Sunday, August 31, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, September 1, 2008

The best mind-altering drug is the truth.

- Lily Tomlin, comedienne and wise lady,
born on this day, 1939

OK Gang. I’m telling you now, so that you can at some level prepare yourself for a jolting challenge re. “The Truth”. As far as “spiritual maturity” goes, this will separate the spiritually brave from the spiritually ….. “challenged”.

First of all, Lily is absolutely on the money. All the rest of the mind-altering drugs that people are into are slouches compared to “The Truth”. And let’s not kid ourselves that people are not into mind-altering drugs. It doesn’t matter whether you are a rich dilettante or a dirt-poor peasant. Everyone has their mind-altering drugs in this World of ours, from the selling of which some make billions. There’s a lovely twist in what Lily Tomlin says. Most people use mind-altering drugs to avoid “The Truth”. Bad. And “The Truth” dispels Avoidance. Good!

But let’s keep this in mind: “The Truth” about the World these days (and maybe always) is that Life on this planet , to put it gently, sucks for about 90% of us. I needn’t elaborate. More than to say, how would you like to have bark to eat in Darfur, or be so depressed in suburbia that you want to kill yourself??

I have been listening to the radio (Dennis and I refuse to watch TV news) to the World’s woes for a long time. To the politics. When do I hear “The Truth”spoken? About .0000001% of the time, in my estimate.

Jesus is reported to have said, “The Truth shall set you free”. Apparently the vast majority of us prefer slavery.

Now. Lily also said: “We have reason to believe that man first walked upright to free his hands for masturbation.” Heads up here: War, dominance, control, and lying to maintain all this, is a form of negative spiritual masturbation. (Oh God! Did he say “masturbation”!!! Like that terrible Clinton appointee who said the word (and the Truth) and got fired?? Yes, he did!)

Well. Jocelyn Elders was right about the need to talk about masturbation. She spoke “The Truth”. Jesus was right to demand that we know the truth. And the Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Questions is - do we want to know and live with “The Truth” rather than with Lies? If we don’t, then settle in for a long, long era of physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual MISERY.

Brian’s Reflection: Sat/Sun, Aug 30/31, 2008

A (wo)man is a god in ruins. When (wo)men are innocent,
life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal,
as gently as we awake from dreams. [brackets mine]

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, on this day, 1837, gave
a speech at Harvard “explaining” Transcendentalist

I have said before that I don’t believe in the concept “Innocence”. This is because I wish to counter the idea that human beings were, at some mythical point, incapable of evil, of unlovingness. Balderdash. Thinking that human beings were never capable of evil is basically to say that we were not human at some point. Anyway, this shall be an enduring theme of mine, I guess!

Instead of Innocent, let’s say Honest. Once we are able to be honest, ruthlessly honest, about who we are and how we behave, then we are on the way to reflecting the source of our Mystery. Deception will fall away. We will understand that we are “immortal”. We will be “comfortable in our skin”. We will find the resiliency to shift from self-destructive behaviour to the enhancement of our own true humanity and the humanity of others.

“A god(ess) in ruins”. I love it!!


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, August 29, 2008

What worries you, masters you.

- John Locke, English philosopher,
born on this day, 1632

And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life's span? (NAS, Lk 12: 25)

I have had three anxiety attacks in my life. Every single one of them was when I was in a situation (a ministry) that clearly I was not called to be in. For those of you who have experienced them, they are awful. But. I am not basically a “worrier”. So I learned from the first anxiety attack, and understood that one, and the other two, to be messages from God.

It took me a long while to realize what the first one was saying, and I was able to respond to the other two immediately. You know, we all hate to think that we are a failure, or that we are unable to deal with a situation. But. Worry or anxiety can be a saving message. This is not where you need to be. Move on.

We all worry. And often have good reason. But Worry itself accomplishes nothing useful, as the Bible says. Worry is the Voice of God. Saying, Get off the dine. Do something. Either understand that it’s time to move on, or it’s time to face what’s going on and make some decisions about dealing with it. But just Worrying will get you nowhere.

I have learned from Worry/Anxiety to embrace reality. Not to worry about judgment. If you can’t contribute positively to a situation, a relationship, a job, find out why. You can either change, or you can understand that it’s not a good fit. Neither diminishes who you are, or your gifts.

Trust Worry. Worry comes as an “angel”. But remember: the longer you entertain Worry, it morphs into an evil spirit.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, August 28, 2008

Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow.

He who possesses art and science has religion;
he who does not possess them, needs religion.

- Goethe, thinker & philosopher, born on this day, 1749

An introduction to Goethe. (There is more of his wisdom at the bottom.) One of humanity’s Sages. But, let me choose one to reflect on.

Nobody wants to grow. There it is in a nutshell. Read the great thinkers, prophets, sages. All will at some point remind us that we have to grow in order to be “someone”. To grow means to change. And we all know how people in general resist change! Jesus had innumerable parables about it. He is recorded to have said, Anyone who wants to be great must become the least of all. But yes, a person grows in self-understanding when (s)he understands what greatness truly is - and it usually means having less inflated views of oneself. Again, the Gospel says it very baldly: Think less of yourself than of others. Of course this doesn’t mean that we demean ourselves. It simply means that we are open to discovering in what soil personal “greatness” grows. Growth is often a surprise.

In the World today, “we” still think that the person who has power and appears to control is “Somebody”. Wisdom says - and has always said - that it is the one who learns Service is great.

So: ponder Goethe. And here are some other things to keep you busy during the day! It would be useful to pay particular attention to the third.

Do not give in too much to feelings. A overly sensitive
heart is an unhappy possession on this shaky earth.

Every day we should hear at least one little song, read one good poem,
see one exquisite picture, and, if possible, speak a few sensible words.

If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.

Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I am He whom I love, and He whom I love is I.
We are two spirits dwelling in one body,
If thou seest me, thou seest Him;
And if thou seest Him, thou seest us both.

- Husayn ibn Mansur el-Hallaj, Sufi mystic, 10th C

This is going to sound ….. weird - maybe. But there will be some out there who will resonate to what I am saying. Now, I am not a great pray-er. Or meditator. Or practitioner of the “mystical ways”. But I understand exactly what el-Hallaj is saying. Exactly. I “understand” it intellectually. But I understand it more in my gut and in my heart.

Now, it has taken awhile. I have had to ponder. I have had to have many internal arguments. I have had to wrestle with institutional “church” doctrine and regulations and creeds, etc. And though it has taken 30-40 years, where I have had to struggle with things such as pride and presumption and the “opinion” of “orthodox” church people, I can now say without any hesitation: I am He whom I love, and He whom I love is I ….. If thou seest me, thou seest Him.”

I am not special. I am not great. I am not saintly, as the World or the religious authorities define such things. I don’t say Morning or Evening Prayer daily. I don’t follow a rigorous “spiritual discipline”. I just join the community for the Eucharist each Sunday, and I try to be a faithful priestly presence to people. Do my work as a teacher and pastor and “sacramentalist” as occasion comes along. But I know without any reservation whatsoever that I am one with God. It is a very simple thing. No flashing lights, no celestial music, no attending angels. Just a feeling that brings a smile to my face and a quietness to my being and a peace to my heart.

So what is the Good News here?? The Good News is, if I can sense this truth, you can too. You don’t have to be exceptional. You just have to be yourself, delight in life, be naïve, “be not puffed up”, believe that being a human being is intrinsically a holy thing, do your best to care. It won’t be long! You’ll be singing, along with our Sufi friend: I am (S)he whom I love, and (S)he whom I love is I.

Your fears will dampen and your blood pressure will go down. You will be thrilled by every opportunity to give a hand. You will understand that you are not the Saviour, but can assist when appropriate.

Believe me. It’s a much better way to live.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization
from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass.
A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.

- John Buchan, author, born on this day, 1875, in Perth, Scotland

Frighteningly true. So much of what we call “civilization” seems to be a very thin veneer. And what makes it so thin, I wonder? Think of the millennia that have gone by since recorded history! Think of the things of beauty and wonder that have been developed on all levels of accomplishment. In textiles, ornament, poetry, glass, sculpture, all the arts and skills, machinery ….. and on and on. Even in the times of conflict and war, up to modern times.

It is my impression that the wonders of “civilization” have been developed by those with leisure, social prestige, and education. Including war, when the privileged plan, and the poor and oppressed classes serve as the canon fodder.

The same, alas, seems to be true of religion. Some will argue that in general religion has helped in quieting the more savage aspects of the human personality. But Genesis barely knew what it was talking about when it spoke of the consequences of human banishment from the Garden and from intimacy with “God”! The veneers are easily ripped off any of the religions that proclaimed compassion and justice and equality, and practitioners easily are co-opted or panicked into Inquisitions and Jihads. In my darker moments, I wonder if any religion, or any “civilization” is worth anything in terms of leading humanity towards those human qualities that so many have at times identified as “high”.

Carl Jung was occasionally asked if human transformation was possible. He apparently always answered, “If many individuals are willing to do the inner work necessary, yes”.

I guess it’s up to each of us, who together form communities and peoples. Each one of us must take responsibility for our Self. It must begin there. “There” where “religion” is not about creating and maintaining some kind of social veneer of control, but about self-Enlightenment leading to the same hope for each.

Will we humans ever change? If so, how? Or is the fear of survival just too much to transcend tooth and claw?

What do you think?


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, August 25, 2008

There's no such thing as an original sin.

- Elvis, musician, born on this day, 1954

The critical word here, for Elvis anyway, is “an”. Very cute. There is, of course, no sin that has never been committed before. As the Bible says, There is nothing new under the sun. This includes, to my mind, sins actually committed, and sins thought. (I say this with the words of Bonnell Spencer, OHC, that nothing is a sin unless you do it thundering in my ears.) Actually, I’m not sure they fall within exactly the same degree (sorry to sound “Jesuitical”!), though Jesus seems to have warned that sins thought are sins committed - not literally, but as possible cause and effect ….. and therefore (a) of the same species, and (b) to be paid attention to ….. a kind of John the Baptist to Acting Out!

But you know where I am really going! “Original Sin”. I “believe in it”. Not - let me very clear here - (a) as a way of saying that we humans are by nature “bad”, or (b) as a reason to baptize anyone, especially infants, in case they die and go straight to Hell, do not pass the River Lethe, do not collect 100 Euros.

“Original Sin” is I think - as long as one avoids the nonsense said about Original Sin over the centuries - a helpful concept. It reminds us of our God-like character, free to make choices. Reminds us that we are responsible for our lives and for the choices we make. Responsible for our own happiness, and for the happiness of the human community. God cannot be blamed for the messes that we make in any way. Blaming God is just a way of scapegoating God. A way of rejecting our destiny as “made in the Divine image”, and of justifying our cowardice, slovenliness, carelessness, and yes, often downright disgusting and deliberate meanness.

Let’s get a grip folks! We were “born to sin”, and we will always sin in this earthly Life. Thinking we will not sin in this Life is a fantasy, a waste of time. Such thinking only distracts us from the real work. The Gospel is, I believe, clear about this, as are other great Inner Paths of Becoming.

Better to strive for honesty about our behaviour; for belief in our essential beauty and goodness; for humility to face our self-and-other-destructiveness; for courage to turn again to hope and grace and the God-given gift of redemption (i.e., repent); for the vision to set one’s foot again upon the Path to Compassion and Love; and the will to do the work involved at each step. Again and again and again.

Oh, Elvis? Elvis Costello. The other one really is dead ….. except mythically!


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Sat/Sun, Aug 23/24, 2008

Let everyone regulate his conduct... by the golden rule of
doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have
them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.

- William Wilberforce, English parliamentarian (1780-1825),
convert to Christian faith, born on Aug 24, 1759

An amazing man! From a wealthy family. Educated at Cambridge. At age 21 (yes, 21) he was elected to the English Parliament and served there for 45 years. Some years into his political service, he took up the “evangelical” Christian life. He intended to resign (what? a real Christian be a …… politician ???!!!), but was dissuaded. He supported popular education, the reformation of public manners and morals, parliamentary reform, Roman Catholic emancipation and, perhaps most important and passionately, the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. Parliament put an end to the slave trade in 1807, just one month after Wilberforce died. It had been a long battle.

The Golden Rule can, in some form, be found in many religions and traditions. Jesus supported it, and He summed it up in His own Love one another as I have loved you. It certainly ranks among the top five teachings by which we humans can become fully and most beautifully human. (I won’t bore you again with what that it, in my book.)

Think what it would be like if we lived by the principle that we couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything to anybody unless we were first to have it done to us. Be sold into slavery? Charged 125% compound interest by these flourishing “paycheque loan” people? Waterboarded, or otherwise tortured? Have “outside” observers judge the fairness of every election? Condone suicide bombing? The list is endless. But the list of things that most of us are willing to do to others - even in the name of modern so-called security - would dramatically decrease if we had to undergo them. Anyone care to devote their life to getting the World community to adopt this Principle??

Wilberforce was a privileged man. So indeed are the vast majority of us in the Western world. The Golden Rule, and the Gospel, ask us to put ourselves in the place of others. Bottom line, what we do to others we do to ourselves. The whole fabric of the human community is shredded and soiled when we treat others the way we would never tolerate.

May we have more men and women like William Wilberforce, who discover the Holy within, and who see with holy eyes, and who defend the common humanity of us all.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, August 22, 2008

To gain affection from another person without providing
one’s own part of the relationship is a devil’s bargain.

- Robert Johnson, Jungian analyst, from his book
The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden

According to Johnson, a Devil’s bargain is to think that we can get something for free. For example, we can make decisions and choices that advance us technologically or practically, ignoring the fact that this choice is one which fatally damages our ability to be compassionate and loving and just. It is a bargain which radically diminishes our ability to be fully human. We may think that we are getting something “free”; but we are being destroyed as a person. The cost is very high.

I count it a blessing to me, from out of the heart of some Mystery, that I have rarely if ever needed the approval of another person. Including my parents. Even “God”. This is different from having another person (or God) think you are wonderful. That’s nice. But I didn’t need the approval in order to appreciate and feel ok about myself. I have always had that, and I don’t know where it came from. I left home at age 21 to become a monk. I was seeking a path to wholeness, to holiness, unbeknownst to me consciously at the time. I felt then that I was an OK human being. But, being Gay, I somehow understood I needed to find a place to be Gay and assert my identity as an authentic part of the human community. I found it - and that may be because “God” is a Trickster!

I feel that intimate relationships often do not work today because people enter into them (unconsciously, I suspect) lacking the sense of their own intrinsic value. They try to elicit that approval by using another person to their ends. This simply does not work. Even if the other person complies with being used, they become maimed and demeaned. It’s downhill from there.

Find yourself first. Appreciate and assert your unique and beautiful identity. Appreciate and affirm the other. Affection and honour and respect will follow. In my experience, this is how the God of the Gospels works.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, August 21, 2008

There is only one heroism in the world:
to see the world as it is and to love it.

- Romain Roland, philosopher (1866-1944)

Well, I can be pretty critical of the World, and of everything else, including myself. Failure, failure, failure, failure. Countless number of people have produced countless visions of the glory of being human - people from every possible focus or perception. We human beings never live up to them. We are, from this point of view, pathetic. We tout our intelligence, our brain, our intuition, our resourcefulness, our wisdom. And we and the World are a mess.

But where is this going to get us? Not very far. There is very little point in loving the Vision if we are not able to love What Is. In the Gospel, this is what “God” does - Love Us As Is. Unconditional Love. Acceptance while “Imperfect” - though I do not personally believe in the concept of “Perfection”, just as I do not believe in the concept of “Innocence”. God does not wait to love us until some standards have been achieved. God loves us As Is. Why? Because of this truth: If we are loved As Is, we bond, we trust. Being who we are, this is the freeing catalyst for our flinging ourselves onto the path of maturization. We cannot be forced or manipulated to change and grow ….. or love. Change and Growth are the choice of ontologically free beings. We will not change or grow in any authentic or real way unless we are free. This is why the World community is in such collapse these days - violence and force and coercion breed only rebellion, hate, and resentment.

Contemplating Roland, I “see” that before any of us can move anywhere – especially towards respect and honouring and cooperation and justice and understanding and peace - we must become true heroes. We must espouse the “one heroism in the world”. To See the World as it is and to love it.

You might like to think today about what this means for your Life and how you live it. It only makes it infinitely worse, in terms of God’s hope as expressed in the Christian Scriptures for the emergence of the Kingdom of Love, that the Pope continues to insist that his brand of religion if the only “true” path. Or Islam, or whomever. The pain of the World’s people is crying out against such arrogance and presumption.

I think we are being called by the World’s suffering to die - as Christ did - to our sin of rejecting those fellow humans we either fear or demean, for whatever reason. It must be a phenomenon of all humanity, something we all see and embrace together, or it won’t work.

I’m going to pray for and encourage us all to see the World as it is. To see then, in love, it is unworthy and self-destructive. To become a Hero. To accept, then transform.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Whatever makes you happy, Dear.

- Madge Scott Angell McHugh, my mother,
who died on this day, 1999, age 78

There is an ancient Buddhist (I think) saying which says that the best way to serve God is to be happy. (Let’s not quarrel about the definition of “happy”; I don’t mean anything vapid, but rather profound.)

I arrived at my parents’ home in Toronto in August of 1967, off of my first plane trip on a four-prop Constellation from Winnipeg, having spent the summer after my graduation from university as a student minister “looking after” six little congregations of the United Church of Canada. Age 20. But that’s another story.

I announced that I was going to be leaving for the United States to become a monk. My father, a hard-working, self-taught man, was not able to understand why I would have gone to university only to do something that would make me no money. All my mother said was, “Whatever makes you happy Dear”.

My mother said that many times to me in my life. I don’t know if she said it to my brother, but I suspect so. My mother said it to me when I went to become a monk. She said it when I left the Order. She said it when I told her I was going to Ohio to be a parish priest. And several times after when I announced yet another jog in the Journey. I regret she never met Dennis.

Strangely, I can’t really say that I knew my mother very well. My brother would have known her better. I left home, certainly emotionally, at age 16 really, and spent only a few days if that a year with my family. In a strange way, my mother was both my birth mother and my mythical mother. In that “mythic” role, she became my Muse. I have the sense that she would have liked me, as her son, to be nearer. But she never made any of the motherly demands on me to which she was, I think, “entitled”. My mother set me free to live my own Life. I never spoke to her about it, so I have no real idea if this was something conscious on her part. I rather think it – or perhaps I delight in thinking – that it was instinctual on her part. I was and have always been a fiercely independent person. My mother seems to have known and respected that. And she seems to have known that I would be more surely her son if she abetted my “different drummer” march through Life.

She is a symbol for me of God as I understand God. The God I “know” never , never, never coerces or manipulates in any way. I would instantly shun such a “God”. Perhaps my Mother helped open my heart to find a God I could respect and love, surrender to, and trust.

So on this 9th anniversary of her journeying on, I thank her here, as I have thanked her many times in the many many quiet moments I have envisioned her lovely smile and remember her words. "Whatever makes you happy Dear.”


Monday, August 18, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We must question the story logic of having
an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates
faulty Humans, and then blames them for his
own mistakes.

- Gene Roddenberry, creator of “Star Trek”,
born on this day, 1921

Bingo. Is it not just so very Human for people to create a “sacred” text, and Myth (Truth-story), and a God whom they can blame indirectly through His faulty character to escape the responsibility for their pathetic failure. (Well; He blames us for our failures ….. but we know who’s really failed!) We Humans are not so stupid after all, are we!

God, in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, is definitely not all-knowing, all-powerful. Theologians have said that God is so – after all, if you are God, what else could You be?? But then we portray God as petty, arbitrary, vindictive, sulky, angry, etc. The two just don’t fit together. If anything proves to me that, in essence, God is Humankind’s creation, the Bible does.

And yet, and yet ….. to me, the great wonder and mystery of the Bible is that, when you read it with (as mystics have said) the mind within the heart, and with a deep longing to understand oneself, others, the World, , with the inner ear truly open and ready to “hear”, the true mystery we call “God” is revealed. At least I have found it so.

I am an unabashed “Trekker”. Where I live, there is a TV channel with no other redeeming features except that it has Star Trek Voyager re-runs on from 4-6 every afternoon. I am glued to it, as is Dennis if he is home. I love them because they are always questioning the logic of things that Humans believe. I agree with Roddenberry: we must question the logic of the often bizarre positions we take. Especially about “religion”. If we don’t, we end up where we are now in the World.

The Star Trek motto is: to explore a strange new world, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

The boldest Journey is Within. It takes the most courage.

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, August 18, 2008

There is nothing but water in the holy pools.
I know, I have been swimming in them.
All the gods sculpted of wood or ivory can't say a word.
I know, I have been crying out to them.
The Sacred Books of the East are nothing but words.
I looked through their covers one day sideways.
What Kabir talks of is only what he has lived through.
If you have not lived through something, it is not true.

- Kabir (Sufi)

I have used this quote from Kabir before (in 2004). I find it something important to remember regularly.

Be clear. Kabir is NOT saying – such is the mystery of language and of expression – that “holy pools” and “gods” and “sacred books” are unimportant. What he is saying is that they are meaningless unless they flow out of the experience of Life (and Death, and struggle, and joy, and suffering, etc) of each of us. Unless there is a relationship between these things and each human being.

I am using this quote again to remind us all today: You Are Important and Necessary. Let’s have none of this denigration of our beautiful human selves. None of this dismissal of the imminent in favour of the “transcendent”. None of this longing for “heaven” at the rejection of “this mortal life”.

“Gods” and “sacred books” and “holy pools” are sacraments - outward and visible signs of the inner mystery of Life which each of us experiences in a unique way, and in which we all share in some way. If we are not “in” the holy pools and sacred books and wood and ivory deities, they are “nothing”.

If we can’t find the source of the sacraments within ourselves, none of them are true.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, August 15, 2008
Feast of the “Virgin” Mary in the Christian Calendar

Discretion is the perfection of reason,
and a guide to us in all the duties of life.

- Sir Walter Scott, novelist, born on this
day, 1771, in Edinburgh

The freedom or authority to judge something or make a decision about it. From the Latin verb, discernere, to be separate or, later, to discern.

Let’s use a very “in our face” example. I have been thinking all day about Russia and Georgia and the two provinces. It is complicated. Where is the “right” solution? Let’s go to the heart of the matter, side-stepping how the situation got this way. The issue - are we surprised? - is Freedom of choice. The same with the abortion issue, government telling people how many children they can have, who can have a gun. Freedom of choice. Americans are fanatical about it. But lots of other people in the World are dealing with the same thing. And it raises other issues, including how individual freedom relates to social life, and whether majority rule is fair.

For me, based in my Christian grounding as developed over more than four decades, people should be free to decide their destiny, fate, living conditions, etc. Only when this is fundamentally true will people feel able to balance their personal freedom with the needs of the community, free to make “concessions”. I often think that we are at a time in World history where we have to start over. Everyone should be given freedom to choose. Then we will negotiate. Naïve? Maybe.

You wouldn’t think this had anything to do with the Blessed Virgin Mary. But, oh, it does! We have the freedom to judge, and to make a decision. Is Mary “God’s Mother”? If Mary is “God’s Mother”, then is Mary “born without sin”? Is this a “literal” truth? Or is this a “metaphorical” truth, pointing to a Mystery? Did a Jewish woman give birth to God’s Messiah without benefit of sexual intercourse, or is this a “truth-story” about the reality that the Mystery of God needs to be given birth by each of us in our core so that we can become human?

Discretion allows me/us to reason out the process, but the conclusion is the same. “God” and we are One. The full meaning of being human will reveal itself when, and only when, we each allow ourselves to become impregnated and give birth to that Mystery.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Every so often, I get a "thing" that purports to be by Ben Stein. I say "purports", since one should always question the authenticity of things on the Internet. Several months ago, a parishioner forwarded the Stein comments; I got it again today. Below is my response:

1. Ben is a privileged man and Jew who lives in Malibu, is highly educated, and probably has not been personally much affected by anti-Semitism.
2. I would be happy to have the religious symbols of ALL RELIGIONS displayed in our common life. Have you ever been to the places I have been to, where people were absolutely and viciously intolerant of having anything except Christian symbolism displayed? Have you noticed that Judge Moore wanted only Judeo-Christian symbols in his courtroom? There are beautiful expressions from other religions that speak to justice, peace, common civility. He didn’t want that. No: because he was determined to “establish” a Christian-centric ONLY culture. Like the Aryan Skin-heads. Is this what Jesus would approve of?
3. Many of the Christians who seem to think they are being “pushed around” are being “pushed around” because they are intolerant and disrespectful of other peoples’ beliefs or non-religious beliefs.
4. There is no such concept that America is an “explicitly atheist country”. The Constitution simply says that no particular religion is to be espoused. It does this because the Christians and Deists who formulated it wanted us to be respectful of ALL faiths, and to live in harmony with all.
5. There is also no explicit concept that America is an explicitly Christian country. President Adams made that clear in a treaty statement in the late 18th Century.
6. I’m all in favour of “getting us thinking”. Because people seem to me these days just to react out of the prejudices, and their determination not to change, and not to embrace the faiths of others.
7. What a fatuous answer Billy Graham’s daughter made! (And remember, Billy Graham was very anti-Semitic, and very homophobic, and very patriarchal, and very anti-Roman Catholic, and very into power as the confident of Presidents.) God does not “back out”. What God is deeply saddened about is that we refuse to love and respect those who do not believe what we believe, value what we value, think differently from us, and love all God’s children in their great diversity. No, we want people to be “American” according to our rules - and of course God will “back away” until we get the message.
8. Many of us Christians and believers have NOT been telling God is “get out of our schools, to get out of our government, and to get out of our lives”. We have been “on God’s side”, trying to establish a country in which ALL God’s children are respected. Jesus did not die for the freedom of Christians; He died for the whole World’s freedom from the power of Sin and Death. We have been advocating that God’s activity in the lives of people of other than Christian faith be recognized. But Christians have been adamant in their arrogant belief that God only talks with and loves Chrisatians.
9. Madeline O’Hare did us a big favour. She reminded us that God loves even unbelievers, and especially those who are persecuted by his so-called followers.
10. I would be happy, as a Christian, to have the Bible read in schools along with the glorious Wisdom and godly insight of other paths. But oh no; so-called Christians seem determined to defend that only they have the Truth.
11. Would you like, as a child, to have been beaten? Jesus said, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And have you noticed how many kids who were spanked and beaten become abusers?
12. Children “have no conscience” because Christians have refused to have a conscience themselves; it’s either “our way or the highway” - and we have taught our kids hatred against the “other” by our attitudes. Once we respect all peoples and their Wisdom, we can “teach or children well”. Yes, we are “reaping what we sow”.
13. We are not “trashing God”. We are confronting those who think they have God in their corner of prejudice, bigotry, ego-centrism, chauvinism, and zenophobia. Look at the latest Pew poll: America falls at the bottom of the list of fairness and tolerance.
14. It is hard to discuss God in school, when only Christian kids are respected.
15. The World is in bad shape because of the way that so-called Christians are behaving in a way contrary to the way of Jesus Christ.
16. And I say with Ben: “if you disregard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the World is in”.

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, August 14, 2008

LIFE has dark secrets; and the hearts are few
That treasure not some sorrow from the world--
A sorrow silent, gloomy, and unknown,
Yet colouring the future from the past.
We see the eye subdued, the practised smile,
The word well weighed before it pass the lip,
And know not of the misery within:
Yet there it works incessantly, and fears
The time to come; for time is terrible,
Avenging, and betraying.

- Letitia Elizabeth Landon, English poet & novelist,
born on this day, 1802

Well! Who doesn’t need a cold splash of Doom on a summer August morning! You’d think that a person with the lovely name of Letitia would have a little more charm. But, I’m using it, primarily because I’ll bet that no one of you has ever heard of Letitia Landon - and here I have contributed to the lifting of your ignorance!

Was it Shakespeare who said, “Time will out”? Well, it’s true. Jesus knew this. He is recorded to have said that whatever was said in secret will be shouted from the housetops. We can subdue our eyes, and we can practice the practised smile, and try our best to make our words well weighed before it pass the lips. But eventually what we really meant will be revealed. Time is terrible / Avenging, and betraying.

So. I looked “inside”. I’m glad to say that I found only one overwhelming sorrow from the world, along with Life’s normal ones. It is the great sorrow of all my friends and pastoral clients who died so young from AIDS. I keep it stuffed most of the time, especially from myself. But something every now and then triggers it, and the tears (and the rage) come to my eyes. And the deep sorrow takes my breath away.

I suppose that Time can be terrible,/ Avenging and betraying. It can also be beautiful, cleansing and redeeming. If you have great hidden Sorrow, let it out. We are not meant, we human beings, to live shackled and in fear.

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I never saw a contradiction between the ideas that sustain me
and the ideas of that symbol, of that extraordinary figure, Jesus Christ.

- ???

First, ask yourself (if you are a person who follows the path of the Gospel, or who understands the Gospel): What did Jesus preach and live and die for?

Pause. (Thinking going on.)

Now ponder: many of our national leaders call themselves Christians, and proclaim that America is a "Christian" nation.

Question: Would Jesus feel a nation was being faithful, if it spent several billions of dollars on waging war each month, while 1/7th of its citizens had no access to health care, and while millions of its children lived under the official poverty level??

I know what my answer is. No.

This quote, by a man who was born on this day, 1926.

Whether or not I agree with what this man has done, it remains for us to ask: if we are a nation founded in Judeo-Christian principles, are we being faithful to the teachings of Jesus?


(quote: Fidel Castro)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, August 12, 2008

“He ate himself to death”.

- Anonymous , said of James Buchanan
“Diamond Jim” Brady, philanthropist and
railroad baron, born on this day, 1856

Well, I have a strange connection to ole Diamond Jim. Which I suspect is basically apocryphal. As many of you may remember, my beloved Nana, Margaret Harker Angell, had a cottage in the Laurentian Mountains, about two hours north of Montreal, on a beautiful lake. I spent all the summers of my life from age Zero (I was 6 weeks old when taken there) to about 16. It was idyllic. It became a mythic “place” in my Life.

I remember hearing that Diamond Jim had once owned either the cottage or the land on which it was built - or owned something in the area! Whether or not this had anything to do with the CN railroad, by which many of us without a car got to Montfort, I don’t know. But it is kind of “magical”, yes?! All I remember is that his name would come up every now and then.

Diamond Jim Brady was enamoured of Jane Russell, the actress. A movie was made about it, in 1935. I’ve not seen it, but will research that! She didn’t marry him, and he apparently had an unsuccessful romantic life. But the legend is that, seriously ill, he sat down to a scrumptious dinner, the richness of which killed him. Hmmm.

Most of the things I write are “factual”. But occasionally I “fabricate” ….. for literary effect. Writers have that right. That’s the way the Bible got written, along with all other Holy Scriptures. Creative minds take flight, in order to make the message sparkle!

Don’t die until you have taken a moment to write a short (or whatever), brilliant, charming, gussied-up account of what your Life has been. Use every little bit of inventiveness to enhance the loveliness! Hopefully this will counter the “enhanced interrogation” methods used to torture people by our government. With all the sordidness in political Life today, you can bring a little healing and delight to our wounded World.

Brian’s Reflection: Sat/Sun, August 9/10, 2008

I am not a crook.

- Richard Nixon, who resigned the presidency
on this day, Aug 9th, 1974

And early in the morning He came walking toward them on the sea.
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified,
saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus
spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

- Jesus (Matt 14: 24-27) – the Gospel for Proper 14A [RCL], Aug 10th

Well, if anything might get me struck by lightning from the skies, quoting Jesus and Richard Nixon in the same breath might just do it ……………………………………….. well, I’m still here, so I will go on.

On one hand, I loath and despise Richard Nixon for what he, in my view, did to shame the best of what America can be. (Alas, George Bush has, in my humble opinion, far exceeded Nixon.) But maybe I am growing just a bit in Christian virtue, because when I see his face before me, I see such a sad, sad man in Nixon, and I dearly hope that the Christ was, in some form, able to walk across the raging “sea” of Nixon’s disgrace and bring him some calm and peace.

A young man in the Order of the Holy Cross (at the time) once said the most helpful thing about this story of Jesus walking on the waters of the sea and helping support Peter to step out and stay afloat. He said, “Boy, there are many times that Jesus has walked across the chaos of my Life and pulled me up and kept me afloat.” There, friends, is the most important thing that can be said about this Scripture passage, I think. There are those who think that the “miracles” are an invention of the culture, and those who take them literally, and everything in between. But the – the – critical message is that finding the Christ Within is what will dampen our fears and help us master or calm the chaos of our lives and keep us from going under.

How I experience it in my Life, essentially, is being unafraid to see Reality - Mortality, Change, Reversal of Fortune, Challenge; the invitation to see that everything can be an opportunity for new understanding and learning and experience. The Christ walking on the water and lifting Peter says, “Trust yourself, and Life; you won’t go under”. And take every offer of help you can get, I’d say too!

I don’t expect some 1st century long-haired hippie to come along and grab me. I just expect that when I “go inside”, the Mystery of the God of Love will be there, strong and true. I’ll make it.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, August 8, 2008

I envy people who can just look at a sunset.
I wonder how you can shoot it. There is nothing
more grotesque to me than a vacation.

- Dustin Hoffman, actor, born on this day, 1937

Now, there is a great actor, but a sick puppy! At least he has the grace to realize it, to envy sensible, well-adjusted people. No sense of balance whatsoever, so he certainly could never make a good Episcopalian!!

Have you ever seen the “green flash”? I have. Once. I was in a terrific place on the Yucatan - having a glorious, “grotesque” vacation. (Oh Dustin - sad, sad, sad.) Mayans cooking, often things cooked in the ground. A big, palm-covered dining area where we all gathered for dinner. A lapping, blue-green sea beside which one’s large tent was pitched, with a hammock outside between the palms, a tent whose gas light was lit for you while dinner was being served and chocolates left on the pillows above the turned-down covers. All for about $50 a day.

One night, at dinner, the sun set in a clear, warm tropical evening. I had heard of the “green flash”, and asked my dinner companions if they had seen it. “Nope”, they all said. “Let’s watch”, I said. The grooper, grilled in fresh lime, waited a bit as we gazed at the huge yellow-orange ball slowly approaching the horizon. I watched unblinking. And just as the last tip of the sun sank into the sea - there it was! The “green flash”! I’ve looked for it again many times as I have shamelessly indulged in many sunsets on many “grotesque” vacations. I look forward to many more attempts!

Dustin is right to be envious. It is a sick soul that believes (and probably wrote!) the perverted Biblical Creation story that implies we have to work all the time as punishment for our “sin”. First, St. Benedict was right when he said that Work is essentially Prayer. And secondly, Work is essentially so that we can enjoy and enhance the beauty of Creation - as much balanced as possible!!

I look forward to watching many more sunsets, looking for that “green flash”. And I’ll keep the camera in my pocket. Sunsets aren’t meant to be captured. They’re an eternal tease.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, August 7, 2008

Christ is made the sure Foundation, Christ the Head and Cornerstone;
Chosen of the Lord, and precious, Binding all the Church in one,
Holy Zion’s Help forever, And her Confidence alone.

To this temple, where we call Thee, Come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
With Thy wonted lovingkindness, Hear Thy servants as they pray.
And Thy fullest benediction Shed within its walls alway.

- from a 7th C Latin hymn, translated by John Mason Neale,
1818-66, hymnographer, priest, on this his feastday in the
Episcopal Church Calendar

Good King Wenceslas. Remember that? Neale wrote it. Anglicans certainly will remember hymns like To the Name of our salvation, That Eastertide with Joy was Bright, Stars of the Morning, O What Their Joy and their Glory must be, Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle, Of the Father’s Love Begotten and many more. Neale is known not mostly for original texts, but for the many wonderful translations into English of ancient Latin hymns. When I was a monk, we sang many of his translations at the Daily Offices. I especially remember the Compline hymn To Thee before the Close of Day. One website on Neale lists 122 hymns!

Neale thought that many of the hymns being sung in his time, like those of Issac Watts, were “bad theology”. He went back to earlier centuries since, as a “High Churchman”, he thought better theology lay there. Well, in my view, sometimes, but not necessarily!

Neale wrote several books on the history and theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church; most of the high-ranking clergy at his funeral were Orthodox. He was also a reviver of the monastic life in the English Church, being the founder of the Society of St. Margaret, which has a branch in the Episcopal Church.

Neale wrote in translation of one 7th C hymn, Creator of the Stars of night ….. [thou] hast found the medicine, full of grace, to save and heal a ruined race. It is this freeing, self-giving God Who is the sure foundation of the Church’s Life.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret; O Death in Life, the days that are no more.
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, born on this day, 1809

Sometimes, one should just take a little time to enter into a fine poem. Enjoy!


Monday, August 4, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I come into the peace of wild things who do not
tax their lives with forethought of grief... For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

- Wendell Berry, wise person, born on this day, 1934

One preacher on Sunday suggested that Jesus, having gone to a “quiet place”, might have been a little pissed off to discover a huge, hungry crowd waiting for him. Another friend and I were a little bemused as to why he thought Jesus might feel like that. But then I read Wendell Berry. I thought about Dennis and I driving up last night from trying to find the Reddish Egret that’s been around Goleta Slough, saying nothing for an hour, contemplating the lovely soft golden hills of the Central Coast.

I think of Montfort, of my isolated house in Millerton, Mt. Calvary Retreat House in Santa Barbara, of other beautiful quiet places in Nature I have sought out and cherished. Places that have allowed me to “rest in the grace of the world”, be calm in the “peace of wild things” that are just Being, without forethought of grief, sharing their freedom. Blessedness!

Of course Jesus responded to their longings and need. He is like that, feeding us with God’s life-giving Word and asking us to respond in kind to others, to “Give them something to eat yourselves”.

But. We all need to be refreshed and freed from great loads now and then. Being quietly among wild things, resting in the grace of the world, is not self-indulgent. If you are lucky enough to have it - and many don’t in the harsh and poor and ravished and war-torn places of the world - take it. Be fed by it. And remember that to those to whom much is given, much is “required”.

But it isn’t a “requirement” to take the Peace and Freedom you’ve been graced with and splash it around as far as you can!


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, August 4, 2008

You blows who you is.

- Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong,
musician, born on this day, 1901

There have been a few people in my Life whom I experienced as authentic. Or, as Jesus said of Philip, “without guile”. This is not the same as “perfect”. More, it means that “what you see is what you get”. In her own way, at least to me, my mother was like that. And my brother. It’s a lovely quality, a kind of simplicity of being. I don’t have it. Far too “complicated”!

Satchmo is saying something a little more than “without guile”. He is talking about expression, about extending oneself in some creative way. While I never met her (but I loved her), Mahalia Jackson struck me as someone who “blows who you is”. When I heard her sing, and watched her face, I knew without question who she essentially was by what came flowing out of her - a person close to “God”.

Anyway, my point is this. Our Life is kind of like Satchmo’s trumpet, or Mahalia’s voice. It may say who we “are”, or who we are becoming, or what are struggles are, or our conflicts, or our joy or hurt. If it’s going to be authentic, we have to be free to be authentic. To be self-aware. Conscious. Not hiding, from ourselves or anyone else. And certainly not from God, or our Christ-self.

Life isn’t about technique. It’s about heart. About being in touch with what you feel. And it has been my experience that this is what God wants, more than any silly “perfection”. God wants us to be free to know and be who were authentically are. Jesus was always freeing people from the constraints that “society” tried to bind and control them with. And when that gift was accepted, amazing things happened.

When someone expresses “heart” in any way, we are moved, we are blown away, we are captured by wonder. We hear again what power just being authentically who we are has.

Take courage. Go deep. Then let it rip! Truth only enhances the human community.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Sat/Sun, August 2/3, 2008

Nothing is born, nothing is destroyed.
Away with your dualism, your likes and dislikes.
Every single thing is just the One Mind.
When you have perceived this,
you will have mounted the Chariot of the Buddhas.

- Huang Po: Zen Teachings of Huang Po

Ah! The Chariot of the Buddhas!!!! “Been there”, as they say. You know about the Chariot of the Buddhas, don’t you? Sure you do! It’s not all as mysterious as it seems to our Western ears.

The Chariot of the Buddhas is the Buddhist equivalent to having entered upon the Unitive Way in the Christian mystical tradition. Of Being One with God. When you understand, even a bit, that we are part of the Mystery that is “God”, of the Buddhist One Mind, we are (if you will pardon the pun) away to the races.

I have become a great foe of dualism. It is the cancer of American religion (and other places too!) - this denigration of the Body in order to glorify the “spirit”. I don’t know that I want to accuse Paul and Augustine of perpetrating this. But weirdoes, religious wackos, obviously driven by deep psychological disturbance, have dumped this perversion on us and we have swallowed the bait. Well, my advice is ………. rebel! Reject! Claim your innate Wholeness! We are an undifferentiated Whole, and we are integrated with the Creative Force of the Universe(s).

In the Gospel reading appointed for tomorrow in the Christian tradition (Revised Common Lectionary), Jesus feeds 5000 people with 5 loves and 2 fishes. Think on this. Jesus is saying that, when you are at One with God, even the tiniest morsel of Divine Love feeds us all, slakes our hunger, our yearning, for completeness.

Tomorrow, ride the chariot of the Buddhas! Become One with God and race with the Wind into Life!

Enjoy the ride!