Category Archives: Spiritual direction

The U.S. mess: What is prayer going to do?

On the 4th of July we got together with a few people from our church to pray for the country. Independence Day is one of the “Other Major Feasts” in the Episcopal Church.

I was happy to do it. All week my clients, family and friends were stressed out by Biden’s stupor and Trump’s lies at the debate. Then the Supreme Court changed more fundamental principles with their wild logic. Everyone, from all sides of the political spectrum, is upset, thrashing about in a great wave of distress washing over the country. Once people are tossed about and “white with foam,” they are mad because they are jostled and dripping.

So it was good to read this portion of Psalm 33 from the day’s liturgy on Independence Day:

There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army;
a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.
The horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
for all its strength it cannot save.
Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him,
on those who wait upon his love
to pluck their lives from death,
and to feed them in time of famine.
Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield. — Psalm 33:16-20

This is basic wisdom handed down from the Jews and vivified in Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Way the Truth and the Life. Wait for the Lord.

We are so tempted

I have been thinking about Psalm 33 ever since that morning prayer, and about all those beloved people I have seen  who are wondering what happened to their peace and worse, wondering what horrible thing might happen next. Many of them were anxious long before a wave of anxiety hit them. Many of them were mistrusting before before lies descended on them from all angles.

So what should we all do? It would be tempting to rely on some “mighty army” to save us. Violence is in the air we breath, right now.

For instance, here is something Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, offered last Monday:

“That Supreme Court ruling yesterday on immunity is vital, and it’s vital for a lot of reasons…” [He added the nation needs a strong leader because] “the radical left…has taken over our institutions…[W]e are in the process of the second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be.” (July 1)

It would be tempting to take matters into our own hands, since it appears God will not be doing what we want, and to be the arbiter of life and death ourselves.  After all, there are these kinds of candidates:

“The New Republic published a June 30 video of North Carolina lieutenant governor Mark Robinson [start at 53:00], currently the Republican nominee for governor of North Carolina, saying to a church audience about their opponents—whom he identified in a scattershot speech as anything from communists to “wicked people” to those standing against “conservatives”—”Kill them! Some liberal somewhere is gonna say that sounds awful. Too bad!… Some folks need killing! It’s time for somebody to say it.” (from Heather Richardson)

As if the pandemic were not enough to set us on our heads, there has been so much more. U.S. citizens seem awash in fear and it is clouding their judgment. Every radical that promises victory and vengeance seems plausible — even to Jesus followers!

We’ve got to do something, of course. But what is it? Infiltrate the police? Blow things up? Write books and make speeches? Build a bomb shelter? It seems like almost anything seems plausible and everything seems impossible.

In the face of all that, here are my suggestions, hatched after prayer featuring Psalm 33.

 Don’t put your trust in chariots, obey God, not men.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. — Psalm 20:7 (NIV)

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” — Acts 5:29 NASB

In the U.S. people are likely to say, “The other side of the political divide is trusting in guns not God! We are obeying God/the truth/the Constitution!” So maybe we should amplify Psalm 33 to mean, “Don’t trust in the big principle of the moment, in the media’s narrative of reality, in your own prejudices or trauma reactions. Trust in the Lord Jesus, present with you in troubled times, just like he weathered the storm with his disciples.”

It is a year for putting those verses (above) on a post-its and sticking them to our computers or dashboards.

Maybe you could add a few other notes:

  • “Don’t think of 2024 like you are fighting to rule the empire.” Be a Jesus follower.
  • Or “Making the best deal for yourself is not the essence of life.” Jesus already gave you  the best possible deal, anyway.
  • Or Nothing works, so anything might work.” We all feel so guilty for having the wrong political candidates and leaving our children a mess and causing global warming. We’re overwhelmed with our failure to make things work right. Let Go. Let God. And that will free you to be your best self.

Return to the basics

I really wanted to go to that prayer time on the 4th! It felt good and right to pray. It felt necessary to pray in the face of national hysteria or despair.

We are tempted to do everything but what is the secret goodness we bring to the world: Prayer. Community. Worship. But practicing our reality with sincerity makes the world a place where that goodness can and does happen, where our Savior is among us all. If no one sees you or comes to your meeting, don’t worry about it. We are doing a spiritual work, not gaining a market share. Think eternally and act minute by minute.

Assert the truth

I know we are truth challenged, but Jesus isn’t. I know we have variations on what the priority truths are. Don’t worry about it. Jesus fed 5000 with a few loave sand fish, he can use the meager truth he has to work with.

Quite often, during spiritual direction, a person will be up in the air. They don’t know what to think or do. And I often will say, “I think you may know more than you can grasp right now. Let’s be quiet and listen.” It is often surprising just how quickly the right thought or feeling becomes clear.

As for me, I think it has already been revealed that Jesus is my fundamental truth. I mention him a lot and just see what happens. Grace, justice, hope seem to be truths I can follow through every situation. I think my proverb is: Be present with your best, don’t just reactively argue with what is worst. Whatever I have to bring to the world is what it is in who I am and what I do because Jesus is with me.

Embrace unknowing, curiosity, trust, love.

I am meeting with several bewildered couples and experiencing our fractious HOA. So I know people are very tempted to apply whatever power they have to “take someone out.” Like the candidate said, “Some people just need to be killed!” You think that is absurd until you witness people wrecking their marriage or taking down their own community because they are sure some other person is wrong and will ruin them.

Fear feeds the what ifs. Anxiety becomes its own logic. I often suggest to married people, “Really, you do not know what is going to happen. You do not know what can change and grow.” Jesus followers are not fools waiting to get devoured by lions prowling around, of course, but they are also not afraid, because they are already taken care of. They don’t have to know what will happen. They have a destiny. So they can enter toxic times with hope. They can brazenly love their enemies. They can pick out what they can trust and let the chaff blow away.

The seed planting we do always seems small in the face of frightening threats. But each seed has the possibility to grow into the life-changing tree under which some overwhelmed American needs to rest.

Take hold of your anger so you can let it go

I have talked to many Christians about their anger. Many of them could barely tolerate the subject because they were ashamed of their lack at self-control. I’ve concluded they felt that way because they had concentrated on talking themselves out of it. They were looking for their thoughts to align with God’s and then expected such an alignment to fix their anger problem. They really wanted to stop being a time bomb their mate was afraid they were going to set off. They understood their problem. But they just could not get their problem to listen to reason.

Pixar boils it down to this.

You might carry some anger

If the description above resembles you or someone you know, I hope you won’t hold it against them. They may have grown up in a church that was so convinced the Bible was God’s gift to solve all their problems they were obsessed with learning and applying the words correctly. They might have been so into the interpretation of the words they stopped listening with anything but their minds. Chances are they have been angry at themselves for being such a terrible listener and apply-er!

I have often preached, as I am about to, that the people who wrote the Bible were a lot deeper than the Bible. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, plainly says he did not scratch the surface of what Jesus said and did at the end of his profound Gospel. The Apostle Paul apparently spent 14 years  listening and meditating before he was sent on his missionary journeys and wrote his wonderful teaching. They experienced deep transformation that went way beyond words.

Here is one thing Paul learned from God (not merely the Bible) that applies to letting go of your anger.

Not that I have already obtained all this [new life], or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. – Philippians 3:12

He wrote that line because he was taken hold of by Jesus and he was moved to take hold of Jesus. He did not apply a loosely understood set of words to write his letter and he was not teaching his readers to do that. He believed the Holy Spirit would take hold of his readers just like he was, and they would be able to let go of the past and live a new life with new goals just like he was.

If you are so angry your children are afraid of what you will do or say to them; if you can’t get along in your work or it makes you so frustrated you can’t resist venting about it; if you are angry in advance about what you suspect someone will do to you much of the time; if you use intoxicants to “take the edge off” because you are perpetually on the edge of anger; Jesus is reaching right into that place, Spirit-to-spirit, to save you. Take his hand and good things will follow.

When anger comes up, take hold of it

Lots of people want to be saved and have taken all sorts of steps to reap the benefits of faith. But many of them have done it via words and thoughts, not by Spirit and experience. They say to me with frustration, “I have done the right thing. I study the Bible every day. And I am still this way.“ You may have grasped the content, but not the hand of Jesus.

When it comes to anger, when we pray (which is mostly too deep for words), anger will likely come up if we have it, unless we are committed to repressing it. If we let our anger surface, acknowledge it — you could say “grasp it,” then we can let it go.

Some people I’ve heard lately want the Spirit of God to fulfill promises on their behalf and take care of their anger. They say things like, “I did what the Bible says to do. I cast my anger on God because God cares for me. So why was I still furious as soon as I saw my wife?”

There are a lot of answers to that question which go beyond what I am trying to do here.  But one answer would be. “I think you may have really just cast your anger back into the place where you usually keep it, and you expected Jesus to guard the door for you.”

What we need to do is let the anger out when we are with Jesus. We need to see it as best we can. And then we can let it go. The mindfulness people do a nice job at getting to this idea, only without Jesus in the room. Here is a nice meditation one of them suggests. I think Jesus wouldn’t mind sharing that YouTube with you. When I looked for a Christian variation designed for the same purpose, it was mainly a collection of words we were supposed to think about. I’m not even going to show it to you.

When you let the anger up it might be like a hot ball. One person described it as a dark slimy mass. Another envisioned a heart with chains around it struggling to beat. It might feel terrifying to intentionally look at your anger and feel it, to take hold of it like it takes hold of you. But you can do it.

You could get with your therapist or spiritual director and they might help you experience the feeling of anger when it is not just a reaction. You could start by talking about what you’re feeling with anyone who will listen, which might be your spouse if you let them. They might help you remember the earliest times you experienced anger coming at you or coming from you and how you formed the habits you formed for defending against it or using it. You might learn why you protect it, or dominate with it, or love it, or are afraid of losing it.

Sunset at Sea — Renoir, 1879

Then let go of it

I think we have to grasp the self-defeating emotional habits and thoughts we carry before we can let them go. It might be a gentle process like loading our anger on a little boat made of fallen twigs carefully putting it in the stream and watching it float away. Or it might be more aggressive like wrestling with an opponent through the night until something new happens.

We need to apprehend our anger before we can set it loose. The translation of Philippians 3:12 which is most accurate, in my opinion, includes the word “apprehend.” It reads something like, “I want to apprehend what apprehended me.”

The sentence reflects how Jesus apprehended Paul like He was chasing down a terrorist that day Paul was on the way to Damascus to do more crimes against the Lord’s fledgling community of followers. For the rest of Paul’s life he relished being imprisoned by Jesus, stolen from the world of sin and made a slave to righteousness. What a guy! His deeply spiritual and helpful sentence has the feeling of his exhilaration: “You’ve got to grab it!” You probably won’t share his excitement unless you open up to being grabbed in the deep places you organized to defend your heart when you were very young, or when disaster struck.

See if you are angry about being apprehended after reading what I just said. See what parts of you are off limits to being touched by the Spirit or by love. Anger is usually a first line of defense against what we fear or hate. Is there anything don’t you trust Jesus to handle with you, something your anger is trying to handle instead? Ask him yourself, and you will probably be well down the road to letting go of your anger.

I know people who are angry with their spouses about how they are angry with them. But they all love and depend on their spouse! They would like not to be angry at all. They would like to stop having arguments with people in their heads. It makes no sense. When you notice that irrationality, that’s the part of you that needs to be grasped and ultimately let go. Just withdrawing with the feeling back to safety or detonating it for the same reason will not work for good.

When you are contemplating with God and anger comes up, welcome it. It is not just a distraction, it is you. You may not know everything about it: “Why I am like this? Where did this come from? Why don’t I want to deal with it?” But if you listen in the quiet you may grasp a lot more in your soul than you understand with your words. You probably know a lot about your anger you would rather not handle.

Grasp what you can so far, maybe even put your hands around that ball and look at Jesus looking at it with you. Shame, fear, loss, disappointment, all sorts of deeper emotions may start to rise. That’s OK. They may move you to let the ball go and let Jesus heal you.

Maybe you will see that hot ball of anger float away when you let go of it, blown by a spiritual breeze until you can’t see it anymore, like Renoir’s little boat (above) out in his spiritual sea. Then turn back to Jesus to see how he looks and what he wants to do. Let him do it. Lay hold of him.

I hope some kind of embrace comes to your mind when you turn to Jesus — He loves you, angry or not, after all. You’ll get to feel that love more when you’ve taken hold of your anger so you can let it go. You’ll undoubtedly feel more love from others, too, and they will feel more love from you, for sure.

*******

Today is Harriet Beecher Stowe Day! Few, if any, American women have had more influence on the United States than she had. Meet her at The Transhistorical Body.

Disentangling from perfectionism — 2013

Our teaching for Lent in 2013 had to do with “getting disentangled from the world.” Here is one of the first speeches I offered on that theme.

The movie Enchanted (from 2007) had Dr. McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy as an unlikely prince charming from New York to Amy Adams playing a princess from fairy tale land. (This is the same Ms. Adams who was nominated this year for an Oscar for the wretched film The Master. “Wretched” is not peer-reviewed.). In France they named the movie “Once Upon a Time” and made the better-looking Adams the main face.

The movie Enchanted, (or Il Etait Une Fois) is a sweet-ish fable that deconstructs the old sweetness of being a princess in your imagination and gets you to face the new overwhelming reality of postmodern, urban life and messy, noncommittal relationships. It asks the question, “Can I get some enchantment into the megalopolis?” And, as in many Disney movies, the answer is “Yes, there is a Prince Charming or Princess Giselle for you — probably not the one you are looking for, but you will miraculously find them and everything will be perfect, just as it should be in your own private fairy tale.”

This piece of fluff  is a surprisingly philosophical movi for being a little fairy tale. I think you will see that fact as you watch one of my favorite scenes from it. Amy Adams, Princess Giselle, has just arrived in gritty New York from happily-ever-after land. She wants to make her environment tidy, like at home, where everything is as it should be, so she calls on animal friends to help her like she used to do back in her native land. You’ll see the homage to Snow White. It’s a fun way to get started on our subject.

The song is being ironic instead of seriously asking the question, which is how we keep from addressing the real questions that bother us. But it presents the dilemma we feel about our very messy environments and our need for special powers to make it all perfect. Amy teaches us that:

You could do a lot when you’ve got such a happy working tune to hum
While you’re sponging up the soapy scum.
We adore each filthy chore that we determine.
So friends, even though you’re vermin, we’re a happy working throng.

Our dilemma: we are supposed to make things neat, tidy, working things out together, ultimately loving and never getting your white gown dirty, happy and talented, filmable, effortless, quick, efficient and you win best song for your ditty.

But, it is a big mess, and often feels like it is getting bigger, the only friends we have to help us are pigeons and rats, we have a lot of filthy chores and we are in charge of them, and we don’t get paid enough to do them, and the big one: we are vermin — not happy and can’t sing.

The world’s answer to our dilemma

I think the world’s answer, including Disney’s most of the time, which is the #14 corporation on Forbes 500, is to “make it work” as they say on Project Runway. You can do it; it’s up to you, it’s a DIY world and you have the tools. Dream like an American, just get educated, assert your rights, make all the right choices — consumer choices and otherwise, especially in a mate, and it can all be made well.

The moral to Enchanted, if I recall, is that if you just stick with it, you can make it all work in reality and not just in the movies. If you just believe in the real you instead of the make-believe you, love will find a way and it will be beautiful.

I suppose there are worse things that could be said, but I think the whole premise ends up making us very tangled up, not only tangled up in our responsibility to make everything tidied up, but tangled up in the need to do it with the right attitude, and right psychology, not tripped up with any of the mess from the past, and being pretty much prescient about how we might be messing up the future, AND with the just right person, or church, for that matter.

The alternative way of Jesus

Jesus has a better way. In a huge contrast, in the face of his impending disaster, not just a dirty apartment, when Jesus knows the true frailty of his disciples is going to be fully revealed and evil is going show itself without disguise, when all the facades of the self-sufficient world are going to be shown up for their true self-destructive purpose, he says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33

In Disney’s hands, the way is: “Let’s be honest, you are vermin, but you’ve got to make this work or there is no hope.”

In Jesus’ hands, the way is: “There is hope because I have overcome the world. Take heart, because it is not all up to you. Perfection is not the goal, anyway. The goal is a heart at peace in the kingdom of God.”

This might seem like it is an obvious thing a Christian might say. But I am not sure we even hear Jesus talking to us in the middle of our normal pursuits. We even get hung up on whether we are performing Christianity perfectly enough! Christians argue all the time about how badly the other Christians are doing. We do that, even though Paul clearly wants us to imitate him when he says,

“Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? — 1 Corinthians 4:7-8

There were some overachievers in the Corinthian church who not only thought they could make it work, they thought they were making it work — and better than Paul! Paul says, “Who in the world do you think you are, all puffed up and competing for the highest rank, thinking you need to be number one and, in fact, are number one? You think you are kings in the kingdom of God, while we apostles are still having trouble in the world and rely on Jesus every minute to give us joy in our very difficult circumstances. I’m talking about Jesus who gives us whatever life we have.”

Why don’t you talk back to the Disney faction in Corinth with Paul by reading the rest of this scripture as if you were saying it to someone yourself:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!  For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! — 1 Corinthians 4:8-10

You would think we would all be on Paul’s side, but even the first believers were already taking things into their own hands and doing Paul better than Paul and telling him so! — becoming perfect, thinking that was what Jesus had in mind all along, and getting there without Jesus!

Perfectionism has always been tempting

This perfectionism is very tempting for us, which is why we are bringing it up during Lent.

Last week I experienced us in the middle of the dilemma in two ways. And I’ll close by talking about them. I feel bad, if all I am getting you to do so far is wondering if you understand what Paul is talking about well enough, or whether you trust Jesus well enough, or whether you are good enough to be in the church, or whether you can take on one more big idea because you already have so much on your plate to handle, or whether you can be responsible for following Jesus and get spread so thin, you are already so responsible. But if I am getting you to wonder these things, you are not alone. In the world we have trouble. But Jesus has overcome it and brings us peace. I’m shooting for helping you receive that.

Fall 2012
  • Internal perfection police

We were at the prospective cell leader training last Monday and great people were learning all about the ambitious mission we have been given as part of God’s redemption project. At the end of the evening people were invited to express some of the fears they had as they imagined themselves eventually being cell leaders. I think some of their answers reflected the perfectionism we are all saddled with: the need to do it right, to be unjudgable, to not mess up.  I don’t think anyone was unaware that this wasn’t where they wanted to be, they were just being honest.

Someone said, “If I become a cell leader, I want to do it 100%.”
Whatever that means. I think it usually means “the extra effort I am not able to give.” It does not always mean, “Doing the best I can” or “Acting with passion and abandon.” It often means matching up to the best effort I can imagine myself doing with the best outcome.

I am afraid I will alienate someone if I say “Christian.”
And you will. We started out our day at Childs Elementary yesterday with worship and two ladies from the neighborhood walked out and waited until we were done. I felt like I had offended them. As it turns out, I hadn’t, they were just kind of dismissive and sort of rude and self-consumed. But I felt I was supposed to be better than that, better than Jesus, and not be alienating. That perfectionism might lead us to only mention being a Christian in the most controlled of circumstances, when I could be sure I was doing the right thing. Whenever that is.

I am afraid I won’t have the right words.
Cell leaders are know-it-alls, after all.

I am afraid of looking flaky or uncommitted.
I am anxious about making it happen, because I have to make things happen right.

I am afraid to represent Jesus or the church.
I am not wise enough. I don’t match up to what’s in the book. I am not good enough. So I have to wait until I am perfect before I put myself out there and am judged by the perfection police.

And just who are these perfection police? Paul doesn’t even judge himself. And Jesus who will judge the living and dead at the end of time, says  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

  • Perfectionism is beaming at us

I just talked about an internal process that keeps us tangled up in trying to be perfect, but there are a huge external forces, too! One of our pastors sent out a very interesting article that adds sociological reasoning for why we are so perfectionistic. The powers-that-be totally convince us to disbelieve the trouble we are in for their vision of a perfectible future.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin shows off Google Glass

As far as the Forbes 500 know, everything is getting better. The iPhone 6 will dispense with the annoying home button and feature a 4.8-inch screen and quad-core processor. Google is developing Google Glass, which will allow users to text, take pictures and videos, perform Google searches, by talking in a normal voice to a smart lens. The Dow Jones average just reached an all-time high last week, corporate profits are enjoying “a golden age.” Day by day, problem by problem, American life is being fine-tuned to the point where experts now confidently predict a state of near-complete perfection. We are a happy working throng.

But in other news, America’s economic and social decline continues. The percentage of corporate profits going to employees is at its lowest level since 1966. Unemployment remains stuck around eight per cent, and the long-term jobless make up almost forty per cent of the total.  The concentration of wealth at the top grows ever more pronounced all over the world. From 2009 to 2011—the years of the financial crisis and the recovery—the income of the top one per cent rose 11.2 per cent. The income of the bottom ninety-nine per cent actually shrank 0.4 per cent. Eighty per cent of Americans believe their children will be worse off than they are. We are vermin.

The author of the article said this: When things don’t work in the realm of stuff, people turn to the realm of bits. If the physical world becomes presents a dilemma, we can take refuge in the virtual world, where we can solve problems like – how do I make a video of my skydiving adventure while keeping my hands free? Problems most people in the world don’t even know exist! Futurist Ayesha Khanna, from her think tank in London, which funds research into human-technology co-evolution and its implications, described smart contact lenses that could make homeless people disappear from view, “enhancing our basic sense” and, undoubtedly, making our lives so much more enjoyable. In a way, this does solve the problem of homelessness—unless, of course, you happen to be a homeless person.

We need to stay disentangled from all the forces that would lead us to believe human ingenuity will lead to perfection and evolution is inevitably making progress. Human ingenuity — great. Evolution — whatever. The reality of what is going on in our troubling world was striking us in the face at Childs Elementary yesterday. We made ourselves look again at how the powers keep asking people (like teachers) to make bricks without straw. We can’t make things work well enough. Even though we are smart and caring, we are not changing things fast enough to get where we think we ought to go and it makes us angry, depressed, frustrated and self-hating. Part of our anguish is caused by what is bearing down on us from the weird world that technology is creating. But most of our guilt is just that same old sin that leads us to believe that all we have us what we are and we are who we are without God giving us life.

“Take heart,” Jesus says “I have overcome the world.” When you become silent or you move into your worship connection in a few minutes, when you pray as you pray next week, take heart. Let’s receive the gift that Jesus is giving by overcoming the world and reopening the door to true, everlasting life.

God loves the world and we love it with him. But we can’t receive peace from the dying world or our false selves. We take heart, Jesus has overcome and we will too.

When we feel like we have to get it all right, we let that perfectionism lie pass right by and receive our goodness and strength from the Giver of Life.

When we think we have to do it by ourselves in the face of all the huge forces or even judge our community by how good we are, we need to recognize the seeds of a graceless future and let that impulse, that temptation, pass by and be restored and be restoring in relationship to the Lord of all. Jesus is disentangling us from the temptation to be perfect. He’s good right now, right where you’re at.

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/

 

 

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.

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.

**************************

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

Interspirituality: Finding trust in the swirl of newness

The longer we talked about Maudy Thursday, the more it seemed our pastor was thinking, “I’ve got to get this discussion over with.” There was a divide happening between old-old-school members, merely old-school members, the outreaching pastor, and the new people now in the dialogue. I’m one of the new people. Afterwards, a new church friend told me someone had asked her, “So who is the Evangelical?” – meaning me! She thought I would be amused, since she knows I’ve been an Anabaptist dipped in Pentecostalism and only an acquaintance of Evangelicals. She was right, I was amused. I’m not sure I would know what to label me right now, either. I hope I will be trusted in spite of that.

The swirl

It wasn’t too surprising someone was trying to sort things out. Nobody fits the old labels too well anymore, it seems. It is not just Christians, but the Christians are in a swirl — and it is unclear what we’ll look like when we slow down. The internet and now A.I. keep stirring the spiritual pot, so maybe confusion will characterize the future for a while. It characterizes most of the people we meet – even in small discussion groups talking about Maundy Thursday! There are likely to be several ill-defined points of view in almost every person who speaks, when it comes to their spiritual awareness. In the past, religious people were mostly set up for the many becoming one. But these days we are more likely to experience the one becoming many. It can be unnerving.

With a click of the mouse, you can find anything you want about religion and spirituality, positive or negative. The offerings are not just many, they are multitudinous!

The podcast has become the equivalent of Luther nailing talking points on the Wittenberg church door, only Apple now owns the door and the points are products. If the swirl has not propelled you toward podcasts yet, you might try “Unbelievable?” where Christians and atheists engage in serious debate, or “Winter Faith” for those struggling with belief in a faithless world, or “Hermitix” where smart people tell us how they or famous philosophers approach spirituality. The list of podcasts is endless and can be a source of lifelong theological, scriptural, spiritual, and religious learning – but it can also be a source of  “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:1-7).

Interspirituality

Everything is changing. The more people talk about it, the more evident it becomes that the church is going through a reformation whether it wants to or not. Some people see themselves on the spiritual cutting edge in this new era. They go even farther than labels like interfaith, interreligious, post-Christian, or spiritual-but-not-religious and label themselves “interspiritual.”

In the most recent Presence magazine from Spiritual Directors International (SDI), Bruce Tallman writes about the changes spiritual directors are facing. He brings up that word I heard in my training a few years back to which I paid little attention. But within the swirl of multiplicity looking for some way to cohere, “interspirituality” may have a somewhat prophetic meaning. He writes:

Sister Margo Ritchie, a well-respected nun and national coordinator of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, recently said at a book launch in London, Ontario that, and I’ll paraphrase, “we are not only going through an era of change, we are going through a change of eras.”

In fact, David Robert Ord and Kurt Johnson have suggested in their book The Coming Interspiritual Age that we are entering a “Second Axial Age” following the first around 500 B.C. when syntheses of Greek philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, and Judaism all simultaneously emerged.

The coming “Interspiritual Age” means that religion and spirituality are going to become ever more ecumenical and interreligious. Indeed, this has already happened to some degree – all the religious denominations and world religions have impacted and learned from each other. Catholics and Protestants have already enriched each other immensely; since the 1960s Westerners have become much more familiar with Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Taoist ideas; and more recently, many are far more aware of Indigenous spirituality than ever before.

 As a conservative reaction to all this, there may be a continued growth of “old time religion”, as is currently happening in Judaism with strictly Orthodox practices, in India with Prime Minister Modi’s attempt to restore the primacy and prominence of Hinduism in India, in Russia with the Orthodox Church, and in the United States with the ongoing growth of Protestant fundamentalism and some Catholic bishops trying to take Catholicism back to the 1950s and the pre-Vatican II church.

An ”interspiritual age” might strike you as more Joachimite imagination. But it also might strike you as common sense, since you hear the outlook popping up in conversation at church.

Do you want to adopt interspirituality?

In an interesting review of The Coming Interspiritual Age, Dr. David Brockman, who is deeply involved in interfaith dialogue,  helps us sort out their assertions. He’s mainly concerned with how they dismiss the many for the one and denigrate the traditional in the light of their new enlightenment. Here he goes:

Religion, they argue, is imbued with a “mythic-magic” mindset; a paradigm from humanity’s archaic past involving spiritual beings, rules, and “systems of reward and punishment.” In their view, religion’s main role is control, specializing in easy-to-remember notions that are “perfect for the control of partially matured apes like humankind.” Religion, they contend, is concerned about differences, and about which teachings are right and which are wrong. Worst of all, while spirituality is apparently tolerant and inclusive, religion asserts absolute truth and is “exclusive by its nature.”… [I try to rescue the word “religion” here.]

Interestingly, despite their criticism of absolute truth claims, exclusivism, and right-wrong thinking, the authors engage in these very practices themselves, in asserting the superiority of interspirituality over interfaith dialogue (which they call “trans-tradition spirituality”). In interfaith dialogue, they write, “there remains an overriding concern with the differences.” “[T]his religious experience is shallow enough that there’s still mental concern about who’s ultimately ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ When plumbed, this concern is almost always linked to deeply hidden fear about ultimate rewards and punishments.” It would be interesting to learn how the authors can know this (they do not cite a source), and who is doing the “plumbing.”

Their book came out at the beginning of a decade (2012) that ended with many “more advanced” and “golden age” philosophies being applied in a heavy-handed way.

What makes interfaith dialogue inferior to interspirituality, the authors claim, is that interspirituality understands “that there is a common ‘knowing’ at the core of all religious experience… This happens only in a mystical or contemplative understanding.” Here the authors reveal their own exclusivism (perhaps their own magic-mythic mindset?): “interspirituality recognizes a common experience within all spirituality… For interspirituality, this common experience is the ‘absolute truth’.” Interspirituality, it seems, is the one “right” experience.

But is Oneness the way forward? For me, much of Christianity’s power lies in its teaching of the divine Trinity: that the Ultimate Reality is both one and three. Equally paradoxical — and powerful — is the affirmation that the one Christ is both divine and human, without confusion and without division. Neither assertion “makes sense,” in traditional Aristotelian “x cannot equal not-x” thinking. But that’s the beauty. There is a koan-like power in these teachings: the affirmation of Oneness and Manyness simultaneously….

While those of us in interreligious dialogue learn that we have much in common (our Oneness), dialogue also reminds us of our differences, our diversity (our Manyness). Each religion brings different questions, different experiences, different perspectives to the table — and it is in grappling with those differences that we grow, and that our view of the Ultimate Reality — whatever it is — is enriched, deepened. Interspirituality seeks to tune into the signal (Oneness) by filtering out the noise (Manyness). But what if the “noise” is also the signal?

The authors might reply to Brockman’s critique by saying, “When you say things like ‘The noise is also the signal,’ you are making our point that it is all one, both noise and signal.”

Sometimes I think these arguments resemble niche marketing so someone can find your podcast on iTunes. Regardless, it surely represents the swirl and demonstrates how people will be called to commit to a dizzying array of spiritual options. I prefer “the affirmation of Oneness and Manyness.”  But I trained with respectable people who were committed to being interspiritual directors, listening for that oneness regardless of who their directee is.

Marithé Et François Girbaud

Holy Week requires trust

The way into and through this interesting new era we are entering will take some new thinking and new relationships. I for one have been looking forward to the end of the old era for a long time. It has been slowly dying for a long time. But the death of the old will require finding what to trust in what is new. Even more, it will resurrect our trust in Who is ever-new.

In our simple discussion of how to present Maundy Thursday again — that observance where the Trinity comes together around a table with us and the oneness is handed to our manyness in a cup, we were a good example of how challenging it will be to feel comfortable in our own skins and buildings in the near future. It will take a lot of trust.

The need to trust those in front of us became very clear when one of the members of our table group tried to add our particular contributions to the whole discussion. She started off speaking a bit too-softly to be heard across the room, so someone shouted, “We can’t hear you.” So she gathered herself and gave a short recap in a much louder voice with an almost completely different tone.

I could not help adding when she was done, “I think what just happened is a good example of what we are trying to bring together in this observance. The intimacy of the small group in which we could quickly share a sense of oneness, is different than how we act when we speak to the whole.” On Maundy Thursday Jesus speaks softly and lovingly to his intimates. We want that. But His message now moves around the whole world. We are part of that reality, too. In our discussion we had, and in our future observance we will have: softer and louder, gentler and harder, present and past, crystal clear and in a swirl, just like Jesus and his disciples, just like churches all over the world, and just like our little crew — all in the same meeting, remembering the same event.

Beyond our discussion of labels, we’ll need to trust the Spirit in each of us and the God beyond all of us to trust the experience of receiving the cup and entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus in us, in the world.

 

What should we do about 2024? : Not enough suggestions

I guess this is what married Christians do in 2024. My wife came to me after her prayers and wanted to talk. “What should we be doing about this year?” she asked. A sobering question.

We’ve often wondered what we would have done if the Nazis rolled train-fulls of Jews and other targeted people through our town. Would we lay across the tracks? Is this the year we will find out?

US President Joe Biden delivers his third State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 07 March 2024. SHAWN THEW/Pool via REUTERS

At the State of the Union address last Thursday a feisty Joe Biden tried to rally the dispirited and exhausted electorate with a long list of accomplishments and plans. He sounded upbeat and defiant and his congressional boosters were enthusiastic. But his ambitious speech was a picture painted on a backdrop of half of Congress sitting on their hands — looking a lot like the Speaker in the photo, above.

Biden jumped right into his call to action and returned to it at the end:

My message to President Putin, who I have known for a long time, is simple: We will not walk away. We will not bow down. I will not bow down.

In a literal sense, history is watching. History is watching. Just like history watched three years ago on Jan. 6, when insurrectionists stormed this very Capitol and placed a dagger to the throat of American democracy.

Many of you were here on that darkest of days. We all saw with our own eyes. The insurrectionists were not patriots. They had come to stop the peaceful transfer of power, to overturn the will of the people.

Jan. 6 lies about the 2020 election, and the plots to steal the election, posed a great, gravest threat to U.S. democracy since the Civil War. [Skipping to the end]

My fellow Americans, the issue facing our nation isn’t how old we are, it’s how old are our ideas.

Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are the oldest of ideas. But you can’t lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back.

To lead America, the land of possibilities, you need a vision for the future and what can and should be done. Tonight you’ve heard mine.

State of the Union 2024 highlights: Biden talks Trump, democracy and abortion in energetic speechIt was the best speech I ever heard him make. But I think he gave an even better message as the cameras followed him around the chamber when he was done. He graciously and cheerfully attended to a roomfull of egotists and looked like a regular guy doing it. He looked like a caring adult. He has a daunting task: negotiating with a Netanyahu, speaking to a Representative in a Trump T-shirt (left), spotting George Santos in a crystal-encrusted collar and seeing poor Senator Lankford who thought he had a compromise border bill before Trump pulled the plug to deny Biden a “win.” But there he was connecting and, dare I say, sincerely caring.

Politics will not save us. We know that very well — Christians always have always known that. As a result, Jesus followers have endured every imaginable hostile environment throughout history in almost every culture. Jesus is alive and well in China right now. Putin and Orban will not co-opt all the true believers in their countries. Christians have survived in Palestine since Jesus rose from the dead.

But what should Jesus-loving, compassionate, justice-seeking people do in this very political year — a year when the stakes seem so high? I don’t think we should just wait for the trains to leave the city limits and hope the consequences aren’t too bad. Especially in the U.S., where Christianity has a history of saving capitalists and power-hungry extremists from their worst impact for generations, we really ought to be salt and light; we really should have better solutions than to join a political party or just drop out. Lives and livelihoods are at stake! Planetary war and warming are both constant threats! Children are malnourished, going uneducated, and dying. Wouldn’t Jesus be on the side of the least of these?

Here is what we are up against.

Since 2021 Republicans have blocked the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. Last September, House Democrats reintroduced it. On March 1 it was introduced to the Senate.

Speaking in Selma on the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on March 1, Kamala Harris shared that the first thing she sees when she enters her office. It is a

“large framed photograph taken on Bloody Sunday depicting an injured Amelia Boynton receiving care at the foot of [the Edmund Pettus] bridge…[F]or me, “it is a daily reminder of the struggle, of the sacrifice, and of how much we owe to those who gave so much before us….History is a relay race. Generations before us carried the baton. And now, they have passed it to us.”

Meanwhile in Mar-a-Lago after his near-clinching of the Republican nomination last Tuesday, Donald Trump had much different picture of the baton he would like the voters to hand him. He said,

[The United States] is a magnificent place, a magnificent country, and it’s sad to see how far it’s come and gone … When you look at the depths where it’s gone, we can’t let that happen. We’re going to straighten it out. We’re going to close our borders. We’re going to drill baby drill.

Our cities are being overrun with migrant crime, and that’s Biden migrant crime. But it’s a new category and it’s violent, where they’ll stand in the middle of the street and have fistfights with police officers. And if they did that in their countries from where they came, they’d be killed instantly. They wouldn’t do that. So the world is laughing at us. The world is taking advantage of us.

[The “weaponization” of government against a political opponent] happens in third world countries. And in some ways, we’re a third world country. We live in a third world country with no borders …We need a fair and free press. The press has not been fair nor has it been free … The press used to police our country. Now nobody has confidence in them….

2024 is our final battle. We will demolish the deep state, we will expel the warmongers from our government—we will drive out the globalists, we will cast out the Marxists, the communists and fascists. We will rout the fake news media, we will drain the swamp. We will be a liberated country again.

Congress's Only Palestinian-American Lawmaker Hold Up Signs During Biden's Remarks on Gaza
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, and Rep. Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri. (andrew caballero-reynolds/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

It is quite a year

What must we do with the rest of 2024, in the face of the huge feelings of political despair, endless antagonism, a faltering Ukraine and a devastated Gaza (and who knows what is happening with Iran?), SEPTA trying to figure out how to keep transit safe enough to ride, information mistrust, courts that don’t work right, people locked in isolation?

  • So far, a lot of us are dropping out of the political process and leaving it to the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene. We’re avoiding any associations like neighborhood and church, so they are all run by zealot factions or the C Team. Qualified people are deserting local government just when it is crucial for our well-being.
  • So far, a lot of us are numbing it all with drugs, with overspending on distracting experiences, or with endless screen time.
  • So far, at lot of us are building a wall around our families or pods like we learned to do in the pandemic if we were lucky enough to have a circle of relationships. If you’re alone, you might be barricaded in your studio apartment.

I know or know of people who are doing all these things. But mostly, I think we are wandering in the dark bumping into walls where there used to be no walls.

I can basically make it around my house in the dark — I wake up early a lot so I get a lot of practice. But if you put a footstool in my way or leave your shoes out, I might end up in the hospital. Many of us have run into so many walls and tripped over so many footstools, we feel we are perpetually recovering from injuries!

What should we do?

So we were talking about all this again the other day. I think the first thing to do is what we were doing: ask the question and talk about it. There are not going to be good solutions without dialogue. Serious conversation is the seedbed of inspiration. Apparently, most of our leaders are not going to make dialogue happen. We’ll have to start somewhere without them and build from there. Here is what I am thinking so far:

  1. Get ready to lay on the tracks. The Nazis had train technology. Now there is the internet and AI all run by giant corporations which are slaves to profit. Don’t forget Exxon made $36 BILLION in profits in 2023. Elon Musk is worth ~$200 BILLION and he claims Putin is richer. That is just to say that the powers-that-be have a lot of “trains.” Tell the truth about them as personally as possible. Use all the means to make noise, show up, don’t get rolled over. But touch real people. Create places where people can gather — at least have a dinner party. We have to stick together. We can’t outsource our responsibility to care. If worse comes to worst we may have to take some risks to overcome evil with good.
  2. Take care of your body and soul.“Depleted” and “exhausted” are terms people often use to describe themselves when I see them these days. But we often discover resources they have been undervaluing. We can rise again. There are so many things we can do to address the mental and spiritual health crises (amazing stats). During and after the pandemic, while churches were dying (mine included) I trained to be a certified spiritual director. One of the things I did was start a direction group for men. Soul care is more than “namaste” or taking deep breaths when you are nervous (both of which are a daily thing for me). Deep problems call us to go deeper and get healthier. We need to seek our truest selves and God’s guidance to find a way through 2024. A serious year needs serious people.
  3. Build community. Last Lent we joined a new church. It has made a big difference, even if Church, in general, is still pitiful. If you can’t stand churches, you could at least begin with Meetup. Or you could take an extra step with the superficial relationships you have. But I hope you won’t give up on the church. Just because the media broadcasts all the corruption church people perpetrate all over the world does not mean every church is corrupt or God is dead – you’re probably not corrupt and you aren’t dead yet either. Are we really going to give over the church to psychopathic and narcissistic leaders? I recently learned of Apollo Quiboloy of the KOJC in the Philippines, who is a prime example of why you might be tempted to give up faith altogether, as well as the church. But it will cost the world dearly if it loses the salt and light of Christian alternativity.
  4. Join up with action organizers. Being part of church counts. Your business or non-profit might count. There are lots of other people doing great things to build a new society and care for people facing great changes. I support the IRC and MCC. I’m allied with Third Act, Habitat for Humanity, Poor People’s Campaign, Philly Thrive and others. Keep taking yourself seriously.
  5. Do something symbolic. Act like you mean something. We’re taking our own trip to the Edmund Pettis Bridge after the Christian Association of Psychological Studies Conference in Atlanta this month. First we will go to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. Our feet need to go directions our hearts want to go for our souls to be strong and our minds to be convinced we matter. Stubbornly insist that who you are and the gifts you give are valuable. They make a difference to God and they save the world. Show yourself and leave the results to God.
  6. Dare to admit it is not enough. You and I don’t have enough, let’s admit it. There is a streak of bad theology which teaches we are never enough, that we are bad and perpetually in need of doing better — we are wrong but we better get it right!! It has worn us out. I know I am tired of hearing about it. The Evangelicals have made it seem like salvation depends on our personal choices; the weight of our failures and the imminent collapse of the world as we know it is on our shoulders! Not so! Jesus is Lord.

But we can sense something more is required right now and most of us have no Idea just what it is. Even though I have laid out some good ideas, they seem kind of old to me. Some ideas are always good, but I’ve got a feeling this year might require a new version of them or something we’ve never even imagined. Even more likely, what is needed will require a new version of me. This post is a small symbol of me talking about it and getting serious. I don’t think we dare watch this year on TV.

Voting for someone who makes more sense than the other someone may be something. But it is not enough. Not voting or protesting against the powers is something. But it is not enough. I have given some suggestions on where to begin, but I don’t think they are enough. But I do think there will be moments this year when a path is laid out and good things need to happen, and you and I will be there.