Archive for October, 2019


October 31st, 2019

Church: Old and New

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Whether or not they are acknowledged publicly, those on the margins and their allies recognize acts of injustice. Sebastian Moore presents the crucifixion of Jesus as an unjust political act that claimed a human life. Every time it happens, no matter when or where, no matter who the victim or perpetrator is, killing is tragic. What makes Jesus’ death different (besides his physical resurrection three days later) is that Love Incarnate was present there, binding the victim, perpetrators, and witnesses together. That is the legacy of our faith to this day. Moore writes:

“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). In the Spirit, we know that the Church is the difference Jesus of Nazareth has made and makes in human history. And what is the Church but a society held together not by power but by love? This polity of love stems from the self-consecration of Jesus as our lover nailed to the cross of our power, manifest in his resurrection to draw all things to himself. This is the secret of the Church, the ripple effect of Calvary.

Now what does the Church give as her credentials? A man put to death by us and brought to life by God. An act of political bloodshed that otherwise would have been lost in the great mass of human injustice. But focused upon through the Spirit, political bloodshed is a universal language. This language is elemental. Everyone who witnesses the killing feels a barrier being crossed. There is this awed hush, a sense of having gone fatally too far. And a very important and most easily forgotten aspect of this elemental insight is, that all of us, those for and those against the victim, are being brought together, and this not only as in the bonding of Caesar’s killers, but as [people] involved simply as humans, all our loyalties forgotten with the sight of the fatal blow. . . .

So that is the given of our faith: a public murder held in focus by a continuing community who owe to the victim a love that is the fulfilment of our humanity to change this cruel world. For all peoples and for all times, a dangerous memory.

This new humanity, born of God in the blood of old, being in time has to grow. And since this life is God’s in us, the law of its growth is the Holy Spirit that endlessly completes the relationship between the non-manifest Father and the manifest Son. And since love is the formula of this new life, its growth will be, as with each of us, a succession of breakthroughs in loving. And there’s no going back on a breakthrough.

As Moore says, there can be no going back on a breakthrough. From science to technology, psychology to theology, we are “breaking through” many of the things we thought we knew. There can be no denying the truth that new things must emerge from the old, but our call as Christians is to make sure that our primary “breakthroughs” are becoming more loving. We may not be cutting-edge scientists or avant-garde artists, but we can all push the boundaries of our ability to love—to love more people and to love them more fully.

A Cross Section of Space-Time

October 29th, 2019

Church: Old and New

A Cross-Section of Space-Time
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Choan-Seng Song, a theologian and author, has worked tirelessly to decolonize the image of God and Jesus brought to people in Asia by Western missionaries. His writings are a wonderful example of the global nature of movements emerging in Christianity. Song was born in the East and still identifies with his Asian culture while he’s been educated and worked in the West. His foundational text is the Bible, but he is also influenced by political and economic theories. In his book Jesus, the Crucified People, Song articulates how Jesus works to this day, within each of us and our churches, no matter what our culture.

[Jesus] burnt himself out totally, like a candle, to give light to the people living under the power of darkness. He lived, toiled, and died solely for that purpose. But unlike a candle he did not just melt away, leaving no trace. . . And though a candle is unable to prevent the return of darkness as soon as it is extinguished, Jesus’ light has burned on and has ignited countless new lights in the world. . . .

Perhaps Jesus waited, for these past two thousand years, to hear something different about him from the parts of the world now called Third World. Who could blame Jesus if he has grown a little tired of hearing over and over essentially the same thing about him said, taught, proclaimed, and preached . . . for so many centuries with only slight variations . . . ? He himself strove to bring fresh air into the traditions of his own religion. He must have been unable to suppress a sense of irony to know that the churches established in his name have come to revere him as a tradition that allows little fresh air to enter. Now that new voices are being enunciated about him by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. . . .

Jesus as a historical person can be identified within a particular cross-section of space-time. . . . That particular cross-section of space-time proves, from the Christian standpoint, to be an extraordinary segment in human history. [It] was not a mere thirty years limited to the small confines of the land in which he was born. His time seems to stretch to eternity and his space extends to all the universe. In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever” (13:8). John . . . in a flash of penetrating theological hindsight grasped the meaning of Jesus in relation to the world when he said: “The Word became flesh” (1:14; Revised Standard Version). What a mystery is packed into this brief statement! The Word that was in the beginning of time now comes into the thick of our time. The God who filled the space of chaos with creation now fills our space of suffering, strife, and death with the Word-become-flesh.

I so appreciate Song’s focus on the human person of Jesus and the freedom Jesus must experience in the voices that speak of him today from the center of their own culture, language, and lived experience. But Song also honors the reality of the Universal Christ who has been present to all people for all time. He encourages us to remain open to the ever-unfolding truth of the Christ present in every life and every culture.


Church: Old and New

October 27th, 2019

The Emerging Church
Monday, October 28, 2019

I do believe that what some refer to as the “emerging church” is a movement of the Holy Spirit. Movements are the energy-building stages of things, before they become monuments, museums, or machines. In the last sixty years, several significant events have taken place, both within and alongside the various Christian churches, to foster this movement. Spiritual globalization is allowing churches worldwide to profit from these breakthroughs at approximately the same time, which of itself is a new kind of reformation! No one is directing, controlling, or limiting this movement. We are just trying to listen together. It is happening almost in spite of all of us—which tells me the Spirit must be guiding.

Just so you know I am not merely arguing for my own agenda within the Catholic Church, I want to briefly identify some of the historical developments that I see propelling this movement throughout Christianity:

  1. Our awareness is broadening, recognizing that Jesus was clearly teaching nonviolence, simplicity of lifestyle, peacemaking, love of creation, and letting go of ego, both for individuals and groups. More and more Christians are now acknowledging Jesus’ radical social critique to the systems of domination, money, and power. In the past, most of Jesus’ practical teaching was ignored by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians. The establishment chose instead to concentrate on private sinfulness and personal salvation and, as Brian McLaren says, on an “evacuation plan” into the next world.
  2. There is a common-sense and growing recognition that Jesus was clearly concerned about the specific healing and transformation of real persons and human society “on earth as it is in heaven.” The Church, more than Jesus, historically focused on doctrinal belief and moral stances, which ask almost nothing of us in terms of real change. They just define groups—often in an oppositional way.
  3. We are recovering the older and essential contemplative tradition within Christianity, starting with Thomas Merton in the 1950s, and now spreading to numerous denominations, like a “treasure hidden in the field” (Matthew 13:44). Some emerging church leaders have yet to grasp the centrality of contemplative and inner wisdom.
  4. Critical biblical scholarship is occurring on a broad ecumenical level, especially honest historical and anthropological scholarship about Jesus as a Jew in the culture of his time. This leads us far beyond the liberal reductionism and the conservative fundamentalism that divide so many churches. We now see the liberal/conservative divide as a bogus and finally unhelpful framing of the issues.

While these may not seem like significant changes in and of themselves, together they are causing sea changes in modern theology as well as practice. These shifts may be the very reason we are currently so divided as Christians, with some clinging to an older way of doing and thinking while others are pulling in these new and “emerging” directions.

Rummage Sales
Sunday, October 27, 2019

I have come to set fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing. —Luke 12:49

People are rightly concerned by the loss of property through fire. However, forestry workers understand that from the destruction caused by fire emerges new growth, new life. Time and again, this also has been shown to be true in the church as we seek to follow the way of Christ in light of expanding human knowledge and understandings that continually affirm the movement of the Spirit.

In 2017, Protestants and Catholics honored the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. When Martin Luther (1483–1546) posted his “95 Theses” or complaints on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, European Christianity had become too focused on meritocracy and hierarchy, losing sight of the Gospel. The Roman Catholic Church itself now admits it is always in need of reformation. The perpetual process of conversion, or reformation, is needed by all individuals and institutions. We appear to be in the midst of another period of significant turmoil and rebirth, thus my focus on Old and New: An Evolving Faith in this year’s Daily Meditations.

In North America and much of Europe, we are witnessing a dramatic increase in “nones,” people who don’t identify with a particular faith tradition. While I ache for those who have been wounded by religion and no longer feel at home in church, the dissatisfaction within Christianity has sparked some necessary and healthy changes. Episcopal Bishop Mark Dyer (1930–2014) aptly called these recurring periods of upheaval giant “rummage sales” in which the church rids itself of what is no longer needed and rediscovers treasures it had forgotten.

As Phyllis Tickle (1934–2015) reflected, in the process of building necessary structure in institutions, we eventually “elaborate, encrust, and finally embalm them with the accretion of both our fervor and our silliness. At that point there is no hope for either religion or society, save only to knock the whole carapace off ourselves and start over again.” [1] This is a difficult and frightening task, which is why we only seem to do it every 500 years or so! If we look at church history, we can see the pattern. [2]

With each reformation, we don’t need to start from scratch but return to the foundations of our Tradition. We don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater but reclaim the essential truths. And remember that truth anywhere is truth everywhere. With each rebirth, Christianity becomes more inclusive and universal, as it was always meant to be.

It takes a contemplative mind to witness these changes without resistance or defensiveness. When living within a sacred tradition, everything can seem essential and untouchable. But all Christians are already worshipping in “reformed” churches—often many times over—whatever our denomination. Let’s take heart and have faith that the Holy Spirit is with us through it all.

Summary: Week Forty-three

Gender and Sexuality

October 20 – October 25, 2019

With all the changing ways of understanding gender and sexuality, most of us truly need contemplative eyes and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to “rupture simplistic binaries” and be compassionate and respectful of difference and diversity. (Sunday)

Jesus, like the cosmos itself, is about two things: diversity and communion. (Monday)

As a Christian, when confronted by a tension between a religious certainty which leads me to violate the law of love and a deep unknowing that still moves in the direction of “loving my neighbor as myself,” I am bound to choose the latter course. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Tuesday)

With the interpretive grid provided by a critique of domination, we are able to filter out the sexism, patriarchalism, violence, and homophobia that are very much a part of the Bible, thus liberating it to reveal to us in fresh ways the inbreaking, in our time, of God’s domination-free order. —Walter Wink (Wednesday)

You are not your gender, your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, or your social class. These are not qualities of the True Self in God. Why, oh why, do Christians allow temporary costumes, or what Thomas Merton called the “false self,” to pass for the substantial self, which is always “hidden with Christ in God”? (Thursday)

One of the easiest ways that progressive denominations could ignite interest in the binary-busting aspects of Christian theology would be to free up queer clergy to proclaim the Gospel from an explicitly queer perspective, boldly and honestly. —Elizabeth Edman (Friday)

Practice: Generosity

Giving brings happiness at every stage of its expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous; we experience joy in the actual act of giving something; and we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given. — Siddhārtha Gautama, The Buddha [1]

Those who pray learn to favor and prefer God’s judgment over that of human beings. God always outdoes us in generosity and in receptivity. God is always more loving than the person who has loved us the most! God does not shame us but loves us even more deeply than we could ever know or love ourselves.

Douglas Abrams reflects on a conversation with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

In generosity, there is a wider perspective in which we see our connection to all others. . . . There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. . . . There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need. And from this comes a generosity that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. [2]

Writer, yoga teacher, and queer activist Jacoby Ballard notes that generosity is an important practice in LGBTQIA communities:

I see collective houses sharing, providing for one another. I see partners taking care of each other, friends showing up for childcare for queer families, . . .  community putting in incredible effort to create beautiful commitment ceremonies. I see our communities supporting the organizations that support us. This is so beautiful, and I think this is a human quality for survival. Every community that survives does it together—we can look to so many other communities to see this. Generosity is a response to injustice. We rely on one another out of necessity, but also because we know in our hearts that there is a different way to be, a different way to live. Our generosity with one another is indeed resistance to the greed and fear that oppresses us. We provide for one another out of love for each other and love for ourselves. When we give, we acknowledge that all beings want to be happy. [3]

Here is a contemplative practice to cultivate generosity from mindfulness teacher Amy Love:

Sit in a position that feels stable yet comfortable.

If it feels right for you, close your eyes. If it feels better to keep you[r] eyes open, gently gaze down in front of you. [Settle] into this moment by noticing your breath.

. . . Bring to mind a time when someone was generous toward you, a time when someone did something nice for you. Bring that time to mind in full color, reflecting on who was there, where you were. . . . How did it make you feel? Where does that feeling live in your body? Really feel into what this time was like for you.

If your mind begins to wander, that’s okay. Gently escort your attention back to feeling the time when someone did something nice for you.

Now . . . bring to mind a time when you were generous with someone, a time when you did something nice for someone else. Again, really [sink] into this memory by recalling who was there, where you were, and what was happening. How did it make you feel to be generous in this way? Where do you feel that in your body? What are the sensations of generosity like in your body?

[End] this short contemplation by resting back in your breath for a moment. [4]

I pray that recalling experiences of generosity, both given and received, will allow each of us to carry that spirit to all living things, especially those who challenge our overly-simplistic ideas of what it means to be a human being, made in the image and likeness of God.

The Wedding at Cana

Friday, October 25, 2019

Today, openly queer Episcopal priest Elizabeth Edman shares about the first time she preached on the Gospel passage about the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). Her use of the word “queer” as a verb may be off-putting or confusing to some, but if you are familiar with Jesus’ first miracle, the context of the story will help you understand what she means.

As I started working with the text, I saw something amazing going on. . . . What I saw was Jesus taking these pots of water—water designed for ritual bathing, for spiritual cleansing—and turning that water into wine that everyone was supposed to drink. What I saw was Jesus taking this substance that was all caught up in ideas of cleanness and uncleanness, all caught up in notions about what separates us from each other, and turning it into something designed to be shared, something that eases our anxiety about all the harsh lines in our world. . . .

What I saw was Jesus queering those pots of water.  

So that became my sermon: a queer reading of the wedding at Cana. I was so deliciously intoxicated by the queering in this story that I knew I had to be explicit about it. And I also knew that there would be lots of churches where a sermon like that would get me fired. . . .

One of the easiest ways that progressive denominations could ignite interest in the binary-busting aspects of Christian theology would be to free up queer clergy to proclaim the Gospel from an explicitly queer perspective, boldly and honestly. Let us be ourselves, and assure us that you will have our backs when our proclamation unsettles and afflicts those who are comfortable in a dualistic worldview.

Queering itself is risky business. To reject easy binaries is to enter into uncertain terrain. The discomfort of such liminal space is often at the heart of the fear that erupts in violence against queer people—violence that may be physical, or legal, or ecclesial, or economic. You really can get fired for it, even in denominations that pride themselves on being gay friendly. [1] Lots of priests and pastors have.

And that’s just so many shades of wrong, because in fact, busting those false dichotomies is part and parcel of [our] tradition. It is one of the bedrock reasons I am a Christian and love my tradition so much. Christianity pushes me right off that cliff of comfortable binaries all the time, and I need that. . . . “Love my enemy? Do good to those who persecute us? How could love and persecution possibly coexist?” [2]

She’s right, you know. The Gospel often puts us on the horns of a dilemma so we can wrestle with it. Jesus transgresses one boundary after another and we accept, celebrate, and even try to emulate him in many ways. Are we Christians today open to the possibility that God has called others (by the design of their very bodies) to wrestle with other questions and share their divinely-inspired insights and experiences without shame? I do not know the answer to that question, but it is one I am willing to struggle with. There is a cost that comes with denying the undeniable and we all pay it, but those we deny and marginalize pay a much higher price. 

True Self and False Self

October 24th, 2019

Gender and Sexuality

True Self and False Self
Thursday, October 24, 2019

For you who have loved Jesus—perhaps with great passion and protectiveness—do you recognize that any God worthy of the name must transcend creeds and denominations, time and place, nations and ethnicities, and all the vagaries of gender and sexual orientation, extending to the limits of all we can see, suffer, and enjoy? You are not your gender, your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, or your social class. These are not the qualities of your True Self in God!  Why, oh why, do Christians allow temporary costumes, or what Thomas Merton called the “false self,” to pass for the substantial self, which is always “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3)? It seems that we really do not know our own Gospel.

You are a child of God, and always will be, even when you don’t believe it.

And so is everyone else! God created us all. We are all God’s children.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that social identifiers don’t make a difference for your life. Before we can see ourselves together as “one” we must be in relationship with and value the “other.” God loves and creates each one of us as a unique being with different gifts and challenges. One of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), put it this way:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand. [1]

I think this poem beautifully expresses God’s desire for us to live into the fullness of our humanity and our identity. If we stay small and “hide our light” under a bushel basket, there is almost no place for God to move in, through, and with us for the sake of the world!

I am struck by the gentle, yet practical, affirmation the Reverend Elizabeth Edman received from her mother on this lesson of knowing and being who you are. If only all children could be so fortunate! Edman shares this formative story:

I was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1962. The world I grew up in was defined by rigid binaries: white/black, capitalist/communist, north/south. Oh yeah, and male/female. That one didn’t work for this tomboy.

When I was five, I had to drag my mother into the boy’s section of the shoe store to look at sneakers. “Mama, c’mere! Let me show you the ones I want!”

My family taught me, “Be who you are, Elizabeth, even when other people give you guff.” When I presented the shoes to the clerk, he said, “Those are boys’ shoes.”

My mother cut him off: “Yes, size four, please.”

My mother was a singer. Being who she was meant having the courage to witness God’s presence in the sacred music she loved. You could see her put her whole trust in God, entering into this space between heaven and earth where her best voice, her best self, emerged.

Christianity is all about being who you are [what I call your True Self in God–RR]. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell us: Orient your whole being to the sacred, he insisted. Not because I’m telling you to, not because it’s what Scripture demands; do it because it’s who you are. It’s who God created you to be. God made us to be complex creatures, every one of us, for a reason. So if you want to honor God, here’s the first step: Know who you are. Be who you are. Be the person God created you to be. Amen. [2]

October 23rd, 2019

Gender and Sexuality

A Deeper Tenor
Wednesday, October 23, 2019

My deceased friend Walter Wink (1935–2012), a Methodist minister, biblical scholar, theologian, and nonviolent activist, put religion’s struggles with gender and sexuality into historical perspective as another opportunity for learning Jesus’ way of liberation—of both oppressed and oppressors.

Where the Bible mentions [same-sex sexual] behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well and nowhere attacked it as unjust. Are we prepared to argue today that slavery is biblically justified? [Over] one hundred and fifty years ago, when the debate over slavery was raging, the Bible seemed to be clearly on the slaveholders’ side. Abolitionists were hard-pressed to justify their opposition to slavery on biblical grounds. Yet today, if you were to ask Christians in the [U.S.] South whether the Bible sanctions slavery, virtually everyone would agree that it does not. In the same way, fifty years from now people will look back in wonder that the churches could be so obtuse and so resistant to the new thing the Holy Spirit was doing among us regarding [sexuality].

What happened to bring about such a monumental shift on the issue of slavery was that the churches were finally driven to penetrate beyond the legal tenor of Scripture to an even deeper tenor, articulated by Israel out of the experience of the Exodus and the prophets and brought to sublime embodiment in Jesus’ identification with harlots, tax collectors, the diseased and maimed and outcast and poor. It is that God sides with the powerless. God liberates the oppressed. God suffers with the suffering and groans toward the reconciliation of all things. Therefore Jesus went out of his way to declare forgiven [or unconditionally loved], and to reintegrate into society in all details, those who were identified [by culture and religion, not God, I might add] as “sinners” by virtue of the accidents of birth, or biology, or economic desperation. In the light of that supernal compassion, whatever our position on gays, the gospel’s imperative to love, care for, and be identified with their sufferings is unmistakably clear. [And make no mistake, despite the secular culture’s celebration of LGBTQIA identities, there is still deep suffering in that community, most often at the hands of their own families and churches.]

In the same way, women are pressing us to acknowledge the sexism and patriarchalism that pervades Scripture and has alienated so many women from the church. The way out, however, is not to deny the sexism in Scripture, but to develop an interpretive theory that judges even Scripture in the light of the revelation in Jesus. What Jesus gives us is a critique of domination in all its forms, a critique that can be turned on the Bible itself. The Bible thus contains the principles of its own correction. We are freed from bibliolatry, the worship of the Bible. It is restored to its proper place as witness to the Word of God. And that Word is a Person, not a book. [1]

Richard again: We have moved in the direction of justice and equity on many issues that were seemingly acceptable when the Scriptures were compiled: slavery, of course, but also capital and corporal punishment, bigamy, child-rearing practices, inheritance, taking interest on loans, and commerce in general. It seems to me that we as Christians should be at the forefront of ending and healing the suffering that has been caused by rejecting LGBTQIA individuals, refusing them full inclusion in our churches, and denying them equal protection under the law.

Final Court of Appeal

October 22nd, 2019

Gender and Sexuality

Final Court of Appeal
Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Today I share thoughts from Episcopal priest and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault on an important question, “What does the Bible say about sexual orientation?” For the record, I couldn’t agree more with her response, so I will allow her words to stand on their own. I hope you will take them to heart.

How you answer this question depends hugely on what you take the Bible to be. If you believe that the Bible is a single, timeless, internally consistent teaching on matters of human morality dictated by God then yes, the Old Testament book of Leviticus is definitely uncomfortable with “homosexuality.” But it is also uncomfortable with menstruating women, shellfish, and pigskin. (And for the record, it has some very harsh words to say about lending money at interest, a prohibition that even biblical literalists seem to find it perfectly permissible to disregard!)

Like most other critically thinking Christians, I see the Bible as a symphony (sometimes a cacophony!) of divinely inspired human voices bearing witness to an astonishing evolutionary development in our human understanding of God (or God’s self-disclosure as we grow mature enough to begin to comprehend it, another way of saying the same thing).

As a Christian, I am bound, when I listen to this diversity of biblical voices, to set my compass by the teachings and the path walked by Jesus himself. Where biblical testimony is internally inconsistent (and even Jesus experienced it this way!), I am bound to honor Jesus as my final court of appeal. And thus, the bottom line must inescapably be that nowhere does Jesus condemn gays or lesbians (or any other person identified in the diverse range of LGBTQ+), and certainly nowhere does he wish harm upon anyone, even those whom the religious culture is so quick to condemn as sinners. His harsh words are reserved entirely for those whose certainty about their religious rectitude causes them to condemn others. Jesus is all about inclusion, forgiveness, and empowerment. In the light of his compassionate presence, people are set free to live their lives in strength and hope, regardless of whether they be considered outcasts by those in the “religious know.”

There’s a part in each one of us that would prefer the certainty of an unchanging rulebook to the radical open-endedness of God’s ongoing self-revelation in love. But as a Christian, when confronted by a tension between a religious certainty which leads me to violate the law of love and a deep unknowing that still moves in the direction of “loving my neighbor as myself,” (Matthew 22:39) I am bound to choose the latter course.

“I will be what I will be” is the name God asked Moses to know God by in the book of Exodus (3:14). With that as one line of bearing on my thinking, and the steadily increasing revelation of God’s mercy and compassion as the other, I am compelled by my Christianity to refrain from any behaviors or judgments which arrogantly demean the dignity of another human being or cause them to lose hope.

Diversity and Communion

October 21st, 2019

Gender and Sexuality

Diversity and Communion
Monday, October 21, 2019

God is clearly more comfortable with diversity than we are, and God’s final goal and objective are much simpler. God and the entire cosmos are about two things: differentiation (people and things becoming themselves) and communion (living in supportive coexistence). Physicists and biologists seem to know this better than theologians and clergy.

The arguments of homophobic or anti-gay folks might seem well-supported, but their goals and objectives seem to be different from those of God or Jesus. Their arguments generally have to do with very secular concerns: control over chaos, majority rule, fear of the other, fear of the unknown, and idealization of a family unit that Jesus himself neither lived nor idealized. Check the Gospels if you don’t believe me.

However, I do realize that we are dealing with incredibly deep archetypes, those electric sexual images that motivate us at the most intimate levels of our being. Such “totems and taboos” have a deep hold on every culture and every individual, but they do change over time. We have learned so much over the last thirty years about the biological and psychological complexity of sexual orientation and desire, as well as gender constructs. National Geographic, which is no light-weight magazine, devoted its entire January 2017 issue just to gender! We in the West have been stuck in a dualistic trap other cultures have not struggled with to the same extent. For example, the Navajo or Diné and other Native peoples have historically honored non-binary, or two-spirit, people instead of rejecting them or criminalizing their existence.

As a general rule, I would say that institutional religion tends to think of people as very simple, and therefore the law must be very complex to protect them in every situation. Jesus does the opposite: He treats people as very complex—different in religion, lifestyle, virtue, temperament, and success—and keeps the law very simple in order to bring them to God:

A legal expert put him to the test: “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” He replied to him, “’You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.’ This is the first and foremost, and the second is like it: ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hangs everything in the Law and in the Prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40).

If I were to say this apart from Jesus’ authority, you would rightly accuse me of being simplistic, naïve, and reductionistic. Yet Jesus’ approach takes the risk of allowing people the freedom to be themselves and to love God according to the shape of their own heart, soul, body, and mind! Religion developed for the sake of social control, but Jesus does not give us much grist for the social control mill. For Jesus, it is all about union—union with God, others, and what is, however it presents itself. Do not let the labels trip you up—woman, man, transgender, cisgender, straight, bisexual, gay, queer. We all belong, but how cleverly our moral pretenses prevent us from struggling with what is right in front of us! How ingeniously our ego protects itself from compassion and understanding.

Jesus, like the cosmos itself, constantly affirms two parallel drives toward diversity and toward communion. The whole of creation cannot be lying.

Gender and Sexuality

Wide-Eyed Seeing
Sunday, October 20, 2019

I know that many Daily Meditations readers are my age—or almost (I’m 76 now)—and come from traditional religious backgrounds, so I want to recognize that this week on Gender and Sexuality may challenge what we were taught about what it means to be human, made in the image and likeness of God. While younger generations are more comfortable talking about a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations, most of us born before 1960 were taught that there were only two genders, male and female, and only one acceptable sexual orientation: “straight.” So, I want to start by inviting you to receive these reflections through the lens of contemplation. This week is a good test case for one’s ability to think in a nondual way.

Contemplation is a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciating. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see but teaches us how to see what we behold.

Contemplation allows us to see the truth of things in their wholeness. It is a mental discipline and gift that detaches us, even neurologically, from our addiction to our habitual ways of thinking and from our left brain, which likes to think it is in control. We stop believing our little binary mind—which strips things down to two choices and then usually identifies with one of them—and begin to recognize the inadequacy of that limited way of knowing reality. Relying solely on the binary mind is a recipe for superficiality. Only the contemplative, or the deeply intuitive, can start venturing out into much broader and more open-ended horizons.

But how do we learn this contemplative mind, this deep, mysterious, and life-giving way of perceiving, of being with, reality? Why does it not come naturally to us? Actually, it does come momentarily, in states of great love and great suffering, but such wide-eyed seeing normally does not last. We return quickly to dualistic analysis and use our judgments to retake control. A prayer practice—contemplation—is simply a way of maintaining the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul and in different situations. And that takes a lot of practice—in fact, our whole life becomes one continual practice. I am no exception. I began to practice contemplation in the 1970s and I have never stopped, but more than forty years later, I find my binary mind is usually still the first to the table, ready to deliver a quick judgment and decision!

To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe—and usually be humiliated by—the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well-practiced in just a few predictable responses. Few of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us.

The most common human responses to a new moment, or something that does not fit neatly into one of our dualistic categories such as male or female, gay or straight, are mistrust, cynicism, fear, knee-jerk reactions, a spirit of dismissal, and overriding judgmentalism. It is so dis-couraging when we have the courage to finally see that these habits are the common ways that the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!

The Reverend Elizabeth Edman, an openly queer [1] priest in the Episcopal Church, focuses in her book Queer Virtue on “‘authentic Christianity’ as a spiritual journey that prioritizes the ancient Christian impulse to rupture simplistic binaries, especially those pertaining to the relationship between Self and Other.” [2] Edman’s book doesn’t focus on issues of sexual morality but on all the cultural and religious boundaries Jesus transgressed.

With all the changing ways of understanding gender and sexuality, most of us truly need contemplative eyes and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to “rupture simplistic binaries” and be compassionate and respectful of difference and diversity. It clearly seems that God is quite comfortable with immense diversity.  We have a much harder time with it, preferring uniformity and conformity instead.

Ways of Knowing

Summary: Sunday, October 13—Friday, October 18, 2019

Contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form—without filters, judgments, or commentaries. (Sunday)

Head and heart, rational and spiritual, need not stifle or silence one another. —Maria S. Guarino (Monday)

This means engaging in dialogue with the Bible—bringing our questions to it, hearing its questions to us, examining our answers in its light, and taking its answers very seriously, particularly when they conflict with our own, which will be most of the time. —Robert McAfee Brown (Tuesday)

What does it mean to “know God”? Who are the ones who know God? —Robert McAfee Brown (Wednesday)

You cannot believe in or practice unitive consciousness as long as you exclude and marginalize others—whether it is women or people of different sexual orientations or people of religious or ethnic minorities or, in my experience, people with intellectual disabilities. —Tim Shriver (Thursday)

It came to me through senses unfamiliar, claiming me with a knowledge I did not know. That it was not within my rational understanding did not make it any less real. —Kent Nerburn (Friday)

Practice: Eating One Raisin: Mindful Eating

Because the rubber of transformation meets the road in practice, in actual encounters with real life, I continue to encourage you to try something new: change sides, move outside your comfort zone, make some new contacts, let go of your usual role and attractive self-image, walk or take a bus instead of drive, make a friend from another race or class, visit new neighborhoods, go to the jail or to the border, attend another church service, etc. Without new experiences, new thinking is difficult and rare. After a new experience, new thinking and behavior comes naturally and even becomes necessary. [1]

Today’s practice, Eating One Raisin, encourages us to do something we have probably done hundreds of times but in a new way. It comes from The Mindful Way Through Depression:

Mindfulness is not paying more attention but paying attention differently and more wisely—with the whole mind and heart, using the full resources of the body and its senses.

First, take a [single] raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand or between your finger and thumb. Focusing on it, imagine that you’ve . . . never seen an object like this before in your life.

Take time to really see it; gaze at the raisin with care and full attention. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the highlights where the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges, and any asymmetries or unique features.

Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture, maybe with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch.

Holding the raisin beneath your nose, with each inhalation drink in any smell, aroma, or fragrance that may arise, noticing as you do this anything interesting that may be happening in your mouth or stomach.

Now slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place the object in the mouth, without chewing, noticing how it gets into the mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.

When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin, noticing how and where it needs to be for chewing. Then, very consciously, take one or two bites into it and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the bare sensations of taste and texture in the mouth and how these may change over time, moment by moment, as well as any changes in the object itself.

When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow the raisin.

Finally, see if you can feel what is left of the raisin moving down into your stomach, and sense how the body as a whole is feeling after completing this exercise in mindful eating. [2]

To Love Unconditionally

October 17th, 2019

Ways of Knowing

To Love Unconditionally
Thursday, October 17, 2019

Tim Shriver, a friend and Chair of Special Olympics, works with many people whom our culture excludes or disregards. Through their eyes he has come to see God’s presence in every human being. As you read Tim’s words, imagine how you might stand in solidarity with someone “on the edge,” someone who has been excluded, and see that individual through God’s eyes. 

You cannot believe in or practice unitive consciousness as long as you exclude and marginalize others—whether it is women or people of different sexual orientations or people of religious or ethnic minorities or, in my experience, people with intellectual disabilities. My work is largely with and in support of people who have significant vulnerabilities because of intellectual disability. In many cultures these people are excluded and oppressed, though often unconsciously, even more so than other marginalized groups. . . . They are thought to be hopeless. Mostly they are ignored and forgotten.

For twenty years I have been mentored by these same people. Some might not be the best-spoken, the most articulate writers, the most celebrated thinkers, the fastest runners. And yet, despite all of that, I have met person after person who emanates a kind of radiant light. After a while, even the densest of us may have our eyes opened to that something which transcends all superficial distractions of disability: the unimaginable beauty of every person. That beauty is ours for the seeing if only we have the eyes to see, if only we pay attention.

I try to maintain those eyes as I engage in this work. At times I will pull myself out of whatever I’m doing and try to remember that I’m united with all that is. I give myself license to step away and reconnect. I fail mostly, but once in a while I succeed, and when I do, I feel like I am touching a “sweet spot” of wonder and peace. It enables me to be present to people in a way that I can communicate to them that I love them unconditionally. There are no conditions to our unity, to our oneness.

Many times I’ve watched, for instance, as a person with Down syndrome stands with a gold medal around her neck, arms raised high to a cheering crowd. I can’t look at that child, at that human being, without slipping out of dualistic thinking. Those moments are a kind of sacrament of unitive consciousness. They are “both-and” moments where shadow and light coexist in the same experience. . . . Divine energy shoots vertically through me like a force, and says, “See! Look! Pay attention to what is right in front of you! That is all you need to know!”

To Know God

October 16th, 2019

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Today, we continue with Robert McAfee Brown, who uses an excerpt from the Book of Jeremiah to describe knowing God:

What does it mean to “know God”? Who are the ones who know God?

The questions seem simple and answers come immediately to mind. Those who know God are the ones who have had some experience of God about which they are able to tell us—sometimes a little too easily and glibly to be fully convincing, but sometimes in halting and fumbling ways that are themselves authentic pointers to the magnitude and awesomeness of the encounter they are trying to describe. Such people will tell us that they have found God in the face of another person, or in a sunset, or in a compulsion to obey a moral demand, or in a sense of the immensity of space and their own smallness, or by reading the Bible, or through meditating on the life of Jesus. The ones we call the “saints” are often those from whom we get our clearest picture of what it must be like to know God; their lives of prayer and meditation and good works have a transparent goodness that makes their appeal to the name and will of God convincing and compelling.

In contrast to such people, we know other people who make no such claims whatever. . . . For some of them, God is simply not an issue, and they live good, decent lives apparently unruffled by concern about God’s reality or nonreality. . . . For still others, God is something or someone they have consciously discarded. . . . They may live exemplary lives, exhibit concern for the neighbor, even make sacrifices for the cause of the poor and the destitute. But they no longer claim to “know God.”

The above description is fairly commonplace . . . but we will be doing serious violation to the Bible’s understanding of what it means to “know God” if we leave it at that. There is a short—and startling—episode in the book of Jeremiah [22:13-17] that poses the question of “knowing God” in quite another way.

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing,
and does not give him his wages;
who says, “I will build myself a great house
with spacious upper rooms,”
and cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar,
and painting it with vermilion.
Do you think you are a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
says the Lord.
But you have eyes and heart
only for your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.

I, Richard, would ask, if a “believer” does not practice some level of nonviolent justice and compassionate action, do they really know God?

A Strange New World

October 15th, 2019

Ways of Knowing

A Strange New World
Tuesday, October 15, 2019

I grew up relatively sheltered in my Kansas home and in Catholic schools. However, over the years, life has provided me with countless opportunities to meet people whose different experiences and understandings have opened unseen doors and enriched my knowing. Moving out of our comfortable bubbles is essential to knowing God and reality in a self-critical way.

Presbyterian theologian and activist Robert McAfee Brown (1920–2001) wrote about what Karl Barth (1886–1968) referred to as “a strange new world.” Brown begins by telling a story:

A retired Air Force major, now a seminarian, went to a conference on “The Church and Central Africa.” As the talks proceeded, he got angry. One speaker, he reports, “was basically saying that the United States is greatly responsible for the suffering in third world countries.” . . . [He] went back to hear the African speaker a second time. His outlook was modified:

[The speaker] was showing us that our imperialism is often unconscious, done through economic arrangement. As Christians who have compassion, we need to know these facts, even if they hurt. . . . I came away . . . with a deeper awareness that we have to attempt to see the world the way others do. . . . [1]

What [he encountered] is what Swiss theologian Karl Barth described . . . [as] “The Strange New World Within the Bible.” [2] . . . When [Barth] approached the Bible, every bit of spiritual and mental equipment he brought to the task was shattered by that “strange new world” and that as a result he had to begin looking at both the Bible and his own world in a new way. . . .

Christians make the initially bizarre gamble that “the strange new world within the Bible” is a more accurate view of the world than our own and that we have to modify our views as a result. This means engaging in dialogue with the Bible—bringing our questions to it, hearing its questions to us, examining our answers in its light, and taking its answers very seriously, particularly when they conflict with our own, which will be most of the time. . . .

We must be in dialogue not only with the Bible but also with Christians in other parts of the world who read the Bible in a very different way . . . [especially] Christians . . . who are generally poor and powerless, victims of political and social and economic structures . . . that oppress them on all levels of their lives, while those same structures support and enrich us. . . .

When [they] listen to the Bible, they hear different things than we hear. It often seems as though they and we are reading different books. . . .

People like us read the Bible from the vantage point of our privilege and comfort and screen out those parts that threaten us. [People who have been marginalized] tell us that the basic viewpoint of the biblical writers is that of victims, those who have been cruelly used by society, the poor and oppressed. . . . Consequently, when they hear the Bible offering hope and liberation to the oppressed of the ancient world, they hear hope and liberation being offered to them as the oppressed of the contemporary world. If God sided with the oppressed back then, they believe God continues to side with the oppressed here and now.