Tag Archives: Jesus

In defense of tolerance, resist but don’t hate

Now they expect us to be “tolerant.” We cannot be tolerant so that intolerance can be allowed. Too many people’s lives and hard-earned freedoms are at stake in the months ahead.

This is what’s a stake: a woman’s right to choose, the right to basic public health, increased institutional racism, the legalized right for same-sex marriage. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the right to avoid cataclysmic destruction of our planet.

Our challenge will not be to maintain the resistance. The extreme views of those in power will provide us daily motivation. They are tone-deaf to the movement of tolerance.

Our challenge is not to hate those who would oppress us. Our challenge is not to hate the “God” they espouse, especially those of us of faith who know a very different God.

The commandments tell us first to love God and love others. They say do not take God’s name in vain. Yet, the religious right will continue to act with such impunity of people they view as outside of the will of God that they scream Goddamnit at the top of their lungs with every act they undertake.

We take God’s name in vain when her so-called people vow to destroy Her creation — both the planet and the people who inhabit who they believe God damns.

Christopher Hitchens wrote in his book, God is Not Great, “Religion poisons everything.”

A segment of Christianity that veers far right, even away from moderate evangelicalism that is often wrongly viewed as bedfellows with this political ideology–even far right of George W. Bush’s fabled compassionate conservativism–controls our federal government.

This is no time for tolerance.

But it is also no time for hate, lest we become the thing we resist.

Walking through Greenwich Village the other day, I sought out the now landmark Stonewall Inn, home of a police attack that gave birth to the civil rights movement for gays and lesbians.

The Stonewall Inn is more than a gay bar. It’s the symbol of everything we have to lose in the coming months as the Theocracy of America takes complete control of the federal government.

The statue outside stands for a cultural victory that normalized what should be and should remain “normal,” the right to love who we want without fear.

img_1736

Most statues hark to a past era after victory is assured. A few weeks ago we wanted to believe that. Now, we know better.

Vice President-Elect Mike Pence–who is widely believed to be the person making presidential decisions under the Reality TV presidency of Donald Trump–is among the most far-right Christian trumpeters this country has ever elected to the state house, much less the White House. Pence has vowed a culture war built on a Christian theology touted by a minority–a fading one at that.

The same Congressional leaders who broke the rule of law and refused to approve a qualified candidate for the Supreme Court, will now try to stuff that court with religiously motivated justices who will defend their so-called view of “God’s law.” It flips a middle finger at the constitution and laws of the United States.

We will tolerate nothing of people who in the name of God promote intolerance that rivals that of theocratic governments in the Middle East. The world has lived through enough Crusades for one planet. We will defy them to try to again.

We refuse to let our LGBTQ brothers and sisters be threatened again. We refuse to allow their homes, their safeties, their marriages, their civil rights abused by a theocratic police state again.

We will resist, not fight. Who are we? We are now Muslim, Liberal Christian, Gay, Transgender, Female, Black, Latino, and on and on. If they make a target, we will all become that thing. If they try to register one group, we will all register. We will all refuse to tolerate this attack on our freedoms.

Somehow, someway, we will win the world back with love, not hate. This is something more powerful. It is the unified voice for the freedom of all, even those who would dare drag us into a religious-fueled state of intolerance. We will resist and we will love, and somehow, someway try to even love those who view us with such disdain.

This is the way of freedom.

Rule #5 revisited for #worldkindnessday

In honor of #worldkindnessday I am posting a chapter of my upcoming little book called Rules 101Kindness is a gem of a spiritual gift. I’m in awe of those who seem to come by it naturally. I’m striving to uncover more of it in myself.

May you experience some true kindness today.

Rule #5 Be Kind:

Years ago when I taught high school, I led a tour of a dozen or so students to Washington, DC. I recall much of that trip fondly. The schedule was jammed with museums, historical places, and memorable sights. One stands out, distinctly because it was not enjoyable.

We spent a couple of hours touring the Holocaust Memorial, wandering from exhibit to exhibit, through the vast museum, all of which powerfully conveyed the tragedy of genocide. Few exhibits grabbed the students by the collar and seized their attention like this tour did. It whispered in every ear, “Attention must be paid.” Tears trickled down cheeks. Sweat formed on clammy palms. Our spirits merged and mourned for a people we did not know in an era far removed from ours.

We gathered at the end for a moment of silent
reflection, just our group. I felt the need to say something, yet wondered if this was one of those times to stay out of the way and let each person take a few steps of their own on their spiritual journey. Finally, I took out a big white card and a sharpie and wrote, “Be Kind.” I held it up and said,“If you folks learn anything that lasts on this trip, please learn these two words.”

I’m still working on learning that every day. I hardly knew what I spoke of at the time, but I felt it.

Rule 5

As time passed, I realized that little seed had started to grow. The idea of being kind soon infused much of my response to the world around me. I remained a highly flawed person, full of struggles and failings. But I’ve never forgotten that when in doubt simply try to be kind. I think it became a fundamental aspect of how I saw myself and a standard I could gauge my actions.

If it were easy to be kind, the world would be a gentler place. Kindness remains rare, an endangered species of human behaviors despite bumper stickers that state “Practice random acts of kindness.” Easier said than done, though well worth the effort.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that eventually I found my soul mate in a woman who was, and still is, the kindest person I know. I’m enthralled by her kindness. It’s a perfect rose in the midst of thorns, weeds, and crabgrass so common in our world. The more I’m touched by her kindness, the more I’m determined to find reserves of it within myself.

I truly believe kindness kills cancer and other illnesses. Kindness flows out of us releasing a healing energy within us. It is as important to my day as physical exercise, good, healthy food, vitamins and things that strengthen and challenge my mind.

In my journey through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I learned how resentments formed within us like emotional cancers. They fester and latch on and spread through our souls. Yet the only cure is not what I expected. I assumed I’d eventually have me to go to the people that hurt me and the people I resent and tell them how their actions affected me. Instead, it was the opposite. The steps directed me to make amends to those I hurt. In the steps, I had to be kind. And because the process of making amends will likely take me a decade or more, I constantly have to search my actions for the things I do to hurt others and find a way to respond in kindness. The discipline of kindness results.

As for those who hurt me, I learned two powerful things. First, often they are the same people I hurt. By making amends, I often found remission of the cancerous resentments inside of me. I never saw it coming. I assumed it would work like a children’s sitcom. I’d say sorry; the other person would say sorry, we’d hug, and it would all be better. But it didn’t work that way at all.

In one particular instance, I spent a long, difficult time listening to how I caused pain. I wanted to fight back and defend myself. I felt my hurt rise anew. Instead, I prayed. Then I apologized, and I changed how I acted in ways the person said they wanted.

And that was it. The other person never heard me out. They never apologized. But they felt better. They forgave me. Within a short while, I realized my resentments were gone as well. I just felt the kindness I lacked suddenly emerge. For a long time now it seems to have stuck around. The cancer is gone, kindness in its place. Those unexpressed grievances aren’t that important to me any longer.

The second powerful thing I learned is called the resentment prayer. Alcoholics Anonymous instructs people struggling with resentment, to channel their energy differently. Instead of letting those negative thoughts run on an endless loop in our mind, poisoning our mood and fostering bitterness in our soul, they instruct us to pray for these very people. And the prayer isn’t “Lord, smite these sinners!” No, it’s the opposite. The resentment prayer is a prayer of blessing, more along the lines of, “Lord, you know So and So and how I hope they burn in hell, right? Well, change of plans. I’d like you to bless them. I’d like you to make their lives wonderful and beautiful and free them from all that ails them…”

I admit I prayed these prayers through gritted teeth. But I prayed the prayers. In the days that followed, I felt the grip of resentments lessen. Soon, I rarely thought about these things at all. Eventually, I experienced forgiveness to some degree.

Jesus instructed us to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. I never fully understood why we had to do this until I actually did it.

I learned one other amazing spiritual truth about kindness the deeper I delved into it and sought it for myself. It is one of the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Against such things there is no law,” The Apostle Paul — himself once an angry, hateful dude — wrote to us. Kindness isn’t something only a few wonderful people are born with. It is a gift from God that we all can have if we take the time to ask for it.

The more we receive, the more we give it away and the cycle continues to gain steam producing positive energy that actually can transform a human heart, a relationship, a community and a world.

In every circumstance, in every relationship, in everyday opportunities to respond to our environment will present itself. In each one, as much as possible, give serious consideration to a kind response. At times, the kindest thing will cut like a scalpel. At other times, it will comfort like a mother’s embrace. In all circumstances, it will infuse you with a sense of empowerment.

Remember, be kind.

Gay Jesus? A question that says so much

I went to dinner recently with some friends. It sounds like the start of a joke: An atheist, a gay pastor, a polytheist, an agnostic and a liberal Christian walked into a bar…

This wonderful collection of people so uncommon in many places is pretty common for me in San Francisco. I relish these times. In a world consumed by modern holy wars and the violence so often associated with it, these peaceful gatherings maintain my faith in humanity.

At the start of dinner, my gay, evangelical pastor friend Paul tried to ignite a storm of controversy when he said plainly, “Jesus was gay.”

In fairness, I tried to ignite a little controversy first, when I introduced Paul to our other dinner companion, a writer friend of mine who is an atheist and deeply committed to the 12-step recovery movement (which is built on spirituality and the need for a higher power). I love these types of apparent controversies, and I played them up when I made the introductions. Neither took the bait. Both were respectful of each other. Listening. Sharing ideas. It was an enjoyable time.

We asked Paul if he honestly thought Jesus was gay.

“Of course he was gay,” he said. “The Bible describes John as the discipline he loved, in terms used for more than friendship. It says at The Last Supper John lay his head on Jesus’s breast. Scot, can I lay my head on your breast?”

He leaned toward me. I shoved his head away.

“Don’t think so,” I said.

“See, that’s my point. We’ve been friends for decades, and I’ve never laid my head on your breast. But John did, and it’s in the Scriptures. Then on the cross, Jesus tells John that Mary is your mother and tells Mary that John is you son. Like you might say to your lover left who is left behind.”

We batted the idea around a bit. The atheist was not offended to talk about Jesus. My friend was not offended to talk to an atheist. He never once tried to convert him.

Paul asked him if he believed the man Jesus existed. He said he did. We talked about the historicity of the scriptures. We talked about a great many spiritual themes. Nobody grabbed stones or Bible tracts or hurled angry, hurtful words.

Toward the end of the meal, Paul admitted, “I didn’t get quite the response with this crowd that I normally get when I say Jesus is gay.”

“It’s an interesting idea,” my atheist friend said.

Paul explained that most people are repulsed when he raises the question.

“But take a hard look at it,” Paul said. “If the idea of Jesus being gay is revolting, then gays are revolting. It kind of gets to the heart of the matter, don’t you think?”

In a way it does. In my many years of spirituality I had seen people balk at praying to God in Spanish, as if he only speak English. I had seen the notion of a black Jesus reviled as if God didn’t create all races in Her image. And yes, I had no trouble envisioning the revulsion many would have over the notion of Jesus doing the nasty with John.

Yet, it’s not the strangest thought, nor is Paul the first to suggest it. A Vice article that came out shortly after the court’s legalized gay marriage highlighted the very notion.

The Jewish writer in Vice wrote, “It’s Jesus himself who lights up my gaydar like a Christmas tree. He’s a skinny young otter-like guy, flocked by a mess of dudes, telling everyone to love and care about each other, who later gets the shit beaten out of him by a bunch of closed-minded conservatives who are terrified of change.”

In an era of appalling religious intolerance, I relish that I can go out to dinner with the group I did and talk about a Gay Jesus and not offend anyone. I prize others with the humility to think in this great, big crazy universe we might not have all the answers.

Nothing so characterizes the spirit of Effin Artist as this, a community of people first, who respectfully listen, support, engage and love others despite differences of beliefs. We are not bound by what we believe, but who we are and what we are trying to become. Everyone around that table valued the transformation of the human spirit. We had different ways to find it.

 

From what I see on the news, a dinner like we shared is a pretty rare thing.

It shouldn’t be.

 

EFfed up revisited: I am wonderful

I dove into a lengthy debate with myself recently following a guest blog I wrote for the truly captivating Dawn Pier. To get a good sense of the whole debate, I invite you to first click here and read up. I continue the discussion below. WAIT! Don’t click away because it seems like too many words. Dive in here and you’ll won’t have missed much anyway. I think it’s worth thinking about, a little bit anyway. Read on:

So the question is: Did we EFF up, or are we EFFed up? For all of you still holding out for option C, I AM NOT EFFed up and HAVEN’T EFFed up EVER, please check back when the angels wings have shriveled up.

Let’s continue to the discussion and try it a slightly different way: If I wreck my knee my playing basketball, I might say, “My knee is EFFed UP!”

No problem. It’s a fact. The rest of me and my OKness remains in tact. But if we change that around a bit it suddenly becomes a serious moral flaw and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. To wit:

“My ___ is Effed up.” Fill in the blank with words like anger, greed, racism, relationship, soul, attitude and our OKness is somehow comprised. We judge ourselves. We know others will judge us as well. We do it all the time, where one action defines a person. And this where Dawn and I agree. We are not what we do, even though what we do often colors how people view us and whether we are considered a laudable person or a scoundrel. People want everyone on clearly chosen teams. Bad actors, over there. “Good” people, over here. You can change teams, but you can’t be on both. Thems the rules and we have social media to SCREAM it home. “OMG!!! DID YOU SEE WHAT ______ DID? #asshole”

Life doesn’t work that way. We are all scoundrels to some extent or in some areas and all capable of being good to some extent and in some areas. Life is really hard, so I suspect we are all just doing the best we can.

Let’s take a notable scoundrel like Bill Clinton. His lack of discipline with women nearly ruined his presidency, but his standing as a global thought leader has been rebuilt. Rightly so. He may be the most adept politician of our age. We struggle to accept that when it comes to women, sex and self-control Bill Clinton is pretty EFFed up, but he remains a quality person, despite it. He’s flawed, very flawed (I’d say he’s pretty fucked up in a charming kind of way, to be honest), but still a person of value.

The same could be said for most everyone: MLK, Nelson Mandela, JFK, just about any sports star or movie star you can name, etc. People can be really good in some areas and really flawed in others. They are Effed up. Yet they spend countless time being coached how to hide all of that behind their “brand.” We demand our sports stars be good people too, even to the extent we simply want them to hide all the crap we don’t want to see. We beg them to continue the fantasy.

But when we consider who is most qualified for a political job or even the job as starting quarterback, we talk so much about character it drowns out the qualification. It’s an irrational way to elect the leader of the free world or choose a QB, for that matter.

Do you really care of your brain surgeon is a bad mother and cheats on her stay-at-home hubbie? Hell no. I want her to wield a scalpel like Mozart plays the ivories. The rest matters not a whit. The same can be said for so many jobs and roles and yet in choosing people for everyone one of them, we almost always assess character as if we can know if from the cursory view we have of people.

That’s EFFed up in my opinion. Because those that hide it better will do better and be liked better.

OK, after more than 2,000 words on this subject I’m well aware I’ve forced it into places that are somewhat indefensible. Some people are EFFed beyond repair. Some disqualify themselves from a future activity. I get that. Some are evil. A QB who is such a scoundrel he’ll end up in prison isn’t a wise investment. There are exceptions. But most of us aren’t that exceptional. We’re just people. And we are a mess but loveable and have value in some areas and stink in others. There’s no shame in that.

At long last, this is my point: In admitting our EFFedness, we become less so. We are more open about it. We get help. We begin to see the destructive patterns and put in U-turns on the road paved to destruction that we’ve gone down so many times before.

As an addict I know I’m EFFed up. Something is seriously wrong with me. I know this every night at 9 p.m. when I crave chocolate in a way that is just bat-shit crazy. I’m not entirely wired right.

But I admit it. I deal with it. I diffuse it through relentless truth, with others and with myself. In admitting this flawedness, I become less flawed.

Nothing in this world is so wonderful as coming before God with all our EFFedness laid to bare and knowing my creator loves me even still. That’s grace. It’s the grease that turns the wheels of this world, rather than the grist of the mills that destroy it. It’s what is woefully missing and why so many of us our fearful of our flaws. Fear of our flaws makes us more judgemental of others. It perpetuates the lies and the brokeness we all feel to some extent inside. It’s why I think this world is broken right now. It’s devoid of grease. The gears are bound up with us caught in it.

We are left to the live the script of our lives instead of our real lives and we are so, so very alone in our flaws.

I return to Jesus, who by reputation is the only person who isn’t flawed. Jesus told us two simple things that make all the difference to me:

Do not judge, or you will be judged, he said.

Uh, no thanks. I don’t ever want to be judged again. I’ll not play judge either.

He also said, “The truth shall set you free.”

I am EFFed up, but I’m pretty wonderful, too. I am loved. The truth of all of this has set me free. That’s what make me wonderful.

My spiritual doppelgänger is (sigh) evangelical

I’m not a resident of Facebook, which means I miss out on 93.72 percent (I did a study and the math… well, no I didn’t. That’s a lie) of everything that is going on with my family and friends. Happily I might add. Note my T-shirt:

6012026251696591842

From afar I hear so much drama, strife and angst of Facebook insult and intrigue I remain blissfully unaware of all but 6.28 percent.

But one degree of separation — in that 6.28 percent — I saw an article that I can’t help but think might have been just a little teensy bit intended for me. My brother, a true champ of a brother and genuine friend, couldn’t help but sense the connection when he posted this story about his colleague on Facebook. (Well, in actuality it may have just been because in his job as a Veep at Fuller Seminary he posts everything in the magazine and he never gave me a thought, but I like to believe big brother was thinking of me. I’ll stick with that.)

The point? Is there one now 172 words into this blog? Simply this: I never knew it but my spiritual doppelgänger is an evangelical. She’s also a woman, and she’s also pretty cool in my brief reading of her story, and she’s also a whole lot of other things that frankly remind me of … me (yes, I am one of the cool kids, at least in my own mind). Aside from apparently missing out on my scandals, alcoholism, rehab and general bottoming out, Erin DuFault-Hunter is, like me, a liberal-Catholic-turned Anabapist. She even had an older brother who helped her see the life-changing nature of a relationship with Christ.

We are truly both Generation Xers it seems.

“Given my strong inclination to independence and perhaps even idolatrous desire to be ‘unique’ and authentic, I am not naturally a joiner. After all, I was born in the 60s and now I live in the age of selfies,” she writes.

I can relate to Dufault-Hunter’s admission of her cringing association with some aspects of evangelicalism. I think my evangelical friends believe this is why I am no longer counted among them. It is in part. The brand is so tarnished I see it doing more harm than good.

But like Dufault-Hunter, I can readily admit less noble reasons for my shirking the evangelical label.

“I also hoped I could be hip—rather than merely another religious moralistic freak. At bottom, I often still crave affirmation and belonging more than I want an abundant life that costs me, even if that cost is merely embarrassment,” she writes.

She gets it. I haven’t met my spiritual doppelgänger, but I connect with her story. In some ways I could have been her had I better learned the staying power of discipline doused with a tad more morality. I was accepted to go to Fuller’s doctoral program in 1989, after all.

But as much as I think folks want to think the cringe factor is the obstacle between me and my past evangelicalism, all I can say is I wish it were. My neurotic fixation on feeling misunderstood flares here most. If my objections were just lifestyle things I wouldn’t have them, I’m certain. I had those same objections for years. While an evangelical I felt wholly outside the sweet spot of orthodoxy. I never put good wood on the ball.

Only later, much later, when the fall was so great and the destructive ruin of my life so apparent did I realize that I did not fail despite of my evangelicalism but in part because of it.

Evangelicalism, with all its certitude, fostered a hubris within me that left me unprepared for life’s realities. It’s like the photo on this blog, all neatly headed in one direction, with guide rails to keep you on the “narrow” road, but in the end are we so sure it doesn’t just fall off into an ocean with us all casting about?

Evangelicals don’t think so, at least not how I was taught. It helped set a false standard and helped establish a belief system of morality that proved insufficient when challenged. I don’t blame evangelicalism. Like many schools of thought, it offered a framework.The blame is all mine.

The flaw is not the belief system, but the certitude in which it is expressed. It requires loyalty in the method that I can not adhere to myself, much less pass on to others. That is the rub: to be an evangelical is to in some sense accept the need to evangelize. No thank you.

Here’s the greater rub I think: Can I both cling to a lifesaving exchange with T
he Christ of cross and then not expect everyone else to experience God in the same way?

That guided prayer changed my life because I met a living God who would love me enough to follow me into the gutters of my coming failures. What followed, my introduction into the dogma of evangelicalism is when things slowly ventured down an errant road.

My reading of Scriptures calls us to serve, not sell. When I serve, I find my best me. When I serve, I know God better and see Her interact with others in a way I couldn’t conjure up no matter who hard I’d try.

When Jesus says the wages of sin are death, he means right here, right now. Just look all around you. So my focus is on the here now– on Earth, as it is in Heaven. God seems to have heaven wired. My help is not needed there. I’ll stick to Earth.

We are called to enter into a loving relationship  with the divine. How we do this, I suspect, we will spend this lifetime — a relatively brief glimpse of the life ahead — figuring it out to the best of our humble abilities. I can’t be an evangelical because I can’t offer anything other than love. But I am confident the more I do just that, the more God will fill in the gaps.

Which is why I’m completely OK that my spiritual doppelgänger is an evangelical (albeit a reluctant one, who like it or not is one of us cool kids, I suspect). In fact, I like it. Because in the end we both may be right. Wouldn’t that be great?

Don’t ask me if I love Jesus

“Do you love Jesus?” he asked me.

I sighed, but I didn’t answer.

Ordinarily I’d simply let such a question go as graciously as I could and move on. But the person asking is the closest friend I’ve had for the last 35 years. I wanted him to understand the damage of such words. A healthy debate ensued. Nothing, as is almost often the case in such things, came as a result. It was simply a massive 30-minute clusterfuck of ideas that changed neither of us. It was, as Ecclesiastes states about much of our best intentions: vanity.

But this question, and many, many others just like it (“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior?” “Do you have God in your hear?”) drill deep into the depths of why the “brand” of Jesus so confounds and confuses those who might benefit the most from the personhood of Jesus.

Asking someone if they love Jesus is like offering a secret society handshake. If you say, yes, then you are in. If you hesitate even the slightest bit, not only are you not in, but you are in need: in need of “truth,” in need of Salvation, in need of Jesus. The person asking you will likely do his or her level best to give you all of the above so you can get in, while internally feeling sadden by your “lost” state. It’s a given: Those asking if I love Jesus are right and unless I give a gushy, enthusiastic, hearty “yes!” before time’s up, I’m wrong.

If only life and faith and God and love were so easy.

If you say, “why, yes… I do love Jesus,” it means you belong in their mind, and more importantly you believe as they do, which means you’d feel perfectly comfortable and fit in here:

Which I don’t. Not that I mind. I’ve been in those things and they can be very meaningful. I’ve had some wonderful experiences with the Divine amid all the sparkly, contrived, polished performances of ardent evangelicals. I’ve had a decent time connecting with God during what my best friend calls “the happy clappy worship” that has become so … what’s the word… canned, comes to mind… but I’ll go with commonplace.

ButthankyouNO, I’m not going to answer your question. I’m not doing the secret handshake and not going to assuage your concerns for my salvation and not for a minute going to allow this “brand” of Jesus–with all its arrogance and judgement and exclusion and wealth, and greed and yes, power, things the actually living, breathing person of Jesus spoke stridently against–to signify my faith or my devotion to the God of love who defines what my life means and how it is lived.

My best friend is not by a long shot the only person who asks me so brazenly this question. I’ve often wondered what I could ask them to similarly test whether their faith is sufficient for me to accept them, but see that’s the point. I’m not trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out; nor do I believe that’s my job; nor do I believe I have the gold-standard of “truth;” nor do I believe what I believe is the litmus test for knowing God; nor do I believe I’m in because I said four “spiritual laws.” (BTW, two points of digression, you know how I love digressions: I did say those “laws” back in the day, so if that gets me lifetime absolution then you all are stuck with me even though I won’t say I love Jesus. I also went into the National Shrine to St. Francis of Assisi, which gives me a lifetime absolution as well, sort of a double-whammy insurance for those who keep track of such things. Point two: Jesus didn’t write these “laws” nor ever ask anyone anything of the like. Billy Graham did, which makes them a tad bit less iron-clad than Evangelicals want to admit. Golly, what did all the billions of people who lived before Billy Graham do to prove they loved Jesus, for heaven’s sake?!)

Here’s the irony. My best friend is a gay pastor. The very people that he aligns theologically are the ones who mosts likely wouldn’t give a rats ass that he loves Jesus because he also loves men. This trumps saying you love Jesus to them, because you can’t do both. No way, no how. He’d rather vehemently argue the point that they got this wrong rather than question the whole house of American-made, trademarked, ready to sell-and-go-viral “brand” that excludes so many like him regardless of whether they actually love Jesus.

There is a second question afterall, no matter how much importance they put on the first. “I love Jesus” gets me in the door, but there are bouncers everywhere. Loving men if you are a man will get you bounced.

This is why I sighed before I dived into the debate with him. I love my friend and love his faith and love his sincerity and love his passion for helping troubled people find a better life by telling them about the power of Jesus to transform their lives.

I just wish he’d be more wary of the brand Jesus he aligns with because it’s too often like taking a charcoal pencil and smearing it all over the Monet-like art that God is doing in our lives.

Pull lens in tight for life’s best view

I’ve lived in San Francisco for a long time and yet never had any reason to go the Twin Peaks. I meant to and people rave about the views and it’s a cool twisty drive you see in car commercials to embody that wonderful feeling of the open road and… yet… eh. Never really bothered.

Then suddenly I decided I wanted to see it. So off we went on a clear day. It felt just a bit like being Chevy Chase in Vacation staring at the Grand Canyon, nodding my head saying, “Yep, yep, yep… now gotta go!”

It was… nice.

Then a few days later I watched the movie Boyhood, which was one of those too long, too slow, too moody independent films that by the end have your mind in a twist that takes about three days to fully untwist. In short, I (mostly) loved it. But what I really loved was a scene at the end when the boy pulls into a dumpy gas station in the middle of nowhere that you only find on those great road trips that let our minds and spirit truly soar on the open road. (My daughter who hates road trips texted me from one of hers recently asking, “Why is you love road trips?” to which I’d respond… that scene… that look and feeling and moment right there in that movie. That’s what I love). He pulls out his camera and takes the lens in tight, way too tight on single subjects: An old fire hydrant, a rusty lantern, a stop light. He takes beautiful shots of the most mundane things in life.

“That’s the art I love right there,” I told The Bride.

She looked up from her game of Candy Crush to see a too-tight shot of the stop light with its chipped paint and said, “huh?”

I started to explain, but let it drop. Instead I thought about it and compared it to the vistas of Twin Peaks. One was a nice view and sorta of beautiful, yet distant and removed. The other was an ugly old thing that emoted the artistic expression of life and the toll the hands of times take on a thing — even when its us who are the thing. I prefer the ugly old thing. In life especially, I’ll take the ugly old thing every time.

The temptation is to try to live above life as if we are entitled to lofty views far above the noise, pain and erosion of it all. We even envision our gods “up there” “looking down on us” and all those other ways of describing “removed.” We want to be removed from our own lives. We accept gods who would not be bothered to be among us, perhaps even taking comfort in the vain hope that someday we too can join them. We build edifices of removal, be they mansions or skyscrapers or retreats, or less literal notions of the same idea like emotional detachment to the point of addiction. What is alcohol and drug abuse if not escape?

But if the close up is so ugly, why do artists find it so compelling? Why is truth so alluring? Why is it so unsettling and provocative whenever we get close, be it to another, to a god or even to ourselves?

Perhaps because it’s real. I believe our soul hungers for what is real, not the streets of gold our mind imagines in an incessant urge to flee.

Perhaps this also explains why the story of Jesus is so compelling, a rarity in the library full of spiritual beings. Unlike Marduke or Zeus or even the enlightened Buddha, Jesus is the ugly, rusty god, the one with dirty feet who is at home with prostitutes and drunks who came through the birth canal to dwell “among us,” and even when he got here avoided the lure of the ivory tower, king’s palace or heavenly throne in exchange for the bloody, terrible, sweaty, tear-stained perch among two criminals on a cross.

This is the divine plan as the divine modeled for us in his own life. The closer we get to it, the more we learn to celebrate its beauty. The more we reject the notions of beauty others striving to live above life concoct.

Or as Thomas Merton wrote, “The logic of worldly success rests on its own fallacy–the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real.”

The more I work out of my spiritual slump, the more I find the joy I lack when I pull my view of life in tight and see what is truly, really, wonderfully, beautifully real.

The curse of naked and ashamed

I try to remember nudity was the original intent. Shame only came later, when the plan went woefully — but not hopelessly — awry. But like most things spiritual, the point of this whole thing is not anywhere near skin deep.

I needed to remind myself of all this as I read the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 this morning. I couldn’t shake the imagery. Nor could I nudge the subtle thought that God has been trying to teach us something that can only be learned from being truly naked at that one moment when every instinct in our body seeks nothing but to hide behind clothes.  Only something as powerful as our stripped down selves can grasp it.

But back to John 8: The religious leaders of the day — a very pretentious, uptight, angry group of folks not to unlike religious leader of seemingly every era — crafted a plan to catch a woman in the act of adultery. Obviously she needed a partner in crime, but the man is never mentioned. It’s safe to assume he may have been in on it in the first place because it isn’t so easy to catch people “in the act.” It gives new definition to the term “ugly male.”

The woman is dragged to church without even having time to grab a robe. She is tossed onto the dirt floor in front of Jesus who is teaching there. He ignores her and begins to scrawl in the dirt. The indignant mob asks Jesus if he thinks they should follow Jewish law and stone the woman.

It’s a trap, I tell you! This mob really isn’t so angry at the woman. She is so beneath them in stature they likely don’t think of her in human terms as much as see her as a pawn for their plans, be they plans to use her sexually themselves or in this case to topple this homeless preacher who had turned their lives into a living hell with his radical preaching of love, forgiveness and social justice.  The religious leaders of the day were scared shit-less that such ideas would become fashionable and cut into their monopoly on the market of God. One thing we know for sure: God is good business. Always has been. So there has been no shortage of angry people who exploit it.

The nakedness is purely theatrical. To ramp up the stakes on Jesus. To heighten the moral degradation. To heap the shame on this pawn of woman, because we all know that since the beginning of time shame quickly follows nakedness. Remember Eden: They ate the apple and quickly realized they were naked. Shame and the desperate grab to clothe, to hide, to run from God followed. It’s a powerful myth, one I return to time and time again.

Jesus knows its a trap. He is nonplussed. He merely stoops over and scribbles in the dirt, turning all the mob mentality and theatrics into more awkwardness than a Michael Scott speech in an episode of The Office.

Seeking to regain their momentum, the leaders repeat their demands of Jesus in a “what say you!” type of way. Jesus rises, dusts off his hands and shrugs.

“Sure, stone her,” he says. “So long as you haven’t sinned… go for it.”

The original language in this text is more specific. It suggests that Jesus is saying let the one that hasn’t committed this particular sin throw the fastballs of death.

I once heard a preacher wonder about what Jesus was doodling in the dirt during this encounter.

“I like to think it was the names of they girlfriends,” he said.

Now that’s awkward.

The mob started dropping their rocks, one at a time “starting with the oldest,” the scripture records, until there was no one left but the naked woman the man who called himself the Son of God.

“Neither do I condemn you,” he says. “Go and sin no more.”

It’s a great story. It’s grace in simplest form. Jesus shatters the shame of her nakedness and simply says, live better… for your own sake.

We shy away too often from sin. It’s an abused word, a favorite of the angry mob types who twist it into a weapon of religious zeal. But read through the scriptures and you see God using it often in a much different way.

“The wages of sin are death,” the Apostle Paul wrote. We read this and get all freaked out thinking of it only the heaven and hell terms that the religious dogma of our day insists is fact. But look around. We see what he meant all around us. Hell bent on destruction, we call it.

Sin is living our lives far away from the potential and possibility and zeal that God created us to experience. Too often we live a less-than-glorious life because of our sin… our destructiveness, our selfishness, our lack of control, our immaturity, our woundedness and our fear. God wants us to live, not die. Let’s not make it all about some hereafter. If Jesus taught us anything it centers on the fact that this life, right here and now, is damn important, important enough for him to come in the form of a human being to share it with us and show us a better way to, simply put, set us free from sin.

It’s the same words we have all heard so often. We’ve heard them so often in so many hurtful, dogmatic ways we can hardly shift our brains to hear them ourselves without all the religious trappings and consider what exactly God was speaking about and modeled for us in his own life. If anything God is consistent, so these apparent contradictions say far more about us and our interpretations of things like sin and death than it does about God. If Jesus modeled compassion, grace, forgiveness and anything but shame, then we can rest assured it was the point from the very beginning.

This added bonus of shame explains why we so often both repulsed and compelled by our nakedness? Something internally tells us that we are completely Effed up. We know it. We live it. We are sick of it. But we fail to change it. “Go and sin no more,” Jesus tells us with something far removed from shame.

He calls us to embrace our intent. That is our nakedness. Our purest self. That part of us that is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We can’t get it back by adorning ourselves with more “clothes,” more of the trappings of wealth, stature, power, success and influence. We get it back by being stripped bare, face to face with our true selves and all its Effed up glory and realizing that God absolutely loves us just the way we are.

A final note: Most Bible’s now point out that this passage of the woman caught in adultery can’t be found in the earliest manuscripts of scripture. Some would say this might discredit them. But perhaps its the exact opposite. Perhaps the power of the story was so important that it not only wasn’t forgotten, but someone insisted on adding it in later precisely because he or she knew that at one time or another we’d all be caught ashamed in our failures and need to hear again about the God of love who calls us back to our intended state of transparent, honest, flawed and yet still glorious life… naked, yet wonderfully unashamed.

Jewish advice: Act as if there’s no God

I had a stunning three-minute conversation with a spiritual counselor the other day that became one of those indelible moments that I know will stick with me for a long while.

As it so often happens with me, it started with bread.

It ended with this simple message of Jewish wisdom the counselor said dates back a long, long way. The advice, he said, was “act like there is no God.”

But I am ahead of myself. Let’s get back to the bread, back when one of my daughter’s texted me and asked me if I wanted to make Challah.

“I have no idea what that is, but I can try,” I texted back.

“It’s a pretty basic sweet bread,” she wrote.

“Ok,” I said.

Then she threw in the kicker: “And it’s braided really pretty.”

Huh? I thought. Suddenly it wasn’t so basic anymore.

I really don’t know a thing about Jewish traditions, except that they are very meaningful and shouldn’t be trifled with. I felt a bit like I may soon be trifling with some ham-handed attempt to make a bread I’d never even eaten. Still, when asked I try to say yes, so…

2014-12-13 16.03.29

The dough part was indeed easy enough.

But the braiding part, well that was indeed “fancy.” I took to YouTube. I figured if I could learn to butcher a pig on YouTube, I could braid some bread.

2014-12-13 16.11.07

Turns out you can learn much of anything on YouTube. Anyone need a surgeon?! I’m willing to try.

2014-12-13 16.13.10

In the end, I was pretty happy with the look of my first Challah.

2014-12-13 17.30.59

Happy enough that I sought out the aforementioned Jewish spiritual counselor for his approval of my effort. I showed him the picture and he seemed genuinely enthusiastic with his praise, which was surprisingly meaningful for me to hear.

He told me how his grandmother would make Challah for the Sabbath meal so that at least one time a week they could eat with knives– without any instruments of violence on the table– since the bread could easily be pulled apart. Since both this counselor and I also share ties to an Anabaptist tradition that value peace over all, it was especially thoughtful and meaningful.

What a legacy, I thought.

So I told him about my daughter, who is not Jewish, but who volunteered to cook the meal for Tuesday night’s observance of the start of Hanukkah for a friend. I explained how my daughter’s friend converted to Judaism and hadn’t gotten much interest in the holiday observances from her family. My daughter decided to cook for her and celebrate together their shared faith, even if under different religious umbrellas.

He looked pleased. That’s when he told me about the old Jewish idiom to act like there’s no God in the world.

He said it just as he was dashing off so I lingered there with the idea on my mind for a while.

If there’s no God, then we must do what God would do. We must be the God others need, which is exactly what my daughter is doing for her friend and gave me the opportunity to participate as well in my very small way of baking and braiding bread (I also made some jelly donuts… though I’m less sure of what part of the meal they play).

So I stood there a moment thinking about this and all that happens around bread and how so often God is in the simplest things like bread and wine, which Jesus gave out on his last night to remind us to think of his life and role in this world every time we eat or drink it, which is pretty much every day.

Jesus might just have heard the same saying as my spiritual counselor did, I thought, because they are saying essentially the same thing.

As I think about these exchanges I realize I am embossed — as if stamped in a way that is hardly visible, yet indelible — with this idea of a significant approach to life as expressed by that counselor. Every time I see a pretty braided loaf of bread I will think of my need to act like there is no God in the world and be forever grateful there is.

Is God a thinker?

When my eyes open each morning its like my brain hears a starters pistol fire. My mind is off to the races.

At times throughout a given day I will find myself stalled, like this slow computer I work on, frozen, eyes staring out at some sort of nothing and my mind does its work without me noticing for a moment a too. I feel in those times how fast my mind races beyond me.

I have often been criticized for “thinking” too much. Yet I often let it fall away, convinced my thinking is part of the best of me.

So it’s little wonder that the most difficult and most necessary part of my spiritual discipline is to slow my mind down and simply try to not think. Mediation is hard, really hard. Yet the more I think the more I realize I need to think less to think better and be better.

For some reason one of my greatest strengths as a person, my ability to think critically and thoroughly about all that which interests me, is a powerful obstacle to my relationship with the Divine.

So as I continue to sift through the detritus of my recent spiritual slump, I return to one of the fundamental parts of who I am. If I am made in God’s image, it seems fair to ask, is a God a thinker too?

On hand it sounds absurd. Of course God’s a thinker right? It’s the one trait more than any other that makes us fully and uniquely human, crafted in God’s image. He had to think all this up in the first place, right?

But on the other… what the hell does God have to think about anyway? She already knows all the answers, right? Wouldn’t thinking for God be sort of like doing the same crossword puzzle over and over and over and never getting a new one?

My identity is fiercely tied to my thinking. So it serves to reason that my ego is also closely tied to the power of my mind. Where the ego goes, I have learned to be wary.

So I have to pause, reset and think some more. Have I made an idol of my brain in a way that blocks God off from my heart?

God is fiercely jealous. Idolatry seems to be the central focus of scriptural laws in the Old Testament. When Saul tries to “out think” God, Samuel calls it witchcraft and forever removes God’s anointing. Jesus seems comfortable with prostitutes, boozers, course talking men, and swindlers, but he has nothing but harsh words for the religious “thinkers” of his day.

So what do I do with these thoughts? Why, of course, I think some more. I think about how I’ve seen truly intelligent, brilliant, wonderful people bereft of the human connection and ability to connect heart-to-heart with another person. I’ve seen dedicated followers of God who have so little love for others. I’ve seen people blessed with beautiful minds have nothing but scorn and elitism for others less fortunate.

Never one to let a good thought lie idle, I think so more. Like Tevye I say, “on the other hand…” I’ve seen far too many believers with their heads checked at the door. All that happy clappy Christianity lacks what Alan Jones in Soul Making called spiritual maturity. And it’s often not harmless. I’ve spoken to too many religiously intolerant who unthinking barf up Bible verses as excuses for abuse, hate, racism, excess and any number of things I think to be wrong.

Clearly God has some thoughts about all of that right? And round my thoughts go, both a sprint and marathon, a restless always of thought that makes me tired just thinking about it.

I often ask The Bride what she’s thinking. She’ll say, “nothing.” I call bullshit. “You can’t think nothing,” I’ll say. She’ll smile and say, “you can’t think nothing, but I do it just fine.”

See when I set out to write this post I set a goal of 400 words. It’s far longer now… typical…

 

Perhaps, just perhaps, I’ve been thinking about this all wrong for a long, long time. For example: go back to St. Paul, one of the truly great thinkers of the Christian faith, who ironically doesn’t list thinking as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). In the great Romans crescendo of Chapters 12 and 13, Paul doesn’t hail his mind, but : “love, joy and peace… and the greatest of these is love.”  The great song of love that follows comes from a most unlikely source, a zealous celibate with vastly limited appreciation of women.

Old Testament prophets usually use emotional metaphors for God’s love, like that of a lover, mother, shepherd and passionate protector. Rarely is our relationship with God defined by how we think about God.

In short, that which makes me most Godlike is also that which so often keeps me from God.

In someways its simple: Too often my relationship with God is in my head while his heart goes untouched by mine for far too long. I become the old adage of the farmer who tells his wife, “I said I loved you when I married you. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

Too often I become the loveless, passion-less, heat-less lover of God who thinks of Her often but embraces her never.

Have you ever been in love? Have you experienced the all-consuming enrapture of that falling off a cliff love for someone? Does it last? Not often, but do we want it to? Always.

And I think God wants it too as well. I think the other side of this life will be a place where love endures with all its thrilling, all-consuming intensity. I know there will be plenty of time for my brain to do its best work in heaven too, but as I pursue the idea of Jesus prayer here “on Earth as it is in heaven,” I realize that this slump is not one I can think my way out of.