Archive for January, 2021

The Story of Being

January 29th, 2021

What if Christ is another name for everything—in its fullness?

Once we know that the entire physical world around us, all of creation, is both the hiding place and the revelation place for God, this world becomes home, safe, enchanted, offering grace to any who look deeply. I call that kind of deep and calm seeing “contemplation.”

A cosmic notion of the Christ competes with and excludes no one, but includes everyone and everything (Acts 10:15, 34) and allows Jesus Christ to finally be a God figure worthy of the entire universe.

In the Franciscan tradition, John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) developed the doctrine of the univocity of being. He believed we could speak “with one voice” (univocity) of the being of waters, plants, animals, humans, angels, and God. God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), and thus reality is one too (Ephesians 4:3–5). We are all part of The Story of Being.

Author, lawyer, and activist Sherri Mitchell shares a similar and even more ancient perspective held by Native peoples. They do not use the word Christ, but within The Story, the universal patterns hold. She writes:

We all originate from the same divine source. . . . Sadly, there will also be times when we will lose sight of this basic fact. During those times, we will become lost in the unfolding stories of our own individualized realities. [1]

Albert Einstein once talked about the illusion that is created by [the] belief in separation. He described it as a prison that restricts our awareness of connection to the whole:

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. [2]

This is an idea that still seems fantastic to many people around the world. But it is a belief that has been held by Indigenous peoples since the beginning of time. Our songs, stories, and mythologies all speak of our interrelatedness. From birth, we are taught to be aware of the expanded kinship networks that surround us, which include other human beings along with the beings of the land, water, and air, and the plants, trees, and all remaining unseen beings that exist within our universe. . . .

Our challenge is to remember all of who we are. [3]

We must rediscover, reclaim, and recapitulate The Story in as many ways and as often as we can. Remaining trapped in the smaller domes of meaning separates us from the trinitarian flow of divine love and connection that is our birthright.  

Our Cosmic Mother

January 28th, 2021

Current science positions the universe as the birthing place of all entities and thus a cosmic mother. New perspectives on the birthing aspects of the universe may also help to depict the life space as one that is intended to nurture. The intricate balances of chemicals and stardust, which must occur for life to appear, mimic the process of human birth. Science provides the images of the universe as initiating/siring and as an expanding womb, ready to sustain life. The birthing is mathematical, complex, and necessary. We are made in the image of a parent/creator who invites us into a cosmic belonging. . . .

We need the embrace of a Cosmic Mother. [1]

My poetic friend and interspiritual teacher Mirabai Starr writes about our relationship and responsibility to the maternal energy of the universe in this way:  

She is your Mother the Earth, and you belong to her. She nurtured you in her dark belly, birthed you in joy, and sustains you at great cost to herself. You have slept in her forests, beneath the safety of her canopy. You have cupped her snowmelt in your hands. You have investigated the life hidden beneath the surface of her deserts, skied her alpine slopes, and biked her slickrock canyons. You have reveled in her generosity and been grateful.

She has never asked much of you in return. Up until now, your gratitude has been enough. Your delight has been her reward. Up until now, she has not needed you as you have needed her. But that is shifting. . . .  

“Tell me what is troubling you, Mama,” you whisper, exactly as she always spoke to you when you were small and frightened and bleeding from some injury (real or imagined).

“Pretty much everything, honey,” she answers. . . . “I’ll get through this,” she says. “You’re not getting rid of your old Ma so easily.” She reaches down to smooth the crease between your brows. “It’s you kids I’m worried about.” [2]

Because we have been steeped in patriarchy, we may resist the idea of a “maternal” universe, yet the pattern it reveals—that all life is birthed, held, and nurtured within this cosmos—is undoubtedly true. A cosmic egg, tended, hatched, and nurtured over time is a much better image of all growth than any transactional notion of being saved.

“Our Story”

January 26th, 2021

The larger realm of meaning beyond My Story is Our Story. To continue the model of the three domes, this is the dome of our group, community, church, nationality, gender, and ethnicity. (View the three domes of The Cosmic Egg on our website here).We seem to need this for our own identity and security as social beings. It is both good and necessary, but if we try to make it the whole enchilada, we end up with the culture and identity wars we have today. Most of us have to work through multiple memberships: family, neighborhood, religious affiliation, gender, country. These communities are schools for relationship, connection, and almost all virtue as we know it.

Everyone has access to this level of meaning, consciously or unconsciously, negatively or positively. We are essentially social beings and we live inside of some shared meanings, which become our reference points and our runway. Our Story is the necessary training ground for belonging, attaching, trusting, and loving. If we are raised in a healthy family system, we generally feel positive about our group possibilities, including our religious and cultural rituals and traditions. Unfortunately, some people get stuck here and spend their lives defending the boundaries and glory of “their” group. They make plans for war, and perfect the scapegoating of others. Such group egocentricity is more dangerous than personal egocentricity. It looks like greatness when it is often no more than very well-disguised narcissism. I don’t have much self-knowledge, so I throw all of my cache into being Italian! I live on the surface of my own soul, but I sure play good football. I have no deep identity, so I live through my husband or wife or children or friends.

People try to find identity in a group, an institutional affiliation, a nation, a public cause—or today, like never before, public fame or infamy. Somehow, to be on the news or in social media is to be immortalized. People feel protected inside of the group identity or public fame. We all connect with one group or another—a Catholic, a Harley-Davidson owner, a Chicago Cubs fan—and then we sport proud signs about it. Such group symbols, flags, and patriotism remind us that we are not alone; and such shared meaning gives consolation and security to the small self—and something to talk about! The handy language of “us” versus “them” lifts some real burden from our private striving, and there is true comfort in being among our own. In fact, Our Story feels so sacred that most religion works at this level as a belonging system more than a search for intimacy with God. The second dome becomes an avoidance of the third and most all-inclusive (The Story). I see this in many seminarians, young priests, and bishops, after having given them retreats for many years. They put all their eggs in the Roman Catholic basket, but they have little curiosity about their own shadow or inner life. Their goal is not really love of God, but the love of “my priesthood” as it is often strangely called.

Jesus was not into groupthink or loyalty tests. I’m convinced God could care less about them, but God also seems to know that we need symbols, songs, sacred times and places for communal support and encouragement. However, we will need these boundary markers less and less as we move toward the real Center. Thus, we often see a certain freedom in wise elders and people who have suffered and come through renewed. In the second half of life, we don’t need to be a hero anymore and we may not even need to belong. We just need to be real. Saint Augustine put it most daringly, “Love [God] and do what you will!” [1]

My Story

January 25th, 2021

The modern and postmodern world is the first period of history where a large number of people have been allowed to take their private lives and identities seriously. This marks a wonderful movement into individuation, but there is also a diminishment and fragility if that is all we have. It is a paradox! This first dome contains my private life, those issues that make me special, inferior or superior, right or wrong, depending on how “I” see it. “I” and my feelings and opinions are the reference point for everything now. This is the small self we must let go of through contemplative prayer; and yet most people, including Christians, take this very tiny and even false self as normative and sufficient. (View the three domes of The Cosmic Egg on our website here).

The dome of My Story is often all the postmodern person has left: my power, my prestige, and my possessions. It’s the little stage where I do my dance and where the questions are usually “Who is watching me? How do I feel? What do I believe? What makes me unique?” It’s a passing arena, to be certain. It will be over in a few years and is frankly not very interesting if it is all we have to talk about. My Story is not big enough or true enough to create large or meaningful patterns by itself. It is all just personal anecdotes, and some people live their whole lives there with no need for broader connections.

Perhaps we can see how fragile, unprotected, and constantly striving this self will almost certainly be. Self-focused people are very easily offended, fearful, and therefore often posturing and pretentious. My opinion is that if we stay in this smallest dome of meaning, we often move toward a neurotic self-image. Psychologist Jean Houston puts it this way: “When mythic material remains latent, unused and unexplored, it can lead to pathological behavior.” [1] This small and fragile self needs to be a part of something more significant—and so it creates dramas, tragedies, and victimhood to put itself on a larger stage.

The small self is intrinsically unhappy because it has no ontological foundation. It is not real. It does not exist. It will always be insecure, afraid, and scrambling for significance. In Jesus’ language, “the branch cut off from the vine is useless” (John 15:5).

However, when we are able to move beyond the small or “false self”—at the right time and in the right way—it will feel precisely as if we have lost nothing. In fact, it will feel like freedom and liberation. When we are connected to Our Story and The Story and not just My Story, we no longer need to protect or defend the mere part. We are now connected to something expansive and inexhaustible; and we can become a useful and contributing citizen in both this world and the reign of God.

The Cosmic Egg image showing The Story on most external, Our Story in the middle, and My Story on the inner most area.

The Three Domes

Just as the body needs food, so the soul needs meaning, and the spirit needs ultimate meaning. Often that meaning is communicated through story. The function of all mythologies, religion, and even family lore is to help us situate ourselves inside of a safe and meaningful universe. This week’s meditations focus on a “Cosmic Egg of Meaning” inside of which people can find their rest and happiness. The image I’ve used in numerous books, and first learned from Joseph Chilton Pearce (1926‒2016), to describe this “Cosmic Egg” is that of three overlapping domes. (View this image on our website here).

The smallest dome of meaning is my private world of interests. We can call it “My Story,” where we proudly proclaim, “This is me!” No people in history, up until the last forty years or so (particularly in the United States), have had the language or the freedom for this level of personal meaning. My Story is full of subjective, interpersonal, psychological, and self-help language. It’s the vernacular of talk shows, blogs, and social media. I’m not criticizing it; in fact, it has its origins in Christian history with Augustine’s sophisticated Confessions (4th century). This language does answer a lot of questions, so it’s understandable that we revel in it. It is very good, as far as it goes. The trouble is that it is so rich it can become a substitute for true transcendence. My Story is not yet totally The Story.

There is a second and larger dome of meaning that encloses the first. I call this “Our Story,” where we declare, “This is us!” This is where most people in all of human history have lived their lives: identifying completely with their ethnicity, their gender, their group, their religion, and their occupations. The biblical tradition honors both of these domes of meaning and takes each of them seriously. Though it doesn’t name them as such, My Story and Our Story are both part of the narrative. The life of the individual and the life of the nation of Israel are both arenas for God’s action, but religious traditions affirm that they are connected to something Infinite, too.

The third dome of meaning that encloses the two smaller ones is “The Story.” By this, we are referring to the patterns that are always true—beyond anecdote and my cultural history. The biblical tradition takes all three levels seriously: My Story, Our Story, and The Story. Biblical revelation says that the only way we can move to The Story and understand it with any depth is to walk through and take responsibility for both our personal story and our group story. Anything less we now call “spiritual bypassing.” This is quite common among many fundamentalist groups—jumping to spiritual answers or theology without any honest self-knowledge or knowledge of history. We’ve got to listen to our own experience, to our own failures, to our own sin, to our own gifts and calls. Plus, we have to recognize that we’re a part of history, a part of a culture, a religious group, a nationality, a gender, for good and for bad. When all three domes of meaning are deemed worthy of love and attention, we probably have a rather mature spiritual person.

Free to Serve Others

January 22nd, 2021

German theologian Dorothee Sölle (1929–2003) describes how seeing with God’s eyes, hearing with God’s ears, and acting with God’s passion for justice is a truly liberating experience that benefits the entire community. Sölle writes:

In the sense of theology that liberates, the soul that is united with God sees the world with God’s eyes. That soul, like God, sees what otherwise is rendered invisible and irrelevant. It hears the whimpering of starving children and does not let itself be diverted from real misery, becoming one with God in perceiving and understanding as well as in acting. For people in the slums, redemption does not consist of some great and far removed actor ending the misery of the oppressed. Rather, in coming so very close, that far-near one acts in and through those who have become one with that actor. In liberating movements, the mystical eye sees God at work: seeing, hearing, acting, even in forms that are utterly secular. In the contingency of literacy programs, or collaboration in building a school, God’s action is manifest. It is a mysticism of wide-open eyes. . . .

What happens really in the soul’s union with God in terms of liberation and of healing? It is an exercise in seeing how God sees, the perception of what is little and unimportant; it is listening to the cry of God’s children who are in slavery in Egypt. God calls upon the soul to give away its own ears and eyes and to let itself be given those of God. Only they who hear with other ears can speak with the mouth of God. God sees what elsewhere is rendered invisible and is of no relevance. Who other than God sees the poor and hears their cry? To use “God’s senses” does not mean simply turning inward but becoming free for a different way of living life: See what God sees! Hear what God hears! Laugh where God laughs! Cry where God cries!

Allowing God to fully inhabit our senses does not mean we close ourselves off from the world but open ourselves more fully to it. We are free to be fully ourselves but not to exist only for ourselves. We are free to become Christ in the world to the same extent that we recognize the Christ in others, especially the last and the least.

January 20th, 2021

Amanda Gorman, the nation’s first-ever youth poet laureate, read the following poem during the inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20:When day comes we ask ourselves,where can we find light in this never-ending shade?The loss we carry,a sea we must wadeWe’ve braved the belly of the beast

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peaceAnd the norms and notionsof what just isIsn’t always just-iceAnd yet the dawn is oursbefore we knew itSomehow we do itSomehow we’ve weathered and witnesseda nation that isn’t brokenbut simply unfinishedWe the successors of a country and a timeWhere a skinny Black girldescended from slaves and raised by a single mothercan dream of becoming presidentonly to find herself reciting for oneAnd yes we are far from polishedfar from pristinebut that doesn’t mean we arestriving to form a union that is perfectWe are striving to forge a union with purposeTo compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters andconditions of manAnd so we lift our gazes not to what stands between usbut what stands before usWe close the divide because we know, to put our future first,we must first put our differences asideWe lay down our armsso we can reach out our armsto one anotherWe seek harm to none and harmony for allLet the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:That even as we grieved, we grewThat even as we hurt, we hopedThat even as we tired, we triedThat we’ll forever be tied together, victoriousNot because we will never again know defeatbut because we will never again sow divisionScripture tells us to envisionthat everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig treeAnd no one shall make them afraidIf we’re to live up to our own timeThen victory won’t lie in the bladeBut in all the bridges we’ve madeThat is the promise to gladeThe hill we climbIf only we dareIt’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,it’s the past we step intoand how we repair itWe’ve seen a force that would shatter our nationrather than share itWould destroy our country if it meant delaying democracyAnd this effort very nearly succeededBut while democracy can be periodically delayedit can never be permanently defeatedIn this truthin this faith we trustFor while we have our eyes on the futurehistory has its eyes on usThis is the era of just redemptionWe feared at its inceptionWe did not feel prepared to be the heirsof such a terrifying hourbut within it we found the powerto author a new chapterTo offer hope and laughter to ourselvesSo while once we asked,how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?Now we assertHow could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?We will not march back to what wasbut move to what shall beA country that is bruised but whole,benevolent but bold,fierce and freeWe will not be turned aroundor interrupted by intimidationbecause we know our inaction and inertiawill be the inheritance of the next generationOur blunders become their burdensBut one thing is certain:If we merge mercy with might,and might with right,then love becomes our legacyand change our children’s birthrightSo let us leave behind a countrybetter than the one we were left withEvery breath from my bronze-pounded chest,we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous oneWe will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,we will rise from the windswept northeastwhere our forefathers first realized revolutionWe will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,we will rise from the sunbaked southWe will rebuild, reconcile and recoverand every known nook of our nation andevery corner called our country,our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,battered and beautifulWhen day comes we step out of the shade,aflame and unafraidThe new dawn blooms as we free itFor there is always light,if only we’re brave enough to see itIf only we’re brave enough to be it

A Liberating Spirit

The Holy Spirit is a liberating Spirit. Even when we experience lack of freedom in our daily lives, time in prayer can be an experience of full freedom in God’s presence. I sometimes miss the exuberance of the charismatic movement of which I was a part in the 1970s and the freedom we felt to worship God with our whole selves. Theologian James Cone (1938–2018) writes about the deep sense of freedom experienced in the communal worship of the Black church in the United States:

Black worship itself is a liberating event for those who share the experience of the people that bears witness to God’s presence in their midst. Through prayer, testimony, song, and sermon the people transcend the limitations of their immediate history and encounter the divine power, thereby creating a moment of ecstasy and joy wherein they recognize that the pain of oppression is not the last word about black life. It is not unusual for the people to get “carried away” with their feelings, making it difficult for an observer to know what is actually happening. But the meaning of this event, according to the people, is found in their liberating encounter with the divine Spirit. In this encounter, they are set free as children of God. To understand what this means for black people, we need only to remember that they have not known freedom in white America. Therefore, to be told, “You are free, my children” is to create indescribable joy and excitement in the people. They sing because they are free. Black worship is a celebration of freedom. It is a black happening, the time when the people gather together in the name of the One who promised not to leave the little ones alone in trouble. The people shout, moan, and cry as a testimony to the experience of God’s liberating presence in their lives. . . . [1]

Black people can fight for freedom and justice, because the One who is their future is also the ground of their struggle for liberation. It does not matter what oppressors say or do or what they try to make us out to be. We know that we have a freedom not made with human hands. . . . For black people’s singing, praying, and preaching are not grounded in any human potentiality but in the actuality of God’s freedom to be with the oppressed as disclosed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is their freedom. [2]

The early church surely knew the liberating effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the apostle Paul’s teachings had so much impact because he restored human dignity in another time of widespread oppression, slavery, and injustice. Into the corrupt and corrupting Roman Empire, Paul shouts, “One and the same Spirit was given to us all to drink!” (1 Corinthians 12:13). He utterly levels the playing field: “You, all of you, are sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26)In Paul’s estimation, the old world was forever gone and a new world was born in which everyone is free.

A Liberation Theology

January 20th, 2021

The Brazilian Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara (1909‒1999) was a truly saintly man and one of my heroes for the Gospel. Although many are not familiar with him today, he was well-known in his lifetime for his love for the poor and his embrace of nonviolence. His teachings have shaped many of my thoughts on the nature of evil and our freedom to choose how we respond to the suffering and injustice present in the world. He wrote me on the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination, so I have a personal gratitude toward him. Here he writes:

When you look at our continent [of South America], where more than two-thirds of the people live in sub-human conditions as a result of injustices, and when you see that the same situation is repeated all over the world, how can you help wanting to work towards human liberation? Just as the Father, the Creator, wants us to be co-creators, so the Son, the Redeemer, wants us to be co-redeemers. So it is up to us to continue the work of liberation begun by the Son: the liberation from sin and the consequences of sin, the liberation from egoism and the consequences of egoism. That is what the theology of liberation means to us, and I see no reason why anyone should be afraid of a true, authentic theology of liberation. [1]

The people already understand that we have no right to blame God for the problems that we have created ourselves. As if the Lord were responsible for the floods or the droughts [Richard Rohr: or the pandemic]! No! It would have been very easy for our Father to create a universe that was already perfect. But it would have been terribly boring for us to come into a world where everything had already been done, and done well, where everything was complete. So the Lord merely began the creative process and entrusted

humans with the task of completing it. It is up to us to control the rivers. It’s a question of intelligence and integrity. If we had shown sufficient intelligence and integrity in the past the droughts and the floods would already have been controlled. Nowadays deserts are being watered and rivers diverted. It’s our own problem, not the Lord’s. [2]

Liberation theology as Dom Hélder Câmara describes it is applicable to many of the problems we face. For good or for ill, our choices as individuals have a collective impact on others and future generations. How we treat each other is a marker of our freedom in God. Câmara reminds us: We all believe that all human beings are children of the same heavenly Father. Those who have the same father are brothers and sisters. Let us really treat each other as brothers and sisters! . . .  We all believe that freedom is a divine gift to be preserved at all costs. Let us liberate, in the highest and most profound sense of the word, all the human beings who live round about us.

Authentic Freedom

January 19th, 2021

In his newest book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis points out that we need both personal liberation and liberation from unjust and harmful systems. Unfortunately, many people have been taught that salvation is merely an individual escape plan for the next world, which has not produced many liberated people or healthy systems. He writes:

In every personal “Covid,” so to speak, in every “stoppage,” what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected. [1]

We all think we are freely and consciously making our own choices when, in my experience, most people live most of their lives unconsciously! Before transformation, we are basically sleepwalking, going through the motions on the surface of life, which is why spiritual teachers like Jesus and Buddha tell us to “wake up.” When our ego or small self is in charge, we are not free; we are being ordered about by our preferences, our likes and dislikes. Is it really liberating to believe the world revolves around us or conversely, that we must hold it all together?

As we engage in contemplative prayer and allow God to transform us through great love and great suffering, we are reminded of our inherent connectedness. We are liberated from thinking of ourselves as somehow separate from everyone and everything else, including God.

After an authentic God encounter, everything else is relativized. There is only one Absolute and it is God, not us or our culture. Both are de-centered. Through prayer we find God both deep within us and all around us. We know our True Self is part of God and lives in God. We are no longer limited by our culturally conditioned reactions but have access to a greater Source of love and ultimate freedom.

Pope Francis recognizes this freedom in the healthcare professionals who have risked their lives and worked so hard for so many months:

[Healthcare workers] are the saints next door, who have awoken something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching.

They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves: not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service. [2]

There is no authentic freedom if we do not also consider the rights and well-being of others. As Pope Francis reflects:

Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate. . . . [3]

The transformed person finds freedom in the service of Life and Love.  Your life is not about you. You are about life!

January 18, 2021

Heather Cox RichardsonJan 19

The Trump administration is winding down as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris prepare to take office on Wednesday.

Trump will leave office with an approval rating of 34%, dismal by any measure. He is the first president since Gallup began polling never to break 50% approval. After the attack on the Capitol on January 6, the House of Representatives impeached him for a second time, and a majority of Americans think he should have been removed from office. 

In the last days of his term, the area of Washington, D.C., around our government buildings has been locked down to guard against further terrorism. Our tradition of a peaceful transition of power, established in 1800, has been broken. There is a 7-foot black fence around the Capitol and 15,000 National Guard soldiers on duty in a bitterly cold Washington January. There are checkpoints and road closures near the center of the city, and 10,000 more troops are authorized if necessary. Another 4,000 are on duty in their states, protecting key buildings and infrastructure sites. 

In the past two days, there have been more indications that members of the Trump administration were behind the January 6 coup attempt. Yesterday, Richard Lardner and Michelle R. Smith of the Associated Press broke the story that, far from being a grassroots rally, the event of January 6 that led to the storming of the Capitol was organized and staffed by members of Trump’s presidential campaign team. These staffers have since tried to distance themselves from it, deleting their social media accounts and refusing to answer questions from reporters. 

A number of the arrested insurrectionists have claimed that they were storming the Capitol because the president told them to. According to lawyers Teri Kanefield and Mark Reichel, writing in the Washington Post, this is known as the “public authority” defense, meaning that if someone in authority tells you it’s okay to break a law, that advice is a defense when you are arrested. It doesn’t mean you won’t be punished, but it is a defense. It also means that the person offering you that instruction is more likely to be prosecuted. 

The second impeachment, popular outcry, and continuing stories about the likely involvement of administration figures in the coup attempt seem to have trimmed Trump’s wings in his last days in office. He is issuing orders that Biden vows to overturn, and contemplating pardons (stories say those around him are selling access to him to advocate for those pardons), but otherwise today was quiet. 

He has tried to install a loyalist as the top lawyer at the National Security Agency, either to burrow him in or to get the green light for dumping NSA documents before he leaves office; Biden’s team will fight what is clearly an attempt to politicize the position. Tonight, Census Director Steven Dillingham resigned after whistleblowers alleged that he and other political appointees were putting pressure on department staffers to issue a hasty and unresearched report on undocumented immigrants.

According to news reports, Trump is planning to leave Washington on the morning of January 20 and should be at his Florida club Mar-a-Lago by the time Biden and Harris are sworn in. The last president to miss a successor’s inauguration was Andrew Johnson, who in 1869 refused to attend Ulysses S. Grant’s swearing-in, and instead spent the morning signing last-minute bills to put in place before Grant took office. 

There is a lot of chatter tonight about the release today of the 1776 Report guidelines on American history. This is the administration’s reply to the 1619 Project from the New York Times, which focused on America’s history of racism. As historian Torsten Kathke noted on Twitter, none of the people involved in compiling today’s 41-page document are actually historians. They are political scientists and Republican operatives who have produced a full-throated attack on progressives in American history as well as a whitewashed celebration of the U.S.A. Made up of astonishingly bad history, this document will not stand as anything other than an artifact of Trump’s hatred of today’s progressives and his desperate attempt to wrench American history into the mythology he and his supporters promote so fervently. 

But aside from the bad history, the report is a fascinating window into the mindset of this administration and its supporters. In it, the United States of America has been pretty gosh darned wonderful since the beginning, and has remained curiously static. “[T]he American people have ever pursued freedom and justice,” it reads, and while “neither America nor any other nation has perfectly lived up to the universal truths of equality, liberty, justice, and government by consent,” “no nation… has strived harder, or done more, to achieve them.” 

America seems to have sprung up in 1776 in a form that was fine and finished. But, according to the document’s authors, trouble began in the 1890s, when “progressives” demanded that the Constitution “should constantly evolve to secure evolving rights.” It was at that moment the teaching of history took a dark turn. 

The view that America was born whole, has stayed the same, and is simply a prize worth possessing reminds me of so much of the world of Trump and the people around him, characterized by acquisition: buildings, planes, yachts, clothing, bank accounts. Trump and his people seem to see the world as a zero-sum game in which the winners have the most stuff, and America is just one more thing to possess.

But there is a big difference in this world between having and doing. 

America has never fully embodied equality, liberty, and justice. What it has always had was a dream of justice and equality before the law. The 1776 Report authors are right to note that was an astonishing dream in 1776, and it made this country a beacon of radical hope. It was enough to inspire people from all walks of life to try to make that dream a reality. They didn’t have an ideal America; they worked to make one. 

The hard work of doing is rarely the stuff of heroic biographies of leading men. It is the story of ordinary Americans who were finally pushed far enough that they put themselves on the line for this nation’s principles. 

It is the story, for example, of abolitionist newspaperman Elijah P. Lovejoy, murdered by a pro-slavery mob in 1837, and the U.S. soldiers who twenty-four years later fought to protect the government against a pro-slavery insurrection designed to destroy it. It is the story of Lakota leader Red Cloud, who negotiated with hostile government leaders on behalf of his people, and of his contemporary Booker T. Washington, who tried to find a way for Black people to rise in the heart of the South in a time of widespread lynching. It is the story of Nebraska politician William Jennings Bryan, who gave voice to suffering farmers and workers in the 1890s, and of Frances Perkins, who carried his ideas forward as FDR’s Secretary of Labor and brought us Social Security. It is the story of the American G.I.s, from all races, ethnicities, genders, and walks of life who fought in WWII. It is the story of labor organizer Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, and Fannie Lou Hamer, who faced down men bent on murdering her and became an advocate for Black voting. It is the story of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who 60 years ago this week warned us against the “military-industrial complex.”

And it is, of course, the story of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we celebrate today. King challenged white politicians to take on poverty as well as racism to make the promise of America come true for all of us. “Some forty million of our brothers and sisters are poverty stricken, unable to gain the basic necessities of life,” he reminded white leaders in May 1967. “And so often we allow them to become invisible because our society’s so affluent that we don’t see the poor. Some of them are Mexican Americans. Some of them are Indians. Some are Puerto Ricans. Some are Appalachian whites. The vast majority are Negroes in proportion to their size in the population…. Now there is nothing new about poverty. It’s been with us for years and centuries. What is new at this point though, is that we now have the resources, we now have the skills, we now have the techniques to get rid of poverty. And the question is whether our nation has the will….” Just eleven months later, a white supremacist murdered Dr. King. 

These people did not have a perfect nation, they worked to build one. They embraced America so fully they tried to bring its principles to life, sometimes at the cost of their own. Rather than simply trying to own America, the doers put skin in the game.

Today, the Trump administration issued the 1776 Report that presented the United States of America as a prize to be possessed. And yet, the country is demonstrably still in the process of being created: tonight, there are 15,000 soldiers in the cold in Washington, D.C., defending the seat of our government against insurgents.

True Liberation in God

January 18th, 2021

There can be no outer freedom without some level of inner liberation. This is a universal truth, but a lesson that each of us must learn for ourselves. If we pursue freedom from a reactionary position, out of our own fear or anger, we are working on too small a scale. The path to full liberation always has its source in an Infinite God. My colleague Barbara Holmes puts it this way:

Although justice must be enacted in concrete ways, I agree with Václav Havel (1936–2011) [who] . . .  suggested that liberation is an awareness of connections to a reality “beyond our reach, a higher intention that is the source of all things, a higher memory recording everything, a higher authority to which we are all accountable in one way or another.” [1]

Barbara Holmes continues to explore this idea of God as the source of true and transcendent liberation through a creative, imagined conversation between civil rights icon Rosa Parks (1913–2005) and the Black mystic and theologian Howard Thurman (1899–1981). 

Parks First, don’t we have to redefine liberation? When I refused to get up from the bus seat, when Martin marched and Malcolm railed against the artificial constraints of segregation, it was not to grant a small sliver of freedom to earthbound people. It was the spiritual launch of a liberation too vast to be circumscribed by a single life. This is a liberation worth dying for, worth risking everything for. . . .

Thurman The power that is meaningful for future generations comes through the human spirit but emanates from a divine source. . . .

Parks Liberation requires individuals willing to stand when no one else will, to sit when others are threatening you with harm, to embrace an outsider in full view of an insider, to proclaim the wisdom of the ages and the already/not yet justice of God in the midst of horrific circumstances. We do this although we don’t know what the end will be, and we do this because liberation is the responsibility of each and every person. I know that the sacred heart of the liberation story lies in ordinary acts of obedience and resistance by ordinary people.

Thurman Thank you for that, Rosa. Liberation is not a goal or an event to be enjoyed. It is a series of events that draw us closer to true liberation in God. Liberation comes in the moment that we hear the leading of the Divine and follow. It is the freedom to unbind the shackled and to reunite with God and neighbor. Until we achieve that reunion, we move from liberation to liberation gathering seekers as we go, celebrating only long enough to encourage our spirits and then moving on to new struggles around old issues in different contexts. [2]  

Barbara Holmes’ ability to “listen in” to these conversations between “the ancestors” is a sign of her own spiritual freedom, which she shares so generously with the world.

A Journey to Freedom

In the Book of Exodus, Egypt is the place of slavery and the promised land is the place of freedom. The journey from Egypt to the promised land is a standing paradigm for the universal struggle from slavery to freedom—and thus for the spiritual journey as well. The story of Israel symbolically describes the experience of our own liberation by God, which is both an outer freedom and an inner freedom or it is not real liberation.

The word exodus means “the way out,” as scholar Allen Dwight Callahan explains:

A loanword from the Greek, exodus signifies the road of escape. The biblical drama of Exodus recounts the story of the escape of the ancient Israelites from Egypt and their formation as a new people in Canaan. The Lord had commanded that the Egyptians “let my son [Israel] go” (Exodus 4:23), and the imperative phrase “Let my people go” is repeated seven times in the drama that climaxes in the Israelites’ flight across the Red Sea. [1]

The liberation that Moses leads is first cemented in a “face to face” encounter with God. According to the book of Exodus, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend” (33:11). God gradually answers Moses’ many objections as to why he should not lead his people: 1) “Who am I?” 2) “Who are you?” 3) “What if they do not believe me?” 4) “I stutter” and 5) “Why not send someone else?” In each case, God patiently stays in the dialogue, answering Moses respectfully and even intimately, offering a promise of personal Presence and an ever-sustaining glimpse into who God is. God is Being Itself, Existence Itself, a nameless God beyond all names, a formless God previous to all forms, a liberator God who is utterly liberated from the limits culture and religion put on any Divinity. God asserts God’s ultimate freedom from human attempts to capture God in concepts and words by saying, “I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Over the course of his story, we see that Moses slowly absorbs this same daring freedom. Despite the failings and limitations Moses perceived in himself, he is liberated by God’s faith in him.

It is this same daring and unequivocal freedom that inspired many Black Americans when they read this text. Callahan again: “African Americans heard, read, and retold the story of the Exodus more than any other biblical narrative. In it they saw their own aspirations for liberation from bondage in the story of the ancient Hebrew slaves. . . . The Exodus signified God’s will that African Americans too would no longer be sold as bondspeople, that they too would go free.” [2]

In working for outer freedom, peace, and justice in the world we discover the even deeper inner freedom of our True Self in God.

A New Story to Replace the Old

January 14th, 2021

In this time of unveiling, new stories need to be told about everything from ecology and faith to money and power, and they need to be told from many different perspectives. Only as we contemplate and engage new paradigms and visions can we discern where and how God is calling us to act. Author and educator Michael Nagler shares his version of a new story based on his decades-long commitment to the practice of nonviolence. He writes:

The new story [is] the term we use today for the new—to us—model of a universe of consciousness and purpose, of unity and sufficiency. . . .

The currently prevailing story—the old story [Richard: which is really only as old as the Enlightenment], that we live in a material, random universe, so that we, too, are primarily physical objects that need material things to be fulfilled—has led us to a permanent state of competition, not excluding violence. Whether you look at the story itself or its practical consequences, many—myself included—feel it’s radically wrong. We are body, mind, and spirit, and we’re embraced in what Martin Luther King famously called a single garment of destiny. [1] Life is not random, and we are not helpless to change it.

And right now the key change will be the change of the story itself.

Within the emerging new story . . . just about every social change that thoughtful people have long been yearning for—including the change to a sustainable planet—becomes more thinkable, and doable.

Take, for example, the acute inequality that has polarized our society (and, to a lesser extent, societies in other lands). What drives it is greed. The same greed that drives some to profit from war and armaments—the greed that is a nearly ubiquitous source of suffering for the many (and even for the few who seem to benefit financially). Is not greed, in turn, a function of the belief that we are primarily physical entities in competition with others? . . .

Greed is behind so many destructive processes; greed that’s reached unheard-of proportions today, creating an inequality that makes meaningful democracy impossible. But what is behind greed itself? It could not exist without the idea that a human being is material and separate from others, including the environment we live in.

Violence, inequality, war, the environment, and almost any aspect of society we can think of are rooted in the old story. . . .

In contrast to the old story—which held that the universe is primarily made of matter, has no discernable purpose, and scarcity, competition, and violence are inevitable—the new story sees the universe as primarily consciousness and the human being as body, mind, and spirit, able to locate and carry out their life’s purpose in a meaningful—indeed, fundamentally benevolent—universe.

Richard again: This new story is, of course, as old as incarnation itself! Somewhere along the line, we lost the thread of the true story of union, of wholeness, of God-with-us and us-for-each other.