Monday, June 17, 2019


In the 70s, I logged many hours meditating 
at the Boulder Shambhala Center.
I recently went back there for some quiet time.
and found the building under major construction.
Beside the front door, a large sign said
         Enter in back.

So I went to the back door and found another sign 
         saying, Enter in front. 
This was Buddhism at its best. 
I was thrust into the creative stuckness
         famously celebrated by Robert Pirsig 
in Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

And this is why we talk about God in paradox. 
I am not impressed when people believe in God.
I don’t even know if their belief is a good thing
         until I know who this God is that they believe in.

Archbishop William Temple said:
         If you have a false idea of God, 
the more religious you are
                        the worse it is for you
 – it were better for you to be an atheist.

When we say God,
we must use the word carefully – even reverently.
ByGod, Christians mean the Holy Trinity.
The Trinity is a way of imagining God 
that is a paradox like the Shambhala center signs. 
It is a set of contradictions that do not define God 
         but rather open our minds to the mystery.
But Americans are especially uncomfortable 
with open minds.

 In the student lounge of Harvard Divinity School 
I once overheard a conversation 
between two young women on the verge 
of graduation and ordination. 
The first was afraid the ministerial board 
wouldn’t approve her. 
They might expect her to believe in the Trinity
– and she was not going to say that, no way, no how.

The other agreed that it was unjust and oppressive. 
The first bemoaned the waste of her theological education 
and her ministry died aborning. 
The second then mused, It’s so seductive though, isn’t it?

 What do you mean “seductive”?the first asked.
Well, the second said, the way Prof. Coakley explains the Trinity, 
it’s just so lovely. 
It’s relationship as the heart of everything instead of power. 
It’s really beautiful and so good, so moral.

The first student nodded and sighed, 
Yesit is. When you read St. Basil and St. Gregory,
and St. Thomas Aquinas, it just makes so much sense. 
It really seems true.
There was a long pause. 

Then the first student continued. 
It’s hard to sacrifice all I’ve worked for. 
But there’s no way I’m going to say I believe in the Trinity.
Of course not,the second student said. 
It would be corrupt and absurd.

These were bright, theologically educated people.
They knew that God is infinitely beyond any doctrine, 
that doctrines are metaphors reaching out into the dark, 
grazing the face of mystery
with fingertips of language.  

So why is the Trinity such a taboo 
that they recoil against it no matter 
how beautiful, how good, and even how true it seems?

The reason is all there in dear old Sigmund Freud.
He explained how we get our primitive image of God 
            from early childhood experiences of dependency. 
The God image we formulate in the crib is 
         of God the patriarch, 
 the big boss, the dominator-god. 

If our parents were benign, 
we may feel safer with this dominator-God. 
If our parents were frightening or neglectful, 
our attitude is apt to be less positive. 
Either way, when we were dependent, subservient children, 
we all got God the dominator stuck in our heads.

But it isn’t the Christian God because it isn’t the Trinity. 
The point of the Trinity is to reject that primitive image.
The Trinity isn’t an individual lording it over creation.
The Divine Nature is too complex, too relational, too loving 
to be represented by a big guy in the sky.
So our image of God is an interpersonal relationship.

The Trinity isn’t 3 Gods.
The Trinity isn’t one God with 3 jobs.
The Godness of God, the Divine Nature,
            is the relationship among three persons.
Their relationship makes them Divine.
Instead of an individual dominating creation, 
God is a web of love
procreating creation into being. 

I am not making this up.
It is ancient as the faith itself – more so.
As Hindus had long before called God the Cosmic Dance,
St. Gregory of Nazianzen and St. John of Damascus 
called the Trinity a circle dance 
like Native American folk dances.

The saints who first described God as Trinity had,
 for generations been dancing
 in a meditative prayerful circle
            that would later be taken up by Sufi dervishes. 

T. S. Eliot wrote:
                        At the still point of the turning world . . .
                        at the still point, there the dance is. . .
                        Except for the point, the still point, 
                        There would be no dance,
                        And there is only the dance.
Reality is, at its heart, a dance 
-- a community, a striving for relationship. 

Everything depends on this.
The word Godmeans our deepest value. 
It represents the highest good, 
the truest truth, the most beautiful beauty.
God is the North Star orienting our whole life.
Our image of God determines what we value, what we do, 
and ultimately who we become.
If we worship the primitive dominator God,
            we worship power.
We spend our lives either cringing before it
            or trying to become dominators ourselves.
But if we worship the Trinity, 
            the cosmic circle dance of love,
            then we strive to become dancers and lovers.
to practice friendship as a spiritual discipline.
Christians are not baptized into docility before
oppressive powers either human or divine.
We are not baptized to be dominators,
            or to be maverick rebels doing our own thing.
We are baptized in the name of the Trinity.
We are baptized into the dance, 
into the sacred pattern of mutual delight,
into the joy of serving each other in love.

Sunday, June 9, 2019


Do you not  know that you (as an assembly)
            are God’s sanctuary, Paul said, 
            and God’s  breath dwells in you?
On Pentecost, the birthday of the Church,
            we celebrate our faith that God is here
            in a special way doing something wonderful.
Together we become the sanctuary where God
            is most palpably present and manifest.

But, today, we are in a curious condition.
92% of Americans believe in God 
but only 10% attend church – 
which means 82% of Americans believe in God 
but don’t see any connection with Church.

So what do they think Church is for?
What do we think Church is for?

A few hundred years ago Christianity 
            turned into a carrot and stick religion
            all about going to Heaven and staying out of Hell.
Church attendance was our admission ticket 
           at the pearly gates.
If we put in enough hours listening to boring sermons,
            God rewards us with a get out of Hell free card.

Eventually someone decided 
            all we have to do to go to Heaven
is believe that God exists.
As theologian and country singer, Don Williams, said,
            I don’t believe that Heaven waits
            For only those who congregate.

Granted,  God does not require us to log x hours in the pews
            as our price of admission to Heaven.
But without the inner transformation that comes
            from a lifetime of spiritual practice,
            Heaven may feel pretty uncomfortable.
As Milton said,
            The mind is its own place, and in itself
            can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

For Milton, like Paul, getting into Heaven isn’t the point.
It’s about the mind.
St. Paul said, Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.
Christian practice is intentionally 
turning our attention to Christ
to have our hearts and minds changed by that encounter.
Gathering as his Body is at the heart of that practice.

Our central act of gathering is Communion.
Jesus said, Do this to remember me.
That could mean to bring Our Lord to mind.
And that’s a good thing.
Turning our attention to the Christ in our hearts
            brings us peace and empowers us to love
                        as he loves.
But the word remember also suggests re-collection//,
reassembling that which has been dispersed.
Jesus grew up in Egypt
            where he learned some Egyptian religion
which he sometimes used in his teaching.
A central story of Egyptian religion was about 
            Osiris, god of the afterlife.
Osiris had been killed, his body dismembered,
            and the pieces scattered all over the world.
But Isis, no relation to the Islamic militants,
            reassembled his body and brought him to life. 
Ritually reassembling and resurrecting Osiris
            was the central act of Egyptian worship.

We each have something of Christ in us
as we go about the world. 
But we have to gather to bring the scattered parts 
of Christ together in one room 
to be his Body, to know his wholeness.
No one can be the fullness of Christ alone.
But together we are the Body of Christ.
He is here with us and in us.
Our Communion is an encounter 
with the Recollected and  Risen Lord. 
That changes us head to toe.

Communion is the ritual transformation
            but there’s a psycho-social side of it too.
The problem with solo spirituality
            is it’s all about us. 
Left to our own devices,
            we create a God in our own image
            who will only add bricks to our prison of ego.

But working together as the Church 
            to carry on Jesus’ mission
            is an exercise in transcending our egos.

It requires us to cultivate the qualities of character
            essential to working together
despite each other’s quirks, foibles, and idiosyncrasies.

Year by year, Church life makes us new people. 
When Paul talked about beingin Christ,
he meant being part of the Body of Christ.
actively engaging in the life of the Church.
Paul said,  If anyone is in Christ, 
            look, they are a new creation.
            The old has gone. The new is here.

The Holy Spirit, the Church’s very life,
makes us capable of new things.
In Galatians, Paul gives us a list of 9 things 
            we can do by the power of the Spirit.
The first is love.
We come to Church to learn the art of  love.

And Paul says that opens the way to joy –
deep down shout hallelujah joy – then peace,
forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 
gentleness, and self-control. 

Being Church isn’t easy.
It’s a challenging ropes course in all these
disciplines of relationship. 
That’s how we become new.
In Ezekiel, the Lord said,
            I will give you a new heart 
                        and put a new spirit within you.
             I will remove from you your heart of stone
                        and give you a heart of flesh.

If we want to do this world any good,
            we need to get clear on what we have to offer.
It isn’t admission tickets. 
This isn’t the celestial box office.
We are in the business of new spirits and hearts of flesh.
Together we are doing something no one can do alone.
We are harnessing for God the energies of love.
Our life together has a mission
            -- to fill our world with God’s love.
That’s the difference between just believing in God 
            and becoming disciples of Christ.

Solo believers are like the Desert Father, Abba Lot,
 who knew he was missing something,
            so he visited  Abba Joseph.
Lot said, I keep my little rule, my little fasts,
            my prayer, my meditation, my silence . . . 
            What more should I do?

Abba Joseph held up both his hands
            and his fingers turned into 10 lamps of flame
            as he said, Why not become fire?

And what is that fire?
The Jesuit physicist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, answered,
            Someday . . . we will harness for God
the energies of love.
Then for the second time in human history
            we will have discovered fire.

Monday, June 3, 2019


Jesus prays that all of us may be one 
just like Jesus and the Father.
Obviously we are not the same.
We live in different bodies.
We have different stories,
different thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

But, underneath all the differences,
      might we be connected by something we have 
     down deep in common?
Might that matter for how we see each other
and treat each other?

Jesus says, he lives in us – all of us.
We all have the same Christ living inside.
This is a holy mystery.
But understanding even a small 
piece of it would be life-changing.

So: where do we find Christ inside ourselves?
In the midst of all the thoughts and feelings
            racing, chattering, and swirling in the chaos of myself,
                        where do I find Christ?

It’s John’s Gospel that says Christ lives in us;
            so let’s see how John describes Christ.
Then we’ll at least recognize who he is 
            if we catch a glimpse of him.
John draws us the wanted poster for Jesus. 

In John, our Lord isn’t an angry prophet.
He’s always the serene, balanced, observer,
the embodiment of wisdom.
 When they brought the adulterous woman
            and asked whether she should be stoned,
Jesus did not jump up and shout, You hypocrites.
He sat silently writing in the dust with his finger
            then without even looking up he said, 
Let the one . . . who is without sin
                        cast the first stone.

When the mob came to arrest him in the Garden,
Jesus went out to meet them and politely asked, 
            Who are you looking for?
Jesus, they answered. He said, You’ve found him.
 At his trial and crucifixion, Jesus remained balanced.
In John’s Gospel, Christ is the eye of the storm,
            as T. S. Eliot put it, the still point of the turning world.

There is something stable at the center of reality.
So much is constantly shifting and changing
            around us and inside us.
Things are always falling apart.
Yet 14 billion years after the Big Bang,
            we still have an orderly cosmos.

Something preserves a balance,
            holds things in order.
There’s a sanity inside the madness,
            a compassion inside the violence.
That’s what John means by Christ 
            – the Christ who became flesh in Jesus.

This serene center, this Christ-wisdom dwells in us
at a level deeper than our conscious minds.
Psychologist, John Firman, said that each of us contains
            a deeper source of wisdom and guidance,
             a source that operates beyond the control 
                        of the conscious personality. . .  .
He means our personal center 
which is so connected to the center of the universe
            that they are truly the same thing.
In the 14thCentury, Meister Eckhart, said,
            there is something in the soul so closely akin to God
                        that it is already one with him.

Parts of our personalities split away from our center.
We are not always true to ourselves.
That’s where we get into trouble.
 Firman said that our psychological distress
            comes from disregarding that deep wisdom 
                        we have inside.
But the central part of us
            is already one with Christ.
The wise serenity of Christ arises 
            from his capacity for a special kind of love.
We usually think of love as an emotionally intense approval
            of someone who is what we need them to be
                        or how we think they ought to be.
That kind of love can flip in the blink of an eye
            when the person does not live up to our expectations.

But Christ – both in the universe and in us – 
practices a different kind of love.
John’s word for it is Agape.
It means appreciating someone for just for being here.
It doesn’t judge. It just accepts.
That love is the force that keeps this world turning
and sustains our life.
There is such peace in that, such balance,
            to be rooted in a love that does not shift,
            in which, as it says in James, 
            there is no variableness, no shadow of turning.

We heard about such inner peace last Sunday.
This week our lessons take us further.
Christ does not live in us just
            to lower our Xanax expenses.
Paying disciplined attention to Christ in us
            changes our attitude and our actions
                        toward other people.
Because Christ lives in us, we can love his way
and that kind of love heals, redeems,
and transforms the world.

Yes, we can love people the world rejects,
            but more than that -- 
if we pay disciplined attention 
to  the still point in ourselves,
we can be the still point for each other. 

In Acts, after the earthquake,
            the jailer is about to kill himself,
Paul calls out, from the innermost cell,[i]
Calm down. We’re still here.
That’s the voice of Christ and we can say it to ourselves
            and to each other in any situation,
            Calm down. We’re still here.

When we are true to the core of our being,
            when we are true to Christ,
                        that’s precisely what we do.
 Oh, we forget more often than we remember.
We forget who we are, forget Our Lord.
We judge and condemn each other.

But Christ is still here at the center.
We can choose to remember,
            choose to look at ourselves and each other
                        through his eyes.
We can love the whole creation the way 
            the Father loves Christ, and Christ loves us –     
             unconditionally, just for being here.

On Sunday, we pray and sing together 
– eat one bread, drink one cup – 
      to remember Christ in us,
to remember that we all have Christ in us
and we are each members of his One Body.
We gather in that no-judgement love.

It is no coincidence that as Church attendance
            has declined our political life
            has descended into chaos 
with volleys of fanatical hatred and contempt
            as fear and loathing displace 
            facts and reason.

Might this be the time for Christians
            to say serenely but right out loud 
to a world gone mad,
                        Calm down. We are still here?

[i]Signifying the center of the self.