Gifting Yourself

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 3, 2021 by thecrossingchicago

I once had a spiritual director who asked me how I felt about being complimented.  I told him that it felt yucky and that I would quickly shrug them off as the other person “just being nice” or my imposter syndrome telling me that they would soon discover that I wasn’t so great. 

He then asked me, “What if, when someone compliments you, you were to say, ‘Thank you.  I’m grateful for that gift as well?’”

Now that was different.  It not only helped me to finally put my imposter syndrome to rest, but it helped me realize that using my gifts and being grateful for them didn’t amount to hubris.

My ancestors have been healers.  My grandfather was a Mormon bishop who healed my sister at the age of four when the doctor had given her a death sentence from spinal meningitis.  His grandfather was also a healer and a mystic.  He was considered a prophet in the church and performed “miracles” that are even marked by a monument in the town that was named for him: Byron, Wyoming.

Then there is me.  I have healed and I would certainly consider myself a mystic.  I have used this healing ability on others with a heavy dose of skepticism and very little gratitude.  Even talking about it still seems a little strange like I am being too esoteric. Now, I am grateful for this gift.  Some have reminded me that it is important to embrace the numinous and to use what we have been gifted with grateful abundance – even amidst our skepticism.

One area I have not used healing (or Reiki or any other title you might want to call it) is on myself.  Perhaps I thought I wasn’t worthy of healing.  Maybe I was just too skeptical to bother.  But I have been recently reminded that this is a gift for myself, too. 

Ultimately, my call is to gift myself; to be a gift to others while I receive them for myself as well.  There is no reason to leave something that God, the Universe, the Cosmos has somehow decided to use through me to lie fallow.  

When I write, I too am blessed.  When I heal, I feel the gladness of wellness.  When I teach or preach or coach or just be a listening presence for someone, I too reap the benefits of a heart that is lightened.  

I am grateful for these gifts as well.

What about you?  What is it that you should be doing that you are just leaving there to remain dormant?  What do you need to be doing for yourself?  What gift are your grateful for?

Use it and use it well.  And don’t forget to use it on yourself, too, because you are beautifully and wonderfully made and more than worth it. 

Inherit the Wind

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 27, 2021 by thecrossingchicago

I wonder what us “religious folk” are so afraid of.  This is not to say that all who profess a certain faith system have this white-knuckled trepidation, but there are plenty who are unable to let go of ideas that keep them blinded to the full view of what the universe has to offer.  One area that is particularly shunned by those with a more fundamentalist religious bent is science.

Parker Palmer once shared how he came to become a Quaker.  He was at a meeting when a woman suddenly began speaking and said:

“Many of us seek unity amid human diversity.  But we seem to think the the way to get there is ‘upward,’ into abstraction, where our differences get blurred and we can harbor the illusion that we are one.  But instead of becoming one, we lose our identities, our unique stories, and cannot forge meaningful relationships because we do not show up as who we are.

The way to unity is not up into abstraction, but down into particularity.  If each of us will go deep enough into our own story, into the well of our own experience, we will find ourselves drinking from the same aquifer of living water that feeds all the wells.  That’s where true unity is to be found . . . .”

It doesn’t come as much surprise to me that those who shun scientific discovery are also those who would deny themselves the self discovery that comes from contemplative practices; those who wouldn’t dare going “down into particularity.”  It is as though the very thing that they fear knowing about the cosmos is the same thing they fear discovering within themselves.  This isn’t to say that we don’t all carry that fear with us in some way.  

This diatribe is by no means a criticism of those who adhere to a more “traditional” dogmatic.  What perplexes me is why anyone would deny themself the opportunity to know God and oneself more intimately.  If we claim that God created the heavens and the earth, then don’t we want to experience every facet of that creation more deeply?  Isn’t God big enough to have created life beyond this world?  Isn’t the Divine creative enough to have used science as a vehicle for generativity?

It doesn’t seem that those who would consider themselves secular atheists are as allergic to religious practices or conjecture as it is the other way around.  When atheists Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens (dubbed the Four Horsemen) sat down for a two-hour unmoderated discussion, the common themes that arose were: how unwilling very religious folk were to dialogue about faith and science, and how the four of them saw the value in religious practices for the human condition.

Perhaps it is that science shows us the what and the why while religion shows us the how.  That is, for so long, religion has been used to explain what happened, why God allowed it to happen, and how God will comfort those whom God caused to suffer.  To let go of such conflictual thinking is to let go of the idea of an angry, vengeful God who we created in our image.  What if instead we allowed science to show us how things work and the causal relationships that make it thus while letting the rituals of religion bring us solace in the midst of it all?

We cannot prevent a freak accident that takes the life of a loved one.  But we can prevent the destruction of our planet that comes from ignoring science.  We can’t stop some cancers from killing those dear to us.  But while advancing scientific discovery so that we can cure those cancers, we can also have healthy religious rituals to help us find comfort there in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

The conversation does not lead to an either-or summation nor is it a zero sum game.  It is both.  Henry Drummond reminds us of this truth in Inherit the Wind, as he defends the teacher who dared to teach evolution in a Tennessee classroom based on the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.  When the reporter E.K. Hornbeck is shocked to see that the staunch defender of rationale and logic has a Bible in his briefcase he says:

“You hypocrite.  You fraud.  The atheist who believes in God.  You’re just as religious as he was.”  

Then, after Hornbeck claims that the whole trial had no meaning, Drummond admonishes him:

You have no meaning.  You’re like a ghost pointing an empty sleeve and smirking at everything that people feel or want or struggle for.  I pity you . . . . People love an idea just to cling to . . . . You’re all alone.  When you go to your grave there won’t be anyone to pull the grass up over your head.  No one to mourn you, no one to give a damn.  You’re all alone.”

Hornbeck replies, “You’re wrong Henry.  You’ll be there.  You’re the type.  Who else would defend my right to be lonely?”

Yes.  That.  The truth that dwells in the middle.  We don’t have to fear scientific discovery.  We don’t have to turn a deaf ear to the cheers of scientists who are gazing upward and discovering new planets, nor to the geneticists who are are looking deep down to new awakenings about our genome.   

Our upward gaze to find life on other planets will not lead to abstraction any more than our inward gaze to find God within us.  By holding the two gently together we can in one hand celebrate every new scientific advancement and discovery as another wonder of creation while in the other hand love the mystery that dwells within us and just beyond our grasp.

Clear Windows and Bruised Heads

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 21, 2021 by thecrossingchicago

During my sabbatical, I have taken to asking myself daily what I am curious about. It’s helped me to be aware of my thinking and to process some existential questions. It also serves to keep me present in each moment (well, usually) and to help me completely “be” right where I am.

As I sat down to journal yesterday and I was pondering what to journal about, I asked myself that question: “What am I curious about right now?” It didn’t take long for me to find an object of intrigue as I sat on my friends’ sunporch overlooking a flower garden and numerous bird feeders in an ornithological paradise.

Peering out the window, I could see squirrels running, bluejays swooping in to feed, and bees nestling in to blossoms to receive their sweet nectar. But it wasn’t these that most had me pondering. I could hear a steady thumping against the window and let my eyes readjust for seeing what was near when I saw a bee trying to get into the house. Six or seven times, it hurled itself into the glass to no avail. Apparently, it didn’t realize that there was a clear window blocking its way.

Watching this futile display of unawareness, I wondered if the bee would have acted differently if it would have backed up and noticed that there was a frame, allowing it to have the realization that a window also existed. The intellectual capacities of a bee probably wouldn’t allow for this epiphany, but what about us?

I continued to let my mind wander through the fields of wonderment as I considered myself in this equation. Would I have the sense to take a deep breath and step back so that I can see the full picture? I would like to think that I can answer this in the affirmative, but I am sure that there are plenty of times when I am so triggered and living in my amygdala that such a thing doesn’t even cross my mind. So, there it is – another mindfulness practice to be placed in my quiver for a time such as, well, anytime.

What if humanity were to practice this as well? If we just allowed ourselves the time to step back from the clear glass and see the frame around it, we would have a framework with which to operate. We could see the bigger picture and stop banging our heads against the proverbial glass. As we keep stepping back, we can see the entire house; the system that makes things work the way they do. Then perhaps we won’t be so quick to judge each other.

And, if we keep backing up just a little bit further, we will smell the flowers that those bees are taking joy from and a beautiful bluejay will come and land on our shoulder. Maybe, just maybe, it will whisper in our ear, “It’s ok. I’ve been there, too.”

A Way to God

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2021 by thecrossingchicago

In a 1967 letter from Thomas Merton to Matthew Fox, Merton wrote:

“I’m glad you are going to work on spiritual theology . . . I do think we are lying down on the job when we leave others to investigate mysticism while we concentrate on more ‘practical’ things.  What people want of us, after all, is the way to God.”

We all have our own way to God.  Writing, meditation, acts of social justice, and many other ways.  I employ all of these, but I am a writer.  

That statement, “I am a writer,” was always a difficult one for me to say.  I have long felt I wasn’t good enough to claim that title for myself.  But, as Fox came to realize himself, “I am a writer.  Because I am so happy writing and putting ideas together and in a form I can communicate with others.  And I learn so much doing this.”

Upon reading War and Peace, Charles du Bos commented, “Life would speak thus if life could speak.”  It reminds me of Parker Palmer’s admonition to let your life speak.  So, why not?

I want to write my way to God.  Perhaps not literally, but I want to compose words that speak to the collective heart of humankind.  I want to create sentences like Merton, Buechner, Brown Taylor, and Lamott.  I want to till the ground for a mystical experience like Tolstoy did for Fox.  Again, why not?

What about you?  What is your way to God?  Are you a singer?  Then sing.  Are you an artist?  Then paint.  Are you a social prophet?  Then speak.  The world is short on people who are living into who they really are and at what cost?

Imagine if DaVinci never painted because he thought he wasn’t good enough.  Imagine if Tolstoy never wrote because he thought his words didn’t matter.  Imagine if Martin Luther King, Jr. never spoke because he thought nobody would want to hear what he has to say.  Imagine if you don’t do that thing that burns like red embers in your soul.  Will yours have been a life well lived?

How would life speak if you were to put it into words?  Some of us need to hear it, so speak.  Some of us need to see the face of God in the work of your hands and heart.  Don’t try to keep it in, because after all, it will consume you if you do.

New Worlds from Dust

Posted in Uncategorized on May 14, 2021 by thecrossingchicago

In his book, The Final Beast, Frederick Buechner writes of Nicolet who bangs an erratic rhythm and asks his friend, Denbigh if he could dance to it if it were the only music that could be heard.  Denbigh replies that he supposes he could, but he’s not quite sure what his friend is talking about.  Nicolet admits that he really doesn’t either.  

“But whatever this is we move around through. . .” He raked his hand slowly back and forth through the air.”  “Reality . . . the air we breathe . . . this emptiness . . . If you could get hold of it by the corner somewhere, just slip your fingernail underneath and peel it back enough to find what’s there behind it, I think you’d be—“

If only we could all write like Buechner.  

What would we find if we were to peel back the corner?  Buechner’s character leaves the door open to endless possibilities.  

Can we let go of the stories that we have inherited or created?  Can we be ok with what we see beneath?  We may just realize the people we thought we knew weren’t who we thought they were.  We may also find that we weren’t either.  Why hide from ourselves?  After all, all things come into the light eventually.

Reality should be held loosely.  For too long have we held on to our own versions of reality so tightly that we can feel it crack in our palms.  We create stories in our minds and tell ourselves that they are truth and not merely the musings of our fragile egos.  

I have known realities.  And I have seen them disappear like fog being cut by the sun.  I have held on to truths.  And I have felt them run through my fingers like sand while my fingernails dug into my palms.  

If our feet are planted so firmly on the ground and our fingers are locked in a death grip, then how can we take the hand of another and dance?  

Nicolet answers some of this sense of wonder after thinking briefly:

“I think the dance that must go on back there,” Nicolet began, “way down deep at the heart of space, where being comes from . . . There’s dancing there, Denbigh. My kids have dreamed it. Emptiness is dancing there. The angels are dancing. And their feet scatter new worlds like dust.” 

I wonder what these worlds would look like.  Walking away from the old ones makes room for the new, whatever that may be.  If only we could let go of being so sure and learn to embrace the mystery, we just might see these worlds take form before our very eyes and hear the gentle clack-clack of angels’ feet just beyond the ether.

The Church

Posted in Uncategorized on May 7, 2021 by thecrossingchicago

Extra ecclesium nulla salus.  

There is no salvation outside of the church.  

This proclamation set a standard for “the church” to dictate who is in and who is out; who is saved and who is damned.  Sadly, this misguided ideology hasn’t worn off much over the years and we have been left with an image of a church that is guarded, judgmental, and hateful.  

I would argue that the idea of “the church” is a fallacy to begin with.  There are many churches,  but not one church.  It is unfortunate that the pervading thought is that there is one church with such a reputation and arguably, deservedly so.  

But what is the alternative?  What would “the church” look like if we were to build it again today?  What would a good template be for individual bodies and communities that seek to be who they are called to be?  

I can recall marching in the Chicago Pride Parade wearing my clerical collar with cutoff sleeves and shorts and having people hug me with tears in their eyes as they thank me for accepting and loving them.  While this is touching, it isn’t right.  Nobody should have to thank anyone for accepting them for the beautiful creation that they are.  

Many churches (though far from all or even enough) have become more open, accepting, and welcoming.  There is a high degree of tolerance, but something is still greatly lacking.  There is a hope for something more like the plea of Pink and Nathan Ruess, “Just give me a reason, just a little bit’s enough just to say that we aren’t broken, just bent, and we can learn to love again.”

I think that’s a big part of it: LOVE.  Love is not exclusive.  Love is not even tolerant.  Love is purely relational and this includes people we don’t agree with and people who are not like us in whatever way.  

1 John 4:17-21 says: 

“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

We need to turn to the core needs of all people when considering building the church.  One of those core needs is love.  We need a safe space to wrestle with the deep difficult questions without fear of being ostracized or fed empty platitudes.  We need a place to marry our intellect with our feelings and yearnings and not have to exclude either.  We need genuine and real community where we can experience connection.  We need room to wander with reassurance that we are still at home and home will be there when we return from our wandering.

I cannot claim to know exactly what this church should look like.  We see glimpses of it in churches that we know and attend, but there is still more that is needed.  What would it look like to not merely be welcoming, but to co-create this community with those who are already there, with those who stumble upon them in their wanderings, and with God?

We have become more and more comfortable with accepting people of other faiths, but are still extremely squeamish with people who approach Jesus in their own unique ways.  It seems that we need to learn to be open to people entering the church with their own mindset and relationships with Jesus and be comfortable and radically welcoming of it.

In fact, we use the language of welcoming for people to come into “our” churches.  But is the church really ours?  Indeed it is not “ex ecclesium nulla salus,” but instead we too are guests on this holy ground prepared for us by God.

What of contemplative practices?  We often turn to eastern religions when wanting to experience at-one-ment with God, the universe, our True Selves, and all that is beyond us.  We seek enlightenment, but overlook the practices that are a part of our own tradition.  Why not embrace all of these practices and delve into them with a great sense of wonder and intentionality?  

Meditate that we might become enlightened.  Do yoga that the kundalini may be full realized within.  Live into the True Self while feeling the white light pour down upon your crown chakra and through you to the ground of being.  And at the same time, embrace the centering prayer, mantras, and all of the contemplative practices of Christianity reflected when Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, that light dwells within us, and the Kin-dom of God is already a reality waiting to be birthed from within us.

What is the fear?  Why not let go and as Howard Thurman reminds us, trust the ru’ah hakodesh?  Let’s have a conversation and start co-creating this thing together.  Let’s do this that we may hear the “sound of the genuine in one another” and “So that when I look at myself through your eyes having made that pilgrimage, I see in me what you see in me and the wall that separates and divides will disappear and we will become one because the sound of the genuine makes the same music.” 

Sounds Baths and Spiders

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2021 by thecrossingchicago

The sound washes over me in waves; undulating, matching the vibration of my own energy until each cell and the bowl are singing in unison. 

“What is your intention?  What do you need to let go of?” The meditation guide asks. This seems to be a recurring theme as of late.

And so as I lie there with eyes closed, body humming, I jump and allow myself to fall.  I fall through layer and layer of clouds trusting that something or someone will catch me eventually.  But then I realize, I don’t need to be caught.  Falling is a safe form of letting go; maybe I’m even falling upward.

As the clouds turn dark and storms form within them, the thunder roars around me filling my ears with ominous sounds until I allow myself to become bigger than the storm and then smaller than the electrons that fuel the lightning.  

I’m becoming myself, my intention while the drum beats steadily and the singing bowls peel away layer after layer of things I don’t need.  The hand that I grasp is my hand and all difference ceases to exist as we are one.  Interconnectedness is manifest there while energy flutters in ebbs and flows like a phoenix flapping her mighty, yet delicate wings.

We are intertwined as the spider makes her way down the web above me.  Then she goes back up and I can almost hear her laughter as she does.  Why do these spiders seem to follow me? 

“Why indeed?” She asks.  “You have feared and loathed that which is you: your own spirit animal.  Creative.  Beautiful in its own way.  In touch with the universe.  Do you see now?”

“Yes, I do,” I reply as I watch her make her way even more directly above my head.  She seems to be showing me my own true self; telling me it’s finally time to go home.  Or better yet, showing me that I’m already there.  All realities made present as I lie there intertwined looking up.

When I am gone, the spider is gone, too.

I drive while I long for just a glimpse of the mountains.  Making my way west I sing to Les Miserables at the top of my lungs.  A concert for an audience of one. 

When I come to the end of the Finale, I cry; loud and hard and quick.  Not knowing exactly what I’m letting go of in that moment, but feeling it leave me. Then it’s over.  And that’s ok, because sometimes that’s what falling looks like on the outside.

The Simple Being of Words

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 11, 2021 by thecrossingchicago

I’ve always been a collector of words.  Quotes, proverbs, definitions, what have you.  But I don’t just regurgitate them into the ether.  When I say them, I mean them.  I have had great teachers that have imparted these words to me.

Browning taught me to reach beyond my grasp because that’s what heaven is for.

Eliot taught me that under red rocks reside things more fearful than shadows and that faith, love, and hope are found in the waiting.

Plato taught me that complacency can only creep in when the dream is dead and Hughes taught me that a dream deferred just might sag like a heavy load.

Oliver taught me to notice the grasshoppers and each blade of grass and asked me what I would do with my one precious life.

Rilke taught me that the questions are more important than the answers and Teilhard de Chardin that if I wait patiently I will live into who God made me to be.

Whyte taught me that if I let go then I’ll see that my True Self resides as near as a reflection in a Himalayan lake or any lake and Eckhart that I can only know truth through erasure and that addition by subtraction is the only way to myself.

O’Donohue taught me that the space between all of us is sacred and that in the solitude and unsayable resides the beauty of interconnected knowing.

Yes, I love words and they sometimes love me back.  But I’m ready to go deeper now.

Osho teaches that intuition is something that goes beyond knowing.  There are things that we think we can grasp intellectually and then there is the unknowable; the mystery that can’t be expressed in words that humans have ever mastered.  This may be closer to what the ancient philosophers called gnosis: almost a divine knowledge reserved for only whose who would practice the awareness to receive it.

I think there’s another layer, though, and that’s where I want to go while taking all the rest with me: being.  I have lived much of my life in my head amassing knowledge and yes, I have also felt.  Sometimes that feeling has been uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful.  Now as I embark on a sabbatical journey of deeper self growth, I want to start to embody the things that I have inherited from my teachers.  I want to live them into my being and become the things that I speak of.

I will keep reaching, Robert and I will be content when I cannot grasp that which my hand has brushed against.  But I will appreciate it nonetheless. 

I will have the courage to look under that red rock, T.S.  That dark place that my shadow has accompanied me to even if it scares the hell out of me.  And when I do, I will carry with me hope that faith and love also accompany me and that on the other side of the darkness is a light that shines in my own being that is so beautiful that even you can’t find the words to express it.

I will not become complacent, Plato.  I will be intentional every step of the way and hold up that dream, Langston so that it doesn’t fester in the sun as you so feared.  In fact, we’ll carry the dream together. 

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do with this one precious life, Mary.  I’m going to love fiercely and bravely like each breath was my last.  I’m going to smell the fresh cut grass and notice the butterfly as she flutters away from the daffodil and feel the warmth of the sun on my face as I speak gratitude for all of it.

Rainer, I’m going to go ahead and rest in those questions and not be too quick to come to any conclusions.  I’m going to learn to appreciate the pauses in between and stay curious along the way.  I will wait, Pierre.  I’m in no hurry, because I’m starting to see that right here and right now is a pretty good place to be.

I’ll look in every lake and pond and puddle that I can find, David.  And even when I can’t see my own reflection, I’ll keep letting go of the unhealthy and the things that I don’t need because I’m going to do it right.  I’m going to erase those false narratives, Meister, and I’m not going to add any more than I need because I know I already have oceans of stardust clasped in my palm.

And yes, John.  Thank you.  The space between us is filled with the laughter of children and burning bushes and the singing of cherubs.  It’s blessed and it’s precious and it’s sacred.  I’ll try not to forget that.  I’ll also remember that even when I’m alone, I’m not.  I’ll keep reminding myself that my soul is intertwined with those that I love and that at the core of all existence, we are all interconnected.

I will embody these truths as I continue to learn, grow, and love.  I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep manifesting: both the things that can be expressed and those that cannot.

Lest I forget you, Osho: I will wear intuition as a garment of indescribable color.  I’ll not become entangled in knowing what it is, but will merely appreciate that it is.  I will breathe and I will be.

I Wonder as I Wander

Posted in Uncategorized on April 9, 2021 by thecrossingchicago

Journeys are important; both the outward ones and the inward ones.

I am coming off of the Lenten journey which was an inward journey to begin my sabbatical journey which is both.  I want it to be a meaningful trek toward beauty with those that I care for as well as an odyssey toward the immortal diamond that awaits within and gets ever brighter with each inward step.

I need this to be as intentional as it can be as I sit in monasteries of various faiths in silence, with the chant of psalms on my lips, or with the echoes of The Hymn of the Cherubim in acoustic reverence – be it from the sound of speakers or the lips of actual angels.

I need it to be genuine as I hike mile after mile never failing to be in awe of the vistas that lay before me in their natural splendor or of the person grasping my hand next to me.

I need to go as deep as possible into my inner well when bringing pen to paper or fingers to keyboard as I write my way across the internal abyss toward my true self.

To do these things I have to stay present and aware in each moment.  I have recently found that there is a question that helps me to achieve this sometimes elusive task: What am I curious about right now?  I often say that questions create an immediate shift and this one brings me back to center and present.

I can recall hearing Philip Yancey say at the Princeton Writer’s Workshop that most writers are writing to a question and they only sometimes get to an answer.  That’s the beauty of living in the mystery.  I don’t need to find the answer, but at least having a question makes me take the first step on the journey because, after all, every journey begins with a single step.

So, whether it be in the spirit of John Niles or Langston Hughes, I will “wonder as I wander” and remain fully aware of the effulgence that is beaming around me, next to me, and within me. 

Something’s Wrong

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2019 by thecrossingchicago

Something doesn’t seem right.

This story in Acts where Paul casts the demon out of a girl because she is annoying him. Even though she is speaking truth about Paul being the “slave of the Most High God,” something doesn’t sit well with him and he decides to cast out the spirit that has given her the ability to peek into the future and speak a little deeper into the truth.

It isn’t much of a surprise that the slave owner doesn’t appreciate Paul taking away his source of income. It isn’t shocking that they spoke out against he and Silas and got them put in prison for acts unbecoming a Roman citizen. What does disturb me, though, is that Paul does absolutely nothing about the systems that are in place that led to the girl being enslaved in the first place.

One could say that Paul was in a hurry and focusing on his main task of preaching the gospel and so didn’t have time to stop for this disruption. Others may say that Paul was against slavery, and may even point out his plea for Onesimus to Philemon in Colossians, but it didn’t ultimately change the system. Maybe he was just saving it for later . . . .

How many times have we heard stories of Christian missionaries being captured or killed by militants in the lands where they were bringing the gospel? How many have wept over the loss of these martyrs who died for their great faith? Yet, how many have turned a blind eye to the indigenous peoples in these lands who have been subverted by those in power? It seems that we could stand a little work in getting our priorities straight.

Paul and Silas’s story seem to get better, though. After being put in the deepest darkest recesses of the prison, they sing their way to freedom as the walls collapse in a sudden earthquake. Hallelujah! God’s chosen ones are free at last! But this isn’t a cause for rejoicing for the jailer who knows he is doomed for failing at his job.

Before he can take his own life, Paul comforts the man and assures him that his is forgiven.

“What must I do to be saved?” he asks.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul replies.

What does this even mean? Subscribe to a particular assent about who Jesus was? Or is it to embrace the gospel that Jesus espoused about releasing the captives, bringing freedom to the oppressed and sight to the blind? If it’s the latter, then it seems that Paul has failed to live the gospel himself.

This passage has been preached on so many times and so many times the Church has gotten giddy with excitement when Paul and Silas break free and the jailer becomes one of their first converts. But what about the girl? Why is she so easily forgotten?

It seems like a wonderful thing at face value when the jailer and his family are baptized into the faith. After all, if we can bring the oppressor into our fold, then everything will be ok. But just then we remember that some of the most oppressive, homophobic, racist people have been Christians. And so we move on looking for another place in this passage to find hope.

Maybe this passage isn’t about what was done right, but more about what could have been done better. Sure, it’s not completely devoid of reason for celebration, but so much was left on the table. We could find a lesson here about reaching out to those in power and asking them what it is they fear. What is it that scares them into wanting to have a death grip on the illusion of control at all costs?

Perhaps its about Paul’s unwillingness or inability to let go of the idea that he can’t do something. Did he feel too inadequate to affect change big enough to shift entire systems? It’s quite possible that he felt that there was nothing that he could do anyway, so he just let things be and moved on. Is he any different from most of us?

Paul and Silas’s adventure here is crying out for awareness. It’s calling us to experience that metanoia from “can’t” to “must”.

Whether this was Paul’s mindset or not, this passage is a reminder of each and every time that we have seen an injustice and kept going, telling ourselves that there is nothing that we could do anyway. Who are we to think we can affect change?

If I practice this on myself, I have to ask what I can do. I’m only one person, after all, and there’s not likely to be a whole lot of an impact that I can make. Or maybe this is just an excuse for my own fear of being inadequate. And so I ask myself anyway.

Maybe this passage is calling me to ask myself the right questions and to see that I actually can make a difference. I’ve never thought of myself as having power and having grown up rather poor, I didn’t have any financial influence. But, I am a white cisgendered straight Protestant male and some would say that this automatically means that I am privileged. I can’t argue that. So maybe there is something I can do. After all, I recently heard somebody say that it isn’t only the oppressed who should be having conversations saying that things need to change.

So how about this: What if I reach to the margins and, like Fr. Greg Boyle suggested, learn from those in the margins and allow myself to be changed by them instead of trying to change them?

How about I encourage children to keep dreaming and encourage the adults around me to stop teaching them the word “can’t”?

What if I join others and revel in the innocence and creativity of youth instead of trying to change them and tell them that they need to quit having such grandiose ideas as world peace and the oneness of all people? What if I let them remain the humane human beings that they are and start to learn from them for a change?

What if I teach my boys that it’s not ok for men to use a woman’s body for their own gratification because that body comes with a heart, a soul, a mind all made in the beautiful image of a loving God and so much more?

What if I teach them that it’s ok to be vulnerable and that the adage that men should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and never show any emotion is a bunch of bull and that it only creates hurt people and that it really is true that hurt people hurt people and when those hurt people come into power then the hurt just spreads exponentially and systemically?

Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out. What can you do?