Speak Through Me

Years afterward, I was asked by a peer “How many people go to college, Brian, and come away with a fully-developed philosophy of life?” I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that someone would go to college for any other reason.

I could have seen the difference, I guess, except that it was pretty embarrassing. Every conversation with a stranger unfolded at a million words a minute – a flood garbled in my haste, a defect of expression that I am confronting fully only now in my review of the videos at Love Returns.

My uncle Phil had borne the brunt of these exchanges more than once. Naturally concerned when I was preparing to read a passage at his brother’s funeral, he came by to advise me to draw out my vowels. My aunt had chosen some beautiful words, though, and I was well beyond that in my preparation of the reading. When I delivered the final “He is at peace,” the gathering paused in silence.

That was my first experience of having words work through me. Knowing that my aunt’s choice was an emotional one, I took in the meaning of the words but also received the deep, mature wisdom of the author’s emotional experience. A crescendo of loss wracked the middle of the passage, and when it came through me, the congregation leaned back.

In reading Scripture, the emotions are all that relates to our modern age. The situations are described only briefly; essential social context is often missing. To make them relatable, we project our own situations, along with our own emotions. This can lead us astray.

Monday night at Bible study, we focused on Matt. 20:20-34. The passages relate Jesus’s response to two pleas: one from the mother of James and John that her sons should sit on the left and right of his throne. The other is from two blind men that cry out for healing. In both situations, the onlookers rebuke those making the request. Jesus turns to heal the two blind men. His response to James and John is ambiguous.

Ambiguous? It may not seem that way, for Jesus challenges them with this question [Matt. 20:22]:

Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?

To which the brothers reply: “We can.” Jesus does not dispute this, observing only [Matt. 20:23]:

My cup you will indeed drink.

Commonly, this is read as a rebuke, something like “Oh, you sorry fools – sending your mother to plead for power.” But it can also be read as an affirmation of respect: “Yes, you can.”

The study leader noted that the mother was Jesus’s aunt; her sons were Jesus’s cousins. Given this, the emotions swept in, and I saw the situation in a different light.  They may have known what others were planning, and as family were pleading: “You know that you can trust us. Please let us protect you.”

When I shared this perspective, the woman sitting next to me seemed to expand. I felt her reaching back into that moment, and she began “And did Mary know this as well?” Here was another piece: Jesus had cast aside his mother’s protection, but still she loved him. Was it Mary that had organized this plea by John and James?

From this perspective, the parallels between the two stories are heightened. John and James are blind to the spiritual consequences of their service, but they wish to serve, just as Jesus commands of those that rebuke them [Matt. 20:27-28]:

…whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.  Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

James was martyred by Herod, the first of the Apostles to so suffer, and perhaps demonstrating the determination needed by the others. John suffered a different bitterness, being the Apostle left to grieve the persecution of the early Christians, including all of his Apostolic brothers. In that grief was a trial of bitterness. It was a trial that he passed, qualifying himself to bring the wisdom of Revelation to the world.

On Poverty and Riches

Just taking the long view (I mean – the long, long, long view), I consider the time-scale of the cosmos and the saga of biological evolution and we have the precious experience of living in this 10,000 year period in which our intelligence and the natural resources stored up from the past are available for us to do really deep work on our personalities. Simply to be alive in this time is such an incredible gift – to be able to play at being a creator, each in our own limited way.

Even if only to be able to plant a field, or tend a herd, or write a blog. Even if only to be the voice that reminds “There are still problems to be solved” in a way that motivates others to seek for solutions. Not to place fault, but to exhort greatness in others – to guide them into the only form of self-creation that opens to God.

Yes, the window is closing, as it was prophesied in Revelation. No, it’s not the fault of any single individual, and if we collectively had been more considerate of the forms of life that occupied the planet before us, maybe it wouldn’t be so traumatic. But that’s not under my control, so the question I constantly confront myself with is: what am I doing with my opportunity? Am I offering my creative capacities in the service of Life, or do I expect Life to serve me? Because when I finally lose my grip on this body, it is Life and Love that awaits to embrace me with the eternal embrace, if only I know how to receive it.

This is Power

in 2002, Time magazine published a cover article that related the scientific consensus regarding the end of the universe. It was a terribly depressing outcome, with iron planets and neutron stars scattered across intergalactic space, all except the matter that was vacuumed up in black holes.

I was going through a really depressed stage of my life, and faced the strong urge to rebel against that outcome. One option was to take the day off from work to lie in bed. The other was to reach for another alternative. It came to me in this way: at the core of almost every galaxy is a super-massive black hole – an “Active Galactic Nucleus.” We know that galaxies are bound together in clusters, and every now and then pass through each other. Over a long enough period of time, it seemed to me that the AGN’s will eventually collide, spewing out the matter they have absorbed to initiate a new cycle of stellar evolution.

Then I thought: “Well, if that’s how stars get made in the end, maybe that’s how they got made to begin with. Maybe stars don’t come first, and then collide to form black holes. Maybe the black holes are made first, and the quasars we see in the earliest age of the universe are the signature of the light and matter created in that process.”

Scripture offers us three kinds of wisdom:

  • Regulation, the accumulated wisdom of what does and does not work in relationships.
  • Situational ethics, describing how the Divine presence led our ancestors out of trouble when they made mistakes.
  • Meaning, revealing the evolutionary process that provides understanding to guide our investments in the future.

When I look at the situation in Congress today, I see a terrible perversion of this process. I see:

  • In our penal code and permissive gun laws, a process that segregates our population into camps based upon fear, undermining relation.
  • A “survival of the fittest” mentality that insists that poverty is a sign of unfitness and wealth a measure of greatness. People that fall ill are consigned to misery, those that cannot master rapidly changing technology are pushed aside in the workplace, and those that do not subscribe to predatory management practices are ostracized.
  • The unchecked politics of terrorism, where those that resist the changing future throw legislative Molotov cocktails, threatening their opponents with impeachment, harassing civil servants and not-for-profit leaders, and obscuring or simply denying objective truth regarding the consequences of their policies on global climate change, economics, international relations and campaign finance reform.

I would like to be able to corner Rep. Chaffetz to ask, “Mr. Chaffetz, did you ever withdraw during ejaculation? Did you ever avoid sex while your wife was ovulating? If so, then you intentionally prevented the birth of a child. When do you intend to turn yourself in for manslaughter?”

I would like to be able to confront the Biblical literalists with the insight that the whole experience of the nation of Israel from Noah to Jesus was to demonstrate the inefficacy and injustice of fixed systems of laws. The Law of Moses was authorized by God, but it is not “God’s Law” because it condones murder, contrary to the experience of Cain and the teachings of Jesus. The only law that binds a Christian is the law of love, and when you attack and demean those that serve the disadvantaged, you violate that law.

He walked up the sidewalk, his mind whirling with the pattern of creation unfolded from beginning to end. But at the periphery of the beauty were the people that brought him forth but rejected him, and the women that he would serve but that had resolved to force him to comply with convention. Those stains threatened to spread.

In his mind’s eye, a light entered the atmosphere, rushing downwards, clouds rolling away from the super-heated air in its wake. It passed over his shoulder and slammed into the hills ahead, a huge cloud of dust engulfing the spring day that he walked through. In his mind, a great cry of fear arose.

“No. No. I choose that spring day. I choose life.”

Two months later, in the home of a woman that loved him, he found a newspaper open to an inside article that documented that a planet-killer asteroid had passed between the earth and the moon two months before.

That is power. It is power that arises from looking into the things that are wounded and seeing the possibility of their healing. It is to forgo destruction of that which is broken and ugly. It is to serve those that serve, rather than to be a servant to convention.

Rather than seeking glory, it is to be regulated by the sorrows of the world.

All males are created to change things. It is far easier to change things by breaking them that it is to create something new. We indulge the former in boys. It is time for you to be men. If you don’t like tet way the world is, give us concrete and documented demonstrations of what does work.

Otherwise, get out of the way.

Dreams of a Worthy Man

When I took my sons out to Georgia three years ago, my uncle led the way up the highway to his boat house. He pulled over at a wilderness station, and as I dropped down from the driver’s seat of his VW bus, I was immediately ravished by the lush exuberance of the woods. He made his way into the station for some purpose, my sons following, but I stayed in communion with the sense of life that had become so desicated in Southern California. Eventually, he came out and said, “You know, there’s an exclusive resort on the other side of the hill.”

I don’t know why, but I thought of that when my son started talking about Jimmy Carter. Since Mr. Carter’s illness was made public, I have had this urge to go out to Plains and sit in on his Sunday school. When I shared that with Greg, he said “Well, maybe you should.”

A couple of Saturdays back, as I was puttering around the house in the morning, I found myself visualizing what would happen in that event, finding myself guided into a role as interpreter of a passage of scripture. As is perhaps obvious from my writing here, it’s hard for me to couple my experience of life to the world of daily affairs. So I fumbled around with big picture issues – meaning of life and process of Christ abstractions – until I finally struck on “You know, what I really want to do is to celebrate you, and the contributions you have made to society.”

I haven’t gone out to price travel to Plains – I’ve been distracted by other issues. But it keeps on popping up, and became particularly pointed this morning. I found myself standing in a long line outside of the church, and realized that I didn’t actually need to be in the class. I went to the door and introduced myself to the Secret Service agent, saying that I just wanted to offer Mr. Carter my blessing.

So I was ushered into a waiting room. He sat calmly in a chair. I walked up and placed my hands on his shoulders, and then on his scalp, trying to feel the shape of the wound that he carried. A chair appeared behind me, so I sat to embrace him gently, rubbing my hand in circles on his back over his heart. As I laid my left temple against his, I felt this shaft of anger and fear piercing his mind – the anger and fear of those that had fought to sustain control against the influence of the tolerance and caring that Mr. Carter manifests so consistently.

I moved my hand so that my fingers interrupted the painful flow, and sent healing behind it. With the pressure relieved, his grace bloomed outwards into the conduit, relieving fear and pain as it went.

He was eager to leave at that point, but I held him still. “I want them to see your radiance,” I explained. I pressed our hearts more firmly together, and arched as the power of Christ filled him with joy. As he took the floor, I watched in the doorway as the gathering stared in awe.

We Can’t Say ‘Thanks’ Enough

Life is the opportunity to participate in organizing spirit. Our bodies escort them about in clouds, and as we move amongst each other they enter into new relationships. Some of these are wonderful experiences: “Love at first sight” is a good example. Some of them are horrifying: consider the records of the carnival atmosphere at a public lynching.

At the core of our primary personality is a set of spirits that manage our survival. Through the mechanisms of our glands, organs, muscles and nerves, they coordinate the biological functions that allow us to control the world around us, and thus to sustain life. For most of the history of life on earth, this was as far as it went. Innovation in the integration of body and spirit was controlled largely by survival. With humanity, however, the possibilities exploded – almost without check. Using the mechanism of our brain, in each life we can explore and evaluate millions if not billions of spiritual relationships. We call these ideas.

How do we know which ideas work? Well, we put them into action. We seek to describe sources of pain (weather, natural disasters, disease and predators) and to create the means to avoid pain. We attempt to deny resources to those that bring us fear, or perhaps even better to use fear to take control of their resources. We gather and offer gifts to the people we love, when before we might have shared them more widely.

In the course of taking these actions, we integrate ideas into our core personalities. This can have terrible consequences for our bodies. If we accept a destructive idea, it can turn on us. Our core personality intuitively seeks to isolate its effects, but that may then cause stroke or cancer.

The other option is to vent destructive ideas on the people around us. For destructive ideas, that can be a successful strategy. One powerful individual can infect an entire society (witness Adolf Hitler, Mao TseDong, and Josef Stalin). In doing so, however, those ideas have to fight against the enormous mass of human experience, which proves that most of us survive best when we invest in the survival of others. The common man’s experience of the power of loving dilutes and even ennobles (see prior post) destructive behaviors.

In the beatitudes, Jesus promises solace to those that suffer most from this process. Implicitly, however, he also singles out those that serve most effectively in furthering its conclusion.

The poor in spirit – To be poor is often to be weak, but most directly what it means is to be missing something that you need. The poor in spirit need to be filled, and the world all around them offers them a multitude of destructive alternatives. To remain poor is to preserve yourself for occupancy by constructive ideas. Thank-you for your steadfastness.

Those who mourn – To mourn is to affirm the value of what is lost. This is not just the body of those that are lost to destructiveness, but the relationships that they offered us. In mourning, we preserve those relationships in our mind, and thus transfer to our care the souls that once found a home with the one mourned. Thank-you for your hospitality.

The meek – When we suffer a wrong, we often wish to lash out in revenge. The meek chose to suffer patiently. They do not propagate destructiveness, but struggle against it internally. In the course of that struggle, they transform it. Thank-you for your courage.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – To establish complete control, destructive ideas need to isolate their victims, making it appear that the acceptance of destruction is the only option available. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness raise their voice in warning and offer hope to victims. They encourage them to organize in support of each other. Thank-you for your witness.

The merciful – A person raised up in love often struggles when confronted with a destructive relationship. They may make regrettable choices, such as that made by Cain. Mercy recognizes this, offers wise counsel, and supports the wrong-doer as they seek to heal themselves and their victims. Thank-you for your compassion.

The pure in heart – From the perspective of Jesus, a pure heart can only be a heart filled with unconditional love. As unconditional love seeks to enter all things, a pure heart is an infectious agent. It embraces destructive relationships and transforms them. Thank-you for your service.

Peacemakers – The peacemaker enters into a destructive relationship and offers peace to both sides. In offering respect and affirmation to both parties, s(he) creates a common experience of beneficial relation. When the warring parties finally accept that commonality, they have the opportunity to recognize that the energies that they have committed to mutual destruction can be liberated for mutual benefit. Thank-you for your persistence.

The persecuted – When a strong personality stands up for love, the forces of destruction rank against them. This is terrifying, but because the power of divine love stands with them, the persecuted person is not easy to destroy. The attentions of destructive personalities are distracted, which allows their victims to rally and heal. Thank-you for your light.

In Jesus’s name: thank-you, thank-you, a million times thank-you.