Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

The Day of the Wrath of the Lamb

December 10, 2014

This coming Saturday, 12/13/14, is being widely promoted as a “Day of Anger.” Because many of our institutions seem to be in the hands of liars, hypocrites, the selfish and the cruel, there is much to be angry about in this country, as throughout the world. Perhaps many of us, when next called for jury duty, will find reason to tell the judge, as I do, “I have no faith in this justice system to do justice, nor in this correctional system to correct.” Fortunately, however, there is an all-seeing and almighty God, who has established an infallible justice system and a perfect correctional system.

But while we wait for these to do their work, we have a choice before us: to let anger tempt us to be hurtful, or to forgive. The Buddha warns us that if we give into such a temptation, suffering will follow us “as the cart-wheel follows the hoof of the draft-ox” (Dhammapada, 1). Jesus warns us that if we don’t forgive others their trespasses against us, neither will God forgive us our own (Matthew 6:15) – and this, not because our all-merciful God, whose very nature is Love, wants to withhold forgiveness, but because our blocking the outflow of forgiveness from our own hearts also blocks the inflow of it, just as breaking a wire in an appliance stops the flow of electric current and disables the appliance from doing what it was made to do.

Jesus modeled God’s forgiveness by forgiving even His own betrayers and murderers as He hung dying on the cross (Luke 23:34); so did His follower Stephen (Acts 7:60), setting a pattern for all persons of good will to follow. We should make every effort to follow this example, not for the selfish reason that we’re hoping for a personal heavenly reward (in which case we may not deserve that reward), but out of compassion for all those merciless, fear-driven human hearts responsible for police violence against persons of color, for CIA torture of political suspects, for sins against the planetary ecosystem, for government coverups and perversions of justice everywhere. These souls are our brothers and sisters, human broken appliances in need of repair. If we can’t wish for their recovery and salvation, we can’t fairly wish for our own; without the repair of our own unforgiving hearts, we can only expect to wind up in the same junkyard.

All this is not to say that we shouldn’t rebuke evildoers; the all-important question is what spirit we rebuke them in: with intent to hurt them or intent to heal.

The Book of Revelation describes, in symbolic form, times of trouble yet to come, when disorders of nature will threaten men and women with fearsome sufferings, not unlike the way our scientists expect them to do shortly. In an ironic twist, the narrator announces that a lion will step in to save the day,  but the heralded “lion” that appears turns out to be a lamb (Rev. 5:6), symbolic of Jesus Christ. The action then heats up: war, famine, mass death, a great earthquake, and the darkening of the skies. Terrified, the rich and powerful flee to their bunkers in the mountains, where they call to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Rev. 6:16.) What, the wrath of the Lamb? Only the insane would be afraid of the wrath of a lamb! Only the insane… or those so deeply guilty, and so unforgiving in their own hearts, that when their hopes of controlling the situation vanish, they can only expect to be treated as unfeelingly as they have treated others; and that expectation is their own self-condemnation.  As the Gospel of John (3:19-20) puts it: “This is the condemnation: that men loved the darkness rather than the Light… for everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Earlier I expressed my trust that God’s correctional system is perfect: by which I mean that every soul gets corrected and healed, and in the end none are lost. But the thought of guilty and violent souls, before the end of that process, calling for mountains and rocks to fall on them – that’s enough to turn my Day of Anger into a Day of Tears: tears not only for the victims of racist or other police brutality, but for the perpetrators themselves. I could wish such self-inflicted cruelty on no one; and neither, I think, could the loving Creator that I worship.

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Unfit to Worship

October 23, 2014

I woke up from a horrifying dream.

I was in a college library, smoking the stub of a joint in a secluded aisle. Fearing that others might smell marijuana smoke and come looking, I realized that I’d better conceal my little roach in my cupped hand and leave the library quickly. I hurried out the glass doors and onto the deserted twilit lawn. And then I realized that I hadn’t done my morning devotions, but had chosen to blow off greeting my God and Savior, my very Life, so that I could get stoned instead. How remorseful that made me, and how ashamed! And this choice that I’d made was no simple mistake that I could repent and ask forgiveness for, but one that had left me, at least for the moment, unfit to approach God at all, for I had just poisoned my mind with a drug that would leave me incapable of worship or focused concentration of any kind. As despair struck me, I snapped awake.

I won’t waste the reader’s time telling about my college years, now roughly half a century in the past, which provided the symbolic imagery for this dream and taught me the effects of marijuana on my own brain. I’d rather direct the reader’s attention to the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30; Luke 13:28; in my dream, the lawn outside the library), and the scriptural warnings against “finding no place of repentance, though we seek it carefully with tears” (Hebrews 12:17; so also in Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31). Shakespeare gives us a memorable portrait of a sinner who kneels, but cannot pray, in King Claudius (Hamlet, III.iii). But perhaps my readers have their own memories of being in such a case. It’s not that God won’t gladly hear prayers from the most hopeless of sinners in the most hopeless of positions! But there are things we do, on our side, to disable our own access to God.

Now I’ve been proclaiming, with joy, a God who forgives everything, heralded by a prophet, God’s unique son Jesus, who forgave even His own murderers, and convincingly claimed that His Heavenly Father was of the same character (John 14:7-11). But I fear I haven’t been paying sufficient attention to the predicament of the soul who puts herself beyond this wonderful universal forgiveness, locks herself out, and throws away the key. God does not damn us; we damn ourselves (John 3:19-20). This is not God’s will for us! God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11); God intends a universal reconciliation (Colossians 1:20)! God’s nature is love (1 John 4:8) and love wishes only good to every being (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Moreover, God tells us (please forgive the masculine pronoun, which I know limits the Limitless One) that there is nothing too hard for Him (Genesis 18:14, Jeremiah 32:27). Jesus tells of the good shepherd’s delight in rescuing the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7). But God, who created us with freedom of choice, can’t rescue a will that willfully refuses rescue. One must say “yes.” And we have ways of sealing our own mouths so that we can’t say “yes.” Adrienne von Speyr (in The Letter to the Colossians, commenting on Colossians 3:17) observes: “That is the most serious thing about sin: that, once chosen, it remains constant and sticks to the sinner. Unless help comes from outside, from above, unless he receives grace, man cannot get rid of it.”

I held the details of my dream in worship, and the significance of the act of smoking pot in a college library grew on me: what is a college library but a place where a student goes to acquire knowledge for the sake of understanding, and understanding for the sake of wisdom? In its essence it’s a temple for lovers of Wisdom, the bride of Love. But if one loves merely the empty mental pleasures that smoldering cannabis induces, or loves knowledge for purposes contrary to wisdom and love (say, the power to dominate, exploit, impress or seduce people), then one is not only an impostor with no business in the temple of Wisdom but a fire-hazard dangerous to its treasures. They and you don’t belong together. For your own sake it’s best to get out of the treasury of knowledge before the knowledge itself turns hurtful to you, as our misguided civilization is now starting to discover – but that’s another topic.

For the topic at hand is love: we’re given the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:37-40), as God loves us. When we love things incompatible with the love of God and the neighbor, like our own pleasure and profit, our own safety, our own preeminence and good name,  or the secret compartment we hide our lies in, then, and to the extent of these loves, we disable our own access to God. What foolishness! And yet we all do it, at least until we ask to have our hearts washed clean of loves for lifeless idols. But that’s the easiest and simplest thing to ask for!

So take this opportunity to pray with me: Lord God, Divine Mother, Higher Power, whatever You wish us to call You, show us the true nature of the objects we’ve given our love to; help us discern rightly what deserves our love, and what does not; give us hearts willing to love the good and the worthy; and then set them on fire with love! This we ask in Jesus’ name, who promised (John 14:14), “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” Amen.

 

What Quakers Believe about… Repentance and Remission of Sins

September 20, 2014

And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. – Luke 24:47 (AV)

What Quakers believe about anything is, for better or for worse, conditioned by what they’ll allow themselves to believe. Those of little faith may believe some of what they read in the newspaper, some of the time, while those of great faith may be working major “signs and wonders” to the glory of God. One thing Friends tend to agree on, though, is that we ought to speak from personal experience, and be able to answer affirmatively to the query, “Is it inwardly from God?” If it’s simply an opinion – early Friend George Fox wrote, “We own not opinions.” What follows, I believe, is inwardly from God.

According to the author of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus left his followers with a commission to preach, that is, to announce the availability of, a changed state of mind (metanoia or “repentance”) that would allow one to know oneself to be sinless: in other words, that one’s previously acknowledged sins had been dismissed, forgiven, and declared null and void. The original Greek reads metanoia eis aphesin hamartiōn, literally “repentance into remission of sins, so we know that Jesus didn’t intend us to think that “repentance” and “remission of sins” were two separate and independent gifts, but one thing that led directly into the other.

And yes, they are gifts: repentance isn’t something we can achieve by ourselves, any more than we can lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. As the first generation of Christians recognized (Acts 11:18), it comes to us as a gift from outside ourselves, or not at all. Otherwise there’d be a huge industry peddling repentance like a drug, and how-to-forgive-yourself books would be on every combat veteran’s Kindle. Churches would be fitness centers of the soul, where moms and dads would put in a half hour on the treadmill after work to sweat out the day’s lies, white-collar crimes and adulterous fantasies, then go home to the kids fresh as a daisy. Of course there are preachers who’ll exhort you to repent as if you could do it at will: but I, who had to “repent” of smoking seven times before I could stay quit, can tell them otherwise: it was granted me to quit smoking.

How would we know that we ourselves, or another person, are in a genuine state of repentance and not in a mere mood or delusion? For there are people that do dreadful things without feeling the least bit sinful about them; we call them psychopaths. But “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20). Jesus, in Luke 7:36-50, shows us the signs of a person who knows she’s been forgiven all her sins – she’s exuberant, loving, and generous, even to the point of letting herself look a little foolish: she weeps in public, she kisses Jesus’ feet. It’s a kind of behavior not easily counterfeited.

Moreover, repentant people who’ve experienced remission of sins should be able to describe how they know their sins were remitted. Since George Fox’s day, Quakers have been in the habit of asking claimants to religious truth, “What canst thou say?” I could answer you, for example, that I was sitting in meeting one day, obsessively berating myself for some past foolishness, when I heard an authoritative Voice in my mind say, “That sin is forgiven: put it away!” During another Quaker meeting I heard that Voice say “I will not let you fall into sin.” And there were other experiences, so that today I feel still temptable, but powerfully protected, and discouraged from worrying. But ask for your own convincing experience!

Luke records that remission of sins is to be preached in Jesus’ name, and it’s a fact that among North American Quakers today, some preach in Jesus’ name and some do not. Some might argue that, before Jesus’ time, the Buddha also taught a way to sinlessness that erases the karma and vāsanās of sin: of whether this way works I confess my ignorance, not having followed that path. I preach repentance and remission of sins in Jesus’ name for these reasons:

1. I’ve felt myself given “a mouth, and wisdom” (Luke 21:15) to do so by the Lord Jesus Himself, who has made me a member of Christ. In this work “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20). This is a condition available to everyone, though it requires a kind of voluntary dying to one’s old ways.

2. Only in the ministry of Jesus, for the first time in known history, do we find an instruction to forgive everyone everything, modeled perfectly for us by the Teacher’s own behavior, coupled with a declaration that God our Creator is of the same all-forgiving spirit. It is extremely important for men and women to know this about God. But to know this about God, we must practice that all-forgiving spirit ourselves, and ask God’s help with it.

One thing Quakers are rightly known for is their truthfulness, and I would be less than truthful if I claimed or even implied that what I’ve written here is typical of contemporary Quaker thought. But I do hope to help make it so.

Remembering from Whence We Are Fallen

September 5, 2014

Dear Friends,

This is an unofficial, personal epistle from the sixth annual gathering of Christ-centered Friends in the Northeast, which took place over Labor Day Weekend. I started writing it from my bedroom on the last night of our stay at Powell House, intending to send it to everyone who’d expressed regret at not being able to attend, and also to everyone else who I thought would want to know how it had gone. I’ll be posting this letter on the blog “among Friends” to give it maximum circulation. Although I served as Clerk of the gathering’s planning group, let me repeat that this letter has no official status as a statement from the gathering or its planners, but is just what is on this one Friend’s heart to share with the world.

The theme for the gathering, “Abide in Me,” from Jesus’ Vine Sermon (John 15:4), was chosen last Winter. As our planning group worked on developing a program for the weekend over a series of conference calls, we became clear on two things: (1) that we’d be trying to relate our discussion to participants’ personal experiences of “dwelling in” or “being indwelt by” Christ the Vine, and (2) that we’d be flexible in our planning, not adopting a rigid schedule in advance, in order to let the Holy Spirit guide our sequence of activities as much as we could. I think that the interest in personal experiences (1) served to help me (and, I hope, others) stay focused on my living connection to Christ, avoiding airy notions or unprofitable light conversation during the weekend, and that the intentional flexibility of programming (2) was what allowed the two evening prayer sessions to happen. These proved to be the high points of my weekend.

We had twenty-five participants – fewer than in prior years when we’d met at Powell House. As often happens, some came late and some left early, but for most of the programmed events we had about twenty-two. Four came from the New England Yearly Meeting area, two from elsewhere, and the rest from the New York Yearly Meeting area. Each, on arrival, got a printed sheet with John 15:1-11 on it, in the New Revised Standard Version. Sixth-day evening was largely given over to dinner, introductions and waiting worship. The vocal ministry we heard, I thought, was reflective of the concerns we were bringing with us – like “are we called to be Christian Quakers or to think of ourselves as Quaker Christians?”

On Seventh-day morning we considered the simple phrase “Abide in Me” in plenary session, then proceeded into an hour and a half of waiting worship. There was considerable vocal ministry, but none arresting, I thought, until the three messages that came right at the end. The Friend who’d suggested the “Abide in Me” theme spoke of having invited Jesus Christ to abide in him, and three times being asked, “Are you sure you want this?” The last Friend to give ministry broke into deep vocal prayer that seemed to expose his very heart. I could now be optimistic that the Holy Spirit was bringing us closer.

After lunch we labored. We discussed the first eleven verses of the Vine Sermon in small groups (“Where does the text touch your life now? Was there a time in your life when this ‘abiding’ was harder?”), and then in another plenary session. There at least one Friend expressed fear of the possibility of being found to be an “unfruitful branch” and cast into the fire. Another argued for the positive, hopeful thrust of the Vine Sermon as a whole, and against the existence of a God who might damn anyone. A third spoke of his earlier life as a liar, seducer, thief and self-glorifier, a life and character that he gladly surrendered to be trashed as an unfruitful branch after he’d found himself given a new, repentant heart and a new life in Christ – a gamut of personal experience that made both the promising and the threatening aspects of the “vine” metaphor apt without implying any expectation of a condemnation of any sentient being to everlasting fire. Both fear of God and trust in God were displayed among us, but by God’s grace we weren’t being polarized into believers in hell and disbelievers in hell, but rather gathered, I’d like to think, as a body of God-fearing, God-trusting God-lovers who could all speak to something in one another’s souls. And God – God was God. God loved us, and knew best what to do with us.

That evening we broke into prayer-groups of five or six each. My group quickly went deep into confessions of personal need and heartfelt concern for loved ones. Three of us dropped to our knees on one side of the parlor coffee table and joined hands. One was trembling as she prayed, and remained trembling. Aware of the intensity of others’ experience, I said “Amen” to every petition I heard, but felt strangely cool and neutral inwardly myself, until, at the end, I began to speak for my own yearnings, praying first for my own immediate family and then, as I warmed inwardly, for the whole fear-driven, war-torn, ignorance-darkened world.

Seventh-day night saw an “extracurricular” gathering in the library to discuss discipleship and disciple-making. That deserves a separate letter, and so I’ll pass over it in this report; perhaps you’ll hear about it from someone else.

In First-day morning’s meeting for worship, my wife Elizabeth broke into quaking, a first for her, as she gave vocal ministry on the topic of the Word made flesh, in Christ and in our deeds. Another Friend, bidden by the Holy Spirit, prayed in her native language, unfamiliar to the rest of us, for an ailing family member. I sensed a divine covering – but then, not every message seemed Spirit-led, and the meeting “crumbled” – I don’t know how else to describe it – as Friends broke into speaking a second time in a single meeting, addressing one another by name, and making attempts to “fix” a situation gone awry. We’d started to rise, then stumbled and fallen into a slight, but temporary, disorder. Here we broke for lunch and then several hours of free time.

A late-afternoon small-group exercise focused on “pruning the branches” seemed to bring rich insights. The first four verses of John 15 were slowly read aloud, lectio-divina style, and we considered the pruning that had been done to ourselves – or that we saw as needing to be done. A property-owner new to pruning apple trees and grapevines told of being taught that good pruning is severe pruning, and that fruit trees send shoots upward, but orchard-keepers want them to grow mostly outward and sideways. Another Friend shared the insight that God does not prune once, but continues to prune, giving us just enough stress at any one time as we can take. Another Friend reminded us of our importance to the ongoing work of Christ by observing that the Vine only produces fruit through its branches. One countered our habit of thinking of ourselves solely as individuals by warning that if we neglect our daily practice, we impoverish our meeting. And I? I saw much that I could be pruned of, and found myself welcoming the shears. They might scare me as they grew closer, but I trusted the Lord to give me whatever courage I might need.

The planning group decided that the best thing we could do with the evening ahead of us would be to have prayer-groups again. This time we split into one group of eight and another of ten. My group, the smaller one, moved off to the parlor. I knelt and prayed aloud that the Lord would gather us, and returned to my seat.

Jim, a former monk, spoke next: “Lord, I offer up this prayer of Saint Ignatius:

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more. Amen.”

Jim recalls adding, after Ignatius’s original “my memory [and] my understanding,” “my intuition,” “my imagination,” and “my emotions.” In all, it was quite a comprehensive list, and I prayed to be “naughted” – a Fourteenth-Century term I’d learned from reading Julian of Norwich – in every aspect of my personal experience. I noticed my random thoughts with neither eagerness nor revulsion, recalled that I’d surrendered them to God, and then grew sleepy as the silence lengthened. And then the thought came: I can’t let myself sleep! This prayer group is going to fail if I don’t stay alert! And with that, I knelt again and stayed kneeling, waiting for something… something from within or without.

Then Roger, from across the table, asked whether he could put hands on my shoulders. “Please do,” I answered.

Roger’s hands on my shoulders were soon joined by Jim’s hands on my head. And then Jim started to chant the plainsong Salve Regina in his serene old voice. He was calling on the Virgin Mary for help. I was grateful. I rarely think of asking her or any other holy person for help, punctilious monotheist that I am, although I’ve sensed her presence alongside me in prayer once or twice before. With Mary and Jesus invoked, Elizabeth at my side, Roger and Jim touching me, and other loving presences around the table, I felt sweetly and solemnly held. There was a little pulsing of energy in the field around my crown, something that I sometimes take as a sign of a visitation by the Holy Spirit.

Jim’s voice sang on: Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes, in hac lacrimarum valle. I understood the Latin: To thee we sigh, groaning and weeping in this valley of tears. It may have been that the thought came to me in an unfamiliar language, sneaking up on my emotions from beneath, that brought tears into my chest, or it may have been that they were sung rather than spoken: but there those tears were, and I sensed I was ready to pray from them, though I didn’t know where it would lead. When Jim was done singing, I spoke again, in tears that grew to a torrent of sobbing:

“Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Holy Spirit, Lord Jesus: we are in trouble, bigger trouble than we know: but You know. We, Your children, are fallen, fallen away from You to where we can’t see or feel You, and we’re behaving in a way that’s destroying the earth before our own eyes. We see it, but we can’t stop ourselves. And we’re doing it because we’re in bondage to a great lie. All of us! The oppressors and the oppressed alike, we’ve put ourselves in bondage, we’ve invited the Father of Lies to be our master, and we can’t see it! We’ve enslaved ourselves to habits, cultures, world-views, organizations, and insane loyalties to false gods that are now working together to destroy all life on this planet, with war, with racism and hatred, with deceit and denial, with runaway overconsumption of things that can’t satisfy, and yet we keep guzzling them down to fill our emptiness! Our destruction of the environment is merely an outward sign of our inward sickness! – and because it’s not quite burning us up quite yet, we’re able to keep ourselves blind to the fact, or we look to scapegoating and mutual blaming as a solution, which will prove to be no solution, because the problem is us! Because it’s we who’ve wandered away from the good way that was Your holy will, which was what was best for all creation and every creature in it. It was we who thought that we might create a better reality, and enjoy a better freedom, if we each pursued a separate will and served ourselves instead of one another! – which was madness, but we called it wisdom, and we refused to listen to Your guidance, guidance that would call us back to serving the One Good Will and so restoring the creation to health! And now we’re stuck in this bondage, unable to get out of it so long as we’re in denial of it, shackled into our chains while the world around us catches fire and all around us is burning! Help us, Lord! In Jesus’ holy name, help us! Amen!”

Emptied at last of tears and words, I rose from my knees with Elizabeth’s help and returned to my seat, At last, I thought, I’d felt, on an emotional level, the enormity of the sin, the madness, the all-consuming evil that I’d spent the last month writing about.

After a pause, Emily spoke from the other side of Jim: “Thank God for John, because when I look at the world I see love, and happiness, and people smiling at one another! And I know that his vision is true, but I know that my vision is also true!”

It was a wonderful, healing affirmation of what I’d been carrying. What could I feel but gratitude? And I knew that her sunnier vision of this human world was also true, and needed to be expressed, too – and this was why both of us were needed.

On Second-day morning, the planning group decided that we’d done all we were meant to with the text of John 15, and we did some threshing by geographical divisions – putting Friends from New Paltz on southward into one room and Friends to the North, East, and West of that into another, to discuss possibilities of regional networks and gatherings. We followed that with an hour of waiting worship, and then a business session to decide whether we’d try to create a seventh Northeastern Christ-centered Friends’ gathering, or merely regional gatherings – or what.

During the waiting worship, a Friend confessed to having held back a message on the previous day. He recited from Revelation 2:1-5: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works;” our original love for God having cooled, we can no longer do the works that that love once inspired: we must return to the heights we fell from.

In the brief business session that followed, we saw that there lacked the energy to plan for another Labor Day Weekend gathering in 2015. A Friend from downstate announced that they’d be hosting front-lawn barbecues on all the three-day weekends of the next Summer. Another Friend informed us that Quaker Spring would be gathering next Sixth Month (6/26-7/1) at Oakwood School in Poughkeepsie, and because our gathering would draw from much the same population and resources, he suggested that we think of Tenth or Eleventh Month as a better time for us to re-gather than Labor Day Weekend. With that in mind, we released Powell House from having to hold Labor Day Weekend 2015 open for us on its calendar, though further discernment may cause us to revisit the possibility of gathering on Labor Day Weekend. We created a Discernment Committee to consider possible dates and places for our re-gathering. Once we’ve had our first conference call, the committee should report back to Friends.

Our business concluded, we went to lunch, had last conversations and prayer-gatherings, and then went our separate ways.

In friendship to you all,

John Edminster

Stopping Climate Change Will Take a Change of Heart

August 22, 2014

You and I know that these could be our last years on earth, and our children’s too. We’ve known since the 1970s that our greenhouse gas production is driving climate change. The nightmare sequels, we now know, may include global famine from cropland desertification and collapse of the marine food chain as CO2 sours the seas. To their credit, many men and women of good will are responding by innovating, protesting, going off-grid and eating more simply. Protest actions against a major coal-fired power plant have led to plans for its closure. But the mitigations put in place have consistently seemed too little, too late, and profiteers, enabled by an “anything goes” culture that cares little about truth-telling, are still generating PR claims that natural gas and plutonium are “green,” and elected officials are buying it. Global demand for an ever-higher standard of living, along with capital’s need to milk that demand for ever-higher levels of corporate profit and power, still trump any sustained and coordinated effort to intervene for the common good. Can a People’s Climate March hope to change this? Can any raising of voices or massing of numbers?

A man-made doomsday

How shall we name the situation? There are too many people on the planet saying Me first, or groups of people saying Us first. We’re choking on human selfishness. What’s looming ahead of us is a man-made doomsday attributable entirely to human greed, lying, willed inattention – let’s call it by its right name: human evil. And it’s not just the evil of bankers, fossil-fuel CEOs, and their hirelings in government that we’re looking at, but a spiritual sickness we all share: for we all try to tilt reality in our own favor, sometimes hiding the truth to protect our own skin, often turning a blind eye to the suffering of others. If we stand on moral ground no higher than the “culprits” of climate change, dare we hope to change their ways?

Another way of seeing the situation

But this scenario is built around fear, and the expectation of scarcity and death.

Scarcity and death are not God’s will for us, as the witness of God in your own heart will tell you if you will listen for it. The scriptural testimonies of humans who have known the heart of our Creator confirm this: in Isaiah 45:18, God declares that God created the world “not in vain, but to be inhabited.” The apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon makes the amazing assertion that God “did not create death, but the ungodly, with their hands and their words, drew death to them” (Wisdom 1:13-16), and the prophet Ezekiel records God as saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies” (Ez. 18:32, 33:11). In the Sermon of the Good Shepherd, Jesus declares, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), contrasting His role with that of the sheep-rustler whose work is only to destroy. Jesus taught that it was God’s will not to judge and condemn, but only to forgive and heal, and Jesus modeled this divine love by laying down His life for souls gone astray, forgiving even His own murderers. How perfectly or imperfectly the Jesus of scripture reflects the actual character of the God who gave you life and consciousness, again, is something you can ask the witness of God in your own heart. Expect an answer.

The climate crisis will not be overcome by forcing or persuading the “sheep-rustlers” to stop destroying the environment. Neither is there any good done by punishing, condemning or scapegoating them, not even in your fantasies, for “with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged” (Matt. 7:2), and Jesus also taught that refusal to forgive our enemies keeps us unable to receive God’s forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15).

Forgive and be forgiven

But there is a larger point to be made about forgiveness: it is the revolutionary principle that can change the world. It is the only revolutionary principle that can change the world. The social, economic and political world that is now cooking itself with greenhouse gases is one that runs on the principle of scapegoating: that is, morally imperfect persons with injured consciences (that’s all of us) seek the healing of their injured consciences by imputing evil to other people and then, to the best of their ability, driving those others out of society. This is the origin of war, slavery, the subjugation of women and countless other evils. Like an addictive drug, scapegoating numbs the pangs of conscience, but does not heal the injury. But extending universal forgiveness does, and the empowerment that comes with being healed and receiving divine forgiveness knows no limits.

Let us try, then, what love can do. Forgiveness is an act of will, not a matter of having the right feelings; anyone can do it. It does not require reconciliation with people who have hurt us, and whom we would rather have nothing more to do with. It asks of us only that we make the effort to wish them the same eternal happiness we would wish for ourselves.

The People’s Climate March as a Call to Prayer

August 12, 2014

You and I know that these could be our last years on earth, and our children’s too. Scientists have been warning us since the 1970s that our greenhouse gas production is driving climate change, with nightmare downstream effects that may include global famine from desertification of the world’s croplands and collapse of the marine food chain from souring of the ocean by carbon dioxide. Species now go extinct in ominous numbers, raising fears that nature’s pollinators may vanish, killing off the bread of life. As melting ice caps raise sea levels, coastal cities and island nations will sink beneath the waves like Atlantis of legend. Experts tell us that radical mitigation is essential to our survival, but the mitigations put in place are consistently too little, too late; and this, evidently, because mass demand for an ever-higher standard of living, and capital’s drive to milk that demand for ever-higher levels of profit and corporate power, trump any sustained effort to intervene for the common good. In a word, we’re choking on human selfishness: too many people saying Me first.

There will be an end of the world, astronomers predict, four billion years from now, when the sun grows into a red-giant star that swallows its nearest planets. But unlike that more distant, quick end of the world from natural causes, what we’re looking at now is a slow, gradual human-made doomsday, attributable entirely to human evil. Evil? Yes: we could agree to end war, reduce our footprint, and see that everyone’s fed; but we do not. No, it won’t do to blame a power elite of bankers, arms manufacturers, oil-company CEOs and their hirelings in the government and the media for this: that’s called scapegoating, and unforgiveness, and projecting of our own shadow, and judging our brother for the speck we see in his eye. Those power-elite folks are like us. We tell lies. We connive for our own advantage. We turn a blind eye to the sufferings of others. And often we do it, barely aware, on behalf of our employer, our country, or any other body to which loyalties bind us: there it’s “Us first.” Together we all combine to maintain this scapegoating Me-first and Us-first culture out of which this selfish ravaging of the earth rises unchecked by care for the common good.

But we have an all-powerful and loving Creator we can appeal to. True, we’re not used to thinking of God as a real Changer of things, for the science we learned in school left little room for the divine to act in. But our theories about reality don’t limit God to being what we think God is.

What if God intends to save us from this human-made doomsday? But first, I think, we have a lesson to learn – the one our parents tried to teach us, about not being selfish.

Yes, I know: the situation asks more of us than we can do by our own efforts. This is why there’s this process called repentance. When we can no longer bear going on being the way we are, but lack the means of changing our ways, we ask for help, and miraculously, a Higher Power grants us that help. Repentance – the Biblical words for it nachom and metanoia could also be translated “change of heart” – is not something we do, but something we receive as a gift from God: a cosmic heart that can no longer play favorites. To fully receive it, we must forgive everyone everything. Only then do we remove the blockage we installed – yes, we installed it – that prevents our receiving the unconditional love, and guiding wisdom, that the Author of Unconditional Love wishes to give us. That love and wisdom can forge us into the human community we need to be in order to serve as healers of the earth. Nothing else can.

Let’s take the day of the People’s Climate March as an opportunity to worship our One God together, asking God to remove the hardness from our own hearts and the blindness from our eyes, and make new people of us. Only then can we hope to inspire such repentance in the policy-makers, both the known and the hidden ones, whose intransigence is now cooking the planet.

Hiroshima Day 2014

August 6, 2014

I awoke at 5 and knelt in the darkness to pray. I seemed to see God in the likeness of an old man in a white robe, seated on a featureless white surface, turned away from me. Wordlessly I begged Him not to hide His face from me. He turned it toward me and all the skin and hair had been burned off by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My people had done this to Him. Inasmuch as we’d done it to our neighbors in these two cities, we’d done it to our God, our Source and Refuge. And by “my people” I understood not “the people of the United States” but all the people with hearts and minds like mine, a whole world of revenge-takers, scapegoaters, finger-pointers, grudge-holders and preemptive-strikers: the fallen, in short: the fallen, fear-dominated and ignorant, the projectors of what they despise in themselves onto other people. And now these are also the guilty before God, who the more desperately want to disbelieve in God the more faces they’ve burned off their neighbors and their neighbors’ children in their unspeakable acts of war: they and their proxies in military uniform, they and their proxies in the seats of government, they and their proxies in “defense” industries, which since our initiating wars of choice can no longer be called that. Did I say “they?” I mean “we,” because I too have worn a military uniform, financed nuclear weapons, napalm and white phosphorus with my taxes, voted a wartime commander-in-chief into office, had my retirement funds grow unscreened, and, more to the point, wished cruel and humiliating deaths on others.
O my God! How can I repent deeply enough to help my people repent? Can a man washed clean walk among the defiled, imparting Your cleanness as he goes and not merely taking on his companions’ dirt? Can a soul put her heart altogether into Your holy heart but leave her face and feet among her fellow guilty? Can she be made pure enough to convince those around her that You are a God that forgives everything? Why are my eyes still dry on this day, and my bones not on fire, having seen Your face with the skin burned away?

Plan C: World Repentance

July 19, 2014

Contingency planning for the end of the world

All life on earth is now threatened by man-made global warming. And the holders of the world’s political and economic power, as a whole, seem powerless or unwilling to stop it. Celebrated thinker Lester R. Brown published Plan B: Rescuing a Planet in Distress and a Civilization in Trouble in 2003 (now revised as Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, 2009); but instead of listening to Brown and adopting a plausible Plan B, the world continues with its suicidal Plan A, business as usual. Earthcare activists struggle valiantly to open the ears of willfully deaf policymakers while modeling low-impact life-ways themselves, but little is said by anyone about what we might do in case all these interventions prove too little and too late. This writing is to open that conversation. This writing is to suggest a Plan C – which perhaps our Creator may have had in mind all along for just such an occasion as this, a gradually-dawning man-made doomsday.

Plan C is World Repentance. It seems reasonable. An escapist drunken orgy is not reasonable. Genocide of all but a privileged few is not reasonable, though many who think God loves only the privileged may hope that a Rapture-event will achieve the genocide for them. Darkening the skies with megatons of charcoal to cool the earth’s surface is not reasonable, and even if it were, it would relieve only one of many environmental disorders we’ve caused. Scapegoating of designated “destroyers of the earth” is not reasonable, though I fear it may be widely resorted to. The problem is that we’re all among the destroyers of the earth.

Repentance: it’s not a popular word today, possibly because it’s so often used by religious bullies who want to make other people “repent,” that is – in their understanding of the word – grovel. Or perhaps because it’s confused with beating ourselves up. God never asks us to beat ourselves up; it hurts God’s child, and anyway, it does no good. Repentance is, rather, a God-initiated healing process that leaves the person wiser, more loving, and at peace. In the Hebrew Bible, repentance appears in forms of the verb nāḥám, literally “to sigh;” in the New Testament, of the verb metanoéō, literally “to change one’s mind or purpose.” First we exhale completely, letting go of all agendas, all defenses; then we let our purpose be changed. With purpose changed, everything changes. That’s why some speak of “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

Plan C will not be a program instituted by executive order or act of congress. The Pope, the Dalai Lama and a panel of Nobel laureates may come to endorse it, but it will not begin with them. It will begin in millions of contrite human hearts when the numbness of collective denial wears off. They will whisper words of contrition in hundreds of tongues, make prayers according to every world-view and religious tradition on earth, and perhaps weep and groan in the Holy Spirit. Not everyone will; the seer of the Apocalypse anticipated that some would “gnaw their tongues for pain, and blaspheme the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repent not of their deeds” (Revelation 16:10-11) – as some men and women do in every crisis that tries their conscience. But the more people that do repent of their wrongdoings, the easier they make it for their unrepentant neighbors to have the needed change of heart.

Plan C is not magic: it is not a technique to achieve a desired objective. Neither is it offered here as a remedy for fear: let’s face it, nightmares are scary. It’s simply offered as a right thing to do when we see that it’s too late to do all the other right things we might have done. We don’t know what God will do, and whether or not World Repentance would change God’s mind. (Can anything change God’s mind? The philosophers’ jury is still out on that one.) We can see that God didn’t let us suddenly destroy life on earth with nuclear weapons – at least, not yet – but God may still let us slowly destroy life on earth with our wasteful, overconsuming and selfish ways. Or, God may not! There is no second-guessing God.

Are you feeling a call to repentance? It can be followed from within whatever religious tradition you claim as your own. If you’re a Jew, repent as a Jew. If you’re a Muslim or a Hindu, repent as a Muslim or a Hindu. If you’re confused about what to believe, repent as a confused person. The point is to ask your Creator to show you how to repent, and empower you to do it. Maybe it’s not too late to save the earth after all, if the world’s leaders repent! But there will be no repentance of world leaders unless we world citizens take the initiative and go first.

Repentance, the Comforting Gospel, and the Dying Earth

July 11, 2014
A friend who read my recent posts encouraging repentance called them “terrifying.” I wrote back:
“I’m grateful to you for telling me that my writing was ‘terrifying,’ because I realize that my objective should not be to terrify but to comfort, and to inspire hope and trust in a God who wishes us no evil, no pain, but desires to rescue us from evil and pain. I heard a voice some years ago, which I believe to have been the Holy Spirit’s, telling me ‘comfort thou the ones that are still asleep.’ I take that as my commission: to be a comforter rather than a terrifier. But before I can comfort, I first need to know that the persons I’m talking to can admit that the world around us is sometimes terrifying. If they can’t, then the comforting conversation isn’t ready to start.
“I believe that we’re all God’s darlings. Really. God sees us the way God made us: innocent, beautiful, sweet, like newborn babies, like Adam and Eve before their Great Disobedience, making up clever names for the animals, eating blueberries right off the bush, and delighting in delighting each other. All the bad crap, guns and waterboarding and debt-slavery, is what we made for ourselves, individually and collectively. And not just the obviously man-made bad stuff, but sickness and danger and death itself also, with the hurricanes, tsunamis and epidemics that plague a fallen world. This is the bad dream we made for ourselves, because we’ve chosen ‘darkness’ over ‘light,’ as Jesus puts it in John 3:19, and we’ve come to prefer the sin-hiding darkness, because it seduces us with false promises of making us happier than the light can. This means that we’ve developed perverted tastes, which lock us into being invested in ignorance and a fallen world. Hence we need to repent of our perverted tastes and be healed of our addiction to what’s not good for us.
“Is it ugly, is it painful, is it disappointing? Then it’s not something God created for us, but something God allowed us to create for ourselves – because God did create us in His image: to be creators, with free will, which allows us to make mistakes. But God also created us to be capable of learning, repenting, outgrowing mistakes, choosing the good over the evil. I say all this just to make the point that God’s not to blame for anything unpleasant in our lives, and therefore, is not someone to fear, but to turn to and trust, crying for help!
“I believe that Jesus revealed the character of God for us, both by serving as one of God’s prophets and declaring God’s intentions, and also by modeling Godlike behavior: laying down his life for us, forgiving all his own betrayers and murderers even when his pain, and therefore his temptation to curse his enemies, must have been almost unbearable. But Jesus is not just a prophet of God and a model for good behavior who lived two thousand years ago and then disappeared from this world; He is a Present Friend. ‘I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,’ He said (Matthew 28:20). So when you say, ‘I could never be like Jesus,’ He’s there to answer, ‘Sure you can; I’ll help you.’ All you have to do is want it. I think that’s the Gospel in a nutshell. I think it’s a comforting Gospel, tidings of great joy to all people.”

Now repentance is a change of heart. It doesn’t make the thorns drop off roses as we pass by, or the cruel around us lose their cruelty. Life in this world still hurts, and we may even follow Jesus into martyrdom. But repentance allows certain things to happen: one is that we come to know, inwardly, that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39), who is making all things work together for good for us (Romans 8:28; this removes all cause for grief). Another is that, with a change of heart we become a new creature, and the new creature no longer hates itself – what a burden falls away then, and what works of love start streaming from us! A third thing is that we unlearn our deep-seated old habit of deciding what to do on the basis of its expected payoff for me, because the new question becomes “Is this what God is asking of me now?” – which immunizes us against the temptation to reason, “Let us do evil, that good may come” (Romans 3:8). This was the reasoning that got us into this present nasty situation.

This brings me to consider our present nasty situation. In addition to our having a world so militarized, so tyrannized, and so polarized between rich and poor, we are also killing life on earth. Our consumption habits, the political and economic choices we make to support them, and the perverted tastes behind them, are all hurtling us forward toward doomsday. At first we thought that the rising titer of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would simply raise temperatures and shift comfort- and growing-zones toward the earth’s poles. Then we realized that many species would become extinct in the process; island nations and coastal cities would go underwater as the icecaps melted; increased carbon dioxide in the water would turn the seas too sour to allow shelled creatures to form shells, sending famine up the marine food chain. Our horror mounted as we saw that the melting of polar ice and arctic permafrost would not only change ocean salinity patterns, killing the Gulf Stream and other vehicles of life, but would also be releasing megatons of methane into the upper atmosphere, turning up the flame under the cooking planet.

We’ve realized that the way we do things is unsustainable and called for a Plan B, and sensible Plan B’s have been rolled out. But now it’s evident that the rulers of the earth, both the visible ones and the invisible, lack the will, motivation and flexibility to implement any sort of Plan B. Of course we’ll join the march to the United Nations on September 21 to insist on it, but no doubt the heads of state assembled there will only be able to wring their hands and point fingers at one another. Great numbers of voluntary communities of urban and rural homesteaders may go off-grid and grow their own vegetables as the crisis worsens,  but I can’t believe that anyone will prove competent to make a general, global Plan B happen. So we’ll need a Plan C.

The only Plan C I can imagine saving life on earth is widespread repentance, a world epidemic of repentance – not merely a change of behaviors, though surely outward changes will accompany inward metamorphosis (the replacement of agribusiness and frankencrops with technologies like permaculture, the Wal-Mart trams-Pacific supply chain with a localized transition economy, global capitalism with its yet-unnamed successor).  I look with hope toward the only God,  the only Savior, the only Transformer of Hearts, for the only Plan C that can save life on earth.

Ramadan mubarak! a letter to a Muslim friend

June 30, 2014

This is the text of a letter I just sent to a Muslim friend on the first day of Ramadan, edited only slightly, and having sent it, I felt called to send it to all my Muslim friends, and to all, of any faith tradition, who can hear it, with my love. Those who call God “Her” rather than “Him” should substitute that pronoun; we refer to the same Holy One:

As-Salaam alaykum! I was very grateful to hear from you, and ever since then I’ve been wishing for an opportunity to sit and write a thoughtful letter back to you. Many days have passed, all with their pressures and problems, and on some days I’ve simply felt too stupid, or too caught up in superficial thinking, to gather myself together and give you a true picture of what my life is like now, or what I see when I look out on the world. Now it seems as though I needed the awful solemnity of Ramadan to frame an adequate picture of my situation, and what I see as our situation, all of us human creatures.

We are a race of exiles from Paradise. Our souls once knew our Creator intimately, and knew what He wanted of us: to love one another, to be thankful toward Him in our hearts, and to do only good. Somehow we came here, to a world where there is love, but also fear, which tempts us to be selfish and do evil; and these make us forget that we have a Creator. Worse: if we knew we had a Creator, we would hate Him and refuse His guidance, unless we could be convinced that He was just like us, and loved us and hated the ones that we hate, and asked nothing spiritually difficult of us, and smiled on our deceits and our violence. (And why would we hate Him? because turning back to Him from our rebellion would be briefly painful, and we naturally shun pain.)

And behold: a world full of religious leaders who are willing to tell us just such a great lie about God, and a world full of political leaders and institutions that embody that lie. These all say, “Let us do evil, so that good will come of it” – in the original Greek of the New Testament (Romans 3:8), it sounds like a children’s song: poiḗsōmen tà kaká, hína élthē tà agathá. This is the Devil’s song, and the whole human race sings it as it goes about its daily work, making the whole world into a great insane asylum. Those whose hearts remember the commandment “do only good, so that your conscience will stay clean and you’ll remain open to your Creator’s guidance,” are the ones struggling to stay sane among their mad brothers, sisters, parents, employers, children, husbands and wives. But how tempting it is to just say “yes” to what everyone else is saying, and help them go on doing what they’re doing – how else would we earn the money to support our families? – and this puts us back to sleep. So while we’re awake, we desperately need the company and encouragement of others who are awake, who’ll remind us of our calling to do only good, and repent of evil, and remember the all-forgiving God who loves to welcome back any and all who repent of evil they’ve thought, said, done, and approved of as if it were good.

So I pray for myself, and I pray for others, and try to do works of love as opportunities arise – my main work now. And I’m very, very grateful for every expression of love, and comfort, and warning, and encouragement I get back from others that I think are rightly guided, anything that tells me that I myself am walking the path of the rightly guided, the şirāţ al-mustaqīm, because I know how easy it is for us to be deceived by our own pride. May Allah protect you and your loved ones from such temptation always, and continue to lead you along the path of the rightly guided, now and forever, until we stand together in His glorious presence, no longer capable of falling away from Him in whom all good dwells.

Always feel free to ask for my prayers in times of temptation or suffering, and please know that I’m your friend forever.

As-salaam alaykum,

John