Piece of the Puzzle

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Out of the Ashes newsletter

Ok, so I did a thing and started a newsletter on substack called “Out of the Ashes” focusing on faith, life, and occasional rants on whatever’s on my mind. I’m planning to send out a reflection every Wednesday inspired by the previous Sunday’s sermon. Hopefully, there will be other things happening there too. I’ve also initially copied some old blog entries from here over to substack in order to give people a sample of my writing until the regular reflections start going out.

Subscribe using the form below or go to https://kenarthur.substack.com.

I’m not sure what this all means as far as this site goes. I’ll figure that out as I go.

It’s all connected

Here’s a reflection I wrote for my church’s June newsletter. It’s based on my message from May 14 titled “Bound in Love.” You can listen to an audio recording of some of my past messages at https://www.phoenixcommunitychurch.org/phx-sermons/.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” – Chief Seattle (1786-1886)

Jesus is telling us pretty much the same thing when he says “On that day you’ll know that I am in God, and you are in me, and I am in you.” We are all connected: you, I, and Creation. We are all connected in God and this connection isn’t something that happens in the future. We’ve always been connected, but we just don’t realize it. It’s through the Holy Spirit that we come to know the bonds that connect us together. The Spirit is how we know God and how we know our own true authentic selves. The Spirit is that voice within that helps, teaches, and guides us. And the key that opens the door to the Spirit in our lives is love.

It is in love that we hear the Spirit speaking. It is in love that we come to know God because God is love. It is love that binds us together in the Divine Presence. Jesus says the world doesn’t accept the Spirit because the world doesn’t recognize the Spirit. So many people don’t know God. They don’t understand how we are connected and bound together. They don’t know their own true nature because they haven’t opened their hearts to love. Instead they focus on power and wealth, what they can get for themselves, with little thought for others. And they never accept that in hurting others they also hurt themselves.

Paul points out that God won’t be found in buildings or statues or altars or power or wealth. So, he says, we need to reform our lives and start looking for God in the right places. We need to look where God actually is: in life, people, Creation, relationships, and in love. Whenever we act in love, we open ourselves to Spirit and come to know God a little better. And whenever we accept the love of another, we also open ourselves to Spirit and come to know God a little better. Every time we love, we strengthen the ties that bind us together as the family of God.

Love begets love. The more love we give, the more love we have, the more healing we find, and the more healing flows into the world. And, ironically, as interdependent as our world is, it is also so divided and isolated by fear. The world needs healing. The world needs love. How can we help put more love into the world this week? Is there some act of love we can take to help the world recognize the Spirit of Truth, to recognize that we are bound together? That it is love that can save us and heal us?

Where did the conservatives go?

The Republican Party used to be the party of conservatism. I once thought Republicans were the party of fiscal responsibility, defenders of democracy and morality, anti-crime champions, and advocates for the small businessman and middle class. That is certainly not the party I see today represented by the likes of Trump, DeSantis, McConnell, McCarthy, Pence, etc.

On judgement and eternal life

Here’s a reflection I wrote for my church’s April newsletter. It’s based on my message from March 26 titled “The Christ in the Other.” You can listen to an audio recording of most of my past messages at https://phoenixchurch.org/home/phx-sermons/.

During Lent we’ve been reflecting on some of Jesus’ parables as told in the gospel of Matthew, which we’ve found can get a little “judge-y.” A little fire and brimstone. And that’s not all on Jesus. Matthew definitely has his own spin on things. In general, we get mixed messages from Matthew’s gospel. It seems to speak of heaven and hell, but we are also told that the kin-dom of God exists here and now and not in some distant future time or some other spiritual dimension. If that’s true, how do we understand passages such as in the 25th chapter where Jesus talks of people being sorted like sheep and goats with some sent to eternal life and some to eternal punishment?

Well, the gospel of John tells us that to know and trust God is to have eternal life. To me, this means that to have eternal life is not to have an everlasting life, but to be in harmony with God, living in unity with God’s love in the present moment. Eternal life is to have a heart filled with compassion, knowing that the least of these are worthy of respect and dignity. It is to give food to the hungry, to give a drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. It is to serve everyone as if they were Christ – because they are. The most important message of this scripture about the sheep and goats is that Christ is always present, not only among, but AS the most vulnerable and needy.

If eternal life is not everlasting life but a state of unity with God, then eternal punishment is not  everlasting punishment but it is to fall short of unity with the Divine. It is to be self-centered and selfish, to put conditions on our love. It is to live estranged from God. It is to look around us and not be able to see worth in the homeless person, in the poor, in the sick. It is to be spiritually alone, without compassion for God’s good creation. It is to know loneliness and despair.

I don’t think Jesus is talking about an after-life heaven and hell reward and punishment system. What Jesus is describing is the here and now spiritual consequences of living out of a selfless love versus living only for one’s own benefit with no thought for anyone else. In a way, it isn’t God who judges, but it is our own behavior that judges us.

One problem, though, is that we often think that people should be judged. Doesn’t an eye for an eye sound a lot more fair than turn the other cheek? Shouldn’t those who are evil be punished? Of course, we should stop people from endangering others whenever possible. Not judging someone does not mean accepting or allowing dangerous behavior. But, part of the problem is that we confuse justice with revenge. We are too quick to move beyond the possibilities of love, of prevention and rehabilitation, of justice, and move right to judgement and punishment. And thus it should be no surprise when we imagine a God that also judges and punishes. Perhaps we take mentions of eternal punishment too literally because it suits our ideas of justice rather than God’s idea of justice.

The apostle Paul advises us in his letter to the Romans to leave judgements to God, saying we shouldn’t repay evil with evil but we should bless our persecutors, treating everyone with the same attitude – as if they were Christ. Let us always remember the Christ in all people, no matter who they are or their situation in life.

Eternal life isn’t an after life reward. Eternal life is found in the doing, in the loving, in the building of relationship with neighbor and with God in the here and now. Eternal life is found when we act not out of the desire to get something, but out of love, because the so called least of these are not the least of anything. They are the precious beloved children of God, fully worthy of being loved and cared for, as are each and everyone of us.

Nature of Humanity and the Universe

There is an Energy called Love that underlies all of existence. This Energy is not a supernatural being but a creative force that pulls us toward loving relationship and becoming our best selves both as individuals but also as a universal whole encompassing all of creation.

This Energy, fundamentally creative and relational, exploded forth into experience and eventually evolved humanity – a self-awareness.

Everything is created from this Energy or, we might say, is at least connected to it. However, human beings are aware of this connection at least at an unconscious level. It is this awareness that gives us our inherent drive to create meaning in our lives and our innate tendency toward spirituality.

Because we are aware at some level of our true nature, we know that our natural state is to be in unity or in harmony with this Energy. We are, at our best, lovingly creative and relational creatures always co-evolving toward a better whole (loosely defining “better” as more loving, happy, peaceful, compassionate, supportive, just, etc.).

However, having a consciousness of purpose, humans can misunderstand their purpose or even intentionally act against their purpose because with consciousness of purpose also comes free will. If we act at odds with the Energy of Love that is our true nature, acting out in violence and selfishness, for example, then we enter into a state of estrangement and can experience guilt and shame and further try to hide from our true selves. Our lives become marked with fear and anxiety. To find happiness, healing and wholeness, we have to reconnect ourselves to the Energy of Love.

Religion is a frame work of stories, language and ritual through which groups of people can share common ideas and experiences to help them on their journey to reconnect. Just like anything else, religions can be corrupted to act contrary to the Energy of Love.

How this affects some Christian ideas

God is not really moral or immoral, just or unjust – those are categories we created to help us think about what behaviors better align with Love (or don’t) as we try to reconnect with our true nature.

Humanity created sin and evil through exercise of our free will. They are only “in” God because we put them there. If you really want to blame God for evil, one could say that God gave us the option of free will knowing evil was the inevitable result. Or, if you don’t believe in free will, then nothing matters and of course everything is on God’s shoulders.

Sex and the body or in no way evil or sinful as long as they are not used counter to the Energy of Love. Enjoyed ethically (i.e. safely, consensually, with good communication, etc.) sex is a gift to be enjoyed. And I don’t see any reason it needs to be restricted to marriage or procreation, either. I mention communication as part of the ethics because perhaps it is the people involved that need to be defining the proper boundaries and not other people.

Jesus did not die “paying” for our sins. Jesus died trying to show us the path back to God. People killed him because he was a threat to their selfishness.

Hell is not a place but is the manifestation of our fear that we will not be able to reconnect to Love.

New book of poetry

I’ve pulled together another collection of my poems in book form… From Unraveled Dreams: A Collection of Poems

The poems in this book reflect in some way on either the state of the world or the state of the self, exploring what happens and how we respond when our dreams, our beliefs in what should be, have unraveled.

This collection is inspired by a project to let the final lines of other poets be the beginning line of a new poem. While they don’t necessarily carry on the same themes as their inspiration, in some small way those poems hopefully create a dialog, an ongoing poetic conversation. All of the 21 poems from that project are included here with other poems interspersed along the way to add to the conversation for a total of 43 poems.

If you’re interested, you can order it from Amazon.com in paperback or as a Kindle e-book.

New Years goals

So, I don’t want to do resolutions but I do have some goals that I’ve made to begin this new year.

I want to write more. I’m currently looking at putting together some poems in a new printed collection. They don’t sell but I decided it’s not about that. I just like being able to pull a book off the shelf and read my poems. It’s kind of about romanticizing books, I guess. I suppose it’s a little of a vanity thing too. So even if I’m just doing it for myself, I’m going to keep putting my poems in self-published collections. At least for now. I’m also posting my poetry at timidpoet.com. Another project will be to explore writing another book on spirituality. I have some fiction ideas as well but I’m not sure when or if I’ll get to those.

I also want to read more. I’m going to track my reading on goodreads.com where I re-set my “shelves” for a fresh start in 2023. I plan to write a short review of each book I finish this year as well. If you want to see what I’m reading visit https://www.goodreads.com/revkenarthur.

A third goal is to dive deeper into spiritual practices. That connects to the book project I’m thinking about. Maybe I’ll blog more about that as I go along.

I’m sure I will also try to keep up with my main hobbies: working on my family tree and playing more golf this summer. One problem is my list of things I want to work on is kind of long. Often that means I skip around or I just don’t do anything because I can’t decide what I want to work on first. But if I can set better priorities and stick to them it could end up being a productive year.

Want to read my poetry?

If you want to read my poetry, please visit https://timidpoet.com

I previously posted some of my early poems on this blog. I’m not going to go back and delete them from here, but any “new” poems will now be posted on the above website. I’ve been dabbling with poetry now for 6+ years. All of the poems from the first 3 years are now posted and I’ll be posting more soon.

American Crossroads

American Crossroads

For nothing now can ever come to any good,
now that justice is dead, swept from the stage
of this farce we call America, where manhood
is white and carries a gun fired in rage,

where guilt is washed away by milky tears
sucked from the teats of youthful privilege
asserting manufactured fears, met by jury’s cheers.
Once thought land of justice and freedom, now sacrilege,

without respect for life except one’s own.
Asked to bow to the vigilante in despair,
transformed into another MAGA-spewing drone,
do we dare act instead with compassion and care?

For goodness has not left if it lives in our heart.
What to this world around us do we truly wish to impart?

Note: The first line of this poem is the final line of the poem “Funeral Blues” by WH Auden.

Wrestling with Reality – new poems

I’ve made some more of my poems available in book form by independently publishing “Wrestling with Reality.” If you’re interested in ordering a copy, see the Books menu for more information and a link to order.

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