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

Monday, January 25, 2010

In Search of a Soul

Recently the Lt. Governor of  South Carolina made comments about those people whose children partake of school lunch programs.  Mr Bauer said, and I quote, really! He actually said this!

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better,”

Feed "them" and "they" will breed.  And we can't have that !  He insinuated that we should stop feeding the poor so they don't multiply.  Later he would say “…We've got more people voting for a living than we do working for a living,”

Wow! That is stunning.  That is taking people created in God's image, and we are all created in God's image, and truly dehumanizing them.  Refusing to see that in each person there is a "divine original" that can be everything God created him or her to be.  This is taking "the outer" and allowing that to identify the person.  It is making the adjectives definitive.  That person is "poor", or "a person of color" or "vulnerable", or "female", "old" . . . you can supply your own adjective.

It strikes me that Jesus never did that.  He never let the adjectives define the person.  He saw behind the facade of Mary Magdalene, the questionable woman, and Lazarus, the slimy tax collector, and Peter the unstable fisherman.  Instead he saw beyond the exterior, into the heart.  Into what we often call the "soul."  C.S. Lewis said, "You don't have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body."  I like that !  A lot!  We are not our bodies, be they fat, skinny, or in between. We are not our social standing.  Our jobs.  Our education level.  We are not our race.  We our not our situation in life, affluent, or on public assistance.  We are God's creations.  The children of God.  We are our soul.  That place where God lives and moves.

The next time we look at someone who, from the perspective of our culture, we must look at them at in a new way.  We must see that divine original deep within. That one created in God's image.  Not the person  on an entitlement program.  Not the person with an ideology we can't stand.  That a person who causes us fear, or disdain.  We must see the child of God.

Yes, there is a big lesson here for me.  I must see Lt Gov. Bauer, as a child of God.  I think I have work to do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


It has been an interesting evening. I started out working on a new theme for the Kergyma class I teach at my church. The theme? "God's people have hope."

I then heard the news that in today's election the people Massachusetts voted in a Mr. Brown as the Senator to replace Kennedy. I have heard this man intimate that Obama was born illegitimately. I have heard him say things show he is a person of small character. And enough to know that he holds fast to the attitudes and policies of the GOP Party that lead American into this recession. Why after 8 years of allowing a party to drive us into turmoil, polarization, and fear, the people do not give Obama and his party more than one year to turn around is beyond logic. It shows that Americans are totally willing to buy into the ideology of hatred, fear and self-centeredness if they think it will benefit them personally. This is the mark of a fallen culture, a culture on the way out. And suddenly, although I was working on a lesson about hope, I lost hope.

I said in my heart, "I am done!" There is no sense trying. No sense working for the good. No sense working for community, if Americans are going to be this way.

Why bother to work for a non-profit? Americans will vote to strip away the funding that supports our work. Why bother to preach the gospel? People go against the teachings of Jesus, while at the same time claiming to uphold "Christianity." Why bother to do anything?

A little later I started to read a delightful little book, Grace (Eventually). Thoughts on Faith. In this book Anne Lamont talks about many things. And surprise! In the first essay, as she is talking about humiliating herself on the ski slopes, she writes these words. "Rumi said, 'Someone fills the cup in front of us.' I know that when I call out, God will be near, and hear, and help, eventually. Of course it is the 'eventually' that throws one into despair. For instance even now, I know America will be restored again, eventually, although it is hard to envision this at the moment, and it could take a century or more for the nation and the world to recover from the George W. Bush years. But they will. God always hears our cries, and helps, and it's always a surprise to see what form God will take on earth."

OK, I am still not there. I am still looking for hope. But I was reminded that God's other name is surprise. And that God can restore "what the locust has eaten" (Joel 2). So I will try to stay open for God's surprise, even though it feels like I am in a dry and weary land where there is no water (or hope) - Psalm 63.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Compassionate Community

Sam Keen, toward the end of his book Hymns to an Unknown God, makes a comment that seems remarkably important in today's world. "What we are discovering in American society is that we can't build a good society on the principles of self-interest and entitlement alone. Without generosity there can be no community."

This seems painfully true. As we look at the politicians in Washington explore health reform, as Oregonians look at supporting, or failing to support, funding for state programs, the principles of self-interest and entitlement do not seem to be leading us into generosity or community. Instead we seem to be producing enmity and polarization. Our society seems to be turning into an armed camp.

Frankly, as one of my church friends noted today, it is frustrating and depressing. For we were created to be in community. As God remarks in the story of the Garden of Eden. "It is not good for one to be alone." We find our full personhood, we reach our potential, only when we are nurtured in a community marked by faith, hope and love.

When we are self-encapsulated. When our focus is too narrow, we destroy community. We don't think of our neighbor, let alone the poor and vulnerable we seek to keep out of view. Instead we make decisions, and we act and yes, vote, based upon self interest (I don't want to give up anything that is mine) and entitlement. The other day a commentator on FOX waxed eloquently about calls for America to moderate its consumption of resources. She was incensed and indignantly proclaimed that "they want us to lower our lifestyle, they want to take away our lifestyle so they can have a better life." That is exactly where we end up. In that place where only we count. Why would we not want that person without health care to have care? Or that person without enough to eat, to have food? Or that homeless person to have a place to stay? Because we do not see them as part of our community.

When we surrender to God. When we give our selves to someone beyond ourselves and allow that One to fill our lives with meaning, we begin to ask critical questions. Questions so similar to those Jesus asked his disciples. Who is my neighbor? Who are my people?

As Keen notes, the more we expand our community, the more we are called to move into compassion. If we identify only with ourselves, we do not have to consider anyone else as we make our decisions. If we identify only with our family and friends, then we only have to love those who love us. If we expand our boundaries to include our neighbors, then we must show compassion to some way may not even like. If we include our country, our world, then suddenly find ourselves with at least some degree of responsibility to people who look differently, speak differently, perhaps even believe differently than us. To these people we must offer compassion, food, clothing, and more.

Keen suggests that one way to live community out in everyday life is "to make an effort to respond to people and situations you meet in the course of the day as if they were issuing a personal appeal to you for help OR offering you a gift. Listen with an open mind and heart. Look with a care-ful eye. What is being (silently) asked of you . . . "

And what is being offered, when people treat us this way in return?

"We Expect a theophany of which we know nothing but the place, and the place is called community" Martin Buber in Between Man and Man

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I'm am over in the Portland area, far from the beauty of the country. Lots of rain, people, cars, and meetings. Frankly the meetings can be a bit depressing. Everyone is scrambling, trying to figure out what is coming down the road, and worried! Need is great and resources are small. The TV is full of ads debating the virtues or sins of the funding measures on the ballots here in Oregon. And that is even more saddening. I saw two ads yesterday (I don't get them at home). One was against the measures and was using fear as its main tool. THEY are raising spending. THEY are raising taxes. Jobs have been LOST! YOU are in danger. YOU will have to pay more taxes. YOUR job might be next. THEY are getting a raise (those horrible state workers) and YOU will get nothing. It was an ad with some facts, but clearly the authors were trying to make a small piece of the truth the whole truth - which made their ad nothing more than a lie. On the other side and equally sad offering. If YOU don't make more than $250,000 a year these measures won't affect YOU. YOU will be safe. You get the idea.

When we are involved in discussions such as this it is becoming ever more clear that we are not focusing in the right places. We focus on ideology - no more taxes, no big government. We focus on our selves - how will this effect me, will this cost me, will I have to give up something? We focus on what might be called "the moral". This is the most powerful and pervasive of all points of focus. They don't work hard enough. It is all about power. Those people (the poor, mentally ill, addicted) don't deserve all this help.

Ah, the people. This is what we forget in these discussions. At least we forget those people whom Jesus would have called "the least of these." We remember ourselves. We remember those who have and who might have to give up a little. But those who have not? Those who are vulnerable. They are the lost factor in the equation.

When we have a discussion about state funding the real question should be (from a spiritual perspective), "what does this mean for the vulnerable"? If you don't believe this is really where the focus ought to be, read any of the minor prophets, or read Luke, or Matthew. What about the children whose schools will be hit? What about the mentally ill who might lose services? What about the families in crisis who need help? What about the "least of these", the "little ones"?

Jesus said "whenever you do it for the least of these, you do it unto me." (Matthew 25)

The debate about taxes is not really a debate about taxes. It is about much more. It is about our collective soul as a nation, as a state, as a culture. It is a vote about whether we will be compassionate and giving. It is a decision about whether to take care of the vulnerable in our midst, or not. It is about whether we will be a community, or just a collection of individuals, each looking out for him or herself.

"It's time for greatness -- not for greed. It's a time for idealism -- not ideology. It is a time not just for compassionate words, but compassionate action." Marian Edelmen

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Finding "Happiness"

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon. After doing some chores I now find myself with nothing specific I need to do, a rare situation in my life. I was reading various elements of my blog page, put together yesterday in fear and trembling, and could not help but notice my own comment, that I am "a seeker."

It is true that I am always searching, and as noted afflicted with "divine discontent." Or is it divine? Perhaps it is just discontent. It does raise the issue of how one finds what one is seeking. Aristotle suggested that there is a kind of "sustainable" or enduring happiness which he called "eudemonia." This is a kind of happiness, perhaps I would call it "joy" that does not come and go. It is not something that can be taken from us. We may lose our family, our job, our house, our car, our possessions, even our way of life, but we can't lose fulfillment.

I think however that most of us, myself included, seek not this kind of deep fulfillment, but more shallow and transient forms of happiness. We seek to find satisfaction through such things as power, food, possessions, and sexuality. We stuff ourself, we consume. The result? We are full, but not satisfied. And then it goes one step further, eventually we just feel sick. Our desire turns into aversion. This is why Lou Marinoff makes the profound statement that "people who pursue happiness end up catching unhappiness."

Biblically the suggestion is that fulfillment and happiness lie within us, not outside. It flows from finding the true self that is inside us, the authentic self. It comes from allowing the diving Spirit (big S not little s) inside us that connects us with God, ourselves and others. It comes from letting that Spirit guide and empower.

I am suggesting that fulfillment is found in neither accumulation, which drives us to be greedy and short sighted, nor renunciation, which makes us angry and dour, but in grasping our authentic self, a self that we find when we love God, and make ourselves open to God's Spirit in us, learn to respect and care for ourselves, and then reach out and respect and care for others.

Now to practical things. Our state is going to choose whether to pay a little more in taxes so kids can be educated and people with mental illness helped. Our nation is looking at sharing resources so every has health care. How will our response to these kind of issues change if we are seeking fulfillment rather that shallow, objective driven happiness? If we are more concerned with people than things?

There are many things to ponder, as we dance with the Spirit.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I am new at this. But since I am always thinking, and find that putting my thoughts down on paper helpful, I decided I might as well put my thoughts out there in the hope that they might be meaningful to you, and that what you say in response might be meaningful to me.

After all, faith is all about connection. Connecting with the sacred, with ourselves, and yes, each other.

Much of what I write will come out of what I am reading. I read a lot. Probably too much for my own good. Sometimes my reading is related to my work as mental health therapist, and sometimes it is more personal. My personal reading is usually about personal growth, and more specifically spirituality.

Currently I am reading a book by Sam Keen, who might be called a "recovering Presbyterian." Although he no longer holds tightly to the faith of his father, Sam both challenges and inspires me.

In his book "Hymns to an Unknown God" Keen titles a chapter "Living the Questions." He makes this comment. "The spiritual quest begins when we turn away from our standard answers and turn toward fresh questions. Nothing shapes our lives so much as the questions we ask - or refuse to ask. Imagine the different type and quality of life you would have if the main question you asked were one of the following: Where can I get my next fix of heroin? How do I serve God? What will the neighbors think? Who will love me?> How do I get power? How can we destroy the enemy? How can we end violence? . . . I have come to believe that'the quest' is a metaphor for the willing to live and wrestle with the perennial questions. . . "

It made me wonder. What are the questions being asked by those people on FOX and MSNBC, by our legislators, and pastors? How does that impact how they live? What they say? The choices they make?

And what about me? What are my questions? What are the questions I live, and how do the shape my life? What about you?