Where does your worth come from?

The conversation is a common one, really. I hear it almost daily.

Call me by my full name. Use this title, please. I worked hard for these letters. Doctor, pastor, professor so and so. Look at the job I’ve done. See the education I have completed.

Push a little bit and see the defenses rise. It’s like there is a need to be justified, a need to be somebody special… because what, we aren’t someone special without the things we have achieved? (I know it so well, having spent years trying to be someone more than just my name) Is it not okay to just be Nathan, and let that be enough?

So I ask the question… “Does it really matter what name we use for God? Is one better than another?”

And again, the defenses and opinions come up. “Well of course it matters! People have been wounded by certain names/pronouns/beliefs applied to God. So some are definitely better than others.” He, she, Father, Mother, God, Allah, mystery, source, Life, no name, many names…

Trying to justify the worthiness of something is an frustrating endless cycle that can never end with all parties satisfied. A question comes an interrupts everything… “Does God care what names we use?” Really. Does the Divine Life force that gives all things being, that is bigger and smaller and more sustaining than any of us little people could ever understand care what names we use or don’t use? Does life need my particular opinions about it to be worthy unto itself?

And what about this indwelling that is in you? Does it need your accomplishments to make you worthy of the most gentle and overwhelming love? Where does your need for titles and recognition come from? Surely not from the one whose worthiness is inherent in being itself.

And where does that leave us as humans who have the opportunity to recognize and speak that inherent worth into all things we encounter? We MUST remind each other of our worth. We must recognize the worth of all things and all people. Because the Life that gives everything and everyONE life is non-discerning in its gifting. We must call and raise up worth all around us by growing, nurturing, embracing, affirming, and welcoming. This is basic, it’s inherent… and without it, all we can do is judge, perform, and claim things for ourselves that we have no need to claim.

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Growth toward less judgement

We must grow towards a place of less judgement. This is the natural and inevitable result of of spiritual maturing… and perhaps one of the reasons why those less mature might think those farther along the journey are morally relative or “losing their faith.” A “slippery slope” they call it. I shake my head at the face-palm madness of the nostalgic-type, religious-type, fundamentalist-type idea that we have to hunker down even farther into our bunker of what is “right and good,” sticking to our guns of right or wrong, in or out, better or worse.

To hold more tightly to our framework is to uphold increased judgement. It is smaller picture and it is retreat into smaller mind and heart. As we welcome all of Life into our Being, our Being is welcomed into Life. The same could be said of our hearts, our minds, our souls, or our spirits. Whatever word you choose, the reality is the same. The eyes with which we look out upon the world are the eyes that will look back upon us. How we receive others is how they will receive us . It’s why Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you yourself will be judged.” His words also: “Knock and the door will be opened to you.” In other words, you are going to find what you are looking for.

The bondage that occurs with increased judgement (and pre-judgement to be certain) is all around us. Shame towards our beautiful and precious selves, bitterness, stone-walled denial of the reality in front of our very noses, entitlement, vicious competition, the need to perform, progress, and protect. There is not freedom in this and it is a wonder that so many of our culture’s biggest advocates for this type of bondage are found in religious circles. Bondage sculpted as freedom (for we are nothing, we are separated from God, and only OUR beliefs will give you the freedom you are seeking) is one of the most mind-bending confusing hooks of lower-level spiritual development. Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, much of this same bondage is offered to us from our government, media, and western culture. It’s a trap and many write it off as the “rat race.”

Spiritual or psychological maturing is always towards a bigger mind, a more expansive heart, a worldview where “everything belongs.” All peoples, all of nature, all of ourselves. We must see the bigger picture, recognizing that our current moral high ground and restrictive dualism is a flash in the pan, dust in the wind. That tree across the field is 200 years older than you and will see your grandchildren die. Those stones have been there since before your people were even using language.

There are many ways to grow and to release our dualistic judgement of the world around us, but most of them include leaning into ALL of Life, each changing season all the way unto death. There must be, at some point, a recognition that we can’t know everything and we can’t know the whole story while at the same time recognizing that the story we are given is far from the whole story. Each path towards maturity will include some way of finding silence and settledness while including all of ourselves – our breaths, our bodies, our shadows, our limits, our aging, and our dying. Be skeptical of anything that does include these things. Pursue freedom for all things. Look upon all of nature and surely each and every human being with eyes of pure adoration and love. Use words of affirmation and belonging to counter the spells that so many believe about themselves and the world. Healing, not judgement, is the way.

christianity and culture… the shadow

I have been sitting with this writing for months and months, not to find the right words as much as to come to accept what these thoughts might mean and what effect they might have. First, it must be said that part of growth, of maturity, is to be able to see the shadows, even the darkest ones, in the things that you love – and even if the love is uncertain because the shadows are so dark, to be able to find some light in the things we at times want to disown. It is paradox, and paradox is life, or I should say Life with a capital L. Sometimes the hardest truths hold the greatest paradoxes.

I hang on to Christianity, sometimes by the skin of my teeth. I wouldn’t say Christianity hangs onto me, as I don’t think Christianity would really want to keep the likes of me around. I tend to feel a bit “bad for business” at times, which is likely why Life has me in the hospital, doing my caring there, and as a spiritual director, watching and witnessing those who go through the often-overwhelming growing pains that come with spiritual maturing. There is fruit here and so I haven’t thrown in the towel. Sometimes people really need a companion for the journey.

I have spent a lot of time with many who want nothing to do with Christianity – monotheism generally, but Christianity especially. When we talk, I wonder why I would still call myself a Christian (I’m still working this out) and I often have to qualify it (at least outside the hospital) with, “I would consider myself a panentheistic Christian, to be specific.” I have no defense for Christianity or what it has done. I have no evangelical fiber in my being, meaning I don’t really care if people become a Christian or not. It might help them and it really might not. I do care if people find something that works for them and for the world and if there is enough substance there that they can mature spiritually into places of union, love, and nondualism with Life and the world around them. To me, this is the Christ at play. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back and what I think Christianity has to offer the world, though the division and exclusion that Christianity historically has offered is quite the opposite (more on that in a moment). Christianity can offer a unifying, creation- and physical world-celebrating vision of divine indwelling that no other religion quite offers. But I would have to say that most people miss this because they cling to the shadows as though the shadows are the “good news.”

The shadows. Yes, there are a few, and there is no way that I can list them all out. The atrocities done in the name of the church, under the corruption that comes with power, or even the “good intentions” of winning souls for heaven. There is one great shadow that, to me far out does them all. And it is the reason for my caution in speaking to the truth.

Christianity in its historical trajectory has been a culture-slaying religion. It was founded by orphaned people who didn’t have a home, oppressed, cast out, and enslaved. Traumatized. From the Hebrews to the early Christians, the people of Jehovah were on the move and very often under some other nation’s dominance. Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans. This is the history of the Christian religion. And to people who don’t have a home, heaven sounds like a very good place. Traumatized people have to do something with their trauma. It became their message that they brought to the nations: “The Earth is not your home. Your home is in Heaven.” You are a citizen of heaven. No Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Et cetera, et cetera. In this worldview, any culture or group of people that was at home with their land, with their people, their gods, and their ancestors was a considerable threat. And if somehow, missionaries could get people to question their own belonging and latch onto the “belonging in the family of Jesus,” the battle was won. Look through the history accounts and see how many accounts of truly indigenous expressions of Christianity there are, or mission attempts that honored the local people’s cultures. The early Celtic church may be the closest you will get.

So Christianity and the spread of this religion has been about destroying cultures in the name of being a part of the culture of followers of Jesus. “Believers” if you will. When something like “Christian counter-culture” is so at the heart of a religion, it seems unrealistic that it will ever not be there. It goes the same for politics and Christianity, something that always has been connected. Christianity is a political religion, ever since it was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. Tied to the hip with the ruling class. I think some of these things are changing in some places, and for the better, but I wonder if Christian communities that celebrate various cultures as unique expressions of faith and connection with God are thriving. Many that are growing fast often still cling to this message of dominion. “Every knee will bow, every tongue confess…” The messages of winning the battle against the world and finding our home with Jesus are sung and celebrated in churches the world over every Sunday. It truly breaks my heart to see it still happening even today.

I ask you to look for the truth in this. It might not be all true, but there is some here, as there is in all things. Wonder to yourself about your response. It can be easy to defend, deny, or shut out those things that are just too uncomfortable to bear… Christianity in it’s growth and expansion has been a religion that has demand people set aside their culture and beliefs of place and follow “the one true God” (often this being Western Culture). Another response is often to have more reason to not wanting to have anything to do with Christianity. Fair enough, I say. But wonder too, whether anything can be ALL bad, and perhaps try to find the redemptive places where healing and union in love is still taking place.

There is freedom in being honest about our allegiances and also the traumas of our history. Trauma that is not honored and acknowledged often gets inflicted on others as another form of trauma. If we want to grow into maturity and awareness, we need to look at the things we love and see the shadows. Otherwise, we turn the other way and pretend that certain uncomfortabilities are not taking place. We become co-conspirators then by virtue of our silence, much like the many religious people looking the other way in the midst of the Nazi genocide. We must do the same with our Christian history of culture destruction. Only then can we move into a future of unity, inclusion, and spiritual maturity.

Prayer

I grew up learning that God always answers prayer. Yes, no, or wait. These were the answers that God gave. Because God always answers prayer. It seems pretty simple and as a neat little formula, it works to explain how “casting our cares” (or wants, wishes, and hopes) out there into the ether could result in them being received by a God who is influenced by my petitions.

How one prays and what prayer means to a person says a lot about who God is to that person. Many, I think, see God as somewhere out there making things happen from his heavenly throne, receiving the prayers of countless worshipers, big enough (or not big enough) to answer them all and respond accordingly. Some would say, pray according to your faith. Expect God to do wondrous things and miracles will happen. Pray “in Jesus’ name” for an extra seal of approval and seek to align yourself with the will of God. Prayer is powerful to move mountains and soften the hardest heart. What it comes down to, most often it seems, is that prayer is transactional, an asking and a receiving, hinged on hope and often destined for disappointment when things don’t go the way we wish.

What I have seen is that people pray for things (with very strong faith, to be sure) and those things do not come to pass… and sometimes they do. And then others don’t pray at all and they are gifted with what many pray so fervently for… and other times they are not. Studies have been done about the power of prayer, yes, and I wonder, is prayer for the one doing the praying, for the one prayed for, or for the one prayed to?

I no longer think of God as a force that is “out there.” As I have come to experience and understand God as Life, as the animating force that sustains, maintains, and contains all things, prayer has changed. What is the will of God when God is infinite, beyond and within time in ways that our linear finite minds could never fully perceive? Will, as we would understand it, would be governed BY time and WITHIN time. God’s knowing, as we would understand it and claim it, would be bound to knowing as we know. I can’t say that this is the case. So praying so as to influence God, or praying so as to better know the will of God, seems like a game of cat and mouse.

Prayer, in it’s essence, is non-linear. I can put so many words to what prayer is not, to how prayer falls short. But attempting to describe prayer that aligns with indwelling Life is to describe an action, an attitude… a way of being. The “will” of God, is what IS. Life happens in its horror and bliss and all is within that Life. To pray is to have our intentions, our desires, our being engulfed, embraced, consumed, and overwhelmed by presence. We don’t cast our prayers out there somewhere… our prayers are taken up and transformed before they ever reach our lips. I do believe prayer is incredibly impactful, not just for our time but for all of time and for all places, but this can only be when God is in all things and all things are in God.

Perhaps we would all do well to release our need to pray with the right words or finding the right things to pray for and just listen for a while. Rather than going through the lists of those we care for and the things we want to see happen in the world, we could breathe… in silence… without the words. When I open my groups or spiritual direction with silence or teaching breathing practice, we are praying, just in a more natural and universal way.

Imagine it like being in the ocean. You could get obsessed with what you are going to do in the water, what kind of floaties you will have with you, how you can boat, swim, or dive. You could analyze and think about all the little parts of the water and the sand and the aquatic life. But you wouldn’t get the same experience as if you stopped and felt the waves on your body, the movement, the ebbing and the flowing. You would be missing something if you didn’t pay attention to being wet, to being weightless, the salt on your lips. Prayer is similar. It is a relationship. Loving affects the lover, the beloved, and all those in their presence.

Balance is the Foundation

“This cannot wait,” I am told.

We inhale it in the air we breath. Continue to improve upon the past. We drink it in the water. Tomorrow can be better than today. It is our daily diet, the food we binge on. Be all you can be. It is the IV drip that is fed to us in our advertising, catalogs, news coverage, social media, and education. Progress. Advancement. You can have what you put your mind to. Give your children more than what you had when you were young.

It is not the only way. 

It is a hard truth to look at the many problems in the world, the imbalance of resource distribution, the violence, the oppression and consider that fixing it might not be the best way forward. Fixing it is probably the best solution, but what our Earth and all her beings may need is not a solution. As Einstein said, “We cannot fix our problems with the same thinking that created them.” To find the technology that will save us is the same crazy thinking that got us in this place. To push cash at a problem or send in the military is more of the same insanity that got us here. To vote, while perhaps is needed, is a minimal action that ultimately amounts to playing the same political game that created this clown show. 

But isn’t it human nature to try to make things better for the future? Hasn’t it always been this way, that people want to make tomorrow better than today? Isn’t this the name of the game for every teacher, doctor, scientist, engineer, and probably religious leader? I would say NO! For centuries, politics, science, economics, and religion has worked together to push for a vision of a better future, whether it be here on Earth or in streets paved with gold. For this better future, we have created technology, established ideologies and theologies, written laws, destroyed cultures, and ravaged our land, the ground that sustains us. Much good has come out of this, I see that, and many will consider that the mark of our success. But things have gotten out of balance and it has gotten us where we are, which many would likely agree is not a sustainable or healthy place. 

This quest for progress is not human nature, has not always been this way, and is not the only way to move forward. There was a time when people saw that everything was perfect the way that it was. Human beings didn’t have a mandate to progress or make things better, but rather, it was their purpose to do everything possible to maintain the harmony, balance, and right relations with all that was. Being in right relationship to the land, to each other, to those who came before and those that will come after them – this is what they lived for. They didn’t believe they had a right to live, a right to not die, or a right to take for themselves. Every day, every meal, every child and elder was a gift. And because they received so many gifts, they therefore had to give in return. They were indebted to Life and gratitude was expected. To maintain the balance, to restore harmony. This was the Foundation. 

Our home is out of balance. For those that live in gratitude and do not take for themselves and their own, they cannot hold up to the onslaught of greed and consumption. This is a beast that will never be satisfied. Until it consumes everything. The Wild is a fragile thing and it doesn’t “get back” at the two-legged creatures that destroy it daily. It is not like us and will likely be destroyed wildly, maintaining it’s wildness. 

It is the land that will teach us. It is the wild ones that will show us the way forward.

It is a time for heart-brokenness. It is a time for sadness, for grief. To know that in many ways, we are too far gone and that there is no turning back. This has to be the only first response. And then we must learn. Learning does not inherently lead one to fix. Sometimes learning is thorough enough to convince us we need to withhold our hand. To jump to a solution may be part of the problem that got us here. Solving comes from knowing and the way forward seems to be mostly unknown. 


We must do what is needed, which may not yet be known. We must learn from our land. Not control our land, direct our land, or manage our land. We must learn. It is the land that will teach us. It is the wild ones that will show us the way forward. Because they live for balance… and also die for balance. 

Spiritual Direction and reflections on Life, Trouble, and Heartbreak

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