Month: August 2016
The Razor’s Edge
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 4:4
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
From the Katha Upanishad:
Sharp like a razor’s edge is the path,
The sages say, difficult to traverse.
Thought for the Day: In the Hindu Katha Upanishad it is written, “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to salvation is hard.” The spiritual path is narrow and requires balance. Ecclesiastes reminds us that relentless pursuit of wealth (or any material gain, for that matter) is a shallow goal that ultimately has no spiritual payoff. In the verses just before this, we are admonished for being lazy. So it seems that in Ecclesiastes, as in the Upanishad, we are being instructed that the middle ground is often the wisest spiritual path.
We have many opportunities to find the middle ground in this country (and throughout the world). Yet, we remain polarized in ideologies and dogmas that are as unrelenting in their grip on us as we are in our quest for ever greater material profit. The sense of social justice that comes from a spiritual lifestyle is virtually lost. We have been blinded to the wonder and awe of looking out to the stars by the unrelenting light pollution of our cities. We have been divided into left and right, red and blue, vegetarian and carnivore, and we talk about the polar opposites so much that we forget there are many of us in the middle.
I enjoy vegetables and meat! There are aspects of the Republican agenda (fiscal responsibility) I agree with. There are aspects of the Democratic agenda (social justice) I agree with. I’m an environmentalist and a libertarian to a certain extent. I think most of us are moderates. Yet, a media that attempts to divide us into neat little packages ruthlessly bombards us with the ancient and misguided “us v. them” mentality. And we’re all buying into it.
Being human is not a neat little package. It’s a messy process, full of mistakes and regret, yet also full of incredible discovery and joy that stirs the soul. I hope we can start to remember that compromise is not a four-letter word.
Prayer: Faithful God, guide me over the razor’s edge so that I might remain moderate in temperament, focused in spiritual study, and ever obedient to your command that we love each other and you, Eternal One, with all our hearts. Amen.
God of everlasting light, ask
we praise your loving nature
and embrace your invisible presence.
Your energy touches our hearts.
Your Holy Spirit shapes our souls.
We come to you
in humble service
and infinite gratitude
for all the ways,
both known and unknown,
you act in our lives
and throughout the universe.
We thank you
for moments of stillness and calm—
too few in a world of constant motion.
[pause to sense God’s still, calming presence]
God of us all,
we know we have been called to serve
and in the quiet of these moments,
we confess our shortcomings.
In the face of worldly unrest and tragedy,
mayhem and murder,
illness and death,
we sometimes feel powerless
and act with folly.
We realize how difficult it is
to be faithful servants.
We wonder if we are, indeed,
able to accomplish the task at hand:
to create a world of love,
to be loving beings.
At such times,
keep us mindful that
it is not all up to us.
The fate of the world
does not lie on
our frail human shoulders.
Remind us that
you are the source of our service.
You are our strength and
[pause to sense God’s still, calming presence]
God of Wonder,
you have set us out upon
the most amazing journey,
a trip through worlds undreamed of
only a few generations ago,
a quest in which we are privileged
to meet up with friends and companions;
to learn of your glory
and unravel the mysteries of creation;
every act an opportunity
to share your kindness
with our fellow travelers.
Having given us
beauty, wisdom, love and insight,
we are set in the world
and given a real chance to make something of it—
of ourselves and our human community.
We thank you,
for we are awesomely
and wonderfully made.
We cannot see the end of this adventure,
but we know that
it is your love
upholding us step by step,
your love that threads us together,
your love, present in glorious fullness
in the Christ
who lives powerfully within us all.
[pause to sense God’s still, calming presence]
Mark, case Matthew, Luke, John & Pokémon
Our lives are an intricate dance between faith and culture. For as long as humans have been on the planet, our existence has been a sometimes not-so-subtle mixture of belief and bureaucracy; a complex ballet between our gods and our civilizations.
As our cultures have become ever more secular, the ballet has become more difficult. How do we stay focused on the song of Christ, following the lead of God, when the accompanying culture gets more noisy and raucous all the time? How do we remember even to seek God when our culture is so distracting—often in exceptionally entertaining ways?
Paul has to consider these same questions as he begins to preach about Jesus in a world that was every bit as noisy and raucous as ours. He has an entirely new way of looking at God. No Jew, nor Greek, nor Roman before him had ever considered that God is enfleshed in all human beings, or that there is a single God who loves humanity so much, it is willing to take human form.
Of course, the Romans and Greeks believed the Gods would take human form now and then, usually to mess with us or to make love and create demigods like Hercules and Achilles. But the idea that God in the flesh would not only come to earth to show us and lead us to the light but would also die and suffer like a human to show us the extent of that love? That idea had never been preached before, and it was as tough a sell then as it is now. The more things change, you know.
So, Paul was surrounded by a culture that placed great emphasis on individual gods, hundreds, if not thousands, of them. There were gods hiding all over the place.
The Greeks and Romans (and the Egyptians, and even the Jews to a lesser extent) had gods for your cooking fire, gods for the health of your household, gods for school, work, the marketplace, the emperor, for slaves, fields, weather, friends and enemies, for the economy—you get the picture. And these gods could either do you favors or be your nemeses depending upon how you treated and respected them.
Into this culture, Paul said, “Listen! I have seen the one, true God, the God of all creation, and I have met God in the flesh… more or less.” Fortunately, Paul lived at a time when curiosity and education were of supreme importance and highly valued. Remember that the last couple weeks we’ve been talking about Aristotle, and he felt that educating people from a very young age was the most important job to which a society could attend.
So Paul used the contemporary culture and its love of learning as a tool. Rather than railing against their society, like so many evangelists today, Paul recognized the worth of the surrounding culture and used it to his advantage.
He doesn’t tell people how misguided or evil they are. He doesn’t condemn them to an eternity in Hell. Instead, he compliments them on their faithfulness! He speaks to the Greeks about their amazing faith–a faith so deep they even cover all their bases by erecting an altar to a God whose name they don’t even know!
Paul doesn’t make fun of this, he appreciates it, and he tells his audience so. Now, who do you think is more likely to listen to you? An audience who knows you appreciate them, or an audience whose intelligence you’ve insulted?
Believe it or not, I think we can do the same thing Paul did by using the phenomenon that is Pokémon Go. Rather than calling it ‘evil’ or making fun of people for spending so much time obsessing over it, I think there is a lot we can learn from the both the game itself and the phenomenon it has caused.
For those of you who may not be familiar, this is a game that sends you on a hunt for cute little monsters. The translation of Pokémon is “pocket monsters.” The game uses augmented reality (or AR) to place the monsters in the real world.
Augmented reality is different from virtual reality. In virtual reality (VR) you wear goggles and are completely immersed in an artificial world.
With AR, virtual stuff is imprinted on the real world. So you might be looking at the altar here, for example, and when you look through your phone, the augmented reality software puts something on the altar, like a pocket monster!
In the case of Pokémon Go, your phone’s camera is used to examine the surroundings, and the game puts a little image of a creature over your real world position. Hence, the term augmented reality. It looks like this:
So, what does this have to do with church? Well, like Paul, we can use Pokémon Go to strike up a conversation about seeking. We can use the entire game as a metaphor. The entire world is going crazy seeking these little imaginary monsters. I actually love it as well and check for Pokémon everywhere I go. We were running all over Hawaii checking out the sites, because our idea of a family vacation is exploring as much is possible. This trip, though, every time we visited some beautiful place, we took a few minutes to check for Pokémon as well. And rather than distracting us from our experience, it actually caused us to check nearly every nook and cranny of the places we visited. In a very real way, the game opened us up to even deeper experiences with the real world—and importantly, with other people playing the game.
As I’ve been playing this game, I’ve started to think about what we, as people of God, could do to get people as excited about searching for God as they are about searching for Pokémon.
Now think about the absurdity of this for a moment: People (including myself) are running around like maniacs looking for these imaginary little creatures. In an age when the majority of people think God is an imaginary creature, why can’t we get people that excited about looking for God–that excited about taking a spiritual journey, which, in my opinion, should be the most important work—and play—of our lives?
Especially when we know that seeking and finding God actually changes our entire way of life and being in the world, Pokémon Go gives us the opportunity to start a conversation. It opens doors that have been closed for decades. Like Paul in ancient Greece, I think we can take advantage of this little game and, without being boorish about it, ask people about spiritual seeking, about journeys of the spirit.
After all, if we’re interested in looking for pocket monsters, maybe we can be introduced to an even greater quest: the quest for spiritual unity with all creation by seeking and finding God. It’s a quest that is the very definition of augmented reality. I mean, we can either look for fake creatures, or we can look for the Creator of all creatures, and in my opinion, there’s no reason looking for the Creator can’t be just as much fun as looking for little Pokémon.
And the exceptionally good news is that our quest is even easier than finding a rare Pokémon, because God is already here, and God wants to be found. While some might think God is as imaginary as Pikachu, we know that God is real.
All we have to do to know that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is augment our reality and see that God is right here, right there—everywhere, already and always. In this way, the popular culture has given us an incredible path to spiritual discovery.
In this way, the popular culture has given us an indispensable tool, because, while you never know where a Pokémon might show up, God shows up everywhere you look, every time, without exception. “Seek and ye shall find.”
So, by concentrating on the rhythm of our lives and recognizing this never-ending ballet between faith and culture, we begin to understand that while we don’t ever completely conform to culture, our faith is never practiced in a vacuum.
Everything we believe is affected by the culture within which we are believers, and everything we believe affects our culture in return. It is an eternal and incredibly complex dance of belief systems, psychology, sociology, economics, politics, entertainment, science and history.
By practicing the spiritual disciplines of self-awareness and self-reflection, we not only find, but we create our own augmented reality—a greater perception of our surroundings, an ability to see things other people cannot or will not, and by so doing, we become cultural change agents by first becoming changed ourselves. Just like Paul so many millennia ago.
Pokémon Go provides us with an incredible opportunity to invite people into conversation about and discovery of God. The game reminds those of us who already seek God that our quest is not an uphill battle, but merely requires waking up and looking—looking within ourselves and into the eyes of every human we meet, because we are all altars not to an unknown God, but to the one and only God of all eternity whose being and loving compassion flow through all of us, without exception.
We all need to take advantage of this Pokémon Go moment by embracing it to create new spiritual momentum and make church, faith, and spiritual questing not only relevant again, but something people want to embrace and get involved with as passionately as they do with a silly little video game.
I love Pokémon Go, and playing it has reminded me that I love God even more, and that my spiritual quest is still not over. In fact, it may very well just be starting anew.
Holy God, and
who is never hidden from view,
open our eyes,
and our minds
to your loving presence.
We know you are here today
as you are, everyday.
We also know we are too often
blinded by the noise of society
to notice you right here,
closer to us than our own breath.
When I breathe,
When I love,
When I hurt,
Because we are you in the flesh,
everything we go through in this life
you experience with us.
But more than that,
you give us a helping,
You wipe the tears of sorrow from our faces.
You send us a joke when we’re feeling blue.
You send us love and compassion
when every voice is yelling at us in anger and fear.
We feel you.
We hear you.
We love you.
In humility we pray for our hurting world.
We know you’re already working,
everyday, through millions of us.
So we pray
not with the intention of having you grant our wishes,
but solely to offer our living souls to you,
that you might work through us
and make us healers all,
in the manner of Jesus Christ,
whom we follow with loving loyalty.
As we go about our daily business, Lord,
help us remember
to seek you in all the ordinary places
of our everyday lives.
Remind us you are with us at the gas station,
in the hospital and in our homes.
You are in the technicolor flowers and fishes,
the iridescent blues of a hazy night sky,
and the spectacular, mind-melting yellows of the mid-day sun.
You are found in our brothers and sisters around the world
of every nation and every faith.
For although we are born to human parents,
we all share the same common progenitor:
You, our creator and sustainer,
our true and holy source,
alive and active within all that exists,
waiting to be discovered
if we would only take the time to look and see
the augmented reality
your eyes provide.
May we all develop and share
the insight and foresight
of the Supreme Awakened One,
in whose name we ask these blessings.