Daily Wonder 10-31-14

Scripture: Psalm 46:1-3
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Thought for the Day: While Halloween is generally seen as a secular holiday, it is also a Christian holiday, All Saints’ Eve. Like many Christian holidays, especially Easter and Christmas, Halloween is also a much older, Pagan holiday that was repurposed for the church. Unlike Easter and Christmas though, Halloween has somehow managed to retain more of its traditional roots as a harvest festival. The holiday is most typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year. It was seen as a liminal (in-between) time, when fairies and spirits could more easily come into and be active in our world.

Since the time of the primitive Church, major feasts (such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) had vigils, which began the night before, as did the feast of All Hallows’. These three days are collectively referred to as Allhallowtide and are a time for honoring the saints and praying for recently departed souls. All Saints was introduced in the year 609 CE, but was originally celebrated on 13 May. In 835 CE, it was switched to 1 November (the same date as Samhain) at the behest of Pope Gregory IV. Some suggest this was due to Celtic influences, but the change was most likely made on the practical grounds that Rome in summer could not accommodate the great number of pilgrims who flocked to it. Also, there were probably public health concerns regarding Roman Fever—a disease that claimed a number of lives during the sultry summers of the region.

By the end of the 12th century the days had become holy days of obligation across Europe and involved such traditions as “Souling”, the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes for all christened souls. It has been suggested that this is the origin of trick-or-treating. The custom dates back at least as far as the 15th century and was found in parts of England, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy. Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door during Allhallowtide, collecting soul cakes, in exchange for praying for the dead, especially the souls of the givers’ friends and relatives. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

The custom of wearing costumes has been explained by Prince Sorie Conteh, who wrote: “It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities.”

The evolution of Halloween shows how traditions change over time, and how the church has been willing to take existing traditions and repurpose them. With more than a hint of irony, the church has historically been willing to change. Today though, Christianity seems to be stuck in a liminal time, somewhere between the traditions of the past and a new, uncertain, much more progressive and less superstitious future. This scares a lot of folks, and that’s a pity. God is not to be feared. God is not punitive. God is love, and only love, and constantly pushing us forward into new, uncharted territory. What have we to fear if God is our engine of creation?

This weekend, let’s join with our brothers and sisters who bravely journeyed before us to change the world. While we might not agree completely with the superstitious nature of people like Paul and Augustine today, they had the courage to speak their hearts about God’s activity in their lives and in the world. They stood up to the entrenched religious structures of their day. It’s hard to imagine now, but they were progressive for their time, as Jesus was progressive for his time. Martin Luther was progressive for his time. Pope Francis, Rob Bell, Marcus Borg, John Spong and others are progressive for our time. There are always saints pushing our faith forward.

And now, it’s time for all people of faith to be progressive. We don’t need to hide from the spirits of the past. We need to embrace them with love while admitting they were just wrong about a lot of things. Rather than being religious, we need to be faithful. Because real progress is made when we stop hiding from each other out of fear, and instead begin looking each other in the eye and saying, “I love you.”

Meditation: I believe there is One natural power that is the creative and sustaining force of all material reality: God, the superstring, the fundamental harmonic. I believe this force is non-judgmental and wholly loving of all creation. Make Yourself known to me, Eternal Consciousness, removing my fear, uncertainty, and doubt about once again leaving the past, and moving forward into a new reality.

Daily Wonder 10-30-14

Scripture: Genesis 2:2-3
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, tadalafil because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Thought for the Day: When I first started learning how to play jazz piano, here I had the good fortune of working with a phenomenal bass player named Jay. Being new to the cool riffs and scales of the jazz/blues idiom, I tended to play every note I could in my solos on those early gigs. Way too many notes!

I think by the third or fourth night we were playing at a club, Jay leaned over to me and patiently said, “You know, the real music is in the spaces between the notes.” It was a revelation. On the very next song, I worked more on not playing than playing. Over time, focusing on the musicality of the spaces made a huge difference in the way I played, and in the way I communicated as a musician, in the groove, and in the quality of my interpretations of songs.

Jazz and faithfulness have a lot in common. So often I think we tend to cram our faith life with too many notes and forget to leave space for the movement and music of God. Many of us read the Bible religiously, but don’t spend any time studying to see what the authors were actually talking about. We pray and meditate, but don’t quiet our minds to listen for the songs of God. We work, work, work ourselves until we collapse at the end of the day, rather than leaving a space here and there to regroup, to be reinvigorated, reinspired.

Restful spaces are the most important moments in our lives. Modern society tells us to be productive. We rush from one job or commitment to another. We burn out by age 35 and have heart attacks by age 40. We need to rest. Study after study has shown that people who take respites throughout the day are actually more productive and make fewer mistakes.

More importantly, we need to take time to appreciate the work God has done and the work God continues to do. In rest new ideas reignite our passion. In the quiet times we compose new songs and are open to new revelations. Yes, we have work to do, but we’ll never be able to accomplish it without leaving room for the movement of God in the spaces of the songs of life we are each beautifully, miraculously improvising.

Prayer: I am but an instrument of Your universal song of peace and love, God my composer. Amen.

Daily Wonder 10-29-14

Scripture: Luke 5:16
Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Thought for the Day: It is part of the mystical tradition to withdraw from the noise of society for extended periods of isolation. Mystics—those who cultivate intense, online direct encounter with God, nurse are found in every culture throughout history. These are people who have more than incidental encounters with God like Abraham, buy viagra Noah or Moses. Mystics intentionally seek to strengthen and enhance their bond to the Universal Mind. Mystics are people like Paramahansa Yogananda, Buddha, and of course Jesus.

I don’t think Christians spend enough time with Jesus the mystic. Throughout Scripture, Jesus tries to teach both his disciples and the gathered crowds how to have a God experience. He insists time after time that his followers “will do even greater things” than he. The implication is clear: we are meant not to worship at the feet of Jesus, but rather to emulate him in every way. 

During his lifetime, Jesus tried to teach people how to jump-start their own mystical journeys. He knew, as does anyone who has been into the mystic, that the peaceful, loving kingdom of God is created when more of us have a consciously direct connection to God than not. This conscious connection to God shifts the balance of power in this world from greedy to giving, from fear-full to love-full. Becoming One with the Universal Mind dares us to live for the good of the many, rather than the selfish desires of the few.

There are clues throughout Scripture to help us develop the deep Oneness with God that is exhibited in Jesus. One of the most important is periods of isolation, where the distractions of the world cannot reach us. It’s important to find silent times—and lots of them, so we can feel the energy of God coursing through our veins, so we can fill our lungs with the breath of God, so we can listen to the still, small voice that is always encouraging us to connect. God’s voice is too often lost in the hustle and bustle of the world, whether that’s 1st Century Palestine or 21st Century America.

We are on a mystical journey. Accepting that idea is the first step on the path. Then, it’s also up to us to make space in our life for our personal God connection, so we can become the instruments of loving change so perfectly exemplified in Jesus.

Prayer: I commit myself to finding moments of solitude, even if it’s five minutes in a bathroom stall at work. Come to me in those peaceful times God, and continue my transformation into the mystic.

Daily Wonder 10-28-14

Scripture: Job 24:2
There are those who move boundary stones;
they pasture flocks they have stolen.

Thought for the Day: Property was exceptionally important in the ancient world. Even today, buy cialis many of our wars are fought over property. One could argue that the wars being fought in the Middle East today, troche while often presented by Western media as religious wars, sick are actually property wars initially caused by the West’s carving up of that area after the two world wars. The Western Powers moved the boundary stones.

Humans are also often thought of as God’s property, and some believe we have been stolen from God, which is why the world is such a horrific place. I don’t think anything can be stolen from God, because my view of God is of the ultimate universal force. Nothing can be taken from God unless God is willing to give it. So I wonder if it’s time to rethink the idea that we are stolen from God by evil, and rather consider that perhaps we’re just unfinished, and moving toward God every moment. Perhaps the boundary stones haven’t been moved so that evil could steal us from God. Perhaps there are no boundary stones, or, more likely, perhaps they’re only in our minds.

Prayer: Help me realize there are no boundaries, and that I can and am meant to be living in complete harmony with You, and through You, with every being on this planet. Amen.

Daily Wonder 10-27-14

Monday Meditation:
God of endless revelation, viagra
we open our hearts and minds
to Your presence within us.
Give us courage to trust Jesus, ambulance
who reveals Your intimacy
and asks us to let go of everything
to follow him.

Help us accept new ways to think about
what it means to call ourselves Christians, no rx
while honoring those brave souls
who have gone before us.

Just as we know
You are constantly at work in the world,
we know
You are always at work within us,
revealing Yourself in new ways,
continually changing the way we perceive You.

We pray in the manner of our ancestors,
giving ourselves completely to You,
and asking, as always,
for You to lead us forward in faith.
Continue to conform us
to the image of Jesus Christ,
who has revealed for all time
that You are with us now,
and forever.

Daily Wonder 10-24-14

Scripture: Romans 3:25
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, cure through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

Thought for the Day: I had a dream about Paul last night. We were sitting on Mt. Olive, clinic overlooking the still intact Temple, tadalafil sharing some olives (obviously), cheese and wine, on a stunningly beautiful day. Paul knows he’s been dead a couple thousand years, and that we’re meeting in some weird, liminal space. I understand him in English, but I’m not sure what language he’s speaking. He’s absolutely devastated at what Christianity has become. I mean, the poor man is weeping. I feel badly for him, but I also explain that it’s largely his fault, because he got the Jesus movement all wrong. Sometimes I’m not the most sensitive person. “I’m sure you had the best intentions, Paul,” I say, “but the end result of your poor Christology and Theology has actually kept people from moving closer to God. Your insistence that Jesus’ blood had to be spilled to seal some sort of Divine covenant turned Jesus into an idol and God into a suicidal maniac. It’s created a huge divide in Christianity, especially today, between people who think of God as an outside entity sitting on a throne on a cloud, and people who think of God as an inner spirit, always with us, closer than our own breath—you know, like Jesus taught and showed.”

In the gently waving summer breeze, Paul picks up an olive and says, “Michael, here’s the thing: In my day, people understood the idea of blood oaths. For us, a pact made in blood could never be broken. Were you ever blood brothers with someone? This is what I meant when I spoke of Jesus’ blood sealing God’s new covenant. Was it necessary for Jesus’ blood to be spilled? Of course not! After all, God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. Why then would God need to spill the blood of Jesus, who so closely embodied God that we called him God’s own son? When did you people start taking everything so literally? And I have another question. Why are you still reading my personal letters to churches that no longer exist, 2000 years after I wrote them? Haven’t you found anyone else to talk about God with?”

I explain to Paul that I’ve often asked the same question, and always wondered what he would think if he knew we were still reading his letters—or the works of the other ancient authors, so long after they were written. I told him that we still read the works of many ancient people—Isaac Newton, Josephus, Augustine, because their ideas in one fashion or another lay the groundwork for our new ideas. “Sometimes though,” I told Paul, “we do get stuck in the past. Especially where religion is concerned, it can be difficult for people to let go of long-held beliefs, even if they’re destructive.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Paul said. “Look what they did to Jesus! He had some fresh new ideas and they strung him up for thinking differently.”

“Unfortunately, that habit hasn’t changed much, Paul,” I explained.

And then I woke up weeping.

Prayer: Keep me open to new ideas, new theologies, new visions of Christ’s continuing work in the world, God who I understand as the being of all being, the elemental of all elements, the lover of all creation, in-dwelling and always with me. Amen.

Daily Wonder 10-23-14

Scripture: Romans 5:1-2a
Therefore, rx since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

Thought for the Day: Paul is the founder of Christianity. Jesus started a progressive movement within Judaism, but Paul started an entirely new religion. And while I believe Paul was trying to be faithful to God, his interpretation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus completely missed the point and derailed what discipleship to Jesus could and should have been.

For Paul, it is the spilling of Christ’s blood through which God reconciles the sinners of the world (which is all of us) to God’s good graces. Now, if you were a 1st Century Jew or Gentile, this would make sense to you. All the gods were demanding, and most of them demanded blood sacrifices. But Paul knew as well as any other good Jew of the time that the Jewish sacrificial system was different from the Roman system. Where the Romans (for the most part) thought the sacrifice itself appeased the gods, for the Jews, the sacrifice was always symbolic. The sacrifice itself was simply a way for people to show their willingness to give things up in order to have a closer relationship with God. It was a way for Jews to acknowledge that everything they had belonged to God, and that they were just temporary stewards. They knew God didn’t demand fatted calves or hoards of Gold—what use does God have for material things?

So for Paul then to insist that God demanded the blood of Jesus be spilled to seal the covenant was disingenuous. It’s possible he attached so strongly to this after he started evangelizing to Gentiles, who would have had a greater connection to a material sacrifice. The Roman gods, much like the Romans themselves (and don’t our gods always reflect our own natures?) often demanded blood.

However, it’s now 2000 years later, and most Christians still insist that the blood of Jesus had to be spilled in order for God’s wrath to be appeased, and the work of reconciliation to begin. I disagree (as do most modern theologians). Some traditions hold us back. This is one of them.

While we remember and respect the work of Paul in his time, in our own era, we need to recognize and accept that many of his ideas no longer have bearing on our spiritual development. The entire idea of reconciliation and forgiveness for sin might be wrong, in fact. What if we’re not fallen creatures, but are evolving spiritually? God is not disappointed in us, and certainly didn’t mate with a human to create a demigod to be sacrificed like Hercules to Zeus. No, we are all the offspring of God in an entangled metaphysical/physical way we are only now beginning to understand. Jesus’ death wasn’t about atonement, it was about at-one-ment, a way for God to show us what and whose we are, always, no matter the evils we commit right now. God is at work, as God has always been at work, delivering us from our evils. That’s the way evolution works. It’s a process—a slow process, but our faith will see us through.

Prayer: God who conducts all the processes of the universe, give me patience, wisdom, and strength to encounter and understand You in entirely new, often frightening, always untraditional ways. Free my heart from the unhealthy belief systems of the past, and fill it with more enlightened ways to understand my spiritual relationship to You. Amen.

Daily Wonder 10-22-14

Scripture: Acts 14:21
They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.

Thought for the Day: Those of us who have felt the tug of God in our souls are thankful for spiritual teachers. It’s likely we’ve had many instructors on our spiritual journey. People, treat books, art and music all inform our spiritual development.

For many Christians, the Bible is their ultimate spiritual authority. But the Bible is really more a record of people like us, struggling to find relationship with each other and God, and the development of their religious traditions. It’s not the greatest spiritual text. There’s a lot of information about forming a church or a synagogue and how to behave in one of those institutions. There are ideas about how to behave in community with one another, many as pertinent today as they were thousands of years ago (and many more that are completely repulsive). But the little spiritual instruction that’s found in the Bible is steeped in ancient Jewish mysticism and sacrificial symbolism that is lost on today’s population of spiritual seekers.

If we are really interested in conforming more to the image of Christ, then it’s more than okay—in fact I would say it’s a necessity, to look outside the Bible for spiritual guidance. Richard Rohr, Joel Goldsmith, Ram Dass, Marcus Borg, the New Interpreter’s Bible and commentaries—these are all excellent sources for spiritual lessons. The NIB commentaries in particular free us from the mythology and sacrificial imagery of the Bible most of us no longer understand.

Tradition is fine. It’s good to honor our spiritual ancestors. But just as Jesus taught new ways to think about being Jewish, we must also always strive to think about the new ways God is showing us what it means to be in relationship in the 21st Century.

Prayer: God who reveals all things, open my mind to Your new communication, so that I may be spiritually transformed, and not just blindly follow traditions I don’t understand. Amen.