Cracks in the Margins

Sometimes I want to blow the lid off this blog; and be so real it will make even the closest of friends scratch their heads.  I desire authenticity; about my life, about where I am spiritually yet I fear judgment – mostly from within, but somewhat from others.

I want to tell you that my faith in God has been an intimate part of my life for 30 years and yet sometimes I feel it slipping away into a pithy form of agnosticism.  The faith I profess is 2,000 years old.  The Creeds I quote are less than 1,700 years old.  The rituals from the Mass some of them are less than 600 years old.  All things have changed in those time era’s but not religion, not much at last.  In the last few years alone I have changed drastically.  I change…my mind, my heart, my jobs, my friends, and yes, some of my beliefs.  But God I know is timeless.

I am wanton to share that most Christians offend me, somewhere along the way the American version of Christianity became a marriage of conservative politics and social causes ensconced in fundamentalist tenets. That is not my faith; nor the faith and life of Jesus.  But I am also left empty by liberal politics that have all but abandoned their religious inspirations for protecting both the poor and the vulnerable. In truth, care of the poor, the abandoned, marginalized and the broken are the responsibility of those who claim to follow Jesus (there are over 400 verses citing God’s concern and mandate to care for the poor and oppressed in the entire Bible).  But it seems Christians these days are known more for their hate than their love.  I fear Jesus would not recognize his followers” if he were reading the papers and visiting the churches.

I am saddened and sickened by most of what constitutes Christianity these days, if I am to be honest.  It seems my faith is fed more by what is outside of it bounds than what is within it.

I am not alone in my disillusionment.  One of the NY Times’ bestsellers was a book by Frank Schaeffer (the son of one of the “fathers” of the rise of Conservative Christian political viewpoint), entitled Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God.  Then there is the rise of the religiously disillusioned, the “Nones” who according to the Pew Research Centers: “[are a group of] people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics” as well as those who have left the church of their youth while still holding to a deep faith in God, just not in organized religion.

Some days I feel like a “None” – I believe in and love God, deeply, but I find most organized religious expression to be pedantic at best, ruled and run by angry zealots who are milquetoast concerned more with doctrine and dogma than compassion, justice and mercy (the weightier matters of the Law according to Jesus, see Matthew 23:23).

I am rambling.  But I am seeking clarity and honesty.  I love Jesus.  I mean I am really into Jesus and the words we have for him on record (I’m a Red Letter Believer you could say).  You would not know it by stepping into most churches these days but Jesus spoke more about helping the poor, money, loving your enemies and forgiveness than about heaven or hell.  And not once did Jesus ever condemn my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  Jesus never said “love the sinner but hate the sin” – a diatribe I have a hard time with because I am not so skilled at separating the “sin” from the “so-called sinner.”

The long and the short of it is I am seeing the cracks in the margins.

My faith is old, and dry.  My prayers are empty and “feel” worthless.  The God I professed years ago is no longer the God I turn to in times of trouble or joy.

The man I see in the mirror, although I know to be a child of God and made in God’s image, is cracked, faltering, burdened with a sense of hopelessness.

Maybe what I am going into and through is a deeper, more authentic way of living; a birthing into the death of childish faith into the reality of the Real.  Or maybe, I am simply spiritually lazy and perpetually defiant, needing to reject something in order to feel powerful about anything.

I still believe…but I don’t.  I have faith, except when I don’t.  I am one with a God I know longer believe in.  I am in the light even more so when I am in this darkness.

I find comfort in the words of the German mystic Meister Eckhart who said it best when he said this: “If I had a God I could understand, I would no longer consider him God.”

Messy Life, Merciful God

“I have had to accept the fact that my life is almost totally paradoxical. I have also had to learn gradually to get along without apologizing for the fact, even to myself. . . . It is in the paradox itself, the paradox which was and still is a source of insecurity, that I have come to find the greatest security.  I have become convinced that the very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God’s mercy to me: if only because someone so complicated and so prone to confusion and self-defeat could hardly survive for long without special mercy.”

Thomas Merton

 

After all these years, I am still afraid of the dark.  Oh, I talk a good game, stating proudly that I love the dark that I am okay with it, with not knowing, with the unknown.  But that’s a load of crap.

I hate the dark; specifically, I loathe the reality of “not knowing.”  I find no comfort in that sacred place.

I have found that the words of Dorothy Day ring true, reminding us that it is best to travel light through the darkness.  I say it is good to do so because I need my hands in the darkness, groping for security, feeling my way through it the way a newly blind person fumbles through Braille.

The darkness of my heart – the anger, the fear, the lack of trust in God, in Love itself – makes my life ‘feel’ messy.

When my life feels messy, there is this thought that rattles around my head with jarring significance: sometimes I feel that God is this pervasive Reality I have yet to actually experience, much less “know.”

But then that noise subsides, and above the din I hear the repetitive whisper, “mercy, mercy, mercy, all is enveloped in Mercy…”

One thing is certain, the messier my life gets the more merciful God seems.  I sense the reason that is due to this truth: the messier and more mistake prone I get, the more I am in dire need of the Mercy that is available always and forever.  The more I am ‘human’ the more I need and therefore am open to Divine Love.  When I am at my lowest, it is ‘easier’ to look up and ask for mercy.

It’s easier to surrender when I run out of bullets.

It’s a shame that it takes my increased messiness and mistakes to be the catalyst provoking my need of God’s divine mercy, but I am human.  I am trying daily to put myself in a position living conscious of and present to God’s infinite mercy rather than waiting for fox holes and disasters.

Spiritual crisis prevention is far better than crisis management.  In prevention mode, I am more aware of God in all my dealings rather than my usual state of forgetfulness.  And as I grow in a deeper daily awareness of God, the self made messiness seems to give way to a mercy filled life; still messy, but steeped in the ever-present reality called the mercy of God.

 

Advent Musings on the Incarnation

Originally written and posted December 24, 2014

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”   (The Good News of Luke 1: 67-79)

“God became one of us and…pitched his tent in our midst.” – Clarence Jordan (taken from the Cotton Patch Sermons)

Since Christmas Eve is actually the last day of Advent, I thought I would muse a bit about the spectacular nature of this Sacred Season. So, this morning I received an email and in it this pastor was saying that no words can adequately convey God’s love for human life. I thought to myself that he may be right; no mere words can truly express God’s desire to be so close to us and to love us. My first thought was well the Incarnation is as good as it gets in describing that truth.

Think about it: God wanted to be so close to you and me that God put on flesh and became one of us! Pause for just a moment and really ponder that truth, the truth of what Christmas is ALL about. Ponder and personalize it:

God wanted you to know how much you are loved, wanted to be so near you, so much so that God put on flesh and became just like you.

God spared NO expense to be close to us, to love us, to show that love to us! Now even if you do not believe in the virgin birth or that the Incarnation is real, still ponder the notion that God would do such a thing to prove his love to you and me.

That truth to me makes this a time of true hopefulness – a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos, the Greek word for time, is unlike the human concept of time, chronos, meaning “chronological time.” Kairos has to do with a divine visitation, a rending of the veil of human time when God comes to dwell among his people in an extraordinary way. The Incarnation is a Kairos moment that happened at a specific chronological time…an Infinite Moment held delicately within a finite one. It’s downright scandalous.

The Incarnation is both mind-boggling and paradox. Mind boggling in that almighty God would actually limit Godself by becoming flesh; paradox in that God comes to us through the fragile vulnerability of a helpless, newborn child who is Messiah. And the paradox of the Incarnation continues: God did not choose to come as a powerful military King Messiah ready to liberate the Jewish people with force from the brutal and ongoing occupation of the Roman Empire.

God, it seems, had different plans.

Instead, God chose to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed disenfranchised teenage mother in a land under the oppressive occupation of an Empire. That fact alone defies all logic and reason. Who would be more marginalized and dispossessed than Mary? Who could be farther from the seat of power? But it within this zeitgeist that the Incarnation happens; God did not come as a warrior God with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for control.

No, God came to us, as one of us, choosing to make himself known in fragility and poverty – a far cry from how most people thought Messiah would come.

Every year at Advent we are offered the chance for reflecting on how God came to us then, and how God continues to come to us now: in helplessness; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; in the promise of hope when all seems lost.

And let us remember too that Advent is an opportunity for us to remember during darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become, like Mary, a sacred womb where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.

 

Advent: A Time for Pregnant Pausing

 “Advent is a season of the secret of Divine Love growing in Silence…” Anonymous

Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means “a coming.”  In the busy days of the Christmas season, it seems Advent has become more of ‘a coming and going and rushing about’ than a pregnant pausing to celebrate the birth of Divine Hope.

One of the things that bothers me the most about this time of year, more than the blatant and rampant consumerism, is the edgy “busy’ness” of it all.  Like hamsters on a treadmill going nowhere fast, we run from store to store, party to party, event to event, never taking the time to pause and reflect upon the momentous occasion of the true “Coming” that this season is based upon.

Advent was and is meant to be a time of pausing, a time of seeking the Great Silence away from the rush and temptation of every little thing that tugs at our attention.

Advent is about taking the time to ‘stop’ time: to reflect upon the miracle of the Infinite rending the veil of time, thereby making all that is finite holy and sacred.

Advent is a time of deepening spirituality. And rather than some highfalutin concept, spirituality is more of a Velveteen rabbit-like experience of sensing God’s movement and Love in our lives in ever deepening ways, especially when things seem darkest.

Advent is also a specific “liturgical time” that gives us a chronological space for sensing God’s movement in our lives and in the world around us. It is an intentional time of pausing to look for the Holy in all the ways it is embodied around us. During Advent, we are reminded to allow the Spirit to transform our lives into “living mangers” – places where Christ can be born anew and afresh in us and in a world crying out for divine love.

This time of year is a time for seeking and seeing all the ways God comes to us, in tenderness and smallness, in ways and places that we may not normally look for God: places like a manger (a feeding trough to be exact) or the distressing disguise of the homeless; or the numerous people waiting in line at the soup kitchen or the forgotten and lonely or those struggling with addictions or the person next to us in line at the store. All of these are moments when we can both see and be Christ.

In these last days of Advent, may this be a time when God comes to each and every one of us in deliberate ways, ways known only to us, special ways that afford us the opportunity to renew our faith, discovering the depths and richness of God’s love and compassion for us and the world.

So as we continue to journey on into these days of Advent, let us all pause…

and reflect…

and take time…

to recognize the Holy Presence that surrounds us.

Three Soul Full Quotes…

“Conversion is a continuous and lifelong process. Conversions proceed layer by layer, relationship by relationship, here a little, there a little—until the whole personality, intellect, feeling and will have been recreated by God.” – John Westerhoff, The Spiritual Life

~ ~ ~

“God is continually giving us gifts; but we do not understand that they come from God, and we take them as if they were merely natural results. We take them and forget God. The habit of prayer opens the eye of the soul to be watchful for God’s love, to recognize his hand in his gifts” – Richard Meux Benson

~ ~ ~

“If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye, which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what…is so sparkling…so fragrant…so intoxicating as possibility?”   – Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

 

Poetic Musings: God in our Midst

I want to live my life as if I believe God is in my midst,
not as theory but as a Living Presence.

I hunger for God.

I pine for my life to be a living reflection of the God I believe in.

I want my life to be a fount of God’s love –
limitless, lavish and lushly poured out for all.

God is not to be out done in giving or benevolence.

God pines for us, waiting for us until we are ready to taste and see the
great goodness and truth that surrounds us – the truth that God indeed is in our midst.

Faith: farming or schooling?

I can break down my own personal faith journey into one of two camps whereby faith is either treated like a farm or like schooling. Neither one is better than the other, but my faith has evolved from the latter into the former; and I have spent years learning to become more and more comfortable with the growth process of faith as farming rather than schooling.

The farming metaphor of my spiritual journey into and with God tends to see the spiritual life through the lens of what farming looks like: ploughing earth; planting seeds; cultivation; seasonal; ritual; laborious; filled with both droughts and deluge; feeding; sustaining; rewarding; plenty; scarcity; menial; painful; boring; joy-filled.  But above all life giving.  Farming involves co-creation, partnership, and is less hierarchical.  In this farming metaphor, the earth (or God in this instance) has its place and I know mine in relation to it.

The schooling metaphor (and schooling is not to be confused with ‘education’ from the Latin word, educare meaning to “draw forth from within”) was one that I framed my spiritual life in early on in my intentional faith journey. I looked at faith and even God as like a schooling metaphor which included seeing faith like this: compensatory, laborious; ubiquitous standards; something I dreaded doing, had to do, and was told would get me ahead more quickly the more of it (schooling) I got; it also included cramming; caring only about what is on the test; and overall not be able to wait to graduate from it so I could get on with life.

You can see by these metaphors how the farming one has been a richer one for my life than my schooling metaphor. Farming involves being on partnership with that which is greater than me, allowing things to grow wild sometimes. Schooling always involved being told in Kindergarten to ‘color within the lines.’

School is a great deal like that – drawing lines and teaching people to stay within them..or else our grades will suffer.

But I think faith, and God, are more like farming – not always so neat and tidy, messy, hard work, seasonal, organic rituals that are organically connected to the natural order of things. Farming is cyclical, but it evolves and changes from season to season, yearly as well. One year, corn is planted, the next soy, the next, the fields may be left to grow wild in order for the nutrient rich earth to replenish itself.  My faith is like farming in that way.

It can be summed up maybe something like this…God as Creator (THE grand farmer) fallows out the dry ground of our souls, planting this seed or that one, watering all in Divine Love in order that our life might be abundant, grow deeply and upwardly, out into this world as a gift and find harvest so as to feed and be fed.

God longs for us…

“You need not seek God here or there,
God is no further than the door of your heart;
there God stands patiently awaiting whoever is
ready to open up and let him in.

No need to call to God from afar:
God can hardly wait for you to open up.

God longs for you a thousand times more
than you long for Him: the opening and entering are a single act.”

~ Meister Eckhart, Taken from The German Sermons

Messy Faith, Messy God

When I talk about God and faith, I do not come at it from an angel of certainty, ‘rightness’ or an attitude of “I’ve arrived so you should get with the Program.” I come at my faith and experience of God rather from points and places of doubt, uncertainty, openness and hope (and not so much on that last one).

It is important to me that I strive for awareness and transparency when speaking and writing and living out spiritual ideas and ideals; people that are honest and messy are much more of turn on to me than people with neat, pat answers. Regardless of where I am in my journey with God, people who are so certain about the rightness of their beliefs have always left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my faith is messier than most. I’m grateful God is as well.

I know my last blog sounds like I’m giving up on God but truthfully what I was trying to communicate is that the “security” of some of the beliefs I have long held as ‘untouchable’ are crumbling away. And in their stead is nothing…for now. That is not to say that I will remain in that place, because like nature, I too abhor a vacuum – an empty vacuous space where nothing exists, not even God. Now I do not confuse the need for emptiness and emptying (what I am going through now a self emptying – kenosis) with vacuous space; one is a process the other is a perpetual state.

Sooner or later that which is dying in me will be resurrected into something new, something more real than anything I’ve ever experienced before. I know God is…and I know God is not done with me yet, this I do trust.

My faith is being peeled back, like an onion, reveling what is and is not real, what is dead and what lives.

Rob Bell, in his wonderfully clarifying work What We Talk About When We Talk About God, said that his experience of God is summed up in three little, yet transformative, words: with, for, ahead.

Bell sums up my messy faith by challenging my ‘tribal’ conceptions of God, namely that God is on our side, for us and us alone, out to smash all those who are not part of my tribe. I have grown weary of a God like this. This tribal God is no longer a God worth loving or following; this tribal God is more like a favorite football team than a eternal loving Being.

In letting go of my pedantic and tribal God, I am left with nothing and that nothingness I can begin to experience God anew, fresh with child-like eyes. This God of which Bell speaks that is with me always and in All Ways, in all things and through all things; this God who is for me, not as in on my side or to defend my POV, but for me as in an advocate, pure divine fidelity with me through thick and thin, in holiness and messiness. I like this God that is not tribal but ahead of me, ever expanding, opening new worlds of inner and outer discovery.

Having a God like this allows me not only to embrace my messy faith, but allows God to be messy (with me) as well. This God who is with us (Emmanuel), this God who gets down into the mud with me, being with me in my messiness, not judging or condemning – just loving.

I need a God as such. This God is one who is intimate yet unknowable; understandable yet unfathomable; tender yet transcendent.

That is the kind of God I can be into…one who is into (and in) me.

Simply…Love

It seems so simple, so obvious; this life of faith we are called to live. But in light of the heinous actions we have seen in the media and in our world lately – killing of black Christians by a racist zealot, religious hatred and bigotry, choosing nationalism over biblical mandates – that it appears to be far from simple.

What is so simple is this: God is Love; and if we love God then we must love AS God loves – unconditionally.

God is not white. God is not black. God is not a human, neither man nor woman. God is not Catholic or Protestant. In fact, I don’t even think God is religious, although God may be just a tad bit Zen.

The fact of the matter is, it really is plain and simple – this Love thing – it’s just not easy. And there is a huge difference between something being simple and being easy (just ask anyone who is a part of any 12 Step fellowship, they’ll explain it).

The apostle John, also known as John the Beloved, said it best when he spoke of two of the eternal truths about God – namely that “God is light” and “God is love.” The latter is the focus of this blog. This concept, this truth (Truth) is so simple, yet profound and almost unutterable. The truth of God’s being is so simple children get it and yet this truth – that God is love – is also so profoundly frightening that we adults are threatened by it so much so we create dogma, doctrines, denominations and diatribes to control the very essence and definition of God’s love. But God forever remains Love.  Any and all expressions of love, whether pure or perverted, have their origination in and from Divine Love; all loves are mere shadows and reflections of God’s Perfect Love.

And since God is love, we too are called to both BE love and DO Love. We can spend all sorts of time, money, and energy arguing about this Love or we can spend all of our time, energy, money and efforts Being and Doing Love – and leave the rest to God.

God will forever and infinitely BE love, it is we who are born, live and die. Love abides forever.

God’s love is so awe-inspiring and eternal that we are given free will to choice to do as we wish to this Love. We are free to qualify it; we are free to quantify it.  We are free to try and control it through restrictions, definitions, exegesis, rules, regulations, stipulation and the like. We are free to commodify God’s love. We are even free to try and mete out, control and block God’s love for that is how much God loves us – to allow us to do some pretty heinous and asinine things and still BE LOVED.

But it is still simple. Love. Jesus said it, preached it, lived and died it. Love. Love. Love. In truth, if you break down all that is required of us it is simply love: love God with all your being and love your neighbor (everyone!) as yourself.

But God’s love is unconditional, unlimited, unbridled…and that truth scares the bejesus out of us. We – I – do not know what to “do” with a Love like that, so I do what most people do to love – I end up killing it with rules, reg’s, and restrictions. I tame love. I make it safe for me, and you if you jump through the proper hoops and channels.

We humans are so afraid of the utter brilliance and intensity of divine Love that we have to limit God’s love in order to understand it; we have to control it in order to receive it. At the end of the day, we cannot truly believe God’s love is indeed unconditional, as in absolutely unconditional, that we need to establish temporal conditions to that which is Eternally Unconditional. Religious laws are/were constructed because people are not to be trusted with the unlimited, unfathomable, unchanging, unbearable, all inclusive and all embracing love of God.

What would happen though if we simplified it, really simplified it, down to what it is: LOVE? What would happen if all who love, seek, pine for and “speak for” God simply sought to give, be and do Love? What if all other dogma, doctrine and denomination burnt away as the dross that it is, and only God’s unconditional love reigned supreme in all of our hearts?

What would happen?

Would the walls drop away? Would all the excuses we have for separating ourselves into neat little, safe categories melt away? Would we stop being white, black, red, yellow, rich, poor, red state, blue state, pro-life, pro-choice, anti-gay, queer friendly? What would truly happen? My sense is the greatest revolution of our existence would happen: a revolution of the heart (to paraphrase Dorothy Day).

God’s Love is not a doctrine, or a sect, or a rule; God’s love is an ever Present Reality. Love is God’s very Being – the very essence of who God Is. When God said that his name was Yahweh (YHWH), what was being said was “I AM Who I Am and Who I AM is Love.”

The late Teilhard de Chardin urged us onward and inward, to discover the “energy of Love” – which he considered to be the energy of God’s Being. Teilhard told us, “Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, [humanity] will have discovered fire.

Divine Love is just that, divine.  And no human language or doctrine or dogma should ever try and tame the perfect wildness, the wondrous Fire, that is the Love of God.

(Scripture references: see 1 John 3:11, 18; 1 John 4:7-21)