Holy Love: Introduction

This past May my book, ‘Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality,’ was published by Abingdon Press.  As with its predecessor, ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ (Abingdon Press, 2014), the book describes my journey into becoming an ally with LGBTQ+ people, an advocacy rooted in the revelation of Scripture and my accompanying interpretation of it.

‘Holy Love’ is not only being read by individuals, it is also being used in various group settings.  In light of this, I am beginning this new Oboedire  blog series to further explore the book and the larger subject of love in the Christian tradition. [1]  I hope it will enrich your personal and group reading of the book.

This new series begins with introductory posts related to my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing: Living in God’s New Pentecost.’ [2]  I have come to see that this larger work of God is the context within which a theology of human sexuality must exist.  So, I want to begin with ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’  Following these opening posts, I will write weekly ones that follow the flow of ‘ Holy Love.’

I hope you will join me on this journey.  If you like, use the coming week to get ‘Fresh Wind Blowing’ and ‘Holy Love,’ so you can connect these posts to the books on which they’re based. And if you know others whom you think would be interested, invite them to follow this series as well.  The world in general and the LGBTQ+ community is longing to be loved.  I have written the book ‘Holy Love’ and this related series with the hope that it will be one thing God uses to help us say, “yes” to God’s call to be lovers to everyone and everything.  All means all.

[1]I wrote a similar series related to ‘For the Sake of the Bride.’ from September 5, 2014 through July 31, 2015. You can find them archived on the righthand sidebar of the Oboedire home page under the category named “For the Bride.”

[2] Steve Harper, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing’ Living in God’s New Pentecost’ (Cascade Books, 2013).  It is available in paperback and as an ebook.

Posted in Holy Love

In-Sight: Life is One, Together

[Note: “In-Sight” has been an ongoing , occasional series here on Oboedire for some time.  Previous posts are archived on the righthand sidebar of the Oboedire home page.  The series resumes today as a monthly (first Saturday) post that explores the spiritual life from a range of vantage points, noting specific things that are getting my attention these days]

If I were pressed to name only one thing today that threatens the spiritual life more than any other, I would choose the absence of oneness in the world.  Separatism is our greatest peril. We are a divided people, separated from others, the creation, and our own selves.  We are splintered into innumerable dualities and factions, rooted in fear and expressed in self-preservation programs of all kinds.  The loss of the common good threatens life now and puts the future in jeopardy.

Sister Joan Brown describes our dilemma, “If we are unable to see that we are in communion with another, we will not realize that what we do to ourselves, we do to the other and to the earth. Likewise, we do not realize that, ultimately, our lack of understanding turns back toward us in violence, whether that is fear of other races and diversity, or destruction of Earth because we see the natural world as an object rather than a subject with interiority.“[1]

Similarly, John Muir, who observed nature up close and personal wrote,  “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” [2]  Human life is no exception.  Separatism is the great illusion, oneness is the grand reality. Wonder is Oneder.

When we serve the causes of separatism (and there are many ways to do it), we are living in reverse of what God intends and what Jesus prayed for, that “they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21).  Every major religion shares the aim of awakening us to the Reality that all of life is of God, and exists in God and for God.

Hinduism speaks of God present in the forest and in the cave of the heart.  Buddhism sees everyone and everything in the context of enlightenment.  Taoism embraces all of life within the Way.  Judaism teaches that no matter where we go, God is there (Psalm 139).  Islam says that “Whithersoever you turn, there is the face of God” (The Qur’an, Al-Baqara, 2:115).

In the Christian tradition, this Reality is summed up in one sentence, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11, NRSV).  E. Stanley Jones said of this verse, “Nothing in all literature can compare with this.” [3]  Christ, the eternal second Person of the Holy Trinity, is universally and pervasively present in everyone and everything (see John 1:3). [4]

Oneness is the source (Deuteronomy 6:4) and substance (Galatians 3:28) of life.  Oneing is the ministry (i.e. reconciliation) God has called us to engage in (2 Corinthians 5:18), so that there can be an emerging alignment between the way life is meant to be here and now and how it will ultimately be when God’s eternal plan is fulfilled, “to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).   John Wesley recognized this comprehensive oneness, commenting that God’s purpose is to “recapitulate, reunite, and place in order again under Christ, their common head…all angels and people, whether living or dead, in the Lord. ” [5]

The implications of this are manifold, but one that’s particularly important for us today is the recognition that life as God intends it is deformed  when partisanship, division, discrimination, and nationalism make separatism (and the superiorities it creates) the prevailing view and operative energy of life.   E. Stanley Jones put it simply, “You can’t grow on a No” and that to turn life into negative dualisms is to contribute to the process of decay. [6]

More recently, Richard Rohr has voiced the same sentiment, “the divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms of the world can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, in inter-religious dialogue, and spirituality in particular. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (re-ligio = to re-ligament!).” [7]  Thomas Keating echoes the same sentiment,  “Jesus’ teaching about the unity of the human family as the most urgent expression of the will of God must upstage every other value and consideration.” [8]

We have our marching orders for the time in which we live: to remove walls that divide, and reveal to a fractured and fragmented world that our existence is a total life immersion in God, in whom we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28).  We are one reality (creation), one family (humanity), sharing a one responsibility (the preservation and enrichment of all forms of life). Whatever life we have on this planet will be life together.

[1] “The Nonviolent Life,” daily eletter, 7/10/2019.

[2] Quoted in ‘Brain Pickings,’ 7/14/2019

[3] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), 296  Week 40, Saturday

[4] For more about this, see Richard Rohr, ‘The Universal Christ’ (Convergent Books, 2019).

[5] John Wesley, ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (1755), many editions since.  Commentary note on Ephesians 1:10.

[6] E. Stanley Jones, ‘Growing Spiritually’ (Pierce & Washabaugh, 1953), 106, 110. [Pagination from the Abingdon Festival Book edition, 1978)

[7] Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” Oneing journal, Volume 1, Number 1 (CAC Publications ,2013), loc 188.

[8] “Word of the Week,” Contemplative Outreach, 7/14/2019.

Posted in In-Sight

Here and Now: Rosa Parks

I deliberately write about Rosa Parks today, to point through her to the power of here-and-now living, and that with respect to nonviolent resistance to injustice and racism.  Her decision not to give up her seat on the Montgomery city bus was one made in relation to a present-moment challenge that reflected an abiding evil.  It created a ripple effect that continues to this day. [1]

Through Rosa Parks we are reminded of the power which ordinary people possess to overcome evil with good–and to do so with respect to everyday things, in her case, a seat on a bus.  Parks knew that the routine things of life are where the moral conscience is formed. She personified Jesus’ call for us to be faithful in little things (Luke 16:10).

Moreover, her refusal to move put flesh and blood on the Bible’s definition of justice, pointing to a quality of life in which all people are given what they need to thrive, not just the few.  Her present-moment living was rooted in the fact that all people are made in the image of God and are persons of sacred worth, worth which affords them access to what others already have.

One of the most evil things in the world is the denial of human rights, which can be touted in the present moment without being actualized in it.  A strange ethic of deferral exists that puts the establishment of justice at an unspecified time in the future.  Martin Luther King wrote about this evil in his letter from the Birmingham jail, noting that it was a view held by Christians who alleged to share his convictions regarding injustice, but said “not now” with respect to putting them into practice.

Rosa Parks stands as a living denial to any “not now” view of life that neutralizes and prevents the enactment of righteousness in the present moment.  There is only one place and time for holiness: here and now.

[1] Jeanne Theoharis’ award-winning book, ‘The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks’ (Beacon Press, 2013) reveals the depth and breadth of Parks’ life and work in the civil rights movement.

Posted in Here and Now

Here and Now: Dorothy Day

When I think of Dorothy Day, I immediately connect her life and work to Jesus’ words, “as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).  She welcomed the stranger and showed compassion to those in need in ways that continue to inspire and instruct us today. [1]

And of course, the only place we can do this is here-and-now.  Dorothy Day’s diaries and letters are filled with one example after another confirming in spades that she lived her life this way.  She once described her meditation as taking place “here, there, and everywhere–at the kitchen table, on the train, on the ferry, on my way to and from appointments, and even while making supper or putting Teresa to bed.” [2]

Everything she referred to is a present-moment experience.  And in many ways, her statement summarizes everything we are attempting to say and emulate about here-and-now living.  Dorothy Day recognized the sacredness of each moment, seeing it as an invitation to penetrate the surface and discover God present and active in all people and things. 

This is present-moment mysticism; that is “having eyes to see and ears to hear” in ways that keeps the flame of love burning in our heart and moves us into a loving engagement with all of life.  As with everyone else we are looking at in this series (and anyone else, for that matter), the forms and practiced Dorothy used may or may not be the ones God calls us to use.  But the intention to live here-and-now will be the lens for seeing that every moment is a God moment, and that we live in each moment as participants, not observers.

[1] Her autobiography, ‘The Long Loneliness’ (Harper & Row, 1952) enables us to see all this directly from her own words.

[2] Michael Garvey, ed., ‘Dorothy Day: Selections from Her Writings’ (Templegate Publishers, 1966), 15.

Posted in Here and Now

Beginning Year Ten

Today marks the ninth anniversary of Oboedire.  I had no idea when I began this blog that it would go on this long or take the shape that it has.  But as they say, it is what it is.

Over these years, a mass of materials have been written and archived. You can track them chronologically and categorically on the righthand sidebar. But there is a new way to access and interact with previous posts.

Many posts have been part of extended series.  These offer readers the opportunity to explore something over a longer period of time. I have created a new icon on the Oboedire home page that lists these thematic posts: “Navigating the Site.”  It is the easiest and best way to see the emphases Oboedire has addressed over the years, and these themes can now serve as resources for personal reflection and/or group study.

As year ten begins, the 2019 theme, “Here and Now” continues each Wednesday. I am spending the year showing how the spiritual life is lived in the present moment. I hope you have been following the series.  If not, but you’d like to, it is archived on the Oboedire home page.

Moving into Year Ten, I want you to know about two new features for Oboedire: 

(1) The longrunning “In-Sight” category will now be a monthly post the first Saturday of each month, beginning August 3rd.  The posts give me the opportunity to write to you about things currently getting my attention, and to look at the spiritual life in a variety of ways.

(2) A new weekly category, “Holy Love,” will explore matters related to my book of the same title (a kind of between-the-lines author conversation with you, a resource for personal reflection and for groups using the book). It begins on August 5th. [1]

Some of you have been fellow pilgrims on the Oboedire path since it began.  Others of you have come along since.  I thank you for joining the journey.  I hope you have found it helpful.

Obordire grows as you let others know about it.  WordPress has added a “share” feature that makes it easy and quick to put a post on your own social media.  And as always, you can tell folks about Oboedire and invite them to subscribe.

Please continue to pray for me as I develop the Oboedire ministry.  The aim of these posts remains the same as when Oboedire first began: to be a means to help you cultivate an attentive spirituality that matures you in your faith and inspires you to be a servant of God in the world.

Blessings!  Steve

[1] Steve Harper, ‘Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality’ (Abingdon Press, 2019). It is available in paperback and ebook formats.

Posted in Site Updates

Here and Now: Thomas Merton

We are fortunate to have the journals, letters, writings, and recordings of Thomas Merton.  Even a cursory walk through them confirms Merton’s intention to live in the here-and-now.  Today, I illustrate his commitment in these ways.

First, he embraced the Cistercian vision of the monastery as a school of love and owned the Cistercian intention to be a total ‘yes’ to the will of God. [1]  Merton knew he was a complicated person whose energy and interests took him in many directions.  He knew he had to estsblish a center–a reference point, a point of return, a core.  The Cistercian tradition provided him with the ingredients to live in that center.

Second, within days of arriving at the Abbey of Gethdemani (12/10/1941), we find him engaged in the common life of this Cistercian community with the intent of improving what he found there.  He could do this because of his obvious great love for the life he had vowed to live.  So, even when fellow monks and abbots disagreed with him, they never saw him as someone throwing stones. 

Merton’s early observations grew into a larger effort to be an instrument for monastic renewal.  He never did this with an eye on the future that was detached from the present moment.  Every discovery could be applied here and now, and we can see how his little-by-little appropriation of those learnings affected life together at Gethsemani, and other places as well. [2]

Third, Merton’s commitment to renewal in the present moment was larger than monasticism, or the Church.  It was societal and global.  So, it is not surprising that he became a voice in the civil rights movement in The United States and in the larger peace movement around the world. Without leaving the monastic life, Merton’s deep contemplation about the time in which he was living gave him an authentic voice to which activists to this day pay attention and from which they learn. [3]

The maturing of his developing present-moment living (according to Merton himself) occurred at the intersection of Fourth & Walnut in Louisville, on March 18, 1958.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, he saw everyone there “shining like the sun.” In that present moment, Merton’s love for all people, and his sense of belonging to all people (and their belonging to him) was like “waking from a dream of separateness.”  And being awakened, he put it into here-and-now words by writing, “the gate of heaven is everywhere.” [4]

There is no greater attachment to or investment in present-moment living than that.

[1] M. Basil Pennington, ‘A School of Love: The Cistercian Way to Holiness’ (Morehouse Publishing, 2000).

[2] After his death in 1968, many of Merton’s thoughts about monastic renewal were compiled in the book, ‘Contemplation in a World of Action’ (Image Books, 1973).  Merton was putting together most of the material in the book before he died.  Friends added to what he had compiled, providing readers with other of Merton’s writings on monastic renewal.  In 1978, another book was compiled, ‘The Monastic Journey’ (Image Books) which added even more content to the subject.

[3] Jim Forest has written an excellent book about Merton’s ministry of social reform.  It is entitled, ‘The Root of War is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peace-Makers (Orbis Books, 2016).

[4] Thomas Merton, ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’ (Image Books, 1965), 156-158.  To grasp the full significance of Merton’s experience, you should read his complete account of it, not just the oft-quoted excerpts.  And of additional note is the fact that Merton included this experience in his final address as novice master (August 20, 1965) before moving full-time into his hermitage at Gethsemani.

Posted in Here and Now

Here and Now: Jean-Pierre de Caussade

We come to Jean-Pierre de Caussade about halfway in this series, but he was actually the first person through whom I learned about here-and-now living.  His book, ‘The Sacrament of the Present Moment’ gave me the opportunity to ponder what I now see is a classical concept in both Christianity and other religions as well. [1]. There are numerous insights in the book.  In this post I will only look at two, using the two titles of the book as focal points.

First, the present moment as sacrament.  This is because every moment is sacred; that is, it is a moment where love prevails and grace is given.  We need not look elsewhere. Grace abounds here-and-now.  God comes to us in the present moment to give us what we need. 

Grace comes in many packages: blessings, strengthenings, convictions, warnings, provisions, etc.  Grace comes in a variety of ways because each moment is different.  The present moment is sacred because it is the chronos/kairos intersection where God offers what we need in the moment. Grace is God’s providence.

Second, the response to grace is abandonment to God’s providence.  Like every other religion, Christianity rejects the notion of automatic grace.  Of course we experience grace irrespective of our awareness of it.  But we grow in grace by participation.  De Caussade describes it as fruit ripening through good tending of it.  Abandonment is the union of our will to receive grace with God’s will to give it, and in that union we thrive. 

For de Caussade, joy is the keynote of our union with God–a joy to be found whether or not the moment is easy or difficult, because God (not circumstance) is the joy.  God is the Reality present and active in our realities here and now.

[1]  Jean-Pierre de Caussade, ‘The Sacrament of the Present Moment’ (HarperCollins, 1989). The book is also titled, ‘Abandonment to Divine Providence.’. The book has remained in print under both titles for nearly 300 years.

Posted in Here and Now