War and Peace Part 2. “Dinner with the Devil”

If many of us don’t who we’re against, we don’t know who we’re for. If we don’t who we’re for, we don’t who we are. 

This dualistic tension holds the very fabric of modern society together, all of war depends upon it. 

All of peace depends upon forgetting it. 

Because the labor of peace is not itself violent or fraught with tension. Rather, the life of a peacemaker is absurd; utterly foolish as some might say. 

In one of the most unexplored ethics of human history, in Jesus we see an alternative.

The largest justification for human violence remains the notion that state violence, war is the only means to thwart evil. Such a perspective is necessarily connected to hubris. Specifically, the arrogant premise that my nation maintains an exclusive handle on morality.

Such flawed systems of belief simply perpetuate the dualistic tensions that perpetuate armed conflict. Many profit from the wars, many suffer. Those who suffer are rarely given a voice, those who profit often have the ears of the nations.

And so in the business of peacemaking it is very easy to fall into a new dualistic trap–the nations are the bad guys, but the poor and outcast civilians are the good people I must protect. This is simply a new “us” and “them.” It’s inevitable conclusion is more violence.

In the classic story of Zacchaeus, Jesus publicly befriends an evil man. Not because he was icky or socially ostracized like some that Jesus was said to befriend, but because he was pure evil.

He sold out his faith and family for power, prestige, and money and actively joined the Romans in oppressing the poor people and belittling Israel. As the chief tax collector, he was directly responsible for the forced economic enslavement and oppression of hundreds of thousands of people. He was absolutely complicit in maintaining the Roman rule which slaughtered innocents and mercilessly maintained its grip of authoritarian power.

This is no “personal” sort of sin like many of the gluttons, and drunks, and sexual misguided Jesus was said to befriend. This dude was a little fascist on his way to selling out his own people for profit.

And Jesus publicly befriends him.

Because this vulnerability, this willingness to sacrifice image, this dangerous move to love the oppressor as much as the oppressed–Hitler as much as his victims–is the utterly paradoxical and petrifying foundation of the Jesus message.

And no one that I can think of has tried this.

Starving with the oppressed I get.

But dinner with the devil?

Perhaps it’s time to ask Assad if he has dinner plans.

War and Peace Pt. 1: “I Can Hear Those Fighter Planes”

I can hear those fighter planes,
Yes I can hear those fighter planes.

Across the mud huts where the children sleep,
Down into the valley and quiet city streets.

We take the staircase to the first floor,
We turn the key and slowly unlock the door.

A man breathes into saxophone,
And Through the walls we hear the city groan.

Outside is America. Outside is America….

…I feel a long way from the hills of San Salvador where the sky is ripped open and the rain pours through a gaping wound, pelting the women and children, pelting the women and children run, run in to the arms of America.

-Bono from U2 in “Bullet the Blue Sky”

I just put my daughter down to let her nurse with her mom to fall asleep for the night.

I woke up this morning to images of children in Douma, Syria suffocating from the latest of atrocities in that neighborhood.

What if instead of seeing the sleepy, relaxed joy inside my daughter’s eyes tonight, I saw the struggle for the final moments of life while toxic gas choked out her ability to breathe?

I can barely write those words for the pain that comes with those mental images.

I can shutter away and try not to think, but my neighbors in Syria cannot. Their plight is one that has persisted the entirety of human existence. For them, this is real life.

So I want to pose the daring, dangerous question,

“Is there another way than endless cycles of violence?”

Or to put it anther way, in the words of the famous peacemaker St. Paul I ask in the name of the human race,

“Who can deliver me from this body of death?”

St. Paul wrote these words to his brothers and sisters in Rome where the punishment for murder was to physically carry the corpse of one’s victim strapped to his/her back. Paul too felt like a man carrying around his “dark side” destined to haunt him for the rest of his days.

Today, I relate.

I consider those children, men, and women dying once again at the hands of a twisted government and I wonder, who can deliver me from this body of death. Their memories and their plight strapped to me like the victims of my own complacency.

If I was in Douma this morning, I would wonder why no one cares about me? Why no one cares about my innocent daughter? How did my neighborhood turn into hell?  Why are we alone to suffer?

Then the tweet from the highest offices of government in America runs across the internet,

“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big Price to pay.”

This on the heels of an uncertain future regarding the growing few thousand American Service Members slowly creeping into Syria.

Such visceral images usually illicit strong, bellicose reactions. It seems almost as human as crying or laughing to want retaliation, tit for tat, eye for eye. The only way to keep the world in check is to stop evil, with violence if necessary, right? Isn’t that how it works, isn’t that how this country works? If we don’t do something, then what?

I fear, however, that those of us not in Syria, especially here in the states grinding away at our own livelihood, don’t really care much about justice for Syrians.

I’m not sure how we could while we actively labor to shut our borders from refugees of war–like the ones in Syria. To date, this country has only allowed 44 Syrian refugees to settle here. I’m not sure how we could think we care about Syrians while we continue to spend our money on worthless material possessions and neglect the needs of these desperate people. I’m not sure how we can say with a straight face that we actually care as a country, when we stand to profit so much from entering into another endless conflict in the Middle-East.

The CEO of Lockheed Martin, the county’s largest defense contractor, earned a personal salary of $20.6 million last year.

The war business is good.

We’ve been at war continuously since 2001, and only at peace in this country for less than 20 of our 239 year existence. Our greatest export is violence. The Department of Defense the largest employer in the WORLD.

Real quick, this means that more human energy and labour is spent on the American Military Industrial Complex than anything else.

The truth about our world, is that evil is not able to exist unless their is a strong and well developed code of morality that allows it to thrive. Like the one we have here in the States. It’s why words like, “Big Price” are actually frightening, double-sided, and potentially devastating.

History has shown us that genuine love for neighbor is making oneself utterly vulnerable in the name of solidarity. It’s touching the untouchables, starving with the starving, dying with the dying. Somehow, it’s also loving the evil, violent, and dangerous.

It’s why Jesus on the cross isn’t a way of saving a few people from an angry God, it’s a model for how to set the world right. You take the blows of the cycle of violence. You stop the downward descent into mutually assured destruction by not transmitting it any farther. If the violence stops with you, it can no longer touch those for who it was intended.

Two days ago, a radicalized man in Germany drove a car into a crowd of people in the name of his twisted religion. Germany quietly mourned, picked up the pieces, and carried on about their business. It hardly received press. They have their own struggle with immigration, a radical right, and religious radicalization as many countries face in the EU. Without knowing it, though, this week they accepted and killed off an arm of violence in the world.

I learned at West Point that terrorism derives its power from its ability to illicit bellicose and violent reactions from enemies that are unequally matched. The purpose of 9/11 for example wasn’t the incident itself, but the longest war in American history that came right after. That’s terrorism at its most successful.

When we choose not to retaliate, we quietly and humbly put a piece of the world back together. When we chose to die because we must suffer with the suffering, or because we can see the humanity and potential and divine spark in our enemy’s eyes, we are choosing something different.

We become a seed of change that sprouts into a mighty oak in the forest of eternal peace.

This is why genuine Christianity appears as utter foolishness.

But one must compare this foolishness to our current state of affairs. In America, the people via their House of Representatives has completely abdicated their role in preventing war. By doing so we have made ourselves utterly complicit in the destabilization and evil that persists in the Middle East. When it comes to a leader resorting to violence to maintain control over his land as is the case in Syria, we have to  recognize our part in that. The destabilization that began with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan has a part to play the Syria’s suffering.

After 9/11, congress temporarily authorized what is known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF. This new doctrine was liberally mixed with the War Powers Act of the Constitution. This political cocktail was supposedly created in the name of allowing the Executive to temporarily consolidate power to make responding to 9/11 simpler.

This act gave the Executive unilateral power to deploy the American Military. Mind you, I’m in the process of getting out of the Army for issues of good conscience, but this military force is unparalleled in its raw, destructive potential in the history of mankind. This power was formally abdicated by Congress in 2001 and never returned.

At the moment, one man has the ability to deploy, commit, and direct the most powerful military-inustrial complex in the history of the world. This isn’t a personal attack against any one president either, because this has now persisted through 3 presidents, some multiple terms. Furthermore, the largest lobbyist and contractors in America stand to profit from another endless and public war in Syria.

“Big Price” might have a double-meaning in this case. Many in this country are standing to profit (remember that $20.6 million a year salary) if our Executive can get angry enough to send troops. Of course, this response would look like more violence, chaos, destabilization, and innocent death in Syria more than redemption.

I desperately want to offer the people of Syria something other than more death!

And so I ask, who is foolish enough to leave it all behind and go die with the dying? To go starve with the starving, to love the evil in spite of their evil, to serve the malnourished and forgotten.

Maybe, to go to the evil one’s house for dinner as Jesus did to Zaccheaus? (more on that later.)

Tonight I meditate and remember the most radical and unexplored ethic of human consciousness,

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What if we became an incarnate prayer for victims of war? Instead of hating the evil ones and contributing to more violence, what if we incarnated the solidarity of Jesus on the Cross? What if we let go once and for all that somehow more bombs, more planes, more radar systems and soldiers could do anything other than cause suffering of the innocent while profiting the companies that make them.

What if we stopped funding and working for ourselves, for war, for death and destruction and became conscientious and empathetic?

Can you see it?


*These views do not represent any of the organizations aforementioned including West Point, the US Army, and Department of Defense. They are solely and exclusively those of the author. 

God is Dead…And So Is Matt.

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Listen to me read it in a podcast!


God is Dead?

The Cover of Time Magazine asked this question April 8, 1966. The first time the magazine ever published a cover without a picture.

Those three words were enough.

This question was being asked by a group of radical theologians questioning what it is we mean when we talk about “God.” They considered the prevailing notion of God a relic, wile the image of Jesus the only healthy view of the divine.

I don’t want to spend time analyzing their theology or essays. Rather, I want to build upon the theological revolution and evolution that began Spring of 1966.

I must say that I too believe God is dead, a nuanced statement that is not as straightforward as you might hope. Because it is the conclusion predicated upon the premise, that Matt also, is quite dead.

The doorway for this essay is a refrain from Jesus I’ve previously written about, though not from this angle:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies alone, it cannot bear fruit.”

This passage and so many like it have been abused for the last two millennia. I’m going to join in the project of so many other Christians and thought leaders of our time in rebuilding Christianity from the ground up.

My hope is that if you are a mainline observing evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, or somewhere in between you will feel quite challenged though not alienated.

If you are atheistic, I hope you might feel included in this conversation. I am a Christian using ancient teachings to point outside of my own immediate culture and religious context–just as the master himself did.

Finally, if you follow another religious flow, I pray you feel similarly challenged to temporarily suspend your own traditional bents in the name of discovering an only slightly evolved perspective about truth.

Truth is truth, after all, no matter where you happen to find it.

So let’s investigate the death of Matt, shall we?

It began with self-awareness. I had to unplug from the rat-race and business of everyday life and practice being aware. Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk popular around the time of the aforementioned Time article, has famously quipped,

“The biggest disease in North America is busyness.”

Some call this movement away from business the present, some call it self-awareness, others The Now. Naming aside, what’s important is that I was compelled to stop and listen.

Listen to my breathing, my heartbeat, the wind outside, the sirens in the distance, the laughing of my daughter upstairs. And just sit there wasting time noticing what was happening. Noticing what is.

This is actually very difficult if one is used to constant mental or emotional stimulation.

In the quiet I was so often tempted to worry, to think about things happening in the future, or remember old feelings of shame and guilt from the past. All the while struggling to remain in the present moment unattached.

I became quickly aware that my entire life is a sparring match with being here, now. For most of my life, the present has only existed to support my mental constructs about future or past. The present was a like movie screen for the reel inside of my head, and it ran 24/7.

In sum, I learned that I was missing my life entirely.

Because my life was happening to me, right here in this moment. And I was constantly vacationing to the future or contemplating the past.

But the present is all we really have! Think about it, when the past you begrudge occurred, it was the present. When the future you anticipate arrives, it is the present. But so very little of the time do we stop and actually savor the present moment.

Rick Hanson, a nuropsycologist who has studied human happiness for years recently teamed up with a group of neuroscientists to test a hypothesis. He believed that humans hold onto negative events (and project them in the future), while immediately forgetting positive events.

He compares negative events to velcro, and positive ones to teflon.

His hypothesis was in fact, correct. He actually discovered that in order to appreciate, remember, and fully savor a positive event, deliberate contemplation must occur for at least 15 seconds. Otherwise, more likely than not, you will forget it happened.

The lesson from these findings is the unmasking of our natural bent to actually villanize being in the present. We as a species for some reason spend most of our conscious time in the present taking in bad information and forgetting the good.

If you inject the intellectual pace, technological distractions, and general business of modern western lifestyles, it’s no wonder that we’ve come to associate the present moment with bad feelings we wish to avoid.

Of course, so much of this happens at the sub-conscious level, so it happens subtly disguised as other things. The most addictive distraction I’ve noticed from living in the moment is work–specifically work that makes one feel important.

If you fall into a system in which you become an integral part, like a vital member of a staff or team. Or, if you begin your own business and all future endeavors depend on you, or if you are super good at your serving job or barista position, your mind now has a multitude of things to be occupied with that are not presence.

We, especially Americans, love it. It’s an addiction. We live to work because simply living is such an unbearable dread. All of those negative events waiting to be remembered, waiting to happen to us!

This rhythm starts in school, sports, extra-curricular activities, dinners, away games you name it. By the time we leave college we know how the system works, how to play the game and win. And that looks like lots of work. We couldn’t imagine what would happened if we didn’t live like this!

I was stuck in this tiresome rhythm of life just like everyone else.

But slowly, I learned to take in the present moment without judgement. I learned that I didn’t have to allow the feelings and thoughts about the future-past to linger, and I didn’t have to judge them when they crossed my mind.

The result was incredible peace. I’ve claimed to have been peaceful before but it was only because I never experienced this.

I felt no anger, no sadness, no extreme joy, only this warm and steady confidence that I was loved and everything was going to be just fine. All of the sudden I could take in the beauty of the evening, the warm light in the room, the subtle smell of my tea, the joy of my wife sitting near me, thankfulness for my sleeping daughter upstairs, delight in being alive.

For the first time, I was present enough to simply give thanks for having consciousness–it’s quite possible that I could be dead, or not even born!

And as I fell into the depth of this sensation, I could feel no animosity toward others who had hurt me, in fact I wanted them to experience this love I was soaking in as well!

I wasn’t worried about how my next few months were going to pan out, I knew no matter what anyone told me that soon it would all make sense.

I was thankful for the road that had brought me here and wouldn’t have a changed a thing.

It was bliss. Perfection. Perhaps the way life is meant to be.

I would slowly emerge from my cocoon of love ready for whatever lay ahead–but quite content with my tea or the conversation or whatever happened to be happening.

Of course, as the hours would pass new fears, old memories, and present excitement about some new project would slowly drag me back into the old way of stress, worry, and anxiety.

But then would come another meditation period, another prayer session, another time of just sitting and starting out the window though I could be doing a thousand other things.

And the peace of this moment would return.

This cycle continued and my ability to stay within this sort of flow of unconditional love would lengthen. I started needing less time of stepping away from life to find this peace.

Quite soon, this peace would follow me, it wouldn’t leave. In what seemed like overnight, I suddenly felt as if I was meditating all the time. There was no need to stop and seek the divine, the love of God, or the goodness of God’s presence.

Lines and boundaries in my mind started crumbling.

There was no longer a seeker and one to seek.

There was no holy and secular.

No Sacred. No Profane.

No division. All is one.

Everything is spiritual.

Everything is holy.

I do hope this makes sense! You must only let go, and let it be.

Lose your life, waste time, and sit there. Isn’t it glorious?

The urging of the new testament authors to pray without ceasing suddenly made sense. No longer as an impossible standard to measure up to, but rather a description of what life is like inside this constant meditation, this constant awareness of unconditional love, of the very presence of God.

I believe Jesus called this the Kingdom of Heaven.

Turns out it was at hand. Turns out it was inside me, waiting to be revealed.

Suddenly all of Jesus’ teaching fell into this new category. No longer moral imperatives about how to be a Christian, but a beautiful description helping those who uncovered the Kingdom inside of them to recognize it when they arrived.

But to journey here, you must travel light. You must let go of your worry. Forget your future. And the hardest part, let down the notion that you have some important work to do.

There is no one depending on you. There is no one who needs you to save them. There are no people which you must “lead” or “serve.”

You see these all serve what I call the ego.

The ego is the way that many non-dual theologians talk about this experience that you think of as you.

For just one moment, stop and ponder. When I think about “me,” what do I think of? What image or thought pattern comes to mind?

Who are you? An individual person, separate from others?

The longer I stayed in the Kingdom of Heaven, the more I lost “myself.”

My wounds, my longings for the future, my plans, my sense of responsibility, my sense of self-importance.

The walls began crumbling. The divisions I had put up around “me” and “you” and “them” all started to fade. These constructs weren’t robust enough to capture what I was experiencing, what I knew to be true and pure.

I started uncovering what many ancient Christian theologians–and thinkers from other faith traditions–call the true self. The walls that were falling were surrounding my false self.

Most of us never accept freedom from our false selves. Instead we slave away at things like perfection, 6-figure jobs, feeling important, mortgages, 401ks, and early retirement.

Thomas Merton once said,

“The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self.”

So good, Thomas.

And so, I began to accept freedom from my false self. My ego began to crumble. Bit by bit this idea known as Matt began to fade.

My dreams were first to go.

My fears and anxieties next.

My sense of self-importance after.

And the final step of this death to self has been failure. I’ve been accepting failure, realizing that the only thing wounded by failure is the very notion of keeping my ego alive in the first place.

So bring on the failure! Because who cares, what does that even mean for, “Matt to Fail?”

And here is the really interesting paradox. If Matt is dead, buried alone in the ground, what is left?

I don’t anticipate many being able to follow this. Not because you aren’t capable, but many won’t want to.

But if you’re ready to hear it, please continue.

When I let my ego die, I found that what was left was only the same thing that was everything else. It was that unrelenting peace, that unconditional love.

I’m not really sure what to call it.

You see, for so many of us who operate around our ego, the worst thing that could occur is inadequacy. Better said, the worst scenario for one’s ego is the day it discovers powerlessness.

For those of us with ego problems, we need something to attach our egos to, in order to carry them over the river of powerlessness and inadequacy.

Enter “God.”

“He” is there to clean up where our egos fall short. “God” becomes a super-ego, our ideal of moral perfection for which we strive. We can only deal with our temporary shortcomings by claiming dependency on “God.” The ancient and foundational theologian Augustine spoke of this at length. He called this phenomenon the “Idolatry of God.” In short, it is the process of imposing our own super ego into a Zues-like figure somewhere, up there.

And, what’s more, in times of uncertainty and fear, “God” becomes the placeholder of absolute certainty, and the Bible becomes the 8×11 rulebook you can’t live without. This “God” becomes something, if not the location that we collectively store our dreams of self-perfection and importance.

But I can assure you, the sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God which we have been taught to look upward to entreat, isn’t real.

Rather, this God has only served as whipping post for philosophers for thousands of years. God, somewhere else, in the sky, waiting for the earth to destroy itself to save the good ones, has little precedence in spiritual history. This is more of an expression of our collective longing to hold on to our egos, than it is historical or even theological fact.

And slowly, many are waking up to this realization. And so quite aptly, God is dead.

Because that never was God.

And so, in this new universe of divisionlessness one may find themselves quite disoriented. Because if many of us don’t know what we’re against, we don’t know who we are.

The ego needs an enemy in order to survive, it needs an in-crowd and out-crowd. It needs war, death, and destruction of many and the salvation of a few–a few that happen to reflect the ego itself.

And in this open plain of new life, in the Kingdom of Heaven, one might find that God actually is utter powerlessness and vulnerability.

A refugee baby born in a farm.

A dying man forgiving his torturers.

A forgiving victim.

This perhaps why the new testament writer calls the Kingdom of Heaven utter “foolishness.” (How that reference has been abused over the years.)

Because God isn’t a being to be understood, a scholastic mountain we must summit.

Rather, God awaits us at the bottom of our humiliation. Because only then, is the false self and the false God put to death.

In our meager, humble, simple existence in which our personal identity is considered irrelevant. Found through the acceptance that you aren’t your ego. Found through the death of what you consider “you.”

When you lose your life, you find it. You find freedom, and you find God.

And then you see that breathing is prayer.

Existing is believing.

Weeping is worship.

Having consciousness is theology.

The mountains express beauty.

This moment, is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Do you see it?

So finally then, what is God?

First, not separate from you, or anyone else. Remember, everything is one, everything is spiritual. No division.

I can’t take you any further, no man can lead another down this road, I can only point the way.

So I leave you with the words of Richard Rohr. Himself a Franciscan Monk, he is summarizing the words of the ancient theologian Bonaventure. This is the best one can do, because the experience of God is just that, a transcendental experience.

He summarizes this notion in three sacred concepts:

Emanation: We come forth from God bearing the divine image, and thus our inherent identity is grounded in the life of God from the beginning (Genesis 1:26-27).

Exemplarism: Everything in creation is an example, manifestation, and illustration of God in space and time (Romans 1:20). No exceptions.

Consummation: All returns to the Source from which it came (John 14:3). The Omega is the same as the Alpha; this is God’s supreme and final victory.

We are the very life of God, exploring itself. Our inherent identity, is that of an expression of God.

So instead of life being this literal and rigid competition amongst egos, we are simply expressions of God itself. We emanate from God, exemplify God, and when we are ready, our ego dies and we consummate with God once more.

God being vulnerability. God being unconditional love. The eyes of evolution. The fabric of existence. The breath of life, the energy of reality. God IS. (Perhaps it’s time for a new name, to clear things up!)

Because the Kingdom is at hand.

And perhaps, this is the fruit of those kernels of grain (the ego) falling into the ground and dying alone. This (consummation) is their fruit. And suddenly, when we all wake up to our divine image, we become the proverbial salt of the earth. And we can, as one, stop and contemplate,  and declare that “It is good.”

 

Visit Link To Help Displaced Families in Syria

Hey everyone,

If you don’t already know, the last 24 hours in Syria have been some of the bloodiest. There’s about 400,000 people suffering from escalated violence between armed rebels and government forces.

Their houses are quite literally falling on top of them.

If you’re interested in helping, click the link below to learn more about what you can do.

Preemptive Love is actually on the ground so all donations go to buying food and other urgently needed items in neighboring areas and is brought directly to these families.

Much love,

Matt

Click Here to Watch a Video About Last 24 Hours:

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PreemptiveLove

 

The Road To Damascus

Growing up in protestant churches all across the world, I began noticing some striking similarities.

Men in the pulpits.

Defined and often unequal gender roles.

Preformed and rigid rules about “purity” and social hierarchy.

Ungrounded feelings of victimization.

A collective striving for moral perfectionism.

An undying, almost blind support of our government (so long as they happened to be conservative.)

The logical basis for the majority of this behavior can be found in the writings of Saint Paul. He has become the sort of protestant “standard bearer” for how to church.

His ideas, his ecclesiological experiments, his relationships, and his ministry have become the model for Protestantism—especially evangelicalism—worldwide.

But what if we got Paul all wrong? What if his writings aren’t the blueprint that the evangelical world paints them to be?

After all, what of the other Church fathers—Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Augustine—and other historical leaders—Justin Martyr, Abba Anthony, Francis?

The powerful currents of the evangelical sub-culture often limit the spiritual experience to remain contained to the 66 book text now called the Bible.

But what if we’re reading it wrong? What if we’re missing the point?

What if Paul was writing more about his own imperfect relationship with the Divine, filled with feelings of inadequacy and shortcoming, than he was a blueprint for how to plant churches.

He insisted on seeking the influence of the emperor and furthering his “ministry” all the while disbelieving that his salvation alone, could have been enough.

No, he had to take this thing to the king!

His writings portray a man who works out of intense passion and maybe even fear or guilt. This is a theme in virtually all of his writings.

Perhaps Saint Paul makes the mistakes that a lot of church leaders make today—outbursts at other leaders, controlling literalism which stifles growth, a false sense of ownership over other people which causes him stress and anguish, and a need to save others which drives him tirelessly all across the empire.

Maybe the point of Damascus was simply Paul becoming aware of unconditional love? So much so that he would lay down his honor killings. So much so that he would lay down his religious ministry, his righteous agenda.

Lately, I’ve come to view the Road to Damascus as a sort of archetype for modern western Christians. A story which many of us, including myself, share today.

A man so passionate about his cause he kills his enemy on his journey to self-importance. He’s an evangelist. And after conversion he changes teams, cleans up his act, but keeps his evangelistic and self-important nature running away from the simple presence and availability of God.

I think he is quite aware of this tension in his life as evidenced by his often referencing to it in his writings. I don’t think Paul’s words “to die is Christ, to live is gain,” was so much an authoritative position on how one ought to life one’s life. Perhaps it was more a vulnerable glimpse about what he was trying to achieve, though he continued to feel inadequate.

I don’t know that Paul arrived so to speak at Damascus or even in the three years after, or five years after, perhaps if ever!

But that wasn’t the point. He was set free.

He was rescued from his enslavement to murderous jealousy. And like Israel being led out of Egypt, if that’s all God did for Paul, it would have been enough.

In fact, part of the millennia old passover celebration in Judaism, is the dayenu hymn. This word, dayenu, captures the only necessary movement and awareness of coming alive, of connecting to God, of becoming fully human.

To receive the freedom of realizing there is nothing to attain, no spiritual laundry list to mark off, only the boundless and unconditional generosity and love of the Divine.

Roughly translated this word means, “It would have been enough.”

They sing, “If God had only brought us out of our slavery in Egypt, it would have been enough.”

Because this is the spiritual destination. This is arriving.

Realizing that letting go and receiving your freedom from the prison that is the constructs of human injustice and oppression is always the end of the spiritual road.

To put it another way, it’s why the story of Jonah isn’t about the Ninevites, it’s about Jonah.

Jonah thinks God hates his enemies, but God goes to an extreme length to demonstrate the significance of the Ninevites personally to the prophet. Their humanity, their significance to God.

The story of Jonah isn’t about getting swallowed by a whale or a holy man’s disobedience, it’s about God teaching Jonah that his enemies are loved by the same God that loves him.

It’s why the writings of Paul aren’t about how he says to church, it’s about Paul. It’s about Paul’s story, his journey to realizing things like, “without love I am a noisy cymbal.” That even Paul, once an enemy of God, is loved by the same God that loves Jesus.

Maybe there aren’t really any enemies to begin with. Just illusions of separation and division that confuse us about who really are. And so slowly, Paul must remember.

Perhaps the entire Pauline ministry was less of a church model to which we must remain limited, and more of one man’s struggle to let go of his ego, and let the love of God be enough.

Jesus, if you remember, said evangelists like Paul (before and after Damascus) make other men “sons of hell.”

It Is Good.

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.-Jesus

Let go.

I wish I had realized long ago that this is the main message of following Jesus.

I wish I had realized long ago that this is the main message of all wisdom–often called sophia perennis.

Because, as Tony Parsons once said, the only thing to attain is the realization that there is absolutely nothing to attain.

It. Is. Finished.

And so within the paradox of wanting and having, we fear letting go.

Of our plans, our future, our finances, our goals, our ambitions.

So instead we collect, we hoard, we scheme and plan, we build our 401ks, mortgages, nice jobs of meaningful employment, and settle in for the long cruise.

This game isn’t easy, so we find joy in the struggle.

But as for letting go, no such thing. That’s only for the spiritually elite.

Perhaps. But, what if spiritual elitism is as simple as realizing such a freedom is available for free, without your need of achievement.

It’s the invisible hierarchy and ladder of Christiandom that has kept so many from the freedom of letting go, waiting for us to grasp it just around the corner.

There is absolutely no action necessary for it. Even letting go places too much of the onus of this decision upon our egos.

Just stop playing the game. The 9-5 cubical rat race. The get, get, get, provide, provide, provide cycle. It’s the greatest positive feedback loop ever devised. The great gamble. The great game. The wonderful dream.

Work, work, work, earn, earn, earn, get, get, get. Do it again.

It is God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. If you spend your hours on food, clothing, water, and shelter you’re making it harder and harder to let yourself fall into the arms of unconditional love.

It is so hard for a wealthy person to inherit the Kingdom. He has no need of it, he’s made his own, of his own devising. And he loves it.

The Kingdom of Heaven–or to put it another way, the true reality–is waiting to reveal itself to you just on the other side of the curtain. But, this Kingdom is a simple life. Much simpler than you’re used to.

No money, no possessions, no plans, no ambitions.

These constructs are the sedative drugs of the middle class that keep us coming back for more.

Because the education costs money, and the job pays it back, but to live cheaply and wisely you need a mortgage, so you shell out even more. You wind up shackled to a job description where you spend at least 8 hours a day any way so why not consider this your chief identity.

Hi, I’m Joe I’m a…

And don’t think this is unique to America, or even unique to our generation. Granted, the scheme as has been perfected as of late, but this has been the bent of humanity since the dawn of its consciousness.

Food and Water, as some have labeled the phenomenon.

The more we have, the more we need, the harder it is to let go.

And so we don’t just hold on to our stuff, we hold on to people, to relationships, to idealism, and mental constructs.

It surely is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle.

So we wake up the kids early on Sunday and fight our way to church.

This should put a band-aid on the existential crisis at least for another week. Let me just get the boost I need to make it one more week.

Yeah, that’s it, I feel better I think I’m ready. You know what, I think I know how to solve that issue at work, I can’t wait to get back…and spend 50 hours at the office this week. I better go home and write that email. Got to provide for the family after all. That’s my duty!

And the loop continues endlessly.

The truth is, I’m talking to myself as much as anyone else.

But I’m hoping not much longer.

I’m hoping to wake up.

Because it really is God’s good pleasure to give me the Kingdom. And Jesus said don’t worry about about anything else, the food and clothing!

I don’t even have to try to get it. I don’t have to hold onto it. Once it’s given the only thing I could do wrong is try so hard to hoard it (like I do everything else) or use it so ambitiously (like I do everything else) that I lose it.

Because the great lie of religion is that there is a seperate seeker and a separate kingdom to seek.

The Kingdom is at hand, and it’s inside you. Inside me. Inside us.

But it’s selfless, and free. So I can’t put a fence around it and charge rent.

This breaks every mental construct that’s ever developed in my life.

So maybe the Kingdom isn’t in my mind. Maybe it’s not even in one singular location. Maybe, it is. Just like, I AM.

And maybe, for me to consider myself distinctly separate from God, from others, from the Kingdom is the great fib of human consciousness. Maybe, there’s nothing to earn, nothing to find, nothing to get, nothing to plan. Perhaps it’s always been my inheritance, I’ve simply been too egotistical to accept its boundless generosity.

So I leave the treasure that’s always been mine, to go find it somewhere else.

I’m the one that’s left.

Maybe, I just need to stop trying and come home.

And maybe, when we come home, we realize that to be human is simply to look back on all of creation, and with the uniqueness of our consciousness say, “It is good.”

 

 

 

Dr. King, Racism is My Fault. And I’m Sorry.

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”

Dr. King wrote these words from prison in what would become known as his Letter From Birmingham Jail. He was helping to organize Nonviolent Resistance in Birmingham when he was arrested. I would  highly recommend the letter, especially on today of all days.

But it wasn’t until recent years that I have come to experience such solidarity with Dr. King. He often preached concerning the Great Triplets of Evil.

These were poverty, racism, and militarism.

I first understood the soul of Dr. King in his preaching concerning the last term on that list. Ironically, it was this idea for which he was least remembered, and most likely killed.

Today, I could dissect any number if his sermons, one-liners, or timeless words. The list is truly endless. However, rather than making this post about me, I want to make it about Dr. King.

Instead of using his words to talk about my life, I want to make my life fit into the truth of his words.

The truth: most of my life I have been a paternalistic white moderate male. Meaning I held the most responsibility of any other demographic in this country concerning racism and violence.

My demographic is the mast in the wind, so to speak. Change us, you turn turn the ship.

Most of my life, I have either been ignorant or complicit toward racism, most the of time simultaneously. For this, I repent. I have been so wrong, and I am so sorry.

I am a white moderate, who no longer will accept any form of racism in this nation. I’m not exactly sure what I am going to do about that yet, but it has been in this last year of my life that I believe I truly understand Dr. King’s words.

For too long I have played the double-faced diplomat asking why “we can’t all just get along” while I totally ignore the plight and reality of what it means to black in America.

For too long I have assumed that if I felt a sort of pity toward the black community than I am not a racist. In fact, this only served to accuse me more of my latent racism.

For too long I have shied away from Race tension in my land because it didn’t really apply to me, because we were clearly over all that, and because it was the black community’s fault for keeping this old wound alive (man these confessions are hard to write.)

For too long I have let my palms get sweaty when I see a group of black men pass me by, even though I would wave and smile if they were white men. (How can I let myself feel this way?)

For too long I have looked for ways to blame the black community for their age-old oppression in order to feel better about myself.

For too long I have ignored the obvious history that has caused continued race tension all over the world.

For too long, I have been complicit in keeping the genuine voices of the black community quieted and unheard for the sake of my own peace of my mind. And as Dr. King has said, a riot is the language of the unheard. This is violence, this tension, this drawn out drama is my fault more than any others.

So I must stand and say to these pithy dismissals that I believe the real plight of my black neighbors, that I acknowledge and embrace the genuine struggle of what is means to be black in America, and I will tolerate nothing less than change.

As much as I desire to see a change with the American love affair with militarism, today I want nothing more than reconciliation and ownership of the systemic and long-term oppression of my black neighbors.

Today I want to learn how I can love my neighbor as myself. Because if Dr. King examined my life to this point, he would declare that my shallow understanding has been more harmful than any amount of ill will I could muster.

And so I put my hand to the plow of this awareness, this consciousness, this solidarity with those who are oppressed.

And in the style of Dr. King, in the spirit of Jesus, I won’t resist those who are evil with more evil or more violence. Rather, I will join the movement to love, listen, and serve the world out of its adolescent stupor into something much greater than I could ever envision.

I believe this was Dr. King’s dream.

Peace,

Matt

P.S., I’ve written a bit about Dr. King’s influence on my life in a book I’ve been working on for a few months. Subscribe to my email list or send me a message on the Contact page for an expert from the work in progress.

 

 

Sons of Hell

You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice the sons of hell that you are. -Jesus

I stood over the Haitian men self-assured.

I was also worthless.

The only person who couldn’t see that was me, until much later.

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“A generator,” they say. “Can you fix it!”

Their eyes light up with excitement.

I’m a philosophy major on a church trip to Haiti, of course I can’t.

A few days earlier, shocked by what I have seen in Haiti, I blame the poverty on their supposed mutual pact with the devil.

They chose satan, it’s their fault.

Of course. Because anything that feels uncomfortable to my white, middle-class, American upbringing is from satan.

“Why did you come to Haiti?” they ask.

“To talk about the love of Jesus!”

I started by barging in on their garage like some sort of British Aristocrat inspecting his estate. Then I blame their struggles with post-colonialmism on their pact with satan.

To spread the love of Jesus. First barging in on them. Second blame them for their poverty behind closed doors in sharp judgment.

Maybe my answer should have been, “I’ve crossed land and sea to succeed at making these people twice the sons of hell as I am.”

This reframing of a mission trip I took a few years ago is the sort of eye-opening I’ve been experiencing these last few years. So much of what I believe, how I perceive the world, and the way I interact with others has been dominated by a very specific worldview.

For most of my upbringing I was inundated in the evangelical framework, going to school and church in the same place.

If you take a step back, you might notice how much the evangelical church mirrors its business-minded spirit. Cold-pitching, convert statistics, brick-and-mortar upkeep, income (tithe), and even business attire has long dominated this peculiar religious institution.

But I also have to remember, that in these pews are genuine people desperately seeking to be good people, to be on the right side, to make sure they are living righteously. There isn’t some intentional, aggravated assault on human flourishing.

But, this does not mean that this culture–most predominant in the American South–is healthy. In fact, it is directly responsible for massive amounts of human suffering from war, to famine, soft-genocide, and the destruction of our planet.

Such a paradox is precisely the soil in which all of the prophets have had to speak a message. Their message is consistent: “Free God up for people, and people up for God.”

So first, a few apologies are in order.

If I have ever hurt you, directly or indirectly, from the rooted place of this evangelical worldview, I’m sorry. And on behalf of any other evangelical-types or Christians in general, I say sorry. It isn’t right, your offense is real, and there is a good chance it was unwarranted.

I even cringe at the way I have said things to people in my family, blaming the demonic instead of agreeing to disagree. I’ve been trained to see division as sourced from the pit of hell. I have been blind as to how pre-fabricated my mental stream of conscious has actually been. I’m sorry.

But, as I turn into 2018 I feel pressed by something new. I really want to grow into a new awareness of life. I want to shift my writing away from criticism.

If you have seen in my earlier posts, I was uncovering criticism as a love-language of the institutions I care deeply about. It was in this place that I was trying to call for reform from the edge of the inside, as some have labeled it. REFRAME was the culmination of that experience.

But this year, I want to transition away from loving criticism, and instead move into what is.

For a while now, I have been obsessed with cause and effect. Basically, I would feel stirred in my soul deeply about some issue. As I moved closer to whatever the problem was, I would begin to see how the problem arose.

Take the church’s interesting love-affair with money, or war for example. I’ve spent countless hours trudging through as much history from as many different sources as possible to understand why we have used God to justify so much evil. (I even wrote an ebook about some of those findings, if you’d like a copy leave me your name on the Contact page with a request and I’ll get you one.)

But lately, I’m coming to outgrow cause-and-effect.

Think of it like this: why do we call a fist, a fist?

It’s a hand making a fist after all, right? And, if that hand were to be extended the fist would become a palm, correct?

The fist isn’t some sort of concept created as a response to something else over the course of time. It’s not like the fist emerged out of a succession of events which naturally created its emergence.

Rather, both the palm and the fist are expressions of the hand, and an expression of the same hand at different moments, regardless of a linear progression of time.

In nature, time isn’t so rigid and linear.

A heart beats in cycles.

An acorn becomes and oak, and oak becomes an acorn.

You inhale, and exhale.

Your body is composed of the same minerals that derive the soil, and when you die these minerals are accepted and used again by the earth.

It exhales life, and inhales death.

Comparing the ticking of the clock to the time of nature is like comparing a military march to a spontaneous stroll in the forest.

And, in the wisdom of Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun. There only is, what is.

I Am, what I Am, if you like.

And so, this moment is actually all we have, it’s all we ever have. Because this moment is nature’s way of becoming the future. Of evolving. In rhythm.

God could have crafted a fist as an independent object for the purpose of punching, but he made a hand, connected to brain and heart capable of both violence and gentleness.

And so in this moment, I must make the same decisions that everyone has had to make since the dawn of consciousness.

Do I chose the tree of life, marked by love, awareness, and genuine pursuit of the kingdom of heaven?

Or do I chose, death and the patterns of a wounded world?

Patterns of hate, violence, division, unforgiveness, evil, and oppression?

This is the distilled message of Jesus. But, unfortunately, we as Americans in 2018 often find ourselves on the wrong side of the oppression to understand the radical message of our Lord.

Because the wars are “over there,” the sweat shops out of sight, the damage to our planet hidden in plain view and discounted, the atrocities of negligence limited to famines in post-colonial wastelands.

So perhaps then if you allow yourself to be fully in this moment this year, the kingdom of heaven might be revealed inside you. Jesus did not teach us to strain to a super-moral being floating in the clouds, but to recognize the image of God that is inside us at this very moment. That’s inside our neighbor. That’s inside our enemy.

Because, if we’re not careful, we’ll use our carefully crafted God to justify all kinds of evil without realizing it.

So maybe this year, we should give religiosity a rest. Perhaps we should trust our ability to know the love inside of us that is the Kingdom of Heaven. And, like the master said, perhaps it really is at hand.

Peace,

Matt

P.S. this message was heavily influenced by a few of my favorite thinkers. If you’d like to know more about who they are and what they’re saying, drop me a note on the Contact page and I’ll send you some material!

 

The Athlete

This is the story of the fastest man in history. He lived in ancient Rome and to this day no one has managed to match his skill. He trained with a veracity that was as intimidating as his performance. He manipulated his diet, his schedule, and his sleep that he may out-perform any who challenged him. He was meticulous in his routines. His coaches were ancient mystics who had learned the secrets of achieving human athletic perfection. He was relentlessly obsessed with winning every race he ran. And he did.

One day the emperor—upon hearing of this man’s legend—invited the athlete to compete in his annual private competition. The emperor traditionally held the exhibit in the innermost area of his massive castle-like complex near the coastline. He would bring in the best athletes from around the Roman Empire and personally witness their substance. Athletes left this competition a validated god, or never to be heard from again. Those who left in the latter condition were often sighted years later as beggars on the street or in dark, lonely pockets of the empire.

Upon arriving to the race, the world’s fastest man found a feast waiting in his honor. He ate according to his diet—focused for whatever competition the emperor had for him the next morning. The emperor spent the feast quizzing the athlete on his drills, diet, routine, and methodology. The athlete answered politely though he remained continuously anxious and distracted by the ensuing race. He left the meal having forgot what the food tasted like, and having forgotten what the emperor has asked.

The next morning the athlete woke up early, anxious anticipation and dreams of glory warring in his head. He did his best to quiet his mind with mantras and meditation. Upon arriving at the stadium, he was escorted to the start line for the race. He surveyed the track to find he was the only one there. He stood alone for what seemed like an eternity.

A single man emerged from the northernmost entrance and slowly approached the lone athlete. His face was warm and inviting—the lines around his eyes seemed to be a road inviting the young man somewhere new, exciting, subversive, and dangerously adventurous.

“Life is not a race.” The man spoke.

“And the victory you seek in this race or any other will not put an end to the aching that you feel for glory. You will never win the race that you truly seek. If you want to win that race, you must lose. Recant your glory pursuit and follow me into obscurity, into the streets of the poor and marginalized, into the depths of who you are without anything familiar, and here you will find the medal for which the deepest part of you longs. And it matters not the race that others run. In order for you to find what you’re looking for, they must win, and you must lose. You must simply follow me out the door.”

Suddenly the athlete found himself among the other athletes as the emperor approached his special seat in the imperial viewing box.

The emperor said, “For the one who wins there will be immeasurable glory. I will call you to sit at my right hand and lead this empire as equal with Caesar, as the true son of god that you will prove to be.”

The athlete stood dumbfounded. He looked to the emperor in shock, then he saw the man with the lines around his eyes standing by the door from which he entered—holding it open. He stood frozen in the moment. He took a step toward the door in frightening adventure. The emperor watched in disbelief as the athlete walked out the front door, never to be heard from again.