Entertaining something more …

Spirituality. Active belief in God. Faith containing both experience and resultant action. These immediately bring up suspicions, fears and even instant dismissal. I understand that and I know why. People have communicated and advanced visions, pictures, ideas, sayings, instructions and life-leading direction, advice for others, words from the dead and all manner of extra-corporeal (that is, outside of “normal” experience and life) phenomena. How can all that be parsed and made sense of?  And if it cannot, is there anything spiritual that can be reliably projected?  Also, the political leanings, decisions and life-styles of those who claim themselves “spiritual” may well dissuade anyone from even considering experimentation let alone discipline in these matters.

So a Bible verse like this:

1 Corinthians 2:14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to that person, and cannot be understood, because they are spiritually discerned.

might well be taken as exclusionary. But I want to make sure you know you are not excluded as I tell some of my story and bring up common objections to faith and its practices:

Spiritual anencephalus

I recently heard Bill Maher interviewing Ross Douthat who was reporting on poll data concerning the church and Christian spirituality. Multiple times, Bill used the phrase “otherwise intelligent people” with no hidden meaning that he considers spiritual matters unintelligent and thus, wasteful of time and effort. I have read others who have said that belief in God was like believing in a childhood imaginary friend. Ignoring the derogatory nature of these slams and the pride they exude (to be sure, believers can be just as proud or worse), they articulate a problem we all have in understanding spiritual life: Do we need to become anencephalic (having no brain – a condition of newborns, almost always fatal) when we do spirituality?

No. The brain engages. And communicates, listening and speaking and experiencing all that is happening. One thing that does happen is that attitude about cognition changes. A know-it-all becomes a know-some-of-it or a know-nothing-in-order-to-hear. And a different part of the brain becomes engaged in an exchange of words and thoughts. It’s not like “My Favorite Martian” with the antenna coming up from the cranium:

Image result for my favorite martian antenna going up gif

… because it can happen at any time, but it involves thought and intelligence that often exceeds that of mere logic and witty intellect.

Belief – instant or progressive

Bible verses and faith statements and sayings can come across as an assault on one’s spiritual state or lack thereof. I really want to be sensitive about that because I come down heavily on the side of progressive faith. That is I strongly believe that people grow in belief. For sure there is a seed of faith I believe all humans possess and that seed must be watered via some action taken. But my story is one of a long chain of events, experiments and perceptions that together form a combined basis for faith.

Space doesn’t allow for an accounting of all of these, but I will relate one I had this past weekend – yesterday as I write this.

People may think that people of faith never doubt – the opposite is true – we constantly doubt. We have the writings of Mother Teresa and have her doubts with us. So I have been in a state of doubting God’s care for me as an individual. The doubt goes beyond an engineer’s calculation of my being one of 2 billion people “vying” for God’s attention. It’s an assault on the character of God – that God does not care about me as an individual. Well, I awoke on the lake where I was staying and was the only human witness to this dazzling display on the otherwise fog-blanketed water and shore:

GodWink - 10-15-17

Now as soon as images like that get linked to a spiritual tenet, people start mocking. There are those, after all, who see angels and entire apocalyptic scenes in cloud formations and get all excited. I have similar reactions to their revelations though I try to be very kind.  So why is this case different?  Well, the context (some fairly intense prayer and seeking), timing (it lasted 5 minutes) and even the attendance (that is, me alone) of the event all combined to make the point that it was something special for me.

And that may serve to display the idea of progression, for there is a long list of “coincidences” in my life that establish both the existence and personal nature of God. As I said, I cannot list them here, but suffice it to say that after a while, were I to make the argument of happenstance and accuse those in faith of being childish, the coincidence stance itself becomes the childish one.

Righteousness, sin and judgment

I know, here is where a lot of people will just get off the train. That’s because there is such a thing as spiritual malpractice. Most religions teach that there exists a higher plane of morality and ethics than is practiced on planet earth. And many actually condemn people for not attaining that level, all the while their most ardent proponents and practitioners have lives that are anything but exemplary of the tenets they espouse. Not to pick on Catholicism – I have dear and vital Catholic friends – but Woody Allen described his experiment with the Catholic church as “die now, pay later”. I hope at least some can smile and nod.

But it is a fact of my life and all human lives that we fall short of purity, ethically clean and morally good thought, speech and behavior. And we know it. At least some of it. The other half is that we know when we have been hurt by others. So even if we wouldn’t call it “sin” we would certainly agree offense has been done both to and by us causing damage that may last a long time.

And if there is a spiritual law that transcends all religion and belief systems, it is that of retribution.  What goes around comes around.  You reap what you sow, etc.  It works on the positive side as well, for there is “pay it forward” as well.

It is is the offer of faith to rectify this aspect of life – the guilt and debt. We need a remedy for our own culpability, and for the damage of what has been done to us as well. Jesus attacked this problem head-on, not mincing word about our state and not just stopping at talking about it. He died to fix it.

Image result for jesus on the cross

Now, there are many, many who insert their own judgment for that of God. They assume the guilt of others but their own innocence. These people don’t want people to be free and forgiven; it would upset their personal reign. There are also those who wallow in shame, never rising above the acknowledgment of their dark deeds and supposing those actions define them. Both extremes, as well as a host of other misreads and misapplications can pollute and hide the biggest reason to be a Christ-follower.

Because there is freedom. And forgiveness. And reconciliation, peace, love, joy and all the rest.

This is not the accomplishment of an imaginary friend. Real blood was shed. Real miracles happened, including the miracle of my life.

Invitation

I would therefore like to invite anyone reading this to entertain something more in life rather than only wake-eat-work-party-sleep. Because there is more and there are riches found in a life of faith. Even a faltering, wobbling sometimes-trudge that experiments and experiences God.

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Sanity and mercy for the alien

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy

The third beatitude spoken by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount hits at a key double standard that plagues humanity. That is, people universally want mercy extended towards them but adopt stances that lack mercy towards others. Christ repeatedly linked the incoming with the outgoing, because it’s the foundation of community in a human condition where people have a strong likelihood to fall into destructive and hurtful behavior.  So the statement has a flip side – no outgoing mercy, none coming in.

I take it as a given that we all need mercy.

I’m going to write about a hot button issue with the hope of being a cooler head and inspiring other heads to cool off as well. And become exercise more mercy, because they need mercy towards themselves.

As we experience the actions of individuals and groups, we will observe behavior that can offend and injure ourselves or our group. That behavior is widely various and so are its effects.

When the others’ behavior becomes a hot button due to flash points or political arousal, the practice of outgoing mercy evaporates and hearts are made hard.

Image result for quichua milford ma

The current turmoil of sentiment against illegal American aliens is a very good example. Offenses, real and imagined, have energized a movement and candidate to take decisive action. And the backlash of liberal ideology that embraces immigrants then became merciless towards their political foes who they didn’t bother to understand, let alone even consider exercising mercy.

I’m a moderate, which means I have very few political friends – or better put my political friends are actually civil enough to see both sides of the issues. So you know

  • I do understand the problems caused by illegal aliens – lack of tax-paying while consuming services, taking jobs from American citizens, breaking the law by being here illegally, crime and more.
  • I do understand compassion – that these people came to our country for a better life just like all immigrants before them, that they are “illegal” because of laws that have failed and that they have families just like mine.

I’m also an engineer and part of my make-up is trying to solve problems. So I want to advance some ideas, not necessarily new ones but in composite perhaps only lightly articulated. I would ask readers – who mostly fall into the camps described above – to avoid finding a problem with every solution. Mostly because we have no solutions now and the very will to find workable ones is primary to getting out of the current turmoil.

Here are the bones of a plan:

  1. Establish a path to citizenship for aliens currently in the country. Make it attractive and make it well-defined with steps anyone could walk. Start with a social security card to go with a path towards a green card.
  2. Provide a deadline by which people have to sign up for the plan and make it clear that if they fail to do so, they will be deported. I mean forcefully.  Serve strong notice to all known employers of undocumented aliens.
  3. Once the deadline is reached, aggressively go after scoff-laws and have them either sign up or leave. Hit places of employment very hard.  Yes, this is merciful because it advances responsibility.
  4. Reform the immigration laws. Establish reasonable quotas (higher than they are), asylum rules and vetting processes. Provide a method for safe haven for refugees while keeping out those who would harm the country.
  5. Make a 5-year review of immigration law mandatory. That is, times and people movement change. And so should the law.

.. or some set of points like that.

I realize this forgives the offenses of overstaying one’s visa, illegally crossing borders and potentially lying about it.  I don’t do that lightly but as a pragmatic step whose only alternatives both lack the mercy and are too costly on many fronts to make them viable.

And I would definitely both share the riches of my country with others and insist that if they are here, they become part of “us”. Because we need each other.

The prison called “I can’t”

There are those reading this that don’t believe in God. And those who believe in God but are suspicious of anyone claiming a personal encounter or even communication with God. I acknowledge and grant you the right to believe what you will, but ask you to grant me the same. And to suspend your beliefs long enough to read this story because it might well be for you.

In the early 90s, God gave me a dream as I slept. I know it was God because of the nature of the dream and the communication afterwards.

It was an intense, vivid dream of a little boy. He was only 4 years old or so, just learning how to draw.

And he took all his best crayons, and with all the love and hope in his young heart, he drew a wonderful, beautiful picture of his house, his family and all the trees flowers all around. In the dream I wasn’t just watching him do this like someone looking over the shoulder of a child and saying “Isn’t that cute”.  No, I was feeling his emotions as he drew. And they were absolutely beautiful.

When he was done, he was so proud of it, and it was so much a part of his young creativity that he took it to his mother to show her.

He had no way of knowing, but it was bad timing and she was not in good health emotionally.

Out of her own pain and hurt, she took her son’s beautiful picture, ripped it up into little pieces and said “that’s a piece of garbage”

God let me enter his little heart to feel how it broke, absolutely devastated that something he thought was so beautiful could be cast off as ugly and shameful.

And I woke up in horror, devastated, and asked God – “Where is that boy now? You’ve GOT to tell me” Because it wasn’t just a dream. It was the story of someone’s life.

In my spirit, I heard God say “He’s in prison. A prison called “I can’t””

I told the dream to 2 groups of people shortly after that – at MCI Shirley to a group of inmates and at church. In both cases, multiple people came up later and said that little boy was them. If not verbatim, then thematically.

So I said 2 things to them:

  1. That drawing was VERY GOOD and you have vital gifts that you have put away in shame.
  2. You’ve been in a prison of lies but today you’re going free.

 

Of Tyrants and Thieves – Part 1

The rich history of the legend of Robin Hood is a study in itself. Legend has its foundation in history. And in historical pattern.

So there was, in this story, a tyrant, King John, the evil brother of good King Richard who was away His minion, the Sheriff of Nottingham, exacted taxes for the royal coffers that financially crushed those who were already poor. Robin Hood righteously rebelled against the Sheriff and King John. He organized a group of colorful, wonderful followers who lived in the woods and raided (stole from) the royal treasury anyway they could. They returned the money to the poor. Robin fell in love with a lady of high social standing, Marian. She secretly helped Robin in his just endeavors. Eventually, King Richard returned and justice was restored to England.

It is the pattern of this story that I want to look at in this post. Its archetypes and rehearsed morality. And there are basically two active character types here.

  1. Tyrants – King John has all the goods he needs. Yet he is greedy and wants still more. In his merciless oppression, he forcefully takes from those who can least afford to give. People hate him, except for those in his employ. Those people enforce his rule by violent and ruthless means, because they stand to gain from its bounty. Or they are afraid to cross the king, and that is an important distinction.

  2. Thieves – Given the oppression, stealing is believed to be a righteous act. Robin Hood is a hero as he leads a band of rebels to recover what was stolen by the tyrant. In many accounts, his means of seizing the tax revenues are ingenious and humorous and non-deadly. He’s a good thief, even to the point of enlisting the blessing of the only cleric in the story, the lovable Friar Tuck.

While this is hardly the only story in Western Civilization with these themes and archetypes, it is a prominent one. And I’d say some in the culture repeatedly go to some lengths to project it onto the modern landscape.

Here’s what I mean – I hold these to be provably false:

a. All rich people are evil tyrants. If someone 1) makes a wage above a certain level, or 2) has property above a certain threshold, it’s because that person is greedy and selfish. Any effort to protect wealth is further evidence of these attributes. Everything such a person does is tainted by his/her having too much. Even world-changing charity.

b. All poor people are noble victims. Every crime committed, every dysfunctional aspect of life is caused by deprivation of the goods it takes to live well. Therefore supplying those goods will make the problem of poverty go away. All poor people would be happy and will be happy with more money.

Maybe you look at those and completely agree with them. Maybe you scoff at it and say “who believes that?” Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle.

To be sure there is a Biblical proverb that covers the sentiment that lionizes Robin Hood:

Proverbs 6:30-31 Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

In other words, a thief is a thief. He has broken the law. But isn’t this “good stealing”? After all, isn’t Robin Hood just doing God’s work?

Psalm 35:10 My whole being will exclaim “Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

Yes, and a tyrant is a tyrant. That person has also broken God’s law of love when it was in his/her power to be generous and supportive.

To be sure, there is justice here. And recompense. It can be said at some level that God used Robin Hood.

The trouble happens when people fall too much in love with the pattern of the story. When we superimpose it onto every instance of rich and poor we find.

More on that in part 2.

“Saving Mr. Banks” and traumatic echo – hunger for a happier ending

I’m probably going to own Saving Mr. Banks, the story-behind-the-story of Walt Disney’s making of the movie based on her story Mary Poppins.

Using the old but effective present-to-past flashback technique, the story of author P.L. Travers‘ (née Helen Lyndon Goff) childhood is projected into the story of her masterpiece.   Disney had promised his family that he would make the story into a movie and doing so proved an adventure of persuasion to the point of sacrifice.  But the film was made.

The interplay of the songwriting brothers Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman and Travers was very well portrayed, with their liberties with the story and the songs being written presented very tenuously, and withdrawn at the first whim of Travers’ objection.  But by the end, Travers was delighting in the joy of the compositions and the fit into her story.

I don’t know how real the story of Travers’ childhood being superimposed into Mary Poppins is.  I do care, but I care more about the power of redemption afforded by it.

In Saving Mr. Banks Travers’ father, Travers Goff, struggled as a worker at a bank and struggled worse with alcohol, slipping into depression and dying when she was still a girl in Australia.  He was unhappy with seemingly everything except being her father.  And she knew his love, but was tortured by his destruction.  The character of Mr. Banks is seen as an obvious portrayal of her father and his pain in trying to be a professional banker is a key target of the “ministry” of Mary Poppins in the story.

The echo is loud and clear.

I recommend watching the movie; I intend to again and again.

A repeating pattern in my ministry and personal life is the echoes of past trauma that keep getting replayed and replayed.  I believe it’s universal, though clearly some have a worse problem here than others.

I’ve sought for a reason that I (and others) do this.  I believe it’s because I want to “get it right” this time; I want the story to have a happy ending.  Of course it does not, at least in my memory, recalling the trauma or shame or pain of the past.

But Walt Disney pulls off a good ending for Travers.  The scene where she sings along with Lets Go Fly A Kite is a view of real healing.

There is redemption.  There is a different ending.  And we can have it today.

Stories abound with endings like this; we love them because we need them.  One I love is the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.  The analogous scene of redemption in that story happens after Joseph’s father, Jacob, has died and his brothers now fear for their lives because of the horrible way they treated Joseph, selling him into slavery years ago.  But he says this and their is deep healing:

Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

So for me, the challenge is to see good being accomplished in the evil intentions, words and deeds of people and even in circumstances I consider painful.  That”s how to resolve traumatic echo.  And it’s seen in God’s good purpose which is thankfully not thwarted by anything.