Monthly Archives: July 2022
People are born different from one another. If you have several children, the odds are you recognize how very different we are when we arrive. It’s human to think our own “difference” is best. That’s part of being different, we understand and value our strength more than those that seem the opposite. The reality is that for every strength there is a corresponding weakness. To survive most of us develop minimal skills in our weaker areas. It isn’t easy and if we can, we’ll avoid things that require us to use those skills. Now, at eighty-five, I’ve realized that we are challenged sometime around the fourth quarter of our lives to develop in our weakest area. That requires a temporary loss of our greatest strength and most cherished ways of being, thinking, praying, and relating. It’s so scary that we may dig in and resist this part of the process of becoming whole. It’s a dying to self and it’s part of our spiritual journey.
If you have become aware of the growth and changes in the journey of Jesus, it helps to know that even he went through the challenges of changing his understanding of his mission and even’s God’s love. And he too struggled with it. The times of his journey were compacted, but once you look for it, it’s plain to see and a powerful challenge for us.
Many of Scripture’s dominant characters, even brothers, were obviously different and some let that difference become the root of division and evil.
One of the biggest gaps in understanding, empathy, and appreciation for those different is between theory and possibility people and the world they see and know people. That’s a major challenge in a democracy.
Another gap is between those that respond to life out of logic and those that respond from feeling values. Which is often a classic challenge in marriage.
The theory/logic people have a lot to offer, but their combination tends to exhibit a sense of superiority. A political example was Adlai Stevenson who lost in his run for president. A classic comment about him was, “He looks at people like they are side dishes he didn’t order.”
The theory people live with their noses in books of history and science and often see new ways of understanding them and making improvements. The practical people can take those theories and make them happen. It should be a perfect pairing of gifts differing.
Except it’s like the tower of Babel, because they don’t speak the same language.
Theoretical thinkers never use a one syllable word when they know a five-syllable word for the same thing. To the practical people they may as well be speaking a foreign language. This intimidates instead of communicating. It makes the “let’s just do it” people feel stupid and they shut down and turn off.
The reality is that EVERYONE is ignorant in a million more areas than they are knowledgeable. Ignorance is not stupidity. And book knowledge will never become reality without the people who can make it happen. If we work at it, we can communicate across our different areas of knowledge.
My Architect husband was very visual and practical. He wasn’t a wordsmith or a theory person. He created many very good-looking practical buildings. He spent time in offices asking the workers what would make their work easier and more efficient, in warehouses studying assembly lines, working with different denominations to design churches to suit their worship style. He cared about getting the most legal parking spaces on the lots. He battled to get small Mennonite Schools without electricity safe enough to meet fire codes. He came home from Architectural Symposiums frustrated over the new buzz words. When he wanted to get results from the American Institute of Architecture office, he got me to write the letters because I could speak their language. The “elite” Architects tend to design works of art and speak the jargon that goes with it.
In Architecture, the blueprint communicates the details of the concept to the builder, carpenter, electrician, etc. But when my husband wanted me to appreciate the details of his blueprints, I got headaches. So, I took a class in Blueprint Reading at the local vocational school. I made the best grades in class and did learn to interpret blueprints, but I couldn’t have made the leap to the actual site work. I’m a theory person who lives in my head and barely notices things around me.
When I began to study and then work with the MBTI, my husband appeared to be patiently listening to my long and enthusiastic monologues on personality types. But after several years, when we were asked to give presentations on type together, it turned out that he had been counting ceiling tiles, windows, and square feet while nodding thoughtfully during my expounding.
But, when we were challenged to get it together, we slogged our way through psychological jargon and their realities until he could express our differences with concrete examples. Since his personality type is much more predominant than mine, he was able to communicate effectively with many more people than I was.
Since he and I were the exact opposite to the extreme in every area that the MBTI measures, we made a good laboratory for understanding across the differences. But it wasn’t easy. I think our five children who are very different from one another profited from our differences, but it took understanding the differences for us to recognize that the way we each expressed love was different, so we often weren’t getting the messages.
My degree is in Psychology and I’ve accumulated enough credits in Pastoral Theology to qualify for a job that required a masters in that. My interest from the combination has been on how differences in inborn personality traits effect marriages, teaching and learning style combinations, spirituality, and business management.
Now at eighty-five, I’ve begun to focus on the many ways personality (not intelligence) creates misunderstanding and alienation in politics. I’ve recognized how important it is now that we begin to see our differences as gifts that could be working together, not dividing us.
This topic has become my theme song. The more I consider it, the more important it seems to be for our times.
Me: Hey God. God: Hello, My love. Me: The world is completely out of control. God: I know. It’s such an adventure, right? Me: No! It’s like being on a runaway train! I need to feel like I am in control of my life. God: You want to be in control? Me: Yes! God: You are living on a spinning wet rock of a planet that resides next to a constantly exploding fireball in the middle of an ever-expanding universe that is filled with mysteries beyond your wildest imagination. Me: Um, okay…. God: And on this planet that you are hurtling through the great expanse in – you are coexisting with billions of other people who have free-will and their own experiences that shape their perspectives and beliefs. Me: Yeah…? God: And while all this is going on your soul is residing in a physical body that is such a miracle of delicate engineering that at any given moment could produce its last heartbeat. Me: Right… God: What is it about your existence that you think you have any control of? Me: Um… God: Come on – you know the answer to this. What can you control? Me: How kind I am to people? God: Yep and one other thing. Me: What’s that? God: How kind you are to yourself. Aside from that – most of everything else is a bit outside of your design. Me: That’s a bit terrifying… God: All great adventures are!
Puts things in perspective, but doesn’t take away the call to learn how to love and to love effectively…..not safely from a distance, but up close and personal where we can’t ignore the nitty gritty that’s hard to love. Loving at a comfortable distance is pretending. Loving requires hearing and understanding others’ reality. It doesn’t change your own, it expands it.
More and more I realize how ignorant every single one of us is. And all put together from Einstein and the rest of us, there is more that we don’t know than our combined understanding about anything from the cosmos to our own mind and body. Nobody knows enough to feel superior. Our ignorance is to the millionth squared more than our knowledge and understanding!
I have learned more about loving from my grandchild with disabilities than anywhere else in my 85 years. And to me loving is the ultimate goal of life. And Jesus grew in understanding that took him from “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” To: “Love your enemy as I have loved you.”
“Pride goes before the fall.” Sadly, it seems we are all having to learn that the hard way.
Father Richard Rohr prioritizes putting love into concrete action while drawing on Divine Love as our Source.
Love won’t be real or tested unless we somehow live close to the disadvantaged, who frankly teach us that we know very little about love. To be honest, my male Franciscan seminary training didn’t teach me how to love. It taught me how to obey and conform, but not how to love. I’m still trying every day to learn how to love. As we endeavor to put love into action, we realize that on our own, we are unable to obey Jesus’ command, “Love one another as I have loved you.” To love as Jesus loves, we must be connected to the Source of Love.
Over decades of serving New York City’s poorest individuals, Dorothy Day (1897–1980) never lost sight of the gospel’s challenging invitation to love:
Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships. God is Love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. . . . It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too because it is a foretaste of heaven. . . .
When you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them. God sees Christ, His Son, in us and loves us. And so we should see Christ in others, and nothing else, and love them. There can never be enough of it. There can never be enough thinking about it. St. John of the Cross said that where there was no love, put love and you would take out love. The principle certainly works. . . .
Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.
My recent responses to:
1: A conflict situation between an adult sister and brother over the brother’s angry defense of his trans teen-age child’s need for sensitivity in a particular situation.
I’m 85 and my trans grand was very offended that I couldn’t get the pronouns right. When my son says “They” enjoyed the concert., I think he means all his kids. I also have to go through all the pronouns when trying to refer to one as “them.” “They” have finally accepted that it’s not me trashing “their” need to be “them,” after I admitted that when I saw a friend at the grocery store and they asked me where I was living now, I couldn’t remember the name of the complex or the address, though I’d lived there five years and I could describe how to get there! Life is hard. The young are sensitive, but also self-righteous. The middle-aged struggle to change with the times, sometimes failing. And the old are simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of extreme life changes all around us.
2: Someone with Autism sensitive to the hazards of labels such as high function/low function. . None of us knows the silent private struggles others go through. I think Jesus said not to judge others for at least 4 reasons: 1. God didn’t create “cookie cutter” people. 2. Nobody’s perfect. 3. We have no clue about what another person is battling to just stay functional. 4. Labels often sound like judgment. And judging creates a false dichotomy that creates an US vs THEM attitude that cripples our ability to love like Jesus told us: “love your neighbor, love your enemy, love all others as I have loved you.”
We all struggle with what we don’t understand from personal experience. And these days, please, on all sides of issues, do consider how much we ALL don’t understand. So, let’s all cut each other some slack.
Not liking to clean house, I spend time sitting around puzzling about things in general.
Like what are the differences between righteous and self-righteous? I think being righteous is to the best of our ability trying to make loving choices. Being self-righteous is thinking our way of loving is the only way. But with people with different gifts and training, could the difference be like when a plane is having a problem and our practical response is to put the oxygen on our self first so we can help those closest to us or if our knowledge of aeronautics makes our first instinct be to start trying to save the plane? I see this as similar to our political differences. Neither is wrong…..we use what God gave each of us. But, we need to start working together. There are people who are practical and see the immediate problems right around them and have the natural gifts and training to fix them. But there are people who study history to learn from it or who study science to understand possibilities both helpful and destructive to prepare for them. The latter can’t fix our plumbing, but they can recognize potential universal problems and work to find solutions. We need both and we need them working together. It’s not either/or.
And we are all ignorant….whether about how to harvest or repair things or how to stop poisoning our oceans or our atmosphere. We need each others’ gifts. We need to value both our own and each others’. And to understand that ignorance is part of everyone’s life. Only God knows it all. Ignorance is not stupidity, unless we don’t admit it and don’t value those with knowledge we don’t have.
God designed us with different gifts so we would learn to work together for the good of all. Wake up! We need each other!
I used to believe in my mind;
credited it with accuracy and trustworthiness.
but only for a while —
until i saw its limitations:
criticism and discouragement,
fears and pessimism rooted in primal survival.
it’s scope such a tiny distorted projection,
oblivious of the infinite and eternal ocean
we all swim in.
I saw with utmost clarity
my mind was not my friend!
Not talking here about intellectual data, even
daily navigation through life;
I am speaking of what makes us who and what we are:
our heart. Self worth, our spirit and soul, our dreams, aspirations and all we love.
Did ego mind ever recognize, honor, work constructively with any of those aspects of being?
just what was this noisy, negative thing in my head
I had read from an enlightened One
that the mind was a good servant, but a terrible (even dangerous) master. the heart was meant to lead, make the important life decisions.
I had placed mind on the throne.
I began to meditate,
seeking to quiet the unruly monkey mind.
on the way, I discovered higher pathways therein:
a secret chamber,
hidden tunnels to a mystical interior land
of Merlin and stars
saints and sacret teachings
wild Wise Women set free to be.
much to explore in this place of beauty, love, and mystery.
the rigid structures and sturdy file cabinets of mind
windows were flung open
birdsong and sunlight welcomed in
a refreshing breeze of renewal wafting
through the dark
that had been.
celestial music in one corner
flowers and unicorns in another
arm in arm sweethearts
in drunken bliss,
spiritual education at its finest
unconditional love Grace-filled kiss
mind and I have traveled together thru many challenging days
happily we have reached a place
where we are friends.
I Don’t Want to See a High School Football Coach Praying at the Fifty Yard Line
Many of us who believe in a reality beyond the visible realms, who believe in a soul that survives death, and who are hoping for seats in heaven near the dessert table, also recoil from the image of a high school football coach praying at the 50-yard line.
It offends me to see sanctimonious public prayer in any circumstance — but a coach holding his players hostage while an audience watches his piety makes my skin crawl.
We are fighting furiously for women’s rights and the planet, and we mean business. We believers march, rally and agitate, putting feet to our prayers. And in our private lives, we pray.
Isn’t praying a bit Teletubbies as we face off with the urgent darkness?
Prayer means talking to God, or to the great universal spirit, a.k.a. Gus, or to Not Me. Prayer connects us umbilically to a spirit both outside and within us, who hears and answers. Is it like the comedian Flip Wilson saying, “I’m gonna pray now; anyone want anything?”
I do not understand much about string theory, but I do know we are vibrations, all the time. Between the tiny strings is space in which change can happen. The strings are infinitesimal; the space between nearly limitless. Prayer says to that space, I am tiny, helpless, needy, worried, but there’s nothing I can do except send my love into that which is so much bigger than me.
How do people like me who believe entirely in science and reason also believe that prayer can heal and restore? Well, I’ve seen it happen a thousand times in my own inconsequential life. God seems like a total showoff to me, if perhaps unnecessarily cryptic.
When I pray for all the places where we see Christ crucified — Ukraine, India, the refugee camps — I see in my heart and in the newspaper that goodness draws near, through UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, volunteers, through motley old us.
I wake up praying. I say a prayer some sober people told me to pray 36 years ago, because when all else fails, follow instructions. It helps me to not fixate on who I am, but on whose. I am God’s adorable, aging, self-centered, spaced-out beloved. One man in early sobriety told me that he had come into recovery as a hotshot but that other sober men helped him work his way up to servant. I pray to be a good servant because I’ve learned that this is the path of happiness. I pray for my family and all my sick friends that they have days of grace and healing, and I end my prayers, “Make me ever mindful of the needs of the poor.”
Then I put on my glasses, let the dog out to pee and start my day. I will have horrible thoughts about others, typically the Christian right or the Supreme Court, or someone who has seriously crossed me, whose hair I pray falls out or whose book fails. I say to God, as I do every Sunday in confession: “Look — I think we can both see what we have on our hands here. Help me not be such a pill.”
It is miserable to be a hater. I pray to be more like Jesus with his crazy compassion and reckless love. Some days go better than others. I pray to remember that God loves Marjorie Taylor Greene exactly the same as God loves my grandson, because God loves, period. God does not have an app for Not Love. God sees beyond each person’s awfulness to each person’s needs. God loves them, as is. God is better at this than I am.
I lift up one of my grown Sunday school kids who is in the I.C.U. with anorexia. I beseech God to intervene, and she does, through finding my girl a great nurse later that day. (Nurses are God’s answer 35 percent of the time). My prayer says to whoever might be listening, “I care about her and have no idea what to do, but to hold her in my heart and turn her over to something that might do better than me.” And I hear what to do next — make her one of my world-famous care packages — overpriced socks, a journal, and needless to say, communion elements tailored to her: almonds and sugar-free gum. It’s love inside wrapping paper.
Especially when I travel, I talk to so many people who are absolutely undone by all the miseries of the world, and I can’t do anything for them but listen, commiserate and offer to pray. I can’t turn politics around, or war, or the climate, but in listening, by opening my heart to someone in trouble, I create with them more love, less of a grippy clench in our little corner of the universe.
When I get onstage for a talk or an interview, I pray to say words that will help the people in the audience who feel most defeated. When I got to interview Hillary Clinton in Seattle a few years ago, we prayed this prayer huddled in a corner backstage — to bring hope to the hopeless.
Do I honestly think these kinds of prayers were heard, and helpful?
On good days, I feel (slightly) more neutral toward Ginni Thomas and the high school coach praying after games. I pray the great prayer of “Thanks” all day, for my glorious messy family, husband and life; for my faith, my sobriety; for nature; for all that is still here and still works after so much has been taken from us.
When I am at my most rattled or in victimized self-righteousness, I go for walks, another way to put my feet to prayer. I pray for help, and in some dimension outside of my mind or language, I relax. I can breathe again. I say, “Thank you.” I say, “Thank you for the same flowers and trees and ferns and cactuses I pass every day.” I say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.
A walk is a great prayer. To make eye contact and smile is a kind of prayer, and it changes you. Fields and woods are the kingdom. You don’t say, “Oh, there’s a dark-eyed junco flitting around that same old pine tree; whatever,” or: “Look at those purple wildflowers. I’ve seen those a dozen times.” You are silent. There may be no one around you and the forest will speak to you in the way it will speak to an animal. And that changes you.
At bedtime I pray again for my sick friends, and the refugees. I beg for sleep. I give thanks for the blessings of the day. I rest into the vision of the pearly moon outside my window that looks like a porthole to a bigger reality, sigh and close my tired eyes.
I have the theological understanding of a bright 8-year-old, but Jesus says we need to approach life like children, not like cranky know-it-alls, crazily busy, clutching our to-do lists. One of my daily prayers is, “Slow me down, Girlfriend.” The prayer changes me. It breaks the toxic trance. God says to Moses the first time they meet, “Take off your shoes.” Be on the earth. Breathe with me a moment.
The Zealots and the Pharisees
Richard Rohr expands upon the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Third Core Principle: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.”
There seem to be two typical ways to avoid conversion or transformation, two diversionary tactics that we use to avoid holding pain: fight and flight.
“Fight” is what I’ll call the way of Simon the Zealot. It describes people who want to change, fix, control, and reform other people and events. The zealot always looks for the political sinner, the unjust one, the oppressor, the bad person over there. Zealots consider themselves righteous when attacking them (whoever they are at a given time), hating them, even killing them. When they do, they believe they are “doing a holy duty for God” (John 16:2).
Zealots often have good conclusions, but their tactics and motives can be filled with ego, power, control, and the same righteousness they hate in others. They want to do something to avoid holding pain until it transforms them. Such people present Christianity as “a cult of innocence” as opposed to a movement for solidarity.
As long as they are the problem (whoever they are), and we keep our focus on changing them and correcting them, then we can sit in a reasonably comfortable position. But it’s a position that the saints call pax perniciosa, a dangerous and false peace. It feels like peace, but instead is the false peace of avoidance, denial, and projection. The Peace of the Crucified comes from holding the tension.
This brings us to flight, the second diversionary tactic. This is the common path of the “Pharisee,” the uninformed, and the falsely innocent. Such people deny pain altogether and refuse to carry the shadow side of anything in themselves or in their chosen groups. They allow no uncertainty nor ambiguity as they scapegoat and project their own wounded side somewhere else! There will be no problems. It is a form of narcotic, and at times probably necessary to get some people through the day.
Both fight and flight people are subject to hypocrisy, projection, or just plain illusion: “We are right; you are wrong. The world is divided into black and white, and we alone know who is good and who is bad.”
“Resurrected” people are the ones who have found a better way by prayerfully bearing witness against injustice and evil—while also agreeing compassionately to hold their own complicity in that same evil. It is not over there—it is here. It is our problem, not theirs. The Risen Christ, not accidentally, still carries the wounds in his hands and side. The question becomes: How can I know the greater truth, work through the anger, and still be a life-giving presence?
That is the Third Way beyond fight or flight, which in a certain sense includes both. It’s fighting in a new way from a God-centered place within, and fleeing from the quick, egocentric response. Only God can hold such an act together within us.
Father Richard Rohr values how Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures introduced the gift of self-critical thinking into their relationship with God:
The Hebrew Scriptures, against all religious expectations, include what most of us would call the problem—the negative, the accidental, the sinful—as the precise arena for divine revelation. There are no perfectly moral people in ancient Scriptures; even Abraham rather cruelly drove his second wife into the desert with their child. The Jewish people, contrary to what might be expected, chose to present their arrogant and evil kings and their very critical prophets as part of their Holy Scriptures. They include stories and prophecies that do not tell the Jewish people how wonderful they are but, rather, how terrible they are! It is the birth of self-critical thinking and thus moves consciousness forward. No other religion has been known for such capacity for self-criticism, down to our own time. 
The Jewish rabbi and noted theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel understood such self-critical thinking and dissent as central to Judaism and to all vibrant and healthy religion:
Inherent to all traditional religion is the peril of stagnation. What becomes settled and established may easily turn foul. Insight is replaced by clichés, elasticity by obstinacy, spontaneity by habit. Acts of dissent prove to be acts of renewal.
It is therefore of vital importance for religious people to voice and to appreciate dissent. And dissent implies self-examination, critique, discontent.
Dissent is indigenous to Judaism. The prophets of ancient Israel who rebelled against a religion that would merely serve the self-interest or survival of the people continue to stand out as inspiration and example of dissent to this very day.
An outstanding feature dominating all Jewish books composed during the first five hundred years of our era is the fact that together with the normative view a dissenting view is nearly always offered, whether in theology or in law. Dissent continued during the finest periods of Jewish history: great scholars sharply disagreed with Maimonides; Hasidism, which brought so much illumination and inspiration into Jewish life, was a movement of dissent. . . . Creative dissent comes out of love and faith, offering positive alternatives, a vision. 
Father Richard seeks a both-and approach that embraces self-criticism without falling into excessive intellectualism or despair:
Self-criticism is quite rare in the history of religion, yet it is necessary to keep religion from its natural tendency toward arrogant self-assurance—and eventually idolatry, which is always the major sin for biblical Israel. We must also point out, however, that mere critique usually deteriorates into cynicism, skepticism, academic arrogance, and even post-modernistic nihilism. So be very careful and very prayerful before you own any self-image of professional critic or anointed prophet! Negativity will do you in.