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A home for things I write

golden galleryMy first mystery novel, The Book of Answers, has made the short-list for The Unhanged Arthur Ellis, an award for unpublished crime fiction. The annual competition is sponsored by Dundurn Press and CrimeWriters of Canada. On May 23, at the banquet at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club, I will learn which of the five authors will take home the prize.

The fact that my manuscript has made it this far, and is even being considered for such an honour, has inspired me to improve my online presence. This site is a re-tooling of my old “Sharing Bread Along The Way” blog, along with old material from “The Fifth Page”, which is where I used to post what didn’t make it into my sermons, which are always just 4 pages.

I am a minister in The United Church of Canada, currently serving the congregation and wider community of Harrow, in beautiful Essex County, Ontario. In the words of Max Marshall, a singer-songwriter from Harrow, it’s a “bread-basket town” in “fruit-stand land”.

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“No matter where you go… there you are.”

I never asked her if it was part of a secret plan. On the late August afternoon I arrived to check out a home in the suburbs of Saskatoon where I might be able to board, during my first year of seminary.

Mrs. Poettker had been baking bread. I knocked on the front door. Three little blond-haired kids tumbled toward the screen door, pushed it open, surrounded me, and pulled me in the house.

The kids asked, “Do you like cats?” and “Do you know Joe, he lived here last year.”

“Are you really going to be a minister? Daddy says ministers are okay, but they never get their hands dirty?’

“Are your hands clean?”

“You’ll have to wash your hands, we’re going to have bread and jam.”

And we did. Mrs. Poettker shushed the kids, two little boys, and their slightly bossy big sister and sent them to wash their hands, and then sat me down at the kitchen table. She’d been slicing a loaf of home-made bread, and laying out plates, and little pots of jam, and butter.white bread

There is still almost nothing I like better, even at this stage of life where I am reminded to watch my intake of carbs. White bread, sliced thick, warm out of the oven, slathered with salted butter and jam, is one of my favourite things to eat. (I have a lot of favourites!)

That day there was home-made strawberry jam, and saskatoon jam. Not blueberry. Hand-picked saskatoons from the family farm. I knew I was going to say yes to boarding there, if they’d have me, even before I saw my room in the basement.saskatoon berries

That was a decision made with strong input from my stomach. In this case, it was a great decision, one that I never had a reason to regret. The welcome from the kids, as well as the smell, and the taste of bread fresh out of the oven had told me all I needed to know.

Gluttony is defined simply as over-indulgence, usually of food. It is thought to be particularly sinful if my excessive desire for food causes others to go hungry. That is something our whole culture needs to examine. How much food goes to waste in our part of the world, while many go hungry? How often do we eat more than we actually need? Do we consider the needs of others, and the impact on our world, economically, ecologically, of the food we consume, and often over-consume?

st-gregory-the-greatGregory the Great, who was the Pope for 14 years beginning in the year 590, prepared a list of particular aspects of gluttony. He included eating ahead of meal-time, just for the taste, and seeking delicacies and a better quality of food, again, just for the taste. He pointed to seeking to stimulate the palate with elaborately prepared foods with luxurious sauces and seasonings. Not surprisingly, he also listed eating more than we need. More intriguing was the inclusion of a warning against eating with too much eagerness, even if the food is plain and simple, because it might indicate an attachment to the pleasure of eating, rather than to the necessary nourishment.

I can only guess what Pope Gregory would have thought of Mrs. Poettker’s bread, butter and jam.

Gluttony is on the list of the “Seven Deadly Sins”, part of the heritage of Classical Christianity.

The others are Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Sloth, and Wrath.

Each of these can be considered as a distortion, or disorientation of love.

We can each do our own moral inventory to note whether we have been prideful or envious or greedy, lustful, lazy, angry, or gluttonous. But then what? Where do go from there?

The list of sins emerged from a group of teachers, who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries after the earthly life of Jesus- so fairly early in the history of the Christian movement. These teachers were amongst the first Christian monks, men and women of prayer who went out into the wilderness, a desert in Egypt, where they lived in solitude. They were ascetics, which meant they worked to strip away all the excesses and extras of life, to devote themselves to prayer, studying scripture, and growing closer to God.

Not long after these hermits, both men and women, established themselves in the desert, other spiritual pilgrims began to travel out to see them, seeking instruction on how to live the spiritual life.

Those who came out to the desert to simplify their lives, found pretty quickly, that they could leave behind the externals, the things around them- they could trade their homes and possessions and familiar surroundings, for a mat on the hard floor of a cave, or simple monk’s cell, but their insides- their thoughts and feelings and way of seeing the world, and interacting with it had remained. They were the same people, just in a different place.

Once the novelty of the new place wore off, they would find themselves alone in the cave, with themselves.Buckaroo 1

As the title character Buckaroo Banzai said, in a very obscure movie that I love, from 1984, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

The desert monks, with the wisdom that came from years of prayer and study and contemplation, realized that how we see the world, or basic attitude, or perspective, makes all the difference.

The desert mothers and fathers taught those who came to them for wisdom, to look within themselves, and pay attention to what they found, both the positive, and the negative. To know and love ourselves is to accept the parts we are proud of, and the parts we would rather not admit to having.

The 7 deadly sins, or inclinations, are tendencies we all have, that are worth watching for. If we notice that one or more of them is rising up within us, claiming our mood, our attention, we then have the opportunity to deal with it. Rather than saying to ourselves, oh, I should not be feeling this way, it’s a sin, perhaps we could ask ourselves, why do I feel this way?

If I recognize that I am envious of the success of another person, I can look at that. What does it mean? What’s underneath it? Do I wish I was as successful as my neighbour? Why? Is it because I require more money? Or do I wish to be noticed and praised? Why would I need that? Am I feeling insecure?

If I am gluttonous, always grasping for more food, what does that tell me, about myself?

The desert teachers would suggest that our gluttony may be a sign, a symptom telling us we need to learn, or re-learn to trust in the providence of God.

If we were out in the desert, in the 4th century, trying to deal with gluttony, one of the teachers might prescribe a period of fasting. This would be a time of interruption to our regular eating routine. We might live on bread and water, or just water, for a period of time.

Ancient Christianity built the idea of fasting into the calendar of the church year, with the 40 day period of Lent, before Easter. Sadly, the emphasis was put on the “giving up” part, and not so much on the re-boot, or re-orienting as the deeper purpose.

Have you ever undertaken a spiritual fast? For most people, after a day or two, the physical sensation of hunger subsides. They are freed up from thinking, or over-thinking about their next meal, about the taste of one special food or another, because they have committed to living for a time, without food. Unless a person has particular medical issues, the majority of us can actually go for weeks or days without eating.

For some people, the period of a fast provides a time to look more deeply into themselves, and maybe get a sense of what is the spiritual hole they were trying to fill with the second sandwich, or the taste of pudding.

At the end of fast, especially if it has been a few days, it may be very important to pay attention to what may be the first thing you eat, the breakfast, or break-fast food. It should be nutritious, but not overly rich and heavy.

The first taste, chew, swallow can be surprisingly pleasing, and cause a deep sense of gratitude to arise within, along with the heightened awareness of our deep dependence upon God for all that we really need to live. Amen

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Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places…

This past Sunday I had the privilege of teaching at Harrow Mennonite Church, during a joint worship service with Harrow United Church. It was part of a seven week series called “Snakes and Ladders” which invites us to take a close look at the “Seven Deadly Sins” of Classical Christianity, and seven corresponding Virtues.

I worked with a story from Ancient Israel, about the exploitation of a woman named Bathesheba, to talk about Lust.

King David was hungry, for something. Maybe he was bored. Maybe he was sad. Maybe he was lost, or lonely. He may not even have known what was really happening inside him. But he wanted… something. Maybe just an escape from feeling what he felt, whatever that was.

We all have times when we are uncomfortable in our own skin, and may feel tempted, to do something, even something ultimately cruel or unwise, if it will give us even temporary relief from the thing we don’t want to feel.

From the roof of his big house, David looked out over the capital city of the country he ruled, saw a beautiful woman bathing, and decided he wanted her. He called a servant, and ordered Bathsheba delivered to him, the way we might order a pizza, or shop online.

David must have had Ancient Israel’s version of Amazon Prime, because before we could say free shipping, his package had arrived. It is perfectly horrid to talk about a person, with her own life, in terms of goods bought and paid for, but that was the harsh truth of it.

David did not know this woman, whom he wanted to know, in a biblical sense. He could not have wanted Bathsheba in his life as a person, because he didn’t know her as a person. He had to ask his servants who she was. This was separate from relationship, separate from love, separate even from rational thought. What was this powerful urge, this itch that David was driven to scratch? Classical Christianity would call it lust.

Wikipedia says, “Lust is a psychological force producing intense wanting or longing for an object, or circumstance fulfilling the emotion. Lust can take any form such as the lust for sexuality, love, money or power.”

 This is not the same thing as romantic love, or sexual desire. This is a distortion, a selfish misdirection of the powerful energies at work inside of us.

For a lot of its history, Christianity has given sexuality a bad rap. We have failed to make the needed distinction between sexual feelings and desires, which are natural, human, God-given, and “Lust”, which can drive us towards acting out in inappropriate ways that cause harm to others.

Bathsheba was literally objectified. She was treated as an appliance, a device David used to satisfy his lust. He saw a “thing” he decided he wanted, he ordered it, and used it.

David did not consider Bathsheba’s feelings, or wants, or needs. He was all about himself. Those who treat others so poorly should be held accountable, no matter who they are, or how much power they wield. Too often, people we know and love, men and women, boys and girls are hurt. Used and tossed aside.

Tibetan Buddhists have an image they use in their teaching and meditation they call the Wheel of Life. They teach that existence is cyclic, it goes round and around, and there are layers, or realms. We work our way up a ladder of the realms, learning the lessons we need to learn, until we achieve enlightenment. We don’t have to take the image literally, to learn from it.

Two steps below the human realm, is the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. Hungry Ghosts are desperate, phantom-like creatures. They are shaped like big tear drops, with tiny heads, very thin necks, and huge bloated stomachs. They are described as having mouths the size of a needle’s eye and a stomach the size of a mountain. The tiny mouth and thin neck makes eating and drinking incredibly painful, but they have these huge bellies to fill, so they are always hungry.

hungry ghost edit

These creatures are metaphors for a miserable, grasping existence. Their insatiable hunger represents deep unmet needs, that can never be satisified, no matter how much food and drink is painfully forced down. There is something, or several somethings, these creatures needed in their life, and did not get, and they endlessly seek gratification to fill a hole left empty long ago. The huge bloated stomachs do not represent feeling comfortably full, but rather, achingly empty.

gabor-mate

I first heard about the Hungry Ghosts when I listened to an interview with Gabor Mate’, a physician in Vancouver. He works at a harm reduction facility and supervised safe-injection site for drug addicts. He wrote about addiction in his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. He says the metaphor “speaks to a part of us that we all have, where we want satisfaction from the outside, where we’re empty, where we want to be soothed by something in the short term, but we can never feel that or fulfill that insatiety from the outside. “

In the realm of hungry ghosts book coverMate’ went on to say “addicts are in that realm all the time. Most of us are in that realm some of the time.” He makes the challenging assertion that there’s no clear distinction between the identified addict and the rest of us. There’s just a continuum in which we all may be found. They’re on it, because they’ve suffered a lot more than most of us. “

Mate’ thinks the capacity for addiction is born when crucial emotional needs are not met. The drug addict that seems to chase high after high is also seeking relief from inner pain. He looked at the stories of his patients, and noted the conditions of poverty, of physical and sexual abuse, and of emotional deprivation that made up their backgrounds.

Mate’ looks unflinchingly at his own addictions, to work, and success, and to shopping. He says that “Addiction is a poor substitution for love.” Mate’ grew up in Holocaust-era Budapest, and most of his family died in Nazi work camps. His mother survived to raise him, but they were physically starving, and in life-threatening situations until they escaped and emigrated to Canada. His mother suffered, understandably with depression, and was incapable of meeting his basic needs for love, and approval, and security.

As a physician, Mate’ says the parts of the brain circuitry involved with addiction respond to endorphins, the “brain’s feel good, reward, pleasure and pain relief chemicals. They also happen to be the love chemicals that connect us to the universe and to one another.”

 I find it fascinating, that researchers have identified the brain chemistry at work when we feel love, and one-ness with the created universe. People become addicted to drugs like caffeine and heroin and alcohol and nicotine, and activities like acting out sexually, or gambling, or shopping, or taking part in extreme sports. These all produce dopamine in the brain, which in turn creates pleasure feelings that are a poor substitute for what we really need- which is love.

An overall theme for our summer services is that the “Vices” represent a distortion or disorientation of love. It makes me think of the old country song about looking for love in all the wrong places.  https://vimeo.com/42747574

The corresponding “Virtue” offered this week is “Chastity”, or “Self-Control”. Chastity does not mean an absence of desire, or denying the part of ourselves that has longings. It means taking a breath, pausing long enough to ask ourselves, seriously, deeply, what are we really looking for, and is this the right place to look, the right way towards what we actually need.

The lust that many of us try to satisfy with the wrong things, is actually a spiritual hunger. It is our deep human need to experience love, and to truly be connected to a reality beyond ourselves, and beyond our own selfish desires. What we really need, even if we do not always remember it, is to be connected to God.

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Blessing the Fleet

On Saturday, at the request of a past commodore of Kingsville’s Cedar Island Yacht Club, I took part in their annual Sail Past and Blessing of the Fleet.

The last time I went sailing, it was to watch the Canada Day fireworks at Bronte Harbour in Oakville. The captain who hosted us had to have his boat towed back to the dock at the end of the night, because his motor failed. That event was more humorous than dangerous (although Captain John wasn’t laughing!) but it did give us a taste of the vulnerability inherent any time we venture out on open water.

There is a famous vbreton fisherman's prayer plaqueerse, known as the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer:

Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.

This little prayer was engraved on a brass plaque presented to President John F. Kennedy by US Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover. The admiral made it a practice to give the same gift to all new commanders of Polaris submarines.

Even the largest vessel can feel not quite enough, in a storm, or when any of the many things that can go wrong, do.

When we go out on the water there are opportunities to glory in creation, to witness sights and sounds, and smells, and sensations in real life, in real time. This is iedit of Darrow blessing the fleetncredibly important, in our age of electronic screens that provide, and mediate so much of our daily experience of the world.

The tradition of blessing the fleet is traced back to European fishing villages, in which the local priest would lead ritual prayers in a communal effort to ensure a bountiful season, safety for those who braved the waters, and peace of mind for those waiting at home. These prayers would have notes of gratitude and awe for the power of God and the beauty of the created world, as well as a chilling acknowledgment of the precariousness of life.

Awareness of both the sweetness, and possible shortness of our lives is at the heart of most prayers, I think. We stand in awe, and we stand with trepidation. Look what there is! Look what could happen!

The sailors I met on Saturday do not depend on their boats, or their time on the water to make a living. They do not brave dangerous wind and waves to catch fish, or transport cargo. They do not pilot ferry boats or operate patrol or rescue vessels. Even so, I have the sense their sailing adds much to their lives, and helps them stay in touch with the beauty, and the precious fragility of life itself.

After the formal ceremony, I was asked by members of the club to bless their boats individually. This is the prayer I used:

God of Creation, God of Love, God of Wind and Waters, bless this boat. Guide the captain at her helm. Watch over all passengers and crew and bring them to a safe return. We pray with gratitude and trust. Amen

At more than one of these moments of blessing, I could see this simple action of asking God to be with them, was important and meaningful to those with whom I stood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Holy Whispers

Thirty years ago, I was a student minister, in rural Manitoba. One cold January night, around 9 pm, I was home alone in the manse, the minister’s house beside the church. I had been out earlier for a supper visit, that turned into staying for cards, and a second dessert. As a young, single minister in farm country, I rarely ate at home. The good part about that was I ate well. The challenging part was it meant I spent a lot of time with people. For an introvert like me, it could leave me weary at the end of the day, and ready to just be in my own space.

And that was my plan for the rest of that chilly winter evening, except that I got this odd urge to go out again into the cold without actually knowing where. I started up my little silver-grey Chevy Chevette, backed it out of the garage, to let it warm up (It was about 25 below that night, and then I headed out.

The village I lived in was very small, more like a place where two country roads crossed near a grain elevator. There were maybe 60 houses, one church, and a post office. It was only a short drive up the main street before it met the provincial highway.

By the time I reached the stop sign, I knew I should turn left. That took me south on highway 59, but I did not stay on the highway long. I turned right on the road towards the ski hill, which led up into rolling hills along the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. You could stand at the top of the highest of those hills and be in two provinces at once.

fal2007_barnyard_at_nightMy little Chevy Chevette seemed to know where it was supposed to go. I slowed and turned right, and up the long driveway to Eric’s house. He was a man in his forties who was very involved in the church. His lights were on, so I was hopeful it wasn’t too late to drop in.

At harvest time a late night visit would have made more sense, because the odds would be good that Eric would have just been getting in from driving combine. But in the middle of the winter this was all very unusual.

Eric saw me coming up his drive, and light spilled out as he opened his mudroom door. I’d learned while living in Manitoba farm country that the mudroom is the way you enter if you’re not company. Company would use the front porch door. The mudroom is where you knock the mud or snow off your boots, hang up your outer wear, and come in the back of the house to the kitchen.

Eric welcomed me, and had me sit at the table while he put on the kettle for tea. Seriously, two guys sitting down in a farmhouse kitchen to chat over tea! He ran water into the kettle, but before he could plug it in, the phone on the kitchen wall rang. This was when people still had those phones on the wall, with the long receiver cord that allowed you to walk around the whole kitchen. But Eric did not move. He recognized the voice on the other end, said hello, and then just held the receiver against his head, and stood, mouth open.

When I saw his face, I knew why I was at there, at his house, why I had left my house so late at night, in the January cold, to show up unannounced at Eric’s door. There had been a tragic, unexpected death in his family, just around the time I climbed into my car. His brother-in-law was making the calls to let all the family know.

I sat with Eric for a few minutes, and went with him to the next farm over, where his mom and dad had also had their phone call. Eric’s older sister had died. The family, from different parts of the province, would all be coming home.

Have you ever been surprised by the urge to do something out of the ordinary? Some might call it a whisper from God. If you have had such a moment, did you follow the urge, and do the strange thing?

If we are open to being led by God’s spirit, then God’s spirit will lead us. I told you my dramatic example, because I will never forget that night. But little nudges, and good ideas, intuitions, and inspirations happen all the time.

 

 

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A Night at Hogwarts: The Arthur Ellis Awards Gala

arts and letters societyThe dining room at St. George’s Hall, home since 1908 to Toronto’s Arts and Letters Society, has an ancient grandeur to it. Dark paneled walls, heavy wooden furniture, and leaded glass windows set high above us. It would make a great setting for an Agatha Christie novel, or a Sherlock Holmes story.

My wife Lexie (the one in the bottom corner of the photo, with the beautiful smile) joined me for the Crime Writers of Canada gala banquet, at which the winners of the 2019 Arthur Ellis Awards were anno20190523_192551unced. I was one of five authors whose unpublished crime novels made the short list for an award sponsored by Dundurn Press. The nominations in our category included:

cropped-finalist-sticker-a-1.pngJim Bottomley, Hypnotizing Lions
Don Macdonald, Omand’s Creek
Liv McFarlane, The Scarlet Cross
Heather McLeod, One for the Raven
Darrow Woods, The Book of Answers
I had the opportunity to meet and to congratulate Jim, Liv and Heather. Don Macdonald was the sole nominee not present for the announcement of the winning manuscript, which was The Scarlet Cross, by Liv McFarlane. Liv went home with the trophy, and a cheque for $500.00. She made a great impromptu acceptance speech. I was impressed with her eloquence, and her passion for this work.
20190523_215737 (1)The photo next to this paragraph is of me with Heather McLeod, who travelled with her mother (a librarian!) all the way from B.C. for the awards banquet.
I was happy for Heather, and for all the nominees, to get this far! Each of our manuscripts will be read by the acquisitions department at Dundurn Press. They are distinguished from other submissions received by publishers, as “Finalists” for an Arthur Ellis Award.
I am eager to read each of works nominated in our category, as well as some of the other award winners announced at the ceremony.
My writing teacher and friend, Melodie Campbell, was the emcee for the evening’s melodie campbellprogram. She also found time to introduce me to a number of her fellow authors, as well as other prominent people in the Canadian publishing scene.
Melodie is a former executive director of Crime Writers of Canada, an award winning novelist, and an inspiring teacher. You can learn more at her website:
At Melodie’s urging, I entered this competition in the fall of 2018, with the submission of 5000 words from my first attempt at writing a mystery novel. I was thrilled when the judges asked for the rest of the manuscript, and it was added to the “long list” of 10 books to be given further consideration. It was so much more exciting, and affirming, to learn in April that I’d made the short list of 5 nominees.
I consider each of us who completed a manuscript, and have had our work read and critiqued by a panel of readers, to be winners! Our efforts are receiving positive attention, and we are being encouraged by family members, friends, and now people in the industry.
We were not really at Hogwarts, but it was an evening of mystery, and magic.
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Mindfulness, and the secret lovely toad

During this week of study leave, my “serious” reading has been Richard Rohr’s “The Universal Christ”. Each day I employed the discipline of taking notes from the chapter I read, and distilling them into a blog post, with the hope of integrating Rohr’s ideas into my conscious thinking, and way of seeing the world.

natalie goldbergMy more personal “reading” has actually been listening to Natalie Goldberg read a commemorative edition of her book “Writing Down the Bones”, which is about a Zen approach to writing. I love that at the end of each chapter, she sets down the script, and talks about how it felt to read that section.

One of the themes running through Goldberg’s work seems to be “noticing” the small details of moments, and writing them down, to bring exactness, precision, and life to your writing. I think this gentle encouragement to notice grows organically out of her Zen practice. Be mindful. Pay attention. Be where you are, and see what there is to see, right where you happen to be.

Goldberg’s theme is not a great departure from what Rohr writes of in The Universal Christ. He sees, and loves, the presence of the divine imbued in all things, in every aspect of Creation.writing down the bones other

I like to listen to audio books while I do chores. This may be something like the opposite of living in the moment. Even so, it fed my soul to have Natalie Goldberg’s voice in my ears this afternoon while I did yardwork.

One of my tasks was repairing the downspout fed by the eavestrough on the back of our house.  It is the only one that does not feed into the town sewer, and when it rains, water pools next to our foundation, and finds its way into our basement laundry room.

When I lifted the vinyl splash block that guides the flow of water out of the downspout, I noticed a little brown toad. The toad’s colouring provided such camouflage, I wonder if this species has t20190520_171117he chameleon-like capacity to shift its appearance. Because I was using my phone to listen to Natalie Goldberg’s book, I was able to take a photo before the toad scampered away, and disappeared under some brush.

 

 

 

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Creation is essentially Good!

20190427_121917This the Sleeping Giant, part of the Sibley Peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior. I snapped this shot a week after Easter, while I was back in Thunder Bay for a family gathering. It was a beautiful morning, a celebration of sun and sky, water and ice, and the slow arrival of spring.

Growing up in Thunder Bay, I knew the Ojibway story that the sleeping figure guarding the bay is that of Nanabijou. He is  descended from a human mother and a spirit father, and could appear in animal or human form. He was a powerful trickster, who laid down in the lake and was turned to stone during a violent thunderstorm, to block access to a secret tunnel that led to a rich lode of silver. Most cultures have stories about the direct involvement of the Divine with this world, and with us.

The themes of today’s chapter from Richard Rohr’s latest book “The Universal Christ” reminded me of the beauty of this world, and it’s essential goodness. Here are the lines I chose to share:

…once we become aware of the generous, creative Presence that exists in all things natural, we can receive it as the inner Source of all dignity and worthiness.

Don’t start by trying to love God, or even people; love rocks and elements first, move to trees, then animals, and then humans. Angels will soon seem like a real possibility, and God is then just a short leap away.

God did not just start talking to us with the Bible or the church or the prophets. Do we really think that God had nothing at all to say for 13.7 billion years, and started speaking only in the latest nanosecond of geological time?

…in the mid-nineteenth century, grasping for the certitude and authority the church was quickly losing in the face of rationalism and scientism, Catholics declared the Pope to be “infallible,” and Evangelicals decided the Bible was “inerrant,” despite the fact that we had gotten along for most of eighteen hundred years without either belief. In fact, these claims would have seemed idolatrous to most early Christians.

Creation—be it planets, plants, or pandas—was not just a warm-up act for the human story or the Bible. The natural world is its own good and sufficient story, if we can only learn to see it with humility and love.

The true and essential work of all religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in everything.

…this picture was complicated when the concept of original sin entered the Christian mind. In this idea—first put forth by Augustine in the fifth century, but never mentioned in the Bible—we emphasized that human beings were born into “sin” because Adam and Eve “offended God” by eating from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

…after Augustine, most Christian theologies shifted from the positive vision of Genesis 1 to the darker vision of Genesis 3—the so-called fall, or what I am calling the “problem.” Instead of embracing God’s master plan for humanity and creation—what we Franciscans still call the “Primacy of Christ”—Christians shrunk our image of both Jesus and Christ, and our “Savior” became a mere Johnny-come-lately “answer” to the problem of sin, a problem that we had largely created ourselves.

The shift in what we valued often allowed us to avoid Jesus’s actual life and teaching because all we needed was the sacrificial event of his death.

…the teaching of original sin started us off on the wrong foot—with a no instead of a yes, with a mistrust instead of a trust.

We end up with a Jesus who was merciful while on earth, but who punishes in the next world. Who forgives here but not later. God in this picture seems whimsical and untrustworthy even to the casual observer. It may be scary for Christians to admit these outcomes to ourselves, but we must. I believe this is a key reason why people do not so much react against the Christian story line, like they used to; instead, they simply refuse to take it seriously.

The Christian story line must start with a positive and overarching vision for humanity and for history, or it will never get beyond the primitive, exclusionary, and fear-based stages of most early human development. We are ready for a major course correction.

Most of us know that we can’t afford to walk around fearing, hating, dismissing, and denying all possible threats and all otherness. But few of us were given practical teaching in how to avoid this. It is interesting that Jesus emphasized the absolute centrality of inner motivation and intention more than outer behavior, spending almost half of the Sermon on the Mount on this subject…

From the very beginning, faith, hope, and love are planted deep within our nature—indeed they are our very nature…

In every age and culture, we have seen regressions toward racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism, lookism, and classism. This pattern tells me that unless we see dignity as being given universally, objectively, and from the beginning by God, humans will constantly think it is up to us to decide.

We must reclaim the Christian project, building from the true starting point of Original Goodness. We must reclaim Jesus as an inclusive Savior instead of an exclusionary Judge, as a Christ who holds history together as the cosmic Alpha and Omega.