Category Archives: Spiritual direction

Should I pay taxes? Yes. No. Maybe.

In 2007 our church was growing fast and many of our new members were relatively unacquainted with Jesus and His ways. Here is one of the “frequently asking questions” on which we spent the summer. 

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We have just a few more weeks to answer frequently asked questions. Thanks to everyone who has been submitting them. We’ve had such a good time, we decided to sprinkle some time all year to answer questions that are submitted. So keep your thoughts coming. Tonight it is “Should I Pay Taxes?’ As you will see, the answer is clearly, No, Yes, Maybe.

No, Yes, Maybe

Marian Franz (1930-2006)

In November of 2006 Marian Franz died. She had been the director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund for 24 years. I met her and her husband a few times on trips to Washington DC to visit our lobbyists. Her conviction was that hard-won provisions for conscientious objection to war in our laws, should be extended to people who not only don’t want to fight wars, but don’t want to pay for them. She convinced quite a few lawmakers that the Peace Tax Fund should be set up so individuals could redirect the taxes they would normally pay for military expenditures to a designated fund which would only be used for non-military purposes.

In a tribute after her death, Daryl Byler, former director of the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office, described Marian Franz as “a pastor-prophet to the U.S. Congress, combining gifts of compassionate listening with passionate advocacy. Her vision and energy were contagious, and her life’s work was a powerful illustration of Paul’s words to the church at Galatia: ‘So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.’ ”

Ms. Franz believed that war taxes have enormous consequences. She said “They kill twice. First, they directly enable war . . . particularly paying for weapons. Second, taxes allocated for war represent a distortion of priorities. Money is taken away from the important work of healing and is spent to destroy and kill.”

So should one pay taxes? I think Marian gave a Jesus kind of answer.

  • Specifically, no, if the ways the taxes are used violate God’s will or violates your conscience before God. No!
  • But generally, yes, since government has a place and needs money, since you’re a citizen, and since it is rare that anyone needs to be a lawbreaker for some noble purpose. So let’s change the laws! Specifically, No. Generally yes.
  • And Usually, maybe —  I think she’d say, “I reserve the right to decide what I need to do. I’m not going to give up until things work the way they ought to work. So I can’t give you a yes or no until everything gets sorted out.”

That maybe is the hard place of faith. People prefer yes or no. You always hear the lawyers forcing people on Law and Order, “Just give me a yes or no.” People love to have the good news from the Prince of Peace turned into a Jesus-book of rules and regulations that can apply to every situation so we don’t have to think, or love, or learn anymore. I can tell you that such a book does not rightfully exist and Jesus won’t be calling us to stop growing and learning and thinking and loving.

Discerning with Jesus

Jesus would never demean our dignity by presuming we are the kind of creatures who can’t discern. We are built for discerning. He’s made the fact that we are often too lazy to do it his problem. So, as usual, tonight will be all about discerning.

I think Marian Franz was following Jesus quite brilliantly. She sounds a lot like a person who could have been talking to her disciples in much the same way Jesus was talking to Peter in this part of the Bible where Jesus is quoted in Matthew 17. Let’s have a woman under 30 read this.

      When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?”
      He said, “Yes, he does.”
      And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?”
      When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free.
      However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.” — Matthew 17:24-27 (NRSVUE)

Unpacking a little, you can see what is happening. Peter commits Jesus to paying a particular tax. Why he did this, no one knows, since, as we find out, Jesus hadn’t done it yet. Maybe Peter answered the taxman that way because felt too proud to be among those who were exempt from the tax because they were too poor to pay — as a band of beggars, Jesus and his crew might have been considered exempt. Jesus doesn’t really have an income, per se. Maybe Peter just didn’t want to look bad in the eyes of the solicitor. Chances are Peter paid the tax every year, as any upstanding Jewish male might do.

The Temple tax had been gong for a couple of hundred years by the time of this incident. It was based on rules from Exodus 30. All adult Jewish males, everywhere, were supposed to pay a tax for the upkeep of the temple in Jerusalem. It was like a sign that you were connected to your people and to God. Two drachmas was not very much, but the fund built up so much sometimes that the priests had to invent ways to spend it —  like one time they constructed a solid gold vine in the temple.

The tax collectors went out to solicit, but the tax was not compulsory, like you’d go to jail for not paying it. Some groups refused to pay it on principle because they thought the Temple was corrupted. Other people were exempt. Jesus, being something of a radical, might have been one of the people refusing to pay. Or as a rabbi, he might have been considered exempt.

I am going to try to show how this applies to whether we should pay our taxes or not. So you might be wondering how a voluntary temple tax compares to your relationship to the IRS, or to the state treasury or to the Philadelphia wage tax. The taxes do not directly match up. The two systems are not exactly the same. So you’ll have to extrapolate. As a matter of fact, no form of tax mentioned in the Bible would have the pretense of being much less than a temple tax. Some people consider Americanism a religion, but most of us don’t think we pay taxes to support religion. But ancient people had no such distinctions. Taxes to Roman went to a government that would soon make Caesar Augustus a god. Jesus has questions about Roman taxes as a result. I imagine he has some interesting ideas about our tax system, too. The ways the passage does match up with our situation is this – there is a governmental authority, it is demanding money, everyone else is paying it.

Within this small interchange with Peter, I think we can discern some of Jesus’ attitudes that will help us figure out how to interact with our own government.

I think the first answer we can find is “No.”
“Should I pay taxes?” Jesus says, “No.”

      And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?”
      When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free.” 

This is the regular logic of the Bible, just like the Christmas carol says, “God rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.” God is king of kings and Lord of lords.

So Jesus has a little fun with Peter, knowing he just signed him up to give taxes to Caiaphas and his band of robbers running the Jerusalem Temple. Do the kings of the earth collect taxes from their children? Of course not, unless they are somehow very evil. Is God, the king, going to ask his children – Me, the very Son of God, you a child of God, to pay taxes? Of course not. We’re exempt. We are actually free. Loyalty to the government won’t buy freedom for us.

Lots of people over the years have refused to pay taxes for just the reason Jesus gave. “I have no particular allegiance to any king but Jesus. So I owe you nothing.”

Ten years ago, when she was 23, Julia Butterfly Hill climbed 180 feet into the redwood tree she nicknamed Luna and refused to come down until she was sure the 600-year old beauty was safe from the Pacific Lumber company. [Her picture is above.] 738 days later, she came down with an agreement to save not only Luna but a three-acre patch of trees that surrounded it. [Sixteen years later, the belated IRA]

After her successful tree sit, the wireless company OmniSky and two other companies used her story and likeness in unauthorized ad campaigns. She sued to stop the ad campaign. “I do not endorse products,” she said today, “I endorse actions and beliefs.”

She and a volunteer legal team worked on a lawsuit. She said, “I wanted 100% of the proceeds of the settlement to go towards the social and environmental causes for which I work so hard…. Shortly before settling out of court in 2002, I found that even though I was not making a single penny off of the lawsuit, the federal government was going to demand that a very large percentage of the settlement be paid to taxes.” The total tax bill was over $150,000. “When I found this out I was sickened.”

“I struggled for a long time with the knowledge that if given to the government, this money would be used for terrible things, but that if I refused to pay, I faced consequences, some of them potentially very serious. When the first US bomb dropped in Iraq in March, my decision became crystal clear. I could not in good conscience allow this money to be used for the murder of innocent people.”

Hill said, “I was raised by Christian parents who taught me about the Ten Commandments, the first of which is ‘Thou Shall Not Kill.’ Paying for the murder of innocent people with my tax dollars is something that I cannot do in good conscience.”

So far, the IRS has not gone after her. She said no.

I think the second answer we can find is  “Yes.”
“Should I pay taxes?” Jesus says, “Yes.” 

“But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma  coin . Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” 

Here is the argument. No we don’t have to pay taxes, but since God is king of the world, we have plenty to share, what’s the hurt, here? Tax schmax. Let’s not offend them. Why should we bother making them feel badly about us? Why hassle it? We should have a very good reason to make a big deal out of something. We have bigger fish to fry than worrying about whether we should pay the Temple Tax. Let’s just consider it the cost of doing business here and get on with our business.

I’m not sure people like this about Jesus too much. First he makes a point of saying he is righteously exempt from the tax and then he pays it. It is like Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 9 that he has all these rights and power as a leader of the church, yet he would just as soon die as exercise any of them, because then his servanthood would be brought into question. Jesus has all the rights of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of humankind, and he is almost cavalier about not exercising them. A lot of people would prefer that he duke it out with the tax gatherers.

This humility is a constant problem for us. Melissa Powell told us a story about how the Nigerian Christians are facing it. She’s about to return to Nigeria where the Christians are really having a struggle. In the North of the country where it is mostly Moslem, the government allows some form of Sharia law to be practiced in certain areas. Some Christians have been hurt and even killed for resisting this, or just for being outspoken Christians.

In the south, where Christianity dominates, there is much less violence against Moslems, as Christians try to work out how to respect people who aren’t necessarily respecting back. They are struggling with how to be Christians when a vengeful enemy terrorizes you with power and tempts you to use their godless weapons. Melissa says the north and south are quite different places, so far. Christians have not always been so humble, of course, especially in Europe, where kings have warred against Moslems and anyone else on the other side of their God-blessed wars, looking for vengeance or dominance. In this particular instance, even though Jesus had a case and had the power to win it, he doesn’t even bother to get involved with it.

Generally, I think I have the same attitude toward my taxes. I pay my taxes because it is less of a hassle than not paying them, and I know God is the king of Kings, so he will take care of judging the injustice and sinfulness of a government. I could be mad about the nonsense of the government all day and lose my focus on what Jesus is really doing here. As it is, I only focus on what I’m mad about for a quarter of the day — progress.

A third answer may be more prominent than Yes or No and that may be just as Jesus prefers.
“Should I pay taxes?” Jesus says, “Maybe.”

 You’ll have to discern what to do and don’t forget the fish.

Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” 

From Augustin Tünger’s “comic book” in 1486.

I presume Peter did this. It seems like maybe he was having an I-am-ashamed-of-me day, so maybe he waited until it was almost dark so no one could ask him what he was doing — he seems to have wanted to look good before the tax collectors. Maybe he didn’t want to hear, “Hey, pristine coin! Where’d you get it?” He’d have to say “Well, Jesus told me I’d find a 4-drachma coin in the first fish I caught. This is it.”

It is absurd. Finding a coin in the fish is as foolish as finding salvation in Jesus. Opening up a fish and looking for a coin is as foolish as looking into Jesus for something precious. Trudging over to the lake with his odd task, wondering if anything is going to come of it, feeling odd, feeling insecure about being so odd, feeling like some little kid learning all over how the world works and feeling stupid about being treated like a little kid – it is irritating. “Why didn’t he just give me a coin? If he’s going to do a miracle, why not just pull a coin out from behind my ear like David Copperfield? Why can’t we just have a business and make some money rather than wandering around like paupers relying on women and random fish?”

Rely on the fish

When it comes to paying your taxes, “Maybe you should risk relying on the fish.” It will take some discernment, but more important, living like that will take some relating to Jesus, who knows where the coins are. It will take obeying Jesus, instead of the kings of the world or obeying the feelings and fears that tend to rule us.

I’ve been pondering this, lately. I’ve been running into quite a few people who have run into Circle of Hope and their lives are changing. They are really changing for the better! — dealing with mental health, drugs, poor relationships, destructive habits, all sorts of things. It is really encouraging! The discipline of the faith and the love of Christians is very life-giving. But once they get sort of settled, they have problems with Jesus.

Maybe I could say, they don’t like going to catch the fish. They like regularity. They don’t like having another conversation where Jesus says three things and then smiles – “Now go along and figure it all out. I’ll be with you.” It’s irritating. They don’t like getting an answer to their question that ends up being, “God will have to do a miracle. There is really no hope unless God is present.” What kind of answer is that?

Does anyone really like Jesus? For whatever reason, I really do. I like Jesus. I am a Jesus fan. I totally love that he has an absolutely out-of-this world solution to Peter’s dilemma about the taxes.

  • Peter sets him up to pay the tax without talking to him. Jesus says, “No big deal, I’m exempt anyway.”
  • But Peter is still thinking about what he said to the tax gatherer so Jesus says, “No big deal. Pay the tax so no one gets offended by you going back claiming exemption after you already told him I’d pay. Maybe the guy thinks we’re cool, so why make him feel bad about us?”
  • But Peter has to say, “But we don’t have any money.” So Jesus says, ”No big deal. Go fish a coin. It will only take a minute. It will be in the first fish you get.”

I really like that. I like knowing that happened. I like knowing Jesus. I like being rearranged by His Spirit and then being put together in a better, deeply discerned way. I like the anticipation of what he might do next. I like remembering all the great things Jesus did. I like him invading the little dilemmas of my life and revealing himself in them and showing me ways through them and turning them into something full of life. I like the dilemma of paying taxes, or not – who knew such a little deal is such a big deal? Or that me having or creating a problem is a big enough deal to God for Jesus to come and personally work it out with me?

Add a stanza to the “prayer for peace” — It’s a tough world

I have several copies of the “Peace Prayer,” attributed to St. Francis, on walls where I am likely to bump into it. (Don’t worry, you’ll bump into it down below, if you’ve never heard of it). I need to remember it in a world that is more about power than peace.

I do remember it. By now, after all that bumping, that prayer is etched on a convenient wall in my mind. So I had it on hand the other day when I needed it. And, like prayer often does, it inspired me to go beyond it. Maybe you’ll want to get someplace beyond what it usually offers you, too.

Some history of the Peace Prayer

There is no way Francis wrote “Make me an instrument of your peace.” For one thing, he rarely wrote anything about “me.” More relevant is the fact this prayer did not appear in general circulation until 1912. If a stray prayer of Francis of Assisi had been laying around for 700 years, someone would have known about it.

The prayer first appeared in Paris in small spiritual magazine called “La Clochette” (The Little Bell), the newsletter of La Ligue de la Sainte-Messe (The Holy Mass League). The league’s founder and editor of the newsletter was Father Esther Bouquerel (1855-1923). He published the prayer as written by “Anonymous” with the title of “Belle prière à faire pendant la messe” (A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass). The author was probably Father Bouquerel himself, but the identity of the author remains a mystery.

The prayer was sent in French to Pope Benedict XV in 1915 by the aristocrat, Marquis Stanislas de La Rochethulon. This was soon followed by its 1916 appearance, in Italian, in L’Osservatore Romano [the Vatican’s daily newspaper] in the middle of World War I. Around 1920, the prayer was printed on the back of an image of St. Francis with the title “Prière pour la paix” (Prayer for Peace) but without being attributed to the saint. It was first attributed St. Francis in 1927 by a French Protestant Movement, Les Chevaliers du Prince de la Paix (The Knights of the Prince of Peace).

The first time it was published in English was probably in 1936 in Living Courageously, a book by Kirby Page, a Disciples of Christ minister, pacifist, social evangelist, writer and editor of The World Tomorrow. Page clearly attributed the text to Francis. During World War II and immediately after, this prayer for peace began circulating widely as the “Prayer of St. Francis,” especially through Francis Cardinal Spellman’s books. Over the years it has gained a worldwide popularity with people of all faiths. It was central to the gathering memorialized below.

Artwork memorializing the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi (1986), with Pope John Paul II hosting religious leaders from around the world.

Let’s pray the prayer

There are four major wars raging in the world right now. It is time for a prayer for peace. Each war has caused over 10,000 deaths, or more, in the past two years (Wiki). Over fifty conflicts with fewer casualties are also ongoing.

Last week Reuters said Russia doubled its 2023 defense spending to more than $100 billion — a third of all the country’s public expenditure. In July, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute, calculated the U.S. had, so far, spent $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine; included was humanitarian, financial, and military support.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!” In a world at war in large ways and small, shouldn’t that be our daily prayer? The peace prayer is that kind of prayer. Let’s try it out:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

In the 1970’s, Franco Zeffirelli and Donovan put music in the mouth of Francis along with the erroneously attributed words, which is how I usually pray the prayer, too.

Add your own lines

In the middle of World War I a hopeful priest wrote a beautiful prayer. People picked up on it over time, translated it, tweaked it here and there in the process, put it on prayer cards. published it in magazines and bulletins, and said it was authorized by St. Francis, himself. I love it. Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu loved it.

But I don’t think a recited prayer is very alive unless people keep rewriting it.

The other day, I remembered my old favorite prayer and the erroneous depiction of my favorite saint praying it.  I was especially moved by  “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.” I had been feeling a bit inconsolable. The prayer helped me turn from my “side screen” to look at the “big picture” of my life [post on turning].

As I prayed, I began to see all sorts of other ways I should be praying the same basic prayer. Once it set me on a roll, I kept on rolling!  And I realized  neglecting to do so would result in a lack of peace in me and there would be that much less peace in the world, too.

I now have a longer prayer to use — at least until I need to add something else! Here is the new stanza I added especially for me. If you need it, nothing prevents you from praying it with me!

Lord grant that I may not so much seek

to be found as to find;
to hold out for what I deserve as to give;
to evaluate what meets the test as to accept;
to justify my temper as to be patient;
to resist possible disappointments as to collect small joys;
to sort out the weaknesses of others as to relish their goodness;
to protect my safety as to risk what it takes to connect.

What should you be adding to the peace prayer?

Be careful as you meditate on that question. Note that Father Bouquerel/Francis said “grant that I may not so much” NOT “Grant that I may erase my needs and desires.” We love others as we love ourselves. Erasing yourself does not make others more alive. Being unhappy is not a price you pay for making others happy. Turning into what is better is an everyday necessity — thus, we love that great peace prayer when we face all our conflicts, inside and out.

Peace is a lot more likely to take root in our hearts if we love others like Jesus loves us. And that love for others will be a lot more authentic when we are at peace in the love of Jesus. Pray: “Lord you are the instrument of my peace; make me an instrument of your peace.”

Spiritual Life? : How does anyone have time for one?  

In 2006, life in our church was rich. I started collecting questions that became the launchpads for messages. 

The “frequently asked question” for the evening is: How does anyone have time for a spiritual life? You know these questions come in as a result of what various cells have been exploring over the year. This is a very practical question, so I am glad to take a stab at it. I hope you’ll be thinking along with me as I speak. The fact is, you are having time for a spiritual life right now. Make the most of it. Have your spiritual life.

Normal vs. spiritual life?

70% from Rotten Tomatoes, from 1996.
  1. Before I try to get practical, I want to bring up one of the main problems with having time for a spiritual life. It is the notion that there is a “normal” life and then there is a “spiritual” life. The way most of us think, there is a split between real or normal life and spiritual life.

For the most part, this might be just a figure of speech – we talk about the sporting life. We ask “How’s your love life?” and “How is family life?” – and all we mean is how is the part of our lives under discussion. But it can go further with our faith. Somehow faith got pushed into our private lives and out of our everyday lives. Jesus became a part of our leisure time and not a part of our work life or civic life.

So, for instance, when President Bush was asked how faith might shape policy in the presidential debates in October of 2004. He answered from the classic evangelical viewpoint, I think. He said:

My faith plays a big part in my life. I pray a lot. I do. My faith is very personal. …I’ve received calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, well, how do you know? I said, I just feel it.

My faith is a big part of my life. It is very personal. Prayer delivers things to my life. I don’t know what the president thinks, really. But a lot of people have a personal faith, a “spiritual life” that never coincides with their regular life.

So when someone asks, “How do I find time for a spiritual life?” It must mean two things, at least.

  • “Normal” life is taking you over and you have no time for other things, like whatever is in my personal life.
  • You think you have a life that is not “spiritual” and you want to develop the one that is.

I have to question the question. I’m not sure it is helpful to talk about our “spiritual lives” too much. As far as the people in the Bible go, there is only one life. There is a spiritual life in relation to God or there is existence plummeting toward no life. You’re alive or as good as dead.

  • John 6:63 — The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life.
  • Romans 8:11 — And if the  Spirit  of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his  Spirit , who lives in you.
  • Galatians 2:20 — The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me

If you follow Jesus — if you serve/belong to/believe in Jesus — you have a renewed spiritual life. You have been given life. The capacity you had for spirituality in you has been activated and is developing. You are filling up with life. It is not like you are the owner of your life and you are managing sectors of it trying to keep everything in balance or keeping the plates spinning. The life you have, you received from God through the work of Jesus. You were dead, but back in relation to God, you are alive.

in 2006 Branson pledged $3B to develop alternative fuel sources.

I don’t have time?

  1. The second big problem with finding time to actually be consciously related to God and exercising our new life, putting on this new self, living in our eternity is how we have come to view time.

If all you have is this life then every second counts. (“I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde!” the gospel of Clairol taught us). We are generally painfully aware that we cannot get back the seconds that have passed (“Nothing is further away than a minute ago”). Since we have most of our physical needs met these days, and many of us no longer fret about how much money we don’t have, now it is all about time. We weigh it out all day; we consider what our time is worth and whether we are spending it wisely.

  • Spending it wisely could mean we spend it all frantically making the most of it to get what we want – so we will have more experiences or will earn more leisure time or afford more retirement time.
  • Or it could mean we avoid spending any of it on work so we can be free from time constraints and get all our time up front before I have spent it all on loveless toil.

We are always making a time deal.

So Joshua and I know that between May 15 and October 15 or so, every weekend is going to feel precious to most of us, because we only get so many sunshiney Saturdays a year. People are weighing out what is more worth it, time spent on the spiritual life or time spent on vacation.

So when someone asks, “How do I find time for a spiritual life?” I think they might also be asking, “Is this going to be worth it?”

For the people in the Bible, they are not so conscious of the value of all their moments, because they actually think they are eternal and they know any moment has value because they, themselves, are valued. They still want to make the most of their days on earth, but they don’t have such a sense of hoarding a scarce resource.

  • John 6:27 — Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you
  • Colossians 3:1-3 — Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

The idea is that we need to learn a new way to invest our time, not in the fear of scarcity, but generously, joyfully, freely being eternal. Depending on our personality styles, we can make the most of the moment and make the most of a decade — whatever we are given — because we are living in an eternal now.

We can help ourselves with the process of being a growing, spiritual person who is alive to God and comfortable in their own reality with him by doing very practical things. It is not just about knowing right things and changing your mind, although I don’t see how any transformation happens without that; it is also about considering how you feel, how you are built psychologically and mostly, doing something with your body.

Let me answer this question.

How can I learn to use my time well as a person who lives in the Spirit?

I want to give you some verses from Psalm 119, since we are letting the Psalms guide us in different ways this summer. Psalm 119 is all about feeling the challenges of seeking God and living a life in relation to God in a difficult world.

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Use the time you have.

Don’t be outside the time you are experiencing. A lot of us wait for something to happen sometime, instead of happening in the time we are in. I am sure that just last week some people missed a great time to learn and praise: they were angry, were on drugs, were analyzing, were daydreaming. Then they wonder why they don’t have time for their “spiritual pursuits.” Be as present to God as you can right now.

Psalm 119:59-60
I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.

There is no replacement for honoring the importance of every minute, the meaning inherent in it. Jesus calls us to live. The Psalmist is having the same conviction. “I’m considering. I’m turning. I hasten to obey, to participate in my God-given time.”

  • Listen for God in your cell.
  • Prepare for worship
  • Give yourself a reminder phrase before you enter into a distracting situation – “Why am I here? I am here to worship. I am here to hear you. I am here to rest. I am here to love.” Keep centering on it, so you don’t get your time stolen. Hold on to your time like it was your purse in a threatening situation.

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Discipline your time

Time is like a river – build dams and levees that slow it down. Time is like a child, it needs to be trained. Time is like a bronco, you either tame it, it stomps you, or it jumps the fence and runs away. A schedule can get flabby and need to go to the gym.

Psalm 119:147,164
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.
Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.

The people who get to know God are not all smarter. They do things. Scott Peck said the original sin was probably laziness. Just doing whatever, just going with what is going, not bothering to consider, to imagine, to step out of the regular rut leaves us out of touch with God. The psalmist is making the effort. He gets up before dawn to pray. He’s got a seven times a day discipline he is using.

You might like to start big with the schedule form on your seat. It could help discipline all the time in the week.

  • Make a copy and write down what you do in a week. That way you can see what you really do. As you do this you’ll notice that you will already be freeing yourself to makes changes and decisions. “Do I REALLY want to watch 3 hours of HBO a day? Did I really play Halo that long? Can I afford that commute – am I using the time on the train?” Etc.
  • Make a list of things you want in your week. “If I want to be a person who is living in the Spirit, what do I need to do?”
  • Put them on the sheet and try to meet your goals.

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Be incremental. Accrue

I think no time spent pursuing God is wasted. The actions build up. They accrue and begin compounding interest — so do something. Something is better than nothing. Do some little thing so you can get to a bigger thing. It is all too easy to let the day be so troubled that we never get to resting with God or praying, or caring for our inner journey – or even travel on it! It is also easy to see where we ought to be on the journey and be so ashamed or so overwhelmed that we don’t even take a step. Do something. Like the kid who gave his bread and fish, Jesus can multiply what he is given, and in the giving we are grown, too.

Psalm 119:143
Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight.

The psalmist has problems, too. But he’s delighting in what Good has given him.

  • When you are listening to me, be determined to get one thing from all this time that is for you. Then make a goal to act on it in some way, “I am going to complete that schedule thingy this Thursday night when I normally would watch America’s Got Talent.” Something like that.
  • Whenever you read the news, a book, or the Bible, write down a little goal for the day that will be a little step you can take to apply what you receive. When you are with your mentor, do whatever you felt moved to do as quickly as possible. When you are alone with God take your gut reactions seriously, unless that usually messes you up, and do what you are moved to do. You usually don’t have to spend a lot of time planning. You usually are given what you are already able to do. Do what you can. Don’t wait.
  • If you have a big goal that feels too big to start, like 20 minutes of contemplative prayer twice a day, maybe you need to be incremental. Do five minutes a day for a week.
  • Maybe you can manage to kick start some new direction by doing something dramatic – take a day retreat by yourself with God (I have loads of places you can go; some are very cheap). Take a pilgrimage to someplace instead of your usual weekender. If you are going to NY, say you are going to see St. John Divine and spend two hours there – then do whatever else you wanted to do. Get your mate or your friend to help, if you work well that way – say “We will begin the day with prayer each Wednesday from now until October.”

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Read meditatively.

Reading gives time. If you can’t read, learn to read. If you have ADD, struggle through the reading process once in a while. Don’t avoid reading very slow and listening between the lines. It is not an accident that the word of God is in a book, too. It helps us to meditate.

Psalm 119:130
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.

The process of meditation is about something unfolding, like the petals of a flower grows and blooms. It takes time. The process of understanding words and relating to the people who wrote them and relating God who is always thinking along with us is a basic way to use time well for spiritual development. Better than TV, tapes, iPods, whatever.

  • Carry a book with you. We get a lot of demands on our time so we need to be ready when we get a moment: on the bus, in line, on hold, at the café before the friend comes. It might be a good thing for you to do at this stage of your life. You might also need to stop reading and listen to what you’ve already heard.
  • For a lot of us, meditatively reading — reading to listen to God and not just get information, is something of a lost art. Plan an hour for it that you normally give to media. Try a goal of ten pages a day. I have all sorts of suggestions in your program.

How can I learn to use my time as a person who lives in the Spirit?

Get direction

It is a great, helpful luxury to sit down with a caring someone and listen for God as they listen for God in you. That is time well spent. In some sense I think of it as expanded time, a lot of goodness poured into a small space of time.

Psalm 119:63
I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.

The psalmist feels a spiritual camaraderie with everyone who reveres God. Those kind of friends are cultivated by anyone who wants to have a life in the Spirit. There is probably nothing more dangerous than finding yourself in love with people who fritter your time.

  • Visit your therapist – most are worth the money.
  • Take a class – even one at Temple or Penn could be a time to get a break to listen to the depths of your mind and heart.
  • Find a spiritual director – these are not easy to get. You friend or your cell leader may be a good person for now.
  • It would be nice if we took each other seriously to receive the great gifts that are all around us, rather than holding out for some saint someday.

I think my favorite verse from the very long Psalm 119, must be this one:

I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

The many people who asked, “How can I find time for a spiritual life?” were probably tired and frustrated. They are running in the path of the world’s commands and time is running out! They are yearning and trying, but it isn’t happening as well or as fast as they want. I hope I have stirred up some new possibilities or at least got what you already had installed activated. One of my main points though was that you don’t need to tack on a demanding spiritual life to your already full normal life. You have one life and it is eternal. God has laid out a lot of ways to run free in it. Don’t be afraid to try them. Your are important and your time makes a difference.

What do you want to add? Some of you may have a lot of good answers to this question too. Let’s here answers or questions and talk back.

How to Fast: The burning patience that leads to the shining city      

By 2005 our church was hopping and ready to multiply. This teaching was part of a series devoted to learning spiritual disciplines. Many of our people had never tried any. 

I like Lent. I like fasting, physically and emotionally! Fasting makes my body feel better. Fasting feels like a sport to me. I like feeling all ancient. So I guess I’m a natural.

But fasting is more than physical or emotional. Spiritually, fasting is another matter. It is getting the physical and emotional to open up to the spiritual. Fasting points out how rebellious I really am, how unfocused, how afraid to be weird, how secretly undisciplined, how needy I am.

So it is difficult to go where fasting is designed to take me. It is like the old analogy about being spiritual. If God is the lake, I love water skiing. But becoming a fish seems a bit much. If fasting is like fishing in God, then I might like throwing a line in for the afternoon, but it is a little different to think about being taken to the depths and developing gills. So I want to admit that right off.

Why fast?

I want to get to some “how to fast” stuff. But I’m not sure there is a reason to get too practical right away unless we have a good reason to fast at all. Not eating, or not doing anything does not have a lot of spiritual value unless the deprivation has a purpose, unless it is after something.

So here is a good reason to fast, in my opinion, and by my experience. One thing the discipline of fasting is good for is to cultivate what Pablo Neruda called “burning patience.”

Pablo Neruda and Nobel Prize

Pablo Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971 and died in his native  Chile in 1973. He had a rich, difficult life full of poetry and politics. In his acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize this is how he ended.

I come from a dark region, from a land separated from all others by the steep contours of its geography. I was the most forlorn of poets and my poetry was provincial, oppressed and rainy. But always I had put my trust in man. I never lost hope. It is perhaps because of this that I have reached as far as I now have with my poetry and also with my banner.

Lastly, I wish to say to the people of good will, to the workers, to the poets, that the whole future has been expressed in this line by Rimbaud: only with a burning patience can we conquer the splendid City which will give light, justice and dignity to all mankind.

I’m not sure I am hoping for exactly the same thing as Neruda; I don’t put my trust in humankind the way he does. But we are both cultivating the ability to get to that “splendid city.” I can’t control your destination of choice. You could see it as a home in the heavenly city at the close of time, or as a secure place in the city of God where Jesus rules represented by his church, or as the renewal and healing of Philadelphia until it is splendid. Regardless, to arrive anywhere redemption and regeneration want to take us requires a burning patience. Getting to that splendid city where God is taking us requires the cultivation of what Paul names the fruit of the Spirit called patience. And that is why we fast.

When you fast…

When Jesus was teaching his disciples about fasting in Matthew 6 (and we should all know Matthew 4-7 first among the revelation of scripture), he started out with “When you fast…” do this, and that. It was not “If you decide to fast,” or “If you get around to fasting,” or “If you can’t avoid fasting because someone coming after me is going to make up a season called Lent, then make you observe it and try to force you to fast…” It wasn’t any of those things. Jesus assumed his seeking-after-God followers were going to fast, because it is a physical aid to prayer.

We are spiritual beings in physical bodies; it is our unique identity among God’s creatures. So we need physical aids for spiritual activities. Fasting is good for training your body to go with your spirit. It helps you get your body out of the way so you can be more direct with God. Your body’s pains and grumbles can provide good places to learn to trust and rely on more than what you can get for yourself. In an overfed society, fasting might be crucial for hearing God!

There are many ways to fast and I hope a few of you will tell us how you have fasted in a few minutes. But for the sake of this teaching, I am thinking of fasting as going without food, like Jesus did that time he fasted for forty days in the desert before he began his miracle-working ministry. There are many goals and results of fasting, but I would like to underscore one — how it develops burning patience. I think fasting helps develop:

  • The character to face failure and difficulty but never lose hope in what can be and ought to be.
  • The courage to face evil and experience scorn but never lose faith and continue to work out that faith through love.
  • The ability to see a vision and persevere after it your whole life.

We need that burning patience.

Psalm 69 provides a good outline

I think Psalm 69 demonstrates the heart and struggle of fasting pretty well. So I decided to offer that to you for further study. I hate to dump a lot of Bible on you, since some of you may not have too much experience with it. But see how much God gives you through it.

In Psalm 69, the great King of Israel, David, is in the middle of his splendid city, Jerusalem and imagining where God might take everyone. He is consumed with the worship of God in the great temple, God’s house, in the middle of the splendid city, the capital city of God’s people. I think he represents a faster who has this burning patience I’m talking about. So maybe he will help you grow throughout Lent.

Some of you think fasting is advanced spirituality. I say Jesus thinks it is basic. Some of you think it is an imposition from some legalistic religion of the past that should be discarded; I say it is an important way to let God in and to keep you from taking over God’s place. If you’re skeptical and don’t know where to start, maybe you can explore feeling and acting like David, see and see what happens. See if your awareness of yourself is heightened, your connection with God is deepened and a character of burning patience is acquired.

Opening up to hope

David starts Ps. 69 in distress. This is the classic reason people fast. They are in need and they are clearing the decks of anything else but asking God to meet their need. Fasting is for focusing on God. There is lots of burning here:

You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you.
May those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me,
O Lord, the LORD Almighty; may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel.
For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face.

David is a sensitive man. He is sensitive to his own sin and sensitive to how others sin against him. He can’t shrug off the insults he feels hurled at himself and he seems to feel at least equally bad about the scorn heaped on God.

These are always good reasons to fast: I want to deal with my guilt. I want to gain strength so I don’t disgrace God. I want to prove my faith by enduring scorn – which people might do if you fast. What do you do when you are feeling terrible? I’ve been known to eat a half-gallon of ice cream or ingest something stronger, but it did not fix me up.

When we give up something, in this case I’m thinking food in some way, we open up an empty space. In that space we keep running into what reminds us to focus on God and pray. Some people could go without food for days. Some people need to focus on one meal. Bodies are different. The point of it is to open up some empty space for God to fill. The point is to experience the fullness of our discomfort to be comforted by God. The point is to add force to an eager prayer by getting normal activities out of the way.

When we fast we are practicing a patience that is not passive. Like a dancer practices a move over and over until her body can express what’s in the music, we are training our lives to express what is of the Spirit of God. Like any artist knows, that hope for the fullness we seek is generally a passion only partially fulfilled in our lifetimes – it runs on a vision, on a dream, on a revelation.

I often give up sweets for lent because I am a sweetaholic. It not only makes my body feel better, it makes me remember that not only do some people never have a sweet, but Jesus tasted death for me, which was anything but sweet. I hope my suffering will result in something better, too.

Opening to faith prevailing in love

David displays a heart of zeal. This is another reason people fast. It is a creative act. It is getting zealous, or getting into it, or getting determined. You really want God to act, you need direction, you want power to serve in some way, you are looking for miracles. So you fast. David says:

I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons;
for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn;
when I put on sackcloth (Or when I wear an ash cross on my forehead on the bus after Ash Wednesday), people make sport of me.
Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards.

David wants God’s temple in Jerusalem to truly be the spiritual heart beat of the nation. He wants people to get it and they don’t — but he wants them to and he is not giving up. He is wasting away praying for it and acting out his faith.

These are always good reasons to fast: I am consumed with relating to God. Something needs to change. I must find out what is true or whether I am the nut case people say I am. James starts his letter with this:

Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Fasting is welcoming the trial. It is deliberately entering into something you must persevere, maybe like a spiritual joust or a marathon.

In this sense, I think fasting can be more about taking on than putting off. The point is to make a concerted effort to get yourself in a position to gain some strength, to make a change, to become something new, to get a new skill, to focus on the future.

I was telling my cell that this lent I am determined to cordon off more time to pray and study. I have been so busy the past year, that I feel hungry, and a little resistance to meeting my need has cropped up. I need to act on something before I get used to being hungry. So I am taking on a new schedule – at least I am trying.

Opening up to vision

Finally, I want to point out how David is fasting and praying in such a way that he is including himself in the big picture of how God is changing the world. He wants to see God’s salvation for himself. He’s praying against the forces that he calls: the mire, the deep waters, the bitterness of gall and vinegar.

But I pray to you, O LORD, in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation.
Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. …
Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.
They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

Let’s pause a second and remember that that last line is just what happened to Jesus.

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  — John 19:28-30

David was looking for that sure salvation. He was swimming in water a lot deeper than he even knew! He got himself right in with God’s plans for saving whoever would listen to him and love him.

This psalm is highly personal, but nothing about relating to God is ever just private. God is the creator of all and the redeemer of all —  if you get involved with him, you get involved with everything. We experience the impact of everyone’s sin when we pray. When we pray we are facing down the powers that threaten to drown us. So these few lines are an amazing, prophetic vision of Jesus — in whom all of David’s hopes and fears met.

I looked for comforters, but I found none.
Three days later Jesus rises from the dead.
50 days later, the promised comforter comes.
2000 years later God’s coming to us.

We fast as an aid to our praying because it clarifies our vision of what God’s all about and what God’s doing. We get gummed up. Our spiritual car goes through winter and desperately needs to go to the spiritual car wash so we can remember what it looks like. It even seems to run better when it is clean. I feel different in it. The world looks different. We are like that, fasting cleans us, maybe puts on a new coat of wax, encourages us to drive into the future.

When you fast …

Now I’m not talking about if you fast. I’m talking about when you fast. I am not trying to sell you on fasting, like someone should be begging you to be good, or be something.

I know 90% of you do this or are interested in this practice. And 50% of the 10% left who aren’t interested is yearning for you to be interested, because you are either threatened by mire or you know that this is the time of God’s favor, like the rest of us. You are looking for his sure salvation.

I know you all are fueled by that kind of vision or you would not fund our mission, give so much of your time to our common life and cause, you would not go to such great lengths to love each other and form a place where people can see God reign, you would not be such energetic worshipers and learners. You are not even close to the dead churches that have killed off so much faith in this town, you are the antidote. God bless you.

So I am just trying to add fuel to your fire so we are full of this burning patience. We are not meant to be apathetic, defeated, ambivalent people. We are meant to keep changing and changing things for the better. If they don’t get better right now we are going to keep at it until our time is up. Whenever you fast, and if we fast this season of lent,

  • God will meet us in our distress – go be with him,
  • God will affirm our zeal – don’t shrink back, and
  • God will transform us and those around us and even the powers that be will be moved around and reformed – enter the big picture.

Do you have anything more to share with us about what has happened with you when you made that empty space of God by fasting? Any more tips?

Patience: The lost virtue our relationships need

“Patience attains all that it strives for.” At least that is what the saint says. The prayer, “Nada te Turbe” was found in Teresa of Avila’s breviary, written in her own hand. Since the 16th century her private words have consoled countless numbers of people, including me. I even put it to music for the church to sing (before I discovered several other versions).

Gm
Nada te turbe,
Let nothing disturb you;
  D
Nada te espante,
Let nothing dismay you;
Gm             F
Todo se pasa.
All things pass:
F
Dios no se muda.
God never changes.
F
La paciencia
Patience attains
F              Bb
Todo lo alcanza.
All that it strives for.
Eb
Quien a Dios tiene
The one who has God
                D
Nada le falta.
Lacks for nothing:
Gm Dm Cm  D
Sólo Dios basta.
God alone suffices.

Teresa is credited with reviving Catholicism in the 1560’s and 70’s when Protestantism threatened to bring down the church. Her most significant contribution was founding the Reformed Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelite Convent of San Jose, a more radical version of the Carmelites. At the time of her death in 1582 she had started seventeen further houses, in Spain.

Bernini captures Teresa in rapture

Teresa is best known today as one of the great Catholic mystics, which means she recounted her personal experiences with God. She described her raptures in several books. Among the most widely read works is her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus (1611).

Teresa of Avila may have been the last proponent of the virtue of patience. Around the time she founded the Discalced Carmelites to restore basic, early church Christianity, the Catholic Church was breaking up. Spain was conquering South and Central America. Europeans were colonizing the world. Spain was in constant war to  secure Charles V’s royal claims. Copernicus revealed the earth orbited the sun. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. Henry the VIII murdered his wives and founded the Anglican Church. Cervantes wrote El Cid. John Calvin wrote The Institutes. Shakespeare and John Donne wrote their early works. Nostradamus published his prophecies. It was a wild time. Flush toilets, the spinning wheel, the pocket watch, the graphite pencil were all introduced.

Yet Teresa still disciplined herself to be patient, like her examples from the Early Church, reciting her prayer. She might have been the last leader on the continent to believe “God suffices” as the Europeans rushed into the modern world and the Americans soon invented a country (for the first time) to represent all that was new. I’m not sure most Americans would consider patience to be an important character trait, would you? — even though my mother used to mockingly chide me when I was tired of waiting with, “Patience is a virtue,” unwittingly channeling Piers Plowman from 1360 (Passus II, 383).

Patience, the lost virtue

Patience may be the lost virtue Christians, in particular, need to rediscover. I think many of us might see it as a bit out of date, now that we are accustomed to complaining if Amazon is a day late, or the line at the drive through is taking too long. A person lamented yesterday that their arrival at their appointment was thwarted for ten minutes by the Schuylkill. They were very frustrated. We have things timed down to the minute.

A book I have been reading, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, has reminded me the Bible writers and the earliest Christians considered patience to be a central trait of authentic Christianity. I want to leave you with a bit of their wisdom so you can follow their fruitful lead.

  • Origen of Alexandria (died around 253) quoted Romans 5:3-4 this way, “Tribulation produces patience, indeed patience produces assent to belief, and assent to belief produces hope.”
  • The KJV translates it: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.”
  • My favorite, the NRSV says, “And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
  • I think the VOICE amplified translation sums it up well. “And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness.”

You’ll notice that the word for patience is often translated “endurance” or “perseverance.” It is an active idea, not passive. It is not just waiting for your birthday to come without too much complaining. It is a discipline exercised by people who want to develop. It is a strategy for demonstrating glory. Patience takes intention and effort. It is a way of seeing and acting. Patience is not swallowing your resentment when it takes a while for your kids to put on their shoes. It is not just standing in line at the store behind a less-than-able shopper without groaning or looking around for another line with panic.

As you can see from the constellation of translations, patience is an outlook that results in a way of life. Patience is trusting God in the middle of everything, especially when you suffer. For the early church, patience was sticking with Jesus when the world was sticking it to them. They were not like the Stoics who endured by tamping down emotions and developing personal resilience, even seeking imperviousness. It was quite the opposite. Christian patience is opening up to the Spirit of God incarnate in our hearts and behavior. The eternal lens and heartfelt trust of the early church was central to their endurance. Patience is knowing everything works for good to them who love God.

The early church’s premier virtue

Few writings from the first 300 years of the church are about a “topic.” They are mostly stories or compilations of teachings. But Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian and Lactantius all wrote about patience. The early church did not produce writings about evangelism, at least as most modern people think about it: verbal persuasion and radical changes of allegiance. But they did write about patience, which changed them and changed their world. Their way of patience made the first Christians a distinct and attractive alternative to the brutal Roman world.

I was happy to discover Kreider’s book when I was listening to several couples trying to work out the tribulation of their power struggle. Many marriages, not to mention churches and other institutions, went through a lot of trouble during the pandemic. We are all still sorting things out. For many people, the trouble in the world became trouble in their relationships. It is terrible how often general trouble gets translated into blaming the people close to us: “If I have trouble, it must be you.”

The early church helped each other learn patience and didn’t turn on each other; they turned their behavior out into the world. Their way of life was salt and light. St Perpetua (martyred around 203) caused many conversions the day she refused to grovel in the arena, begging for mercy, but stood still and dignified, patiently trusting God for her future. If my lens developed a character like hers, I could at least endure the development of my mate (or myself) and give some time and space for our relationship to grow before I hardened my heart, cut them off, or found something better.

I hope you are getting the idea of how the virtue of patience is foundational to enduring as a Jesus follower and making a difference in our relationships and culture. Here are a few final characteristics that sum up how the Bible writers and early church teach about patience:

  • God is patient. She is walking with you and working for your best right now.
  • Jesus demonstrates God’s patience. Origen calls him “Patience itself.” He highlights how to trust in oneself and in miracle at the same time, in real time.
  • Patient people don’t just manipulate outcomes; they can take risks in trust and not worry what they can’t control is as urgent as it seems.
  • Patience is not hurried; it accepts incompleteness and can wait.
  • Patient behavior inevitably undermines the world’s common sense.
  • Trusting in patience to change lives is the opposite of relying on violence and retaliating. It is innately uncoercive.
  • Patience is hopeful, confident in God. As Teresa noted, God alone suffices.

Most families are good laboratories for learning patience. Churches should be a good place for learning it, too. They are the main places we learn to forebear in love, or don’t. In a marriage we have a daily opportunity to develop a way of living together that hopes more in God’s blessing than in the immediate satisfaction of our desires. As one of my clients said the other day, in marriage we learn to act out love rather than wait for love to make us feel like connecting. Patience opens up our families to God’s presence and relaxes the stranglehold of our disappointment and longing. Patience let’s things grow, and delights in nurturing what God is growing up in our loved one — that wonder, that creation, that future resurrected being.

 

 

 

Marcos Witt: Prayer and worship heals our wounds

The other night in our spiritual direction group, I started us off with a classic worship song by Marcos Witt:

Tu fidelidad es grande
Tu fidelidad incomparable es
Nadie como tú, bendito Dios
Grande es tu fidelidad

Your faithfulness is great
Your faithfulness is incomparable.
No one is like you, blessed God.
Great is your faithfulness.

It is a simple truth on which to meditate and with which to worship. You might like to experience how he uses the song to lift up a crowd at one of his events.

I love how he builds the experience with just a few simple lines everyone can learn, remember, and then use by the time the arc of the song has been completed. I imagine the writer of Lamentations 3:23 would approve. Maybe the original was a song, as well! When we sing along, we are entering an eternal now which erases the divisions of time, culture and label.

Marcos Witt

I had never heard of Marcos Witt until last month when the New York Times offered a feature article about him [link]. I do not live in an Evangelical or Spanish-speaking world, so there might be all sorts of amazing things I am missing.

Lonnie Frisbee. 70’s music pioneer

Marcos Witt appears to be quite amazing. He has been on a year long swing through the U.S as part of his América Ora y Adora (America Prays and Adores) tour, which began in spring 2022. It looks like they are going to finish up on September 9 in Washington D.C., if you want to go. The tour is an attempt to undo the divisions in the church. But it also looks like a victory lap for Witt who has had a very successful ministry, beginning with introducing “Praise and Worship” music from the 1970’s to Spanish speakers everywhere.

Most Americans have never heard of him, but Witt estimates that over the past 40 years he has sold roughly 27 million copies of his albums worldwide. He has sold out arenas in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Santiago, São Paulo, San Salvador, Miami and Los Angeles. He has won six Latin Grammy Awards, including one last year for his 34th solo album, “Viviré” (“I Will Live”). In the early 2000’s He built one of the largest Spanish-speaking churches in U.S. as part of Lakewood Church in Houston (also famous because of  Joel Osteen).

He told the interviewer, “My music carries the breath of God. Through our songs, God is hugging on people.”

The hug of God

You could use the hug of God right now.

Doesn’t everyone need the hug of God? I will not enumerate every way the world seems to be an overwhelming mess right now. I will just offer one frightening piece of news from Senator Murphy of Connecticut, who has a bipartisan bill to address how algorithms are making kids desperately unhappy [link]. The kids really need a hug from the risen Lord and their present parents.

In just our little group the other night, worries and challenges piled up quickly. Our capacity to listen to God and one another seemed a bit weak for everything we faced. But by the end of our all-too-brief time, our confidence and trust were deepened, just like moving through Tu Fidelidad. Our hearts were enlivened and I think we felt more able to go out and do some hugging ourselves.

If you can’t find a church that makes sense to you, try to find a couple of people to hang on to, even to hug, in this wild time we are in. If you can’t quite get into relationship with Jesus followers, at least begin to renew you relationship with God. Senator Murphy notwithstanding, there are many apps that will help you stream “praise and worship” songs, like this one from Google Play. You might try that on for a new discipline. Recorded and remastered  music is a step removed, of course, from the real connections we crave. But I think the Holy Spirit can use your attention to bring you into the spiritual hug you need the most. We’ve all got to keep trying.

It is a trying time. We are challenged. But we can meet the challenge. We don’t know the future, but we do know that God will be faithful to us until the end of time and beyond. Let’s sink into that before all we can think and feel about is how we might be sinking otherwise.

The sad history of Christians co-opted by the powerful

The good things Jesus creates and recreates in the world are always threatened by some power that wants to co-opt them or just eliminate their alternativity. The history of the church being co-opted keeps repeating itself.

Way back in 1990 I had the amazing privilege to travel to Honduras and El Salvador with MCC where I met some Jesus followers who were hard to co-opt. It was the first of several immersion trips that have changed and enriched my life. The visit took place two years before the civil war in El Salvador (1969-92) officially ended, and ten years after Oscar Romero was martyred. It was less than a year after six Jesuit priests were murdered for speaking out against the government of El Salvador and advocating for the poor.

Jon Sobrino in 2015

On the trip I met the seventh priest, Jon Sobrino, who had been teaching missionary students in Thailand about liberation theology when his housemates and caretakers were attacked and killed. He was gracious, sober, and still grieving the loss. When he heard we were Americans, before long he said, “I can never go there again.” He had recently been interviewed on U.S. TV about the scandalous actions of the death squad. “It is too, debilitating, too tempting” he said, or something to that effect. “It is a spiritual desert which thinks it is an oasis.” Sobrino could not be co-opted by the media machine, or wealthy donors, or the colossally power. But people tried to exploit him for his story, to reduce his suffering to “news.”

Ever since then, he has been an inspiration for soul-keeping for me, as in “What does it profit you to gain the whole world, at the cost of your soul?” I wish for you the same conviction and courage Sobrino continues to display.

In the history of Christianity, it is amazing how the best people are often co-opted by the established powers: the government, the media, corporations, the church, etc. They lose the battle Sobrino has regularly won. They bend their freedom to the rules. They dim their inspiration for the fearful. They lose their courage in the face of the gullible herd. They let their joy be stolen and their best selves conformed and compromised. Or they just get rolled over, as many would say is just what happened to Jesus.

I’m especially thinking of two of my favorite examples from the past: Teresa of Kolkata and Francis of Assisi. I’ll mention the Evangelicals, too. The movement Francis led (d. 1226 at the beginning of European capitalism) is quickly taken over and neutered by the church even before he dies. Teresa (d. 1997 during the flowering of neoliberalism) is boxed like another brand by the media machine and I think the exposure dims her light. The American Evangelical church plummeted in influence and authority when it was co-opted by the empire’s ways and means, especially during the pandemic. It’s division into “left” and “right” has to be one of the main reasons there are more “nones” than white Evangelicals for he first time this year.

Teresa

Mother Teresa’s media presence was wildly successful in raising consciousness and funding her work. But I still wonder if her conversion of the journalist Malcolm Muggeridge was also a means of him converting her, too. His book Something Beautiful for God (1971) still sells over 100 copies a month in its “beatification edition” from 2003! He was a boon to her and she to him, as far as making money goes.

I love how she gets her message out. But I wonder what the screen is doing to her: the faux intimacy, the chattiness, the objectification and reductionism. Perhaps her faith transcends the screen. Or maybe the screen reduces it to another story in its world of truthiness. Here is an example of her on screen with Muggeridge from 1971. [link]

Francis

In 1266, a generation after St. Francis died, the general chapter meeting in Paris ordered Franciscans everywhere to destroy their writings about Francis written before the minister general’s, that is Bonaventure’s, new biography was published. It was a breathtaking attempt to “control the narrative.” Twenty years earlier, the chapter had asked people who had known Francis to write down all their memories, which they did, copies of which survived the purge. These surviving records are what Jean Paul Sabatier rediscovered and included in his biography of Francis in 1894. I recently read an annotated version by John Sweeny: The Road to Assisi: The Essential Biography of St. Francis: 120th Anniversary Edition. It is an inspiring and sobering book.

Francis died a sad, transcendent man. His prolonged stay in Syria after inserting himself into the battles of the Fifth Crusade, created a rumor he was dead and caused a brother to go find him.  Upon his return, Francis found the “Cardinal Protector” of the Franciscans, Ugolino di Conti (later Pope Gregory IX) had imposed the Benedictine rule on Clare’s community and influenced the men Francis left in charge to loosen their vow of poverty and act more like other monks.

Sabatier says:

It was the first movement of the old spirit against the new. It was the effort of people who unconsciously, I am willing to assume, made religion an affair of rite and observance, instead of seeing it, like St. Francis, as the conquest of freedom that makes us free in all things. This is the freedom that leads each soul to obey the divine and mysterious power that the flowers in the field adore, that the birds of the air bless, that the symphony of the stars praises, and that Jesus of Nazareth called Abba, or, Father.

For the last five ears of his life Francis endured the incremental co-option of his brotherhood into the orders of the church, their freedom mediated by the Pope. By the time of Bonaventure, his life was a glorious but impractical relic. Sick, exhausted, and leaning into death, bearing the wounds of stigmata, Francis began to move toward his desired resting place at Portiuncula. He said good-bye to Mt. Verna and spent time recuperating at San Damiano with Clare’s community. As he gained strength there, he composed the famous “Canticle of the Sun.” Here are the SVD Brothers and their recent version. [link]

Just four years after Francis dictated his last will and died, Pope Gregory declared the Brothers Minor were not bound to observe it. His reinterpretation of the rule Francis never wanted to write, resulted in a divided order: the “Brothers of the Common Observance” and the “Spirituals.” The latter were disciplined and one was even killed for wanting to be a Francis-like Franciscan. Francis’ first disciple, Bernard of Quintavalle, went into hiding for two years as he was being hunted.

Evangelicals

You may see your own experience in the lives of these saints. You may have tried on a simple faith and watched it eroded by the ways of the world. You may have been in a freedom-feeling community and watched it driven into the divisions of politics and power-seeking. I have experienced several versions of those ills. Next year I expect a book to come out that recounts the life and transition of a church I loved and led for decades. In some sense, I think it may be the same old story.

The Evangelicals, as a movement, began with a fervor for truth and a passion for evangelism. They made a huge difference in the world and continue to do so. But then Jerry Falwell (d. 2007) and others decided they needed to “take back” America. I think, as Sabatier might, they did that because America had taken them back. Their conformity to the ways to the empire led Falwell’s descendants to back the godless Trump to lead them. And their leaders have become more Trumpy ever since.

I keep asking Francis’ question these days, “Who are you Lord? And who am I?” I still burst into songs in the sunlight. I still feel my freedom in Christ and exercise it. I still care about and care for the poor. But am I just a part of the American story? Just another part of the news cycle? Did the powers succeed in taking over and ordering my world? Do I despair of an alternative now that an author will consign my past to history, into some reduction, like Bonaventure tried to do with Francis? We need to keep praying those questions.

Meanwhile, Jon Sobrino keeps getting disciplined by Rome for sticking with his decidedly anti-establishment teaching, saying things like,

[R]eality is known—in this case oppression and liberation, suffering and hope—in the disposition of taking charge of these realities in a praxis (en la disposición a
encargarse de ellas en una praxis), to carry these realities (a cargar con ellas)—running risks and the persecution that reality generates—and shouldering the weight of these realities (dejándose cargar por ellas)—accepting gratefully the kindness, generosity, and solidarity that there is in reality, and above all in the underside of history.

Jesus, Teresa, and Francis all built an alternative from the underside of history. No matter how many times those kind of people get rolled over, they are likely to rise again. Brother stone will cry out in praise or sister bird will sing the truth if the humans are silenced. But the Spirit incarnate in the body of Christ is hard to control for long. I don’t think the powers will keep it down. The creation will have to keep groaning as God awaits the next outburst of the light of the world from the Lord’s co-workers.

Clinging to what is good: And other crucial verbs

Laboring under nouns

John McWhorter’s latest essay was all about verbs. I was happy to have his brilliance confirm my general resistance to how “nounal” Americans are. Like Adam wandering around Eden, we like to wall off a garden and name everything in it. Nouns feel settled and powerful, I think.

I am still healing from a rash of labeling which has been clinging to me for a couple of years – still finding negative nouns stuck on me like a stubborn tag on a piece of plastic from the dollar store. McWhorter wishes we’d get over being nouns and labelling others and move onto verbs, move on to something else, something deeper. He writes:

[L]ife is about much else, and what ultimately conveys this “else” is verbs. What makes all those animals [Adam named] interesting is when they do things like walking, drinking and looking. Verbs can be said to be the core of what language is, Human Expression 1.0.

Although this might seem a revelation to English speakers, it would be intuitive to speakers of, for instance, many Native American languages. In some of them, names can be verbs, as in “Dances With Wolves” with Lakota, a language I wrote about here not long ago. The Lushootseed language of Washington State takes this concept beyond mere names, such that some specialists think it doesn’t have nouns at all, just verbs: The word for “coyote” is the phrase “is a coyote.” In other languages, it’s adjectives that are elusive, with verbs taking over their jobs. In Japanese, today’s cup of tea “hots,” and yesterday’s cup “hotted.” In Fongbe, a language spoken in Togo and Benin, all the adjectives are actually verbs except for a mere 18.

McWhorter’s essay was one in a series of encouragements to live into crucial verbs I’d like to share with you.

Clinging to movement

I got started on the Bible study below because, while I was praying, I was hit by a snippet of Romans 12: “Cling to what is good.” I’d been labelled a few unwelcome things and I was dwelling on them. I was complaining to God about my feelings. God’s apparent reply was, “Cling to what is good,” or where did that even come from? How did a snippet invade my wound licking?

I did not immediately go to the Bible, since I carry a lot of the Bible with me — and the actual text does not always match what the Spirit is saying to me. So I delayed a bit and heard what I needed to hear, which was, “Cling to what is good in you.” That was important, because I was clinging to what was bad in me, as far as someone else was concerned. And in some cases I was clinging to the bad they did to me which had sunk into me.

What’s more I heard, “Cling to what is clinging to you.” That felt good, too, since I’m not always a good clinger. But my good God is clinging to me, coming right next to me and putting his arm around me in Jesus, and is nearer than my own breath by her Spirit.

Call it a coincidence, but I then came across a song by Lauren Daigle, about whom I know very little, and it was just the right thing to sing. I listened. Then I learned her song and sang it into my Smule collection to solidify it in my heart.

Living in verbs

I finally visited Romans 12, in which I have spent hours of meditation over the years. I followed a hunch I think McWhorter planted in me. Although I am not an expert in Greek, I was taught how Greek verbs are formed back in college. They are complex and evocative. They are also central to what amounts to Greek sentences — sometimes they are a whole English sentence in one word.

I thought my precious clause, “Cling to what is good,” might be part of a string of verbs in Romans 12:9-21. I was right. The passage is mostly a string of participles, almost like a bulleted list, which English translators turn into a bunch of sentences that often obscure their meaning. They make paragraphs out of little explosions, sentences out of expostulations popping off the page, much like I imagine God speaking the world into being out of nothing. Those verbs are better to be experienced than analyzed, as if they were a bunch of nouns.

I would not want to present this interpretation to my college Greek professor (she was tough!), or to my seminary Biblical theology prof (he was tougher!). But I think I am getting to the meaning and movement of this wonderful section of the Bible better than the New International Version! This portion said a lot to me. Maybe it will move you, too.

If we are living out our new life in the Spirit
as members of the body of Christ, we will be

    • Loving authentically
    • Detesting evil-sowers
    • Clinging to what is good
    • Nurturing family love in the Body
    • Honoring others with the first place
    • Working with diligence, not slothfully
    • Letting our fervor boil
    • Serving the Lord
    • Rejoicing in hope
    • Enduring affliction
    • Persevering in prayer
    • Contributing to the needs in the church
    • Pursuing hospitality
    • Blessing those who persecute us
    • Blessing and not cursing
    • Rejoicing with those rejoicing
    • Lamenting with those lamenting
    • Protecting community
    • Maintaining equality
    • Practicing humility
    • Refusing to repay evil for evil
    • Living out what everyone can see is good
    • Dwelling in peace with everyone, if possible
    • Reserving vengeance for God’s discretion
    • Sharing resources with enemies
    • Providing warmth and light in the cold of night
    • Repelling the attacks of evil
    • Overcoming evil with good

I was kind of thrilled to see, after I put this together, that the section begins with clinging to what is good and ends with overcoming evil with good. Cling to the good at work in you, it is overcoming evil and seeding the creation with renewed life.

I remembered that the good in me is able to overcome whatever I think is evil or whatever might objectively be so. Cling to the good at work in you, it is overcoming evil and seeding the creation with renewed life.

I remembered that the work for me is finished; I received the goodness of God and I have experienced it. I am living in it now and can be assured I will find it wherever I go next. But that work of good in me has a multiplying and dying creation pulsing all around it. It is alive and completing its purpose wherever I live. Cling to the good at work in you, it is overcoming evil and seeding the creation with renewed life.

If you go back to the bullets above, try, at least for the first round, to experience the good work of the Spirit all those verbs represent. Jesus is alive. Don’t turn them all back into nouns that label who you or others aren’t or what you or others don’t do. Cling to the good at work in you, it is overcoming evil and seeding the creation with renewed life.

I am Disconnected: Why? Can I change?

How we associate, kind of, now

How we connect to ourselves, others and God has changed, and we feel it.

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is a conservative/libertarian research and education think tank. In a 2021 article for them, Joseph Sunde tried to add to the big discussion among researchers about why Americans are so disconnected. He sidestepped the obvious by not mentioning being locked down for a year by a virus that made us suspicious that relationships might be contagious. And he neglected to highlight the Trump effect that made family reunions (and churches) minefields of politics. Instead, he took the long view.

The unraveling of the U.S. social fabric has been well-documented since Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone in 2000. When I was a pastor in 2000, that book gave facts to bolster our instinct that one of the main directions the Spirit was moving us was to create community in a city where every other force was tearing it apart. Sunde reviews what studies are showing two decades later, and they are revealing. One researcher says, “Today, Americans tend to have fewer ties of association with each other and fewer organizational memberships, but they also spend less time on friendships….Many of the ties to social identity Americans do have are less conducive to social flourishing. For example, church attendance has fallen dramatically despite its social benefits, whereas entertainment-focused associations such as sports teams have risen in popularity.”

At some point, sports reached the tipping point vis a vis other associations, especially the church. We could see it tipping when soccer practices began to invade Sunday morning. Another good reason we had our worship times on Sunday nights was so parents did not have to force their children to choose. However, we still had to adjust for the national holiday called “Superbowl Sunday” to take up a Sunday night. We were definitely “second fiddle” then.

Swifties in fan outfits. Click pic for more.

Another example of “entertainment-focused associations” presented itself in Philadelphia  last month when Taylor Swift’s tour arrived. The local CBS outlet said, “Lincoln Financial Field is ‘holy ground’ for Swifties tonight as Taylor Swift will hold the first of three concerts of her Eras Tour.” Tickets were hard to get but “fans who were able to score a ticket dressed up for the occasion inspired by their favorite Taylor Swift songs.”

All that goes to validate how you feel disconnected and why. You probably do. I am a lot more disconnected that I was in 2019. A perfect storm of troubles has atomized the country and wicked people are capitalizing on our disconnection to seize power and keep us divided, as they historically do in such circumstances.  It’s an evil instinct.

So what do we do? Maybe you can fill in your own personal details as we brainstorm how to claw back some connection.

To reconnect with yourself

Now that the church is so weak in many places, we’ve really got to step up our personal spiritual disciplines. After many people lost their churches during the pandemic, they realized their love for the Lord — heart, soul, mind, and strength, was mainly about being associated with the church. That’s a good thing, of course, but it is not the only thing. Without a growing personal relationship with God, spirit to Spirit, we lose ourselves quickly when trouble comes. And it is likely to keep coming.

You probably have some moribund disciplines that could be reignited. And you probably have some you’ve always thought you should try. Look at what your heart, soul, mind and strength each need and do something right now.

Here are some ways to reconnect that might not have some to mind.

  • Sing with a karaoke version of a worship song on YouTube. Singing is very integrative. Here’s one of my son’s childhood favorites.
  • Try sex with your partner again. Stress is bad for sex but sex is good for stress. We feel better about ourselves and our connectability when we get close physically. If you don’t have a sex partner, touch people, kiss your parents, hug friends.
  • Take a pilgrimage. It could be to Portugal or King of Prussia. I just got back. Being out of the rut for a while and rubbing up against new things is a good way to see yourself as who you are now. It is also good for meeting God in surprising ways, which is the crucial element of knowing one’s true self.
From: 5 tips to spice up dining with friends

To reconnect with others

The problem with connecting with others is connecting. We have to do something, move toward someone, organize to connect. The deepest parts of us say this is just supposed to happen, like mom should feed me. But once we’re over 30 or so, we need to take responsibility for meeting our connection needs.

Apart from changing your mind, here are smaller things to try:

  • We decided to end our disconnection with the church by going to a church meeting six weeks in a row during Lent. It worked!
  • Eat with someone. You don’t have to go through a drive through all the time. Make the family gather for dinner. Go out with a couple. Plan a monthly date with a friend or group. At least eat inside where other people are once a day.
  • Do some therapy. The experience of being listened to loosens up our capacity to connect with others.

To reconnect with purpose

The last few years have left use reeling. The huge problems of our politics, climate and disconnection have reduced us to survivors. It is no wonder huge spectacles are welcome distractions from the huge forces that plague us.

The associations for which America was once famous were built by people with a common purpose. Do you think we can still act out such purpose? Here are foundational ways to do it.

  • Listen. Who are you God? Who am I? What shall I do? These basic prayers are the kind that get answered. I don’t think they are answered by books as well as they are answered by meditation. Take the time.
  • Plan. Write down what you hear and let it get shaped into a plan. “I need to stop drinking. What shall I do after rehab?” I don’t think things happen to us as much as we would like. We need to happen ourselves.
  • Create. We just watched the movie “Air.” The theme was, unsurprisingly, “Just do it.” It was a good depiction of how hard it is to give your gifts and do what is best. But that is what are meant to do. We were created to create. Take the best thought you have now that aligns with the resources your have now and do something about it every day. You’ll feel better.

Surprise along the pilgrim way in Granada

I try to let a “pilgrim mentality” dominate my travels. Part of that mindset means staying open to surprise. Traveling reveals how much of our daily lives is devoted to NOT being surprised. We love the illusion of safety we create with our routines and the insulated environments of our homes and neighborhoods. A pilgrimage disrupts my usual defenses as it keeps highlighting how I do not know what is going to happen next. I pretend I can control the future at home but I really can’t do that on the road.  On the road, I will need to trust God. If I don’t, the anxiety I create by trying to manage the world properly will become helpfully obvious. The lesson traveling teaches so well is: No matter where I go, it is always better to go with Jesus as he leads my way through birth, through death, and into life.

Yesterday was Alhambra day. The famous site was not a surprise. It was a wonder, one of those bucket list moments. But I’d seen the pictures and knew the history. In some ways I had it under control.

But before I got there, the day provided two surprises which reasserted how little I really know. They reminded me how pleasant it is to meet God in new ways, like bumping into her in the street, often when the GPS is not tracking well, or when I least expect him.

One surprise was huge.

The Hospitallers of St John of God opened a spectacular shrine to their founder in Granada, Spain in 1759. It has been called the city’s best kept secret. I can attest to that.  It certainly surprised me!

I did not know anything about St. John of God or his monastic order. I just noticed the roof of their mother church when I was going somewhere else nearby. I popped in because I had some time before my plan kicked in. I am still happy I did that.

The Portuguese man, Joao Duarte Cidade, has an inspiring life story. He ended up an orphan, became a soldier, then a refugee, and then a printer. He did not have much direction for his life until he was 42 when he had a vision of Jesus who told him to move to Granada. He moved, and was so overwhelmed by his religious experiences there the townspeople had him committed. A spiritual director helped refine his understanding and he then applied his fervor to helping the sick.

John’s personal hospital housed a collection of people he found who had no way to receive care. Crippled. Mentally ill. Starving. Demented. The same people we still cast off today. Soon people joined him in service, including two notorious enemies he helped reconcile through their common acts of love. Before long there was an order recognized by the church which is still active in 53 countries. John died at 55 of pneumonia after he unsuccessfully tried to save a man drowning in the cold river.

The picture above does not do justice to the gaudy splendor of the order’s  over-the-top expression of praise for God and John. I was surprised again and again by its art, passion and oddness. For instance, around the remains of the saint in a silver chest were collected relics of many others. I took a picture of San Juan Capistrano.  What’s more, as we were about at the end of our time, the attendant herded all the visitors into the chapel seats for an unexpected treat. The wall you see above is mechanized and sections were lit to tell its story of God’s incarnate love in action! I almost missed it!

Another surprise was small

Later, we expected to find a place to lunch on the way up the hill to the Alhambra. I turned my nose up at one little place that seemed beneath my dignity and likely to have substandard fare. But nothing else was open so we backtracked and I reluctantly entered.

Once again, I knew nothing. The food was very nice! And we were seated in this unusual section, by ourselves in a crowded town, surrounded by a big plant reflected in a window of mirrors. I looked at myself a bit bemused. Why am I surprised so often by the wonders of the world, by the blessings around every corner?

Humans are an artful species whether with a chisel and stone or pan and egg. Once we got to the Alhambra and I looked over Granada from the tower in the wall, I let my small mindedness get swallowed up by creation. Thunderheads were forming and light was pouring around them into a valley framed by the original Sierra Nevada mountains. It was another light-show highlighting the love of God. I made sure not to miss it.