Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Being Christian and Being Human: Which Comes First?

A topic that is discussed regularly in churches is “how to evangelize.” The assumption is that we Christians have something very important that we need to share with others. If the way of Christian faith is something that is deeply important and formative in our lives, it seems to make sense that we would want to share that part of our lives with others.

But, what is it exactly that we are to share? An orthodox set of beliefs about God, the world, Christ, sin and salvation? An experience of transformation through the way of faith? Or, is it something else? Or, perhaps, should we just keep quiet mostly and live the way of faith?

For some reason I have just lost the desire to think in this way anymore. Because it requires me to first of all identify myself in a way that divides me from anyone who doesn’t self-identify as a Christian. For some reason, I just can’t do that anymore. I am just playing a false role, assuming a false identity, when I try to discuss “evangelism” in the traditional way.

My first and deepest identification is with humanity, as a member of the human race, and that is where I experience a living faith in Jesus, the Christ of God. I experience Christ at the center of humanity more than at the center of the Church. I feel like I have gained the whole world of people as brothers and sisters through Christ, not like I have separated myself from the world in favor of identification with the Church. So, when I begin to talk about Jesus and God, my conversation includes those outside the church as much as those inside the church.

In fact, I don’t have an insider’s message to preach anymore. When I do fall into this, it is very false, unconvincing especially to me. I don’t have an insider’s special secret knowledge to teach to outsiders. I don’t think I am in possession of anything that I can give out to others.

No, for me, I can bear witness and point to a reality that is beyond, but somehow moves within. I can point to a living God that moves beyond our ability to perceive, but somehow can be perceived in the depths of our experience in this life. I don’t have something in my head or in my heart to give out to others as a religious possession. I don’t have a fixed set of beliefs to try and convert someone to.

I am a witness to something that is going on in this world that is talked about in the Holy Scriptures and has been talked about by prophets and teachers and holy people for ages. I have an energy at the center of my life to bear witness to God’s presence in this world.

But, this is not something I ever possess. No, my religion, is not MY religion. It is the experience of something that comes from outside of me, is experienced externally and internally, but never possessed. It must come anew each day.
There is a sense in which I am as internally poor and bereft as the most hopeless and foolish person on earth, but I have this connection, this relation to something outside of myself. I have this orientation of my soul towards the Creator and Redeemer of life. I call this orientation faith. Being open to the coming of God’s Spirit which is constantly moving among the creatures of this world. It is like the sunflower that turns towards the sun and receives its energy.

And, this orientation of the soul outward, towards the Divine – I believe this is the effect of the coming of Christ, to turn the heart that was turned in on itself outward towards the light of day, towards the goodness of God, able to receive gifts of the Spirit of Life. I believe that every heart has a yearning to be turned inside out, to be open to the Creator, to be infused by a peace and power and wisdom from beyond, to be united once again with our human roots in the Divine Creator.

In the history of religions, we find that there were holy men and women and children in every age. The Bible bears witness to this openness of the heart in the prophets and faithful of Israel, but also to the openness of the heart to God among the gentiles as well. And, we find in history that certain human beings among Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam, as well as Judaism and Christianity have had this orientation towards God as well.

Now, I believe that Jesus is at the center of God’s creative and redemptive movement in this world, and the most powerful expression of the very character of God. But,we should remember that Jesus found quite a few supposedly unholy people that were wide open to the coming of God’s grace, and he found many supposedly holy people who were closed off from any real communion with God’s Spirit. And, it seems to me that we have a similar situation in our day. To draw lines and separate people on the basis of religious affiliation just doesn’t seem any more wise or in touch with reality now than it was back then.

I want to say this: celebrating the hope that has come in Christ causes a person to feel confined in the Church, always wanting to go and throw the door open wider, and, indeed to stand a little outside the “holy communion,” so as to not miss communion with the rest of humanity.

I appreciate and need somewhere to gather and speak and listen to words about God and Jesus. I appreciate and enjoy having a place to gather and sing the songs of faith and pray together and be silent together in expectation of the coming of a power, a word, a touch of grace from God. And, I certainly appreciate a place where people gather and do these things in such a way that you feel you can relax, enjoy, and share that with "all comers."

But, this communion only remains vital and helpful if it has an openness at its center: an openness to God’s coming and an openness to the coming of the neighbor, whether stranger or friend, into its midst.

A communion that is truly living from the Spirit of God will receive the Jew as easily as the Christian, the Muslim as easily as the Jew, the atheist as easily as the orthodox believer. Because the unifying force is the Christ, who is at the center of humanity, drawing all elements of humanity together in him.

Some Thoughts about Religion and Compulsion and a better way

I am beginning to feel more and more strongly that the sheer graciousness of the Gospel, the freedom from compulsion and control that is ours in Jesus, is what people hunger for so much as they labor under the burdens of this life. Jesus told the religious leaders of his day that they loaded burdens on the backs of men and women that they (the leaders) couldn't bear. And, Jesus contrasted his way of dealing with people by saying: "Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Religion has always been dominated by a compulsive spirit, a controlling spirit by means of guilt. Jesus' way is the opposite. I want nothing to do with force, judgement, compulsion. We could really learn something from the traditional Quaker way. I don't know if they live by it anymore. But, there is an insight and an experience in the old Quakers and the Quakers like Rufus Jones and Thomas Kelly of the 20th century. This insight has something to do with the fact that God is not a God of force and compulsion, and we human beings find it unimaginable that the greatest authority in all the world acts the opposite of how we envision authority and the opposite of how we tend to exercise it.

We really seem to miss the point of the cross. The conservative Protestant doctrine of strict substitutionary atonement which still dominates Protestant theology in this country, portrays God as your basic King who has to have satisfaction to appease his indignation at imperfection and sin in his subjects. Jesus and Paul portray God as the Father of the prodigal son, who is motivated by one overriding affection: love and the desire to heal and reconcile and reunite. The One who demands no satisfaction from his subjects, but only asks that his subjects stop and receive his loving embrace. And, this One will not drag us kicking and screaming into his kingdom. God is not a God of force. He continues to come to us, speak to us, but in the end, he will not force us to do anything. The law of the universe made by our gracious God is that you really can't force anyone to do anything in the end. God put within his creatures an image that cannot be violated. He will not violate that image by compelling anyone to do anything.

Parents who come to have genuine relationships with their children learn this over time. The only real authority you have in your children's lives is an authority that arises from the deepest trust and love between you and your child. Real authority is not based on fear or force or guilt or anything compulsive or controlling. It is like that because that is the way God has graciously and wisely structured his creation.

Some thoughts I am having as I think about what it would be like for a church to be a fellowship of true grace, where burdens are lightened and almost never increased.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Community Forum, Sept. 30, 6 p.m.: Legal and Illegal Traffic Stops

Our community forum on Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. will be a presentation and discussion of the growing use of drug dogs at traffic stops, and some other issues that affect the day to day life of drivers in our area. Traffic stops are an area of life where normally law-abiding citizens have to face detentions, often lengthy detentions from police.

This forum will open the way for discussion of our experience locally with traffic stops but also provide information on the current state of constitutional law affecting the right to be free from illegal search and seizure under Tennessee and Federal law. This has become an important battleground in constitutional law as higher courts are expressing different opinions on whether law enforcement is going too far or not in these roadside detentions and investigations.

Please come join us. Our forum will be led by George H. Waters, co-pastor at 4th United Presbyterian Church and an attorney who has practiced criminal law locally for around 16 years.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Still Thinking about Saul and David and the Book of 1st Samuel

16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers: and the Spirit of Yahweh came mightily on David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
16:14 Now the Spirit of Yahweh departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Yahweh troubled him.
16:15 Saul's servants said to him, See now, an evil spirit from God troubles you.
16:16 Let our lord now command your servants who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp: and it shall happen, when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play with his hand, and you shall be well.
16:17 Saul said to his servants, Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.
16:18 Then answered one of the young men, and said, Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, and a mighty man of valor, and a man of war, and prudent in speech, and a comely person; and Yahweh is with him.

Does God send bad things as well as good things? I ask this question after reading from 1 Samuel about how the prophet Samuel was called by God to annoint David as king of Israel while Saul was still king of Israel. We are told that when Samuel annointed David, God's Spirit came powerfully upon David. And, then the next verse tells us that God sent an evil spirit to Saul that tormented Saul.

First, from reading scripture, it is clear that Israel accepted and believed that God sometimes sent an evil spirit among his people. In Saul's case, God turned from him when God found Saul disobedient. Wasn't that enough? Why also send the evil spirit? What is really meant by this?

I think our best first answer is that we don't know, and that we don't know for sure how the ancient Israelites thought about "evil spirits." One thing that I think we can know is that the writer of 1 Samuel didn't believe in good and evil in the way that modern Christians do. We modern Christians, whether liberal or conservative, tend to have a dualistic view of the world believing that there is a power of good struggling against a power of evil. For this ancient writer, it seems that he (I am assuming male from what I know of ancient Israel's scribal traditions) really believed in only one supernatural power, and that was the power of the one Creator of all people who had chosen Israel as a special people. So, when it speaks of an evil spirit coming from God, then that doesn't sound strange to Jews of that day, as it does to us. For them, God was the only power and God could use whatever means he needed to accomplish his good purposes. One thing that was there for God to use was "evil spirits," or something we might think as forces that disrupt a person's life internally, from the inside out. It wasn't God's Spirit that came to Saul, for God's Spirit strengthened life, whereas this "evil spirit" dampened and diminished Saul's life.

It is troubling to think that God would be in the business of troubling a man's life. But, that is what the Jews of that day believed.

There are several explanations I could give to harmonize this passage with our contemporary world views. One explanation would be that the writer knew that God had rejected Saul because Saul had been disobedient,and so when Saul began suffering mentally, the writer simply assumed it was caused directly by God sending an "evil spirit." In that sense, the conclusion of the writer of scripture that God had sent an evil spirit would be a theological interpretation given to events. This means that assumptions about who God is and how God acts in the world and what forces affect human behavior are applied to make sense of a happening (e.g., Saul losing his mind at times). Clearly, with different assumptions about who God is or how God acts or why humans lose their minds, the writer could have come up with a different conclusion about God's role in all of this.

Modern interpreters of scripture have often taken a liberal approach and said: "well, once you understand the ancient worldview, you can understand that the conclusion that "God sent an evil spirit" to torment Saul is simply a prescientific explanation of mental illness and not a valid interpretation for those living in the age of science, then you can begin to understand the true meaning. Or, a conservative view would be:"The scripture means for us what it meant for the Jews back then: God rejected Saul and actively opposed his reign and sent used an evil force to accomplish God's purposes."

If you take the liberal interpretation above, the passage ends up having basically no meaning. We can say how it is not to be understood - what it does not mean. But, we can't say what it does mean.

If you take the conservative interpretation above, the passage ends up making sense of the story being told back then, but may end up having no meaning for us in our day or may even lead to drastic misinterpretations in our day. For instance, what if I read that passage, then turned to my family member who was suffering from a psychotic mental illness and concluded that God had rejected her for her disobedience?

I'm not satisfied with either the common liberal method or the common conservative method of interpretation. I would rather just hear this story out, listen to it as it develops and wait to decide on what it means. And, to hear this story out, means reading the whole thing: from the beginning when God didn't want Israel to have a king, but they wanted a king, and he gave in to them and Samuel annointed Saul . . . to the end when divided Israel is conquered: first, northern Israel by the Assyrians, second, southern Israel by the Babylonians. But, the real story is that this is not "the end" of Israel. No, God sends prophets like Ezekiel to them in their exile and bondage. And, God eventually brings them back home to Jerusalem to rebuild from the ruins of war.

And, the history of God with Israel goes on after the period of the prophets ends, after Ezra and Nehemiah are dead and gone. And, this God who has been trying so hard to train a people in his ways, finally gives up on the traditional ways of prophets, priests, and kings, and comes down among his people - this time to claim not only Israel,but the whole world.

So, in the context of all that, what does it mean when our scripture in 1 Samuel says: "God's Spirit filled David," and then says: "God sent an evil spirit that tormented Saul?" It means that God has purposes that God is actively working on among us. It also means that it is a good thing to be an agent of those purposes, and it means that not everybody is chosen to carry out the same purpose for God. And, when you are not meant to serve in a certain role for God but you try to do it anyway, well, it would have been better if you had never tried to serve.

The passage leads us to understand that God's purposes are paramount. That we must fit in with those purposes,and at times, some very painful things come to us in life because we don't. And, it is not always because we are intent on doing evil. Saul certainly wasn't a man with evil intent. But, failing to discern the movement of God's Spirit can lead to some sad results for humans even if those humans didn't intend evil by their ignorance.

And, that leaves me with one other thought. The writer of this book of 1 Samuel showed some compassion for Saul by attributing Saul's aggressive and violent actions towards David to an evil spirit that would come upon him. The writer would not call Saul an evil man, whereas the writer had no problem calling later kings evil. It is almost like the writer of this scripture wanted to attribute Saul's badness to some mysterious will of God and even raise questions with God about it, since it didn't make sense to the writer. If you think about it, Saul is a tragic figure. And, the writer of scripture doesn't gloss over this. Other kings got what was coming to them when they rejected God and worshipped idols and enslaved their own people. But, Saul, it just seemed like he was the people's choice for king that God never approved of. If he had really campaigned for it, we might not have such sympathy for him. But, when they were trying to raise him up as king, he hid in the baggage!

For me, Saul stands for the truth that you can come into conflict with God's will not just when you are intent on doing evil, but when you try to play a role that you is not your role to play in life. All of us have to bear roles that don't fit us for a time. The key is to understand when you are in the wrong role, and bear it as a burden for God, until God can deliver you to live in the freedom of your proper role in this life or the next. Maybe Saul did that as well as he could. Maybe he did this fairly well. After all, he was always sorry when he tried to do David in, and in the end, David did survive living in the time of Saul. And, as Charlie pointed out in Bible Study, right as God sent an evil spirit to Saul to trouble him, he sent David to comfort him. Even when we are getting the backside of God's will, he uses someone who is in the power of God's Spirit to help us out.

The "evil spirit" that came to Saul from God may be the flipside, the backside of the positive movement of God's Spirit in David's life. Saul's experience may be what it means to be serving in a role that is in conflict with God's will and purposes. Right as God's Spirit is promoting David as king, the backside of that spirit can do no other than dismantle Saul's kingship. God's Spirit had "departed" from Saul when it was given to David. God cannot support every purpose or every cause.

You can end up in the wrong role in life even if you have tried pretty hard to respond reasonably and decently to the circumstances of your life. It takes an awful lot of courage to come to this insight about one's life. And, it seems to me that truths this painful can only be faced with the Spirit of God surrounding and inspiring. Perhaps, in the end we are all a lot more like Saul than David. And, if you take Jesus at his word he came to save the sick not the well; the unrighteousness, not the righteous. He came knowing that the world was filled with people like Saul who had responded to their circumstances the best they knew how and made a real mess of their lives. I would like to ask Jesus what he really thought about King Saul. I would really like to overhear Jesus discussing that one with his Father.

For all the talk we hear in our religion from people who know what is God's will for them and for us, maybe it would do our souls good to hear from someone who is humble enough to acknowledge that God's ways are far beyond our ways, God's thoughts far above our thoughts. Reading the scripture honestly instead of simply using the scripture to support our simplistic and often self-serving beliefs is really what Bible Study is all about. I guess most people don't go in for that kind of honesty too much in religion or Bible Study. If you do, you might want to join us for Bible Study. If you don't, you might want to continue watching how they teach the Bible on T.V.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why are We So Foolish? Some Thoughts after the Sermon on Sunday

If you weren't there at worship this past Sunday, September 12, you missed something. You missed a good service overall, but you really missed Rev. Allen's sermon about the foolish and the wise bridesmaids (the parable Jesus told in the Gospel of Matthew about "being ready" for the bridegroom). There is that sobering part of the story when the foolish bridesmaids who have not prepared realize they have no oil to keep their lamps burning, but it is too late for the wise bridesmaids to help them. It is too late. Like it was too late for Egypt on the night of the Passover. Like it was too late for Judah in the days of Jeremiah, when God delivered them into the hands of the Babylonians.

But, as Rev. Allen illustrated from her own experience and as scripture reveals over and over, God is the only one has the right to define "when it is too late," and thank God he is very gracious in how he does that in our lives and in human history! But, as Rev. Allen also illustrated in her sermon, that doesn't do away with the deep truth that there will be a time when "it will be too late." And, who knows when that time will come in our individual lives and in our communal lives.

In real human life and in the real walk of faith, we receive grace when we know that though there are many gracious warnings and interventions on our behalf, we also know not to presume on grace. In Romans 2 Paul talks about those of us who don't seem to understand that God's kindness and forebearance and forgiveness is meant to lead us to repentance, and not meant to lead us to presume that we can continue defying God's will for our lives and somehow always get another free pass whenever we need it. We live in a real world, with a real Creator, who has put real minds and hearts within us. God seeks communion with us, and we are miraculously able to commune with our Creator in a special way since we do have minds and hearts to think and feel and plan and hope and love and believe. But, we are also able to reject communion with our Creator. We are also able to turn away from God's efforts to reach us, and rely solely on our own wisdom or the wisdom of the world.

The more we carve out a path in life by rejecting God's will for us, the harder it gets to get out of that destructive path. That path becomes a "rut." After a while, it becomes natural to fall back into that rut and just coast along towards another destructive episode. When I get in a "rut" like this, I am unlikely to see it because it is the course of life I have carved out for myself and it only seems natural for me to follow along this path. The strange thing is for those of us that are religious people, we seem to be able to stay in our "rut" while giving lip service to our need to find a better way. Our religion can do that for us. Help keep us on a false path. That is, our religion can do that for us if we fail to seek God in the depths of our lives. Our religion can become nothing more than a bunch of sayings in our heads that reassure us that we are o.k. when we are not. And, at times, our religion can become a bunch of sayings in our heads that disturb and make us feel we are not alright when we are.

We have limped along for too long by relying on "our religion." It is time to rely on the Living God. We need a direct experience with a power that we cannot fool, or else we will continuously fool ourselves. Does your religion have this power, or is it just a fairly refined and socially acceptable way of "fooling yourself?"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thinking about the Bible

Scripture: Can we really separate the wheat from the chaff?

I have been "getting back to the Bible" lately in reading sections of scripture I had not read in years, and even focusing on parts of scripture that seem to have no redeeming value. I have to admit that I was more able to read it all, reconcile or explain its strange parts, when I was in my 20's than I am when I am nearing 50.

And, I am starting, for the first time in my life to have some real sympathy for Marcion, the 2nd century heretic who tossed out the majority of scripture and only kept the parts he felt really came from the Spirit of God. But, once you do something like that you have become the authority, so I certainly am not attracted to the way of Marcion. Especially since he ended up tossing out some of the best of scripture by throwing out the whole Old Testament! And, he carved up our New Testament books pretty thoroughly as well. He loved the Gospel of John and his version of Paul's letters.

I am also reminded of Thomas Jefferson who cut out the parts of the New Testament he didn't like and had a cut and paste version of the New Testament to guide him.

So, here I am, a Protestant, following in the path of Luther, and somehow continuing to affirm that we are better off standing under the authority of scripture than we are standing under the authority of Bishops. Well,I guess I am following in the path of Luther, though the traditional Quaker way continues to make more and more sense to me. The early Quakers, starting with George Fox, immersed themselves in scripture reading, but always affirmed that scripture is a dead letter unless illuminated by the Spirit of God in the reader's/hearer's heart. Without an experience of God that illuminates the vital core of scripture, I don't see how anyone can make good sense of it either. And, yes, when that illumination is there, a person can begin to understand that the wheat and the chaff are bound together, indissolubly. And, you can't separate the wheat from the chaff; you can only take them together and wait on the hidden presence of God to be revealed. Marcion and Thomas Jefferson took it upon themselves to separate the wheat from the chaff. And, they ended up with a Bible that doesn't track reality. The Bible we have in the Church reflects reality in all its brokenness and incomprehensibility. But, it doesn't just reflect on the darkness of reality. It also reflects the mysterious presence of One who created and sustains and works in the hiddenness to redeem reality. But, finding that presence in the Holy Scripture is not like finding your parents in a photo album. God never stopped for any photo shoots, not even in the life and death of Jesus.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Invitation to Central United Methodist Annual Picnic at Washington Pres. Church on Sept. 12, 4 p.m.

The members of Central United Methodist Church have invited us to join them for their annual church picnic on September 12 at 4 p.m. The picnic will not be held on the grounds of Central United Methodist but on the grounds of Washington Presbyterian Church, 7405 Washington Pike. Washington Presbyterian has lots of room, a great pavillion, etc. for outdoor gatherings.

For those of you who read this blog, mapquest the Washington Pres. Church address, get directions and tell others how to get there. Or, call Bob Crawford who has been out there many times. If you need a ride or know anyone who needs a ride, please call me, 805-3618. Also, email or call me to let me know if you plan to attend. We don't need to bring any food, but we do need to let members of Central United Meth. know how many of us will be there.

Last year we joined together with this church for Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, and will be doing so again this coming year. They have been good neighbors to us since we have moved into the Broadway neighborhood.

Rebuilding Our Lives

Monday, September 6, 2010
Rebuilding Our Lives

It seems to me that we have been given the chance of rebuilding our lives as human beings. I like the Psalm that says: "Unless the Lord builds the house, the labor is in vain." That makes me think about how much help is needed in rebuilding a human life. "Unless the Lord builds the house, the labor is in vain." Somehow we need to find our way to resources beyond what we have in our little thoughts and feelings. We need more than that to rebuild our lives.

The very hopeful thing spiritually is that in faith a person can really go back and look at the foundation of his or her life. Faith gives us access to the depths of life, and enables us to rebuild. Our little thoughts and feelings can be transformed into very powerful thoughts and feelings.

Rebuilding can be a difficult work. Because when you rebuild, you have to tear down and clean out before you can put the new structure in. As we were working to renovate our old church building, we discovered termite damage in the wood structure around the lower level of the building. Fortunately, there were no active termites, since we had treated the entire area when we first moved into this old buiding a year earlier. But, because of the damage, we had to tear out the old wood structure of two entire rooms before we could rebuild. But, now that area is rebuilt.

Our lives can be like this. If we really get in there and inspect them, we may find some damage to the structure of our lives. We may even find forces active in breaking down the foundation of our lives. For years and years at the old church building, nobody inspected to see what the condition of things was. All the while, the termites were doing their destructive work. And, then upstairs in the building, a similar process was going on with damage from moisture from roof problems. Ignorance may be bliss, but the problem with ignorance is that it is out of touch with reality. When we aren't in touch with reality, we cannot act to shape reality or reshape it by our work.

In our lives, we probably need the most help in discovering the reality we are in. We need God's illumination in our souls to be able to see who we are, acknowledge where we have been, and grow into a hope for what we can be. But, we first have to go down to that basement of our lives and find out how the structure is. If termites are active down there, they will continue doing their damage until we get down there and do something to stop it. And, if we do stop it, then there is still a damaged foundation which has to be rebuilt.

I am talking figuratively, and I'll say a few things literally to make sure I'm being clear. If the foundation of your life - your own emotional life, your spiritual life - is in turmoil, then there have been destructive forces at work in your past or there are destructive forces at work in your present. Symptoms of these destructive forces are the presence of negative, self-destructive thoughts within. You may have aided or be aiding these destructive forces through alcohol or drug abuse or drawing near to destructive persons or by nurturing self-condemnatory thought patterns. Or, you may be increasing your trouble, because you just plain won't take responsibility for the trouble you're in. And, you may just have some trouble, because life has handed you some hard luck.

Whatever it is, you are responsible for your life. I'm going to say that again: whether you have done it to yourself or someone else has done it to you or some force in the physical world, like disease has done it to you, it is your life and you are responsible for it. That means, it is yours to work with, to bear and to do the best you can with. And, we can help each other bear this responsibility.

In contemporary thought, people are obsessed with blaming - they want to affix blame. But, it doesn't help. What is really missing in our world is people being willing to take responsibility. People who take responsibility for situations, take an active role in working towards resolving problems and building towards a better life and future. In a family, if something goes wrong or one member is having trouble, everyone feels a certain responsibility to act. Sure, the one who is having trouble has the primary responsibility, but others look at the other's trouble as partly their responsibility too and don't sit around blaming. Taking responsibility is a practical, objective way of approaching life and its challenges. This is the way of going down to the basement, seeing what the damage is, assessing it objectively and saying: "Let's get to work on it." That's how you fix things. Not by simply wishing you didn't have a problem, or not by complaining about your trouble - but, by looking at it for what it is, and figuring out how to get to work on it.

Rebuilding is difficult work. But, when you get something rebuilt, it is an even greater joy than building it from scratch. Because, you have the sense that something very precious has been saved and transformed. Even the mess that we are at times remains a precious human mess that is worth saving and rebuilding.