Tuesday, March 31, 2009

journal 2-14-04

dear jesus,

yes! you are the christ! all praise and worship be to you.

i'm reading the book jonathan sent me, 'what should i do with my life?' by po bronson. it is revelatory--accounts of people struggling to find their place in life and what they're supposed to be 'doing'--just like me. makes me feel like everyone struggles with these decisions, and at various ages too. it reaffirms that end the end, all people basically share the same desire--'to be happy.' human life is rich and fascinating. you keep things a mystery for us because your father is a Good father, he doesn't want us opening our presents the day before christmas or eating our dessert before dinner...

RPM

30. Of the Help of God to be Asked, and of a Full Trust to Recover Our Former Grace through Devout Prayer

"But now, take good spirit. After your trouble, be comforted in Me, and have full trust in the light of My mercy, for I am near you to help and restore you, not only to the same grace you had at first, but to more grace in great abundance. Is there anything hard or impossible to Me, or am I like a man who says a thing and does not do it? Where is your faith? Stand strongly and perseveringly in Me; be steadfast, awaiting My promise; and you will have comfort when it will be most expedient to you. Abide, abide and wait for Me, and I will come soon to you and help you."

--Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

poem for the day

Ah you mongrel, you mutt!
Ascend Mt. Hippopotamus
Bark at the howling wind!

Monday, March 30, 2009

PM Lectio

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

Friday, March 27, 2009

AM Lectio

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Mt 6:33)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trial and Error

Thanks to Michelle for the kind comments (and acknowledgment in her most recent manuscript) on Doubt is Torture (01.03.09). Keep kicking through the mire M!

Speaking of writing, now that I am working, I have a feeling I will be writing more. There has been an empty hole lately where my creative center once stood churning away like a fiery orb; really, though, I just have not been writing. I suppose this is natural when you are preoccupied with getting-your-life-in-order things. If anything, now that I am preoccupied at a job I don't like much, I'm sure I will have plenty of time to muse and pen thoughts when I get home from a day at the office.

This has been the year of trial-and-error: I tried being a hermit, and realized I do not want to be a hermit. I tried being a celibate, and realized I really do not want to be a celibate. I tried living in a school bus, and realized I did not want to be some guy that lives in a bus. I tried temporary retirement, and found that the joys of not working are not all they are cracked up to be. Finally, I tried living the life of a full-time, bona-fide writer...and realized I do not want to write for a living. And that is ok! If I would have never tried, I would have always been left to wonder. Props to those who do, though. Jesus. I know there is a calling wrapped up and swaddled somewhere in my vocation as a 'non-profesisonal' writer. I am still peeling back the layers to see what's inside.


Arthur Kade: The Journey

http://arthurkade.com/2009/03/25/fame/#comments

wow. is robsfobs destined to similar D.B. status? let's hope not.

btw, my first day of work back in case management I am bored out of my mind and only have one crossword puzzle to last me through the day! but, yes, i am ju$t grateful to have a job.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Prayer for the Morning

The Lord gently reminded me this morning: "When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive your transgressions."






Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rethinking the Issue

Thanks to Anonymous and those clarifying the issue on the Pope and condom use in Africa. I am posting one comment that I found especially helpful in counterbalancing this issue with the media's portrayal:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Pope: condoms not the answer in AIDS fight":

Cambridge, Mass., Mar 21, 2009 / 10:11 am (CNA).- Pope Benedict’s recent brief remark against condoms has caused an uproar in the press, but several prominent scientists dedicated to preventing AIDS are defending the Pope, saying he was correct in his analysis. In an interview with CNA, Dr. Edward Green explained that although condoms should work, in theory, they may be “exacerbating the problem” in Africa.

Benedict XVI’s Tuesday comments on condoms were made as part of his explanation of the Church’s two prong approach to fighting AIDS. At one point in his response the Pontiff stressed that AIDS cannot be overcome by advertising slogans and distributing condoms and argued that they “worsen the problem.” The media responded with an avalanche of over 4,000 articles on the subject, calling Benedict a “threat to public health,” and saying that the Catholic Church should “enter the 21st century.”

Senior Harvard Research Scientist for AIDS Prevention, Dr. Edward Green, who is the author of five books, including “Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries” discussed his support for Pope Benedict XVI’s comments with CNA.

According to Dr. Green, science is finding that the media is actually on the wrong side of the issue. In fact, Green says that not only do condoms not work, but that they may be “exacerbating the problem” in Africa.

“Theoretically, condoms ought to work,” he explained to CNA, “and theoretically, some condom use ought to be better than no condom use, but that’s theoretically.”

Condom proponents often cite the lack of condom education as the main culprit for higher AIDS rates in Africa but Green disagrees.

After spending 25 years promoting condoms for family planning purposes in Africa, he insists that he’s quite familiar with condom promotion. Yet, he claims that “anyone who worked in family planning knew that if you needed to prevent a pregnancy, say the woman will die, you don’t recommend a condom.”

Green recalls that when the AIDS epidemic hit Africa, the “Industry” began using AIDS as a “dual purpose” marketing strategy to get more funding for condom distribution. This, he claims, effectively took “something that was a 2nd or 3rd grade device for avoiding unwanted pregnancies” and turned it into the “best weapon we [had] against AIDS.”

The accepted wisdom in the scientific community, explained Green, is that condoms lower the HIV infection rate, but after numerous studies, researchers have found the opposite to be true. “We just cannot find an association between more condom use and lower HIV reduction rates” in Africa.

Dr. Green found that part of the elusive reason is a phenomenon known as risk compensation or behavioral disinhibition.

“[Risk compensation] is the idea that if somebody is using a certain technology to reduce risk, a phenomenon actually occurs where people are willing to take on greater risk.” The idea can be related to someone that puts on sun block and is willing to stay out in the sun longer because they have added protection. In this case, however, the greater risk is sexual. Because people are willing take on more risk, they may “disproportionally erase” the benefits of condom use, Green said.

Another factor that contributes to ineffective condom use in Africa, is the phenomenon where condoms may be effective on an “individual level,” but not on a “population level.” Green’s research found that “condoms have been effective” in HIV concentrated areas where high risk activities are already being conducted, such as brothels in countries like Thailand.

Claiming to be a liberal himself, Green asserts that promoting Western “liberal ideology” where, “most Africans are conservative when it comes to sexual behavior,” is quite offensive to them. Citing his new book, “Indigenous Theories and Contagious Disease,” Green described Africans as “very religious by global standards” who are offended by “trucks going around where people are dancing to ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, tossing out condoms to teenagers and the children of the village.”

Green also noted that there is an ideology called “harm reduction” that is being pushed by many organizations trying to prevent AIDS. The ideology believes that “you can’t change the underlying behavior, that you can’t get people to be faithful, especially Africans,” the HIV specialist explained.

One country, Uganda, recognized these issues and said, “Listen, if you have multiple sex partners, you are going to get AIDS.” What worked in Uganda, a country that has seen a decline by as much as 2/3 in AIDS infections, was that officials realized that even aside from religious and cultural reasons, “no one likes condoms.” Instead of waiting for “American and European advisors to arrive,” Ugandan officials reacted and developed a program that fit their culture; their main message being “stick to one partner or love faithfully.”

However, in 2004, Uganda’s AIDS infection rates began to increase once again, due to an influx of condoms and Western “advice”, Green recalled. Western donors also came to Uganda and said behavioral change doesn’t work and that, “most infections nowadays are among married people.” Green said these claims are “misleading,” pointing out that “married people always have lower HIV infection rates than single or divorced people of the same age group.”

Green’s new book, “AIDS and Ideology,” to be completed in the next few months, will describe the industry in Africa that is “drawing billions of dollars a year promoting condoms, testing, drugs, and treatment of AIDS” and is clearly resistant to the idea that behavioral change is the solution.

Yet the two countries that have the highest infection rate of AIDS in the world, Botswana and Swaziland, have recently launched campaigns to promote fidelity and monogamy, the Harvard researcher said. These countries “have learned the hard way” about the failure of condoms in preventing AIDS, he said, noting that “Botswana has probably had more condom promotion” than any other county on a per capita basis. Green said he had no problem “having condoms as a backup to fidelity-based programs.”

According to Green, the Catholic Church should continue to “do what it is already doing,” avoid “arguing about the diameter of viruses” and cite scientific evidence in connection with scripture and moral theology.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Call

"Oh crap, it's Him."

--Debbie

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sermons of St. Francis de Sales

THE HEART OF PRAYER April 12, 1615

"David says that his whole face prayed [Cf. Ps. 27:8], that his eyes were so
attentive in looking upon God that they failed [Cf. Ps. 69:4 and 88:10; also Is. 38:14], and that his mouth was open like a little bird who waits for its mother to come to fill it. But in any case, the posture which affords the best attention is the most suitable. Yes, even the posture of lying down is good, and seems to be a prayer in itself. For do you not see that the holy man Job, lying on his dunghill, made a prayer so excellent that it merited to be heard by God? [Cf. Job 42:9-10]. But this is sufficient."


"If they give you ruled paper,
write the other way."

--Juan Ramon Jimenez

Stevia GO!

http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Legislation/Stevia-sweetener-gets-US-FDA-go-ahead

Friday, March 13, 2009

Prayer for the Evening

"I want to thaank you Lord
for all yoove done
foooah me."

--lady singing on Germantown Ave.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

An Extraordinary Agitation

St. Augustine, Confessions:

"It was, in fact, my old mistresses, trifles of trifles and vanities of vanities, who still enthralled me. They tugged at my fleshly garments and softly whispered: "Are you going to part with us? And from that moment will we never be with you any more? And from that moment will not this and that be forbidden you forever?" What were they suggesting to me in those words "this or that"? What is it they suggested, O my God? Let thy mercy guard the soul of thy servant from the vileness and the shame they did suggest! And now I scarcely heard them, for they were not openly showing themselves and opposing me face to face; but muttering, as it were, behind my back; and furtively plucking at me as I was leaving, trying to make me look back at them. Still they delayed me, so that I hesitated to break loose and shake myself free of them and leap over to the place to which I was being called--for unruly habit kept saying to me, "Do you think you can live without them?"

But now it said this very faintly; for in the direction I had set my face, and yet toward which I still trembled to go, the chaste dignity of continence appeared to me--cheerful but not wanton, modestly alluring me to come and doubt nothing, extending her holy hands, full of a multitude of good examples--to receive and embrace me. There were there so many young men and maidens, a multitude of youth and every age, grave widows and ancient virgins; and continence herself in their midst: not barren, but a fruitful mother of children--her joys--by thee, O Lord, her husband. And she smiled on me with a challenging smile as if to say: "Can you not do what these young men and maidens can? Or can any of them do it of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand in your own strength, and so stand not? Cast yourself on him; fear not. He will not flinch and you will not fall. Cast yourself on him without fear, for he will receive and heal you." And I blushed violently, for I still heard the muttering of those "trifles" and hung suspended. Again she seemed to speak: "Stop your ears against those unclean members of yours, that they may be mortified. They tell you of delights, but not according to the law of the Lord thy God." This struggle raging in my heart was nothing but the contest of self against self. And Alypius kept close beside me, and awaited in silence the outcome of my extraordinary agitation."
(XI.26-27)

The Devil Wears Nothing

The Devil wasn't wearing any pants, and told me I'd be happier without mine as well. I told him to go fuck himself. Then he laughed. Then I laughed. Then he frowned. Then I laughed more. I kissed Debbie on the forehead and got up to make some green hot chocolate in the middle of the black night.

Being good sux. It hurts. Whah whah. Man up, asshole. Monday mornings suck too, but you get up and go to work (assuming you have work to go to). St. Antony is in my corner with the spit bucket. I ask my white-bearded coach what my strategy should be "Don't be such a pussy," he says.

Being chaste sucks, at least initially...don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I don't expect any sympathy on this, and in fact am probably opening myself up to ridicule. Going chaste is not a natural choice. It was, however, a mutual one, like buying a five piece bedroom set at Raymore and Flannigan's in seconds with the swipe of plastic. You need the set, but now I'm getting the bill, and I don't want to pay it. But I also don't want it to go into collections. I suppose.

I wrote an email about a year ago to some friends called 'Twenty Minutes in the Lion's Den.' It was about temptation, and spiritual attack, and what the experience is like. I have long since lost the email, but the feelings are the same. You feel like you are on fire and are begging someone to throw a bucket of water on you. You are restless, and just want to sleep. You are stressed, and get depressed. You chain smoke. And you know it can all go away with one simple act of the will. After extricating myself from an unhealthy physical relationship years ago, I went through some serious detox. Your body remembers. When I quit smoking, and started again, and then tried to stop, by body remembered. It put me through the wringer. I have no one to blame but myself for re-introducing it in the first place.

But you hold on; for dear life, if you like. A man's sexuality, his life force, is energy pushed outwards. When it's caged, it is like a baby kicking in the womb, pounding for freedom from the confines of the body. A baby screams in the middle of the night, you get up to feed it. Your body screams in the middle of the night...you get up and make hot chocolate and eat irish soda bread and curse and write about lost sleep and how lame having hot chocolate at 3:30AM compared to the pleasures of the flesh.

After spending a few months living like a monk, sleeping on the floor, not masturbating, etc., I should be used to self-denial. I'm not. I hate it. I hate it like it is good for me. In the words of Daniel Johnston: "I'm laaazy...oh Yeah." Not having sex only makes sense if you have faith that it will bear spiritual fruit. If it's done wrong, it will kill the tree. If it's not done, you risk blight for the Christian harvest. If you do decide to 'prune the branches,' they are slow growing back; that is, getting to an acceptable level of comfort and acceptance in a chaste relationship is like watching pruned branches grow back. That is ok. It takes time. It is slow getting used to. Especially when you are craving some fruit. My Lent has officially begun.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lectio AM

"Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance."

--Is 55:2

letter to AJ

9 March, 2009


Dear Andy,

I am so proud of you. I think if anyone was out in left field, it was Melissa for thinking her behavior with you as a married woman was warranted or kosher. It is a convenient cover—marriage—that one can retreat into, a safe, sanctified shield that can be used to thwart oncoming advances or to justify certain behavior because it is “protected.” This is bullshit. I can’t think of any married man that would be okay with his wife holding hands or grinding at a party with another man, unless it was her brother or something. That is the slippery start to affairs, and you did everything right by telling her that her coming to Bolivia (come on!) was a bad idea. I’d suggest reading my 8 January 2008 blog post ‘Seven Year Itch’ on this subject.

We are both, as you say, over-the-top emotional guys (though for myself I think less so these days), and on the surface I think you have every good reason to be skeptical about relationships that develop quickly. With Debbie, it has been an informed jump—it is a good fit, she is settled, we connect spiritually and can share our faith together, we have similar temperaments and expectations of the future, she is supportive and generous with her spirit, and I am crazy about her because of who she is and who she wants to be. Being extremely attracted to one another is just one of the many pluses.

The thing I don’t agree with you on is keeping your expectations low. Maybe you meant this in another way. At least in terms of relationships, I would rather be alone than be in something that was low-balled emotionally, safe, and guarded. When you’ve been hurt, this is a natural tendency I think, which you know as well as I do. I think prudence in the externals can come with abandonment to the emotions and the spirit of vulnerability that comes with letting your guard down on the inside. No one is rushing to get married or anything like that, but we are both rejoicing in what we feel has been an answer to both of our prayers, praising God for His goodness, and delivering us when we were both on the cusp of despair of never finding someone to walk the spiritual path with in a relationship.

I have always felt that it was better to temper extreme feelings (of being in love or otherwise) with low expectations and pessimism. I no longer feel that this is a good approach, especially with regards to love. What I am doing is listening to the inner echoes of my heart, tuning my ear like a bat to the reverberations off the walls of my insides, questioning what the frequencies (highly charged emotions have their own frequency different from rational discernment, but both have their place as equalizing informants—like faith and reason, that old married couple), yet choosing what I let in and what is not healthy or helpful. Those things need to wait at the door for their turn to come in and plead their case. So far the prosecution arguing against the relationship has had a tough case, but that’s mostly because their argument is weak in light of a very affirming sense of love, respect, friendship, and many other sustainable qualities Debbie and I hold for one another. In answer to your question, we met on catholicmatch.com.

Paul is a tough one for me too, and like you said, there are some things I just cannot accept that I see as culturally and historically situated that, when taken out of context, are just plain wrong. Perhaps this is my limited, cultured understanding. But I think it would be unrealistic to take things meant figuratively as literally, or to continue to observe customs from thousands of years ago that hold no place in our modern culture (though there are some things that are timeless). I feel a lot of anger sometimes when I read Paul, the Zealot, too. He is strong, and expects all of us to be strong like him, and blameless. Take about forgoing low expectations! Studying theology has been helpful for me in tempering what I see as extreme gut emotional reactions to some of what Paul (and others) write. That is why I have less respect for evangelicals who take everything in the Bible literally. One just has to take Jesus’ teaching on cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye if it causes you to sin to know that not everything he taught was to be taken literally, and it takes wisdom to know discern what was meant by his words.

It took me years to find a spiritual advisor I trusted and one who was a good fit, challenging without being ignorant, compassionate without being coddling. I would encourage you to keep high expectations when it comes to your spiritual life, not to low-ball yourself. God wants the best from you; you should want the best for yourself. You also wrote: “Can I sacrifice potential love and happiness for what I really want to share with a partner – that is, use the relationship to grow closer to God?” You certainly can, and people do all the time. Debbie and I have both waited a long time to meet someone who shared and respected our faith, but we held out for that, and thank God we did. Where your heart is, there your treasure will be. I think I mentioned Karl Rahner to you last letter. What trajectory, what course have you set your life to? On that path, that is where you will find your heart’s deepest desires…but only if you decide to go down that road, with all its perils and potential for heartache, disappointment, and crucifixion. Being a Christian is not easy. Loving someone, and accepting love, is not easy. Waiting is not easy. Doing field work in the mountains for the next month is not easy (but gives you invaluable time to reflect on these things, these golden kernels, that often get lost when we are engaged in the modern world). More and more it seems like nothing worth two bits is easy, and that’s just how the game goes. High stakes, baby. Ante up…I’d love to keep playing hands with you.


-R

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I don't make prayer requests very often, but I'd please ask you pray for me as I prepare for my comprehensive examinations this week, the only thing standing between me and my MA. Also, please pray that I find a job, and specifically, pray that Rosemont College considers me for a possible position in campus ministry. Thanks. -RPM

Saturday, March 7, 2009

It's the Economy, Stupid!

I try not to let the state of the economy get me down, but its hard to ignore. Hard times is right. We need some good news, and I need a J-O-B. If some news station wants to up their ratings, finding a niche of bringing to light the positives of the economic downturn could be just the thing. God knows we need it.

On a side note: I try to leave issues of personal relationships out of my blog, to have a semblence of a private life reserved from the web. But I just have to thank D. and her family for a wonderful birthday, and to say that I couldn't be happier with someone than I am with her. That's all.

Friday, March 6, 2009

8:59

I try to pray/meditate for 15-20 minutes each morning. What happens most times is I'm good for the first ten minutes, then I get restless, want to get up, and wonder why the alarm I set hasn't gone off yet. I go back and forth with this, until I really start to think I must have forgot to set the alarm. It is like a little game I have to go through every time I sit, called "Don't-touch-the-clock-until-you-hear-the-bell." This morning I sat at 8:45 and set the alarm for 9. In my restlessness I finally succumb an look at my clock: 8:59. The bell goes off in my hand. I wish I could say this was a first.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hitting the Books...and the Bottle

What better companion for preparing for the most important exams of my graduate career, creeping up like a naughty cat in less than five days, than a bottle of cheap cab-merlot, some homemade soup, and a slew of books and journal articles I can't wait to bury in an academic graveyard following this whole affair? There is a part of me that wants to just consider all preparation as futile and throw it to the wind (which is probably what I will end up doing). Comprehensive exams are the kind of exams you can't cram for. But I'm trying anyway.

As I sip wine and stare out the window, listening to Belle and Sebastian, I realize that stress is not my friend. I worry about the future, about finding a job, about where I will live, and what direction my life will take. This is my quarter life crisis. I am sure it will all be like a bad dream as the future swallows up the present, each day creeping closer to old age, disease, and death.

I have been meditating on two verses from scripture: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged..." --Joshua 1:9; "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." --Jn 16:33. They have been immensely helpful for putting things into perspective. The Israelites wandered for forty years in the desert for God's sake. I can spend a few months wandering around in uncertainty. Mt. 6:34, the old standby, offers the greatest assurance, though, if I can trust it: "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Nothing has come through on the job front, though there are some prospects. If anything comes through for campus ministry, it would not be until the fall, and in the meantime I am looking for jobs in case management, not exactly desirable, but I need to do something. I also need to have faith that something will come through.

I know I sound like a broken record. One thing I should count myself blessed in is finding love. Some people spend their whole lives building up their careers and making a life for themselves while an empty place stands whistling in the cold where love should be, but isn't, for whatever the reason. It blows my mind how people find each other and make a life together, but it happens. I have to trust that details will get ironed out with time, and that I will also find a fulfilling career, even if I have to wait for it and make some sacrifices. For the present I can revel in meeting someone who is a fit, a godly woman, someone I admire and am awed by for her character, integrity, beauty, and spirit. I trust my gut, though the future is always uncertain. I am drinking wine by the window and waiting for her to ring the bell.

Lectio AM

"I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry."

--Ps 40:1

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Bought a Bad House...

Joel Stein had a great essay in Time this week. "If we reimbursed people who lost cash on risky investments--or, as [Rick] Santelli put it, "subsidize the losers' mortgages"--we'd create a moral hazard, telling everyone there's no risk to gambling." A harsh but well stated call to financial responsibility.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Letter to AJ--excerpts

2 March 2009

Dearest A.,


It is a snow day here in Philadelphia. A course blanket of white covers the delinquent streets and the cars lurk like white hunchback monsters on both sides, waiting in line. I am off from tutoring today. It is the perfect day to get your letter. Especially since I have so much new stuff to write.


I still remember that bible I gave you. It is a great bible. Fr. Fred gave it to me, and I wanted you to have it. It was written for new converts in the Philippines, actually, I think. I think it is good you had your mom sent it to you (and I am sorry to hear you got robbed man. Offer it up, and pray for forgiveness for the douchebag, who was obviously very desperate, desperate enough to steal). Realize, though, the bible has baggage, a history, and has also been used countless time as a weapon to denigrate people and justify arrogance and pride…everything that God hates. The bible is like a table saw or a drill press: you have to know how to use it, that is, how to read it, or you may cut your hand off (see Matthew 5:30).

Yes, I agree about the Old Testament. I actually would not recommend starting there. There are thousands of years and scores of things that set the context for things like the prayers of vengeance and smashing babies heads against rocks and all that crazy shit, that you just cannot understand unless you know the context. Even though the OT comes first chronologically, anybody interested in the words of Jesus should start there: with the NT. I also would not suggest Acts. I would suggest you start with the Gospel of Luke and read that through. Read it slowly and meditatively. Pray before you read it, and when I say pray, I mean this: God is your Father, maybe your Father who you never knew very well, who seemed distant and cold, but who holds you as the most important person in the world, A., who matters to Him. He knows you. He knows how many hairs you have on your balls and all that.

He is also like an Invisible Make Believe Man. You have to make yourself like a child to talk to God so He will listen, and you will have to meditate on what that means to you, and how you will approach it, but I will tell you that if you want to talk with God, just start the conversation like a little kid does (Daddy look what I did today; look at the picture I drew; I am lonely; etc.), and keep it going. Talk to God as if He were real, a la Pascal’s Wager. Pretend you believe. Consider it an experiment in something ridiculous, but don’t worry about what anyone says. Keep it to yourself. Always be honest, since He knows everything already. Zengetsu, a Chinese master of the T’ang dynasty, wrote: “Even though alone in a dark room, be as if you were facing a noble guest. Express your feelings, but become no more expressive than your true nature.” Soyen Shaku, the first Zen teacher to come to America, wrote: “Receive a guest with the same attitude you have when alone. When alone, maintain the same attitude you have in receiving guests.” God is a guest who lives in your heart. You can kick Him out if you don’t want him there. But He is like a stray cat….crack the door open a bit and He will come running back towards you (read the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke).

Let’s talk about repentance. Repentance is the invitation you send out to invite God to come over. It is the story of Nan-in serving tea to the university professor to the point of overflowing: “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” How can I show you Christ until you first throw out your brothers, your parents, your childhood, guilt, every shitty thing said and done by ignorant Christians, the Crusades, the Inquisition? You have to throw out the Pope, the Church, everything you think you know about anything at all. Then we can talk about Christ, who is (as far as the New Testament is concerned), the only thing that matters. You not make yourself perfect before meeting God. He does not care about your Sunday Best. Your own efforts for perfection will always fall short. Accepting that is like accepting emptiness…it is the bottomless foundation you must first build before God can come to the house.

I hesitate to say repentance is “feeling sorry for your sins.” Forget your khattamn feelings for a minute. Start with what you know. Are you a perfect person? Um, no. Is that okay? Yes. To God that is okay. Can you become perfect under your own power? Well, that is for you to decide. I know that is what Buddhism teaches. I was never able to buy that, for myself that is. We have much more inner strength than we give ourselves credit for. But my weakness is always before me. In the same way Jesus says, “Be perfect as your Father is perfect,” he does not mean be sinless completely in this life, but align your will and orient yourself towards perfection. When I write, “my heart is pure,” my heart is anything but pure. From the heart comes all impurity. But my heart’s desire is pure. Karl Rahner, the German theologian, talks about our orientation to God. Where are your eyes, A.? Where are you oriented? If you were a missile getting ready to be shot, which direction would you be heading? Orientation is what matters, because “where your heart is, there your treasure also will be.” Do not fabricate anything…God sees through your bullshit clear as day. The heart speaks its own language; let it speak. Repentance flows from honesty. It must be organic, and real, to count for anything. Have you ever let down someone you’ve loved, hurt someone. Meditate on that feeling. And know that with God, “there is forgiveness. Therefore, He is feared.”

There is a parable in the Gospel about weeds and wheat, and how good will always grow with bad, and you can’t uproot one without uprooting the other. This is in the world and also in our hearts. Repentance is about asking God to pull up the weeds but knowing, when we are honest with ourselves, that they will probably grow back. The only way to get rid of them completely is to burn the whole khattamn field.

So ask yourself: is your desire to be loved as you are sincere? Is your desire to a live a moral, self-controlled life, however that might manifest, sincere? “What is it that you seek? What is it you want me to do for you?” You asked me about hearing the words of Jesus. I will say they are not words at all, but promptings, like some kind of binary code, a combination of 0’s and 1’s that somehow gets translated into my human understanding of language, and comes to me in my own voice. I remember when my brother and I were hiking in the Green Mountains in Vermont one winter, he asked me about prayer: “how do you know when you are talking to God and when you are just talking to yourself?” I didn’t have an answer. That is faith…the ridiculous lack of reason and rational explanations. Perhaps I am talking to myself, and some schizophrenic imaginary voice is answering back, not God at all.

But have you ever felt loved? You know it when you feel it. And I have felt loved by God when I did not feel loved or accepted by anyone else. The closest human feeling I have for this is the love my parents have for me. No matter what I am or who I’ve done (wait a minute), they love and accept me. I always have a place in their home. That’s how you have to start thinking about God. Empty your cup. Read the Prodigal Son. Take all that John Kabbat-Zinn and D.T. Suzuki stuff and translate it baby. Speak your own language, and listen with your own ears! Christianity is not a nationality…it is universal! It speaks “A.,” that strange blonde bearded language of faith seeking understanding. Zen mind, beginner’s mind, right? Well, think Christ Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Think about falling in love for the first time. Open your heart. So awkward! But once you throw the dregs of the cold tea out of your cup and get a fresh steaming cup, you will know. “No one puts new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.” Empty your cup, brother.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rob is in love.