29 April 2014

Two Truths and a Shift

("We are Awakening"  Deva Premal and Miten)

If we allow ourselves to listen to the rhetoric that now fills the halls of our legislative bodies...national, state and local...and if we listen to and observe the actions of some public figures and geo-political leaders; and if we rely upon our conditioned mental and emotional patterns to dictate responses...if we take all this into a framework of perceived reality...then we can assuredly say that we are in some trouble.  We can say that we are broken.  We can become cynical, angry, anxious, fearful and reactive to the extent that we become the explosive charge to all the dysfunction we observe around us.  

I am writing this, because I do not think any of what I said above is either necessary, or even part of who and what we really are.  Three events over the past several days have jolted me.  A fourth consideration has provided the grit upon which these events have become pivot points for me.  They represent what I summarized in the paragraph above.

An NBA team owner is recorded speaking words that denigrate, demean and segregate an ethnic group in society.  A former political leader makes a speech in which she proclaims that, if she were a central leader, waterboard torture would be the baptism for terrorists. 

I spent a weekend with several first cousins and a couple of second cousins at a reunion to celebrate the 70th birthday of one of the 1st cousins who has been on a three-year journey with cancer.  We told stories...they included events of joy, saddness and the sharing of the dysfunction that has been part of the generational "DNA" of relationships.  It was hard to hear some of these stories, but the fact that, in our 60s and 70s (age), we can share these painful realities, we find a place of healing and a shift into new places of caring and compassion.  "I love you" were the most heard words, as we parted to return to our daily lives.

The consideration cited aboveis a possible return to part-time parochial work as a "Priest-in-Charge" of a small, struggling congregation...located nearly 50 miles from where we live.  It would require about 20 hrs/week, which would include Sundays and would probably last for about a year.  For the past two weeks, I have seriously struggled with the implications of this on several levels...time, focus, finances, professional resources and the flexibility I have come to appreciate in nearly three years of retirement from active parochial work.  As I write this, I still have no solid idea about how this will "play out."

Truth #1:  Every Human Being on the Planet Shares the Same First Chromosomal Marker

This truth, alone, is disturbing enough for a lot of folks to simply deny its plausibility.  It's like anything that cuts against the grain of our conditioning (e.g., we didn't go to the moon; it was staged in the New Mexico or Arizona desert).  

The work of geneticists Francis Collins and Spencer Wells...with a host of genetics support through major world organizations...has proven beyond doubt that all human beings on the planets come from the same Homo sapiens roots.  This is not the place to dive into the research and the total science.  The mapping of the human genome that was completed in the 1990s and the ongoing work of Spencer Wells in the Genographic Project are published materials.  Essentially, the male Y chromosome in all male humans has the same first "error" in generational transmission of that genetic material.  The female mitochondrial DNA has the same first "error" in generational transmission of that genetic material.  The migration patterns of homo sapiens from its origins in east central Africa over the past 65,000 years shows how and why we have the remarkable diversity in features, skin tone, etc.  

Like it or not, this is a true and serious scientific reality.

Truth #2:  Every Human Being on the Planet has an Imago Core

This is disturbing enough to call forth all kinds of crises in what we call "faith" or "belief."  The essence of being is a Self that is both timeless and vital.  It doesn't take much to know this, but, again, we are conditioned to function as if who we are is wrapped in a package that gets identified by various names:  "personality," "ego structure," "self," "mind," etc.  That package is important in taking universal elements and putting them to work in specific ways.  This process is called "individuation," and it is like a marker that locates us in time and space.  

It is the point at which the individuated package becomes an individual...separate and seemingly independent from other...that we begin to categorize other humans as being different.  That is the moment where skin tone, ethnic origin, and cultural behaviors become the defining terms for what makes a human.  We go with the individual package, lump folks in categories and set the dualities that become lived out as racism, cultural profiling and all manners of discrimination.  

If we all share the same anthropological parents, we are related by DNA.  That's the scientific fact.  If we are, as humans, uniquely imprinted by the Divine Imago (character and nature), we are related in Spirit.  That is the fact of spirituality and human essence.  

Terrorism is fear-based.  Unfortunately, most religions are also fear-based.  I have lost count of the sermons I have heard, conversations I have had and material I have read that base belief and faith on fear, guilt and shame.  I have struggled to emerge from that place.  The Divine Imago is loving, compassionate, caring and forgiving.  For a Christian to suggest that the sacrament for bringing people into the Love of Christ Jesus be a waterboard torture for people whose actions are, themselves, fear-based is both the depth of ignorance and the pinnacle of hubris.  To isolate a particular ethnic group as being less than equal in human stature is also the depth of ignorance and the pinnacle of hubris. 

We have each, in our own way, distorted the fundamental premises of faith traditions to create a barrier against differences and a weapon of punishment....or worse, destruction.  

I was shocked to learn something in visiting with my cousins this past weekend.  In all of my reading and research, I had not found that my paternal family had ever owned slaves...even though they had been in the deep south since the American Revolution.  One of our cousins has been doing some very deep searching through family of origin records.  There is "paper proof" that the Mann family did have slaves on the farm plantations of Georgia prior to the Civil War.  When that was told, one could have heard a pin drop in that room of 20+ people.  I have been walking with the reality of that and the fact that this was probably true for ancestors I will never know...thousands of years ago.  The blessing is that all of us in that room expressed heart-felt gratitude that we have moved beyond that dysfunction, can embrace the story and draw from the deeper reality of commonality.  

Shift:  It is, in Fact, Happening

Humanity is awakening to the true sense of Self and global connectedness.  It is happening across the boundaries of religious systems.  It is not organized...as in being a new "religion."  It defies the parameters of organizational community.  It simply is.  It has been happening for a few years now and goes largely unnoticed.  

When an antibiotic is first introduced into a system riddled with infection, the inflammation will actually  initially increase.  The invasive organism fights to retain its "foothold" in the system.  The antibiotic does not, itself, kill the infection.  It simply strengthens the immune response that is already in place.  The body begins to heal and regain its homeostasis.

Humanity is well out of homeostasis.  We have been for a long time.  A shift is happening, and it does seem as though things are getting worse.  In this country, we seem to be in a retrograde regarding human rights, civil liberties, care for those who are in great need.  Legislative bodies are enacting laws that, once again, discriminate.  The first words in any new, potentially hostile, global action is to "send in the troops."  The value of human life and integrity of relationship seems to be at something of an all-time low.  The Spirit weeps.

Yet, there is a shift.  It is this shift that is like an antibiotic.  It cannot be reversed.  It is Divine in nature and essence.  Perhaps not in my lifetime, but we are moving toward a new wholeness. 

In the words taught to me by my Lakota friends and mentors:  Mitakuye Oyasin....All our Relations (We are All Related).  We almost crushed that which would give us the greatest truth.

Those are all my words for now.

Love and Blessings,


09 April 2014


I begin this reflection by expressing deep thanksgiving for The Rev. Dr. Joseph Frederick Ignatius Hunt, who was the Professor of Old Testament Studies at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.  I was one of his students and had the privilege of both being a student and a friend until his death in 1993. "Papa Joe" spent a number of years as a Roman Catholic Benedictine Monk and Scholar.  His research and writing are respected across a number of traditions.  He could speak read and write 14 languages...many of them considered "esoteric" ancient languages from which Hebrew is derived.  He left the Benedictine Order and the Roman Catholic Church to become a Priest in the Episcopal Church.  He spent 18 years at Nashotah House and was the editor for "Old Testament Abstracts" during that period.

I am also grateful for the scholarship and friendship of The Rev. Dr. Hugh R. Page, Associate Professor of Hebrew Scriptures and Dean of First Year Studies at The University of Notre Dame.  I came to know Hugh, who is also an Episcopal Priest, when I was Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. James in South Bend, and he arrived to be on faculty as an Assistant Professor of Old Testament in the Notre Dame Department of Theology.  He became an adjunct to the staff at the cathedral during my tenure as dean.

I am very grateful, indeed, to Dr. Kern R. Trembath, who was the Assistant Chair of the Department of Theology at Notre Dame during most of my time as cathedral dean.  Kern is a systematic theologian and a specialist in New Testament theology.  More like a brother than simply a friend, Kern continues to provide wisdom, insight and loving critique in my writing endeavors...especially as it relates to theological discourse.  He was also a key leader and advisor during most of my years at the cathedral in South Bend.  He also roasts some exceedingly fine coffee (he IS HelioRoast Coffee).

Finally, the scholarship and writings of Gerhard von Rad, Bernhard Anderson, John L. McKenzie and Bruce Vawter have provided the foundation for my own studies in Hebrew Scriptures.  They are 20th Century lights of not only biblical theology, but biblical archeology and exegetical methodology.  Their works are among those I hold sacred enough not to release from my personal library in retirement.

Noah:  More than Just a Movie
I think it was necessary to preface my thoughts on the movie "Noah" by way of thanking persons who have been...and continue to be...part of my vocational development.  Normally, one does not write out of a vacuum but out of community.  We don't simply "have an opinion."  What we think and how we frame our words...both written and spoken...reflect our Sitz im leben (seat in life; the place or places where we have resided physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually...a comprehensive term).  

One of the great learnings I have received in my own vocational journey is to "never take things at face value."  Papa Joe Hunt had a wonderful rejoinder to our attempts, as students, to impress him (and our classmates) with the scholarship we had trucked in from earlier learning:  "Well, you can believe that if you want to."  Most of us started out wanting to hold tight to "Sunday school" or other sources of the knowledge level of faith.  In the seminary environment of the mid 1970s at Nashotah House, our native theological constructs were completely, but lovingly, dismantled.  We were then taught the tools for exploring the vast expanse of theological discipline.  We were blessed with incredible teachers and guides.

So, on Saturday morning, 5 April 2014, I had determined to finish reading two books in American Indian mystical studies.  I am serious about getting a book written and, fresh from several days  of research at Haskell Indian Nations University, I hunkered down to read and take notes.

Facebook is a wonderful tool for staying in touch with friends and family.  It is a good way to catch new insights and find out a little more about what is going on in other parts of the world.  On this Saturday morning, during a break, I checked my Facebook wall to find not one, but two, colleagues talking about having seen the movie, Noah, the day before.  Both of them suggested I see the movie myself, and one of them asked for my input after seeing it.  My day changed radically.

I went to a 1:30pm showing of the movie and never got back to reading my books.  In fact, for the past two days I have reflected deeply...remembering conversations with professors, colleagues and biblical scholars over the years...and re-reading material from the authors/scholars I cited above.  I had to "scrape up" some Hebrew language skills (which were never more than rudimentary for me...even as a student).  All this for a movie?!  

Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and Ray Winstone are, for me, the best known actors in this movie.  They are dynamic in the portrayals of their characters.  I found their interactions riveting and believable.  I found that I wasn't watching them.  I was seeing their characters.  That is fundamental to good acting.

Behind and Alongside Genesis 6-7
Before I departed for the theater, I did read Genesis Chapters 6 and 7.  Actually, I read a little more than that.  I had no idea what I would see on the screen, and my FB colleagues had not given much away in their descriptions.  Let me say this up front:  If one is a literalist, in the sense of biblical literature being exactly as as it is written, this movie will be disturbing.  If one is a bit practiced and comfortable with exegetical process (i.e. the means by which one gets "underneath" the biblical story) or looks for the "bigger picture," this movie will be interesting and challenging.  If one simply goes for entertainment, action and intrigue, this movie will provide all those.

It is helpful to know that Judaism, in its spiritual journey, is like a well-wrapped cable...with several strong strands that are intertwined to provide its strength.  What is immediately evident to anyone who owns a standard Bible is the Old Testament.  For Judaism, those are the 39 books that appear before we get to the gospels of the Christian era (in the Hebrew scriptures, there are only 24 "books").  These writings are known in Hebrew as the Tanakh.  The Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) comprise an originally oral tradition.  There is Oral Law and the Oral Tradition, the former, called the Talmud, also has a codified set of writings known as the Mishna.  Oral Tradition began becoming written in the time of the Davidic Dynasty (beginning around the 10th Century BCE).  There are four distinct strands of written tradition:  Yahwist (called "J"), Elohist (called "E"), Priestly (called "P"), and Deuteronomist (called "D").  These strands are interwoven...especially in committing the Pentateuch material to writing.  It was not until the destruction of the Temple in 70CE that a final, comprehensive writing of what we call the Old Testament was decided.

If that isn't enough, there are source materials that are part of the "cable" of Judaic tradition.  Two of those bear mentioning:  1) the Kabbalah, which is a deeper, mystical exploration of stories and traditions.  Any serious student of the Torah must also be taught by one who knows and has mastered the Kabbalah.  Please do not confuse this with the modern and somewhat popular non-Hebrew students of Kabbalah.  It is not the same.  2) the Merkabah, which is a mystical tradition that is more apocalyptic in nature.  Threads of this appear in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel.  Iconic imagery of thrones, chambers, chariots and ladders are key to the journey into the nearer Presence of the Holy of Holies (never to be named, only experienced).

Nothing above is complete.  There isn't enough time or space.  Simply know that the story of Noah with which we grew up in Western tradition is not totally complete in the 2 chapters of Genesis...nor is it simply a single story...but a complex of experiences.  For instance, Genesis 6:4 speaks of the Nephilim...also known as "the fallen ones," "the giant ones," or "the sons of God."  Depending on which of the strands of Hebrew history and tradition, noted above, you are following, a slightly altered picture is received.

The Movie:  See It?
The writers, director and producers of this movie are folks who have obviously explored the creation stories of the Torah as well as the traditions of Kabbalah and Merkabah in making the plot line take its shape.  There is also a fair use of what is known as Midrash in Judaic tradition.  Midrash is the generational interpretation of History and Law, as they are applied to concerns of that generation.  We might call them "sermons" or, more technically, the "hermeneutic" tools for life application (hermeneutics is the art/science of careful interpretation and is part of the exegetical process in biblical theology).

Therefore, what you see in this movie is a riveting action/drama that brings the best of Judaism's tradition together to form a more comprehensive story.  Movie-making license is certainly taken.  Rendering the Nephilim as rock creatures with six arms (from the angelic six-winged seriphim) is a nod, I think, to the imagery provided by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Ents (Lord of the Rings), Huoms that transformed into tree-like creatures over time.  Tradition does not describe the Nephilim physically...beyond being giants.

The movie has a clear message about how history can, and may, repeat itself.  This is the midrashic (interpretive) element.  Kabbalistic stories speak of a stowaway on the ark, and Noah's son, Ham, has been seen as being swayed by that stowaway to seek to remake the world in human's own image...rather than God's.  The movie plays heavily on that.

You certainly don't need to know all that I have shared to enjoy this movie.  It is moving, intense and has a whole lot of metaphor and imagery.  It is the most challenging (in a good way) 139 minutes I have spent in quite a while.  My knowledge of what I have presented to support the movie's foundation is not deep enough to provide much more interpretive detail.  Papa Joe Hunt sparked a lot of interest within me to know more than just the story given in one frame.

Go see the movie...let it speak to you in whatever way it does.  You will have an opinion (a midrash) of your own, when you emerge from the theater.

Love and blessings,


05 April 2014

Heart Resonance

(Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Bill Champlin:  "River of Dreams."  Google the Lyrics...they are important...originally written by Billy Joel)

Each year...sometime during the season of Lent...every diocese in the Episcopal Church has a day when the clergy of that diocese gather with the Bishop to renew vows made at our ordination, to bless the oils (chrism) that are used in the sacramental initiatory and healing rites of the Church, and to enjoy collegial community.  It may be identified by various names, but it is generally known as The Chrism Mass, because it is centered on the Eucharistic liturgy at which the Bishop presides.  Thursday, 6 March, was that day for us in the Diocese of Southwest Florida.  It is a good beginning to the Lenten journey.

Our special guest for this day was Bishop Michael Curry, who is the Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina.  Bishop Curry is known for his gifts of preaching, teaching and his great sense of humor.  I have had the privilege of working with him on several occasions during my active career as a parish priest; so it was especially good to have this experience as a retired priest.
John, Apostle,
Late in Life

1.  Go Deep
I have an intense love for and devotion to the Gospel of John.  The Fourth Gospel (as it is known), stands out from Matthew, Mark and Luke in that John had no intention of writing another historical account.  It is the last of the four gospels to be written and was probably completed during John's exile on the isle of Patmos.  Modern scholars tend to dismiss John's gospel as being "irrelevent" insomuch as it does not parallel the historical content of the other three gospel accounts.  I could not disagree more.

The term "mystical" tends to scare modern Christians, because the Christian mystical tradition can't be contained and made literal. It was largely ignored after the dawning of the "age of reason."  John was a witness to the Transfiguration of Jesus (seeing the inner reality revealed externally).  While the others fled, John dared to remain near Jesus during this trial and crucifixion.  From the cross, Jesus said to John, "Behold your mother..."  From that time John personally cared for the well-being of Mary.  John experienced the real Jesus in a way that historical accounts cannot totally embrace.  From the earliest life of the Church, John has been regarded as the "Mystical Gospel."

The early Church had its problems with those who would want to get a "market corner" on the experiences of healing Grace, transformation and empowerment shared by the Apostolic community.  There were two specific groups:  The Gnostics and the Ebionites.   The Gnostics claimed that Jesus was a spirit who took bodily form and could only be truly experienced with a special kind of knowledge (gnosis).  There was a distinct separation from the eternity of God and the physical world.  Of course, their cultic practice was the way to gain such knowledge and access to things spiritual.  The Ebionites were Jews who claimed Jesus as the Messiah promised by the prophets.  However, in order to be a true follower, one had to maintain the strict discipline of Judaic Law and ritual.  The Apostolic community took on the Ebionites (see the first council of Jerusalem in Acts of the Apostles).  John's Gospel directly confronts the Gnostics.

Post-Reformation Christianity is, in uncomfortably large measure, practiced in gnosticism.  It is cyclical in nature.  Reform in the Middle Ages began as a confrontation with the established Church's capacity to "market" Grace (via the sales of indulgences...as one example).  The post-Reformation Church, as it has further splintered into almost uncountable groups...each claiming to hold the truth...has created marketing schemes unrivaled in history.  It is a morphed kind of gnosticism that continues to get more sophisticated.

John's Gospel is an invitation to "go deep."  Underneath the historical Jesus is the work of God's initiative.  Read the opening chapter of the Fourth Gospel.  "In the beginning was the Word....and the Word became flesh and dwelled among us,and we have seen his glory...full of grace and truth." Grace is the term used to speak of the living Love of God that John saw on the mount of Transfiguration.  Love is the essence of God made manifest in all creation...but at the very core of what it means to be human.  It is not a love that can be manufactured, bought, sold or manipulated.  It is purely the activity and presence of the Holy...the First Cause...the Breath over the waters of creation.  John systematically dismantles gnosticism in the first 18 verses of his first chapter.

Going deep within is to experience our very nature and to strike a chord that resonates with the Truth that is at the heart of all creation.

2.  Bishop Curry's Story
The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese
of North Carolina

One of the stories that Bishop Curry shared at our gathering really struck a chord with me (the play on words will soon be evident).

While on sabbatical a few years ago, he wanted to do something totally unrelated to being a bishop and theologian.  He had always wanted to play the violin, so he began taking lessons.  He had to learn to read music and then work to master the instrument.  He continues with weekly violin lessons with his 90 year old teacher.

At one lesson, Bp. Curry was asked by his teacher to make a G note on the E string.  It seems that the finger positions for making this is difficult.  As he drew the bow across the string, he heard a harmonic sound.  It startled him.  His teacher was delighted....because he had struck a perfect G on the E string.  In so doing, it resonated with the actual G string on the violin, which caused that string to vibrate in tune.  Bp. Curry realized he had truly begun to experience making music.

3.  Heart Resonance

Music is but one manifestation of the physics of sound.  All matter vibrates with its own energy.  Those vibrations can be measured and noted in units of both sound and light.  Every elemental substance has its own spectral color and corresponding frequency of vibration.  Most of that is not available to us for a variety of reasons...most having to do with the range of human sight and hearing.  However, we have long had instruments that amplify  those frequencies...or isolate them for audio/visual study.

The Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian has an exhibit that reflects the sound of the earth's movement on rotation and in space...the vibrational energy of our planet.  It vibrates at 136.1 Hz.

That is interesting (to me) in itself.  However, it is more fascinating to realize that the human heart vibration (read: energy output) is also 136.1 Hz.   Also, the chant sound for the ancient Tetragramaton (the theonym for God in Hebrew:  YHWH) is also 136.1 Hz.  The Buddhist and Hindu chant sound for the unspeakable Holy One is also 136.1 Hz.  I do not think any of this is either accidental or "happenstance."

For all cultures, the human heart has always been the locus of emotional and experiential encounter.  Post-enlightenment western cultures have worked very hard to shift that locus to the mind...the active, rational seat for assimilating physical data.  Mental/neural processes tend to separate sensory input and classify data in a variety of ways.  This does create a dualistic orientation.  The mind is also the place of judgment in that orientation.  It locates "us" as (most often) opposed to "them."  Individuation, which is a natural process of internal identity, becomes Individuality, as the mind collects data and creates larger or more rigid boundaries.  It is part of what mystics have long called the "human problem."  It is that first-order act of willfulness that we have called "original sin."  Individuality is one of the reasons the Gospel of John is so hard to, literally, "wrap our heads around."  The Gospel of John is set to the "frequency" of the heart...as is all mystical encounter.

On the mystical path of John (and Ezekiel in the Old Testament), original sin is a movement from the heart to the mind.  Resonance with the Divine is such that when we are in the heart-space of our being, the chord we strike resonates with God and creation.  Our mind is not on that frequency...nor, it seems, was it created to be.  The more we are in the ego-state, the more dissonance (harmonic separation) we experience.  We create images that seem to resonate with the rest of our life journey and ultimately call that divine experience.  This creates conflict. [example of resonance: 18th century John Wesley spoke of an experience of prayer and worship, after which he exclaimed, "my heart was strangely stirred."  Resonance!].

When we move into the heart-space of life, we lose the foci on judgment and difference.  We see ourselves as both unique but an essential part of a whole.  We are "all relations."  Life becomes a tapestry, and every other aspect of life is an essential thread.

There is, ultimately, one word for this resonance...this frequency.  Agape.  This love is the energy of creation and, thus, Creator.  Agape is the frequency and is a gift.  We can't will it....we simply have to go into it...for it is the essence of our createdness...our heart.  Seek first the Kingdom...Resonance.

Love and Blessings,