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Piety as Paradox

glorious sunLast week, Easter Sunday, at the culmination of an extraordinary week in the care of the Holy Spirit, this little. seemingly disconnected post, one of Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily devotions that I subscribe to, came to my inbox.

But like a cherry bomb, or firecracker placed in just the right place at just the right moment, it kicked free a pebble that dislodged a stone that released a rock that freed a boulder, that loosed an avalanche of love and grace. I have spent the week pretty much letting the dust settle and recovering.

I wish I could “wind back the avalanche”, and display all the wondrous parts for all to see. I cannot, gravity just doesn’t seem to work like that. So I cannot “recreate” the experience here in these posts. I also lack Fr. Richard’s gifts, talents, and skill with words expressing the movements of spirit that illuminate the Garden of Prayer so brilliantly… more’s the pity.

But in my own halting fashion I want to lay out some of these lovely pieces, these wondrous milestones that mark various turnings and landmarks along the path… and see if they interest and edify.

First, let’s look at the simple (THREE PARAGRAPHS!!! lol), writing of Fr. Richard last week:

Paul as Non-dual Teacher

Sunday, April 5, 2015
(Easter Sunday)

Meeting the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus changed everything for Paul. He experienced the great paradox that the crucified Jesus was in fact alive! And he, a “sinner,” was in fact chosen and beloved. This pushed Paul from the usual either/or, dualistic thinking to both/and, mystical thinking. The truth in paradoxical language lies neither in the affirmation nor in the denial of either side, but precisely in the resolution of the tug of war between the two. The German philosopher Hegel called this process thesis, antithesis, synthesis. The human mind usually works on the logical principle of contradiction, according to which a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time. Yet that is exactly what higher truths invariably undo (e.g., God is both one and three, Jesus is both human and divine, bread and wine are both matter and Spirit). Unfortunately, since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, we Western, educated people have lost touch with paradoxical, mystical, or contemplative thinking. We’ve wasted five centuries taking sides!

Not only did Paul’s way of thinking change, his way of being in the world was also transformed. Suddenly the persecutor–and possibly murderer–of Christians is the “chosen vessel” of Christ, chosen and sent “to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). This overcomes the strict line between good and bad, between evil and virtue. The paradox has been overcome in Paul’s very person. He now knows that he is both sinner and saint, as we too must trust. These two seeming contradictions don’t cancel one another out. Once the conflict has been overcome in you, and you realize you are a living paradox and so is everyone else, you begin to see life in a truly spiritual way.

Perhaps this is why Paul loves to teach dialectically. He presents two seemingly opposing ideas, such as weakness and strength, flesh and spirit, law and grace, faith and works, Jew and Greek, male and female. Normal dualistic thinking usually takes one side and dismisses the other, stopping there. Paul is the first clear successor to Jesus as a non-dual teacher. He forces you onto the horns of the dilemma and thus invites you to wrestle with the paradox. If you stay with him in the full struggle, you’ll see he eventually brings reconciliation on a higher level, beyond the conflict that he himself first illustrates.

Now, if you visit this blog very often, you’ve probably heard the words “dualism” and “dialectic” here before. We’re not going to do much with them today, besides the confession that my Dad (my Jesuit Dad) was an Hegelian Phenomenologist, and such was my upbringing, in years before “postmodernism” had yet entered the streams we inhabited. Were he alive today, I know he would be quite comfortable with the tributary into which my spiritual life has flowed, as his views and perceptions and my own have grown vastly more unified through the years. Thus, Fr. Richard’s brief words in these three paragraphs spoke volumes to me, and rang deep in my own heart and spiritual roots.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But the word I want to focus on in this post… the image I would like to place before you… the cherry bomb that dislodged the pebble that released the stone… (and so on)… is the word “Paradox”.

There! There it is! There is the essence of “mystery” about the “Christian Mystery”. There is the obstruction, the fence, the boundary, the source of all denial of Christ, and grace, and love, and God. With rapid acceleration, understanding simply “unfolded”, like the time lapse photography of a garden filled with roses.

God, His Nature, Our Salvation and Redemption, Our Union with Him, Our very knowing of Him and possession (embrace) of Eternal Life… all hinges on our willingness to surrender to Paradox! And, generally speaking, we are NOT willing to do that.

We want “Balance”. We want “self control”. We want “rationality”, “reason”, “sanity”. We want “stability” and “predictability”. Beyond all things… We want what WE WANT!

For better or worse, we belong to a God who knows so much better than our childish insights, that as He works His will, His love, His grace… it looks nothing like our own wisdom, and so seems utterly contrary to everything we think we want. Our wisdom is foolishness, but yet it is dear to us because it is our own… and constantly, we judge Him by it.

“Paradox”… His wisdom is not ours, and it looks foolish to us. It looks impossible. It looks nonsensical. Every day, every moment, we are faced with the choice of whether to accept and embrace Him in spirituality on His own terms, or whether to reject that and “redefine Him” into religion with which we are vastly more comfortable because we can exert vastly more control.

How comfortable are we, how comfortable am I, how comfortable are you… with the Paradox of Truth in God?

  • Death leads to Life
  • Jesus become Sin
  • God become Servant
  • Jesus in self, Self in Jesus
  • God become Man
  • All Sin enter One Man
  • New creation perfected, yet still prone to sin
  • All fall short, yet all made righteous through faith
  • Eating body, drinking blood, bringing life
  • Bride/Body of Christ… Church Collective AND Individual soul

Impossibiities! Illogical! Impossible! Inconceivable! Nonsense!

No words, no semantics, no theology, no logic or syllogism can render “reasonability” around these Truths.

Paul’s Epistles do not so much “argue” such propositions, as he simply proclaims, illustrates, and renders them apparent. People, readers now or hearers then, have to decide whether they are willing to embrace these as Truth, or not. Jesus did the same.

So… in a quest to experience and embrace the Immediate Presence of Transparent God… this is the first challenge.

Are we willing to embrace the Paradox of Grace, and admit the finite limitations of logic, syllogism, and clever semantic argumentation? Are we willing to allow God to take our “experience and conscious recognition of Truth”, beyond our own reasoning and rational comfort zones?

Are we willing to “apprehend” and “embrace” even what we may be constitutionally incapable of “comprehending” and “understanding”?

For most, especially those addicted to religion, the answer is “No. No we are not.” They will continue to trek between the Temple and the Mountain, arguing about which Time-Share God prefers and spends more of His sabbaths in.

But for others… bold, courageous, a bit rebellious perhaps… but for those capable of passion and deep abiding love, driven by grace and the desire to know Him, whatever that takes…

For those few, the answer may be. “Yes. Yes we are.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Which team? Which group?

Our own choice. The risks are great. But so are the rewards. The choice is always our own.

Grace to thee — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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NOAA 42 — IFR Living

hurricaneOnce upon a time, a lifetime or two ago, I used to fly airplanes. Little airplanes, I’ll grant, but still… I flew them.

I’ve also endured a hurricane or two in my time, (totally as a ground-dweller!)

But I’ve watched a program about an aircraft dubbed “NOAA 42”, where grown men in (ostensibly) their right minds actually and on purpose fly their airplane INTO a hurricane (often at laughingly low altitude) to acquire scientific/meteorological data to predict the behavior of a given storm to predict landfall and severity. (Please bear in mind, while this sounds dare-devilish… this exercise saves lives as these storms bear down on us landlocked.)

But as I watched this program… an episode about a flight that went in a distinctly UNscripted fashion as they explored Hurricane Hugo a while back… I found myself echoing with how apt their experience is to life itself.

I mean, there they fly (willingly! knowingly!) into the outer wall of Hurricane Hugo… from a gorgeous blue sky tropical paradise day over the Caribbean… into the violence of total gray out, wind, waves, storm, at 1500 feet. Into a storm that can fling them down with a 1000 foot slap, or up 500 feet, faster than a pilot can react. “White knuckled” doesn’t begin to cover my own vicarious feeling about a flight like this.

But once they are THERE, once they are INSIDE this thing, this monster, there is nothing there that their own senses, their own eyes, ears, backsides can tell them… no sensory input or reasoning between their minds and their bodies, that they can rely on to manage the situation. There is total lack of sensory data for them, and they must rely… with absolute confidence… on their instruments and the information those instruments give them, to manage their aircraft safely.

This is the ultimate form of IFR Flying — Instrument Flight Rules — and this is the skill set needed when the pilot simply cannot see anything helpful outside the aircraft. Whether it is night flying or foul bad weather, when a pilot can see for a distance of 3+ nautical miles, they may fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). If not… it’s IFR or stay on the ground.

Now, I myself, never undertook the discipline of acquiring an IFR ticket, never took the rating.  But I did have a marvelous instructor who, a couple times, brought the training “hood” out with us and let me experience what was required to control the aircraft by instrumentation, without reference to outside aids (like the horizon, landmarks, etc.) (By the way, an obvious caution, never do this solo unless you ARE on IFR and transponder equipped. My instructor was there and maintaining the visual scan diligence needed, to watch for hazards or other aircraft. Right, ’nuff said.) But, it’s an incredible sensation… as alien as, like, walking around your house with a cane, blindfolded.

Anyway, as I watched NOAA 42 in the midst of a hurricane, I was overwhelmed with a new appreciation of “Faith”.

In the moments they are in that storm, they are utterly blind, deaf, and helpless. They are totally at the mercy of the wind, waves, the storm. In those moments, their crew simply “switch over” in their heads, to radar screens, attitude indicators, altimeters, pitch indicators, and they stop trusting anything their senses tell them, if sensation conflicts with what their instruments say.

As I realized this… God just seemed to “interrupt this program with an important Truth”… as the obvious parallel to Life just lit up.

I know you see it too, so I’ll not belabor the obvious, but just to sum up…

At the most vibrant degree of living… at the point where we can fully live in the embrace and trust of God… sometimes we can walk in harmony with life by “sight” and feel confident that we know what’s going on and can manage our affairs, our behaviors, our feelings participating with our own wills, thoughts, reasoning. Yes. Much of the time we can do this.

But there are other times, other situations, other phenomena… that either we can avoid, because we simply don’t have the personal resources adequate safely to navigate them…

OR, can we develop another skill set… a “Faith Life Rules” set… that allows us to navigate storms, darkness, times of (yes) stressful, perhaps painful or even dangerous phenomena… that we can pass through without harm? Can we disengage from our own fears, anxieties, predictions of probable outcomes, passions, adrenalin, sentiments… and just focus on what we know that we know… the truths of the Gospel, the words and acts of Jesus, the convictions and infusion of peace through the Spirit within?

I ended up with this very strange impression, that we can trust to the bright sunny skies, and EQUALLY we can trust to the hurricane… if we see both as expressions of Life Himself, and are determined to live by trust to His embrace. (I know that makes no sense.) But I just can’t shake the feeling that living in that trust, accepting and embracing even that apparent “danger”, gives us the freedom and joy of High Flight.

Just a thought… Gentle Reader.

Grace to thee — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Because I say so…

244px-messier-42-10-12-2004-filtered-e1401834586474While working on some projects over the past few weeks, I was struck with an amazing realization…

Are you a parent? Were you a parent? Or… do you remember your own parents? Imagine, if you will…

  1. You tell your child to do something or other that they don’t particularly want to do.
  2. They (predictably) ask, in a whiny voice, “But… but… WHY?”
  3. And you say? (fill in the blank here) (Psst! Hint: Check the title of this post!)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Have you ever noticed how often God Almighty, when faced with parallel situations with His Old Testament children, identifies Himself thus…

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”

Time and time again, He identifies Himself this way. And one day this realization just stopped me cold, as I thought… “Waitaminute! Why does God EXPLAIN Himself? Is He coddling His children? I mean, why doesn’t He say… ‘Because I am the Lord your God who could squish you like a bug?’ or “I am the Lord your God who created heaven, earth, and you?’ or even the tried-and-true…. “Because I say so!”?

It started me looking up one passage after another, and I saw this pattern repeated over and over. And this confused me. After all, if ANYONE has the right to pose an argument from authority without qualification, it must be Him, no? And yet, He doesn’t. In fact, He NEVER EVER does.

I was stunned.

We do it, we humans, all the time. Certainly with our children and subordinates. We claim our authority by position and rank, not by our actions and history. At least, not usually we don’t.

It all started me thinking… Why? Doubtless God is more emotionally secure than we are. We have greater need to massage our egos and pride, true enough. But still, does it make sense that we tend to point to ourselves when we assert authority, while God points to the children when He does?

So, I pondered, “Why?” Clearly, God gets it right more than I do. So, He has a method to why He asserts His authority in these terms rather than mine. As I pondered, I came to a conclusion.

I’d like to know what you think about what I thought… which was…

It seems that God defines “authority” in terms of His own commitment to the care and welfare of the other.

Perhaps that is a critical key. Perhaps “authority” only has true meaning in relationships of care, and it is directly related to the degree of commitment one has for the nurturance of the other. Like when God placed Adam into the garden to “protect and to serve” the plants, THUS exercising dominion. Is it possible that God always intended Adam’s “authority” and “dominion” to extend only to the limits of his caretaking?

Could God’s authority be infinite in that His caretaking is infinite? And the reverse? God’s caretaking is infinite in that His authority is infinite? Is the assertion and exercise of authority only godly and legitimate to the extent that we are committed to the well-being of the other? Is such assertion without commitment nothing more than the haughty posing of the self-righteous whitewashed tombs?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That’s where my ponders led me. What do you think?

Blessings and grace to thee, Gentle Reader! — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Ripples and Birthdays

WisdomIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. [Genesis 1:1-2]

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,  in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. [Luke 2:4-7]

While I know that technically it is “Christmas Day” as I write, Gentle Reader, for me it is the ending of Christmas Eve for I’ve not yet slept. These several days, I’ve yet been struck with the awesome power of “silence’ and “waiting”. I know there are those who decry the customs and traditions of the Liturgical Year, and the cycle of holidays such as Christmas and Easter in the Christian Church. I realize, with all educated theologians, that the decisions to select the dates we have are more dependent on the incorporation of customs by pagan peoples into Christian practice, than any scriptural seasonal basis. But it has always seemed more to me an apt unification of God’s people, rather than any denial or wrongful compromise.

Paulfg (Just me being curious) speaks often of dropping pebbles and watching the myriad ripples that follow. So much of grace is like that. God, or one who follows Him, drops a pebble, and the Holy Spirit echoes and reverberates among many others like variations on a theme of music. I was recently struck by the rhythmic nature of reality, of the necessity of opposites. In order to know true freedom and choice of good over evil, we MUST of logical necessity, have the capacity to choose evil. In order to know light, we must have the ability to apprehend darkness. For me, limited as I am by my own culture and upbringing, I’m coming to consider this the nature of yin and yang. Even Paul’s ripples have peaks and troughs, a zenith and nadir to define them.

This “silence”, this “fasting”, this preparation for the annual commemoration of the Great Events of the Nativity and the Resurrection that comprise Advent and Lent… these are important, and can do much to enrich our experience of God. Why? Because they are, in and of themselves, some sort of “magic times”? No. Because God takes special note of those who are devout enough to honor these penitential periods, and rewards the faithful with special Brownie Point Blessings? No. Because we have to “purge ourselves of our worldliness and sin”, in order to benefit from these sacred feasts? Well, such exercise may well bear some fruit, yes… but not in such a transactional way, no.

Now, I know you’ve heard this before, but let me say it again. I write from my own experience and subjective perspective. My opinions and conclusions are my own, and if they do not agree with yours I am NOT implying that you are wrong. For you, in your life, your world, your walk with the Lord, these ideas may not fit at all… and if that is the case, please cast them aside without hesitation. But perhaps these reflections will spur a new thought or idea to explore with Him, and that may bring additional grace or blessing. I share to expand our sense of the Possible in the realm of the grace of God.

This night, I’ve been struck with the Ripples of the Nativity. With this transition from Advent into Christmas. From pregnancy to parenthood. I was struck with those TWO texts quoted at the beginning of this post. All of “Not-Yet-Created” waited silently and darkly for “Creation”. The verb there for God “formed” is a word that means “brought forth from nothing at all”. This is not like a conjurer’s trick, the magician who unveils and releases a dove from a handkerchief and his “empty” hand. No, this is vastly more profound. This is God the Father and God the Son and God the Breath of God speaking, extending, and hovering over the expanse of darkness to bring forth… EVERYTHING. Birth!

And then, much later on, we see this scenario play out into our world, our time and space, as the Father sends forth Gabriel and speaks, the Son extends, and the Holy Breath overshadows Mary in her home. Nine months later, according to the rules of biology established in our lives, we have… Birth!

In my own life, this is a night each year when the universe itself holds its collective breath and gazes upon THE miracle of birth. It is God’s glory, God’s act, God’s love, God’s grace. It is entirely and wholly His, and it could well be said that He alone has the right to rejoice in it. But… just as He invited the shepherds and the maji so long ago to take part, to come, to witness, to celebrate… so too, He invites us. Isn’t that wondrous?

But watch this, it gets better! It is not only the celebration of the Birth of Jesus that is going on here.  Jesus said, “you in Me and I in you and together we in the Father.”  John the Apostle calls you a “Child of God”. Paul the Apostle waxes eloquent about “joint-heir with Christ,” including the training and discipline involved. We never see any of these texts grovelling in any sort of “worthless worm theology”, as so often undermines Christians in the name of humility.

The Nativity is not only Jesus’ Birthday… but ours as well. We are here to commemorate a birth… your birth, my birth… as sons and daughters of God… joint heirs… princes and princesses of kingdom… called to do the works of Jesus and greater yet because He is risen to the Father.

God Alone creates something from nothing. God Alone chose to lay down His divinity and become a man like us in all things but sin. God Alone moves the Holy Breath Spirit to dwell within us and among us. Why? Because He chooses to. Because that’s what Love means to Him.

And God Alone could make royalty of you and me. “Holy and Royal Priesthood” is all well and good as long as we speak of it in some vague corporate collective of “The Church”. But people become vastly less comfortable when one points out that means that YOU, are a sacred prince/princess priest/priestess. *I’m* not saying that… Scripture says that.

So… for tonight… let us continue to be silent, waiting, and ready. For, tomorrow, there will be Birth. And there will be a Gift. And the Gift will be an entirely new life… not just a “getting by” life… but a holy and royal life. A life filled with life, love, joy, truth, beauty, goodness, power, authority, and duty. Life that gives itself away and pours itself out for others…

Why? Because that’s what God has chosen to do. Because that’s what Love means to Him.

Happy Birthday, Your Highness.

 

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2014 in Advent Devotions, Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds

 

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The Power of Red Ink

Report CardGreetings, boys and girls. Once upon a time, back in the dark ages B.C. (before computers), THIS is what a Report Card looked like. It was (*gasp*) HANDWRITTEN, had columns for each marking period, passing grades were written in Black Ink, and failing grades were written in Red Ink.

(Now for those of you from the Computer Age, Grade Reports come out in machine generated characters, nearly exclusively in Black.)

Later in life, we associate this color coding with bookkeeping and accountancy. To be “in the black” is to have a positive balance in assets or credit, and to be in debit is noted in red.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, I didn’t expect to be writing this post this evening, but it is one of those “I-have-had-enough-of-this” moments, so I thought I’d share. You are welcome to agree or disagree, but this is my passionate feeling here.

Paulfg reblogged a post by The Culture Monk called Too many people are confused about atheism… REALLY??? with some very good thoughts and excellent discussion in the comment section. I recommend it to you as a good and thought-provoking read. I’ll not try to summarize it here. Nonetheless, the point that has moved me is all the rhetoric surrounding the label “Christian”.

There are people who label themselves, with great pride, as being “Christians”, because they attend church, dress up, tithe, carry heavy showy Bibles, grew up in a home where Daddy-was-a-Deacon and Mama-played-the-organ, and they occupy the community/social position of “Christian of the neighborhood block watch and thought police”. These folks are like “legacy Christians” if churches worked like fraternities and sororities. They hold exalted and esteemed positions, are legends in their own mind, and enjoy the privilege of judging and condemning all those they deem as believing or behaving differently than they do. They hold a definitive relationship with the definitive law and list of righteous behaviors, and you can think their way… or else.

Their spiritual ancestors of Biblical times, Pharisees,  had very mixed relations with Jesus. Some believed in Jesus, let Him utterly rock their worlds, and entered friendship with Him. Others did not, and Jesus said “Woe” to them, for missing the point.

I just have this massive problem with “political labeling of ideology” and the word “Christian”. If, by Christian, we mean “a disciple of Jesus Christ”, then Jesus gave us a perfectly clear “litmus test” of that when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) I don’t know a better descriptor than that.

I am drawn to the key words there, “By this all men will know”. THAT is really key to what Christ said, isn’t it? Shouldn’t “Christian” be a label applied to us BY OTHERS? Shouldn’t the very power and unexpectedness of our love be our hallmark as a Christian? How do we ever have the audacity and hubris to apply such a label to ourselves, as though it is some sort of endorsement, award, trophy or honor?

Our identity as a Christian should be a conclusion reached by someone else as they observe our attitudes, fruit, and demeanor. It shouldn’t be some accomplishment or honor we claim by virtue of our righteous deeds or organizational association. Such is my view…

Anyway, back to Black and Red Ink.

There is tremendous power to pulling out the Red Ink bottle. Once upon a time, a child’s whole world could revolve around whether their Report Card was covered with Black or Red Ink. I don’t know that families take such things so seriously nowadays, but there is, or at least was, a significant exercise of power to pulling out the straight pen and bottle of Red Ink. (For some reason, grades had to be marked on these little fold-up yellow manila cards, in bottled ink with an actual straight pen. Ball point would NOT do, fountain nib only, please.)

Is it that residual “fear of red ink assigned to us by others… by superior authority”, that childish dread of Report Card Day… that makes the sheer power trip of “grading everyone else on their deportment and morality” so appealing?

I mean, isn’t that what Pharisees and self-righteous goats DO? Sit with their little clipboards and stopwatches, their lists of rules, regulations and requirements, and “keep score” on all the players surrounding them? Maybe blowing a whistle or calling a time out now and again to harangue someone or other, but basically just scorekeeping and chronicling for the great Books of Deeds to be opened at the end of time?

Oh, yes… I almost forgot. Pulling out their great bottles of Red Ink and grading our performance every quarter or so.

Isn’t that the task of the righteous? Isn’t that the point of ministers and Sunday School teachers and Deacons? Isn’t that the very raison d’etre of the local church itself? To point all around, inside and out, feel good about how righteous WE are and score performance of others on the “Holy Report Card Exam”?

Sad to say… it is precisely that for many. Every day, every week, throughout time, clear back to Jesus’ day… dedicated Church attenders and Temple aficionados love to stand on the street corners, dressed and speaking as an admirable and righteous icon of the holy. Only to find that they are whitewashed tombs, destined to be cast far from a Lord they never knew, as they reveled in their condemnation of suffering broken people… rather than serving them with compassion and love.

Ah, but the siren call of Red Ink is so appealing. So much self-gratification. Such power. Such fulfillment and ego satisfaction…

Must I cast it away? Must I stop scoring and judging? Must I give up my power to grade behavior and progress?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Um, no. Not necessarily. We ARE scripturally encouraged to do some “scoring”, some “marking”, some “judging” and distinguishing… but never of other people. And certainly NOT for the purpose of sorting out the superior from the inferior, or putting down some to make others feel good or big. Not even school scores are intended for that (though all too often that is how they are applied). School scores are actually intended as what they’ve come to be called in more modern times… “Progress Reports”. Grades, properly applied, can give us an indication of where we are making good progress, and where we may want to spend more time, attention and care.

One day, a year or so ago… God decided that I should do a “Self-Evaluation Progress Report”. I should sit down and “score” my own progress and performance on what He considered the only “Performance Evaluation Criteria” worth worrying about. I cringed at the thought… all those rules I care so little about… all those pharisees I regularly frustrate or enrage… all those opportunities for grace and good that I don’t even SEE, let alone engage in time.

But no… none of that was what He was interested in. Rather, He had me sit down and write in a column down the left hand side of a page, the following:

Love is patient,
love is kind
is not jealous
love does not brag
is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered
does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but
rejoices with the truth;
bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
(1 Cor 13:4-7)

I got out highlighters of 5 different colors, and marked through each line from Dark Green (This is REALLY True for me), the light green (Pretty True), blue (True much of the time), orange or pink (true once in a while, not usually), clear to Red (I really struggle with this).

THIS, it seemed, was the only Report Card this Little Monk needs to be concerned with. And once the task was finished, it was actually encouraging to realize that some elements that have been serious struggle in the past, were no longer so. Further, the areas where I still DO struggle seriously, were no big surprise, and Jesus embraces me WITH those flaws. The point was not to put me down or make me feel bad, but to help me focus here and seek opportunities to improve or be aware, that I let grace flow the more freely.

So, Gentle Reader… there ya go! Want to pull out that Red Ink Bottle? Want to experience the awesome rush of “passing judgment” and “evaluating performance”? Fine. Print out this list, grab yer highlighters or a little box of crayons or colored pencils, and see how you score on your own “Love Quotient”.

Here’s the cool part…

Once you DO this exercise, NOW look around at other people and see if the experience changes. It’s amazing how a few minutes in lovely light, makes others glow so readily.

Grace to thee! — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Spiritual Gifts — Contagious

gift-boxesWhen they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them. It came about, when all who knew him previously saw that he prophesied now with the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”  [1 Samuel 10:10-11]

{Have a look at this chapter (1 Samuel 10), and see this story from verse 1 to verse 12.]

Don Merritt has just completed a terrific series of posts on “Spiritual Gifts”, and I recommend it to all of you Gentle Readers. [The series starts with the post of October 30, titled “Now What?“. Get the whole series in one bite by going to The Life Project and pulling the listing of keyword tag “spiritual gifts“. It is WELL worth the effort, trust me.].

I didn’t comment on his posts for a number of reasons, the foremost of which was that they were so well done there really wasn’t much I felt moved to add. His material was so comprehensive and well organized that I didn’t want to distract anyone (or him) by injecting my sort of “out of the box” commentary. But I did have a number of those thoughts go by, along with flashbacks of the ancient times when these emerged in my own walk.

Between that and some questions that have come up from time to time on the topics of Discernment and hearing the Holy Spirit, there are a few pebbles that I’ve wanted to toss into our pond of spiritual growth and exploration here as their own posts.

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The question is often asked… “How can I enhance my spiritual growth?”

The answer is often given… “Find and attend a church or place of worship that grows you, where the Holy Spirit seems to be present among the people.”

Such advice is often looked upon as being “marketing”, or “toeing the party line”. But it is far more than that. The other day, I mentioned that to “gather as church” is an effect, a fruit, of an intimate encounter with God… it is not generally a cause. “Piety”… a deep and sincere love for the Divine, on His own terms, not ours, can be nearly palpable, tangible, with certain places or people.

Have you ever walked into a church, or a chapel or old mission, or maybe a cloister… and just wanted to sit there and enjoy the experience? I don’t want to sound “flamingly mystical” or anything, but… I have become convinced over time that people of love, investing themselves into the Word(s) of God, with faith repetitively in a place… seem to leave a residue behind.

Which comes to my point… that “faith”, “love”, “encouragement”, and “giftedness”… all seem to have a major element of “contagion” to them. Investing time, care, focus and love into Truth of God seems to draw that truth forward into our immediate experience. More simply put, Love is a force that has real world effects when applied.

Back in the days when I was a young omniscient minister, I was part of a band of brethren that ministered according to our gifts in the community. I noticed at the time, the strange phenomenon that when I was “functioning in and with the group”, the strength of my gift was much greater, much more precise, much clearer, than when I was alone or working alone. Upon further reflection later in life, I realized that my own development of those gifts… even their emergence to identifiability… had occurred when I was both under the tutelage of a master spiritual director AND was comfortably nestled among a group of brethren determined to grow in our relationship with God, and serving the community.

When I did see this in my middle age, I was struck with that passage from 1 Samuel. I have observed this before, many times. When a collective of faithful (whether a church, a ministry, whatever) are determined, dedicated, and mutually accountable to grow in Christ… and when led by a teacher of wisdom and experience… then spiritual giftedness, grace, and growth of relationship with God… seem to “effervesce” or bubble up like popcorn bursting forth.

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Bottom Line: Grace, love, and emergence of spiritual gifts are “contagious”, and best nurtured in an environment that includes the energetic encouragement of fellow family members, with the guidance and care of an experienced master mentor.

What do ya’ll think? What have you seen, heard, experienced around any of this?
Grace to thee — The Little Monk

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Language of God

spiral-galaxy-ngc1300-nasa-1600This post poses a thought. It’s one of those things that just goes,  “Click!” one day, as you’re praying/studying… something falls into place… with sort of an, “Of course!” feel to it… But, it’s really hard to put into words that would make sense to describe.

I offer this thought here for your perusal, your consideration, your comment. I do NOT present it as being “True to the exclusion of all other understandings or perspectives,” so if you don’t agree, think nothing of it. Feel free to cast it aside.

But…

This thought follows from “Christmas Trees and Solar Flares“, from the indivisible, unparsable nature of God as “I AM”. That “I AM”, is not only God’s Name, but also His Nature… “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One.” [Deuteronomy 6:4].

I was reading through John 10, as Don Merritt was teaching on the Gospel of John. I was arrested by the following verses, in Jesus’ teaching about His being the Good Shepherd.

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it downI on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father. [John 10:17-18]

I was arrested here. Alarm bells seemed to go off at the word “commandment”. Why? I wasn’t sure. But we see the Lord speak very carefully and clearly, repeating His key concepts, not to be misunderstood, that He will lay down His life by His own choice and His own authority. He speaks of sovereignty, of power, of His right to do this. But THEN, in the very next verse, His concluding verse of this thought, He says, “This COMMANDMENT I received from My Father.”

WHAT?

Now, I realize the obvious implication that in verse 17, He is making clear that no PERSON on earth… not the Sanhedrin, not Caiaphas, not Pilate, has the authority to take His life unless He Himself lays it down. But even so… this juxtaposition of “the authority and autonomy of Jesus”, laid alongside the “trump”, the “overarching authority of the Father”, exerted as a “commandment” to JESUS… jarred me somehow.

It wasn’t a sense that this was WRONG, exactly. No, the truth was there… it fit. But It was the “flavor” of the word “commandment” that just didn’t seem consistent with the heart of the Father in and around His relationship with Jesus, His Son. It was the “hard edges” of the word. The “starkness” of the imperative case. It just… well…. sort of went “clang” in my spiritual ear.

So, (as described in A Really Nifty Tool) I ran the word “ἐντολή (entolē)” to explore this “command” of the Father. As described in the earlier post there, the word is used in some form in the New Testament 67 times. Prayerfully exploring all the “flavors and nuances” of use, it seemed this word is used primarily to reflect the phrase, “utterance of God”… (or someone, “said”). Some of the referents are to what we would consider “Ten Commandments” and “the Law”, and the Spirit seemed to lead to consider these last. “Set them aside for the moment…” seemed the instruction.

Now, again, bear in mind there’s no irreverence here at all… but it’s almost as if God “calmly speaks Truth”, not in a monotone… but in a steady tone of grace, of love, of instruction… and we… man… “interpret” that tone according to whatever posture we hold at the time. Certainly we see this phenomenon among interpreters, translators, of the Bible. Moods and the emotional connotation of one version or another can differ widely according to era, culture, and denomination.

I’m thinking that, just as congregants so often “hear a sermon” according to their need, and what the Holy Spirit writes upon their heart… regardless of what the Holy Spirit had in our own  hearts when we crafted or delivered the message… Just as Scripture continues, time after time, to reveal new truths and insights to the mind and heart of God each and every time we read it, depending on where we find ourselves emotionally and spiritually in those moments… We are subjective creatures, creatures of consciousness. We interpret input according to our own perspective.

Jesus knows that and knew that, and we see Him speak accordingly many times in the Gospels. His discourses carry layers of meaning, according to the attitude and posture of the hearer.

So… what if God the Father… speaks/sings/loves/thinks/creates as the Constant I Am… and His language is simply… “Is-Ness”? For Him to “declare” anything at all… is for that simply “to be”. We may perceive that utterance, that declaration, as whatever we, in our own spirit, need it to be for His purposes of grace?

I started to wonder if when God speaks… He is simply revealing Himself? Always. If, when He speaks, He is opening Himself, teaching, communing with man?

Now… with this new “softened” perspective, Jesus suggested I look again at all those “commandment” verses, including those with reference to “the Law”.

And it was amazing. Suddenly, it seemed as if I could hear God just “teaching”, “instructing” on “how life works”! It was astonishing, amazing!

It’s hard to put this feeling into words. But for many MANY years, I saw “commandments” (whether “Do this!”, or “Don’t do that!”) as being “lines in the sand” drawn by God. He would “command” unpleasant stuff, or “forbid” attractive stuff… just as a “loyalty litmus test” of some sort. As if He commanded Adam and Eve not to eat fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil… simply to “test” them, because He knew that fruit was attractive, appealing, and tasty, and He wanted to see how strong the resolve of our ArchParents!

I remember an incredible day, many years ago, when (having always held this “loyalty check” view), God asked me what difference it would make if He WEREN’T this “model of a mean parent”? What if… His words to Adam and Eve were a well-intentioned WARNING. He said all that could be said at the time… Don’t eat the fruit there, death will result. A simple message. He cares for their needs after that.

It was astonishing to me, turned everything upside down. So… then… what about His “curses” to Adam and Eve when He expels them? What about the expulsion itself?

Again, what if we ascribe only love and benevolence to God? Not pique, temper, or retribution? Well, then we’d have to reinterpret His words, with a different, a loving, heart. Is there any problem with that? No, not really… the words change TONE, and therefore meaning, but they don’t change His words at all. Bearing in mind that particularly now, at the very beginning of the world, Adam and Eve know very little about “how everything is wired”, or “how things will work”. What if God is not being vindictive and petty, but simply explaining that because of what they had set in motion, and the nature of Creation as fashioned by God’s word and power, certain results had been set into motion?

What if all that utterance, in Genesis 3 from 16 through 19, is “statement of the case”? What if, rather  than a vindictive and arbitrary expression of temper  and pique, God’s words are statement (a grieving statement at that), pronouncing the simple Truth of what Adam and Eve had now set into motion? All authority and power, all the dynamic of this situation, are indeed vested in God. He alone, motivates all that is. But the “trajectory” of this arrow of time, has now been deflected from God’s original blessed will, into zones of shadow and “less than the blessed” of its original design.

What if… far from “cursing” them, He was “warning” them, “preparing” them, “blessing” them, for the tribulations to come?

The possibility totally blew my mind. Suddenly, I started looking at the WHOLE Bible, as though it represented the God revealed by Jesus. I could readily see everything God ever did and ever said, once MY heart was changed from “mistrusting His agenda” as petty or vindictive… and realized it is ALL Jesus’ heart. Rejoicing in compassion, grace, forgiveness… grieving with the unavoidable playing out of the Laws of Creation when man stacks the dominoes against ourselves.

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Anyway, there’s the thought…

It began as the discomfort of realizing that the word “command” implies both a threat (of punishment if a command is disobeyed), and the attachment of authority and force to one of two or more alternative choices. I could not imagine ANY circumstance wherein, after clearly defining and insisting upon His own authority and autonomy on the disposition of His own life, Jesus would then immediately follow that declaration with its utter negation in the next verse, by the word “command”. Since clearly Jesus isn’t wrong, and cannot be so… then the flaw in the understanding has to come from my interpretation of the Scriptural word used… the Greek word “ἐντολή (entolē)”. Once the homework was done, an entirely new layer of God’s heart seemed to open.

God… as I AM… speaks “Is-Ness” into Creation always. This is an ongoing, wondrous, revelation of Himself, Creation, and our relationships with Him, Creation, and one another. God’s utterances are not arbitrary or spontaneous. He speaks the IS, speaks Existence, only and always. And all of it… ALL… is redemptive, good, loving towards humanity. This, is as HE speaks.

However, how we HEAR… what we perceive as and when we sense Him speaking, will depend on our own subjective posture in that moment and circumstance. We may hear Him as “commanding”, or “threatening”, or “punishing”, or “warning”, or “comforting”, or “illuminating”, or “rejoicing”. He is always Revealing… but what we perceive will vary by our own attitude, need, and focus in those circumstances.

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This thought makes many things go, “Click! Aha!” for me…

But I am not so arrogant as to think that it must necessarily do so for you, or that if you utterly reject this as inconsistent with Scripture and your convictions, that you are wrong.  Not at all. And it’s my desire to be very gentle in presenting this thought, along with my interest in any comment or thoughts you may have.

What do you think?

More to come. This all has interesting prayer implications we will look at

Grace to thee — The Little Monk

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on November 6, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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