The Two Things We Should Always Talk About (Reflection)

religion-and-politicsI saw a nurse talking heatedly with two patients down the hallway at the hospital where I serve as a chaplain. Suddenly, she saw me in my collar and made a beeline towards me. We had sat once before and talked about her life and her challenges. She told me I wasn’t like the priests when she was growing up—I was easy to talk to. She used to be a semi-driver, sort of a rough and tumble lady, but also very sweet. Now she was walking towards me scowling. As she approached she smiled and playfully punched in me the arm like we were old pals.

She asked me briskly, “Two things you’re never supposed to talk about, right?” It took me a second to guess what she was talking about. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “religion and politics.” “Yeah,” she said, “Some people just don’t get it!” As she walked away, I replied, “But, maybe those are the two things that we should always talk about.”

Sometimes hyperbole is the only way to get through to people. Though we should never say never and always avoid always, they may sometimes be necessary.

I saw an excellent movie on Wednesday called “Away From Her,” which was about a couple dealing with the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Several times in the movie, the lament from the woman with Alzheimer’s was her regret over the superficiality of so much of her life and interactions with others. When the end is in view, when death or loss of self is approaching, many begin to reflect on the meaning of their lives.

Though we are created by God to enjoy creation and the lives we have been given, we are also uniquely created for Religion and Politics–the really important work of being alive.

Religion might be defined simply as the process and practice of our relationship to Divine Mystery, to the ever-present spiritual reality that gives our lives deeper meaning.  Politics, from the Greek word politikos, which means of, for, or relating to citizens, is the process of making decisions applying to all members of a given group.  Politics is the process and practice of how we relate to each other as a society. Without relationships, life would not be worth living—we would cease to be.

So, what two more important things in life can there be but how we relate to God and how we relate to each other. Religion and politics are what make life meaningful, and if we try to pass through life superficially, trying just to be happy, eventually we will realize just how meaningless our lives have been. And then it will be too late.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

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People do not change. …except….

grace-changes-everything

People do not change. They almost never can.
Though some people have their eyes opened.
Then others say, “Oh, how you have changed!”
Yet nothing has really changed, except a blind person can see.

People do not change. They almost never can.
Though some people who were lost, get found.
Then others say, “Oh, how you have changed!”
Yet nothing has really changed, except a lost person is found.

People do not change. They almost never can.
Though some people are raised from the dead.
Then others say, “Oh, how you have changed!”
Yet nothing has really changed, except a dead person is alive again.

Amazing grace!

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Jesus Saves? (Reflection)

jesus-savesYears ago there was a woman who called into a Christian music radio station and excitedly told the D.J. that her daughter was listening to the station and “got saved.” The station played the recording of that call-in over and over again. Every time I heard it I asked myself, What did she get saved from? How did she get saved by listening to music? Now that she is saved, does she know why Jesus saved her? With deeper reflection, we must all ask what does it even mean to be saved?

Why did Jesus save you and me? In my experience with the Church’s doctrinal teaching, theologians seem to focus too much on the how of being saved; who’s in out, who’s out; and how it happens. But since we cannot know for sure how one is saved, thus who is and who is not saved, what is really gained from focusing so much on the how? The why question seems eminently answerable; the how question will always be an enigma.

I believe Jesus saved me so I could be in a deep, abiding relationship with God. This relation with our Creator through Christ is the only lasting satiation of the existential angst that we all experience because of our finite separation from an infinite God. By Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we are all given intimate access to God as we open ourselves up to transcendent mystery.

Additionally, Jesus shows us, through his incarnational relationship to and with humanity, what it is to be in abiding, loving intersubjectivity with all creation. This includes primarily human relationships of love and compassion, but also the ecological connections we have as individuals with the whole world.

So, simply, we are saved to be one with God and with each other through Christ in an ongoing process of sanctification. Nevertheless, this pietistic understanding of faith is only half the story. Though we are ultimately saved on earth for eternal life with Christ in beatific union in heaven, we are also, and maybe more importantly, since we all live in the here and now, saved by Jesus so that we can abide with him as he brings heaven to earth through our Christian witness.

Thus, we are not saved just so we can go to heaven when we die; we are saved by Jesus so that heaven can come to and through us on earth as we live in Christ.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

This Is Eternal Life (Reflection)

eternal_life_titleFor many Protestant Christians (and Catholic and Orthodox Christians too), there is a clear and necessary connection that John 3:3 (“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.'”) has with John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”).

Yet, there is another verse in John that is not always connected to the aforementioned two which will have a powerful impact for Christians who desire to live an abundant life today, and not just see this life as a way-station for the next. John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ….”

Eternal life is living life in deep communion with God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit; not simply knowing where you are going to live when you die.  By connecting necessarily all three of the above verses together, the Christian will realize that eternal life, and the kingdom of God, has begun in their lives today.  This life is not a way-station for the next.  This today-eternal life is the critical part of really being born again, because it shows forth that God’s will can be done on earth as it is heaven. It shows how heaven has indeed come to earth in Jesus.  It emphasizes that Christ is really human and divine, and that we are like him in our resurrected life.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2016

She’s Got The Whole World In Her Hands

full-moonAs I have been trying to pay attention more, I am mindful of the moon and the stars each morning as I make my way to the hospital. Yesterday, the moon was very full and hanging low in the dark hours of early morning.  The moon was so bright that it was able to cause a shadow to be cast from my car on the highway.

But what I noticed this morning was the roundness of the moon, its circular and complete beauty.  I imagined that it got so round because God took it like a lump of clay and rolled it ‘round and ‘round the palm of her hands.  I thought of this because as a child I used to roll Play-Doh into perfect little balls in the palms of my hand.

I then reflected on how God rolled me together good and unique from a cosmic ball of clay, and molded me in the palms of his hands.

Now, I know that science has a factual and more accurate description of how the moon came to be so round.  But my answer, my description of the creation of the moon and me, of Play-Doh and Silly Putty, is far truer than science could ever be.

© Paul Dordal, 2015

Horizontal Is The New Vertical (Devotional Reflection)

HORIZONTALI often joke with my tweens right before I go to bed, “Poppy’s going to get vertical.” The kids always scream, “It’s horizontal!!!!!”

There is a suspect teaching that is perpetuated in the Church that we have a dualistic and bi-directional relationship with God. The first is a vertical relationship, because God is somehow mysteriously “up there” or “out there” somewhere. This vertical relationship is a disembodied experience of pietistic prayer, Bible reading, or praise and worship (singing Christian songs). The second relational direction we have with God is the horizontal relationship, which is an embodied experience of loving our neighbor, because as John said, “You can’t say you love God without loving your neighbor.” But I have a problem with this construct because God doesn’t seem to be in the horizontal. It is God in the vertical, and humans in the horizontal.

But what if those two directions are just two sides of the same coin? What if God is not up there, but exists on a paradoxical horizontally vertical plane? So we meet God between the pall, the infinitesimal wisp of no-thing that separates the spiritual from the material, and we can freely move back and forth through this pall by a sheep’s gate, the Cosmic Christ.

God’s not up there; God’s right here!

Yes, there is the mystical, ethereal, other-worldly elusive God, but we always experience that same God in the material—in the here and now: God in me, God in you, God in the middle of you and me. God existing everywhere at the same time. The distant God is always present in everyone and everything.

When I get vertical, I get horizontal with God, whether waking or sleeping, standing or lying down, busy or still. Horizontal is the new the vertical and it is entered into at the foot of the Cross!

© Paul Dordal, 2015

Un-Radical

Radical NoGo to Amazon.com, and type in the words “Radical Christianity.”  You will find many popular titles that discuss radical discipleship and which call Christians to become radical.  Don’t read them.

The call of Jesus is to die.  Die to your old life and be born again to a new normal.  This call is not radical, it’s normal.  If you try to be radical, you will be simply trying to add something to the life you are already living.  You will fail.  You need to die.

Jesus said, “Repent!” “Change!” Repent of what; change what?  Repent of your bad religion and bad politics.  Jesus calls us to an un-kingdom life, which is the opposite of life in the kingdoms of this world.  His is an un-kingdom of love, peace, mutuality, and solidarity.  This is the call of Jesus the un-king.  It is a call to the normal Christian life, not a radical one.

© Paul Dordal, 2015