Friday, September 30, 2016

taking delight in the Sabbath...

Today was our Sabbath: a time away from work, fretting, business as usual and most of the
chores that take up so much of our ordinary days. Dianne and I have been committed to radical Sabbath keeping for most of our time together. And while we have not always lived into the full promised rest of this sacred discipline, we have consistently cherished that promise - and this has kept us on track. Abraham Joshua Heschel has been our guide. His wisdom on Sabbath keeping continues to ring true:

To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern...

All around us we see that life has gone wrong. Terribly wrong. At the same time it is exquisitely
beautiful, too. And within that beauty there is a message of hope for us: God is in control even when lunatics dominate our political life and violence claims the day. Heschel noted that only when we know the "inner Temple" of solitude and trust can we be free from the manic demands of the dominant culture.

Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time. Our intention here is not to deprecate the world of space. To disparage space and the blessing of things of space, is to disparage the works of creation, the works which God beheld and saw “it was good.” The world cannot be seen exclusively sub specie temporis. Time and space are interrelated. To overlook either of them is to be partially blind. What we plead against is man’s unconditional surrender to space, his enslavement to things. We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.

And so we moved slowly through the day, free from any demands from beyond, and fully connected to the moment and the time we share. Later I read a comment from one who left an encouraging word on a recent blog post. I had shared my worship notes for this coming Sunday - the blessing of our pets for the Feast of St. Francis - and was summarizing the cosmic unity that God set in motion in the beginning. His note made my heart sing.  This is what we can trust if we rest into the promise of deep Sabbath.

I am awed when I consider that 8 billion years ago the entire known universe was composed of nothing but hydrogen and helium. Nowhere in the universe were there conditions even remotely capable of supporting life. And no reasonable observer of that state of affairs would have concluded that such conditions would ever be possible. It's hard to imagine a situation more apparently hopeless. Yet here we are. It makes being an optimist in face of today's difficulties relatively easy. :)

I sense that Bill is right...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

closing the season of creation: worship notes for the feast of st. francis...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for this Sunday, October 2, 2016, on the Feast Day of St. Francis (actually October 4th). We bring to a close our observance of the Season of Creation and move into the wonderful transitions of autumn. (As I continue to "play" with the new design here I will be experimenting with font color. Please be patient until I get the right combo, ok?)

This is one of my favorite holy days in the whole Christian calendar: The Feast of St. Francis, All Saints Day, the start of Advent and the Paschal Triduum – Maundy Thursday to the Feast of the Resurrection on Easter morning – each carry a unique charism that brings nourishment and stamina to my soul:

+  All Saints’ Day connects heaven and earth for me as we remember those within the community who have crossed over into glory with God forever – and who pray without ceasing for those still living in this realm. The clarifying silence of the start of Advent opens me to all of the longings I carry in my heart like the Virgin Mary pondering the birth of the Christ Child. And the cluster of liturgies that begin on Maundy Thursday and continue seamlessly through Good Friday into the dawn of Easter’s renewal helps me trust that God has not yet given up on me – or us – or all of creation. The arch of this story tells me there is still hope if we trust God rather than ourselves.

+  And then there is today – the Blessing of Our Pets on the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi – at the close of the season of creation. There are a lot of reasons to like this celebration – the presence of our pets, the giddy excitement of our children, the hint of chaos and possibility of barking or squawking and more. But here’s why I cherish this day: it makes visible the interconnected reality of God’s blessing in creation as the Lord intended it. For a moment in time, we realize if only obliquely that we are part of a web of life: flora and fauna, water and wind, earth, fire and air and cosmos. 

+  The Feast Day of St. Francis gives shape and form to something we have known intuitively forever but have only confirmed scientifically in the last few decades: namely that we are all made from the same star dust that created the planets, the sun and the moon, the rain and the stars as well as all the multiple universes beyond our galaxy at the beginning of time. So, it is not an exaggeration to say that God’s wisdom for life has united us all into a cosmic tapestry of interdependence since before there was time.

And having our pets all around us in a place that is usually reserved just for people awakens this truth for me in a unique way. Our animal friends help get me out of my head and into my heart and body where I can feel something of God’s blessed unity. Like the old church camp song used to say: We are ONE in the Spirit, we are ONE in the Lord – and we pray that all unity will one day be restored.

So let me share with you three thoughts about our cosmic unity that are ours to treasure and nourish if we are willing to get out of our own way and live more boldly into this sacred wisdom. First, the heart of creation is Eucharistic. Gathering around the communion table to remember Christ’s life, death and resurrection is not simply a Christian ritual, it is a spiritual and symbolic re-enactment of God’s wisdom revealed to us in time, space and matter. 

+  Astrophysicist, Karel Schrijver, put it like this in a National Geographic: "When the universe started (8 billion years ago) there was just hydrogen and a little helium and very little of anything else. Helium is not in our bodies. Hydrogen is, but that's not the bulk of our weight. (After the explosion that set creation into motion “in the beginning” as the Bible says) stars became like nuclear reactors. They take a fuel and convert it to something else. Hydrogen is formed into helium, and helium is built into carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, iron and sulfur—everything we're made of. So when stars get to the end of their lives, they swell up and fall together again, throwing off their outer layers (and scattering the essence of star dust throughout the universe.) If a star is heavy enough, it will explode in a supernova” sharing the stuff of new life with the cosmos through its own death.

+  The gospel of St. John has Jesus saying much the same thing albeit in mystical poetry rather than scientific prose: "unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies... it will not bear fruit. I give my life and love so that you may have life – and have it in abundance.” This is Eucharist for those with eyes to see: we gather to return thanks to God for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus through whom we experience forgiveness and new life. And then, after dying to self, we move back into the world to share a life of gratitude with others.

In liturgical language we celebrate in communion what the scientists have confirmed in the cosmos: we are all taken and blessed, broken and shared, so that by dying to ourselves we might bring new life to the world. This is the wisdom and rhythm of the holy built into creation since before the beginning of time. Creation is Eucharistic.

Second, in countless ways, our spiritual tradition has been trying to help us grasp the ethical implications of this cosmic wisdom of Eucharist for over three or maybe four thousand years. In Genesis 2, the first book of the Bible, we read that on the day the Lord our God created human beings, formed as we were from the dust of the earth and filled with the breath of God, the Lord also created a garden from star dust and filled it with bounty and harmony so that more life could be set into motion. 

 The Scripture says: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the dust of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field. And the animals were commanded to be fruitful and multiply. There was unity and creativity born of spirit and flesh.

Jesus seems to be saying much the same thing in that part of St. Matthew’s gospel we know as the Sermon on the Mount. Listen as he reminds us that we are all connected to one another according to God’s plan: I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

Life, as God intends it, is grounded in honoring our unifying and creative place within the cosmic tapestry of creation. Community and solidarity lay at the heart of this plan – sharing and compassion are woven into the essence of a sacred life of balance – and the more we respect this truth, the better able we are to serve the Lord throughout the whole cosmos. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the ethics of creation like this in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: In a real sense all life is inter-related. All of us are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be... This is the inter-related structure of reality.

And this points to the third insight for this Feast Day for Blessing Our Pets: as a part of the Eucharistic rhythm at the heart of creation and God’s bold, cosmic interconnectivity, we have been charged to live as God’s image in creation. Not Lord or King or Queen– not someone else’s part nor the role of the animals, water, the heavens or the land – just our part. In Genesis 1 we read that after all of creation was formed, God made human beings in the image of God to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and every living being. And this word dominion is tricky: back when the Bible was translated into English, it was the age of European empire and exploration. So when the King James Version was written, it was natural to translate the Hebrew word, rawdah, in the spirit of the age.

It actually made sense in that day to speak of the image of God in terms of nobility, control and

power. But as time changes and we become more insightful about the nuances of culture, language and scripture, scholars now agree that dominion really doesn’t work – especially because the ancient Hebrew story in Genesis does not portray the first people as nobility or even divine unlike all the other creation stories of that era. No, we were formed in the image of God to strengthen and cherish creation as did the Lord – exercising a “special and unique power and privilege – a tender responsibility – to share love, interdependence and respect” just as God did in the beginning. 

+  The Reverend Dr. Ellen Davis of Duke Divinity School puts it like this: to exercise the rule or reign of God in creation – rawdah in Hebrew – is always related to the image of God in reality. That’s why she suggests a more evocative translation where we are to exercise a skilled mastery of balance amongst the creatures of creation.

+  God has already set an order and rhythm into motion in the cosmos: the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are to be fruitful and multiply – not just human beings – so what we’re encouraged to do is live in a way that honors and strengths the blessings God has already set in motion. Not control them. Nor act in self-absorbed or ruthless ways, but rather to become the image of God as the Lord intended since the beginning.


I love this day in the life of the church because it calls me to honor my place in God’s creation – and do so knowing that as I exercise tender care in the world, I am living into the image of the Lord. Jan Richardson, a United Methodist clergy person and artist, wrote a blessing poem for our pets that gets the heart of this right and brings my message to a close:

You who created them and called them good: 
bless again these creatures who come to us as a blessing

fashioned of fur or feather or fin, formed of flesh that breathes with your own breath,
that you have made from sheer delight, that you have given in dazzling variety.
Bless them who curl themselves around our hearts, 
who twine themselves through our days 
who accompany us in our labor, who call us to come and play.
Bless them who will never be entirely tamed a
nd so remind us that you love what is wild,
that you rejoice in what lives close to the earth, that your heart beats
in the heart of these creatures you have entrusted to our care.

Lord may it be so within and among us all. Amen.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

spiritual depth communicates across generational lines...

As I continue to explore next steps after moving into a part-time role as minister sometime in 2017, three leads include:

+ playing more music and gigs

+ deepening my work as a spiritual director for individuals

+ sharing my time, head and heart as a celebrant for those who are spiritual but no religious

To say that I am excited about moving into new ministries would be an understatement.  As this summer's discernment process made clear, our small congregation must learn to do more with less even as we reshape our ministries according to the Spirit's lead. We are NOT simply about bottom lines, but rather the invitation to let our hearts sing in creative ways. And today, celebrating the baptism of a sweet child made my heart sing. I know and love the family well. I have travelled to Turkey playing jazz for peace with some. I celebrated the parents' wedding. I have worked with them on community renewal projects. So, when they asked if I might work with them to reform a baptism liturgy of their child, it was a no brainer. I began by saying:

Welcome in the name of God, giver of life, who creates us all and loves us all: Creator,

Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen. Today we gather both to celebrate the gift of this beloved child into the world – and our lives – as well as to baptize her into a community of love. In all spiritual traditions – including the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – the passage of time is honored and marked with rites of passage and rituals of dedication. This day we join ourselves with people of spirit in the circle of life. Throughout the world, in many faiths, and countless ages, our elders understood that we must welcome our children into a community of love: God’s love, our love and the love that is at the heart of all creation. For unless we guide and shape our children by love and responsibility, they remain unfocused and unable to use their wild hearts to protect the common good.

In my Christian tradition, we remember that often there were those around Jesus who wanted to keep the little children away from him. But he insisted that they should be included in the circle not only to receive a blessing, but also because they can change our hearts, too. His saying that some of the first shall be last and the last shall be first suggests that there are times when our children are the best teachers, imams and rabbis we’ll ever meet. But only if we are awake and paying attention, not taking our little ones for granted or diminishing them in anyway.  And so we gather to bless and baptize this child in a celebration of love and life for this is our commitment as adults, family and friends: we will guide and cherish her as a precious gift from God. 
Let us pray: Creator God, source of love, life and blessing, we offer this prayer of thanks for the joy given to us this day. You have shared new life with this family. You have bestowed new responsibilities and sacred insights upon both mother and father And you have called us together now to join in their delight and responsibility in caring for this precious child. Guide us with your Spirit that we may be patient and understanding, ready to share and forgive as life requires; so that in our love for her she may know true love. May she learn to love your world – and the whole family of creation – as did Christ Jesus, in whose spirit we are guided this day. Amen.

After sharing three readings - from Ecclesiastes 3, Rumi and I Corinthians 13 - I offered a brief homily including these words:

What we are doing today is holy: we are reclaiming an ancient truth that has all too readily been sacrificed on the altar of expediency. We are, you see, celebrating the arrival of this child into our lives in a sacramental and mystical way: we are training ourselves to claim beauty in the ordinary and hope within our humanity at a time when so many human beings are filled with fear and despair. Like one of my favorite writers, Sr. Joan Chittister, says: the awakened ones of creation practice seeing the eagle within the egg. Or as the Sufi poet, Rumi, puts it:
We are to become midwives – all of us – who know that not until a mother’s womb softens from the pain of labor will a way unfold for the infant to be born…

So let me be clear with you about this mystical, sacramental celebration: religion and spirituality are changing in our era – and that is a good thing. We are no long rule or culture bound; we have liberated ourselves to find new meaning in old traditions, new insights in ancient wisdom, and new ways of living within the human condition. As a culture shaped by the Enlightenment, we’ve relied upon science and rational thought to be our guide for more than 500 years and this way has brought blessings to all of creation to be sure. But it has also limited our ability to access the deeper truths of heart and soul and love. It has fostered the illusion that we are in control of our lives when, in truth, that is arrogant folly. And so, like many here today, we’ve given up on traditional religion in pursuit of a new/old way of integrating head with heart and body with soul. For us much of the church has become oppressive, irrelevant, wooden and punitive. It is without heart and soul and we ache for refreshment.

Take our use of water today: it is a universal symbol of both cleansing and refreshment. Both the human body AND the earth are mostly water – they are both about 60% water – and that is not coincidence. That is by design how-ever you wish to understand that word; human beings and all creation are mostly water – and the rest is star dust – carbon, hydrogen, helium arranged in a delicate balance tt gives
 us life and breathe and meaning.

We spoke together of what godparents might mean in our new setting - and vows - and even spiritual education in a multicultural context that still honors and reveres Jesus. And then, after giving the 80 people instructions, I invited them to come forward and offer signs or symbols or words of blessing to the child - and they did so with gusto. And the baby loved every minute of it. Then we prayed over the water, baptized her in a traditional way and evoked God's blessing upon us all. A party of gentle souls sharing food, sunshine and conversation followed at the country home of the grandparents.

I came away with two insights: informal but spiritually significant rites of passages still speak volumes to young people who may have abandoned the institutions of their youth. This is worth exploring more deeply. I also verified my hunch that integrity, self-deprecating humor mixed with authentic spiritual depth communicates across generational lines. I'll keep you posted on further developments.
photo credits:  Dianne De Mott

Friday, September 23, 2016

cosmos sunday: insights for the season of creation...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for Sunday, September 24, 2016 - Cosmos Sunday - in the Season of Creation.

Back in the early days of my formation as a person of faith I heard a song that touched my heart. It was written by Joni Mitchell in the days right after the Woodstock concert and festival and was soon recorded shortly there- after by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Their version was upbeat and rockin’ – an ode to youth and innocence – but that is not how Joni Mitchell wrote it or played it. Mitchell gave us a more moody meditation on our quest for meaning – part contemplation of our place in the cosmos, part prayer for peace and part lamentation over human hubris – and like many of her compositions, this one continues to add layers of nuance for those with ears to hear. On Cosmos Sunday, I am particularly drawn to two parts of Mitchell’s proclamation:

The opening verse evokes the naiveté of our yearning to re-enter the Garden of Eden after choosing self over the way of God. Like all people of good will who haven’t wrestled profoundly with the stain of sin, the protagonist thinks he can actually get the Genie back in the bottle all by himself. Linking Woodstock with the biblical story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, verse one goes like this:

I came upon a child of God he was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going and this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm, gonna join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land - an' get my soul free
We are stardust, we are golden
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden

Two verses later, however, after celebrating the ecstatic promise of Woodstock’s festival of peace, love and music, Mitchell adds something more sobering with the insertion of two simple phrases into the closing chorus: We are stardust and billion year old carbon - we are golden and we’re caught in the devil's bargain. Mitchell is NOT a sentimental romantic. She understands that suffering is real. She knows that in our quest to ease the pain of human existence, good people often make choices that violate our connection to creation. We live like we have become the center of the cosmos rather than sisters and brothers all formed from that same billion year old carbon that science tells us gives shape and form to the moon, the plants, the animals and all of life. 

With a theological sophistication that is unusually profound for artists in popular music, Mitchell tells us that we are caught in the Devil’s bargain: we have exchanged solidarity with creation for arrogance and the illusion of autonomy. We have abandoned living in harmony with God’s grace for the empty promise of being in charge. In the biblical story, Eve and then Adam allow themselves to be enticed by the Devil into eating the one fruit forbidden from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

+  They allow their yearning for more to lure them beyond the sacred rhythm of living as interconnected partners with the rest of life created from the blessings of the Lord. And once they raise their yearning – their pain – their hopes and desires above the order of the garden’s delicate balance, a dangerous and destructive momentum is unleashed that pollutes the air, fouls the water, brings disease and anguish to humanity and advances the tragic logic of war.

+  The Devil’s bargain, in both the Bible and Joni Mitchell’s song, is trading solidarity for arrogance – elevating our longings above living in balance with creation – exchanging the harmony of grace for the dissonance of selfishness.  As Reinhold Niebuhr puts it: original sin is pride and hubris - and Mitchell grasps this truth with poetic and theological clarity.

Well, then can I walk beside you? I have come to lose the smog,
And I feel like I'm a cog in something turning.
And maybe it's the time of year, yes and maybe it's the time of man.
And I don't know who I am, but life is for learning…
By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong
And everywhere was a song and a celebration.
And I dreamed I saw the bomber death planes riding shotgun in the sky,
Turning into butterflies above our nation.
We are stardust – billion year old carbon - we are golden - caught in the devil's bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Unlike most contemporary Western people, Joni Mitchell not only honors the linkage between science and religion, she also knows that the Bible begins and ends with a story set in a garden. Genesis tells us of the breach but Revelation tells us of God’s restoration to grace as we live in harmony through the love of Jesus Christ.

What’s more, the biblical texts selected for Cosmos Sunday all sing from this same hymnal:
God has placed an order and impulse to life in every atom of creation – from the stars and planets to our souls as well as the wind, the waters, the mountains and Earth’s animals - we are all formed from the same star dust. Our DNA is connected to the Big Bang, the flora and fauna, our family and our enemies, the earth, the sky and the whole cosmos. Life is interconnected – not wildly independent or arrogantly self-centered – but rooted in collaboration. God’s plan and wisdom, the Lord’s order of creation, is revealed “in mutual, reciprocal interdependence… where no created thing is an island unto itself.” (Season of Creation commentary, p. 218) 

This is what Christ reveals and it is how God leads us back into the beauty of grace in the garden. So let me suggest one of the blessings that can be claimed from today’s readings: 
The purpose of life is compassion – not power or wealth – it is not about making ourselves happy in isolation. Rather, it is recognizing our relationship to every living thing – animate and inanimate – friend and foe – and sharing love as best we are able. Sometimes our love will be imperfect, right? Sometimes we will be afraid. Or confused. Or angry. Those times have also been built into the ebb and flow of God’s creation and are intended to help us learn to let go of our pride and arrogance. Indeed, Jesus promises to meet us in our failures and reconnect us to God’s original grace so that we might increase love in the cosmos as he did. But here’s the caveat: we must be willing to learn from our mistakes. The mystery of our wisdom tradition is simple: we do not learn from experience – we learn from reflecting on our experience – measuring our insights against Christ’s love and tenderness. 

Bourgeoisie education and culture wants us to believe that we become wise by working hard, advancing only ourselves, winning various prizes and claiming power as individuals. But the way of Jesus and his wisdom – the truth that God has poured into every atom of creation – is relational. The Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit is not a doctrinal truth, but a description of the Divine in relationship with all of creation. That is precisely what the biologists, seismologists, historians and economists of our generation are discovering: “we live in a cosmos where order continues to emerge in complex ways revealing creation’s underlying impulse to life” (p. 215.) And, of course, such is the heart and soul of true spirituality. So consider these Biblical insights with me from today’s readings.

Proverbs 8 speaks of Lady Wisdom – the order of nature in the cosmos and the essence of interdependence and love in all of creation – who was given birth at the beginning of time as the first act of creation and who has shared the formation of life with the Lord for all eternity.

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command.

Here is what I find fascinating: First, that God gave birth to Lady Wisdom. Scholars have observed that in this text God becomes Wisdom’s birth mother – expanding our awareness of the Holy Famine beyond outdated notions of God as stern, punishing father – but also telling us something corrective about God’s love for Wisdom – and by implication – all of us. In verse 30 we read, “I was beside God like a master worker, his daily delight, rejoicing before him always.”

Now “master worker” is a medieval Latin translation of the Hebrew word amon which is more frequently translated as “darling – cherished one – intimate or even nursing child and confidant.” (p. 217) Confidant is how the Tanakh – the contemporary Jewish Scriptures – puts this verse and it points towards a tender relationship between “a doting parent and a playful, laughing child who works in close and trusting ways to create an Earth full of life that is a delight to the Lord.” (p. 217) In this my heart takes me to Psalm 131: O Lord, I am not proud, I have no special or haughty looks. I do not occupy myself with great matters or things to hard for me. For I still my soul and make it quiet like a child upon its mother’s breast – this is how my soul is quieted within me – in trust and deep tenderness. A sacred, tender, playful and love-filled compassion is how Lady Wisdom was created and how she experienced life with God from the beginning of time. That’s one important clue about how God calls us to live in creation.

The other is this: at the core of creation is grace. “Grace is a gift. Grace is unconditional love. Grace is about blessing… and blessing is the theological word we have come up with for goodness – a life-giving gift from the Lord” that we neither own nor deserve but cherish for it brings us into the way of love. (Natural Grace, Fox and Sheldrake, p. 55) Matthew Fox wrote that creation is grace: we didn’t do it – it was someone else setting the table for us and leading us to the feast. That is what Lady Wisdom is all about: we were brought into life by God’s grace to share God’s grace. The totality of creation is all about grace – living in harmony and relationship with creation as God intended – and we call this relationship gratitude.

Psalm 148 observes that when we know our place in the realm of grace we call the cosmos – when we honor God by gratitude – our natural response is to shout: Hallelujah! (And what does hallelujah mean? Praise the Lord!) For the only prayer we truly know from the inside out is thank you.

Small wonder then that Jesus tells us in St. John’s gospel that at his core he is bread: he feeds us, he nourishes us, he is within us and in relationship with creation by grace. By grace he gives himself be taken, to be broken, to be blessed and shared with all creation. And in this giving the wisdom of the Lord is revealed not as a blessing reserved or promised to Christians alone: it is for the cosmos. Please listen very carefully to the closing sentence of this passage: “the bread that I will give” – from the Greek word hyper that means for the sake of or on behalf of – “is for the life of the world” – kosmos in Greek – “it is my flesh.” Did you hear that? The living nourishment that Jesus gives for the sake of the cosmos is a life shared in compassion.

Jesus shows us the essence of Lady Wisdom – the cosmos shows us the essence of grace – and the bread which we break in his compassion shows us how we become bread for the world according to the will and plan of God. We are star dust, we are golden, even as we wrestle with the devil’s bargain. And there IS a way back into the garden, but not of our own making. When we allow God to nourish us with grace and learn from our failings how to reach out to others in compassion, then we reconnect with the cause of love poured into every atom of creation. And as we become allies of the very heart of the God, we reclaim the blessing lost in arrogance and advance the cause of Christ in the real world. And this, dear people, is the good news for today: so let those with ears to hear, hear and do likewise.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

sharing, arrogance and the devil's bargain...

Ever think you are finished with something - a composition, a sermon, a poem - only to discover as the week unfolds that you were only scratching the surface? I spent time putting my worship notes together this Monday - it is Cosmos Sunday in the Season of Creation - and I thought I'd made stunning progress. Thing is, however, that with more reflection on the Psalm - and more listening to Eva Cassidy's take on Joni's "Woodstock" - it became clear that I have more work to do. So, in addition to pastoral care and hospital visits tomorrow, I'll spend a few more hours exploring what it means to know that God made ALL creation out of stardust - we are interconnected - and how we betray Creation's soul through arrogance and fear - the Devil's bargain.  I'll give a little time into practicing "Woodstock" too as we'll be using it in worship. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

the trees of the field will clap their hands...

Looking out of my study window this afternoon, the wetlands and woods are clearly singing
God's praise in their anticipation of the autumnal equinox. Various snippets from the songs of ancient Israel show up as I contemplate nature's beauty:

+ Psalm 148:  Praise the Lord, o sun and moon; praise God all you shining stars! 
Praise God, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for God commanded and they were created.  God established them for ever and ever; fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.  Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!  Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

+ Psalm 98: Let the rivers clap their hands and the mountains sing together for joy.

+ Isaiah 55: You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

+ Luke 19: 40:  If my disciples did not shout for joy, and kept quiet then these stones would cry out!

At various times in the past I have been drawn to the writing of Parker Palmer, particularly his reflections on the spirituality of the seasons, where he observes:

Seasons are a wise metaphor for the movement of life... It suggests that life is neither a battlefield nor a game of chance, but something infinitely richer, more promising, more real. The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle of the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us t5o embrace it all - and to find in all the opportunities for growth. (I would use depth.) We do not believe we "grow" our lives - we believe that we "make" them... and so from an early age, we absorb our culture's arrogant conviction that we manufacture everything, reducing the world to mere "raw material" that lacks all value until we impose our designs and labor on it. (Let Your Life Speak, pp. 96-97)

But the field and trees behind my home don't believe such foolishness:  they reach up and out in thanksgiving and remind me that ALL of creation is grace. It is a gift - and my calling is to respond with gratitude.  During autumn the wisdom of God's first word in nature offers an invitation to look beyond both the obvious beauty of the leaves and warm air as well as earth's movement towards the death of winter. This moment is a celebration of both - never one or the other - but always a reminder that "living is hidden within dying."  It is a paradox where the opposites do "not negate each - they cohere in the mysterious unity that is at the heart of reality."

Deeper still, they need each other for health, as my body needs to breathe in as well as breathe out. But in a culture that prefers the ease of either-or thinking to the complexities of paradox, we have a hard time holding opposites together. We want light without darkness, the glorious of spring and summer without the demands of autumn and winter - and the Faustian bargains we make fail to sustain our lives. When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the close, there can only be one result: artificial light that  is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows ever more terrifying as we try to hold it off. Split off from each other neither darkness nor light is fit for human habitation. But if we allows the paradox of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing. (p. 100)

At this late date in life I am just beginning to appreciate,and maybe even trust, the wisdom of God's first word revealed in nature:  it is always both/and - wholeness and health is about balancing and honoring the paradox - even the challenge of discerning life within what is dying.

Monday, September 19, 2016

and so it goes...

On the 15 anniversary of September 11, I didn't win any friends or supporters when I suggested
in worship that the US had not learned any true wisdom in light of this terrorist attack. We are as stunned today as we were before that horrible time that acts of terrorism happen to us - the roots of American exceptionalism are deep - and we believe we can find the magic bullet solution, too.  Further, we are certain that America need not change anything in our economic or political agenda to "win the war against terror."

What arrogant, misguided and dangerous folly.  Please do not misunderstand: I am not supporting terrorist violence in any way, shape or form. And as much as I am morally very uncomfortable with some of our actions in the world - including the use of drones - I also know that public policy is more often than not the balancing of lesser evils. Like Niebuhr knew all so well, not only are there often dreadful unintended consequences to our best decisions, but politics beyond the level of individual engagement is the shifting  sands between coercion and resistance in pursuit of the common good.  It is an ethical dualism that accepts the unacceptable and knows there is never a perfect path in any social activity. Niebuhr put it like this:

Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.... One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun.

So with yet another wave of terrorist attacks in NYC, I expect Donald Trump to exploit our fears and Hillary Clinton to offer her studied policy wonk plans for future safety. Neither one, however, acknowledges that the soul of our nation must grow up - and repent.  I know this is not going to take place during a presidential campaign. And I don't expect either candidate to rise above their public personas or political expediency. Yes, I trust Mrs. Clinton and despise Mr. Trump's agenda. That is no secret. But so long as we remain committed as a people to being shocked that our actions in the world evoke violent reactions - and then resenting them as if we are eternally innocent and everyone else is guilty - terrorism will continue. Barring a complete militarization of our society, the path to peace and hope is not built on the status quo, but compassion and interdependence. I'm with Niebuhr when we wrote:  It is my strong conviction that a realist conception of human nature should be made a servant of an ethic of progressive justice and should not be made into a bastion of conservatism, particularly a conservatism which defends unjust privileges.  And so it goes.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

seven texts that have been my teachers in a spirituality of creation...

While preparing for a month of reflections on the Season of Creation, the recently added eco-justice theme to the Christian liturgical calendar, I started to peruse my theological library. There are seven books that I have kept - and used with vigor - over the past twenty years that may be of interest.  They are:

+ Creation Spirituality by Matthew Fox. This is the foundational text and grandmother of this genre. As I reread portions, I was awed by the prescient insights Fox brought to this subject in 1991 - the depth of his wisdom and the connections he articulated are masterful, too.. Closely related to Creation Spirituality are his other two masterworks:  A Spirituality Named Compassion and Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality. For those seeking to understand the root and branches of eco-justice themes in the Christian tradition, these are essential texts.

+ The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary, eds. Norman C. Habel, David Rhoads, H. Paul Santmire.  Like other lectionary preaching tools, this compendium offers serious Biblical commentary on the assigned Scriptures for each of the Sundays in the Season of Creation. It also provides theological and liturgical insights for nourishing a contemporary spirituality of creation. Compiled in 2011, with links to on-line updates, this is a must have for those leading worship.

+ Grounded by Diana Butler Bass.  The current hands-on favorite over the past 18 months, Bass weaves Biblical themes into the interviews, research, questions and stories from her journey away from anthropomorphic religion. Many of my clergy friends have been captivated by this book - it is lively, faithful and well written - and I find myself in resonance with many of her challenges to the status quo. Published in 2015, this is now available in paper.

+ Natural Grace: A Dialogue on Creation, Darkness and the Soul of Spirituality and Science by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake. This (and the book following my notes) is my all-time favorite in the Creation Spirituality realm. As the authors themselves articulate it: "We both share an interest in going beyond the current limitations of institutional science and mechanistic religion." And they do in this series of dialogues re: the emerging synthesis of scientific wisdom and sacred insights. Fun, demanding and creative.

+ Belonging to the Universe: Explorations on the Frontiers of Science and Spirituality by Frijof Capra and David Steindl-Rast.  Another series of brilliant dialogues between a Benedictine monastic and the author of The Tao of Physics. Their goal is to summarize a new paradigm for thinking and living that embraces a radical awareness of our inter-dependence with all of Creation - and then unpack some of the implications for living as partners with the totality of the cosmos! Not for the faint of heart, this rewarding text from 1991 is a celebration of all that is holy. 

+ Sisters of the Earth, ed. Lorraine Anderson.  What does it mean to learn from Nature about healing, delight, joy and the rhythm of life?  The essays, poems and prose of over ninety women writers are gathered in this 1991 anthology. It was my re-connection with contemporary feminist thought and my first contact with poets like Joy Harjo, Terry Tempest Williams and Ursula Le Guin. While this is not an explicitly Christian or even spiritual collection, it is a satisfying distillation of recent feminist wisdom that has been all too often marginalized in an overly bottom line culture and economy.

+ Becoming Bread: Meditations on Loving and Transformation by Gunilla Norris. Bishop Tutu writes, "Remove your shoes, for this is holy ground. I was almost breathless with wonder at the beauty of Norris's words - so simple and yet so profound."  Me too. This small but significant volume of poems and commentary from 1993 highlights what it means to live organically as a loving part of God's creation. As one who both cherishes bread - and enjoys baking it - I was moved by her metaphors.

I find that I need to go deeply into a theme - one book or lecture is never enough - and these seven texts have been valuable teachers. Maybe they will have value for you, too.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

reflections on storm sunday in the season of creation...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for Sunday, September 18, 2016 - Storm Sunday - during the new liturgical Season of Creation.

Early in my days as an ordained clergy person, I went through a phase of experimenting with the then popular sounds of praise music. It didn’t last long, mind you, but I discovered two gifts in some of the songs. First, I could use some as a way of being in prayer almost any time and any place – at a meeting, in my car, before I went to sleep – because the melodies and lyrics were simple and highly accessible restatements of Scripture, much like “Seek Y First.” And second, I found myself drawn to some of these songs because they were humble – maybe even tender-hearted. Most of the hymns I had grown up with were big, bold theological dissertations in six verses – think “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” or “God of Grace and God of Glory” – profound and important musical and spiritual masterpieces. And while I loved them then – and cherish them today – there were times when I needed a more modest prayer song. Maybe you have had a similar experience?

For about six months I used this gentle chorus by Twila Paris as the opening to my time of Centering Prayer. It evokes reverence and praise, awe at God’s creation, and genuine humility:

You are the Lord of Creation and Lord of my life; Lord of the land and the sea.
You were Lord of the heavens before there was time and Lord of all lords you will be.
I bow down and worship you, Lord. I bow down and worship you, Lord.
I bow down and worship you, Lord: Lord of all lords you will be.

Like most praise songs, the subsequent verses involve just changing one or two words, so that this becomes: “You are King of creation and King of my life… and King of all kings you shall be.” Clearly praise music is not for every one – and I rarely go down that road any more – but this song still holds some power for me. And, from time to time, I still find myself praying it… even though I the language is not inclusive and the theology too domesticated. It is clearly not a comprehensive theological treatise on salvation history like Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts – and it fails to honor the awesome power of the Lord experienced in the storms of the natural world – but… it gets the call to reverence and humility right. And THAT, beloved, is what we’re invited to come to terms with on Storm Sunday in the Season of Creation: awe and respect, power and humility, trust and obedience. You are Lord of creation, gracious God, so we bow down.

On Storm Sunday we are invited to go beyond childish superstition and arrogant assumptions
about being the crown of creation when it comes to both God and storms. Storms have a sacramental wisdom to teach us about our important but modest role within the created order. Like the rabbis said: we are a little lower than the angles but simultaneously dust and ashes, too. So open your minds and your hearts to the wisdom of the Lord revealed in both the words of Job and Jesus as well as the poetry of Psalm 29 for there are blessing to receive if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

Chapter 28 of Job is a celebration of what God discovers about wisdom. Now please hear me correctly: I did not say what God reveals about wisdom, but rather what God as Lord of creation discovers. “Where does wisdom come from? What is the place of understanding?” is a Biblical chorus of sorts that God asks as a sacred challenge to the limitations of the human mind and imagination. In the opening of this text, Job boasts of human ingenuity – we can bring to the surface the precious metals of the earth to use them – he proclaims with pride. Only to be told by the Lord that wisdom is much more valuable than gold and silver. In fact, God scolds Job by saying that “wisdom is not a commodity that can be purchased, found, dug up or exchanged… wisdom is beyond human comprehension.” (Season of Creation, online resources)

+  This is one of the gifts of Job: it regularly reminds us that we understand only a tiny fraction of our lives and have even less control over them. We who exist in middle class privilege forget this so quickly – and remember that Job was being written for the best and the brightest of ancient Israel who were trying to make sense out of why their kingdom had been destroyed and sacked by Babylon – so Job is speaking to people like us.

+  In a way, the appointed text for Storm Sunday is as poignant for you and me at First Church as it was for the leaders of ancient Israel. Because, we too are struggling to understand how it came to pass that the FIRST church in our town – the flagship institution that gave birth to our city – could find itself in such turmoil and confusion. It was perplexing then, it is challenging now – so pay careful attention to what comes next.

God tells Job that the essence of wisdom was discovered by the Lord of creation by observing a storm: when the wind, the waters, the rain and the lighting come together, wisdom was revealed. Explicitly verses 25-26 speak of the “weight of the wind, the measure of the primordial waters, the seasons and locations of the rain and the way lighting moves through the heavens.” (Preaching Commentary on the Season of Creation, p. 206) Discernment, therefore, is the way into authentic wisdom.

Just as the Lord watched, waited and trusted the rhythm of creation, looking deeper than the obvious and listening to truths that escaped the powerful, so too do we find God’s wisdom in our lives. Discernment – contemplation – taking a long, loving look at what is real – is the way into authentic wisdom. Psalm 111 tells us that “fear of the Lord” – yirat in Hebrew that might better be translated as awe and respect – is the beginning or first step towards wisdom.” Reverence. Humility. Perspective and place properly discerned in the grand order of creation leads us into wisdom.

+  And the Hebrew Bible is saturated with this truth: Abraham is commended because he trusts and respects the Lord as God. The prophet Isaiah teaches that the Messiah will experience "The spirit of the Lord shall resting upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his joy in living shall be sharing the fear of the Lord.” Both Proverbs and the Psalms say again and again: fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

+  That’s what ancient Israel had to relearn – humility and awe – and I believe it is crucial for us, too. We are in a time when bowing down is the beginning of wisdom for us. Of course as 21st century people we know more about science and nature than the poets who first constructed Psalm 29. We know that the thunder is not God’s anger and lightning has nothing to do with bolts of fire being hurled down from heaven as punishment. But our knowledge too often blunts the poetry, mystery and metaphor of the Bible and we easily forget to bow down and worship the One who knows true wisdom and power and creativity. So often I think that we trust ourselves more than the Lord.

On Storm Sunday that is why the words of God in Job are linked to the silence of Jesus as he brings stillness to the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Whatever else you may think or remember about this story – where an exhausted Messiah is napping in a boat only to be awakened by frightened disciples who fear their vessel will sink – let me suggest two other insights based upon where this story takes place in the arch of St. Luke’s narrative. Scholars note that the miracle story of “calming the storm serves as a preface to three healings AND the commissioning of the twelve apostles for lives of ministry… so this story presents Jesus as the Lord of nature and history, the Lord of the land and the sea.” And by doing so, it points to Christ’s unity with God’s wisdom from the beginning of time as the source of our peace that can still the raging winds, calm threatening waves, and bring us into such intimacy with God’s love that we can even face the Cross with an equanimity like his own. (Season of Creation Commentary, p. 211) 

Jesus, like God in Job, honors the wisdom in the storm. He evokes harmony and balance with nature and presents us with a choice: Join him in this trust and find rest for everything that makes us tired and afraid; or, perish under the weight of our own limited knowledge and strength. Jesus is right there in the boat with his friends as they face the danger of the storm to-gether. His being testifies to God being right there with us in our doubts, confusion, anger and fear, too. That’s why I keep asking you to learn the scriptures, beloved. Not because knowing Bible facts matter – mostly they don’t – but with careful interpretation, these stories synthesize the truth of God for those willing to look beyond the obvious.

When we become anxious – confused over how to make sense of the storms and fears of life – when we find ourselves having to wrestle with hard questions like the fate of our church and what ministry Gods need from us right now, these stories help us remember:

+  Nowhere does Jesus provoke the storm – he brings calm and peace. Nowhere does Jesus call down a hurricane to punish the wicked. Jesus always heals rather than curses, casts out demons rather than impose plagues and goes to the Cross to suffer in love rather than strengthen hatred. (on-line Creation commentary)

+  And he is able to do this – and commissions his friends to do so, too – NOT because he has superhuman power. Jesus shows us what a man or woman who trusts God boldly can do in the excruciating conflicts of real life. He reminds us that in this trust God’s love carries him through this life and beyond the grave so that he might be with us now to encourage and guide us through our tempest, too.

Storms are real. They have a purpose and place in renewing God’s creation even when they frighten us. The people of First Church have faced storms before – sometimes faithfully, sometimes foolishly – and we’ll face them again. My prayer is that we do so now with trust – not anxiety – with humility, creativity and awe. Let us bow down and worship the Lord of creation and making choices grounded in God’s peace that passes all understanding. This is what I want to reassure you of and keep sharing with you over the next few months: God’s abiding love born of humility and awe leads to peace. This peace is real. It is what we need more than anything else right now. And, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is available to us always if we but open our hearts in trust. This is the good news for those willing to get out of their own way and let God be God. If you know this to be true – or want to know this to be true – sing with me:

Oh come let us adore Him, oh come let us adore Him, oh come let us adore Him: 
Christ the Lord.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

a renewed sense of balance...

For the first time since we returned from sabbatical in Montreal last year at about this time, I sense my life and ministry taking on a measure of balance. Not that there aren't hard challenges ahead, nor am I clear about each step of this emerging journey. But increasingly I sense the peace in God's grace in my soul - and this has rarely been the case for the past 15 months. Further, as has been true so often, when I listen long enough and with intentional trust, a word from Scripture gives my experience shape and form. 

In the past I have often taken solace in either Psalm 37 - Do not fret... be still and wait upon the Lord - or Matthew 11:28-30 (especially Peterson's restatement in The Message) - Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Another text that has given me guidance comes from Isaiah 55: Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

These days I find myself drawn to the nearly Jungian words of Jesus as recorded in the final
chapter of St. John's gospel: Do you love me? I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (John 21: 18)

For a time it seems that we  have been called not to do the work of church renewal, but rather to share a non-anxious, tender presence within our faith community. We must embrace one of the most trying transitions in our 250 year history. As we move through this wilderness, our call is to remind and reassure the faithful that the desert is never our final destination. We may have to wander for a season and wrestle with our own demons.  As Elie Wiesel taught in his reflection on Moses, we may need to lie down in our own graves over and over until the past is dead and we are empty enough to receive God's new life. But it will come in God's time. And on that day, whenever it may arrive, Dianne and I will shift gears and take on a very new way of being faithful. 

There has been a ton of tears and too much fear in my heart of late. So finally to have a  measure of clarity brings to mind one of my favorite lesser Springsteen tunes:  "Better Days." I know by faith that Good Friday is not the end of the story, but sometimes Easter feels like a long time coming, yes?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

thinking about the three foot rule...

Those who read this post from time to time will recognize a familiar theme here:  the tension
that exists between going deeper into God's grace vs. being engaged in a wide smorgasbord of concerns and issues. In this case, I genuinely believe that it is nigh on to impossible to embrace a both/and option. I know that when I read the social justice updates from my national church offices, more often than not I wind up feeling overwhelmed: so much pain, so much work and so little time and too few resources to match the staggering need. Not that I want to remain ignorant of the suffering endured by God's creation, and I certainly don't want to ignore the anguish of my kin throughout creation. But  the sheer magnitude of the pain crying out for justice and mercy is spiritually and strategically oppressive. When considered cumulatively I find myself shutting down, feeling impotent and exasperated instead of compelled into tender action.

Carrie Newcomer, a favorite musician and artist, suggests the "three foot rule" as one solution: pay attention and respond to the realities around you that are three feet away.  In doing this you strengthen the movement of love in the real world while staying engaged in acts of tangible compassion. Pete Seeger spoke of this as "think globally, act locally." Jean Vanier of L'Arche came to much the say conclusion. He urges people of love to regularly shut down most of our Internet networks that market anxiety. Reading about or seeing images of the wounds of the world as the crisis of the moment leaves us heartbroken without effective ways of helping. And robbed of the ability to honestly respond beyond our emotions, but still filled with grief and rage, life is sucked out of our souls. With deadened hearts and exasperated minds, the various social justice catalogs render us listless, without the energy necessary to climb out of the pit of despair. So nothing changes.

So often I wonder why we persist in listing ALL the various ways to become engaged in the works of mercy? Too many options inhibit real action for me. It does nothing to impel me towards real change. If you think I exaggerate, just take a look at the recent Keeping You Posted memo from the national United Church of Christ (check it out:

This cornucopia of concern is just for one week - and it is exhausting. Further, I often sense that our need to know about the relevant social issues becomes a substitute for engaging in the time-tested traditional works of mercy as guided by the three foot rule. My hunch is that awareness of the world's wounds is often confused with literally caring for the dead, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, ministering to the sick and refreshing the thirsty. More and more, as I wrestle with being faithful to the love of Jesus in my world,  I find that my focus becoming smaller and smaller. Maybe it is more focused. Certainly it is less grandiose.. 

Tonight our choir returned for a new season of worship leadership. It was a great rehearsal and equally wonderful seeing the 16 people who will make up this year's music leadership. One of our tenors announced:  "Last year at this time I was asking you for prayers for my daughter who was fighting for her life with cancer. Tonight I want to tell you that just one year later she is pregnant with her second child and ask your prayers of gratitude." Practicing the three foot rule is not the only approach to being engaged with Christ's compassion, but it is a great place to start. Focusing on going deeper rather than more broadly continues to make more and more sense to me at this late stage of ministry.

gobsmacked and surprised...

My current quest to unlearn the ways of privilege and power in favor of a holistic  spirituality of tenderness, solidarity and living small ...