Invitation

If you’re not already getting The Merry Mystic, I’d like to convince you to sign up.

I wish I could offer you a really compelling freebie here—you know, one of those life-changing how-to offers: how to attract wealth, how to get into heaven, how to lose ten pounds overnight.  But, alas, I can’t promise that The Merry Mystic will change your life.  What will happen when you sign up is that you’ll receive a short video with some of my best work every week.  There’s music and story; there’s food for thought, for prayer, and for laughter.  If you’re a progressive spiritual seeker, whether or not you’re a Christian like me, I think you’ll find these worth your while.

The Merry Mystic is free, and it always will be.  It comes with a password to my Free Stuff area, which includes lots of my free sheet music and other resources.  You can unsubscribe any time you like.  I hope you’ll give it a try by entering your email address in the form on this page.

If you need more convincing, read some of The Merry Mystic‘s recent posts below.  And best blessings on your journey, wherever it takes you.

Nature’s Song

The Merry Mystic on West Rattlesnake Mountain

I recorded this merry, mystical missive in the early morning on top of West Rattlesnake Mountain in New Hampshire.  It’s a place to which I often return.  I remember visiting it as a boy—I’m pretty sure my father carried me part of the way up.  I also remember carrying my own son up to the top—he’s more likely to be able to carry me now.  It’s a place that always reminds me strongly of the Celtic Christian emphasis on the presence of God in the natural world.

Don’t worry: I’ve neither seen nor heard of any rattlesnakes on Rattlesnake Mountain.  In any case, on that morning, I think they’d have been rattling in time with God’s great song.

I Am the Thin Place (and So Are You)

The Merry Mystic at Squam Lake in New Hampshire

This week I’m on vacation in Holderness, New Hampshire, USA.  I thought about taking a break from The Merry Mystic while I’m traveling, but I couldn’t resist the chance to share one of my favorite places on earth with you.  This is Squam Lake, where I learned to swim when I was a boy.  It is a thin place for me—a place where the veil between the physical world and the spirit world seems especially thin.  Or is it just me?

What are the thin places in your life?

I Don’t Believe in You Any More

The Merry Mystic Sings the Blues for an Anonymous Friend

I wrote this song for a man I met back in my seminary days.  He told me he was  Vietnam veteran.  I told him I was a seminary student.  He told me he didn’t believe in God—and he told me why.  I wrote this song to honor his story.

I think about him often, and when I think about him, all I have are questions.  I never saw him again; what became of him?  I don’t know that I was any help to him in our conversation; what might I have done differently?  Why is there destructive suffering in this world—not the kind that strengthens people, like a refining fire, but the kind that grinds people down beyond their ability to resist?  How can we help build a more peaceful world, a world where military men and women are not asked to do things that make them feel that “all the lights are dimmer since the war?”  And what better theology could we teach our children—what understanding of God that won’t buckle under the heavy burdens life may require them to carry?

As always, I value your thoughts on these matters.

I Think

The Merry Mystic Offers a Musical Conjecture about the Afterlife

Do you know where you will spend eternity?  I don’t!  But I do have a conjecture…

I think that one of the reasons why Christianity is speaking to fewer people these days is because skeptics are the growth demographic.  Claiming to know exactly what happens to us when we die just makes us look superstitious and gullible.  But that’s what I think — leave a comment below, and tell me what you think.

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The Eucharistic Twinkie

Snack-Cake Spirituality from The Merry Mystic

There’s no way to sugar-coat it: in this video, I read a poem and take a bite out of a Twinkie.  (You might notice a bit of a bow to Julian of Norwich at the end of the poem: hazelnut to her, Twinkie to me.)

I think this was the first Twinkie I’ve tasted since I had a deep-fried specimen at the Bureau County Fair in Illinois, years ago.   But what do you think: can a Twinkie be full of the Spirit of God?  Is there even room in there, amid the sodium stearoyl lactylate and xanthan gum?

Be Still

A Stilling Chant from The Merry Mystic

This week’s message is a guided contemplative practice called a stilling chant.  It’s a quiet chant that gets progressively shorter, until you are left with a speaking silence between you and God.  For this practice, you want to be in a safe and quiet place—or, at least, some place where you can sit comfortably and pray with your eyes closed.

Be still, and know that I am God.  —Psalm 46:10

Because your eyes will be closed, there’s no video this week, but only audio.  The audio lasts about six minutes; the time that follows can last as long as you like.  You can pray, or meditate, or contemplate, or just drift off to sleep—whatever your body and spirit need!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(For those wanting to lead a group in this practice, sheet music is available in our Free Stuff area.)

If you use the practice, please leave a comment below.  What was your experience?

Body, Mind, Vine, and Fruit

A Merry Mystic guest post by Rob Pierson

My seminary brother Rob Pierson offered a whole pamphlet in response to my Siphonophore message last week.  His is a more positive metaphoric understanding of community — not as a self-serving institutional organism, but as a relational expression of the mind of Christ.  Rob has given me permission to share his pamphlet with you, so I’m attaching it below.  Rob is a remarkable soul, and I recommend reading this, and anything else he writes.  (I also recommend spending time with his photographic artwork, if you can find it.  How’s that web site coming, Rob?)

The seminary Rob and I attended is the Earlham School of Religion.  It’s a community rooted in the Quaker tradition, which is Rob’s faith family too, though not mine.  A “pamphlet,” in that tradition, is a monograph inspired by the Spirit; it’s a time-honored medium for written ministry.  In Rob’s pamphlet, you might find one or two terms that are used in unfamiliar, Quakerly ways: clearness committee, testimonies, business meeting, and so on.  But his message is universal and accessible.  I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Body, Mind, Vine, and Fruit

That We May All Be One

A Hymn on Unity from The Merry Mystic

In this issue of The Merry Mystic, I share a new hymn about unity.

Last week, I shared something from the book chapter I’m working on—my sequel to The Inn of God’s Forgiveness.   I introduced a metaphor for self-serving institutions like states and churches, and I asked a question: what kind of unity should we be seeking?  Thanks for all your responses!  I’m still mulling them over, and I’ll be responding more soon.

Last week, I wrote:

I want to cast a hopeful vision about a different way to understand Jesus’ prayer, that they may all be one.  Not one in race or caste or language; not one in national or political affiliation; not one in church or creed.  I don’t think that God desires that any part of our beautiful diversity should be erased.  I’ve written a hymn about this, and I’ll share it with you another time.

That time is now: here’s my hymn, “That We May All Be One.”

Sheet music and lyrics for the hymn can be freely downloaded here, and may be freely copied (for non-commercial use).

Siphonophores

A Merry, Mystical Metaphor for Church

This week, instead of a video, I have some text to share with you: three pages from my next book.  I’ve been working on this chapter for several weeks, but I think I need your input.  I’m using an extended metaphor for institutions — including churches.  Please read:

siphonophore excerpt

There’s a lot more, of course, but that’s the church metaphor I start with:

Sipho_Physalia_C_Dunn

Now, here’s the wider context.

I am an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, and the church I now serve as pastor is a part of that denomination.  The motto of my denomination is, “That they may all be one.”  This is a quotation from the Gospel of John, from a passage known as the Farewell Prayer (John 17:1-26).  The UCC got its start back in 1957, when two previous denominations united: the Evangelical and Reformed Church, and the Congregational Christian Churches.  And each of those two parent denominations was itself formed from the unions of two grandparent denominations, twenty some years before that.  So we’re not just the United Church of Christ — we’re the Uniting Church of Christ, we’re all about uniting, and Jesus’ prayer, that they may all be one, has long been part of our dream.

But personally, I’ve always been a bit conflicted about that motto.

It can be a great thing, unity; it can be a great thing when people can transcend their differences and work together.  There’s a feeling of unity, sometimes, in corporate worship.  It’s a great feeling to be part of a team, in sports or in business, when that team is really working together and firing on all cylinders.  It gives you motivation, and a sense of purpose, to be part of something bigger than yourself.

But on the other hand, people in Nazi Germany had that same sense of motivation, that same sense of being part of something bigger than themselves; and there is a drive for unity behind white power movements like the Klan; and there was a drive for unity behind some of the most evil and intolerant parts of Christian history, like the great inquisitions.  Those things are not just historical oddities; they’re so common that I would say they’re typical of the way humankind has expressed the drive for unity.  Typically, we seek unity by enforcing conformity, by policing dissidents, and by turning against outsiders.  The drive for unity can be totalizing and destructive; it can be just a tool of the basic institutional drive to survive, eat, and grow.

So here’s a problem: unity can be a great good, or a great evil.  It can be one of the most uplifting human experiences, or one of the most degrading.  And so I’m conflicted about the motto, that they may all be one.  It needs careful thought.  We need to be very careful about the kind of unity we seek.

In this chapter of the book I am trying to cast a vision — two visions, really.  First, I want to cast a cautionary vision about the siphonophoric nature of institutions; second, I want to cast a hopeful vision about a different way to understand Jesus’ prayer, that they may all be one.  Not one in race or caste or language; not one in national or political affiliation; not one in church or creed.  I don’t think that God desires that any part of our beautiful diversity should be erased.  I’ve written a hymn about this, and I’ll share it with you another time.

But now, leave a comment, and tell me something: what kind of unity should we be seeking?