Wednesday, February 12, 2020

It's here!

My latest devotional has been a long time coming! I began writing this blog over a decade ago, and it's finally been transformed into a book. Isn't the cover gorgeous?

If you're looking for a resource to help explore the deepest hungers of your heart, this book will help.

Find out more information about it here: A Theology of Desire.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

More fully part of the cord

Image result for history of rope

Dolce and I have always viewed and vowed that we are a cord of three; the two of us, and God.

She has the kind of relationship where she's always talking with them. In and out of the day, as easy as breathing. My own relationship is less interactive. I think about God frequently, but I don't commune with them that way.

I think about them, rather than with and to them.

The revelation I received during today's intentional communing with the divine was that I want to be more fully part of that three. More fully within the flow of the circle. More attuned to God, and to Dolce. Through them to each other, and back around to me.

I'm not sure how to do that, but I desire it. And so, I'm sure, do they.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The opaque veil that hides the face of God

"Self is the opaque veil that hides the face of God from us. It can be removed only in spiritual experience, never by mere instruction." — A. W. Tozer

Friday, April 3, 2015

Judas: First Recipient of the First Eucharist

On Wednesday of this most holy week, I was asked to give the homily for an evening prayer service. It was my first time in the role. Here is what I offered, complete with opening and closing prayers.

O Lord, open our eyes
To behold your presence.
Open our ears
To hear your voice.
Open our hearts
To receive your love.
That our mouths may proclaim your praise. Amen.

I’m going to focus on the gospel passage (John 13:21-32), and so we’re going to talk a little bit about who Judas was and how Jesus related to him, and then we’ll dive into the drama that unfolds in the reading.

It is a dark story, in a dark week, which finally erupts into a great light.

So what do we know about Judas?

He was chosen as one of the original 12 apostles, and keeper of the purse. He did at least some good works, like feeding the poor. He was given the authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. He went out to proclaim the good news.

In other words, he was an apostle like all the others. But, he was a thief.

And what do we know about Jesus’ relationship with Judas?

First, that Jesus wanted him from the beginning.
He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. (Mark 3:13)

Jesus knew the reality of who Judas was; he wasn’t hoodwinked.
For Jesus knew from the first … the one that would betray him. (John 6:64)

But Jesus sorrows over this knowledge. John tells us that Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” He uses the same phrasing when talking about the death of his good friend Lazarus, so he must have been troubled indeed. 

Matthew tells us that Jesus calls Judas friend at the very moment of his final betrayal, standing in the garden of Gethsemane, saying:
 “Friend, do what you are here to do.” (Matt 26:50)

But Jesus never stopped loving Judas.
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

The betrayal begins to unfold during the last supper.

Maundy Thursday is one of the highest holy days in the church calendar because out of it came the institution of both the priesthood and the Eucharist.  Jesus orchestrated the celebration, and acted as the Passover feast’s host. In the tradition of the time, the host had certain duties and privileges. On that Thursday, Jesus stripped down and washed the apostles’ feet, which was the action of a servant, not of a host. 

He then offers up the first Eucharist, presenting his own flesh and blood for the first time in the form of bread and wine. 

He’d positioned Judas close by, in a place of honor, where they might eat together from the same bowl. In our gospel passage Jesus says:
 “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. (John 13: 26)

In an Eastern custom that is still in practice, a “sop” is offered to the most honored guest. The sop is the tastiest morsel of food tucked into a bit of bread, or a piece of bread dipped in the most delicious pool of lamb juices in the communal bowl.

I imagine him dipping the bread into the cup of his blood, the wine. 

Jesus followed this tradition, and offered the “sop” to Judas. Singling HIM out as the most honored guest.

Isn’t that amazing, knowing what he did?

In this same tradition, the sop is offered before anyone else begins to eat. It is sometimes delivered directly to the guest’s mouth. 

And so if we put together all the various gospel accounts along with an understanding of this practice, we discover that Jesus offered up his body and blood, for the first time ever, to Judas. 

Judas, who he chose and who he loves and for whom he willingly suffers all that is to come.

Judas: the first recipient of the first Eucharist.

Jesus then tells him to go quickly, and do what he has to do. So Judas immediately gets up from Jesus’ side, and leaves. 

The story ends with the phrase:
And it was night. 

A dark night indeed.

Matthew tells us when Judas hears that Jesus was condemned, he repents. He returns the 30 pieces of silver and is overcome with guilt and remorse.

Mark tells us that Jesus had tried to warn him, saying
  woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!” (Mark 14:21)

And what is “woe”?

Great heartache. Sorrow. Despair.

Judas surely did receive the full force of that woe. He experienced it so completely that he committed suicide.

It is said that Jesus is the bearer of all our sins. The last thing I want to be is heretical, but in a way, isn’t that really what Judas did? He took all our sinful tendencies into his own hands and brought about the worst imaginable sin; the killing of God?

Poor Judas bore the weight of all the betrayals that have taken place since Adam's, and all those we'll continue to inflict until the end of time. And aren’t we really both of these scapegoat characters? 

Admit it; we would bite that irresistible apple if a snake told us to, just like Adam did. And like Judas we turn our backs on Jesus in our own lives. Perhaps not as spectacularly, but possibly more frequently.

At least, I think I do.

We deny him as Peter did, and leave him alone as the rest of the disciples did, and we take the bread that Jesus dips and kiss him while offering him up to our own selfishness. 

Haven’t we all been betrayers? Jesus tells us that what we do to the least of his children, we do to him. Haven’t we all done things to his children for which we feel remorse and sorrow? Sometimes even to the point of wishing we were dead? 

I know I have. I pray that I never will again, but it’s possible that smaller betrayals are part of my future. 

The story of Judas is difficult. But thankfully the news, though sad, is good. Because in describing his relationship with Judas, Jesus tells us he knew US from the beginning. He knows all the evil we’ve done in the past, and all our temptations in the future.

And yet he washes our feet.
And he feeds us spiritual food, lifting his own hand to our mouths.
And he calls us friend at the very moment we disown him.
And he waits for us to repent, and then pulls us into the circle of the heavenly kingdom where we will join the twelve in the perpetual wedding feast of the lamb.

Let’s Pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for the fathomless depths of your love. Have mercy on the soul of the one who betrayed you then, and on those of us who continue to betray you now.
In your name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sexual Reaction rather than Revolution

Here's a provocative article which is very worth viewing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The privilege of your eyes

For Dolce.
A heaven in a gaze,
A heaven of heavens, the privilege
of one another's eyes.

From: T'was a Long Parting, but the Time by Emily Dickinson

Monday, April 21, 2014

When the filters to perception are removed

The state between wakefulness and sleep is fecund; dark and loamy. Behind closed eyelids visions blossom, growing the way chrysanthemum fireworks pulse out from a central point into fullness. During a recent sleepless night two such visions appeared. One slipped away from my recollecting almost immediately, but a faded version of the second remains.

It was an image of green, growing things, like succulents pushing out of dark earth. They didn't sprout and bloom before my eyes, instead the fully formed image materialized out of grayness into clarity and then on to something more. It was like looking through the lens of a microscope where the first view is completely out of focus, but then you start zeroing in. The plants grew increasingly defined, the colors grew sharper, the lines between each leaf more intense. The picture quickly moved from non-existence to what I perceive as normal vision, but then kept going. It shifted into an intense clarity, and I knew that I was seeing more than I ever had before. More of what was real. More of what was there. At the same time, I was aware that there was still more to see, and that the dial had been turned up only minutely, offering just a tiny hint at what can be seen through the veil.

The image vanished before I could zoom in further.

In this liminal state a thought also appeared, fully formed. It was the idea that death is the process by which all our filters for perception are removed, when instead of losing contact with creation we are finally able to perceive it as it truly is, on all levels. From electric hazes of energy to swirling microorganisms to the magnetic pull of atomic structures. We will experience a cosmic give and take, exchanges of oxygen and consumption, of rotting and growth and feeding, of colors undreamt of by our limited cones and rods. We will see smells and lie down on a moving bed of cilia.

Perhaps we will watch our bodies decompose and dance with joy at the transformation of matter and energy. Dancing to the song of birds and the roaring of rivers and blood, the percussion of hearts and particles reforming, the silent sound of planets spinning and the burning of the stars.

In death with physicality stripped away and our essence released to join the eternal song of creation, there is no sin or offense, no judgement or worry. It won't matter how many times we lied or how many commandments we broke, if we slept with 400 men or the single, perfect girl. All of that is meaningless in the majesty of the vast, molecular moment. In this state of being there can be no separation from God or each other or the universe.

I'm not a fan of sleepless nights and the struggle to drift off into dreams. But then again, the thoughts of night are not the thoughts of the waking hours.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Not proof, but presence

"It is not the objective proof of God's existence that we want but the experience of God's presence. That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get."

 — Frederick Buechner

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Walking with Dry Bones

Today's Old Testament passage comes from chapter 37 of Ezekiel. It is the story of the dry bones. (Click this link if you'd like to read it.)

Here's the Reader's Digest version: a prophet peers into a valley and it is filled with bones. They are very dry. God instructs the man to tell the bones to listen and hear of His promises. Ezekiel does what he is told, and watches as sinews and muscles and skin grow over the bones. Last of all, God's breath enters them so that the bones came alive. As the scene closes, the valley is filled with a vast army of the resurrected.

I've previously found the story to be fanciful and a bit spooky. It seemed like a good reading for the Day of the Dead. It is very visual, and I think the imagery must have distracted me from the message.

Today I heard it differently. For the first time, I realized that it is my story.

While I had not been whittled all the way to bone, I was nearly dead, held captive by an idea and a hope of what could never be. My hair was brittle and my jaw so tight it ached. I couldn't sleep and my body was rigid with tension. If it weren't for my children and my church, I would surely have died.

The darkness was very dark and my bones were very dry.

But God watched, and waited. And finally, He spoke, His breath flowing in and out and around me, releasing my inert soul from it's shackles and hauling me to my feet.

Here is the final verse in Ezekiel's vision, with God speaking to the resurrected:

14 I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life, and I will settle you in your land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.

And that is what He did for me. He breathed life into the decay, and carried me both symbolically and literally into my land, a land that is also His.

I am speechlessly grateful for my Lord's breath.

If you are hurting, broken, and hopeless may God send you a prophet to speak life and truth to all your places of captivity. Be on the lookout, but don't assume he'll bear the name Ezekiel.

In my case, her name was Diane.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Forgive me and help me

Good Friday services are quiet and dark, no matter the lighting. To fit the mood, last night's music included old pieces which I imagined being sung by medieval voices within echoing stone walls.

It is natural to feel guilty on Good Friday, and so that's where I went. I forced myself to continue exploring my own personal sin-monkey, the grand poobah: pride. Unfortunately my pride takes the most ugly and inexcusable form: it is spiritual.

When I first began this blog I wrote with conviction that the view of spirituality I was exploring was the right one. I thought I had discovered the fullness of faith, and was simply entering into it and trying to share it. The beauty and majesty of what I studied kept me in a state of breath-constricting wonder. All I wanted to do was help others enter into the same place. To share the joy and "rightness".

My desire to share the beauty was good. But the pride I took in my stance was not good.

It is now several years later. The awe continues, but the theology has shifted. Considerably. The Catholicity that I find so gorgeous is under review. Not dismissed, not tarnished, but evaluated. God set me on a road of such strange beauty and love that I have no choice but to revise my understanding.

That revision remains under way. Who knows where it will eventually lead. So far it has led to an increased focus on Christ's teaching of love, and in particular, on His words about the Law.

I find myself engaging in a new form of debate, from a position polar opposite to the one I formerly held.

What I've discovered this Holy Week is that I'm still a judger of right. I'm still full of pride in knowing that opposing Christian views are "wrong".

My focus is now on the love of God rather than on the law of God, and that's good. But my judgementalness is still there, and that's not good. I still yell "Crucify him!" with the rest of the crowd.

Please Lord, help me not to be a pharisee. On your most holy day of resurrection, forgive me and help me.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

At today's vestry meeting we pondered the idea of being salt and light. This time, I read a particular phrase differently than I had before:

Matthew:5-15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Previously I've just envisioned a basket being plopped on top, and the light being blocked. But for the first time I realized how ridiculous it would be to do what is described. Not simply because it would nullify the purpose of the lamp and waste a precious resource, but because it would be downright dangerous.

What happens if you put a basket over a flame?

Depending on the weave, the fire could go out. There might not be enough oxygen to keep it going. But if the flow of O2 is good the basket could easily catch fire. And the house, which should instead have been filled with light, could be destroyed.

If your salt loses it's saltiness, it is thrown away. Trampled. Returned to dust. Lost.

If your light is hidden under a bushel, your entire existence can be put in jeopardy. Turned to ash. Lost.

So don't do it. Don't hide your light.


Dance in being.

Add saltiness, and live.

Monday, February 11, 2013

One Holy Dwelling

Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." (Matthew 17:4)

I heard this passage as part of yesterday's gospel reading. The version we read continued on by stating that Peter didn't know what he was saying.

The cloud came next, out of which the Father spoke, instructing us to listen to His son. Then the cloud lifted, and Moses and Elijah were gone. Only Jesus remained.

Peter wanted to build dwellings, or as other translations call them booths, or even tabernacles. Three of them. One for the law, one for the prophets, and one for this newcomer, this Jesus.

Three monuments to three institutions.

But he didn't know what he was saying. There was to be only one.

One fulfillment.

One perpetual tabernacle.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Soul or Ego?

This passage comes from Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society:
Does it ever give thee pause, that men used to have a soul--not by hearsay alone, or as a figure of speech; but as a truth that they knew, and acted upon! Verily it was another world then... but yet it is a pity we have lost the tidings of our soul... we shall have to go in search of them again, or worse in all ways shall befall us. (Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present)

Isn't that something--to know your own soul by hearsay, instead of its own tidings? Why should I let a preacher tell me if I had one or not? If I could believe I had a soul, all by myself, then I could listen to its tidings all by itself.
"Did any of you ever think that along about the time the notion of a SOUL gave out, Freud popped up with the EGO to take it's place? The timing of the man! Did he not pause to reflect? Irresponsible old coot! It is my belief that men must spout this twaddle about egos, because they fear they have no soul! Think upon it!"

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

John's Baptism: The Dawn of Christianity?

This week's gospel readings about John the Baptist have me wondering about something.

Why was Jesus baptized?

At the time, gentile converts to Judaism (called proselytes) were required to take three actions in order to become equal in Jewishness to people born from Jewish mothers.
  • They were circumcised (if male).
  • They were baptized (after the circumcision had healed).
  • They made an offering of sacrifice at the temple.
If you were female, you had only two requirements. After the temple was destroyed, females only had one; baptism.

Jesus was born a Jew, and was circumcised as required by the law when he was eight days old. He had no need of the baptism that John offered in the dessert.

And so I took a look at non-baptismal Jewish customs related to the mikvah, the use of living water for purification. It turns out that it was not only used for initiation into the faith, and for restoration of ritual cleanliness after sin or exposure to what was considered unclean. It was also used for two things which I think are particularly significant.

First, it was used for the consecration of priests. Aaron and his sons were immersed as part of their ordination process. When I read this, Jesus' baptism began to make sense, given that He is -the- High Priest.

Second, living water was (and is) used for the purification of new vessels for cooking and eating. Jesus' baptism also makes sense in this context given that He is the bread of heaven, the cup of salvation, and the vessel of life for us.

I'm guessing that if I kept looking at the laws regarding the mikvah's use, I would find more examples of appropriateness.

While researching I found the following passage particularly interesting. It comes from an article on, called simply The Mikvah.
In many ways mikvah is the threshold separating the unholy from the holy, but it is even more. Simply put, immersion in a mikvah signals a change in status -- more correctly, an elevation in status. Its unparalleled function lies in its power of transformation, its ability to effect metamorphosis.

So I've put all of this together and have been wondering.

Did the baptism of Jesus signal the beginning of Christianity?

Was it a signal that Christ was now a new thing, a Priest, a Holy Vessel, consecrated for a new use?

And because of this, is this why He directed us to continue the practice of baptism, consecrating ourselves as He did at the very dawn of the fulfillment of the promises made throughout Jewish history?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On the Act of Rejoicing

I was recently asked to give the "Stewardship Minute" on rejoicing at the conclusion of my church's stewardship campaign.

Click here to listen to the audio.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

God Himself Violated the Law

I am re-posting the following, which I wrote last week on the Marriage Revolution blog. I'm hoping for some discussion! Please comment.

While reading through some of the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy recently I came across the passage below:
Deut 22:23 If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, 24 you shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.
I wasn't hunting for marriage related laws, this one just happened to jump out at me. Why did it grab my attention? Because according to this passage, God Himself violated the law.

Luke chapter 1 describes the occurrence.

Mary the mother of Jesus was in a city; the town of Nazareth. She was betrothed to Joseph. The Holy Spirit came upon her, overshadowed her, and planted a child in her womb. She did not cry out for help because she didn't want or need it. Joseph initially believed himself to have been wronged and planned to divorce her.

All of these facts line up to show a clear violation of the law laid out in Deuteronomy 22.

At the very moment the New Covenant was initiated, God Himself broke an Old Covenant law related to marriage. Perhaps it was a sign of it's passing, a shattering of a clay tablet inscribed by a Pharisee.

The Spirit must have whispered to Mary "Don't think about what you've been taught. Simply love Me with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Mary responded by opening to His request, despite knowing that she could be stoned.

I'm still pondering what this could mean. I don't have an answer. But since God Himself begins the very life of Christ through a violation of marital law, it certainly points out that the Biblical "view" of marriage is far from straight forward.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Initial Thoughts on Providing a Transformational Experience

I attended a Worship Committee meeting at church recently, and have been pondering ever since. One of the foundational questions had to do with whether we are providing a "transformational experience" to the congregation. The conversation led to a discussion of transcendence versus immanence.

I started thinking about particular aspects of what church looked like at various times in history.

In the very early church, God's immanence was a new thing. Emmanuel, "God with us", was a shiny new concept. Worship of Him became intimate; people met in homes, often in secret. They gathered to break bread together, and to honor the teachings of Jesus Christ within their Hebraic framework. He'd been there recently and they expected Him to return any day. The families of people who had been healed by his touch still lived to tell the tale. Traditions were actively forming as disciples passed on tales of how he looked and sounded. His closeness was still tangible.

His immanence was celebrated.

With time, the immediate memories faded. Christianity developed into it's own entity, separate from Judaism. Standalone churches formed. Cathedrals were built. Centuries eventually passed, and as they did, Church seems to have returned to a place for honoring the transcendence of God. Going there was an escape from the mundane. Instead of the low ceilings and cramped spaces of their dwellings, people when to stand within vaulted arches and open air. Instead of the smells of dampness, sweat, and animal droppings, people breathed incense. They went to church to see artwork and hear music, things they otherwise had no access to. Their souls responded to sung liturgies even though they didn't understand the language itself.

Church gave people a way out. They wanted otherness. They reached for a transcendent God who provided escape for them each Holy day.

Now fast forward to today. For most Americans, we no longer flee lives of squalor and drear in search of sensory stimulation. We are surrounded by it. We switch on lights or climb in the car to escape. We turn on music or television and find majestic views and entertainment of all kinds. Our babies no longer die in droves; when sickness falls we have hope of recovery. For the most part, the struggling of our poor in America is nothing compared to the poverty of the past.

Christian worship in recent centuries seems to have responded to that by shifting back toward immanence. Worship reflects a theology centering around having a personal relationship with Christ. You can observe this even within liturgical denominations.

So what does this mean for us as a community of faith today? 

More thoughts to come...