of transcending relationship. He is speaking about union with God, which is something Christian mystics – East and West - have always said is possible. Eastern Orthodoxy has long taught this truth, calling it theosis.

Jesus wanted us to have more than a relationship with God or himself. He wanted us to know union with God like he knew it. He promised that we would “participate in the divine nature,” as the Epistle of Second Peter describes it. 

Union with God does not negate a relationship with God; it transcends and fulfills it. It is analogous to Jesus saying he came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. Realization of oneness with God fulfills both religion and relationship.

There is more to the spiritual life than most  churches teach. Christian spirituality is more than religion or relationship. It is realization of oneness with God. Jesus prayed that we might know this oneness. The First Letter of John says that if we pray anything according to the will of God, it will be done. Jesus prayed according to the will of God, and his prayer has been answered. Now it is just a matter of realizing this union with God in our lives. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Death of God Revisited

I recently received the new (July 27) issue of The Christian Century. The cover story is about the end of the Roe era. The other topic highlighted on the cover is “Revisiting the Death of God Movement.” The essay inside is entitled “Is God Still Dead? The Legacy of 1960s Radical Theology,” written by Lloyd Steffen, chaplain at Lehigh University. The issue also contains an autobiographical piece entitled “When My Dad Killed God” by Don Hamilton, son of the Death of God theologian Bill Hamilton. Reading these articles was an exercise in nostalgia.

I remember when God died. The death of God changed my life. It made me into the Christian pastor I am today. When Time magazine published its iconic red and black 1966 cover with the words “Is God Dead?” I was a teenager struggling with my family’s Christian faith. At the time I was in a Methodist-related school taking a Philosophy of Religion class with our school chaplain. He brought the Time article to class, and we discussed what it meant to say that God was dead.

I entered Denison University (at the time a Baptist affiliated college) in 1968 planning to have a career in science. I took an introductory religion course to satisfy the liberal arts requirement. David O. Woodyard, Dean of the Chapel, was teaching the course. He had just published a book entitled Living Without God, Before God.  In the class he surveyed the works of radical theologians Thomas J. J. Altizer, William Hamilton, Gabriel Vahanian, and Paul van Buren. The course turned my life around. A year later I had switched my major to Religion.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Death of God Movement brought me to God. The chief concern in the 1960’s was how to do theology in a post-WWII, post-Holocaust era. In the Religion department we thought long and deep about the problems of evil and suffering. We debated Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity.” We discussed Elie Wiesel and Viktor Frankl. We read Niebuhr and Barth, Brunner and Buber, Tillich and Heschel. I was hooked. After graduation I went to seminary.

How does the death of God lead a man to a life of professional Christian ministry? For me Death of God theology was the first taste of religion that took existential problems seriously. It offered no easy answers; it was willing to go wherever truth led. It was utterly honest at a time when institutional religion seemed shallow, judgmental and hypocritical. For example, Death of God theologian Bill Hamilton lost his job as a professor at Colgate Rochester Divinity School (a seminary related to my American Baptist denomination) because of his theological and intellectual honesty.

If you are not familiar with the radical theologians of the 1960’s, there is not room enough in this brief essay to fill you in. I will simply say that the Death of God is likely not what you think it is, or what most church people in the 1960’s thought it was. It is about the death of theism, both fundamentalist and liberal varieties. Neither camp has yet come to grips with the obituary a half century later. It was the death of the “god of the gaps,” the demise of a shrinking deity whose only job was to fill in the remaining gaps in the answers science offered about the nature and origin of the universe.

The death of God movement was about going beyond words and ideas, beyond institutional religion and spiritual fads. The death of God led me to the Christian mystics while still an undergraduate. After seminary graduation I was lured into the wilderness of evangelical Christianity for a few decades, but eventually I returned to my spiritual roots to deconstruct my religion and rediscover God beyond God, to use Meister Eckhart’s phrase. I have chronicled this theological journey in my books Thank God for Atheists and Experiencing God Directly.

There is a well-known Buddhist saying: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” This is not really a call to assassinate a spiritual leader. Similarly the death of God is not really about deicide. It is about dethroning idols and intellectually dismantling the religions built around them. One cannot see clearly until one’s idols are dead and buried. This iconoclastic quest led me to the Eternal Christ. That is what the Death of God did for me. 

Friday, July 15, 2022

Galactic Spirituality

The heavens leave me in awe. I am not talking about the celestial abode of a Hebraic male deity sitting on a celestial throne surrounded by angels. I am talking about the scientific images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope released this week by NASA.

The fact that this new telescope is one million miles away is itself amazing. The recent photos taken by this instrument bring me to my knees. Viewing these pictures of nebulae and galaxies has the same effect on me as any religious vision described by Isaiah or Ezekiel. Modern astronomy is a spiritual experience.

The first image unveiled by President Biden on July 11 was revelatory. The deep field image enlarges a portion of sky about the size of a grain of sand when held at arm’s length. Take a moment to demonstrate that for yourself and notice how small this field of view is.

Thousands of galaxies are visible within this tiny segment of the heavens. William Blake could “see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower.” We can see galaxies. Every tiny speck in the photo is a galaxy containing a hundred billion stars and countless worlds. If that many galaxies are visible in a field the size of a grain of sand, just imagine how many galaxies there are in the entire universe!

The feeling I get when pondering such wonders can only be described as religious awe. Witnessing stars being born in the in the Carina Nebula is akin to the magi witnessing the Star of Bethlehem. Seeing stars dying in the Southern Ring Nebula is like being present at the Cross. Watching Stephan’s Quintet of galaxies dancing in the heavens is Pentecostal. I feel honored to be part of a generation that can witness this miracle.

Astronomer Carl Sagan famously said that humans are the universe conscious of itself. That quote came to mind when I saw these newest photos. While viewing these images I was the universe conscious of itself. I was not observing distant objects out in space. I was looking in the mirror. These are me. These are us. The Webb pictures are selfies.

Sagan explained that the elements that make up our bodies were literally formed in stars. He called us “star stuff.” He said, “The cosmos is within us.” He sounds more like a mystic than an astronomer.  

Human consciousness emerged from these elements through the same evolutionary process that formed the heavenly bodies. It is the same process that undoubtedly formed intelligent life on other planets. Once again Sagan said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

When I was younger I used to gaze into the heavens on clear night and feel small. The universe seemed so big, and I felt so small. My lifespan seemed no more than that of a mayfly compared to the 13.8 billion years of the universe. Now when I look into the starry heavens I feel big. I am billions of years old! I feel ageless.  

This human psyche that calls itself Marshall Davis is not ageless. It is a temporary phenomenon, an ephemeral fiction created by the brain, a brief whirlpool in the river of time, a blip in the cosmic drama. My essence – our essence – is as old as the universe. Older than the universe.

I look into the heavens, and I see God. No need to go in search of God in creeds and rituals. God is here now! Look and see. This is cosmic spirituality. Adherents of earthly religions can fight over political turf within nations and among nations, but the God of the cosmos has more galactic things in mind. If you have any doubt about that, just look through the Webb Telescope and watch galaxies collide.

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.