Permission is granted

Photo by Mathilda Khoo.

Welcome to my weekly ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s opinions, doubts, fears, and hopes about modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Click here for Revised Common Lectionary readings.

Jesus continues his Sermon on the Plain dropping mystical brain-breaking wisdom just as he was last week. Here are the notes I jotted down to give you the skinny…

  • Love your enemies.
  • Do good to those who hate you.
  • Bless those who curse you.
  • Pray for those who abuse you.
  • Lend and expect nothing in return.
  • If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.
  • From anyone who takes away your coat, why not give them your shirt?
  • Give to everyone who begs from you.
  • If anyone takes your stuff, do not ask for it back.
  • Do to others as you would have them do to you.
  • Loving those who love you is no big deal — anyone can do that.
  • Doing good to those who do good to you is no big deal — anyone can do that too.
  • If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, that’s no big deal either.
  • Don’t judge (then you won’t be judged).
  • Don’t condemn (then you won’t be condemned).
  • Forgive and you’ll be forgiven.
  • Give and it will be given to you.

That’s a laundry list, right there. And they can seem like commands. Well, as a postmodern, Western, individualized, liberated, privileged person, it’s easy to roll my eyes at these commands. Because they don’t make any damn sense.

We live in a world of cause and effect, right? So if someone wrongs me, I settle the score by getting back at them. If someone hits me on the cheek, I’ma try to land several strikes on their cheeks. If I give my stuff to everyone who wants it, I won’t have anything left.

You guys, this sounds all nice and peaceful and stuff, but this man is talking craziness. These aren’t bullet points to individual success, they’re shortcuts to the poorhouse. So that crazy guy Jesus can keep his lofty commands because I’m out to get mine…

But there’s gotta be something here. Let’s take a sec to flip the paradigm on this whole thing. What if the lens that we’re seeing these words through is muddy? I’m going to propose that this is not a command, but the granting of permission.

Jesus’ words are rarely commands, but rather invitations to life beyond human creaturelyness.

(Yes, creaturelyness.)

I mean, sure, you can live as our animal instincts tell us to live. That stuff is hard-wired in. But Jesus comes in at a moment where human consciousness is breaking into something new. Our frontal lobes are new, but they carry the possibility of flourishing beyond the laws of old.

Instead of seeing this sermon as a series of commands, see it as a stack of permission slips that give you the go-ahead to be a part of the renewal of the world. Because what if a critical mass of us lived like this? Then we wouldn’t lack anything or have anything (really) to fear. We’d be each other’s caregivers rather than each other’s competitors. We’d see ourselves as stewards of this planet rather than rulers over it.

These permission slips just sit there on the desk. Maybe some, you can’t stomach. I know I sure can’t. I have mouths to help feed and right now, hardly anyone is playing by these rules.

But hopefully, I can take a few of them and accept Jesus’ permission to live in this new way. Not because I’m commanded to. But because I’m invited to.


God isn’t in the perfection business

Photo by Jake weirick

Before bed the other night (it’s amazing how many fascinating and terrifying conversations take place before bed), Rory was talking about people who are born stuck together — conjoined twins. She mentioned how hard it must be for them to walk. “It’s sad that God would make them that way,” she said with zero apprehension.

I truly think we ask all the hard questions about life and the divine when we’re five before our parents scare us into submission due to their anxiousness.

I sat with her inquiry for a moment. Because she was right. How could we call God a loving one if people are going through such misery? I can’t imagine what these conjoined twins have to go through just to get through each day — and night.

“You’re right. It is sad that God creates them that way.” I just left it at that. But then, as I do, I strained and obsessed about that little conversation for three days as she likely totally forgot about it. Here’s where my reflection got me…

It’s easy to think of God as solely the God of humans. Especially as Christians. It’s like nothing ever existed until Jesus was born (well, maybe a few thousand years before that, riiiight?). But as Fr. Richard Rohr recently wrote…

The first Incarnation of God did not happen in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. That is just the moment when it became human and personal, and many people began to take divine embodiment as a serious possibility. The initial Incarnation actually happened around 14 billion years ago with “The Big Bang.” That is what we now call the moment when God decided to materialize and self-expose, at least in this universe.

Seeing God as the creator of all creation, we see a much larger picture.

Since the dawn of physical creation, how many plants, leaves, flowers, and trees have shriveled up and died before they reached their fullness of stature? How many rivers have dried up? How many floods and tsunamis have laid waste to plants and animals with zero notice? How many galaxies have crashed into and obliterated each other? How many stars have burned themselves out before reaching their apex? Just one look at a National Geographic special about the safari will reveal how cruel life can seem to be.

But I don’t know if God has ever been in the perfection business. I think perfection is a human construct — an impossible expectation that we hold life to.

I don’t know if God has ever been in the perfection business. I think perfection is a human construct — an impossible expectation that we hold life to.

And so, I don’t really know how to reconcile it. I’m not sure if anything was ever meant to fit the illusory human construct of perfection (which changes from person to person and from season to season).

Perhaps, if we release our grasp on perfection, we can cease trying to get life to fit in that impossible box and instead hold all of it with deep reverence. Because it truly is a miracle that I’m breathing. And you’re breathing. And we can even wonder about this.

This post was begotten and made over at


Contemplative unmasking

Photo by Finan Akbar on Unsplash

There’s a certain kind of despair when we do something hurtful to someone we love.

We’ve done it. 
We’ve said the thing. 
We’ve made the remark. 
Maybe we’ve slammed our hand down on a hard surface.
We’ve messed things up. 
(And we can’t take it back.)

So what do we do?…

I don’t know about you, but my first reaction is to flee. To go hide under a rock somewhere so as to keep myself from doing any further damage.

Things get blurry in that space. Vision gets foggy. Emotions smear together. You’ve been there…

This happened to me fairly recently and something dawned on me as to why I was reacting this way. What came up was fascinating…

The reason I wanted to flee wasn’t to escape them, but because I couldn’t stand to look back at myself from their eyes.

The mask of my surface personality had been shattered. And I was terrified that they could see the person I’d been trying to conceal since childhood: an insecure kid who feels like a disappointment and has zero options.

This is where contemplative practice comes into play.

Contemplative spirituality helps us pry ourselves away from ourselves in order to reveal and heal the toxic dynamics of the human ego in the light of God’s love.

I had a false premise (that I am inherently unsafe and powerless) covered up by a false persona (that I have everything under control, so no worries). When that mask was shattered, I saw my false self reflected back at me in the eyes of someone I love.

Contemplative spirituality is an invitation to wake up and die so you can truly live.
 — Phileena Heuertz

And so, the work continues. Consciously and repeatedly removing the mask and letting the false self peel away under the radiant love of the divine.

Because this is our true nature. This is the Christ essence inside of us. We are deeply loved in the eyes of God no matter how much we believe our false selves or how many masks we place over them. God sees right underneath all of it.

This is who I want to see looking back at me in the eyes of others.


Perennial wisdom is not ‘practical’

Photo by Wells Chow

Following perennial wisdom of any sort is really (really!) hard.

My preferred brand of it comes from the teachings of Jesus and just a small dose of it is enough to break my brain…

  • When they strike you on one cheek, give them the other one also.
  • Forgive those who persecute you.
  • Lose your life in order to gain it.
  • The meek shall inherit the earth.
  • God loves the spoiled son more than the obedient one.
  • The rest of the flock is abandoned for the one idiotic sheep who got lost.

I mean, what do we do with this?!

Unlike practical spiritual advice, perennial wisdom sets out to obliterate the ego, not pander to it. The latter doesn’t sell books like the former.

Practical spiritual advice makes me feel good inside. Perennial wisdom makes me want to crucify the one who gave it to me.

But this is why I’m drawn towards it. It’s so different and more radical than any other way of living I’ve ever followed.

I have to say, though — I miss you, Law of Attraction. You were so much more comforting to my ego.


Which voice is which?

Photo by Nathan Queloz

I’m a big believer that God is hearable, not seeable. I can loosely rationalize this notion by referring to John 1:1 (even though that translation is blurry — but whatever, it works for me).

In the form of centering prayer I study and practice, it’s all about listening for God. The question is — out of all the voices in my head, which one is God’s?!

Is it the really hangry one that just wants Chipotle and won’t let me get anything done until guacamole gets in my stomach? Is it the one that judges others and how different they are to me (yes, that one is up there too)? Is it the voice of my late father (that one won’t go away, damn it)?

Which voice is it? Is any given voice from my ego or from spirit?

I’ve recently heard it put a certain way, which I quite like (and I paraphrase, from Fr. Richard Rohr)…

God’s voice is a deeper voice than your own that will never shame or frighten you, but rather strengthen you, even when it’s challenging you.

[I don’t read ‘deeper’ as ‘more masculine’ but rather ‘coming from a deeper place within’ than our day-to-day human voice.]

God’s voice isn’t always nice and comforting. It often pushes us into uncomfortable territory. It challenges us to run contrary to our human survival-based egos, but it never shames, bemoans, or ‘frightens’ us on a core level (though the direction it calls us can seem terrifying, the intent is never to frighten).

God doesn’t seem to speak English (very stubborn, I know). I may translate God that way, but the voice (if we can even call it that) originates as something deeper and more primal. God’s voice seems to come as a heard magnetic pull rather than literal words that can be logically parsed and understood through language comprehension.

Listening to the ‘right’ voice is easier at certain times than others. It’s a lifelong practice and one we may never get totally right. But if we remain open and work on heightening our receptivity, we get more glimpses.

Okay, time to go grab some Chipotle, stat…

God’s presence and action within

Photo by Nathan Ansell

This is what contemplative prayer lends itself to.

When we sit with the intention of connecting to our indwelling spirit, we quiet the analytical mind, turn our inner ear towards the divine, and come into contact with a certain kind of inner stirring.

Mystics call this stirring of sorts God’s presence and action within. It’s swirling around right now in your belly underneath the human-made amygdala-triggered tension that may be there.

God speaks with no words and yearns not for your mental approval, but for the acknowledgement of your heart and the raw action of your feet, hands, and voice.

Can you feel it swirling around in there? What is God whispering to you right now?

No need to try putting language to it. But it might be worth your while to sit down and at least have a listen…


It’s not called Jesusianity

Photo by Daniil Silantev

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Fr. Richard Rohr’s series this week about the Universal Christ (I’ll include links below). The man keeps outdoing himself, what can I say?

I don’t know if it’s legal or not, but I really want to copy and paste the text into a document, give it some nice formatting, and print it out to give to friends and family for Christmas to show them what the religion of their youth likely failed to point out about Jesus and the Christ.

But then I’d be that guy at Christmas dinner pushing my ‘religion’ on people, wouldn’t I? The jury’s still out on whether or not I’ll be bold enough to do this, but at least I have you, dear reader, to ‘push my religion on’:)

As Rohr states, the problem is that much of our Christian religion has focused on the symbol of the thing, not the thing itself.

…for the last 2,000 years, we have not understood the Cosmic Christ. We fell in love with the symbol instead of what Jesus fully represented. To love “Jesus, the Christ” is to love both the symbol and everything that he stands for — which is precisely everything. This lays a wonderful foundation for a new consciousness and a new cosmology — and a very different notion of religion itself.

Which made me think, it’s not called Jesusianity, it’s called Christianity. This should’ve been our first clue. After all, Christ isn’t Jesus’ last name (how shocked I was to have learned that).

Much of our Christian religion has focused on the symbol of the thing (Jesus), not the thing itself (Christ).

Again, from Rohr…

Christ is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of God’s nature, sustaining the universe by God’s powerful command. — Hebrews 1:3, Jerusalem Bible

Christ is not Jesus’ last name. The word Christ is a title, meaning the Anointed One, which many Christians so consistently applied to Jesus that to us it became like a name. But a study of Scripture, Tradition, and the experience of many mystics reveals a much larger, broader, and deeper meaning to “the Christ.”

The above passage from Hebrews says that Christ “sustains the universe.” The concept of Christ can be used to describe reality in an archetypal, symbolic, and profound way. But it names the shape of the universe before it names the individual who typifies that shape, the one we call Jesus Christ. All of creation first holds God’s anointing (“beloved” status), and then Jesus brings the message home in a personal way over thirteen billion years later!

By delineating Jesus and the Christ, everything makes sense. This is the only light that I can call myself a Christian in. And I can embrace Jesus in a whole new life-affirming perspective.

Here are the links of Rohr’s ‘Universal Christ’ series for you to peruse…

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6


Necessary suffering: The way down is the way up

Image: Alex Ivashenko

If we look at the world — from nature to the stories and myths we’ve told each other throughout time — a poignant truth can be derived:

One thing must be sacrificed in order to gain something else.

A caterpillar has to lose its caterpillarness in order to become a butterfly.

Leaves must die, fall, and turn to dust before new life emerges in the spring.

Remy has to get sucked down the sewer and lose his family before he becomes a world-class chef (Ratatouille is one of my all-time favorite movies — I had to use it here).

Donald Trump has to become president before a new kind of politics arises (did I say that?).

There’s no way around it. Things must get really shitty and die before something new emanates from the loins of creation (sorry, I just felt like saying ‘loins’, okay?).

This is the case in our personal lives as well…

There’s a ‘necessary suffering’ required (yes, I dare say, required) in life. It’s programmed in and I’m convinced it’s absolutely inescapable.

This tendency to want to escape suffering is the root cause of the lion’s share of extended evils of our world, especially in the west.

I don’t know about you, but I was raised with the notion that, if I didn’t ‘sin’ and I said my prayers the right way — if I was a good boy — I’d escape suffering…

But then we lost our home…
And my mom got sick and passed away when I was 16…
And I had to deal with my extended family’s addictions and poverty…
And I lost all of my money in 2008 a month after getting married…
And my dad passed 6 months before my daughter was born…

I could go on, but I know I’m preaching to the choir. You’ve likely experienced lower than I have. This is no pissing contest or miseryfest. This is a call to solidarity through the one thing we all have in common, but which our society strives so hard to avoid...

Our suffering.

Have you been able to escape it? I’ve never met anyone who has.

So why do we have such a stigma about it?

Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences — all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey… You cannot avoid sin or mistake anyway (Romans 5:12), but if you try too fervently, it often creates even worse problems.
 — Richard Rohr

The ‘way down’ is the only ‘way up’.

We must embrace our suffering and see the blessings it provides.

We must see suffering, not as something shameful, but as a natural event that allows parts of ourselves to die so that new parts of us can be birthed.

This view doesn’t fit into our Western philosophy of progress. We’re all about the ‘hockey stick growth’ — ‘up and to the right’. We see success as #winning. Or #crushingit.

We see suffering as being for the poor, unfortunate, and downtrodden. Not for ‘us’. We’re big into ‘engineering our own superiority systems’, as Rohr would say, to where we don’t allow suffering at all.

But I say this…

Real transformation can come only through suffering.

The avoidance of suffering only prolongs and intensifies the suffering when it does strike. It’s an ego move that adds layers of disappointment, embarrassment, projection, blame, denial, etc. on top of it.

The ego sees suffering as something we must suppress and push aside rather than lay ourselves bare to.

Like a wound wrapped up in a dirty, sweaty sock, all it does is fester and eat at us from the inside-out before re-emerging in unexpected, harmful, violent ways.

A last word from Fr. Rohr…

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.

The way down is the way up. Or the way up is the way down. Same difference.

Human perfection isn’t found in perfection. It’s found in how we handle our imperfection.

This is where holiness is hidden. We find the growth of our soul in the depths of our pain, not when we’re piously floating above it.

And so I pray that you suffer. May you suffer well. May you suffer fully. May you not be ashamed in your suffering, but rather enlivened. And may your soul soar to new heights on the other side of that suffering.

For more on this, PLEASE read Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life from Richard Rohr. #mindblown

Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

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You’re approved

Image: Alexandru STAVRICĂ

What if we could just stop it with the whole ‘approval’ thing?

When we look at the phenomenon of approval from the ego’s eyes, we start to buy in to the belief that our safety and sanctity rests on the approval of others. We fear it will all come crashing down if we were to loosen our bloody grip on the throat of approval.

Who would like us then? Who would do our bidding?

We’d lose our jobs, our families, our friendships, our identities, our agreements — all of it would be dust.

Wow… Do you see how backwards this is?

Can you stop and breathe and let the fog clear for just a quick second so you can see how the constant seeking of approval from others holds us hostage to our experience?

What if you believed that you already had all the approval you need?

What would life look like then?

Might you be more ‘real’ with people (without being obnoxious). 
Might your word hold more weight? 
Might your conversations be stronger? 
Might your craft be more pure? 
Might your relationships be built upon rock as opposed to the shifting sands they currently rest on? 
Might you take care of yourself and others more — not out of obligation, but out of inner-alignment?

Why do you waste time looking to one another for approval when you have the approval that comes from the one God? 
- John 5:41, 44

How profound is that?

You. Are. Approved. 
At birth.

Problem is, you bought into the world’s petty meaning of approval and it has you chasing a carrot that you can never ever catch.

When we stop seeking approval from others, we live from a place of unabashed authenticity.

But most of all, we claim our spiritual inheritance and become free.

Love takes on a new meaning. Instead of a mechanism used to manipulate and control, it flows unconditionally from a center unshaken from the winds of social conformity. If someone is in need, you don’t even think about the social implications — who might be looking, who else might be able to help, etc. — you just go help because it’s what you’re drawn at your core to do.

This takes some serious un-training. This takes diligence. This could be the scariest thing you’ve ever done or ever will do.

But on the other side, from what I can see, lies an experience of true joy and transformation.

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