Take Your Time God

Tragedy strikes in a variety of ways. Storms, wrecks, sickness, death, job loss, the list is endless. Adding insult to injury, are those wishing to assign purpose and meaning to misfortune. They seemingly can’t help themselves when it comes to offering senseless, pat antidotes–especially on social media.

This past weekend, while people were fleeing the raging wild fires consuming homes and businesses near Redding, CA the following post popped up in my FB newsfeed:

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We know this is creating space for God to show up and do some amazing things in peoples lives… Jesus be near.

In my former, religious frame of mind, I never really liked such sentiments, but idly stood by without opposition. Now however, when reading this free of my past superstitions, everything inside of me bristled! It left me troubled and upset for hours. I couldn’t shake the sentiment being conveyed: God will show up AFTER everyone has suffered and lost everything.

Time to Show Off

For centuries, religion has sought to answer the ageless quandary of suffering. Countless theologians have weighed in with too many cooked up antidotal recipes to post here. Regardless, the choice dish devotees prefer to serve up to the hurting masses is: the divine uses calamity in order to show off his greatness.

Along this line of thinking, it’s not tasteless for God to quietly stand by while people are abused, enslaved and consumed. After all, there is a biblical precedent for this. In Israel’s ancient past, he waited 500 years before showing up and showing off. At first, neither the Hebrew slaves nor Pharaoh their oppressor were convinced of his power and intentions. But the final dish God served, featuring roasted lamb for the Hebrews and dead babies for the Egyptians, motivated everyone to be compliant.

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Continuing in this same line of thought, perhaps it’s reasonable for God to let the nations rage for countless millenniums? According to ancient prophecies, he’s just waiting for the right moment to make his grand entrance! His first order of business will be to slaughter the majority of earth’s human population, serving their flesh up as a hearty meal for the birds of the air.

Afterwards, he will sit down to a victor’s feast with his chosen few who gleefully assisted him in committing mass genocide. Apparently, roasted lamb will be on the menu again. Following the dinner party, he will graciously provide the earth’s remaining population with eternal peace and prosperity as they recover from PTSD.

Heavy Lifter

No one in their right mind would ever entertain such unconscionable reasoning or behavior. And if they did, they’d need to enter a temporary insanity plea to hopefully avoid an extended lockup. Sadly, God and his chosen people persist in this line of thinking. Theologians, ministers, rabbis and mullahs are eager to supply them with creative loopholes and exemptions.

Thankfully though, humane laws exist to prohibit the earthbound faithful from preemptively acting out in the hopes that God will be enticed to show up, show off and finish off.

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Meanwhile, back on social media, while the religious continue to post their mindless antidotes and dark predictions, humane reasoning quietly does the heavy lifting behind the scenes.

Breakthroughs in medicine and science continue. More effective building codes are enforced. Relief aid is funded. First Responders evaluate and test improved procedures. Environmentalists combat pollution and promote healthier food sources. Peace keepers protect the innocent. Industry gives bonuses for maintaining clean, safe workplaces.

I’d say, the work of showing up is in good hands right now.

So… take your time God.

Save Your F**ks

I’m sitting here waiting on a call from someone I haven’t spoken with in a long time: a once fellow evangelical minister.  Like me, he is no longer in Christian ministry.  He lives on the East Coast, and I a few miles west of Lake Michigan. We’ve kept in touch via Instagram. He messaged me earlier today asking if we could talk tonight. Apparently, a lot has changed with him recently.

Oh, my phone is ringing!

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My friend is the analytical type, very thorough and exact. However, differing from others with the same gift of precision, he’s capable of adjusting the level of transferable data according to the capacity of his audience.

Since it was me he was talking to, he started by downloading the 5-minute CliffsNotes version. Apparently I’ve lost some of my intellectual capacity through the years?!  LOL!

Beautiful Disaster

His story reminded me of Kelly Clarkson’s song Beautiful Disaster:

He drowns in his dreams, an exquisite extreme I know… He’s magic and myth, as strong as what I believe,a tragedy with more damage than a soul should see… Such a beautiful disaster.

What he shared was something akin to a tragicomedy, highlighted by abuse, betrayal, false accusations and extreme loss. It had all the makings of the numerous ancient crucified messiah tale.

Apart from the terrible sh*t, he did share some amazing, wonderful shizz. In the midst of extreme pain and loss, he’s experienced his own miraculous version of resurrection! To his surprise, the power that raised him from his grave came via… a lovely humanist!

She shared none of his religious beliefs or inherited convictions. With excitement, he told me, “She doesn’t even believe in God! But, she applies Scripture in context with greater clarity than I ever did as an evangelical minister!”

maxresdefaultHis story is not uncommon. Countless ones have plenty to share, but remain largely unheard. Pop culture is obsessed with the Kardashians and the like. As it concerns Evangelicals, they are simply ruthless when it comes to suppressing objectivity and keeping things hidden. It’s not so much an organized effort, as it is an inherited culture of denial and blame shifting.

They are masterful with the cup and ball game, always distracting attention away from what they are skillfully concealing. Misogyny, sexual abuse, gender biases, impoverishment, racism and mindless servitude shift from one cup to the next. The faithful masses remain entertained by their divine, loving “Father” figure who knows best, while carelessly tossing their time and money away.

A headline mega-church pastor once told me:

What’s happening with the Catholic sex abuse scandal is nothing compared to what will eventually be exposed in the Evangelical Church.

For many, the only way of escaping or surviving the madness is via self-sabotage or silent compliance. For my quoted mega-church friend, it was self-sabotage. His scandal provided Oprah, Barbara Walters, Bill O’Reilly and HBO a momentary surge in ratings. It was big news nationally, but on the local level the grassroots cup and ball games never paused or stopped. The status quo remained intact.

A New Found Faith

Presently, my friend’s relationship with his lovely humanist has taught him how to truly love himself for the very first time in his life. With this, he’s experienced a new found freedom with problem solving and decision making. Furthermore, he’s learned to place his former zealous faith in… wait for it… wait for it… IN HIMSELF!

Recently, he put his new humanist faith to the test and started his own company. Currently, he’s well on his way to financial freedom! #applause

“Even so,” he woefully confessed, “I’m a complete f**k up; seriously man, I’m just a f**k up.”

What do you say to that?

I completely understood where he was coming from. After all, we both share similar religious backgrounds, trained from an early age in the self loathing art of condemnation and repression. However, I no longer practice those dark arts. YouTube sensation “Sweet Brown” famously said it best when she exclaimed: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Aint-nobody-got.jpgSo how did I respond? Well, sometimes I surprise myself by saying something amazingly profound. My close friends refer to these moments as “rare flashes of brilliance” — emphasis being on “rare” and “flash.”

In those brief moments, I’m often moved to scratch my rare brilliance out on paper. Thinking, later I’ll put it to text on the background of a cool pic and then post it to Facebook? It’s sure to go viral!?!

Well, thankfully in this particular moment the brilliant wisdom of Instagram was close at hand. Thank you high speed internet! Here are the anonymous wise words I successfully transferred to my friend in less than 7 seconds:

You should give a f**k. You really should. But only about things that set your soul on fire. Save your f**ks for magical sh*t.

And with that, we both sighed and exchanged heartfelt “I love you man” valedictions and promises to talk again very soon.

Goodnight. Sweet dreams my friend.

Splash! Splash! Splash!

For those who have been reading my Patheos postings, you’ve no doubt noticed I keep referencing Icarus, the mythological risk-taker who flew too close to the sun and perished from his tragic fall back to earth. The inspiration which sparked my recent article came from an Oscar Wilde poem:

Never regret thy fall, O Icarus of the fearless flight. For the greatest tragedy of them all, is never to feel the burning light.

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Bruegel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” (ca. 1558) is famous for relegating the fall to a scarcely noticed event in the background — red arrow [added by me] marks the spot.

Lately, I’ve been questioning why I’m obsessed with making inferences to Icarus. After all, it’s a tragic story traditionally accompanied with warnings for the over-ambitious and reckless. There’s even an attributed psychological term called The Icarus Complex: a person who is fond of heights, narcissistic and obsessed with fantastical, far-fetched, imaginary cognition.

Psychosynthesis ties this complex to those whose religious/spiritual ambitions exceed the reasonable limits of their own personalities. They are characterized by self-gratifying, attention-seeking behavior and obsessions with apocalyptic “crash & burn” predictions. Interestingly, they also have an emotional fascination with fire (e.g. burning sexual desires, moral works tried by fire, scorching eternal punishment, etc.).

To say the least, there’s enough with all of this to keep me busy for months, writing and making inferences!

The Red Arrow

As it concerns my recent articles, my chief motivation can be found in the painting above. Icarus’ fall (red arrow marks the spot) is depicted as an unnoticed non-event. Farmers, travelers, fishermen, sailing merchants, they all continue their day-to-day tasks, unconcerned with the tragic splash below.

So, what is it that best represents the uninteresting splash? Without knowing the painter’s intentions, I’ll attempt to offer my own insights.

Splash! Splash! Splash!

Maybe the uneventful splash is symbolized by all the rising/falling religious-spiritual fads, trends, obsessions, predictions and ever changing, contradictory dogmas? You know, the elusive transcendental stuff. If this painting were a contemporary work, we could theorize the splash to be the numerous rapture theories or Zionist Temple Mount predictions featured by Charisma Magazine each month.

Or, we could point to the televangelists’s hyper theatrics serving up hot, steamy love songs to God followed by oratory hell-laced admonitions to the Divine’s captive bride.

Or, our thoughts could turn to Oprah’s recommended reading list and all the eager Super Soul Sunday guru guests.

The splash of week-old TV ratings certainly constitutes as a non-event.

Cable specials about angels and demons, books left out of the sacred canon, dinosaur-sized giants, ancient aliens, Nessie and Bigfoot exposes and alchemy secrets revealed… splash! splash! splash!

The latest, greatest study bibles promising word-for-word translations, religious programming’s annual pledge drives, right and left wing talking points, political call to arms and Church/State promises to use your tithes and taxes to honor God and country… SPLASH! SPLASH! SPLASH!

Who Gives A Crap?!?

For many, if it doesn’t impact grocery and gas prices, vacation resort deals, or 401K gains… who gives a crap?!?

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, many have learned to ignore the splashes. It’s just entertainment after all, right? Umm…

I’m a romantic, so I like to think the splash is not Icarus sinking into Davey Jone’s Locker. I like to envision him getting close enough to the burning light of reason, he realizes his world is upside-down. He no longer fears falling and sheds his father’s wings. He’s actually flying; for real, he… is… flying!

Think Neo being unplugged from the Matrix.

My romantic self likes to think of the splashes as being all the social, religious, political, inhumane mechanical bodies–the dim promises of transcendent flight–plunging into the waters of stupidity far below. Like Icarus, I envision myself shedding my inherited biases to soar high, far above the superstitious storytellers, religious dogma and prejudiced contemporary philosophers.

Together, we live without regret in the brilliant light of free thought and discovery.

Have I peaked your interest?

More romantic, sentimental musings to come soon… #Icarusflew #noregrets

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Daedulus and Icarus drawing by Lyle Saunders – click pic for link

I Work With Death Daily

Fred Grewe has been my dear friend for 20+ years. Our friendship, through many seasons in life, has enriched my life in countless ways. Fred has a new book out right now, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in London and Philadelphia: Time To Talk About Dying. He’s a brilliant storyteller and his insights about life and death are always thought provoking.

Check out his Amazon Author’s Page here.


Why is the Grim Reaper so Grim?

By Fred Grewe

I work with Death on a daily basis and over the years have come to know him quite well. On an average week I visit about twenty dying folks, more than three hun51eiXTG4j-L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgdred terminal individuals annually, and over the past twelve years I have provided spiritual care for nearly two thousand people who have died.

I’m a hospice chaplain.

A little context might be helpful. Nearly all of the folks I meet and serve are north of 70 years of age. Most often, people in their 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s. Also, I work in a relatively safe middle-class environment. By and large, the people I serve have at least had a shot at a good life. These facts color my experience with Death. I’m sure ministers who work with dying children or in places of great poverty and privation might have different feelings about my friend Death.

Now generally I don’t tell people what I do for a living. I mean, when you tell someone you’re a hospice chaplain, they tend to just tilt their head knowingly and look at you with big doe eyes like you’re Brother Teresa.

And I’m not.

It’s not that I don’t love what I do or am not proud of it. Actually, I find my work both inspiring and refreshing, inspiring because of the courage and strength I witness everyday by patients and family members.

Refreshing in that I encounter very little in the way of nonsense. By the time I get to meet our patients most of the nonsense has been kicked out of them – either by a doctor’s terminal diagnosis or by some painfully failed therapy – or both.

Most clergy by and large have to put up with a lot of nonsense. I sure did when I was a pastor. It usually sounds something like this: “Why do we have to sing the same songs every Sunday?” or “You know, if we could just get out 15 minutes earlier we could beat the Baptists to all the good restaurants.” or “That was a wonderful sermon pastor, one of your best!” Pure nonsense.

Hospice patients know they don’t have time for such silliness. Every alert minute takes on profound importance when you know there are precious few left. I find the brutal honesty of conversations with such people incredibly rich and refreshing. There’s so little pretense, so little posturing. The sacredness of such moments often demands my full attention and it feels as though time simply stands still in silent homage.

That’s not to say such conversations are always serious. They’re not. But what they are is real.

For example, I remember when Carolyn was telling me about how depressed she became after her doctor told her cancer was inoperable and she only had a few months of life left.

“I stayed in bed for three or four days just crying,” she said. “I didn’t get dressed or shower – I just cried. Then one morning my daughter Jennifer came in and brought me breakfast. I started yelling at her that I didn’t want any God damned food, and if I’da had a bag I’d just put it over my head and end it all right now!

‘Paper or plastic?’ Jennifer asked.

Well, how can you stay depressed when someone treats you like that? So I got up and ate and decided to continue living until I can’t anymore.”

Such folks are daily reminders for me to live intentionally now – while I can. Because the reality is none of us is promised tomorrow. I would say this is the supreme lesson the dying have taught me about living. I call it the dying well paradox: contemplating my death compels me to live a fully engaged life now and living a fully engaged life now is the best preparation for my death. I imagine you’ve heard something like this somewhere before. So the real question is how do we engage this wisdom to actually impact our day to day existence? How can this insight shape our spiritual maturation?

Vital Signs

What can be considered as evidence of spiritual maturity anyway? Church attendance? Tithing records? Number of memorized Bible verses? Faithful rotations in the nursery? I suggest signs of an authentic spiritual life must go deeper than these.

Now one of the drawbacks in being a minister is most everyone lies to you at a first meeting about their life of faith. For example, when I meet a new hospice patient or their family as a chaplain and ask, “How is everyone doing?”

They usually all say, “Fine.” Or, “Praise God, I’m good … I’m just waiting to go to heaven.”

Often those are simply deflections.

Those are the responses we’re all trained to tell the minister to keep him or her far away from doing any harm. If we actually tell the truth, the minister would likely try to probe deeper and unearth all the little tawdry dark family secrets that have caused enormous pain for years – and no one wants that!

To circumvent the social niceties that deflect against really getting to know folks I’ve developed a list of spiritual vital signs to help determine what’s really going on inside someone’s soul. Here’s my list of spiritual vitals: gratitude, generosity, submission to reality, and an ability to shower the people you love with love. (I know I stole that last one from James Taylor.) These are the qualities I look for in meeting a new patient to help determine the relative health of his or her soul. These are signs I look for to see if someone is really alive.

Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast has famously promoted the mantra, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.” A brief scan of the TED Talks library gives you an indication of the growing awareness on the importance gratitude holds for spiritual and mental well being. I’ve learned that gratitude is something we cultivate. It’s also magnetic. The more I express gratitude the more I find to be grateful for. Sadly, I’ve also learned the same is true for ingratitude. The more I bitch – the more I find to bitch about.

In recent years there has been a growing body of research to demonstrate that simply doing three kind things a day for others can help lift depression, improve sleep, and increase spiritual resilience. Generous behavior is evidence of a soul that has been humbled by the reception of grace and understands the deep connection we all have with each other. I have never met a truly generous person who was not aware of how much they have been given as gift and the natural response is to share that gift with others (see the story of the four lepers in 2 Kings Chapter 7). Conversely, stinginess and a sense of entitlement are symptoms of a grace starved soul.

By submission to reality I mean one’s ability to simply and humbly accept the impermanent nature of life. All living things die. Over the years the folks I’ve met and served who can accept this fact generally die a much less painful death. Those who insist on fighting the inevitable, who refuse to give up when the end is in sight, often need far more analgesics (heavy duty pain killers).

In serving nearly 2,000 departed souls I have never once had someone say to me, “I wish I had gone to more football games.” or “I wish I had spent more time on line.” or “I wish I could have gone shopping more often.” What matters most to those at the end of their life are the people they love and those who love them. Jesus taught there is no more important investment we can make in this life than loving God and those whom God places in our lives (see Mark 12:28-31). For so many years as a practicing Christian I thought this is what I needed to do to make God happy. To my joyful surprise, I have discovered that this what truly makes me happy.

So these are my spiritual vital signs, signs to give me an indication of how really alive someone’s soul is. Are they truly awake to the wonder of life? Or are they asleep, simply eking out an existence without truly engaging this miraculous gift?

Why is The Grim Reaper So Grim?

In the years that I’ve worked with Death and felt his presence at the bedside of a dying patient, I’ve thought about his costume. I mean, what’s with the hooded cowl?

I wonder if Death uses the cowl to hide his own grief, grief at having to come and collect folks who have never really lived? Never given their hearts freedom to love and be loved? So afraid of what others think, seduced by culturally unachievable standards of wealth, beauty, and knowledge, or traumatized by painful life experiences that they spent their limited precious moments in a self absorbed sleep walk. Why is the Grim Reaper so grim? Maybe because he aches so deeply for the missed opportunities we all had to really live?

Of late I have been working to strengthen my own spiritual vital signs. I want to be alive while I still can. So I look for opportunities to be generous, especially with my time (which is very hard for me)–surrendering to the things I cannot change, battling the ones I can and praying to know the difference between the two. I start each day praying for the grace and courage to be Chaplain Fred for yet another day and ask God for the openness of heart to use the day as a treasure hunt. In the midst of my tasks – the daily phone calls, traffic, charting, emails, meetings – I pray to really see at least three people this day. I mean really see them, see what is beautiful and special about them, and then find some kind way of communicating that to them. Then as I sit for prayer in the evenings I try to reflect on those folks I saw and pray for them. What I find can be big or little – but I want to find and bless at least three people. I so want my life to be a blessing for others.

I have come to the realization that all I seek at this point in my life is to be a good man. I want to spend my remaining days telling the people I love why I love them. I want to reflect back to them the beauty I see within them. I want to be a conduit of God’s grace rather than a participant in the fear of “not enough.” I want to be kind and generous – trusting that if I give myself to these tasks I might become the son God dreams me to be. I want at the end of my days as I lie on my deathbed for the last words to cross my lips to be “Thank you.” I want my friend Death not to be crying when he comes for me – but to have a gentle smile and knowing glance indicating that I really lived.

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Soul-licious!

Lately, I’ve been vibing out to the delicious, soulful entrees of Tash Sultana.  OMG!  WOW!!  I’d like to give a BIG SHOUT OUT out to my daughter SBeabz!  She came home from Coachella this year and screamed, “Dad, you gotta check her out!”

Seriously, I don’t what more to tell you.  If you don’t know who she is, get in the know now!!!  To use a “Trumpism” – Believe me!  Please don’t email me for that reference.  HA!  Instead, with your hungry-soul-plate in hand, rush Tash’s musical, hypnotic, soul-licious buffet.

Tash Sultana Coachella 2018

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Tash Sultana Review

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What If There Was A New Earth?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a promo for the 2011 sci-fi movie, Another Earth.  It immediately intrigued me because it promised to be a deeply moving, emotional sci-fi film about two earths, employing none of the usual sci-fi garb such as aliens and UFOs… interesting!  I searched and found it on VUDU, placed it in my wish-list, and finally found time to watch it late last night with my wife, whom I had successfully convinced to join me for the sake of “research.”  Convincing her wasn’t a chore; she was intrigued too.

Another Me?

Even though the movie has been out for four years, I want to be careful not to give away an spoilers, so I’ll be brief with the synopsis.  The storyline centers on a young lady whose life is filled with promise and possibility untea_anotherearthil something tragic happens, drastically altering the course of her life.  At the moment of this tragedy a second earth (Earth Two) appears in the sky and she, along with all the residents of Earth One, are captivated by this new reality.  Furthermore, they are challenged with the suspicion that there might be “another me” out there living a similar life but differently due to opposite actions, choices, and events.

This movie was made on an extremely low-budget.  The actors even did their own makeup, and the director created the Earth Two scenes on his personal computer.  However, you’d never know it.  The cinematography is great, and the depth of characters and storyline are superb.  Brit Marling did an excellent job playing the leading role of Rhoda.  She also was the co-writer of the movie script.  I’m sure you’ll recognize her from her many screen roles, namely in I Origins, and her role as Liz Garvey in the TV series Babylon.

Meeting Yourself

I was immediately drawn into Rhoda’s internal struggles and the new choices she labored to make in the light of Earth Two just over head.  The director Mike Cahill explains that Earth Two is “kind of this externalization of the interior world of Rhoda.  She could have dealt with those ideas of the confrontation of the self just by looking in the mirror, but I felt like there was something [more] powerful about really externalizing it,” by creating a situation where there really is another version of us all.  Co-writer Marling elaborated further by saying the image of another Earth provokes a primal reaction, “we all feel something [deeply] about looking back at the Earth.”  Definitely, this movie is a “feeling” movie, very personal, introspective, and surprising… especially the ending!

Ultimately, the movie is successful with taking a very high, external concept and internalizing it in order to explore the inner world of who we are, and what it means to be a human.  Rhoda has a strong desire to become an astronaut and explore this other Earth, but ultimately her greatest desire is realized—the exploration and discovery of herself.  For me, what makes this movie so deeply emotional is the use of the doppelgänger.

A doppelgänger is a look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a paranormal phenomenon, and in some traditions as a harbinger of bad luck.

In pop culture, when you meet your doppelgänger, “you see each other, and then one of them has to die, and so it turns into an action adventure movie in which one of them has to kill the other,” says Marling.  Another Earth “was never going to be a movie about an Invasion of the Body Snatchers style” confrontation, she adds.another_earth-1

Another Earth deliberately turns the usual idea of doppelgänger on its head.  Says Cahill:  “For me, I pushed completely the opposite [idea].  I think we, as humans, have this desperate yearning to connect, and we are so alone, no matter how many people we know, our close friends or whatever, we are ultimately alone.  And I think there’s a yearning to not be alone.  So, to confront someone who has your shared history and all your secrets… I think there would be the greatest amount of empathy.”

Don’t Watch It Alone

In short, this movie highlights forgiveness, hope, and our common need for redemption.  I love high concepts, and I especially love when they are employed in a pop culture medium that captures our imaginations while invoking a deep sense of wonderment and awareness.  This movie certainly did all of this and more for me.  If you’re in the mood to be entertained and challenged, watch Another Earth.  And I would advise not watching it alone.  Watch it with someone you love, someone you’ve dreamed with, and been forgiven by.  The impact will be greater.