Sacrificial systems stabilize society. Anywhere there have ever been humans this has been true.
But almost as soon as they do, they destabilize, because the system and all within it fall under the spell of a simple but powerful illusion:
Sacrifice must have a reason.
To sacrifice, to give, to do anything, to release energy in any form must have a reason. And the reason is so reasonable. The reason is getting. Not only that, the reason is in itself a getting. Therefore the motive force in the universe for giving energy away is getting. The math is: "If I give, do, say, release x...I'll get y." And the corollary: "I will sacrifice a today"...why? for what reason?..." for the promise of b tomorrow."
In the beginning, this divinely straightforward equation, as clear and simple as the bite of an apple, sits comfortably in the pit of our cosmos propelling existence into the future. But before long, a sacrificial/societal system emerges which exists for one thing: itself, as it consists entirely of individuals who also exist for one thing: themselves. By flawless arithmetic the soul is hollowed in exchange for oneself, and a waste of technological gadgetry is ejected all around. And yet we know as we stumble over enlarging piles of science and circuitry that some vital miscalculation has occurred. Some essential variable has been left out of our chronic transactional machine. And everyone, captivated by the math, yet unaware of its entropic effect, drifts like sediment towards zero.
Inevitably the stable society which, by definition, promises a benevolent future to its inhabitants, grows into a transactional god ninety cubits high. A thing of solid gold demanding each bow down to the sound of its drums and sacrifice if he is to receive its gifts.
But what about the God of reality? The Jesus of “you will always have later, but you will never have right now again.” What about the God whose pleasure descends as light and fire today upon a living alter bloody with faith--which is sacrifice beyond reason? What about the God of spontaneous, simultaneous, and coexistent sufficiency? When the proper sacrifice is made to the God of reality: which is to give pointlessly, give unreasonably, give only for giving itself, give all, and give best, expecting nothing in return—then stability does not abound...love does. And then not merely a stable society manifests, but rather a Promised Land gushing with milk and honey.
Jeremiah 29:8 ff
“Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.
They are prophesying lies to you in my name.”
We who are in exile, hear what we want to hear...and then call that a message sent from God. But it’s not God’s message, it’s ours. The case is exactly this:
We mail a letter addressed to ourselves, then open it and are so amazed it says exactly what we were thinking that we say it must be from God.
But this is a lie.
God says, “I didn’t send that letter. You did."
Here is my message:
“Learn to live where you are now, in your exile, not the promised land where you think you should be. It is by always looking towards what you want instead of what is at your feet that you lost the promised land in the first place. When you shift what you should have into what you already have, you discover that any plans for the future do not do much for the man with no capacity for enjoying life right now, because when his tree finally bears fruit, he is unable to see it, eat it, or taste it. He can't even enjoy the fruit of his own labor. Because although he is there, he is no￼ longer there. He is already worrying about what to eat as his fruit rots on the ground around his feet.
If you really want to find me, I will be found.
The only way to find your way home is by accepting that you’ve lost it, because otherwise you won’t listen. It is the first step in discovering that the home of your imagination—the home your ego experiences (yes, even that actual address on the mailbox) is just a concept and not really home at all. It can be a hell-hole, a heaven, a haven, just one more frustration to bear, a way-station, a limbo, a hidey-hole...anything. If you can accept you have somehow lost your way home as you stand at your own mailbox, you begin to see finding your way back home is the point—that seeking your destination IS your destiny. In the same way, you can find me only when you accept you’ve lost me. Because then there is no more wasted energy on what you think is going on and what should be done about it. You will seek me with all your heart; in every nook and cranny; under every bush and behind every blade of grass; in every corner of the house; in every human face. And maybe you will discover along the way where it is you actually lost me.
Live first, plan second. Choose life—not your plan for life. You are not the plan maker. I am. I am the only one who understands how plans work and I know the plans I have for you.”
People are always going from A to B.
Always from where they do not want to be to where they want to be. Where someone is right now is always less good than their next choice—by definition. And if, by some miracle, one is actually happy right now, he finds it exceedingly hard to both be happy and know he’s happy. He has the sense his good fortune is only fleeting--always feeling that where he is today is never enough; therefore, tomorrow must have it! That's it! Over there will be enough. Over there will be the golden ring. Over there, the promised land! But obviously he will never get there. Obviously anyone who sees the good life as always over there will never set one foot (not one toe!) in the the promised land. He will forever be one step, one River Jordan, one obstruction, one choice away. It is true what they say for the one who doesn't know how to live today: Tomorrow never comes. In this pitiful way one can spend almost his entire life never in the one place he actually exists—today. He can invest almost all his time—his golden treasure—in the two markets which yield the least returns—yesterday and tomorrow.
"This is the day the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it."
1 Corinthians 14:20
When it comes to evil, be an infant. Paul echoes the second half of Job’s pivotal, two-part, life-changing verse on how to begin standing up under the weight of life: shun evil. Evil is base. Basic. Evil concepts, attitudes, and behaviors are the most readily detectable and therefore avoidable spirits of one’s soul. Like the ground is more familiar than the stars; such is man's lowness more familiar than his heights. And for the man reborn; the Job who lifts his eyes from the ashes into new life; who innocently crawls towards his bipedal humanity: though he may not yet understand all that is good…all that is truth…at least he understands (without being told and from the beginning) what is lie; what is evil.
But beyond evil, when it comes to thinking, be an adult. Paul encourages that when one comes across a challenging and paradoxical concept in one’s life--in one’s theology, in one’s psychology, in one’s religion, in one’s spirit-- and thinks, Man, I don’t like to think about that! I don’t want to go there! : don’t shun it. That is exactly where one must go. Otherwise at the crossroads of indecision, the moment one selects the path he prefers, he rejects all others. And Paul, the once great and mighty hand of judgement for the gods of the well-worn path, reminds us that walking along unwanted paths and in fields that are “not mine” is the one who stumbles upon buried treasure. Again and again, within deeply mined quarries scarred with years of excavation, it is among the rejected where the cornerstone is found. Go there to build temples.
“I want” immediately throws me into the future. Which takes me out of now—where life is. Where God is. Right now is where God is because it is where doing and faith and infinity collide. The closer I get to right now—as the second hand on my office clock is literally about to tick—an infinite number of things are occurring that are completely out of my understanding and conscious control. Unseen forces exponentially rising the instant I type this next letter. How do I move my finger? How do I..? How…? How? How… how… how… how…? I don’t know. The closer I get to that next tick, the more I must trust. It is just how it is.
So, how will I know what to do if what I want to do is the problem? (Or said another way: …if the apple I want separates me from God?). I will know what to do in a different way. A deeper way. A more miraculous way. A more powerful way. Like knowing how to grow my hair. Somehow, I know. And I have always known—a powerful gift since birth.
It is the moment Samson wanted--wanted his hair—wanted what he already had—that he gave it away—that he laid a hand on his head and was separated from it. Bye bye, God.
When Samson realized: “Because of my wanting, I sheared my own head,”
he began to know what to do again. Began to know God again. And his hair grew.
A new beginning.
The player got played. Out of the Judge—judgement. Bye bye, Samson.
The moment he is called out as the chosen one and the spirit newly rests upon his shoulders like Elijah’s mantle, Jesus is lead by the spirit into a wilderness of suffering and insufficiency—because that is the state of all man. And in that state, in that place, he faces the ultimate representation of adversity--The Adversary--that which opposes all man. Why? Why at the beginning?
Suffering--vulnerability--want--death-- is laid out before him at the beginning, because that is where his journey will end. And before he can minister--transform--change--before he can relieve the world’s suffering--it is absolutely fundamental that he confronts the question of what to do about his own suffering and insufficiency—of the temptation of not having, but having the power to get.
What does he do in that wilderness—in that state?
What do you do? That same wilderness of suffering and death is of course your natural habitat. What do you do?
Do you have the power to change lifeless green paper into bread and satisfy yourself? The world says you do. Jesus says to the world, “I don’t need what you are offering.” He is stating that in your chronic condition of suffering, life is not about getting what you want--it is about accepting it. And those are very different things. Opposite actually. It is facing it. Not avoiding it. He knows real life actually exists outside of your wants. Transcends it.
"More than bread alone" is the tap on my wife—Betsy’s shoulder in the grocery store by the cash register worker who she talks about all the time and cares for and prays for and has developed a relationship with; and says things like, My friend is not here today. I wonder where she is? How she is?
What is the goal of a trip to the grocery store? Where does life happen in the grocery store? Is it the exchanging of a plastic card for bread?
But then, right in the middle of our lives, right in the middle of “I don’t have. I must get,” right in the middle of the grocery store…a tap on the shoulder. It’s her! And look! She was on her break and she saw Betsy and wanted to see her. Then, two people smiling at each other in the middle of their lives. They talk about life. They talk about hurts and joys. And Jesus looks over to the Adversary with a smile on his face, “See, where life is?”
When Betsy gets to her car, she realizes she inadvertently stole a few items at the self-checkout and has to go in to pay for them. Why did that happen? Because she had left the wilderness of want and inhabited the kingdom of heaven. And, she, a creator of new worlds, takes joy in that moment, too.
Where is life? It transcends our sufferings and our wants. It is more satisfying than a break at a work. It is worth more than bread alone.
I just had a great meditation this morning on a question a friend asked related to why Peter wrapped his garments around himself before he jumped in the water as he swam to Jesus at the end of John. Because, as she said, “Everything in the Bible is there for a reason. Every word.” And she’s right. John included that detail for a reason.
It is the last chapter. Peter has denied Jesus. In his rejection, he now pulls empty nets out of the water, fishing in the darkness. Then Jesus arrives at dawn and asks him to cast his nets one more time. And they fill and fill and fill. Now, let’s see where this goes:
Jesus watches Peter. As he watches you. He speaks to Peter. As he speaks to you. Then he watches Peter gather his garments and jump in the water and swim to shore. What an act of love! Of devotion! What a beautiful act of desiring only Jesus!
But then why doesn’t the scene on shore begin with a soggy hug and the joyous tears of a restored relationship?
Because of that garment.
The scene on shore begins as it must: Jesus teaches Peter. He tells Peter to go help bring the fish to shore. He then sits around a fire and teaches Peter about love. Because it is critical. It is everything. Because Jesus sees that Peter still has not learned what love is. And he must. He must . He must! Or it is all for naught!
“But, you know I love you! Right?” says Peter.
But then the teacher:
“See, Peter, you think love is like wanting; like desire; or devotion. But to ‘want’ me—to ‘want’ anything—to ‘want’…means you don’t have it. It is to ‘want’ for something—to be lacking. So it is something you must get. You must grab. Like, ‘I love breakfast.’ Which is, ‘I want breakfast. I am wanting…breakfast.’ It is a desire for something you are lacking. But like the tree of life, I am the opposite of desire. I exist outside of wanting. I am fulfillment.
See, you already have me. You have always had me.
Out there, in the darkness, facing the unknown, I spoke and you listened. You responded. And when you responded, I revealed abundance. You went to fish, right? You went for a purpose, right? Well, I showed you ultimate fulfillment of your purpose—of meaning. And remember, Peter, it happened precisely when you trusted a voice from the unknown.
And then, when I revealed what lies beneath what you can see, I watched. I watched your response. And what did you do? As soon as you knew it was me, you "thought" you knew what to do. You turned from that purpose; you turned from the responsibility that emerged as a result of your miraculous power to extract meaning. You turned from it and gathered your garments, and wanted me because you thought that was love. You thought that was what I ‘wanted.’
But wanting me is not loving me. I am teaching you the answer to ‘Do you love me?’ because you don't know. The answer is: ‘feed my sheep.’ Like the line I came from—David’s line--the line of the shepherd boy who knew that to fulfill his purpose, his father’s will, was the same as loving his father; and in that kind of loving is where meaning is found; is where strength is found; is where victory is found; is where dancing with joy is found; is where everything is found--as he was; so I am; and so you must be; like the boy with the heart of God. Loving me, immature spirit, is not getting me. It is not getting what you want and going where you want and gathering you garments, and then sitting at my feet; while the purpose and meaning I showed you sinks in the water for others to bear. If you love me…fulfill your purpose! I will show you abundant meaning and purpose if you listen. If you follow, mature spirit, if you will be lead, then I will reveal a miracle of meaning with which to offset the suffering and insufficiencies of the world. If you listen, if you respond, I will show you how to save the world—how to love me. And it absolutely exists outside of what you want."
Are you swimming towards Jesus while responsibilities that were revealed to you; that you know are full of life and life-giving; are left sinking behind? Put the garments back down. Go. Grab the nets, full to bursting with life. Help bring them to shore. And let’s eat breakfast.
Want and value
(Heart and treasure)
Want attaches to value. Which, suddenly, yanks value into time—traps it in a strange exchange we refer to as “future”—all which occurs at various levels of our consciousness simultaneously. But there is also that which exists outside of want (outside of “what I want”) and therefore, outside of time: That which just is.
What do you want?
“Want” is to not have. To be insufficient. But if you, in this moment, are reading these words, then everything that you need for life is available to you right now. The fruit of every tree is yours. Names of beasts—heuristics galore. And acceptance of that which you don’t know. That’s it. There is nothing that you “want” for life (otherwise you would be dead). But we are consumed by desire. By that I mean our present moment—our present existence—the life we are experiencing as we walk to our cars in the cool of the evening is burnt away by desire—by want. By a fear of the future rather than an ease with it. It creates separation from what we experience. It is separation from God. It is disunion. Darkness and fear and want are all connected.
Before the future begins, right now, there is oneness. There is not “other.” There is no “I” and “she.” Of course when there is “I” and “she” that immediately places us on separate islands—which is aloneness. And it is not good for man to be alone. After I finish naming and categorizing and boxing; the last man standing is me. For my left brain, this is even the point. All of the “not me’s” define me. But, again, that means I am alone looking at a bunch of boxes. God says that separateness is not what makes you who you are. It makes you smaller and smaller. It makes you the loneliest island—the loneliest ship at sea. The pre-conscious ceremony in the cosmic garden (our original, our ancestral, home) is making it clear that without our knowledge, before we open our eyes, “she” did not come from “other”— from our naming and separating—“she” came from “me”—“she” is “me.” We are one. This is the entirety of humanity is it not? Or maybe you think the human race can have different starting points—different finish lines? Maybe you would rather believe parallel lines don’t converge in the distance? What do you know? Or wait— maybe you fell from the sky—marooned on an island—a hailstone from a separate strain—a separate Adam—a separate Eve—a separate ancestral home?
No. Look around you. This is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones. We are one flesh. It is only in desire, in my wanting, in the fall, that there are many islands. Isaiah shouts to all the islands, “God is calling you home!” It is the difference between in, not of the world. One is to be “stranger in a strange land”; and one is to be “wherever your feet touch, it will be home.” One is to build yourself from hacking, taking, and glomming onto yourself what the world says about you—gives you; and one is to build the world from you. While you were asleep God took from you and created humanity. This is my flesh. I will leave my mother and my father and become one.
“Help me to understand.”
There is nothing else. The path of the ego is the path to the lowest place. Ends there. But it is also where humility Begins—must begin. Humility, if it is ever to be found, is found in the abyss—where profound things always are. And then, down there in the dirt, an amazing thing happens: the eyes begin to lift. The journey starts to climb upward. It is the place of “levavi oculos.” It is elevation. It is the place of revealed truth, rather than argued truth.
What more do I need?
Jesus—the mode of being that redeems—is all the sign I need. All the miracle I need. Am I not amazed at this life? Do I see only my tiny years, or do I see the eternal moment of right now? Do I simultaneously look one way and say, “My time on this earth is too short!” and look another and say, “I have plenty of time;” never able to live right now—the ONE AND ONLY place where life actually happens; refusing, rejecting, ignorant—waiting for some other time, some other life?
Jesus says,”Do you want me to exceed your expectations? What do you expect?”
Faith happens in the absence—on the other side; in the letting go—of my wants. My wants are marred by smallness; tarnished by fear; pushed and pulled by the external. In their absence, ONLY by their removal, can I finally see the one who says, “Ask me anything? And as long as you do it my name—the name of redemption—in the name of that which exists outside of what you know—it is done.”
It’s like, “The unknown can either be trusted or feared. I am asking you to trust.”