Contemplation

“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

I know that this time of year we should be focused as “good Christians” on the birth narrative, but sometimes other aspects of Jesus’ life pops into mind when contemplating the greater mysteries.

Sometimes we wonder, not necessarily about whether or not God has left us in the lurch, but what the hell God has meant of us.

I’m having one of those contemplative evenings, the night before Christmas Eve, or in my life “the night before I woke up to a phone call that my big brother was about to cross over the “rainbow bridge.”

You know, died…

So yeah this is always a night of contemplation of the mysteries of life. Usually for this minister (yeah I am one, seminary trained, ordained and all) with a bottle of bourbon and a youtube playlist of the only Christmas song bearable, the original and covers of  the Pogues “Fairytale of New York.”

And the question once again is, “why, why, why?”

Not why God has left me, but really why has God put me in this life experience?  Why the hell am I an almost 55 year old, broke, SINGLE,  half-time minister, who lost his brother on Christmas Eve, his best friend n Thanksgiving, who hasn’t had a normal relationship in God knows how many years?

Why instead  aren’t I a “normal” guy with a wife, 2.5 kids and an IRA , a BMW in my garage and a condo or house with a residence association I am constantly at odds with about the length of my grass and the color of my garage door?

I don’t believe in a literal bible. I don’t believe that God tests us in a Jobian sort of way, holds our feet to a fire to prove us worthy… And yet I don’t understand why I am me… In the life I am living.

Quite frankly why the hell I am alone?

All my life I’ve wanted to be in love at Christmas…And I’ve always been alone…

I don’t get it, was  I such an asshole in a past life that I’m denied the most basic of things that any other human being on this planet is awarded? A family? A partner that I can dote on? Children I can adore?

What did I do? Was I that bad a person?

Or is it that if I had all the things in life that other “normal” people had, then I wouldn’t care enough about my fellow brothers and sisters to want to help uplift them? I’d be so happy that I’d be oblivious to the needs of others?

So I have to suffer so that I can help keep others from doing the same?

I don’t believe in a cruel, capricious God…But still is it too much to ask that I don’t have to suffer through another anniversary of my brother’s death, let alone another Christmas morning by myself?

You know, me being happy is NOT going to preclude me from having the desire to serve you… to help people.

All it would mean is just maybe I’d have a cheerleader to help me press on.

To keep me going.

I don’t need to be always sad and lonely to serve you. And yet, night’s like this I hurt so much… And just wish I had someone to hold me…

Just sayin, my friend….

 

 

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Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz. “Episode 18”

This is my reflection for day 23 of Advent based on the book “Low, An Honest Advent Devotional” by John Pavlovitz. The title of today’s reading was “A Real Friend” and the topic presented in his reading was the distinction between Happiness and Joy. One is transient based on external circumstances and situations and the other is something that exists deep at the core of our being.

In my reflection I fumble through with the realization that even though there are times (a lot lately) where I’m not happy, I still am on a deep level, Joyous…. And I offer some ideas as to why that is so, and encourage you to discover the joy in you.

I’m honestly stunned by this revelation… The distinction is something I need to pursue further both in my life AND as sermon fodder.

1) The difference between joy and happiness can be subtle but powerful. What would you say most often impacts your happiness these days, and how might you find a joy that transcends it? How can you be free from needing favorable circumstances in order to be internally peaceful?

2) Recall a time when you last felt joy; the deeper feeling of everything is alright-ness. What makes that kind of feeling so fleeting for so many people, maybe for you too?

3) Reflect upon or talk about some practices you can engage in to cultivate joy internally and to perpetuate it in the world.

Prayer/Reflection/Meditation Word: Rejoice

Posted in Advent, Audio Reflection, Books, Christmas, John Pavlovitz, Low an Honest Advent Devotional, Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz | Leave a comment

Today’s Sermon, “A Very Meta(physical) Christmas.”

(The church I preach at is over an hour away, so between the drive and the energy put out to preach I am too drained to post a reflection, instead I present to you the sermon and meditation I delivered today. Bless you. Revvy.)

The sermon was presented on Sunday, the 22nd of December at the Unity Church of Flint, Michigan. I begin with a guided meditation that imagines what it would have been like to journey to Bethlehem to pay homage to the new born Messiah. I begin the sermon with an exploration of the history or lack thereof surrounding the life of Jesus and the conflicting narratives around the story of His birth and the surprising evolution of the Christmas holiday, which wasn’t even celebrated until over 300 years after His death.

And yet with all that, the conflicting information and historicity both the life of Jesus and the birth story continue to endure. And real or not there is no one who has influenced life on this planet in one way or another (including on a Geo-political scale) than Jesus.

This is in fulfillment of  the prophecy laid out 800 years before his birth by Isaiah-

         For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
        There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.
I then explore the metaphysical meaning of the Birth Narrative, looking at each of the elements of the story, as a metaphor for the birth of our own spiritual journey.
Posted in Charles Fillmore, Christmas, Guided Meditation Audio, Jesus, Metaphysics | Leave a comment

Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz. “Episode 17”

This is my reflection for day 21 of Advent based on the book “Low, An Honest Advent Devotional” by John Pavlovitz. The Title of today’s reading was “All Is Not Well With My Soul” and John encourages us today to be authentic about our emotions, especially sorrow and grief.

1) Though the pressure to be happy is always present, the holidays seem to amplify this—and yet the Bible gives us so many examples of people who were faithful, yet struggled with all sorts of doubt, despair, depression, and “inner demons.” Why is happiness something we chase?

2) Why do you think faith communities often struggle to meet the needs of grieving, depressed, or mentally ill people? Is there a way space can be made for people who struggle with such things; ways churches can include the valley experiences of life along with the mountaintop?

3) How can you make space for your own valley places this season? How can you be okay with your not okayness, and simply come to Advent as you are, resting in the truth that this is a beautiful thing?

Prayer/Reflection/Meditation Word: Sadness

I talked about the importance of making space for all emotions, either in our own head and heart, or in supporting other people; Not stuffing emotions, but feeling them fully.

Or what I often call “Being Real.”

I wrote this 11 years ago for a blog I had on Myspace (yeah, I’m old.)

Being Real Jan 25, 2008

Someone asked me how I took the “measure of a man,” the other day…

I can’t answer for humanity, only what I use for myself….my personal code is that I don’t talk about anything that I haven’t experienced or worked through in my own life first, I don’t just talk theory, or theology…I talk about those things through the story of my own struggle (often quite brutal) with concepts like faith and fear and stuff like that…

Having said that, the true measure for me is my authenticity, or as I call it “being real.”

Okay what do I mean by that? To me it means not wearing masks, or hiding my light or my darkness from the world…or from myself…

It is doing or saying or being true to myself and not caring (too much) what other people say or think about me…Not trying to bend to make everyone like me. And doing what I feel is the right and decent thing to do…Even if people criticize me.

From as young as I remember, until I was close to thirty I bent over backwards to be whatever anyone wanted me to be…what my parents wanted me to be, my older siblings, the kids at school, what TV said I was supposed to be in orderto be cool or get laid or be happy, what society’s concept of”masculinity” dictated I was to be, or what religion said I was, a”sinner”, “dirty” if I was horny (but gee aren’t we all always horny anyway-seems like a natural thing to me) or “less than the worms ofthe dirt”…

Anything but whom I was…or who I wanted to be…

All in order so that people would accept me…not pick on me…like me…

Except inside I hated myself…Primarily because I couldn’t keep all the masks balanced in the air at once, while keeping all my thoughts feelings and emotions stuffed down inside…and when we stuff down…it rots into depression, cancer, illness….or comes out as rage…

Well, in the latter part of my 20’s although outwardly successful working inthe media…had a hip second job at a pretty well known public radio station as a producer, co host and sound engineer…I was in a deep suicidal depression…

It built up to the point where I had a dark night of the soul…I was planning to kill myself on my 30th birthday…

Just before that I made a list of the reasons to live or die, and the”die” list was much bigger….the only thing on my live list was my elderly parents…It would have killed them if I offed myself…so I chose to live.

But if I had to live I couldn’t live the way I was. I had to change. I had to start living my life for myself…no one else.

So I got help. I started doing deep soul psychological work…got involved with men’s issues, spirituality and obviously ended up having a knock down drag out mystical calling story that I ran from for 3 years until god bit me in the ass again and I ended up in ministry…

But mostly I learned some important stuff that I wish I had learned as a kid…

That no matter what I do or say or who I am, there are always going to be people out there who for whatever reason are going to hate me…Because I’m a man, because I’m white, because I allow myself to feel my emotions, because I believe in god, because I’m an American…because I’m ahead of them in the grocery store line…

And there’s nothing I can do about it…that’s human nature…some people just won’t like me…

So my choice in that then is either to hide in a bubble for the rest of my life….or live my life…as transparently and as un hypocritically and unapologetically as possible…as long as I was true to myself, and also didn’t inflict my reality on other people’s…or cause them pain…

In other words not to hide myself…for example to be the minister who has written erotica, who enjoys sex… And not be like a few ministers I know out there who indulge in their sexual pleasures…then go on Sunday and preach that the very things they did on Saturday are bad…

Or for me to stand up as a minister and say hey sex is god’s gift…and that ALL Christians don’t preach intolerance towards gays or are all against a women’s right to choose…

Or to be the minister that is not up on some pedestal, but sitting right next to them at the pub…

In other words to be real and to be a transparent in all things as possible…and accept myself, warts and all.

I have a singer songwriter friend named Karen Taylor Goode who’s won some Grammys. She wrote a song that has been one of the three founding passages that are sort of my personal code of life… The song is called “Real;”

“Last night I saw that movie, the one about the wooden boy
The good news is he could feel no sadness.
The bad news is he could feel no joy.

And it hit me hard…a puppet on the shelf.
So when he wished on a far off star
you know I made the same wish for myself

I wanna be real…real
Drop the act take off the mask and feel…real

Well I’ve been going through the motions
Pulled by invisible strings
And I’ve pushed down the hurt and held back the tears.
And covered up the dreams.

But beneath it all, trying hard to breathe
The me I buried long ago is screaming to break free.

I wanna be real…real
Drop the act take off the mask and feel…real

Let the fear go,
let the heart show
Let the world see me I wanna be real.

And good-bye wooden heart
Goodbye painted smile
I wanna dance in a crowd, I wanna laugh out loud
I wanna act like a fool, I wanna be uncool

I wanna cry when I hurt, I wanna sweat when I work
I want help when I fall
I wanna feel it, feel it all…

I wanna be…real.”

Being “real” is about being comfortable with all sides of my personality…the joy, the sorrow, the depression, and the fear that comes from stepping beyond my comfort zone…

Sometimes, hell, most of the time, being out beyond the fringes can be a lonely and scary place to be…But it sure as heck beats being 6 feet under.

The other lesson I learned is that if I am “Real;” If I show my sexuality, my joy, my sorrow, my fear even my shadow…Then I give other people permission to show that stuff they hide away too… That’s the biggest point to me being a minister….to help people allow themselves to be true to themselves…”

I referenced a sermon I gave in which I talked about the work of the artist and author  SARK, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy. She is one of the people who I credit with their work keeping me from killing myself. She transcended incest and sexual abuse to become an inspiration to others.

This sermon was given at the Unity Church of Flint, Michigan on June 30th, 2019. In it I talk about transforming loss and other “negative” experiences into something beautiful; performing what the author SARK calls “inner alchemy.” Much like how the ancients attempted to transmute the base metal lead into the precious metal gold, we too can, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “…be transformed by the renewing power of your mind.” We can find healing and even joy out of the ashes of suffering. I share the inspiring example of my friend Chris, who has managed to create beauty out of the tragic loss of his daughter. 

SARK i080712-SARK-posterss known for her colorful inspirational posters and books such as Living Juicy, A Creative Companion, Succulent Wild Women, Transformation Soup, and Glad No Matter What.

You can find more of SARK at her webiste PLANET SARK.

 

 

Posted in Advent, Audio Reflection, Books, Books I love, Grief, John Pavlovitz, Karen Taylor Goode, Low an Honest Advent Devotional, SARK, Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz | Leave a comment

Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz. “Interlude 2”

Busy, Busy Busy!!! Been a day of running around. No time to record and edit.

I had my every 6 month cardiologist visit and pacemaker check/download. I had a congenital birth defected aortic valve replaced 8 years ago after it was damaged by what doctors think was an early bout of what would turn out to be H1N1 so I have to touch base with them regularly and even thought it wasn’t like I had major heart issues back then, and I feel fine,  it’s still scary.  And there was some damage to one of the electrical nodes of the heart from it as well, so I had to have a pacemaker implanted too.

The pacemaker looks good. I have another 4 years of battery life left, which is 2 years more than most people get with them. It paces one of the heart nodes only about 17% of the time.

And I only had 1 “spike” in six months and the tech said it looked like in the middle of the night so I could have had a nightmare or something that had me think I was exerting myself. And the cardiologist looked at the data on that incidence and said it was nothing.

So them I sat down with Doctor Gosselin, the cardiologist and pretty much just shot the shit about medical education with him while he looked over the data . He told me the story of how he ended up in medicine which was a mind blowing story actually.

(I wish he was my primary care doc. and not just a specialist. He has great bedside manner.plus a great Boston accent.)
He looked at the numbers and everything looked fine he said though I do need an echo (the last one got denied by insurance- Thanks Trump you fucker) so they’re going to put it through again, and it’s scheduled for Feb.

What was funny, and I know it’s because he knows I work in medical  education so we always talk shop when I’m there, but at the end of going through everything on the computer and saying it looks good, he stands up, puts his stethoscope back over his shoulder and goes to shake my hand and I just look up at him and say ” Hey aren’t you gonna listen to my heart or something?”

He looks at me, and bursts out laughing and goes, “oh shit yeah, I guess I should.”

He said everything sounded good still, and he reiterated again that when I have to have my valve replaced it’s going to literally be outpatient non invasive surgery that he’s going to do, I guess right in the office.

Isn’t that amazing? In the 8 years since they cracked my chest to put the pig valve in, it’s progressed to literally no more than having a mole removed. And that’s with today’s technology, not in 12 years when I will probably have to have it done. Who knows how it will be then..

He said that 90% of what heart surgeons did when I had my valve replaced, he does in office. He told me he initially thought about being a heart surgeon but he really liked “Interventional Cardiologist” and being with patients. And now he’s doing what surgeons used to do anyway.

Then I grabbed lunch at a one of these mini chains of Michigan based  24 hour “greasy spoons” known for slider style burgers called Travis. It was one that I hadn’t been in in over 20 years I’d say. It was a place where we kids not old enough drink hung out late at night drinking coffee, or when we were just old enough, went after the bars closed to soak up the alcohol with flat top styled grilled onion laced mini cheeseburgers.Most of the ones left from back in the day have been modernized at updated, but this place still looks like it did in 1985. I honestly didn’t know it was still open at that site and just drove there on impulse.

noteSo when the waitress put the check down she had written this on it.

I don’t know is she was flirting with me or not, and I definitely don’t know about  the young man part (she didn’t look much older than me,)  and sure as hell no one has called me handsome in a long time, but the sweet note definitely made my day.

Sometimes it’s these little kindnesses that mean so much when they come at that perfectly necessary moment.

 

 

Today’s readings;

Week 3 Thursday: Waiting Rooms
Additional Scripture: Romans 12:12
1) Most of us grew up with heightened expectations around this time of year. Talk
about or reflect on a time you remember looking forward to something, and when they
waiting was actually the best part.
2) The time between the what is and the what’s to come can be filled with excitement
or fear. Describe a period of waiting or transition you are in, and whether that leaves
you feeling hopeful or anxious.
3) Whether you’re a Christian or not, what do you see happening in these days in
organized religion? How are you and those around you experiencing community
differently?
Prayer/Reflection/Meditation Word: Waiting

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have more time to record, but until then..

May you make someone smile today.

“Revvy.”

Posted in Advent, Books, Christmas, John Pavlovitz, Low an Honest Advent Devotional, Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz, Uncategorized, Unexpected Kindnesses | Leave a comment

Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz. “Episode 16”

This is my reflection for day 18 of Advent based on the book “Low, An Honest Advent Devotional” by John Pavlovitz. The Title of today’s reading was “Closing Doors.” This was probably my most naked and candid reflection yet, I was triggered by question 2 in the discussion guide.

1) Given Jesus’ hospitality to so many kinds of people, why do you think so many people still experience rejection and exclusion at the hands of professed Christians?

2) A closed door often comes with the death of something: a person, a plan you had, a dream you held, a future you envisioned. When and where have you faced a closed door and what have you learned about yourself and/or about God in the process?

3) Our desire to know and be known is so powerful. Talk or think about the strengths and the dangers of community: when it is healthy and how it becomes toxic. When has community been a source of healing, and when has it brought pain?
Prayer/Reflection/Meditation Word: Rejection

“Revvy”

Posted in Advent, Audio Reflection, Books, John Pavlovitz, Low an Honest Advent Devotional, Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz. “Episode 15”

This is my reflection for day 17 of Advent based on the book “Low, An Honest Advent Devotional” by John Pavlovitz. The Title of today’s reading was “Twisted Bowels.”

John Begins by explaining that the word compassion as used in scripture comes from the Greek word for bowels; that when we are so moved by the plight of others we feel it physically. And he invites us to explore how we can bring compassion into the world.

The discussion points were;

1) Compassion isn’t just an emotional or intellectual response—it actually affects us physically. Recall a time recently when someone else’s suffering or hardship made you sick, and how that internally solidarity changed you?
2) There is a great difference between empathy (feeling badly about someone’s pain) and compassion (moving to alleviate it). How can you as an individual or a faith community, get proximity to people in pain, and do something about the things that twist you in your bowels?
3) Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them, because he focused on their internal condition; what the world was doing to them. How can you be more mindful of that hidden pain in people, and more ready to respond to it?
Prayer/Reflection/Meditation Word: Sickness.

I mentioned in my audio that John’s reading reminded my a lot of the work of Father Henri Nouwen and his book The Wounded Healer Ministry In Contemporary Society that was given to me by my friend and mentor the Episcopal Priest Rev. John Laycock at a time when I was feeling to unworthy (i.e. too screwed up) to answer my calling to ministry.

Henri-NouwenHenri Nouwen (1932 – 1996) was a Dutch Catholic priest, seminary professor of psychology and spiritual theology. After almost two decades of teaching at Yale and Harvard he spent the rest of his life serving as a pastor in a L’Aarche community of the mentally handicapped near Toronto, Canada.

He came to the realization that we who are best to give care to others be we ministers or otherwise do so from a place of our own brokenness. Wounded healers offer their hurts to help others receive comfort and encouragement.

It is our wounds that lend us the compassion to care for others, and in our own battles and overcoming, we gain the wisdom and insight to help.

Being a wounded healer starts with a deepening self-awareness of our own personal struggles and receiving empathy — tender-hearted understanding and compassionate support — from God and other people that we need. Being filled with love we can overflow with love to others  so they know they are not alone. Feeling our own sadness, anger, anxiety, and inadequacy we can deeply empathize with the emotions of other people so that they can articulate their experience and receive care.

As wounded healers in the way of Christ we don’t deny or ignore our emotional struggles. Instead we accept our inner distress and receive the empathy and guidance that we need and then we can share the grace we’ve received with others who are hurting.

If you’d like to explore more of the work of Henri Nouwen he appeared on Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power” and gave three sermons, all put together on this video.

I also referenced my own sermon “God With Skin On” In it I discuss the notion that each of us is the human embodiment of God’s Love on Earth. That each of us has the same “Christos” (anointing) that Jesus had, and that his message was to remind us of that and then commissioned each of us to go forward and do the work that He did, to feed the hungry, comfort the needy, forgive those that need it, and be a source of healing to each other. It is based on both Nouwen, and Theresa of Avila.

(Note- I mentioned in the audio that the next few days are going to be busy ones for me with one final day for the year at work at the Medical School as well as trying to finish Sunday’s sermon by the end of the day tomorrow, and doctor’s appointments and other errands Thursday and Friday (including hopefully a meeting with Luke Skywalker and Company.) And that it maybe difficult to record and post the next few reflections, but if anything I will at least post the discussion guides.)

“Revvy”

Posted in Advent, Audio Reflection, Books, Books I love, Henri Nouwen, John Pavlovitz, Low an Honest Advent Devotional, Taking the “Low” road to Bethlehem- A personal audio reflection based on “Low-An Honest Advent Devotional by John Pavlovitz, The Wounded Healer | Leave a comment