Today’s Poem: Thinking Ahead

Make time to laugh and love and play

A little each and every day

For one’s life passes in a blink

Do not want to look back and think,

“Could I have been a bit more kind,

Helping those who fell behind?

Should I have made more love than cash,

More time to rest in life’s mad dash?

Did I seek to be wise or “right?”

Did I pick peace or pick a fight?

Did I believe I could be wrong,

Knowing nothing all along?

Or did all my civility

Run off with my humility?

Did I let fear and pain and hate

Crush me under their great weight?

Did my faith become my fence,

To keep away all difference?

Did I look in my neighbor’s eyes

And then try on their shoes for size?

Or did I try to do my part

And make decisions with my heart?”

I pray you won’t look back with dread

For time is out when we are dead

Since no one knows when that will be,

Be sure to live deliberately!

Virtuous Commentating

I was reading Mark 2 last night, and when I reached the teaching on the Sabbath, it snatched my attention. The text can be found here. In this text, Jesus’ disciples flout Sabbath protocol by picking grain to eat. This counts as “harvesting,” so they draw the ire of the legalistic religious scholars known as Pharisees.

I’ve read through this text countless times. The point seems clear, that the Sabbath is a gift to people, not a means of controlling them. This time, however, I was captivated by a thought that occurred around verse 24.

The biggest problem here is that the Pharisees would rather point and shout than help.

They could have offered food to the disciples if they cared that much. Instead, they’d rather just point out the problem with the intent of discrediting and shaming the hungry bunch.

How often do we humans do this?

We could help. We could take steps to solve the problem, offer support, act with kindness. Instead, we decide to shame and denounce.

Perhaps the best lesson we could all learn is to contribute good things when we are faced with evil things. The Pharisees’ problem was that they were legalistic about the Holiness Code without helping anyone actually achieve a greater level of holiness. Our problem is that it’s easier/more convenient to shame or insult via social media or conversation than it is to actually help create a healthier environment.

I plan to be more aware of this, watching my words, opting to take action more and more. It’s my hope that more of us will do the same. Virtue signaling does too little, and inaction costs too much.

Peace be with you!

Class is in Session

I was reading Matthew 23 last night, where Jesus says to his disciples, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.” You can find the whole chapter for context here. I know that the passage takes place within the Christ-disciple dynamic, but I can never help but expand things to a more universal perspective.

After all, we are all students, aren’t we? I mean, some of us are harder to teach than others, but we are all making our way through life not always knowing what we are doing. We are constantly having to stretch and grow and learn, and the only time we really fail is when we dare to believe that we know it all.

Everyone is at a different phase in their learning, and condemning someone for that is hypocritical, as all of us have areas in which we could make some improvement. Sure, there are ideas and practices that need to be called out, altered, and/or stopped, but too often we confuse ideas with people, taking out systemic frustrations on individual humans. What’s needed instead is compassion and empathy alongside righteous action, because God knows there isn’t a person alive or dead who “got it all right.”

By the same token, we need to be more gracious with ourselves. When we see our failures as indicators of who we are rather than lessons to be learned, we begin to define ourselves by those failures. We become self-fulfilling prophecies, caught in a horrible cycle of self-judgment and self-sabotage.

Life is one enormous lesson, and we are all students. We are each at different phases of our lesson plan, just trying to get to the next step. This should be a source of solidarity, not division.

Ultimately, every belief system, every way of being in the world is an attempt to understand the mystery of our existence. We may interpret this Mystery in different ways that don’t always agree, but the fact that we are all struggling and striving in this work in some shape or form should cause us to lock arms and march toward that Mystery together.

Peace be with you!

All is One

As an introvert, I “recharge” via solitude. During the week, I try to make at least one trip away from the apartment to collect myself and get energized. Normally, I go back to SMU and walk the prayer labyrinth at the theological school I attended, but this trip I wanted to be by moving water.

Part of this had to do with SMU being a lively campus, and the fountains help drown that out. Another part of me finds water sounds soothing and meditative, so I plopped down on a bench next to the memorial fountain by Dallas Hall and read a chapter of Proverbs. After reading, and moving because the sprinklers kicked on, I sat on the edge of the fountain, closed my eyes, and contemplatively meditated.

Several things came up, but the most profound teaching was that of the “oneness” of all things. This has been painted as a New Age idea, but it’s actually a teaching that has existed in one form or another since humans first started contemplating their existence. I saw that all the “barriers” that exist between people, between humans and God, and between us and the rest of the natural world are all false.

In my own Christian-centered language, I came back to the idea of the Breath of Life. It exists in all creatures, human and non-human alike (Genesis 7:22). It is a gift from the Divine (Genesis 2:7), and is therefore a universal connection between all living beings and God. All things are loved and sustained by whatever it is we call this Energy, this Presence, this Life.

With that in mind, all our hierarchy and power structures are nonsense. The idea that the earth is ours to exploit falls short of the truth, as does the notion that particular people are more worthy to receive respect, prosperity, and love than others. Racism, sexism, and other discriminatory “isms” make even less sense.

In Jesus, we see this truth of oneness brought to life in the Incarnation. Scripture teaches that Jesus is simultaneously human and divine in a way that is to be imitated. Such a connection unifies what were once thought to be two realities separated by a great chasm of uncleanness and sin.

Yet God lives as a human, according to the Bible. Taking it further, this Divine Human doesn’t spend his time playing into the power politics of his day. Instead, he dissolves even more barriers, namely those between the elites and the have-nots, the clean and the unclean, the saints and the sinners. The lines are blurred in every interaction, and then obliterated when Jesus innocently shares punishment with common criminals.

Regardless of your feelings on the church or Christian doctrine or the Bible, the overarching message is clear: the distinctions of this world are created by us humans, and they are often used to benefit only a small portion of this world. The reality is that the same Energy that animates me and brings me to consciousness also gives breath to my family, my beloved cats, and my most bitter enemy. It allows the trees to grow and the sun to shine. The same Divinity that rests in Jesus rests in me, you, the ones we choose to love, and the ones we’d rather not.

Now this teaching has been misused in the past. If we are all the same, there is no real problem with poverty or abuse, right? God sees us equally, after all.

This is lazy, however. The real result of this idea should be an effort to make our world reflect this reality, eliminating poverty and need, treating all others with respect and dignity, broadening access to resources, and taking care of the natural world in which we reside.

The idea of “oneness” is not some otherworldly, metaphysical claim, but a statement about the interconnectedness of all life. As goes one thing, so go the others. None are above or beyond what happens to this world and those who reside in it.

I feel blessed by this knowledge. It’s already changed my approach to my family, strangers, and the environment. It’s changed how I look at those with whom I disagree. It’s changed my approach to God and religion.

It’s my hope that you know just how loved and beautiful you are. Similarly, I hope you will go forward acknowledging these things in others. If enough of us do this, who knows what might happen?

Peace be with you!

Self-Acceptance

I’ve been fighting myself a lot over the last few weeks, maybe even longer. For a long time, I’ve thought that being a Christian would make me narrow-minded, and that it would mean accepting dogma and doctrine, else I would just be “faking it.” As such, I’ve tried to drop it all and carve out my own spiritual identity.

The problem is that I’ve already friggin’ done that.

There was never a time in my journey as a Christian/Quaker that I accepted all of what orthodoxy mandates. I’ve never believed adherents of other religions went to hell, just for being different. I stuck to 6-Day Creation theory until I was in 5th grade science, then I left that behind too.

In seminary, I realized I don’t believe God is some external being or person, and I rejected the idea that signing off on the metaphysical DNA of Jesus was necessary for discipleship and connection with God. I joined the Quaker tradition because I reject divinely ordained hierarchy/priesthood/pastoral ministry. I believe all righteous paths are valid, and I believe God communicates with others according to the language they will understand, even if it means meeting an atheist with the silence needed for them to fully live out their path and keep the rest of us honest.

I believe Jesus is a pattern for all of us to follow, not some item on the checklist of orthodoxy that gets me into “the good place.”

My language of spirituality has always been Christianity, but I never allowed that identity to negate my mystical experiences of the divine in myself amd in others. That is, I never did until recently. I have been so preoccupied with finding “the truth” that I completely forgot about my own experiences with that truth and all that those encounters have done for my life.

The truth is I use Christian symbols and tools to express my spirituality. What I’ve learned is that this doesn’t mean I have to swallow all the crap that has nothing to do with God and everything to do with power. This experience has taught me not to read the Bible, pray the Rosary, or attend services in a way that replaces genuine experience of and communion with God.

Am I going to do these things? Yes, but only insofar as they edify and inform my spirituality rather than becoming idols that dictate it. The same can be said for my Tarot cards or the silent worship of my Quaker Meeting.

All are tools, none are God.

The fact is that Christianity is the faith of my people. It’s what I know and understand. Is God bigger than this religion? Oh yes. Does that mean I need to reject all specificity so I can make some kind of statement? No. Does it mean I need to swallow all related doctrine and dogma to be authentic? Also no.

There comes a point when we must accept ourselves. We all come from a specific location in space and time, with our own culture and spiritual language. Instead of fighting to make something new, find something new in your own rich tradition. You have the authority to reject that which is harmful or confining as you embrace that which is healthy, life-giving, and liberating. Recognize that as long as you live with love at the center of your being, your own specific way of relating to the universe is perfectly acceptable and will yield beautiful results.

Peace be with you!

In Advance

Over the next couple weeks, I am facilitating the discussion group at my Quaker meeting regarding George Fox’s idea that a faithful person should “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” Now, we have debated the idea of whether or not we believe there actually is an element of God in every person; some of us do while others don’t. It has been agreed upon, however, that Fox (in true Quaker style) was less concerned about metaphysical truths regarding the Divine in everyone and more concerned with how the Quaker community behaved.

I feel there is a powerful lesson in this.

We live in reactive times. Everyone is one post, one word, one decision away from making or losing friends. Before we can love someone, we need to see what they’re like. Before we can treat someone with respect, dignity, or compassion, we need to know they deserve it.

Bollocks.

In case you haven’t noticed, being reactive isn’t working well for society. Our most immediate and visceral emotions are steering the ship, and we are going to repeatedly run aground until that changes. But how do we change it?

Fox’s quote could be of service in this regard. “Answering that of God in everyone” has nothing to do with what people deserve and everything to do with what we decide to do in advance. No matter what a person is like, we’ve already decided who we are going to be, and that makes all the difference.

I personally believe God’s image and breath and presence abide in every person, regardless of how they use, abuse, or ignore that gift. Yet even if that isn’t true, I’ve decided to live as though it’s a fact. As such, my interactions have started to change in a powerful way.

Don’t wait to be a compassionate or merciful person until “the chance arrives.” Decide now that that’s who you want to be, and start practicing! Don’t wait until someone deserving of your respect comes along, but decide now that everyone will be the recipient of your respect because you want to be a respectful person!

Of course we will still feel powerful, reactive emotions. It is also true, though, that our habits can allow us to process them effectively rather than hurling them into the world to do whatever harm they can. In that way, we can start to exemplify healthier ways of coping and interacting that are based on virtue, not offense.

We can’t control who others choose to be. We can, however, decide who we are going to be, and that has to be a decision made apart from other people. This is so necessary, as we are currently giving too much of our power over to others, allowing their behavior to manipulate ours in an endless cycle of mutual harm.

Take back your power, deciding in advance to go ahead and be the compassionate, healthy, loving, respectful person we all need. In this way, you’ll find yourself walking “cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

Peace be with you!