August 26, 2018

Music: “That Will Be Glory” arranged by Brant Adams. Performed by Sandy Ruff on Flute  and Matt Thompson-Aue on piano


The closest position attained by humans to their Creator is when they place happiness in the hearts of other believers.

–Sheikh Mohammad Al-Hilli, Arbaeen: The Walk

Qur’an 20:14
Indeed I am Allah—
There is no god except Me.
So, worship Me,
And maintain the prayer for My remembrance.

Lama Surya Das
Perhaps you sometimes feel a homesickness, a sadness, and a sense that something is terribly wrong. You might experience this as a yearning for something that is lost, something that seems so familiar and yet so distant. You might feel hungry and needy and aware that nothing has been able to fully satisfy you—at least not for very long. It’s like drinking salt water while floating adrift on the great ocean; it’s a drink that can’t possibly alleviate your thirst.

Rejoice! You are living the core issues grappled with by every consciously alive human being. This is no small thing—this is the “Big Time,” the Great Way walked by all those who have awakened to freedom, peace, and enlightenment. You’re in the heavy-weight division, wrestling with the multidimensional angels of life. You want to see them, you want to understand them, and—like Jacob—you want to be blessed by them.

Men and women on such a path traditionally have been known as “seekers.” As you read this, are you aware of your journey, and do you understand what you are seeking? Are you ready to find it? It is probable that as a seeker, you’ve always engaged in a fair amount of self-examination and self-inquiry. You may already have a spiritual practice or religious faith and are looking for additional guidance to help you go further and deeper. Searching for more meaning has always been considered an admirable human quality. The French write Andre Gide once wrote, “Believe those who are seeking truth. Doubt those who find it.”

John 6:56-69
“Those who feed on my flesh and drink my blood remain in me and I in them. The living Father sent me and I live because of the Father. Just so, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that comes down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate manna and then died, anyone who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

He said these things while he was teaching in the meeting place at Capernaum.

When the disciples heard this, many responded, “This sort of talk is hard to take. Who can take it seriously?”

Jesus knew his disciples were grumbling about it and said to them, “So does this shock you? What if you were to see the Human One going back up to where he was to begin with? The spirit is life-giving; flesh is good for nothing. The words I have used are spirit and life. Yet some of you still don’t believe.”

(Jesus was aware from the start which ones were not believers, and he knew who would turn him in.) And so he was saying, “This is why I told you: people cannot come to me unless the Father has granted it to them.”

As a result, many of his disciples dropped out and would no longer travel around with him.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?”

Simon Peter replied to him, “Master, is there anyone else we can turn to? You have the words of unending life. We have become believers and have realized that you are the holy one of God.”

Would You Think it Odd? Hafiz
Would you think it odd if Hafiz said,

“I am in love with every church
And mosque
And temple
And any kind of shrine

Because I know it is there
That people say the different names
Of the One God.”

Would you tell your friends
I was a bit strange if I admitted

I am indeed in love with every mind
And heart and body.

O I am sincerely
Plumb crazy
About your every thought and yearning
And limb

Because, my dear,
I know
That it is through these

That you search for Him.

Seeking the Life-Giving Spirit

The sixth chapter of John ends with Peter’s confession of faith:

“Master, is there anyone else we can turn to? You have the words of unending life. We have become believers and have realized that you are the holy one of God.”

This confession of faith didn’t come easy. Jesus’s message was “hard to take” from the viewpoint of some of his disciples and they decided to leave him. The ones that stuck around are who John calls “The Twelve” and Peter’s confession on their behalf is not one that is expressed enthusiastically. It is as if Peter is saying, “It’s true that what you say is hard to take, but where else can we go? You are the Holy One.”

John’s Gospel is dream-like. It is filled with metaphor and mysticism. The Jesus Seminar determined that virtually nothing said by Jesus in the Gospel of John goes back to the historical person of Jesus. It is not remembered speech but experience metaphorized. Jesus speaks in code and riddle, revealing one metaphor after another, always with a wink. Jesus in John reminds me of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. In both cases, Jesus and Krishna, respectively, reveal the bigger picture but must do so to eyes that see dimly.

Jesus is the serpent lifted up in the wilderness, the shepherd, the vine, the spirit, the life, the way, the truth, the door, the drink, the food, the word.

The language of Jesus in the Gospel of John is for the person who is a seeker. It is a communication with us who are reading or hearing it. This communication is invitation. It is not so much a report on what happened in the past, but what can happen and is happening in our present.

What is the message of Jesus and why is this message hard to take?

It seems simple. The message of Jesus is, “Believe in me.” When pressed, Jesus speaks in metaphor.

We the reader have to bring to it our own experience, our own longing, our own dissatisfaction, our own need, and our own vulnerability. It is spiritual literature, meaning it is hard to take. It is hard to take intellectually, but even harder to put into practice. Because it is hard to take, it has been taken in ways that are easier to swallow, such as creed or church sacrament. Believe this doctrine about Jesus and God and heaven and so forth and eat this wafer each Sunday.

I think the Gospel of John, and really the New Testament as a whole, reveals a hard to take message about the world in which we live and what it takes to transcend it.

In the New Testament world there is the plane of the material or flesh and there is the plane of the spiritual. Throughout John’s gospel, there is heaven/earth, day/night, above/below, life/death, spirit/flesh, God/demonic.

Jesus has come from the heaven, day, above, life, spirit, God realm to the earth, night, below, death, flesh, demonic realm to wake people up.

In the modern world, we have dismissed this world-view as quaint and superstitious. We know a great deal more about the cosmos. Of course, we do. However, there is incredible insight that we can miss, that is the insight of illusion versus reality. The New Testament writers got that, particularly, the Gospel of John and other spiritual literature of the time.

Almost every waking moment is spent spinning stories in our heads. Those stories are all about trying to manage life, our lives, in this world. Who told us that those are the things we need to worry about? Who said we should constantly throw thoughts at succeeding in a world that is not life-giving, in fact, even demonic? In the words of Isaiah 55:

Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?

It does satisfy, we might object. I go to school, learn what I am supposed to learn, fight in wars I am supposed to fight in, work in the grind I am supposed to work in, buy things the television says I am supposed to buy, say the right things to the people I am supposed to say the right things to, cheer on the team I am supposed to cheer on, and boo and hiss the team I am supposed to hate, plan for retirement, pay the mortgage, make arrangements for failing health, deny the reality of death as long as possible, and hopefully someone will write my obituary that says how good I did all of those things.

Jesus’s message that life is more than that is, well, hard to take. Because that is what life is, right? What else is there?

Thomas Berry put a description of the world succinctly in his book, The Great Work:

“The ideal is to take the greatest possible amount of natural resources, process these resources, put them through the consumer economy as quickly as possible, then on to the waste heap. This we consider as progress.”

That is life in this world. This is the programming we receive to be successful in this world. This is what Jesus in the Gospel of John called night, death, flesh, below, demonic. Life in this world that we see as quite normal. But quite demonic when spelled out as Berry does:

“The ideal is to take the greatest possible amount of natural resources, process these resources, put them through the consumer economy as quickly as possible, then on to the waste heap. This we consider as progress.”

But we know at another level of our lives that this is not normal or good or life-giving. This treadmill of illusion is not life-giving for any of us and especially those billions of people who suffer mightily because they don’t even get the booby prizes this so-called life offers. Of course, those billions include the dead in Yemen, Iraq, Gaza, Syria, that we don’t hear much about because their suffering doesn’t fit the narrative that we first-world winners are bringing peace, justice, and democracy to them.

Retired theologian, David Ray Griffin, from Claremont School of Theology has a new book coming out on the The American Trajectory: Divine or Demonic. Don’t let the adjective retired fool you. He is anything but retired. This is from a lecture about that topic. He defines the word demonic:

“By the demonic, I mean the whole complex of belief-systems, symbols, images, stories, habits, attitudes, emotions, sciences, technologies, institutions, webs of direct and indirect psychic influence, and everything else that is oriented around the production and deployment of destructive power, used with hate or indifference, to dominate and destroy fellow creatures of God. This demonic power is now, even more completely than in New Testament times, in effective control of the trajectory of civilization.”  (Postmodern Theology for the Church 1993)

So what is the answer from the Gospel of John?

It is time to be happy.

Be happy because you don’t have to be defined by that narrative. You can decide, I am not going to participate in this demonic lie any longer.

I was honored to be granted an interview with His Eminence the 7th Kyabje Yongzin Ling Rinpoche. He was born in 1985 and His Holiness the Dalai Lama recognized him as the reincarnation of the 6th Ling Rinpoche who was the Dalai Lama’s tutor who died in 1983. The current Ling Rinpoche, a young man, but as they say, an old soul, is the current tutor to the Dalai Lama. He is on a teaching visit to the West Coast and will be in Portland September 7th through 9th.

I asked him about the state of our world and the lack of trusted leadership and how we can be happy. And he said, in essence that happiness is up to each of us as individuals. You can be happy because you are responsible for your own happiness and your own suffering. When we love others, we receive love in return and when we receive love we become happy. We cannot rely on the government or other institutions for our happiness. It is up to the people to become the leaders. The power is in our hands.

Parker J. Palmer, spiritual leader and activist just turned 80. He wrote a book called On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old. He talked with me about how being 80 is not time for him to retreat and step back, but, instead, to tell the truth, because there is nothing left to lose. When you live past your expiration date, it’s free time.

It doesn’t matter what age we have attained. He went on to say that it isn’t about what effects might result from our venture into the true, but to do it is life-giving in itself. The power is within you.

Caitlin Johnstone, whom I recently discovered, is fun to read, at least I think so. She also says that the power is within us if we will take it. We can dismantle this narrative, this cloud of illusion, this world, this demonic, to use Griffin’s phrase. In a recent column she wrote:

“Everyone, at some point, gets a glimpse behind the veil. Maybe in childhood, maybe as a result of intense inner work or deep personal trauma, or maybe under the influence of psychedelics, everyone has seen the face of life underneath the veil of conceptual societal constructs. Most later convinced themselves that it was just silly childhood immaturity, just the stress, just the trauma, just the drugs, just this or just that, so they could forget about it and plug themselves back into the machine without too much cognitive dissonance.

But it was real. It is real. I swear to you on my life it is the most real thing that you have ever encountered. Everything else in your life might be varying degrees of fake, but that, that is real. And it can be lived.”

We don’t want to. It is “talk that is hard to take” because when we unplug we are afraid that we will lose friends or access or whatever life in this narrative gives us. It can be lonely sincerely searching for truth. People think we are abandoning our partisan team and will do everything to pull us back into the matrix so to speak.

“Don’t believe what is obviously in front of your face. It is too scary. Too painful. Stay on our team. The other team is the bad team.”

But deep down you know that both teams are really the same. Neither stops the wars. Neither stops the destruction. Neither keeps the planet from burning. Neither tells the truth. Both teams and their media spokespeople tell us the same thing. Buy stuff. Both teams preach the same message that Thomas Berry deconstructs:

“The ideal is to take the greatest possible amount of natural resources, process these resources, put them through the consumer economy as quickly as possible, then on to the waste heap. This we consider as progress.”

They even use that for advertising. “Buy our special lightbulbs. Save the environment.”

We have spent enough time eating the bread that does not satisfy.

Eat some real bread.

You know what it tastes like.
You have tasted what is true.
You may have been afraid of it,
What would happen to you if you talked about it,
The penalties and the rewards the world offers to keep you on message
make it easy to forget who you are.
But like any liberation from any addiction,
Bearing witness to truth makes you free.

You can be happy.
It is up to you.
It is time.