Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I hate to see complacency prevail in our lives when
it's so directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.

- President Jimmy Carter, born on this day, 1924

For a nation which so often invokes the name of Jesus Christ, I have to say that there is very very little which I, as a Christian priest of over 35 years, can identify as “of Christ”. Sorry to be so blunt ….. but that’s my assessment and perception and experience. Compassion. Care for the poor. Justice and Fairness. Simplicity of Life. Rejection of violence (which is surely the message of the Cross). “Not thinking too highly of yourself”. Not thinking of yourself as “any better” than others. Understanding that greatness is grounded in being a “slave to all”. The List goes on and on.

And Complacency. Thinking that the Status quo is ok. That people starve to death. Die without AIDS medications. Throwing a tidbit here and there to those of whom we “approve”. Basically resting complacently in the belief that we Americans deserve all of the benefits that come from ultimate military power and the ability to use vastly disproportionately the resources of the Earth, stealing from others or appropriating by violence ….. Can anyone who professes to know the God of Love justify this?

I see nothing of Jesus Christ in this. I see Baal. Marduk. The ancient Gods of Power.

Complacency means seeing no reason to change. Jimmy Carter is right: embracing Christ means to change. To become the loving servant of all of God’s people. To die that others may live.

The bottom line is, if America is based on Christian values, it is on the slimmest surface alone. This is called Hypocrisy. And of all the things Christ condemned, He condemned Hypocrisy the most.

Americans are, today, of every faith. God requires us to honour each other as Her children. But if some seeking office insist on invoking Christ, let them take up His cross and follow Him truly.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Venice is like eating an entire box
of chocolate liqueurs in one go.

- Truman Capote, author, born on
this day, 1924

I didn’t find it like that at all. Venice, I mean. I found Venice strangely ….. austere. And I loved it. I was there, with a very diverse and truly fascinating group of friends and parishioners, for a few days. When I look back over my Life, one of the things I try to do is to relish the utter amazingness that people are. I remember - in the best “sacramental” sense of “remember” - those charming days. They come back to me on several levels and I am transported back and I “relive” them ….. and my spirit is utterly charmed, even by the not-so-pleasant memories of crankiness and testiness and tiresomeness. There was also uniqueness and down-to-earthness and surprise. And a wonderful late afternoon when, on a patio looking over the town and the church tower, two guys got drunk enough on Scotch to fall off their chairs!

One lovely memory: a vivacious, wild woman friend and her husband took me along to a shop where we could buy exotic reading glasses. I could only think of Peggy Guggenheim wearing them! My friend said, “Well, one has to come to Venice to get one’s glasses!” Oh, there’s a touch of gauche and of snobbery – but more, a sense of adventure and of appreciating the wonder of the World. I spent $150 on reading glasses that afternoon. They have all been lost or broken ………. but the Venetian Glasses Buying Afternoon was one of those moments that will live with me forever. The bridges we crossed. The gondolas we admired. The espresso we drank. The bead shops we looked into. The out-loud laughs we had! The utterly beautiful little ristorante we found at the end of an isolated bridge for a superb, giggly dinner. The flair that made it such a unique time. It was magic.

“Magic” is a great gift, a divine one, I think. Magic, like the Kingdom of God, is only known by those who retain their childlikeness. By those who stay open to wonder and to simple pleasures and to surprise. “Venice” is a metaphor ….. for expecting Delight. How it saddens me that so many of us are deprived of the magic the World has to offer.

It can happen anywhere, with anyone. Thank God.

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, September 29, 2008
[ A Noontime Offering, or later in the East!]

If you are irritated by every rub,
how will you be polished?

- Rumi, Sufi “saint”

It’s six days after my radioactive seed implants for prostate cancer. I hurt! But, I guess if you have something like a shotgun exploded in your rear end, one might hurt? I’m hoping it’s just that.

Attitude, attitude, attitude. I may have said, that I’ve been trying to “live by” Don Miguel’s Ruiz’s Four agreements, the second being Don’t take anything personally. I’m trying not to take prostate cancer and this annoyance of hurt personally! Getting older is, I guess, part of being polished. The Universe isn’t “against us”, though it’s easy to “take it personally” and think that the Universe or God or Whatever has it is for you! And feel sorry for yourself, etc.

No. There is distinctly the possibility that we are, I am, just being polished by this and other “rubs”. We all may have a chance if the whole economy collapses! (Read Andrew Bachevic’s The Limits of Power – we all bear responsibility, even if we have been vigourously mis-led by politicians and preachers alike!)

The Gospel speaks more than once about “pruning”. The implication being that we all grow more healthy. Of course, most of us don’t like either the process or what we have to learn constitutes a healthy humanity!

Oh well. Life. A laugh helps too. Doesn’t help to take it all too seriously. Keep balanced – the “continual state of war” approach which America has lived by for the last 60 years hasn’t substantially solved anything.

Brian’s Reflection: Sat/Sun, Sept 27/28, 2008

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses
said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?"
But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against
Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children
and livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with
this people? They are almost ready to stone me."

- Ex 17 (a reading for the Liturgy, Sunday, Sept 28, 2008)

Very few Jews or Christians ponder that God is not concerned with “length of days”. Few Christians, confronted with cancer or hospital-induced-infection, remember the words “[Man} does not live by bread alone, but by every world that proceeds from the mouth of God”. Especially if we are Americans - we have been seduced into believing that Life is about Living Forever. God forbid that the doc should tell us that there is no Magic Bullet. Given the chance, (s)he would be stoned.

Folks. If you believe in “God”, “God” is NOT the Big Teat of Immortality! (BTOI). “God” could care less how long we live on this Earth. The only thing the Judeo-Christian God is concerned about is how much we LOVE on this Earth, be it over one day or a million. No wonder God was always frustrated with the Israelites. No wonder Jesus was always frustrated with His followers. We just don’t get it.

God gives one day at a time. That is enough time to get it. One day in Thy courts is better than a thousand - one day pouring out love for each other constitutes a successful Life.

Jesus said that He was the Living Water. This means that when we understand that this is the “water” we need to live - to understand the essence of loving each other - we have truly been led out of Egypt.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, September 26, 2008

I am, therefore there is a God.

- Moses Mendelssohn, philosopher,
born on this day (though there is
disagreement), 1729

Very self-centered. And subjective (what else can human thinking be??). Irrational, though pretending to be otherwise. I take it as a statement of justification of whatever Moses was thinking about, of his own conclusions about Life, and about God.

More and more, I realize that “God” is Subjective. And that this is ….. OK. That “God” is “real”, and that we humans have “invented” God, are sides of the same paradoxical coin. That “coin” is our utter determination or need to set a goal or standard for ourselves - at least on the part of women and men of common sense and intelligence - of what it is to be human and of how we might achieve that Humanity.

Oh. “God” can definitely be co-opted, for all kinds of nefarious purposes. And has been. This co-option has been, in my opinion, the primary source of un-Godliness, of inhumanity, in the World. There is a great Mystery somewhere here, which I can’t yet get my mind around.

“God” is our alter-ego. For some, a relationship with “God” will lead to Darkness. For some, to Light. I find it quite easy to see which it is in each person, with some leeway for Life’s innate ambiguity. In most of us, there is both Dark and Light - and the Bible cautions us to remember that with “God”, Darkness and Light are both alike.

If we “are”, “God” must exist. For, if God does not exist, there is nothing we can become that has any honour or beauty. In inventing God, we are inventing ourselves.

The big question is: who do we really want to be?

It has been awhile. I think we do not yet know.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, September 25, 2008

If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate;
the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies.

- William Faulkner, author, born on this day, 1897,
in New Albany, Mississippi

I love quotes like this! I love wit! Especially coming from someone like William Faulkner, who had a lot of tragedy about him.

His point, of course, is that ART is critical to the health of any society. And I totally agree. Remember when the Taliban blew up the statue of the Buddha in Bamiyan? To me, it was a classic example of a group of people who had lost any essential sense of being maturely human. And we have a LOT of that in the World today. What causes this failure of the Imagination, this failure of parts of the human community to value the artistic expression of Life in all its aspects? Where does the hate and the intolerance and the narrowness of heart and spirit devolve from that causes a people to behave in this way? There are probably many factors. Self-righteousness is definitely one of them – and self-righteousness is a failure in human compassion and understanding.

Destroying art, religious, cultural, whatever, is a symbol - a symbol of a collapse of respect for human beings. It is one of the reasons that I have such a love-hate relationship with institutional religion, my own (Christian) or other. Christianity has destroyed the religious and cultural art of many a group of people they have dominated or conquered. And what that says to me is that a deep hatred for God’s people is embedded in many Christian communities throughout the millennia – contrary to what I understand to be God’s central command to love each other and to build a human community of love in which all are included.

If I had to choose between the destruction of Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Zoroastrianism or any other “Religion” and the destruction of the ART of the human spirit and soul, I would rather see the religions disappear. Great art I find to be truer and often more honouring of human beings. Which is what I think God desires.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It may be that the satisfaction I need
depends on my going away, so that when
I've gone and come back, I'll find it at home.

- Rumi, Sufi “saint” and poet

“At home”. That could be a multitude of “places”. Yes, it could be literally one’s physical abode – country, house, garden, family of friends. Being a Cancer (as is Dennis), we both “nest” well, making the house a place we like and feel comfortable in. I have travelled a lot, and been in some truly wonderful, beautiful, satisfying “places”. I’ve also been in some pretty distressing ones! Oh yes, I am deeply aware of just how privileged I am in my circumstances. I would find it “hard” to live in the Brazilian favelas I’ve been in – but the people I’ve met there: beautiful.

No one should have to be satisfied with misery, with ugliness, with deprivation. If I approved of any “missionary” work, it would be to change misery and ugliness and deprivation without any other motive.

But I think Rumi’s point is a simple one. It is this: If we can’t find the satisfaction we need or desire within our own heart, we will never be satisfied.

And if we can’t find it within, then we will never be able to help others find satisfaction - to be a home for others.

Perhaps we need to foray out every now and then, just to be reminded that the Journey is always ….. Home.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, September 22, 2008

Elrond: And yet to have come so far, still bearing the Ring,
the hobbit has shown extraordinary resilience to its evil.
Gandalf: It is a burden he should never have had to bear.
We can ask no more of Frodo.
Frodo: I will take the Ring to Mordor. Though-- I do not know the way.

- Frodo Baggins, hobbit, on his “birthday”

Bilbo Baggins, Frodo’s uncle, found (yah, “found” ….. right!) the Ring of Power. You have not read The Fellowship of then Ring”? Get with it folks! This is a story at the absolute heart of understanding Life at its mythic reality (at least from the “Western” point of view.) Read it, read it ….. and really think about it!

“Baggins” ….. not a coincidence, I think. One thinks immediately of ”baggage” ….. all the stuff that we human beings carry around as a seemingly integral part of being Human. And at the Heart? The Ring. Ah, the Ring. Forged by Sauron, the Dark Lord. Meant to be the Ring that grants ultimate power over human nature, over human beings. A power that allows Sauron to impose his control over the natural, Divine-given instincts of human beings. The power that gives Evil power over Love.

No. It is not so. Such is the message of "The Lord of the Rings”. Frodo and his faithful companion and faithful friend Samwise Gangee (remember Jesus saying "I no longer call you servants, I now call you friends”) will, through seemingly insurmountable odds, carry the Ring of Power to the heart of its forging and cast it into the Fire, there to be destroyed, along with its power to control the essential nature of all beings ….. men, elves, dwarves, hobbits.

Tolkien, the author, played games. Claimed that there was no symbolic (i.e., “spiritual”) meaning to his work. Rubbish! An absolute abrogation of the mystic’s calling - unless every mystic is an unconscious fool. Which I doubt. We human beings despair of our weakness. I think it part of human nature to think so. Some would say that human beings are weak ….. I disagree; we show extraordinary resilience to evil ….. or we can do. To resist evil, which is always at work within us because by nature we are created to make our choices, is essential to being Human - our choices define our Essence, so said Professor Dumbledore to Harry Potter.

The great Elf Elrond says of Frodo, the symbolic Biblical New Adam, “to have come so far / bearing the Ring! Oh sisters and brothers, we have come so far! By vision, by nature, by Grace and by capture by the Spirit of Life! Sin and Evil beset us on every side. Temptation beckons ….. yet not always do we succumb. Surrounded by Friends who bolster our weaknesses, we resist. We choose Compassion, Justice, and we evolve towards the Divine heart of Being. The journey may be halting ….. but it cannot be defeated.

Be of good cheer. If we wish to be true to who we truly are, carry the Ring to Mordor. We shall succeed. We have help.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, September 19, 2008

The journey of life is like a man riding a bicycle. We know
he got on the bicycle and started to move. We know that
at some point he will stop and get off. We know that if he
stops moving and does not get off he will fall off.

- William Golding, English author [Lord of the Flies],
born on this day, 1911 [Nobel, 1983]

People are of every possible type you can think of if they should stop moving and not get off the bike. Some can balance in place for a very long time. Some will just put their feet down and stay there, not moving. Some will get off, let the bike lie there, and walk on instead. Some will fall over with the bike and lie there, waiting for someone to come along and help, or just moan. You can think of all the scenarios.

Bike” of course can be symbolic. It could stand for anything. There are an infinite number of “bikes” we human beings are put on or choose to get on, continue to ride or not, stop and either balance, or fall. I think about my rather serious illnesses of the last few years, 3 of which I could have died from. That “bike” I have “cheerfully” – or obliviously – ridden and haven’t stopped or fallen off yet. On it goes.

I’ve been on all kinds of “bikes”. The Church. Monasticism. Sexuality. Friendship. Ministry. Intimate relationship (fairly new!). A myriad of others. I’m still riding them all! It’s been pretty wobbly at times. It’s been more like a merry-go-round, with one Big Bike called Life, and all kinds of tricycles and unicycles and trainer-wheel-cycles and motorcycles etc. These latter may break down. But the Big Bike is always surging on like (if I may mix my metaphors) Starship Voyager, and the Delta Flyers can “peddle” out and return battered and get fixed.

For me, the Big Bike is Mystery. Mystery is endless, and I don’t intend to “stop moving” on that one!!

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, September 18, 2008

From the middle of life onward, only (s)he remains
vitally alive who is ready to die with life.
[bracket mine]

- Samuel Johnson, English philosopher, born
on this day, 1709

I agree. By the “middle” of Life - whatever that may be these days, but it could be anything from one day to decades! - we ought to know what’s important. What’s worth living for, and therefore worth dying for. Ultimately they come together.

Oh, I know that the “survival instinct” is enormously powerful. Most of us want to “go on living” until the last sucked-out second. But the question for me for a long time now has been, “What’s Living”? I’ve interacted with a lot of people in my years of priestly ministry. And I’ve realized that to be human is an amazing, mysterious thing. Every single one of us has to grapple with the question that every religion/Faith tries to answer: What is the meaning of being Alive?

I suppose for some is could be just “existing”. For some, “just existing” is depressing enough to take one’s own Life. No. I think Johnson is right. By the “middle” of Life, we need to know what’s worth dying for, because Death is Life. Jesus is reported to have said, “If you try to save your Life you will lose it. If you are willing to lose it, you will have it forever." And I rather think that one of the points of the Christ’s Resurrection is, as St. Paul said, Dying, we live.

Young? Be looking for what’s important.

“Middle-aged” or more? Get passionate! And if you want a place to start, Dr. Johnson also said, A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner.

Start with dinner , and move up!!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most
conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to
turn other ideas - uncertainty, progress, change - into crimes.

- Salman Rushdie, author

Ah. We can sense where Rushdie is “coming from “, yes? Think of what that man went through at the hands of rabid religionists. He is not alone. Think of what many Christian thinkers have been through at the hands of their co-religionists! To my view, absolutely anti-Gospel. Anti-Christ. Anti-Allah.

I have two things to say here. One: I consider myself a religious “conservative”. It is my duty and determination in Life to “conserve” what I believe to be at the heart of my religious path. 99% of the things that so-called “Christian conservatives” believe today – of every stripe - are unequivocally NOT of the Christ or the God He reveals, or of Allah, or of the Buddha, or of Shiva, etc. This I absolutely believe. The problem comes when a “path” becomes an institution, a “church”, an Umma, a “righteous and right” community. When power and politics and “right and wrong” and control become the Idol.

I know what I see – and have experienced - the Way of the Gospel, the Way of the Cross, to be. It has nothing to do with what Sarah Palin seems to represent. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Two: Any path of Faith, or “religion” is essentially about “uncertainty, progress, change”. “Liberals” are people who want to be free of what the core teachings of a Faith are all about. They are the people who read “Thou shalt not kill” and come up with a “doctrine” of a “just war” – a contradiction in terms. War is never acceptable to God. They are the people who think everything is “black and white”. Nothing is “black or white”, because it leads to hard-heartedness. Jesus constantly challenged those who equated the Law with God’s Law. Hypocrites, He called them - people unmindful of Love and of Compassion and of Forgiveness. Such thinking is what makes the Torquemadas of the World, dehumanized in their lust and delusions.

Rushdie is, to my mind, misusing the word “conservative”. The “sacred” that I know understands “uncertainty” to be the soil of growth. The “sacred” I know longs for us to “progress”, to “change”, to be transformed into the image of Divine Love, to learn servanthood and generous self-sacrifice as the heart of being human.

The only religious “crime” is to tear out the heart of the “sacred” and replace it with a heart of stone. Both the prophets and Jesus taught that it was the heart of Flesh, written on with Love, that was “true religion”.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Going to church doesn't make you any more a
Christian than going to the garage makes you a car.

- Laurence J. Peter, Canadian author, born on
this day, 1919

You may not think that you know this guy. But you do. He is the man who famously said, “Everyone rises to their level of incompetence”. It is known as the “Peter Principle”. And I think that Peter was correct. Except for one thing. A very few people have both the self-knowledge and the humility to say “No” to the last step on that ladder that leads to the rejection of one’s true gift. We are few and far between. Those few among us humans are the ones who had the good fortune to be taught by wise teachers - often because they chose their teachers. Most of us are seduced by flattery and self-deception. The result of which is sadness all round.

Peter is wrong however – in my view – that going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian. Oh, it won’t if you just “go”. But if you “go to church” and you deal with both the reality of people that you find there, as well as the Self that is revealed in the interaction with others, God, Self, and Holy Wisdom, you will indeed be made into a Christian. At least in Christianity. “Going to church” means dealing with all the beauty and all the ugliness of being human. It means learning “hard” things - forgiveness, reality, existential beauty, equality, oneness, love, the seduction of power and hate, appreciation, the mystery of sacrifice, simplicity, transparency, servanthood, and a myriad of other things.

Believe me. It is easy to have fantasy views about “church”, and about Life. Living in those fantasies isolates you from reality – and it creates bombasts, bigots, and the self-righteous. But it is the Truth that sets us free.

Drive into the “garage”. Knowing what’s broken makes the repair possible.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, September 15, 2008

You might think that after thousands of years
of coming up too soon and getting frozen, the
crocus family would have had a little sense
knocked into it.

- Robert Benchley, New Yorker writer, and
member of the Algonquin “Round Table”,
born on this day, 1889, in MA

A good humourist always helps in Life! A good laugh really helps too. Especially in those times when things seem so discouraging, either in one’s own Life or in the World. Fr. Huntington, OHC, always told members of the Order that they should always travel with a “spiritual book”. (Or was it written in the Rule?)

Far be it from me to “contradict” Fr. Huntington! But I would suggest that a book of humour can certainly be viewed as an essential tool for reviving the spirit, yes? People have been trying for millennia to pretend that God does not have a sense of humour. But some brave souls have had the guts to suggest otherwise. These I consider great sages! Think of the movie “Oh God”. If anything would draw people to God and Faith, George Burns would. Probably far better than most Sunday School lessons or sermons.

God bless those little crocuses!! What a beautiful little parable they are. Bravely they push up through the snow (and I think snow drops are a partner in crime?). They get frozen. But they don’t give up.

Good teacher.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Sat/Sun, Sept 13/14, 2008

“Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.” So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

- The Gospel, from the community styled “Matthew” (18:32ff); reading for Proper 19, RCL, this Sunday

If Jesus weren’t telling a story/parable, could you imagine Him saying - after everything He had said about the loving character of his Heavenly Father - that He would torture people???

It’s a STORY!! Do you get it?? All of the parables of Jesus are stories. The story isn’t literal. It’s told with all the aspects that get the point across, just like all stories, like all “fairy stories”. Do you think, for one minute, that Jesus thought that his followers/listeners would infer that God would torture people??? As the young would say today, Give Me A Break!.

So, go to worship today. Listen to the story. Hear the story and Get The Point. But for Heaven’s Sake, don’t confuse the point of the story with the nature of God.

The point is clear – because Jesus knew how to tell a powerful and compelling story. The point is this: Every one of us will lead a tortured life, agonizing, if we can’t forgive those who harm us. The corrosive power of hate and of bitterness and of resentment will immediately begin to eat away at us, begin to shrivel our heart, begin to wither our humanity - and our self-respect. In a flash, we will become wizened caricatures of ourselves. And we will die, from within. We will wreak havoc among our friends, our family. We will stoke the fires of self-hate until we disintegrate into the ashes, taking down many with us.

God loves us. God works mysteriously in us. God waits until we understand that we must move from hate to forgiveness. Then God hastens the healing, and leads us to a deeper wholeness.

Not seven times. Seventy times seven ….. in other words, it’s a never-ending process.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, September 12, 2008

The first sentence of every novel should be:
“Trust me, this will take time but there is order
here, very faint, very human. Meander if you
want to get to town”.

- Michael Ondaatje, author ["The English Patient"] ,
born on this day, 1942, in Columbo, Sri Lanka

And so it is with “Holy Scripture”, with the Bible. Like the Bible, fiction always deals, in an imaginative way, with the “Truth”. That’s why I read more fiction than theology, etc., when I want to be lead towards Life’s reality. I have certainly preached more sermons using fictional examples than on anything else - and that includes the Bible, except that the Bible is like mother’s milk for me.

I can just hear God trying to whisper in the ear of every person who takes up the Bible for the first time: “Trust me”. It does take time!! It is so easy to get distracted and mis-directed when reading the Bible. That’s why, in the early centuries of the Church, catechumen (learners) were not allowed to listen to the holy texts without also hearing interpretation and reflection. It’s too dangerous! It would be - if you will pardon an old and proud hippie - like letting someone take drugs without being their for support and guidance.

The first words of God to all of us are, “Trust me; this will take time ….. [it’s] very faint, very human”. But if we can meander our way calmly through all of the human detritus of self-aggrandizement, of greed, of self-promotion, of fear, of arrogance, we will “get to town”.

Town? Peace. Compassion. Love of enemy. Joy and greatness in servanthood. Freedom to live today. Banishment of fear.

Sound good?


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, September 11, 2008

All wars are civil wars, because all men (and women)
are brothers (and sisters). [brackets mine]

- François Fénelon, 17th C bishop and author

Seven years ago.
In the wreckage of
a field in Pennsylvania,
the Pentagon,
the Pillars and Towers
of downtown Manhattan,
in the homes of thousands of families,
thousands of fatal causalities,
thousands of wounded,
physically, emotionally, psychically,
litter the ground, our hearts.
Yet another flare-up
in the civil war
ongoing since time began
between brothers and sisters.

Turn the finger of blame
back on ourselves,
all of us in the human family.
There is no innocence.
There is no Foe outside the family.
There is no one of us exempt from responsibility.

And it will go on,
all the heartbreak,
the pain, the weeping,
the killing and the hate,
We love One Another
God loves us.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers,
but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.
The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth
is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.

- Carl Jung, physician of the mind and spirit

It is “hard” for me to embrace this, but as I look back in my life, there are/were few instances in which I experienced “warmth”, where my “human feelings” were touched in a positive way. Especially in my childhood. At least, that’s how I feel. I have been appreciated in various ways and for various things. Appreciated in my vocation.

What is “hard” for me is that I think this has much more to do with me than with others. Oh, I am not “blaming” or demeaning myself. As I look back, I have always been a person who was/is easily hurt. In my life and work, I have tried to help others to move beyond feeling hurt or rejected or belittled or a sense of valuelessness. The “God” I have accepted has been a big help – the Unconditional Lover, both for others and for myself.

Dr. Jung is right. I am deeply grateful for those few who have reached through my barriers and touched my human feelings. They have been a disparate group! But they have helped me to try and be vulnerable, to trust, to believe in myself. Not to be afraid.

So many of us - and we are all children somewhere within - live without Warmth. It’s great to have been a teacher. Better to have been a Warmer of Souls.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, September 9, 2008

…. surely Allah does not love him who is proud, boastful.

- The Holy Qur’an, 4:36

I could have picked any relevant phrase from the Bible, or the Vedas, or whatever, but I chose the Qur’an today just to indicate that I am impartial. I go to any source.

I don’t know the Qur’an well enough yet to speak with certainty about this. But I can say about the Bible that my understanding is that God’s essence is Love and God loves everyone equally.

It is my perception that the “sin against the Holy Spirit” is to lie about God. So, as far as I am concerned, any “Holy Scripture” which says that God does not love anyone is committing the sin against the Holy Spirit. To emphasize the “gravity” of the “sin”, the Bible says that such a sin cannot be forgiven. In other words, to lie about God is “heavy”.

Quite awhile ago, having comprehended that God is Love, I rejected anything that contradicted that Truth. I now believe that anything that contradicts that Truth about “God”, in any Scriptures that ascribe Love to the character of God, is a human projection, to be discarded. For me, God is not about punishment, or blame, or wrath. These are anthropomorphic projections pandering to human desire to control God. “God” is about lifting up, about leading to Love, about forgiveness, about compassion. “God” is about the Journey to becoming fully human in the image of Love.

The Qur’an is wrong. God most definitely does love “him[her] who is proud, boastful”. In the Christian myth (i.e., Truth Story), Jesus chooses willingly to die for no other reason than from love for His Loving Father and for God’s Beloved People.

I most emphatically believe that fear of “God’s wrath” only makes a shallow, fearful, guilt-ridden caricature of a human being. Wonder at God’s Unconditional Love frees our soul to rise to the destiny I choose to believe has been determined for us since the World began. Only Love frees us truly to renounce pride and boastfulness.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, September 8, 2008

To living Toulouse, to Toulouse who sings

and sings with pleasure the refrains of Mengard

I raise my hat and say "Holy City,

Long may the sun spread thy power!

Long mayest thou make us joyful!"

Oh! Keep thine historic tongue ... It is the proof

that for all time thou shalt bear thine arms aloft and free:

In the language a mystery, an ancient treasure lives ...

Each year the nightingale dons new plumage,

But he keeps his song.

- Frederic Mistral, French poet & Nobel Laureate (1904),
born on this day, 1830, in Languedoc.

Never heard of Frederic Mistral, right? Well, I am particularly interested in him because I have been reading recently a history of Languedoc, and of the Cathar influence (Google if you are interested; the Cathars were a Christian offshoot of Christianity in the 13th C, condemned as heretics by Rome and viciously persecuted and murdered). I’m sorry that this poem is not in Langue d’Oc (or Occitan). It is a fascinating language! Mistral was independently wealthy. He devoted his life to the preservation of Provencal language and life.

Oh, keep thy historic tongue ….. / In the language a mystery, an ancient treasure lives …:. The same is true for the “historic tongue” of sacred writings. That tongue is “myth”, the ancient language of the imagination in which the deepest mysteries and wisdom of Life are whispered. That language evades understanding – by design – until the inner heart and ear “awaken”. But when that inner heart and ear are ready, what we need to know is heard, and the heart is stirred, and a whole hitherto unknown dimension of Life is revealed. Jesus said, Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. And so the reader at the Sacred Liturgy, having read the lesson, says, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches”!

The great French spiritual director Jean Pierre de Caussade once said, "God speaks to us in everything that happens to us.” But to hear what God is saying, we must go deeper than the words. We must listen for the opening of Mystery, for the subtle response of the imagination – a kind of Occitan where “an ancient treasure lives”.


Brian’s Reflection: Sat/Sun, Sept 6/7, 2008

Painting: “Beautiful World”, by Grandma Moses

Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.

- Grandma Moses, artist, born on this day,
1860, in New York State

Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson) took up painting at age 75, primarily because her arthritis had gotten so bad that she couldn’t do her needlepoint. As she said, "If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens." By age 79, she had three pictures shown at the Museum of Modern Art. At her death at age 101, she had painted over 1600 pictures, some 250 after the age of 100. She is certainly a perfect example of the words I’ve quoted!

On the whole, I agree with her. Oh, there are all kinds of resources one can access, on all levels. We don’t have to do it “on our own”. And of course it depends on what we want our Life to be. But if we want to be content, if we want to be free, if we want to be creative, this is essentially up to us. These are inner states. And Grandma is right. Life is what we make it. It’s the old If Life gives you lemons, make lemonade thing.

Grandma Moses’ paintings are simple. Simplicity in all things is, I’m beginning to realize, a great gift one gives to oneself.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, September 5, 2008

A dove got caught in the rafters last night.
I had quite a time trying to get her out.
She hit her head several times in panic.
Only when she was stunned was I able to care for her.

In the paper there was a quote from a sage:
"Human nature was originally one and we were whole,
And the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love".


in this world, the pursuit of love and compassion
is not without pain and confusion.

- Deng Ming-Dao, Taoist

I realize that I am “weary”. No, not just weary from the day. Weary dealing with the human communities I have been part of, most of whom have professed a belief in the Gospel of Peace and Justice, but who seem not to grasp the essence of that Gospel. It was epitomized for me today when a person I had considered a close friend - a person whom I had thought had come to understand that we are all alike and all deserve “liberty and justice for all” as Americans; that we are all loved equally by God; that being a follower of the Christ commits us not “bearing false witness against our neighbour” and lying about them - had apparently joined a group that wishes to deny equality in American society and before God. I was deeply, deeply saddened. Oh no; it did not change my understanding of myself as God’s Beloved. Nor did I, following Dom Miguel Ruiz’s excellent teaching, take it “personally”. I was just deeply saddened that someone could profess to “know Christ”, and to know me, and think this way.

It reminded me that many of us are like Deng’s dove. We are trapped in fearful, narrow, rigid, self-protective boxes, often imposed on us by our culture or by false senses of loyalty to family or “church” or politics, which stunt our ability or our openness to the magnificent power of God’s freeing love and truth.

But: so be it. That is Life.

Jesus came to replace the fearful, panicking doves of our souls, battering ourselves against the rafters of our fear and ignorance, with the dove of peace and of truth and of justice. As the sage said: "Human nature was originally one and we were whole, And the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love".

Love is hard when we reject each other out of our fear of the “other”. We are called to be “whole” and one with each other and with “God” - especially those who profess to be followers of the Gospel.

Brian+ “The pursuit of love and compassion is not without pain and confusion.”

Brian Orrock McHugh
519 W. Taylor St., SPC 334
Santa Maria CA 93458
orrock1946@comcast. net
Reflections Blog: http://briansalmostdailyreflections.blogspot.com/
Comment Blog: http://brianstakeontheworldfaithandreligion.blogspot.com/
Sermon Blog: http://sermonsbybrian.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, September 4, 2008

(Wo)Men can starve from a lack of self-realization
as much as they can from a lack of bread.
[brackets mine]

- Richard Wright, author, born on this day, 1908

Author of Native Son, Black Boy [autobiography], The Outsider, Uncle Tom’s Children and other books and stories, Richard Wright had tremendous influence on later writers of the African-American community. He was born in Mississippi in 1908; he died, mysteriously, in Paris, age 52.

The Bible says, [A human being] does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Meaning? I think it means that being human is essentially an inner matter. The body is an essential, precious, indispensible vessel, giving presence in Time to each of us. Life is a matter of discovering that “image of God” deep within ourselves which carries the light of what it means to be Human, fully human. Wright hints at two things when he speaks of “self-realization”. That we “wake up” to who we are meant to be. And, that we give all we have to incarnating the great Mystery of our Self.

This is the fundamental meaning of the Incarnation in the Christian Myth. The Mystery of the Incarnation is not about God taking a human form separate from us. It is about the Mystery of God flowering in every human soul – a part of us, integral to who we are. St. Paul seemed to glimpse this when he spoke of the Body of Christ. All humanity constitutes, each in our uniqueness, the all-encompassing Mystery we call God. This is how “God” fills all things.

Richard Wright wrote from the point of view of a human being whose humanity was being denied by racist attitudes - especially as driven by the Christian religion. If one of us is denied humanity, we are all denied humanity. Look around and see the consequences of this ignorance today.

All great religions call us to Enlightenment, to Transfiguration, to Unity with God. Shall we remain beasts, or shall we have the courage to accept the crown of godliness that awaits our head?

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, September 2, 2008

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
and To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

- Kalidasa, classical Sanskrit poet c 4-6th C

Christians live in the context of a Mythology. (I’m laughing here! When I left a parish, after trying diligently in sermons to get people to understand “mythology”, and while they were interviewing for my “successor”, one was asked pointedly by a “matriarch” - I hope you don’t believe that Christianity is a MYTH!! The woman fled the yawning gates of that Hell!) Well, the “Christian Myth” says that, since the Death and Resurrection of the Christ, we all live in "The Eighth Day”. And what is “The Eighth Day”?

It is, mythologically, the assertion that Christians no longer live in strictly linear Time. Linear time has collapsed. Christians since the Resurrection of the Christ do not live in Chronos – linear time. Christians live in Chairos – God’s Time. So. There is no Past, Present, Future. There is only NOW. And this is “Eternal Life”.

And what does wise Kalidasa say, from long before the Christian Mythical Christ? For Yesterday is but a Dream, And Tomorrow is only a Vision; But Today well lived makes Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness, And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.

If you abandon living this NOW Life in favour of achieving a future Life, you will never know it. It is all ONE. Failure here is failure “there”.

The “secret” of Life here is Change. Change is the only Eternal Constant. We must grow. We must abandon the false security of “settledness”. Or we will rot. God begins as “Out There”. We must come to understand that “God is I”. Then, and only then, can the human community live in Peace.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I prefer an interesting vice to a virtue that bores.

- Moliere, playwright

I think that I am in general agreement with Moliere. With a certain caveat. I would say that “virtue” is not intrinsically boring. I have met some virtuous people who were not ….. boring. Very few. But some. Interesting is an interesting adjective. One can be interested in lots of things without necessarily liking them or “approving” of them. Including Vice.

I have met many people who consider themselves virtuous. Unfortunately they are often also judgmental, priggish, condescending, high-and-mighty, wedded to stereotypes, fanatics, and emotionally and in many other ways stunted, sometimes by choice, sometimes by their unexamined upbringing or their unexamined fears. My sense is that while Jesus tried to “enlighten” a lot of the boringly virtuous of His time, He seemed to prefer the company of those with interesting vices. I suspect He found realism more interesting than self-deception - and more open to “revelation” about themselves and about God and about the human heart.

Much “religion” in our World today suffers from boring virtuosity. Which sets human beings against each other. And which, more importantly, puts it totally out of touch with the understanding that most of us are transfigured into human beauty and sympathy not by condemnation, but by acceptance and Love.

Guess God got it right, eh?