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Earlier this week, the state of California defeated Proposition 37, a law that would have required the labeling of any foods that contain ingredients which have been genetically modified. Powerful corporate entities in the food industry poured money into the fight against this “Right to Know,” frightened consumers with the boogeymen of outrageous costs, and dismissed any health concerns as pseudo-science.

Yet in my opinion, genetically modifying any organism violates what I think of as the “sanctity of species” and is therefore unethical and immoral. I do not want to support such permanent alterations of species in any way and I consider it an infringement of my religious freedom to prevent me from making an educated decision about such things. But it’s not just my personal preference that matters here. It all comes down to whether or not we will foster technological, scientific, and economic models that are in direct conflict with what we are discovering about the nature of reality.

 

Once ours scientists learned how to split atoms, what they found there is that,

Matter is no longer material; the atom is formed of protons, neutrons, electrons, and twenty or more other particles. We cannot ask what these particles are ‘made of’, since they are not ‘substances.’ We may speak of energy, waves, particles, but we are actually dealing with fleeting episodes in the microcosm that are not permanent. Our picture of reality, then, is not yesterday’s matter but today’s relationships, processes, and events. Instead of an edifice of hard building blocks, ultimate reality is relational. (Levi A. Olan in “The Prophetic Faith in a Secular Age,” in Jewish Theology and Process Thought, ed. David Ray Griffin and Sandra Lubarsky, 27)

Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy of organism or “process philosophy” is grounded in this awareness that reality is made up of experiences and that everything that exists is relational and interconnected. Reasons why his thought is seen as “ecological” include that in his system of thought, every organism has some degree of experience or subjectivity, and has intrinsic value not just instrumental value. Ecological science points to this same awareness, and sees organisms and their ecosystems as being interconnected, relational, interdependent, and wholistic.

Olan describes reality as one of “self-enfolding creatures as well as the infinite whole in which we are, somehow, included as One…Whitehead implies that reality is comprised of ourselves, others, and the whole is the sense of deity, or, as he describes it, ‘the intuition of holiness,’ which is the foundation of religion.” (28) Reality, then, and every organism in it, has a ‘holiness’ or ‘sanctity’ of its own.

On the other hand, the modern technology of genetic modification is based on an outmoded world view – basically, scientific materialism – in which organisms (and, to some degree, even humans) can be reduced to merely machines with interchangeable parts – so who cares if the gene of a toxic plant is spliced into the DNA of a type of corn we will later eat or if the gene of an insect is injected into the DNA of a pig? But if we see each species as a whole, as something with intrinsic value and integrity, with patterns of wisdom that guide its functioning and life experience, then genetic modification violates this sanctity of species.

As Olan writes,

Western civilization today, it seems, is not in harmony with the basic character of the universe as the new science describes it. Materialism dominates our culture at a time when the universe is disclosed to be non-material. Fragmentation is increasingly the mode of human organization, while the universe is revealed to be an integrative unity. The major drive of western culture aims at separating the part from the whole. (32)

But the parts cannot be ethically or morally separated from a whole in which everything is interrelated and interdependent, and we shouldn’t act – or eat – as if they can be.

 

 

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I’ll never forget the day that in a class on “Jesus and the Gospels” at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Dr. Ray Pickett made this comment: “Crucifixion was the Roman Empire’s response to Jesus; resurrection was God’s response to the Roman Empire.” I loved the power and simplicity of that statement.

In Proverbs of Ashes authors Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker make a compelling case against both traditional and contemporary Christian interpretations of Jesus’ death, but the greatest power of the book lies not in its theological arguments – though they are very strong – but in the vulnerability displayed in the telling of their personal stories involving violence, childhood sexual abuse, and other forms of victimization experienced both in their own lives and in those of others they encountered.  Parts of the book are emotionally devastating.  Ultimately they question whether anything remotely like salvation can ever come from violence.

Had he desired to do so, Jesus could have wrought the reign of God through power and might – some of his followers may have even expected or hoped for that kind of outcome – but Jesus went the opposite route; he became completely vulnerable to his tormentors. It’s typically taught that his sacrifice is what saves us.  

Many years ago, I went through a wrenching heartbreak when a man I was dating chose to date someone else. Up to that point, both of us only had a tentative toe in the dating waters, keeping much of our hearts behind a curtain – or wall – of fear. We both feared rejection and I feared vulnerability, and so we confronted an impasse rather than relationship. But a day or so after he broke the news, we opened up to each other in a way we’d not yet done, disclosing our innermost thoughts and fears. As I drove in tears the next day to visit friends in another state, I thought about our hearts broken open, at the freedom that brought, about Christ on the cross, and about how it seemed when we were at our most vulnerable, we were really at our most powerful.

And in that moment, I felt the presence of God in the car with me.

In the book, Rebecca Ann Parker writes of her repeated sexual abuse as a five year old at the hands of her next door neighbor. She describes one especially horrific episode this way:

When I was raped as a child, there was a moment that I have been able to remember in which I was quite sure I was going to die – and perhaps I was, in fact, close to being killed…In that moment I knew that there was a Presence with me that was ‘stronger’ than the rapist and that could encompass my terror. This Presence had a quality of unbounded compassion for me and unbreakable connection to me, an encompassing embrace of me and for that matter, of the man raping me. I understood that if I died, I would somehow still be with this Presence, this Presence would ‘take me up,’ this Presence was ‘greater than’ death, and ‘greater than’ the power of the man who was raping me. This Presence could not stop the man from killing me, if he chose to. And, at the same time, it could stop him. Because, I knew, if he noticed it he would be stopped. You couldn’t be aware of this Presence and do what the man was doing to me. He only could do it by not noticing, not knowing. So, this Presence did have the power to save me from death and there is a way in which I believe it did. (p. 211-212)

Parker recognizes that our awareness of the Presence of God is sometimes made keener in such moments as when we are near death or in crisis, but she’s equally adamant that the Presence is with us – and available to us – all the time and everywhere.

But we have to be open to it to see it, to feel it, to recognize it. We have to be a little bit vulnerable.

 

Note: One of the best talks I’ve heard about vulnerability is the TED talk Brene Brown delivered a few years ago (that has now been viewed over 6 million times). It’s well worth a watch.

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My transistor AM radio in 1970 was always tuned to WABC where I especially loved hearing Cousin Brucie. I’d carry it with me as I walked back and forth to Grace Wilday School in Roselle, NJ, the first community to be lit by electric lights and overhead wires in 1883. One of my favorite songs of that era was “Spirit in the Sky,”

When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best
When I lay me down to die
Goin’ up to the Spirit in the sky

Goin’ up to the Spirit in the sky
That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best.
(© 1969 Norman Greenbaum)

At the time, I thought it was quite cool for a pop song to mention Jesus and I still think it’s a really catchy song. But I no longer believe in the Spirit in the Sky.

That is, I no longer believe in a Spirit that’s just in the sky.

I believe that God’s Spirit is present everywhere, in everything, and in every being, human and non-human.

Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University, where I am a doctoral student, recently hosted an event featuring Brian McLaren as one of the speakers. McLaren serves on our Board and is a known figure in the emerging church. His books include A New Kind of Christianity and his most recent, Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? During the presentation, he told us a very compelling story.

Seems an economist friend and McLaren were discussing our current environmental crisis and what might be done about it. The economist had written that he believes we have been operating under two narratives in the U.S., both of which are “ecologically devastating”:

  • The first is the story of the “Grand Machine” that undergirds naturalistic science. In this story, the world and all of its non-human components are just machines or machine parts that have only instrumental value, and no intrinsic value or subjectivity of their own. According to the economist, this story is “bankrupt” and “cannot catalyze human energy” for addressing our very present crisis.
  • The second is the story of the “Distant Patriarch” that undergirds Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. In this story, there is “a dangerous and threatening divine being” and all of our human energy must be focused on appeasing this being. This story also has little power to mobilize us to take action even while the crisis worsens before our eyes.

What’s needed now, said the economist to McLaren, is a new narrative, the story of the “Integral Spirit.” This story says [in as close a paraphrase as I can offer],

The world is not just math and physics. There is a Spirit here that is involved in the processes of the universe, a present Spirit working within the universe that can help us deal with our problems. Everything has value and is a manifestation of this Spirit, and we’re all connected. Only this story can offer hope and has the power to heal, but this story – embraced by many – has no institutional home.

No institutional home. Is the Church listening?

This story of the “Integral Spirit” has been told by process theology for decades. As Bruce Epperly has written in Emerging Process,

In contrast to Enlightenment deism and conservative supernaturalism, both of which are grounded in the belief that God operates from “outside” the world, intruding occasionally in ways that subvert nature’s regularity, process theology affirms that God’s Spirit moves within all things, inviting us and them to be ‘more’ than they or we can imagine…Imagine a spirit-filled world! Imagine God’s spirit, breathing in and through all things, giving them life, energy, chi, ki, prana, ruach, and inviting them to evolve toward the wholeness in God’s realm of shalom, beauty, and love. (p. 88-89, 91)

Imagine how much could change if we embraced this story, if we really believed that God’s wondrous, grace-giving, enlivening Spirit was right here, right now. I think even Norman Greenbaum could tap his toes to that tune.

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In a 1959 interview with the BBC, Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung was asked if he’d grown up believing in God, and he answered that he did. The interviewer then asked if he now believed in God. Jung responded that the question was difficult to answer. “I know,” he said, “I don’t need to believe, I know.” We might ask what he knew and how he knew it. Of course I can’t speak for Dr. Jung, but I believe he meant that since he’d personally encountered God – since he’d had direct experience of God – his experience replaced “belief” with more concrete “knowledge.”

A deeply important part of my spiritual journey has been the practice of dream work and the examination of synchronicities – those occurrences in daily life that seem to be meaningful coincidences – along with other kinds of inner work based on the psychology of Jung and those who work in his tradition. I’ve also – like many Jungians – used myths, fairy tales, and sacred wisdom stories to show me where I am in my journey, as they reveal archetypal patterns of life and the psyche. This kind of psycho-spiritual practice has led me to experience a God who…

  • speaks to me personally through dreams and powerful synchronicities
  • reveals meaningful stories to me when they are most helpful
  • is moving me through refining fire for transformation and healing|
  • calls me to my true path or destiny just as God called Abraham, Jacob, Mary of Magdala and others.

Though one can see similar divine encounters in the stories of God’s people revealed in Christian and Jewish scripture, this is not the kind of God that is described by the traditional or classical Christian theology that was so heavily influenced by Greek thought. Traditional theology describes a God who is:

  • Wholly other; who cannot and does not interact directly with humans except through supernatural revelation and that kind of thing stopped when the last page of the Bible was written,
  • Absolute Ruler, Unchanging, the Unmoved Mover, and not influenced by humans’ situation or sufferings,
  • So offended or dishonored by human sin and error that humans are therefore separated from God by an unbreachable chasm,
  • No longer reachable by direct experience of “regular” people no matter what early Christians experienced,
  • And, that our personal experience of God should not be trusted because there’s no way to “know” or “prove” that we are encountering the “real” God as God is in God’s self

Who is the God you know? And if you don’t feel that you know God, which God would you put more trust in – the Unmoved Mover, or the God who knows your deepest troubles and who calls to you, personally, as “deep calls to deep” in that still, small voice?

Many in the church would have you believe that the only theology that is “right” is what has been handed down for centuries in our tradition. But as Bruce Epperly reminds us in his text Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed,

Postmodernism cautions us that all theology is concrete, situational, and time bound. Postmodern theologians warn us that universal theological statements are abstractions that can be both oppressive and irrelevant to flesh and blood human beings… [on the other hand] Process theologians affirm that people can still tell a universal story, but…this story is grounded in experience and perspective and must be open-ended and liberating. (p. 1)

Each one of us has our own theology, and we are engaging in theological activity “whenever we try to discern the meaning of our lives, fathom the reality of suffering and tragedy, and discover our place in the universe.” (p. 2)

The question is, does your theology help transform your life and your heart? Does your theology open you to experiencing the Living God so that you can say you know God exists? Does your theology free you from whatever binds you?

If not, what good is it?

 

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The other day, a friend posted a link to a blog entitled “5 Tips for Becoming Fearless After 50” by Barbara Hannah Grufferman.  In it, Grufferman writes about fear – especially the fear of aging. “We can either let fear stop us in our tracks, or we can use it to move us forward. What will you choose?” Quoting her own previously published article, she continues:

The best advice I can give you is this: Be fearless after 50. Fear will stop you from pursuing your dreams and could cause you to give up and give in, keeping you a prisoner in your comfort zone. This is the simple concept I learned from researching, writing and living the advice in my book. If you’re healthy, you feel good. If you feel good, you look good. If you feel good and look good and have a vision for your future, you feel even better. If you’ve got all that plus the knowledge how to stay that way, you feel amazing. And if you feel amazing, who cares about age?

Age and fear are not insignificant blips on our radar; they’re right up there with such powerful adversaries as death and public speaking. But they are inevitable dance partners, so how do we dance and not run or collapse in the face of them?

Let me give you a bit of background on my own journey to set the context for what I want to share here. After graduating with honors from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree, I moved to the Atlanta area seeking work in human resources, but it was a terrible time to find a job. I struggled for a few years doing low-paying work as a credit clerk until I finally landed a position in advertising and communication for an agricultural chemicals company. I spent the next 20 years moving back and forth between positions in corporate communications or marketing; moving not because I was bored, but because I was “downsized” out of 7 jobs within a span of 15 years. The first time I lost a job, I was devastated; by the fourth or fifth time, it was old hat.

By 2003, I’d vowed to make a leap of faith and follow my heart and the pull from God that I felt toward more creative work as a performing songwriter. I spent the next six years writing and recording music, performing for appreciative audiences, marketing three music CDs (all available on iTunes) and a book of essays (via AuthorHouse), leading workshops, and generally performing my way around the Southeast – all while managing marketing projects on the side. Yet, by 2008, there seemed to be no more traction or momentum in that path than there’d been the first year in. I finally realized that I needed to find something else to do, some other path to follow; one in which I could support myself.

After much time spent in discernment and prayer, an idea began to take shape, evolving from earlier nudges that never felt quite right, and I began investigating the possibility of going to graduate school in theological studies with the hopes of becoming a professor of religion or theology. But by this point, I was 48 years old. Granted, I had no one else in my life to have to plan around, but going back to school meant pulling up all my long-established roots in Georgia, leaving everything I knew and loved, and leaping out into the unknown. I remember talking with a friend about how afraid I was about beginning an educational path toward a Ph.D., knowing that I’d probably be 55 years old before I earned that degree. My wise friend said, “You’ll be 55 years old anyway, you may as well have a Ph.D.”

I stand here now having completed a two-year master’s degree, and one year into a four-year doctoral program, having moved from Georgia to Chicago to California – dog and cats in tow – and I can’t tell you how many times people have told me how brave I am or how inspiring my journey has been.

And they’re right that I have been brave. But I will tell you without hesitation that I have not been fearless. Everything I have done has been accompanied by fear. At times, terror. Dancing with age and fear is not so much about being fearless as it is about being courageous in spite of one’s fear. It’s about being willing to move forward even when you don’t know the whole journey ahead of time or how it will turn out because the place that’s calling you is more persuasive than the place that’s holding you.

So don’t wait until you feel no fear, or you’ll wait until they lay you in your grave. Feel your fear. Honor it. And then take the next step anyway. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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That’s the question we’re here to explore. Is life sacred? If so, just what is a sacred life?

Christian de Quincey, who is affiliated with the Institute of Noetic Sciences tackles a similar question in his recent article, “The Soul of Matter: All the Way Down.” It was actually a book de Quincey wrote in 2002 (re-released in 2010 as Radical Nature: The Soul of Matter) that introduced me to the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, the subject I’m currently studying in my doctoral program at Claremont Lincoln University. In the article, de Quincey writes:

 What’s the greatest mystery facing every person on the planet? Ultimately, it’s some version of the age-old “Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” And these questions, which lie at the heart of all philosophy and religion, can be summed up as, “How do I fit in?” How do we humans (with our rich interior lives of emotions, feelings, imaginations, and ideas) fit into the world around us—a world that is supposed to be made up of mindless, soulless physical atoms and energy? That’s a scientific question. And, so far, no one has produced a satisfactory explanation.

 We lack an explanation because our questions already assume something quite disturbing. We assume we are split from nature. We assume that humans are somehow special, that we have minds or souls while the rest of nature does not.

And later:

Because of our assumed “specialness,” because of the deep fissure between humans and the rest of nature, because of the mind-body split, we need a new understanding of how we—ensouled, embodied humans—fit into the world of nature. Our current worldview, based on the materialist philosophy of modern science, presents us with a stark and alienating vision of a world that is intrinsically devoid of meaning, of purpose, of value—a world without a mind of its own, a world without soul. And this worldview has had dramatic and catastrophic consequences for our environment, for countless species of animals and plants, and for the eco-systems that sustain us all.

I believe we can witness the consequences of the worldview de Quincey describes all around us: in our record usage of anti-depressants, in our blatant disregard for the health of the planet and our fellow citizens, in the disconnection we feel from each other and even from ourselves, and in our addictions to alcohol, drugs, work, sex, or anything else that takes us out of our difficult and disenchanted lives.

But does it have to be this way? What if we could rediscover the connection we’ve always had with the earth and with all beings that inhabit it? What if we could realize we’ve always been connected to a deep Source of living water that will slake our thirst? What if we could tap into a great Wisdom that is yearning to help us through the passages we’re traveling? What if we could feel the love and grace that is being poured out upon us all the time from the One who knows our deepest heart and who is luring us toward our best possibilities? What if we could know – I mean, really know – that we belong in this life, that we are beloved just as we are?

That is what it is to be sacred.

That is what this blog is about.

It’s about experiencing a re-enchanted and revitalized relationship with real life on the ground.

It’s about becoming more whole, more loving, more compassionate and revering all of life as sacred.

It’s about developing “new eyes” to see the hidden wholeness behind the brokenness, loneliness and suffering of life.

It’s about developing a relationship with the living Spirit of God in the world to transform one’s life and one’s heart.

It’s about walking the Way that Jesus walked so as to be able to “live fully and love wastefully”.

It’s about understanding the Natural Spirituality available to all humans and learning the language of God’s Wisdom in the world that speaks to us through dreams, through synchronicities and through the overall Flow of Life.

It’s for people who are hungry for wholeness, who yearn for connection to meaning and a sacred experience of this life, for people who desire to feel the “rapture of the experience of being alive.”

It’s for people who want to trust God even in the face of life’s difficulty and who want to be fed at the “soulular” level by the sacred Source that seeks to fill us.

So here we are. I hope you’ll stick around and join the conversation.

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