Category Archives: Spiritual direction

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

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

I began my psalm last Sunday like this:

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

A lot of us feel dragged down.

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

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

It is in the atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Develop contemplative practice

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

Amish kids not thinking about 2050

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

Singh-Molares says

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

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

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

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

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

…Find companions

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

Singh-Molares adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singh-Molares adds:

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

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

I ended my psalm last Sunday like this:

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

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

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

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

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

Interspirituality: Finding trust in the swirl of newness

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

The swirl

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

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

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

Interspirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you want to adopt interspirituality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marithé Et François Girbaud

Holy Week requires trust

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

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

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

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

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

 

What should we do about 2024? : Not enough suggestions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what we are up against.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is quite a year

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

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

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

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

What should we do?

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

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

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

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

Grief: Make room to grieve in every way you need

I wonder if what has been making us mean in the last few years is unprocessed grief. Maybe we have not grieved at all, or haven’t considered all the ways our souls are working through the losses and sadness we carry.

Do people in the United States have good ways to grieve anymore? Were you taught anything by your family system that helps you?

I am connected to many people who are not conversant in grief at all. If I suggest we talk about their loss and the grief they feel about it, they almost immediately deflect. They can talk about trauma, anxiety and depression, which are words the therapeutic language we use allows.  But the deeper, soulful grief they are passing through and which they will continue to bear is hard to admit. For many men, especially, grieving seems weak, shameful, irrelevant, or just annoying.

You can see grief behind the meanness

It is possible, isn’t it, that not making room for grief is contributing to how mean we are getting. Many people have noticed our agression and disrespect growing, especially if they drive a car, and even more viscerally if they have been to the U.S. southern border. Americans are meaner. David Brooks wrote a great (long!) article about becoming meaner in The Atlantic last fall. But he did not highlight grieving.

Even though we went through a pandemic and even though the death and fear of it is not really over, Americans generally seem to brush off their need to grieve. Our president, at the outset of the health emergency, minimized the disaster and his followers loudly distrusted the vaccines which undoubtedly saved the lives of millions of the 111 million Americans who have been infected, so far — (yes, a full third of the country! and it may be more). Even with the vaccines, 1.2 million people have died from Covid so far in the U.S. — that’s over 1/7 of the estimated deaths worldwide. Donald Trump is famous for appearing on the porch of the White House, fresh from the hospital, still having trouble breathing, pointedly denying anything significant was happening.

I know many of us did not take his lead, but I think the country, by and large, buried its grief. The persistent irritation of unrecognized, denied, or avoided grief could make us mean and even sicker than we might normally be.

Maybe Trump takes his cues from the screen, since he is famous for having a lot of TV time. The screens contribute to our inability to grieve. We often learn how to live from them. And the screens are sketchy about what they teach about grief.

If you see grieving on the screen, it often moves through in a few moments. Some movies are enlightening stories of grief, of course — but even those films tidy things up, generally, after about two hours. Learning grief from film or TV shows may stunt us. They may desensitize us to our personal process because our catharsis happens while watching someone else, and someone who is not real, at that. It is not the same as having our own experience.

Our experiences rarely match  the screen. Most screens show grief in stereotypic ways. A Reddit ranter says:

I’m home alone watching Kingsman (I know) and the main character loses the son he spent his whole life protecting and after 3 mins of air time grieving, he’s smacked into reality and goes back to work…. Like, is this annoying to anyone else but me? A close friend can give you a pet [sic] talk to physically hit you and now you’re okay again?!!?!

The boatload of heroic spy and superhero movies we’ve had in the last decade usually include this message about grief: there is no time for it. Besides, we’re too tough to give into it. Heroes tend to say, “I’ll honor your moment of silence for the latest victims, even acknowledge your single tear squeezing out. But then it is back to the work of revenge or raining overwhelming force on our enemies.” For instance, here is Thor dealing with his grief in Guardians of the Galaxy:

He gets slapped. Then he “gets it together” in record time. Grief meets meanness on the screen.

Maybe we need grieving room

Leanne FriesenLast week a book my acquaintance wrote about grieving showed up in my Kindle. I forgot I pre-ordered it. I admit, I was hesitant to open it because I really admire this woman and I did not want to not like her book. But as soon as I read a few pages, I could not put it down. It is a charming, honest, helpful book about grief: Grieving Room: Making Space for All the Hard Things after Death and Loss. In a world that wants to rush toward closure and healing, Leanne Friesen gives us reasons, and maybe more important, gives us permission to let loss linger. She teaches us to give ourselves and others grieving room when the very worst happens.

I wrote a bit about grief last week, too, because I need to give it room, just like anyone else. I was not prepared for loss. I think the most I heard about grief in my family growing up was when my mom shouted “Good grief!” — which isn’t quite the same as demonstrating healthy living or having a serious discussion!

Reading Friesen’s book creates much-needed time to meditate on old, unfinished griefs and space to accept more recent, raw ones. She is mainly reflecting on her own life-changing experience of losing her relatively-young sister to cancer. But I think what she says easily applies to losing several years to a pandemic, to vicariously losing mass-shooting victims or Palestinian children, to being fired from your job, to losing your child to estrangement, or to many of the other losses we don’t think to make room for.

She also focuses on her own emotions, which she can readily access; there is lots of crying, angry outbursts, and tenderness. That does not mean you can’t use her book to help you grieve the way you do. Men who have rarely cried as an adult can read it, traumatized people whose losses are terrifying can enter in at their present level, even Christians who think the Holy Spirit bears all their griefs so they don’t have to can benefit.

The Bubble

One of the most helpful images in Grieving Room comes in the chapter “Room to Never Get Over It: Always Missing the One You Lost.” In that chapter Friesen faces the hard thing we all face when someone asks, “Are you over it yet?” — or when we fear someone might ask that because we should be over it, or when we ask ourselves that question because we want to be over it. She says:

There is a season when you live right inside that big cloud of grief. In the grief bubble, it feels like you live surrounded by grief all the time. This is a normal part of grieving. It is also true that at some point, we transition to a time where we live beside the bubble, instead of inside it. Moving to this season can take a long time. Even when the big cloud shifts, your grief never really leaves. It is still part of us, forever.

It could take years for us to get out of our grief bubble. If we don’t make room for that reality, we’ll probably get mean to ourselves or others — and who knows what else might happen?

This award winning short film reduces the process of grieivng to ten minutes, but it seems more accurate to me than many depictions. You might see the bubble in it.

Jesus in the dust with us

Even though Friesen is a protestant church leader, she realized she might not make room for resurrection. In the chapter right next to the one I just mentioned is “Room for Resurrection: Starting to Find New Life Again.” She writes:

One of my favorite quotations, from Frederick Buechner, says, “The resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.” [The Final Beast (1965)]…Had the idea of all of us rising together ever meant something to me before? It had a little but even more now. Until I lived through my very own worst thing, I didn’t know the truth of the idea that the resurrection means the worst thing isn’t the last thing. It took a lot of death for me to start to see resurrection. I had never really needed  resurrection until [my sister] died.

Unlike Friesen, many of us are tragically alone in our grief! To hear her tell it, her life is full of family, good friends and caring churches. I think it’s possible she could make room for the many hard things of grief because room had been made for her and her emotions in her family and community. She can look forward to rising from the dead with her family and friends!

That may not be where you are at right now. For one thing, the pandemic killed a lot of churches and the ones left are still recovering. Nothing will ever be the same. So if you had that togetherness it might be hard to find now. On top of that, you may have ended up too alone, locked down, to dare grieving. You’re more like Thor: hyper responsible for everything (but without a hammer) getting slapped. With morality gone, like David Brooks claims, and Christianity taking a nose-dive, you might basically be without God, too.  So many of us suffer a deep sense of being completely on our own.

Being alone, or feeling alone, might make it that much harder to to get out of that overwhelming bubble of grief. Grief might become a chronic experience. Resurrection, the other side of the deaths we experience and the losses we carry, might seem like a fantasy.

The New Testament is honest about how slowly resurrection dawns on the grieving disciples.  The Lord’s #1 woman, Mary Magdalene, thinks Jesus is the groundskeeper outside his tomb. At one point the risen Jesus finds his irritated disciples gone back to fishing.

The resurrected Jesus can be hard to recognize. He has a different look on the other side of death. We do too. Things look and we look different on the other side of our losses. I think the whole world looks different after the millions of deaths during the pandemic.

Before death comes to us or on us, resurrection can be an easy thing to keep on the outside of us, maybe more like a nice thought or an inspiring principle. Even Peter rebuked Jesus for wanting to go to Jersualem — no death, no need for resurrection, let’s keep things controllable. When death gets inside our defenses, into our heart,  resurrection becomes crucial. When grief can no longer be denied or prevented, we have nowhere to go except to the one who holds the words of eternal life.

I think this very short video does a nice job of bringing us to rest in the hope of Jesus being with us, not only in the bubble, but in the challenge of facing death, inside and out, every day. I’ll leave you with it. When you say with the psalmist in Psalm 22,

“My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death,”

may you experience how God lays down with you in your dust.

Judith Viorst’s Necessary Losses: A helpful guide through your loss for Lent

Judith Viorst’s Necessary Losses (1986) is a book I have recommended many times to friends and clients over the years. If you are ready to meet an honest but encouraging guide as you move through the losses along your way toward development, she is a good one.

Judith Viorst and Alexander (still having a bad, no good day)
Judith Viorst and Alexander (still having a no good, very bad day)

Inevitable loss and glory

Now that I think it is safe to say I am officially “old,” loss cannot be as easily denied as it used to be. My also-old friends are deteriorating with me. And I find it much harder to avoid the yet-unfinished griefs and fears of childhood. There are tender scars of betrayal and failure to bump into. There are unmet needs (and my complicity in keeping them unmet) to feel. And there is the mean old world lapping at the sinking shoreline beneath my feet.

Life is wonderful and difficult at the same time! For instance, we had such a wonderful Valentine’s Day! We rehearsed all the things we like about our relationship over dinner and then found so many reasons to laugh during Mrs. Doubtfire. But it was not long before I watched myself doubt my own fire and long for some intangible thing I felt was missing in me or my life. Difficulties arise daily. As Paul would say,

I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. — 1 Cor. 15:31

Yet in the next letter he says,

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. — 2 Cor. 4:16-17

Death and glory travel together.

Lessons from Judith Viorst

As I prayed about these things, I remembered I wanted to recommend Necessary Losses to a client. But then I thought my inspiration might really be God encouraging me to pick the book up for myself, which I did. I thumbed through to the final page and was encouraged all over again by Viorst’s frank and hopeful view of how we develop. Here’s some of it for you:

In thinking about development as a lifelong series of necessary losses—of necessary losses and subsequent gains—I am constantly struck by the fact that in human experience opposites frequently converge. I have found that little can be understood in terms of “eithers” and “ors.” I have found that the answer to the question “Is it this or that?” is often “Both.”

That we love and we hate the same person.

That the same person—us, for instance—is both good and bad.

That although we are driven by forces that are beyond our control and awareness, we are also the active authors of our fate.

And that, although the course of our life is marked with repetition and continuity, it also is remarkably open to change.

For yes, it is true that as long as we live we may keep repeating the patterns established in childhood. It is true that the present is powerfully shaped by the past. But it also is true that the circumstances of every stage of development can shake up and revise the old arrangements. And it’s true that insight at any age can free us from singing the same sad songs again.

Thus, although our early experiences are decisive, some of these decisions can be reversed. We can’t understand our history in terms of continuity or change. We must include both.

And we can’t understand our history unless we recognize that it is comprised of both outer and inner realities. For what we call our “experiences” include not only what happens to us out there, but how we interpret what happens to us out there. A kiss is not just a kiss—it may feel like sweet intimacy; it may feel like outrageous intrusion. It may even be only a fantasy in our mind. Each of us has an inner response to the outer events of our life. We must include both.

Another set of paired opposites which tend to merge in real life are nature and nurture. For what we come into the world with—our innate qualities, our “constitutional givens”—interacts with the nurture we receive. We cannot view development in terms of either environment or heredity. We must include both.

As for our losses and gains, we have seen how often they are inextricably mixed. There is plenty we have to give up in order to grow. For we cannot deeply love anything without becoming vulnerable to loss. And we cannot become separate people, responsible people, connected people, reflective people without some losing and leaving and letting go.

I may be old, but I am still developing. Letting go of my losses is not the only way I do it. But letting go is an essential skill if we don’t want to run into a psychological and spiritual wall every day. I know this personally. Letting go of some significant losses in the past few years has opened up many new avenues for growth and love for me. My spiritual direction group helped me let go of something just last week and the freedom is still taking shape! It feels great. None of us is finished yet.

Lent would be a great season for meditating through Judith Viorst’s book and letting go of the necessary losses that lead us to resurrection after resurrection.

Lent is another both/and. It is right now and quite deliberate, but it is also a window into the losses of the past and a view into the promises of the future. It is the turning season, a yearly  invitation to move into the way of life after death: daily and eternal, out of the old self and into the new, out of the past and into the future. You may or may not feel the immediate results of your Lenten disciplines, but, come Easter, you may come to recognize you feel inwardly renewed, and you will likely come to feel the delight of sensing the glory of God unveiling your true glory.

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Today is Xi Shengmo Day! Meet one of the first modern Chinese church leaders who renamed himself “Overcomer of Demons” @ The Transhistorical Body.

The screens vs. the real intimacy of the soul

A.I. Irish forest
A.I. Irish forest

When John O’Donohue published Anam Cara: A Celtic Book of Wisdom in 1997, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair presided over the politics of the West. At that time, here in Philadelphia, we were a few years into planting a church. It had a great run until my successors hit the pandemic wall. The 90’s seem like a very long time ago.

Everyone Needs an Anam Cara—or Soul Friend—to Feel Understood and Loved: A Celebration ofBut in many ways, O’Donohue is even more relevant now than he was in the 90’s. Then, he was just wading in the rivulets of what is now drowning us. When the publishers released the 25th anniversary edition of O’Donohue’s classic, new readers saw how prophetic his thinking was.

His main intent was to preserve vestiges of the sacred worldview of his Celtic ancestors; he was like Cary Fowler lobbying at the time for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Only O’Donohue’s seeds were spiritual and the fields from which he gathered them were quickly disappearing from Gaelic islands like the Amazon forests from Brazil.

Even more, he was like the prophet Isaiah, who intended to make an old truth present as he spoke for God to to his chosen people. In Anam Cara O’Donohue interprets the past, establishes God in the present, and offers a surprising, prophetic message for us twenty-seven years later.

Let’s listen to just one paragraph that speaks about the sacredness of intimacy. It will give us a chance to examine how we feel and think about relationships these days and how the threat to them O’Donohue prophesied is as real as he feared. The restoration of the kind of intimacy the Celtic church experienced with God, with one other and with Creation is the way to freedom through the shadows that dominate us.

In our culture, there is an excessive concentration on the notion of relationship. People talk incessantly about relationships. It is a constant theme on television, film and the media. Technology and media are not uniting the world. They pretend to provide a world that is internetted, but in reality, all they deliver is a simulated world of shadows. Accordingly, they make our human world more anonymous and lonely. In a world where the computer replaces human encounter and psychology replaces religion, it is no wonder that there is an obsession with relationship. Unfortunately, however, “relationship” has become an empty center around which our lonely hunger forages for warmth and belonging. Much of the public language of intimacy is hollow, and its incessant repetition only betrays the complete absence of intimacy. Real intimacy is a sacred experience. It never exposes its secret trust and belonging to the voyeuristic eye of a neon culture. Real intimacy is of the soul and the soul is reserved. (pg. 15)

Let’s cut his word into three parts and better see what he is saying to us. I hope he will help us hang on to our souls in this troubled time.

Now people live in the shadows

In our culture, there is an excessive concentration on the notion of relationship. People talk incessantly about relationships. It is a constant theme on television, film and the media. Technology and media are not uniting the world. They pretend to provide a world that is internetted, but in reality, all they deliver is a simulated world of shadows.

In 1997 the misanthropic Seinfeld was nearing its last season of nine at #1 in the ratings. We laughed at terrible people unable to connect. Jerry Seinfeld mocked our increasingly shadowy existence and normalized the despair that now dominates our cultural self-image. Here he is on the Tonight Show when Jimmy Fallon was getting started deriding our relationships and the Post Office in his much-imitated way [link].

Meanwhile, in 1997 Friends was spending the third year of its ten-year run at #4. That charming group might be even more insidious. They, in some sense, suggested the world could be united as friends, just like they formed their unlikely, alternative family in the media ether. When Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) died last October from “the acute effects of ketamine” there was a worldwide cry of anguish on the internet — as if they had lost a friend. But technology and media have not united the world, have they?

The prophecy is: It is all shadows. Increasingly, people live in these shadows. The explosive use of artificial intelligence tools has led to the fear of “shadow AI” (that is, AI used outside system protocol) destroying order and normal relationships in a business. Creations like the A.I. Irish forest above are more real to people than actual ones. The colonization of souls by technology causes people to despair of relating and to become acclimated to living in shadow.

Now loneliness is an epidemic

Accordingly, they make our human world more anonymous and lonely. In a world where the computer replaces human encounter and psychology replaces religion, it is no wonder that there is an obsession with relationship. Unfortunately, however, “relationship” has become an empty center around which our lonely hunger forages for warmth and belonging.

Psychology has named loneliness a mental health crisis but generally has little to offer as a solution apart from trusting in individual education to cause individual change. People need something deeper and they are looking for it. One of the newly-popular, albeit usually illegal, paths they are taking is psilocybin/mushrooms; some think their use is outpacing the research.

Regardless of how you search, many of us are feeling and acting desperate. I don’t think we know what the pandemic did to the world yet. But our desperation is evidence something went wrong. An easy-to-see example of the upheaval is how the increasing loneliness of the West has become its own epidemic. Many of us are still not completely out of our lockdown. Not only are we dealing with health issues and death, our social institutions, like the church, took a hit. Many churches have also died in the last few years alongside millions of virus victims. The leaders burned out. The systems proved untrustworthy. One of the results of all this is we’re lonely because we’ve been left alone to fend for ourselves.

But we are obsessed with relationships, constantly foraging around the “empty center” for warmth and belonging. We scroll for intimacy. My heart is warmed for a second by fleeting images of pets cuddling and babies laughing which are fed to me by the algorithms. People who are serious about connecting download an app. According to a Forbes poll in late 2023 “Nearly 70% of individuals who met someone on a dating app said it led to a romantic, exclusive relationship, while 28% said it did not.” Pew’s 2023 survey says “One-in-ten partnered adults – meaning those who are married, living with a partner or in a committed romantic relationship – met their current significant other through a dating site or app.” As usual, any tool can be used to a good end, but the technology often makes the user in its image.

When the new Surgeon General put out his report on loneliness, the media started talking about it. He reported: “In a U.S.-based study, participants who reported using social media for more than two hours a day had about double the odds of reporting increased perceptions of social isolation compared to those who used social media for less than 30 minutes per day.” 75% of social media users reported they would find it difficult to give up their internet foraging.

The prophecy is: We will not find the intimacy we crave by going to an imaginary watering hole for a drink. True intimacy requires a soul language the media can only represent, if it even cares to; it takes humans and God to share it in reality.

Now intimacy is fully hollow

Much of the public language of intimacy is hollow, and its incessant repetition only betrays the complete absence of intimacy. Real intimacy is a sacred experience. It never exposes its secret trust and belonging to the voyeuristic eye of a neon culture. Real intimacy is of the soul and the soul is reserved.

Watch Taraji P. Henson 'Push Da Button' in The Color Purple | Playbill

As soon as I re-read those lines above, I felt my reaction to The Color Purple (the new film of the musical) all over again.  It is so hollow! It has great performances, especially by Fantasia, but the music feels redundant, like it was formulaically feeding on Alice Walker’s masterpiece (1982). Even more so, it feels like Oprah and Spielberg (the producers) are feeding off the movie they made of the book (1985) — in which Oprah was tremendous. The musical opened on Broadway in 2005, and by the time the movie of it was made, the horrific story of broken intimacy had been fully bathed in “neon.” The only interesting song among a series of derivative, banal tunes is the cringeworthy “Push da Button,” the antithesis of O’Donohue’s sense of intimacy.

Likewise, pundits noted how this year’s Grammys were dominated by women whose songs all tell intimate, often excruciating stories — Sza and Taylor Swift exposed to stadiums full of people, and the brilliant Billie Eielish (with her Gaelic name meaning “pledged to God”) singing about Barbie’s search for meaning and connection as a stand-in for countless people who can relate to her yearning. The performers hollow out intimacy, which “never exposes its secret trust and belonging to the voyeuristic eye.” The under-exposed Tracy Chapman’s reserve at last week’s award ceremony made her seem like a goddess.

The prophetic word is: real intimacy is sacred. It rises from an environment where God is present and honored. There is a secrecy, a mystery to it. We don’t own it, produce it, or control it. We share it. We receive it. We appreciate it. The “voyeuristic eye of a neon culture” is like Sauron’s eye searching Middle Earth for the final ring of power and we dare not placate the eye or wear the ring.

It is as dire and hopeful as Isaiah says it is

In the short run, Isaiah prophesies, the Jewish Kingdom of Judah will be overrun by Babylon, which is deserves to be. But in the long run:

Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation
and your gates Praise.

The sun shall no longer be
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give light to you by night,
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory. — Isaiah 60

O’Donohue has a similar prophecy. The outlook for the West is grim, but he has a lived message of intimacy with God and of security grounded in Creation. In the shadows “the Lord will be your everlasting light.” A seed of hope has taken root in him. He has seen God in the world and can’t unsee Jesus. The Holy Spirit has enlivened his soul, she has undammed the yearning that flows between heaven and earth and unleashed the joy inherent in that longing.

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Today is Fanny J. Crosby Day! Visit this spiritual ancestor at The Transhistorical Body and subscribe for reminders of future posts.

Is it disobedient to be afraid? (2012)

In my long stint as a Philly pastor, I often answered “frequently asked questions.” This speech reflects a time when someone asked me, “Is it disobedient to be  afraid?” Someone must have asked me for more Bible study, because there is a surprising amount of scripture here.

Is it disobedient to be afraid? We are going to talk about that. The answer is, generally, yes, but probably not for generally accepted reasons.

Rhyolite bank building

What are you afraid of?

I am afraid of heights. I’ve done a lot of things to try to overcome this fear, but I am not very successful. One time I got stuck on a ruin Rhyolite, Nevada (like the one above) when I was out in the desert with some friends and could not get down from my climb because I was too afraid to bridge the gap between my foot and the next foothold. They had to come up and rescue me.

But I think I am more afraid of depths. It is hard to look into certain territories inside. I am not alone in this.

But the worst thing might be that I am most afraid of people I am close to, even people I love. I have a nagging fear of you, right now. I am so afraid of the things that might hurt me again, or make me feel too alone, or make me feel smothered or shamed. My reaction is so automatically fearful I am afraid of my reaction! What’s more, I am afraid to be myself because that might hurt someone else. I not only don’t want to do that, I don’t want them to do it to me.  Are you as messy as me?

So if the Bible teaches I am being disobedient to God when I am afraid, I am pretty much disobedient a lot. I’ve got sin ready to pop out all the time!

The Bible does say, “Do not be afraid” a lot. Like in the famous account of the resurrection. Some one read it and everyone read the bold part.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  — Matthew 28

Jesus has died, there has been an earthquake, an angel has appeared to the soldiers and they have fainted they were so afraid. The women see the angel (note they do not faint) and he says, “Do not be afraid.” I suppose it is disobedient to not do what a messenger of God tells you to do.

But also note that in verse 8, they are disobedient, still afraid, but they are filled with joy. You might want to hold on to that seeming incongruity for later.

So they are obediently running to tell the disciples the news that Jesus is risen, when they run into Jesus! They fall on the ground. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Is it disobedient to be afraid when Jesus says “Do not be afraid?” I honestly think the answer to the question is “Yes.” It is, at some level, basically disobedient to be afraid. It is idolatry, the fear has a bigger place in your worship than Jesus.

People organize their lives around fear every day. Why are our national leaders so afraid of people in Northwest Pakistan? There are a lot of reasons that could be given. But they are not afraid because they trust God!

Why are we so afraid of each other? You get next to someone and suddenly you are afraid of what they think of what you just said. You are so concerned about what they might feel  you are anxious and miserable all day. When all the while, if you actually follow Jesus, you are going to live forever, which means even if what you experience kills you, things will work out OK.

What can mere humans do to me?

The writers of scriptures from about 1000 BC to 64 AD have a common memory verse that you might like to add to your thinking: what can mere humans do to me? My spiritual director often asks me, “What can really happen here? Really, what’s the worst thing? Why be so locked in fear?” He does not always succeed in getting me to not be afraid, but he is right to ask.

Four of you read one of these as an invitation to us to give up our fear. Don’t read the reference:

  • In God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere human beings do to me? — Psalm 56:11
  • When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; / he brought me into a spacious place.
    The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. / What can human beings do to me?
    The Lord is with me; he is my helper. / I look in triumph on my enemies. — Psalm 118:5-7
  • What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. — Matthew 10:27-9
  • God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can human beings do to me?” — Hebrews 13:5-6

So yes, God tells us to not be afraid — and for some very good reasons. If we don’t trust him and are afraid for our usual bad reasons, then it is disobedient. God commands us to act for our best interests. Trusting God is in our best interests.

How to Calm a Fussy Baby: Tips for Parents & Caregivers - HealthyChildren.org

Is there a fearless human somewhere?

All that being said it would be bizarre to find a fearless human. They might be a sociopath. Some Christians seem to be to have some kind of psychological talent that allows them to act like they are not afraid and pretend they have no fear.  They are committed to being obedient, they saw that the Bible said “Do not be afraid.” So, by God!, they are not afraid. But I think they might be afraid of being afraid, deep down inside. And they might be so afraid of God that they would shut their feelings down in order not to offend her. They might be afraid their religious house of cards will tumble if they call God “her!”

Contrary to that, I think it is very likely that all those scriptures that say “Do not be afraid,” were intended to be comforting scriptures. Those passages are more like when you are holding your screaming child and you say, “Don’t cry honey.” I think they are saying “God and all his messengers know you are afraid. Don’t be afraid.” They are pointing out our fear, acknowledging it exists and working with it.

We have a strange problem in this era. We think what we feel is who we are. If I feel fear, I am afraid. I think It makes more sense to separate feelings from actions. You can be afraid and filled with joy, too! God and his angels might scare you, but you could respond with worship.

After all, Isaiah says:

Therefore, this is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says: “My people who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians, who beat you with a rod and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did. “

Isaiah is speaking for the Lord, who is telling his children, the people of Israel — the whole nation is like his offspring, “Don’t be afraid of the Assyrians,” even though the Assyrian Empire is huge and is undoubtedly going to take you over, and your King, Ahaz, is trying to make a deal with them instead of trusting God. Be faithful to God.

Isaiah notes however, that the experience of being beaten is installed in the nation’s memory, since that is what happened in Egypt when they were slaves. When they were just a child of a nation God rescued them from their abusive condition, but the fears born of having been in that condition are still real.

When God tells you don’t be afraid, he remembers your beginnings, too. I have a story about why I am still afraid inside, even though I can act fearlessly in many ways. I have an Egypt in my past where I was hurt. Some of you have stories you don’t even want to tell, they are so painful to recall. Some of you have stories you can’t tell because you blocked them out completely. They were being formed when you were just a small human. There is no way God is telling you, “Don’t be afraid,” as if you were never in Egypt. He encourages us to not be afraid because we were in Egypt and we needed to be rescued. And now the Assyrians are coming upon us.

We have a lot to be afraid of

Get a picture of what you are afraid of in your mind. Even make a mental list. I am not going to make you tell us what it is, so don’t be afraid. But I am going to offer the opportunity to a couple of people, so we can be honest, like God is, about carrying things that scare us. Any body want to tell us the first thing that came to mind?

I don’t think being obedient is not ever being afraid. I think being obedient is listening to God’s call and trusting him when we are afraid, which is pretty much all the time. “Do not be afraid,” should be translated, “I know you are afraid. Listen to me. Trust me. This is going to go someplace. I am with you. Act in faith even though you are afraid.” The scriptures suggest ways to live that out.

Meet God in the night

Everyone read this if you can:

Do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you, …
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. — Proverbs 3:21-2,24

I sometimes wake up in the night and can’t resist making a list of things that trouble me. I did it last night, because I forgot to do something I needed to do and I was afraid of the consequences. My fears get to me when my defenses are quieted by sleep and they can get out. I hope that does not happen to you. But for most of us, it does happen, at least once in a while.

To be obedient, try some rituals. You might need to get up and pray or get up and deal. You might need to push it off. You might recite the Jesus prayer and re-center. You might use your new memory verse “what can humans do to me?’

When we become aware of our fear it tests our obedience to God’s command. We need to meet him in the fear. The Lord is calling into the fear for us — calling us out. If you experience fear, it is a place to meet God.

Trust in the touch

Let’s all read this in a mysterious whisper:

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. — Revelation 1:17

 This is John in Revelation thinking about the end of time. The other day we got a movie out of Red Box called Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. It turned out to be a God-free rendition of John’s revelation! The movie was all about fear and finding someone to touch before the meteor hit. It was touchingly disobedient and lovingly hopeless. I think John’s vision is better. John’s vision is such a wonderful thing he experiences as he is awaiting the end of this age, exiled on his island. He has a vision of the risen, ruling Jesus, and Jesus tenderly touches him. Do not be afraid.

God is going to touch you where you are afraid. But you will have to let him and learn to let him when you are too afraid to let him or too accustomed to not letting him. You learned to be afraid and not let it touch you. You have a tendency to fall down dead in the face of what you fear. The touch of God, who is the beginning and the end, before you began and bringing you to your end, is how we deal. That is obedient.

Take a step

Let’s have a woman be Moses:

See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  — Deuteronomy 1:21

This is Moses telling the people of Israel that the people of the promised land are not too big for them and they should go inhabit what God has given them. They are afraid. We come up against things that make us feel tiny and helpless every day, don’t we?

One of my grandsons is learning to swim. When he is done screaming, he is quite proud of what he can do. He feels better because he has gone through a fearful thing. We don’t get very far if we don’t travel through fear to get there.

One of my directees talked to his father after five years recently. It turned out even worse than he expected. But not talking to him had clogged him up with the fear of not making that connection. He feels like he is getting free. He took a step.

You are not going to be unafraid when you take a step. See what the Lord has given to you. See what those who have taken steps before you are telling you. Go with it.

So is it disobedient to be afraid? Yes, if what you mean is you are ruled by your fear and not by your faith in God. But no, it is not disobedient to be afraid. You are just afraid. It is a feeling, and one that makes a lot of sense, given your circumstances. It will pass through.  “Do not be afraid.” Have joy in your fear, Jesus is with you.

A meditation to help us face 2024

Are you or your friends scared to face 2024? After everyone finished their reports on the December sicknesses last week, many people went on to report their anxiety about the coming year — for some it was more than anxiety, it was terror.

I can see why they feel that way. The Trump effect has created trickle-down lawlessness that makes simply driving one’s car frightening. The decades of partisan power struggle in U.S. politics has leaked into everyday transactions. Left-leaning institutions cancel their leaders, right-leaning institutions fire their pastors and directors and everyone has a litmus test, everyone is primarily concerned with power. Jane Coaston coined the term, “vice signaling,” to describe how Trump’s core supporters convey their tribal allegiance and show how little they care about conventional moral norms. The basic questions of life have become “Is my side winning? Am I getting what I deserve? Am I getting ripped off? Can anyone be trusted?”

It is not like humanity has ever stopped asking those questions. But cultures all over the planet have found striking ways to fight our sinful impulses. People keep reporting how they don’t have anyone fighting for them and don’t have the strength to protect themselves.

We all have something to give

We may have more capabilities to cope and even thrive than we think. That reality also appears in my office every day.

We all have something to give that makes things better. I think Jesus followers, especially, should feel an obligation to express the truth and love in them — that truth and love which is given to you in a unique way only you can give. In light of that I have been trying to figure out how to keep putting some truth and love out there that is not just outrage about Trump or despair about how many bad things have happened to me (e.g. – I have Xfinity issues).

My attempt at truth and love today centers on my recent, new soul friend, John O’Donohue. I think you could use some time to meditate on the teaching I received from his book Anam Cara. It could soothe your fears and even help you find a way through all those things you dread.  Throughout his book, O’Donohue keeps describing the basic alternative to the constant power struggle we are all sick of and sick from.

Life is not about who wins the election and who controls the economy. If it is, then life is just about getting power, and most of us do not have a life. That is, the life we have remains hidden from us.

In his Celtic way, O’Donohue reinforces what every baby knows and every adult longs for: life is about love.

O’Donohue can’t help but write poetry, even when he is writing prose. So I took a nice section of his book and made stanzas out of it, like a poem. I gave each section a title.

After you’ve used it all to meditate, I’ll make a few comments in closing.

See if this meditation gives you a non-anxious few minutes and fans the flames of God’s love in you. I believe as we claim such space in the world and live out of it, the Spirit of God transforms fear into fulfillment.

Your face is the icon of creation

Against the infinity of the cosmos and the silent depths of nature,
the human face shines out as the icon of intimacy.
It is here,
in this icon of human presence,
that divinity in creation comes nearest to itself.
The human face is the icon of creation.

Your heart is your inner face

Each person also has an inner face,
which is always sensed but never seen.
The heart is the inner face of your life.
The human journey strives to make this inner face beautiful.
It is here that love gathers within you.

Love awakens what is divine in you

Love is absolutely vital for a human life.
For love alone can awaken what is divine within you.
In love, you grow and come home to your self.
When you learn to love and to let your self be loved,
you come home to the hearth of your own spirit.
You are warm and sheltered.
You are completely at one in the house of your own longing and belonging.

Longing and belonging fuel the fire of fulfillment

In that growth and homecoming
is the unlooked-for bonus
in the act of loving another.
Love begins with paying attention to others,
with an act of gracious self-forgetting.
This is the condition in which we grow.

Once the soul awakens,
the search begins
and you can never go back.
From then on, you are inflamed
with a special longing that will never again linger
in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment….

Love unlocks eternity

At the deepest level of being,
possibility is both mother and transfigured destination
of what we call events and facts.
This quiet and secret world of the eternal is the soul.

Love is the nature of the soul.
When we love and allow ourselves to be loved,
we begin more and more to inhabit the kingdom of the eternal.
Fear changes into courage,
emptiness becomes plentitude,
and distance becomes intimacy.

Godless people are going to try to use fear, emptiness and distance this year (and always) to dominate us and steer us in the direction of surrendering our true selves to their power. Trump even shared a fan-made video on Truth Social saying he was chosen to save us.

What should we do?

I am going to keep re-membering as the powers try to dislocate my insides and separate me from loved ones. I plan to keep turning into the truth and love in Jesus.

I am going to go back to James:

For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. — James 1:23-25

I am not going to forget what my face looks like, whether distorted by AI or tracked by cameras. My inner, unique face is going to be shown to the world through self-forgetting, transfiguring, and embracing love. I don’t need the world’s power if I am secure in the heart of creation, resting in the grace of God in Jesus. I may use my power to good ends, but I will never try to live off it like it longs to feed on me.

**********

Today is the MLK National Holiday in the United States. If you’d like to join in and learn what it is all about, visit The Transhistorical Body. 

There is a lot of bloom left in you, too.

When we first moved into our high-rise condo overlooking the park and the Philadelphia skyline, we were, along with all our neighbors, shut into our units by the pandemic. Not good. What’s more, our wrap-around balconies had been condemned by License and Inspection and needed to undergo a complete, expensive and LONG rehabilitation. Also not good. If situations like that, and worse, kind of resemble your life in the last few years, shut in and in need of rehab, you are not alone my friend.

Thank God things change! The pandemic was just recently declared over – although my son and my dear friends are fighting off Covid as I write, so I guess they missed the announcement. But things are generally better when it comes to the virus. What’s also exciting: our balconies were reopened last Spring, just in time for me to experiment with a new little farm I planted on them. I had plenty of new territory to plow. My daughter-in-law remarked at our New Year’s party, “These balconies are like extra rooms!” That’s really nice.

Hawaii State Flower Yellow Hawaiian Hibiscus
On the Big Island

Miracle hibiscus

I have a stories that go with each of the dear plants I have been nurturing, but in the interest of time I will just mention four that seem rather miraculous, especially the two hibiscus.

It started getting cold, so I thought I’d bring the plants inside and see if I could keep them alive until spring. They looked kind of “peak-ed” (FYI – in farm territory that means you’ve wasted away with illness until your cheek bones are pointy like mountain peaks). The hibiscus were already losing leaves, like they do when they aren’t in Hawaii.

To my surprise, when I brought them into the house to nurse them over the winter, they all got a second wind! The geranium budded. The dipladenia sent out six shoots looking for a trellis. And the hibiscus leafed out and began to bloom! My wife wondered how she was going to get rid of these plants that invaded the living room. But I was giddy with delight over late-fall blooms.

You are glad you read far enough to hear this good news, right?

Lessons from bloom to bloom

I confess, I visit these plants like they are much-loved children and attend to their buds and shoots with tender interest. So they have been central icons for my meditation. I am writing to share my revelations with you.

First, I did not know my 21st floor balconies are, in fact, more like Tibetan steppes than a Narberth backyard. I thought it was a perfect place for a farm. But if you saw my tomatoes you’d know something was very wrong. The plants baked in sun amplified by window reflection. They were rocked by unobstructed wind. Storms blasted them. They got dried out faster than I watered them (and then I went to Spain). It was very stressful for them!

It dawned on me my friends and family look like they have been on the balcony for a couple of years. Like I thought of my balconies, the world kind of looked like it should be a hospitable place. But there was virus, economic upheaval, riots, new wars, all sorts of tyrants — big and small, and unpredictable weather. A lot of us have very small tomatoes, spiritually speaking, and our leaves are about gone. My plants got small and tried to survive, so did many of my loved ones.

Opal Red Vining Dipladenia - Container
Diplandenia

Second, I did not know that moving the plants a few feet into my condo terrarium would create an environment conducive to a miracle. Those hibiscus did not need much of an excuse to let loose with some flowers; Lord, they wanted to bloom! And I thought the trellis I made for the stunted dipladenia looked silly it was so big. But now the tendrils are reaching up into the nothing above it. I think the farm still needs more experimentation. But I can see how resilient the plants are if they are given a chance.

My friends are like that too. I am thinking about three people, in particular, who had a classically terrible pandemic: lost jobs, went off the wagon, or went broke. But they are budding these days. One of them is starting on something that looks more like him than the other career ever did. They ended up in unexpected territory and started noticing unexpected growth. There is absolutely hope. I’m a bit shocked about how good I feel right now myself!

Rest in God’s presence

My recent guide, John O’Donohue, keeps reopening my mind to the reality that instead of frittering away my sleepless nights worrying about my friends and family, my frayed connections and threatening circumstances, I need to remain at rest in LOVE. The creation is friendly; look at it. Slow down. Let things develop. Suffer. Recover. Explore. Fail. Die well. Be resurrected.

The other night when I was lapsing into being a Christian and my spiritual cheeks began to plump up, I remembered a song we sang at my best friend’s funeral after he died in a plane crash when he was in his early thirties. My part in the funeral was to lead the singing for this very large crowd from the very large Assemblies of God church where we had worked together. I had never led such a big group, so I was terrified of looking foolish. I had said I’d do it because I’d do anything for Rick, not realizing what it would be like to lead in someone’s funeral I deeply loved (and still miss!). But the moment turned out to be a wonder, one of those thin places you remember when you need to find another one.

The other night, I needed that favorite song of his  and the experience of the moment we sang it at his funeral. When we sang it then, I remember the shocking feeling of God’s presence orienting me (and surely everyone else) right into the center of the Lord’s great love. I felt, “Rick is OK. We are OK even though we feel all the things we are feeling.” It was the first hint I got that goodness and grief are not mutually exclusive.

It is a simple, might be less-than-true, sort-of-sentimental song — and that made no difference. It was Rick’s song, our song, that moment’s song and the singing of it was truer than any words could convey:

Surely the presence of the Lord is in the place.
I can feel His mighty power and His grace.
I can feel the brush of angels’ wings; I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. [People still sing it.]

It was as if I’d been moved just a few feet into God’s living room. I felt the bloom coming, in spite of grief, fear and everything else swirling around in that room and in my soul.

In our DNA, spiritual and physical, love is waiting to bloom. There are not too many places or moments in which that blooming is unlikely to happen. The Spirit of the Lord is in us and around us. We are suffused with Love, even when we are sick, unhappy, stupid, or somebody put us on the balcony in the burning sun, or forgot to water us.

I may need to learn that again tomorrow, when I am surprised by tiny tomatoes. But I keep getting better at learning reality — and I at least expect another opportunity for learning to arise, just like all the other opportunities have sprung out of strange songs and unlikely situations. There are always a lot more thin places than I know about before I really need to find one. Then I stumble into one and realize again: there is absolutely hope. You’ve got some bloom in you.

Top Ten Posts of 2023

2023

Group communication “sad?” Try on some Virginia Satir.
My new group reminded me of two things Virginia Satir taught me: 1) Tell your own story, 2) Be aware of your communication style.

Slander divides: Six ways to overcome it
Trump has unleashed a slanderfest. If it threatenes to swallow you, what are some things you can do? I’ve needed to try a few myself!

The Upside-down Apocalypse: Power fantasies be damned
My acquaintance, Jeremy Duncan, wrote an intriguing commentary on Revelation that makes so much sense I wanted to add my review to advertise it.

A call to prayer: Frodo and Sza on Mt. Doom
The dialogue Frodo has with Sam and Gollum on Mt. Doom is just like what is happening in us (and Sza).

The Spirit of God is Praying for You
Forget cetrainty. Prayer is all about discerning the presence of God who is constantly praying for us, who desires to be with us and hopes to see us flourish.

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 Common Emotion Wheels Need Unpacking
The emotion wheel charts imply emotions just happen in us, they are built in, “it is what it is.” I not only think we make meaning of our thoughts and feelings, I think we make choices that create them and heal them.

Beyond Trauma and Resilience Is Love
Psalm 139 has always been a good reminder, a symbolic representation, of what we all know in our deepest hearts beyond our brokenness. We were created in love.

I am Disconnected: Why? Can I change?
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.  What should we do?

The Wonder of Being Saved: A collection of Ways
Nobody in The Whale wanted to be saved. If you do, there are many ways to get there and stay there.

2022

FFF #17 — Brendon Grimshaw and his Seychelles wonder
I loved being in solidarity with the Fridays for the Future climate strikers.

The church in the rearview mirror
While on retreat I get some vision for my future that might help you move on, too.

I believe in you: I’m rarely talking about me
My 50th reunion gives me a lot to love about the community I have.

Jesus gives 5 ways to endure the shame: Kansans lead the way 
The first followers of Jesus would applaud the declarations of independence from corrupt Christianity some people are proclaiming.

Should I forgive them if they never offer an apology? 
Forgiveness is hard under all circumstances. When reconciliation is unlikely, it is even harder.

“How I Got Over:” Mahalia Jackson helps us do 2022
I have been singing with Mahalia all year. She did, indeed, help me get over.

The new movement of the Spirit takes lament, commitment, action
Time with the Jesus Collective inspires me to move with the Spirit now.

Overwhelm: The feeling and what we can do about it
The word of the year might be “overwhelm.”  Better to name it than just wear it.

Three reasons the Trump effect is not over yet
The elements of the Trump effect are not going away too soon. The wickedness has a “trickle down” impact.

In this uncertain now: Who are you Lord and who am I?
I have had a tough couple of years in a few ways. How about you? Who are you and who is God now?

Top ten posts from the past — many of them read more than 2023’s