Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

For some time people have encouraged me to gather up some of my poems into one collection and make them available. I have finally gotten around to that. I have selected A Baker’s Dozen of poems, twelve plus one extra. I hope you will find them enjoyable and evocative.

The first iteration of the collection is an electronic one which can be accessed on Kindle. Click here and then read away. A Word format will be soon to follow, one that may be accessed, forwarded and printed in booklet form.

In the meantime, I hope you find yourself savoring an image here, an idea there, and some story that turns you to the dearest thoughts stored in your big bank of memory. Let me know how you like them.


Posted: June 8, 2021 in Uncategorized

After I stopped running from the things that seemed to run after me, and

After, the funeral was over, the grief delayed, the schedule obliterated, and

After my notions of god fell out of my pocket, my oh so small pocket, and

After I grew indifferent to the assessments of me by others, and

After I put down the vocation that occupied me for decades, and

After I stopped carving up humanity into us and them, and

After I ceased pretending that my needs were less important than others, and

After I gave up on a universal view of reality that everyone would necessarily share, and

After I began listening to the whispers of my own soul, and

After I placed humanity on par with every other species, and

After I didn’t apologize, not once, for being who I thought best, and

After I enquired after the one, golden, unparalleled thing,

Then I walked out my door into the vast expanse of air, saw what was in front of me, bounded or staggered or fell on my own feet down the pathway as gravity would lead, and gave myself up to gratitude, unpopular opinion, unfiltered love, unplanned compassion, and hidden destinies.

Such intoxication, this. Late in coming. Arriving at just the right time. Worth the wait.


Tombs, Wombs and Passageways

Posted: April 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

The most in-between day of the Christian liturgical year is Holy Saturday, sandwiched as it is between the stories of crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter morning. This is the day in which Jesus lays in state in a borrowed tomb with borrowed time. All those around him are stunned with grief and mired in confusion. They wait, but for what? 

The way present-day Christians view Holy Saturday provides a clue as to the meaning of its place in the larger story: We don’t know what to do with it. Other than dying the Easter eggs or shopping for Easter dinner, what does one do between snuffing out the last Tenebrae candle and singing Christ the Lord is Risen Today?

There is a liturgy of Holy Saturday, of course, and catechumens preparing for baptism have held vigil with it throughout the centuries. Some of our earliest records tell of baptismal preparation, how following the night’s vigil, baptismal candidates rose early Easter morning, donned white robes and waded into the water of life. Holy Saturday was something, not just biding time. 

But for the disciples contemporary with Jesus it was most surely a grief-stricken and disorienting time in which nothing made any sense. We, on the other hand, do not experience that terror and shattering sadness, and are generally baffled with the extra time on our hands; what to do between this and that?

On the deepest symbolic and mythic level, however, the locale of tomb is absolutely necessary to the story of transformation. Passage must be made from one state of being to another. A womb is required. A tunnel between here and there. A holding chamber, chrysalis, or container. The seed pod underground: The tomb is not only for the disposal of a body; it is a birth canal.

The tomb is the liminal space that prepares for the next thing. As physicists have reminded us, space is not empty. Something is happening. 

Whether we view Holy Saturday as a necessary in-between pause in the narrative or the in-between space necessary for every transformation, this most ambiguous of days in the Christian calendar, this overlooked and fumbled time, remains the deepest and most silent. It holds such bright sadness. And like the prayers unladen with words and explanations, the prayers alive with waiting and watching, the tomb of Holy Saturday remains an eternal clue for the spiritual transformation of every person who dares to die in order to be born.

There was a time when Christianity was a movement, an enthusiast sect within Judaism that turned to a peasant prophet named Jesus as spiritual guide and master. So enduring was his legacy, they said, that he lived on, even beyond the cruelty of Roman crucifixion. His message and martyr’s death so spoke to some Jews and many Gentiles that a movement took root not only in Palestine but in the larger Greco-Roman world. Because the movement was small in number it was usually ignored. But other times, not unlike Jews, they were targeted for persecution.

During the reign of Constantine (CE 306-337) Christianity became the religion of the realm. Before we jump to any glorified conclusions, Constantine did not pursue this so much out of deep piety as for the sake of unifying his empire. He needed one religious center, much like the position occupied by the Roman gods of the past. In addition, he convened the Council of Nicaea (CE 325) to arrive at some uniformity for the church – setting the Biblical Canon, dates for holy days, devising a creed that articulated a common Christology, and the beginnings of canon law. Again, it was not his ecumenical passion that inspired Constantine to call the council. The church had to be on the same page so that the religion of the realm would be on the same page.

Some describe this turning point in history with blaring trumpets that announce the beginning of the Christian era. The truth, I think, is much more sobering. The announcement that Christianity was to be the religion of the realm most likely marked the ending of the real Jesus movement. What took its place was something else, a theocracy, a merger of empire with religion.

And what is the problem with that?

A theocracy requires at least two ingredients. First, an autocratic government that exerts absolute power. Second, an authoritarian religion that subscribes to and is willing to enforce its version of absolute truth.

That means an empire uses religion to legitimize its position and actions. And a religion benefits from the endorsement of the empire. The empire has everything to gain, of course. But what of the religious dimension?

For anyone who isn’t part of the empire-religion duo, theocracies are always bad news. In the case of Constantine and church every other religion suffered and would suffer through the centuries. The theocracy authorized persecution of minority religious voices. The theocracy provided social privilege to Christians and discrimination to non-Christians. It is bad in almost every regard and has been through all times and places, regardless of the empire or the religion involved.

But the theocracy shared by Constantine and Christians wasn’t only harmful to non-Christians. It also gutted the essence of the Christian movement. Yes, Roman citizens may have scampered toward Christianity for the sake of the social benefits that could be enjoyed. But that did not strengthen the faith. Rather, it weakened it. It weakened it even as greater numbers and power were realized.

And this was the genesis of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the centuries following Constantine who fled from Christian civilization to seek the hard way to God, a way that had been lost. As some have said, they fled from the church like rats swimming away from a sinking ship.

Whereas Constantine needed a uniform religion to unify his empire, Christians became seduced by the power. Their seduction led to corruption and an abandonment of real Christian values. All was rationalized, the end justifying the means.

This is one of the reasons that the founders of the US Constitution took such care in making sure that the state neither endorsed one religion as the religion of the realm nor abridged the freedom of any religious tradition. But just because those are prohibited, that does not mean that they do not arise. They have and do. Again, whenever the formula is approximated theocracy may manifest again: autocratic government and authoritarian religion.

In our own time just such a theocracy has arisen. The government was that of the autocratic regime of Donald Trump and his enablers. The religion was white evangelical Christianity.

Donald Trump, like Constantine, had little use for religion, in particular white evangelical Christianity, except as it provided more votes and more power. Christian faith is incidental to Donald Trump, if not absent. He gives empty lip service to it. Conveniently for him, white evangelical Christianity came pre-packaged with a legacy of white supremacist and racist underpinnings. That was a happy coincidence, as his entire life showed evidence of a thoroughgoing white supremacy and racism, no secret now to anyone. That is how he courted the extreme white supremacist fringes with impunity. Since the former President is amoral, he could simply add that racist contingent to his layered base of supporters. White supremacist movements often appeal to some distortion of Christianity to justify their dark designs.

The most cynical among us will say, well, what did he have to lose? Not much, in the short term. He could use all those wedge issue factions to his advantage.

But the white evangelical church is another matter. It has lots to lose. By coveting the levers of power as it did it mortgaged its soul in the process. It so compromised anything resembling Christian values and so overlooked the immorality and corruption of the regime to which it had become united, that it lost whatever remained of an authentic faith. The younger generations have already registered their verdict in their distancing from churches that look anything like this. They, too, are swimming away from the sinking ship. And for those who were never aboard in the first place, they will not be inclined to book their cruises on the good ship Christianity soon if at all.

If the white evangelical church so sold its birthright for a bowl of porridge, this judgement is appropriate. The remaining question is whether they can repent for their sins of idolatry and blasphemy, charting an altogether new course, one that does not rely on theocracy, white supremacy or bigotry. If they can, if they can return to the faith of the founder of their movement rather than clinging to some projection of Republican politics onto the god of their own making, there might be a chance for them. Since they have been sailing on the wrong side of history, that verdict is yet to be seen.

You Courted the Unhinged Fringe

Posted: January 18, 2021 in Uncategorized

You courted the unhinged fringe as a way to scour up more votes, build a crowd, intimidate all who would oppose you, and you got them.

But now they’ve got you.

The moral stench of their racism and violence wafted across the borders that divide the monarchy from the pawns and suddenly it occurred to you: I can’t simply manipulate and use this unholy coalition; we have created one another in each other’s image.

You had succeeded in keeping their eyes off the primary project, the cause of enriching yourself and others like you. You did this by occupying them with a seething bucket of rage-filled lies, over and over.

It worked a long time.

Until, that is, the rot crept into your own house and the windows that broke were yours.

On that day, the bill came due and the credit card maxed out. When the collector came, he told you just what he wanted you to say.

And you politely obliged.

A few of the broken-legged team that had clung to you and the unhinged fringe wandered out of the smoke and debris, dazed and muttering, “How did it go this far?”

But you were not available for comment.

Because you were using all your energy appearing like a nice victim, scolding the fringe and ordering them to be unlike themselves.


Since you left, the cleanup has been monumental, like the aftermath of a hurricane, littered with pieces, fragments, and tattered flags.

The fringe is still here, being what it always has been. The weak, gullible and deluded are still here, always swayed by words of the next terrifying world.

But you, their cheerleader and advocate, enabler and high chieftain of social corruption, are gone. That’s not everything, of course, but it is something, if only a cautionary tale for a future we have yet to write.

Contemplation for a Great Conjunction

Look at us.

The space between us that threatens us

Each, both, and together.

We, who seem worlds apart, like Jupiter and Saturn…

Let us enter the space between us, curious and eager for discovery

From the inside—not from outside,

cold, bold, dark edges, borderlines, and walls,

From the warm light inside us,

together, let us be us.

Let us sit in space together, tell stories and listen,

and consider where and how we might align

Unthreatened, holding hands,

dancing in embraced shared space

What a great conjunction we are!

Look at us.

— Marisa Lapish, Selah Spiritual Wellness Center (poem originally in Deb Gregory’s Flourish website/blog)

We have all seen political movements rise and fall, in our own times and throughout history. And we have also observed iterations of those movements that have religious underpinnings. This is certainly not limited to the modern era; history is replete with examples of political machines that employed religious ideology or influence to achieve their ends. They often came in the form of theocracies, a hybrid system of religious and temporal rule in which religious laws are made one with civil laws. One does not have to search far to find them: The Taliban in Afghanistan, Ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, the Christian crusades, inquisitions, colonization, indigenous genocides and endorsement of slavery – all under the banner of the cross. During the Nazi era in Germany the Lutheran state churches were compromised to become the Reichkirke, Reich Church, packaging the ideology of the 3rd Reich with Christian trappings.

It is fair to say that these distortions of the purpose and theology of any of these religions create heresies. And I don’t mean that differing emphasis constitutes heresy. Different sects emphasize one or more aspects of a religious tradition and they become known for it. The Quakers and their quietism, the Mennonites and their pacifism, the Jewish Hasidism and their mysticism, the Sufis and their ecstasy. No, in those movements we find differences in emphasis, not substance.

Heresies, however they are defined (today’s heresy often becomes tomorrow’s orthodoxy) by whomever defines them (usually those with power with the ability to label dissenters), utterly twists and distorts the essential messages of the tradition. They often justify the use of power to persecute others. When combined with a totalitarian political system they utilize the symbols of the tradition to their own ideological ends, often omitting the most substantial aspects of the religious tradition in doing so.

In today’s America it has become clear that the most dangerous and abusive distortion of Christianity is manifested in the cult of TrumpChurch. Like many other fascist regimes that employ Christian symbols to their own ends (including the KKK and Neo-Nazi groups), TrumpChurch has coopted Christianity to legitimize and sanctify the movement of Trumpism.

This movement has antecedents, of course. TrumpChurch is the result of a long period of gestation at the fringe, now given legitimacy in the center – by the election of an administration that both used and empowered a base of thinking that was already there.

The troubling thing about TrumpChurch is not necessarily the underbelly of American culture that is and always has been racist and authoritarian; we expect that and generally suppress their ability to create mayhem through laws and institutions of government. But when those very organizations of law enforcement and governance become infected with that ideology they are given free reign, roaming in the daylight. We understand that they represent a clear and present danger.

But that is not the greatest concern in terms of heresy. Our greatest concerns regarding Christian heresy are located with an huge number of white evangelical churches and church leaders. They have bought into the heresy and are actively propagating it. Finally close to the levers of power, they found it irresistible to not fall victim to its seduction.

The excuses and rationalizations for promoting TrumpChurch are now well-known: Trump is a type of “Cyrus” who God uses to deliver believers and transact God’s purposes in the world. God uses compromised means and leaders to achieve certain sanctified ends, like appointing conservative justices who will defeat Roe v Wade. At the most extreme fringe of this heretical movement the leaders pronounce judgement and condemnation for anyone who would defy and replace God’s man, Donald Trump.

It’s all heresy. Donald Trump cares nothing for Christ or religions in general. He is an immoral dysfunctional human being, a sociopath. He feigns religious sympathy and even piety, staging mock publicity stunts with a Bible. He gathers one stripe of enabling Christian leaders around him to extend his influence among followers. He knows nothing of the Christian message, tradition, scriptures or practices. His attitudes and policies are conspicuously devoid of anything resembling a Christian worldview. He is a blasphemer. And the followers of TrumpChurch cling to him like a new messiah.

Some of those white evangelicals have reassessed their relationship with TrumpChurch. The young came first, their idealism bruised by affiliation with a tyrant absent any humanity or faith. And then women. And then thoughtful pastors. And then people who couldn’t look away and pretend anymore, who realized that the very things that would have been labeled as unacceptable yesterday have somehow become tolerable today. But many, many remain, their icon becoming a political martyr in an election they believe persecuted him and them.

What I want to propose is an alliance. It is an alliance between mainstream progressive Christians like myself and evangelical Christians who, when they examine their own deepest convictions, know that they have been deceived and taken for a ride. I want to propose that though we may come at this heresy from different beginning points, our conclusions are the same: This dangerous theocracy must be denounced and defeated, its twisted ideas exposed and rejected, and the damage to religious communities, fragile groups within our country and the nation itself repaired.

I think we can stand together on several principles to begin with:

  1. We do not want a state church in which there is no daylight between religious groups and governmental authorities.

2. We do not want to legitimize any one political figure as an infallible authority figure.

3. We do not want churches or church leaders officially endorsing one candidate or party for elections, and if they do they should have their tax exempt status removed.

4. We want to critique government and have a lively conversation of ideas in the public forum of democracy.

5. We do not want to establish (to use the language of the 1st Amendment) one religious voice as normative in the land.

6. We want the principle of religious freedom (again, 1st amendment) extended to all religious groups, not just some.

7. We do not want the religious convictions of any one religious group to be imposed on others.

Many of these are already part and parcel of our Constitution and ongoing tradition. In the times of heresy, however. they were misplaced. It is now time to restate and reclaim them. In the public square.

The hard work, however, is theological. Members and leaders in the white evangelical churches will need to revisit their own scripture and tradition – especially the lost aspects that used to be so very important to them, back before they were infected by power. This will require moral courage and the willingness to be persecuted and rejected by their own communities. And it is so very important that they do.

Unless we do this our politics will continue to be poisoned by the heretical hybrid of Trumpism and stained glass. Unless we do this the church will be lost – and should be – to every future generation that critically evaluates the difference between the way of Jesus and the twisted interpretation of him by his followers.

If not with fruitcake, then how?

Posted: December 13, 2020 in Uncategorized

A few years ago I made a retreat with some friends to Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. Like for most, the pilgrimage was meant to help me shed a skin, discard what needed to be left behind, and to discover the hidden depths that remained concealed in the distracted life. After a few days of solitude, repeating ethereal worship and moving back and forth between the intersection of nature and community, a new space is opened inside. What fills it is a grace, of course, and it can’t be designed or planned.

During my days there I struck up a conversation with a monk during the designated conversation time (since the Trappists hold the discipline of silence). In order to support itself, the Abbey makes fruitcakes, sells them online, and ships them across the country. It’s a big deal. Access to Kentucky bourbon doesn’t hurt. And this monk had made fruitcakes his entire life at the Abbey. Fruitcakes and prayer.

During our brief talk I asked him how that worked, the fruitcake occupation with the spiritual life. He looked at me like I had asked why you get wet when it rains. If you can’t find God in a fruitcake, he said, then you can’t find God anywhere.

That thought has been shared before in the history of spirituality. St. Teresa of Avila famously said to keep watch during kitchen duty because “even when you are in the kitchen, our Lord moves amidst the pots and pans.”

I don’t believe, however, that my fruitcake-making monk read Teresa and then tried out the pots and pans formula with fruitcakes. Rather, I think it is a universal aspect of the spiritual life; there comes a time when one realizes that nothing out there is going to provide more than what can be found where you stand, in your own hands. Which makes sense of the monastic understanding of “stability.” Quit jumping around, here and there, and settle in where you are and find what is meant to be found.

Robert Fulghum is primarily known for his book All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten. The most important Fulghum observation for me came not from his most popular book. It was rather an offhand observation he made that garnered little attention. Except for me.

One time when Fulghum was on a pilgrimage to India, he visited a renowned holy man. He hoped that Atlantis might rise out of the sea and his spiritual quandaries would be forever answered. But instead he said that after a while the holy man came out, scratched his back side, sat in front of Fulghum and said, “Go home.” Fulghum waited. Was the wisdom about to come? It was not as he expected. “Go home and find it. There is nothing here you can find that you can’t find at home.” And then he got up and wandered away.

We know many stories like it, parables and tales that use the long journey to lead us to where we began, but to behold it differently, with new eyes.

If you can’t find it at home, or among the pots and pans, or in the fruitcake in front of you, you’re not going to find it. All those who fret about lack of mobility during a pandemic are faced with the same thing. If you can’t find it where you are, you can’t find it. If you are left with yourself, if the porchlight is on but you discover that nobody is home, then nobody is home. You’ve got a problem. But then again you have the beginning of a journey. That is the first spiritual discovery, that the emptiness cannot be filled with outside things, moving parts, or our own moving feet. It can only be filled with holy things that have slumbered out of sight.

Like a babe in a manger, for example. Be there if you will, watching, beholding. Among the shepherds, animals, the fragile family, pots and pans and fruitcakes. If you can’t find it there, well, then you can’t find it.

Pin on Cornerstone 1: Faith

To the Transition Team of President-Elect Joe Biden:

As you prepare for and select the multi-facetted leadership required in a new administration, I would like to register but one of the many concerns you will be facing: This administration’s relationship to diverse American religious communities.

The First Amendment of our Constitution protects the free exercise of religion even as it limits the governmental establishment of any one religion. This understandable and yet sometimes uneasy tension is there for a reason; our founders had experienced both the curtailing of religious liberty and the establishment of theocratic church-state structures. Neither were desirable. Their constitutional outcome included provisions that prohibited both.

Nevertheless, religious life has always been and continues to be an important force in American life. As your administration decides how it wants to build bridges to religious communities I would like to provide some modest observations and suggestions.

First, let us not fall into the errors of the previous administration. We should avoid governmental alliance with one slice of the religious community to the exclusion of all others. During the Trump administration that slice primarily included one stream of white evangelical Christians. Only those leaders had the ear of the administration. Their concerns were narrow: End Row v Wade (by seating conservative judges), provide tax-payer dollars to private religious schools (by placing a Secretary of Education who favored private schools and not public education), and conduct policy with Israel in such a way that it reinforced their own Christian end-times scenarios (with a Secretary of State and Vice President who were those white evangelicals).

In return, the administration was paid handsomely with votes and blind allegiance, regardless of the actual irreligious nature of the President.

We do not want this for our country or our religious communities. Constitutionally speaking, we want to avoid even the appearance of the establishment or even preferential treatment of one religious community. It is an error to do so in such a diverse religious nation as our own. Morally speaking, we want to regard our neighbors as ourselves, making sure that all religious voices are around the table.

Rather, we should strive to secure a broad and diverse council of religious representatives that reflects the true religious diversity of our nation. These religious representatives need not agree in doctrine, practice or ethical issues. But they do need to be able to speak for their own communities, express respect for other traditions, and exhibit a willingness to pursue the common good of our democracy.

This religious diversity should include Jews from their several traditions, Christians of many denominations, Muslims both Shite and Suni alike, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Bahais, indigenous religions and many others. They should engage in conversation that illumines both unique and shared concerns. And let it be said: This religious diversity must include religious ethnic representation at the same time that it considers historic religious identities.

There needs to be a director of this interfaith religious council, an experienced person who is able to gather the tribes together and foster a sense of unity.

This has been done before in past administrations. In that sense, it is nothing new. But in contrast to what we have just lived through, it will seem almost revolutionary. Which is why it should be done soon, confidently, and well.

Mr. President-Elect and Ms. Vice-President-Elect: Reach out to the broad religious communities of this nation in a generous, inclusive and truly interested way and you will touch much of the soul of America. It is an opportunity you dare not miss.

Investing at the right time

Posted: November 4, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’d like to buy that property. That nice piece of property in the middle of the war zone. Maybe Syria or Afghanistan. Or that lot next to the crack house. Maybe the property that was abandoned after the fires. Right in the middle of the earthquake, flood or mudslide. Under the debris of the tornado. I’ll take it. Cash on the barrel head.

People wondered about Jeremiah. His nation was cracking up, people heading toward exile, adversaries pounding on the door, the proud walls tumbling. And then, in the middle of chaos and disillusionment, he says he’s buying his cousin’s field (Jeremiah 32). When everyone is loading possessions into their carts for a quick escape, hiding away in the basement, and bracing themselves against impending famine, Jeremiah buys a field for the future, a future that can’t yet be seen.

He takes the deed and seals it in a clay jar for safe-keeping. And the word that comes to him from the Spirit is that in the future life will once again flourish on that very land. You can’t see it now, but it will.

Kings and empires rise and fall. Leaders are good, corrupt and everything in-between. The times are tranquil or full of angst. The people are wicked and righteous and both at the same time. We wish we could choose the times into which we are born or where, but that is not up to us.

Jeremiah buys the field, the field of the future, the field of hope. I hear it’s a risky investment. They say such blind faith is pure foolishness. The majority says to fly under the radar and protect yourself.

But what they don’t understand is that buying the field of the future clears the way for the future to unfold. Unless we bank on a vision of the future that is greater than the reality in which we now live, it won’t come. That vision of the future has to be announced, anticipated, trusted.

Buy the field. Whatever else is happening, just buy it.