Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Advent: In The Beginning Pt.1

John 1:1-5
The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this same Word who existed with and as God, who called every existing thing into being, comes to us as a helpless infant in a Bethlehem livestock feeding trough. John locates this Word in time (in the beginning, although ‘was’ indicates existence before time); as a personal presence (was God) in relationship (with God) and place (where God is). Matthew locates Jesus in time (the year of His birth); as a personal presence (the infant) in in personal relationship (son of Mary) and place (the Bethlehem manger). And identifies him as Son of Man; Son of God. 
Every thing-including every living thing-exists because this eternal Word called it into being-existed it. Every thing has, as Richard Rohr likes to say, the Divine DNA (think for a second about the ecological ramifications of this!). In Him was life which cannot be overcome. Or contained. One source of ever-evolving life for all living things. One life to bind us . 
This life was and continues to be the light by which we see and understand what it means to be fully human. Don’t miss this. Jesus isn’t just God made man to die for our sins. By being fully human the Word shows us all what our lives can and should look like. We are here to receive, reflect and return God’s love. All this, funneled into an infant in a cave. Advent. And so it begins. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Advent 12/02/2019

Psalms 130:5-6

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

Anyone who ever stood guard duty should immediately relate to these verses. When I was in Germany I would volunteer for the sunrise shift because I liked being awake before everyone else woke up and spoiled the day. Later it was the breathtaking beauty of the sun rising over the South China Sea. 

During Advent we wait for the life of God within us to awaken anew to the Life that is the Light of all humanity. I used to tell my kids waiting for Christmas-building anticipation-was the best part. Still is. Sometimes waiting is all we can do. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Gospel of Galatians

The Gospel of Galatians

“...those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (NRSV)

Our Sunday morning Bible class is working through Paul’s letters chronologically, in the order presented by N.T.Wright in his biography of Paul, which has Galatians, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians as the first three. While I don’t generally pull verses out of context just to make a point, I have done so here to focus on ‘the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Here’s why. 
Many Christians today seem to think divine inspiration means Paul’s letters-and Paul’s theology behind them-came as a fully formed package. In other words, when Paul refers to the Gospel he could just as easily be referring to Romans or Ephesians or Colossians, which hadn’t been written yet, as to Galatians. This is simply not the case. Not only did Paul’s theology develop over time but his early letters mainly addressed specific problems in specific churches. In other words, Paul was writing instruction and advice more than theological dissertation. 
Back to the the ‘Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Since this (2 Thessalonians ) is Paul’s third letter, written to only the second church, I thought I would go back to the beginning-Galatians-to see what Paul’s version of the Gospel is, at this point. Here is what I found. Before you begin, take some time to define the Gospel as you understand it, for comparison. 

Paul’s Gospel has delivered us from the present evil age (1:4). Paul only has one Gospel (1:8,9). It was given to Paul by revelation from Christ (so it is not Paul’s at all, but Christ’s-1:11-12). It is Christ in individual believers (1:16; 2:20). We have freedom in Christ (1:16; 5:1). The Gospel declares us to have been restored to right relationship-that is, who we were created by God to be-by faith. We are restored for good works, not by good works (2:15,16). 
The Gospel involves receiving the Spirit of God (3:2,5, 14), and suffering (3:4). It makes us children of Abraham and blessed with him (3:15; 4:5), is the promise given to those who believe (3:22) and makes us children of God (3:26; 4:5-7) as well as children of the promise (4:28). The Gospel is summarized by ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (5:14).
The Gospel enables us to live by and keep in step with the Spirit (5:15, 25) and defines what that means, or looks like (5:22-23). Finally, those who believe the Gospel belong to Christ (5:22a), have crucified the flesh (5:22b) and have become a new creation. A fairly short list, packed with implications for who we are and how we live our day to day lives. 
So, how did your Gospel compare to the Galatians Gospel? If you missed a few points, don’t feel bad. I missed a few too. If you got them all, don’t celebrate yet-this is only Pau’s first letter. He is just getting started. 


Monday, March 11, 2019

Holy Humanity!!!

Leviticus 19:1-2 
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

Matthew 25:36 (NRSV)
“I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me...And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The Catholic Church readings for today are Leviticus 19:1-2; 11-18 and Matthew 25:31-46. Leviticus, defining  holiness in terms of how we relate to one another, shows us God’s attitude towards humanity. Matthew shows us Jesus’ full identification with humanity, and gives us His point of judgement. Later, in Acts, Jesus will ask Paul-“Why are you persecuting me?” 

The question is-who will be humanity for us?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Culture Wars Pt. 2

“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

What is going on today in the United States is not a war against the church or against Christianity, it is a battle for behavior control, with the behavior in question mostly involving sex. Christians are not being hunted down and forced to renounce Christ upon pain of torture and death. Christians are not being forced to provide evidence of their repentance by worshiping the emperor (although it certainly seems to me as though some are doing just that). There is not a pulpit in this country today where, on any given Sunday, the Gospel might not be preached for fear of the government’s secret police breaking in and carrying everyone off. 

“...the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”

War by nature is violent and implies imposition of beliefs by force of will; thus the term ‘culture wars’ is an appropriate description of our current state of affairs. This is nothing new. The term itself has been around in the United States since at least 1990. It was the title of a book by University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter; Pat Buchanan made it the theme of his 1992 presidential campaign. 

According to the Wikipedia culture wars page, Hunter defined the two opposing points of view as ‘Progressivism’ and ‘Orthodoxy’. The issues at hand (remember, this was 1991) were abortion, gun politics, separation of church and state, recreational drug use, homosexuality, privacy, and censorship. Buchanan, in a speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention, added to the list homosexual rights, women in combat units and discrimination against religious schools. 

Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly labeled the opposing sides ‘Secular-Progressives’ and ‘Traditionalists’. Note carefully the labels-Secular Progressive vs (Traditional) Orthodox. The clear implication here is the extent to which the nation is embracing change is also the extent to which we are rejecting God and ‘traditional Christian values’ (my phrase), whatever those values may be. Nearly 30 years later we are still, in the political arena, fighting this same war. 

Much of what Buchanan ‘warned’ us about has come to pass. Today we have women not only in combat units but in some of the military’s more elite units as well. Women have distinguished themselves as combat pilots. Same sex couples may now legally marry. More and more, states are legalizing marijuana. Opiate overdose and gun violence remain hot button issues; gun violence and gun control legislation continue to divide the country while the NRA apparently wields considerably more influence than the church. Which leads me back to my opening statement, and to the question: where is the church in all this? Or, probably more to the point, where is the Gospel in all this?

I have already said today’s religious/political conflicts have more to do with behavior control than inner transformation. By aligning themselves with Conservative Republicans, Evangelicals seem to be abandoning “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” in favor of “[That which has] indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but [is] of no value in checking self-indulgence”. 

But our Gospel says things like  “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” and “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” and “....if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is... [s]et your minds on things that are above [for] your life is hidden with Christ in God.” 

The contrast should be obvious. There is nothing of behavior control in these verses. There is everything of relationship; right behavior is, for Christians, always the result of right relationship; always the result of inner transformation. The problem is just as obvious-once you begin talking about Divine love or a Spirit who goes where He chooses (and bids us come follow) or life hidden in Christ, who knows what people will do. This, after all, was the precise point of conflict between the ‘Orthodox’ Jews of Jesus’ (and Paul’s) day and ‘Progressivism’ as taught and followed by the earliest Christians. Law or Grace? The debate continues. One is easy, the other impossible. One fills our churches; the other arenas, psychologists’ offices, treatment programs, jails. 

Two final points. First, the alliance of church and state has, throughout history, ended badly for the church (consider the Popes who thought they were kings of heaven and earth, for the example, or the crusades). Yet the Church itself endures, without or in spite of political support. Second, up to now I have deliberately chosen to ignore the elephant in the room, our current president whose entire life has been built upon the self-centered, self-promoting attitude which is so antithetical to the Christian Gospel yet continues to enjoy wide popular support among Evangelicals. The same Evangelicals who cry persecution at every turn are being led by a modern Caesar who, like Rome before him, will use every intimidation tactic available to him to get what he wants. The Caesars, at least, were honest in their contempt for Christianity. After all, their power did not depend on Christian support. 



Saturday, February 2, 2019

Darkness and Light

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

When someone walks into a dark room and turns on the light, where does the darkness go? Does it flee into the hallway? Does it hide under the desk? We could say darkness flees in the presence of light, but darkness really doesn’t go anywhere. Darkness is the absence of light. In the same way, light doesn’t really do anything to drive out darkness. Light does not say ‘I shall strive to eliminate this darkness’ or ‘flee thou evil darkness from the purity of my presence’, or anything. In the presence of light darkness simply ceases to exist. 

Our Gospel passage comes immediately after the Beatitudes-where Jesus describes the heart attitudes of Kingdom people-but before the principles of Kingdom living the resulting interior transformation will produce. I believe His message here is clear: ‘Don’t just keep this stuff to yourself. Go, overcome darkness by being light.’ Jesus intended to start His revolution one ‘light’ person at a time. Later Paul will say ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’. 

We may not all be called to be pastors or preachers or monks or teachers. However, if we claim the name ‘Christian’ we are called to actually follow Jesus. Simply learning about Him-accumulating Biblical facts-is not enough. We are called to interior transformation by actually spending time in Jesus’ presence. Jesus says let your light shine, the light you receive from me. Think of Moses, who had to veil his face after hanging out with God. Jesus is telling us it’s time to remove the veil. 

So go. Be the light. It’s what we were created for. It’s what our country, what our world, desperately needs. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019


This is a response to a Facebook post by a Chaplain I know. If you’ve read it before-I’m old now and can’t always remember what I’ve posted-I apologize but I think it is fundamentally important for us today. 

The first appearance of evil, or Satan, or the Accuser-the force opposed to God-is in Genesis 3: “Now the serpent...said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say...God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’.” He shows up again in Job-considered by many scholars to be the oldest Biblical book-: “Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Does Job fear God for no reason...stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face’.”
It seems to me this is where evil begins-God is a liar and cannot be trusted (the first instance of gaslighting?) closely followed by humans are liars and only want God for what we can get (how modern is that?)
And yet we have God’s response-the cross (one time for all) and the resurrection life (on going for eternity). 

I believe these passages ask two of the deepest, most fundamental questions for humanity-Can God be trusted; and is God worthy of our love solely because of who God is? Before the Incarnation, before the cross, before the resurrection, maybe even before there was an Israel, these questions were asked and answered by the Biblical writers. Now it’s our turn. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Steadfast Love

In the spirit of prayer, here is a simple breathing exercise, slightly modified from my last post, with apologies to Thich Nhat Hanh 
whose idea I stole and tweaked a little.

In breath: I take refuge in God the Father 
Out: whose way is steadfast love
In: I take refuge in Jesus the Christ
Out: who shows me steadfast love
In: I take refuge in the Holy Spirit
Out: who enables steadfast love in me

Spend some time thinking about how the nature of God is steadfast love, how Jesus’ life was a demonstration of steadfast love, how the Spirit might enable steadfast love in you. Think about what it might mean to be raised with Christ into a life of steadfast life. How might you show steadfast love to those closest to you? To those you barely know?

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins...But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:17

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


“I take refuge in the Buddha, 
the one who shows me the way in this life.
I take refuge in the Dharma, 
the way of understanding and love.
I take refuge in the Sangha, 
the community that lives in harmony and awareness.”
I take refuge in Jesus, the Christ 
the one who is the way, the truth, and the life
I take refuge in God (the Father)
who is the way of steadfast love 
I take refuge in the Holy Spirit
whose fellowship gives humankind harmony and awareness.

I have been a ‘Christian’ since late winter/early spring 1971, 48 years. During those years I have had more than my share of backsliding, falling away, turning away. I have a vivid memory of asking God to go away and leave me alone to enjoy my sin. He did not. I also spent a fair amount of time reading-sometimes even studying-theBible. I listened to just about every radio guy (they were all guys then), listened to ‘Christian’ music, read ‘Christian’ books, became involved in church-one Presbyterian, one Catholic-battled some serious and not quite so serious addictions. Through it all I have come to a couple conclusions which you all may or may not agree with. Either way, it’s fine. 

First, there is a large body of Christianity out there that firmly believes the Bible is the one and only way God reveals Himself to humanity today. I believe without doubt God reveals Himself through the Scriptures, but....I don’t agree that’s the only way. More on that in a bit. My experience with Scripture has been it’s possible-even relatively easy-to accumulate knowledge about God while successfully maintaining a safe distance from God. The dangers here are pride and intolerance, both of which are in evidence in our churches and on social media. I found inner transformation to be difficult, if not impossible, approaching God in this way. There is also the danger of a lot of really bad, hurtful  theology which may appeal to some but damages many others. Theology, meant to help us understand and lead us to God, becomes a point of division. God Himself gets lost in the debate. 

So, while Scripture study is good-probably even necessary, but I’m not totally convinced-my experience is, if you really want to be transformed, prayer is essential. This may seem to contradict Paul’s teaching in Romans-‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’-but notice here, he does not offer specifics. I believe renewal comes from time spent in God’s presence, through conversation and meditation. We take refuge in God when we open ourselves to His presence. Once we learn that, we begin to see how He reveals Himself all over the place. And how He is much more open, accepting and tolerant than we could ever imagine (in other words, God loves you. Yes you, and He will relentlessly pursue you-yes you, and ever else-for as long as it takes). I hope to revisit and expand on this theme, and share more of my experiences, in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, if you only do one ‘spiritual thing’, let it be prayer. And remember conversation involves talking and listening. 

Excerpt From
Living Buddha, Living Christ 20th Anniversary Edition
Thích Nhất Hạnh & Elaine Pagels

This material may be protected by copyright.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Peace in the New Year

Something to ponder as we begin a new year that promises to be anything but peaceful. 

“To work for peace you must have a peaceful heart. When you do you are the child of God...In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God’...When we try to overcome evil with evil, we are not working for peace. If you say [that person] is evil. We have to prevent him from continuing to be evil,” and if you then use the same means he has been using, you are exactly like him. Trying to overcome evil with evil is not the way to make peace.” (p.74-75)

Or, to put it in Biblical language:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all...if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21.

There’s more. 

“Jesus also said, “Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment . . . whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” Jesus did not say that if you are angry with your brother, you will be put in a place called hell. He said that if you are angry with your brother, you are already in hell. Anger is hell. He also said that you don’t need to kill with your body to be put in jail. You only need to kill in your mind and you are already there.” (p.75)

Please think deeply about this. How many times have we-you and me-committed murder on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram (which I do not use) or some other social media platform? What was the immediate emotional or mental or spiritual effect? I have a twitter account. People follow me for all the wrong reasons and I need to deal with that. How ‘bout you? Will you let 2019 be the year of the peaceful heart?
Peace and love my beloved

Excerpt From
Living Buddha, Living Christ 20th Anniversary Edition
Thích Nhất Hạnh & Elaine Pagels
This material may be protected by copyright.