Friday, November 29, 2013

Meeting Jesus: Black Friday Shopping with a Buddhist Monk: Preparing for Advent on the Underside
This year, sister and brother Christians, evangelical, conservaive, liberal, progressive… have been bemoaning the cultural sacrilege of stores being open on Thanksgiving and the social-political-personal doom this portends. I did not shop yesterday and today’s shopping totaled $23 at the resale store (which was quite empty and offering 30%off). My friend Tyler took a Buddhist Monk Black Friday shopping and reflects on the experience here. What strikes me is how Jesusy he managed to make Black Friday Shopping with at Buddhist Monk.

The thing I know best about Jesus is that he wasn’t so much about the rule book or ideas about how people should behave, rather Jesus was about meeting people right where they are in their deepest point of need and offering grace. While not ignoring the obvious really, really bad behavior of many, this grace is something Tyler seems to be able to notice, the grace of stores being open on Thanksgiving in the lives of people who sorely need the extra day of work and the double time holiday pay or the deep, deep discounts offered to afford some of the basics of life.

He leaves me feeling a bit convicted, in that old, old evangelical sense of my own sin (that which separates me from Christ). I was struggling with these ideas in abstract in a group of other Christian women a few weeks ago who were speaking in a very “spiritual”, quite self-satisfiedly way about all this. I said nothing because I didn’t want to make a “problem.” So I came home and wrote this blog post to assuage my guilt.

Thanks, Tyler, the Word is flesh and blood, meeting real human lives in their points of deepest need. On this Black Friday, thanks, for giving life and breath to the baby whose birth we who struggle to be Christian await.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Grace and Gratitude from the Underside:
For the deep and abiding Truth of this good grace I am grateful ever day. If it were not so I could not continue the work that beings me to my knees with gratitude, daily, for all these decades: "The word is full of suffering and the world is full of the overcoming of suffering," Hellen Keller
1930: Rare footage of Helen Keller speaking with the help of Anne Sullivan. Amen.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ is King of the Underside:

If Christ were not King I could not do my job. Every time I see the carnage that some parents wreak in the lives of their children who continue to love them, still. Every time I stand with my arm around the weeping wife of someone dead to alcohol’s seductive betrayals. Every time I see the records of the birth of some young one as I enter notes about their death—from things that different choices would have saved…

Every time, I rely on Christ the King. Living on the underside means living into death in the hope of new life. It means that I have hope and faith that as I die a thousand deaths in each of these encounters, our risen Lord is holding me as I struggle to hold the pain and grief and fear and sorrow of those who come to us for care; feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that are far, far too much for any of us to know alone.

When all is lost. Strength is spent. No direction is before us. When we have died. And, died. And, died. Again. There is only grace. The grace of the infant Jesus who Mary held as every young mother does, cradling all the hopes and dreams of the coming of new life. The grace of Jesus who suffers with us, coming desperate and despairing to his knees at prayer all alone before his death , those who were to accompany him fallen away to sleep. The grace of the Christ raised and walking in the garden, whose very words held Mary’s grieving, hopeless heart turning its sorrow into joy, it’s grieving into fresh hope and expectation.

If Christ the King did not hold my heart, it would be broken, everyday, beyond repair. But Christ is King. A King whose true reign is not hi up upon a throne lording over all, but down on the underside, a place we will all visit if we are human and we live, Christ’s true reign holding those hearts most in need of grace and hope, of faith and the promises of some new life for the living of these days. Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Approaching Advent From the Underside

Advent is soon here, though the stores seem to have it full throttle Christmas already with Thanksgiving dinners not yet prepared. It is easy for Christians to make ourselves feel holy and above it all by judging and criticizing the retailers and their love of money and those who are so spiritually vacuous that they are already buying Christmas.

But, this is not the truth of Advent’s coming . The truth of Advent lies in the reality of what is to come, in Advent we are waiting for the Cross—the cross of suffering and the cross of resurrection. Without them, Mary’s boy would have been just one more Jewish born to struggle against ancient infant mortality rates, perhaps surviving to become a man struggling to survive the tyranny of the Pax Romana and whatever fates consigned children born without benefit of wedlock in the 1st Century Ancient Near East. As we come upon Advent, we are waiting to struggle, once again, with just what it means for God to join with us, to make his presence in our hearts and minds and lives so real, so palpable, so intimate that we no longer need to judge ourselves and others.

This is so difficult. So foreign. It is so contrary to the habits and haunts of our hearts and minds. It is contrary because it begins with us. The baby, the cross of suffering and the cross of salvation ("sozo" in Greek, bring to safety, restore, get well) are for our lives. It is so Other. It seems too impossible to be true. Those old ingrained habits of thought keep our worlds organized and orderly, so we divide things up, us and them . All the while waiting anxiously for someone who seems never to come, like Vladimir and Estragon, in Beckett’s, “Waiting for Godot.”

The difference is, of course, that the God we wait for is come. This baby we wait for broke down all those old barriers of our too frail and worn out human ideas about God out there and us down here, of us in here (the church) and those out there. Immanuel, God with us, is just that: God with us, and we are with God. There isn’t much else for us to do.

It is exactly the most simple and the most difficult thing in the world for us to truly believe that we are truly, deeply, intimately, dearly loved in Advent and on Christmas, and every day, with a grace so strong it would suffer and die for us, and with a hope so real it needs only for us to pray to open our hearts and minds to it in midst of the uncertainties and griefs, the differences and dissimilarities between us and the harsh realities of our living. Emmanuel will join us right where we are saving us, healing us into closer relationship with our Father, bringing us into that same compassionate connection with one another.  Amen

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Here is what I Iove about basseting, besides the bassety stuff: Conversations about the weather (horse people always talk about the weather), the plight of aged parrots whose owners die, the genocidal practices of humans against whales (Disney) all in the name of entertainment and money, really good husbands and post-Thanksgiving relocation to Wellington,  good Port, the Hunt Ball, and of successfully  prosecuting sex offenders  and what the Swedes and  Germans do (permanent sterilization is an option) and of deep love and commitment and the beautiful  tender sufferings of how easy and how hard it is to  love someone  in sickness as well as during all those healthy days. And, I saw the real and beautiful truth of  compassion and kindness. And, we conversed about the weather, because we really do love to talk about the weather.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Moving toward Thanksgiving I’m mindful that God is in all things, grateful that all that I have I did nothing to deserve, all of it given that it might lead me closer to knowing and understanding God the Creator and the depth and nuisance of his intimate love for us in Christ Jesus.


St Paul in Romans 8:28 “in all things God works for good;”

Aquinas, “God is in all things by his power, since all things are subject to his power; He is by His presence in all things since all things are bare and open to his eyes; He is in all thins by He essence, because He is present to all as the cause of their being;”

Ignatius, ““God freely created us so that we might know, love, and serve him in this life and be happy with him forever. God's purpose in creating us is to draw forth from us a response of love and service here on earth, so that we may attain our goal of everlasting happiness with him in heaven.

All the things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know him better, love him more surely, and serve him more faithfully. As a result, we ought to appreciate and use these gifts of God insofar as they help us toward our goal of loving service and union with God. But insofar as any created things hinder our progress toward our goal, we ought to let them go.”

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I know this much is true: In my group room can be a Muslim, a transsexual, an atheist lesbian, two folks who would self-identify as “born again,” a Roman Catholic or two (practicing and/or ‘recovering’), a couple of folks who know nothing whatsoever about religion and are on the fence about the fact that my groups are mandatory. I can count on one hand all the times I’ve ever had to moderate any kind of religious argument or negative judgment. I can state with as much certainty as I can about anything in life this truth: at the core of our human experience is our common plight of suffering and that the thing that unites is our shared search for meaning and necessary reliance on one another as we seek to transcend, to heal.

Compassion, understanding comes from understanding, on our most deeply human level , that we are all in this together and that we desperately, yes, desperately in a very deep existential sense, need each other to survive. Most of us have to wait until we are mired in overwhelming life crises and deep suffering to understand this deep eternal truth. I get to sit witness to its grace everyday and to the miracle of the human and divine spirit at work in the courage of faith’s redemption and human transformation.


Monday, November 4, 2013

There is a great danger lurking about—the combination of isolation and easy access to information. Combined, they seem to be undergirding a pernicious despair that seems rampant among folks I see. We seem to be moving farther and farther away from truly connecting with one another min deeply meaningful and, ultimately, healthy ways, despite our ongoing anxious anticipation of the number of Notifications or Inbox pm’s on our Face Book Home pages and our eager attunement to the incoming text ringtone from our smart phones. Not an observation new to me, but combine that with easy internet access to a universe of world religious beliefs and philosophies from most ancient to post-postmodern, and, to my observation across several years of facilitating spirituality group in both in and out patient behavioral health settings, we have a unique opportunity for deep and pernicious despair becoming well integrated deeply in the psyches of already hurting, grieving, traumatized people.

Obviously, anyone can believe anything they want but, it pains me deeply and challenges me as both a pastor and a clinician to hear over and over again things like this gross oversimplification: “I believe in Karma. I was Ivan the Terrible in a previous life.” Using this as a rational and well reasoned explanation for ones many sufferings and misdeeds in this life; all the while, negating any belief in potential for enlightenment within oneself or life. No dharma, no Buddha nature. Despair. No potential to transcend ones pain.

Or this: “I read my bible, I always have. It’s given me great comfort over the years. I just simply ran out of faith;” from someone who has not ever attended church and who has clung to their bible through decades of an abusive home life.

We are designed from community, for deep and meaningful connection. Both emerging (and some established) science and the historic faiths and philosophies tell us that. We are meaning making creatures in deep need and longing for our sister and brother meaning makers. With them we can find new hop and new meaning for our daily living.

They hold the other half or The Story, they hold the other half our story. St Paul said it, “…faith, hope and love.” Love is the greatest. We cannot love ourselves or anyone else deeply all alone.

We cannot end our suffering sitting alone under a tree, even a very lovely tree. Buddha only attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree after seeing great the suffering of others in the world and realizing that he too would one day suffer. After enlightenment he waded back out to into the suffering of others.

The Desert Mothers and Fathers of the early Christian tradition, lived and meditated alone, except for the time they spent in relationship with the monastic community of which they were a part.

We cannot heal from whatever ails us without deep meaningful connection to the faith, hope and love of those who hold and embody the other side of our rational and well reasoned explanations. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Imperfection and struggle at meditation, prayer; in life. Anxiety. Grief. Even anger. Always returning, in all  gentleness  to the practice, the discipline. Trusting  the breath, the Spirit, the Imago Dei within, my Buddha nature   more than  my  own frail efforts, more than the instructions or the service of worship that feel awkward or off.  There is Maitri or Metta, Hesed and Rachem . Sneaking  in through the slivers of silence,  slowly, gracefully the consolations of  Christ, resting in the green valley fed by the depths of the stillest waters,  dark valley in the distance.    

Saturday, November 2, 2013

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19b, 20).

I am grateful for the presence of the Christ who has walked hand and hand with me as I have lived into a future which has seemed more and more uncertain, as I have learned, not only to live, but to enjoy a life that no one would choose.

Jesus and Paul were intimately familiar with the tender balance of the Lament Psalms, the gentle holding of the deepest throws of human grief and sorrow in intimate connection with our only true hope, witnessing the gracious Presence who does not hide from us in our times of trouble though it is often easier for us to trust the reality of our pain (Psalm 10:1). I am grateful for the Presence I could often see only by its dim reflection and the patient offering of the delicacies of a grace I am only poorly coming to comprehend. Amen.