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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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Potlatch

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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Easter Rising

Celtic Christianity, whose model was the beloved disciple whose head rested on Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper “listening for the heartbeat of God,” offered more equality between male and female leadership and less differentiation between clergy and laity, permitted married and unmarried clergy, innovated the use of soul friends/guides, believed redemption was possible through either sacraments or nature, recognized and valued the theophanies of the natural world, and recognized that everyone was a child of God, created in God’s image.

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The Adventures of a Gay Red-headed Boy in His Search for God

Like the black girl in search of God, this gay red-headed boy’s search has been convoluted and risky. … The gay red-headed boy, in his search for God, now encountered a gay pioneer, who was also, as it turns out, a Hindu scholar.

God is good—and full of surprises.

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Nightmare of the Presidency

It is an awesome task to be “the leader of the free world” or the leader of any nation. That’s why your vote and my vote count so much. We don’t want the presidency to be scarier than it already is.

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Crosses

When crosses were first devised out of the cruelty that human hearts have learned, who would’ve imagined that God could have transformed such a cruel machine into an icon of love between an older and a younger boy, and between a younger and an older man? Or that such a cause for suffering could create communion among all kinds of Christians?

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Spiritual Baggage

So let’s see what’s inside, quite literally unpacking our metaphor. First we find another bag hidden inside. This represents hidden spiritual baggage we carry with us even when we claim to be traveling light as progressive Christians. We may discover hidden dogma: hidden expectations, latent prejudices, unintended biases, beliefs that don’t play well with others.

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The Racial-Ethnic Oscar

In the controversy over the lack of black nominees for Oscars, one Academy member facetiously asked if we were now to have an ethnic category “for your consideration.” I doubt very much that the man who asked the question is racist; after all, he has a black adopted daughter and black grandchildren.

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iSpirituality

Just as the internet and its technology may be made personal, iSpirituality may awaken individuals to the worldwide spiritual internet, helping us see the connection of the personal to the universal, the individual to the international. And by “spiritual” I don’t mean other-worldly, non-physical, or immaterial, for the “i” in iSpirituality could stand for “incarnational” as well.

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The Terrible God

Regardless of religion, much of the world worships, believes in, or supposes a terrible deity. This “God” causes or permits death, destruction, disaster, droughts, disorders, disease, and damnation—and these are just the words that alliterate nicely. This “God” hates homosexuals, privileges males over females, has cursed certain races and religions and conditions, and does not tolerate differences.

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The Natural World Is Super Enough

Even if there are dimensions of reality as yet unrecognized by our limited perceptions, that doesn’t make them magical or supernatural, just unperceived. I for one am hoping against hope that death is but an entrance into another dimension of existence. If not, the life I’ve been given is miracle enough.

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The Child Who Calls Us to Evolve

Why do we care so deeply for the child born to Mary and Joseph in a Bethlehem cave and not the millions of other children born into a poverty of one kind or another? Is it because of who he became, or simply because we can only care for one person at a time?

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The Right Word

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.

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Youthful Exceptionalism

We speak of American exceptionalism, a belief that we are special, uniquely able to bring peace and progress to the world. In this view, we are smarter than, better than, more prosperous than, more blessed than all the peoples of the world. These are sometimes experienced as gifts, but often, as entitlements.

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