Thursday, December 3, 2009


It seems that in November, I was regularly confronted with the idea of choices. Two weeks ago I heard a sermon by Rev. Robin Renteria in which she asked:
How many choices take you away from what you really care about? How many take you toward what you really care about, what you value? How many choices are merely distractions. Or avoidance? Or denial?

I gave a seminar on issues in aging to our Pastoral Associates at church and spent another day at an eldercare resources fair sponsored by a local organization. At both, I spoke to people about maintaining independence as we age. One of the characteristics of independence is that we can make our own choices. As we grow into our elder years, we have choices about how we will live, who will help us if we become infirm, and what setting will give us the best lifestyle and care options. But I learned that choices are a slippery thing. If you choose no course of action, something may happen (a fall, a disease, a condition) that will close down options quickly and make the decision for you. The choices we make affect not just us, but also others around us. As much as we cry for independence of choice, choice is a very dependent action.

I’m in the process of choosing now. In what activities shall I engage for the next 10 years? What will be my daily life rhythm in the near future? What does my current behavior tell me about what I value, and do I want to make any changes? My choices will set a path, close out some options, open up others. Choice makes life easier and more difficult at the same time.

My counselor often said that making the first, major decision is the hardest part. To stay in a marriage or not. To sell a house or not. To move to assisted living or not. Once you have made that choice, the path becomes somewhat easier because the options you have become clearer. The path after the major decision has an immediate direction that can move you forward. Without that first decision, you are stuck, immobile.

The Bible not only shows us that God makes many choices, but also gives us advice on our own choices. So in your choices today, choose any of these verses for inspiration.

Proverbs 8:10
Choose my [Wisdom’s] instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold;

Proverbs 16:16
How much better to get wisdom than gold;
To choose understanding rather than silver.

Joshua 24:15
“...Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Luke 10:41-42 Visiting Mary and Martha
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (This is just the end. Read the lead-up from 29:2 through Chapter 30. Powerful stuff!)
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendents may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him and holding fast to him; for that means life to you...

Blessings on your choices!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Devotional

If you are searching for a daily meditation through which to mark the days of Advent, try Light of the World: A Daily Advent Devotional. by Jennifer R. Sandberg. It's being made available through the UUCF website. Each meditation includes a Bible verse, a reflection and a prayer--just enough to get those spiritual juices flowing.

Wishing you a reflective Advent!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gratitude as Motivator

Somewhere in my reading and listening, I came across the assertion that the Unitarian Universalist experience often leads to an awareness of how SMALL each of us is in the world and of our total dependence on the Web of Existence. This feeling of smallness can lead to many reactions: fear, wonder, anxiety, uncertainty, awe. In UU's, a common reaction is gratitude. Gratitude to the Mystery of Life, to a Higher Power, to God for making our lives and experiences possible.

Progressive Christianity tends to emphasize this gratitude as a motivator. Christians give back to the world, live in kindness, serve justice in gratitude for the blessing of life.

Some Christians work from a center of fear. There will be retribution in this life or the next if one does not perform good works, live a life of service. Other Christians look forward to Salvation in the afterlife. If one does all the right things, one will be rewarded with eternal Bliss.

All three motivators--Fear, Salvation and Gratitude--can result in the same outcome. I think that's important to remember.

But I like the concept of immediate payback. I get blessings from Life. In gratitude, I say "Thanks" to Life right away by supporting Life and encouraging Life to bloom. I also like being grounded here and now. Being fully present in the miracle that is Life. There is less drama with Gratitude as motivator, but Life hands out enough drama of its own. I don't need to create more.

How's your motivation today?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Empty Bowl

There is a story Sue Bender relates in her book “Everyday Sacred” of a monk who, each morning, takes his empty begging bowl in his hands and stands in the flow of crowds in the city. Whatever is put in the bowl that day—money, rice, a bit of fruit—he uses for his nourishment. Each morning he begins again with an empty bowl, and each day he finds that he receives enough to live.

Each morning we are blessed with a new day. A new beginning. Whatever we did the day before, whatever decisions we made, are done. Finished. Can not be taken back.

But each new day provides the opportunity to do something new. To change the direction that we might have chosen yesterday. To act differently, to look at a problem with a new perspective, to seek advice. To begin again.

What a gift!

Do you berate yourself continually for past decisions? Do you miss the present because you’re focused on the past? Can you not look at today with fresh eyes because of the past? Do you sit in judgment on yourself? If so, remind yourself of the empty bowl and the possibilities.

Move on. Move forward. Look back only to seek clues for how to move ahead today.

Nothing is set in stone.

For each morning, you have an empty bowl.

Your Own Empty Bowl
Find a bowl in your house—any bowl. Something that reflects how you feel about yourself. If you love to bake, perhaps a mixing bowl; if you cherish fine china, a piece from your favorite pattern. A plastic cereal bowl. Place the bowl where you can see it when you wake up each morning and remind yourself that yesterday is past. You have an empty bowl into which to gather new gifts, new decisions, new challenges, new woes, new joys.

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I just got back from a week visiting my sister-of-the-heart in Alabama. I've heard several writers and speakers talk about the different types of friends we have in our lives. In one of these descriptions, we can have "Friends for a Reason, Friends for a Season, and Friends for Life." I've know this friend for over 25 years, and we are definitely friends for life. We bonded during two years shared in Kansas and when our families separated, we promised each other that we would visit at least once every year. During this year's visit, we compiled a "Visit Journal", recording the dates, locations and memories of all our visits. We discovered that we had missed only one calendar year, but there were many years when we were able to arrange more than one visit.

I have as many reasons as there are stars to feel blessed by this friendship.

So today, I share a few verses from Proverbs because nobody says it better.
A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity. (17:17)
Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one's nearest kin. (18:24)
One who forgives an affront fosters friendship, but one who dwells on disuputes will alienate a friend. (17:9)
Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (27:6)
And I close with that powerful verse from John (and for this, I love King James):
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.(15:13)

If you have a friend like this, give thanks this day. If you do not, give thanks for the friends for a reason or a season that you do have and keep your heart open for that friend for life.

May it be so. Amen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Charity and Justice

My Christian Fellowship has just completed its reading and discussion of Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity. Toward the end is a section entitled "Practicing Compassion and Justice" (pages 200-204), and I will share with you what we shared in my group.

Borg writes that the practice of compassion is the way in which Christians pay attention to God and participate in God's passion--the redemption of the world. Borg emphasizes the last word because in traditional Christian interpretations, God seeks--and therefore, so should His followers--the redemption of individuals. "God loves the world," Borg says, and the world is God's passion.

Borg goes on to say that the compassion Jesus taught works on two levels. Compassion directed toward the individual, the victim, is charity. Compassion directed toward society, social reform, is justice. Charity directly helps the victims; justice asks, "Why are there victims?" and works to transform the system that produces victimization. Both are good; both are critical. Christians are real good at charity, Borg says, but pretty weak on justice. One reason? " never offends; a passion for justice often does."

What would happen if Christians, as individuals and as a group, shifted their emphasis from mostly charity to a balanced 50-50, charity-to-justice giving model? Borg challenges the reader to try it out. Rebalance your giving of time, talent and treasure to offer 50% to charitable causes that support the less fortunate and 50% to causes that strive to change the social system which produces economic, educational or social inequity. Borg suggests adding to your current donating level instead of dividing the current level in two, but hey, any movement toward the justice side would weigh in as a positive ripple.

Can you do a 50-50 balance? Are you doing it now? Share some of the efforts in which you're involved. Let us know how your rebalancing is going.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Give Me Life

I've felt like a slug for days now. I don't feel rested. I have done what absolutely needs to be done, but not one thing more. I've spent hours reading romance novels. I've avoided activities that would bring me closer to my goals. I've filled the evenings with TV season premiers--and haven't even gotten to the Ken Burn's National Parks series yet.

Could be the change in weather. Fall is settling into the Carolinas with lingering shadows and dark, cool mornings. Makes me want to hibernate. Could be a natural break from a busy September and lots of soul searching to uncover the right path for the next few months.

I have tried to add a spiritual discipline to my day. Each afternoon, I try to fit in a half-hour practicing my guitar and singing praise songs and hymns that come from my modern Catholic-Anglican heritage. It's my daily meditation, my prayer. I decided to add reading the psalm of the day and a New Testament verse for the day before practice. It's a way to revisit the Word on a more regular basis.

And here is Psalm 119, verses 145-176, and a recurring line that jumps up off the page. From the New American Standard:
Revive me, O Lord, according to your lovingkindness.
Revive me, O Lord, according to your ordinances.
Revive me according to your Word.
I immediately thought of lines from two of my favorite hymns: "Hear our cry, and revive us, O Lord!" and "Lord, light the fire, again."

Yeah, that's what I'm needing right now.

Lord, light a fire under me to get me off the couch.
Pull me through this wilderness of my own design.
Reactivate me with a clear vision of what I'm meant to do, where my efforts are best directed.
Let your Spirit surge through me again, so that I can continue on the Way with renewed vigor and fresh energy.
Restore my faith in your positive spin on the world.
Remind me that, out of the still waters of my rest, I'm here to make positive ripples, joyful splashes.

Lord, give me life.

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What To Do, What To Do

During the last week or two, I've been browsing through A New Zealand Prayer Book, looking for prayers and "good words" for our Christian Fellowship Service Book. This prayer book is much like the American Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, but the prayers are often in simpler language, language that reflects a vibrant connection between a people and the land, the oceans and God.

Here's a prayer that I'm pinning up on my wall:
Jesus, you knew rejection and disappointment;
help us if our work seems distasteful;
help us to decide what best to do,
what next to do,
or what to do at all.
Give us courage and cheerfulness to go the second mile, and all the miles ahead. (NZPB, pg.130)
I'm at the "what to do at all" point today. I pray you are at "what best to do".

Blessings on whatever decision you need to make!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Power of Presence

Over the last few weeks, I've been hearing a consistent message. "Just show up." "Just be there." "Be present."

It's one of the first things that a hospital chaplain learns. You don't neccessarily need to converse or do anything for the patient. Often what is most needed is simply your presence, quiet and still.

Mindfulness, presence, is the very essence of Buddhism. Focusing on the now, this minute, this time gives you perspective and helps you sense the Divine Presence in what you are doing.

In marriage and in friendships, the simple act of sitting in the same room together, each reading or sewing or thinking can strengthen the bonds of relationship.

Just showing up for your child's soccer game or dance recital or team debate can bring joy to your child and display your love.

My minister reminds us that attending service on Sunday is a spiritual discipline. We never know who will be touched and uplifted just by walking into the sanctuary and seeing familiar faces there. Our presence creates community which can comfort and support--and "all" we did was show up.

My Christian Fellowship is finding that for the last year simply our presence is yielding fruit. We meet twice a month, make sure that the Sunday bulletin announces when we're meeting and write an article for the monthly newsletter. We mention our involvement casually in conversation. We had a small table at the congregational Connections Fair. We are present in our UU community. From five regular attendees, we're growing to 10. People mention that they've visited our church and stayed partly because they noticed that Christians meet and are accepted. A few people from other UU congregations in the area have visited our meetings.

Presence. Steady. Quiet. Loving. Calming.

How did you show up today?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wait Patiently

We've been talking about stillness, and the Psalms offer this advice in several contexts. In Psalm 46, we are told to remember that God wields some awesome power; human effort is pretty small in comparison. If we just stop for a moment, "Be still", we can regain perspective about our role in the world. In Psalm 131, we learn that we need not worry about matters that are out of our control or not suited to our skills and preferences. We can still our souls, for God has things well in hand.

Another verse of stillness appears in Psalm 37, Part 1, v 1-18. Right in the middle of this dramatic description of what will happen to evildoers, the writer states:
Be still before the Lord
and wait paitently for him.
In the NRSV translation, the psalmist repeats several times "Do not fret...", God will make sure that evil will be punished.

What are we to do? The Psalm says:
  • Do not fret.
  • Put your trust in the Lord.
  • Do good.
  • Dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
  • Refrain from anger.
  • Take delight in the Lord.
And, of course, "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him." Verse 7, another great meditation verse to lean on.

I'm learning to read the Psalms as poetry, not as a debate script. These 18 verses have a structure which centers on Verse 7, wait for the Lord. The rest of the psalm describes why we should wait and what to do in the meantime. Life's little instruction book in 18 verses.

Have a blessed day!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Psalmette

I'm exploring the psalms for the encouragement to "Be Still" and in the last post I quoted Psalm 46. Verse 11 is quoted often. "Be still" in the context of this psalm asks us to see the wonders of God. Stop making "much ado", the writer says. "Be still, then, and know that I am God."

There are a couple of other places where stillness is mentioned. One is in an itty bitty psalm, Psalm 131. The psalm is only 4 verses. It is not the shortest (Psalm 134 has only 2 verses!), but it's packed and a wonderful prayer to memorize. This is another psalm where every translation is slightly different and the feeling conveyed shifts with the words. This is a great psalm to read comparatively over several translations to glean the levels of meaning. I'm going to share the translation from Gary Chamberlain:
1 Lord, I do not intend to be haughty;
I do not want to aim too high.
2 I am not concerned with impressive things,
Or with problems unsuited to me.
3 Have I not calmed and stilled my inner self?
I rest on God, as an infant rests on its mother.
4 Israel, wait for the Lord,
From now and forever.
The Psalms, pages 166-7
Two things jump out at me. First, the second line of verse 2. Some writers say "things that are difficult" or "things that are too hard". But I like Chamberlain's interpretation. "I am not concerned...with problems unsuited to me." There is a great reassurance in that line. If something is "too difficult", as in some translations, I get the feeling that I'm incompetant, not good enough (my own insecurities tapped). However, in Chamberlain's revelation, I am suited to some activites, to solving some problems; for others I am not suited and there is no shame in that. "I rest on God..." Oh, how that phrase shimmers inside and calms me. Try that line for the meditation I shared last time. Yes, indeed, that will work.

And that my friends, is one awesome Psalmette. Blessings!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Be Still Practice

There are several places in the Bible where the writers urge us to "Be still" (I'll talk about that next post). This is a favorite phrase of mine, because I have Monkey Mind at its best and I complement that with an obsession to accomplish as much as I can in the least amount of time. Whenever you need some calm, try this meditation technique that I learned years ago and has been part of my spiritual practice ever since.

1. Sit quietly and comfortably anywhere that will give you the least distraction (I know for a fact that this will work on a crowded, noisy subway, however, so don't let noise deter you). Works best with eyes closed.
2. Pick a verse from the Bible, preferably one line with several words.
3. Begin by repeating the phrase silently several times, slowly, mindful of each word.
4. Remove the last significant word from the phrase and repeat again several times.
5. Continue Step 4 until you are at the last word. Repeat several times, then continue to let you mind rest in silence or open your eyes and return to the world.

The Bible verse I always use is Psalm 46, verse 11, line 1: "Be still, then, and know that I am God."

Here's what happens in the meditation as you drop each ending word:
Be still, then, and know that I am God.
Be still, then, and know that I am.
Be still, then, and know that I.
Be still, then, and know.
Be still, then.
Be still.

Each line is being repeated several times, so with this phrase, the practice will take several minutes, enough time to quiet Monkey Mind and find your center.

Pick a Bible verse or a favorite line of poetry that calms you and try this. Let me know what you think.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Angry Jesus

I've been working through Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. It's a fascinating review of all the ways that the original text of the Bible has been changed, removed, miscopied and mistranslated. I got to his study called "Mark and an Angry Jesus" (pages 133-139) and really dug in. In this study, Ehrman tells us that surviving manuscripts preserve two forms of Mark 1:41 from the story of Jesus healing a man with a skin disease. Most of our present-day translations use one form of the verse:
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!"
This is the familiar form in which Jesus acts from compassion. That image merges well with the popular "gentle Healer" image. The other form, acknowledged in my New Revised Standard Version reads:
Moved with anger, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!"
Erhman contends that the second reading is the older of the two and that the "anger" within this verse can make sense. Jesus becomes angry several times in Mark when someone doubts his willingness, ability or divine authority to heal. Ehrman further illustrates in Mark 9 when someone asks gingerly "If you are willing you are able to heal me." Jesus gets miffed. Of course he's willing just as he's able and authorized (page 139).

I've always been glad for the righteous anger that explodes when Jesus cleans out the Temple. There's the human Jesus just as disgusted and frustrated and enraged as any of us could get at the sight of desecration. But I hadn't pictured Jesus as Mark often does--with a knowledge of his own gifts and a willingness to use them for good so strong that he's nearly insulted when someone questions him. Jesus, living with an undercurrent of tension and impatience, perhaps. Puts Jesus in a different light. I'm kind of liking this.

This deserves a Bible study. I'm going to read Mark again and watch for the strength of Jesus, the irritation, the rage.

What do you think of an angry Jesus?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

U or U Christian

Over my past 3 years as an official UU (I was a "friend" for several years before that), I've heard that Christians in our denomination come from the Universalism side of the UUA. There is truth to that if we consider religious approach. At the time of the formation of the UUA, Universalism was the less affluent, less educated group, full of heart, a mystic bent, and a belief in universal acceptance. Unitarians brought more affluence, education and a decidedly intellectual way of viewing religious topics.

The origins of both denominations were in Christianity. Unitarians were so called because they did not believe in the theology of the Trinity, but in one indivisible God. Universalists believed that when Jesus died on the cross, he brought salvation to ALL humankind, not just to Christians. I've read that as Universalism tried to compete with a growing rationalism during the scientific revolution, they reworked the salvation idea to include appreciation and acceptance of all paths that illuminate the light of God. This is my very brief summary, and I'm sure some of you can add details for the rest of us.

Personally, I'm a Unitarian and a Universalist who is closer to our origins. I believe in one God and do not ascribe to a theology of the Trinity and I believe that everyone is saved and all spiritual paths are valid. But in my experience so far, it's how UU Christians approach their faith that sets them with the Universalists. Mystic, expressive, leading with the heart, UU Christians may read and cogitate about the Great Spirit and how nature manifests it, but what energizes them is when they experience the Spirit at the soul level. They seek out opportunities for that experience; they need that experience on a regular basis to feel whole.

And I believe that we, as a denomination, need both approaches. We as humans become our best, do our best when our hearts and minds are engaged at the same time. UU Christians are in a good position to model this reality.

For more perspectives on Universalism, check out The Universalist Herald. My most recent article "The Universalist in Me" appears in the July/August 2009 issue, pg. 14.

What's your experience? Do you think you're more a U Christian or a U Christian? Are you a living example of the merger of Unitarianism and Universalism? Is there any reason to be more evangelical about our Universalist side?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Eating Jesus

This past Sunday, my Christian Fellowship read a passage from John, chapter 6, and talked about verse 57 for some time. Jesus says:
Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. NRSV
There was a small, collective shudder in the room at the starkness of the literal words and the agreement that these words are some of the most difficult of the Gospel. I've had less trouble with this passage since a priest examined the miracle of eating. Once you've chewed any food, gotten a good taste, and swallowed, that food becomes part of you down to the level of your cells. You can't do another thing--not breathe nor walk nor think nor act--without that food being a part of you. Eating Jesus comes down to the same thing. You have so ingested and digested his words and example that they become part of you, down to the cellular level and none of your actions can be separated from what has merged with your spirit and soul. This means that you no longer have to consciously think about the Great Commandments and how to act in accordance with them; your being KNOWS what to do.

In the Old Testament, the metaphor for this was to "write the law on their hearts" as in Jeremiah 31:33. Again, the goal is to become so connected to God's Word and the Way of Jesus that they are integral to your person.

I haven't gotten there yet, but I'm working on it.

I also find it easy to read from John 6:22 to the end of that chapter metaphorically because Jesus makes that switch for us with a bit of irony. Chapter 6 starts with the feeding of the 5,000 and these well-fed people decide that Jesus should be a king. Jesus takes off alone. The next day, these same 5,000 go looking for Jesus. They get into some boats and find Jesus at the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Somebody asks, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" I can see Jesus giving the speaker a little smile as he replies,
Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
Ha! Jesus immediately urges them to switch their thinking to another type of bread. " that endures for eternal life..." Jesus always sees right through to our truth and pushes us to tweak our perception just enough to see another truth.

I hope that you will not be like the disciples in verse 66 who decide that this whole discussion of bread coming down from heaven and eating flesh and food of eternal life is way too hard. They abandon the effort and Jesus. Be more like Peter. When Jesus asks, "Are you leaving, too?", shrug your shoulders and say, "Where would I go? You've got what I need."

This is a great chapter and inspired one of my favorite hymns "I am the Bread of Life." Read it alone, with friends, in silence and aloud. Chew on it, roll it on your tongue, get a good taste, then swallow it. Let the lessons become a part of you.

What do you find to eat in John, Chapter 6?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Not To Us, O Lord

In Shakespeare's play, The Life of Henry the Fifth, Act 4, Scene 8, the British have just won an unexpected victory over the French at Agincourt. They have had relatively few casualties and his men would love to pat themselves on the back. King Harry says, "Come, go we in procession to the village, And be it death proclaimed through our host To boast of this, or take that praise from God which is his only." He then commands, "Do we all holy rites: Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum, The dead with charity enclosed in clay;..."

The movie version of the play (Henry V, 1989, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh) portrays that command. While the tired, mud-soaked and bloody men slowly walk the field, a young soldier begins singing these words to a haunting melody:
Non nobis, Domine, sed nomine tua gloria.
Other voices join his, then an orchestra, so that the last notes ring over the battlefield and in our minds for long moments afterward.

My own knowledge of Catholic Church history and Shakespeare's words reminded me that King Harry's command would not have been unusual. "Te Deum" refers to an ancient prayer (To you, God) and "Non nobis" is shorthand for Psalm 115. Before English became an accepted sacred language, the Bible was read widely in Latin. Most people couldn't read, so prayers and Psalms were memorized. The first line of each Psalm, in Latin, became a title for that Psalm and a memory jog so people would know which psalm to pray--or to sing as in this depiction in Henry V. "Non nobis, Domine" becomes in English:
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
but to your Name give glory;
because of your love and because of your faithfulness.
To me, Psalm 115 is a prayer of mindfulness, of awareness that we have been blessed with powerful senses, and we don't use them. We can become like stone and metal idols that just sit on a shelf, uninvolved, uncommunicative. The last two verses of this psalm really stick with me:
The dead do not praise the Lord,
nor all those who go down into silence;
But we [emphasis mine] will bless the Lord, from this time forth for evermore.
If anyone is going to look around this earth and give thanks and praise for all that we've been given, it's not going to be the dead. This is a job for the living.

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food, and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies with yourself.--Chief Tecumseh

I'm with the Chief, King Harry and Psalm 115. How about you?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

God Is Holding a Cup

Yesterday, I opened the Bible to Psalm 75 and knew I was in trouble. There's a nice little thanksgiving, and then seven verses of "God's going to get you." I recognized that some of the symbolism is ancient, and I read four translations with notes before the images became clear. "Horns" are a symbol of power, so the psalmist warns those who carry power not to display it in an obnoxious manner.

What stopped me cold was Verse 8. There is this cup and the Lord is going to pour it out and the wicked will drink it to the dregs. So what? The cup has wine. The wicked drink it and...? So far, the psalm has been adamant in its description of God as a Universal Judge, so I'm clearly missing something. Back to the translations.

What's in the cup? The translations provide great images.
...foaming wine, well mixed; (New Revised Standard Version)
...a heady blend of wine; (The Jerusalem Bible)
...the wine foams in it, hot with spice (New English Bible) that is mixed with fire! (The Psalms by Gary Chamberlain)
...the wine is red, it is full of mixture (King James Version)

In the footnotes, the New English Bible refers to the cup of "judgment" (ah, that's better), and gives three other Bible references. The most helpful is Jeremiah 25:15-18. Here we learn that "fiery wine" meant that a captured city would be burned. The nations who drink of the wine will vomit and go mad. The wine is potent stuff. The cup holds God's wrath and God's judgment. Now read the verse again.
The Lord holds a cup in his hand, and the wine foams in it, hot with spice; he offers it to every man for drink and all the wicked on earth must drain it to the dregs. The New English Bible
Finally, The New English Bible suggests looking at Luke 22:42.
"Father, if it be thy will, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but thine be done."
The Gospel of Luke was written after Jesus' death, so most likely Jesus did not personally recount his anguished prayer. Jesus prayed alone we are told, so no one heard the prayer. The writer effectively uses a technique known as "dramatic non-fiction", and makes a logical assumption. Jesus knew scriptures; Jesus knew the symbolism. "...take this cup away..." Simple. Four words conveying rich meaning that hit the reader with bone-deep clarity.

When we turn from the teachings of Jesus, from the Way, it's like drinking a cup of poisoned wine, all of it, to the dregs. When put like that, staying on the path becomes a no-brainer.

Let's stay away from that cup, shall we?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Face of the Earth Is Renewed

Hello, Readers!
I've just returned from several days at the Outer Banks of North Carolina where the ocean shores provide an exquisite backdrop for reflection and perspective. It was with this experience just behind me that I opened the Book of Psalms to Psalm 104.

Psalm 104 is the poetic version of the 7th UU Principle: "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

According to the psalm, all the physical features of the earth were created to give just the right environment for each living creature. Animals hunt at night; people work during the day. Food grows for both people and animals. The system feeds and nurtures us all.

"Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it." (Verses 25-26) I saw this as I sat on the beach. Tiny bugs, wiggly jellyfish, pelicans flying overhead, ships passing off shore, children building sand castles beside curious sea gulls, the moon rising bright as a new silver dollar. Humankind part of the web of nature, in harmony.

The psalm declares that God set this all up, and the rhythms of give-and-take are God's rhythms, rhythms of the Spirit. "...when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth." (Verse 29-30)

If you can't get to your favorite nature spot this week, I suggest that you open Psalm 104 and read it slowly, letting the images rise in your mind. As I read it, I see with my inner eye different places that I've visited, both near and far, and I am reminded once again of the awesome power and beauty of the Spirit of Life. I remember that my role is one of steward and protector as well as participant.

"I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;" (Verse 33)

Blessed Be. Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

For the Good Use Of Leisure

There's a prayer in the American Episcopal Book of Common Prayer that was written especially for me:
O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may by opened to the goodness of your creation.
I'm on vacation this week with this prayer in my heart. See you next Wednesday, the 12th.

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, July 31, 2009

God's Time Is Now

Ministers and elders, friends and acquaintances, often share a common wisdom. I'm sure you've heard it, too. Things will happen "in God's time". More importantly, God's time is not our own, and there is a need for great patience when we're not on the same timeline as God.

I've been reading a Love Inspired romance (by now, you've guessed this is one of my favorite fiction lines) entitled Marrying Minister Right by Annie Jones. The hero of the story is a minister named Michael and during the story, he freely gives his longtime friend and love-to-be, Heather, advice about praying and thinking before leaping and looking for God's timing, not her own. Michael is skilled in handling conflict, but he's the type of guy who would just as soon avoid it whenever possible and has been known to use a delaying tactic or two. This advice about waiting for God's timing comes easy for him, and he lives it every day. At one point in the story, Michael is deciding when to tell his niece the unwelcome news that she will staying in this small, podunk (in her eyes) Kansas town with him for the whole summer.

Heather returns his favor with some advice of her own.
"Some things can not be put off until you are ready to deal with them", Heather tells him. "Doing things in God's time doesn't always mean waiting...Sometimes, God's time is now."
Whew! Smack me up the side of the head. I'm accustomed to waiting for God's timing and mine to coincide. Like Michael, I'm not fond of conflict, and I consider choices and new directions with such great deliberation that I often forget the lesson Heather shares. There is a time for deliberation, for research, for discussion, even for delaying--and then there is a time for action. My husband has commented that I've got to stop thinking something to death, gnawing over it endlessly. Finally, I have to take the leap of faith and JUST DO IT.

We all need Heather's reminder that when God is ready for us to move, whether we're ready or not, more waiting, more delay could spell disaster or failure or unseen hurdles that will make life more complicated. There is a reason we're supposed to act. "Whoever obeys a command [like Get Moving!] will meet no harm and the wise mind will know the time and way." (Ecclesiastes 8:5) A sign of wisdom is knowing how to recognize that the time is now. To save a life, to fight injustice, to do a kind act, to give our very best, to pray. Sometimes, maybe more often than we think, God's time is NOW.

Are you waiting for God's timing on something? Do you need to consider that God's timing is today, this hour? How do you know when the time is now? How does the Spirit of Life give you a shove?

Are you listening? Do you feel it? Is the time...Now?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Looking for the Wise

The readings from the Common Lectonary for last Sunday suggest Psalm 14. In both the New Revised Standard Version and in Gary Chamberlain's translation, Verse 2 says that God looks down from heaven on all humankind (descendants of Adam) to see if anyone is wise, if anyone seeks for God. And in Verse 3, the answer seems to be an emphatic "No".

This Psalm is one of the most depressing I've ever read. In the last verse, Israel still needs deliverance and though the refuge of the poor is the Lord, the people are still waiting for their fortunes to be restored. Until that time, the lot of those who take refuge in God is to look on the fools of the world--those who have gone astray and have convinced themselves there is no God--and wait.

The only hope held out is one word in verse 7. When.

Not "If". Not "Maybe". "When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,..."

I'm in a good place right now. I'm blessed with good health, no major problems, doing fairly well financially. What I want to do is throw this psalm at the wall, shred it, burn it, so that it can't remind me of the flip side of life--the side, mind you, I have experienced in the past. The side where the ripples of life turn negative and the waves batter me. When life's wheel turns back into the muck. But I don't want to know that now. I want to enjoy these good times. Save the memories up. Smile at the pleasures. Rejoice at the wonderful experiences.

Instead, Psalm 14 has stayed with me since Sunday. Urging me to remember that when the negative ripples come at me and life begins pelting lemons and rotten tomatoes, I am to take refuge in the Lord.

And to say over and over that one, powerful word, WHEN.
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reacting to Hardship

I have a story to share that I heard this week. I had just finished my workout at Curves (a small, franchise exercise gym for women for my out-of-U.S. readers). This particular Curves is in a small shopping center with about 15 other stores. We've been having lovely weather, not yet the Southern sweltering summer heat and no rain. The shopping center management decided to re-surface the parking lot, so over a week, a section of the lot was blocked off each day for the trucks to do their work.

One of the gym instructors shared that just the day before, a woman (a regular gym patron) came into the gym ready to do her workout. "I had to walk all the way from the bank!" she declared with extreme exasperation. Mind you, the bank is maybe the length of a tennis court away, maybe a court and a half. The instructor said simply, "Perhaps you can consider the walk your warm-up." At which the woman glared at the instructor and moved off, her irritation all over her body and proceeded to do a 30-minute cardio workout.

As the instructor said, "I was amazed. I mean, she was coming in to exercise after all."

So, question for the day. We're all trying to live as good Christians. What do you do in a situation like this, where the emotion is coming in waves and someone makes a comment that doesn't seem to make sense? There's a gut reaction in me that wants to state firmly, "Can you hear yourself and how illogical that comment is?" Do we ignore it (obviously she's having a bad day), wade in (I need to find out what's bothering her), or commiserate (yes, what a pain this re-surface work is)?

What would you do? Is there a right way to react? A Christian way?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rant Against Evil

I'm jumping around the Psalms, and opened to Psalm 52. The translations for this Psalm are all over the map. Different words, different rhythms, different phrasing. But what struck me immediately was that the writer was taking the first seven verses to rant, not just at the world in general or evil in general, but against someone. In this Psalm, it seems that the writer knows someone personally who is a tyrant, boastful, deceitful, wealthy, and this wicked person pushes all his buttons. The writer is incensed, furious. And he lets this fury fly out in words.

What is very intriguing is that even with so much ire spewing forth, the writer does not say "Hey God, give me the strength to take this guy down. I want my chance to pummel him, bring him to his knees. Let me do it, God, let me at him." No, the psalmist says:
Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling, and root you out of the land of the living! Verse 5
God gets to take revenge and even in anger the writer is willing to let God to do that because...

Writer takes a deep breath. Boy, did I need to get that off my chest. Takes another cleansing breath. I'm good now. Because...

I am "...a flourishing olive tree planted within the house of God." I trust God's mercy, I trust God's love, I give thanks. I am that tree, solidly rooted. I am God's own. I don't need to waste energy on revenge. I need to take my energy out to declare God's " the presence of the godly". Priorities straight. Goal in sight.

It's a wonderful Psalm that I never read before. It reminds me that I may need to rant at the evil in the world. I may need that release. I need to recognize that it's not in my power to right every wrong. Where I can't, then I must be the olive tree, rooted in God, allowing God to resolve the issue. My job is to get back to the work of building the Beloved Community.

May it be so. Amen.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Muzzle On My Mouth

I missed my Friday post because I had to take a quick trip out of town on business. While settling down after maneuvering through airports and delayed flights, I pulled the hotel Bible out of the drawer (thank you, Gideons) and decided to jump into the Psalms for that evening and for this blog. In the hotel, I let the Bible open at random and came to Psalm 39. I'm using the NRSV translation as well as The Psalms translated by Gary Chamberlain.

Psalm 39 turned out to be a good choice of the page flip since the first four verses promise that I will watch what I say. Given that I was about to give a presentation to a prospective client, that seemed like excellent and timely advice. In the next breath, the psalmist reminded me that in the scheme of things, what I was about to do was pretty small stuff and transitory. I should rely upon the Lord to keep me in line and from looking like a fool--reminding me again to keep silent when the Lord is trying to correct me.

Other than the second verse which provides a strong recommendation to "...put a muzzle on my mouth", the most surprising verse is Verse 15:
Turn your gaze from me, that I may be glad again, before I go my way and am no more.
I am accustomed to the cry from the Psalms for the Lord to come near, to not forsake us, to continue showering loving-kindness on us. In Psalm 39, it seems that God has been handing out rebukes for the author's transgressions, so in this case, it's logical that the plea would be to go away. Please. Right now. So that I can be happy again.

My hope is that the writer is actually saying, "Hey, I get the messsage. I'm changing, Okay?" But the words have the flavor of, "I'm a puff of wind, I get that. So can I have a little happiness before I puff out completely?"

A little depressing. A little sobering. Mixed messages. Deliver me. Stay away. Hear my prayer. Turn your gaze from me.

Even in our human relationships, we give out mixed signals. I want to belong, but don't get too close. I want you in my life, but don't ask too much of me.

We're fortunate that God understands this.

And lets us into her inner circle anyway. Amen

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thin Places and the UU Service

I've been reading Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity (see especially Chapter 8), and he suggests that "open hearts" and "thin places" are central to being Christian. You can tell that your heart is open (as opposed to closed) when you "see" the world clearly, notice what's right in front of you; when you are aware of the awe, mystery and wonder that is life; when you have a grateful, physical response, a gut reaction to the blessings life presents you; when you are filled with compassion for the suffering of others and feel an ethical impulse to do something about that suffering and the system that created it; when you are aware of God, the Mystery, the Other, the Spirit. Borg says that an open heart is "in the world" completely, mindful of life, and unbound.

The Spirit of God opens our hearts through thin places.

The mind set that acknowledges "thin places" sees God as Paul does in the book of Acts: God is "the one in whom we live and move and have our being." God is everywhere, right here, more than right here. Borg quotes Thomas Merton:
Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.
And occassionally, perhaps often if we "tune in", we experience God shining through.

Borg goes on to say that although one of the purposes of the Christian service is to worship God, another, equally important purpose is to create a sense of the sacred, a thin place. And this is where, in my experience, our Unitarian Universalist services are sometimes lacking. Personally I know with deep certainty that if the Sunday service I attend does not create that thin place on a regular basis, I will not be attending for very long. I attended one UU church for 6 months. The sermons were thought-provoking, the hymns thematically relevant, the setting serene. But in 6months, the only service that created a thin place, that gave me a spiritual hug, that opened my heart to the sacred, was Choir Sunday. I continued to attend the UU Sunday service occassionally, and participated in the life of the UU congregation, but I became a regular Sunday attendee at a nearby Episcopal church. And I was not the only one. Other members of that UU church, many who did not identify as Christians, sought out other services at other churches. This longing for experiencing the Other, the More, is not the exclusive property of Christians.

Borg spends several pages describing the elements that can be considered when planning services that will help to create a sense of the sacred. The hymns chosen, the music performed, silence, the words used in the sermon, the rituals, the physical space--all of these can be used to encourage the deepest recesses of ourselves to open and touch the More, sense the Divine.

Does the Sunday service you now attend create a thin place? Can you, right now, remember the last service in which your heart opened and you sensed the sacred? How long ago was that? Too long? Just enough?

If your service is not creating a thin place for you often enough to nourish you, I guarantee that lack will drain some of your energy and optimism in life. Read Borg's book to get a better sense of what might be missing. Talk with your minister, worship committee, music director, whoever plans the services. Get on the worship committee yourself. In this one life we have, our hearts deserve as many opportunities as possible to be opened, to experience God. Sunday service is the best place to start.

May it be so. Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pause for Thanksgiving

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
This refrain resounds over and over again throughout the Book of Psalms and in Psalm 136, the writer repeats the sentiment four times just to make sure that the congregation remembers.

O give thanks!

Gratitude, gratefulness, thankfulness, appreciation. In our lives we can always find one thing every day for which to be grateful.

So right now, pause. Begin to think of people and events and places for which you are grateful. Close your eyes and let your gratitude swell gently within you. Acknowledge the God of Many Names, the Divine Spirit, which flows around you, through you and in you. Say Thank You. Say it again.

O give thanks!

May it be so. Amen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Truth Will Make You Free

This past Saturday was July 4th, Independence Day here in the United States, and a day during which we celebrate our freedom. I wondered what Jesus had to say about freedom, and I found one passage that scholars feel are his words:
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)
He says that commiting sin will make you a slave, so you don't want to go in that direction. "Continue in my word", and you will be a son who has a permanent place in the household. "So if the Son [the Truth?] makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)

In some ways, John is a difficult Gospel for me. I love the abstractions and symbolism that appear here, yet I often don't understand the underlying message. That puts me in the company of the disciples, so I don't fret overly much about it, but it does make for some dilemmas. Truth leads to freedom, but freedom in what way? Not freedom from oppression. The Jews of the time didn't have much hope of that. Jesus is talking more, I think, of freedom from sin and freedom of the spirit. I believe that the way to freedom hinges on the first of Jesus' instructions "If you continue in my word..."

At Sunday service, when the children were asked what they thought freedom meant, one of them said that you could do what you wanted. My gut reaction was, "But if we all did what we wanted, what would that world look like?" The American Heritage Dictionary groups the synonyms of freedom, liberty, and license and expands on the child's definition. "These nouns refer to the power to act, speak, or think without externally imposed restraints. Freedom is the most general term."

I understand from John's Gospel that Jesus asks us to use an internally imposed restraint--"continue in my word". And I like this instruction from the First Letter of Peter:
As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.(1 Peter 2:16-17)
In our freedom, God's gift of Free Will, we may, indeed, do what we want. Murderers do, drunk drivers do. But Peter reminds us, " not use your freedom as a pretext for evil," and then goes on to say what we should do. I can wrap my arms around this type of freedom. I take some exception to Peter's "Honor the emperor." Gives me a jolt every time I read it. I don't have an emperor, but I do have a government. I have a set of laws, a system of regulations that help us live together in society. In my world, this is the "emperor" and Peter's advice is still good. I am asked to honor that government, to support it when it's honoring everyone, to help fix it when it's broken.

I'll admit this is not a very coherent post, but freedom is like that. We know what it is when we see it, experience it, but it's hard to express.

What's freedom like for you? Have you found freedom in continuing in Jesus' word? What is the truth that has set you free? I'd like to know.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Teach Us To Pray

There is one prayer that binds Christians together--The Lord's Prayer. If you've spent any time in a Christian community, you know this prayer. No matter what Christian church or service you walk into, no matter that you may be completely unfamiliar with the forms and rituals and perhaps feel uncomfortable, when someone begins "Our Father...", suddenly you can join in, and for that short prayer, you belong. Even in non-English languages, if you know a little of the language, you can follow along, connect with the people around you. Yes, there may be the little tripping over whether we're forgiving debts, sins or trespasses, but this prayer, like no other, marks us as Christians, because we pray in the words that Jesus taught.

For that alone, The Lord's Prayer is powerful stuff.

Let me share some deeper reflection on this amazing prayer. In a Lenten study I did a few years ago, the writer of the study pointed out that Jesus may or may not have said these exact words. The prayer appears in two places in the Bible--Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4--and in both places the words are slightly different. What Jesus was trying to emphasize was that, in contrast to the prayer rituals and hypocrisy seen in the Jewish gatherings of the time, prayer could be simple, private and heartfelt. Prayer should include two basic elements:
  • Praising God, and
  • Asking for the Kingdom of God to be manifest.
Our prayer may continue by asking that we may be instrumental in bringing the Kingdom of God into existence. For that we need:
  • Daily bread for the strength and energy to throw ourselves into the effort;
  • Hearts to forgive others' faults; and
  • Commitment to follow the Way that Jesus taught.
  • Discernment to recognize temptation and to push away from evil.
The words that we use are not as important as the power of our hearts, bodies and minds we put behind the prayer and our actions. I would add, as the letters of the New Testament do, that we need to move out with a heart filled with thanksgiving.

Consider this reworking of the prayer from the Anglican Church's New Zealand Prayer Book (HarperCollins 1997):

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain Bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb form one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthn us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is eveil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen.

Thing about how Jesus was teaching us to pray. Can you create a simple prayer in your own words to capture the essentials? Or can you read and say this ancient prayer, now mindful of what the words convey and demand of you?

Have you found prayer difficult in the past? Do you think prayer would be easier if you focused on the essentials, as Jesus taught? Whether prayer is easy or difficult, we are encouraged by a letter from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"The First Rule"

Today I want to share a meditation that my husband shared with me and introduce you to a small, but powerful book, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II.

The Order of St. Benedict (Benedictines) carries on a monastic tradition that stems from the origins of the Christian monastic movement in the late third century. They regard Saint Benedict as their founder and guide even though he did not establish a Benedictine Order as such. The monasteries or the order originated in the tradition of community life with its common prayer, reading, and work. John McQuiston II has written a book for "modern" Benedictines outside of a monastic setting, for those who wish to bring the order's values and way of life to everday living.

The First Rule
Attend to these instructions,
listen with the heart and the mind;
they are provided in a spirit of goodwill.
These words are addressed to anyone
who is willing to renounce the delusion
that the meaning of life can be learned;
whoever is ready
to take up the greater weapon
of fidelity to a way of living
that transcends understanding.

The first rule is simply this:

Live this life
and do what ever is done,
in a spirit of Thanksgiving.

Abandon attempts to achieve security, they are futile,
give up the search for wealth, it is demeaning,
quit the search for salvation, it is selfish,
and come to comfortable rest
in the certainty that those who participate in this life
with an attitude of Thanksgiving
will receive its full promise.
May it be so. Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Saved Through Blood

There is a thread of blood throughout the Biblical stories. One infant is saved, but all those innocent first-borns of Egypt must perish. If you love me, you will kill your only son. To save all of you, my only son will be killed. To keep you safe, you must send your sons and daughters to die. God's message seems to be "Let's kill someone first, then you'll be free to continue on your journey."

The stories are bloodthirsty, violent, full of hatred.

Perhaps when the Bible was written, the language of blood sacrifice was the most meaningful way to get a point across. Something may have to die for life to flourish and reach its full potential. Dreams, habits, opinions, people, governments, love, prejudice, beliefs.

Or maybe the Biblical point is that we must fight for freedom. We can't just sit back and let events wash over us. In the Biblical days, fighting meant literal battle. People understood that language, those images. I have grown up in relative peace. Those images don't speak to me. For others who know war and battle, there must be great empathy for the people of the Bible.

There are many ways to fight, however. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi used non-violent methods, but they fought. We can make a choice about how we will fight against oppressive government, injustice, hatred. Jesus made a choice about how he would fight. His choice was to try to change people's hearts, but his frustration levels led to wrecking the Temple market.

For us, as individuals, freedom from stagnant beliefs, harmful habits, negative thoughts, toxic relationships does mean a fight, a struggle, a jihad. A righteous inner journey.

If you acknowledge that you are a Co-Creator, that your thoughts can create as surely as actions can, and that you are a follower of Jesus, what choices do you make when you take a stand, when you struggle? What choices should you make?

Do you lead with blood or with your compassion? Do you think in terms of battle and victory, or negotiation and partnership?

Remember, you are creating the world in which you want to live.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Creative Thoughts

Yesterday, I spent the day at the Triangle Caregivers Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was among the 60 exhibitors who brought services and products to display for the 400 attendees. By the way, my service is presentations on the eldercare process and my products are my latest book and healthy chocolate. (Unabashed self-promotion, here).

The keynote speaker was a dynamic bundle of energy, Cheri Britton, who hails from Asheville, NC in the western end of the state. In her presentation, she shared that human satisfaction in life is not determined by the external circumstances in which we find ourselves, but by what we think about those circumstances. Her premise was that "What you are." Negative thoughts, angry internal dialogues lead to negative energy that surrounds us and draws more negativity. She promotes BOOM thinking:
  • Put the Brakes on your thinking. Stop and acknowledge what you're thinking and feeling.
  • Observe what's happening when you are negative. Is there a trigger, is there a stressor, what are the feelings, what's leading to the negative thoughts?
  • Obliterate the negative thought. You find what you look for so reframe the thought to place it in positive-- or at least more neutral--ground.
  • Make a new mindset. What would you rather think? Switch your thinking to focus on what you want.

As I listened to Cheri, I realized that she was presenting in a humorous and practical way something that many spiritual teachers have been telling us--we are Co-Creators with God. As spiritual beings engaged in human endeavors, we have the power to co-create by "thinking" something into existence.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, in his book 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace, two of the ten secrets deal specifically with creative thinking. #6 is "You can't solve a problem with the same mind that created it." and #10 is "Wisdom is avoiding all thoughts that weaken you." All the other secrets discuss different ways in which your mindset and your thoughts can affect your entire inner landscape.

Psychological counseling knows from experience the value of affirmations that a client creates for himself and repeats over and over until those affirmations replace the negative mindspeak and the client moves about in the world with more confidence and a more positive attitude.

As you intend, so shall ye create. Yoda's famous "There is no try." points to the power of intention. It is somewhat difficult to imagine that by simply changing your thinking you may change your life, your opportunities, your connections. But there is nothing simple about changing your thinking, so ingrained it can be. Repetition, practice and that spark of the Divine we all have can do the job, if we allow them.

Do you think you're a Co-creator with God? Are your thoughts creative? Can you change your life by changing your thoughts?

Think about that...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Peace I Leave With You

In my last post, I offered a summary of the characteristics of inner peace.

Inner Peace comes from Jesus. Insight. A Sense of Meaning and Purpose. Wisdom. Inner Peace is a heart untroubled. Acceptance of true powerlessness. Commitment to wholeness. A desire to do good.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea
that cannot keep still;
its waters toss up mire and mud.
There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.
Isaiah 57:20-21

I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your own good,
who leads you in the way you should go.
O that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your prosperity would have been like a river,
and your success like the waves of the sea;
"There is no peace," says the Lord, "for the wicked."
Isaiah 48: 18, 22

In Isaiah, the prophet repeats again and again that the wicked have no peace. And we know why. The wicked do not have insight and wisdom to discern what is and is not in their power. The wicked have no sense of purpose in life, or perhaps no sense of higher purpose. The wicked can not trust that the uncertainty, the suffering, the indecision of life will not last. The wicked do not accept the ebb and flow of life. The wicked do not accept their own powerlessness, do not commit themselves to wholeness, do not have a desire to do good. The wicked do not attend to the commandments. The wicked have little appreciation for the Serenity Prayer--Help me change what I can change, help me accept what I have no control over, and give me the wisdom to know the difference.

I think it's important to look at peace from the view of the wicked. We live in a universe of duality. We must see what peace looks like to those who have it and to those who do not. In this way, we gain a better yardstick to sense and recognize peace within ourselves. Once recognized, we can move toward peace again and again until we learn the habit and trust the certainty.

The Bible spends a lot of time on external peace and harmony in relations, but in their letter to the Philippians, Timonthy and Paul give us one of my favorite summaries of God's gift and what Jesus tried to teach us:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

If we rejoice, act with gentleness, know that we are steeped in the Divine, stop worrying needlessly, live in gratitude, and acknowledge the limits of our power, then we will have peace. This is true inner peace, which brings us unshakable roots, grounding in the Divine web, and trust in God.

Walk in peace this day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Peace I Give To You

A Reminder. I've been adding new books to the LTS bookstore. Even though this is an store, I use it because it's an easy way to keep a list of books available to you. Don't forget to browse every once in a while and suggest titles to add. The link is on the left.

Every Advent, I choose a book with which to spend the weeks, reading and reflecting. For the past two years, I've read Sister Wendy's "Book of Meditations" with support from the Bible and an Advent pamphlet I picked up at church. One of Sister Wendy's topics is peace. I'd like to share some meditations on peace for the next few posts, some from Sister Wendy, but many from sermons, readings, the Bible and my thoughts.

Peace has always been a little tricky for me. Especially knowing that inner contentment and serenity that will not be shaken by external events. For I am an outer-directed person. Much of my motivation, sense of self, and view of life comes from outside of me. As opposed to those who are inner-directed. Inner-directed people don't reply on the opinions of others as much, can motivate themselves from a strong internal center and live more self-contained. I struggle to cultivate the inner-directed part of me so that I'll be more balanced. So my study of peace has been valuable in building my inner Self.

We know what external peace looks like: no war; a treaty in place; public security and order; freedom from quarrels; harmonious relations. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians talks about external peace between the Gentiles and Jews "...for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father." Ephesians 2:18

Internal peace is more difficult to grasp. Take a look at the following descriptions. Which helps you recognize peace?

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14: 27

Inner peace comes not from an unstressed life, but from insight into those stresses as a source of motivation, and as valuable signals of our internal state and of how significant the stresses are (a reality check).

Peace comes not from human goals, but from a sense of meaning in life, a sense of purpose. A determination or desire to share with others and to know that no one can take that desire away.

Peace is the skill to look around obstacles, plan for possibilities, ponder alternatives, then submit to what is possible or what is inevitable. Wisdom brings peace because wisdom is the ability to recognize what can be changed and what is inevitable, what must be faced, what must be endured.

Peace, then, is the courage to accept the powerlessness, to decide to wait for consequences that we can not influence, cannot escape. In peace, we do what we morally can. Peace does not rage at the inevitable, but settles into the outcomes.

Peace is a warm commitment to become a whole person. It means to sacrifice neat and tidy goals of any fantasy person we may be carrying within. Peace allows us to dive into life bolstered by a moral context.

Peace is a humble desire to do good which is impervious to events. From this grounding, we can take risks in the world for the Greater Good.

Inner Peace comes from Jesus. Insight. A Sense of Meaning and Purpose. Wisdom.

Inner Peace is a heart untroubled. Acceptance of true powerlessness. Commitment to wholeness. A desire to do good.

Ponder these things a while, my friends, and we'll continue on Friday.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Good, Better, Best: Choosing in a Grey World

In today's final post on right and wrong (final at least for this series), I want to go back to the original scenario I described. A prosecuting attorney in a courtroom tries to convince the court that the defendent knew right from wrong. Just a few hours with this subject over the past week brings up several thoughts.

In the majority of people's lives, daily choices are less about distinguishing right from wrong as they are about determining a good choice from a better choice. Or choosing what has less negative "ripples" at the time. To which charitable organization should you donate money or volunteer your time? In your schedule should you plan to visit your aging mother or attend your son's softball practice? Should you finish that report for your boss or help a colleague with a problem he's trying to solve for his boss? Should you give yourself an hour break to work on your hobby or get to fixing that squeeking door? I suppose my point is that, for most people, it's all good.

I've spoken of Sister José Hobday before. She explained that in judging how "good" we are in our lives, we should set the bar at FTMP--For the Most Part. Our goal is not perfect good (only God is perfect), but we can thrive, bring God's Kingdom closer and show Jesus' Way with FTMP. That's quite a relief to know that FTMP is good enough--for the world and for God.

However, in those daily decisions and shooting for FTMP, I believe we need to take a serious look back over the paths we've chosen and critically observe where we are on the Right/Wrong, Good/Evil continuum. I remember some wisdom from TV--either "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" or "Joan of Arcadia"(both were excellent spiritual sources) --that most of the time evil isn't just switched on, like a light. You make a decision one day, a pretty good one; you make another decision the next day, another pretty good one; you choose again, a little less good. Finally after many small choices over time, all in themselves seemingly coming down on the "good" side, you find yourself in the middle of a corporate money scandal or cheating on your spouse or hooked on prescription drugs.

That brings me to my last thought for the post. That right and wrong don't seem to be absolutes. We talk as if they were. We humans can even communicate with those abstract concepts and if we checked, we'd mostly agree on the definition. But we live in a world of grey. In practice, right and wrong are judgment calls. Every choice. Every day. Some of the choices are made automatically, and they bring good into the world. For all the others, there is a need for mindfulness, discernment, reflection, prayer, finding trustworthy authorities and listening to their wisdom.

May you use every human and divine resource at your disposal to make choices with positive ripples that show us the Way of Jesus.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Wrong Turned Right

We've been discussing how we judge right from wrong, and I'll get back to that stream on Friday. But your comments about God's plans and the ultimate outcome have led me to share a brief Bible study.

Genesis 44:1-17. Joseph plants the silver cup.

In this section of Genesis, we're near the end of Joseph's story. At this point, he has not yet revealed himself to his brothers, but through the "stolen" cup, he plans to give them a bit of a hard time, detain Benjamin and reunite them as a family.

In all the story of Joseph as related in Genesis, he never rails against his brothers. They betrayed him, but he focuses on survival and making the most of his opportunities. He has several gifts--good looks, dream interpretation and administration. The dream interpretation is what gets him in trouble in the first place. In Egypt, his good looks do him no favors, but eventually his gifts get him out of trouble and let him bloom where he's planted.

The lesson seems to be that one negative event, a momentary happening, can be judged in two ways. First, Joseph could have seen his betrayal as an evil that must be punished. He would be justified. I have a feeling that he tosses his brothers in prison for a few days on their first visit to release some of his anger and hurt, but he doesn't have any intention of truly harming them. Because, over time, Joseph comes to see that his betrayal was part of God's larger plan, putting Joseph in a position in which he could save not only Egypt, but also his family. There's Exquisite Timing all over this. When Joseph plants the cup, he craves his family, they still don't recognize him and he wants to delay their leaving. But he can't really bear a grudge since things worked out so much better than he could have imagined. In the end the family is reunited.

It is the same in our lives. Adversity, suffering, bad events can be part of a larger plan which we will have the privilege to understand in the future--or not. When my mother was dying, I often wondered why she had to suffer so long. Eventually, I realized that her dying and the timing of that process, provided opportunities for others to serve or to work out their own issues. It certainly provided extra time for me to come to grips with some anger and hurt I was holding. I believe that evil actions deserve to be punished, but that God will direct the ultimate outcome to good. The Life Web wants balance and support for all life. In this is ultimate outcome is my faith, my hope.

The story of Joseph (Genesis v.37 - 50) is chock full of lessons, forgiveness, humor, salvation and pathos. If you haven't read it in a while, take some time with it. Let us know what you find.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Bible as the Authority

We've been talking about how to decide right from wrong and what approaches, factors or authorities you might use. I read Wednesday's post a little amazed, because I didn't automatically list the Bible as my authority. Interesting that I didn't immediately go in that direction.

I was reading a recent inspirational romance by Lori Wick (she's a super spiritual writer), and the characters in this book are in various stages of learning to use the Bible as their authority in judging right from wrong. However, the minister in the story says that first, you must decide what you believe about the Bible. Do you believe it to be the literal Word of God? Do you believe it to be a literary tool to access the transcendent? Do you believe it to contain stories, written by men, that have relevance today? In this particular discussion, there is emphasis on the ability and the opportunity for each individual to make up his or her mind. Free Will. The implication is that your decision determines what role the Bible will play as your authority.

Overall, in my interpretation, the book offers a hoped-for outcome--that everyone will believe that the Bible contains the inerrant Word of God, that the Bible teaches that salvation comes only from Jesus and that we humans bring little of value to the table for salvation. The plea is that we turn to Jesus as our Savior.

I will acknowledge that my interpretation of the author's intent may be wrong. But given my interpretation, as imperfect as it may be, it poses more than one discussion point on which to base a blog post. Today, I just want to focus on the Bible's authority. I think this minister (even though a book character) has the right idea. We do need to make a decision about what we believe about the Bible. In fact, we must make that decision about any scripture that we may use as a moral authority.

And in that key decision, we humans bring some undeniably valuable skills to the salvation table: judgment, discernment, and choice. We must judge for ourselves the intent of the writer, the source of the wisdom, the spiritual direction of the writing. We must discern if the scripture holds facts or lies, Truth (not necessarily facts) or falsehood. We must choose the place of the Bible in our life to discover the Way and to follow it.

I don't believe that humans have nothing to bring to God. We bring our talents, our emotions, our relationships, our intellect. We bring a lot--but not everything. We are co-creators with Divinity, and together we affect transformation in Life's Web.

There is a rule in fiction writing to "Show, Don't Tell." Don't write, "He's angry," writing speakers often teach us, write "His fists clenched and red mist blurred his vision." For me, the Bible is a credible authority because it more often than not SHOWS me--through its stories, parables, fables and poetry--what following the Way looks like. What behavior appears when a person, Jesus specifically, walks the right path.

So add this layer to your thoughts. You have certain approaches and factors that help you choose right from wrong. Where does the Bible fit in your Christianity? How do you use it? Do you need to consult it more often or less to be a better follower of Jesus?

Announcements from the Fellowship:
Just Published. "Get Back Up & Rise Again! UUCF Revival" by LaVerne Z. Coan (that's me!). The Universalist Herald, May/June 2009, pg 20. If you're not familiar with this "oldest continuously published liberal religious magazine in North America," check it out at their web site.

Invitation to Dinner at UU General Assembly (GA).
UUCF-sponsored Gourmet Vegetarian Meal and Hymn Sing Program, Saturday, June 27, 6 to 8 pm, First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, 569 S. 1300 E. Don't wait in long lines for Saturday night meals; we will help you share rides from the convention center to the church (3 miles away). Menu includes yummy salads, Angela's Manicotti or Linguini with veggies, Fresh fruit, cheeses and desserts to make your mouth water. You don't have to be registered for GA to participate in the dinner; guests welcome; if you have a program and need to come in later than 6 pm no problem. Cost is $25. RSVP asap for you and your guests to or call 918-691-3223.

For a full list of UUCF GA programs, worship, and shared programming at the UUCF, UU Buddhist Fellowship and UU Mystics in Community booth, go to

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Knowing Right From Wrong

In a courtroom, lawyers sometimes explore whether the defendant knows right from wrong. Is the defendant old enough, mature enough, mentally capable to judge right from wrong? Our Covenant Group has discussed this, too. If we are old enough, mature enough, mentally capable, how do we decide what is right? Let me start today with some foundation and I'll build from there.

I read or heard (and if I find out where, I'll share), that humans may make this important decision using one of three approaches. You may be:
  • Rule based. You have a set of rules (example, The Ten Commandments) and the rules are all important. You follow the rules to the letter.
  • Rule based with provisos. You have a set of rules, or standards clearly stated, but you apply those rules based on the circumstances. You weigh the standard against the situation, possible outcomes and internal judgments.
  • Value based. You hold a value as your standard (examples, Love Your Neighbor, or Justice). All decisions are based on what the value is and how you interpret right behavior considering that value.

You actually may use a mixture of these approaches. I use the second and third approaches, I think. I'm always considering the situation, the people involved, the possible outcomes before I determine what might be the right course of action. The values I hold give me a larger framework to make decisions that will come more from the gut or heart than from my thinking brain.

This author also said (and now I'm thinking this had to be a sermon, but maybe not. Now I'm so deep in, the reference librarian in me has kicked in and I'll have to find out. But we digress...)

This author also said that humans use five factors to decide what will be the right course of action.

  1. Harm. Who will be harmed? Will any harm come from my action--to people, to the environment, etc.?
  2. Fairness. Will my action have a sense of fair play to it? Will my action bring an outcome that equally apportions benefits (or harm) to the situation?
  3. In-Group. Does my decision support my membership in a group with which I identify (family, religion, club)? Do I decide based on the morals and traditions of that group?
  4. Hierarchy. Is there an authority or power figure to whom I turn when deciding the rightness of a decision?
  5. Purity. Is your decision based on a sense of divine involvement, a holiness of purpose, or divine inspiration?

The observation was made that Unitarian Universalists tend use factors 1 and 2 for judging right from wrong; members of more conservative religions will more likely weigh the last three more heavily in their decisions. But any of the five may be invoked to judge what is "right", and again, we may use a mixture of any of the five to help.

This "factor-scenario" makes a whole lot of sense in considering why we humans have such a tough time agreeing on the right course of action. If I believe God is on my side and you're trying to be fair, there may be light-years between us in motivation and in our abilities to compromise. And as Shelby Foote observed during Ken Burns' series The Civil War, the American War Between the States occurred because we Americans could not come to a compromise.

I know I don't have the answer to the thorny human problem of conflict. But the three approaches and the five factors (very Buddhist) at least shed light on the deep issues that might be working within and among people, countries and governments to throw the Life System off balance.

How do you decide right from wrong? That person in your life with whom you're always at odds. How do they decide, do you think? Does knowing where they're coming from help? Can you work with that knowledge to get some productive communication going? Or are some points of departure in deciding right from wrong too separated to ever find common ground?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Keep the Faith, Baby!

Keep the Faith. Being faithful. Having faith in someone, in something. "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is being sure.

During my upbringing, I didn't think about faith. It was just there. I had Faith, according to my teachers, because I believed in God and in Eternal Salvation. I was set. I had Faith as in: "The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will." (American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Ed., 1996) Faith in that sense didn't have anything to do with what was happening on Earth. And nothing on Earth was as certain as God and Salvation, so it was better that I didn't have faith in anything or anyone in my life.

The American Heritage Dictionary also defines faith as a "confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, an idea or thing." and as "Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." A synonym of faith is Trust. "Firm reliance on the integrity, ability or character of a person or thing." So you have a confident belief in someone's trustworthiness and then you rely on him. Faith and Trust go hand in hand.

In a sermon I heard last year, the minister encouraged us to define our own faith through questions. When the chips are down and life is throwing lemons, what do you rely on to pull you through? To what or to whom do you turn to support you through the tough times? Answering instinctively, from the gut, uncovers some interesting answers.

I have faith in my own abilities to see me through. My intellect, my judgment, my knowledge. At the same time, I am convinced that, although I might have cultivated these abilities, I received them, and any talents I possess, as gifts from God the Creator.

I also have faith in the Interdependent Web, the Life System, the Exquisite Timing, in God within whom we live and move and have our being. I have a confident belief that this Web aligns itself with Good, moves toward the positive, desires the Kingdom of God here, in our existence. I have faith that when I have a problem, other people and circumstances will align to help me toward an ultimately good outcome--not necessarily at the immediate time or for me personally, but for the Life System, the Web as a whole.

Part of any Leap of Faith is to be aware of how that alignment may be happening around me--dynamically--and deliberately step into the flow.

Recognizing and moving in the correct flow, following my Bliss, seeking courage and goodness, living in love and compassion, listening to my spiritual teachers and scripture. I have faith in this life Path. I trust that if I follow this Path, I will, with God, create positive ripples around me and in the world.

When the chips are down and life is throwing lemons, what do you rely on to pull you through? To what or to whom do you turn to support you through the tough times?

Quick! What's your answer?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Exquisite Timing

I've heard this phrase used a lot in the world, referring to a deliberate or chance occurrence dropping into life at just the right moment to make a difference, to avoid calamity. The appearance of a book on store shelves was planned with exquisite timing to take advantage of current events. Or a ball player's addition to a team came with exquisite timing to secure his team's place in the finals. There's even a race horse named Exquisite Timing. Don't know if the horse lived up to its name, but I'm sure the owners hoped that it would.

Fred Campbell, in his book Religious Integrity for Everyone: Functional Theology for Secular Society, describes Exquisite Timing as that experience we all have when events and lives and nature all converge in one point in time to create some extraordinary, inexplicable outcome. Theist that I am, I call these "God Moments".

When I was caring for my mother some years back, I was told that she had normal pressure hydrocephalus, a build-up of spinal fluid in her brain that was causing Alzheimer's-like symptoms. The possible cure would be the placement of a brain shunt to drain the fluid from her brain into her stomach cavity. She was safe in the hospital for now, but I was to decide on the procedure over a few days, days in which I was scheduled for a business trip in another city. I boarded the plane and pulled out my journal articles describing the shunt procedure. A pleasant-looking man took his seat beside me, glanced at what I was reading and asked, "Who needs a shunt?" I learned in short order that he was a neurosurgeon on his way to a conference. He had performed many of these procedures and was more than willing to explain and answer questions during our flight. God Moment. Exquisite Timing.

A young girl from a small Midwest town goes to New York City for the first time in her life to celebrate the New Year. In the crowd, she and her friends meet a young soldier soon to be shipped out and share a meal with him and his buddies. He will become the love of her life. (Yes, happened during World War II). God Moment. Exquisite Timing.

Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent! God Moment. Exquisite Timing.

I know you've experienced this. The Life System that God created, the intricate ripples that we all cause as we move through Life's Web, the interconnections of all living things--there's enough possibilities there to keep the God Moments coming.

Keep your soul poised for Exquisite Timing. When a God Moment happens, revel in it. See how awesome God can be.

Blessings on your day!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Define "Christian", Please

As I've shared my emerging knowledge of myself as a UU Christian, and my growing belief that "redemption through Jesus' death" is not primary in my personal theology, friends and relatives have posed the question, "Then how can you call yourself a Christian?"

Pause... Exactly the question I've asked myself. Because deep in my gut, I see myself as a Christian, but I don't fit the definition. But then, I've heard quite a few definitions. There are usually three requirements in most definitions, but sometimes not. (This is sounding more Unitarian Universalist all the time!)

Definition 1: A Christian believes that:
  • God exists.
  • The Bible is the Word of God.
  • Jesus was equally human and divine; Jesus was God.
  • Humanity's sins were redeemed through the sacrifice of the cross.

I've heard and read this definition in various forms all my life. This is what I call a "mainstream" definition, but even within that framework there is a spectrum of religious diversity that rivals rainbow colors. What concept of God? Literal or non-literal biblical interpretation. What's the emphasis on--humanity or divinity? Who was redeemed? What are the requirements? Is there a Trinity involved?

Definition 2: Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, HarperCollins, 2003. pg. 37-8. Borg contends that there are three affirmations central to Christian faith. A Christian...

  • Affirms the reality of God.
  • Affirms the utter centrality of Jesus.
  • Affirms the centrality of the Bible.

Lots of wiggle room here, too. This list doesn't define what to believe about each of the affirmations. Borg is showing us that we, as Christians, have this core in common. Common ground on which to begin conversations and from which to build a vision of what life on this Earth should look like.

Definition 3: "Christian", The American Heritiage Dictionary. 3rd Ed. 1996.

n. 1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus. 2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

Well, this is interesting. Notice that #1 says "...follows THE religion...", not A religion or ONE of the religions or one of the denominations. THE religion. Christianity. And a Christian can profess belief OR follow the religion--nothing in this second part about beliefs--"...based on the life and teachings of Jesus." [Emphasis mine. not about Jesus. Hm-m-m.]

Then there's #2. "One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus." This is the one that matches the tag lines of the UUCF: "Simply Following Jesus" and "Following Jesus in Freedom". In the UUCF, I've met several people who state firmly that they do not believe in the reality of God or a god. That kind of threw me. I mean, Jesus believed in God. No question of that. So how can you follow him and not believe in God? Hm-m-m.

Then I attended Revival and considered what I know of my own Christian fellowship. Here are people who don't accept the reality of God, but are striving to live with the teachings of Jesus engraved on their hearts. With love and compassion. Works for me. The last dictionary definition is the most inclusive and lies within the framework of the Unitarian Universalist Seven Principles. What does your belief lead you to do? What does your faith look like?

"But as for me (Joshua 24:15)...", I'm a Definition 2 kind of girl. I feel the presence of God a lot in my life, so God is real. Jesus is my central teacher, and I'm always tuned to new ways of understanding how his teachings can guide me. I was raised with the Bible, so it's central. I can't often quote chapter and verse, but I have a few passages under my belt and a strong sense of the parables and reminders of God's encompassing love.

Are you a Christian?

I've added a few books to the LTS Amazon bookstore (link on the left), including Marcus Borg's Heart of Christianity. Take a look. Share with us what books or DVD's have influenced your journey as a Christian.

Blessings on your day!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Cross

A phrase that I learned at the 2009 Revival was "cross cringe". That's the reaction that we UU Christians sometimes elicit if we wear a cross or state that we are Christians in the company of our UU brothers and sisters. It's that little wrinkle of the nose, a start of surprise, a widening of the eyes, perhaps a soft "Oh." The cross cringe may be as overt as a suggestion that maybe we would be more comfortable at the local Lutheran church. I have seen the cringe from others outside the UU faith. In our society, the word "Christian" is most often associated with a literal reading of the Bible and a legalistic, judgmental religion. In that context, hearing the word "Christian" can move someone to shout "Hallelujah!"; others to respond with "the cringe".

In light of that, I was delighted that Rev. Tamara Lebak of All Souls Unitarian chose for her Sunday sermon the topic, "The Signs of the Cross". She said that it was in honor of the UUCF Revival visitors as well as her own deep fascination with this ancient symbol. Her own collection of crosses fills several packing boxes. And she grinned when she said that it was not often that the All Souls congregation heard the hymn "The Old Rugged Cross" which was sung so beautifully by the choir that morning.

She spoke of Greek crosses, with equal arms, that in 9500 BCE symbolized the horizon and the rising and setting of the sun. Four thousand years before the Third Reich, the swastika cross was used to denote the four directions (North, East, South, and West) and the world-wheel (the eternally changing world, around a fixed, unchanging center or god). The cross can symbolize the meeting of opposites, the merging of human and divine, immenence and transcendence. The Latin cross, the one associated with today's cross cringe, was carved into Bronze Age stones, was used as a ward against evil. It is a rich symbol, and even more powerful, Rev. Lebak said, because it rejects duality. It has so many meanings from so many different times, cultures and traditions, that it helps us to reflect on the Truth. Truth that can only be discerned by drawing all those diverse meanings together. Only then might we sense something of the grandeur and variety of life.

Read Rev. Lebak's sermon; there's also a podcast version out on the All Souls website. It will open your eyes to that "old rugged cross" and make you appreciate all over again that simple symbol. It's got me wearing my cross again, ready to face the "cross cringe".

How about you?

Today's post is the last relating my experiences at the UUCF 2009 Revival in Tulsa, OK. Next time I'll be walking down from the mountaintop and into everyday Christian life. Looking forward to meeting you there!