Marriage

April 19th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Gender and Sexuality: Week 1
Richard Rohr
Thursday, April 19, 2018

What is marriage and what is its purpose? As a priest, who has tried to be faithful to my vow of celibacy, I may not be the most qualified to comment, but I feel a responsibility to clarify some of the confusion and misunderstanding that have led to pain, exclusion, and often abuse.
Again, I’m borrowing from Diarmuid O’Murchu’s insights on gender and sexuality within a historical context. For a full explanation (with rich footnotes), please see his excellent book Incarnation: A New Evolutionary Threshold. From the Aristotelian perspective, “human sexuality is defined as a biological capacity for the procreation of human life. It is a biological imperative, existing solely for one purpose, namely human reproduction. And it seems to belong primarily to the male . . .” [1] as we saw yesterday.
O’Murchu continues:
The ensuing sexual morality considered all other forms of sexual expression to be contrary to nature and sinful in the eyes of God. And since procreation was the primary goal, any suggestion of pleasure or human fulfillment from sexual intimacy was considered an aberration.
From a Catholic perspective it is worthy of note that marriage was not elevated to the status of a sacrament till the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Going back to the time of the Roman Empire, most Christians were married in the same way as pagans, in common-law or “free” marriages. Christians were usually married in simple public ceremonies without any license or written agreement. Later on, after the reign of the Christian Emperor, Justinian (527-565), Christians were married in more formal civil ceremonies . . . ; though prayers and blessings were sometimes added to the ceremony, marriage was not a sacrament of the Church and it did not directly involve the Church. . . . Only after the Council of Trent was a ceremony compulsory for Roman Catholics. [2]
During and after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Catholic Church seemed to realize the inadequacy of the Greek view of marriage—solely for procreation—and began to recognize another obvious element to the definition of marriage: intimacy and mutual support. Unfortunately, institutions have a hard time keeping up with such an evolution of thought, even though this is rather obvious. O’Murchu sees this time characterized by “the paradoxical mix of breakdown and breakthrough”:
Sexual abuse flared on several fronts, often involving children, adolescents and vulnerable adults. Sexual deviancy, promiscuity and the extensive spread of pornography were deemed to be the primary culprits. Virtually nobody named—and still fail to do so—the explosion of sexual repression, buried deep in the human psyche over several previous centuries. It is the legacy of that repression that still continues to haunt our contemporaries, and particularly those of a religious background. Responsible incarnational redress will not be forthcoming till that deep psychic woundedness is acknowledged, named, and subjected to a more discerning and compassionate analysis. [3]
Conservatives are so afraid of false expression (and they are right), and liberals are so afraid of unhealthy repression (and they are right), that it is going to take us a while to discover our sexual center and balance.

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April 19, 2018
Under Construction
Jenny Calvert (Texas)

 

Unless the Lord builds the house, those 
who build it labor in vain. – Psalm 127:1 (NRSV)

Our home has been under construction for quite some time now. We have taken down walls and ceilings. But many of the changes have been internal improvements that do not show, such as replacing pipes and electrical wiring. We know that the internal changes, although not seen, make for a better, stronger, and safer home.
This reminds me of Paul in today’s reading. He writes about being persecuted, afflicted, and struck down, but not destroyed or forsaken, so that the invisible Christ within us — and the promise in his resurrection — can become visible to the world. Ever since the day I claimed my faith in Christ, I also have been in a reconstruction period. Little by little, Christ has molded, replaced, and made new my spirit. Because he loves me enough to do this, I am able to hold up under the pressures of this world.
Reconstruction is hard, messy work. But the finished product will be well worth it all. If we are willing to let Christ renew us day by day — painful as it may be at times — we know that in the end we will become better, stronger, and more effective witnesses. In God’s care we can feel secure that God wants only good for us, not harm, and that we can look forward to a bright future with hope. (See Jer. 29:11.)

Today’s Prayer

God of hope, help us not to fight the changes we need to make as we are transformed into Christ’s image. In his name we pray. Amen.

Gender and Sexuality: Week 1

April 18th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Gender and Sexuality: Week 1

The Essential Self and the Passing Self
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

As I shared in my meditations on human bodies the last two weeks, Western Christianity owes our separation of body and spirit to Greek philosophy much more than to Scripture or Jesus. Social psychologist Diarmuid O’Murchu suggests that Plato and Aristotle are primarily responsible for our binary view of gender and the idea that gender and sexuality are “biologically ingrained, and determined by God, the creator of the natural order.” Over the next few days, I’ll summarize some of O’Murchu’s helpful insights from his recent book, Incarnation: A New Evolutionary Threshold.

O’Murchu outlines the “norms” with which we are all no doubt familiar:

Men are supposed to be rational, assertive, tough, and focused on material success; women are supposed to be more emotional, modest, tender, and concerned with a nurturing quality of life. According to that same philosophy, the male is superior in strength, wisdom and fertility; the woman provides the passive, receptive incubator to fertilize the male seed and assure the continuance of the human race. [1]

This was not always the case. Many ancient peoples treated men and women in a much more egalitarian way. Our current binary roles can be traced back to the Agricultural Revolution. These gender stereotypes are socially constructed behaviors and attributes that differ by culture, rather than absolute truths or tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. [2] Many cultures identify a third or even fourth gender. The Bible often refers to “eunuchs” (see Isaiah 56:4-5 and Matthew 19:12, for instance) which may or may not have included people that today might identify as transgender, bisexual, intersex, gay, or lesbian.

Modern scholars tell us, O’Murchu writes, that “how we experience ourselves as male or female is largely the result of learned conditioning.” Our different biological features are “secondary to our identity.” Both sex and gender are “fluid concepts that exist along a spectrum, rather than as fixed binaries determined by biology or genetic imprinting.” [3] In spiritual terms, gender is an attribute of

the “false” or passing self, and is thus not one’s essential identity in God. The “True Self” or “Anchored Self” is beyond gender, which is probably the point Jesus is making when he says in heaven there is no marriage or giving in marriage (Luke 20:35).

Several weeks ago, in the Daily Meditations, I explored Evolution, a concept many Christians tend to dismiss or fight. [4] A view of Creation as static and unchanging has not served us well when it comes to our own bodies and the way we treat others. An evolving universe gives us the freedom to be surprised and change our minds when reality doesn’t match our preconceived notions. It allows growth and change.

Aristotle believed humans were superior to all other life forms because we are capable of rational—dualistic—thinking. And he thought that men had stronger rational abilities than women, thereby making men more important and powerful. Yet rational thinking is not the only or even best way of knowing! While it’s certainly helpful, the critical mind can’t fully comprehend the most meaningful issues in life like God, love, sexuality, grace, suffering, and death. For that we need contemplative, nondual consciousness, which is much more like intuitive knowing.

As we become more aware that arbitrary categories of male and female don’t fully describe human experience (for example, that of transgender people), we must look at reality with more compassionate eyes. The Gospel skips over gender and sexuality as arbitrary and passing. Gender is not the essential self, but merely a pathway to wholeness. The Gospel says I am a precious, beautiful being created in God’s image and likeness—and we all share this identity equally and in common. This totally levels the playing field of humanity. This is why I cannot give up on Christianity.

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April 18, 2018
Called by Name
Colin Harbach (Cumbria, England)

I have called you by name; you are mine. – Isaiah 43:1 (CEB)

The day’s news brought another image of refugees. I had seen many scenes of distraught people huddled together on their perilous sea journey or their long march to safety and new life. This time it was an image of a crowd pressing against an impassable razor-wire fence. Then, over the commentator’s voice, I heard someone call, “Zaria!” Suddenly I no longer saw a crowd but a group of individual people. Like Zaria, each one has his own personal story, her own experiences of horror, fear, loss, pain, and sacrifice, as well as hopes, faith, and loves.

Jesus taught us that while God’s love is for the whole world, it is also very personal. In today’s reading Jesus likened God to the perfect shepherd who knows each sheep by name. God will suffer for and with each one to ensure no one is lost.

From that day on, my prayers have changed. I no longer pray, “Lord, help refugees,” but “Lord, take into your loving care Zaria and every other refugee and asylum-seeker like her.” No longer do my prayers come from impersonal concern, but from intimate compassion — closer to the way God loves
each of us.

Today’s Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, give us your compassion to share the pain and joy of individuals in a crowded world of injustice until all our prayers are acts of love. Amen.

 

Gender and Sexuality

April 17th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Gender and Sexuality: Week 1

Reuniting Our Separated Selves
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The body is a sacrament . . . a visible sign of invisible grace. . . . All our inner life and intimacy of soul longs to find an outer mirror. It longs for a form in which it can be seen, felt, and touched. The body is the mirror where the secret world of the soul comes to expression. The body is a sacred threshold; and it deserves to be respected, minded, and understood in its spiritual nature. . . . The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. [See 1 Corinthians 6:19.] —John O’Donohue [1]

How we relate to one thing is probably how we relate to everything. How we relate sexually to ourselves and others is a good teacher for how we relate to God (and how we relate to God is an indicator of how we will relate to everything else). Religion, as its root re-ligio (to “re-ligament”) indicates, is the task of putting our divided realities back together: human and divine, male and female, heaven and earth, sin and salvation, mistake and glory, matter and spirit. This is the task of every human life.

The mystics—including many faithful lovers, parents, friends, and artists—are those who reconnect what has been separated and experience deep intimacy and union with God, self, and others. “Sinners” are those who keep everything divided and never enjoy things in their wholeness. When we only relate to parts instead of wholes, we can make terrible mistakes, and we all do this in one way or another.

The Muslim mystic, Shams-ud-din Mohammad Hafiz (c. 1320-1389), wrote Persian poetry with such intimacy between human love and divine love that the reader often loses the awareness of which is which. Consider this poem inspired by Hafiz, “You Left a Thousand Women Crazy”:

Beloved,
Last Time
When you walked through the city
So beautiful and so naked,

You left a thousand women crazy
And impossible to live with.

You left a thousand married men
Confused about their gender.

Children ran from their classrooms,
And teachers were glad you came.

And the sun tried to break out
Of its royal cage in the sky
And at last, and at last,
Lay its Ancient Love at Your feet. [2]

Yes, the poet is talking about God’s abundant presence walking through the streets, but his images come from human fascinations and feelings. Yes, he is talking about seething human desire, but he is also convinced that it is a sweet path to God.

Why has this integration, this coincidence of seeming opposites, occurred with relative rarity within Christianity? One would think that if there were any religion that would have most welcomed this connection, it would have been Christianity. After all, we believe that God became a living human body through the Incarnation in Jesus.

If we don’t recognize the sacred at the deep level of gender identity and sexual desire, I don’t know if we will be able to see it anywhere else. When Christians label LGBTQIA [3] individuals as inherently sinful or disordered, we hurt these precious people and limit ourselves. Fear of difference creates a very constricted, exclusive, and small religion and life—the very opposite of the abundance into which God invites us.

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April 17, 2018
Every Good Thing
Pam Manners (New Jersey)

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. . . . Those who fear him lack nothing. . . . Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. – Psalm 34:8-10 (NIV)

Over the years, my neighborhood has become home to a rather large stray-cat population. Several of us within the community provide clean drinking water and fresh food for these cats daily so they’re well fed and not tearing apart everyone’s garbage in search of a meal.

It has worked well, with the exception of one cat we call Smokey. Though I’ve seen Smokey eating from various food bowls often enough, he continues to tear through trash bags and to drink dirty water from gutters and puddles.

Once, in frustration, as I caught him feasting from a neighbor’s trash, I yelled out, “Smokey! Why are you messing with that garbage when I’ve got something so much better for you here?” Not long afterward, I wondered to myself how many times God has asked me that very same question.

God has so much better to offer us — the best there is! In Psalm 34:8, we’re invited to “taste and see that the LORD is good.” Yet for various reasons we keep picking through life’s garbage. Maybe it’s time to leave the trash where it belongs and joyfully come to the table where God has every good thing waiting for us.

Today’s Prayer
Faithful God, help us to joyfully receive every good thing you have prepared for us. Amen.

Bodies on the Line

April 13th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Bodies on the Line

Richard Rohr
Friday, April 13, 2018

Your body is not an isolated, separate entity. We are our truest selves only in community—with our ancestors (carrying their stories and DNA), our natural environment, and our neighbors. We hold the mystery of transformation, “making up in our own body what still has to be undergone by Christ for the sake of the larger body” (Colossians 1:24). We are not in this alone, and our unique gift is essential to make the Body of Christ whole.
Today Barbara Holmes continues reflecting on the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLMM) and their evolving, embodied way of fighting for justice:
As the millennials will tell you, “This is not your grandmother’s Civil Rights Movement.” They are right. Although both the CRM and BLMM seek the betterment of life for black people and their communities and both resist oppression with contemplative practices and activism, they use different strategies and leadership models and seek different goals. . . .
The BLMM is a decentralized network of local organizations. . . . Patrisse Cullors, a founder of the BLMM, says, “We are not leaderless, we are leader-full.” [1] . . . It is difficult to infiltrate, undermine, or disrupt an organic movement that draws its power from regenerating communal cells. . . .
During the CRM, the blindness of dominant culture to the plight of the African American community meant that the message had to be delivered by one voice in language that white Americans could understand and support. Lives were at stake, and [Martin Luther] King’s biblical and patriotic references combined with his soaring oratory ignited the nation and inspired the movement.
Now, fifty plus years after the CRM, another approach is needed, and the BLMM like the LGBTQIA justice movements are updating the art of contemplative confrontation and noncompliance with the status quo . . . oppression and violence against black bodies. Today, the most respectable image that young protesters can offer is their authenticity, resolute voices, and pride in community and culture. . . . The BLMM uses disruption for transformation rather than the predictable politeness and political compromises that were part of the ordinary negotiations of social activists. . . .
They block traffic and refuse to allow “business as usual.” The response is not riot or violence, it is the twenty-first-century version of the sit-in. CRM activists got parade permits and stayed along the side of the road so as not to interfere with traffic. BLM activists “shut it down” with song, putting their bodies on the line. . . .
BLM activists are not singing “we shall overcome,” they are not saying “I am yet holding on” or “making a way out of no way” like the church mothers and fathers of old. They are saying “we ain’t gonna stop ‘til our people are free” and “I can’t breathe,” as they shut down malls and highways to stop the killing of young black men and women. [Far too often, by the very officers who are supposed to “protect and serve,” I might add.]

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April 13, 2018
The Spirit’s Voice
Anne Kayser (Oregon)

Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 
This is the Spirit of truth.” – John 14:16-17 (NRSV)

The divisions at our church’s denominational conference mirrored the divisions in my own household. I saw good people on both sides of contentious issues.
A few days after the conference, I took my son to hear the Oregon Symphony perform one of his favorite works, Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. On the heels of the tension we had both experienced, the music became a visceral reminder of the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice. In one of the later movements of Mahler’s work, the principle trumpet was offstage, barely audible at times, but supplying the main theme for the piece — a sweet, longing melody calling to all who would listen. At times some of the other instruments picked up on the trumpet’s gentle theme and harmonized with it; at other times they almost drowned it out in a frenzy of dissonant notes.
I wondered, Which kind of instrument am I? At times I am so eager to voice my own opinions and positions that I nearly drown out God’s Spirit of truth, not to mention other people. But when I calm down enough to listen, that Spirit is still there, singing softly and tenderly. In fact, the Spirit is sometimes echoed by those I may be trying to verbally out-maneuver. Becoming an instrument of peace starts with listening for the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Prayer

Gracious God, thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to us. Give us ea

Black Bodies

April 12th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Richard Rohr

Black Bodies
Thursday, April 12, 2018

Until the killing of black mothers’ sons [and daughters] is as important as the discovery of white mothers’ sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest. —Ella Baker [1]
As I wrote in last week’s meditations, the early ego creates itself by comparison or negation, by how we are not like others. [2] It likes to differentiate. The ego then holds onto this falsely created sense of superiority at all costs. Last year when I shared about coming to recognize my own white privilege—the unearned benefits I receive simply because of the color of my skin—I wasn’t surprised that the Center’s Customer Service team received more than the usual defensive and angry emails. [3] Many people think “white privilege” is liberal propaganda, a made-up idea to seed more division. After all, the United States had a black president! Surely, we’ve moved beyond racism.
And what about “reverse racism,” some whites say? Anyone can be prejudiced. But racism is all about an imbalance of power. In the United States today, most of the power still lies with people who are white. The very nature of oppression makes it hard for those of us who are comfortable to see this problem. [4] Perhaps subconsciously we know that systemic inequality serves our own ego’s interests and so we resist change. We still define ourselves by differentiating and comparing (dualistic thinking) and not by “similarizing” (which is unitive thinking).
As Jewish poet Emma Lazarus wrote, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” [5] If we are all made in God’s image, if we are all the Body of Christ, then treating black and brown bodies with love and respect is the only way for our country, our communities, and our Christianity to be whole. Our love must be active and embodied. We cannot just preach peace and justice in a theoretical way; the rubber of justice needs to hit the real road.
One of our CONSPIRE 2018 presenters, author and professor Barbara Holmes, explores how some young people today are working hard to dismantle systems of oppression:
Ella Baker [1903-1986], civil rights activist and organizer, reminds us of the reason that we continue the struggle for justice. It is for fairness, equal treatment under the law, and the cessation of violence against innocent black and brown bodies. Another generation is on the rise, and they are confronting police brutality and advocating for black lives through the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLMM), its contemplative activism and deeply spiritual resistance. . . .
One cannot help but wonder why the same battles for justice must be fought by every generation? Certainly, there were enough sacrifices, martyrs, and legislation during the ’60s to ensure justice for all. Yet . . . “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities and the rulers of darkness in high places” [Ephesians 6:12]. The powers or systems do everything they can to resist change. In response to the demand for justice, systems morph and adjust while maintaining the status quo.
So public hangings end and the murders of unarmed black folk rise. Slavery ends, but the mass incarceration of minority populations increases. Jim Crow practices are no longer openly discriminatory; they reappear as educational and economic disparities, voter suppression, and aggressive police actions against people of color. [6]
Power never surrenders without a fight. If your response to today’s meditation is to retort, “All lives matter!” I invite you to take a closer look at your own fears and biases. Of course, all lives matter! Yet until black and brown lives matter, no lives truly matter. Jesus spoke into specific lives, into particular circumstances of oppression, saying, “You, an outcast Samaritan woman, you matter. You, a leper rejected by society, you matter.”

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April 12, 2018
A Better Way
Ann Stewart (South Australia, Australia)

[The Lord] said to [Paul], “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

At times, when I look at my schedule for the weeks ahead, I wonder how I can possibly fit everything in. At other times I worry about how I will manage to cope with all of life’s challenges. At these times I can choose to become anxious and think about the worst-case scenarios, or I can choose a different way. I can stop worrying and start praying. Usually prayer calms me — reminding me to trust God one day at a time. God’s grace is sufficient for each moment of each day. I can choose to trust in God’s strength and be thankful even for my weaknesses. I can choose to live in the present and open my eyes and ears to enjoy the blessings of each day instead of worrying about tomorrow and the next challenge. I can choose to take negative thoughts captive (see 2 Cor. 10:5) and think instead on the truth in God’s word.
I cannot say that I always find it easy to do this, but with practice it has gradually become the norm for me. From experience, I know that I can trust God to meet all my needs. I’ve seen God give me strength exactly when I need it. So I choose a better way to live — one day at a time — confidently relying on God with a thankful heart.

Today’s Prayer

Loving Father, give us confidence to trust you in every situation. In the challenges of life, help us to rely on your strength, not our own. Amen.

God Loves All Bodies

April 11th, 2018 by Dave No comments »

God Loves All Bodies
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of our CONSPIRE 2018 presenters, shares her experience of falling in love with human bodies, her own and others. She writes in An Altar in the World:

Our bodies are prophets. They know when things are out of whack and they say so, although most of us welcome their news about as warmly as the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jeremiah’s. We would rather lock up our bodies than listen to what they have to say. Where Christians are concerned, this leaves us in the peculiar position of being followers of the Word Made Flesh who neglect our own flesh or—worse—who treat our bodies with shame and scorn.

I came late to understanding that God loved all of me—not just my spirit but also my flesh. Like many young people raised in the fifties, I grew up with a lot of questions and unearned shame about my ripening body. . . .

When understanding finally came—not by reason but by faith—the first thing I understood was that it was not possible to trust that God loved all of me, including my body, without also trusting that God loved all bodies everywhere. God loved the bodies of hungry children and indentured women along with the bodies of sleek athletes and cigar-smoking tycoons. While we might not have one other thing in common, we all wore skin. We all had breath and beating hearts. Most of us had wept, although not for the same reasons. Few of our bodies worked the way we wanted them to. The vast majority of us were afraid of dying. . . .

My body is what connects me to all of these other people. Wearing my skin is not a solitary practice but one that brings me into communion with all these other embodied souls. It is what we most have in common with one another. In Christian teaching followers of Jesus are called to honor the bodies of our neighbors as we honor our own. In [Jesus’] expanded teaching by example, this includes leper bodies, possessed bodies, widow and orphan bodies, as well as foreign bodies and hostile bodies—none of which he shied away from. Read from the perspective of the body, his ministry was about encountering those whose flesh was discounted by the world in which they lived.

What many of us miss, in our physical dis-ease, is that our bodies remain God’s best way of getting to us. . . . Deep suffering makes theologians of us all. The questions people ask about God in Sunday school rarely compare with the questions we ask while we are in the hospital.

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Upper Room Devotional for today

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. – 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Before I came to faith in Christ, I was hopeless and without joy. I knew I did things that were wrong, but I was unable to see how life could be better. Then I met some people at my high school who seemed to have something special. Their lives were different and meaningful. As I watched them, I realized they weren’t just happy but joyful. That was strange to me yet also very appealing. I asked them many questions and appreciated their kind responses.
When people ask me how I became a Christian, I always point to the significant impact of those joyful Christians who demonstrated purposeful living in God’s presence. No matter the difficulties they faced in life, they truly praised God. They even thought it was important to share this reason with me, letting me know that the path of true life and everlasting joy can be found only in Jesus. I give thanks for their joyfulness that showed me the way to new life in Christ.

TODAY’S PRAYER
Dear God, you alone are our greatest joy. Thank you for giving us new life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Supporting Prophetic Freedom

April 10th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Supporting Prophetic Freedom
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Right Practice
Monday, April 10, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues exploring Jesus as a wisdom teacher.

A well-known Southern Baptist theologian quips that the whole of his Sunday school training could be summed up in one sentence (delivered with a broad Texas drawl): “Jesus is nice, and he wants us to be nice, too.” Many of us have grown up with Jesus all our lives. We know a few of the parables, like those about the good Samaritan or the prodigal son. Some people can even quote a few of the beatitudes. Most everyone can stumble through the Lord’s Prayer.

But what did Jesus actually teach? How often do you hear his teaching assessed as a whole? When it comes to spiritual teachers from other traditions, it seems right and fair to ask what kind of path they’re on. What does the Dalai Lama teach? What did Krishnamurti teach? But we never ask this question about Jesus. Why not? When we actually get below the surface of his teaching, we find there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. And it doesn’t have much to do with being “nice.”

One of the most important books to appear in recent years is called Putting on the Mind of Christ by Jim Marion. [1] His title is a statement in itself. “Putting on the mind of Christ” is a direct reference to St. Paul’s powerful injunction in Philippians 2:5: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The words call us up short as to what we are actually supposed to be doing on this path: not just admiring Jesus, but acquiring his consciousness.

For the better part of the past sixteen hundred years Christianity has put a lot more emphasis on the things we know about Jesus. The word “orthodox” has come to mean having the correct beliefs. Along with the overt requirement to learn what these beliefs are and agree with them comes a subliminal message: that the appropriate way to relate to Jesus is through a series of beliefs. In fundamentalist Christianity this message tends to get even more accentuated, to the point where faith appears to be a matter of signing on the dotted lines to a set of creedal statements. Belief in Jesus is indistinguishable from belief about him.

This certainly wasn’t how it was done in the early church—nor can it be if we are really seeking to come into a living relationship with this wisdom master. Jim Marion’s book returns us to the central challenge Christianity ought to be handing us. Indeed, how do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we see through his eyes? How do we feel through his heart? How do we learn to respond to the world with that same wholeness and healing love? That’s what Christian orthodoxy really is all about. It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice.

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Thank you for welcoming me into your Inbox each day! After 75 years of life, I’m honored and humbled to share the things I’ve learned—through study and experience—with you and over 280,000 people around the world. I love uncovering gems from my own Christian tradition, offering universal truths for our time. I’m grateful to hear when a Daily Meditation resonates so much with someone that they, too, want to share with a friend, family member, or study group!
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Twice a year we pause the Daily Meditations to ask for your support. Take a moment to read our Director Michael’s note below about how you can help. Tomorrow the Daily Meditations will continue exploring the “image and likeness” of God within all human bodies. Thank you for being part of this lovely limb of the Body of Christ!

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April 10, 2018
Simple Joys
Patricia Steagall (North Carolina)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. 
Worship the Lord with gladness; come 
into his presence with singing. – Psalm 100:1-2 (NRSV)

Our two-year-old grandson, Gabriel, is a delight to all his family. My husband and I are in our seventies and our other two grandchildren are teenagers, so it has been a blessing to us all to have this little one come into our lives. Gabriel greets every morning with great enthusiasm, checks out all his toys as if they are brand new, and gives everyone hugs and kisses as if they had been gone a long time. He inspects everything outside — leaves, rocks, swings, slides — as if he had not seen them just the day before.
What if we all appreciated each new day with the same excitement? What if we were as joyful and loving as Gabriel? What if we thanked God for our blessings instead of dwelling on unpleasantness? Perhaps our enthusiasm about our love of God and our faith would be clear to others. How wonderful it would be if our joy in our faith was passed on to just one person, making that person want to experience the fullness of knowing God!

Today’s Prayer

Dear God, help us to greet with enthusiasm the blessings you give us through the simple pleasures of your handiwork. Help us to share our faith in you with others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Body and Soul

April 9th, 2018 by Dave No comments »

Body and Soul
Sunday, April 8, 2018

I think my brilliant history and liturgy professor, Fr. Larry Landini, OFM, may have given the best explanation for why so many Christians seem to be ashamed and afraid of the body. In 1969, on the last day of four years studying church history, Fr. Larry offered these final words to us as he was backing out of the classroom: “Just remember, on the practical level, the Christian Church was much more influenced by Plato than it was by Jesus.” He left us laughing but also stunned and sad, because four years of honest church history had told us how true this actually was.

For Plato, body and soul were incompatible enemies; matter and spirit were at deep odds with one another. But for Jesus, there is no animosity between body and soul. In fact, this is the heart of Jesus’ healing message and of his incarnation itself. Jesus, in whom “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), was fully human, even as he was fully divine, with both body and spirit operating as one. Jesus even returned to the “flesh” after the Resurrection; so, flesh cannot be bad, as it is the ongoing hiding place of God.

In the Apostles’ Creed, which goes back to the second century, we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” I want to first point out what it is not saying and yet what most people hear. The creed does not say we believe in the resurrection of the spirit or the soul! Of course it doesn’t, because the soul cannot die. We are asserting that human embodiment has an eternal character to it. (Read all of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul tries to communicate this in endlessly mysterious ways.)

Christianity makes a daring and broad affirmation: God is redeeming matter and spirit, the whole of creation. The Bible speaks of the “new heavens and the new earth” and the descent of the “new Jerusalem from the heavens” to “live among us” (Revelation 21:1-3). This physical universe and our own physicality are somehow going to share in the Eternal Mystery. Your body participates in the very mystery of salvation. In fact, it is the new and lasting temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and throughout Paul’s letters).

Many Christians falsely assumed that if they could “die” to their body, their spirit would for some reason miraculously arise. Often the opposite was the case. After centuries of body rejection, and the lack of any positive body theology, the West is now trapped in substance addiction, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, plastic surgery, and an obsession with appearance and preserving these bodies. Our poor bodies, which Jesus actually affirmed, have become the receptacles of so much negativity and obsession.

The pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction, and the fervor for gyms and salons makes one think these are the new cathedrals of worship. The body is rightly reasserting its goodness and importance. Can’t we somehow seek both body and spirit together?

When Christianity is in any way anti-body, it is not authentic Christianity. The incarnation tells us that body and spirit must fully operate and be respected as one. Yes, Fr. Larry, our Platonic Christianity is now feeling the backlash against our one-sided teaching.

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Universal Dignity
Monday, April 9, 2018

If you can’t honor the Divine Indwelling—the presence of the Holy Spirit—within yourself, how could you see it in anybody else? You can’t. Like knows like. All awareness, enlightenment, aliveness, and transformation begins with recognizing that your own eternal DNA is both divine and unearned; only then are you ready to see it everywhere else too. Soul recognizes soul.

Paul offers a theological and ontological foundation for human dignity and flourishing that is inherent, universal, and indestructible by any evaluation of race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, class, education, physical ability, or IQ. Luke’s story of Pentecost emphasizes that people from all over the world heard the preaching in their own languages (Acts 2). The Spirit of God is clearly democratic, unmerited, and inclusive.

Paul restored human dignity at a time when perhaps four out of five people were slaves, women were considered the property of men, prostitution was a form of temple worship, and oppression and injustice toward the poor and the outsider were the norm. Against all of this, Paul proclaims, “One and the same Spirit was given to us all to drink!” (1 Corinthians 12:13). “You, all of you, are sons and daughters of God, now clothed in Christ, where there is no distinction between male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).

No longer was the human body a cheap thing, degraded by slavery and abuse. Paul says in many formulations, “You are the very temple of God.” Paul’s teaching on sexuality (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) wasn’t a moralistic purity code, as most of us hear it now. Paul was saying that the human body has dignity, so you have a right to demand and give respect to it. Because of this understanding, a woman could claim her own dignity and refuse to give her body away to every man who wanted it. (This probably explains the early admiration of virginity in Christian circles.)

A man was told to respect and take responsibility for his own body-temple, which is surely a good thing. But many read Paul’s words as a guilt-laden prohibition on which our very salvation rests. It was surely meant to be a positive and dignifying message, not a finger-shaking, moralistic one. Some boundaries are almost always needed to create an ego structure with healthy self-esteem.

In Paul’s estimation, the old world was forever gone and a new world of universal human dignity was grounded in our objective and universal Christ identity. This was surely threatening to those with various forms of power (whose feeling of importance lies in being “higher” than others). Yet this Gospel was utterly attractive and hopeful to the 95% who were “lower” in status. It assured universal and equal dignity, made present through the Eucharist in the early church where all were equals. Sociologists think this was why Christianity spread so quickly.

Perhaps the present #MeToo movement is encouraging a similar revolution. Today we are witnessing a fear-based reaction in the United States from people who need their white (often male) privilege and superiority, who do not want to be told that people who are poor, any who cannot afford health insurance, refugees and immigrants, people of color, and individuals with bodily or developmental limitations have equal dignity. Power systems like to preserve a hierarchy in which some people are higher and some are lower. The Gospel has no use for it.

======================== Upper Room:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be 
troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27 (NIV)

God, please help me! My father had just passed away and I was careening on an emotional roller coaster. One minute I felt all right, and the next I was in a deep pit of anguish and despair. Later on that day while driving on an errand, I realized that I needed to pray for God’s peace that passes all understanding. (See Phil. 4:7.) After I did so, I continued on my errand. As I returned home, I talked to someone about my struggle. She gently reminded me of the peace that God so readily gives. Another woman also prayed for peace for me. These experiences helped me to realize that God’s peace would get me through this time in my life. Although I still miss my father tremendously, I know that I am not alone in the midst of my anguish. God gives me the strength and peace to carry me through any storm.
We face many storms in life. At times, it feels as if the pain is so deep that it will overwhelm us. We may feel alone in the depths of our despair. However, God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. When we pray in the midst of the storm, God will grant us peace that passes all understanding.

TODAY’S PRAYER
Dear heavenly Father, thank you for always being there for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Flesh and Spirit

April 6th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Human Bodies: Week 1
Flesh and Spirit
Friday, April 6, 2018

The Apostle Paul tends to use dialectics in his writing, jockeying two seemingly opposite ideas to lead us to a deeper and third understanding. One of his most familiar dialectics is the way he speaks of flesh and spirit. Paul uses the word sarx, typically and unfortunately translated as “flesh” in most contemporary languages with a negative connotation in opposition to spirit. John’s Gospel uses this same word, sarx, in a wonderfully positive way: “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). So flesh must be good too! But Paul’s usage had the larger impact.
If you read Galatians or Romans, you’ll probably understand these two terms in the usual dualistic way, which has done great damage: “Well, I’ve got to get out of my flesh in order to get into the spirit.” This was even true of many canonized saints, at least in their early stages—as it was with the Buddha. But I want to say as strongly as I can: you really can’t get out of the flesh! That’s not what Paul is talking about.
The closest meaning to Paul’s sarx is today’s familiar word “ego”—which often is a problem if we are trapped inside of it. So what Paul means by “flesh” is the trapped self, the small self, the partial self, or what Thomas Merton called the false self. Basically, spirit is the whole self, the Christ Self, the True Self “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3) that we fall into by grace. The problem is not between body and spirit; it’s between part and whole.
Sarx or ego is the self that tries to define itself autonomously, apart from spirit, apart from the Big Self in God. It’s the tiny self that you think you are, who takes yourself far too seriously, and who is always needy and wanting something else. It’s the self that is characterized by scarcity and fragility—and well it should be, because it’s finally an illusion and passing away. It changes month by month. This small self doesn’t really exist in God’s eyes as anything substantial or real. It’s nothing but a construct of your own mind. It is exactly what will die when you die. Flesh is not bad, it is just inadequate to the final and full task, while posing as the real thing. Don’t hate your training wheels once you take them off your bicycle. You should thank them for getting you started on your cycling journey!
To easily get beyond this confusion, just substitute the word ego every time you hear Paul use the word flesh. It will get you out of this dead-end, false, and dualistic ping-pong game between body and spirit. The problem is not that you have a body; the problem is that you think you are separate from others—and from God. And you are not!

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April 6, 2018
God’s Word Helps Us
Pamela L. Dorrel (Kentucky)

I treasure your word in my heart, so that 
I may not sin against you. – Psalm 119:11 (NRSV)

It has always been easy for me to get into debates with friends and family, and I find myself arguing more than I should. If I make others angry, I regret it, and I’m always willing to apologize and move on. I just can’t pass up a rousing exchange of ideas about current events.

I was this way for many years until one day, in the middle of a debate with my father that had turned into an argument, I suddenly forgot what I was going to say. The only thing I could remember was today’s quoted verse. It was the verse from my Bible study a few weeks before. In an instant, my perspective changed. I realized I was so caught up in the conversation that I was about to say something hurtful to my father just to “win” the argument. I held my tongue that day, and we called a truce.
Later on, I thanked God for bringing that verse to my mind at just the right time. The more we read and study God’s word, the more we are able to draw on its direction when we need it.

Today’s Prayer

Thank you, God, for giving us wisdom through scripture when we need it most. Amen.

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April 6, 2018

Devotional for Today-JDV

Lord, the study for today started with some “unlearning”. We were instructed by Richard to “unpack” the notion of the meaning of the word flesh in Paul’s letters because the meaning was not necessarily intended as a standard “dialectic” lesson from Paul. This was not another “set the flesh against the spirit” lesson of the struggle. Rather, the key meaning here of the original word, sarx , is the smaller self or ego. The lesson I grasp here is that I am not to war against the “flesh” as a morality fight spirit against flesh, but rather I am to allow the spirit of God to overcome my own ego and notion that I am separate from God.

Is this the lesson Lord?

And God says…”This is the lesson, and you have been living the lesson for years. There is no battle against the flesh in terms of a personal commitment to “grit your teeth” and try harder to overcome amoral (fleshly) thoughts and behavior and thus become a better person. This never works for humans living free. Humans by nature exist with a deceitful heart and it is not fixable. No amount of trying or scapegoating will correct this, and it neither was nor is my intention to address the issue. I have no intention of repairing this human condition. Jesus is my answer.

Living a Godly life is a byproduct of being surrendered and connected to Me; giving up the idea of your separateness and seeing your body and soul as complete in Me. You recognize our “oneness” (Me in you) as a byproduct of surrendering your flesh or small self.

Listening to Our Body

April 5th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Richard Rohr
Listening to Our Body
Thursday, April 5, 2018

Though we began our lives immersed in unitive, kinesthetic knowing, very quickly we begin to see the distinctions and divisions in the world. As a toddler, I learned: “I am not my mother. My mother is not me.” The developing ego sees by differentiation and negation. “I am not a girl. My skin is pale, not dark.” While such an ego structure is a natural and necessary part of growing up, it always gets in the way of the soul’s holistic, nondual consciousness. My identity—intelligence, moral sense, wealth, and social class—is unfortunately gained in contrast, comparison, and competition to the person next to me.
My still center, my True Self, does not need to compare itself. It just is and is content. This must be “the pearl of great price.” To the extent that our soul is alive and connected, we are satisfied with the “enoughness” of who we are and the “more than enoughness” of many present moments. (In our consumeristic and competitive world, I am afraid this is becoming harder and harder to experience.)
Living solely out of our ego splits us off from our body and our soul. Western Christianity and culture have largely surrendered to the dualistic split of body vs. soul, and Christians even speak of “saving their soul” instead of also saving their body. We fear the body, particularly our sexuality (as we’ll explore in a couple weeks). This is why so many of us, especially men, don’t know how to contact our actual feelings. We often repress emotions and physical sensations for the sake of efficiency and success. There are times when it is appropriate to let our thinking mind lead instead of immediately following our body’s instincts. But we must do so with full awareness and appreciation for our body, rather than pushing feelings away or pretending they don’t exist. Repressing feelings and sensations relegates them to our unconscious “shadow” self and they come out in unexpected and often painful ways. They don’t go away.
We need to understand kinesthetic, bodily knowing. We need to recognize our physical responses—be they fear, arousal, pleasure, or pain. It’s not always as obvious as sweat under the arms. It may take a few minutes of intentional focus to become aware of tension in our shoulders, churning in our gut, a pounding heart, or goose bumps. (I’ll be honest: I’m not so good at this yet; I just know it to be true and valuable.)
Irish poet and priest, John O’Donohue (1956-2008), with whom I once had a wonderful dinner, says it well:
Your mind can deceive you and put all kinds of barriers between you and your nature; but your body does not lie. Your body tells you, if you attend to it, how your life is and if you are living from your soul or from the labyrinths of your negativity. . . . The human body is the most complex, refined, and harmonious totality.
Your body is, in essence, a crowd of different members who work in harmony to make your belonging in the world possible. . . . The soul is not simply within the body, hidden somewhere within its recesses. The truth is rather the converse. Your body is in the soul. And the soul suffuses you completely. [1]

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April 5, 2018
Three-Legged Race
Jim Good (Ohio)

The LORD says, “Even [a woman] may forget [her nursing child], yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” – Isaiah 49:15-16 (NRSV)

At the neighborhood picnic my younger brother and I tied a rope around my right ankle and his left ankle. Amid giggles we hobbled and swayed to the starting line.

“On your mark, get set, go!” We somehow managed to synchronize our strides and crossed the finish line first. Smiling widely, I looked over at all the parents, but no eyes or cameras were aimed our way. I thought, We won, so why isn’t anyone looking at us or cheering for us? Doesn’t anybody care about us? All the parents had their eyes glued on their own children, and my brother and I had no parents to applaud us. They had both died a few years prior.

Since then, today’s verse has taught me that I have always had and will always have a heavenly Father who loves and approves of me. I have realized that I do have a parent applauding me. God, our heavenly parent, is always watching us and cheering us on.

Today’s Prayer
Heavenly Father, remind us, especially those of us who do not have earthly parents, that we all have you. Amen.