Who Was St. Patrick?

Who was Saint Patrick, the patron saint of the Irish whose name represents all things green? Because of the holiday—St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated every March 17th—you might think this historical figure was an Irishman who drank green beer. In fact, neither is true. Saint Patrick was actually born in Scotland or Wales to parents who were Romans living as colonial bureaucrats in Britain! Born around 385, Patrick is surely to have drunk beer, or ale as it was called then. People drank a lot of beer back then because it was cleaner than water (that could give you nasty parasites and diseases). But as everybody knows, ale is more of a meal in a glass, and generally much darker than the standard pilsners and lagers from my Germanic ancestors and other Europeans. I don’t think they had green food coloring then; making beer (and rivers) green is an Irish-American invention meant to celebrate ethnicity. Patrick would have grown up with some privilege, as his parents worked for Roman occupiers. However, in his teens, a raiding party (that’s what they did back then) invaded and kidnapped Patrick off to Ireland, where he was made to heard sheep. It was as a slave in Ireland that he encountered God. There is nothing like captivity or other unpleasant circumstances to get you on your knees. He later wrote, “The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same…I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.” After about six years...

Lent

Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, 40 days in the Christian church calendar preceding Easter. Perhaps you think of Lent as a morbid time when we all have to get super serious, give up stuff, and consider how terrible we are. It is like that for many. But it doesn’t have to be like that for you. I offer some suggestions that may help you think about and engage in Lent differently this year. Every religion has seasons of penitence and reflection. That is good for the soul. But perhaps your soul needs watering. Maybe you’ve been in a dessert for way too long; your grass is withered and you need refreshment. Maybe you just feel distant, not only from God, but from your true self. Or perhaps you know it’s just time to step back a bit and reflect on things that matter. As Richard Rohr wrote in his introduction to Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent: “There are two moments that matter. One is when you know that your one and only life is absolutely valuable and alive. The other is when you know your life, as presently lived, is entirely pointless and empty. You need both of them to keep you going in the right direction. Lent is about both.” Rohr offers the idea that Lent can be a time to be fully known. “Allow yourself to be fully known,” he wrote, “and you will know what you need to know.” Or as social reformer and Saint, Teresa of Avila, wrote in the 16th century: “We find God in ourselves, and we find ourselves in God.” I invite you to set aside this season for reflection, to be known, and to bask in the love of The Divine. After all, that is...

What is Easter, really?

According to The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Hirsch, Kett & Trefil, 1988), Easter is a holiday that every American needs to know about. Easter is a social construct, too.  That’s right; it is a made-up holiday celebrated differently by diverse people around the world. It’s considered a most holy day, along with Christmas, for Christ-followers, but people make up how they choose to celebrate it. When I first read Berger and Luckmann’s landmark social science book, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, I had a hard time accepting that much of our reality is socially constructed. I am a huge proponent of free will. But as time went on, I realized the theory holds much truth. How we live life—largely what we believe and why we believe it—is passed on to us culturally. That’s right, we make stuff up! We make up our culture, values, customs, ways of life, language, and to a large extent, our thought patterns. For the most part, we accept what we grew up with. We live life through social constructs I contend that the social construction of reality is not a bad thing, and does not make the reality behind a celebration or practice any less true. Easter is not just a holy day, it is a holy season. Coinciding with spring in the northern hemisphere, (where most of our Easter traditions came from), it follows a 40-day period called Lent, which since ancient times has been set aside as a season of penance and reflection, where believers are encouraged to make sacrifices and engage in acts of goodness. In this way, Christians are prepared to remember the sacrificial death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ who was both God and man in one being. Lent culminates in Holy Week, which starts with Palm Sunday (remembering Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem), then continues with Maundy Thursday (remembering the Passover supper Jesus had with his disciples and his washing of their feet), and Good Friday (remembering when Christ was executed), and finally celebrating Easter, when Christ rose from the dead. Lenten and Easter practices seem to be very ancient. In his “History of Lent” (2002), Fr. Saunders cited a letter to the Pope written in A.D. 203 commenting on the differences between how Easter was celebrated in the East and West: “The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers.” Many Christian customs were either borrowed from other religions or simply made up. The use of incense, visual depictions (crosses, crucifixes, icons, painting, sculptures), church architecture and many other things were used to help people connect to God. As someone pointed out, the use of “bells” and “smells” helped illiterate congregants throughout history connect with a God who isn’t tangible. Like the rest of the church calendar, dates were set aside to remind Christ-followers of many of the important aspects of the New Testament, which chronicles the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the early church. Other “holy days,” which we have come to call “holidays,” include Advent and Christmas (leading up to and celebrating the birth of Christ), Epiphany (celebrating the incarnation of Christ and the visit by the Magi), and Pentecost (remembering the outpouring of God’s spirit on early believers shortly after Christ’s return to God the Father). A basic tenant of Christianity is that God is made up of three distinct persons, designated Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. These three do not exist or operate in an authoritarian structure, but by relationship and communication. Unlike Christmas,...

What Does It Mean?

These few days are undoubtedly the most important in the Christian calendar; they are centerpieces of the faith. But there is no one-way to view the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. That said, I think it’s important to think about. I contend that how you view Jesus’ death and resurrection reflects on your view of God and how you related to the Divine. In his book, Across the Spectrum: Understanding issues in Evangelical Theology, Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy devote an entire chapter on “The Atonement Debate.” There they outline the three main perspectives: The Christus Victor View (Christ destroyed Satan and his works) The Penal Substitution View (Christ dies in our place) The Moral Government View (Christ displayed God’s wrath against sin) Here, in a nutshell, is an overview of these perspectives. Then I will make a case for something more simplistic that may work even better for you. According to Boyd and Eddy, the Christus Victor view was the most popular until the Middle Ages. It was based on the idea that, “Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated Satan and thus set humankind free from his oppressive rule” (Boyd & Eddy, p. 114). Later John Calvin and Martin Luther developed the Penal Substitution view, that Jesus took on the punishment that humankind deserved. One must understand, however, that Calvin was an attorney, so he saw everything in legal terms. For him, there was a debt to be paid, and Jesus paid it. The problem I have with this view is that it turns our relationship with God into a transaction. A transaction is that I put down money at the store and I get to take the milk home. However, everything about scripture tells me that God is interested in transformation,...

The Invitation of Grace...

The follow is a devotional from Monday, March 21, 2016 written by Richard Rohr, founder and director of Center for Action and Contemplation. His writings are always good, and some just have to be shared. “As I shared earlier this year, the Bible is “a text in travail.” Sometimes the biblical writers catch a glimpse of God’s true character–love, mercy, and justice–and sometimes they lose sight of it. Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann traces the evolution of human consciousness through three sections of Hebrew Scriptures: the Torah (the five books of the Pentateuch), the Prophets, and the Wisdom literature (including Job, the Psalms, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes). Just as children must begin with structure and rules, religion starts with setting boundaries, rituals, and rules about who is in and who is out. It’s all about protecting the status quo, our tribal and egoic identity. But eventually we have to develop the capacity for self-criticism, as the prophets did, which is the necessary second stage. If we do both of these stages well, we will normally be catapulted toward wisdom and holiness. Another way to look at this is a series of Order > Disorder > Reorder. Most conservatives get trapped in the first step and most liberals get stuck in the second. Healthy religion is all about getting you to the third, Reorder. There is no nonstop flight. You must learn the wisdom of both the first and second stages before moving on. Much of the chaos and instability of our time stems from many young and sophisticated people now beginning life in the second stage of Disorder and criticism, without first learning deeply from Order. It appears to be a disaster. The three stages must be in proper sequence for...

How do you start your day?...

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”  So said author, pastor and leadership guru, John C. Maxwell. We all have a morning routine. Of course it includes things like brushing your teeth, getting dressed and enjoying your favorite beverage. For some it also includes getting the kids ready, making lunches and ensuring everyone has what they need for the day. No matter who you are or what roles you rill, you need time to quiet your soul. And how you start your day can determine not only how your day goes, but how your life goes too. I used to get up and turn on the television to hear the morning news. But what I found over time that it was a terrible way to start my day. The chatter and stress of world events set me up to carry noise in my head throughout the day. What I discovered was key to changing my behavior. I realized that how I start my day influences the rest of the day…and my life. We all have to find our own path—our own routine and practices that work for us. I want to share what has worked well for me. Reflect. Read. Resolve. Reflect – A mark of our fast-paced “always on” lives is that we forget to take time to be silent and reflect. My morning routine involves making a lovely espresso drink and sitting in my favorite chair. I reflect on recent events, issues I’m dealing with, and the status of my relationships and goals. It means being silent and giving myself space to just be, think, process and feel. I give myself permission to just reflect. Read...

It is well

  Pain. Anger. Frustration. Disappointment. Loss. We all experience the vast range of human emotion. And sometimes our feelings get the best of us. I recently had a frustrating week. Nothing seemed to go as planned. I felt trapped. I REALLY started to lose perspective. I have friends going through really bad stuff: life-threatening illness, divorce, economic troubles, and all the other “surprises” life sometimes throws our way. When we are in the midst of distresses, it often seems impossible to regain sanity and feel normal. We start going down what I call the toilet of despair, that sinking feeling of going in circles and threatening to disappear. We have our problems. But often, when we glimpse into the troubles of others, we see how relatively insignificant our little problems are and can get a bird’s eye view again. I’m not minimizing personal struggles or even tragedies. But I do think we sometimes need help adjusting our perspective. The video below helped me do that. In my morning devotional a few days ago, I thought about the old hymn that has been so meaningful from time to time. “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.” So I did a quick Google search to find the song. Then I came across this video. Not only did I get to listen to the beautiful words and music, but I also learned the tragic story of the author. Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer in the 1800s who seemed to have it all…and loose it all. But he never lost his faith. Turns out his lyrics transcend time and space. I found we...

Church

How do you know you’re on a good personal track? What are the markers of your spiritual growth? What do you think it means to be a person of faith? How do you nurture growth in your life? I had breakfast with a friend the other day that expressed concern because I don’t attend church services on a regular basis. Certainly she is not the only one to have voiced such fear. This friend followed up her statement with, “There’s a lot of stuff out there; what if you get off?” I then launched into a 5-minute defense of my spiritual life. We have social litmus tests for all sorts of things. And the common one for your faith is whether or not you go to church. (Interesting how church has become something you go to instead of who you are.) I’m cool with my friend, but our conversation topic makes me crazy! I think people and ideas and consciousness evolve. (I’m so glad we don’t believe in human slavery and are past the Crusades.) So a question is worth asking: To what extent can our understanding of God and faith evolve? I think that just as the universe continues to expand, so can our understanding of ultimate reality. Do you still believe that participating in certain rituals is a good test of your relationship with God, what you believe, and how you live your life? Jesus said people will know you are his disciples if you love one another.* But today, being right has become more important than being loving. And many people outside the church (however you define that growing group of folks), is, unfortunately, dare I say, sometimes nicer and kinder than those inside. Ouch! I’m not here to rag on church...

Quantum Entanglement

We are all connected in ways we are oblivious to. So I am immensely interested in the cross-section between science, social science (the study of humans) and spirituality. I love subjects of inquiry such as that surrounding quantum entanglement, which attempts to explain the ways that we are, indeed, connected. So I have to share this most recent article by Franciscan, Richard Rohr: Just as different ways of interpreting scripture and various types of truth (e.g., literal vs. mythic) are valuable for different purposes, so scientific theories have different applications while seeming to be paradoxical and irreconcilable. For example, we have the Newtonian theory of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and quantum theory. Physicists know that each of them is true, yet they don’t fit together and each is limited and partial. Newtonian mechanics can’t model or predict the behavior of massive or quickly moving objects. Relativity does this well, but doesn’t apply to very, very small things. Quantum mechanics succeeds on the micro level. But we don’t yet have an adequate theory for understanding very small, very energetic, very massive phenomenon, such as black holes. Scientists are still in search of a unified theory of the universe. Perhaps the term “quantum entanglement” names something that we have long intuited, but science has only recently observed. Here is the principle in layperson’s terms: in the world of quantum physics, it appears that one particle of any entangled pair “knows” what is happening to another paired particle–even though there is no known means for such information to be communicated between the particles, which are separated by sometimes very large distances. Could this be what is happening when we “pray” for somebody? Scientists don’t know how far this phenomenon applies beyond very rare particles, but quantum entanglement...

What Size Is God?

The real question is, what size is YOUR God? We don’t know much. We try to find truth and figure things out, but we’re all just searching, often guessing. But this I know, if your God fits in a small box, your image of God is likely due for a makeover. When I was a child, we learned there are nine planets, with Pluto being the smallest. Today scientists argue on whether Pluto is even a planet at all, and in 2014, announced the discovery of 715 new planets outside of earth’s solar system. They think there are likely billions of stars, and our sun is one of the smaller ones. NASA estimates the Milky Way Galaxy is 100,000 light years across. As space probes travel further and further from earth, we are finding not only more and more galaxies, but clusters of galaxies! Perhaps one of the coolest discoveries is that not only is there more to find, but the universe itself continues to expand. Notice the image with this article. It’s actually named, “Celestial Maternity Ward N81!” It’s all rather mind-blowing! How cool is that? The universe we thought was quantifiable and static, or even dying, continues to grow. Growth and expansion are a mark of the universe. Should they not also mark of our lives and understanding of God and reality? If the universe is as big or bigger than we thought, how big God must be! If the creation is this magnificent and expanding, how much greater the creator! Yet a great irony is the extent to which we have made God so small. We make God fit into small buildings and tiny communion cups. We’ve created a myriad of boxes and forced God inside. We think how boring religion is, so...

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