Why Do So Many People Want God to Be So Small?

After Thanksgrieving (see post on November 25, if this does not make sense to you), I am aware we are heading further into “Holiday Time.”

And I mean deliberately to use “the H Word,” because this is not the time of Christmas only–not a time for Christians only. Happy Holidays!!!

There, I said it. Now strike me dead, Jesus.

Except that of course he will do no such thing.

Starbucks_Holiday_Cups-lowres
The dreaded Starbucks holiday cups  news.starbucks.com

The defensiveness, the insecurity of so many Christians–and not only about holiday cups at Starbucks and well-meaning greetings at Walmart and many other retail outlets–belies the confidence and centeredness of the one we profess to follow. I believe it is this same sort of defensiveness and insecurity that causes so many U.S. citizens/residents to fly the national flag everywhere they can.

America love it or leave it
ancientrails.com

Why is that so many US folks feel such an acute need to repeat how great our nation is? Is it because they do not, deep down, really believe the claim?Do they secretly harbor the fear that we are not perfect (which many of the rest of already know and admit)?

It reminds me of the cynicism among gay men and lesbians when people have a need to broadcast how “straight” they are, and how ugly and awful same-gender-loving people are. Not all homophobes are deep closet cases, but there are enough of them (clergy and legislators and “ex-gays” caught having same-sex sex, e.g.) to keep the cynicism alive.

Certainly, psychologists and others knowledgeable about human behavior, have shown us how we often engage in outward defense against that which we fear, or even know, lurks inside us.

love of God and peace passes all understanding
crosscardscom.tumblr.com

I am not perfect follower of Jesus, my meditation and prayer life is uneven at best, I fail to love others as we are loved by God, etc., but I do rest in the confidence, the blessed assurance, that God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, or any of the other ways people know and address the Divine, that no matter what I am loved. . . . and so is everyone else.

Which of course brings us to ISIL, and many other religious fundamentalists in the United States and around the globe, who persist in believing, and acting, on the belief that their way is the only way, that their understanding of God is God.

This makes God very small indeed.

golden calf worship
wikipedia.com

I suspect God must be used to this by now–the entire sweep of recorded human history is full of people making God in their own image–so I can only imagine the level of rejoicing among the angels when someone, any one, gives that up fantasy and chooses to accept the Big God, the God without limits, the God who encompasses all religions and belief systems, the God who can be, and is, found by many paths.

That is why I am quite comfortable saying “Happy Holidays!” and even wishing others a Happy Hannukah or Kwanzaa and other days, too. If I only proclaim my holiday, I am leaving out part of God. I don’t want to do that.

I love all of God as I know God loves all of me, and all of us and all parts of us. Thank you, God!

And Happy Holidays to You, too!

 

 

 

 

Gratitude or Grief? It’s Both

thanksgiving-day-spread-700x340
hdlatestimages.com

Most of us are soon to celebrate the national holiday called Thanksgiving. It is probably as close to an official religious moment as we have–just about everyone gets into the act, generally by overeating. It is a feasting day when people gather for a sacred meal (even if they do not have religious or spiritual feelings). It is a day of gratitude for what we, as a nation, have received.

But is it celebrated by all? No.

Homeless people may be left out, despite the efforts of many good people to make sure there are public feedings. And like other days when the majority of people gather with family and friends, there are people whose solitary lives are made more painful by their being alone on Thanksgiving Day.

Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajaje
Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajaje

There is one other group that may not be celebrating, or if they do, may see the holiday differently. They may even name it Thanksgrieving (my old friend and mentor, Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé of the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley CA, introduced this term to me many years ago).

Painting of the first Puritan Thanksgiving by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914) wikipedia.org
Painting by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914)
wikipedia.org

In our national mythic lore, the Pilgrims at Plymouth celebrated the first Thanksgiving. And they invited the local natives to join them. Of course, without the aid of the natives there would have been no thanksgiving meal. So it was right to invite them.

But I also know this: over time, native peoples, those who lived in and on this land before any Europeans arrived, became victims rather than invited guests–in their own land. In colonial days, it was often local skirmishes and animosity between a community of European settlers and the local tribe that led to attacks and killing on both sides. And even when there was no physical violence, the settlers often violated the natives by seeking to impose their culture and religion on those they viewed as “heathen” or “savages.”

Native peoples forced to leave the Southeast for Oklahoma historymyths.wordpress.com
Native peoples forced to leave the Southeast for Oklahoma historymyths.wordpress.com

But as the United States–the nation created by and for immigrants from other places–grew and prospered, large campaigns of relocation and terror began. Native people were killed, slaughtered, in large numbers, through blood shed in battles, and through starvation and disease. Some of the latter loss was not intentional, created by the strains of disease brought to this land that the natives were unable to resist. But there were also deliberate poisonings, too.

Native American and Army battles in the West through Wounded Knee in 1890 education.nationalgeographic.com
Native American and Army battles in the West through Wounded Knee in 1890
education.nationalgeographic.com

Scholars have struggled for decades to figure out how many millions of native peoples were lost. Many use the term genocide, or holocaust, to describe what happened. Estimates of the original native population vary widely, as do estimates of those who died. In 2014, the US Census Bureau said the population of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including those of more than one race was 5.4 million, about 2 percent of the total population. Estimates of the original population range from 10 million to 50 million. Clearly, whatever number you accept, the population has been decimated.

Even so, as the national history is commonly told, and observed and celebrated, this day is a happy one.

But it brings terrorizing memories to native victims. This is the most painful part of the holiday for me. As we gather around the festive table, laden with all sorts of good food, I can hear screams of dying Cherokee, Ojibway, Nez Pearce, Cheyenne, Sioux, Powhatan, Monacan, Algonquin, Ottawa, Kiowa women, children, and men. . . . and hundreds of other tribal nations.

wikipedia.com
wikipedia.com

And as a vegetarian, I also hear the screams of turkeys (so many call it “Turkey Day”), and pigs, and cattle, all slaughtered so we can celebrate what we have been given. We also are thus again, as in the case of the native peoples, celebrating what we have taken, namely the lives of others.

Thanks. Grieving. Indeed.

Let us face the horror of what has been done, let us feel the pain in our hearts and souls, and then let us ask forgiveness . . . before and as we give thanks.

Taking Responsibility for Our Part

Fay Wells, an African American woman who is vice president of strategy at a California company, encountered overwhelming police power at her home in Santa Monica. A neighbor had called police to report what he thought was a break-in at her apartment.

Fay Wells
Fay Wells  ndtv.com

Earlier, she had locked herself out of the apartment on her way to a soccer game. When she returned, she had called a locksmith to let her in and fix the lock, and then had gone inside. It was at that point that seventeen (or nineteen, depending on whose count you accept) officers showed up, and she was ordered out of her home–told to come out with her hands up and walk slowly down the outside stairs, facing a drawn gun and a police dog (and all the other officers).

By her account, she was poorly treated, not by overt physical violence, but by the officers’ refusal to identify themselves or to tell her what had caused their presence. It was a frightening time for her.

Santa_Monica_Police_patch
commons.wikimedia.com

Wells wrote about the incident in The Washington Post (connect here to read it in full). The police actions, and her feelings about that, are the primary focus of her story.

However, the continuing drama in many communities about the response of police personnel toward African Americans revealed yet again in her story–the violence perpetrated in the name of law enforcement through unwarranted traffic stops, arrests, treatment during incarceration as well as the killing of persons during what should be not lethal encounters–reflects the deep-seated white supremacy still at work in the culture, the DNA, of our nation. It is not just about the police.

Of course, law enforcement agencies need to change. Retraining in the ways of cultural sensitivity is essential. Probably some cops need to be let go. Some municipal authorities–mayors and city councils, police chiefs–are doing the hard work. Others need to step up. Every agency needs a thorough inventory of itself, with outside help, to figure out what it needs to change–and then the willingness to go through transformation.

Is his life worth more less than mine
pinterest.com

 

However, important as that work is, it is only treating part of the problem. Underneath police department attitudes and practices rests the much deeper foundation of white supremacy and privilege which marks our entire national culture. Alongside that rests our national love affair with guns. The truth is that all of us–certainly all of us who are not people of color–are responsible for the police departments that serve us (yes, they serve us, more than they serve others who don’t look like us, even if unintentionally).

The story does not really begin with the large police presence outside her apartment. It begins with the call from the neighbor. What about him? Would he have called them if Wells had been white? Chances are the answer is “no.”

responsibility
larrywinget.com

In her story, she says she spoke to him, and he seemed pretty defensive. Eventually, he identified himself as an attorney. Wells tried to question him, but after a little back and forth, he said,  . . . . “you can go f— yourself,” and walked away.

That sort of says it all . . . . so many people don’t want to take responsibility for their own attitudes as well as their own behavior.

Until more and more of us do, this will not change–even when, or if, the police do.

 

 

A New Blog Needs a Sexy, Spiritual Name

I am planning a new blog, not to replace this one, but in addition. Unlike this blog, with its many varying topics depending on what moves me to write, this blog will have a very specific focus: sex and spirit.

Platonic dualism
moredisciple.com

I have long believed that a major disservice of most of Christian belief and practice is how we long ago bought into Platonic dualism, separating spirit and body into two independent realms, and how that dualism haunts us today. This has resulted in a sex-negativity that denies the beauty of a primary way we are wired–I believe the word is created–to be drawn toward each other. There is an eros to life that touches us all.

I don’t mean that we are supposed to “have sex” with everyone, far from it. But I do believe that the energy between and among us has an eroticism at its core that we deny at our peril. Indeed, the world is paying dearly for this denial, and has been for a long time. Think ISIS if you want to see this denial operating at its most efficient.

My own personal journey is not the focus of the blog, but it will inform it, as will the wisdom of many people, women and men, who are engaged in reuniting body and spirit, spirit and sex. I will tell personal stories at times, and relay the stories of others. I also will invite guest writers to share their experience and knowledge for the benefit of all.

imageThis is not a site for titillation, although there will be topics and images that may cause your temperature to rise (I hope not in anger). At least I hope they do. Don’t be ashamed if the picture of a naked person or persons or the discussion of some activity causes you to feel passion. Passion that draws us together, that connects us with our inner beauty and desires for love, is good. Very good.  Part of this adventure is about being open and honest about a very central part of living, our physical/sexual/emotional desires. They can teach us much if we do not bury them in shame and fear.

And it is a site for serious spiritual reflection. I am a theologian by training, and I intend this to be a theological resource, to dig deeply into our embodied, even sexual, relationship with the divine (God for me, maybe something or somebody else for you).

creation Sistine ChapelIn 1985, I entitled my Master’s Thesis at the Episcopal Divinity School, “Sexuality as Revelation: Becoming Lovers Like God.” I continue to seek how to love with the fullness of God, and to help others to do the same. This involves my heart of course, and my mind, but it really involves all of me, and that includes my genitals and my skin and all the other erotic organs of my body. God and I have shared them, and continue to do so. Indeed, I am grateful for the times God and I have made love, and I look forward to more.

Coming Out 1
www.algbtical.org

Yes, this is another coming out for me. LGBTQ folks learn that coming out never stops, and sometimes we discover we are led to claim new identities, new experiences by sharing them with others.

One thing that has troubled me is the name of this online adventure. I have thought of some names, and several friends have suggested others. I would be interested in knowing what my readers think. What would most draw you in, if you were interested in the topic, or even just stumbled across the blog? Feel free to vote for one of the poll options, and/or suggest your own, and offer any other comments you wish.

Have at it. Let me hear from you. And thanks in advance for your interest and support.

[polldaddy poll=9190428]

 

 

One Nation Under God–Whatever You Think about, or of, God

Spiritual journeys are often arduous affairs. Many people who have shared about their own admit that they went places they did not expect to be, saw things they did not expect or maybe even want to see, and changed more,and in ways other, than they thought possible or even desirable (at least initially).

Mother TeresaMother Teresa, for example, wrote (in private diaries only published after her death) that much of her journey of caring for the poor, exhibiting what the world saw as enormous faith, was marked by a lack of faith in the presence of God. Nonetheless, she kept going until the end.

It is this kind of patience, perseverance, that so many lack. Our Western culture lives on the fast track, wanting only sound bites for answers, quick fixes that may make the fixer feel good but do not really change anything.

I am struck by how this desire for the quick fix is infecting the political arena in the United States today. It reminds me of an earlier time in our national life, a tumultuous time before the Civil War. Slavery was unsettling the nation to be sure, but there were other stresses, too.

Citizen Know Nothing
“Citizen Know Nothing” by Sarony & Co., lithographer – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

One was immigration. Wave upon wave of immigrant from Europe–many Irish and German Catholics arriving in the late 1840’s and 50s–scared those already here. They feared the country would be taken over by the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.

A political movement arose, under various names, but ultimately came to be known popularly as the Know Nothing Party  (because members, seeking to keep their membership and work a secret, were encouraged to say, “I know nothing,” when asked if they belonged). It officially became the American Party, and other combinations of terms, designed to highlight their belief that only nativists (but not Native Americans, of course), not these Catholic immigrants, were the true Americans.

It would be easy to say the Republican candidates, and many of their supporters, today are like the Know Nothings. But in fact the Know Nothings supported many progressive measures. They often supported regulation of railroads and other institutions and free public education, and many opposed slavery and spoke against concentrations of wealth.

immigration wall at Plymouth Rock
www.freedomsphoenix.com

What does connect these Know Nothings with contemporary Republicans is fear, fear that someone from the outside is destroying the nation. Today, it is immigrants from Mexico (“build a wall” so no more come in, and send all the ones here back), and now, thanks to twenty or so state governors, it is immigrants fleeing the chaos and terror of Syria (because among their number are sure to be some ISIS-inspired terrorists seeking to come here to destroy us).

And there is another fear, namely that elites–the so-called mainstream media today is the favorite–are selling out all the good, ordinary Americans. Certainly, the anti-politician rhetoric of Messrs. Carson and Trump, and their supporters, reflect this belief. Another target of many, though not all, are the banks and other concentrations of wealth.

All of this feels very scary to many of us. Simplistic solutions to complicated problems rarely help, certainly scapegoating groups does no good, and insisting that one ideology or religion has all the answers has never worked, and will only promote totalitarianism.

ilearnamerica.com
ilearnamerica.com

Is it possible to say a nation is on a spiritual journey? I hope so. We are in the midst of great turmoil. We are being shown things about ourselves that many would rather not see (e.g., the continuing violence against African-Americans). Indeed, many refuse to even look. Instead, they apply angry rhetoric and harsh policies to avoid having to deal with complicated realities.

I continue to pray, and hope, however, that all this is leading us to a deeper place, a place where we can finally face the fact that our nation, though wonderful and beautiful in many ways and surely the land that I love, is not the paragon of virtue and freedom we claim to be–indeed that we never have been–and that we need to find ways to lower the decibels, listen more to disparate voices on the margins and work with other nations in constructive ways (even recognizing their own national needs as legitimate, not just ours).

What helps me pray, helps me to share this hope? I remember Mother Teresa who stayed the course. She wrote in her journal in 1961, as revealed in the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light

“Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.”

donmilam.com
donmilam.com

According to those who have studied her life in depth, she died with this struggle still very alive in her. Her spiritual adviser of many years, Rev. Joseph Neuner, helped her realize that her feelings of abandonment only increased her understanding of the people she helped. And she identified her suffering, and their suffering, with that of Jesus.

Our answer as a nation is not to lash out at others unlike us, to find easy fixes in blaming others, but to go more deeply in our own souls, as individuals and as a nation, and persevere in creating more justice and more opportunity and more openness everywhere in the world.

The answer to our troubles, our need, lies not so much in politics (necessary as good politics is), as it does in spiritual depth–I don’t mean religion, even though I am a deeply religious person, because we are a secular society–but I do mean in going on a spiritual journey together.

We must find a way to knit our hearts together without blame and recrimination, without scapegoating or false divisions.

One nation under God (whatever you think of, or about, God).

More of the Same Is Not Enough

How will we ever stop the insanity?

As Paris, and Beirut, and other places too, reel from the attacks, we are facing a world, once again, where no one feels safe.

Paris man mourning ibtimes
ibtimes.com

What that means in the West is that once again, as after 9/11, we experience the world as the other two-thirds do already. And what that means also is that the veneer of safety we purchase through arms and wealth and “civilized behavior” is really just that, a veneer, masking the brutal, and beautiful, fact that we are all connected.

Most of us, thank God, do not have access to armaments with which to destroy ISIL or any other of the terrorists who seem to delight in simply blowing up things and people, mostly people. And I pray we never do. More violence by individuals acting on righteousness is not the answer.

But what we do have are our voices and our feet and our hands. We need to find ways to march together, to hold hands together, to raise our voices together.

I don’t know how this is to be done, and I doubt very much that I am the one to even get it started, but I do want to post here my prayer that somehow more creative minds than mine will find ways to call us, the ones who value every human life as sacred, together for shared action.

We cannot leave this to politicians, statesmen and stateswomen, alone. We are leaders, too. We can speak up against anti-Islam comments, we can insist our government spend more money on humanitarian assistance globally than it does on arms, we can contribute to educating girls and young women in the Middle East and elsewhere, we can support micro-financing in Two Thirds World countries. And we can help bring together imams and rabbis and Christian clergy to talk about, and act on, mutual regard and respect and universal love and citizenship.

I admit it all sounds weak compared to the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people in not much more than a heartbeat, but I believe working peacefully together in these ways, and many things of similar type that I cannot conjure up, is the only answer that will finally work.

War does not bring peace, even if defeats the other side. We may need it to stop something evil but if that is all we do we will have won the battle but lost the war.

The Country Is Going Down the Slippery Slope Fast

Can anyone be unaware of how angry many Republicans, very conservative Republicans, ae? As I ponder many things I am reading these days, I think I can understand why, from their vantage point, the nation feels in grave danger.

  • vogue.com
    vogue.com

    I have been reading some blog posts about a movement called Free the Nipple–a campaign to change our laws and practices so that women can be bare-chested in public just like men. It seems fair and right to me. Why the double standard? And did you know that it was not until the 1930s that men in the United States could legally go around bare-chested in public (including at the beach)? But some on the Right say the growth of this movement surely is the result of the Supreme Court decision to legalize marriage between two women or two men. Slippery slope here we go!

  • ibtimes.co.uk
    ibtimes.co.uk

    I went to a rally last evening in the District of Columbia to protest the American Enterprise Institute giving Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu an award–and to protest Israeli policies that are causing such pain to Palestinians. The most moving speaker was a lawyer, a Palestinian himself admitted to the bars of Israel, Palestine and the United States, who spoke of the need for empathy. He said that is missing in the attitudes of many Israelis, including the Prime Minister and his government, towards Palestinians. But he also said empathy is needed for Jews who have suffered great trauma. The key difference he said is that Israelis have great power and Palestinians have very little. The second most moving speaker was a young Palestinian-American poet who read about visit to Palestine where he began to claim his Palestinian name, Amin, rather than going by his middle name, Drew. I encourage you to listen to the poem, “Amin,” read at a poetry slam, available here. Here too, you can see how things are unraveling. Israel is, many on the Right believe, our most

    Amin Drew Law vine.com
    Amin Drew Law
    vine.com

    important ally, needing and deserving rock solid U.S. support–whatever Israel wants, Israel gets–and the Prime Minister is right about everything (unlike our President, who is wrong on just about everything, including most of his Middle East policy, except for giving billions to Israel). . . .  but every where the voices of criticism are rising. This must be Obama’s fault. . . . everyone knows he is a Muslim in Christian drag and really hates Jews (and especially Netanyahu).

  • FILE - In this Friday, April 11, 2014, file photo, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe participates in a news conference in Rolla, Mo. Missouri football players announced Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, on Twitter that they will not participate in team activities until the university president is removed from office. The move aligns the team with campus groups who have been protesting the way Wolfe has dealt with issues of racial harassment during the school year. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
    University of Missouri System former President Tim Wolfe, who has resigned theblaze.com

    The President and Provost of the University of Missouri have resigned, succumbing to pressure from students and faculty angry at them and the university for a lack of sensitivity about white racism. There were other issues, but it seems anger about inadequate responses to racism that was the most persistent issue. Nobody says it for publication, but I keep hearing what feels like another slippery slope argument. . . .  elect a Black man as President of the United States and this is what you get: uppity students forcing a good white man out of office to appease Black militants. And this is the real kicker: the football team, supported by their coach, threatened not to play if the university president did not resign. The “real men” on the campus refusing to play . . . . America is really in trouble!

So, is President Obama really to blame for everything? Even the campaign for women’s embodied equality? Yes, even that it seems. If he had appointed justices like Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alito–those wonderful Bush II appointees (or even Justice Thomas, courtesy of Bush I), then the decision in the marriage case would have gone the other way. Obergefell v. Hodges would have left the sanctity of “traditional” marriage intact.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz bbc.com
Texas Senator Ted Cruz
bbc.com

So, folks are angry, and they show it by supporting people who want to evict 11 million people from our country, believe abortion is genocide as practiced by Planned Parenthood, and vow as public servants and leaders to disobey orders of courts with which they don’t agree to protect the rights of people to discriminate against some people based on their religious beliefs.

All this is but the surface. I did not mention guns or health care, for example. And there is so much more.

But for today, I guess, these three will be enough. Times really are tough.

dailymail.co.uk
dailymail.co.uk

You just know that pretty soon naked women will be parading on Capitol Hill demanding paid leave for child care. Israel will have to pull back the settlements of all those peace-loving good Jewish neighbors in the West Bank. And all the university presidents in the country will be Black (maybe a few of them women, too, but at least they probably won’t go topless).

Oy vey! We need to make America great again!

I Am a Writer. Repeat. I Am a Writer. Repeat . . .

Getting organized, and staying organized, are probably the greatest challenges of my life.

Robin Study desk chaosI do not seem to know how to organize even my desk, let alone myself. I manage to keep our over-crowded home (we didn’t downsize enough when we moved here in the summer and we are struggling to do so now) in fairly good order–with Jonathan’s help–but my study is simply chaotic (see picture).

Some of this is due to my still trying to figure out how to live my new life as a writer. This is the first time in almost 50 years of working that I have worked for myself by myself. Perhaps this is part of finally growing up!

Maybe also I am having trouble accepting my newfound call to write, still doubting that I have the capacity to pull it off. I know I carry around some sense yet that I am a fraud, that I don’t really know how to write, that if I really pour myself into this I will stumble and fall.

I am a writerOf course, I have more to learn about my new profession–it would be sad if I thought otherwise, even had I been writing all my life–and yes I may stumble and fall. But I have done that before and have always picked myself up, with God’s help and my friends and family. I can do that again.

But a fraud? How can I be a fraud when the call on my soul is so clear? It would not be the first time I doubt God, but if the past is any indication that is a losing proposition! If there is one thing I have learned it is that trusting God is the way forward in life.

Of course, that does not mean I cannot or should not argue with God. I agree with those interpreters of the Book of Job who say that the reason God rewards Job and chastises his friends is because Job cared enough, believed enough, to argue with God while they counseled him to simply give in.

Job and friends
blogs.thegospelcoalition.org

But I don’t feel like arguing with God. I think, I believe, God is right. Or to put it even more clearly, I believe God (something that is far more vital than simply believing in God, good though that is).

And I believe, I feel certain, that I heard God correctly through the voice of the trees in Yosemite a year ago (see “And The Writing Keeps Crying Out”). My call feels genuine and powerful.

So, to get back to organization. A writer needs a good space for writing. I need a good space for writing.

soul tree side view 2Today, I will do some sorting and sifting and concentrate on how to begin to make this space work for me. No more being overwhelmed by chaos. I will at least begin to tame it.

Stay tuned for progress reports. And feel free to share tips and ideas you have for conquering the Disorganizing Syndrome.

Real Leaders Seek to Tear Down Walls

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin najaiurban.com
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin
najaiurban.com

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is a leader.

It is important to say this on this particular day, November 4, the 20th anniversary of the death, the assassination, of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli military leader and Prime Minister of peace.

A leader is one who tells people what needs to be done, and models it for them. A leader is one who sees the bigger picture, more than what sounds or feels good in the moment. A leader is one who sees to the welfare of all people not just those who support him or her, not just those of one group but all. A leader has a vision of things as they could be, and is willing to risk discomfort and unpopularity to share ideas and programs to help move toward that new way of life. Rabin was this kind of leader.

Former Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin takegreatpictures.com
Former Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin
takegreatpictures.com

Such a vision continues to be articulated by Rivlin. A year ago, as Jonathan and I were in Israel, he declared that the time had come to recognize that Israel had become “a sick society.” He did not mean that Israelis are bad people but that the unwillingness to engage Palestinians in a shared nation is corrupting the national soul.

And in May he spoke of the need for each group to recognize the value and culture of the other. He even went so far as to say that just as Arab children must learn Hebrew that all Jewish children should be taught Arabic. What a concept! It would be good for us in the United States to insist, in a similar way, that all children be taught Spanish (take that, Donald Trump!). As Rivlin says, language “leads from the ear to the heart.”

What is interesting about Rivlin is that he does not support the two-state solution, believing that Arabs and Jews can live side by side. This is why he goes deeper, dealing with questions of identity and difference, hoping to encourage dialogue between those who stand across the chasm of hatred and yell at each other, and thrown stones and even launch rockets. What he really wants is a unified nation of people of the land, all people of the land.

This kind of thinking is where peace is actually made. Treaties are not peace, dividing up the political spoils among various groups or nations–that is not peace. Such things may help, by reducing warfare and overt violence, but peace requires deeper change, peace is a matter of the soul and spirit of people. It is overcoming the inner, intimate instinct for violence.

ibtimes.co.uk
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ibtimes.co.uk

Rivlin seems to understand this; or maybe he just sees how hopeless it is to keep playing the political games of Netanyahu and Abbas and others (even Obama and Kerry). It is telling that recently the Prime Minister of Israel said, “I am asked if we will forever live by the sword? Yes.” (see story here)

The President of that same nation says, according to a report in The Times of Israel, that

opposing narratives were at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a “zero sum game between identities, between national stories.

“My independence is your catastrophe,” he said, alluding to the Palestinian Nakba, marked with an annual day of mourning that coincides with Israel’s celebration of its independence in 1948. “You build your identity, which negates mine, and I build my identity, which negates yours.” (read the story here)

He wants each side to cease building separate identities at the expense of the other, to recognize a shared inheritance in the land and a deep spirituality.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

The difference between the two attitudes, between Rivlin and Netanyahu, is stunning. One will help Israel survive and thrive. The other will cause more sickness and, I believe, ultimately lead to its demise.

To live by the sword is to die by it. Rabin knew this from personal experience, even before the assassin’s bullet. Rivlin seems to know it today.

On this day, we must pray in gratitude for Rabin, as we pray for the life of Rivlin (who has, like Rabin, received many death threats). Theirs is the journey of hope and liberation from hate and violence, the way to godly living in the land of such promise.

And we must pray for Netanyahu, Abbas, and all the others, that they finally come to their senses, to learn to reach across the great divide to begin the really hard work of peace.

Shalom.

Baring My Body, Opening My Soul

Yesterday, I took an important step toward greater self-care and acceptance: I went to my first-ever yoga class. It was a wonderful, life-enhancing experience.

yoga man in silhouetteSome years ago, a doctor told me I needed to work on balance issues, and suggested yoga. And several spiritual guides in my life have suggested that yoga would be a good addition to my other practices.

So, after church in D.C., Jonathan dropped me off at a yoga studio in the northwest part of the city*.

But this class was not your typical one because all the participants–about 10 of us plus a teacher–were male, and we were naked.

yoga-men
bamboomovesfh.com

Before getting to the naked part, I want to answer a question some readers may have: namely, why yoga? As I investigated this for myself, I realized that yoga is a practice of integrating spirit, mind and body–bringing together through exercises, positions, and meditation that which Western culture (and especially its Christian parts) has worked so hard and for so long to separate. I want that integration, and the greater sense of being and wholeness it brings.

But why naked yoga?

As I read up on the practice before going, I kept encountering the idea that being naked during yoga promotes both body awareness and body acceptance. So, sure you can do yoga at home while naked (if your house is warmer than ours usually is). And that will be good.

naked yoga mens class
nakedyogasf.com

One purpose of yoga, clothed or naked, is to honor and connect with your body. What I found yesterday is that practicing yoga naked, even in a beginning way, freed me from a layer of negative feelings about my body and allowed me to be more accepting of, and deeper connected with, myself.

After strenuous work in various positions, working up a good sweat (another joy of being naked is your clothes don’t cling to you), we moved to more meditative work, and I found myself so very aware psychically, even spiritually, of my body. Earlier, during various poses, I was also very self-aware, with aches from stretching yes and certainly getting off balance at times (I toppled to the mat twice!), but also other awareness ranging from how my genitals felt hanging out in the air as my arms and legs were aiming in all sorts of directions, and how my elbow felt seeming to hold half of me up in a pose whose name I cannot remember.

naked male yoga child pose
washingtonian.com

Being naked in public is a fear a lot of people have and being naked and practicing yoga can be intimidating. Some say the hardest part of the first time at naked yoga is undressing! Our society is driven by an unrealistic ideal of physical beauty, which can fuel an array of insecurity and self-doubt. Most people don’t have the body of a model and yet, we hold ourselves to those standards.

I certainly am not built like a model, never was, and I do not have the “parts” required for a career in porn even were I younger, but when we were lying on our backs breathing deeply under the guidance of our teacher, a wonderful and kind man named Brian, I began to feel an amazing connection between my brain and my penis.

yoga-men.tumblr.com
yoga-men.tumblr.com

Yes, when we finished, I had some arousal showing, but more to the point during the breathing,these two potent parts of me began a new level of connection–very different than you might expect. I don’t exactly know how to describe it but as Brian led us through breathing and visualizing our breath going down our windpipe and into our lungs, and then upward through our nostrils to our brain, including the hypothalmus, I felt a strange and wonderful calm, a peace I am not sure I have ever known before, come over me. Sensual calm, sensual peace, maybe even sexual calm and peace? I no longer fretted about my appendage and did not much notice anyone else’s either; these parts of me, so often driven by anxiety, actually felt integrated.

I can’t be more precise than that, but the good news is that I seem to feel it a bit yet today. Which is why you will find me, God willing, next Sunday stretching my body and my soul again. And why during the week, I will be looking at some YouTube videos to practice a few yoga poses.

I might even do so naked. Unless Cocoa (our standard poodle) objects!

[* The particular studio, a lovely space, does not want their name listed because naked yoga is not part of their studio calendar.  If you are interested in the class, you can contact DC Men’s Naked Yoga here]