Anger and Grief

February 29th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

Mirabai Starr writes of powerful emotions, including anger, that are part of losing someone we love:

If grief is a natural response to loss … then anger, as a common attribute of grief, is also natural. The power of our anger often correlates with the depth of our love. Anger takes many forms on the grief journey. Sometimes it manifests as a low-level irritability and other times as roaring fire, often unleashing itself on inappropriate targets. Sometimes it is directed at an individual we deem responsible for our loss….

Sometimes the anger is directed at God: “What kind of God could allow such suffering?” or “I was taught to believe God loved me. Apparently, that was wrong.”… While it is tempting to reduce this experience to a crisis of faith, such an easy explanation might obscure the rich spiritual transformation that is unfolding, as John of the Cross (1542–1591) might say, in the darkness of our own souls. Everything we thought we knew feels like it is unraveling and we have nowhere to turn but into the center of radical unknowing. Grief shatters our foundation and triggers a wholesale reorientation of meaning. Before we rush off to reconfigure the shards, we may choose to sit in the wreckage and allow ourselves to simply be broken.

From that place of devastation, we come face-to-face with our own groundlessness. We also get to see the extreme poverty of our previous conception of God. The box in which we had always confined the sacred has been demolished by the violence of our loss. The God we fabricated (with the help of society, our family, the church) has fled. No wonder we feel abandoned. No wonder we are angry. But that god was not the God. Our souls know that now…. Grief is an opportunity to reclaim an authentic connection with Mystery. [1]

Anglican theologian Maggie Ross writes about tears as an opportunity to “cleanse” our anger and pain:

Most of the time our anger is due to unwillingness to face the hurt we feel and the real reasons behind it. To learn to weep in order to be free of anger and know “rest” does not obviate self-respect and is not related to putting oneself down.

On the contrary, if we are struggling to seek God single-heartedly, to learn to weep the anger out of ourselves is a matter of self-respect.

The idea of tears washing anger from us is alien to the mores of power-oriented Western society. We are conditioned to justify our anger, to find the right place to put blame, and to always feel good about ourselves. Most of us associate anger and tears with tears that spring from anger, not tears that cleanse us from anger. But … tears of anger are themselves … a sign of choice, of potential change. [2]

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Sarah Young Jesus Calling

You are on the right path. Listen more to Me, and less to your doubts. I am leading you along the way I designed just for you. Therefore, it is a lonely way, humanly speaking. But I go before you as well as alongside you, so you are never alone. Do not expect anyone to understand fully My ways with you, any more than you can comprehend My dealings with others. I am revealing to you the path of Life day by day, and moment by moment. As I said to My disciple Peter, so I repeat to you: Follow Me. 

RELATED SCRIPTURE: 

Psalm 119:105 NLT

Nun

105 Your word is a lamp to guide my feet

    and a light for my path.

John 21:22 NLT

22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

February 28th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Love and the Fire of Life

Ecological teacher Sara Jolena Wolcott values what our anger can teach us, especially when it joins with love:

Increasingly, I see anger as being like fire. Fire is necessary for life.… Anger is a part of the larger fire in our lives. Anger is an important emotion; it is part of the flight-or-fight response that is core to how humans respond to danger. As such, it has a valuable role to play in our lives. It is important to feel fire’s heat, but fire can burn out of control. The trick with anger is to let it inform us, maybe even to let it warm us if we have become too cold with indifference or apathy, but not to let the fire control or consume us.

Ultimately, we want our lives to be guided: illuminated, warmed, comforted, provoked by our deep love affair with the Divine. That love, as so many mystics remind us, can also be like an all-consuming fire. So love, not anger, needs to be the ultimate guide. Sometimes anger can point us to love.…

I have sympathy with those spiritual leaders who say we should strive to get rid of anger, or at least to not act in anger. Yet the classic example of anger and spiritual teachers, at least within Christianity, is when Jesus overthrew the moneychangers’ tables (see Matthew 21:12–13). If the son of God can do this, we get the sense that it is fully acceptable to be righteously angry at systemic injustice that harms the poor and the vulnerable.

However, in the end, I don’t think Jesus’ passion or his death were lived through in anger—certainly his resurrection did not arise from a place of anger. So, what does that tell us? Anger can inform us and sometimes guide us, but anger is not the ultimate, final word; love is. Love is bigger than anger. Love still overtakes the divisions and fractions. I think there is room for anger in love. It is in God’s holy fires that these emotions can be used well. [1]

Brian McLaren reminds us that we can trust God with all our emotions, including our anger: 

Opening ourselves to God when we’re in need says that we trust God and want God to accompany us, support us, and befriend us in every way.

We trust those we love most with our deepest fears, doubts, emptiness, and disillusionment. So we love God when we share those vulnerable aspects of our lives with God. Just as a little child in the middle of a temper tantrum can shout “I hate you, Mommy!” only because he knows his outburst will not end their relationship, we can express to God our deep doubts, anger, or frustrations only because we possess an even deeper trust in God’s love…. The fact that we share this pain with God rather than withhold it turns out to be an expression of love. [2]

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Identity & Empathy
Naaman, the great military commander of Syria, and the enslaved Israelite girl who served Naaman’s wife, had almost nothing in common. And yet, the girl expresses concern and compassion for Naaman because he suffers from a skin disease. She tells him of a prophet in Israel who can cure him. What allowed her to find empathy for a person utterly unlike herself?
The link between empathy and identity has been well-established by researchers. I found one study conducted in the U.K. to be particularly illuminating. The first part of the test invited soccer fans to take a questionnaire. The questions were written to identify Manchester United fans and, importantly, to reinforce their identity and allegiance to Manchester United.Each participant was then told that part two of the study required them to watch a short film about soccer in another building. While walking there, an actor dressed as a jogger and hired by the researchers would run past, fall, and grab his ankle while shouting in pain.
Here’s where it got interesting. Sometimes the jogger wore a Manchester United shirt and other times he wore a Liverpool shirt (the rival soccer club to Manchester United).The Manchester United fans helped the injured jogger 92 percent of the time when he was wearing a Manchester United shirt, but only 30 percent of the time when he wore a Liverpool shirt. This study and many others have found that we are far, far more likely to have empathy for those with whom we identify and much less for those with whom we do not.
But there’s more. The study also found that empathy increases or decreases based on which of our identities is emphasized.The same researchers repeated the study but with one significant difference. They changed the questionnaire in a way that deemphasized allegiance to any specific soccer club, and instead, the questions emphasized the Manchester United fan’s overall love of soccer. They then proceeded to have their encounter with the injured jogger. This time 70 percent helped even when he wore a Liverpool shirt.The dramatic increase in empathy was directly linked to how they identified themselves and the injured jogger. When the participants saw themselves as primarily Manchester United fans and the jogger as a Liverpool fan, empathy was unlikely. The jogger was one of “them” and not one of “us.” But when the participants saw themselves as primarily a soccer fan, that identity was broad enough to include someone wearing a Liverpool shirt. The injured jogger became one of “us,” and therefore worthy of their concern.
Which brings us back to Naaman’s story. If the girl saw herself primarily as an Israelite and Naaman as a Syrian, empathy would have been unlikely. Or if she had identified merely as a slave and viewed Naaman only as a powerful general, again it’s unlikely she would have shown kindness to him. Instead, she found a point of connection; a place where her identity and Naaman’s overlapped and she no longer viewed him as one of “them” but as one of “us.” I suspect the identity they shared was rooted in pain.She knew the grief of being abducted from her home and family, taken to a foreign land, and enslaved. Naaman knew the pain of leprosy and the social isolation the disease brought. Did the young Israelite girl look at Naaman struggling with his skin disease and see a glimpse of her pain? Is that what kindled her compassion for him? Was their shared identity as sufferers enough to overcome their many other rival identities? As our society’s capacity for empathy continues to decline, we need to ask if the problem is actually a matter of identity. Maybe if we begin to change how we see and identify one another we will also transform how we treat one another.

DAILY SCRIPTURE
MATTHEW 9:10-13 
2 KINGS 5:1-27


WEEKLY PRAYERFrom John Chrysostom (347 – 407)
Lord, let us pattern our lives only on those things that are worthy of being imitated. Not gorgeous buildings or expensive estates, but on those people who have confidence in you.
Help us to imitate those who have riches in heaven—the owners of those treasures that make them truly rich.
Help us to imitate those who are poor for Christ’s sake, so that we may attain the good things of eternity by the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Glory, might, and honor be unto him with the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, now and always, world without end.
Amen.

Love and Rage

February 27th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

We are trying to hold one another, while our knees are weak, chests are tight, our worlds on fire, burning and burning and burning and burning.
—Danté Stewart

It took time for author and minister Danté Stewart to acknowledge and allow his own anger:

After running from rage my whole life, it took some getting used to. I noticed that rage neither set me free nor made me feel better. But it did give me some words and some energy to fight white supremacy in myself and white supremacy in the world, and all the ways white supremacy destroyed us and those we loved. It shook me out of my illusion that the world as I now knew it was the world that God wanted. It forced me to deal with the ways in which my Black body and Black children, women, and men live in a system of injustice—a system of inequality, exploitation, and disrespect. It became my public outcry that our bodies and our souls must be loved, and that our bodies and our souls mattered to God, and that our bodies and our souls must find rest.

I started to see that my Black rage in an anti-Black world was a spiritual virtue…. Black rage is the work of love that protests an unloving world. It is the good news that though our society has often forgotten us, there is Someone who loves us and believes us worth fighting for.

Stewart recognized power in joining his anger with love: 

I began to see that being enraged becomes dangerous when it is not channeled through love, serious deep love for ourselves and our neighbor. It can become a lonely place, and I have had my struggle with loneliness. When rage becomes the spark that embraces Black flesh, moves us to universal love, to struggle, to fight, to pray, to embrace, to remember, this becomes a sword and shield. In a world that wounds our souls and bodies, this becomes the work of love: holy, healing, and liberating work. Love dancing with rage, rage dancing with love, becomes the greatest spiritual, moral, and political task in each generation. It is a call for us as Black people to what Jesus called abundant life, spirit of the Lord upon Black flesh, freedom for all people.

Stewart writes that Jesus embodied love, healing, and liberation: 

Jesus loves bodies, no matter who or where or what they are. And Jesus does not hurt people in order to love them. He did not live out of his own woundedness; he did not cover up his pain by enacting it onto others…. Jesus wanted us to learn love…. I learned too late, but I learned. I learned that we all live in brokenness, deep brokenness. I learned that Jesus does not forget bodies, despised and abused bodies, but becomes good news to them by remembering them, touching them and being touched, and creating a world where their bodies are liberated, redeemed, and resurrected

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The Single-Story Problem
The story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 begins by introducing two people at opposite ends of the social hierarchy. First, we meet Naaman who is described as a “great man.” He commanded the armies of Aram—Israel’s neighbor and frequent enemy which is also called Syria. Naaman was valiant, victorious, and celebrated even by his master, the king of Syria. He was one of the most famous and respected men in the country.The other character is Naaman’s opposite in almost every way. He was a great man; she was a young girl. He was Syrian; she was a foreigner from Israel. He commanded Syria’s army; she was taken captive by Syria’s army. He possessed great power; she was enslaved with no power. Naaman’s name was highly respected even by the king; she was so unimportant that her name was never even identified.Despite the seemingly insurmountable distance between their social locations, we soon discover that the young Israelite slave girl would forever change the life of the great commander of the Syrian army. How this was possible teaches us important lessons about the link between identity and empathy that we will unpack over the next few days. To begin, we need to recognize our temptation to reduce everyone’s identity, including our own, to one dimension. If the enslaved Israelite girl only saw herself as the victim of Syrian injustice, and if she only saw her master as the man who led the army that kidnapped her, it’s unlikely that her capacity for empathy would have extended to Naaman.Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, calls this the danger of a single story, and she experienced it acutely when she attended college in the United States. In her 2009 TED Talk, Adichie said, “My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my ‘tribal music,’ and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey.”Adichie grew up on a university campus in Nigeria, in a middle-class family with professional parents. She was highly educated and cosmopolitan, but those were not the identities her American roommate had been told Africans could possess. “She felt sorry for me even before she saw me,” Adichie said. “Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals”.Her experience illustrates the problem that occurs when we see ourselves or others as possessing only a single identity—it eliminates virtually any possibility of meaningful connection. Today, there are numerous forces—economic, political, and cultural—seeking to minimize your multifaceted and complex identity to a single story, and in the process widen the gap between you and others or between a group you belong to and ones you do not. Not only does this fuel the divisions in our society, but it also eliminates the possibility of empathy toward those who do not share your narrow identity.

DAILY SCRIPTURE
GALATIANS 3:26-29 
2 KINGS 5:1-27 


WEEKLY PRAYER
From John Chrysostom (347 – 407)
Lord, let us pattern our lives only on those things that are worthy of being imitated. Not gorgeous buildings or expensive estates, but on those people who have confidence in you.
Help us to imitate those who have riches in heaven—the owners of those treasures that make them truly rich.
Help us to imitate those who are poor for Christ’s sake, so that we may attain the good things of eternity by the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Glory, might, and honor be unto him with the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, now and always, world without end.
Amen.

February 26th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Jesus’ Anger

Reflecting on Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in John’s Gospel (2:13–22), Father Richard explores the implications of Jesus’ anger and actions: 

Jesus’ actions in the temple are what finally get him killed. After this, religious leaders are dead set against him. Whenever law and order are based on interpretations of divine proclamation, what invariably happens is that the church and state, or religion and government, start working together and operating as one. It’s still true in many countries to this day. Government leaders like to have religion on their side so they can feel like everything they’re doing is blessed by God.

A few years ago, I was at a meeting in Washington, D.C. with nineteen representatives of various denominations. We wrote a statement that listed six different issues where we felt what Jesus teaches and what our government was doing are almost exact opposites. The issues revolved around racism, nationalism, classism that always favors the rich and the powerful, the terrible lack of truth in government, and our constant idealizing of money, war, and power. On every issue, the teaching of Jesus is in direct contradiction to the way our government has often operated.

Yet, if I’m honest, in many ways it’s always been that way; this is nothing new. It’s what’s playing out in this prophetic gospel reading (and in Matthew 21:12–17 also). The temple has become totally aligned with King Herod, with the collecting of taxes and money, and the selling of forgiveness.

Whenever religion gets into the business of the “buying and selling” of God, or of requiring sacrifices to earn God’s love, we have a problem. When Jesus said, “Get these birds out of here,” it’s a clue to the source of Jesus’ anger. The ordinary people had to sacrifice to be right with the priesthood and the temple. They sacrificed oxen and sheep, but the very poor were allowed to offer doves. Mary and Joseph had to give doves when they brought the infant Jesus to the temple (Luke 2:22–24). Jesus knows that his religion is not taking care of the poor; in fact, it’s stealing from the poor, and making them give even the little they have to feel they are right with God.

Jesus is angry about this, and many use this passage to justify violence because Jesus appears pretty violent here. But note that he’s violent toward things, not toward people. He’s liberating animals and trying to liberate the poor from their oppression. Of course, the religious leaders want to protect the building, the temple, but Jesus is redefining the temple. He identifies his body as the temple (John 2:21). The new temple is the human person; we are the body of Christ.

We see Jesus making this great revolution, transforming religion from a concern for sacrifice to earn God’s love to trust through which we know God’s love. And where does that trust happen? In the human heart.

Good and Necessary Anger

Dr. Barbara Holmes describes her felt experience of anger: 

Anger is intense. Often, there is a flash of heat and disorientation and the need to justify or retaliate. When I was a child, anger was my response to hurt feelings. When offended, I would lash out or run crying to my mom. In her arms, and with her reassurances, I could quell a heat of rage so intense that it threatened to overtake me. Anger is an emotion that consumes mind and body—but sometimes anger is necessary for survival. [1]

Richard explains how anger helps develop healthy individuals and communities: 

Anger is good and very necessary to protect appropriate boundaries of self and others. In men’s work, we call it the “good warrior” archetype. On the other hand, anger becomes self-defeating and egocentric when it hangs around too long after we have received its message. But conscious, visible, felt anger is a gift to consciousness and to community. We need it to know who we are and what boundaries must be defended, along with the depth of hurt and alienation in ourselves and in others with which we are dealing. [2]

Holmes continues: 

Many spiritual traditions warn us against anger. We are told that anger provides fertile ground for seeds of discontent, anxiety, and potential harm to self and others. This is true. However, when systems of injustice inflict generational abuses upon people and communities because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and/or gender, anger as righteous indignation is appropriate, healthy, and necessary for survival.

Jesus expressed righteous indignation when he encountered the unjust systems of religious and Roman authorities, yet Christian theologies shy away from the integration of anger into their canons. How can churches continue to ignore anger and still be relevant during this era when everyone is angry about everything? People of color are angry about police brutality, white supremacy, white privilege, and economic marginalization.…

A theology of anger [for communities under siege] assumes that anger as a response to injustice is spiritually healthy…. A theology of anger can help us to construct healthy boundaries … [and] the healthy expression of righteous anger can translate communal despair into compassionate action and justice-seeking.… The question is whether or not we will recognize our wounds and the source of our anger so that we can heal ourselves and others and awaken to our potential to embody the beloved community….

If we take a theology of anger seriously, first we come together, then we grieve together, then we consider where we are and where we are going. If there is opportunity, we engage in deep considerations of cause and effect, and we listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit.… Our health and wholeness require that we take off our masks of Christian piety and do the difficult work of acknowledging our anger, our vulnerability, and our pain. It is this contemplative work that moves us toward forgiveness, for when we recognize our own human frailty, we can more easily forgive the fragility and failings of others. [3]

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FEB 23, 2024
A Greater Artist Than All Others
Vincent van Gogh’s struggles with mental illness are well known, and the accepted account of his death in 1890 is that he committed suicide during a particularly difficult lapse in his mental health after leaving the hospital in St. Remy. Numerous discrepancies in the narrative have led more recent biographers to question this account, postulating instead that Vincent was accidentally shot in the stomach by a group of drunk teenagers with whom he was acquainted.This alternative explanation may explain why Vincent while dying was concerned about others being blamed for his death. He told two officers, “Do not accuse anybody, it is I that wished to commit suicide.” His words echo those of Jesus who said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). Whether his death was an accident or caused by his illness, it is evident that his faith remained until the end.Van Gogh’s funeral was attended by many artists. One of them, Emile Bernard, described the setting:

“On the walls of the room where the body lay all his canvases were nailed, forming a sort of halo around him, and rendering his death all the more painful to the artists who were present by the splendor of the genius that radiated from them. On the coffin a simple white linen, masses of flowers, the sunflowers which he loved so much, yellow dahlias, yellow flowers everywhere. It was his favorite color….”
 
It was fitting that Vincent’s body was covered with yellow flowers—the symbol he so often used in his paintings to represent God’s presence and healing love. Directly above the casket hung a single painting—his Pietà showing the lifeless body of Jesus with Vincent’s own face and red hair awaiting the resurrection. Both the flowers and the painting were an affirmation that Vincent believed not even death could separate him from the love of God in Christ.It’s appropriate to conclude this series on the faith and art of Vincent van Gogh with his own words about Christ:
“Christ alone, of all the philosophers, magi, etc.—has affirmed as a principle of certainty, eternal life, the infinity of time, the nothingness of death… He lived serenely, as a greater artist than all other artists, despising marble and clay as well as color, working in living flesh. That is to say, this matchless artist, hardly to be conceived of by the obtuse instrument of our modern, nervous, stupefied brains, made neither statues nor pictures nor books; he loudly proclaimed that he made…living men, immortals.”

DAILY SCRIPTURE
ROMANS 8:31-39 
JOHN 10:1-18 


WEEKLY PRAYERFrom Henry Van Dyke (1852 – 1933)
O Christ, the brightness of God’s glory and express image of his person, whom death could not conquer, nor the tomb imprison; as you have shared our mortal frailty in the flesh, help us to share your immortal triumph in the spirit. Let no shadow of the grave frighten us and no fear of darkness turn our hearts from you. Reveal yourself to us as the first and the last, the Living One, our immortal Savior and Lord.
Amen.The post A Greater Artist Than All Others first appeared on With God Daily.

A New Liveliness

February 23rd, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

Depth psychologist Carol Pearson considers the gifts shared by those who have completed the hero’s journey of inner transformation:

At the beginning of the classic hero myth, the kingdom is a wasteland. Crops are not growing, illness is rampant, babies are not being born, and alienation and despair are pervasive. The fertility, the sense of life, has disappeared from the kingdom.…

A more youthful challenger goes on a journey … [which] transforms the challenger, whose treasure is the discovery of a new and life-affirming perspective. When the hero returns … fertility and abundance are restored. Rain falls, nourishing parched ground. Crops spring up, babies are born, the plague is cured, and people feel hopeful and alive once more.…

Heroes, then, are not only people who grow and change and take their journeys; they also are agents of change.… The hero’s task always has been to bring new life to an ailing culture.

In ancient times, societies were governed by kings and queens.… Today, however, we prize the achievement of democracy. Yet living in an egalitarian society carries with it responsibilities. Instead of only exceptional people going on the quest, we all need to be doing so. Heroism today requires us all to find the treasure of our true selves and to share that treasure with the community as a whole—through doing and being fully who we are. To the degree that we do so, our kingdoms are transformed. [1]

Richard locates the generativity of our spiritual journeys with our deeper connection to the Source of all life:

The hero “falls through” what is merely their life situation to discover their Real Life, which is always a much deeper river, hidden beneath the appearances. Most people confuse their life situation with their actual life, which is an underlying flow beneath everyday events. This deeper discovery is largely what religious people mean by “finding their soul.”

The hero returns to where they started and “knows the place for the first time” [2], but now with a gift or “boon” for their people or village. As the last step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, a person must pass the lessons learned on to others—or there has been no real gift at all. The hero’s journey is always an experience of an excess of life, a surplus of energy, with plenty left over for others. The hero has found eros, or life energy, and it is more than enough to undo thanatos, the energy of death.

Interestingly enough, this classic tradition of a true “hero” is not our present understanding at all. There is little social matrix to our present use of the word. A “hero” now is largely about being bold, attractive, rich, famous, talented, or “fantastic” by oneself, and often for oneself, whereas the classic hero is the one who “goes the distance,” whatever that takes, and then has plenty left over for others. True heroism serves the common good or it is not really heroism at all.

________________________________________________________

Sarah Young Jesus Calling

 Be on guard against the pit of self-pity. When you are weary or unwell, this demonic trap is the greatest danger you face. Don’t even go near the edge of the pit. Its edges crumble easily, and before you know it, you are on the way down. It is ever so much harder to get out of the pit than to keep a safe distance from it. That is why I tell you to be on guard.

    There are several ways to protect yourself from self-pity. When you are occupied with praising and thanking Me, it is impossible to feel sorry for yourself. Also, the closer you live to Me, the more distance there is between you and the pit. Live in the Light of My Presence by fixing your eyes on Me. Then you will be able to run with endurance the race that is set before you, without stumbling or falling. 

RELATED SCRIPTURE: 

Psalm 89:15-16 NLT

15 Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship,

    for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord.

16 They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation.

    They exult in your righteousness.

Additional insight regarding Psalm 89:14,15: Righteousness, justice, love, and truth are the foundation of God’s throne; they are central characteristics of the way God rules. They summarize his character. As God’s ambassadors, we can exhibit the same traits when we deal with people. Make sure your actions flow out of righteousness, justice, love, and faithfulness, because any unfair, unloving, or dishonest action cannot come from God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

God’s Discipline Proves His Love

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

Additional insight regarding Hebrews 12:1: This “huge crowd of witnesses” is composed of the people described in Chapter 11. Their faithfulness is a constant encouragement for us. We do not struggle alone, and we are not the first to struggle with the problems we face. Others have run the race and won, and their witness stirs us to run and win also. What an inspiring heritage we have

Additional insight regarding Hebrews 12:1: Long-distance runners work hard to build endurance and strength. On race day, their clothes are lightweight and their bodies lean. To run the race that God has set before us, we must also strip off the excess weight that slows us down.

Following Jesus Is a Journey

February 22nd, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

Brian McLaren points to Jesus’ time in the wilderness as essential to his spiritual journey, one that he invites his disciples to engage in as well:

Jesus needed that time of preparation in the wilderness. He needed to get his mission clear in his own heart so that he wouldn’t be captivated by the expectations of adoring fans or intimidated by the threats of furious critics. If we dare to follow Jesus and proclaim the radical dimensions of God’s good news as he did, we will face the same twin dangers of domestication and intimidation.…

Soon he began inviting select individuals to become his followers…. To become disciples of a rabbi meant entering a rigorous program of transformation, learning a new way of life, a new set of values [and] skills. It meant … facing a new set of dangers on the road. Once they were thoroughly apprenticed as disciples, they would then be sent out as apostles to spread the rabbi’s controversial and challenging message everywhere. One did not say yes to discipleship lightly. [1]

Contemplative writer Joyce Rupp reflects upon Jesus’ difficult teaching for followers to “take up their cross and follow him”:

What did the crowd following Jesus think when he made that tough statement [Luke 14:27]? Did they wonder what carrying the cross meant? Did they have second thoughts about accompanying him? Jesus wanted his followers to know that the journey they would make involved knowing and enlivening the teachings he advocated. In other words, Jesus was cautioning them, “If you decide to give yourselves to what truly counts in this life, it will cost you. You will feel these teachings to be burdensome at times, like the weight of a cross.”

We can’t just sit on the roadside of life and call ourselves followers of Jesus. We are to do more than esteem him for his generous love and dedicated service. We do not hear Jesus grumbling about the challenges and demands of this way of life. We do not see him “talking a good talk” but doing nothing about it. He describes his vision and then encourages others to join him in moving those teachings into action. [2]

McLaren invites us to join an adventurous and unknown journey in the spirit of Jesus’ first disciples:  

The word Christian is more familiar to us today than the word disciple. These days, Christian often seems to apply more to the kinds of people who would push Jesus off a cliff than it does to his true followers. Perhaps the time has come to rediscover the power and challenge of that earlier, more primary word disciple [which] occurs over 250 times in the New Testament, in contrast to the word Christian, which occurs only three times. Maybe those statistics are trying to tell us something.

To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to hear that challenging good news of today, and to receive that thrilling invitation to follow him … as a disciple. [3]

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Sarah Young Jesus Calling

Jesus Calling: February 22nd, 2024

Jesus Calling: February 22

    You need Me every moment. Your awareness of your constant need for Me is your greatest strength. Your neediness, properly handled, is a link to My Presence. However, there are pitfalls that you must be on guard against: self-pity, self-preoccupation, giving up. Your inadequacy presents you with a continual choice–deep dependence on Me, or despair. The emptiness you feel within will be filled either with problems or with My presence. Make Me central in your consciousness by praying continually simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment. Use My Name liberally, to remind you of My Presence. Keep on asking and you will receive, so that your gladness may be full and complete.

RELATED SCRIPTURE: 

1st Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)

17 Never stop praying.

Additional insight regarding 1st Thessalonians 5:17: We cannot spend all our time on our knees, but it is possible to have a prayerful attitude at all times. This attitude is built upon acknowledging our dependence on God, realizing his presence within us, and determining to obey him fully. Then we will find it natural to pray frequent, spontaneous, short prayers. A prayerful attitude is not a substitute for regular times of prayer but should be an outgrowth of those times.

Have you ever grown tired of praying for something or someone? Paul said that believers should never stop praying. A Christian’s persistence is an expression of faith that God answers prayer. Faith shouldn’t die if the answers come slowly, for the delay may be God’s way of working his will. When you feel tired of praying, know that God is present, always listening, always answering – in ways that he knows are best.

John 16:24

24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

Additional insight regarding John 16:24: Jesus is talking about a new relationship between the believer and God. Previously, people approached God through priests. After Jesus’ resurrection, any believer could approach God directly. We approach God, not because of our own merit, but because Jesus, our great High Priest, has made us acceptable to God.

Shifting Priorities

February 21st, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Sometimes in the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, / We can hear the whisper in the heart / Giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair.
—Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart

CAC teacher Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes shares how contemplative times of stillness and quiet are an integral part of the spiritual journey:

The journey of life is absolutely a sacred journey, but we don’t know that when we’re younger. We often don’t want to think about life in terms of a sacred journey, because we don’t know for certain where we came from, and we don’t know for certain where we’re going. Depending on our faith traditions, we know this by faith. We have traditions about who we are, how we got here, and where we will end up.

In the everyday maelstrom of life, however, people don’t want to think about any of that. They just want to get through their day. They want to accomplish things. They want to own things—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when we get to the halfway point in our lives, we begin to realize that all the things that we have accumulated don’t mean a whole lot. We can’t take them with us when we die. As we age, we begin to take into account what really matters in life. Things like family, relationships, love, commitment, and service to others are what matters. When we start focusing on those things, it no longer becomes just a church phrase to say or something to do. Working with others really warms our hearts. Leading with love changes who we are.

The journey is absolutely sacred because we are not just flesh and blood. We are also spirit beings. And what other kind of journey could a spirit being take except for a spiritual journey?… I’m on the other side of fifty now, and all of my priorities have shifted. The ambition and all of the things that I was striving for don’t make a lot of sense at this point. The fulfillment comes in doing what you are led to do. In the Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit is supposed to lead you into all truth. I see the Holy Spirit as a guiding light—we’re walking by the path and there’s a lamp unto our feet that helps us to know what to do, how to do it, and to be still.  

This is where contemplation comes in. It is impossible to shift priorities if we are in a constant, busy, frenetic lifestyle. There has to be that pause, that breath, that waiting, that willingness to be still until we know. Be still and know—but the stillness doesn’t immediately lead to knowing. At first, we have to be still, and then we have to be patient until the knowing comes about.

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From Skye Jethani. With God Daily

FEB 21, 2024
A New Family
Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, his followers were gathered together in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Tradition recognizes that day, called Pentecost, as the birthday of the Church because that was when Jesus’ previously frightened disciples were empowered to boldly proclaim the gospel to the crowds in Jerusalem and thousands believed and were baptized. While Pentecost was certainly the launch of the Church’s mission, we may need to expand our vision of the Church beyond its mission if we are to see the role of Jesus’ cross in its birth.

Amid his excruciating suffering, Jesus looked down from the cross to see his mother, Mary, and near her was his disciple, John, who was likely just a teenager at the time. Throughout his ministry, Jesus’ compassion moved him toward the hurting and the suffering. He touched them, embraced them, and even cried with them. But here, nailed to the cross, he could not embrace his grieving mother. Neither could he have John tenderly recline on his chest, as he did at the Last Supper.

Unable to comfort them himself, Jesus instead called them to comfort one another. Looking to Mary he said, “Woman, this is your son.” And looking to John he said, “Son, this is your mother.” He bound these two people he loved together so they would not be alone in their pain. Remarkably, even as he experienced the most terrible suffering imaginable, Jesus was still sympathizing with the pain of others and doing all he could to alleviate it.But there is something more at work in this merciful moment. The language Jesus used was formal and common during adoption proceedings in the first century. He was legally binding Mary to John, and it’s clear his disciple understood this responsibility because we are told that from that moment John took Mary into his home. Jesus, from his cross, redefined their relationship forever.

And the cross redefines our relationships as well. Through his death, Jesus has brought together separate, even hostile, people and bound us together into a new family called the Church. He shows that what ultimately unites the Church is not genetics, culture, nationality, politics, a family name, ancestry, or even a particular worship style, theology, or approach to mission. What gives birth to the Church and unites us is the cross.This vision of the Church is very different from what we see so often today where congregations are defined by a shared interest or mission. As Fleming Rutledge wrote, “The Christian community comes into being without regard to differences. Personal likes and dislikes have nothing to do with the body of Christ.” She’s right. We are united, like Mary and John, by the simple but incomprehensible truth that Jesus loves us, and from his cross he calls us to love one another.

DAILY SCRIPTURE
MATTHEW 12:46-50 
EPHESIANS 2:11-22 
JOHN 19:23-27


WEEKLY PRAYER
From Henry Van Dyke (1852 – 1933)
O Christ, the brightness of God’s glory and express image of his person, whom death could not conquer, nor the tomb imprison; as you have shared our mortal frailty in the flesh, help us to share your immortal triumph in the spirit. Let no shadow of the grave frighten us and no fear of darkness turn our hearts from you. Reveal yourself to us as the first and the last, the Living One, our immortal Savior and Lord.
Amen.

Reclaimed by Something Deeper

February 20th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

Richard Rohr connects the spiritual journey to how we respond to our suffering.

I believe that only people who have suffered in some way can save one another—exactly as Twelve Step programs have discovered. Deep communion and dear compassion are formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure. I do not know why that is true. We’re not saved by any formulas or theologies or any priesthood extraneous to the human journey itself. Jesus says to Peter, “You must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can turn and help the brothers” (Luke 22:31–32). [1]

Pixie Lighthorse describes the healing process at work in our wounds:

Your wounds are hard at work making their sacred medicine in the hidden spaces below the scars. With loss, there may be nothing satisfying for you to reclaim. If a special person has died, or love went away, what we yearn for most is an impossible return. The sacred task at hand is to let yourself be reclaimed by something deeper than the immediacy of struggle and pain. This something need not be identified or fixated upon, but surrendered to. [2]

Richard continues:

Only those who have tried to breathe under water know how important breathing really is, and will never take it for granted again. They are the ones who do not take shipwreck or drowning lightly. They’re the ones who can name “healing” correctly, the ones who know what they have been saved from, and the only ones who develop the patience and humility to ask the right questions of God and of themselves.

Only the survivors know the full terror of the passage, the arms that held them through it all, and the power of the obstacles that were overcome. All they can do is thank God they made it through! For the rest of us it is mere speculation, salvation theories, and “theology.”

Theirs are no longer the premature requests for mere physical healing, or purely medical cures, as the lepers and the blind in the Gospels first imagined. Those who have passed over are now inside a much bigger picture. People in Twelve Step programs know they are still and forever alcoholics or addicts, but something better has been revealed—and given to them—in the very process of passing over, which they can only know from the other side.

Those who have passed over eventually find a much bigger world of endurance, meaning, hope, self-esteem, deeper and true desire, and, most especially, a bottomless pool of love both within and without. Their treasure hunt is over; they are home, and home free! This deep transformation isn’t achieved by magic or miracles or priestcraft but by a vital spiritual experience that is available to all human beings. It leads to an emotional sobriety, an immense freedom, a natural compassion, and a sense of divine union that is the deepest and most universal meaning of that much-used word salvation. [3]

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Sarah Young Jesus Calling

Jesus Calling: February 20
    Learn to live from your true Center in Me. I reside in the deepest depths of your being, in eternal union with your spirit. It is at this deep level that My Peace reigns continually. You will not find lasting peace in the world around you, in circumstances, or in human relationships. The external world is always in flux–under the curse of death and decay. But there is a gold mine of Peace deep within you, waiting to be tapped. Take time to delve into the riches of My residing Presence. I want you to live increasingly from your real Center, where My Love has an eternal grip on you. I am Christ in you, the hope of Glory. 

RELATED SCRIPTURE: 

Colossians 3:15 NLT

15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

Colossians 1:27

27 For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.

Philippians 4:6-7

6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

February 18th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

The Hero’s Journey

Richard Rohr uses the framework of the “hero’s journey” to describe the path of spiritual transformation. He points to The Odyssey as a powerful metaphor: 

The universe story and the human story are a play of forces rational and nonrational, conscious and unconscious, involving fate and fortune, nature and nurture. Forces of good and evil play out their tragedies and their graces—leading us to catastrophes, backtracking, mutations, transgressions, regroupings, enmities, failures, mistakes, and impossible dilemmas. The Greek word for tragedy means “goat story.” The Odyssey is a primal goat story, where poor Odysseus keeps going forward and backward, up and down—but mostly down—all the way home to Ithaca.  [1]

The hero’s journey is a key myth that keeps repeating in different cultures. I learned about it from mythologist Joseph Campbell. The hero or heroine—the gender really doesn’t matter—must leave home or business as usual. They have to leave what feels like sufficiency or enoughness. There is a sense of necessity in discovering the bigger world. We’ve got to know there’s a bigger world than my home state of Kansas, or wherever we’re from. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy has to leave Kansas—and she’s taken away by a tornado. We usually don’t leave home willingly. More often than not, we’re taken there by some circumstance, shipwreck, accident, death, or suffering of some sort. That’s called theDEPARTURE The hero has to lose or walk away from their sense of order and enter some kind of disorder. 

Then there’s the ENCOUNTER. After the hero leaves their castle or their stable home, they have to experience something bigger, something better, something that is more real and more demanding of their real energies. Of course, that takes different forms. In the Gospels, after his baptism, Jesus goes into the desert for forty days.

Surprisingly, the third stage of the hero’s journey is the RETURN. The hero’s journey is not to just keep going to new places, making the trip a vacation or travelogue. We have to return to where we started and know it in a new way and do life in a new way. We are not somehow “beyond” the order and disorder of our lives; we’ve learned how to integrate both of them. This stage of return is so rarely taught. What is good about the order, what is good about the disorder, and how do we put them together? That is the “reorder” or the return.

We have the departure, then we have the encounter, which will always lead to some kind of descent away from status, away from security, away from ascent. Eventually something happens, something gets transformed, and then there’s the return. [2]

Falling Down and Moving Up

Father Richard identifies the heroic journey as a type of “falling upward” into a new way of being: 

A down-and-then-up perspective doesn’t fit into our Western philosophy of progress, nor into our desire for upward mobility, nor into our religious notions of perfection or holiness. “Let’s hope it is not true, at least for me,” we all say. Yet the Perennial Tradition, sometimes called the wisdom tradition, says it is and will always be true. St. Augustine called it the passing-over mystery (or the “paschal mystery,” from the Hebrew word for Passover, Pesach).

Today we might use a variety of metaphors: reversing engines, a change in game plan, a falling off the very wagon that we constructed. No one would choose such upheaval consciously. We must somehow “fall” into it. Those who are too carefully engineering their own superiority systems will usually not allow it at all. It is much more done to us than anything we do ourselves, and sometimes nonreligious people are more open to this change in strategy than are religious folks who have their private salvation project all worked out. This is how I interpret Jesus’ enigmatic words, “The children of this world are wiser in their ways than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). I’ve met too many rigid and angry Christians and clergy to deny this sad truth, but it seems to be true in all religions until and unless they lead persons to the actual journey of spiritual transformation.

Falling down and moving up is the most counter-intuitive message in most of the world’s religions, including Christianity. We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That just might be the central message of how spiritual growth happens, yet nothing in us wants to believe it. I actually think it’s the only workable meaning of any remaining notion of “original sin.” There seems to have been a fly in the ointment from the beginning, but the key is recognizing and dealing with the fly rather than throwing out the whole ointment!

By denying their pain and avoiding the necessary falling, many have kept themselves from their own spiritual journeys and depths—and therefore have been kept from their own spiritual heights. Because none of us desire, seek, or even suspect a downward path to growth, we have to get the message with the authority of a “divine revelation.” So, Jesus makes it into a central axiom: The “last” really do have a head start in moving toward “first,” and those who spend too much time trying to be “first” will never get there (Matthew 19:30). Jesus says this clearly in several places and in numerous parables, although those of us still on the first journey just cannot hear this. It has been considered mere religious fluff, as much of Western history has made rather clear. Our resistance to the message is so great that it could be called outright denial, even among sincere Christians.

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Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing
Click Here for Audio
Van Gogh’s painting of olive trees was intended to represent Jesus’ suffering in Gethsemane. He gave the trees a vaguely human form in order to “make people think” more than if he had depicted Jesus explicitly. Another noticeable difference from traditional depictions of Gethsemane is the brightness of Vincent’s painting. He did not paint the shadows of a garden at night, which would fit what the gospel writers tell us. Instead, his garden of olive trees is under a blazing golden sun. Like so many of his paintings, this one is dominated by yellow, van Gogh’s color for divine love. The trees writhing in pain appear to be stretching upward toward the infinite joy of God.The simultaneous mixing of joy and sorrow is a common theme in Vincent’s paintings and in his life. He said, “It is true that I am often in the greatest misery, but still there is a calm pure harmony and music inside me.” This paradox should be familiar to anyone who belongs to Christ. The Apostle Paul described himself as a common jar of clay that nonetheless contained a priceless treasure. He said he is afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and wasting away—and yet, he saw these momentary troubles as nothing compared to the eternal glory that awaits him. Later, he described himself as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
This paradox captured van Gogh’s imagination as a young man. In 1876, he preached an English sermon on the topic. He said:“Sorrow is better than joy…for by the sadness of the countenance, the heart is made better. Our nature is sorrowful, but for those who have learnt and are learning to look at Jesus Christ, there is always reason to rejoice. It is a good word, that of St. Paul: as being sorrowful yet always rejoicing. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, there is no death or sorrow that is not mixed with hope—no despair—there is only a constant being born again, a constantly going from darkness into light.”Perhaps this explains why he painted his version of Gethsemane in bright sunlight. The terrible suffering of Jesus in the garden was not the full story. Through his suffering, there would also be resurrection, new birth, the defeat of evil, and the reconciliation of all things to God. This is what Vincent tried to capture with his painting. The contorted olive trees reaching up to the sun represent Jesus’ journey and ours from darkness to light. There is pain, but there is also hope. There is sorrow, but there is also joy.
Good Friday contains the mystery of our faith. The cross is a paradox we are invited to embrace even as we fail to comprehend it. It is a moment of unimaginable sorrow and pain; of injustice and cruelty. It represents, as Jesus said when he was arrested, the “hour when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). And yet, it is simultaneously the moment when darkness is defeated, when injustice is disarmed, and when our sorrow turns to joy. In these uncertain times, when there is so much fear and suffering, the cross reminds us as van Gogh preached, “there is no death or sorrow that is not mixed with hope.

”DAILY SCRIPTURE

ISAIAH 61:1-4 
2 CORINTHIANS 4:7-18 
MARK 15:33-39


WEEKLY PRAYER From Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153)

You taught us, Lord, that the greatest love a man can show is to lay down his life for his friends. But your love was greater still, because you laid down your life for your enemies. It was while we were still enemies that you reconciled us to yourself by your death. What other love has ever been, or could ever be, like yours? You suffered unjustly for the sake of the unjust. You died at the hands of sinners for the sake of the sinful. You became a slave to tyrants, to set the oppressed free.
Amen.

The post Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing first appeared on With God Daily.

Authentic and Humble Fire

February 16th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

Mystics and sages of all traditions speak of the inner fire, the divine spark hidden in our very cells and in all that lives. This flame of love is the pure presence of God.
—Paula D’Arcy, “A Surrender to Love,” Oneing, Spring 2017

Richard Rohr points to the inner authority and universal wisdom that characterize the writings of the mystics:

What characterizes the mystics is an amazing, calm clarity because their own agenda, fear, smallness, pettiness, and false self are out of the way. They are able to exist calmly inside of a larger connectivity, and from that place they speak with a kind of authority. That’s part of the reason they’ve always been kept at arm’s length by organized religion. Often, they’re only canonized centuries after they die—if they’re canonized at all. They weren’t quoting our familiar sources, the Scriptures, or systematic theology that make our coherent religious system fit together. Their vocabulary is often very creative, and even idiosyncratic. It’s their own experience, but their experience has become so grounded in an inner certitude that they don’t feel the need to justify it by using the language that the rest of us use. Yet, if we sit with their words and allow them to work upon us, we often find a kind of supreme orthodoxy. [1]

Father Richard praises the inherent humility of the mystics and others who have encountered God:

All the truly great persons I have ever met are characterized by what I would call “radical humility.” They are deeply convinced that they are drawing from another source; they are instruments. Their genius is not their own; it is borrowed. They understand that we are moons, not suns, except in our ability to pass on the light. Our life is not our own, yet, at some level, enlightened people know their life has been given to them as a sacred trust. They live in gratitude and confidence, and they try to let the flow continue through them. They know that love is repaid by love alone, as both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught.

God’s desire and our destinies are already written in our genes, our upbringing, and our natural gifts. To accept that each of us is just ourself is probably the most courageous thing we will ever do. Only the original manufacturer can declare what the product—each one of us—should be; nobody else. “Even every hair of your head has been counted,” as Jesus states (Matthew 10:30). God chooses us into existence, and continues that choice of us every successive moment, or we would fall into non-being. We are interrelated with Essential Being, participating in the very life of God, while living out one little part of that life in our own exquisite form.

Paradoxically, we can say our life is precisely about us, but once we know who we really are, we can hold this exquisite fire without burning up and burning out. [2]

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Five for Friday John Chaffee

“Hope for the best.  Expect the worst.  Life is a play.  We are unrehearsed.”

  • Mel Brooks, Comedian and Director
     
    You almost wonder if Mel Brooks recently had in mind Shakespeare’s, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”

Either way, the comment about all of us being “unrehearsed” grabs my attention most.

2.
“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”

  • Allen Ginsberg, Poet
     
    One thing that I have learned in self-publishing 3 books (so far) is that a writer/creator must be detached from any expectation of how it is received.  The instant that we begin to care about the outcome is the very instant that a creative endeavor begins to lose its vitality/edge/honesty.

It is almost as if to say that we speak from our own unique voice when we believe no one is listening.  You know, “dance as if no one is watching”?  Say something truthfully, even if you doubt anyone will pay it any attention.

I can’t help but also think about this within the context of preaching.  How many times have I given a sermon that was not fully from my own voice but rather from a false one that was expecting or hoping for how it would be heard?

How often do we avoid speaking from our own voice because we know who might be listening?  Just a thought.

3.
I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial, and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.”

  • Frederick Douglass, African-American Abolitionist
     
    Christianity has a complicated history in America, to say the least.

In the same vein as Frederick Douglass, theologian David Bentley Hart jokingly asks, “When will Christianity finally make it to America?”  Can we even say that what presents itself as Christianity is authentic Christianity?

In all my years of ministry, I found myself becoming fascinated by the early Church and its rich theology, ethics, and sense of community.  And, surprisingly, I was sometimes reprimanded for talking about how the early Church took stances against racism, classism, sexism.

For me, and I believe for the early Church, the faith does not affirm or celebrate the status quo, it critiques it and challenges it to be better.

Frederick Douglass was correct to denounce a corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial, and hypocritical “Christianity” and his prophetic critique is something that we should emulate.

4.
The Gospel is a very dangerous idea. We have to see how much of that idea we can perform in our own lives. There is nothing innocuous or safe about the Gospel. Jesus did not get crucified because he was a nice man.”

  • Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Scholar
     
    I have nothing to add to this.  Brueggemann has been on my mind since finishing his biography this week.  You can check it out here.

5.
“He must increase; I must decrease.”

  • John 3:30
     
    John the Baptist has been capturing my imagination for a few months now.  A while back I read a paragraph or two about him from Richard Rohr in From Wild Man to Wise Man that struck me.

In the Gospels, John the Baptist is Jesus’ cousin and is called the Forerunner and the Friend of the Bridegroom.  He was a wild prophetic voice on the edge of society and likely a member of the Essenes (a mystical Jewish sect that critiqued the Temple of its day).

But what stands out about John the Baptist is how he is a summation or the embodiment of the Prophets from the Hebrew Scriptures.  In his person, he is something of a bridge between the Old and the New.  He is so deeply grounded in his tradition that he can look forward to the future without any ego.

I will have to explore this further in my journals, but something about John the Baptist calls to me, archetypically.  He is, in some manner or another, a mold to follow or an example to learn from.

There is some magic to the fact that John the Baptist existed outside the Temple, stood deeply within his tradition, and yet was not accepted by the formal institutions of his day…

I guess that is some of how I feel.  Unwanted by the formal institutions and yet continuing to exist outside of them, a little bit like a free spirit saying, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”  Maybe that’s why John the Baptist resonates with me.

Over the past two years, some of you have taken the time to send an email reply of encouragement, to which I try to always express appreciation.

So, to all of you who took the time to read this…  Thank you.

I hope that through these newsletters I connect you to the best of the tradition, perhaps that you did not know existed, and that it helps to level the way for you to have some kind of Divine encounter.