Hooked

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

It was simple really.
We were looking for nourishment.
We were looking for food
We thought we found it.
We were eager, driven by hunger.
We chomped down and we knew
Right away
We were tricked.
There wasn’t any nourishment
There was only a hook and we are on it.

It hurts.
It really hurts.
It pierces and mars.
It harms us.
It injures us

We flail and thrash.
We have to get away.
And in our best effort of pulling away,
the hook sinks in deeper.

I know a thing or two about hooks.
And the line
And the sinker
Got some scars to prove it.

Here are some things I have learned.
We never respond to people or events.
We never do.
Never.
Ever.

We respond to our own perception of people and events.
We respond to our own feelings from the perceptions we have of people and events.
This means most of what we tell ourselves is a way to frame and understand the world.
The stories help us figure things out, but the stories themselves are not true.
The stories are within us, written in such a way that we can face forward and keep going.
We are making choices based on what we think is happening, many times making choices out of fear.
We can enhance our capacity to make loving choices if we can understand the narratives are myth.

Fear is powerful. We try to respond with as much power we can muster by thrashing and pulling and fighting. The thrashing makes sense to the panic within us in times of fear and pain. Thrashing feels like a choice. It feels like we are doing something to help ease the hurt. We are not. We often confuse the expelling of energy as progress when really it often just makes us exhausted.

Frenzied thrashing does not work for sustaining life. It is fear based and reactive. It is dangerous if this is our main way of being.

The perceptions of our life is what hooks us. The lies and stories we tell ourselves, the justifications, the rationalizations, the ruminations all merge into a single, solitary hook that now hurts. We fall for it a lot and the thrashing begins.

But then…
after the thrashing
in the silence,
in the exhaustion ,
in the darkness,
we see some inklings of light, hope and peace.
If we can open our hearts to it, we will feel the know the true power of acceptance.

Many misunderstand acceptance.
Some see it as weak.
Others see it as surrender.
Still others see it as saying we are ok with the awful thing that just happened. That we endorse it in some way.
Not true.

Acceptance is not dismissing the pain. It’s acknowledging that the pain exists.
Acceptance is not surrendering to the harm. It is simply acknowledging that the harm happened.

This is hard stuff.
That hook changes things and makes us weary.
Getting off that hook is never poetic while it is happening.
A soundtrack of peace, love and ease does not accompany the process.
It is marring and bloody.
It is scary and painful.

In this process of thrashing and accepting, flailing and yielding the difficulty fades into the background as we foster a nurturing, loving heart.
It comes complete with its very own set of self-compassion and graciousness.
In that grace comes the realization that we are off the hook.

Finally.
Completely.
Fully.
Free.

Should, Must, Gotta, and Have-To

by Karen Richter

Are you tired? I seem to have a lot of tired friends lately. Whether they are parents, activists, or just in a career building phase (or all three!), I see caring and beloved humans all around me moving from one obligation to another.

“I just gotta…”
“Guess I should…”
“My must-do today is…”
“I’m sorry but I have to…”

This makes me sad because we are not called to a life of Shoulds and Gottas.

But… there’s work to do, right? The world’s a mess and its needs call to us, right? When we pray, asking God to feed the hungry, God says, “I sent you,” right? It’s arrogance to think that the world is depending our our little bit, but at the same time, the world IS DEPENDING ON OUR LITTLE BIT! How do we reconcile this mental anguish and move on?

tree pose
tree pose

I’ve spent my summer doing yoga (now that’s random… just bear with me). I’m struggling with Tree pose; it’s a balancing pose and my balance is pretty crap. My teacher says, “Feel your feet. Hello, feet! Feel two corners in the front of your feet and one corner in the back of your feet.” When I’m a good listening little yogi, I do this and THEN I can raise one foot and lift my arms into Tree. When I try to jump right in, without talking to my feet and feeling my foundation, I wobble like crazy and my Tree pose doesn’t do much.

It’s my humble suggestion to approach our work, especially in social justice, in the same grounding, foundational way. First, we must feel our freedom. Freedom is our birthright, our calling, a gift from God. Freedom is the three corners of our feet.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Feel your freedom, friends; stand firm. From this foundation, move joyfully into your work.

Fear: An Invitation to Risk

by Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons

“Fear is good,” says Peter Bolland. “It keeps us alive. It keeps us from falling off cliffs, touching fire and kissing rattlesnakes.”

“If [humans] were to lose his capacity to fear, he would be deprived of his capacity to grow, invent, and create. So in a sense fear is normal, necessary, and creative. Normal fear protects us; motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare.”

SO why does the Bible consistently encourage us to ‘fear not?’

  • Do not be afraid – 70 times in 67 verses
  • Do not fear – 58 times in 57 verses

Because “there is another kind of fear, abnormal fear,” wrote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Abnormal fear paralyzes us, constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives.”

Fear can be “our greatest liability,” according to Bolland. “It keeps us from taking the risks necessary to develop our unrealized potential. If we let it, fear has the power to keep us from becoming who we really are. Fear is a thief that steals our joy.”

“FEAR is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited,” wrote Howard Thurman. “There is nothing new or recent about fear—it is doubtless as old as the life of man on the planet.

“when the power and the tools of violence are on one side, the fact that there is no available and recognized protection from violence makes the resulting fear deeply terrifying.

“Fear…becomes the safety device with which the oppressed surround themselves in order to give [themselves] some measure of protection…”

Certainly I resonant with Dr. King’s observation, “In these days of catastrophic change and calamitous uncertainty, is there any [one] who does not experience the depression and bewilderment of crippling fear, which, like a nagging hound of hell, pursues our every footstep?”

Dr. King was right when he preached, “Our problem is not to be rid of fear but rather to harness and master it.”

But how? Our texts, and scores like them in both Jewish and Christian sacred texts, help us know how.

Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?
I’ve learned your ways, Sovereign One.
I believe that I shall see [your] goodness, Gracious One,
in the land of the living.
Self, be patient. Self, be strong. Self, take courage in the Lord!

“I tell you, my friends,” said Jesus. Friends! “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.” Recognize that the threat of violence, with the possibility of death that it carries, “for what it is—merely the threat of violence with a death potential.” With that perspective “death cannot possibly be the worst thing in the world. There are some things that are worse than death.”

Verse 5 of our Gospel reading we must hold for another discussion this week because the prospect of hell or God casting someone into it can’t possibly be handled by a sermon in a UCC context. For this morning we are invited to remember that five sparrows were sold for two pennies, yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight!

God counts even the hairs of your head. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your [Heavenly Parent’s] good pleasure to give you her whole realm, his entire dominion!

“In the absence of all hope, ambition dies.” But to know that Creator God, cares for us – cares for me – to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus “renders us unconquerable within and without!”

When the time comes to speak truth to power do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt,

When the time comes to speak difficult words to the people of God  And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.

When the time comes to do something that you’ve always been taught was contrary to God’s Law, remember how an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

When you’ve poured out your fears to God in prayer, know assuredly that like Haggar and Zechariah God has heard your prayer, and that you are living the fulfillment of the plan of God.

I wish that we had time this morning to consider every one of the 128 times we hear the admonition to lay aside our fears. Aren’t you glad we have a whole week to consider them together?! Know this morning that taken together, those 128 passages invite us to:

  • Learn to live beyond the war of nerves, keeping perspective on our priorities and values as people of faith
  • Live apart from conditions imposed by an oppressor.
  • Find ways to love while under the threat of violence when the power and the tools of violence are all on one side.
  • Create ways to live outside of the artificial limitations that offer the illusion of safety-restricting freedom of movement, of employment, or speech, and of participation in the common life.
  • Ferreting out even the smallest glimmer of hope fanning those embers into the flames of ambition.

Fear is neither good nor evil; it is [an invitation to risk] that must be read with great care. Cultivating the skill to interpret fear accurately is an essential task in the creation of the well-lived and fully-realized life.

  1. If I do this frightening thing, will it bring real quality and beauty into my life?
  2. If I do this frightening thing, will it move me further toward the fullest expression of my innate potentialities?
  3. Am I respecting my health and life, and the health and life of others?
  4. Is this fear really just a misguided attempt to protect my fragile and limiting self-image?
  5. Is this apprehension and anxiety simply the death-throes of my outmoded ways of acting, thinking and being in the world?
  6. If I took these risks and let go of my old ways of acting, thinking and being in the world, would I be closer to my highest good?
  7. Is the larger purpose of my life the realization of my highest good as opposed to being comfortable?

“If the answer to any of these questions is no, your fear is telling you something important. You should probably listen,” writes Peter Bolland. “But if you can answer yes to even one of these questions, then” remember the words of David to his son, Solomon: “Be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you. [God] will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.

Communion and My Transgender Experience

by Joe Nutini

A note from the Southwest Conference: This is edgier than our usual posts. It graphically describes an authentic spiritual experience. If that’s not for you, we will see you next time. But didn’t want you to be caught off guard.

 

I knelt down on the red wooden kneeler before the priest. His well adorned robe flowed gently over the railing separating us. He held the body of Christ in his hands. This was a sacred duty. We were to be subservient to the lord who had reportedly sacrificed himself for us. I did not share this story. For me, even as a young teen, the Eucharist was much more than that. I knelt because the cells of my body knew that there was something special, something mystical about the transubstantiation that took place in the communion ceremony. I did not kneel for the priest, I knelt for the mystic Christ who transcended all boundaries.

When the Eucharist touched my tongue, I often had an almost erotic experience. His body, his miracle touching me physically…this was something tangible. I could eat the in-between space that the risen Christ occupied. I felt it in my cells just as I felt my most recent first orgasm. I often experienced signs and visions that I now understand to be communications with the spirit world. When I took communion I did not feel so alien in my body. For a moment, though my gender and physicality did not fit quite right, I was able to overcome this painful conundrum.

Now here we are many years later. I started transitioning about 13 years ago. In that time I have become much more interfaith in my spirituality. I believe in variety of things, many of which could be termed new age.  I practice Buddhism as a way of life. Today I see most religions and spiritual practices as being a part of a large interconnected web. We are experiencing this web in both this world and in the metaphysical plane. My transgender experience has allowed me to see this more clearly and to feel it viscerally. There are no borders or barriers between this world and the next. Just like there are none when it comes to gender. There is only fluidity and change…there is only sacred and mystical blending, bonding, separating, transmuting and impermanence.

Thought I look much more like a man outwardly, I still consider myself a transman.  I am more on the masculine side of the spectrum. Yet, like my experience of Jesus in the Eucharist, I move through the fluidity of gender. There is a flow in my body. An existing in two spaces simultaneously.

There is a certain dharma to my transgender existence. I do not know what it means to be a cisgender man because I was not born one. That is my experience of being a transman. It certainly isn’t everyone’s experience. But for me, the lesson is to be able to occupy a space with which I resonate, even if it does not fit the boxes that society has created. In the 13 years that I have engaged in physical transition, I have not once said I was a man trapped in a woman’s body. I never had that story. I don’t feel a need to have the story to justify the physical changes I’ve made. It is simply what needed to be done. When the time came I knew and felt that it was right. This is a spiritual practice of trusting one’s own intuition and internal guidance system.

I often think back to the days when I was young and practicing Catholicism. The same catholic church that later threatened to excommunicate me if I came out as queer, provided the mystical experiences I needed to fully grow into myself as a transgender person. My body, like Christ’s risen body, occupies a mystical space. It is a physical manifestation of what Buddhists call impermanence. I think we all exist in this state. A state of in-between. A state of a body, a person, a mind, a heart and a soul in flux. I believe transgender people are here to be visible manifestations of this concept. I also believe we are here to help cisgender people move away from the rigidity of gender roles and into a more relaxed way of being.

L’Chaim!

by Karen MacDonald

Have you ever noticed how life insists?  

A trimmed tree branch, or even a cut-down tree, will sprout new branches.  Little flowers will poke through cracks in asphalt on even the most-traveled streets.  People find their way through grief to healing.  Indeed, life has insisted on being for more than 13 billion years, ever since time and space, energy and matter flashed forth in the singular singularity we call the “Big Bang.” Life has continued to emerge in ever-increasing complexity and diversity and beauty.

“I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Choose life….”  (Deuteronomy 30:17, 19)

“So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” 
(Romans 6:11)

“”In spite of natural timidity, I have always felt invincible before hostile forces precisely because I have been ‘redeemed.’  This means that I have all of the power I need to face down evil.  I have the power, therefore, to choose life under any circumstances….redemption means that we are freed from the attraction and power of evil, free to choose life-giving options and life-enhancing goals.”
(Sr. Rosie Bertell,  essay included in The Impossible Will Take a Little While, p. 195, emphasis added)

No one can make us do evil,
no one can make us stop loving,
no one can kill our hope.
We have the power to choose life and love.

Former Vice-President Al Gore puts it this way in talking about addressing climate disruption:

“When any great moral challenge is ultimately resolved into a binary choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is fore-ordained because of who we are as human beings.  We have everything we need.  Some still doubt that we have the will to act.  But I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource.”
(Al Gore in a TEDTalk given 2/25/16, accessed on YouTube 7/18/17)

These trying times are an exhilarating time to be alive, as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. discovered during the trying times in which the civil rights and anti-war movements arose.  There’s so much opportunity all around us to do good, so speak up for what’s right, to reach out in love, to be life.  We have everything we need.  We have the power to choose.

The Creator, creation and our own spirits implore us and cheer us on:

Choose Life!
Be Life!

L’Chaim!

image credit: Karen MacDonald

I Wonder

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I’ve been thinking about you.

I have been thinking about your faith.

I’ve been thinking about your pain.

I’ve been thinking about your joy.

I’ve been thinking about your life.

Joy comes and goes. Pain comes and goes. Our breathing comes and goes. Our living comes and goes.

And we have oh so many feelings about this.

Feelings have the potential to overwhelm us. We can easily feel consumed and generalize that to all of life.

In my living, I have come to believe the biggest mistake I can ever make is believing that any singular, isolated moment is the totality of living.

It’s not. Truly it’s not. Yet I keep getting stuck as though it is all there is to this being in life.

No singular moment is the entirety of life.

No singular moment defines our being.

No singular moment will provide what we often desperately want and need: to know the meaning of it all and to know that we matter.

So then… the questions return:

What’s the point of all of this?

What are we doing here?

What is life?

I don’t glean much comfort and edification from the constant string of voices that is our present day reality. I can’t sift through the endless run on sentence of hate that ruins, maims and destroys the gift of living across all space and time of our shared history.

Too much.

Not helpful.

Not God.

Instead of listening to these loud, angry, unkind voices that we amplify all the time, I have something very powerful I can do.

I have what you have: the observation of everyday living and the invitation to wonder.

It moves me.

It nourishes me.

It emboldens me.

It challenges me.

It comforts me.

As the wonder steps up within, I look around and see authentic expressions of life everywhere. Each moment I allow the vulnerability of questions about this world we live in and my place in it, I get a small clue as to what this living may be about.

That journey goes something like this:

What is life?

If the ants are to be believed, life is a hard, constant, vigilant work among your fellows to reach a common goal feeding the need for security.

What is life?

If the trees are to be believed, life is the growth within creating the beauty that is in full view of the world. The health within creates the visible presence we all take refuge in.

What is life?

If rainbows are to be believed, life is the subtle, brilliant shining of light and color. It is the joyous announcement that the storm has passed.

What is life?

If the seasons are to be believed, life is changing in such a way that newness of being is not only possible, it is inevitable; it says if winter feels far too brutal it will be spring again.

What is life?

If the sea is to be believed, life is timing the rhythm of being, retreating and returning, all the while showing off and showing up for the moon.

What is life?

If the flame is to be believed, life is using the source of breath to stretch as far as possible toward the sun. It is the need, the want and the willingness to find the way home.

This living offers us so many moments, so many stories, so many commonalities, so many differences, so many hopes, so many fears, so many sorrows, so many joys.

It’s gotta make you wonder.

The Antidote

by Abigail Conley

“You two are the reason Amazon is working on drones,” he says, laughing. His wife and I nod in agreement. For the most part, we’ve given up scouring stores and instead scour the Internet. She sticks to Amazon Prime. I prefer PrimeNow, but use it only when I have free credits. I do have a budget after all. I keep a few PrimePantry credits on hand. Occasionally, I’ll opt into slower shipping for the digital download credit. My love of free stuff and my desire to have things right away are often at odds.

I’m an old millennial who has no interest in SnapChat. I do summon Uber and Lyft if I need a ride, though. My food is ordered on GrubHub, available in Phoenix before Seamless was. Postmates is the backup plan if I want something else. The cat’s food and litter are delivered courtesy of Chewy. At work, I often give up on trying to use the landline and pick up my cellphone instead.

The world, it seems, is literally at my fingertips. For the most part, I no longer run to Target for something; a few clicks mean it shows up at my doorstep in a couple hours or a couple days. Scheduling flights, hotels, just about anything, is just as easy. Many baby boomers marvel at this world. “We need…” they’ll say in a church meeting. “It’ll be here on Wednesday,” is my response. I catch myself being frustrated if something isn’t available for digital download or will take longer than two days to arrive.

Once, I remember a conversation with a baby boomer pastor, as I complained about ordering something. “You have to pay for resources like that,” she said. The fight I wasn’t willing to have, “But it should be available for instant download. I can’t wait a week for it.” In that case, it was true; a week later would be too late.

I readily confess that Christian faith means playing the long game. I have no idea what that means in the world I live in. I mean, I no longer have the patience for commercials, much less the glacial turns of history. This year, as the Revised Common Lectionary follows Matthew, I’ve been especially aware of Matthew’s obsession with quoting prophets. He appeals to something ancient to prove the validity of the experience of Christ.

“Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,/And they will call him, ‘Emmanuel.’” Matthew 1:23 & Isaiah 7:14

“You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,/because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.” Matthew 2 & Micah 5:2

“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Matthew 2:15& Hosea 1:1

The list goes on and on, throughout Matthew, as the Gospel writer calls forth ancient voices to cry out with the people in his world, “See what God is doing!”

Not quite two thousand years later, I have people reading Matthew, shouting, “If this is the promise, why hasn’t God done it yet?” My initial tendency is to join their anger. Why is there still so much pain? Why is there still so much violence? Why? Why? Why? The response that comes from somewhere beyond me is, “It’s coming.”

I feel the weariness of waiting some Sunday mornings, when I head to worship for what seems like one in countless times. The truth is, I probably haven’t even hit two thousand worship services, yet. The truth is, the people I encounter in that place create an organism—dare I say the Body of Christ?—that is both timeless and formed at a single moment in time.

In the best, Spirit-breathed moments, I wonder if this thing called Church is the antidote I don’t know I need. Like most medicine, it’s not always pleasant.

Still, it is Church that bids me to ask for a ride from a friend, not summon a stranger who is part of the 1099, no benefits economy. It is Church that bids me to come, to eat, with people, not from a take-out container in front of the TV. The young adults who care for my cat when I’m out of town are from Church, too. It is Church that has taught me to pick up the phone, not just send a text; tone is not so nearly misconstrued over the phone. It is Church that calls me into a way of being that is so different from what I would choose on my own.

It is Church, this antidote, that also says, “Wait! Listen!” and calls out anew even in the midst of ancient voices.

And so, I lay down my phone, and hope.

Enough

by Abigail Conley

There are a few times in my life that Bible verses haunt me. Whenever I stay in bed a little longer, the verse my mother used to wake me up when I’d slept too long comes to mind, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior.” It’s both Proverbs 6:10-11 and Proverbs 24:33-34. It’s also an incredibly refreshing way to wake up.

Every time I walk past the people counting offering on Sunday morning, I think of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers. I don’t mention this to the folks faithfully counting the money each week.

The one that gets me time and again, though, is from the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

I never thought that would haunt me. I’ve never cared a lot about stuff, really. Cars are modes of transportation and as long as they get from point A to point B with air conditioning and heat, I’m ok. Home should be reasonably comfortable, definitely safe, and have decent access to Target and grocery stores. I have no desire to own a purse that cost several hundred dollars. I think I’m pretty easy to please.

And yet, the haunting phrase comes, “Do not store up for yourselves…” It always stops there. Somehow, in the United States, being a responsible adult means storing up things. I feel strangely accomplished that there’s an extra stick of deodorant in the cabinet, shampoo and conditioner waiting under the sink if needed, a back up meal in the pantry. The other day, my partner and I went to Costco. “Do we have toilet paper?” I asked. Neither he nor I knew how much, so we got another Costco size package of toilet paper just in case.

It turns out, we had a brand new Costco size package of toilet paper when we got home. We have a storage closet on our balcony, ready to hold what won’t fit inside.

“Do not store up for yourselves.” Treasure, we might think, rules out the mundane things like toilet paper. I’m not sure it does.

Somehow, things like toilet paper are marks of success. When basic hygiene items aren’t readily available, we often think people are irresponsible. My mom is quite proud of the fact that in their 39 years of marriage, she and my father have only run out of toilet paper once. It’s a sign of a well-managed household.

The stashed toilet paper is part of a bigger picture, one in which my partner and I recently opened up IRAs, are paying off what little debt we have, and putting money into savings. We’re living into the middle class narrative of managing money and being prepared. The list of things we should do is long, after all.

I’m not sure how it fits with the Gospel, though. I’m not sure what it means when we literally have a storage room full of extra things. I’m not sure what it means that we have money in the bank “just in case.” We live in a place and time where the people who don’t have those things are looked down upon. We want to teach them how to better manage their resources so they, too, could save 50¢ on every roll of toilet paper.

“Do not store up for yourselves,” but surely Jesus didn’t mean being prepared for a rainy day, right? Could it be possible that our treasures are the most mundane things of all?

The Gift of Curiosity

The Cat Is Just Fine

by Karen Richter

Were you taught that curiosity is something to be squashed or tamed? that curiosity is somehow unseemly or rude? that instead it’s important to pretend that you know about things? Have we always valued expertise over curiosity?

I’ve decided to embrace curiosity and to encourage others to let their curiosity run wild.  It’s good for you…

Curiosity = openness.

I read a book recently about the questions that Jesus asked. He’s a little like your high school English teacher who always responded to a question with another question. Our scriptures are full of questions. Here’s a favorite of mine from the Psalms:

When I look at your skies,
at what your fingers made –

   the moon and the stars
   that you set firmly in place –
            what are human beings
            that you think about them;
            what are human beings
            that you pay attention to them?

It’s difficult to be spiritual if you’re not curious. This is a way (one way among many!) that our faith encourages us to be counter-cultural. In our accomplishment achievement go-get-it information economy, it’s good thing to have answers, knowledge, certainty. Our way of openness, humility, and curiosity seems a little strange, even a bit naïve or childlike.

Curiosity engenders humility.

When we know that there are things that we want to learn, we can be humble about the limits of our own knowledge. Jesus calls us to learn:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~Matthew 11

Curiosity reminds us to listen.

I find that a healthy curiosity about the spiritual path and experiences of others brings me to a listening posture.  This is the power of Humans of New York, listening projects, Story Corps, and human libraries. We all want to know what we have in common with others and in what ways our paths are unique.

Listening is hard work; curiosity can help.

Curiosity opens pathways to maturity.

What do you do with questions that can’t be answered with Google? I remember talking with a woman in a Bible study with me at our traditional United Methodist church in the Deep South… she was maybe 75 years old and described herself as a seeker. Learning, growing, changing in all of life’s seasons – what a gift!

What are you curious about today? What are you hungry for? Where are you stretching?

In our common life together in the Southwest Conference, where is our shared curiosity? Where are we striving to learn and grow? What are we hungry to become?

 

Christ on the Cushion

by Joe Nutini

When I was a child, my parents sent me to Catholic schools. This was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I received a wonderful, college preparatory education that did indeed prepare me to go to college. I loved college.  I also loved Christ. Like seriously. I was in love with Christ. From the time, I was quite young, I felt the energy of Christ deep within my heart. It was instantaneous. It didn’t require any understanding of doctrine, bible etc. It was just there.

I became a social worker. My education and the love that was in my heart because of knowing the energy of Christ (and perhaps even angels and other “heavenly” beings) led me to that path. Buddhism increased my awareness of Christ. It brought me back to Christ’s energy and love. It also brought me back to myself, to my own heart and to forgiveness.

That’s where I am right now. To get there, though, was quite the journey. The curse of being in the Catholic school, was that as I got older, conservative and literalist doctrine began to enter my soul as a poison. I will add this caveat before I continue. I understand that for some people, conservative and literalist doctrine and biblical interpretation is what “Saves” them. That wasn’t my experience. Though I respect that it is for some.

When I was quite young, I also remembered feeling like I should have been born a boy. I literally thought that my body would look like my fathers and not my mothers. Somewhere in early childhood, I also learned not to say that I felt like a boy. I just knew it was a “Sin” per the powers that be. Just like I knew that two men kissing was supposed to be “sinful”. I kept it to myself. A secret. Mom and Dad told me I was a girl, so I decided to be one.

As time went on, I became a pro at religion class. I always had an A in that class. I was fascinated by it because I had intrinsically known spirit since the time I was young. I wanted people to explain things to me. I wanted to try to understand what was happening. Sometimes, I would argue or debate with the teacher. I didn’t believe all the stories. I didn’t believe that Adam and Eve were the only humans and they populated the earth. I didn’t necessarily believe that Jesus had to die on a cross. It just didn’t really fit for me. And so, I wanted to learn more. To see what I was missing.

I received confirmation when I “came of age” as a teenager. I believed in Christ and what I felt was a certain spirituality to the universe. I also didn’t want to go to hell, if I’m being honest. Back then I wasn’t sure if there was a hell or not but the adults kept saying there was. I wanted to do the right thing by this energy that was with me through all the troubles that I felt. I wanted to make Christ happy. I did what the church told me to do. It was a beautiful ceremony and we had a party.

At this time, I also became aware of my queer (at that time we said bisexual) feelings. I had been in puberty early and it felt like torture. I didn’t understand why my body was betraying my spirit and mind. I kept it to myself. I prayed for these feelings to go away. It was a sin. The more I did this, the further and further away Christ felt. That energy, that love, that guiding force in my life started to slip away. In hindsight, I realized I had been betraying myself. When I was 13-14, I didn’t know better.

When I was a senior in high school, my best friend and I wrote a feature edition of our school paper on LGBTQ youth. The religion teachers let us give a survey out on sexuality and gender identity. Right before we were going to print, I was called to the “brothers’” offices. They basically said that, “this issue doesn’t exist here.” They meant that there were no LGBTQ people. I told them that wasn’t true. That I was bisexual. IT just fell out of my mouth. It was the most freeing thing in the world. I felt my heart fill with that energy and love again, for a moment. I was told that I was confused, wrong and that if I engaged in “homosexual acts” I could be excommunicated from the church.

It felt like poison. Every fiber of my being rejected their words. I decided to no longer be Catholic.

In college, I began reading about every religion and spiritual belief that I could find. That included new age spirituality and Buddhism. I wanted to find out what was going on. I couldn’t believe that the God they taught me about in school was the same God who created me. Absolutely not. I figured that maybe I was wrong. That there was no Christ energy or holy spirit. So, I studied, I attended various religious and spiritual services and I began meditation.

During those years, I was a mess until I began transitioning. Even after coming out as queer, I still felt so distant from that love I had known as a child and young teen. It felt miles away. Something that was unattainable. When I came out, it felt slightly closer. When I transitioned, my life changed. I meditated and chanted in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I attended healing arts school where this was solidified. I was invited into some native American spaces to learn their teachings.

Yet something was still missing. I could feel that I was in touch with the love of the universe again. And yet, that Christ energy was missing. It felt like an emptiness. So, I began exploring Christianity once more. I spoke with literalists who debated with me, stating that I didn’t understand the scripture or bible. So, I studied it with them, pointing out linguistic differences from my studies in college, debating meaning and syntax. I hung out with Unity and Unitarian Universalists who helped me understand and heal from some of my experiences. I met people from the United Church of Christ who explained their understanding of Christ. I met liberation theologians who, like the UUs and UCC folks, made the most sense to me intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

And then I found Shambhala Buddhism. I read the book, Shambhala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa, the person who brought this form of Buddhism to the US. He was literally saying everything that I had thought and felt for many years. I viewed a talk about “Jesus as Bodhisattva”, a concept that I had read about before but didn’t quite understand as well before.

So, I decided to take Shambhala classes. I distinctly remember sitting in the first class. We meditated for hours. I couldn’t shake this feeling that it was I who had been blocking myself from fully feeling the world. I had internalized these poisonous messages that I had heard for a good portion of my life.

I breathed in, when I breathed out, I found Christ again. It was a distinct feeling, so hard to describe. Like putting the last piece into a puzzle and being on fire at the same time. The intensity of it lasted for a moment then dissipated. A chunk of the poison left me and in its place, was this gentle love. A love that came from both within me and outside of me.

Today, I continue to work on undoing these teachings that kept me so far away from this Universal love, the love of Christ, and the love or Buddha nature within. I personally believe these are also complexly intertwined and simultaneously always available to me. I still learning, debating, meditating, praying and learning. I often wonder if these things happened for a reason…a journey to build empathy, love and relationship with others.