Tag Archives: J

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.


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

Chorus
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

Bridge
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


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.