In Praise of the Earth

There are those who see God most clearly in creation. Their eyes breathe in the Divine glory and know that everything good comes from the Father of Lights. Francis of Assisi saw God as the Master Artist, visible in all that He made. Francis’ first biographer, Thomas of Celano, wrote:

“Saint Francis praised the Artist in every one of his works; whatever he found in things made, he referred to their Maker. He rejoiced in all the works of the Lord’s hands, and with joyful vision saw into the reason and cause that gave them life. In beautiful things he came to know Beauty itself. To him all things were good. They cried out to him, ‘He who made us is infinitely good.” By tracing His footprints in things, Francis followed the Beloved wherever He led. He made from created things, a ladder to His throne.”

In the Genesis creation poem it is abundantly clear that humanity has been given the privilege to steward, or care for the earth. Of all people, those who trust the Scriptures should be the first to embrace a theology of ecology, restoration, healing and care.

While I have not fact-checked this next statement, it seems to makes sense to me. That, with the global shut-down brought about by the COVID19 crisis, there has resulted a new healing of the earth. There has been a dissipation of large amounts of air pollution, clearing of water pollution, and wildlife returning to their habitats. While I am not sure of the statistics around this, it makes sense that as we are not able to consume as we have been consuming, there are many positive natural results. Something we should all consider post-COVID.

For Earth Day 2020 I offer you the following blessing penned by John O’Donohue in his book, “To Bless The Space Between Us.” meditate on it and then go for a walk in the wonder of God’s creation.

“Let us bless,
The imagination of the Earth.
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse
the growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
Four our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,

The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

Fat Tuesday Syndrome

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The season of Lent is here, it begins on the 14th which is Ash Wednesday.

Interestingly enough, the huge celebrations of Fat Tuesday sprang up as a reaction to the imposition of religious ritual concerning the observance of Lent…a season in the church year whose focus is on repentance and realignment with God.

In and of itself, having a time of spiritual realignment is good for everyone…however, when the grip of religion laces its fingers around anything, it tends to strangle out the beauty and grace, and in their place are born rules, regulations, and legalism.

Fat Tuesday, then, became the last opportunity before the 40 days of Lent to go and sin wildly. As I ruminate on this, isn’t that always what happens in our lives when rules replace relationship? When we live by a checklist of dos and don’ts, we begin to think and respond in contractual terms instead of relational exchanges. When this happens, we experience Fat Tuesday’s surrounding every area of our life.

For instance, when a marriage becomes a contractual exchange, then love is something that is earned in light of certain actions having been done well. And, contractually, if certain actions are not done, or are not done to the expectation of the other person, then love is contractually withheld until those things are accomplished.

This is not a marriage though, it is a contract based on rules. A relationship that is based on an unconditional covenant understands that sometimes things don’t always happen or get done the way we want, desire, or expect, but since the marriage is based upon covenant love, love is always infused regardless of contractual performance.

You might also see the Fat Tuesday effect in marriage happen when a spouse is bound by duty to “do something” “be something” or “go somewhere he/she doesn’t want to go.”  Since he/she did their contractual duty they feel justified to overindulge some area as a “reward” for their work. Maybe a husband finds justification in going on an extended hunting trip because he just got word that his In-laws are coming to stay for an extended period, so he needs to get out-of-town for a while before that happens and his In-laws rules cramp his style…or perhaps a wife limits out the credit card on a spa day because her husband’s college buddies are due the next day, and since she is being the “good wife” and allowing it, she’s gonna splurge!

Do you see how contractually we live? Do you realize contractual living or religious living results in the creation of Fat Tuesday’s? When genuine love and relationship fills our world, we can enjoy life, have fun and not feel guilty about it! Isn’t that a novel concept. Religion creates Fat Tuesday’s…Fat Tuesday’s create guilt and shame…Guilt and shame turn a powerful season of grace and alignment like Lent into a ritualistic experience of dos and don’t devoid of their real meaning.

When we approach God contractually, we turn something that is holy, cool, and cosmically awesome like Ash Wednesday or Lent, into a checklist of contractual duties to appease God into liking us again…This is so far away from the God revealed through Christ.

If we would live in a sense of daily alignment, in other words, simply realizing that God is for us, not against us and that as we make mistakes, or perhaps over-indulge in something that isn’t good for us, we stop, and have a relational conversation of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. God isn’t standing by with the lightning bolt of contractual misuse ready to smite us, but rather is simply waiting for us to say…“ man, I blew that one, I’m sorry, please forgive me..”

In that moment, the spirit of religion is thrown out the window, and a relationship is born. Religion focuses on rules to keep you in line. God invites you into a relationship, where the interactions are based on a mutuality of love.

Because I am so grateful that God loves me on my best days as well as my most abysmal days, I look forward to a season like Lent not in such a way that compels me to go out and get bombed out of my skull because I won’t be able to drink for the next 40 days, but instead, I long to have a season offered to me where I can realign my thinking process with God’s…Where I can experience grace in the midst of economic trials…Where I can be reminded that God doesn’t care about how well I perform for Him, only that I love Him, and He is thrilled that I simply showed up!

Maybe what I am saying is that an excessive emphasis on rules naturally finds its outlet in sin or doing things that we normally wouldn’t do if we lived relationally. Perhaps Fat Tuesday’s exist because the religious rules push people where they don’t need to be pushed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the dumb choices that are made in the Fat Tuesday’s of life wouldn’t happen if we understood God relationally and religiously…hmmm, I think I’m right.

What would be even more powerful is if we all realized that God intends our lives to fully experience fun..joy..laughter…and good times. Sure there are some incredibly hard valley’s we will go through, but the religionists among us seem to think that that is all that God wants us to experience…”Stay in the lines, only use these colors, don’t have fun if at all possible, chin up, gut in…etc.”

As I think of Jesus, and all his human interactions, I think of how often He was at parties, amongst friends, enjoying the things of life…not just sitting in Temple or Synagogue assailing Himself religiously. Jesus had an incredible sense of humor that is lost in translation from the Aramaic and Greek into English. He enjoyed living, had fun, and avoided the mistakes of the Fat Tuesday’s of life while enjoying all the celebrations of this life.

So on Wednesday this week (Ash Wednesday) take some time to remember that you are human, a creation of God’s, made of earth, and that one day you will return to the elements of this planetary creation. In light of that truth, ask God to help you realign your heart and soul to His, not because you are doing all the right things, but because He is such a great God who loves you and will never leave you in the hard moments of life.

Common Ground

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In a culture that elevates a “winner takes all” approach to life, it is often hard to have “common ground conversations.” Most of our conversations quickly de-escalate into a “who is right, or here is why you’re wrong” type which serves to insert a strong halt to the topic(s). This is acutely seen when it comes to religion, right? Many feel religion is the source of all conflict, Marx believed it to be the opiate of the people, others wonder which one is right, and each one thinks their belief is the right belief.

While surrounded by religions today, we tend to live religiously illiterate lives preferring a 140 character understanding, or better yet an amazing Facebook meme.

Our knowledge concerning the belief systems of others runs only as deep as our tweets. This creates fear, hate, antagonism and worse.

I am excited about a new conversation I am starting at Snoqualmie Valley Alliance this weekend called Common Ground. We will be looking into seven religions that seem to have the most power and influence in the world today. My goal is to focus on the truth that exists between us rather than simply illuminate our differences. When we find areas of common ground we expand our understanding beyond our personal bias or a great tweet. We are able to experience a greater level of community with our neighbors who think and believe differently than we do. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul first sought to find common ground with people, and the result was a radically changed world.

I believe that when we have a better understanding of other religions, we become more confident of our own faith. This removes the fear, hostility, and animosity that is created by a lack of understanding.  In its place we will experience a new level of grace, humility and compassion…and boy, does our world need more of that.