Category Archives: Philosophy/Theology

Change and the New Breakfast

Two Octobers ago, I lost my favorite breakfast.

For about seven years prior, I could confidently walk into a Perkins restaurant and order my usual: Granny’s Omelet with pancakes, large o.j., a glass of water. Day or night, yumsville.

But when I welcomed it to my table that blighted day in October, fork and knife in hands, tablecloth tucked under my chin, after a few bites I knew. The thrill was gone.

Of the three certainties in life- death, taxes and Granny’s omelet- you’d think you could entrust your existential eggs to the Perkins basket.

But at a time when I was trying to eat better and less, that carb-generous meal didn’t do it for me. I had to say goodbye to what was no longer working.

Again: I had to say goodbye to what was no longer working.

Humans can change, but we do have attachments, don’t we? Especially to things that aren’t completely good for us, strangely enough. The Buddhist tradition says suffering happens because we desire other than what is.

I had to give up something, but it was no longer what I desired anyway. How often do I do the same things because of dumb momentum? Or because I can’t imagine an alternative to my well-worn routine? We think we’re pretty smart, masters of our selfhood domains, but we’re non-rational creatures, too.

Last week, I finally read “Who Moved My Cheese,” the parable about change from Spencer Johnson. (Thanks, Mutti!) In the tale, mouse-ish characters deal with a new fact in their lives: their cheese is gone. The solution for our heroes comes as a revelation: Seek other cheese. (Duh.)

Whatever is changing for you, it might be a good thing. In fact- holy Candide, Batman- it might be the best possible thing.

Wayne Dyer once visited a radio station to do an interview. When he arrived, he was told the station was being sold to a whole new format, and everyone was losing their jobs. He responded by congratulating them. He told them this was great news, that in the coming year each one would likely find a better job and be happier than they were presently.

What if we saw every change as a gift, as an open door? Every moment of decision is the occasion for your next evolution.

How’s your breakfast?

You can move on, you know.

What You Believe is a Stepping Stone

When I was a kid, I did bedtime prayers. I remember folding my hands a certain way, closing my eyes with my parents and speaking words in a certain rhythm. It was perfect at the time.

Now that I’m 44, I use different words and I think of prayer differently.

Human beings at our best are all about adaptation. When something isn’t working for whatever reason, we can change. Right?

Say the Man’s Pledge with me from the Red Green Show (Women, please join in, too):

I’m a man.
I can change.
If I have to.
I guess.

Some churches could use this in worship with very little editing. (And I have spent way too much time deciding whether to put a smily face here or not.)

As with many of you, my theology has changed a lot since I was small, mostly activated by seasons of growth and/or emotional upheaval. Kind of recapitulates the story of Israel when you think about it. I guess at this point in my life I’m aware that relationship with the Holy One is alive and dynamic. As such, it is impossible to institutionalize; it is always evolving. When I hear a good sermon, when I am moved by a song, when I notice the movement of change in a relationship… these can be moments when boundaries are broken and new word-containers are birthed to ring more truly. As Martin Luther said of the wider church, we are always reforming. Continually being born again, again.

Alternatively, we could choose to frame our experience of life apart from the weather of Holy Revelation. We could tell ourselves that some ideas mustn’t change. Continue working with old wineskins. Keep using worn-out words if they work for folks in the pew next to you.

There’s a thin blue book on my shelf which I keep simply for the title: “Your God is Too Small.”

When we were children, we thought like children. As Paul’s mail to Corinth says, now it’s different. Our species is supposedly excellent at adapting, but we sure are attached to same old, same old. At least that’s what I see in myself as I see myself stretching.

We are meant to change our minds. Our lives work best when our ideas transform, so we’re best off holding them loosely. What you believe right now is merely a stepping stone to what you will evolve to know and be.

In terms of your beliefs, maybe you have one foot in the air right now, between This and That. That’s good. And you are good. You haven’t betrayed anyone or anything by noticing that your ideas are changing. In fact, that’s G-d in motion. Any time it happens, I think this is a vitally creative and often terrifying moment.

Feel the stretch?

This is a song about personal evolution, idolatry and the adventure of honest trust. It was debuted at a concert in Hawaii last month, along with the Lua Pele song.

Stepping Stone
by Richard

Verse 1
You think that if you change, you’ll betray yourself
But what if your soul asked you follow it off the map
What you used to believe has brought you here
What you believe now is gonna change

It’s a stepping stone
       What you believe is a stepping stone
It’s a stepping stone
       What you think now is a stepping stone

Verse 2
You’re sorry to leave it, this comfy dead end
You’re smelling the fresh air, outgrown where you began
What you used to believe has brought you here
What you believe now has your foot in the air

Rock solid convictions come alive and launch you like a trampoline
Upgrade to new wineskins to hold the holy stuff that’s ripening

Verse 3
Look at you evolving– you’re “born again” again
And you’ll keep transforming til you’re dead or you ascend
What you used to believe was perfect at the time
What you believe now is like a breath

What’s Required of You

This is about what you have to do.

Or, more truly, what you think you have to do.

One of my favorite Mary Oliver poems releases a transparent gas. Inhale. The potent but odorless fumes contain a higher-than-normal oxygen content allowing our bodies- including our brains- to perk up. Good writing does this. Don’t be alarmed if, upon taking in good poetry, you sense new possibilities for your life. You may experience resistance and even discomfort to these possibilities. You may need to lie down for awhile. You may giggle. You may need to call someone.

But first: How do you feel today about your presence in the world? It’s an ancient question, so we’re in good and holy company when it rises to us: “What is my place?”

May the wondering polish your sense of vocation, giving focus and renewal.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Let the poem have it’s way with you today as you adjust your breathing.

If there is something we (this little blogging community) can witness with you, I invite you to offer a comment. Sharing our stories can help everyone. Thanks!

  • Enjoy Storyhill‘s amazing song about you, Steady On:

Swearing at Shrubbery with Jesus

One hot Friday afternoon, Trish was working outside and sent Sam to get me. I found her in hostas up to her cute little whatsis, so we made dividing and transplanting them a marriage-building activity.

That job finished, we sat sweaty. And we looked. And we saw the broken arbor along the side of the house that makes us feel like white trash. We saw the tangled convolution of vines that has been choking the whole south side of the house for years, several trees with it. We looked at each other with a mutual Clint Eastwood scowl of great purpose.

We got up. We cut into the vines. We tore them from the house and the trees. We sawed and dug and yanked and pulled like lives were at stake.

We both had stuff on our minds.

I could pretend to be embarrassed at this, but I’m really not: I yelled at that vine. I called it bad names as I sought to free the trees from its stranglehold. I summoned wrath for that vine as if it had a will. I growled at it as if it had an intelligence making it mean. I could be overheard by the neighborhood birds growling under my breath, “Let go of her, you f#@!ing bastard.”

[Insert pause for those who know me to catch their breath.]

A holy moment, don’t you think?

Some of Jesus’ most powerful moments in the gospels involve cursing.

There’s Jesus telling Peter, one of his best friends, to go to hell. (Usually read, “Get behind me, Satan.”) Man, that must have stung.

There’s the scene in where Jesus is casting “Woe” on the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23, calling them snakes (opei gennhmata ecidnwn if you care), reminiscent of John the Baptizer’s rant (Luke 3.17) with echoes of the Pharisees’ accusation of Jesus of being in league with Beelzebub (Luke 12:34). Anyway, J was irate. He let them have it.

Then there’s my favorite: Jesus cursing the fig tree. The scene happens after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (I don’t need to include the word “triumphal” here but honestly how often do you get a chance to use it?) In the story according to Mark, it happens right before Jesus goes postal in the temple. In Matthew‘s version, it’s right after. Either way, maybe he’s a little agitated. What happens is Jesus is hungry, finds a fig tree without figs and lashes out with a curse, “May no one eat your fruit again!” A few short verses later, sure enough, the thing is withered. It’s a tad embarrassing that the text goes out of its way to explain that figs were out of season. In the gospels, Rabbi J regains composure enough to use the moment to teach a little something about prayer. Nice recovery.

I call this gardening therapy. And it’s real cheap.

Most scholars connect this curious moment to the parable of the fig tree in Luke, where a man tells his gardener to dig up and destroy his three-years-barren, waste-of-soil fig tree. Bible commentaries point out that a thriving fig tree was a sign of blessing for Israel, and so days before his crucifixion, to curse said shrubbery indicates Jesus’ general non-good feelings about the whole thing. Kind of a performance art lament.

Personally, I choose to enjoy these cursing snapshots as faithful moments which resonate with the laments of the Psalms. Most of the Psalms are laments: faithful prayers in the midst of sadness, grieving, terror, and loneliness.

How much does it bother us to think of Jeshua as being cranky? Impolite at times? Unreasonable? Fully human?

To get in touch with the earthy side of Jesus, may I suggest reading the synoptic gospels? Just a bit at a time, with your imagination tuned to the drama, the characters, the landscape.

For some coyote medicine to poke your personal theology, you might enjoy your feathers ruffled by Monty Python’s classic film “Life of Brian” or Christopher Moore’s hilarious and irreverent novel, “Lamb.”

From out here, you cannot tell what’s blasphemy and what’s prayer. Yell at a bush with Jesus. You might feel better.

  • Hear Richard’s song about the importance of doubt, ” Thomas.”

Our children have already decided.

A few weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted into their denomination’s constitution Amendment 10-A which allows the ordination of publically-identified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to serve as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, Elders, and Deacons. Effective July 10, 2011, the amendment was made part of the Book of Order.

One friend who was present at one of the Presbytery votes said there very little attempt to rally against the amendment. There were a couple of old, caricatured arguments registered against the legitimacy of gay and lesbian people being equipped and called. Stuff about sex, Scripture references torn out of Leviticus, etc. Overall, there was almost a sense of resignation that, as he put it, “Our children have already decided.”

What a powerful statement.

One message of the Star Wars epic is that our children can redeem us. Sam the wonder ten-year-old is teaching me how the world needs to evolve. It’s clear to him that he both has a strong lineage and that he is on the planet to in some way break free of it. Like Jesus who loved his tradition enough to faithfully mess with it.

A few years ago, the ELCA made a similar vote. In the aftermath, a number of local ELCA churches left the denomination. In the congregation I served at the time, individual church members pulled their offering pledges, wrote letters of protest, and even stopped coming to worship as a way to demonstrate their beliefs. It might get tough here for awhile, and I’m grateful for the PC(USA) taking this prophetic step.

For now, I celebrate the unfolding of the church and the evolution of faith-full community wherever it happens.

It’s gonna be okay. It’s all in the hands of the ten-year-olds.

  • More Light Presbyterians: A national network of folks seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • Covenant Network of Presbyterians: A broad-based, national group of clergy and lay leaders working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole.
  • That All May Freely Serve: Advocating for an inclusive church that honors diversity and welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons as full members.

You’re the Hub.

Your life is a wheel. You are the hub. You are the pivot point, the energetic center, the origin of what kind of life you have.

You’re connected to all kinds of spokes going outward, but no one else is the hub.

You’re the hub.

Is there something you’re waiting for to have a full life?

Is there someone on whose approval your happiness depends?

You’re the hub of your amazing life.

  • Listen to Richard’s only rap song, “Move.”
  • Listen to Trish’s lovely non-rap song, “Ready.”

Be the Volcano

It’s been on my mind that models, language and symbols for spirtuality are not set-in-stone universal norms. What we are taught generally becomes an orienting Story for us. What we learn develops in communities. And over time, you know what you got? You got yourself a tradition. Over generations a rich, ever-emerging heritage that can be an anchor as we open to an orienting Story within which to frame our best existential questions.

This perspective invites respect for unfamiliar traditions. It invites dialogue among the citizens of our planet. I wish this kind of thing, at this point in the 21st-century, would go without saying.

There are many metaphors for transformation among spiritual traditions: washing something that’s dirty, a seed becoming a tree, being born a second time, death and resurrection to name a few.
Welcome to an intense one from our brothers and sisters in Hawaii: Volcano.

In the deep and juicy Hawaiian culture, Pele is the goddess who appears as a mysterious, beautiful young woman just before her volcano is about to erupt. Or as an old gnarled woman who lights her cigarette with the snap of her fingers. Warrior-fierce, earthy, dangerous and vibrant, Pele is an archetype for the powerful and passionate feminine.

The literal translation of “volcano” in Hawaiian is Lua pele, pele ahi ‘ai honua which means “she who throws fire to eat the Earth.”

Throwing fire
to eat
the earth.

(You are Woman. Hear you roar.)

So, Volcano: Your present, conscious personality is the surface. Your soul and all its holy intentions is the boiling, sizzling molten core of the earth. How do you engage and connect with your soul that sometimes seems a distance away? Sometimes it takes drilling. Other times it erupts at unexpected moments. Sometimes, you can set your watch by it in seasons. In deep change that sticks, sometimes it hurts and sometimes there is fire. With Pele’s fire you know nothing is going to be the same again.

Trish and I journey to Hawaii soon. Here’s a new community song brewing about this intense image of transformation. Imagine driving percussion surrounding a growly voice on the verses, a higher, triumphant melody on the chorus.

verse 1:
She’s drilling down to taste the core
She’s tapping in to an ancient boiling soul
       remembering and roaring
       this is a day to use her voice.


verse 2:
She’s throwing fire to eat the earth
No holding back the power of new birth
       eyes closing now and breathing
       this is a day for being true.

verse 3:
Earth juice is running down her chin
Erupting body and a mind that’s never been more clear
       it’s blasphemy or praying
       this is a day to have no fear