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, February 27, 2023

The path descending

…. Jesus had only one “operational mode.” Everything he did, he did by self-emptying. He emptied himself and descended into human form. And he emptied himself still further (“even unto death on the cross”) and fell through the bottom to return to the realms of dominion and glory. In whatever life circumstance, Jesus always responded with the same motion of self-emptying—or to put it another way, of the same motion of descent: going lower, taking the lower place, not the higher.…


He certainly called us to dying to self, but his idea of dying to self was not through inner renunciation or guarding the purity of his being but through radically squandering everything he had and was

                     Cynthia Bourgeault











sitting there among the rocks

Jesus battled with himself


we sometimes think that in that barren wilderness

as he wrestled for 40 days

Adam and Eve redux


that Jesus was empty

that this was indeed paradise lost

no garden but wasteland

a place of want


but this was the Beloved Son

confirmed, affirmed, and blessed

the heavens had opened wide and Creator love

had spilled from heaven


he carried the Sacred

all that power and love

all that capacity for the miraculous

within that human frame


he had wealth and power and

that charisma that draws people

and binds them


perhaps the question was not whether he would seek those things

but how he would use them


for self or for others?

was this going to be a ministry of ascension or descent?

would he build an Empire through the use of his charisma

and by the accumulation of power and wealth?

or would he build a Kingdom by

“squandering everything he had and was” (CB)?


he chose the path descending

he emptied himself (Philippians 2)

walking dusty roads

breaking bread with the unsavory

challenging Empire



but dying to rise

from dust to dust

from dust to resurrection

descending to rise again


what do we do with our wilderness yearnings?

our hunger, our need for respect

our desire for power?


what do we do as we seek the reasonable?

a full belly, a friend, a bit of autonomy?


where do our desires take us?

into that mad climb to the mountain top

to fame

to affluence


where we are controlled and seek to control?


or can we hold our gifts lightly

using them for others

having the mindset of Jesus

knowing the last shall be first

those who give shall receive

those who die shall live

those who are humble shall find glory?


what are we doing to do

with the whispers in our ears?

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Ash Wednesday

All those days

you felt like dust,

like dirt,

as if you all had to do

was turn your face

toward the wind

and be scattered

to the four corners


or swept away

by the smallest breath

as insubstantial


did you not know

what the Holy One

can do with dust?     

                     Jan Richardson



we live in a world of ashes and dust

a world consumed

and reduced

by hate and fear and violence


by an earth in the throes of death

abused by those who should care for it


we live in a world where wildfires roar and reduce

beauty to blackened ruin

where missiles and mortar crash into homes

smashing them into concrete dust and ash

where earthquakes level buildings

crush and entombing


leaving people coated with dust and ash and grief


we cannot enter

these places

these places of ruin

and death


without being touched

by ashes

which cling

and mark

leaving us dirty


a sign

of our uncleanliness

and our participation

in what has happened here


our part in the creation

of a wasteland

that we call earth


and yet

this day

these ashes

mark us


not as those who do not see

not as those who do not feel the pain

of this destruction

not as those who do not repent

not as those who do not hope


but as those

who, while marked

look forward


what will arise


Lent begins with ashes

With the burnt remnants of the divine image


Lent begins with regrets

And repentance


With the gross understanding that we are not what we should be

Not what we could be


we look in the mirror and feel like dirt, sometimes

we feel ragged and torn

and empty


and tired

oh so tired


of lies

of hate,

of anger,

and fear


so tired of raucous debates

and pretentious rallies


so worn down

by viruses

and natural disasters


and twisted and warped people

who abuse political power

and ban books

and worship guns

and horde wealth


worn down by our own lack of efficacy

our own limitations

and flaws

and grief

and helplessness


we feel insubstantial

as if the next piece of bad news

the next crisis


will cause us to finally

become so fragmented

that we are as insubstantial as ashes


or dry dust


and yet

for all that

we hope


we hope against [all] hope

for we are filled with God

connected in the Spirit to Sacred

to Jesus


and “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1)


even us


we may be dust

we may have been shredded

by the vagaries of life


but we know what the Sacred can do with dust


this Power, this Love

that dwells inside us


it does marvelous things in us

and through us


as through Jesus, it multiplied loaves and fishes

as it cast out demons

and healed the sick

and gave sight to the blind

and raised the dead to new life


so this Power/Love

takes the most fragmented

the most common elements


the most fragmented

the most common people


and makes them new



water into wine transforming

multiplication of loaves and fish transforming

calming the waters transforming

life out of death transforming


this Power/Love even took a cross

and made it a symbol of life


it can certainly take us

and make us Sacred Children


Ah, yes

There are days when we feel like dust

But we know what God can do

With dust







Monday, February 20, 2023

the impulse to love

Loving God, who in Jesus Christ

welcomes us as warmly as sons and daughters,

may we so rest in the riches of your unconditional love,

that our instinct to rival others

is transformed by the impulse to love them

as you have loved us.


                     Trevor Williams in “What Were You Arguing About Along the Way?”

                     Ed. Pat Bennet, Canterbury Press, 2021



it was no accident

that Jesus, when he was here on earth

created a community


perhaps it was not

from our perspective, much of a community

it was not large

the members were a motley crew

of men and women (yes there were women)


it was nomadic

and probably dependent upon the generosity of others


it did not have a name

it did not have a building

it certainly did not have a steeple

or a large screen


it did not (I suspect) have a praise band


but it was a community

because Jesus was all about community


Ok, let’s be honest

Jesus was all about Kingdom!

systems, if you want to think about it that way


he was about systematic poverty

systematic piety

systematic prejudice


he came not just to change individual hearts

but to change the world


his mother had it right!

when she insisted that through her child God

…has shown strength with his arm;

…has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

…has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly;

…has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”


yes, Jesus came to change our hearts, and our minds, individually

but we individuals, transformed by love, are meant to come together

to change the world


we exist to confront the ills of the world

greed, racism, the need to dominate and control

and to change those systems that promulgate them


systematic racism

systematic greed (toxic capitalism)

systematic domination (authoritarianism and nationalism)

are pervasive and deadly


and it is the job of the community

those gathered around Jesus

to confront and change them


those ills come out of individualism

out of a need to win

to be the richest, the most powerful

the one with the most toys, the best toys


they can only be overcome when we let go of that sense of

self against others

and begin to embrace the way of

self for others


and we can only move to that place

individually and then corporately

when we trust enough in God’s love

and God’s abundance


so in the end it is all about trust

trust in divine love

and trust in the power of love


that is how we participate in

the irresistible revolution (Shane Claiborne)

we trust

in Sacred Love

and live accordingly

Thursday, February 16, 2023

What do we do with God?

… if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God, I can tell you that you have to see everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too (pause) I guess that is why God invented highlighters, so we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest

          Rich Mullins, quoted by Shane Clairborne



what do we do with this God

we say we worship?


What do we do with this God who comes to us

as a baby

walks in the dust of rural roads

eats and laughs with sinners

refuses to fight violence with violence

and eschews the path of domination and wealth?


What do we do with the God who

Responds to the hate and evil of the world with love?

Who looks down from a cross, the death machine of Empire,

and speaks forgiveness?

Who sees another in pain beside him and speaks hope?


We have so often gotten God wrong!

We worry about whether God “gets” us.

But do we get God?


Do we get that God really is love?

Do we understand  (as Richard Rohr puts it) that God is “the prodigal of prodigious prodigies” (Isaiah 29.14)

Always surprising us with grace

Even while we try to layer God with words, creeds, rules, and rituals,

even while we try to recreate Yahweh into a God of domination and affluence.


God has one goal

To permeate us with Sacred Love

To fill with Sacred Presence so we have a little of God’s

Generosity, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and love


So that we respond to those around us the way God responds to us

With prodigal love


The kind of love that sees the poor, and chooses to live with less

so that one might give more

That sees the oppressed and chooses to live with less power

so that they might have more power

That sees hate and chooses not to respond with hate and violence


A love that is willing to sacrifice

Let go

In order to serve and heal


What do we do with this God we say we worship?

We let God astound us with Love!

With wonder upon wonder


We let God love us more!

Because that is what God wants to do!

Until our hearts burn!


And then we live accordingly

Until out of the gloom and darkness comes light

Until the humble rejoice

And the needy have plenty

And the ruthless vanish (Isaiah 29)

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

seed planted

It is hard to say goodbye to those we love

I remember too well the early deaths of my parents over 30 years ago

And the weird emptiness that was there

When they were gone


My soul was filled with empty warm happy sad feelings

that came like waves in my soul

at strange times


when I caught the smell of freshly baked cookies

or walked through the woods on a warm fall day

and smelled the pungent pines


My parents were good people

Good parents

Good servants


Ah yes, they served

Neither put themself forward

“Hey look at me!”


But both spend their lives serving

Their family, their church, their community


I’ve been thinking of death lately

As I have presided over too many funerals of people close to me

Aged saints who lived well and died well


I love the fact that Jesus (as Brian McLaren points out)

Talked about life and death using the metaphor of the harvest


We can see life as the continual toil of the farmer

Who each year plants good seeds and works the fields

So that there will be a harvest


Always there is a harvest

An end

Always an end

Where what has been planted, nurtured, cherished, and anticipated



Is cut down


Part of the story is about the nature of the harvest

Is it plentiful or not?

Is it sweet or bitter?


But an even more important part of the story

(or so it seems to me)

Is this


when the harvest happens

and the grain and fruit are gathered

there are seeds that are gathered

that drop to the ground


and become a new beginning


each ending is also simultaneously a beginning

there is always continuity

seeds become new plants

lives that cave in become (potentially) lives restored

hope crushed becomes a new hope born


newness is the key!

In the continuity, there is discontinuity too!


As Paul put it what is perishable, dishonorable, and weak

Becomes amazing, powerful, and eternal


In our lives

And in our death

We are unmade so that we might be remade


This is the hope!

That the old Stephen may die and a new improved Stephen be born

Each day, each hour, each moment

Even as I walk this earth


This is the hope

That Joan, Rhee, Dale, and all the saints

In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye

Became new

Taking on the imperishable

Sown in weakness

Raised in glory


Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Don't be so sure

We see the world in simple dualist terms: we are the good guys who follow the good authority figures and we have the right answers; they are the bad guys who consciously or unconsciously fight on the wrong side of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. We feel a deep sense of identity and belonging in our in-group…. This simple, dualist faith gives us great confidence.


This confidence, of course, has a danger, as the old Bob Dylan classic “With God on Our Side” makes clear: “You don’t count the dead when God’s on your side.”  The same sense of identification with an in-group that generates a warm glow of belonging and motivates sacrificial action for us can sour into intolerance, hatred, and even violence toward them. And the same easy, black-and-white answers that comfort and reassure us now may later seem arrogant, naive, ignorant, and harmful, if we don’t move beyond Simplicity in the fullness of time.

          Brian McLaren, quoted by Richard Rohr



I love being “right”

I love having a sense of “rightness”


There is something profoundly comforting about thinking

one has “gotten it right”

especially when one is surrounded by those

with like minds

who agree


ah!  the power of groupthink

that cultish devotion to us

as we gird our loins and brandish our

sacred texts

and prepare for war against “them”


it is comforting to settle into that space

where was does not have to think too much

examine too much

feel too much

where mindless devotion flourishes

and zeal drives us into mindless action


where complications are discarded

like fast-food wrappers

and we rage against the enemy

against “sin” (as we define it)


it is good to be right

it is good to have power

it is good to be in control




the cost is great

the “foot soldiers” in this ideological war

are expendable


it does not matter if women are

minimized, marginalized, oppressed, suppressed

it does not matter if they die


only one thing matters

well two things really

a zygote

and a sense of righteousness and merit


if those on our side suffer, it is noble pain

rewarded in heaven

if those on the other side suffer

it is the just consequence of their actions

for which they must pay


it does not matter if LGBTQI+ people are demonized and killed

it does not matter if the poor get poorer

it does not matter if our country pillages the resources of another

it does not matter if there is a mass shooting every day


you don’t count the dead when God is on your side


it is all very simple

and so we approach life

and economics, politics, and religion

with confidence

our flags fly high (from the back of jacked-up pickup trucks)


we are the victors

we are right


just believe, just behave, just fall in line

it’s not complicated


except it is