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The Dalai Lama's Impartial Love

I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert’s last post on “Impartial Love.” In it, Robert spelled out the challenging implications of Jesus’ teaching about the inadequacy of only loving those who love you (Q 6:32, 34):

“It doesn’t take much thought to see where this leads us. It leads us to the idea that our loving and giving should not be tethered to how people treat us. Even when they treat us really badly, we should still love, we should still give. This, of course, brings us right back around to where we started—to loving our enemies.”

My question is one that I suspect many of you have been pondering as well: Is such impartial love really possible? We are so selective in our love, and we are so quick to condemn those who don’t love us. Can we whose love is so limited really lift ourselves up to such a lofty ideal?

As challenging as it is, I would like to believe that we can—with time, effort, and a lot of help from God. And one thing I find helpful in my own process is to look to inspiring examples, people who have gone a long way toward achieving impartial love. For me, one of those people is the Dalai Lama, the great Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader.

Most people know the broad outlines of his story. To quote from one brief synopsis online:

“At age 15 [in 1959], he assumed political power of Tibet as the Dalai Lama. The People’s Republic of China invaded that same year. Fearing assassination, he and thousands of followers fled to Dharamsala in northern India, where they established an alternative government. Since then, the Dalai Lama has taken numerous actions in hopes of establishing an autonomous Tibetan state within the People’s Republic of China. However, the Chinese government has shown no signs of moving toward peace and reconciliation with Tibet. The Dalai Lama has also conducted hundreds of conferences, lectures and workshops worldwide, as part of his humanitarian efforts. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.”

The Dalai Lama has, in short, become one of the world’s great exemplars of peace, forgiveness, and compassion in the face of the most extreme persecution. Even as an exile from his native land, witnessing from afar the brutal atrocities committed against his own people within Tibet, he has chosen to respond to his “enemies” not with anger and vindictiveness, but with love.

As I said, for me he has been an especially inspiring example. Years ago, I had the great pleasure of seeing him in person. My partner Patricia did too on another occasion—in fact, she had a powerful experience of deep love as her eyes met his for a brief moment, an experience that still brings her to happy tears whenever she recalls it. So we were delighted when, a few days after Robert’s blog post, we saw one of our favorite comedians, John Oliver, interview the Dalai Lama on his show.

As with most of Oliver’s presentations, this was a mix of serious information and snarky jokes. (Warning: The video includes a few naughty words and some off-color humor.) But in the course of the interview, we were particularly moved by the Dalai Lama’s response to Oliver’s mentioning that the Chinese government has called him a “wolf wrapped in monk’s robes” and a “demon”:

“Whatever they want to say, that’s their freedom. I have no negative feeling, I just feel a love. Like that. I practice, you see, taking others’ anger, suspicion, distrust, and give them patience, tolerance, and compassion. I practice that.”

Patricia and I both choked up a little at that. It wasn’t just the words themselves, as powerful as they are. It was the utter conviction behind them. It was so obvious that he really felt this love for his persecutors in the heart of his being. He was loving people who don’t love him, who have treated him and his people very badly, who by any normal definition would be called his “enemies.”

While I’m sure the Dalai Lama isn’t perfect, this is a man who has achieved impartial love to a remarkable degree. And that has an impact. We could see in the course of the interview that even Oliver was affected. He’s normally a bit of a skeptic when it comes to religion; tales of lamas choosing their next incarnation aren’t his usual cup of tea. (And he clearly wasn’t too fond of the Dalai Lama’s idea of curing alcoholism by drinking horse milk!) But it sure looked to us like he was moved by being in the Dalai Lama’s presence, especially in those moments when the Tibetan exile spoke of loving the Chinese who exiled him. And who can resist that infectious laugh?

So maybe, just maybe, the impartial love that Jesus calls us to offer to everyone really is possible. But achieving it will require of us the same thing it requires of the Dalai Lama: practice. So, why don’t we give a “Kingdom” version of his practice a try? If you find yourself faced with another person’s anger, suspicion, and distrust, ask God to help you give that person patience, tolerance, and compassion in return. Ask God to help you love this person who isn’t loving you (at least not currently), and ask Him for guidance in how to express whatever loving feelings you experience. Let us know how it goes.

The John Oliver video (the interview with the Dalai Lama begins at 10:42):

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Impartial Love

If you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what reward do you have? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Q 6:32, 34)

This is the next saying in our journey through the Sermon in the Sayings Gospel Q. I never cease to be bowled over by this saying. I remember reading it as a teen and feeling quite threatened by it. Its simplicity belies just how radical it is, just how much it rocks the ground beneath our feet.

There’s no getting around its meaning: If you love only those who love you back, if you give only to those who are guaranteed to give back, how virtuous is that? Everyone does that, even the people you consider unrighteous (we might say “unspiritual”).

It doesn’t take much thought to see where this leads us. It leads us to the idea that our loving and giving should not be tethered to how people treat us. Even when they treat us really badly, we should still love, we should still give. This, of course, brings us right back around to where we started—to loving our enemies. The Critical Edition of Q titles this saying “impartial love,” which is perfectly accurate. Can you imagine having impartial love? Can you imagine loving everyone with complete impartiality?

I had an interesting coincidence around this idea the other day. I was writing a commentary on a section in A Course in Miracles called “Judgment and the Authority Problem.” I started out by talking about how selective our perception is, how it favors some and ignores others:

In order to make sense of what we see, we have to select the items that we consider meaningful and desirable, and reject the others. For example, my son Michael had a pancake race at his school, where each child races against others while flipping a pancake in a pan. Only Michael’s class was racing, but the whole school was watching, along with quite a few parents. As I looked at that scene, my perception was highly selective. What mainly mattered was Michael and his pancake. My perception simply dismissed almost everyone else.

I think we can all probably accept this basic feature of perception, but the next stage is to appreciate just how much rejection is involved in this. As I said, my perception rejected almost everyone there. That’s a lot of rejection. And that rejection is anything but inconsequential. When people are considered unimportant or undesirable, there are always consequences. Can we accept that our perception involves massive, ongoing rejection?

I then ended my commentary by talking about the alternative to this selective perception, in which we respond to everyone exactly the same:

As we look out at our world, we can rest from all the judging, sorting, selecting, and rejecting. We can relax because Someone Else is the author of reality. Yes, we’ll still need to figure out, for instance, how close a car is to us. But in relation to the things that are truly real—the minds—we can disable the judgment function, uninstall all the filters, and greet everyone with pure and total acceptance.

Shortly after finishing this, I read a post by the spiritual writer David Spangler that seemed uncannily similar. In the latest piece in his series “David’s Desk,” he relates how, when he used to do a lot of traveling, he enjoyed driving through the various states in the US. However, the need to spend time with his family then forced him to fly rather than drive, so that now the states he used to drive through, he merely flew over.

This leads to a discussion of “Flyover States,” which is the title of his piece:

I don’t know when the term originated or started to become popular, but I became aware of it last year during the Presidential Election: “Flyover States.” These are the States in the middle of the country that air flights between the large urban centers of the East and West coasts regularly fly over. To be a Flyover State is at one level a simple description of a fact of life as more and more people live on the East and West coasts and take non-stop flights back and forth. But especially last year, the phrase took on additional meaning. Flyover States were the homes of the “forgotten Americans,” the ones whose opinions and activities were not as important when compared to what goes on in places like New York, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the large metropolises on either side of America.

To be a “Flyover State” carried connotations of being ignored, overlooked, not seen, or even disdained as being of lesser importance.

Indeed, if you look up “Flyover States” online, you find that many commentators saw the 2016 election as being “the revenge of the flyover states.” Those states had been ignored, dismissed, and belittled long enough, and so they rose up and took control.

Spangler then sees this phenomenon as reflective of a state of mind—a “flyover state”—that has serious consequences on the interpersonal level:

However, when I think of Flyover States, it conjures up an entirely different image for me. It seems to me that one of the many challenges facing us in this country, and for that matter in the world at large, is how easy it is to step into a “flyover state.” Such a state is not a place but an attitude that can arise when we encounter someone who is different from us. This difference could be political, religious, ethnic, racial, economic, or something as trivial as a difference in hairstyles or clothing. Unless we are compelled for some reason to engage with this person, we can “flyover” them in our minds and hearts. We can fail to encounter the territory of their life; we can fail to make connection.

Spangler then ends by saying that our hope lies in overcoming this flyover mentality:

At this time, our country is embroiled in problems caused by our various differences. If we hope to solve them, we must work to connect and live in our hearts and minds in united states, not flyover ones.

I was immediately struck by the similarities with my commentary. In both cases, the writer talks about the everyday pattern of focusing on some things and overlooking others. He begins with a personal story that presents an innocuous example of this pattern. But then he applies the pattern to our interpersonal relationships, where it is clearly deleterious, because it means overlooking and dismissing various people. He ends by saying that we need to step outside this state of mind and be inclusive of everyone.

If you know me, you know I consider these kinds of striking coincidences to be messages from a higher place. Something is telling me that I need to work harder on stepping outside my own “flyover state.”

If you put those two pieces—mine and Spangler’s—together and then set them both next to Jesus’ saying on impartial love, you see an interesting thing. Jesus’ simple saying ends up looking like an umbrella that, despite its simplicity, embryonically contains some weighty and highly relevant truths. It looks less like an ancient relic and more like a timeless truth.

First, the saying implies a retraining of our perceptual patterns of attention, which constantly favor certain people and ignore others. Impartial love necessarily entails a complete lack of our normal psychological dismissal of everyone but our favored few.

Second, the saying implies a diagnosis of what has happened in our country and a prescription for how it can heal. We don’t even need to go as far as impartial love, which on a mass level would change our country beyond recognition. Even merely less-partial love carries the prospect of uniting us interpersonally and healing our nation.

Jesus’ words have never been more relevant than they are right now.

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Mi Amigo Jorge

I loved Robert’s post last week on dissolving the subject-object dichotomy. It got me to thinking about how we can move from subject-object (I-it) relations to subject-subject (I-Thou) relations with other people. One thing that occurred to me is that simply getting to know other people better—especially people we have tended to view as objects getting in the way of us as subjects—is one way to do that. With that in mind, I want to tell you the story of mi amigo Jorge.

Well, that’s not what I originally called him. My original name for him was some version of “that annoying guy next door.” He’s a young man who lives with his parents and whose window is directly across from the window of the study where I do my work. And as long as I’ve been here, over five years now, he’s had the habit of playing English-language rock and pop music rather loudly (with window open) and singing along in just about the worst singing voice imaginable. To be fair, he doesn’t do it that often, and so I’ve let it slide. Even so, to me he’s been pretty much just a noisy object getting in the way of me—the precious subject—getting my work done in peace.

But my perception of him changed dramatically last week. The change started with one of those seemingly random events that end up having bigger-than-expected consequences: Patricia and I were ordering burgers at the neighborhood burger place, and a young man walked in. When he spoke up to give his order, I immediately recognized that voice. Well, it turned out that he recognized my voice too, because just as I had heard him singing from his window, so he had heard me speaking English from mine. (I guess my voice carries too!)

At any rate, we all started talking as we were waiting for our burgers. We introduced ourselves, and this was when I learned his name was Jorge. Jorge said he was picking up burgers for his family. I told him laughingly that I’d heard him singing to English-language music. This led to us talking about what musicians we liked (Queen, the Beatles, Elton John, etc.) We joked about which of our respective countries’ presidents was worse (Mexican president Peña Nieto is extremely unpopular here, but Trump even more so). And we talked about movies we liked (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc.).

Jorge also told us that he has a little home business creating custom-designed t-shirts. Our earlier talk about Star Wars then inspired Patricia to ask him if he could create a shirt that she wanted to have: a shirt with the Star Wars font that says “Stop Wars.” He said that he could do it, and so we placed an order for four of these unique shirts. Jorge said he would have the shirts ready in a few days. Then my and Patricia’s burger order was ready, so we shook hands with our new friend and left.

In a few days, Jorge called out to me from his window: “¡Hola Greg!”—the first time either of us had ever spoken to the other from our adjacent windows. I called out in response, “¡Hola, amigo! ¿Cómo estás?” In a few minutes, he came over to deliver the shirts. They turned out great, as you can see from the picture accompanying this post. All of us shot the breeze for a few more minutes, and then Jorge left, with our promise that we would recommend his services to anyone who needed a custom-made t-shirt. He definitely has a good thing going.

Through this whole process, that annoying young man with the terrible singing voice was transformed into mi amigo Jorge. Once he was just an object impinging on my eardrums, but now he is a subject like me, a holy brother, a person with hopes and dreams and opinions and hobbies and people he loves. Of course, I knew this in an abstract way before ever meeting him, but as a result of meeting him, I now know it in a concrete and heartfelt way. We now have a subject-subject relationship.

Of course, we can’t personally meet all of the other people in the world. In fact, we can’t meet very many of them. But I think we can remind ourselves that all people, whether we’ve met them or not, are indeed our brothers and sisters with their own hopes and dreams and needs and loves, subjects in their own right. This is even true of those people whom we wouldn’t like if we were to meet them. All of them are worthy of our love, in whatever form we are guided to give it. Our relationship with them is subject-subject, I-Thou.

I’m trying to remember this as I encounter people or even think of them throughout the day, and I encourage you to do the same. Can you think of someone whom you tend to regard in a subject-object way? Can you think of someone whom, whether an acquaintance or not, you regard as an annoyance, as an object that is not properly serving you, the subject? I encourage you to remember that this individual is indeed a full-fledged person, a subject like you, a person whom you might even like and connect with if you were to meet, a person whom you can love in your heart even if that doesn’t happen. This person, as Robert said in his post last week, is what it’s all about. And to bring back the main topic of this recent series of posts: How might the Golden Rule guide you to treat him or her?

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Normally, I would go on to the next saying in the Sayings Gospel Q, but I'm going to break pattern and write one more post on the Golden Rule. The reason is that it just hasn't let me go. After my two posts on the Golden Rule and Greg's post on "Golden Rule activism," I hope you don't feel wrapped on the knuckles by the Golden Ruler!

As I mentioned to Ken in the comment section of my last post, I've been thinking about how the reverse of the Golden Rule--doing unto others what you would not have them do unto you--is a natural, almost unavoidable, result of what is called the subject-object dichotomy.

As you probably know, the subject-object dichotomy is the notion that I am an experiencing subject. I am directly acquainted with my thoughts and feelings and sensations from the inside. I directly know my own subjective experience. 

However, I don't have this same direct acquaintance with the objective realm--the things and people outside of me. They are not things I directly experience from the inside. I only indirectly experience them from the outside. To me, they are objects. 

So the subject is the experiencing observer and objects are the things observed.

I've been thinking of this along the lines of a different meaning of the word "subject." Google defines "subject" as "a person or thing that is being discussed, described, or dealt with." We all know what this means. If you go to a class, the subject is what the class is about. If you read a book, the subject is what the book is about. The subject, then, is what something is about.

You can probably see where I'm going. Being the subject in the first sense leads directly to seeing yourself as the subject in the second sense. Being the subject in the sense of the experiencing individual leads directly to seeing yourself as the subject in the sense of what it's about ("it" being anything you are involved in).

The same double meaning holds for the word "object." To be an object in the sense described above--the exterior thing or person observed--leads directly to being seen as an object in the sense of "a thing that you can see or touch but that is not usually a living animal, plan, or person" (Cambridge Dictionary).

In other words, the seemingly neutral, structural fact of me being the observer and you being the observed leads directly to an ethical stance that is anything but neutral: Everything is about me and you are a mere object, an insentient thing. This connection is not particularly subtle, as we see in this humorous YouTube video (pictured above), called "Understanding Subject-Object Dichotomy."

To follow the Golden Rule, then, we are trying to overcome something that is built into the most basic structure of our world. Yet this is precisely where Jesus' teaching leads us. The whole Sermon in Q (and thus the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke) is, you could say, calling us to radical identification with another as subject. In Jesus' teaching, we identify with the other so deeply that he becomes the subject; he becomes "what it's about." True, we too are precious subjects, but according to Jesus, God's got us covered (because He radically identifies with us as subjects), so we don't have to worry about ourselves.

It's worth noting in passing that all of this is very closely related to what Martin Buber called "I-Thou" relationship in contrast to "I-It" relationship. I-It is subject-object. I-Thou is subject-subject.

How do we leave the subject-object (I-It) mode to enter into subject-subject (I-Thou) mode? I think that is to some degree the whole journey of the spiritual life, and of life itself. What I have been doing lately, however, is something very simple. I've just been reminding myself:

You are the subject. You are what it's about.

This is not particularly profound, but it never fails to make me feel like I've just woken up to the most basic, the most obvious, and yet the most forgotten truth.

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Golden Rule Activism

I was deeply moved last week by Robert’s blog on “The Golden Rule Revisited.” In it, he says that the Golden Rule is the reversal of our conventional way of being in which I am an end in myself and other people are merely means to serving me as end. No, the Golden Rule says: Other people are ends in themselves, just as I am, and I should behave toward them accordingly. I should treat them the way I myself want to be treated, because all of us are equally important and equally valuable.

Robert ends his blog with an inspiring call to action:

“What would happen to our lives if we did that? To our relationships? To our world? Can you imagine anything as revolutionary as that single idea? The Golden Rule is the key to a whole new world, a world in which everyone has reverence for everyone else. May we go forward committed to using that key in every encounter we have.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve watched the disturbing actions of Donald Trump unfold in the first week of his presidency—especially the executive orders banning refugees, banning entry of people from selected Muslim-majority countries, and pushing forward his plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico. I and some of my colleagues at the Mustard Seed Venture have been contemplating how to respond to the threat the Trump administration poses on so many fronts. What should we do?

The possible responses are many and varied, and we’ve already engaged in some actions individually. (Ken, for instance, joined the women’s march in Sedona.) But what occurred to me is that given our commitment to living the Kingdom as Jesus calls us to do, everything we do needs to be rooted in the Golden Rule. Our activism needs to be Golden Rule activism. In other words, everything we do needs to be rooted in the deep conviction that all people are ends in themselves, all people are equally important and valuable, and so we should treat all people the way we would want to be treated. This extends not only to people we may feel called to stand up for, but to people who disagree with us or even aggressively oppose us. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves and love our “enemies” as well. Everybody matters, everybody matters equally, and everybody matters immensely.

Given this foundation, what should we do specifically? Well, as they say, the devil is in the details. The specific people to support, issues to act upon, actions to take and the like will have to emerge from our best use of reason, education, inspiration, creativity, dialogue, and guidance. Most of the big problems we face, especially in the midst of the chaos the Trump administration has unleashed, lack easy answers. But I’m convinced that better answers will emerge if we deeply and truly ask ourselves on a regular basis, “Is the way I am proposing to treat other people the way I myself would want to be treated?”

What might Golden Rule activism look like in everyday life? My partner, Patricia, works on immigration issues here in Mexico, and she has shared with me some shining examples of people putting a version of this into action. For instance, she told me about a case where a migrant aid organization wanted to put a migrant shelter in a particular town. The migrants coming through desperately needed such a shelter, but many of the townspeople balked at the idea, because migrant shelters in Mexico tend to attract criminals who prey on the migrants—and the townspeople.

At first, the migrant aid organization and the townspeople were in a deadlock. But after a lot of debate, they were able to find a location for the shelter that both served the migrants’ needs and alleviated the townspeople’s concerns. In other words, a solution was found that honored the needs and concerns of everyone involved—all of the people were treated as important and valuable ends in themselves. Though I don’t know if anyone overtly invoked the Golden Rule in this case, I think the spirit of it was present: It looks like each person tried to treat the others the way he or she would want to be treated. This is Golden Rule activism.

Of course, I have no illusions that Golden Rule activism will always lead to tidy solutions like this one. As I said, most of the big problems we face lack easy answers. And of course, loving our “enemies” is not going to ensure that they immediately sit at the table of communion with us—Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers were greeted with dogs, truncheons, and water cannons, and we know how the Romans responded to Jesus. To be sure, most of the activism we engage in won’t lead to responses anywhere near as extreme as these. But as much as I would love to believe otherwise, I think we are in for dark times ahead.

That being said, I do think using the Golden Rule as our guide is not only in accordance with our commitment to Jesus’ way—a way rooted in a loving God and his beloved Kingdom—but also gives us our best shot at long-term transformation. After all, it’s something that has a tremendous universal appeal. Robert pointed out last week that some version of the Golden Rule appears in all of the great religious traditions, and even nonreligious people generally find its logic compelling. As wedded as we are to “me first” and the double standards that arise from that dictum, I think something deep inside all of us intuits that treating people the way we want to be treated is, as Robert says, “the key to a whole new world, a world in which everyone has reverence for everyone else.”

So, if you feel yourself called to some form of activism in response to the challenges that face us in the age of Trump, I encourage you to consider making the Golden Rule the basis of it. Ask yourself as you contemplate taking action, “Is the way I am proposing to treat other people here the way I myself would want to be treated?” This question is in part about the form of how people are treated, but it is not primarily about that—after all, as we all know, the form of how you want to be treated can often be quite different than the form of how others want to be treated. Rather, the heart of the question is the underlying content behind the form: “Am I truly loving these people—all of them, even those who disagree with me or aggressively oppose me—just as I want to be loved?”

This is the key, and to paraphrase Robert’s call to action from last week: May we go forward committed to using this key in every form of activism we are called to carry out.

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The Golden Rule Revisited

And the way you want people to treat you, that is how you treat them. (Q 6:30)

This, of course, is the famous Golden Rule. We all know about the Golden Rule, and have since we were small. It's part of our culture. Perhaps we've even seen lists showing that the same basic sentiment has been expressed in every religious tradition. 

I have to admit that in the past the Golden Rule didn't really show up on my radar. It seemed so familiar, so bland, so ho-hum. If everyone says it, how "cutting edge" can it really be?

But in recent years, it's loomed larger and larger in my mind. Part of that is seeing it surrounded here in the Sermon in Q by saying after saying enjoining us to engage in remarkably selfless behavior. By seeing it in this context, what I've realized is that the Golden Rule is the epitome of selflessness. It's the reversal of the very source of our selfish behavior--our egocentric mindset.

To understand what the Golden Rule asks, I think, we have to understand how we essentially want to be treated. I think we want to be treated as an end in ourselves. In our minds, we are an end in ourselves. We intrinsically matter. Our welfare intrinsically matters. It is inherently important that we feel better, that our suffering is relieved, that we reach our goals. That's how we see ourselves on the inside, and that's how we want to be treated on the outside.

We, however, typically do not extend this status to others. They are in a different category. They don't matter intrinsically, only extrinsically. They only matter insofar as they have an impact on us. Indeed, to be perfectly frank, they are clearly there to serve our needs. This leads to what I always say about the ego in A Course in Miracles, that its basic dictum is "I am end and you are means." This means that I am the only intrinsically important one here. All others matter only insofar as they affect me. They are only serving their purpose if they serve mine.

We all know that mindset. It's that mindset we see in particularly inconsiderate people in our lives, right? Sorry, I meant to say it's the mindset that, to a significant degree, drives us all.

That mindset is, as I also like to say, the mother of all double standards. It is a constant underlying affirmation that what is right for me is not right for you, that it's right that I am treated with great care, but not particularly right that you are. I should be treated as an end in myself, while you should be treated merely as a means. 

The Golden Rule is so beautiful, and so universally beloved, because it represents the reversal of that mindset. It is the overturning of all our double standards. You can see that in the saying itself: "The way you want people to treat you, that is how you treat them." No double standards. The Golden Rule essentially says, "You are an end in yourself, just as I am." It says that you intrinsically matter. You matter without reference to me or to anyone. You just matter, in and of yourself, every bit as much as I do. Therefore, the care, respect, regard, and love that I want to receive as an end in myself, you should also receive. For you are an end in yourself. 

The Golden Rule is calling us to act out of that mindset, to behave toward others as if they really are ends in themselves, to treat them with the regard and consideration that befits their status as ends in themselves. An end in itself is by definition inherently important. So our behavior should honor that importance. And end in itself is intrinsically valuable. So our behavior should honor that value.

What would happen if we behaved from this mindset? Imagine going around thinking, "My neighbor is an end in herself, every bit as much as I am. That stranger is an end in himself, every bit as much as I am. My spouse is an end in himself, every bit as much as I am. I am not the sun here, with them being mere satellites orbiting around me. They are all suns in their own right. And I will treat them that way."

What would happen to our lives if we did that? To our relationships? To our world? Can you imagine anything as revolutionary as that single idea? The Golden Rule is the key to a whole new world, a world in which everyone has reverence for everyone else. May we go forward committed to using that key in every encounter we have.

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One of the most disturbing things that has happened in recent years in the US (and throughout the Western world) has been the growing fear of and animosity toward our Muslim brothers and sisters. This has been happening at least since 9/11 and has recently been exacerbated by the election of Donald Trump. But here, I’d like to share the good news of one follower of Jesus who is doing his part to extend the Kingdom to his fellow human beings in need: a Texas man named Justin Normand.

Normand was feeling depressed about the election of Trump, especially because of the negative effect it was having on vulnerable groups like Muslims. He felt called to do something about it. But what? At last, he came up with a simple plan. In his words (from a Facebook entry he posted later), “I made a sign, and I drove to the nearest mosque and stood out on the public sidewalk to share the peace with my neighbors. My marginalized, fearful, decent, targeted, Muslim neighbors.” His sign proclaimed to them and everyone who drove by a simple message: “You belong. Stay strong. Be blessed. We are one America.”

What prompted him to do this? Part of the reason was his patriotic conviction that all people are welcome in America; in that Facebook post, he quotes the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty that says “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But his biggest motivation was his Christian faith. He says, “This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet.”

Normand also quotes the well-known saying attributed to Jesus: “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” He did this, in other words, to bless “the least of these my brethren.” As his husband, Gary Cathey, puts it: “I’m very proud of him because the message was pure and genuine to a group of people he felt were being singled out negatively. But it was just as simple as that. It wasn’t anything other than a simple expression of his faith.”

And the response to this expression of his faith was truly amazing. First there was the immediate response of those he had come to help. The mosque, the Islamic Center of Irving, had previously been the target of armed protesters, and its members were overjoyed that here was a man publicly standing up for them. In Normand’s words, the response from his Muslim brothers and sisters was “hospitality and love”; they thanked him and some even offered him flowers.

He also received a visit from Nick Pelletier, the mosque’s director of outreach, and the two of them had a loving conversation about all that was happening and the importance of good people standing up for one another. They spoke of the fear that causes people to hate; Normand said, “We all get imprisoned to the fear, and the ego wins.” But the good news, Pelletier said, was that many good non-Muslim people had offered support: “You know, there’s always going to be good people who are going to defend Islam, even though they themselves may not be Muslims.” They blessed each other and at the end of their encounter, Pelletier summed it all up: “Our house is your house, man.”

Then there was the broader response that followed: Before long, the whole thing went viral. Once his Facebook post went up, Normand received an “avalanche” of support from people everywhere, and only a trickle of negative feedback. Google him now and you’ll get numerous hits, including articles in major newspapers and reports on all of the “Big Three” US television networks. Clearly, Normand’s small act of kindness has touched many people.

And of course, it has touched him. The whole thing has been, he says, the “most humbling experience” of his life. For after all, “It worked. I felt better for the impact it had on my neighbors. They genuinely needed this encouragement.” And in giving it, he himself was blessed.

I love this story. It is such a shining example of a dedicated follower of Jesus extending the Kingdom to people who really need it. Such love and generosity! And there are so many unusual juxtapositions here. Here is a gay man—part of a vulnerable group himself—who is a member of a religion that often does not accept gays, extending love to members of another religion that often does not accept gays (though I don’t know if the members of this particular mosque share that view). On top of that, he’s a man who looks like the stereotype of a Trump supporter: a white, elderly male “cowboy.” (He says that he actually doesn’t normally wear a cowboy hat, but with that beard he looks like a cowboy even without the hat!) As in the parable of the Good Samaritan, this is a loving encounter that shatters social boundaries.

What about us? Normand reminds us that there are many who need our help: “They need us. They need all of us. They need you.” And so, in his Facebook post, Normand has blessed us fellow bringers of the Kingdom with a call to action that we might want to try. My suggestion is that you check in with your own divine guidance as you read Normand’s words below, and give what he suggests a try if you feel so guided:

"Find a group marginalized by the haters in this current era we find ourselves in. [Note from Greg: Let’s practice with any marginalized group, and practice forgiving the ‘haters’ too!] Then, find a way to express your acceptance to that group in a physically present way, as opposed to a digital one. I can assure you, from their outpouring of smiles, hugs, tears, hospitality, messages extending God’s love, and a bouquet of flowers, it will mean a lot."

If you do try this, let me know how it goes.

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Love Is Our Real Strength

I’m so glad that Robert is going through the Sermon on the Mount right now, because in these times when the powers that be seem to be getting darker and more powerful by the day, I need the reminder of what I think we all intuitively sense is true: However powerful hate may appear, love is our real strength and will ultimately win the day.

I think a sign of this intuitive sense we have lies in the way we are inspired by images of the seemingly weak standing up to seemingly overwhelming power. For instance, there is the first picture I’ve posted here. Some background: Earlier this year, the president of Mexico proposed a constitutional amendment that would legalize gay marriage, and in response there were anti-gay protest marches throughout the country, led by a group called the “National Front for the Family.” This picture is of one boy confronting a protest march of eleven thousand people because, the boy said, “I have an uncle who is gay, and I don’t like it when you hate him.”

This picture went viral in Mexico, inspiring many people with its simple vignette of one small boy who loves his gay uncle standing up to the marching column of homophobia. It reminded many of the famous image of “Tank Man” in China, the Chinese student who, during the student uprisings China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, confronted a column of tanks and blocked their way. To this day no one knows who he was or what became of him, but he has since become an icon of seeming weakness standing up to overwhelming strength, an inspiration to the world.

Why do we find such images so powerful? After all, many times these bold stands end badly. In the case of the images I’ve highlighted here, the gay marriage initiative in Mexico was defeated, and the student uprising in China was brutally crushed. Yet images like this still inspire us. And I think the reason is that, as I’ve said, something in us intuitively recognizes that even though it looks like brute force is so much more powerful than nonviolent love—and in fact often does win in worldly terms for a time—love is really the greater power, and in the end the only power.

And of course, our great model for this was Jesus himself. He was a lowly peasant who brought a radical and world-changing message of love, and in the process confronted the greatest power of his time, the Roman Empire. His bold stand also seemed to end badly; the Empire crucified him. But we all know what happened next: the resurrection (which I believe was a literal event) and the ultimate spread of his radical message to the whole world. Yes, the church that arose in his name has been an imperfect vessel, but as Robert has shared in previous posts, Jesus’ message of the power of love has continued to shine through Tolstoy, Gandhi, King, Mandela, and millions more who are inspired by them and others like them.

I hope we can do our own little part to keep Jesus’ message shining. As we face the darkness that seems to be rising in the world, let us remember the great reversal that Robert is illuminating so well for us as he goes through Jesus’ Sermon: However much the powers that be would have it otherwise, hate is weakness, and love is our real strength.

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Reversing our assumptions about giving

To the one who asks of you, give; and from the one who borrows, do not ask back what is yours. (Q 6:30) 

This is the next saying in what is called the Sermon in the Sayings Gospel Q. We are going through the Sermon as a discourse on what it means to love, as a series of immortal sayings that can teach us how to love.

The previous sayings about “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile” overturned our whole assumption about attack. We assume that when we are attacked we have lost, and that justice means taking from our attacker to right the balance and regain what we lost. 

In a very similar fashion, the current saying overturns our assumption about giving. Just as we assume that being attacked means loss, so we assume that giving means loss. Isn’t that the assumption that Jesus is speaking to here? Why are we reluctant to give to the one who asks of us? Isn’t it because the thing we give, as it leaves our hands, appears to no longer be ours? Why are we reluctant to lend to someone? Isn’t it because we are afraid we will not get back what is ours? 

The underlying assumption here is that we are each our own separate island, entirely separate from the other islands out there. As such, a coconut only means something when it washes up on our beach. Why, then, would we send a coconut over to another island? Only if that other island can send us back a fish, of course. Otherwise, what washes up on those other beaches is of no concern to us. 

This view can seem self-evident, but the toll it takes on us is incalculable. For in the end, it means we are entirely alone. We are stuck on our little pile of sand, plotting how we can get more stuff for our island. All of our relationships become business transactions. Even our most intimate relationships are no exception to this hollow principle. They become based entirely on how much the other person can deposit on our beach, and we give only the minimum required to spur that person into making the deposit. And when he or she consistently fails to do so, we cut our losses and move on. What a lonely existence! As the old Peggy Lee song asked, “Is that all there is?” 

Jesus’ saying has such a different point of view. It displays no concern for the precise contents of what is on our island. In its view, the other guy’s island is our island. What washes up on his beach is regarded as effectively washing up on ours. That is why when he asks of us, we naturally give. That is why when we lend to him, we don’t care about getting it back. His island’s gain is our gain as well. His island is our island. The stretch of ocean between us has vanished. 

This can seem scary. What about me? we wonder. What will happen to my patch of sand? But let’s not miss the big picture here: What will happen to me is that I will not be alone anymore. My relationships will no longer be mere business transactions. I will enter a larger existence in which I identify with much more than my tiny island. “I” will expand to include what was formerly “them.” 

Perhaps, though, I have this saying all wrong. Perhaps Jesus is calling us to a life in which we constantly sacrifice—in which we genuinely lose—for the sake of being good. In this view, yes, as we give, the gift leaves our hands and is ours no more, but this loss is compensated for by the fact that we have thus earned God’s favor. And he will one day richly reward us, while all those who grew fat from hoarding will be punished. 

I believe that this is alien to Jesus’ point of view, for so many reasons. His teachings don’t portray dutiful martyrs sacrificing in order to gain God’s favor. Rather, they picture carefree people celebrating because they already stand in God’s unconditional favor. I think this interpretation is our attempt to accommodate Jesus’ teaching to the island point of view: “OK, so given that I am an island, the only reason I would give away so much—and thus incur so much loss—must be to win God’s approval.” 

I don’t think Jesus is asking us to bend the island point of view in a “religious” direction. I think he is asking us to abandon it altogether. Only by doing so can we really learn to love, and that is precisely what Jesus is trying to teach us. The very essence of love is that it values the other person as an end in herself, not as a means to our gain, and thus it celebrates her gain as intrinsically valuable. Love does not say, “You only matter because you can give me a coconut.” 

Can we try to take on board this point of view? Let’s look again at our saying: 

To the one who asks of you, give; and from the one who borrows, do not ask back what is yours. (Q 6:30)

Can we try to carry this out in the coming week? Can we give, not for the sake of what we get back, not to prove to God or the universe that we are good, but just to leave the prison of our tiny island? Here are some words that I plan to use and that you might want to use as well:

I give without reservation,

because your gain is my gain.

And thus I find that I am no longer alone.

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Post-Election: Love the Person You’re With

As we conclude at last the strange journey of the 2016 US presidential election, I’d like to share a part of the near-death experience account of a man named Howard Storm. What follows is a conversation Howard had with Jesus during his NDE. The transcript below is taken from an excellent compilation of NDEs entitled Love the Person You’re With: Life-Changing Insights from the Most Compelling Near-Death Experiences Ever Recorded, edited by our friend David Sunfellow.

In this account (below), Jesus describes to Howard God’s plan for how to save the world, and our part in that plan—a plan that echoes so beautifully Jesus’ call in the gospels to love our neighbor and our “enemy” alike. I can think of no better way to proceed as we move forward from the 2016 election.

• • •

[The “I” in the following account is Howard; the “he” is Jesus. Howard has just told Jesus what he plans to do when he returns to earth, and Jesus has told him that his idea isn’t a very good one. Then…]

I’m like, “OK, you shot down my idea, what’s you’re idea of what would I do?”

And [Jesus] said, “Love the person that you’re with.”

And I said, “OK, great, I’ll do that. No problem. What do you want me to do?”

He said, “I just told you what I want you to do: love the person that you’re with.”

And I said, “Yeah, but after I do that, what do you really want me to do?”

“No, that is what I want you to do: love the person that you’re with.”

I said “Well, that’s simple enough, that’s easy, I can do that.”

And he said, “Oh really? Well, that’s what I want you to do. That’s enough.”

And I said, “How is it enough?”

He said, “If you do that, you’ll change the world.”

And I said, “Oh, you want me to change the world?”

“Exactly, that’s why I put you in the world in the first place: to change the world.”

“Well you know there’s been a lot of people that have tried to change the world and they usually turn out really pretty badly. I can think of examples like Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung. All of them wanted to change the world and they made it worse. If I go back and try and change the world, why isn’t it possible that I could make a lot of terrible mistakes and make the world a worse place?”

“The way that I want you to change the world is by loving the person you are with.”

“Wait a minute, that’s a contradiction. You want me to change the world but you just want me to love the person I’m with?”

“Yes, that’s the plan; that’s The Big Plan….If you love the person that you’re with, then they will go out and love the person that they’re with, and they will go out and love the person they’re with and it will be like a chain reaction and love will conquer the world and everyone will love one another. That’s God’s Big Plan.”

“It’s not going to work.”

“Why won’t it work?”

“I love the person I’m with. They walk across the street and get run over by a truck. Everyone gets angry and upset.”

“Yeah, that happens. But it’s really God’s plan and nothing is going to stop it. It’s going to happen.”

 “Even if you had a million people, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

“There’s more than a million people in the plan….”

“Well, from what I know of the world, you don’t have enough.”

“Actually, we have all the angels in the plan. There’s a lot of them. There are more angels than there are people in the world….There are millions of people. There are all the angels. And there’s God. It’s inevitable. The plan is going to happen.”

“If that’s your plan, I’ll do it, but I just don’t really see much hope for it.”

[And Jesus said], “You don’t know enough to see how it’s going to happen.”

So, my solution to everything is to love one another. And when I read the Bible and found out that that was written in the Bible as Jesus’ commandment: “This is my commandment, that you love one another…” That’s the program. I have tried to be part of that program… So, I personally have no big plan other than to be loving.

The only fly in the ointment was that I thought it was going to be easy, and it turns out to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It sounds so simple, but it’s really difficult. It’s easy for me to love my mother because she was a really nice woman and she was a very loving woman. It’s not hard to love someone who is really good and really loving. But what do you do with someone who is difficult, or really nasty? Those are hard people to love.

[Postscript from Greg: So that’s the solution to everything: Love one another. Love the person you’re with. Love even the people who are difficult or really nasty. That’s the program. Let us all be part of that program—the program given to us by our beloved elder brother Jesus. Amen.]

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Reversing our assumptions about attack

 The one who slaps you on the cheek, offer him the other as well;

and to the person wanting to take you to court and get your shirt, turn over to him the coat as well.

And the one who conscripts you for one mile, go with him a second. (Q 6:29/Matt 5:41) 

The words in Q that follow the admonition to love your enemies are some of Jesus’ most immortal sayings. “Turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile” are part of our culture. To turn the other cheek means to refrain from retaliating when one has been attacked. To go the extra mile means to go to unusual lengths to achieve something. 

But is that what these sayings meant on the lips of Jesus? Scholars have seen many meanings in these sayings. The Jesus Seminar described them as “case parodies,” which exaggerate certain traits for comic effect. Walter Wink sees them as a form of nonviolent resistance, whereby the exploited peasant would shame or embarrass his attacker, thus turning the tables on the more powerful aggressor. 

While I question some of the scholarly interpretations out there, I think the historical information scholars have uncovered behind these sayings is key. As I pointed out in my post on the crucifixion in the Mustard Seed Foundations series, “The slap on the cheek is most likely the slap of a social superior who is putting you humiliatingly in your place, presumably for something you have done wrong. The person taking you to court to get your shirt is doing so because your shirt was put up as collateral on the debt you owe him. Further, giving him your ‘coat as well,’ in a two-garment society, would leave you naked. Finally, the ‘one who conscripts you for one mile’ is a Roman soldier who has the right to make you carry his heavy pack for him.” 

Armed with this historical detail, I long ago noticed that these three sayings are really three variations on a single theme: 

  • You are being attacked or assaulted by a social superior.
  • This person is taking something physical from you (physical wellbeing, shirt, time and effort), while also putting you humiliatingly in your place.
  • Instead of responding as if attacked, however, you freely give him what he was trying to take.
  • And then you go even further, giving him twice as much. 

This pattern, following as it does the admonition to love your enemies, is a snapshot, I believe, of such a love in action. Jesus, in other words, first tells us to love our enemies and then gives us three brief illustrations of exactly what that looks like. 

And what does it look like? To me, it looks like the overturning of our entire mindset around being attacked. Think about when you are attacked, especially by someone you see as more powerful than you. You see something being taken from you and passing to your attacker. This something may be tangible—maybe the attacker has taken your purse—but it is usually intangible. You see your pride, your dignity, your validity as a human being getting wrenched from you and seized instead by your attacker. He or she swells in some intangible way, while you correspondingly shrink. Isn’t that how you feel when under attack? 

So now your attacker has apparently unfairly gained from your loss. The only fair thing is for this injustice to be reversed—for you to gain back what the attacker stole, whether that be your purse or your pride. The only real need here is for your attacker to be taken down a peg or two, while you are raised back up. You are the one in need. You are the natural object of concern. What passed from you to your attacker in fairness needs to pass back. 

I remember a scene in Seinfeld where George is chowing down on shrimp during a staff meeting at work, and one of his coworkers says, “Hey George, the ocean called. They’re running out of shrimp.” Everyone around the table cracks up and George is humiliated. You can almost see George’s status, like a stack of poker chips, leave his side of the table and go over to the other guy. Afterwards, smarting from the loss, George obsesses about it until he thinks up a comeback: “Oh yeah? Well, the jerk store called. They’re running out of you!” So at another meeting, George stuffs his face with shrimp again, prodding the guy into saying the same line, and then George stands up and delivers his comeback, which of course falls completely flat. Even worse, the guy instantly comes back with “What’s the difference? You’re their all-time bestseller!”—eliciting even more laughs from the group. Rather than George regaining his invisible poker chips, he has lost a whole new stack (and actually, it just gets worse from there). 

What is so striking about Jesus’ three vignettes is that they reverse our fundamental assumptions about a situation of attack. Oddly, the person in these sayings doesn’t act like he’s lost anything. He doesn’t seem to see himself as under attack in any real sense. In his eyes, he is not the object of concern. Rather, his whole concern appears to be for the other guy, the one who seems to be holding all the cards in this interaction. 

Rather than thinking, “How can I get back what I lost?” he’s thinking, “Here is a wonderful opportunity to give.” In his eyes, the person who is lacking is the attacker. He must be lacking; why else would he be trying so desperately to take from someone else? And chances are he is lacking more than just another addition to his wardrobe. As a heartless attacker, he has probably lost all sense of his innocence, his wholeness, and perhaps even his very humanity. 

This appears to be the loss that the person in these sayings is trying to restore. By freely giving twice as much as the attacker was trying to take, this person is in effect saying, “This is no loss for me. I’m not the one in need here; you are. By giving to you, perhaps I can fill your need. Perhaps I can meet your deeper need, by showing you that you deserve my concern and my love no matter what you have done to me.” 

The reversal of our usual assumptions about attack could not be more direct. Normally, we are thinking, “You are the evil one who has taken from me. Now what is mine should be taken back from you.” In contrast, Jesus would have us think, “You are the one in need here. Perhaps my gift can show you that your worth is still intact.” 

One of my favorite examples of this mindset is this old Zen story, which contains an almost eerie parallel to one of our sayings from Jesus: 

Many years ago there was a Zen Master whose life was very simple. He lived by himself in a small hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief snuck into the hut only to find that there was nothing to steal. 

After a little while, the Zen Master returned and found the thief. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the burglar, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The Zen Master stripped off his humble garments. The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. 

As the thief fled into the distance the Zen Master sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he thought, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.” 

I think we instinctively know that this is real love. For the most part, our hearts are too small to encompass this kind of love. But we know that it exists and we occasionally get in touch with it and sometimes even demonstrate it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do that consistently? 

For now, let’s set the goal of doing this just once in the coming two-week period. We don’t have to worry about going as far as the Zen Master or as the character in Jesus’ sayings. We are probably not yet ready for that. Just a little reversal of the usual way we respond to attack would be well worth celebrating. 

I’ll suggest some lines we can repeat in order to get ourselves in the right state of mind: 

I have lost nothing real.

You are the one in need.

Let me meet your deeper need.

Let me show you that your worth is still intact. 

My suggestion is to repeat these lines in the morning and on a regular basis during the day. Otherwise, when the moment comes, we probably won’t be ready for it. If it’s not basically in hand already, it will seem to be ten miles away just when we need it. 

And if we do have some success, let’s share it quickly in the comment section below, as that will help bolster the rest of us.

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Love your enemies

We have a slightly new format and I’ll now be writing every other week. In my last post I began a series on what is called the Sermon in Q, with an eye to what it can teach us about how to love. The Sermon in Q is the basis for both the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. It occupies an extremely important place in Q, where it is really Jesus’ opening announcement of the main themes of his ministry. 

Right after the Beatitudes in Q comes the admonition to love our enemies (which is almost identical to Matthew 5:44-45): 

Love your enemies and pray for those persecuting you, so that you may become sons of your Father, for he raises his sun on bad and good and rains on the just and unjust. (Q 6: 27-28, 35c-d) 

This injunction to love one’s enemies is really the heart of the Sermon. The remaining teachings are largely elaborations or expansions on this single idea. And since the Sermon is the heart of Q, and Q is our best source for the teachings of Jesus, then it is quite possible that loving one’s enemies was the very core of Jesus’ earthly message. 

Over the years, I have increasingly come to see this single sentence as the most important remnant we have of Jesus’ teachings. This, in my view, is the summit of the mountain. This sentence is one of the rarest and most priceless pieces of wisdom ever to be uttered in this world. It is far more valuable than any earthly treasure. It bears endless reflection and also endless repeating. Indeed, I strongly encourage memorizing it and frequently repeating it to yourself. 

A great deal could be said about this sentence, and I have written about it elsewhere at some length. (I encourage you, in fact, to read my commentary on it in my chapter “Loving Our Enemies: The Core of Jesus’ Vision in the Sayings Gospel Q.” See the section “Love Your Enemies” on page 4.) What I’d like to do here, though, is boil its content down to three simple points, which I will present in the form of a logical syllogism: 

1. God’s love is totally indiscriminate

The logic of this sentence makes it clear that loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors is how God loves. Therefore, the raising of his sun and the sending of his rain are meant to be seen as expressions of his love, and as such, they illustrate in vivid physical terms exactly how he loves. The way the rain falls on the earth, bringing life equally to the fields of the bad and good—that’s how God loves. The way the sun rises over the land, bringing light and warmth equally to the fields of the just and unjust—that’s how God loves. His love is no more selective than the sunshine and the rain. The rain does not skip over the fields of the wicked farmer, leaving his crops to die. The sun’s rays do not bend away from the fields of the unjust man, leaving them in darkness. In just this same way, God’s love does not lessen in regard to anyone. No one is skipped over; no one is left out. 

2. We must behave like God

Our passage says, “so that you may become sons of your Father.” Isn’t there a bit of an ironic tension in that statement? If God is our Father, then we are already his sons (and daughters). How do you, after your birth, become the son of your father? I think this plays on two different senses of “son.” We are already a son in the sense that God created us. But we need to become a son in the sense of resembling his character. 

Surely the second follows from the first. If God created us and gave us a nature after his own (the Bible, after all, affirms that we were created in God’s image and likeness), then surely it would be most natural and fitting for us to resemble his character. If we are just chips off the old block, then we should act like it, right? God’s nature, then, has very direct and immediate implications for our own lives. However we conceive of God automatically dictates the way of being that we should aim for. We see this in the Bible. The book of Leviticus says “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (19:1-2). God’s character is the standard to which we must aspire. 

3. We therefore must love indiscriminately

If the first two premises are true, then this conclusion is inescapable. If God’s love is totally indiscriminate and we should behave like God, then our love must be totally indiscriminate. This conclusion can only be false if one of the two premises are false. If they both are true, the conclusion is necessarily true. There’s no way around it. That’s how logic works. 

To actually love indiscriminately is a state of being that is very difficult to imagine. It is just too alien. To love the stranger the way we love our spouse? To love our enemy the way we love our children? It seems impossible. How would life work if we loved everyone as much as we love those closest to us? How would we prioritize anything? 

Yet if we were in fact created in God’s image and likeness, then it must be possible. It must be within our God-given capacity. 

And maybe, just maybe, our highly selective, fickle, and stingy love is the source of our unhappiness. It feels good to love someone. Why wouldn’t it feel incredible to love everyone


What I want to suggest for us is that we write this sentence down on a card, keep it with us, and repeat it to ourselves frequently. Ideally, we would memorize it, since then we won’t have to pull the card out. We can repeat it in its original form (I’ve made it singular here): 

Love your enemies and pray for those persecuting you,

so that you may become a son (or daughter) of your Father,

for he raises his sun on bad and good and rains on the just and unjust. 

Or we can change the language to the first person: 

I love my enemies and pray for those persecuting me,

so that I may become a son (or daughter) of my Father,

for he raises his sun on bad and good and rains on the just and unjust. 

If possible, try to repeat it once every hour. If you do that for one day, that would be great. If you can repeat it more often and/or for more than one day, that would be even better. I’ve done a lot of repeating of this idea in the past and found great benefit in doing so. I don’t think we will find more profound or more sublime words than these. Why wouldn’t we keep them with us and dwell on them as often as we can?

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Be Happy, My Love

My big project in the last month or so has been to build on my “You need to learn how to love other people” guidance. I’ve been doing many A Course in Miracles practices on that theme, and I’ve tried to incorporate some sayings from the historical Jesus as well. This blog is about one practice I’ve developed, one that has had a powerful positive effect on me.

The practice is based on Jesus’ famous two greatest commandments: “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself” (my paraphrase of Matt. 22:37-39—not part of Q, but certainly compatible with all we've learned). I wanted a line that I could silently apply to other people (and yes, dogs too) both in meditation and when I encountered them out in the world. So, after thinking about it and tinkering with different words in an attempt to come up with something that had emotional resonance for me, I eventually settled on this:

“My brother/sister [or name, if I know the person], you are a child of our Father, and I love you as myself. Be happy.”

I started using this in my meditations, applying it by name to my loved ones and my “enemies” alike—even certain political candidates that I’m not terribly fond of.:-) I also applied it to everyone I encountered in my daily life. Depending on the situation, I’d either do the full line or just a piece of it—sometimes, it was no more than “My brother/sister, be happy.”

I felt like it made a real difference in shifting my attitude toward people. I remember one time in particular when a young man who wasn’t looking stepped right in front of me when I was running. Most of the time in the past my initial response would have been irritation, though I would have kept it to myself. But this time, since I had been doing the practice a lot and my mind was soaked in it, so to speak, I immediately applied it to him and didn’t feel irritated at all. He apologized for getting in my way, and I told him “Don’t worry—it’s okay.” I felt really good about that—I was undoing some old unloving habits.

Another time, our car wash guy came to our door. This is a man who washes our car once a month or so, and the funny thing about it is that our car isn’t actually working, so there’s no need to wash it. Patricia lets him do it because he’s a super nice guy who needs the money. I joke that we have the cleanest lawn ornament in town.

At any rate, he came unexpectedly (as usual) around breakfast time, and I did feel a brief twinge of annoyance because I don’t like to be disturbed in the morning. But I did the practice and ended up having a loving encounter with him. I asked him about his family, and he mentioned how hard it is to find work, which made me glad I let him wash the car. We had a good talk and really connected. More unloving habits going by the wayside.

On another occasion just this week, I had a powerful experience. I was praying about various issues in my life, asking for specific details about what to do in this situation and that. I wasn’t getting any answers and was feeling frustrated. Then it came to me: “Whatever the details of my life, this I do know: The central thing for me is to learn how to love other people.” With this in mind, I felt guided to do the practice I’ve been talking about: applying that line I came up with to various people in my life. However, there was an addition at the very end of the line that I felt prompted to add:

“[Name], you are a child of our Father, and I love you as myself. Be happy, my love.”

The “my love” at the end was a surprise. I initially felt a sense of embarrassment with it, since at least for me that phrase is usually romantic, and other than Patricia I didn’t feel romantic toward any of these people. And I don’t think of myself as homophobic, but I have to admit that when I applied it to men, I initially squirmed a little bit.

It turned out, though, that this little phrase was the key to a beautiful experience. I felt a real and tender love for all of these people well up in me, and I think this little phrase was a big part of that. It made the encounter with them more personal; it made it harder for me to distance myself from these people. Now my love wasn’t just an abstract “Love humanity” type of love; it was an intimate love toward a specific person.

My further guidance has been to continue this practice, with the “my love” phrase a permanent part of it. It continues to be a very rewarding practice. I’ll keep you posted on further developments!

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The concept that the kingdom is right here in front of me but I just can’t see it is both completely intriguing and extremely frustrating to me. In one of our Q classes, Robert presented the Q version:

Q 17: ·20-21‚ ·The Kingdom of God within You‚·20

·«But on being asked when the kingdom of God is coming, he answered them and said: The kingdom of God is not coming visibly.»‚ ·21‚ ·«Nor will one say:» Look, here! or: «There! For, look, the kingdom of God is within [among] you!»

He then writes, “This passage is found only in Luke, but is believed to also be in Q. The word translated as “within” is not meant to identify the kingdom as being an internal realm (much as that meaning would sit well with us). Kloppenborg translates it as “among,” and the Scholars Version translates the final phrase as “is right there in your presence.”

So the sense of the passage is something like this:

You are waiting for a visible coming of the kingdom, such that you can say, “Look, here!” or “Look, there!” But the kingdom won’t be coming in a visible way, for it is already here invisibly. It is right here in your presence.”

The notion that somehow the kingdom is hidden in plain view, that I can’t look here or there to see it, compels me to look for it more deeply. How is it possible that it is right here in my presence, all the time, and I’m constantly missing it?

This is in stark contrast to when I had my spiritual experience. At that time I felt completely surrounded by, and imbued with, the spirit of God. It actually did feel like God’s kingdom was among all of us. It was everywhere, in and around everyone. We all existed in a vast, yet personal and intimate love that had no limits, either in space or in time. It always was, and always would be. There is nothing we could do that would either keep it from us, or allow us to contain it. I felt like God loved and cherished all of us in the most gorgeous way, like we were living in the sweetest melody that had no beginning and no end.

It seems that what we do most of the time is react to the world as it presents itself to us, rather than experiencing the world as if the kingdom were a constant presence, one that is alive and vibrant each and every day.

I have a variety of ways that I try to imbue the world and my relationships with kingdom-like love, and I’ve noticed that the more creative things I can do to bring it in, the brighter and my world becomes—and hopefully it makes other people’s worlds brighter, too. I envision a time when there will be a tipping point, when I will see the world teeming with the life of the kingdom much more often than I see anything else.

What if we began to see the presence of the kingdom more than we overlooked it, and by doing so made it more visible to others and to ourselves? What are the signs that the kingdom is present in your life and the lives of other people? What do you do to experience and manifest it in a tangible way?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas about this.

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The Beatitudes

As promised, I will now go through what they call “the Sermon” in the Sayings Gospel Q, with an eye to what it can teach us about the most important lesson: how to love. 

I described the Gospel Q in one of my Mustard Seed Foundations posts. You can read about that here. The Sermon in Q is the basis for both the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. Coming near the very beginning of Q, just after Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, the Sermon is Jesus announcing the primary themes of his ministry. And it is primarily about a very radical concept of love. 

What I will do in my coming posts is to go through the Sermon, bit by bit, trying to draw out the meaning of each verse, with an eye for what it can teach us about how to love. 

The Beatitudes in Matthew

The Sermon opens with the Beatitudes, some of the most familiar verses in the gospels. Who does not know the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Sermon the Mount? Here is how they begin: 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:3-9 [RSV]). 

We all get the sense of these. We typically think of those who are blessed as people who have what this world values: wealth, status, recognition, health, family, long life. But these sayings tell us something very different. Those who are truly blessed are those who have inner virtue, those who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful and pure in heart. These people may have nothing on the outside, but they have what counts on the inside. They have virtue, and even if the world overlooks them, God will make sure they receive their reward. 

This line of thinking is a staple of religious teaching: Cultivate inner virtue and God will grant you your reward. It’s so familiar that we just automatically take it in: Yes, yes, I know that. I need to be more pure and good on the inside, trusting that in the end I’ll be rewarded.

The Beatitudes in Q

Matthew’s Beatitudes, however, are regarded by scholars as a significant departure from what was said in his source document: Q. Scholars believe that Luke’s far less familiar version of the Beatitudes follows Q more closely here. Here, then, is how the beginning of the Sermon reads in the Critical Edition of Q: 

And raising his eyes to his disciples he said: Blessed are you poor, for God’s reign [kingdom] is for you. Blessed are you who hunger, for you will eat your fill. Blessed are you who mourn‚ for you will be consoled. (Q 6:20-21)

Notice how different these beatitudes are. Now it’s not the “poor in spirit”; it’s just the “poor.” In fact, the Greek word here—ptochoi—means not only “poor” but “destitute,” even “beggarly.” It literally means “one who is bent or folded,” and so refers to someone who is utterly destitute. 

And now it’s not “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”; it’s just those “who hunger.” 

As you can see, there is literally no hint that these people are defined by their virtue. They are simply poor, hungry, and mourning. They are defined by being in dire straits. The Greek word for “mourning” here, for instance, refers to someone grieving over a death or over the shattering of a personal hope, a grief so severe it takes over a person and can’t be covered up. 

These are people, in other words, at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. As such, they are by definition people whom their society has not smiled on. The system in which they live sees them as worthless, expendable. 

And let’s face it, when you are at the bottom of the heap, most people will believe you are frowned on not just by society, but also by God. You clearly are not in God’s favor, or you wouldn’t be poor and hungry. After all, doesn’t God’s favor show up in the form of visible abundance? How else would you know if you are in his favor? 

Yet the Beatitudes as they are in Q are the complete opposite of this view, aren’t they? They say that the people at the bottom are in God’s favor. He will give them his kingdom. He will give them a feast. He will give them consolation. 

There is no suggestion that he has evaluated these people as more virtuous. Their level of righteousness or sinfulness is not mentioned here. It’s not part of the picture. All that we know about them is that they are in an extreme state of need. That’s all God seems to care about. They are in need; their need must be answered. 

He does not first ask how well-born and well-respected they are. He does not ask what their reputation is. In our society, when the “important” people have a need, the fire alarm rings and the safety net is moved swiftly into place. But when the unimportant and undesirable are in need, there is no alarm and there is no net. They hit the concrete and no one notices. God, however, doesn’t work that way. Rather than holding back in his caring because these people are at the bottom, the sheer fact that they are at the bottom seems to be what elicits his caring. 

The Beatitudes are clearly a picture of God’s love, of the way God loves. It is a love that is very different from our own. It completely disregards human hierarchies. It responds purely to need, which means it reaches out to the very people that human hierarchies leave for dead. The traditional God sits regally at the top of the pyramid. In contrast, here is a God who gazes constantly, with deep parental concern, on those at the bottom. 

How can the Beatitudes help us to love?

Can knowing that God loves in this way help us to love better? I think it can. 

First, there is a certain logic to this way of loving. It is, for instance, the way medicine is supposed to work. The doctor is not supposed to say, “Your choices caused your illness, so you receive no treatment,” or “You are worthless, your treatment has to wait until we’re done with the important people.” No—you have a need; you receive treatment. And the more serious and urgent your need, the more quickly you are treated. Medicine is designed to work that way because something in us recognizes that it ought to work that way. So why shouldn’t other things work that way? 

Second, there is a definite egocentricity to loving only the people who are better off, more comfortable, more high-status and respectable. Isn’t at least part of why we love those people because they are in a better position to benefit us? Yet is loving someone because they can better your circumstances real love? Is egocentric love actual love? 

Third, if God really loves this way, then this means that this is the right way to love. This is the way we all ought to love. This is what love is

Finally, how do we think that God is going to meet the needs of the poor, hungry, and mourning? He does not have physical hands. He needs our hands to work through. If we do not learn to be instruments of his love, then how will the hungry be fed?


Let’s try putting this into practice. Whenever we see someone in need, someone who seems isolated and unloved, or whenever we notice someone who is low on our personal hierarchy (and let's try to be very attentive to those hierarchies), let’s think up a beatitude that we repeat in our minds, as a way of seeing this person through God’s eyes. 

Here are some examples: 

Blessed are you intolerant, for God’s kingdom is for you. 

Blessed are you who are overworked, for you will have rest. 

Blessed are you who are sad, for God will console you through me. 

Be creative in coming up with beatitudes designed just for this person. See these homemade beatitudes as windows onto the way God loves, pulling you into his kind of love. And then, in whatever way is appropriate, express that love in action.

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A few weeks ago, I had a frustrating week that turned out to be a rewarding week, and I hope even a transformative week. The centerpiece of it was powerful guidance that I received quite unexpectedly, guidance that I had the opportunity to put to the test in a surprising way a few days after receiving it. I wrote a version of this story for the Circle of Atonement newsletter, but I want to tell the story here as well. It’s all about learning how to love other people no matter what they do, and what could be a better expression of “life in the Kingdom” than that?

So, here’s the story: It all started when I went to Mexico City to get a new passport to replace the one I had lost. That went fine, but everything went downhill from there. I was staying in a small Mexico City apartment with Patricia and her daughter, along with Patricia’s sister and her partner. I wanted to get some pressing work done on my computer, but at every turn I was—to put it diplomatically—thwarted by one person or another not conforming to my standards of proper behavior (the common denominator: noise, noise, noise!). I decided therefore to take the first bus back to our big, blessedly quiet house five hours away in Xalapa. (Patricia would remain behind the rest of the week to do some work.) Finally, I would get some work done!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. It turned out that I had left my computer’s power adapter in Mexico City, and the computer’s power had been drained dry on my bus trip home. So, there was no way for me to do any work at all, and though I made every attempt to rectify the situation—trying my other adapters, looking to buy a new one, seeking out cyber cafes, etc.—nothing, and I mean nothing, worked. Like it or not, I was going to be in limbo for the next four or five days.

And I hate to admit it, but I was very angry. In my mind, it seemed that the whole world was conspiring to make me miserable. Fortunately, though, I had enough sanity to consider the idea that perhaps the world was not conspiring against me; perhaps instead the Holy Spirit was conspiring for me. My enforced time off looked suspiciously like a divine setup. After all, I hadn’t had a spiritual retreat in several years, and it looked like everything had fallen into place to have one now. So, I decided to make the best of my situation and spend the week in prayer, meditation, and quiet reading.

In my very first session of prayer and meditation, then, I decided to face my anger problem head on. I started talking to Jesus. I told him that I felt angry with other people and situations in my life. I told him that it sometimes felt as if the whole world was conspiring against me, keeping me from doing what I really wanted to do, frustrating me no end. I asked him if he had anything to say to me about this situation.

In retrospect, I think that when I asked him for guidance, Jesus said “Finally!” It seems like he took full advantage of the small opening I gave him, because I immediately got what felt like real guidance from him. Of course one can never be one hundred percent certain about such things, but the thoughts that came to me felt like they came from a much higher place than the usual hamster wheel of my mind. They seemed to drop in out of nowhere, with a power that spoke of a love, wisdom, and conviction far grander than my own little mind and its petty concerns.

What was the guidance? It was very simple, really, and powerful for its very simplicity. It was this: “All of your problems, Greg, come from your lack of love—your hatred, your anger, your judgment, your perfectionism. You need to learn how to love other people. This is the solution to all of your problems.” The tone of it was loving but also very firm. Jesus’ love for me was clear, but there was also a sense of urgency. The sense of it was that I must deal with this problem, because he has work for me to do, and I cannot do this work as long as I’m so embittered and loveless. There was a real sense that I need to shape up and stop wasting my time in pettiness.

I received this guidance with joy, because I knew he was right. It made so much sense to me. I was thinking, “I really do need to learn how to love other people. I’m tired of being this way, so full of anger and judgment—it feels miserable. And I really want to fulfill the function that Jesus has for me.” So, I made a firm commitment to really live the new, more loving life he was holding out to me. And as it turned out, within a few days I got to put that commitment to the test, in an incident so strange that it almost seemed as if it dropped in from Heaven—quite literally, as you’ll see.

First, a little background: An ongoing source of annoyance for Patricia and me has been our neighbor’s dogs. In Mexico many houses have flat roofs, and people use the top of the roof for many things, including a space for their dogs. Our neighbor keeps her dogs on her roof, and unfortunately, they are a constant source of aggravation: they bark incessantly, they often get onto our roof (the houses are closely connected), and they constantly leave the standard canine calling cards—so rarely cleaned up that the wind carries the awful stench to our house. The neighbor is a nice woman and we’ve talked to her many times about this, but to no avail.

Now to the incident: It was night, it was raining hard, and I was headed toward our kitchen to make dinner. As I walked, I glanced out the sliding glass door to our small, fully enclosed patio. And to my amazement, right at that instant, a dog dropped straight down out of the sky onto the concrete patio. I’ve heard of “raining cats and dogs,” but this was ridiculous. Of course, it was one of our neighbor’s dogs, Droopy, who had somehow fallen off the roof two stories up and landed right in front of me. I ran over to the patio, slid open the door, and saw that, amazingly, he didn’t appear to be hurt at all—thank goodness. I couldn’t resist: I said to him, “Hi, Droopy. So nice of you to drop in.”

Unfortunately, there was a problem: We have metal bars on the patio door, bars that only slide open when you unlock them. Droopy was too wide to pull through them, and unfortunately I couldn’t find the key. I called Patricia, but she was out of cell phone range. So there we were: Droopy was whimpering because he was stuck on the patio. I could reach through the bars and touch him, but I couldn’t rescue him. Meanwhile, the neighbor was outside looking for him and calling for him, with obvious concern in her voice. So, I stuck my head out the back door and told her that he had fallen onto our patio, that he looked okay, but that I needed to find our key to get him out.

And unfortunately, once more I have to admit that I was angry. Once I saw that Droopy was okay, the resentful thoughts started streaming through my head: “Here I was going to have a relaxing dinner, and now I’m stuck with yet another problem with her dang dogs. This only happened because they got onto our roof again: He fell off of our roof and is now stuck on our patio. And I can’t find the dang key anywhere. How long am I going to be stuck with this whimpering dog on my patio? There goes the evening. What’s wrong with people? Why don’t they think? Why can’t this woman be more responsible?”

But then it hit me: This was exactly what Jesus said is my one and only problem: my lack of love for others. This was the very thing that he emphatically told me I simply have to overcome. I need to learn how to love other people—and, apparently, dogs too. It felt almost like a test. I thought the guidance I received was so great at the time I got it, but was I actually going to follow it when the chips were down? Now was my chance. I told myself, “Droopy needs my help, my neighbor needs my help—am I going to stew in anger, or am I going to be loving to these children of God who need me?” I really wanted to do the latter. So, I made a firm commitment to that goal, took a few deep breaths, and asked Jesus what to do.

And amazingly, everything fell right into place from that moment forward. I got the idea to call our housekeeper and ask her where the key might be. She answered the phone and told me immediately—as it turned out, I already had found the correct key, but I must not have inserted it properly the first time I tried it. Maybe keys don’t work when you’re angry. At any rate, now it worked perfectly, and within seconds I had unlocked the bars and pulled Droopy into the house. I immediately took him to the front door, opened it up, and my neighbor was right there waiting for him.

What happened next was truly beautiful: I put Droopy down, my neighbor wrapped her arms around him, and then thanked me profusely and gave me a huge hug. She was so grateful! She had been very concerned, and I could tell what a huge relief it was for her that her perrito was safe. I was glad too. I really loved her in that moment and she loved me. It felt like a holy encounter, like I had extended a miracle and she had gratefully received it. Lack of love was replaced by love. I had passed the test, at least for the moment.

Patricia and I discovered an unexpected postscript on the day I began writing the original version of this piece. It turns out that our neighbor’s ex-husband, who owns her house, is kicking her out of it, so she is going to have to leave. She’s giving away the dogs. As much trouble as we’ve had with the dogs, this is in no way good news for Patricia and me; she really is a nice woman and we’re sorry this has happened. Now, I’m all the more glad that, during a time when unbeknownst to me she was struggling with this huge issue in her life, I gave her love and helpfulness rather than anger over her supposedly not meeting my petty needs. Patricia and I will be praying for her and offering her assistance as she goes through this big change in her life.

Well, that’s my story. I can still feel the impact of that guidance and what happened afterward. I’m convinced that there is something deeply true about the counsel I received. I know that I need to keep learning how to love other people. I really do want to fulfill my function in his plan to undo lack of love with expressions of love. Something deep inside tells me that this is the way home for me.

I’m hoping that this story is helpful for you as well, because it seems to me that everyone struggles with problems similar to mine. We spend so much time blaming others, being angry at others, and condemning others for all the ways they seem to make our lives miserable. Surely, we tell ourselves, if only they would get their act together, we could be happy.

But no: As Jesus so emphatically tells us, happiness comes from living in the Kingdom, a Kingdom rooted in loving your “enemies” and loving your neighbor as yourself. In this crazy world where hate and anger and blame seem to be poisoning everything (Exhibit A: the 2016 election), what message could be more desperately needed than this call to love one another? I pray that we all will keep learning, day by day, how to love other people.

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The Corrupting Influence of the Kingdom

One of the major themes found throughout Jesus’ sayings and parables is the idea of the kingdom entering and upending the status quo.  The kingdom doesn’t appear to live by the rules which govern the world and society. It’s like if you prepared a nice dinner for polite and esteemed company and your crazy Uncle Sal showed up uninvited.  You immediately realize your agenda for a pleasant evening has flown out the window, and that is why you didn’t invite Uncle Sal to your dinner engagement in the first place.

The term that I have heard used to describe the introduction of the kingdom into the world is that it has a “corrupting influence”.  Of course, at first hearing this our minds want to object to a notion that the kingdom would be anything but having pure intent.  Yet, remember that the kingdom does not adhere by the rules of how the world and society operate.  Therefore, from the standpoint of these rules, the status quo, the kingdom’s entrance into the scene will be seen as corrupting what is already a good thing, if the status quo appears to bring you comfort and/or favor you.

We can see the kingdom as having a corrupting influence throughout the teachings in Q.  Most notably in the parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast (Q13:18-21).  Each of these parables describe the kingdom as being added by someone into something where the rules of society would forbid its addition because it would be considered an impure act.  The sower of the mustard seed has not only added a prolific weed to a garden but has violated a Jewish purity law of combining crops.  The woman, has added leaven, leaven being a symbol of impurity, to the dough.  Holy bread is unleavened bread.  In both situations, the kingdom ends up taking over and influencing the final outcome. 

We can see this happening in other parables where the elder brother sees his father as upending his order when celebrating the brother who went astray, in the equal payment of the vineyard laborers for their unequal amount of work, and going after that one, runaway sheep. We see it in the sayings of “going the extra mile” and “loving our enemy” and “lending without expectation of repayment”.  And of course, Jesus’ own demonstration of healing on the Sabbath and dining with tax collectors and other riff-raff.  From the vantage point of the status quo, this is breaking all the rules and looking pretty evil and ultimately seen as a threat.

You are probably already familiar with this interpretation of the kingdom as being not safe to a societal status quo.  Yet, how much do we really consider the kingdom as a threat to our own sense of order?

I happen to be quite lucky to have some pretty devoted friends who have dedicated their lives to understanding and extending the kingdom in the world.  I have witnessed many times this power come into their lives and mine, and advance us in following the way it points out.  Yet, I must admit, in all honesty, many times I have experienced its entrance as a threat.  I can only conclude that the solid ground where I made camp had shifted beneath me as the new ordering had entered. In those moments, I am not seeing the kingdom as a dear friend but rather as a shady character who has come to usurp my authority and take my place along with what is due me.

I realize this is an unflattering confession for someone who has been on the spiritual path for some time.  Yet, I have learned to take these moments of initial dread and use them to my advantage once I remember what is actually going on.  Instead, of seeing them as another example of the kingdom as unconcerned with my needs, I see its entrance coming to move me forward to what is truly fulfilling and life-giving.  It is the status quo, bound by the rules of this world, as what keeps me from experiencing the real peace, joy, safety and freedom the kingdom offers.  In other words, I have been seeing Uncle Sal all wrong!

Lastly, I want to say that I am more on the lookout to see opportunities to invite the kingdom more fully into my life as being all around me, big and small.  I remember back in my twenties I was driving home from work and became distracted.  I ended up rear-ending the car in front of me.  Luckily, neither of us were hurt but the other driver was quite shaken by the accident.  She ended up saying to me she could use a hug.  I froze at this request as it went against a whole set of unspoken rules that were playing out in my mind.  I saw myself as the villain and it was not appropriate for the villain to offer solace to the victim.  In hindsight, I wish I would have taken the invitation to hug her and enter the kingdom. I now know that this is possible.

I am interested in your thoughts and experiences of seeing the kingdom as a threat to your established order.  I also welcome your thoughts and experiences of where you ended up stepping out of normal bounds to welcome the new ordering principle of the kingdom.  And like Robert did in his last post, I would request being on the lookout for an opportunity where the kingdom appears to be calling you to leave normal constraints to enter and extend the kingdom.  I then invite you to share any experiences here. 

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Noncomplementarity: flipping the script

I know I promised that in my next post we would start going through what's called "the Sermon" in the Sayings Gospel Q. However, a friend sent me a video that is so applicable to our larger discussion here that I couldn't pass up doing a post about it. Furthermore, it features a principle that is virtually the central theme of the Sermon.

The video is a wonderful piece produced by NPR. It's just eight minutes long. It tells the story of a celebratory dinner that was terrifyingly interrupted by a robber with a gun. You can read the story here and watch the video below. In fact, before going on, please go ahead and watch the video now. And make sure you watch to the very end, so that you hear the comments of the psychologist Christopher Hopwood.

The story is almost too good to be true, yet it clearly is true. We hear from some of the actual participants, and even though it ends on a note that is almost out of this world, it is full of entirely realistic elements (like trying to shame the man with the question of what his mother would think).

The central feature of the story is what NPR calls "flipping the script," and what psychologist Chris Hopwood calls "noncomplementarity." Noncomplementarity is a word coined by psychologists to describe behavior that does not mirror or complement the behavior the person has just received. Generally, we behave in kind: if someone is warm to us, we respond warmly in return. Another form is that if someone is submissive, we behave dominantly, and vice versa. Noncomplementarity, however, involves not behaving in kind. The focus in this story is on warm and generous behavior in response to aggressive and threatening behavior.

One thing I find especially interesting about this principle is the examples they cite: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. What I find so interesting about that is that, as we saw back in Week 7 of the Mustard Seed Foundations series, both of them traced their noncomplementarity back to Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount (which is basically an expansion of the Sermon in Q).

I believe that Jesus is this world's greatest teacher and exemplar of noncomplementarity. In fact, a number of years ago, based on the teachings of Jesus, I coined my own term for this same basic principle: non-reciprocity. Back in 2005 I taught a class in Sedona for the Circle of Atonement on non-reciprocity, citing both teachings in A Course in Miracles and the following teachings from the gospels:

Don’t react violently against the one who is evil: when someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other as well. When someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let that person have your coat along with it. Further, when anyone conscripts you for one mile, go an extra mile. (Mt 5:39-41) 

If you have money, don’t lend it at interest. Rather, give it to someone from whom you won’t get it back. (Thomas 95:1-2) 

Love your enemies. (Lk 6:27, Mt 5:44) 

If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? After all, even sinners love those who love them. Tell me, if you love those who love you, why should you be commended for that? Even the toll collectors do as much, don’t they? (Lk 6:32, Mt 5:46)

Interestingly, all of these teachings are found in the Sermon in Q. The saying from Thomas 95 is not explicitly from Q, but it is closely mirrored by Q 6:30: "To the one who asks of you, give; and from the one who borrows, do not ask back what is yours."

To be a follower of Jesus, then, means to be devoted to demonstrating noncomplementarity. Obviously, this principle transcends Jesus and transcends religious teaching of any kind. Yet there is something unmistakably otherworldly about it. It feels like the intrusion of a loftier, more sublime order into this dog-eat-dog world. That is why, at the end of the story told in the video, one of the participants says "This was like a miracle. It was like a miracle." The NPR host questions that and suggests that there is a better word: noncomplementarity. Yet I would say that noncomplementarity is a miracle. It is the miracle we need to heal this world.

I would love to hear your own stories of noncomplementarity. Actually, what I would especially love is this: a story of noncomplementarity that comes after you read this post. I would like to challenge all of us to consciously choose noncomplementarity in at least one difficult situation. It may help to read this article that links from the NPR story. It opens with a nice little example of noncomplementarity. Once you have your own example, please share it with the rest of us here.

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Investing in the Kingdom

"Know when to fold ‘em"--Kenny Rogers' lyrics from "The Gambler"

In Week 16 of our Foundation Series, Robert described that to enter the kingdom “we need to withdraw trust, investment, and identification from the world.”  This is major theme found in the sayings and parables of Jesus as encapsulated in the following Q saying:

Do not treasure for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and gnawing deface and where robbers dig through and rob, but treasure for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor gnawing defaces and where robbers do not dig through nor rob. For where your treasure is, there will also be your heart. (Q 12:33-34) 

Now many of us on the spiritual path have already concluded that material things of the world will not deliver us happiness.  Yet, we find in the teachings of Jesus that our worldly investments also include a paycheck, bodily safety and comfort, how others treat us, our social status, societal obligations and expectations…in other words, all the things we adhere to as a way to carve out a little oasis of peace and happiness in the world.

If you are like me, you probably are not seriously questioning all of what motivates your daily activity in regard to one’s desire and attention.  If I get real honest, a major part of my day, at least, is to maintain the bit of security and happiness I have acquired through my efforts and good luck. Yet, as we have seen, Jesus points to the kingdom as the real source of security and happiness to the point that if we came in contact with it we would sell all else to hold on to it.  And that is exactly what we are being asked to do, according to his teaching, is to sell our investment in the world and invest our desire and attention on the kingdom.

I find this a tall order especially when I feel some security and happiness in my current setup although there seems to be a certain amount of anxiety that accompanies it as well.  I need to remain vigilant to protect my little lot and act accordingly when it is threatened.  The irony of this investment, in what it promises, should then be apparent.

Although, unlike the poor chap who was confronted with the decision to give up his investment on the spot, Jesus has given us many examples of those who have invested in worldly scenarios expecting to gain but end up losing.  In this way we can consider our own investment in the world and upon honest appraisal begin to divest in our current venture.

Of course, as I mentioned, I don’t usually question my investments, especially in a serious and global way as Jesus instructs.  In that way, I am really like the rich young man who chose to hold on to his riches but missed out on a greater opportunity.

Yet, I do experience this conflict acutely at times. Something stirred in me with Alexandra’s last blog with her kingdom experience and insight gained, especially her point #10:

After a long, long journey, I felt that I had finally come home.

There was awareness that my efforts to feel at home in this world-- a place where I belong and where I am safe, loved, and happy--haven’t been all that effectual.  This feeling of dissatisfaction could possibly be due to seeking it in the wrong way and place. Therefore, I want to make more of a focus and effort in making room for the kingdom to be my experience by letting go of my emotional investment in this world.

One way that has intrigued me, and I am starting to use as an application, is something that Robert had written in his Week 16 blog in why we might be hesitant in letting go of our emotional investment in the world:

Isn’t it our hope that we can win this game? We’re like gamblers in Vegas. Like all the other gamblers, we know the odds are against us—we know the house almost always wins—but we are banking on being the exception. In a city full of losers, we hope to go home with the jackpot. 

I really relate to the idea of being a gambler whose payday is any day now.  If I keep chucking those quarters in the slot then somehow, someday, the bells will ring and I can have real peace and happiness in this world.  Whether the jackpot is the right romantic partner, career, or cash cow it is right around the corner!  Can you relate?

This is not so far off in my experience.  I had invested in a couple of risky stocks some years back with that very hope.  I have to a laugh, and weep, they both turned out to be big losers! 

I am now beginning a more comprehensive questioning of my investment in this world by using the above image.  In essence, I am attempting to be aware of seeking some scenario in which the world will offer me peace and happiness and equating it to the hapless gambler whose dream is to hit the jackpot and finally be vindicated for all those years of losing to the house. In this way, I am in a better position in letting go of hope in this world and reinvesting in what Jesus says will really deliver.

I would be interested in hearing from you on your own struggle and/or success with this idea of letting go of investment in the world as the way to enter the kingdom. Do you have experiences that support this journey?  Do you still hold out hope for the world to deliver happiness? Can you relate to the image of the gambler?


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I’ve already shared this story in a Course in Miracles blog I write, and I know some of you have already seen that version. But I thought it would be worth sharing here as well, because it reminds me of Ken’s blog a few weeks ago on Jesus’ teaching that you should remove the beam from your own eye before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye (Matt. 7:3-5). Ken presented his own powerful application of that teaching in a life situation he was dealing with. My blog here is a story about my partner, Patricia, and while she didn’t have that specific teaching of Jesus in mind as the following events unfolded, to me the story is a helpful snapshot of a “beam and speck” situation and one person’s response to it.

In May, Patricia attended a training put on by a human rights organization in Guatemala—a training for people who want to learn how to offer psychosocial assistance for vulnerable people like migrants, victims of violent crime, and the like. The people who attend these trainings are members of various human rights organizations that assist particular groups of people in need. Patricia has attended these trainings several times, and has always been impressed by the kindness, helpfulness, and dedication demonstrated by everyone involved.

But after she returned from this most recent training, an unfortunate incident came to light. There is usually a lot of celebration and merrymaking at the end of these trainings, and on this occasion the training group members in one of the hotel rooms went a little too far. They had had quite a bit to drink, and to keep their drinks cold, they had filled a leaky trash can with ice and put it on the wooden parquet floor. Unfortunately, by morning, the ice had melted and water was all over the floor. And to compound the misfortune, rather than cleaning up their mess and informing the hotel staff of what had happened, the individuals in that room simply checked out without a word, leaving standing water that ended up causing significant damage to the delicate wooden floor.

Patricia learned of this incident much later through the group members’ online discussion group. Of course, the whole trash can thing was just one of those things that can happen when people have a few too many and get a little too crazy. Accidently letting water drain onto a floor doesn’t call for harsh condemnation. However, Patricia found herself disturbed by the tone of the discussion, because it treated the whole thing as a joke. To her, that was not an appropriate attitude to take. It’s one thing not to condemn an unintentional mishap, but quite another to laugh off the irresponsibility of not reporting the mishap and abandoning the scene. Members of this group were responsible for real damage to a hotel that had served the organization well on multiple occasions in the past. Shouldn’t they apologize to the hotel and offer to pay for the damages?

To Patricia, this flippant attitude toward damage they had done was contrary to the very purpose of the organization. Their aim, after all, is to help vulnerable people who are often treated with disrespect and laughing dismissal by others. Members of this very group have often complained about how some police officers laugh off their beatings of perceived “lowlifes” by saying “Oh, it’s nothing—sure, we might have broken a rib or two, but we didn’t really hit them that hard.” Patricia thought: While the hotel incident certainly doesn’t reach that level of severity, is it really different in content? The people affected by this damage—the hotel owners, the hotel staff, and the organization as a whole, whose reputation is now sullied by this incident—are human beings who deserve courtesy and respect, just as these vulnerable people do. If we want to bring about real change, which this group is certainly committed to doing, should we not be consistent with our highest values in how we treat all people?

So, Patricia was disturbed as she read these discussion group chat messages. When she told me about the situation, I was disturbed by it too. And I have to admit, much of that disturbance took the form of some pretty strong condemning judgments on both our parts. What, if anything, should be done? I asked her if she planned to write something to the group about this, and she said that she simply didn’t know what she should do. But it was on our minds all night, and she decided she would pray about the situation, to see if there was anything she might be called to do.

The next morning, Patricia’s Course in Miracles Workbook lesson was “I am at home. Fear is the stranger here.” She told me that while she was listening to a recorded commentary on this lesson, an insight came to her. She was afraid to say anything to the group about this incident, because she was afraid she couldn’t do it without condemning them. But no, she realized, “Fear is the stranger here.” She could respond without condemning them. And with that, an answer to the question of what to do came to her: She should write a message to the group saying simply that as a group, they should apologize to the hotel for the damage and take up a collection to pay for it. No more than that: no calling out the people who actually did the deed, and no lecturing the discussion group for their flippant attitude. Just a proposal to perform an act of kindness and respect toward the hotel and its staff.

This guidance felt really right to both of us, so she sent this message that very morning. And what happened next was truly amazing and inspiring. As we were eating breakfast, responses to the message were streaming into Patricia’s cell phone one after the other. And those responses spoke with one voice: Everyone agreed with the proposal—everyone. Many commented on what a kind and appropriate gesture it was. Many enthusiastically offered to open their pocketbooks and make a contribution to the repair fund. This continued all day: Even people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the event popped in and said “What’s going on here?” When they were told about the proposal, they too wanted to help. There was kindness and goodwill all around. It was a total lovefest!

Even better: Included in the responses was a reply from one of the people actually involved in damaging the floor, one of the two people in whose room the incident occurred. She said that in fact, the hotel had reported the damage to the organization, the organization had paid for it already, and the organization had asked her and her roommate to reimburse them, which the two women had promised to do. To their credit, they were indeed taking responsibility for what they had done. It just hadn’t been reported in the group’s discussions.

And for this person, Patricia’s proposal and the group’s enthusiastic response was a beautiful and generous surprise. She thanked the entire group for their “solidarity.” It seemed like everyone had a burden lifted from them. Indeed, literally everyone benefited: the organization as a whole, the training group, the specific people involved in the incident, and even the hotel that had their floor paid for and would now receive a gracious apology for what had happened. It was a win-win in the deepest and truest sense. One of the group leaders, as if responding to Patricia’s unspoken thought that the group should always live up to its highest values, perhaps put it best when she said that this act “definitively speaks of a new culture that puts into practice these values that are so important.”

If I may brag a bit about Patricia, I think she was a real miracle worker here. And though, as I’ve said, she wasn’t specifically thinking about Jesus’ “beam and speck” teaching, I can easily imagine bringing that teaching explicitly into this situation as an aid to dealing with it. The “speck” in others’ eyes was the group’s dismissive response to the incident, and the “beam” in Patricia’s eye was her judgmental response to them. (I, of course, had a beam of my own.) Fortunately, in this case, she was very much aware of her beam, saw that its presence was a block to removing their speck, and wanted very much to have her beam removed. And for her, the whole situation was resolved by prayer and spiritual practice, which removed the beam of her judgment and thus put her in a position to receive surprising guidance for how to nonjudgmentally remove the speck from the eyes of her colleagues. In the end, all of those pieces of wood, large and small, were gone.

Thank goodness, because this situation could have so easily degenerated into a war of recriminations if it had been handled improperly. It would have been so easy for Patricia to ignore her beam, jump into the discussion group, and try to pry out that speck (Ken’s option 2), at which point probably all hell would have broken loose. Another negative outcome was also possible: It would have been just as easy for Patricia to give in to her fear of her beam and do nothing about the group’s speck at all, in the interest of looking appropriately “nonjudgmental” and not making waves (Ken’s option 1). In this case, the laughing dismissal of what had happened might have continued—the speck would have remained in place—and no transformation would have happened.

But instead, Patricia allowed God to remove her beam, which put her in a perfect position to remove her colleagues’ speck. She appealed to the better angels of the group’s nature, to the innate goodness of these people who have devoted their lives to helping their brothers and sisters in need. Patricia’s gentle call to perform an act of kindness turned the entire group from disrespectful laughter to honorable service; from potential conflict to renewed solidarity and deeper joining in their highest values of loving and respecting everyone they encounter. How wonderful!

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