The desire for truth is an intricate part of human nature and is essential to our human existence.  Without believing in truth, we can never make decisions essential for our survival.  We have a ingrained desire to believe that truth exists. The challenge in the modern era is determining truth.  Our decisions on truth are normally a community process, deriving truth from all those who are in our relationship circles.  People make truth decisions every day based on their perceptions of the world and their interactions with their relationshipss.   Even scientists document truth by incrementally publishing papers that are actively reviewed by their peers.

The arise of social media and a constant barrage of information has fundamentally impacted our methods of evaluating truth.  It has had impacted politics, religion, society, and even family relationships.  We have broken into multiple social media based groups, with each group advocating a specific version of truth.

As the religion based groups have interacted with social media, the more fundamentalist of the groups have become even more entrenched and extreme, with their view of truth being reinforced by the news articles and postings by others in their closed social media circle.  Their need to stand with their view of truth overrides even family relationships, with truth becoming even more important than the relationship of a parent with a son or daughter.

This became apparent recently when a high profile radio show personality and his wife publicly said their own daughter was going to hell because she has a theological difference with them on same sex attraction.  A flurry of social media postings supported the phrase “Truth and love”, advocating that the parents were making the right decision.   The parent’s social media based relationship circle maintained that their version of “Truth” was more important than the most sacred relationship between a parent and child.

As Christians practicing the contemplative life, however, we become aware that truth is much more abstract and mysterious.  We see the mystery of the Trinity, the mystery of the Incarnation, and the mystery of the resurrection and return of Christ.  We become aware of the mysterious hope of seeing the face of God. We see other mysteries, too numerous to list.  We see that truth itself is a mystery.

I continue to fall for the trap of believing in the existence of truth, but my hope now is in the mysteries.  I believe the mystery of communion with the Triune God and the mystery of communion with my fellow humans is more important than any truth.  My hope and prayer is that in my life, and in all humankind, communion wins and becomes the real and final truth.

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It was unusually warm for January as I took my Saturday morning walk up to Buzzard’s Roost.  This rock outcropping is at a most amazing place, as the Chapman and Monte-Sano mountains come together at an angle in the foothills of the Appalachians.  The formations of the mountain have the effect of amplifying the sound of the city, while still providing the wondrous sounds of the forest.

As I cross from Oak Park trail towards the creek at the base of Buzzard’s Roost, I hear a rustling sound in the forest.  I stop, look, and listen.  First one deer, then two more are traveling, not more than 50 meters in front of me.  I stop, look at them, and one of them stares at me. I enjoy the wonder of locking eyes with God’s beautiful creation.

I make my way up across the creek and up the trail to Buzzard’s Roost. I take my spot, close my eyes, and listen.  At first, I hear the roar of the highway, with cars and trucks miles in the distance.   I then practice listening for the stillness.  In my mind I blot out the city noise, and I listen.  I hear very little, but then the sounds start to build.  I hear a squirrel in the leaves, then a nearby bird singing a song.  Then, off in the distance, another bird responds.  The two go back and forth, one near and one far.  The sounds of the forest increase in loudness in a beautiful symphonic melody as scuttling squirrels, rustling birds, and the two song birds all add their beautiful notes.  I get lost in the moment, then as suddenly as it began the songbirds ceased their courtship.   The sounds of the forest grew dim, and I was again aware of the sounds of the city. My eyes are now open, looking at the forest around me.

I once again close my eyes, and focus on listening.  I hear squirrels once again, then the trickling of the creek below.   A new symphony arises as the sounds of the trickling water go down and across the rocks below.  I get lost again in the moment, enjoying the water in the forest.

Time passed, but I do not know how much.   I enjoyed the moment, then started my path back down the trail, across the creek, and down the mountain.   It has been a good day.

Posted in Mysteries

Morality and Law

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, Martin Luther’s pinning of the 95 theses on the wall.  In Lutheran magazine articles and churches, we are having classes and reminders of the theology of the Reformation.    In the January 2017 issue of the publication of the ELCA, “Living Lutheran”, David Ratke has a good reminder of “How Lutherans read the Bible”.   He lists the textbook description of the “law”.  “Scripture contains both law and gospel. The law tells us what to do. The problem, of course, is that we can’t possibly succeed in doing all that we should. No matter how many good deeds we do, there is always one more to be done. The law is a mirror that tells us we fall short and can’t succeed in earning God’s love. The law drives us to Christ.” I understand why Dr. Radke describes the law this way.  The audience of this magazine is Lutheran, and he is dean at a Lutheran University.  This is the correct description for a Lutheran audience studying the Reformation.

However, I would like to expound a bit on the law.  In my city, I can go to a website and download the “Law” for my city.  It lists each offense in the city and penalties for that offense. I can do the same at the state and Federal levels.  Each government entity has documents that list the law and the penalties for breaking the law.   The Bible isn’t the “law” in the same sense.  It doesn’t list the law in the same way that my city, state, or federal government does.  And, for penalties, the only one it mentions is death.  When Christians try to read the Bible and get a list of laws, they get a confusing mix of stories that often seem out of touch with modern society.  Just like I believe the Bible wasn’t intended to be a science textbook, I don’t believe it is a “law book” in the legal sense of the term.

That leaves us with the challenge of defining the law when we don’t have a legal textbook.  As children of God, we are created in the image of God, and the law is written in our hearts. The law gets hidden from us by the brokenness in creation and in our own lives.   The role of the Spirit is to reveal the law to us and to convict us of the law in our own lives.  It is not our job to express or reveal the law in other people’s lives.  The Spirit is only revealing the law to us and revealing how it effects our own lives.  Our role is to participate in that revealing by reading and reflecting on the Bible, by participating in the sacraments, by participating in the liturgy and in the liturgical cycle of the church, and by having regular times of prayer.  As we participate in the life of the church and in our own prayer life, the Spirit reveals the law to each of us.  In the wonderful working of the Spirit, he simultaneously reveals to us the “Gospel”, the wonderful good news that God loves us as his children and offers us freedom, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

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The Mysterious

I resolve each moment and each day of this year to renew my eyes as a child and be open to the mysterious.  I resolve to enjoy the mysteries of squirrels playing on the fence, of hawks catching the wind flowing up the mountain, of song birds foraging for food. I resolve to enjoy the mystery of a hug at just the right moment. I resolve to enjoy the mystery of a small child striking a conversation with a stranger in the checkout line. I resolve to see and enjoy the flowing of the Spirit of the Triune God.  I resolve to see and enjoy all the mysteries to which I have been blinded for so long.

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Sound of Buzzard’s Roost

On the eve of the New Year, I took an early morning hike up to a rock outcropping on the Land Trust trail called Buzzard’s Roost.  There is a light frost and the sun is rising over Monte Sano.  In the coolness of the morning, squirrels are busy collecting food for the coming winter and small birds are about getting a morning meal.

The Buzzard’s Roost outcropping is formed where Monte Sano and Chapman Mountains connect at an angle, with Huntsville in the distance.  This rock cropping is not about the view, trees have long blocked any view of the city.  This rock cropping is about the sound.  The angle of the two mountains amplifies the sounds of the city.   At this point, I can hear the traffic of a waking city, people going to work, running errands, and going about their lives.  But, underneath the sounds of the city, I hear the slight sounds of a waking forest.  I hear the squirrels scurrying in the autumn leaves and the birds rustling the vegetation. I hear an ever so slight breeze in the tops of the trees.  At the base of the cliff, I hear the spring gurgling from the rocks.

As we start a New Year, we are overwhelmed with the amplified noise of news, politics, and divisions.  Right now, I take a break, listening to the flow of the quietness.

Posted in Mysteries

Advent and Hope

Most of all, Advent is about hope.  We hope that all will be in communion with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.   We hope, not only that all people will be in communion, but all creation.  Even though we do not understand the complete mystery of ultimate and total communion, we believe and hope.

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Mystery of Love

This time of year, we ask our children to believe in magic.  We ask them to believe in the magic of Santa Claus, of the North Pole, of Elves, and of Reindeer.  We ask them to believe that in one magical moment on Christmas Eve, a reindeer drawn sleigh transports Santa Claus and all the gifts into every home on the planet.

As we grow beyond childhood,  we mature beyond the childish magic.  We realize many parts of the world do not celebrate Santa Claus.  We realize Santa Claus does not exist. We realize there is no factory of elves at the North Pole.  We realize the impossibility of a reindeer drawn sleigh.   As we get older still, we become aware of poverty in the world, and we become aware that most children do not receive gifts at Christmas.  As the magic fades away, though, a parent’s hope is that the mystery remains.  Our hope is that in the loss of childhood innocence and magic, the mysterious love and hope of Christmas remains.

Christianity is very similar.  As a child we believe in the events of the first 11 chapters of Genesis as though they were magical events.   We believe in the magic of a prayer where we ask a benevolent God for magical gifts and those magical gifts appear.  As we mature, we see a world that is suffering.   We see poverty, death, destruction, and evil.  We suffer loss and hurt in our own lives. Finally, the day comes where we realize we no longer believe in the magic.

This year, I come to Advent once again.  My belief in magic may have gone away, but a small light of hope in the mysterious still exists.   I find myself still believing in the mysterious, but not necessarily the magic.  I believe in the mystery of Mary, mother of the Christ Child.  I believe in the mystery of God coming to Earth.  I believe in the mystery of the Shepherds and the Magi.  I believe in the mystery of the arrival of the Kingdom of God.  I believe in the mystery of the Trinity, the mystery of the resurrection, and the mystery of the 2nd Advent.

Most of all, I still believe in the faint light of the mystery of love.  This Advent, I am again drawn to my favorite passage in all the traditions of Christianity, 1 Corinthians 13. This is the chapter that tells us that no matter the loss of magic in the world, the mystery of faith, hope, and love still remain.  Most of all, the mystery of love still shines.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

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