About David

Retired military officer, former high school teacher, youth leader, mentor, spiritual pilgrim.

Sanctuary

sanctuary

Sanctuary is a new house built by volunteers from faith-based organizations. Photo by Jesse Love, PNWUMC.

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.

 There has been a lot of talk lately about this idea of sanctuary. In light of the recent election season and fear-mongering toward those who don’t fit our definition of “us”, people of color, immigrants, and others are afraid. Some cities and many churches are exploring the idea of how to be sanctuary for people in our country fleeing persecution. It seems almost un-American to claim there are people in this country fearing for their lives, afraid of being persecuted for their sexual orientation or race, or facing the tearing apart of family and deportation.

Sanctuary in this context implies a “safe haven”, a city or a church where people can feel safe, be protected, live free of fear. It also implies that those of us with privilege will stand with the marginalized and use our privilege and power to oppose those who preach intolerance. In church language a sanctuary is a holy place, a place where we find God, and a place of worship. Is God calling us to join God as sanctuary?

What if “the church” and people who call themselves people of faith really lived as sanctuary? What would our churches look like and who would we meet in our “sanctuary”? Would our sanctuaries, both corporate and personal, be safe places, holy places, places of acceptance, and places free from fear and hate? Would we have the courage to stand up against evil and intolerance even it means the loss of privilege?

There will be more work done to prepare our churches and cities to be sanctuaries. Our churches might function as a place to live, or a stop on something like the Underground Railroad to connect immigrants and others to resources as they flee harassment. Whatever happens in creating sanctuary for those considered unwelcome, we should realize God calls us to welcome the alien.

God the Father, source of love and creator of the universe, considers every plant, animal, and human worthy. Jesus, the Christ, embodies and models this radical acceptance and love, and the Holy Spirit is God’s constant presence and reminder of grace and acceptance, for us, and all of creation. If we are in the flow of divine love, we cannot turn away from those whom God loves as equally as God loves us.

As we prepare for the arrival of an immigrant child, born in a stable because he and his family were not welcome, let us be mindful of all those who do not feel welcome. Let us be reminded of our own national history, that we are a country of immigrants, and that is a source of our strength. Perhaps God became human in the form of a helpless immigrant baby to show us how much God loves humanity in all its diversity. May we open our hearts, our minds, and our doors to those God loves.

Note: Sanctuary is also a warm, dry place, to call home. Please consider a donation to help rebuild homes in Central Washington lost to devastating wildfires in 2014-2015. Many families are still living in sheds and temporary shelter for the third winter in a row. If you want to help create sanctuary, click here.

Fear not…yeah, right!

paris-attacks

 

“The angel said, Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.”

 

Gabriel here. You know, the reluctant messenger sent to Mary. You might have read about me here. Relaying the divine message that Mary was chosen by God to give birth to the Savior of the world was easy compared to trying to deliver the message “do not be afraid” in today’s world.

Some other messengers and I were talking about the climate of fear that seems so rampant in humans, especially lately. Just the other day, Michael, an archangel, went down to deliver a message that people should not fear those different than them. In the process, some guy called him a name and pulled a gun on him. Good thing for Michael us angels are immune to such things.

Humans like to be in control and when they think they are in control, they feel safe and life is predictable. And, when humans sense they are losing control, they can get anxious, angry, and even violent. Then, there are other factors such as the need for power, greed, and selfishness at work, no doubt. And there are lots of people very skilled at using fear to promote an agenda.

God certainly knows something about human nature. God understands people are designed to be afraid. Fear was a necessary response in order to survive for early humans. Many of us up here think God should get another “do-ever” since humankind is so nasty. But God loves people and promised to never destroy them. Too bad people can’t feel the same way about each other as the Holy One feels toward them.

Perhaps the human tendency to fear anything new or different is why there are about 110 places in the Bible that say something like “fear not, do not be afraid, or be not afraid”. We angels have to use such words of reassurance so people won’t freak out when they learn that God has sent one of us to deliver a message.

Fear of the other and a false sense of security have always been part of the human story. Empires, world leaders, the church, and politicians all have tried to control events and create “fortresses” to protect their grip on power. Terrorists and extremists play off the fear of others and cause people to think and respond irrationally. Fear and ready access to weapons is a combination that continues to play out across The United States today. Having a gun is no protection from uncertainty. It no doubt makes a situation even more uncertain.

Life just happens. All humans are going to die. It’s what people do between birth and death that matters. It’s the “dash” between the years of birth and death on a tombstone that matters. People make bad decisions that hurt others. If people choose to live in fear and not open themselves to the divine message of love, and love of the other, they are destined for a pretty miserable life. And, they will make the life experience of those around them miserable and even dangerous.

So, during this Christmas season of 2015, we divine messengers would like to remind humankind that God does not want you to be afraid. God became human and died at the hands of people to show there was nothing to be afraid of…not people with guns…not people that are different…not even death. Fear not, people!

 

 

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home…

emotional embrace - father hugging sonThe summer before third grade my family lived temporarily on a lake in northern Illinois. My brother and I spent many happy days swimming and fishing and doing what boys did back then, roaming the neighborhood. That was the summer I thought it would be a good idea to climb the barbed wire fence next to our house and get up on the roof. Perhaps we had thrown something onto the roof and I needed to retrieve it, I can’t remember the details. Nevertheless, in the process of climbing the fence, I fell, and got a nasty gash in my arm, the scar still visible today. That summer provides another memory that still haunts me over 50 years later.

One day, my brother and I had committed some heinous crime in the eyes of my mother, who seldom administered punishment. On this occasion, she made it clear to us that corporal punishment would be referred to my father. I imagine my mother said something like, “just wait until your father gets home…he can deal with this.” I remember waiting for my father to return home from work knowing full well I was in for a whipping.

We knew exactly what was going to happen. Dad would walk in after a hard day at work and Mom would tell him what we had done. My father would tell me to bring him the board and bend me over his lap and administer the spanking. It was never bare bottom, but a board smacking your ass repeatedly hurts like hell. I was never one of those kids that refused to cry or show weakness when being punished. I think I started crying and begging for mercy the minute Dad walked in the door. Whatever I had done, it must have been really bad because I remember this spanking as epic.

The most disturbing part of this memory is the sheer terror and desperation I felt as I anticipated my punishment. Fear of punishment and a desire to be good little boy became very important to me as I grew up. I constantly worried about being “perfect” and doing things “right”. I wanted to please my parents, and I certainly did not want to be punished for not measuring up. I excelled at excelling and built a life obsessed with being judged worthy.

Add some religious upbringing where sin and unworthiness were constant messages, and my fear of being measured as not good enough was easily transferred to my understanding of God. God was a heavenly version of my father, quick to administer justice and punishment if you didn’t measure up. I distinctly remember my confirmation class emphasizing that if I ever approached communion without truly repenting of my sins, I was bound for eternal damnation. Once again, I was measured as unworthy.

During a recent spiritual retreat, we were asked to personalize an emotion, to visualize this emotion as a person or a creature, and then to have a conversation with this creature. Then, we were asked to have God enter the picture and asked what God would say to the creature and to us in this setting. Later we were asked to “dance” or move with this personalized emotion. It was a powerful experience for me that brought me back to the summer of 1962 and an epic spanking.

I asked myself what I am afraid of and why I am reluctant to trust God. Why do I feel such a natural urge to give God a “script” or a “to-do list”? Why do I hurt those I love and annoy others with my obsessive need to be right, or to be better than others? Am I afraid of not measuring up, of being punished or thought unworthy of approval? I have created a personality and self-preservation system that tries to control everything to ensure I am always correct. I even try to control God.

I pictured myself at 10 years old. I was a little boy afraid of not being good enough in my relationship with my heavenly Father. I had to make sure God understood that I needed to know what I was supposed to do, so I could ensure I was being the good little boy he wants me to be. Later, I “walked” and “held” the 10-year-old version of myself telling the child that he was good enough. When God joined the two of us, God simply confirmed we both were worthy and that we were loved and brought much delight to our heavenly Father. God wrapped us both in a warm blanket of love and acceptance.

It occurred to me that I did not have to do anything to be judged worthy of God, that God could be trusted to reveal God’s divine reality to me without my script or “to-do list”. I vowed to try to be more patient and open to God’s presence without being anxious or trying so hard to discern God’s call on my life. I don’t need all the answers, and I can trust God to be present in my life and to show me His truth if I can simply be open and present to God.

Sadly, my earthly father died when I was just 13, so we never had the opportunity to develop a deeper and more loving relationship. If we had, I would feel compassion for a man who was trying to do the best he could, despite poor employment prospects, a wife with diabetes and bi-polar disorder, and dreams for a future he never realized. I think Dad would tell me how proud he is of all that I have accomplished and the man I have become. He would no doubt claim those early spankings were due to his stress and frustration at not being a good enough father. My father and I both need to know we are loved and valued by a God that delights in us.

While I may not have been able to get to know my earthly father more deeply, I can learn to trust God to be present in my life. I know I am a beloved child of God, and that God delights in all of creation, including me. I don’t need to be anxious or fearful, I just need to be open to the Divine Presence. Thanks be to God we serve a Father that loves us and delights in us.

Takin’ it to the Streets

IMG_1567In Luke’s version of the triumphal entry of Jesus we celebrate as Palm Sunday, Jesus sees Jerusalem spread before him and weeps. He weeps for the city because Jesus knows the city will eventually be destroyed. And, he weeps because Jesus knows the people of Jerusalem and her leaders have missed this special moment of God’s revelation. They have other priorities.

If Jesus were to cross the Golden Gate Bridge today and see San Francisco laid before him, I think he would also weep for the “City by the Bay”. Amidst vast wealth and sparkling riches lies a stinking, rotten reality. While $100,000 cars drive by, and average one bedroom apartments cost $3500 per month, people are literally starving on the streets.

San Francisco boasts the highest number of homeless people in the country. One-third of the homeless are African-American, one-third are members of the LGBTQ community, and the other one-third suffer from mental illness. They are forced to urinate and defecate on the sidewalk because there are few places with public restrooms they can use. They have no shelter and few possessions. The homeless in San Francisco are literally everywhere. Well, maybe not everywhere. Certain blocks where fancy hotels are located and swank department stores do business are noticeably free of people sleeping on the sidewalks. The police make sure of that.

Recently, I joined Wesley Foundation students and leaders from UW, WWU, CWU, and young adults from Concordia University in Portland for an intensive cultural immersion. We learned about the unethical way developers try to remove people from their buildings so the buildings can be “flipped” and exorbitant rents charged. And, we learned about the handful of dedicated people from the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco who do their best to fight the developers.

We learned about the history of the LGBTQ community in San Francisco and remembered the discrimination against homosexuals and transgender people that continues to exist across this country. We listened as Harvey Milk predicted his own assassination and the account of his brutal killing. But even the Castro area of the city, the hub of queer life for the last 50 years, is being gentrified and the gay community being pushed out.

We learned of blatant and legislated racism against the Chinese who were recruited as cheap labor and then told they had to leave the country and could not become American citizens, yet stayed to build a thriving and robust community. And how, just recently Chinese railroad workers were recognized in the Labor Department “Hall of Fame”.

There is hope in San Francisco amid the urine and feces-laden streets. There are people who care about the “other” like Jesus did. There are those who accept people as they are and care for them in many ways. These are the people of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and the staff and volunteers of the Glide Foundation. Twenty Wesley members had the privilege of working along side these quiet and unassuming heroes during our spring break.

We prepped and served three meals at Glide, meeting hundreds of homeless people who smelled of urine, had bad or no teeth, suffered from obvious mental health disorders, and were so hungry. The staff and other volunteers and Glide and almost everyone we served was polite, thankful, and happy to receive a meal. And our guests were not just homeless people. Many were the “working poor”. These are people with jobs that run short of money for food and benefit from a meal or two each week at Glide.

I’ll let one of our college students, Aly, tell you about a volunteer she met while serving at Glide.

The person that had the most effect on me was a man named Doug. We worked together in the line assembling trays for the dinner rush. Before the rush started, we got to talking. Doug is from Jamaica and moved to San Francisco nine years ago for school. At some point he stopped school and became homeless. He said he had been sleeping on the roof and had gotten caught so he came here. Doug was volunteering his time in the kitchen. After the shift started we had less time to talk. When he thought no one was looking he took a piece of bread folded it up and ate it. He knew he was going to get food in an hour, but he was so hungry that he needed something now. Doug was only twenty-eight years old. He was kind, caring, and said goodbye to me twice when we were on our way out. I can’t imagine ever being in Doug’s situation. No matter how much I struggle, I know have a support system to catch me when I fall. The realization that most of these people didn’t have anyone to turn to was a hard one to come to. I feel like I am still processing.

Perhaps the most memorable experiences for me were the two worship services we attended, Sunday morning at Glide, and the Sunday evening Eucharistic Service at Grace Cathedral. From jazz and gospel to meditative high church, these services were wonderful bookends to my day and reminded me that we serve a God already working to bring justice and peace. We are simply asked to do what we can to help others wherever we find ourselves.

I left San Francisco with very mixed feelings. I am appalled that America would allow its citizens to sleep on the streets, have no place to go to the bathroom, and no place to clean themselves. And, where is the access to mental health care? But, because of people like those at Glide and others, there is hope of a brighter tomorrow. God calls us to care for the marginalized, to bring justice, and love our neighbor. Will we respond to that call or like the people of Jerusalem, miss the meaning of God’s revelation? God showed me my neighbor in San Francisco and asked me to love them. By the grace of God, I hope I will.

Why Spiritual Formation?

spiritual-formation“How can we make disciples if we don’t know what one looks like?”

“We can’t hope to transform the world until we ourselves are transformed.”

Questions like these have lately had me pondering the question “Why Spiritual Formation?” By spiritual formation, I am talking about Christian spiritual formation, or the process of learning to follow the way of Jesus Christ. But, I think the term “spiritual formation” works equally well for other faith traditions, and even those who claim to be “spiritual, but not religious”.

Spiritual formation is our search for meaning. We ask the big questions, like “why am I here, how shall I live, or what’s my purpose in life?” For me, it a search for God, or the Divine. I have discovered that in my search for God, I discover myself, or at least the person God hopes I’ll become.

Spiritual formation is a continuing process, a journey – one that lasts a lifetime. No quick fix here. Equally frustrating, we must learn to be content with mystery and not having the answers.

Something else I’ve discovered along my spiritual journey – we are not meant to go it alone. We need fellow pilgrims, we need community. We need others to listen, hold us accountable, and accept us in love.

Spiritual formation helps me to reevaluate my priorities, to set aside ego and the desire to control, to be present and open to the moment and others. I strive to be attuned and receptive to what God is already doing in the world and in those I encounter along the way.

Spiritual formation is the foundation for the Christian life and gives me the language with which to describe the indescribable. As a friend of mine said once, “Life is a metaphor for life”. Words like salt, light, shine, fire, spirit, breath, all take on significance for the spiritual pilgrim.

Finally, as much as we need spiritual formation to transform the world and make disciples, it is almost absent from our churches, and not even a blip on the radar of the secular society we live in. There are probably good reasons for this absence, but listing them doesn’t help fill the vacuum of spirituality in many people who claim to be Christians.

As we “rethink church” and look for ways to redevelop existing congregations, I think we need to help people figure out how to be transformed spiritually. Perhaps then they will be equipped to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Transformation starts with the individual human heart.

Divine Do-Overs

baseballI know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity.                                                                                                                Jeremiah 29:11-14

Have you ever played a game where you asked for a do-over? Maybe you weren’t quite ready and asked to start over. Maybe the game barely got started, and you were already “out”. Or, maybe you and your friends decided to start the entire game over just cause it would be more fun now that everyone knew the rules.

I remember teaching my girls to hit a baseball. I would give them multiple chances to hit the ball. Little sister would get extra help and not have to follow the same rules as big sister, because she needed more “do-overs”; she wasn’t as mature or as strong. Most of the time, I tried to be a patient father with my children. And, if I could be so patient with my children, imagine how much more patient God must be with God’s children.

Life is not a “once, and done” affair – we get multiple do-overs; God constantly says, “try again”. Each of us constantly fail in our attempts to be the person God is calling us to be. But, God continually says, “Do not be afraid, you can have a do-over”. And even with the one failure none of us can avoid, death, God says, “Don’t worry, I became human so you could get a do-over from death”.

The passage from Jeremiah reminds us that we get as many do-overs as we need to get it right. The reality is, we will never get it right…that’s why we need God, that’s why there is divine grace. We have to ask God for a do-over, and we have to mean it. When we want to be the person God wants us to be more than anything else, and we ask God to help us, God shows up and says…”watch this, your life is going to be awesome…I can’t wait to show you what I have in store for you.”

So, don’t worry if you haven’t figured out your life yet…you have all the time you need. Not sure of a major, it’s okay…you’ll figure it out. Broken relationship…God says, it’s okay, you will heal. Don’t have a job…no worries…you find something, and then something else, and then something else. I’m 62 and I haven’t figured out how to be the person God intends me to be. But, I do know you have to keep working on it. You have to actively seek God for God to show up. And, you have to ask for a do-over, and really mean it.

I love the fact that life is a continuous series of new beginnings, that everyday is a brand new day where God whispers in our ear “Do Over!”

Spirituality of Privilege

Apocalypse_vasnetsovI am going to throw out a couple of big theological words that when I heard my clergy spouse use them in seminary, I wanted to say, “what the…?” The words are “apocalyptic” and “prophetic” and the second word associated with each of these descriptors is “spirituality”. I learned this from an amazing new testament scholar, Leticia Guardiola-Saenz, from Seattle University.

Apocalyptic spirituality, or a spirituality of the “end times” is a spirituality that claims the situation we are in is hopeless, and we need the Divine to return and set things right. Picture the Israelites in exile or the Christians to whom the gospel of Mark was intended as having this sort of spirituality. Their attitude may have been “we are powerless to change our situation and we need God to intervene”. In the case of the early Christians around 50 C.E., they believed the return of Christ was imminent, so just believe, and the Messiah will soon return and set things right. Mark doesn’t provide a lot of practical advice for living the Christian life.

When things go better for the Israelites, their spirituality becomes more prophetic. They could change their situation if they would just follow the law, or listen to the prophets, or answer God’s call. Prophetic spirituality claims we humans have the capacity to make things better.   In the gospels, John is an example of a more long-term approach to Christian spirituality. OK, so maybe Jesus isn’t coming back right away, so let’s figure out how to live until his return. John gives us much more guidance on how to live in community while we await Christ’s return.

I would have to place myself squarely in the prophetic spirituality camp. I have never known hunger, desperation, or loss of control. I live in a place where freedom for all is cherished. I have a positive attitude, and a belief that things will get better, and that we humans have the capacity to change. I believe evil is allowed to flourish when good people remain silent.

And, I believe we are partners with God, imbued with a divine spark. We are the way God changes the world for the better; we are “the hands and feet” of Christ, living his model, loving as he loved, serving as he served. “If not me, than you…if not us, then who?” And as far as the apocalypse goes, for me heaven is not the escape plan. Heaven is what we make here on earth. What happens after we die, if anything, is a complete mystery.

The danger with an entirely prophetic spirituality is that we think we can go it alone, that we don’t need God, or we can do God’s job for God. Or maybe even, we are God, or know what God desires. The problem is we are not God and know nothing of God’s mystery. To claim we know what God wants is a bit presumptuous on the part of humans.

There will be times when our best plans will come crashing down around our heads. We all have been in the place where there is nowhere to turn, when things are out of our control, and when we can’t change our desperate situation. These are times when we need a more apocalyptic spirituality calling for divine intervention. We realize we don’t have all the answers and we need God to do something. Thankfully I have only experienced desperate situations a few times in my life. But in those dark times I can relate to the people of Israel who cried out to God for deliverance.

So, maybe our spirituality should be more of a partnership with the Divine, both we and God doing what we can to make the world a better place. Spiritual maturity is the recognition that we are not God, and that God is mystery. We are called to seek the Divine, and in that process we find ourselves.