Despotism – Religion, Ideologies, Dictators

Despotism, by what ever means or forms, is the root of most human atrocities. Even today, as American law enforcement, FBI, homeland security, try to understand the
events and reasons behind the brutal slaughter of 50 innocent Americans in Orlando Florida out on a night of clubbing, dancing, socializing, having fun, we can see one enemy. One common enemy to our way of life that values life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as all people are thomascreated equal in the eyes of God – that enemy is despotism.

Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.

John Stuart Mill

Despot comes from the Greek word despotes, which means “master,” or “one with power.” The term has been used to describe a variety of rulers and governments throughout history: it connoted the absolute authority and power exercised by the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, signified nobility in Byzantine courts, designated the rulers of Byzantine vassal states, and acted as a title for Byzantine Emperors.

Due to the word’s reflexive connotation throughout history, the word despot cannot be objectively defined. While despot is closely quote-democracy-passes-into-despotism-plato-146385related to other Greek words like basileus and autokrator, these connotations have also been used to describe a variety of rulers and governments throughout history: local chieftains, simple rulers, kings and emperors have all been associated with the Greek terms.

Colloquially, despot applies pejoratively to those who abuse their power and authority to oppress their populace, subjects or subordinates. Despots-2More specifically, the term often applies to a head of state or government. In this sense, it is similar to the pejorative connotations that are associated with the terms tyrant and Dictator.

We like to point to fanatical militant groups with ideologies that in force, can either overthrow a government or create movements or terrorist organizations, lead a cult of followers to take part is atrocities, or simply oppress and enslave other humans.
The real threat is that in time of threat or desperation, we as a species can tend to blindly follow a despot who can appeal to our fears, anger, despotism-quotes-2hate, and loss of connection to our humanity. This is a despot.

There are many despots. They are often leaders of radical movements in all faiths. We see many fame and power seeking egomaniacs who can appeal to the phobias – often xenophobias, of a large group of people riled with fears of all kinds (racism, sexism, fear of LGBT, fear of the other, any ideology or different culture or religion, fear of change to their way of life due to a changing world, and ironically the fear of terrorism and despotism threatening our freedom).

So was the 6/11/2016 Orlando massacre lead by a despot? Yes. The many despots who legitimize hatred violence towards LGBT. The despot who Mateen credited in his 911 call. The despots – leaders in the Islamic State, Syrian’s dictator Bashar al-Assad or Boko Haram (or any of the list of organizations listed at the bottom of this post) who commit unthinkable horrors and atrocities against anyone really who challenges their distorted sense of absolute power that they have claimed by themselves by their self proclaimed yet distorted understanding of an Islamic State.

despotisms_instability__macleodcartoonsThe human dynamic of large groups of people giving in to the all too human desperate need to belong and follow a powerful despot who makes false promises and feeds on fears and desperation…this is the enemy…this is the terrorist organization.

Below are areas where despotism is strong and thriving in the world. Green denotes areas where despotism is low. But even though the US and Europe looks green, lets not overlook a few homegrown despots here at in the US
1) Donald Trump 2) hate speech leaders like Rush Limbaugh 3) leaders in the KKK 4) leaders in the violent pro-life movements 5) police departments where the chiefs promote and condone violence against African Americans 6) Billionaires who use their financial power to silence and oppress the less wealthy so as to enact their own quote-the-supreme-mystery-of-despotism-its-prop-and-stay-is-to-keep-men-in-a-state-of-deception-baruch-spinoza-34-94-46personal believes and agendas over the power to the people in a truly representative government and finally 7) the fear of terrorism can cause all of us to follow a few wannabe despots to ignore our humanity and lash out against and reject the Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi, or Central American refugees or the masses of immigrants trying to flee the horrible despots of the world.


Lists of Groups lead by despots to drive people to commit atrocities:

Abdullah Azzam Brigades
Abu Nidal Organization
Abu Sayyaf
Aden-Abyan Islamic Army
Ajnad Misr
Akhil Bharat Nepali Ekta Samaj
al-Aqsa Foundation
al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades
al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya
Al Ghurabaa
al-Haramain Foundation
Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya
Al-Nusra Front
al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
Takfir wal-Hijra
All Tripura Tiger Force
Ansar al-Sharia (Libya)
Ansar al-Sharia (Tunisia)
Ansar al-Islam
Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna
Ansar Bait al-Maqdis
Ansar Dine
Armed Islamic Group of Algeria
Army of Islam
Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order
Osbat al-Ansar
Aum Shinrikyo
Babbar Khalsa International
Balochistan Liberation Army
Boko Haram
Caucasus Emirate
Committee for Charity and Solidarity with Palestine
Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist)
Communist Party of the Philippines/
New People’s Army
Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist–Leninist
Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei
Continuity Irish Republican Army
Cumann na mBan
Deendar Anjuman
Donetsk People’s Republic
East Turkestan Information Center
East Turkestan Islamic Party
East Turkestan Liberation Organization
Egyptian Islamic Jihad
Fianna Éireann
Force 17
Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front
Grey Wolves
Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades
Haqqani network
Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami
Harkat-al-Jihad al-Islami in Bangladesh
Harakat Sham al-Islam
Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin
Kurdish Hezbollah
Hezbollah (Military Wing)
Hezbollah (External Security Organisation)
Hezbollah Al-Hejaz
Hilafet Devleti
Hizb ut-Tahrir
Hizbul Mujahideen
Hofstad Network
Holy Land Foundation
for Relief and Development
Indian Mujahideen
International Sikh Youth Federation
Irish National Liberation Army
Irish People’s Liberation Organisation
Islamic Jihad

Jamaat Mujahideen
Islamic Jihad Union
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Caucasus Province
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Libya Province
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Yemen Province
Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar
Jamaat al Dawa al Quran
Jamaat Ul-Furquan
Jamaat Ul-Furquan
Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh
Jamiat al-Islah al-Idzhtimai
Jamiat ul-Ansar
Jamiat-e Islami
Jemaah Islamiyah
Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid
Jund al-Aqsa
Jund al-Khilafah
Jund al-Sham
Kach and Kahane Chai
Kangleipak Communist Party
Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup
Kata’ib Hezbollah
Khalistan Commando Force
Khalistan Zindabad Force
Khuddam ul-Islam
Kurdistan Democratic Party/North
Kurdistan Freedom Falcons
Kurdistan Workers’ Party
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group
Loyalist Volunteer Force
Lugansk People’s Republic
Manipur People’s Liberation Front
Maoist Communist Centre of India
Marxist–Leninist Communist Party
Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group
Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa
Mujahideen Indonesian Timur
Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem
Muslim Brotherhood
National Democratic Front of Bodoland
National Liberation Army
National Liberation Front of Tripura
Orange Volunteers
Palestine al-muslima
Palestine Liberation Front
Palestinian Islamic Jihad
Palestinian Relief Development Fund – Interpal
Party of Free Life of Kurdistan
People’s Congress of Ichkeria and Dagestan
People’s Liberation Army of Manipur
People’s Mujahedin of Iran
People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command
Provisional Irish Republican Army
Quds Force
Real Irish Republican Army
Red Hand Commando
Red Hand Defenders
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
Revolutionary Organization 17 November
Revolutionary Party of Kurdistan
Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party–Front
Revolutionary Struggle
Saor Éire
The Saved Sect
Tevhid-Selam (Al-Quds Army)
Shining Path[83]
Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan
Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage
Stichting Al Aqsa
Students Islamic Movement of India
Supreme Military Majlis ul-Shura of the United Mujahideen Forces of Caucasus
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
Tamil Nadu Liberation Army
Tamil National Retrieval Troops
Ulster Defence Association
Ulster Volunteer Force
United Liberation Front of Assam
United National Liberation Front
United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia
Vanguards of Conquest
World Tamil Movement
World Uygur Youth Congress
Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade



Finding a Working Philosophy



Writing in a private journal over seventy years ago, the literary critic Alfred Kazin said, “More and more, it is clear to me that what I suffer from is the lack of a working philosophy, of a strong central belief, of something outside to which my ‘self’ can hold and, for once, forget its ‘self.’”

Most people probably don’t ever approach the idea of finding a “working” philosophy, or for that matter a philosophy of any kind. Satisfied with the “self” that guides their thoughts and actions, they glide (or not) through life oblivious of the need or desire to know more about the nature of the life they are living. But at some point they may encounter a moment, a crisis, a serious bump in the road and ask, “Who am I? What am I to do with this life? Why am I here? At this point, like Kazin, we might start looking for what he called a working philosophy, a set of propositions, of questions and possible answers to those questions. What is interesting about what Kazin penned those many years ago is the complexity of the notion of finding something that the “self can hold…and then…forget its self.” That last thought is more complex than just grabbing hold of a philosophy and holding on to it like a life raft.

What can he mean by forgetting his self? One answer is to be found in the Perennial Philosophy, that thin thread of wisdom traditions that began when the first human beings discovered the very idea of a self, a personal identity that said, “I exist. I am an individual person, not like others, and I can think things, and I can choose what I do.” It is at this point that selfconsciousness is born, and that birth often results in a divided self, an inner and outer persona and was what Kazin was asking not to suffer from with its feelings of separation and conflict.

That sense of separation is often called the Fall of Man and is what traditional religions offer as relief through faith, devotions and feelings of safety from conflict. But sometimes these traditions may not satisfy or provide relief from what in Kazin’s time was called an existential crisis.

A true working philosophy is one which can be practiced, not just studied. It can be put to work for us and provide a sense of unity and clarity. It addresses our longings and crises, and the only allegiance it demands is consistent attention. The Wisdom Traditions here at UPR offer an opportunity for students to find a working philosophy through the study of a history of the human effort to find a personal set of values and examples of how some human beings have found a path that is life-enhancing.

The traditions are Eastern and Western, culturally diverse and intellectually stimulating. They address the physical, mental and spiritual nature of human existence in an expansive cosmos of great mystery and wonder, while at the same time providing the opportunity to acquire undergraduate and graduate degrees. And this year, with the support and coordination of our national accreditation partner, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) we are beginning work on a Doctoral program with a primary focus on the Wisdom Traditions within our dual programs of Consciousness Studies and Transformative Psychology.

Our Spring quarter begins on April 25 and courses are now listed in both current programs. Applications are currently being accepted.


Professor Richard Geldard, Consciousness Studies

Dramatic Literature and Classics, Stanford University. Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Yeshiva University, Doctoral Faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and Author of ten books on Early Greek philosophy and the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson (see

– See more at:

Christian Mysticism: A Talk by Obadiah Harris

Our Christmas talk for this year reflects the history of the Christian Mysticism and its manifestation through a variety of outstanding seers throughout the ages. Traditionally they have been prosecuted and misunderstood. It is only after their lifetime are they genuinely appreciated. This would be a good time to reveal their lives and their teachings as well as other mystics, and to see if we can emulate their life and come to a deeper understanding of their teaching.

Obadiah Harris is the founder and president of the University of Philosophical Research. Harris has a long and storied career in both mainstream academia and the American metaphysical culture.  He holds a Ph.D. in education administration and supervision from the University of Michigan and an MA in education from Arizona State University, where he was an associate professor of education and director of community education.

He is the author of multiple books, including his most recent title, The Simple Road: A Handbook for the Contemporary Seeker published this year by Tarcher/Penguin.

– See more at: Christian Mysticism: A Talk by Obadiah Harris

Returning to Natural Mind

Returning to Natural Mind by Peter Russell

PR1rotIn the final analysis, the hope of every person is simply peace of mind. Behind all our endeavors lies the desire to be happy, to feel content, relaxed, and at ease. No one wants to be in pain or to suffer unnecessarily. This is our true bottom line. We may think we are seeking some external goal, but we are seeking it in the hope that, in one way or another, we’ll feel better for it.

Why then, are we so seldom at peace? After all, we’re intelligent beings, who can look ahead and plan for the future. Moreover, we have many tools and technologies with which to create a better world. One would think that we, of all creatures, would be content and at ease. Yet the very opposite seems to be the case. Paradoxically, it is our remarkable ability to change the world that has led us to this sorry state. We have fallen into the belief that if we are not at peace, then we must do something about it. We believe we need to attain some goal, possess some thing, find some new experience; or conversely, avoid a situation or person that is causing us distress. We assume that, if we could just get our world to be the way we want, we would finally be happy.

In the short term, this approach seems to work. When we get what we want, we usually do feel better. But only for a while. Before long, we are off in search of some other source of happiness.

We live in what Indian philosophies call samsara, which means “to wander on.” We wander on, looking for happiness in a world that provides but temporary respites from our discontent, fleeting satisfactions followed by more wandering on in search of that ever-elusive goal.

Moreover, believing that peace of mind comes from what we have or do often makes us feel worse, not better. Imagining that something is missing or needs changing creates discontent. Our attention gets preoccupied with what we need, the choices to be made, the plans to carry them out—much of it concerning situations that don’t yet exist, and probably never will. Our thinking moves from one issue to another with seldom a pause.

Rather than feeling more at ease, we generally end up more tense. Throughout history, there have been those who’ve discovered a timeless truth about human consciousness: Our natural state of mind is already one of ease and contentment. By “natural” they do not mean the state of mind in which we spend most of our time—which, for the vast majority, is not one of ease and contentment. They are speaking of the mind before it becomes tarnished with desires and aversions. It is how we feel when everything is OK; when we are not worrying about anything.

Time and again they’ve told us that we don’t need to do anything, or go anywhere to be at peace. We simply need to cease striving for a moment. Let go of any attachments as to how things should or should not be. Become aware of our experience in the present as it is, without resistance or judgement. Then—and this is key—let the attention soften and relax.

When we do, we taste how it feels to be free from worry, anticipation, deciding and planning. We find the peace of mind that we have been seeking all along. A peace that is not at the mercy of events, or the vacillations of the thinking mind. A peace we can return to again and again.

Baptism – Identity as a Person in a Peaceful and Loving Community

My children are getting baptized this weekend. We discussed it as a family about who we wanted to come and be part of this important life event in our faith. At that point we realized, wow, we are part of a diverse and amazing community of people from all over the world and affiliate themselves with so many different identities. So we decided to celebrate this sacred ceremony with not just the Christians in our lives, but with all the people in our lives who have an impact in our journeys to follow Christ. After much prayer and reading of Jesus’ reference to baptism, I started to write down some understandings of baptism, identity and the Body of Christ.Baptism looked at through the lens of intentional living with an identity in Christ – meaning as a compassionate person working towards a more peaceful and loving community…The word identity refers to how we all come to know ourselves and who we are like. It can drive our beliefs, our thoughts, and how we act. Us humans, we are group creatures and finding our place in the pack is a natural human experience.  We receive our identity from others, from the expectations of friends and colleagues, from the labels society puts upon us, from our neighbors, our co-workers, even our game avatars. Psychologists tell us that around two years old, we start to understanding that we are separate creatures from those holding us, feeding us, clothing us, changing our messy diapers. Before that, if all goes well, we gaze into our mother’s loving eyes and we feel connected through love. We are not really aware that we are different from our caretakers or even that we have choices or thoughts that can be different. So it is our family that starts us on our identity journey.

But then others join the party and soon we find ourselves trying to decide if we are geeks or jocks. are we emos or the totes best Katy Perry fans ever. Are we awesome enough gamers or YouTubers with the most likes. Are we one of the cool girls or bad boys. Which lego master builder are you. (I am soooo Unikitty by the way)

Guess what? This process continues our whole lives. In every area of the world. Us humans are clothing ourselves in our identities. Race, tribes, ethnicity, faith, job, wealth, sexual orientation, political affiliation, nationality, age, the car we drive or the smart phone we use. Apple, Google, or Microsoft. C’mon these are important divisions. And those of us who live in Texas have that whole Texas pride thing mixed in with tribal A&M vs UT-ers (we won’t even mention OU). Austinites are proud to be weird, East Texan’s are tough straight shooters (no seriously be careful no trespassing) and the French as I understand it are the only real foodies of the world. We wrestle with who we are and who we want to be right next to the people in our pack who are also doing the same thing all the time

This is a human trait. But this can also leads to one of humanities biggest struggles. Our identities differ and we fight over it way too much. But lets get back to baptism.

Baptism is a ritual in the Christian faith that offers us the choice to receive a new identity, one that lies in love and faith. In the Christian faith, once a person chooses to be baptized they no longer allow others to tell them who they are. They find their identity in Jesus Christ. No matter your faith or belief systems and no matter what you may or may not know about Jesus, most know that Jesus taught us to love one another as we love ourselves. He also taught us that we are all the beloved of God – loved unconditionally. Love, kindness, mercy, compassion, self sacrifice to give and serve others in need, doing the right thing instead of the selfish thing. Living in right relationship with our family, our friends, our neighbors, our community and all of God’s creations – these are all the traits that this identity in Christ is all about. Baptism celebrates becoming that new person.

The ritual of baptism starts with renouncing our normal human ways of selfishness, cruelty, aggression and even getting caught up with evil powers of the world of violence, prejudice, oppression, and cruelty. The baptized pledges their loyalty to the ways of love, mercy, compassion, kindness, reconciliation, honesty, openness, and unconditional acceptance and love of others in all their difference. Even the ones that hurt us or are our enemies.

But what I really want to say about baptism here is that it isn’t some solitary private affair done with one kid, their God parents and family and one person of the cloth (as they say). Baptism is a community affair. It is a celebration. Its not only about this one person receiving their new identity in Christ, but it is about the family and community witnessing and participating in this journey. In the world, baptism commissions us to use our God given gifts to strengthen our community and to work to better the world through love. We look to our families, neighbors, friends, co-workers, church families. We look to our community to help us all follow the journey towards a more compassionate and loving world – also called God’s Kingdom on earth, here and now. All that are at the baptism ritual are deeply appreciated and invited to help guide the baptized in their commitment towards their new identity.

Baptism is not a one time event. It is the beginning of a lifelong journey of faith. For the child, the journey begins in this nurturing community, where he or she learns what it means to be loved by God and to exist in an a loving community making choices by deed and words to love others as God loves us.

Lets face the facts. None of us are really a single identity, so independent, not owing to, affected by or connected to others. There is some force or should I say “the Force” (like in Star Wars) that flows between us. We are all teaching and learning through examples of others who have gone before us. Who stand next to us and experience us.

I don’t believe a community exists by accident. I think every interaction, cross hairs of people meeting people is for a reason. I believe there is a higher purpose and that we all our connected and need each other. So as the newly baptized child makes this huge commitment to a intentional life of virtue, so must we all commit to care and support each other. Parents and teachers, neighbors and service professionals, bosses and co-workers, other people in the grocery store or at the park. We all our connected and it takes us all caring and loving each other. We all have an impact on each other in ways we may never know. So if we are witness to and part of a community of one who is baptized, know this. We are all love by God unconditionally and are welcome to the blessings of Gods grace. Now it is time to support each other, to love each other as God loves us. Forgive and reconcile. Confront and compromise. Tolerate and even accept difference. Live in peace and be involved in each others life!!! And accept the invitation to join the newly baptized in the journey to a community in love and compassion.

Christians call the concept of spiritual community “the Body of Christ”. In Hinduism the name Hindu itself is derived by what the Greeks and others called all the community of diverse people that live over beyond the river Sindhu. In Buddism the term Sangha is used. Native Americans and most aboriginal peoples all have names for ones own tribe. Agile tech geeks use the term “scrum team”.

I use the term “our peeps”.

Whatever you call human groups in spiritual intention, know that threads of our connections are key to our identity as a person and as a peeps. Baptism is about committing to a specific identity. Therefore, being in a community where you are asked to witness a baptism (no mater what your identity) – it is an acknowledgement and invitation to be a peep and to get together and love one another right now.

“Love is but a song we sing
Fear’s the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why

Some may come and some may go
He will surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moment’s sunlight
Fading in the grass

If you hear the song I sing
You will understand, listen
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It’s there at your command

Come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now

I said come on, people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
Right now
Right now”

Youngbloods – Get Together 1967

Doors and Adventures. Opportunities to Serve God

This month some US companies have purchased other companies, some jobs have been losts, some lives have been changed. Economy goes up, economy goes down. Gas prices lower and people drive and buy more stuff, some people prosper. Oil rig workers now have no work and stay home wives go back to work. We live these insecure ever changing lives even 52ab1aa2d003ein the wealthiest nation. People divorce over such changes, children get uprooted and move to new communities and schools, some people even have health problems or end up in mental health hospitals due to suicidal thoughts or they don’t get help and end thier lives. Our modern farms, market places in the empire, hunting fields, or tribal warfare over life giving resources is still as volatile as it has been since the stone, bronze, iron and golden ages. I am very aware that the silicon age is vastly different and the state of human existence quite easy in comparison. But on an individual level, life is still a struggle. One thing that never changes is change itself. And as the following article explains, God’s role in our lives. “Fear not” and “this is God’s plan for you” appears everywhere in bible stories..old and new. God closes doors only to open others and invite us in to continue an adventure to serve His plan.

How to Walk Through When You See No Way
How to Walk Through When You See No Way
3K A Holy Experience / by Ann Voskamp / 2 days ago
Very rarely in the Bible does God command someone to “Stay.” He opens a door, and then He invites us to walk through it—into the unknown. And how we choose to respond will determine the life we will lead and the person we will become. In fact, to fail to embrace the open door is to miss the work God has made for us to do. In All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?, bestselling author John Ortberg opens our eyes to the countless doors God places before us every day, teaches us how to recognize them, and gives us the encouragement to step out in faith and embrace all of the extraordinary opportunities that await. So go ahead—walk through that door. You just might do something that lasts for eternity.

By John Ortberg

It is striking to think about what the characters of Scripture might write for their six-word memoirs.

I think they would revolve around the intersection of the story of that person’s life with God’s story. They would all be inspired by a divine opportunity that God had set before them, and the response—the yes or no—that shaped their lives.

Abraham: “Left Ur. Had baby. Still laughing.”

Jonah: “‘No.’ Storm. Overboard. Whale. Regurgitated. ‘Yes.’”

Moses: “Burning bush. Stone tablets. Charlton Heston.”

Adam: “Eyes opened, but can’t find home.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: “King was hot. Furnace was not.”

Noah: “Hated the rain, loved the rainbow.”

Esau: “At least the stew was good.”

Esther: “Eye candy. Mordecai handy. Israel dandy.”

Mary: “Manger. Pain. Joy. Cross. Pain. Joy.”

Prodigal Son: “Bad. Sad. Dad glad. Brother mad.”

Rich Young Ruler: “Jesus called. Left sad. Still rich.”

Zacchaeus: “Climbed sycamore tree. Short, poorer, happier.”

Woman caught in adultery: “Picked up man, put down stones.”

Good Samaritan: “I came, I saw, I stopped.”

Paul: “Damascus. Blind. Suffer. Write. Change world.”

“Not quite what I was planning” is the six-word memoir any of them could have written.

In none of these cases would these characters have been able to predict where their lives would take them.

They were interrupted. They were offered an opportunity or threatened by danger or both. This is how life works.

We are neither the authors nor the pawns of our life stories but rather partners somehow with fate or destiny or circumstance or providence. And the writers of Scripture insist that, at least sometimes, in at least some lives—in any lives where the person is willing—that unseen Partner can be God.

Often in the Bible these opportunities seem to come in unmistakable packages. A burning bush. A wrestling angel. Handwriting on the wall. A fleece. A voice. A dream. A talking donkey like in Shrek.

But there is another picture of God-inspired opportunity sprinkled across Scripture that is easier for me to relate to.

It is a picture of divine possibility that still comes to every life. It is a picture I have loved since my college professor Jerry Hawthorne introduced it to me:

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:7-8, emphasis mine)

A door, Dr. Hawthorne said, is one of the richest images in literature.

It can mean safety (“my door is chained and locked”) or hiddenness (“no one knows what goes on behind closed doors”).

It can mean rejection (“she shut the door in my face”) or rest (young mothers’ favorite room is the bathroom, where they can close the door and be alone).

But in this passage a door means none of those things.

Rather, it is an open door, symbolic of “boundless opportunities. Of unlimited chances to do something worthwhile; of grand openings into new and unknown adventures of significant living; of heretofore unimagined chances to do good, to make our lives count for eternity.”

An open door is the great adventure of life because it means the possibility of being useful to God.

The offer of it, and our response to it, is what lies ahead for each one of us.

John Ortberg is an author, speaker, and the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) in the San Francisco Bay