A Flute and a Dirge

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As we mature we discover there is always more to every story. There is always a back story and all that transpires behind the scenes. There is what appears to be happening and then there is what is really happening behind it all.

If we have eyes to see this intersection, then we can discern a broader spectrum of reality. As kids, we capture what is possible, not just observable. As we gain discernment we intuitively learn that not all is fine when someone says; “I’m fine.

Sight is the ability to see more than two dimensions of a moment. It’s way bigger. These are two kingdoms colliding within the present dimension; a temporal facade kingdom and the True, lasting kingdom. The idea precedes the product, the word becomes flesh (John 1:14). The ability to perceive the “thing behind the thing” is what I call spirituality. It’s the plane of Truth that is higher up or further back than observational facts. It encompasses reality on another level. This is what many call higher consciousness, awareness, vibration, or intuition. Wisdom is the skill to employ this consciousness or sight.

This is important for the allegory that I am about to share.

Historically, the flute is an instrument of dance. It’s bright and lively tone lifts people upward into a happier place. By contrast a dirge song is solemn and mournful, it captures the downward mood of funeral or loss. The same instrument can play both.

Let’s test your sight. What is happening when the flute is playing and no one is dancing? What is happening on that “other” level when nobody is mourning at the dirge?

     “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

             “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
              we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ (Luke 7:31-32)

When children watch the world and see apathy, it confuses them. Children in their innocence engage enthusiastically in life because they intuit the “thing behind the thing”, and care little for its container. Kids will dance or mourn because the music compels them. They are not distracted by ulterior motives, subplots, schemes, or agendas, or people watching. Kids live in the moment, dare I say, they live in the real world.

When Jesus uses this analogy of modern people, he’s capturing something that exists today. Our world is apathetic and numb. It’s caught up in religion and completely anesthetized to spirituality.

We want it both ways.

  • We want freedom, but live and work in systems of fear and compliance.
  • We want change, but we fear making personal changes.
  • We seek empowerment, but settle for “same old, same old.”
  • We hate our political choices, but vote party line.
  • We know there is more to life, but spirituality makes us nervous.

     “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  (Luke 7:33-34)

We create a posture where we can’t be pleased by anything.

The dance is right before us and the music is playing, but we sit on the sidelines judging externals, when we need to be living from the inside-out. Apathy fills the void where soul work is needed. Apathy plagues the religious and irreligious alike.

What will it take to wake the world from its apathy? Ecological disasters? Economic collapse? Humanitarian crisis? Corporate corruption? Human rights violations? Every possible scenario is happening today because people lack the skill (wisdom) to address the “soul problem.” They can’t bring the true kingdom to bear in the temporal kingdom, or just can’t see it. All around us we construct mind numbing systems, and if we have the eyes to see them then we have the responsibility to change or leave them…but we don’t.

Mourning and dancing combine to create a life worth living (Eccl 3:4). Spiritual apathy is the loss of skill (wisdom). What has to change to make us dance again?

“Wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:35)

The apathetic are one kingdom that sees only the presenting problem (demon or drunkard), the children are the other kingdom that sees beyond externals to the wisdom beyond the circumstances.

Love: Circular

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We all have such different ideas about love. Is it any wonder we get confused?

Modern Christianity teaches there are three or four kinds of love based on these words used in the bible:

  1. Agapé: Commonly called “God’s love” or unconditional love.
  2. Phileō:  Commonly called “friendship” love.
  3. Eros:  Commonly called “erotic”love.
  4. Storgē: Commonly called “natural affection” love.

This confuses people. Considering 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love, then to ascribe only one aspect (agape) to God is to commoditize love as a product of the church.

To overcome this we must redefine the “shape of God” by  showing that there is only one love, with many dimensions and applications. I’ve shown that horizontal love is not only the love between friends, lovers, the cosmos and the things in it, but is the concrete reality of God loving us through the horizontal plane. God is present in the world as the common expression of love found by all people at all times in various ways.

Since love is boundless, we can explore it by going deeper. This is a spiritual process that is not achieved within the intellect or the emotions. It is not an ascent or a goal or a set of rules or emotional benchmarks. It is the process of letting go of ourselves and trusting someone “other” than ourself. Deep love is always a result of kenosis (self-emptying). It’s the same love, but goes beyond low-level obligation or duty. As we go deeper we also go wider.

Once we have expanded, we begin to see love as dynamism, movement or flow. This moves our grasp of God as a stagnant transcendent cosmic being into the dynamic, personal, and cosmic flow that is in and through and beyond all that exists (Acts 17:28). Once that happens, God can be seen everywhere quite easily rather than imprisoned solely within an historical or theological construct or pushed into a future “one day” world.

I recommend Richard Rohr’s transformative new book called The Divine DanceThis book will teach you far more than I can and will expose you to what I have been learning as a student in the Living School.

Love is the basis, impetus, and terminus of everything. We come from love. We exist and are sustained in love, and we are going toward love. We awake from our confusion when we discover that it isn’t us that is doing the loving. Instead, Love that is loving through us. We start small with family, pets and things. Then as we mature, our capacity for love is expanded. As it expands, the Love that loves us, loves through us in deeper dimensions. At low levels, love is a thing, as we go deeper, love is a persona or a “sounding through.” Immaturity loves very little.

Everything flows. Love’s circular rhythm appears in atoms, waves, blood, sound, light, traffic, breath, and seasons. Love flows to us, then through us, and to another, on and on. Happiness is to find and enter this flow. All religion is simply the scaffolding mankind uses to get us in the flow, but it is not the flow. The flow is interrupted by our analysis, emotion, or any effort that takes us out of the present moment.

There is one love, but many expressions. All of it is God. At first I couldn’t see God in this world because my conception (theology) of God was other worldly. Later I thought I could get to God by religion or obeying a set of rules. I gained understanding, but I only got little tastes here and there. Ultimately I discovered that God is too close for me to go there (incarnation). We can’t go to God, but we can flow with God (1 John 1:3). In the flow, everything becomes truer. I let go of me and became more me than ever. We flow as much love as we create space for it by self emptying. Love welcomes us at whatever place we can enter it.  Everyday we are much closer than we perceive and nothing is more important.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 37-40

Love: Vertical

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Last week we examined how love is universal and has countless forms of expression. I think we over appraise our grasp of love, yet even so, we all grasp something of it. A common critique of modern people is that we are shallow. The gravitational pull of love brings us together until we bump into our unbelief. This is where we become scared of letting another person into our life. So we stop love’s progression until we can establish trust. So how do we go deeper?

Depth requires maturity. There are no casual deep relationships. To go deeper into anything (hobby, a sport, or a relationship) is a spiritual process. We must spend time, gain insight, and prepare ourselves to participate. We must be “in the game” or we are not loving or going deeper.

The only difference between a stranger and a lover or best friend is familiarity. Sex is easier than laundry. Vertical love is sometimes easier than horizontal. It’s true, we can’t take on the drama of everyone’s life so we must be selective. We’re skeptical because it seems the horizontal is where all the obligations exist, but once we grow our capacity to love, obligations disappear.  This is because love compels us and duty obligates us. The difference is depth.

To go deeper (gain maturity) takes an investment of time. However, time is not enough to deepen a relationship . It requires we let go, or surrender control and some just won’t do this. Depth is a risk of exposure, thus vertical love is impossible for our false self. We must take on aspects of another person’s life (good and bad) and they take on ours. We must divest ourselves of our self protection and allow another’s divestment to be that protection. Phillipians 2:6-7 depicts God “self-emptying” (kenosis) to become human. This is a clue to finding love. Vertical love is not possible without horizontal love. 

Vertical love is when we understand that doing for another will cost us, and we do it anyway. We know vertical love isn’t obligatory because we will do it even if it isn’t reciprocated. Relationships that are negotiated are not based in love. Sadly, many marriages are anything but love stories because they have become self protective exchanges rather than self emptying love.

Vertical love works with no safety net. In deadfall, the only intervention is the love of another who self empties in order to prevent our smacking the bottom. Yep, its risky. Yep, we will get hurt. Sadly, hurt people cut off their own experience of love by holding back, or covering their bases. It’s understandable, because this is among life’s greatest pains. Waiting for love is a trap that keeps people isolated. It’s not until we discover circular love that reinvesting in vertical love becomes tenable again. Until we grow in love, we will drop others and be dropped but that’s actually OK once we see the bigger picture.

There is a design to love. Our diversity, our unique experiences, and suffering function as positive and negative space. Your strength is made for my weakness. My sight is for your blindspot. Our abundance is for another’s lack. Now we can see the architecture of love and how interdependence changes everything. We are each responsible to self empty into the world right where we are (1 Cor 7:20). We are each made whole by making others whole (1 Cor 12:24-25). The goal is unity and diversity through and by love.

If we face each day in cynicism, judgement and hatred, then otherness disease has replaced interdependent love. Hell is the experience of isolation from love. Only by falling into vertical love, via kenosis, can we really grasp the shape of God, because he/she is the shape of love (1 John 4:8).

Self emptying is the path to gaining everything. Hiding, pretending and protecting is how we lose even what we think we have (Matt 13:12). At first the mutual emptying of vertical love seems like a back and forth motion. It’s not. It’s actually a flow. It’s a dynamism that comes to us and through us but is not us. We will explore that next week.




Love: Horizontal

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It boggles my mind how every person on the planet knows something about love, yet a large percentage claim to know nothing about God. Is this because religion has actually obscured God by insisting that people theologize, dogmatize and particularize God with their own formulations, rhetoric or tribal language?  What if God isn’t the character we’ve been given?  What does that mean that God IS love (1 John 4:8)?

Love starts as attachment and need. Maternal love is our first taste of God where familiarity and satisfaction join and enable us to imprint upon another.

The lowest form of love is always horizontal but this does not mean it can be diminished. Horizontal love (the love shared between us), is not something we graduate from on our way to becoming spiritual. Instead, it is the evidence that anything spiritual is going on at all (1 John 4:8). Horizontal love exists because we are all spiritual first.

Whether we are loving our pets, our kids, friends, family, or spouses, we all know that we are tapping into the greatest and most powerful force in the universe, apart from which, we struggle to find meaning. Love has everything to do with how we appraise our lives, our well-being, and our future. It’s behind all things.

Life is a love story.

All problems are reduced or amplified by love. Love energy causes all things, good and bad, to grow. Thus we must be wise stewards of love and grow to understand its power for life. Love is the impetus for everything we have ever done. The bad things we do are not because we lack love, but because we have loved immaturely.

Love is not empirically measurable yet no one questions its existence. This has to be the best proof of God. While love can be associated with neurotransmitters or brain chemistry, those are by-products of love not antecedents. Most songs are about love, movies portray it, poetry, art and story reflect it. The nature of love is indescribable and when we try we discover our words always fall short of the ultimate experience. The world agrees that love is the non-physical reality which is beyond us and within us.

The path to possess love is not to embrace a system or strategy. There are no certain steps or rules. It is not a cognitive endeavor. We must fall into the experience or we miss it. We must let go and find ourselves within it’s current. This experience is like no other. It comes to us by giving it away.

Since love has no boundary, we can always go deeper into it, but this strangely takes two willing participants. It exists between us & within us. Love is experienced in countless ways each unique to each person. All horizontal love is entirely spiritual but we call it natural. The day we stop going deeper with each other is the day we move away from our spirituality and consequently our love story.

Love beckons us to mine it. Sorrow in life is the skimming over the depths of love which is our life. Depression is not recognizing our true name is love.

Horizontal love cannot be avoided. It exists within each of us, yet some resist love. We all do. Since love is non-physical (spiritual) we can only fall as far in love as the level of our spiritual maturity. We all get stuck at the point of unbelief. We can’t love others beyond our soul’s capacity to receive love. Want a better marriage? Stop defending, start falling. Start giving love away and our capacity for love will grow. Hoard it and it will die of cynicism within us.

This is because love, by any expression, is the incarnation of God. It is our immediate point of contact with the transcendent, to which most of us are oblivious. God is not the object we love, God is the experience (not the feeling) of love that we have through objects. Idolatry is missing this distinction by separating God from all that exists.

If we want the wellspring of life called love, we must go beyond horizontal love and begin to experience vertical love. And that will be the focus of next weeks post. If you think I’m going to switch from human love to the love of God, then you are mistaken. Human love is the love of God. We cannot go deeper with each other without going vertical. And we cannot go deeper with God without going horizontal. The word must become flesh and it does so via love.

Horizontal and vertical are not separate paths to separate loves, but the same path and experience of love, but in two dimensions.

Is God mad at you? Part 5

This series concludes today by examining the second story of the wedding feast which mirrors the parable of the workers in the vineyard. I have tried to weave together a number of themes in this series because I’m aware that people feel very certain about whether God is angry or not. This subject is embedded in the larger topics of salvation, atonement, and the exclusivity claims of Jesus, and for most believers, these are subjects that are already fixed within their thinking and theology.

So if I come along and challenge the way we have understood a core tenant like this, there is a natural knee-jerk reaction that wants to dismiss this content. I understand this, but it is my hope to move us beyond this and expose the wider consideration.

If substitutionary atonement is what it claims, then Jesus became our sin, the full anger and wrath of God was poured out on him, and there remains nothing that can stand between God’s perfect love and humanity. If God is somehow angered now by our sin then the substitution and sacrifice were partial and incomplete. Substitutionary atonement is required if one holds to retributive justice. But a model of restorative justice seems to resolve things in an entirely other way. I recognize that this will be a big frameshift  if it is to happen at all.

Once again the story depicts heaven (Matt 22). This time a king is giving a wedding feast for his son and when he called the invited (the religious) to come, they ignored him because they were too busy with their own endeavors. The king got angry and destroyed the city (Jerusalem AD 70). Then the king opens the invitation to all comers, both good and bad and he fills the wedding hall (amazing symbolism). In the hall was a guest who would not wear the wedding garment provided by the king and opted to go in as is. As a result he is bound and cast out of the city.

Why is the king so angry?

The short answer is: The False self. The king destroys the city and puts an end to the religious system that trapped people into an ever increasing set of rules that were somehow designed to appease an angry God. Instead, it created cultural, economic, and social elites who entrenched themselves into the container rather than the contents of their religion. Religion is supposed to bring us proximity to God or at least point the way and instead it imprisoned people, keeping them trapped within the distractions of their own lives until they completely dismissed the kings invitation for community.

The man who did not put on the wedding garment was also the false self. This is the false self of no religion, but that of self-righteousness. His self appraisal was far higher than reality and thought himself worthy, perhaps better, smarter, or more clever than others who like sheep received the generosity and hospitality of the king. His distinctions also went too far like the religious.

Both stories depict a heaven where God goes out and gathers any who will come. Both tell of a profound generosity that makes everyone whole and complete regardless of their proximity to God. Both depict the trappings of the religious false self and warn against the creating distinctions that allow our pride to see ourselves as better or other than others. Both depict a false self (pride, ego, self promotion) that is always expunged in proximity to God.

So is God angry? Not if you think anger requires retribution. From these and countless other stories, anger is too base of an operating system for God. A God of retribution is the God we have made in our own image, and the ancient stories depict our low level of understanding and why we need an angry God.

Love is different. Love restores all things. It completes all things. Love closes the gap between what we think we are and what we truly are. The good news is that we are NOT what is wrong with us. Love sees us as we are. Love sees us as the love that we are and it is the most powerful force to displace the ego, pride and falsehood that we craft our lives to be. Love knows and accepts us. Pride wants to make us known, love wants to make us good. As we move toward love (toward being the love we are), the false parts of our lives are purged and burned (1 Cor 3:13), and this is the whole spiritual journey and the essence of our roads of faith.