Month: January 2016
Richard Rohr talks about God as the “unified field.” This unified field is what connects everything physical and metaphysical (and here the metaphysical is not supernatural, it’s simply “meta” in its truest sense—that which underlies everything else). For Rohr and other people of faith, especially those of us with a mystical bent, the unified field is God.
Einstein spent much of the latter half of his life looking for the scientific equivalent of this unified field—the force that connects electricity, magnetism, gravity, time and space. In his day, quantum physics was just becoming a discipline, and some of its important theories seemed astonishing to Einstein. You see, when Einstein published his theory of relativity, it created a bit of a schism in the scientific world. For centuries, physicists operated under the notion that Newton’s laws described everything in the universe. We all remember some Newtonian physics from elementary school: levers, action and reaction, gravity—these are all described by Newtonian physics.
The problem is that with the discovery of atoms and things smaller than atoms, Newtonian laws no longer worked. This is how the science of quantum physics developed. Quantum physics discovers and states laws about the subatomic world—a world very different from the big physical world we inhabit; a world that does not obey the laws of Newtonian physics.
So, for a long time now, physicists have been struggling with a way to find and prove what it is that ties the big, Newtonian physical world, and the small, quantum world together because you can’t have a universe that operates under two sets of different (and sometimes opposing) laws. This means that Newtonian and quantum physics are subsets of a larger law—again, we can think of this overarching law as God (although scientists are thinking of something else).
The best idea in science right now is known as string theory (Click here for a short string theory primer video). In a nutshell, the theory is that everything that exists is made of atoms (which we know is true) and every atom is made of smaller and smaller particles (which we also know is true, these particles are called quarks, muons, gluons, etc.) until you finally get down to what is essentially an energy vibration that looks like a string (this is where we run into theory). Hence the name string theory. The problem is that we have yet to find any physical evidence of strings, probably because we simply don’t have tools that can see that small. Yet.
People like Richard Rohr and I contend that the unified field Einstein looked for and that many quantum physicists today call strings is the energy we often call God. All those invisible little energy strings combine to make larger things like us, planets, solar systems and universes. All of it is the very being of God. It is highly likely that energy is the fabric of the universe—both the creative force and the force that holds it all together. Isn’t that how God is described in the Bible, and even in literature that predates the Bible? Isn’t that how we’ve traditionally thought of God? As creator and sustainer? Isn’t it possible that God accomplishes these things by simply being, rather than manipulating?
The difference—and it’s a biggie—is that God as the fundamental string—as energy, makes God a very intimate part of us, rather than the big bearded man in the sky. This is a very good thing. Even if string theory ultimately remains unproven, as a way for us to expand our notions about the being and nature of God, it’s incredibly helpful to think of God as the vibrating energy that creates and sustains everything.
Why is it helpful to think of God this way? Because, if God is the creative and sustaining energy of all things, then all things are God. You and I, our friends and perceived enemies—it’s all God. If we look at someone, we think of as an enemy as part and parcel of the being of God, that should change the way we react. How can we abuse or enslave each other if we’re all God, all beings of love? It’s a matter of awakening to a different point of view, one that prevents us from treating each other abusively.
To understand this fully we have to have a different mindset. We need the mindset of Jesus, of Buddha, of Lao-Tzu, of others whose expanded consciousness allowed them a glimpse of the Infinite Oneness. Jesus, in particular, had a mindful awareness of God not only within him but within all things—within everyone. Jesus understood that he and God were the very same substance—as are we all. That’s why he never turns anyone away and gets angry when his disciples start fighting about who’s the greatest. It might be a good idea for American Christians to remember that lesson. Jesus never builds walls. He obliterates them.
There is no “us” and “God,” or “us” and “them,” there is only God, and levels of awareness of our being one and the same substance with and of God. This is why Jesus talks about God within. It’s a difficult concept to comprehend and maintain, especially when we’ve grown up in an era when we’ve been told we’re nothing like Jesus and can never be anything like Jesus. What a pity. Being like Jesus is exactly what Jesus wanted. In fact, as a Rabbi, he would have expected his students—disciples—to not only learn from him but also to emulate him in every way. That’s what students did in the 1st Century. They tried to be exactly like their teacher—in Jesus’ case he wanted his students to mimic the nature of God. I think emulation of endless, unconditional, creative love would be a good place for postmodern Christianity to return. It’s a fundamental that overrides any fundamentalism.
Meditation: I will emulate the nature and being of Jesus.
For January 12, cialis 2016
There’s a jazz movement that’s often referred to as “Free Jazz” or “Avant-Garde Jazz.” Pioneered by the likes of Ornette Coleman, Paul Bley, and Keith Jarrett (a pianist who is one of my greatest influences), it emphasizes improvisation of both form and function.
The jazz most people know is based on “standards,” songs from the 1930s and 1940s such as “Night and Day” or “Autumn Leaves.” These are terrific songs, and they make for great improv. But the songs are pre-formed. They have a verse, chorus, and bridge, and no matter how clever the improviser, for the most part, we still recognize “Autumn Leaves” as “Autumn Leaves” when we hear it.
One of the great innovations of the free jazz movement was the idea that even the form of the song would develop organically—there is no song until the song begins. So in a jazz trio, the pianist might start playing something that the bassist and drummer then pick up. The song will grow and change shape and form as the three musicians are inspired—together, to create something that has never existed before.
For free jazz to be successful, it requires the musicians to be incredibly aware of each other in a way that is profound and surprising. It’s incredible to watch (or be part of) a free jazz performance as suddenly, everyone is feeling the same syncopation, the same rhythm, even though there are no notes on a page, no chord changes to follow. It is truly an experience of the Divine Creativity flowing through our human form. It requires a great deal of faith and trust in your fellow musicians, and in the creative nature of the universe as an energy we are capable of tuning into. The results are often stunning and transcendent, although there is also a great deal of free jazz that sounds like cacophony. In some ways, though, the cacophony is even more resplendent. Anyone can find beauty in something that is obviously beautiful. It takes more commitment to find beauty in something that at first listen is just a bunch of people making disjointed noise (listen to Ornette Coleman and Pat Metheney’s Project X if you want to practice this concept).
I’ve begun to consider that the 21st Century church could do with a big infusion of free jazz. Churches all over the world—and especially in America—are failing miserably and closing their doors. Much of the problem has been blamed on archaic worship styles, or a lack of appeal to Millennials (although it seems nobody can really figure out what Millennials want, including Millennials), or, rightly, a theology and Christology that are no longer pertinent to a civilization that understands quantum physics and genetics.
However, I think one of the main reasons so few people have any interest in church anymore is because it’s like a Jazz standard—it has a beautiful melody that everyone knows and many people love, but it leaves zero room for improvisation. Nobody wants to listen to the same song over and over and over again, especially if that song no longer makes any sense. We might want to listen to it now and then, and reminisce about how quaint the song is, but it’s not going to attract us on a regular basis, and it’s rare for any new listeners to play the song.
Improvisation is entirely a movement of the Divine Creative Spirit; what religious types might call the Holy Spirit. This is what descended upon Jesus at the moment of his baptism, what overtook the thousands of people gathered during Pentecost, inspiring them to find a deep understanding of each other that exceeded human linguistics. Improv is what inspires us to change the world. Yet in church, we follow a strict set of rules about what happens when and who can do what. We follow guidelines created 1000 years ago and are allowed very little, if any, flexibility to riff on the chord changes. And free jazz in church? Only if you never want to be invited back.
This is a model that spells certain doom for any congregation unwilling to trust in the Spirit and try a little free jazz.
We live in a world in which we need to make changes and sharp turns without regard to the sheet music. Sometimes, it’s simply time for a brand new song. The sheet music church services are written on is akin to the old tune “Jeepers Creepers.” It’s a nice little ditty, but nobody wants to listen to it on anymore. It can’t even be remade because the music itself follows a moldy melody that is too corny for most postmodern people.
It’s time for church, and the services we hold in church, to go completely off the music and start improvising. I firmly believe that the future of a vibrant, healthy congregation is in not knowing what to expect at all on any given day. For church to become dynamic and—dare I say it, relevant again, it needs to be communal. It needs to serve the spirit and the community. Church needs to accomplish these goals not by practicing rote rituals (and getting all bent out of shape when those rituals change), but by taking a look both inward and outward, every week, and with God’s help, discerning what those both within and outside the church walls need today, now, at this moment. Then, the church needs to realize that everything might be completely different the following week. If we can create a flexible church, freed from the constraints of the notes on the page, we might figure out how to fill the spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental needs of our brothers and sisters. Maybe the church could even help move the entire world a little more toward a jazz riff to which we can all add our own, unique groove.
The free jazz movement began in the 20th Century.
Here’s to the free church movement of the 21st.
Meditation: We all have the ability to improvise. Trust in the Divine Creative and just do it.
Good and loving God, diagnosis
we give thanks
for this time to reunite with you,
the ground of our being.
May we continue to grow
in our relationship with you
and our understanding of you
as the energy of love
that flows around,
in this and every reality.
We give thanks
for the scientific discoveries,
which continue to unravel
the mysterious engines of creation,
helping us discover
in every leaf and flower,
in the dust of the stars,
and in the very DNA
that forms all things.
helps us understand you
in new an ever more profound way:
as our life partner.
You work with us
by working through us,
because we have learned that
your very consciousness
creates our physical being;
and that your consciousness
exploded into the material world
billions of years ago
in a big bang of creativity;
then again thousands of years ago
as Jesus the Christ,
and that you continue
to burst into and disrupt this world
every day with every birth
as every one of us.
Continue to give us
the spiritual and physical nourishment
we need to grow in love.
Continue to enlighten and inspire
our scientists, historians,
doctors and lawyers;
our artists, musicians,
dancers, and poets;
our dreamers and inventors
who dare to make real
what the status quo
so often tells them is impossible.
Lead us to you
and inspire us
to lead others to you.
Give us the strength
never to give up hope;
never to stop dreaming.
Help us avoid the temptations
of a purely physical world,
whose bright and shiny toys
lead us away from
the difficult work
of centering our lives in your spirit.
to lead each other
away from this world
of haves and have-nots
into what our ancestors called
the kingdom of heaven.
Expose to us the heaven
that is not a far-away place
but is in fact a world of loving equality,
where we all have an abundance of love
here and now,
on this planet we call Earth.
In your many names, we pray. Amen.
Jesus Christ: Jedi Master
The Star Wars sagas are rich with spiritual metaphor. In the original film, Obi-Wan is a Christ figure, and Luke his disciple (it’s no accident the main character of Episode IV is named Luke). When Obi-Wan dies and tells Luke “Remember, the Force will be with you always,” he’s echoing Jesus’ statement in Matthew 28:20, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I could spend a year picking out all the spiritual analogies in Star Wars, but today I just want us to think about one of its main plot devices, The Force, and how characters who are tuned into The Force—both light and dark, are so similar to characters we read about in the Bible.
In particular, I’d like us to think about The Force and the Jedi as an excellent way to reframe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, and somewhat paradoxically, Star Wars gives us new language to use about Jesus that enables us to relate to him in a more authentic, First Century, CE, way.
It’s pretty amazing that a movie as popular as the Star Wars series is, in essence, a story about the power of God. It’s a story about The Force, and the way people use (and are used by) it. The characters in the movie explain The Force as an energy that is always around and running through, all things.
Is this not exactly what the entire Gospel of John is about? John 4:24: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship God must worship God in spirit and in truth.” When Jesus says, “I and my Father are one” in John 10:30, he’s talking about God within, or The Force within us all. John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
The list goes on and on, and of course, the idea of God as an inherent energy flowing through us and the entire universe isn’t exclusive to John’s Gospel, or even the Second Testament. The idea of God as a universal force is present in every spiritual tradition. So it’s somewhat surprising that this very religious idea is the plot fulcrum upon which the entire Star Wars universe hinges.
Without The Force, there would be no Star Wars. It is the masters of The Force who stand up to the oppression of the Empire because they understand how perverse the Empire is. Jedi Masters—and even Padawan (and we’re all Padawan) understand that realization of oneness changes the entire universe and dissolves hatred and fear. This sort of socialist, loving unity stands in stark contrast to the iron fist of control wielded by the Empire.
Of course, the idea that we are all interconnected and should, therefore, treat each other with love and compassion, has always run contrary to the ideas of the secular world.
Star Wars makes this point abundantly clear.
In interviews, George Lucas has said that Star Wars is, at least in part, an attempt to portray secularism’s complete dismissal of religion. Remember that scene in The Empire Strikes Back, where everyone is sitting in the Death Star briefing room, and the Admiral is going on and on about how great and powerful the Death Star is?
Darth Vader’s response is that they shouldn’t be too excited about the power of the Death Star because that power is nothing compared to the power of The Force. It is a clear dig at the idea that technological marvels—which are the false idols of our current era, are nothing compared to the power of God.
Too great a reliance on technology, in fact, ends up being the Empire’s Achilles heal. There is no faith alive within the Empire, and that lack of faith that Vader finds so disturbing ends up allowing them to be destroyed by Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan’s greatest disciple, a lone pilot in a single X-Wing fighter who brings down the crown jewel of the Empire. And how does Luke do that? By using The Force—after, of course, he’s reminded by Obi-Wan to do so.
Is it not obvious that Luke is a stand-in for every single one of us, and Obi-Wan is the Christ, urging us to utilize the power of God that flows within each of us as completely as it did in Jesus? We are Jesus’ disciples, and as such, he tasks us to be good students and learn everything he teaches—and everything he teaches can be summed up in one sentence: The Force is all around and within us, always.
All we have to do is believe.
Lucas gives credit for his ideas about The Force to two primary sources: Carlos Castaneda, whose mind-bending books about hallucinogenic journeys with Don Quixote will change the way you look at reality forever. In a good way.
Lucas’ second influence comes from Roman Kroitor, a visual effects pioneer who said, “Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.”
Lucas has said that “The idea behind The Force in Star Wars, however, is universal: Similar phrases have been used extensively by many different people for the last 13,000 years to describe the ‘life force.’”
Doesn’t that seem like part of our task as students of Jesus? To be able to describe this “life-force” that we feel running through all things? This thing we call God? I think that, in this secular world, where more people reject religion than embrace it, The Force has become a good way for us to start a conversation about God. And this conversation probably needs to be less about religion than it does about spirituality. This point is brought up in the Star Wars films as well when Darth Vader is taken to task for still believing in “that old religion.” It’s not religion Vader believes in. It’s God. And most of the time, the two have nothing to do with each other. And yes, I’ve just made Darth Vader a hero.
For people who believe God is the energy force of all being (and that idea transcends any formal religion) Star Wars presents a good way for us to start a conversation about Jesus, or Moses, or Lao-Tzu, or Mohammed, or any of the great spiritual masters who have transcended time and space to come to this reality to teach us there is more than this reality.
For Christians, Star Wars gives us an opportunity to introduce people to a Jesus they have probably never heard of: the teacher, the spiritual master, the person so perfectly in tune with God that he can perform miracles, the person who dies trying to teach us how to do the same.
I mean, if we think about it deeply enough, the Gospels were the Star Wars of their time and place. Jesus is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of his day. Luke is his disciple, as of course are many others. There are many Jedi in the Gospels!
Jesus is a Jedi Master—he can manipulate The Force, which we have now determined, is an ancient idea about the energy of God. Jesus uses God’s energy—intrinsic to all beings, to heal people. He uses The Force, the energy of God, to find the courage to stand up against the Empire.
Jesus accomplishes all this because he knows that everything is energy, and everything is one and the same substance of God. Jesus knows The Force is around and within, always. All those scenes in Star Wars with people grabbing light sabers out of the snow, or finding the inner strength to let a greater power than themselves deal the final light saber blow to the Dark Lord? Those concepts and those stories are straight from the Bible, straight from the teachings of Jesus, and they open up a new opportunity for people like us to get people thinking that, just maybe, this is more than a fairy-tale.
There is truth in the Star Wars mythology, and it’s a truth that lies at the heart of the Gospels as well. It’s an ancient truth: We are one.
So, what does it take to use The Force? The answer, in both Star Wars and the Gospels, is quite simple: It takes faith.
And why do Jesus’ disciples fail so miserably time and time again? Because, like the Empirical Council on the Death Star, as Darth Vader so poignantly points out, they lack faith. They simply do not believe, and so they cannot accomplish. This idea—that one must believe in order to do is repeated time and again throughout the Star Wars saga, as it is throughout the Gospels.
And of course, neither Obi-Wan’s nor Jesus’ disciples get things right the first time. Tuning into The Force takes practice and patience. Luke practices everywhere: in the Millennium Falcon. He studies with Yoda. He finds Jedi Masters all over the place and learns from them. And consistently his teachers tell him to keep practicing—but not to keep trying. They tell him to keep doing.
When Yoda ask a Luke to lift an X-Wing fighter out of the swamp, Luke says, “I’m trying.” And what does Yoda respond? “And that is why you fail. Do not try. Just do.”
It’s about faith—about faith in the power of God flowing around and within. For many, it’s about faith in what Jesus says, does and teaches as examples of the reality of God’s power within every single one of us. Martin Luther King, Jr., understood this. Gandhi understood this. Moses understood this. Thousands of regular people like you and I have understood this: We all have the potential to be Jedi Masters.
Just imagine something for a moment. After you read the next section, close your eyes and open your mind.
Picture a world where the majority of us, rather than worshipping technology as the salvation to the ills of humankind, instead connect deeply with the natural force of the universe—God, as a power that we are intended to manipulate for good.
Picture a world where we understand we are all energy beings, and that we can all manipulate that energy for the better. What does that look like in your mind? Are you healing people, like Jesus? Are you a political insurrectionist, like Jesus? When you picture a world attuned to the power of God, what does The Force cause you to do? What does an unencumbered faith allow you to do?
What does a world where we are all as attuned to God as Jesus, able to heal with love, to use the power of God to change the world physically, look like? It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It almost glows with vibrant, living colors. There’s a halo around everyone, isn’t there?
Now, the big question, and the question we must all ask ourselves on a daily, if not hourly basis, is. Do you believe it’s possible, or does this world look like science fiction? Because the way you answer that question affects your ability to be the savior God has created you to be, the savior Jesus, our Jedi Master, clearly shows us, we are intended to be.
Meditation: May The Force be with you, and with us all.
Love of the Universe.
Hear our prayers.
Feel our prayers.
We pray for nothing more
then an actual experience of your love.
We also pray for nothing less.
[pause to hear God’s still small voice]
Our faith in you
gives us the confidence
to have faith in humanity.
we know you
and we also come
to know each other.
When your loving, compassionate energy
is flowing palpably through us,
we can let go.
We can relax.
We can experience you,
and be filled
with the confidence of an unwavering,
a love we are then called to share with others—
[pause to hear God’s still small voice]
We place our trust in you,
our faithful lover.
We don’t pray for specifics,
knowing you don’t need
to be micromanaged.
You, the infinite expanse of the universe;
you, the dew on every blade of grass;
you, the majesty of a mountain range,
you the invisible molecules of all creation.
You already know
everything the world needs,
because you already are
everything the world is.
[pause to hear God’s still small voice]
We understand that too often,
we let our Ego pray for us.
Ego asks for things.
Ego is impatient.
Ego is distracted
by the bright and shiny newness
of a materialistic world.
So we come to you
as innocent children,
and simply pray
to feel your presence
invading everything we are,
evaporating our Ego
into the glorious nothingness—
and allness—of being.
We ask only to feel you within,
freeing our thoughts,
our dreams and desires.
In you, we know we are free,
we are listened to,
we are beloved.
We offer our minds, bodies, hearts and souls
in service of your infinite love.
Make your presence known to us
and the people we hold dear.
Heal our brothers and sisters around the world,
both known to us and unknown,
who suffer due to disease, violence,
natural disaster, oppression,
and slavery both corporate and corporeal.
Make your presence known and heal
the broken trust in our world.
Smooth our rough edges,
calm our tongues,
and invigorate us with the love
and deep God-connection
exemplified in Christ Jesus.