Beyond sacred and secular

Humanity has created a great duality between the sacred and the secular (or profane, if you prefer). Even though we say that God is everywhere, many, many people perceive there to be a huge gulf between that which is of God and that which is not of God. Don’t believe me? Just think about it for a minute. Here are a few examples of typical dualistic thinking on the sacred vs. the secular:

  • Religious people and non-religious people
  • Members of churches and non-members (oh, and for many you have to be a member of the “right” church)
  • A church building and everywhere else
  • The Bible and every other book
  • Church music and all other music
  • Communion and all other meals
  • The spirit (or soul) and body

(To listen to the audio version of the sermon, click here).

I’m sure I could go on. Now, as I see it, this dualistic understanding of God and the world is not only false, but detrimental. I firmly believe there is no distinction between sacred and secular because I believe that there is nothing that God is not in.  And, I believe that this dualistic understanding of the world hinders our spiritual growth as individuals and communities. Why? There are a number of reasons.

First of all, the more one grows spiritual, the bigger ones’ box for God becomes. You find God more and more in the most unlikely places. It no longer works for you to say that God is only in church, or only in peace, or only in protest marches or only in classical music. We can’t limit God that way.

Second, this duality has perpetuated the idea that some people are better than, or more important than, other people. It purports that God loves some people and not others. Clearly Jesus didn’t buy this. He treated all people with love and compassion. We can’t say that God is everywhere and then act as if God is in religious people and not other people, or God is in beautiful people and not in ugly people, or that God is in sober people, but not in addicts, or that God is in healthy people, but not in unhealthy people, or that God is in straight people, but not in gay people… the list goes on and it doesn’t work. There is no person God is not in.

The more we think about it, the more we realize that this duality has had many negative consequences. It has continued the oppression of different groups of people throughout the ages. It has convinced us that our sexuality is something only to be used for procreation and any pleasure derived otherwise is sinful. It has convinced women to be submissive and subordinate even when abused by their spouses. And it has compartmentalized God into the spaces of Sunday mornings at church, or the few minutes that one takes to pray during the week.

It’s time to be done with this dualistic thinking so that we remember that every place, every moment is an opportunity to experience the divine. Joan Chittester has written,

“[God] is here – right here – all the while. The clear conscious recognition that God is with us – whoever we are, whatever we are, wherever we are – makes God, God. It is not our virtue that captures God, like salt on the tail of a bird. It is simply of the nature of God to be in and with creation. In and with all of us. All the time… We don’t have to merit God… We have God. It is not God we’re missing. It is the awareness of God in the commonness of life that we fail to cultivate.”

Experiencing the sacred is not ramming your beliefs down someone else’s throat. It’s stopping to see God in another person. It’s recognizing that the Spirit is always in the room. It’s giving thanks for the ability to breathe, to give a hug, to offer a hand, to enjoy a sunset. It’s joy shared with friends, and tears shared with friends.

Experiencing the sacred is also being able to yell at God when you’re angry. It’s knowing that even when times are rough, God is still there to offer strength and love, and to help make a new way. It’s knowing that even in the worst places in the world… even in the concentration camps, the refuge camps, the prisons, the streets of Calcutta, the aftermath of Boston and 911 and the tsunamis, there was compassion and help.

God is BEYOND the secular and the sacred. It is time to let go of the duality, time to stop seeing anything as outside of God’s realm, and time to become more aware of the movement of the spirit in, through and around everything.



Everyone is Creative

Everyone is creative, by design. Some people like to deny their creative abilities, but that’s because we’ve defined creativity too narrowly. Creativity is not only about being an artist, musician or writer. Creativity is something we do each and every day as we create the spaces we live in, as we create ideas, thoughts, words, as we create gardens, meals, relationships and so much more. We create constantly.

(To listen to the full audio of the sermon, click here.)

I consider God to be the creator of all, in an intelligent-design sort of way. And I believe that we were created in the image of the Divine, in the sense that we are capable of reflecting the Divine when we love and when we create out of that love. In this  very real sense we are co-creators with God.

Now, this concept tends to make people very uncomfortable. What do you mean I’m a co-creator with God? God is THE CREATOR, I don’t do anything on the same level as God. I believe that type of thinking is a cop-out. It enables us to shrug off our responsibility in creation.

Nope… I believe that we are co-creators with God. I believe that the Divine Spark is in each of us and continues to nudge us toward moving ourselves, others and this world to a more healthy, whole, loving place. But God is also not a puppeteer and we’re not dangling on strings… God doesn’t make us do anything, we need to decide that we will be part of God’s team, that we will open ourselves up to God’s leading to create this better place.

Julia Cameron, in her book “The Artist’s Way,” comments, “When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives.” In other words, once we remove our fingers from the self-imposed dams around our creativity, we unleash our creative power and God’s at the same time. Almost anything can happen from that point!

Let me talk about one last thing we create… our words and our thoughts.

Below is a picture of two water crystals. Dr. Masaru Emoto created a book of stunning pictures of frozen water crystals after they have been subjected to non-physical stimuli. The biggest question was about consciousness. Could thoughts affect the shape and size of crystals?

He put signs on bottles of water that expressed human emotions and ideas. Some were positive, such as “Thank you” and “Love” and others were negative such as the sign that read “You make me sick, I will kill you.” Even science did not believe that this could make an impact on the water crystals, but it did! The water with the positive messages formed beautiful crystals; the water with the negative messages became ugly and malformed.

Now, think of how much of life is made up of water. How much of the surface of the planet is water? How much of our own bodies are water? (70-90%) If thoughts can do that to water, imagine what they can do to us.

Here’s the clincher… we create our thoughts. Perhaps you’d like to dispute this fact with me? Perhaps, you say, when we get in a very emotional state – being depressed or angry or in love – there are other factors and we aren’t in complete control of our thoughts. Perhaps, but I think the point is debatable. By and large, on a daily basis, we can choose what our minds dwell on. We can choose our attitude. We can choose what we say to other people. And even what we don’t say still has an effect. I know when I am receiving angry energy from another person. Now I wonder how that affects my body? And subjected to that over and over again, what does it do?

It makes you think, doesn’t it? And hopefully it helps you realize once more that we ARE co-creators with God… even at the very basic level of our thoughts and words.

As theologian Matthew Fox has said, “Whether the future presents itself as still more beauty or as still more pain depends upon our choices as we respond to our role as co-creators in this ever un-folding creation.”



From Doubt to Faith

Sometimes people will ask me if I ever doubt (in regards to God, of course). And they often seem surprised when I say “of course, all the time.” Pastors apparently aren’t supposed to doubt or question… ever. What they don’t realize is that I have complete faith in the existence of Something More in this universe – call it God, the Divine, Love energy, the Absolute, Goddess, Spirit or Higher Power. Whatever it is, I’ve felt it, experienced it and even heard it whisper.

(For the full audio version of this sermon, click here.)

My doubts, 99.9% of the time, are about what I believe about the Divine or what I’ve been taught about the Divine, not about whether the Divine actually exists. Let’s face it, there are many things that the institutional church insists that we believe, or do, that make no sense, or just don’t jive with an all-loving, all-forgiving God. Yet, as far as I remember, Jesus didn’t try to force specific beliefs or religious rules and laws on anyone. As one Jewish saying goes, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. All the rest is commentary.” Our churches are getting way too hung up on the commentary.

Moving from doubt to faith isn’t about finding some way to make the churches’ teachings palatable. It’s about keeping faith in the existence of Something More, while sorting through the commentary. The commentary deserves to be doubted. It was created by fallible human beings. For example, I have a student in my class who was told in Catholic grade school that he had to love God more than his mother. That made no sense to him. As far as he could tell, his mother did much more for him than God ever did. So, at a very young age he decided that the church wasn’t for him. Even now he calls himself an atheist; however, I would say that he is a very spiritual young man and is in touch with the Divine in a number of other ways. He doubted what he was supposed to believe, but has faith in his own spiritual path and experience of Something More.

Sometimes we forget that God is more than what we’ve been taught. We can let go of what we’ve been taught without letting go of God. We can move from doubt to faith by letting go of the things that don’t make sense and allowing ourselves to follow our heart and our experiences.

It took a Holy 2×4 to get Saul (aka “Paul” after his enlightenment) to let go of the commentary and focus on his experience of God. If you remember, Saul was a devout Jew who relentlessly persecuted Jesus’ followers because he felt they were violating the rules and teachings of the Jewish religion. It essentially amounted to an inquisition.

One day, on the road to Damascus, Saul saw a blinding light and heard a voice saying “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” Saul fell on the ground and said, “Who are you Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, now get up and go into the city and I’ll let you know what to do from there.” When the voice and light disappeared, Saul was left unable to see.

Three days later Jesus sent Ananias to lay hands on Saul, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. Saul got up, was baptized, and had something to eat. His transformation, from doubt (complete unbelief actually) in Jesus to complete faith in his experience of Jesus, was finished. He began to preach and proclaim to everyone that he was wrong, and Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah.

Metaphorically, Saul was blinded by his ignorance, his unwillingness to see a new perspective, and his tenacious adherence to his religious traditions and history. Then his eyes were opened by his experience and he saw everything in a new light. He found faith in Jesus.

Just like Saul, where we see and experience the Divine each day has no bearing on the dogma and doctrine of any religious institution. It’s really about being willing to see and experience love. Do we need a Holy 2×4? Or will we have trust and faith in our personal experiences of the Divine?

Mother Superior, in the Sound of Music, told the distraught and questioning Maria, “I always try to keep faith in my doubts.” Let go of the commentary if it doesn’t work for you. But keep faith in the loving, creative, compassionate presence of the universe. Keep faith in the love, beauty and synchronicity you experience in life.



Thomas, my Patron Saint

When I was in seminary one of my professors looked at me one day and said, “Kaye, I think Thomas is your patron saint.” I was pleased with his comment. In academia it’s a good thing to be curious, to push the limits, to wonder, to doubt and to question. Not so much in the church.

(For the full audio of this sermon, click here.)

In my first appointment as an associate pastor, I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be a pastor because I questioned God, and the church and myself. Did I have any faith? Was my faith meager and weak compared to my clergy colleagues because I had these questions? Was my sometimes mustard-seed-faith enough to be a pastor? So many of the doctrine I was supposed to support made no sense to me: Jesus dying for my sins, original sin, heaven and hell, the virgin birth, God “the Father.” I felt perfectly heretical.

It took years and a different church before I could fully convince myself that doubting and questioning were an important and necessary part of faith. Theologian Paul Tillich once said, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.” Sometimes people will ask me if I ever have doubts (because certainly pastors never have doubts), and then they are surprised when I tell them “of course, all the time.” The key is that I engage my doubts and questions until I have come to peace within my heart about what I believe. Sometimes I have to come to peace with not knowing. I don’t let my doubts and questions drive me away from God. Truthfully, they may have driven me away from organized religion had we not formed this open-minded, question-encouraging community that honors each person’s individual spiritual journey.

I believe that Jesus honored each person’s spiritual journey and met each one right where they were. Thomas is the perfect example. Thomas just couldn’t bring himself to believe that Jesus, after his death, had suddenly appeared out of thin air, in the middle of a locked room, and spoken to his friends. Thomas needed to see it for himself. And I don’t blame him, I think most of us would be the same way. So what does Jesus do? He comes back and shows Thomas the marks in his hands and side, and Thomas believes. Isn’t that beautiful? Jesus meets Thomas right where he is; he comes back and says, “here, touch me, believe.”

Jesus never got upset when people asked questions, though he rarely gave them hard and fast answers. Usually he answered a question with a question of his own, or with a parable – something to make them think. You see, for Jesus, thinking was good! He wanted them to mull it over, to work through it until it made sense to them. It’s not unlike refusing to do your child’s mat problems, but helping them to work through the problems on their own.

I completely understand why people don’t want anyone to question their faith or their religion. It’s uncomfortable for everyone involved, it’s scary (what if what you’ve always believed you decide was wrong?), and you might have to change. And, I understand why churches, priests, religions, pastors have discouraged people from questioning… because they really don’t have the answers. They are afraid that if you realize this, you may leave. However, they don’t realize that they could give you something so much more valuable and fulfilling – a place to explore, question, evolve and deepen your faith in a community of seekers.

Remember, we are each on a sacred journey. Journeys cause us to evolve and grow. Please doubt. Please question. Please wrestle with what you find until you come to feel it in your heart to be true. But know that someday even that truth may again feel in sufficient as you grow. We must constantly be open to changing.

Jesus met each person right where they were and gave them something to chew on to help them grow. The Divine, the Spirit the Holy One STILL works that way. Each of us is met in the place where we question – teachers appear, answers appear, more questions appear, experiences happen. We grow slowly but surely when we engage the questions. It’s hard at times, and frustrating at times, and unsettling almost all the time, but it is what makes this sacred journey worth it.


Does your faith require resurrection?

While planning our Easter service for this year I ran across a hymn called “Cristo Vive” or “Christ is Risen” that said, “If the Lord had never risen, we’d have nothing to believe.” And I thought to myself, really? Is it true? If Jesus had never risen, if we had no resurrection story, would we have nothing to believe? It’s possible that the resurrection story is the reason Jesus got such great press in the ancient world. So, maybe his story wouldn’t have spread as well without it, but would we actually have no God to believe in? Would we not even believe in the teachings of Jesus?

(For the full audio version of the sermon, click here.)

I’ve never really known what to make of the resurrection stories. Each of the gospel accounts differ a bit from the others. People have argued for centuries over whether Jesus was simply resuscitated, whether his body was stolen, whether the accounts were simply about visions, whether he really died or it just seemed like his body was dead.  We can debate that until the cows come home, but in the end we really don’t know. And, I’m convinced that it doesn’t matter (or at least not to my faith).

Okay… this may be a little bit radical, but I’m going there anyway… Jesus is not the only death and resurrection story out there. In fact, there are numerous stories in ancient Greek religions of mortals resurrecting from the dead and being transformed into deities: Asclepius, Achilles, and Hercules. Then we have Adonis who, like Jesus, was born of a virgin, died and was resurrected. And, some scholars claim that Dionysus had a miraculous birth, a mortal mother, a god for a father, as well as a death and resurrection.

These are just a few examples to make my point which is that the concept of death and resurrection was not unheard of in ancient times. Actually, it’s not what made Jesus special. What truly makes him special, what should motivate us to follow his example and teaching is just that… his example and teachings!

It is clear that Jesus had something amazing. He had a relationship with God that was so close, and so intense that he lived his life by the power of his relationship to pure, unconditional Love.

Seriously, do we have a grip on the enormity of Jesus’ understanding, closeness and conviction of God that enabled him to do what he did? When he could have had a nice, normal life, instead he chose to live in poverty to share his God of love, equality, non-violence and justice. He spoke out publicly against the powers of Rome and the powers of the Jewish religion,  risking his life to share a dream… a dream of a world where people ate together; a dream of a world that did not separate one person from another based on gender, status, age, ability; a dream where people followed the “spirit of the law” (which was love) instead of the “letter of the law.” And he never gave up that dream, that hope, that ministry, that passion, that mission. No matter how hard it got, no matter how dangerous it became, he believed so deeply in empowering the people to love themselves, to love God and to love others that he wouldn’t… couldn’t give up. And so he loved until the end, extending his forgiveness and his love even to those who condemned him. Then they killed him with a horrible method of execution: crucifixion on a cross of wood.

We have to look at him in wonder and ask (in the words of Michael  Morwood), “Why, Jesus, do you believe? How can you believe in a good and loving God when life does this to you?”

I want that. I want what Jesus had. I want to believe to the very core of my being that I’m loved and loveable. I want to know that I have the essence of the Divine in me. I want to live out of that all the time. I want the peace and the serenity; I want the boldness and the chutzpah that kind of faith provided Jesus.

I get closer, one baby step at a time, to where Jesus was, but I’m still completely in awe. I still want the kind of faith he had. And his faith had nothing to do with whether he was resurrected or not. His faith was based in his experience of the Divine. That is available to all of us!

Philip Gulley, in his book “The Evolution of Faith,” asks the question, “Who was Jesus?” And then answers with this:

“One whose awareness of the Divine Presence within him was so keen, and his response to the Divine Presence so full, that he was empowered to live and love so powerfully that those who encountered him were often made whole themselves and more fully equipped to say yes to that same Divine presence that was also in them.  We can be like that Jesus. We can be like him when we say yes to the Divine Presence that is also in us, as thoroughly as we are able. As we do that, our lives and the lives of others, will be transformed.”

That is what Easter is about… saying “yes” to the Divine presence IN EACH OF US so that we might be transformed. So that we might be renewed and refreshed, that we might be empowered, that we might know compassion, that we might be able to look at the messes in our lives and say, “Okay, Jesus, you held onto God in the midst of the mess in your life… I will hang onto that same faith that you held onto and from which nothing could shake you.”

I know I’m not supposed to covet, but I want what Jesus had.

Happy Easter,