TO BE AND NOT TO BE

20 “I ask … also on behalf of those who will believe in me …,(21) that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…”. John 17: 20-26

I listen to the discord of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C, K. 465,

I am overcome by the struggle I feel.

I hear the Beatles Revolution 9 and it evokes confusion in me.

Both at their core are my search for peace to balance the conflicting forces of my life.

The Buddhists say all life is suffering.

I suffer;

in my struggles with the unresolved, incompatible chords of successes and failures; lack of courage to come out, disdain for my cowardice that keeps me locked in,

To be or not to be me.

Success is not trusted, the prologue feels forever my epilogue; will I ever be me?

I am committed to Christ. I try to love everyone, yet I can’t accept me. I lose my way;  disharmonious wounds slay my spirit.

The Buddhists seek enlightenment contemplating, “who was I before I was in my mother’s womb”?

I sit and meditate.

Life stands still in the flickering moments of rest between its cacophonous sounds. In the silence between notes, the oneness with the God spirit is known.

The miracle of God’s peace is not in the absence of discord but in the midst of it. Peace that is sufficient. Peace that is everlasting.

In between the conflicts of to be and not to be, God in me conforms outward disharmony to inner harmony, and in the same life enduring moment I experience how to be and not be.

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THE BEAUTIFUL GAME: Why I Became a Warriors Fan

WR.Blog.KlayThompson GSWGolden State Warriors Orchestrating Victory                                     Ezra Shaw/Getty AFP. Yahoo

I’ve fallen in love with the Golden State Warriors.

I’m a homer. I root for my home teams from Washington, DC; the Bullets turn Wizards (big props), and the Redskins turn a blind eye to racist symbols (huge boo). Sorry Caps and Nats, I’m simply not passionate about your sports. But in this era when loyalty follows celebrity and people become fans of teams on a global level, like the Bulls circa the Jordan era, I’ve become a Warriors fan.

I realized it last night, Game 2 of the series with the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s simple; when you see these guys play, basketball becomes a beautiful game.

A game or spectacle is beautiful to me when it’s orchestrated so skillfully that the onlooker needs no knowledge of the rules, no explanation of what is unfolding to understand the intricacies of the game and be swept away on a tidal wave of joy and excitement at feeling its beauty in their heart. To understand the objective of basketball, the concept of teamwork, the discipline of strategy, the beauty of honed talent turned into skill, and the magical joy of achievement, one only has to watch the Warriors play.

This spectacle is the ultimate balm to the human spirit. It goes beyond sport and that is why in this moment this team is on the cusp of becoming a YUUUUUUGE deal.

With no apologies to my Christian siblings it’s like watching the life of Christ. You don’t need an explanation, you don’t have to hear the words he spoke, you simply have to look at the way he lived to get his message. His life and his message are one and the same. He lived by the rule he preached. He loved God’s creation unconditionally in everything he did and with everyone he encountered. Take away the words and the message; to love your God, and your neighbor like yourself, is just as clear.

The amazing thing about the Warriors right now is that they are doing it without Curry. And what about that genius artist is there not to love? As great as his play throughout the season, it’s his joy on the bench, the childlike enthusiasm and love with which he supports his teammates that has blasted him into the pantheon of my personal sports heroes.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors - Game OneStephen Curry                                                                                               Ezra Shaw/Getty AFP Yahoo

I thought I loved watching him play. I do. I do I do I do. And I can’t wait for him to get back out there. But by God, it’s been a straight up bromance for me watching him live and die on the sidelines, the consummate teammate to his brothers on the court.

I can’t wait for the next game these guys play and I haven’t felt like this about a basketball team since Michael Jordan. And here’s the deal that must truly warm Adam Silver’s heart, I want them to win a second Championship so badly, but I’m gonna love them even if they don’t.

Down and Out: Time to Know Yourself

Eric Clapton croons a familiar lament, that ‘nobody knows you when you’re down and out’. But I’ve recently realized that the more meaningful concern is, to get to know myself better when life knocks me off my feet.

I’ve been down and out before, and I’m down and out again, and as much as I know better the hardest issue for me is finding the way to love myself again.

Life’s a complicated business. The moment I think I’ve figured it out the god’s conspire to test my conclusions. Now my life’s been good, even great by comparison to others, but it’s been filled with challenges that threatened emotional and physical death. I overcame one such period of the dark night of the soul by discovering power in the simple act of trying to learn ‘something’ and growing from the experience.

I’ve been through even greater physical crises since so it was surprising that my recent health emergency, though serious, has been as emotionally devastating as it is. I had it together after all. I understood the meaning of life better than I’d done in the past. I lived from the seat of my consciousness, the serene throne of my soul, not the cacophonous clutter of my conscious mind. Although not perfect, but better than before, my living and my spirit were harmoniously aligned and I felt prepared to withstand the winds of hostile fortune.

But with one stroke I was unseated from my complacency awaking from surgery annoyed at being denied the peace of eternal sleep. It’s been a hellish month since of physical and emotional pain. I hate my mutilated belly and fear the shame that lies between me and a full recovery some day. I’ve even cut myself off from the world so I won’t have to relive the nightmarish experience in retelling the story.

Yet I’m healing, getting better, agonizingly slow, but my todays are generally improvements over my yesterdays.

I’m learning and relearning lessons, the most profound of which is that nothing teaches like being down and out.

Another is that every experience, good and bad, has the potential to provide insight into who I am and whom I should be.

When I see the lives affected by my illness, those dependent on me and those who’ve stepped up to help me, I’ve had to reevaluate the importance of my relationships with others versus my relationship with myself. My efforts at self improvement, however noble and sincere, were out of balance with the importance of my relationships with others.

Love your neighbor as yourself.   The complement to the greatest commandment to love your God.

Better to spend time practicing it, however poorly, than analyzing it, however adroitly.

One more lesson from being down and out, if I don’t learn why I’m there, life’s going to knock me over again, likely harder the next time. Looking back I see that clearly now.

So I’ll try not to despair if no one knows me when I’m down and out. It’s not about them, it’s about me. Hard as it is, it’s life’s gift. I’ll take the time to figure out what the universe is trying to teach me. It might be the greatest gift I’ll ever receive.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Had a great adventure a few days ago. My first ever ride in a private jet. It was a Challenger twin engine demon that zoomed from West Palm Beach to Baltimore in under 2 hours, and it began with me pretending I was some movie star or curmudgeon billionaire Iacting as if I did this every day. Eventually my true self took over and I spent most of the journey perched at the cockpit door talking with the pilots and surveying the world below from the vantage point of an eleven year old boy filled with wide eyed wonder. In a word it was awesome.

But now a few hours later back on the ground I wonder about what it really meant. I didn’t have to wait too long to understand what it meant to me. Even while I was flying high I was thanking God and realizing how again and again he’d worked miracles in my life.

I’ve been struck down by serious illness before and now I’m struck down again. I’ve wanted to die before, wanted the pain and suffering to be over and I’ve wanted them again this time. I’ve felt lonely, I’ve felt ashamed, I’ve been convinced that my life has been a waste and a complete failure before and I’ve been convinced of it again.

Each time God has flat out saved me; rescued me and brought me back from the dead, crowded my life with angels to care and tend to me and given me a private jet ride, taking me high above the clouds to look down at the beauty of the world and show me the possibilities of what it and me can become if I would only trust him enough to take up my cross and step out in faith and follow him.

If I would put my fears aside, or better yet act on my faith inspite of them; fears of being gay, of being black, of being a fatherless, immigrant child, fears of not belonging, of not sounding right enough, of not being bright enough, of not having enough money for me to live and care for my mother and myself.

Focus on the kingdom he says, work on loving my neighor as I love myself, and leave the rest to him.

Each time I’ve tried. Never as much or as well as I think I should, but I have. This time I’m going to take another stab at it, as much as it seems easier to give in or maybe to give up. I’m going to step out on faith and simply trust when my fears would dim my courage. It’s an adventure after all into the unknown, but more and more I see that despite the pain of the lesson, the result is one awesome jet ride into the brilliant beauty of the universe of God’s kingdom of love.

CONNECTED TO FAITH BY DOUBT

‘When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Matt 28:17

The older I’ve become, the more complex the response to the question of what is it that connects me to my faith. From the crucible of my recent past, however, the simplest answer is doubt.

The only absolute belief I hold today is in the supremely creative and redemptive power of love, and I will always be a disciple of Jesus, the messenger of love. Any act of love stirs in me my sense of connection to the divine; because for me by definition, all love emanates from the divine.

Because of my culturalization my faith was rooted originally in an acceptance of certainty about doctrine, from the existence of God to the details of the Bible. But the circumstances of my life did not square with this and I began a youthful search for absolute truth that evolved with ‘maturity’ to a quest for spiritual principles with which to live consistently.

Scholarship exposed the divergence between religion and spirituality.  I discovered that religion, however sincere, is the product of humanbeings. Every culture creates God in its own image, and expresses its understanding in their image rather than God’s image being expressed in them.

For someone who once believed there was an absolute truth this was a difficult passage to navigate. I lost faith in my religion. This was extremely troubling because I had to chart my own course through uncertainty, and I was distraught from my doubts.Among other things reading Mother Teresa’s own painful words of doubt helped me.

Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness … If there be God—please forgive me.” Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. New York: Doubleday

I realized doubt and weakness were consistent with our mortal existence, and turned to the certainty of my personal experience for places where I felt a tangible connection to the divine. Not surprisingly, those were in places where I shared in unconditional love. So, now embracing my doubts I try to orient all my life around unconditional love.

JE SUIS CHARLIE

Charlie Hebdo rallies across France

I stand with the people of France.

I stand with all people who advocate for justice. Justice, someone once said, is what love looks like in practice for all people, and I believe it is the only way to peace for us all.

The terror attacks this week in France are shocking; perhaps no more so than other acts of terror that have taken place in other cities, or the reprehensible violence which occurs in the many wars, in places such as Syria, Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan, or even the annual loss of 30,000 plus lives from gun violence on the streets of the United States, but nonetheless, they are shocking.

But what is different this time is the character of the response. The groundswell of the response across the spectrum of French society, and beyond to the broad swath of humanity has been remarkable for all the right reasons. It is not simply the universal condemnation, but more important, the strength of the demonstration that we as a people will not be afraid, and we will not be divided. There is a tidal wave of energy to include, to tolerate, and even to accept.

Charlie Hebdo rallies across France

The millions unified in the streets is a forceful affirmation that we overcome evil with good. The enlightened path of our cultural traditions all teach that evil is overcome not by resisting it, which usually excuses us doing more evil, but by doing justice, and bringing everyone into community.

There is no question that there are many different and even contrary agendas present. To some this is about freedom of speech, or freedom of the press, democracy, shared values, or our way of life. Some are simply political, or opportunistic. I do not think it matters.

These acts of violence were wrong, however provocative or offensive the cartoons may have been to some. This most basic human right must transcend all humanity. The taking of life may be excusable but it is never justifiable. And this time the people of France got that right.

Citizens carrying a banner which reads, "We're all French today" take part in a Hundreds of thousands of French citizens solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris

The world is more crowded and grows smaller every day. It is our destiny to become more multi-cultural. This is a good thing. Our evolutionary experience makes us afraid of change, keeps us tribal, and afraid of the other. But life is change. Our very bodies are changing at the cellular level.  Not to change is to die.

The problem of religious extremism is complex. Religious conflicts are rarely ever really about religion. Their root cause, as with most conflicts, is injustice. Injustice is the engine that drives these conflicts, religion is simply one of the high octane fuels used.

We keep responding with more security, and greater violence. These alone have only spawned more conflict, less security and less freedom. Standing in solidarity with the marchers in Paris will not solve this crisis, but it is an important, and often overlooked first step to finding a solution.

The values of tolerance, respect, peace, and love are the guiding principles that will heal our divisions, and this will occur when we demonstrate justice with an inclusive and collective voice. Je Suis Charlie is a good place to begin.

A CHANGING GOD

Between Heaven & Earth
Between Heaven & Earth

‘God never changes’ is one of the religious mantras I find troubling. So often it is a prelude to a rigid interpretation and understanding of God.

I’ve been in the south recently where I began a search for a church home. I encountered several congregations who called themselves bible based to indicate they only follow rules set out in the bible.

One church in Miami, even claimed to be a New Testament bible based church. One bizarre result is that no musical instrument is used in worship because there’s no account of any being used in the New Testament. In Ft Lauderdale another pastor, while proclaiming the love of God, provided a laundry list of people, from Roman Catholics to atheists who were not going to heaven.

I understand the need for security in an insecure and uncontrollable world where death is inevitable. I understand the need for and the good that religion has done and can do. I believe that God never changes but it’s my belief, and it includes what I believe God is and therefore what it is that doesn’t change.

Modern life is confronting a paradox unparalleled in human history. Our technology is drawing us closer together at the same time that it is pushing us farther apart.

We are all now connected in a global economy and on social networks that have no borders. However, instead of the electronic media of the past that was limited, reasonably similar, and provided thoughtful editing, today we link overwhelmingly only with those who are similar to us, and the opportunities to engage with the diversity of human experience are diminishing.

The existential quest of human experience is to see ourselves in the other person.

This is the basis of our humanity. The purpose of all religions is to guide us in bridging our instinctive self centeredness and experience this spiritual birthright. This is the essence of the golden rule and loving our neighbor as our self.

God is a concept too awesome to reduce to human proof. The ancients wouldn’t even speak the name. Our individual concepts based commonly on sacred but human sources are by definition less than the whole, limited to the sources or experiences we incorporate in them.

The most fundamental concept of God, which Christians learn from Jesus, is that our Creator is love. We are not the only culture, in human history to believe this. This is the source of that spiritual birthright, and it has been available to every human from the beginning of time.

However, our understanding of the nature of God’s love should change as we grow in understanding it more fully. Not to change is not to grow.

While I have faith in what I know, the depth of my faith is in my unknown.

It is in the humility of my doubt that my humanity is born. It allows me to see in my fellow human another of the ever changing faces of God’s love.