Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Is This Thing Called God?

My friend and colleague the Rev. Stefan Jonnason recently posted a story to FaceBook about an exchange he overheard in one of the congregations he's served.  This church has a banner that proclaims its historic three-word theology: 


One especially ardant secular humanist approached another person he knew to be of a complimentary mind-set and asked, "Doesn't it drive you crazy to see that banner week after week?"

To which the other person responded, "Oh, you must be reading it wrong.  It's supposed to be read from bottom to top."

I've previously written about this idea that if "God is Love" then "Love is God."  Some folks within the various 12 Step movements have found this a way to make sense of the Higher Power concept.  Others have found that it helps with all sorts of theistic "language of reverence."  Try reading the famous passage on love found in the Christian scriptures -- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 -- replacing the word "love" with the word "God."  Changes the image of God for most people, doesn't it?

Here's another one.  I woke up with it actually.  The song's an old Cole Porter classic, What is This Thing Called Love?  What if the incomperable Sarah Vaugh were singing about God?

In Gassho,


Friday, November 26, 2010

Looking For That Perfect Gift?

Are you looking for a great holiday gift for that certain someone?  How about the book about which James R. Adams, President of the Center for Progressive Christianity said, "Anyone with curiosity about the Jesus Seminar or the writing of Bishop John Shelby Spong will find [this] an excellent place to begin"?  The Rev. Dr. Tilden Edwards, founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation said of it, "This book will especially appeal to people educated with a modern world view who have had difficulty appreciating Jesus' giftedness for us and who are open to a new understanding of his vision and his way."

Teacher, Guide, Companion:  rediscovering Jesus in a secular world  was my first book, published by Skinner House in 2004.  In it I attempt to wrestle with the questions:  who was this man, Jesus, and who might he be for a person living in the world today?  To do so I explore the work of those who "search for the historical Jesus;" I examine the various portraits in the four cannonical Gospels (as well as in the Gospel of Thomas); and I look into my own heart and lived experiences.

Teacher, Guide, Companion is not a hefty tome.  At under one hundred pages it can be read in a night, yet over the years I have heard of people who have read and re-read it, and that it has provided many with more than enough substance to inspire deep conversation and rich encounters.

If you grew up within a Christian tradition and wonder if there's a way to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater, or if you'd like an introduction to this man (as well as his myth and legend) to see what he might have to offer you, I heartily encourage you to get a copy of Teacher, Guide, Companion.  And if you know someone like this, get one for her or for him.  (And what better time than when the world is preparing to celebrate his birthday?)

Teacher, Guide, Companion is available from Amazon.com as well as through the UUA Bookstore (where small group study guides can also be downloaded for free).

In Gassho,


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

God is a Playful Puppy

I recently read a book about St. Francis of Assisi -- John Michael Talbot's The Lessons of St. Francis:  how to bring simplicity and spirituality into your daily life -- in which I came across this marvelous passage:
"What is it about some religious people -- whether in Francis' day or our own -- that makes them think God is a cosmic killjoy?  That sancity must lead straight to solemnity?  That hymns must be funeral dirges?  They certainly don't get such ideas from God, who rejoiced as he created the universe, or Jesus, whose first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding feast.  Many people obviously don't understand what the anonymous medieval author of The Cloud of Unknowing meant when he talked about 'the delight of the Lord's playfulness.'"
I've said before that I think one of the better images we could have of the divine is that of a playful puppy -- literally falling all over itself with exuberant energy and slobbering all over you and me with affection.  Nothing we can do will ever diminish the puppy's enthusiasm, its excitement and delight, its devotion . . . and so I think it is with God. 

If God's an old man in the clouds, then there's a twinkle in his eyes and he loves to pretend to pull a quarter out of your ear just so that he can see the way your face lights up.

The ancients didn't tell us that God feels love or is loving towards us, but that God is love.  Some have interpreted the mysterious revelation to Moses -- "I am that I am" -- as God saying "I am existence itself,"  Note that this doesn't mean, "I am all the things in existence," but rather, that God is existence or, as some have put it, is IS-ness itself.  God is love and, I would add, is exuberance, is delight, is joy.

For this, may we be truly grateful.

In Gassho,


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Lesson in Perspective

This morning I heard it reported that six billion dollars was spent on this election, making it the costliest election in U.S. history.  Six Billion dollars.  That's a six and nine zeros:   $6,000,000,000.00. 

I immediately began to fantasize about a world in which that money was used for more useful things -- like feeding the hungry, or housing the homeless, or providing healthcare to those who need it, or supporting literacy programs, or dealing with any of the other truly serious problems facing the people of our country and the world.

And then the announcer said that that six billion dollars was just one third of what Americans spent getting ready for Halloween.

And I remembered what world I was really living in.

Lord forgive us.  We know not what we do.

In Gassho,