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

Friday, August 26, 2011

Crack Pots

Sometimes I wonder what kind of model we should adopt as Christians?  Paul in Corinthians uses the following words to talk about the “ordinary” Christian.  “For God…made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

Wow!  Think about that.  As Christians we are people in whom God dwells.  God shines in our hearts.  That’s big news…But what does it mean? 
Does it make us special?  Absolutely!
Does it make us empowered?  No doubt!
Does it make us fresh and new!  Of course!

Those are all biblical images of the Christian…

And sometimes it causes us to develop a model of the Christian that is essentially intimidating.  I was in a bookstore the other day and picked up a book on the “Victorious Christian Life.”  The cover portrayed this almost super human character… complete with supernatural glow!  As I leafed through the book I almost got depressed… the person I read about certainly wasn’t me!  What is the best picture to put in our heads…?  Warrior?  Prophet?  TV Evangelist (OK, forget that one).

Lets look at the way completes that statement about the glory of God.  “This precious treasure (the presence of the living God) we hold in jars of clay.”  So there’s our image.  Clay pots.  Not alabaster jars or marble vases.  No vessels made of gold or silver.  Not vases of incredible beauty or strength…but pots….clay pots.

What can we say about clay pots?  They are common.  Not too pretty.  And they are fragile.  They crack, sometimes they fall apart.  Friends, that is the Judges.  That was King David.  That was Peter.  That was Paul.  And that is us.  Just average folk.  Common.  Not too pretty.  And we are fragile.  We get sick, we have accidents, we die.  We are tempted, we blunder, we fail.  In short, we crack.

And that is where the trouble beings.  What do we do when the pot cracks.  Some people become obsessed with the crack.  All they can see is the tragedy.  All they can think about is the illness.  They simply can’t see past what they did wrong.  The focus on the problem, and become what one of my friends calls “catastrophic hypochondriacs.”  And all too often they become angry, bitter, cynical and hopeless.  They capitulate to the chaos and the pain , and become defeated. 

How sad, for there is a better way.  Paul’s suggestion?  Focus on the treasure not the pot.
Focus on the presence of God within.  The first thing that happens when we adopt this focus is that we begin to realize that even common pots, even cracked pots, have incredible value in God’s eyes.  When we begin to think that God has entrusted the treasure of his presence, his power, his reality in us…That is incredible!  It is not that God doesn’t have options.  But God chooses to dwell in us.

The second thing that happens is we begin to see just how precious the treasure is… and what a difference its presence makes.  You know, if we focus on the treasure we remember that we are never alone.  There is one who has said to us, “I will never leave your nor forsake you.  I will be with you, even to the end of time.”  And he mean it.  God is here for us.  We are always full of the presence, the power, the love of God….cracks and all.  And if we leak, and we become kind of empty… God refills us…. Like a “spring of water welling up.”  Jesus said that !

The bottom line is this.  When we are filled with God , when we focus on God’s love and grace, we cannot, ultimately, be empty, helpless, or overcome.  Listen to Paul’s words in verse 8.  “We are hard pressed on all sides, but we are not crushed.  We are puzzled, but never in despair.  Persecuted but never abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.”

This is not “pie in the sky” theology.  There is no denial here.  Paul acknowledges that we are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, even drive to our knees…but in the midst of all that there is still survival.  An ability to hope, to dream, to look forward, to choose life.

What happens, when we focus on the treasure and not the pot is that we focus on God -- and God is amazing.  John Claypool, an amazing preacher from the deep south once preached a sermon titled “God’s other name is surprise.”  In that sermon he clearly defines the difference between focusing on the pot (ourselves) and focusing on the treasure (God)

“Our tendency” he said…”is to set limits on reality according to our perceptions; to create a set of expectations out of our past experiences rather than making room for wonder and surprise…”  This is “pot” thinking, and it is incredibly limiting!

“What we need to do is realize that God is the only adequate predicate for words like ‘possible’ and ‘impossible.’ … how can we ever set limits on Him or dare to reduce Him down to our pathetic images of what is possible or impossible.”  Claypool ends this way. “The challenge is to learn to trust and to obey, confident that He will keep His word, but flexible as to when and how and in what form he will do it.  About the only thing you can safely expect, is that what He will do will not be what you expected….rather something bigger and better and vaster than you ever dreamed.”

Treasure thinking!  With our God despair is presumptuous.  It is concluding something about ourselves, “I’m irrevocably cracked” or about our lives, “I can never be valuable, or whole” that we have no right to conclude.  Who knows what this God of surprises can bring out of the day by day events of our lives.  Who know what surprises God can bring out of us?

Back to Corinthians:  “We do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On being who we are!

I just did something really odd for me.  I took of for almost four days without a clear agenda, and wandered into the homeland of my youth, Lake County, Oregon.  The draw was a "gathering" for lack of a better word, of some friends from High School.  Kind of a "Birthday Bash" for a bunch of us who were turning 60 this summer.

After a 7 plus hour drive through sagebrush and rocks, I arrived "home."  I love that drive BTW!  Some people might see the Oregon High Desert as bleak, but I find it mesmerizing and beautiful.  It is a unique and wonderful place on this earth!  Open, empty, and somehow calming.  First stop my sisters!  My sister Mavis Jean (not Mavis, that was mom).  Mavis Jean and I don't always see eye to eye.  Politics.  Theology.  We are not on the same spot in the spectrum.  But the cool thing is we can talk about it.  We can share perspectives.  Challenge each other a little.  And both come away having learning a little, grown and little, and still loving each other.  Any politicians reading this?

After a short wander along a lake shore in the morning, I headed off to "the middle of nowhere", Renner cabin.  Somewhere about 35 miles from Lakeview.  To get there is an adventure all its own.  And once there?  A wonderful 50 year old piece of western America.  Perched on a rock outcropping, overlooking the reservoir, nestled in on the edge of the trees, the cabin has lots of beds.   Electricity when the generator is on.  And VERY marginal cell service.  Funny to see the row of cell phones perched on the window ledge, one of the few "hot spots".  And people lined up, squatting down to text their families and friends.  Move your phone one inch and it was all over!  We are addicted aren't we :) ?

What was remarkable about this time was just the times sitting and talking.  Remembering the "old" days with "old friends" (I mean we have been friends a long long time, since kindergarten, its not that we are "old" or anything), talking about what is going on in our lives now.  Talking friendships, relationships, jobs, children.  Talking about other friends not present (no nothing bad) and remembering them too.

But what was nice as the sense of comfort.  There was no pretense.  We all were just who we are.  We know each other too well for anything else.  And therein lay the beauty of the time.  We spend so much of our lives trying to be who others want us to be.  Or trying to be who we think we ought to be.  And so little time just accepting, loving, and being ourselves.  But when we are able to do.  We can relax.  We can drop the pretenses, the defense mechanisms, and we can just, well "be".  And that is an amazing gift

Thank you Sherry for hosting.  And thanks to all who were there or wandered in and out, you know who you are, for being who you are, and for the gift of letting me just be.... me :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011


 A Sunday School teacher told her class about the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The prophets of Baal tried to get their god to send fire to ignite the offering they had put on their altar. Of course, their god couldn’t do it. Then Elijah put his offering of a bull on an altar. But before he called on God to ignite it from heaven, he had the people pour water on the bull four times. The teacher asked the class if they knew why Elijah would do that.

A little girl waved her hand excitedly. “I know, I know,” she said, “To make the gravy!”

Not exactly.  The point was that God could do things.   And the Ba’als… well, not so much.

The conflict between Yahweh and Ba’al in the Old Testament is a common theme.  You see the people of Israel had a Baal problem.  At the beginning of Judges, we are told that during he conquest God didn’t drive out all “the inhabitants of the land?”  Well those inhabitants who remained worshipped the Ba’als….There they were, in the middle of the people of Israel, worshiping these alternate Gods.  Setting up altars and totems
And those alternative gods proved to be a constant snare to the people of Israel.  It is not so much that they chose the Ba’als over Yahweh, it was more like Yahweh, plus… whatever local deities were there
This is called syncretism…

Kind of an odd insurance policy.  We will worship Yahweh, the one true God, but just in case, we will also worship these local God’s.  This in spite of what God had done for them, time and time and time again, and in spite of clear instructions not to do so! And in spite of negative consequences when they did!

Why did they do it?  What was tempting about the Ba’als?
They were “Right there”  Concrete.  Visible.  Easy to grab hold of… so to speak
And they were spicy

Baʿal simply means 'master' Often in the Bible it is plural -  The Ba’als’  One theory is that the people of each territory or in each wandering clan worshipped their own Baʿal.  But what is clear is that Ba’al was seen as the source of all the gifts of nature.  Essentially Ba’al was a god of fertility.  As a fertility god all the produce of the soil would be his, and so Ba’al worship involved the giving of first-fruits. Thus the altars and the poles.  The goal of these sacrifices would be to ensure ongoing growth and fertility. 

The worship of Ba’al often involved more than just the offering of first fruits.  Remember this was a fertility God.  And there was a belief that one could or aid the powers of nature by the practice of magic, particularly sympathetic magic. We are talking fertility so we are talking sexuality.  Post-Exilic allusions to the cult of Baʿal suggest that orgies prevailed – again designed to secure an abundance of crops, and many children.  But wait, there is more.   Human sacrifice, violent and ecstatic exercises, and ceremonial acts of bowing and kissing all appear among the offences denounced by the post-Exilic prophets;

Along with Ba’al there was also Astarte or Ishtar.  Astarte, like Ba’al, was connected with fertility, sexuality, and war. Her symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus. Pictorial representations often show her naked.  Astarte was accepted by the Greeks under the name of Aphrodite.  Basically she was the female partner or consort of Ba’al

Now I don’t think anyone here has probably worshipped Ba’al or Astarte lately.  Anyone have a Ba’al pole in their yard?  But this is the point.  The word Ba’al essentially means “master.”
It is this concept of master that is the key thing…  to worship a Ba’al is to essentially to worship anything that one thinks, if one commits to it, will bring fertility, prosperity, and happiness.

SO - WHAT ARE THE MODERN “MASTERS”?  What things out there do we have faith in?  Faith that they will bring us peace, satisfaction, joy…… even love?

I have been reading a book lately called “Essential Spirituality”  -  Amazing book!  In it the author reviews seven spiritual practices he believes help cultivate kindness, love, joy, peace, vision, wisdom, and generosity….The section I just read focuses on “Transforming our Motivation”  It would be entirely valid to retitle the section… Transforming our Masters… or Changing our Masters. 

The chapter starts with this quote:  “All you want is to be happy…All your desires, whatever they may be are a longing for happiness.  Basically, you wish yourself well…..Desire by itself is not wrong. It is life itself, the urge to grow in knowledge and experience.  But, to imagine that some little thing, food, sex, power, fame, will make you happy is to deceive oneself.  Only something as vast and deep as your real self can make you truly and lastingly happy.”    Sri Nisargadatta Mharaj

The author then goes on to say that in order to know happiness, we need to change our motivation.
I would, in the light of our passage for today, say we need to change our “master”

This is not really news.  Jesus talked about this suggesting we have to have the right “master”, the right point of focus.  We can only rely on one thing.  “God in us”.  No outside sensation.  No outside possession…. No ‘other master” can ever give us full or lasting satisfaction. 

When we try to find joy, fullness, satisfaction any other way.   Well, we are in trouble.  As Jesus noted, “What is a person profited if he or she shall gain the whole world, and lose the self…. The soul?”  Things might essentially work.  We might become well off.  Get a great job.  Find a person who loves us.  We might have all the toys we could ever want…. But if we end up wrapped up in those things.  If we end up relying on those things?  We lose the self.  We ultimately lose it all.

Think about the people of Israel and the Ba’als.  They got to the place of thinking that the Ba’als, and the female counterparts, the Astartes or Ishtars, were necessary for happiness.  That they must “buy into” these gods so that their fields would be fertile, and they would find prosperity and joy.  They became “attached” to them.  We might even say they became addicted to them….

Attached to the point that they would neglect Yahweh, for the sake of the clay figures, the poles of woods that represented these Gods.  They would do all kinds of things for the images of these gods…In essence they became the slave of these gods… to the point that they could not let go of them, even though the result of holding on to them was disaster.  Even though it brought oppression.

We are often in a similar situation.  We are slaves to those things that we think will bring us joy, completeness…It doesn’t matter what they are… money, power, possession, success, sex, relationships, roles…It is not that these things are inherently bad… it is just that when we believe that these things are the best or the only sources of joy, then we become addicted to them as surely as users become slaves of their drug…

We get to this place where we say, “I must have what I desire if I am to be happy.”  Walsh in Essential Spirituality uses this example.  If I simply desire an ice cream and get it, that’s wonderful; if I don’t get it, it is not big deal.  But, if I am attached to ice cream, I must have it or I suffer.  Desire” is simple wanting, attachment is a compulsive necessity.  Unfulfilled desires produce little impact.  Unfulfilled attachments yield frustration and pain.  

Again, the problem is that once we are attached to something, then everything gets twisted.  Our priorities get distorted, and we become blind to the sources of true happiness.  We become like the Israelites….. bowing down, offering sacrifices to inanimate poles of wood… or the equivalent thereof.  In other words we pour more and more time and energy and effort into these “other things”.  They start to dominate us.

But cavorting at the foot of idols, whatever ours happen to be, chasing false masters is destructive.  When we spend our lives trying to find joy through attachments we discover only one thing.  They don’t work.   With our attachments to the wrong masters comes certain inevitable companions:  destructive emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy, and depression.  It is inevitable.  Attachment to wealth, for example, ends up creating fear, and anger, and depression, when times are hard.  Even when times aren’t hard.. studies show that the very rich can never ever get enough.. And the more they have, the more they are driven to accumulate more. 

So what are our Ba’als?  What are we attached to do to the degree that we care controlled -  drawn – and pulled into anxiety, and fear and pain?  What is it for you?  Remember.  We can make practically anything a “master”  Money power fame, sex status, beliefs, food, clothes, self-image, a political ideology… you name it.

We need a solution.  For the people of Israel it was letting going of their false gods, and grabbing hold of the one true God, and of their identity as the people of God.

For us it is the same.  It is becoming attached to God..
It is finding through that attachment, our deepest our truest self
And knowing… that this is .. enough!

What is exciting is what happens when we actually begin to do this.
When we turn to God, rely on God, find ourselves in God
And find the joy, the peace, and yes, the love comes from that connection …..
Then we find the ability
Not perfectly, but to a much greater degree
To love others authentically

Because for the first time, we are loving from fullness and not from need

Think about that odd set of commandments set forth by Jesus.  In a real sense this is a summary of what I have been trying to say.  “Thou Shalt love the lord thy God with all your heart soul and might, and love thy neighbor as thy self."

There it is …. Love God
In that love we learn to love ourselves
In that love we are always full, we do not have to worry about deficit…
In that love we find the ability to reach out in love to others.

Wayne Muller tells of some people who have an amazing collection of teapots, many of which they collected in China.  Some of these teapots are several hundred years old.  According the collections the Chinese say that after a hundred years of daily use, the pot becomes thoroughly seasoned.  You need only pour hot water into the pot, and the pot itself will make tea

This is what happens when we turn inside, and find God’s love, again and again
And find our true selves, in that love, again and again…
Our lives come to hold the fragrance of that love… and we become loving ,forgiving and giving

So often we look “out there” for the solutions
So often we seen to pull toward ourselves, to pull resources “in” that we might be full and have what we need.  But we already have what we need.  We already have what we need  to be full.  We already have what we need to be generous, giving people.  Its in here…it’s the Spirit (big S)…the presence of God.  Its God’s amazing love.  It’s the true self that we find when we are connected to that love.

When we are full
We can live life a different way
We get out of ourselves, our worries, our issues, our opinions… and we can love

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Bridges of Love

The world is not a friendly place
Headlines scream
The journalists pontificate
Movies, books
Even cartoons
Send the message....
It’s a killing ground out there
It’s dangerous
A person might get hurt
out there

And so,
reasonable beings that we are,
full of rational thought,
well versed in the way of the world,
We protect ourselves

Don’t look
Don’t smile
Don’t talk
Don’t touch!

And so it goes
And so the barriers grow
Episode by episode
Relationship by relationship
layer by layer

Bound by our cautions
We can hardly breathe
or move
or live
or love

What we need is a free a friendly space,
piece by piece
we can chip away the veneer that enslaves
and free the one within

That one who wants to run and play,
sing and dance,
the one who wants to love and be loved

The one who wants to give and take  --  and be


"So open your hearts to one another, as Christ as opened his heart to you,
and God will be glorified"  Romans 15:6

Love is the bridge across
and across which Christ and grace cross
from one person to another
and thus is the bridge across which hope and healing cross as well

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

God's Person?

it could be a lot of things
S for Steve, Stephen, Stevie
Stephen Paul if I'm in trouble
S for self
in search of self
is cooler than Steve
which reminds me
of some 50's
sitcom character
the nice guy
in the cardigan
with highwater slacks and
black shoes

Stevie, the skinny little guy
in black plastic glasses
big ears
and a crew cut
bony knees
total geek
a bit out of sync
with the guys with hair
those places
who have left their mothers behind

ah yes
once the earnest young
philospher, theologian
going to be
a star someday
listened to admired

now, no longer so hopeful
but still hoping
to make a difference somewhere
God’s person???


2 Cor 5:16-20: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.

In Christ we are God's people
In Christ there is always hope!

Monday, August 1, 2011

In God we are amazing

It floated in the summer sun,

Merely a fragment of earth

for a moment
to dance in the light

A bit of dust
nothing more

Yet captured in its baseness
was the light
and so it sparkled
and spun
crazily in the light breeze
a jubilant child
afire with joy
swirling, swirling, whirled by the wind of life.

lifted up it flew
to regions far beyond my sight
a seraph king
a sparkling messenger of hope

From dust to dust
the preachers say,
from dust we come
to dust we go
a piece of earth and nothing more

and yet those moments come
when love flames out
and scatters light
and light
is captured
if only for a moment
And for a moment
we are free
to dance in the breeze
and with exuberance
to catch the joy as it flies

(with apologies to William Blake)

When we turn inside
to become intimate with ourselves
and with God
joy happens :)