Thursday, October 12, 2017

Either/Or? Both/And?

The single greatest transition in my life has been the ever slow movement from either/or to both/and.

I was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist version of  the Christian faith. As an adult I discovered that was not really the theological heritage of our Wesleyan tradition, but it was the experience of my local churches in southern Idaho and to a lesser extent, western Washington.

Cards, movies, drinking, smoking, dancing and something called 'mixed bathing' were all prohibited. Now, the mixed bathing part made sense to me; Except for perhaps married couples, one should bathe alone. That seemed self-evident. It was a rude awakening when I discovered it actually referred to 'mixed swimming' and my parents had already made me plenty guilty by sending me to lots of swimming pools where girls and boys swam together. 

Overtime I couldn't quite see the difference between the Rook cards we were allowed to play with and the pinochle deck other kids played with. Movies simply intrigued me. I love mysterys and theatre and so in college, away from home, I went to my first movie, "Fiddler on the Roof". It was awesome and I left feeling righteous and cheated by my church. It was short-lived however, as my second movie "Cirpico," about corrupt cops in New York City, filled my eyes with violence and my ears with a language I did not know existed. Fortunately, Godor perhaps 'The Force'redeemed it all in my third movie, "Star Wars."

The rules were just the tip of the iceberg; Either follow God and stay away from all these things or do not follow God and indulge all these things to the max had begun to crumble. I had already started down the road learning about the power of discretion, I was entering the "do nots" and keeping the good and avoiding the bad. 

In my revivalist tradition religious experience is the great teacher. I was raised to believe that unless one had an awakening called being "born again" you could not be Christian. The problem is, overtime, I've known many who love Jesus and followed him keenly but had no sense of an awakening. Their 'religious experience' was not a step away from or higher than 'ordinary experience' but more deeply inside of it.  It was simply different than mine.

More and varied expressions of 'real faith' came my way. As a pastor I was confronted with my first family baptism in a Samoan familial-tribal context. Would I baptize a whole family including the wife, sons and daughters because of the confession of the patriarch or stand my theological ground and insist that the older children would need to confess their own personal experience with Jesus instead of the fathers. It was not my first rodeo with Samoans and was keenly aware that every Samoan, in identity at least, is thoroughly Christian. Given the experience of Paul in baptizing the jailer and his family (Acts 16), I did baptize them all and watched as God has molded that family to this day: Both/And.

I could tell of 100 experiences in the last 20 years… With Native Americans and Jehovah Witnesses, Roman Catholic, Muslims… Where God has forced me to move beyond my comfortable circles of either/or and into the both/and. I have watched the presence of God moving within a number of cultures and traditions ever closer to the greatest 'Both/And' a thousand universes will ever know; The Trinity of God

Lest you fear I have fallen into a universalistall roads lead to heavenknow that I am more confident than ever that there is no name under heaven whereby anyone can be saved than Jesus Christ. I'm simply convinced that it is not an either/or proposition. In fact, its not so much a proposition as a Divine initiative and human response that allows for the renewal of our individual and communal lives, our cities, the enviornment and the universeall because of Jesus. Both/and. Either/or is fear driven. It is our initial teacher, like the law and as we grow up into love, fear is removed and replaced with both/and.

So then, Terry, does God come to us by sign or by Spirit? Do you see the either/or nature of the question? Most fear driven challenges are framed that way. I would suggest the following is the better answer: God comes to us all in Jesus Christ; some by sign in and through their senses and others by the intuition of soul; all by the Holy Spirit.

Last Thursday I was at a Pacific Islander event when all of a sudden I was grabbed from behind and embraced in a bear hug. Turning around, my mind catching up, it was a young woman who couldn't have seen me more that 20 or 30 times in her young life, mostly pre-school. She was the grand-daughter of the Samoan family I had the privilege of baptizing.  With my encouragement they had left our church and made their way back to the Catholic faith so that one of her grandparents might fully connect with Jesus, feeling removed from both culture and faith tradition in our church.  They were and are some of my best friends. In our 30 minute conversation I discovered that this little grand-daughter was getting ready to graduate and attend Whitman College, was the youth leader of her Catholic church and was incredibly smart.  Her smile radiated life in Jesus. I'm guessing the waters of baptism must have splashed over into the next generation.  Both/And!

Terry :)

To explore some of these stories read my book "7 Faces of Jesus".  You can find it at: 7 Faces of Jesus

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Faith & Curiosity & Kids

As I bend over, my hands reaching to tie my brand new Reebok shoes, I am made keenly aware of how aging and weight combine to return me to my childhood and an involuntary dependence.  With some ease I was able to slip one string of the shoelace under the other and pull, but as I begin to tie the knot, my feeble hands did not have the strength to complete the task; pain shooting through them and a silent 'damn' breathed through my lips as I gaze upon the task half done.  After two more attempts I succeed and lay back in the chair exhausted, resting before I stand to go on my walk with Jack Bauer, my dog.

This coming Sunday is "White Sunday."  Now before you accuse our congregation of some white nativist evangelical worship experience, please know that it is an incredible Samoan children's holiday.  A Sunday in which children are pampered and loved on and reminded that they are precious to Jesus!  Our theme this year is: "Keeping a Child's Heart Alive in a Broken & Un-just World."  On the second Sunday of each October we are reminded that Jesus welcomed the little children to himself saying; “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

At around 58 years of age I began exhibiting multiple mental and physical health issues with attendent anxiety and depression including concerns with cognition, lethargy, focus, physical and spiritual struggles.  All my life the only thing I knew how to do is work, preach, laugh, care and love. Now, too often, all these seem beyond me.  Hidden within and underneath is the aging process and my own lack of self-control, reflected in my weight.  I no longer dismiss my parents, now passed, or other elders around me who complian of aging. I've seen it done well and poorly.   

I've been observing the very young (my grand children included), young adultssingle and marriedand older adults in our community of faith.  I am so grateful to God for a community that is cross generational and allows me the privilege of watching and listening. By my observation those who age well usually have two gifts:

1) Curiosity, and;

2) Faith.


Watching my grandsons Tanner and little Sammy before him has awakened me to the awareness that all of life is a process of adventurous learning.  From our first gasping breath to our last much of this thing we call "being human" is filled with difficulty and pain,  such as we have witnessed as a nation from Charlottesville through Houston, Miami, San Juan and now, Las Vegas.  

During worship last week I watched a delightful little girl walk a set of connected chairs covered with cushions that made her early toddler steps tenuous and vulnerable. Her mother, keenly aware, chose to allow the minimal risk of an 18 inch fall as the biblical text of the woman at the well was deftly unfolding  before us by a much older woman, ordained, and whogiven her own walk by the precipices of her own journeywas filled with empathy for the text. 

Curious moments surround us every day in joy filled, painful and learning moments. God helping me, no matter my mental or physical state, I choose to remain open to them much like my little grandsons.  


The danger inside a curious faith is that they challenge all of our paradigms, our beliefs.  It strikes me that those who grow old in fear hold onto their belief system tenaciously as though a change in one small area of faith would bring down the whole, like a house of cards. It is those who have gone before uncovering layers of mystery that reveal a deeper faith and capture my imaginatin; not those who profess certainty—they are just boring. These mysterious one are the followers of Jesus I wish to emulate as I grow old.  

I will never forget an older woman in our congregation some 15 years ago. My visits with her were seldom and so guilt always attached when finally I would go by to try to bring comfort, as the shadows of her life gathered around her. It was my last visit that forever impacted me. She was limited in movement to a small wing chair in her home. She ate and slept in it. Her days of getting out by wheelchair, assisted by her devoted son who had built her an 
elevator from the second story entrance of their home to the ground and purchased a van with a lift, were now past. Still, she could see out onto her patio observing the flowers, the suns rays and the honey birds that gathered near to quench their thirst. Her eyes were alive with life as she described her gratitude in God visiting her every day through these many gifts. 

My friend was a strong woman and I suspect on occasion the word "damn" or it's equivalent passed through her lips.  What I'm sure of, however, is that faith and curiosity followed her to her last breath! 

God, as Picard of Star Trek fame would say: "Make it so!"

Terry :)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Las Vegas: it makes no sense

In the opening lines of the Revelation, John the apostle, speaking of Jesus writes: "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen" (Rev. 1:7).

John is writing from the isle of Patmos, a prisoner for following Jesus, an enemy of Rome. The Christian community, like the Jewish communion before, was born in exile from the powers of empire and seen as a threat to her peace. It should not surprise us that John sees within his and his communities grief a worldwide communal morning at the appearing of Jesus.

Jesus own story begins in a darkened cave forced upon his parents by the power of Rome. Jesus at the age of three is a migrant in Egypt, taken at an early age by his parents, to escape the reach of King Heroda dreamer if you will. Jesus made his ministry among the wounded and suffering and forgotten of Israel, he himself, having no home. 

In these last few days we have tasted something of the flavor of communal mourning; though nothing like those families who experienced it up close. Still, like so much pain in the  world, the Las Vegas killing field was senseless. All of our hearts are crushed. We appropriately ask, "where are you Jesus?"

2000 years ago John reminds us that he knew that Jesus was with him on Patmos and with the Christian and Jewish community that was undergoing persecution and death. 

What gave him such assurance? He tells us in the opening lines of his letter to the churches of Asia minor that he had witnessed, lived with and seen the one in whom all suffering finds a homeJesus of Nazareth. He writes: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touchedthis we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (Jesus) (I John 1:1).

A day is coming upon the earth when we will look upon the one who gathers into himself all human wounds, sickness, disease of mind and body and spirit and all evil. We will see him! On that day we will know that Jesus was present on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas in the many heroes in the crowd who acted to protect, in the first responders, in the care of the doctors and nurses searching for life out of death and in the unseen care given 59 who were taken. And we will mourn with him as never before over all our human wounds and spaces. We will finally know there has not been a daughter or son of Adam and Eve who was born or lived alone.


Note: I do not write this to convince anyone who does not share this faith or to dismiss the very real grief that those close to this event will go through today and tomorrow and many days after. I write it for me. This world makes no sense if God is not as good as Jesus of Nazareth and if the destiny of every child of earth is not included in the renewal of all things; on that day!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

...on "Our Thoughts & Prayers"

In the opening lines of the Biblical creation story God births ever increasing order from chaos and declares it good. In the third chapter of our Genesis chaos returns in the form of disobedience and blame and shame. Once again the Creator searches for the 'very good' in creation by asking Adam and Eve, "where are you"?  ...and then covering their shame by violence; God clothes them.

Today, tomorrow and perhaps the next, the best gift we can in fact give is prayer, asking God how we can participate in bringing order and love from the chaos of the Las Vegas killing fields. We will have time to reflect upon 'where we are' as a people and nation. Then, only after praying, burying our dead and grieving and reflecting upon where we are, will we be able to see well enough to figure out how to clothe ourselves in non-violence.

Our thoughts and prayers are not something other than action, as some politically motivated commentators suggest. These are the first and best actions we can take in partnership with the Trinity of God, though they should not be the last!


Monday, October 2, 2017

Becoming human

I do not know how I could ever live my life without a quiet time of reflection with Jesus… It is he who makes me human; Who insists that I examine daily every belief that I have, every prejudice that I hold and stay open to other humans, whom, when I get to know them… are a whole lot like me.

I once wrote; "the purpose of the church in the urban village is relationship, connection, presence – bringing the village to the city – and making us fully human."

I grew up in small villages and found them to be places of open love; The church being one of the villages. I still believe the statement above, but I am aware of another truth, now. All villages tend to be filled with people who are alike, the same. 

The urban village has taught me another thing: Reality and symbol are not the same thing. Just because the shopping mall is diverse, rich in color and experience, does not make us a people who are truly open to another. Just because I sing "praise God from whom all blessings flow" every Sunday doesn't make me the blessing God intended me to be to another. Just because I feel anger over an NFL player taking the knee when I am standing with my hand over my heart during the anthem does not make me more patriotic; especially when I know the young men taking the knee are also fully engaged in time – money – service to the communities in which they live.

Jesus has this difficult insistence that I remain open to every human being; listening. Following him is not always fun but it is always interesting. I do it worse than most people I know, in truth. Still, I will keep following for Jesus takes me to places I would've never been. He makes me more fully human. Is that not that the essence of salvation?

Terry  :)

"The glory of God is humanity fully alive." 
From Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 130-200 A.D.

Friday, September 29, 2017

I'm sure glad Jesus isn't the NFL Commissioner

My innermost heart has been angry most of the week over the NFL disrespecting the anthem and my President disrespecting the country by throwing gasoline on a smoldering fire. 

It is a consuming passion like righteous anger over injustice, but it never felt life giving... and so, mostly I've listened. 

I had the benefit of an intense conversation with a millennial after church Sunday which helped me remember that we do not all see patriotism through the same lenses, but can still be patriots. What made me especially frustrated is that this young man had the audacity to use the same arguments i used at his age, only about Vietnam.

In my devotions, just now… These words jumped off the page: "the most important discovery along the road of Jesus is that we are on the same boat." 

I've listened well to the Seattle Seahawks team members. I still disagree with the use of the anthem for protest, but know their heart to be genuine and their service to the community of Seattle, exemplary. I further agree with the fundamental concerns of race and police relations. 

We are all in this American boat together, after all. I still think my anger is righteous; but recognize there's is as well.

Terry :)

Note: It also strikes me that for anger to be righteous, there must be a willingness to hear the other, see the other,  listen to the other… It may be the difference between passion and compassion.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Jesus, You just don't get the NFL"

"I know, I know… We're supposed to love everyone, Jesus, but this is righteous anger after all!" 

"Against whom?  ...well, the President for sure. ...what's that? Yes, I agree with him that refusing to stand for the flag is disrespectful. But really, does he have to divide the country between s.o.b.'s and patriots? Jesus!" "...I'm sorry, no Jesus, I wasn't meaning to swear... huh? Trump? ...Yes, I know who your mom is..." "but can't you see, that on this race thing Trump keeps getting it wrong? I mean, at Charlottesville he nuances when he should have been clear and on this NFL protest he is clear when a little nuance would help, Gees! ".  "Huh, is that my attempt at nuance...Gees? ...k, you caught me."

"What's that Jesus? You're asking if I'm kneeling with the players, then?"  "No way! I'm steamed at them! You remember when I stopped watching my favorite political drama 'West Wing' just because the main character blasphemed God, that is You, Jesus, ...and at Your altar? Well, I feel like walking away from the Seahawks if they, as a group, are gonna disrespect our anthem! I mean, when I was a boy I had pledged my allegiance every day at grade school, just before the morning prayer. Jesus, this thing is visceral for me and I've never had to even fight or give up anything for our country!  For sure, it's their right to demonstrate and my right to turn off the NFL.

"Do I think these players are patriots?" "Yes, of course I do. More than that, they are thoughtful men, articulate and most of whom give generously back to our community. I know that. In fact Jesus, in case you hadn't noticed, their concerns with urban violence and police, community relations are valid." 

"What's that? ...Oh, you had noticed... saw every child shot... in every city of the world... even where, what? ...oh, even where the NFL isn't played."

"What is that you said, Jesus? ... You're anger over violence against children is... what? ...oh, visceral, as well."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

DACA, Dreamers & Jesus

"Let the children come to me and do not forbid them" comes immediately to mind and heart when I think of the Dreamers; Those who's country, often since very young ages, is the United States of America. If the halls of Congress, instead of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, was the sacred space of the world... k, stop laughing... Would not Jesus echo that same sentiment now, as then?

DACA itself, a presidential, administrative and temporary resolution, does need to be replaced with legislation providing legal status for Dreamers, moving towards citizenship for those who have lived a significant portion of their life in the United States and came here as a result of no choice of their own. It is a legitimate debate as to whether President Obama overstepped his executive authority. I tend to think he did, constitutionally, though not morally. Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, rightly indicated that the resolution is for Congress to do it's job; morally, politically, and in terms of the good of the country. President Trump should retain DACA and set a fixed time for Congress to resolve the constitutional issue by appropriate legislation.

A significant number of these young adults have no other home, often no other language than English.  There is no more sacred trust that a country enjoins than who is included in its body politic. It is the ultimate of rights. It is why I am pro-life politically and why I want those who grew up American to be protected as American.

At a very practical level it would be foolish for a country who has now invested so much treasure in educating and providing for their public safety to turn them away and lose some of the brightest and best of a new generation. As an urban pastor of 20 years I have had the privilege of knowing several. I will never forget the moral dilemma of one young woman, highly intelligent and capable and of college-age, but who turned away from college to work in a service industry so as not to out her parents, who had brought her here as a small child and who had lived under the radar, without any other legal issues. She understood that the very process of applying for aid and college registration would inevitably lead back to them.

Beyond that, DACA has registered 800,000 young adults who have taken the risk of coming out of the shadows in order to embrace fully American lives. It is morally and legally wrong to break that trust.

Finally, it probably should be remembered, Jesus himself was a Dreamera refuge from Herod's wrathhis parents seeking safety for him in the arms of the Empire Nation of the day. Did not Jesus also suggest that how we treat those who are marginalized is how we have treated him? Just say'n…

Terry :)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Late Night Prayer for America

Father and God, our hearts are wounded with our sisters and brothers in Charlottesville USA... it could have been, could well be the streets of Seattle challenged with the bigotry of white nationalists sowing fear and hatred toward Jews and persons of color; attempting to undo the rainbow of color, that is America.

Where am I, oh Lord, in the crowd?  I would like to think I would be with Heather Heyer, resisting. 

Yet, was it not my ancestors who brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty for, almost all? ... an original sin, an original wound that still echoes in the fabric of our culture, Father.

Is it not the sons and daughters of slave owners and those newly arrived from the islands of the Pacific or Asia or South of our Border who still feel the whip of injustice? Who see in my white skinned eyes the questioning stare, the first to be stopped and frisked, the last to graduate Highschool or enter college or trusted with rent? Who do not feel at home in the Public Square, Jesus?

Yes, and before them it was the First Nations of the Americas who felt the sacred land, your land-Creator, slip from their nurturing grasps; whose children were removed from tribe & family and placed in residential schools to be taught the civilized ways of Europeans? And when did that end? In the mid-seventies, 1970s.

So where Lord shall I stand on the street resisting, when I so want this race thing to just go away. To declare the legal issues won, the race war done. 

In my 64 years Lord tremendous progress has been made. At work and in the shopping malls I'm surrounded by color and led, no longer just served, by persons of color. But when we go home to our neighborhoods or to our churches, Lord, I am keenly aware that we are a segregated people, still. When we gather for worship, all we need do, is look around. How Your heart must break.

So where will I stand when the streets of Seattle are filled with those who would tell my friends of color to go away, shut up or know their place?

I will stand where you would stand Jesus; but with the cross and not a fist. I will grieve with the parishioners of the Emmanuel African-American Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, who to this day pray for the young man who killed their own.  

I will stand with the Nickel Mines Amish community who, following the tragic death of five of their youngest, forgave the young man who perpetrated the evil.

I will light a candle with the thousands in Charlottesville and remember and listen to my friends of color, to their experiences and their anger or anxiety.  I will look for, listen and watch for the residue of racism within my feelings and thoughts and behavior.  I will speak less and listen more when in multi-racial or multi-economic settings, allowing the voice of the shy and those trained by experience and culture to keep still, eyes lowered when in the presence of white America. Lord help me, help us to resist evil in all of its forms; And to see it through the eyes of its victims and through Yours.  

Father, you have troubled my heart late into the night, night after night, praying for our nation. I know that what little skin I bring to the game is covered with the bigotry of ancestry and the blood of a civil war. Still, there is a deeper ancestry and the blood of One shed for me, for us, that allows me to humbly pray. Help me, help us to pray for victim and perpetrator alike. Help us to refuse to make caricatures (cardboard cutouts) of anyone and instead see persons, wounded, sinful, redeemable. Help me to walk in reverence toward all my neighbors without regard to race or gender or orientation or political or spiritual or cultural world views.

Experience and your Word teaches us that intolerance begets intolerance, hatred begets hatred, judgment begets judgment and love creates more love.

So when intolerance comes to Seattle help me to stand with whoever is on the outside and with a heart like Dr. Martin Luther King, willing to be beaten up in order to confront bigotry and still love the bigot. It is not the way of power, but it is Your way.

Jesus, you are God and became human, took on the likeness of a slave and became obedient even into death. Help me to do no less. Help us to do no less. Save us Lord and forgive me, Amen.


Note: This prayer is not intended as the end or be-all of our journey together as Americans through the racial divide. Nor am I intending to impose it on another; especially those who feel keenly the sting of or isolation of this week, given Charlottesville and our Presidents devisive respone. It is offered however in the historic path of Christ (usually lived poorly, certainly by me) recognizing we always seek justice with reconciliation at center.  Terry :)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mr. President... It's not about you!

Once again, we find ourselves in Trump world focusing and dividing over him instead of dealing with the very real opportunity that tragedies like the one in Charlottesville afford our nation for meaningful dialogue about race.  

As one who is politically conserving, I understand...(disagree, but understand) the desire of some to defend his Charlotesville comments and even the way he says it. If you find yourself on his side, thinking 'well, he just spoke the truth', please consider why I believe President Trump did a significant dis-service to the nation in Tuesday's press conference, in four ways:

1) The deepest issue before the country from Charlottesville is not violence, as tragic as it was, but race and racial bigotry. That is the issue around which a president can be a healing presence in difficult times.

2) There is no comparison between the two groups demonstrating… The permitted demonstration was sponsored by, publicized by White racist groups. To suggest that 80% of the people there were simply good people trying to make a legitimate historic point about statuary is in fact, incorrect. These Neo-Nazi groups had an agenda and it was fear; a right to demonstrate, yes – according to the 1954 US Supreme Court decision. But that does not mean that we as Americans (especially white Americans) should embrace any part of their agenda. It really is evil! 
Though, I'm sure there were some gathered who have more innocent hearts, they are incredibly unwise to have so associated themselves. Our president made that point on Monday and should've stuck with it because it's both true and helpful.  
Had I been in Charlottesville I would probably have been with the demonstrators against these Neo-Nazi groups, at least up to the point it remained peaceful, acknowledging; there are always professional agitators who care not a wit about racial reconciliation and only want violence. Had Mr. Trump been extremely clear about the real agenda of the white supremacists he could have made that point and meaningfully; but he wasn't clear.

3) By making left/right comparisons as morally equal in this context, it empowers a pervasive evil; just as it does when the left conflates our military action in response to say Isis be-headings or Assad using chemical weapons in Syria as morally equivalent. Our military action is tragic and costly, but not the same, precisely because our purpose and methods are different, whether one agrees with our intervention or not.

4) The funny thing is, I like President Trumps non-political New Yorkish off the cuff style when he has no skin in the game. Its refreshing and often Presidential, cutting through issues like a knife in hard butter. Our president can be elegant in spirit when his ego is not involved… He's done it on multiple occasions and I've been impressed even when I disagreed. His problem is, when he's in a political fight he bullies everyone who disagrees with him and that makes the issue about him when the country needs it to be about us. That saddens me deeply and his response on Tuesday, in my opinion, was self-serving and he missed an opportunity to be a president for all the people at this critical juncture.

I will be writing at least two more reflective articles on The American Racial Divide in the days ahead; after we get over the Trump Effect.

Terry :)

As always: I invite comments agreeing or disagreeing below.  Blessings!  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Atonement? Really? ...Yes!

Atonement?  Really?  How boring... how, 20th century of you.  In fact, how medieval can you get?  At least in the late 20th century they had moved past bloody sacrificial ideas of appeasing God's anger or deals done with the devil to At-One-Ment!  And now, in the 21st century, you want to bring it all back?

Yes... and for good reason. It would appear from the ancient account of God hanging up the bow and arrows (violence as cleansing) following the deluge (Genesis 9: 13), we children of Eve and Adam are pretty much still hung up on the whole notion of violence. Say, Isis, anyone?  ...or; bringing it closer to home, how about gang violence or Gitmo or that bad boy verbal slashing we give each other on Face book?  

Even more importantly, if I may suggest and not loose you totally, what about God? Is God a neutered, "ll never change" passive Santa Clause in the sky kind of Being; existing without passion when viewing up close (assuming God is inter-woven within our universe) the daughters of Eve taken into the sex trade or sons of Adam running off to Syria hungry for Jihad?  Does God have no emotional response to you and me attacking the value of one another over politics or race or faith? 

The Trinity of God, as revealed in the Biblical narrative is engaged, passionate, compassionate, hating evil and loving good and whose character and presence is so pregnant within the universe that we will run into God every time we live in sync with love or conversely, violate Love's boundaries. God has chosen active and sacrificing love in time and eternity, the Jesus event, being the timely focus of choosing usour wounded, destructive tendency to blow up love, not withstanding.  In eternity this Jesus ever deepens the 'sacrificial communion' wherein God The Father-Eternal Son-Spirit remain open, vulnerable to our choices, emotions, dispositions with the purpose of replacing hate with love, fear with assurance, prejudice with acceptance, arrogance with humility. 

This atoning, transformational relation is close in; God embedded within the universes experiences, especially human. It is a costly relation, chosen by God. Costly for God and us! God is placed at Cross Purposes within the human, angelic and environmental reality that devolves away from God's original dream or vision. By engaging, instead of turning and running, we and God are forever vulnerable to each other and the emerging universe. It is the way of love. It is what happens in a violent universe when God puts down the bow and arrow.

In "Cross Purposes - Incarnational Atonement, Renewal & Communal Salvation" I explore these themes, weaving story and ideas together, framing both the need and reality of God incarnate, ever atoning our bad choices.  

Terry :)

You can purchase "Cross Purposes" in paperback or e-pub form at  Simply type in Terry Mattson and all my books will pop or go to: Cross Purposes - Incarnational Atonement, Renewal & Communal Salvation

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Politics Inside our New Birth into the Kingdom of God

Sub-Title: The Narrative Changing Choices we Face within Life's Garden

The creation narrative has it's Genesis in the 2nd account of God's inter-active walk with us, surgically working within us to form for humans a garden like story of open, shared and sacrificial love; of communion between the earth, its plants and animals and humansall held in peace by the garden's first priests, Adam and Eve and the God who walked with them. The poetry which celebrates such a vision and calls its possibilities 'very good' is the 1st account of Creation, Genesis One. Yet the 'very good' is only possible if loneliness and isolation can be banished.  And so, from the anesthetized sleep of Adam, God forms Eve and the garden is complete: Until, that is Genesis chapter Three; wherein the rule of power, of independent self-achievement, of empire trumps loves embrace and the whole environment of our human story is forever changed.  The trajectory of our story is altered in a single choice. Chaos and isolation return.

John Farrell, in "Richard NixonThe Life"1 describes the single moment that takes an earlier and promising young congressman who, against his own political interests, sides with President Truman's Marshall Plan to save Europe, and later sends him down a path toward independent self-achievement and isolation. Nixon's mentor and benefactor orders him to put America First and reject Truman's overtures and so secure his future electability. Nixon, having returned from a European tour and convinced that the human cost of America turning away was too great instead supports Truman and wages a heroic campaign in which he uniquely ends up getting both the Republican and Democratic primary nominations for the 12th Congressional District in 1948.

So, what changed in Nixon?  This author believes it was his defeat to John F. Kennedy in 1960, believing that Kennedy stole the election in Illinois.  From that moment on, according to Farrell, Nixon made the decision he would never again be out smarted or out cheated. And from that wounded heart Tricky Dick was born.

In John's gospelwe are awakened to the narrative of the garden and our choices within it. In the opening lines of his Gospel we look upon The Wordthe energizing incarnation of God's Presencewho created from chaos the very first garden and within it healed the loneliness that ever endangers our human choices. The center of our human journey is also revealed; 'who will be re-born of The Light (Jesus) and who will walk into the darkness, away from the warmth of the Son's glow?' (John 1: 12-13 & 3: 17-21).  It is Jesus first words offered to John the beloved and Andrew that form the question which we each face. "What are you looking for?" (John 1: 38).

In John 18, the writer captures in the narratives of Jesus passion the real issue facing each/all of us. Into the garden of Crushing (Gethsemane)of betrayalwalks five characters; The Empire, The Jewish leaders, Judas, Peter and Jesus. As any good novelist, John uses irony to cast the shadows of this tragedy and so the 'light of the world' is approached in the dark of the night by soldiers representing both Rome and the Jewish Sanhedrin carrying "lanterns, torches, and weapons"(John 18: 3b). In the presence of the guards and the elders of the court all the power of the Sanhedrin and Rome securing them is present.  Before Jesus they fall momentarily, the writer emphasizing that their highest value was the shaking ground of political expediency as opposed to Jesus surety and presence. Judas betrays and with an ironic kiss, as one whose personal agenda is still trying to shape the Jesus narrative into his own. Peter's sword is wielded proving his misplaced courage when supported by power, but total weakness in the face of disillusionment. Alone, like Adam in a garden of old, Jesus hands himself over, putting down the sword as his Father did eons before in the sorrow of the deluge when putting away the weapon of a bowby the sign of a rainbow in the sky (Genesis 9: 13a CEB). In all, Jesus again asks the very opening question of Johns drama to those gathered, "Who are you looking for?" (John 18: 4b).

Recently I sat over breakfast with one of our new college graduatesa person of colorexploring with him, his creative heart. Over coffee and laughter, sarcasm flowing the question was finally framed: "What is it you are seeking?"  What emerged was the passion of a tender man for the racial bias and prejudice he feels and sees around him; especially in the engagement of police and community. After about an hour we began to visit what steps we could take as a faith community in Seattle to affect communal conversation and effect positive outcomes. We agreed to continue meeting throughout the summer to consider how God might lead.

I am keenly aware that naive conversations about race can turn such dialogues from a garden of promise to a chaotic echo of the deep divisions that permeate the American culture. Powerful forces (right-left-center) can enter such a garden with agendas pre-disposed to inflaming rather than clarifying issues such as the Empire did with Jesus, to facilitating power confrontations as Judas desired in a kiss, to picking up a sword (right and left) and defending ones place. Only Jesus was prepared that night to 'hand himself over' and protect everyone else from violence. I suspect our journey from naive assumptions will include some rides with cops into the shadows of their nights or some rides with persons of color who watch the air go silent when they step into a bus with strangers who stare in some fear. Reconciliation and changes in policing practises which increase the likely hood that both officers and civilians walk away from potential conflict unharmed will be misunderstood by everyone as the kiss of betrayal.  

Last night i visited a far too typical evangelical website promising individuals that they could enjoy the 'deeper life' of Jesus if only they would come, participate, worship and go to an altar. It was the tradition I was raised in. I left saddened, knowing that what was missing was the very thing John the Apostle was careful to never miss; the political-social context within which our choice for following Jesus is framed. It is that context which turns our Jesus Story from a 'selfie' or caricature into a narrative of God in our world. "Who (what) are looking for?" is still the Jesus question.

Terry :)

1 from "Face the Nation" interview with John Farrell, 07/02/17. I am fascinated by Richard Nixon and have read numerous books, but not this one as yet.  You can purchase it at: "Richard Nixon-The Life" by John Farrell

This writing is largely an adaptation of my pastor's sermon today by Rev. Shaun Mattson

Saturday, July 1, 2017

What is this Divine Cry within Our Human Search?

We are never less than the roles we play in Community; still we are hungry to be more than the sum total of all our social engagements. This is the heart of the human dilemma. There is a god-like hunger for unconditioned freedom and expression.

In the first poem of creation, at our Genesis, humanity risers as "very good," something beyond the rest of creation; made in God's own communal, ever creative, unconditioned love. In the second story of creation (Genesis 2) Adam (humankind) feels alone, too disconnected, too different from the rest of creation; Godlike independence isolating and so God gives Adam a mate, a relation and hence a role in which to define himself. Made for the stars we humans find our meaning in the dust of the earth. Creation is still good.

At first, it is enough to walk with God in the garden of terraforma. It is enough to define ourselves as caretakers of creation, as fathers and daughters and sons and mothers, as botanists and biologists. It is within these relationships our growing identity emerges.

Ivy, a lovely young millennial in our church communion, gave her first sermon last Sunday. She knows herself as a daughter first and as a loving wife, a mother; One who is playful, ever seeking the joy of human connection. She was asked by her pastor to preach and explore a role beyond her self awareness. And so she searched the meaning of the text and struggled with an inner tension of wondering if this new role was truly hers. Her text was John 17, the last priestly prayer Jesus offered over his disciples just before his betrayal and crucifixion.

As millennials do, Ivy wrestled with the idea that the disciples were set apart; "Was God's choice of them an exclusion of everyone else?" she asked aloud. Her resolution is central to both the text and to the human dilemma. She concluded that in the exclusive portion of the text where God through the Son is pouring himself into the twelve it is the role of discipleship, of being mentored, of having significance because of the birth of a new relation; people of God. We matter because of the mission we are called to enter. Last week Ivy's  daughter Sofia had asked her what they would've done as a family if her sibling, Anna, had never been born? "Would they simply have adopted another child", Sofia asked. I told my daughter, Ivy recalled, that "Anna was not replaceable; that if she were gone from the family something important would be lost and the family would be different." And, Ivy brought the illustration home; we each and everyone of us matter because our roles and relations are unique.

Ivy also discovered in the text another profound truth; it's not really about us! It really is about the invitation given through us to the whole world to know this communal God of love. Ivy's phrase was... "You matter but it's not really about you at all!"

And there it is; The inner tension of being human. We each matter and the nature of our relationship to one another matters. In fact, it is how we become. Yet, we are more than the sum of all our relations. We, like God hunger to rise to an unconditioned ever creative sense of being more, "very good."

In the third chapter of our Genesis narrative we see the negative impact of this curious desire in us: Eve enticed by the snake to eat the fruit of the tree set apart in the garden; at its center. "Eve," the inner voice whispers, "define yourself apart from the boundaries  of creation and so become like God." The thought pleased her so she ate; and we, her sons and daughters have been eating ever since of this desire... to be more than our relations, to rise above fixed boundaries; to be more powerful, to consume the earth and one another and treasure sex as fun only instead of an intimate expression of relation.

The curiosity found in the third chapter of Genesis is profoundly human and speaks to a hunger to become like God. Curiosity is the mother of all creation and properly found at the center of the garden of humankind. The problem is that the kind of freedom we seek is unlike the communal God we worship. The Trinity of God is an eternal and communal essence of Three persons who are inter-dependent, their formational relation metaphorically best seen in the familial relation of Father-Son-Spirit. The Holy Spirit, in fact, proceeds from the relation of the father and Son and (as CS Lewis describes) the Spirit emerging from their unique roles and relation is so powerfully loving as to be a Person.

In Jesus prayer (John 17) we, all of us uniquely and together, are invited to know and grow up into this communal relation inside the Trinity of God. "I'm in them and You (Father) in me so that they will become perfectly one" is Jesus prayer for us. The Eastern Orthodox define this as divinization… We become fully human as we move from the dust of the earth of dependent creation and into the "very good" of inter-dependent God-likeness; our divinity growing within the Trinity and never apart from it.

And Ivy? She preached a sermon of simplistic depth, relaxed, fully present and in dialogue with the congregation, funny; The anointing of God upon her clearly present. In that moment and in that role our communal perception of her changed. She was more than she was 10 minutes before she stood to preach.

I had the privilege of watching her struggle in identity with this new possible relation both before and following her sermon. The question following, some days later, was simply this; "If this is a God thing am I supposed to feel it inside me or just trust the apparent success of it?" Now Ivy is not an intensely subjective, feeling and intuitive thinker. My response was simple. "Trust the role and explore it until such time as you know either fits or does not fit."

There can be no other answer. We are humans, conditioned inside time and space—our experience; but we have this inner knowing that we are made for the stars!

Terry :)

Ivy is the lead singer on one song by Tonic Solfa. See the link as follows: Peace on Earth by Tonic Solfa - featuring Ivy French

See my latest video presentation advertizing my books around the worshiping Calendar of the Church @ The Narrative of God in the Liturgical Calendar of the Church

Sunday, June 11, 2017

God Within and Beyond the Universe... Are both Necessary?

Today was Trinity Sunday. A lovely, even elegant and older woman, a guest, spoke with me after the service concerned with our emphasis upon God as Trinity. She was nervous, to the point of not wanting to give me her real first name, which I assured her was okay. Worse, a deeper anxiety emerged over her own faith journey from within historic Catholic faith to a new tradition she did not identify but clearly denied Trinitarian theology. At center was a controlling fear that she might choose incorrectly and thus be lost.

My pastor had preached an excellent message noting that if we begin the God Story in Genesis Three with the fall instead of Genesis One with the poem of creation we will end up in very different places; Three leading inevitably to fear and separation from the garden for most of Adam's race and One leading to restoration and salvation from chaos. Each narrative pictures a differing God response: 

  • Chapter One of Creative, inclusivethough diversepresence and power, and; 
  • Chapter Three envisioning a God imprisoned and at odds with the creation resulting in the flood story.

I could not help thinking back to other conversations based on fear, over the years.

He sat across from me, relatively new to his pastoral responsibilities over several of God's churches. His face was troubled like a parent, loving her child and who nevertheless feels the approaching need to discipline this child of her dreams. His question concerned a popular and eloquent academic theologian who was exploring revised thinking about God's nature in light of Einsteinian science in this postmodern age. "His view of God...," my friend continued, speaking of the theologian and observing with some pain; "His view of God does not lead the church, her future pastors and leaders to the God of Abraham; but to another, I fear."

A rush of questions raced through my heart. 'Am I hearing in this good man the beginning of a conserving and bishops revolt, indeed discipline?' 'He may be right...' my mind considered, now fully caught up in my friend's anxiety; acknowledging it as a valid question of concern.

I do not believe I had the presence of mind to then observe that we had actually and long ago walked beyond the image of God in Abram, indeed modernity's catholic confession having been influenced by Platonic and Grecian world views in which the church was first born and as reinterpreted within the enlightenment's wrestling with scientific inquiry. I do remember affirming this theologian with saving vast numbers of our church's children, post-moderns, who wrestle with the historic understanding of a God strong enough to stop evil yet apparently choosing to allow it, my own son included. I also suggested that given that humanity was in the beginnings of another 500-year paradigm shift, re-thinking would be necessary and diversity among our academic and pastoral theologians, a good thing; to be encouraged and not resisted.

Fear? I came of age in an American evangelical church shaped by the fears of the middle twentieth century; begun in two world wars devolving into a tense cold war with communism, the cloud of nuclear annihilation always on the horizon. It was a deep contrast to the optimism of my Wesleyan revivalist tradition born in the previous century. What I like most in the post-modern understanding of our universe, when perceived from within faithas in Process Theologyis the optimism of a universe growing up and into 'Christ'a vast, diverse, inclusive love.

I cannot, as yet, make the jump to limiting God's freedom of action within and beyond the unfolding universe, however. Understanding fully faiths dilemma if God lives both within/beyond a closed universe I remain unwilling to acknowledge as my God, any God who by definition is only the total sum of all experience; of every energy expanding movement toward complexity and diversityeven if God's loci permits action as the most powerful of the universes conscious centers of experience. The central problem for me is this: If God and the universe are co-eternal or have a singular beginning, then all life, God included, is only an emerging experience; ours and God's conscious personhood captured within time and chaos, rather than transcending it. 

Earlier theories in modern science envisioned a time, several billion years hence, when entropy would ultimately collapse the whole thing back into the ultimate black-hole from which light-energy-time emerged; like a rabbit finding its hole in the ground. Newer theories, I am told, suggest entropy as leading to an expanding universe that with ever increasing speed simply comes apart. 

For love to win, it seems to me that God has to be:
1) A communion of persons whose love is so holy, so complete as to make their diversity a union, and; 
2) Strong enough to form within the universe their likeness, and;
3) Exist apart from, before and within the known universe.  

Before light and with-it time and energy were born, God is-was-will always be. A thousand million universes could not confine, much less fill the holy-love that God is. The universe remains a created reality unfolding within and distinct from the Trinity of God. 

Now, I don't believe Abram necessarily believed in God as I do. I doubt it possible.  I'm quite certain that David's God was tribal, a warrior God. In Israel's Story, this God both longed for and led David to a place beyond war, a temple that only a Son of peace, of his own loins, could imagine and complete (I Chronicles 17: 1-15). This underlying revelation, finding its origins in Genesis One and Two, is reflected and written into the very fabric of time and space; each and every particle and molecule, bio-sphere, indeed the empty coldness of dark space, so that creative love will overcome and transform entropy. It is hopeful and allows me to act within and one day beyond even the universe as my story is taken up into the One who is both Within and Beyond!

After about 15 minutes conversation with my new, older and eloquent friend who had visited our worship this morning, I put my hand onto our shared table (space), near but not touching so as to frighten, and assured her. I had already briefly reviewed how her doubts were the church's doubts in time, taking her to a resurrection scene in Galilee, wherein the disciples first worshiped Jesus, "though some doubted" (Matt 28:17). Concluding, I said. "Of one thing, I am certain. God is love.  I am equally certain that we who follow Jesus as God or as One who comes from God will not be received into love's reign by our correct thinking, as important as it is, but by our trust expressed in love."  She told me she was comforted and took her leave.

To my good friends who carry the burdens of the Church's heart in their own and with me, I can only add; "Fear not." 

Terry :)

For a brief visual that mirrors and leads to the God Storyan advertiser of my books go to: The Narrative of God (in the Liturgical Calendar of the Church)