Intersect 4-27-16

Jazz Life
I’ve always loved jazz. I’m sure it started with my obsession with the Art Deco era and Big Band music. But the swing music of the Big Band Era was still pretty strict, from a jazz point of view. The arrangements were complicated, so everyone pretty much stuck to the music on the page, with an improvised solo thrown in here and there.
 
Improvisation is the heart of jazz.
 
Improvisation is what happens when a musician stops looking at the music on the page and starts playing with her or his heart.  It’s when, if you are a spiritual person, you let go of your ego and open your mind to the endless creativity of God. When the flow is on, it’s a supremely worshipful and transcendent experience.
 
Improv is what makes us curious and creative, whether we’re playing jazz or inventing something to protect us from being eaten by wild animals. Improv reminds us we are One with God in profoundly meaningful and creative ways. Improv isn’t easy. This underlying jazz concept is difficult because it requires us to get off the written page. It requires a certain amount of trust in Universal Creative Consciousness.
 
We have to get off the written page.
 
Jazz takes a pioneering spirit and a willingness to accept that what you’re doing is honest, truthful and legitimate, even when everyone else is telling you to keep playing the notes that are on the page. Playing jazz requires a leap of faith—that your fingers or voice or breath will be guided by something beyond human logic. It’s a divine experience.
 
Now, to many people, jazz often sounds “wrong,” because jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock take liberties with the sorts of notes we’re used to hearing. They push us to listen more deeply; to join them in this divine dance.
 
Unfortunately, for all our human creativity, many of us often get stuck. We’re afraid to improvise. We’re afraid to stray from the notes on the page. We’re afraid to play a “wrong” chord or make a mistake. We’re afraid of failure.

But we shouldn’t be afraid because jazz is also a collaborative effort. It only works—and works well, when we’re jamming with other people. Even when we think we’ve made a mistake, there’s someone there to play a few new notes to make it “right.” It’s what Miles Davis said: “There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”
 
That’s what church is for. It’s not to listen to dogma or to be told what to think. For me, church is about playing spiritual music with everyone in the congregation—exchanging ideas like riffs in a jazz tune; exploring new melodies, new ways to think about things, new ways to serve. Church is about being new expressions of God’s love in the world. Church is about jazz.
 
Now, let’s jazz up a little scripture, too.
 
Genesis 3:1-10 (CEB)
The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.”
 
The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.
 
During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden’s trees. The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” The man replied, “I heard your sound in the garden; I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
 
To me, this passage of scripture implies that we are not only riffing on spiritual ideas with each other, we are also jamming with God. Whether we’re in the garden or not, we are walking hand in hand with God.
 
We might not think of the Adam and Eve story this way because we all learn the story of “The Fall” as children. Even if we’re not religious, we probably know this story. So we know what happens after the section of scripture above. When God finds Adam and Eve hiding in the garden, God kicks them out.
 
Like many of you, I was always taught that Adam and Eve made this horrible mistake (committed a sin to use the old language) and were kicked out of the garden as punishment. This idea eventually became the standard Christian dogma: We are all sinners paying for Adam and Eve’s original mistake. They failed God’s test. They ate from the one tree God said not to touch, and fell from God’s grace, being kicked out of the garden, and now, as a consequence, we are all mortal sinners.
 
This interpretation means that being human is a mistake. This glorious life, which God has previously pronounced good, is all a horrible mistake! Reading Adam and Eve’s journey from the garden as a mistake creates an innate sense of worthlessness in us (and incidentally, creates an institution—the church—that offers the only cure for humankind’s shared disease).
 
But, because scripture is like a jazz tune, there are many, many other ways to think about what this story means. In fact, the original Jewish people who wrote these stories intended for them to be interpreted in many different ways. It was a practice Jesus participated in called midrash. The Bible we have in our hands today is perhaps the ultimate jazz composition—written by many people, rewritten by many more, edited, redacted, vamped and improvised upon—it’s a true work of human collaboration, and for that reason alone it’s worth our attention.
 
But, in this country at least, it’s also become somewhat taboo to play anything other than the notes written on the page—the literal notes. So when we look at the Adam and Eve story, we’re told it’s about original sin and humanity’s fall from God’s grace. Period. End of song.
 
Well, like his rabbinical counterparts, Jesus dares us to get off the written page. He took scripture and riffed on it all the time, and he teaches us how to do the same thing. Jesus said, “You have heard it said, but I say…” Jesus invites us into this same sort of relationship with scripture. Jesus was a jazzer!
 
So, you have heard it said Adam and Eve made a huge mistake, and consequently, all humans are paying the price for that one mistake. But I ask, did Adam and Eve make a mistake, or did they make the most of a God-given opportunity?
 
Just think about this for a moment: Perhaps the entire garden story is a metaphor about the beauty of being human, not how worthless we are. Perhaps eating from the tree affords God—by incarnating as human beings, the opportunity to become fully human—to live a life full of wonder and surprise, joy and heartbreak, of quenching our curiosity, of considering what it means to be good or evil, of constantly and tirelessly seeking wisdom. Because without wisdom, without knowledge of good and evil, without life and even without death, then tell me: exactly what is it that makes us human?
 
Eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil isn’t a mistake. It’s an opportunity. An opportunity to experience being fully human. This human life might not be as carefree was life in the garden. But it’s still a gift. And as beings who are made from the very molecules of God, it’s an opportunity for God to experience the gift of being human.
 
How can that possibly be a mistake?
 
Meditation: Help me recognize the incredible worth of all human beings, as I begin to understand this life as a precious gift, not a mistake.

Intersect 4-25-16


Monday Meditation

I close my eyes and
a tunnel of light envelops me.
The light is warm and tender, ailment
alive with awareness.
My mind is opened
to a larger reality.
I float through the tunnel,
lifted high
into a state of
reverie.

I am suddenly aware
of all beings,
all places,
and all times
right here and now,
within,
yet also beyond, me.

My senses explode.
I smell the ocean
and the Redwood forests;
I feel the rush of the wind
against my face
as I soar high above
snow-capped mountains,
purple-glistening.

I dive into a lake and
close my eyes as
I crash through
its idyllic, glassy surface.
My body tingles
with the bracing snap
of winter’s chill on my skin.
I am awakened.

When I open my eyes
I see pinpoints of light
surrounding me.
Stars, winking at me,
as if they know my secret.
I float through the universe
and see it
pouring out from my fingertips
and I am suddenly—
nothing.
And everything.

I am no longer physical,
yet I feel.
I feel love and hate;
hope and despair;
hunger and fulfillment.
All these things are,
and I realize they are
simply things.
As I consider this,
I feel myself being pulled back.

The stars contract,
slowly at first,
then ever more rapidly,
and I see the light twist and distort,
a kaleidoscope of galaxies
as my senses
are once again
filled with
the smells of life,
a glorious illusion,
a dream realized,
but whose?

I wonder if
I have been dreaming,
or if I am,
in fact,
the dream.

Intersect 4-20-16

Prayers for Disaster Relief
I’d like to take a moment today to offer a prayer for all the people who have been affected by natural disasters recently: People in Japan, thumb Ecuador, Bangladesh, Oklahoma, and Houston, in particular our Houston friends Pastor Bruce, Donna and Zach Frogge. Please forgive me if I have left a place off this list and perhaps add names of countries, cities and people in the comments section.

Graceful and comforting God,
bring hope and peace
to the thousands of people
around the world
who have lost loved ones.
Let everyone displaced
by these disasters
find shelter,
nourishment,
and a nurturing touch
while their homes,
cities,
and lives
are rebuilt.

Touch our hearts
and inspire us
to come together
in support of one another—
emotionally,
materially,
and spiritually.
Make those who still have much,
generous and willing
to provide aid to those
who have lost everything.

Protect all the aid workers
as they work in dangerous conditions
to rescue people and animals.
Help our governments and leaders
be considerate of the needs of their people
as homes, schools,
and infrastructure are rebuilt.

Bring a sense of calm and peace
to all who are suffering.
Help them see your light
in what so often seems
permanent darkness.
Create safe havens
as people struggle,
together,
to begin again.
And may this new beginning,
as all new beginnings,
be filled with your Holy grace,
love,
compassion, and mercy.
In your many names we pray.
Amen.

Intersect 4-18-16

Monday Meditation
Dearest and most Holy God, sovaldi
it is almost impossible
for us to describe
our deep and abiding
love for you.

Our hearts burst
when we think about you.
When we are faithfully
tuned into your presence, buy viagra
we act like schoolchildren
whose first crush
fills every waking thought
and every lucid dream.

You make us giddy, case sweet God.

[pause and feel God vibrating throughout your being]

We long to be with you
every moment,
daydreaming of you,
yet so often never really
touching you,
never acutely aware of your nearness.

We often grow frustrated
because we yearn for your presence,
and fail to realize
you are already right here with us,
as near as our own breath.
We forget that you
constantly smile at us
and through us,
from within our hearts
and the glistening eyes of others.

If we could only remember
to pause from our busy lives
and allow your smile
to break through the
walls we build around ourselves;
if we could only remember
to smile your sweet smile
at everyone we meet,
then we would feel you
pulsing through us,
and see you
smiling back at us
from everyone,
everywhere.

[pause and feel God vibrating throughout your being]

Awaken us to
the restoring presence of your love.
Resurrect our faith
in our leaders,
our governments,
our economic
and social systems.
Resurrect our faith in humanity, Lord,
as we do our best
to simply retain hope
in a world seemingly gone
completely
and utterly
insane.

Remind us that
the Easter season
is a time for all people
to reflect deeply on you
as a powerful force of love
in our lives
and in our world.

We are the embodiment of
your spirit,
created perfectly
as sojourners
in this physical world.
We do our best
to think ourselves
separate from you,
but through the resurrection
of Jesus the Christ,
we see and are assured that
you never consider yourself
separate from us.

[pause and feel God vibrating throughout your being]

Put our hearts at ease
and our minds at rest,
God in whom we find
the ultimate respite.

Give us unwavering faith
that every roadblock in life,
every mountain we must climb,
every death and every birth,
are all parts of our journey
from you,
through you,
and ultimately,
back to you.

For we all return
from whence we came:
to your eternally loving,
unconditionally accepting embrace.

We pray in the name of the One
who show us the way
back to your loving arms,
Jesus the Christ.
Amen.

 

Intersect 4-13-16

Resurrecting Christianity: Overcoming Augustinian Myth
As we continue our Easter journey, I think it’s important for us to take a look at one of the most important figures in Christian history: Augustine of Hippo, or as I like to call him, the guy that ruined Christianity for 1500 years.

Augustine’s ideas have nothing to do with Jesus Christ, yet they have formed the basis for almost all Christian thinking since the late 4th Century. Augustine’s hypothesis is that humans are worthless pieces of garbage. Augustine made the doctrine of Original Sin foundational to his theology (what we think about the nature of God) and Christology (what we think about the nature of Jesus). The doctrine existed before Augustine—the first mention is probably by Irenaeus in the 2nd Century, but nobody had ever taken it to such lengths as Augustine.

His thinking is along the lines of the following: Adam committed a horrible crime against God by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for which humans were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. We can never, ever redeem ourselves for that sinful transgression—only God can, and God did, in fact, redeem us and forgive us for original sin by incarnating as Jesus Christ, then committing suicide on the cross.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing at the end there. Augustine didn’t see it as suicide (although if God and Jesus are one it can be nothing else) as much as he understood Jesus’ blood sacrifice as atonement for original sin. Augustine comes up with these ideas by completely misreading the Bible, in particular, Paul (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22). He also misunderstands the First Testament idea of ancestral fault, which is that the sins of the father are transmitted to the son—something Jesus clearly states is incorrect (John 9:1-3)
 
Some of you might be thinking, “Well, Augustine was just taking what Paul wrote to its natural conclusion.” This is not exactly true because Paul was writing in the symbolic language of a 1st Century Jew. Augustine read Paul as a 4th Century Gentile—not only that, but Augustine read Paul as a 4th Century gentile, who was guilt-ridden over the debauched life he had led, and so presumed that because he was a jerk, then naturally, all humans must be jerks. Augustine then speculated that because it took a relationship with Christ to “save” him from himself, then it must take a relationship with Christ to “save” all humans. It’s the worst case of imprinting ever foisted upon human beings, and it continues to destroy our self-worth—and our understanding of Christianity, to this day.
 
The idea of original sin is a complete misunderstanding of the Garden of Eden story. It’s not about disobeying God; it’s about God taking the opportunity to incarnate into the flesh—becoming human, and experience physical reality. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a symbolic warning against dualistic thinking, which is human nature. We see hot and cold, darkness and light, good and evil. In truth these are not opposites, they are all part and parcel of the same thing. There is only heat—there is no such thing as cold, only the absence of heat. The darkness is only the absence of light, and evil is only the absence of good. These things are not equal and opposing forces—that’s dualistic thinking, and that’s what the tree in the Garden represents. As soon as Adam and Eve have an awareness of duality, their perfect Oneness with God is over. They have left the garden of their own volition, they have not been banished.
 
Leaving the garden isn’t punishment—it’s the next stage in God’s ongoing journey of creative experimentation. Leaving the garden is an ancient Jewish allegory for the creation of humankind and the beginning of the world as we know it. It’s got nothing to do with punishment—that’s a Gentile perversion of a symbolic language they didn’t understand.
 
So if we haven’t sinned, we don’t need to be redeemed. The whole idea of Jesus “dying for the sins of humankind” falls apart when we stop believing the lies Augustine and his ilk (Luther, Calvin, et al.) have perpetrated on Christian thinking for the past 1500 years.
 
Are humans perfect? Far from it. But it’s not Adam and Eve’s fault, not by a longshot, and Jesus did not die in order to make us somehow alright in the eyes of God. Jesus died because he was a political pawn in a game that involved much more than his ministry. That his death would spawn an entirely new religion was probably not Jesus’ plan, since in the Bible he is never represented as anything other than a loyal and devoted Jew. It’s also important to consider that the religion that developed after his death took hold not in Jesus’ Jewish world, but in the Gentile world whose values Jesus preached against. It’s no wonder Jesus’ message became so twisted and misunderstood.
 
It is more in line with Jesus’ teaching and the example of his life to understand that our relationship with God is not and can never be broken. The problem lies entirely in our thinking it is broken, and that it cannot be repaired. Ye of little faith (Matthew 8:26). Sin does not stem from our ancient ancestors eating a pomegranate (they didn’t have apples in the Middle East then, that’s a horrible European translation), sin is when we refuse—because we have free will—to act like Jesus toward both God and each other.
 
This is not to say that everyone needs to be a Christian or a Jesus follower. Jesus’ values are universal to all world religions and philosophies. It simply all comes down to love—of God and our neighbor, so that eventually, we recognize each other as equal beloved beings of God, making it impossible to create enemies or wage war.
 
Augustine was correct about one thing: the sort of world Jesus envisioned requires a complete change of heart, mind, and soul, and that change can only come about when we stop resisting the call of God, and instead firmly embrace God once and for all, finally understanding we are indeed worthy—everyone.
 
Meditation: Awaken me to my true worth as an equal and beloved being in God.

Intersect 4-11-16

Monday Meditation
God of glorious manifestation, sales
we are eternally thankful
for your constant presence
in our lives.

We are especially thankful
for the way you provide us
hope for tomorrow;
for the enjoyment of friends;
the joy of families;
the wonders of universes
too numerous to fathom;
for those who have gone before us;
love from our parents, treatment sisters and brothers;
love from our spouses and children;
our faith and our church.

[pause and make space for the quiet presence of God]

In the quietness of this moment,
matchless God,
speak to our hearts.
We long to know you
completely and fully,
so we might be carriers
of light and love to the world.
Give us the vision and faith
we so desperately yearn for
to trust your greatness
and know,
beyond doubt,
that we are One.

[pause and make space for the quiet presence of God]

Human words and thoughts
cannot explain you,
fully understand you or limit you,
but we strive to understand
our understanding,
and then we say in faith,
“We believe.”

Honor us in ?our attempts
to share your love,
to spread your compassion,
to notify people of your presence
in our world and our lives,
so that all of us
might find the peace,
strength,
courage,
and love
that comes from
even the first small steps
toward your loving embrace.

We offer our prayers
for all the people of the world.
We pray for those we too often forget:
people who have lost hope,
those who mourn,
those who suffer because of war,
those who are lonely or sick,
those who go hungry.

[pause and make space for the quiet presence of God]

God of grace,
remind us that
we are all your children,
brothers and sisters,
co-heirs with Jesus the Christ.

Help us die
to the ways of the world
by obliterating the dark demons
of our minds
that cause us to doubt,
to lash out at each other,
to see otherness
rather than wholeness,
and that ultimately
keep us distant from you.

For it is only by dying
to our fears
that we can be
resurrected in,
and as, your love.

In your many names we pray, Amen.

Intersect 4-6-16

Seeking Golden Threads
I’ve always found it useful to look for common threads weaving throughout the world’s religions. It seems that if a spiritual idea is common to a multitude of belief systems, then there is probably some great wisdom there. At the very least, religious commonalities reveal that in our quest to understand our place in the universe, we quite often come to the same conclusions. One such common thread is “The Golden Rule.” Every religion, theistic or not, includes some variation of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Check out the chart below (click for a larger version):

If most religious systems agree that we should be good and fair to each other, why then do we so often attempt to annihilate each other, ostensibly in the name of our religions?

I have two theories about that: First, many of the wars fought for “religious” reasons were (and perhaps are) political wars. On the ancient world stage, many of the states were theocracies. Emperors and kings were seen to be, if not gods themselves, then god’s chosen representatives. With the advent of hereditary monarchies, rulers consulted religious leaders—Cardinals and Popes, for example, before making any decisions. Often, monarchs were simply puppets of the dominant religious system, who used the ill-conceived notion of “saving souls” as a façade for colonial expansion.

Second, there is a tendency within all religions to resist syncretism—the blending of different belief systems and traditions, sometimes in an attempt at inclusiveness. Many faithful people see any theological adjustment as a dilution of the “purity” of their religion. The truth is, however, that no religion is “pure.” People don’t live in a vacuum. The idea that religion (or any human system for that matter) won’t be influenced by other religions, science, archaeology, history, biology, etc., is a bit naïve. Religions don’t just suddenly appear in human consciousness. They are created by humans in response to their surroundings, most often in a quest to answer questions such as Who am I? Why am I here? What happens after I die? Is there a God, and if so, what is God’s nature?

It takes a long time for a religion to evolve to the point where acceptance of different, sometimes contrary, ideas is possible. These ideas don’t necessarily have to be integrated into the religion itself. But the sign of a healthy religion is that it is willing to reexamine its positions on a multitude of theological and civil topics. After all, religion is simply an organization of people who believe similar answers to the great questions. As people of faith, for us to grow, we must constantly be self-reflective, measuring what we believe against what others believe and what we continue to learn about the workings of the universe. Why shouldn’t we expect the same from our religions?

There are many commonalities to be found in the world’s religious systems, and one of the things I have discovered is that every single one of those common threads has something to do with love. Love God. Love each other. Love the planet. Love your children. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful message, and one I continue to pray we, and the religions we affiliate with, will finally start to practice.

Meditation: Make me an entity of love, always willing to talk to and learn from people who think differently than I.