Song of the South: “Levi”

I was out of town over Memorial day weekend, so I failed to share a Memorial Day reflection.  I want to, belatedly.   Instead of sharing my own words, I want to share the beautiful song of Old Crow Medicine Show, “Levi”, lamenting the death of a good Carolina boy at the hand of war.

Memorial Day is not a day to celebrate, but as Old Crow reminds us, to mourn.  To remember the cost of our addiction to violence as a society. To remember, and commit to work toward finding alternatives to violence.  For the best way to remember the loss of life of our brothers and sons is not to wage another battle, but to work toward the day not another drop of blood is shed in the name of politics, power, and profit.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Levi

Born upon the blue ridge, at the Carolina line
Baptized on the banks of the new river
Brought upon blue grass and clear moon shine
And tough as iron but a heart soft as leather

Levi, lord, lord, lord, they shot him down
Ten thousand miles from a southern town
Oh, Levi

Like a fire on a mountain, running wild with no states
Playing nights on the glory horse shoe
And Indian raids
Now it’s parachutes and combat boots
They camouflaged they planes
And a country boy who don’t belong
In the desert anyways

Levi, lord, lord, lord, they shot him down
Ten thousand miles from a southern town
Oh, Levi

Well the sandbox sure gets lonesome
And it’s a hundred and nine degrees
Singing carry my back to Virginia
Lord I’m down here on my knees
In a market skrell while the bells were ringing
Loud to fill the air
Levi gazed his eyes out, to the rocket player
Be on the desert and the ocean
To the farthest fields on home
And when the bullets pierced his body
He was already gone

Levi, lord, lord, lord, they shot him down
Ten thousand miles from a southern town
Oh, Levi, lord, lord, lord, they shot him down
Oh, Levi, oh Levi.

Daily Devotional: You Can Be the Hero You Have always been waiting for

lords prayer 7

I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles.   In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.

Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

 

Today I continue to focus on “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.

Hearing that phrase – “deliver us from evil” – strikes a chord with me today.

secondcomingGrowing up, the prayer “deliver us from evil” suggested a kind of helplessness toward the world around us.  In the Adventist “Church of God” church of my childhood, I remember many a stirring sermon about how Jesus would come some in the clouds, breaking into our world like lightning, in order to set right what had gone wrong in our society.   In those sermons, all of the problems of our world from pollution, to warfare, to poverty, would be described in minute detail.  Not to worry, we would be told, though they seem unsolvable, a solution is coming.  For when humanity reaches the end of our rope, Jesus will come again, riding in as hero to rescue, and will heal all that is broken in this world.

I still remember songs like the one below which were sung to celebrate this hope:

“  It won’t be long now till the world is at peace

Till troubles have ceased, it won’t be long.

It won’t be long now till the beauty we see

For the whole world will be, it won’t be long.

 

the-lion-and-the-lamb“The lamb will peacefully dwell with the lion,

The leopard will lie down with the kid.

The wolf and the bear will no longer be wild,

Little child, it won’t be long now.

 

“It won’t be long now till all people join hands

From many a land, it won’t be long.

It won’t be long now till the children will smile

And laugh all the while, it won’t be long.

 

“The lamb will peacefully dwell with the lion,

The leopard will lie down with the kid.

The wolf and the bear will no longer be wild,

Little child, it won’t be long now.”

 

What this led to in the church of my childhood was, instead of a commitment to set right these wrongs, a commitment to strict obedience to the teachings of that tradition, with the understanding Jesus would set it right for us.   So I remember hearing old sainted men and women of the church, when issues were raised about problems in the world, “Well, there’s no point in investing a lot of time in that.  Man’s problems can’t be solved in this world.  Jesus will solve it in the world He’s bringing”.  And so, they focused on their own individual “giving up of sins” like lying, lust, and not keeping the particular holiness rules of that church (like how short skirts can be, how much makeup is “too much”, and how exactly to keep the Sabbath) but by and large overlooked caring for the poor, fighting discrimination, resisting the many everyday social ills all around them which prevent the world from living up to this dream of all people being one which they sang about.

I imagine this is not representative of every strain of Adventistism, and it certainly occurs in other Christian traditions.

As a teenager I came to discover faith for myself among evangelicals.  While there, I heard promise of Jesus coming to save not so much on the distant return of the end of history, holy spirit 1but by coming to live in my heart.  There deliverance was instantaneous, in I could have the experience of my soul being forgiven, my heart being strangely warmed, I would experience personal freedom here and now and a future full of purpose in this life. I also would know I didn’t need to fear for my life after, because once I’m saved, I’m set.  In the charismatic circles I also explored they spoke of other experiences the Spirit could give that gave even greater sense of freedom.

I had a number of those experiences and can say there was some truth to those messages.  Knowing I am forgiven by God, knowing that I am loved with no take backs, and that I don’t have to worry about my soul’s fate was liberating to me.  And this sense that no matter where I go or what I do, I have someone present with me, a dear friend in the center of my life, through Jesus living in me, truly was life-giving to me in those days.

But this too had its limits.  For as I continued to live my life, there were moments that in my mind I knew God was with me, but God’s presence felt distant and that sense of guidance I found early in my faith journey hard to find.  I could not find in these evangelical circles an explanation for this, but just a questioning of my own faith.  If I only believed enough, I would not feel distant.   Also I was shocked to find that having an awareness of Jesus’ ongoing presence within me didn’t really bring total peace.  There were issues in my heart and mind unresolved from my upbringing, from the damaging messages culture sent my way, and (though I could not see it then) even from the mixed messages my own faith gave me.   Simply having Jesus in my heart and knowing it did not bring all the peace it promised.

What’s more, it didn’t mend my world.  For I was told the way to mend the world is to go mend world 2out and share about this deep inner peace Jesus coming into my heart gave me.  And anyone who knew me as a teenager and in my early 20’s could tell you – I did this.  Yet it seemed even then as if that was an incomplete picture.  For how many people who have this experience and it alone actually go out and change their world in practical ways?  How many, like I did even in those moments, are riddled with insecurities, self-loathing, doubts, and fears that keep them stuck?  In fact, though I didn’t see it then, now I realize that tradition also brought with it the same problem of my childhood Adventistism: just as those Adventists looked for Jesus to come and deliver us from the world’s problems in a way that brought healing to this world without our effort, so many of the evangelicals and charismatics among whom I learned faith looked to a rapture where all the faithful would be carried away from this world to a perfect one, while this world fell apart.   And why invest to make better a world you were leaving?

kingdom of god within thomasIn both cases, to be fair, I do know folks from each of these traditions who are doing more than what I experienced in terms of making their own souls whole or working to heal the brokenness of this world.  But to me these early experiences illustrate ways I can misunderstand what it means to pray “deliver us from evil”.

One of the things we have to consider when we pray for a deliverer is the challenging words of Jesus, who tells us

“20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.””

That last line – “the kingdom of God is among you” is also rendered by many translators as “the kingdom of God is within you”.

Jesus is putting a challenging truth out to us.  Often we sit, with eyes to the sky, looking for someone else to rescue us.  Who will come and save us?  We are like the singer of this classic song:

“Where have all the good men gone

And where are all the gods?

Where’s the street-wise Hercules

To fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?

Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

 

hero on white horse“I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life

 

“Somewhere after midnight

In my wildest fantasy

Somewhere just beyond my reach

There’s someone reaching back for me

Racing on the thunder and rising with the heat

It’s gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet

 

“I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life

 

Up where the mountains meet the heavens above

Out where the lightning splits the sea

I would swear that there’s someone somewhere

Watching me

 

“Through the wind and the chill and the rain

And the storm and the flood

I can feel his approach

Like the fire in my blood

 

“I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life”

 

be the heroIt is easy to look up to the heavens, longing for a hero to come from somewhere out there to rescue us from the mess we find our world in, our lives in, our hearts in.

Jesus tells us what we need won’t come by sitting up and staring into the heavens or observing the signs around us.   No, the transformation of ourselves and our worlds is right here, among us, available if we will take it into ourselves, into our hearts, into our hands.   As John 1 tells us of the living presence of Jesus, Jesus is not someone whose presence must be put into our hearts, for the living Christ is that very light that shines on the heart of every person.

This means that instead of needing to wait for the skies to split open and Jesus to appear, instead of needing to wait for some phenomenal religious or mystical experience, we can open ourselves to the fact we have within us and among us everything we are waiting for.

inner-peace (1)

If I want to see my world become a better place, behold … the light of Christ shines on me and others.  The Kingdom of God is ready to break forth within me, around me, in our very midst.  I can be the one I am waiting for.

The same is true for you.  It is true for the heartaches we carry, for the patterns of life that keep us captive, for the weights on our soul that seem unmendable.   We have within us the light to show us the path out of whatever darkness in which we find ourselves.  We have around us, among us, and through us, the presence of God with which we can work together to mend our own souls, mend the brokenness of the world, and help transform it all.

God delivers us not by us watching and waiting, but as we partner with God for our own liberation, the liberation of others, and the healing of God’s world.

hero 2I hope in the next couple of posts to look at some ways this can happen individually and at large.  But in the meantime, I want to challenge you as this reflection is challenging me: quit buying the message society and even religion teaches you that you are somehow powerless.  That you cannot contribute to changing your own soul, your own life.  That you are not enough to be the change you want to see in your world.  For in you lies the power that moved the worlds, for in every heart the living Christ whose word spoke creation into being, the living Christ who rose victorious over death, the living Christ who is free as wind blowing healing and new beginning through the world.   As you learn to listen to, partner with, and live into that reality, your heart can be healed and find deeper peace, your life can begin to be set free little by little from what binds it, and you and I can help bring true healing to what lies broken around us in our world. You can become the hero you are waiting for, and help others do the same.

Let us engage in that important work together.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Song of the South: I Hear Them All

As I was reflecting on how the Lord’s Prayer invites us to see ourselves as people doing justice, living in loving compassion toward others, and walking with humility in relationship with God, others, self, and our world, I couldn’t help but think of a song by the Old Crow Medicine Show about hearing the cries for compassion and justice in the world.

I’m sharing this song in hopes it helps you come to a great awareness of how you can hear these cries, joining them in saying “I hear them all”.  Yet I also like to imagine God, at the center of our lives and world, saying these same words.  In a way, isn’t that what God tells Moses in Exodus 3? — I hear them all.  All the cries of my people hurting.  Was that not part of what Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and others were saying — “We hear them all — all your cries, you oppressed ones.  And God dreams an answer to those cries”.  One can look at that too as why we are seeing this move against the oppression of women, queer people, and many other groups today — God is moving among us to say “I hear them all.  Their cries as well”.

Whose cries are you longing to hear this in answer to?  How can you and I be partners with God in answering those cries?

May these words below bless you!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

I Hear Them All

I hear the crying of the hungry
In the deserts where they’re wandering
Hear them crying out for Heaven’s own
Benevolence upon them

Hear destructive power prevailin’
I hear fools falsely hailin’
To the crooked wits of tyrants
When they call

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

I hear the sounds of tearing pages
And the roar of burnin’ paper
All the crimes and acquisitions
Turned to air and ash, and vapor

And the rattle of the shackle
Far beyond emancipator
And the lowliest
Who gather in their stalls

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

So while you sit and whistle, ‘Dixie’
With your money and your power
I can hear the flowers growin’
In the rubble of the towers

I hear leaders quit their lyin’
I hear babies quit their cryin’
I hear soldiers quit their dyin’
One and all

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

I hear the tender words from Zion
I hear Noah’s water fall
Hear the gentle Lamb of Judah
Sleeping at the feet of Buddha

And the Prophets from Elijah
To the old Paiute Wovoka
Take their places at the table
When they’re called

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

I hear them all
I hear them all
I hear them all

 

 

Daily Devotional: Partners in our Own and Others’ Deliverance

lords prayer 5I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles.   In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.

Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:

 

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

As I continue to reflect on the Lord’s Prayer and our own lives, I am struck again by the prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”.

A key thing I notice this morning as I read through and meditate on these words again is how, as in other parts of the prayer, Jesus asks us not to just pray “God lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil” but instead “lead us not into temptation… deliver us..”

all saints 2I think this important to not because of the way in which we individualize our ideas of holiness, sin, and justice.

Growing up the sense I got was what God required was obeying a set of rules and if I just followed them, I was good. Sin was to break the rules God gave me for living.

When I came to faith myself among evangelicals and charismatics, I learned from them this deep sense of responsibility.   I needed to control my own feelings and thoughts, for sin begins there.   I learned to fight against temptation to lust, to hate, to question.   Particularly any thoughts of sex. Might I say, in retrospect, the fear of sex and sexuality, shame for our bodies, and distrust of my own impulses were things that really did warp relationships for me. Though these were taught by well meaning people and there were some kernels of truth to them – such as developing a rich interior life, the importance of fidelity in relationships, the need to look for what truly will make you happy most not just provide a cheap thrill – I have to say I had to unlearn a huge bulk of that religious programming to have a full life.   To make romantic relationships work I had to make peace with my body, my sexuality, and my heart all as gifts to God. To experience emotional and spiritual peace I had to learn to lay aside a distrust of my own heart which is borne by believing we are born into this world with a sin nature that causes our own heart to betray us if we listen to it.

What I did not understand was the path of holiness personally is about learning to embrace yourself fully so that all of who you are comes alive, not just parts that scream for attention – like our sex drive or our desire to be right (both of which ran rampant in my & other’s hearts, it seems, in my evangelical days). But, what’s more, the strong emphasis on my own inner world and own personal sins lost sight of how true evil – that which, as I spoke about last time, rejects lovingkindness and justice toward self, nature, and others by treating them as expendable and exploitable without intrinsic worth – is embedded in community life.

YouAreNotBroken_b

The old Christian doctrine of original sin, which in the evangelical churches in which I first explored faith became degraded into a false sense of being broken beyond repair and unable to trust my own heart and body, actually was originally a way of talking about this reality.   The idea is that in some way that is hard to account for before we have a say we become swept up in patterns of thinking, acting, and responding which become deeply embedded in our actions and attitudes, yet which are harmful to ourselves, to nature, and to others. The explanation that gets picked up for this later on in Christian history – that there is some way sex transmits a spiritual flaw almost in our genes which makes us all intrinsically faulty – is laughable, or would be if it did not cause so much damage. But the heart of the idea – that we develop in a world where we are caught up in patterns of thought, feeling, and action which shape us deeply, leading us to unconsciously participate in community life in ways that dehumanize ourselves and others, as well as exploiting nature, well there is a lot of truth to that.

Take racism, something almost universally agreed upon to be wrong today.   Well, again and again social scientists do studies in which people who appear to be average folk, no hardened bigots, are given a chance to give their gut response to photos of people of various races. The tests usually include children young enough one would expect them not to have developed many biases.   Every time the test is administered, even today in a society in which in our country we have had a president who was a person of color for two terms, still people react with more fear, anxiety, and distrust toward images of people of color; and more trust, respect, and affection toward pictures of white people.   Many taking this test are not brought up in overtly racist homes and consider themselves tolerant and understanding. What is happening?

privilege

Well, we still live in a society built around privileging straight white cisgender men and marginalizing everyone else. And though we have made things less horrible, there is still this pattern at work. Still children look up and most of the role models of a good life are white straight cisgender males. Most minorities of all stripes are painting in cartoonish ways either as violent predators or buffoons in our films and television, instead of with the complexity that is needed to help cultivate real compassion.

In her book The Will To Change, bell hooks explores the ways in which our patriarchal culture not only harms women but also boys, teaching them to fear their emotions, to embrace violence and not nurturing compassion, to reject creativity and freedom of expression, and how prevalent this messaging is. In her book she gives many examples of even boys brought up in homes that teach an openness to one’s whole self and a freedom to choose your own values who, at the end of the day, end up buying into this messaging because it is so prevalent.

Is it any wonder, Jesus says for us to prayer for all of us to not be led into temptation and for all of us to be delivered from evil?

Ultimately to be a person of faith and spirituality requires being willing to engage yourself in consciousness-raising activities and relationships in which you can confront how you have unknowingly been led toward unconscious biases, how you can work against them, and build alternatives.   I also think this prayer invites us to consider what ways we can change this pattern.

How can we change our messaging? The ways in which we tell the stories of our lives and our communities? The ways in which we relate in friendships, at work? The patterns our churches, our companies, our media, follow?

There are not easy answers. But this is the call of this prayer.

Since it is a prayer we are exploring let us remember included within these words is also the acknowledgment that we cannot do this alone. God is present with us in this journey, the all-embracing presence and energy of life who drives us into deeper community and interconnection with each other across all cultural barriers. With God’s help and each other’s we can begin to transform our selves, our communities, and God’s earth, so that the goodness inherent in us all can shine for, friend, we are not broken. We are instead carriers of the undying Light of the Sacred.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Song of the South: Give God the Blues

In thinking about the call of the Lord’s Prayer to us that invites us to recognize the sacred worth of all around us, I am reminded of the words of a Mercyland song about how God views us each as equally of great worth, but also how God is grieved by how we treat each other.  I hope this invites you to hear the hope and challenge of our call to embrace our own, other’s, and nature’s sacred worth.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
God ain’t no Republican
He ain’t no Democrat
He ain’t even Independent
God’s above all that
Bigger than religion
He’s got a better plan
The sign says God’s gone fishin
For the soul of every man
God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
And God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
(instrumental)
God loves old bartenders
The preachers, the whores, and fools;
And that karaoke singer
Just a-ruinin’ Don’t be cruel
The winners and the losers
The prisoners and the free
All the saints and all the sinners
Even you and even me
God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
And God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
Yeah we all give God the blues

Daily Devotional: Freed For Wholeness, Freed for Life

lords prayer 6I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles.   In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.

 

Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:

 

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

As I continue to reflect on the Lord’s Prayer and our own lives, I am struck again by the prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”.

temptation of jesusI find this prayer interesting because of how my understanding of temptation has evolved over the years. For Christians, the symbol for temptation we have is Jesus’ temptation at the beginning of his public life as minister, activist, healer, and (for Christians at least) embodiment of the Sacred and the Sacred path.

All Gospels but the youngest one, John, tell a version of the same story.   The earliest Gospel, Mark, describes Jesus going out to the wilderness, living among the wild beasts, and being tempted  for forty days, but without getting into details about the temptation itself.   The later Gospels of Luke and Matthew don’t mention the wild beasts but do give a very detailed description of what Jesus’ experience of temptation looks like: he is confronted by a personal being,  Satan (literally “ha Satan”  or “adversary”).   This adversary raises up common, ordinary human desires – for food, for power, for importance.  This adversary invites Jesus to embrace these desires in ways that go against what Jesus knows to be the Sacred path to which he is called and which he later invites us to join.   In addition to not dangling the sort of glamorous seductive pursuits we connect with temptation in front of Jesus but instead our common ordinary basic desires, this adversary actually uses what in Jesus day would have been considered basic guidance for goodness – the Scriptures themselves – to justify these choices.

Jesus sees through these temptations, digs deep into himself, finds his truth, and responds by speaking and acting out of this truth. He chooses to live into the truth that he has found in his own life, not buying into what masquerades as truth in order to justify parting ways with the path laid out before him.

Devil_vs_JesusAt first glance at this story, it can appear as if it is a warning of the powers outside of ourselves which can lead us astray. After all, it is a powerful spiritual being that Jesus confronts, Satan, right?  This is some monster of temptation, masquerading as a guide. No wonder we pray for something outside of ourselves – God – to no lead us into temptation!

But other answers appear as we look at the full picture.   James 1 warns people on a spiritual path, “No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved.”

James warns us that a crass literalism which looks for the things outside of ourselves that will lead us astray fails to recognize that ultimately when we are led astray, it is by our own desires. It is parts of ourselves which we choose to listen to and cultivate in ways that are harmful to the rest of who we are, to others, to God’s earth.

Alot of the imagery we are given in our specific faiths – in my case, the Christian faith – can be seen as really not best understood literally: as literally angels, devils, and skies splitting open at second comings. So much of this way of talking about the spiritual life makes much more sense to me as a symbolic way of describing our inner worlds and our inner journeys.  Read in this way, the language of a Satan or monsters confronting Jesus or us can be a metaphoric way of looking at our own inner world — a way of making more personal to us the very desires James 1 talks about.

peaceable kingdomThese desires, like the things that tempt Jesus, are not evil on the face of it. We need food to eat. Caring for others by feeding or nurturing them some other way is not bad and often good. Being in charge, sure, can be an opportunity to abuse and exploit but also an option to serve. Power can be channeled as well to good as bad.

Those are just the temptations Jesus faces. But even less benign temptations like those we often paint as evil – to drink to much, to sleep around, to be greedy, for instance – have at their root natural and healthy desires. We desire to unwind, to relax, to put aside the stress of the day, in our drinking. In the right context, that can be a good.   At the root of irresponsible sexual choices is often a desire for connection.  Though connection can occur without sex, most of us are wired to need some of the connection we have to occur at times in a romantic, sensual way.   On its own, that can be good and a healthy desire, even if irresponsible sex ultimately does not meet the deep needs for connection which sexuality expressed with real deep connection, authenticity, and fidelity can bring. And though to get resources at the exploitation of others through greed is bad, the desire to put aside for yourself and your family is not bad on its own.  At the root of each of these temptations are desires which, in their right context, can be fulfilled in a healthy, life-giving way.

For me, when I read the story of the temptation, the threatening figures – the wild animals of Mark; the Enemy of our souls in Luke and Matthew – all can be seen as symbolic ways of talking about the wild and unexplored sides of who we are. We each have the sides of ourselves we know very well, but also have sides we don’t face, don’t explore, that feel like wild beasts in the wilderness and even at times as adversaries of our souls. Jung called these our shadow sides.

For some of us sexual temptation is so vexing not because sex or sexuality is bad, but because we have pushed aside our sexuality or centered on our sexuality in such a way that instead of having made a peace and understanding with who we are in that department, what otherwise could be natural healthy desires can become like a monster that pounces us from behind the bush or like a fast-talking salesmen which hoodwinks us out of our best selves.   When we remain unconscious and unaware of that side of who we are, it gains a power over us that can be vexing.

Similarly our anger or our despair can be like this for us.   When we fear a strong emotion, we can try to push it down, to ignore it when it comes up, thinking that such action removes its power over us. But in actual fact, our emotions – like our sexuality – are all just another side of who we are.   When we push them aside or try to reject them, they take on a life of their own within us and we can find ourselves even more powerless against them.

To me the model Jesus gives in going to the desert, led by Spirit, and living among the wild beasts, even facing the Tempting “Enemy” of our souls, is that Jesus chooses to take time to become aware of his own shadow side and model for us our need to do the same. He chooses to befriend the parts of himself which could be viewed as monsters – lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! — so that they become more tame and will not sabotage his path jung 1on his journey but instead be helpers on the path.   He chooses even to hear fully the sales pitch of Satan, this personification of the ways in which our society teaches us to justify choosing the good in a way that becomes bad.   In doing so, he becomes acquainted with those sides of himself which can trip him up. To me it mirrors the words of an Eminem and Rihanna song:

 

“The Monster”

(feat. Rihanna)

 

[Hook – Rihanna:]

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed

Get along with the voices inside of my head

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath

And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy

 

[Verse 1 – Eminem:]

I wanted the fame, but not the cover of Newsweek

Oh, well, guess beggars can’t be choosey

Wanted to receive attention for my music

Wanted to be left alone in public. Excuse me

For wanting my cake and eat it too, and wanting it both ways

Fame made me a balloon ’cause my ego inflated

When I blew; see, but it was confusing

‘Cause all I wanted to do is be the Bruce Lee of loose leaf

Abused ink, used it as a tool when I blew steam (wooh!)

Hit the lottery, oh wee

But with what I gave up to get it was bittersweet

It was like winning a used mink

Ironic ’cause I think I’m getting so huge I need a shrink

I’m beginning to lose sleep: one sheep, two sheep

Going cuckoo and cooky as Kool Keith

But I’m actually weirder than you think

‘Cause I’m

 

[Hook – Rihanna:]

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed

Get along with the voices inside of my head

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath

And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy

 

Well, that’s nothing

Well, that’s nothing

 

[Verse 2 – Eminem:]

Now, I ain’t much of a poet but I know somebody once told me

To seize the moment and don’t squander it

‘Cause you never know when it all could be over tomorrow

So I keep conjuring, sometimes I wonder where these thoughts spawn from

(Yeah, pondering’ll do you wonders.

No wonder you’re losing your mind the way it wanders.)

Yoda-loda-le-hee-hoo

I think it went wandering off down yonder

And stumbled on ‘ta Jeff VanVonderen

‘Cause I need an interventionist

To intervene between me and this monster

And save me from myself and all this conflict

‘Cause the very thing that I love’s killing me and I can’t conquer it

My OCD’s conking me in the head

Keep knocking, nobody’s home, I’m sleepwalking

I’m just relaying what the voice in my head’s saying

Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just friends with the

 

[Hook – Rihanna:]

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed

Get along with the voices inside of my head

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath

And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy

 

Well, that’s nothing

Well, that’s nothing

 

[Verse 3 – Eminem:]

Call me crazy but I have this vision

One day that I’d walk amongst you a regular civilian

But until then drums get killed and I’m coming straight at

MC’s, blood get spilled and I’ll

Take you back to the days that I’d get on a Dre track

Give every kid who got played that

Pumped up feeling and shit to say back

To the kids who played him

I ain’t here to save the fucking children

But if one kid out of a hundred million

Who are going through a struggle feels it and then relates that’s great

It’s payback, Russell Wilson falling way back

In the draft, turn nothing into something, still can make that

Straw into gold chump, I will spin Rumpelstiltskin in a haystack

Maybe I need a straightjacket, face facts

I am nuts for real, but I’m okay with that

It’s nothing, I’m still friends with the

 

[Hook – Rihanna:]

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed

Get along with the voices inside of my head

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath

And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy

[2x]

 

Well, that’s nothing

Well, that’s nothing

 

You see, the reality is that as we learn to befriend these sides of ourselves which we view as negative: our pain, our heartache, our loneliness, our fear, or even parts of ourselves we think as “evil” (such as our anger, our sexuality), we not only find greater peace but can learn to listen to the truth that side of ourselves teach us.  In learning to hear the lessons they teach us, we can meet our own needs better while also regaining a sense of power over drives that otherwise might sabotage our journey as well.

jung 2We feel temptation to express our sexuality in healthy ways in part because we have romantic or sensual needs we have not learned to address, or we have self-image issues we think we can resolve that way.

We feel anger because of feeling disrespected or needy in areas of our lives we either don’t know how to or haven’t the time to address. Anger is a sign of a pain, a loss, or a need we need to take care of in ourselves.

Ultimately a part of why practices like meditation and journaling, as well fostering relationships with  friends and mentors who hold us accountable, are so important on the spiritual journey is they are things which open us up to really more clearly seeing and understanding such parts of ourselves. As we do so we can embrace these things which, pursued in the wrong context as destructive, embraced appropriately are life-giving.

Ultimately the prayer to deliver us from temptation is, then, not just a prayer to have strength to resist temptation, but also a prayer that God help guide us on a journey to wholeness, where the many pieces of who we are can be woven again more intimately into a oneness. This oneness is the holiness that Jesus embodied, so much so that in his life the Sacred we call God and the secular, earthiness we call human are seen as one. It is the same enlightenment, truth, wisdom that the great spiritual masters have pointed to in their various messages and examples.

It is a path worth striving toward, and ultimately not one of going without at all but rather of discovering and embracing the greatest good and joy available to us. Let us walk that golden path together.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Song of the South: Unsought Answer

As we talk about learning to embrace our struggles, temptations, and trials not as enemies but as potential teachers on our journey, I can’t but help think of my own journey to learn this lesson.  I recently wrote a poem about this experience, which I hope opens you up to this process in your own life.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Unsought Answer

storm cloud

Sitting, as I am apt to do, upon my porch

I hear the music of the rain

It falls all around,

unceasing as time,

ever-present as breath.

I breathe.

I not only smell that freshness of rain

but taste ozone, electric upon my tongue.

 

Hearing you, storm, I am amazed.

You sound like earthquakes on the San Andreas fault,

your unending vibration shaking ceiling above

causing wall and window to rattle.

 

rain on tin roof

You are as violent as the rat-a-tat of guns

echoing like bombs being blown up at Fort Bragg, the background music of my boyhood,

sung by someone else’s sons and daughters

being taught war like it was hide and seek,

some game to play with friends,

not the terror that stalks by night

which, like a monster under your bed,

is always there, just outside the corner of your eye,

even when every gun is laid down.

 

Yet, unlike that specter of war

those returned soldiers described to me,

the sound of you, storm, does not steal my sleep.

Rather, it quiets my soul,

causing me to sleep like a babe in his mother’s arms.

Your water music rocks me,

a lullaby to my battered heart,

baptizing me with new life.

 

Mother_and_Child_by_senseibushido

I cannot help but think of when

Jesus and his own lost boys

went out upon deep waters

and how, silly storm, you put him to sleep,

while they woke in terror to your song.

 

It teaches me, though I do not want to hear,

that the difference is not what pummels my walls

but how I listen to its song.

 

boat in storm

I remember your voice

when rain did not assault my window

but heartache was the wind howling through my world

and the trees of my hidden grove shook

so their leaves rattled

their bark broke.

 

At first I too shook with terror,

a little boy lost amidst tangling vine,

certain you meant me doom.

Then, for a second, something shifted

and in your storm, without it ceasing,

I felt a stillness beyond the roaring noise,

a cool breeze within your unending gale.

 

pentecost sermon

In that moment, like the crowd upon whom the tongues of fire alighted,

suddenly what sounded like threatening babble clearly whispered my name.

I heard your voice.

 

Now, once threatening shadow,

I know your name too:  “Teacher”