Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

New book — Bruised Skies

I wanted a way to share a few of my poems in a more traditional way so I decided to undertake this small experiment in self-publishing, coming up with this chapbook length book featuring 17 of my poems (12 of which have been previously posted on this blog). If you’re interested, you can buy it from Amazon now. Other booksellers should also have the ability to order it – if not immediately then in the near future.

Bruised Skies: Poems in Response to A World Gone Mad

The 17 poems in this short collection express dismay and anxiety over the state of life in this second decade of the 21stcentury, from the rise of fascism to the way we treat the earth and each other as we go about our everyday routines. Yet, at the same time, they call us to resistance and change while offering a glimpse of hope for the resurrection of compassion and connection.

 

Just Say “Wow!”

This summer I spent several Sunday sermons reflecting on the writings of various mystics, including the 14th century Sufi mystic Hafiz. In one of his poems Hafiz gives us the image of several thieves who stole a large jewel and because they didn’t trust each other they split the jewel into small pieces. Of course, by breaking the jewel into many small but more manageable pieces they ruined its value. Hafiz’s poem goes on to warn us that we do this to God as well.

We yearn for something bigger in our lives, for meaning and purpose, but at the same time we’re uncomfortable with mystery and afraid of the unknown. So when we encounter the mystery of God we try to divide it up to make it more manageable. We want to put God into nice neat boxes that make sense to us and so we analyze, label, and organize until we have doctrines and dogmas that explain away the mystery. Even worse, we demonize what doesn’t fit our understanding. But, in doing so, we diminish the priceless value of encountering the Divine as mystery. Perhaps there are times when we need to understand with our hearts instead of our minds, times when we need to just experience instead of analyze.

The apostle Paul suggests something similar when he tells us to see with the wisdom of God and not the wisdom of the world. Instead of re-making God into something convenient and non-threatening as our ego / mind would have us do, we need to balance that tendency by also listening with our hearts. The heart is more willing to sit with mystery. The heart looks at a sunset in awe while the head wants to explain how light interacts with the atmosphere to produce colors. Both are important. It’s good to know why we see beautiful reds and oranges in the sunset but sometimes we just have to sit, stare, and say “Wow!” Sometimes we just have to sit in the unconditional love of God and say “Wow!”

Where do you encounter God? Where do you find awe and love? Perhaps it’s in the sunset, a walk in the garden, during meditation, or in encounters with other people. The mystics often found God in people in need just as much as in their visions and prayers. As you go through your day, open your heart to the expansiveness of Divine love and mystery wherever you may encounter it. Take a moment to look into someone’s eyes or at the beauty around you and just way “Wow!”

Note: This reflection was first published in my church newsletter and inspired by my sermon from August 12, 2018 titled “Voice of the Invisible.” An audio recording of the sermon can be found on the church sermon page.

The Mystic Journey

I’ve always been intrigued by stories of spiritual mystics, who often describe their encounters with the Divine by talking about visions or ecstatic experiences. Sometimes they talk of the Divine as a lover. But what exactly do we mean when we call someone a mystic? One definition we might use is a person who seeks to experience God directly without the church or anyone or anything else as a mediator. A mystic is someone with a thirst for knowing the Divine Presence in their life. Mystics, however, do not typically stand alone but are part of a religious community and every major religion has mystics within its ranks.

The mystic can spend years preparing themselves for this encounter with God through a variety of spiritual practices including reading scripture, ascetic practices such as fasting or a vow of poverty, prayer, spiritual direction, etc. Although mystics may sometimes have visions, a vision does not make one a mystic. Similarly, one could be a mystic and never have a vision. It’s not about a brief ecstatic experience but a journey of transformation. To directly encounter the God of Love is to be transformed.

When we do hear of a mystic having a vision, how do we tell the difference between truth and delusion? Can we trust the experiences of others when they may sound so foreign to our own life experiences? One test is whether the mystical encounter of God results in a transformation based in love or not. If someone is unchanged by their experience or that change is not based in love, then perhaps they weren’t really encountering the Divine. Mystics tend to seek God with their hearts rather than with their intellect but we shouldn’t completely discount the intellect. We must seek God with both head and heart.

Many of the spiritual practices used by mystics are aimed at letting go of their own egos, that part of our minds that tries to control our lives and protect us. In letting go of our egos, we empty ourselves and make room for the awareness of the Divine Presence to enter, often achieving higher levels of consciousness as we become aware of the Sacred in and around us. While we may not all be called to dedicating our entire lives to the encounter with the Divine, everyone can at least open their hearts to the God within. We can all open ourselves to loving and being loved. Perhaps we can start as we go through our normal day by trying to notice where we see the presence of the Divine… in conversation with a co-worker, in a hug, in a flower or sunset… God is everywhere, in us and around us. Opening ourselves to that awareness will begin within us a transformation of love.

===

The above reflection is inspired by my sermon from July 8, “Mystic: Journey of Consciousness.” Audio recordings of sermons are posted at www.phoenixchurch.org.

Open letter to my congressional representative

To the Honorable Fred Upton,

As a voter in your district, I want to thank you for your post on Facebook stating your confidence in our U.S. intelligence agencies and your support of the independent Mueller investigation. However, this statement does not go far enough. We need to hear your complete and thorough condemnation of Donald Trump’s presidency, which has been a disaster for our country beyond anyone’s imagination. His constant and brazen lying, narcissism, misogyny, and racism should be enough to disqualify him from continuing in office.

However, we must also not forget his failure to live up to his vows to uphold our constitution. His frequent attacks undermining our free press are attacks on the first amendment. Further, he and his family’s use of the their government positions to promote their business interests are at the very least unethical and are mostly likely a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the constitution. Lastly, Trump’s former policy of separating asylum-seeking families, and now his inability to reunite those families as ordered by our courts, amounts to a crime against humanity as well as a violation of their right to due process as guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment. The dismantling of environmental regulations meant to protect our natural resources and financial regulations meant to protect the people from greed-fueled corruption also do our country a great disservice.

Since the beginning of his presidency, I have been greatly shamed by Trump’s undue criticisms of long time U.S. allies while kowtowing to violent dictators such as Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and Vladimir Putin of Russia. All of this has been done while undermining U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, CIA and Justice Department by constantly casting aspersions upon their honesty and integrity. Finally, his actions of this past weekend and especially his statements following meeting with Putin on Monday amount to a betrayal of our nation.

Something must be done and we, the people whom you represent, should not have to remind you that it is your job as a member of congress to be a check and balance on the executive branch of government. The President is immoral, grossly incompetent, and a threat to our nation. Please do what is right for our country. I ask you and congress to take appropriate action immediately.

Please also know that I will be sharing this letter. I also pledge to vote forevermore against anyone who supports the treasonous actions of Trump. We must now whole heartedly and vehemently affirm our democracy as standing for the rights and welfare of the people of this great nation.

Sincerely,
Rev. Kenneth Arthur
Kalamazoo, Michigan

A Radical Welcome

Providing a radical welcome to marginalized people, especially the LGBTQ community, was a founding goal and principle for Phoenix Community Church. Of course, to welcome folks is about more than tolerance. Radical welcome is about providing a place of belonging, compassion and support. A radical, inclusive welcome remains as important as ever as we see renewed attacks not only on LGBTQ folks, but on many marginalized groups. Immigrants in particular have become a scapegoat for our nation’s problems and insecurities and are regularly demonized and persecuted. A recent public letter from the national officers of the United Church of Christ denounces governmental persecution of immigrants and reminds us that we are called to respect and honor the humanity and sanctity of all people.

It is important that we stand up and speak out, especially in this current stormy period in history that feels increasingly dangerous. As we more and more see the ugly shadow side of humanity on display in places of power, it is easy to feel frightened and panicky, much like the disciples who were caught at sea in a storm in Mark 4. In their fright they wake a sleeping Jesus who calms the storm and then challenges them: “Have you no faith?”

In their panic, the disciples reveal their lack of trust in God. On the other hand, Jesus in this story models faith for them by displaying the courage and audacity to confront the danger. His question “have you no faith?” implies the disciples should have handled the situation themselves. One might think the disciples had faith because they turned to Jesus in a time of trouble but by looking to Jesus to solve their problem for them, they actually showed how much they doubted God. Faith doesn’t mean trusting God will swoop in and perform miracles for us like Superman or the Lone Ranger. Faith means that God is already with us, guiding us, empowering us, ready to perform miracles through us.

But, how do we remain centered like Jesus and find the courage and audacity to act when the world feels like a deadly storm bearing down on us? How do we find the courage and audacity to stand up in the current climate against racism and homophobia? How do we find the courage and audacity to stand up for the rights of immigrants who are the beloved children of God as much as we are? Another way to ask the question is, what reminds us of God’s presence in a time of trouble? When panic, fear, and unfocused anger threaten to overwhelm us?

Unfortunately, we each have to answer that question for ourselves. One suggestion might be to choose an image we have for God and then picture that image merging with our own body. Perhaps the image is Jesus or a bright light or a flame. It doesn’t really matter what image we use for the Divine, but focus on that image (which is, of course, a symbol for God and not actually God) merging with us so that we become one with it. If we fix the merged image in our mind then when our seas are feeling too stormy we can call this image again into our minds to remind ourselves of the Divine that resides within us always, to remind ourselves that we are worthy and sacred, that through this Spirit of God within us we have the courage and audacity to perform the miracle of facing our fears, that we have the courage and audacity to stand up and speak truth to the powers of this world as we seek justice for all people.

===

The above reflection is inspired by my sermon from June 24, “Stormy Seas.” Audio recordings of sermons are posted at www.phoenixchurch.org/sermons.php for about 6 months.

Page 1 of 27

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén