Sermons


On Christmas Eve, CBS treated the nation to a what I think was supposed to be a lessons-and-carols type worship service broadcast from General Theological Seminary in New York. I didn’t see it, but I have read the homily given that evening by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefforts Schori. Remember, this is what at least a few million people likely took away from the eve of the Feast of the Nativity:

The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.  God has increased their joy, for a child has been given, whose authority shall grow continually, and bring endless peace… from this time forth and forevermore, says Isaiah. [9:2-7, supposedly–DSF]

The eternal hope and yearning of the human race emerges from darkness into light in the birth of this child both humble and divine.  We have burdened his shoulders with every earthly failing and divine hope – for light in the darkness, warmth in the cold, food for our hunger, righteousness in place of injustice, an end to violence and war, and a lasting and eternal peace.  Those yearnings continue to burst forth in human hearts, and we live in hope that his reign will ultimately bring them to reality.  We gather to celebrate his birth and recover that eternal hope.

I met a young man named Jesse not long ago high in the mountains in a town in Colorado.  He told of being thrown out of the place where he was living, through no fault of his own.  He said it was the second time he’d become homeless.  The first time he was put out into the darkness of a snowy night with no money and only the clothing he wore.  He wandered the streets until the police stopped and asked him what was wrong.  They took him to a community agency that helped him find a hotel room for the night.  The second ousting from his temporary home meant that now he would flee that town, and seek shelter and refuge in a warmer, desert clime.  He may not have had the traveling companions of the babe born in Bethlehem, but he did have a surrounding community of care and help, bringing light into his darkness.

Jesus was born for this – for the homeless Jesse and his brothers and sisters in the cold and hungry darkness of rejection and violence.  Jesus is born anew in human hearts every time we meet the vulnerable – which is all of us, once we awaken to the reality of our own longing.

We are all filled with the same yearnings for an enduring home and healing in a community of peace.  Particularly in this season of want and uncertainty we look for stability, confidence, and faith in something or someone beyond our own insufficiency.  That God might cast off divine glory and be vulnerable enough to take on human flesh seems beyond the ken of many.  Yet it is that very vulnerability that offers hope – when we know our own need and hunger and yearning.

This frail infant is clothed with divine glory – the lowly lifted up and the hungry fed at his birth.  And over all this drama of divine entry into human flesh hovers a community not unlike this one.  Angels draw our attention to the holy in our midst.  Parents, elders, and teachers steward our growing wisdom and awareness and guide us into growth toward the full stature of Christ – the glory of God in a human being fully alive. Shepherds keep watch, lest danger come to the vulnerable.

Jesse’s angels guided the night-watching shepherds to his side and led him to shelter.  The elders of Leadville guided him into the heart of a welcoming community table. That table has room for all who hunger and thirst – in body and in spirit.  It is peopled by the poor and the better off, by Spanish speakers and Anglos, by people from Ireland and Greece, by the wounded and the outwardly well.  Each one comes into a stable like this one, hoping to meet the holy.  We meet that holy child in every vulnerable human being, in every one who hungers and thirsts.  We meet him growing to maturity in all who answer their neighbor’s vulnerability and need.  He is present with us at this table and at every table and meeting where need meets response.  Salvation lies all around us.

Where is the holy child born again?  Who gathers to watch over, nurture, and guard the growing redeemer in our midst?  Will we indeed recognize the image of God on all faces, and call that divine mark into fuller stature and greater glory and more abundant life?  We share this creative and redeeming drama in ways beyond our knowing.  Will you gather around the holy one?

I’ve read this 685 word opus three times, and I still can’t figure out what she’s talking about, what it has to do with the Scripture cited at the outset, or what it has to do with authentic Christian teaching. There are oblique references and hints at stuff that is actually Christian (there’s an allusion to something Irenaeus may have said in the fifth paragraph, and she may be referring to Mother Teresa when she says “We meet that holy child in every vulnerable human being, in every one who hungers and thirsts”). Unfortunately, those get overwhelmed in a sea of platitudes, misbegotten metaphors, inappropriate analogies, and just plain heresy (“the growing redeemer in our midst”? are those who help the poor really to be said to be “redeemers”?). Anyone out there care to try to enlighten me?

(Via Stand Firm.)

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Christmas in the words of the greatest of all Christian preachers:

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

–John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople

Christmas in the words of the greatest of all Christian preachers:

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

–John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople

What do you get when you combine the misappropriation of someone else’s cultural heritage, a total absence of biblical content, and a writing style designed to obfuscate? You get a Trinity Sunday sermon by Katharine Jefforts-Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church:

We are all connected – in the great circle of life, the sacred hoop, the wonder of God’s creation.  Today the church remembers that sacred interconnection of all that is.  Maybe part of what is wrong with the church is that we only intentionally focus on that interconnection once a year.  It’s a theme throughout our life together, yet we rarely bring it into focus – even the hazy focus that’s the only possible way of talking about God’s inner reality.

If we understand that we are made in the image of God, then an intrinsic part of what we are is interrelated beings in community.  That’s what the feast of the Trinity is about – that God’s own nature is a community of beings that is so aware of and open and vulnerable to each other that the sacred and divine community is one.

Whenever Jefforts-Schori gets within shouting distance of trinitarian theology, I want to shout, “Remember when Fats Waller said: ‘If you don’t know what it is, don’t mess with it!'” Hint: the expression “community of beings” is the giveaway.

There is no time and place where God is not, for God precedes creation.  Wisdom, as the creative aspect of God, is present and at work as creation begins, drawing all that is made into relationship.  In the beginning, Wisdom was there.  She may have other names in the tradition – white buffalo calf woman, for one – yet there is a deep awareness within us that God’s gracious creative spirit has been among us from the beginning.

I can think of some other things are are getting deep here. But it gets a lot worse.

The holy one has come among us in human flesh – most essentially in Jesus, yet also in his body, gathered through the ages, following his path.  The image of God, the human face of God, is all around us, if we will only look and discover.  God in human flesh continues to walk with us, through 500 years of struggle and suffering on this continent, through the destruction of war, and the waste of creation-destroying selfishness.  God is here, and what peace we know in this life is a gift and sign of that holy presence.

I had to include this paragraph, since it contains the only reference to Jesus in the sermon.

Sometimes that reality of God as community, God as trinity, is spoken of as dance – the holy three whirling with and through each other’s reality.  Native communities have long known the sacrament of dance as healing, able to draw many persons into one community.  At times of great struggle and loss, the dance emerges yet again, like the ghost dance Wovoka called forth.  Wisdom has planted in us that urge toward healing, reconciliation, oneness – even in the face of human sin and evil.

The “Wovoka” she refers to here is a Northern Paiute Indian also known as Jack Wilson. Of him, Wikipedia (I know, I know) says:

Wovoka claimed to have had a prophetic vision during the solar eclipse on January 1, 1889. Wovoka’s vision entailed the resurrection of the Paiute dead and the removal of whites and their works from North America. Wovoka taught that in order to bring this vision to pass the Native Americans must live righteously and perform a traditional round dance, known as the Ghost dance, in a series of five-day gatherings.

Sounds like healing and reconciliation to me.

Our life on this earth is about the great dance of returning – going home, finding strength in a supportive, loving, and reconciled community, going back to the earth at the end of life, finding our home in God.  It’s a journey that may have solitary moments, but it’s a dance that cannot be made alone.  This dance will never be fully complete, yet we keep on dancing, the spirit within us yearning for more life, more healing, more oneness, and greater participation in that holy circle.

Wisdom dwells in this body gathered here, speaking forth words of truth, calling us into healing.  Native communities know what it is to live deeply rooted in that holy wisdom of oneness with all that is.  It is a wisdom that needs speaking, for words need to take on flesh and form in a world that has forgotten much about the truth:  that we share one creator, that we are all brothers and sisters, we are siblings to all the rest of creation, that if one part of God’s body of creation suffers, all do.

I guess this demonstrates that Jefforts-Schori has abandoned Christianity and become a Gaiaist. Of course, it may mean something completely different. I tried running it through Babelfish, but it didn’t have a language called “episcopal gobbledygook.”

The greed of some, the belief that one group can dance alone, lies behind much of the suffering that native communities know:  lands stolen, herds destroyed, lifeways prevented, spiritualities forbidden, hope too often crumbled and crushed.  Yet we are all connected, and that greed will eventually destroy the greedy as well as those who have been robbed.  If we’re going to dance, we cannot choose to avoid some partners – we must encounter the ones we’re angry with as well as the ones who bring us joy.  The dance can’t be with only one clan or tribe – Wisdom calls us all into this round.  Healing comes in the dance, as the dance of anger becomes lament, and lament moves toward compassion, and on through reconciliation toward peace.

I have it on good authority that she had her fingers crossed behind her back when she let loose with those last two sentences. I suspect that evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics that she is systematically running out of the Episcopal Church, as well as the Global South of the Anglican Communion to which she has been giving a rhetorical middle finger, would have a hard time believing that she delivered with with anything other than a Cruella DeVille laugh.

We can only go home through the dance.  There is no healing or wholeness or restoration or holiness except through the dance – encountering the sacred and earthly reality of this moment, grieving what needs to be grieved, and letting the spirit draw us in hope toward a healed future.

All the peoples of this land – the first peoples and those who came after, are in danger of forgetting the dance.  The other peoples – the bird and deer and fish and whale peoples – are in danger of being shut out of the dance.  The divine dance which creation reflects is waiting for all the peoples of this planet to rejoin and renew it.  The spirits of all depend on it, to the seventh generation – and the seventieth.

Will you join the dance and draw others in?  Will you dance with friend and foe and stranger?  Will we let the dance make peace in us?  Will we let the dance heal us all?

And at this point Jefforts-Schori has gotten so lost in the various permutations and misdirections of her metaphor that she reminds me of Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining:

(Via MCJ.)

I’ve been meaning to mention that the Redeemer EPC Web site has been upgraded, and there’s a lot of helpful information and links on it. One of the things I’m happiest about is that we’ve now got links to my sermons (which because of file size are stored elsewhere on the Net), which can be listened to online or downloaded for later listening. I don’t make any great claims for my abilities as a preacher, but I hope that for people curious about Redeemer, it will provide a means to decide whether to visit. And for blog readers who won’t ever be able to visit, it will give you a chance to hear what I sound like in person. Anyway, feel free to visit the site, check out who we are, and give a listen to my (admittedly limited) wit and wisdom.

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

–John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (398-403) and greatest of all Christian preachers, “Homily on Christmas Morning”

Over at the Witherspoon Society, we are being urged to “think outside the box” about…something or other. They’ve put up a sermon by the Rev. Jim Dollar of the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Greensboro, N.C., which is about as close to the homiletical equivalent of a cat chasing its tail as you’re ever going to find. I’m not going to comment on this–there’s no substance on which to comment–but I wanted to give you a flavor of the kind of preaching that folks like the Witherspoon Society think should go under the heading “food for the spirit”:

Churches want to grow by increasing the number of people who think like the people in churches think, not by changing the way the people in churches think. Churches think of growth and growing in terms of numbers, not in terms of shifting perspective, deepening understanding, broadening horizons, enlarging hearts, or thinking differently. How differently can the people think and still be “the church”? That depends on how they think about being “the church.” See?

How we think about something has to change if we are to grow on the level where growth-as-transformation occurs. We think “outside the box” by getting outside the box. By asking scandalous questions, by saying outrageous things, by being heretical, and by changing our own minds about the things we think there, outside the box.

No one has the corner on “right thinking.” No one knows how we should think, how we are supposed to think, what we can and cannot think. But, we can’t think this way and be the church. Churches can’t change the way they think because one of the things they think is that the way they think is the only way to think. Churches clutch their doctrines and catechisms proclaiming, “This isn’t how we see things—this is how things ARE!” No one who thinks that way can be talked into thinking differently.

We change the way the church thinks by changing the way we think, and letting that be that. Insofar as we are the church, we are changing the way the church thinks as we change the way we think. Even if we could change the way THE church thinks, by the time the process was complete, we would have changed the way we thought when the process started, and would have to start all over to get THE church caught up. We can only think the way we think and let the outcome be the outcome….

This is the crucial point where the matter of changing the way we think is concerned. I can’t give you anything. You can’t give me anything. We can’t give anyone else anything. What do we pay a preacher (teacher, guru, advisor, spiritual director, guide) for? They are paid to say “I can’t give you anything.” Not giving you anything means giving you everything you need, like their trust in your ability to find your way, their confidence that you have what you need, their reassuring, caring, presence when it seems impossibly difficult, their questions for clarification and understanding, and an environment in which you can sound out your ideas about the way for you, and gain greater clarity than you could ever achieve on your own, and know that while you are on your own, you are not alone. This is the stuff life is made of.

We are on our own, but we are not alone. We are not alone in the work of being alive. Being alive has nothing to do with the realization of our dreams and desires, with our goals and ambition. It has to do only with being alive in the moment we are living and living there with integrity and authenticity. Waking up, enlightenment, realization, satori, and the like are not about getting, having, owning, possessing, acquiring, amassing, avoiding. They are not about pleasure and prosperity and wealth and power and control. They are not about fortune and glory. They are about being alive, here and now, genuinely being ourselves in the time and place, context and circumstances of our living….

Faith has no content. It is attitude, orientation, perspective—an orientation toward life. Faith is about trusting ourselves to our lives. We are on our own AND we are not alone! The heart, the ground, of life is cognition, awareness, knowing, comprehending, getting it and being okay with it, and responding to it out of what it is asking of us with what we have to offer. What is “it”? “It” is That Which Knows. It is the unnamable drift, or urge, or inclination toward “the good,” toward “what needs to happen now,” toward whatever is being asked for in “the situation as it arises.” What are we trying to do with the situation, achieve in it, accomplish in it? Where does that desire come from? That’s “it”! That’s what is in charge of our lives, directing us to life, bringing life to life within us and in the moment of our living….

I’m reminded of Neil Young’s line introducing his song “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” on the live CSNY album Four Way Street: “Sort of starts off real slow and then fizzles out altogether.” Of course, according to the introduction this was meant for a congregation of people who are characterized as John Spong’s “recovering Christians,” so take it for wwhat it’s worth. Read it all, if you don’t mind the possibility that you’ll be permanently cross-eyed when you finish.

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