September 21st, 2021 by Dave No comments »

The Power of Money

In 2019, Richard wrote a short book entitled What Do We Do with Evil? In it, he explored the apostle Paul’s teachings on “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” to clarify the often invisible, systemic, and hidden nature of evil, including systems of money. 

For most of history we believed that evil was almost exclusively the result of “bad people” and that it was our job to make them into good people. We thought this alone would change the world. And sometimes it worked! Yet only in the 20th century did popes and many moral theologians begin to teach about corporate sin, institutionalized evil, systemic violence, and structural racism. These very words are new to most people, especially ones who benefit from such illusions.

I believe personal evil is committed rather freely because it is derived from and legitimated by our underlying, unspoken agreement that certain evils are necessary for the common good. Let’s call this systemic evil. However, if we would be honest, this leaves us very conflicted. We call war “good and necessary,” but murder bad. National or corporate pride is expected, but personal vanity is bad. Capitalism is rewarded, but personal gluttony or greed is bad (or, at least, it used to be). Lying and cover-ups are considered acceptable to protect powerful systems (the church, political groups, governments), but individuals should not tell lies.

Thus we now find ourselves unable to recognize or defeat the tyranny of evil at the most invisible, institutionalized, and entrenched level. Evil at this stage has become not only pleasing to us but idealized, romanticized, and even “too big to fail.” This is what I call “the devil” and Paul calls “the thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers” (Colossians 1:16) or “spirits of the air” (Ephesians 6:12). These were his premodern words for corporations, institutions, and nation states. Anything that is deemed above criticism and hidden in the spirit of the age will in time—usually in a rather short time—always become demonic.

As regards money and evil, money’s meaning and use is highly obfuscated by small print and obscure vocabularies which only highly-trained economists can understand: annuities, interest (“usury” used to be a major sin!), non-fiduciary, reverse mortgages, and more. Yes, the devil is in the details! The ordinary person is left at the mercy of these new clerics who alone understand how we can be “saved” by the “infallible laws of the market” and the “bottom line” of everything. They use the language of religion and transcendence to speak with a kind of assumed objectivity that we once only allowed in the realm of theology and from the pulpit.

Letting the domination systems of “the world” off the hook, we put almost all our moral concern on greedy or ambitious individuals. We tried to change them without recognizing that each isolated individual was on bended knee before the powers and principalities of the market and more. In most nations today, our moral compass has been thrown off its foundations.

September 20th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Money and Soul

In this week’s meditations, we are delighted to share some of Fr. Richard Rohr’s unpublished notes about money. As a Franciscan dedicated to simple living and the Gospel call to solidarity with the marginalized, Richard sees an opportunity for each of us to rediscover a “soulful” relationship with money. 

I’m convinced that money and soul are united on a deep level. This truth is reappearing from the deep stream of wisdom traditions after centuries of almost total splitting and separation at the conscious level. [1] There is un río profundo, a river beneath the river. The upper stream has always been money in all its forms, beginning with trading and bartering. The deeper stream is the spiritual meaning such exchanges must have for our lives. Money and soul have never been separate in our unconscious because they are both about human exchanges, and therefore, divine exchange, too.

Notice how much religion uses the language of commerce, such as gaining heaven, acquiring merit, doing penance, earning salvation, losing one’s soul, and deserving hell. Of course, there is also the notion of “penal substitutionary atonement” itself, with Jesus “paying the debt” for our sins. On the other side, commerce uses the metaphors of religion far more than it realizes: we purchase bonds and trusts, enter into covenants, forgive debts, are granted grace periods for repayment, enjoy indemnity, reconcile accounts, and redeem coupons!

From my perspective, when money and soul are separated, religion is the major loser. Without a vision of wholeness that puts money in its soulful place, religion “sells out.” Religion allowed itself to lose the only ground on which awe and transcendence stand—the foundation of totally gratuitous and “amazing grace.” We traded it for a “mess of pottage” (see Genesis 25:27–34), a secretly enthroned ego that only knows how to count, weigh, measure, dole out, judge, label, earn, expel, and compete. No wonder Jesus’ direct action in the Temple that exposed the idolatrous game got him killed within a week! All four Gospels in some form speak of “turning over the tables” of buying and selling. [2] Even with this forceful gospel teaching, our faith became transactional instead of transformational, calculating instead of consoling.

Lynne Twist, founder of the Soul of Money Institute, understands the impact that our culture’s disintegrated view of money has made and invites us to the spiritual practice of bringing the two—money and our souls—together in our lives:

In a world that seems to revolve around money, it is vital that we deepen our relationship with our soul and bring it to bear on our relationship with money. In that merger and that commitment, we can create a new and profound spiritual practice. We can have our money culture both balanced and nourished by soul. Our relationship with money can become a place where, day in and day out, we can engage in this meaningful spiritual practice. [3]

We Cannot Serve Two Masters

Fr. Richard continues his reflections on money by considering one of Jesus’ most challenging statements. 

Many of us, myself included, have a confused, guilt-ridden, obsessive attitude about money. There’s hardly anybody who can think in a clear-headed way about it. At the end of Luke’s parable of the so-called dishonest steward, Jesus creates a clear dualism between God and wealth, or what he calls “mammon”: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). Mammon was the god of wealth, money, superficiality, and success. Jesus says, in effect, “You’ve finally got to make a choice.” Most of Jesus’ teaching is what I call nondual—a theme I often teach—but there are a few areas where he’s absolutely dualistic (either-or), and it’s usually anything having to do with power and anything having to do with money.

Jesus is absolute about money and power because he knows what we’re going to do. Most of us will serve this god called mammon. Luke’s Gospel even describes mammon as a type of illness, as Jesuit John Haughey (1930–2019) explained: “Mammon is not simply a neutral term in Luke. It is not simply money. It connotes disorder. . . . Mammon becomes then a source of disorder because people allow it to make a claim on them that only God can make.” [1] “Mammon illness” takes over when we think all of life is counting, weighing, measuring, and deserving. We go to places that have sales, so that we don’t have to give as much to get the same thing. My mother spent much of her time cutting coupons to save ten cents. It was good and even necessary for a while, I guess, but it’s very hard to get rid of that fixation.

To participate in the reign of God, we have to stop counting. We have to stop weighing, measuring, and deserving in order to let the flow of forgiveness and love flow through us. The love of God can’t be doled out by any process whatsoever. We can’t earn it. We can’t lose it. As long as we stay in this world of earning and losing, we’ll live in perpetual resentment, envy, or climbing.

Religion cannot work from a calculator without losing its very method, mind, foundation, and source. Surely this is what Jesus meant by his statement in Luke’s Gospel. Perhaps if we say it a bit differently, we can all get the point: “You cannot move around inside the world of Infinite Grace and Mercy, and at the same time be counting and measuring with your overly defensive and finite little mind.” It would be like asking an ant to map the galaxies. St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897) put it much more directly to a nun worried about God keeping track of her many failings: “There is a science about which [God] knows nothing—addition!” [2] The reign of God is a worldview of abundance. God lifts us up from a worldview of scarcity to infinity. Remember every part of infinity is still infinite! God’s love is nothing less than infinite.

September 17th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Who We Are Is Who We Will Be

My colleague Brian McLaren has long explored what it might mean to be a “new kind of Christian.” Brian once wrote a fictionalized story about a pastor asking questions at the edges of his faith. Dan, the book’s main character, strikes up a friendship with an older, former pastor who mentors him into a larger, more generous, and loving Christianity. This pastor leads Dan through a thought experiment:

Imagine that you have just died and passed through the doorway of death. And you enter heaven. And it is a place of intense brightness, a place fragrant with goodness, a place alive with love. The presence of God seems to pervade everyone and every thing. . . . In this place, people are humble and genuinely interested in others. . . . It is a place of true freedom, trust, and intimacy. And even though it is a place of great diversity, with people of all cultures and languages and times retaining all their uniqueness, it is a place where no one argues, no one fights, no one hates, and no one complains—not because they aren’t allowed to but because they don’t want to, because they accept and love one another completely. They are fully alive. . . . Think about how you would feel entering that place.

OK. Now I want you to imagine that someone has walked beside you through that doorway of death. And that person has lived his life cramped in hatred and fear, tight in guilt and greed, ingrown in lust and selfishness. He has spent every day of his life complaining and being bitter and blaming others and being ungrateful. He has been suspicious of those different from himself, and he has become an expert at lying and cheating and using others. He is proud, arrogant, unwilling to admit he is wrong. . . . Now, how would that person feel?

Could it be that the very light that seems beautiful to you would seem blinding to him? Could the very warmth of the love of that place that to you is so perfect seem to him horrible? Could the acceptance and love and trust and openness that welcome you seem to him disgusting, weak, terrifying, insipid, or repulsive? . . . Maybe it’s not that there are two places beyond the door of death, heaven and hell. Sometimes I wonder if hell is just what heaven feels like for those who haven’t learned in this life what this life is intended to teach. I believe with all my heart that God is not willing for even one person to miss out on the joy and glories of heaven. . . . We are becoming on this side of the door of death the kind of people we will be on the other side.

Richard here: In the Gospels, Matthew’s especially, Jesus teaches that we will face consequences for the choices we make in our lifetimes, but they are never for the sake of punishment. Instead, they are a manifestation of God’s redemptive and healing love, which will ultimately prevail.

September 16th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Love Is All There Is

We are born out of love. We live in love. We are destined for love.

—Blessed Raymón Llull, The Book of the Lover and the Beloved

There are few people who teach as passionately about love as scientist, scholar, and Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio. At the CAC CONSPIRE conference in 2014, the audience was able to witness and share Ilia’s enthusiasm for, and trust in, the “love energy of God,” which makes any of our typical notions of hell quite impossible. She said: 

Everything that exists speaks of God, reflects that love energy of God. But God is more than anything that exists. God is always the more of our lives. We can’t contain God. If we try to control God, that’s not God; God always spills over our lives. So, God is our future. If we’re longing for something we desire, it’s that spilled-over love of our lives that’s pulling us onward, that’s luring us into something new. But we don’t trust this God [of implanted desire] often. We were pretty sure that God’s there, [and] we’re here, and we just need to keep [on] the straight and narrow path. . . .

What Francis [of Assisi] recognized is God is in every direction. That you might arrive, you might not arrive. You might arrive late; you might arrive early. It’s not the arrival that counts. It’s God! It’s not the direction that counts. It’s just being there, trusting that you will be going where God wants you. In other words, God is with us. Every step of the way is God-empowered love energy. But we tend to break down and start controlling things: “If I go this way, I’m going to get lost. Well, what if it’s wrong? What will happen to me?” Well, what will happen to you? Something will happen. But guess what? Something’s going to happen whether or not you go; that’s the whole point of life. So, it’s all about love.  

So, it’s not like we’ve got this, “Here’s God; here’s us. God’s just waiting till we get our act together and then we’ll all be well.” That’s a boring God; that’s not even God. God is alive. God is love. Love is pulling us on to do new things and we need to trust the power of God in our lives to do new things. . . . We need to unwire ourselves to recognize that the God of Jesus Christ is, you might say, the power beneath our feet, the depth of the beauty of everything that exists, and the future into which we are moving. . . .

Every one of us is written in the heart of God from all eternity, born into the stars, born, you might say, into the galaxies, born on this earth in small forms, developing and coming to explicit form in our lives, given a name. It’s a fantastic mystery of love.

Universal Salvation of All Creation

September 15th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

Elizabeth Johnson, the brilliant theologian, Sister of St. Joseph, and professor at Fordham University, has written extensively about the universal nature of salvation— not only for humans, but for all creation. By focusing our religious conversations on the problem of human sin and “worthiness,” we have often lost sight of the strong scriptural evidence for the universal return of all of creation to God. Dr. Johnson writes:

Biblical writers elaborated the good news using concepts of liberation, reconciliation, justification, victory over the powers, living in peace, fullness of life, being freed from slavery, adoption, and new birth as God’s children to name but a few. These long-untapped resources . . . open doors to understanding more varied dimensions of what is meant by the mystery of redemption.

One result has been renewed awareness of New Testament texts about cosmic redemption that previously just flew by. These texts that extend the promise of a future to all of creation are few in number, but they are strong. . . . The great hymn in Colossians which draws on the Wisdom tradition and the history of Jesus in equal measure, is suffused with this insight:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . . . For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15–20)

This passage from Colossians has also been central to my understanding of and teachings on the Universal Christ in recent years.  Johnson continues:

The drumbeat of “all things” repeated five times in this short text, coupled with reference to “all creation,” “everything,” and the encompassing “things visible and invisible,” drives home the blessing that flows to the whole world from the cross. . . .

The visionary writer of the book of Revelation hears “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” singing praises to the Lamb (Revelation 5:13), and perceives a climactic event of transformation where the One who sits on the throne says, “See, I am making all things new” (21:5). . . . The New Testament includes a hope-filled vision of the whole universe pervaded with divine promise.

Would God bring all of creation to heavenly glory, while leaving out most of humanity, who are made in God’s own “image and likeness”? I can’t imagine that this would be so!

REST IN ME, MY CHILD. This time devoted to Me is meant to be peaceful not stressful. You don’t have to perform in order to receive My Love. I have boundless, unconditional Love for you. How it grieves Me to see My children working for Love: trying harder and harder, yet never feeling good enough to be loved. Be careful that your devotion to Me does not become another form of works. I want you to come into My Presence joyfully and confidently. You have nothing to fear, for you wear My own righteousness. Gaze into My eyes, and you will see no condemnation, only Love and delight in the one I see. Be blessed as My Face shines radiantly upon you, giving you Peace.

JOHN 15:13; Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

2 CORINTHIANS 5:21 NKJV; For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2

ZEPHANIAH 3:17; The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

NUMBERS 6:25–26; The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: 26 The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 534). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

September 14th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

God Is Good

Your image of God creates you. This is why it is important that we see God as loving and benevolent and why good theology still matters. One mistaken image of God that keeps us from receiving grace is the idea that God is a cruel tyrant. People who have been raised in an atmosphere of threats of punishment and promises of reward are programmed to operate with this cheap image of a punitive God. It usually becomes their entire view of the universe.

Unfortunately, it’s much easier to organize people around fear and hatred than around love. Powerful people prefer this worldview because it validates their use of intimidation—which is quite effective in the short run! Both Catholicism and Protestantism have used the threat of eternal hellfire to form Christians. I am often struck by the irrational anger of many people when they hear that someone does not believe in hell. You cannot “believe” in hell. Biblical “belief” is simply to trust and have confidence in the goodness of God or reality and cannot imply some notion of anger, wrath, or hopelessness at the center of all that is. Otherwise, we live in a toxic and unsafe universe, which many do.

In his book Inventing Hell, Jon Sweeney points out that our Christian view of hell largely comes from several unfortunate metaphors in Matthew’s Gospel. [1] Hell is not found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. It’s not found in the Gospel of John or in Paul’s letters. The words Sheol and Gehenna are used in Matthew, but they have nothing to do with the later medieval notion of eternal punishment. Sheol is simply the place of the dead, a sort of limbo where humans await the final judgment when God will finally win. Gehenna was both the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem—the Valley of Hinnom—and an early Jewish metaphor for evil (Isaiah 66:24). The idea of hell as we most commonly view it came much more from Dante’s Inferno than the Bible. Believe me on that. It is the very backdrop of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It makes for good art, I suppose, but it’s horrible, dualistic theology. This is not Jesus, “meek and humble of heart,” which is his self-description in life (Matthew 11:29). We end up with two different and opposing Jesuses: one before Resurrection (healing) and one after Resurrection (dangerous and damning).

Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), but the punitive god sure doesn’t. Jesus tells us to forgive “seventy times seven” times (Matthew 18:22), but this other god doesn’t. Instead, this other god burns people for all eternity.Many of us were raised to believe this, but we usually had to repress this bad theology into our unconscious because it’s literally unthinkable. Most humans are more loving and forgiving than such a god, but we can’t be more loving than God. It’s not possible. This “god” is not God.

Choosing Heaven Now

The shape of creation must somehow mirror and reveal the shape of the Creator. We must have a God at least as big as the universe. Otherwise, our view of God becomes irrelevant, constricted, and more harmful than helpful. The Christian image of a torturous hell and God as a petty tyrant has not helped us to know, trust, or love God—or anything else. If we understand God as Trinity—the fountain fullness of outflowing love, and relationship itself—there is no theological possibility of any hatred or vengeance in God.

Divinity, which is revealed as Love Itself, will always eventually win. God does not lose (see John 6:37-39). We are all saved by mercy. This is an orthodox opinion! In his book Introduction to Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI explains his understanding of the curious phrase in the middle of the Apostles’ Creed: “[Jesus] descended into hell.” Benedict says that since Christ went into hell, that means hell “is hell no longer . . . because love dwells in it.” [1] Jesus Christ and hell cannot coexist; once Jesus got there, the whole game of punishment was over, as it were. A basic principle of nonviolence is that we cannot achieve good by doing bad.

If this is true, any notion of an actual “geographic” hell or purgatory is unnecessary and, in my opinion, destructive of the very restorative notion of the whole Gospel. Pope John Paul II, who certainly was not a liberal, reminded listeners that heaven and hell are not physical places at all. They are states of being in which we dwell either in a loving relationship with God or one of separation from the source of all life and joy. [2] If that’s true, there are plenty of people on earth who are in both heaven and hell right now.

Heaven is not about belonging to the right group or following the correct rituals. It’s about having the right attitude toward existence. There are just as many Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews who live in love—serving their neighbor and the poor—as there are Christians. Jesus says there will be deep regret—“wailing and grinding of teeth” (Luke 13:28)—when we realize how wrong we were. Be prepared to be surprised about who is living a life of love and service and who isn’t. This should keep us all humble and recognizing it’s not even any of our business who’s going to heaven. What makes us think that our little minds and hearts could discern the mind and heart of anyone else?

Further, Jesus never really taught “the immortality of the soul” as we understand it. That was Plato. Jesus taught the immortality of love. If we have never really loved anyone or anything, I doubt we are at all capable of eternity. We simply die. A torture chamber was an unfortunate metaphor to keep people from never loving, trusting, or hoping. I am not sure it ever really worked because you cannot threaten people into love.

Universal Good News

In the first five centuries of Christianity, many of the church fathers affirmed universal salvation. It seems we were much more hopeful at the beginning that the Gospel really was universally good news! A mystical experience led Carlton Pearson, a former evangelical megachurch pastor, to complete a thorough study of the ancient message of universal salvation. He shares that:

The message of Inclusion, also known as Universal Reconciliation, is not new. It was [a] widely held position . . . of respected early church fathers and founders throughout the first five hundred years of church history. . . .  

Augustine (354–430), of African descent and one of the four great Latin/Afro church fathers (Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory the Great), admitted, “There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.” [1]

Origen. . . lived from 185 to 254. He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and scholars of the Eastern Church. In his book De Principiis, he wrote: “We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end [that is, salvation], even His enemies being conquered and subdued . . . for Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.” [2]

Universal restoration and salvation was often embraced, as well as widely debated, in early Christianity. Pearson continues, quoting from some of the early church fathers:

In the end and consummation of the universe, all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect [person], and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one. —St. Jerome, 331–420 [3]

For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body. —Gregory of Nyssa, 335–390 [4]

Finally, here is an excerpt from a conversation between St. Silouan (1866–1938), a monk and Orthodox Staretz (elder), and a hermit. 

[There was] a certain hermit who declared [to Silouan] with evident satisfaction: ‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’ Obviously upset, the Staretz said: ‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire—would you feel happy?’ ‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit. The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance. ‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all.’ [5]

Participation is the Only Way

September 10th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

Some of the most exciting and fruitful thought in recent theology can be described as the “turn toward participation.” [1] Religion as participation is a rediscovery of the Perennial Tradition that so many saints and mystics have spoken of in their own ways. It constantly recognizes that we are a part of something more than we are observing something or “believing” in something.

Both the work of the German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) and the English scholar Owen Barfield have given me a schema for understanding this “turn.” We moved away from deep participatory experience into nonparticipation, the ‘wilderness’ or “null point between original and final participation,” in Barfield’s words. [2] Today each autonomous individual is on his or her own, especially those with economic privilege.

Roughly before 800 BCE, it seems, most people connected with God and reality through myth, poetry, dance, music, fertility, and nature. Although it was a violent world focused on survival, people still knew that they belonged to something cosmic and meaningful. They inherently participated in what was still an utterly enchanted universe where the “supernatural” was everywhere. Barfield calls this state of mind “original participation.” [3]

What Jaspers calls Axial Consciousness emerged worldwide with the Eastern sages, the Jewish prophets, and the Greek philosophers, coalescing around 500 BCE. [4] It laid the foundations of all the world’s religions and major philosophies. It was the birth of systematic and conceptual thought. In the East, it often took the form of the holistic thinking that is found in Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism, which allowed people to experience forms of participation with reality, themselves, and the divine. In the West, the Greek genius gave us a kind of mediated participation through thought, reason, and philosophy. At the same time, many mystics seemed to enjoy real participation, even though it was usually seen as a very narrow gate available to only a few.

Among the people called Israel there was a dramatic realization of intimate union and group participation with God. They recognized the individually enlightened person like Moses or Isaiah, but they did something more. The notion of participation was widened to the Jewish group and beyond, at least for many of the Hebrew prophets. God was saving the people as a whole. Participation was historical and social, and not just individual. It is amazing that we have forgotten or ignored this, making salvation all about private persons going to heaven or hell, which is surely a regression from the historical, collective, and even cosmic notion of salvation taught in the Bible. Remember, God was always saving Israel and not just Abraham.

Both the Hebrew Scriptures and experience itself created a matrix into which a new realization could be communicated. Jesus offered the world full and final participation in his own very holistic teaching. This allowed Jesus to speak of true union at all levels: with oneself, with neighbors, with outsiders, with enemies, with nature, and—through all of these—with the Divine. The net and sweep of participation was total. What else could truly “good news” be?

I AM ALWAYS AVAILABLE TO YOU. Once you have trusted Me as your Savior, I never distance Myself from you. Sometimes you may feel distant from Me. Recognize that as feeling; do not confuse it with reality. The Bible is full of My promises to be with you always. As I assured Jacob, when he was journeying away from home into unknown places, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. My last recorded promise to My followers was: Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Let these assurances of My continual Presence fill you with Joy and Peace. No matter what you may lose in this life, you can never lose your relationship with Me.

ISAIAH 54:10; For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed As sometimes by earthquakes, and as they will at the last day, when the earth shall be dissolved, and all in it, things the most solid, firm, and durable:

GENESIS 28:15; I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

MATTHEW 28:19–20; Therefore go[ a] and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,[ b] 20 teaching them to obey everything I

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 524). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

September 9th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Participatory Morality

Jesus’ message of “full and final participation” was periodically enjoyed and taught by many unknown saints and mystics. It must be admitted, though, that the vast majority of Christians made Christianity into a set of morals and rituals instead of an all-embracing mysticism of the present moment. Moralism—as opposed to healthy morality—is the reliance on largely arbitrary purity codes, needed rituals, and dutiful “requirements” that are framed as prerequisites for enlightenment. Every group and individual usually begins this way. I guess it is understandable. People look for something visible, seemingly demanding, and socially affirming to do or not do rather than undergo a radical transformation to the mind and heart of God. It is no wonder that Jesus so strongly warns against public prayer, public acts of generosity, and visible fasting in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1–18). Yet that is what we still do!

Any external behavior that puts us on moral high ground is always attractive to the ego because, as Jesus says, “you have already received your reward” (Matthew 6:2). Moralism and ritualism allow us to think we are independently “good” without the love and mercy of God and without being of service to, or engaging deeply with, anybody else. That’s a far cry from the full and final participation we see Jesus offering or any outpouring love of the Trinity.

Our carrot-and-stick approach to religion is revealed by the fact that one is never quite pure enough, holy enough, or loyal enough for the presiding group. Obedience is normally a higher virtue than love in religious circles. This process of “sin management” has kept us clergy in business. Hiding around the edges of this search for moral purity are evils that we have readily overlooked: slavery, sexism, racism, wholesale classism, greed, pedophilia, national conquest, LGBTQIA+ exclusion, and the destruction of Native cultures. Almost all wars were fought with the full blessing of Christians. We have, as a result, what some cynically call “churchianity” or “civil religion” rather than deep or transformative Christianity.

The good news of an incarnational religion, a Spirit-based morality, is that you are not motivated by any outside reward or punishment but by participating in the Mystery itself. Carrots are neither needed nor helpful. “It is God, who for God’s own loving purpose, puts both the will and the action into you” (Philippians 2:13). It is not mere rule-following behavior; rather, it is our actual identity in God that is radically changing us. Henceforth, we do things because they are true and loving, not because we have to do them or because we are afraid of punishment. Now we are not so much driven from without (the false self method) but we are drawn from within (the True Self method). The generating motor is inside us now instead of either a lure or a threat from outside us. This alone is a converted Christian, or converted anything.

Collective Responsibility

September 8th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

In my talks on Paul, I tried to show how Paul teaches that we are both saints and sinners on a corporate level—and at the same time. Our holiness lies in participating in the wholeness of the Body of Christ. As I said in my Great Themes of Paul talks:

Individually and personally, our private egos—which we’ve all been trained to take absolutely seriously—are too small and temporary to really believe Paul’s words about us. He says: “You are God’s work of art” (Ephesians 2:10), “You are God’s temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16), “You are the sweet aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15), “You are saints” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2). What is he talking about? On our own, we have so much evidence to the contrary. We simply can’t bear that much goodness. If we hear his teaching on an individual moral level, we’ll never believe it—nor should we. We almost have to dismiss it as pious nonsense.

On the other, more negative side, Paul says, “You’re all sinners” (Romans 3:23), “You’re slaves to the flesh” (Romans 6:20), and “Your sinful passions bring death,” (Romans 7:5). We stand guilty and shame-based under these words if we hear them as individuals. Or we rebel against Paul’s words, thinking, “I’m not going to sit here and be told I’m terrible and unworthy.” Of course, the little psyche, the little ego, is just too little to carry this great big theater piece of drama and shame on its own.

Paul knew, I believe, that these proclamations were far too huge to be carried by the individual person. He is trying to find words and categories, searching for ever-new language to describe the corporate, historical, larger-than-life body and participative phenomenon we’re all caught up in, which he calls “the Body of Christ.”

Fortunately, we now live in an age where we have a language to describe this. The evidence from science is that the foundational reality of this world is consciousness or what we call spirit, not materiality.

We cannot easily be told that we, on our own, are evil, bad, sinful, or responsible. We’ll block it or deny it. But we cannot deny that we are a part of a species that has killed one hundred million people in wars within the last century. We don’t find ourselves resisting that quite as much because, somehow, we’re carrying this together. There is a level of acceptance as we move toward social accountability and social responsibility. We’re all participating in the evil of unjust systems and it’s at that level that we can and must carry the pain and hear that we are sinners. More positively, we must carry what seems like the complete opposite, that we are saints. Both are true at the same time, and believe it or not, “in Christ” they don’t cancel one another out! They include one another.

ACCEPT EACH DAY exactly as it comes to you. By that, I mean not only the circumstances of your day but also the condition of your body. Your assignment is to trust Me absolutely, resting in My sovereignty and faithfulness. On some days, your circumstances and your physical condition feel out of balance: The demands on you seem far greater than your strength. Days like that present a choice between two alternatives—giving up or relying on Me. Even if you wrongly choose the first alternative, I will not reject you. You can turn to Me at any point, and I will help you crawl out of the mire of discouragement. I will infuse My strength into you moment by moment, giving you all that you need for this day. Trust Me by relying on My empowering Presence.

PSALM 42:5; Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why the unease within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him for the salvation of His presence. Why, my soul, are you downcast?

2 CORINTHIANS 13:4; 4For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

JEREMIAH 31:25; For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 520). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

September 7th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Participating in Love

I want to share again from the series of talks I gave years ago on the Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation:

For Paul, love is clearly the word by which he describes this participatory life. It’s what he calls the greatest of the gifts. For Paul, love is not something we do. It is something that is done to us, and that we participate in. It’s something we fall into. Our telling English phrase is wonderful. We say, “I’ve fallen in love.” We recognize love not as something we can achieve by willpower. As Eckhart Tolle teaches, you fall through your life situation into your real life. Everything here is simply a lesson—all your life situation, all your life events are used by God. They often are not consciously religious.

Paul uses several different words for love, but for the Great Love we fall into, the Great Self with the big S, the God Self, he uses the word “agape.” We translate it as unconditional love or divine love. It’s a love we receive as a gift. We do not manufacture it by willpower. It’s a love we can only participate in. It’s a life bigger than our own.

Paul does not speak of doing the deeds of the Spirit, but instead he speaks of the fruits of the Spirit, and love as the greatest gift of the Spirit. Love is something we abide in, something we fall into—usually when we’re out of control, when we’re failing and faltering and we can’t do it right. When we reach the end of our resources—and we have to start relying on a power greater than ourselves—that’s when we fall into the Great Love that is God. Alcoholics Anonymous discovered this many years ago.

For Paul, love is the realm for perfect seeing. When we’re in love, in agape, we are able to “see” correctly. When we’re reading reality correctly, we will love, we will know how to love, and we will be in love. We will not have a judgmental, negative, or critical stance. We’ll see what’s really happening. From some place we do not completely understand comes this capacity to forgive, to embrace, to compassionately understand, to let go, and to hand over my small self to the Big Self that we call God, or our Higher Power.

Paul writes, “Now we see through a mirror darkly, but one day we shall all see face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect, but one day I shall know as fully as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Paul’s conviction is that he is fully known. He’s been fully seen all the way through, warts and all, and everything has been forgiven, everything has been accepted. The realization is if I could be fully known and loved and seen for what I am, then all I can do is return the compliment to the rest of reality and know back the way I have been known. [Read that twice.]