Category Archives: Christianity

An Audio Intro to Isaiah

Listening to the Trees

In spite of an early childhood living in a brick row house in a lower-class Baltimore neighborhood where life was filled with bus stops and crowded streets, I have always had a connection with nature. There were acres of woods nearby, long since cleared for shopping centers and a hospital. There, we ran, played, imagined, and climbed. There, on my own, I hunted snakes, toads, frogs, and salamanders that filled terrariums in my room.

I knew of no other children who had research scientist parents. From their labs, they brought home dissecting trays and instruments that I employed to study the inner workings of worms and amphibians. Employing a butterfly net at my grandmother’s house in a small town on the eastern shore of Maryland, I collected and mounted winged creatures and got not a few wasp stings. 

Avid birdwatchers and amateur historians, weekends were filled with trips to nature preserves, bird sanctuaries, and historic sites. When my father, a biological oceanographer, started teaching marine ecology at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory on Cape Cod, snorkeling expeditions, salt marsh and tidepool explorations filled those parts of the days when I wasn’t sailing with an old salt who once sailed the mail to the Elizabeth Islands in his catboat. 

All of that naturally carried into adulthood. We have lived all over – exploring Minnesota’s lakes and farmlands, the Colorado Rockies, the San Bernardino Mountains, Maui, and the shores of New England. 

Now that I’ve lived three score and ten, I am beginning to learn a deeper lesson. I am learning not only to observe, study, appreciate, and care for nature, but also to listen to her.

A physician can learn a great deal about a person by probing and testing. A spiritual director can know much more about that same person by deeply listening. So it is with the natural world, the cosmos, all of creation. I learn by observing and studying, by probing and questioning. 

I learn much more by listening. Like the Native people who were here long before my ancestors, I am learning that I am a part of nature. I am learning to sit under the massive oak and ask permission to enter her forest; to ask mother sea for permission to explore her edges; to stop and ask the honeybee for wisdom. Nature talks to us if we have ears to hear.

False Self?

I don’t care for the term “false self” – it sounds like something we need to get rid of. We all necessarily grow up with images of who we are. Those images are shaped first and foremost by the adults who cared for us as small children. They continue to be further shaped by culture, peers, extended family, teachers, coaches, and so on. These personas aren’t “false,” but they are closer to the surface than the true inner core of belovedness. The define us, but not completely. 

All of us have these personas. We define ourselves by gender, ethnicity, skills, careers, education, physical abilities, as belonging to a certain neighborhood or tribe. We are part of a story, shaped by our ancestors and our cultures, as well as by our genes.

There’s nothing wrong with that. My friend rightly sees himself as a Native American member of the Haudenosaunee nation with a deep love for nature and athletic prowess. That’s important. 

On the other hand, many of us grow up with personas that mask our true selves. We see ourselves as losers, failures, unlovable, fearful, timid, not good enough, super-saints, superior to others, alone, unlovable, lost, envious. Those personas need to be jettisoned. 

Deny yourself – I think Jesus means the egocentric self, those harmful personas, the superficial images we try so hard to maintain so others will accept us and so we can feel good about ourselves. 

The denial of the superficial or unhealthy personas feels like a pouring out. At first, the pouring out feels like loss, a death, a loss of identity, but it actually makes space to embrace the true self, which is who I am as defined by God. Whereas the false self is who I am as defined by others (especially parents, siblings, teachers, mentors, and peers) and myself, the true self is who I am in the innermost core of my being, engulfed and embraced by God. Following Jesus is the embracing of Truth, which leads to spiritual freedom. 

Through prayer, contemplation, meditative scripture reading, silence, solitude, long walks in nature, deep breathing, stillness, service to the poor, and through spiritual direction with a true elder, who we are truly created to be begins to open up, the positive personas are refined, and the harmful personas begin to fade away.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

True Self

We are created in God’s image. But what does that mean? Some have argued that to be created in God’s image means we reflect something of God’s nature, like the ability to reason, the ability to develop culture or language, to create art and music, observe ourselves, or critically deduce conclusions. 

The problem with all those definitions is that they don’t apply to every person. The brain damaged person lies vegetative in a body that is breathing and with a heart that beats, but who is unable to reason, communicate, create, or observe. Is that person no longer in God’s image? If they were born brain damaged, were they never really human beings? Have they no dignity? Moreover, animals and trees communicate, apes display selflessness, and puppies are full of love.

Rather than define the imago Dei with attributes that some humans have and others do not, I prefer to define it as simply the ability to be loved by God. God loves all of creation – sea cucumbers, turtles, and willow trees. Perhaps I’m a speciesist, but it appears to me that God has a special love for humans. I say that because God became a human being, rather than a goldfish. Nevertheless, God cares deeply about goldfish and sparrows and mushrooms. It’s all good. It’s all beautiful.

God is love – perfect self-sacrificial cruciform love. God lavishes that perfect love unconditionally on everyone. Every part of creation reflects God’s love. 

Our true selves are who we are according to God. For all of us, that begins with Beloved. Every human being is beloved of God, deeply and unconditionally. Many of us affirm that truth but have a very hard time truly believing it. Voices within tell us we are only loved if we do good stuff, or reach some level of perfection. We’re reminded of our failings, faults, sins, of those we’ve hurt, of the times when we’ve been selfish and mean. At some level, we doubt we are lovable.

Your true self, the innermost you that God unconditionally loves and cherishes regardless of what you do or accomplish, is Beloved. In my experience, it takes years of contemplation, Lectio Divina, biblical meditation, prayer, silence, service to those Jesus called the least of his siblings (Matthew 25), and spiritual companionship with wise elders in the faith to begin to really believe that I am God’s beloved. 

My goal as a spiritual director and counselor is to deeply listen, pray for, unconditionally love, and walk with people as they slowly discover their belovedness. We’re all created in the image of God and beloved by God. 

Each of us is also an individual. Each of us is unique. It is that unique part that we’re referring to when we speak of finding your true path, growing into who you were meant to be. 

Finding your true path involves discovering the unique ways God created you, the unique gifts God has given you, and the unique bit of kingdom work God designed you for. That also takes a lot of prayer, contemplation, and guidance. And, it changes. Different seasons of your life open up different roles. It’s about the journey.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

Wounded by Life

We all take hits as we go through life. Some of them are just par for the course. Illness, minor injuries, car needs a new transmission, expensive home repairs – that kind of thing. Shit happens. We learn to deal with it. We cope.

Other hurts come from our own poor choices. We make mistakes. We mess up. If we’re emotionally healthy and mature, we own our errors, face the consequences without blaming others, and take steps (maybe with the help of a coach or therapist) to repair, reconcile, learn from and do better.

Then there are the hurts from other people – jilted, cheated, abandoned, divorced, betrayed. We enter into the long, hard task of forgiving so that we can be free. 

I’ve written a lot on forgiveness and how to do it: 

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com/post/forgiveness-restoration-part

https://wordpress.com/post/drlarrytaylor.com/1355

We get hurt by circumstances, by our own choices, and by the thoughtlessness of others. We can also be abused and hurt by systems and institutions. Those are often harder to deal with because we can’t attach a face to the abuse. 

When a woman cannot advance in top leadership because of a glass ceiling no one recognizes, she’s fighting systemic patriarchy. 

When Native or African American children have no access to nutritious food, safe housing, and quality education, they are crippled by systemic racism that dates back to the founding of the nation. 

When a man works for a corporation for 35 years and then is tossed aside with less than adequate pension and benefits, he’s being damaged by corporate greed. 

Religious institutional abuse may be the worst of all because religious institutions are where we’re supposed to find grace, acceptance, and salvation. When a clergyperson uses their position to sexually assault someone, they victim has been hurt not only by the perpetrator, but also by the institution that trained, ordained, and installed the perpetrator in that position of authority. Maybe the institution also protected the perpetrator, minimized the hurt, or denied it and sept it under the rug.

Racism, misogyny, nationalism, institutionalized religion, consumerism, toxic capitalism, and militarism consume multitudes. People are used, used up, and tossed out. Human beings created in the image of God are trampled underfoot. 

There is healing for all the hurts. Deep wounds take a long time to heal. We need the skills of soul doctors, spiritual guides, loving souls who can point us to the ultimate Healer.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

That it? Seriously? Mark 16 audio

What is life?

What is life? The typical biological definition includes the ability to reproduce. We think of plants and animals. Yet stars also reproduce. They live and die, and when some of them die, they scatter the elements necessary for carbon-based life. We are literally made of stars. 

Our indigenous friends and ancestors were on to something. In some sense, the ocean is alive and breathing. Trees communicate via underground mycorrhizal networks. In some Aboriginal languages there are far more verbs than nouns because many of the things post-Enlightenment westerners consider to be inanimate objects (like the wind, forests, and streams) they think of as living. There is a sense in which the Spirit of the Creator pervades everything in the natural universe. That is not pantheism. Pantheism says that nature is God. God is in creation and also above, over, beyond creation. God is both in and outside space-time.

What is creation? All that there is. This universe. Multiverses if that’s the case. All of nature. And, the heavenly realm as well. God is there in it all. There is nowhere where God is not. God is omnipresent. If I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, or dig down into hades, or rise up into the heavens, God is there. There is nowhere to escape God. 

That is bad news for the person who is greedily destroying the earth, oppressing fellow humans, spreading deadly conspiracies, or promoting white supremacy or religious nationalism. 

It’s wonderful news for those who care for creation, care for the sick, homeless, displaced, poor, and incarcerated. If the Creator is reflected in all of creation, I am obligated to care for creation. All of it. 

Life is the breath of God. 

simplistic binary thinking

In modern western thought, we often express ideas in terms of binary opposites. We Christians seem particularly susceptible. We like our world tidy and imagine that God is on our side.

Male/female. Black/white. Gay/straight. Saved/unsaved. Christian/unbeliever. Citizen/foreigner. Liberal/conservative. Conservation/economic progress. Jew/gentile. Patriot/traitor. Democrat/Republican. Abled/disabled. Heaven/hell. Right/wrong. Us/them. Good/evil. One side of the binary historically holds power. Patriarchy, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and antisemitism result. 

The gospel destroys all our divisions. All are loved equally. All are welcomed and accepted. All are gifted and important. The ground at the foot of the cross is flat. The universal church, the body of Christ on earth, is a multinational, multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, inclusive group of people who have renounced other allegiances in order to be citizens of the Kingdom of God. 

Anything that disrupts that unity in creation is nullified by Jesus.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

What does it mean to be human?

What sets us apart from lichen, aspen groves, dolphins, and chimpanzees? In the past, we have tended to define humanness with attributes such as speech, the ability for altruistic action, or empathy. We said that humans are the only creatures who can reason, who can observe themselves. One by one, what we thought were distinctions disappear. Trees communicate with one another. Chimpanzees display unselfish behaviors. Many of us are convinced that our pets love us. How do we know other species can’t observe and reason? 

And yet, it also seems self-evident that humans are different. Humans discover the quantum universe and build computers and robots, send telescopes into space, and work for justice. We are also responsible for massive environmental destruction, create weapons that threaten to exterminate the planet, and are capable of cruelty unmatched in the animal kingdom. Is our uniqueness to be found simply in the size of our brains? Are we headed for planet of the apes? 

The biblical response is that we humans are created in God’ image. The imago Dei. But, what does that mean? It’s not that we physically resemble God, for God is Spirit. It’s not that we can reason like God, for God’s ways are high above ours. 

Genesis is a temple story. In the ancient Neareast, virtually every society had a creation story. Those stories all had things in common. In them, the gods created humans to be their slaves. If humans are good slaves, the gods protect them – they are victorious in war; their crops flourish. If they are unfaithful slaves, the gods punish them with plagues, disaster, and defeat. 

The job of the human slaves is to build houses for the gods, feed the gods, and in deference tell the gods how wonderful they are. So, humans build temples – vacation homes for the gods. They build ziggurats, staircases so the gods can come down into their temples. In each temple, the human slaves place an image of the god. At the temple’s dedication, the high priest of that particular god breathes into the statue and everyone now believes that the spirit of the god is in it. From then on, the human slaves dutifully offer animal and vegetable sacrifices to feed the gods, and they worship in rituals to keep the gods happy so the harvest will be a good one and enemies will be defeated.

Genesis uses that common story and turns it on its head. In Genesis, there is only one God. His name is YHWH. God created God’s own temple. It’s not a building made by human hands. The entire cosmos is God’s temple. Then, God placed his own image in his temple – humans, male and female. Unlike the pagan temples made of stone, God’s temple is living – oceans teeming with marine life, mountains draped in snow, forests filled with creatures, stars living and dying, exploding and scattering the building blocks of life as we know it. The humans God created are not slaves; they are God’s beloved children. Their task is to care for the living temple, to take care of nature.

We humans are special objects of God’s love. We are God’s beloved children. God loves all of nature. God loves Perrigin falcons and opossums, cutworms and puppies. But humans are special objects of divine love, created with the capacity to love and be loved, charged with the care of all the rest of the planet, given the awesome responsibility of stewardship. Those who pollute, kill, coerce, and hate are not reflecting the imago Dei. Those who wash feet are.

Everything in the Universe Changed. Audio on Mark 15:38-47

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