Tag Archives: life call

Gender Week

It is gender week here at “TaL”.

That means I am pulling out my “Battle of the Sexes” playing cards, Mars/ Venus textbook, and resurrecting the ole’ camp motto “We have pink and we have blue. Now no making Purple!”

In all seriousness, we have come in our age to a global gender crisis.  Sexuality has been replaced with Genitality, such that when you inquire about someone’s sex, they usually respond either “active” or “not”.  This is a change from 50 years ago.  They would have responded “male” or “female” and ascribed a web of social expectations.

What I’m not talking about this week is sexuality as we know it.   This week we will dive into the jumbled world of gender expectations and roles.  It is just as unclear today what it means to be a “real man” as it is a “real woman”.   And for many, we unknowingly live day in and day out in the fog of gender disorientation (one among a hundred factors that sap our vibrancy in this global age).  I know many men and women who long deeply to release their authentic man or womanhood.

The emancipated woman has come a long way since Jesus and St. Paul planted the seeds for Western suffrage.  Now, two thousand years later (in the West), women’s roles continue to evolve blessedly giving us women CEO’s, women politicians, and women’s voices at the center of our civic consciousness.  But many women I know still feel disoriented, especially as diverse global expressions of womanhood challenge the American definitions of “emancipation”.  For the most part women are still expected to happily birth, nurture, and nanny their little ones while retaining Barbiesque sexuality for their men.

On the other hand, definitions of manhood generally adopted by our fathers and grandfathers have proven bankrupt.  The stoic father and emotionally absent husband no longer satisfy the awakening sensibilities of our women nor the rebellion of our young people.  In response, notes historian Robert Bly, a type of soft male has emerged: “The male in the past twenty years has become more thoughtful, more gentle.  But by this process he has not become more free.  He’s a nice boy who pleases not only his mother but also the young woman he is living with.”

We need help!  In the next four posts (except tomorrow’s) I will offer some observations and insights that might produce some real emancipation for men and women in our global age.

Apostasy or Selfless Courage?

Apostasy can be a hairy topic in our age.  As our culture and religious structures fray, we should pay close attention to what we tag as apostasy and who we name “apostates”.  You will hear it ninety times out of a hundred, “I grew up in Church, but it not longer speaks to me”, or “I tried Church, but they are all hypocrites.”  After time, usually the “apostate” might offer philosophical or theological reasons for their journey away from Christ and the body of believers.  But it usually starts and ends in the heart.

Contrary to popular opinion, the early Christians (especially those whose writings made it into the New Testament), did not see apostasy through the lenses of walking away from Church or even primarily loss of right belief.  Apostasy was not even explained primarily as a disobedience or walking away from a covenantal promise.

Apostasy for the Early Christians was about a heart disease.  Pride.  And this is exactly where things get hairy. For who can judge the human heart?  And in our newly post-Christian age when civil religion still works like a cancer on both true and false Christianity, it is difficult to weigh whether an “apostate” is enacting a selfish sensuality or a selfless courage.

Judas remains the quintessential apostate in the NT.  He was not an apostate because he betrayed Jesus.  Peter betrayed Jesus, walked away, denied him. Jesus took him back.   Judas was not an apostate because of disobedience (we get the idea that he was already stealing from the disciples).  He was an apostate because of the whole state of his heart.  It was a prideful heart that tried to jump-start a revolution; it was a selfish sensuality revealed by his suicide.

Jesus makes it clear to us: we will be utterly surprised who gets into the banquet and who surprisingly he doesn’t recognize at the gates.  Even though Hebrews 6 says that the apostate can never return, if you read the whole of the passage, you realize that the author is describing a heart state from which a person can never come back.  Yet, until death (and perhaps even after), God works unceasingly to turn a hard heart soft.  This is so that when we see him face to face, we will gladly accept our dependence upon him and avoid the possibility of choosing hell our way versus eternal bliss his.

Well, for the Church we must compare this passage with the teaching in James 5 for example. You will see that in the church, we should be commissioning our wise members to try and bring back those who walked away.  We should veer away from heaping guilt or shame on a person who has “walked away”, admit where the apostate might be offering a prophetic challenge to the church, and challenge them to find a purified version of the faith.  We should avoid the useless false dichotomoy of “our way or the highway” that they have rejected in the first place.

Ultimately there is hope for a generation of apostates to turn away from selfish sensuality and to find the Ancient Way afresh with the selfless courage that many apostates already embody.

On Sustainability

(So, now, I will continue my posts on the importance of nature in our world today).

We live in a interesting moment of history.  All across the world, religions are awakening to the sanctity of the earth.  It is a global shift that some are calling the “eco-zoic” era.  I like that.  Post-apocalyptic movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are making a field day with this type of thought: The earth can and will sustain herself beyond our mess…whether humans remain a viable species is the question.  Will mother earth wipe out us children because of the way we treat her?

Unfortunately for Christians, we often have a sense that this earth will burn, so why take care of it? By the way, that is a mark of modern Christianity.  The earth in the eyes of the early and Medieval Church was viewed far more as a sacred source of life.  Ever read “Canticle of Brother Sun”?

So the question now is this: can we turn ship?  What will it take to get masses of people to stop trashing the soil and destroying the oceans? There has to be a way.

So let me suggest this: it is not about a change of mind, it is about a change of heart.  This is where vibrant faith steps in. The green movement has already changed our minds in North America. What we need now is a life change. It is the change of a thousands of small decisions on the part of millions of people.  It is a change that everyone must be able to make.  A sustainable lifestyle for millions will only spring from a deep reverence for the earth and for all who live upon it.  It must not be based in guilt or fear but love. It can be based in Christian scripture, and we can find the way in Jesus’ heart.  This must be the core of our curriculum, not another top ten list of things to do to save the earth.

A good place to start: go spend some time with a few good friends in a park…

Hot Christian Sex

I read an article yesterday entitled: How Christians Spoil Sex.  The editorial was actually reviewing another article, which was promoting hot Christian sex.  The CNN reviewer gave it another twist by highlighting the ways Christianity (or sick Christianity) ruins our chance (perhaps for all of us) to experience erotic collisions.

Maybe I am not hearing the conversation right.  But I wonder why nobody is making this point: maybe the cultural pressure for hot sex is what is spoiling it.  Watch ten movies. The majority of them will depict hot sex.  The majority of our nation, I think it is fair to say, is likely thinking right now about hot sex.  We’ve pumped our eros full of steroids and blame religion for holding us back.  And then we go after it (hot sex) and realize that the pursuit of it usually ruins us.

There is no question that forms of Christianity have implanted within us an allergy against anything sexual.  It is also true that forms of Christianity have downplayed our bodies.  But I don’t think it is helpful to anyone if Christians carry the “Christians can have hot sex too” banner.

We should be saying things like: Christians don’t treat others like objects through which we can get hot sex.  Christians revere the image of God in each person.  Instead of a neurotic search after passionate love-making, we should be saying: Christians experience the heights of ecstatic union with their lovers amidst the earthiness of our inhibitions and awkward but beautiful bodies and through a transforming patience harnessed upon average experiences.

Vibrancy for a married couple depends on a robust and healthy sex life.  Vibrancy is not dependent upon hot sex, though sometimes, as a married Christian, you find your way there.

Spiritual Reflection for a Global World: Finale

Our world is full of disaster and conflict.  Yet, somehow, God never-ceasingly fills our disaster and conflict with good things and good words.  It is our job to become people who can see and hear them.

I will leave behind now, my small series on Spiritual Reflection with a last word and the final step.

The last word is this:  even Jesus could not convince the religious elite that their ears and eyes were closed.  We will never convince them either.  Our role is to simply become people who take the space and time to worship, listen, argue, and apply what God gives us.  We are limited creatures.  God made us that way.  So, all we have to do is be faithful to the times that we are given and with the words and deeds that God uses in our everyday experiences to capture our attention.

Finally, after awe, careful and honest listening, and utilizing our logic, we enter into the double movement of “Affirmation and Application”.   Now, rather than refusing to accept our divine call (which emerges into our consciousness through formational attention), we can pivot from our fractured past into a future lived under God’s providing hand.  Now, we can move to the “Application of our Yes”.  We no longer have to live in worry. With our past words and deeds, we have not disobediently undone the promise of blessing in our life by the accumulation of disobedience.  We can firmly and gently enter into the implementation of our unique-communal life call inwardly confirmed that we are walking the path toward our destiny.  Like I mentioned before, this process of Spiritual Reflection for large decisions might last months, sometimes years; or, for small disclosures the process might last seconds or minutes.  Life sometimes demands split-second reflection.

Whatever the case, in order to live a life fully awakened to the revelation of our life call and the reality of its obstacles, we must build enduring spiritual eyes and ears.  Then, with the appraisal process integrated and digested into the core of our spirits, we “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12.2).

The Essence of Spiritual Reflection: Part 4

Now comes logic.  Equipped with a sincere apprehension of God’s will, we argue and assess.  Do we feel consonant or dissonant about God’s nudging?  Do we have the right timing?  Perhaps there were another way to see things.  Our rationality becomes a human subset of our spiritual power.

And for all who are beginning to feel a heavy burden in spiritual reflection, remember that the essence of meditation should not be experienced as weight of responsibility; rather we trust that God is ever abundantly working out a plan for us, equipping us for our calling, and drawing us ever closer to the unique image that He implanted within us.

So to accompany logic, the move of appreciative abandonment (another term of Father Adrian’s) allows us to progress towards action knowing that the Mystery fills our lives with divine love and mercy.  Yes, the fabric of our universe demands consequences from our actions, but the Mystery unfolds a greater mission with infinite power through our feeble mistakes using all things for good.  We must let that hope guide our spiritual reflection. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously and brilliantly appropriates the insight of Theodore Parker that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. Appreciative abandonment must not become a bulletproof vest for a reckless harnessing of human power and pride.  Yet, any action that follows this type of methodical abiding in awe-filled attention and after we utilize our facilities of reasoning puts us well on the journey of discovering God’s will and our unique-communal calling.  Then, when tempered by a full heart, we can hand over our projects and aspirations to the Mystery in an abandoned hope.  Thus it is true that, “In prayer, we trust God, even in the face of unknowing and uncertainty.”

The Essence of Spiritual Reflection: Part 3

We all struggle every day with what to do and who to be.  Our choices range from which scarf to buy– for your girlfriend who let you travel to Spain– to the change-the-course-of-your life decisions. How long and when we listen to the voice of God is a skill we must all learn to master.  I know of a lady who often stands in front of her open closet and lets God decide what she will wear for the day.  That may seem extreme, but in this fragmented and global age where a multi-trillion dollar advertising industry depends on influencing our identity, we must learn to trust in more than our frail cleverness.  We cannot see all ends.

van Kaam calls the second stage in spiritual reflection, “Apprehension”.  What he means is that after awe opens our spirits like like a flower to the morning sun, we are then in the best position to apprehend God’s nudging. Apprehension is like a bridge step that brings us from passive awe to an active weighing and balancing, the utilization of our God-given logic.

“Apprehension”, the second stage, therefore does not signify a timid posture; in the midst of life’s challenges we are not apprehensive.  Rather, here we can learn use a sixth sense.  Equipped with our intuition, we move carefully but quickly into acknowledgment, argumentation, and assessment (step three).

Many who did not abide in awe filled attention or whose pride secretly rules their heart falter here.  Politicians, for example, who may apprehend a logical move, may mis-assess the situation as they rationalize their way around the right response. It is important that we acknowledge our internal resistances and weigh pros and cons. But, apprehension must come first.   And, our cost analysis must always give way and be paved by brave assurance that the immense love of God will lead us toward good ends, even if it sometimes seems in the short run that our divine calling would undo our most important investments…