Saturday, December 8, 2007

Speak Up & They Will Listen!

It seems that we really can make a difference! Tens of thousands of petitions, thousands of phone calls, and dozens of petition deliveries from ONE members have motivated the presidential candidates of 2008 to answer important questions regarding their plans to end extreme poverty and global disease.

You can visit the On the Record site which features each of the candidates' personal video responses and short summaries of their plans on:

♦ Reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis
♦ Eradicating malaria
♦ Improving child and maternal health
♦ Achieving universal primary education
♦ Cutting in half the number of people without clean water or enough food

We've been asking the presidential candidates to pay attention to the plight of the voiceless millions struggling to break the cycle of poverty and to put these issues in the middle of the debate over America's role in the world.

For the first time ever, the entire presidential field is debating these issues and coming up with plans that recognize the challenge and the opportunity we have to build a better future for the world's most vulnerable people. The result is a huge victory for the millions of people around the world living in extreme poverty.

This focus on fighting extreme poverty and global disease couldn't come at a more critical time. We're only weeks away from the Iowa caucuses and the candidates know that 2.4 million ONE members are comparing their plans and looking for leadership, as we make up our minds on who to support in 2008.

Through On the Record, we have the chance to make a more informed choice than ever before. This year, we'll go into the primary season with more knowledge and more confidence that extreme poverty and global disease will be central to the 2008 election.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Presidential Accountability

Don't you think we should hold our Presidential candidates accountable for what they intend to do about Global Poverty? ONE members are stepping up our game by launching a petition urging all the presidential candidates to go "On The Record" by submitting, in writing and on video to ONE, their plans on the following five issues:

* Eradicating malaria;

* Improving child and maternal health;

* Reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis;

* Achieving universal primary education; and

* Providing access to food and clean water for all.

ONE will then build an online tool so that everyone can compare the candidates' answers before heading out to vote in the primaries. Please sign ONE's "On The Record" petition and encourage your friends and family to sign on as well.

I've just signed the petition myself. I want to ask the 2008 presidential candidates to go on the record and tell us exactly where they stand on fighting extreme poverty and global disease.
You can take action on this important cause too by visiting

As a member of ONE, we need to ask our presidential candidates to go on the record on where they stand on fighting extreme poverty and global disease that affect the one billion people around the world.

Let's make alleviating suffering and tackling the root causes of global poverty a defining issue for the next President of the United States. We want to know their plans to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, eradicate malaria, improve child and maternal health, achieve universal primary education, and provide access to clean water and food, as well as a personal message about how they plan to lead on the fight to make poverty history.

We are only one year away from Election Day 2008. The time to go on the record on extreme poverty and global disease is now!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Finding God in Un/Likely/Likely Places

I hiked Pike's Peak this summer. This pic was taken near the summit. It looks like you're on the moon or something!
I have a friend who WAS a Pastor of a church. He found out one day that his wife was no longer committed to him (she was having an "emotional" affair with another staff member). He was completely caught off-guard and devastated. He was willing to try to work things out, but she was not ...

My friend informed his deacons that his wife was leaving him. Four days later, they fired him ... In one week, he lost his wife, continuous presence with his kids, his home, and his job. He reached out for support from his denomination, but didn't get much. Who wants a divorced pastor, who is currently single? He felt like "damaged goods." He wound up selling insurance, which seemed to me, a waste of his gifts.

My friend learned a lot over the next two years about church, about God, and about himself. I learned a few things as well. I had him come speak to our church not long ago. When I asked him to come and share with us what he's learned/learning, he indicated that he was not sure what he had to offer because his "relationship" with God was still fractured, but that he thought it would be helpful to him to talk through it. I thought I'd post an edited letter to him here and offer these thoughts to highlight the travesty of placebo churches that are full of unhealed wounds and the hope of healing that God offers to all of us in authentically spiritual and redemptive communities.
The Letter:
Hey Bro.,

I'm looking forward to you being here as well. Somehow, I think it will be good both ways. I keep thinking how UN-Christian so many Christians are and how you got a huge dose of that. I want Mosaic to hear from you because I believe you'll somehow be able to bring to the table the difference between a "Jesus Person" (identifying with Him) and a "Churched/Religious/Modern Pharisee/Fundamentalist" (not like Christ at all).

I can only imagine how intense and wholistic the effect of your experiences have been and are currently. I am hoping for redemption to have its way. I just don't know what that's going to look like in your life. I do believe, that whatever form redemption takes, it will be good.

I want my Spirituality to be real and honest. How can it be honest if I leave out the messiness? I know that most of what I've experienced in my life and ministry has not really been as much spiritual as it has been religious. I'm seeking though ...

We (Mosaic) are different as a community of faith because of you and your experiences. (Note: we had been fairly intimate with my friend through the whole process. Our church welcomed him redemptively; and we experience redemption ourselves!). You are my friend and have affected me by your experiences. I, in turn, have taken much of that interaction between you and me to Mosaic. They have begun to wrestle with the incongruity between the church and Jesus Christ. I am expectant that you will further the dialogue with your presence and with you're thinking on the subject.

I'm still expecting to gleen from your journey. Where have you been finding God along the way? I imagine it hasn't been in church or in the Bible like most people tend to think. But I bet He's showing up somewhere. That's what I want to believe--that He's everywhere, all the time, somehow engaging us. If we believe that, I think we'll be less judgmental of people who do spirituality different than us and we'll look for God in ways that we usually don't (in a breeze, in a person's smile, in an icecream cone, in a kindness, in a beautiful thought …) and we'll find Him and we'll find redemption.

(I pointed out in the next paragraph that redemption was breaking into his life even though he was unsure of the nature of his relationship with God--so much of his paradigm had been shattered by his wounding and the grieving was not over yet.) Perhaps, it's redemptive that you've found love again (new relationships). You've found community (an emerging church had made room for him to be a part of their church just as he was--angry, confused about God, unsettled about everything. They didn't include him as a janitor for their church, but as a leader!). You still have a friend like me in the church, but not of it (Ha! That's funny!). You've found other work that you enjoy. You've probably found a deeper place in God than before. I know it's more honest! I believe this is redemptive!!

I'm sure whatever you talk about with Mosaic, it will bring up who God really is, who we really are, and God's invitation to include Him in our messy lives. Not so He can simply fix us (much of it can't be fixed), but so He can be with us, and so we can be with each other, and so we can move toward redemption.

I am resisting writing what I know you already know. So, I'll stop, finally! I admit, "I runnith over with the mouth" most of the time.

Your friendship is important to me. Hope your day is good (redemptive). I love you. Jim

One Last Thought

Churches have positioned, for way too long, people who "appear" to have it all together as models of redemption for us. If these people ever had real problems (drug addictions, alcohol problems, infidelity, cheating on their taxes, marital struggles, divorce, children "gone wild" …), those problems were in the past and have NOW been overcome! Glory Hallelujah! Let's all sing and serve ice cream!

Why don't we learn from this poor excuse for redemption. Real redemption is on-going, never completed, always yearning for more. Real redemption takes place in the darkness, in the shadows of our lives where we need it most. We cry out to God in the middle of life; and for the most part, in the middle looks like when we wake up in the morning--before the shower, the makeup, the pressed clothes, and the plastic smiles. Redemption goes on underneath all of that. Can the Church of Jesus Christ be in the middle of life? The messy middle? I believe so! I hope so!

If the Church goes here, we will find God already there. And finally, we will understand that we always find God in the most un-likely places where redemption is needed and it is there that it will take place! That's Gospel!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Prayer for the Poor

National Day of Prayer
May 3, 2007
Jim Taylor

Much can be said about a Nation by what it does with its poor.

Proverbs 29:7 declares,

"The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern."

Father, we stand here together knowing what Your intention is toward the poor. We know so much and we have so much, "What should we do with our knowledge & resources?"

We know that the poor are a class of people where basic human needs go unmet. Needs required to adequately sustain life free of disease, hunger, suffering, pain, misery, fear and hopelessness. We know that these people are defenseless against suffering that comes from structural injustices as well. We know the poor are the ones who can be overlooked because they don't have the knowledge, the clout, the influence, or the resources to put their concerns on the table nor do they have the power to make the rest of us take them seriously.

We know God, that You are especially concerned about the relational impact of poverty. We know that poverty creates individuals and a class of people who are outcasts, ascribed little or no value by others, they are people who are depersonalized and shunned by their neighbors, who plead uselessly for mercy, and are sometimes even avoided by us--the religious elite.

We are reminded today of Micah’s prophetic warning that all religious sacrifices are useless if God’s people don’t do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:6-8).

Our prayer, Father, is a prayer for us. Perhaps, if our hearts are changed and brought into alignment with Yours, the misery of the poor will be alleviated.

We pray, therefore, that we will take up the cause of those who have little. That we will share our resources and our very lives with them. We pray that we will feed those who are hungry. May we provide clean water to those who are thirsty. May we give shelter to those who are homeless. May we advocate for decent pay for decent work. May we join in the cause to overcome extreme poverty.

For we do know, Father, that every dried out stomach, like every parched soul, leaves us all impoverished. May we share . . . May we share!

In the name of Jesus Christ, the One who Advocates for us all; and especially the poor, Amen.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

American Idol Gives Back

Love Your Neighbor
Jim Taylor

I don't normally watch pop T.V. shows. Not that they have nothing to offer, I just tend to get bored with them rather quickly. My routine of dismissal was interrupted, however, for the past two nights of American Idol ( When I found out that they were "giving back," I wanted to know more. I have to admit it was inspirational!

I'm sure you know, but just in case, American Idol decided to use the show's influence to raise awareness and money for people in need. The program did just that with tears, laughter, videos of the people in need, and remarkable live performances as "Idol Gives Back" raised over 30 million dollars during the 2 hour-long production (total raised 70 million & counting!).

Charity Projects Entertainment Fund (, a U.S. registered charity, partnered with American Idol for this two-night TV refreshing event. CPEF identifies themselves at their web-site as "a new charitable organization established to raise money and awareness to benefit children and young people in extreme poverty in the United States and throughout the world, particularly in Africa."

I was specially moved by Simon. I don't watch the show; so, I don't know much about him. But the little I have watched, he can come off a bit "removed." As Simon walked into the lives of these tormented souls, he was left almost speechless, uttering over and over, "this is just wrong." He was over-come by the seeing and smelling and sickness, and appalling situations that these forlorns must endure. I guess something tugs at my heart to see people, who I might assume are rather callused, softened by the human condition. He was a prime example of what exposure to the suffering of others produces in healthy people--compassion! Compassion, if it's real, leads to involvement!

It was wonderful to be a part of so much good gathering momentum from making us aware and inviting us to give. I can't imagine a heart so closed that it wouldn't break for these stricken, suffering, sickened, and starving people--especially the children. I believe that when our hearts are broken, our wallets will open … Jesus put it this way, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21). The inverse is implied, where your heart is, there will be your treasure!

For my family, this night around the TV was exceptional. We were all moved in our hearts and in our wallets. My three girls pulled out their piggy banks and started putting money on our coffee table--Mom & I did the same (only we finally used plastic since we wanted to give more than the cash in our wallets). Then, we all waited with baited breath to see how much money would be raised. I watched Comedy and TV star Ellen DeGeneres chip in 100K and challenge her buddies to do the same ... I'm sure some of her buddies did too. I decided to ask some of my buddies as well. How about it, do you want to chip in? Click here to donate or for more information on Idol Gives Back and the Charity Projects Entertainment Fund (CPEF).

This all reminds me of the relational connections that the Gospel assumes. I am connected to God, humanity, and Creation itself. I cannot divorce myself from any of these without doing violence to the vision of God. If I enter into His vision, I enter into solidarity with God, humanity, and Creation.

Perhaps, that's why Jesus summed up the most appropriate way to live as loving God and loving our neighbor. We already know that. Don't we? And we know that "christians" love their neighbors. Right?

We can give without loving, but we can't love without giving. "Love your neighbor …" (Jesus).

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Good Friday Reflection

(I took this picture at the Grand Canyon in May 2006)


Scriptural Text: Luke 22:7-8, 14-23 (NLT)
A Reflection By Jim Taylor

7 Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread arrived, when the Passover Lambs were sacrificed. 8Jesus sent Peter and John ahead and said, "Go and prepare the Passover meal, so we can eat it together."
14Then at the proper time Jesus and the twelve apostles sat down together at the table. 15Jesus said, "I have looked forward to this hour with deep longing, anxious to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. 16For I tell you now that I won’t eat it again until it comes to fulfillment in the Kingdom of God."
17Then he took a cup of wine, and when he had given thanks for it, he said, "Take this and share it among yourselves. 18For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come."
19Then he took a loaf of bread; and when he had thanked God for it, he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, "This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 20After supper he took another cup of wine and said, "This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you—an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you.
21"But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. 22For I, the Son of Man, must die since it is part of God’s plan. But how terrible it will be for my betrayer!" 23Then the disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.

(Jesus Speaking) My final hours descend upon me. I crave to exhaust them with my friends—to be close to them, to hear their voices, to share one more meal. I need them with me before the suffering begins. Later, I’ll … pray.

I welcome John’s easy way of loving me. Delight! Unsolicited, Judas eyes me with impatience and displeasure—betrayal lurking in his glance. Grief! The contrast is stark and severe. Sorrow pierces my heart. Terror is contained in this moment. Doubts linger like shadows at the edges of my mind. Beneath the crust of my conviction, there is uncertainty.

I seize the symbols at hand (a cup of wine, some bread) and reveal the hope of a present-future of healing grace. My body will be broken; my blood poured out. My Father will unmask all the violence and injustice and hatred by a willing sacrifice—smothering evil by absorbing it with love! Remember this!

I must die. There is no surprise. I yearn to overcome the dread. My dearly cherished friends will abandon me. Alone! Judas is not the first to betray me—nor the last. I caution Peter in vain. Each must discern that mercy is the imperative in redemption, not righteousness. Have I made it obvious to them? Maybe, if I had more time …

I can feel the anguish, like a volcano of pain, expanding from somewhere deep within me. I can’t prevent myself, erupting, "One of you will betray me!" It’s one last chance for Judas. I wish he’d drop his guard and let me in. Why not?! My complete desire is to love him! It’s too late. My heart is ripping in two. If only there was another way. My body broken … my blood poured out.

Soothingly, I become aware of my Father’s heart in mine. I’ll try again, "I’m giving you a new command: As I have loved you, love each other. This will prove to the world that you are my disciples." An impression forms subconsciously: there is no greater love than to give your life for another …

Prayer: You were broken and poured out … for us … for me!—all our sin absorbed by Your love. Now, we are free! I’m on my knees because I thirst for Your holy presence living in me. You are my daily bread. You sustain me. Enlarge my heart that I may be broken and poured out for another.

Suggested Activity: Share in the Lord’s Supper with someone. Do this to remember Him.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Male Grief

I just returned from the first Men's Rite of Passage (MROP) in Texas facilitated by Fr. Richard Rohr I was one of three teaching elders and served on the coordinating team for the MROP with other initiated men from Texas. I was asked to speak on the topic of Male Grief. I've posted the talk I gave below:

MROP—John Knox Ranch (near Canyon Lake)
Mar. 14-18, 2007


Good morning Brothers. I want you to know that I am truly honored to be here with you on your rite of passage. And I am doubly honored to have you listen in with me on this day of grief.

My name is Jim Taylor. I am a survivor of the MROP. I get my one-year chip this May.

I have a beautiful family. My wife, Lynda, and I have been married 17 years. We have three lovely girls (8, 10, 11); so you fathers know how blessed I am. I’ve been in vocational ministry for 24 years. I like to tell people that I’m a recovering Baptist. I don’t know what that means for sure, but it is somehow descriptive for me. I told Richard that he makes me want to be a Catholic and he gave me this wonderful answer, "only the good kind."
I believe that’s what I want for my life, "the good"—Aristotle described it as the summum bonum—"the highest life." I imagine that’s what good religion does at its best—opens the window to God and to something really good for us. Perhaps, all of our traditions have some of that to share. Unfortunately, I’ve experience not-so-good religion along the way too. I think that’s what I’m really recovering from—bad religion. I’m sad to say that it seems I run into more and more people who know exactly what I mean by that. There are a lot of bad things we can give ourselves to, but bad religion may be the worst because it can keep us sedated, asleep, when we should be awake to the possibilities of God. I think this was something of what Jesus warned against when He said, "If only we would have eyes to see, ears to hear …"

Grief is a troublesome topic for men because, apparently, we do not do it well—certainly, not as well as most women. Until the past few decades in the West, not much attention was even paid to gender as a factor in grieving, but now, almost everyone agrees that men need help in this area. Ancient cultures, though, always seemed to get this and they thought it necessary to include this aspect of "finding the tears" in their initiation of young men.

That’s what I respect about the MROP. We get the chance to make a dramatic change in our lives. To open our eyes and see! If we have the courage to leap, we find that something amazing awaits us! That’s the promise of our elders, the men who’ve gone before us. They say that the leap is worth the risk.

Men often fear that we’re alone on the spiritual path. And what we experience here in our Rites of Passage is that we have many fathers & brothers along with us on our journey—something that connects us to the deep rhythms of being male and being spiritual. Today is another aspect of our collective experience as men that we will walk into together. But this is not the first time, gentlemen, that men have gathered to listen to our elders, to listen to nature, to beat ourselves into submission to God, and to huddle over the sacred whispers of our brothers about their own inner demons, and fears and pains and losses and failures. And we are not the first to band together in hope of healing. And it seems we have a lot of healing to do!

I started my "male journey" 43 years ago (I was born at a young age). I’ve had a wonderful life, but I didn’t always think so. I was born into a dysfunctional family. Both my parents abused alcohol and what’s worse they abused each other in the process. If you know about family systems, I was the child who tried to fix everything. That’s an impossible job for a kid to sign up for, but there was so much chaos in our home, I figured I had no choice. I remember watching my mom & dad over and over discovering new ways to hurt each other. All I knew for sure was that when they drank beer, bad things would happen. So, when the yelling started, I’d sneak in and find any unopened Beer and start pouring it out. I thought if I could just get rid of the alcohol … maybe everything would be o.k. I’d get up in the morning and clean the house to try and make the evidence of the night’s disaster disappear. I thought if I could just sweep up the mess maybe it would seem normal …

One night, when I was six years old, I sat in my room, peeking through a crack in the door watching the familiar scene unfold, my mom & dad screaming at each other—it was terrible! Jerry Springer stuff. My mom shot my dad that night and he knocked her out in the process. The wound didn’t kill him—it was just a 22, but I’m pretty sure a little bit of me died. I remember being absolutely terrified. I had no idea what to do—absolutely helpless. I do remember sitting there, though, making myself a promise: "I’ll never live like this!"—I didn’t know how, but I was never going to live like that.

Two years later, my mom decided the same thing, only she took a more drastic approach. She took her own life. I was so devastated I reached out for God. I never had any formal religious experience, but somehow I intuited that He could help me. You know, there wasn’t a broom big enough to sweep up the mess … would He please let it just be a bad dream … could I wake up in the morning and have my mom back? In that brief encounter, I was sure of three things:
(1) my mom wasn’t coming back, (2) God was somehow present for me, and (3) this was going to hurt like nothing I had ever experienced so far. I had no idea … How do you get over losing your mom when your only 8? I kept thinking, "What if I’d shown her that I loved her more? Would she have chosen to live? And worse, the inverse, "What if she didn’t love me enough to want to stay around?" Either way I was damned!

My way of dealing with the pain and chaos in my life was to stuff the pain and try to outrun it. I intended to become an achiever. I just kept looking for the hoops to jump through that would make me a successful person. I thought if I could jump through enough hoops, surely, the pain would go away, people would accept me, love me, and life would be different for me. I thought I could fix everything if I just knew enough and lived right. You may imagine how bad religion would appeal to someone like me, wounded, helpless, full of pain. I needed easy answers, a definite plan, clear steps how not to have anything like this ever happen again. Bad religion told me just what I wanted to hear, if I’d be good enough, pray hard enough, do all the right things, I could skip the pain. God would be on my side. I figured God was better than a rabbit’s foot. You didn’t have to count on luck. All you had to do was make Him happy and everything would be O.K. So, that’s what I tried. Only one problem, bad religion was telling me what it would take to make God happy. Bad news for me.

I was the straight A student. The over-achiever. The guy who sat in the front seat. I listened when the teacher spoke. I followed all of the rules. When I started going to church, it was more of the same. When life didn’t work for me, I tried harder and I became more determined.
My dad wasn’t able to help me. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was just as wounded as me. Every time I reached out to him, he responded with his own pain. I was always trying to make him proud of me. I thought if he was proud of me, he might find something to love about me. Since I was an honor’s student in H.S., every time I brought home my report card, I saw it as a window of opportunity. Maybe I could make him proud! As a sophomore, I remember bringing home a report card with all A’s and one B+. He looked at it and said, "Why’d you make a B?" He just didn’t have it in him to say, "Good job." In my woundedness, I went to my room devastated. I came back a few minutes later and told him, "Dad, all I want to know is if you love me? He said, "I put a roof over your head don’t I?" I didn’t understand that answer as a "yes." I wanted very simply for my dad to hug me. I wanted him to tell me that he was proud of me. And most of all, I wanted him to say that he loved me, that I was a good son, and that he believed in me. That’s the Father hunger guys (See Rohr, Adam's Return, 87-91). And I was starving!

I would have profited if I had known you then Richard. I needed a father, an elder, a healthy man to walk with me and teach me. I had no idea what to do with my pain or how to grieve. I didn’t lean into the struggles I was facing, I ran. My mother was gone. My father was under-supplied.

I later realized that my dad’s problem was really a problem of his own father: "Like father, like son." My dad was like most men of his generation: he didn't have a clue how to raise a son, or be a loving father. He was utterly at a loss. I kept hoping, though, all the way into adulthood that something would change—that we’d connect somehow. That everything that had been lost between us could be discovered somewhere like a great dug-up treasure that had been lost, but was now found. We’d be rich—no longer impoverished!

My dad died when I was in school working on a Master’s Degree. All the hope of healing gone in a brief phone call. I couldn’t understand why it hurt so much when my dad and I were never that close. But I know now—I was grieving for the father that I always hoped would show up someday. He was just as dead as my real dad.

Richard has a phrase that I learned the truth of the hard way: "If we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it" (Rohr, Adam’s Return, 37). And that’s exactly what I did. Five years into our marriage, Lynda & I hit bottom. It was a humiliating experience. I had turned my pain and fear and unfinished grief into anger and transmitted it to my wife. She wasn’t on the same page as me and I thought I could fix her too. The only problem was she wouldn’t jump through my hoops. One night, we were fighting and she suggested that we call our pastor. I mockingly told her to go ahead, thinking she would never do such a thing. I had a reputation (very small one) but one that my ego inflated and wanted to uphold. I just didn’t know her ego wasn’t as stupid as mine.

She called … that was step one. I admitted my weakness and failure to control my anger and my pain—my life was out of control. After about 12 weeks, I remember our counselor saying to Lynda at one point, "Jim may be the loneliest person I’ve ever met." And he wept. For me, it was like someone had opened a window and looked right into my soul. I felt so very alone. All by myself and I hated it, but I still didn’t know how to fix it. In my ignorance I reached out and included everyone that I could in my pain, not knowing that it was a pathway into healing. Men don’t usually include others in their weakness. We like to hide, put on a brave face, move ahead, don’t look back. But I was forced into the dark. It’s one of those blessed-curses that makes humans unique among living creatures—our ability to examine ourselves and find ourselves lacking.

I admitted my pain, the unfinished grief, the fear of being alone, the father hunger that still ate at me. It was simultaneously—terrible and galling and humiliating—and wonderful and freeing and full of hope. Somehow I was able to accept that I would never attain perfection by being perfect. That was tough for me because it seems "there is a perfect ant, a perfect bee, but you and I are perpetually unfinished. …" Eric Hoffer wrote in Reflections on the Human Condition, that it’s partly this "incurable unfinishedness that sets us apart from other living things." And yet, we long to finish ourselves, don’t we—to find that perfect man inside us (Hoffer, Reflections, 3)?

There’s a native saying you’ve probably seen around here. It’s on some of our T-shirts, "A young man who cannot cry is a savage. An old man who cannot laugh is a fool." In some ways, it sums up the whole task of initiation. If the young man can learn how to cry, if he can be taught to connect empathically with the pain of others and the pain of the world, he will be on his way to becoming a true man (der Mensch); or, to borrow Abraham Maslow’s idea, the "self-actualized" man—the mature man. One who projects healing inspite of his own woundedness—wisdom inspite of his own failure—joy inspite of his own sadness.

Initiation rites help bring men to the place of pain where they can learn to cry, learn to face the shadow, learn to grieve. I can’t help thinking about Luke Skywalker in Star Wars when he was forced by Yoda to that dark cave to face his inner demons. He had to face his worst fears and transform his pain and anger. Something, by the way, that his father, Annikan, never was able to do; and so, he transformed into Darth Vader.

It seems men need a Yoda of sorts, this kind of mentor or elder who they completely respect; who we can trust deep down that these mentors love us and want our best. That they can take us into our journey—into the way we should go. This is the only person we will respect enough to allow him to tell us, "We’re full of shit!" It’s the slap in the face that men need. We’re all going to fail. We’re all going to suffer. We’re all unfinished. And we’re all going to die. That’s why we’re initiated by blood & pain. That’s why we get it on a gut level: "No pain, no gain." But in our heads, we’ll try to avoid it!

Women are better at all this than us men because they get this intuitively through menstruation and birth. They bleed and feel the pain and bring forth life. One way cultures have tried to bring this experience to men is to circumcise them. Can you imagine if they waited to do that to us when we were adults—maybe, when we got married? To bleed between the legs at the source of our greatest potency before we can have new life. That’s what the cultures were teaching the boys—that they had to walk into this downward way. They were intentionally bringing the boy into the "tears of things." One of the great warrior tribes, the Masai, in their rites of passage, would bring their young men to caves and leave them until they learned how to cry.

It’s clear that "grief work" in some form seems to have been a part of most ancient initiation rites. The young man had to be taught to go to "the caves of grief" and receive what early Christianity called, "the gift of tears." Jesus put it this way, "Blessed are those who weep." He teaches us in these Beatitudes that there are some things we can only know by crying—maybe not always physical weeping, but some inner communion with the pain of others. If not, the male remains in his self-centered and ego-driven, childish state—the false self. He cannot grow up!

Grief is simply unfinished hurt (See Rohr, From Wild Man to Wise Man, 83). There are two tasks that need to be accomplished during the grief period. The first is to acknowledge and accept the truth: that (loss) has occurred. This is the thing that we often try to avoid as men. We pretend we didn’t really lose anything: "this will make us tougher," "more of a man." Whether we are aware of it or not, we pay an enormous price for inhibiting grief.

The second task is just as tough for men. We need to fully express our feelings about these "unthinkable agonies." We hate this too. We don’t want to say we’re sad. That would feel weak and helpless to us. So, we just push the pain below the surface of consciousness. It’s essential in recovery to accept and put words to our painful experiences. Examples of this are recounted over and over in twelve-step programs, such as AA and other recovery groups.

In that stillness, in prayer, I found a new dimension of God that extended into the shadows of my soul. I began to find new life in the same desert where before I was experiencing only dryness and death. Kahlil Gibran puts it poetically, "Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears."

Women have a much easier access to this place than us. They have the language, conversation styles with other women, permission to cry, freedom to be vulnerable, freedom to physically touch and hold each other. Men have none of these.

Men just go numb inside. They withdraw, they become depressed, angry, and even suicidal, or they extrovert it in violence and various forms of abuse toward others. Lots of men are very angry. What they don’t not know is that their anger is actually denied sadness! They’ve put on a mask of anger to hide the tears beneath. Men are surprised to finally understand this. It’s a portal of freedom for them. It seems, once a man can allow himself to cry—to honestly feel his pain—he can access a kind of sympathy for himself and others that extends even to those who have hurt him. This is why men must learn to choose sadness over anger! That’s why once learned, we must teach it to our boys! Ancient cultures understood this—the man has to learn how to grieve (See Rohr, From Wild Man to Wise Man, 81-85).

We have to be taught because the "weeping mode" is the opposite of the fixing mode, the controlling mode, and even the understanding mode. It’s a completely new space for most men. We can’t get rid of the pain until we have learned its lessons! If we hold the pain, it’s a highly teachable space. It’s a place that God meets us and uses to confront our false-self and guide us into our true-self. But males have to be TAUGHT how to go there. We don’t go there naturally.
The male mind prefers to stay in the controlling, fixing, and knowing mode. None of which helps us with the true-self. We must confront the mind because Grief is not rational. Grief won’t stay up here in our heads. In reality, grieving is a messy and unruly process and it has no respect for orthodoxy. Grief will simply refuse to stay in the slots that we designate for it. That’s partly why it drives men crazy. We can’t tame it—no matter how hard we whip it!

There are models and theories about grief that may be more helpful to pastors and counselors than to those of us going through it. But it’s somewhat useful to view a sort of "grief map." We find this in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s description of the stages of dying. They are actually similar to the stages of grief: Denial-Anger-Bargaining-Resignation-True Acceptance. The irony is that when we go through the entire process, we find new reserves of life, and energy, and strength. We can’t fake it, though, and we can’t rush the process. It has its time.

I think the most helpful aspect to "grief maps" is that they teach us that this is a process. But that’s part of the problem again, men are not that patient. We are "accustomed to gratifying most of our needs quickly. Expecting grief to run a quick and predictable course … (Hope Edelman)." Not likely!

Men have a hard time with grief because it’s not something we DO, instead, it’s something that’s DONE to us. It means we have to shift from the action mode to the receiving/suffering mode. Like Christ, we become vulnerable and suffer and endure our cross. We refuse to be comforted too soon, embracing the pain before there can be any hope of resurrection. Jesus used a metaphor that depicts this transformative journey. It’s our M.A.L.E.S logo ( the "sign of Jonah." Each man must sooner or later go into the belly of the whale and stay there without trying to fix it or control it or even fully understand it and wait until God spits him up on a new shore (Rohr, From Wild Man to Wise Man, 85). This is the "liminal space" where all in-depth transformation takes place—inside the belly of the whale (You can see the images behind me, on the Triptik, of Joseph in the pit, Jonah in the whale, Job on the dungheap, Jesus on the cross).

This is what healthy religion always does. It tells us what to do with our pain (Rohr, Adam's Return, 35). Healthy Religion always heals. It reconciles the irreconcilable. It sees with the third eye, as Richard said last night. Healing is discovered by embracing the pain. Healthy religion will help us in the transition from one stage (before the pain) to the next stage. Healthy religion will always invite spiritual transformation. But that comes with a warning: if spirituality is embraced, people will go through periods of distress because their confidence in the old assumptions about self, life, the world, and even God will break down and reform. They have to because that’s the nature of true spirituality—it reforms us into His image. A whole man, a true man, Full, Open, Extending beyond the boundaries of the false self. This can feel like a loss too—not of "things" themselves, but of one’s investment in them. The old structures and institutions we reform represent a very real loss, and at some level, what is lost will be mourned. It’s hard work to let go of the false self. The false self will always encourage us to sweep our grief under the rug because it would rather pretend the house is clean even though it knows it’s not.

Life is messy. We will undergo change, loss and grief from birth onward. Every venture from home, every move, every job loss or status change—every death, every end of a relationship, the demise of a pet, a belief-held that falls apart, every illness, every shift in life such as marriage, divorce, or retirement, and every, kind of personal growth and change will probably be cause for grief. These bring what Kubler-Ross calls the "little deaths of life." Shakespeare described them as "the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune." Grief is in fact like a "neighbor who always lives next door, no matter where or how we live, no matter how we try to move away. Whether we want to or not, every one of us has to learn the lessons of grief."
Again, If you do not transform your pain, you will always transmit it!

The cross is an emblem of transformation—a symbol of holding the pain, and refusing to project it elsewhere, or blame others, or hate others; instead, to let the mystery of evil, suffering, and human tragedy works its havoc on us until it brings us to compassion, patience, forgiveness, freedom from that very pain. True religion leads us THROUGH our pain, not away from it.
I used to think that it took courage not to grieve, not to cry, but now, I know different. It takes courage to work through and complete grief. We have to face our feelings openly and honestly, to express our feelings fully, and to tolerate and accept our feelings for however long it takes for the wound to heal.

Unfortunately, our misconceptions about grief keep us from developing the courage we need to face grief. Many of us fear that, if we allow grief in, it will bowl us over indefinitely. The truth is that grief experienced does dissolve. The only grief that does not end is grief that has not been fully faced.

By the way, guess who showed up on my MROP. My dad! Only it wasn’t the guy I grew up with—the one I was always trying to call into something deeper with me. No, it was my dad, as he is now. In all the fullness that God ever imagined for Him to be. Now, he’s calling me forward, inviting me to more …

Thank you, Brothers, for letting me share this sacred space with you.