November 17 – Faith: Being More

Daily I wrestle with the feeling that the state of the world I see before me is all there is.  Daily, I doubt my ability to have an impact

Is this reality, or is this a perception of my own choosing?

I am imposing limitations on myself and the world out of fear and insecurity…

It isn’t fair of me – not to myself, not to my community, not to the world at large.  The world is so much more expansive than my narrow view is allowing for.  Humanity is so much greater than my small-minded notion of it.  Through my personal lens of first-world experience and uncertainty and compassion, I see struggle and despair and tragedy.  But I also see life and joy and potential!  And I am so much more than my fear and doubt would have me believe.

Choosing to trust what can be, to put one’s faith in what is possible…  When observable reality fails to resemble anything close to ideal, taking that leap of faith is an act of courage which we all have the capacity to take.   It takes effort to recklessly abandon our perception of limitation and live completely into our potential, unrestrained.  To fully embrace the truth that we can be more.  We must do this work.

Is there a pursuit more worthy of our effort than the creation of a world where the possible is realized?

How can you let go of your perceived limitations and be more today?

~ Christiana

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November 16–Faith: Religious coinage?

I am wondering if I didn’t grow up in a world that essentially turned things like faith, hope, grace and truth into items of transaction–almost a religious capitalism.

Each of these words, in my experience, becomes a sort of quid pro quo. They are externalized.  They become the special language of religion that tells us how to define them.  Those definitions often imply or directly indicate that if we hold faith (hope, truth, grace) in the proper way, we stand to receive something for that correct stance.

Have faith in Jesus, don’t go to hell.  Hope in God, things turn out okay.  Depend on grace and you will be forgiven.  Tell the truth (confess your sins) and well . . . you still won’t go to hell.

There’s a sense in which all of those words begin to blur into the same sort of religious coinage, owned and operated by external systems.  If we hold them as such, they continually distract us to some external motivation, a religious capitalism, a religious behaviorism.  That is the kind of meaning these words can hold for us human beings, but they don’t have to.

What if we consider faith (and hope, grace and truth) them as internal states that have always been inherent to who we are as human beings?  Don’t they then begin to help us make sense of things in a much different way?

Bob Patrick

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November 15–Faith: Your Place In the Scheme of Things–Part 2

Faith is whatever helps you know and understand your place in the larger scheme of things.

There are a variety of things that can help us do this.  I have to admit that that variety of possibilities gives me some pause for concern.

Some folks insist on an authoritative source that tells them their place in the scheme of things.  This authoritative source can vary:  it can be sacred scriptures.  It can be a traditional hierarchical ruler like the Pope, bishops, clergy, The Buddha, a revered Imam, an often quoted rabbi or even a tradition of teachings like church councils, creeds or the Mishna.

It has been my experience that this approach also comes with a hierarchical system that too often sets some people in positions of judgment and superiority over others.  In helping one know one’s place in the larger scheme of things, others must become outsiders and inferiors and sets up systems of injustice.

If an authoritative source is problematic in helping me understand my place in the larger scheme of things, what does help me understand my place in the larger scheme of things?

What helps you make sense of your place in the scheme of things today?

I begin to look at those things and those people to whom I am drawn, where I feel a pull to invest myself, in a book, in teaching a class, in designing a ritual for a small group, to paint a picture or create a garden.  I begin to hear in the things that call me some echo of my place in the larger scheme of things.

My own life seems to have a trajectory that is important to listen to.  How do you answer the question?

Bob Patrick

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November 14–Faith–Your Place in the Scheme of Things

This past Sunday, Rev. Jan referenced “Everly’s Self-Care Pyramid.” Most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and this has that immediate feel.  At the bottom of Everly’s self-care pyramid, though, is the foundation of faith.  I was immediately fascinated by this because in Maslow’s hierarchy, basic things HAVE to be in place before more abstract things can be considered.  Isn’t faith an abstract thing?

Everly defines faith as “that which helps you understand your place in the scheme of things.”  This may or may not be some higher source.  It may be science.  It may be a set of principles. It might be a therapeutic process. It may be a combination of things.

When I take that understanding of faith and reflect on myself and others in my community of relationships, it changes the angle of my perspective.  There are people whose views I simply don’t share, and some I find troubling or even objectionable.  Now, I am trying to imagine how those views help them understand their place in the scheme of things.

Let me be clear to say that this understanding of faith does not suddenly make all views on all things okay. I have friends who, via their Christian faith, believe that all Muslims are dangerous.  I have friends who believe that its each man for himself and that those who are poor are just lazy.  I have white friends who think that People of Color are racist with no real understanding of what the word racist means.

Everly’s definition is about how one holds onto life and makes sense of it.  It’s not enough to argue.  My own sense of reasoning is grounded in how I see myself in the scheme of things.

Bob Patrick

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November 13–Faith: Worth and Dignity

I conducted a class recently with Latin students about the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.  Like many cultural ideas, the tenets of Stoicism permeated ancient Rome, and because of that, it still floats in the air of many of those cultures influenced by Rome.  Including ours.

One of the values that we considered was dignitas, worth, dignity, honor, respect.  I found myself explaining that dignity was a value of worth that we held both for ourselves and for others, and that any social justice work in the world today had its starting place with this idea:  dignity–the inherent worth and dignity of every being.

That’s when it dawned on me that this understanding of the inherent worth and dignity of all beings is the beginning point of our faith as well.  The reciprocal quality of faith–that faith is always about relating and relationships is deeply encoded into what we mean when we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all beings.  No sense of dignity, or a damaged sense of dignity, then, results directly in a wounded and failing sense of faith.  They belong to each other.

Too often, faith has been cast as the only hope that otherwise worthless human beings have.  If you only believe . . . God might save you anyway–even though you don’t deserve it.

Isn’t that just the reverse or even pervese version of what is much more likely:  we are beings of worth, of dignity.  We reflect the Universe in it’s beauty and mystery.  If we need saving it is because of that inherent dignity which can be found in all beings.

Even those who think they are utterly lost.

Bob Patrick

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November 12–Faith: The Past and the Future

Krista Tippett, in her latest episode of On Being, interviews Dr. Rachel Yehuda, a psychiatrist and researcher in the neuroscience of trauma and resilience.  They discuss how a traumatic event can so change one’s DNA that it has lasting effects on future generations.

At first glance, this seems to be very bad news: bad things not only happen to us, but they will live on to become bad things for our children and our grandchildren.

The news is not just bad. Two things seem to make a huge difference not only for the person experiencing trauma but for what it did to their biological and genetic systems: naming the trauma, and when the memory of it returned, allowing themselves to feel it. Both of those acts had the effect of reducing the stress response and changing their body’s experience to a calm rather than a stress response.

Name it.  Feel it.

This is not to pretend that trauma is a simple fix.  Not in any way.  It is to suggest that we can, with the help and support of others learn how to reach into ourselves to reform and reshape what trauma does to us.

As a young man I suffered with anxiety attacks and depression.  I realize now, looking back, that one of the things that helped me through and beyond them came in being able to name the experience.

There’s a lot to unpack in this finding from science.  I bring it to this, for now: working with out our own pain is an act of faith that can have powerful effect.

Bob Patrick


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November 10–Faith: A Constant Return

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.

On a recent drive that took me out away from metro Atlanta, my radio picked up a rural religious station.  The speaker came through the radio saying:

why don’t people just understand that all they have to do is believe, and they won’t burn in hell forever? It’s just that simple.  Just believe.

I muttered back:  Sure, that’s what you say–it’s so simple, but you have a whole list of things you want to attach to “just believe–it’s so simple.”

Within the space of 30 more seconds, he launched into a tirade about abortion, doctors and nurses who provided abortion, people who supported laws making abortion legal, liberals in general and how we were all going to burn in hell forever.

So much for “just that simple.”

When faith is reduced to content–you must believe these things–it very quickly becomes a tool for abuse and violence against people that we never need to know.  We just need to know that they do not hold the right content.  Burn in hell.

Faith is always really relational.  Faith is a spectrum of what we might call times of faithfulness and times of faithlessness. We are constantly moving on that spectrum as we learn and forget and learn again how to be trustworthy and how to trust in relationships.

With people.  With animals and plants.  With the environment.  With the earth.  With ourselves.  With our gifts.  With what we might call the Divine. With what we might call the path of our lives.

Bob Patrick


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November 9–Faith: Radical Welcome into Reciprocity

Our congregation has affirmed that we are a radically welcoming community. We did not come to those words or what they represent lightly or overnight.  No knee-jerk reactions here. I see the whole dynamic around coming to see ourselves as and practicing being a welcoming community as the work of faith.

  1. This kind of radical welcoming is founded on what I can only call unconditional love–as close as we can get to it.  We ritualize this radical welcome, this unconditioned welcome each week: no matter your immigration status, your skin color, how you wear your hair, your gender identity or whom you love, your political affiliation,  your financial status, your health, whether you are tattooed or pierced, regardless of your theological positions–we welcome you into our community.
  2. We state these very things because they are most often the issues around which people are rejected or judged or otherwise harmed by religious communities. Our faith calls for an expansion of love and acceptance, and affirming ourselves as radically welcoming is our attempt to rise to that call.
  3. We welcome and invite all those who come with open minds, open hands and open hearts.

That last part is important.  Faith is reciprocal.  We are not just radically welcoming everyone, but everyone we welcome must be prepared to join us in this kind of welcoming of others.  As we welcome people who come to our community, they are agreeing to learn this practice of radical welcome, to practice this kind of faith with us.  It’s a pretty rare faith.  It’s demanding.  And it is transformative.

Bob Patrick

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November 8–Faith: Deepest Trust

Sunday in her homily, Rev. Jan referred to faith as “the deepest trust in the truths that sustain us.”

Trust is where I always begin with faith.  It immediately puts me in relationship with others. It’s the kind of relationality that opens me rather than closes me.  As I noted yesterday, faith can become a kind of weapon against others, against relationality that become the opposite of trust.

Trust in the deepest truths that sustain us.  So, what sustains you?  This is where the search for truth and meaning become so vitally core to the spiritual life and the practice of this religion of ours.  There is a sutra in Buddhism that speaks to this for me:

“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.  (The Kalama Sutra)

This search for truth and meaning is relational.  Not only should one not accept something simply because it is reported or written in scripture or because it is logical.  One should also ask if the thing being considered are skillful, blameless, if the larger community “of the wise” teach these things.  And finally–will adopting these things lead to happiness?

It seems to me the message is that faith is not meant to be held or practiced alone–it’s a relational thing.

Bob Patrick

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November 7–Faith: Weapon or Way

There is a way to hold one’s faith as a weapon.  This is a weapon one uses against others–others whom one deems to be wrong (about anything), who are different (in any way), who seem to be a threat (in any way).  This use of faith judges, dismisses, and presumes, creating in its wake violence of which one often is never aware.

The Buddha: It is easy to see the faults of others but difficult to see one’s own. A man winnows his neighbor’s faults like chaff but conceals his own as a cunning gambler conceals his die.

Jesus taught: Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. . . Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the great log in your own? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out that splinter in your eye,” when you cannot see the great log in your own? Hypocrite! Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter in your brother’s eyes. (Luke 6:37-41)

Allah said : “O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” [49:12]

Life-giving faith is not a weapon.  It is a way, a journey forward.  Its headlights are curiosity, and it rides on compassion.  Faith is not safe.  It calls for courage–a living from the heart that moves us even–especially–when we are frightened.

Bob Patrick

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