Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Saturday, September 25, 2021

stop, breath, pray

A man I very much admire

and I had a chat.


One of those Facebook chats that come about sometimes

when someone put something out there

that jars.


In this case I was the culprit,

lamenting the use, by people people with low empathy

(or no empathy) of the laugh emoji

as a response to a serious statement.


I see a laugh emoji, when a person is lamenting covid cases,

or when they are made a values statement, or even just a factual statement,

as an act of minimization and marginalization.


It says “who cares?” at the best, and “you are stupid” at the worst.


My dear friend, who is a man of compassion, felt me comments were unnecessary and judgmental.  He also felt (at the same time) that my comments in response to a person

who was on the “personal freedom’ side of the vaccination issues were too harsh.


“That seems harsh and unloving.”

I can’t say he was wrong.


The conversation has plagued me all night,

in part because it reminds me how difficult it is to navigate through these times when extremism is a way of life for many.


I believe we need to be kind.

As Ian Maclaren, (real name John Watson, a Presbyterian Minister) minister once noted (1897), “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle,”


Indeed the call to respond with kindness and love that comes from Jesus is extreme.

He took the need to not respond with violence and retribution as far as dying on the cross.


How far do I give up my rights?

How far do I give up my right to be right?

How far do I go in trying to reconcile rather than in trying to shame?

As far as Jesus took those things.


And yet, I recognize that Jesus had his limits.

He did flip tables.

He did tell the rich young ruler just how much of this possessions he had to divest,

and did not soften his stance when the young man was unwilling to do that.

He told Peter he was “full of it”, numerous times.

He told Peter he would fail (and Peter did).


He stood up to the Pharisees and the Sadducees

and at times made them very uncomfortable,

using the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, to highlight their hypocrisy.


Is there a place where putting others before yourself, being sacrificial (unto the cross) become a problem?

Can it be that “turning the other check” and “loving our enemies,” and “doing good to those that harm us” has its limits?


Is there a point where we have to push back?

Even confront?  Resist things that we know (hopefully) to be wrong?

Can we call out lies?  Overtly!

Can we push back at people who are engaged in harmful, abusive behavior?


Can kindnesss be toxic?

At its worst, kindness can have a dark side.

It can allow one’s self to be eroded.  It can destroy necessary boundaries that keep us healthy.  I can also be enabling. It can effectually be the equivalent of standing by and letting others abuse and harm. 


On the other hand.  Failing to be kind can take us into really dark places.  At times I find myself in those dark places.  I love this paragraph by Tracy A. Dennis-Tiwary, where shew talks about a thing she calls “moral disgust”


“Moral disgust is currently the default emotion in our politically-divided country and it has toxic social and emotional effects on all of us. Moral disgust can be thought of as the universal repugnance people feel toward extremely bad conduct, like abuse of the vulnerable, cruelty, corruption, and so on. Moral disgust in a relationship is toxic because, like physical disgust, when we’re disgusted by someone, we want nothing to do with them. We want to “expel” the offender and their offensive behavior or beliefs, like spitting out rotten food. Even more radically, in the throes of disgust, we no longer think of the other as quite completely human, and, therefore, not truly worthy of being heard and understood. Sociologists call this tacit belief that one’s “in-group” is more human than an “out-group” infrahumanization and it’s dangerous for healthy social relationships.”




What do we do? Many of us feel paralyzed by these divisions, whereas others feel overwhelmed with anger and disgust.


I am not sure what we do.

I continue to believe we have to, in every way, counteract hate, and violence, and we have to confront behaviors that destroy the common good.


How do we create understanding and promote positive change (rather than just feed the divide?)


I think we start with listening, which can be difficult to do.

But the reality is we can reach out an get to know the other person better,

and understanding what the “great burden” they are carrying.


Or at least what got them to the place in which they dwell.


(A shout out here to non-violent communication)


Here we note what is happening without blaming or criticizing. “I notice you just said”

Then we express OUR feelings.  “When you said that (or did that) I felt”


We own how what is happening affects us.


And then we share what we need.  “I need to understand why you feel that way.”

“I need to understand why you believe that.”  Give me more information!  Where is this stuff I am getting from you coming from?


Then we make a request.  “Can we restart this conversation.”  “Can we both go in and look at all the evidence together.”


Of course we struggle with the “other side” isn’t open to this approach.


David Brooks of the New York Times once wrote an article on “How to Engage a Fanatic.” Can you , he asks, have a civil conversation with an extremist.


He suggests that to have a decent conversation you can’t confront them with equal and opposite force, but must use compassion and civility.  You have to confront extremism with love.


“All you have to do” he writes, “is try to imitate Martin Luther King, who thrust his love into his enemies’ hearts in a way that was aggressive, remorseless and destabilizing.”


This is not easy.

None of this is.

Sometimes we don’t go far enough with our kindness

Sometimes we go to far.


I have no great solutions here!

Only struggle

And only a belief that love is the way, and that violent confrontation makes us exactly what we are trying to confront.


So I end in tension.  The tension between confrontation and reconciliation.  Between the need to be kind, and the need to stand firm.  Between the need to stop evil, and the need to be compassionate and empathetic.


I know I will at times be kind, in the right way

I know I times I will let people erode my boundaries and leave me bruised and manipulated.

I know at times I will be too harsh, and will not act in a way that promotes reconciliation.


So all I can do, as I read a comment on Facebook

Or hear a comment made in person.

Or listen to the pundits on TV


All I can do as I am confronted with things that hurt my soul

Is stop, breathe, pray (I need spiritual resources here), open myself to the presence

of the one who knew how to confront kindly,


and then respond.  Hopefully living out what I say I believe.

Hopefully being a person who reflects the Jesus I say I love.


May God have mercy

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Eyes that see

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

          Author of the First Letter of John



How do we know where our eyes are?

Where our gaze is turned?

Where our eyes linger, and then linger some more?


By how we live!


Whether we are aware of it or not,

and usually we are not,

we “mirror” others.


When we are in the presence of another, and are focused on them,

truly focused,

and when we value them,

we often pick up their gestures, speech patterns, and even their attitudes.


Children mirror their parents, and grandparents,

and later their peers.


Employees often mirror their bosses,

and sometimes, God help us, we mirror our political leaders!


So the way we think,

the inclinations of our hearts

our attitudes,

and ultimately our actions are reflective


of where our eyes (and perhaps heart) linger.


Who do we mirror?

Whose attitudes and actions do we reflect?


Ah, Beloved One,

you are always before us, you are always above us,

you are always below us, you are always behind us,

you are always in us.


We are permeated with Sacred presence

and so should truly be Sacred Children.


We should reflect your love,

your generosity,

your forgiveness,

your patience

your kindness.


But our eyes stray,

pulled away from you by so many things

which catch our eyes.


And then your image in us dims and blurs.


Help us Jesus, beloved,

Help us Christ, the Cosmic One,

keep our eyes stayed on you


that we may see you as you really are,

and be more like you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

We shall overcome

God did not say ‘ you will not be tempted; you will not be troubled; you will not be distressed.’  What God said was ‘You shall not be overcome.’

                     Julian of Norwich



Morning comes slowly

Anxiety creeps in more quickly,

waking me up and keeping me awake.


Sitting at my desk, watching a blood red sun rise

in a smoky sky, neurotic cat snuggled on my lap,


my mind is fill with the worries of the “via negativa”.

with the ills of the world which rot and fester.


Predominate is my bewilderment over those who have

chosen to trust liars and embrace lies.

We were warned that this is what humans do, when afflicted with the

hungry ghosts of the soul.


That our human minds, brilliant and wonderful,

can also become afflicted, and dis-eased.

That we can become ideologically impaired so that

while claiming to be wise we become fools (Romans 1).


That our hearts, made for love can become frozen and hard.


And worse, that so afflicted we can end up embracing lies and abandoning truth.

Even exchanging the truth about God,

that God is love, and that God works through people to reconcile and heal,

for lies about who God is and how God works.


Exchanging trust in God, and trust in love,

for trust in malignant leaders, and trust in hate and violence


We have exchanged the way of love with the way of alienation,

the way of compassion with the way of judgment,

the way of peace with the way of violence

the way of inclusion with the way of exclusion

the way of trust with the way of conspiracy and distrust.


And it is a right mess


But as I sit, and the sky becomes lighter,

and the sun turns from red to yellow,

and the beauty of the mountain emerges from the haze,


I am reminded that God is.

That God is present.

That God is present in me (and you too!).


It will never be easy, this life.

The “via positiva” will always be mixed together with the “via negativa”,

and life will never be easy.


But God is present, seated on the throne of my heart.

God dwells in this house that is my body.


And so, though I may be tempted, and troubled,

and distressed by what I see going on around me.


I will not be overcome.