Has Jesus Been Left Behind?

As we approach another Christmas season, it would be good to take stock of the basic teachings of Jesus and how they apply to the extreme political conflicts we are currently witnessing. Here are some of my thoughts on this subject from an article I had published on December 27, 2004.

Our Temptation: False Profits and the Evangelism of Hate

We live in fearful times characterized by wars, economic hardships, and environmental disasters of all kinds. It is no wonder that we aggressively seek answers to save us from these threats. We are being tempted at every turn to put our faith in what appear to be concrete solutions like the political system, modern technology, and our military. In our search for comfort and safety, these things hold out to us the promises of a good and safe life. Yet, repeatedly we find that these promises generate more problems and fall short of our expectations.

This brings to my mind the temptation of Jesus in the desert. I wonder if our temptations today are any different than what Jesus faced? As I think about it, the only difference I can see is that when Jesus was tempted, He did the right thing. He rejected Satan and said, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10). As a teenager, I always imagined that if the devil suddenly appeared before me, no matter how terrified I was, I would be able to say “no” to him and turn immediately to God. But unlike my fantasies and unlike Jesus in the desert, the devil never seems to show up in my life in full dress to confront me with such direct questions.

Later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus went on to challenge His disciples (and us) with these words, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his own soul?” (Matthew 16: 26). These are exactly the questions we should be asking ourselves each day: do we sell our souls so that we can gain the promises of the kingdom of man or do we stand true to our faith in God? We can’t have it both ways.

If you should decide against selling your soul and instead choose to follow Jesus, what must you do? A good starting point is to read the Gospels for yourself. What does Jesus say about how to live? There is no complex mumbo-jumbo here — Jesus was very clear about what God wants of us: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22: 37-40).

You would think that these two commandments would be easy enough to hear and understand. But this is not the case. “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13: 15).

Instead of being transformed and healed by His teachings, we stay our course. We resist His crazy new ways and do what we have always done since the beginnings of human history. We should not be surprised that so little healing and peace come from our old ways.

The power of the kingdom of man booms loud in our ears. The Gospels are drowned out by the rantings of false prophets who betray every word that Jesus spoke and every commandment given by God. Liberals and conservatives alike proclaim their divisive messages in chain letter e-mails, in hate radio, in entertainment news, in the new Christian fiction, and on their Web sites. One example of this disturbing trend is the immensely popular Left Behind series of novels which portrays Jesus in the Second Coming as the Destroyer. This series celebrates the suffering and hideous deaths of billions of people at the end of the world. These and similar fantasies exalt in horrific blood sacrifice that brings in their version of a vengeful God’s kingdom.

The evangelism of hate is consistent with the myriad of ways that we betray His teachings in our daily lives. God entrusted us with the most beautiful and perfect paradise. We have used all of the powers at our command to make the world over in our image, just as we have tried to make God over in our image, destroying whatever fails to please and profit us. God gives us the precious gift of life, but in every hour of every day, people all over the planet use their powers to destroy human life. Every day we give our children and our money over to the governments, that they may wage whatever wars they choose. Every day we give our money and our rights over to corporations that exploit the poor and ravage the planet. These are not the ways of people who renounce man’s kingdom so that they may follow their hearts in service to God. These are not acts that affirm life.

Idolatry of Sacred Violence

In our times of temptation, we have turned away from God. We have traded our faith in God for the riches and power of the kingdom of man. And we have embraced an unshakable faith in sacred violence.

When violence is justified by religion it is called sacred or redemptive violence. Sacred violence is nothing new. It is a primitive practice in which we avoid responsibility by blaming others. It is scapegoating on a grand scale. It begins with the act of judging others. Those whom we blame become the scapegoat. We are promised that if we slaughter the scapegoat, we will be saved from evil. We are promised that the annihilation of the few will save the many. We are promised that this will please God. We get so caught up in our mission to destroy evil that we forget Jesus’s warning that we “judge not” (Matthew 7:1). We endow this violence with sacredness to give it legitimacy and to silence those who would point out that these promises are false.

Sacred violence uses religion to target those who are different. We witnessed this first hand when the men who carried out the 9-11 attacks claimed they were serving God. To most of us, this was incomprehensible. The men on these planes believed that God would welcome them into heaven for their faithfulness. They were blind to the insanity and evilness of their mission.

Christians also have perpetrated sacred violence. Two historical examples of this are the Salem witch trials and Ku Klux Klan lynchings. In both cases, Christian-sounding words and Bible quotes were used to convince communities to kill people who were labeled as evil. From our perspective today, we can look back on these killings and see them for what they were: shameful, insane acts of scapegoating.

The great tragedy of the Christian era is that we continue to rely upon sacred violence. We have made violence into a false god that we worship unceasingly. We refuse to believe that anything less than possession of the mightiest weapons will protect us and enable us to purge the forces of evil from the planet. Our faith in violence blinds us so that we fail to see the One who is God over all. The idolatry that is sacred violence leaves the real Jesus behind. Worship of sacred violence blinds us to the great lesson of history that every group that approves the use of violence in their mission to rid the world of evil becomes a greater evil. When will we learn that redemption from evil comes not from violence and blood sacrifice but from being transformed by the healing power of God?

How is it that people of faith, including the people of Salem, the Ku Klux Klan, and yes, even the 9-11 attackers, promoted violence as ordained by God? Could it be that Jesus was right when he repeated Isaiah’s warning that “this people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (KJV, Mark: 7: 6-7)? How close are our hearts to what Jesus teaches? Do we know the difference between the doctrines that Jesus teaches and the commandments of men? Do we know how our hateful talk breeds violence? Do we know what suffering comes to others from the endless violence done in our name, and falsely in the name of Jesus?

How do we discern the word of God from the rantings of false prophets who drive us toward acts of sacred violence? Again, the answer is in the Gospels where Jesus warns us to “beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7 :15-16).

What are the fruits of a society that worships sacred violence? Where do we look to find the fruits? By what measure do we evaluate them? Do we look to our great material wealth and powerful weaponry for evidence of our right living? Or do we follow the standard Jesus suggested would be used in the final judgment: “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25: 41). If so, then we must look in the eyes of the poor and the victims of war for the measure of our lives.

The New Gospel Way

In the Gospels, Jesus challenges us to leave behind the old tradition of sacred violence that taught people to love their neighbors but hate their enemies. He came to replace the old ways with a new, higher law, which requires us to love both our neighbors and our enemies. To the old ways of thinking, His teachings are crazy. But when you read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down and shake us free from man’s domination over our souls. For this he was killed. Ever since, the powers of the kingdom of man have been relentless in their attempts to put an end to His teachings. Today, His teachings are ridiculed as being impractical and foolish in the face of harsh realities of present-day evils. Yet, Jesus was born, lived, and died in very harsh times. So, which teachings are really crazy? Should we persist in the craziness of sacred violence? Or should we put our faith in Jesus and His Gospel of peace?

The Gospels tell of many times when Jesus could have destroyed non-believers or evil-doers, but He did not. There were many times when He made it clear that all people are our neighbors, even the Samaritans who were in conflict with the Jews. For example, the Gospel of Luke (KJV, 9: 54-56) reports that Jesus was turned away from a Samaritan village. “And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of [You don’t know what your hearts are like (New Living Translation)]. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.”

But, like His disciples, we fail to hear His commands that “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” and “thou shalt not kill.” We have closed our eyes and ears and hearts to His teachings, preferring instead to trust our lives to corporate greed and high-tech weapons of mass destruction. Who can warn us that we are on the wrong path? Who will warn us of the injuries we do to God’s children everywhere? Who will rebuke us for not knowing our own hearts?

Does your heart tell you that Jesus wants us to destroy life? In your heart of hearts, do you believe that Jesus would approve of military action that rains fire down from the sky on villages full of people? Do you really believe He would excuse the carnage because we were doing it for just cause or to liberate the villagers? Would the Jesus of the Gospels approve of the hateful words we spew out about those with different religious or political beliefs? Would Jesus approve of the countless acts of violence our military and secret police conduct each and every day in our names?

There are many hard questions like these that we must hold ourselves accountable to answer. But perhaps, those that matter the most are these: How will we come to know and serve the One who is God over all? How will we come to know our own hearts? How do we tell the difference between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of men?

To honestly hold ourselves accountable to these questions will require much from us, including giving up some old ways and taking on some new ways. We can begin by turning away from the ranting. We can turn off entertainment news and hate radio. We can put down the novels that glorify sacred violence. We can get off the government and corporate band wagons that promote wars and the destruction of God’s planet. We can stop justifying violence. We can pick up a New Testament and read for ourselves what Jesus taught in the Gospels. We can open our hearts to His light. We can use our best efforts to practice His teachings in our daily lives. We can welcome Jesus into our hearts and let Him turn our lives upside down. We can show those around us how our lives are being healed through Jesus, the Prince of Peace. And we will all be better for it.

© Copyright, 2004 and 2017 by John Arnaldi. All rights reserved. Please feel free to distribute this article for educational purposes, provided you charge no fee for it and make no changes in it. This copyright notice must be included on all copies.

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On Taking the Wrong Path Again

In January I went hiking with a friend in Hillsborough River State Park (north of Tampa, Florida). It had rained the night before, so some of the trails were flooded. We enjoyed seeing the transition from winter to the beginnings of spring in Florida. The Bald Cypress along the river were still leafless, while the maples and sweet gum were just starting to open their buds. Part of the time we went slow and didn’t talk so we could pay attention to everything around us—just taking it all in—a walking meditation.

When it was time to head back to our car, we missed the trail that led to the parking lot. We kept going for about ten minutes until I realized we must have passed the correct trail. As we back-tracked, mentally I switched into self-critical mode and started thinking about how I seem to have a habit of taking the wrong path—it’s an old, familiar pattern. And often, I find myself surrounded by people who judge me for taking so many of what they judge to be “wrong turns.” I often agree with them: I hate the wrong turns, the distractions, the dead ends. I hate that sometimes I can’t seem to make myself do the normal things other people seem to find easy to do. I’m ashamed of my mistakes and that sometimes I just can’t get with the program.

Thankfully, on this day my hiking buddy held no judgments about staying on the “right path.” I realized that I would rather spend more time with people like her than people who think they know what my path should be.

As we walked back toward the correct trail, we met a couple who told us about a large rattlesnake they had just seen. They took us to it and pointed it out. It was only about two feet off of the main path which we had just passed minutes before—easy to miss because its excellent camouflage markings made it nearly invisible. It was a huge Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake with fifteen buttons on its rattle (I counted them in the photo I took). I estimate that it was 3.5 to 4 feet long—the biggest rattlesnake I have seen in several decades! We spent about 20 minutes observing it and taking photos from all angles. Definitely the high point of our morning!

If we had not missed the turn for the correct path, we would have missed this exciting and rare encounter with this snake. In this case, our day was richer because of taking the wrong path. This experience is a good reminder for myself about making mistakes and letting go of agendas and judgments, so I can be fully present to enjoy the unique moments life provides along the journey.

“Walker, there is no path,
the path is made when walking…”
—Antonio Machado

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Hope for Food Despair

I grew up in an Italian family that loved food. Shopping for high-quality, fresh ingredients was always a top priority. My mother and grandmother were excellent cooks. Most of our meals were a celebration of tasty, home-made foods. An important part of our daily lives revolved around meal preparation and eating delicious, home-cooked meals.

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved fruit. Eating ripe, sweet, juicy fruit makes me happy. Even looking at it brings me pleasure, which explains why I loved going to the grocery store and fruit markets.

But things have changed.

I stopped buying fresh strawberries more than 20 years ago because the quality was so disappointing. Here in Florida, commercial strawberries have been bred for disease-resistance, productivity, and ability to ship and store well. To aid in storage and shipping, packing houses started having strawberries irradiated. The end result of selective breeding and irradiation has been a highly profitable product that looks like a strawberry but tastes like tart cardboard.

The last time I bought some Florida strawberries a few years ago, we ate the ripest ones and then left the less ripe ones on the kitchen counter for a few days to ripen. I was surprised that they remained in suspended animation for more than a week. Home-grown strawberries start spoiling within a day or two of picking. These neither ripened nor spoiled—they just shrank slowly from dehydration. And like just like the “ripe” ones, they had no sweetness and no fragrance. Beyond appearance, there was no resemblance to a real strawberry.

In recent years, I have had similar experiences with melons, pears, apples, and other fruits. They look great, but never ripen. And it’s not just the grocery stores because I have tried independent veggie markets, high-priced healthy foods stores, “farmers markets” and road-side stands, and I usually don’t find fruit that will ripen.

I return lots of fruit to the grocery store to get my money back. But there is no satisfaction in that. I don’t want my money back—what I really want is sweet, juicy fruit that is worth eating. I want food that makes me happy and healthy.

I dread going to grocery stores now. Every trip to buy food is disappointing and depressing. For a few years, I thought it was just me. I am just being negative and overly critical. I am just depressed.

But that’s not true! The truth is that it is nearly impossible to buy decent quality fruit anywhere in Tampa. The truth is that we have allowed business interests to ignore basic human interests, like the right to have nutritious, tasty, real foods.

The changes have happened so slowly and pervasively that many people have not noticed. There is nothing to compare to—the quality is universally mediocre. Sadly, many younger Americans have never tasted real food.

Yes, I am feeling despair about our food. But I take hope in small farmers, home gardeners, and the Permaculture movement. A revolution is beginning! People are taking action to grow and distribute real foods. They need our support and participation!

I do have something to compare to—I do have memorie_DSC0084s of beautiful, real food. Foods that my mother and grandmother prepared. Fruits that I found growing wild.

I celebrate these wild raspberries that I picked on Mount Mitchell, North Carolina a few years ago.

They were so fragrant and sweet!



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Finding My Way in the Dark

Entrance of a Florida Cave

Entrance of a Florida Cave

I have had a tough summer. I got lost in feelings of loneliness and depression. And then felt shame for feeling lonely and depressed. I didn’t like how I felt or who I was. Ugh…

As I struggled to find my way out of this period of depression, memories kept surfacing of an extremely challenging caving trip I took more than thirty years ago. When I found myself returning to those memories repeatedly over the past few weeks, I realized that they must be a story I needed to hear.

Here is my story of my journey to the underworld.

When I first got into serious cave exploring, one of the first cavers I met in Tampa was a member of a private cave conservancy group that protected Butler Cave, which was located in the mountains of northern Virginia. She invited me to go caving there with her over the 1983 Memorial Day weekend. Butler Cave is in pristine condition because it has been under protection since its discovery in 1958. Of course, I jumped at the chance to see this world-class wild cave.

That Saturday, a large group of us had a tiring, but good five hour trip into some of the easier sections of the cave and took some hikes around the beautiful valley above the cave. On Sunday, a smaller group of us went back into the cave to explore some of the more difficult sections. We got to see the rarely visited Crystal Section, which was coated floor to ceiling in dazzling delicate crystals and intricate formations, including large calcite flowers and tufts of angel hair. It was like walking around inside a geode! We also were able to look into the Moon Room and view its slick, milky-white, translucent crystalline floor, which no one is allowed to walk on.

After about six exhausting hours, we sat down in a large passage for a rest break and snacks. Then we split up, with part of the group heading back to the surface.

I chose to stay with four experienced cavers who wanted to continue exploring. All of us were in pretty good shape and of average to skinny build. Our very experienced trip leader was a small dynamo of a woman who might have weighed in at 90 pounds after a big meal. Of the four men, I was the thinnest.

After our rest break, without any discussion of where we were headed, our trip leader crawled into a small passage next to where she had been sitting. Although I was not enthusiastic about the looks of it, I followed after the third person. One man followed behind me.

The oval passage was about eighteen inches high at the highest and about 3 feet wide. Because of its small size, we had to crawl on our bellies and push our helmets and packs ahead, which was awkward and tedious. It was very slow going right from the start.

Tight crawls have always been my very least favorite part of caving. But I was hopeful that we would soon pop into a bigger passage. I was so wrong.

It wasn’t too bad at first. We were moving very slowly, but there was reasonable space on all sides of me. All I could see in front of my helmet were the soles of the boots of the man ahead of me. I quickly realized that I needed to slow down and keep more distance between my face and his boots, because getting too close to his boots made me feel more closed in and uncomfortable.

We spent more time waiting than moving, so I had ample time to experiment with having my head and arms and pack in various positions to try to find which was most efficient and comfortable. I got increasingly frustrated that the people ahead of me were so slow.

After about twenty minutes we had not gotten far. Not a good sign. I was getting very anxious and I decided I wanted out! It was difficult to see behind me because there was not enough space to turn my head sufficiently. Once in awhile I could hear some muffled voices ahead and behind, but even though our heads were only seven or eight feet apart, I could not make out any words because our bodies blocked most of the sound. Repeatedly I yelled to the man behind me to back up, but I could not understand his response. I backed up a little and pushed my boots against his helmet, but he did not back up. I finally gave up and rested while waiting for the man ahead to move. After awhile, there were no more muffled voices—we all had given up trying to communicate.

As we moved slowly forward, the passage got tighter. It was hard to have a real sense of time, but I think we must have been in the crawlway for at least thirty minutes by this point. Now the ceiling was averaging nine to twelve inches high and the passage had narrowed to about two feet.

From my trip log: “Now it was necessary to keep my head turned sideways—very fatiguing on my neck, frequent resting of my head on the sand was required. Now it seemed like forever. I had feelings of panic…”

About this time, I heard deep rumbles. It sounded like the bedrock was rumbling! After several agonizing minutes of intense panic, I realized that what I was hearing was the runaway pounding of my heart! Oh, God, I really hated this! Definitely turning into my worst nightmare!

It got tighter. Most of the time there was not enough room to turn my head to switch sides, so my neck muscles were in pain and cramping. There was no longer enough room to have one arm by my side to push while the other arm stretched above my head and pulled—now both arms had to reach out in front of my head. I was absolutely miserable. I swore I would never do a crawlway again.

More from my trip log:

Incredible strength was needed to move even one or two inches forward because by now only my ankles and hands [wrists] could move—there was no room for knee or leg action nor for elbows, shoulders or back to help out. I had to keep reassuring myself that the air was fresh and cool and okay to breathe and that I was in fact still moving slowly but surely forward. I turned my lamp down [open flame of carbide miner’s lamp] as low as I could because of my fear of bad air [from burning up my oxygen]. Then the crawlway began slanting upward and became even tighter—movement was next to impossible. At this point I was almost in tears—I could not bear to think of having to return out this way.

I felt helpless, isolated, and trapped! I felt horrible—intense frustration and anger and fear. Several times I got teary. And at one point, I let my feelings erupt into a temper tantrum—thrashing around, hitting the sand with my fists and kicking my legs and yelling. It was like losing it in a straight jacket—I could thrash all I wanted, but couldn’t move much and no one could hear me. The effort was exhausting and the exertion made it hard to breathe. I stopped because I was afraid if I totally freaked out I would never get out alive. And none of this was helping—I was just making myself feel worse. And that was good information to have—I had no power to get out immediately, but I realized I could stop making myself feel worse.

So I surrendered to my physical reality. I chose to focus my attention on the physical realities around me instead of my fears and emotions. I began reporting to myself the moment-by-moment observations of my reality: “See, it’s okay to lay your head on the sand and gravel. It feels good to rest your neck muscles now.”

One of my worst fears was that the air would stagnate and I would suffocate. However, when I started paying attention, I observed that I could feel a slight current of cool air flowing past my face. It wasn’t stuffy—it was refreshing. I realized that I probably wouldn’t suffocate. So for awhile I would just focus on breathing slowly and be grateful for the cool breeze on my face. It was comforting to me. I would chose to repeat this process many more times to quiet my fears along the way.

There was not much to do and not much to see while I waited. I started paying attention to the gravel on the floor in front of my face. At times I would make a game of moving some of it off to the sides of the passage so I would have a tiny bit more clearance as I moved ahead. It helped to keep my mind focused on a tangible activity like this instead of letting scary thoughts run out of control.

I was grateful for the sand and gravel because made it relatively easy to slide my helmet and pack forward. It also made it somewhat easier to slide my body forward, almost like I was lying on a layer of ball bearings. When I was resting, I also came to appreciate that the sand and gravel were much more comfortable to lie on than solid rock or sharp rubble.

One of my more realistic fears was of getting chilled and getting hypothermia, which has caused the death of trapped or injured cavers. The air, water, and rock temperatures in this cave were around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which could become a problem without warm clothing and the ability to keep moving. The risk is greater when lying on damp rock or in wet conditions because the body heat drains off much faster. So I was grateful for the dry sand and gravel, which offered some slight insulation, and for my warm, dry clothes.

I forced myself to take an inventory of the positive things about my situation. I had come prepared with proper food, water, clothing, and light sources. I knew I had enough light to last several days, and enough food and water to last at least six hours comfortably. All of these things helped me recognize that regardless of how miserable and afraid I felt, there was no immediate threat to my physical safety. I had to keep telling myself this throughout the rest of my ordeal.

One of my biggest comforts was knowing that experienced cavers back at the camp knew our trip plan and how to locate us if we failed to return on schedule. I trusted them and felt less alone knowing they were nearby. Additionally, they knew how to contact an extensive network of trained cave rescue personnel.

As I continued listing positives, for once in my life I was happy to be the skinniest guy in the group. I knew that the two young men ahead of me had bigger shoulders and chest, and outweighed me by twenty or thirty pounds. I knew I could get through anything they could squeeze through.

Finally, after what must have been nearly two hours of misery, I could hear voices again. The guys ahead were out of the tube! One of them reached in and took my helmet and pack to make it easier for me. Even so, it took awhile for me to squeeze through the last few feet. It was so tight that I have no idea how the two bigger men could have made it through.

I was so grateful to be able to sit up again! I was shaky and totally exhausted and almost in tears with relief at being out. Unfortunately, that relief was overshadowed by my fears about having to endure the same torture to get back to the main part of the cave.

I put my thoughts aside to help the last man out. He was the huskiest of our group, so he had an extremely tough time getting through the last five feet. He grunted and growled and did some serious swearing as he sweated his way out. After he caught his breath, he told me the thing that pissed him off the most was that this whole ordeal was unnecessary because there were other ways in. Oh my God! That meant there were other ways out! This was the best news I had heard all day!

After a rest and snack break, and some brief exploring, we headed out. The route we took back to the main passage was not a cakewalk by any means, but infinitely better than the tube we had crawled through. Along the way we made some frustrating wrong turns and had to repeatedly climb up and down some rugged forty-foot crevices that shredded our clothes.

Once we found our way back to the main passage, I felt great relief to be in familiar territory and only minutes away from the surface. We easily made our way to the bottom of the first big room in the cave, Breakdown Mountain, so-called because it contained a 300 foot high pile of rubble which we would have to climb. I was so happy to be leaving that I didn’t care that I was the last person up or that I couldn’t see because my glasses were totally fogged.

The last significant obstacle to exiting the cave was the climb up a thirty foot cable ladder. I rested while everyone else climbed the ladder. When my turn came, I was still out of breath and my glasses were still fogged. I was glad to be on a safety belay as I climbed because I was so shaky and fatigued that I could barely lift my arms or legs or get my hands to hold onto the ladder. I kept yelling up to my belayer that I couldn’t do it, but he talked me up one step at a time and I eventually got to the top.

Ten hours after we had first entered Butler Cave, I crawled through the small entrance gate and out into a beautiful starry night in the Virginia mountains.

Now I remember who I am.

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Behold the Flower

Behold the Flower

I love nature and I love flowers. Wild orchids are among my most favorite. I have grown a small collection of orchids since high school.

Over the past several weeks I have been watching a flower bud grow on my Stanhopea orchid. I find Stanhopeas to be very unusual flowers for many reasons. They must be grown in hanging baskets rather than pots because the bloom stalk grows downward under the plant. The flowers are large (as big as my fist) with strangely shaped petals that are thick and heavy, like they were freshly molded from shiny plastic or slippery wax. The complex flower is multi-dimensional and designed to attract and guide insects inside to insure pollination. They have nectar glands in an upper structure that drip copious nectar into a “bucket” formed by a lower part of the flower. The first time I saw it bloom, I thought it was bizarre—not my idea of a pretty flower, but the engineering of it was spectacular! And it has a strangely heavy, sweet fragrance that is almost overpowering, and yet still pleasantly attractive to me (and certain insects).

Over the 35 years that I have grown this particular plant, it has bloomed only three or four times (more likely my fault than the plant’s). So all things considered, when it blooms it’s a big event to me.

For the past few mornings when I took Molly out, the first thing I did was check on the progress of the bud. Today was the morning it opened!

Unlike many orchids that have long-lasting flowers, Stanhopea typically has short-lived blooms, lasting only a few days. As a photographer with considerable experience in missing many flower shots because of various calamities (grasshoppers, squirrels and other animals eating flowers, birds and people picking them, etc.), I decided to photograph it this morning before I left for work, even though it wasn’t fully open.

As I experimented with various angles and lighting, I took a few test shots. I tried hanging the basket from several different tree branches. I took a few more test shots. Nothing satisfied my tastes. As I moved on toward another tree, the wire hanger broke and SPLAT!!! the basket fell onto the gravel driveway, with the blossom crushed beneath it. One of the petals and part of the center of the flower broke off. End of photo session.

What I had anticipated as being a fun experience ended in serious disappointment.

stanhopeaBefore I went to work, I uploaded the six test shots to my computer. I did not expect any of them to be usable, but I was able to salvage one of them [posted here to the right].

When I came home from work, I checked the flower. I was surprised that it was still alive and had continued to open and develop through the day. It was too dark to try to photograph it then, but as I looked up into it, its translucent petals glowed warmly with the remnants of light from the sky behind it. Even in its brokenness, it was spectacular! Triumphant!

Today I had been seeking a perfect flower and expected to enjoy it over a period of days. I wanted time to capture it on camera, to really make a study of it, to really do it justice.

Nothing went quite the way I wanted.

I am trying to learn to be present, in the moment. To open up to beauty and love. To let go of expectations. To give up perfection. To surrender to life.

Today, I did have some fleeting glimpses of beauty. Even in loss and brokenness.

Hours later, somewhere inside my nose, a faint, sweet fragrance lingers.

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Damned for the Sins of Sodom

Who Are Damned by the Sins of Sodom?

In my last Blog, I discussed a whole series of sweet experiences with dear friends and total strangers on the day of the St. Pete Pride Parade.

I have continued to find sweetness and delight in many more social gatherings since then.

A week ago, I attended the beautiful wedding of two wonderful women friends at the Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa. The recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality added historical significance to the occasion. The following day, I went to Quaker worship at the Tampa Friends Meeting, with my ex-wife in attendance. There was a sweetness in our socializing with her and other friends. Later, I visited with dear friends and my ex-girlfriend. This was the first time she and I have really visited since our breakup 14 months ago. It was a very nice visit that added to my healing.

This past week I have had several excellent sex coaching sessions with clients, an excellent visit with one of my sons, and phone calls and visits with more good friends. All good.

But there has been a dark side, also. I share that overview of the past two weeks as a contrast to some drastically different interactions I have heard about during the same time period. I found myself going back and forth between my sweet encounters and seeing the suffering of my friends caused by comments from people claiming to be Christians.

These friends have told me of the judgmental comments they have heard from friends and relatives about the wrongness of gay marriage and same-gender relationships. I have seen many such comments posted on friends’ pages in Face Book by their friends and family. At first I couldn’t believe how mean-spirited and cruel some of the comments were. It was upsetting and sad, especially as I saw the hurt that such comments caused to people I care about. More than just hurt, these moralistic judgments were opening deep wounds—soul-crushing wounds.

Over and over, those comments referenced the Bible as their authority. They insist that the Bible defines same-sex relations as immoral. The most often cited example of this is the story of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sin of “sodomy.” They use this Bible story to end all debate. In their minds, there is nothing more that needs to be said. The case was closed several thousand years ago. End of discussion.

But I like to get all the facts before I make up my mind about important issues. And I get suspicious when anyone tries to shut down a discussion. History is full of examples of destructive leaders who try to silence victims of injustice.

As a sex and intimacy coach, I am sensitive to the deep suffering in our culture related to sexuality. And I have a personal stake in learning how to heal the wounds of sexual shame that I have experienced in this culture.

So I went to the Bible and read the story.

Have you read it recently? Actually looked it up in the Bible and read it? You can find it in Genesis Chapter 19. It’s short, so you can read it in just a few minutes.

You can take this story as literal fact or as metaphor. Either way, I believe it is very clear in what it defines as sin.

Here is my short version of it.

God had heard bad things about the people of Sodom and the surrounding area. So God sent two angels to visit Sodom and investigate the behavior of the townspeople. A man named Lot lived in Sodom. He knew the importance of hospitality for travelers and insisted the two visitors stay in his home as honored guests. But the townspeople did not like outsiders. So they formed an angry mob and demanded that Lot surrender the two strangers to them for male-on-male sex. Lot refused and the mob tried to break into his house. Then the angels blinded the attackers and warned Lot to flee with his family. After they had fled, God rained fire and brimstone down on Sodom, destroying everyone.

So what is the lesson here?

Were the men of Sodom condemned because they loved men sexually and emotionally? Did these men want to live together as same-sex couples or families? Or was their sin that they had a history of raping men to humiliate and subjugate them?

I guess the people who are condemning same-gendered relationships have never read this part of the story reported in Ezekiel 16:49-50:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

It pays to do your own research on such important matters. And stop listening to the mean-spirited judgments being made by arrogant, haughty, uncaring people.

We have so much healing to do.

Posted in Men, Sexuality, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 902 Comments

Intimate Encounters at PRIDE

Intimate Encounters at PRIDE

I continue to explore what intimacy and sexuality mean in my life. And I keep finding that it’s usually not what I think it will be—I keep getting surprised.

Yesterday, I went to some St. Pete PRIDE events. I had a mixed agenda: to celebrate the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, to be a public witness for human rights, and to have fun.

I started out my day at an interfaith PRIDE worship service in the morning. It was inspiring and opened my heart to the spiritual energy of the day.

After the service, I had  a low key lunch with friends from church.

Then I went to a peaceful little beach on Tampa Bay with my dearest friend to chill out and rest up for the evening parade. We found a shady spot under some palm tress to escape the heat. We talked, we napped, we watched the shore birds and the people. Very refreshing.

We had some brief conversations with passersby. Later, we walked by an old man sitting in a folding chair. We stopped long enough for him to tell us how much he loved the little dog that sat at his feet. We all smiled. It was a sweet moment.

We parked many blocks from the parade staging area. The first people we encountered after we parked were a group of young women all decked out in colorful outfits, colored hair, and glitter. I was taken by surprise when they smiled warmly and said, “Happy PRIDE!”

We arrived at the parade staging area just as the parade was starting. We were immersed in a sea of cheering people, lights, and sounds. One of the first floats was a stage coach drawn by four beautiful horses. Another one was pumping thousands of bubbles into the air. Everywhere I looked I saw people in every imaginable garb, from bikinis and sexy underwear, to fantastic costumes, to ordinary blue jeans. A wide variety of lifestyles, interests, and erotic fantasies were represented. We were in ritual space which was not subject to censorship. Our shadows were free to play—a true carnival!

We found our church group and then wandered around taking it all in. We met some dear friends I haven’t seen in two years. They were going to march with their church group. They were an important part of my support system as I went through my divorce. Oh, how good to hug them and see them again!

By the time our turn to march came up, we had been watching the parade for over an hour. We joined with our group from Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa, carrying arm loads of bead necklaces to throw to the crowds lining the parade route. I was amazed that the onlookers continued to cheer and wave—their excitement had not diminished at all!

People kept reaching out and pleading for beads! As I went along, I started recognizing that this was a ritual—this was a symbolic exchange. They cheered us and begged us and we threw beads to them. The beads were blessings we bestowed. And it was incredibly fun.

We were in mobs of people, thousands and thousands of people. Mostly, it was pretty impersonal. We didn’t know them and they didn’t know us, with the exception of a few dear friends and buddies along the way.

After a few blocks we came to a neighborhood where the homeowners had strung colored lights all over their trees along the street! So festive and welcoming!

By this point, the exuberance of the crowd was getting to me. I started handing beads to people instead of throwing them. But it was more than just the beads. We made eye contact. They were real people.

By the time we got to the main section of the parade route, thousands of people were wall-to-wall behind waist-high barricades. Later, I saw reports that estimated the crowd at 250,000 people!

I ran out of beads pretty fast. I had nothing else to give so I thought they would lose interest in me. But they kept waving and cheering. So I waved back. Then some people reached out their hands for high-fives. So I slapped me some skin! At first it was just for fun. But that also changed as I went.

More and more people put their hands out. Dozens of hands, one right after another, all wanting to touch my hand! People of all ages and races and sizes and shapes. Women, men, gay, straight, and who knows… Hundreds of hands of all sizes and colors reaching out! Hundreds of happy, smiling faces!

I’ve never touched that many people in one day, or even over a couple of months. But here are thousands of hands…

The intensity of these brief encounters varied from person to person. Over and over I saw the emotion in their eyes and I knew they saw it in mine. We were in a sacred space together. We were here to bless and be blessed… Our hearts were connecting and love was flowing… People thanked me. I thanked them.

After several blocks, my hand and arm tingled. I thought maybe I had touched all I could—I was tired and happy—maybe I should stop for awhile. I was overflowing with emotions, almost teary at times, but yet strangely beyond tears. If I would have stopped, I think I would have cried, but I couldn’t stop. The parade kept moving forward. I had to keep moving. I just couldn’t stop… more hands reached out. I had to reach back…

And so it went. Block after block. Hundreds if not thousands of hands. More than I could touch. And each a sweet blessing…

So it was a night of grace. A holy night when strangers opened their hearts to each other.

Let us then try what love will do.
—William Penn



Posted in Relationships, Renewal, Sexuality, Shadow Work, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 906 Comments

Mistaking Sex for Intimacy

Mistaking Sex for Intimacy — Making Amends


In 2012, after a long stretch of unhappiness and depression, I began actively exploring the intersection of spirituality with erotic energy, sex, and intimacy.

My quest was not just another academic exercise—it was deeply personal and the stakes were high—connect with the Life Force or watch my life whither away. In a period when almost nothing around me brought pleasure, relief, or hope, I kept feeling called to explore my sexual desires. For several years that was about the only area of my life where I found some energy and pleasure.

So I gave myself permission to fully explore my sexual desires, even the scary shadow stuff. That turned out to be a good decision for me. As I went along, I discovered that sexual desire can be a pathway to the Life Force. And I needed all of the Life Force I could find. Trusting my sexual desires turned out to be a life-saver.

In the last three years I have done a lot of experimenting with sex and erotic energy: with female and male partners, with multiple partners, in workshops, and alone. I have pursued sexual and spiritual ecstasy through Tai Chi and Tantra.

A few times, I have felt like I was living in an erotic dreamworld. Yet, I am discovering that sex is not the whole story for me. Sometimes after a sexual encounter, even a hot one, I have wondered if sex was just an excuse to be held and comforted. Maybe what I needed all along was simple human touch.

I keep being reminded of how easy it is to mistake sex for intimacy. The process is not that different from eating to numb out feelings of loneliness or stress or boredom. It’s accepting an easily obtained experience as a substitute for a more desired one—trying to find a short cut to satisfaction. But it’s just a consolation prize. It always falls short because the real goal/desire is never pursued and therefore cannot be attained. In fact the real desire may be so threatening that it cannot be expressed openly. Or it may be so deep that there is not even conscious awareness of it.

The desire for intimacy can be very threatening. I think men tend to sexualize everything to avoid the vulnerability of intimacy. As a man, I feel more vulnerable asking for love and comfort than I do asking for sex. It sounds so cool to say, “let’s have sex” but not so cool to say, “please hold me, I need comforting.”

I am learning how to respect and enjoy the limits of non-sexual touch. Just being present to touch and be touched without an agenda. And being more vulnerable. But for much of my life I just didn’t get it. Ugh. No wonder women get so turned off by men. I owe major amends on this.

In one of the Tantra workshops I attended, we joked about how Tantra had ruined sex for us. I had decided to go to the workshop in hopes of discovering ecstatic sex, only to find out that in this case safe erotic play was the vehicle to deeper intimacy and spiritual ecstasy. And the more I got into it, the less sex mattered. In fact, when you’re that blissed out, nothing really matters because you feel at one with the universe. After some of those experiences I felt a profound sense of peace, deep satisfaction, and wholeness that lingered for days.

What I want most now, even more than sex, is friendship and intimacy. My deepest desires are for human (and divine) connection. Superficial sex, no matter how hot, just doesn’t measure up. It’s hardly worth the bother.

I want relationships that have richness and depth and that are sustainable. I want to be with people who are real and vulnerable and present. I want to see and be seen. I want to touch and be touched. And I am doing everything I can to show up and be present for myself.

For the past two years, I have been defining my professional work such that I accompany men and women on their own journeys to heal shame and explore the connections between sex and spirit. I am so fortunate to share sacred space with these courageous people. As they find more of their truth, I am finding more of my own.

I am making my amends. To myself and to others.

We are beautiful.

Posted in Body & Energy Work, Depression, Men, Relationships, Renewal, Sexuality, Shadow Work, Shame, Spirituality, Tantra | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 933 Comments

Forty Blogs for Forty Days of Lent – Conclusion

After Blogging for Lent: Kindness


It’s been more than two months since I last wrote for my blog.

I learned a lot about myself by writing those 33 blogs during Lent. I took a lot of risks in my writing and worked hard to articulate deeply personal experiences and feelings. I tried to be ruthlessly honest as I examined my daily life, including my sexual life. Overall, I felt satisfied with what I wrote. So although I didn’t complete my commitment to write daily for the forty days of Lent, I am more than okay with the thirty-three days I did write.

Lent is the remembrance of Jesus fasting and being tempted. His experiences in the desert helped him to prepare for his public ministry. I do believe that my Lenten journey this year has helped me to step forward in my public ministry, both in my writing and in my coaching. In my writing, I pushed myself to go beyond my comfort zone and generated a great deal of personal satisfaction. Since Lent, I have taught two workshops on Mapping the Soul’s Journey to Wholeness. And I have accompanied several courageous men on their journeys of self-discovery as they have explored the spiritual side of their sexuality with me in coaching.

Now more than ever, I feel called to share my journey as I continue to explore the relationship between sexuality and spirituality. I continue to have amazing experiences exploring desire and learning to love myself more fully. I have a lot more that I want to explore and to share.

So I am hereby committing to blog at least once each week and see how that works out. And that means sometimes I will have to accept that my blog is short and not as in-depth as I want. One of my most important learnings during my Lenten blogs is that following through with writing on a schedule is more important than my judgments about what I have written. Writing is a way to explore and express my love of myself and to share my love with my readers.

I continue to believe that one of our most important tasks in life is to love. That means exploring love in all of its many expressions. And for me, that must include some opportunities to be broken open to the ecstatic energies that flow through our hearts. To surrender to a divine experience greater than my ego.

Love energy is life energy. Life energy is erotic energy. Almost every living thing that exists around us is the result of some action of erotic energy—the joining of one individual life to another, which yields blessings to both individuals and their community. The opening to life energy brings healing and renewal, and new life. It is the story of creation.

Within myself and my personal relationships, and in the men and women I am coaching, I keep discovering how afraid we are of opening ourselves to one another, to being fully present and intimate. Afraid to receive and give love. I’m not just talking about sex here, but all types of interactions. We have been so wounded in our families, relationships, and culture. We talk about love in idealistic and romantic terms, but it is so hard to trust enough to be fully present to another person, even our life-long partner. We have so many blocks to connecting in loving ways. Fear and mistrust grow, we become better defended and more rigid. As our diminished joy becomes our “normal” we become cynical, doubting that love is real.

There is another way. The Dali Lama says that all that is required of us is to be kind. And the core of Jesus radical teachings is to love God (creation) with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. And I believe it all starts with being loving and kind to myself.

Hafiz, the Sufi poet, says:

It happens all the time in heaven,
And some day
It will begin to happen
Again on earth—
That men and women who are married,
And men and men who are
And women and women
Who give each other
Often will get down on their knees
And while so tenderly
Holding their lover’s hand,
With tears in their eyes,
Will sincerely speak, saying,
‘My dear,
How can I be more loving to you;
How can I be more

Posted in Depression, Men, Poetry, Relationships, Renewal, Sexuality, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 898 Comments

Forty Blogs for Forty Days of Lent – Day 33

A Queer Holy Week


Tonight, after church, I watched a video of a Quaker discussing how Jesus affirms her queerness.* As friends say, she speaks my mind.

Most of my adult life, I have thought of myself as bisexual, however inadequate that label may be. But I have never liked it because it seems too much like just another artificial box. And not a very accurate description of something so alive and fluid and mysterious as sexuality. Actually I like the term “queer” because it conveys a certain radical defiance—a refusal to be defined by any box, and a defiance of the attempts to wipe out the diversity of our God-given sexuality.

Tonight I am writing as a queer man. A queer Christian.

Earlier tonight I attended the candle-light Maundy Thursday worship service at Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa. We opened with a hymn:

Let us build a house where love can dwell…
All are welcome in this place

Later, we shared communion as some softly sang:
This is the air I breathe…
Your holy presence, living in me…

Suddenly and powerfully I recognized how profoundly my friend/mentor had blessed me a few days ago (Day 32). He had driven for an hour to meet with me. And then he had given me six beautiful hours of his full presence. Life-affirming sacred presence.

That day I had talked with him about my fears of wanting too much, of asking too much. And of old wounds from sex disconnected from intimacy. Wounds from using and being used. From becoming an object instead of a person.

Our intimate time together was a chance for healing some of my wounds. He held me in his arms. He stayed with me through the ebb and flow of our energies. He waited for me patiently. Fully present as we followed our bodies without judgment or censorship or shame. At times I grieved, and still he waited with me. And we flowed in and out of countless periods of sweet ecstasy. Slow, simple. For hours.

Tonight I was filled with gratitude for this man who accompanied me on that journey. Who had stayed with me and held the sacred space for me. Who didn’t run from me or from my wounds.

And after communion we read from scripture:

They went to a place called Gethsemane,
and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…stay here and keep watch.”
But they did not. Instead they fell asleep.
And when he was arrested and taken away, everyone deserted him and fled.

We sang:
Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray…

I cried because I know what it is to have someone keep watch and stay with me.

*Kody Hersh on How Jesus Affirms My Queerness:

Posted in Body & Energy Work, Men, Relationships, Renewal, Sexuality, Shadow Work, Shame, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 926 Comments