In-Sight: What a Wonderful World

Jeannie and I have just returned  from a great visit with our family in Kentucky.  The trip included several opportunities to experience the wonder and beauty of nature as fall settles in.  It really is a spectacular season.

Seeing the colors and  feeling the cool breezes reminded me of how blessed Jeannie and I have been to travel in all of the forty-eight continental United  States and five Canadian provinces.  Journeying in her “Little Red Truck” and staying in our pop-up camper, we have frequently been at the right place at the right time to experience the wonder of nature. And thanks to Jeannie’s photographic eye, we have literally thousands of pictures to help us relive many of those moments.

 It is easy to understand why creation has been called “the first Bible” by many Christians, especially those in the Franciscan tradition. Indeed, “heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1)  But Christianity does not have exclusive claim on that.  Other world religions likewise extol the magnificence of creation.  The verse above comes from Judaism.  Hindus recite Sanskrit mantras daily that revere their rivers, mountains, trees and animals.  Buddhists reverence creation and daily engage in a spiritual practice called “Touching the Earth” that reminds them of their oneness with creation. Taoists believe that when human nature is aligned with the rest of nature, order and harmony are the result.  Muslims define a good life (Hayat Tayebah ) as living lightly on Earth (Zohd) and caring for both people and nature. 

As the seasons change in both of the earth’s hemispheres, now is a good time to spend time outdoors, experiencing the world God has made, of which we are an essential part.  We don’t have to  travel somewhere spectacular; we only have to place ourselves in creation right where we are, and soon we will recognize that “all nature sings.”   

Creation spirituality is not the totality of the spiritual life, but it is the largest context for it, from the smallest particle to the farthest star.  It is the 13.8 billion year revelation which frames our brief but spectacular life on the earth.  It is in creation that we most easily sense our oneness with everyone and everything, and in creation where we come to understand our calling to care for all God has made.

Ilia Delio has helped me see and appreciate the wonders of creation through her combining of her Franciscan spiritual tradition with the scientific insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. [1]  It is a cosmic linking of the inner and outer worlds in ways that are transformational.  She describes it this way, “Our main work must now shift to the inner universe, to discover the vast layers of consciousness and the creation of new space. We do not know what a new consciousness might look like or how it will be enacted in the lived experience. But we must begin to take one step at a time, beginning from the inside, and discover the new creature.” [2] This happens as we increasingly interact with nature.

Not long ago, Jeannie and I were having  lunch in our backyard by the pond, a place teeming with life.  As we ate our meal, a Red-Tailed Hawk flew onto a branch only several feet away from us.  Our eyes met, and for a couple of minutes we were in each other’s presence unafraid and grateful.  The silent space between us was holy.  A timelessness in the midst of time.  And we thought to ourselves what a wonderful world.


[1] You can follow her ministry by going online to The Omega Center.

[2] Ilia Delio, “A Hunger for Wholeness,” article on The Omega Center website, March 23, 2018.  Her latest book carries the same title and expands on this idea.

Posted in In-Sight

Here and Now: Inclusion

​When we live in the present moment with the fullness of our true personhood in play, we experience inclusion and offer it to others.  We are included in everything, and everything is included in us.  As Richard Rohr has put it, everything belongs.

Our Buddhist friends understand this better than many Christians do.  They call it interbeing, the sense that we are each part of a fundamental and pervasive oneness.  Another name for it is unitive consciousness. Prior to the Enlightenment, Christianity recognized this along with other philosophies and religions.  

With the rise of the Age of Reason, science and mechanics began to see things in pieces and parts.  The Church’s theology followed suit, losing a defining sense of cosmic oneness so that to bring it up today doesn’t even sound like Christian faith–but in the larger sweep of history, it is.  In fact, unitive consciousness has been the milieu of theology more than separateness. [1]

The tree named Pano in northern Utah illustrates the idea.  When you arrive to see it, your first thought is that you are entering a forest–one made up of approximately 46,000 trees.  But the fact is, Pano is one tree (root ball) that has come through the soil with thousands of manifestations.  The expressions are different, but all of them are part of an invisible union.  Everything belongs.

Henri Nouwen wrote beautifully and powerfully about this, “To pray, that is, to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the ‘beloved,’ is to learn that that voice excludes no one. Where I dwell, God dwells with me and where God dwells with me I find all my sisters and brothers. And so intimacy with God and solidarity with all people are two aspects of dwelling in the present moment that can never be separated.” [2]

When we live in the present moment, we are given “eyes to see and ears to hear” (Mark 8:18), and with our spiritual senses we recognize a larger unity than our specific diversity reveals.  Beneath the surface of things we all are the manifestations of a singular Reality.  “In him we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Everything belongs.  Interbeing.  Inclusion.

Once we recognize this, we live differently from then on.


[1] In the Christian tradition, the Orthodox Church has represented unitive consciousness more clearly than Roman Catholicism.  The Protestant tradition is a mixture.  The Wesleyan tradition was more unitive (“and”) than separatist (“either/or”) until a segment of it was taken over by a rationalist way of thinking.  Paul Chilcote has written an excellent book about the unitive nature of Wesleyan theology, ‘Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision’ (InterVarsity Press, 2004).

[2] Henri Nouwen, ‘Bread for the Journey’ (HarperCollins, 1997), November 24th.

Posted in Uncategorized

Holy Love: Church

Expanding on the hermeneutic of love in the Church beyond what I write in the book means enlarging the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ.  I write some about it this in the book, but today I add these thoughts.

 First, the hermeneutic of love flows naturally from Christ into the Church through the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:32-23).  The fruit is the meeting place to describe who Jesus was (and the universal Christ is), and who God intends for us to be as we abide in Christ  (John 15) and are  guided by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).   The definitive word in the list of the fruit of the Spirit is love.  John Wesley called love “the root of all the rest.” [1]. Similarly. E. Stanley Jones wrote, “Love is the first outcome of the Spirit within, and if it is lacking, everything is lacking.” [2]

Simply put, as the Body of Christ, the Church manifests the nature of Christ, which is love—even as he incarnated the nature of God, which is love.  Love is the core DNA of the Church.

Second, the Church manifests the love of Christ in the world.  On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave the disciples a sign of this love, washing the disciples’ feet and telling them/us to do likewise (John 13:1-20).  And a few minutes later he gave the disciples a new commandment, “Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you must also love each other.  This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (John 13:34).  Through his action and his teaching, Jesus said that the hallmark of our witness is love.

Thomas Merton wrote about this and said, “So the mystery of the Church demands that Christians love one another in a visible and concrete way–and that they love all people.  Christ will not be visible to the world in His Church except in proportion as Christians seek peace and unity with one another and with all.” [3]

When I pause to reflect on all this, it is as if I hear the Risen Christ saying, “Is this clear enough?” And all I can say is, “ Yes Lord, it is.”  All means all.


So….

(1) How does the Church help you to be more loving?

(2) How and where is your church loving inclusively?


[1] John Wesley, ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament’ (1755), his comment on Galatians 5:22.

[2] E. Stanley Jones, ‘Growing Spiritually’ (Pierce and Washbaigh, 1953), subsequently reprinted by Abingdon Press in 1978, Week 18, Monday.

[3] Thomas Merton. ‘Seasons of Celebration’ (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1965 ), 216.

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: True Personhood

​Living here-and-now makes all of life formative, and it evokes the emergence of our true personhood.  By not being tethered by the past (e.g.”What I should have been or might have been”) and by not being pulled into the future (e.g.”What I ought to be”), we are free to be who we are.  In the present moment, the “I AM” God intersects the “I am” self, and we are never more truly or fully ourselves than when that happens.

Living in the present moment opens the way to experience communion with God without distraction or diminishment.  The spiritual life thrives in the paradox that less is more, and that to be present in the hear-and-now brings more life to us than trying to be “all over the map” in a never-ending round of feverish activity.

In this concentration our true self has the opportunity to emerge, not covered over by the illusion of either the past or the future.  Living here-and-now brings our fulness into the present moment, enabling us to say, “I am here!” and hearing God speak back, “I am too!”

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Christ

​The fourth vantage point for seeing the hermeneutic of holy love is Christ, the one who reveals the creator (“whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” John 14:9), the one who made the creation (“ everything came into being through the Word,” John 1:3), and the one who is the mediator of the covenant (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24).  So, everything we have said thus far comes together in Christ, and it does so through love (John 13:1).

One of the things I have heard people say about the relation between Christ and human sexuality is this, “I wish he had made it clear about sexual identities, orientations, same-sex marriage, etc.  I have wished the same.  I have thought, “If only I could spend five minutes with Jesus.”  I have a list of questions.  Human sexuality is one of them.  

Scholars are correct in noting Jesus’ silence about homosexuality.  And they are correct that we cannot use his silence to make a point one way or the other.  Arguments from silence, on any subject, are not regarded as strong ones.  I understand and respect that, but Jesus’ silence does not create a vacuum.  In fact, when we turn to him, he teaches some very important things about human sexuality.

First, Jesus was the incarnation of the pre/post incarnate Christ. [1]. He personified the cosmic reality that Paul described, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  The first three words lead us to his Lordship, the last three lead us to our sacredness.  “Christ is in all” is a powerful affirmation based on the fact that we are made in the image of God.  All of us.  This comprehensiveness is the existential basis for the sacred worth of all people.  Christ is in all.   All means all.

Second, Jesus bypassed two golden opportunities to denounce same-sex marriage and homosexuality.  With regard to marriage (Matthew 19:5) he could have said, “One man, one woman marriage is the only kind God approves of.”  But he didn’t.  Why?  Because even though one man/one woman marriages wete/are normative, they are not definitive.  Marriage is a covenant bond, not based in gender but rather (as we have seen) in the Covenant principles of sacredness, fidelity, permanency—and later in the New Covenant, monogamy.  His remarks in Matthew were not about marriage per se, but about how divorce regulations had cheapened the union God intended. 

In the same moment, he could have taken the “one flesh” phrase and  limit it to a physical act reserved for heterosexuals, but he didn’t.  Why? Because “one flesh” is not a physical term.  When it is used in the Old Testament (Gen 2:24, Gen 29:14, Judges 9:2,  2 Sam 5:1, 2 Sam 19:12-13, and 1 Chron 11:1), it is a metaphorical phrase describing a deep kinship bond—what we mean today when we refer to people who have a “heart-to-heart” relationship, or who we say are “joined at the hip.”

But the real blockbuster Jesus gave us is in his second missed opportunity to denounce  homosexuality. It came with respect to eunuchs (Matthew 19:12).  People called eunuchs were the biblical way of noting and referring to nonbinary human beings. Today, we have specified the idea in the categories of intersex, transgender, etc.  Jesus could have spoken of those born that way as aberrations, but he didn’t. He could have referred to those who chose to be spiritual eunuchs as living against God’s will, but he didn’t.  Rather, he spoke positively about eunuchs, in keeping with God’s affirmation of them in Isaiah 56:3-5.  This passage is so important that we must explore it further.  It teaches a number of important things about nonbinary people…

          –they are fully human (v 3). Eunuchs must not say they are “dry trees,”—that is, they are not disordered human beings. They are not aberrations of God’s design.  They are nonbinary expressions of it along the spectrum of humanity in the first creation story.

         –they can keep the Covenant, as eunuchs (v 4)—that is, they do not have to sublimate their  sexuality (e.g. through celibacy) or be “normalized” in some way. They have full access to religion.

         –they are honored people (v 5)—that is, they are given a monument in in both the temple (religion) and the city walls (society).

         –they are given a name better than sons and daughters (v 5)—that is, better than the identities of maleness and femaleness (e.g. the Native-American view of two-spirited people).  Perhaps more like Adam before Eve was separated, more like God’s nature which is nonbinary. (This is an amazing idea!)

Jesus’ carrying forward of the substance and spirit of Isaiah’s words through his valuing of eunuchs is his most powerful affirmation of nonbinary sexuality.  It effectively shuts down any notion that non-heterosexual people are aberrations or that they are unable to be fully included in both the Church and the society.

And thirdly, Jesus modeled the Message revealed in Galatians 3:11, by his inclusion of those whom conventional religion either excluded or marginalized.  His radical inclusion is one of the things that got him into trouble with religious leaders.  It was one of his most powerful confirmations to the second great love commandment.

Taken together, these points have produced what some call The Jesus Hermeneutic; that is, he becomes the lens through whom we see the rest of the Bible. [2]  Some of the highlights of his hermeneutic are these,

     –he was not confined to traditional interpretations (Matthew 5:17-48)

     –he was not legalistic: he violated laws in order to show mercy (Luke 4:31-44)

     –he was inclined toward inclusion.  (Matthew 11:28)

     –he put mercy and compassion over the Law.  (Matthew 23:23)

     –he even protected those who were said to deserve death (John 7:53—8:11)

In fact, what we find in Jesus is that his harshest words were spoken to those who  insisted they were not sinners, and from their pedestals of self-righteousness looked down upon the designated less-than “others” with judgmentalism and condemnation. Jesus was negative toward those who claimed to know better than the “others”—the ones who claimed to be correct. [3]

Jesus’ hermeneutic was not a collection of random acts of kindness, it was the outworking of his declared mission on day-one of his ministry.  Choosing Isaiah 61:1-2 as his text, he told his fellow Nazarenes that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him—the Holy Spirit moving him to engage with the poor, with prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed—announcing to them all “the Lord’s favor”(Luke 4:18-19).  Jesus stopped reading from Isaiah right there, but the original text included the phrase, “and to proclaim…a day of vindication for our God”  Jesus made a clean break with retribution, and declared that his ministry would be restorative.  Later he summed it up in one sentence, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

My conclusion about Christ is that he was by no means silent about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. He was not silent with respect to the overall context in which these things must be viewed.  His model and message was inclusive love, unqualified affirmation, and full access.  He set the pattern and calls us to follow it.  All means all.


So…..

(1) How does Jesus encourage you to love?

(2) How does Jesus challenge you to love?

            


[1] I learned the terms pre-incarnate Christ and post-incarnate Christ from E. Stanley Jones, terms he used to describe the eternal and universal Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity.

[2] Richard Rohr writes about The Jesus Hermeneutic in chapter three of his book, ‘What Do We Do with the Bible?’ (CAC Publishing, 2018).

[3] Years ago, I heard the claim about Jesus’ negativity essentially being expressed on religious leaders and others who self-righteousness, and I was not sure the claim was correct.  So, I read the four gospels, noting every place where Jesus spoke negatively.  And sure enough, the claim is correct!

Posted in Holy Love

Here and Now: Suffering

​There are other positive things we could note about living here and now.  But it would be a mistake to think that the blessings of present-moment living are limited to them.  We must include suffering as a portal for our formation.

Long ago, David spoke of it, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger” (Psalm 23:4).  Other psalms likewise show life to be a mixture of pleasure and pain.

Such an understanding of life is described in the classic paradigm of consolation/desolation.  Of course, we want to experience consolation (e.g. happiness) in our lives, but God is equally present to bless us in times of desolation.  It is in our suffering where we experience the fullness of the truth that God is with us always.  And that makes every moment a God moment–a moment when grace can come to us in relation to our need.  

God does not wait outside our lives until our sufferings cease and things “brighten up”–God walks into our darkness and is present in our trials.  It is in suffering where we learn one of the great lessons of living here-and-now: we are never alone.

Posted in Here and Now

Holy Love: Covenant

The third vantage point for seeing the hermeneutic of holy love is the Covenant.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  This is the creator/creation congruence we have looked at in the past two posts.  But that congruence raises the question, “How can we tell when the will of God is being done on earth?”  The answer is found in one word: Covenant. [1]

In the book I explore Covenant in various ways.  In this post I want to expand the exploration by using Walter Brueggemann’s phrase “journey to the common good.” [2]  In using this phrase he understands that Covenant manifests itself throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament.  

The metaphor of journey is the context for Covenant.  For one thing the covenant was given during the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land.  Among other things, this means it was given in the midst of day-to-day living.  The covenant is God’s way of saying, “This is what loving me and loving others looks like here and now.”  The historical context for Covenant is important to know, but we must not limit the Message to its original milieu.  To do so locks it in the past and limits it to a life none of us live today.  The Covenant speaks to us today because it speaks a timeless word.

Furthermore, by giving the covenant during Israel’s journey, God is showing how we receive the Message but live into it little-by-little.  For example, the Ten Commandments do not look the same and they are not lived the same every day.  On the day God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, they had only a rudimentary understanding of them—an understanding that would necessarily grow as they applied them day after day.

We too receive and practice them as we journey.  Dawn and high noon are not the same, but the sun’s light provides both.  With respect to human sexuality, Covenant tells us that our belief will begin small and develop over time as we establish relations with LGBTQ+ people.  Nothing appears in full at first. [3]  This is how relationships work—they unfold.  As they do, we nourish them with patience, tenderness, and expectation.  We live into the covenant as we journey.

And then, we discover that Covenant is for the common good.  This is the content of Covenant—life together.  I note in the book that all three iterations of the covenant (Noah, Abraham, and Moses) show it was universal, intended for all people everywhere.  But what exactly was intended?  Two things stand out.

First, the avoidance of exploitation, in whatever form it occurred.  This is one reason why there ended up being 613 commandments.  It was not so that the covenant would micromanage every detail of our lives (which is what a legalistic use of Covenant did…and does), but because holiness applies to every aspect of life.  The covenant called out exploitation because it is the mark that the relational oneness in the Godhead is being ignored and the intended onenes in creation is being violated.  One way to read every commandment is to ask two questions, “What exploitation does this commandment expose?”….and….(2) “What expression of holiness does it invite?”

The second question leads to the second major feature of Covenant, the emancipation of people.  The literal slavery in Egypt was an example, but it was also a sign of God’s pervasive message, “ Let my people go!”  This is why Paul summed it up the purpose of the covenant in his letter to the Galatians, “Christ has set us free for freedom” (5:1)   Charles Wesley described in by writing, “My chains fell off. My heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” [4]

The avoidance of exploitation and the experience of emancipation are the simultaneous results of one thing: love—the hesed and agapé we have previoysly noted.  Again this is why Paul describes the new creation by writing, “All these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18)

We enter that passage in the phrase, “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”  We are intended to be a covenant people, offering love to all in ways that protect them from exploitation and in ways that emancipate them.  Legalism does not do this, but Covenant does.  As Paul put it, “what is written kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). We are God’s covenant people called to share covenant love—to everyone.  All means all.


So…..

(1) Do you accept the two love commandments as the summation of the Covenant?

(2) How are you expressing them, and are you expressing them to everyone?


[1] Notice I did not say Law.  Covenant is a larger concept than Law.  When we look at Leviticus in a future post, I will say more about the Law.

[2] Brueggemann develops this phrase in his book of the same title, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ (Westminster John Knox, 2010).

[3] I have discovered that this happens also when LGBTQ+ people begin to relate to Christians.  They have been so harmed by the Christian community that they don’t accept the overture of love and acceptance quickly or easily.  Every LGBTQ+ person I know has been told by a Christian, “You are loved,” only to later discover it was not so.  The entire Christian/LGBTQ+ relationship develops slowly and in stages.  Affirming Christians must gain the trust of LGBTQ+ people because they have been given waxed fruit rather than the fruit of the Spirit by Christians whose allegation, “We love the gays” turned out to be quite conditional, and in some cases, bogus.

[4] From Wesley’s hymn, “And Can It Be?”

Posted in Holy Love