Sermons from Outside the Walls- 2

He Called Our Mother a Dog

June 5, 2018

If a sermon does nothing but make you feel good, why bother with it?

Nobody goes to a gym to sit in an easy chair, open a beer, and smoke a cigar while watching the big screen TV. No! If they want a return on their monthly fees, they want to sweat and be out of breath for an hour, then go home sore. They want to lose weight, or tone muscle, or increase the capacities of their cardiovascular system and that doesn’t happen by osmosis or being pampered. It happens with hard work- being intentionally uncomfortable for awhile, so that you can live stronger and healthier for more years than you might have lived otherwise.

The same with learning about your place in the kingdom of God. And, time out: while we’re at it, right now, let’s put that word “kingdom” aside for the rest of this series. “Kingdom” is a word which is loaded, after 20 centuries of military maneuvers, royal trappings of royal weddings, and seven seasons of “Game of Thrones” with so much gold, blood, land-grabbing, and intrigue that it is misleading to a tragic degree in imagining anything Jesus intended for it to mean when he was referring to the community God wanted for humans to live within on earth.

So, from here on out, we’re going to use the word “Community.” The Community of God, as in “thy Community come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” etc. OK? “KIngdom” was only a metaphor, anyway- a word used to help humans imagine something they did not know, by comparing that something to what they did have experience with. The word “kingdom” in the year 30 would have been imagined in a very different way than we can imagine it today; therefore, let’s get it out of the way.

(If you’re stuck on thinking of Jesus as a PRINCE of Peace, like a Prince Charles or Prince Harry, remember that on Palm Sunday he came riding into Jerusalem on the back of a little three foot high donkey. In doing so, by dragging his feet on either side of that bumpy little donkey, Jesus was, if anything, demonstrating himself to be the exact opposite of anything princely, regal, or royal. He was just a guy, just like all the people, people like me and maybe like you on that road that day who were cheering his arrival even as they were thinking, “what the..?” Little did they know of the extraordinary events of the coming few days. Little did they know what Jesus would be called upon to do, or that by doing so, he would be demonstrating the extraordinary things they- we!- are also capable of doing.)

OK..now, back to learning about “your place in the Community of God.”

I’m going to point something out here that you might not like- not at first, anyway:

Jesus didn’t do what he did, say what he said, or go where he went for people like me, a gentile. In fact, for much of the time after we first meet him in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, he had his back to the gentiles. His message was for his people, the people of Israel- the Jewish people. If gentiles heard him, it was accidentally. For a Jewish man to have contact with gentiles was not a good thing by the Jewish standards of the day. By some of those standards, it was even a dirty thing to do, especially when it came to sick, dead, or female gentiles. Yikes!

And Jesus was, make no mistake about it, Jewish. A Jewish man. And he proves it right here:

Mark 7: 24-30 (Common English Bible)

24 Jesus..went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

Jesus called the gentile immigrant woman a “dog.” Try to dress that word up or soften it a little as many biblical commentators have tried to do over the centuries and it’s still a dog. It’s what a Jewish man of the year 30 or so would have called an immigrant woman. It was a default word, an unthinking but common word, a go-to word- like we might hear the words ‘wet back,’ or ‘illegal,’ or ‘hoe,’ or worse. That kind of word. You can’t soften it, it’s too sharp, and it usually leaves a scar.

This uppity gentile Greek woman was being pushy by speaking up when she had not even been invited into the room! She didn’t know her place and, indeed, there wouldn’t have been a place for her in a roomful of Jewish men! So, when Jesus was interrupted by her, when she deliberately threw herself in front of him, Jesus was spiritually, culturally, and personally upset.

syrophoenician woman“Dog!” he says, and we can only imagine the murmured agreement from others who had just witnessed this woman.

But, the woman persists! She insisted and persisted that Jesus pay attention to her. She loved her young daughter more than she cared about her own low status, so she persisted..

And Jesus’ eyes were opened. His eyes were opened by this woman in ways that revealed to him just how big this Community of God he preached about, really was. In her speaking up to him and daring to speak back to him, he heard her desperate cry of need, and he understood that God’s love did extend beyond the Jewish people “in front” of him.

There were others with ears to hear. There were others living desperately at the edges of life who also needed to know God’s love for them. In the woman’s plea, he heard for the first time, the gentiles who had, so far, been “outside” of his community. When said to her, in surprise, “Good answer!” he was, in effect, inviting her into that community. He was inviting her to stand in front of him!

But not only her. One by one, other gentiles began to come to Jesus- and were seen now by Jesus. God’s chosen people, through the example first shown by Jesus himself, were now able to witness others besides themselves hearing Jesus, being seen by Jesus, and being accepted by Jesus as people worthy of God’s love, too. No longer would “those people”  have to pick up mere crumbs!

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is regarded by many as the holy Mother of us all. And she is worthy of the honor and love shown her- she raised a really good kid, after all! But for those of us who are of the gentile persuasion- and that includes everyone who is not Jewish- isn’t this unnamed, brash, pushy, but loved Syro-phoenician Greek woman our true mother in the faith?

gentiles2

We who were not worthy in the eyes of Jewish legalists were made worthy by invitation to join and become a part of the Community of God being gathered together by Jesus. On our part, there is room for no emotions other than humility and gratitude when we accept that invitation. There is nothing for us to brag about, or to congratulate each other about. We may lead some people within the Community, but we are not leaders of the Community.

The leader remains a man, a very Jewish man. He is an Israeli man, and our cues should always be taken from him and not from false teachers who try constantly to usurp his role or make the United States or England or any other country or culture the “shining city on a hill” Jesus referred to in his sermon on the mount.

His invitation was for the woman, and us, to stand in front of him, and then to follow him. And how close and how far are we to follow?

When Jesus was on the cross, nailed, bleeding, in pain, and suffocating, among the last persons he would have seen as his head tilted forward for the last time, were the group of gentile Roman soldiers gathered below him- the ones who had lifted him onto the cross, secured him there, threw dice for his discarded robe, and finally stuck a sword in his belly to hurry his dying. His words as he looked down on them?

“Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do.”

How far are we to follow?

That far.

David B. Weber

syrophoenician woman

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Spiritual Mentors: Mary Oliver

aamary-oliverDon’t bother me.

I’ve just

been born. (1.)

When I discovered the poems of Mary Oliver, I realized I had known her all my life. Her poems- and she is, thank God, a prolific writer- are wrapped in a kind of awe and wonder which I thought were a kind-of handicap I bore. Through her, more than any other writer, I stopped feeling childish about wanting to see the moist underside of an embedded-for-eons rock, or wanting to linger over ant hills and tangles of vines.

when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular.. (2.)

Mary Oliver sees- feels winding around her soul- the connectedness of all things. To know the wolf, one must know something about the clouds. To be able to truly write about the love of a dog, it is vital to know the trepidation we feel when entering a darkened room. To know even a little bit about God, it is necessary to know much about how and why and when a flower reaches for the sun. Her poem “Praying:”

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.(3.)

Ms. Oliver will 80 years old next year, lives in Massachusetts,  and is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection ‘American Primitive’ in 1984. She is America’s best selling poet, and it is for a reason: her work is accessible to all, but multi-layered and deeply satisfying at no matter what depth a reader chooses to plunge into it. Her writing is direct and clear, owing much to19th century writers like Thoreau and Whitman.

Poetry is a river; many voices travel in it; poem after poem moves along in the exciting crests and falls of the river waves. None is timeless; each arrives in an historical context; almost everything, in the end, passes. But the desire to make a poem, and the world’s willingness to receive it- indeed the world’s need of it- these never pass. (4.)

In speaking, writing, thinking about God, words will (because they are only words) fail. Images, feelings, smells and tastes must be carried on the backs of metaphors and images before they can be pushed and prodded into that particular formation of information which can then be handed from one person to another. Communicating about God is both a marvelous task and an impossible task, a repulsive task and a seductive one.

Mary Oliver, more than any other writer, gave me the courage to write that last sentence. And to now leave it alone.

aa Mary Oliver

(Her many collections are all still in print and will be for decades to come. There are many on- line as well. In fact, right now, Google “Mary Oliver Wild Geese” and read for yourself her most beloved poem!)

1.from “One or Two Things,” ‘New and Selected Poems,’ Beacon, 1992

2.  from “When Death Comes,” ibid.

3. “Praying,” ‘Thirst,’ Beacon, 2006

4.from Oliver’s ‘A Poetry Handbook- A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry,’ Harcourt, 1994.

Spiritual Mentors: James W. Fowler

aafowlerPic

Sometimes people think they are losing the faith of their fathers and mothers as they examine more closely the texts, traditions, and history of their faith. And in one sense, they are. The faith of our childhood, just as our preferences for particular foods, changes over time and the maturing of our minds. Just because I no longer consider Dreamsicles the ultimate and best of all foodstuffs, does not mean I don’t like them anymore! It simply means I have had the opportunity to experience other foods, while understanding much more about nutrition and health.

I still like to eat!- that’s the point. But the food that satisfies me now is different than when I was six years old. So, too, my faith in and understanding of things godly and divine.

James Fowler is a professor at Emory University’s Candler Divinity School. His Ph.D. was earned in Religion and Psychology and he is also a United Methodist minister. His initial research toward his Ph.D. was published in 1981- ‘Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning.’

There have been other such lists of faith-stages written about over the centuries, but Fowler’s was based on objective criteria gathered within scientific, sociological parameters.  His is the go-to beginning of any objective investigation into the “kinds” of faith evidenced in any faith system.

I think I could best summarize what I’ve learned from his first book and other subsequents books and articles by him and his team, with this basic statement: We don’t all ‘believe’ the same way.

That sounds elementary, and it is. But it’s antithetical counterpart is heard in various forms of this doctrinal statement all the time: We must all believe the same way. And, it turns out- of course- that that is a humanly impossible thing to do.

The only solution to the natural movements of human minds and perceptions and abilities to draw conclusions about what we perceive are various forms of brain-washing! Some of those forms of coerced “homogenizing of thought and action” are pleasant- choral music is such a homogenizer. But most coercive brainwashing is based on suppression of information by punishment, threat, or fear.

Brainwashing can and does happen in faith circles, too. The deepening of faith, or the growth of it in an individual or group can sometimes be mistaken for non-faith or even faith-abandonment by those persons who have not experienced such growth or depth, or have not allowed themselves to be open to the possibilities of such growth or deepening of faith. If those persons are in positions of leadership, charges of doctrinal impurity may be leveled, with the threat of real or spiritual “punishment.”

Objective studies, like Fowler’s, can help all believers to understand the movement of one’s cognitive understandings through faith in such a way that change can be welcomed, even encouraged.

The following are Wikipedia’s synopses of Fowler’s six stages of faith. Only when a person is coerced or makes the choice to “stay within” a level can any level be determined to be the wrong level for a person. Nor are the “higher” stages the “best” or “only” stages to which to aspire.

Inevitably, however, some persons will move into a stage of faith, because of age and/or the maturing of the mind, or by simply having more knowledge than they did before. Their forms of faith change. To some it may appear that another’s faith is evaporating when, in fact, its form is changing.

The Six Stages of Faith (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fowler%27s_stages_of_faith_development)

  • Stage 0“Primal or Undifferentiated” faith (birth to 2 years), is characterized by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect and abuse). If consistent nurture is experienced, one will develop a sense of trust and safety about the universe and the divine. Conversely, negative experiences will cause one to develop distrust with the universe and the divine. Transition to the next stage begins with integration of thought and languages which facilitates the use of symbols in speech and play.
  • Stage 1“Intuitive-Projective” faith (ages of three to seven), is characterized by the psyche’s unprotected exposure to the Unconscious, and marked by a relative fluidity of thought patterns. [1] Religion is learned mainly through experiences, stories, images, and the people that one comes in contact with.
  • Stage 2“Mythic-Literal” faith (mostly in school children), stage two persons have a strong belief in the justice and reciprocity of the universe, and their deities are almost always anthropomorphic. During this time metaphors and symbolic language are often misunderstood and are taken literally.
  • Stage 3“Synthetic-Conventional” faith (arising in adolescence; aged 12 to adulthood) characterized by conformity to religious authority and the development of a personal identity. Any conflicts with one’s beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies.
  • Stage 4“Individuative-Reflective” faith (usually mid-twenties to late thirties) a stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefsand feelings. As one is able to reflect on one’s own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one’s belief.
  • Stage 5“Conjunctive” faith (mid-life crisis) acknowledges paradox and transcendence relating reality behind the symbols of inherited systems. The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent “truth” that cannot be explained by any particular statement.
  • Stage 6“Universalizing” faith, or what some might call “enlightenment.” The individual would treat any person with compassion as he or she views people as from a universal community, and should be treated with universal principles of love and justice.

All of these descriptions are intended here to be only a basis for thought and discussion. They are valuable when talking to or teaching others who may be in different stages of faith. It can help avoid frustration when communicating with someone (or some group) who is in a different stage of faith and understanding. It is possible to “adjust” one’s language and use of metaphors so as to better be heard by others. It is possible to listen to what is behind basic statements of faith that a person may be having a difficult time expressing.

Again: The stages are NOT a means of “grading” one’s faith, depth of faith, or orthodoxy. They ARE a way of understanding that another’s understanding may be different than yours. One would not hand a Sunday School comic book to a person like Mother Theresa and expect her to stay interested very long. Nor would someone be very nice at all in trying to explain the loss of a loved one to a someone who had just gone through catechism or confirmation by showing the relatedness of Judeo-Christian thought to Neo-Platonic or ancient Babylonian philosophies. All of those expressions are valid ones at a certain stage of faith, but it may not be proper  in presenting them to someone at a different stage.

Jesus spoke in parables to those who weren’t yet ready to hear a discourse on the ontological bases of God images in the Hebrew scriptures. In doing so, he enabled them to hear great truths that they may not otherwise have been able to learn and be illumined by.

The “stages” presented by Fowler are important lessons for all persons of faith. We must know that everybody doesn’t think, see, hear, understand the same way we do! Understanding that, adjusting to that reality, and respecting where the other person is can lead to greater understanding and deeper faith, prevent countless arguments and many hurt feelings. They even stop wars before they ever have a chance to start!

aa fowler stage

Spiritual Mentors: Barbara Brown Taylor

aa BBT

What if the whole Bible is less a book of certainties than it is a book of encounters, in which a staggeringly long parade of people run into God, each other, life–and are never the same again?  I mean, what don’t people run into in the Bible?  Not just terrifying clouds and hair-raising voices but also crazy relatives, persistent infertility, armed enemies, and deep depression, along with life-saving strangers, miraculous children, food in the wilderness, and knee-wobbling love.

That  describes what I appreciate most about Barbara Brown Taylor: she never allows the Bible to become an idol. She reminds us that the Bible, indeed religion itself, is simply (however marvelously) a window through which the light shines in, and through which darkness at times may also be perceived.

I know the Bible is a special kind of book, but I find it as seductive as any other. If I am not careful, I can begin to mistake the words on the page for the reality they describe. I can begin to love the dried ink marks on the page more than I love the encounters that gave rise to them. If I am not careful, I can decide I am really much happier reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in my own time and place, since shutting the book to go outside will involve the very great risk of taking part in stories that are still taking shape. Neither I nor anyone else knows how these stories will turn out since, at this point they involve more blood than ink. The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to set the written world down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake. For me, the willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith.” (from ‘Leaving Church, A Memoir of Faith,’ Harper, 2006)

Barbara Brown Taylor was once named by Time Magazine as one of the best preachers in America. Then, after twenty years of being an Episcopal priest, she left the church for academia. She is still teaching, and is still a sought  after speaker. She now qualifies as one of the best religious writers in America.

She is a splendid crafter of words, able to turn the words about faith- a nebulous and abstract subject- into concrete images that give rise to enhanced understanding on the part of her readers and, often, real action in the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Because she was a great preacher, she is now a teacher that inspires prophetically, and illuminates her instruction with the always changing, but ever-constant Light she perceives shining through the world around her. She describes believing in Jesus as leading to believing in more-than-Jesus: believing leads to seeing Jesus in all kinds of places and in all kinds of people.

Hers are eyes always opening wider, and her preaching and teaching has enabled many, many people, inside and outside of The Way, to experience that new and more Light as well.

Brown has affected how I do ministry, and I hope it shows, and if it does, I want others to know her role in it: “Too often, I believe, preachers get into the business of giving answers instead of ushering people into the presence of God who may or may not answer. We [preachers] have somehow fallen into the trap of believing we are responsible for God’s silence- that if those under our care do not have a sense of God’s presence, then it is because we have failed them somehow- failed at Bible study, failed at prayer, failed at our preaching to bring the invisible God close enough to touch. When God falls silent, we too often compensate by talking more, which may be the very worst thing we can do.” (from ‘When God is Silent,’ Cowley, 1998.
Her books are all in print. Her newest book is ‘Learning to Walk in the Darkness,’ HarperOne, 2014)

aa  BBT2

Spiritual Mentors: Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi

aa Molana (1)

Rumi was born in what is now Afghanistan in 1207, but most of his life was in Persia and Turkey, where he wrote..voluminously. He was a jurist, a theologian, and a Sufi mystic who influenced writing in the Middle East for centuries and has become popular (and accessible) in the West through translating and paraphrasing in modern vernacular languages.

Sufism is a subset of Islam. (I’d call it a cult of Islam, but that word has become so loaded with negative meaning by many commentators that I resist its use.) Sufism is, let’s say, a mystical subset of Islamic beliefs, as Zen Buddhism is to Buddhism, as Kabala is to Judaism, or as Yogaism is to Hinduism. Mystical Christianity also flourishes, and- I believe- has been a primary vehicle for moving The Way of the Christ through the centuries, in its most well-preserved forms.

All of the world’s mystical traditions look toward the revelation of God around them (which is precisely what Jesus stated again and again is what he wanted to do: reveal God the Father).

Looking deeply for God requires discipline; the practitioners of the mystical disciplines are drawn to them by the unquenching and relentless and often uncomfortable desire to know more about God.

And what they learn, or experience, is often difficult to communicate to others. The “previously known” boundaries of what they knew about God begin to blur, even dissolve! There is a unity of all things that defies much of the language we have available to us as humans. Some will attempt to describe the Light they have perceived in poetry, or in painting, or even in dance.    

aa dance aa sufi 5

The Sufis like to dance. I don’t know if Rumi himself was a Dervish dancer, but he would have experienced them often because even the watching of the dancing is participation in it.

Spinning in ectasy. Notice the hands: One hand is up and open for receiving from God, the other hand is holding and giving, sharing God’s blessings received, to others. The headpieces represent tombstones of their individual egos.

But we do know Rumi wrote poetry- reams of it. And that poetry, now accessible to Westerners (primarily in America through the paraphraser Coleman Barks), has made Rumi a favorite of all who seek a more intense experience of the Light. It is the Light which I understand as Christ, which is how the gospel of John describes Christ in its first chapter).

Examples and excerpts:

~from “Say Yes Quickly”

Forget your life. Say God is Great. Get up.

You think you know what time it is. It’s time to pray.

You’ve carved so many little figurines, too many.

Don’t knock on any random door like a beggar.

Reach your long hands out to another door, beyond where

you go on the street, the street

where everyone says, “How are you?”

and no one says How aren’t you?

~from “Unseen Rain”

Don’t let your throat tighten

with fear. Take sips of breath

all day and night. Before death

closes your mouth.

There’s no love in me without your being,

no breath without that. I once thought

I could give up this longing, then though again,

But I couldn’t continue being human.

~A Community of the Spirit (one of my favorites, in its entirety)

There is a community of the spirit.

Join it, and feel the delight

of walking in the noisy street and being the noise.

Drink all your passion, and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes to see with the other eye.

Open your hands, if you want to be held.

Sit down in the circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel the shepherd’s love filling you.

At night, your beloved wanders. Don’t accept consolations.

Close your mouth against food. Taste the lover’s mouth in yours.

You moan, “She left me.” “He left me.” Twenty more will come.

Be empty of worrying. Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking. Live in silence.

Flow down and down

in always widening rings of being.

All of these are from the collection-‘Selected Poems” (Penguin Classics), translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. Many, many Rumi collections are in in print and available wherever books are sold. Well, maybe not..everywhere. But most places!)

Many of Rumi’s poems are not so easily understood at first. In that regard they are like Zen koans; they open the door to contemplation and thought on “heavenly” things or, at minimum, thoughts outside of one’s own jabbering ego-mind. So, call them poems of Sabbath, of rest and reflection.

And Light.

Spiritual Mentors: Brennan Manning

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Born in 1934, Brennan Manning became a priest in the Franciscan Order in the mid-50s. He held a number of positions in the Roman Catholic Church in Europe, in Louisiana, and in Florida.  It was while he was a campus minister in Florida in 1969 that he was engulfed by the alcoholism which had always lapped hard at the shores of his adult life.

Six months of drying out, rehab, and recovery followed. He then began writing of the grace of God which he, the most imperfect of humans (as he considered himself), had been offered. It was a love he didn’t feel was deserved, but was offered anyway. It was an acceptance by God for what he was, not for what he should be.

He considered himself to be a ragamuffin, like the prostitutes, sinners, soldiers, and tax collectors that Jesus had gone to, embraced and accepted as his own. It was the ragamuffin gospel of perfect love for the most imperfect of humans.

The more Manning wrote- and he wrote prolifically, and the more he proclaimed this gospel- and he spoke often, the larger became that group of ragamuffins who were able to perceive God’s love for them, too..even them. They didn’t have to be special, act special, or do anything other than accept the transforming love of this ragamuffin-loving God.

“Ragamuffins are simple, direct and honest. Their speech is unaffected. They are slow to claim, “God told me…” As they make their way through the world, they bear wordless, prophetic witness.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery. ”

“The confessing church of American ragamuffins needs to join Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter in witnessing that Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

Brennan Manning knew his God as Abba, the diminuitive form of the word Father. In other words- Daddy. It was the same word used by Jesus for his father in the earliest manuscripts of the gospel.

He revealed that child/Daddy relationship to thousands of people during the many years he travelled the world speaking of it. His words were secondary to his “ragamuffin-ness.” Through him, many learned of the gentleness of God they had not before known. Me among them.

Brennan Manning died in April of 2013.

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“Do you believe that God loves you as you are and not as you should be?”

Here’s a brief video of Manning speaking. If you like this one, there are many more..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQi_IDV2bgM

Spiritual Mentors: Thich Nhat Hanh

a thich understanding-in-breathToday, Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, and author, was scheduled to speak at the Vatican to the Summit of World Faith Leaders to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. Instead, he is recovering in Paris from a brain hemorrhage suffered on November 11 at the Plum Village monastery in the south of France where he lives.

Among the remarks he had prepared to say today were these:

“Each of us, according to the teaching of our own tradition, should practice to touch deeply the wonders of Nature, the wonders of life in each of us, the Kingdom of God in each of us, the Pure Land, Nirvana in each of us, so we can get the healing and nourishment, the joy and happiness born from the insight that the Kingdom of God is already available in the here and now. The feeling of love and admiration for nature, that we all share, has the power to nourish us, unite us, and remove all separation and discrimination.”

Thich came to prominence during the war in Vietnam when he began speaking publicly there for peace. He urged Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out against American involvement in that war, which he subsequently did. Thich Nhat Hanh, who had been speaking out against the war during those war years in European and American cities, was denied re-entry to Vietnam after the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, because of his outspokenness. He found refuge in France, which is now his home.

It was his ecumenical writings which caught my attention, particularly his book, ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ.’ In it, he shows the similarities between the Christ’s and the Buddha’s messages of peace and pleads for a united cooperation among peoples of various faiths, based on those specific and universal similarities. That “people kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies” remains a heart-breaking reality toThich and those who choose to live in respect, rather than fear, of others’ beliefs.

The consistent core of Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings and teachings are found in the quote above from the talk prepared for the Vatican. Our human commonalities are shared with all of life. All living things are dependent not only on the earth itself but on all other life. When we look closely enough, we see the edges of individual lives begin to blur into relatedness to other life, and it is that acknowledgement of our brotherhood and sisterhood with all living things that is the only true basis for lasting peace, and for the Kingdom of God to be perceived and accepted rather than merely spoken of.

The illusion that we are separated one from the other is a cultivated one, proposed by those who want power, encouraged by those who are greedy, and fertilized by our easily manipulated fears of that which is is different from ourselves. Our proclivity to regret past mistakes or to worry about future circumstances, negates much of the enjoyment of many people for living right now, in these present moments.

Meditation and practiced contemplation are methods for any person to see themselves as part of a much larger and encompassing unity of all things. We are not separate from each other; we are each part of the other.

“Call Me By My True Names” by Thich Nhat Hanh, 1989

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —

even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving

to be a bud on a Spring branch,

to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,

learning to sing in my new nest,

to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,

to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,

to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death

of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing

on the surface of the river.

And I am the bird

that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily

in the clear water of a pond.

And I am the grass-snake

that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,

my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.

And I am the arms merchant,

selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,

refugee on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean

after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am the pirate,

my heart not yet capable

of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,

with plenty of power in my hands.

And I am the man who has to pay

his “debt of blood” to my people

dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm

it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.

My pain is like a river of tears,

so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can wake up,

and so the door of my heart

can be left open,

the door of compassion.

Share your compassion now, in this moment, with Thich Nhat Hanh. The world is better because of his presence in it. That is because he has taught so many others the same thing about themselves.

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