Okay, let me give you the straight stuff: I want your presence, passion, creativity, love in the community of the church. I know, less and less of you are choosing to be a part of the Christian community. Many of you never have been; it’s an odd universe, the Christian one is. It’s not even your parents’ universe because they may have checked out long ago. But today, this Easter, I’m really not thinking about them. I’m thinking about you and your generation. As far as I can tell you are the solution to almost anything out in front of us now. I’m not dropping the weight on your shoulders. But I am appealing to you.

If I were you, honestly, I would have my doubts about the church. It’s not just that it’s organized – heck, educational systems are organized as are softball teams. No, it’s the way church takes place and what it seems preoccupied with that repels you. Frankly,  if I were where you are now, I really wonder if I would opt in. And I’m a lifer.

So here is my pitch and I’m staying with it:

You don’t really have an aversion to ancient forms of wisdom or even tradition. In fact, many of you respond to the deep long-lasting truths and practices of religious communities. You love to take the ancient and let it collide with the modern in new ways. What you’re tired of are worn out preoccupations along dogmatic lines. You love the insights of Jesus but are just exhausted to tears with the seeming obsession with pelvic ethics. A person’s sex life is as important as any other part of life, but it seems that is the only preoccupation of Christians. You’re done with that. And really, so are many of us.

You want to know how spiritual life addresses issues of peacemaking, solutions for hungry people, reconciliation between the divided, and a justice that isn’t a program as much as a way of life. You want to believe that the ancient creation stories really do speak to environmentalism. You want all kinds of Christians to come together and focus on what matters. You don’t want to be part of the exclusivism that rejects other faith groups but instead finds common ground and the sharing of wisdom through love. You don’t want to be something that creates hate and insiders and outsiders. Surprise, neither did Jesus.

And face it, you’re done with big heavy legislative church. You want real community, You want to figure out how to love. You want God to be a force – and certainly not a superhero in the sky. By the way, we’re done with that image of the sacred. You want an experience on the inside that is shared with others and feels universal, like it’s been around forever and will be. You don’t want the central message to be that you are a piece of crap that needs to be cleaned up. You want to hear that the same same force of love that animates the universe spins around in you in remarkable ways. You don’t believe in a God who needs to be appeased with blood sacrifice to make things right; you want a God who so loves that remarkable sacrifices are made,

So here is the deal: I want you to try out a Christian community. And if one doesn’t work try another one because some of them look new on the outside but are just the same worn out stuff on the inside. Come on in, claim the deep reserves that fill you with awe, become an answer to the despair of the world, gather together friends who thrive on depth and make a go of it. And here is my promise to you: If you’ll trust in the Spirit to do the work, wrestle with the ancient texts to find the way, gather to be together rather than alone, and find a mission you can’t not do, I will help you do that – not on my terms or anyone else’s terms, but on your own and in your own way. I want to pass the baton to you and let you run with it like you want to, like you know you can make a difference. I will so cheer you on. I will love you and weep for you and laugh with you.

We need you, the Spirit is waiting, and your time is now. And after you gather your tribe you’ll become the leaders – just another sign that Christ is always risen and always rising.

I mean every word of this. I don’t know how to say it better or differently.

Much love Millennials. This is your time.

Call it Maundy Thursday

Posted: April 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Tonight I saw a 90 year old man in a wheel chair light a candle for his late wife and weep, a five year old stand and stare at the character of Jesus praying alone in the garden, the young hipster couple communing together, adults preparing for their baptisms having their feet washed, and a young teacher who has never witnessed the whole story live lean against a wall and quietly sob.

And that’s just what I saw. Imagine everything I didn’t see. And that’s just one of the reasons I love Holy Week, the most countercultural week of the year. I mean really, servant leadership?

Sanctuary

Posted: April 10, 2017 in Uncategorized
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During the Middle Ages those pursued by by oppressors or the law could find safe haven if they made it to the door knocker of a church. This sanctuary provision came directly from monastic movements and their practice of hospitality, extending it especially to those who might be harmed by an adversary. They taught that one never knew when Christ might show up in the guise of one in need.

Of course, that practice of providing sanctuary for the stranger in our midst has its roots in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. We were once strangers and wanderers and others took us in, go do the same. Anytime you reach to one of the least of these you are doing it as though to Christ. Sometimes we entertain angels unawares.

The stranger, the other, the exile, and the refugee continue to show up at our doorsteps. And just as people of faith throughout the centuries have had to decide whether they will provide sanctuary, so do we.

The movie Lone Survivor is based on the true life story of a Navy Seal operation in Afghanistan. In an amazing turn of events members of an Afghan village take in the wounded last member of a Navy Seal patrol. When Taliban fighters come on the scene looking for the enemy the villagers defend him – because of the code of hospitality. Whatever their grievances and conflict with the wounded Seal, he has come under the protection of Sanctuary. Some villagers actually lose their lives in a firefight to protect him until he is extracted. All because extending hospitality and sanctuary is that important. “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies …”(Ps 23)

Those Afghan villagers are my heroes. But not the only ones.

Just last week I was invited to sit in on the governing board of small little church. The only topic of conversation that night was Sanctuary. If we practice the hospitality of Jesus, they asked, what would that mean today? For the next two hours these church members discussed what it might mean to be a congregation that practiced radical hospitality, and in particular Sanctuary for those who needed it most.

They were of course talking about sheltering undocumented refugees. The people around their table included those who had lived and worked internationally and also worked with refugees and immigrants in our community. They asked hard questions about the moral call of faith and what would necessitate civil disobedience if laws were deemed unjust. They reviewed current trends in refugees and legal enforcement. They analyzed current approaches to the same issue in the school system, among police and through city government. They had a comprehensive view. And they wondered – in terms of the will and capacity of their congregation – what part they might play.

They spoke openly about the stark contrast between the kind of justice work being done among little congregations like their own and larger congregations that, though having the capacity to address the issue, choose to ignore or avoid it. They recognized that such congregations are often preoccupied with other institutional concerns. The bigger the church the more political divisions within the church actually keep the church immobilized when it comes to addressing justice issues. And that, ironically, leaves much of the real prophetic justice-seeking moral work to small, nimble congregations that have enough informed and committed members to actually do something.

It was good for me to sit as an observer and listen to those faithful Christians openly discuss this. I am not from a small church. The ways in which we make decisions in a medium large congregation is different on almost every level. Their board looks like one of our committees. But they – like the Afghan village – serve as a sign to the rest of us who are often way too cautious and concerned that we are going to upset someone, or endanger our budget, or lose members, or shorten the tenure of a pastor.

I awoke to this day remembering Rabbi Robert Jacobs, of blessed memory (1908-2001). The Rabbi was a fixture not only in the Jewish community of St. Louis, but known to all in the interfaith community. His sage wisdom, calm presence and passion for justice inspired all who met him. That included me.

I remember when Pope John Paul II came to St. Louis in 1999 the interfaith community was invited to an afternoon service. As a part of that, and for the first time in Papal visits, Rabbi Jacobs read the prophetic text from Isaiah in Hebrew. Imagine the Rabbi reading and the Pope listening intently!

And then there was the aftermath of 9/11. We held an interfaith prayer service the Sunday following and the large church where we met was packed. Rabbi Jacobs ascended the stairs to the reading rostrum and slowly and emphatically read the opening words of lament from Lamentations: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people. How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations …” The Rabbi passed into the great mystery later that year.

What I remember most was words of encouragement to unity he shared in some small gathering of interfaith leaders in some forgotten church basement. Rabbi Jacobs could easily get around the theological block. He was too deep to dismiss the differences between the great religious traditions as though they were all the same. But he was also too deep to miss the great pillars that united them all. He easily moved between the oneness of God, one cosmos and one humanity. All of the great traditions affirmed those central principles. So he spoke that day in what was at the moment a rising tide of fear of and discrimination against both Jews and Muslims.

And then he surprised me. That’s what Rabbis do, don’t they? For a person of deep faith stating that God is one and humanity is one is enough. That covers all bases, just as Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love neighbor. Case closed. But Rabbi Jacobs went beyond that in, what, a sly move? He moved dexterously into patriotism, an uncommon and some would say unnecessary move.

He said that “We are all Americans, after all, and the hallmark of our democracy is the unity of all the people under the constitution, all our freedoms and responsibilities.” In the moment I thought that the venerable Rabbi was selling out; you don’t need to prop up the “why” for doing what we should in that way. Save that talk for a patriotic holiday.

Suddenly I realized what he was doing. There is in the pursuit of truth, both embedded in Judaism and Christianity, through all the great Rabbis and Doctors of the Church, the understanding of a “hierarchy of truths.” That is, there are the most luminous and universal truths under which almost everything else falls. And then there are successively lesser truths, still important, but always constitutive of the higher ones. Sometimes and for some people the higher truths are, well, too high for them. They may not be able to nimbly apply them. They may need something more concrete and particular.

Rabbi Jacobs was running through a hierarchy, starting with the highest and moving even to the founding principles of democracy. He realized and was sharing that in a time such as this, in a time of maximum threat and the temptation to disunity one must appeal to the entire arsenal of truths. That arsenal includes the loftiest religious understandings all the way to the most patriotic ones. They do not necessary prop one another up but they mutually reinforce.

Just in case you don’t get that there is one God and one humanity and you should act those truths remember that we are Americans who are guided and governed by patriotic principles of solidarity.

Thank you, Rabbi Jacobs, for showing up in my morning hours. Thank you for articulating the highest tier of lofty spirituality and the most practical ways to make it work in the same country and same planet. We need all of that, especially in certain times. Now would be one of them.

TimTalks Now Live

Posted: April 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

Sorry for the delay, gang! The manuscripts and videos of past TimTalks (and TerryTalks and NickTalks) are now live on the Broadway web site. You can just click here to enjoy a multiplicity of them.

Thanks for visiting and forwarding to friends when it seems to be just the right one.

Pleasant browsing!

I have just completed The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel (Washington Square Press, 1991). It is the biography of the mathematical genius from India, Ramanujan, who came from unknown quarters in India to the halls of Cambridge – and turned the mathematical world on its ear. He died at a very young age, having returned to India with broken health. But his legacy lives on in mathematical circles today.

Imagine a self-taught 19th century genius who came to conclusions by way of alternate knowing, not utilizing traditional proofs of the day. He simply “saw” the answer – its form and solution – and found novel ways to get there.

Much of this was informed by his pious Hinduism which led him to say “An equation has no meaning to me unless it expresses a thought of God.” As he continued to meditate on absolute reality and infinity he did so by use of the number zero. Every being is a product of zero plus infinity. So finitude and infinity are joined together. God, zero and infinity became a key by which he unlocked mathematical mysteries. Many would say metaphysical mysteries as well.

As I read the way that he understood and incorporated zero – the nothingness that is everything – I realized how very much this was influenced by the thought and legacy of the East. In my earlier work addressing the same symbolic universe (The Square Root of God: Mathematical Metaphors and Spiritual Tangents) I appealed to what was, I believe, the Western form of that in both theology and philosophy – the Number 1. When you join together the symbol 1 (it connotes the singularity and unity of the primary and indivisible nature of God) with infinity – 1 participates with every infinite series of numbers and combination of 1 and infinity. And so in my book the square root of 1/infinity is 1/infinity, or the square root of God is always in every case the unified and infinite God.

Ramanujan did the same thing from the East. If he would have stated it, I believe, it would have been the square root of zero/infinity.

That for me clarified one of the primary distinctions between East and West and its understanding of ultimate reality, that the one begins with zero and the other with 1. The East begins with nothingness and the West with somethingness. Are they, finally, the same? Would the difference describe a difference in our understanding of the universe? Of meditation and prayer? The way we go about talking about God?

Thank you Ramanujan! The square root of 1 or zero, the square root of God or Nirvana, is always what it is!

Our Christian congregation has been in relationship with our Muslim brothers and sisters at the Mosque for some time. But now there are new reasons to come together in solidarity. The current atmosphere of fear and suspicion requires renewed efforts at unity and solidarity.

We were just invited to evening prayer and a light supper at the Mosque and a number of us – men and women – attended. Our conversations spanned everything from shared common living to distinctive practices to the impact of current politics.

In my small after dinner discussion group there were two doctors and a business owner. They have raised their families in the United States. But the shock waves of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy proposals have affected them and their children in challenging ways.

One child psychiatrist who taught at the medical school for decades is now working with an agency to equip ELL teachers (English Language Learners) with skills to work with children who are traumatized. They are at risk because many of them come from countries of origin embroiled in war and conflict. These children often witnessed the unbelievable. Now the fear of deportation – even if they are legal – hovers over them. It is a time of great insecurity.

In our conversations we spoke of how important it is for different faith communities to stay connected and evidence unity and solidarity, especially in a time in which people are being divided and turned against one another by fear. We need to find ways to give witness to the opposite.

We will be returning the hospitality of our Muslim friends by inviting them to dinner at our church in the near future. Our women and the women of the Mosque are planning some lunches out in public places. There is talk of maturing our relationship into some progressive dinners hosted in our homes.

This is a time in which Christians are called to practice an uneasy faith and swim against the cultural current. Isn’t it Jesus who always reached out to the stranger, the other, the one society banished to sidelines? Of course it was.