Monday, June 27, 2016
Land and we're going to take it slow. So, we'll see what's shakin' after the middle of July, ok? In the meantime I will be wandering around Ottawa, doing house repairs with my honey, visiting my grandson and family and continuing to discern what form my emerging "spirituality of tenderness" book will take. I've completed a rough introduction and gotten a sense of chapter one. My hunch is that subsequent chapters will include: 1) an appreciation of Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen; 2) an equally important appreciation of Wendy Farley and Richard Rohr; and 3) my own retranslation of seven practices to enrich a spirituality of tenderness for a non-religious era.
So I'll be reading lots of Nouwen and Vanier over the next few weeks as well as Barry and Connolly's text on The Practice of Spiritual Direction. Later in the summer I need to spend time with seven key biblical texts, too. So, for the time being, be well, get some rest and enjoy the beauty even in the midst of the harshness of these trying times.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
For a few days I have been leafing through my old Nouwen texts, noting what I have underlined in the past, and what speaks to me today. Even 20 years after his death, deep speaks to deep:
As long as we are trying to run away from our loneliness we are constantly looking for distractions with the inexhaustible need to be entertained and kept busy... We become dependent on the shifting chain of events leading us into quick changes of mood, capricious behavior and, at times, revengeful violence. Then our life becomes a spastic and often destructive sequence of actions and reactions pulling us away from our inner selves. It is not difficult to see how 'reactionary' we tend to be: that is, how often our lives become a series of nervous and often anxious reactions to the stimuli of our surroundings. We are often very, very busy - and usually tired as a result - but we should ask ourselves how much of our activity... is part of an impulsive reaction to the changing demands of our surroundings than an action born out of our own center?
- Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
Two of the insights I have learned by observing the ebb and flow of serenity and anxiety in the
written work of Nouwen include:
+ The necessity of inner tenderness: How many times have I been my own harshest critic? How many times have I treated my soul like someone I hate rather than love? How many times have I skipped God's assurance of pardon and forgiveness and meted out only punishment? Who would be surprised to know that I wept the first time I read Peterson's reworking of Matthew 11: 28-30?
+ The willingness to start again: Some people are uncomfortable with the Scripture where Jesus tells Nicodemus that "no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." (John 3: 3) To be sure, this text has been used to polarize and exclude, but that is not it's intention. Rather, it is an invitation to respond to grace - or new insights - and move out of the prison of our habits of shame, fear and anxiety. Nouwen puts it like this in his reflection on the desert fathers and mothers:
The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people's fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives?...How horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be (with all its busyness!)
- Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
I know that when I become angry and resentful of ministry, people and sometimes even God, three things are true: a) I am overly tired, b) I am starved for prayer and solitude, and c) I am in need of pardon so that I can be still and start again. My feelings are a clue - an invitation from above and within - but the message is usually upside-down just like God's kingdom. When I want to rail and shout, it would be better to be silent. When I want to flee and chuck it all, it would be more satisfying and redemptive to stay engaged. When I want to be angry with another, it is usually and invitation to let God heal my inner hurt in solitude.
Last night, before I finally fell asleep, two thoughts were running through my head that oddly relate to a spirituality of tenderness: 1) I have always been attracted to Elvis Presley's song, 'Love Me Tender,' not in a schmaltzy or sentimental way, but rather as a prayer. It is simple, honest and healing. And 2)while I make jokes about Blanche Dubois's credo in Streetcar Named Desire, I think it is one of the hidden keys to living a satisfying and sacred life: "Who ever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Two broken people sharing gifts with the world in the most ordinary ways.
Monday, June 20, 2016
I am thinking that once we head out of Dodge in 10 days for the Ottawa Jazz Festival I am going to take another internet fast. While we are in Canada, in addition to rest and music, we'll be spending a little time with L'Arche. In fact, we're staying an extra day in order to get to know some of the folk there and learn more about their ministry of tenderness. When we return to the US, I hope to be writing a lot, doing some house painting and home repair, and simply being in this moment. .It is a season for me to be tactile and earthy, immediate and grounded, with a bit hanging with the family mixed into some gardening and landscaping, too.
In my research, I came across this comment from Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, who was noting that Aristotle spoke of the intersection of pleasure and desire being your well-tuned calling in the world. It sounded a lot like Buechner's insight that: The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger embrace." Vanier amplifies this saying:
The deepest desire for us all is to be appreciated, to be loved, to be seen as somebody of value. But not just seen — and Aristotle makes a difference between being admired and being loved. When you admire people, you put them on pedestals. When you love people, you want to be together. So really, the first meeting I had with people with disabilities, what touched me was their cry for relationship. Some of them had been in a psychiatric hospital. Others — all of them had lived pain and the pain of rejection. One of the words of Jesus to Peter — you find this at the end of the gospel of Saint John — is, "Do you love me? So, the cry of God saying, "Do you love me?" and the cry of people who have been wounded, put aside, who have lost trust in themselves, they've been considered as mad and all the rest, their cry is, "Do you love me?" And it's these two cries that come together.
I cannot tell you how compelling and energizing that truth is to me: when the cry of the Lord and the cry of the wounded are heard as one. I will keep you posted as this unfolds even as we take an internet break sometime very soon. Here's one of the Quebecois artists I am eager to take in while in Ottawa: Marianne Trudel.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
across a brief but insightful article by the Finnish theologian Paulina Kainulainen entitled: "Tenderness and Resistance: Women's Everyday Wisdom Theology." One of the many insights she shares has to do with living into an activism of resistance that embodies alternatives to consumerism, the technologicalization of everyday life, and violence. This, she suggests, might be called a "quest for the Kingdom of Tenderness."
+ Such a way of thinking honors feelings as much as reason, values on an equal basis as facts. This is wisdom theology - sapientia - a forgotten and too thin tradition in the West, but one revered and practiced in the Eastern church. Wisdom theology is different from an academic theology that is built upon sciencia - hard facts and formula - what the Reverend Dr. Kainulainen calls a "theology of sure knowledge." "Theology as Sure Knowledge is interested in forming definitions and constructing systems to explain the world and faith." It creates a specialized language and seeks precision and intellectual comprehension. Wisdom theology, however, looks towards integrating the head with the heart and celebrates speaking of the sacred in ordinary language that real people use everyday. In this, she moves towards the sacramental vision and language of Jesus who spoke of God's kingdom like a wedding banquet. Quoting the Brazilian theologian and activist, Ivone Gabara, Kainulainen writes that wisdom theology is decidedly this-wordly. Never dismissing or ignoring the transcendent truths of our faith, the expression of a kingdom of tenderness remains grounded and concrete:
Salvation is more than a promise ---. Salvation is a get-together, an event, a kiss, a piece of bread, a happy old woman. It is everything that nourishes love, our body, our life. It is more than happiness in the hereafter, even if we hang on to the right to dream of our eternal tomorrow.
+ In this, Kainulainen evokes the wisdom of tenderness articulated by Jean Vanier. In an interview with NPR's Krista Tippett, Vanier says: "The big thing for me is to love reality and not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or what should have been or what can be, and somewhere, but "to love reality and then discover that God is present" right here and right now. Vanier also speaks of resisting the commodification of relationships as well as the importance of unplugging from unnecessary technology. The Internet, he notes, creates the illusion of a small world but it also robs us of the ability to care for it with compassion. This excerpt from the program's transcript is illuminating:
Saturday, June 18, 2016
as a visionary
or burned on a dry wood stake
as a witch
(two sides of the same coin)
i saw her
as one of the levantine women
who tried to live
with jesus and his wandering commune
the humane god
now she sits meditating
on a cliff by the ocean
playing and unwrapping
poems in prayers in faith and love a
prophetess of a magdalenian time
prophesying the aeon of tenderness
Friday, June 17, 2016
The exilic prophet of ancient Israel, Jeremiah, urged those who had been forced to exist on the fringe of Babylon during the 6th century BCE, to "seek the welfare" of their new habitation. After a generation of grief, where the best and the brightest of Jerusalem were condemned to weep in shock by the River Cebar and the waters of Babylon, a new calling was offered: seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you in exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its well-being you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 27: 7) Earlier this week, I read a Facebook posting from writer, Diana Bass, who put it like this:
Between us as friends, I'm kind of sad that the TIME magazine religion reporter is tweeting out all the nice things that evangelical pastors and RC church leaders are saying about the LGBT community and not a single word about the mainline and liberal churches and synagogues who have risked and worked and witnessed for two generations for full inclusion of LGBT people, their calls to ministry, and the affirmations of their families and loves. Don't get me wrong -- I'm pleased that Rick Warren can say something kind today and every bit of kindness helps. But it is hurtful that the Christians and Jews who have been kind and compassionate and passionate and welcoming and willing to learn and listen to the LGBT community for so long are not heard or seen for that courage and solidarity and witness. Indeed, entire denominations were put on the line in order that God's love would overcome hate like that of today. And our churches, communities, clergy are heartsick today over this violence -- and the brokenness of a world that fails to see LGBT people as fully in God's image and grace. On the potential flip side, maybe it isn't "news" when mainline Protestants preach on love, only when evangelicals do??? That's even sadder.
My experience in the once mainline but now sideline camp of American Christianity is this:
+ In the 50s and 60s, clergy and laity who had experienced the intense fear and apocalyptic reality of WW II, returned to a bland USA and started a quest for meaning, depth, hope and social commitment in our churches. You can see it in the art and music of that generation. You can point to it in the unity of the early Civil Rights movement. It became palpable during the drive to end the Vietnam War. It brought to birth a new wave of priests and nuns who were set free to be engaged with the world after Vatican II. And it was synthesized theologically in Harvey Cox's The Feast of Fools. This was to become an era of renewal through play and paradox, action and contemplation, sensuality and spirituality. That it wasn't fully realized does not diminish the energy set in motion by this movement.
+ As the 70s and 80s ripened, the hopes of this effort were only partially realized as many in our mainstream congregations fled in fear and confusion. Some ran into the arms of evangelical churches that were long on loving fellowship and community and short of social engagement. Others decided to opt out entirely and nurture the spirit within through Eastern meditation and/or retreat centers. And still more simply just stayed home on Sunday mornings and enjoyed a break from the grind of earning a living.
+ By the 90s, when "big box" churches were all the rage with their gourmet Christian baristas and seeker-friendly rock show productions, the once liberal mainstream began to rethink their strategies. Some mimicked the mega-churches albeit on a smaller scale. Others folded or merged as numbers continued to dwindle. And a remnant decided to "seek the welfare of the city" through a renewal of prayer and acts of social justice with the poor, broken and socially marginalized. As conservative Christianity became the social norm in popular culture, our side-line congregations worked under the radar of the media: Open and Affirming movements came into their own, the seeds of missional and emerging congregations were planted, and new eco-peace coalitions began to take root, too.
What I am trying to point out is this: just below the surface, these "seek ye the welfare of the city" churches have acted as a leaven within the whole of American Christianity. It could very well be said that our work in the vanguard of Christian/LGBTQ solidarity prepared the soil theologically and practically for more conservative churches to move towards compassion rather than rigid judgment. And that is where I trust our brand of Christianity must continue to toil, but only with humility. Too often I have heard some in our camp brag about being light years ahead of this or that group. That arrogance is poison. Rather, let us continue to sacrificially seek the welfare of those who have no allies in our realm - without bravado or even commentary - for such is the life of those who follow the man for others.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Take the recent filibuster by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut concerning new gun control legislation: after the Newtown massacre, Connecticut's politicians began a serious overhaul of their state's laws. Now, in a moment of personal anguish and political savvy, Murphy seized the day. It is still unclear what the end result will look like, but Murphy knew how to marry the momentum of public anger and grief with his own convictions, so he spoke truth to power. For nearly 15 hours, he called into question the deepest convictions of his colleagues who had sold some of their soul to the NRA for campaign funds. For complicated reasons, some were able to respond to Murphy's chutzpah and we all await the details of the real deal. This was a pol using his voice to make a difference: calling out compromised hearts and minds, invoking our better angels and doing it with bold humility
I love politicians who do this. What I hate has nothing to do with cutting deals - that's how life on the street works. No,what I hate is that too many politicians don't know how to honor silence. Either they feel the need to fill every moment with a comment (or else are forced to do so by the media or their constituency) or they attempt to spin events in ways that give them an advantage. There are times, however, when nothing should be said. "To everything there is a season," noted the wise, old preacher. "and a time for every purpose under heaven"
Sometimes our elected officials really don't have anything of value to say. They may have deep feelings. It is quite likely they have ideas in formation that could have value with a bit more incubation, too. But over and again, when asked to respond in public to a tragedy, blessing, challenge or surprise, what comes out of their mouths sounds flat, canned, predictable or even useless. Most of us are not grand orators, but political spin makes all things worse, not better. The common good would be better served by modeling silence in a culture already saturated in sound.
I was struck by this love/hate dissonance yet again when four hundred plus people gathered in Park Square to mourn in solidarity the hate crime in Orlando against LGBTQ Latinx dancers at Pulse. Everyone's hearts were raw. Each player's motivations were pure. But not everyone knew how to honor the wisdom of silence in public. So, at least for me, it seemed as if too many words were spoken. Some words were clarifying and holy, they bound us together and gave meaning to our wounds. Others...? Well, they merely filled the silence - and that's the best that can be said. Like our politicians, I too I am often asked to comment or analyze a public issue moments or even days after it has taken place. The Scriptures are clear that without an articulated vision, the people perish. But after shooting my own mouth off too many times spontaneously - or offering words without wisdom or depth because someone demanded a sound byte - I have tried to practice listening and waiting before writing or speaking about anything. I just don't know enough about anything all by myself. I need to connect with the larger pulse of the holy - and that requires silence. I don't always get this right, I know, because there are those in my community who kindly say: put a sock in it for a time, ok? We all need such accountability.
So I wonder does our penchant for expression come from the loss of poetry in the culture? The absence of practicing and experiencing good liturgy regularly? The addiction to the round the clock cable news cycles and infomercial TV? An aching loneliness that confuses noise for intimacy and reverberations for presence? A spiritual dis-ease that aches for healing but refuses to accept the still, small voice of our hidden God? T.S. Eliot put it like this:
The endless cycle of idea and action, endless invention, endless experiment,
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
Nearness to death but no nearer to God.
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries brings us farther from God