LGBTQ+ Writing: Full Humanity

From a theological standpoint it’s amazing that any Christian would limit the definition of gender to the body—that is, to our genital appearance at birth. Paul defined humanity as the convergence of spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). [1] Two-thirds of his definition comprises what’s invisible. For Christians to make one-third of our humanity 100% definitive is obscurantist and deceptive.

But that’s what is happening in fundamentalist Christianity today, and it is rippling into politics, evidenced by sports’ bills in legislatures. Kentucky, for example, just passed a bill that “limits girls sports in middle and high school to children born as girls.” [2] The last four words are an exclusively physical definition of gender. And they are words given credence by fundamentalist Christians who reject the more-detailed understanding of humanity.

In the first century, if Paul could understand humanity as 66% invisible, it is odd and unfortunate that some 21st-century Christians do not. [3] Our understanding of humanity is exponentially fuller than it was in Paul’s day, including knowledge about the invisibility of our humanity (e.g. genetics and hormones) as having a role in defining who we are. That Paul affirmed this 2000 years ago, but fundamentalists do not do so today, is incredulous, and all the more so by the group of Christians who shout “we are the biblical ones” every chance they get.

The Bible (via Paul as well) tells us to teach “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Combining this admonition with his trifold view of humanity, Paul would tell us that sound doctrine with respect to our humanity must take invisible factors into account, not just visible ones. Good theology incorporates new learnings from multiple sources and matures in its “soundness” (i.e. its healthy, life-giving capacities, as the Greek word implies), offering light, life, and love to others. This means developing a sexual theology that accounts for gestational (genetic), presentational (physical), and post-birth (hormonal) development. [4] Bad theology (unsound doctrine) is frozen in a past that is no longer valid (and wrongly said to be definitive), and was not, in fact, affirmed by the first Christians. [5] Such contemporary unsound doctrine produces erroneous beliefs that can be means for harming others. Transgender sports-ban bills are only one example.

[1] This is a pivotal passage in the Wesleyan theology of sanctification, applied variously to life. With respect to sexuality, it shows us that the invisible and the visible combine to define what it means to be human.

[2] The Lexington-Herald Leader, 2/17/22. Florida passed a similar bill last June. And eighteen other states have enacted them as well, You can track legislative actions with respect to LGBTQ+ people at the Freedom for all Americans website. This group offers free emailed updates of political activity and other things that relate to the wellbeing of all people.

[3] The refusal to deal with the invisible aspects of of our humanity is being further deformed by another false allegation by fundamentalists–that a progressive inclusion of invisible (non-body) dimensions in sexual theology makes it Gnostic. This is a topic outside the focus of this post, but one that makes fundamentalist obscurantism even worse.

[4] This is a simplified summary of our human development, intended to show the invisible/visible dynamics in play over time to make us who we are. On my Oboedire website and in my book, ‘Holy Love’ I offer resources for exploring this in detail.

[5] As I have shown elsewhere in more detail, Jesus himself affirmed transgender people (eunuchs) in Matthew 19:12, further confirming God’s affirmation of them in Isaiah 56:3-5.

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Along the Way: A Telling False Allegation

Since the first of the month I have come across a book, a blog, and an article that reveal fundamentalist Christianity has identified yet another “enemy of the Gospel”—social justice. It’s a telling and false allegation.

I have seen periodic references to fundamentalists caricaturing “wokeness” (which includes a resistance to injustice) as a liberal attack on America and the Church, but its only in the past few weeks that I have come to connect the dots and recognize that “social justice” is a code phrase for a concerted opposition to progressive Christianity. The book, the blog, and the article have combined to reveal the bigger picture.

The book…..Owen Strachan has written ‘Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel — and the Way to Stop It’ (2021). Until recently, I did not know about him or his book. And to be fair, he is too extreme even for some fundamentalists. But he commands endorsement from numerous fundamentalists, including John MacArthur. Without question, Strachan is a leading voice in the movement that has flagged the social justice movement as heretical. And his views have forged an ideological path many others are following. For example, Jon Harris’ book, ‘Christianity and Social Justice: Religions in Conflict’ (2021) is of the same ilk. Strachan’s equation of the social justice movement with heresy and Harris’ allegation (even in the title of the book) that it is a false religion in conflict with Christianity are telling indicators. The views of these fundamentalists that social-justice advocates are in league with Satan is all you need to know, but it is a tip-of-the-iceberg indicator of a much more fully-developed way of thinking.

The blog…..Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, writes perjoratively with respect to social justice, citing it as evidence to allege the demise of the United Methodist Church, referring to its current state as a “tragedy.” In his blog posted on February 1st and entitled “The Next Methodism” (i.e. The Global Methodist Church) he alleges that “the rise of social sctivism” has resulted in the loss of the Wesleyan heritage in the UMC. [1] And when added to several other evidences of demise, he concluded that the UMC has lost its “very identity as a distinctive Christian movement.” While stopping just short of using heresy language, he essentially says the same thing in saying the UMC is no longer distinctively Christian.

The article….just two days ago, Bob Smietana, wrote an excellent exposé, “Woke war: How social justice and CRT became heresy for evangelicals” (Religion News Service, February 7, 2022). It is this article that alerted me to the concerted effort by fundamentalists to undermine mainline Christianity and using a firebrand critique of social justice to do so. If this post sets you on a discovery to check this out for yourself, begin with Smienta’s article. It sets the book and the blog in a larger, long-standing context.

Taken together, the book, the blog, and the article are a red herring and one that is an amazing denial of the social justice tradition which runs through Scripture and tradition. [2] It is beyond belief and beyond credibility that any Christian or group would make social justice a sign of heresy. There has always been a debate regarding the relationship between the “personal Gospel” and the “social Gospel,” but the resurgence of vitriol against social justice is another indication of how far into deception fundamentalists are willing to go to preserve their power.

The sadness of their false allegation against social justice is that the fundamentalists reveal a truth in the midst of their opposition to it. Social justice is a threat to fundamentalist Christianity because in Scripture and tradition it exposes the places where injustice exists and how imperialism (political/religious collusion) perpetuates it.

In our day, social justice movements are exposing the evils of Christian Nationalism. [3] So it comes as no surprise that the fundamentalists don’t like it. Potentates have never liked prophets. Money changers in the temple do not like to have their tables overturned.

[1] Tennent’s allegation is amazing against the backdrop of the Wesleyan tradition’s emphasis on social holiness, and even more so coming from the president of Asbury Theological Seminary, that has stood within the holiness tradition since its founding in 1923, birthed out of Asbury College, itself a holiness school since 1890. Of course, Tennet alleges that the contemporary social justice movement does not reflect the holiness tradition or biblical Christianity. But that is a topic outside the intention of this post.

[2] Richard Foster’s book, ‘Streams of Living Water’ has an excellent chapter on the holiness tradition, and by way of application, his chapter shows how the UMC, in fact, is a Christian manifestation of it.

[3] Just a reminder that I have written multiple posts about this on Oboedire, particularly in these archived categories: Nonviolence and The Prophetic Task. You can also search Oboedire for references to Christian Nationalism in other posts.

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LGBTQ+ Writing: It’s About Hermeneutics

Sexual theology exists in the larger context of biblical revelation, inspiration, and authority. In relation to every topic, what we think about the Bible is the foundation upon which we stand to determine our current beliefs and practices. We call this hermeneutics and then go on to consider the progressive revelation that comes from it.

Conservatives allege that the biblical message is essentially completed. In their view, truth has been given to us in the Bible, and it is now fixed. “Progressive revelation” is acknowledged, but it’s accepted only if the new ideas reinforce the previously-revealed “orthodoxy.” New ideas that are different are rejected on the assertion that they contradict truth.

Trouble is, we now know that the nature of the Bible is not as fixed as conservatives would have us believe. James Kugel has gone into great detail about this, but sums it up by saying, “within the biblical period (roughly a thousand years long), things changed.” [2] Moreover, there is more change than conservatives admit in the ensuing two thousand years of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Cheryl Anderson documents this in her look at church history. [3] The fact is, Christians believe things today they did not previously believe. Progressive revelation in the Bible and in Church history allows for the discovery of new truths, and once we have them, we revise theology accordingly.

All this comes into play with respect to human sexuality. Failing to acknowledge the changes in Scripture and tradition, they make people believe that the truth about human sexuality is fixed, and the only “orthodox” (i.e. biblical) position is to accept and perpetuate the conservative interpretations. But the cat is out of the bag when change in the Bible and in history is acknowledged. The evolutionary pattern in general can be seen in terms of human sexuality as well. “Progressive revelation” turns out to include new truths, not just conforming to old ones.

Interestingly, conservatives have already accepted new truths about other things in both Scripture and history. Examples of changes in biblical exegesis (and the interpretations that emerge from it) include the nature of the universe, racial equality, marriage and divorce, women’s rights (including ordination), and earth care. The new truths have emerged as knowledge has increased, often through the findings of the sciences. Christian faith has evolved.

That conservatives are unwilling to apply the same pattern of “progressive revelation” (i.e. the discovery of new truths) to human sexuality exposes the inconsistency of their hermeneutic, to the point of obscurantism. Simply put, we know new things today about human sexuality. Not to incorporate the changes into theology is to hold theology captive to a past which no longer exists. And whenever theology ceases to develop, it becomes an old wineskin that can no longer hold God’s wine. But worse than that, when theology is held captive to a past that is no longer valid, it becomes an instrument for doing harm to those who should not be oppressed by beliefs which ought not to continue.

“For freedom, Christ has set you free” (Galatians 5:1). Paul meant freedom from the Judaisers who were holding people captive through a misunderstanding of the Law. Today, Paul’s words portray the freeing work of Christ from the conservatives who would hold us captive through their misunderstanding of human sexuality. And just as Paul said to the Judaisers, “things have changed”—so we now say to the conservatives, “things have changed.”

[1] James Kugel ‘The Great Shift’ (Mariner Books, 2018). loc 134. He looks at numerous examples of how the message of Scripture changed in the Bible itself.

[2] Cheryl Anderson, ‘Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies’ (Oxford University Press, 2009). She explores changes in church history on a range of subjects, including a look at the Church’s theology of human sexuality.

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Resourcing the “All Means All” View

In the previous three posts I have shown that a progressive theology of human sexuality is faithful to the Bible, establishing itself in the biblical revelation of nonbinary reality, a Covenant ethic, and the affirmation of nonbinary human beings in that Covenant.

From this it moves on to the advocacy of full inclusion for all people in the society and the church. In society, this means enacting legislation that promotes the common good, proactively and protectively. In the church it means (among other things) offering marriage, the sacraments, and all ministries/offices to LGBTQ+ people. All means all. [1]

Progressive sexual theology is rooted in Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. From this soil it honors the Wesleyan ethic of “doing no harm” and “doing good” by means of a generous orthodoxy that is centered in love.

All this, of course, must be explored in depth The rest of this post is the list of resources I have compiled that will enable you to do so. [2] The list is also found on the home page icon, “LGBTQ+ Resources.”

In the blog section of Oboedire, you can find my archived posts related to my books ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ and ‘Holy Love’ in the “For the Bride” and “Holy Love” categories on the home page sidebar.

Beyond these links, the following list of resources makes the case for affirmation and full inclusion in all aspects of the society and Church. I am a United Methodist, so in section three, I have organized resources according to the categories found in the Wesleyan quadrilateral.

Places to Begin…

Kathy Baldock, ‘Walking the Bridgeless Canyon’

Jim Dant, ‘This I Know: A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians’

Steve Harper, ‘Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality’

Justin Lee, ‘Torn’

Matthew Vines, ‘God and the Gay Christian’

Next-Step Reads…

David Gushee, ‘Changing Our Minds,’ 3rd Edition

Karen Keen, ‘Scripture. Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships’

Dan Via’s section in ‘Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views’

Resources Linked to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral…

–Scripture

Mark Achtemeier, ‘The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage’

Robert Brawley, ed., ‘Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture’

James Brownson, ‘God, Gender, and Sexuality’

Richard Freeman & Shawna Dolansky. ‘The Bible Now’

Luke Timothy Johnson, ‘The Living Gospel’ (chapter 8)

Jennifer Knust, ‘Unprotected Texts’

William Loader, ‘Sexuality and the New Testament’

Dale Martin, ‘Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation’

Linda Patterson, ‘Hate Thy Neighbor: How the Bible is Misused to Condemn Homosexuality’

Walter Wink, ‘Homosexuality and the Bible’

–Tradition

Cheryl Anderson, ‘Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies’

Roland Betancourt, ‘Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Race, and Gender In the Middle Ages’

James Boswell, ‘Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality’’

Leah DeVun, ‘ The Shape of Sex: Nonbinary Gender from Genesis to the Renaissance:

K.J. Dover, ‘Greek Sexuality’

David Garrison, ‘Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece’

Judith Hallett, ‘Roman Sexualities’

Frank Mondimore, ‘A Natural History of Homosexuality’

Marilyn B. Skinner, ‘Sexuality in Greek and Roman Cultures,’ 2nd Edition

Craig Williams, ‘Roman Sexuality’

–Reason (Theology)

Megan Shanon DeFranza, ‘Sex Differences in Christian Theology’

Jack David Rogers, ‘Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality’

Robert Song, ‘Covenant and Calling’
Walter Wink, ed., ‘Homosexuality and Christian Faith’

–Reason (Science)

Jacques Balthazart, ‘The Biology of Homosexuality’

Iris Gottlieb, ‘Seeing Gender’

Jerold Greenberg, ‘’Exploring Dimensions of Human Sexuality’

Evelyn Killen, ‘Reflections on Gender and Science’

Justin Lehmiller, ‘The Psychology of Human Sexuality’

Simon.LeVay, ‘Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why,’ 2nd Edition

Michael Regele, ‘Science, Scripture, and Same-Sex Love’

Elizabeth Reis, ‘Bodies in Doubt’

Anne Sterling, ‘Myths of Gender’

–Experience

Amber Contorna: ‘Unashamed: A Coming Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians’

Susan Cottrell, ‘Radically Included’ and ‘Mom, I’m Gay’

Chris Glaser, ‘Coming Out as Sacrament’

Steve Harper, ‘For the Sake of the Bride’

Michelle Johns, ‘God, a Lesbian, and the Space in Between’

James Martin, ‘Building a Bridge’

Tim Otto, ‘Oriented to Love’

E.T. Sundby, ‘Calling the Rainbow Nation Home’

Mel White, ‘Stranger at the Gate’

Video Resources…

Rob Fuquay, ‘Faithful and Inclusive: The Bible, Sexuality. The United Methodist Church’ (available from Cokesbury)

Steve Harper, “Draw the Circle Wider: How I Changed My Mind” (available on YouTube @ “Steve Harper Methodist”)

Steve Harper, “A Hermeneutic of Love,” FUMC Orlando (available on YouTube @ “Steve Harper Methodist”)

Blog Sites…

Oboedire: series entitled “For the Bride” and “Holy Love—posts follow and expand on my books by the same title. Another category, “Sexuality: A Further Look” is an occasional, ongoing category.
http://www.oboedire.com

Ministries…

Canyonwalker Connections (Kathy Baldock)–multi-faceted ministry

FreedHearts (Susan Cottrell)–ministry to parents of LGBTQ+ parents

Human Rights Campaign –a broad-based LGBTQ advocacy group

Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist)

Redwood Spiritual Care (Karen Keen)

The Reformation Project (Matthew Vines)

Other Topics…

–Marriage

Phillip Cramer & William Harbison, ‘The Fight for Marriage’

Chris Glaser, ‘As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage’

Clare Hubert, ‘Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Marriage’

Karen Keen’s book, noted above

Scott McQueen, ‘Reasonable Doubt: A Case for LGBTQ Inclusion in the Institutions of Marriage and Church’

–Transgender People

Austin Hartke, ‘Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians’

–Resources for Parents of LGBTQ+ Children

Telaina Ericksen, ‘Unconditional—A Guide to Loving and upporting Your LGBTQ Child,’

Greg and Lynn McDonald, ‘Embracing the Journey: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Loving Your LGBTQ Child’

PFLAG resources

–Resources for Youth Ministry by Leigh Finke…
(1) ‘Queerfully and Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens’

(2) ‘Welcoming and Affirming: A Guide to Supporting and Working with LGBTQ+ Christian Youth’
Fortunate Families (facebook page and website) is a rich resource for exploring nonbinary humanity.

In addition to these resources, there is a need to familiarize ourselves with the vocabulary for understanding sexuality and conversing about it. Here are some good links to help you do that…

(1) PFLAG “National Glossary of Terms” Excellent resources for matters related to transgender people.

(2) American Psychological Association, “Key Terms and Concepts in Understanding Gender Diversity and Sexual Orientation Among Students.”

Revised: January 2022

[1] The affirmations of progressive theology not only extend to LGBTQ+ people but also to women, minority groups, immigrants, and other marginalized/oppressed people. Progressive theology resists all forms of nationalism, toxic masculinity, racism, and discrimination that perpetuate oligarchy and its manifold discriminations.

[2] This list reveals another false conservative allegation: that progressive theology is lightweight and lacking. In every respect, progressive theology has comparable scholarly substance and credibity to any other theological perspective.

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Covenant Sexuality

In this post I continue writing about sexual ethics. Today, I focus on Covenant sexuality.

When I wrote ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ in 2014, I began my exploration of sexual morality with respect to covenant, both the biblical Covenant and our living of it today in ways that are both faithful to Scripture and fully-inclusive of LGBTQ+ people.[1] Shortly after the book came out, David Gushee emailed me, encouraging me for what I had written, and letting me know I was on the right track in developing sexual morality in relation to covenant. He told me he was soon to publish a book that would use the same hermeneutic. Four months later, his book ‘Changing Our Mind’ appeared. It’s now in its third edition, and has been of great help to me as I have studied covenant sexuality further.[2]

Covenant is the place to begin because it is the means God chose for establishing and maintaining holy love on the earth. It was time/culture specific in content and timeless/universal in its purpose. As Genesis 9 reveals, it was made with every living thing, not just people.

And as Isaiah 56:3-5 and Matthew 19:12 show (see post #2 in this series), it could be lived by all human beings, not just binary ones. Covenant is the lens through which we look to see sexuality that is good. The Covenant is the place to develop our sexual ethic.

With respect to morality, the Covenant provides the four pillars upon which we build our sexual ethic: sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy. [3] They weave a strong four-strand cord that makes our sexuality healthy and holy.

Sacredness…the reminder that every person is made in the image of God, and as such must be honored. Lust is the antithesis of sacredness because it makes the other person an object to be used for our gratification. Sacredness is the soil of love.

Fidelity…the reminder that faithfulness is the way by which we honor one another in a sexual relationship. Infidelity violates trustworthiness. Fidelity is the bond of love.

Permanency…the reminder that our sexual relations are rooted in vows: “until death parts us.” Impermanence indicates non-commitment. [4] Permanency is the duration of love.

Monogamy…the reminder that our sexuality is singular not serial. This became the standard in the New Covenant. Monogamy is the concentration of love.

These four dimensions of Covenant define sexual righteousness. They are the standard for everyone. People of all sexualities can honor the Covenant, entering into relations that manifest sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy. These four characteristics are also the universal standard for accountability. People of all sexualities can dishonor the Covenant, entering into relationships that violate sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy. Covenant sexuality is how we enact Paul’s words to “glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

[1I remind you that Rob Fuquay has produced a multi-session video study entitled, ‘Faithful and Inclusive.’ It is available from Cokesbury (The United Methodist Publishing House).

[2] David P. Gushee, ‘Changing Our Mind’ 3rd edition (Read the Spirit Books, 2019).

[3] I look at these in chapter 2 of my book, ‘Holy Love’ (Abingdon Press, 2019).

[4] The Covenant principle of permanence does not preclude leaving a relationship that is toxic and harmful. Because love is at the heart of Covenant sexuality, when it is absent, the other three aspects disappear as well. The use of permanence in this post is in the context of an assumed love. Impermanence may be necessary to flee a relationship that has come to lack sacredness, fidelity, and monogamy. There’s nothing in the Bible that tells us to live in danger.

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Sexual Ethics


Another crucial dimension in looking beyond the conservative position on sexuality is in relation to morality. In the previous (first) post in this series, I spoke to the nature of sexuality as a nonbinary spectrum. In a nutshell, human nature is diverse in ways conservatives deny. In this post, I want to move diversity into the matter of sexual ethics. Humans are nonbinary. How then shall we live?

Listening recently to a podcast, I discovered that conservative Christians are taking a new approach in their relationships with LGBTQ+ people. Having been rightly called out for their harshness, negativity, and judgmentalism (which still exists in some Christian circles), a segment of Christians is now using the language of love with a “kinder and gentler” (as they see it) relationship with LGBTQ+ people. But it ends up at the same place: non-affirmation. It is moving the goalposts without changing the game.

The matter is complex, and even a longer post cannot fully address the matter. But to let the conservative shift go unexamined is to allow harm to continue to be done to LGBTQ+ people. The fact that the harm is “nicer” does not excuse it or change its nature and outcome.

This new position is a cooption of a theology of human sexuality often called “Side B.” [1] It is a position which began in the LGBTQ+ community itself as a middle way of describing the reality and validity of LGBTQ Christians by denying the extreme view them of being abominations, while embracing conservative Christianity’s rejection of the lifestyle. “Side B” accomplishes this by advocating a difference between nature and behavior. In short, “Side B” accepts LGBTQ+ personhood but says that living out the life is sinful. The emerging, revised conservative theology of human sexuality appears to be at or near a “Side B, but interprets it in two key ways that leave non-affirmation in place.

First, it perpetuates a binary view of creation as God’s design, which leaves anything other than male/female gender and heterosexual orientation to be a result of the fall. [2] No matter how “nice” the fundamentalists may appear to be, they view LGBTQ+ people as aberrations of God’s design and violators of God’s will when they enact their orientation.

Some who hold this view refer to LGBTQ+ people as “spoiled blueprints” of human sexuality. Another interpretation I have read is that LGBTQ+ people are violins out of tune. While these assessments are less harsh than viewing LGBTQ+ people as abominations, they nevertheless keep in place the idea that LGBTQ+ people are damaged goods, defective humans who must not be allowed to enact their inclinations, and if they choose to enact them, they must not be allowed to be ordained or (in some cases) be leaders in the church. Clearly you don’t build a house with “spoiled blueprints” or play an out-if tune violin. [3] Theologically, this means that LGBTQ+ sexuality is unacceptable if it is acted upon.

The primary problem with this view is that is not in the biblical text itself, but rather read into it.bAscI noted in my previous post, the first creation story in Genesis (1:1—2:4) describes nonbinary creation, which the sciences affirms. The pairs in the text are not literal “two’s” but rather an indication of spectrums within which are many different “kinds.” By holding to a binary creation view, fundamentalists are forced by their own thinking to ascribe to LGBTQ+ people some kind of abnormality that occurred in the fall.

And that leads to the second way the conservative position perpetuates non-affirmation: requiring lifelong celibacy of LGBTQ+ people. As a requirement for LGBTQ+ people, rather than a voluntary choice, lifelong celibacy reinforces the “abnormality” theology I noted in the first point. As used by the conservatives, it is another way of doing harm to LGBTQ+ people. [4]

Let me be clear: celibacy is an option for anyone, and there are heterosexual and LGBTQ+ people who choose it, and do so for a variety of reasons. For LGBTQ+ people It often has to do with being accepted (or remaining accepted) by Christians who are friends or family members. Sometimes the choice is an agreement (in some way) with the fundamentalist view that being LGBTQ+ is not in sync with God’s design. It is not my place to assess why any LGBTQ+ person adopts a “Side B” posture. I am not taking issue with celibacy as a voluntary lifestyle. In fact, I know straight and gay people who have chosen celibacy, and through their witness I understand it is a valid option.

But what I reject is making celibacy a requirement for LGBTQ+ people, and linking it with the assumption that it is the means for remaining in God’s favor. I reject this allegation because there is no biblical validation of the mandate. In fact, the opposite is the case in the Bible, and it comes through the book of Isaiah 56:3-5.

Just as ‘homosexual’ used to be the one-word description for non-heterosexuality, in biblical times the single word was ‘eunuch.’ Eunuchs were nonbinary human beings, who in their physicality and identity were not strictly males or females. [5] God’s affirmation of them in Isaiah is a blockbuster biblical revelation, and one totally ignored by non-affirming Christians. The message is so powerful, I want to print the verses right in this blog …

“Don’t let the eunuch say, ‘I am a dry tree.’ The Lord says, ‘To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, choose what I desire, and remain loyal to my covenant. In my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters.” (Common English Bible)

In this passage the abnormality (“dry tree”) of nonbinary humans is rejected. In fact, nonbinary people can keep the sabbath and do God’s will, just like anyone else. But there’s more. The standard for morality is the covenant, not secondary human mandates [6]. And there’s even more: nonbinary people are honored (monuments) and given a name (stature) better than binary people (“sons and daughters”). The New Living Translation communicates it clearly, “My blessings are also for the eunuchs. They are as much mine as anyone else” (Isaiah 56:3).

This passage puts an end to the discrimination (by active or passive means) of people. In short, it teaches us that LGBTQ+ people are not post-fall aberrations, and they are not required to practice lifelong celibacy. They are fully human, and are fully loved and affirmed by God. They should be so viewed and treated as such in the Church, with full access to all its sacraments and ministries. The fact that the conservative sexual theology fails to do this shows that their ‘kinder, gentler” relationships with LGBTQ+ people only moves the goalposts, while keeping the same game in play.

There is a sexual ethic beyond the one being espoused by conservatives. It’s a morality found in the Covenant. I will focus on this in my next post. [7]

[1] “Side A” theology is alleged to be non-traditional Christianity, which bases its affirmation of LGBTQ+ people on culture, not Scripture. This is, however, a straw-man allegation that does survive careful analysis in relation to Scripture and Christian history. Nevertheless, because it has been advocated in such a strong truth/falsehood context, some LGBTQ+ Christians have mediated a “Side B” interpretation that avoids the acceptance of villification but leaves a conservative interpretation of controversial passages largely in place. “Side A & B’ views are further explored in David Gushee’s books, ‘Changing Our Mind’ (chapter 6) and ‘Kingdom Ethics’ (chapter 14).

[2] The fundamentalist position collapses when the nonbinary nature of creation is recognized and understood to be taught in Genesis 1. I write more about this in my book, ‘Holy Love.’ The book not only looks at the biblical text, it also includes references and readings from the sciences that show the nonbinary reality of creation…and human beings. David Gushee explores nonbinary sexuality in chapter 12 of his book, ‘Kingdom Ethics.’

[3] Do not miss the subtle implication of these images. They leave open the matter of restoring someone to their “proper” (heteronormative) humanity and behavior. Spoiled blueprints can be corrected, and out-of-tune violins can be retuned. The term “conversion therapy” is largely out of favor, even among conservatives. But the idea that “sexual brokenness” (variously illustrated, but including nonbinarism) can be fixed/healed is alive and well in conservative sexual theology, further evidencing that they continue to believe that anything other than binary humanity and behavior is unacceptable.

[4] In her book, ‘Heavy Burdens’ (Brazos Press, 2021), Bridget Eileen Rivera devotes a chapter to the ways the imposition of lifelong celibacy harms LGBTQ+ people, and how it is a double standard with respect to morality and ethics. David Gushee looks at lifelong celibacy in chapter 14 of his book, ‘Kingdom Ethics,’ concluding (as do I and others) that it is a voluntary decision, and when it is viewed as a requirement (for anyone) it is an ecclesial imposition, not a biblical teaching.

[5] Megan Shannon DeFranza’s book, ‘Sex Differences in Christian Theology’ studies this in detail, showing that in relation to contemporary knowledge, eunuchs would more likely be intersex and transgender persons. David Gushee looks at sexual differentiations in chapter 12 of his book, ‘Kingdim Ethics.’

[6] Covenant sexual morality includes sacredness, fidelity, monogamy, and permanency. People of all genders, identities, and orientations can honor the Covenant. I write more about this in ‘Holy Love.’

[7] Even though I have referenced it above, I want to remind you again that David Gushee’s book (co-authored with Glen Stassen, ‘Kingdom Ethics’ 2nd Edition (Eernmans, 2016) looks at the ethics of sexuality in detail in chapters 12 and 14. He also explores it in his book, ‘Changing Our Mind’ 3rd Edition (2017).

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Sacred Spectrum

I have written previously here on Oboedire as an advocate for LGBTQ+ people. The “For the Bride’ and “Holy Love” series have expanded on my two related books. I had not planned to resume writing about human sexuality, but recent escalations of LGBTQ+ misinformation and discrimination in the society and church have revived the need to provide information beyond what non-affirming people are saying and teaching. [1] This is the first of occasional posts (using the theme above) that will continue my thoughts as an ally.

I begin with one of the very important facts which conservatives ignore and/or deny: creation is nonbinary. Sexuality is a sacred spectrum. [2]

Conservatives continue to deny that it is, clinging tightly to a binary view and acting as if it is the only valid (biblical) one. They vigorously present binary sexuality as justification for dividing the nation and the church with respect to human sexuality. [3] At the least, this is obscurantism. At the worst, it is deception.

The fact is (as the cited references in footnote #2 show), sexuality is a complicated and developmental phenomenon. To define it as one’s biological sex shown at birth fails the test of scrutiny. [4] We now understand that our sexuality is the combination of complex interactions that occur genetically, physically, and hormonally—during gestation, at birth, and for years afterward. The result is a spectrum of sexes, genders, identities, and orientations. To allege a male-female heteronormativity (with non-affirming implications in the church for marriage, ordination, and in some cases holding leadership positions) is no longer an adequate way to describe sexuality. Sexuality is a spectrum.

[1] As I write this, I am aware of specific escalations in two denominations, one being my own: The United Methodist Church. Heather Hahn has written an excellent overview article in UM News, “Debate About Church Future Heats Up” (January 26, 2022). This escalation is taking place in society, particularly with respect to transgender people.

[2] Here are some resources you can use to show the advance of the sciences in revealing the nonbinary nature of sexuality, a view which I say in my book ‘Holy Love’ is taught in the first creation story in Genesis: (a) Michael Regele, ‘Science, Scripture, and Same-Sex Love’ (Abingdon Press, 2014), (b) Claire Ainsworth, “Sex Redefined: The Idea of 2 Sexes Is Overly Simplistic: Biologists now think there is a larger spectrum than just binary female and male” (Nature Magazine, October 22, 2018), (c) “US proposal for defining gender has no basis in science: A move to classify people on the basis of anatomy or genetics should be abandoned.” (Editorial in Nature Magazine, October 30, 2018), and (d) Lisa Brusman, “Sex Isn’t Binary, and we should stop acting like it is” (Massive Science June 14, 2019).

[3] One way conservatives vigorously defend their position is to allege (albeit falsely) that nonbinarism is one of the signs of “sexual brokenness” in our day. This is a major position taken in a recently-published paper entitled, “”Sexual Holiness, Wholeness, and Brokenness” that a task force in the Wesleyan Covenant Association produced in December 2021 as a recommendation to the WCA global gathering in May, to formally adopt a binary position, with a list of suggested implementations in the soon-to-be-established Global Methodist Church (which already exists in principle as WCA documents and gatherings make clear).

[4] The link between sexuality and “biological sex’ is a major one for conservative Christians. The WCA report referenced in footnote #3 bases much of its position on this linkage.

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Along The Way: Looking Through the Windshield

The spiritual life is a journey, and we proceed by looking ahead through the windshield, not staring at the rearview mirror. With my “New Awakening” series ending last week, I continue looking into 2022, but without any new series for now. I will use the “Along the Way” theme to write occasional posts.

I fully expect 2022 to be tumultuous, and from the vantage point of spiritual formation, we must stand on the good foundation and build our spiritual house on it. I am resuming my “Heart Sounds” podcast to say more about this. You can follow it on my personal Facebook page or the Spotify platform.

Most of all, I see the universal Christ (Richard Rohr), excarnate and incarnate (as E. Stanley Jones put it)—the cosmic Christ (Matthew Fox) who is all and in all (Colossians 3:11), and I intend (in the words of Teresa of Avila) to cling closely to Christ and hold everything else loosely. I continue to grow my life in Christ in relation to the ideas of those named above, along with Jurgen Moltmann, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Ilia Delio—to name a few.

Second, I see the need to embrace Wisdom. Walter Brueggemann, Cynthia Bourgeault, and J. Philip Newell are my recent guides, helping me see that while we are advancing in knowledge, we are not becoming wise. We must seek Wisdom, for it (not knowledge) is the aim of life in Christ, who is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Embracing Wisdom is living increasingly as a mystic-prophet (Matthew Fox) in the never-ending rhythm of contemplation and action.

Third, I see the necessity of maintaining vigil. The deformative dynamics of Christian Nationalism will intensify in this election, and their “no Gospel” message will continue to erode justice and the pursuit of the common good. The need to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) will increase in 2022. I will read the good daily reports from Matthew Fox, Heather Cox Richardson, and others to remain informed and guided.

I invite you now to join with me in the pursuit of these visions. I join you in the continuing prayer for the new Awakening, and for our willingness to remain instruments of God’s peace in its advancement.

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New Awakening: Get On Board

God’s new Awakening comes with the invitation for us to be part of it, serving as co-creators with God in the advancement of it. But that’s not easy, foolproof, or without risk. We cannot wait until we are in the whirlwind to decide how to live in it. Similarly, we must “incline our hearts to the Lord” (Joshua 24:23).

First, we must decide resolutely. Being instruments of God’s peace is intentional. We decide to ‘do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). We set the GPS of our soul before we begin the journey. As Matthew Fox puts it, we do the inner work so that we can perform the outer acts. We become mystics so we can be prophets.

Among other things this means that love (agapé) is the core of our theology, with the Sermon on the Mount, the two great commandments, Paul’s love chapter, the fruit of the Spirit, and John’s first letter defining what love means. To this we bring the Old Testament’s teaching about steadfast love (hesed) to bear in the practice of justice (fairness, equity, inclusion, the common good) and mercy (grace, forgiveness, and compassion) for all. [1] We do this in the name of Christ who is all and in all (Colossians 3:11) and is at work to reconcile everyone and everything to God (Ephesians 19-10).

Second, we select our engagement prayerfully. Richard Foster was the first person to show me the importance of this. He shared with me how he came to realize that God is doing more good things than we can imagine—too many for us to be part of. Discernment is essential. [2] Richard pointed me toward the devotional classic by Thomas Kelly, ‘A Testament of Devotion,’ where I mined a mother-load of insights about selectivity in spiritual formation. I recognized the necessity and wisdom of doing a few things well.

In recent years that principle has led to my focus on LGBTQ+ people and the harm they are severely experiencing today. But for you, God’s call is to ”ask, seek, and knock” and allow the Spirit to give you your “marching orders” (E Stanley Jones’ term for discernment) in relation to being an instrument of God’s peace in the new Awakening. As we say in the Wesleyan Covenant Service, “Christ has many services to be done.”

Third, advocate personally. There is no such thing as secret discipleship. Following Jesus in the new Awakening means “going public” relative to the things in which you most deeply believe and seek to live out. It is in this aspect of getting on board where we face opposition, and it is the aspect many come to and turn back from becoming engaged allies and advocates.

In being servants in God’s new Awakening, we eventually have to decide if our primary desire is to be liked or to be faithful. If it is to be faithful, personal advocacy becomes our mission, and we then go on to learn how to do that in a spirit of love and with nonviolent resistance.

Fourth, invest locally. The things we feel called to be involved in almost always have local groups and ministries already engaged. They need our encouragement, participation, and financial support. The New Awakening is incarnational, with the Word becoming flesh in and through us to do justice, live kindness, and walk humbly with God nearby. Spirituality and locality are woven together into a tapestry of compassion and justice. We should be cognizant and contributive to new-awakening ministries and agencies close to home.

Finally, support globally. We cannot go everywhere, but we can connect with global efforts which promote the common good. We should design our financial stewardship to become ongoing donors to particular ministries, and add to that giving to specific needs which arise unexpectedly.

Writing about this, I remembered a song from the new Awakening we call the civil rights movement. In 1965, the Impressions sang the hit-song, “People Get Ready.” It’s the way I want to end this series. The lyrics are for us right now as we see and become part of God’s new Awakening,

“People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

So people get ready, for the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board ’em
There’s hope for all, among those loved the most.

There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner
Whom would hurt all mankind, just to save his own,
believe me now,
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there is no hiding place, against the kingdom’s throne.

So people get ready there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”[3]

[1] The renewal of love for all people is running through the new Awakening. I recommend two books for seeing and connecting with it. Thomas Oord’s book, ‘God’s Pluriform Love’ and Valerie Kaur’s book, ‘See No Stranger.’
[2] Because of Foster’s and Kelly’s testimony to the importance of discernment, I studied it, practiced it, and wrote about it in my book, ‘Walking in the Light.’
[3] “People Get Ready” (1965), written by Curtis Mayfield.

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Along the Way: Faith–Reality or Reality TV?

Faith exists in the context of closed-system or open-system thinking. [1] Both systems use the term “progressive revelation” but they mean different things by it.

Closed-system thinking believes progress occurs only in relation to already-established “orthodoxies” (variously defined by respective groups), and that we remain faithful only as we affirm the doctrines, statements of faith, etc. that have been created by the group.

Closed-system thinking idealizes/idolizes “past” revelatory events, accepting or rejecting new things relative to them. Truth is in place, and it can be known with certainty. “Progress” can occur, but only within established beliefs and practices. Venturing beyond the already-drawn map is to go where “there be dragons.”

When I think of closed-system thinking, I remember the movie “The Truman Show.”  Without knowing it, Truman Burbank is growing up in an elaborately designed TV town (Seahaven), where he has everything he needs. Christof has created it all and directs the show. It is only when Truman pokes a hole in the horizon while sailing that he realizes there is more reality than he has been exposed to.

Christof has to admit that there is more, but he tries to convince Truman that Seahaven is the only world he needs. Fortunately, Truman follows his intuition rather than the television setting, and ends up living a larger and more authentic life than he would ever have if he had stayed in Seahaven. He chooses Reality over reality tv.

“The Truman Show” is a contemporary cinemagraphic depiction of closed-system thinking, and it goes even further to expose it in its religious manifestations. Christof (Christ-off, a knock-off Christ) personifies the illusion of closed-system thinking, and even when his lie is exposed, he continues to allege that while the reality-tv world is not everything, it’s “all you need”—it’s “one-stop shopping” in all things God. To think otherwise, Christof asserts, is to move away from Truth and head down “the slippery slope” of infidelity.

But there is another way: open-system thinking. Truman characterizes it. He chooses Reality over reality tv. Open-system thinking believes progress can occur through things never considered before. It believes there are genuinely new things. It takes its cue from the cosmos and its micro and macro revelations, where new things are coming into being all the time.

The model for this, and the encourager of open-system thinking is Christ, who wanted his followers to have “eyes to see” (Mark 8:18), and that included experiences of seeing things they had never seen before (Mark 2:12). Ilia Delio describes this as being a seer, “The seer sees something that does not yet exist; knows something is seeking to exist; and acts to make something exist in a new way.” [2]

When I think of open-system thinking, I remember Jesus’ baptism, which we celebrated this past Sunday. In closed-system thinking, ritual cleansing had to be done in Jerusalem by authorized religious personnel. Jesus chose instead to be baptized in the desert by John the Baptist, and even though it was not a “real baptism” in the closed system, it was enough to evoke the voice of God the descent of the Spirit (Luke 2:21-22).

From Jesus’ baptism, we learn an important thing about open-system thinking. It is not revolutionary thinking, but rather subversive thinking. It is not out to destroy the system, but to transform it. Jesus followed the custom, but did it in a new way. He continued to go to the synagogue, but set it in the context of a new mission.(Luke 4:18-19). He honored the Temple, but overthrew the corrupt buying and selling going on in it (Matthew 21:12-13). Open-system faith does not deny the past, but neither does it does make it definitive henceforth and forevermore. It rejects obscurantism. As a kingdom-of-God way of thinking, open-system faith brings forth treasures old and new (Matthew 13:52).

Open-system faith does not “progress” out of doctrines and dogmas, but from eternal principles which precede them. In the Christian tradition, the cardinal principle is love, described in the two great commandments (Matthew 22:34-40), and manifested as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Open-system faith does not destroy the law, it fulfills it (Matthew 5:17). It does this by proclaiming the kingdom of God rather than the “kingdoms of this world” (civic and religious imperialism), and by producing new wineskins to hold God’s wine, while journeying into the new creation.

Open-system faith does not emerge from group documents, but from the God-given desire to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8), and with a particular concern for “the poor” (Psalm 41:1)—the anawim (whom Jesus called “the least of these”)…anyone and everyone treated as less-than, marginalized and excluded, and harmed by oppressive attitudes and actions perpetrated by closed-system thinkers.

Open-system faith is congruent with creation, which is itself “in progress” with new worlds coming into existence. It is in sync with the new creation in which the old passes away so that the new can come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Open-system faith seeks Reality, and for that reason it cannot settle for or rest in the “reality tv” faith that closed-systems create and try to convince us is the real thing.

[1] I am grateful for Thomas Oord and the pioneering work he is doing in “Open and Relational Theology.” Find out more at c4ort.com.

[2] ‘The Heart of the Matter’ email, 1/11/21.

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New Awakening: Manifestations

The preceding posts in this series have identified signs that we are in a time of new Awakening. But the signs do not stand alone. They give rise to manifestations of the awakening by those who are responding to God’s call to be lights to the world and instruments of God’s peace. Today, I want to name some of the ways people are advancing the new Awakening. [1]

First, there are multiple movements manifesting the new Awakening. In fact, history reveals that awakenings are advanced by movements before (and often more than) they are in institutions. The early Methodist movement is an example, and it is the one I know the most about. From the early Methodists I have learned that awakenings are group experiences.

In relation to the new Awakening today, the one I know most about is the New Monasticism. [2] But there many other movements manifesting new-awakening visions and practices. I think quickly of The Poor People’s Campaign, the Pace e Bene nonviolent ministry, and Red Letter Christians.Second, the new Awakening is manifested by institutes (often related to movements) which educate people to live and serve in the new things God is doing. The School for Conversion is an example of an educational ministry connected to the new monasticism. In addition the Renovaré Institute, Apprentice Institute, Willard Institute, CAC Living School, and the Academy for Spiritual Formation are helping people fulfill God’s call to train themselves in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).

In this context, we can see the contribution of theological education in the new Awakening as new degree programs aimed at transformational leadership are created in existing seminaries. Additionally, new schools have emerged (e.g. Northwind Theological Seminary, Neighborhood Seminary, and the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary) which seek to educate laity and clergy for re-formation ministries in ways that maintain quality but deliver the curriculum in ways that are non-traditional, accessible, and affordable.

Third, there are denominational manifestations of the new Awakening. Just as there was a Counter Reformation within the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, there are mainline manifestations of renewal occurring today. I think immediately of the Fresh Expressions emphasis and the House-Church phenomenon. But even within existing boards, agencies, and publishing houses of denominations there are ministries and resources that are advancing the new Awakening. And the same holds true for the Roman Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity.

These manifestations (and many more) are further confirmations that we are in the midst of a new Awakening. The fact is, awakenings are validated by the multitude of means God uses to bring them to pass. The presence of manifestations all over the place is an indication that the new Awakening is happening.[1] I had originally planned to write a separate post about each manifestation, but that would mean making this series longer than I have the energy to make it. So, I will only write this one post and point to the manifestations I see most clearly. In the future, I will point to additional manifestations of the new Awakening on my Facebook page. I invite you to be in touch to tell me of any new-Awakening movements/ministries that you have found.

[2] I have written a book about it, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’ And among many others on the subject, I recommend Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book, ‘ New Monasticiam.’ In the book he provides an excellent overview of the movement, including twelve manifestations of it. The book, ‘Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals’ has been published to provide a worship resource for the new monasticism and the many communities which have spring up to incarnate it

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New Awakening: Re-Formation

Awakenings are re-formations. God waters things by the Spirit so that the dry clay of our existence can become pliable. A new creation emerges. Several factors converge to make the transformation possible.

First, realism. Father Richard Rohr’s 2021 theme for his daily meditations has been apocalypticism—an unveiling which simultaneously reveals the true condition of things while instilling hope that they can change for the better. Interestingly, Andrew Harvey’s December blog has been about the apocalyptic time in which we are living.

Jesus called it having eyes to see and ears to hear (Mark 8:18). In the Buddhist tradition it is called tonglen. It is receiving things as they are and allowing their reality to move us into compassion, what St. Francis described as becoming instruments of God’s peace. All the religious traditions teach the necessity of realism. For decades I have said it simply, “spirituality is reality.” There can be no awakening without realism because the absence of it makes the status quo normative (even untouchable), leaving the “kingdoms of this world” as idols to worship. [1] Realism puts an expiration date on the old wineskins and declares “today is the day of salvation” from them.

The second re-formative factor is recovery. That is, we discover the things which bring us together, and live by them to bring a new day into being. Recovery follows realism because after naming the toxins which divide us, we move to embrace the ingredients which unite us. This is not minimalism even though religious fundamentalist/nationalists would try to convince us that it is. But the truth is, recovery is “seeking the things that are above” (Colossians 3:1) and having found them, living by them.

In terms of the spiritual life in general, we seek to recover the Perennial Tradition—religion before religions. [1] In this tradition, religion recovers its fundamental meaning of bringing things back together and holding them together in a divine union which reflects and honors the essential oneness of everyone and everything. We are in a nonbinary, interconnected cosmos.

The second great commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” was Jesus’ way of teaching this (Matthew 22:39) Later on, Paul amplified the same idea by writing that we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

In the Christian context, we seek to recover the universal Christ, who is all and in all (Colossians 3:11), the excarnate/cosmic Christ who is at work to unite all things in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 1:9-10) so that as in Adam all died, in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

The third factor is reconstruction. That is, we use the template created by the first two factors and set about the ongoing work of bringing the vision to pass through the grace and guidance of God. [3] We become co-laborers with God in what Richard Rohr has named “the practice of the better,” following the example of Christ who went about doing good. Christ, who is the wisdom and power of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) is our life (Colissians 3:4), and as we abide in him, we become (as Teresa of Avila put it) the hands and feet of Jesus at work in the world for the doing of good. Enlightened by Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12) we become lights to the world (Matthew 5:14).

We are living in a new awakening, confirmed by the sign of re-formation. As we end this year and enter a new one, let us pray that the three factors in re-formation will live in us and find expression through us.

[1] Although the fallen-world has manifold expressions, they are summed up in the classical three vices: money (materialism), sex (hedonism) and power (domination). These three converge in injustice: unfairness, inequity, exclusion, and a supremacy that undermines the common good.
[2] The main elements of the Perennial Tradition are these: (1) there is one God who created, redeems, and sustains all things, (2) God is Mystery, known through revelation, but never fully, (3) we hunger for a relationship with God and have the God-given capacity to have one, and (4) we find our fulfillment and joy in this relationship.
[3] The next round of posts in this series will focus on the manifestations which move the new Awakening from a vision into reality.

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New Awakening: Resiliency

Times of new Awakening are more like a sunrise than a lightning strike. They emerge rather than erupt. They occur through endurance. Resiliency is another sign that we are in a time of new Awakening. We see people all over the place who refuse to give up, give in, or give out. They are signs of a new Awakening by their tenacity.

I did not plan this post for the week leading up to Christmas, but it is easy to look at the birth of Christ in relation to resilience, both on the part of Mary and Joseph—and not only their resilience leading up to Jesus’ birth, but afterward as well. And it continued in Jesus’ life and ministry all the way to his ascension.

Resiliency is fidellity–the mark of obedience, the sign of endurance. Resilience is tenacity, the decision to “stay with the mess” [1] as the principalities and powers are vanquished by the Prince of Peace. Resiliency is incarnating the conviction that darkness cannot overcome light (John 1:5). Resilience is offering ourselves to God, praying to become lights to the world as we bear witness to Christ, the Light of the world.

Resiliency is also flexibility. It is the art of glancing off opposition and defeat, and moving toward the goal of overcoming evil with good by using a different plan and walking on another path. Most reformers are “Plan B” people. They do not idolize their initial thoughts, but rather see them as the soil from which unseen seeds of insight sprout and grow. New awakenings occur through trial and error, by believing that failure is not final.

And perhaps most of all, resilience is characterized by hope. The fallen-world system, complete with its preachers and politicians, will not have the final word. This is the hope that launches the Christian year—the belief that the birth of Jesus is the ultimate sign that God is with us, and that those who have sat in darkness will see a great light.

Hope is the keynote which enables us to sing, “We shall overcome….someday.” And adding, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.“

[1] This phrase is from Charlotte Beck. I read it without reference to a specific book of hers. I captured it because it reminded me of Dorothy Day and her resilience.

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New Awakening: Resistance

One of the best ways to know that we are in a new Awakening is through the sign of resistance. It is everywhere and on all sides.

The most intense resistance comes from those who have “sold their souls to the company store” (the “dirty rotten system” Dorothy Day), preferring darkness to light because their deeds are evil (John 3:20) and making the status quo a sacred cow. It is the most intense resistance because it is fueled by egotism/ethnocentrism with their insatiable desire to hold on to privilege and power.

At the extremes of fundamentalism/nationalism is the deification of its evils to include the justification of violence. That’s why much of the resistance we are seeing today is not understood as part of the new Awakening. But it is. When the “old passes away” as the new creation emerges (2 Corinthians 5:17), the gatekeepers and potentates of the fallen-world fortress are threatened. They resist.

In response to the advancement of sin there is resistance by righteousness. This is the prophetic resistance that calls out evil, calls for repentance, and calls forth hope. It is the resistance of justice, which advances fairness, equality, inclusion, and the common good—in opposition to injustice that seeks to preserve prejudice, disparity, exclusion, and privilege. Righteous resistance is often called nonviolent living, which is rooted in love (agapé) [1] along with the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. It operates with the vision of shalom (comprehensive wellness) fueling it. It is the light which John described as shining into the darkness (John 1:5).

The light is Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12). Universal light. Light for all and in all (Colossians 3:11). The new Awakening is essentially and intensely Christological. Christlikeness is the summary of its appearance and its availability because the Christ who lives tells us we can live also (Jhn 14:19).

I came to see resistance as a sign of awakening while studying Paul’s letter to the Galatians in relation to writing my book, ‘Life in Christ.’ [2] The Judaisers (the religious nationalists) were opposing the Gospel that Paul was proclaiming and personifying. Because they were opposing God’s new awakening (and of all things, doing so “in the name of God”), Paul resisted them with the message of grace (vs. legalism), the reality of oneness (vs. divisiveness) the formation of faith (vs. “dead orthodoxy”), the experience of freedom (vs. bondage) and the fruit of the Spirit (vs. its opposites)—all summed up in his exhortation to “live by the Spirit” (vs. the flesh: egotism/ethnocentrism).

The biblical phrase for righteous resistance is “overcoming evil with good.” These are the ways Paul said we do this. Paul’s resistance of the Judaisers reached its peak in his call for the Galatians to be free—the freedom Christ came to give us (Galatians 5:1). To use Martin Luther King Jr’s phrase, the journey into a new Awakening is a “stride toward freedom.” [3] It is a march that will be resisted. But as King also said, it is a march on the path that bends toward justice. We are in a time of new Awakening, evidenced by the sign of resistance.

[1] John Lewis, ‘Across That Bridge’ has an excellent chapter on the centrality of agapé in nonviolent resistance. His book, ‘Walking with the Wind’ is his memoir of the civil rights movement, which shows how love was lived in the midst of the crisis.

[2] Steve Harper, ‘Life in Christ: The Core of Intentional Spirituality’ (Abingdon Press, 2020).

[3] Martin Luther King Jr’s book., ‘Stride Toward Freedom’ shows how the civil rights movement was on the arc that bends toward justice, and was a march fueled and sustained by hope.

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New Awakening: Reignition

This sign of new Awakening occurs as we recognize the restlessness of our time and rethink what is making it so. We discover that things which should be happening, aren’t. Things which should be present are absent. Awareness of what ought to be, but is not, reignites a flame of intention akin to that of John the Baptist—we desire to make rough places smooth and crooked paths straight. Like John, reignition is the means of preparing the way of the Lord.

Reignition begins with discernment—with the recognition that God is doing a new thing, working to overcome evil with good. Reignition increases with imagination—with a vision/dream of the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. From imagination, there comes emergence—the exercise of will that commences a transformative process by which the old passes away so that the new creation can come.

When I think of this, Sts. Francis and Clare come immediately to mind. They ignited a restorative movement through discernment, imagination, and exercise of will. The prayer attributed to Francis sums up spiritual reignition,

“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.”

As Francis noted in the prayer, reignition is a “dying”—a moment in which we engage our hearts unto the Lord, deciding to live no longer for ourselves and for “the system,” but for God alone. In the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Service, we put this intention into the words of prayer,

“I am no longer my own, but Yours.
Put me to what You will.
Rank me with whom You will.
Put me to doing.
Put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for You,
Or laid aside for You.
Exalted for You,
Or brought low for you.
Let me be full.
Let me be empty.
Let me have all things.
Let me have nothing.
I freely yield all things
To Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
I am Yours, and You are mine.
So be it.
And may this covenant which I have made on earth
Be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

When we pray prayers like these, the flame of love is reignited in our hearts, and we join those who have been, and are now, co-creators with God in the new Awakening.

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New Awakening: Rethinking

A sign that we are in a new Awakening is that more and more people are rethinking things. On multiple fronts, and in a variety of topics, status quos are no longer being allowed to remain sacred cows. Rethinking always accompanies awakening. Critical thinking punctures assumptions, creating holes where new light can get in. [1]

That’s why fallen-world people caricature rethinking (e g. “going down the slippery slope”) and reject those willing to engage in it. Rethinking threatens those who have turned ideas into idols. Rethinking is openness, and those who are closed do all they can to prevent it. Christians are not exempt, and sadly we are living in a time when some are preferring darkness to light (John 3:19) that turns into a toxic preservation of power and control.

Some years ago, a trustee of a large Christian school asked the president how far she could go in exploring ideas, and still be allowed to remain a trustee. The president said she was free to explore as much as she liked, but that she could only remain a trustee if she ended up where the school was. Disagreement was the unpardonable sin. And that is precisely why rethinking is denounced and stereotyped by those who have made their ideas the only acceptable definitions of truth and orthodoxy.

But history shows that every new Awakening includes rethinking. If it didn’t, nothing would ever change. Rethinking is a synonym for the word ‘repentance’—which means our willingness to look at life with an enlarged mind (metanoia), a mind that’s thinking beyond current reality—looking at life in a new way with the intention of changing and being an agent of change in the world.

Look at the re-formers today. [2] They are all people who have rethought things, and are prophetically inviting us to do so too. Like Jesus, they are voicing, “You have heard ….but I say to you…” in ways that call out evil, call for repentance, and call forth hope. Rethinking creates a “divine moment” which we call a tipping point. We are living in a time of rethinking (action that makes use of new data and sound doctrine) that signals we are in a new Awakening.

[1] ‘Critical thinking’ is a technical term. It does not mean negative thinking, but rather exploratory and penetrative thinking. Tom Chatfield’s book, ‘Critical Thinking’ not only describes it, it shows why it is so important, and guides readers in ways of practicing it.

[2] I am currently reading ‘The Reckless Way of Love’ excerpts from Dorothy Day’s writing, edited by Carolyn Kurtz (Plough Publishing, 2017). It is a reminder that rethinking always accompanies awakening. We see the same dynamic in people like Richard Rohr (“alternative orthodoxy”), Diana Butler-Bass (“Christianity after religion”), Brian McLaren (“a new kind of Christian”), Lisa Sharon Harper (“a very good gospel”), Steven Charleston (“ladder to the light”), David Gushee (“after evangelicalism”), Thomas Oord (“open and relational theology”) and Ilia Delio (“the emerging Christ”), to name a few.

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New Awakening: Restlessness

Today we begin a round of posts identifying signs that we are in a time of new Awakening. The previous posts, which compared our natural waking up each day to awakening spiritually, were meant to say, “When you are awake, you can see what’s going on.” It is what Jesus (and before him, Isaiah) was talking about when he taught that we must have “eyes to see” if we are to recognize that God is doing a new thing. Waking up enables us to see the signs of new Awakening.

The main sign that we are in a new Awakening is restlessness. Diana Butler-Bass reminds us that in history every awakening begins with a breakdown. [1] Walter Brueggemann calls it disorientation. [2] Richard Rohr describes it as disorder. [3] Psychologically and sociologically it is the experience of liminal space.[4] Paul Tournier used the trapeze-artist analogy, calling it the time “between the bars.” [5] Whatever we call it, a new Awakening is a time of restlessness.

But when we have eyes to see, we recognize that restlessness is the portal into renewal. Jesus compared it to a new birth (John 3:1-21). Paul used the same analogy, telling the Galatians that the formation of Christ in us occurs as labor pains (Galatians 4:19). Changing to a universal metaphor, he wrote to the Corinthians that an awakening (life “in Christ”) is a new creation—but one in which the old must pass away in order for the new to come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This should be no surprise to religious people. Taoists understand that “no way” comes before Way. Buddhists teach that suffering precedes enlightenment. Jews understand that darkness precedes light. Christians teach that death comes before resurrection. We say, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming,” but often without realizing this is a cosmic principle. And when we turn the words into a cliché, we fail to see that a new Awakening emerges from restlessness

All this is to say, an awakening is a paradox. It is when we think we are not in one that we actually are. Restlessness is the seminal sign that God is doing a new thing, that an awakening is underway. The breakdown is, in fact, a breakthrough. The old order of things is passing away, so that the kingdom of God can be more fully present on earth as it is in heaven.

Awakening is ignited by restlessness because it is the overcoming of evil with good. This does not happen without struggle. But it is the labor pain that leads to new birth.


[1] Diana Butler-Bass, “Awakening Now?” in her ‘The Cottage’ eletter, 8/17/20. Her book, ‘Christianity After Religion’ explores this in more detail. Similarly, Barbara Brown Taylor looks at the paradox of awakening in her books ‘Leaving Church’ and ‘Learning to Walk in the Dark: Because Sometimes God Shows Up at Night.”

[2] Walter Brueggemann, ‘The Spirituality of the Psalms’

[3] Richard Rohr, ‘The Wisdom Pattern’

[4] “Liminal Space,” Oneing Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1, published by the Center for Action and Contemplation.

[5] Tournier uses this analogy in many of his writings. I first read about it in his book, ‘ThecMeaning of Persons.’

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New Awakening: A Precious Gift

In the opening round of posts I have compared our daily routine of waking up to a new day to the ways in which we become aware of the new Awakening in which we are living. I want to turn to writing about the signs that we are in such a time. But today I bring the opening round of posts to an end by noting that waking up to a new day is a precious gift.

I have learned this particularly from my African-American friends who so often include in their praying words like “Thank you God for waking me up this morning.” Their spirituality ignites gratitude, moving them to see that each new day is a gift filled with opportunity.

Writing these words has reminded me of the ancient Chinese story of the person who approached a sage with a bird in his hand. He asked the sage, “Is this bird alive or dead?” The sage replied, “The bird is as you wish it to be.”

I need to have this view. I too easily become “fallen-world focused,” awakening to a new day with a dull head and a troubled soul. In that spirit foreboding can easily eclipse faith, and I know better than to start my day facing in the wrong direction. Instead, I must train myself in godliness that forms me in gratitude, saying as I open my eyes, “Thank you God for waking me up this morning.”

Applying this to the new Awakening, I am learning from the saints (ancient and modern) that I must recognize the new Awakening as a precious gift. I must enter each new day of it with gratitude, and seize the opportunities to overcome evil with good.

Several years ago, Richard Rohr wrote that one of the formative phrases we need to live by is, “Yes, and…” [1]  That is, we acknowledge the realities we face (including the evil and challenges), but we do not stop there. We say, “and….” We say, “Nevertheless…” [2] It is in the “and” phase where we discern that the new Awakening includes God’s invitation to us to be instruments of God’s peace moving everyone and everything increasingly into the new creation. This contemplative action puts us in sync with the plan of God to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

So too, the new Awakening is alive or dead in us depending on how we see it, and how we intend to live in it. Those who choose to hate, exclude, and divide squeeze the life out of the bird. Those who love, include, and unite open their hand and let the bird take flight. It is what the hymn describes as “having done with lesser things.” [3] Waking up each day gives us the opportunity to do this. Recognizing we are in a time of new Awakening does too.

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘Yes, And’ (Franciscan Media, 2013).

[2] I write about the importance of “nevertheless” spirituality in my book, ‘Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense (Upper Room Books, 2007).

[3] “Rise Up O Men of God”

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New Awakening: A New Combination

When we wake up, we awaken to a new day. Each day is a combination of continuation and creativity. Morning, noon, and night continue as they have for billions of years, but they do so in a creative 24-hour period which has never existed before. The new Awakening we are experiencing in our time is comprised of the same blend.

Our day goes wrong if we separate continuation and creativity. Life goes wrong when we separate the two. In matters of faith it is easy to separate continuation and creativity. The loss of either one diminishes our ability to recognize and participate in the new Awakening.

Conservatives often fail to see creativity. The conservative error turns faith into “dead orthodoxy” (John Wesley’s term)–that is, a view which demands that the past be repeated/replicated in the present. The past is idolized.

Progressives can lose sight of continuation. The progressive error turns faith into “confusing relativism”– that is, a view which commends current reality to the disparagement of the past. The present is idolized.

The new Awakening avoids these errors through combination–through the conjoining of continuation and creativity [1]. Our model for this is Jesus, who said that he did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). Continuation and creativity. The bridge that enabled the continuation of the law, but with creativity, was love. It is still the way “dead orthodoxy” becomes “living faith.” 

The combination of continuation and creativity follows the biblical pattern that Walter Bruggemann calls orientation, disorientation, reorientation. [2] Matthew Fox refers to it as rooting, uprooting, re-rooting. [3] Richard Rohr has recently written of it as “the Wisdom pattern”–order, disorder, reorder. [4] The combination of continuation and creativity is a challenging journey that does not take place when either aspect is denied.

Jesus summed it up in saying that wise people bring to life treasures old and new (Matthew 13:52). Paul preserved continuation and creativity in the term “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The combination of continuation and creativity in the new Awakening gives us the ability and courage to say what Jesus said six times in the Sermon on the Mount, “you have heard that it was said….but I say….”

New-awakening people personify the combination which enables us to live in the present with an appreciation of the past that does not demand a lock-step adherence to it, and with a creativity in the present that does not demean what people before us have believed. New Awakening people are formed by the Wisdom tradition, which holds the past and present in constructive tension. Jesus was a Wisdom teacher, and periods of awakening arise from his incarnation of and instruction about Wisdom. [5]

Awakening occurs when we become mystic-prophets. [6]  Mystics are deeply rooted in God. Prophets are courageously at work in re-rooting life so that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. Mystic-prophets live in the in-between moment (the time of disorientation, uprooting, and disorder) leading people from darkness to light through a theology of hope. [7]

Jesus called this perspective having eyes that see and ears that hear (Mark 8:18). It is a metaphor that combines continuation (sight and sound) with creativity (God saying, “I am doing a new thing. Don’t you recognize it?”). The new Awakening is the work of God on the earth that preserves the foundations while building the new house–that is, living in ways that the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of God and Christ (Romans 11:15). This vision gives us the means to see the transformation, and the will to become among those bringing it to pass.

[1] Matthew Fox calls this the “via creativa” and describes it in detail in his book, ‘Original Blessing.’

[2] Walter Brueggemann, ‘The Spirituality of the Psalms.’ In addition to the psalms, he shows how this pattern occurs elsewhere in the Bible.

[3] Matthew Fox, ‘Prayer.’ Chapter three

[4] Richard Rohr, ‘The Wisdom Pattern.’

[5] Cynthia Bourgeault, ‘The Wisdom Jesus.’

[6] Matthew Fox, ‘Prayer.’ Chapters four and five.

[7] Jurgen Moltmann, ‘A Theology of Hope’

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New Awakening: A New Perspective

Waking up gives us a new perspective. I went to bed in the dark, but I awaken in the light. Things look different. The movement from darkness to light is a primary metaphor in describing spiritual awakening. So much so that the Christian year begins with the announcement that the people living in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). The light is Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12).

Darkness is sin, but that is too vague to be of much help when it comes to a new Awakening. Every time God does a new thing (Isaiah 43:19) it is in relation to specific things. In Isaiah’s day it was imperialism—the fallen world’s collusion between politics and religion to preserve the powerful in their status and privilege, while fostering injustice and oppression. [1] Darkness is always specific.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees) were in collusion with Herodians and Romans. The very people who should have known better had sold their souls in their thirst for power and notoriety. Jesus exposed their darkness, and the religious-political system crucified him. Darkness is always specific.

A new perspective is the God-given ability to recognize the fallen-world kingdoms, not only in the society, but also when they manifest themselves in religion. In our day we see them in such things as religious fundamentalism, Christian Nationalism, dualistic thinking, legalism, racism, classism, homophobia, gender inequality, economic disparity, partisanship, political demagoguery, sectarianism, violence, and the idolatry that makes the status quo a sacred cow. Darkness is always specific.

A new Awakening gives us perspective to see things as they are, not as the purveyors of darkness say that they are. Perspective is part of the new Awakening, because until you see things in the light, the fallen world looks like the kingdom of God, when the fact is, the fallen world is a “dirty rotten system” (Dorothy Day). Perspective is part of the new Awakening because it is only when we see Reality that we have the courage and the will to overcome evil with good.

[1] Walter Brueggemann writes about imperialism in nearly all his books. His book, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ is an insightful look at imperialism and the means for overcoming it

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New Awakening: A New Resonance

I begin this post confessing that, given the perils we are facing these days, I am tempted to “cut to the chase” and write about the new Awakening in a direct and applied fashion. But I am resisting that temptation because I believe it is more important to provide a big-picture look before going into detail. Please bear with me as I do this.

The stakes are too high to rush ahead and run the risk of leaving important things unaddressed. The new Awakening is a many-splendored thing. We need to see the magnificent “forest” of it before we look at particular “trees.”

With the new consciousness (the last post) in our minds, we regain an awakening of resonance. When we wake up, we not only regain consciousness with this world, we experience our oneness with it. Awakening is a resonance with this essential singularity and union with everyone and everything.
Indigenous people have been aware of this much longer and more profoundly than many of us are. Sherri Mitchell writes of it in her book, ‘Sacred Instructions,’

“We all come into this world with a set of instructions. These instructions guide us toward our highest purpose. They lead us to the essential truths that live deep within us. This truth is encoded into our DNA. It is embedded in our genetic memory. It vibrates within us on a cellular level. Every element of life carries this vibration. Every living being has its own vibrational tone. When these tones are combined, they form the voice of creation. If we learn to listen closely, we can begin to hear that voice and allow it to guide our steps through life. Then we can begin to attune our daily actions with our higher purpose and become who we were meant to be.” [1]

Breathtaking insights from the sciences are confirming this. [2] We are one with everyone and everything. We share 98% of our DNA with primates, 35% with plants. We are part of a uni-verse. There is a recognizable resonance between and among all things. We are “in” all of life, and all of life is ‘in” us. Our Buddhist friends call it interbeing. Essential oneness is the story of our existence.

The creation stories in Genesis 1-2 bear witness to it. The heavens and the earth are the unified creation of God–two dimensions of one Reality. The “days” of creation are metaphors telling us that each act of creation is united to every other one in a larger “week.” Everyone and everything share an original goodness.

Jesus, as a Wisdom teacher, described interbeing in the second commandment, to love our neighbors…as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). In the contemplative tradition, “as” is more than a comparison with someone or something, it is a oneness with them. Paul communicated the same oneness when he wrote that we all live, move, and have our being in God (Acts 17:28), and that Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11)

John Donne described it poetically, that when the bell tolls, it tolls not only for others, but for us also. We are part of everyone and everything. Resonance. People whose faith includes the contemplative and intuitive, know this. Cosmic oneness lived out in everyday living is the heart of the mystical tradition. [3]

Far from being abstract, the new Awakening to resonance opens the way to the renewal we so desperately need today. Resonance exposes the evil of separatism, sectarianism, supremacy, and subjugation. It does so as Light—shining into the darkness of our night. God’s daylight is unity, community, and oneness.

Resonance overcomes evil with good. John described it this way, “The light shined into the darkness, and the darkness could not put it out” (John 1:5). And as we know, John understood that this light is Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12). [4] When we awaken, we resonate with Life, we see our oneness with everyone and everything, and we receive the gift of the new day as a fresh invitation to live abundantly and in union with all God has made.

[1] Sherri Mitchell, ‘Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Spirit-Based Change,’ xix.
[2] Thomas Berry’s ‘The Sacred Universe’ is a good resource for seeing this. Scientists estimate that there may be a trillion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars–and all in a single, interactive cosmos.
[3] Richard Rohr, ‘The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See’…and Matthew Fox’s, ‘One River, Many Wells’ are excellent means to understand that the contemplative tradition is at the heart of Christianity, much older than the rationalist/informational definition of faith that today is alleged by some to be “true faith,” when it is only half of the story.
[4] E. Stanley Jones’ writings have (for more than fifty years) schooled me in recognizing, relating with, and responding to the cosmic Christ. More recently, Matthew Fox’s book, ‘The Coming of the Cosmic Christ,’ Jürgen Moltmann’s ‘The Way of Jesus Christ,’ Thich Nhat Han’s ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ,’ and Richard Rohr’s, ‘The Universal Christ’ have been especially helpful.

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New Awakening: A New Consciousness

A while back, I realized that in exploring the new Awakening, I had not begun at the obvious place— “waking up.” I do it every morning, and what is so natural is also metaphorical for experiencing the new Awakening today. I want the first round of posts in this series to glean insights from what we do every day. I begin with the idea that waking up is moving into a new consciousness.


When I awaken, I leave one state of consciousness and move into a new one. I have been asleep; now I am awake. Even if I stay in bed for a while, I am in a new reality. I am awake.


Interestingly, Jesus used the idea of being awake as a metaphor for the spiritual life—having eyes to hear and ears to hear (Mark 8:18), a state of being awake. He expressed this in his ministry of restoring sight to the blind. It was simultaneously an act of compassion and a symbol for opening eyes to see the kingdom of God in their midst.

Restoring sight was one way Jesus re-raised the question God had asked in Isaiah’s day about the new thing that was happening: “Don’t you recognize it?” (Isaiah 43:19). And as we know, some did and some didn’t. Some were asleep and some were awake. Some of the sleepers were very religious in the institutional sense. Some of the awakened ones were not fully welcomed in the temple (except in highly limited and controlled ways), reminding us that when we are exploring Awakening, we must do so in unconventional ways. That was true in Isaiah’s day (e g. 56:1-9), in Jesus’ day (e.g. Matthew 25:40, John 10:16), and in our day as well.


As a result, Paul put into words our great need, “Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). [1] Until we are awake, we will not recognize the new things God is doing (Isaiah 43:19). But once we are awake, we can never “unsee” them or ignore them. To use another of Paul’s phrases , when we are in Christ, the old passes away and the new comes. We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Experiencing the new Awakening is waking up to a new consciousness of God’s unconventional way of doing things–new things that overturn the status quo and overcome evil with good.

[1] Paul’s one-sentence appeal weaves together four passages from Isaiah: 27:19, 51:17, 52:1, and 60:1. This is Paul’s way of showing how the simple exhortation is a thread running through the larger message of the prophet. It is a textual way of saying, “This is a big deal.”

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New Awakening: Really?

It is understandable that the announcement of a new Awakening would evoke the question, “Really? You really believe we are in a time of new Awakening?” Before going farther in this series, I want to respond to the question. For one thing, it is the question I asked when I first heard others announcing it. And it is the questions I am asked whenever I speak or write, “Really? Do you really believe we are in a time of new Awakening?”

A bit farther in this series I will describe some of the signs which indicate we are in a new Awakening. Today, I want to write generally to say why I answer “Yes” to the question. I find my general sense in the biblical stories of the Exodus and the return of the exiles from captivity, and later in the emergence of the Christian movement. From them I see these things about awakenings…

First, they seem like a dream. Psalm 126 sums up how we feel at the outset of an awakening. The slaves in Egypt must surely have heard Moses’ words, “Let my people go” as a dream, or worse, a pipe dream. The call to go home from exile sounded too good to be true. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost left people amazed, and asking “What is this all about?” The natural response to an announcement of awakening is, “Really?”

Awakenings are not in the headlines; in the beginning they are tucked away on back pages and in fine print. They begin in upper rooms, not temples. The attention-getters are the meanness and mayhem delivered to us each day in the media. But as the psalmist wrote, the dreamlike state is the new Reality, the restoration of life….the movement from darkness to light. Awakenings always begin by seeming unbelievable.

Second, the early announcers look like naïve optimists. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech was received that way by many, even some in the civil rights movement. But in reality, his words were a prophetic declaration that change was under way. The words of Moses and those of later prophets to the exiles were messages for the people to take notice that God was doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). Peter’s sermon at Pentecost cast the vision. As I write these words, the transformation we long for is already occurring. Our call is to recognize it and join the advancement of it as instruments of God’s peace.

Third, the awakening is not universal. It is seen in little “movements” not in a mass movement—in pieces and parts, not wholes. I will illustrate this when I begin writing posts about the signs of the new Awakening. In addition, the awakening is not uniform. It is farther ahead in some places than others. People still in the tunnel have more trouble believing there is light at end of it. Moreover, not everyone joins in. It is estimated that only about 43,000 of the exiles returned home. Many stayed put, and for a variety of reasons. The point is, an awakening is never universal—even at its height. We announce it and participate in it because it is Real, not because it is everywhere.

Fourth, an awakening moves slowly, and with setbacks. The Exodus us “Exhibit A” for that. Awakenings are a mixture of success and failure. Even the leaders of it don’t always get it right. The Wesleyan doctrine of “the repentance of believers” is in full gear during awakenings. Humility characterizes the journey of transformation. Moreover the work is not accomplished quickly, and many only see the promised land, they do not enter it (Hebrews 11). But here is what all those who become new-Awakening people do: we run the race set before us, looking to Jesus—the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). We run our leg of the race…that’s it.

Fifth, awakenings are resisted by “the powers that be.” Every time. Why? Because the “principalities and “powers” equate their “kingdoms of this world” with the kingdom of God. They clutch their pearls of egotism and ethnocentrism, dwell in their human-created empires of supremacy and subjugation, make the status quo a sacred cow, and push back when someone says, “the emperor has no clothes on.” Long before prophets arrive, they have dug their wells (Jeremiah 38), built their prisons (Acts 16:24), deified their group (John 8:39), and excommunicated those unlike them (John 9:22). But they cannot prevail. Love prevails. The darkness cannot extinguish the light (John 1:5).

These are some of the reasons a growing number of people, living in one of the most tumultuous times we can remember, nevertheless declare there is a new Awakening. To those who rightly ask, “Really?” we joyfully reply, “Yes, oh yes, there is a new Awakening. Aslan is on the move!” I do declare.

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New Awakening: Introduction

“Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?” ( Isaiah 43:19, CEB)


God spoke these words through the prophet in a time of awakening. God is speaking them again today, as we live in another new awakening. I stand with those who believe a fresh Wind of the Spirit is blowing in our time, removing walls that divide and harm us, and restoring us to the sacredness, goodness, and oneness God intends for everyone and everything. [1]


Thanks to a variety of people, some in the Christian tradition [2] some from other religions [3] some who are eclectic [4], I have awakened to the reality of the Awakening. I am in their debt, and I join them in their witness.


For the past four months, I have been involved with Northwind Theological Seminary, a school that exists in relation to the new Awakening vision and has a mission to advance a new re-formation in the society and the church. [5] It is an exciting place, but being there has revived my need to think more about the new Awakening.


God’s revelation through Isaiah ends a question, “Don’t you recognize it?” It is the question that gives rise to this new, occasional series on Oboedire. It is where I must begin as a follower of Christ, for it is a question that moves me from awareness into action. It is the question God asks us as the means for inviting us to experience and express our engagement in the “new thing” God is doing. It is the question that launches this series and shapes the opening round of posts.


I invite you to join this journey into an exploration of “God’s new thing.” In Isaiah’s time, everyone was meant to see and participate in it. Again today, none need be left out

[1] I wrote some early thoughts about this in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing’ (Cascade Books, 2013).
[2] Writers in the emergent Christianity have been helpful: Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler-Bass, Lisa Sharon Harper, to name a few.
[3] The Tao The Ching and the writing of the Dalai Lama have enabled me to see how the new Awakening is a reality larger than the Judeo-Christian tradition.
[4] The writing of Ilia Delio, Thomas Berry, and Andrew Harvey have brought interdisciplinary insights into my sense of new Awakening.
[5] The seminary website is http://www.northwindseminary.org. I am serving as the director of the Wesleyan Studies Program.

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Along the Way: The Great Challenge

If you were to ask me, “What is the greatest challenge in your spiritual life these days?” I would have no trouble answering you. It is living within Paul’s exhortation, “Be angry without sinning” (Ephesians 4:26). I am angry with respect to many things going on today that are doing harm to too many people. Without going into detail, I confess that some expressions of my anger are un-Christian, and I know it. But I am angry anyway.

So, Paul’s words are my “sticking point,” and I know that I must not live apart from them. The challenge is knowing how to live within them.  Matthew Fox has come along for me at a good time. Right now, his Daily Meditations are dealing with the same challenge in the face of all the ungodliness we are witnessing these days—and even worse, an ungodliness that masquerades as godliness….which, I confess, only increases my anger. Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do with Evil?’ has also been helpful.

In this post, I will mix my thoughts and theirs to offer what little light I have on being angry without sinning. Even a candle’s worth of light is helpful in total darkness. And total darkness is where we live if we don’t take Paul’s words to heart.  I am learning to do so through the practice of contemplation.

First, in contemplation, I face reality. I have learned from Thomas Merton and others that “the prayer closet” (Matthew 6:6) is where I confront my deficiencies. When I speak, write, and act for justice, the activity distracts me from considering my own heart.

Nonviolent resistance, I have learned from John Dear, can be a form of self-righteousness unless it is set in the context of prayer. Without contemplation, we can lack the humility which must precede and infuse resistance.

It is in contemplation, not action, where the Spirit has a chance to tell me, “Steve, your anger is not healthy.” Action can be a way of avoiding ever hearing that. It can be an expression of “this people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8). It is in contemplation where God has space to say, “Steve, we need to visit about your anger. You’ve got a problem with it.”

Second, it is in contemplation where I receive a vision for godly anger—for righteous indignation. The vision originates in Jesus, who when reviled did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). And then, I move from him to the host of disciples (ancient and modern, Christians and those of other religions) who model Paul’s words, “be angry without sinning.”  From them, I learn there is a prophetic anger that is not only real, it is necessary if we are to overcome evil.

It is anger that stays focused on evil (“the dirty rotten system” Dorothy Day), not on people. It is channeling my anger into the prayer Jesus prayed in the face of evil, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Of course, on one level evil people know exactly what they ate doing, and they act (as John Wesley put it) with cunning and concealment.  But on the level Jesus was praying, he recognized that some can become so hard-hearted and self-deceived that they call evil good, and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). That is precisely what has happened to those in the Religious Right, and who believe that nationalism and the gospel are synonymous.  We are right to be angry at this, and resist it.

Third, it is in contemplation where the Spirit asks me to make the saving exchange—to hand over my anger in exchange for God’s—that is, redemptive anger set in the context of steadfast love. This is godly anger, and it is not easily come by, or maintained. But it is real, and it is what God offers me in the quiet place. God does not remove my anger, God replaces it.  Martin Luther King Jr. called it having the strength to love. It is being angry about evil, not the people who practice it.

And yes, that is a fine distinction—one hard to maintain. That’s precisely why contemplation is the means of grace for “being angry without sinning.” I go daily to the prayer closet, which always includes some kind of “cleaning the lens” so I can see as I should, and act as I must. Charles Wesley put it this way, “If to the right or left I stray, that moment, Lord, reprove.”

Contemplation is the means for getting back on track rather than derailing the whole train of my soul. Contemplation is the gift God offers us to confront the great challenge of “being angry without sinning” and being given the grace to do it.


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Along the Way: The Sacred Union of Science and Theology”

“The sciences are helping to restore spirituality to its rightful place, revealing to us a supernatural Reality that is in everyone and everything. [1] Theology, likewise, is restoring this understanding to matters of faith and action. [2]

Matter is concentrated spirit, the intangible made visible (Hebrews 11:3). Running through the cosmos is consciousness, relationship, and interbeing. [3]. Energy is what’s produced in the space between interacting particles—that is, between all which exists. [4] Life is life together, from the smallest particle to the farthest star (Romans 12:15-16; 14:7-8)

Theologically, this brings the Emmanuel principle to the fore. [5] God is with us, not “out there somewhere.” And more, God is in all that God has made. We live, move, and have our being “in God” (Acts 17:28). [6]

The great illusion is separateness, the Grand Revelation is oneness. The tragic consequences of the separatist lie are supremacy and subjugation manifested in innumerable ways. The redemptive conclusion of the Unitive Truth is the restoration of all things in the universal Christ (Acts 3:21, Ephesians 1:9-10). [7]

[1] The scientific contribution is described by Diarmuid Ó Murchú in his book, ‘Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics,’ rev. ed. (Crossroad: 2004). Richard Rohr brings the theological perspective to this in his book, ‘Everything Belongs,’ rev.ed.’ (Crossroad, 2003).

[2] That is, some theology is restoring this Reality. Other theologies are locked in denial and obscurantism, resisting truth in favor of their version of “orthodoxy”–a resistance that’s becoming less and less credible and attractive. “Sacred cow” theology is flailing around a lot these days, but it is the death throe of refusal to join the new Awakening that is regenerating everyone and everything.

[3] The science of panpsychism is making breakthrough discoveries with respect to the nature and expression of universal consciousness. Ken Wilber’s work in integral consciousness is contributing to our understanding, as is the teaching of Eckhart Tolle. In theological language, these are prevenient-grace (awakening) windows through which we are fortunate to see things today–if we are willing to do so.

[4] The term for this is Liminal Space. ‘Oneing Journal,’ volume 8, number 1 (April 2020). The Center fir Christogenesis, founded by Ilia Delio is integrating theology and science with respect to the notion of “energy” (abundant life).

[5] ‘The Life With God Bible’ (produced by the Renovaré ministry) is designed to teach the “Immanuel Principle” and the formation of spiritual life that emerges from it. I highly recommend it.

[6] Thomas Oord’s writing and the wir of The Center for Open and Relational Theology are enriching our knowledge and experience of this biblical truth.

[7] Christology is the theological cutting edge for the new Awakening. Far from being a triumphalist imposition of Christianity on others, it is the bringing of Christianity into the larger reality of the Cosmic Christ which leads to what Matthew Fox calls Deep Ecumenism–a coalition of humanity aimed to overcome evil with good. That is, the new Awakening is a movement to join and a force to be reckoned with.

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Along the Way: The Note of Joy

During my time as a seminary administrator, I would often ask, “Are we having fun?” And I would say to staff, “Get as close to a party as you can.” These were lighthearted ways of making an important point: we live and work best when the note of joy is present. One of my delights was to hear staff and students say, “I look forward to coming to campus.”


The note of joy is second on the list of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I believe that love is the singular fruit, and the additional eight words are expressions of it. If that’s so, then joy is the first evidence of the Spirit’s presence in us, and therefore, it should be the first sign of the Spirit’s work through us.


The importance of joy is emphasized in all the world’s religions. Ani Palmo describes it this way,“If the mind is delighted with what it’s doing, it engages and becomes one with the practice….We need to learn how to use the mind as an ally, so it does the practice with joy… If we stop while the mind is still enjoying the experience, the mind remembers, “That was fun.” It will be enthusiastic again next time.” [1]


I find this principle to be true in retirement, and as important as ever. You may notice that I will stop posting for a while. It is almost always because the note of joy has gone away, and I want to wait until I hear it again in my writing. The same is true for other aspects of my life. As Ani Palmo says, joy engages us in our work and keeps us coming back to it.


Of course, there are times when we act through the impetus of will. Some things need doing regardless of how we feel. But as a general rule, we live and work better when the note of joy is present.


So, I ask, “Are you having fun?”


And I say, “Get as close to a party as you can.”


[1] Ani Tenzin Palmo, ‘Reflections on a Mountain Lake’ (Snow Lion, 2002), 23.

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Along the Way: The Upward Way

For more than a decade I have been on a journey often referred to as “emergent Christianity.” [1] It has taken me into that part of Christianity called “progressive.”  It has been a life-changing experience in more ways than I can name in this post. Many of my previous Oboedire posts illustrate the specific expression of my progressivism..  And as the song says, ‘I wouldn’t take ‘nothin for my journey now.”

One learning along the way is how progressives are caricatured as those who don’t believe much, those who “dillute” the faith and are theological minimalists. My journey into a more progressive Christianity has revealed that the exact opposite is true. The fact is, progressives are maximalists, people who affirm the Grand Story that comes from God to us all. Far from “going down the slippery slope,” progressives are those who sing, “I’m pressing on the upward way. New heights I’m gaining every day…Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

We look for the places in the Bible that reveal the Message in ways that maximize light, life, and love (the three primal elements in the original creation) and which ignite compassion and a commitment to the common good, summed up in the Bible in the word ‘justice.’ For more than a decade I have read Scripture underlining in blue the passages where words like “all” and “everyone” appear. They’re everywhere, and the sum of them shows that the “high ground” of the Bible is found in oneness and union, not partisanship and division.

The apex for this “highest” is found in Paul’s words, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). More than anything else, moving into progressive Christianity has expanded (in depth and breadth) my Christology, as Paul described it above, both in terms of Christ’s Lordship and his universality.

In this vision I see the comprehensiveness of redemption, that “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22). This is what we call “the Christ mystery”—that is, we do not know how God will work this out, but we do know that God’s plan is “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). The focal point for this is Christ’s death on the cross “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Colossians 1:20).

This is not minimalism! On the contrary, it is utmost faith in the highest. It is the vision that creates deep ecumenism in the human family, the vision which removes walls that divide, and restores the oneness God has intended for us from the beginning. It is this vision of Christ’s ultimacy in principle, purpose, and power that is at the heart of the Awakening progressives are seeing today as another recurring act of God to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19).

It is the cosmic Christ who is creating new wineskins for God’s wine, discarding the brittle and leaking “ kingdoms of this world” with the supple and sound Gospel of the kingdom of God. It is this maximum vision of the Christ, who is Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:17) that puts this song into the heart of every progressive Christian, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

[1] It began when I read Brian McLaren’s ‘A Generous Orthodoxy’ in 2009. It came together when I read Phyllis Tickle’s book,’The Great Emergence’ in 2012. In 2013, I put my own experience into words in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’

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Along the Way: It’s Temple Time

America is a house divided. Not as it was during the time of the Union and the Confederacy, but in observable ways, very recently demonstrated by those I read on social media who lambasted the inclusion of “Let Every Voice Sing” as an insult to 4th of July celebrations. Telling as this kind of pushback is, it is but a comparatively mild illustration of a division far deeper and sinister than song selection. But it is a reminder that we are living in a time when we must choose whom we will serve.

Looking to Jesus for guidance, I call the situation we are in “Temple Time.” And from Jesus, I find help in his example for dealing with it. From him we learn some important things.

First, Jesus respected the Temple as a symbol of God’s presence among the people. Nothing he said or did undermined that holy metaphor. He worshiped God in the Temple and taught on its premises. This is the starting point for understanding of how we are to speak and act relative to our national and ecclesial temples today. But from Jesus we learn that reverence and respect is not the end of things. It is not all we do. Faux patriotism and faux faith want us to stop here. But we cannot because Jesus did not.

Second, he overturned the tables of the money changers (a metaphor for the “dirty rotten system” Dorothy Day called it) that had made the Temple a “den of thieves.” He did not destroy the Temple, he cleansed it. And it is here that Jesus gives us our marching orders for dealing with the evils that are undermining our country (e g. Nationalism) and church (e.g. Fundamentalism) today.

I recently thought about our divided house as being in good shape on one end, and the other end being on fire. Recognizing that one end of the house is okay does not mean we ignore the fire burning on the other end. We don’t sit in the undamaged part of the house and allow the fire to consume more and more of the dwelling. We don’t call our friends and say, “We’re fine,” we call the fire department and say, “Come quick!”

It’s Temple Time, in both society and religion.  Respecting the whole while overturning the parts is the way of Jesus. It must be ours too.

There’s one final lesson we learn from Jesus’ actions in Temple Time. Those who “set up shop” in the Temple so that the system promoted their imperialism, preserved their power, and perpetuated their benefits were quick to denounce Jesus. Those who had made the Temple a sacred cow did not remain passive and silent when Jesus upset their system. They called him crazy, even one who was working against God. That’s all imperialists can do when their monuments are exposed as idols.

Likewise, our words and deeds in Temple Time will be said to be libtard socialism, unbiblical progressivism–unpatriotic, heretical, etc. etc. But Jesus knew better, and so do we. When we are said to have “gone down the slippery slope,” it is because Jesus went down it first, and we are only following him. It’s what you do when it’s Temple Time.

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Along the Way: The Faith We Need

We live by faith. So says the Bible in several places. But what kind of faith? I nominate the faith of St. Thomas, what Brian McLaren calls “faith after doubt” in his book by the same title. [1] Our stereotype of Thomas as “Doubting Thomas” has come with the message, “And you don’t want to be like him.” But that’s dead wrong. Actually, we do want to be like him as the story about him in John’s gospel clearly shows (John 20:24-29).


Faith comes alive after doubt because that is where conviction is born. Without doubt, what we call faith is not really faith, it’s “certainty”—faux faith that comes with hubris (not humility) and turns our beliefs into sacred cows. It’s believing in what we “see” (our doctrines and dogmas), which is the exact opposite of what the writer of Hebrews said true faith is, believing in things “not seen”—that is, things beyond our conceiving and control. Without doubt we come to believe faith is to be defended rather than developed.


It’s what Philip Yancey calls doubting our doubts. [2] It’s what Thomas did, and it kept him receptive to new things. It kept his soul a pliable wineskin rather than a brittle one. It moved him beyond doubt to make the most profound statement anyone ever made about Jesus, “my Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Doubt is a door, but it’s an entrance not an exit.


Is there faith after doubt? Absolutely! In fact, the real question is, “Is there faith before doubt?” And the answer is probably not, because the only thing that keeps us open to God is our willingness to say, “I could be wrong.” Like Thomas, there’s no telling what we will experience when we are willing to say that.


[1] Brian D. McLaren, ‘Faith After Doubt’ (St. Martins Press, 2021).


[2] Philip Yancey, “A Time to Doubt” (January 12, 2020) https://philipyancey.com/a-time-to-doubt

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Along the Way: A Good Trembling

I posted this earlier today on my Facebook page. I am reposting it here to better archive it, and to share it with those of you who are not Facebook friends….

“A Good Trembling”

I had no plans to write today, but I am sitting here with an unexpected trembling in my soul—a good trembling, a God trembling. It came as I re-read chapter one of E. Stanley Jones’ book, ‘The Christ of Every Road.’ He wrote it in 1930, but it is ablaze with the light of insight and the fire of passion. I am writing this under the influence of Jones’ words that he went on to unpack under the title of the first chapter, “On the Verge of a Spiritual Awakening?”

If you follow my writing, you know I am among those who believe God is once again doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19), and that we are in the midst of another Awakening. Jones said as much nearly 100 years ago! And what set me to trembling is that he gave evidence for his belief in the very four areas I (and others) are seeing today. In 1930, Jones named them as follows,

First, the scientific affirmation of faith and its place in teaching us new things about faith. Jones saw the sciences as friends with religion in helping to usher in a new awakening—what he called a bringing out from the facts of life a view of life that would be transforming. As a Christian in the Wesleyan tradition (which itself is part of the larger Anglo, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions), I see this in Wesley’s inclusion of Reason in his hermeneutic—an inclusion that was enhanced by the sciences. [1]

Second, the trend toward experience. That is, life arising from concreteness, not concepts. It’s what some today are calling lived theology. Jones said it clearly, “The world of dogmatic authority is dead.” But that death was for him (and for a growing number of us today) a resurrection. Again, John Wesley affirmed it through his inclusion of experience (“practical divinity”) in his hermeneutic, envisioning the movement of Christianity away from what he called “dead orthodoxy” into living faith (“faith working by love”). [2]

Third, the undertone of deep spiritual craving. A hunger Jones saw as he traveled the world. He found it among those who were still religious but hanging on by a thread and looking to religion in new ways. He also found the craving in those who had left religion not because they had lost a hunger for God, but because the institutional forms of religion had failed to satisfy their hunger. Jones saw nearly a hundred years ago what we call today the “nones and dones” phenomenon, and he viewed it as a sign of being on the verge of another awakening. [3] In the Wesleyan tradition, we find John Wesley going toward those outside institutional Christianity who nevertheless hungered for God. They experienced God in ways they had not previously done.

Finally, the expansion of Christo-centric consciousness—a mindfulness Jones found within and beyond Christianity. [4] Christlikeness, he noted, was increasingly becoming the spirit of the age. He contrasted this with a denominational-centric Christianity—a form of religion to which God would not entrust the power of the Spirit because it produced what he described in two words: “imperialism” and “megalomania” driven more by a lust for power than a love of God. [5] Again, I see in John Wesley a similar discernment of the same temptations which Jones saw, and we continue to see. Wesley intentionally kept Methodism defined more as a movement than an institution, partly to avoid these pitfalls.

And so, with these four things before me, I find myself unexpectedly experiencing today a good trembling—one afforded me by E. Stanley Jones, my overall key mentor in faith and its formation. My trembling is a surprising, “Wow!” but it is more. It is a strengthening of my resolve to stay on the path others have seen and are seeing—God’s new Pentecost, God once again doing a new thing. [6] Isaiah’s question in 43:19, “Do you see it?” is one I want to answer with a resounding, “Yes, I do!” as I journey on the way walked by Wesley, Jones, and so many others, including Jesus himself and a multitude of his followers since. And I want to be among those saying to everyone, “Come on along!”

[1] Here is conservative Christianity’s “Achilles’ Heel”—its willful obscurantism of scientific facts that leave it advancing untruths with respect to such things as human sexuality and our oneness of being (human and planetary), leaving it to get it wrong on such matters as LGBTQ+ people, race, government, ecology, and more. Now representing outdated and untrue science in its statements of faith and ethos statements, a large segment of Evangelicalism is a faux Gospel, founding its allegations on falsehood no longer supported by facts.

[2] Large segments of Evangelicalism continue to exist on the basis of alleged “doctrinal purity” that creates leaders who arrogantly act like illuminati who oversee communities where the unpardonable sin is disagreement and acceptance is “agreeing with us because we have the truth.” These folks knowingly erect walls rather than build bridges, turning their faith into fortresses, mistaking schism for spirituality. Jones’ promotion of the Round Table is a healthy alternative to that toxic faith. See his book, ‘The Christ of the Round Table’ for more.

[3] Sadly, a large segment of Evangelicalism views the “nones and dones” as people who are departing the faith, people who have “left the truth” and gone into error, even heresy. But this view survives only through caricaturing those outside their restrictive communities and by a counterfeit definition of “nones and dones” as unspiritual, when in fact the opposite is true.

[4] In his book, ‘The Way’ (reading for Week 50, Saturday), Jones bravely wrote that Christianity does not have to be exclusionary, but rather to be affirmative–that because Christ is the light of the world, anyone who lives by that light “will be saved and saved by Christ, however unconscious they may have been of Him as Christ.” He continued his bravery by sharing his belief that Gandhi would be in heaven. These convictions put him at odds with exclusionary Christians, but it was a price he was willing to pay to declare his belief in an expansive Christology–the kind Richard Rohr describes in his book, ‘The Universal Christ.’

[5] Here again, a large segment of Evangelicalism has sold its soul to what we today refer to as Christian Nationalism, with the same penchant for imperialism and megalomania Jones wrote about in 1930.

[6] I wrote about this in my book ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’

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Shepherd’s Care 2.0: Creativity

I believe the future of the Church turns on how creative we are willing to be. The pandemic has suspended “business as usual” for institutional Christianity. If we return to it as things open up, we will have failed to discern a moment of opportunity. Among its many problems and challenges, the pandemic has produced a “new wineskins” moment for the Body of Christ. The institutional Church has a window of opportunity to decide whether it will do patchwork on the old skins or do Spirit work in the new skins. We have a choice to be brittle or better.

The Church has been here many times before because it is ‘semper reformanda’ (always being reformed), moving from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). Church history provides a mixed report with respect to creativity. What becomes of the Church in the future will undoubtedly be another tale of success and failure. Institutional Christianity always battles the temptation to make the status quo a sacred cow, and the lure of bureaucratic preservation is strong. The future of the Church will be determined by whether we see it mainly as an organization or as a organism—whether we view it as a machine that needs fixing or a movement that needs advancing. [1] The future of the Church will be shaped by how creative we are willing to be.

I ministered and taught before, during, and after the Church Growth movement was on the ecclesial scene. With respect to Spiritual Formation, I had to assess its vision, values, and ventures through the lens of classic spirituality. And not surprisingly, the movement exhibited both sickness and health.

On the healthy side, the Church Growth movement understood the necessity of creativity. One of its hallmarks was “seeker sensitivity.” Using things like felt-need surveys, congregations developed worship services, recovery ministries, small group experiences, and mission efforts to attract and care for seekers.

I believe the future of the Church pivots on its willingness to remain “seeker sensitive,” but in a way that will demand courage and risk on our part. The tables have turned. Those whom we identify as seekers are increasingly looking for God outside the Church’s walls. Seekers are more likely to be “nones or dones” than they are to be visitors or newbies.

Seeker-sensitivity these days will be more about being missional than attractional. The oft-cited failures of institutional Christianity have turned many away, and it will take a long time to repair the damage and restore confidence in it. [2] While being involved in restorative efforts, the more immediate and pressing need is to follow the seekers as they exit our buildings, and “offer them Christ’ in new places and ways.

This kind of creativity is going to call some churches to rethink brick-and-mortar Christianity. Saddled with debt, insurance payments, maintenance costs, and utility bills, many congregations are financially exhausted before they get to square-one considerations of beyond-the-walls ministry. And even if they have some money for mission, they increasingly see that those funds would be much larger if they did not have to pay so much to “keep the lights on.”

In this respect, signs of creativity are emerging, some even before the pandemic began. Congregations are repurposing property and sometimes selling it as a way to be less burdened by the high costs for empty space. The future of the Church will (for more and more congregations) be determined by whether or not they can be healed of building envy.

Watching churches do this, I am encouraged by a recovery of vision for house-church Christianity—the kind that defined Christianity for its first several centuries. Dave Barnhart’s book, ‘Church Comes Home’ is a witness to this renewed vision, as well as a guide for implementing house-church ministry today. [3] The pandemic has added its own insights as to the viability of at-home Christianity. We have seen that we can work…and worship…from home. This realization can be a way forward for a new kind of Church. [4]

The crucial factor in developing creativity is to remain seeker-sensitive, but to do so in a new way that understands many are no longer coming to church, not to avoid God, but rather in order to find God. The Church of the future will survive and thrive if we have the will to leave with the seekers and tend the flock in our care where it goes.

[1] Of course, this is not an either/or choice because the Church is both invisible and visible. But I believe what we envision determines what we enact. An institutional emphasis will not generate the renewal the Church needs.

[2] Sadly, the Church is seen by many (and often justifiably so) as an institution that excludes and harms. Too many people have experienced this firsthand. Their exodus and disinterest is not a departure from faith, but rather a prophetic judgment upon faux expressions of the Gospel.

[3] Dave Barnhart, ‘Church Comes Home’ (Abingdon Press, 2020).

[4] Among the post-pandemic dynamics of designing the new wineskins are the lessons of a more laity expressed Christianity, a “people of God in the world” faith. These things have usually characterized Church renewal.

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Shepherd’s Care 2.0: Contemplatives

The idea of contemplation can be explored in depth. [1] Today I want to look at it in a more short-and-simple way. I am writing about it because I believe the way forward for the Church is for it to be led by contemplatives.

The institutional/professional dimensions of ministry require us to be managers, and we should seek to be as effective in this role as we can be. But if all we are is managers, then we become what Eugene Peterson called “shop keepers.” [2] The vocation of ministry includes management, but it also requires leadership, which is connected to management, but crucially distinctive from it. Leadership is a deeper and prior disposition of our heart–what I am calling being contemplative.

The contemplative dimension is more difficult to enact because we are “busy” all the time as ministers. But as Thomas Merton reminded us, activism can become a form of violence [3], violence against our wellbeing, and violence against others. When this is our style and pattern, we become POW’s (performance-oriented workers) in an meritocracy environment in which “doing” is emphasized and rewarded.

A leader is different. Bernard of Clairvaux called it being a reservoir. To fellow clergy he wrote, “If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir, than as a canal. A canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus without loss to itself communicates its superabundant water. In the Church at the present day [the 11th century!] we have have many canals but few reservoirs.” [4]

He took his cue from Jesus (Luke 5:15-16) who ministered as a contemplative leader. Today, we learn the same lesson from Dallas Willard, who showed that the spiritual disciplines are meant to form us into reservoirs who practice abstinence (inflow) and engagement (outflow). [5]

Jesus described this as as having eyes to see and ears to hear (Mark 8:18), and said it’s the kind of disciples he wants us to be. We clergy are not exempt from this life; infeed the challenges of ministry today heighten our need to be contemplatives. The absence of action born of attentiveness, doing flowing from discernment, will determine whether we are overseeing a religious corporation or leading the Body of Christ.

The next time you meet with your leaders, talk about contemplative leadership, and tell them you want to be this kind of pastor. Tell them you want to be a reservoir leader. Ask for their prayers and support as you journey farther into this dimension of your life and ministry. You and those you serve will be the better for it.

[1] Thomas Merton, ‘The Inner Experience.’

[2] Eugene Peterson, ‘Working the Angles,’ 1-12.

[3] Thomas Merton, ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,’ 86.

[4] Quoted in ‘The Reservoir’ a devotional resource from the Renovaré ministry.

[5] Dallas Willard, ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines.’

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Shepherd’s Care 2.0: Clarification

Every denominational system has a small-to-large ladder, with varying factors that enable every congregation to be placed on it. The intent is to move clergy “upward” as time goes by. The intent to “promote” pastors is a sign of institutional benevolence.


But in the context of ecclesiology, there are no “small” churches. The only people who think that way are those with “large” egos. They are like people who look through the wrong end of binoculars, making everything seem smaller than it really is. We need to turn our institutional binoculars around and look out of them correctly. When we do, several things happen to us…


First, we see that every church is “too big” for us. When I graduated from seminary, I was appointed to one of the smallest churches in the Annual Conference. But even there, the needs were greater than I could meet. People got sick, and some died. Parents were at odds with their children. Marriages dissolved. Poverty was within a stone’s throw of the church building. Members didn’t like each other, and some did not like me. We had fiscal needs and had to “blow the trumpet” to meet the budget.

But in the midst of these obstacles, we had opportunities: to walk with people in grief and loss, to help youth decide what to do with their lives, to counsel confused and troubled folk, and to join with other churches in making the little town a good place to live. Real ministry was “here and now”—not somewhere else later on. My need of Spirit enablement was as urgent there as it was anywhere else I have ever been.


Second, we see the value of each person. One of my favorite reminders of this comes from the writing of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, in his little book, ‘The Christian Priest Today,’


“The glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter and that the small company, the very few, the one man, the one woman, the one child are of infinite worth to God. Let that be your inspiration. Consider the Lord himself. Amidst a vast world with its vast empires and vast events and tragedies, the Lord devoted himself to a small country, to small things, and to individual men and women, often giving hours of time to the very few….The infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many. It is to a ministry like that of our Lord himself that you are called. The Gospel you preach affects the salvation of the world, and you may help your people to influence the world’s problems. But you will never be nearer to Christ than in caring for the one man, the one woman, the one child. His authority will be given to you as you do this, and his joy will be yours as well.”


Third, we see that servanthood is not on a sliding scale of size. Even one cup of cold water given in Jesus’ name is ministry. We can do that in any church. When we think like servants, “more” and “less” have no meaning. Servanthood is caring for whomever is before us in the moment.

This understanding of ministry brings joy into whatever we doing. Writing an email, making a phone call, visiting a parishoner—you name it. We find joy in all things because they have to do with people. A contemporary hymn sets this sentiment to music,


“Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
we are trav’lers on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping;
when you laugh I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.

Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant, too.” [1]

This vision is one which can be enacted in every congregation, no matter what size, in every relationship, no matter how routine. I am not at odds with a system that moves people “up” when it can. All I want to do is to encourage us clergy who are on the ladder to see clearly that bigger is not better, and that we can do ministry wherever we are.

[1] “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant?” Richard Gillard, 1977.

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Shepherd’s Care 2.0: Context

In this season when many clergy are moving, or deciding to stay put, it’s good not only to have confidence that God is at work, it’s also good to remember the context in which God works: here and now. Years ago, Charlie Shedd captured this reality when he looked at his ministry and wrote, “I am where I should be—I have been brought to this place at this moment for this work.” [1] Shedd’s words are words to live by. They create “good soil” for the seeds of our ministry.


First, it is the soil of contentment: “I am where I should be.” Notice the word ‘should.’ Shedd used it rather than the word ‘could.’ Should is a vocational word; could is a career word. We ‘could’ be other places in the system. There’s always a “somewhere else.” But when we believe we are where we ‘should’ be, we are saved from eroding restlessness that can easily breed envy.


An old story from early Christianity illustrates the peril. The devil went to the desert to tempt a hermit. As with Jesus, he exerted three temptations. In the first one the devil said, “Hermit, at night you can hear people in the city laughing and talking, and here you are all alone.” But the hermit had made peace with his solitude. The devil was rebuffed. But he returned a second time and said, “Hermit, when the wind is right, you can smell the sumptuous food others are eating, and here you are living on breadcrumbs.” But the hermit had made peace with his simplicity. The devil was turned away. Knowing he had to change his tactics, the devil returned the third time. All he said was, “Your brother has become a bishop!” The hermit was defeated.


We too are defeated by the ‘could have been’s” or the “could yet be’s.’ But when we live by “I am where I should be,” we can (as Paul described himself) be content in any situation in which we find ourselves.


Second, it is the soil of place. This is the sacredness of locality, the place where all ground is holy. We are not asked to take a soil sample; we are called to take off our shoes—to make direct contact with our place of service and to recognize it as holy. There is only one question, “Can I use my gifts and graces?” If we have eyes to see, the answer is always, “Yes.”


Place is the playing field which makes ministry tangible. It is the location where our theology of ministry turns into the practice of it. Place is where we become pastors, where the Word becomes flesh. The specificity of place requires flexibility and the rejection of a one-size-fits-all approach. But place is also the crucible for creativity. It is where we have the opportunity to see the unique and unrepeatable ways God works in individuals, congregations, and communities.


Eugene Peterson used what he called the pastor’s question to cultivate a sense of place, “Who are these particular people, and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?” [2] In a few words he captured the ingredient of place: particularity, with its ensuing elements of people, association, process, and formation.


Third, it is the soil of time. No matter where we serve, we step into a flowing stream—a place with a past and a future. We serve in the present, and only “at this moment” in the larger scheme of things. We must discern the moment and how we are to fit into it.


We intersect the place of ministry at a particular time in its lifecycle. Ministering contextually means discerning “the signs of the times.” Every person is in some age/stage of life; each congregation is somewhere between its beginning and end. [3]


Fourth, it is the soil of work—the work of ministry. When Charlie Shedd asked himself what “this work” was, he was surprised. He expected it to be the work described by his many duties, but it turned out to be the work defined by his singular devotion. He wrote, “We are here on holy assignment. Life’s true effectiveness does not result from getting God to help us. Our lives assume their maximum worth when we turn our wills over to God and ask that we might be of assistance.” [4]


This understanding of work makes each moment a sacrament, and the work of ministry is transformed from striving to “do great things for God” into (as Jean Pierre de Caussade put it) doing the next thing you have to do, and doing it for God. The work of ministry is rooted in simplicity, not the spectacular—rooted in ordinary holiness, “doing little things with great love” as St. Teresa of Calcutta described it.


This is what Saint Francis sought for when he prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” In the twentieth century, it is what Frank Laubach was asking for each morning when he prayed, “Lord, what are you doing in the world today that I can help you with?” It is a wonderful day in ministry when we understand that we are under shepherds appointed to serve the Good Shepherd. Ministry bears nourishing fruit when we can say, “I am where I should be.”

[1] Charlie Shedd, ‘Time For All things” (Abingdon Press, 1962), 29).


[2] Eugene Peterson, ‘The Contemplative Pastor’ (Word Publishing, 1989), 11. I consider this book to be one of the best books about pastoral ministry.


[3] In relation to people, I have found Parker Palmer’s book, ‘Let Your Life Speak’ and Bruce Demarest’s book, ‘Seasons of the Soul’ to be helpful. In relation to congregations, I have used Arlin Rothauge’s book, ‘The Life Cycle in Congregations’ to understand the sociological/institutional dynamics.


[4] ‘Time for All Things,’ 14.

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Shepherd’s Care 2.0: Confidence

Jeannie and I are reading the recently-published biography of Eugene Peterson, ‘A Burning in My Bones.’ [1] We are reading it the way Eugene and Jan read books, out loud to each other. The book is great; the way we’re reading it is very enjoyable. Chapter 10 is entitled, “Staying Put.” It’s about the struggles related to careerism, along the lines I wrote about in the last post.


Additionally in the chapter, Eugene shared his need to navigate his calling in relation to the inevitable moving around that clergy do. I found his comments very insightful, and given this is the time of year when pastors have to discern whether or not to move, I offer you his thoughts in his own words…


“There are so many uncertainties in making pastoral changes. I’m not always certain of my own motives—my capacity for self-deception is enormous….And when you look around you, there are so many instances of congregations calling the wrong pastor and of pastors responding to calls for base reasons that you have to wonder if God is able to exercise his will in this system at all [2]….But in this case it was almost as if God said, ‘I don’t very often do this, and I may well never do it again for you, but just for once I want to show you how I work. I want to demonstrate to you that my will is determinative in all the vagaries of the system and the conflict and ambiguity….You must trust me to be doing it in the future too, even if you don’t see it.’”[3]


Whether you move or stay in this season of decision-making, I pray you will find yourself held in the arms of the One Who says, “My will is at work in the vagaries of the system, now and in the future too, even if you don’t see it.” I hope you will move or stay…with confidence.

[1] Winn Collier, ‘A Burning in My Bones’ (Waterbrook, 2021). The entire book is inspiring and instructive.
[2] Peterson was in a Presbyterian system, but there are similarities in the consultative process in the UMC, and elsewhere.
[3] ‘A Burning in My Bones,’ 139.

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Shepherd’s Care 2.0: Challenge

While in seminary decades ago, I came face-to-face with the great challenge of ministry: careerism. I heard it from a chapel speaker who said simply, “Don’t turn your calling into a career.” [1] Around that same time, a professor told us in class that one of the signs of careerism is when we look at our seminary graduation class and think of whom we’ve risen above in the system and whom we are behind. These statements made a deep impression on me then, and now, fifty years later, I continue to believe careerism is the great challenge we face as clergy.

Before I write more about this, let me be clear: being a professional clergyperson is inevitably a career, precisely because we do ministry in an institutional setting of some kind. Having a ministerial career is unavoidable; the challenge is not to make it central. Many elements of careerism are not bad. Some are necessary. But they are all secondary. The challenge is to keep them that way. Career serves us when we keep it on the circumference of our ministry; it sours us when it is at the center. Today I want to look at the souring from a spiritual formation vantage point.

First, careerism is the soil in which the false self grows, producing a harvest of deformative attitudes and actions. The false self (as Thomas Merton and others since have noted) is false, not because it is all bad, but because it becomes definitive when it should not be.

In her book, ‘The Spiritual Life,’ Evelyn Underhill wrote that our soul is deformed when it’s defined by the verbs “want,” “have,” and “do.” The soul, she noted, is only defined by the verb “be.” [2] Careerism diverts energy from being into a host of doings. When we live there, we become strangers to grace and become performance-oriented workers with a meritocracy mindset.

Second careerism makes “getting noticed” a priority. Years ago, while conducting a clergy retreat, a young pastor said during a dinner conversation with me, “I am in my first year at the church in ________. If I do a good job there, in several years I could be promoted to a larger church, and if I do a good job there, ten years from now I could be at a church like __________(he named one).” There’s too much here to write about in detail. It reeks of a careerism where “getting noticed” had become the motive for ministry, and the young pastor had contracted the disease early on.

Third, careerism produces “pleasers.” One day I was teaching about ordination and the ordination process. A student spoke up and said, “Well, I’ll tell you what I am doing in my ordination process. I am saying and writing what they want me to. That way, I’ll be accepted and I can get on with the ministry I am called to.” The room fell silent, and the other students turned to me with a “So….what are you going to say about that?” kind of look.

I did not say anything for a moment. I just walked silently and slowly to the side of the room where the person was sitting. He happened to be on the front row, which gave me the opportunity to make my response conversational. But I knew it was a “teaching moment” for everyone. I gathered myself and said, “I hope you are never my pastor. Given what you just said, I would never know whether you were telling me what you believe or only what you thought I want to hear.’ [3] Therein lies a major problem with careerism. Pleasers may be praised, but the accolades leave them with an increasingly hollow soul.

Fourth, careerism generates death by comparison. That’s what the professor I quoted above was referring to. From a spiritual formation standpoint, the problem here is that careerism produces a deformed understanding of the soul—one that keeps us restless and thinking we would have a “good ministry” if we were someone else and/or serving someplace else. This temptation has been increased by the “celebrity pastor” phenomenon, which creates the false impression that only a handful of clergy are doing it right. Careerism turns learning from others into trying to be like them.

There is more to be said about the contamination of careerism, but I want to end on a positive note: careerism is curable. I heard it in the voice of a pastor who was serving a small congregation. After telling me that he had suffered from some of the things I mentioned above, he went on to say, “I woke up, decided to unpack my bags and stay put in my appointment–and be myself, offering the people my ministry, not someone else’s.” In a nutshell, he personified the cure.. He exuded contentment, and there is nothing that sustains our ministry any more than that.

[1] I got an audio tape of the sermon and listened to it annually for many years. Later, I used it it my course, “The Spiritual Life of the Minister.”

[2] Evelyn Underhill, ‘The Spiritual Life’ (Harper & Row, n.d.), 24.

[3] This awkward moment had a happy ending. Several years later, the student came up to me at Annual Conference. He was in his first appointment after graduation. All he said was, “I cannot thank you enough for what you said to me in class that day. I just want you to know that I am telling the folks what I believe.” With that, he left, knowing I understood what he meant.

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Shepherd’s Care 2.0: Calling

I remember the morning it happened. A Sunday morning. Opening the door to my study, I found that an envelope had been slid under it. I opened it to find an unsigned, type-written letter that said essentially, “This church will be what it should be when you are no longer the pastor of it.” The message cut like a knife. This was not the first time in my ministry I had experienced opposition, but it was the first time I had received it in print!

I do not know a single pastor who has escaped criticism, and I have found they have received it in many ways—including death threats. Even sadder, a few clergy I know have been attacked physically. In some ways, opposition goes with the ministerial territory. In fact, Jesus told us to expect it (John 15:20). The question is, “What do we do when it happens?” Two things are important.

First, we need to search for the kernel of truth which may be in the opposition. Unless the criticism is downright mean (the kind usually expressed by dysfunctional people), there is something we can learn from it. We just have to calm down, take a breath, pause, and force ourselves to take another look at the hurtful thing. When we do, we often find a place to change, grow, or improve.

But second, and even more importantly, we must remember our calling. God’s call can be summed up in three words, “I want you.” When others do not want us, we must remember that God still does. When we face opposition, we must have a “cave of the heart” where we can find rest, refuge, and restoration. When we experience vitriol, we must embrace vocation. God may “uncall” us from being clergy and move us into other forms of ministry, but no human can “uncall” us. Remembering God’s “I want you” secures our ministry when it is opposed. It gives us a place to stand and hang on.

“I want you” is not only the way we keep from being conquered by criticism, it is also the means for avoiding the comparison trap. When people oppose their pastors, it’s usually because they hold a view of what “good ministry” is. The unsigned letter I received was based on some ideal that my critic felt I was not living up to. If we fall prey to this, we will not only be discouraged, we’ll be tempted to trade in our uniqueness for an image. But when God calls us into ministry, God does not clone us to be like some other minister. “I want you” means “YOU,” not someone else. The sacredness of our service lies in its specificity, not in a steteotype.

Over the decades of my ministry, I have asked myself (and sometimes asked God), “Why do I keep doing this?” Each time the Inner Voice answers, “Because a long time ago I asked you to do it.” Vocation. I am called. I am 73, and have been in a clergy-type ministry since 1963. So far, being called has been enough. I hope it is enough for you too.

[The “Shepherd’s Care 2.0” designation indicates these new posts connect to many former ones I’ve written since 2010. They are archived on the Oboedire home page. Give them a look. I’ve shared a lot about clergy wellness in them]

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Holy Love: The Eunuch Revelation

In my book ‘Holy Love’ I offer an affirmative theology for LGBTQ+ people, and an advocacy for their full inclusion in the church. [1] In the book, I wrote a bit about eunuchs, but since then I have found the biblical message concerning them to be a key revelation for being an ally with LGBTQ+ people. This article is an expansion of what I wrote in the book.

We have a multiple-word vocabulary for talking about gender and sexual orientation. [2] The natural and behavioral sciences help us to recognize the nonbinary nature of our sexuality. Interestingly, the Bible recognizes it, not only in the first creation story [3], but also in the word eunuch. It was the catch-all word for people who were not male or female. Today, we would say people who are transgender or intersex. So, the fact is, Scripture confirms the reality of nonbinary sexuality, and that in itself is significant. But that’s only the beginning.

We move from general revelation into the teaching of Jesus, who referred to eunuchs in Matthew 19:12, noting that some of them are born that way. It’s another indication that people in Bible times knew about transgender and intersex persons. The fact that Jesus speaks about eunuchs in a positive way adds additional weight to the reality and worth of nonbinary persons. But where did Jesus get this positive regard? He got it from the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah 56:4-5, and these verses are what I am calling “the eunuch revelation”—the primary window through which we can look to see the full humanity (imago dei) of LGBTQ+ people and to advocate for their full inclusion in the Church. God, speaking through the prophet, tells us some important things about eunuchs, about nonbinary people.

First, they are not abnormal. They must not think of themselves as such, as a “dry tree.” They are not disordered in their nature. They are not aberrations in God’s design. They are fully human, existing along the spectrum between maleness and femaleness.

Second, they are included in the Covenant and can keep it like anyone else. They do not have to sublimate their sexuality (e.g. lifelong celibacy) or undergo “conversion therapy” into heterosexual maleness or femaleness. They are only asked to honor the Covenant like everyone else—ordering their sexuality to reflect sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy. [4] This means there is one standard for sexual morality, and all people can manifest it.

Third, they are honored. We erect monuments to those whom we esteem. Eunuchs are given monuments in the temple (religion) and on the city walls (society). Here’s an indication they had ecclesial and civil rights and were respected throughout the culture.

These three things are a lot to commend nonbinary people, but there is a fourth revelation which cinches the case for equality in human sexuality: they are given a name better than sons and daughters. Don’t miss the words “better than.” They are a game-changer, showing from Scripture that males (sons) and females (daughters) do not encompass the totality of sexuality.

We have to step outside of contemporary Christianity to grasp the significance of “better than.” We can understand it by looking at Native American cultures and their concept of two-spirit people. In most tribes, they were considered neither men nor women; they occupied a distinct, alternative gender status. They were seen as particularly spiritual, given they lived beyond binary sexuality. They were honored in the tribe, often serving as wisdom teachers and spiritual guides, and expressing themselves through the arts. They lived as both single and married persons, with the same rights and privileges as everyone else.[5]

This understanding of the nonbinary spectrum of human sexuality illustrates the biblical view. The imposition of binary views onto the scriptural text (increasingly by interpreting the Bible through the lens of European cultural norms) has caused us to misread the first creation story, to fail to see Jesus’ affirmation of nonbinary sexuality, and to overlook the revolutionary story that comes to us through the eunuch revelation.

But things are changing. A growing number of Christians who affirm the inspiration and authority of Scripture are using their hermeneutical skills to mine the passages regarding human sexuality, bringing from them the message summed up in Paul’s words, “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). The eunuch revelation is a pivotal piece of this message.

[1] Steve Harper, ‘Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality’ (Abingdon Press,2019). I wrote an earlier book, ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ (Abingdon Press, 2014) that both announced my becoming an ally with LGBTQ+ people and proposed that the move into full inclusion would be a strengthening of the Church.

[2] Some articles offer eight orientation words and fifty gender diversity ones. Our vocabulary increases as our learnings advance.

[3] ‘Holy Love,’ 15-20.

[4] ‘Holy Love,’ 20-23

[5] “Two Spirit,” is an article on the Indian Health Service website. Related to this Sister José Hobday, a Franciscan sister who was also a Native American Seneca woman once told Matthew Fox, “People like myself who know our traditions before the white people came to our shores know that all the spiritual directors to our great chiefs were gay. We know that gay people bring more spirituality to a community than straight people do.” (Matthew Fox, Daily Meditations, 3/19/21). Her words further interpret the “better than’ name given to eunuchs in Isaiah 56.

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In-Sight: “Religious Evil”

Evil never advances better than when it “gets religion.” When it claims to “have the blessing of God” upon it, evil can justify whatever it says and does. Evil is never more insidious and dangerous than when it operates through a politician/priest collusion.

Israel was farthest away from God during the times when monarchs and ministers conspired to create a top-to-bottom system of oppression (e.g. Jeremiah 6:13-15). In Jesus’ day, evil religion was personified in the Pilate/Herod partnership that desecrated both synagogue and society, turning the Temple itself into a “den of thieves.”

After the close of the biblical era, history continued to document the advance of evil through political/religious deception. [1] The one-word summary for this is imperialism. [2] Today, we describe the advance of religious evil in the word nationalism. [3] Across two millennia, religious evil has produced what Dorothy Day called “the dirty rotten system.”

Religious evil is running roughshod in our country, in ways which can be observed since the founding of our nation. Religious evil has become increasingly toxic the past forty to fifty years. [4] It has raised its ugly head the past four years [5], and it was on full display at the CPAC event in Orlando this past weekend, with a less publicized but more extreme AFPAC event held in Orlando at the same time.

Religious evil has advanced to the extent that conservatives are naming it dangerous. In the March 1st edition of ‘The Bulwark,’ conservative leader William Kristol wrote, ““we are at the edge of crisis, having repulsed one attempted authoritarian power grab and bracing for another.” [6] He names it: an authoritarian power grab, and as always it is an insurrection claiming to have God on its side.

Religious evil creates two immediate mindsets that are powerful. First, the mindset of authority (which William Kristol noted above). Claiming to be “of God” religious evil operates with a king-of-the-hill hubris, behaving like “the chosen ones” (see footnote #2) sent on a mission by God to “save America” (in the current nationalist manifestation). And second, religious evil plays the victim when opposed. “We are being persecuted,” they allege, when the fact is they dwell in elitist social privilege. Taken together, religious evil marches on via its spirit of power and persecution, with a militaristic spirit that says, “We must fight to the death for God.”

Diagnosing religious evil is not enough, resisting it must be our unrelenting aim. The Bible summarized it as overcoming with good (Romans 12:21), and in the midst of religious evil, God raised up prophets in both the Old and New Testaments to envision and enact religious good called the kingdom of God.

The already/not-yet nature of the establishment of God’s reign on the earth means each generation must accept the invitation to be agents of restoration and renewal, until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ (Revelatiin 11:15). We do this following the example of the prophets, Jesus being paramount among them. What does this look like?

First, it means leading with love. Love is the cardinal doctrine of every religion. It is the essence of the Gospel, and the fruit of the Spirit. In the presence of evil, it is tough love. [7] It is the kind of love that almost surely get us kicked out of some “clubs,” but it is a love which sets us free (Galatians 5:1) as we bid farewell to legalism and enter into life-giving relationships rooted in grace. [8]

Second, it means practicing nonviolence. There is too much here to name. Suffice it to say that we must educate/train ourselves in the life of peace and good. [9] We must personify nonviolent living and participate in movements which express it. We do this through direct involvement locally (“the kingdom of God is near”) and by supporting causes that extend beyond our locale.

Third, it means breaking the silence. We declare, “thus says the Lord,” engaging in the prophetic task of calling out evil, evoking godly sorrow, and calling forth a movement of good rooted in the vision of “the peaceable kingdom” [10] summarized biblically in the word shalom.

Fourth, it means dismantling hierarchies. In the Old Testament, the prophets did this through their advocacy of justice (equality, fairness, inclusion), and by teaching that we show compassion to the ‘anawim’ the “little ones” who were oppressed by the potentates and damaged by the demagogues. Jesus enacted the same by saying that it is as we care for “the least of these” that we live the way God intends for us to live (Matthew 25:40).

The early church deepened and widened this vision by eliminating distinctions of race and religion (Jew-Gentile), economics (slave-free), and gender (male-female), and then throwing the doors of the common good wide open by declaring “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). [11] The ultimate flattening of hierarchies is found in Paul’s assertion, “Christ is in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Fifth, it means defeating evil rulers and authorities. In the context of Christianity this means first and foremost incarnating character and conduct that exceeds that of the hypocrites (Matthew 5:20). It moves on to include the use of reasoned debate to demonstrate the excellence of godliness. And then, it manifests itself in political action to remove leaders from office (at the federal, state, and local levels) who have fallen prey to religious evil and are using their positions to advance it.

These five engagements with religious evil do not exhaust the ways and means of resisting it. But they do show that our opposition must be comprehensive and continuous. Jesus called it “keeping watch” against evil (Mark 14:38), exercising vigil and maintaining resolve as we live into the promised future when “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24). The need to defeat religious evil is great, the time to do it is now, and the grace to do it has been given to us by God.

[1] Major examples include the Constantianian cooption of Christianity, the Holy Roman Empire, Manifest Destiny, and the Church’s support of Nazism. Each of these evils existed due to a political/religious alliance.

[2] Steven Howe’s book, ‘Empire’ provides a good overview of imperialism in history. Walter Brueggemann looks at the religious expressions in his article, “Ethics: the Codes of Chosenness” on the Lving Church website, 9/11/20.

[3] Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, ‘Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.’

[4] Kathleen Stewart, ‘The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.’

[5] Elizabeth Jennison, ‘The Long Road to White Christians’ Trumpism’ on the Religion and Politics website, 12/8/20.

[6] Heather Cox Richardson quoted Kristol in her eletter, 3/2/21.

[7] Martin Luther King’s book, ‘Strength to Love’ interfaces faith and society, showing the transforming nature of love. E. Stanley Jones’ book, ‘Christian Maturity’ is an extensive exploration of the life of love.

[8] I have written about this freedom in my latest book, ‘Life in Christ,’ using Paul’s letter to the Galatians as the biblical base.

[9] Begin by reading John Dear’s book, ‘The Nonviolent Life’ and then connect with the Pace e Bene movement for further inspiration and instruction.

[10] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Reality, Grief, and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks.’

[11] Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 were a repudiation of evil religion which had taken the form of a morning prayer in which males thanked God that they were not Gentiles, slaves, or women.

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At the Gate

Question: I am 66 years of age. I need to think more about living as an elder. What does this mean for you?

Response: I must begin by saying that I don’t think there is a one-size-fits all pattern for eldering. Like so much else we have to work it out “with reverence and experimentation.” [1] But neither are we adrift when it comes to becoming elders. I will use reverence and experimentation to offer a response to your question.

Reverence…. By this I mean that every stage of life is sacred. Abundant living does not have an expiration date; it exists in older adulthood as much as in any other phase of life. But as in all the other phases it takes on different forms and expressions when we ate older.

This means we become elders respecting the aging process and learning about it. We can learn from resources that describe human development as well as those which emphasize some aspect of it (e.g. psychological, spiritual, financial, social). At the end of this response I will list some of the books that have been helpul. Reverence for life in all its stages is what disposes us to live into elderhood with anticipation rather than anxiety. God is with us.

Experimentation…. By this I mean being willing to learn through trial and error, and also by using paradigms which others have found to be beneficial. The one I am currently exploring is the biblical metaphor of “sitting at the gate.”

“At the Gate”…. Elders do not disappear. We remain at the place where people come and go, but we are not coming and going as we once did. Elders remain engaged, but in a new way. We have a role, but it is a different role. At the gate, elders are still involved, but in a way different than before. To use the metaphor of Hebrews 12, we are no longer on the track running the race, but we are still in the stadium, in the great cloud of witnesses.

“Sitting”…. Elder posture is one of observation and conversation. Elders “stop, look, and listen,” and we practice what Eugene Peterson called “the ministry of small talk.” This is not insignificant talk; in fact, it is often strategic…and always pastoral. It is interaction with others arising from attentiveness more than from activity. It is responding more than initiating. I believe the main ingredient for this kind of interaction is encouragement. It is our turn to say (as hopefully others said to us in our younger days), “Don’t quit! You can do this.” At the gate or in the grandstand, we are cheerleaders.

When elders do this well, they serve the primary purpose of their life stage: to be providers of wisdom, which J. Philip Newell defines as “understanding enriched by experience.” Of course, wisdom is not the unique possession of elders, and not all old people are wise. But because elders bring a longer-lived experience to bear on things, hopefully their knowledge will be shaped by it. In that sense, elders are intended to be stewards of wisdom. Joan Chittister calls this “the gift of years.” It is a gift God calls elders to tend and offer.

I use the word ‘eldering’ as a way of indicating that living as an elder is a blend of action and process. We do the best we can in our stage of life to be helpful to those still “coming and going”—still running the race. And as we do so, we continue to learn how to do it better.

Here are a few of the books that have been useful to me in becoming an elder…

Joan Chittister, ‘The Gift of Years’

Emilie Griffin, ‘Souls in Full Sail’

Benedict Groeschel, ‘Spiritual Passages’

Rueben Job, ‘Living Fully, Dying Well

J. Philip Newell, ‘One Foot in Eden’

Parker J. Palmer, ‘On the Brink of Everything’

Paul Tournier, ‘Learn to Grow Old’

I have written a book about clergy retirement entitled, ‘Stepping Aside, Moving Ahead.’ It includes thoughts about eldering, many of which apply to us all, not just clergy.

[1] I paraphrase “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) this way with respect to eldering

[If you have something you’d like me to respond to, use the Oboedire email to be in touch: oboediresite@gmail.com]

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In-Sight: January 2021

“A New Normal?”

Living in the pandemic for a little over a year, we find ourselves asking, “Will there be a new normal?”

As I have read articles in which the question is raised, it is an expression of anxiety, hope, and longing. I offer my response to the question from those three vantage points.

Anxiety….this is the place of fatigue. The past year has worn us out, not only through its sickness, sadness, and stress but also by its revelations of how low we can go individually and collectively. Our egotism and ethnocentrism has ridden roughshod throughout the land.

We have once again exposed the hard truth of how far we can go into inhumanity when we live in the flesh rather than the Spirit. We are naturally anxious in times like this, wondering if the underbelly of existence will persist.

When we ask, “Will there be a new normal?” in this regard, it is an indication of our fear. And as Henri Nouwen so often said, when we live in the house of fear, we must move into the house of love. [1] Anxiety is a means through which we hear God’s call to leave the “far country” and return home. If we do so, there will be a new normal.

Hope….this is the place of faith (Hebrews 11:1). Hope is not a polyanna positivity based in fancy; it is a considered confidence rooted in revelation. It is the conviction that God is with us (Immanuel), and that God’s presence is an active presence walking with us through our darkest valleys (Psalm 23:4).

Hope is not something rekindled as much as it is the thing which keeps the candle of faith from going out in the whirlwind. It is the conviction expressed in the hymn phrase, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” [2]

When we ask, “Will there be a new normal?” in this regard, it is an indication of our trust. Hope is our way of telling ourselves and others that we are not defined by circumstances, but by principles, two of which are that the arc of the universe bends toward justice [3], and that light is is the primal element for life. In our hope we choose light. [4]

Longing….this is the place of resolve. Longing includes our wishing but goes beyond it to willing. Longing is desire that’s decisive. Longing means we are committed to enacting what we envision.

When I think of the place of the will in spiritual formation, I remember Dallas Willard, who emphasized the importance of willfulness in the spiritual life. [5] Longing is the way we remind ourselves that renewal is never automatic. We must respond to grace. In the words of St. Francis, we must pray to be instruments of God’s peace.

When we ask, “Will there be a new normal?” in this regard, it is an indication of our involvement. We are co-creators with God in the creation of a new normal. As John Wesley put it, “Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not.”

So….will there be a new normal? That is a question yet to be answered so far as the extent of it is concerned. But when we ask it in the contexts of anxiety, hope, and longing the answer is, “Yes.” There will be a new normal when and where love, trust, and resolve prevail.

[1] Nouwen’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ is a good place to see this movement. He also describes it well in ‘The Inner Voice of Love.’

[2] Hymn, “This is My Father’s World.”

[3] I attribute this phrase to Martin Luther King Jr., but I am not sure it is original with him.

[4] Paul Chilcote and I have co-authored, ‘Living Hope’ as a resource for recovering it in our day.

[5] The Dallas Willard Institute is the means to explore his thinking in more detail, not only about the importance of the will but also its place in the larger process of spiritual formation.

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An Ending

Four years ago, I ended Oboedire. I had the sense that it had run its course. I honored that sense, even though I reactivated it ten months later as we moved into a time of national turmoil, bringing a more prophetic dimension to my posts. The focus on social holiness these past four years has been formative for me, and I hope helpful to you.

I now find myself at another transition place, and I am going to honor it as I did at the end of 2016. Oboedire will remain an active site, but the purpose is changing.

I am an elder (older adult), and I want Oboedire to reflect that. Elders “sit at the gate,” engaging in what Eugene Peterson called the ministry of small-talk. Elders listen more and talk less. They are not runners; they are encouragers of those still on the track. I want to use Oboedire that way. So, from time to time, I will write a new series of posts entitled,”At the Gate.”

I welcome suggestions from you regarding what I might write about as an elder sitting “at the gate.” Use the Oboedire email to be in touch.

The “In-Sight” series will become less frequent, but active when I have something in keeping with its theme to share. The January “In-Sight” will be the final one for now.

As the pandemic brings new challenges to the Church, it puts increasing pressure on pastors. So, in the new Oboedire, I am reviving the “Shepherd’s Care” theme, as a way to encourage clergy.

I am also ending the ad-free feature of the Oboedire site since it will not be as active, and that means you will use a new access address if you search for it on the web: oboedire.wordpress.com. If you subscribe to Oboedire, you will continue to receive posts automatically via email.

Some of you have been part of the Oboedire journey from the beginning 10.5 years ago. Others of you are recent companions. Thanks to all of you.

I pray that the new year will be a path of restoration and renewal for you. We are in need of recovery on many levels. I write about that in the January “In-Sight” which posts tomorrow.

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Day One: December 2020

This month’s “Day One” post comes after the “In-Sight” post because I wanted the December “In-Sight” to be about Advent. So, I posted it on November 28th. If you have not seen it, it’s the one immediately before this one on the Oboedire home page.

This “Day One” post has not been easy to write. There is so much going on it’s difficult to focus. But I come to the first of December with a mixture of concern and hope. That’s probably the way we live all the time, but given the way things are right now, the duality is more obvious.
My concern is that the pandemic, the election, and other things reveal how divided we are.

There has never been a time when we had no differences. But right now, our differences have become wedges driven between us. I am caught up in this as much as anyone else, and here on the first of December I am at a loss to know how to change things.

Putting this concern into theological language, I would say we are a people in need of wisdom. Our knowledge is insufficient, with too much of it driven by the superficiality of social media commentary and too much of it contaminated by fake information. We have become people too prone to believe lies…and pass them on.

Donald Trump is the national example of this (one both Republicans and Democrats are increasingly acknowledging) with a self so broken that he has to create a fantasy land to sustain it. There is nothing sadder than only being able to survive by lying. Watching him, we clearly see that living apart from truth is dangerous. Falsehood leads to delusion and to divisiveness. Falasehood creates madness. Donald Trump is a madman.

Our day cries out for wisdom—that is, truth discovered by discernment and disseminated through maturity. I am concerned that we lack wisdom.

But at the very point where I am concerned, I am also hopeful. For in the midst of our need, I see a people rising—people honest enough to confess that “business as usual” is not working, and that the status quo, turned sacred cow, is not a state to be continued. I am hopeful because a growing number of people are “done” with perpetuating things that hamper and harm life, and are now “asking, seeking, and knocking” for something more. This song from Les Miserables describes the stirring of the human spirit taking place,

“Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plough-share,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

Will you be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes…

Tomorrow comes!” [1]

History knows times like this, times when change is not only needed, but times when it comes. It is what Isaiah called God doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). It is the moment when people catch the vision of what God is up to and enlist themselves to be instruments through whom the Spirit can work to bring it to pass. It is moving forward, putting our hands to the plow of transformation, and not looking back. It is a time when we cross the bridge of confidence, moving away from being imprisoned by lies to being guided by truth. It is a time inspired by hope.

This is the time I see dawning today, December 1, 2020. I want to be part of it, and help bring it to pass. I imagine that you do too.

[1] “Freedom Song” (Finale), Les Miserables

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In-Sight: Don’t Hold Back

I am posting this a week early to connect with the Advent Season…

Whatever else Advent is, it is an annual season in the Christian Year that invites us to make a fresh start. All four readings contain the keynote of restoration in one way or another, especially the two Old Testament lessons. [1]

I doubt there is anything we want right now more than a deep rest that is restorative. We are tired and worn out due to a host of things, many of which have stalked our trail for months (or years), and some of which continue to do so. As someone I read recently put it, “2020 has been a hard decade.” I feel it too, even inside the bubble of privilege. So many others have faced (and still face) things far beyond anything I have had to endure. This one has gotten us all.

In the midst of everything, Advent plops into our lives as Christians. It comes to us with the promise of newness when we are still in a soul-draining oldness. It comes with an offer of life when so much of the world is coping with death. Honestly, I am not sure how to engage with the message of Advent in a way that’s renewing. I ‘m floundering.

But as I make this confession, it returns to me as a question, “When have you ever entered Advent with everything in good shape? Aren’t you always floundering in some way?” When I allow the question to soak in, I recognize that Advent 2020 is essentially the same as always, the opportunity for those of us who sit in darkness to see a great light (Isaiah 9:2).

Boy, do I need to do that this year! But in truth I need it every time the beginning of the Christian Year rolls around. The reading from Isaiah this year, offers us some guidance for making a fresh start in Advent. I sense it in the words, “Don’t hold back.” These words were used in Isaiah 63:15 to implore God to take decisive action. Isaiah 64 continues the sentiment, with a bent toward a comparable decisiveness on our part. We must not hold back when we ask God not to hold back. Today’s lesson guides us in not holding back.

First, we must not hold back in praying our desires. The text from Isaiah begins, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence (64:1). Eugene Peterson amplifies this desire in The Message, “Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend.” Yes, that’s it! God, let ‘er rip! We need a big dose of help–help strong enough to move the mountains of “stuff” inside us and around us—individually, nationally, globally.

This Advent we must sing, “Lord listen to your children praying….Send us love. Send us power. Send us grace.” And send it in truck loads!

Second, we must not hold back in confessing our sins. Isaiah put it this way, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you” (64:6-7).

Whatever else 2020 has revealed, it has shown in spades that we have made ourselves gods. We have followed false messiahs. We have worshipped at the altar of “No One Can Tell Me What I Can and Cannot Do.” We have made golden calves (sacred cows) and substituted them for God. We have sold our souls to the satans (deceivers) of partisanship and supremacy. “Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy!”

This Advent we must pray, “Thy kingdom come” with a broken and contrite heart that says, “My kingdom go. You’re God; I’m not.” [2]

And third, we must not hold back in trusting God. Isaiah declared, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (64:8). Notice that this is not abstract trust, it is hands-on trust. We are the child. God is the parent. God is at work on us. The restoration we need comes by God’s action and our willingness to be acted upon.

This Advent we must sing, “Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”

The fresh start of Advent is summed up in one word: Emmanuel—”God with us.” We are not left to face our perils alone. God is acting. Aslan is on the move. God has heard our desire, received our confession, and accepted our trust. We enter Advent, Eugene Peterson says, “based on the certainty that God is coming.” [3] Oh, yes!

[1] Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:34-37.

[2] This is a prayer conjoining the sentiments of Father Richard Rohr and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.

[3] ‘The Message Devotional Bible,’ Peterson’s comment after Isaiah 64:8.

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In-Sight: Expansive Living

I never thought that a song I learned in Vacation Bible School nearly seventy years ago would be one that can take us where we need to go today, but it is. “Deep and Wide” is about as good as it gets for singing about the expansive life God is calling us to live as we move out of our little-story fortresses. and Into Big Story freedom (Galatians 5:1). Making this move is the great need of our time. We must be expansive people. Jesus called it abundant living.

I call it being an expansive person because our “future and hope” (Jeremiah 29:11) will be shaped by those who are deep…and…wide. The key word is ‘and,’—the rejection of either/or thinking by replacing it with both/and thinking. Dualistic thinking helps us differentiate, but when it divides, it must be abandoned. Our age has devolved onto darkness because we have done the opposite of what Isaiah said we must do in order to be the people God intends for us to be. Instead of turning our swords onto plows (Isaiah 2:4), we have turned our plows into swords, with a global military-industrial complex that threatens our existence. Our partisanships have become poisons.

The need is not either/or…either becoming deeper or wider. Yet, that is what many people are choosing. ‘Deeper life” people are bunkering, separating themselves from others. “Wider life” people are abandoning, leaving specific religious identities behind in favor of amorphous spiritualties. Neither option will take us where we need to go. If our future is to be godly, it will be shaped by expansive people, people who are deep…and…wide.

Years ago, Jurgen Moltmann cast the vision for expansive living in his book, ‘The Way of Jesus Christ.’ [1] But most people never read it. Neither did I until recently. It is high-powered theology, and that kind of writing does not attract a wide audience, even though it should. Now that I have read it, I see that Moltmann is God’s prophet (among others) trying to get us to stop building walls and start building bridges. He is a Big Story person.

But even before him there were others calling us to get out of the boxes which little-story living creates. E. Stanley Jones did it in his book, ‘The Way.’ [2] I am grateful that I read it decades ago, even though it has only borne the fruit in me that it should have in the past few years. Taking Jones and Moltmann together, I describe expansive living this way..

Deep….the first step into expansive living is to go deeply onto your particular faith tradition. This is paradox, but it is true. We first go down, and then we can go up. The way to become an expansive person is to become a devoted person. Both Jones and Moltmann personify deep Christian commitment. This is where we begin (if we are Christian) on the way to expansive living. This is precisely what people like the Dalai Lama are saying outside of Christianity: be the best Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Taoist, Muslim, etc. that you can be. [3] Dig your well deeply, and drink from it profusely. When we dig deeply into our faith we are not only enriched it, we also come to see that our chosen faith is part of something larger. Paradoxically, it is in the depth of our faith where we discover its breadth.

We draw the water from our well with our bucket, but we recognize that the water does not originate in the well. And that brings us to the second feature of expansive living…

Wide…the movement into breadth is natural. It is the discovery that the water coming out of our well is coming from something beyond the water in the well itself. And more, the water I take out bucket by bucket is replenished from that larger source.

Beneath every well there is an aquifer. We get our taste for God and the spiritual life from our particular well, but we get our reverence (the sense of wonder) from our recognition that the well is part of the Source from which everyone drinks. [4] Without this wider sense, reverence can turn arrogant, and we can act as if our drink is the whole of Water.

Another image of wideness is light. In the first creation story (Genesis 1:1—2:4), we note the first word of God: “Let there be light.” It goes everywhere, reaching and influencing everyone and everything. This light is the giver of life and the bearer of love. [5]

As I write this, light is coming through the windows of our house. It is the light that illuminates me and my surroundings. But it is only a part of an exponentially greater Light. My light is from Light.

Images of water and light communicate the depth and breadth of faith, which in turn forms the deep-and-wide life.

When we bring the ideas of depth and breadth together and describe it in Christian language, the single word for this expansive experience is Christ. Christ is the depth and breadth. Christ is the water of life (John 5:13) and the light of the world (John 8:12). To use Richard Rohr’s phrase, Christ is the Christian word for everything. [6] It is what Paul was declaring when he wrote, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossiansn3:11).

E. Stanley Jones made the same point through his teaching about the excarnate Christ. [7] For him, the excarnate Christ is none other than the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity, the one through whom all things were made (John 1:3). As the Word made flesh (John 1:14), Jesus personified the expansive life and offered it to us (John 10:10). In the Book of Revelation the excarnate Christ says it clearly, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8).

Returning to the image of the well, the expansive life reveals that life in Christ is not drinking well water (i.e. water from one place), it is drinking the Water of Life (i.e. water from every place). Returning to the image of light, the expansive life shows that as Christ lights my path, he simultaneously illuminates everyone’s path. The world receives its light from many lamps, each of which is from Christ, the light that illuminates everyone (John 1:9).

In following Christ, we follow the One who leads us into the depth and breadth we must have if we are to live as God intends and act in ways that overcome evil with good. God’s call is to live deep… and… wide—to be Water people, not just well people–to be Light people, not lamp people.

One of my spiritual formation joys these days is finding Christ beyond Christianity. As E. Stanley Jones put it, Christ is in every cell, nerve, tissue, fiber, and blood stream of our being, “written into the total organization of our life.” [8] Over and over I find myself exclaiming “Wow! There you are!” And in response, he says, “Of course, before Abraham was, I AM. I am the maker of all things. I am the Alpha and Omega (John 8:58 John 1:3, Revelation 1:8). Christ is the Absolute deep-and-wide person, and following him, I experience expansive living.

I have written at length today, because I believe becoming expansive people is the great need of our day. Our partisanships are poisoning us. Our divisions are destroying us. Our silos are suffocating us. We must transcend them and recover life together. We must restore our common humanity. It takes deep-and-wide people for this to happen.

This kind of life does not happen accidentally. We must give ourselves to it. It is what Paul referred to as training ourselves in all godliness (1Timothy 4:7 NRSV). Note the word ‘all.’ Godliness has to do with all of life, not just the “religious” part.

I believe the coming days are going to require us to live expansively. Our challenges will demand life beyond business as usual. There are some things we must not return to. There are recoveries we must make. More than anything else, there are new discoveries to be made. The life we need to sustain us is “fresh water” coming from the aquifer and “new light” coming from the sun. This is deep-and-wide living, creating the pervasive oneness captured in the words, “In God we live, move, and exist” (Acts 17:28). [9]

As difficult as these days are, I believe it is a time of hope. Walt Whitman’s words capture how I feel, “Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well enveloped. I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.” [10] God is doing a new thing. God is raising up deep-and-wide people. God is inviting each of us to be one of them.

[1] Jurgen Moltmann, ‘The Way of Jesus Christ’ (Fortress Press, 1993).

[2] E. Stanley Jones, ‘The Way’ (Abingdon Press, 1946).

[3] Mary Craig, ed., ‘The Pocket Dalai Lama’ (Shambala, 2002), 17-33.

[4] This Source is often referred to as the Perennial Tradition. I recommend Bede Griffith’s book, ‘Universal Wisdom’ (the introduction) as a good overview of the Perennial Tradition.

[5] John Philip Newell, ‘The Book of Creation’ (Paulist Press, 1999), chapter 2.

[6] Richard Rohr, ‘The Universal Christ’ (Convergent Books, 2019), 5.

[7] E. Stanley Jones, ‘The Way,’ Sunday, Week 50….and….’Mastery,’ Wednesday, Week 25. Abingdon Press has republished this book on paperback and ebook formats.

[8] E. Stanley Jones, ‘Abundant Living’ (Whitmore & Stone, 1942), Week Two, Wednesday. Abingdon Press has republished this book in paperback and ebook formats.

[9] After I wrote this post, I came upon the final words Father Thomas Keating spoke shortly before he died. He awoke briefly from a coma to share them. They are about deep-and-wide living. I want you to know about them. They are found on YouTube in a 2.5 minute audio entitled, “Fr. Thomas Keating’s Last Oracle.”

[10] The Daily Good e-letter, October 26, 2020.

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Day One: November 2020

Welcome to November! Our Golden Rain trees are aglow in our back yard with a deep amber that shouts, “Fall is here!” Photos from other parts of the country tell a similar story.

I’m guessing you are on pins and needles, waiting for election results. And while waiting, we are praying for peace to prevail through it all. Beyond the political arena, we continue to live in the shadow of the increasing pandemic with its darker and longer shadows.

In the midst of our challenges I’ve lost count of the number of times I have read or heard the question, “Will there be a new normal emerging out of all this?” I think there will be, and I expect it will manifest itself in all sorts of ways. I hope it does. In saying this, however, I prefer to describe my hope the way Steven Charleston does, as a time needing a deep change. [1] The word “normal” even when modified by the word “new” is not strong enough to describe what the future needs to be.

When I ask the question from a spiritual formation vantage point, one thing is clear: however we describe the future, it will not be accidental or automatic. It will emerge as acts of the will by people who refuse to go back to business as usual.

From a spiritual formation standpoint, the question is, “Will we be a new people, a changed people?” Richard Foster offers us the pathway for change in a formative paradigm: vision, intention, and means. [2] That is, if we have a vision (desire) for change, we must have the intention (will) to bring it to pass, using the means (disciplines) best suited to its fulfillment.

I think this means learning how to live expansively—that is, to live a life that is simultaneously deep and wide. I believe it is what Jesus called abundant living—what he said he came to give (John 10:10). It requires us to cease living within the confines of our many little stories, and become Big Story people. I will use the November “In-Sight” to say more about this. It posts next Saturday.

Before closing, I would remind you that I have been writing here on Oboedire since July 2010. Over the years I have written on a variety of topics. You can find these in the “Categories” list on the home page. Some of them have been extended explorations. I have identified them in the “Major Series” icon, also on the home page. One of the things I like about the site is that everything I write is archived rather than getting lost in a social media news feed.

Most of all, I hope you are doing well in the midst of these crazy and challenging times. I hope Oboedire contributes to that in some way. Despite all our dilemmas, I say with John Wesley, “The best of all is, God is with us!”

[1] I hope you follow his daily meditations on his Facebook page.

[2] This threefold paradigm is described in detail in the introduction to the ‘Life With God Bible,’ (HarperOne, 2005). It is a major resource for the Renovaré spiritual formation ministry.

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Merton’s Prayers: On the ITMS Group Page

The “Merton’s Prayers” series will now post only on the International Thomas Merton Society Group Page on Facebook.

I really want you to find the reflections there, in the midst of a rich feast of other writings with respect to Thomas Merton.

You may want to become an ITMS member and receive even more benefits from this excellent ministry. The ‘Merton Seasonal’ (4 times a year) and the ‘Merton Annual’ explore the life and legacy of Thomas Merton from many angles. These publications come to you through the mail when you become a member.

And remember, you can always go to the ITMS group page and search “Merton’s Prayers” to see the unfolding series in and of itself. It began on October 5th and will continue as I explore the prayers in Merton’s journals.

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Merton’s Prayers: January 16, 1941

More than a year has passed since Merton included a prayer in his journal. But I must emphasize that the intervening months contain ample evidence of his prayerful life, largely shaped by Roman Catholic liturgy and the liturgical calendar. Merton is praying and writing about prayer during this time. And I would go on to add my sense that Merton’s journal keeping was a form of prayer for him—what we sometimes call “praying your life.”

But then….on January 16th, Merton’s journal explodes with prayers and related reflections, based on his reading of Saint Anselm’s ‘Proslogion,’ a consideration of God’s attributes written in a prayerful style. He does not say what prompted the reading, he only shares the fruit of it. This is a rich day of prayer for Merton. It will take a number of posts to harvest that fruit. Here is the first entry—one that shows the meditative flow from thinking into praying,

“Now, little man, turn away a little from your cares, hide a bit from your anxious thoughts. Lay down your burdensome concerns, and put aside your worries. Give a little time to God, and rest a short time in him. Enter into the cell of your mind, exclude everything but God, and that which helps you to seek him, and, with your door closed, seek him. Say now, sincerely, to God: I seek your face, your face I seek, O Lord. (Psalms 26.8) Now, I ask you, Lord, my God, teach my heart where and how it might seek you, where and how it might find you. Lord, if you are not here, but absent, then where shall I seek you? If you really are everywhere, then why don’t I see you here? But surely you live in inaccessible light.“ [1]

In this reflection-prayer, we see how prayer brings the singular devotion we need as we seek to find and follow God’s will. Prayer is the means of grace by which we enact Jesus’ invitation to “ask (inquire), seek (explore), and knock (enter into) with respect to our lives. In this prayer, we learn that our questions are often the means to reveal God’s will for us. Questions asked in prayer are not dead-end streets, they are doorways to discovery. This kind of praying does not always provide “an answer,” but it does sustain our relationship with God and keeps the conversation going.

[1] Thomas Merton, ‘Run to the Mountain: The Story of Vocation’ (HarperCollins, 1995). By referencing the date, you can find the prayer in any version of the journal you have.

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Along the Way: Originalism

​Once again the concept of Originalism is being heard in the land. It is essentially a legal hermeneutic which says a contemporary law must express the intent of “the founding fathers” around the year 1789. The late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was the most outspoken adherent of that view. In a speech to the Federalist Society he alleged “there is no way we can know what each other thinks and agrees to besides attributing an objective meaning to words that people state when they write them down.” [1]

I am tempted to dive into his statement and note the “no way we can know….” hyperbole that skews his view from the outset. But that is not the point of this post, so I let it go—but not without pointing it out. My intention is to reveal the flawed methodology of Originalism.

Originalism is part of an interpretive (hermeneutical) process generally known as inductive reasoning or inductive methodology. I taught the method in a seminary course, and I have used it for fifty years. The problem with Originalism is not that it is inductive, but that it is not inductive enough. To explain what I mean, I must provide you with a brief summary of the methodology. [2]

Inductive reasoning employs five steps: observation, interpretation, correlation, evaluation, and application. The first step of observation means paying close attention to the text in order to determine its original meaning. Obviously, Originalism does this. So far, so good. 

The problem is, Originalism stops there. That is, when the “original meaning” is determined, it is transferred to the framing of a contemporary law with the belief that what a law originally meant is what it must mean now. [3] The problem with Originalism is that it does not utilize the other four steps of inductive reasoning. It “freezes” one meaning in time, a past time from long ago, and then seeks to thaw it out in the present moment.

The other four steps of the inductive method intentionally prevent the impositional approach (i.e. “now must be like then”) and keeps the discernment of truth more dynamic. For inductive reasoning to be complete, the other steps must follow observation.

The second step of interpretation moves observation into the realm of viable options, recognizing that between the time something was written and today, other committed and credible people have produced a variety of thoughts on the given subject. Between then and now there has not been silence, there has been sound—and the sound is not “noise,” it is insightful. Views between then and now are not deceptive, they arose from the same kind of devotion we are trying to have now. Interpretation (in biblical theology) keeps alive the idea of progressive revelation. It preserves an evolutionary sense of history.

The third step of correlation adds contemporary interdisciplinary knowledge to the process. We ask, “What are the current disciplines of theology, sociology, psychology, law, biology, medicine, physics, cosmology, etc. telling us?” These too are not judged to be irrelevant or misleading, but rather contributive to the collective wisdom needed to make good decisions today. Correlation means respecting expertise, listening to relevant voices and learning from them.

The fourth step of evaluation means bringing alignment between the first three steps as much as is possible. For example, in biblical study, how do we align the sacrificial system of Leviticus with the teaching of the Book of Hebrews that this system is set aside in the New Covenant?  Evaluation asks, “What is the overarching message?” In the case of this example, it means finding a way in the present to demonstrate our devotion to God. People in Old Testament and New Testament times did it differently, but both were expressing their faith. This does not eliminate either passage per se, rather it brings them together into a workable synthesis for now, offering a way forward for showing our love for God today.[4] Evaluation seeks the Big Story meaning, using it to shape the final step in the process.

The final step is application. This not only means the pragmatic/practical dimensions, but also the universality of the discernment.  In general terms, application asks, “How does this apply to everyone in ways that promote the common good?”—which is the theological and judicial meaning of the word ‘justice.’

 I hope this overview of inductive reasoning has been helpful to you in general. It is the means by which we make good decisions in any area of life. I hope it also shows why Originalism is an insufficient legal hermeneutic. It turns out to be (at best) one-fifth of a complete reasoning process. Neither good laws nor good life can come from truncated thinking..


[1] Quoted in Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditations, 10/21/20.

[2] To study the inductive method in detail, I recommend David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina’s book, ‘Inductive Bible Study’  (Baker Academic, 2011).

[3] Those who use inductive reasoning are the first to admit that determining the “original meaning” is difficult, sometimes impossible, and always partial in the discernment of truth for today. In biblical hermeneutics, this is the fundamentalist approach which, like legal  Originalism, treats the first step of inductive methodology as if it were the whole.

[4] In biblical hermeneutics, Dr. David Thompson has an excellent chapter on the evaluative step in his book, ‘ Bible Study That Works’ (Evangel Publishing, 1994), chapter five, “ Let Jesus Be the Judge.”  This book is a good study of all five steps in the inductive method

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