Heaven on Earth

 A Thanksgiving Reflection in the Midst of a Terrorized World

Fall Path Forest Trail IILike many others, the Thanksgiving holiday is another reason I love autumn.  The occasion gives us the allocation of a few fleeting moments to pause and express appreciation for whatever we have, but only for the time being.

In a world either terrorized or abused by those who have little regard for it, it has become downright dangerous and nearly complicit, to encourage the illusory notion of any sweet by-and-by. If there is to be any knockin’ on heaven’s door, the place is always here, and the time is always now.

Since none of us can imagine with any certainty whatsoever that unknown reality from whence we have all come, all we can really know is what is. And, considering all those most authentic, very earthy and non-religious parables Jesus used to try to describe a “reign of God” – or, if you prefer, “kingdom of heaven” – they all seemed to be very much of this earth, and the stuff of daily life.

I do not believe in any afterlife of my own. And I’m done with any notion of a heaven that is anywhere else than on the face of this earth; with whatever we make of it, and for the time being.

The poet, Robert Browning, once wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” The painfully obvious fact that we have so utterly failed to grasp such a paradise, does not yet mean we should hold back our reach of it.

You can read more of what this might mean in this latest commentary Here.

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Considering a Political Candidate’s Religious Beliefs: Why It Does and Doesn’t Matter

Last in a 3-Part Series on Politics and Religion

Jesus no endorsementIn a stump speech, Donald Trump reacted to poll numbers in Iowa, indicating Ben Carson had taken the lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

“I love Iowa,” Trump said. “And, look, I don’t have to say it, I’m Presbyterian. Can you believe it? Nobody believes I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian! I’M PRESBYTERIAN! Boy, that’s down the middle of the road folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.”

Carson is an avowed, lifelong Seventh Day Adventist. Like many Christian traditions nowadays, the denomination includes those who adhere to literal interpretations of church teaching, and those who want to reform or modernize. Traditional beliefs of Adventists depict Catholics and Evangelicals who worship on Sundays to be spiritual foes in league with the Antichrist; who will persecute true believers in the End Times that are near at hand. In a 2013 interview, Carson declined to distinguish himself from such a belief; adding that he also fully accepts the church’s stance that God created the world literally in six days.

In addition — and like a number of candidates before him — Carson has described his decision to run for president as a prayerful response to a divine calling. “Lord, if you want me to do this,” he has related, “you have to open the doors. And if you open the doors, I will gladly walk through them.”

This is the perpetual problem: On the one hand, Americans prize religious freedom, allowing our citizenry to believe whatever one wishes; as crazy or nutty as it may sound to the rest of us. We say it shouldn’t matter, as long as your religious beliefs don’t infringe upon my constitutional rights. And, if you’re a political candidate, I can choose to decide for myself whether your religious beliefs either sufficiently align with my own; or that they don’t matter to me and my position in the public policy debates. In which case, their religious persuasion is inconsequential.

On the other hand, if another person’s religious beliefs don’t matter, and they don’t truly influence the thinking of candidate asking to lead us, with the way they view the world and our corporate life together in that world, then what does that say about the importance – or lack of importance – of whatever they might deem to be of ultimate value, concern or reality?

With the exception of Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish but practices no religious faith, all the other major candidates claim a religious tradition of some kind. And nearly all express some continued religious affiliation of some sort; with some kind of formative belief system they either rely on, or to which they refer. And when it comes to the so-called culture wars, nearly all frame certain “social” values in religious terms.

But if one were to consider what differentiates the candidates with regard to any of their political positions — and how those decisions might be shaped or informed by their faith — there is an implied notion that such scrutiny about their private religious belief system is somehow intrusive and out of bounds. It’s fair game take off the gloves in the political arena, it seems. But questioning a mature adult’s religious views that might seem rather unenlightened, medieval or downright whacky in this post-modern world is somehow off limits. Why?

You can continue reading here.

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If Jesus Addressed Congress

Second in a Series exploring the relationship between one’s theological framework and political viewpoint …

Jesus before congress graphic copy

In a previous post in this series (If Jesus Ran for President) it was suggested that behind anyone’s religious beliefs and practice – as well as their political point of view, and freedom to express that view in the polling booth – there is an underlying theological – or cosmological, if you prefer — worldview that shapes the way we express both. It is that vantage point, with our own set of biases, with which we regard the sum of one’s highest values, or ultimate concern. If that all sounds like too many big words, try this:

When one hears the word ‘politics’ these days, there are descriptive terms that often quickly follow: dysfunctional, divisive, obstructive, uncompromising, gridlock.

When one hears the word ‘religion’ these days, there are other terms that often come to mind: arcane, out of touch, reactive, dangerous, radical extremism.

In contrast to all this — and in the midst of the hotly contested political debate well underway — the American public recently witnessed the media frenzy surrounding the papal visit to our country; where both the public throngs and politicians alike were beset by a sole figure who beckoned us to rise above partisanship and parochial sectarianism to still seek common ground for a “common good.”

Jesus, of course, never enjoyed such ecclesiastical power and position, but quite the opposite, of course. And therein lies only one of the differences between Francis historical visit and the central message of the historical Jesus.

Francis got the biggest response from those in Congress when he referred to the Golden Rule, with spontaneous applause breaking out before he could complete the brief maxim. “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’” the pope said. “This rule points us in a clear direction: Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated.”

The early Christian movement that emerged following the removal of the historical figure who was its precursor, drew upon something more ambitious and demanding. “Master, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, an alien or prisoner in our midst, and we neglected you?” the early tradition asked of itself. (Matthew 25:31ff.) The implication suggests the gospel message supersedes any Golden Rule: Do to others, not as you would have them do to you, but as you would do for one whom you would esteem and regard as the Anointed (your Christ).

If Congress were addressed by such a one as this with such a message, would those who represent us respond with a standing ovation, or stampede the exits? You can explore this question further HERE.


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If Jesus Ran for President

© Jerry Ta, used with permission

© Jerry Ta, used with permission

Jesus, a cleric and a politician walk into a bar …

If that sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, consider the 3-ring circus of political debates and punditry already well underway 14 months before our next national presidential election. It is infused with religiously-motivated rhetoric that expresses itself in political terms.

“How we think about religion — even if we are skeptics or atheists — will spell itself out in how we think about society,” observes philosophy professor, David Galston. “In other words, our theology and politics are inextricably linked. The difference of course is that politicians get to enact their thinking as policy.”

If that is the case, should one consider a candidate’s religious bent when assessing the way they might make their political decisions? Absolutely! You can read more here.

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UNBOUND: Freedom, Liberty & the Gift of Liberation

Declaration graphic

In observance of Independence Day, 2015

Liberty and Freedom: People – especially politicians, it seems – frequently use the two terms interchangeably, as if they were the same thing. But while civil liberties can be legislated and personal freedoms can be infringed upon, there is something autonomous about personal choices and actions that can never ultimately be denied or encumbered. “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given,” the late author and civil rights activist, James Baldwin, once said. “Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.”

An earlier commentary considered the two ideas of conscience and consciousness as a spiritual component and practice of human experience. These comments are written as we approach our nation’s annual observance of the Independence Day holiday; exploring what might constitute a progressive Christian perspective of a kind of liberating “freedom” that is comprised of loosing the bonds of all the little deaths we die, and binding oneself to that which can irrepressibly spring once more to life.

You can read this latest commentary Here.



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Conscience and Consciousness

Black heart surrounded by wisps of smoke

A Spiritual Path for Personal Transformation

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” — Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie


An aging Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD returns to Da Nang after 50 years in order to try to do something for those still afflicted generations later by the lingering toxic affects of Agent Orange. His nagging conscience leads to a redemptive act of self-healing and a common good.

Spirituality is often an amorphous and bandied about term that too often connotes the merely religious type, as somehow distinct from those who are not. Instead, I appreciate something as equally shared as it is often neglected, namely the human conscience and our sometimes-belated conscious awareness of it.

You can read the full commentary here.


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What Shall We Overcome?

Racism, the Imbalance of Power, and the Response of the Prophetic Voice

King in Selma“They told us we wouldn’t get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies, but all the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power …”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking to 25,000 civil rights marchers, at the conclusion of the march from Selma to Montgomery, March 25, 1965


I’m writing these comments at a particular moment in time. And yet, unlike a week-old newspaper, the themes and issues have a persistently endless quality about them that just won’t seem to go away. The annual observance of Black History Month has just concluded.  And in a few days, our nation’s first black president will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, by standing on a bridge named after a Confederate general and reputed early Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, Edmund W. Pettus.

In the last few years we have witnessed a resurgence of racial strife, as the recurrent curse of our American story. Names and phrases like Trayvon hoodies, Ferguson and “I can’t breathe” have become protest chants. Hands raised high overhead are no longer accompanied with shouts of “Hallelujah,” but rather, “Don’t shoot.”

Equipping law enforcement personnel with body cams is now recommended to record whatever transpires, after the fact. And all the while, political forces work to dismantle, disempower, disenfranchise and discourage voting rights in our democratic society.  One citizen, one vote, one voice is a constitutional principle that seems challenged and tested, once again.

It took a half-century to elapse after those two marches from Selma, Alabama in 1965, for a docu-drama retelling that story gets an Oscar nomination. And the anthem, Glory wins Best Original Song at the Academy Awards:

One day, when the glory comes

It will be ours, it will be ours

Oh, one day, when the war is won

We will be sure, we will be here sure

Oh, glory, glory, glory.

 One fine, glorious day it shall come, the singer sings; just as both the ancient prophets and the prophets of our own age once proclaimed. It understandably leaves us wondering when that day will come?

But perhaps it is not so much a matter of when we shall overcome, but the ever-present what? And in the naming of the what, we might also ask where is the echo of the prophet’s voice in all of this?

Read the fuller commentary here.


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Je Suis Jésus

Satire and Blasphemy in the Teaching of a Galilean Sage

“Christ before the High Priest,” Gerrit van Honthorst (1617)

“Christ before the High Priest,”
Gerrit van Honthorst (1617)

“You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?’ All of them condemned him as deserving death.”  Mark 14.64

Radical religious extremists with a distorted view of Islam commit horrific acts of terror, executing the staff of a small satirical French publication. The satirists had dared to depict the Prophet Mohammed in cartoon caricature; all the while lampooning those misbegotten adherents who in turn regard such irreverent acts as blasphemous.

The Western world reacts with outrage and defiance to such an affront. World leaders join a million person protest and unity march through the streets of Paris, chanting “Je Suis Charlie,” in defense of freedom of speech, and on behalf of the publication’s name.

While a clear distinction might be drawn between the use of words and the vehement reactions they may incite, more profound underlying questions remain. While anti-blasphemy laws are common in Muslim countries, countless other “secular” countries have laws against the defamation of religion. Once the dust settles and more thoughtful discussion ensues, one might ask what constitutes the differences between hate speech and freedom of expression?

This commentary does not attempt to answer this larger question. It does, however, consider Jesus’ use of what was deemed blasphemous satire, it’s intended purpose, and well-known consequences.

You can read more of this commentary here.


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Taking the “Christ” Out of Christmas

Celebrating the Holy Nativity of Jesus

Adoration” by Gentile da Fabriano  Tempera on panel, 1453

Adoration” by Gentile da Fabriano
Tempera on panel, 1453


Now when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “ Every male that opens the womb is to be considered holy to the lord.”  Luke 2:22

The other day a bumper sticker caught my eye which read, “We still call it Christmas.” I took it to mean the annual plea by so-called true believers in the birth of a divine being in human form for us all to remember “the reasons for the season.”  The orthodox Christian doctrine of the incarnation (lit. “in the flesh”) is the annual observance of Jesus’ birth being one and the same as a godhead taking human form in a cultic (that is culture-shaped) celebration generically referred to as “Christ’s Mass.”

The challenge for a progressive Christian who has moved beyond such notions as virgin births and gods disguised in human form come to save us from ourselves is to remember that it is as much a historical development, as it is a theological one. That is, the attribution of a “Christ” title accorded a very human Jesus constitutes the imaginations — if not machinations — of an early Church; consisting of very human, second-generation followers of a 1st century Galilean peasant sage and itinerant preacher. And who all but drowned out the authentic voice of the one who was once born and dwelt among humankind.

Such an assertion is simply based on the fact the historical Jesus never self-identified as the “anointed one,” the Christ.

As such, if one were to remove the Christ-title from the various birth narratives of those secondary traditions of this religious movement, what would remain of the “Christmas story” that has become as prevalently assumed, as it has been unexamined? If we took the Christ out of Christmas, what might remain of that still, small voice?

This question is explored here.

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Defining Progressive Christianity

An Open-Ended “Creed” for a Progressive Christian

Right: Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine, accompanied by the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325), holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

Above: Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine, accompanied by the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325), holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

I have often said so-called “progressive Christianity” is a notion forever in search of its own elusive definition; and that’s as good a way of explaining it as we may be able to find.  We live in a post-modern world that considers the age of Enlightenment to be a post-facto reality. As such, “progressive” thinking in an age of Reason has pushed the boundaries of nearly every facet of life, except one: those ‘traditional’ or ‘orthodox’ beliefs, based on certain creeds, doctrines and dogma that still dominate what it presumably means to be “Christian.” It hardly needs to be said that it is also why so many one-time believers have outgrown their one-time faith. Calling them merely “lapsed” is misleading. So much has elapsed in the world we have all come to know and take for granted, that the once-dominant Church — — despite all its denominational varieties — has fast become a post-modern relic.  Yet any critical examination of how Christian scriptures developed and how the history of the tradition evolved will quickly demonstrate how it has always been in a constant state of flux, or – if you like — “progression.”  It was only when it stopped and got stuck that we traded in the tent for a temple, and snuffed the life out of a movement that is progressive by its very nature. What then would constitute an honest statement of belief for at least this “progressive Christian?”

You can read more Here.


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