Monday, August 30, 2010

It's not always what you say...

It's often how you say it...

I had an experience last week of being told something that really hurt me. But it wasn't what was said (which I had actually expected), it was how it was said to me. It amazes me that people in relationship say things in such hurtful ways, but there it is, leaving me emotionally frozen in time, not knowing which way to move, afraid to move any direction for fear of making it worse. I hate being frozen. Sigh.

Also, this isn't in just the hurtful moments, in the past few weeks it's happened in some more casual moments also. People that don't think and say things in hurtful or demeaning ways. Sometimes in front of friends, which makes it doubly humiliating and hurtful.

Just saying, be careful how you speak to people. If you care about them even a little.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I belong to an e-group:

Where we set intentions for our week. I'm not that good at setting intentions, and rarely do. But this week I set an intention and wanted to share it because of accountability. The more people who know about my intention, the more likely there will be someone who asks about it, keeping me on track and here it is (I will also facebook/email about people watching your life):

I want to start/continue a yoga "practice" instead of this hit/miss stuff I've been doing. To that end I got up at 5:45AM (OMG early) and did my yoga with Leslie Sansone, which is a 20 minute workout that I can just barely handle on a work morning, it got me into the shower 9 minutes later than I normally get there, so not too bad on time. I am not sure if by "practice" I should do this daily, but since Ii am so bad about remembering if I skip a day, and because this is probably the most basic DVD I've ever seen (about 10 poses) I intend to do this every morning of my work week, and maybe one morning of the weekend taking Sunday off to rest the body. I've read that 40 days makes a practice with yoga, so we shall commit to that 40 days, which takes me to (I actually did this DVD on Saturday also, so will count from there) the first of October, at which point I expect to need a more challenging DVD, AND I expect to have to get up at least 15 minutes earlier than the 5:45AM I need for this DVD (sigh).

Friday, August 20, 2010

From Inward/Outward...

GOD would kneel down:

St. Francis of Assisi

I think God might be a little prejudiced.
For once He asked me to join Him on a walk
through this world,

and we gazed into every heart on this earth,
and I noticed He lingered a bit longer
before any face that was

and before any eyes that were

And sometimes when we passed
a soul in worship

God too would kneel down.

I have come to learn: God
adores His creation.

Source: Love Poems From God, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

American vs Global Economy

Part of a conversation we are having on an e-group I belong to:

As I peeled my orange this morning, I noticed it has a "grown in South America" sticker on it. Normally the oranges I eat say Florida. So, do I not eat the orange I brought because it came from outside the US? Of course not. I am eating it. It tastes like an orange.

The problems I see with this whole global vs American issue are multiple:

If we ONLY buy American, there will be much we cannot buy. America has lost her edge in the world. There is much we USED TO produce, but we do not produce anymore. I don't know how to bring production industry back to America, I'm not sure it can be done. And I know for sure that I don't have the power to cause industry to come back to us. Do you?

Secondly, the time is coming (thanks a LOT to Monsanto) when we won't be able to feed ourselves if we don't buy from (or maybe steal from) wherever we can. I just watched part of one of the scariest documentaries I've ever seen about how Monsanto GMO stuff blowing in the wind, blows into a farmers field and contaminates it, and lo and behold, Monsanto now owns your field because they have a patent on the GMO stuff. It doesn't matter HOW your field gets contaminated, it's considered patent infringement and you are prosecuted. I watched farmers dump TONS of seeds down the drains because they couldn't test every seed and be SURE that it wasn't contaminated. Generations of seed saving...GONE. In this documentary I heard the death knell of farmers who are trying to resist Monsanto. I'd like to go back in time and murder the idiot that allowed patenting of plant things. One of those hindsight is 20/20 moments.

Therefore, although I will buy American IF I can find American and IF I can afford American, I don't think we can save our economy this way. I don't think, in the great ocean that is the American economy, that it will be enough...sad to say...But I'd love to be proven wrong on this one, so add your thoughts/ideas in the comments!!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Another GREAT blog on Christian Mysticism:

Sunlight on Footworn Stairs in Assisi

In 2006, I went on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy to immerse myself in the life and teachings of St Francis of Assisi. It was a magical three weeks. Every morning during my stay, a mist enshrouded the city, and I felt like each well-worn stone yearned to speak of the sacred events it had witnessed over the millennia. It’s no wonder they call Assisi “a particle of paradise.”

A few days into the pilgrimage, a friend introduced me to an 80-year old, Catholic priest named Father Arcadius. Arcadius looked like an Old Testament prophet. He was dressed in a frayed and dusty cassock with a rope belt and sandals with soles made from recycled car tires. His grey beard had grown down to the middle of his chest, an explosion of white hair crowned his head, and his eyes were an arresting blue.

For years, Arcadius had been a hermit living in the Apennine Mountains until God called him to a ministry of walking across Europe and the Middle East to hear the confessions of pilgrims who were visiting shrines.

He estimated that over his thirty years of ministry he had clocked tens of thousands of miles on foot, carrying no money or extra clothing but relying on the charity of others to survive.

I spent several amazing hours sitting on the steps leading up to the Church of San Damiano speaking with Arcadius about my life with Jesus. At the end of our time, I asked for his blessing and for any final wisdom he could give me about how to move deeper into the heart of God. Without pause, he grabbed my forearms, gazed piercingly into my eyes, and said, “Become a mystic!” Not quite what I expected.

Drop the phrase word ‘Christian mysticism’into a conversation among a group of Jesus followers, especially among our more conservative brothers and sisters, and you will get a wide array of reactions. Some correlate it with New Age spirituality; others associate it with creepy psychic phenomena that have little to do with “normal” Christian life; others, however, will speak reverently about a transcendent experience of God that occurred in their past that made them wonder if for only one brief and beautiful moment they themselves were mystics.

So, what really makes someone a mystic? In the simplest sense, a mystic is someone who has a lived experience of Jesus in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. They have experienced Jesus, and through contemplative prayer and meditation, continue to encounter Jesus in such a way that they gain a new perceptive appreciation for the urgent immediacy of God in all things. (This is but one of several thousand definitions of this term. Trust me, I will hear about it’s shortcomings!)

Contrary to what many think, however, these God-encounters are not always seismic events, like those experienced by St Francis and/or St Teresa of Avila. Catholic theologian Karl Rahner (a theologian we desperately need to revisit), would argue that these unmediated encounters with God are often so delicate and subtle that most people do not even know that what they have experienced is mystical in content.

So, let me take the “mist” out of the word mysticism; make it something less opaque and more accessible.

Have you ever found yourself inexplicably capable of forgiving someone who has deeply wounded you?

Have you ever been surprised by your ability to maintain a spirit of faith, hope and joy in the face of crushing circumstances or perhaps even in the face of unspeakable horror?

Have you ever spontaneously laughed out loud at the absurdity of life?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sense that everything in your life is a gift?

Have you ever been given the gift “seeing the inner splendor” of something in creation?

Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by the sound of wind moving through a stand of trees or by the sight of a markless snowfield illuminated by moonlight?

Have you ever received the Eucharist and felt tears of gratitude well up from your soul?

If your answer is yes to some of these questions, then welcome to the fellowship of "everyday mystics", as Rahner would call them.

I do admit that some mystical encounters with God are more dramatic than others. Several years ago, a group of dear friends went on a hiking trip on a beautiful fall day with a friend who was in the early stages of dying from bone cancer. His gait was already becoming slow and unsteady, but he managed at one point to get ahead of us. As my friends emerged from a patch of undergrowth, they found our dying friend on his knees weeping, with hands raised in worship, before a single bush whose autumn leaves were aflame with breathtaking red and orange leaves. He had been graced with seeing that the “earth is crammed with God”, and these men who were witnesses to this moment were brought to silence.

Karl Rahner famously wrote that “the Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic,’ one who has experienced ‘something,’ or he will cease to be anything at all.” I would like to be part of a conversation about how post-evangelicals/emergents might begin to think about articulating our own mystical theology (a required course in many Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican seminaries.) Without one, I believe our ability to help people who yearn to make contact with their own transcendality will be impaired.

PS: If you can, come to the Big Tent Christianity Conference in Raleigh, NC, September 8-9. Its going to be a time filled with rich conversations, and perhaps we’ll all experience the “urgent immediacy of Jesus” together.

(I originally published portions of this post in an article for the 2009 Catalyst Conference. It has since been updated and expanded on.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Worship: The Mystical Wonder

I read a book a long time ago about Mother Teresa. Somebody in the book asked her how she summoned the strength to love so many people. She said she loved people because they are Jesus, each one of them is Jesus, and this is true because it says so in the Bible. And it is also true that this idea contradicts the facts of reality: Everybody can’t be Jesus. There are many ideas within Christian spirituality that contradict the facts of reality as I understand them. A statement like this offends some Christians because they believe if aspects of their faith do not obey the facts of reality, they are not true. But I think there are all sorts of things our hearts believe that don’t make any sense to our heads. Love, for instance; we believe in love. Beauty. Jesus as God.

It comforts me to think that if we are created beings, the thing that created us would have to be greater than us, so much greater, in fact, that we would not be able to understand it. It would have to be greater than the facts of our reality, and so it would seem to us, looking out from within our reality, that it would contradict reason. But reason itself would suggest it would have to be greater than reality, or it would not be reasonable.

When we worship God we worship a Being our life experience does not give us the tools with which to understand. If we could, God would not inspire awe. Eternity, for example, is not something the human mind can understand. We may be able to wrap our heads around living forever (and we can do this only because none of us has experienced death), but can we understand what it means to have never been born? I only say this to illustrate that we, as Christians, believe things we cannot explain. And so does everybody else.

I have a friend who is a seminary student who criticizes certain Christian writers for embracing what he calls “mysticism.” I asked him if his statement meant that he was not a mystic. Of course not, he told me. I asked him if he believed that the Trinity represented three separate persons who are also one. He said he did. I asked him if that would be considered a mystical idea. He just stood there thinking. You cannot be a Christian without being a mystic.

I was talking to a homeless man at a laundry mat recently, and he said that when we reduce Christian spirituality to math we defile the Holy. I thought that was very beautiful and comforting because I have never been good at math. Many of our attempts to understand Christian faith have only cheapened it. I can no more understand the totality of God than the pancake I made for breakfast understands the complexity of me. The little we do understand, that grain of sand our minds are capable of grasping, those ideas such as God is good, God feels, God loves, God knows all, are enough to keep our hearts dwelling on His majesty and otherness forever.

Here is one of the coolest things I ever did: This past summer I made a point to catch sunsets. I would ride my motorcycle up Mount Tabor and sit on the steps of the reservoir to watch the sun put fire in the clouds that are always hanging over Portland. I never really wanted to make the trip; I would want to watch television or make a sandwich, but I made myself go. And once I got up there I always loved it. It always meant something to me to see beauty right there over my city.

My first sunset this year was the most spectacular. Forest fires in Washington State blew a light, nearly unnoticeable haze through Portland, and the clouds were just low enough to catch the full reflection of red and yellow. I thought to myself:
This is something that happens all the time. From the ridge on Tabor where I planted myself, I could see the entire skyline, the home of more than a million people. On the most nights there were no more than two or three people there with me. All that beauty happens right above the heads of more than a million people who never notice it.

Here is what I’ve started thinking: All the wonder of God happens right above the heads of more than a million people who never notice it.

Here is what I’ve started thinking: All the wonder of God happens right above our arithmetic and formula. The more I climb outside my pat answers, the more invigorating the view, the more my heart enters into worship.

I love how the Gospels start, with John the Baptist eating bugs and baptizing people. The religious people stated getting baptized because it had become popular, and John yells at them and calls them snakes. He says the water won’t do anything for them; it will only get their snakeskins wet. But if they meant it, if they had faith that Jesus was coming and was real, then Jesus would ignite the kingdom life within them. I love that because for so long religion was my false gospel. But there was no magic in it, no wonder, no awe, no kingdom life burning in my chest. And when I get tempted by that same stupid Christian religion, I go back to the beginning of the Gospels and am comforted that there is something more than the emptiness of ritual. God will ignite the kingdom life within me, the Bible says. That’s mysticism. It isn’t a formula that I am figuring out. It is something God does.

One night I watched the sunset till the stars faded in and, while looking up, my mind, or my heart, I do not know which, realized how endless it all was. I laid myself down on some grass and reached my hand directly out toward where? I don’t know. There is no up and down. There has never been an up and down. Things like up and down were invented so as not to scare children, so as to reduce mystery to math. The truth is we do not know there is an end to material existence. It may go on forever, which is something the mind cannot understand.

My friend Jason and I went on a trip to Joshua Tree and Death Valley , and he had a map folded across his lap nearly the entire trip. Even when I was driving, he had the map out, following along with his finger the trajectory of the car, noting how close we were to certain towns, certain lakes. Jason liked to know where we were on the map (and so did I, as a matter of fact). But I was afraid to tell Jason about the universe, how scientists haven’t found the edge of it, of how nobody knows exactly where we are on the map.

I think we have two choices in the face of such big beauty: terror or awe. And this is precisely why we attempt to chart God, because we want to be able to predict Him, to dissect Him, to carry Him around in our dog and pony show. We are too proud to feel awe and two fearful to feel terror. We reduce Him to math so we don’t have to fear Him, and yet the Bible tells us fear is the appropriate response, that is the beginning of wisdom. Does this mean God is going to hurt us? No. But I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon once, behind a railing, and though I was never going to fall off the edge, I feared the thought of it. It is that big of a place, that wonderful of a landscape.

I like that scene in the movie
Dead Poets Society in which Mr. Keating, an English instructor at an elite preparatory school, asks his students to rip out the “introduction to Poetry” essay from their literature textbooks. The essayist had instructed students in a method of grading poems on a sliding scale, complete with the use of a grid, thus reducing art for the heart into arithmetic for the head. The students looked around at each other in confusion as their teacher dismissed the essay as rubbish and ordered them to rip these pages from their books. And at their teacher’s loud prodding, the students began to rip. Dr. Keating paced the aisle with a trash can and reminded the students that poetry is not algebra, not songs on American Bandstand that can be rated on a scale from one to ten, but rather they are pieces of art that plunge the depths of the heart to stir vigor in men and woo women.

Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder.

When I think about the complexity of the Trinity, the three-in-one God, my mind cannot understand, but my heart feels wonder in abundant satisfaction. It is as though my heart, in the midst of its euphoria, is saying to my mind,
There are things you cannot understand, and you must learn to live with this. Not only must you learn to live with this, you must learn to enjoy this.

I want to tell you something about me that you may see as weakness. I need wonder. I know that death is coming. I smell it in the wind, read it in the paper, watch it on television, and see it on the faces of the old. I need wonder to explain what is going to happen to me, what is going to happen to us when this thing is done, when our shift is over and our kids’ kids are still on the earth listening to their crazy rap music. I need something mysterious to happen after I die. I need to be somewhere else after I die, somewhere with God, somewhere that wouldn’t make any sense if it were explained to me right now.

At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.

--Donald Miller,
Blue Like Jazz, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2003

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Neko Girl is coming home...

Sadly the mama is allergic and they are bringing her back to me!!!

I am sad for the little girls who have come to love her. But I am thrilled to have another chance at helping her adapt to our new living situation.

They sent me this photo of her at the lake.