Soil of the Soul

You know, Jesus was pretty savvy with his parables, but we too often take them at face value or dismiss them as cute little stories. And unfortunately, sometimes scripture decides to explain the parables for us, so we don’t think too deeply about it. Take the parable of the good soil, for example (Luke 8:4-15), it is an amazing metaphor explaining the state of our souls and what it takes to respond to the Divine in our lives and to grow spiritually.

Side note: Jesus seminar scholars believe that, while the actual parable was probably authentic to Jesus, the explanation most likely was not because “Such a distinction between “us” and “them” contravenes much of Jesus’ fundamental teaching.”(The Five Gospels, by Funk, Hoover and the Jesus Seminar, p. 307)

This familiar parable goes something like this… A sower went out to sow some seed, and as he sowed some of the seeds fell on the footpath, some in the rocks, some in the thorns and some in the good soil.

Clearly, the sower is God. The seed can be interpreted as many things such as the word of God, the nudgings of the Divine, our potential, and the love of God.

The seeds lands in four different places which represent the soil, or receptivity, of our souls to the Divine. Depending on our life circumstances, the people we associate, what we’ve experienced and whether we are part of a nurturing spiritual community, our soil may be many different compositions of the four types.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

FOOTPATH – If our soul resembles a footpath we imagine hard-packed, well-traveled ground. If the seeds of our potential, or the nudgings of the Divine, or the pull toward spiritual growth, all fall on the hardened surface of our souls, what does that mean? Maybe we’re too stuck in our ways, or too likely to listen to what others have always told us to be open to something new. Maybe we prefer to follow the path more traveled because it is the path of least resistance, we don’t want to question or risk trying a different way. Perhaps we’re creatures of habit, unwilling to divert from our usual path… just like we take the same route to the grocery store ever time.

ROCKS – If our souls resemble rocky ground the seed of God will have a difficult time taking root. And if it does, the roots are liable to be shallow and the plants will be at the mercy of the elements. Tough times come along and those fragile plants wither in the sun, are washed away in big rains or are uprooted easily in the wind. Rocks that keep us from having depth, substance and self-awareness may be things like bitterness, anger, hurt, shame, guilt, selfishness, ego, fear, or even very little desire for personal growth.

THORNS – The nudgings of the Divine can grow up in the thorns of our souls, but will most likely be choked out before they get too big. There is no room for them to grow, nor is it a priority to help them grow. Thorns may be the multitude of worries and concerns we have. We would prefer to let our minds dwell on these things than on things of the spirit. Thorns may look like excessive business… we claim we have no time for the Divine (except maybe for Sunday mornings). Thorns may be the ego wanting its own way, its own agenda or may be co-dependence on others and unhealthy attachments to things, ideas, needs.

GOOD SOIL – If you are a serious gardener, you know that to grow healthy plants you need to good soil 1prepare good soil to put them in. Typically this means tilling the soil, adding nutrients and fertilizers, rotating crops, having the right pH balance and the right mixture of sand clay, silt and organic material for what you’re planting. It’s a lot of work to make good soil! Metaphorically, I believe this means first and foremost that our spiritual growth is a priority in our lives. We need to cultivate within ourselves the ability to be open-minded, flexible, and curious. We need to truly listen to and process the wisdom those in our lives we consider our spiritual mentors. A variety of spiritual practices may be important, plus new ideas, new experiences and new places to expand our minds and our understandings of life. And we need to attend to the rocks and thorns in our lives!

Think about it: How would you describe the ‘soil’ of your heart and soul at this time in your life?

I think, by and large, we expect the seeds of God to grow in whatever soil we give to God without any thought of preparing our souls to be receptive. Our society and our culture moves so fast these days that we haven’t cultivated what it takes to plant outside gardens and care for them, much less worry about how fertile the ground of our own beings are. It is a commitment, yes. But to reap the benefits – a harvest of peace, joy, perseverance, patience, kindness, generosity – we have to give the seeds a good place to grow.

Love & Light!




Speaking from the heart

One of the things I’ve learned about preaching is that I have to follow the energy. If I have no energy for a subject, if my heart isn’t in it, it just won’t work. It’s like squeezing water from a rock. Because of all the things that happened last week, I just couldn’t find the energy for the topic I had planned to preach on Sunday. The best I could do was speak from my heart about a few matters.

Last week was a week of sadness, grief and struggle. First, there was the horrible massacre in an Orlando gay bar.  peaceIt was near impossible to escape from the pain of that event with the media and social media full of stories and responses to the Orlando shooting all week. And at the same time our puppy Rosie started taking a turn for the worse. Last Thursday we had to make a decision to either let her go, or put her through days of treatment in the ICU without any guaKaye and Rosierantee of the outcome. At only 15 months old, we just couldn’t bear to let her go without a fighting chance, but after days of treatment, we learned her kidneys had never developed properly (renal dysplasia) and there was nothing we could do but let her go Sunday afternoon.

(For the full audio, click here.)

The personal issue of our puppy was one thing, I expected support from all the animal lovers out there. I did not expect personal responses about the Orlando shooting.  I think that’s what finally pushed me over the edge. Julie and I received a note from a member of our spiritual community to offer her sympathies about the shooting and the continued instances of hatred and bigotry in this country, to commiserate over that loss and so many other tragedies, and to say she mourned with us. And then our next door neighbor, who is a more conservative Christian who admittedly struggles with understanding homosexuality, walked over on Friday not only to ask about Rosie, but to extend sympathies after the Orlando shooting and ask for a hug.


I found myself just about in tears – overwhelmed at everything. I’m SO tired of the violence and the hatred. I’m so tired of talk of “us” and “them,” of pastors and politicians and people inciting rage, of drawing lines (or building walls) to divide people – whoever they are.

In my opinion, Paul had a lot wrong in his theology. But he had a few really important things right. Galatians 3:28: “In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” The boundaries are gone.

Something clearly over-the-top amazing happened to Paul. He had an experience of Jesus that changed him into a completely new person. He went from constantly drawing lines between people – clean and unclean, male and female, Jew and everyone else, those who followed the law and those who didn’t – to gathering everyone together in love.

That is huge.

Paul finally realized, at a deep spiritual level, that everything that divided us was shallow, illusion, surface only. Paul knew (as in experienced in the very  core of his being) that once you had really experienced what Jesus offered – the abiding presence and love of God – that you became a new creation. You had died to your old life and your old self. You realized that spiritually all are one in God. Paul believed that faith would enable you to see this oneness.

As Dr. Patrick Cheng says in his book, “Radical Love” God’s love is a radical love that dissolves all boundaries. He goes on to say that “For the earliest Christians, coming together as a community was an act of subversion. It was the creation of a radically new “family” or “body” that transcended biological relationships and the established social order.” (p. 106)

And if we are a true community of God, we, too will work at dissolving all the boundaries that exist between people in this world.

I know it is easier to get caught up in the “us vs. them” mentality. There were plenty of people ready to thank God for the destruction of a bunch of perverts.  Now, I know I have an “intolerance for intolerance.” I want to fight back with words and an occasionally holy 2×4… but the best way to fight back is to extend love again and again and again, and to live fearlessly.

In Romans 13:10, Paul says “Love never wrongs anyone…”  Yet, we WANT to “wrong” someone back when they’ve wronged us, or someone we love. But when we do that we have separated ourselves from the Love that we are called to be.

These were my questions to myself last week: How will I see the world? How will I treat the world? How will I respond to hatred and anger?

First of all, I will not respond to the hatred and anger by hiding. I have read stories of lesbians who feel they have to look around before showing affection to their wife, who almost panic when their kids call them both out as moms in public. And I’ve heard of a gay man who left the club just before the murders who said he wasn’t going to go into hiding, but was going to live larger without apology. He was going to dance and celebrate and be who he was without fear.


None of us should have to hide who we are or be ashamed of our race, ethnicity, ability or disability, health, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.  I am who I am, I am in love and married to a wonderful woman. I will not hide that or be ashamed of that.

Second of all, I am sad and I am grieving, but I know that God is present in the midst of the pain. And I remember that there is good in the world. I remind myself of all of the prayer vigils around the country – by Christians, Muslims and non-believers alike. I remind myself of the folks who have reached out with gestures of sympathy, condolence and blessing. I remind myself that even people who struggle with different sexual orientations are reaching out in love.

We cannot be silent anymore when faced with those who seek to malign certain people. We are all the same inside. We all want to be safe, to be loved, to provide for our families, to be respected. Why does anyone find it OK to denigrate any group of people?? It is time for us to stand up for those who are maligned and oppressed. It is time for us to put our voices and our votes to work.  It is time to work for the healing of the nation through love.




More Christs

Recently I heard someone say, “We need fewer Christians in this world and more Christs.” Amen!

Our churches seem to want to define a Christian by whether they believe what the church tells them to believe and whether they do what the church tells them to do. But, as James C. Howell says in Yours are the Hands of Christ, “Jesus didn’t dole out pithy formulas, scale metaphysical heights, or outline dogmas. Instead he talked incessantly about how to live our lives, how to spend our money, how to treat others. More importantly, he lived a unique life, had no money, and touched others in exemplary ways.”

(For the full audio version, click here.)

And, just what does Christ mean, anyway? You know it wasn’t his last name (and, yes, some people really believe that). It was a title. Christ is Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “anointed” and refers to one commissioned by God for a special task.

I suppose people could argue about what Jesus’ special task was, but he was pretty clear about it. He came to be light for the world, and bread for the wilderness of our souls. He came to be a voice for the silenced, to let people know that God loved everyone equally and unconditionally, to break down the walls of oppression, to help people to stand strong, to bring comfort, peace, forgiveness, hope and healing. Jesus came to show us how everyone can be one with the Divine as he was one with the Divine.

While Jesus may have called people to “follow” at the beginning of his ministry in order to teach them, to help them mature spiritually and to develop a deeper understanding and connection with the Divine. In the end, he didn’t say keep following, he said “Go! For the love of Pete,  go out and BE for the world. Be who God created you to be – people of warmth, light, compassion, hope. I’ve been trying to show you this all along. We are all anointed ones given a special task in the world to make it a better place. Go!”

There was once a New Yorker cartoon that had a clergyman standing at a crossroads where he is clearly struggling with which signpost to follow. One has an arrow that points to “Heaven.” The other has an arrow that points to a “Discussion about Heaven.”

This is true about so many spiritual things, I’m afraid. We’d rather talk about prayer than pray. We’d rather talk about being compassionate than sit and eat food with the homeless. We’d rather give money for a mission trip than sleep in bunk beds and get dirty every day. We’d rather talk about social justice than get out and march for a cause. We’d rather talk about Christ than be like Christ. It’s easier. But it isn’t the spiritual path.

I don’t care if you never believe a thing the church tells you. But I tell you, you have been anointed. You are sacred and blessed and you have a special task for this time and place. Open your hearts and your minds to that possibility. Consider every day what it means to be Christ to the world… but don’t just think about it, DO it. BE it.

Namaste (the light of Christ in me sees the light of Christ in you),



A Voice for the Silenced

Yesterday we talked about the story in Luke 7 where Jesus raises a widow’s only son from the dead.

voiceAs you probably know, widows were at the bottom of the social ladder in the ancient world. But at least this woman from Nain had an adult son. Without a male to be attached to, society didn’t know what to do with widows, and so ignored them, silenced them. Jesus not only saved the life of the young man, he saves the life of the mother by restoring her dignity and place in society.

The importance of this story is not whether it really happened or not. The importance is what it is trying to convey to us about Jesus and the God that he served and shared. As we have come to expect from Jesus, it shows not only his compassion, but his understanding and concern for people’s feelings and situations. It especially shows his interest and concern in those who were at the bottom of the social ladder, those who had been silenced because of their situation. Jesus was consistently a voice for the silenced.

There are many, many people who are still silenced in this world because they are too young, too old, too new, or too fat. They have no voice or power because they are different – differently abled, different sexual orientation, different color, different religion or different language.

What if Jesus had seen the funeral procession coming and simply crossed to the side of the road with no compassion for the grieving mother? What if he had done nothing when he could have done something, said something? What if he had been silent instead of being a voice for the silenced? I asked this question yesterday, and the answer was, “But he wouldn’t do that!” It’s true, we can’t even comprehend Jesus doing that. Perhaps we need to pay closer attention to the example he is setting.

All around the country and the world, there are people who are being a voice for the silenced… and others who would prefer to silence the voice that stands for the oppressed and marginalized.

Yesterday, I spoke of a few of these situations, including the Black Lives Matter campaign, Muslim Americans, and LGBTQ folks. Please listen to the full audio if you’re interested in those stories.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

We need to learn to care, to have concern, and to take interest in others. We need to learn to get past our fears, to see others as part of ourselves and to be a voice for the oppressed, the marginalized, the poor, the stranger, the orphans, the captives.

Amnesty International is bringing together Europeans and refugees to stare at each other. Yes, stare. Studies show that it takes four minutes of looking into the eyes of another to fall in love. Not ga-ga in love, but to a place of feeling love and compassion for the other. I imagine it must be unnerving at first… to be that vulnerable with a stranger. I think we know intuitively, that our eyes are truly the window to our souls. If we look close enough, and if the other opens up a little bit, we can see into the depths there, to see the pain, the suffering, the fear, the worry, the love, the pride, the strength.

To follow the way of Jesus is to look into the eyes of another and to see oneself, to see God. To follow the way of Jesus is to cross the road to the side of the widow, the refugee, the person of a different color or orientation, the differently abled, the children… cross the road and offer a word of hope and healing, a smile, support, courage. We are called to be a voice for the silenced.