Author Archives: Dr. Larry Taylor

In God We Trust?

How Deep Will You Go?

How deeply will I allow the Spirit of God to penetrate my being?

Spiritual direction involves spiritual formation that goes well beyond understanding foundational truths and developing spiritually healthy habits. 

Seeds on a well-trodden path, among thorny weeds, on rocky soil, germinate but produce no leaf, flower, or fruit. Ploughed, disked, tilled, raked, fertilized, blended with vermicomposted organic material, slowly nurtured in nature’s womb – rich, fertile soil welcomes the seed, and, with the gifts of sunshine and rain, produces bud, leaf, flower, sustenance for bees, butterflies, birds, deer, and people.

The process of spiritual formation seems arrested in many of us. What hinders the seeds of divine love? Often, it is a fundamental, innate, unconscious worldview that has become the lens through which we see. We begin with assumptions that we absorbed from our families of origin, our ancestral cultures, and the zeitgeist. The seed hits our assumptions, our masks, our cultural identity, and stops growing.

“Enough! Don’t challenge my beliefs, so neatly folded, organized, and catalogued in the drawers of stifled thought. It’s plain to see I am right.”

It takes energy to think. We evolved to conserve energy so there would be enough to hunt for prey and run from predators. Our natural inclination is to shift into neutral and watch television.

Religions rest (non sequitur) on dogma. Secularism assumes (likewise, non sequitur) that reality consists of only what it can see. Paul Simon put it succinctly: “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” 

Whether biologically or culturally derived, humans share a collective unconscious, primitive shared memories imprinted from ancestral biology or experience. That collective unconscious is reinforced by myth and those myths shape our personalities and institutions.

Jung believed that all humans have in innermost longing to be connected with God, their Source, and are unfulfilled until they do so. He identified four subsystems of the personality, which he called archetypes. 

1.     Persona, the masks we wear in order to conform to society, peers, clans, faith-communities, etc. 

2.     Anima/animus, the feminine side of males and the masculine side of females; the anima begin devalued in a patriarchal culture. 

3.     Shadow, our animal side, similar to Freud’s concept of the Id – our base survival instincts to eat, drink, breathe, stay alive, reproduce, and so on.

4.     Self – the inner, real person we were created to be; our innermost core, authentic being. The goal of spiritual formation is to intimately know, love, and follow God. The secondary goal of spiritual formation is actualization, selfhood, discovering and becoming our authentic selves, the people God intended us to be.

Fundamentalism, in religion, politics, or education, is made up of personas. Masks, smoke screens, rigid belief systems – rightness, absolute morality and ethics, a culturally crafted view of history, infallible texts. No room for deviation. Those masks become hard impenetrable ground. Certitude crushes humility and generates judgmentalism. Love-seeds can’t germinate. 

The fundamentalist enjoys a truncated worldview in which all is explained, all is neat and tidy, all is safe. He lives in a box, safe from new ideas, safe from thought. Some folks are content with just enough religion to (hopefully) get them into heaven; others with enough dogma to persuade others to “make a decision for Christ.” 

Theological systems may attempt to stuff all truth about God into neat boxes. “The one true church.”

Nationalistic and tribal myths shape our perceptions. “Land of the free; home of the brave.”

Along comes a seed that would, if it germinates, disrupt the worldviews and the myths. To allow it to sink in and bear fruit, I have to let go of the assumptions, give up the personas. That feels like death. It disrupts who I thought I was and challenges my identity. It may put me at odds with family, tribe, or faith community and lead to rejection. My neatly built belief system may unravel, leaving me with a chaotic tangle. My natural instinct is to reject the seed. The thorny weeds want to survive. 

Humility includes teachableness, a willingness to change. Jesus began his ministry echoing the words of his cousin John: “Repent!” The word means to change your mind. It has little to do with guilt or regret, even less with self-deprecation. Change your mind – be willing to think differently, to challenge deeply held, tribally sacred, myths. Dying to self has been wrongly associated with asceticism. It is instead a willingness to let go cherished beliefs. The true disciple welcomes the unraveling, scary and uncertain as it may be. 

It is so scary that I will not even begin unless I am first thoroughly convinced that God is in very fact, Unconditional Love, and will never forsake me. Only when I am secure in divine love can I risk questioning the unquestionable. Only when I am secure in my belovedness can I risk the rejection that might come from individuals and institutions. It hurts to be rejected by friends and family, or be shunned by your church. Once deeply convinced of God’s love, I can begin to look at my assumptions, cherished myths, and hitherto sacred ideas. It becomes ok to doubt and question, challenge, and scrutinize. 

My world is rocked. I am deeply ploughed. The very content of my inner “soil” is transformed. Little sprouts appear. Someday, please, God, they will be beautiful flowers where swallowtail butterflies can feed.

Confessions of a Recovering Pharisee

I sincerely pray that all the people I’ve hurt in my life will forgive me.

I really thought I was being faithful to God when I kicked people out of church and Bible college because they had an affair.

I thought I was being true to God’s Word when I condemned LGBTQ+ folks from the pulpit.

I honestly thought God favored the United States of America above other nations.

I thought I was speaking on behalf of God when I proclaimed militarism, championed gun ownership, and waved my nationalism.

I was a hypocrite. 

I am so sorry.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Change Your Mind

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Ash Wednesday

Beginning of Lent

George Washington’s Birthday

Lent is all about change. Forty days of reflection and repentance. Repentance means to change your mind, to see things in a new way, to gain understanding, to see things through God’s eyes.

A fighter jet can turn on a dime in three dimensions at high speeds. A massive oil tanker takes miles to turn. Nations, corporations, clans, and cultures are more like the tanker than the jet. Founded on a course with a set of values and goals, some conscious, some not, they lumber along and take a long time to change.

The United States, for example, began with European imperialists colonizing pristine land that had been home to indigenous people for tens of thousands of years. Colonization, land stolen from murdered and displaced native people, worked by African slaves and their descendants, a nation born in bloody conflict, militarism, and rebellion – it’s first president a genteel Virginia Anglican slave and plantation owner, a general, a man of war. Not the best foundation on which to build “the last great hope of the world,” with “liberty and justice for all.”

Major energy corporations founded by robber barons in a gilded age of opulence, which raped the environment and exploited workers to make a very few people phenomenally rich so that “our American way of life” could be exported. 

My ancestors – a mixed bag of ordinary people mostly just trying to survive by drifting along with the status quo, some of them acquiescing in various degrees to segregation, war, and capitalism.

I am not suggesting that nations, corporations, and clans can’t change. Nor am I implying that they don’t also do good things. The United States freed its slaves and opened its borders to “wretched masses yearning to breathe free.” Foundations are actively involved alleviating suffering and solving some of the most complex crises on the planet. Some of my ancestors fought to end slavery and defeat Hitler.

All I am attempting to say is that the founding cultures and ideals of nations, corporations, and clans usually change course very slowly, more like a lumbering oil tanker than an FA-18 Super Hornet. 

That said, they can change. We can change. We are not sentenced to the status quo, nor need we patiently await some course correction far in the future. We need not, indeed, we should not, tolerate racism, xenophobia, homophobia, ageism, ableism, antisemitism, or sexism. White supremacy is evil. War is evil. Killing is forbidden to the disciple. Injustice is wrong, whether it is blatant or systemic. 

We are all products of our environment. All of us are enculturated. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in America. The first president I remember was Eisenhower. Society was segregated. White Christian Nationalism was the order of the day. I absorbed some racism, some sexism, some white privilege, and a lot of homophobia. 

But thankfully, I was also exposed to civil rights, admired MLK and Malcom X, saw the good the Black Panthers were doing, tutored inner-city kids, coached a little league team from the projects, and listened to mentally ill people in a psychiatric hospital where I worked. I took a pastorate in rural Minnesota and learned the folk wisdom of farmers and dairy workers. I pastored in Colorado Springs and developed friendships with high-ranking military officers and combat grunts. The Bible college I directed in California had students from all over the world. I took mission trips to Asia and South America, and visited Israel multiple times. I worked for a social service agency and was a family therapist for families with adjudicated child abuse. I lived among native Hawaiians, and worked in trauma centers and ICUs, as well as in hospice.

Exposure to a wide variety of people and cultures, especially face to face with the sick, mentally ill, victims of oppression, and poor, shifted my thinking. My lumbering ship turned from its course and headed toward the Kingdom of God. 

This Lenten season, it behooves us to ask what needs course adjustment in our lives, our behavior, our political views, our theology, or our ideals. Where are we headed? 


He sailed from island to island

Never setting ashore, nor

Dropping anchor in spite of 

Inviting coves of clear water,

Reefs teeming with color, and the

Enticing calls of undisturbed wildlife.

She sported a cutter rig, her twin

Jibs imitating the harmony of twins

So identical they could finish 

Each other’s thoughts and sense

When one was in danger.

The islands were clustered close to

One another like multiple peaks on

The same mountain range, and were,

No doubt, welded in the depths by

The fiery passion of Aganju and Pelé.

Many but One.

Each island seemed to him to be like the last,

Each a forbidding, beckoning paradise of

Wondrous danger.

He did not know why he at last 

Anchored in this cove that resembled all others;

Until, emerging from the rain forest,

The tall image of himself – his twin – 

identical except in height – 

He had never known of him,

Yet was oddly not surprised at his existence,

As if he had somehow known all along. 

Surprised by how much taller he was, 

Yet otherwise alike in

Countenance, gait, and voice.

Immediate recognition and trust as the taller

Brother called out from the shore to

His diminutive self on board,

“This island! Explore this island!”

And so, the adventure begins.

What’s Ahead: Audio. Isaiah 26-26

Deconstructing, Reconstructing, or Abandoning Faith

I regularly cross paths with people who were once evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christians but now identify as atheists or agnostics. My observations are anecdotal. I’ve not conducted a Chi-squared analysis, but I’ve noticed some commonalities as to why people abandon their belief system. In almost no cases is it because of some sin or moral failure. Instead, the reasons I’m observing fall into common categories. 

·      They were taught a view of God in which God was presented as a strict, intolerant, brutal warlord.

·      The eschatology they were taught is toxic, escapist, and untenable. 

·      They were taught that the Bible is literally true, whereas it is clearly not scientifically accurate and it contains minor textual errors.

·      They were taught that God hates LGBTQ+ folks.

·      They were taught that unless a person purposely accepts Jesus, they will experience conscious torment forever.

·      They were taught that humans popped into existence fully mature 6,000 years ago.

·      They were taught that God created the world within the last 10,000 years in six 24-hour periods.

·      They were taught that the only way God could save them was by brutally murdering his own son.

·      They found more love and acceptance in other groups than they did in churches.

·      They were taught in church that it is not only ok, but one’s patriotic duty to kill.

·      The Christians they knew held extreme right-wing political views, embraced conspiracy theories, and supported policies that are racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynist. 

·      “Pro-life” seemed to only apply to abortion. The same people were pro-gun, pro-capital punishment, and militaristic.

·      Their churches were corporations run by highly paid CEO-types, doing relatively little to alleviate poverty, racism, or social injustice.

·      They experienced abuse from church leaders.

·      They experienced judgement and rejection from church people.

·      They found no concern for environmental care in the church.

·      They are unable to reconcile the reality of suffering with an all-powerful, good God.

I have a friend who owns an historic home. It was recently damaged in a storm, requiring them to move out for months while major demolition and new construction takes place. My faith has been kind of like that. I think I have personally faced every one of the issues listed above. Doing so lead me to do a great deal of deconstructing, a lot of demolition. But just as the bones of my friend’s house are strong, after I cleared out all the theological asbestos, I found a solid core. 

His name is Jesus. 

The theology I was taught in evangelical/fundamentalism was just surface structure. The foundation is Jesus. He didn’t go anywhere. I want to cry out to all those people, “Please, don’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Jesus probably doesn’t look like the guy your church called by that name. God is different that you were raised to believe. But God is real. God is love. God is welcoming. God is nice. God likes you. God would love to hang out with you.”

Shall we journey together more deeply into the divine heart?

Justice Covers the Earth. Audio. Isaiah 10-25


The 1866 Gothic novella, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson was an immediate success. He reportedly saw some of the scenes in dreams and wrote the entire work in its finished form in a few days. It has been staged as a play and made in films multiple times, and been the subject of on-going interpretations. It is one of the most famous pieces of English literature – the foundational work of an entirely new genre called Gothic horror. 

Kindly, proper, upright Dr. Jekyll is unhappy suppressing his baser urges and, being a scientist, happens upon a potion that not only allows his cruel, narcissistic, and sociopathic nature to emerge, but to emerge as a physically different person, unrecognizable as the good doctor. In that persona, he is ruthless and selfish, and commits crimes, but can switch back to Dr. Jekyll and escape justice. As time passes, he loses control – Hyde emerges unsummoned, takes over, and dies by suicide. 

The novella has been interpreted in numerous ways – as a Freudian conflict between Id, Ego, and Superego; as a representation of the cosmic battle between good and evil, God versus the satan, light versus darkness; as a graphic illustration of the nefarious effects of alcohol on the addict; as commentary on Scottish nationalism; multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, etc. Its endurance reflects multiple layers of meaning.

Perhaps the simplest of those layers is the revelation that we are all flawed humans. No mortal is all good, nor pure evil. Try as we may, we cannot eradicate the dark sides of our nature. 

Historian James Truslow Adams (1878-1949) said, “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behooves any of us to find fault with the rest of us.”

Suppressing our evil side leads to hypocrisy, spiritual pride, and judgmentalism. Feeding the evil side leads to violence, war, hatred, nationalism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and so on. 

Because I aspire to moral perfection, I envision my ideal self as Sir Galahad, not Lancelot. Noble and true, chaste and pure, willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause. Then, when Hyde appears and I act selfishly, I am at first shocked, then fend off conviction with denial, and finally sink into self-condemnation and despair. I cannot imagine being accepted, loved, forgiven. I have failed miserably. God, if not angry with me, is sorely disappointed. The gates of hell gape before me. What I have failed to realize is that in the very act of extrinsic religiosity, I have deceived myself by denying a portion of who I am.

The strict moralist denies Hyde’s existence by seeing himself as superior to others. He hides Hyde. (I think Robert Louis Stevenson intended the pun.) By so doing, he becomes pharisaical, judgmental, a self-appointed moral police officer full of condemnation for “sinners.” His world is black and white, dualistic. He is right. The other is wrong. He sputters his pontifications. 

Others deny the inner evil by splitting themselves into two people so they can indulge Hyde. They are experts at compartmentalization. They can preach to a crowd on Sunday and rendezvous with prostitutes on Monday. Both the compartmentalizer and the moralist are out of touch with themselves and with the Divine. Both drive people away from religion and away from God. Hyde suppressed bursts forth in ugly deeds of betrayal and manipulation that wound others.

Still others respond to Mr. Hyde with self-justification, excuses, and projecting blame on others. (“It’s the woman, you gave me.”) Self-centeredness increases and the heart hardens. The conscience-seared person likewise damages others. Only the humble are receptive to course correction. The rest end up shipwrecked.

A healthy person understands that Mr. Hyde coexists with Dr. Jekyll. She neither denies the existence of Hyde, nor indulges him. She embraces the genteel goodness of Dr. Jekyll without the need to keep up appearances. In an emotionally and spiritually healthy individual, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are integrated. She sees herself realistically – a mixture of good and bad, noble and ignoble, altruistic and selfish. She acknowledges Hyde, and brings him into the light for healing. She knows that Jekyll isn’t as perfect as he thinks he is. She no longer judges herself or others. She knows that God is unchanging, eternal, unconditional love. She comes to God openly, honestly, just as she is, warts and all, a blend of Jekyll and Hyde, knowing God will embrace her. 

Most of the time in spiritual direction, life coaching, and pastoral counseling, I haven’t a clue as to how the Holy Spirit will untangle the knots in a person’s heart, soul, and relationships, although I am certain that God will do so. Occasionally, however, God gives insight that shines the light down the road. But even then, giving advice is unadvisable. Practically speaking, giving advice usually doesn’t work. Neither do clichés and truisms. 

When a person is in the throes of panic or despair, telling them to think positively, have compassion on themselves, give themselves a break, or stop ruminating – while valid – is akin to telling an addict to “just say no.” Easier said than done. No matter how miraculous the initial deliverance, it takes the hard work of 12 grueling steps and the support of a community to live in freedom.

As with the addict, so also with the person snatched into the tornadic chaos of panic, clinical depression, traumatic grief, or psychosis. Well-meaning platitudes don’t help. Shallow religiosity – “have faith;” “all things work together for good;” “trust God;” “read your Bible” – makes things worse.

What the person in despair, anxiety, grief, or confusion needs is someone to listen, someone to care, someone to hold them nonjudgmentally in the light. Spiritual directors do so, and, in addition, pray for others, listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, and gently point out where they see God working in a person’s life. It is a life-long process of spiritual formation, of integrating the entirety of who we were created to be into wholeness.

Working with and alongside spiritual direction is the depth-psychologist, skilled at navigating the soul towards an understanding and healing of primitive wounds. Had Dr. Jekyll had a spiritual director and a Jungian psychotherapist, his life would have been far freer and happier, and his end would have been far different. 


Tectonic plates slip
Cement liquifies
Buildings implode
Thousands perish
Tens of thousands
Refugees, cold, weary, hungry
Dazed, wandering

Death machines rumble
Missiles fly, bombs explode
Buildings implode
Thousands perish
Tens of thousands
Refugees, cold, weary, hungry
Dazed, wandering

Poisoned by supremist ideology
Awash with weapons of war
They seek to destroy the
Majority Black Monumental City
As if slavery, Jim Crow, convict leasing,
And redlining racism have not already
Inflicted wounds enough

An entire political movement
Espoused by millions built on
Blatant lies, purposeful disinformation
Heaps hatred on queers, women, 
Immigrants, persons of color,
Moslems and Jews
Its goal: extermination

The homeless huddle in doorways
The asylum seekers press against fences
The incarcerated gaze from cages
The insane stare in fear
The ill are dehumanized
The dying die alone
Gamblers gamble on games

A marriage betrayed 
Bairns deeply wounded
A child lies long in the dust
The bullet that pieced his skull
Cold, at rest with his bones, 
As a repentant betrayer 
Wanders dazed through life

Creation groans in agony
The earth chokes, coughs, melts
Plastic fills the seas
Catastrophic storms bury cities
Land stolen from its stewards
Lies impotent among
Lakes of death

Creator comes with severe mercy
Destroying what destroys 
Annihilating egos 
Transforming hearts to 
Courageously love
And by so doing,
Repair the damage

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