Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sexual Reaction rather than Revolution

Here's a provocative article which is very worth viewing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The privilege of your eyes

For Dolce.
A heaven in a gaze,
A heaven of heavens, the privilege
of one another's eyes.

From: T'was a Long Parting, but the Time by Emily Dickinson

Monday, April 21, 2014

When the filters to perception are removed

The state between wakefulness and sleep is fecund; dark and loamy. Behind closed eyelids visions blossom, growing the way chrysanthemum fireworks pulse out from a central point into fullness. During a recent sleepless night two such visions appeared. One slipped away from my recollecting almost immediately, but a faded version of the second remains.

It was an image of green, growing things, like succulents pushing out of dark earth. They didn't sprout and bloom before my eyes, instead the fully formed image materialized out of grayness into clarity and then on to something more. It was like looking through the lens of a microscope where the first view is completely out of focus, but then you start zeroing in. The plants grew increasingly defined, the colors grew sharper, the lines between each leaf more intense. The picture quickly moved from non-existence to what I perceive as normal vision, but then kept going. It shifted into an intense clarity, and I knew that I was seeing more than I ever had before. More of what was real. More of what was there. At the same time, I was aware that there was still more to see, and that the dial had been turned up only minutely, offering just a tiny hint at what can be seen through the veil.

The image vanished before I could zoom in further.

In this liminal state a thought also appeared, fully formed. It was the idea that death is the process by which all our filters for perception are removed, when instead of losing contact with creation we are finally able to perceive it as it truly is, on all levels. From electric hazes of energy to swirling microorganisms to the magnetic pull of atomic structures. We will experience a cosmic give and take, exchanges of oxygen and consumption, of rotting and growth and feeding, of colors undreamt of by our limited cones and rods. We will see smells and lie down on a moving bed of cilia.

Perhaps we will watch our bodies decompose and dance with joy at the transformation of matter and energy. Dancing to the song of birds and the roaring of rivers and blood, the percussion of hearts and particles reforming, the silent sound of planets spinning and the burning of the stars.

In death with physicality stripped away and our essence released to join the eternal song of creation, there is no sin or offense, no judgement or worry. It won't matter how many times we lied or how many commandments we broke, if we slept with 400 men or the single, perfect girl. All of that is meaningless in the majesty of the vast, molecular moment. In this state of being there can be no separation from God or each other or the universe.

I'm not a fan of sleepless nights and the struggle to drift off into dreams. But then again, the thoughts of night are not the thoughts of the waking hours.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Not proof, but presence

"It is not the objective proof of God's existence that we want but the experience of God's presence. That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get."

 — Frederick Buechner

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Only wonder grasps

"Concepts create idols, only wonder grasps anything." 

— Gregory of Nyssa

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Walking with Dry Bones

Today's Old Testament passage comes from chapter 37 of Ezekiel. It is the story of the dry bones. (Click this link if you'd like to read it.)

Here's the Reader's Digest version: a prophet peers into a valley and it is filled with bones. They are very dry. God instructs the man to tell the bones to listen and hear of His promises. Ezekiel does what he is told, and watches as sinews and muscles and skin grow over the bones. Last of all, God's breath enters them so that the bones came alive. As the scene closes, the valley is filled with a vast army of the resurrected.

I've previously found the story to be fanciful and a bit spooky. It seemed like a good reading for the Day of the Dead. It is very visual, and I think the imagery must have distracted me from the message.

Today I heard it differently. For the first time, I realized that it is my story.

While I had not been whittled all the way to bone, I was nearly dead, held captive by an idea and a hope of what could never be. My hair was brittle and my jaw so tight it ached. I couldn't sleep and my body was rigid with tension. If it weren't for my children and my church, I would surely have died.

The darkness was very dark and my bones were very dry.

But God watched, and waited. And finally, He spoke, His breath flowing in and out and around me, releasing my inert soul from it's shackles and hauling me to my feet.

Here is the final verse in Ezekiel's vision, with God speaking to the resurrected:

14 I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life, and I will settle you in your land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.

And that is what He did for me. He breathed life into the decay, and carried me both symbolically and literally into my land, a land that is also His.

I am speechlessly grateful for my Lord's breath.

If you are hurting, broken, and hopeless may God send you a prophet to speak life and truth to all your places of captivity. Be on the lookout, but don't assume he'll bear the name Ezekiel.

In my case, her name was Diane.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Forgive me and help me

Good Friday services are quiet and dark, no matter the lighting. To fit the mood, last night's music included old pieces which I imagined being sung by medieval voices within echoing stone walls.

It is natural to feel guilty on Good Friday, and so that's where I went. I forced myself to continue exploring my own personal sin-monkey, the grand poobah: pride. Unfortunately my pride takes the most ugly and inexcusable form: it is spiritual.

When I first began this blog I wrote with conviction that the view of spirituality I was exploring was the right one. I thought I had discovered the fullness of faith, and was simply entering into it and trying to share it. The beauty and majesty of what I studied kept me in a state of breath-constricting wonder. All I wanted to do was help others enter into the same place. To share the joy and "rightness".

My desire to share the beauty was good. But the pride I took in my stance was not good.

It is now several years later. The awe continues, but the theology has shifted. Considerably. The Catholicity that I find so gorgeous is under review. Not dismissed, not tarnished, but evaluated. God set me on a road of such strange beauty and love that I have no choice but to revise my understanding.

That revision remains under way. Who knows where it will eventually lead. So far it has led to an increased focus on Christ's teaching of love, and in particular, on His words about the Law.

I find myself engaging in a new form of debate, from a position polar opposite to the one I formerly held.

What I've discovered this Holy Week is that I'm still a judger of right. I'm still full of pride in knowing that opposing Christian views are "wrong".

My focus is now on the love of God rather than on the law of God, and that's good. But my judgementalness is still there, and that's not good. I still yell "Crucify him!" with the rest of the crowd.

Please Lord, help me not to be a pharisee. On your most holy day of resurrection, forgive me and help me.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

At today's vestry meeting we pondered the idea of being salt and light. This time, I read a particular phrase differently than I had before:

Matthew:5-15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Previously I've just envisioned a basket being plopped on top, and the light being blocked. But for the first time I realized how ridiculous it would be to do what is described. Not simply because it would nullify the purpose of the lamp and waste a precious resource, but because it would be downright dangerous.

What happens if you put a basket over a flame?

Depending on the weave, the fire could go out. There might not be enough oxygen to keep it going. But if the flow of O2 is good the basket could easily catch fire. And the house, which should instead have been filled with light, could be destroyed.

If your salt loses it's saltiness, it is thrown away. Trampled. Returned to dust. Lost.

If your light is hidden under a bushel, your entire existence can be put in jeopardy. Turned to ash. Lost.

So don't do it. Don't hide your light.


Dance in being.

Add saltiness, and live.

Monday, February 11, 2013

One Holy Dwelling

Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." (Matthew 17:4)

I heard this passage as part of yesterday's gospel reading. The version we read continued on by stating that Peter didn't know what he was saying.

The cloud came next, out of which the Father spoke, instructing us to listen to His son. Then the cloud lifted, and Moses and Elijah were gone. Only Jesus remained.

Peter wanted to build dwellings, or as other translations call them booths, or even tabernacles. Three of them. One for the law, one for the prophets, and one for this newcomer, this Jesus.

Three monuments to three institutions.

But he didn't know what he was saying. There was to be only one.

One fulfillment.

One perpetual tabernacle.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Soul or Ego?

This passage comes from Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society:
Does it ever give thee pause, that men used to have a soul--not by hearsay alone, or as a figure of speech; but as a truth that they knew, and acted upon! Verily it was another world then... but yet it is a pity we have lost the tidings of our soul... we shall have to go in search of them again, or worse in all ways shall befall us. (Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present)

Isn't that something--to know your own soul by hearsay, instead of its own tidings? Why should I let a preacher tell me if I had one or not? If I could believe I had a soul, all by myself, then I could listen to its tidings all by itself.
"Did any of you ever think that along about the time the notion of a SOUL gave out, Freud popped up with the EGO to take it's place? The timing of the man! Did he not pause to reflect? Irresponsible old coot! It is my belief that men must spout this twaddle about egos, because they fear they have no soul! Think upon it!"

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

John's Baptism: The Dawn of Christinity?

This week's gospel readings about John the Baptist have me wondering about something.

Why was Jesus baptized?

At the time, gentile converts to Judaism (called proselytes) were required to take three actions in order to become equal in Jewishness to people born from Jewish mothers.
  • They were circumcised (if male).
  • They were baptized (after the circumcision had healed).
  • They made an offering of sacrifice at the temple.
If you were female, you had only two requirements. After the temple was destroyed, females only had one; baptism.

Jesus was born a Jew, and was circumcised as required by the law when he was eight days old. He had no need of the baptism that John offered in the dessert.

And so I took a look at non-baptismal Jewish customs related to the mikvah, the use of living water for purification. It turns out that it was not only used for initiation into the faith, and for restoration of ritual cleanliness after sin or exposure to what was considered unclean. It was also used for two things which I think are particularly significant.

First, it was used for the consecration of priests. Aaron and his sons were immersed as part of their ordination process. When I read this, Jesus' baptism began to make sense, given that He is -the- High Priest.

Second, living water was (and is) used for the purification of new vessels for cooking and eating. Jesus' baptism also makes sense in this context given that He is the bread of heaven, the cup of salvation, and the vessel of life for us.

I'm guessing that if I kept looking at the laws regarding the mikvah's use, I would find more examples of appropriateness.

While researching I found the following passage particularly interesting. It comes from an article on, called simply The Mikvah.
In many ways mikvah is the threshold separating the unholy from the holy, but it is even more. Simply put, immersion in a mikvah signals a change in status -- more correctly, an elevation in status. Its unparalleled function lies in its power of transformation, its ability to effect metamorphosis.

So I've put all of this together and have been wondering.

Did the baptism of Jesus signal the beginning of Christianity?

Was it a signal that Christ was now a new thing, a Priest, a Holy Vessel, consecrated for a new use?

And because of this, is this why He directed us to continue the practice of baptism, consecrating ourselves as He did at the very dawn of the fulfillment of the promises made throughout Jewish history?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On the Act of Rejoicing

I was recently asked to give the "Stewardship Minute" on rejoicing at the conclusion of my church's stewardship campaign.

Click here to listen to the audio.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

God Himself Violated the Law

I am re-posting the following, which I wrote last week on the Marriage Revolution blog. I'm hoping for some discussion! Please comment.

While reading through some of the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy recently I came across the passage below:
Deut 22:23 If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, 24 you shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.
I wasn't hunting for marriage related laws, this one just happened to jump out at me. Why did it grab my attention? Because according to this passage, God Himself violated the law.

Luke chapter 1 describes the occurrence.

Mary the mother of Jesus was in a city; the town of Nazareth. She was betrothed to Joseph. The Holy Spirit came upon her, overshadowed her, and planted a child in her womb. She did not cry out for help because she didn't want or need it. Joseph initially believed himself to have been wronged and planned to divorce her.

All of these facts line up to show a clear violation of the law laid out in Deuteronomy 22.

At the very moment the New Covenant was initiated, God Himself broke an Old Covenant law related to marriage. Perhaps it was a sign of it's passing, a shattering of a clay tablet inscribed by a Pharisee.

The Spirit must have whispered to Mary "Don't think about what you've been taught. Simply love Me with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Mary responded by opening to His request, despite knowing that she could be stoned.

I'm still pondering what this could mean. I don't have an answer. But since God Himself begins the very life of Christ through a violation of marital law, it certainly points out that the Biblical "view" of marriage is far from straight forward.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Initial Thoughts on Providing a Transformational Experience

I attended a Worship Committee meeting at church recently, and have been pondering ever since. One of the foundational questions had to do with whether we are providing a "transformational experience" to the congregation. The conversation led to a discussion of transcendence versus immanence.

I started thinking about particular aspects of what church looked like at various times in history.

In the very early church, God's immanence was a new thing. Emmanuel, "God with us", was a shiny new concept. Worship of Him became intimate; people met in homes, often in secret. They gathered to break bread together, and to honor the teachings of Jesus Christ within their Hebraic framework. He'd been there recently and they expected Him to return any day. The families of people who had been healed by his touch still lived to tell the tale. Traditions were actively forming as disciples passed on tales of how he looked and sounded. His closeness was still tangible.

His immanence was celebrated.

With time, the immediate memories faded. Christianity developed into it's own entity, separate from Judaism. Standalone churches formed. Cathedrals were built. Centuries eventually passed, and as they did, Church seems to have returned to a place for honoring the transcendence of God. Going there was an escape from the mundane. Instead of the low ceilings and cramped spaces of their dwellings, people when to stand within vaulted arches and open air. Instead of the smells of dampness, sweat, and animal droppings, people breathed incense. They went to church to see artwork and hear music, things they otherwise had no access to. Their souls responded to sung liturgies even though they didn't understand the language itself.

Church gave people a way out. They wanted otherness. They reached for a transcendent God who provided escape for them each Holy day.

Now fast forward to today. For most Americans, we no longer flee lives of squalor and drear in search of sensory stimulation. We are surrounded by it. We switch on lights or climb in the car to escape. We turn on music or television and find majestic views and entertainment of all kinds. Our babies no longer die in droves; when sickness falls we have hope of recovery. For the most part, the struggling of our poor in America is nothing compared to the poverty of the past.

Christian worship in recent centuries seems to have responded to that by shifting back toward immanence. Worship reflects a theology centering around having a personal relationship with Christ. You can observe this even within liturgical denominations.

So what does this mean for us as a community of faith today? 

More thoughts to come...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Only When the Innermost Heart of Man is Opened...

Hans Urs von Balthasar on chastity, from the book Elucidations:

Christian sexual ethics is best advised to keep to the quite simple outline of the New Testament. For this is as unchangeable as the nature of divine love which is become flesh in Christ. This is unalterable because a “greater love” than the one shown to men in Christ is not conceivable, not in any phase of our evolving world. So long as the Christian’s heart and mind are spellbound by this humble and totally selfless love, he has in his possession the best possible compass for finding his way in the fog of sexual matters. With the image of this love before him he will not be able to maintain that the ideal of self-giving—of true self-giving, not of throwing oneself in front of people—is unrealistic in our world and impracticable. It demands a very great deal: namely, to subordinate everything to the love which does not seek its own; but it gives a great deal more: namely, the only true happiness. One can use sex, like drugs and alcohol, to maneuver oneself into a state of excited, illusory happiness, but one is merely transporting oneself into momentary states which do not alter one’s nature or one’s heart. The states fade and disappear, and the heart finds itself emptier and more loveless than before. It is only when the innermost heart of man is opened that the sun of love can penetrate into it. “Fili, praebe mihi cor tuum, Son, give me your heart” (Prov 23:26).

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hallelujah... How have I missed it?

I've heard this song a hundred times but never actually listened to the lyrics.

Turns out they are right up my alley.


I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well, really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Marriage Revolution

Marriages are imploding all around me. In some cases I could see it coming for years ahead of time. In a few cases, it has been a surprise.

Simultaneously, the airways are filled with chatter and clamor about gay marriage. As a result, I've come to a conclusion.

I want to start a marriage revolution.

The revolution would focus on three essential tenets:
  1. Choosing the right person.
  2. For the right reason.
  3. At the right time.
How much better off would our nation be as a whole, and each of our families individually, if we truly focused on these three things?

What if we started training our children from toddlerhood right up until they are launched?

What if our high schools offered classes in relationship preparedness instead of "sex education"?

What if our churches helped people understand God's plan for spousal union from the pulpit and through formation classes, rather than in a few counseling sessions before the marriage service takes place?

It seems so simple.

Tell me; am I missing something?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sex, Premarital or Otherwise

I've been thinking about premarital sex.

A friend recently confessed that she has been struggling with the idea of it's sinfulness. She's been beating up on herself for a number of things, for quite a while. I'm worried that if she remains in her current circle of Christian thought, she could give up on the idea of Christianity completely. Or at least put it on hold. After all, how much self condemnation can a tender heart take before retreating?

And that would hurt the also tender heart of The One who loves her above all else.

Hear me friend: it's not what He wants.

I'm not going into a sermon on how the blood of Jesus washes all our sins away, past, present and future. Though that is true. I'm also not going to talk about how God judges our actions based on the condition of our hearts, and has sympathy for all of their aches and motives. Though that is also true.

Instead, I'm going to take on this one point: the "sinfulness" of premarital sex. (Desire is, after all, the focus of this blog.)

Here's my theory: I don't think that marriage is really at the heart of the issue. Don't get me wrong; I'm a big believer in the value and importance of sacraments. But our designer and creator does not desire that a document simply be issued by a priest or a justice of the peace, as a sort of sexual learner's permit. His will is not that you simply fill out the right paperwork and say the right responses at the proper time, then whoopee! On with the whoopee!

He wants instead for us to recognize the centrality of the act to our design. He wants us to engage in the fullness of our sexuality. And the fullness of anything can only take place and be complete in the context of love. Real love, which always has it's root in Him who is love.

All of us can look around and see countless marriages in which this is not the case. Which is terribly, terribly sad.

He wants to be in the act with us, to be the third strand in an eternal chord. He wants us to understand that our sexuality is one of the ways we are most sacred. It allows us to participate with Him in creating new life and new souls. He wants us to be one as the persons of the Trinity are one, and here on earth, sexual union in a sacred context brings us as close to that union as we can temporally achieve.

Peter Kreeft tells us that there will not be sex in heaven, because it won't be necessary. It will be superfluous. Our union then will be complete and whole. Full. Until then our unions will all be partial. But the sexual union, in the context of a sacred oneness with the other and with God Himself, is the closest we can get here and now.

Is some premarital sex sinful? I'm guessing yes. Are other cases of sex before marriage unitive in the sacred way that He intends sexuality to be? Undoubtedly.

So my advice to you, my sweet friend, is to stop worrying about sin, and start praying for the person who can enter into sexuality with our Lord as the third strand. Someone who will pray with you before, during, and after the acts of love take place.

Set your heart on achieving the fullness of what God has in store for you.

And above all, remember that He loves you, and there ain't nothin you can do about it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Powerful Spring

Passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring. --Ralph Waldo Emerson