Sunday, March 5, 2017


Many, many people are interested in their history and their lineage.  We love to know where we come from--what our ancestors were like.  All of us come from strong stock that made it through difficult environments and passed on their seed to us.  We have become survivors because we come from survivors.  What were their lives like?  What did they live through?  And what kind of mix of people are we?  We are blends of nations and cultures, height and weights.  We are in infusion of generations of talents, heart breaks, victories, loves, comforts, and miseries.  But what if we go deeper.

We are daughters of Eve and sons of Adam.  True enough.  We have an inherent nature bent toward selfishness, violence, and fear.  We are all fallen from the time of Adam and Eve--it is our lineage of sin and we are powerless against it.  It controls our lives from the moment we are born.

However, there is an even deeper and more real nature that we often overlook.  We get so focused on what we cannot do and the struggles of life that we forget that our Father is actually Adam's father.   We were created by God.  Our Father is really our true ancestor and it is this heritage that runs deeper in our souls then the sin that we are born into.

As we sin we build up layers between ourselves and our true divine heritage--the "very good" we were made to be.  Jesus, God himself, bridges this gap for us--giving us access again to this ancient ancestry--the primordial soup of holiness into which we were introduced.  It is our true nature of friendship with the divine that beckons us to return and Jesus frees us to be again our true selves and not the false sin self.  What a lineage we have.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

James and The Prophet on Giving

I guess the question haunting me is, "Am I a giver?"  I think the answer is actually what is haunting me for it would have to be "no."  Most of my life has been spent taking and protecting and hoarding.  The life of hoarding is a life of fear.  Now those who know me, probably would find that laughable because I don't have a lot.  But what little I have I guard.  Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet has a chapter on "Giving" in which he asks us the very poignant question, "Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?"

What?  Did I get that?  Thirst can be helped.  It is the fear of thirst that is unquenchable.  That stays with me whether I am satisfied or not.  James 4:3 says "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."  In 1:9 and 10, "Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away."

Fear.  Self-protection.  It is anxiety over not having enough.  And it's not just money.  We are afraid we won't have enough comfort, enough fun, enough time, enough love, enough friends...Enough already!  The problem with the getting and keeping mindset is that we are tuned wrong.  God has created the universe as a giving universe.  It is burning out slowly.  Physicists tell us there is a finite amount of energy and that energy is being degraded.  Every time a star gives light and heat it is losing energy, giving it freely to the rest of the universe.

The plants eat up that energy and convert it to usable packets for the rest of us in the form of food.  Birds fly.  Fish swim.  We talk, eat, and love.  All converting energy.  The trees and flowers grow and bloom to give us freely from what they have been created to give.  Again Gibran, "They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish."  Even the Beatles, off on so many things, grasped the truth that life is equal to the love we make not the love we take.

So, give my friends.  Give freely and often.  Give of yourself, not of your money, and your money will follow.  We were created to give.  All of this was given to us and we join God in his giving nature by just being like Him.  The poor are blessed because they have less to cling to.  It is those of us with more in our hands that are separated from the Kingdom.

But the givers, whether rich or poor, are less impeded with what they have so they can experience all around them that is freely and already given to them.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  More money equals more problems because it is more to lose, but more giving equals more life because it is more to gain.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Salty Secrets

Secrets, secrets are not fun.  Secrets, secrets hurt everyone.

Nothing is more true for me personally.  I learned early to focus on what I looked like to the detriment of what I actually was.  I kept secrets, hid motives, pretended, lied, and concealed.  Most addicts have learned the seduction, power, and pain of the double life.  It remains a tendency I surrender each day.

But secrets to Jesus can be something different.

There are three fabulous exceptions to the rhyme above: Giving, prayer, and fasting.  "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:3-4)  This is followed by prayer in 6:6, "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." and fasting in 6:18, "so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Jesus teaches us to keep secrets, to not practice these three things to be seen and rewarded by the rest of humanity.  Incredibly, this strong injunction to keep secrets comes directly on the heels of Jesus teaching on being both salt and light.  We are to season the world with our presence and be a lamp on its stand, a city on a hill.  We are to let our light shine before others, THAT THEY MAY SEE OUR GOOD DEEDS and glorify our Father in heaven.  That sounds like bragging, right?  How do we keep our good deeds secret while putting them on display for everyone to see?

So, why the juxtaposition?  I believe it is because we are created to shine and shine brightly.  Each of us has a brilliant beauty set in us by our Creator and quickened by grace.  We have God's thumbprint of eternal destiny, marking us for eternity with explosions of passion, glory, love, and happiness.  But the glory and the light shine here on God--our work here is to "glorify our Father in heaven."  It is not to glorify ourselves.  And Jesus is especially concerned with the things we do under the pretense of glorifying God but actually seeking our own glory.  Fasting, praying, and giving are things whose very power is unleashed in secret.  They are transactions with our Creator--secret times of intimacy with Him alone--done only for the reward of growing closer to Him.

When we do good deeds, lets call them God deeds, for our own glory they cease to be God deeds.  The only way our deeds stay in the Kingdom is to keep them secret.  Jesus wants us rewarded by our Father, he wants us to shine brightly, to join the invisible Father in his works of grace in the world, by becoming invisible ourselves.

And here's the flip side.  I sometimes keep secrets to protect myself.   I don't want others to discover my sin, to know what I am up to, and to conceal my true motives and activities.  Those secrets are damaging.  They are self-protective concealments of evil.  Evil is always to be confessed and given up.   It is to be brought out into the light and burned up in grace and humility.  Pride is our pitfall, and Jesus is trying to throw us a lifeline from our frail humanity always bent toward ambitious and selfish pride.  However, when my secrets are good ones, pride becomes my ally, rather than my enemy.  I bask in God's smile with a performance acted out on a stage for an audience of One, bowing to his standing ovation.  When our good deeds are performed only for the Lord, they can be performed in front of the whole world.

Secrets, secrets--the God ones are fun.  Secrets, Secrets--help everyone.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Jesus and Maslow--how does the hierarchy end up?

So I listened to a NPR discussion centered around several TED talks last night and found it intriguing as I usually do.  Our water heater went out and, since I work in plumbing supply, conveniently (or inconveniently as one's perspective may change) found myself headed to get elements and thermostats.  Of course, as almost all repairs require tools, and I seem never to have the right one for these jobs that come along every 5-7 years, I also had to buy a socket to remove the elements.  That is important because I had to go back to get the socket which allowed me to hear most of the show about further studies around Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

It was interesting for me then to ponder Maslow's hierarchy of needs as I sought to restore the luxury of hot water to our home--and a luxury I've never been without.  I once stayed with a family in Costa Rica who had an electric shower head that warmed the water before it came out.  Even there I didn't go without.  Needs, wants, and luxuries are all things we get confused.  My children tell me they need chocolate chip cookies or their games on a trip to the store.  I feel out of place, disconnected, and a little anxiety if I don't have my phone in my pocket.  Convenience and luxury have diluted our perspectives.  But Maslow did have some good things to say in this area.

Everyone knows about Maslow but, for those who may not, he essentially was one of the first psychologists to approach all people as working toward improvement.  Previously people were either sick or healthy and psychologists focused on the sick.  But Maslow instead began to show that people had needs and that they could progress along a continuum (what he called a hierarchy of needs) toward more and more health.  He began with things like physical needs at the most basic level, food and shelter.  Then he said we needed security, followed by belonging, followed by esteem, and finally self-actualization.  If we weren't properly having our lower needs met then we couldn't move onto our higher needs.

The TED talks went through each need in the hierarchy with case studies and experts talking about what it was like for people achieving or not achieving the needs in each category.  All very good things to ponder.  But I became most attuned to the last gentleman discussing the self-actualization category.  His name is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, gracefully letting us know we can call him "Mike," and he started talking about what he had found in people who were truly happy.

They apparently begin work at a task, really any task, and start to practice and improve at it.  One of his examples is piano, but it could really be anything--swimming, mowing grass, studying the Bible, changing elements in a water heater.  In his example, he talks about working at the basics in that activity until you master them.  In piano, we start with scales and basic songs.  As we practice and practice and practice some more we develop a proficiency until we look for greater challenges.  We then began to practice those higher lever accomplishments until one day we have mastery over the piano.  It is then that things really get good.  "Mike" says there are times when truly "happy" people, people who seem to report the highest amount of happiness, lose themselves in activities that they have mastered.  It is during these times that he says they achieve "FLOW."

According to Csikszentmihalyi (Mike), this happens when our brains cap out on what they can process in the moment and we forget about our own needs.  We cease to exist, forget about being hungry or if the kids are ok, and become immersed in whatever activity we are engaged in.  I can't remember the numbers but he said something like we could process 160 bytes/sec and once we hit that level in a single activity we go into that place of self-actualization, what he calls flow.

We can't sustain this type of activity forever.  In our humanity, we cannot live in the flow, and always come back to earth and our weakness, but we can get there.  Maslow said that we can't live in heaven but we can get there for 5 minutes.  I hear of athletes being in the zone where it seemed that everything just clicked and they could make anything happen that they decided to do on the field or court.  I've always liked Maslow because he valued humanity and helped us find common places with one another.  But I've always struggled with his self-actualization principle and the humanistic focus it has.  It always left me wanting more.  And here's why.

The activity, the proficiency, is not the answer.  But finding ourselves lost is.  Let me explain.  Maslow believed that we could become better versions of ourselves by constantly improving, moving upward through the hierarchy of needs toward happiness.  It's a very self-dependent focus, entirely reliant upon our own capabilities and infused with a modernist humanism that has happiness as its final goal.  But Maslow realized neither how far nor how close he was to the truth.  If we equate happiness with holiness, or at least make them concurrently proportional, then we are getting somewhere.  Holiness is happiness, or should be.  Becoming more like God and losing ourselves in the pursuit is pure bliss.

Jesus said (Luke 9:23 as one of several examples) "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it."  In the second half of St. Francis' prayer he echoes the sentiment:  O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

What if losing ourselves itself is the goal and not just losing ourselves in an activity?  And what if losing ourselves is what makes us truly happy, not just the temporary forgetfulness of a mastered proficiency.  Even as I write this I am trying to think of activities I could begin to love and master.  I believe God gave us talents to be mastered, expressed, and enjoyed--so why would he not embed blessings of joy in doing them?  Those glimpses of heaven, of 'flowing' into what we are created to be are beautiful things to enjoy.  But let's not settle for happiness as the goal.  Let's settle only for holiness.

Holiness is, to me, defined as a complete loss of ourselves in submission to God.  I forget what is owed to me, what I deserve, and what I want to accomplish.  It is "not my will, but thine...."  It is an unworking of the curse of Adam's and Eve's sinful pride that sought to be like God.  I must admit that I have sought to be like God and have manipulated, cajoled, and taken what I wanted.  But life is losing life.  When I serve my family, my wife, my friends, my coworkers, and the people I meet in everyday life I forget myself and I find happiness.  When I focus on what I'm not doing and what I'm not getting I get angry and frustrated.  It's an inexplicable principle of truth.  When I serve God in humility I am elevated to having a place with him.  So, I finished up the water heater and enjoyed seeing my family in hot water again.  Tomorrow, I will need to let something else go, something else die.  This old body is passing away and I might as well let my pride and selfishness and ambition go with it. Jim Elliot had it right.  "He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Maslow's self actualization has nothing on that.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The price of admission

There is a well-known quote from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (the 12 and 12) of Alcoholics Anonymous:  "In every case, pain had been the price of admission into a new life." (p.75) Most recovery groups are familiar with the concept but few of us really get to the place where we long for change enough to choose pain.  Only those of us who are hopeless addicts, destroyers of ourselves and others, really need change that much, right?

The twelve steps are beautiful in their simplicity and relentless in cultivating humility.  As we say often in recovery, "Steps are easy, but change is hard."  Our first piece of humble pie comes with admitting what we are.  Twelve steppers aren't the first to do this.  The Apostle Paul was pretty good at reality, Peter had to come to grips with his failures, and David's Psalms are some of the most shockingly honest admissions ever offered publicly.  Secondly, we admit we need help because we cannot even manage our own lives.  That's a smack in the face to pride.  We ask for help, believing that God will do it for us every day--remaining basket cases without his involvement.

Now we really get into humility.  We start to take ourselves apart, to look at the "exact nature of our wrongs."  The fig leaves come off and we not only face ourselves, we show ourselves to be what we are.  We admit again.  Painful humility.  But that's not enough.  What about those parts of ourselves that made us do all those awful things?  What kinds of ugliness, corruption, anger, fear, and weakness drove us to such lengths?  What are the things about myself that I most wish I could change and most want to hide but can't do anything about?  OK, the next step in humility is to list those things and then share them as well.

We ask God to change us.  The same way that we admit what we are and ask God to manage our lives daily, we admit what we have done and ask him to change US so that we don't continue hurting others.  And now it is time to humbly admit to others how we have hurt them.  We face the victims of our crimes and admit what we have done.  We say things like I lied to you and pretended I was your friend and hurt you behind your back.  I stole from you.  I used you.  I was afraid you were better than me so I undermined you.  We get real with those we love and those we've hated.

We admit the suffering we have caused and, in this way, to suffer some in return for it.  We walk alongside those we have hurt to carry the hurt in a small way, and so gain freedom from that chosen painful humility.  It is, finally, a good-hearted selfishness.  My price of admission was in statements like "I manipulated you through telling you what you wanted to hear and not telling you the truth about me.  I harbored resentments against you and blamed you so that I could avoid looking at myself.  I built a case against you and made you take the fall for what I should have admitted instead."  But we don't stay here.  We don't stop with the faults, there is an even greater step in humility--the beautiful life that awaits us.

We make this humility our way of life.  We admit when we are wrong and make it right quickly.  We confess.  We own up to our problems and our mistakes.  It is a life with short accounts, dependent on God, and fully facing reality.  Pride and selfishness can have no place in a life of honest humility, really a life of holiness.  And to be very honest, I am not even close to either honesty or humility.  I still pretend and I still hide.  I still get cocky.  But, maybe less so today than yesterday.  There is more of me now that hungers for humility--that great transformer of pain into beauty.

Admitting.  Admission.  The same word in different forms.  It is through admitting that we gain admission into this new life.  It is through honest humility that we gain holiness.  God is Great.  God is powerful.  But whoever thought that God would be the opposite of greatness?  Power does not equal pride.  It is through being lowly that we find Him.  May we find Him now.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Jail Freedoms

I can't stop weeping.  I just finished re-reading, after many years, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail.  My soul is being cleansed with tears.  The entire letter is a work of Holy Spirit-inspired sorrow and anger at injustice.   As I sat there in the cell with him, I could feel the love undergirding his anger and his pleading, the love that compelled him on a journey that would leave him a martyr for humanity.  However, I sought the letter out for one idea I had attributed to Dr. King all my life:

“I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends."

In any revolution, any movement for change, we must employ the ends we hope for in the means we use to get there.  Sometimes these things come easily.  I would never want to angrily crush my daughter's heart, shaming her into a deep belief of personal worth.  That doesn't make sense.  "You are an awful human being for disliking yourself," is a ridiculous concept that doesn't contain the seeds of what I want to accomplish in the method I am going about accomplishing it.  At other times, it's not quite as clear-cut or simple to distinguish between the two.  And here is where the concept of violence becomes key.  
Does our world become better or worse with more violence?  Can violence ever produce change that is good?  How do we confront groups like ISIS, with no regard for life and a taste for committing gruesome inhuman acts, without violence?  Do we trade our lives and our families' lives for a commitment to non-violence?  Is just war theory a way for Christians to skirt the issue of "turn the other cheek" or are we also to remember "an eye for an eye."?
I'm going to become what I often dislike by not answering the questions I am raising.  Instead I am going to look a little more closely at this topic of violence that Dr. King is raising along with something else that is bubbling around in my mind regarding it.  Criminal acts, punishment, incarceration, and our 'justice' system.  
Baz Dreisinger, in her book Incarceration Nations, visits other countries to get a better understanding of our prison system by experiencing its comparisons and contrasts in those countries.  She is part journalist, activist, social scientist, and story teller so the book is a good read.  In her first country she visits, Rwanda, she begins to experience a contrast to her own family.  Her Jewish heritage includes those affected deeply by the Holocaust and who still harbored anger and a desire for vengeance.  Conversely, in Rwanda, a country chopped to pieces by genocide, she sees the power of forgiveness:
But today I balk.  Is revenge a triumph?  To harm someone who has harmed you, is that not hypocrisy, perpetuating a wretched chain of wrongdoing?  We justify legal violence with the word "deterrence," but one would have a hard time arguing that it is effective, consider the fact that putting 2.3 million behind bars has hardly eradicated crime.  This utilitarian approach to justice, using the lives of offenders as a means to our end--safety--is, as criminologist Deirdre Golash argues, vastly immoral.   "We may require wrongdoers to compensate their victims for the harms that they have done," she writes, "but we may not harm them in order to prevent future harms by others."
And, so my mind went back to Dr. King.  Nonviolence.  Justice.  Morality.  Immorality.  Dr. King was pleading with those he deemed moral, other white religious leaders, to demand change because it was just, it was human.  There is a violence in our divisive rhetoric and the calls for safety.  There is a violence in locking up the brilliant and the capable, and in continuing a generational curse of the prison system.  Terror, wrongs done toward other humans either in crime or war, enforce upon us a reaction.  Our choice is an all-important one.  Will we continue the chain reaction of violence as it heads to nuclear meltdown proportions or will we be the water that rushes in to cool the reactor?  
Any peaceful society must have laws and they must be enforced.  We have to learn to live together curbing our own bents toward greed, violence, and thirsts for power.  I know the sin nature, know it well in myself and others--it is a powerful force--more frequently and more readily changed from the inside rather than the outside.  But, as Dr. King noted, there are God-given laws above the laws of our land that we must choose to obey or not obey as well.  Referring to Thomas Aquinas, King says, "Any law that uplifts human personality is just.  Any law that degrades human personality is unjust."  When we have groups kept out of society physically through incarceration, economically through poverty, and legally through a created modern system of punishment that makes us feel safe by hiding those who have broken the rules; we have become at least as violent as the ones who have broken the law.  When we keep lists and registries of those whose broken rules define them for life, we are absolutely perpetuating violence, becoming more unjust and immoral than our law breakers because we have the power to do something about it.  
And, just in case, I raise a jeer from only my 'conservative' brothers and sisters, I must also speak to abortion.  Violence has reached epic proportions here.  The stink of our murdered young goes to heaven.  How can we hope to reform a system of punishment for those humans alive here on earth because of is perpetual violence and enact violence upon those who have no chance at life because it may be inconvenient for us to bear their lives.  To those who have been aborted, I offer my tears.  To those who have committed that violence against themselves and another I offer forgiveness.  You are loved, completely, as you are.  I hope that you can love me as I am.  It is our only hope, this forgiveness, this love.  It is the perfect antidote to violence, and the only freedom that we may have from it.  
I must live by my own law.  Hopefully, I have forgiveness already and only to those who have wronged me.  And to those who I may harbor some lingering resentment, help me to hold nothing against them and to love them freely.  My God, help me to love and love only, help me to forgive and not perpetuate violence, to bring peace where there is strife.  And help me to be the change that I so want to see in others.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Tear Down this Wall

In 1987 I was in the beginning of high school and the world was changing quickly.  Ronald Reagan made his famous speech in West Berlin, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," and we were off to the races.  Perestroika and glasnost followed as the Soviet Union splintered, giving the perception of openness and restructuring.  It was a worldwide scary optimism I've seen only once since in the Arab spring in 2011.

Reagan was a Republican celebrity.  He introduced optimism and patriotism again.  His supply side economics were infused with hope and his administration's decisive and clear foreign policy seemed to put America in a better global position than we had been in before as the sole superpower.  I'm not a political scientist nor a historian, but I lived through that time and remember it.  We believed America had won the cold war, Afghanistan was an ally against the USSR, all military engagements were short and decisive like Grenada, and Greenpeace was pretty cool because REM liked them.

That Reagan era didn't really bring about the peace we had hoped for.  The cold war didn't warm.  It just got colder, subtler, and introduced more divisions.  Abandoned Afghanistan became a harbinger of the splintered grabs for power that would destroy the hopefulness of the Arab spring 25 years later. Our world would descend into political, economic, and racial divisions displayed by our growing media capabilities and terrible fear and terror campaigns waged by the likes of the Islamic State and Osama Bin Laden. The USSR would fall apart, descend into economic insecurity, and the KGB would go underground to take advantage of a growing crime mob mentality. Wars and rumors of wars.

Supposedly strong leaders, new players, have risen from those ashes like Putin, who is a mirror to our new Republican front runner Donald Trump.  North Korea grows colder as its nuclear reactors heat up.  Trump wants to control the borders, build walls, and "make America great again."  It's a promise of power, security, and implicit wealth that is nonexistent.  And his conservatism has no compassion.  What happened to compassionate conservatism?  What happened to morality derived from character?  Where are those leaders who lead from sacrifice rather than from ego?

You know why supply side economics failed along with glasnost and perestroika?  It is because we are a world of kingdoms driven by greed and selfishness.  People hoard wealth.  We can never trust in government to bring about general peace and prosperity.  That is where our classic liberal mindsets fail us as well.  Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama sell a different dream.  It's the dream of government as savior.  Socialism, new liberalism, gets bogged down in inefficiency and the immorality of its leaders.  It falls prey to factions that benefit as well from the expense to the many on the inside as government begins to exist to sustain itself.  The dependent organism grows larger than its host and the host dies, depleted and weak.  I don't believe Clinton, nor trust her heart to have true compassion, any more than I trust Trump's heart.  They both caved in long ago to a cynical pragmatism that drives them to power.

And so I sit here trying to voice something of my angst and my sadness over my country.  I acknowledge my perspective.  I am white male from a southern state.  I am educated and work hard to provide for my family along with my wife.  I follow Jesus as wholeheartedly as any man born into this fallen world and made of dirt can follow him.  I have a criminal record that has changed me and made me categorically unsafe.  I have unfair damaging rules to follow that seriously affect my family and hurts them in ways every day.  Hell, I can't even vote in this or any election.  I have no silver spoon, but I am blessed beyond many.  I cannot separate myself from the blessings and the hurts in this country.

What candidate is willing to do that?  Who will reach out to own both sides of the coin?  Who believes in marriage between a man and a woman and honors God-given gender?  Who cares for the poor?  Who believes in fiscal responsibility for the government as well as the private sector?  Who believes that foreign policy cannot be all big stick but must also speak softly?  Who loves the hearts and minds of all people worldwide and cares for their bodies as well?  Who believes in clear and fair laws enforced fairly for all people?  Who understands that we must offer those rights and privileges we enjoy to those we may not understand or with whom we may not agree?  Who believes that we all gain from restoration and all lose from punishment?  Who cares for the unborn as well as the born?

Maybe this voice is mine only and the positions are a confused mess of ideas that cannot be sustained.  But I believe wholeheartedly there are others like me that are are tired of the rhetoric and the pretense. Besides, this is my blog and so I'll just say what I think.  That's what it's here for.  I'm ready to tear down some walls.  And I still think Greenpeace and REM are pretty cool.