Music matters: A message to Boomer prison guards

Is it just me, or do you sometimes feel like you will never be released from your Boomer music prison? I was in the dim sum restaurant celebrating 8th-grade graduates and one of them stopped eating dan dan noodles as soon as “Build Me Up, Buttercup” came on the background music. We belted out, “I need you (I need you) more than anyone darling,” which was sweet. But I also thought, “Will we never be free of this song?”

Graduation Day

I went to two commencement ceremonies (loved them!) and heard 8th graders singing Boomer anthems to Boomers. But most of their parents were born in the 70’s and 80’s, weren’t they? In the first ceremony  the kids actually sang “Graduation Day” which was a hit for the Four Freshmen in 1956! I went down to gym floor as the director was cleaning up the band music to congratulate her, “Extra points for ‘Graduation Day.’ Where did you discover that?” She said, “Oh, we always sing it. It’s a tradition.”

How did that piece of fluff become a tradition? You could say, “The same reason your son  makes the Jello dessert for Thanksgiving your mother’s family still calls a salad.” Touche. But still, any use of that song does not make perfect sense to me.

I was out in the Redwoods with ten-year-olds where we discovered our cool farmhouse VRBO had a TV in their room with the Disney channel. We turned it on and there was the new Beach Boys documentary being headlined. I was interested in the Beach Boys, so we watched a bit. But I thought, “The Beach Boys hold some interest for the Disney Plus watchers?”

The Boys also came to mind during the first commencement, since Brian Wilson was obsessed with the Four Freshman and much of the brilliant harmonies he built into surf music were directly from them. The Beach Boys also recorded “Graduation Day.”

The first record Brian Wilson bought when he was a teenager in Hawthorne, CA (about an hour from where I lived), was the Four Freshmen’s 1955 album Four Freshmen And 5 Trombones. The story goes that 30 years later he still loved the album. He told an interviewer, “They had a demonstration booth where you could listen in the store and I found the Freshmen album. My mother said, ‘Do you really want to hear this?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ So I went into the little booth and played it and fell in love with it.”

I aspired to BE one of the Beach Boys when I was young. So I find them very appealing and have almost all the songs from Pet Sounds on my playlist. But “Graduation Day” was a bit of nostalgia when the Beach Boys were young! What was it doing in an amazingly diverse class of 8th graders in Philly in 2024? Has it become “America the Beautiful?”

I turned to the grad’s older brother and said, “Couldn’t they find a more representative song than that?  Do they think people have stopped writing music?” He wasn’t really listening to me complain but he was polite. I went on to suggest, “How about ‘What Was I Made For?’” (which I recently Smuled for my sister). That would be a great commencement song for the present generation, some of whom were dressed like Barbie before our very eyes.

Forever Young

The next day we celebrated with an even more diverse class of 8th graders and they were also programmed to sing for us, which they did very nicely. But what song did their Boomer teachers (or were they GenX?) pull out for them to learn? — the classic “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan, written for his son in 1974. He recorded a couple of versions but, honestly, I have never been able to listen to him sing. Here’s my favorite of his interpreters:

Last year there was a Joan Baez documentary, too: I am A Noise. I watched part of it because I have always admired her voice and activism. She’s inspiring. It ends with her dancing in a field as an old woman, but much like any hippy would imagine Joan Baez dancing.

But what was Dylan’s song doing in a commencement ceremony 50 years after it was written? Has it become classic, like the “Hallelujah” chorus? I looked at my wife when the kids first sang, “Forever young,” and said, “No thank you.” Who in the world would want to stay young, especially always in 8th grade? I want them to be full of the brightness and hope of that moment, but I am not sure they’ll make it if they are stuck in Dylan prison.

My mind turned to all the other, more recent, sentimental music they could have used. I think Dear Evan Hansen’s  “You Will Be Found” from 2016 would have been much better. It is just like Disney but always makes me cry. This year’s grads endured the pandemic, after all.

Music matters

We live in an environment in which every sound wave is monetized. Molecules will probably soon come with pop-up adds. There is a lot of competition for our attention, which means were are mostly not attending at all. But we need to listen to the music. Music matters. The Boomer/GenX teachers keep sampling the past for feel-good nostalgia, for the muffled sounds they heard in the womb, I suspect. That’s OK. But that’s not real enough.

Music is such a wonderfully integrative art, especially singing, if we let our whole bodies get into it. That’s why churches are holding out as a place where singing in public still happens (well, there is the Phillies games and Luke Combs concerts, too). Singing is a spiritual discipline. But even if you aren’t disciplined, or aren’t really listening, it is still a spiritual experience.

The teachers, it seems to me, chose to keep their kids enclosed in a small space — the kind of space stores offer when they dish up more “Build Me Up Buttercup” while you’re looking for polenta (which they keep moving around!). The kids of the future will need a lot more than sedation or amorphous feelings of well-being. They will need a lot of spiritual imagination to get out of the mess they are in. As the atmosphere gets warmer and the warzones get wider, they will need real music to live on, not just leftovers. I hope they learn to remember way beyond 1956 and dare to write the soundtracks of healing and building way into the future.

Reflection is facing up to your new face

My wife does not turn her phone off at night because we have been listening for children calling in the dark for over forty years, so why stop now? Some unknown person called at 3:30 the other night and then called again a short time later. I hear they called again after I had left in a daze.

I started my day in the dark because I could not get back to sleep and got all sorts of things accomplished. I have many new duties these days. Then I saw clients and oversaw the installation of our long-overdue window in the façade of our counseling offices. After I came home and tried to fix the TV, which had lost its sound, I was, again, a bit dazed. I asked, “Was it just last night those phone calls came?”

As I sat down to reflect and pray the next morning, one of my favorite verses came to mind. I had just said to God, “I am not sure who I am right now.” It turns out, that was a good move, since turning to look into the face of “the perfect law, the law of liberty” immediately reassured me that I was still in the presence of the One who loves me. And then I remembered James.

Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. — James 1:22-4

Reflection

I’m in a season when I often wake up and say, as I am reflecting, “I need more reflection.” I will eventually take some extended time or take a retreat, which I need to do. But I also need to remember that the day-to-day discipline of taking as much time as possible to deliberately turn toward God has transformed my life.

I think it was the same for James, too. And he is not shy about taking a dig at us in his book of wisdom for lagging in transformation. He basically says, “If you don’t do something deliberate about the new reality you have entered, you’ll still be like a person who doesn’t seem to know what they look like. You’ll still be checking yourself out in every mirror you pass, or in store windows and phone screens. You will never quite know what you’re doing because you’re still looking at your old self in the mirror instead of the transformed self Jesus has made you.”

Why do we love to look in the mirror? — well, at least most of us love it, or at least can’t help doing it. We have a magnifying mirror in our bathroom for advanced plucking, but I also use it to eliminate those stray hairs old men grow. I admit a bit of fascination about how different I look over time. The reflection of my face tells my history, collects my criticism, and always reminds me I reached my peak beauty decades ago. It is easy to forget, day by day, just who we are for all we have been and all we are not. We’re fascinated by our own story, and there it is looking at us.

James is trying to change our usual mirror experience. He comes right out and says it, “That old law you lived by was a pack of lies.” We deceived ourselves so much, we got trapped in checking ourselves out all the time to see if we were performing well, to see if things were all under control. The old law ended up being about regretting who we were and fearing who we need to become. Very few of us looked in the mirror and said, “Yes. You’re crushing it.”

The new law, which is really the oldest law from which the world was created, the law of love, is not like the endless self-criticism and defensiveness that saddled us to fear. It is a law of liberty, a lens through which we see ourselves as God gives us to become.

Facing up to your new face

The other day I said something impolitic in a private meeting and I offended someone. They wrote a letter to me and my board members, publicly shaming me and demanding an apology. I apologized, since I should watch what I say (James has something to say about our tongues right after today’s quote!). Someone called me and wondered if my apology had just given an adversary something to weaponize! Trump has taught us all to deceive and deceive ourselves, to be perpetually defensive. But I wondered if my friend was not right. We’ll see.

With my apology, I was trying to “face up to my new face.” I am in new situations these days. I often wonder “Who am I?” I keep learning who I am by turning away from the mirror of merely me and looking into the mirror where God is looking back at me. How does one do that?

1) Looking is also doing.

Most people see James’ teaching as, “You need to take care of some widows, not just sit there like a saved lump!” I think that’s a fair interpretation.

But James did not get to his teaching about doing the word just by visiting widows. I think he first looked deeply into the new law as part of his rhythm. Being a doer of the word means looking into the law of liberty. That is a basic “doing” that creates a “doer.”

2) Resisting deception is also doing.

I’ve heard many (and may have preached a few) sermons about people who merely listen to sermons (podcasts, videos, lectures, etc.) and think that is the essence of being a Christian. It is not, even if most Protestant churches have a big fat pulpit in the center of the meeting. Merely-hearers are taking in info to advance their project — they are “getting it right.” They are getting justified, over and over, which feels good as long as they are in the echo chamber. And they are creating an image that looks justified;  they are a principle they can articulately justify (or just loudly defend). They are proving themselves, so when they check the mirror to see if they are still there, they will feel OK and maybe even feel like they deserve to represent Jesus.

James wants us to prove ourselves by doing what our true selves should do, not just get more material to shore up our weak sense of self. We’ve got enough material! But before James got to that conclusion, I think he had to go through the hard process of not deceiving himself. He, like all of us, had a story he lived by before he heard the story of Jesus. It is hard to say it, but we were deceiving ourselves, living a lie, and were desperate to get that lie justified. Facing up to our new face means looking at ourselves in new ways. When you look in the mirror and see “the Beloved of God” and not just “a wrinkly old man” or “a fat woman” or “the one who must not be seen,” or “a lot of work left to do,” we’re getting somewhere.

3) Receiving is also doing  

In this era we tend to manualize everything. A co-worker is mastering A.I. at a ripe old age. They ask A.I. everything and it is amazing what gets produced. It is easy for us (or A.I., I guess) to take James and spit out best practices — reduce him to “Don’t just sit there, do something!” Since the world is warming at an alarming rate, that might be great advice. But he’s deeper than that.

James did not get to his advice about doing the word because he had a good idea or a revelation. He probably would not go to A.I. to find out who he is. He appears to have some personal experience. When he says, “If you persevere and keep acting for good with the freedom you have received from your past ways, you will be blessed,” I think he knew about being blessed that way. I don’t think he was channeling a theory.

If you cannot receive God’s blessing of new life and love in Jesus, you probably won’t keep acting. Receiving new life is the first thing we do. If you only feel “blessed” because you succeed as a Christian in the ways you thought of success in your old narrative, you’ll probably give up the whole Christian enterprise. Maybe you should, since you’re following yourself instead of Jesus.

The reality of being blessed is also an experience of being blessed. I turn to God because I am alive, not just trying to be alive. I am blessed because I live under God’s watchful eye, listening for me like a mother in the night, not just because, “I did the right thing and I ought to get something for it.” I reflect because I am a reflection, not just because I need to improve myself and figure out how to survive this day.

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Yesterday was Columba Day! He is one of my favorites of the apostles of the earliest Celtic church. He is larger-than-life, flawed, artistic, ambitious and leaves a legacy many still admire. Click his name and get to know him at The Transhistorical Body.

Prayer: Stay until God blesses you

I added a couple of major commitments to my schedule. They are not like I just moved to Chicago for a new job; not like welcoming a new baby into the family; not like being enrolled at Philly’s University of the Arts and it shutting down in an instant; not like losing a lawsuit or finally ending up a felon after years of avoiding that outcome. But I am feeling the weight of new commitments. We all get new burdens placed on us, one time or another.

I got elected to my condo board, God help me. Plus I became more integral to my church. And I was feeling full enough before those things happened, since I have a job, like most of you do. I have a dearly loved family nearby. I have trips to take. I have to figure out the City of Philadelphia’s websites periodically and wonder what has happened to my latest lost online shopping delivery —  not to mention Gaza, and it is 126 degrees in New Delhi.

Staying

In the midst of all this, I noticed my prayer felt a little stale, for lack of a better description. It was still bread, but not as nice as fresh-baked. I realized that almost as soon as I sat down to pray, I was tempted to get up. Or some days I had to admit that I did not sit down at all, the schedule was so pressing. So God and I felt a little like “ships passing in the night.” At least the Lord was moving and I was a bit adrift.

One day I had that restless feeling and decided, “I am going to stay here, even if all I do is feel like I need to get up.” I did not feel trapped or irritated. I did not feel sinful. But I did not feel like there was room for intimacy, either. So I stayed.

The image that popped into my mind as I stayed was one of the most famous scenes in the story of Jacob in Genesis. You probably remember it. He is finally going back to the territory of his forefathers, Isaac and Abraham, and he is about to meet his brother Esau, who he cheated out of his birthright as the older brother and who he hasn’t seen for fourteen years.

Contemporary icon by Deacon Nikita Andrejev. https://n-andrejev.squarespace.com/

Jacob’s all-nighter

Here is the part of the story that intrigued me the most. Jacob sent his family and all his possessions across the Jabbok ford and into his homeland, now a threatening place. He stayed on the other side by himself all night and wrestled with God until he was blessed.

I realized I was doing what every God-lover needs to do. I was staying. I was staying like Jacob stayed all night. Fortunately, I was not fearing the 400 men my brother was reportedly leading to meet me. I just had a lot to do, and people throw trash out their car windows where I live. I needed to stay.

The art of having a relationship with God and becoming a non-anxious presence yourself requires staying. I had to sit in the chair where I pray, stay on the bench or kneeler where I pray, go into a bathroom stall in the office where I can be alone and stay until I felt blessed.

It is not that I am not blessed when I am figuring out my condominium problems, or  imagining how a traditional church can make a difference, or caring for my clients. I just don’t know I’m blessed. I have trouble feeling it. And I mean knowing in the “You dislocated my hip with a touch” sense; feeling  in the “I am walking with a limp because of you” sense.

God dislocates me when I am located in my preoccupations, fears, lusts, or ignorance, you name it. He sets me walking in a way that demonstrates I have been with her. I love that reality. But it is hard to stay in it, unless I stay. My spiritual awareness happens in time and in a body and always will. I need to do the physical things that allow spiritual things to overwhelm what overwhelms me.

Michel Keck will sell you this work. Click the pic.

Stay and meet God

As you can tell, the Jacob story has been grounding me. In it, I could hear Jesus asking me to stay with him as he wrestled in prayer in the night in Gethsemane. Such praying comes to good result:

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. — Genesis 32:30-31

The place where Jacob stayed was named Penuel: “God was seen there.” Jacob renamed that place for himself, Peniel: “I saw God here.”

Whatever we are facing today, whatever is built up from the past, we need to stay with God in it until we realize we are blessed. Go to the place you pray and stay there. Otherwise, our prayer could be a place where “God was seen sometime.” But I think each day needs to be marked with “I have seen God here.”

Thank you Jesus. God is with us. Here and now.

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Today is Kizito Day. He is one of the many Ugandan martyrs still remembered for keeping faith when it was new. Get to know this spiritual ancestor at https://www.transhistoricalbody.com/

Today is also Hudson Taylor Day. He is one of the most inventive, dedicated and strange missionaries ever. He made a huge impact in China. I think his story will challenge, puzzle and inspire you. Meet him at https://www.transhistoricalbody.com/

 

 

Pentecost season

You are so kind Lord!
When I wondered who I am,
You said, “Call me Abba”
and the calling made me. Makes me!
I call your name and you call mine.
I name you mine and you name me back.
You are so kind, Lord!

In a day of meaningless words,
who will you send into the streets? Who?
In a day of CGI-fantasy fire,
who will marvel at the tongues? Who?
In an ocean of one-bedroom apartments,
who will join your fire-born community? Who?
In your broken-down church,
wearing its terrible reputation,
where will you show your face to the world? You!

You are so kind Lord!
I shied away from saying, “Let it be me!”
and you still said, “I’ll let it be you.
It has always been you and me.
Always. Before you were born, I knew you.
I loved you and waited for you to grow.
Waited. When you first saw me, I was looking at you.
When you were a twentysomething,
I knew what could happen and laughed.
I laughed at you thinking you were too old
to burn with fire and energize grace.
Old! If you are too old, what am I?”
You are so kind Lord!

In this season of celebration —
wearing red, singing confident songs —
this season of unimagined beginnings,
help me. Help me to be looking for you
as you seek me out again and name me.
Seek me! Lick me with the presence of the future.

Wrangling about law when “nothing is written”

One of my favorite scenes in the masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia, shows what happens after Lawrence returns from his journey across the Nefud desert. He has just accomplished the impossible by taking the Ottoman port of Aqaba from the desert side.  Having returned across the deadly, scorching expanse, he is told one of his companions, Gasim, fell off his camel and was left behind. He is advised any attempt to save him is futile — Gasim’s death is “written.”

Lawrence goes into the desert to find Gasim.  I give you the long version of the scene of his return just to celebrate the cinematography and score. It is worth your four minutes just to watch David Lean humanize the abstraction of sand and sky.

Later on that night, after Lawrence has rehydrated and awakened in time for dinner, Sherrif Ali, in all humility, says, “Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it.”

I think it is safe to say Lawrence was teaching Ali to think, “Everyone decides their own fate. No one’s destiny is predetermined.” And “I’ll be damned if I let that man die.” I hesitate to disagree with Hollywood, but Lawrence is wrong even if he is brave. I don’t think it is “me, or us, against the world.” If nothing is “written” it is not because men rule  the world, but because  the world is alive with the Spirit of its Creator and is growing in grace (or in spite of it). We should be beyond arguing about what is merely written by now. But we wrangle.

Daily Mail captures Johnson at the courthouse

The fight for what is written

Last week the spectacle of Trump in court continued, with Mike Johnson, himself, attending in order to subvert the gag order (possibly in the name of Jesus), with Matt Gaetz tweeting in the ex-president’s honor, “Standing back and standing by, Mr. President.” For those guys “nothing is written until they write it,” for sure, as far as I can see.

For the prosecutors who dare to bring Trump to trial, “It is written, in the law. And no one is above it.” The law is god in a pluralisitc democracy and the prosecutors want it known the assaulters are crashing up against the stone of the legal code.

We’re having a national crisis about the law. But all those Christians involved in this battle should remember that law is just a tutor (disciplinarian, guardian, etc.) to teach us how to exercise our freedom to live in grace. Isn’t that the clear New Testament teaching? Subvert the law or apply it, it can’t kill you or save you, at least not forever.

The temptation to fight for or against what is written is everywhere, it seems.

  • Right now, many people are so afraid, they are reverting to certainty and order. Jesus Collective devolved into a teaching platform instead the catalyst for a movement. They may have fallen off their camel in the desert.
  • My former denomination has vainly tried to quash a book people have written about their experiences of being LGBTQ in their branch of the Church, cast out, and abused by what someone said was “written.” This contrary book was written by people who refused to leave someone in the desert, refused to be confined to principles imposed in the 1600’s.
  • My HOA leaders keep trying to shore up what went wrong with the past management of our old building instead of starting here and now and working together for the future. Like I said last time, someone threatened a lawsuit because of some words thrown their way! There are many lawyers scheming away.
  • My church splendidly presents ancient humans with lovely words each week and performs classic chants with great voices and instruments. They are heirs of someone else’s invention instead of inventing like the heirs we are. I think we may love being ruled by the liturgical rules.

You have your own examples, I’m sure. I think I am effectively tired, again, of everyone who teaches, “It is written.” I’m a Jesus follower, so I am mainly talking about church leaders, pulpiteers and dueling factions splitting up the Methodist Church, etc., who are wrangling over words, litigating righteousness constantly, sometimes like Trump, sometimes like the  prosecutors, but rarely in grace.

Don’t we resist bad teachers intuitively?

That is a wishful question, of course, since we follow tracks that are bad for us all the time. We believe the voices in our head defending us against what we thought might kill us as a child! We all have our own laws we follow. But don’t most of us also have an operable b.s. detector?

If we connect with Jesus at all, the Holy Spirit will be helping us detect what might really kill us.  The main way God does that is to bear witness in our own hearts, souls, minds and strengths that we are God’s adopted children in Jesus.

We tend to settle for much less than that wondrous place in the world. Nevertheless, I think we all know about it at some level. I think I felt the following truth before I read it in the Bible when I was seventeen for the first time, as a relatively aware adult:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption [into the full legal standing as an heir]. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. — Romans 8:14-17 (NRSVUE)

I’ABBA, FATHER! – The Place of Praiseve always resisted the heresy of power-hungry men saying they love the Bible and then undermining the fundamental truth Paul taught. Nothing in the New Testament was written about how we should live  which was not first written by the Spirit witnessing to us, just like God taught Paul. Our organic relationship with our loving-parent-of-a-God is the central example Jesus wants to demonstrate. We’re not an application of principle, nothing is merely “written;” the Spirit is writing. We’re not unforgiveable, merely the sum of what we can make of ourselves, we’re all imminent miracles.

I have to admit, I’ve got that power-hunger in me, too. I also often feel I, alone, must solve the problems I face. We were talking in a meeting of psychotherapists not long ago about clients who struggle so hard with their view of themselves, views that have a repeating narrative, something “written,” making ruts in their brains.   They come up against certain situations and a voice comes from nowhere, it seems. It could insist, “We never cause conflict. It is deadly.” Or worse, “You are unlovable. Don’t bother.” You probably have stories that repeat in you, too.

Yet In the surprisingly psychologically-sound Romans 8 (only surprising to people who think humanity has progressed until they and their pleasant splendor is possible), we are reminded, or promised, what every one who shares Christ’s death and resurrection knows. Nothing is “written,” at least not in stone. Everything is a new creation in Jesus. We’re changing and growing in grace. The Spirit of God is creating us right now and we’re creating right alongside.

Save us from the serious authoritarian, Lord!

Gov. Whitmer of Michigan went to Kalamazoo County last week to survey damage from the tornadoes that destroyed seventeen mobile homes and damaged 173 more. The state had just passed a law to require mobile homes to be anchored in a sturdier way, since storms have become more severe. “It’s undeniable,” the governor said. “We’re seeing intense impacts from climate change….We’ve got to continue to evolve…(We need to) think about how do we protect one another and combat these impacts.”

Meanwhile, in neighboring Wisconsin, their senator, Ron Johnson, recently entered the World Climate Declaration into a Senate committee record. That statement says there is no climate emergency and aspects of climate change are actually beneficial. You can read the rebuttal here from a couple of years ago. Some people trace the disinformation in the declaration to oil companies (like the Koch conglomerate), which would not be surprising.

I don’t want to get into that argument, even though a lot of us are amused by endless wrangling. I just bring it up to ponder what is really happening these days. I’m still wondering if I am up to the demands of 2024. For instance, my church is about ready to enter their annual summer slowdown. It’s a thing. I have my own summer festivities lined up, too. My clients often take much of the summer off from their psychotherapy! Yet I keep getting info, like it or not, that something important is brewing. You can see it underneath Gretchen Whitmer fighting someone for the authority to name the impact of unusual tornados. Maybe we are too sleepy.

Are people really trying to take over the country sans election?

One of my friends sent me a podcast from the Meidas Touch Network, which three brothers started during the pandemic and now has billions of views on YouTube. It was an interview with Steven Hassan, a psychotherapist who has dedicated his career to undermining the many ways people are lured into cults. He, himself, was a member of the Unification Church (the Moonies) for 27 months. He was proselytized when he was getting a poetry degree in college. I would not recommend the podcast to you, just because I don’t trust garage-born internet sensations (although Mr. Beast keeps trying to win my favor). But it did bring up some things I had to look into.

As a result of looking, I would recommend we all have an educated opinion about what is happening in the country! I do not believe democracy will save the world, even if it has done a great job since World War 2. And capitalism is really kind of degenerative. But I do think the authoritarian types who are taking over governments, school boards and condo associations (and maybe your Mother’s Day celebration) are even less likely to save the world, even though they are saying they are going to do just that.

For instance, Trump did say he was going to save America when the eclipse came around:

I don’t think Trump really believes much of anything except Trump. But there are many people who seriously believe in some version of an ascendant, anti-democratic philosophy, which they think Trump can help put into action. They are better organized and funded all the time. You can see their influence in almost every discussion we have these days at almost every level of society.

For example, I just want highlight two authoritarian movements which are publicly and vocally calling people to join their intention to conquer the world for Jesus. Seriously.

Moonies

Steven Hassan was on the podcast because he had firsthand experience of how someone can be lured into an authoritarian organization and become a foot soldier for the cause. He followed Sung Myung Moon, who presented himself as the second coming of Jesus; that’s the unifying “truth” of the Unification Church.

Sean Moon with his “rod of iron”  and bullet crown in Rolling Stone (Click pic for article)

I talked about “Moonies” the other night at a dinner party with twentysomethings and one of them leaned over to an older person to ask, ”What is a Moony?” I honestly had not thought of them much, either, until a few years ago when I found out they had a church/compound not far from my former house in the Poconos. After Father Moon died, his wife and sons had a fallout (sounds a bit like Sunni and Shia and every other power struggle after the founder is gone).

The sons claimed leadership and moved headquarters to Pennsylvania. Sean Moon and his wife founded the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary near Newfoundland. The Pocono Herald heard about it and voiced the neighbors’ concerns. The church recently bought properties in central Texas and eastern Tennessee for retreat, self-sufficient agriculture and firearm training.

Key scriptures for them include Psalm 2:8-9

Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession, You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.

They think this is their mandate to bring the world under their rule. It is all on their website. Part of their statement of belief includes a “constitution” for the unification of humankind under God’s law. Here is the prologue:

Constitution

In the beginning of human history in the Garden of Eden, God’s original world of freedom, liberty, conscience, and relationship with God was to be established. It was to be a world where the powerful archangels were to be the servants of the children of God. However, due to the Fall, Eve committed adultery with the Archangel and tempted Adam into sinning against God. Thus, the world of Satan’s domination over mankind was established. History has shown centralized powers, either governmental, religious or financial, use artificial structures and power to rule over mankind, sometimes taking freedoms gradually and sometimes eliminating them by brute force. God’s Kingdom on Earth must be established where the artificial structures of power, representing Satan, shall never again rule over mankind and humanity.

The Constitution of the United States of Cheon Il Guk is not an ecclesiastical Constitution of a church or religious body, but is a Constitution for an actual, sovereign nation which will be the literal culmination of God’s Providence. Read it at http://www.sanctuary-pa.org/constitution.

These are not the only people working at this. But they are the ones in your back yard, Philadelphia.

Dominionists

The Speaker of the House is often called a “Christian nationalist” (here by another member of Congress). No one wants to be called that, since it would not help the cause. But the title has fit a number of politicians for decades. Ted Cruz is at the top of the list. Cruz’ father was a leader in the “Dominionist” movement that got going in the 1960’s and 70’s with R.J. Rushdoony. Here is a Christian Century article that tells you all about it. If you want to hear about the more radical, Pentecostal version, Salon wrote about it extensively in February.

There are many people who are “apostles” of this new movement, which is determined to take the reins of U.S. (and world) government for Jesus. Paula White was praying for Trump to succeed on January 6. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, is often seen as working towards Texas implementing a new order along the line of Dominionist principles.

Hurches in Israel funding a mobile ICU. Being grafted on to Israel lays the foundation for Christ’s return, he teaches.

Larry Hurch and New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas (between Dallas and Forth Worth, of course) is a well-known pastor who is also leading the charge. In the church’s statement of beliefs they teach:

We believe through the redemptive work of our Lord, our enemy, satan, is a defeated foe. That by the power of the 7 places Jesus shed His blood every sin can be forgiven, every generational curse can be broken and every covenant blessing can be restored.

The “power of the 7” refers to Seven Mountains Dominionism, also known as the Seven Mountains Mandate or 7MM. It has become a more prevalent manifestation of “Kingdom Now” theology since the early 2010’s. The mandate proposes there are seven “mountains” that Christians must control to establish a global Christian theocracy and prepare the world for Jesus’ return: government, education, media, arts and entertainment, religion, family, and business. The mandate is based, among other things, on two Bible passages:

In the last days / the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established / as the highest of the mountains; / it will be exalted above the hills, / and all nations will stream to it. see Isaiah 2:2-3

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come. This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.  — see Revelation 17:1–18

There may be a dominionist constitution out there. I have not seen it yet. But there is no doubt the growing movement wants to “establish God’s kingdom” now. And they don’t mean “in your heart.” A think tank called The American Vision is one of the organizations which would be delighted to provide you with a “restorationist” worldview. Their website can tell you a lot, also this article from the Texas Observer about them.

What does one do?

In the podcast, Steven Hassan repeated the common image, “Cancer cells are selfish. They will kill their host.” The authoritarian movements seem cancerous to me. The host is the wildly successful United States and its very fruitful church. The reformation of Christian theology into a lust for power has always been cancerous, if common. It is a wonder the church survives at all. It may not survive here in the near future if we take the year off.

It is hard to say how many of these movements are springing up. There is a zeitgeist you can probably feel when you are in a meeting and you are not saying anything because you don’t want to confront some potentially violent bully. I think we need to have an opinion about this zietgeist. We need to say something.

I think I had better be more serious about standing up to bullies and out-organizing them when it comes to building community. Just this week a member of our condo association board was called a “predator” by a woman who was threatened by him when they were arguing about an association matter. He threatened to bring a lawsuit if she did not offer a public retraction on the bulletin boards of our complex, doubling down on the bullying. Sound familiar? It is a trickle-down leadership style. I’m not sure of all I can do about it, but I will definitely dare to ask God what might be my next steps.

In all of this, I think we can be at rest without flaking out (do we still say that?). Hope is a state of being, not just an outcome. Peace is trusting in God, not just in what comes after we’ve solved all the problems. Love is the ground of reality, the engine of each day, not just a reward for being good or performing well. We’re not meant to live off the crumbs falling from the owner’s plate or by whatever we can seize for ourselves, we’re already a cookie.

How do we build the new community we need?

During our daytrip last week, I ran into a member from my former, now-dismantled, church. The church was fairly large, so it’s not unusual to connect with someone. But it has become all-too-usual to feel some real loss when I do.

A leaf falling apart

We had a lovely community, not long ago. I needed it then and I need it now. But community is hard to build if you’ve lost it. And it is even harder to rebuild once someone wrecks it. A lot us us have a lot of building to do.

I still don’t understand what life is like post-pandemic, but I know it changed. We’re more distant. And I really do not understand what is happening with U.S. politics, no matter how much I read and think about it. We’re strangely at one another’s throats. We need to get it together, as in face-to-face.

The lack of community can be jarring.

For instance, I decided to post part of Heather Cox Richardson’s column on Facebook last week. The portion I posted was mainly quotes by Donald Trump taken from an interview I found enlightening and disturbing.

My childhood neighbor and elementary school classmate commented:

Man what are you smokin’? If you believe all that clap-trap you need help.

I told my wife about this and she said, “He wrote that to his friend?” I tried to make an excuse for him, but it did not really work.

I replied to him — which I rarely do. I usually just take down self-incriminating things I think people will regret later (or I think they should regret). I said:

The “claptrap” in the excerpt were mainly quotes from Trump. I’ll leave your reply up, since we’re childhood friends (just looked at your class photo from [our elementary school]), but you did not really respond to what I posted.

I did not want to sound too defensive. But I was offended. I had not posted any commentary, just quotes, since I don’t always hear what Trump says and I thought others should just hear what he said. I’ve cast a lot of shade on Trump since 2015, but I wasn’t doing it this time. My friend replied:

Take it down, that’s what liberals always do but I guarantee you the country would be better off with Trump at the helm because the US will die a horrible death if Biden’s re-elected.

You might have examples of this kind of anti-community in your life, too.

How did we get so fragmented?

Researchers have a lot to say about our fragmentation. I’ve said a bit, too. But apart from why it is happening, we have to endure how it is happening.

  • Churches feel distant. Many of them died or were hobbled during the pandemic.
  • A lot of families are split up, even when they are together. 1.2 million people have died, so far, and are still dying from Covid. That means millions of people are still mourning. Six million children have or had long Covid; all the rest are also recovering from shock and from the loss of schooling. Mental health deteriorated so much in the past five years, it finally became a public topic. There are many reasons dissociation is a “thing.”
  • All things public have been suspected of being dangerous or false for 4 years. Many people still won’t go inside a restaurant, get vaccines, or believe a government official.
  • People think virtual groups and ideological corrals are community. They may provide like-minded connections, but they don’t build a society where free interchange and growth happens.

I can see why people who have been pastors, like me, die in the saddle. They want to be deeply embedded in a community. I decided to get out of the saddle, but I sure miss living and serving among people with whom I have built connections.

A person called me last week to see if we could get together and talk about what happened to the church and to me on the way out. They said, “I heard you got thrown out.” That is not completely true, the leadership just changed the agreement that allowed for me to stay a member of the body, but not lead. Instead, they sent me their policy saying I needed to be gone for a year and then they could discuss my return. I was already not employed by them, but I did not cause them a problem by maintaining my ties. They were well on the way to church suicide, anyway. The phone call last week, years later, was another reminder of what has been lost.

We need to build new community

My present little church I’m joining is still talking about getting back to what they were before the pandemic. I don’t think that is going to happen, but I can see why they long for it. I’m still lamenting the community I have lost, too.

But my experiences this week have encouraged me to change. I have four convictions I think the Spirit has inspired for me to follow.

1) Accept the community you have.  When I was praying this morning, I again decided not to be arelational. I may not have the community I lost. But I have the one I have and I should live in it.

2) Build something on the foundation presently given, not on the past. I spent years living in something I loved. You probably felt deeply about the last twenty years, too, one way or another. Regardless, the patterns you made are familiar to you and you would hate to change them. I can relate. It is hard to think of changing and building at my age, but what else do humans do? And if you follow Jesus, there is no time you have followed enough. He’s moving.

3) Don’t give up on the unity of the Spirit. The history of the church is consistent. In all the bad times, good people get together and create new and sometimes radical responses to their lack of community (one of my favorite examples). I know most of the encampments now on college campuses are not built in the name of Jesus. But those people are having experiences of community they will never forget – I’ve danced a bit on the quad myself! New community can spring up.

4) Have an inner life that leads to an outer love. If you are more alone than ever, you are probably closer to God than ever, even if you don’t feel it. If we turn into our aloneness and let it do the work of revelation and integration, it will lead us to self-giving love. And that love is the heartbeat of community.

Guilt: How it starves our true selves

To begin this meditation on guilt, I want to confess one of my guilty pleasures. I was (OK, still am) a John Denver fan. No, I did not think he was cool, and yes, he can still make me cringe at times. But his clear, sharp tenor often often gave melody to the best of the idealistic 1970’s and 80’s. Those were years when I also expessed some of my loftiest ideals (often in song!). Like Denver, I hoped to be accepted but sometimes I was scorned.

A hunger guiltfest

I was looking through old pictures from that era as I prepared them for digitizing and ran across one from an event for the youth group we called “The Planned Famine.” Our intentional community was devoted to living simply and sharing our resources so others could live. Many of us led the youth group so we spread our convictions into the church, as well. For instance, as part of our Famine, we charged the parents and other adults  for a “Third World Dinner,” which did not go over well with some of them who got nothing and “starved.” Even today I would remind them that getting aced out of food isn’t pleasing to the 783 million hungry people in the world right now, either.  (Here are some Mormons doing the same idea we had 25 years later).

Our theme song for the 30-hour, overnite “famine” was John Denver’s “I Want to Live.” He wrote it as a potential theme song for President Carter’s Commission on world Hunger. Here he is singing it.

A lot of the dinner and the overniter was, unfortunately, about our guilt. Not the good guilt of admitting a sin against God and our true selves, but guilt before what we should have been or guilt about what others think and say about us (or might), or guilt  about our lack of laudable courage and deficit of shining character (at least compared to others). When John Denver sang, we felt ashamed of ourselves and the earth for letting people starve. Some of us became hunger warriors. Most of us just became better educated about more things to avoid.

Life under criticism and contempt

There is some room for the shame we felt, but not in the way we often feel it. When  criticism leads to guilt and contempt leads to shame, we often defend against those awful feelings with only the tools psychology offers us. They aren’t bad tools, they just aren’t up to the full task we need to complete.  Paul Tournier says,

Freud reveals to us all that remains infantile and regressive in us, our fear of life and of responsibilities, our longing for a refuge in maternal consolation. We are all children, and we feel guilty at being so lacking in courage, in virility, in adulthood. C.G. Jung widens these notions by talking of integration and by depicting [humanity’s] destiny as the acceptance of all that is within [each of us]. — (Guilt and Grace p. 54)

We cannot blame our lingering unease with ourselves on psychology alone because Christianity has specialized in guilt. It has often been better at crushing people than fulfilling its promise to set them free. Instead of surpassing Freud’s “becoming adult” and Jung’s “integration,” Christians often  criticize one another’s behavior and pour contempt on people who threaten or offend them. Maybe you don’t do that, but the church of the last decade in the U.S. has become even more famous for it.

We pour guilt on ourselves, too, even if other don’t induce it. Instead of glorying in our weakness, as the Apostle Paul insists we should, so God’s power for transformation can break into us and break out, we feel guilty that our weakness makes us powerless. We can’t do what we are meant to do. Our fear of failing at our responsibilities has made us ineffective rulers of ever-diminishing zones of personal control. We have shriveled under the comparison with others, using the whole internet to demonstrate how incapable we are of measuring up. And we may also protect others from having their own struggle with guilt by suggesting they should not be so proud as to think their desires to live are relevant or warranted, just like ours aren’t.

Baby humpback finding her wings off Maui

Leaping from the dark

When we played John Denver’s song during the Planned Famine, we had a slide show to go with it. We needed to turn up the volume of the song enough to overcome the distracting squeal and click of slides moving around their carousel. The faces of child after child came on the screen from around the world, some happy, many starving, some dying. John sang for them,

I want to live I want to grow
I want to see I want to know
I want to share what I can give
I want to be I want to live

And then he changed to the hopeful imagery of animals marine ecologists were just coming to understand.

Have you gazed out on the ocean,
Seen the breaching of a whale?

We put up a beautiful slide of a whale leaping out of the depths. I vividly remember the small, involuntary gasp it aroused in me, “I want to do that.”

I want to do it because Freud is right. We are all children singing, “I want to live.” I want to leap because Jung is right. From the depths of the great ocean of the unconscious self, even the collective unconscious, if you like, our true selves are coming up to the surface for air. If we get out of the way, they might leap into the sky with joy.

It takes some courage to leap, to suck in clear air. It takes some effort to be real, to swim free in the ocean of grace in which we live. If we dive in and leap out, we know our previous methods of self-preservation will need to die. We know we will have to admit we cannot effectively avoid all the things that cause us to condemn ourselves: our lack of genuine relationships with mates and friends, our resistance to admitting our faults, our willingness to avoid responsibility, our lack of forgiveness, lack of solidarity with our struggling acquaintances and loved ones, our unfaithfulness to God and others. We will have to see how we flee, fight, and freeze because fear rules us.

Tournier, again says

To be faithful to oneself would mean to always be like oneself in all circumstances, in the presence of any interlocutor. We remain silent in turn about either our deepest convictions or the doubts which inevitably arise concerning them. We hide our feelings, or else we show them to be more ardent than they really are. To be faithful to oneself would mean to be natural, spontaneous, fearless of the opinions of others. (p. 57)

I think we all feel a calling to be faithful to our truest selves, perhaps from our first cry after leaving the womb. We want to live. I think we can at least imagine how God called us into being and can hear at least a faint voice encouraging us to live, full and free, embodying everything we’ve been given to be and do. I wish for you a moment of joy today when you dare to breach the surface. May your unique, childlike, fully-welcomed desires and fully-honored genius be well-fed and lively.

Is it OK for me to fly to Tahiti?: More climate questions

I love going to faraway places. I have airplane trips lined up for April and May already. But I got to wondering about all that travel when we seriously considered finally flying to Tahiti. Is it OK to fly to Tahiti? I know the law of supply-and-demand says, “It’s not only OK, please do!” But what about people who care about their carbon footprint on a warming planet? Even more, what about Christians who care about creation and the beloved creatures struggling for life on it? Will I protect them and my soul better if I stay out of planes?

I thought you might like to think about our moral dilemma with me, so I got together with God and some people on the internet and pondered the arguments people are having. I suppose you are not surprised that quite a few people are not in complete denial about what humans are doing to the atmosphere.

No. Don’t fly….But

In an ethical discussion there are usually people on one side who know all the facts and the rules derived from them. Many of them will be appalled someone is wantonly ignoring them. For instance, I feel for those poor souls who are still wearing masks (and wish everyone else would) because Covid is still being passed around! “Why are you infecting people?” they think. Maybe they would also be people who think it is obvious no one should be flying to Tahiti if the planet is warming. Airplanes are notorious for burning tons of fossil fuels that increase CO2.

Philosophers and wannabe philosophers are having more nuanced conclusions (like here).

Some people think their choice to fly or not fly differs from their choice to drive or not drive, because that particular plane would be flying anyway and the additional fuel required by your weight is marginal. This is a mistaken view. How many flights are scheduled depends on how many people choose to fly. By not flying, you would be contributing to a reduction in flights that occur.

However. Almost everything we do causes some harm to the environment. Eating meat, taking hot showers, keeping rooms at room temperature, living in a house with a yard, regularly driving to friends’ houses – all of these things cause harm. Even living a very minimal ascetic lifestyle causes some harm. For everything you do, you have to ask whether the benefit to you, plus to others who are also helped, is worth the harm to the environment.

That’s a “No” with a “But.” People who want to say “NO!” to everything that harms the planet usually soften that no with the admission that there is no way one cannot cause harm to others or the planet. As far as making all your choices count, soem say individual choice is too miniscule to really think you are changing the world with it — big change requires a movement of individual choosers. Others say not even a movement can help the climate now because the planet is already warmed, you can only try to help people cope with the impact. Yet others say the law of supply and demand runs the world; old, utopian ideas of forcing the hand with millions of personal choices is irrational and does not work. Of course, these conclusions can be debated and that’s what philosophers are going to do.

Right now, after listening to the qualified “no” side. I think I need to fly modestly. I think modest means I do not have a lifestyle or work that depends on flying (like the Philadelphia Phillies do). What is modest for an American is, of course, immodest compared to many people in the world who have never even thought of flying in an airplane. I will never forget Andres, the Salvadoran refugee I met just over the border in Honduras who had never ridden in a car and could not imagine going to San Salvador, from which I had just come, about 75 miles away.

Yes. You can fly.…But

On the other hand, some people say my individual efforts and my guilt, even my modesty, though noble and necessary, are not what I should be measuring too strictly.  In an ethical discussion there are ofen people who will be frustrated with all the strictures and nitpicking of the other side. I feel for these “Yes” people, too, who are dealing with all us self-centered people who can’t see outside our boxes! Maybe they are like the State Department workers crisscrossing the Middle East to tamp down Israeli and Iranian hotheads and to encourage Saudis and Turks to keep their eyes on the bigger picture.

I tend to be a “yes” person by nature. But I want to pay attention to my carbon footprint — I took the test and I did not fare that well! But I don’t want to put the weight of the world my footprint. The idea behind measuring our individual carbon footprints is to make us aware of our personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (and “No” people would say “And to hold us accountable!”). The idea aims to encourage individuals to adopt a  sustainable lifestyle and make environmentally conscious choices. That’s a good thing. But it remains true that the vast majority of global greenhouse gas emissions are not generated by individuals, but by industries and large-scale commercial activities. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), around 70% of carbon dioxide emissions stem from just 100 companies (!) worldwide. Either they get on board or our individual efforts are silly. Nevertheless, when individuals collectively adopt sustainable practices, it can create a ripple effect, influencing larger entities and prompting policy changes.

The IPCC, itself, has been a very successful big-picture process. It presented at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP28) which closed in December with an agreement that signals the “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era. In Dubai, no less, negotiators from nearly 200 Parties came together with a decision which agrees to transition away from fossil fuels and reduce global emissions by 43% by 2030

The COP28 action is the kind that makes a real difference. So when one of the editors of Sierra wrote about deciding whether to have children in an age of climate chaos and potential mass extinction last year, some of the readers got in her face for thinking individuals are responsible for addressing the climate crisis.

Responding to the article on Twitter, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University complained,

“The ‘don’t have kids because of climate’ argument is bunk, & absolves the choices of companies & policymakers.” Sandra Steingraber, a prominent anti-fracking activist wrote, “Stop policing women’s fertility. The fossil fuel industry along with the banks and political leaders who keep the fossil fuel party going is the cause of the problem.” Another commenter posted, “This argument only serves the big CO2 producing corps. It’s like they threw a white [tablecloth] party, served nothing but sloppy bbq, and then watched [as] the guests blamed EACH OTHER for dry cleaning bills.”

Even  environmental advocates are dismissing the importance of individual responsibility. In The Daily BeastJay Michaelson recently argued,

“Individual behavior change isn’t action—it’s distraction. . . . It shifts the blame from the actual causes of climate change to fake ones, and shifts attention away from meaningful actions to meaningless, psychological ones. . . . The focus on individual behavior makes fighting global warming more controversial while letting the actual entities causing climate change off the hook.”

In June Michael Mann, the climatologist, made a similar argument in USA Today,

“A fixation on voluntary action alone takes the pressure off of the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters accountable. …One recent study suggests that the emphasis on smaller personal actions can actually undermine support for the substantive climate policies needed.”

So I would say all that is a qualified “Yes” for little old me to fly to Tahiti. I agree that the powers-that-be love to keep us individually responsible and keep the huge corporations shrouded in mystery — invisible and inaccessible. Even worse, if we protest or try to organize a union in their VW plant, they call us socialists, as if Jesus were not a common-good and common-goods kind of man.

But I also think scorning the importance of my individual lifestyle changes would be an overcorrection. It’s true that taking personal responsibility for climate change is insufficient to address the crisis, but it is also true that individual action is essential to the climate justice equation. Westerners really like their binary arguments, don’t they?

Right now, I think the best response to the arguments is the usual both/and. Ultimately, a  binary argument pitting personal action versus political action is unhelpful. We need to agitate and organize for systemic change and also encourage individual behavior changes. Or, put another way: If you say fixating on personal behavior distracts from the political changes we need, you should also say dismissing the value of personal behaviors detracts from the political movement for climate justice.

So can I go to Tahiti?

If I go, I will be aware that I am probably cashing in most of my personal carbon footprint chips. Perhaps I will buy some carbon credits (but PBS reported last week that is not working so well, either).  Credits or not, I cannot absolve myself with any certitude. Maybe the guilt monitors would feel better about me if I went to Tahiti and at least felt miserable about it — just like I should feel when I eat beef and drive cars (honestly I already cut out most beef and my new car is a hybrid).

I think the best way to feel OK about my extravagant use of fuel (along with the other 200 people in the plane) is to keep the pressure where it belongs. Governments, corporations, and institutions must implement policies that promote renewable energy, invest in sustainable infrastructure, and regulate emissions from major industries. They implemented the policies that let fossil fuels rule society, they need to reverse them.

If I just focus just on my individual carbon footprint the guilt will likely lead to overwhelm. We end up feeling our efforts are futile when that happens. When we feel guilty, we demobilize. If I overestimate my individual impact on the climate crisis I’ll probably get anxious. Such a view of self can lead to climate anxiety, especially among kids. It might be easier to stay anxious and be immobilized. But I think we need to do the harder thing and bravely stand up to the people willing to sacrifice the future for their immediate profits.

What do you think I should do?

In the world’s dark night of the soul: Do these three old things

In the Woods by Lourdes Bernard. https://www.lourdesbernard.com/

I began my psalm last Sunday like this:

The world is inconsolable,
on constant alert for the next trauma,
perpetually waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I can feel it in my old bones, too.

A lot of us feel dragged down.

Poor Joe Biden has an administration doing amazing things and everyone hates him. The economy is the best in the world and people say it is going to the dogs, poll after poll. If you are a local leader or a church leader, you’ll likely be criticized in much the same way and be looking for the door.

Poor Lourdes Bernard! She’s a Dominican artist from Brooklyn making her way in the art world. She recently became the “visiting scholar as artist in residence” at the Overseas Ministries Study Center at Princeton Theological Seminary. The center recently relocated from Yale, but it was originally in Ventnor, NJ. The enterprise began in the early 20th century as a recovery ministry on the beach for missionaries. Bernard is doing amazing work (I love the piece above). But artists have to cobble together an income in the art-disparaging world. She’s sponsored by an organization with a history chock-full of vision, but which struggles to find a place in a deteriorating spiritual landscape. Why is everything so hard?

It is in the atmosphere

I did not put climate change in my title because I was pretty sure half my usual readers would skip this one if I did. But I really want us to grapple with the fact that everything we do these days, from admin to art, is enacted in front of the backdrop of our quickly-changing environment. The United States is debating abortion without noting that women are  giving birth to someone today who will be 20 years old in 2044. What will it be like for them?

The Administration has ambitious goals for make a habitable planet for them:

  • Reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% below 2005 levels in 2030.
  • Reaching 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.
  • Achieving a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.

When our baby is 26 will the world have reached net-zero emissions in time for them to ponder having a family of their own? According to the United Nations, NO. Despite the enormous benefits of climate action to date and the brilliant people giving their lives to save the world, progress is happening far too slowly for the world to hold temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. The UN finds that climate policies currently in place point to a 2.8 degrees C temperature rise by the end of the century. If our present weather patterns disturb you, wait till you see what is happening then!

The recitation of those stats is a good reason to stop reading this post for many of us. Maybe a lot of people stopped at the word “atmosphere.” My “old bones” feel the resistance, too. For instance, I got excited for a minute and commited to the daily consciousness of MCC’s A Month of Climate Actions for Peace. I downloaded their calendar and tacked it to the board where we keep track of our donations and compassionate action. That was fifteen days ago. I have followed a couple of days of disciplined caring with them. But I admit it was hard the other day to just make the effort to find the email with the link in it so I could do something online.  I almost gave up altogether. What is wrong with me?

In the face of the world’s dark night of the soul…

Seifu Anil Singh-Molares is the Executive Director of Spiritual Directors International. In the December issue of Presence he made this summary of what’s wrong with ALL of us:

These are specially challenging times on our planet, with an unfortunate avalanche of woes besetting us: the accumulated stress of dealing with pandemics of various kinds, growing alienation and despair, geopolitical conflicts, cultural divides, the pernicious effects of embedded discrimination across the board, and spiritual wounds that cut deep and very wide at the moment.

There are a lot of good writers out there making insightful lists. But I think there may be more of us turning up our ear buds than paying attention.

Nevertheless, he has good advice for how do do more than survive and how to not lose hope in an “unprecedented” (word of the decade) time. And I will add some of my own.

…Develop contemplative practice

The other day I was treated to lunch at my favorite place by some enthusiasts from Lancaster County who schooled me on the recent realignments happening in the Mennonite Church. There is an outpouring of spiritual re-creation happening in the world! Too much of it is apocalyptic in the worst sense. But a lot of the newness is like my friends, who are feeding a lot of people with a few loaves and fish.

Amish kids not thinking about 2050

In the face of the turmoil of rapid change in every direction I look, I am determined to follow the spiritual direction I provide others and hang on to my contemplative practices. If you feel a bit unschooled in what that means, you could hit the link “spiritual direction” in the right column and I could help you get started.

Singh-Molares says

contemplation allows us to get some distance from our own tiredness and distress, and to reconnect to the spiritual root of what nurtures us the most. And we must find ways to make even more time available to engage with these, in direct proportion to the increased demands surrounding us.

This is age-old advice for people who care about their own souls and care for the souls of others (as in your children and the struggling families of the soccer team). If we do not tend to ourselves, we can’t tend to others. What we give out must at least match what we absorb. We are consistently absorbing bad news about the planet. It dulls our spirits and forces us into denial, into defensive reactions to an intolerable reality. Psychotherapists are naming is “climate trauma.” Sticking with the presence of God in that trauma is the key to soul survival.

The man who put the phrase “dark night of the soul” into common understanding, St. John of the Cross, encourages newcomers to contemplation like this:

The more clear and evident divine things are, the more dark and hidden they are to the soul naturally. Thus the more clear the light the more does it blind the eyes of the owl, and the stronger the sun’s rays the more it blinds the visual organs; overcoming them, by reason of their weakness, and depriving them of the power of seeing. So the divine light of contemplation, when it beats on the soul, not yet perfectly enlightened, causes spiritual darkness, because it not only surpasses its strength, but because it blinds it and deprives it of its natural perceptions.

We experienced the truth of the sun’s rays last week. Hopefully we also noted the parallel inner experience of how awesome and frightening it feels when our souls are plunged into an unnatural darkness.  The light of life is being eclipsed by the disaster of a warming planet. Our work to changed humanity’s course has to be met with the inner work of staying on our spiritual journey.

…Find companions

This year, a few men and I have enjoyed a new season of companionship in our monthly meetings. We do a lot of listening, which leads to loving, which could lead anywhere. This is not everyone’s experience, I hear. Unfortunately, one of the things that often happens in disaster is people get less-connected, not more. In the United States there is an epidemic of aloneness. But it is not a good time to be alone. We cannot confront the bad news of climate change alone. But the only recourse many alone people have is to go into denial and pretend things are normal — the abnormal climate is just too much to bear.

Singh-Molares adds:

[O]ur spiritual director and companion friends can remind us not just to find the right balance, but how to. Spiritual hygiene in various other forms is also key as we navigate this global dark night of the soul, perhaps through purifying rituals, long walks in the mountains, soothing immersions in water, or in whatever other way may be available to us, regardless of our circumstances. Taking the time to catch our breath, wherever we may find ourselves, comes to mind!

One of my clients said not long ago, “I stink at spiritual disciplines.”  They were concerned with their “spiritual hygiene!” While spiritual disciplines are best developed alone in silence, it is not likely you will keep after them if you are just alone. My favorite hermits usually end up in a community, themselves! Maybe you should find a spiritual director (or start by trying psychotherapy). Maybe you should find the best person in your church to be your friend. I’d just ask them if they want to make a relationship rather than just hanging out and waiting for one to happen. Church meetings are important, but they are too superficial to meet the demands of this era. We all need some real relationships.

…Get a new mindset for a new world
LBStudio__LamentationLourdesBernard.jpg
“Lamentation” by Lourdes Bernard

The normal ups and downs of life become more extreme the more trauma is applied to them. The Bible is rather frank about this, since God is going through death and resurrection as the central visual aid for us. It says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30).

Some of us need to wake up to our need to deal with the death hanging over the world. People in other places generally do this better, since they’ve experienced the nearness of death since they were born. Americans sneer at death as only heirs of an empire dare. But our confidence is shaken these days. We need a new normal to dominate our minds.

I need to stop wondering why things aren’t like when I was 25. If you’re 25, you’ll need to let go of 8. This morning, as it is, is the morning when joy comes. Whatever is good, we’ll hang on to it like we are defiantly staring down the dark night. When it is night we are going to hang on to faith, hope and love, defiantly refusing to be drowned by our troubles. The era of “make it work” is pretty much over.  Something bigger than our capacity and expertise needs to happen.

Singh-Molares adds:

[I]t is good to recall that out of all this individual and collective turmoil we are living through, spiritual flourishing can emerge. Loss and heartbreak are as much features of all our existence as their polar opposites, the thrill of communion and the exhilarating experience of Joy and Love. Both ends of the spectrum dance and commingle with one another. This realization, and the practical steps that emerge from it on our path…can make navigating our current Global Dark Night of the Soul less fraught and more fruitful.

Maybe these words are, basically, Bible 101 and well-known spiritualilty from the self-help aisle. But we have to do it. The old, psychological dike holding back the flood of climate disaster (and some dike actually holding it back) is not strong enough. I have to do new things, like going through the daily practices for April I signed up to do with MCC. I need to continue to talk about climate action even though I fear people will be sick of me bringing it up and spoiling our perfect societal denial (do your kids know how you are working with this?). I need to never just go to church again but actually build the kingdom of God with Jesus. You need to do that thing or change that behavior that came to your mind.

I ended my psalm last Sunday like this:

“Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies
and the God of all consolation,
who consoles us in all our affliction:”
affliction which descends on us like a cloud or an army,
affliction which we invent for ourselves, godlike, out of nothing
affliction which we disavow as if we would never do such a thing.

I was awash in experiences with people who were drowning when I wrote that. God was lifting me up, but I still felt weighed down by the darkness the light revealed.

The troubles of climate are not just another thing on the list. They are a backdrop accentuating all the other troubles. The distractions I invent for myself to keep my private worry world whirring are deadly. The reality I disavow, as if the troubles are caused by “all those other people” and not me, despoils my inner environment, too.

This week I am up. I feel consoled. I am trying not to wait for a shoe to drop. I am enjoying how lives are being transformed. I am rejoicing in the brilliant people all over the world and throughout history doing transformative things. I am sensing God’s presence right now filling this moment with mercy. But I am also remembering to keep talking about the darkness and death stalking us, especialy the least among us. More than ever, the light and dark need to dance.

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Today is Corrie ten Boom Day! Celebrate her at The Transhistorical Body.