I was at a community planning group this week and as we began our work one of our members suggested that we have a time of prayer for the sake of the massacre in the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. It wasn’t the first time since that tragedy that I have paused with others for silence or prayer. It was a perfectly good suggestion; how could we continue without recognizing the specter of that outrage?

With the very best of intentions one of our number asked the only African American in our group to pray. I understand why and what might have motivated that request: “We so feel for your people. We defer to your words, your sentiments at this time.” I understand expressing that kind of respect. I might have done the same thing.

What I found myself longing for, however, was for a white person to do the praying. Why? So that the prayer would not be a black-on-black prayer, as though it was a concern that could not be shared by all of us. Again, I know that was not the intent. But what I wished for was a voice of prayer that named this event as universal evil.

Evil is not funny but acts in funny ways. It’s slippery. Most of all evil hides behind things. It hides behind certain rationalizations. It hides behind a veneer of virtue. It hides behind blaming others That’s what the racist shooter did. It hides behind banal and unremarkable hatred. It wants to lull you to sleep. This shooting makes that impossible. But most of the time evil is less dramatic, more subtle.

Though it is not in vogue these days to speak of either evil or sin, the Spring issue of Parabola did just that. The editors gathered together a remarkable body of wisdom from spiritual thinkers across time and space and presented it in one slender volume.

From C.G. Jung: “We carry the primitive and inferior personĀ  with all those desires and emotions, and it is only with an enormous effort that we can detach ourselves from that burden … everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

From C.S. Lewis: “Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others … it’s not a question of God sending us to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will become hell unless it is nipped in the bud.”

From Alan Watts on duplicity: “Not only does social convention compel him to publish one (an illusion of virtue) and suppress the other (evil intent), but most often he is himself horribly torn between the two.”

In other words, this inferior shadow self, left unchecked, may fester and become something ugly and horrible. And the way that evil presents and conceals itself is to create an illusion, a mask of righteousness, a banner behind which it hides its real intentions. As it pronounces others evil it conceals its own designs.

When the shooter kills nine people in church, or in a school, or in a hospital, or in their offices at work, or in a drive by at a home, the evil is apparent. But just because there are no bullets flying it does not mean that evil does not exist. As Jesus counseled in the Sermon on the Mount evil exists in our inner intentions before the act of murder takes place. There, festering in the heart, concealed by the appearance of righteousness, it does its dark and sinister work until those intentions finally show themselves for what they have been all along.

Thanks be to God that we may be set free from the destructive shadow of our lower natures. Thanks be to God that goodness may overcome. Thanks be to God that healing and hope may appear in its place.

Wednesday, May 27, 7pm, the KATY Trail

As a close to an inspiring day in which family gathered to remember my step-mother, I found myself wandering the trail beside the gently flowing river in the cool of evening with creatures singing their praises to the God who lives in every breath.

Peace, beauty, enchantment, harmony, perfection.

All is well, as the poet says, and all shall be well.

It is on Memorial Day that we so often witness a cultural nod to the official day; the parades, flag waving and speeches. But in reality, for a public in which a very slender percentage actually know anything about war and its human costs, it is a day off, a barbeque, a long weekend. When you talk to combat veterans who actually witnessed and participated in the horrors war they are much more circumspect about such observances. Please don’t find one and quip, “Thanks for your service.” For many that is an uninformed comment that demonstrates a total lack of understanding.

Soldier MarlantesAfter Karl Marlantes graduated from Yale in 1968 and before going to on to graduate work at Oxford, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. As a result of his action as a lieutenant he became highly decorated. After return to civilian life Marlantes not only pursued a distinguished career. He also continued to exorcise the demons of his wartime experience. In hisĀ  2011 memoir, What it is Like to go to War, he describes, as much as anyone can, theindex real experience of the warrior and war. Like many who have served in similar ways, including those who have recently returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marlantes attempts to give voice to the alienation, sense of betrayal, and guilt which accompanied him. Writing this memoir was one of the many ways ways he sought to heal the inner wounds of war. And the following excerpt is taken from his memoir:

Karl Marlantes“Returning veterans don’t need ticker-tape parades or yellow ribbons stretching clear across Texas. Cheering is inappropriate and immature. Combat veterans, more than anyone else, know how much pain and evil have been wrought. To cheer them for what they’ve just done would be like cheering the surgeon when he amputates a leg to save someone’s life. It’s childish, and it’s demeaning to those who have fallen on both sides. A quiet grateful handshake is what you give the surgeon, while you mourn the lost leg.There should be parades, but they should be solemn processionals, rifles upside down, symbol of the sword sheathed once again. They should be conducted with all the dignity of a military funeral, mourning for those lost on both sides, giving thanks for those returned. ..

Veterans just need to be received back into their community, reintegrated with those they love, and thanked by the people who sent them…

There is also a deeper side to coming home. The returning warrior needs to heal more than his mind and body. He needs to heal his soul.”

The Shunned Bride

Posted: May 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

It was a lovely wedding – an outdoor-on-the-farm kind of affair replete with pasture and small gazebo for the small wedding party. Best of all it was for my nephew and his betrothed. He had asked his uncle to perform the ceremony and I was delighted. As they made their vows I remembered his childhood, the great successes he enjoyed as well as some of the challenges he confided to his uncle along the way. The wheel turned and I was filled with joy.

The only sadness had to do with the bride’s family, or should I say the lack of them. None of her family, save one sister, showed up for her wedding day. The rest of us assumed the roles normally occupied by fathers and mothers. Why?

Her family belonged to a religious movement that was more cult-like than anything else. The way they enforced uniformity of the flock was to “shun” them if they stepped out of line. In her case she stepped over more than a line; she stepped out of that religious group once she separated from her unhappy marriage. At that her family shunned her. Her parents would not even attend their own daughter’s wedding. The rest of us, her new family, tried to compensate.

After the ceremony, as we stood drinking lemonade under the willows, a stranger meandered up to me carrying a question. It took her a while to put it into words. I suppose she felt awkward asking the minister such a thing. The gist of it was this: “Did her family refuse to attend the wedding? Because she stepped out of line, left an unhappy marriage, and found joy in a new one? Well, I am a spiritual person, I think, but not really religious as it goes. I don’t affiliate with any group. So I guess my question is what does that behavior, shunning your own daughter on account of some church doctrine, have to do with God? I mean, doesn’t faith and belief have something to do with loving God and each other? And what does that have to do with Jesus anyway? I thought I’d just ask somebody who should know these things.”

I told her that she had asked exactly the right question. Indeed, what does this have to do with God or the God of love? But I also suggested that it had nothing to do with Jesus, one whose entire ministry was about welcoming all manner of social outcasts to his kingdom meals. I could never imagine Jesus condoning or even imagining that shunning a daughter for non-conformity would have the slightest thing to do with God.

I think lots of people who understand themselves to be “spiritual but not religious” have many of the same questions about the practices of the church in its many forms. So much of what we preoccupy ourselves with, the kinds of issues that seem so important, have so very little to do with God. And most of these people will have exactly the same kind of disgust that the woman under the willows had with a family who shunned their daughter for so-called religious reasons. And they are right.

As long as religious communities define themselves by hate and not love they will continue the long slow slog not only into irrelevancy but also into something repulsive, the kind of thing from which moderns will flee. Pick your issue. With each renewed effort to reject some person or group on the basis of our own self-righteousness, we will secure our shrinking territory as the loneliest place in town.

They no longer have any time for this foolishness. We shouldn’t either.

This is the place we go
to settle for the easy way
the course of least resistance
where we cannot fail,
little is expected,
and when we repeat the same routine
one more time
because it is so safe
the old familiar suffocation begins to return
and the smell of dry rot
is so strong
that we can hardly stand the stench
of what has already begun to decay
in the middle
of the lowest common denominator

EFT for Christians BookcoverHats off to fellow EFT practitioner Sherrie Smith for her new book, EFT for Christians (Energy Psychology Press, 2015). A a person immersed in both medicine and faith she has done an admirable job of integrating science and religion when it comes to EFT. She spends lots of time on the science and physiology of EFT. And she does this from a faith standpoint, as one who has a foot in both worlds.

I recommend her work to anyone who wants to explore the effectiveness of EFT and integrate it into mainstream Christian thought and practice with integrity.

I just had lunch with three veterans – two from Vietnam era service and one from two deployments in Iraq – and their stories were oh so familiar: They all know veteran friends who have taken their own lives after returning to civilian life. This epidemic rolls on without much awareness on the part of the general public. The fact that known suicides keep coming at an average of 23 each day is shocking. We have lost more combat vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to suicide than on the battlefield.

The issue includes what has come to be defined as PTSD, but it is much more than that. It also includes moral injury, the violation of one’s internal moral code. It also has something to do with the radical disconnect between the soldiers we send into battle and mainstream culture. They represent a very slender proportion of the population, these vets do. Their service – often far away and remote in public consciousness – is a very abstract thing. And we – all those who by extension sent them to where they were wounded in body and soul and took the lives of others – have done little to welcome them all the way home. We have not provided a place of cleansing, purification, acceptance, adjustment and belonging.

This issue is so very important on many different levels. And it doesn’t matter where you fall on the political spectrum or how you happen to assess whether any particular war is just. As long as we send men and women to war we are responsible for their eventual healing. Efforts are now afoot in Columbia, Missouri to do just that. We are organizing networks of vets, their families and those who work with them to find a better solution.

Our plans include hosting seminars to present the primary issues at stake such as moral injury, establishing healing circles in which wounded warriors may find healing on the other side of their deployment, and retreats for veterans to address their inner wounds and seek the transformation that may come through community and spirit.

This is no small thing. It will require efforts from the faith community and others to address it. In the end this crisis itself may make us more circumspect about the ways in which we send young men and women into harm’s way. And those who have been there and know what it really means will raise the most serious and relevant questions.