Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I have a face like the behind of an elephant.

- Charles Laughton, actor, born on this date,
1899, in Scarborough, Yorkshire, England

Now can you not take to someone with that kind of self-understanding and self-acceptance! Mind you, it does help if you are a rich and famous actor, with roles like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Captain Bligh in “Mutiny on the Bounty”, and in “Les Miserables” (1935).

What this is essentially about, of course, is self-awareness. Knowing who you really “are”. Being free to acknowledge who you are without self-deception. There is no greater gateway to a wonderful, free Life.

I doubt that Charles Laughton would have been as successful as he was as an actor if he had not had this sense of reality about himself. And that is exactly what most religions are (or should be) all about, as well as the great philosophies of the World – the most famous example being Socrates and his statement, “Know thyself” (ascribed to Socrates, but also to five other Greek sages), and “The unexamined Life is not worth living”, which I understand as a call to self-knowledge.

One of the most difficult things for human beings in general, as well as for Christians, is to look at themselves ruthlessly – which from the point of view of the Gospel would be synonymous with “lovingly”. The point being: the more we deceive ourselves about reality, the more we will screw up.

Today, I am going to find some time to think about this. What am I really like? What am I hiding about myself? What am I deluding myself about? How am I miring my Life in the stickiness of “sin”, that is, of thinking I am being loving when I am not? I really do understand that the more honest I am, the more real I am, the freer I will be to be the spectacular being I am.

We all need to know when our face is like the behind of an elephant (with apologies to the elephant, who I suspect would not want his ass and his face to be the same!) The more honest we are about ourselves, the more we can laugh, the more genuine a human being we can become.

As the T-shirt I saw on Block Island says, “You go Girl!”.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"I got to see them take the vows that other people
have taken for granted," Spragg said. "So many don't
understand what it means to have that opportunity."

- spoken by a guest at their marriage, on the day that
Constanble Jason Tree & Constable David Connors were wed,
in their full RCMP uniforms, in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, 2006

I was very proud of the country in which I was born on that day three years ago. Mostly because they were able to distinguish between religious oppression and equality under the law.

First, it made the point that, whatever we think about people, all citizens are equal and must be equally treated.

Secondly, it helped to make the point that Gayfolk are just a normal variation in the rainbow of humanity.

Thirdly: it makes the point that Love should be encouraged whenever possible. Love “makes the World go round”, makes the World work as I believe God wants it to work.

“Religion” should not be about “belief”. It should be about action, about upholding the basic principles that distinguish the God of Love we have created as our Icon of humanity.

I hope Jason and David have had a wonderful three years. And I hope that America and American Christianty (and other religions) will soon get their heads screwed on right and their hearts changed from “stone” to “flesh”.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, June 29, 2009

It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly.
What is essential is invisible to the eye.

- from “The Little Prince”, by Antoine de St. Exupery,
author, born on this date, 1900, in Lyons

One must be careful here. About what is meant by “heart”. de St. Exupery was not being “romantic”, as Americans understand “romantic”. The “romantic” heart can be a treacherous guide. No, he was thinking of the heart as the guardian of willed love.

And here is the challenge for us human beings, I think. Jesus is reported to have said, “Love your enemies”. By which I think he meant nothing “romantic” – as in having nice feelings about them. He meant, “Look at your enemy, and indeed every person, with “willed love” – clearly, rationally, wishing them only for them what you wish for yourself: full and abundant humanity as anchored in compassion, mercy, justice.”

“Willed love” does not look or judge with the “outer eyes”; it looks with the “inward eyes”. It bypasses all “romantic” notions of beauty, worth, value. It sees the “essential” which is “invisible to the eye”. It sees every person and every other thing as a part of oneself – and therefore to be treated as one would wish to be treated.

I am going to try this tomorrow. If we understand “God” as the shared beauty of holiness that is between us and all Creation, I am going to try and “see” this in every person, situation, event that comes along. (And tomorrow, I will be dealing with taking my poor auto to the body shop, having been spectacularly rear-ended Saturday on the freeway – about which I am not feeling very good!)

Join me.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, June 26, 2009

I just wish I could understand my father.

If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you
leave this world knowing the same, then everything
that happens in between can be dealt with.

- Michael Jackson, entertainer, who died on June 25, 2009,
age 50

Personally, I had no interest in Michael Jackson’s type of music. But I wondered about his self-mutilation – for so it seemed to me. I remember him as a little boy with his family group, adorable, talented, precocious. I saw him in the news over the years, becoming more and more bizarre - and wondered what had snapped in his soul, what inner blight had engulfed him. I have no idea whether he was a pedophile of not – but all his words about loving children lead me to believe that something about his childhood was horrific, and in some warped way he was trying to make sense of it.

There are few moments of traditional Greek tragedy in our modern World. Michael Jackson’s death is one of them – though I do not mean to exalt his death over the millions of children and adults who suffer and die in our World today as power-hungry politicians murder in order to have power and riches, and international corporations do the same.

I see in Michael’s death an image of the archetype of alienation from which the World suffers today. I see it in the inability of people to commit to Love for each other as an act of the will. And in the inability of nations to respect the culture and traditions of others. I see his self-mutilation as the searing scream of the millions of those who are rejected as unacceptable by those who callously set the standards for “acceptance”.

Michael Jackson was a tortured soul, a sad symbol of so many of us who cannot find a joy of Self in this World, who cannot find the spark of the Divine within and claim our own beauty.

If you choose to believe in a “God”, believe in the “God” who extends to you this beauty, which is yours no matter what anyone else has to say. There is no need to conform to another’s standard. You are born a part of the Fire at the heart of Being. You will only fulfill your destiny by being true to yourself.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, June 25, 2009

Calculated risks of abuse are taken in order to preserve higher values. (ugh!)

- Chief Justice Warren Burger, who died on this day, 1995

Warren Burger supported Roe vs. Wade. I am glad he did, for theological reasons. In the past, that decision made me think well of him, from a moral point of view. Having read of various other decisions and having read many of his other statements, I consider him to have been an example of moral, as well as judicial, cowardliness, but for this one decision.

I am using this opportunity to make a case theologically for solving the “problem” of abortion. In my opinion, it will only be solved by following the teachings – as shown in His behaviour – of Jesus.

Women must be equal. Period.

This as we see, is extremely difficult in what is essentially a continuing patriarchal society ….. which America still is, in spades. Let me make this clear: opposition to abortion is a patriarchal tool in the determined effort to keep women as second or tenth class citizens. Opposition to abortion is a tool of male dominance, and of the enslavement of women.

No: I am not fundamentally “in favour” of abortion. But I am in favour of the equality of women. Women are not breeding cattle. They are not subjects to a male (or cultural) philosophy that relegates women to the stature of slaves to their child-bearing role. Nor should they be victims to the sex drives of the male animal, or victims as single-parent families, struggling desperately to survive when abandoned by menfolk, who are often abetted by a patriarchal court system.

It is shameful I believe, and an affront to “God” and to Jesus, to demean the equality of women as human beings, based on some patriarchal and later interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures by men.

The horror and pain of abortion is a searing condemnation of our Christian and cultural determination to demean women, to deny them their equality as human beings.

Do we want to eliminate abortion? It can be done in a pen-stroke. Establish the equality of women. Then no woman need have a child she does not want or cannot care for, need not have a child foisted on her by a dominating male, need not ever be treated by a sexual partner as a subject being.

Then, no child will be born unwanted, or as a product of male dominance. No woman carrying a child to term will be afflicted in poverty or in psychological oppression and a form of slavery.

Women must be equal. I believe that this is what “God” intended. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The
greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.

- Norman Cousins, essayist & editor of The
Saturday Review, born on this date, 1912

I have become a cynic over the last 20 years, maybe more. I believe nothing that I hear a politician say, and I believe almost nothing of what I read in the establishment press. And recently I read something like “Cynicism is intellectual treachery”. Yes, I know that cynicism is contrary to the Gospel (at least as I understand the Gospel, which is very unlike how many understand it) – but I am also cynical about most of what establishment Christianity (and other religions) have to say these days.

However, I would call myself a Happy Cynic, or perhaps an Hopeful Cynic! I do believe metaphorically in the “Holy Spirit”. I believe that there is a sprite of Goodness and Love operative in the Universe. She is sneaky! And watchful. Where there is a human heart, mind, or spirit open to belief in Goodness and Love, She is right there, pumping up the belief like a good pair of bellows coaxing Life out of dying embers. And happily my “embers” are very open to coaxing!

I have suffered a plethora of losses in my Life – theological, of the heart, intellectual. And in the midst of the “dyings”, the bellows have continued to encourage new Life in my inner being. For everything that cynicism has embittered, delightful new ideas, relationships, understandings have burst into life. My Life has simplified. Important principles have become clear. Various burdens have been lifted.

My experience has been the opposite of what Cousins said. The great interior losses – or so I thought of them as losses - have been not a kind of deaths but rather a kind of pruning for luxuriant new growth. And a simplification and clarifying of Life.

I am grateful. And I wish for you the same adventure.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Childhood smells of perfume and brownies.

- David Leavitt, author, [ The Lost Language
of Cranes ], born on this date, 1961

My mother didn’t wear perfume, that I remember – though every now and then something called Taboo (I think?). It doesn’t figure in my childhood. “Scents” were not common in the McHugh family – except my father’s Old Spice. Nor brownies – I don’t remember those being baked. My mother was essentially not a baker, though I do remember the cakes she made in a cast iron aluminum pot on the top of the stove. More, I remember her frequent cry: “Don’t take the lid off that pot!” (I peeked; luckily the cake didn’t “fall”.)

I remember the smell of the coal oil we used in the stove – not pleasant. I remember the smell of freshly baked custard pie that we bought every Saturday at Main’s, the local Scottish bakery - Fabulous! And the smell of Eckles Cakes (a kind of large flaky cookie). And the terrific Scottish meat pies they sold! I remember the smell of Woolworth’s – mothballs, and sawdust. I remember the smell of Brylcreem (“a little dab ‘il do ya”). And the smell of the home permanents (ugh!) that my mother and her sisters-in-law gave to each other on Saturday mornings. I remember the smell of the gasoline that we had to pour with a funnel into the outboard motor. Oh, there are many more!

There were the normal “troubles” we all have as children, of course. But on the scale, I was fortunate enough to have a good childhood. Nothing really traumatic – except being “beaten up” by older boys after the movies in the basement of our church on Saturday mornings because I was a “fairy” – nothing bad, just frightening.

Childhood has its traumas. But I hope that each of you has some good memories among it all. Think of those today. Jesus welcomed little children, and told his followers that they needed to be like them to enter the “Kingdom” - essentially knowing we need, and open to recognizing and welcoming, Love.

If you didn’t get a lot in your childhood, may it be lavished on you now!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, June 22, 2009

Always go to the bathroom when you have a chance.

- Britain’s King George V, who was crowned on this date,
1911, in Westminster Abbey

One problem with George V was that he wasn’t brought up to be King. He had an older brother, Albert Victor; he was groomed to be King. In preparation AV had become engaged to May, Princess of Teck. Alas, Albert died. Whereupon George proposed to May (to the enormous relief of May’s Mother, the Duchess of Teck, who was basically a spendthrift pauper), and he and Mary/May became King & Queen/Emperor & Empress.

Another problem with George was that he was a dunce. Never went to a proper school, served in the Navy. He once said, “My father was afraid of my mother, I was afraid of my Father, and I damn well will make sure that my children are afraid of me!” That tells you a lot, yes? The best thing that a biographer could say of him was that he was so common that he represented the idea of the majesty of the common person – or something like that.

Now however, after treatment for prostate cancer, I am grateful for His Britannic Majesty’s advice on going to the bathroom. Radiation fried a lot inside, so I have to be careful. Plan “pit stops”. (And carry a pee bottle in the car.) And NEVER pass up a bathroom! Never, never, never; disaster will unquestionably ensue.

Spiritual advice? :

Always thank or compliment someone when you have the chance.
Always go to see a sick (or well, for that matter) friend when you have the chance.
Always send birthday and anniversary greetings to someone when you have the chance.
Always be generous when you have the chance.
Always visit another country when you have the chance. (and learn at least 5 phrases in the language)
Always bring flowers to your SO at least once a week.
Etc: keep the List expanding! Do charming, thoughtful, gracious things AMAP (as much as possible), including to/for people you don’t know or don’t like.

And have no care about the recipients. It’s all about you becoming a superb YOU.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, June 20, 2009

"The entire cultural and social game of antisexual `spirit against flesh' education is so monstrous, so opposed to incarnate human happiness and human responsibility ………. that it must be considered the primary social and even philosophical issue of our time."

- John Da Free

John wrote this quite a while ago, but it still holds in 2009. And, I would say, worldwide, and in probably nearly every religion. I have very little I need to say about it. Just to ask you to think about it today.

Henry Miller said, “If there is something wrong with our attitude toward sex, then there is something wrong with our attitude toward bread, toward money, toward work, toward play, toward everything. How can one enjoy a good sex life is he has a distorted, unhealthy attitude toward the other aspects of life?" Sexual dysfunction – by which I mean not just physical but relational dynamics – are so profoundly distorted that they surely indicate that all the other things that Miller mentions are in an equally profound state of disorder. No wonder we are in the state we are now in the World – a remarkable collapse of the possibility of most all shared moral and social interaction.

I look at this optimistically. At certain times in history, “Axial” ages come along, bringing new thinking and new ways of understanding and living.

I hope we are on the brink of one now.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, June 18, 2009

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest
is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can
do anything you decide to do. You can act to change
and control your life; and the procedure , the process
is its own reward.

- Amelia Earhart, omni-talented woman, who on this
date, 1928, flew from Newfoundland to Wales

This is what Jesus did. Which is why so many admire and love Him. And the Buddha. And lots of other people – many of whom we call “saints”. (In the Episcopal Church, a saint is someone who has really tried to be a full human being, unlike the RC church, where you have to have done or aided something “supernatural”.) In Gethsemane, Jesus was just confronting the “paper tigers”. He was sure of what He had and wanted to do. We all have to. The fearful paper tigers seek to deter us all the time.

There are consequences to deciding. There always have been. Take, for example, Dr. Tiller. Or MLK. There are always those wackos – especially in America which intrinsically because of our warped religious context breeds wackos – who will be trying to shoot you, aided by the insane American policy of perverting the “right to bear arms” amendment so guns are available aplenty. Along with a military that will beat the shit out of you, just like other countries we hypocritically condemn for being “totalitarian”.

Christians are called to decide to love. And there are a fair number of us.

The World has about hit bottom in terms of human ugliness. Isn’t it time?


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thou hidden Love of God, whose height,

Whose depth unfathomed no one knows,

I see from far Thy beauteous light,

And inly sigh for Thy repose;

My heart is pained, nor can it be

At rest, till it finds rest in Thee.

Each moment draw from earth away

My heart that lowly waits Thy call;

Speak to my inmost soul and say,

“I am thy love, thy God, thy all!”

To feel Thy power, to hear Thy voice,

To taste Thy love, be all my choice.

- from the hymn “Thou Hidden Love of God”,
translated by John Wesley, Anglican priest,
born on this date, 1703

Wesley is one of the most prolific hymnologists found in the Episcopal Hymnal, and I am sure in the hymnals of most English and American Christian churches.

He touches so many very pertinent points about the God(s)/Goddesses that we, along with every human community, have conjured up in our imagination to comfort (at least) or inspire(at best) our striving to be as beautifully human as we can be. No matter how unconditionally loving we imagine God to be, God is of a “depth unfathomed”. No matter what we can think of, more is “hidden”. When we are in the deepest depths of suffering or pain or depression, we sense that we can find “rest in Thee”.

Every human life is destined for unfathomable beauty. We all sense that in our hearts. We picture it as “heaven” – a sense that we are being drawn “from earth away”. But our destiny is not in another realm. It is HERE! Once we understand that “the kingdom is God is within”, once we “feel Thy power, hear Thy voice, taste Thy love”, we know who we are. Then we really begin to live this amazing Life we have been given.

There is an old English hymn which contains the line, “and was Jerusalem builded here / among those dark satanic mills”. The answer is Yes, metaphorically. Earth is Heaven, when we know, really know, that We are God and God is Us.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another fine mess you're gotten me into.

- Stan Laurel, comedian, of “Laurel & Hardy”,
born on this date, 1890

Back to my teenage years! I absolutely hated Jerry Lewis, and the Keystone Cops, and lots of other early TV. But for some reason I absolutely loved Laurel & Hardy. I’ve been thinking about it all day – and I have really no idea why. Well, maybe I do. (Sorry that anyone not of my generation probably has no idea what I’m talking about!)

I loved “I Love Lucy” too ………. but for different reasons. What I liked about Laurel & Hardy, even as a young person, was Oliver Hardy’s pompousness which would suddenly morph into understanding and kindness, and Stan Laurel’s vulnerability, which brought out the best in his friend. And now I realize that I saw aspects of my own complex personality in each of them. It is not surprising that even today I can be pompous and insensitive, and vulnerable and hurt at the same time. Such is the human personality. I’ll bet that every one of you can “relate”.

But you know, as I think about it, this quote is attributed to Stan Laurel, but I think it was Oliver Hardy that said those words? Wikipedia seems to agree with me. Do any of you remember? Hardy was the one who always thought that it was Laurel’s action that got him into a “pickle”. Later, he would have to “eat crow”.

Well: we are often blaming others for getting us into “fine messes”. Which causes untold friction between friends, family, etc. My experience is that 99% of the messes we get into are nobody’s fault but our own. Why do we always want to blame someone else? I think it’s because we have been wrongly taught. We have been taught that we can be “free of blame” is we can shift the responsibility to someone else. The truth is, Freedom comes from being willing to acknowledge our own failures at living up to be being a spark of the Divine. The exhilarating Freedom comes from admitting it ….. even appreciating it!. Reveling in Humility, i.e., the Truth.

Let make today a festival: a Festival of Liberating Self-Knowledge. Just THINK about the weight that will be lifted from our shoulders by being able to laugh at our human silliness! A World full of instant Truth, Laughter and Forgiveness sounds wonderful!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, June 15, 2009

"Full of cow-pats."

- Edvard Grieg, commenting on the music he wrote for
Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” [ “In the Hall of the Mountain King” ];
Grieg was born on this date, 1843 [he hated the music!]

Well. Life is like that. Full of great piles of ….. dung (since I probably shouldn’t say shit) – and many of them of our own making!

One of the great Christian (and other faith’s) “tools” of living is Repentance, and its corollary, Acceptance of Forgiveness. Come on - everybody’s Life is dotted with Cow Pats! They happen a lot. (Have you heard Grieg’s music; it’s iconic now – and it is full of musical Cow Pats!! Really!) We give them too much power.

A priest friend of mine once said this about Repentance: “It’s a quick bow of acknowledgment, a low sweep to the ground, and then we forge on.” I agree.

Yes, we need to “know” ourselves. To be honest, ruthlessly so. But I think that “God” wants us to survey the field, make what amends we can, and move on. Life has too many acts of love and kindness to do to be held back by the messes we have made.

Are you wallowing in Cow Pats that should long ago have been buried? Think about it today. Bury them. Forge ahead with all the Love you can muster.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Sunday, June 14, 2009
[ 2nd Sunday after Pentecost ]

Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. ….. He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

- from Mark 4, for Pentecost II, Year B

No one religion will produce the results that these two little parables of Jesus yearn for.

What is the “seed” that is to be scattered? I would say, it is the recognition of the sacred quality and nature of ALL Life, people, rocks, plants, all things. What is the “earth” on which this seed must be scattered? I would say, human hearts which have been stunned by the fragile beauty of What Exists, from which pours a cascade of Awe, Compassion and Empathy.

I believe that this is what Jesus – and His God – want. Not religions. Not “churches”. Not Ulema. Not anything - unless it leads to human beings shocked by an intimation of holiness which shatters the Ego and opens the floodgates of Love for things seen and unseen.

You may have a specific path – and there are very very many. At the heart of each is the mustard seed of Wonder at the beauty of Life. Together they can grow a place where all can live in Peace, in Justice, in profound respect for everything that exists.

I believe the new age has come. Time for us all to nurture the mustard seed.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, June 12, 2009

We have used the Bible as if it were a mere
special constable's handbook, an opium dose
for keeping beasts of burden patient while
they are overloaded.

- Charles Kingsley, English Anglican priest, teacher, writer,
born on this date, 1819

What is the point that I want to make here? Do you recall the term “whited sepulchures”? Jesus used it of the Pharisees. And of course, I am thinking about all the various dimensions of what I would call “Puritan” religion – cautioning that the adjective does not just apply to Protestant religion. The Roman Catholic Church falls into the category, in spades – as well as many other right-wing falsely-Christian manifestation.

I long ago rejected any version of Christianity which smacked of “an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they are overloaded”. There is, in my view, only one reason for embracing any religious tradition, especially any version of the Gospel of the Christ: – that it unburden people, that it awaken people to the glorious possibilities of being human, that it aid one to reject any oppression of the human spirit to rise to the majesty and Freedom of Love.

For me, the bottom line is this: there are (a) people who use the Bible to control and dominate people and entrench old beliefs, and (b) people who use the Bible to free and support people and lead them to the embracing of ever-revealed new learnings of the glorious blossoming of new Life and Truth.

You know where I stand.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, June 11, 2009

When we are under stress, awareness of Tao is impossible … If we are fighting …..  in the office, or fighting in your home, or fighting in your mind, there is no such thing as being with Tao. If you are involved in this type of life, then you must content yourself to face your problems bravely - until you can do nothing other than renounce it. Every moment that you are with your problems, you are not with Tao. The best you can do is to remember that our stress is not absolute reality.

- Deng Ming-Dao (Taoist)

If I were trying to help “Westerners” to understand Tao, I would say that Tao is somewhat of an equivalent to “being in synch with the Flow of Life”. Or, to put it in a Christian context, I would say that it is “having one’s will in synch with “Gods will”. The Tao is like walking the Path of the Prince of Peace. Remember of course: there are many who claim to “know” what “God’s will” IS. To that I would say remember the words of Jesus. “No one knows the Father except the One who has come from Him”. In other words (I’m talking to myself too), don’t get cocky in this business of interpreting “God”.

Having said that, I shall proceed arrogantly to do just that, following in the way of many Christian mystics. Following the Tao, and following the Gospel, tells us that we cannot live in conflict at the same time. Oh God help me! I live in a LOT of conflict with what is going on in the World today – including the interpretation of Christianity, and especially the horrible strains of it in America. I’m working on it – but it ain’t easy! In my heart, I know that I need to renounce inner fighting and conflict.

Can I possibly believe that hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, tribalism, xenophobia, greed, militarism, and a bunch of other nasty stuff is not “absolute reality”? More to the point, am I able to accept that most of these issues will never be solved in human life? Can I just get on with renouncing everything that wraps my Life in stress, and live my hopes and longings with integrity at least as my own puny Life is concerned?

Would this be like “being crucified with Christ”?? Letting the God of Unconditional Love and utter Compassion flow through every cell of my Being?

Yep. So now we know why Christianity is such an enormous surrender. What would my Life be like if I, or you, could manage it? Think about it. As Gandhi said once of Christianity, “It is a great idea; I hope someone tries it sometime”. Well, let’s just begin with trying not to live with our problems! And see what happens.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Heaven cannot brook two suns, nor earth two masters.

- Alexander the Great, who died on this date, 323BCE, in Babylon
[ the date is slightly dicey, given the shiftiness of calendars ]

Jesus is reported to have said, “No one can serve two masters.” To my mind, included in that is Religion.

Jesus, at least according to the Gospel called John, deeply yearned and prayed for Unity of the human community with "God" and with each other. I have never believed that He meant that all should be “Christians” – this was the later interpretation of His followers as they unfortunately slipped into exclusivity as a way of attempting to scare people into adherence. Further, I have never believed that Jesus intended to “found” another religion; only to bring the Jewish people into a more profound understanding of the nature of their God and of God’s “will”.

The human community will never be “one” if that means that we will all eventually follow one faith or philosophical path. The Gospel proposes that Love is the only path that will unite all peoples – with Love’s handmaidens of Justice, Respect, Kindness, Dignity, Peace. And when we speak of “Love”, we are not speaking of feelings or emotions. We are speaking of an act of the will, a solemn commitment to choose Love, based on all that all human beings have discovered about the nature of Love over the millennia, as the basis for our interactions on all levels.

For the human community to live together in a deep honouring and nurturing of Life, there must be only one “master”. Not a “master” that has imposed itself. But a “master” whose ability to bring Freedom and Peace and Trust and Compassion we have experienced. If there is any task, then, to which all human beings are called, it is to Know Love. On that Knowing depends our survival, and our ability to taste the Joy of Life and to sustain it for each other.

I hope for a World in which every encounter is of the discernment of Love. A world in which every Faith and philosophy calls us to this encounter. Only this will heal the brokenness that so wounds us.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to
a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows - and china.

Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing
of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.

- Charles Dickens, born on this date, 1870

Do you think it is possible to resurrect Dickens, so that he could be my mentor, my tutor?? Do the rest of you know that we have Happy Cows in California?? We have terrifically Happy Cows! They are on TV every day! Though, as the T-shirt says (and I have one), “Happy Cows, Angry homos”. Yeah, well. I am able to grasp the fact that there is a certain irony in – of all places – California not letting Gayfolk marry. My hope is that, as my Christian ministry, I can talk the CA Happy Cows into changing places with the CA Angry Homos. California will I think be a lot better state with a bunch of Happy Homos (male and female, of course, lest any should think that I am politically incorrect). I suggest that we Californians take to carrying apples or bunches of grass with us when we travel; it will help to calm down those poor Angry Cows.

For a little bit, I did live in a Swiss chalet surrounded by cows – and they were lovely. I know why Dickens had a passion for them. Mine had lovely bells, and they would wake me up in the morning as they swung their heads wrapping their tongues around luscious grass. I am told by Dennis, who was raised on a farm in Wisconsin, that cows can be nasty – but I never saw that in Switzerland. They would all turn to face me in the morning sun as I brought my coffee onto the verandah (“gallery”, we used to call it in Verdun where I was born) – those lovely soft eyes granting a kind of charming condescension to the human disturbing their morning meditation.

The World is very much a place of “sinking flame of hilarity” these days. Daily horror really. What a sad time the human community is in! I rather think it is going to last for a long time. Meanwhile, I am counting on the “wing of friendship” and the “rosy wine”. And on/in the very best “God” we can imagine. The Bible is full of contradictory pictures of “God”. But in my Christian journey I have caught a glimpse of the real God – for which I thank Jesus.

So, this somewhat Angry Homo has found a certain helpful metaphor in California’s Happy Cows. They call me to seek Peace – and Dennis and I are working at surrounding ourselves with the prerequisite china, Limoges of course, or at least the best of 19th C German.

Pass the rosy wine.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Monday, June 8, 2009

However one might pray - in any verbal way or completely without
words – is unimportant to God. What matters is the heart's intent.

- Malcolm Boyd, Episcopal priest, author, born on this day, 1923

Last Tuesday, Dennis and I drove to Pasadena to attend a luncheon hosted by the bishop of Los Angeles and his wife for retired clergy. And there was Malcolm Boyd, looking good at almost age 86! It was good to see him. I met him first in LA in 1976, when he was 53 and I was 30. Last Tuesday, he still had the same engaging smile and the same intense attention to others.

I believe he is right about prayer. He once said, “By my definition, prayer is consciously hanging out with God. Being with God in a deliberate way.” There is no skill necessary to pray. You don’t have to know anything, or have any skill, to pray. You just quietly open the heart to God. And listen. And I think Malcolm is right when he says that what matters “is the heart’s intent”. Oh, I do think that prayer can surprise you! But what we “hear” will be, I think, powerfully shaped by what we experience in Life, and what we are taught. That’s why the context in which we are nurtured is so important. And why the quality of “church” is critical. If “church” fails in living out the authentic Gospel life (or temple, or mosque, etc), our prayer will not hear the voice of God’s Love.

How are you nurturing yourself? In a context of hate and prejudice and stagnant thinking, often fueled by literalist thinking? Many today do. Or in a context of Compassion and openness to new evolving truths?

What is shaping your heart’s intent? The quality of your life, and of the human community, depends on it.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Friday, June 5, 2009

America's corporate and political elites now form a regime of
their own and they're privatizing democracy. All the benefits –
the tax cuts, policies and rewards flow in one direction: up.

For the first time in our history, ideology and theology
hold a monopoly of power in Washington.

Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of.

War, except in self-defense, is a failure of moral imagination.

- Bill Moyers, born on this date, 1934

We often hear talk about heroes in American culture. And often, without reflection, soldiers are identified as heroes. I reject this, as I think every follower of Jesus should. I am utterly convinced that the God of Love does not condone war in any fashion, nor the lifestyle of war or militarism. The God of 2000 years ago, as depicted in the Hebrew scriptures, was barely emerging out of the culture of warfare. But the God of Jesus, still 2000 years ago, transcended that image ………. and you would think that we would have gotten that message 2000 years later. There is no way that, since perhaps WWII, I can possible think of any war as in any way defensible – though theologically war is never defensible.

Bill Moyers is one of my heroes. His quotes reflect the policy of Republicans, with which we have been plagued for the last 8 years under George Bush and Dick Cheney and their minions. We have lived under tyrants for many years now. Now, you may think that I am being political. Not so. I am being theological. It is clear that Jesus was concerned not for the “up” but for the “down”. The “down” spiritually (which is all of us), and also for the “down” politically and culturally. Jesus spoke out against those who coddled power and who crushed the marginalized. He criticized the political elite who imposed their ideology (the Romans) and those who lorded their theology (the Israelite elite). Were He on the Earth today, I know without a shadow of a doubt that he would denounce Republican policy and their “in bedness” with Christian fundamentalists, and present-day Republicans for their utter hypocrisy as He did the Pharisees. And, of course, any Democrat who embraced such policies.

Jesus said often that it would be very hard to follow Him. His ethic, His justice, is highly demanding. He said that any who chose to follow Him would be persecuted. It has proven true. It will probably always be so, I am afraid, human beings being what we are.

I am not saying that the present administration is by any means perfect. Having voted for Mr. Obama, there are many things about which I disagree at the moment. Alas, politics demands strange bedfellows.

The path of a follower of Jesus, to my mind, is clear: be on the side of the marginalized, and be a Peacemaker.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down
for many generations. Do not believe in anything because it is
spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply
because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe
in anything simply on the authority of your teachers and elders.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything
agrees with reason, and is conducive to the good and benefit of
one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

- The Buddha

I’ve commented on this before. But I love it. It is so “right on the money”. What I really like about it is, it presupposes that each one of us will take responsibility for our lives, will test out things for ourselves, will test out everything we observe with careful analysis, will ask if it makes sense, and consider carefully if believing or acting on something will enhance the common good and benefit of the human community, not just a limited portion of it. No person will be able to abdicate responsibility for their Life, or for others’ lives.

What some people consider to be “God’s Voice” in the Bible or other “Scriptures” is not, I say from long experience, the voice of God. It is the human voice of those who put ancient tradition into writing – and were lucky enough to “get into print”. As we know, the victors write “history”. The worst atrocities of hate and prejudice and contempt against fellow human beings have been committed by those who irresponsibly embrace the traditions, the rumours, the religious books, the authority of “teachers”, without engaging with the lives of others and without personal “observation and analysis”. It is such people who kill people like Dr. Tiller in his church.

I’ll tell you why I chose to be an Episcopalian. Because I was expected to examine everything, test it with my Life and against the qualitative touchstone of the love of Jesus – a love willing to die for the life-giving privilege of loving others as the ultimate expression of “saving” one’s own Life. I was expected to be responsible for myself, not to transfer blame for hate or indifference onto God or any other person.

We have too many of the latter in the World today – and many of them profess to be “good” Christians or Jews or Muslims or whatever. Time for a change. Time to claim responsibility. Time to live our own examined Lives instead of parroting the mistakes or the twisted perversions of others.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dying is the most embarrassing thing that can ever happen
to you, because someone's got to take care of all your details.

- Andy Warhol, who was shot and critically wounded on this
date, 1968, by actress Valerie Solanas

Not I.

In an antique wooden chest on my bureau is an envelope. In it are (a) my funeral wishes (b) a list of the people to be contacted upon my death (c) the Service Leaflet for my Memorial Service (d) the sermon I have written for my obsequies. (I once, at a clergy gathering, said that I had written my own sermon for my Memorial Service; the bishop said “Not a controlling bone in his body!”

Attached to this envelope is another. It contains my Will. I believe in being tidy. And I will not be embarrassed at all. All my “details” are taken care of. Dennis just has to “follow instructions”. (He will take my ashes to Tuscany to be scattered there.)

We plan everything else (except our birth). Birthdays, marriages, holidays, etc. I am absolutely in favour of serendipity in Life. There should always be room for surprise and for the unexpected. But I have always thought that Death in particular should be planned for. It is rude not to do so! An unfair imposition on others. Death is an important transition point in Life, and it shouldn’t be left to others who may be in a fragile state of mind.

The whole point, of course, is to “free yourself up”. Preparing for your funeral makes you think about dying, about mortality, about your fears, your priorities, your values. The sooner those things are dealt with, the more you can throw yourself into Life, make the most of every day. This is what I think God intended. Jesus taught not to fear Death; Life is the primary focus.

So, I have the important stuff done. However, I recommend leaving a few intriguing things about when you go ….. a few mysterious emails, a couple of unidentified photos of naked men/women, that sort of thing. It’s good to give people a chance to think you were a Mystery!


Monday, June 1, 2009

Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, June 2, 2009

As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed
the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in
accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the
people among whom you work, caring alike for young and
old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to
declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce
God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy
Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s
Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations
entrusted to you. In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s
people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify
God in this life and in the life to come.

- The Book of Common Prayer, rite of ordination of a priest

Today, thirty-six years ago, in the exquisitely beautiful chapel of St. Augustine, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park NY, Bp. Hugh Stiff, then Bishop Visitor of the Order, addressed those words to me, laid his hands on my head and invoked the Spirit, ordaining me a priest. It was a beautiful day, filled with many family and friends, good food and wine. And it’s been an interesting Journey these past thirty-six years.

I’ve been far from perfect. I think I have been best at painting a picture of a Diety Who truly is Love, working hard to eliminate all of the nonsense that people have tried to make “God” into – even the Scriptures! And on the whole, it has been fun to preach – I’ve never used the same sermon twice in all those years. “God” wants all of us to be fully human, and to have full abundant Life (i.e., “eternal”), and I have often exaggerated my words to get people to see the Wonder of this. To encourage people to accept the freedom offered. I hope that I have held up a consistent, radical icon of the God of Love – and that at least some have been nourished and strengthened. I understand that no one can say that they “have” the whole Truth about God – but paradoxically (and with a little tongue in cheek) I also believe that I got it right.

The best has been to hand people a small bit of bread and wine, invite them to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, and tell them that they are infused with Divinity, one with “God”, Love, the Universe.

So, thanks to all the many people over these thirty-six years who have, representing down the years those at my ordination who said they would, “supported me in this ministry”. There were some wonderful times, and a few hard knocks a few of which were very helpful. I have always had a love/hate relationship with “the Church”. Never with the God who was clear in my mind as to Her nature. In a very broad and full way, the “God” I serve as a priest allows me to be content with how I have spent my Life. And to be deeply grateful for all the wonderful people who became part of my Journey.