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Self-Repair

Random piece I wrote as my son fed and I scrolled Facebook:

The answer’s not in stars so bright
In hallowed halls or that house of white
No piece of paper can atone
No leader, party, or faith alone
For every evil has it’s start
In the hardness of our heart
So look not to the ones above
But ask how you can better love
Your friend, a stranger or enemy
For only that can set us free.

Peace be with you!

Live Like We’ve Made It

The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them. — Isaiah 11:4, JB

Looking to a perfect future is something religion typically “comes with.” In the Christian faith, prophecies are often read with eyes forward, waiting patiently for the day God sets everything straight. The trouble for me is that I am an “in the moment” kind of man. I don’t really know what to expect if/when the world comes to an end, Jesus returns, or I die, but I do know that I am alive right now in a world that could always use a little more light.

Fortunately, the prophets would have agreed with me! Prophecy in the Bible is less about predicting the future and more about the natural outworkings of our current problems. The prophet’s job is to call people to repentence immediately, forcing us to face the pain and suffering of the world and our part in it.

When reading Isaiah, it becomes clear early on that Israel is in very real trouble and God isn’t happy with them. They are criticized for their unjust practices and false piety, faced with invasion and destruction, but also encouraged by a vision of the possible future (should they decide to get it together).

Now some see such visions as pipe dreams used to provide “hope fuel” for the oppressed. I, on the other hand, view them as instructive, especially when I consider the teachings of Jesus, which emphasize living with the “Kingdom of God” in mind. The images of a final judgment and celestial utopia were not there to simply be believed in, but to give us a target for which to aim every day.

So when we see passages like the one above from Isaiah 11, or the “swords into ploughshares” verse that declares “there will be no more training for war” (chapter 2), it would be wise to see these as a goal rather than an eventual guarantee. Whereas the latter might only prompt us to “hold on tight,” the former is actually a call to action.

Such teachings should serve as ideals for which we strive by living as though they have already been realized. If we hope for a world of peace, we must in turn lead lives saturated with peace. If we dream of a future of equality, prosperity for all, and justice, our daily activities and interactions should reflect such things.

Am I dismissing the hope of some future manifestation of the Kingdom of God? Not necessarily. I just trust that God has such things in hand. What I am advocating for is turning our eyes from what could happen to what is happening, looking for opportunities to live out the future for which we hope.

Peace be with you!

The Myth of “Facts Not Feelings”

In recent years, there has been a surge of certainty that I feel has led to an utter breakdown in communication regarding very important topics. I keep seeing posts and quotes pointing to supposed critical thinkers offering a snide remark to the effect of “facts don’t care about your feelings.” While this sounds great (not at all jerk-ish), denying our inherent biases (emotional or otherwise) in a debate is a really… really bad idea. Why?

We trick ourselves into believing we are objective.

Despite what we’d like to think, when it comes to abortion, religion, LGBTQ+ rights, Israel, economics, and pretty much any other policy or issue that affects us personally, no one is objective.

Everyone has feelings that surround and inform their understanding of particular topics. But when we want to be “right” all the damned time, we rationalize and find whatever argument we need to prop us up. We pretend we have no bias driving our perception… and we are quite wrong in doing so.

Our denial of our own bias makes us less compassionate toward that of others. We believe we are right, and that is a truth that cannot and should not be altered no matter who it hurts.

After all, if facts don’t care about feelings, why should we?

This is the hypocritical move that makes steam shoot out of my ears. What B.S. statements like “Facts Not Feelings” actually provide is a means of dismissing other people and making ourselves feel more secure in our own perceptions. However, should the same move be used on us *gasp* we are stunned by the lack of understanding and tolerance on the part of others.

“How dare they go after our beliefs and what I think?!”

My question is: When did feelings become so bad? How did we arrive at a place where we are so willing to find any way to make someone feel stupid so we don’t have to be bothered with their “baggage?” Is there another way?

Of course there is.

CARE.

My point here is that maybe instead of whipping out one-liners that dismiss each other, we should actually listen and respond to one another. Even if someone’s belief doesn’t match your reality, it matches theirs, and as such it needs to be respectfully received and addressed if any headway is to be made toward a more productive conversation.

We all have biases. Most of us have feelings that guide our decision making, and all of us have emotions tied to our positions on particular subjects. I’m not saying that all of those feelings are always “right” or factual, but they exist and need to be handled with concern and compassion.

Will it be difficult? Yes.

Frustrating? You bet.

Worth it? Without a doubt.

Peace be with you!

Wait No More

Deprived of signs, with no prophets left, who can say how long this will last? — Psalm 74:9, JB

Religion can be a good thing. For people like me, viewing life as a sacred story full of magic, wonder, struggle, and peace is second nature. The problem comes when the story, with all its rituals and varied perspectives, becomes a means by which we stop doing what we are supposed to do.

Take the Psalm I’ve quoted from, for example. The writer(s) can’t seem to understand why God isn’t swooping down from the sky to fix the temple and save the people from oppressors. They have no signs or prophets, and all that comforts them are the memories of God’s past interventions.

Interestingly enough, though, Moses performed signs, and he was human. The prophets were also human, speaking messages that simply (but powerfully) highlighted the obvious injustices of Israel’s governance and social practices. In fact, when the prophets did speak, they didn’t expect God to fix everything.

They expected the people of Israel to get it together, rather than staring at the sky in anticipation while ignoring what is going on around them. The Spirit is always where It needs to be; we are the “wild cards” in every scenario.

This is a message suitable for all of us today. Particularly in my context (the U.S.), there is a trend of looking for “signs and wonders” from external sources. The “faithful” often look to the sky and wonder when God will make it all work out. Others look to politicians, religious leaders, online personalities, celebrities, anyone we feel might have a special calling or ability to affect change.

Anyone but us.

Perhaps we don’t feel we can make a big enough difference in the world. We could just be lazy or indifferent. Maybe we have lost hope or are too afraid to act.

None of this changes the fact that you, yes, YOU are capable of signs. We are all prophets. We have a voice, something to say or do that contributes to the positive powers of this world. Moreover, we have the God-given freedom and responsibility to utilize what we have for the betterment of this good earth.

Yes, even in our own little corners of the world there are ways we can positively affect the course of the future. Every person, every interaction, every breath is a chance to give a kind word or gesture, a chance to stand up for others. It is these things that should be the sign of one’s faithfulness.

If we follow through, we are the workers of signs and wonders; we are the prophets, as it should be.

Peace be with you!

It Depends

then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.Genesis 2:7, RSV

Taken literally, Genesis 2 is about how the original human was hand-crafted from clay by the Guy in the Sky. In light of historical criticism, one may say this is a perfectly dismissable near eastern myth about the origins of people. Luckily, there is a middle ground.

For me, “truth” goes beyond the coldly factual approach taken by the extremes of interpretation. Even if a story doesn’t appear to be recounting a historical event as we define it, I believe it can still be used by Spirit to impart some truth to us about ourselves and our place in this life. With that in mind, what does Genesis 2 teach me?

Well, a lot.

Today, though, I am struck by the reminder of our (humanity’s) natural connection and dependence. Further, I’m disturbed to look up from the story and see what our world has become.

We exploit, pollute, and devalue all of nature, including other people. All forms of life are viewed in terms of their usefulness. Our planet has been trampled underfoot and bled dry by our constant self-centeredness as a species.

It needs to stop.

The story of Genesis paints humanity as one with the “created world.” We are formed from the same earth as other animals and vegetation. The same “breath of life” fills all lungs, yet we act as though we operate independently of the rest of the planet. Particularly in “the West,” we value our autonomy.

The problem is there really is no such thing.

We were designed with dependence in mind. We depend on earth, air, fire, and water for our sustenance, our very existence. We depend on each other to be born, taught, supported, loved, and remembered. No person is self-made, for we all owe a debt to someone. When we forget that, we end with the society we have now.

So what does this truth of dependence do for us?

Hopefully, we are reminded to care for our earth. We can reduce, reuse. recycle, and be grateful for what this earth provides for us. We can give to wildlife conservation efforts, and spread awareness about this miraculous planet. We can eat meat and animal products from creatures who are properly cared for, and remember to honor the life that fed ours. We can purchase products that won’t take away more of our precious forests.

We can remember that no matter how different someone is from us, no matter what they choose to do with their life, we are of the same “dust.” Every person is sacred by virtue of existing, and so they should be treated even if they aren’t choosing to reciprocate. When our religion, doctrine, politics, or preconceived notions would have us do differently. we ought to set those aside rather than the person in front of us.

So there you have it. Remember that we are all each other has. This earth, this life, and each other are all we can sure of, and we are all interconnected and interdependent. With that in mind, I hope we can start acting like it.

Peace be with you!

Walking the Winding Road

Someone may plan his journey by his own wit, but it is the LORD who guides his steps. — Proverbs 16:9, REB

Every week, I visit my former seminary in Dallas and walk the courtyard prayer labyrinth. Few spiritual disciplines afford me the same peace, meditation, and insight as my weekly pilgrimage to its center. An ancient method of moving meditation and personal transformation, the labyrinth has brought me peace in some of the most tumultuous times in my life.

For me, the labyrinth is a replica of life. Many of us would liken life to a maze, full of intentional deception culminating in dead ends unless your just lucky or persistent.

Life, however, is one path from beginning to end, and that end is certain.

The labyrinth has taught me that although life includes many winding turns and potential obstacles (especially when it’s under construction, as in the photo), we will always find our way through them if we only continue on. Choosing to stay still is the only way to become trapped in a labyrinth, and so it is in life. If we decide to stay put in a miserable, bitter, hateful, or pitiless way of living, it’s about as useful as hitting a turn in a labyrinth and just plopping down for good.

I don’t know what kind of journey you’ve had, but I can tell you that all those sharp turns, huccups, and obatacles are completely okay. They’re normal. Life isn’t a straight line, but it ends in the same place for us all, and the best thing we can do is keep walking, experiencing and appreciating all of it.

Peace be with you!

A Certain Problem

Woe betide those who are wise in their own sight and prudent in their own esteem. — Isaiah 5:21, REB

People like certainty. In our world, the one thing we can count on is that horrifying thing we call “change.” Life is uncertain, unpredictable; with that in mind, it makes sense that we desperately seek something we can grasp and return to when we need to step away from the fluctuations of life.

There is nothing wrong with seeking peace. It’s good to have a strong foundation to uphold us as we engage with the world. What becomes problematic is the human tendency to allow our certainty to turn us into obstinate, closed hearted, closed minded, even cruel people.

Certainty becomes dangerous when we are so convinced of our rightness that (we) our beliefs, opinions, and truths can’t be questioned. Our standards are intentionally and impossibly placed in order to preserve what we consider to be fact.

In the U.S., our current political climate is evidence of the harm wrought from allowing certainty to close our minds, ears, and hearts (but not our mouths). Religious certainty is just as bad, making God into our personal justification station while all others must clearly be wrong or of the devil.

We can also be too certain about people. We want a short cut to having them all figured out, and we use race, nationality, religion, social status, rumors, and/or their past mistakes to form a usually biased opinion. After all, life is too complicated if we actually have to get to know someone… if we acknowledged we could be wrong.

The truth is that life is uncertain… and that needs to be okay. We are often wrong and we never have it fully figured out… and that needs to be okay. We are all on this journey together and it’s my belief that Sacredness is present in all of us, which means we have to be brave enough to take a chance on one another, even if it means risking our beloved certainty.

Peace be with you!