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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Stay With Me

Transforming loneliness to solitude…

Loneliness is the wilderness for the writer, the artist, and the contemplative. Writing, creativity, and prayer are not ways out of the wilderness, but a way to make the wilderness blossom, to turn the ache of feeling lonely to a fulfilling solitude, transforming “lone” to “alone,” derived from joining the words “all-one.”

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Why I am praying for President Trump…

A Facebook friend puzzled over my last post, wondering if it implied a kind of us-vs-them outlook. What I intended was assurance to those of us apprehensive about the Trump-Pence inauguration, including possible Trump voters, who may themselves now face loss of health care coverage, rising prices, diminished Social Security and Medicare benefits, reduced personal safety, and international insecurity.

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As a youth I was fascinated by a custom practiced among Pacific Northwest Native Americans called the Potlatch. I capitalize the Chinook term here, though my OED does not, because it seems every bit as sacred as Christmas and Easter.

Having accumulated much, a person (often a chief) would give away or burn all possessions and start afresh. Though my dictionary implies this was a show of wealth and prestige rather than generosity and humility, I’d say Christmas or any show of charity and humility is practiced with similar mixed motives, so why quibble?

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The Call to Celibacy

I distinguish between the “gift” of celibacy and the “call” to celibacy, which I will come to later in this post.

The gift of celibacy is a debatable proposition. Is someone “blessed” with that gift or simply avoiding intimate relationships? Is it a rejection of God’s gift of sexuality and more broadly sensuality and embodiment, or a prioritizing of one’s energy and involvement and commitment?

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The Word We Need This Christmas

We’ve all been there. Trying to find the right word to say. The right word to say to a friend who has lost her mother. The right word to say in a letter seeking acceptance. The right word to let someone know how much you love him or her.

It’s true that words are not the answer to everything. Sometimes silence is healing. Sometimes silence lets you think. Sometimes just listening, either to a friend or to God or to your own heart is all that’s needed. But when the silence is deafening, when the silence is lonely, we need to hear a word. A word of hope. A word of encouragement. A word of love.

The Bible is the story of a God who tries a multitude of ways to speak to us. A voice in the wilderness. Commandments written in stone. Oracles of prophets seeking justice and mercy.

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Mary Doesn’t Do It Alone–Neither Do We!

In these uncertain times, we may feel overwhelmed by the needs of the world and the deficits of our leaders. The biblical story of Mary metaphorically tells us what to look for from God, “however we understand” our Higher Power.

How did God help Mary—the Mary we seek to emulate in her willingness to bring something new into the world?

God first sent an angel, a messenger from God who told her not to be afraid, explaining what was happening, how God was working out a purpose in her life, giving her vision of her sacred worth, as well as calling her out as an instrument of God’s in-breaking kingdom, or commonwealth.

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Let It Go (A New Nativity)

Have you ever been in the grip of something? Something that wouldn’t let go of you or that you couldn’t let go of?

Have you ever felt possessed or been obsessed by something? Or, after doing something, asked, “Whatever possessed me to do this or that or the other thing?”

What about being gripped by fear? Or overtaken by anger? Or grief? Or anxiety? Or stress? Or lust—that is, an overwhelming desire to have something or someone?

Have you had the experience of being in the grasp of infatuation—that is, something that felt like love but was more like fear of being deprived of the object of your attraction?

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The Road Not Taken

The road not taken. The poet Robert Frost’s famous line has been used so often, many think of it as a cliché. But it yet carries poetic power, because many, if not most, if not all of us have roads not taken in our lives, roads whose destinations are hidden from us, just as the lion Aslan explains to the children in The Narnia Chronicles that we are not told what might have been

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The Leader I’d Like to Have

I would not like a leader so presumptuous as to say this when proclaiming her or his candidacy, nor giving an inaugural speech. Only Isaiah and Jesus could get away with that, in my book.

But I would like a leader who repeated this privately as a prayer at the beginning of every day in office, and before every meeting and every decision. It’s good for leaders to be reminded, not just of their prophetic and pastoral roles, but of their responsibility to do what’s right and best.

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Becoming What We Behold

Daily we behold terrible and diminishing things, not just in the newspaper and on the news, but in films, television programs, books, plays, even music. Daily we also behold our “golden calves” of consumer products in ads, commercials, and our neighbor’s latest acquisition. Daily we are bombarded and distracted by e-mails, text messages, and the multiple layers of the internet. If, as in Evelyn Underhill’s estimation, we become what we behold, we are becoming a mess of noise, violence, and greed with little room for the divine, the holy, and God.

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Held by God

Jesus experienced or was experienced as being a child of God, the essence of Yahweh, and the mystical gospel writer John declared that Jesus came so that we might all be children of God. So I have a mystic’s reason for my experience.

I encourage you—no, I urge you—imagine yourself being held and touched and cuddled by God. Imagine God dwelling in you, your breath, your body, your touch.

It feels good because it is good.

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A Flower’s Tears

  I had just read a quote from landscape artist Thomas Cole: “Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it? We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us …

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Killing God

When we conceive an all-powerful God, then God is responsible for all that’s wrong with the world—in her word, “a monster.” And I have pastorally and personally witnessed those who suffer or those who suffer loss doubting God’s intentions or God’s existence. An omnipotent God who fails to care must be distrusted or killed.

I believe Christianity is conducive to this way of thinking, as it conceptualizes a God of compassion, willing to be vulnerable to the point of death—all out of love.

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Reform or Revolution?

The reason I bring this up is all the talk about “revolution” in this current election. A history professor with us explained that Nicaragua had experienced a true revolution, but by contrast, she shared many historians’ view that the so-called “American Revolution,” was actually a rebellion, because it did not turn upside down the class system, putting “lower” classes, however defined, in charge. It was still largely governed by wealthy, educated, propertied white men.

I was a little peeved at her for disillusioning me about our seminal American event, but I saw her point. Still, our Founding Fathers and Mothers did set in place a system potentially “of the people” that would radically transform the government, society, and culture. Yet we are a representative democracy, not an absolute democracy.

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“Deliver Us from Evil”

But “deliver us from evil” includes the qualifier “us.”

It’s not all about me, but all about us, and that expands the possibilities of evil worldwide: war, poverty, ignorance, violence, inequality, disease, divisiveness, environmental destruction, and all the “isms” that divide us. Again, I don’t expect God to solve the problems as much as inspire a solution—in me, and in the spiritual communities collectively praying this prayer.

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Everything You Wanted to Know about God but Were Afraid to Ask

Months ago I mentioned on this blog that I had finally picked up Karen Armstrong’s book, “A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” … Armstrong explains how talkative Christianity became in the West, with its emphasis on doctrine and systematic theology. Instead, in Eastern Orthodox understanding, we need silence to understand/experience God, which I believe is central to a spiritual life.Of course, then we might come back to a religion “of the heart” and the subjectivity that is potentially dangerous. But communing with God was to be of the mind as well, and within the context of a spiritual community and a spiritual tradition that can serve as correctives.

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“Turn To, Not Against Each Other”

“Shoot first. Ask questions later.”
“The best defense is a good offense.”
These seem to be the mantras of our time. Waking as we do each morning to a new shooting in our country or bombing in our world, accompanied by sights and sounds of shots and explosions, shouting and screaming, followed by the heart-rending wailing of the grieving, gives new impetus to the cry:
O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.

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Find Your Orlando

At first I intended only to post this rainbow flag at half-mast in front of a church—so overwhelmed and silenced I was by the carnage at the LGBT nightclub in Orlando this past weekend.

May those who lost their lives rest in peace. May those who are injured heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually. May those who lost loved ones find healing ways to grieve.

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Eight Steps Toward Sainthood (Wink)

These days of “do-it-yourself” improvement techniques have spawned an industry of providing sometimes simplistic solutions to life’s problems. So my title is a little tongue-in-cheek. I don’t present what follows as “dramatic truth,” or “divine revelation,” let alone “the secret”!

At the same time, I remember a friend reared as a United Methodist telling me he had never been given a spiritual path until he was introduced to The Twelve Steps. Another United Methodist—a college professor or mine—shocked everyone by candidly answering “no!” to an ordination question, “Are you on the road to perfection?”

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Out of the Closets and into the Kingdom

As the experience of many gay persons will testify, “coming out” is not a once-and-for-all experience, but a continuing process. So the movement towards the Kingdom, somewhere outside the closet, or the Kingdom’s movement toward the closeted, is one which continues until the final Promise is fulfilled: God’s gift of God’s own future, the Kingdom.

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New Meaning in the Cross

“Don’t you believe in the Trinity?” a friend asked last week, after I reacted negatively to a stranger saying that Jesus is God. I admit, I overreacted a bit, calling the latter belief idolatry, though discretely not to the person who asserted it. The person declaring Jesus their God did not affirm this in the context of Trinity: Jesus apparently stood as “Lord” all by himself in this man’s view.

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The World’s Wounds and Ours

Given what is going on in the world these days, the U.S. presidential race, the damage many of us have suffered at the hands of our spiritual communities, and my personal involvement as part of a support team for a friend in recovery, this meditation for Day Fifty-Eight seems particularly relevant. Each med begins with a quote from Henri and is followed by a brief prayer.

“We are part of a chain of wounds and needs that reach far beyond our own memories and aspirations.” Henri Nouwen, The Road to Peace, edited by John Dear

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Why Men Get Angry

  Two weeks ago, grieving the death of my neighborhood church, I nonetheless felt self-conscious about expressing my wish to cry inconsolably on this blog. I was embarrassed to be so open about my feelings, but it …

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Wounding God

It is a sacred challenge to administer justice without vengeance. Jesus calls us to go the extra mile beyond retribution (“an eye for an eye”) and love our enemies. But real love holds the beloved accountable.

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