Along the Way: Healthy Religion

Reading Brian McLaren’s latest book, ‘Do I Stay Christian?’ has been a good experience for me for multiple reasons. [1] In this post I look at one of them: the importance of embracing and expressing healthy religion. At first glance, that seems like a “Captain Obvious” statement. Who would want any other kind? And yet, after reading McLaren’s book, it is soberingly clear that there are formidable forms of toxic religion, not only doing great harm, but moving more people than we imagine to say “No thank you” to Christianity. [2]

It will take us decades to turn this around, and the reversal will not be a return to theological and institutional status quos. God is using the liminal space between religious toxicity and religious health to once again do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). We are in a new-wine era. We must make new wineskins. [3]

That effort, wending its way toward a new era yet to be seen is a “great spiritual migration” into which God invites us. [4] We must be engaged pilgrims, not waiting on others to do what needs to be done. “This is the day of salvation”—the moment of restoration. We must do what we can, using the time and resources we have, to move forward into increasingly healthy religion. Three words point us in the right direction.

Seeing…..John the Baptist and Jesus came proclaiming the message of the kingdom of heaven, with its internal (“within you”) and external (“in your midst”) dynamics, both of which made it near and now. Jesus great desire was that his followers would have eyes and ears to recognize it (Mark 8:18). As a Life-Giver, Jesus summed it up in the phrase “abundant living” (John 19:10).

We must become students of this kingdom, one in which even the word ‘kingdom’ must be understood in a new way. Traditional monarchy language is insufficient, even misleading. Jesus put it plainly, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). To see the kingdom of heaven requires metanoia (repentance)—that is, looking at life in a new way.

Syncing…..healthy religion is not just seen, it is experienced. It is not just believed, it is behaved. To see the kingdom of heaven is to enter it because the wonder of it ignites our journey in it. We affirm the faith and then align ourselves with it.

In the Wesleyan tradition, this is experience—brought into its relationship with Scripture, tradition, and reason. It is “religion of the heart” (inward and outward holiness). It is “living faith” (as the Wesleys often called it), faith where love prevails through the enactment of the two great commandments and the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. The contemplation of the kingdom ensues in our congruence with it. [5]

Serving…..once we see and sync with the kingdom of heaven, we joyfully accept our opportunity to serve God in it, offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). In the words of the Wesleyan Covenant Service, “Christ has many services to be done.” We acknowledge this by bringing our particular form of service to the task of glorifying God and exalting Christ.

The model for this service comes from Christ himself in what we call his kenosis, as seen in Philippians 2:5-11. We sync with his spirit and serve with his disposition. Paul says we have “the mind of Christ” and our obedience is expressed every day through our routine activities—what we refer to as ordinary holiness. Brother Lawrence, in his classic ‘The Practice of the Presence of God,’ says we are meant “to do little things for God.” We serve that way.

Healthy religion includes additional features and details. But seeing (the kingdom of heaven), syncing (metanoia), and serving (kenosis) get us moving, and doing so in the right direction. [6) We have hope that if we embrace and express these things, we will be among those whom God uses to move us into the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). And so, we pray in the Spirit of Sts Francis and Clare of Assisi, and others before and after them,

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

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 to eternal life.

[1] Brian McLaren, ‘Do I Stay Christian?’ (St. Martin’s, 2022).
[2] Chapters 1-10 in ‘Do I Stay Christian?’ look at unhealthy Christianity: anti-semitism, violence, colonialism, institutionalism, money, white patriarchy, toxic theology, lack of transformation, constricted intellectualism, and an aging demographic.
[3] Chapters 11-20 in ‘Do I Stay Christian?’ says “Yes” is a compelling answer because: leaving hurts allies and helps opponents, leaving defiantly or staying compliantly are not the only options, where would I go?, it would be a shame to leave a religion in its infancy, our legendary founder, innocence is an addiction and solidarity is a cure, I’m human, Christianity is changing for the worse and for the better, to free God, Fermi’s paradox and the great filter.
[4]Brian McLaren looks at this in detail in his book, ‘The Great Spiritual Migration’ (Convergent Books, 2016).
[5] Eugene Peterson emphasized congruence in his books, ‘Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places’ and ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’ and also in articles and interviews. It was one of the main themes in his spiritual theology.
[6] Ilia Delio’s book, ‘The Wisdom Jesus’ (Shambala, 2011), explores all three of the themes in this post: “the kingdom of heaven is within you,” metanoia, and kenosis. Her excellent book shows how Christology is at the heart of it all.

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Along the Way: Communion Spirituality

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Along the Way: Theological Diversity

The current theological hurricane in which we find ourselves (in both the society and the church) is complex, rendering a singular cause/effect description impossible. But like meteorologists, we can identify and explore particular factors that contribute to making the storm what it is.

One of the factors in the theological storm is the false allegation that “for more than 2000 years” there has been one orthodox belief. [1] The statement is used by fundamentalists to allege their beliefs express that very orthodoxy. And from their self-asserted position, they then go on to declare that those who believe differently than they do have denied the faith, or so seriously compromised the true faith, that light can no longer fellowship with darkness.

Historical theology exposes the allegation’s falsehood, revealing that for two thousand years the descriptive term for Christian theology is ‘diversity.’ We see this by looking at the creeds of Christendom themselves. Philip Schaff’s classic study is a multi-volume confirmation of this diversity. In the introduction, Schaff pointed to diversity by writing that the creeds “bring to light the various aspects and phases of revealed truth.” [2] “Various aspects.” Don’t miss that. It is Schaff’s way of recognizing that the creeds themselves bear witness to theological diversity within orthodoxy. A look at volume one of Schaff’s study explores diversity in detail. These main points emerge from that volume.

First, theological diversity gave rise to the creeds. Christians did not view faith through one lens in the two centuries after Jesus. [3] The grand ideas of faith were (and still are) too magnificent to be captured in any one interpretation. The documents leading up to the formulation of the creeds reveal diversity, within orthodoxy—not as an enemy of it. Using the creeds (and even less so the various attending doctrines related to them) to determine saints from heretics is not why the creeds came into existence in the first place. Their purpose was not to vilify differences, but to verify consensus. That’s why the creeds do not go into doctrinal detail about their affirmations.

Second, theological diversity is reflected in the creeds themselves. For example, in affirming Jesus the creeds select more than one phrase to describe him: “born of the virgin Mary”….”begotten not made”….”incarnate”….”Son of God”….”Son of Man”….”one Christ.” Each of these descriptions opens the way to more than one way of believing in him—ways that believers were using. The creeds themselves created their consensus by integrating the diverse ways Christians expressed their faith in Jesus.

Third, theological diversity continued after the creeds. This is one of Schaff’s main teachings in his study. The classic creeds did not end diversity, for they were not intended to do so. Instead, what we see in Christian history is the proliferation of diversity—within orthodoxy, not outside it or in opposition to it. Across the centuries, Christians have recognized that diversity enriches faith—sometimes as a “coat of many colors” and at other times through an “iron sharpens iron” dialog. [4]

Fourth, the continuing diversity of belief was not a way to deny earlier faith, but to apply it. This becomes clear in Schaff’s study when he looks at the statements of faith in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and the host of ecumenical affirmations that integrate the major traditions. The fact that theological statements did not cease after the creedal era is a testimony to the diversity which continued, finding expression in biblical, historic, systematic, and pastoral theologies, further detailed in their applications to specific periods of time, contexts, cultures, and countries.

Charles Wesley described the ongoing theological task as a means “to serve the present age,” and he (along with John and the early Methodists) said it was a charge they had to keep and a calling they had to fulfill, with all their might. [5] John expressed commitment to diversity when he abridged and edited the thirty-nine ‘Articles of Religion’ of the Church of England and sent the revision to the Methodists in America as they began their denomination in 1784.

Bottom line: Christians have not had one true faith “for more than 2000 years.” They have gazed at the masterpiece we call revelation and have borne witness to what they saw in a diversity of ways. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a mandated “one size fits all” orthodoxy. To allege that there is, is not to defend the faith, but rather to diminish it.

[1] I recently read this again in a statement written by a fundamentalist group. I have taken it directly from their own writing. It is one of their often-used allegations.

[2] Philip Schaff, ‘The Creeds of Christendom,’ 3 volumes (1877), and still available in multiple formats.

[3] The discovery of the Nag-Hammadi scrolls in 1945 has made this clear, shining new and brighter light on the theological diversity among the first (ante-Nicene) Christians. A recent book, ‘After Jesus, Before Christianity’ (HarperOne, 2021) looks at early Christian diversity in relation to the Roman empire and within the Christian community itself.

[4] E. Stanley Jones used the idea and practice of “the round table” in his ministry, writing in detail about it in his books, ‘The Christ at the Round Table’ (Abingdon Press, 1928) and ‘The Christ of Every Road’ (Abingdon Press, 1930).

[5] Charles Wesley’s hymn, “A Charge to Keep.” This commitment caused the Methodists to be caricatured as “enthusiasts” by the liberals and “latitudinarians” (we would say ‘pluralists’) by the conservatives. Ironically, truth is always a via media that is eschewed by extremists of all persuasions.

[This post also appears on Oboedire.]

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“Engage” Meeting Tomorrow

I’m looking forward to meeting with you tomorrow (Thursday) at Noon (ET).

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #13

Read: In Summary

In this final chapter, Rohr stays with Pauline thought to gather up all he has been saying in the book into six closing statements. He calls the summary “the redemptive plan of God” (p. 98), calling to mind Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:9-10.

This overcoming of evil with good is in process, but it will not be fully realized in time here on earth. But it is under way through the loving, incremental efforts of those who work daily to overcome evil with good.

We do this keeping before us the final vision of Scripture in Revelation 22:17. A grand vision that engages us here and now.

Our final “Engage” group Zoom meeting is this Thursday, August 25th at Noon (ET, USA). Here is the link to the meeting…

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us06web.zoom.us/j/9314085719?pwd=ZXhGc1dtMXlWRkFHUnZZem1SZDRQQT09

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Along the Way: Soulship Enterprise

“I have been attentive to the soul and to things related to it for a long time, with memories that go all the way back into my childhood. To use Star Trek language, I have viewed my soul as the Starship Enterprise.

I have been amazed by it. Going into it, like Teresa of Avila did in her interior castle, Soulship Enterprise has fascinated me. All its rooms, furnishings, and provisions. And the bridge with its consoles, instruments, machines, lights, sounds, and views—wonderful! I have spent untold hours in Soulship Enterprise, much to my benefit.

I have invited others to join me, doing my best to tell them what they will experience if they do. And…I have carried food, clothing, and other things out to people from its galley, closets, and store rooms. They seem to be helped and grateful when I share the treasures of Soulship Enterprise with them. All things considered life in Soulship Enterprise has been wonderful, and made all the more so with Jeannie, children, family, and friends on board.

But one day, I realized that Soulship Enterprise was on the tarmac, parked in a space inside the lines. With all its fabulous features, it had not fulfilled its purpose to enable me to “boldly go where no one (at least not I) had ever gone before.” I had equated my space with Space. I had settled for visions and visits, forgetting that Soulship Enterprise is a voyager.

So, a while back, I started the engine, but rather than enjoying the sound of its power, I shifted out of neutral. Soulship Enterprise rose up, and headed out. The navigation system kicked in, but where I was going was largely unknown, except for some maps that previous travelers had provided.

Before long, I was experiencing a magnificence beyond anything I had known on the ground inside the lines. The Universal Christ captains Soulship Enterprise, taking me all over the place, and like an excited child he tells me over and over, “Look at this. I made it!  Look at that. It’s mine!”  And reminiscent of Dr. Seuss (“O, the places you will go!”) I respond to the Cosmic Christ gratefully saying, “You are Lord of everyone and everything—from the smallest particle to the farthest star” (Colossians 3:11).

Venturing farther into Space, Christ puts his finger on a button that has the word ‘Death’ on it.  With a twinkle in his eye, the Cosmic Christ tells me, “Watch this, “ and he pushes it. But rather than ending our journey we go into warp speed, traveling faster and farther than ever before. Light-speed into infinity. And that is dying.

Soulship Enterprise. All this in one vessel called the imago dei. Zoom! Zoom!

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #12

Read: “Holding the Tensions”

In this chapter, Rohr expands on the Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectical methodology: a form of nondual thinking necessary if we are to overcome evil with good.

He uses the concept of “third-force thinking” developed by G.I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) and advanced in our day by Cynthia Bourgeault in her writing, especially her book, ‘The Wisdom Way of Knowing.’

Two things stand out: first, this way of thinking produces Wisdom. And second, Wisdom not as a superior idea, but as a force that changes things for the better. It begins, as Rohr noted in the last chapter, as holding the opposites in tension until “something new, bigger, and better” emerges. (p. 91)

This way of living (thinking and acting) exacts a high price, bringing on us the ire of dualistic, either/or thinkers. In the face of nondual thinking, all these folks know to do is to call us “heretics, sinners, or just wrong and stupid.” (p. 92). But third-force thinking does not cower or quit in the face of these falsehoods and caricatures.

Instead, it moves ahead with what Guedjieff called holy affirming, holy denying, and holy reconciling. Rohr has developed the same three phases into what he calls the transformative process of order, disorder, and reorder. He develops this in his book, ‘The Wisdom Pattern.’

In short, this pattern gathers up everything Rohr has helped us to see in the previous chapters, turning principles into practices that take us from evil into goodness, darkness into light, and death into life.

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Along the Way: No-name God

“I have recently had the opportunity to revisit the fact that in Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Christianity, and Islam, God is nameless. I began thinking about this again when I read Moses’ request to know God’s name, and God said, “The only thing I am going to tell you is that I am” (Exodus 3:13-14).

Why did God respond to Moses like that, and why do world religions make the point that God is nameless? Well, for starters, God does not tell us why, but we are right to assume there is a good reason (or reasons) for denying the request. I believe one reason comes out of the contemplative tradition with its understanding that words limit things and people…and God. In that paradigm wordlessness is the highest form of spirituality—the greatest act of reverence on our part when it comes to God.

But I think there is another reason, and it is the one which has burrowed its way into me this time around. God is nameless to keep our egos at bay. When we can name something, it is a short journey to think we “know” it, and when we arrive at that state, it is easy to take our knowledge and turn it into certainty, control, and censoriousness.

Think of it like a signature. If someone can write my name the way I write it, they can become forgers. So too with God. When we know God’s name, we can use it all over the place, “cashing checks” we claim God signed. That’s what the ego does, and there is no better or higher name to use than God’s name to justify what we’re saying and doing.

Sadly, we are seeing God’s name ascribed to things that have little, if anything, to do with God.
We are seeing “of God” signed onto attitudes and actions that bear little, or no, resemblance to God. It is what taking God’s name in vain means. It is egotism (certainty, control, and censoriousness) putting God’s name on things that are antithetical to God. It is spiritual forgery.

So, God responded to Moses and said, “All I am going to tell you is that I exist—I Exist.” That ‘s what God tells us because it’s all we can handle without going off the rails, becoming “overly righteous” (John Wesley’s term)–too religious, spuriously spiritual. A no-name God preserves Mystery, evoking wonder and keeping us humble. God refuses to be named for God’s glory and for our good. God is nameless to keep us from using a name to do harm to ourselves and others.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #11

Thanks to a gentle nudge from a group member a little while ago, I realize I did not post the weekly “Engage Group” memo this past Monday. In the spirit of “better late than never, here it is. 😃

Read: “The Pauline Dialectic”

In this chapter, Rohr invites us into a new way of thinking and acting. Even using the word ‘dialectic’ is a call to look at things differently than we often do. In this case, it is a way of seeing opposites without choosing sides. (p. 88)

That may seem strange in relation to good and evil. But it is a way of “holding opposites in tension” in order to see a new ground for acting. In general, Rohr has written about this in other places as nondual thinking–not thinking which never decides, but rather thinking that decides from the vantage point of a larger perspective than one-sided thinking can provide.

In the Pauline dialectic, a “hidden wholeness” emerges. Rohr’s phrase is reminiscent of Parker Palmer’s book by that title, and I looked at it again with profit as I read Rohr’s chapter.

Rohr provides eight examples of nondual thinking (p. 89), and does so in the belief that the Pauline dialectic is an exercise in naming and overcoming opposites through love. He believes we must think this way or humanity is in trouble

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Christ: Christ is All in All #6

“Let’s Be the Church”

Paul’s words in Colossians 3:11 are the basis for the Church. Because Christ is Lord and universally present in everyone and everything, we can gather in his name, and he will be with us (Matthew 18:20). With Christ as the head, we are the Body of Christ. There is no finer understanding of the Church than this.

We are going through a seismic shift with respect to how the Church manifests itself inwardly and outwardly. Many familiar aspects are increasingly irrelevant and unnecessary. The institutional church is in an in-between time. Some things are passing away. New things are emerging, with much of the future remaining unseen.

But the center holds, for the center of the Church is Christ (Matthew 16:18). Whether we gather in a cathedral, condo, café, campground, or anywhere else, he is with us. When we connect Paul’s words with our vision of the Church, we recognize that our faith in it is because of Christ, not the form it takes. Because Christ is all and in all, we can say, “Let’s be the Church!”

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #10

Read: “Love and Forgiveness”

The way of God is the way of love. We always love in the midst of life as it is–rarely, if ever, loving in ideal conditions when everything is as it should be. Often, we love “nevertheless”–that is, we love when we don’t feel like loving; we love when we have reasons not to.

And as Rohr notes, this kind of love requires us to practice forgiveness. It is the love Jesus offered throughout his ministry all the way into his crucifixion. And it is the kind of love we will manifest when we abide in Christ (John 15).

We have our next Zoom meeting this coming Friday, August 5th, at Noon (ET, USA). Here is the link to use in order to join the group. I hope you can make it…


https://us06web.zoom.us/j/9314085719?pwd=ZXhGc1dtMXlWRkFHUnZZem1SZDRQQT09

Meeting ID: 931 408 5719
Passcode: s32xDL

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Christ: Christ is All and in All #5

“Christ is Reality”

Taking Paul’s two-part sentence as-a-whole, we see that he was saying, “Christ is reality.” E. Stanley Jones said the same, “To be in him is to be in ultimate reality. To be in him is to have the roots of our being in reality. To be in him is to have the sum total of reality behind us, sustaining us and giving us cosmic backing.” [1]

Christians are sometimes mocked by those who tell us to “live in the real world.” But the fact is, we do! [2] This world (e.g. money, sex, and power) is the illusion, referred to as maya in Buddhism and as “the kingdoms of this world” in Christianity. In upcoming meditations, we will read and reflect about the amazing Christ, but every one is an aspect of reality: real life”(abundant living) in the real world (the kingdom of God). It is all in the universal Christ, excarnate (eternal) and incarnate (in time). Christ is the deep-and-wide dive into reality. Paul’s six words sum it all up.

[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), Week 2, Sunday. The book has been republished by Abingdon.

[2] Jones made this clear too in his book, ‘In Christ,’ Week 1, Monday.

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Engage: What Do We Do With Evil? #9

Read: “How to Survive and Even Thrive”

The idea of overcoming evil with good can sometimes seem impossible, given the systemic and pervasive nature of evil. Paul questioned the possibility in Romans 7:14, 23.

Rohr connects our questions with Paul’s to remind us that our resistance to evil is always in the context of realism. That is, there is no full and final escape from evil…but…there is partial success.

We must live “in the system”–that is, being those who resist evil by espousing countercultural values, living in alternative communities, celebrating incremental change, and accepting the inevitability of opposition.

This is one expression of the way of Wisdom taught in Scripture. It is a way deemed foolish by the evil system. It is hidden (subversive), cruciform, and a way of love. It is a paradox. But it is the way God calls us to live.

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Wesley’s Way: The Grand Reunion

Among the missional senses that the Wesleys had for the Methodist movement was this: the conjoining of knowledge and vital piety, which John said had been too long divided. He incarnated that grand reunion through his integration of theology and science, particularly the medical and creation sciences of his day. It was a hallmark of his nondual thinking and conjunctive theology.

Today, we call it the reunion of science and spirituality. It is part of the New Awakening, and the findings of the sciences are enriching our faith (e.g. new truths regarding our humanity, the earth, and the cosmos), and offering us the vision and means to heal harmful dualisms. This video by Matthew Fox (32:08) speaks about this grand reunion…

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Along the Way: When Deception Becomes Reality

My psalm reading this morning took me to these words of David describing someone living under the influence of evil,

“Your tongue devises destruction: it’s like a sharpened razor, causing deception.You love evil more than good; you love lying more than speaking what is right. You love all destructive words; you love the deceiving tongue” (Psalm 52:2-4).

The psalm lays bare what kind of life a person lives when deception becomes reality–when it becomes the world we live in.

The connection between this psalm and last night’s revelations about Donald Trump (confirming what we already know) bring David’s insights to bear upon one who is among the most pathetic people we have seen in our lifetime. We watched Donald Trump live in the only reality he knows–deception. It is a world he created all the way back into his relationships with his parents and siblings, and then continued to live in for decades in his personal ethics and business endeavors. Somewhere along the way his world became deception. He cannot live any other way because deception is reality for him.

In the note for Psalm 52, I read this, “Wesley was convinced that living truthfully is a mark of God’s grace in our lives.” [1] David did not excuse himself from that reality, as the previous psalm (Psalm 51) shows. The comment note continues, “According to Wesley, God’s prevenient (preventing) grace assists us to be honest with God, ourselves, and others.”

Indeed it does. Grace creates another reality–the reality of truth telling and truth living. Last night we saw on full display the opposite of that. But the point of this post is not to single out Donald Trump. He just happens to be an “Exhibit A” evidence of a life of someone who is a stranger to grace.

The juxtaposition of David’s ancient words and Donald’s current words is its own illustration. It is a sad and sobering reminder of how imprisoned anyone is when deception becomes reality.

[1] ‘The Wesley Study Bible’ (Common English Bible), 724.

(Also posted on Oboedire)

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Christ: Christ is in All #4

“Our Provider”

Paul’s words are not only revelations of Christ’s person, but also of Christ’s provision. Christ’s “allness” offers us the opportunity to live abundantly (John 10:10). Just a few verses before this one, Paul summed it up: Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4).

There is no way to describe all the ways that Christ is our provider. There are too many to name even within the confines of our life here on earth. A read through the four gospels shows a myriad of ways Jesus provided for the needs of people. And before the end of each gospel, we see the Risen Christ continued providing for others.

When we step into the Book of Acts, the provisions multiply in example after example of how the risen Christ continued to be at work in the world through the Holy Spirit. Christ was/is “all and in all” to give us what we need to live as God intends. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul declared Christ’s provision plainly, “God will meet your every need out of his riches in the glory that is found in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

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Along the Way: A Hard Look on the Inside

My last “Along the Way” post dealt with the evil of fundamentalism/nationalism, looking at Jesus’ call to have eyes that see as a way of naming it, resisting it, and overcoming it with good.

The problem is, when the eyes of our heart are opened (Ephesians 1:18), we see something else–we see that mainline Christianity has not escaped evil, but rather has contributed to the mess we are in today. When our eyes are opened, Jesus tells us to look at ourselves, not just others (Matthew 7:1-5). In fact, he tells us to look inside before we look outside. It is a hard look, but one that is necessary.

When we do, we see that we have benefitted from evil as much as any other person or movement. One of the reasons that evil is so difficult to overcome is that we all participate in and prosper from it. [1] The influence of evil upon our egotism, ethnocentrism, and economics (noted in the last post) is no less real. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Progressives have their unique contaminations, so we do not escape the “guilty as charged” conclusion when the Spirit searches our hearts (Psalm 139:24). In this post, I will use writings by Thomas Merton and Lisa Sharon Harper to show how this is so, and then conclude with my own thoughts.

Thomas Merton’s “Letters to a White Liberal” was one of my early eye-openers. [2] Written in the summer of 1963, they ran nearly 70 pages in printed form. He wrote the letters as a “call to universal examination of conscience” on the part of all Christians, and especially those who considered themselves liberal.

The length and substance of the letters preclude a detailed summary. They are a read-it-for-yourself necessity, but in a nutshel we can see that Merton’s indictment lay in the fact that while liberals championed many good things, many Gospel things, they did so in ways that preserved their security and power.

As the letters unfold, they show how this has been so in many ways: politically, economically, militarily, even racially. Position papers and laws (in and of themselves) were written by the liberals in ways that did not end up respecting Black Americans, but “look nice on paper.” In the end, Merton shows, Christians made profit (e.g. money, materials, status) more important than people. This, he noted made the liberals feel good while perpetuating a view of the individual/collective self that treated non-Whites as objects, and largely left them “in their place.”

Merton’s words were a hard saying when I first read them decades ago, and have remained so every time I re-read them. They were written to those who went to church without ever becoming the Church. They connected with the view of E. Stanley Jones written forty years earlier in his book, ‘The Christ of the Indian Road,’ in which he showed how too much of institutional Christianity (in his case, Methodism) was incarnating colonialism more than Christ.

Lisa Sharon Harper’s book, ‘The Very Good Gospel’ has come alongside Merton’s letters because what she writes about further illustrates the failure of the Church to be the Body of Christ–a failure, in her view, to embrace and express shalom. This has occurred to a large extent, she writes, because the Church settled for “thin theology.” [3]

Thin theology is not an original idea with her, but one that Miroslav Volf put forward in 2011. On the conservative side, Lisa points to “Gospel tracts, simple diagrams, and fill-in-the-blank studies” as examples. On the progressive side, thin theology “lacks deep roots in the Scriptures and Christian traditions.” No matter from where thin theology emerges, the most dangerous thing about it, Harper says, is this: “It also has left us without the biblical foundations needed to comprehend Kingdom theology.”

Thin theology renders people incapable of recognizing fallen-world ideologies and faux faith. It leaves “the principalities and powers” free to peddle their putrid patriotism and snake-oil spirituality. We are seeing how true this is as people fall prey to conspiracy theories, QAnon lunacies, and Christian Nationalism–falsely concluding that “the kingdoms of this world” are of God.

Merton’s recovery was in relation to a restoration of the true self (imago dei) in its individual and collective manifestations. For Harper, it is the recovery of shalom. Taken together, both of them call us to a recovery of humanity[4]–holy humanism which God commended in the Perennial Tradition long before organized religion ever came on the scene. [5]

In addition to the hard look that Merton and Harper call us to take, I would add the following things without comment. As a Church, we have…

–emphasized going to church more than being the Church

–made members more than disciples

–clericalized the church, turning the clergy into a guild and the laity into donors who support the system

–defined right belief more as assent to to doctrines than alignment of our lives with the Gospel

–turned differences into divisions (complete with “our side is of God”) and made our disagreements battlefields

–elevated religion above humanity, making it possible to claim to be religious while behaving inhumanely

–made missions too much about the transfer of cultural values so that becoming Christian looks more like being European or North American (also read “white male”) rather than like Christ

–built walls rather than bridges and constructed fortresses more than welcome centers.

If we add everything up, it is little wonder that people are staying away and walking away from the Church. When we take a hard look at ourselves, we find that the problem is not the world’s rejection, it’s our self-righteousness.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he cleansed the Temple, not the Sanhedrin. If we take a hard look at ourselves, we realize that if he went to work again today, he would cleanse the Church, not the Capitol.

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘What Do We Do with Evil?’ 38-42.
[2] Thomas Merton, ‘Seeds of Destruction,’ 3-70.
[3] Lisa Sharon Harper, ‘The Very Good Gospel,’ 10-11.
[4] David Gushee writes about this in his book, ‘After Evangelicalism’ as does Brian McLaren in his book, ‘Do I Stay Christian?’
[5] Bede Griffith’s book, ‘Universal Wisdom’ describes the main features of the Perennial Tradition in the introduction. Richard Rohr’s ‘Oneing’ journal (Vol. 1, No. 1) explores the Perennial Tradition from various angles.

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Engage: What Do We Do With Evil? #8

Thanks to those of you who joined our Zoom meeting last Friday. The group was a bit larger this time around and included some new people. We will meet again on Friday, August 5th. I will include the link in the August 1st “Engage” post.

And now…..here’s this week’s reading: “Jesus’ Critique of the Sin System”

Rohr notes that we can miss Jesus’ resistance to evil because it was not in relation to the “flesh” (as retributive justice is), but rather in the “world” and “devil” dimensions of the system. Jesus was merciful and forgiving of individuals, but prophetic and indicting of the system (imperialism: political and religious) that ensnared people.

Similarly, we are called to offer forgiveness to individuals, and to practice nonviolent resistance against the world/devil. This combination is what the Bible means when it teaches us to overcome evil with good: individual freedom on the one hand, with social critique on the other.

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Along the Way: We See You!

The caricature and denigration of “social justice” by Christian fundamentalist/nationalists is not only an abberation of the Gospel, it is a revelation of how wedded the Christian right is to the “dirty rotten system” (Dorothy Day). [1]

Fundamentalists/nationalists reap enormous benefits from that system because it blesses them as the false prophets fawn over their leaders and allege their movements are “of God.” [2] This is nothing new. Jeremiah 28-29 reveals how far back in biblical history faux blessings have undermind the ways of God. They feed egotism and ethnocentrism, but leave peoples’ souls bankrupt and corrupt.

Fundamentalists/nationalists also benefit economically. Imperialism always has an economic incentive for oligarchy as the few are enriched  at the expense of the many. [3] Sociologists have named the main feeders of it: the military-industrial complex, the market/corporate economy, and white-male supremacy. [4] These toxic forces feed the bank acounts of the oligarchs and provide dark-money donations to keep evil in place, but starve the virtues of stewardship, generosity, and the common good.

Jesus saw these things in play, saying words the system fears more than any other, “I see you.” Recognition and exposure are the seedbed where resistance is grown. When Jesus said, “I see you,” he shined the Light of God into the dark places, the hidden places, where evil plies its trade (John 3:19-20). When Jesus said, “I see you,” he had to go. [5]

Ah, but he did not stop there. He called his disciples to have eyes that see (Mark 8:18). He formed them into a counter-intuitive, counter-cultural community that went into the world telling the potentates and power brokers, “We see you.” And before the end of the New Testament era, we read (in Acts, Paul’s letters, and Hebrews 11) that the imperialists concluded that Jesus’ disciples had to go too.

We find ourselves in yet another time when to follow Jesus means to resist the fundamentalists/nationalists. The risen Christ is at work apart from us, in us, and through us. The Social Justice stream is released from the dam made by the oligarchs and false prophets, allowing “justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). In the Wesleyan tradition this means a revival of social holiness across the land.

Those who do this will, as always, be harassed, caricatured, maligned, demeaned, marginalized, and oppressed (Matthew 5:10-12). But like Jesus, his first disciples, and true disciples since, the Spirit touches our lips with live coals from off the alter (Isaiah 6), putting these words on our tongue: “We see you.”

[1] Richard Foster explores the classic Social Justice stream in chapter 5 of his book, ‘Streams of Living Water.’
[2] Senator Rick Scott’s “Rescue America Plan” is an exhibit-A illustration of Christian Nationalism’s political/religious collusion, and false prophesy.
[3] Walter Brueggemann’s book, ‘Tenacious Solidarity’ looks at the fallen-world economy in detail.
[4] Richard Rohr, ‘What Do We Do with Evil?’ p. 53.
[5] Marcus Borg looks at Jesus’ collision course with the system in his book, ‘Jesus,’ chapters 9-10.

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Engage: Zoom Tomorrow

Just a reminder that our second Zoom meeting to discuss Richard Rohr’s book is tomorrow (Friday) at Noon, Eastern Time USA. I hope you can join in. Here is the link…

Please click this URL to start or join. https://us06web.zoom.us/j/9314085719?pwd=ZXhGc1dtMXlWRkFHUnZZem1SZDRQQT09
    Or, go to https://us06web.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 931 408 5719 and password: s32xDL

We will discuss chapters 4-7.

I have upgraded my Zoom account, so we no longer have the 40-minute meeting limit. But we will be good stewards of our time and have our discussion in a one-hour format.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #7

Read: “The Spiral of Violence”

This chapter shows the inadequacy of retributive justice. Punishment does not overcome evil because it only addresses the effects of it, not the causes of it. Punitiveness is not transformative. It leaves “the filthy rotten system” in place to continue its deformation and destruction.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, overcomes evil with good. It includes the rehabiliation of individuals, but it goes on to change the system–or at least keep calling for its change.

Rohr rightly notes that “overcoming the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) is the deeper, more-engaging work to which we are called by God. This is the biblical invitation to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

Restorative justice breaks the system, not the people caught in it. It not only asks, ‘Who did this?” but also, “Why is this kind of thing happening?”

Reminder: Our next Zoom call is this Friday, July 15th at Noon (ET). We will focus on chapters 4-7. I have subscribed to the Zoom Pro Plan, so we will not be limited to 40 minutes. But we will be good stewards of our time and keep our meeting to one hour. Here is the link to the meeting. I hope you can join in…

https://us06web.zoom.us/j/9314085719?pwd=ZXhGc1dtMXlWRkFHUnZZem1SZDRQQT09

Meeting ID: 931 408 5719
Passcode: s32xDL

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Christ: Christ is in All #3

“In Every Moment”

When we affirm that Christ is in all, we easily connect the statement to people, places and things. The previous meditations have done this by noting Christ is in everyone and everything. But there is more. Christ is in all time, in every moment. We meditate on that here.

Adding Christ’s presence in every moment transports us further into oneness and nonduality. Far from being abstract, Christ in all time saves us from seeing Christ some of the time, but not all of the time. Christ in all time saves us from believing God is here, but not there.

Christ in all time is summed up in the word ‘Emmanuel.’
God is with us. Jesus said it, “I am with you always “ The affirmation that Christ is in all time is easy to lose sight of in challenging times. It is easy to think God is absent

But to say Christ is in all is to include every moment of our lives. This vision is precisely what we need if our spirituality is to have the tenacity necessary to be strong, to endure hard times, and not give way to despair.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #6

Read: “A Way Out and Through”

Having laid a good foundation for understanding the nature and expression of evil, Rohr begins to lead us out of it, offering a way through it that he further develops in the rest of the book. This chapter is the pivot for what is to come.

We pray, “deliver us from evil” every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Rohr summarizes deliverance in the word ‘freedom.’ It commences only when we name evil “fully and correctly” (p. 61). This requires “real wisdom and spiritual intelligence” (p. 63).

It’s easy to see Rohr’s formation in the Franciscan tradition coming through in this chapter–the disposition to overcome evil with good, as St. Francis’ prayer describes it. From this heritage, Rohr offers light to us all.

A Reminder: our next Zoom discussion is Friday, July 15th at Noon (ET, USA). I have upgraded my Zoom account so we will not be limited to 40 minutes. We will, however, steward our time and keep our meeting to an hour.

I will post the link to the meeting in next Monday’s “Engage” post.

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Along the Way: The Hard Work of Hope”

Earlier today I read an article by Dr. Walter Brueggemann in which he used the phrase “the hard work of hope.” [1] The phrase stuck to the velcro on my soul, putting words to a sentiment I have had for some time: that hope is a verb, not merely a value–an action, not simply an attitude. [2]

Brueggemann used four words to give details to his phrase, saying that the hard work of hope is done through resolve, energy, courage, and imagination. Each of the words brings the light of God to bear upon the challenges we face

Resolve….nothing changes apart from our will (individual and collective) to change it. The hard work of hope begins with the decision to do something–and to engage in the change-making now.
“Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Energy….we do not go far in our effort to change something before we realize that it is a supernatural task, and supernatural tasks require supernatural power. Zechariah 4:6 makes this clear, and his prophetic word is a call for us to live by and in the Spirit. The two great commandments and fruit of the Spirit describe this life

Courage….the “principalities and powers” take immediate and great offense when their beliefs are critiqued and their systems are challenged. Demagogues of any kind (civic or religious) will push back using anything (e.g. shaming, shuning, caricaturing, lying) to stay on their self-made pedastals of power. God’s admonition to Joshua to “be strong and courageous” was not a one-off call. It is what God says to anyone who sets out to overcome evil with good. [3]

Imagination….courageous change means “the old must pass away” in order for the new to come (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the in-Chtist life–the making of new wineskins. Imagination is not only creativity, it is the conviction that some things will not be perpetuated, and that things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1) will be the conveyors of future realities.

The hard work of hope is what we must engage in today. Quick fixes are no fixes at all in the face of the formidable evil we are currently confronting. We must “incline our hearts into the Lord’ (Joshua 24:23), forming a long-haul spirituality that promotes justice (equality, fairness, inclusion, common good), through resolve, energy, courage, and imagination. In the hard work of hope, we offer ourselves as instruments of God’s peace so that “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

[1] Church Anew e-letter, 7/1/22.

[2] Several years ago, Paul Chilcote and I shared this sentiment, going on to write about it in our book, ‘Living Hope.’

[3] The Center for Courage and Renewal, begun by Parker Palmer, is an excellent resource for developing and deploying courage.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #5

Read: “The Hidden Places of Deadness”

In the chapter entitled, “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil” Rohr introduced the threefold paradigm that describes how evil exists and acts. In this chapter he uses the paradigm again, this time to show where and how evil hides.

Evil is insidious. In fact, it often does not appear to be bad. It hides under the guise of goodness, benefit, etc. Rohr sums it up by writing, “The triumph of evil depends entirely on disguise.” (p. 43)

This is the longest chapter in the book, but also one of the most helpful, further confirming the message of the previous chapter–that one of the major difficulties in overcoming evil is that so many profit from it.

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Along the Way: Full-Spectrum Reality

If you have followed my writing here on Oboedire and elsewhere, you know that I have found the song “Deep and Wide” to be one of the best ones for understanding the spiritual life. Many of us learned the song as children, so it has been with us for decades inviting us to glean its insights and live its wisdom.

I lived most of my life in the “deep” part of the song. Spiritual depth was my aim, and “the deeper life” (as it is often called) was my working definition of a maturing spirituality. Over the years, I have benefitted immensely from the “deep” side of the song, and I continue to do so.

But like each day’s sunrise, the “wide” side of the song began to shine into my life, illuminating places where the “deep” light had not. There is no way that I can write about this in a blog-length post. But I can name some of the key ways the “wide” light has provided full-spectrum spirituality.

I begin with Scripture, as I have come to recognize its breadth and the diversity of ways people have read, interpreted, and lived its revelation—and doing so within the context of orthodoxy. The splendor of passages like Psalm 19 created a panoramic view of life, and my now longstanding practice of underlining places where the Bible speaks of universality (e.g. “all’ and “everywhere”) and the oneness of everyone and everything (e.g. interbeing and the second great commandment) has increased my reverence for life. More recently, the Bible’s revelation of the Universal Christ (e.g. John 1:3 and Colossians 3:11) has made my understanding of him as “the light of the world” richer than ever.

I move next to the Wesleyan tradition, with its diversity and ecumenism. More recently the Wesleys’ theology of nature has captured my attention and is increasing the light of faith. Charles Wesley tells me there are “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” John Wesley’s multi-volume series on natural theology has helped me see the sacredness of all life—of sentient beings and inanimate beings too. All ground is holy, and as Macrina Wiederkehr put it, “every tree is full of angels.”

Within the Wesleyan tradition, I have been most influenced by E. Stanley Jones. Reading all his books (some more than once) has formed my faith to see that “Jesus is Lord” of everyone and everything. His seeing Christ in Gandhi and in world religions has given me a place to stand in order to experience the light and life which further illuminates my path. Jones’ book, ‘The Christ of Every Road’ shows how Pentecost fulfilled and commenced God’s plan from the beginning to unite all things, in heaven and on earth, in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

Through the Wesleys, I also came to see the light offered through the Franciscan tradition, beginning with Francis and Clare, but also in their successors into the present day. The Franciscan tradition’s insight that everything belongs has woven the “deep and wide” spectrum into a seamless tapestry of Reality.

And from this tradition, I have been encouraged to “ask the animals” (Job 12:7-9) and finding that they do indeed tell us things about God that humans do not perceive. Through them words like ‘consciousness’ and ‘intelligence’ now extend to the whole of creation, as the Umwelt effect teaches us that human perceptions are only a sliver of all that’s going on—one part of a string (Psalm 19:4) that winds its way through the cosmos.

“Deep and wide”–full-spectrum Reality. The kind that reveals light, life, and love from everywhere….the kind that tells us to share light, life, and love with everyone and everything.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #4

Read: “We Are All Profiting from and Complicit in Evil”

I want to begin this week’s post by saying that I enjoyed being with fifteen of you in the Zoom meeting last Friday. I am glad we have made these gatherings part of our common-reading journey. Even though I have attended many such meetings, this was my first time to host one. We made it, but I have lots to learn!

The next Zoom meeting is July 15th at Noon (ET). In the “Engage” post for Monday, July 11th, I will provide the link.

And now….to this week’s reading…

As we move into chapter four, we enter what I would call a “hard saying”–but one Rohr had to name if we are going to know what to do with evil. That is, we must come to grips with the fact that we benefit from the “dirty rotten system,” and even more, we contribute to it.

Thomas Merton’s prayer opens the chapter and launches our reading, naming our “deep involvement in the collective sin” occurring all around us. We do this inwardly through “our bent to sinning” (Charles Wesley’s phrase) and outwardly through our benefiting from the spoils evil offers us as it vanquishes goodness. Through our condition and consent the status quo becomes a sacred cow.

That’s why it is so difficult to name evil and work to overcome it. Rohr writes about the seven deadly sins and about the laws that protect the powerful while oppressing the powerless. He is right when he says, “Expedience and ambition will always find a law or a scripture to justify their power grab.”

This short chapter is packed with stark realities, all of which we must recognize if we are to overcome evil with good. As the old song says, “It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer “

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Along the Way: Oppression in Operation

I occasionally write that my Sociology major in college has served me well over the years, providing insight into my second major, Religion. At the time I graduated, I had no idea how both would interact to enrich my faith development.

The interplay is happening again, this time with respect to oppression theory—that is, how prejudice and institutional power create a system that discriminates against a targeted group, doing so in ways that demean the targeted group and exalt the oppressive group. [1] We see this being done today, and in the religious sphere it is the often-used strategy of Christian fundamentalists. It is a strategy at work in my denomination, the United Methodist Church, by conservative/fundamentalist groups leaving the UMC or planning to do so eventually.

But current as the use of oppression theory is, I began years ago to think about it through other sources: particularly the nature of imperialism in the prophetic era in the Old Testament which Dr. Walter Brueggemann so eloquently exposes, through studying Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and through Howard Thurman’s book, ‘Jesus and the Disinherited.’ Other resources (e.g. those that educate us to see injustice and engage us to resist it nonviolently) now accompany these three. Once again, my theological sensitivities have been enlivened by sociological insights.

As with any blog post, I can only get you started so that if you want to go farther, you can. Here is the general flow of oppression that we can discern from Scripture, tradition (historical oppression in both state and church), reason (psychology and sociology), and experience (how we see it operating today). The three terms are my summary. The words in parenthesis are those found in other resources.

Abuse (Violence)….This may occur in all sorts of ways. We see it happening today through vilification and vote. However it happens, a group is singled out as problematic, even dangerous. As the “othering” intensifies, the abusers play the victim card, portraying themselves as the ones who are being persecuted by the designated others (or their advocates and allies), leaving them no option but to stand up for (their version of) democracy and/or religion. Claiming to be abused, the abusers deflect attention from reality and create a false narrative (“sanitized history”) that makes them look righteous and hides (or tries to hide) what is going on. By doing so, they buy themselves more time to continue abusing the designated others, often doing so “in Jesus’ name.”

Anxiety (Fear)….The abuse is publically inflicted on a few who are “made examples of” by the abusers. The limited abuse sends a signal to the rest of the drsignated others—a message which says, “If we got these, we can get you too,” and this turns into chaos theory which goes on to say, “As long as we are here, we will keep acting and/or voting this way, further abusing you whenever we have the chance to do so.” Even as a minority, the abusers keep the anxiety (frustration) level as high as they can.

Abandonment (Exit)….Some of the abused conclude, “There is no safe future here for us,” and they leave. What the abusers know is that you do not have to be in the majority to succeed. So, they stay the course, continuing to create conditions that lead the designated others to go elsewhere. This is essentially a purgation based on a “purity” mindset. [2] And it is bolstered by language that fosters the idea that the abusers are the righteous ones who have “been on the Lord’s side” in keeping the faith.

Our nation’s history is exhibit A to illustrate the flow. Racism (abuse) genetated fear among Native-American and Black people, causing them to leave the South in what was called a “great migration.” So, even though the racists lost, they preserved their power by purging the population of the “undesirables.”

This is the flow of oppression theory. Sociology calks it subjugation. It is the flow which the prophets, Jesus, the first Christians, and Christians since have called out and resisted. It is the flow, whether in the state or the church that we must continue to resist. For at it’s heart is the failure to love (as per the two great commandments and the fruit of the Spirit). And as long as oppression theory is in play, we must resist it until love prevails.

[1] Simply google “oppression theory” and a wide door will open into resources that reveal its nature, history, and strategy—particularly in systemic, institutional structures. Sadly, this includes the Church.

[2] We will never know how many have left, abandoning a particular political party for another or a specific church for another. And sometimes, the picture is even more confused as the abusers decide to create new institutions where they can be free from the designated others. We see this occurring in politics and religion today. Sociologists identify it in survivalist movements.

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Christ: Christ is In All #2

“The Ultimate Integration”

The phrase “the hidden Christ in all religions” is sometimes used to describe Christ’s presence in religions other than Christianity. But Paul’s words do not speak of hiddenness, but rather about revelation. We see the essence of Christ in every religion even if we do not see the person of Jesus. Or to say it differently, Christ is found in any who live like him.

This is the ultimate integration. Christ is the thread running throughout the cosmos, binding us to one another with a sacred oneness. Buddhists call it interbeing. Christians call it loving our neighbor as ourselves. As Paul put it, “all are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).I

It is an integration that creates accountability and responsibility. We are, in fact, our brother’s guardian, no matter what Cain said. The universal Christ weaves a tapestry of singularity. Life is life together. Separating the threads destroys the tapestry. Eliminating our oneness destroys the world.

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New UMC: We Believe!

As the new UMC emerges, I look forward to being part of a denomination that conjoins belief and practice, faith and form, message and method to “serve the present age” in a mission that makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

John Wesley summed it up in two words, living faith. He compared it with dead orthodoxy, and made it clear that the Methodist movement would unite knowledge and vital piety by spreading scriptural holiness across the land with a vision to reach the marginalized, renew the church and reform the nation.

We are heirs of living faith, and the United Methodist Book of Discipline is written to reflect it. Part III sets forth our doctrinal standards (beliefs) and our theological task (practices), doing so in ways that incarnate the Gospel and reflect our Wesleyan heritage. Putting this together, the new UMC will say to itself and to the world, “We believe!” We have a threefold declaration…

First, we declare what we believe. The doctrinal standards section of Part III spells it out. We believe in,

The historic creeds
The Trinity
Salvation in and through Jesus Christ
The work of the Spirit in us and in all of creation
Our place in the universal Church
The reign of God
The inspiration and authority of Scripture

These things, and more, are then viewed through the lens of our Wesleyan heritage, showing how they have been in our theological DNA from the beginning, and continue to be.

The next section of Part III roots all of this in the Methodist Articles of Religion (which cannot be changed) and the EUB Confession of Faith, which comes alongside the Articles to confirm why we use the word ‘United’ in our name. These two documents affirm the topics above, and go on to affirm additional things…

The Resurrection of Christ
The role of the Old Testament
Original Sin
Free Will
Justification by Faith
Sanctification
The place of good works
Going beyond minimalism via works of supererogation
Sin in believers and the need for ongoing repentance
The Church and the centrality of worship
Ministering in the language of the people
The Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper
The atonement and reconciliation through Christ
Married clergy
Variety in rites and ceremonies (contextualizatiin)
Support of the Government and Civil Authority
Stewardship of our possessions for the common good

Standing on this theological foundation, we exclaim, “We believe!”

Second, we declare how we believe. Part III captures it in three ways: by aligning with the Standard Sermons of John Wesley, by using Wesley’s ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament,’ and by conducting our lives in congruence with the ‘General Rules’ that the Wesleys established for the first Methodists, grounding them in commitments to do no harm, do good, and to practice the means of grace individually and collectively. These things help us turn our beliefs into practices

With this content and these commitments in place, Part III of the Book of Discipline moves to the third declaration of our faith: why we believe. We believe in order to live as God intends, and to help others do the same. We call this “Our Theological Task,” and it is described in terms of its nature, its guidelines (the Wesleyan quadrilateral), its challenges and opportunities, and our ecumenical intention to be a denomination that enriches the entire Church.

With respect to the what, how, and why of our theology we declare our faith. It is faith that is biblical, orthodox, and Wesleyan. No one need leave the UMC to find these things. It is the faith of the historic UMC, and it is the faith that will found and fuel the faith of the new UMC. We believe!

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Along the Way: What About the Bible?

A review of Church history reveals that when critical issues emerge in the Church, alongside the particular topic is the larger matter of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. [1] Some groups claim they are “biblical” and allege others are “unbiblical.” But a closer look reveals that claim is bogus.

Nevertheless, this “straw man” tactic has continued to be used to create false and deceptive right/wrong thinking. We find ourselves once again in such a season. In the midst of controversy over human sexuality, conservatives are alleging that they are the biblical ones, with others being less so—or not at all.

Their recruitment mantra is, ‘Come with us. We are the ones who believe the Bible.” And taken at face value, who wouldn’t want to do that? Problem is, the “we are the biblical ones and they are not” is a lie. It is a lie that is fueling the fire of divisiveness in the nation and in the Church. [2] I write to show that this is so. I begin with a testimony, so there is no doubt what kind of Christian I am, and where I stand relative to the Bible.

I believe in the inspiration and authority as much as any conservative you will ever meet. I do not hesitate to say with John Wesley that “I am a man of one book,” standing for Scriptural Christianity as much as anyone you might know or meet. Here I stand. And many others do as well, despite being caricatured and maligned under a false pretense of being unbiblical.

Three key false allegations allow the biblical/unbiblical lie to stand and to be promulgated. It is happening in the larger conservative Christian community [3] but I am most familiar with the three manifestations in the United Methodist Church.

The first one is using individual variations to justify denominational indictment. In my denomination the conservatives have lied in saying that the denomination no longer affirms doctrines like the virgin birth or the resurrection. That is not true. Of course, there are individual people who may not affirm some things, but that is a far cry from being able to allege the entire denomination has abandoned orthodoxy. Inflating individual variation to the level of institutional infidelity is ludicrous.

The conservatives have their own Achilles’ heel in this regard. One example suffices. Some in their group affirm the inerrancy of the Bible, while others do not. But individual variation is not sufficient grounds for anyone to say that the whole group has abandoned inerrancy. That is, they would never stand for such a false equation of individualism and institutionalism to be made against them, yet they conflate the two when disparaging the United Methodist Church. The biblical/unbiblical allegation is false because it elevates individual differences to the “straw man” status of denominational indictment.

The second false allegation is that progressives do not believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. But we do—I do, as I said above.

The issue is not inspiration and authority, it is interpretation (hermeneutics). Interestingly, some of my conservative friends have said, “Steve, you are right. It is about differences of interpretation, not revelation.” When I ask them why they are not willing to come clean and admit this, the response has been, “If we acknowledge that a progressive interpretation is biblical, it weakens our position.” And that, of course, is precisely what they are unwilling to do—unwilling to admit there are valid, credible, scholarly interpretations (put forward by equally-devoted Jesus followers) other than theirs. [4] And my jaw drops in disbelief that anyone would hide the truth in order to make their position appear to be the only “biblical” view when they know it is not.

The third false allegation is that the historic Church has been uniform in its theology of Scripture and sub-topics like human sexuality. The fact is, there has been much more diversity in orthodoxy than conservatives allege. In Wesleyan language, conservatives have attempted to claim their position is orthodox (i.e. correct) when it is more nearly a doctrine or (in some cases) an opinion—that is, not the only way to look at it.

These three false allegations bring us to the need to ask, ‘So what is true with regard to the United Methodist Church’s view of Scripture?” The answer is plain and readily available. It is in Part III of the Book of Discipline. You can read it for yourself, and when you do, you will find (among other things) these foundational affirmations…

(1) The Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church (in effect since 1784), in which the Bible is declared to be “Holy Scripture” containing “all things necessary to salvation.”

(2) The Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church (in effect since 1963), in which the Bible is declared to contain all things necessary for salvation, and it is “to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”

(3) The Theological Task of the United Methodist Church, which in relation to the Bible is to recognize it is primary (authoritave)—“the living core of the Christian faith.” A long, 12-paragraph section spells this out in detail.

The sum of all is this, United Methodists are biblical, no matter what others may allege. To be led to believe otherwise is deceptive and wrong. It is past time to call out the “straw man” that caricatures the truth.

In our nation and in other denominations right now the same biblical/unbiblical false allegation is being leveled at progressives by conservatives. And while there are things we do not agree on, and over which we disagree vigorously, the belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture is not one of them. It is past the time to name the falsehood and move forward in ways that do not require lies in order to be believed.

[1] I have identified a dozen such issues, and all of them contain claims by one group that they were “biblical” and others “unbiblical.”

[2] My own denomination, The United Methodist Church is in the midst of this controversy, with its episcopacy, agencies, seminaries, and ordination processes alleged to be “unbiblical.” As with the larger, national dynamics, the charge within the UMC is not true.

[3] David Gushee exposes the false allegations in the larger conservative Christian community in his two books, ‘Still Christian’ and ‘Beyond Evangelicalism.’ Diana Butler Bass has recently exposed similar falsehoods in the Christian Fundamentalism movement, with posts on her.”The Cottage” site. Beyond these two people, numerous books about Christian Nationalism uncover the biblical/unbiblical deception used to preserve power and control and advance its “MAGA Jesus” message.

[4] In the “LGBTQ+ Resources” icon on the Oboedire home page I provide a list of books, articles, and resources to validate this claim.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #3

Read: “Paul’s Spiritual Genius”

Much of the spiritual life is paradox. A major one is that we find life through death (John 12:24). Necessary suffering and disorder clean the lens of our vision, enabling us to see clearly. For Paul, he saw the heights when he hit rock bottom. Rohr begins this chapter with this insight and develops it in significant ways. The pattern is Life—Death—Life.

Rohr explores this pattern in numerous ways in this chapter. I counted sixteen, but I may have missed some. But regardless of the number, we are drawn into Paul’s genius—the paradox of which is that we must see evil for what it is (death) before we will be motivated to overcome it. This week’s chapter gives us this vision.

This coming Friday, June 17th at Noon (Eastern Time, USA) we have our first live Zoom conversation. It will last 40 minutes (as per Zoom policy). Here is the link to use in order to join the meeting…

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us04web.zoom.us/j/9314085719?pwd=ZXhGc1dtMXlWRkFHUnZZem1SZDRQQT09

Meeting ID: 931 408 5719
Passcode: s32xDL

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Christ: Christ is in All #1

“All Means All”

Christ is in everyone and everything—no exceptions, from the smallest particle to the farthest star. John put it this way, “Everything came into being through the Word” (John 1:3). Nothing and no one excluded.

We do not live in a world that believes this. Under the influence of the false self (individual/collective), we concoct all sorts of ways to be “top dogs.” Supremacy has replaced the original blessing of the imago dei with the original sin of egotism/ethnocentrism. [1] Oneness has been replaced by endless variations of “othering” that do great harm.

These three words of Paul clean the lens of our spiritual vision. If we lived by them, the world would be a different place. We would be “one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” [2] As things are, these three words indict us, while simultaneously offering us the way home. This is the “all flesh” message of the season of Pentecost that we have just entered. All means all. Why? Because Christ is in all.

[1] Matthew Fox, ‘Original Blessing’ Revised Edition (Penguin, 2000). First edition in 1983 by Tarcher-Putnam.

[2] Hymn, “In Christ There is No East or West,” words by John Oxenham, 1913.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #2

Read: “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil”


This short chapter is packed with insight. Taking the threefold paradigm of historic moral theology, Rohr sets the trajectory for what he develops in the rest of the book. When the world, flesh, and devil dynamics converge, they create what Dorothy Day called, “the dirty rotten system.”

And it is a system. Rohr points out that failing to see it as such, “the world and the devil basically got off scot-free for most of Christian history.” This failure, he writes, has led to “many twentieth-century catastrophes that often took place in Christian countries.”

But there’s more—it is a system that benefits its adherents. Rohr devotes chapter four to this idea, but he mentions it in this chapter. “Injustice always profits somebody,” he notes. And the ultimate benefit is that the evildoers come to “think they are doing a holy duty for God.” It is calling evil good. Evil advances appearances, not realities.

It is impossible to underestimate the extent to which we under the guise of evil. As I read this chapter, I thought of these things…


–war justified under the guise of “peace-keeping”
–greed, justified under the guise of “a strong economy”
–voter suppression: justified under the guise of “election integrity”
–male dominance: justified under the guise of “complementarianism”
–subjugation: justified under the guise of “Manifest Destiny”
–power: justified under the guise of “law and order”
–elitism: justified under the guise of “personal freedom”
–exploitation: justified under the guise of “national interest”

Rohr’s chapter reminds us that evil cannot stand the truth. Indeed, as Jesus put it, evildoers prefer darkness to light…precisely because their deeds are evil (John 3:19).

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Along the Way: Oneness & Oneing

The Day of Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church, and there is a sense in which that is true. More on that below. But a look at the text itself (Acts 2:1-21) shows that it was the rebirth of oneness and the ignition of oneing.

Luke uses the language of universality repeatedly to make the point. People from “every nation” were in Jerusalem. “All” of the Christian community was together in the upper room, and the Spirit descended as wind and fire (life and passion) on “each one of them,” so that “they were all filled with the Spirit.”

But from the outset they knew that what had happened to them was intended for “all people.” So, they took it to the streets, and before the end of the day, 3,000 people had been added to the community, with daily additions thereafter. The “splash” of the Spirit in Jerusalem became an immediate “ripple effect” that went everywhere and included everyone.

Pentecost is about oneness, and we call it the birthday of the Church because the first Christians recognized the oneness and immediately set about oneing (Julian of Norwich’s word) the world, eventuating in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, where the oneness was acknowledged and declared to be the essence of the Gospel–that “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

I have said this before, but today on Pentecost Sunday, I say it again: oneness is the message and oneing is the ministry. We call it the message and ministry of reconciliation. The lack of both is the fundamental force that is destroying life and the planet. Pentecost is about oneness and oneing, but fallen-world principalities and powers reverse the flow, creating division and all the destructive things which come from it.

Pentecost was the revelation of radical faith–the faith that “all flesh” is in-Spirited. It remains the radical-faith Sunday in the Christian year when we go against the grain of political and religious imperialism to re-experience and declare that “all means all.’ The Church is birthed and re-birthed when we proclaim that Christ has broken down dividing walls so that oneness is our reality and oneing is our mission.

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Christ: Christ is All #2

“Christ in Everyone & Everything”

Continuing our look at Paul’s first three words about Christ, it is important to make clear he was not trying to impose Christianity on any other religion. Rather, he was recognizing the presence of Christ in every religion—and even more, the presence of Christ in everyone and everything.

Thich Nhat Hanh has affirmed this in his writings as a Buddhist. [1] Martin Aronson’s anthology, ‘Jesus and Lao Tzu’ expands the same vision, one the first Christians attributed to Christ’s own testimony, “It is I who am the all. From me did all come forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.” [2]

Paul’s first three words about Christ are declarations of discovery. In this sense we do not take Christ anywhere; we find Christ everywhere. [3] As we live each day, we too must be on the lookout for Christ wherever we go.

[1] His book, ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ’ is his best known teaching about the universal Christ

[2] ‘The Gospel of Thomas,’ saying 77.

[3] This is, in fact, the vision he had as he spoke to the Athenians in Acts 16:16-34.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #1

Read: Introduction

Today we begin our common reading of Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do with Evil?’ I join with you in praying that our experience will be a means of grace. I have heard from a few of you who have gotten the book and already read it. It is that kind of book. I hope our slower pace will now give you an opportunity to read it again with benefit. If you are reading it for the first time, it will quickly seep into your soul.

I had no idea that our reading would be set against the backdrop of so much “in your face” evil. Beginning in our country, the thread of evil winds itself around the world in a suffocating grip. The need for this kind of book is greater than when Rohr wrote it, and greater than when I suggested that we read it together. Evil grows more aggressive and dangerous. But even though the challenges are increasingly formidable, we are not without guidance when it comes to recognizing and resisting it. Rohr’s book is one resource for doing this.

Each Monday, I will write a post related to what we will be reading that particular week. I have intentionally kept each week’s reading brief. Many of you who are on the journey have indicated that you are adding it to your already full life. The “chapter by chapter” approach will take us longer, but hopefully it will make our experience richer…and less frenetic.

In this week’s reading we get a big-picture overview which takes us beyond a personal-sin focus that can prevent us from seeing evil for what it is—a “dirty rotten system” (Dorothy Day) which masquerades as good and godly. But with “eyes to see” (Mark 8:18) evil for what it is, we also recognize God’s systemic salvation (Ephesians 1:9).

Moreover, we realize we are in this thing together, both in terms of our culpability and our call to be instruments of God’s peace in overcoming evil with good here and now.In the first thirteen pages of the book, we know we are in for a transforming experience.

I encourage you to keep a journal or make notes in the book itself (there is ample white space to do this), so that you can record your experience. Use the format most natural for you, but here some possible reflection questions,
(1) What’s the “big idea” I received?
(2) Why is it important for me to have right now?
(3) How can I practice it in my life?
(4) How can I use it for the good of others?

Finally, here are the dates for the four Zoom sessions we will have for our online holy conferencing. As per Zoom regulations, we will meet for 40 minutes. The sessions begin at Noon (Eastern Time, USA). I will include the meeting link in the “Engage” post the Monday before the Zoom session. The dates for the meetings are, June 17, July 15, August 5, and August 25. Note that the last meeting is on a Thursday; the other sessions are on Friday.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me using the Oboedire email: oboediresite@ gmail.com
Off we go!

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New UMC: Normal New

Not long after the pandemic began, and church changed in all sorts of ways, people began to ask, “How long before we get back to normal?” The question morphed into the sense that some things have changed permanently, and that we are moving into a new normal. The question became, “What will the new normal look like?”

I resonate with both questions, but I no longer see the future as getting back to normal or moving into a new normal. My reason for viewing things differently is with respect to the word ‘normal’ when it is the noun. Whether old or new, when ‘normal’ is the noun, it is the word where our thinking begins—in whatever categories our understanding of ‘normal’ exist. I no longer think the word ‘normal’ (old or new) as a noun is the way forward. I am moving it into the place of an adjective…

The Normal New.

I do not have this all thought out, but I want to offer it as a template for envisioning the new United Methodist Church. I offer the following ideas, but I do so as one who is still on the path of discerning what it might mean. A Normal New.

New is the noun. This means we are not engaged in recovering, restoring, reinvigorating, or remodeling anything. Or to say it another way: there are no sacred cows or status quos to protect and defend. If we are in Christ, we are new creations; the old must pass away so that the new can come (2 Corinthians 5:17). If we do not live in this truth, our default ‘normal’ will take over and inhibit the “new creation” journey.

E. Stanley Jones saw that inhibiting when he attended a conference in 1938 in Madras, India. It was a conference intended to bring the Christian denominations in India together, to restore greater ecumenism and cooperation. But it did not happen, and Jones left deeply disappointed, writing that,

“I missed a church which started from where Jesus started, the Kingdom of God, and found a church which started with itself and therefore, largely ended with itself…dangerously near to fulfilling the statement of Jesus when he said, ‘he that saveth his life shall lose it.’’ I missed a church which said the Kingdom of God is the hope of the church and of the world, and found instead a church which said, ‘I am the hope of the world.’ I missed a church loyal to the Kingdom of God and found a church loyal to its own fellowship.” [1]

This is exactly why ‘normal’ must not be the noun. It takes over before God has the opportunity to get in a word edgewise. We cannot avoid this, especially if we have hung out in the institutional Church for any length of time. It is just where our conditioned minds go. But to acknowledge this is where God’s future has a chance to be seen. The new UMC will become new if new is the noun. The sky is the limit when new is the noun.

So…what about normal? If it is the adjective, we can use it without it using us. As an adjective it is a servant, not a master. It holds in view the reality that movements cannot exist without manners, methods, and machinery. The content has to have a container. The first Christians soon discovered this after Christ ascended (Acts 2:42 onward). The emergence of the new UMC will require some kind of manifestation. Faith and form are distinct, but not divided.

So….here I am. In search of a Normal New—God’s new creation, the Kingdom of God. I have miles to go before I sleep. But I have awakened to a fresh vision that is cleaning the lens through which I am trying to look to see the new UMC.

A Normal New.

[1] Quoted in ’30 Days With E. Stanley Jones’ by John E. Harnish (Front Edge Publishing, 2022), 82. The statement was one Jones wrote in an article in The Christian Century magazine in 1938 entitled, “What I Missed at Madras.”

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Christ: Christ Is All #1

“Jesus is Lord”

The earliest Christian statement of faith was, “Jesus is Lord.” Paul’s words, “Chris is all” are another way of saying the same thing No matter how the first Christians said it, it was a radical affirmation, announcing the belief that Jesus was Yahweh incarnate, and that Caesar was not Lord, as he claimed to be. Three words reset the religious and cultural world. They also ignited intense persecution against Christians (Hebrews 11).

But there was more going on. John Wesley pointed to it in his notes on the Old Testament, showing that the ‘jah’ in Yahweh was the ‘jao’ in Taoism and other Eastern religions. [1] In other words, the first Christians affirmed Christ in the broadest way possible.

Paul’s words are a three-word synonym, with the same comprehensiveness. Today, we might put it this way, “Christ is reality.” This is not triumphalism, it’s testimony. This is the cosmic Christ, of whom nothing fuller can be said. [2]

[1] John Wesley’s comment is found at Psalm 68:4 in his ‘Notes on the Bible,’ still available in multiple formats.

[2] Matthew Fox, ‘The Coming of the Cosmic Christ’ (Harper & Row, 1988).

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Engage: The Transformation Pattern

Next week, we begin our common reading of Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?” Next week’s post (and each Monday thereafter) will serve as a guide for our group.

But before we get into the details given to us in the book, we need to see that it is a resource set against the background of what Rohr calls “the pattern for spiritual transformation.” [1] It unfolds through three phases,

ORDER…in this phase we establish an identity, world view, belief system, group affiliations etc. that give us a sense of place and security. This first phase is essential, but given the propensity of egotism and ethnocentrism to create comfort zones and sacred cows, we can turn anything into an idol, which then moves us to defend it and resist change. But if we are to move with the fresh wind of the Spirit filling our sails, we must understand that “the old” must pass away in order for “the new” to come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

DISORDER…in this phase we experience “system failure” of some kind. Disorder is liminal space, an in-between time that ignites a necessary emptying which then leads to an infilling. We feel disoriented, unsure, and insecure as our status quos and sacred cows fall by the wayside. We do not know where we will go, but we know we cannot go back. God is calling us to leave one thing and go to another (Genesis 12:1).

REORDER…little-by-little we enter a new phase, seeing and hearing differently. A reorientation ignites new associations and actions. We are new creations who “engage ourselves unto the Lord” in fresh ways. In the context of this “Engage” series, the reordering includes a nonviolent resistance to evil, overcoming it with good. We experience life together with others who have offered themselves to God in this regard.

These phases can occur in relation to the stages of human development, but they are not just three phases we go through between birth and death. They are repeated processes which continue the “tearing down and building up” (dying/rising) experience in maturation. They are confirmations of impermanence, and reminders that to grow is to change. We are always “in the making” (as E. Stanley Jones described it), moving from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Reading Richard Rohr’s book, beginning next Monday, will assist us in maturing us with respect to how we respond to evil. I am looking forward to this common-reading experience with you.

[1] He introduced the pattern in his book, ‘The Universal Christ’ (pages 253-248). He has since written a book that further develops the concept, ‘The Wisdom Pattern.’

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Along the Way: Another Inquisition

Jeannie and I have stood in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. I imagine some of you reading this have as well. It was one of the main locations (there were many others across Europe) for the Inquisition. [1]

Alleged infidels were rounded up and interrogated by “the righteous.” With unbridled authority, they could unilaterally determine who was in and who was out. Expulsion was without due process and recourse. Dismissal was immediate.

If the guilt was grave, they were led across the plaza, down a long stairway, and on to a place (where a memorial cross now stands) where they were beheaded. All “in the name of God” and for the upholding of orthodoxy. The inquisitionists rejoiced. Jesus wept.

We have entered another inquisitional age, where self-righteous tribunals have declared themselves to be God-appointed guardians of true faith. In their “pure church” councils and enclaves, they define orthodoxy to suit their aims, one of which is the exclusion of those who are not like them. Their prayer book begins, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…” (Luke 18:9).

Nancy Pelosi’s being barred from Holy Communion by the Archbishop of San Francisco is the latest illustration of the inquisitional spirit. But it It is not a Roman Catholic problem; the spirit is alive and well in Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and non-denominational Christianity. It is active and dangerous in other world religions.

But keeping things in the context of Christianity, it is the spirit by which Christian fundamentalism/nationalism advances–a legalism that traffics in shaming. [2] And like the Inquisition, great harm is done–harm that was viewed as “defending the faith” at the time, but in retrospect is seen to have been destroying it.

And so it will be again.

[1] We usually think of the Inquisition as a short-lived, intense persecution. But in all its iterations it ran from 1184–1834.

[2] Diana Butler Bass’ post on May 4th, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” (part of a larger series about Christian fundamentalism) reveals how shaming is a deformative tactic.

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Site Update: New LGBTQ+ Resource

On the Oboedire home page, you will find the “LGBTQ+ Resources” icon at the top of the page.

I have added an outline entitled, “All Means All: A Wesleyan Theology of LGBTQ+ Affirmation.” It utilizes the Wesleyan quadrilateral as the interpretive lens for developing a theology of affirmation and inclusion within which the church offers to LGBTQ+ people all of its sacraments, ceremonies, offices, and ministries.

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Christ: All Means All

[Note: As this series unfolds, just a reminder that I am writing it because I believe that Christology is not an abstract theologizing, but rather is at the heart of the new Awakening. This series will, over time, develop a vision of the universal Christ (excarnate and incarnate) which is our means of recovering the oneness we must have if we are to survive. Today’s post makes this point.]

“Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

I agree with E. Stanley Jones when he said of this verse, “Nothing in all literature can compare with this.” [1] These six words provide the summary of who Christ is. In our time of new Awakening, Paul’s words have become the lens through which I look to see God’s work, and in Christ I see the One who is the source, substance and spirit of it. I understand the new Awakening in relation to the universal Christ.

The first thing we see is the comprehensiveness of Christ’s person and work. Paul breaks the six-word message into two three-word parts, and the word ‘all’ is used in both. All means all.

I see this in the first doublet: Christ is all. I have affirmed this from the outset of my profession of faith in Christ in 1963. The second doublet: Christ is in all, has been a newer discovery, although I now see how far back seeds of this were being sown which are now bearing fruit. This is where we begin in seeing Christ as the heart of it all. We will spend extra time exploring Paul’s words: “Christ is all and in all.” All means all.

[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), Week 40, Saturday

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Along the Way: Now More Than Ever

Recently on a phone call with a former student who is struggling spiritually, I said to him, “I am more in love with Christ than I have ever been.” I spoke the words as an encouragement to him; the words fit the moment and context of our conversation. But as I shared them, they encouraged me too, and my soul rose up to exclaim, “It’s true! I really am in love with Christ now more than ever.”

Some would not say that of me. To them I have “gone down the slippery slope,” or to say it another way, I have “gone off the map and sailed where there be dragons.” But despite their allegations, I declare, “I am more in love with Christ than I have ever been.”

Why do I say this? Because I see him everywhere and in everything. As Paul put it, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11), and I agree with E. Stanley Jones that those six words are the most important ones ever written. [1] They increase my vision of Christ, and the expansion increases my love.

One way to say it is this: I do not have Christ, he has me. And more, as Christians, we do not have Christ, he has us. And in that relationship Christ says, “Follow me, and I will show you what I am up to.” In that following he says over and over, “Look, I am here”…..”Look, I am there.” Then he blows all the sides out of my box and says, “I am Alpha and Omega.” And just as those words transformed John’s vision on Patmos, they transform mine in Florida.

The universal Christ has me now in ways I never experienced, and with it comes the increase of love. It is no accident that when Paul described the “in Christ” life (2 Corinthians 5:17), the next thing he mentioned was that those who are in Christ are given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5;18-19)—the ministry of being instruments of God’s peace for the restoration of oneness willed by God in the beginning. It is living in the new Awakening (at the heart an awakening of love) in ways that witness to the grand truth that “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), and that just as all died in Adam, all will be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22). All means all.

It all happens as the cosmic Christ is on the move everywhere and in everyone telling them every way he can, “You are God’s beloved. This is my Father’s world.” And….he includes us in the privilege of getting that word out to everyone through our attitudes and actions, our words and deeds.

It is impossible not to love Christ more when this magnificent revelation washes onto the shore of your soul as a fresh wave of grace (John 1:16). I am not on a slippery slope, “I’m pressing on the upward way. New heights I’m gaining every day. Still praying as I’m upward bound, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.” [2]

[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), Week 40, Saturday.

[2] Hymn, “Higher Ground.”

[This post also appears on Ob

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Engage: A New Awakening

Last week I stated my conviction that we are living in a new Awakening. [1] I also refer to our time as “living in a Micah moment” (Micah 6:8.) It is a time of global crisis brought on by imperialism (collusion between politics and religion), demagogic leadership, and manifested in a plethora of ways that do great harm. It is a time that preserves supremacists who enrich the few at the expense of the many.

A Micah moment is also a time of opportunity—a time in which we “engage ourselves unto the Lord” (John Wesley) both to take aim and take action in overcoming evil with good. It is a time of deep trust that God is light, and that the darkness will not ultimately prevail (John 1:5).

The nouns in Micah 6:8 inspire us to take aim at justice, kindness, and humility. We aim for life that promotes the common good, shows compassion, and eschews hubris.

The verbs in Micah 6:8 enable us to take action through doing, loving, and walking. We enact long-haul discipleship, relating to everyone graciously, and doing so in every area of our lives.

In her book, ‘Fortune,’ Lisa Sharon Harper describes our time as an invitation from God to fix what is broken. In this time of new Awakening, we are players, not spectators. And thanks to Micah, we know where and what the Lord requires of us.

Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?’ is an excellent common reader to expand on Micah’s message. We begin reading it together on May 30th. You have time to get it and become part of the “Engage Group” experience. If you decide to do so, there is no formal registration, but it would be nice to know you will be on the journey. Use the Oboedire email (oboediresite@gmail.com) to let me know.

[1] I have a “New Awakening” series on Oboedire. It fleshes out what I only mention in this post. It is archived on the home page sidebar.

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Christ: The Universal Christ

Revelation 1:8, 22:13

We begin our look at Christ using the most expansive words he spoke about himself. From these words we derive our belief in the cosmic Christ, universal in his excarnate and incarnate person and work. The words he spoke to John open and close the Book of Revelation, framing the letter’s message…and our faith.

‘Alpha and Omega’ is a phrase of height, depth, width, length, breadth, and time. It means all-encompassing. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said this himself, “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone and you will find me there” (saying 77). [1]

John was soaking all this up as he followed the incarnate Christ (Jesus) all the way through to his experience of the excarnate Christ on Patmos. His gospel and four letters (1,2,3 John and Revelation) reveal the universal Christ. And so we sing that Christ is “so high we can’t get over him, so low we can’t get under him, so wide we can’t get around him.” Once we see him in his glory, we do not want to.

[1] James M. Robinson, ed , ‘The Nag Hammadi Library,’ revised edition (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), 135.

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Engage: Heading Toward the Light

Without reminding you about things you already know, I begin by saying we are likely in for hard times. I expect this will occur on multiple fronts…all at once. We are living in trying and dangerous times.

I do not say this as a “dooms day” pundit. I believe we are in a time of Awakening, but the journey into it will be more challenging than ever before. The old does not “pass away” quickly or easily as the new comes (2 Corinthians 5:17). And as the Awakening advances, it will be “new” in more ways than we can predict. Many of our sacred cows, status quos, security systems, and comfort zones will fall by the wayside, leaving us to live in what Richard Rohr calls, “the naked now.”

Living as Rohr envisions it calls for a thorough cleaning of the lens so that we “see as the mystics see”—that is, see discerningly with both realism and hope. It is “having eyes to see” as Jesus put it in Mark 8:18. Living well in this time of Awakening requires realism and resolve. It means having faith even when what we hope for is not seen (Hebrews 11:1), and that faith (as the rest of Hebrews 11 shows) includes suffering. But it is a journey in which we are heading toward the light.

In our day, new-awakening living includes knowing what to do with evil. Hence, our use of Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?’ as our first common reader. If you intend to participate in the “Engage” group experience, you still have time to get the book. We begin reading it together on May 30.

We are living in perilous times. But as we do so, we are heading toward the Light. God is doing a new thing today (Isaiah 43:19). We can live abundantly and be instruments of God’s peace in these days. I hope “Engage” will contribute to that for you.

You do not have to formally register to be in the group. But if you intend to do so, I would like to hear from you. Use the Oboedire email (oboediresite@gmail.com) to be in touch.

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Christ: An Amazing Revelation

John 20:30, 21:25

Writings about Christ begin in various ways. I choose to begin this series using the word ‘amazing.’ I take my cue from John, who gathered up his experience of Christ with this sentiment and testimony. I say the same. Everything about Christ is summed up in the word ‘amazing.’

For one thing, It is amazing how little we know about Christ. This will be clear in the posts having to do with the excarnate Christ, but as John noted, the same can be said about the incarnate Christ, whom we call Jesus. The four gospels give us accounts of about ninety days of his life, with a few passages looking beyond Christ’s time on earth. But taking everything into account, it is only a glimpse—again as John pointed out.

But even a glimpse of Christ is amazing, and that is how I want to begin this journey into Christ. In the Bible (including Deuterocanonical books) and outside it (e.g. the Nag Hammadi texts), the little we know about Christ has been enough for people to live and die for him, and to bear his name. Amazing! I hope what you will read in this series will keep the word ‘amazing’ in your heart and mind and on your lips as a whispered prayer response to your experience of Christ.

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Engage: Introduction

Living in a New Awakening means living in a time of disorder. [1] The twisting and turning leaves us hopeful some days, and discouraged on other days. It helps explain the two aspects of faith the writer of Hebrews wrote about– “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1). The rest of the chapter describes the disorder Christians were experiencing.

To live well in such a time requires courage and community. [2] The book of Hebrews sought to offer both to the early Christians. The “Engage” component of Oboedire begins today, with the aim of assisting in the formation of both these attributes today.

Community will occur through common reading, a formative practice used in Christianity and other religions for a long time. Courage will be fostered by reading books that look realistically at the time in which we live, looking at this time with hope, and looking at it with the intent to (as John Wesley put it), “engage ourselves unto the Lord.” [3] He meant an engagement rooted and enacted in relation to the two great commandments with the increase of personal and social holiness in our lives.

The book we will read together first is Richard Rohr’s ‘What Do We Do With Evil?’ It is exactly the way I want “Engage” to begin, for it asks the question we are all asking, and it provides wise counsel in response to it. It increases our courage for living well.

The book can be ordered directly on the Center for Action and Contemplation website (cac.org), via Amazon Books (not Kindle Books), or through an independent bookseller near you. [4] With postal delays increasing, order the book soon to insure it arrives in time for us to begin reading it together on May 30th.

Between now and then, I will add some additional “Engage” posts. From May 30th onward, I will post a brief weekly guide for each week’s reading.

Community will also happen through occasional Zoom meetings while we are reading the book, occasions where we can share insights, ask questions, and practice the means of grace called holy conferencing. I will announce these meetings in advance and provide the link for joining the 40-minute meeting. I plan to offer the them at Noon (Eastern Time). Through each one we will experience what Eugene Peterson called “the ministry of small talk.”

Everything on Oboedire is voluntary. You do not have to register to be part of the “Engage” group. But if you would like me to know you are joining the journey, send me an email: oboediresite@gmail.com. It would be nice to have an idea as to who and how many of us are on the journey.

My intent is to follow our reading of Rohr’s book with Walter Brueggemann’s ‘Tenacious Solidarity.’ He expands on many things we will discover from Richard Rohr, with applications to economics, racism, climate, and religion. Reading these two books together will be a rich experience for us. The two books will lay a good foundation upon which we can build. And more, they will give us a place to stand in our respective ministries of engagement.

The “Engage” journey is more of a marathon than a sprint. “Engaging ourselves unto the Lord” is not an event or a program; it is an ongoing commitment we make. And it is one facilitated through a “life together” practice. I hope the “Engage” experience will be a means of encouragement and education to that end.

You can read more about “Engage” on the top of the Oboedire home page by clicking on the “Engage Group” icon

[1] Richard Rohr describes the journey in his book, ‘The Wisdom Pattern’–the transformative process of moving from order, to disorder, to reorder.


[2] The Courage Renewal movement begun by Parker Palmer years ago offers a wealth of resources for cultivating courage and enacting it through nonviolent resistance.


[3] This phrase was part of the invitation extended to worshippers in the Covenant Renewal Service of early Methodism. It was an annual means to keep the flame of long-haul discipleship burning. It is still used today. Magrey deVega’s book, ‘One Faithful Promise’ is an excellent exploration of the Service and the importance of covenant living faith.


[4] On some sights, the book is entitled, ‘The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: What Do We Do With Evil?”—which moves the original subtitle to the main title.

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New UMC: Withness

This is the final post in this series, at least in the sense of an opening round of posts. I may add to it as time goes by.

I have written with the confidence that the new UMC has a “future filled with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11), as we move forward to develop and express an inclusive theology of love. “All means all” is a controversial declaration, but it is the Gospel, and it is the message for such a time as this—a time of new Awakening when God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19) and we are called to join in. [1]

In Wesleyan language, this means we are called “to serve the present age.” [2] As a third-order movement, early Methodism was positioned and energized to do so. And as we recover a third-order mindset, we can be too.

Summarizing this for me has come down to the word ‘withness.’ It is not a word I came up with, but one I have discovered as I have developed the first round of posts in this series. It comes directly from the book, ‘Contextual Intelligence’ co-authored by Leonard Sweet and Michael Beck. But as I have seen how they use it (to call the Church to renewal), I recognize it is an expression of something I have known about for a long time: incarnational ministry. [3]

Withness is another way to describe the Immanuel Principle—that God is with us, and our life with God issues from this Reality. [4] Withness is a good word to connect the idea of Third Orders to the new UMC, with early Methodism as a third-order movement that illustrates the idea in theology and ministry. The new UMC will be a “withness” manifestation. Here are some ways that I see this playing out.

First, being with each other. Formative community is the root which produces the fruit of authentic witness. Making disciples (not converts or members) begins with ourselves before it becomes a ministry to others. Without this, we have little or nothing to invite people to join. [5]

Second, being with the times. This is the continuous process of discernment necessary for congregations to “serve the present age” with intellectual, emotional, and social intelligence. This keeps us informed and responsive, enabling us to be an adaptive church in a changing world.

Third, being with our location. This is the withness of concrete presence that keeps the church grounded, literally. This is the hands-on expression of incarnational ministry that keeps individual congregations visible and neighborly. We cannot claim to be missional if those nearest to us are underserved.

Fourth, being with those who check us out. When people make the effort to seek us out (by attendance, conversation, or online), we must be ready to tell them who we are (identity) and extend to them all the sacraments, ceremonies, and offices/ministries of Christianity (hospitality). As they say, we only have one chance to make a first impression.

Fifth, being with the world. Each day, we fan out all over the world serving Christ through “many services.” Here is where in-person and virtual ministries give 21st century meaning to “the priesthood of all believers” as the new UMC continues to say, The world is our parish.”

These are all expressions of life together. They address the “nones and dones” concern that the church is irrelevant to them, or worse, a negative influence. They speak to Christians who have suspected that there is more to discipleship than church membership. They connect the daily practice of our vocations to the mission of God. Withness is what the world needs. We are destroying ourselves and the earth for lack of it.

As a third-order movement, the new UMC has the opportunity to be one of the wineskins into which God’s new wine can be poured and through which it can be poured out. What could be more exciting than that?

[1] The “New Awakening” series on Oboedire looks at this in a larger context. The new UMC is only one means God is using to bring it to pass. You can follow this series to see the bigger picture.

[2] Charles Wesley, “A Charge to Keep.”

[3] Richard Foster develops this in his book, ‘Streams of Living Water.’

[4] Richard Foster develops the Immanuel Principle in his book, ‘Life With God,’ and this idea is the organizing design for the ‘Life With God Bible’ produced by the Renovaré ministry.

[5] I have benefitted greatly in my understanding of “making disciples” from Dallas Willard’s writings, especially ‘The Divine Conspiracy’ and ‘Renovation of the Heart.’ This has shaped my view of spiritual formation, standing along with Robert Mulholland in his books, ‘Invitation to a Journey’ and ‘The Deeper Journey’ and with Richard Foster in his books, ‘Celebration o Discipline’ and ‘Life With God.’ The Renovaré ministry, the Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation, the Dallas Willard Institute, and Richard Rohr’s Living School are four examples of ministries that teach this understanding of discipleship formation.

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