Archive for the ‘becoming’ Category

Yesterday was a good day! I gardened, mowed the grass, and changed the oil in the lawnmower, something I haven’t done in ages. I painted a door, and I made dinner. In between I read and wrote a little. I drove our census over to the post office and then took a nice drive through the neighborhood. In the evening I watched TV with my wife. I am at my best, busy!

Today is different. It’s a beautiful day here in sunny California and the sun is shining, but I woke up in pain and haven’t been able to get away from it. It’s a beautiful day but I’m having trouble enjoying it. I’m taking medication and lying down. Life is up, and then life is down.

Yesterday on the phone with a friend we talked about wanting to live in the bubble. I want to live in the middle-class bubble, life safe, life resourced, life on vacation, life fun, life the way I like it, life that I control.

And I have. Many Americans have. We have gotten a good deal of that. But not every day, and not every season. Right now, during the coronavirus isolation, struggling with pain, life is up-and-down for us.

Sometimes the bubble pops. Dysbiosis. What do we do with that? We live it. We live it all. We live what we can control, and we live we can’t control. Welcome to reality! This is pretty much everybody’s reality. We don’t get everything we want. Some people hardly get anything they want.

We are headed into a season where many people are and will experience losses, the loss of loved ones, the loss of health, the loss of finances, the loss of careers, the loss of homes.

I don’t like this. No one does. So what still stands when all around things are lost? What still stands in all the world is full of fear? Despite our difficulties, two things haven’t changed. Two salient callings come to mind today: Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Neither a virus, nor the status of my body changes those two great ethical commandments for me. Discomfort doesn’t change those wisest of priorities.

Question: do we still love when we don’t get what we want? Do we love God? Do we love our neighbor? Do we maintain entente? These questions challenge me. Sometimes I fail in love — for God and my neighbor.

But yesterday my wife shipped my daughter and her husband two masks. My daughter is pregnant. We want her safe. Love.

And yesterday and today I worked on forming an online reading group to better connect with friends as we practice social distancing. Love.

Today so far I am holding my tongue and guarding my heart. It’s hard to hurt. I want to be healed, but I’m working on not being offended when I’m not. I’m not okay with pain, but I am working on not blaming anyone for it. This is life, part of life, and even compromised I am not off the hook to love. That’s hard. That’s love. Love doesn’t insist upon its own way. Love exists outside the bubble of what I want.

Last night at dinner we prayed for everyone who is suffering loss right now. We thanked God for the good things in our lives. Love.

Whether we’re on the mountaintop or in the ditch, in the bubble or watching it pop, the highest calling on our lives hasn’t changed.

Yet love.

This morning a hummingbird came to my backyard pond. It hovered in front of my pond fountain — a silver column of water surging into the air about a foot high — and took some sips. Standing on air, sipping sustenance — pure magic.

And the column of water? It’s powered by a pump connected to a solar panel. The sun moves the water up into nicely reachable space for the hummingbird. Sun moving water — pure magic

This morning I saw one of the dark grey and black fence lizards that lives in my backyard run straight down the vertical wall of my chimney to the ground. Running headfirst down a vertical wall — pure magic!

All around us we see things doing what they were made to do, things that we can’t do, but things that we can marvel at and appreciate and enjoy.

And that’s the question: what were you made to do? it may be a thing that the lizard can’t do and the sun can’t do and the hummingbird can’t do. It is most likely something you do easily, without thinking much about it, like breathing or eating.

Think about it. What do you love to do? Do that! Overcome fear, apathy, negativity and do something that you know is in you to do, something that might help someone else, something that might give you meaning, something that you’ve always wanted to do but perhaps been afraid to try.

Capitalization learning involves getting good at something by building on the strengths that we are naturally given

Do what you can capitalize on, what — given your personality and strengths — you feel nudged to do, something with the potential for you to perfect — pure magic!

Just do it.

Drill down, ensoul, innovate.

Today.

For God did not give us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

During this time of loss and fear we have a great opportunity to feel with the rest of our world.

Psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan says that our own painful emotions might help us discover a close relationship between our “heartbreak and the brokenheartedness of the world.”

If today you were sad, know that millions were sad today too. If today you felt fear, know then that you are confederate in this emotions with billions of others around the globe, especially those who have lost their loved ones, those who have lost jobs, especially those in Third World countries.

We may want to be rid of our darker emotions, but they are a part of us and part of our world and they have the potential to bind us together. It has been my observation that we bond over our weaknesses even more than over our strengths.

The moments when I have felt closest to other human beings are the moments where we have both taken off our masks and shared our hurts or our weaknesses without embarrassment or constraint.

Richard Rohr says “that in a whole lifetime spent with seekers of enlightenment, I have never once heard anyone speak in hushed tones about the value of endarkenment.”

But soul darkening has value. The endarkenment of our souls creates an opportunity to rely on God and to connect with others, to text, write, call and pray for them.

This is what it means to be human. It means to be happy and sad, full and empty, to be at peace and anxious along with the rest of our world.

Weep with those who weep,” command Paul.

Romans 12:15

If you have any of the dark emotions during this time of social distancing, don’t deny those. Sit with them. Learn from them. I speak to you in hushed tones, the hushed and healing tones of tender honesty, compassionate transparency, reciprocal disclosure, unguarded openness and loving candor.

It’s okay to have dark moments. Don’t be embarrassed. We all have them. Your feelings will come and go, but your empathy — practice that and it will come and stay.

Recently, I identified the red-streaked house finches in my back yard, in the evening sky the Orion nebulae in my telescope and also I sorted a way to respond to my wife’s request for feedback on how to handle a touchy relational issue.

I also learned that diatoms — a major group of algae, specifically micro-algae found in the oceans — may pile up a half-mile deep on the oceanic floor. It may well be that oil supplies were formed out of the carbons. I love scientific knowledge. So cool!

I also noted in the news cycle that mortgage interest rates are falling to historic lows, and I am sorting who the candidates in the next election are that best reflect my values and priorities.

Knowledge — we do well to embrace it and all the academic disciplines and news sources ferreting it out, and I do. I rush to knowledge found in theology, science, history, art, linguistics and literature. I am a truth-monger. I crave understanding. I look for it everywhere.

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:15

It’s wise to dig for knowledge. It’s treasure. But sometime we shouldn’t try; and sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes life puts us in places where understanding is beyond us and our attempts to grasp it become befuddled and confused. Life’s trauma — relational conflicts, exhaustion, loss, illness, poverty, violence and war can bring us into times when try as we might, we lack understanding and even wisdom goes missing.

Such times create a knowledge-deprivation and an attendant insight-humility. Even when we are healthy and stable, concerning so many issues we remain benighted and confuzzled. We experience a kind mental cinemuck. We wallow on the floor of our own scary movie theatre. At such times, brought low, if we are honest, we admit what we don’t know. This can be so disconcerting. It can also be a relief and in itself enlightening.

We Christians, unfortunately, have too often — well or sick — trafficked heavily in wisdom replacements, bad science, inept interpretations, conventional platitudes, sappy cliches, out-of-context Bible verses and a pride fueled denial of our own ignorance. But a poorly researched, unfootnoted, overly syrupy, Pollyanna Christianity helps and enlightens no one.

I’ve mind-wallowed recently as some of my health issues have escaped my understanding and have dodged resolution, both by me and my doctors, even my specialists! The experts in medical science — baffled. Such ignorance however is common to all disciplines and Paul’s “we see through a glass darkly” comes to mind.

Psalm 131, I like it, it’s helpful in modeling the opposite of the ubiquitously ego-driven quest for knowledge, good as knowledge is.

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David

My heart is not proud, Lord,

my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,

I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord

both now and forevermore.

Two questions. One, what are the great matters? They certainly includes matters where we have tried to find understanding concerning something and failed.

I don’t believe David is modeling giving up on understanding. Certainly not. In his writings, we can see is on a constant quest for truth, and yet here, concerning great matters, he cloaks himself in humility.

If you look over the history of competitive, self-driven experimentation, research, invention and discovery — look in science or theology— wherever you find unbridled ego, you will find grave unhappiness and tensing ignorance. You will find conflicts, law suits and relational smashups.

In contrast, when truth diggers have taken humbled attitudes before the unknown, taken needed breaks, consulted and relied on previous seekers, consulted their team, answers have often come to them in epiphanies and “Aha!”moments.

Second question: What does it mean to be a weaned child, content in our relationship with knowledge?

It means that we do well to rest in what we do know, celebrate what we do know and to let ourselves be weaned from what Fenelon refers to as the pseudo experiences that give “false courage to the senses,” that is merely propping up a hungry ego with an incomplete theory or insight that won’t hold water when reality comes along with it’s pointy stick and punctures it.

What to do?

Don’t stop seeking knowledge.

But when life weans you from understanding, seek contentment.

And for we who have faith, trust God that he knows and that he, like a wise mother, has us.

We can sit with him quietly, not understanding, yet loved and and at rest.

Competition — I’ve lived it, the good the bad and the ugly

In high school I won my gym class ping-pong championship. I glowed.

Several times I have received good chunks of money for articles I wrote. I was competing against other articles offered to the same magazine. I felt very affirmed, my acceptances, my being allowed into the conversation. It help me realize that writing was the thing for me. So I’ve worked hard on it. since.

Competition, as a positive can promote discipline, hard work and toughness, develop skills, create teamwork, lead to innovation and invention, create high-quality work and performance, fuel productivity, help people know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at and teach a person how to be a gracious winner or loser.

I once raced a BMW in my Infinity G 37 coupe. Blew his doors off. I celebrated. Or gloated. Not good. Later I regretted this.

Competition as a negative can cause a person to become conceited —desiring to be the cynosure of all eyes — harmfully proud, create fear and anxiety, add harmful levels of stress, lead to rushed decisions, elicit cheating, illegal or harmful behaviors, sabotage teamwork, ruin relationships, consume a person with bitterness, lead to a loss of morale and self-esteem.

So what to think of all this?

We might say that because there are pros and cons here that we need a balance between competing with others and nurturing others. Fair enough.

But how does this work out for we Christians. What does the Bible have to say about competition?

Well, we might first note that Israel competed with the other nations for land and power and survival. The Old Testament may be even be seen as the story of winners and losers. But this perhaps ignores the purpose God had in choosing the Jews. It was to make himself known to the whole world. The Jews were to win only so others could win. They were to be a light to the other nations; instead they were darkness. And when they failed to let God make them successful, God had to discipline them and let them fail.

Well, what about the New Testament?

For Christians who see competition as valuable they might point out that the apostle Paul compared himself to a runner, boxer and soldier, to a competitor. But in the context of these analogies, Paul is actually competing against himself, against his old nature. And he eventually concludes that only Christ within will win his fight. For him to win is to know Christ, to be found in God, to please God and to help as many people as possible do the same.

So we might say that we Christians compete to win a win for everyone possible. I think of it is similar to how I think about my daughters and wife. I want to be my best self possible so that they might be resourced, successful, win at life.

But we might say that Paul and the other disciples and early church leaders debated competitively for the gospel, just as have all the apologists and evangelists who have come after him. True. And we might note that there is a kind of world competition for the truth, for what’s right, for a philosophy or religion to live by. Paul contended for the gospel.

Christians still do. So we Christians do well to train ourselves and discipline ourselves to be as good and knowledgeable and excellent in all our work as possible, but not so that we might win discussions, but so that we may draw others into the win of God.

This is an interesting topic to take on. Perhaps big-idea and longview conclusions help here. First, Jesus was never about himself against the world. He didn’t define his mission or ours as us against them — the outliers, the sinners, the deceived — but instead as himself for all of them, and us for all of them, us in him loving them, as many as we can. He only spoke against those who wanted to make Christianity an elite group. Remember, John 3:17. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it. And Jesus had no ultimate doubts about the outcome of that quest. He knew — the father would win!

Jesus came and announced, “God wins!” That’s what the scripture, what Revelations says. And it isn’t even a fair fight. All of creation and all of history is going somewhere, the place Jesus prayed for in John 17, that we might all be one within God. I don’t know how that sorts out, but it is clear that God wants no one to be left out of that win, and that the only way that they can be left out is if they choose to be.

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”

1Tim. 2:3-4

Life is a serious business. We all know that there are winners and losers. It doesn’t look like everyone wins in life. Not everyone gets a gold star. Not everyone gets a sticker or an A+ on their paper or a trophy. But everyone can be forgiven and everyone can realize their giftedness for the good of others.

With all this reasoning as presuppositionaI, I certainly don’t think then that the church is advanced by attacking the “pagans” or science or sinners or other religions or by holing up, circling the wagons and seeing itself as attacked by the rest of the world. The church’s goal is not to defeat everyone else but instead to share the win Jesus won with everyone else! Yes, it may be true that in the end everyone won’t win — only God knows that or who; only God could decide that — but it’s certainly not our business to try to decide that. That’s God’s work. Our work is to declare the win. If there is to be a loss, we leave that up to God.

At the last church I pastored we shared the church with other denominations, with other congregations, with AA support groups; we gave space to professional counselors, food distribution organizations and groups helping refugees and children in poverty. We owned it, with no debt, and we gave it away freely to anyone we had a common vision with us, vision to help people. We took a non-competitive, inclusive approach to our community. If we were competitive it was competition to win at the game of sharing.

Looking further in the new testament for commentary on competition, we find the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16. Faced with dismissal, the manager reduces the debts of his employer’s creditors, and thus creates friends for life. When his boss finds out, he commends the manager’s savvy, entrepreneurial, even competitive behavior.

Well, we might say this about that. God admires intelligence. After all, he made it. God admires shrewdness, for he is shrewd. God wants us to find ways to make life better, because he wants to make life better. Therefore, Christian go ahead, do well, make money, make art, be successful. You who invent products, advance knowledge by doing good science, you who are wise in the investing of time and money, who create social capital, go for it, that is if you use it for good, if you please God!

But let’s be clear, you please him not because you outdo others. You please God when you have found ways to thrive that include others. Note that thriving in the case of the shrewd manager involved forgiving others their debts. The wise steward won favor by creating wins for others, even though his master took a loss. Seems familiar. God, took a loss so we all can take win.

We also have the parable of the hired workers in Matthew 20 that seems to be commentary on this topic of competition. Those who work a whole day get paid the same as those who worked only part-day. The full-day labourers plead unfairness; the vineyard owner maintains he is being both generous and just by treating all his workers the same. Again the point comes to the surface that God himself is generous and wants a win for everyone possible

This helps our thinking. In the quest to win, to be paid, it must be remembered that God so wants to bless others that he may seem to even violate our sense of justice or fairness. We may be shocked at who is included in heaven, people who didn’t seem to have faith at all, people from other religions, people who did some horrible things. It will be an omnium-gatherum, a collection of miscellaneous people.

So why do we have here? When is competitiveness Christian, when not Christian?

I think we can safely say that competition is not Christian when the drive to compete is fuelled by greed, self-interest, envy, pride or revenge. That is clearly inconsistent with Christ’s command to love and with God’s purpose to create a people, a collective, a body, a team that wins.

I know that when I have been selfish in my family that has caused problems. Sometimes I traveled too much when I was working, off on missions to far off countries, and in doing this I was sometimes insensitive to my wife’s needs at home with the children. I regret that now.

When we are only out for ourselves, and when we are so broken that we want others to be at the back of the pack, and we are willing to oppress and damage them so that we might win, so that we might be first, so that we might get what we want, that’s not Christian. It’s evil! The drive that says “I’d rather be first than human; I’d rather be first than good” — that’s not good. This is the motive behind racism and sexism and even nationalism. I believe God opposes small thinking, the formation of oppressive, enclosed societies, the institutional formation of harmful self-interest and pride.

So then is there a place for competition within Christian culture? Yes. Paul models that we are to compete against ourselves to win the prize of God’s approval in Christ. And further yes we are in competition for the truth. It is right to stand up for the truth, to compete for the truth wherever we can. But not so that others lose, but so that they win. We compete to help them win, win the win of God in Christ.

This would imply then that we are to be excellent in all that we do, not so much for a personal win, but so that we may advance the cause of God by being a model of what it is to be intelligent and rational and hard-working and disciplined and successful. All the good things about competition come into play here, but we do not compete to beat out the rest of the competitors, instead we compete with ourselves to bring out the best in us, to steward our gifts, to do the thing that we do, best for and most pleasing to God.

Through my various jobs in life it became quite obvious that I was a leader. Even in high school I was elected to the position ofvstudent council president. I was always fascinated by leadership. I read all the books I could get on it and attended all the leadership conferences and training I could.. I trained my staff in leadership principles. I often encouraged, cajoled and incentivize people to rise up and take leaderships. God wants us to succeed, but is the kind of success that is successful when others succeed.

The bottom line for we Christians is that life is not a zero sum game. Life isn’t a pie where if we get a slice someone else doesn’t. Life is a pie that we want everyone to eat from.

Competition?

How about if our goal — like God’s — is for everyone possible to win?

We are small, limited and ephemeral. But space is vast, expansive and ancient.

How might our modern knowledge of Earth, the solar system and outer space help us in our view of ourselves and God?

Our earth is 239,000 miles from the moon, 93,000,000 miles from the sun and 6.2 light years or 38,000,000,000,000 miles from a star in the constellation Cygnus. What is a light year? It is the distance that light traveling at 186,000 miles per second would move in one year.

That is a speed and distance that we can’t even really get our minds around. How astonishing our universe!

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is about 100,000 light years across and 10,000 light years thick. It consists of billions of stars and our star, the sun, lies in the Orion arm or spur at about 28,000 light years from the galaxy’s center.

Our sun, our solar system is not still, but travels with the galaxy. Our solar system travels at about 515,000 mph and yet it would take 230 million years for it to travel all the way around the Milky Way.

There’s more. There is much more that we have discovered in the last few years. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old in the universe around 13.8 billion years old. Our existence lies within vast spaces and vast also periods of time.

How did this amazing conglomerate begin?

In the 1930s a Russian American physicist George Gamow worked out a theory now known as the big bang which stated that the universe originated in the fiery cosmic explosion from a dense particle smaller than an atom. For we Christians this sounds a lot like what we’ve always believed!

Life began with a dense fireball that erupted in less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second and was 1 billion trillion times hotter than our sun.

Think about this says Judy Cannato in her book Radical Amazement. In its latent potential, the … person that you are at this very moment was present in the Big Bang … in an astonishing burst of light. We came from the light!”

This is truly astonishing! And it is mysterious! We now know that 95% of the universe cannot be seen but exist as dark matter or dark energy that holds the 5% that is visible together.

Judy Cannato takes this kind of information and challenges us to ask what this tells us about God.

She says that this newly discovered “story invites us to expand our commitment to emergence, to participate in the divine unfolding around us and within us as fully as possible.”

“ All life is in flux, all life is groaning toward fuller expression of greater consciousness. We can look for new life and nurture it where we find it, and we can challenge ourselves to be open and grow into things that we never knew existed.”

What may God have ahead for you? With an expanded sense of reality what might God be opening to you?

Recently, watching the news I saw disturbing images — children dug from earthquake rubble, reports of missing people, an arrested wife murderer, political infighting and name calling, failed governmental processes, corrupt, greedy leaders. I saw pictures of people with contagious diseases and images of terrible auto accidents.

I find that somewhere inside of me I want to reject there parts of our world, to get away from them, even deny them at times. Instead I want Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom. I want the wolf to lay down with the lamb. I want no more tears. I want no more harm.

Of course this is completely understandable, and of course there is the validity in longing for safety and reform and justice and newness, but rejection of our current world is not the answer. Rejection of people is not the answer; rejection of harm is not the answer. People will do wrong. There will be harm. The truth is that in this life we can’t get away from all of that.

This is a huge issue for us. we want aponia, the Greek ideal of the absence of pain. I love the absence of pain. But life has pain; it comes to us, and we don’t welcome it.

This tendency toward rejection of pain and difficulty isn’t just limited to our world. We also tend toward rejecting our own selves, our bodies, our own souls, our own emotions, our experience, our own behaviors, any parts of theses we don’t like.

We get sick, our teeth decay, we experience pain, our bodies change sizes, we need surgeries. In these hardships we don’t like how we feel. We don’t like how our bodies look or how they smell. Then there is the same response as to what we don’t like in our world. We reject the unseemly parts of our bodies and of ourselves.

We become separated from parts of ourselves, de-integrated, fragmented. We experience a mind-body division, perhaps our soul rejects our emotions. This can happen when we reject painful memories, when we reject our painful or damaged body parts, our sexuality, our physicality — our long nose, our thin hair, our bulging tummy, our aging face, our short legs, our scars, our wrinkles, our sadness, our depression, our seeming failures, our loneliness.

But this rejection will not work for us. We need integration and congruency with our world and with our bodies. We need to belong. We need integration. We need everybody who we have rejected and everything we have rejected to come home. We need a united kingdom, on earth and within ourselves.

How do we do this?

We do this by saying to our world and saying to our bodies, “I do not reject you. I am aware that you are part of me and I am a part of you.”

To those parts of our world of our body that we have rejected we say, “I welcome you back. I invite you home.”

We don’t invite evil, but we realize that we too are evil and not so different from the ones that we want to reject. We do not invite harm, but we recognize that we too harm and are harmed. Our souls and our bodies are harmed and we reach out to them and touch them and accept them, ragged, raddled and frayed as they are.

We take our direction from Jesus in doing this. In one of his most famous sayings, he said that he “did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.” Rescue came through him, in him, absorbed within him. And in his sacrifice Jesus engaged everything. Everyone.

Apply this. We are not in the world to condemn the world. Neither are we here to condemn our bodies. The dynamic, healing and therapeutic power for good comes not from rejection or condemnation. It comes from acceptance and from love.

But you might say that the Apostle John taught us to reject the world. He did not. He taught us to reject sin, harming others — evil, greed, pride, selfishness. John’s main teaching was that “God is love” and that anyone who does not love his neighbor does not love God. Love is the ultimate form of acceptance.

Place your hands on the people of the world that you have a tendency to reject and tell them you love them. If you can’t touch them still tell them that you love them. Seek complementarity. Tell yourself every day that you care for the whole earth. Place your hands on the parts of your body that you tend to reject and tell those parts that you love them.

This is the way. The way is not in rejection. The way is found in acceptance, forgiveness and love.

Who am I?

Who are you?

Let me help us both.

We are a multiplicity of overlapping, interacting and changing identities.

I think over my own many morphing identities and my points of awareness of them.

Let me tell you my story, the story of my identity formation, and what it might suggest about what God is doing with us

Let’s start with gender. I grew up as a male in a predominately male household. It was rough and tumble, sock and be socked. My sense of being a male increased when I went to school and there were the girls! Those beautiful creatures! I liked the look of them better than I liked the look of my brothers, but they were a bit scary. What could you say other than to blurt out that you loved them and what then! Awkward! I know. I did that!

There were my summer camp friends, Connie and Beth and Cindy. They were like sisters to me. They were good for me, less threatening than the brothers, and I think they were preparing me for a life of working appropriately and respectfully with females.

There is another thing that I ran into regarding gender. Arriving at college I realized males were being criticized for being unemotional, insensitive, domineering and violent. There was something off about being a male, and yet, while acknowledging the abuses of my kind, I found I was still been able to love myself as male and to develop deep and loving relationships with male friends, especially those who weren’t overly competitive.

At home in my early years I identified more with my mother than my father, her love of art, nature and beauty, and her affection, openly expressed. Watching males who ruled, (my father with his armamentarium of discipline) I began to understand the structural and emotional power of patriarchy, the competitiveness and dominance of males, my own tendencies to dominate, and my hatred of that very thing when in our world it has led to oppression and abuse and shame of females. Later in my professional career, I made it my goal to use the power of my gender to advance women in the positions of power and leadership. I felt as if on a mission to do this.

Besides gender, age is a great shaper of identity. I became acutely aware of my age in my twenties, although every age has his poignant moments of awareness — of it’s time stamp, of the power of time to shape our lives. In my middle to late twenties I felt the cultural push, the societal expectation to get married, to develop a career, to find and initiate my own family. To not do would be a social failure — or so it seemed. We are dominated by the traditional identities we are expected to assume. When I was 27 I met a young woman, Linda, who became a friend, over time a trusted confidant, someone I felt extremely comfortable with, someone I could be myself with. Ah, the freedom to explore what’s inside — what a gift Linda gave to me! Together we made a bond, we came of age, we married, we began to help shape each other’s identities. We created a shared identity, we made a family. We had girls. Rosalind and Laurel. Those years seemed as if they would never end. They did. Age is power to be and do certain things. Certain ages contain more power than others. As I age and lose some physical power I see that age identity keeps shifting.

Racial identity hit me between the eyes when I took my first job as a teacher at a school where 70% of the students were black, 20% Hispanic, the rest a mix of other cultures. I was white, I stood out, white faculty, and my understanding of the power dynamics of race greatly increased. A majority of the teachers were white.

I had an epiphany. I needed to find a connection with the backgrounds of my students, dialogue with them on identity, understand them better, help them sort out their identities. So I found and assigned ethnic literature, and we explored the power dynamics of race through writers like Malcolm X, Langston Hughes and Sandra Cisneros. My eyes were opened to how heavily race shaped power in our culture. I saw so many of my students suffering from poor self-esteem, from fear of success, from the criticism of their own community.

I was able to see up-close the emasculation of the black American male by American history. Slavery was one of the powerful institutions that created white privilege and the effects of that remain with us to today. I came to hate racism, passionately, to hate it in myself, and to do everything possible to rid the world of it.

Eventually I took a job as a pastor. As a Christian, I began to grapple with my religious identity and feelings and thoughts about other religions. I was never comfortable with the stereotype of intolerance and judgmental mismanagement that I knew some would place on me. The divide between those with different Christian doctrines and those with different faiths became something to explore and understand, not to fear. Over time I grew in appreciation for others unique struggles to find God. At one time I saw my Christianity as separating me from others, but I eventually came to see it as linking me to others. So many Christians are against so many other groups. They are stuffed with divisive morals and doctrines. Following Jesus, I have moved in the opposite direction. I am more for people, for understanding, for dialogue, for acceptance, for appreciation of what so many of us have in common — a thirst for God. I don’t diminish the significance of differences, of contradictions, but I find myself drawn much more to the similarities that we have as we struggle to understand and experience life and God.

Now let’s consider social class. I grew up poor because my parents were engaged in Christian social work. My parents were absolutely committed to helping people who struggled, who we might consider stuck in a bottom social class. My dad spent a lifetime working in drug and alcohol rehab programs, helping and mixing lovingly with those struggling with addiction. I grew up making friends with and hanging out with men who were self-described alcoholics. My mom started a halfway house in Los Angeles for women and children living on the street. But I was never very conscious of class as a young person.

When I married, my wife and I both developed professional careers, and as a result we did the things that cemented us into the middle class, bought houses, took vacations in Europe — to Paris, to London, to Rome, to Kona, to San Francisco to Washington D.C. — visited national parks and provided rich experiences for our children. We mixed with other professionals socially who did the same.

But in this upwardly mobile movement I experienced the endemic economic insecurity of the middle-class, the anxiety that there wasn’t enough even when there was more than enough, the compulsion to spoil our children with things. But interestingly in my work as a teacher and as a pastor I again became very connected to people without resources and very passionate about relating to them in fair, honoring and personal ways. I traveled to countries that looked a lot different than our vacations destinations. I went to and worked in places like Nicaragua, Brazil, Puerto Rico, South Africa and Mexico leading crews to embrace, build with and empower the people there.

And in the second church I pastored, we set up programs to feed people, we built a beautiful counseling center, and we made counseling affordable, and invited recovery groups into the church as an integral part of our ministry. And all this I could feel the effect of my parents model in my life.

My life has given me an education in class differences and it has increased my appreciation for people independent of the dividing walls of class

Disability, the identity of disability also defines me. One of our daughters. Rosalind, was born with brain damage. She developed epilepsy. She went to school in special-education classes. Through her I became acutely aware of what it means to be disabled, to have that identity as a family. I morphed. At one point I was an intellectual snob, preferring, I thought, the smart, the intelligentsia, the great writers, the intellectual elite, but living with my daughter, living through the pain, the loss, working through a disabled identity with her, loving her equally to my “smart” family members, I put my snobbish intellectualism aside, used my intelligence to try to understand others, worked not to let education or intelligence come between me and anyone. Intelligence does not equal worth; being equals worth. This is a lesson I hold in my heart.

Gender, age, race, religion, class, disability and more — all make up my complex identity because identity is the interaction of multiple factors and to grow in understanding ourselves and others we must refuse to be simplistic and naïve about who we are sociologically and systemically. We all have multiple identities have the capability of shifting toward the positive.

Especially for we Christians, trying to follow God, we can be sure that God is in the mix. God is the divine sociologist, the great anthropologist, the shaper and maker of the components of identity.

The famous dictum, know thyself should be expressed as know thy multiple selves. I do not have a multiple personality disorder, (although you couldn’t get all who know me to assent to that) but I do have a multiple identity disorder. The disorder is I don’t always know who I am. The disorder is that I haven’t honestly faced my role, my privilege, my dysfunction within the culture that I exist within. At times I have resisted my identity and my daughter’s identity as disabled. At times I have completely embrace this. When one night Rosalind cried that she couldn’t read and said, I hate myself!” I cried with her and she looked up and asked, “Daddy are you crying for me?” And I was and we bonded deeply in that eye-streaming moment.

Let’s be very honest here. Gender, age, race, religion, class, patriarchy, and disability have always been grounds for the determination of value, and they have also been the brutal playing field upon which horrible, harming attitudes, policies and discriminations have taken place. In my own life I can see how I could take identity in one of two directions: to bring harm; to bring help.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and other modern scholars have developed a concept that can help us very much in understanding identity. The concept is now widely known and discussed as intersectionality.

Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

Intersectionality is now widely understood to illustrate the interplay between any kinds of discrimination, whether it’s based on gender, race, age, class, socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, gender or sexual identity, religion, or ethnicity. The multitude of modern research done on the intersection of race and gender has mainstreamed the concept of intersectionality. For example, to be black and female can result in a double whammy of discrimination. If you want proof go explore how the courts frame and interpret the stories of black women plaintiffs.

Only gradually, overtime, have I come to realize where I stand on the Axes of Identity Privilege. I have been given an advantaged, privileged identity that many others have not. Being a white, educated, middle-class male with intellectual acuity, being tall, attractive enough, able bodied and capable of reproduction has given me great advantages.

I applied for jobs and got them easily. I aspire to supervisory and leadership and executive roles within the organizations I worked for and I was given them. I was supplied ample remuneration for my work, I applied for loans and got them, I invested with professional guidance in the stock market and in housing and accumulated wealth. I was and am a part of a system that has rewarded my kind.

“Come on,” you might say, “You earned what you got, you worked hard, you make good choices.”

The truth is that many people work hard, many people much poorer than I am work harder than I have and many people without the privilege that I have experienced have made good choices. And yet our culture has marginalize them, limited them, not rewarded them with leadership roles, not loaned to them, held them back, seen them as lesser. And being in multiple minority groups involves an intersectionality that leads to even less opportunity.

Some will argue back that no matter the odds against any of us we are still responsible for our choices. A victim’s mentality will get you know where. Make your own opportunity. Push through the barriers. I agree. Yes, fight for your identity. If no one helps you help yourself. But systemic discrimination makes it very hard to win, to get a piece of the pie. When the majority create a wall around opportunity that can be a high barrier to try to scale. Is there systemic discrimination in the United States? There is.

There are many startling examples in our country.

In 2016 major league baseball had only one Latino and no black managers. As we turn the calendar to 2020, Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers remains as the only black manager among the league’s 30 franchises. The examples of this kind of thing are endless.

Women hold 6.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles.

Black homeownership rate (32.7 percent) has fallen drastically since 2000 and is now just over half the rate for whites. Independent reviews confirmed by The Associated Press showed black mortgage applicants were turned away at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 cities, Latinos in 25, Asians in nine.

People of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.

I know this kind of thing first hand in my own profession. It is extremely difficult for a young, female pastor with children to land a role as a lead pastor in a church.

So what to do?

One, understand this problem of bias in America, of intersectionality. Don’t deny it. Don’t falsely claimed that we are not a part of it. Grapple with it. We all own the race issue. We all own the gender issue. We all own the class issue.

Secondly, review your own history as I have mine. I have told you my story, how life has shaped me and changed me. I believe that God is in the story. I believe that God had been working —as you can see in my narrative — to disabuse me of my discriminatory tendencies, to help me understand intersectionality.

Tell yourself your own story. Do you realize where you have been advantaged or disadvantage? Can you see God helping you to work against discriminatory attitudes and behaviors. Have you changed to be a more accepting, empowering and loving person?

Thirdly, seek out experiences with people different than yourself and grow in an understanding of intersectionality.

Lastly, bring fairness, justice, empowerment to people of all kinds in the places you work, school, worship, play, live and do business.

Who are you?

Who do you want to be?

Who is God shaping you to be?

Let justice roll down like waters,and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:24

Through the holiday season I have been thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. In reading through Luke’s account I was struck by Simeon’s comment, almost an aside, to Mary, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Hearing this we think of one sword, and of course the literate reader immediately recognizes the connection to Christ on the cross, pierced. The sword that pierces Jesus pierces Mary, his mother.

But as I thought over her story, I could see that there were many piercings in her life. The astonishing and yet confusing circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, the complications it must’ve created with her family, Joseph and her community, the birth away from home, the flight to Egypt, the son who disappeared for three days and then rebuked the parents, the loss of her husband Joseph, the disciples replacing the family, her certain awareness of the brutal and dangerous threats again Jesus when he began to teach and to contradict the religious establishment, the cross and then the painful and often bloody birth of the church.

All swords.

In all this Mary seems the passive figure, hunkered down under the many stabbings that she had little or no control over. And what is her response?

Priest Richard Rohr makes the point that, “Not a word is spoken by Mary in either place, at his [Jesus’s] birth or at his death. Did you ever think about that? Mary simply trusts and experiences deeply. She is simply and fully present. Faith is not, first of all, for overcoming obstacles; it is for experiencing them—all the way through!“

Our natural tendency is to resist and fight and try to control the piercings of life, the downturn’s, the ailments, the rejections, the failures. And some times we must not be passive. We must fight through to a new future. But if we get stuck with an inability to accept all of life, the ups and the downs, this can actually makes life harder.

Life is an up and down affair. It involves swords. There will be piercings. Simeon words to Mary have a universal application.

Richard Rohr addresses a way to deal with this writing, “Welcoming the pain [of life] and letting go of all your oppositional energy against suffering will actually free you from it! like reversing your engines. Who would have thought this? It is your resistance to things as they are that causes most of your unhappines …”

There’s a fine line here to observe here. To love ourselves and others we can and should do all we can to alleviate suffering, to gently care for ourselves, to compassionately care for others, to be good Samaritans. And sometimes resistance is necessary; resistance may at times carry us on to new accomplishments and adventures.

But what we can’t control, the swords that fly upon us when we have no shield up nor can put one up, those we do well to accept as they are, with all they bring. What we can’t control or stop we can still endure and even perhaps learn from. Perhaps we can learn to be more like Mary, fully alive, living the life that has come to us, in a quiet kind of way, hanging on to God through it all.

Today I lay quietly on my bed engaged in diaphragmatic breathing, my wife stroking my head, in the moment, soothing, healing — us together, just being, a state being.

Tonight I make dinner, spaghetti squash and turkey meat balls topped with marinara sauce — doing. Delicious – the baked spaghetti squash caramelized and sweet as it plays off the savory meat and tangy tomato sauce. Me doing for myself and my partner. I was in a mode of doing.

Doing and being — these are interesting everyday modes of living with fascinating the similarities and differences! Both being and doing can be delicious, satisfying or frustrating.

Classically, analytically — thinkers have often separated being and doing. There is something to this. Being comes first. You have to be, in order to do. Being is a prerequisite to doing.

Being comes with being born and staying born. Doing follows. Being is preparatory, a kind of becoming, inward and often quiescent. Consider being in the womb. Doing is noisy, productive, outward, driven, active. Consider taking on a career. These crude distinctions make some sense, but reality is a bit more complex.

Take painting a room. We think of it as classic doing. If you want a room to look better, you don’t stand in it just being; you paint it. Painting is quintessential doing. It transforms a space. It makes history. Paint covers a multitude of previous trends, and it hides smudges and dirt around the light switches!

My wife and I worked on repainting the bathroom this morning. The creamy, thick paint rolled on sticky and wet. You could whiff the paint and hear the whir of the spinning roller as we pushed it up the wall.

But painting is the kind of doing where you can stand back when you are done and take a deep breath of satisfaction and suck in some fine, toxic volatile organic compounds, VOCS, that turn doing into a state of being — high!

So painting isn’t pure doing. Not at all. Painting can involve a creative state of being at the beginning of the project when one gets inspired and imagines possibilities, and it can include a reflective and appreciate state of being at the end when one admires the work. Painting isn’t all doing. We stand back, just being, satisfied!

As I left my wife finishing our paint job, we kissed on my way out, a kiss of solidarity. Doing this brought us into a state of mutualistic being. Interesting. Doing has the potential to create a community of being, of creating oneness.

But does being require doing to give it value or keep it in existence? We say things like “move or die,” as we validate the primacy of exercise and action. Even babies, who may not seem to be on a mission, kick and stretch and babble in preparation for walking, handling things, talking. What may appear to simply be existing is in fact very active and very purposive. Perhaps being always has a kind of doing built into it.

Maybe, but on the other hand, we can assert philosophically and spiritually that a baby or a very old person does not have to paint a bathroom or make dinner or even clean themselves or be at all productive to retain value. The new born infant in the arms and the very feeble grandma in the wheelchair are both treasured even when they can do little or nothing for themselves. The paralyzed person is yet of inestimable value. These limited ones are intrinsically valuable as being, not doing.

Indeed it is a horrible drift away from humanity and from civilization to only value human beings who are productive or valuable according to the norms of society. We’ve been there before with the ancients discarding unwanted babies to die of exposure or wild animals.

And as we know even today, in some parts of the world through sex-selective abortion, babies are terminated in pregnancy based upon the predicted sex of the infant. This is massively tragic thinking about being, making male being of more value than female being. And in many countries disabled people, especially in third world countries, are isolated from the experiences, school, work, social life. They remain hidden at home. I’ve seen this myself in Nicaragua. For us to do well as a planet we must retain the intrinsic sacredness and preciousness of all human life. Gender, disability, unattractiveness, low mental acuity must not become inferiority markers that entirely limit opportunities for normal productive life.

Yes, but while this is wonderfully noble, to aim at valuing all of humanity, to value nonproductive being, can we live this fancy talk out, practice it concerning our own beings? After a life of doing, can driven ones be content with less doing, with more just being? With resting? With not needing so much accomplishment? With less or even no painting, so to speak.

Perhaps not entirely. Most retired people are happiest when they have a project or are volunteering, or even working again. We are happiest when thinking of and doing something for someone else, not ourselves. We are happiest helping.

And yet the eventuality is that at some point our bodies run down and our opportunities to help become limited. Eventually age, poor health, weariness, changing mood, accidents — life stuff — interferes with productivity. And when this happens — and this can be very difficult for all of us — here is where we have to wisely shift our understandings of being and doing. Doing and being need new definitions for new seasons of life.

Today my wife and I played cards, talked, ate together, relaxed together, watched TV together. We produced nothing tangible during these moments of togetherness but just being together was special, meaningful, valuable.

Being present for and with someone in nonproductive leisure is an essential and precious element of wise living. There is a softness and quietness in these contented and grateful states of being. Such halcyon seas and safe harbors are sometimes missing from busy projects or social events.

It is remarkable and noteworthy that simply being who we are and where we are retains our meaningful place in the world. And there, in a quiet place, simply being kind, grateful and patient with ourselves and others sponsors being’s native sphere of influence. To be in a positive state of mind is to weld powerful influence. Being that is rooted in the nourishing energy of love emanates a power similar to doing. It changes the color of rooms.

Yet such elevated states of being don’t always come to us passively or easily. Sometimes we do great and terrible battle (note the “do” here) to achieve the quieter, more peaceful nodes of being. Often we must cast off bitterness, despair, negativity, jealousy, pride and more to win peace of mind.

My father at 91, lives in a small room with a few books a TV and a small bed. The other day he enthused, “I’m richer than Bill Gates!” The shock waves of that statement are still basing against the doors of the universe. My dad is very godly and quiet man and spends much time alone. And yet his gratitude emanates past the stars and provides a model of being for our whole family and all who encounter him.

To be, to do; to do, to be — life is a sequential, repeating, overlapping, alternating process But people like my father make it implicitly clear that noble states of being are possible in circumstances where there is little opportunity for the kind of doing and having that Fenelon says brings “courage to the senses.”

To help us all navigate the tidal nature of doing and being, perhaps a helpful question presents itself:

What is this season of life asking from you?

Perhaps it is more doing, perhaps it is more being. Perhaps it is practicing and increasing in a more contented and graceful form of being. Upping the value of the value of being may be challenging in western culture as there is some bias against giving being a commensurate value with doing. Among many go-getters simply being present, reflection, rest, meditation — even forms of robust tranquility such as prayer — are dispreferred. Perhaps it is a different mix or ratio of these that we need, different from what we have lived before.

Whatever the answer, stay realistic. Change is a process. Navigating the high seas and strong currents of being and doing is paint and brush work. Living out our doing and living out our being is like painting. Expect drips, runs and blotches and redos, and at least two coats of paint on every surface.

And expect success. Expect a kiss at the end. Expect to be kissed by reality. I see the universe as being on the side of the good. I see God as the guide to productive action and to precious, sweet, peaceful, grateful states of being. I see one of the great purposes of life as arriving at a more enlightened state of being characterized by love and kindness and gratitude and the celebration of all kinds of beauty. 

For me, God has provided the quintessential model for us. You work (do) and then you sit down and you rest (be) and you look at your work and out of a sweet, peaceful, calm satisfied state of being you say, “It’s good!”