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I’ve been pondering the nature of various types of belief systems and their relations to knowledge and ignorance, i.e., valid vs. invalid belief. Put another way, their congruence with reality. Always with my favorite definition of just what that wascally wabbit – reality (or Reality) – might be. Sci-fi master Philip K. Dick said it best: “Reality is that which, when we stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Wow, what a concept, that when we turn our eyes, minds and all of our senses off of reality, it doesn’t go away. That our best hopes, wishes and dreams may not be in tune with it, and that we exist in that state of disaccord at our peril.
One of the religious clichés I’ve heard in recent years is that “grace is free, but it isn’t cheap.” That cliché should join arms with the variations of a patriotic cliché about the “price of freedom.” Both make their point, but like all clichés, there is more to the story. Grace is free but not cheap. OK. So let’s take a few hundred words to explore today’s spirituality question: What if there is more to free grace than we usually settle for? Whose freedom are we talking about? Ours? God’s? Contrary to our normal thinking, they aren’t the same kind of freedom.
When faith fails to inform our public life, is it really true faith? I’m asking in the context of a political season in which candidates often are asked about their guiding values. Some respond in the safest way possible: “I’m privately religious.”
Recently, I drove across central Washington on my way to Seattle. For over two hours, I listened to marvelous music by George Gershwin. I was struck by the wildly diverse “soul colors” of his music. Driving up out of Vantage, I listened to “Rhapsody in Blue.” As I neared the Rye Grass summit, the finish of “Rhapsody” came closer and closer. Rounding the last corner to the summit I heard that great musical ending as Mount Rainier burst into my view. Wow! What outstanding timing for my ears, eyes, and soul! A very sacred moment for me.
With Michelle Wheatley’s promotion to director of University Ministry at Gonzaga University comes another first for GU. Wheatley is the first laywoman to lead the program. Her promotion comes four years after the university named Thayne McCulloh as its first lay president.
Is it always wrong to steal? That’s not a rhetorical question anymore, not these days, as evidenced most recently by the so-called Affordable Care Act.
Do you struggle to live in the moment? Me, too.
Now, on to the Self, Part 3. If you’ve haven’t been following, for the last couple of columns I’ve been using Walker Percy’s 1983 book “Lost in the Cosmos” as a springboard into an examination of the curse/blessing of human self-awareness, a disease with which humans appear uniquely afflicted. Our cats, Maddie and Annie, have been offering by contrast their lives of unexamined contentment: play, sleep, eat, cuddle, and catch-and-munch-the-fly. Frankly, I want not to be just like them but to actually turn into a cat. With me as their owner. Yes, this is a paradox, rather like Leonard Nimoy talking to the younger Spock in the latest two “Star Trek” movies. Never mind the sheer impossibility and think about it. If you could turn into one of your favorite pets and live the kind of life it has vs. your own, wouldn’t you jump at the chance?
Have you ever considered what “seeing with God’s eyes” might be like as you look at the world, or maybe another person? When I’ve used that imagery before, it is almost always in the context of looking outwardly, seeing life from a bigger, fuller perspective. But how about seeing with God’s eyes as we look inwardly? What is there to see in a bigger, fuller perspective? For one thing, today’s nettlesome question: What if there is more to being human than we usually settle for?
When I began full-time ministry 45 years ago, one preacher-centered cliché I heard on occasion was that preachers were “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.” I believed just enough of its truth that I determined to be more earthly good than heavenly minded. Eventually, my understanding of Jesus confirmed this. Yes, friends, as reported in all four Gospels, Jesus spent much more time and energy preaching and living the kingdom of God as an earthly effort than as an afterlife. Yet the historical church – especially today – seems so obsessed with heaven that we, too, often forget our job as Jesus-followers is to nurture God’s kingdom right here … now.
It delighted me to hear our president and law enforcement leaders encourage prayer in the face of terrorism and disasters like those in Boston and Texas this spring. Citizens nationwide turned to God, acknowledging that he is our sure shelter in the face of evil and its wreckage. He alone is the God of all comfort, the father of mercy.
Spokane Faith and Values is celebrating its first anniversary with a progressive dinner and fundraiser Sunday. Faith Feast will be hosted by three Spokane Valley congregations – the Spokane Islamic Center, the Sikh Gurdwara of Spokane and Millwood Presbyterian Church. A few tickets are still available.
I’m writing my column a week late. And I quite unapologetically offer no apology for doing so. I had the flu and was too busy projectile-vomiting to worry about much of anything. And as I felt pretty puny for several days after the Main Event, it wasn’t until the following Saturday that I opened the paper and thought, “Hmm, wonder when my column is due?” Make that past due. So what? It left me with the feeling that I sometimes sweat the small stuff too much. Now I absolutely hate, loathe, despise, detest and abhor being late – for anything. You want to get somewhere on time? Ride along with me. I used to play this game with my wife, where we’d be driving back from, say, Portland, and by the time we hit Troutdale I’d announce, “Betcha a quarter that we get home at 3:37, plus or minus two minutes.” She got tired of losing those bets.
Have you noticed how spring’s arrival affects people? Sunshine so often provokes a tangible optimism, enlivening our demeanor, even brightening our countenance.
Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve just become someone else? And that, in this new reality, you have an entirely different worldview? What would it be like to have a new self, not only looking at the world through another’s eyes, but to be looked at differently in return? And how many drugs would you have to take to effect this transformation? Well, this very thing happened to me recently, and without the aid of peyote or other hallucinogen. I’m not a texter-tweeter-twitterer kind of guy – I think one of them involves 140 characters, whatever that means – so I sat down on a recent Saturday morning to see if I had any actual emails other than of the “start melting your fat away naturally” variety.
When are we most like God? Is it when we judge? After all, God certainly judges and will judge all of us one day with finality.
I still remember the tune and the first few words. “And you and me are free to be you and me.”
So how are your resolutions working out? A new year and we’re all supposed to have checked our flaws, excesses, blah, blah, blah, and resolved to become newer, better, happier people! Yes? No? Who cares? I’m of the opinion that resolutions don’t much matter; if I am inclined to change something, I’ll probably do so, and if not, not. Mine, therefore, are working out just fine. Zero for zero. That’s not to say, though, that I don’t reflect, examine, inquire, assess, assay, test, appraise, analyze, probe, pry and otherwise scrutinize myself. Or my self. In fact, that’s part of my nature, and not only do I believe that the unexamined life isn’t worth living, I think it’s even worth checking out formally every now and then.
What would you do if you came upon a hummingbird with its beak stuck in the thin wooden veneer of a door? That was exactly the dilemma faced by Philip Gulley one day. He tells about it in his thoughtful, respectful book, “The Evolution of Faith.” He carefully pulled the bird free and gently held it in his hand as it recovered. His wife took her turn holding the bird tenderly until it stirred. Then it flew away.
The notecards started showing up on my desk about a year ago. On each simple card was written a thoughtful, timely and sincere note of encouragement. Each note buoyed my spirits, infusing me with fresh resolve to serve God and his people with passion.