Thoughts on the truth

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors. There is so much that I can identify with in her writing. I came across this TED talk today on the Twitter feed of Nadia Bolz-Weber. Her concept of God is close to my own. You might enjoy this talk too.

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Hope for today

“I’ve never fully understood how Christianity became quite so tame and respectable, given its origins among drunkards, prostitutes, and tax collectors….Jesus could have hung out in the high-end religious scene of his day, but instead he scoffed at all that, choosing instead to laugh at the powerful, befriend whores, kiss sinners, and eat with all the wrong people. He spent his time with people for whom life was not easy. And there, amid those who were suffering, he was the embodiment of perfect love.”

― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

Last summer while I was recuperating from prostate cancer surgery I came across this wonderful book. The title captured my imagination right away. I took a chance and downloaded it on Kindle. After that I couldn’t put it down and eventually read all of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s books. I listened to her on YouTube and followed her on Twitter. I find her a refreshing alternative in contemporary Christianity. Last night I was watching the Netflix series Messiah and was taken how charismatic and inviting the protagonist is. The sanitized Jesus that has become the stereotype of contemporary religion would not have attracted much of a following. Being a human is certainly a celebration of imperfection. That is what makes us whole and holy.

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The dynamic energy of transcendence

Without the dynamic energy of transcendence by which consciousness rises and relationships deepen, religion grows old and weary; it becomes rote, a mechanistic repetition of old ideas. To function out of an old cosmology with old ideas of matter and form, to think that God does not do new things, is to make an idol out of Jesus and to ignore the power of the Spirit.”

— Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness by Ilia Delio

Ilia Delio is my favorite modern theologian. She’s helped me to look at the deeper meanings of life and to better understand the writing of Teilhard de Chardin. Many people see God or the creator as immutable but that’s not my belief. As the universe continues to grow and unfold then the cosmos and the energy that surrounds us continues to grow and change too. What keeps everything in place? The creation story that is in the Book of Genesis is more allegory than reality. It was the best that an ancient mind could fathom. Now we know so much more about the cosmos.

Does the creative energy of the universe which we might call God not continue to grow and expand? I asked a Jewish friend of mine how he viewed the Bible. I wanted to know if he interpreted everything literally. He assured me that he didn’t but saw the stories as wisdom stories that needed to be interpreted in light of our present day.

God as he reveals himself to me through my experience is not the limiting God that some religious people seem to think. I believe that there are certain universal principles which govern the universe. Among them is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The golden rule applies in all cases in my experience. On the other hand the creative force of the universe is open to all people regardless of where they find themselves in the world. There is not one way of seeing God. There are many ways of seeing God. The disparate religious faiths are fingers pointing to the moon.

The universe is not an either/or proposition. It is nuanced and we’ve only scratched the surface. As St. Paul said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

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We can be real here

I’ve been reading John Pavlovitz’ book, “A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic and Hopeful Spiritual Community.” It’s a breath of fresh air and reminds me of my own experience at Mt. Irenaeus twenty years ago. In late 1999 and early 2000 I was looking for an authentic community of believers. I’d recently been involved with youth ministry on our school campus. I liked the folks but it was an inauthentic experience for me. All of my life I’ve been deeply religious but profane too. I was trying hard to fit in with the church folks who wouldn’t say shit if they had a mouthful of it. I had spent most of my life around people for whom profanity was second nature. Most of them were deeply spiritual folks but there was always this tension to remain pious in the presence of the people at church.

In February of 2000 I followed the advice of a friend and went to Mass at Mt. Irenaeus is nearby West Clarksville. My wife and I showed up dressed for church. Wingtips for me and low heels for her. When we got there we found folks dressed in blue jeans and walking barefoot in the chapel. I returned the following week and stayed for brunch and kept returning Sunday after Sunday. One day I volunteered to help one of the friars work on the property. While we were working he accidentally hit his hand with a hammer and said, “Son of bitch.” I thought to myself, “these are my people.” Indeed over the years since then the Friars were real and they showed me that holiness comes from being wholly myself.

Tonight while reading John Pavlovitz’ book I came across this passage and it resonated. I’ve thought for many years now that Jesus of Nazareth was at home with folks like me. He was shunned by the religious people who were scandalized that he dined with prostitutes and tax collectors.

“At North Raleigh Community Church, where I’ve made my home and ministered for the past three years, we cuss a lot: in small groups, in casual conversation, even from the pulpit (well, it’s actually a podium, but you get the idea). When I initially arrived, this was all a little disorienting to me, not because the words weren’t part of my daily vernacular or because they offended my tender sensibilities, but because I knew better than to admit that I ever said such words or to utter them in mixed religious company. During our first Sunday visit, the pastor dropped an expletive during his message, and I nearly soiled myself. People laughed heartily, but no one seemed particularly surprised and no one walked out. I figured it was an accidental oversight—that is, until the next week. More expletives. I remember thinking, “This is brilliant. He’s set the table for us all. He’s letting us know that we all can be real here, that we are all in this together, and so we can let our guard down and be exactly who we are without pretense. We can be completely effing honest—and it’s OK.””

A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovitz

If you’re looking for authentic community and a prophetic voice I highly recommend this book. It’s been one of the best I’ve read recently.

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I do not see the road ahead

One of my favorite Thomas Merton quotes begins, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.” That’s certainly true now in this global pandemic. What should I be doing? How much distance do I put between me and the virus. Am I washing my hands enough. Have I touched a surface where the virus is living? I did my best to avoid people today and that took on a different walking route than I have been on in a number of years.

Today I found myself walking along the railroad tracks in our village. These tracks were once a part of the Pennsylvania Rail Road. Now the tracks are part of the Western New York and Pennsylvania Rail Road. There’s the main north and south track and a siding which today was occupied by tanker cars. Looking south the tracks approached the horizon and invited me to think of what lay beyond.

What does lay beyond this present moment that we are living in? The world is already different than it was just thirty days ago. We are living in a way that none of us have every lived before. Will this be the new normal? I dare say we will never return to what was.

My Dad told me that when he was a boy in the 1930’s the King and Queen of England came through Franklinville on this road bed. I’m sure the tracks have been replaced since then. If these tracks could talk what would they say.

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Beautiful solitude

To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over that land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labor and rest in the afternoon, and to sit still again in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence.

Thoughts in Solitude – Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton is my favorite mystic. This particular quote resonated as I read it today. I find the divine in the silence. I long for the silence of the woods near my home. I bring as much silence into my life as I can find each day. I enjoy times of laughter and community. I watch very little news. I receive an email from Governor Cuomo who provides a clear concise and coherent message without sensationalism nor self congratulation. I close each day in prayer. Sometimes it’s Mass and other times it’s listening to Gregorian chant or Taize prayer.

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All creation bears the footprint

Francis contemplated the footprints of God impressed on the things of creation, and he found God wherever he went in the world. As he experienced divine love within himself, so too he saw that same love throughout creation—in birds, trees, clouds, rabbits, even wolves. The world was the self-revealed gift of God, created to lead humans to what it signified, a deep, personal unity in love. Contemplation of the world was indistinguishable from the contemplation of God.”

— Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness by Ilia Delio

Francis saw no dichotomy but saw the world as one. For too long Western philosophy and religion as seen the exploitation of the planet somehow disconnected from our spirituality. I don’t think that can continue in the post pandemic world. This is our common home and if we expect to live long and prosper we must take care of it along with each other.

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