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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.

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Meditation on wheels

ride of silenceThe Ride of Silence…

Tonight we number many but ride as one
In honor of those not with us,

friends, mothers, fathers, sisters, sons
With helmets on tight and heads down low,
We ride in silence, cautious and slow
The wheels start spinning in the lead pack
But tonight we ride and no one attacks
The dark sunglasses cover our tears
Remembering those we held so dear
Tonight’s ride is to make others aware
The road is there for all to share20190515_185448
To those not with us or by our side,
May God be your partner on your final ride.

http://www.rideofsilence.org

I took part in Kingsville’s first Ride of Silence last night.  The Ride is an annual event in many places, that had its start in Dallas, Texas in 2003. In the words from the official website, the ride happens to:

  • To HONOR those who have been injured or killed
  • To RAISE AWARENESS that we are here
  • To ask that we all SHARE THE ROAD

THE RIDE OF SILENCE WILL NOT BE QUIET

On May 15, 2019 at 7:00 PM, the Ride of Silence will traverse and unite the globe as nothing before it. Cyclists will take to the roads in a silent procession to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured while cycling on public roadways. Although cyclists have a legal right to share the road with motorists, the motoring public often isn’t aware of these rights, and sometimes not aware of the cyclists themselves.

out of serviceIt was a beautiful night to be out with 38 other cyclists, most of whom took the temporary vow of silence quite seriously. We formed up behind a Essex-Windsor EMS ambulance, whose flashing lights drew attention to us, and brought a sense of solemnity to what we were doing. One rider quipped (before we fell into silence) that it was comforting to see the “Out of Service” sign that hung from the back of the ambulance.

At 7 pm, the poem “The Ride of Silence” was read, and we started out. It was lovely to have this as a meditation practice, a literal spiritual exercise, that included a sense of ritual, community, purpose, and the holy. Also, after the ride, there was beer. Many of the riders parked their bikes behind the Outdoor Alley Patio behind the Banded Goose Tap Room at 15 Main Street.

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God seduces us- notes from The Universal Christ

wwoz screen shotWhile compliling these notes from today’s reading of The Universal Christ, I heard an unusual song, that repeated the line “we are living in the absence of the sacred” several times. I was listening to one of my favourite internet radio stations, which is the live feed from WWOZ in New Orleans. https://www.wwoz.org/

I went to the Stream Archive, so I could replay the song, and learn more about it. It was written and performed by Spencer Bohren, an American blues and folk artist who was born in Casper, Wyoming, and is now based in New Orleans.Spencer Bohren

Here is a link to it: https://youtu.be/Q6zStmRAGbc

Here is a link to his website:

https://www.spencerbohren.com/makin-it-home-to-you

It seemed such an apt song to reference, while I gathered quotes from a chapter in Rohr’s book in which he speaks with hope and practicality about the presence of God in our daily reality.

Here are the sentences that spoke to me today:

When you can honor and receive your own moment of sadness or fullness as a gracious participation in the eternal sadness or fullness of God, you are beginning to recognize yourself as a participating member of this one universal Body. You are moving from I to We.

…humanity has never been separate from God—unless and except by its own negative choice. All of us, without exception, are living inside of a cosmic identity, already in place, that is driving and guiding us forward. We are all ‘en Cristo’, willingly or unwillingly,

Every single creature—the teen mother nursing her child, every one of the twenty thousand species of butterflies, an immigrant living in fear, a blade of grass, you reading this book—all are “in Christ” and “chosen from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:3, 9). What else could they be?

I have never been separate from God, nor can I be, except in my mind.

Without a Shared and Big Story, we all retreat into private individualism for a bit of sanity and safety.

Every religion, each in its own way, is looking for the gateway, the conduit, the Sacrament, the Avatar, the finger that points to the moon. We need someone to model and exemplify the journey from physical incarnation, through a rather ordinary human existence, through trials and death, and into a Universal Presence unlimited by space and time (which we call “resurrection”). Most of us know about Jesus walking this journey, but far fewer know that Christ is the collective and eternal manifestation of the same—and that “the Christ” image includes all of us and every thing.

Jesus can hold together one group or religion. Christ can hold together everything. In fact, Christ already does this; it is we who resist such wholeness, as if we enjoy our arguments and our divisions into parts.

We would have helped history and individuals so much more if we had spent our time revealing how Christ is everywhere instead of proving that Jesus was God. But big ideas take time to settle in.

You might wonder how, exactly, primitive peoples and pre-Christian civilizations could’ve had access to God. I believe it was through the universal and normal transformative journeys of great love and great suffering, which all individuals have undergone from the beginnings of the human race. Only great love and great suffering are strong enough to take away our imperial ego’s protections and open us to authentic experiences of transcendence.

Just because you do not have the right word for God does not mean you are not having the right experience. From the beginning, YHWH let the Jewish people know that no right word would ever contain God’s infinite mystery.

God needs something to seduce you out and beyond yourself, so God uses three things in particular: goodness, truth, and beauty. All three have the capacity to draw us into an experience of union. You cannot think your way into this kind of radiant, expansive seeing. You must be caught in a relationship of love and awe now and then, and it often comes slowly, through osmosis, imitation, resonance, contemplation, and mirroring. The Christ is always given freely, tossed like a baton from the other side. Our only part in the process is to reach out and catch it every now and then.

…for ordinary mystics like you and me, the kind of seeing I’m describing is a relational and reciprocal experience, in which we find God simultaneously in ourselves and in the outer world beyond ourselves. I doubt if there is any other way.

Nothing to believe here at all. Just learn to trust and draw forth your own deepest experience, and you will know the Christ all day every day—before and after you ever go to any kind of religious service. Church, temple, and mosque will start to make sense on whole new levels—and at the same time, church, temple, and mosque will become totally boring and unnecessary. I promise you both will be true, because you are already fully accepted and fully accepting.

Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

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Good words about Inclusion from Richard Rohr

I attended an event today that celebrated the work of Community Living Essex County, an organization “committed to support people with an intellectual disability to achieve their goals and dreams and to realize their value as inclusionfull citizens in their community.”  

This was a great counter-point to Rohr’s words from “The Universal Christ”. Here are some of the phrases that jumped off the page:

God’s infinite love has always included all that God created from the very beginning

Faith at its essential core is accepting that you are accepted! We cannot deeply know ourselves without also knowing the One who made us, and we cannot fully accept ourselves without accepting God’s radical acceptance of every part of us.

We need to look at Jesus until we can look out at the world with his kind of eyes. The world no longer trusts Christians who “love Jesus” but do not seem to love anything else.

…we spent a great deal of time worshiping the messenger and trying to get other people to do the same. Too often this obsession became a pious substitute for actually following what he taught—and he did ask us several times to follow him, and never once to worship him.

A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else. That is a definition that will never fail you, always demand more of you, and give you no reasons to fight, exclude, or reject anyone.

The point of the Christian life is not to distinguish oneself from the ungodly, but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else.

Jesus had no trouble whatsoever with otherness. We must be honest and humble about this: Many people of other faiths, like Sufi masters, Jewish prophets, many philosophers, and Hindu mystics, have lived in light of the Divine encounter better than many Christians.

Remember what God said to Moses: “I AM Who I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God is clearly not tied to a name, nor does he seem to want us to tie the Divinity to any one name… This tradition alone should tell us to practice profound humility in regard to God, who gives us not a name, but only pure presence—no handle that could allow us to think we “know” who God is or have him or her as our private possession.

(Jesus) came in mid-tone skin, from the underclass, a male body with a female soul, from an often hated religion, and living on the very cusp between East and West. No one owns him, and no one ever will.

…there has never been a single soul who was not possessed by the Christ, even in the ages when Jesus was not. Why would you want your religion, or your God, to be any smaller than that?

You are not your gender, your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, or your social class. Why, oh why, do Christians allow these temporary costumes, or what Thomas Merton called the “false self,” to pass for the substantial self, which is always “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3)? It seems that we really do not know our own Gospel.

You are a child of God, and always will be, even when you don’t believe it.

When Christ calls himself the “Light of the World” (John 8:12), he is not telling us to look just at him, but to look out at life with his all-merciful eyes. We see him so we can see like him, and with the same infinite compassion. When your isolated “I” turns into a connected “we,” you have moved from Jesus to Christ.

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“Does Blood have a Gender?” continued

Here is the reply I received to my letter to Canadian Blood Services. I am including the complete text. I am not sure why their letter included the *asterisk sign when they used the word “trans”. I wonder if the writer lifted text from another document, and did not include the footnotes.

Hello Darrow,

Thank you for your email and for taking the time to reach out to us.

In August 2016, Canadian Blood Services implemented a new screening process and eligibility criteria for trans* donors. These criteria are the first step in developing national criteria for trans* donors. We will be working with stakeholders, including members of the trans* community, to improve how Canadian Blood Services interacts with trans* Canadians who wish to donate blood. We are also working on updating our computer system so that donated blood components can be processed to reduce the risk of transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI) without donors having to be identified as female.

As of May, 2017 and as a result of the “2016 Summary Report – Consultations with Trans and Gender Non-binary Communities” Canadian Blood Services has implemented a training program for front-line staff with a 2018 rollout to ensure trans and gender non-binary individuals are treated respectfully.

We are grateful for the feedback we receive from donors and partners, which allows us to continuously improve how we engage with all Canadians. We understand that the pace of change is frustrating.

Donors will be asked the relevant questions for their sex attributed at birth and will be accepted or deferred based on these criteria. For example, trans* females will be asked whether they had sex with a male, and if the response is yes, they would be deferred for one year after their last sexual contact.

Given the complexity of screening donors according to both their sex attributed at birth and their affirmed gender, donors are instead deferred from donating blood for one year after their surgery. As the longest deferral period for sexual partner risk is one year, donors will be screened in their affirmed gender one year after their surgery. For donors with female sex attributed at birth, a code will be added to the donor’s file to decrease the risk of TRALI.

TRALI is a rare but potentially fatal complication that can occur in recipients after transfusion. Donors who have had a past pregnancy, including miscarriages and abortions, are more likely to have antibodies present in the liquid portion of their blood (plasma) that may cause TRALI in a recipient. To reduce this risk, we process blood donations from ALL donors coded as female in our computer system differently from donations from donors coded as male. The plasma from female donors is used to produce products such as immune globulin, instead of being transfused directly to patients. It is therefore important for us to know whether the donor’s sex identified at birth was female, so that their blood donation can be processed to reduce the risk of TRALI.

In May 2017, Canadian Blood Services released the 2016 Summary Report: Consultations with Trans and Gender Non-binary Communities”. This report summarizes themes that emerged from two in-person consultations that were held with trans and gender non-binary individuals in Vancouver on November 17, 2016, and in Toronto on December 8, 2016. Thought leaders in the trans and gender non-binary communities helped us plan this stakeholder consultation.

These consultations helped us identify that frontline staff is an important immediate priority for this community. Canadian Blood Services will implement a training program for front-line staff to ensure trans and gender non-binary individuals are treated respectfully. Planning is underway and we expect it will be developed and ready for rollout in 2018.

We will also explore how to modify clinic processes to allow individuals to select the gender with which they identify, while ensuring we have access to the information we need.

Sincerely,

Canadian Blood Services

Sarah

Customer Service Representative

National Contact Centre

canadian blood services logo

My thoughts about this reply from Canadian Blood Services

  1. The person screening me did not have, or at least did not share with me, any information about TRALI.
  2. The response from Canadian Blood Services did not acknowledge, or address the fact that the question of my sex was raised in the secondary screening, after I had already answered all the risk-related questions, and in which I answered all the questions about my sexual activity.
  3. Since I was asked about my sex in the second quarter of 2019, it would seem the roll out of a new protocol has not actually happened.
  4. I will continue to donate blood as often as I can, especially since learning that because of TRALI, all blood from female donors is diverted for the production of blood products, and is not transfused to patients in need.

 

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What if it’s all about love?

I am enjoying the tremendous privilege of a week of study leave. I let go of my plan to attend a preacher’s conference in Minneapolis, to stay home and rrichard rohr photo croppedead “The Universal Christ”, the latest book by Fr. Richard Rohr.

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan monk and priest, who lives and works at the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. I met Fr. Richard a little over a year ago, at Tulane University in New Orleans organized by my friend William Thiele and the School for Contemplative Living.

Rohr’s subject in this new book is the “Christ Mystery, the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it”

I thought that each day I could share some of the quotes that captured my imaginatiothe universal christ book covern.

“What if Christ is a name for the transcendent within of every ‘thing’ in the universe? What if Christ is a name for the immense spaciousness of all true Love? What if Christ refers to an infinite horizon that pulls us from within and pulls us forward too? What if Christ is another name for everything in its fullness?”

“The essential function of religion is to radically connect us with everything. (Re-ligio = to re-ligament or reconnect.) It is to help us see the world and ourselves in wholeness, and not just in parts. Truly enlightened people see oneness because they look out from oneness, instead of labelling everything as superior or inferior, in or out.”

“Numerous Scriptures make it very clear that this Christ has existed ‘from the beginning’ (John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:15-20, and Ephesians 1:3-14 being primary sources)”

“if you believe Jesus’s main purpose is to provide a means of personal, individual salvation, it is all too easy to think he doesn’t have anything to do with human history- with war or injustice, or destruction of nature, or anything that contradicts our ego’s desires or our cultural biases. We ended up spreading our national cultures under the rubric of Jesus, instead of a universally liberating message under the name of Christ.”

“A merely personal God becomes tribal and sentimental, and a merely universal God never leaves the realm of abstract theory and philosophical principles. But when we learn to put them together, Jesus and Christ give us a God who is both personal and universal. The Christ Mystery anoints all physical matter with eternal purpose from the very beginning.”

“a true comprehension of the full Christ Mystery is the key to the foundational reform of the Christian religion, which alone will move us beyond any attempts to corral or capture God into our exclusive group.”

 

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An old story about new life

Almost 20 years ago I wrote a short, simple drama for presentation to a group of leaders who gathered to pondering the future of their congregations. It has been published in one of our denominational resources, and performed in a number of Bible illustrsettings. I revived, revised, and recycled it for use this past Sunday at Harrow United Church. My daughter, Naomi Woods brought expression and life to the role of narrator. Laura George and Jeff Csikasz went all out as the fisher-folk. The costumes, props, and acting were great!

Gospel of John 21:1-14

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

 “I’m going out to fish, ” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.”

 So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ” Friends, haven’t you any fish? “

 ” No, “they answered.

 He said, ” Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some. “

Narrator: Imagine you were on that boat, with the disciples. What was going through their minds when they heard a person that they did not yet recognize, tell them how to fish? They had been fishing all night, without success, and were probably tired, and discouraged.

The story does not say the disciples immediately followed the advice to throw their net on the other side of the boat. Maybe they had to strike a committee, and talk about it first.

Disciple 1: I don’t know. We have always fished this way. There have been too many changes lately. This is the way we have always fished.

Disciple 2: But we haven’t caught anything for a while. Some of the other boats have had to quit. Their crews quit coming out. The younger ones are saying that fishing isn’t relevant.

Disciple 1: We are fishing the way we were taught. My parents, and their parents before them fished this way. It was good enough for them. Where’s your sense of loyalty and tradition? That’s what’s wrong with the world today.

Disciple 2: Times change. Conditions change. Maybe the fish have moved. What can it hurt to try a new thing?

Disciple 1: Look! We’re tired. Some of us have been fishing a long time. We can’t put a bunch of energy into some half-baked idea. We just have to get ourselves better organized, and try harder.

Disciple 2: What if he’s right? What if it’s time to try a new way?

Disciple 1: Are you going to take the advice of some stranger? We’ve known each other our whole lives. Our families fished together! Our grandparents built this boat. We can’t let some new guy come in and take over!

Disciple 2: But maybe he’s got a point ….

Disciple 1: I don’t even know this guy. Did he grow up around here? Does he fish? Who is his family? What will people think if we try his way, and we still catch nothing? They’ll laugh us out of Galilee!

Disciple 2: If we can fish all night and catch nothing, maybe there are no fish out there. Maybe it’s time to give up fishing.

Disciple 1: Do you mean that you would quit? Give up the tradition? You can’t do that! You have to have faith!

Disciple 2: No, I have to have fish. I have a family to feed, and bills to pay.

Disciple 1: That’s exactly why we have to be careful. We can’t just change direction without thinking it through!

Disciple 2: I have been thinking about it, all night. There hasn’t been much else to do, except look at the empty net, and think. And you know what I think?

Disciple 1: I am a little bit afraid to ask, but what?

Disciple 2: I think that we have to decide whether we are out here to fish, or to catch fish.

Narrator: The ad hoc committee on ways and means of fishing came to a decision. Half the disciples watched and waited, and were ready to point out errors, while the other half took a chance, and pulled up the net, and threw it on the other side of the boat.

When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

 As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ” It is the Lord, ” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it of and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full offish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

 When they landed, they saw afire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast. “

None of the disciples dared ask him, ” Who are you? ” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.