Harry Potter to the Rescue!

I had a dream last night in which I was Harry Potter. In the dream I surprise the rest of the students when I fly without a broom. I decide to no longer hide this ability. When a malevolent, Draco-like student threatens Hermione, I swoop in and whisk them both away to resolve the conflict. Meanwhile the other students and professors join ranks to protect Hogwarts. Their focus is to venerate the horcruxes because, left untended the horcruxes would give rise to the dark lord. Apologies to anyone reading this who is not a Harry Potter geek. Harry Potter is the young wizard who with his friend Hermione battles an evil wizard who has spun off parts of his soul into objects called horcruxes. As I sat with the dream this morning, I went deeper and deeper until I got to two core themes, or horcruxes, that needed attention (veneration) so that they don't lord it over me. Those themes are abandonment and shame.

When I mess up, some part of me fears I'll be  rejected because of the error (abandonment). Another part of me takes it in as further proof that I'm a bad person (shame). And one other part of me tries to avoid these feelings altogether by being defensive: blaming others for what happened, making reasonable excuses, overcompensating by trying to be hyper-good, etc.

What I take from the dream is a way to hold all of this: with vulnerability. Be vulnerable enough to admit my error. And be truthful: this mistake says nothing about who I am. I'm neither good nor bad. I'm a human being who is learning how to integrate his virtuous and non-virtuous tendencies. I also admit my tendency is to go straight to shame when I make an error. Acknowledging this horcrux makes it less likely to become my lord.

As I sat with the theme of abandonment, I thought of Jesus. His friends and followers abandoned him when their expectations were not met and when his life path became treacherous. Among his final words were: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Perhaps there is no fear greater than that of being abandoned. No wonder part of me wants to manipulate and finagle circumstances to avoid that possibility...or even the fear of it.

Yet as I sat with it, a deeper peace arose. Knowing that Jesus (and for that matter the rest of humanity) shares my experience, I no longer felt alone. When we lean into how vulnerable we are as individual human beings, we realize how alike and interconnected we are. Shared vulnerability dissolves isolation, the fear of abandonment, and the lie of shame.

Moreover, by paying attention to my own fear of abandonment, I felt cared for, honored, and accompanied…by myself. I no longer felt abandoned. I had shown up for myself and realized I would never be alone. I am with me. (I also sense that a Sacred Presence is with me to support this process.) I integrate those virtuous and non-virtuous parts of myself into one human being, neither hero nor villain, neither all good nor all bad. I'm simply human, vulnerable, a mixed bag of altruistic and selfish, wholesome and devious, just like everyone else.

The alchemy of vulnerability transmutes shame into self-acceptance, fear of abandonment into self-love, all of which then ripples outward to embrace every other flawed human being with a bit more compassion and openness. Some call this salvation. Others call it grace. I call it magic.

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.

The Cross of Being Human

What meaning does the symbol of the cross or crucifix still hold, including for those who may not identify themselves as Christian? Does it have anything of value to offer in today's world? I purchased this crucifix shown in the photo while visiting Paris in 2002. On the back is a sticker which reads "Fabrication Francaise". Whenever I look at it, I not only think of the universal meaning of the crucifix but also of the particular place where I found this version of the symbol.

It occurs to me that this paradox of a symbol being both unique and universal is telling us something about what it means to be human. On the one hand, we are more than our egos. When I find myself grasping, resisting, ungrateful, indignant or just plain pissed off at the world, I realize it's time to let go into Something Larger.

I have found Buddhism particularly helpful at such times with its notion of not taking the personal self so personally because even the person we identify with as "myself" is a constantly morphing fabrication of the ego. What is essential is Spirit, Buddha mind, Christ consciousness, Ground of Being, or whatever name you choose to give that Source which animates us and into which we release when this life ends. When caught up in self-pity, self-entitlement, or self-preoccupation, it is into the vast web of Everything-ness that I release (eventually and often after much kicking and cussing).

On the other hand, there is a "me" present in this moment, a unique expression of that Source that will never be repeated. I have passions, insights, talents, desires, flaws and dreams that no other being will ever embody in this combination.

This part is actually harder for me to live. I can more readily surrender into the Light of Being than I can see my particularly wavelength of color in the Light. It is easier for me to chock things up to Mystery and sit with an uncomfortable unknowing than it is to for me to know and act on what is true for me as this one-of-a-kind human being. My deep fear is that I may not be loved or liked when I fully unfurl my hues and tints. Yet without an intimate knowing and passionate expression of who I am, my life is muted and gray. The Light of the World is also diminished, refracting one less color.

This is the cross of being human. One aspect of me is always grateful, irrevocably loved, and, on a deep heart level, belongs to everyone and everything. In that space there is no separation and no fear. Another part of me is defined, has boundaries and has places of belonging and not belonging. It is that space of Oneness, Love and Wholeness that I have the courage to express my uniqueness that may or may not jive with the uniqueness of others.

We are both divine (or Life Essence) in a way that can never be separate or defined from any other part of life. And we are also separate, defined, colorful, individual expressions of the divine. Both are true. The beams of the cross itself, one vertical and one horizontal, symbolize this intersection of the eternal and the temporary. Jesus Christ represents the conscious embodiment of this intersection, this meeting of the holy and the ordinary at the crossroads of humanity. The cross of being human is to live both fully.

The Koans of Jesus

"What is the sound of one hand clapping?" "What moves, the flag or the wind?"


These are koans, which are nonsensical Buddhist riddles, the very contemplation of which exhausts the rational mind so that a deeper wisdom emerges. When one of these riddles does its job, how we perceive reality changes. We no longer connect the dots of our lives in the same way.

What if the teachings of Jesus also function as koans? What if his parables were really wisdom tales intended to dislodge us from our comfortable, but limited, way of viewing reality? In fact, what if Jesus was really a Wisdom Teacher concerned more with our awakening than with our orthodoxy?

This is the notion promoted by Christian writer Cynthia Bourgeault and other progressive theologians. Of Jesus she writes:

"His parables are much closer to what in the Zen tradition would be koans - profound paradoxes (riddles, if you like) that are intended to turn the egoic mind upside down and push us into new ways of seeing...He is very deliberately trying to short-circuit the grasping, acquiring, clinging, comparing linear brain and to open up within us a whole new mode of perception (now what we see, but how we see, how the mind makes its connections.) This is a classic strategy of a master of wisdom." Wisdom Jesus, pp. 47, 50, 51

I love this approach to the teachings and life of Jesus. Most of us only hear the Bible through layers of church-speak that obscure and deflate its transformational power.

How can we hear sacred texts anew so that they turn our assumptions inside out? How can they mirror back to us our unconscious patterns of thinking and doing? How can they come alive and speak directly to our lived experience here and now? How do we recover the original punch these stories had? For unless scriptures create a visceral reaction and jar us into a new level of awakening, we have not really heard them.

Try this:

  • Read a story from the Bible (or any sacred scripture) aloud. Better yet listen to it read to you. The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and Jesus' other parables are excellent passages to use for this practice.
  • Notice what your first gut reaction is to the story. Before the mind has a chance to tame the story, start writing the next chapter, that is, what you imagine might happen next. Let it be pure, spontaneous and uncensored.
  • Then look at what you wrote in response to the passage:
    • What do you notice?
    • What is the dominant emotion you feel as you read what you wrote? Do you feel angry, sad, hopeful, confused, open like a breath of fresh air, deflated? What do you feel in your body?
    • What does your writing reveal about how you relate to life? How is it mirroring back to you habitual patterns of thinking, feeling or acting?
    • Particularly lean into any parts of what you wrote that are uncomfortable. What is being reflected back to you? How is this passage turning you upside down and inside out? 
    • What new way of relating to life, to yourself, to others, to the divine is possible?

When we treat the teachings of Jesus as koans, they regain their wild, untamed potential to surprise and transform. When we hold them as universal tools intended to enlighten rather than indoctrinate, they begin to shift consciousness and take us into the felt wisdom of our bodies. They attune our hearts to the frequency of compassion. They empty the inner clutter and create spaciousness. They jolt us into alignment with the flow of Life.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? It is the sound of wisdom awakened.

Life Isn't Fair

How many times did your parents respond to your complaints by saying, "Life isn't fair!" While annoying, their analysis is proving increasingly true. Our global economic system rewards "the winners" at the top with far more than they deserve while "the losers" (everyone else) suffer. For instance:

  • U.S. CEO's are paid 380 times the amount of the average employee salary. CEO's certainly work hard, most likely harder than most of their employees, but 380 times as much?
  • The richest 300 people in the world have as much wealth as the bottom 3 billion people.
  • While the industrialized nations send $180 billion in foreign aid to poor nations each year, $2 trillion shifts from poor to rich countries each year through tax avoidance, trade agreements that favor multinational conglomerates, and debt service. 
  • 30 multinational U.S. based firms with $160 billion in profits paid $0 in taxes over a recent three year period. 25% of the largest corporations pay no taxes. And we recently learned that Apple Computers paid virtually no tax on $102 billion in profits.

The result is an ever-widening income gap (as graphically depicted in this video) in which the poor become more desperate, the middle class evaporates, the upper class struggles, and those at the very top reap the benefits of everyone else's toil. And it's all perfectly legal, but not perfectly moral.

Sadly, large segments of the Christian Church remain silent on economic justice, turning a deaf ear to the suffering of the nation and the world. Trusting more in the free market than in justice or mercy, much of the church barely resembles its namesake. The words of Jesus in Matthew 25 echo in my ear. In that passage Jesus separates true followers from the fakes based on how they care for the most needy among them. What would Jesus say to many who claim his name today?

I was hungry, and you said it was my own damn fault. I was thirsty because your company polluted my town's river in order to make a quick buck. I was a stranger, and you called me a wetback and paid me slave wages as I worked in unsafe conditions so that you could live in comfort among friends. I was sick, and you chose to start wars instead of providing me with access to healthcare. I was in prison, and you let me suffer in the hands of the prison industrial system, never admitting how your own greed led to my desperation. I tell you the truth, when you treat one of the least of these members of my family with such callousness, you have done the same to me.

Coming Out of the Closet...Again

I have a confession to make. I've been seeing someone. It's been very intimate and private. Yes, my partner knows about it, and it's ok. Where does this happen and who is it? Early mornings in my studio I close my eyes, relax and let myself descend into a sanctuary I've created in my own imagination. In that sanctuary I sense that something other than my conscious mind takes over. There I have met with my grandparents, my parents, Buddha, Mary, and animal guides. But the most frequent visit is with Jesus Christ.

I know that for many of us spending time with Jesus sounds like a fundamentalist's relic, laden with toxic theology. But this is not the stale, suffocating, disconnected-from-real-life Jesus Christ of organized religion. It is a living, fresh encounter with a vibrant Christ. During and after these times together I feel liberated, whole, inspired, encouraged, grounded and washed over with love. I feel as if life is starting over with unlimited potential.

What do we do? Sometimes, we sit in a beautiful garden and admire nature. Sometimes we enter a chapel and soak in the luxurious silence. Sometimes we look out over the ocean and chat. Other times symbols or feelings or colors or other sacred figures appear, each with a message or healing gift. It's as if I'm meeting Jesus for the first time and discovering that he's exactly what I had hoped he would be: warm, welcoming, insightful, funny, mystical...someone who really gets me, meets me where I am and gently leads me to a more authentic expression of myself.

So, what is really happening? Is it all just my subconscious mind creating fantasies in a state of half-sleep? Am I actually on tuning in to the Spirit of Christ, whatever that means? I'm not sure, and I don't think it's relevant. I only know that I am experiencing Life as freer, truer, lighter and more trustworthy. A bit more compassion is flowing for others and for myself.  And it's a result of rekindling a relationship I had almost written off as irreconcilable with my sexuality, intellectual honesty and my affinity for other faith traditions.

I'm not sure what to call myself as I come out of the closet and claim that I regularly meet with Jesus. The only word that comes to mind is "grateful".

P.S. Please join us for classes this spring on Self-Hypnosis and Mindful Photography.

Chik-fil-A and the Palins: a Very Unhappy Meal

Today I saw a a photo on Facebook of Sarah and Todd Palin holding Chik-fil-A bags. They were exuberant, smiling ear to ear with Sarah giving her trademark "you betcha" thumbs up. When I saw that this picture received a large number of "likes", I decided to post the following reply on Facebook: I am saddened by the Palins' public and gleeful support of Chik-fil-A's all out effort to deny other taxpaying citizens the opportunity to enjoy the 1,000+ rights they enjoy as husband and wife. It's not asking for a "special right" when someone seeks the same rights you already have. Why would anyone jump for joy over denying someone else the same privileges they have? Bigotry? Let's hope not. It must ultimately stem from deeply held religious beliefs.  That's the most charitable reason I can imagine.

There are a few problems, however, with that explanation. First, marriage is a civil arrangement, not a religious one. Religions issue doctrinal statements, but states issues marriage licenses. That makes marriage a civil right. It's one thing to hold personal religious beliefs about any number of issues. It's quite another to make those beliefs into laws affecting everyone else. Prohibiting others from basic human experiences, like coming together in marriage with all the legal protections and benefits that it affords, is neither civil nor right.

For those who seek to legally prohibit gays and lesbians from getting married because they believe they are upholding the traditional, Biblical view of marriage (e.g., Chik-fil-A's president), I have to ask, which Biblical view of marriage are you thinking of? The view of innumerable churches who until a few decades ago used the Bible to prohibit interracial marriage? The Biblical patriarchs who had multiple wives?

For those who believe that the Bible should be read literally and that our nation's laws should reflect their interpretation, check out Deuteronomy 22:28-29:

"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father 50 shekels of silver. He must marry the girl."

Is that the Biblical view of marriage (updating shekels for dollars, of course) that should be made into law? Why is that passage to be taken any less literally than the Leviticus verse so often used as the proof text that homosexuality is sinful?

And while you're looking through the first five books of the Bible, you'll find more of God's commands about marriage:

  • Marry your brother's widow (Deuteronomy 25)
  • Capital punishment for committing adultery with a neighbor's wife (Leviticus 20)
  • Priests put a curse on a woman whose husband suspects her of adultery (Numbers 5)

You'll have a tough time finding many, if any, passages after Genesis 2 that reflect the so-called traditional view of marriage. Then there are the polygamist kings, including King David, "a man after God's own heart". (1 Samuel 13:14) God says that it was God who gave David his wives (plural). (2 Samuel 12:7,8). One begins to wonder if God is familiar with the "traditional definition" of marriage.

Some Christians say the commands in the "Old Testament" (a.k.a. the Hebrew Scriptures) no longer apply to them since Jesus came. If you hold to this perspective, for the sake of your own integrity, please never again use any passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (including stories about Adam and Eve or Sodom and Gomorrah) to justify legislation restricting the rights of lesbians and gays.

Jesus, while saying nothing about homosexuality, did insist that the only reason a married couple should be allowed to divorce is adultery (Matthew 19). Where is the outcry to repeal and replace the lax, "unbiblical"divorce laws in this country? Where is the picketing of divorce courts? If it's fair game to enforce one's perception of a Bible-based view of marriage on gay people, why is a Bible-based view of marriage (including divorce) not also enforced through law on straight people? Could it be thinly-veiled yet unconscious prejudice? What else would explain why good-hearted Christian folk try to impose their marriage standards on gay people but let their own demographic off the hook?

Hopefully, it's merely a lack of not yet taking the time to fully think through the implications of one's positions. I've certainly failed to do that myself many times and have to keep careful watch over my strongly-held opinions and beliefs, which so easily morph into something unhealthy and lacking any semblance of Christian compassion.

So, before cheering the Palins, please take a moment to consider the genesis of your own thoughts on this issue. While it may seem like an innocuous photo of a married couple holding Chik-fil-A bags, it actually is an attack, (hopefully on account of understandable ignorance) on the identity, relationships, legal equality before the law, and inherent worth of your fellow Americans. That is nothing to celebrate.

That was my posting on Facebook. I know I'm probably "preaching to the choir" by posting this on my blog. But every now and then a preacher needs to hear an "Amen"...or at least get a "like" on Facebook.