Contemplative Paddling

We live in a culture that celebrates our ability to spin many plates, both professional and personal. We also remain highly connected through multi-media, not the least being the ubiquitous ‘Smart Phone’.

I’m not writing to bemoan the state of our culture. There is a lot to be said for the ability to multi-task and staying connected to our immediate and wider community.

Yet there are times when our brain, heart and spirit ask that we let our plates drop (for a while) and tune out from technology (for a while). The reason is that physiologically, emotionally and spiritually we need time to rest, reflect and restore.

A wonderful way to do this is through contemplative paddling. Recently I paddled with a group from the church I serve. We met early in the morning on the banks of a local lake. Our instruction was to limit our talking and to paddle slowly. We were given a meditation mantra from the Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hahn: “Breathing in I calm my spirit….Breathing out I smile….(inhale) Living in the moment….(exhale) This is the only moment…”

Kayak lone paddler photo

As we paddled on the lake, we were invited to practice this mantra when we found our thoughts pulling us away from being present to where we were. Half the time we simply floated and allowed the wind to take us where it would.

As we slowly paddled or simply floated we found that our minds, hearts and imaginations slowly began to be filled with the simple and profound beauty that was under and around us. Those busy spinning plates or glued to their computer, were missing the beauty that we floated upon.

3000 years ago a Jewish prophet named Isaiah offered this: “Listen and your soul will live”. From the waters of the lake we listened deeply, to the call of a mallard duck, to the soft wind, to the hopes and dreams that slowly emerged as we paddled or floated.

There’s a reason Jesus often removed himself from the demands and busyness of life, to go to a quiet place to pray, to listen. In the late 19th century a mystic and theologian named Soren Kierkegaard said: “The Sacred is always present, simply waiting to be found.”

Sometimes all it takes is time on the water to rest, renew and restore one’s soul. Sometimes all we need to do is slow down to find that a blessing is simply waiting to be found.

Paddle well.

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Israel and Palestine: Revenge Begets Revenge

Recently three Jewish Israeli teenagers living in the West Bank were kidnapped and murdered. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas of ordering the murders. Prime Minister Netanyahu said: They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by beasts.” Hamas denied any involvement.

A few days after the three boys bodies were found, three Jewish Israeli’s intent on revenge, kidnapped a Palestinian Israeli teenager living in East Jerusalem. They tortured the boy and then set him on fire while still alive.

Incensed members of Hamas living in the Gaza Strip unleashed missals into Israel. Israel responded with devastating military might. As I write 500 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have died. 3000 Palestinians have been injured in bombings by Israeli artillery and jets.

Gaza Photo

What we are seeing is a seemingly endless cycle of violence fueled by a mindset of revenge. Is there any hope?

Our answer was voiced 2000 years ago as Jesus wept over Jerusalem and said: ‘If now even now, you knew that which makes for peace.’

Jesus also lived in a time of great violence as Israel lived under the heel of the Roman Empire. Jesus realized that the path to a true and lasting peace comes only through the spiritual practice of forgiveness and the hard work of seeking reconciliation.

Is such a path possible? In the past two decades South Africa, Nicaragua and Ireland by choosing the path of reconciliation have found their way to a lasting peace.

What we need are leaders in Israel and Palestine with the wisdom and courage to say ‘no’ to revenge. In the United States we can lobby that our tax dollars support only those who support the path towards reconciliation.

In the 1960’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed while his children were sleeping. Soon supporters intent on revenge gathered outside the King home. Dr. King spoke these words to the crowd:

“Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.”

By refusing the way of revenge, Dr. King set our nation on the path towards ultimate justice and reconciliation. The path isn’t easy nor is it quick. But in the long run it is the only way that we as the human family will find our way to a lasting peace.

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Workplace Discrimination: Not Good Enough for Jesus?

On July 4th I saw this headline in The Boston Globe: ‘Religious exemption to hiring rule urged.’ The article reported on 14 religious leaders (primarily Christian) who sent a letter to the White House requesting a religious exemption to a planned executive order by President Obama, barring federal contractors from discriminating in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.

President Obama’s executive order is in response to failed efforts to get through Congress the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA would have made it illegal under federal law to discriminate in the workplace – not just for contractors.

The letter requesting a religious exemption, was signed by nationally prominent evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders including D. Michael Lindsay president of Gordon College in Wenham, MA. I note President Lindsay’s name because Gordon College is an influential voice in the community I call home. I happen to be a pastor to some of Gordon’s graduates.

The letter reads in part: “Without a robust religious exemption…this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom.”

I have many questions for the signers of this letter: What common good are they speaking of? Is it in the interest of the common good to discriminate in the workplace? Is it in the interest of the common good when students, staff and faculty are forced to be closeted in fear of being fired or marginalized? Is it in the interest of the common good to perpetuate a theology that teaches that some aren’t good enough for Jesus?

I am offended by the use of noble terms like the common good, unity and religious freedom to impose discrimination due to sexual orientation. Not so long ago religious leaders coopted noble words and scripture to perpetuate discrimination towards people of color, women, minorities.

As I was working on a draft of this article a gay couple at the church I serve stopped by my office. They told me that one of them must remain closeted in their workplace lest their employer who is religiously conservative learn that they are gay. They can’t go to holiday parties as a couple, they can’t disclose who they fully are out of fear of being fired.

I say to President Lindsay: ‘Adding your signature as a representative of Gordon College does not promote the common good, unity or religious freedom. Rather it forces good people to deny who they are and live in fear.’

I urge each of the signatories to reconsider and rescind their signature. I ask this in the name of Jesus who in Luke 14: 15 – 24 envisions the Kingdom of God as a great banquet table where all the marginalized, oppressed and forgotten people have an honored seat at God’s table. I ask this for the sake of the common good.

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Marking the Sacred

Aurora BorealisSleeping under the stars has long been one of my favorite parts of summer. Some years ago I slept under a Montana sky as the aurora borealis shimmered like a massive video game across the sky. In Oregon by a favorite lake I craned my neck to count shooting stars. Last night as the sun set at my home in Massachusetts the sky was a deep red.

Such natural occurrences carry a ‘wow’ factor and call us to look up and around. Such ‘wow’ moments can also serve as portals into the sacred, an invitation to look towards the source. Scientists surely offer answers as to why such phenomenon happen in the natural world.

Yet for many of us, such ‘wow’ moments call us to look beyond the science to the source of the science. For many of us good science and good theology are not mutually exclusive.

A scientist friend recently said that scientists are discovering indicators that suggest that there was a Big Bang before the Big Bang. If that doesn’t elicit a ‘wow’ response then check your pulse.

As a non scientist (who loves science) and loves theology such exploration leads me to look up, out and within with renewed openness to being surprised. Could it be that the source of the Big Bang (or the precursor to the Big Bang) is also at work in your life and mine?

3000 years ago Abram and Sarai (in Genesis 18: 14) were met with the unexpected news that in their old age they would have a child. Sarai we are told, ‘laughed’ at this improbable news, to which a messenger from God responded: ‘Is anything too wonderful for the Lord’?

In the twelfth century a mystic and monk named Mechtild of Magdeburg offered this: “The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw – and knew I saw – all things in God and God in all things.”

The ‘wow’ moments in life remind me that the fingerprints of the Creator are at work when charged particles from the sun penetrate the earths magnetic shield creating countless burst of light and form the aurora borealis.

In response all I can do is say, ‘wow’ and ‘amen’.

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Being Gay in Outer Space

Being Gay in Outer Space.

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Being Gay in Outer Space

Mr Sulu 2Growing up I was a fan of TV’s Star Trek. Star Trek a mixture of drama and ‘campy’ fun unfolded on the starship Enterprise. With Captain Kirk at the helm he was ably served by his helmsman Hikaru Sulu, played by actor George Takei. Star Trek which ran from 1966 – 1969 brought together a multicultural cast that addressed issues of the day such as racism and war. One issue the series didn’t address were gay rights.

George Takei was a closeted gay man during the series. Living in a particularly homophobic period in American life he picked his battles and chose to work against Asian stereotypes prevalent in Hollywood. At a time when most Asian actors could only get limited work, Takei portrayed his character (Hikaru Sulu) with intelligence and dignity.

In 2005 Takei watched as California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a marriage-equality bill. At age 68 he turned to his life partner Brad Altman and decided that now was the time to go public and use his celebrity status to advocate for marriage equality and gay rights.

Now at age 77 George Takei continues to take on homophobia and racism with humor and persistence. He advocates for a society where we can each be that unique person God created us to be. A friend who happens to be gay, says this: ‘It is simply a matter of justice to allow people to authentically be who they are’.

And so we look to George Takei, Captain Kirk’s able helmsman, to boldly take us where we should have been all along. To Mr. Takei we say ‘live long and prosper’.

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A Common Language

sari+beach+panoMy local park on the North Shore of Massachusetts is beautiful. It features a rose garden, a promenade overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and a vast stretch of lawn. On any given weekend that park brings together a rich variety of people.

This past weekend a Hindu community held a cookout. You couldn’t miss the smell of curry or the women standing up to their knees in the ocean with their beautiful silk saris moving in the breeze. Several children played Cricket on the lawn.

I was completely mystified by the rules of the game. I asked a parent watching to explain the rules to me. As we talked I learned that they were from a Hindu Temple that meets in a nearby town. He said the park reminds him of his childhood in Bangalore, India. We introduced ourselves, his name is Amar.

Such diversity is a gift in Beverly, a city I recently move to. It reminds me that the greater Boston area has long been a magnate for immigrants from all corners of the globe. My own ancestors came from England in the late nineteenth century to work in textile mills.

The next day was Sunday, and in my Christian tradition was Pentecost. We read from the Bible these words from Acts 2:

‘When the day of Pentecost came, they (Jesus’ followers) were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’

Imagine, being able to speak the same language. Being able to understand each other on a deep level. The preacher for the day said:

On Pentecost they spoke a common language, it was the language of love.”

In our pluralistic society, I give thanks for a local park that serves as common ground for different types of people to gather. Apart from difference of language, religion, styles of dress or games we play, we find that we have much in common.

Could it be that as I watched a new game called Cricket and made acquaintance with Amar that I was experiencing a Pentecost moment? Could it be that we were finding common ground upon which we both could stand?

I believe we are healthiest as a nation (and as people of Faith), when we both honor our differences and celebrate that which we hold in common. Of course, we have to make the effort to get to know each other. For Amar and me, our local park became common ground, dare I say, a ‘sacred place’ where we both were at home.

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