Christianity Reboot

Kittens and People Seek A Home

A few months ago, my partner Herb and I went to a rescue foundation to look at a few kittens. We had chatted about getting a kitten in the next year or so, but had no intention of bringing one home...yet. We went to get a better feel for what we wanted. I’m sure you can already see where this is headed. We were allowed to visit, hold, and play with three cats. The first one was named Paco. Paco had been found roaming the streets of Sacramento. He was sick and was taken from the street to a shelter to a foster home to this rescue center, where he was recovering. A six-month-old Abyssinian mix, he was playful, affectionate and had chutzpah, which we knew any cat would need in order to hold his own with our two older cats and our two dogs.

We left Paco behind and met two other kittens, both adorable but rather shy. We went back to play with Paco and were mesmerized by his cuteness.

Just as we started to ask, "Are we ready to...", the door flung open. Our staff guide, who had been showing us around, returned with a camera.  She said, “There’s no need for you to look at any more cats. It’s obvious he’s coming home with you. Stay there for a moment while I take your photo with your new kitten.” And in an instant, we went from cat window-shopping to kitten parents. Beware cat window-shopping!

We got him home and renamed him "Cougar" because, well, he looks like a Cougar and acts like a wild animal. While he was a bit reserved at first, after a few weeks he began to trust that we had made a permanent commitment to him. No more shelters. No more foster parents. He understood that we are his forever home and family.

We are promising Cougar that he has a forever home that is not dependent on how well he behaves, but rather is based on our unconditional love for him. And his behavior is sometimes challenging.

  • Cougar wakes us up at 5:30 every day meowing for the first of at least two breakfasts.
  • So far Cougar has demolished four dining room chairs, two orchids, and an avocado tree in our sunroom that I had grown from a pit. Cougar decided that it was the perfect spot to curl up for a nap.
  • We have given him the nickname "Destructo".

Yet, we adore him, and he is family.

Our relationship with Cougar is a metaphor for our relationship with The Sacred. Even when we bite and scratch like a "Destructo", the Source of All Life has made an unconditional commitment to us. We are forever family.

I prefer the metaphor of family/adoption over the metaphors of transaction or atonement. Much religion feels like a business transaction with The Divine: “I’ll do my part if you do yours.” The focus is on appeasing a deity and then determining who's in and who's out; who's good enough and who's not good enough; who's accepted and who's damned; who's in relationship and who's "other" and "outsider".

Much Christian religion orbits around Atonement Theory. This view, which gained prominence through Augustine, holds that a just God cannot abide our sinfulness, but takes out wrath on Jesus instead of us, thus fulfilling the need for punishment yet saving us from everlasting torment. For many of us, this was the only Christian metaphor to which we were exposed. It is, however, just one of many perspectives that co-existed from the earliest days of Christianity. Like any metaphor it was originally crafted as a symbol, that is, something which was not to be taken literally and which pointed to one aspect of the Infinity Mystery, which is beyond words.

What if "sin" is primarily the forgetting that we are family with God and with each other? Then the central metaphor is not a wrathful God pardoning undeserving, miserable beings, but a God incessantly taking in strays, reminding us of who we are and where we belong, what our place is in the Universe.  We are made in the image of God, made of God stuff. That makes us family with Sacred Mystery, with each other, and with all life.

The spiritual life is about awakening to that Sacred Mystery within us and all around us.  As we remember who we are and whose we are, we find family everywhere. We allow ourselves to be taken in by Love, and we take each other in as we embody Ultimate Love.

  • How deep will you let Love penetrate and permeate you?
  • And receiving that Love, what is your response?
  • How will you respond to a Cosmos that adores you?
  • What is the next action your soul calls you to take on behalf of your family?

Through us The Sacred closes the gap between current reality and a potential future of justice and thriving for the whole human family, our family. We join with The Sacred to close that gap in tiny increments.

That's the paradox. The Love of The Holy is unconditional, yet it calls us to wake up and step up. The more we attune ourselves to Unconditional Love, the more we recognize the Universe as kin and can't help but respond. When we awaken to Who We Are, we expand the definition of family until there are no strays left out in the cold

Herb and I adopted a kitten named Cougar. We call him to act like a more mature cat, and he is improving. However well he meets expectations, when he curls up next to my head, and purrs as he nuzzles my cheek, and I rub his chin and scratch between his ears, we both experience the promise of home fulfilled. In those moments I start to understand how God feels about us.

Can You Trust a Burning Bush?

How do we know what path in life to take? When the road splits, which fork do we take and why? The story of Moses provides some insights that still have relevance for us today. As the tory goes in the book of Exodus in the Hebrew scriptures...One day Moses is tending some sheep when he notices a bush on fire. Oddly, the fire rages without burning up the bush. From the bush comes a Voice claiming to be God, and The Voice commands Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses balks at his assignment. "They'll never believe me. They'll think I'm making up the whole thing."

The Voice gives Moses some street cred and tells him to:

  • Throw his staff on the ground. It becomes a snake. When Moses grabs it by the tail, the snake becomes a staff again.
  • Put his hand in his cloak and take it out again. Moses does and his hand is riddled with leprosy. Moses puts his hand in the cloak again and pulls it back out. His hand returns to normal.
  • Be ready for Plan C. If people don't believe him, Moses is instructed to go to the Nile, put some water in a container, and then pour it out on dry ground. It will become blood.

Of course, in Cecile B. DeMille's cinematic telling, The Ten Commandments, Pharaoh's court magicians perform similar feats to diminish Moses' credibility. (To me, the greater stretch of credibility is actor Edward G. Robinson as an Israelite naysayer with a New York gangster accent..."Where's your Messiah now?")

So what's the point of all this? On one level, we have the promise of divine accompaniment for our journeys.

From another angle, I see clues in Moses' story that help with discerning a path in life. This is particularly helpful since most of us don't encounter burning bushes housing divine oracles. The story has three symbols which we can look for as we discern whether or not to take a particular path:

  • The Staff/Snake - Consciousness. In many traditions, the snake is not evil but rather represents the life force energy spiraling up the human spine. When Moses grabs the snake by the tail, it becomes a rigid staff again that can hold him upright. Our life energies can be salutary or venomous. The difference is in how we take hold of them, that is, how conscious we are of how we hold our thoughts and emotions (or how they hold us). We can transform venom into blessing by cultivating our conscious attention. Does this direction I'm heading grow my awareness of That Which is Aware of my thoughts, feelings and actions, yet is beyond them all? Am I becoming more aware of That Which is Aware? Am I waking up to the Sacred all around and within me? 
  • The Leprous Hand - Wholeness. Lepers are outcasts. Yet that which is cast out drains energy and prevents wholeness. Whether the outcast is a person on the fringe of society or a part of our inner life shunned to the fringes of the psyche, wholeness requires integration. Does this direction bring greater wholeness to my own being and to my community?
  • Water/Blood - Solidarity with Humanity. Hummus, human, humble are all from the same root etymology, meaning earthy. Our spiritual awakening does not preclude being down to earth. In fact, earthiness is required. As long as we are in this body, water and blood are the two essential fluids for our survival. We thirst. We bleed. We are human. Compassion is when our common thirst leads us to act in service of others, especially when that requires some sacrifice, some blood. A genuine spiritual path with have a concern beyond itself for the common good. Does this path I'm on keep me humble, that is, am I in touch with my own humanity and in service to humanity? How am I being poured out of the common good? 

A credible, life-giving path will promote awareness, consciousness, wholeness, humility, and service to humanity. Yet, even when we know a path is right for us, we resist, make excuses and procrastinate. Even with these signs, Moses still refuses to go. "God, send someone else. I'm a lousy public speaker."

God is done haggling. "Moses, enough! Take your brother Aaron with you. He has the gift of gab and will speak for you. Now get moving!"

Every authentic path is scary, exciting, and requires that first step, which is a leap of faith. That's when the miracles start happening.

What "Truth" Do You Live By?

Holy Week follows the trajectory of Jesus' last week from life through death to resurrection. The story is filled with pivotal choices, perhaps none more poignant than Pilate's dilemma. Should he release Jesus whom he believes to be innocent? Or should he give in to the crowd's thirst for blood and avoid a riot? In the midst of his quandary, Pilate asks Jesus, "What is truth?" Pilate then chooses his truth. He hands Jesus over to be crucified.

Pilate's choice is understandable. He was afraid. I've been reflecting on the fearful part of me. It yearns for control, wants approval, wants to get things right, and wants to be acknowledged as "a good boy". Beneath all that is really a yearning to be loved.

In meditation last week, I focused of being loved until I believed it. How would you live if you deeply believed that you are loved unconditionally with a love that can never be taken away? 

Only when I am rooted in being loved, does my compulsive grasping for control start to shift. When there’s (ultimately) nothing to fix within me, I feel less compulsion to fix everyone and everything around me.

It feels like a death as I choose to notice but not live by those familiar voices that strive for control, perfection, approval and being "right". But on the heels of this "death" can come a resurrection. Once the illusions have been debunked, I stand empty, cleared of what I believed to be true but now know to be false. In that space, I have three choices:

  • Return to the familiar story lines because I fear being without them
  • Judge myself andy my story lines, which only reinforces my bondage
  • Choose to believe a new story that is life-giving

To believe in my own beloved-ness - to wholeheartedly put my trust in it - is a brave, revolutionary choice. It's a movement from fear to love through death to resurrection. It is The Way to eternal life.

While beliefs do have tentacles in the unconscious, they can be transformed. A new belief is cultivated by daily choices that align with that belief. Even when we don't feel the truth of a new belief, we act as if it were true until the new belief takes root. To believe is literally to "live by". 

What is your truth? What will you live by? There is choice in every moment. Will you choose fear or love?

A Prayer for Holy Week: God, I choose to believe that I am innately, completely, and irrevocably loved. Help my unbelief! When the fear-based stories arise, help me see them for the illusions that they are and let them go with compassion. Help me live by the truth that I am loved. Amen.

Who Really Speaks for God?

I've been watching Facebook posts by high school and college classmates who quote the Bible in their political tirades. When called out on misogynistic, homophobic, racist, Islamophobic or jingoistic views, their response is, "Don't be a hater. These are God's views too. I'm just repeating what the Bible says. Because it's the Word of God, I have to say and believe these things, and so should you." Actually...

What you are saying is NOT the Word of God. It is your conditioned interpretation of cherry-picked passages from Scriptures composed by men writing about their experience of God from their Iron-Age cultural perspective.

When a position no longer commands logical or moral respect, the last resort is to trot out a Scripture passage. The Bible has been quoted with deep sincerity to support any number of positions which we now deem downright sinful, such as denying women the right to vote (I Timothy 2:11-14), slavery (Colossians 3:22), and a callous disregard for those living in poverty (John 12:8).

While most of my former classmates use Scripture to "prove" right-wing political stances, a radically different perspective can easily find standing in Scripture:

  • What were the Sodomites doing that so offended God that God incinerated them? Ezekiel 16:49 - "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." The sin of Sodom sounds more like a gathering of Congressmen with their behind-the-scenes funders than the elderly lesbian couple trying to get married in your state. If anything, this Word of God would denounce laws and policies that further fatten the wallets of the military industrial complex, oil companies and pharmaceuticals...and thus fatten the wallets of their the expense of peace, the environment, and the health of the general public. Instead, the true "anti-Sodomite" Word of God calls for a livable minimum wage for all workers.
  • Leviticus 24:22 - "You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God." and “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt." Exodus 22:21.  How should those whose ancestors were once foreigners treat foreigners now? How can those who benefit from a self-created system that legitimizes and rewards their own status treat those who lack any status? In these passages, the Word of God calls for a path to citizenship for all resident aliens (yes, amnesty), the elimination of squalid detention camps for immigrant mothers and their children, the extension of the Affordable Health Care Act to undocumented workers, and a little humility about our own status here in the land of the free.
  • Exodus 22:25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest." The Bible does not endorse a specific economic system, but it certainly is no friend to unfettered capitalism. This Word of God would require mega-banks to open branches in impoverished neighborhoods and offer no-cost loans to businesses and individuals trying to rebuild their communities. During the mortgage crisis, the Word of God would have demanded that bailout money actually bail out families struggling to keep their homes rather than enable the ongoing folly of Wall Street's gambling addiction.

Thus says the Lord!

Scriptures violate the Spirit that sparked them when they are used to crush the soul, institutionalize oppression, or uphold the status quo at the expense of the common good. Without that Spirit, a semantically accurate rendering of a text fails to be God's Word for us today, and a seemingly literal truth becomes patently false.

The Bible turn us upside down with an experience of God, of Christ, of Spirit that ever-expands compassion, joy, inclusivity, reverence for Mystery, commitment to justice, and a sense of communion with all life. Scripture inspires the embodied knowing that neither we nor anyone else are ever beyond the embrace of the Divine.

Any use of Scripture conflicting with that Spirit is not the Word of God. It's merely a human opinion hiding behind a fading religion.

Jesus Wasn't Nice

We confuse "being nice" with love. Jesus was loving, but Jesus was not concerned with being nice. Being nice is often an attempt to avoid conflict, prevent/repress anger, earn approval, and project a facade that evokes admiration and affection.

Love boldly enters into conflict with the goal of honest reconciliation. Love acknowledges and appropriately expresses anger. Love is transparent and emits adoration and affection.

Years ago a work colleague aggressively challenged a decision I had made. My fear told me to keep the peace, apology and reverse course. Upon reflection, however, I realized that my decision was appropriate and important. I held my ground. Though my coworker became belligerent, I remained firm and respectful, while also tending to my anger and hurt.

After some weeks, we worked our way through to a resolution and established a much stronger bond than we had before. If I had acquiesced for the sake of being nice, resentment would have smoldered against my coworker and against myself.

Jesus overturned vendor tables in the temple and told his friend Peter to "get behind me Satan" when Peter pleaded with Jesus to take the easy way out.

Love does not take the easy way out. It is the way through. Passing through fear, hurt, and anger, true love creates a deeper connection than is ever possible by avoiding issues for the sake of being nice.  Being nice is a seductive quagmire that lures us in with promises of safety and affection, yet which yields neither in the long run.

I grew up in the south, where being nice was seen as a supreme virtue by many. When I moved to New York, I found the abrasive honesty there both jarring and refreshing. No longer did I have to say, "Bless your heart", when I was feeling "go to hell".

Sometimes the best way to bless a heart is to call out devilish behavior. Truth without love is not true. Love without truth is not love. Ultimately, you cannot have one without the other.

Jesus never mastered being nice. If he did, he may have lived a longer life, but it's doubtful any of us today would know his name or want to be like him.

What Are You Radiating?

My great aunt Petzie died in Michigan last year. Last week would have been her 96th birthday. I first met her when I was a teenager living in Texas. She came to visit us, and I was enamored with her. She radiated love and spoke of Jesus as her best friend in a way that made me believe she and Jesus had something special going on. Then I learned more about her story. She raised eight children as a single mother. She got up at 3 am each morning to run a paper route. Then she came home, got the kids up, fed and off to school. She then went to work, after which she came home and took care of the kids and often did a third job at night to make ends meet. In the midst of all this, she battled both a brain tumor and polio, which left her with a significant limp. Yet she lost neither her gratitude nor her sense of connection with God.

As a teenager, I pondered how unfair it was that this amazing woman had to face such unrelenting hardship. Then it dawned on me that it was this constellation of hardships that transformed her into the woman she became. Rather than become disheartened, her heart expanded with new challenges until she radiated a gritty love that did not waver. In seeing her, I felt I was seeing a bit of God's radiance.

I'm reminded of the story in the Bible where Jesus hikes up a mountain with three of his friends. While there, Jesus starts to radiate God. Then a cloud envelopes them, and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved one. Listen to him.” Not your average hike!

So what are we to make of this? If the only point of the story is that Jesus was uniquely God, and we aren’t, that might inspire worship but not much else.

What if the story of the transfiguration of Jesus is meant to transfigure us? That is, what if Jesus radiating Divine Loving Essence is intended to spark the same radiance within each of us?

The ultimate point of the Jesus story is not that we worship him but rather that we become more like him. 

And what was he like? With each trial, rejection, betrayal and hardship, he made a choice. Rather than react with vengeance or self-pity, he surrendered into a deeper place of the heart. He identified with The Essence of Life rather than just with his one individual life. The radiance of Sacred Essence beamed brightly until not even his skin could conceal it.

It really was revolutionary, and many religious folks simply couldn't bear it, especially those who made worship and dogmatic purity a substitute for personal transformation and social justice.

We have the same choice. Will we allow ourselves to feel the pain of not getting what we want without getting stuck in the muck of disappointment? Will we identify less and less as our collection of moods and self-absorbed story lines? Will we respond to shortcomings in ourselves and others with ever-expanding understanding, truth-telling and compassion? Will we respond to challenges from an Inner Light that shines on every thought, word and action, yet is beyond them all?

If so, we will be transfigured. We will become more Christ-like, and the line will start to blur between where God ends and we begin.

A Whale of a Tale that Misses the Point

Last week I finally took down the remaining Christmas decorations, including this glass whale ornament. It reminded me of the Biblical story of Jonah, which most people know but few understand. What is the actual point of the story? You may recall that Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh and proclaim that God is going to wipe out the city unless they repent of their thuggish ways. Jonah, an Israelite, loathes these violent oppressors and hops on a ship going the opposite direction.

Soon a whale of a storm arises, and Jonah fesses up that he's the likely cause of it. The sailors reluctantly throw him overboard, and the seas calm. If not for a great fish swallowing him whole and subsequently puking him onto dry land, Jonah would have drown.

After cleaning himself off, Jonah trudges to Nineveh and delivers the message. Shockingly, the king and the entire city believe Jonah's message and repent of their wicked ways.  God decides to have mercy on the people of Nineveh and does not destroy them.

The End, right? Not so fast. There's one final chapter, and without it, we easily miss the punchline.

After delivering his message,  Jonah sets up camp just outside the city, finding shelter under a fast-growing shade plant. And Jonah starts to pout: "God I should have known you'd do something like this. I wanted fireworks. I wanted you to exterminate them. But God, You're a soft touch. You're gracious, compassion and overflowing with love. This isn't fair!" Jonah grumbles himself to sleep.

The next morning, Jonah awakens to discover that a worm has eaten his beloved shade plant. Jonah rails against God over the plant: "I'm so mad. I wish I were dead."

God's reply: "You're this worked up over a plant? And yet you gripe at me because I have compassion on 120,000 people and their animals? Get a grip!"

The story of Jonah is really a mirror. Insert your own loathsome group for Nineveh: bigots, terrorists, Republicans, Democrats...and see how the tale morphs if you then put yourself in Jonah's place. However far your mercy extends, the message is to stretch compassion and forgiveness until no one is left out, especially your enemies.

It's easy to make this a miracle story about a big fish that saves a man by swallowing him whole. It's far more difficult to take a serious look at the limits of our compassion and forgiveness. Perhaps that's why few people make it to the final chapter.

The Heart of Jesus

The other day I was speaking with a woman about her experience of Christianity. After having explored various other religions, she has gained a new perspective. She said, "Christianity is a religion of the heart, but we've turned it into a religion of the head." I immediately resonated with her insight. Every religion has a particular gift to offer. Buddhism awakens us from our illusions through practices that still the mind's chatterbox. Judaism stokes the fires of social consciousness with a passion for repairing the world as our service to the Divine.

Christianity offers a mystical path of the heart. Jesus was not concerned with creating an institution or promulgating doctrine. Jesus sought to move people from fear to love, from self-preoccupation to selfless service, and from mindless religion to heart-centered engagement.

The purpose of Christianity is that the story and Spirit of Jesus so deeply move us that we simply can no longer be ego-centric. That's it. It's not an intellectual construct or even an article of faith. It's the installation of a new operating system.

This transformation has two movements: letting go of fear-based living (which feels like a crucifixion) so that love-based living arises (a resurrection). When that shift happens, then we "get" Christ; we become a new creation; the old passes away, and all things become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

This path of Jesus is a heart-broken-wide-open. Anything less might look religious, but it's not Christian.

Cat in a Bag

The other night Bebe decided to make a "cat cave" out of a paper bag. Safe and snug, content and tranquil, she hid inside her protective sack. After a few minutes, however, she had her fix and hopped out of the sack and onto the bed with her two humans and the Fox Terrier. All of us need to be like a cat in a bag from time to time. We need a place to escape and hide out. Yet, after a respite, we too need to come out of the dark caverns and rejoin life. While it is comfortable to stay small, cozy and unnoticed, within us is a drive to express, connect and shine.

For the past few weeks before my morning meditation, I've been reading a selection from Adyashanti's Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic. This morning's selection (p. 159):

We turn away from the light and into the darkness, because sometimes the light is hard to bear. It's a myth that the light of being is always easy to bear; sometimes the radiance of the divine asks us to do difficult things. To remain oriented toward the spark of divinity within us is not always easy, and to act from that space can take great courage and faith...Do we embody the radiance of spirit, or is it simply a passing experience? The whole Jesus story is the story of embodied spirit, of what it means and what it looks like to embody and act from divine being.

To embody and act from divine BEING. Wow! What a life that would be. It would shift the energy with which we do everything. It would mean pausing throughout the day to ask:

  • Am I acting from a place of openness, centeredness and compassion?
  • Am I emanating that essence of my divine spark, no matter how menial the task?
  • Am I consciously choosing to be the presence of Christ/Buddha/My Best Self as I interact with people today?

For most of us shining this brightly is a terrifying prospect. Would people think we are crazy? Would we be on a different wavelength than our loved ones and coworkers and feel isolated? Would we have to change long-cherished patterns and behaviors?

We usually just slink back into our paper bags.

But everyone once in a while, the divine spark turns into a flame, and we can no longer ignore it. Those critical moments change the trajectory of a lifetime if we decide to come out of our "cat caves".

Perhaps no one has said it better than Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

What is God?

Children are the best theologians. A colleague told me about a recent conversation with her seven-year-old granddaughter. "Grandma, I don't believe in God. Do you believe in God?"

"Yes, I do."

Pause....."What is God?"

Grandma felt a flash of anxiety, "Oh God, how do I answer that?" she thought.

I love the question. Not, who is God, but what is God? How would you have responded? In some traditions, any answer to that question is by definition not the answer because whatever God is cannot be defined.

I'm reminded of the story where Moses encounters the Divine Presence at the burning bush and asks for a name to take back to his peeps. All Moses gets is a riddle: "I AM THAT I AM".

What is God to you?

Lately, I've been experiencing God as "The Background", that backdrop of existence upon which all reality plays out. I've been contemplating God as the Silent Oneness from which all the particulars arise.

I recently had an amazing conversation with a Hindu teacher/holy man who described God as "Is-ness". There is an energetic "Is-ness", always present, but seldom in our awareness. The point of meditation and other such practices is not to escape reality but to return awareness to the "Is-ness" beneath, behind and permeating all reality. The contemplator, that being contemplated, and  contemplation itself, all become one.

“The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” Meister Eckhart

Why is this important? It's not because "God" is some narcissistic, overbearing parent needing fawning attention. Rather, in awareness of "Is-ness" or "The Background" our lives find context. Only when we experience ourselves in the midst of this infinite background do we find the expansiveness needed to hold our woes and worries.

How to cultivate awareness of "Is-ness"? It's more a matter of subtraction than addition. The Hindu teacher reminded me that my attempts to get there with my agenda to be in that space was counter-productive. This background is omnipresent. Every spiritual practice from chanting to gardening, from prayer to dancing a happy jig, is ultimately aimed at dislodging us from our self-absorbed stories so that we experience being absorbed into the Energetic Essence, which we often call "God".

From that space we are free to see things as they are and make appropriate choices. We can let go of the narratives that keep us miserable and stuck.

One would expect this Silent Emptiness to be devoid of character, but oddly, I don't experience this Background as neutral. I sense a grace,  a compassion, a gentle lovingkindness, a beneficence filling me when I return my awareness to "Is-ness". Even the horrors of life, which we may think are opposed to this Presence, ultimately arise from it and are surrounded by its graciousness.

So, how would you have answered the seven-year-old granddaughter? I'm not sure I have an answer...only an experience that immediately vanishes as soon as I try to put words to it.

When my colleague was put on the spot to answer her granddaughter, she resounded with the first thing that came to mind:

"I think of a Bible passage I like which says, 'God is Love'."

Perhaps that's about as good an answer as any.

Did Jesus Poop?

I was talking to someone who is on the borderline between acquaintance and friend. She mentioned an important personal fact as if I obviously already knew, which I did not. But I pretended that I knew and tried to piece together the the facts from the rest of our conversation. Afterwards the self-analyzing questions: "Why did she think I already knew? Why didn't I just admit that I didn't know and own up to my ignorance? What am I trying to protect by pretending to be so knowledgable?" I decided to take these questions with me on my morning walk. During these meditative walks, I often invite God/Jesus to join me (although at times I listen to the chant "Om Nama Shivaya" for a Hindu-infused jaunt).

As I walked, I pondered how my view of Jesus might affect my response to my earlier behavior.  In popular Christianity, much focus is placed on Jesus' compassion, wisdom, and divine/supernatural abilities. But the Gospels also present a fully human Jesus who gets mad, cries, and has problems with his biological family. Which Jesus was I calling on to gain perspective on my behavior?

This led me to the crucial theological question that dominated the rest of my morning walk: Did Jesus poop? Of course he did, but somehow that thought seems, well, "unChristian". We have sanitized Jesus to the point of being non-human, and in so doing, we have lost any hope of becoming like him. If he's only for veneration, then he's of no use for transformation.

According to the Gospels, God said of Jesus, "This is my beloved with whom I'm well pleased." If the Divine Essence can inhabit that biologically messy, emotional, limited human being known as Jesus...and be well-pleased, then shame, blame, judgement and self-judgement have met their match. That's the heart of Christianity. The Divine Mystery looks at us, loves us, takes up residence in us, as us, in all our humanness, and is well-pleased.

While my walk didn't yield a psychological cure-all that magically erased all my self-protective foibles, I did gain a deeper experience of Jesus that is proving to be just as therapeutic.  To experience Jesus is to experience that we imperfect beings are embraced at such a deep level that we cannot fail at life, cannot be a disappointment, cannot be anything other than loved.

Within such truly unconditional love, our masks and pretenses are acknowledged without push or pull. No need for judgment, angst-ridden self-analysis, or a $10,000 self-help course. We, like God, see the messy, human reality...and smile.

Did Jesus poop? Absolutely. And thank God he did.

Jesus in My Latte

As I wait for a friend, a barista whisks steaming milk

like a stylist teases hair,

creating the perfect palette

with which to practice one's craft.


"Low fat latte for Scott…"

I look down at my brew.

Looking back at me?

Not vague impressions

of a leaf

or a heart,

but the unmistakable visage of

one who's face we've never laid eyes on

yet whom we immediately recognize.


Jesus is in my latte.

I chuckle. My friend arrives.

We admire the coffee artist's

temporary exhibit.

My heart, filled with concerns,

dozens for today,

a hundred for tomorrow,

smiles and melts.


Maybe that's all we need to know about Jesus.

The way he looks at us,

The way we hear his voice,

The way he touches us,

makes us melt, open and smile.


The barista's name is Daniel,

literally, "God is my judge."

In the Bible, Daniel is a shrewd

yet beloved interpreter of dreams,

whom even a hungry lion refuses to judge.


Why is my life so heavy

with a never ending list

of potential catastrophes,

a lion's den of worries,

any of which, if they came to pass,

would obviously

and without end

be my fault?

This gregarious, latte Jesus laughs through

my angst, silly projections and unconscious fears

of being judged. Whatever God is…Judge?

Unknowable Essence? Wishful Thinking?...

The face of Jesus brings the entire Notion

down to earth and

lightens it up.


I take a sip and watch Jesus

transfigure into Gandalf.

Soon my miraculous visitation is

just an amorphous, toasty beverage

that warms my entire being,

a gift no less divine.


Perhaps God is

nothing more than an

artsy barista, who whisks

each of us into an

ephemeral froth of

divine playfulness,

whom discerning connoisseurs

sip with glee.

Blessed Are The Cheese Makers

In the Monty Python movie “Life of Brian”, Jesus is heard from a distance saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” People on the periphery of the crowd mangle Jesus' words. “What did he say?” 

“I think it was, ‘Blessed are the cheese makers’”. 

"What’s so special about the cheese makers?”

“Well, it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.”

Sounds like a theological conference where wisdom teachings are readily parsed into meaninglessness. What was Jesus really up to? Was he merely saying, "Cheer up. It gets better, if not in this life, then the next"?

I believe Jesus was inviting us into a series of paradoxes:

  • Deep within our lives we already possess what we have been seeking.
  • What we avoid and resist contains a seed of life that can blossom into what we yearn for most.
  • Buried within the last place we'd think of looking (grief, lack, a hunger to make the world fairer, being opposed when taking a stand for a good cause) is where we find that we already have all we truly need.

I've tried my hand at crafting a new translation of Jesus' words from Matthew 5:1-12. They are often called "The Beatitudes", which literally means blessed, happy or fortunate. I prefer the word "grateful".

Look through the list below and see which human experience most resonates with your life now. Then lean into it.  What is the yearning or human need nestled at its core? How might the fulfillment of that need already be present in your life? (If the term "God" does not work for you, try substituting another term like "Life" or "Universal Love" into the sayings below.)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and began to teach them saying:

Grateful are those who don’t put on spiritual airs, for it’s much easier to get close to God when one’s ego is not in the way.

Grateful are those who have the courage to mourn, for in the epicenter of their grief they encounter a love that comforts them.

Grateful are those who don't act like the world revolves around them, for the whole earth becomes their next of kin.

Grateful are those who long and hunger for fairness, for their bellies are full of grace, which alone will satisfy.

Grateful are those who risk compassion, for their kindness will return to them many times over.

Grateful are those whose hearts have been scrubbed clean of narrow self-interest, for they see God everywhere.

Grateful are those who do the hard work of making peace, for they find the world is full of their brothers and sisters, all children of God.

Grateful are those who are oppressed for doing the right thing, for they feel a connection to God seldom experienced this side of heaven.

Be grateful even when you are insulted, oppressed, disrespected, and lied about because you have aligned yourself with me. Celebrate! Shout for joy! Everyone who takes a stand for something or Someone bigger than themselves receives the same treatment, but they also receive the same reward: the secret of eternal life.

Do You Believe in Santa Claus?

If you ask a naïve child: “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” he replies “Yes!”

If you ask a bright child the same question, he replies “No!”

However if you ask an even brighter child, he replies “Yes!”

- - Ronald Rolheiser in Forgotten Among the Lilies - -

Not long ago, my partner and I had one of the worst moviegoing experiences of our lives. We went to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The movie itself was quite good. The audience, however, was atrocious.

Parents, who apparently had never uttered the word "no", brought throngs of ill-mannered adolescents who kawkawed through the entire movie like a murder of crows. As we entered the theater, two of them ran up from behind us and attempted to shove us out of the way in order to get prime seats. (My outstretched leg halted their progress.) The gossipers seated behind us provided a cacophonous secondary soundtrack, and with one exception, none of these urchins every said "please" or "excuse me" during their repeated foot-trampling escapades in and out of our row. By the time the movie was over, we were eager to enter the whole lot of them into a Hunger Games lottery.

We were particularly eager to see this movie because we had enjoyed reading the trilogy. In our heads we had conjured a complex, virtual reality of characters, districts, the topography of the games, the ambience of the capitol…a vibrant and fluid mental landscape inspired by the books. If we had seen the movie first, our imagination would have been narrowed to the vision of the film's director.

This struck me as an analogy for the spiritual path. We start off taking things literally as we have been spoon fed them. We naively believe in a literal Santa Claus. This is fine as the starting point in which we first learn the stories, but eventually we have to throw off this limited literalism that denies the reality in which we live (or we become rigid fundamentalists). Eventually, we no longer believe.

Then, at some point, if we are lucky, we realize there is a deeper truth beneath these stories, myths, scriptures and dogmas. It's not the stories themselves which were important, but the Ultimate Reality to which they point, which is, after all, a Mystery. While we may no longer believe that a rotund philanthropist trespasses across the threshold of every household and is then whisked away by airborne caribou, we do start to believe in the spirit of generosity, altruism, good cheer and kindness. We can once again say with integrity that we do believe in Santa Claus.

What it requires is that we release those "film interpretations" that narrow our perspective without losing The Story itself. We read both sacred texts and the sacred scriptures of our own lives side by side. Imagination sparks. Hope inspires. Compassion exudes. Otherwise, we've missed the point. Even the Christmas story itself needs to pass through this dialectic of belief, unbelief, and then deeper belief that rhymes with the holy experience of our own lives.

Perhaps if those adolescents at the movie still believed in a literal Santa Claus, we could have threatened them with lumps of coal for Christmas. While Santa won't literally shaft them with lumps of coal, I do believe it will happen in a deeper sense. Soon enough the smartphone or Wii given at Christmas will seem like a lump of coal when it is tossed aside as obsolete.

We all get to the point where life feels like a bag full of charcoal briquettes. In those moments will we keep grasping for new toys to distract us? More lumps of coal in the making? Or will we choose to believe in and embrace the Essence of Christmas…a human heart broken open by compassion…awe-filled eyes that see the Sacred Presence everywhere…satiated gratitude for the simple goodness of being this and now.

Do you believe?