Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stop and Pray

I woke the other morning
And rushed into the day -
With many goals ahead of me
I did not take time to pray.

Problems surfaced rapidly
Confounding every task -
Why did God not ease my toil?
God said: You didn't ask.

I longed for greater clarity
But all seemed grim and bleak -
Why did God not help my sight?
God said: You didn't seek.

Fatigue soon overwhelmed me,
And it was only four o'clock -
Why did God not offer strength?
God said: You didn't knock.

I longed for something greater,
But ran into a wall -
Why did God not answer me?
God said: You didn't call.

Hence when I woke this morning,
Before starting up my day -
With so much to accomplish
I decided to stop and pray.

[Adapted from 'God's Message']

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Theology of the Wounded

For many, a healthy God is a healing God – a God whose presence heals the wounds of dejection and despair. Out of pain, pleasure. Out of suffering, contentment. Out of hopelessness, a flickering promise of rejuvenation. In the Gospel of John, we encounter Jesus the restorer. We read of Jesus restoring sight to a man born blind and bringing Lazarus back to life after he tasted death for three long days. Even if we don’t take these accounts to be literal histories of supernatural events, many of us cling tightly to the hopes and dreams enfolded within. Even if we employ a different vocabulary, or – like Emerson – refocus our attention on the super within the natural, deep down we secretly yearn for the miraculous. Deep within we, too, long for restoration – for deliverance from the troubles and torments of our daily lives. Deep inside the bellies of our souls, we pray for our wounds to heal.

Consequently, our theologies – our ways of being in the world – remain entrapped within a dangerous cultural dialectic of wholeness overcoming brokenness.

Only recently have we begun to excavate the tangled genealogies of ableism. Dominant Christian theologies, for one, paint fantastical pictures of the Holy Spirit magically curing, heroically rescuing and divinely redeeming wounded bodies. Similarly, Jewish tradition records Levitical purity laws that explicitly bar individuals with ‘defects’ from offering sacrifices to Yahweh. So doing would desecrate the Holy. Certain Buddhist doctrines, like that of inherited Karma, inform disabled peoples that their sufferings derive from actions in previous lives. Popular interpretations of Darwinian evolution provide biological sanction to positions of inferiority, while a liberal humanism of cultured civility draws the ‘Family of Man’ in terms of healthy, civilized and wholesome ancestries. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the stigmata of debility left certain bodies as lacking full humanity – degenerate, on account of race, gender or disability.

In each and every one of these scenarios, disablement allows for imposed colonization - degeneracy ‘invites’ sympathy and the imperialism of a superior force ‘helping’ the deficient person or population.

What would it mean for our theologies and philosophies to take woundedness seriously?

What would it mean for ourselves if we were to stop waiting for a cure?

What would it mean for our communities if we were to change our answer to the question: from what must we be saved?

What if we no longer sought deliverance from brokenness? What if we allowed the wounded body to speak – what would it say?

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Acting and Talking

Indian mystic and spiritual teacher Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) draws the distinction between action and activity. The former, he argues, describes situations that demand a certain human behavior and consequently solicit a response. Conversely, the latter pertains to situations that do not warrant specific actions, such that any behavior should be classified as superfluous restlessness. Like God, "action is always new and fresh like the dew drops in the morning" (in Tantra, the Supreme Understanding). Action forms the subject in spontaneity and contingency. Activity, on the hand, needlessly replays the calcified past.

Osho's insight maps itself onto the act of talking, as well. We might distinguish between talking to and talking at. Much like activity, when we talk to someone, we listen carefully, engage fully and speak to the nuance and complexities of the discussion at hand. In contrast, when we talk at someone, we restlessly babble about preconceived (and likely irrelevant) assumptions that rarely further the goal of effective communication.

Being present to the now, both in action and in speech, allows the freshness of divine indwelling to blossom.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Homeless Shelter Spirituality

A significant number of my friends at seminary are dedicating their summers to homeless shelter work. I am humbled and warmed by their selflessness, especially at a time when sniping large-profile church internships is so en-vogue. Which is why I stopped to think about a recent blog entry that caught my eye: in a less-than-nuanced tirade against Christian brainwashing, Rev. Jessica Sideways poses the following intriguing question: 'why is it that Christians run homeless shelters...[while] atheists do not do anything for humanity?' For what it's worth, the aforementioned seminarians all do happen to represent different stripes of Christianity: Lutheranism, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterianism, etc.

Obviously, the question presupposes a dangerous level of generic abstractionism - many Christians do not work with the homeless, and I'm sure many atheists charitably donate their time and energy to such noteworthy causes. Yet, as Rev. Sideways continues her diatribe, an unsettling array of additional enigmas surface. She writes:

I know that this sounds quite paranoid but they ARE trying to get to people in their most stressful, weak states in order to brainwash them into believing the Jesus nonsense. They ARE abusing people in their most vulnerable state...I have seen homeless shelters that require their clients who want to have a bed there to attend classes to implant ideas into their head about Christianity that are just not true...This is very manipulative and it is a very dark, creepy thing that these religious people do.

A couple thoughts come to mind: while I remain highly skeptical of any mandatory religious instruction, I am hard pressed to categorically dismiss Christian shelter work as a subversive plot to 'abuse' and 'brainwash' the most vulnerable sectors of society. For one, this description fails to account for the countless venues that offer life-saving services through federal funds (hence, work or sobriety requirements replace religious ones). Secondly, as my good friend Jeannie playfully and insightfully asks: 'where are all these homeless converts'? Further, it is only from a position of privilege that we can adjudicate the worth of 'a consciousness free from contact with Jesus' in comparison with the basic human necessities of housing, warmth and food. What violence do we perform when we write such work off as worthless - even harmful - merely because it offends our personal cognitive sensibilities?

I am much more inclined to take Rev. Sideways' probing inquiry as a call to action. At their inception, many religiously-based homeless shelters came into existence to meet a dire (and theretofore unfulfilled) human need, benefitting in turn from the sustaining faith of parishioners and the circulating nature of church volunteerism. In turn, most have become secularized or disconnected from their spiritual origins. Today, whether Christian, atheist or any label in between, we should build our theologies (or philosophies) from the ground up, as we donate our lives to the betterment of others. Let us discover what the Jesus-of-the-homeless-shelter looks like first hand. We might even be transformed in the process.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009


In celebration of Pentecost Sunday, Rev. Andrew James Brown closes his meditation with the words of Cliff Reed, a Unitarian and Free Christian minister in Ipswich:

We are the Christians who move on...
carrying with us the free and timeless heart of Jesus,
faithful to what was said and done in love for liberty by him, by those who follow him,
by those who give his spirit voice and flesh in every time and place.

I find the intersection between Pentecost and the experience of movement poignant. After all, in the Hebrew Bible, the occasion represented a feast of harvest (Heb. Shavuot) that commemorated natural growth in the fields. In the Christian context, the day recorded in Acts begins with 'the rush of a mighty wind' (Acts 2:2). The great mystery of the Holy Spirit's descent, then, is marked by the transitory, the fleeting, the passing, The celebration reminds us that new life, new power and new blessing are to be found in the kinetics of the soul and in the workings of the unexpected.

An anonymous proverb reads: “Every time I find the meaning of life, they change it.” On Pentecost, we pause to find God working in those novel tides crashing against the cliffs of human history.

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As I gradually recover from my extended hospital stay, I cannot help but lift up a prayer that touched my soul in a time of torment:

O Brave and Powerful God, Ocean of Peace and Calmness, I have fallen into a pit - please, take my hand. Bless life with the gentle touch of a healing resurrection.

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