Friday, March 25, 2011


As I've noted I've been reading Fr. Murray Bodo's meditative biography of St. Francis of Assisi, Francis:  the journey and the dream.  A lovely book, and a powerful one.  Much of what I've read has moved me deeply.

Here, for instance, is a portion of the chapter titled, "Barefoot in the Dirt":
One of the hardest trials of poverty, that sometimes made Francis forget how glorious was the service of his Lady Poverty, was the inconvenience of the poor life.  To be poor was to be subject to countless little annoyances that the lords, or even the rich merchants like his father, could buy their way out of.

To be poor was to take the road on foot while the rich rode.  To be poor was to wait long hours in the shops while the rich went before you.  To be poor was to beg and eat what was placed before you, and that monotonously the same gruel, while the rich ate at tables ever varying their fare.  To be poor was to mingle with those who were petty, narrow-minded and whose conversation was dull and uninspired, while the rich chose companions with care and welcomed the educated, the artist, the entertainer.  To be poor was to live among those who had given up hope and whose lives were lived from moment to moment with no star to lead them on, while the rich still had ambition and the will to accomplish something in life. . . .

[It was] the sacred penetration of dirt when you wanted to be clean, of a cold stone slab when you wanted a warm bed, of sleeping alone when you wanted someone beside you, of the will of others when your own was wiser and more efficient, of routine when you longed for variety."
There is so much in there to reflect on.  How many of us could willingly accept such a life?  I was especially struck by the emphasis on the inconvenience of it -- how contrary that is to our modern preocupation, perhaps even obsession, with making all things ever-more convenient?  And the thought of choosing the companionship of the "dull and uninspired" -- how would that play in a religious tradition such as Unitarian Universalism which tends to draw more people with advanced degrees than any other (even while we affirm the principle of "the inherent worth and dignity of every person")?  And what about choosing to follow the will of someone else "when [my] own was wiser and more efficient" -- what might that do to our experiences in our work places or our homes?  What a commitment to peace.

Inconvenience.  As Modo puts it, "The earthiness of it all, the gritty, day-to-day reality of poverty was what would kill the Dream for many."  Perhaps we could muster the energy to mount a glorious campaign of some kind, but to willingly accept a life of mundane inconvenience? 

There is so much here to reflect on.  Lent might just be a good time to do so.

In Gassho,


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Surrounded by Friendship

I had to drive for a little over an hour to get to the airport for my last trip.  I took with me one of my favorite CDs -- Dane Zane's House Party.  Zanes was once the front man for the band the Del Fuegos, and now has made a new career for himself as quite possibly the hippest purveyor of "children's music."  (Of course, to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy's comment about literature, "There is no such thing as good children's music; there's simply good music.")

One of the songs on this album, written by Cynthia Hopkins, is called "Surrounded by Friendship."  As I listened I found myself musing that St. Francis would have approved . . . and probably would have started singing along. 

Maybe you will, too.

In Gassho,


PS -- You can find more dan zanes albums at Myspace Music , or at Zane's own website.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Love and Suffering

Today is Speak Up For Universalism Day -- a day designed to coincide with the publication of Rob Bell's new book Love Wins:  A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  This new book espouses the view that God's love is all embracing, leaving no one out.  It is being greeted as heresy in some circles, and as a daring new teaching in others.  Among Unitarian Universalists, however, this is one of our foundational theological assertions.  The Universalist church has always maintained that "God is love" and that that love knows no bounds.

A colleague of mine posted this on FaceBook:
How can we affirm all-embracing inescapable love as the most powerful force of the universe in the face of catastrophe, with Japanese bodies washing ashore in the thousands and nuclear meltdown threatening? We do not know the answers, but we know they have something to do with our hearts breaking for all the suffering in the world. The truth that "love wins" does not mean there is universal happiness. Suffering is not noble, but it is a fact of life and the recognition of it connects us around the world.

I responded that I had once heard someone say "If God is Love, then God can do only what Love can do." This is still saying quite a lot -- love is a very powerful force -- but it is not all-powerful. An "all-embracing inescapable love" cannot control tectonic plates, but it can comfort and console the suffering of those devestated by an event such as the ongoin tragedy in Japan. And it can move observers to action.

I like the metaphor of God-as-Parent.  A parent cares for her or his children, wants the best for them, longs to see them happy and healthy.  The bottom line, though, is that children have their own (free) will and can make their own choices.  A truly loving parent recognizes that and gives their children the freedom to grow and develop in his or her own way.  She watches them, cares for them, celebrates them and consoles them, but does not even try to control them.

So too, I think, with God.  What kind of God would control every facet of our life and living?  An overly-controlling God, that's what.  And what kind of God would cause bad things to happen, even if they "teach a lesson"?  A cruel and caricious one, that's what.  I simply cannot believe in a God like that; such a "God" doesn't deserve the name.

We Universalists have always asserted that God is love and that this love knows no bounds.  It holds us, but doesn't control us.  It fuels our living, but doesn't force us to suffer for the sake of some inscruitable "plan."

I have summarized my theology with this phrase:  We are one human family, on one fragile planet, in one miraculous universe, bound by love."  This love, which binds us together, is what I call "God."  And it is there in Japan, and in your own heart, too.

In Gassho,


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Once More on Begging

Tomorrow is "Ash Wednesday," the beginning of the Christian period of Lent.  I have mentioned in other posts my love of St. Francis of Assisi, and this year I am very excited that both he and his soul friend St. Clare will be my guides and companions on a Lenten journey thanks to the book, Lent and Easter Wisdom From St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi by John V. Kruse.  For each of the coming forty days there is an excerpt from the writings of one or the other of these saints, a passage of Christian scripture, a prayer, and a suggested action.  I am very excited about this.

I'm also reading (yet another) biography of Francis, this one called Francis:  the journey and the dream by Murray Bodo.  It's a beautifully imaginative telling of the life of Francis by a Franciscan priest and poet.  Absolutely lovely.  And apropos of my recent posts about begging and homelessness, I found these words worth sharing:
Francis had noticed from the beginning that when he went begging, especially, very few people looked into his eyes.  They seemed always to avoid eye contact, either from embarrassment or fear or contempt.  There were, of course, the few bright-eyed, often people whose eyes were surely the lamps of their whole selves radiating love and goodness and trust.

It was marvelous how people became who they really were once you reached out your hand to them in the gesture of the beggar.  Even the insight into people head had gained in his father's shop paled when compared to what he learned begging in the streets of Assisi.  So often the veneer of respectability would be sloughed off and something like a monster would emerge, cursing and destroying you with the venom of words and gestures.  It was an experience only beggars understood.
This morning I saw my friend Shaggy again after not having seen him for several weeks.  I asked him how he was doing and he said, "Ah, you know.  I'm standing here watching people walk past me."  He know.

In Gassho,


Friday, March 04, 2011


When I was a kid there was this dinosaur with a really long neck called a Brontosaurus.

There was a planet named Pluto -- the ninth and last of the planets.  And only Saturn had a ring.

The major threat to the United States was the great and powerful USSR.  A wall -- and even more solid idology -- separated East Berlin from West Berlin and the Eastern and Western worlds from each other.

Today, the Brontosaurus no longer raises his head high into the sky -- paleontologists think that it's long neck stayed lower to the ground.  And it's no longer called Brontosaurus -- it's now Apatosaurus, thank you very much.

Pluto is now a "dwarf planet" and part of the Kuiper Belt.  And all of the outer planets have rings now.

The Soviet Union disintegrated into its component parts, and the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.  (I have a few pieces of it in my workroom, chiseled from the wall in those first heady days.)

And now it seems inevitable that I will live to see the full and equal recognition of same-gender relationships, as the Freedom to Marry movement sweeps across the country. 

And America has elected its first African American -- or, more accurately, multiracial -- President, a man whose wife is a descendent of enslaved Africans.

And now we've seen -- and I predict will be seeing for some time -- radical changes in the Middle East.  Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya,  . . . this seems to be just the beginning.

Is anyone else feeling that we're living in a rather historic period?

I find myself praying.  A lot.  Praying for peace.  Praying for change.  Praying for hopes to be realized.  I think of the marvelously beautiful prayer/poem from the Christian scriptures, the Magnificat, and find myself echoing its vision.

In Gassho,