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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Arc

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward Justice."
~ Theodore Parker then Martin Luther King, Jr.


A friend recently commented on how so many people in his circles were referring to the "long arc of 'this'" or "long arc of 'that'" or "long arc of ...(insert history, universe, time, space, or whatever)."   Perhaps it's been since we celebrated MLK Day or because we observed the 50th Anniversary of the Pettus Bridge march in Selma.  For whatever reason, it seems to be one of those phrases that often "catches on" in the lingo de jour, and people use it, quite often out of context and for their own purposes.

My friend's comments got me to thinking about another kind of arc, the kind when electrical current literally jumps through air from one conductor to another producing a flash or bolt of light. This in turn brought me around to the carbon arc light in which electrical current is run through two carbon rods that are slightly separated but not enough to break the circuit. The ensuing combination of heat and carbon gases creates a brilliant white light that is sustained by keeping the carbon rods trimmed. Most people have experience this kind of light from large search lights like the ones in lighthouses, movie theater projectors, and the "Supertrooper" spotlights at concerts.  Carbon arc light or some variation of it, has it own "long arc," and has provided light in different forms for many years.

Now back to the "moral universe."  Its arc may be long and bending, but sometimes when conditions are right and the moral air is charged with passion, persistence, and courage there are brilliant flashes of justice.  Such was the case with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.  The same can be said of other social, moral, political, or religious leaps of justice after which the world is never the same and the long arc bends a little more toward justice.

In my corner of the religious world, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), such a brilliant arc occurred last night as the denomination ratified an amendment to our constitution upholding marriage equality. Surely there has been a long arc, over thirty years of sermons, overtures, debates, votes, anger, fear, and separation,  But that arc has been bending toward justice and yesterday the rods of justice came close enough to ignite a brilliant flash of hope.  The challenge now, as in every moral movement, is to keep the rods of justice and hope trimmed so the light shines on.

     

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bursting the Bubble

"God saw everything that God had made and indeed it was very good."
~ Genesis 1

A minister colleague and fellow blogger has a couple of recent pieces about the value of secular magazines to religious communities, and Christianity in particular.  She says it is important for religious folks to "get out of the Church bubble" occasionally to see and hear what the rest of the world is doing.  I totally agree!  

However I do have one question - what is "secular?"   Let's say you do read an article in "Fast Company" or "Scientific American" or even "People" and that article speaks to, informs, and nurtures your faith.  Is that article now "religious?"

Speaking from my own experiences, I must confess that some of the most profoundly spiritual moments in my life were not "in Church" or from a "faith community," but rather in theaters, movies, novels and the like.  And I'm not talking about simply informing my faith.  These were bonafide encounters with the Divine, the Holy.

Religion, and I speak especially from my Judeao/Christian perspective, has always emerged from human experience and cultures, been developed by those cultures, and evolved by assimilating the culture around it.   Even our holy scriptures are the result of these evolutionary processes of assimilating the once profane and morphing into something new and different.  The Bible is filled with stories of God working with outsiders and aliens in order to re-form the insiders.

Also in my particular brand of Reformed Christianity we have this essential assumption of God called sovereignty which by its very nature is an all or nothing category.  How can God be sovereign if there is a "secular" in which God is not present?

The "Church bubble" of which my colleague speaks as well as all of the bubbles of separation and compartmentalization in our lives are our own choosing and inflating.  So perhaps it's time, as she also suggests, to choose differently.   I would say not simply get out of our bubbles but to expand them to include more and more until they finally burst and everything is Holy - the way it was in the beginning, is now, and always will be.      


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Attitude of Gratitude

"...at all times...in all things give thanks..."
~ The Apostle Paul


"It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up."
~ Eckhart Tolle

In this early morning moment I am grateful for -

  • my lovely wife - lifelong love, companion, and friend     
  • a loving family
  • a good night's sleep in a warm house
  • a hot cup of coffee
  • a faithful dog
  • good health
  • a christimas cactus with one lingering bloom
  • artistic expression in paintings
  • memories in photographs
  • a computer
  • the internet
  • a vocation that is also my daily work
  • time to reflect on gratitude and share it with you
  • and so much more...
That's my list.  What is yours?

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing right now, take a moment to look around.  Then, either mentally or physically, make a short "I am grateful for..." list, and spend a few minutes reflecting on it. Now take a long deep breath.  

Feel better now?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Good Old Days

We can't return we can only look / Behind from where we came 
~ Joni Mitchell,  The Circle Game

The past is not dead. It's not even past.
~ William Faulkner


What is so alluring about the past?  Ask anyone, better yet ask yourself what have you been thinking about lately and more than likely the reply will be something about the past.  The question itself is even oriented toward the past. My guess is that even putting the question as "what are you thinking now" would not change the response very much.  

There is something comfortable about the past, regardless of whether our memory of it is good or bad. Perhaps because it is so familiar, or maybe because we can make it what we want it to be by re-framing our thoughts about it.  We can take an unpleasant event and turn it positive, or a tragic event and make ourselves the victim or the hero. Or we can turn a rather benign event in to a tragedy. The reality is most of the stuff we remember probably never actually happened the way we remember it anyway.  The past literally is all in our minds, and sometimes all that is in our minds.  Most of the time the "good old days" are not nearly as good as we remember them to be. Our memories are but persistent illusions.

What would happen and how would our lives change if we shifted our persistent illusions of the past into persistent (or at least occasional) awareness of the present or persistent dreams of the future?  If it's all in our minds, then why not change what is in our minds?  Why not make the present and future what we want it to be?

Take the Bible for example.  Most of the stories in the Bible are forward looking dynamic stories.  They are stories of following visions and dreams, of experiencing liberation, of inhabiting new lands, of God's Presence (kingdom) among us here and now.  Oddly enough these same stories are filled with imperatives to "remember" them. The power of biblical memory is not to revel in or repeat the past, or worship past people and events, but rather to realize that the same visions and dreams, liberation, new lands, and Presence in these stories are ours as well - today and tomorrow. 

In the end, Faulkner and Mitchell are both correct. We can't escape the past, nor can we return to it.  However, we can in our minds create todays and tomorrows that when they are "old" really will be "good."  What we think really does matter!

...be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
~ The Apostle Paul, Romans 12:2