Category Archives: Nature of God

the difference

I love IMDB.little big man

So often I think of a scene, rehear the dialogue, and want to snag it for a devotional or other writing. And there is the Internet Movie Database, waiting with quotes to be accessed. Nine times out of ten it has exactly what I’m looking for.

Thought of a scene this week from Little Big Man (1970, Dustin Hoffman, Chief Dan George, Richard Mulligan).
I went and there it was. What I hadn’t counted on was getting distracted for the next thirty minutes or so reading all the dialogue excerpts, hearing them, reliving those cinematic moments.

And this one floored me. Chief Dan George. Old Lodge Skins, speaking to his white son after the latest atrocity:

Old Lodge Skins

It’s amazing the difference, hearing these words as a twelve-year-old in dialogue on the big screen, and reading them now. I don’t know that I heard them at all then. I just thought the movie was funny. Yes, I have always been that deep.

Now I can hear echoes, religious voices from my past reacting to the quote: New Ageism, pantheism,
Native American Indian mumbo-jumbo.

But then I hear my own memorized Scriptures:
Christ is all and is in all.
Trees clap their hands.
Earth groans.
Mountains flee like goats.
And the stars sing sweet songs.

It made me slow down, just a bit.
It made me watch the next faces I encountered.
It helped me to hear their voices, to see their eyes, sense their stories.
And I found myself talking to my books.
And yes, they did talk back.
They said they also consider it creepy that I sniff them.


To truly see everything, everyone alive. In him. How that might change everything


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finish flossing, now rinse

Following up my flossing the “God hates you” husk from between my teeth…I rinsed with Merton:

this picture is just wrong

this picture is just wrong

The human being down here in the darkness of his fleshly state is as mysterious as the saints in heaven in the light of their glory. There are in him inexhaustible treasures, constellations without end of sweetness and beauty which ask to be recognized and which usually escape completely the futility of our regard. Love brings a remedy for that. One must vanquish this futility and undertake seriously to recognize the innumerable universes that one’s fellow being carries within him. This is the business of contemplative love and the sweetness of its regard…

Yes, we are all of us Shreks. We have layers.

What a contrast in how we view people. Reminds me of Paul’s confidence in the community of believers in Rome most of whom he had never met: “I am confident that you are full of goodness.”

We all have our bad days when we hate people in general and go sour on humanity, chanting with David, “All men are liars” and with our brother, “God hates you.” And yes, there are liars, and yes, evidently, God gets really ticked off at us at times – perhaps as often as we get ticked off at him. But still we speak in haste, as David acknowledged after the fact.

We miss the larger view of the Good News that God makes lovers out of his enemies by dying for them. God is in the friending business, and he’s fairly extreme about it. The Divine really doesn’t like blocking or unfriending us.

I think I’d rather spend a month with a Merton than a day with a Jansenite.

Just saying. Funny that way.

And it’s a Merton I will seek out every time when my own insecurities and imperfections are staring me
in the face.


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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in haverings, Nature of God, Religion


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God hates you or Meet the Jansens

I came across this clip from a brother’s sermon recently. It stuck between my teeth like a popcorn husk that defies flossing, so be warned if you watch: you could be picking at your teeth for some time.

The bottom line here if you don’t wish to venture in and risk possible flossing challenges of your own: God hates you. Well, some of you. Personally, objectively. He hates you. His sick of you. You weary him.

While watching this I immediately began a rewrite in my mind of some classic hymns, such as…

Come let us all unite to sing
God is hate!
Let heav’n and earth their praises ring,
God is hate!

I started thinking of what my brother’s devotional calendar would look like…

driscoll calendar

this could be a big seller. just saying.

Now, there is truth in what is said – but then there’s truth in at least some of what most of us say. Yes, we can cite plenty of Scriptures that bear witness to the hate/wrath/anger of God, from God putting to death erring Er in Genesis to Jesus (!) threatening to strike “the children” of “Jezebel” dead in Revelation.

Point taken.

We can also cite Scriptures that emphasize the love of God and we commence bombardments and counter-bombardments of love and hate, anger and grace.

I actually don’t think most of us are in denial of this. From over thirty years in this “business” of church life my observation is that people, whether religious or irreligious, live in anxiety and fear of their own imperfections and of not measuring up to God or to whomever. We might wear facades of assurance and bravado, but our default mode is one of fear and insecurity.


replacing “God” with “I” would be more honest

So, thanks, my brother, for reinforcing our already well-established spiritual neurosis.

I could see people wilting under the condemnation of this “diagnosis.” I thought of the story I just read of the latest victim of cyber-bullying – the twelve-year-old girl who had been hounded with messages like, “You are a loser,” “You’re so fat,” “Nobody likes you,” “Why don’t you kill yourself.”

And so she did.

I thought of how close saying “God hates you” is to “I hate you” and how much more dangerous it is – for if God hates you, am not I (are not we?) fully justified or even commanded to do the same? Can I even do otherwise? And just what would such hate look like when translated into action?


I like my daughter’s sign better

And then I met the Jansens. (Thank you Richard Rohr for this wee trip down memory lane):

Jansenism was named after a Dutch theologian and bishop, Cornelius Jansen (d. 1638), who emphasized moral austerity and a fear of God’s justice more than any trust in God’s mercy. God was wrathful, vindictive, and punitive, and all the appropriate Scriptures were found to make these very points. It is hard to find a Western Christian—Catholic or Protestant—who has not been formed by this Christian form of Pharisaism, which is really pagan Stoicism. It strongly influenced most seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Catholicism in France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and Germany, and still lingers on in much pre– Vatican II Catholicism all over the world. Although it was officially condemned as a heresy by Rome in 1715, it is still quite common, especially, it seems to me, among people who have had punitive and angry parenting patterns. This is the way they comfortably shape their universe and their God. They actually prefer such a God—things are very clear, and you know where you stand with such a deity—even though this perspective leaves almost all people condemned and is a very pessimistic and fearful worldview.

The heresy of Jansenism was new to me. But actually only in name. I’ve met the Jansens. Shoot, I’ve been a Jansenite more than I would care to remember. Rohr is right. There are far too many Jansenites running around masquerading as Calvinists, Reformed, Evangelical, Catholic, Christian, whatever. If we must have handles, Jansenite sounds fitting. Though it does sound like a line of luggage. Actually, that’s a plus.

Much religious baggage here…

Grumpy Pharisee bumper sticker

the bumpersticker I would gift to every Jansenite, starting with myself


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what i learned from a tattoo…

Ran into someone on Sunday I hadn’t met before (I’m a pastor, it happens).

Noticed several lines of print tattooed on his arm, and feeling just slightly forward, I grabbed his arm and asked what he had written on himself (I think I may have verbally asked permission before making the grab for his arm, but there’s no telling, all I know is he smiled and didn’t run away).

Even without my glasses I could discern Greek.

Oh, I like you.

I often do tattoo consultations for folks who want Hebrew, Greek or Latin phrases tattooed on them – frequently enough that I could probably start my own Scripture Tattoo Consultation business on the side.

So I was curious.

This is what I saw…

 tattoo_phil 1_21

Some of those witnessing my reading it aloud and then translating it immediately wished I had messed with him and said it means something like “I likey do the cha-cha in a pink tutu.” A missed opportunity.

I just read it and then high-fived him.

For to me to live is Christ (chree-stows) and to die is gain (ker-doughs).

Christos and kerdos.

I memorized Philippians two decades ago. Knew this verse long before that. It made my early memorization list – especially when confronted by the spector of possible cancer at eighteen and a life-altering major surgery.

But seeing it tattooed on his arm, I really saw it.

Funny how that is.

It’s like carrying a picture of your kids in your wallet for twenty years and then suddenly seeing that picture and it’s like the first time. It’s like running into someone you’ve known your entire life and suddenly really seeing her in a whole new light. Hopefully it won’t take a tattoo to do that for all of Scripture. That’s a lot of ink. Talk about the illustrated man…

Christos and kerdos.

Seeing my old friend engraved on someone’s skin, I realized I had gotten his first and last name reversed all my life. I’ve read the verse wrong in my head and heart. All this time.

I’ve read it “For to me to live is gain and to die is Christ.” All these years. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

We could call it a quite appropriately capitalist reading. Live to gain, to profit, to accumulate, to succeed, to do as much as you can. Kerdos. It’s what you have to show for all your hard work, it’s your return on investment. So invest your life. Do good works. Make a profit – spiritually, emotionally, economically – on every level. And then you die and get Christ. Kerdos then Christos. And religion is, of course, here to lead us into greater kerdos – on every level (especially economically, please oh please oh please) – right? And if we’re not in the “Jesus came to make us healthy and wealthy” crowd, then at least we are looking for spiritual gain translated into consistent spiritual highs, yes?

But it’s Christos, then kerdos. And if you’ve lived long enough or hard enough, you need no further warming to the notion of death being gain.

But to live is Christ. That’s what really hit me. Christ. No mere devotion to a moral man, to a mere Jesus. The Cosmic Christ. The One who fills all things. Life. The Light shining upon every human being. Every. Human. Being. The Centering force behind, in, through all reality. The One who slays the most malevolent darkness with but a breath, and who weeps with a groaning creation. Effulgence. Substance. Transcendent. Immanent. Word.

What wide-angle view! And how content I can be with so much…less

To live Christ. To possess such an expansive view, no, rather to be so owned by it, by him, and to know it as I go step by step through each day into whatever mess has been left on the floor of life’s barn.tevye_1

I found myself sighing with Tevye as he pondered what life would be if he were a rich man.

But he was.

We are.

All things are yours.

Whether Paul
or Apollos
or Cephas
or _______________
or the world
or life
or death
or the present
or the future
all are yours
and you are Christ’s
and Christ

Quite a lot, that, to be inside the ink of that tattoo…


Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Faith, haverings, Nature of God


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dipper doubts

Spent some quality time with John the Baptist this week.

Actually, I like to call him “The Dipper.” Dipper isn’t a bad translation of the Greek word βαπτιστὴς that we refuse to translate. Don’t think it will catch on though. Particularly with Baptists.

Here’s a guy who before he was even born was handed a detailed prospectus:

You won’t drink wine or beer.

it may be da vinci, but I just don't see him this way

it may be da vinci, but I just don’t see him this way

You will be filled with the Holy Spirit right from the womb.

You will impact your generation.

You will be strong and yet will soften hearts.

You will attune your generation to the very heartbeat of God himself.

Quite the to do list (with one “to do not” item).

For a moment I could see this as a paint-by-numbers life plan, removing the mystery and suspense, the adventure of discovering all this for himself. Isn’t half the fun found in the invention and reinvention of ourselves? Of trial and error, of trying this, then that; of following a path that leads to a dead end, then finding one that opens up in a wondrous vista?

Then I saw instead a canvas being handed to John – a canvas with its own distinct texture and shape – along with a palette of paints for him to splash on it.

And splash he did.

Wild splashing by a wild man in a wild place.

And he seemed so sure of himself, his message, his vision. I don’t hear any quavering or quivering in his voice, no tentative calling, no tenuous pronouncements.

No reed shaken in the wind, this. More like a mighty oak withstanding all the winds beating upon it.

But then the oak is transplanted to a prison yard.

And there.

He doubts.

Did I really see what I thought I saw? Did it really mean what I was so sure it meant?

And rather than sitting on the question as it dripped with fresh raging doubt, he spoke it. Out of the prison yard it went, echoing through his followers to the very ears of Jesus.

“Are you the One, or do we look for another?”

There. He said it.

The Dipper was a Doubter.

And after answering John’s followers Jesus owns him. Right there. Publicly. He owns him.

Some solid lessons here in this tale.

Of the reality of our doubts and questions raging inside us, unexpressed, unspoken, as we put on that brave poser face.

Of what we can do with them instead.

Of how He responds when we do.

yes, sister aloysius, we all have doubt

yes, sister aloysius, we all have doubt


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if religion is a box it really should be more like the TARDIS

I’ve been bombarded with “box” imagery of

A friend sent me a poem about personally becoming “unboxed.”

I just listened to a commencement speech urging the graduates to think outside the box.poke-the-box

I recently stumbled across Seth Godin’s Poke the Box. Again.

And I keep seeing boxes of various sorts when I’m talking with people or just listening.

During that commencement speech, one of the examples of “out of the box” thinking and living was Noah in his willingness to buck the culture and endure the ridicule of his contemporaries. I couldn’t help but savor the irony of Noah thinking outside by box by building one very large seaworthy box. It was evidently a box that took him a century to build, a box he lived in for a year. noahs_arkBut then, significantly, after the box had served its purpose by conveying him to a new world, Noah stepped out, walked away, and evidently never looked back. And we’re still looking for that box. Interesting that he didn’t turn that box into his home or into a hotel, a museum, or a temple. He walked away and now we must simply imagine the box.

In another conversation, the image of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple was evoked – and what was tabernacle and temple but a box within a box within a box like the ultimate set of holy Russian nesting dolls? Holy Place, Holy of Holies, and Holy Box of the Covenant. Interestingly enough, God nor heaven was contained in that Holy Box. God said he dwelt above the box. And when God’s presence showed up there in the form of a disorienting, foggy cloud, everyone had to step out of the box. Hmmmm…

And now, it’s the TARDIS.Time And Relative Dimension in Space

It took a bit of time, but my daughter has succeeded in sucking me into the world (or worlds) of Doctor Who, though I don’t know if I have yet attained to full official Whovian status.

But if religion is a box, it should be like the TARDIS.


Bigger on the inside. And that’s an understatement.Tardis_inside

Not just a thing, a holy relic or museum display, but alive and sentient and mysterious.

And it takes you places – and the real question: is it where you want to go, or is it really where the TARDIS wants to go? Who really is driving the TARDIS?

When you get to where it takes you, you are supposed to step out of the box.

Though archaic in its outer dimensions and clearly out of this world, it blends in anywhere.

And it provides a universal translator.

Now there’s a box I can get into.

And out of.


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I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

This passage from Psalm 32 kept flashing before me as I watched this video of my granddaughter Arabelle leading a horse for the first time.

And more.

I see a horse for whom, at this moment, a bit and bridle seem to be a technicality. Arabelle isn’t having to exert force to control or direct Shuga. The horse is simply keen to her presence and movement. I believe this is what the psalm has in mind. I want to go to there. I want to be keen to the Divine presence and movements when it comes to Life, to Love, to God. How often I’m just a runaway horse stampeded by the press of life, panic in my eyes, nostrils flaring.

And then, to see myself in the horse (or in the horse’s rear), is to see God in Arabelle.

That was quite the startling image to me.

The majestic Divine, the pulsating center of all existence, the cosmic energy holding all things together, the consuming fire, seraphs and cherubim covering their faces, the foundations of the earth quaking before the God who smokes…

And then to see the Divine visage in the face of such a child, in the face of such innocence.arabelle_sugar_2

Perhaps this is why we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

It simply isn’t an adult place.

It is space for wonder, a place to be enraptured.
The playfulness of God doesn’t make it into most theology texts. It’s not in any ancient catechism or confession of which I am aware. But perhaps all other divine attributes about which we might muse are but satellites in orbit around it.

There is little I won’t do for Arabelle. At least now. (Although I still won’t let her little fingers mess up my latest game of Bejeweled Blitz on my iPad. There are limits, people.)

But to see such playfulness at the very heart of God, at the very heart of reality. To see it at the center of the creation story in Genesis. To see it in the carefree face of Jesus as he went about doing good in his kingdom play, totally flaunting all the adult rules. It’s captivating, contagious. Like Shuga, I find myself instinctively drawn to watch the Child moving just before me, and to enter into Her rhythms at Her pace.

Perhaps this was the trouble with Adam and Eve in that garden.

They were created just a bit too old.


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Posted by on April 1, 2013 in musings, Nature of God, Psalms


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