I AM.

The day Moses met God, he asked,

“What is your name?”,

 

“I have no name”, comes the reply,

From a Source now unnamed.

 

All alone atop that Holy Mountain,

Moses worries after those waiting down below.

 

“Without a name”, he pleads, “How will my people come to know

You from all the other gods

Belonging to these poor, lost, wandering men?”

 

Was it courageous, or cowardice to stand there in that place,

And so boldly ask God for the Grace –

To become small enough for them?

 

“This, not that” was the first and only Law given

By God to those two humans in the Garden.

 

An instruction for an era lost,

The Garden now invisible,

And yet –

 

Just like Moses and his people, most of us here

Are still believing “this, not that” will save us

From the pain of our uncertainty.

 

Shaped by years of wandering through deserts

Of our own,

Are we not guilty of thirsting after the image

Of arriving –

Somewhere, each one of us a beggar.

 

“This, not that, black or white, Please Lord, make it simple”.

 

Moses could have said that.

I hear it in his question.

 

Yet, God, unchanged and ever changing, always sets the tone –

A riddle for an answer.

Or perhaps, an Answer for minds too riddled to hear it:

 

“I AM”.

 

Do you ever wonder what that sound was like in the ears of the man who heard it first?

 

Could it have been pronounced “A-UM”?

 

I’ve heard that sound fall from the mouths of people

Perched atop holy mountains of their own.

Spandex on their bodies,

Twenty dollars for enlightenment.

 

Do they know the Holy mountain upon which they are standing?

They’ve at least removed their shoes.

 

“OM”, it is written, but as it moves from breath, to throat, to tongue, to lips

It sounds

More like this:

“Ahhhhhhhhhh—Ummmmmmm”.

 

The Beginning and The End.

The Alpha and The Omega.

The Atman and The Brahman.

Or can we say, The Ego and The Soul?

 

That which can perceive That which Is.

 

It’s strange and clear and merciful –

Each ancient tradition tells a story

Of this sound.

 

Do you recognize it yet?

 

It’s unclear whether Moses or his people could,

And most days it seems the same for you, and for me –

 

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he bothered once again

To tell us,

“I AM”.

 

The way, the truth, and the light.

 

I think we needed someone to show us,

In the flesh.

I AM.

 

“Stick your finger in my side”, he says,

To his dear doubting friend.

 

But that’s not what I was taught.

Were you?

Instead, instructed over and over to literalize,

To flatten it down.

 

But, didn’t God warn Moses?

Oh wait, I mean,

I AM.

 

Jesus may have been the flesh and bone and blood encounter

With a God

We can’t nail down.

 

Genesis tells us of Creation from No thing.

Science claims the heart begins as a null-point,

A Zero at the center.

No thing.

 

Then a twist, and a spin, and suddenly a beat:

I AM.

 

And while our riddled minds are grasping yet again

After a Name

For the magic happening here,

 

The temple curtain gets torn straight down the middle,

From top to bottom, falling away in two –

Pieces.

 

Holy of Holies now unveiled,

Each one of us bracing to be blinded

By a glimpse

Of what’s inside.

 

Yet, those among us brave or crazy enough

To look

And see –

Will find

No thing is there.

 

No name.

No nails.

 

No thing.

 

Only

I AM.

 

Did not Siddhartha while sitting under the Bodhi tree

Find

No thing too?

Once named, then unnamed, and renamed:

Awakened one.

One who sees.

 

Would you look for yourself?

 

Try Within.

 

Each one of us already knows this Place,

It’s Only human

Beings who could mistake that inner space

 

For alienation.

 

Instead of what it truly is –

Our own Holy ordination.

 

— Whitney Logan, 5.8.17

Nothing is wrong with you: an Easter message.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to hear Anne Lamott speak about her new book, “Hallelujah Anyway”. The conversation was so honest, and soul-stirring that I followed it up with a couple days of binge-listening to several different interviews Anne has done in the last few years. During one of these interviews, she mentioned something a Jesuit priest once said to her about what he called the “5 rules on how to be a Good American”, which we are all forced to learn as early as possible.

1. Don’t have anything wrong with you.
2. If there is something wrong with you, fix it immediately.
3. If you can’t fix it, hide it.
4. If you can’t hide it, stay home—just don’t show up or you’ll make other people uncomfortable.
5. If you insist on showing up anyway, at least have the decency to feel ashamed.

Some of my earliest, earliest memories involve a growing, nagging, sweat-inducing certainty that something was terribly wrong with me. One of the primary reasons I fell so completely head-over-heels into the psychological refuge of Christianity was that it seemed to possess the answer to this precise problem.

“Yes”, Christianity said to me, “there is indeed something very wrong with you. Of course, this will continue to be painful for you and everyone who knows you for as long as you live. But, BUT: if you believe in exactly precisely this one thing, in exactly precisely this one way, and try your best to imitate exactly precisely the attitudes and actions prescribed by this one thing, your reward will be this: immediately AFTER you DIE, you will then finally become perfect”.

What a relief.

So, naturally, I swan-dove into this ideology at 12 years old, and really didn’t start to look underneath the hood of any of it until I was about 22 years old.

Eleven whole years of messy, beautiful, clumsy, miraculous, painful, healing, mentally ill, and spiritually sublime moments later, I have decided that this is not at all what Jesus tried to teach us. In fact, I now believe that to the degree with which we have confused his actual message with the nonsense described above is the degree to which we will wind up abusing ourselves and everyone around us.

So then, if not that painful personal pretzeling our way to salvation, what do I think Jesus did try to teach us?

Well, when I read the gospels now, I hear – over and over – a message that sounds more like this: “Oh, you beloved over-anxious, grasping, clinging children. I need you to try really hard to put your listening ears on for a whole minute while I explain this to you again. Heaven is not somewhere else, it’s right here. Communion with God is not later, it’s now. The Holy Spirit is not behind a curtain in the temple, it’s in your own body”. (Paraphrasing, hi).

Don’t believe me? Read it all over again for yourself. Start with Matthew, finish with the first part of Acts. Consider setting aside your preconceived or previously conceived interpretations, and going very slowly through the story again. Because it’s all right there – every beautiful, relieving, grace-soaked word – hidden in plain-sight.

Hard Teachings.

Jesus said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you”.

Yet, how many of us actually commit to this each day? I certainly haven’t been able to point to myself as a shining example of this quite often enough. However, I do happen to have a little psychological secret to share that may help.

Herman Hesse articulates this secret best when he says,

“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part yourself. What isn’t part ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

If that sounds improbable to you at first, I will give an example:

There was a period of time when I felt really loathsome towards someone in my family. I was very critical towards her for many years, and sometimes still catch myself remembering something she did or said years ago and get a brief little jolt of white-hot fury. I used to say things about her like “she thinks she knows everything absolutely!”, “she has no respect for other peoples’ perspectives”, “she makes me feel small for not believing the things she believes”, “she makes me feel shallow, superficial, and vapid”, “she regards me with suspicion and contempt”, and/or “she doesn’t love or respect me”.

This went on for years.

Eventually, I had the merciful opportunity to study the experience of “hatred” from a psychological perspective, and something begin to change for me. During this time, I learned that hatred – different than anger or constructive criticism or fear – is basically useless, other than to signal to the hater that some aspect of themselves has fallen into shadow. (<– click on that link before reading any further). According to psychological theory, hatred arises to alert us about some shadow aspect – or unconscious part – of ourselves.

So then, what did I do with this new knowledge about hatred? Thankfully, I decided to use this insight to re-examine my feelings towards the family member I mentioned above. It may not surprise you to learn that I soon began to realize that SOOOOOOOOOOO many of the things that bothered me about her were things that bothered me about myself.

Here’s the abbreviated list:

  • I too was guilty of withholding love and respect from her.
  • I too was guilty of minimizing her perspectives, and thinking that mine were superior.
  • I too was guilty of regarding her as one-dimensional and shallow.
  • I too was guilty of treating her with suspicion and contempt.

“Well, hot damn”, I thought, “she and I were the same!”. I hated her behavior towards me precisely because I was doing the same damn thing to her. Not wanting to admit this to myself, I had spent years caught up in these really awful feelings towards someone I wanted to love.

A Peruvian Shaman once said it to me this way:

“That which we won’t admit about ourselves comes to possess us”.

But, here’s the good news: we have a way out of this trap! When we are caught up in hatred towards anyone in particular or any group of people, the best hope we have for softening that fury is to try to acknowledge the unconscious, ugly parts of ourselves that we might be projecting onto them.

Many times, when we are able to sincerely soften ourselves towards someone else, in time, they too will soften. Sometimes they may even soften almost immediately. I mean, just think about how disarming it would be for you if someone walked up to you and said, “I need to apologize for feeling all this ugly stuff towards you for years. I didn’t realize that a lot of that ugliness was really about me, and not about you”. Boom. How open do you suddenly feel? Maybe for some of us it would take more time, but for me, a confession like that is so relatable – and so brave – that I am inclined to start thinking of that person in near-heroic terms.

As the Buddha says,

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love”.

I admit it. This is a hard teaching. It’s hard for me. It’s been especially hard for me in this current political climate at times. It’s hard for most people I know. It’s probably been especially hard for most people I know in this current political climate too. But. Show me the person who can regularly soften their heart and mind towards the people whom they could also readily hate, and I will show you a person who has genuine communion with something Holy. Or, as Jesus says, “to show that you are children of your Father Who is in heaven“, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. (Matthew 5:45,44).

Grace and peace,
Whitney

Another excerpt from the book.

When I was 12 years old, my parents started sending me to a Christian summer camp located in a much deeper part of the Bible Belt than I had been raised.

During that first summer at camp, I spent two weeks living with the nicest, most encouraging strangers I had ever met in my life. The people I met at camp seemed to value me simply for breathing, celebrate my uniqueness, and care deeply about the things that troubled me the most.

I won literal awards – in the form of actual medals and ribbons – for simply being myself.

One afternoon, I got presented with a ribbon for giving “110%” of my effort during a water-skiing lesson earlier that morning. On another occasion I received a standing ovation in the dining room for something so insignificant that I cannot even remember what it was now. At the end of the two-week term, each elective activity gave out some kind of award to a very large percentage of it’s participants, each cabin gave a special award to each camper, and the camp gave out many gender-specific awards to a handful of campers in each age group.

I often felt like I was being baptized in accolades.

And it wasn’t just the camp staff that made me feel special. The campers who had been attending this camp for years before me were also surprisingly skillful at round-the-clock encouragement. It probably helped that there were ribbons given out for being an excellent encourager, and often times campers were singled out for public praise if they had behaved in especially generous ways towards other campers. Yet, if you asked any of them why and how they were so relentlessly kind towards their peers, they would always tell you it was because they loved Jesus, and because Jesus had said that “we should treat other people the way we would want to be treated” (Matthew 7:12, paraphrase).

Being the beneficiary of this spiritual benevolence probably would have been a positive emotional experience for any adolescent girl, but for a girl who had spent the last three years being somewhat mercilessly harassed by her peers at school, this was sublime. By the time my parents would arrive to come take me home, I didn’t want to leave.

At the wise old age of 12 (and a half), I didn’t consider the complexity of my experience, nor the simplicity of my impression. I didn’t think about the uniqueness of my isolated environment, and the positive reinforcement it provided. I did not consider the multiplicity in anyone’s motives – i.e. ribbons and medals, “bonus points in heaven”, and/or something more inspired. Neither did I care about whether or not there would be strings attached to the sense of inclusion I had been offered that summer. All I could comprehend back then was that Jesus seemed to make people want to be kind and good towards one another.

Frankly, he made me want to be kind and good too. (Still does).

At some now-forgotten moment during my two-week stay in this camp, I became pretty passionately convinced that Jesus was the all-encompassing answer for me. But. Here’s the catch: I also became simultaneously certain that Jesus was the answer for everyone else too. Earnestly, I often thought to myself, “if only everyone else could get to know Jesus like the people at camp know him, then they too would start acting in loving, gracious ways, and the whole world would be so much better”!

And this, my friends, is how an ‘Evangelical’ is born.

Or, perhaps I should say: this is how one young evangelical was born.

Yet, as it is with all births — expelled along with wondrous new life, you might also push some poop out onto the delivery table.  In this case, alongside the instructions about how to treat others with generosity and love, I also learned that being a follower of Jesus meant that the good things I did were just as important as the bad things I did NOT do. In fact, I often got the impression that manifesting an abundance of love or grace towards my fellow man was not as meaningful as avoiding a very important list of explicit and implicit “don’t”‘s:

Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex outside of marriage, don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t swear, don’t lust after anyone, don’t have gay feelings or “tendencies”, don’t be jealous, don’t be lazy, don’t lie (unless the truth is impolite), don’t gossip (unless you can disguise it as concern), don’t dress provocatively, don’t dance provocatively, don’t make men feel uncomfortable in general, don’t disrespect your parents, don’t challenge your elders, don’t ask questions no one can answer, don’t be a downer, and don’t be too ambitious.

Now, if that sounds a bit more like a “Southern Manners Manual for Making A Nice Christian Girl out of Your Teenage Daughter”, and less like “The Ten Commandments” or
“The Sermon on the Mount”, it might be because THAT’S WHAT IT IS.

(… once again: more later).

Let’s talk about poverty.

Along with a related personal story, a friend of mine recently shared the following quote on her own blog:

“This is what we seek: a compassion that stands in awe of what the poor have to carry, rather than standing in judgment of how they carry it”. — Father Gregory Boyle

I don’t know about you, but I am in a position to hear a lot of opinions about how federal and state social services foster “dependence”, and/or encourage poor people to “take advantage” of the system. A vast majority of the people who have said things like this to me also call themselves “Christians”.

In a moment, I am going to have a little ‘come-to-Jesus’ with Christians who feel that this kind of attitude towards the poor is reasonable. But before I do that, I want to offer up this PBS documentary, called “Waging A Living” (click the green link). There seems to be an incredible amount of misinformation and assumptions in the world about what it’s like for people who have a full-time jobs, or several part-time jobs, and still don’t make an income above the poverty line.

Now, beloveds, I would like to kindly but firmly remind us what the Bible says about the poor:

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. – Proverbs 14:31

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. – Deuteronomy 15:7-8

When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. – Luke 14:14

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses. – Proverbs 28:27

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:17

There’s more, but I’ll leave us all with that for now. Seems crystal clear to me: shall we not aim for Father Boyle’s aspirational compassion? (Prayer hands).

Grace and peace,

Whitney

Excerpt from my book…

Healing My Religion (Working Title)

For my daughter, Evelyn. My hope is that I might leave you in this world with a sense of how the Sacred is alive within you.

And for my grandmother, also Evelyn, who loved me like Christ loved her.

Disclaimer:

This is not a story about a prodigal return to my Christian origins after years of living in sin. By many people’s standards, I am probably still ‘living in sin‘. Instead, this is my literary attempt to wrestle with my own religious tradition, acknowledging both the pain and the joy it has offered me.

Part I

Chapter 1 (In The Beginning)

I was born and raised in a suburb of Kansas City, KS – just outside of the “Bible Belt”. My parents took us to church every Sunday, and taught us to pray before dinner and before bedtime every day. I don’t think I knew that there were people who called themselves Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or Sikhs until well into my early adolescence, and I did not get exposed to a single piece of thoughtful dialogue about any of those spiritual perspectives until my junior year of college.

This is the backdrop for my earliest religious sensibilities.

My parents were – and still are – very decent, very hard working, and very generous people. They have always modeled to me a general benevolence towards humanity, which they would likely ascribe to their religious sensibilities. For me, however, being raised by socially responsible parents did not completely inoculate me against some of the uglier aspects of church culture.

Like most busy parents of small children, my mom and dad could not supervise every single Sunday School lecture I received, nor mediate every interaction with other kids or their parents in our wider Christian community. And at some point along the way, one of my Sunday School teachers (note: these were often volunteer parents, and not necessarily seminary graduates) explained to me that the only way anyone could expect to get into heaven was if they believed Jesus Christ was God’s only Son.

So, I’m 7 years old, and I repeat this revelatory new information at school one day.

I don’t know why I said it, other than that it had been said to me, and I had a pretty bad habit of sharing the secrets adults shared with me. I want to believe that somewhere in my 7 year-old brain, I must have thought I was trying to be helpful. Like, “Hey guys, FYI, there’s this religious test coming up that you do NOT wanna fail – the consequences are brutal. So, here’s the cheat sheet! Catch you on the flip side!”

Appropriately, many of the children in my elementary school class were upset by this announcement of mine. My teacher, and my parents were also very upset. And thank God they were, because it was my first big lesson in how religion could hurt other people, and that made an enormous impact on me.

(….. more later).

Eyes to see.

Alright, beloveds: we gotta talk about how easy it is to interpret the Bible for our own personal satisfaction.

Are you not guilty of this? I know I am.

On Monday of this week, I met two women protestors standing outside of a Planned Parenthood facility while on my way to a physical therapy appointment nearby. On a bit of a whim, I politely and sincerely asked them to tell me why they choose to stand there with their signs, what they are hoping to achieve through this demonstration, and why this issue means so much to them.

Alongside their seemingly sincere love for unborn babies, and professed love for the women who feel desperate enough to terminate a pregnancy, I also heard them express a lot of rage about Planned Parenthood in general. Anecdotally, I mentioned to them that when I did not have health insurance in 2007-2009, I received two annual exams, the HPV vaccine, and a birth control prescription from a Planned Parenthood provider. I’m aware that they also offer cancer screenings, although I did not mention this at the time.

One of the women standing there responded to me then by saying, “well, when I think of that, I think about the ‘double-minded man’ in the Bible, and I know I need to be single-minded. It doesn’t matter if these facilities sometimes do good things, they also do the worst thing, and I can’t be double-minded about it.”

Her explanation troubled me considerably, and here’s why: there is a verse in the book of James Chapter 1, which says “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (1:8, KJV). Fine. Now, let’s zoom out for second, and observe this verse in it’s context:

5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do”. – James 1:5-8, NIV

James encourages his reader to not be double-minded, or doubting, regarding their faith in God’s generosity. In other words, he may as well be saying, “when you ask God for wisdom, believe that He will give it you. If you do not believe that He will give it to you, you won’t be available to receive it”.

Do you see?

This scripture does NOT say: “when you decide that you alone know the mind and will of God on any one subject, make sure to dig into that conviction as hard as you can, and do not waiver from your opinion even if you are presented with contradictory information, or your fate will be that of a double-minded man”.

That’s not double-minded, that’s closed-minded, and that is in no way related to the instruction James gives the early church in this part of his letter.

I sincerely, and urgently believe that we HAVE TO make a commitment to examine our spiritual assumptions – in an ongoing way no matter how uncomfortable that may feel to each of us sometimes. Otherwise, we risk carrying around belief systems that are unsubstantiated and lifeless at best — or corrosive and dangerous at worst.