Archive for January, 2010

Birthday Reflection; Joy; A Holy Person

January 23, 2010 - 9:52 am 16 Comments

A Few Remarks about Inspiration & Joy
As A Birthday Reflection…
And  What is a Modern Holy Man, Anyway?

One of the ways I try to start my day, or at least include in each day, is some time for reading and reflection, meditation and contemplation… Over the years in ministry and in my personal search for both inspiration and meaning, I have acquired quite a few books that are aimed at a daily reflection… 365 musings on life, God, relationships, etc., that I have collected from very wide sources- from Prayers for Healing, to Meditations for The New Age… From Collections from the Christian Saints to various contemporary holy people such as Thomas Merton, from widely diverse sources such as such as Vedanta, Emerson, The Cherokee, and a few Islamic sources such as Rumi…
Each of these collections offer me a particular window on the world-  a personal and often an experiential spiritual perspective that can serve to startle me, console me, and almost always inspires me…
One such source is the collection put together by the prolific psychotherapist, ex Roman priest, and biographer of Pope John XXIII, ( my favorite Pope!) Eugene Kennedy. His classic text on counseling for nonprofessionals truly has been valuable during my ministerial experiences, and his critique of Roman hierarchy and its stolid response to change was insightful.
In starting the year and my cycle of reading again, and as I approach my birthday, Dr. Kennedy offers these two thoughts on joy: and what it means to be a holy person…

“Joy comes into our lives the same way that peace does– after we have made certain decisions about our goals and about the things that are of value to us. Joy is not for sale; it slips into the soul when we are serious about life’s sources of meaning and when we are honest about our personal commitments…
Jesus has a simple message that tells us that joy and peace are the prizes for those who take on the flesh of their humanity with courage and love…. It flows from being human, from affirming our own incarnation, and from finding our way through pain together.”

A Birthday Reflection

Life, as a whole, remains an unfinished process of risking and finding, reaching and discovering, learning and experiencing all the ways that make us human and that make life meaningful… Each year, renews itself as a sacred invitation to wholeness…
The lifelong journey towards authenticy and embodiment of divine principles requires that we receive wisdom from our experiences and that we learn active compassion for life’s challenges, tests and trials…
As both an invitation and a challenge, we need to assure yourself daily that we are capable of taking an expansive view of our lives and not get bogged down in details, isolated events, or petty emotional wrangling. Life is too short to allow one’s ego to triumph, or for the cares of the world to obscure the light, life, and love that comes from the many sources of divine dialogue- with nature, friends, pets, lovers, in soup kitchens, or standing up for justice… My goal is to learn how best to live fully in dialogue and in a full heartfelt correspondence with the Holy for me…
Each year we spin the wheel of life, we take another step in the endless soul’s deathless journey, and we moves ever so slightly forward in self discovery, or if you will, learning how best to live from God/Spirit perspective so that is fully infused into our lives, and finds its rightful residence, its sacred place, at the very core of our being…

From May Sarton’s poem, Gestalt at Sixty….

Who wakes in a house alone
Wakes to moments of panic.
(Will the roof fall in? Shall I died today?)
Who wakes in a house alone
Wakes to inertia sometimes,
To fits of weeping for no reason.
Solitude swells the inner space like a balloon.
We are wafted hither and thither on the air currents.
How to land it? …
I worked out anguish in a garden. Without the flowers,
The shadow of trees on snow, their punctuation,
I might not have survived.
I came here to create a world as strong, renewable, fertile.
As the world of nature all around me, I learned to clear myself
as I have cleared the pasture, learned to wait,
Learned that change is always in the making
(Inner and outer) if one can be patient,
Learned to trust myself.


I did not come here for society
In these years. when every meeting is collision,
The impact huge, the reverberations slow to die down.
Yet what I have done here, I have not done alone,
Inhabited by a rich past of lives, inhabited also by the great dead,
By music- Yeats, Valery stalk through this house.
No day passes without a visitation- Rilke, Mozart.
I am always a lover here, seized and shaken by love.

Lovers and friends, I come to you starved for all that you have to give,
Nourished by the food of solitude, I am a good instrument for all that you have to tell me, for all that I have to tell you.

And we shall talk of first things and last things,
and listen to the music together….

No one comes to this house who is not changed.
I meet no one here who does not change me.

I am not ready to die, but I am learning to trust death
As I have trusted life.
I am moving toward a new freedom, born of detachment,
And a sweeter grace– Learning to let go.

I am not ready to die, But as I approach sixty
I turn my face toward the sea.
I shall go where tides replace time,
Where my world will open to a far horizon. …

There are no farewells.

Praise God for His mercies, for His austere demands,
For His light, And for His darkness.

Eugene Kennedy… On The Person Who is Living by The Spirit…

The person living by The Spirit, gives time, energy, and all the other human responses that are appropriate to our needs– but does not make us feel as if we owe them anything…. He may not seem pious by older standards, may not, in other words, have the mannerisms, or otherworldly looks of a supposedly holy people.
That is all to the good, because it helps others to recognize their own possibilities and frees them from feeling that being good demands more than being fully themselves.
He does not work miracles, talk in tongues, or seem in any way to need what we might, with kindness, call “sensational demonstrations”
of his relationship to The Spirit. …
A contemporary holy man does not make you feel that he has plans for you as much as he helps you to discover your own (plans for yourself)
He does not have all the answers for all your questions; in fact, he is just discovering many of the right questions himself. He helps us ask these questions and then stays with us as we search out our own answers.
At times, the most he can do is to make the hard questions bearable enough through his commitment to us as we try to answer them. …
There are saints all around us in the world, loving it and redeeming it with the gift they make of themselves in the service of others.
Sometimes, as it has been true of saints for centuries, they are in trouble with authorities, and sometimes they are involved in great controversy. That is because they have the most distinguished mark that a holy person can possess- The mark of being alive both to eternal truths and to temporal affairs.

Part II: Some Teachings & Reflections

January 16, 2010 - 2:15 pm 4 Comments

What kind of world this is …. A reflection by Guy Consolmagno, OSB

Does God control every atom? Or does he observe but not intervene? The Asian earthquake has left many people puzzled, but science shows he plays by the rules…
It is all a part of a much bigger theological issue, one that affects scientists and indeed the whole modern world view that searches for God in a universe governed by cause and effect. How does God act in the world?
Quantum effects aside, we do live in a world of cause and effect. Radioactive elements in the Earth decay, giving off heat, which drives the convection of rocks in the Earth’s interior. Dragged along by this convection, the Earth’s lithosphere is in constant motion. The down welling slab of the Indian plate below Indonesia makes room for the mountains being formed elsewhere in the sea floor. That motion provides Earth with its oceans and atmosphere, builds its mountains, recycles its surface materials, refines minerals into rich ores, provides the environment for oil deposits and coral reefs. Within those reefs, we can see evidence from shifts, in the way the coral has grown, that the down welling has never proceeded completely smoothly. Earthquakes, and subsequent massive ocean waves, erupted from Sumatra in 1797, in 1833, in 1861. A hundred and twenty years on, the name Krakatoa still sends shivers up our collective spines. People died then, too.
We can believe in a God who controls on a string every atom, every event, deliberately setting up life and tragedy. Such a God would indeed be a God immune to our sense of cruelty.
Another possibility is a God who observes, but does not intervene: the Deist God of the eighteenth century, who set up the laws of the universe, wound up the spring, and let it loose to run independent of any further effort on his part. We can deny the existence of any God at all. Or we can deny the reality of those tragedies, and continue living as if we ourselves were immortal.
None of these are gods that, upon prayer and reflection, I can accept. But they are not mere straw men I’ve set up for a Jesuitical argument. They are gods that all of us believe in, some of the time; some of us, all of the time. And so we rail at God when our love affairs go bad, our politicians lose elections, our business dealings flop. But my experience as a believer, as a scientist, as a human being, is that the situation is far more complicated – and confusing.
The laws of entropy are relentless. The universe, it appears, is fated to a gradual heat death as all energy dissipates itself into a uniform, featureless, ever-expanding ocean of cold. But meanwhile, on the surface of the Earth, plants take sunlight and use a variety of unlikely chemical reactions to reverse entropy locally, making flowers … and weeds. Savagely ripping that vegetation from the earth, bugs and bunnies populate the fields. Amazing in their own beauty, they are fed upon by the beautiful and majestic predators of the Earth: the birds, the mountain lions, humans …
Humans … who are free to act for good or evil, capable of consciously creating beauty and ugliness. Humans whom, beautiful or ugly, we mourn when they die. Why do we mourn them? Because we find them worth mourning. Is death, then, but a natural part of life? Part of God’s plan? Are pain and mourning the price we pay for being alive? As Christians we are faced with the final contradiction: our God came to Earth, lived a life of pain and mourning and death, precisely to proclaim an end to death itself.
God does play by the rules. He set up the thermodynamics that give us mountains, earthquakes, tsunamis; and yet those same laws of physics and chemistry allow for a human brain capable of calculating thermodynamics, and of understanding – albeit, imperfectly – how to recognize, and avoid, the dangers of living on the Earth.

That God respects cause and effect, and is reliable enough for us to be able to understand his universe with confidence and some comfort.
But that same God also does intervene in individual lives. The New York Times described how one young mother in a small Indonesian village fled for safety in the highlands, carrying her child, because she “heard a voice” telling her to flee. The mother next door, apparently, heard no such voice. We hear the survivors’ stories; we never hear the victims’. God is present; and we don’t understand. But we are capable of knowing that we don’t understand. That is the strangest mystery of all. From 1/23/94

A Time for All Ages: Where God hides, is where God resides

This is a Sufi story, taken from the wisdom teachings within Islam… One day, after all these years, God had finally had it with all the world’s religions! God complained that each of them knew a portion of the truth, but practiced it badly — often ending in prejudice, violence, and even wars…. So God gathered all the wise ones in religion together quickly- its seems that there are very few of them- And he said, how can I hide from all those who think that they know me?
Given that these wise ones knew about our modern science, one said, “we should hide you in far space, where no one can find you”… But another wise man objected, saying, “that it will only be a matter of time and technology until humanity launches a space ship that will find God out there”… So they continued to think… One wise one blurted out, “What about in the depths of the ocean?” But one of the others said, “no, the inventors and pioneers will find God there, too!”
Finally after a long time, the oldest and wisest one stood up and she said, ” I know where to hide God!” And all the others turning to her, asked, “Where?” “We will hide God where few, people would ever bother to work hard enough to find God, or once found will hold God up for others to see… We will hide God inside every person’s heart.”
And up on hearing this, God smiled.
From the collection of Sufi Story by Idries Shah

Arise and Awake! Behold and Bless

This is a Hindu story and its modifications, first taught to me by the Marharishi Mahesh Yogi….

Jai was a Hindu student who eagerly sat at the feet of his Guru, or wise teacher… One day, Jai asked, “Since we cannot control the weather, or if it is light or dark, how is it that you will repeatedly remind us to look to this day, and to check and see if the sunrise has happened to us?”
“Ah, my boy”, the Guru answered, “the lessons of wisdom and caring come to us daily, even if we recognize them not. Every moment of our lives are moments and opportunities to extend love, peace, and empathy to one another….
Therefore, the sun does not truly rise, unless we see with our eyes, our sister or our brother walking toward us, and we greet them with respect and compassion. For it is in our looking and in our greeting, that we first offer them joy, peace, and assistance for their day…”

Collected Thoughts on Nature, God, and Evil

January 16, 2010 - 2:07 pm 14 Comments

The shift towards identifying with the whole of nature and the interdependence we have become, and is now an essential, part of our survival . At this precise point in history moralizing about what has happened in the past proves to be ineffective. We need to become more enlightened as to what is in our own best self interest. Because humanity and nature are codependent and intimately connected, the smallest creature, like a bee, is crucial to our ecosystem, for without a bee, there is not only no honey, but no fruit, flower, or vegetable that will fed us. So I declare that it is in our self interest to see the Amazon rain forest as our lungs, and the rivers as our own blood… And while we are just beginning to wake up to that fact, it is now time… We are finally discovering that we make or break our own world.
Buddhist teacher, Joanna Macy

The earth has great powers of resilience, but she is also fragile. …At the same time, great forces of love and healing are growing in the world. We have emerging echnologies that, if we would actually use them on a larger scale, would allow us to live lightly upon the earth… We have the knowledge and the wisdom, if we choose to apply them, about how to provide for human needs in a way that respects and enhances the balance of life. And we have an ever-increasing global community of people committed to balanced ways of living.
In this crucial time, we are called to be healers-of the earth, of the human community, of each other. And when we speak of healing the earth, in reality, is that we need to heal the human relationship with the earth. And this healing begins with respectful listening…
Starhawk The Earth Path

Hymn to Matter

Blessed be you, harsh matter, barren soil, stubborn rock: you who only yield to violence;

Blessed are you, perilous matter, violent seas, untamable passions;

Blessed be you, mighty matter, the irresistible march of evolution, reality being ever reborn;

Blessed be you, universal matter, unmeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars, and atoms and generations;
From the UU Hymnal #549

To live content with small means, To seek elegance rather than luxury,
And refinement rather than fashion, To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly,
To listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with an open heart…
To bear all things cheerfully, do bravely, await occasions,
hurry never-
In a word, to let the spiritual unbidden and unconscious, grow up
through the common. This is my symphony
William Ellery Channing

We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and decaying trees, the thundercloud and the rain that lasts for weeks… We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
Henry David Thoreau

Prayer of Thanks

Great and eternal Mystery of Life, creator of all things, I give thanks for the beauty put into every single one of Your creations…

I am grateful that you did not fail in making every stone, plant, creature and human a part of the whole, part of the Sacred Hoop…

I am grateful that You have allowed me to see the strength and beauty of all My relations… Ah Ho…

My humble request is that all the Children of earth will learn to see the same perfection in themselves

May none of Your human children doubt or question that all creation may be seen as the extensions of Your perfect love…

Native American


A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “universe,” a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest- a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to having affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Albert Einstein

Nature is always available, easily accessible, and one of the best ways to seek inner healing… Whenever you feel stressed, confused, or down- go outside, and ask nature to give you an answer to your problems. Then listen, listen humbly and respectfully, to the water, the birds, the wind, the animals, … And after a while, you will notice how much better you can feel when nature answers you…
Most of the time, we are forced to listen to the noise of society; horns, engines, sirens and such. We do not even realize how much these sounds can affect us in a negative way. Which sounds bring you peace, and which sounds seem to create anxiety? When your soul needs exercise, nature is the best gym. …
If you can see nature through your window, any situation will be less stressful, and you will cope better. Stay in touch with Mother Nature. Spend time outside in the sunshine, and have faith that, no matter what your circumstances, you will be a survivor.
Attributed to Wendell Berry


Two astronauts, reflecting on their view of earth…

From the Moon, Earth is so small, so fragile, and such a precious spot in an expanding universe, yet, out the window, you are able to block it out with your thumb… Then you realize looking down at the blue-green thing, that it contains everything that ever has made any meaning to you- all the history, music, art, … All the death and life , birth and love, tears, joys, all of it, right here, out this window smaller than my thumb… And you realize from that perspective, that you are changed forever…
During space flight, the psyche of every astronaut is reshaped. Having seen the stars, our planet, our vision turns softer, more full of compassion for all of life. You begin to look at every living thing with greater respect, and you begin to be more kind and patient with the people around you…
USA astronaut Rusty Scwickert and Soviet cosmonaut Boris Volvnov

Acts of God? An Answer to Pat Robertson; Earthquakes etc.

January 16, 2010 - 1:30 pm 123 Comments

The Acts of God? The Relationship between God and Nature:
Could Nature be Evil? Would God Create Suffering?
A Response to Pat Robertson and An Expanded Spiritual
Understanding of The Interdependent Impact of
Religion and Culture on Nature
The Rev. Peter E. Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, famines, floods, ice and frigid cold, and last week’s large earthquake in Haiti are among the most devastating natural events any person or nation has to endure. It seems as if “Nature in all her fury” has been unleashed on a hapless humanity, and you can hear pious and vengeful people desperately proclaim, “This must be the wrath of God!”
Natural disasters like this recent one, in which many people die, pose certain, tough theological questions and concerns for us. In our desperation, We ask: Are these the acts of a loving God? Could these catastrophes be some cruel punishment? Can Nature be evil?
Each person and each religious tradition has had to wrestle with these questions. Each has had to work out answers for what could cause these events to occur, and each person is compelled to ponder whether or not evil exists in the natural realm, in our world, and what, if anything, we can do about it.
My own personal and spiritual beliefs about this topic are not the common way most mainline Christians think or accept. It is closer to an Eastern spiritual outlook, closer to a Vedantic approach or more aligned to a Buddhist perspective. My conclusion maintains that evil can never originate in nature, but that label of human projections of evil owes its existence to human perceptions, ignorance, arrogance, and greed.
These various and pernicious pronouncements coming from harsh evangelical attitudes, are tragically and uncritically accepted by a poisonous accretion of culturally reinforced, skewed moral and religious outlooks.
Commonly, we hear people attest to the belief that natural disasters are “Acts of God”. This popular term might be adequate as a catch all escape clause or dubious insurance category that excludes your home from coverage. The “Acts of God” referred to in insurance policies are exemptions from coverage because there are certain kinds of events are seen as being beyond human control, therefore, beyond corporate claims of liability. However, it is quite insufficient for any mature theological evaluation.
In contrast, a more ecologically sensitive theology looks at these acts as stresses and physical outcomes of natural phenomena, as a part of God’s world- a natural world that includes within it patterns and designs, our need for adaptability to nature, and our recognition of the need for humility and responsibility for all that happens on the face of the earth. Religious teachings, when compassionately and scientifically understood, ask us to practice the humility needed to accept and respond as best we can to what we can control, and to take responsibility for lessening risks and providing for adequate safety. It is up to the religious leaders and their interpretations that brand a particular naturally occurring events as being good or evil to cease from delivering those uninformed moral judgments that speak of blessing and cursing, as if human actions could alter the natural patterns of weather, climate, and geological realities. Instead, these clergy can rightly encourage positive attitudes, negate prejudices, increase our respect for natural environment and teach in the ways that dispel our cultural and religious fears about nature, and the estrangement from nature that was prominently taught in prescientific versions of God and nature.

The idea that these admittedly terrible disasters are the acts of a vengeful, capricious God directly implies that we still believe in an Old Testament deity; an anthropocentric Lord, who acts like a critical, vengeful father. Such a God willfully inflicts abuse and divine wrath on an erring and sinful people. Nature then is seen as in conflict with humanity and therefore how nature is understood becomes an instrument of God’s pleasure or punishment!
A belief in an all omnipotent and omniscient paternal God has its roots, as I understand them, in the necessity to explain what science had not yet revealed, and when this power is considered psychologically, the whole concept of a powerful, vengeful God is a necessary belief until humanity as a whole matures and evolves in its beliefs and understanding. The necessity of having a God in control, or that doles out punishment through nature remains a useful concept only as long as we humans continue to act as if life doesn’t matter, and that all our rewards are to be found in heaven or in our next lives. If we truly practiced what all the great world faith advise- a universal human compassion- an outlook that, for example, takes socioeconomic justice as a foundational virtue. Until humankind chooses to develop a society and an economy that works valiantly against the human sin of greed, self, political power mongering, and other behaviors, we will need a scapegoat God that addresses the imbalances in human nature as punishment doled out for our sins, social imbalances, and our ignorance.

This archaic prescientific idea of deity, then, is depicted as a severe justice-maker who directs and designs a destructive, cleansing process through disasters and natural upheavals. This outlook makes purely natural events into God’s revenge or the righteous outcome of our human disobedience. Whether or not you agree, this attempt to discern the meaning of such natural phenomena is noble, at least on the surface- its motives are to try to teach how God corrects humanity, balance the divine scales of justice, and set the world straight. Yet, since we have had disasters since the time of Noah, we could rightly ask, when is humanity ever going to learn? And furthermore, these disasters occur with equal frequency among all the nations and peoples, all the beliefs and faiths around the world, so being a Christian is no better answer to avoiding the suffering that can occur. (a case could be made that it is happening MORE in Christian societies, or is it that its happening more in countries that consider themselves to be Christian, but, in reality are far from it?)
Whatever re-balancing the human ego or the modern society needs, it does not originate in the intelligence found in the natural world order; indeed, while it may be reflected symbolically in the various physical conditions and circumstances we encounter, like a mirror image. I am willing to speculate that human beings can create certain kinds of climates around them by their accumulated actions; whether that refers to emotional coldness or referring to the hazards of sanitation and pollution that change our atmosphere and create disturbances in , on, or above the earth.
Since many of our leading scientists such as Rupert Sheldrake consider the Gaia Hypothesis as viable, that the Earth as one whole, living, interdependent organism, that there is only one life balanced and shared between us, this approach can be worthy of serious consideration.
What is known is that the objective rules of the Cosmos, the laws of Nature, know nothing of divine punishment inflicted on humans. They act and respond to one another according to homeostasis-the desire for all things to achieve balance, harmony and grace. What a human being makes of how weather, storms, and eruptions etc.,affect them, is our personal and cultural concern, not nature’s intent to inflict some lesson.
I believe the ultimate source of the physical world is found in the spiritual or the metaphysical-just as Genesis states it: “God created the heavens and the earth….” This creation is not capricious, or whimsical, there is a reason and an order behind it, the wisdom and the Spirit of God. This creation of heaven and earth is based on impartial, divine, objective laws that govern the physics of mass, friction, motion and density and so forth…. As humanity learns about these scientific laws, and then abides by them, respecting their operation and outcomes, then we can build and coexist within its harmony. Another way of putting it is this: There are Holy Laws that govern all creation and existence. Our human task to find out how these laws function, and build our lives and our world in full accord with them.
What about the question, Is Nature or can Nature be evil? In the first priestly (P) Genesis account of the Creation, at its culmination, after all has be manifested and the world created, God pronounced all that God had made as being very good. (1:31) not just all right and acceptable but good, VERY GOOD! There is no mention of nature as being created evil, or that is to be used and abused in some inferior way.
The natural world is perfect, and complete unto itself. Only humanity arrogant actions and ongoing disrespect can upset its balance or disrupt its process of generation and change, its natural rhythms and cycles of life and death, decay and rebuilding. Thus, nature is not wicked, bad, corrupt or evil, nor does the world stand apart from the Creator God who made it.
God, then, is not a removed force and a distant entity as taught by classical Theism, but God is a panentheistic reality-a spiritual presence that is in the world, in creation, and is also before it, above it, and beyond it.
If God created the world and all that is in it as good, where did evil come from? Evil is not divinely authored, it is not original nor is it a part of the Creation story. Neither is evil equal to, or co-existent with God, thereby being an immortal force that is also eternal. To assert that physical matter has within it, some inherent good or evil, or that matter has a moral bias or basis within it, would be to claim that morality as we know it, is present in every cell or clod, that the apple knows that it is intrinctally good and the worm knows that it is evil in some way.
Instead, it seems to be to be more valid to state that the evaluation of anything as being good or evil rests within human thinking, religious theories, and not in clusters of particles or swirling electrons. Nature’s rules and laws exist and function totally outside human whim or control, and beyond the pious projections that would blame cultural conditions on some force that is beyond human responsibility or control. My conviction is that the laws of the natural order rest on divine principles, and therefore are oblivious to any human labeling as good or evil, just as nature operates according to its laws and totally disregards the human differences called race, class, economics, or convenience! However, we can and we do influence the patterns and responses of nature by how we conduct our civilization, and by how we create energy, use energy and how we treat the natural resources we have all around us.
Evil can be seen as the result of distorted intention and misdirected moral energy, that is created by selfish human beliefs and sustained through ignorance, greed, and fear. We get the climate or environment we deserve!
Because a certain group of humans, on one, small, peculiar sport on the earth, in a small, solar system lit by a substandard runt of a sun/star, in a fringe galaxy, among millions of celestial and orbiting bodies in the entire universe, … Just because this small group of humans finds that the workings of those cosmic laws involved them in shifts, changes, storms, and other events of nature, and that those humans then decide that these changes are inhospitable, unfortunate, even disastrous, does not automatically make nature an evil, a villainous force, or some despicable adversary.
Over the centuries of our human existence, which is a mere blip in geological time, the progressions of human culture have commonly, and I believe falsely concluded, that various geological, meteorological and celestial events should be labeled as good or bad. This is a cosmic joke; for we religious humans have classified Nature in a cruel, arbitrary, and selfish way. The same rainstorm that wipes out the corn crop in one nation, then crosses latitude and longitude to become the life saving moisture in the next country.
To summarize Jesus: “It’s not fair, but the fact is the rain falls equally upon the just and the unjust”- not as punishment or reward, not as censure or gifts, but because it exists. We are the ones who decide whether or not these events and phenomena are good or evil; and like it or not, we have decided to make negative conclusions on the basis of fear, ignorance, and superstition rather than on the basis of science, and metaphysics.
But, looking back on recent occurances, you might exclaim, what about all the recent Midwest floods, Florida hurricanes, and earthquakes in California, not to exclude the Tsnami of 2006, or the most recent devastion in Haiti? Events where hundreds, even thousands of people die, and millions in property can be destroyed. Are not these kinds of misery and the horror of such occurrences sufficient to be called ‘ God’s curse or Nature’s death blows?” No; its not. Cursing or blessing is only an accurate assessment of the relative human value you place on the experience-depending on your personal involvement or investment-your particular risk.
It is neither good theology or objective science. What matters for most humans is the consequences of the natural events and how those events and experiences affect their lives, safety and security… Some things, like the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s was considered disastrous for those who owned the forests, lumber mills, and building stocks. However, in the same state, for the apple growers, it was quite a beneficial boon. You see, the eruption effectively eradicated a severe locust infestation, and the ash from the explosion was an excellent fungicide, and a terrific fertilizer that created a bumper, quality crop! Now, it is wonderful to report, that new growth and animal life have returned and the cycle of life is renewing itself. Its all a matter of perception and judgment that determines how you see a natural event as good or evil.
Life, nature, and even the human body and the laws that govern every part, are continually trying to achieve balance or homeostasis. Equilibrium is the dynamic, ever active goal. It matters little to the vast universe if we measure this principle in barometric isobars, seismic Richter’s scales, or in factors of disease resistance. However humanity wants to measure the effects of the natural world ‘s attempts at achieving balance, whatever we want to call it, and however we choose to understand, it is only a human and cultural concern, with its particular consequences for each person and for the society they participate in or culture to which they belong. For example, if someone chooses to live along an active fault line, in a flood plain, on the side of a volcano that’s their choice… their risk, and their problem! (As a child, I lived on the highest point in my town; we had to have a special lightening rod installed on our roof to protect us… we were hit every few years, but our precautions made us safe… When I lived in Marshfield, MA, I was required by deed and by law to own flood insurance; I needed it only once in eight years-during the great Blizzard, and then I really needed it! As a scholarly professor of mine once put the risks of life , ” We all have free will, “Ya pays ya money, and ya takes ya pick!”)
At, first, my approach might seem cold and cavalier-it might offend your sense of empathy and caring about others, and what happens to them when a natural calamity hits… Let me assure you that compassion for the human dimension is not abandoned or dismissed. Of course I want to see the Red Cross and disaster relief being given, but I do not think that people who are living in a precarious place (particularly if they have the economic means to live elsewhere) should be given a blank check in economic and ecological responsibility particularly if they choose to rebuild to remain living in a danger or high risk zone, nor should insurance companies unduly be allowed to refuse coverage for people who are willing to pay for the additional risk premium.
I feel deeply for the pain experienced by people in those afflicted places around the world- and I cannot help but reflect on the fact that except for a certain twist and turn of events in my life, I would be living near LA, the minister of a church in the California that wouldbe right in the middle of the forest fire and quake zone! If disater struck me, would I arrogantly rebuild or would callously blame nature, when the real cause of the calamity might have been humans literally playing with fire?
To return to theology, the question remains how, if you believe in an all loving God, would such a God permit or allow such death, grief, and destruction? I can only begin to answer that question because Theodicy or the problem of evil is the hardest question in all religion and theology to answer. My attempt at a satisfactory reply has to be found in the concepts of free will, ignorance, and human self-interest. Only though greater education, through greater spiritual and community responsibility can systemic approach to ethics and corporate responsibility be applied, and with that awareness, the impact of human choices can be better understood.
Because God made us upright and free, we are also given dominion over the natural world by way of our reason and our compassion. Dominion, however, is not domination. All too often, the anthropocentric religious view places humanity in control, whereas the accurate translation of this Genesis charge is to place humanity in cooperation, so that we wisely and fairly govern the use of the land, water and sky resources and living conditions. Only when we realize our human part in preserving balance and harmony can many of these disasters be diminished, and when they do happen, to respond to them openly, that is, without blaming God, or believing in curses.
Regrettably, the modern world and its decision-makers are still fast asleep. Ignorance still prevails in poor land management, in bad city planning, and inadequate storm protection systems. Much of the disaster can be traced to faulty architecture, and other tragic oversights. As a part of a Newsweek magazine article puts it: “Terrifying as they are, earthquakes kill and injure people mainly because buildings fall on them; an earthquake at its bottom, is a man-made disaster.” (Japanese E-zone building codes, designs etc. vs. LA.)

As it states many places and in many Scriptures, God, through these laws of action and opposite reactions, cannot be mocked. Whether you are aware of these homeostatic self balancing laws governing health, agriculture, energy, or shifts in the earth’s crust is secondary- they are ever active, and it is up to us to align our lives in accord with the lessons they teach. If the principle of balance and self-correction is operating, then it is up to humanity to learn from its insights and blessings, and also to cope as best we can with its tragedies and terrors…
God, as I understand and as I believe in its divine reality, is dynamically natural and compassionately neutral. God has infused this world with an wise and meaningful design that often transcends our human awareness, and that often successfully defies any attempt to completely and logically categorize God’s will or divine actions into some neatly codified religion or dogma.
However, it is in the very holy paradox that is God- found on one hand in the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature and the transcendent beauty we can find, and on the other hand, there is the intimacy, comfort and solace we receive from intuitive affirmations, prayers, and other assurances that also attests to the importance of believing in the reality of God, cannot be reduced or diminished because we cannot fit God into some neat and tidy scientific theorem, or dogmatic creed.
Putting it as plainly as I can, it is ignorance of human safety, and the unwillingness to provide for proper education and environmental preventions, becomes and will sustain our greatest human tragedies, whether it concerns health care, AIDS, violence to our children, or volcanoes.
Spiritually understood, we have been created capable, reasonable by God, and we can aspire to work, to build and to live harmoniously with nature, respecting its natural rhythms and laws. My hope is that out of each natural disturbance, we will increasingly learn how to respond by changing policies, establish better safety codes, more efficient travel, and ways that honor the earth and create better cooperative structure for human society. As awareness of our stewardship of nature increases, responsibility for our behavior increases. As the advancement of society continues, the creation of safe, healthy living standards, working environments, will be more readily established, so that we , too, correspond to natural laws, and will dispel arrogance and selfishness concerning nature and our blessed natural world.

Most of us here willingly acknowledge that we make choices where we will live, and we make provisions for our choices as best we can. Each of us has admitted that no life situation is completely without risk, completely safe, nor can we remain safe and healthy without some cooperation from our families, friends, and neighborhoods. It makes sense, environmentally and
personally, to live according to our possibilities and up to our responsibilities. Disasters, especially the parts that are directly contributed to by human err and ignorance can be lessened. If we remain stubborn or unaware of what needs to be changed or provided for, we will remain more prone to calamities and travesty.
I believe that each person, neighborhood and country has to first work concertedly to overcome denial and convenience, and pay more attention to the choices we face, the choices we have to make.
My answer to this question is not a callous one, just a realistic one. I am concerned our egotistic propensities will keep us from working effectively together to eliminate any and all suffering that is avoidable. I remain hopeful that either through suffering or disillusionment with religious teachings that separate us from nature, that we will willingly abandon them in favor of through compassion, knowledge and meaningful change.
Here is my foundational premise: That a God worth knowing is one that is worth listening to, as a presence in our lives that offers us guidance and wisdom. As a presence, it functions best as a source for compassionate initiatives, ethical interactions, wise counsel, and that fosters both discretion and discernment when faced with the results and actions of the natural laws, cosmic energies, dynamic tensions, and all the undulating and awesome rhythms of life on earth.
Concerning nature, it cannot be evil; for these acts of God are the manifestations of a natural, supernal grace- a grace, a gift, but these gifts do not offer an escape clause for human and personal accountability. God and nature are good. God’s laws serve us easily and well. As we learn to abide by them respect them, harmony reigns. The earth and it environs will always be in a state of change and response to change. Changes, for human beings always contain risks; and possible dangers seek solutions and the best options have to be provided for and chosen.
In God’s world, evil has no place, and with positive human caring and compassion, we can enjoy a life that is relatively free of natural disasters. We have been given dominion, which is the privilege of living interdependently with all of nature. It is in the force of our reason and by our choice to live unselfishly that we will set envionmental standards that will sustain life for all citizens and all creatures. In God’s world, evil has no power, if positive human caring prevents it from occurring. As we claim our awareness and our responsibility, as we develop wisdom and empower greater preventative measures, our world will become as God created it: harmonious and good.
As I see it and believe it, my life bears witness to the reality of an Incarnational God, a power and a presence that infused in all nature, and present within each person and that is active and dynamic in everyone of us.
As it pertains to coping with disasters and tragedies, whenever I find the presence of an energy, a consciousness, a caring that is beyond the norm or the expected, for me, God is there. In this regard, Altruism, for me, is the most convincing quality of God’s presence in humanity. I state this as a part of my personal faith. And I say this in full admission that it can be convincingly argued that humankind has an innate secular, philosophical, and unconditional regard for one another that doesn’t necessitate a belief in a God to be active or realized. But I prefer to see unconditional, altruistic love as the apotheosis of humanity- our Godlike qualities revealed and expressed; that we, as responsible, caring human beings act as if we understand that we were, according to many Scriptures, born in the image and likeness of the Divine, and it is through acts of compassion and altruism that image becomes polished, and is seen in its clearest reflection….
Now I know, that such an Incarnational Theology may seem strange or unrealistic for many of you… After all, there is ample evidence of human cruelty, selfishness, and disregard for nature and much of the rest of humanity… It is easy then to see how some religions have championed the belief in sin, punishment and damnation for our human vices, and have cried out in dismay at our regular penchant for acting so demeaning, and exploitatively toward one another…
I prefer to agree with the formative Unitarian theologian, Theodore Parker, when he said that he believed, that despite whatever evidence to the contrary we might put forth, that the universe, through God, is bent toward justice, and as the tradition of the mystical church East and West has always held: Ubi Caritus, Deus Ubi Est: Wherever there is love, there is God.
So then, where is God to be found in the midst of human suffering, wide spread destruction, and tragic, sudden death? My answer: Very nearby!
God, as the heartfelt impulse and compassionate, responsive relational presence of universal good is found in all that we can offer to one another: God is found in every spoonful of milk, every crust of bread, every live saving medical supply, every piece of lumber that rebuilds homes; God is found in every hug, every sigh of empathy, every tear of empathy, every prayer of hope and promise of condolence we genuinely feel or can give…
As last words, God is found in the quality and depth of our caring; and it is sustained as belief and reality in every way that honors, respects, protects, and loves our sisters and brothers… We are children of one great love-we are all kin, in the family of God. AMEN

Benediction: Psalm 24: Eccleisastes 9

Who then, are of God? Those whose strength is in their compassion, and those who let God’s love shine through their hearts and hands….
Eccleisastes 9: [” Since the same fate befalls us all, the evil and the good, the pious and the profane.. For the race does not belong to the swift, nor battle to the strong, nor riches to the brightest, but time and chance happen to us all.”] Therefore, be wise, be loving, be unselfish- live well, work well, and care for one another. So Be It!

Words of Inspiration & Leadership from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 12, 2010 - 9:37 am 15 Comments

Being A Drum Major

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. Say that I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things in life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say. If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he is traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.”

Triple Evils

The Triple Evils of POVERTY, RACISM and WAR are forms of violence that exist in a vicious cycle. They are interrelated, all-inclusive, and stand as barriers to our living in the Beloved Community. When we work to remedy one evil, we affect all evils. The issues change in accordance with the political and social climate of our nation and world. Some contemporary manifestations are in italics below.

POVERTY – materialism, unemployment, homelessness, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, infant mortality, slums…

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty … The well off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.” *

RACISM – prejudice, apartheid, anti-Semitism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, ageism, discrimination against differently abled, stereotypes…

“Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life. It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission. It is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future. Racism is total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual and physical homicide upon the out-group.” *

WAR – militarism, imperialism, domestic violence, rape, terrorism, media violence, drugs, child abuse…

A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war- ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This way of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” *

To work against the Triple Evils, you need to: develop a nonviolent frame of mind as described in the “Six Principles of Nonviolence”; and use the Kingian model for social action outlined in the “Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change.”

Source: “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boston: Beacon Press, 1967.

In a column of reflection on the American people and their politcal culture, journalist and political author, Thurston Clarke made this observation about our society… He said:

The last politican to risk a discourging word about our thin-skinned culture, about our behavior and our character as a nation was Robert F. Kennedy, forty years ago…
Writing in the New York Times ,condemning the Vietnam War he said this: ” Once we thought, with Jefferson, that we were the “best hope” for all mankind. But now we seem to have become something else.”
In California, he echoed these words when he said:
America had once stood for decency and for justice, for confidence and hope, but now we have become something else. Kennedy continued his cultural critique with this observation: There is a failing of national generousity and compassion, there is an unwillingness to sacrifice.”

Barak Obama (2008) picked up this theme of political and social introspection when he observed this:
” part of the reason (for our economic crisis) occurred because we have been living through an era of profound irresponsibility. We all bear some responsibility for where we are now, as a country… And we bear our shared responsibilites for where we want to be in the future…

Homily/Reflection: Leadership and the Capacity for Hope 2009-

When addressing the young people of South Africa in 1966, Robert F. Kennedy made this observation about leadership and hope. It was the same passge that Ted Kennedy used at his funeral… It goes like this:

Some believe that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the array of the world’s ills. Yet many of the world’s great movements of thought and action have flowed from the work of a single person…

These individuals moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each person can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.

It is from numerous diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.

… Those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mighiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

In part, one of the foundational reasons for a church community to exist is to be an active witness for justice; to be a compassionate alternative to inequality ; to be a voice proclaiming liberty and dignity, as birthrights; and to be a vigilant and insistent beacon of hope in an otherwise ethically dim, grimy, and often callous world.

As Time reporter Nancy Gibbs recently wrote about Obama, leadership, and the promising shift in political consciousness:

“Some princes are born in palaces. Some are born in mangers. But a few are born in the imagination, out of scraps of history and hope…..

We get the leaders we deserve. And if we lift them up and then cut them off, refuse to follow unless they are taking us to Disneyland, then no President, however eloquent, however historic his mandate or piercing his sense of what needs to be done, can take us where we refuse to go.

Scanning through all the media headlines, searching through various
political pundits, the only reality we can surmise is that he will give our nation a new, optimistic, and uplifitng new sense of direction… How do I know? I will take it from the President elect himself, when on the campaign trail in NH, last summer:
” We have been told that we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics. They will only grow louder and more dissonant in the weeks to come. We been asked to pause for a reality check; we’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about having hope.”

There is nothing false about having hope! There is nothing weak about having a strong vision, and there is nothing timid about the necessity to lead by live up to one’s own values or sense of right…

Dr. King was far less concilliatory, far more strident, more insistent what his example does cogently life up for us is the dynamism of leadership, and the source and the force that authenticity gives to being a leader…

Reflection: MLK and The Qualities of Leadership

When a reporter once asked Dr. King about when he will stop in his war protests, or when he would stop standin gup for the poor, his response was this:

Sir, I am sorry that you do not know me. I am not a consensus leader. I do not determine what is right and what is wrong by looking at the budget… Or taking a Gallop poll.. Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus…

There comes a time when we must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but we must do it because conscience tells us it is right. …”

A Reflection of Your Image

I am your church, your congregation, your community , your family… Make of me what you will; I shall reflect you as clearly as a mirror. If outwardly, my appearance is pleasing and inviting, it is because you have made me so. If within my spiritual atmosphere is kindly, yet earnest; reverent, yet friendly; worshipful, yet sympathetic; it is but the manifestation of the spirit, outlook, and attituides of those whom belong to me.

But if you should, by chance, find me a bit cold, or dull, I beg of you not to condemn me, for I imitate the kind of life I receive from you. Of this you may be assured, I will respond instantly to your every wish that is practically and humanly expressed, for I reflect the image of your own soul. Make of me what you will.