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Last night we were watching a new show on PBS called “A Path  Appears”. The topic was sex trafficking in the US. It was horribly sad  although many good folks are working tirelessly to help rescue these women, men, and children.  The vast majority are NOT consenting adults. It was so sad to these woman (primarily) who society has deemed to be quite worthless, when they are the truest victims. This along with all the tragedies in the world grieves my heart so and makes me wonder….

How Long?

How long, O Lord, will your children be used as objects?

How long. O Lord, will self-interest rule the day?

How long, O Lord, will parents be able to abuse their children?

How long, O Lord, will money be our master?

How long, O Lord, will those who are insecure continue to murder in your name?

How long, O Lord, will the use of force be seen as greater than love?

How long, O Lord, will I be blind to my own complicity?

How long, O Lord, will the poor be left to fend for themselves in this world of plenty?

How long, O Lord, will the Good News of your unconditional love be the negative news of fear of hell?

How long, O Lord, will your Church sit in judgement rather than extend love without agenda?

How long, O Lord, will vengeance be seen as justice?

How long, O Lord, will the pain of life be numbed by drug, work, sex, religious addiction rather than healed by love?

How long, O Lord, will the sick suffer alone?

How long, O Lord, will our eyes be blind to see ourselves (and you) in every person we see?

How long, O Lord, will we listen to fear over love?

How long, O Lord, will it be before our personal nationality deems us more worthy than the rest of our human family?

How long, O Lord, till all your creatures are not seen as expendable?

How long, O Lord, will the earth we live on be seen as something to exploit rather than care for?

How long, O Lord, will mental illness have stigma?

How long, O Lord, will personal gratification and freedom be more important than the love of many?

How long, O Lord, will the ability to kill be seen as a fundamental right?

How long, O Lord, till your Kingdom comes fully, on earth as it is in heaven?

How long, O Lord, till the Prince of Peace softens all hearts?

How long, O Lord, how long?

Nevertheless, I have seen  and experienced your love in action Lord, I do not hope for you to destroy. I hope for your universal love to flow like a mighty river through all and in all. As you have shown me, love never fails.

Seek and you will find -Jesus

What does this mean? Most of my adult life has interpreted this verse in the typical “churchy”  way. In terms of seeking God and those sorts of things. The “seeker sensitive” churches are all about this for sure. But what if we are overly-religious in how we look at what Jesus said and miss the clear wisdom of the statement?

Observing my diverse group of friends as well as myself has brought me to the conclusion that folks really do ultimately find what they are seeking. We all tend to see what we want to see. For example; when I was a younger man and really into Left Behind type of spirituality I could see the end of the world looming behind every single news story. Also, when I thought humanity was really evil on the whole I would see evil behind everything as well. I liked politics back then and could always see how ‘my side’ had it right.

I never saw that my mind was already made up as I interpreted everything I saw so…..seeking, and I was finding. Thankfully, my journey has been one that has experienced much healing and over the past several years I had found what I had been seeking to be lacking and also a bit depressing. The hard part is that what I was seeking was always being confirmed so it made it hard to evaluate fairly other points of view. This isn’t just true for me on the ‘religious right’ though. I hear skeptics, secularists and cynics finding everything they are seeking to validate their own worldview as well.

I began to want and seek healing, love, truth, beauty and community and guess what, I keep finding it!  As I began to seek healing for the various issues of my life such as; family of origin, poor choices, shame and guilt, I found these areas being healed through the process. Life still hurts and often times these issues have to be re-addressed but that is ok.

I also saw healing in the lives of those who were seeking it. The power behind what I saw was their vulnerability in places that were loving and safe. Vulnerability, in many ways is simply being secure enough to admit we’re unsure about stuff or how to handle it and then asking for help. Seeing Love in action is the most powerful thing in the universe. Love never condemns, especially the vulnerable. I also have seen the Truth in action as people learn of their worth and live in that truth. When we are open and seeking Truth, even if it seemingly contradicts what we “knew”, we become astounded at the Beauty all around us. Although, I do still love the quote “The truth will set you free but tends to piss you off first.”  Then as all these things coalesce the community arises! I have my community of family and friends. This helps me see the vast community of humanity and include all.

If we seek division, we’ll find it.

If we seek negativity, we’ll find it.

If we seek to numb ourselves, we’ll find it.

If we seek to look down on others, we’ll find it.

If we seek to exclude, we’ll find it.

If we seek darkness, we’ll find it.

I encourage you to be aware in 2015. Aware to that which you already seek. Aware to new things to seek. Life is Good and life is tragic all at the same time. It does take eyes to see and ears to hear to catch glimpses of the bigger story. Continue to Seek and you will find.

Christmastime Is Here

Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas season is thrust upon us once again. I really love this time of the year. Our society shifts a bit towards being other focused.  Lights are beginning to be put and children are giggling over the possibility of what Santa will bring. Commercials are in full force,  I am still waiting to meet someone who actually does the Lexus in the driveway with a bow on it. We’re Americans so we’re over the top, it’s what we do. The ever-present fake culture war pundits are gearing up to make sure folks can say “Merry Christmas”  and the secular minded are just kinda annoyed we acknowledge the birth of Jesus. Families get together,  therapist appointments are made, we gain a few pounds and life moves along.

We have been blessed lately to have found a new church community at St.Thomas Episcopal Church in Overland Park, KS. It is a inter-generational community that is such a modern paradox, I love it.  There is a deep connection to the past at church. For most of our adult life we have attended the mega-church style and made many friends along the way.  It was a connection for years with community, coffee, bar style worship music, and relevant sermons.

St.Thomas is a bit different. The style of worship is the same as it has been for thousands of years.  It is quiet, ritualistic, reverent, liturgical, hymns (that few know the tune :)) from a hymnal are sung, the Eucharist is shared openly, scripture is read and a short sermon is given in line with the readings and season. The church follows the ancient church calendar so the readings (comforting and challenging) and theme are already set.  We sit, kneel, stand, and identify with the Trinity in the sign of the cross. Think open, inclusive, catholic. One could argue that this is not relevant to the modern mind and heart but I would disagree. There is something refreshing about church not selling anything, the focus being God and not us.

Anyway, I am super stoked for the season of Advent. It begins this Sunday. It is the beginning of the church calendar and lasts the four weeks up to Christmas. Advent is the season of waiting and patience. Oh, joy. I am a modern American and waiting is not something I am accustomed to and frankly makes me uncomfortable.  All things that can be “fixed” should be and do it now! My humanity wants a magic wand more often than a God who enters creation as a helpless baby. Nevertheless, waiting is a part of the journey.  I think this is more of an active waiting with a consummation that is known in the heart.  Like the alcoholic waits for the liquor store to open yet knows it will.  Our waiting full of hope.

May you find the time to disconnect from our matrix a bit this season full of pregnant hope and connect with the larger story you are already a part of.  Merry Christmas!

Recently, we have all been reintroduced to the idea of “Death with Dignity” otherwise known as physician assisted suicide. The high-profile case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer who ended her life this past Saturday, has brought it back to our minds. First off, I in no way feel as if I have the right to judge or condemn anyone who makes this choice. It is truly heart breaking to have to deal with the questions those folks have had dealt with. I simply only want to ask questions and see where it may lead. Once again, no condemnation!

The difficulty this places within me is how we view suffering. Is suffering just bad and wrong, therefore to be avoided at all cost? Most of our issues in society are the results of pain avoidance. The majority of drug addicts, alcoholics, workaholics, food or sex addicts, t.v. addicts etc., I believe began their journey due to their personal pain and suffering.  These things are not automatically sought by those who a prone to bad choices, the reality is that these things alleviate suffering, even if it simply prolongs it and causes a different kind of suffering.

Our society doesn’t place much value in “suffering well”. Maybe it is our sexy, youth obsessed, ultra vital mentality. Or maybe our individuality being the focus to where we don’t want to bother others with our pain.  Maybe it is because suffering brightly highlights our illusion of control.

A sad thing to me is the slippery slope of suffering lacking value in our culture.  If suffering is inherently bad and wrong and thus must be avoided at all cost “Death with Dignity” is the road we will embrace. But what is the cut off? What if we begin to judge (as humans do) that to end misery is the most compassionate thing to do?

What about the homeless person suffering with sickness, sleeping on concrete?

What about the suffering single parent without enough food to go around?

What about the famines around the world that cause widespread suffering?

What about the suffering of the young women doused with acid across their face, guaranteeing  a lifetime of certain suffering?

What about the poor?

What about the disabled (mental or physical) war veteran?

What about the unemployed, who just can’t catch a break?

What about the hungry, the imprisoned, the sick, the naked?

 

So, does suffering have value? All of us have experienced suffering in our lives and I would say that suffering produces the truest character of our souls.  My challenge is to see that all humanity is suffering, all of us. It is a season we will all share in. Jesus shared it with us. What if His abuse and crucifixion was an act of total solidarity with human suffering? Even if you don’t believe, consider what I believe for a moment. The Creator allowed Himself to experience our deepest pain, He is not distant from us. In my suffering I have found Him to be close, very close.

I know it’s a touchy subject and I subscribe to a consistent ethic of life but my only aspiration is to cause thought and hopeful dialogue so that we can all lean on one another when suffering comes our way.

 

This past week  my wife’s beloved Grandma, Mid, passed away. In November, I will have been an “official” member of this family for 15 years!  So, I had the privilege and honor to know and love this lady through her later years. She was 94, almost 95.  She taught me that a person can enjoy a happy hour without it becoming a drunk fest! She loved very well and it was evident at her funeral.

It is a shame that so often if a person is older when they engage in the next aspect of the journey that the pain is somehow dismissed. The death of a child or young person is truly tragic and can be very difficult to come to terms with but this doesn’t mean it is easy to come to terms with the death of an older person. The difficulty either way is the result of love.

A hard reality of life is that love equals pain because life carries as much loss as gain. Love gives us a sense of ownership to that which can never be truly owned.  I love my wife, my kids, my family and my friends. They are mine and I am theirs, yet we are all our own person. This is love.  If we allow ourselves to succumb to the true power of love the sadness is incredibly deep and hard. When we love deeply, we truly suffer when those we love are suffering. This is the great gamble. Only the deck is rigged. A great lie that is pervasive is that the pain is not worth it. Such bullshit!  It can be a subconscious lie that can cause us to detach and avoid. This is result of self-preservation gone wrong. When we seek to save our own perspectives more than reality we lose sight of the ability to allow love to have its way with us. When love has its way, you can lose all dignity. The ego doesn’t like this but its love is more self-serving which is an oxymoron.  The ego persistently communicates we are alone in all of this, yet Love whispers that we are not and have never been alone.

I believe this speaks to a way the Church has failed us all at times. When we suffer and love the rules are of no importance. The theology of in/out has no place. Spirituality is not about knowledge or praying a certain way or even understanding God in a way that can be taught rather than experienced. God is close to the brokenhearted and deep down that is known.  The gift to be shared is that God grieves with us! It is not a great plan of platitudes! Love is NOT a platitude. It is the actual reality when we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Love is overwhelmingly worth it! The hope I carry is that this is “Goodbye for now”.  The joy of the Love of Mid continues and will always be there until we see her smiling face.  This is faith, hope and love.  No certainty, no control, no knowledge. Faith, Hope and Love and that is enough.

 

We have all heard those wise words of Jesus ” Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Matthew 7:1 or the good old King James version ” Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  I have been struck by the wisdom of these words in a different way recently. It may have always been clear to you but to me it is new.  So bear with me a bit.

When I was around 21 I “rededicated” myself to Jesus and became a bit of a conservative, evangelical zealot. During this time I always drew a distinction between judging and condemning.  To judge; was to define something as wrong. To condemn; was to suggest punishment was needed (as in hell).  It is true that these terms can be synonymous. Seeing Jesus’ words more as an admonishment not to condemn, I felt quite justified judging the heck out of everything for several years. All the normal ones; Clinton, Disney, LGBT, liberals, the media, Democrats, folks from the coasts, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Catholics, Buddhists, criminals, and on and on. I felt completely okay doing this because in my mind I wasn’t condemning them. That was God’s job.  This was the camp I was in and bought it hook, line and sinker.

Thankfully, God is in the heart softening business!!!!

As I think back on my worldview in those days I only saw Jesus’ words in terms of condemning to hell. I would’ve clearly stated God’s grace was sufficient enough to “save” all those I was judging but “wrong is wrong”, right?!? I wasn’t judged anymore because I was under grace so it was my job to define what is wrong.   Huh?!?!

What I never realized was that Jesus’ words are simple facts about interpersonal relationships. Once we start judging or condemning we invite the exact same treatment and it is a vicious cycle. This is why (I believe) the Church has lost credibility. We (Christians) judge and condemn and so the world judges and condemns the Church.

Judgment implies perfect knowledge which by nature is exceedingly arrogant. I am not talking about crimes here such as; murder, abuse or rape. I am talking about assuming we know better than someone else or everyone else about anything or everything. It is the tyranny of opinion. All opinions are valid and should be heard even if we have no actual study in the subject. The need to be “right” over being effective. Therefore we become exceedingly opinionated and judgmental and completely miss the point of the Gospel.  Mother Theresa said ” When you judge, it is impossible to love.”

I am not judging or condemning where I came from. I am thankful for the journey. I am thankful it IS a journey. However, if this causes a person to be uncomfortable I make no apologies. The words and actions of Jesus are a judgment on the ways of the world, of every political system, of every religion (definitely Christianity) or culture. He always makes me uncomfortable when I think I know what’s up! Our call is love. Plain and simple. To love God and our neighbor as ourselves.

Next time you are tempted to judge, remember it bounces right back!

Okay, I am beginning to get a bit pissed off at our culture as Americans! Specifically, those who claim to follow Christ but yet are the quickest ones to advocate for violence. I sometimes wonder if these folks have their hearts more wrapped up in the Constitution than what Jesus said and did?!?  Just for the record, Jesus’ wisdom far surpasses that of Thomas Jefferson.

I want to know who this “Jesus” is that these folks claim to love and worship?

Is it the Jesus who said ” Love your enemies. Do good to those who would harm you”?

Is it the same Jesus who said “If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other.”?

Is it the same Jesus who said ” If you seek to save your life, you will lose it.”?

Is it the same Jesus who said ” Love your neighbor as yourself.”?

Is it the same Jesus who said ” Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” ?

Is it the same Jesus who said ” Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.” ? (While being executed)

I am becoming convinced that a great deception has been propped up as “Christianity”. For instance; it is interesting that Jesus says “You cannot serve both God and Mammon (money).” And not “You cannot serve both God and the devil.” It is amazing that our understanding of Christianity is so far removed from this because we are “saved by grace (which I believe)”. And That faith has become so personal and private that it cannot be questioned.  Could our faith have been propagandized to match our society? I fully believe so.

Why is self defense the most important thing to a lot of these believers? I believe it is because they are practical atheists who neither believe nor trust God to take care of them. It is so fake and sick. Yet most are blind to it. If you don’t know you have a problem you can’t do anything about it. This is a call out! Stop claiming the Prince of Peace if violence is in the forefront of how to deal with issues.  I know, I know, what about the cleansing of the temple? Jesus was pissed then, right? Well, consider this, he drove them out with non-lethal means! He did not brandish a sword and start hacking away!

I am okay with stopping the atrocities of violence with force when absolutely necessary. But only to protect the innocent.  There is evil in the world and unfortunately it can exist in the mirror without even knowing it.

This has nothing to do with God’s love and acceptance. That is the ultimate reality that holds the universe together. This is about change. This is about the fact most Christians do not resemble Christ’s temperament in the slightest way.  Here is a question;if you were born anywhere else in the world and came to know Christ, would your values look so American?

 

 

 

A poem for those who believe in absolutes and blanket statements. Stereotyping is the use of blanket statements or beliefs, of which, we have all been guilty. Once a person adheres to an absolute on any of these they cease to see people as people but rather one of “them” . May we continually learn about the logs in our own eyes.

Not All But Some….

Not all Americans are arrogant but some….

Not all Capitalists are greedy but some….

Not all Socialists are against freedom but some….

Not all Republicans are heartless but some….

Not all Democrats are elitists but some…..

Not all Libertarians are selfish but some….

Not all Green Party are against economic growth but some….

Not all in the Tea Party are xenophobic but some…..

Not all Muslims hate Israel but some…..

Not all Buddhists are godless but some…..

Not all Hindus follow the caste system but some….

Not all Jews hate the Palestinians but some….

Not all Atheists are immoral but some….

Not all Christians are judgmental but some….

Not all Spiritual people are not religious but some…..

Not all addicts knew what they were getting into but some….

Not all Police are on power trips but some….

Not all urban youth are up to no good but some….

Not all recipients of help/charity/welfare become dependent but some…..

Not all people repeat negative family cycles but some….

Not all divorces were avoidable but some…..

Not all rednecks are racists but some….

Not all immigrants can do it legally but some….

Not all gun owners are cowboy wannabes but some….

Not all LGBT are promiscuous activists but some….

Not all children are loved and cared for but some….

Not all abortions were careless but some….

Not all law-breakers deserve imprisonment but some….

Not all boss’ are jerks but some….

Not all the poor are lazy but some….

Not all the 1% are predatory but some….

Not all patriots are idolaters but some….

Not all soldiers want to kill but some….

Not all vegans/vegetarians are smug but some….

Not all politicians are scumbags but some….

Not all religious people are weak-minded but some….

Not all social activists really care but some….

Not all Americans are spoiled but some….

Not all problems in life are self-induced but some….

Not all who disagree with you are right but some….

 

 

And of the “some” mercy, grace and love covers all of the above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend I finally went on a quiet retreat! In recent years I have come to the place of appreciation for the contemplative and mystic aspects of my Christian faith but it has all been abstract and romanticized in my mind.  I have never really unplugged. Ever. I have gotten away from it all in community at retreats and seminars that have truly been life altering.   Community is absolutely essential in the journey of healing. The solitude is a new thing for me, I like it.  I am coming to see the solitude and quieting is also essential.  To settle in on how loved I am and connected to all things is beautiful to pause and recognize. To stop talking and listen….

A friend and I went to stay for a a little over 24 hours at a Catholic Retreat (you do not have to be Catholic to stay at one of these places, Christ’s Peace House of Prayer Easton, KS) in the country. I had very little expectations for this experience so as to actually experience it. I was thankful that I had a buddy with me for this introduction to a quiet retreat. It was nice to see a recognizable face. We each had our own  simple, comfortable cabin. We went off on our own for the majority of the time.  Food was provided, it was simple and good. The director was very hospitable and kind.

I hiked a bit and sat at different shrines and relaxed in the moment. I discovered on my hikes that fear robs me of experiencing the moment. Be it a rustle in the forest, wasps, or ticks! It would snap me to self-preservation and draw me away.  The truth is; it is unlikely any of those things will result in my demise. Thankfully this was an awareness so I could respond  and not live in the fear reaction.  I returned to my cabin showered away the ticks and chiggers and relaxed a bit. Having little or no expectations allowed me to just be.  I read some and journaled a little. Mostly, I didn’t want to busy my mind. My focus was Jesus.

The director had a cool insight he shared when we arrived. The idea that contemplative prayer is not about spoken (thought) worded prayer but rather it is experiencing the feelings of praying.  The feelings that arise with the simple thought of Jesus. To allow the feelings to arise within at the contemplation of His wonderful name.  This is weird, I get it, but I don’t care. This insight is precious to me and allowed me to be present moment by moment to my experience. Did I get bored and restless? Not as much as I was afraid I would.  I imagine the challenge of boredom and restlessness would be more a challenge during a longer retreat.

Jesus is amazing to me. To become human and identify with humanity and the creation is beyond words.  For God to experience true suffering and identify with every aspect of human abuse and injustice is so beyond comprehension. The Vindicated Forgiving Victim who vindicates us all. The God who weeps.  The One who shows us what the Father is truly like.

This is the Jesus I love.

As I was spending my time alone I felt overwhelming peace.  I really was amazed by this peace. As my friend  would say “Shalom in da home”  I rested in it.  There was nothing artificial about it. Nothing worked towards.  Peace.

To recognize and feel peace

To recognize and feel love

To recognize and feel healing

To recognize and feel acceptance

To recognize and feel connection to everything

To recognize and feel Jesus…

The feelings of peace, love, healing, acceptance, and connection is the Love of the Father through Jesus being poured out by the Spirit.  Our minds can’t fathom it. It’s foolishness and I am glad. The fun of theology/philosophy can be adventures in the vanity of thinking about the God who is beyond thought.  To taste and see that I want more.

This was such a valuable appetizer and I am hopeful to engage in this practice for years to come. But in the everyday I want to choose more daily disconnection from technology and more connection to the real in all its forms.  May you disconnect and connect as well.

 

 

Do we want to be good? Does humanity have a want to be good? Does America want to be good? Do Christians want to be good?

These questions have been on my heart as I watch all the horrible geopolitical happenings in the world the past few weeks.

Do we ever ask ourselves this? Or do we want to be rational, logical and right?  Are we more concerned with a persona than persons? Are we blind to our own wickedness?

I believe humans have the tendency towards blindness.  The questions are not; do we do good? We (all humanity) do do good in this world.  I know and get the selfishness in the world.  There is evil.  However, is it possible to overcome evil with good?  Or must evil be fought, defeated and destroyed? And how is that done without becoming that which you are fighting?

Do we want to love our neighbors? Do we want to love our enemies? Do we believe the world can be a better place?  Do we ridicule the good as impossible thus settling? If goodness can’t attain to perfection should it just be disregarded?

I want to be good. Not to score a brownie points with God (They don’t play that game).  When God made each of us they rejoiced and said “Very good!” Life, culture, religion, family dynamics immediately disagree.  I have experienced more good than I ever would’ve thought possible growing up.  Love and goodness is all around. It is steady hard work on blind spots that enables me to experience this in the here and now.

Do I want to be good? Do I want love? These are the questions the children of the Father could be brave and really look at.  Do we look to God to lead, challenge and love us to a new way of thinking or simply endorse our views, keep us healthy, save us from hell and basically stay out of our way?

I think and hope the church is tired of being shallow.

Pie in the sky, Pollyanna thinking  is not what I am saying.  To be good and walk in love is the calling of the children of God, all of us.

 

 

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