Tag Archives: imagination

Midrash Jesus II

laughing jesusAnd it came to pass on the day following the Sabbath that Jesus pinched a nerve in his back while painting a neighbor’s house. For his day job was carpentry.

Flat on his back in terrible pain, he prayed many psalms of lament, including Psalm 6 in moments of greatest suffering.

Monday at the third hour, just as the Lord was groaning, “OMG, I am weary from my groaning and my eye grows dark due to vexation*,” Mary knocked and entered, carrying a young, fresh puppy. This was Mary— no, not the one you’re thinking of. The other one. See, there’s Jesus’ mother, there’s Martha’s and Lazarus’s sister, then there’s… It’s confusing. Anyway: Mary.

Mocking him good-naturedly, she sing-song asked him, “Hmm. Which is easier, to forgive someone’s sins or to heal his body?”

And, setting the puppy down, it ran straight for the Rabbi, tromping on his chest and licking his face. And behold, the Lord became mirthful– at first a slightly painful sputter which quickly turned to delighted giggles.

Jesus laughed.

“This puppy can eat crumbs from my table anytime!” giggled Jesus. “Blessed are you, little dog, for you have made me forget myself and remember love.”

And Mary laughed too, partly because she loved Jesus so dearly, partly because some people thought the Lord could not get hurt or ill because he was somehow less than fully human (for she herself preferred the synoptics), but mostly because healing is a beautiful mystery that can come from unexpected places– even from a different species.

And after a few moments, the Lord dismissed the puppy and said to Mary in a grateful sigh, “Mary, be a servant and bring my ibuprofen, would you?” for though he had experienced great healing, the inflammation in his upper back region yet was great. “And something to eat,” he added, for he knew it was bad to take on an empty stomach.

*Yes, from Psalm 6.

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Midrash Jesus I

Sculpture Relief Depicting Christ Healing the Blind Man

And after the weekend, verily, Jesus retired to a lonely place, cracked open an adult beverage and checked his Facebook feed on his laptop. And great was the *sigh* that he uttered– so great that the twelve, reclining in the next room, did inquire of the Master, “Master, why sighest thou in such an incredulous manner?”

And Jesus did stare at his screen with dismay, shake his head and mutter, ‘They know not what they do.” And his voice was great with irritation, for he knew it would not be the last time he would say this.

For a new “Friend” had posted something ignorant about Islam, naming the great tradition a tribe of haters.

And Jesus summoned the twelve and began to preach to them, saying, “You know that’s messed up, right? That my sheep are all over, some not of this fold? That anyone not against me I consider on our side? That my yoke is exceedingly easy but it will bust your ego and blow your mind? That I’m talking about a new world. You know this, Right? *Sigh* Okay, look. Now THIS is happening.”

And the Lord did click. And clicketh he did.

And poised to Comment on the ignorant child of God’s post, he did lovingly type on his device, “I disagree. I have Muslim friends– devout ones. They are truly about peace and goodness in the world. Sorry your experience has been different.”

And the Lord did post his comment.

And full of the Holy Spirit, he waited and watched in hope of a reply, a dialogue, some evidence of enlightenment.

After a minute’s time, the Lord did refresh his screen.

Behold, it went blank, for at that very hour he had been Unfriended.

Then the Lord dropped his jaw, closed it again, and then chuckled incredulously saying, “Really?”

And the twelve waited with bated breath on the Rabbi’s next move as the Master considered what manner of assholery this was, for he was pissed. And disappointed. And also full of compassion for his lost “Friend” whom had closed down their online relationship.

And the irony of the Prince of Peace being perceived as a threat to the former “Friend” was not lost on them. For this kind of thing happened, like, every day, especially with religious people. And, verily, it was getting old.

Then in the silent tension did Jesus gaze about the room at the faces of his chosen partners in ministry. And Jesus stood up abruptly, saying, “Well. Who feels like barbecue?” for he was quick to move on.


7 Marks of a Decent Worship Song

So you’re a musician, worship leader or songwriter. At its best, what’s a song do? Worldmaking.net tries a riff.

Print a copy.

#7: Pan-generational
Gathering infants and elders.

There are two types of people in the world: those who like to divide people into groups and those who don’t. [Wait for chuckle.]

A decent worship song sings us into harmony across generations, noticing our diversity in age and blessing us together.

One of the fallouts of so-called “contemporary” worship since the 80’s (I was there– the one with the mullet and the fiery red strat) has been the dis-integration of the multi-generational worshiping assembly.

We think we’re smart to niche-market our worship. We try to give people what they want according to their preferences. We imagine teens desire something different than their parents and grandparents.

One result can be a fragmented (or neatly divided) worshiping community. It’s the biggest reason people call me for consultation.

A good worship song presents us as one global Christ-body, to use Paul’s metaphor. And it’s not only so we kindly include people in the room. It’s that we deeply affirm that there are gifts and challenges for each season of life, including tender babyhood, passionate adolescence, ambitious young adulthood, transitional “half-time” mid-life and wise elder years.

When we are together in worship, we pay attention to all that we are– tender, ambitious, transitional, wise. When our moments of song and prayer do not speak to all of these, we find ourselves in a body without an arm or an ear.

Contrary to what our surrounding pop culture preaches, it’s good to get old. Youth need to know this, as well as our elders. Imagine the alternative that is happening now.

Contrary to what our culture says, it’s good to be kids. Grown-ups need to know this, as well as youths. What happens to a civilization where this isn’t true?

Is your community’s repertoire speaking to all the seasons of life?

#6: Expansive
Because Christ-life is more than we think.

When I first heard Marty Haugen’s Psalm 23 song, I cracked open.

“Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears from death into life.”

Jesus Christ. [Don’t you love non-blasphemous invocations?] Psalm 23 will never be the same for me.

That song was both instructive and expansive. That is, it both taught the Psalm and expanded my reality. The song helped the Holy Spirit break through the borders I had set up around what was true.

In singing, we embody more than theology. We make the sound of a world-wide community transforming. Listen closely, and you can hear boundaries breaking.

Ask any United Methodist, they he or she will tell you a good song can be a sermon. The Wesleys had it down to a science. Some 21st-century writers are working at it, too.

A good worship song not only unpacks and prays our scripture, it takes a wrecking ball to our idolized ideas.

In worship we are meant to offer heart, mind, soul and strength to the Holy One of which we are a part. And you can bet these hearts, minds, souls and strengths won’t come back to us the same. I’m thinking of Jesus’ irritating, holy habit of saying, “You have heard it said… but I tell you…” and his metaphor of wineskins. Sometimes that old container has to go.

Take a careful look at your congregation’s singing repertoire. Are there enough songs that blessedly expand our ideas?

#5: Integrative
Some re-assembly required.

When Psalm 25 sings, “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul,” the Psalmist is not chipping out a wedge of life’s circle graph. In fact, in Hebrew there is no word for a separate spiritual part of the self. For it to ring true, the spiritual life is integrated with all dimensions of one’s experience. A better translation might be, “To You, YHWH, I open my life.” (Hear a progressive rendition of Ps. 25: “To You.”)

A good worship song helps us integrate aspects of our lives that are otherwise dis-integrated. Because our surrounding culture and the weather of life can fragment us, right?

A few examples: In a time of such fear as we are in right now, we may be told that certain people or particular nations are the problem. Worship snaps us out of such fear, antagonism and superiority, leveling us with the least of Jesus’ brothers- and sisters-in-Love.

In an era of global power struggles, we may be tempted to see our nation– wherever we may reside– in competition with the rest of the planet. Sunday morning offers us the vision of everything created and belonging to One, our common citizenship to the One Holy City (Ps. 87).

In a TV/mag/online culture celebrating individualism, we may feel alone. Experiencing spiritual community wrecks our walls and invites us to a powerfully vulnerable part of the Holy Whole.

A good worship song helps us integrate Holy Reality into our conscious lives. It pushes against the surrounding culture, and, as we sing it, helps us rehearse this integrated life and practice it with breath, words and gesture.

What great old hymns, Taize chants or new rock songs help you integrate Holy Reality (aka Kingdom of God, emerging Christ, Holy Spirit) into your life?

#4: Focused Function
We’re beings doing.

A worship song is folk art in the traditional sense.

When I took a Norwegian Woodcarving class at college (doesn’t everyone?), Harley Refsal taught that a true piece of folk art has a specific function. A beautifully crafted chair is meant to be sat in, not just to look pretty. That gorgeous quilt is for the bed, not the wall. A hand-thrown pottery bowl wants to contain soup, cereal or ice cream.

The design of the piece is not arbitrary; its form serves the needed function.

Same with decent worship songs. Songwriters take great care to craft a song that serves the community in a particular way. Where some songs are meant to proclaim grace or invite celebration, others stretch our minds and invite resistance. Good worship songs don’t parrot scripture or repeat a line eight times to force meaning. They make our imaginations pop around a specific point.

Worship leaders, knowing this, take great care to select songs that serve our transformation. He or she may choose a song to help us embody passionate praise in one moment, surrender in another. It’s not shoving any old song into the slots. Good worship leaders intentionally select music that engages our mind-body-spirit experience and carries us further into it.

But back to songs. Consider your most moving musical experiences, whether they be in church, on the dancefloor or driving your car. It was specific, right? The perfect song at the right time. Not general. A good story doesn’t mention tea; it’s a steaming orange mug of Earl Grey.

A Gathering song is inviting. It might remind us we re all in the same boat, and are welcome for exactly what we are. Maybe it sets up the theme for the day.

A good Offering song might remind us it’s good to share, and we all have a part.

A Prayer song offers sound to hold delicate spoken petitions. Or they disrupt our idolatrous ideas of how we think prayer works.

A Sending song might remind us that we bear the Christ out to the world, and we are each unique in the ways we are faithfully doing that.

A good worship song functions for a particular occasion, the right tool for the job at hand. Review the current Top 25 CCLI songs and test my theory amid the awful ones and the brilliant ones. (Here’s your pass to be judgmental. Enjoy.)

By the way, good worship songs are in every genre and form– liturgical, pop choruses, ancient hymns, contemplative chants, etc. Don’t resist any when they are called for.

The next time your worship team has an hour to kill, together make a list of the best songs that serve the movements of worship: Gathering, Proclaiming, Responding, Sealing (the Sacraments) and Sending. Listen carefully to one another’s experiences with the songs. Honor the differences. When you see functional gaps — “Hey, we don’t have a really good song for _________,” email your local songwriters and we’ll get right on it in the workshop.

#3: Prophetic lyrics
Words that comfort us and mess with us.

The role of an artist in a community is to stir up imagination, invite people to stretch their minds.

A decent worship song does, too.

Just as scripture contains vital tensions of law & gospel, grace & discipleship, “easy as pie” & “give up your life,” our worship music challenges us to grow to maturity in Christ.

A good worship song wonders over our sense of what we’re sure of.

When I was in seminary, Marty Haugen helped me see that at the time I was good at writing songs that brought comfort and grace, but that I was short on the prophetic edge that offers the holy gift of bewilderment. (By the way, my friend Bono always tells me not to name-drop. It’s tacky.)

For example, it’s important for our growth to be reminded that our pet names for God aren’t the only game in town. As much as God may be like a father to us, God is also like a crooked judge, a woman kneading dough, and a still, small voice in the breeze. The alternative is the prospect of idolatry: worshipping a hedged-in idea about God instead of the Ever-Living God.

Does this mean we will not always agree with the words we are singing? Does this mean we won’t like all our songs?

It seems to me Jesus’ ministry was centered not in teaching information but delivering provocations that were seeds of renewal, forgiveness and restoration.

We need a steady diet of songs that don’t just reinforce the way we are thinking presently. Spiritual life is built to stretch.

Is your congregation’s repertoire sufficiently challenging?

#2: Singability
Because that’s the point, right?

A song enacts unity, and as such invites all present to participate.

This may be closer to the number one slot, because if a congregational song is not a place we can all meet, it’s useless. Scrap it for parts. We usually know a decent song when we hear it, but here are a few suggestions to an intentionally singable community song:

  • It’s in a good key for most voices to sing energetically. Otherwise, people are frustrated at the get go. This, however, doesn’t mean a song can’t ask you to stretch for a few notes. Sung prayer requires energy, after all. Christmas and Easter hymns call us up to a high D. The Star-Spangled Banner is sometimes done in a key leading us to a high E or F, making it, ironically, a lousy community song. Mostly, we sing well together between C and C.
  • Accessible melody. Whether it’s a chant from Taize, a Bach hymn or cutting-edge rock song, the tune engages all ages and all abilities. Rhythms are regular in pattern or at least This means contrary to what your praise band guitarist says, not everything you hear on the radio will work in your circle.
  • …But not too easy. If the song is simplistic, it’s not gonna last. A good song needs a little work to get right.
  • Vocabulary check. Our songs use language we understand or can come to understand. Sounds simple, but often with ancient texts or present-day jargon, we may not be on the same page without a little education. Not a bad thing if we’re aware.

#1: Ancient-Future Tension
So what time is it?

A decent community song reminds us that we have a heritage of faith going back generations. It also engages our present-day reality and pitches our imaginations into the future.

The number one mark of a decent worship song is also among the most important descriptors of faithful worship.

Tradition

A good song connects us to ancient things. Does your community know that faith is old? Roots are important. It’s a disservice to faith to have it look like a trendy thing, something we just discovered with the latest pop singer. Why? Because that’s so today’s media culture– here today, gone tomorrow– and it’s just the tip of the iceberg we are about subverting in worship.

Does your community’s repertoire have good old ground we can sink our roots into?

+

Innovation

While our roots of faith are deep and ancient, we have 21st-century imaginations. Let’s not pretend we don’t have cell phones.

Aren’t we genuinely curious how the spiritual life is faithfully lived in us, you know, now? If so, won’t we be experimenting constantly with the freshest language and music to pray, celebrate and lament? Our songwriters will be always riffing on the culture, asking us to attend to changes in our jobs, families, bodies and politics. A decent worship song always invites us to pay attention to our spiritual life, both communally and individually.

All this puts us in the now, leaning into the future. Inventive, adventurous words, grooves and symbols will always be part of our music.

Put another way, a good song does not parrot our ancestors. It honors our lineage by always reforming, always evolving into God’s future.

So. Discuss.

This article is a gathering of individual pieces around Worldmaking.net’s “Top Ten Marks of the Decent Worship Song” developed in the Worldmaking.net newsletter.

Thanks to the photographers giving permission to use their work above. From bottom to top, the photographers are Mircea Preda Struteanu, Aaron Schwab, Enrico Nunziati, Robert Linder, Adriana Cikopol, and anon.


Where Else Would God Be?

I heard him say, “The scandal of the Christian story is not that God became incarnate as a human. It’s that God is incarnate in every particle of creation. I mean… [dramatic pause] where else would God be?”

My Constructive Theology professor Dr. Eleazar Fernandez may never know how that woke me up.

“Where else would God be?”

The name Emmanuel means God With Us. The Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is a recognition of God’s presence spun through creation. Now when church people talk about a particular day or season, it doesn’t mean it’s not real all the time. In this case, the Story of Christmas is that Holy breaks into our lives all the time, not just in late December.

But it’s good we have liturgical seasons to help us practice these kinds of things. Otherwise– for me, at least– all the rich bewilderment and awe of life would be hard to take in.

Most of us resist mystery to some extent. We gravitate toward literalism to help us bear the complexities of everyday life. Thank God for the artists, intuitives and mystics in our midst! If we’re not paying attention, our pet names for God tend to crystalize into an actual shape of God. Which most traditions call idolatry. (Sorry about that). In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis describes how the demons delight when their human patients come to revere an object representing the Holy-Beyond-Words instead of the Holy One.

A rich variety of language to describe the Divine Mystery primes our imagination for our own experience. Reminds us that G-d is greater than we can imagine, and will not be pigeon-holed. Poetry, art, music keeps us guessing, hungering, prying us away from literalism.

In the Biblical tradition, there are dozens of metaphors, images and models for G-d. Holding Scripture as revelation, we might notice the Holy One is likened to a Shepherd carefully guiding and protecting sheep. And also the breath and wind of the earth. A perfectly righteous judge. A nasty, crooked judge. Bread. Light. A wrestler who might take you down. A dread champion fighting for your life. A bird, a farmer, a song.

Jesus Christ!* There are tons of metaphors!  [*I enjoy a good non-blasphemous invocation, don’t you?]

It’s amazing to me that in all my years as a church-goer, I seldom have been invited into the wildly creative range we have access to.

I wonder why that is.

Sallie McFague suggests this model of God: the world.

Like a holy nest holding everything. Where nothing is left out and everything is sacred.

Take a moment to try that one on: G-d is the world, nothing more or less. A full incarnation here and now, nowhere where the Holy is not at work and at play.

– How would we treat the earth of we knew it to be Of God?

– How would we speak to one another if we considered each person a part of God’s very body?

– What if we knew God to have a full and universal presence, a continual and intimate influence?

– In this light, what would Christmas mean?

Fun to think about, huh? This brushes against what some theologians call Process Theology– God present in our seasons over time, God in the midst of change, God evolving and emerging as creation comes into our own.

Each icon has its limitations, but I offer you this one for this season of Advent when we know the Holy close. God in the manger. God in the cows. God within your wonderings and choices. God With Us here and now.

Where else would God be?

A song to celebrate and reflect:

The Body of God (click to listen with the lyrics)
From the CD Behold by The River’s Voice

i
God breaking through to our lives, but this is no great surprise
Babies and barns, green fields and farms
This is the body of God

A star in the dark sky we share, straw underfoot as we look up and stare
Each part of creation a perfect formation that lives as the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Inwithandthrough all we sense and we feel
God in the manger, God in the cows, God in the innkeeper’s mother’s eyebrows

ii
Sure was a marvelous night, the story of birth and new life
And the dreams and the fears of the new parents’ prayers were felt in the body of God

Just one more beautiful way God’s body blooms its array
Our Christmas story: one image of glory as we move in the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Transcendent and cosmic and at home in our tears
God in the common, God in the strange, God in Jesus’ very first diaper change

iii
These are unsettling times, and as I put my son down for the night
I can’t help but think how much kinder we’d be if we knew all of life, the world’s every plight
To be part of the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Under our noses and in the midst of our fears
God in our stories, God in the world, God in the pain and the Good News we’ve heard


On Men, Pregnancy and Advent

~ Act One ~

In Advent we track the stories of Mary and Elizabeth, divine Possibility ripening within their very bodies.

As a spiritual director, one of my favorite images for the spiritual life is being pregnant with Holy.

Meister Eckhart wrote that we are always pregnant with God, because God always wants to be born. I feel a Yes in me with that. Yet as imaginative as I might be, pregnancy– a basic mammalian fact of life–is something my XY-brothers and I will never fully understand.

That’s why men in particular need and long for the stories of women.

That’s one reason my favorite liturgical season is Advent.

The stereotype of men is that we are interested in fixing things (maybe because we break a lot of things), that we think we know it all (well, don’t we?), and that men don’t understand emotional intimacy (whatever).

Advent stories open up to men the validity and vitality of mystery, process and patient hope. These are central to any meaningful spiritual life, men and women alike. But maybe men need more practice.

Now, I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to gender differences. As different as men and women seem to be, we have common human experiences of life, just packaged and described in different ways. We grow in true humanity if we are ready to learn from one another instead of  treating the other gender as an interplanetary adversary.

So our ten-year-old son Sam knows exactly what happens in his mother’s body once a month. We’ve taught him– Trish and I together– because we want him to know what it means to be fully human. Trish’s moon cycle is a moment we acknowledge sensitivity and power that resonates with all gender identities. In the world-making endeavor that any parenting is, Trish and I are bent on creating a world where humans have respect for the feminine and masculine and everything else, too.

Men and boys are paying attention in Advent.

~ Act Two ~

There are literally dozens of models and metaphors for Divine Presence in what we call scripture. Yet in worship G-d is almost always portrayed in one way: a powerful, human, male authority figure. You’ve noticed this, right? The very premise of worship is built around this model. We may hear different kinds of texts on a Sunday morning and get the occasional gee-whiz non-“traditional” poetic, but on the whole, G-d is imagined as masculine (say, King, Lord, Father, Warrior or Judge). And the appropriate response to this kind of authority would naturally be worship and submissive obedience.

Now there are good and faithful reasons for this, most dear to me as a Psalmist being the ancient Hebrew reverence for G-d. If YHWH has a  name too sacred to be spoken, you get creative real fast about how to describe the mystery of covenant. You draw on the most accessible relationships of corporate goodness and power in current society, which for the most part, at least publicly, were male. That understanding is part of our heritage that some would say is inherently sexist. Either way, it’s here for us to work with.

For many American 21st-century Christians, in terms of God-talk, we eat what’s served. And what’s on our plate most every meal, even after all these years, is Big Man In The Sky. For many of us, though, even within the tight quarters of anthropomorphic images, that god is too small.

So I love Advent. Finally we get to hear about women, and the men who love them take a back seat. In these stories G-d has feminine patience and weaves stories of relationship like an auntie, like a matriarch. One that has no qualms about shutting a man up or sending an angel to open a can on him.

We are reminded in these four weeks that the essence of the Holy One of Israel is to seed, nurture, deliver, name, entrust, call and bless.

~ Act Three ~

Attention, worship leaders! Preachers, musicians, lectors, youth leaders!

This Advent, I implore you to deliver the feminine stories that are in our collective face. Be direct. In this season of the feminine, give the women the microphone.

  • As a call to worship, invite women who have been pregnant to describe what it’s like.
  • Show images of bodies bulging with child.
  • Invite your congregation to touch their own bellies during prayer, asking “What holy wonder is my life pregnant with?” and “How are we preparing for the Christ to be born in us today?”
  • Invite silent moments to watch and listen to a baby among you. Yep, right in worship.
  • Show ultrasound pics of a growing embryo on the screens each Sunday in Advent. How are we growing? Is our church Showing?
  • Invite moms and grandmothers to blog about their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Initiate service projects serving women and babies
  • Living with the metaphor of pregnancy and birthing the Holy, invite the community to name the “baby: how do we describe what God is doing with our congregation, in our neighborhood, in our families, in our hearts. How would we name our calling?

You’re wondering if it’s too sexy.

Well, the Incarnation is about Emmanuel— God With Us–the scandalous Story that the divine would tabernacle among us.

So give it to us straight and real, and as human-body-earthy as it comes. The alternative would be to continue the strand of Christianity that is stoic and gnostic, separating heaven and earth, prying apart spirit and body, divorcing the Christ from creation. I say go with the disruption that pregnancy offers us in Advent. Let’s see what emerges at the end of term.

Penultimately, listen to a song for the season: Trish’s rendition of Amy Grant and Chris Eaton’s Breath of Heaven.

In closing, a seed of a song for you men and you women. I think it’ll be a waltz. Maybe the music will be married to it by next Advent.

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

verse i
Wave upon wave of some kind of promise
I stand in awe of this Life
Like the last seed on a desolate planet
A promise inside that has its own light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

verse ii
So let it be with me just like all time
I give myself to this Life
Yes, I am here to give birth to the new Christ
Like everything else, bearing the Light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

bridge
Bending so low to usher the hungry to the fantastic banquet of Life
This whole world is a mother in labor, her darkness relieved by one baby light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting


Legos and Losing My Religion

My young son opens the box and giggles with delight. This! This is what it’s all about. The familiar little plastic envelopes fly as each is emptied into a gladware cup awaiting assembly. The color glossy booklet, folded by robots at the Worldwide Lego HQ, is opened and spread out on the floor.

We’ve had the Mars Mission phase. We’ve done Power Miners. Now it’s all Star Wars.

Lego, from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well.”

If my son had a flowchart for the creative lego-playing process he has arrived at, it would be:

  1. Follow assembly instructions carefully with bomb squad precision.
  2. Enjoy this lego creation for a period of 2 hours to 2 weeks.
  3. Mutate lego creation. With the imagination of gods, add, subtract, demolish and rebuild to heart’s content.
  4. Ditch original assembly instructions forever.

Kids and legos. Grown-ups and spirituality.

When you grow up immersed in any spiritual tradition (or no tradition), that’s your reality. The language, symbols and culture of your tradition is the truth your family offered you.

What else could there possibly be?

In a very real sense, every moment of your life is mapped in relation to the elements of this Reality Story. That’s a good thing, the first seeds of trust in a friendly universe, as Howard Thurman put it.

At some point, we each come to the edge of that given map.

That Story of Life, the Universe and Everything as we understood it begins to be tested. For some of us, it’s an intentional intellectual curiosity– like a scientist examines her hypotheses and allows the scientific method to show the Truth. For others, it’s some real-life experience– a break-up, cancer, a bad pastor– that does not comfortably fit that reality. Or sometimes the Story just starts to feel old and it kinda. Just. Fades form our consciousness. Maybe sleep in on Sunday mornings, or decide to change your Bible study to bowling night.

Holiday TV ads have begun.

So much of the Christmas pomp is geared to kids, that if you are around kids, you may find yourself pleasantly regressing to the old, old story that you have loved so long. At the same time you may notice that faith wants to grow up. You may feel the contrast.

That original instruction book is in a drawer somewhere. It’s not what’s important now.

In the gospels, Rabbi Jesus is irritatingly consistent in his teaching: “You’ve heard it said…” (insert a bit about murder, adultery, sin, hatred, etc.) he spoke, serious as a heart attack. And then- was that a wink?- he’d continue, “But I tell you…” (insert a disturbingly different theology about integrity of the heart). He unwaveringly claimed was not destroying his beloved Jewish tradition but fulfilling it, evolving it.

What can I make of my life now that the letter-of-the-law instructions are no longer the important thing?

What evolution is possible now that our obedience to  human-crafted institutional structure is wrecked, and we are now paying attention to the holy Spirit-wind-breath hidden in every cell of creation?

It’s a terrifying and wonder-full thing.

But my lego-fanatic son knows now all things are possible, and the fun is just beginning.


Stealing From Van Morrison

[Note: The following is offered particularly for artists: writers, musicians, preachers, painters, dancers. You are really,really important. If you don’t have time to read this, please watch the video below for a breath of fresh air. Thanks.]

I heard it as I was grooving to Van’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 one morning: the chord progression I had so carefully crafted in my own original song months ago.

Van doesn’t mind. Do you know how many songs in history use the same chord changes? (Honestly, Van seems to be ticked off at just about everyone, but me more no more than anyone else.)

Paul Simon knows he borrows from Bo Diddley and the Moonglows. Pete Seeger once said in an interview for songwriters, “Don’t be so all-fired concerned about being original.”

So is my life derivative or original?

As the Buddhist koan goes: What’s the shape of your original face?

What original?

Liz Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” says the way our culture thinks about creativity is not so helpful. There’s pressure to perform. So many artists in despair, crushed by expectations. Fear of the sophomore slump, the drive for the buzz and money. This mindset is what’s been killing off our artists for the last 500 years, she says.

Can we thrive as artists without cutting off an ear?

If you have time, watch Elizabeth’s whole brilliant talk via TED, below. For a smaller dose, I want you to see 6:15-15:35 and 17:40-19:06. Don’t miss the Tom Waits story.

You are an original. Yes, fingerprints like snowflakes and all that. You have a special way of looking at life and we need your ideas, your songs, your words, your shapes and colors. You’re saving the world by both making it beautiful and challenging it to wake up.

At the same time, there is no need to put the pressure of one-of-a-kind genius on ourselves. Humans are designed to borrow and share among creation and not even know we are doing so. Kind of like my neighbor Ev and I have lost track of repaying each other’s favors over time. Plus, you probably have a sense of being plugged into a Source, that your work is co-created. Dylan said if he didn’t write down the songs that came to him, someone else would. Whether you name this Creative Energy (aka genius, God, Muse, daemon) or not, trust that it’s not all on your shoulders to produce.

We are not alone as we show up to do our work.

Now that I think about it, maybe Van was stealing from me.