Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, May 1, 2009

It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect.
The more perfect we are the more gentle and quiet we
become towards the defects of others.

- Joseph Addison, English essayist, poet & dramatist,
born on this date, 1672

In other words, “What you would like people to appreciate and respect about you, appreciate and respect about them!” Some version of the “Golden Rule” always applies. No wonder some version of it can be found in every point of written moral history.

In this country, we get a LOT of “complaints” from so-called “moral” people about the way we live our lives. Addison’s words remind us that those complaints are coming from imperfect people - for the simple reason that such people are either unaware of, or deliberately suppress, their own often radical imperfection. It is a sure sign of such shallow self-unawareness that the Imperfect cluster together and displace their inability to deal with the reality of themselves onto others. It is called Hypocrisy. Jesus was particularly harsh about Hypocrites, with good reason. Hypocrisy is a sure sign of Ignorance on many levels.

Moral righteousness tends to lead to contempt, judgmentalism, and a lack of Compassion - not surprising, since it stems from a complete lack of self-awareness, of Humility. We know where that leads - to intolerance and to its handmaiden, Callousness.

Are you “gentle and quiet”? I’m asking myself the same question. Because if we aren’t, we have been trapped by our Imperfection. The result can only be alienation, prejudice, discrimination, bigotry. And we know where that leads. Alas, we can experience it all around us these days in American (and other) culture.

There is a phrase in the Gospel that has often confused people: “Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” “God” is always “gentle and quiet … towards the defects of others”. At least, the “God” who has revealed Herself to me. Why else would the Christian God give of Her Life to make ours possible??

Let us revel in our imperfection. It means we understand both our true selves and the true “God”.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, April 30, 2009

St. Nectan: He went from Wales to seek his ideal location for the simple life. This turned
out to be Hartland Point in Devon. The serenity turned sour when a couple of thieves ran
off with his two cows. He chased after them and attempted to convert them (the thieves, that
is, not the cows). The two miscreants just laughed and sliced his head off. We imagine they
stopped laughing when our hero calmly picked his head up and carried it back to his homestead,
leaving a trail of blood drops. He then dropped his head into his well and presumably expired.
Wherever his blood fell, foxgloves appeared. So on his feast day a procession of children carry
foxgloves to the well. We don't know what happened to the cows.

Do you not love this! Hagiography! And what I love about “hagiography” (Google this if you don’t know the term) is its implausibility. And then, the implausibility frees us from the shackles of literalism to see the Truth in the metaphor, in the Imagination.

This was perhaps to be a “Christian” story. But it is essentially a Pagan story, a story from pre-Christian times overlaid with a Christian attempt to “Christianize” it. But it clearly succeeds!. Thank ‘God”.

Foxgloves! Here they are! (see above)

What do I like about this? It is an example of the exquisite human imagination. Where did foxgloves come from??? Out of the glorious human imagination comes an answer: St. Nectan’s Blood! It is the same with Jesus: out of the shedding of His blood comes the Flower of Freedom - in our tradition the Passion Flower, and the Crown of Thorns. But here is the wonder - that in Nature we find metaphors and symbols of the deepest longings of our heart, of our deepest longing to understand what Life is all about, where it begins, and where it goes, and what its meaning is.

Do you live anywhere where Foxglove blooms? Seek them out (or plant them). Meditate on them. They reache out to you and ask you – whether you are Christian or not - Do I catch a glimpse of the Truth that “God gives Her Life so that I can have My Life”?? Do they remind you that we are all part of the Divine, that is: Creation cannot fulfill its destiny until we claim our true nature and our part in it?

Each of us is a Foxglove. A drop of the Divine Blood. People try to kill that in us, in various ways. We do it to ourselves. But where our blood falls a flower of “God” grows. Our true Self. Keep an imagine of the Foxglove in your heart. Remember it when you are tempted to abandon our true nature. Pluck it – and breathe in its life-giving power. It’s scent will expand your spirit, You will become the "Christ" you were destined to be.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"O Trinity, eternal Trinity! Fire, abyss of love . . .

Was it necessary that you should give

Even the Holy Trinity as food for souls? . . .

You gave us not only your Word

Through the Redemption and in the Eucharist,

But you also gave yourself

In the fullness of love for your creature."

- Catherine of Siena, on her feast day in
the Episcopal Church Calendar

Beautiful, isn’t it! Leave aside the theological/doctrinal bits – they are a “given” for someone who lived in that time and culture.

But! “See” what it says about the understanding of “God”. This is what I love about people like Catherine of Siena. And my awe is not diminished by having walked, many years ago now, into the Duomo in Siena, and seeing at an altar the skull of Catherine draped in her monastic veil! I have to admit, I rather like the whole “relic” thing - simply because it deftly integrates human and divine. Think about it!

Just wonder at the words - and more importantly at the vision behind the words. Catherine got it right! She understood that All Things are One with “God”. She also got it right that the human spirit innately comprehends this Mystery! This is the blessing of those we call “mystics”. They remind us that all that Exists, in every dimension, comprehensible and incomprehensible, visible and invisible, is connected and woven together.

Our “modern” world has deeply dulled this intuitive understanding. Even worse, dull, narrow modern (and usually “religious”) minds have dulled the complex Mystery of Being. Catherine of Siena was not cowed by rationality. She understood at the level of the “soul” that human life is infused with the Divine Mystery – Word, “Sacrament”. The Heart’s “bottom line” is to say Yes to our Union with all things. Including with “God”.

Perhaps today, a prayer of longing for the grace to Say Yes would be a special gift to ourselves?


Monday, April 27, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fascism is a religious concept.

Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism
because it is a merger of state and corporate power.

- Benito Mussolini, killed near the Swiss
border on this date, 1945

Well, boys and girls: have we learned our lessons??? Somehow, I doubt it. Sigh.

American suffered a form of Fascism between 2000 – 2008, made possible by our American naïveté, and by our appalling indifference to participation in our democracy - and perhaps as well by our ignorance of the principles on which America’s life is founded. Thirty years ago, a friend told me that we would be fascists in 30 years – and he was right. We had eight years of thuggery, and the cold callousness which washes out any tinge of justice or dignity. The State colluded with Corporatism, greed and money (i.e., idols) reigned, and millions of American citizens will as a result continue to grovel in poverty and sickness, both of body and spirit, for I suspect a very long time to come.

Many Americans today worship a Fascist God. What we call Fundamentalism is a fascist religious concept, supported by the power of a corrupt State. Tight control of others, intimidation, fear tactics, authoritarianism – this is what many religious people of all stripes both in America and in the World have twisted Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Evangelicalism etc. into, portraying God as the Ultimate Fascist wielding power in pursuit of ultimate control. In the process, making a grotesque parody of the God of Love. It is a joy to me to see that the number of people in America claiming to be atheists or of no religion is increasing. It gives me some hope that some human beings have managed to retain their essential humanity.

“God” is not a Fascist controlling Humanity. “God” lives in each of us, suffers with us, and raises us to Glory – all from a position of utter vulnerability. That vulnerability teaches us that serving others in love is the path to wholeness and peace. To those who learn the lesson comes Freedom and yes, ecstasy.

Let us reclaim both the State and Religion from Fascism. That, for a Christian, is the true meaning of “taking up the cross” and following the Christ.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, April 27, 2009

Hindu Trinity (Trimurti)
Three Faces of Divine
Three Cosmic Functions of the Supreme Lord
Creation + Preservation+ Dissolution
Generator (Brahma) + Operator (Vishnu) + Destroyer (Shiva) = GOD

- The Hindu Trinity

Well, I guess we are all trying to sort out the whole business of who we are and where we came from and how we manage Life and Death and what blessings there are in living Life and what we need to know in order to manage this whole enterprise, right?

The Hindus aren’t the only ones besides Christians to have a “Trinity” to try and sort out the nature and working of “God”. The Egyptians had one too. And some other World religions have a kind of Trinity, or multiples of Trinities in a hierarchy of Gods/Goddesses. Christianty has tried to maintain that its Trinity “makes more sense” than others. I find that to be grasping at straws. Unnecessarily.

I have been re-reading “Siddhartha”, by Herman Hesse. (Read through in one go; I recommend it.) After his long journey and search, in which Siddhartha disagrees with the Buddha in His teachings, Hesse has Him say to Govinda: “… here is a doctrine at which you will laugh. It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world. It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to love the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect. ….. [Govinda says] ….. that is just what the Illustrious One called illusion ….. he preached benevolence, forbearance, sympathy, patience – but not love ….. [but Siddhartha said] ….. how could he not know love, he who has recognized all humanity’s vanity and transitoriness, yet loves humanity so much that he devoted a long life solely to help and teach people?”

It is, I think, impossible for the Western mind remotely to understand the Asian mind. I’m not sure Hesse did, or wanted to. He had been raised in Swabian piety, which he somewhat rejected; and he later studied Buddhism. Some would say that he was “rejecting” the Buddha’s teaching in the character of Siddhartha. I don’t think so. I think he believed that the message was the same in the Buddha and the Christ: Words mean little; how you act is critical. The Buddha gave His life over to helping people achieve full compassionate humanity; Jesus' life and death pointed to the same end.

I don’t pretend to understand Hesse well enough to know precisely what he was saying. He was, however, proposing that Love is at the core. I agree. Love is what we need to understand. And do.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: The Weekend, Sat, April 25, 2009

"All things must end. Work hard for your own enlightenment".

- The Buddha (Siddharta Gautama)

I hesitate to say this, but, on the other hand, I believe in humility as correctly understood: so, (a) I believe that Enlightenment is like Freedom – it comes and goes and has to be constantly recaptured, and (b) I am Enlightened. This is nothing different than saying, if one is a Christian, (a) I am “saved”, and (b) I have to “work out my salvation in fear and trembling”.

Somewhere along the way in the Journey of my Life, I either grasped or was “gifted” with the understanding (or maybe it’s always both) that I am utterly integrated with All Being, human and non-human and – if there is such a thing – all things Divine. (My views on “divinity” have certainly expanded over the years!) I came to realize this from the comment that a friend and former parishioner made recently. She asked about my “childhood spirituality”, and its place in my Journey.)

I have “known” since I was a small child that I am utterly part of Nature. And part of “God”. I knew then that there was no separation. As I became involved in “organized religion”, my convictions began to be shaken. Christian teaching often tried to teach me that my being was somehow “broken” with Nature and with “God”. I struggled with it, but the essential Oneness that I experienced in my childhood never left me.

As I age, the sense of being woven into the connection of all things is reestablishing itself more and more powerfully and surely and confidently. Now, whenever I am accosted with religious principles or teachings which attempt to establish my estrangement from All Being, I smile and firmly but gently put them aside. I know who I truly am - and this I understand as “Enlightenment”. It is as an enlightened being that I engage with Life (though not always!).

“All things must end”, says the Buddha. Profoundly true. At this moment, as I gaze about our World, I realize that what must end is the fallacy of brokenness with each other and with Nature and with all the deepest Mystery that encompasses Life, including our body and sex and fun and pleasure.

I suspect that many of you comprehend that you are Enlightened. I encourage you to live it.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, April 24, 2009

The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making life
meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see –
it is, rather, a light by which we may see …. and what we see is life.

- Robert Penn Warren, 1st Poet Laureate of the USA,
born on thus date, 1905

I agree - even if it sounds a little pompous of me to agree! The older I get, the more delighted I become over the human being and our capacity to struggle for understanding.

Now. “Holy Scripture” is just like “the poem”. In fact, they are poems. Imagination, seeking meaning. I like, for instance, looking at the Bible as an attempt of those two groups of particular human beings, Israelites and Jewish/Gentile “Christians”, from about 2000 BCE to 325CE, to throw light on what Life is.

Problem? What people think is weird. Gods/Goddesses, supposedly eternal spirits, don’t “talk” to human beings. Human beings enlist their imaginations to portray these divinities as “talking” to them. And onto these beings they project their hopes, dreams, wonder, ignorance, control issues, fears, needs for courage and support. Naturally, most of such projected deities end up being pretty screwed up beings! Just like the people who created them. Let’s face it: we humans are pretty weird dudes/dudesses!

I realize that I have spent the last 40 years of my Life unraveling the various cultural, time-bound projections of “God”. Bottom line: everyone has made up their own image of “God”. Some have been helpful, most not, in my opinion. So, I have decided to be bold! To do what all the rest did. I have distilled my own understanding of “God”, from various sources. Jesus remains central - because “He” (whatever “He” is) is a mythological Deity that makes sense to me! Compassion, generous love, understanding, delight. Just what a “God” should be! Or, just what I want a “God” to be. Forget the anger, the power, the vindictiveness, the pettiness, the judgmentalism, all the negative stuff. “God” should only have the nature that helps us human beings to disempower all the negativity and hate and show us how to be beautiful and caring and supportive of each other. And, sometimes against all odds, this is what I choose to believe we humans really are.

Friends: it is up to you to have the courage to reject any “deity” that is against humankind. If we can reject any projection of a “God” who sets us against one another, who punishes our weaknesses, who withholds the power we need to be loving and generous and kind, we will have, I believe, found something near to “the Truth”.

Take courage! Believe!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, April 23, 2009

On Friday 23rd April his temperature rose and he lost consciousness, dying in the late afternoon. Early in the evening, three of his fellow officers took a digging party ashore [ on the Greek island of Skyros] to the olive grove and set to work. Later, the coffin was brought up the dried water course by a company of twelve Australian petty officers. Brooke was buried shortly before midnight in the dark silence of the deserted valley, amidst the scent of flowering sage.

- the death and burial of Rupert Brooke, poet, on Skyros; he died on this date, 1915

Ah the poetry of Rupert Brooke ….. so sensitive, so elegant, so “innocent”. I have instructed Dennis that he is to take my ashes to Skyros and, at “shortly before midnight in the dark silence of the deserted valley, amdist the scent of flowering sage”, to scatter my ashes near Rupert Brooke. Of course, there will be a full moon. And he can sit and sip a bottle of Vernaccia white wine from San Gemignano, cooled in a spring, breathe in the scent of the sage, and smile at the sharing of Life. Oh, I know it’s “romantic” – but you know what? Life should begin and end for all of us in beauty and charm and flowering sage. As to my dying, if I can possibly manage it I will die on a boat off the island of Lemnos as Brooke did, so Dennis won’t have far to go with the ashes to Skyros.

Rupert Brooke was only 27 when he died. But what a contribution he made to Life!

Here is Brooke’s sonnet “The Dead”: ponder, and be filled with peace.

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvelously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

One day as I was meditating, I saw a rusty gutter, and I suddenly
felt sad and sorry that it was going bad and rusty. I experienced
that life was impermanent. I learned Dharma from that gutter.

- Mae Chi Boonliang, "Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women"

One can do a lot to gutters to keep rust at bay. They will last a long time with careful maintenance. “Rusty Gutter” is, of course, a metaphor - certainly for human life. Doesn’t matter how much dye, tucks, creams, etc., one uses, all that accomplishes is that we (a) spend a lot of time on this camouflage, to the detriment of living into the wisdom of aging, (b) suffer a horrible sudden shock at some point that everything we have tried to avoid seeing the truth hasn’t worked, and (c) have lived on the surface and missed passion and a load of other great stuff Life offers.

Nope. The Velveteen Rabbit for me! Slowly but surely loved into the frayed-ness of a full liver of Life. I often look at old pictures. I love it when people bring a big collage of photos of the deceased from birth to death to a funeral! I’ve used beard dye for a long time, and Oil of Olay for decades ………. but one of my spiritual disciplines is to look at those pictures of myself, from babyhood onwards. And believe me, I won’t be shocked when the time comes for the rust to have worked its power, under all the unguents and “products”.

Most important, I learned the lesson of the Rusty Gutter early on. Good religious teachers will do that for you. So, I’ve had a great Life, I’m glad to be able to say. It’s had its normal amount of challenge and suffering (not to be dramatic!). But I learned to make the best of It, to live every day as fully as possible. That has meant everything from traipsing about the Greek islands for several weeks, to taking week-long-or-more silent retreats, to keeping up with friends, to recognizing a lover when he came along and having the courage to say Yes. And many other things between!

We can apply the unguents and colours if we want - as long as the Rusty Gutter is held clearly in the heart and mind. That Rusty Gutter is a symbol of our Freedom. The worst thing about Life is to get to the end and find we missed it.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Give me a candle of the Spirit
O God,
As I go down into the deep
of my own being.

Show me the hidden things.
Take me down to the spring
of my life, and tell me
my nature and my name.

Give me freedom to grow
so that I may become my true self
the fulfillment of the seed
which you planted in me
at my making.

Out of the deep
I cry unto thee,
O Lord.

- George Appleton, Anglican bishop

This sounds, of course, like a paraphrase of Psalm 130. Personally, I would probably have been a Gnostic in some sense had I lived 2000 years ago – and I even have a friend who lives in Texas who IS a Gnostic! I certainly believe that everything that exists is made of the same energy and matter, spewed out by the Big Bang and all the exploding stars and galaxies that came to be and still are so doing! “The Seed” that was planted in us at the making of all things.

We think, most of us humans, that the greatest forays of exploration, of new knowledge, are “out there” – space, the oceans, atoms, etc. I think rather that the greatest Journey of Knowledge is “the deep of our own being”. I, and the other human beings I know, are without question the greatest Mystery to be explored.

Often I think that religion has been used to prevent us from doing just that. So many people are so afraid of the Mystery of who we are as persons! Much of religion does not want us to have “freedom to grow ….. to become my true self”. Christianity would be a great religion if it followed the example and teachings of Jesus. He lifted all the shackles, and gave every opportunity for freedom, in the hopes that we would find our divine identity. I think other great teachers have done the same. Alas, religion understands the “danger” of such freedom to it’s power, and often seeks the opposite.

Jesus is reported so often to have said, “Fear not”. With his encouragement, may we all go fearlessly into the deep of our own being. And may our religions be true “candles of the Spirit”.

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, April 20, 2009 (Midday)

Radiant is God’s Light, yet invisible in the secret place of the heart …..
Our whole business, therefore, in this life is to restore to health
the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.

- Augustine of Hippo

Boy, I sure feel as if I am indeed in the exciting, challenging time of restoring “to health the eye of the heart”! Oh, I have been on the Journey, as I ponder the last 42 years, all that time. But the time of “retirement” …… wonderful for this part of the Process!!

I think I have understood for quite a long time that the deepest power of the Christian religion is in the Myth, in that level of understanding where lies the most sacred and holy Truth. In the last couple of years it has come to the fore. Since I “retired” from parish ministry, I have limited my participation in “church”. But still the most important thing is the Eucharistic Mystery - the being anchored in that Centre of eating and drinking the body and blood of the God, the “knowing” that God is in us and we are in God, that we of the same Oneness and Being. For awhile now, the Eucharistic prayer has “opened up”, sort of Gone Cosmic! I “hear” words that sound rooted in time and place, and yet they transport me to a dimension outside that time and place.

Be a Manifestation of Divine Love. This is the Message. As my “eye of the heart” opens, bit by bit, or now and then, as it gains health, I more and more see what “God” is all essentially about. Day by day, contradictory things fall away from the “picture” of God that most of us were brought up with. With what the Bible "tells us". Until only the core blazing Light of the reality we call “God” shines, and all the limiting accretions are burned away.

Now I know the meaning of words ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth: “My yoke is easy and my burden light”.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, April 17, 2009

Love Your Enemies!

- Jesus of Nazareth,
born on this date, 6 BC

OK. Let’s get real about this. If you read the Gospels, you will see clearly when Jesus was “born”. Clearly NOT when the Church says He was. And apparently 6 years before His churchly birthday. Sheesh!

Look friends. Start looking into the deeper metaphorical truth about “God”, about “religion”, about “Jesus”. Christianity is NOT based in anything historical, quote unquote. It’s a matter of Imagination and of Mystery. Read “The Pagan Christ” by Fr. Tom Harpur. You will be shaken, and then liberated!

However: “Love your enemies” is a VERY useful spiritual path! It will – as most of Jesus’ authentic words will – set you free.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, April 16, 2009

'The official pressure placed upon Canon Jeffrey John to withdraw
from his appointment as Bishop of Reading will inevitably cause
many gay people - the celibate as well as those in committed, faithful
relationships – to question whether they can ever find true acceptance
within "mainstream" Christianity.

- comment by Matthew F. Smith, (British) Unitarian Information officer,
on the withdrawal of Jeffrey John as nominee as Bishop of Reading. On
this date, 2004, Canon John was appointed Dean of St Albans Cathedral

So. What is the status, 5 years on, of whether or not Gayfolk will continue to want to be apart of the “mainstream” Christian Church? The whole thing bewilders me – as well as makes me angry. As an Episcopal priest, I come into contact with all kinds of folk, Gay or straight, who ask me what the appropriate thing is for them to do in terms of their relationships to the Christian denominations. I always hesitate in my answer. I always first ask: What are your core commitments to the Gospel? What do you fundamentally believe they are telling you about your support for the Church on this issue?

I am clear. Jesus would simply have said, If you love, you are part of the Kingdom. The Church, on the other hand, seduced by its cowardly allegiance to the “powers of this World”, prevaricates. And, in its prevarication, colludes in the demeanment, abasement, violent abuse of, and denial of human rights to, all Gayfolk. As well as encouraging, by its prevarication, all kinds of appalling mistreatment of Gayfolk. In this, the RC Church, and most so-called misnamed Evangelicals, side with Evil on this issue. In their name, countless Gayfolk are murdered and tortured and mistreated.

I can understand that Gayfolk wish to be a part of a Christian community, or at least of a faith community which nurtures their relationship with a loving “God”. What I can’t understand is why Gayfolk, including myself, continue to have anything to do with a religious community which, by its failure unequivocally to condemn the demonization of Gayfolk, encourages violence against us.

Since I have retired, I have begun seriously to question my allegiance to a faith community which, by its coddling of Gay-bashers of various sorts who reject Jesus’ clear message of truth about loving human beings, nurture hate against what may be 20% of its members who give generously of their time, talent, and money to support the Church. It makes less and less sense to me.

The time of decision, for me, is coming close. True, the Episcopal Church is trying to support Gayfolk. But, not at the basic level. The “basic level” is that there is nothing “wrong” with Gayfolk at any level of being, acknowledging of course that we are as susceptible of unloving behaviour as the rest of humanity, and equally open to “God’s” forgiveness. I am still waiting, after more than 40 years, for such a clear statement. And I am more and more impatient.

I am sure that Dean Jeffrey John is providing solid pastoral care and teaching to his congregants at St. Albans Cathedral. Of course he would. He, like so many of us Gay clergy, cares about his “flock”.

Conscience and integrity eventually demand due allegiance. If soon the Christian Church does not renounce its conspiracy with Evil, and authentically support its Gayfolk, I shall begin to advocate another religious path. For myself as well. In my heart, I know that this is what Jesus would require in order to be faithful to Him.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I wouldn't take the Pope too seriously.
He's a Pole first, a pope second, and
maybe a Christian third.

- Muriel Spark, author, who died on this date, 2006
[ “The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie” ] [ speaking of
John Paul II ]

I criticize my own church, and other Christian denominations, and other religions, for a loving reason. What reason? Because the desire to conform to the World’s values, particularly the longing for power and Worldly adulation is SUCH a temptation! In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, it’s been a 1700 year struggle in which they have not been very successful. Popes, especially patriarchal and cultural captives, are human.

The same thing could be said of Benedict XVI. He’s an octogenarian German trapped in a 1940’s mind.

But dear Muriel makes a very powerful point. Even popes are Christians third. And this is the problem with all religious people We are Christians or Buddhists, or Muslims or Jews or Zorosastrians or Orthodox THIRD! If not less than Third!

I see this in my own path. I am devastated and disgusted with myself when I see just how puny a follower of the Gospel I am! The bottom line is: We are supposed to Love as Jesus Loved! - i.e., to a complete disregard of personal safety, social and economic status, etc. But we DON’T. We can find all kinds of excuses for pardoning ourselves for not following the Great Commandment. How far we fall from loving God as God loves us.

The pope and the Vatican, the Anglican Communion, the Southern Baptists, the Mormons (if they are indeed Christians, not that it ultimately matters), the mainline Christian churches - we are NOT followers of Jesus and His Great Commandment: Love One another as I have Loved You. We are not able to be so radical as He was. We choose institutionalism and tribalism over our Divinity.

Friends: do whatever you can to live the call to “be as the Christ”. To be a “child of the God of Love”.

The World will be a much better place.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, April 14, 2209

As human beings, we are endowed with freedom of choice,
and we cannot shuffle off our responsibility upon the shoulders
of God or nature. We must shoulder it ourselves. It is our responsibility.

I cannot think of any circumstances in which advertising would not be an evil.

I do not believe that civilizations have to die because
civilization is not an organism. It is a product of wills.

The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.

- Arnold Toynbee, American historian and philosopher, born on this date, 1889

Lots of “good thoughts” from Arnold! You can ponder on all of them during the day. I love the one about “advertising”; advertising is a work of the “Devil”, seducing us into all kinds of idolatry. But, and I imagine you will not be surprised, I want to comment on the last quote!

The popular interpretation of the Genesis Creation Myth of the expulsion from “the Garden” is that “work” is a punishment for Sin. That “work” is drudgery, enslaving, demeaning. And of course, It IS for many many people in the World today.

Toynbee’s thought is brilliant! And true. Lots of people, including Robert Heinlein, have written about it. Theologically, I agree with his comment. We human beings will have advanced a long way towards what I think of as Authentic Humanity when we have learned to merge/blur the lines between “work” and “play”. When how we “make a living” is parallel to how we “enjoy ourselves”, we will have made a huge evolutionary step, as well as a huge theological step in human development.

Let’s start a revolution! Humanist or “of Faith”. Let’s refuse to make a living at anything we don’t find playful! When we have reached that stage, our adult and child natures will have integrated, and we will have evolved several notches!

I don’t know when we will be able to say “We’ve done it”. But until then, make it your daily Practice! We’ll all be a lot happier!


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: The Weekend, for April 12, 2009
[ Easter Day in the Christian Calendar ]

Christ was in the tomb; the whole world was sown with the seed of Christ’s life;
that which happened thirty years ago in the womb of the Virgin Mother was
happening now, but now it was happening yet more secretly, yet more mysteriously,
in the womb of the whole world. Christ had already told those who flocked to hear
Him preach that the seed must fall into the earth, or else remain by itself alone.
Now the seed of His life was hidden in darkness in order that His life should quicken in countless hearts, over and over again for all time. His burial, which seemed to be the end, was the beginning. It was the beginning of Christ-life in multitudes of souls. It was the beginning, too, of the renewal of Christ’s life in countless souls.

- Caryll Houselander 1901-1954

Yes! This is what the Holy Myth of Jesus’ Resurrection, celebrated year by year, is essentially about. It is about coming to, or being renewed in, the amazing comprehension that we are “Of God”, and of All Things. It is to comprehend that the matter of our physical being has been intersected by the divine spirit, and we have thus become fully human. It is to know that each and every one of us, indeed all things, are made of the atoms of stars and galaxies.

This is no “miracle”. This is the simple Wonder and the Mystery of Being.

But the primary message is this: LET US LIVE THIS MYSTERY!

This Easter (sublimely still named after the Saxon goddess of Life and Fertility!) I feel yet again the call to strive to be my fullest, deepest, most glorious Self – a “child” of the God of Love.

And to help others so Become – as Jesus died to do.

May your Life bloom with the Wonder of your Christ-ness.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Sermon for: Good Friday B_RCL _ April 10, 2009 
St. Benedict’s, Los Osos (The Rev) Brian McHugh +

The only reward for emulating the Jesus of Mark's gospel is to have done it. (1)

A priest colleague and friend of mine wrote these words recently in his Blog.

Christians are called to “take up the cross” and emulate Jesus. There is an obscene explanation that has lurked for millennia amongst the various “explanations” of why Jesus died on the Cross. It says that “God” deliberately sent the Divine Logos/Word, in the guise of his “son”, to suffer horribly and to die on the cross, so that human beings, unable to extract themselves from the consequences of sin, would be “saved” by the substitution of Jesus as the only “worthy” required blood sacrifice. “Obscene”, perhaps blasphemous, are the only words I can think of adequately to describe this lie. It completely ignores the moral integrity of Jesus’ Life, His freedom, and His work as a person, let alone as “God’s Son”. It implies that whatever Jesus did or said had nothing to do with what was already a predetermined outcome. And it implies that “salvation”, meaning “wholeness” and health as a human being, is a “done deal” and has nothing to do with our response. All this, I believe, is false.

To “venerate the Cross” under such circumstances would, I think, indeed mean that we were venerating an “instrument of torture” - and, by association, an immoral “God”. Further, it makes no sense when held up against the words of the apostle Paul, who said: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”; and, “We must work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.”

We must ask the question, especially on Good Friday, “What did Jesus do that He ended up on the Cross?” And secondly, “What does it mean, for Jesus, and for us?” On this Good Friday, let’s take a look at His Life for a few moments.

Jesus was an implacable critic of the “organized religion” of His time – the religion based on the Pentateuch which His people had followed for over 1500 years. And he was an implacable critic of those whom He saw perverting the essential message of that religion for their own power and prestige. He regularly denounced them and their interpretations, and taught His disciples to follow His “Good News”. He spoke out, following in the footsteps of the great prophets and of great kings like Josiah, against “harmful religious tradition and intolerance”. In His zeal for His “Father’s House”, he drove the debasers out of the Temple. One of the Gospels is clear that this was the act that set in motion a plan to kill Him.

When Jesus spoke of “taking up our cross and following Him”, He meant us to join with Him, in our own time and place, in this determination to rid our religion of traits that are contrary to God’s desire. I could list those things that I would put on that list, but I will let you build your own. And then we must ask what we will do to join Him in carrying that cross, out of Love for God and for God’s people. We must start with our own Episcopal religious tradition; what in it is contrary to the will of the God of Love? And we must be respectfully critical of the great and powerful religions of the World which accuse others of being “Worldly” but which themselves oppress others in their search for Worldly power under the guise of “spiritual concern”.

Jesus could not avoid confronting “the principalities and powers of imperious politics, hierarchical economics and malign social policy”, either Jewish or Roman. The behaviour of both the Roman and Jewish people in power was contrary in so many ways to His understanding of the politics of God’s Kingdom. We get His point clearly and gently but firmly in His encounter with Nicodemus, in His insistence that we must be “born again” in and by that same Spirit through which He was adopted a Son of God at His baptism.

Christians cannot be other than fearless confronters of “the principalities and powers of imperious politics”, whether coming from political leaders or the economically powerful of our World. I don’t have to rehearse for you all those things which are contrary to the health and welfare of the peoples of the World perpetrated by our rich and powerful, given the situation we are in these days. Whether it is the use of torture, or the militarism, or the failure of many administrations to provide healthcare for all Americans, or the continuing tendency of the present administration to curry favour with bankers and arms dealers to the detriment of regular hard-working folk, or the dictators of the world feathering their own nests while their people starve or die in armed conflict, Jesus asks us to “take up our cross” and follow Him in the way of loving confrontation of these policies.

Jesus was a constant foe of anything which “robs individual human beings of their innate dignity”, whether it be those oppressed and denied their humanity by the powerful, or the oppressing powerful themselves who are demeaned and twisted in soul by their lust. In Jesus’ time, this included women, servants, the downtrodden poor, Samaritans, Pharisees. Today He would stand with Gayfolk, women still, and all the men whose humanity is eviscerated by a false and oppressive definition of “masculinity”, and certainly the poor and destitute whose numbers continue to grow in our World while the numbers of the obscenely rich continues to grow as well.

Going willingly to death in order to witness unflinchingly to the unconditional compassion of His Heavenly Father and ending up being crucified is what makes the cross not an instrument of shame and suffering but, as Paul said, an instrument not of Death but of Life – and a worthy symbol for the Christian Church. It is the sign that out of Love alone God brings Life.

I quoted my friend Harry Cook at the beginning:

The only reward for emulating the Jesus of Mark's gospel is to have done it.

We venerate the instrument by which the Christ gave all in Love. Most of us will not be killed for the Kingdom of God. But, every Good Friday, the Cross calls out to each of us to follow Jesus in the way that leads not to death, but to eternal wholeness and health for ourselves and all others - perhaps with fear and trembling, but also with sure and certain hope that we are on the sacred path of what Christians call “salvation”.

(1) The Rev. Harry Cook

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, April 9, 2009
Feast of the Holy Eucharist (Christian Calendar)

Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian, whose feast day in the
the Episcopal Church is today (died 1945 in a Nazi camp)

I have a confession to make. “Church” has often been a barrier to joy - and it has also been the utter source of joy. Which only proves the truth that Life is a paradox on every level. “Church” has caused me the most pain, and it has been the greatest source (pointing to the springs of wonder) of wholeness and healing and strength.

“Church” (in the Episcopal Church, of which I have been a apart since I was 19 years old, and in which I have served as a monk and then a priest for 42 years all told) is what I chose after a chance [hmmmmmm] encounter with the Holy Eucharist in Toronto in about 1966. Why? Because, aside from the utter Mystery of the Body and Blood of the Christ [What????] and what it intimates about Truth, the Holy Eucharist (the institution of which is celebrated today) means Holy Thanksgiving.

Since that day over 43 years ago, I have grown to understand that Gratitude/Thanksgiving is indeed the heart of a joyful Life. Not that there are a lot of things in Life that are not happy! I have many “pangs of memory” of very unhappy times in my Life, especially all the taunting and contempt and demeaning and downright hate that I have had to put up with as a Gay man – including in the Episcopal Church. And, even though I still am a captive of anger about that, I am now old enough, and have benefited from the blessing of so many wonderful people and from some actions of the Episcopal Church, that many “pangs of memory” have been transfigured “into a tranquil joy”. Easter Day, Dennis and I will be on Pismo Beach with wine and cheese, basking in the tranquil joy of a beautiful World, simple blue sky, Snowy Plovers and Whimbrels, dancing Pacific waves, and happy people walking the sands.

“We give thanks to you, Oh God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in all Creation”, says one of our prayers of Great Thanksgiving. This is what the Gospel is all about, and what Christianity SHOULD be all about! Gratitude for Life, for Compassion, for the absolute joy of being able to extend Love to another, for Mystery, for Hiddenness, for Vulnerability, for Connection with all that IS.

Christian or not: on this coming Sunday, I wish you a Gratitude that will change your pangs of memory into tranquil joy.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, April 8, 2009

….. in the midst of this nightmare and calamity of AIDS, I have seen
such eloquent work done by people who are part of the clergy or
part of a religious commitment or calling. Here I am close to the end
of my life, and I somehow think that I am an atheist who is, for better
or worse, still an Episcopalian.

- Paul Monette, author, winner of the National Book Award, 1992

Most of you will know that I am a devotee/disciple of the teachings of Jesus, even in the “padded” form that those teachings have come across to us in the “canonical Gospels”, which are clearly in many ways first-to-third century Christian political propaganda. And most of you will know that I am constantly critical of “organized religion”. In my late teens, and a newly “out” Gay man, I had to think carefully about what brand of Christianity I could espouse. Episcopalianism was the only answer – unless I wanted to become other than Christian, and that is a very difficult cultural shift to make, especially at a young age. (I could do it more easily now.)

The Episcopal Church I joined was then welcoming of very divergent views, theologically, sexually (well, “don’t ask, don’t tell”), politically, etc. This is what appealed to me. I am waiting to see what will be decided at this upcoming General Convention in July. Yes, I am concerned about what will be decided about the blackmail being promulgated in an attempt to intimidate The Episcopal Church to go back on its commitment to Gayfolk. But I am even more concerned about steps afoot to make the Anglican Communion less tolerant of diversity and freedom of association. Decisions to agree to such a process may, sadly, be the step that forces me to look for another faith community.

I believe that the Gospel, and my ordination vows, and my understanding of Jesus, call me to be an instrument by which ALL persons seeking the message of affirmation and unconditional love will find support. To that end, I have never refused the Body and Blood of Christ to any person who appeared at any church I served. And I have gladly welcomed to Communion three Jews who chose to worship with us, as well as many many non-baptized. Most of them came to a deeper relationship with “God” – which is why Jesus came among us (in the Christian story), and the basis for true priestly ministry.

The Episcopal Church is under great criticism and even condemnation there days, from within and without. But let me tell you something. If a man like Paul Monette can describe himself as an “atheist Episcopalian”, and have heard – and even better, experienced from fellow Episcopalians - what I consider to be the essential Gospel message of God’s Unconditional Love, that carried him through to his death, then the Episcopal Church is a faithful servant of God and I am glad to have served in it for over 40 years.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, April 7, 2009

As long as you keep a person down, some part 
of you has to be down there to hold him down, 
so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might.

- Marian Anderson, great human being, 
who died on this date, 1993, age 96
[ some say it was Aug 8; I’m going with today]

And there, in the proverbial nutshell, is one of the great problems of human society. It might be that there was a time in the past when human beings didn’t spend a great deal of time “keeping a person down”. A time in the past when human societies and cultures “soared”. And one would think that this might have at least been true in times when religions like Christianity and Judaism (I don’t enough about Islam to comment) were influential and talking about Love and Justice and human Dignity.

Alas, I can’t think of such a time. Can you?

“Keeping people down” is essentially a product of Greed, Power, or Fear. And here we are, seven or eight thousand years into “recorded history” (written, remember, by the “winners”), and we aren’t “soaring”. Not that I can see. Though I do hope that the election of Barack Obama is a little hopeful flag. Oh, many good people do kind and helpful and brave things. But organized Greed, Power, and Fear, along with the tendency of human beings to become a Mob, tends to dominate on the Big Scale. Often, the problem is a few twisted leaders, and too many indifferent of the rest of us.

Though the various denominations will have different versions of how it happened and what it means, Christianity will, this coming Sunday, proclaim the triumph of Love and Life over Fear and Death.

Love and Life being, I think, beneficial to all, I invite us all to “Pray” for the end of “keeping people down” and of “being down to hold people down”, and to soar.

Remembering that prayer does not change “God”. Prayer only changes the pray-er.

Watch your local channel or your street for some good signs!


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, April 6, 2009
[ Monday in Holy Week ]

Nothing happened.

- On this day, in the year I was born, 1946,
according to “Brainy History”

I find this immensely ………. calming.

And that is how I feel about Holy Week (which, for those of you not Christian, has just begun), now that I have been retired for a year. Every other Holy Week, for 42 years, (with a little slack for the years I was a monk), it was either at least 5 sermons to write, and 5 major liturgies to craft and organize – most of which had for several years to be done twice since I served two churches at one time. For years I tried to “make sense” of these “High Holy Days/Mysteries”, for myself and for others, though for the last few years, on the advice of a priest colleague, I let the liturgies “speak for themselves” - except for the Feast of the Resurrection, when one had to meet the needs of those who first set foot (or might!) inside a church. Rare were newcomers willing to spend 2 hours at a liturgy on Thursday and Friday and Saturday night before Easter!

This year I am preaching Good Friday. But I have no anxieties or pressure or stress. During this first year of retirement, everything - and I mean Everything - has Opened Up. I have become like an Alien visiting Earth for the first time. Watching with great interest what’s going on around me, especially with “church”. I have experienced fascination, bemusement, amusement, wonder, confusion, laughter, bewilderment, frustration, annoyance, hilarity, anger (yep, even anger), and a lot of other things. And let me tell you, it has been terrific! I wish I had “retired” years ago!

For my Christian friends during this Holy Week, and for my non-Christian friends as well on the level of "Living Life”, I recommend the “spiritual path” of “retirement”. Let it all go for a bit. Don’t try to make sense of It. Just let It flow about you.

I think you will find it extremely refreshing! And a good “position” for being blessed by Life!


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: The Beginning of “Holy Week”, Palm Sunday

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent
your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death
upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that
we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; (this we
pray) through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

- Collect for Palm Sunday in the Christian Calendar (Episcopal Church)

Let’s unpack this prayer, and see what Christians are asking for as the Christian “Holy Week” begins.

We want to know that it’s all about Love. That Love is “God”. Check.

We want to know that we human beings, each of us, are filled with, are one with, all of Existence - and with the Mystery and power at It’s Heart. Check.

We want to know that we human beings can pour ourselves out in love until it seems there’s nothing left - and find that neither Love nor Life can be exhausted. Check.

Well: all this is the message of the Gospel. Plain and simple.

Stay focused on the “crucial” Message. Act on it, in small and in great things. All things will be well.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, April 3, 2009

Some minds seem almost to create themselves, springing
up under every disadvantage and working their solitary but
irresistible way through a thousand obstacles.

-Washington Irving, born on this day, 1783, in NYC

I could sense him when I walked into the bare, stone, empty space. Washington Irving. I had read “Tales of the Alhambra” many years ago, when I was young and longing to see such places as the Alhambra. And then my friend Sheldon and I were there! In Granada. We walked up the incline road to the top of the hill, to what is now a World Heritage Site. And began to wander.

I knew that Irving had come here in 1829. He just “moved in” and set up his “residence” – something I so wish I could do now in so many wonderful places! I get so envious when I read that Widow Durrell and her children could just decamp from England and go live on Corfu! Oh, why has the World changed so much!

I think I have the kind of mind Irving spoke of. I have basically “created myself”. Not that I have had huge disadvantages. And not that I haven’t had friendly advice. But essentially, I have “worked my solitary and irresistible way” through the various obstacles of my life. And I have arrived at age almost 63 and can say that I am essentially content and “happy”. And it has very little to do with “stuff”. It has to do with love and friendship, and with the privilege of exulting in beauty of all sorts. And with being able to play in some wonderful places ….. usually “on the cheap”!

I sat in the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra, in the warm Spanish sun, and felt an enormous Joy. And Peace. It is the same Joy and Peace I experience when I remember that I am one with all Being. The harshness and intolerance and hate filling the World these days have not enough power to erase the Court of the Lions from my mind and heart.

May you know many Courts of the Lions. And remember: you have the mind to sweep away the obstacles and create what the Universe offers us all.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, April 2, 2009

If you ask me what I came into this life to do,
I will tell you: I came to live out loud.

- Emile Zola, French writer, born on this day, 1840

Emile Zola was the premier example of the literary and theatrical schools called “naturalism”. He is credited with a leading part in the political liberalization of France, and the exoneration of the falsely accused and convicted army officer Alfred Dreyfus.

I think that anyone who develops any sense of what we call “spiritual life” (though I dislike the phrase for its dualistic inference; to me all Life is “spiritual”, including bodily life) must by definition “live out loud”.

Most of the things I have done in my life have been to try to “live out loud”. I went to college in part because I was expected not to (which to me meant, don’t become yourself, don’t grow). I became a monk primarily because I was (perhaps unconsciously) searching for what it meant to be a whole person; and to know if “God” existed (I’m still not sure, or in what way “God” exists). Also because I intuitively knew that in the Order of the Holy Cross I would be “safe” as a Gay man. (Not only was that true, but I also learned the very important truths that I was “ok” and that I was “ok” with “God”.

Practically every parish I ministered in (there were two from whose grasp I fled because I felt oppressed from “living out loud”) came my way and allowed me to “live out loud” – honestly, boldly, and to enjoy Life. The same with my friends: all my dear friends (of which I am graced to have many) have abetted my “living out loud” – and I have tried to return the favour. In my priestly ministry, my primary gaol was to help people “live out loud” – to be who they were meant to be, and not what something or someone(s) else told or expected them to be, especially their cramped idea of “God”.

I lived by myself most of my life. But when I met a man who abetted my “living out loud”, I said Yes. I try to return the favour.

You came in this Life to Live Out Loud. Go for it. It’s never too late.