“Flannery O’Connor put it well when she said that “people don’t realize how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the Cross. It is much harder to believe than it is not to believe.”
Blessing carries with it not the promise of a trouble-free life, but the promise of God’s active presence among the people who seek to do God’s work in the world– even in the face of the worst the world can give.”
-Kimberly Long, The Worshiping Body, page 64
MYSTICISM IS WHERE RELIGIONS START. Moses with his flocks in Midian, Buddha under the Bo tree, Jesus up to his knees in the waters of Jordan—each of them is responding to Something of which words like Shalom, Nirvana, God even, are only pallid souvenirs. Religion as ethics, institution, dogma, ritual, Scripture, social action—all of this comes later and in the long run maybe counts for less. Religions start, as Frost said poems do, with a lump in the throat—to put it mildly—or with a bush going up in flames, a rain of flowers, a dove coming down out of the sky. “I have seen things,” Aquinas told a friend, “that make all my writings seem like straw.
“Most people have also seen such things. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of their lives, most of them have caught glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by. Only then, unlike the saints, they tend to go on as though nothing has happened.
We are all more mystics than we choose to let on, even to ourselves. Life is complicated enough as it is.
Everyone knows that there are many ways a conversation about money can go wrong. That’s especially true when talking about faith and money.
The most common way a conversation about money goes wrong is when people hear guilt and shame rather than grace and gratitude. Although shame is not a helpful emotion, like weeds in Spring, it usually emerges when talking about money, whether a person has significant wealth or a person has very little. More often than not, the consequence of shame is silence. This is why conversations about money are the most difficult of all conversations at home, in the workplace, and in faith communities.
Conventional wisdom suggests that sex is the most intimate of all conversations. Research indicates that, in fact, money is the most intimate. Why? Because when we talk about money it makes us vulnerable. (Again, this is true whether one is wealthy, poor, or of modest income.) The vulnerability exposes our money stories that often raise painful family histories, mismanagement, fear, and even survival. Shame is the emotion that seeks to stop the conversation and shut down vulnerability.
The antidote to shame is courage. Vulnerability is the pathway to courage, and courage is the pathway to a whole-hearted joyful life, filled with gratitude and generosity, that goes far beyond money [emphasis added]. This is what I have learned from renowned author, speaker and University of Houston Research Professor Dr. Brené Brown. Building capacity for courage is absolutely crucial to have honest and healthy conversations about money. I have learned this from work with congregations around the country and in my work as a pastor with a local congregation. As I become vulnerable to sharing my “money story” with congregations, it helps create a safe space for others to be open
about their struggles. This spiritual practice of open story-telling reduces shame and increases the capacity for courage in communities of faith.
I take a cue from Saint Paul when speaking about money. The apostle tells us that everything that is good in our lives springs from the well of grace–God’s undeserved and unmerited favor–and the only appropriate response to this grace is gratitude.
Begging to Give
Saint Paul is emphatic about God’s goodness toward us. Encouraging the churches in Corinth to give generously, Paul says, “God has given grace to the churches of Macedonia.” As a result of this grace, the churches were compelled to overflow with generosity toward others. Even though they were suffering what Paul described as “extreme poverty,” they were begging to give to others. Their generosity came from a deep well of joy. What is most remarkable is the utter absence of talk about how much money is available to give. That was beside the point. It’s beside the point for us, too. Paul is talking about a desire to give that comes from joy. Increase the joy of the Lord, and people beg to give. Joy is the opposite of shame.
Can you imagine people begging to give?
A poor Haitian farmer told me this proverb, “The one who never eats alone, will never go hungry.” It was his way of saying when you share what little you have, you will always have enough for yourself. Saint Paul is saying the same: when our hearts are rooted in God, trusting in God’s faithfulness, you will always have enough to share. And notice what happens when we share: everyone has enough; no one suffers (II Corinthians 8:15).
When you and I share what we have with others, it creates a groundswell of gratitude in the hearts of many, who in turn share what they have with others. Our sharing becomes part of a much larger work of God among people in the world.
Don’t you want to be part of such a movement of God? There is no shame in sharing. It’s not about the amount you have, it’s about the joy of giving.
-Rev. Roy Howard, Faith and Money Network
Rev. Roy Howard’s workshop on September 11, 2018, will enter the difficult conversation of money through the work of Dr. Brené Brown, Researcher, and Professor at the University of Houston, who has written extensively about vulnerability, shame and courage. Building capacity for courage to be vulnerable is what reduces shame and fear in discussions of money. This courage is absolutely crucial to have honest and healthy conversations. We will discuss how Brené Brown’s work applies to money, share our own money stories, and develop strategies for deepening the courage to be vulnerable. The purpose is to grow in gratitude and generosity in all areas of our lives and in particular the financial area.
Workshop Event: Vulnerability, Shame, and Courage – The Practice of Stewardship
September 11, 6:00-8:00 pm
Potter’s House in Washington, D.C.
Workshop Leader: Rev. Roy Howard
Grace always demands the answer of gratitude.
Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.
Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo.
Gratitude follows grace like thunder follows lightening.
I am half a century old (yikes) and in my five decades of being on this planet, few things truly are firm anymore in my life; doubt is often more prevalent than faith, foolishness more than wisdom, and uncertainty over certainty. But one thing that is becoming clearer and clearer to me is that I am coming to trust that the secret of life is written on (and in) our heart’s desires. These desires – the ones that are all-consuming, have a life of their own, connect you with the pain and joy of the world and with God – are sacred.
The time has come to return and re-ignite the inward journey that leads us to these divine desires. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we can pick up the trail right here and right now. God is timeless and therefore God is ever-present in every moment and in this moment we can dive deeply into our hearts and find God and those burning desires that are divine.
Our desires are the map that we have been given to find the only life worth living!
Don’t just ask yourself what the world needs. It is vital (life-giving) that we also ask ourselves what makes us come alive, and go do that! Because what the world needs now are people who have come alive and are awake. There are enough ‘sleeping giants’ and deer in the headlights kind of people. We need people burning with Life, fire, passion, and love – seeking to fulfill the desires planted in their hearts.
In some ways, I believe that God has in fact “rigged” the world so that life only “works” when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives when we live by faith.
All our attempts to find a safer life, to live by the expectations of others, just kill the soul in the end. That’s not how we find Life. And if there is any wisdom in these words, in the 47 years of living I have under my belt, I would say this: don’t ask yourself how or why you would follow your heart’s desire; for that question will cut your dreams off at the knees.
The “how” is never the right question to ask. And the “why” questions just leads to chasing an elusive dream, like a hamster on a spinning wheel going nowhere fast.
The most powerful question to ask is “WHAT”…
What would you dream for yourself? What does your heart truly long for? What do you feel God is calling you to be and do? What makes your Soul sing? I believe the deep desires of our hearts’ were placed there by God – to lead us deeper into him and deeper into ourselves and this beautiful world.
In my estimation, I see our “job” as the place of asking What we would do and as for the question of HOW, well that’s God’s job.
“Experience tells us that we can only love because we are born out of love, that we can only give because our life is a gift, and that we can only make others free because we are set free by [God] whose heart is greater than ours.
When we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song and speak their own language without fear.”
-Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer
Killian Noe is someone I used to work with at Samaritan Inns in Washington, DC and also we went to the same faith community (Jubilee Church) that was one of the members of the larger Church of the Saviour. Her sermons then always moved and challenged me, challenged me to live my faith, to let it be real, to let it be connected to the broken and the hurting. She always spoke of connecting our personal pain with the pain of others and the larger world, to find our common humanity and humanness in that space.
She now works with and started the Recovery Cafe, out in the other Washington, Seattle to be exact. Check out her writings below and check out Recovery Cafe
Enjoy Killian’s words, may they comfort and disturb you….
For much of my adult life depression has stalked me, occasionally catching up to me and robbing me of perspective. Depression is not only a thief, but a skilled liar. At its worst, it tells you that those you love and the causes you care about would be better off without you.
Last month our nation was saddened by the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. With suicide rates soaring in the US—45,000 in 2016—up nearly 30% since 1999, and more people dying of overdose than died of AIDS at the height of that epidemic, (over 60,000 in 2017, Center for Disease Control), it is past time to adequately fund prevention, treatment and longer-term healing communities for individuals suffering from addiction and other mental health challenges. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder (Dr. Richard Friedman, June 11, NY Times). Prevention, treatment and longer-term healing communities are three legs of the same stool. I’d like to focus on the need for communities of belonging needed to sustain recovery for all of us, especially those marginalized by homelessness.
We need communities where we are deeply known and loved.
Being a member of the Recovery Café community in Seattle includes participating in a weekly, loving, accountability group called a recovery circle. In a circle of 7 to 10 peers, members share honestly their struggles, joys, short-term goals and long-term dreams. Sharing deeply week after week results in being known and loved, breaking the isolation so many experience in our larger culture.
One newcomer to the community shared in her circle, “Every morning at 9:00 a.m. for the past fifteen years I have met my drug dealer.” Without skipping a beat, an older member responded, “Tomorrow morning you will meet me at 9:00 a.m.”
We need communities that make authentic connection possible.
We live in an age of isolation and loneliness–our attempts to form authentic connection through social media do not fill our deepest longing for connection. There is scientific research pointing to the role of loneliness in addiction and other mental health challenges and the power of authentic connection to change our brain chemistry.
Whether we are recovering from addiction to substances or another mental health challenge—like depression—or from a need for control, power, security, approval, compulsive working, compulsive eating, compulsive spending; authentic connection is an antidote. And, we need authentic connections that cross racial, socio-economic, religious, and other barriers because authentic connections are what change us and ultimately change our world.
We need communities in which everyone is a valued contributor.
Although many first arrive at Recovery Café traumatized and simply seeking survival, they quickly realize that this is a community that recognizes the gifts every single person brings. Everyone is expected to contribute to the running of the Café as well as to the healing of others who make up the Café community.
Whenever someone relapses or suffers a mental health crisis they are invited to tell the rest of us what they experienced so we can learn from them. It touches me deeply to witness even someone’s suffering being valued as a gift they can contribute.
Finally, to sustain long-term recovery from addiction and other mental health challenges we need these kinds of communities for the long haul; not just for the amount of time some insurance companies currently are willing to pay for treatment.
Like early AIDS activists, we must fight for funding for all three legs of the stool like our lives and the lives of hundreds of thousands of our family members depend on it. Because they do.
-Killian Noe, Recovery Café in Seattle, Washington
When God calls us on to larger life, we rarely see much beyond the next step. When Isaiah was called by God, his first response was to say, “Woe is me! I’m lost!” When Moses was called, he hid his face in his terror. When poor Jeremiah was called, he was scared and pleaded, I am just a boy and I’m not good at speaking. But to each one of them, God spoke these gentle and gracious words. “Don’t be afraid. I will be with you.
Bro. Geoffrey Tristram, Anglican monk
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 – religious-based and justified 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, who was both a Jesuit priest and a Paleontologist, urged us onward and inward in order 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)
If most of us are honest, we would say we prefer having a decaffeinated faith: it tastes like the real thing, but it is guaranteed to not keep us awake.
I don’t want decaf faith. I want a faith that wakes me up – fully human, fully alive – prepared to be Present to all of life, good, bad, ugly, beautiful, pain and joy.
I pine for a faith that is more “red eye” than decaf, an extra caffeinated faith that hinges on these two truths, that God is Alive and God is Love! And therein lies my faith standard of measurement: does my faith in God wake me up and does it lead me to Love?