Pondering & Wondering…an eclectic series of thoughts

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For some time those who follow religious trends have heard from Phyllis Tickle, and most recently Diana Butler Bass addressing a new awakening within the religious landscape in United States.  Both thinkers suggest religion is on the brink of something new which will eventually bring about a fresh new understanding of faith in our time. Oxford church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch suggests that throughout its long history, Christianity has managed to reinvent itself, adapting to new challenges morphing into a new existence. At present I wonder if we experiencing an awakening, or are we caught within a theological nightmare, unable to forge a new understanding because we can’t figure out what path to take?

A wise professor in seminary offered his concise subtext for the Hebrew Bible suggesting that the reason for its writing was to demonstrate why they (the Hebrew people) failed. What started out as a loving relationship with (notice I said with) God eventually dissipated into a misguided history of power, greed, and personal gain. One reason the writings found within the Old Testament remain is that the words continue to speak to faithful communities because humanity continues to deal with the effects of power, greed, and personal gain.

Great thinkers such as the late Marcus Borg, and John Dominic Crossan teach, among other things, by looking at socioeconomic, and anthropological underpinnings found within the early Christian movement we can recapture a better understanding of what Christianity is meant to be; something more than a promise of prosperity, the naming of sins, or telling people how to think, and act. In 325 C.E. Christianity entered the religious landscape as Empire itself, with the original message dedicated to socioeconomic change clouded by power, greed and personal gain.

Christianity, at its most basic level, is a gathering of people meeting over a shared meal dedicated to an effort bringing about a just world filled with diverse mutuality.With recent events in Baltimore, and other cities feeding an escalation of violence, with religious groups fighting for dominance with regard to marriage, and the continued disparity between rich and poor….I wonder about the church, and it’s crop of teachings which may have contributed to failures within society, inadvertently supporting socioeconomic realities, and the continuation of violence both physical, and verbal. I wonder:

  • Has the church spent far too much time teaching about an after life, when we should have stressed justice and peace in this life?
  • Has the church wasted too much energy arguing about creation myths when we should have been teaching faithful stewardship of our planet?
  • Has the church focused far too much time, energy and theology about who is in or out, when we should have placed greater energy celebrating diversity and mutuality?
  • Has the church taught a vertical hierarchical model when it should have stressed a linear-circular reality?

Before outreach can become effective, maybe it’s time for in-reach; a reexamination of the Rabbi from Nazareth who taught a monotheistic message of diverse mutuality, equal distribution, devotion to neighbor,  and good will towards all. Maybe the true teaching of the church might be to take back the world from power hungry, greedy bullies. Maybe its time to think of worship as a means of support for progressive action, enabling a gentle transformation, and subtle modulation of each local community around a church, focusing on the resurrection of human understanding and dignity for all.

Easter for the 21st Century

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Palm-Cross

On the last Sunday in Lent, I preached about domination, and the symbol of the cross. I compared the lives of Jesus of Nazareth living under the domination of Rome, with Archbishop Oscar Romero, living under the domination of a the ruling elite, and military dictatorship in El Salvador. The comparison is but a jumping off point as it speaks to all forms of domination be it in the workplace, within our cities, governments, or society.

During Lent at St. George’s, we only use the frame of our cross, here you see it pictured above from our Palm Sunday service.  I directed people to look at the space inside the cross frame…..it’s nothing but air; and that’s what God thinks of those who dominate. I think it provides an important metaphor: Domination systems come and go; to God they are nothing but air.

The form of the cross represents human suffering at the hands of things which dominate our lives. The cross frame reminds us that we, who may suffer from forms of domination, are to take part, with God, in the transformation of the world.

If, on Easter Sunday, we merely shout, “He is Risen”, we are only talking about resuscitation. Resurrection, on the other hand, speaks of global transformation without a system of domination, breaking free from the chains preventing us from living into fullness.

How?

It was Oscar Romero who said, “You can, you are.”

Indiana’s Slippery Slope

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Indiana-Flag-blog

A little over two thousand years ago a radical religious teacher organized a protest designed to mock and malign an authoritarian occupying force holding his country hostage. So one day, just after the military governor rode into the city on his great war horse ahead of his soldiers, the radical religious grassroots leader rode into the city on a donkey with his people waving palms instead of spears. He did this to tell the authoritarian occupying force that they may have control, but they only do so because they are bullies. He and his followers staged a non-violent protest ridiculing their power by force.

The next day he made his way into the courtyard of a large religious institution to a common area which served as a way for merchants to sell items used for worship. His goal was to disrupt religious practices that day to show the rest of the people that the leaders of this institution had collaborated with foreign invaders pointing out that they had become mere puppets of those at the top of political power, and that a hierarchy of authority had become an idol surpassing that of God. He taught that God’s message was to call all people into unity.

Their leader was an accomplished community organizer because he knew he could not do things alone. One of the names for his movement was called “The Way”, and he trained and sent his people out into various communities to start small conclaves to show that they were not forgotten, that they were loved, and that his people would serve their needs, not rule over them. He showed that the message of God was about community, not authority. He taught that they should love God with heart, soul and strength, and to be committed to their neighbor’s well being.

He pissed off both the occupying army governor, and the ruling class but since he staged his protests with lots of people, he thought he might get away with his demonstrations, but his plan was thwarted by one of his students. He was captured, and eventually executed by the government. These are some of the events many churches in the land will focus on in what is known as Holy Week; the time between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday on April 5.

I hope this overview exposes the blatant falsehood surrounding the creation of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by  Gov. Mike Pence. Just as in the early first century, religious authority was used as a means to circumvent the well being of people, this act signed into law sets into motion all manner of ways people can use personal belief as a means to idolize bigotry in the name of God. Read More

Mindful Walking, Mindful Lent

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Today is Ash Wednesday, a time when people of the Christian faith begin a 40 day journey culminating in the events of Holy Week leading to the celebration of Easter. Lent is a time when some people give up something which most times has nothing to do with a spiritual discipline, but merely a way to justify a 40 day diet which may or may not drop a few pounds off our frame. Some people give up sugar, or Facebook, or some other thing which for each individual has attained some form of pleasure.

Within modern spiritual practice, individuals sometimes take on something which may include a book study, or donating time to a worthy charity. Some decide to take a few moments in the day to sit quietly and seek inner peace while others may take on a new health regimen, or look to Lent as a short term variance based upon a New Year’s resolution almost forgotten.

Walking Feb. 17 2015This week our Mindful Walking reflection came from Albert Einstein as he spoke about imagination, he wrote, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

I think these are appropriate words to kick off Lent as they challenge our notions of what reality is, and what’s contained within our private value system. Knowledge is relative to our personal experiences, but imagination suggests there is something more, a deeper and wider tomorrow promising a revelatory experience much more intense than first imagined.

Maybe a good Lenten practice might be to reacquaint oneself with our imagination, and see where it leads, and what our imagination says to our inner being. Maybe our imagination might spark new insights to truths we have refused to acknowledge because they may not fit into a tiny box we call reality.

Imagination allows our mind to soar, reaching new horizons, offering a momentary glimpse to see what’s at the end of the rainbow, or beyond the edge of the earth. Imagination allows a chance to open our spiritual door not only to acknowledge things seen, but things unseen as well.

Ted Kennedy’s eulogy for his slain brother Bobby quotes an adage which sums up the power of imagination:

“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”

Walking Descanso

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Mindful Walking: February 3, 2015

Nicholas Sparks from At First Sight wrote:

“Does trust have to be earned, or is it simply a matter of faith?”

 I must be honest. To earn trust, at least for me, was a troubling thought because I could not recall setting up a criterion for trust? The more I walked, and pondered, I came to realize that trust is an outward growth from the experiential. Out of an on-going experience grows a sense of trust, and from a trust one can define a feeling which could be associated with faith.

During my walk I looked over to my right and discovered a path leading up a hill. There was a small fork allowing for two routes, one to an open tree spotted meadow with the other leading higher still. After a brief look at the open area where a tree had fallen (which seemed a sensible pictorial metaphor for the reflection question) I opted to walk the steeper path.

Midful Walking Feb. 3-15The path I took began to climb upward. Looking up I could see that    the trail would end at a fence. Once I reached the border of the garden I came across another sign with an arrow pointing to the right. The sign simply read “trail.” Curious, I walked this trail which was a bit more rugged at first. At one point I had to stoop very low to squeeze under a branch blocking my way. In time it turned out to be a beautiful simple trail arching to a small ridge overlooking the gardens, allowing me to scope out the hillside below. As I looked up I could see the glorious Angeles Crest Mountain Range; the blue sky accentuating the mountains in the distance. Below I could view the green flora, alone amongst a blanket of coastal oak shrubs.

My question was answered.

Trust, indeed, grows from experience. When I got up the hill and found the sign pointing in the direction of a new trail, I had to trust that the persons who planned the walking path knew what they were doing, and that it would lead me back to where I could continue my walking experience unfettered, back into the body of the gardens. Yes, the walk brought a few slight twists and turns with minor difficulties, but nothing I could not handle, yet the effort presented a stunning view, and garnished a new insight; trust feeds faith, if we are willing to risk.

Guns and Violence

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swords into plowshares My life partner is Japanese, and each time we are confronted with news of a shooting claiming the lives of    innocent people, he says that he cannot understand the United States preoccupation with guns. For him, and the rest of society born after World War Two, Japanese culture is a society raised to see the use of firearms as something repugnant to civilization. In Japan, no one would think of owning a gun let alone shooting it for pleasure, hunting or violence. This ideal stems from the lessons learned from a time when warmongers attached significance within a deep rooted ideal forged by aggressive confrontational nationalism.

Like many who have followed the story breaking from CSUSB, we have listened to anguished parents search for answers as to why their children were murdered, and how an obviously disturbed young man could easily purchase weapons and ammunition used to inflict harm upon innocent victims.

When murders of this magnitude take place, the cry for solutions is clear and normally pointed towards legislators, and their inability to pass laws or ordinances to make it more difficult for these types of atrocities to occur. People wonder why an obviously distraught and mentally ill individual would be allowed to purchase weapons. Clearly there is room for thoughtful and direct legislation, but these types of laws can’t and won’t lead society to the promise of transformation.

Like the Japanese, transformation begins with the realization that we, as a people, are no longer interested in firearms as a means toward our identity as individuals and a nation. Transformation begins when we realize that freedom is more than an opportunity for self-indulgence and that self-indulgence brings about confrontational nationalism. Freedom allows us to look toward the common good and safety of our neighbors. Freedom means that we realize when one person bites and devours another, we risk falling into a mindset which will eventually devour and consume each other as enemies.

As we point the finger at others, let us begin by holding up a mirror to look at ourselves. Do we seek good or evil? If we seek good, how can we as a people transform a nation consumed with guns into a nation consumed with offering help to our neighbors?

If we learn from Japan, we could uplift our nation in two generations, but only if we decide we must and only if we are able to seek good over evil.

Postcards from the Wilderness: Week 7 (Home)

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[wil·der·ness] noun  (1) : a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) : an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community. (3) :a confusing multitude or mass.

 Week7

Sometimes leaving the wilderness requires time for reentry with moments spent in thoughtful awareness. The road home affords a chance to enter into moments of discernment to decide what insights to bring back, or dismissing thoughts delegated to remain amongst the leaves, dedicated to autumn’s compost.  Thoughts discarded as unimportant can sometimes be more insightful than easy revelations manufactured by beauty. Seven weeks in the wilderness, nights alone with nature’s breath, the pulse of the earth echoing our secret respiration can teach, and inspire, bringing new resolve to make known guarded truths kept under lock and key. Time in the wilderness is more than renewal, or a chance for the hum of civilization to take a rest. The wilderness shouts blatant truths. The wilderness with its truth is a gift offering a chance to be fully alive.

What does being fully alive mean to you, and how might this be made known away from the truths found in nature?

Postcards from the Wilderness: Week 5 (Darkness)

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[wil·der·ness] noun  (1) : a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) : an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community. (3) :a confusing multitude or mass.

week-5

Darkness

In the wilderness when the moon is hidden, and clouds cover the stars, darkness is no longer an aid to beauty, or a means to appreciate the night…it can become an adversary. An idyllic location, a lyrical blend of nature during the day can turn into a menacing oracle of gloom when darkness eats away at the security of the day. Darkness fuels insecurity. Darkness feeds doubt. Darkness crumbles hope to the extent that any remaining positive prayers speak to the return of security founded in the warming rays of the sun; the morning’s yawn of promise. Darkness, however, can echo’s our spirit’s ability for buoyancy because without darkness, brightness can deplete all energy expelled during the day. Darkness can be scary, but it can also expose a deeper meaning towards a fuller, more balanced existence.

What does darkness, in all its forms, say to you?

Postcards from the Wilderness: Week 4 (Sounds)

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[wil·der·ness] noun  (1) : a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) : an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community. (3) :a confusing multitude or mass.

week-4

 Sounds

In the wilderness, without the consistent destructive hum of ambient noise, sounds are amplified to the point where they become life; a life within the center of a moment. Once while sleeping in a tent in the Yosemite Valley, John Muir heard the ache and groan of the earth, the sound of a rumble shouting through the ground. Then, as though the world had awoken from a deep sleep, the earth began to shake.  Muir, running from his tent stood amongst the granite, and the tall woods bending and snapping screaming, “O Glorious Quake!” He was not afraid, and he rejoiced with nature. The brook sang its tune as branches snapped and swayed; the ground danced its reveille, and Muir shouted with joy. Why did he cherish nature’s sounds as words, and why do we cower at the thought of nature making itself known? Could it be that he had submitted his personal will to nature’s glory, and we try with all our might to subordinate nature to our will?

What do nature’s pure sounds say to you, and how would you respond?

Postcards from the Wilderness: Week 3 (Impermanence)

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[wil·der·ness] noun  (1) :  a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) :  an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community. (3) : a confusing multitude or mass.

week-3

Impermanence

In the wilderness stars come to life with clouds of radiance shining brightly above our heads. Stars light the sky beyond the horizon reflecting agelessness, returning night after night a beacon of permanence. Stars in the night sky were here long before us. Before humankind could grunt an emotion, these same stars looked upon our evolution. Name a person in history and we can say with assurance that we in our century share a common witness. Stars, however, have a life span…and who’s to say that the light we think we share is merely a reflection of a star long dead sharing it’s memory of life through the timelessness of space; the impermanence of reality, the permanence we think we know might rest in the unknown.

How does impermanence walk with the spirit, and what does it say?


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