Tag Archives: desire

If you lost Jesus, start by looking in your desires

It is a familiar post-pandemic story. “When I was locked away from people, bombed by loss, steeled against what seemed like an inevitable disease, my faith dribbled away like I had a leak in my soul. “

Some people had the exact opposite experience, of course. The solitude of the season was like fallow ground for them. When they got out from behind their masks they felt renewed and refocused on what is important. They bloomed.

It is not uncommon, however, to hear people tell a different story. When they got back to church, it was gone. People were divided over whether it was safe to meet. About a third of the people had disappeared. The pastors were often exhausted — they went through a pandemic, too! But now they were supposed to present what used to be with less people and less money. What’s more, so many churches chose the pandemic to take a scathing look at their racism, homophobia and patriarchal tendencies. The post George Floyd movement had just gotten to the church when the virus hit and could not be postponed. So when people came back to their community bearing their griefs, with new anxieties to face and thirsty for love, they were surprised by the coldness and suspicion with which they were met. It is like the whole country got strangled, wrung out and did not have a lot to give.

So a lot of people are not in church anymore. And of those people who are wandering, a lot feel they have lost Jesus. They are in the dark. At worst, I think they are holing up and hoping nothing worse happens. At best, I think they are looking for lost desires to be met. If the latter description fits you, hold on to those desires, they will probably see you through.

Befriending our desires

In his book Befriending Our Desires, Philip Sheldrake encourages us to attend to the desires that either drive us to despair or drive us to overcome the unnecessary limitations of our present circumstances.

Desire haunts us. You could say that desire is God-given and, as such, is the key to all human spirituality. Desire is what powers our spiritualities but, at the same time, spirituality is about how we focus our desire. At the heart of Christian spirituality is the sense that humanity is both cursed and blessed with restlessness and a longing that can only be satisfied in God. It is as though our desire is infinite in extent and that it cannot settle for anything less. It pushes us beyond the limitations of the present moment and of our present places towards a future that is beyond our ability to conceive. This is why the greatest teachers of Christian spirituality were so concerned with this God-filled desire and with how we understand it and channel it

In a time when so many of us feel like we did not get what we want and are not getting what we want, what do we do? Do we turn off our desires? distract ourselves even more? turn to law instead of grace to circumvent desires?

First of all, those questions are probably answered by considering how you see God. Is God full of desire? Some theologians have presented God as a sexless, “ground of being” or an abstraction like the “unmoved mover.” I say those are very weak views, when the love of God is poured out so wantonly in Jesus. God wants us, desires relationship with us. His delight in us reveals infinite enjoyment. Is your God full of desire?

On the human side of viewing God, many say the goal of all human desire is God. So does this mean that all other desires are a distraction? That has often been taught. Does it mean I should be celibate so sexual desire does not get in my way? Many monks have thought so. Or is God met at the heart of all desire? That might seem suspicious to you if you have been suppressing your desires for Jesus. But I think a thoroughly Christian, incarnational answer is Jesus is the heart of desire. C.S. Lewis is famous for saying:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. ― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

Proven ways to find Jesus again

New prayer

Ignatius Loyola taught that prayer, our basic connection with God, was all about focusing our desire. Many of my clients bump up against that thought like a wall. They don’t know what they desire. Or they know what they spend their life chasing would not satisfy them if they finally got it. They think they must either ramp up the chase or quit. The pandemic stripped away a lot of what we could get, it took away years of time and took the lives of loved ones. Many of us are still at the bottom of all that and feel we can’t even find Jesus. That’s a good time to pray, if you are with Ignatius in his cave, when you aren’t asking for a new job or just asking to stop doing self-destructive things. When we are wrestling with desire we may come to know how our desires connect with God’s.


Some people say as they age, old ways and images wear out and they feel alone in a new kind of darkness. Where is the Jesus I knew? I know after my church reneged on agreements and exiled me, I felt adrift without my church. I was not prepared for that! I am not alone. The surprising new post-Covid statistic is older people are leaving the church in great numbers. They were the mainstays! But one does not need to feel old to feel a bit lost these days.

Many spiritual writers see this kind of wandering in the dark as a ripe, meaningful, realistic place to be. A dryness of experience means you feel what showers of blessings would be like if it rained, not that you don’t care. The loss of previous images and experiences of God, leads into a darkness or an “unknowing” in which desire alone becomes the force that drives us onwards. For Julian of Norwich, “longing” and “yearning” are key experiences in our developing relationship to God. Likewise, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing says, “Now you have to stand in desire all your life long” (Chapter 2). Now is the time to stand open-handed and open-hearted, not assuming that we know best or that we know anything very much. Now is the time to wait in trust, to be like Mary asking the angel, “How can this be?” Waiting is one of the hardest lessons for the serious seeker after God. When we stand in desire we are ready to struggle. We are anticipating a change in  perspective and waiting in trust for God to act in us.


Our desire reveals how incomplete we are. The pandemic stripped a lot of us down to our basic desires, like people often talk about when they have narrowly escaped death and now know what is most important (and it is not the 401K). Our desires highlight what we are not, or what we do not have. So desire cracks us open to possibility. It forces us into the future. You might see it in terms of sex, to which desire is often restricted. An orgasm is a wonderful, physical, mutual, experience of now – desire satisfied! But it also feels transcendent. Desires ground us in the present moment and at the same time point to the fact this moment does not contain all the answers or everything we need or want. Discernment is a journey through desires – a process whereby we move from a multitude of desires, or from surface desires, to our deepest desire which contains all that is true and vital about us. If you are missing Jesus, I’d start the search there.


I’ve said quite a few times that living in the U.S. and following Jesus is very hard. Americans take perfection to an extreme and we have the money to make it happen. If desire is all about openness, possibility and a metaphor for change, what does that do to our ideals of perfection and to a God who “changeth not?’ Get the job done. Make it work. Just do it.

For many of us, life is supposed to be organzied and predictable. For most people, I think heaven is pretty static like that. It is where things get finished and we get all that matters to us. The afterlife is all “eternal rest” and no more tears. People see it as freedom from desire because there is no need for “more” and because the sexual connotations of desire are overridden by union with God.

But no one can perfectly know what “eternal life” ultimately means. I don’t see the age to come as an endless, static existence with the unmoved mover. I think it will be more like life with the Creator we encounter day by day. Eternal life will surely have a dynamic quality to it, a life in which we shall remain beings of desire.

Thomas Traherne (d. 1674) is often considered as the last of England’s “metaphysical poets,” which includes John Donne and George Herbert. Most of his poetry remained unknown until 1896, when two of his manuscripts were discovered by chance in a London bookstall. This first stanza of Traherne’s poem “Desire” begins with praise to God for the desire that promises Paradise and burns with the presence of it in the here and now.

For giving me desire,
An eager thirst, a burning ardent fire,
A virgin infant flame,
A love with which into the world I came,
An inward hidden heavenly love,
Which in my soul did work and move,
And ever, ever me inflame,
With restless longing, heavenly avarice
That never could be satisfied,
That did incessantly a Paradise
Unknown suggest, and something undescribed
Discern, and bear me to it; be
Thy name for ever prais’d by me.

To find the Jesus you may have recently lost, step away from politics, processes and problems long enough to let your desires rise and then befriend them. Take them seriously like they matter, like you matter. Don’t follow the first blush of reality they hint at, but listen to them and let them lead you deeper into what is at the heart of life and the heart of you.

The teaching of 90-year-old billionaires: Can we be alternative?

What does it mean to love in an era when people have been reduced to “human resources?” I wish it seemed obvious to state that the culture of capitalism dramatically affects how people understand themselves and one another. But I don’t think it is obvious; thus, this blog post.

Is Capitalism the best system?

Not long ago I was watching one of the news channels and tuned in to an interview of a 90-year-old billionaire. He interrupted his young interviewer at one point so he could make sure to say what he wanted to teach. He said, “There is one thing everyone needs to understand. Capitalism is the best system. We tried communism, or at least some did, and it failed. We tried socialism and that does not work.”

The interviewer did not say, “What do you mean by ‘working?’ Are you talking about ‘achieving the most profit with as little expenditure as possible for the shareholders or owners of an enterprise?'” Instead, she just moved on, either swallowing what everyone has been taught or being afraid to contradict it.

I think 90% of the people who enter a Sunday meeting  react about the same way as the interviewer every day. They spend the week moving along with capitalism and the billionaires who run it — and preparing their children to do the same. But are the goals of capitalism and the 1% the goals of Jesus? You can already tell that I am going to say “No.” But do I have a leg to stand on?

The secret philosophy that runs us all

Last April George Monbiot summarized his book for the Guardian. He identified the secret philosophy that drives what most of us do all week and infects what we do on Sunday, too. He says, Today’s capitalism

  • sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations.
  • redefines citizens as “consumers“ whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling.
  • teaches that buying and selling has its own morality that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency.
  • maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

People are fighting about how to apply this philosophy in Congress right now. Will a generous version of today’s capitalism (like Obamacare) rule our healthcare or will a radical version rule (like in Trump/Ryan care)?

Monbiot says today’s capitalism fights any attempts to limit competition and labels any question of limits an assault on freedom. It teaches:

  • Taxes and regulations should be minimized, public services should be privatized.
  • The organization of labor and collective bargaining by trade unions are are market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers.
  • Inequality is virtuous: a reward for being effective and a generating wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone.
  • Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

You may have heard those last four bullet points preached from a pulpit somewhere (other than Circle of Hope). Or maybe you just know the viewpoint is assumed, a moot point, in your evangelical church. I have experienced both the preaching and the assumption. For instance, if a variant viewpoint is raised on the BIC-List (our denomination’s listserve), men will come out of the woodwork to reinforce those bullets, as if they were a 90-year-old billionaire interrupting some foolish youngster. They will even marshal the Bible to help make their point, even though everyone knows neoliberalism was not invented by Christians.

Last summer the pope explained this while on a flight from Krakow to Vatican City. He surprised journalists when he told them Muslim attacks on a priest in France were basically caused by neoliberalism. He said, “Terrorism grows when there is no other option, and as long as the world economy has at its center the god of money and not the person…This is fundamental terrorism, against all humanity.” At the time, Americans were in the middle of an election campaign, so they probably did not hear the Pope over all the hubbub about Trump’s tweets. Evangelical Christians were about to overwhelmingly vote for Donald Trump, the epitome of what neoliberal capitalism created since Ronald Reagan.

Are we actually pawns in the philosophy’s system?

What if we Christians, we who are bound and determined to follow Jesus in his suffering and transform humanity, become the unwitting pawns of capitalist deformation of humanity in the image of neoliberal capitalism? Our lives teach. The content of our dialogue sets the contours of the culture are always building!

Can a Christian merely exist in the pluralistic, postmodern capitalist landscape? Does capitalism offer a home for Christians? No. Without Christians creating an alternative, capitalism subjects everyone to its will. We still fundamentally believe, don’t we, that one cannot serve two masters? We might normally think about not serving Mammon within the framework of capitalism and consider how to allow Jesus to be the Lord of how we do capitalism. But what if capitalism is, in effect, the alternative god?

Capitalism makes desire an end in itself and diverts our desire from communion with God. That sin causes us to stray from God’s will and design for us. God’s design for us is to desire God and our true selves. Unfortunately, the economic modalities around us pervert that desire. We cannot serve both our capitalism-perverted desire and God’s desire. We must go back to God, which means rejecting the capitalist way. The two are incompatible.

We need to talk about this, because everyone who comes to our Sunday meeting is feeling desire. Assuming that their desires, dominated by capitalism, are healthy and not a cause of their general illness is wrong. If a person is constantly making a deal and can’t make a covenant with God’s people, if they are trained for desiring what they don’t yet have, if they protect their autonomy and freedom at the expense of their faith, should they not learn that comes from neoliberalism and not God, not even from themselves?

Image result for homo economicus

Capitalism creates homo economicus in its image. That being, by its nature, is:

  • Not in community, not collective.
  • Free to choose. Amidst millions of consumer options, we are free to choose what to do (of course, within the confines of capitalism)
  • Self-interested
  • Driven by Insatiable Desire.
  • Competitive.
  • Reduced to thinking Justice is only about fair exchange regulated by contracts and laws. In capitalism, social justice doesn’t exist because the market is beyond justice.

I think most people who read this far are probably trying to figure out how to be the alternative to what is killing humanity. When people come to the Sunday meeting they come as people condemned to being homo economicus. Is there a way out? If we force them to perform within that bondage, aren’t we preparing them to be consumed consumers? Couldn’t we condemn our children in the name of helping them?

Somehow, we need to risk acting according to the Lord’s economy that is

  • Spirit formed
  • Communal
  • Self-giving
  • Generous out of eternal abundance

After all this theoretical sounding writing, it may seem difficult to think about how to apply it. So will we just go back to being led around by the invisible hand and letting our faith be invisibilized by living under its shelter? Obviously, I hope not. Let’s keep exposing the powers for who they are in the spirit of today’s image of the atonement: Christus Victor. Jesus is our leader in that, present with us, every day.

Thank God my faith is not all in my head.

Last Sunday we welcomed Jesus to raise us up with him. It seemed like a lot of people at the meeting really meant it when we shouted “He is risen indeed!” But I suspect others weren’t into it, or just watched me shouting. Their “mind” had the upper hand. They did not engage their body at all. Maybe they didn’t even come to the meeting. Why bother? They keep their “religion” in a private space in their head. Whatever love might be in that head, in concept, is left unexpressed. In fact, some other love is probably the object of their de facto worship, although they might not notice.

Welcome morning

That’s OK. Today is another day. And this week, as well, is loaded with opportunities to live in the spirit of Anne Sexton’s poem:

Welcome Morning by Anne Sexton

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
dies young.

Hello there

for some people, it is all mentalIt may embarrass some people to hear the poet say: “in the spoon and the chair that cry ‘hello there, Anne’ each morning.”  It is so something, so immediate, so heartfelt! So many of us have our faith stuck in a mental construct; we’re arguing about principles in our head and fearing we don’t have it all right yet so we better not commit. Our silverware is certainly not talking to us! Others of us are trapped in a “worldview” that is a bit more human, but is still a philosophical construct by which we compare and contrast who we are with others and from which we draw a politically sanctioned identity, so we think sorting that out is about all the meaning we get — and all we do is sort. We would certainly think twice before we announced to the public that we were overcome with joy this morning at breakfast! It just wouldn’t fit the self-concept.

Last week, during the holy week, the commemoration of Jesus’ last week, when history is offered a restart, we were invited to put our mental dialogue in its place and find joy in our own pea-green house, in our own bodies, walking alongside Jesus, who is God ennobling and redeeming our true selves as the author of creation and its restorer. Like him, for the joy set before us, we endure the cross.

Move with my loves

If you have a mental faith, Holy Week probably seemed like a lot of time spent on redundant material. If you are training your body to move with your loves, you may have awakened every day, like Anne Sexton, and said,

“So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.”

circle of hope, philly, philadelphia, south jersey, churches, love, hope, Jesus, Christian

On each day of the holy week we made a special, communal, concerted effort to “paint a thank-you on” our palms, and so get our bodies moving in the direction of our salvation. We moved through darkness into light, not just in our thoughts or beliefs, but in our hearts and time with those we love in the creation we feel. And so we trained our hearts for joy and opened our days to grace. We were saved, not in theory, but in fact.

There were words and thinking, of course, but, as I am prone to saying, “It does not really matter what happens, it matters that I did it.” What I do ends up being the liturgy of my loves. Thus Sexton’s poem is so profound because she realizes that even her breakfast is charged with God’s presence and should she fall on her knees by her table it would be an appropriate action that would unleash the joy stored up in the meal. How much more profound was the “breakfast” of Holy Week, as we knelt before our common table of grace and looked forward to the joy of Easter morning: these birds, these seeds, this realization that I am welcomed into eternal joy, and this “God, this laughter of the morning!”

God help us, we do not coerce anyone to do what we plan as Circle of Hope, so I am not trying to get you to come to meetings! We would not risk driving you into another bout with all the shoulds the mental overlords have caused you to resist as you rebel against their science and social construction. But, again this week, we are offering a lot of ways to express your loves with people who love you. We have a lot of ways to cooperate with the reorientation of our desire towards true joy. Just being with your cell or making it to the Sunday meeting might get the ball rolling or keep it rolling —  if you don’t just think about it, of course.

[The original post appeared at Circle of Hope.net]

Good Friday story: What do Christians REALLY want?

The title of today’s post hit me while I was walking the streets with Jesus on the way of the cross last Friday. I was pondering our journey in Capitolo Park, in the rain when I heard a nice singing voice on a loudspeaker in Spanish. I looked around south of Pat’s cheesesteak, but it appeared to be coming from even farther south. I started walking to investigate. I heard the Spanish word for sin, I saw the crest of a Roman legionnaire glinting in the distance, so I started running. Before long I was in a procession behind Mexican Jesus carrying his cross and being periodically whipped by soldiers who were taking their roles as seriously as everyone else in the parade. I stood very close to Mary, herself, and hummed along with the rest of the singers in the crowd.

The police were trying to make it all work. The neighbors were standing on their stoops looking bemused and indulgent. A reporter made it a human interest story on Saturday in the Inquirer. But I was strangely moved when Jesus fell and the soldiers started yelling at him to get up and finally whipped him again with their cotton-rope whips to keep him moving toward His death. What an important spectacle! — few words, just a big visual aid for what the day in history was all about. I was glad I was with everyone for a while before I continued my own more meditative version of the discipline. As I stood out in the middle of Broad St. and prayed for the city, in the rain, in the median, in the line of sight for all sorts of cars wondering why anyone was doing such a thing, I began to wonder what people really want.

Lots of people do not want Jesus crucified and risen. That is for sure. It hasn’t changed much since Paul insisted that his story about Jesus’ death and resurrection was all he really had to give people. People wanted “spirituality” and the idol worship of the state back then, too, instead of Jesus. But what to the Christians really want? They did not want to get out in the rain and make themselves known as followers along the way of the cross, for the most part, certainly not with the Mexicans who were importing their extravagant passion play. I began to make a list in my head.

What do Christians REALLY want?

Mind you, this is not a list for all Christians, or even for the Christians I know. It is more along the line of “these are the things Christians get sucked into when their courage is weakened by their environment and the unique challenges of their personal journey” or “this is what people think Christians really want instead of Jesus that makes them hypocrites.”

  • They want the best for their kids.

Who doesn’t? But if that is all you really want will they ever find out what is best beyond what you can get for them?

  • They want to pay less taxes and control their money.

Thus, Republican candidates can assume the evangelicals will vote for them.

  • They want good friends.

So all sorts of churches have tight communities and don’t even need to mention Jesus to keep them going.

  • They want more personal time.

So many church people resent the church because it appears to eat up too much of the time not dominated by their jobs.

  • They want to argue about church policies

This is for people who are into church, of course. Most people only argue about policies when the church doesn’t have one that benefits them or has one that makes what they want to do look wrong.

  • They want to follow rules

No matter how much the Bible writers fight the constant pressure to makes rules that manage God people still want to tame the Lord and lead God around — you know, whip him into shape.

Does Jesus really care about any of these things? He cares about us, so he ends up caring about what we care about. But, as the Son of God, none of these things make his top twenty list. He doesn’t have a wife and kids (or a house or even a career in the normal sense of the word). He gets tax money out the mouth of a fish. He has great friends, but they were not too reliable last week. He doesn’t work on dichotomies like public and personal. He is frustrated with Pharisees who have created policies about policies. He is a ruler, not a rule follower.

What do YOU want?

I suppose Jesus is so weird his weirdness is a good reason that people just motored through Good Friday and were impatient when a processional of Mexicans messed up their search for a parking space. Obviously, needing a parking space is not wrong and being frustrated about parking is a normal feature of city life. I suppose the problem is more about the desire that creates one’s list rather than the search itself. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. For the frustration of being annoyed a parker might endure the processional.

What do you REALLY want? The church normally promises whatever people want in the name of Jesus so they can keep butts in the seats. Church ends up all about your kids, your career, your friends, your “you” time, and all brought down to principles, policies and rules that a fifth grader could understand and apply without too much demanding spiritual stuff added in. You’re OK if you attend enough meetings to keep off the absentee list.

But there was Jesus out on the street again last Friday. I felt like my puny, twisted desires were whipping him, too.  I was moved all over again to make myself absent to any of the normal fears that make me desire things I don’t have or desire more perfect versions of the things I already have in order to follow the Savior in the life I have been given. I want to know the miracle of being raised from the death of need so I can more needlessly receive and carelessly love. I want to know Christ, even though it means being one with him in death and suffering with him along this journey in order to know the power of his resurrection — instead of just desiring what I pretend I can get for myself.

Stand against the invisible hand: share and pray

When capitalism organizes your money, it undermines community. Worse, when capitalism channels your desire it warps prayer. The main things our church may be lacking the most right now are money and prayer. There is a good, macro reason for that lack which we might not even notice: we are in the grip of the invisible hand.

Let me say right off the top, in case you don’t read too much further:

1) We cannot sustain community without sharing money. Practically, we have made commitments as a group that require money, of course. But more profoundly, if you opt out of contributing to the whole you diminish it, even mock it, name it unworthy. You put a hole in our mutuality. Give ten dollars or a tithe, but stay in the game with us. We could lose the game.

2) We cannot keep praying if we let the Jesus-free economy deform our desire. Practically, if the consumption-driven economy drives you, you have another god. If you have stopped praying because, in reality,  your “needs” are met by your place in the economy and your desires are driven by the market, you look like a foreigner in the Kingdom of God. Pray one minute or make praying your vocation, but connect with the Spirit. You could die. And the church could die with you.

What is capitalism again?

socialists trying to thwart the invisible handCapitalism was identified in the 1700’s by the likes of Adam Smith and others as an economic reality in which the “market” is not something that is extra to your life, it is in the center of your life. For centuries, markets were places where you could go trade for something you could not produce yourself. Now markets are the only means you can obtain anything. We always hear about the “free” market, which means the market, as an abstraction, aspires to be free from external constraints and obstacles. By this time, not only is the market central to everything, but everything is also subject to the rules of the market. The market is free, but we cannot be free from the market.

There are many schools of economics. The one that has been steering us since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, followed up by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, advocates the complete marketization of life. It is all for overcoming obstacles and inefficiencies brought on by the so-called “welfare state” and increasing the integration of the globe into one market. This school is, in a sense, “anti-government” since governments interfere with the invisible hand. But its proponents are usually for small, lean governments that have strong militaries to face threats to the market.

Did you miss this debate? While you were growing up, the invisible hand of capitalism firmly took over your territory. It is global and it has armies. For instance, during the recent downturn, the 1% we talk about took advantage of their opening to gain world domination; now a huge percentage of global wealth is in their hands. The triumph of the invisible hand — a reality most of us don’t even recognize — might be why we don’t share like we could and why we might even be discouraged in our prayer. Yet the church needs sharing and praying more than ever if it is not going to be ground down even more by this powerful force.

We cannot sustain community without sharing money.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

In God’s economy, sharing is motivated by the desire to create community because that is elemental to God’s desire. The work of the cross joins us to Christ as his body. Former motivations from the world system that drove us are healed. We are freed from self-absorption, obsession with our own interests, and fear of scarcity — our desire is turned outward in humble vulnerability and generous service to and with others. Jesus demonstrated that love as God shared life with us, even to the point of death. That’s the basis of the new economy in Christ — unless it is not.

invisible hand dialogue between pawns and kingsA good half of us have a terrible time sharing because we are still consuming church like a product and are still too afraid of our own present or prospective poverty to share. Lack of sharing kills the church. It is not so much that the church needs a lot of money to survive. We can survive as the church at all sorts of levels. What is important is this: when we don’t share, we do not subvert the anti-sharing of capitalism and we worship the invisible hand by default. We become individual marketers in competition for scarce resources; we become individualized products selling ourselves daily. We become mere pawns in the 1%’s market pretending that our freedom to buy a new gadget or buy the monetized thoughts of the internet is actual choice.

We cannot keep praying if we let the Jesus-free economy deform our desire.

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God (James 4:2).

All economies are based on desire. Capitalism has mastered the art of making everything about desire, what we want and don’t have. Long ago, James rightly prophesied that such misplaced desire would cause nothing but conflict. The recent, ongoing U.S. wars have proven James right in a large way. They are all about our desire for revenge, desire to be protected and our desire for oil and our “way of life,” aren’t they? Did anyone ask God about that? “Asking God” does not mean getting God to give us what we can’t get in the economy. It means being part of a new economy based on God’s generosity, being in full communion with the one true God and putting the invisible hand in its place.

danceMany of us have a secret. We stopped praying long ago because we believe the bible of capitalism when it says that education and hard work will get us what we desire. We don’t have time to pray because we are at work or at school. Our schedule barely leaves time for our families, much less some alternative economy. We are content to have a privatized faith, a leisure time faith that we visit a couple of times a month at the Sunday meeting. Our desire is deformed. It is so conformed to the way the world is post-Reagan that we believe it when people say it has always been this way, only now it is better.

I get a sinking feeling some days that we are going to lose the battle. As alternative as our church is, as radical as some of us are, as amazing as our thinking and acting really are, the forces sometimes seem stronger. The post-9/11 generation is so scared. The institutions are so much bigger than they were before the attack and before years of warfare, homeland security and recession. Are we still a circle of hope? — or is that just a brand name, now? If we don’t share and we don’t pray, if we don’t do what the church really needs right now, what are we?

God rescues me when I am sinking in such thinking, just like he pulled Peter from the sea that time. Paul also said in Romans 5: Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. And James also said in James 4: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Whether we share and pray or not, God’s grace is greater. That grace has made us and will keep drawing us toward home.

Disentangling from Addiction

When Jesus spent his “Lent” in the desert, I think he went into the wilderness to face the utter absence of anything that was familiar, to experience being saved in his vulnerability before he went back into a world fraught with attachments.

Old Foss Cemetery

When I was pondering the Lord’s radical trust after Ash Wednesday, I had a surprising image come up in my mind. I remembered visiting western Oklahoma with my family, the very towns in which my father grew up. Remembering how it all looked was almost like the Holy Spirit drawing me back into the wilderness of my father’s life and the emptiness from which I came. My mind went back to the time we stood in Old Foss Cemetery. Our steps on the brittle grass invaded the hush as we explored. My father found a family plot enclosed by an old iron fence. The rusty gate creaked in the wind as big black storm clouds blew in. The place was silent, desolate, and I felt the ache of my silent, desolate  father. I felt his unmet yearning. I still feel his yearning like I felt my unmet yearning for him. I think Jesus was feeling that absence and yearning in the desert.

Yearning in the wilderness

I think Jesus was in the wilderness to experience the yearning all people feel and to enter the ache of their wilderness, the pain of their emptiness. And in that vulnerable place he was tempted by the devil like we all are. He went there to do battle, like we all are doing battle in our most vulnerable places where we long to attach, to be loved and to love. Most of us will do almost anything to avoid going to that hurting place, so the devil often wins the battle because we don’t even show up.

Cross at St. Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo

I have been to the geographic desert many times to try to show up, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Not too long ago Gwen and I made a return visit to St. Andrews Abbey in Valyermo where Gwen, especially, had some significant experiences of grace as she battled her temptations with Jesus.  For most of us, spending time in the geographic desert can be rare. Our geographic deserts mostly take the form of temporary, silent, solitude in a simple yet comfortable retreat center or hermitage. For everyone, however, the desert of the heart remains unchanged. And we can visit it anytime we dare. It is not comfortable. I have visited parts in me that are like a desolate, abandoned graveyard in Oklahoma.

Hungry for our addiction during Lent

The New Testament accounts of Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness are an intentional parallel to the Hebrews’ forty years of exodus. Lent is an intentional parallel to both. We are led into the desert by the Holy Spirit. There, while hungry and vulnerable, we are tempted by Satan. The three temptations Satan offers Jesus are all about desire, about yearning, and we will meet those same kinds of temptations ourselves. Because everybody has an inborn desire for God, whether you are consciously religious or not. This yearning is our deepest longing and our most precious treasure. Some of us have repressed this desire under so many competing interests and fears that we are mostly unaware of it. Or we may experience it as a longing for wholeness, completion or fulfillment of our potential. Regardless of how we describe it, it is a longing for love. We hunger to love and to be loved and to move closer to the Source of love. This yearning is the essence of what people call the human spirit. It is the origin of humanity’s highest hopes and dreams.  (Read Gerald May’s Addiction and Grace, please).

We describe this desire as God given. So Paul says in Romans 5: “We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” The Bible is full of people yearning for God and God yearning for his people. Because in an outpouring of love God created us and planted the seeds of this desire for love and loving in us. Then God nurtured this desire in us toward fulfillment of the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

But something gets in the way of God’s desire. We don’t fulfill the commandments even when we want to. We are usurped by forces that are not loving; we are captured. Our desires get repressed and stifled. Repression is one thing, but something even worse happens, our desire attaches to something or someone other than God, something other than true love. We get addicted.

Addiction enslaves the energy of desire to specific behaviors, things or people. The objects of attachments become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives. They become gods. The psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of addiction are actively at work in every human being. The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addictions to ideas, work, relationships, power , moods, fantasies and so on.

The temptations that the devil presents to Jesus in the wilderness or to us in our wilderness, in the  emptiness we choose or the emptiness in which we are stuck, or which we inherited, all have to do with desires being attached, being nailed to something else.

Throughout these temptations, Satan was hoping Jesus’ desire in his vulnerable state would lead him to attach it to meeting his own needs, using his own power, or relying on the material world. Satan was trying to lure Jesus into the “I can handle it” trap, and Jesus could have handled it. But instead of giving in to the massive power of temptations to convince him to attach to something other than His true self in the love of God, Jesus stood firm in his own freedom, in his faith and in grace.

Jesus leads us home

Jesus was truly vulnerable, but the way he responded to Satan’s temptations reveals how people attached to God get through their deserts and get home. 1) He stood firm. He met the adversary, faced the temptation, and did not run away or rationalize. 2) He acted with strength: he claimed and used his free will with dignity. 3) He did not use his freedom willfully. None of his responses to Satan were even his own autonomous creation. He relied upon the truth that had already been revealed in love by quoting from the Torah. We are all working on being that free every day.

We go off into our wilderness of Lent to keep practicing being free, because we are still tempted. What’s more, like me realizing at a very young age out on a hill in Oklahoma, I have an emptiness in me yearning to attach and I need to be careful about what it latches on to.

It is an uncomfortable process to not merely avoid the pain. We have a proverb around Circle of Hope that speaks to that: We are all recovering from the sin addiction, expect conflict.

Recovering causes problems. It puts us in conflict with the whole society, which has notable addictions, en masse. I think, in general, the nation is addicted to fear, to carbon-based everything, to narcissism, to war, to radical self-reliance — even for poor people who aren’t allowed to be self-reliant, to freedom based on earning power. We live in a wilderness we did not choose in so many ways.

There is going to be trouble every day. As if where we live was not temptation enough, we all have our own personal drugs. Some are substances or habits like alcohol or sugar or painkillers or porn or Facebook. Some of them we don’t even see as addictions yet, because our desires are so trained by them, we are so enthralled to them, that they just seem like “us,” nothing else.

We need to get disentangled. Lent is a great time to face it all like Jesus in the wilderness, a great time to talk back and act back. Lent is a great time to exercise some freedom as members of an alternative society by going without addicted behavior we can recognize or to exercise some freedom by taking on new habits that come from grace, not bondage. Lent is for suffering the wilderness with Jesus, for aching. It is hard to show up for that battle, but losing by default is worse.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Competing desires: Those spiritual clogs

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.  James 1:13-18

Image result for competing desires
Competing Desires by Naomi White

This may be a bit too much information for a few of you, but one of my grandchildren really has to work on getting the poop out. They are easily clogged up! I don’t know if you have watched a typical baby soil their diaper lately. If you had, you would know that this one baby is working pretty hard! It might take a couple of days to get to poop-stage and then a couple of hours for the great accomplishment to be completed!

The baby’s bowel movements made me think about our spiritual digestion, of course, and James. I have regularly felt spiritually clogged by some indigestible thought or feeling. I have often pondered what it might take too feel less backed up. You might relate to what I am talking about. The classic things that clog us up are the usual dissipations we use to distract us from what bothers us or to temporarily release us from what is. James calls this the practice of our “evil desires.” We drink too much, maybe insult someone when we are unreserved, get a headache and don’t go to the PM, then feel mildly irritated that we are the way we are and that irritation becomes a clog. We get in a relationship that started with sex and then ventured into intimacy, we end  up connected but not committed, we have arguments we don’t know why we are having, we dread the next moment of awkwardness looking for closeness and then that dread becomes a clog. When we go to pray we end up rehearsing our irritations and dreads rather than relating to God. Sometimes we can end up with a real spiritual logjam because we stop praying altogether, it is so unsatisfying – at least the way we do

In just a few sentences, James has good wisdom for how to get things flowing again.

Note the desire.

If this were easy, we’d all be spiritually regular. We need to identify the diet that gives us spiritual indigestion or requires a laxative. With a baby, a parent needs to find out, through experimentation, what is best for this particular being to eat then feed it to them. Our Father has good food for us, too, but we need to cooperate and experiment with what is good for us. This starts, most of the time, with noting what is bad for us. Contrary to popular belief, some of our desires need to be sublimated. Some of them are downright evil. Note that. Employ a great friend or a good therapist to help you.

The other night after “happy mic” we ran into the NA group coming in for their birthday party. Those good people have noted their desire for chemical self-destruction and are very disciplined in their response.

Don’t be deceived.

A lot of people are feeding us crap. My friend and I swore off Burger King again the other day because we noted how we always get sick after we eat there, even though we also always think it is a delicious experience. People are feeding us 24/7 spiritual crap on every communication device they can lay hands on. With the new, popular  worldview that every thought deserves its freedom of speech in the democracy of ideas, we have a tendency to take in everything and pretend we are not affected by any of it.  Our perpetual seat at the intellectual smorgasbord clogs us up.

Two of my friends said on two days that they are overdue for their regular overnight spiritual retreat. I am getting one in the schedule, too. Concentrated time with God clears out the mind and refocuses our desires. Get up every day and pray. Stop  sometime from 11:45-12:02 and pray with the network pastors and staff as they exercise that discipline.

Live the gift.

James can sound like he is just saying, “You are full of evil desires. Stop it!” That is not all there is to it. He starts us noticing what is happening and meditating on the causes. He wants us to wake up and see the evil. But the whole point is becoming new and doing new. This newness does not come from nowhere, it is coming from God all the time. We have the capacity to eat what is good, we just need to eat it. We have been offered the gift, we need live it. James has often been the cause of people suspecting every one of their desires as evil, so they restrict their sense of righteousness down to  following only the proven principles of goodness. But I think the process is a lot deeper than that. Desire, in itself, is not good or bad. We have desires that can come to good fruit. When I move with God’s desires, I am moving with my own best interests and deepest good. I am unclogged.

I have to admit, that even as I am thinking and writing about these things, I can list all the desires that well up in me to compete with my deepest desires to be among the first-fruits of God’s new creation in Jesus. My life is littered with tablefuls of spiritual  gumdrops and Doritos, and there are plenty of good-looking foods that are sure to mess up my spiritual digestive system,  which doesn’t work that well anyway! I have choices to make. It may take a long time to get unclogged sometimes! But now that I have eaten some decent spiritual food this morning, this particular day may not feel so constipated.

Let’s live the gift. In Jesus, God gave birth to newness is us, too. No matter how difficult the process feels to you today, eat what’s good. Good is coming to you and meeting good desires in you. Let it work right through you.