Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand."

-- Thomas Merton

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"We believe in a God who speaks and calls; the God of the Bible is one who is always seeking to communicate more fully and effectively with human creatures, so we have to train ourselves to be quiet enough to hear that communication."

-- Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

Monday, March 23, 2015

"The most Spirit filled people on the planet are not the miracle workers, they are the peace-makers..."

-- Mark Pixley (via Michael Hardin)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

One of the most profound and life-changing things I've learned in my time at seminary is also one of the most remarkably simple things. I first heard it from a Benedictine nun, then discovered it in the writings of ancient Christian monastics and eventually realized that wise people from various faiths and cultures have taught it. Since learning it, I endeavor to apply it continuously to my own life and have found it to be true and utterly beneficial. It is this:

You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are not you. 

You can step back and observe your thoughts. They pass through your consciousness like clouds across a sky. You can choose whether to entertain them or simply let them pass on by. They are temporary; ephemeral. Thoughts of anger, resentment, lust, hatred, self-loathing, jealousy, etc. only become sinful and harmful if you choose to engage them. But if you simply observe and acknowledge them and let them float on down the stream of consciousness, they cannot actualize and thus have no power.

Jesus taught that it is not what goes into a person that defiles them but what comes out of a person: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." (Matthew 5:19)

Rather than try to repress thoughts, or heap recrimination upon oneself for thoughts, one simply observes and releases. It actually takes discipline to let go and not engage; not entertain; not identify with the thought and thus allow it to arise out of the heart. The ancient Christian contemplatives called this practice of observing but not engaging one's thoughts "the guard of the heart."

The 17th century Quaker George Fox wrote, "After thou seest thy thoughts, and the temptations, do not think but submit; and then power comes. Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone; and then content[ment] comes. And when temptations and troubles appear, sink down in that which is pure, and all will be hushed and fly away."

The Augustinian monk Martin Laird uses the analogy of looking out upon a canyon and observing weather patterns move across it--always changing, arising, dissipating, moving off over the horizon. The weather changes but the canyon remains.

You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are not you.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why deny it when the picture's clear,
World in decline and the time is near,
It gets closer with every year,
When are You gonna come and get me outta here?

Those were the opening lyrics to a song I wrote when I was in my 20's. I was parroting the fundamentalist Evangelical eschatology that I had imbibed via books, sermons and Christian radio. My desire upon becoming a Christian was to follow Jesus, but I was given a whole set of doctrinal baggage that only later I learned was extraneous. The way I viewed the world was reshaped, and not in a good way: I was told that everying is fallen, corrupted, failed and sure to get worse. The only hope, they said, is to be rescued, raptured, airlifted out by God and leave this cesspool of a world behind (along with the vast and unfortunate majority of humankind who didn't know Jesus). As the lyrics to my song indicate, I passed along what I had been taught.

Only much later did I learn that doctrines such as "the fall" and "original sin" and "total depravity" originated from the dualistic Greco-Roman philosophies embraced by early Christian theologians such as Augustine, and that the "end times" theology which shaped our expectations was actually a 19th century invention.

The Christian rock band I was in which played that song, also played a song written by another band-member, which had these lovely lyrics:

Foolish hearts,
Foolish blackened hearts,
Are destined to die. 

It makes me sad now to think that I spent decades under the influence of such a jaundiced and cynical and life-denying worldview. I'm still recovering from it---learning to trust that both God and God's creation are inherently and unfailingly good. It is sort of like that film Pleasantville where the townspeople begin to see in color when previously everything was in black and white. I have watched many of my peers who have remained in that system of thought grow increasingly dark and angry and bitter as the years go by.

So, I'm a very mediocre lyricist, but if I took a crack--30 years later--at revising my song, it might go something like this:

Life is a gift, that much is clear,
God is good, no need to fear,
Our time is now, our place is here,
We are grateful and God is ever-near.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

"The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it."

– Terry Pratchett

Tuesday, March 17, 2015