PREACHER IN SHORTS


Life is most often experienced as a stack of superimposed layers that reveal new meanings as one draws closer to a particular scene. At times the unfolding revelations cause us to take pause and sometimes even descend deeper into selves.

On my way home from church Sunday, I noticed a figure in the yard of another church a block ahead. I could not clearly see more than just a stick figure walking into and then out of my line of sight. “Wonder that they have going on today,” I thought, “Maybe a picnic on the lawn.”

Advancing on the unfolding scene, I began to recognize that the figure was pushing something … a lawnmower! Coming closer I could see it was a push lawnmower of the reel variety. The figure was mowing the lawn. “ON SUNDAY,” my conventional 1950s east Texas upbringing responded before my more integrated advanced years could contain it.

Now I was close enough to tell that the figure was not in “church clothes” as I was taught to call them (East Texas again), but rather in shorts and tee-shirt. “ON SUNDAY…HOW ODD I THOUGHT.”

I noticed that the person had a colorful legging on one leg. “BODY ARMOUR,” I continued to create my mental scenario of the unfolding scene.

It was not until I was virtually on the scene that I recognized the prosthesis. The man was mowing the church lawn, in shorts, ON SUNDAY, with a PUSH REEL LAWNMOWER, with a VISIBLE COLORFUL PROSTHESIS for a right leg. He seemed to be really enjoying the moment (as only Reel Lawnmowers can) and leaning in to the challenge of manicuring the rather large lawn, as others left for home.

“Now that’s a sermon,” I thought.

I thought of all the excuses I can use to avoid menial tasks and here he was embracing this first mowing, of the season, with such joy. I though of my many complaints regarding low back pain or physical exhaustion or the lethargy of advancing years and here was a picture of energy, enjoyment and dedication.

“What happened to his leg,” I wondered.  War, an accident, diabetes ran through my engaged imagination.  Then something caused me to stop creating a caption for the picture.

In that moment I ceased wondering about his situation and began connecting with a rising energy within. Suddenly, I felt strong, and resourceful and thankful.

“I get it, ” came the prayer.

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FINDING A SPIRITUAL TEACHER


We are in an age of spiritual exploration. Even persons that are part of organized spiritual communities read widely and explore the thoughts and systems of others seeking the illusive center of their being. It could be seen as a rebirth of the quest of the Delphic Oracle,

 “Know thyself and all the gods and universe will be known to you as well.”

Psychologist John Kent, PhD summarized the following criterion from the work of Interpersonal Psychologist Richard Rose.

John Kent, Ph.D., authored a dissertation titledPsychology of the Observer: The Path to Reality Through the Self (Kent 1990). Kent documented 15 categories that Rose recommended we use when investigating a spiritual teacher, system, or group. Be wary and attentive if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions:

  1. Simplicity: Does the group present its ideas in a mass of unwieldy, complex logic‑structures, or arcane symbology, when simpler explanations about life might do?
  2. Inflexibility: Is there a guru you must worship, clothes you must wear, rituals you must practice, or dogma you must accept?
  3. Sensibility: Does the system lack appeal to your common sense and intuition?
  4. Sexual morality: Does the teaching discourage the necessity for the healthy, moral correction, and sublimation of the sex function?
  5. Pure motives: Does the teaching flatter your ego, excuse your laziness, condone your hedonism, encourage your appetite for power, or provide false comfort against the insecurity of honest ignorance?
  6. Existential integrity: Does the teaching substitute concept‑building for experiential discovery, or attempt to use bodily means to attain a non‑physical immortality?
  7. Exclusivity: Does the group insist that they are the sole possessors of the only path to the truth or that the guru is uniquely qualified to save people, and suggest that leaving the group is thus an affront to God?
  8. Bureaucracy: Is the organization highly regimented, with a hierarchy of power within it that keeps the members subservient or leaves room for one to be tempted to ascend through continued involvement?
  9. Priorities: Is the purpose of the group more geared towards social interaction, political activism, or business networking than inner work?
  10. Methodology: Does the system promote mechanical, repetitive practices to induce a mood of quiescence or the presumption of incremental progress, or meditation techniques of self‑hypnosis, rather than encouraging lucid efforts at self‑knowledge and genuine mindfulness?
  11. Secrecy: Is the group secretive in its activities, appealing to some childish ego? Does the teaching promise to contain tantalizing secrets within secrets that require a succession of mysterious initiations to acquire before its real meaning can be revealed, thereby making one superior to those without such knowledge? Is the truth hidden from whomever can hear it and act on it?
  12. Theatrics: Is the emphasis more on paraphernalia (incense, music, robes, displays), ritual (ceremonies, Masses, movements), and symbolism (tarot, astrology, kabbalah, etc.) than on simple, direct communication of guidance in proper introspection and righteous living?
  13. Dependency: Is the group or a charismatic leader sternly presented as the necessary intermediary between the seeker and God?
  14. Cost: Are you required to pay an excessive amount of money to participate in the group, receive instruction, talk with the guru, etc., beyond whatever reasonable amount is necessary to pay for books, room rentals, mailings, and such? Do they say the truth will set you free, but charge you for the privilege?
  15. Fatigue: Did you accept the teaching or group because you were too tired to go on looking?

Do you desire to be a seeker or a finder? Is your goal to continue feed a hunger for deeper knowledge or to rest when you find a teacher or belief system that generally satisfies? I don’t know if I could answer these questions definitively for myself. There is a danger in finding a teacher or system that satisfies in that it can become just another pair of blinders to keep yourself from considering other possible truths that might lead you deeper. I have not, to date, found a teacher or belief system that completely satisfies my seeking heart, that answers all my questions, that quiets all my needs to ask and wonder. In some ways I hope I never thing that illusive satisfaction.

What would you add or change in Kent’s list?

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The New Apostolic Reformation – FRIGHTENING!


Got a call from my son the other night. He was railing about the fundamental religious strategists that compose the far right of the Republican Party. I did some initial research and uncovered the work of Peter Wagner, the shaping influence behind the NEW APOSTOLIC REFORMATION.

It is humiliating and frightening what Christian fundamentalists are doing in the name of Jesus Christ. I invite you to read this NPR Report  and then follow the background trail in the sidebars, especially reports by Rachel Tabachnick.

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Attachment Leads to Personality Cults


Attachment is a slippery slope on the road of the pilgrim. When the Buddha spoke of  “attachment” as the primary cause of suffering in this life, he was referring not only to our attachment to things, but possessiveness in relationships and to our desire to replicate certain  conditions of heart, mind and soul. We can attach to anything we desire to hold on to with the intent of withstanding the forces of change.

Every spiritual tradition and sect offers the opportunity to attach to it’s primary figure: Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, Mohammad, Zoroaster, Paramahansa Yogananda, Meher Baba and many others. The same liability lies waiting in our formulation of certain personal theological beliefs. Hebrew ancestors chose a word for God, for example, that would respect the first of the TEN COMMANDMENTS, “Thou shalt have no other God’s before me.” The word contained only consonants and was impossible to pronounce, YHWY. In this way they attempted to capture the transcendent mystery that they experienced in life. All revered figures carry the potentiality of attachment for the “pilgrim.” Whether it be the primary personality around which a tradition is formed or simply mentors, teachers or sages, all can become objects of attachment.

Considering the origin of truth behind a particular quotation from the Bible, a teacher once asked a student, “Is that saying true because Jesus said it, or did Jesus say it because it is inherently true?” The same thing could be asked regarding even the first human formation of certain truths (like the Golden Rule)  that emerge in most spiritual traditions in one formation or another. Is this truth true because of who first uttered it, or is it true because it is true in our human experience?

Why should attachments to religious figures, or religious objects, or religious states of being interest the pilgrim? Because attachment can divert one’s path. It can also bring one’s pilgrimage to a premature end in certainty or despair. The spirit of the divine as represented by names such as YHWH, EL, God, Allah, Deus, Mazda, et al, involves a transcendence or a mystery that reaches beyond the believers own conceptualization. It is true to one’s human experience that there is a sense of transcendence in our daily life but beyond that it is difficult to say.

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Sitting at the Feet of the Passenger on Route Six


“A passenger is coming to your bus,” radioed another driver,
“He is traveling a little slower.” I waited expecting a person with
physical challenges to appear. But, suddenly a man perched on two prostheses came into view. He was carrying a duffel bag that looked heavy.

He attempted to climb the steps into the bus but was blocked by
the large bag. “Let me help you,” I offered. Jumped out of the bus
and scurried around the loaded bike rack to relieve the encumbrance from his
shoulder. Handing me the bag, he finished his climb and sat in the front seat
behind the driver. I placed the large bag under his seat.

“Top of the Hill,” I called as we approached the first
stop of the Orchard Mesa route.

“That’ll be mine he responded.”

“You need help, I asked, knowing that folks would rather me
ask than assume.”

“Nope,” he replied, “Think I’ve got it.”

Carefully bracing himself he descended the steps to the sidewalk.

As we departed, I could see him in the rearview mirror walking
down the sidewalk. Then he turned and faced the street, four lanes of noontime
traffic. Then with the courage of a tight wire walker, he headed across the
busy highway.

I couldn’t believe how he attacked the task before him. It was as
though he had no handicap, no prostheses, and no fear. It was as though he had
been born with those apparatuses on his legs.

Handicap is a relative term. Suffering is a perspective not an
entitlement. We all must hurt at one time or another. We all struggle
with conditions and situations that at time threaten to get the best of us, but WE DON’T HAVE TO SUFFER. Suffering is a choice with its own agenda.

At that moment I became aware of all the insignificant stuff I have complained about over the years. I could hear all the shallow excuses I have given for not facing up to life. I don’t envision my self as a “complainer” but when face to face with the “real thing” my short sightedness and general lack of heart was exposed for what it is. “I will never complain again,” I told my self, “and I will be grateful for my health and whole being as long as I have it.”

The Route Six passenger that day taught me a lesson that will stay
with me a long time and he joyfully displayed the resilience of the human spirit.

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The Things We Assume


Sidewalk Thanks

I bounced across the intersection just avoiding the on coming charge that in seconds the light change would release. Landing safely on the sidewalk, my eyes caught some words scribbled by a previous dasher.

“Thank You God For My Feet” it reminded.

How may times have I relied on my feet with little thought that they were there, or that they would respond. Something so simple, so essential, I have assumed would just “BE THERE,” and be there when I need them.

In recent years however, with no warning, Gout has become a recurring concern. One day my feet slowly began feeling like pin cushions, I could hardly touch the surface of the skin and they swelled up like goards. The doctor sent me home to get off them and to take a perscription that would equalize the uric acid in my system. The process too a while to bring relief, and until it did, walking was extremely painful.

Laying in bed I remembered the sign. I also began to remember other things that I take for granted: other body functions, relationships, personal abilities, good health, clear thoughts, a good night’s sleep, a deep breath, etc.

I really don’t think that God wants our continued chanting of gratitude for every single thing that we take for granted. I do, however, think that life is much richer and our relationship with our higher power more meaningful if we stop on the corner, look down and remember the blessing that is ours.

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My Last Sermon


September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture. He shared with the class his PT scans and how, even though he appeared energetic and full of life in front of them, he would soon die of Pancreatic Cancer. Randy’s lecture may be viewed on YouTube. Randy shared his experience in a book by the same name, Last Lecture.

There is a note of finality to every last thing you do. The last night that you were single. The last meal with a friend who was leaving. The last day on the job. The last day your child was at home. The last time you remember seeing someone alive. No matter how you think of those moments in the future, there is a certain finality about last moments.

There is a tendency to cram a lot of things into your last moments, ie Jack Nicholson’s BUCKET LIST, do things or say things that you have always wanted to say but did not get around to it. (remember the ROUND TUIT)  Gee what would I like to say before moving on?

There is a tendency to want to set things right to tell your side of the story before moving on. This is partly the desire felt by many “Tell All” authors or exposee Wiki Link informers who have publicly “ratted” on friends, associates and families telling their view of the way things transpired.

And so, present company accepted, I have been wondering, as I sit in the wee hours of the morning, what I should say in my last sermon as pastor of Fruita United Methodist. Tomorrow is my last day, my last worship service with that congreagtion. What if this is my last sermon, not only here, but anywhere? What needs to be said that almost 700 previous opportunities have not afforded.

I think the first word needs to be one of gratitude.

In My Name is Asher Lev Chaim Potok tells a touching story, “And I pondered the way my father once looked at a bird lying on its side against the curb near our house. It was Shabbos and we were on our way back from synagogue.

“’Is it dead, Papa?’ I was six and could not bring myself to look at it.

“’Yes,’ I heard him say in a sad and distant way.

“’Why did it die?’

“Everything that lives must die.’

“’Everything?’

“’Yes.’

“’You, too Papa? And Mama?’

“’Yes.’

“’And me?’

“’Yes,’ he said. Then he added in Yiddish, ‘But may it be only after you live a long and good life, my Asher.’

“I couldn’t grasp it. I forced myself to look at the bird. Everything alive would one day be

as still as that bird?

“’Why?’ I asked.

“’That’s the way the Ribbono Shel Olom made his world, Asher.’

“’Why?’

“’So life would be precious, Asher. Something that is yours forever is never precious.’”

I would like to say that my life has been precious, and that this opportunity of 14 years has been particularly precious. I have had my share of naiveté and down right stupidity, my share of inadequacy and disability (we are disabled in many ways, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently).  I have had great love and I have loved greatly. I have struggled with my Lord almost all my life. My life of faith, I think, would rightly be characterized as a blessed struggle. Not unlike Jacob at the Jabbok.

I have been given opportunities to lead far beyond my ability at the time. I have sometimes risen to the occasion and sometimes fallen short. I have been blessed (though sometimes felt cursed) by having others with whom to share the ministry for Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the Taoist story about the Chinese farmer who responded to every situation in his life with a sense of non-attachment. “Maybe, Maybe Not” he would reply.

An old farmer, who had worked his crops for many years, one day discovered his horse had run away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

There have been things that I thought I just had to do, that could just as well have been left undone and things I thought that I could not allow to happen, that I have later discovered were the very things that needed to be done. I have put value in things that did not matter and missed things that mattered most, and yet I am a much different person as a result of my attempts at providing ministry in the name of Christ Jesus.

This is to say I have lived a normal life and found myself growing in the process. Through it all I have come to know and experience the presence of my Lord. I have learned not to take my self or others too seriously, but to appreciate the innate worth of all who come my way.

New directions are ahead of me. I do not know what the horizon will bring, but I move onward in hope and thanksgiving for the opportunities that will come. Thank you for being apart of my life and for sharing of yourselves in this journey of the spirit.

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