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Non-Dual Thinking: Learning to See in Wholes in a Divided Nation

Our society would like us to think that it exists in a sandbox of paradoxes, contradictions, or problems (e.g., rich versus poor, black versus white, straight versus gay, Christian/religious versus non-Christian/religious, etc.). The task of mature religion, however, is to learn how to see things in light of their unity, while still honoring, creating space for, and protecting the differences that exist. This kind of art or way of seeing things can be called non-dual thinking.


Dualistic thinking, as opposed to non-dualistic thinking, is artificial thinking. It is egocentric thinking. It can't recognize the grey between the black and the white. Richard Rohr writes the following, “Our ego splits reality into parts that it can manage, but then we pay a big price in regard to actual truth or understanding.” This is what leads to exclusionism. Dualistic thinking only creates space for superficial transformation or, even worse, limits transformation to the superficial and behavioral changes (e.g., “We don’t associate with these kinds of people.” “We believe these doctrines/truths only.” “We only go to this kind of service.” “We don’t drink alcohol or caffeine.”). Although this kind of transformation is good for creating social order and homogeneous (of the same kind) groups, it doesn’t lead people to any meaningful experience of or union with God and, much less, experience of and union with fellow humans.


Richard Rohr also writes, “Whole people see and create wholeness wherever they go; divided people see and create splits in everything and everybody.” Unless we learn to overcome dualistic thinking, we can’t interact with and love anyone or anything at any real depth. I believe we will not experience real transformation (spiritual, emotional, intellectual, etc.) – the kind of transformation that allows us to befriend people different than us, respect others opinions, protect the dignity of our fellow human beings, and, in the age of widespread systemic racism and bigotry, defend the rights of others that are different than us – unless we experience regeneration, transformation, salvation from our dualistic thinking, the kind of regeneration/transformation/salvation found in Christ.


“Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion.”


Journal Reflection/Activity


1) In what ways to you recognize dualistic thinking in others?

2) In what ways do you recognize dualistic thinking in yourself?

3) What concrete steps can you take to grow from dualistic thinking to non-dualistic thinking?


Richard Rohr, Yes, and...: Daily Meditations (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2019), 357.

Ibid., 361.

Ibid., 356.

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Community Is An Essential Service

Though it’s not always easy, building and living in community is a cornerstone of our human spirituality. In community we learn what confession and forgiveness are. Community is what helps us become aware of and control our individualism. Community is what helps us learn what humility is. Henri Nouwen writes, “People of faith need community, for without it we become individualistic and, at times, egocentric. As difficult as it is, community is not really an option in the spiritual life . . . without community, communion with God is impossible.”


We are called to worship God in community. This is why faith community is an essential service that houses of worship provide. Faith communities, such as the one that South Coast Church provides, are the platforms for people to express their spirituality and worship God together.


Journal Activity/Reflection


1) How do you experience community?

2) Why is community important to you?

3) How can you help others build community?   


___


Henri J. M. Nouwen, Michael J. Christensen, and Rebecca Laird, Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith (New York, NY: HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2015), 114.

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Does the Price of Security Bankrupt Our Humanity?

~The Fugitive and the Minister~


One day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became very fearful. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every person in it unless the young man was handed over to them before dawn. The people went to the Minister and asked him what to do. Torn between handing over the boy to the enemy and having his people killed, the Minister withdrew to his room and read his Bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn. In the early morning, his eyes fell on these words: “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.” Then the Minister closed the Bible, called the soldiers, and told them where the boy was hidden. And after the soldiers led the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the Minister had saved the lives of the people. But the Minister did not celebrate. Overcome with a deep sadness, he remained in his room. That night an angel came to him and asked, “What have you done?” He said: “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.” Then the angel said: “But don’t you know that you have handed over the Messiah?” “How could I know?” the Minister replied anxiously. Then the angel said: “If, instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.”


-         Adapted from “The Wounded Healer” (1979), pp. 25-26


Like the minister, who would have recognized the Messiah if he cared to look into the young man’s eyes, we are challenged to look into the eyes of people who are experiencing institutional evils such as systemic racism, discrimination, police brutality, etc. Maybe, that would be enough to prevent us from handing them over to the enemy and empower us to protect the image of God in them.


This kind of courage comes at a cost, however. It challenges the territory of our comfort/security zone. It requires us to be leaders who speak and act against injustice, inequality, and racism. Henri Nouwen writes that everyone is involved in some form of leadership. At its core, leadership is an encounter between two people. In this encounter, we are involved in leading one another from point to point, from viewpoint to viewpoint, and from one conviction to the other. Nouwen adds, “Nobody can offer leadership to anyone unless he makes his presence known—that is, unless he steps forward out of the anonymity and apathy of his milieu and makes the possibility of fellowship visible.”


It’s difficult for me to talk about leadership without mentioning Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection. Nouwen adds that the basic principles of Christian leadership are a personal concern, faith in the value of life, and the ability to impart hope for tomorrow. These principles are rooted in the conviction that, since God has become human, humans can lead fellow humans to freedom. 


Journal Activity/Personal Reflection


1) In what way does the story of the minister and the fugitive speak to you?


2) How can you be a leader that speaks and acts against injustice, inequality, and racism? In what ways will this type of leadership affect your comfort/security zone?


3) How do you live out the principles of Christian leadership mentioned by Nouwen?  

_____

Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Wounded Healer. New York: Doubleday (An Image Book), 1979.

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Love Casts Out Fear

~ The Fearful Hoarders ~

 

"Once there was a group of people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: “How can we be sure that we have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that other people protested and said: “You have much more than you need, while we don’t have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth!” But the fearful hoarders said: “No, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us too, in case our lives are threatened.” But the others said: “We are dying now; please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can’t wait, we need it now!” Then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful, since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another: “Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us.” They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether there were enemies outside the walls or not! As their fear increased they told each other: “Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put explosives and barbed wire on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.” But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they had built with their own fear."


—Henri Nouwen, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Breakfast address

 

The more I know about myself and the more I know about people, the more I am aware about the power of fear. It often seems that fear invades so much of our lives that we don’t know what a life without fear is anymore. Fear affects us as individuals and as a community. So many people allow their thinking, speaking, and acting to be motivated by fear. We fear ourselves and we fear each other. Fear can be such a central part of our lives that we never address it properly or have the self-awareness and strength to address it. Unaddressed and out-of-control fear can become a cruel and heavy burden carried by us in the journey of life.

 

The control that fear has over our lives may be subtle. We may not believe or agree, for example, that people different than us are our enemies but we behave as if that were the case.

 

One of the ways to overcome/manage/cope with fear is with prayer/meditation. Henry Nouwen writes that prayer helps us to overcome the barrier of building our life on just the interpersonal – “what does he or she think of me? Who is my friend? Who is my enemy? Whom do I like? Dislike?” We are often concerned about distinction from others. As long as our sense of self depends on what others think or say about us, and how they respond to us, we become prisoners of the interpersonal and no longer free but fearful.

 

Nouwen suggests that one of the ways to pray in a world full of fear is to choose love over anxiety/fear. I offer to you an encouragement from the Bible: love is stronger than fear and “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

 

Once we free ourselves from the grip of fear, I think our responsibility is to help others break from its dominion. That might mean standing up for the oppressed, marginalized, outcasts, and those experiencing systemic and institutional evil - those that might not be in a position of power to make their voice or circumstance heard.


I believe the injustice suffered by George Floyd, and the many others marginalized in our society, whether it is by means of systemic racism, inequality, and oppression, is a good reminder of the necessity for us to choose love over fear. The Bible asks us to care for the oppressed, to be peacemakers, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. As Americans, as Christians, as human beings, one of the ways in which we can honor the sanctity of life, inside and outside the womb, is to use our voice and speak out against injustice, racism, and institutional/systemic evil.  

 

Journal Activity/Reflection


1) How does fear affect your life?

2) What are some of the steps you can take to overcome/manage/cope with fear?

3) How can you help others overcome their fear?

____


Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Spiritual Formation (pp. 78-80). HarperOne. Kindle Edition 


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A Reflection from the Bedside

I once read a poem drawn from a personal reflection. I managed to find it online this week. This is what it says:

 

“Stages of Motherhood”

 

4 years of age: My mommy can do anything!

8 years of age: My mom knows a whole lot!

12 years of age: My mother doesn’t really know quite everything.

14 years of age: Naturally, Mother doesn’t know that either.

16 years of age: Mother? She’s hopelessly old-fashioned.

18 years of age: That woman? She’s way out of date!

25 years of age: Well, she might know a little bit about it.

35 years of age: Before we decide, let’s get Mom’s opinion.

45 years of age: I wonder what Mom would have thought about it?

65 years of age: I wish I could talk it over with Mom.

 

--- Unknown

I’ve had the honor of being at the bedside of several dying patients, in my role as a professional chaplain for hospice and hospital settings. What I’ve learned from the beautiful souls who have allowed me to enter the sacred space of their dying process is that many were once little humans that were loved by a biological mother, adopted mother, or mother-like figure in their lives. Many often miss that person and wish that person was at their bedside. They know that, somehow, that person could provide the care that is needed at that moment.


I’ve often asked the question, “What do you think your mother would say if she were here next to you?” The response is always different and unique to the relationship that the individual had with their mother figure. Some have told me that their mother would sing to them or simply caress and embrace them. Sometimes, the gentle embrace of a mother is all we need to make everything alright.  


The mother figures who raised us leave a lasting impression that, for many, continues to comfort even during death and dying. I’ve learned that motherhood is special and sacred - - regardless of shape or form that mother role may look like.

It’s a privilege to worship together with the many mothers of South Coast Church. May we all honor them during this special Mother’s Day Holiday.

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The Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude shapes how you experience life. It’s easy to be grateful when everything goes as planned, but if you can be grateful through adversity, then you will feel the most profound impact of gratitude. Gratitude does not take away pain and sadness, but it does allow you to shift your focus toward what you can control. 


Gratitude is more than a mental exercise. We can’t just make mental notes of the good things God has done for us and then thank God for the service provided.


Thomas Merton wrote that to be grateful means we “recognize the love of God in everything He has given us . . . Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.” The grateful person knows God’s grace, not because people tell him/her but because he/she experiences it. This makes all the difference, adds Merton.


Prayer: Author of life and grace help us to be grateful for one another, for all that we have in our lives and all that we will meet today. Amen.


Reflection/Journal Activity


1)     What does ingratitude look like for you?

2)     How do you cultivate gratitude in your life?

3)     What are you grateful for today?

___________


Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000), p.33

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Sanctuary of the Holy

Paul Tillich once said that when we enter the sphere of faith, we enter the sanctuary of life. Tillich also says, “What concerns one ultimately becomes holy. The awareness of the holy is awareness of the presence of the divine . . ..”


My life changed last month, and I’ve slowly embraced that change along with the new normal that comes with it. However, I can say the following with certitude: I have a heightened awareness that God is near to me and is involved in the areas of my life that matter to me. For example, I have a deeper appreciation for how holy my wife and kids are to me. I’ve found a renewed sense of sacredness in “going” to church with my family (via YouTube). I’m grateful for my work. There exists a deep sense of fresh sacredness when I provide pastoral care to patients and families, many of whom are experiencing complex grief due to sudden loss from COVID-19, trauma, disease, etc. All this is holy to me.


God is present in the areas of our lives that are of ultimate concern to us, the areas of our lives that are holy and sacred. Our relationships, for example, are holy and sacred. Our roles and functions (e.g., spouse, parent, sister, brother, friend, etc.) are holy and sacred. Pastor Craig’s message on Sunday made that point indirectly.


When our perspective on something changes, our approach to it changes as well.


Prayer: Author of life and grace, may you open my eyes to see what is holy and sacred. Help me to cultivate holiness and sacredness in my life.


Reflection/Journal Activity


1.      What do you consider holy and sacred?

2.      How do you cultivate holiness and sacredness in your life?

3.      How do you see God involved in the areas of your life that are holy and sacred?

-------

Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Perennial, 2001), p.14.

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Faith in the Giver of All Good Things

The contemplative author, Henri Nouwen, wrote that “When we live with hope we do not get tangled up with concerns for how our wishes will be fulfilled . . . our prayers are not directed toward the gift, but toward the one who gives it.”


Ultimately, Nouwen adds, it’s not about wishing for something to come true but of expressing unlimited trust in the giver of all good things. 


The prayer of “little faith” makes us trust in the circumstances of the present so that we can gain a certain measure of security. The prayer of “little faith” has an immediate gratification in mind. When this prayer is not answered, there is disappointment and disintegration of our concept of God.  


But the prayer of hope is different. For the prayer of hope, says Nouwen, “It is essential that there are no guarantees asked, no conditions posed, and no proofs demanded, only that you expect everything from the other without binding him. Hope is based on the premise that the other gives only what is good. Hope includes an openness by which you wait for the other to make his loving promise come true, even though you never know when, where or how this might happen.”


Prayer: Author of life and grace, we affirm our hope as openness to your promises, even though we never know when, where, or how these might happen. Amen. 


Reflection/Journal Activity


1)      What does the prayer of “little faith” look like to you?

2)      What does the prayer of “hope” look like to you? 

3)      In what ways do you see God moving you from “little faith” to “hope” during this health crisis? 

--------------


Henri J. M. Nouwen, With Open Hands (Bangalore, India: Asian Trading Corporation, 2009), p.68-73

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Actively Waiting by Faith

Some consider waiting as something passive. But, in our faith tradition, those who are waiting are waiting very actively. The Scriptures don’t describe waiting as a passive act. Henri Nouwen writes that “right here is a secret for us about waiting. When we wait with the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. We wait with the conviction that something is happening where we are. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it…believing that this moment is the moment.”


Prayer: May we be mindful in our waiting, present to this moment, expectant of your holy work in our lives. Amen.


Reflection/Journal Activity


1)     What are you waiting for right now?

2)     In what ways do you see God present as you wait?

3)     How does your faith influence/inform your waiting?


---------------------

Henri J. M. Nouwen and Gabrielle Earnshaw, You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2017), p.368.

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Hello from Pastor Craig!

Dear Friends,

 

As we fix our thoughts on Jesus and pray for our friends and loved ones, I want to also ask you to remember to add our Missionaries to your prayer list. Please see the attached Missionary Window for the Month of April that gives some ways that we can pray for all of our Missionaries and also includes some specific prayer requests.

 

Please take some time to read this attachment and then pray that our gracious Lord will meet every need.

 

Please remember that you all are in the prayers of our pastors and leaders. My family and I pause every night to name each one of you by name as we pray for God to protect all of you, to keep you healthy and to keep you strong. I feel a renewed closeness, in this time of separation, by picturing your faces as we pray over each name.

 

I also want to thank those of you who were able to have “virtual church” with us this last Sunday and those who joined us for our Wednesday Night Zoom Call Bible Study. We will be continuing these from week to week until the great day that we can all meet again at church. Sundays are at 10:45 am and can be watched later. Wednesday Nights are at 6:45.

 

I close this email with a quote from Galatians that seems so for right for us at this moment…

 

Galatians 6:9-10 (NLT)

9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

 

God bless you all and protect you all in Jesus’ name…

 

Craig

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