~ by Chris Glasser
These days of “do-it-yourself” improvement techniques have spawned an industry of providing sometimes simplistic solutions to life’s problems. So my title is a little tongue-in-cheek. I don’t present what follows as “dramatic truth,” or “divine revelation,” let alone “the secret”!
At the same time, I remember a friend reared as a United Methodist telling me he had never been given a spiritual path until he was introduced to The Twelve Steps. Another United Methodist—a college professor of mine—shocked everyone by candidly answering “no!” to an ordination question, “Are you on the road to perfection?”
Path or no path, I believe that integrity, not perfection, is the goal.
Henri Nouwen wrote in Reaching Out, “The really great saints of history don’t ask for imitation. Their way was unique and cannot be repeated. But they invite us into their lives and offer a hospitable space for our own search.” So this is simply what I’ve gleaned from those we may consider saints, past or present. And you might note that every other step toward sainthood is humility!
Step 1. Awareness
Religious traditions call this by different names: awakening, conversion, enlightenment, mindfulness, transcendence, born again. It’s not so much “knowledge” as an eye-opening, perhaps heart-rending, experience. We have a taste of this when we fall in love, have a baby, or encounter injustice.
Something or someone draws us out of ourselves and our self-concerns. It might be an experience of awe—say, viewing the Milky Way in a very black sky. It might be an experience of terror, or of hitting rock-bottom, and realize our need to reach out to a Higher Power or other people. However it comes our way, it’s an awareness that we are not alone, but not just that, that there is something greater than us, deeper than us, more vital than us. Some call this God, others call it Spirit, others simply the human community.
Many people think they have arrived, that they’ve done all that’s needful when they experience this conversion, this awakening, this awareness. Maybe they’re right. Taking this step is a good thing in and of itself.
Step 2. Humility
Don’t think of ourselves as superior because we may be aware. This is perhaps the greatest liability of religion. Converts think they have arrived, that they have the answers, and that somehow they’re better than those who haven’t converted, sometimes even better than those who converted long ago, proving the cliché, “No one more zealous than a recent convert.” Cockiness, false-confidence, I know all there is to know, I’ve done all there is to do, and I’m saved, or enlightened, or complete—and you’re not.
True awareness makes me see myself, my experience, as only a part of the whole. True awareness makes me see “my” answer as only one among many. True awareness makes me see my lifespan here on earth as a second of eternity. This is the meaning of eternal life, that we have been given a glimpse of eternity, an eternal perspective through which to view our brief lifespans. True awareness contextualizes my life, puts my life in its proper context, not greater than, not lesser than…
Step 3. Practice and expand awareness
Many stop at awareness, but an old awareness can become as stultifying, limiting, or paralyzing as no awareness at all, as a person who is clueless. I have been given a clue by my awareness, but it is only one clue, and does not solve the mystery of life, if solving such mystery is even desirable, let alone possible.
To practice my faith, I need to expand my awareness to avoid being entrapped. Buddhism calls it letting go of the lower rungs of the ladder. Zen Buddhism calls it “killing the Buddha.” In Christianity, Jesus said he must leave for the Spirit to guide his followers into further truth.
As we deepen our faith, we may expand our awareness enough to embrace other faiths, other spiritual paths. We do this in prayer, meditation, using sacred and inspirational texts, participating in spiritual community, consulting diverse spiritual guides: those whose spiritual authority we recognize who may serve as soul friends or spiritual directors.
Step 4. Humility
I must not think I have “earned” awareness or its benefits. The film Amadeus was about two musicians, Salieri and Mozart. Salieri thought by devoting his music to God that he would be rewarded with timeless compositions. Mozart lived a wild life, yet we are much more familiar with his name and music.
Though we practice awareness, we can’t expect, as Salieri did, that our devotion will earn us timeless illuminations. The Spirit blows where she will. We may only make ourselves available to feel it.
Step 5. Move
Much regard is given taking a spiritual stand, as in “I shall not be moved!” Yet to me, spiritual metaphors imply movement. Abraham and Sarah left Ur. The Hebrews were liberated from Egypt to search for a promised land. Christians took their gospel to the ends of the earth. The Buddha left his princely home. Think of the quest for the Holy Grail or Pilgrim’s Progress. Egypt to search for a promised land. Christians took their gospel to the ends of the earth. The Buddha left his princely home. Think of the quest for the Holy Grail or Pilgrim’s Progress.
The spiritual quest means we are headed somewhere, if “only” spiritually.
Step 6. Humility
Don’t make a show of it. In our recognition-hungry and drama-driven culture, I might want to make this spiritual movement a public production involving a cast of thousands. It might be valued if it makes a big splash, appears on TV, receives awards, and has a million Twitter followers.
But most spiritual quests are very personal affairs, often unseen. Jesus advised against praying on street corners, favoring going into one’s closet to pray.
Step 7. Arrive
A spiritual quest has a destination, a vision, a hope. A promised land. Peace and justice. A spiritual commonwealth, how I refer to “the kingdom of God.” Buddhahood. Nirvana. A future in which lion and lamb may lie down together.
Let’s celebrate whenever the commonwealth of God comes near or is in our midst!
Step 8. Humility
Don’t stay there. When I feel that I have arrived, that’s spiritually the most dangerous place. If I think I have no need to grow, nothing to learn, nothing to receive—well, “it’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am!”
The Bodhisattva is one who returns from Nirvana to show others the way. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we help others through acts of charity and justice.
“Faith without works is dead.”
A sociological axiom has it that, at an oasis in a wilderness, those who talk about where they have been rather than where they are going have been at the oasis the longest. They have contented themselves with the oasis and have an “oasis mentality.”
One Jewish tradition has it that the Israelites spent most of their forty years in the wilderness at an oasis within sight of the Promised Land!
So I think of these eight steps as a spiral of repeating cycles. I believe that, in the spiritual life, there is no “finish line.”
Click below to link to Chris Glaser’s Blog
Chris Glaser has a ministry of writing and speaking. Since graduation from Yale Divinity School in 1977, Chris has served in a variety of parish, campus, editorial, and interim posts. He has spoken to hundreds of congregations, campuses, and communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, and published a dozen best-selling books on spirituality, sexuality, vocation, contemplation, scripture, sacrament, theology, marriage, and death.
I grieve deeply over these attacks. I grieve even more when one of our candidates for the presidency of this nation seeks to use this tragedy to score political points. I am amazed to hear not only innuendo from one of them, but also actual hints that the president of the United States iseither so weak and inept as to be helpless in the face of this threat, or is actually in collusion with these terrorists, thus revising the charges this candidate once made that our president was not born in the United States, but in Kenya, and is really a Muslim. As lawyer Joseph Welsh once said to Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin when he was on a witch hunt for communists: “Have you no sense of decency?” Those words are once more totally in order to be spoken in our national life at this time.
I also grieve that terrorism is now linked with homophobia, which makes one of America’s most oppressed minorities newly vulnerable. I recently learned from members of the Orlando gay community that the Orlando killer had himself not only been to this gay club on a number of occasion, but that he also had contacted some of his victims previously through a gay dating app, presumably seeking to line up sexual encounters. I recall well that some of my church’s most homophobic clergy turned out to be self-hating and deeply repressed gay men. If repressed homosexuality turns out to be a factor in this tragedy then I fear it will once again open the floodgate of hostility toward the LGBT community. It makes me want to march once again in the New York City Gay Pride Parade in an act of solidarity.
This nation’s rising consciousness about homosexuality will not be suppressed or turned around, but mentally sick people will make others their victims, before this prejudice joins other such shameful moments in our nation’s history as the witch hunt of Salem, Massachusetts. A dying prejudice can sometimes be a lethal force in our society. I never want to underestimate the power in human beings to do evil to their fellow human beings.
The gun laws in this country will also once more be debated. The ratio of guns to American citizens is the highest in the world—eighty guns for every hundred Americans. Despite the political rhetoric that suggests that the 2nd Amendment is about to be repealed, I know of no candidate for president who calls for such an action. What has been called for is the banning of the sale of assault weapons that have no purpose being in the hands of anyone except those in the Armed Services fighting to keep this nation free.
There is nothing in the 2nd Amendment that should permit an individual to own an assault weapon with a magazine holding thirty bullets. No one hunts with such a weapon. No one needs such a weapon to protect his or her safety. It is a nothing other than a weapon of war. If individual citizens can legally own an assault weapon then why not sell them a tank or a canon? Gun laws can be made sane, safe and sensible under the terms of the 2nd Amendment. The current political rhetoric that suggests the contrary is irresponsible, ignorant and profoundly dangerous.
I love my country. I grieve that so many of my fellow citizens today feel such fear, anxiety and insecurity that they can respond to the politics of hate. We will honor the victims of the Orlando killings by building a nation based on hope for a better tomorrow for all Americans, not on vengeance, exclusiveness and the fear of those who are “not like us.”
John Shelby Spong
June 14, 2016
John Shelby “Jack” Spong is a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church. From 1979 to 2000 he was Bishop of Newark. He is a liberal Christian theologian, religion commentator and author.
This statement was posted on the First Congregational Church of Berkeley’s Facebook page yesterday. It was written by their pastor, the Rev. Molly Baskette . Also, please note that we at First Church will take a moment to pause in solidarity and love this Sunday, June 19, at 9:00 am.
Beloved, we live in what feels like perilous times.
We are so polarized in our nation, and with each mass shooting, we harden into our positions on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and begin the finger pointing. After Orlando, the largest mass shooting in American history, we can react or we can reflect.
Was it radical Islam that killed and wounded our beautiful, beloved queer siblings at Pulse Nightclub? Was it easy access to guns? Was it mental illness? Was it a threat from without–ISIS–or a threat within–inflammatory political rhetoric against Muslims or gays?
It was hate that killed our people, and it is a perfect example of the scapegoating mechanism at work: the same mechanism that killed Jesus, the same mechanism that since time immemorial has sought out, in anxious times, scapegoats for our anxiety and fear and killed them to temporarily mollify our false gods.
Churches that preach that homosexuality is a sin: pause and consider what deeds your words are sowing in the world. Christian homophobia is the great heresy of our time.
Jesus, who died in violence at the hands of his own enemies, asked us to love ours. So Beloved: Make your values known. Lift up your voice. Fight for sensible gun reform. Amplify the voices of mainstream, peace-loving Islam to counteract the Islamophobia.
And as you do this, find a way to love even the most acting-out people with whom we share our nation. Compel them not with your political positions but with the power of your love. Build bridges. Ask questions. Find common ground. And just plain pray for unity. We will turn this tide.
We watch and wait and weep and pray together, and work for a different day.
For more insight, read this week’s Newsletter HERE.
During the 1960s, the founding director of the UCC’s communication ministry, Everett Parker, told stories about police tailing him through Mississippi towns and thugs shooting at the tires of his car.
Parker was inspired when Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about the treatment of blacks in the south. The TV station [WLBT] in Jackson, Mississippi was an example. “It had a KKK bookstore on the property and it blatantly discriminated against blacks. It was the NBC outlet, the most powerful station in the mid-South.” Parker decided to do something.
First they collected information documenting the lack of blacks in WLBT programming. After the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) dismissed their complaints, the UCC Office of Communication, Inc. sued. It took almost two decades, but finally the court ruled that the public has standing in FCC proceedings; that stations operate in the public interest; and that all sectors of the public must be served. WLBT’s license was vacated, and an African-American ownership group took over. Communication law experts repeatedly cite the importance of the WLBT case. From then on the UCC Office of Communication became a watchdog: challenging discrimination and working to achieve equal employment opportunity (EEO) rules in broadcasting.
For 29 years (1954-1983), Parker prodded the Office of Communication to produce several award-winning films and TV programs on faith and ethics, and pressed the FCC to uphold equality for women and persons of color in media. In 1983, Broadcasting Magazine named Parker one of broadcasting’s most influential people.
In retirement, Everett Parker continued to teach and advocate for media justice. In 1989, he helped create the Emma Bowen Foundation, supporting the careers of young persons of color in the media industry.
Everett Parker died in September 2015 at the age of 102.
Parker’s Christian convictions
gave him the will to challenge injustice.
Parker’s legacy keeps us alert.
~ Contributor: Barbara Powell
UCC Roots, June 2016
The measure of a society isn’t how it treats the young, healthy, beautiful and easy-to-like, but how it handles the vulnerable, the needy, the outcast, the hard-to-like.
That’s why the biblical tithe was intended for the care of widows and orphans, not for the building of grand facilities and paying taxes to the government.
In the same way, the measure of a church is how it handles strangers, outcasts, enemies, and the hard-to-like. As Jesus said, it’s no big thing to be kind to your friends. Any community, any church can be friendly to its in-crowd. The challenge is to welcome strangers, to embrace misfits, and to find common ground with people you don’t like.
Before we consider the how, let’s be honest about the obstacles.
- Some churches have intentional norms that freeze out people of different races and ethnicities.
- Some have informal norms about ignoring the poorly dressed, or the smartly dressed, about speaking in code language that only “our kind” can understand.
- Some churches have getting-to-know-you rituals that claim to be inclusive but, in fact, are highly selective, based on factors such as gender, sexuality, age and class.
Since all of us, at one time or another, are misfits, losers and strangers, church can be a profoundly unwelcoming place. That’s a primary reason why we don’t grow. Who wants to stick around a community where you are made to feel unwelcome or invisible?
Church leaders have tried various methods to welcome more effectively. They have organized “hospitality teams,” set up welcome stations, trained clergy to zero in on strangers, and tried to minimize the code language in worship. These are worthwhile steps, but not enough. A stranger can sniff out reality. A trained greeter wearing a name tag is okay, but a member who is genuinely glad to see them and to shepherd them into parish life – and does it from a good heart, not a them weekly assignment — that is pure gold.
This is true on Sunday, and it is no less true other times of the week, indeed any time the community gathers.
The point isn’t to develop a welcoming strategy, but to nurture a welcoming ethos. In the end, people will follow their hearts, not their committee assignments. How do you nurture a welcoming ethos, in which people instinctively invite, welcome, engage and embrace?
To some extent, you can’t. People either have it or they don’t. Those who think themselves better than others six days a week aren’t going to shed that illusion on Sunday. Those who deal with self-loathing by projecting their shortcomings onto others don’t suddenly become genial and other-oriented in church. Churches that trade in hypocrisy harvest that self-loathing and feed it back as loathing of others. They turn class anxieties into a culture of victimization.
That said, it is possible to change a congregation’s culture. It takes a long time, strong preaching, leaders who consistently reward good behavior and don’t cave to bad behavior, and strong mission projects that teach kindness and self-sacrifice.
The senior pastor/spiritual leader must take on some specific duties:
- a strong communicator shaping a narrative of kindness and self-sacrifice
- an active advocate for strangers and misfits even when in-crowds demand preference
- an entrepreneur of activities like mission trips and small groups
- a leadership developer who recruits, trains, rewards and supports leaders who understand community-building.
Lay leaders must advocate for strangers, making sure that tolerance and openness are primary norms. They must resist the natural tendency to view Sunday morning and other events as see-my-friends time, but instead to approach it as make-new-friends time. Lay councils shouldn’t conduct business in the coffee hour or right after church. That’s a time to welcome strangers and to invite visitors to lunch.
A welcoming ethos has little to do with facilities. But if you are itching to spend money on facilities, improve your arriving and greeting areas, not your altar.
Hire staff who cover a broad age span and are naturally outgoing.
In the end, nurturing a welcoming ethos is like raising children: you just keep rewarding good behavior, calling out bad behavior, and modeling in your own behavior what you hope others will do.
About the Author:
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns. His website is Church Wellness – Morning Walk Media
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