Matthew, Mark and Luke paint like Norman Rockwell. John paints like Picasso, with a mystical eye. His rendering of an ancient conversation is astonishingly relevant: Jesus conveyed to Pilate that his mission was not to be a king (as Pilate had asked, no doubt mockingly). Rather, “My mission is to testify to the truth….” To wit, Pilate replied, perhaps reflectively but likely skeptically, “What is truth?”
The first public hearing of the January 6 Committee took me to #45’s statement, “I am your law and order president.” Then to his FBI Director’s assessment that the then president had “a casual relationship with the truth.” Then to the former president’s new media platform, “Truth Social.” Today, rare is a leader who asks, “What is truth?” They insist their version of reality is truth–the only truth you need to know.
Truth is more than slogans and talking points to frame a narrative. An impartial search for truth about January 6, for what really happened, is essential for democracy. The search for truth, done with respect, is an act of love because truth liberates everyone. Jesus was confident “the Spirit of truth” would guide people into all the truth.” Jesus knew that others would be inspired to “testify to the truth.”
“Epiphany” means manifestation, as in a mystical awakening. It may refer to a new spiritual awareness or, simply, a moment of inspiration. I now see inspiration as cumulative. One inspiring moment leads to another, then another, until the original “ah ha moment” becomes a new paradigm, a new worldview, a new way of thinking and being. This is how inspiration becomes transformation.
I’m in the early stages of a dawning that is both new and connected to life-long experience. I’m learning new dimensions about some old truths. I see realities that have been present but invisible, or dimly lit. It’s a dawning, an awakening that’s helping me make sense of some of the craziness of our world today. Some interwoven themes are religion, violence, racism and authoritarianism.
Today’s question: Is there a minimum age for it to be okay to be eccentric?
To be eccentric is to be “unconventional or slightly strange,” or “a little off center.” It’s often associated with older persons. By “older,” I mean older than 71. Those who are younger than 71 and irritatingly to my left or right are, of course, simply “radical.” To be eccentric is to be relatively harmless.
Just as maturity isn’t always a function of age, I’ve known some folks who’ve had an early onset of eccentricity. While it can be mildly annoying to those trying to walk that imaginary space called “the middle of the road,” eccentricity appears to be a thoroughly delightful place to live.
There are just two prerequisites for eccentricity. One is a complete disregard for the question, “Am I old enough?” The other prerequisite is an undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in Truth-Telling. One equivalent is inclusion in Robert Shetterly’s gallery of Americans Who Tell the Truth.
This is post #501. Thank you for being part of this conversation. After exploring the dark night of the soul and hearing that Karen Stenner’s research suggests one-third of humanity prefers authoritarianism, it’s time for some Light.
Occasionally, WordPress will suggest other bloggers for me to check out. One of those is a Germany-based photographer whose blog is SIMONETEFFECT, and whose black and white photography is very powerful. A recent blog post by SIMONETEFFECT was entitled “Love.”
SIMONETEFFECT uses light to connect us, to draw us into community. Just as old style photographs emerge from a “dark room,” a great artist can help us get through our dark nights.
It happened again. A friend mentions a book, I download the book. That book mentions another book, which I download. It feels like I’m conversing with Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Barbara Brown Taylor–and now you–in a cozy little room without walls called cyberspace. It’s also a timeless room. We’re in a conversation begun by Juan de Yepes y Álvarez (1542-1591), a Spanish Carmelite friar known as John of the Cross. He has invited us to explore the “dark night of the soul.” I’m grateful for friends who are connected with “the ancients” but who also are modern enough to speak a language that resonates with me.
The dark night of the soul is an experience of darkness, doubt or loneliness that can be depressing or terrifying. The “dark night” was introduced to me is in seminary. I promptly put it into a mental file folder labeled “AVOID.” Since then, I’ve been through at least one dark night, aka divorce, and plenty of twilight zones. This time, at my ripe old age, with significant change occurring in culture, religion, and politics, and amid an economic crisis and global pandemic, it feels right to be in a conversation about the dark night of the soul. In the next few posts, I’ll share what I’m gleaning from my reading. Here’s Barbara:
“… (John of the Cross) says that the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation. It is about freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to all the benefits you have been promised for believing in God, your devotion to the spiritual practices that are supposed to make you feel closer to God, your dedication to doing and believing all the right things about God, your positive and negative evaluations of yourself as a believer in God, your tactics for manipulating God, and your sure cures for doubting God. All of these are substitutes for God, John says. … Gerald May (1940-2005) called them ‘addictions.'”
Of her own dark nights, Barbara said, “...what remained when everything else was gone was more real than anything I could have imagined. … God puts out our lights to keep us safe, John says, because we are never more in danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going.”
Paul was no “early adopter.” He was an ardent resister who persecuted the followers of Jesus. He had to die first. Something of him–he would say all of him–had to die before he could be free to follow.
Many years ago I heard Bishop Mortimer Arias of Bolivia describe how his people gather for Easter Vigil’s long, dark hours of prayer and singing. He said as the first hint of dawn appears, everyone begins to groan.
This year, the world is groaning in vulnerability to suffering and death.
Richard Rohr recently wrote that the “spiritually transformed people I have met … have all died before they died. They…went through a death of their old, small self and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.”
This pandemic reminds us that each of us will die sooner or later, from one cause or another. If we can look death in the face and know deep down that death cannot ultimately hurt us, then we will have experienced Easter.
Tony Campolo (born 1935) is one of the most contagious people I know. I’ve been with him twice, listened to numerous video presentations and read his words. He is a professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern Pennsylvania University. He and a fellow faculty member are now serving a missional congregation in south Philadelphia.
For many years, Tony was a member at the predominately African-American Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in west Philadelphia. From that experience came one of Tony’s most memorable stories. After he preached a sermon at Mt. Carmel, the pastor’s words that followed his became the message that everyone took away.
No one can tell it better than Tony, so enjoy the video linked below. It seems particularly appropriate today, on this Good Friday.
Passover is an “Independence Day” remembrance of freedom from slavery. Jewish Passover pilgrims waved leafy branches on their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the time of Jesus, the Passover music of the “Egyptian Hallel” (Psalms 113-118) would have been sung with gusto, in defiance of the Roman occupation troops.
That day, Jesus chose another ancient symbol, the donkey (from Zechariah), a statement about non-violent leadership.
Waking this morning, I thought of those things, and remembered the 1994 tornado that struck Goshen on Palm Sunday.
Then, I thought about COVID-19’s impact on this Palm Sunday, which led me to an anonymous prayer found in the clothing of a girl who died at Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women:
“O Lord, remember, not only the men and women of good will,but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the sufferingthey have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have borne,thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty,our humility,our courage, our generosity,the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this,and when they come to judgment,let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.”
Yesterday morning began with a gentle rain. I too often take for granted a warm, dry house. I’m trying to begin each day with gratitude for simple things and a prayer of solidarity with those who struggle for basic things.
As usual, I awoke in pre-dawn darkness and began processing the day while still horizontal. I decided that one task for the day was to let go of our current political absurdity and chaos.
These posts have taught me something about myself: When flummoxed by something, I tend to reach back into history to find a context, a frame of reference or a beacon of light for whatever darkness I’m experiencing.
I’m confident that when the political noise of the present fades away, the quiet voice of history will honor Romney’s stand on Wednesday in the same way history honors Plessy and Harlan. Sometimes it takes awhile.
Sitting with a cup of coffee yesterday, I consulted Richard Rohr via his emailed daily meditation. Two sentences provided a helpful context for me as I “turned the page” from last week’s posts about principled Republicans:
“(Persons) must accept that their goals may not be reached in their lifetimes and be okay with this.”
“(Never bother) fighting popes, bishops, Scriptures, or dogmas. …just quietly but firmly (pay) attention to different things–like simplicity, humility, non-violence, contemplation, solitude and silence, earth care, nature and other creatures, and the ‘least of the brothers and sisters.'”
Certain locations on earth seem to have the capacity to connect earth and heaven and are known as “thin places,” where the veil between life and life beyond death seems to be thinner.
The concept of “thin places” leads me, and I believe most Christians, to Bethlehem. The “little town” is etched into our consciousness via Luke 2.1-20, Christmas carols and Christmas cards and serves as a geographic reminder of the “primary and compelling message of Christianity,” the Incarnation, which Richard Rohr calls “the synthesis of matter and spirit.”
That’s a pretty heavy responsibility for one little town, where “the word became flesh and lived among us … full of grace and truth.” The good news for Bethlehem and for all of us is that it is not merely a pilgrim destination or an iconic holy place. Bethlehem, representing the mystery of Christmas Eve, points to a larger reality: All that is Holy is available to us right where we are, right now—and in every place and every moment.