Sometimes God is Useless

“At times like these God is useless…” – quote from a Minister at a church service in NYC held the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.

That statement may seem harsh, caustic, and even reminiscent of the once famous proclamation of God being dead.  But that is far from the truth.  Rather, to me, it speaks to a rawness of truth that people who have been through tragedy can relate to, and often need to hear.

One of the biggest obstacles – when we try to experience spirituality and a relationship with God (in recovery) – our images of God are sometimes the greatest barriers to the relationship. 

I have discovered that most people believe in a God who has an “EGO” – because only a God with an ego would get “mad” or seek revenge or rain down judgment or have his divine feelings hurt if I spoke some personal truth in anger towards him.

I have actually had people judge me and tell me I have lost faith all because I tell them that when I pray I sometimes cuss, that I rage at God when I pray because that is who I am; I am being true to the man God made, and yet somehow I am supposed to NOT be human towards God?  I am also being true to the depth of realness in my relationship with God.

Let me state this as simply as possible, this ‘thing’ that transformed my relationship with God making it more real and authentic than at any time in my life is this change within me: I came to understand and “know” that God does not have an Ego.

Ego is defined as a “person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem.”  In psychoanalysis, ego has to do with the role the “mind” plays in mediating between the conscious and unconscious mind.  See where I am going with this?

God does not need or have a “sense of self-importance” for God is self-contained – utterly whole and complete – the Power Greater Than myself.  God does not need anything.  God does not need me to placate his feelings with trite remarks of praise.  God does not need anything from me, at all.  Nada.  God does not have a Mind that needs a mediating element.  God does not need a mind.  God just is.  God is the all that is and that is all.

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The Story of Addictus: musings on addiction and calling

The story of Addictus, or the Myth of Addictus, was about a slave whose master set him free, but the slave was so used to his chains and his pain that when his master allowed him to roam and be free, the slave wandered the land with his “chains” still intact.

All the time he wandered his chains were unlocked and he could have simply taken them off but being so used to and so in love with his chains and pains he chose to NOT take them off.

That is what it is like for those of who have lived our lives enslaved to drugs and alcohol, or to religious systems and other abusive environments.  We are shown a life of freedom, but until a spiritual transformation occurs, we surrender our voice, surrender our very selves to the bondage of addiction.

Addiction is about surrendering our voices and beings over to a master whose end is death.  Recovery is about surrendering to healing, community and inevitably to a master whose end is LIFE: surrendering to God (as we ‘experience’ God) in order to find our voice and our very selves.

I stumbled upon an article years ago written by a spirited writer and addictions specialists named Thomas Lavis.  I have been unable to find a link to the original article, and I have not been able to reach Mr. Lavin to ask permission, but for the sake of healing and recovery, I have taken the liberty of revising his work to tell the story of the meaning of Addiction.  The following is my revision – my Voiced Version – of Thomas Lavin’s article, Please enjoy (and thank you to Mr. Lavin, wherever you may be):

The word “addicted” comes from the Latin word addicere meaning “to give one’s voice over to [something or someone].”  So someone who is addicted has no voice.  A breakdown of the word is something like this: the word “Ad” means “to or toward” and the word “Dicere” means “to speak”.  So, in essence, addiction is when I give my voice over to (or toward) some person, place, thing, or even a process. As most of us who are in recovery know, addiction need not be limited to alcohol or drugs.

I can give myself over, and my inner voice over, to anything: drugs, sex, alcohol, spending, food, pain, exercise, a person, my job, even things like worrying and stress.

The original meaning of the word “addictus” was spiritual – it had to do with someone dedicated to the gods, one whose voice was given over to the Divine for the purpose of worshipping and serving the gods.

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Promoting Recovery is Promoting Community Betterment

Author’s Note: This blog post is a revision of a forthcoming Op-Ed piece that is being published in January 2019 in a southwestern Virginia newspaper.  I have edited it to speak more to any community affected by addiction and how promoting recovery is a tool for community betterment and community development.

In 2018, everyone knows something about addiction; whether from personal experiences or news media reports, addiction – especially opioid addiction – is front and center.  Everyone has heard the horror stories about the opioid addiction epidemic and its decimation of rural and small city American.  Everyone has heard or knows about people who are living with drug and alcohol addiction.

We keep hearing stories of addiction and the epidemic.  But where are the stories of people in recovery and the powerful positive impact recovery has upon entire communities?

Don’t get me wrong, the addiction epidemic is a major, catastrophic problem who negative consequences ripple out to all of society.  And I keep saying addiction epidemic, because although the numbers around opioids (overdoses and mortality) are atrocious, more people are addicted to and dying from alcoholism than opioids and cocaine combined. That we are an addicted society is not changing but what we are addicted to will fluctuate based on anomalous trends.

When we talk about addiction, the focus is far too often on the ‘problem’ element of it: the rise in overdose deaths; the lost days, weeks, months and years of peoples’ lives as they spiral out of control from drugs and alcohol use; the rise in crime; the losses; the scourge, the stigma, and the death.

But what if the greatest thing we could do to start creating long-term solutions to addiction was to begin a major shift in perspective?

What is if we started focusing more on the solution to addiction which is recovery?  What if we stopped the blame game (blaming addicts, families, communities, law enforcement) and started pointing towards solutions?

What if, rather than focus on the problem of addiction (and in sensationalizing it), and focused more energy on the solution of recovery?

What if we started looking at recovery and funding recovery services from a broader, community building perspective?

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Healing is an Act of Beauty

In 2002, I was reeling from the still-born death of my son, Quinn.  As a result of that experience my partner, Quinn’s amazing mother, and I decided to go to Sedona, Arizona, to do a small memorial service for him on the Sacred lands of one of the most Beautiful places on earth. Quinn’s death was, to say the least, one of the most devastating experiences I have ever been through.

At 16, I held my father’s hand as he died; in June 2008 my mother died as well and in 2010 one of my brothers died from cancer, which went untreated due to his chronic mental illness.

When I write about healing, I do so with deep reverence and humility, while fingering my scars, (both spiritual and literal) for writing about healing is like standing on Holy Ground, the bush burning brightly in front of me. And although Quinn’s mother and I did not stay together after that experience, I can now write with transparency and say that our life together, and Quinn’s death, were and still are blessings in disguise, and a beautiful blessing at that.

While in Sedona, I was reading a book about the Navajo Nation and came upon a chapter that spoke of one of the Navajo words for healing. It is a word that is translated to mean “healing is to return to Beauty,” – the Beauty of the Creator to be precise.

When I read that something inside of me clicked; I had the sense that I had just come across the perfect use of language to describe healing…returning to Beauty.  How amazing.  How delightful.

Rather than see healing as something done to us or merely as the process of “curing” and “fixing,” healing becomes a sort of homecoming, a returning to the original Beauty placed within us as children created in the image of a loving Creator.  This concept of healing as a return to Beauty embraces the wisdom that in coming into healing and wholeness, we must rediscover, cherish, and honor the Beauty of God, ourselves, each other, of the Earth and the world around us.

I have been doing a great deal of learning (and un-learning) about healing, about what it is and what it is not. And the Navajo understanding of healing affirms the notions I have about Life, healing and the spiritual journey, that it’s not so much about “finding something,” or necessarily about losing something (although it is, but much more).  I am learning that healing is more about unfolding, like roses in bloom.

And we are all little roses of God; beautiful, succulent thorny roses.

You see roses already are the beauty of their blooms even when they are seedlings, or empty thorny stems pruned for greater growth. And so too it is with us: we already are the Beauty of God as much in our darkness and woundedness as we are when we are in full bloom: brilliant, scented and full of wonder.

We already are everything God has ever wanted us to be. I don’t see a need for “fixing” or self-improvement; but rather for self-awareness and self-acceptance.  I see it the “goal” of being growing in our awareness of the God who dwells within and fully embracing the person God has made us.  In a growing self-awareness and self-acceptance, we are simply continually unfolding, like roses, growing into the Fullness of who we are: the fullness of our humanity.  John Powell said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive.  That truth is what beauty is; what our unfolding is, into a life with God.

When we are living in the fullness of our humanity, we are indeed dynamic expressions of God taking place right here and right NOW.

Maybe I’m off here or maybe people will disagree with this concept, thinking we all need to “fix” ourselves and find a cure, or attend some New Age or religious seminar, or find the next “How To” book that holds the answer to taking away all my pain, all my struggles and increasing my material wealth.

Or maybe, just maybe, this sense that Healing is as much an Unfolding like a Rose and a “Returning to Beauty” somehow fulfills my need to believe and know that every struggle, every painful moment, every joyful blink, every wondrous second I engage in deeply, is meaningful. That ALL moments are THE moment when God and I are one, when you and I are one, and healing is no longer about time, space and location, but about Truth, Awe, and Beauty.

The longer I live (I’m 48 years old now), the more I am afforded the chance to see so many people around me unfolding into Beauty right before my eyes and that truth alone fills me with gratitude, amazement, and hope – and heals my painted soul.

And even as I see the fabric of my life unraveling, as much as it is unfolding, I still hold to the hope that all is not lost, that pain will not last forever, that brokenness will not be the last word. Yes, I still hold hope that in our Unfolding, Divine Love and Beauty will indeed prevail and embrace all.

 

 

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.

Broken & Loved

I feel that this re-posting of something I wrote a few months ago speaks to where I am today…but just today.  May you be blessed and broken so that you may be filled with ALL that God longs to fill you with, namely, himself.

“In each one of us there is such a deep wound, such an urgent cry to be held, appreciated and seen as unique and valuable. The heart of each one is broken and bleeding… An experience of being loved and accepted in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are, with our wounds and all the monsters. We are broken, but we are loved.”

Jean Vanier (Source: Community and Growth)

I was listening to one of my favorite shows on the radio the other night (yes, I still listen to the radio!), the deliciously soulful NPR show “On Being” and the host was interviewing one of my favorite Christian Irascible, the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She was speaking at the Wild Goose festival and the topic happened upon her depression and how she dealt with it: she named it Francis I was struck by the hilarity and compassion that naming her depression afforded her. When asked a direct question about does she preach and teach about her depression she smacked it out of the park and left my mouth agape. Nadia said, “I try and preach from my scars and not my wounds.”

How raw and authentic, how utterly insightful, and how true for those of us in recovery…”I try to preach from my scars, not my wounds.”

She essentially sums up Jean Vanier’s quote, the essential message of what it means to be a human being seeking God; the journey from our own wounds to others wounds and the healing experience of scars.

I love my scars, almost perversely so. Some of them are physical, on my arms, some covered up with kanji tattoos of sacred text, and some have been rendered almost invisible due to the aging process. And some, well, they are invisible and only show themselves in holy moments of intimacy, prayer, and community

I am wounded, no doubt. But I am loved. The point is do I spend more time focusing on the truth that I am wounded or on the amazing truth that I am loved, beyond words, by a God Whose loved is infinitely faithful and present? The answer to that question reveals a great deal about where I am spiritually (true dat!).

Our scars are the perfect reminders of this creative tension in which we must live – that creative tension of living between the “already and the not yet.”   I am whole, but not yet. I am perfectly human but not perfect. I am indispensible yet divinely unique. I am loved by God, but I forget. I am a shining example of God’s love taking place but I am broken and wounded and wound others as a result sometimes.

The truth is I am not my wounds, but I am my scars.

My scars are reminders of the place where God entered my wounds, entered my life. And each scar I have is a blessed reminder that God is right now, and always has been, with me. Our scars are reminders that God is with us in the pain and the healing, in the suffering darkness and the tender light. God comes and sits down on the floor with us in our darkness and reaches out to touch us and to simply BE with us. Our scars remind us that even though God may not have delivered the trial or tribulation from us, God did indeed come in Love and be with us in the darkness. I have experienced this Truth many times: when my father died; when my son died; when my mother and brother died; when all hope seemed lost and I thought the only obvious answer was death God came.

Our scars are God’s calling cards, reminders of his faithful Presence, enduring love, patient tenderness, and infinite wisdom and power.

So the next time we glance down at our physical scars or feel the pang and tug of the unseen scars, whisper a prayer of Gratitude in remembrance that you may be wounded, but you are loved.

“Where’s the Proof?” (Kayla McClurg)

Advent Reading for December 15, 2013 ~ Matthew 11:2-11

Sermon by Kayla McClurg, Church of the Saviour, Washington, DC

In prison a person has time to ponder things. My friends who have spent time there say it isn’t surprising that people meet Jesus in prison simply because there is so much time, mindless miles of time, to be still and think. The wise ones use that time to ponder the depths of their lives and to ask questions and invite new answers. John has been put in prison. The authorities have tried to stifle him, but his disciples remain faithful and John remains their teacher. From his cell they carry a key question John has been pondering about Jesus: “Are you the one, or should we be waiting for another?”

Curiously, Jesus doesn’t say. He simply says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Look at the evidence, and come to your own conclusions. The evidence is this: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are standing on the shores of a new life, welcoming a boatload of good news. Is this the proof you were expecting from “the one who is to come,” or another?

You know the question, if you were arrested for following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Or would you get off scot free, innocent of having disturbed anyone with the good news? Would you be found guilty of living a converted life, of giving away freely what you have received? Could anyone accuse you of radical expressions of solidarity with the poor? Would the powers tremble at the ripples of your generosity?

John has been arrested for stirring up mercy and healing, for proclaiming another way, for inspiring people to submit to a higher-than-human authority. His imprisonment is meant to intimidate him and his followers—and especially to intimidate Jesus. The powers always resort to such foolishness. In reality, such a response does nothing but add fuel to the fire of the movement. Jesus and a growing band of disciples pick up where John left off. The mantle has been passed, and the momentum builds. The proof is at hand.

By: (Season and Scripture: ,

Broken & Loved

“In each one of us there is such a deep wound, such an urgent cry to be held, appreciated and seen as unique and valuable. The heart of each one is broken and bleeding…  An experience of being loved and accepted in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are, with our wounds and all the monsters. We are broken, but we are loved.”

Jean Vanier (Source: Community and Growth)

I was listening to one of my favorite shows on the radio the other night (yes, I still listen to the radio!), the deliciously soulful NPR show “On Being” and the host was interviewing one of my favorite Christian Irascibles, the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.  She was speaking at the Wild Goose festival and the topic happened upon her depression and how she dealt with it: she named it Francis.  I was struck by the hilarity and compassion that naming her depression afforded her.  When asked a direct question about does she preach and teach about her depression she smacked it out of the park and left my mouth agape.  Nadia said, “I try and preach from my scars and not my wounds.”

What gentle truth: I try to preach from my scars, not my wounds.

She essentially sums up Jean Vanier’s quote, the essential message of what it means to be a human being seeking God; that journey that leads us from our own wounds to the wounds of others and the beautiful healing experience of scars.

I love my scars, almost perversely so.  Some of them are physical, like the ones on my arms, and some are covered up with kanji tattoos of sacred text on both forearms, and some have been rendered almost invisible due to the aging process.  And some, well most, are the invisible ones , the ones that only God and I know about, the ones that only show themselves in holy moments of intimacy, prayer, and community

I am wounded, no doubt.  But I am loved.  The real struggle for me is do I spend more time focusing on the truth that I am wounded or on the amazing truth that I am loved, beyond words, by a God Whose loved is infinitely faithful and present?  The answer to that question reveals a great deal about where I am spiritually.

Our scars are the perfect reminders of this creative tension in which we must live – that creative tension of living between the “already and the not yet.”   I am whole, but not yet.  I am perfectly human but not perfect.  I am indispensable yet divinely unique.  I am loved by God, but I forget.  I am a shining example of God’s love taking place but I am broken and wounded and wound others as a result sometimes.

The truth is I am not my wounds, but I am my scars.

My scars are reminders of the place where God entered my life, and entered my wounds.  Each scar I have – whether seen or unseen – is a blessed reminder that God is right now, and always has been, with me.  Our scars are indeed reminders that God is with us in the pain and the healing, in the suffering darkness and the tender light.  God comes and sits down on the floor with us in our darkness and reaches out to touch us, to simply BE with us, saying I AM here.  Our scars remind us that even though God may not have delivered us from the the trial or tribulation, God did indeed come to us in Love, to be with us in the darkness and confusion.  I have experienced this Truth many times: when my father died; when my son died; when my mother and brother died; when all hope seemed so lost that I thought the only obvious answer was death…in all those moments,  God came.  And my scars are a reminder of God’s holy visitation.

Our scars are God’s calling cards, reminders of his faithful Presence, enduring love, patient tenderness, and infinite wisdom and power.

So the next time we glance down at our physical scars or feel the pang and tug of the unseen ones, whisper a prayer of Gratitude in remembrance that you may be wounded, but you are Loved.

The Grace of Paradox

NOTE: this post was originally posted on May 1, but I have been living, and fleshing out, the grace of paradox these last few weeks.  So I re-read it and just wanted to add a bit to it.  May you all know the absolute perfection of the paradox called Grace.

For some, the thought of discovering spirituality and an ever deepening relationship with God in a room full of drunks and drug addicts telling stories might seem like a paradox at first glance.  But as ancient wisdom reveals to us, stories are one of the foundations God uses to reveal divine love and grace to us; and stories are exactly what are found in the rooms of us 12 steppers.

Holy people, in every corner of the world and in every faith tradition, told stories to reveal deeper truths and sacred wisdom.  Jesus told stories – some offensive, some hilarious, all of them insightful – as he taught and fleshed out these stories as a means of communicating God’s infinite and tender love for us.

Stories in general and recovery stories in particular are what keep people like me clean and sober.  We share what we have done and who we have been in the hopes of opening up our hearts to let the grace of God fill and transform us, so we do not remain those fractured characters of our stories past.   In sharing our stories, in sharing my story, I find I am freed from the bondage of the past and the restraints of the dis-ease named addiction.

For when my story is unleashed, I am unchained.

Stories are the vehicle for God’s grace as it comes in tenderness, in messiness, in darkness and shifting shadows…but come it does when I open my heart and share the truth of who I am and what I have been like.  And in stories, in the sharing of my past wreckage and destruction, healing is found and divine light is released into the world, shining so as to light the path for those who walk with me and those who will come after me.

Addiction is indeed cunning and baffling, but only for us.  It is not so for God; for God is not baffled by my dis-ease.  God is the great Mystery that swallows up all the mysteries of the how’s and why’s of addiction.  God is the truth in the lies.  God is the light in the darkness.  God is the tenderness to my sharp edges.  Indeed, God is the very grace in the midst of my lostness.

That is the grace and power of paradox and the paradox of grace.

Only in a room full of addicts and alcoholics (the walking wounded and wonderful) do I learn that I cannot keep what I do not give away.  And like the ancient echoes of the prayer of St. Francis, I learn daily that in giving, I receive; in pardoning, I am pardoned; and in dying daily to my ego, I am born anew into the living grace of a loving God.

Healing is an Act of Darkness

I read a line in a John Updike poem years ago that has become an epiphany for me today about the journey into healing.  The line was simple and succinct: “healing is an act of darkness.”  That line illuminated the darker recesses of my heart because I am at a point in my life where I feel like I’m in a rut, stuck in a darkened room and left to my own devices to find my way.  But I know I am not alone.

Healing is an act of darkness but it is also an an act that occurs in darkness.  Healing can be likened to groping in the shadows for the light switch.

The journey of healing resembles the journey towards one’s calling as well for they both need darkness to gestate and be birthed into being by God’s tender mercies.  Sometimes we stumble into our healing as much as we do our callings – like stubbing our toes in the darkness of God’s mysteries.

But healing is also an act of Beauty…

The Navajo people of the Southwest have a word for “healing” which means “a return to beauty.”  How wonderful!  Rather than see healing as something done to us or as only the process of curing and fixing, healing becomes a sort of homecoming.  Healing becomes a returning, if you will, to the Original Beauty: God.  Healing as a returning to beauty is the journey of embracing the wisdom that become our healing and wholeness: we must rediscover, cherish, and honor the beauty of God, of ourselves, of each other and the world around us.

I have learned in my own healing journey that to pause and absorb all the beauty (and darkness) that surrounds me leads me deeper into God, deeper into oneness and connection.  For beauty reminds us of what is whole and God, not what is fractured and broken.  Beauty is one of the essential truths of God; it is in truth one of the foundations of God.  As it has been written before, the very desire for beauty is the desire for God.

Day by day I am learning what healing is and is not; healing is not perfection but progress and gratitude and humility.  Healing is deepening my life in God.  And the older I get, the more the Navajo wisdom of healing affirms the notions I have about our spiritual journeys: namely that this journey is not about finding something or someone, but rather it is about unfolding – unfolding into God and into the people God is calling us to be. 

We are like the roses of God.  Roses already are the beauty of their luscious blooms even when they are seedlings or when they are empty, thorny stems in winter.  And so it is for us, for we are the beauty of God as much in our darkness, emptiness, and pain as we are in our wholeness, peace and joy.

Maybe this is only my small “t” truth; maybe I just need to believe…to know that every struggle, every painful moment, every joyful blink, every wondrous second I am alive and engaged in is meaningful and sacred.  Maybe I just need to know that all moments are the moment when God and I are one, and intimacy is no longer about space or location but about truth, love and wonder.

I have evidence of the healing journey as an act of darkness, beauty and unfolding.  I see so many people around me unfolding before my eyes, unfolding into the wondrous children of God – that alone fills me with faith, gratitude and amazement.  I see the paradox of healing in my life: what feels like the fabric of my life unraveling is also the bloom of it unfolding by God’s grace.

I fumble in this holy darkness, groping for the Spirit as much as for some semblance of the familiar.  But still, I hold to the hope that, thanks be to God, all is not lost: pain and confusion will not last forever and brokenness will not have the last word.

Yes, I still hold to the hope that Divine Love will indeed prevail and embrace all.