Powerful As the Stream

Observation leads me to conclude that I am not alone in wanting to be in charge. Others seem to share my control issues as well. Yes, I like to feel important. Much to my chagrin, family and friends have plenty of evidence to counter my feelings of superiority and perfectionism.

A conversation after posting Perfection Unbound [link] last Sunday showed there was need for clarification.  You may recall that I wrote: “Despite my delusions of grandeur and flights into self-sufficiency, I’m not as special as I think nor as singular as I want to imagine. My friends and family simply know how to slip beneath my well-defended public persona.”

I then went on to suggest that too many of us easily and willingly “fall into one of religion’s most subtle and seductive pitfalls — using spirituality to comfort our egos or to validate our pre-conceived view of the world. We pervert Christianity to serve our needs rather than affirm its core assertion that salvation comes through dying to our over-sized egos.”

That generated some blow-back as well it should. Too many people walk around having been shamed into thinking too little of themselves. Abuse of power by folks who like to be in control or have an exalted sense of their own rectitude and virtue — typically an over-compensation for their own poor self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness — can really victimize other people.

I’m grateful for the blow-back because it allows for an essential clarification — between a healthy self-worth and appreciation for one’s inalienable dignity on one hand, and an unbridled individualism, trust in self-interest as a reliable moral guide and pursuit of only slightly veiled ego-gratification on the other. Here is the essential distinction: there is a huge difference between un-redeemed egos and healthy self-worth.

Here’s the rub as I see it. As I wrote on Sunday, there’s too much contemporary preoccupation with shallow, feel-good, power-of-positive-thinking “spirituality” being marketed to ego-driven consumers. Sadly, this also comes from “Christian” sources as well as pop-culture.

Virtually all world religions are unanimous in teaching that we must put our ego-selves to death! Trust me, this is very hard to do when you’re already “perfect”! None of us — again, not one of us — want to hear that.  Too often our churches don’t want to hear or teach that message either.  Rather, they maneuver to be in charge as arbitrators of “truth” and assert control by enforcing their preferred definition.

Some of the responses to Sunday’s post expanded upon and expressed better what I was struggling to say. For example, I had cited Buddhist master, Chogyam Trungpa’s invitation to consider pouring tea into a cup. The cup must be lower than the teapot. If the cup is not lower than the pot, the tea will not end up in the cup.

A friend generously shared another citation that offers more than enough food for thought for those of us who wrestle with our need to be in control or want to be in charge:

All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power. If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.

To this, let the Church say… AMEN!


My friend who shared the final quote indicated it was from “Tao Te Ching: A New English Version” translated by Stephen Mitchell.

Is It Just Me or What?

Does anyone else think this is odd? Or, it is just me?

While waiting to taken to the airport for a return flight to MSP I occupied time by paging through a typical “summer issue” catalogue of attractive home furnishings. The items focused on color, comfort and casual. This one happened to be from “grandinroad” but could have been from any number of others in this market niche.

Something seemed oddly unsettling despite the ease with which the mostly patio and poolside items invited relaxation and rest. Not until page 46 did I get a sense for the dis-ease I was sensing. Not until then did a single, solitary human being appear amid all the creature comforts. He — again alone — would reappear on page 50. What are they selling? What appeals to consumers?

Three real live dogs and a puppy debut on pages 60-61 dedicated to “doggone fun.” The same woman in four different swimsuit poses is the only other human being to be found in this 96 page catalogue. She appears on page 90.

Does anyone else have questions about this? What does this say about our culture? About what sells and what people are “purchasing”?

I’ve had a marvelous week in PHX celebrating a birthday, a wedding anniversary and reconnecting with my three-generational AZ family. Some of our socializing and partying was poolside and on the patio. Each visit here is cherished and a gift.

Still, perusing this catalogue makes me even more eager to get back to my husband and Jeb the Dog in MSP.

Shameless Self-Promotion

People ask, “Who reads your blog?”

Certainly I know some regulars. Truth is, I don’t know. There is a statistical meter that registers how many people read a particular post but not their names or location. Generally, the site gets about 35 “hits.” Once is a while this explodes to 75 or more.

The biggest surprise is the few comments posted on the site itself. Most people who respond are people I know and do so via an email or face-to-face.

My brother in Florida tells me I’m too “churchy.” He’s asked me to stop “preaching”. Family members have been telling me that long before I had a blog!

Some people tell me they read regularly but I use too many big words. That too is a criticism I’ve heard many times in other contexts.

My closest friends and some family are more honest, “Richard, sometimes I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.”  I take that critique more seriously!

A special friend and highly regarded journalist advised me early on about readers. She said, “Of course, you hope people will want to read what you write. But don’t write for them. Write for yourself because you have something to say.” Her admonition resonates with my motivations so I have tried to remain faithful to her wise counsel.

Readership is not insignificant to my purpose, however. I write because I care passionately about life, God, other people and this creation. I hope never to come across as doctrinaire or a know-it-all. Yet, I do have a perspective that I hope will at least be received as well-considered. I do not aspire to make converts! Mostly, I want to provoke thinking, stimulate conversation and inspire action about things that matter.

Some longtime, faithful readers will detect a change in tone since Kneading Bread debuted in January 2014. This is the result of me learning this craft better, a sincere effort to take seriously the feedback I’ve received, but also the fact that I am in a very different place today than I was eighteen months ago. I hope you agree that Kneading Bread is also better as a result.

All this having been said, there remains the necessary but nettlesome matter of the fine art of shameless self-promotion. That is to say, if you like what you see here please tell others and direct them to the site. Invite them to select the “Follow” option that generally appears near the bottom or click the “Subscribe by Email” icon in the right-hand column.

For despite my professed disinterest in numbers, writing for 75 rather than 35 would feed my still robust ego needs.  To all of you who have read through to this point I express my sincere thanks.

Planting Season

A simple yet enduring consolation has recurred during events this weekend in El Salvador. My godson-nephew, Tom and I had the good fortune to pray at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1997. Back then, his “final” resting place was a modest marble box aside a nondescript hallway in the basement of the Cathedral. A groundskeeper had to unlock the building for the two of us.  We entered by the side door and were alone in paying our respects.

Even then, we anticipated the huge popular celebration the world witnessed on Saturday attesting that Romero is “Blessed” and a deserving exemplar of Christian faith. Given the ecclesial and political climate at the time, my only question was whether I would live to see the day.  All the more, our quiet, solitary, inauspicious moment shared by this uncle and his godson remains a singular grace.

Given Saturday’s massive crowds and effusive expressions of faith, we do well to remember who this man was and the values for which he gave his life. We can do no better than to recall what is popularly known as “Romero’s Prayer”:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.

Although popularly attributed to Oscar Romero, columnist Margery Egan has clarified its true origin. The prayer-poem was actually written by the late Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, MI and spoken in a homily by his friend, the late Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit. Dearden used the prayer in a Mass for departed priests in November 1979, a year before Romero’s 1980 assassination. Thereafter — and for good reason — the poem was renamed as Romero’s prayer.

You can read more by Margery Egan at the CRUX website. I have the site bookmarked and consult it regularly. You may wish to do the same at: http://www.cruxnow.com/

Perfection Unbound

Only my very dearest friends and some intimate family members can get by with it. Only they have garnered sufficient trust and credibility to speak the truth to me in love. Still, they choose to speak the truth in riddles.

Sometimes it comes out as sarcastic humor… “You know what’s wrong with you? Nothing, you’re perfect!” It has taken me nearly 65 years to recognize they are not joking, to decipher the loving yet urgent message they are trying to pointedly deliver.

Despite my delusions of grandeur and flights into self-sufficiency, I’m not as special as I think nor as singular as I want to imagine. My friends and family simply know how to slip beneath my well-defended public persona. My guess is I am not alone in such exalted self-assessment. This must make it very hard for God to be God!

Consider this… In cherishing our faith and dutifully practicing our religion we easily, willingly and all too frequently fall into one of religion’s most subtle and seductive pitfalls — using spirituality to comfort our egos or to validate our pre-conceived view of the world. We pervert Christianity to serve our needs rather than affirm its core assertion that salvation comes through dying to our over-sized egos.

With a lifetime of practice, my defenses handily domesticate much of what I claim to profess. I squirm at the preposterous proposition that I may have faults. I deftly shift responsibility, “Someone else died for me, so I don’t need to!”

Sorry, it doesn’t seem to work that way! Despite the contemporary preoccupation with so much shallow, feel-good, power-of-positive-thinking “spirituality” virtually all world religions are unanimous in teaching that we must put our ego-selves to death!  Trust me, this is very hard to do when you’re already “perfect”!

Western culture does not take easily to the heretical proposition that there is anything greater than the “self”, a moral code other than self-interest, or question the sufficiency of material goods to satisfy. All the more reason a deceptively simple and homey image disarmed me with its invitation to grow in humility. It will challenge any whose family and friends might want to lovingly suggest we can be “full of ourselves.”

The story is attributed to the Buddhist master, Chogyam Trungpa. The master invites us to consider pouring tea into a cup. The cup must be lower than the teapot. If the cup is not lower than the pot, the tea will not end up in the cup. It could just as well have come from Jesus — if we would be “perfect” we must deny ourselves, the one who would be greatest will become least.

Stealthily family, friends and other religions conspire to reveal what it is about my own faith I am so reluctant to profess.


I came upon the story attributed to Chogyam Trungpa in The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living by Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko.  Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY: 2015., p. 29.

Her Outlandish Spectacle

Too much knowledge can be a huge encumbrance — book-learning can just as well imprison the mind as liberate. Our challenge is not to become anti-intellectual but to recognize just how stultifying “intelligent” conversation has become. We seek fresh wisdom, relevant answers. Too often, we resort to tired formulations that leave us gasping for air or dozing off to sleep.

Where is God? Who is God? Or, more urgently, IS God? Try as we might, our increasingly agnostic culture cannot summarily dismiss these questions. Just as humans are incapable of constructing a rational proof for the existence of God, avowed skeptics are equally inept in summarily dismissing God from our imagination. Our ability to think, reason and create delude us — we readily and rightly believe we are god-like; we easily and erroneously conclude we are free of God.

Human knowledge, rational argument, academic theology — necessary and ennobling as they remain — will never satisfy our deepest curiosity. Our insatiable hunger is not a question of existence but of meaning. Where is God? Who is God? If God, then who am I?

We are less perplexed by God’s questionable existence than by God’s confounding absence. No one expresses our current human predicament better than Barbara Brown Taylor:

Silence has become God’s final defense against our idolatry. By limiting our speech, God gets some relief from our descriptive assaults. By hiding inside a veil of glory, God deflects our attempts at control by withdrawing into silence, knowing that nothing gets to us like the failure of our speech. When we run out of words, then and perhaps only then can God be God. When we have eaten our own words until we are sick of them, when nothing we can tell ourselves makes a dent in our hunger, when we are prepared to surrender the very Word that brought us into being in hopes of hearing it spoken again–then, at last, we are ready to worship God.

God eludes our efforts to make of him an “object” of human knowledge. Of much greater consequence, we risk idolatry whenever we make God into an “object” of our prayer or worship. No wonder so many of our religious practices and dogmatic  formations leave us gasping for air or stupefied beyond belief. As Barbara Brown Taylor appropriately laments, “there is great famine in our land.”

What are we to do? Where is our hope? Is faith in God credible? Answers will come less from academic theology and creedal formulations. This Pentecost weekend, just as at the first, we have the invitation to be surprised, caught off-guard, utterly liberated from our descriptive assaults upon God.

The self-giving Spirit among us — Holy Wisdom, Sophia, the feminine face of God — is not rational, objective or theoretical. Rather, her outlandish spectacle reveals a timeless, untamable God who is relational, communal, intimate, unitive. If there is any lesson to be learned it is that of vigilant humility — especially among theologians, bishops, pastors or any of the rest of us who would ultimately “define” or feel compelled to “defend” God.

For then and perhaps only then can God be God.

The quote from Barbara Brown Taylor is from When God is Silent, Cowley Publications, 1998, p., 17.

Getting Caught

Fishing bores me to tears. This is heretical in Minnesota and risks ostracization. My defense is that this kid from Nebraska simply came to water and lakes too late to develop any affinity. My spiritual bond with creation is more grounded — planting trees, tending a vegetable garden, composting, walks with Jeb the Dog, the silent symphony of dawn.

Yet, I am not so dry-docked as to be incapable of appreciating a good fishing metaphor. One came from Christopher Pramuk who brilliantly invites us to look at fishing from the perspective of the fish! Maybe fishing doesn’t have to be as boring as it seems.

Imagine the fisher’s lure flashing, dancing, singing in the waters just in front of you, alluring you. Lunging forward, just as you’ve gotten her wholly into your rapacious mouth, just as you think you have gotten her, you discover that it is you who have been gotten. The fisher captures you, your whole self, and will not let you go.

God is like that! God initiates, pursues, allures us. We may think it is otherwise — we are deluded. We may dutifully recite our favorite “prayers” and enact our sacred rites and rituals. But ultimately it is God who ensnares us, it is God who initiates.

Whether fishing or planting, we merely attend — or not — to God’s enticements. It is God, as Pramuk’s fishing metaphor reminds us, who “dances and sings before us, shining from within all things, refusing to be domesticated.”

Perhaps here is the key to my aversion to fishing. Creatures of the deep defy domestication! Fish will always beguile me with their wildness and other-worldliness. Planting, gardening, composting appeal to my need to direct, control and define my world. To the degree this is true, I risk isolation from God. I resist being caught. I remain captive in my own idolatry about who God is and how God is to behave.

Still, God allures — her silent symphony from the deep is beginning to dawn on me.


References may be found in At Play in Creation: Merton’s Awakening to the Feminine Divine by Christopher Pramuk.  Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2015., p. 64.

Two Addicts Try to Talk

“Stop that, Richard! Just stop it!”

Caught completely off guard, I stammered, “What? Stop what?”  Bob had just offered to give me jar of homemade plum preserves.

“When someone offers you something don’t hem-haw around. Don’t play this false humility crap, ‘Oh, I couldn’t…’ or insult me with ‘You shouldn’t…’  When I offer you something, say yes or no. Say, ‘No thank you.’ or ‘Thank you very much.’ Cut the bullsh*t, Richard! Say what you mean for god-sake.”

We had been driving down Lake Street and Bob got us talking about food by recalling what a perfect blueberry pie he’d had the night before — “all blueberries, none of this gelatin sh*t.” We retrieved some mutual ground by agreeing that we shared a special passion for raspberry pie as well as plum preserves.

No sooner had we fed the parking meter and entered Global Market when Bob was back at me.  Bright booths representing crafts from Tibet, Chile, Central America, Scandinavia as well as all sorts of locally produced organic meats, cheeses and fresh fruits and vegetables populated the Market.  An overdose of vibrant colors and distinctive  aromas danced all around.

We shared our delight and personal preferences.  I expressed disappointment that some of the shops were shuttered.

“D*mn it, Richard. Don’t do that!”

“What? Don’t do what?” I blurted defensively.

“Stop looking at the negative! That’s not going to do you any good. Stop commenting about the shops that are closed. Look at all that’s going on, not at what isn’t!  Look at the great stuff inside even if the shops are closed.”

One thing we did not see at Global Market was a good piece of raspberry pie. Here was my opportunity to reclaim some semblance of balance and equanimity after Bob’s piercing — though fair — admonitions!

“I know just the place — Turtle Bread!   We just had raspberry pie there last Sunday. Terrific… the best!” Off we went with nearly two hours left on our prepaid parking meter.

We hadn’t even placed our order when I know I’d scored big time. “Love this place, so much better than the bland, uniform, generically orchestrated Stabucks or Caribou. This place has life, character, personality, distinction.” I relished Bob’s approval.

He continued, “Look around, this is the world! I don’t even feel sorry for those two guys in their white shirts and ties — at least they have the good sense to come to a place like this!”

Though I’ve known Bob for a while now, each time we are together reveals something beguiling and compelling.

I knew about his 70-plus years of struggle with drug addiction. Today’s revelation was his five years in federal prison associated with his drug use.  The transparency of his sharing knocked me off-balance once again.  Of course, I blurted out something totally inept.

“Wow, I’ve never been in prison. So, what was that like?” This time Bob entertained my stupidity and awkwardness but seemed to shift to a wholly different psychic space.

“You learn to mind your own business! You keep your mouth shut. You see trouble, you turn and walk the other direction.”

Ouch! Now, I felt tables turned. Just as he had admonished me about expressing gratitude with a clear yes of no, or had chastened me to celebrate the manifest beauty all around, I wanted to blurt out, “Bob, don’t do that! Stop that!”

I restrained my urge to tell him that is no way to live. This will wait for another time.  However, I returned with a whole new insight into why Bob would be so appreciative of all the Global Market symbolized and for the depth of human connection he savored at Turtle Bread.

We began as two men entering conversation best as we are able. Two men, though with very different addictions, backgrounds, spiritualities and perspectives made an effort to talk — community happens, understanding deepens, appreciation expands.

We discover we are vastly more alike than we had ever presumed or allowed ourselves to imagine.  Still, we each have much to learn that only someone other than ourselves can teach.

Hurry-Up and Slow-Down

“McDonalds ruined us!” No, this isn’t a comment from a Wait Watchers meeting or a cardiac rehab training. It was made by a friend lamenting how we have become people who want what we want, the way we want it, when we want it… now!

Others have certainly copied what McDonalds pioneered. Fast-food has clearly become a more apt symbol of our impatient consumer culture than holiday dinner at Grandma’s house.

Patience — or my lack thereof — recurred throughout the past weekend. Planting a 10′ Heritage Oak tree yesterday I grieved that I would not live long enough to see this tree in its maturity. Why do some things have to take so long?

Yet, I tried to envision those yet unknown who would someday relax under the shade of a mighty oak. I mustered some satisfaction that tree planting is a blessing we can confer on generations yet unborn. Still, I want the tree to hurry-up and grow!

Patience also surfaced as an important theme at a reunion on Saturday. I had been privileged to assist with a retreat in April for eight men who were in various stages of recovery and had experienced homelessness as part of their experience with addiction. No one, absolutely no one, understands the demands of patience like these men.

Those who struggle with chronic relapse — and isn’t that all of us honest enough to admit we are not perfect — know in our bones how desperately difficult being patient can be.  If we cannot dispense with them quickly, our well engrained cultural habit is just to ignore our faults or deny we have a problem.  More honest than most of us, these men wrestle with excruciating demands of patience every day.

Coincidentally — providentially? — one of the other reunion planners had selected the following by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for our opening meditation. Don’t be put off by the length, its worth the read:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

One of the men on retreat said it better and much more simply. Noting what technology has popularized far beyond what McDonalds pioneered, he said in only 15 words what the renown Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin needed 164 words to say:

We’re the microwave generation. But we all know food tastes much better from the slow cooker!

Despite our dependence on fast-food and the latest kitchen technology, I am consoled to believe that most of us would still prefer Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house.  Now, there’s hope for recovery!

Self-Degradation, Self-Inflicted

We have demeaned and degraded ourselves once again. I feel ashamed, dirty. Why we perpetuate this violence and further poison ourselves remains a sickening question. Who do we think we are, God Almighty?

Yesterday, by sheer coincidence, Richard Rohr’s popular blog posted the following suggestion:

Perhaps upon reading passages such as Matthew 25 or the vengeful Psalms calling for God’s wrath, we might do well to follow the Eastern Orthodox Saint Silouan’s advice:

“I remember a conversation between [Staretz Silouan] and a certain hermit, who declared with evident satisfaction, ‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’ “Obviously upset, the Staretz said, ‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire–would you feel happy?’ “‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit. “The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance: “‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all.'”

Yesterday, a jury in Boston swiftly sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death under the guise of justice.  Many — if not most — Americans feel vindicated, grateful, safer. We are no better than those self-righteous fanatics who would stone a woman for infidelity or a man for being gay.

Yes, these news stories have also been reported recently in the news. We mask our own vengeful impulses with the self-serving explanation that these religious extremists know nothing of God, of God’s love or of “true” religious faith! We smugly sit within our own self-righteousness, our own presumption to distribute ultimate justice, our own arrogant propensity to play God.

The deliberate taking of another person’s life is immoral. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is guilty of a heinous crime — even his attorneys do not contest that fact. But, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is securely within our custody — restrained and incapable of further killing and violence. Yet, we as a society are not! Instead, we perpetuate the violence, inflicting further brutality upon ourselves.

God forbid! If we but knew the love of God! We must pray for all.


Richard Rohr’s blog post for Friday, May 14 — the very day Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death — gave the source of Saint Silouan’s quote as: Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom, Vol. 1 of the Collected Works (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2004), 48.