Praying Is A Heartache

I always hear the most interesting new music on 88.1 in Raleigh – last week was no exception. It turns out it’s not a ‘new’ song, but one from Scotland Yard Gospel Choir‘s 2009 album …And the Horse You Rode On.

What first grabbed me was the melody, and then the words. This isn’t exactly where I’m coming from these days, but still it resonates, in a this-is-so-often-the-human-condition kinda way.

‘Enjoy’ would be the wrong word…experience? Savor? Perchance resonate? Yeah. That sounds about right.


Praying is a Heartache

These days I don’t trust nobody
I’ve been hurt too many times before
It’s your best friend sleeping with your woman
It’s your woman closing your front door
Right in your face…

These days I wake up in the morning
Lord knows I don’t want to face the day
I wish that sun that rose a-shining
Would up and go away
Some other place

These days praying is a heartache
I wonder where my Lord has been
Preacher says the path that man walks
Is the wicked path of sin
How can that be?

You know I try to tell the truth, Lord
You know that I don’t drink or fight
Preacher says man walks in darkness
Well I’ve been staring for your light
But Lord I still can’t see

These days I wake up in the morning
Lord knows I don’t want to face the day
I wish that sun that rose a-shining
Would up and go away
Some other place
Some other place…


Want some like-hearted music? Check out Raincorn’s Alternative Seasonally Depressing Playlist of Sadness.

Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 3

As I mentioned in my last post about my AMP Intensive experience, there is a solid theory base that undergirds all of the exercises we go through and games we play. It’s known as the “AMP Holarchy.” What’s a ‘holarchy’? It’s a way of visioning reality as nested, like one of those Russian Matryoshka dolls, layer within layer within layer. (See this for a more precise definition, and then if you’re curious peruse one of my favorite essays on holarchy, Ken Wilber’s From the Great Chain of Being to Postmodernism in Three Easy Steps.)

Here are my notes on the “AMP Holarchy,” from the center radiating outward:


  • In my body, owning my space.
  • Expanding my awareness beyond my own skin – enveloping my woman, the room…really, there’s no limit to what present awareness can take in.
  • In the now


  • Loving what is – allowing – holding less tension
  • Access the regard that we have for one another – acknowledging the shared humanity between us and our woman.
  • Realizing that she has good days and bad; that she was a little girl once, that she played and has a favorite color.
  • Relaxing away from idolization and objectification…
  • Welcoming and celebrating another’s subjective experience.
  • Appreciation doesn’t mean you “like” how things are, but you embrace this moment – even this.


  • Words = Actions, alignment with values.
  • Fully owning my desire in the world; unapologetically forthright in what I want.
  • Doing what I say, living in alignment with my values, keeping my boundaries, respecting myself, owning my desire

When we put integrity before appreciation, judgementalism results. “I don’t like it.”


  • Contains and runs through all of this; it’s what’s generated when Presence, Appreciation, and Integrity are present.
  • Not needing anything outside myself to be happy – wholeness is the opposite of shame.
  • “I want you, but I don’t need you.”

The Pickup community (which AMP was started in response to) attempts to mimic wholeness, but ends up coming from a hollow core. Feign indifference toward women; tease; pretend you don’t care…

Photo courtesy of David Bollt: (c) 2012

As I said last post, I learned important truths from both the women and men who facilitated, as well as my fellow participants. I was shown how to look at difficult areas in my life, where I feel “trapped,” with artistry – even where I don’t see an immediate “way out,” I see new ways to re-frame the impasse with appreciation rather than beating my chest in despair. (Actually beating my chest would be more alive than I typically am – I should say “rather than thinking my way in pretzels, in despair.”)

Speaking of – and once again, I don’t want to give anything away – there were some fun, physical (but not physically dangerous) exercises we were given that brought me deep into a primal masculine state.

During one of the games, I saw how I can on the one hand “be with” a person exquisitely, yet not seem like I’m having very much fun.

During another game, I learned something I can totally try on an upcoming date with my wife – something that will almost-undoubtedly lead to major fun!

During one exercise, I saw visions. No joke. If your expensive conferences and boot camps fill you with conceptual knowledge but don’t give you the opportunity to experience altered states of consciousness (and make actual contact with other human beings), you might appreciate  the difference in AMP. (There’s still space for AMP: Evolution, starting this Friday.)

Sometimes it was intimidating, watching the most senior facilitators (women and men) interact with us and each other. Could I ever be that present to myself and others? I wondered. Will I ever be that comfortable in my own skin?

After the second night, I wrote this in my journal before drifting off to sleep:

Are there really two classes of people [with regard to personal mastery]?


Can this mastery really be learned?

That’s what I aim to find out.

* * * *

Photo courtesy of Mark Bollt: (c) 2012

My masculine journey isn’t over yet, and it’s taken some fascinating twists and turns. It’s not the “John Wayne” M.O. that turned me off as a young twenty-something, but nor is it (in the words of Tripp Lanier) the “New Age Wimp” either. There’s a bold path that’s filled with both appreciation of the present moment as well as the energetic desire to make a difference in the world.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing with you an inspiring reflection from MKP’s Boysen Hodgson, but for now I want to wrap up with my gratitude for the men and women who make up Authentic World, and the Authentic Man Program that started it all for them. The Authentic Holarchy of Presence > Appreciation > Integrity > Wholeness has teeth; put into practice, it’s a way into the world that makes relationships all the more risky and rewarding. And that’s what authentic humanity, in my judgement, is all about.

Resources for your masculine – or feminine! – journey:

AMP Evolution: Authentic Man Program’s men’s transformation weekend – in DC on August 17-19
Authentic World: Co-ed trainings and intensives
Authentic Woman Experience: Authentic World’s course by and for women

ManKind Project: New Warrior Training Adventure – initiation experience for men, held worldwide
ManKind Project: Find an IGroup – find open Igroups worldwide, as well as those open to MKP-initiated men
Woman Within: MKP’s sister-organization leads initiations and has a global network of women’s circles.

Sunday Devotional: Everlasting Gospel

The Vision of Christ that thou dost see

Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy.

Thine has a great hook nose like thine;

Mine has a snub nose like to mine.

Thine is the friend of All Mankind;

Mine speaks in parables to the Blind.

Thine loves the same world that mine hates;

Thy Heaven doors are my Hell Gates.

Socrates taught what Melitus

Loathd as a Nation’s bitterest Curse;

And Caiphas was in his own Mind

A benefactor to Mankind.

Both read the Bible day & night,

But thou readst black where I read white.

– William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel – much more here.

(This, incidentally, reminds me of People Appreciation Day, covered here in the News & Observer.)

Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 2

(Continued from Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, Part 1)

The house where our AMP: Intensive was held, in Chapel HIll. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Platts: (c) 2012

AMP, or the Authentic Man Program, is (as I understand it) what happens when dating-scene pickup artists collide with the human potential movement in San Francisco: A community developing practical ways to delve deep into your core masculinity in all your relations, particularly those with the opposite sex.*

(*Yes, AMP does tend to be hetero-normative, though there’s plenty of space to bring who you are regardless of orientation.)

My friend Adrial, whom I met when I initiated with him in MKP, was my entrée into the world of AMP, years after listening to the New Man podcasts. It all started with the Authentic Games Nights he hosts around the Triangle: these awesome evenings of rather psychologically intimate mutual exploration with mostly complete strangers – think of ice-breakers on Ayahuasca.

(And if that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, well…it isn’t for everyone, and yet it’s gentler than it sounds. It pushes my edge around introversion and extroversion in a way that I appreciate).

From my experiences with Authentic Games – including when we brought Adrial into Wild Goose East this year – I knew I wanted more. Imagine my delight when he introduce me to John Church, who told me that there were two upcoming AMP weekends happening right in my region: the AMP: Intensive in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and AMP: Evolution in DC (which is happening in two weeks; I’ll be there as support staff. Check it out!). I decided to take the plunge, and go.

I’m so glad I did.

True to its name, it was an intense weekend. Ten men were present, all of us seeking to work on very personal dimensions of our own lives. We were all bound by a common desire to grow beyond our comfort zones.

We were supported in this by two main male facilitators, as well as four other co-facilitators, seven amazing female coaches, and a number of support staff who took care of everything from breakfast to chair arrangements throughout the weekend.

Photo courtesy of Mark Bollt: (c) 2012

The whole weekend was a series of exercises, which I’m reluctant to say too much about because I don’t want to spoil the magic should you decide to take the AMP plunge for yourself. (And, ladies: there are plenty of Authentic World opportunities as well – like AWE in DC at the end of September – see the Resources at the end of this post). The entire weekend has been designed and carefully-honed over the past decade to draw out your full thinking, feeling, embodied self. There’s a solid theory core (see tomorrow’s post) supported by present-moment-awareness “circling” in small groups, combined with the exercises and games that identify and trouble-shoot areas where we each might be stuck. I feel like I was accurately ‘read,’ held, and challenged throughout the weekend.

It wasn’t all riding one epiphany after another, though. There were times that I was brought uncomfortably close to the things I try to hold at bay so often: feelings of loneliness, not fitting in a crowd, inferiority, shame, and more. What’s beautiful, though, is that these times served me as much as the times of overt breakthrough. These times allowed me to bring these familiar banes of my existence fully to the next exercise or circling round, deepening the breakthroughs I was having, and expanding their effects to more areas of my life.

Overall, wow. It was like a body-mind-spirit tuneup that actually works.

AMP’s marketing is heavily-slanted toward men who are single and looking to have more meaningful, powerful connections with women. But as a married man, I got a ton out of it too – both personally and vocationally. You might be wondering: What would a married man get out of learning to show up more powerfully toward the opposite sex?

It turns out, lots.

Final feedback from AMP coaches to participants. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Platts: (c) 2012

Let me put it this way: Whether I’m in conversation with a new friend (of either gender), negotiating a contract with a client, or giving a talk via Skype or in-person, the lack of mastery I often feel between what’s going on inside and what’s expressed in my body feels like a drunken toddler operating a sky-crane in the middle of the city. Can anyone else relate?

If not, imagine you’ve felt this way your whole life – as I have – and imagine that the most substantial feedback you’ve ever received, even from those good friends who care enough to be observant and tell you hard truths about yourself, is “you seem uncomfortable a lot of the time.” Painfully honest but often not terribly useful. Ohh – I just need to be more comfortable and confident – now I get it!

For me as a man (who is, among other facets in life, married), I want more quality connection in several arenas:

  • More of a sense of play and intimacy with my wife
  • A greater sense of trust, ease, connection, and direction with my friends
  • A fuller sense of healthy power when giving my vocational gifts to the world – in writing, speaking, and consulting
  • An increased feeling of well-being in personal mastery in how I’m present to myself
  • A more luminous sense of integrity, honesty, and vulnerability before the Divine

…you know, things like that. :)

I have to say, more than much I’ve experienced in my life, AMP delivered on these points of connection. Not that I’ve “arrived” by any means, but I have tasted peak experiences in these arenas, feeling what it feels like to know wholeness as I relate to God, myself, others, and my environment – and being given practical tools (as well as community) to turn the taste of these peak states of being into ordinary, practicable stages of my day-to-day life.

Question: What’s helped you delve deeper into a substantial sense of who you are & why you’re here? 

On Monday, I’ll continue my Initiate This series, looking at the theory basis of AMP.

Resources for your masculine – or feminine! – journey:

AMP Evolution: Authentic Man Program’s men’s transformation weekend – in DC on August 17-19
Authentic World: Co-ed trainings and intensives
Authentic Woman Experience: Authentic World’s course by and for women

ManKind Project: New Warrior Training Adventure – initiation experience for men, held worldwide
ManKind Project: Find an IGroup – find open Igroups worldwide, as well as those open to MKP-initiated men
Woman Within: MKP’s sister-organization leads initiations and has a global network of women’s circles.

Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 1

A Promise Keepers Rally

It was the early 2000s, I was in college, and I rolled my eyes.

One of my friends – one among many, it seemed – was enthusiastically recommending John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. “Men have been captive to excessive feminizing and we need to break free,” he said, earnestly waving the book while he gestured. I sighed. I remembered the Promise Keepers men’s rallies filling up sports stadiums less than a decade earlier; it seemed like evangelical Christian men were pissed off and afraid of feminism, having a mid-life crisis (at whatever age they happened to be), or both. This John Wayne-styled, muscular brand of faith wasn’t for me – I was happy living my life as a quirky intellectual, leaving questions of “real manhood” to jocks questioning their place in a changing world.

Or so I thought.


Fast-forward about five years; I’m out of college, newly-married, and I encounter Richard Rohr, a sixty-something Franciscan friar, through my work with TheOOZE’s Soularize: Learning Party. He shares something fascinating, that I suppose I knew but never really thought about: Every traditional culture the world over has clear, powerful rites of passage that bring their boys to manhood – and we in the West do not. His Wild Man’s Journey (now From Wild Man to Wise Man) introduced me to the male archetypes of King, Warrior, Lover, and Magician, and the personality types and life-stages that are attracted to each. I wanted to undergo one of Richard’s carefully designed Men As Learners and Elders (MALES) rites of passage to learn to access these archetypes more deeply, but I never did.

Advance the clock a couple more years; by the late 2000s my young family moves from my native Atlanta to Raleigh to help start an intentional community; it is in the process of disintegrating around us. I discover Tripp Lanier’s New Man Podcast (not to be confused with the Other Tripp’s awesome podcasts), a veritable potpourri of voices (both men and women) about what it means to live into a deep, powerful masculinity in the 21st-century. Through Tripp I’m introduced to David Deida, whose Way of the Superior Man is a powerful, controversial tome on masculine and feminine energies, and why a felt polarity between them is necessary for a fulfilled life between partners.

I also hear stories from the men of two organizations that will come to have a potent impact on my life: the ManKind Project (MKP) and the Authentic Man Program (AMP).

Christmas 2010: At my local Borders, mere months before its closing, I see a little pull-away ad for a “New Warrior Training Adventure” hosted by MKP at King’s Mountain State Park in North Carolina the following May. Language about warrior-training would have scared me away in my Wild at Heart-loathing days. (And to be fair: I have never, to this day, read Eldredge’s seminal work. I’ve read a couple of his other books, though, and have enjoyed them.) But understanding better the language of archetypes, and learning about the ManKind Project’s quarter-century reputation of helping men emerge into their freest, most integrated selves, I was intrigued. I ended up doing the NWTA in May of 2011 with a couple of trusted friends, and it was one of the scariest, most worthwhile weekends of my life.

I won’t say much about my NWTA here, since much of its impact is derived from the container of confidentiality that surrounds it. Suffice to say that it is every bit the initiation rite that Richard Rohr (and others, like Roberts Bly and Moore) propose. It was also infused with an edge of Jungian shadow work – using ritual and roleplay to help us face our scariest inner demons, the things we hide, deny, and repress. During my NWTA initiation, I came face to face with how much raw fear I’ve stored up in my life – and what depths of power I have to call upon. From my weekend, I joined an Igroup – short for integration group, a circle of men with whom I can share life, and practice the newfound communication skills I learned on the NWTA. This was a healing experience, after so many experiences with other men where I was either in competition or bracing for some kind of put-down. I gather with my Igroup circle of men to this day. Deeply knowing a group of trustworthy men who have my back as I have theirs has been slowly and consistently life-altering. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if church was like that??)


Real community, with real men, helping me become a better man – all the while respecting and loving the women in our lives. Who’d have thought such a thing was possible? I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to MKP.

And even so, I’ve sensed there is yet more for me to learn in my quest to become a whole, integrated man living out of my depths. This is where AMP came in, earlier this month.

To be continued..!

Resources for your masculine – or feminine! – journey:

ManKind Project: New Warrior Training Adventure – initiation experience for men, held worldwide
ManKind Project: Find an IGroup – find open Igroups worldwide, as well as those open to MKP-initiated men
Woman Within: MKP’s sister-organization leads initiations and has a global network of women’s circles.

AMP Evolution: Authentic Man Program’s men’s transformation weekend – in DC on August 17-19
Authentic World: Co-ed trainings and intensives
Authentic Woman Experience: Authentic World’s course by and for women

The Way of the Heart Part 10: Awakening to Direct Knowledge – the Divine Cardio Workout

This continues my series on Cynthia Bourgeault‘s recent day-session at the Servant Leadership School of Greensboro. You can start reading right here, or scroll below to see the previous sessions. BTW, Cynthia was just named Master Teacher at the Rohr Institute’s Living School for Action and Contemplation!  

In the ancient anatomies, the overwhelming emotions we now ascribe to the heart they ascribed to the liver. “Won’t you be my liver lover?” – not found on a Hallmark card.

Robert Sardello (of Benson, NC) – the heart is the seat of spiritual knowing, connects to direct knowing; not leaping into the dark, but seeing in the dark. Direct knowing is invisible to the five senses of linear causality – things become not only crystal clear to the heart, but morally binding. (Sardello: Emotion is stuck feeling. Feeling: great sweeps and flows… a deep feeling stuck to a small story of self is an emotion. When it gets really stuck it’s a passion. “The problem with the passions is that they divide the heart.” “I see/I want/I have to have/I hate/I can’t live without ___.”

A profound anthropology of the heart that arises from the inner tradition of the Abrahamic faiths – coming to fruition in Sufism.

Kabir Helminski “We have subtle subconscious faculties we are not using. Beyond the limited analytic intellect is a vast realm of mind that includes psychic and extrasensory abilities, intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity; aesthetic, qualitative, and symbolic capacities. Though these faculties are many, we give them a single name with some justification because they are operating best when they are in concert. They comprise a mind, moreover, in spontaneous connection with the cosmic mind. This total mind we call “heart.” (See

What if your heart is a hologram of the divine heart?

What if it’s an instantiation, faithfully reproducing the whole?

Are we talking about a metaphor? Liberal theology treats the heart as a metaphor for ‘the whole person.’ But there’s groundbreaking scientific work done in neurocardiology reinforcing that we cannot just dismiss the physical heart. It’s the locus where all of this touches down. (

Sardello: The heart is physiological, psychological, and spiritual. The heart’s resonances are important in showing us what’s going on. We know conclusively that the heart is not just a pump. It’s more than anything else an electromagnetic resonator; it not only harmonizes the body, but it harmonizes with the greater bodies of communities and planetary bodies.

Neuro-hormonal connections exist between heart and brain; heart cells and brain cells are interspersed throughout the entire body.

“The cosmos is huge, but the whole cosmos cannot contain the human heart.” – Sufi saying

Mutual resonance can be felt between ‘the heart of God’ and our heart.

Resonance & vibration are tied up in sickness and health. Electromagnetic signals define and sustain our homeostasis.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” – Jesus is not talking about not having sex. :)

A pure heart is a non-cooptive heart. Not stuck on a passion, a want, an insistence. “Virginity” is noncooptation; a heart that sees God.

It’s only after we’ve rescued our heart from involuntary contractive emotions (the passions) can the heart truly feel. (Equanimity does not equal indifference)

Practicing spaciousness – kenosis – frees us from the subject/object divide so that we are awakened to the immense intelligence of felt-body resonance.

To be continued…to see where Cynthia’s going with this, I recommend checking out her books The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and MindCentering Prayer and Inner Awakening,  The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, and The Wisdom Way of Knowing.


And check out this video of Cynthia sharing a similar talk in Massachusetts!

In This Series:

The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 1: What IS the Path of Jesus?
The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 2: See What Jesus Sees; Do What Jesus Does
The Way of the Heart Part 3: Cynthia Bourgealt’s Four Proposals – Beyond ‘The Imitation of Christ’
The Way of the Heart Part 4: Heartfulness Practice Transcends & Includes Orthodoxy
The Way of the Heart Part 5: Upgrading Our Operating System
The Way of the Heart Part 6: A Rorschach Blot for the Mind
The Way of the Heart Part 7: When 20/20 Hindsight Becomes Blindsight
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Kenosis Hymn
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Speaking of Life Divine
The Way of the Heart Part 8: Heart Surgery
The Way of the Heart Part 9: Christ is Living in Our Midst

And check out Carl McColman’s Nonduality in the Bible…and us.

Blessings Not Just for the Ones Who Kneel – the Promiscuous Love of God

Agent provocateur Darin Hufford of the Free Believers Network, posted something worth considering on his Facebook Page:

The #1 complaint I hear people respond with when they hear this grace message is that God isn’t only loving, He’s also a God of justice and judgment. I think to myself, “Why can’t you shake your bi-polar concept of God? He’s the most loving being in the universe yet He’s got a hair-trigger temper?” God sounds like an alcoholic father.

(Hmm…sounds like shades of a recent conversation we’ve been having, does it not?)

Darin goes to great length debunking this harmful myth in The Misunderstood God…my friend Brian McLaren goes to great length debunking this harmful slander of God’s character in A New Kind of Christianity. I want to expose this naked emperor impostor-god via a couple of relatively recent songs. But first, a Bible break:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. - Jesus, in Matthew 5:43-45 TNIV.

God is not like us – we want to curse our enemies and misbehavors; we want to withold the best for the blest – which is, of course, us. But like the eccentric, argumentative Psalms of our Holy Writ, a couple of contemporary Psalmists wrestle with the character of the prodigal God, and show us what might be a better image of the Divine.

The first, and most in-your-face, example I’d like to offer is David Bazan‘s ‘Bless This Mess’ from the I-can’t-stop-listening-to-it album Curse Your Branches.

God bless the man who stumbles
God bless the man who falls
God bless the man who yields to temptation

God bless the woman who suffers
God bless the woman who weeps
God bless the children trying her patients

Trouble getting over it
Is what you’re in for
So pour yourself another
‘Cause it’ll take a steady pair of hands

Holy or unholy ghost
Well now I can’t tell, but either way you cut it
You should get some distance if you plan to take a stand

God bless the house divided
God bless the weeds in the wheat
God bless the lamp hid under a bushel

I discovered hell to be the poison in the well
So I tried to warn the others of the curse
But then my body turned on me
I dreamt that for eternity
My family would burn
Then I awoke with a wicked thirst

By my baby’s yellow bed I kissed her forehead and rubbed her little tummy
Wondered if she’d soon despise the smell of the booze on my breath like her mom
And it makes me want to be a better man
After another drink

God bless the man at the crossroads
God bless the woman who still can’t sleep
God bless the history that doesn’t repeat

This is an ambivalent song, to be sure. Evangelicalism’s erstwhile poster child grew up in the Assemblies of God and spent some time among Calvinists in an attempt to bolster the consistency of his faith – in both cases, just like me. He & I are approaching the life of faith from different trajectories now, but we both struggle with how to raise our little girls with integrity amidst a world that increasingly has more options. In the midst of it all, we’d like to believe in the God of Jesus – the God who loves, and blesses, indiscriminately – even when we’re hurting ourselves. (You can see other good versions of the song here and here, and perhaps download it here? For more on Bazan’s story, read these three excellent – but R-rated, just so ya know – interviews, in The Chicago Reader, eMusic, and Patrol.)

The most over-exposed man in rock – and perhaps periodBono Vox Himself, has good reason for getting as much exposure as he does. Among other things, his tenacious vision of God’s peace and shalom over and against the legalism of his Irish youth comes through in his songwriting, album after album. ‘City of Blinding Lights‘ is a great recent example:

Selected lyrics:

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then, than I do now

…I’ve seen you walk unafraid
I’ve seen you in the clothes you made
Can you see the beauty inside of me?
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?

Time, time, time, time, time, time
Won’t leave me as I am…
But time won’t take the boy out of this man…

The more you know the less you feel
Some pray for – others steal
Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel
Luckily…luckily we don’t believe in luck…
Grace abounds…grace abounds…grace abounds…

Like me, Bono has wrestled with the world-affirming and world-denying in voices like that of Chinese mystic and church planter Watchman Nee. And like me, he’s had to say that what traditional Christianity has meant by “the world” we were meant to “come out of” and what Jesus (and Paul, and others) meant by this enigmatic phrase are two completely different – indeed, opposite – things.

Jesus was referring to the world of principalities and powers, those inhuman and dehumanizing forces of religion and empire. He wasn’t referring to culture-as-such, and certainly not to planet earth. Millions of friends-of-God are awakening to the reality that we live in a God-blessed and God-beloved world that God still thinks is ‘very good,’ however marred by egoic haze and degradation its become. We’re all connected – for life or death.

As the US Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori recently remarked, the idea of solely personal salvation is heresy. Our redemption begins in this world, its social and public as well as personal – at this stage, in 2012, salvation is planetary in scope. The ecology of new creation needs to be rooted in every aspect of our beings, from creative work to re-creation.

Bottom-line: God is love. Love is orthodoxy. (Agapetheism, as my friend Kevin Beck likes to put it) It’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance, not the big stick that you imagine God’s holiness to be. Let’s join together in the Great Work of our age – becoming the leaves of the Tree of Life for the healing of our relationships, our neighborhoods, our ecosystems, our economies – in short, our world. This begins, as Brennan Manning says, with healing our image of God – and the ones God loves. Which is all of us. God brings abundant blessings…not just for the ones who kneel. May we model this same lavish, indiscriminate, sloppy, positively promiscuous love.

Amen and amen.

PS: What songs, art, poetry and cultural artifacts remind you of God’s blessing breaking out of the confines of empire and religion?

This post originally debuted on December 3, 2009

Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?

“Recovering? Who said I was recovering?”

I was recently watching some sessions from 2004’s Emerging Theological Conversation that I attended at All Souls PCA Church in Decatur with Jasmin and Seth in the fall of 2004 – some eight years ago. Walter Brueggemann was the presenting scholar, and Brian McLaren, Tim Keel, Troy Bronsink and others were emceeing the dialogues with him (Yes, ladies, there were lots of dudes on stage back in 2004…we got better).

It was the first time I’d met Troy; the second time I’d met Chris Seay I believe, and the third time I’d met Brian – I got up the courage to approach Brian afterward and ask him if he needed editorial feedback on any of his work; to my grateful surprise I got to informally work on The Last Word and the Word After That. Good times.

Soo, yeah. It was at this conference that Brueggemann presented his 19 Theses:

1.     Everybody lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit. It may be recognized or unrecognized, but everybody has a script.

2.     We get scripted. All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialization, and it happens to us without our knowing it.

3.      The dominant scripting in our society is a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all, liberal and conservative.

4.     That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy.

5.     That script has failed. That script of military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.

6.     Health for our society depends upon disengagement from and relinquishment of that script of military consumerism. This is a disengagement and relinquishment that we mostly resist and about which we are profoundly ambiguous.

7.     It is the task of ministry to de-script that script among us. That is, too enable persons to relinquish a world that no longer exists and indeed never did exist.

8.     The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is accomplished by a steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we say can make us happy and make us safe.

9.     The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the tradition of the Church. It is an offer of a counter-narrative, counter to the script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism.

10.  That alternative script has as its most distinctive feature, its key character – the God of the Bible whom we name as Father, Son, and Spirit.

11.  That script is not monolithic, one dimensional or seamless. It is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent. Partly it is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because it has been crafted over time by many committees. But it is also ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because the key character is illusive and irascible in freedom and in sovereignty and in hiddenness, and, I’m embarrassed to say, in violence – [a] huge problem for us.

12.  The ragged, disjunctive, and incoherent quality of the counter-script to which we testify cannot be smoothed or made seamless. [I think the writer of Psalm 119 would probably like too try, to make it seamless]. Because when we do that the script gets flattened and domesticated. [This is my polemic against systematic theology]. The script gets flattened and domesticated and it becomes a weak echo of the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism. Whereas the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism is all about certitude, privilege, and entitlement this counter-script is not about certitude, privilege, and entitlement. Thus care must betaken to let this script be what it is, which entails letting God be God’s irascible self.

13.  The ragged, disjunctive character of the counter-script to which we testify invites its adherents to quarrel among themselves – liberals and conservatives – in ways that detract from the main claims of the script and so too debilitate the focus of the script.

14.  The entry point into the counter-script is baptism. Whereby we say in the old liturgies, “do you renounce the dominant script?”

15.  The nurture, formation, and socialization into the counter-script with this illusive, irascible character is the work of ministry. We do that work of nurture, formation, and socialization by the practices of preaching, liturgy, education, social action, spirituality, and neighboring of all kinds.

16.  Most of us are ambiguous about the script; those with whom we minister and I dare say, those of us who minister. Most of us are not at the deepest places wanting to choose between the dominant script and the counter-script. Most of us in the deep places are vacillating and mumbling in ambivalence.

17.  This ambivalence between scripts is precisely the primary venue for the Spirit. So that ministry is to name and enhance the ambivalence that liberals and conservatives have in common that puts people in crisis and consequently that invokes resistance and hostility.

18.  Ministry is to manage that ambivalence that isequally present among liberals and conservatives in generative faithful ways in order to permit relinquishment of [the] old script and embrace of the new script.

19.  The work of ministry is crucial and pivotal and indispensable in our society precisely because there is no one [see if that’s an overstatement]; there is no one except the church and the synagogue to name and evoke the ambivalence and too manage a way through it. I think often; I see the mundane day-to-day stuff ministers have to do and I think, my God, what would happen if youtook all the ministers out. The role of ministry then is as urgent as it is wondrous and difficult.

Want to see the talk for yourself? Here it is.

It’s interesting that what disturbs us sometimes the first time we hear it ends up comforting us the next time we hear it. More explosively than even his challenging theses, it was at this conference that Brueggemann wonders out loud if  “God is a recovering practitioner of violence.” As Geoff Holsclaw summarizes – “By this he means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it. However, like all addicts, He has relapses. Of which the cross is either the final deliverance, or another relapse.”

Of course this is potentially disconcerting, as we don’t like to imagine the repentance of God – and yet, this is precisely what is suggested in Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan (thanks, Jack Miles!). Incarnation inaugurates a genuine new-ness in God’s new covenant with humanity & cosmos. As Geoff continues, “Concerning faith and knowledge, Brueggemann says: “We all have a craving for certitude, but the gospel is all about fidelity.” By this he means that certitude is an epistemological category while fidelity is a relational one. And the way of the Cross is to depart from our certitude, to die to our answers/desires/scripts.”

Part of the ‘inner reflex’ is Centering Prayer is letting go. For 20 minutes twice a day, it’s a continuous letting go of thoughts and emotions that well up inside – kind of like a fisherman catching fish, but not to eat – just for fun. She’s sitting in a boat (the mind) and her pole rests in the water (the field of consciousness). Little fish (thoughts, ideas, emotions) come up and nibble on the line (ordinary awareness) – the fisherman doesn’t shoot the fish with a revolver or cut the line. Instead, she pulls the little fish up, but doesn’t keep them in the boat – it’s catch & release.

Catch and release, catch and release, gently, graciously – because you recognize that even the lake is situated in a much larger ecosystem (God). You can let go because the earth is abundant; you will be fed. Centering Prayer is a journey of trust in God, even on the unconscious level, where all kind of mis-trustful thoughts bubble up to the surface. The life centered in surrender to & trust in God is a life of profound peace and productivity – and our Scriptures attest, in a myriad of ways, that such trust (faith) ‘pleases God.’

But when we’re faced with the disturbing truths that Brueggemann elucidates – God’s irascibility for instance – what do we do?

There are two ways to do handle this. One is the way of definitive, forceful – almost violent – denial that there is (or has ever been) anything troubling in God’s character or actions according to revealed Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. It’s the route of “trusting” God via suppression of the more unseemly parts of our sacred canons and sacred canopies.

But there is another route – more painful, more adult, more complex – but I think it can still end in deeply-rooted, childlike trust. It’s a path that I’ve learned from many guides over the years, including:

(Did you read that list, Ken Silva? Its semantic relations were practically tailor-written for you, LOL. If you don’t write about me, Discernmentalist Mafia will!)

And this is the path: As Grubb and Bill Volkman propose in a substantially panentheistic reading of Holy Writ: There is only One Person in the Universe. (Y’know, like “I Am the Lord your God, there is no Other?”) Creation unfolds inside of God. And within this unfolding, it moves from gross to subtle to causal (see Integral theory) – meaning that God, our our sacred history, once walked around and acted, anthropomorphically, as a human being. Gradually across the narrative shape of the Hebrew Bible, God began to withdraw God’s conscious presence in this way – “I will hide My face from them, and see what their fate may be.” God goes from walking around earth to appearing via angelic intermediaries; to public miracles, to dreams and visions and prophets, to private subjective experiences to interpretations written out in a Book. In Ruth and Esther, God is scarcely mentioned at all. (God then repeats this process again in Jesus – but the same progression from overt to subtle takes place on the pages of the New Testament and in Church history)

We could lament this move as somehow connected to God punishing us; withheld manifest presence as a result of our sin or some such thing. On the other hand, what if we as a human race are growing up, maturing, and therefore God appears to us in more mature ways? In this way, God is very actively involved in our history as a parent, but then gives us space to get older – not becoming more distant, but in fact closer than our very breath. God’s presence moves from the obvious to the sublime. (Which would explain, to me, why Monotheistic Western religion – in the form of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – starts out very concrete-operational in orientation and almost inevitably move to the mystical, with increasing circles of empathy for God, self, world, and others. The majority adherents might not make that leap, but it undeniably does seem like a leap forward.)

Now, here’s the same thought from another trajectory: God influences us, that we’ve always known; but what if we – the sum total of we, human and non-human life alike – influence God? If we’re bound up in God, marked off in God before our conception, our learning and growing is God’s learning and growing – what if? I don’t mean to rehash the entire Open Theism vs. Calvinism debate of the 1990s here, but I think that it’s possible to simultaneously hold that God is good, wise, and powerful while also affirming the ability of God to learn and (even) change God’s mind – we see so many examples of this in the narrative of Scripture, that it seems fool-hardy to deny this in order to preserve our cherished Greco-Roman structured systematic theologies.

So, today, in a secular age, we affirm that God is true and real, but we wrestle with what this means. We stake our lives on the goodness of God, but we recognize that ‘goodness’ might be different today, as it truly seems to be if you’re looking at Covenantal unfolding in Scripture. This simply seems developmentally apparent: If you’re someone who, like me, is committed to peace and justice work today but grew up watching the 700 Club approvingly as a kid, you’ve experienced the dissonance that God, just possibly, has experienced: What made perfect sense in the 1980s seems cruel and inhuman today. And this is precisely what Abraham and Moses are recorded as having argued to YHWH some 4,000+ years ago: “Don’t wipe out this-or-that people, LORD; it’s bad PR. It does not magnify the glory of Your Name; it does not add to the praise of Your reputation.” Sometimes, YHWH did what he was going to do anyway; sometimes, he listened and changed course.

What does this have to do with our lives today? Is this a wildly unstable theology of God? Is such a changeable God not worthy of worship? I don’t know about that. I think that, if the evangelical mantra is true, and we can indeed have ‘a personal relationship with G-D, then this relationship is a genuine one with real give-and-take, real learning on both sides. I think that I can be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology, and still hold that the Universe is one important aspect of the unfolding of God – and that we are the co-unfolding of God, within God. And that we recognize this unfolding, and respond to it, and even initiate its furtherance of it, on a deep, nourishing level when we learn to trust the God Who Is – as opposed to the fantasy God whom we fondly wish Would Be. This path is more difficult – but this is real trust.

Watch or listen to the complete 2004 Emergent Theological Conversation with Walter B. here.

This post originally debuted on November 21, 2009.

Walter Brueggemann