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Archive for May, 2021

God in my pocket

To make way for a new birth of authentic being, we are not only willing, but even eager to give up present habits and imperfections and prejudices. No matter how far we have moved in the Christian life, we can still know that every opinion we hold and every act we perform is something less than the best. We never have the Holy Spirit in our pockets, completely domesticated and supporting everything we are doing. Any such sanctifying of personal imperfections is an obstacle to further growth. Instead of clutching fiercely to my foibles and fallacies, I had better cultivate the ability to change my mind, my political opinions, and my lifestyle when it becomes clear that this is the will of God.

—From Liberation of Life by Harvey and Lois Seifert

One of my top 10 favorite movies is, “Kingdom of Heaven,” (2005). Yet, there are moments in the film that can set you on edge. The setting is ancient Jerusalem during the Crusades. One scene is particularly chilling: outnumbered (and a long way from home), a Euro-Christian army is rousing itself to pick a fight with superior Muslim forces for control of Jerusalem. The cry from “church” authority to validate this unnecessary war is painfully telling: GOD WILLS IT! In response, the army shouted, “GOD WILLS IT!” In truth, it was man who willed it, though God was given both credit and blame, and the “Christian” army was completely annihilated. The assuming arrogance of shouting the words, “GOD WILLS IT,” evoked an unforeseen justice. Lady Justice is supposed to be blind. She doesn’t make biased choices (nor should she). Shouting, “GOD WILLS IT,” isn’t a magical potion ensuring your “win.”

If only this movie were just a grand fictional tale.

This cry to battle happens all of the time: “GOD WILLS IT!”

Are we certain about that?

The Seiferts remind us that we have a duty to follow the lead of our Source of life. We can get sucked into the muck if man’s systems provide our only beacons of direction. I realize we’re easily persuaded by the passions and emotions of societal addictions to power and nationalism, but I don’t ever remember reading in scripture that God belongs to a certain faith affiliation, a particular political party, or any specific nationality, race, color, or creed. Yet, we consistently think, “Our side” is owed favor, protection, and unwavering fealty, while everything NOT on our side can go straight to hell! What is this? Do we think, “We have the Holy Spirit in our pockets?” Are we certain that our certainties are certain? 

I like this offering from the Seiferts because they suggest that the maturation process of following Christ should be, “cultivating and developing” our willingness to change. I realize we hate change.  But we stop growing the moment we no longer allow ourselves to be vulnerable to change. Judgment and polarizing opinion do not change anything. 

The thing is — with time, patience, and unbiased eyes — it might actually be possible to discern the will of God. But we should not just assume the “crowd” (apply your favorite power label here) has cornered the market on truth, righteousness, and what’s right for the good of everyone else. Yes, you have a strong opinion.  But what is Jesus saying? What is the Spirit doing? Are you too certain that you understand the will of God? —MDP

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bitter coffee

May 19, 2021 2 comments

By way of encouragement, God tells us in scripture: “I will remove the stony heart from their bodies, and replace it with a natural heart…” (Ezek. 11:19). But I’m still waiting, asking myself when and how will this happen.

In our community the other day there wasn’t much coffee.

Coffee does me good down here in the desert… it helps me… I am old.

I was worried about not having any, about spending a few hours feeling dull and weak, and so—without perceiving the evil I was doing—I went into the kitchen before the others and drank up all that was left.

Afterwards, having suffered all day and made my confession, I thought in shame of my selfishness, of the ease with which I had excluded my two brothers from those black, bitter remains.

It seems a tiny thing, yet in that cup of coffee, taken and not shared with my brothers, is the root of all the evil which disturbs us, the poison of all the arrogance which selfishness, riches, and power create.

The difference between me and Jesus is right here, in an affair that seems simple but isn’t at all; after a whole lifetime it is still there to make you think. Jesus would have left the coffee for his brothers; I excluded my brothers.

No, it isn’t easy to live with hearts like ours: let us confess it.

—From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

I love Carlo Carretto’s writing. His confession is painful to read, only because I’ve done it a million times myself. Few people would ever want the coffee I willingly drink.  But it’s never really about the coffee, is it? Of all the “tiny” things we hoard unto ourselves, it shows our own willingness to make life about “me.”  That’s a big issue these days.  I’m not talking about self-care, healthy self-consciousness, or reverencing the temple of God. I’m talking about a mental and heart callousness that only sees life through a lens that considers “me” first… in everything.

It seems we’re not convinced there’s any good (or God) in us at all. How many selfies do we have to post in order to convince ourselves (and everyone else) that we’re okay… that we’re beautiful… or smart… or in the flow of positive light and love? We gorge and hoard “ourselves” because we’re not convinced.  We don’t trust what we know in our hearts or see with our own eyes. And maybe that is the problem. We just don’t know.

Carretto pretty much nails it in this little story, and he’s right: “[…] it isn’t easy to live with hearts like ours.” He’s also right about what Jesus would have done. Not just about the coffee, but the whole idea of getting-life-by-giving-life mantra. Our biases have us so selective, and so exclusively focused, that we rarely consider anything outside of our own intellectual or emotional packages as being legit, relevant, or important (INCLUDING: RELIGION, POLITICS, JUSTICE OR SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS). This addiction to making my life about “me” has massive drawbacks that we can’t even imagine. It’s harmful to the entire human flow.

The thing is, God will allow you to make your life about “you,” because we have free will.  And God will still love you regardless. But it is shrinking your world.  You might think that making everything about “you” makes life bigger, better, more exciting, sexier, smarter, or more interesting, but it’s a nasty little lie. Hang around people who have made life about themselves long enough, and you’ll be bored within 10 minutes. Spend time with people who choose to give their lives away daily, and you’ll feel the vastness of their spirit. Rohr calls these people, “larger-than-life people.” These are the people who live out of the mystic fragrance of Christ.

What are we to do? How do we reverse this ugly obsession of ours? Being aware that life isn’t about “me” is probably the right first-step. —MDP

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are you prayer?

May 12, 2021 2 comments

Most of us grew up saying prayers, reading prayers, or listening to others praying. Few of us were challenged to “be” prayer. There is a difference between a person who says prayers and a prayerful person. It is the difference between something we do and something we are.

Do you know someone who “is” a prayer? He or she is probably someone who views life in a different way than most—someone who seems to have found a way to be aware of God’s presence in an ongoing way.

We are called as Christian people to be present in each moment in order to experience that God’s time and our time have intersected. We are called to practice the presence of God. It is this for which our hearts yearn.

Most of us grew up saying prayers, reading prayers, or listening to others praying. Few of us were challenged to “be” prayer. There is a difference between a person who says prayers and a prayerful person. It is the difference between something we do and something we are.

Do you know someone who “is” a prayer? He or she is probably someone who views life in a different way than most—someone who seems to have found a way to be aware of God’s presence in an ongoing way.

We are called as Christian people to be present in each moment in order to experience that God’s time and our time have intersected. We are called to practice the presence of God. It is this for which our hearts yearn.

—Ron DelBene, “A Simple Way to Pray,” Weavings

DelBene is offering something here that few seldom consider. I would never discount anyone’s prayers.  In fact, how you pray is a personal privilege. Yet, I often wonder, how far do our prayers reach? Rhythms of systematic prayer can be very helpful in giving us a guideline on how to loosen the confines of restrictive time. But what Delbene is saying here is that our words in prayer are not more important than hearing His words in prayer. God has something to say to us despite our deepest and most dramatic longing to “inform” God with our prayers. There is another perspective, another way, another track that we might need to ponder in laying out our joys, concerns, and grievances. If we listen closely, we might find out that the splinters in our neighbors’ or our enemy’s eyes (the ones we want to make sure that God truly sees and understands) only look that way because of the planks and rods in our own eyes. Are we certain that we really understand all the intricacies of complex politics and human nature? Prayer that “hears” more than it “says” should often be challenging and changing our worldviews, our compassion levels, and building our thirst for relational unity and peace. Getting still in the presence of God should be sanding us down and rounding our edges. Yes, tell God your problems. But, wait around long enough to hear if you are part of those problems. —MDP

(The ministry of intercession is a different animal altogether, and most true intercessors have been trained that hearing is paramount to speaking. Serious intercessors work hard to pray prayers that they sense are in alignment with the moving flow and will of the Spirit of God. Literally, it’s like praying the words of the Holy Spirit.) —MDP

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critical solidarity

Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharoah, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context. —From The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

I have never considered this aspect of Jesus’ compassion. Considering his constant attack upon the blindness of the religious establishment, I think it’s prudent to concur with Brueggemann’s understanding on this. Anything we do that mirrors the nature and character of the Christ pretty much confronts that social “numbness” and lethargy of institutional religion. —MDP

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