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Near Death Experiences

A neighbor who looks every bit the part of a Hindu sage suggested humbly that expecting life to be eternal is “a bit greedy, don’t you think?”

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Listen Up!

Benedictine monk John Main has reminded me of something I first learned reading one of Gore Vidal’s historical novels. Reading to oneself became a thing only in recent centuries. “The spoken word is the essential medium for the communication of the gospel.”

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A Prayer Quartet for Pride

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising

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Ozymandias on the Nightly News

Dorian Gray was above it all, privileged and pampered and proud, without good promise or purpose. Wilde’s implication is that conscience is necessary for the soul to survive.“What does it profit a person if, in gaining the whole world, loses the soul?”

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God, Mother of Us All

The 19th century English poet and mystic William Blake summed it up well when he said, “We are put on earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love.”
The spiritual teacher Henri Nouwen added that our time on earth is a brief span to say to God, “I love you too.”

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An Unfinished Mystic

Lonely Mystic: A New Portrait of Henri J. M. Nouwen is the most intimate glimpse of Henri yet, if that’s even possible, given his intimate self-portrayals in almost every one of his own books. It may make those who want to see Henri canonized squirm a little, though not because of any illicit affairs or theological heresies or tasteless behavior. He was the consummate “best little boy in the world” that every gay boy and man wants to be, but his calling to a celibate vocation kept him lonely and needy and sometimes, broken.

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Communion of Life

As a follow-up to last week’s post, “Thank You for the Body that Loves Me,” I present another meditation on our earthiness, another in a series of reflections from my earlier books that I hope may lift our spirits in this new year. The series opened with “Peace of Mind” and will continue throughout the season of Epiphany and, who knows, maybe beyond.

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Thank You for the Body that Loves Me

Both my sexuality and my spirituality conspired to persuade me that embodiment is good, a sacred trust, a holy way of being.

My sexuality impelled me to love another intimately, physically, even worshipfully at its better moments. My spirituality, being incarnational, inspired me to love others personally and politically, wishing them shalom: health, well-being, justice, equality, peace.

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Christmas for the spiritual but not religious

Christmas has become about more than Jesus. It’s about the lifting of the human spirit. It’s about kindness and compassion and the glory of being alive!

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Tree of Life

verything is interrelated, and dynamic, in ceaseless change, and anything that seems unchanging is illusory. Those of us who are “good, civil and kind” must lean in to change history’s trajectory. God’s kingdom come!

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The Mythologies of Science and Religion

I’ve written before that I am at “that age” when you look for connections, a time late in life indicated by recent studies. Regular readers will know that, during my morning prayers these days, I’ve been slowly absorbing Fritjof Capra’s 1975 book, The Tao of Physics. I find physicist Capra’s writing more accessible than that of Stephen Hawking, though I wonder how dated his science may be today, even as he demonstrates a pretty thorough understanding of Eastern spirituality.

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Aunt Helen, Nelson Mandela, and Donald Trump

How differently Aunt Helen, Nelson Mandela, and Donald Trump have applied the powers of positive thinking! Maybe we need a corrective text entitled, The Power of Magnanimous Thinking.

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The Lost Gospel of the Woman at the Well

This is the lost Gospel of Marah, the woman at the well to whom Jesus spoke while travelling through Samaria, as described in the Gospel of John, chapter four. It was recently discovered wedged behind a stone of a well in Samaria. This is the Contemporary American Version translation.

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A Healing Touch

As I get older, I have fewer opportunities to be touched. I knew that about old age even before I got there, and that’s why I’m sitting so close to my mother in the above photograph, my arm around her. I had noticed the need particularly among the older women of our neighborhood church. The passing of the peace was an opportunity for older folk to receive and give full-on hugs. Now I am grateful for such hugs in greeting or in parting worship.

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Jesus’ “Bad” Table Manners

The traditional beginning of the Communion story is “On the night that Jesus was betrayed…” But we did more than betray him that night; we denied him multiple times and abandoned him to the “powers that be.” We expressed shock that any of us would desert him, let alone betray him, and we each said, “Is it I, Lord?” Was our fear of authority figures and the awareness of Jesus’ and our vulnerability already palpable at the meal? Regardless, both believers and betrayers were welcome at his table.

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Souls “Flung Up to Heaven”: Maya Angelou and Hildegard of Bingen

Recently I co-lead a contemplative retreat at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. Four years ago on this site, Dewey Weiss Kramer gave an uplifting course on Hildegard of Bingen for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program. I decided to adapt today’s post from my reflections on that experience

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Help Me Understand

I’ve written several posts about a book on Zen Buddhism I’ve just completed reading. I found myself becoming quieter and quieter as I read a brief section each day during morning prayer. Part of it was that Zen was telling me to shut up, just be. And part of it was that the whole enterprise had the effect of a Zen koan like “the sound of one hand clapping” to still the mind.

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Come Home: Reclaiming Spirituality and Community as Gay Men and Lesbians

Come Home’s five sections include: Welcoming God’s Acceptance, Receiving Our Inheritance, Discerning Our Call, Making Our Witness, and Declaring Our Vision. Come Home! is one of Chris Glaser’s best books. Now the addition of five new chapters has expanded and improved it. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong called the first edition “powerful, sensitive, and provocative. . . . Christians, gay and straight, need this book if we are to be the body of Christ.”

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Can We Really Listen to Donald Trump?

Let me clarify that for the purposes of this post, Donald Trump is an example of our most troubling political leaders and commentators. He is not a scapegoat, however; he is simply the most prominent among many disturbing figures in this country and the world. He’s a bipartisan choice because he has riled conservatives, liberals, and moderates alike, Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and Independents.

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The Body Still Loves to Dance

I discovered that though gay sex may be verboten, some things never change. Camp humor abounded. People were caring and sensitive and carefully huggy. Haircuts and clothing, though not overly provocative, were still stylish and colorful; in a workshop on masculinity, I heard rumblings of discontent at a suggestion that they rid themselves of their wardrobes and patronize barbers rather than hair stylists. En route to a session, two ex-lesbians were kvetching about one’s lack of punctuality and the other’s lack of patience. And two ex-gay boys next to me in the opening worship were thrilled to find someone with a car: “We need to go to a mall really bad!” one emoted while in the next breath telling his friend, “I really want to be here; I’m longing to be closer to God.”

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What Jesus Wants

I’ve been rereading Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry for a contemplative retreat I will be co-leading this spring. It’s amazing how much one can get out of what seems a simple little book each time it is read. This time I realized why Henri became popular among evangelical Christians. He emphasizes a very personal relationship with Jesus, so personal that “Christ…lives in us, that he is our true self.”

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An Early Christian #MeToo and #TimesUp Movement

  Reading Laura Swan’s The Forgotten Desert Mothers as the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and the #TimesUp movement for equal employment for women were getting underway, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels with the women who, …

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The Fundamentalist Memory Hole

Christian fundamentalism (which has parallels in other religions and ideologies) arose at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century in America and Great Britain in reaction to liberal theology and modernism. One might say it is parallel to Oliver Sacks’s above description of the regression that misguided science for centuries, imagining a solar system with Earth rather than the Sun at its center.

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Manifest Destiny

Please join me in a thought experiment I began during my morning walk. What if we are alone in the universe? What if Earth is the only celestial body in the entire cosmos that has evolved life?

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Collective Christian Memory

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” it is said, and a background in literature has taught me that in earlier periods writers often borrowed from one another without compunction or complaint.

But I was shaken, early in my activist writing career, to discover another writer had “borrowed” something I had written for her Methodist curriculum. She put her name as the author because she had “adapted” it. I had felt similarly offended when I noticed Cat Stephens failed to acknowledge on an album that “Morning Has Broken” is an old hymn that he “adapted.”

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Darwin’s Epiphany on the Meaning of Flowers

The impertinence of youth caused me once to chide my father for spending so much time on his garden “rather than on something that lasts.” “What lasts?” was his wise response, making no apology.

Possibly the better way to proclaim the Gospel is to “say it with flowers.”

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The Personal Face of God

God is not a “thing” to be grasped or known or understood absolutely; yet the entire witness of scripture and saints and Jesus is that God is within our reach.

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Poetry Makes Life Last Longer

Poetry Makes Life Last Longer

Posted: 27 Dec 2017 02:00 AM PST

“The breakers steady crash…”

The end of a year seems a good time to reflect on time: what shortens it, what stretches it. The beginning of this year I eagerly read most of Alan Burdick’s Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation (2017). Though I recommend it, I found the text sometimes contradicted the title as I trudged through scientific studies and jargon.

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Thank God you were born!

Or thank the cosmos! Or evolution! Or your parents! Or “to whom it may concern”!

“Thank God you were born” is the message I often write on birthday cards or Facebook birthday messages. I intend it as my own thanksgiving for the birth of the person I’m greeting, but I realize it could be understood as a spiritual directive to the recipient as well.

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Remembering our nation’s values in these troubled times…

The recent flap about athletes “taking the knee” during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice has been called disrespectful of our armed services. I realize the anthem’s imagery is of a battle, but our national anthem is about ALL Americans who have contributed to our nation’s character, from the seamstress who made the first stars and stripes to the seamstress who refused to give up her seat on a bus. The “land of the free and the home of the brave” values protest and the courage of activists. We actually have benefited from both. Important battles have been fought with picket signs, resistance, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and votes.

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Jesus, A New Adam

Jesus is the “new Adam”—not the innocent and perfect and beautiful Ken and Barbie doll of Adam and Eve.

For me as a progressive Christian, Jesus is the “new Adam”—not the innocent and perfect and beautiful (and initially sexless) Ken and Barbie doll of Adam and Eve; rather the tried and tested, unappealing and vulnerable and wounded one, acquainted with sorrows and grief, the bearer of the sins and injustices of the world—political, religious, and personal. Treasonous and blasphemous, betrayable and deniable, because compassion was all he held dear.

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“Peace! Be Still!”

The contemplative practices of those escaping “empire,” both politically and religiously…

  How easily my calm was shattered as I started to write this post! My mouse stopped working, and I had to figure out once again how to open it, and then find a fresh battery. Still, …

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Altars in the World

The contemplative life is about finding altars everywhere!

The contemplative life is about finding altars everywhere. Celtic “thin places” where heaven shows itself on earth. Creatures who, much like Meister Eckhart’s caterpillar, are so full of God a sermon is unnecessary. Leonard Cohen’s broken places that let the light shine in. Strangers who are angels unawares. The “least of these” who are Christ himself. People who, as in Thomas Merton’s epiphany at a city intersection, do not realize they are walking around “shining like the sun.” Maya Angelou’s “caged bird,”

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Rage to Ecstasy: Praying the Psalms

That’s a gift of the Psalms, that praying them, we feel less alone. Those who wrote the psalms were imperfect, much like us. They didn’t know everything, but they had feelings about everything. And, like us, they had multiple situations and events to have feelings about, some good, even great, some bad, even evil. They reflect the human range of experiences and emotions.

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“Arrogant Autonomy (or) Loving Excentration”

I recently read that longer lived people tend to challenge themselves physically or mentally, and reading the first essay, “A Note on Progress,” tells me that this book will surely extend my life by a year. As I read and re-read the chapter, I confess my broken knowledge. Yet Teilhard’s erudition is made tenable by exquisite phrasing and enlarging metaphors. It is from this chapter that I take the title of this post.

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Remember the Gift

Teilhard de Chardin (yes, I’m still reading him) writes, “However personal and incommunicable it may be at its root and origin, Reflection can only be developed in communion with others. It is essentially a social phenomenon.” I would add, a social phenomenon over time, a communion of saints over the ages. In another context, he writes, “Coherence and fecundity, the two criteria of truth.”*

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