Category Archives: Spirituality


Sorry, it’s been a while.  But it’s 8.37 on a Saturday morning, I’m watching Jean Vigo’s ‘A Propos de Nice’ (a dialogue-free short film about French people being happy, any five minutes of which are better than ‘Inception’ – which is already very good, but Vigo doesn’t need CGI to turn a Gallic city upside down), and for some reason I want to blog again.

No big promises – but if you join me in the comments, I’ll be grateful and try to write more often.

My thoughts this weekend:

The proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment to ban recognition of same-sex partnerships is antithetical to the best of what the US stands for in terms of personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness; it is opposed to the spirit of compassion and respect and love for neighbor that are at the heart of the Christian teaching that everyone who supports the amendment cites as their reason for doing so; even while its proponents believe (or say they believe) the amendment protects their own marriages, if passed it will actually actively hurt people who only want to be allowed to have a measure of protection and recognition for the love they share, and therefore it follows will in reality undermine community as the foundation of society; it continues a tragic tradition of fear being used to oppress people who are already marginalized; it serves no positive purpose and in fact reinforces the social structural realities that lead to stories such as this one.

Groups like Believe Out Loud, Equality NC, and Faith in America are good resources for information and how to take action, but I’d want to emphasize one thing that is often, by my sights, neglected in anti-homophobia/pro-humanity activism: Genuine dialogue.  I changed my mind about theology and sexuality partly through relationships with people wiser and more experienced than I, partly through academic reflection, and partly through my own experience.  This seems to me to fit with the Wesleyan quadrilateral of engaging scripture, reason, tradition and experience as we seek to discern what is right, among other historic Christian ways of interpreting the world.  It is not a betrayal of Christian principle to be open to dialogue with people with whom you disagree.  It has a long and noble history.  I’m happy to talk with anyone who wants to know where I stand, what I think, and why I believe that a serious conversation about sexuality and spirituality is not just important for the sake of addressing the injustice of inequality and homophobia, but for the future of peace on earth.  I’ll write more about this later; for now, I want to invite a dialogue; and to ask you to seriously consider how we might persuade proponents of the anti-LGBTQ amendment that it is actually in their interests to vote against it.

In Memory of John

Three years ago tonight my friend John O’Donohue crossed the threshold that he always considered helping others to travel  one of the greatest privileges of ministry.  He died in his sleep, his beloved at his side, at 52 years old, three weeks after I had last spoken to him.  His extraordinary book ‘To Bless the Space Between Us’ was near publication, and when it surfaced a couple of months later the opening chapter on thresholds and the inevitability of change made a different kind of sense than I imagine he intended when writing.

Those who knew and loved him were bereft; the most astonishing funeral and memorial gatherings ensued in such rapid succession, and went so deep that it seemed to be several months before we ran out of organised events to attend to remember the poet, priest, mystic, artist, humorist, and friend; a man so large in spirit that thousands of people were changed by his death.  It was a privilege to know him, and to be known by him.  I hear his voice on my i-pod all the time – I’m grateful that there were so many recordings made of his work; and I hear his voice in my inner life, calling me to live from my best self.

This year begins with remembering John on this third anniversary; and with reflecting on my own life, amidst wonder and challenge.  I, too, would ‘love to live as the river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding’.  I, too, wish to be a blessing to others.  I, too, am frail and flawed and broken; and frequently fail to give to others what I want to receive myself.  John would, I imagine, say to me what he often said, quoting his mighty friend Lelia Doolan, that in times of confusion and fear, you should ‘steady yourself’, and let the light shine through the cracks, even – perhaps especially – those you have created yourself.

If we are to honor John’s memory, we might want to devote this year to one of his other sharpest and most elegant ideas: that the first friendship we must cultivate is the one we have with ourselves.  May 2011 be the year in which you become your own best friend.

Bowie Knife

The first scene of Nagisa Oshima’s ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence’ (new on DVD and Blu-Ray from Criterion) is occupied with the horror of a soldier being forced to cut his intestines open as a punishment for being in love with another man.  The last image of the film is the smiling face of a soldier the night before his execution, beaming a greeting of filial affection to a former enemy.  We’re in a POW camp run under the auspices of the Japanese military, where Allied soldiers are half-subjected to, and half-ignored by an honor code that proposes self-disembowelment as the response, it appears, to just about any infraction.  In between the attempted seppuku and the smiling greeting, the adorable Tom Conti reflects poetically on the mutually assured idiocy of war, Ryuichi Sakamoto gets angry, and then gets healed while his fascinating and eventually ubiquitous score overplays but not so much that it bothers, and gorgeous burnt light provides a mystical hue to what is ultimately a nightmare that becomes a dream and then finally a reality the audience always wanted: reconciliation between people who were otherwise ready to kill each other.

But not before David Bowie saves the world.

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Tyler Clementi and Me. And You.

Of course I never knew Tyler Clementi, the young Rutgers student who took his own life last month in a tragedy so unfathomably horrific that it doesn’t permit adequate attempts at description.  The story that has emerged so far is that Tyler was enjoying a romantic moment with another guy, while his roommate secretly streamed the encounter live on the internet.  Shortly after Tyler found out, he jumped off a bridge.

Of course I never knew him, but his story demands a deeper listening than has yet been promoted or presented by our culture’s spokespeople.  This is not just a story about one man and two acquaintances whose idiotic prank appears to have caused such fear of exposure that Tyler felt he had to kill himself.  It’s a story about all of us.  And we all need to listen to it.
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Slow-Burning Americana Report: ‘Mystery Train’

Small town America may rightly fear that it has been overfilmed; certainly after watching Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Mystery Train’, one imagines that it would be difficult to show anything new that isn’t already telegraphed from or curled up inside this vision of Memphis.

What a gorgeous, beguiling film – beginning with the incongruous image of a young Japanese couple traveling through Tennessee industrial wasteland. We are in a space that is at once familiar and alienating; and inviting – for in about fourteen seconds at the beginning of ‘Mystery Train’, Jarmusch reels us in to ask the only question that really matters at the start of a movie: ‘What’s going to happen next?’

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‘Revanche’: The Film I’ve Been Waiting For

I knew nothing about ‘Revanche‘, other than it was the kind of film people tell you you’re supposed to like, but they say it so often, and the acclaim is so overwhelming that it makes you wonder if it’s going to be a rehearsal of the time you didn’t get to see ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ on its first release but it seemed as if every four paces you took in town or every third hyperlink you clicked on you’d bump into someone telling you that ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ was not only the Greatest Film Ever Made™ but would make a supermodel fall in love with you and have you develop a six-pack within a matter of days after watching and so by the time you finally did go to see ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ it couldn’t possibly measure up to the standard that had been set for it and anyway the cinema you saw it in was forced to LEAVE ITS LIGHTS ON DURING THE MOVIE because of an absurd local government health and safety injunction ordering it to get new dimmer switches despite the fact that in thirty-five years of operating NO ONE had ever fallen over and sued or lost their soul or even stubbed a toe so it was difficult to engage with ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ cos it’s kinda hard at the best of times to suspend disbelief when watching a fantasy film even moreso WHEN THE LIGHTS IN THE CINEMA HAVE BEEN LEFT ON but it didn’t really matter because… Continue reading

Why Don’t I Capitalise god?

Laurie Montgomery asked me what I don’t capitalise ‘god’ in the ‘About Me’ section of this blog.  I appreciate the question – and while I don’t have a firm rule about the grammar of names for the divine, some wider thoughts below:

A note on God: I don’t think we can really talk about God.  The name cannot begin to conceive of what ‘God’ might actually be.  Woody Allen famously asserted that asking him about his belief or non-belief in God was pointless given that he couldn’t even get his typewriter to work.  Dealing with small things is difficult enough without facing the deepest existential questions.  Given that I don’t use a typewriter, I’ll risk just a little more theologising than Woody, but still bear in mind that whatever we say about God will be inadequate.  My friend Pete Rollins writes beautifully about what he calls a/theism – the idea that our best ideas of God will fall short; by the same token, our most profound denials of God cannot come close to describing what Meaning is.

On the one hand, the notion that the Ground of all Being can be restricted to only having personal attributes makes God nothing more than a more powerful version of Santa Claus.  On the other, the rejection of the idea of there being Something Beyond us seems to me to be rooted in disappointment with life at least as much as with a rigorous commitment to science, as many proponents of so-called ‘non-belief’ would want to say.  For the record, I don’t think God/god/G-d is a magician in the sky, nor a friendly but more capable universal grandfather.  Nor do I think we came from nowhere and have nowhere to go.  Talk about ‘God’ is always inadequate; it’s far too big a word that it can’t fail to destabilise any sentence that tries to contain it.  The paradox is that I think we have to talk about God if we are to discover what it means to be human.  So I apologise for the failure of my words to convey what I mean – and I hope you can trust that when I use the word ‘god’ I’m talking about something unimaginable.  And that my assumption about this ‘God/god/g-d’ is simple: he, she or it is either made of love, or we’re in trouble.

Update on Celtic Spirituality and Radical Activism Immersion Experience August 2010

Hi folks – just to let you know that we’re deep in preparation for the Celtic Spirituality and Radical Activism Immersion Experience, taking place in just over two months in my home of Northern Ireland.  Unfortunately, due to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances my co-facilitator and good friend Ian Cron has had to withdraw from the retreat; but I’m very happy to announce that I’ll now be joined by Carl McColman as co-facilitator.

Carl will tell you more about the retreat/immersion experience here.  Good news: if ten or more people sign up in the next week, we may be able to reduce the cost by up to $200 per person.  So please do click on the link to Carl’s blog, read about the retreat, and let us know if you’re interested: places are limited and we hope to fill them soon…

Celtic Spirituality and Radical Activism Gathering

We’re making some final plans for the Celtic Spirituality and Radical Activism Event – a week in Northern Ireland in August, leading up to Greenbelt.  There are still some places left, but we need to make some decisions this week about numbers – so if you’re interested we need to hear from you very soon.  More details on the event here – if you’re interested in participating, let us know…

Letting Go…Some Thoughts on ‘Lost’

Of course many of us saw, are still thinking, and want to talk about ‘Lost’.  I’m no expert (that appelation belongs to good folk like Chris Seay), nor even that much of a fan, but I have followed the show, in good times and bad.  My brief thoughts on the implications of how it ended and why I liked it:

1: It does what good conclusions always do: allows for us to go back and watch from the start with enhanced enjoyment.

2: It genuinely lets characters breathe, and despite the surreal contexts of the narrative, do things that real people actually do, which makes it better than almost anything else currently screening on network television.

3: It ends up being more like a film that I never considered a progenitor until last night (‘The Last Temptation of Christ’) than its most obvious grandfather (‘Star Wars’).

4: It earned the right to attempt serious points partly because it was always able to laugh at itself.  (‘Christian Shephard?  Really?’)

5: It suggests something hugely significant about our current popular culture: the narrative of personal transformation dominates, and the link between facing your own death and making a good life is front and centred.  John O’Donohue always said that the greatest privilege of working in a pastoral context was helping people to die well; in that sense, at its best, ‘Lost’ is like a meta-level good priest, a comforting myth, a reassurance that every moment allows for the possibility of miracles: the miracle of human beings in conflict forgiving each other, the miracle of lives well lived, and the miracle perhaps most underthought, that of the ability to choose.

But before we get too excited and announce the Second Coming of Tolstoy, there’s a shadow side:  I think part of why the ending of a show like ‘Lost’ affects people is because we’re all longing for lives that seem as rich as the characters in good fiction; or, frankly, we want to have lives as rich as the lives of people who work in television seem.  Of course this is to collude in a myth that is ultimately oppressive: while we may be thoroughly enjoying and learning from ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Wire’, ‘Six Feet Under’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Lost’, and now ‘Treme’, we’re also paying for it by sitting through advertising, or buying Dharma Initiative branded lasagna; more than that, we’re subject to the temptation to confuse reading directions with climbing mountains (how many young men saw themselves in Neo, were inspired to re-evaluate their lives and sense of vocation, made emotional commitments to living subversively, and fleshed this out primarily [or exclusively] by purchasing the Playstation 2 game?)  The map is not the city.  ‘Lost’ is over.  It’s time to let go.