|Dr. Robert Puff|
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This issue features three columns by Bob Lively that have appeared in The Statesman.
"Bob Lively is the chaplain at Austin
and working families. He teaches on Sunday evenings at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church."
His articles and sermons direct people to surrender to God, express love, look within, and get out of their own way. He encourages diversity and points out where the politicization of Christianity is anti-diversity.
Bob Lively has written books and has audio tapes online. A Google search of his name will reveal more.
Bob Lively: Being a Christian means denial of self
Having God on your side doesn't mean he is taking sides.
I've heard it said that evangelism is selling a dream. However, from where I sit watching the passing parade, we Christians appear to be more divided than the tip of a snake's tongue as to exactly what it is we are peddling.
The humble and loving Jesus I read about in the New Testament invites any who would follow him to deny the self -- to put aside the ego's agenda before taking the first step in what the church calls discipleship. Consequently, following Jesus requires that we die to the self we created out of necessity in childhood, and have both promoted and defended vigorously for the whole of our lives. Believe me, dying to our beloved egos is no small challenge. In fact, before we can do this, we must first decide to place our trust wholly in the mystery that is God, instead of relying entirely upon our wits in our pursuit of power, approbation, status and the symbols of success.
The Apostle Paul calls "new creations" those who have effectively died to the selves they once cobbled together. The fact is that these souls have been so humbled by the power of grace that it would not likely dawn on them to mention to anyone that they had been born again. That's because a big part of what it means to experience any authentic spiritual transformation is to give up the need to draw attention to one's self.
These enlightened folks are so invested in getting out of their own way that they have no interest in being heard from, much less admired. They appear content to let the spirit that is love speak through them and because of this, their foremost expression is peace. Simply put, their lives have become the antithesis of the fear that drives the rest of us to garner some recognition and perhaps even a little praise.
St. Francis once said, "Our walking anywhere to preach is in vain unless our walking is our preaching." Every transformed man or woman I've ever encountered has dared to walk the talk with such integrity that his or her life has become a sermon proclaimed without words.
However, many Christians have made it their goal to win as much political power as possible as they seek to impose their judgmental world view upon every level of municipal, state and federal government. These people say they are dedicated to following Jesus but, ironically, Christ resisted every attempt to politicize his message.
Because these folks don't seem much interested in introspection and the humility that comes from being in awe of one's own dire need for grace, they have yet to discover that love, and not coercion, is the solution to every human problem. They remain so convinced that God is on their side that it seldom dawns on them that being right, or winning an argument, is not what it means to be spiritual.
And yet those who have dared to become a "new creation" know that expressing love is always consistent with God's will.
This appears to be the age of born-again Christianity where many (but certainly not all) evangelicals have turned their innate fear of cultural diversity into a strident political theology that advances a worldview that excludes, or worse, condemns those whom they view as different from themselves.
But how can God not love diversity when it is God who made us all so different? All good spirituality, regardless of the religious tradition out of which it is expressed, not only accepts diversity but celebrates it as evidence of God's goodness.
Yet every fear-based religion ever invented remains what it has been ever since our spiritual ancestors were evicted from the garden -- the best means possible to avoid walking with God.
Bob Lively: Faith To obtain peace, we must first look within
Some declare they want peace, yet in the next breath condemn those
who would make war. Such an expression is evidence of the ego's
startling ineptness when it comes to grasping matters of the spirit.
For if the ego desires anything, even peace, it knows no serenity
because by definition, desire is yearning, and this is serenity's
antithesis. The act of condemnation eclipses the essence of the Holy
Spirit, a power sufficiently gracious to accept every soul and
cherish those who would oppose its purposes by prosecuting conflict.
"Disarmament begins within," the Dalai Lama proclaims.
"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters
compared to what lies within us," Henry David Thoreau said. "And when
we bring what is within us to the world, miracles happen."
I say that what we might bring to this world would be far less than a
miracle if we are not willing to be transformed, or in the words of
necessarily cobble together to survive is every bit as
self-interested as a 2-year-old clutching a new chocolate bar; and
until we know another way, we will want only our way and we will
strive for triumph and recognition even if we leave others lying
Winning is not only the ego's agenda, but also its god. It becomes,
in the words of theologian Paul Tillich, "its ultimate concern" or
that which it secretly worships. The ego inquires as to the
requirements of inner peace as though this great blessing is
something to achieve in the way one might earn an advanced degree.
However, serenity can never be earned; it is received as a gift
possessing the power to transform the human soul from reflexively
self-defended to meek and willingly vulnerable. In fact, the meeker
the soul becomes, the more profound the peace it expresses.
So we must pray for three blessings: (1) the willingness to trust God
far more than we trust in our own clever strategies; (2) the strength
to surrender several times daily our habituated need to win, or to be
perceived as right, and/or to be in control over what is not ours to
control; and (3) the wisdom to know that expressing love, no matter
the circumstances, is always right and supersedes every other
Earnest prayer ushers in the humility that serves as the requisite
for all true transformation, and any time a once-hardened soul is
made malleable by power of grace, the Holy Spirit is free to work.
The result is an inner peace whose purpose is to express nothing
other than itself.
The ego might attempt to mimic reconciliation, but all real
peacemaking is the consequence of transformation. Until the soul
experiences this turnabout, it will express nothing more than the
silliness of a religion made superficial by its need to impress the
world, all in the name of God.
Love is all that is eternal, but don't expect the ego to understand
this. Its compulsion to win is far too great for it to pause long
enough to pray, much less to hear the spirit whisper the
not-so-wonderful news that the ego must die before the spirit can
take root. Jesus was not all that concerned with religion, but he was
passionate about the condition of one's soul, and this is why he
said, "There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile,
but the things that come out are what defile."
Until serenity consumes us, we will make war and not know why; but
once our souls belong to the spirit, we will not only make peace, we
will actually become its expression. And then we will know what it
means to be truly alive.
Three years ago, my brother drove our father to the hospital to undergo surgery. Unbeknown to us at the time, but likely not to him, he would leave this life eight weeks later and we -- his sons and wife -- would grieve with a depth of pain we had never before experienced.
Our father was so cherished and of such great importance to us that we could not begin to imagine what our lives would be like without him and his ebullient spirit, his infectious sense of humor, his wisdom, his exemplary integrity, his unbridled curiosity and his rarest of gifts, the ability to express love in everything he did.
Sometime after his death, my mother told me that the night before his surgery, he reclined in his chair and became uncharacteristically silent. She watched as he folded his strong farm-boy hands as if he were about to pray. He'd never prayed out loud before, except when he was offering words of gratitude for a meal she had prepared. Though her eyes had long been blinded by disease, she knew how to read him like a book and wisely intuited that the moment they were about to share required of her a silent, loving empathy.
No doubt, she could not bear to admit that this precious moment would be the last intimate conversation they would share together in the sanctity of their home. After all, they'd been sharing heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul almost since the day she walked into his principal's office in Groveton in search of a teaching position.
He hired her on the spot, because, as he liked to tell us, she was every bit as beautiful as she was brilliant. Four months later they were married, a union that brought into this world four grateful, if a bit mischievous sons. And from the beginning, our mother and father would teach us that the expression of an authentic, no-nonsense love is not only this life's highest privilege but also the foremost reason why we are on this planet.
After he folded his hands on that night three years ago, my mother heard him sigh. A flood of tears flowed shamelessly down his cheeks as more emotion than he knew what to do with filled his throat. I imagine him retrieving the handkerchief that he was never without. No doubt he wiped his eyes and blew his nose hard, so as to purchase sufficient time to make his voice ready to speak what he knew needed to be said. And then he spoke with clarity what he absolutely knew he had to say while there was still time.
As my grief-stricken mother likely leaned toward him to make certain she heard, he summarized his eight-plus decades in a simple declaration. "I have joy," he said. There can be no doubt that he knew his life was all but done and his face-to-face encounter with God was imminent, and yet he was neither sad nor afraid. Instead he described the spiritual gift that attends a life well lived in these three unforgettable words: "I have joy!"
In 83 years of life he traveled from being a dirt-poor sharecropper's son to a living legend in his profession. The success he enjoyed brought him both an enormous sense of satisfaction and no small amount of financial gain. Nevertheless, it was his uncommon willingness to offer and to receive love that blessed as he blessed us.
Scripture teaches that joy comes in the morning, but three years ago this week, in a house in North Dallas, it also came in the night to a man who knew as well as it can be known what it means to make of one's life a consistent and beautiful expression of love.
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