Do You Not Yet Have Faith?

god Once upon a time in a land far away, an editor had an idea. He solicited a number of authors and asked them to write a story given the following given: Jesus returns in a very public display of power and glory.

The editor collected the stories and put them in an anthology. I bought it. I read it. You can guess the stories. Almost universally, somehow, someway, every story centered around a theme that Jesus was denied, questioned, or sought to be exploited. There was no “happy ending”.

You would think that people would be satisfied with Jesus’ second coming. It would be a time of world-wide rejoicing. The end of strife, the beginning of heaven on earth?

But somehow we don’t get it. We never did.

Mark’s rendition of Jesus’ calming the storm tells us that.

It’s confusing I admit.

A lady who saw the shooter from South Carolina was adamant that God had made her be on that highway, had forced her to pay close attention to the news, all because she was His instrument to bring the man to justice. She is utterly convinced, so she says, that God directed it all. Yet, that must mean he directed the shooter to kill innocents too. If God controls, well, he controls the good and bad. If he pulled you off a flight that would eventually crash, he failed to do so for the hundred or so who perished.

We aren’t very good at defining God.

We are even less good at describing how God operates.

We say that all we think about God is nothing more than what God is not. Augustine said that or words to that effect at the very beginning of this adventure in Christianity. We can forgive him perhaps since God was in his Christian infancy and nobody could be expected to “get it right.”

Atheists complain that believers continue to narrow where God fits as science expands the world we do understand. God is no more the creator of thunder and whirlwinds. We have science for that.

The problem with atheists is that they just figure that everything that we now don’t know, we will someday figure out. And the ever shrinking God will finally be reduced to a comical pinhead. They assume this is true because history has proven to be a movement from lesser knowledge to greater. Why won’t it continue?

But there are unknowns that will always be indescribable and never pinned down and defined or explained. What of beauty? Define it in absolutes and you will soon have no hair on your head from the tugging and twisting. I issue nothing new in this, for such vagueries apply to truth and freedom and other states of being that defy us to establish any perimeter that will hold.

Mystery abounds and will always do so, no matter how science probes and explains all manner of phenomenon. Reality is a constant shifting, not quite in focus thing. The present becomes the past in each blink of the eye, and future shrinks as it becomes present, all the while expanding at the horizon, infinitely.

We spend almost no time with these thoughts, deeming them curious and shrug worthy after brief bouts of wrinkled brow thinking. But these are the thoughts of God. Time spent slipping over the event horizon into the abyss of unknowing brings counterintuitively, what? Clarity? Yes, surprisingly so.

We don’t have to land on an outcrop of rocks to break our fall into forever, we suddenly realize that we are floating, and we can look around at all this. We can examine time and we can move into no time. As our comfort increases, we open, relax, given up and give in and give out in one inexplicable action. We rest in God, and we KNOW that we do.

Yet we can describe it barely at all. It is reserved for the hushed tones of pure sound and pure color, and pure movement. We touch it briefly and we cause it, by the attempt, to leave us. For it will not bear the focus of intent to SEE it for what it is. It will remain on the periphery, fuzzy, undefined, graspable but elusive. Like the soap bubble that bursts leaving us but a dampness on the fingertips as a passing reminder that we were in the presence of something much more real than what passes for reality.

We bask in the warmth of safety and of peace. Love hovers over all, providing a blanket of such quiet joy that we feel our hearts wrench. The atheist merely cries, “wow, one hell of a sunset” and moves on, retracing his steps to the car, gunning the engine and heading for the bar for a beer and a burger. We sit shaken by the experience, hungering for more, but realizing that such moments are gifts offered for the moment, then snatched away before they becomes routine and common.

Jesus speaks to his disciples and is mildly amused. He plaintively asks, “do you not yet have faith?”

What does it take?

Why must we bind it to saving our souls and accomplishing feats of healing and other tangible results? Is it not enough on its own, or must there be a payoff to count? Yeah, lady, God may love me but what has he done for me lately? We want a servant God. We want him like that genie in a bottle to just wait upon our needs. We want to be saved, and blessed, and presented with bounty. If we are going to do this thing, God better pay off!

He has.

Once you enter into the mysteries and stop fighting to logically deduce.

You can call it something else, and you probably will, but that changes nothing. There will be other opportunities and perhaps one day, you will let go and Let God.


The Hypocrisy of Treating Jesus with “Tough Love”: Here’s a Riddle for You . . . (Sunday Homily)

Because I can’t say it any better.

About Things That Matter

the least

Readings for Third Sunday of Advent: IS 35: 1-6A, 10; PS 146: 6-10; JAS 5: 7-10; MT 11: 2-11

Recently, Mary Shaw contributed a well-received article to the pages if OpEdNews (my favorite online news source). The article was called “American Hunger and the Christian Right.” There Ms. Shaw pointed to the irony of predominant elements within the GOP adopting as their two main goals cutting social services such as Food Stamps and eliminating labor unions while at the same time calling themselves “Christian.” In Ms, Shaw’s analysis, such inconsistency does not jibe with the personal poverty of Jesus himself, or his concern for the poor manifested in mass feedings on more than one occasion.

In the light of today’s liturgy of the word, I would go even further and argue that the GOP position flies in the face of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition expressing (as it does) God’s…

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Who Was That Masked Man?

Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.Well, he doesn’t wear a mask, but he wears a white cossack. Along with the other wardrobe symbols of the papacy of Rome,  they denominate him as Pontiff. Yet, he is so much more than the God’s representative on Earth. He is a man and he has his own ideas.

It is often said that many a president has nominated and had confirmed a supreme court justice who later turned out to be quite a bit different than was anticipated. That certainly happened where Dwight David Eisenhower and Earl Warren were concerned. Eisenhower became quite unhappy with the liberal turn of the Chief Justice. Similarly, after Chief Justice Roberts became the deciding vote that upheld “Obamacare” many a Republican rued the day that Bush selected him for the top job.

One wonders are some cardinals (so many of whom are arch conservatives chosen by JPII and his successor Benedict XVI to continue the conservative imprimatur they put in place, now wondering what they have wrought in the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to St. Peter’s Chair. Surely I am in no position to know.

But many on the outside are scratching their collective heads and wondering just who this man is. He was thought to be  fairly conservative from a doctrinal point of view, with great humility and great concern for the poor. Yet, today, he is at least giving reason for those Progressive Catholics to hope that change may be in the air. It seems that every few weeks he grants another interview and says tantalizing things that suggest that he is rethinking things thought by conservative Catholics to be set in stone.

As I said, I am no one to reach a conclusion on these issues. I find it unlikely that there will be a major change in doctrine, but I could see that Francis might adopt the position that it is wrong to deny the full sacramental life of the church to those who are in “dissent”, being practicing homosexuals, divorced and remarried, those seeking contraceptive care and so forth. That would be the most I believe we could expect.

I am told, certainly by the ultra conservative Catholics, that no such thing will happen, and they are ruthless in pointing out emphatically that this Pope is offering no light at the end of the tunnel as it were, but merely the victim of “poor word choice”. Such poor choosing of words seems, alas to happen again and again, and the rising frantic denials of the uber Right suggest that they are pretty darn scared that change of some sort is coming.

Several, in fact, on the very conservative “Catholic Answers” admit to being “troubled” and “uneasy” with this Pope. They tell each other, that all the “other” Catholics will surely misinterpret the interviews and think it’s now “alright to abort babies” and use birth control. They, of course, being so much wiser and capable in dissecting papal announcements are very sure that no such encouragement is warranted.

I don’t know, and time will tell.

I have thought  that at the very least this Pope is telling his fellow priests to stop beating up on people for their sins and start helping them to be more loving Christians. After all, what is confessed is not grounds for denial of Eucharist unless the sinner is open and public in their sin. Few are. Perhaps we are headed for a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the RCC.

In any event, I haven’t seriously thought about going back. That is not because I’m waiting for a more explicit statement, but rather that more and more, I find organized religion to be a hornet’s nest in every direction. It seems that almost everywhere I look, I find dissension within churches and within congregations. Some if it pains me deeply. I have no desire to become embroiled and I have found being a “backbencher” a detachment that doesn’t work either.

So I remain outside.

Yet, I continue to feel a vitality in that.

People call themselves, “spiritual but not religious”. I have never cared much for that self-designation and have considered that most who use it aren’t much of anything. Basically I have seen them as people who rarely think about God, and have a knee-jerk “of course I believe in God” reaction when asked. Beyond that, they are too busy.

That surely is not fair, although it may fairly define a good many people. Yet many people are spiritual but like me find religiosity increasingly confining and unfulfilling. I have heard a new term and I rather like it. It’s called being a “spiritual creative”.

What this means, at least to me, is that one picks and chooses those practices, rituals, and behaviors from a broad range of varying religious traditions. One feeds oneself with those things that seem to help create a God-space within which a loving God can move within, helping one be shaped to His will. In other words, I have become a jack-of-all-religions. Well, not all, really, but I draw from different traditions. I may, for instance decide to combine lectionary readings every day, with meditation, praying at set times during the day, practicing mindfulness, reading spiritual books or deeper thoelogical and scholarly writings. I might celebrate other holy days that only Christian ones. I might include service to community as part of a spiritual practice. The list is as endless as are the rituals and practices of all the faith systems of the world.

This makes for some exciting possibilities, and plenty of dead ends I suspect.

But after all, it is the journey that counts, right?

Blessings, Amen.

It is worth your while to read the wonderful interview conducted by the Jesuits with His Holiness. You can find it here.

Searching for the Meaning of “Good” Friday

Good-Friday-11I’ve never been quite sure what the “good” in Good Friday meant. Perhaps we see beyond the pain, torture and death of Christ to the event of Easter. We live in those awful moments not in the moment itself, but in the promise of Sunday.

That seems to trivialize it a bit for me, and it doesn’t satisfy. I know that the Passover, celebrated as the Last Supper by Christians is that wonderful celebration by Jews of the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. It celebrates freedom. And no doubt as the Synoptic Gospels relate, this date for the Last Supper of Jesus (the first night of Passover) serves to symbolize our liberation from sin.

John changes the mix a bit by placing the Last Supper not on the first night of Passover, but the day before, when the lambs are slain for the meal. He likens Jesus to the lamb slain. The general symbolism remains the same.

I am not a believer of substitutionary sin–the theory that Jesus took upon himself our sins and died for them– a demand of a God who requires payment for a sinful world. Such a God, to me at least, is both harsh and ugly–sending his own son to die in the most horrible of ways.

Rather I see, (note that these ideas are surely not my own, but are the theology of many a learned scholar and teacher as well as believers) that Jesus by his willingness to die for his beliefs, shows us the perfect way to engage with this creator we call God. Jesus, in dying, pays the ultimate price for principle, the foundational principle of life–love, no matter what the cost.

For this is the essence of the God that Jesus points us towards. A God who is unimpressed by formulaic ritual and a God saddened by our tendencies to divide ourselves into groups of “saved” “faithful” or “pious” and all others who somehow by human standards fail to reach the mark. So saddened is God by our divisiveness that Jesus shows through his willingness to endure scorn, beating and tortuous death, that even the least among us is worthy of dying for.

As we struggle in our daily lives to come to grips with the deep agonies that divide us as a people and as a world, Jesus on the Cross, stands as testament to the strength that we too can express if we are willing to take up that Cross ourselves and stand for love at all costs.

Jesus stands against those whose primary goal is to protect “number one”. He stands against those who are motivated by greed, self-preservation, and egotistical individual ruggedness. He points the way to a God of grace and love, who calls us daily to be bigger than our selves in our love of brother and sister. This God, so real, so in love with His creation that He becomes one of us, in an effort to show us, by his teaching, suffering and death, what He is really all about.

I speak not of Jesus as the son of God, but as the Son of Man, for the reality or fantasy of Jesus as the incarnate God is beside the point really. If Jesus is so infused with the Spirit of the Transcendent One, then it matters not the creeds we dutifully recite each Sunday. Jesus moved aside as human, and allowed the Spirit of God to envelop him so completely that God really was among us.

All the more important that we be especially careful to separate the Jesus of history from the Jesus of the Church. More and more I find them quite different beings, with quite different agendas. After having read much, I am still in love with Paul and his exuberance for the Gospel, but I recognize that Paul molded the ensuing Church and molded Jesus into that Church. I’m not so sure that it is the Jesus of history whom he never met in the flesh.

We must comb the Gospels carefully I think to find that Jesus–that gentle yet firebrand individual who sought to bring all into the house of God, as true and perfect children. He tenderly attended to the needs of the most broken and rejected in society without asking of them anything in return, other than to put God first in their lives. His anger was invoked by those whom he saw as impeding the people in their attempt to know their God. He pointed the finger and accused them of having lost all sense of why they were doing what they did. It had all become for show, for power, and for accolades.

True piety rested with the many Marys who lived with the Master, the self-less women who sat at his feet, absorbing his wisdom, who anointed his head, washed his feet, and knelt at the foot of the cross, and ultimately went to dress his broken and dead body, and found to their amazement that his real presence washed over them.

If we learn anything from the Friday, called Good, it is that we too can approach God in these simple acts of service–not by asking questions about who deserves and who doesn’t deserve our acts, but in simply being willing to give in love, knowing that the Spirit of God inhabits each and every one of God’s created beings.

Have a blessed Easter Time.

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