Archive for the 'Jesus' Category

Belief & Faith in the 1st and 21st Century

Gothic-Chalice-and-PatenThe following two addresses were presented in the Community Christian Church, Springfield, Missouri on Sunday, Aug. 9th, 2015. The first is the Offertory Address and the second is the Communion Address.

Belief & Faith in the 1st and 21st Century

My mother has been visiting this week…

So I ask the indulgence of adopting a somewhat affective approach, and recycling parts of a blog I wrote, which is in turn based upon a number of the late Marcus Borg’s observations concerning Belief and Faith [1].

Earlier this week my father, when asked to describe his understanding of Taoism replied:

“We all know right from wrong. Following the Tao is doing it.”

Belief

I “believe” our common understanding of Belief and Faith are thin, spindly-legged things. This leads to misunderstanding our sacred scriptures, and more importantly, to being misguided, and misbehaving.

Merriam-Webster online offers:

Belief [2]
: a feeling that something is good, right, or valuable
: a feeling of trust in the worth or ability of someone

Note that this understanding of Belief is rooted in FEELING. And I do have the impression that a big reason many people bother to go to church at all, is so they feel better about themselves. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing.

But if it becomes the primary reason, it does become a bad thing. It becomes…

self-absorbed;
self-serving.

Whereas everyone who attends this little church, for any length of time, comes to know, an important function of church, is to be…

other-absorbed;
other-serving.

These are among the central teachings of Jesus.

Faith

Almost amusingly, Merriam-Webster defines Faith as… [3]

a strong belief or trust in someone or something;
[such as the] belief in the existence of God

So in the religious context, Belief carries the connotation of affirming as true, that which one would otherwise not hold to be true.

And apparently, Faith, is really affirming as true, that which one would otherwise not hold to be true.

The Virgin Birth, is a prime example.
This is of course, based upon a mis-translation of Isaiah 7:14 [4].
As bishop Spong recently reminded us, that mis-reading has been known since at least 150 c.e.

    If nothing else, we Christians are a stubborn lot!

But far more importantly, by being mislead toward a false belief in Virgin Birth (as only one example among many) ―in expending all that energy, to belief a falsehood, as if it were factual― we become completely blind to the larger Mystery which we are supposed to be seeking!

And it happens again, and again, and again:

We simply no longer live in a three-tiered cosmos.

We live in a universe some 13.8 billion years old, more vast than we can really grasp.

So too “God.”

Effective and Affective Faith

So, is there a more useful understanding of Faith?  [5]

Faith as faith-full-ness ― is fidelity.

Borg asks that we consider the example of fidelity in marriage.
This means being faithful to the relationship with one’s spouse.

Please note: This is not being faithful to a set of logical statements concerning one’s spouse.

In the same way, fidelity to God is not about believing dogma, church traditions, or even scripture.

Fidelity to God is being faithful to one’s relationship with God.

Intentionally, mindfully enriching our sense of relationship:
with that Transcendent More,
which Christians choose to identify as God, or Father.

One aspect of this, is deliberately, consciously,
choosing to live in the presence of the divine,
throughout our daily life, as best we are able.

How do I do this?

I start by being aware of each moment as it passes.
I open ourselves to the possibility of feeling a Presence at any time.
I look for opportunities to relate to others directly, with compassion.
I help others when we may:

We shoe them.
We feed them.
We help shelter them.

Why? Because “God” is not up in heaven somewhere, and “God” is not “out there” somewhere.

Quite the opposite:

It is we, who are “in God”
We are immersed in the Sacred More all the time, as is a fish in water.
Sometimes we are aware of this.
Other times we forget.

Faith as trust.

Fundamental, foundational trust in one’s relationship with God.

This is not trust in statements, affirmations, or assertions about God. The root lies not in logical constructs, but in experiential relationship.

Thus, we may see the heart of faith,
as rooted in a personal experience of the divine.

    Sidebar:   Sensing our personal experience of the divine is one way I define Mysticism.

Faith as trust, is related to Fidelity,

because Fidelity is expressed through
our concern for others,
our relationship to others.

Specifically, we are to mindfully move through our daily life,
mindful of the possibility of encountering the divine,
in all those we meet.

It is like the old joke:

Everywhere you go, there you are.

Our daily life is the only place we “meet God” ― because this is where we are!

THEREFORE,

…if you Believe
shoe-ing others,
feeding others,
sheltering others,

…is a foundational part of taking on the teaching of Jesus,

…I would as that you present as an Offering to Serving Others,
…what money you may,
…knowing you are helping to support this little church…

…knowing you too are helping to…

…put shoes on bare feet,
…putting food in an empty stomach,

…putting a roof over someone’s head.

Communion Address

First of all, I wish to let everyone know this is an Open Communion.
Everyone is invited to take Communion with us.

Our Communion is a symbolic breaking of bread, of sharing our table with those who have little or nothing to eat. It is a symbol of this communities, continuing commitment to feed the hungry of Springfield.

This clearly embraces the heart of Jesus’ teaching.
This is one of the things that attracted me to this church.
It is one of the things that still attracts me to this church.

For me, taking Communion also affirms …

I believe there is a Mysterious More which permeates the cosmos.

I choose to identify as a Christian, because I find Jesus is the “decisive disclosure of the More,” [6].

The More in which, “we live and move and have our being” [Acts 17:28].

Thus, as a Christian, I seek some degree of theosis [7] with the Christ.

…to Put on the Mind of Christ.

…to have the breath of the Christ living in me ― and through me, into the world.

This is the function of Communion for me…

…to better enable me to adopt this orientation toward life.

…to help me keep my heart and mind disposed toward embracing a Loving Spirit.

…I benefit by this reminder, and this re-committment.

May the Christ…

…be in my ++ thoughts,

…that through my thoughts     ― the Mind of Christ may quicken within me.

…be on my ++ lips,

…that through my lips     ― His spiritual powers may be made manifest.

…be in my ++ heart…

…that through my heart     ― the Love of God may shine forth.

In this light, I’ll ask you to consider Marcus Borg’s translation of John 3:16. To better understand the word Belief, Borg asks us to simply translate it as Be-loved.

For God so Loved the world,
that God gave,
the only Be-loved, Son of God
that whosoever,
Be-loves him,
shall not perish
but experience the life,
of the age to come,
in the here and now.

[John 3:16 translation by Marcus Borg][8]

May the Lord Bless you, and Keep you.
Erik+

Footnotes:

[1] Marcus J. Borg, “Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power ― And How They Can Be Restored” (New York: HarperCollins, 2011) 116.

[2] Merriam-Webster Online does better with their “Full Definition of BELIEF”:
1:  a state or habit of mind in which trust or
confidence is placed in some person or thing;
2:  something believed; especially :  a tenet or body
of tenets held by a group;
3:  conviction of the truth of some statement or the
reality of some being or phenomenon especially when
based on examination of evidence.

[3] Again, Merriam-Webster Online does better with their “Full Definition of FAITH”:
1.a :  allegiance to duty or a person :  loyalty
1.b (1) :  fidelity to one’s promises
1.b (2) :  sincerity of intentions
2.a (1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God
2.a (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
2.b (1) :  firm belief in something for which there is no proof
2.b (2) :  complete trust
3    :  something that is believed especially with strong conviction;
:  especially :  a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

[4] Isaiah 7:14 is typically taken out of context when quoted by Christians in the defense of Jesus’ virgin birth; few who read it are aware the Hebrew word used is ***Almah, which carries a range of meanings: girl; maid; maiden; young woman, and virgin. ***Almah is indeed translated as virgin in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible (from which the author of Matthew drew their reference). However, this is obviously a mistaken interpretation when read in context; read Isaiah 7:10-17 for yourself: “Isaiah Gives Ahaz the Sign of Immanuel”… 10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman [Greek, the virgin] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel [God is with us]. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.” (NRSV) Basically, this passage is a prophecy that the current siege shall be lifted after the young woman gives birth, and that king Ahaz will not be defeated by these two kings, as he fears. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ virgin birth (although in the ancient literature of many cultures, accounts of virgin births are mythic/legendary elements often employed to raise the status of those to whom they are directed: Krishna (India); Horus (Egypt); Lao-Tsze (China); even Plato (Athens); as well as, Dionysus, Buddha, Zoroaster, and of course Jesus). This is not to imply that virgin births are not important, but they are not to be understood literally either.

[5] Marcus J. Borg, “What is Faith?” (Memphis, TN: Lenten Homily, 2001) http://www.explorefaith.org/LentenHomily03.16.01.html

[6] Borg, “What is Faith?”

[7] “Theosis literally means to become gods by Grace. The Biblical words that are synonymous and descriptive of Theosis are: adoption, redemption, inheritance, glorification, holiness and perfection. Theosis is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, whereby through Grace one becomes a participant in the Kingdom of God. Theosis is an act of the uncreated and infinite love of God. It begins here in time and space, but it is not static or complete, and is an open-ended progression uninterrupted through all eternity.” Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos “Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life” (Mount Athos, Greece: 2006) page 86.

[8] Borg, “What is Faith?”

Resources:

Books:

Borg, Marcus J.:

“The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”

“Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power ― And How They Can Be Restored”

Ehrman, Bart D.: “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew”

James, William : “Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature”

Online:

Borg, Marcus J.: Lenten Homily, “What is Faith?” (Memphis, TN: 2001) http://www.explorefaith.org/LentenHomily03.16.01.html

Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios, Mount Athos “Theosis: The True Purpose of Human Life” (Mount Athos, Greece: 2006) http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis.aspx (http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/theosis-english.pdf)

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Is the Holy Ghost the Second Coming?

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Dove of the Holy Spirit, ca. 1660. Stained glass. Throne of St Peter, St Peters Basilica Vatican.Wikicommons

Holy Spirit as a Dove (detail) Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Dove of the Holy Spirit, ca. 1660. Stained glass. Throne of St Peter, St Peters Basilica Vatican (Wikicommons)

While discussing bishop John Shelby Spong’s book, “The Fourth Gospel:  Tales of a Jewish Mystic” (which I enthusiastically recommend reading) the question arose as to whether we might understand the Holy Ghost as the Second Coming?  I think the answer depends upon how one understands the terms, and the ideas toward which the terms point.

Chapter 19 of Spong’s “The Fourth Gospel” relates the allegories of the “vine” to an understanding of God as an in-dwelling Spirit;  this is specifically in opposition to thinking of God as external to us.  Spong is speaking of the in-dwelling Spirit of God as comprising part of who we are as self-conscious human beings.

  • It is not that God is absent in animals, and even rocks.
  • But we do differ from rocks and even birds and cats and dogs, in that we have a very strong sense of self-awareness and self-consciousness.  This is why we struggle against the idea of death.  Dogs and cats and cattle may struggle against death itself, but they do not sit around worrying about the eventually.  We do;  because we are self-consciousness.  We know that we exist, and we know that we will cease to exist.  The effort to transcend this eventuality is the reason many of us search for God.

Pantheism

Pantheism basically means “God Everywhere.”  God is understood as being everywhere in the cosmos: in every rock, every tree, every stream, every bird, every dog and cat, and in every person. This is one of the ways animalism and many aboriginal religions are interpreted by persons living in the West, although typically with the arrogant caveat such a “primitive” notion must be mistaken.

Small Pantheism

The “small” way of viewing pantheism is as lots of little spirits dwelling within everything: wood sprites, water spirits, etc.  Every culture of which I am aware, from the dawn of history, developed such a view.  Greco-Roman paganism was similarly structured, ranging from the “Big Gods” on Mount Olympia to city gods, to family gods, to gods of brooks, streams, woods, etc.  There were gods everywhere, and they were vested in every part of leading one’s life.

Most forms of Christianity, I suggest, see this as a form of multiple (“false”) gods.  But there is an important point to add here, which I find adds perspective.  Christians tend to be concerned about their afterlife:  Heaven or Hell, as the saying goes.  Pagans were not especially interested in this.  Most of them assumed death brought our annihilation.  What did matter for them was this life and getting enough to eat, having enough water to drink and raise crops, remaining healthy, and related basic needs of our survival.

Also, death was ever-present in a way I feel we fail to appreciate.  Where we get an abscessed tooth, and go to the dentist, they usually died!  The world was very different 2,000-years ago, and this is a significant point we tend to forget or fully appreciate;  many of us (most?) certainly fail to feel that kind of reality in our own day-to-day lives.  So I suspect we tend to ridicule “pagans” and those who hold aboriginal beliefs largely out of our own ignorance.

Big Pantheism

The “big” way of viewing pantheism, starts by asking a very different question:

  • Where is God not found in nature?

This requires some thought regarding the nature of God.  Is God only a personality?  Or is God the vital force of life itself?  Does God have a face and lungs, or is God the very essence of life?  Stated poetically, we ask if God is the Breath of Life?  Stated more abstractly, the 20th century theologian Paul Tillich suggested that we consider God as our Ground of Being.

If God is the essence of Life, then we have to find some way of imagining God within everything:  rocks, dust, bugs, deer, sharks, cattle, dogs, cats, and ourselves.  I would suggest this way of seeing God is very close to the truth;  and would result, if taken seriously, in better treatment of all the creatures and resources of this world; as well as one another.

An alternate view, is seeing God as a Big Person Above the Sky.  Useful in terms of language and metaphor, to be sure.  But if we take this too literally, how does this significantly differ from Zeus-Jupiter?

Panentheism (note the –en-)

The late Prof. Ron Miller of blessed memory, suggested it is instructive to think of God as panentheistic.  Pan*EN*theism (adding the “en” between pan- and -theism) argues God is everywhere, both within the cosmos, and outside the cosmos.  The key point of this idea is that God is not limited to the confines of this universe (cosmos).

Of course, we cannot really wrap our minds around what this means.  Our language cannot adequately describe what this implies.  We are creatures of time and of space.  And our language reflects, and is limited by, our nature as beings of time-space.  How does one envision a Being which is not constrained by the very limits of the universe itself?  This is a really, really BIG God!

I believe this way of thinking about God has to be tied to Paul Tillich’s “Ground of Being” idea.  For me, this represents God as the very vitality of life itself.  As advanced as our medical science is today, we do not understand the *essence which creates life.  We, for example, know that brain trauma may become debilitating, but we also know the brain sometimes compensates by building new neural pathways.

And doctors have not found our spirit, or even our consciousness, inside the brain.  Some disagree, and equate behavior changes as the result of brain trauma as proof of our seat of consciousness residing within the brain.  I disagree.  I think this only demonstrates that the “radio” has been damaged, and no longer receives the “radio waves” properly.

In this analogy the brain is the radio, and the radio waves represent our spirit, our consciousness.  And I submit that our consciousness, or spirit, is our seat of being.  But from what does our spirit, or being, emanate?  Tillich suggests this flows from the Ground of Being:  God.

  • In this way of seeing God, God is the fabric, the very essence, of the universe;  God is what holds the subatomic particles together;  God is space-time, onto/into which everything else resides. God is all that, as well as that which is beyond the knowable universe.

If one believes this is likely to be true, then “God” is best understood as panentheistic.  And even though we cannot completely wrap our heads around this, we can sense this is a very, very BIG idea of what must comprise the very nature of the “Beingness” (ontology) of God.

Now, as Christians, we have to figure out what to do with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

  • In the early days of the Jewish-Christian “Jesus Movement” there was only One God.
  • Not three Gods.
  • And not God-three-is-one, as the doctrine of the Trinity came to propose in the 4th century.

Some early Christians believed Jesus was entirely human and unable to be God.  Others thought Jesus was God and unable to really be human (he just appeared so).  Others thought Jesus was a divine being of the highest order (above angels for example) but a creature created by the Uncreated God (this view presupposes there are only two categories of existence:  the Uncreated;  and that which is created:  “creatures”).

All of these ideas were early Christian teachings.  And they all had sacred books, thus proving their point!

  • Why books are so important to the Christian traditions is an interesting question.  In part, it is because Christianity evolved from Judaism, and the earliest Christians needed to be thought of as already “ancient” and therefore just another way of understanding the very ancient Jewish religion.  In part, it is because completely unlike pagan religions, Christianity is very concerned with what a person believes; pagans, in contrast did not care what a person believed, only in what actions they took – namely, offering the proper sacrifices and prayers to the gods, so as to sustain our life in the here and now.

All of these ways of “properly” understanding what it meant to be a Christian were being debated in the first 300 years after the execution of Jesus.  In the orthodox Christian tradition, these matters came to be codified in the Council of Nicene, convened in 325 ce.  It is from this council that we inherit the Nicene Creed.  While this council did not settle the debates entirely, they did resolve the larger issues, and framed the limits of theological debate to the present day.

But they lived in a three-tiered universe:  Heaven Above;  Earth; and Land of the Dead Below.  We no longer live in that three-tiered universe/cosmos. Therefore, we have to re-think their basic arguments and assumptions, if we wish to carefully think through questions such as the nature of the Second Coming and the Holy Spirit.  And we really have to re-think these kinds of questions if we are going to try to understand the Gospel of John on its own (mystical!) merits.

I find I agree with bishop Spong’s proposition:  the Gospel of John was written by Jewish-Christian mystics.  These authors were not speaking of God as residing Above the Heavens.  They were speaking of an In-Dwelling God, an understanding of God as dwelling within each of us.  This is a very different understanding of God, even today, nearly 2,000-years later!

And to be fair, this is a mystical way of thinking about the Divine, which makes it slippery to grasp.  It is difficult, not easy, to understand.  Anyone can understand a God Above the Heavens who gets angry and destroys cities and people, or rewards individuals or nations for “obeying” whatever it is one presupposes “God wants from us.”

  • The details of “what God wants from us” change, from one tradition to the next -even within Christianity, let alone across religions- but the core idea that God wants something from us, which we supply by modifying our behavior. But this is not a mystical understanding of God. A mystical understanding of God experiences God as in-dwelling! (In-dwelling in all persons; thus, one adopts Unity Consciousness.)

But what if “God” is within each of us and “wants” us to live in such a manner as to expand life for ourselves and everyone around us?  What if God is the very expansion of the universe and the force of life that constantly seeks expression?  What if this self-expression of the essence of God is vitally present in self-conscious beings, such as human beings?

  • God is present in everything, but we are aware of this in-dwelling Presence!

This is a very different understanding of “God” and for many it doesn’t seem easy to grasp.

What about the Trinity?

I am not a strong trinitarian.  In the many hundreds of years since formulating the conceptualization of God as the Trinity of Father-Son-Spirit, no one has nailed this down!  The best theologians of the last 1,700-years or so have always said the heart of this is a “mystery.”  In other words, no one understands it!

We can formulate it pretty clearly.  But this is not at all the same thing as understanding it!  Professor Phillip Cary offers the following technical formation:

1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
6. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
7. There is only one God.

We can see how strange this is if we say much the same thing from the classical Greco-Roman perspective:

1. Zeus is God.
2. Apollo is God.
3. Poseidon is God.
4. Zeus is not Apollo.
5. Apollo is not Poseidon.
6. Poseidon is not Zeus.
7. There are three Gods.

Here we have the same formulation, one from a Christian perspective, and one from the Greco-Roman perspective.  They are identical in the logic of the first six steps.  However, the final conclusions are in direct opposition to one another!  This illustrates why Christianity was so perplexing to pagans 2,000-years ago.  And it demonstrates “why the doctrine of the Trinity is so difficult, interesting and strange” (Cary: “The Logic of Trinitarian Doctrine”).

Some have said, when speaking of the Trinity, we forget how to count:  God is above/before numbers.  Others say that God is three Persons (I prefer to say, Personae) but with a single Will.  But no matter how we try to explain the idea of the Trinity, it seems strange and remains beyond our grasp.  And so it has for some 1,700-years, for even the best and brightest theologians over the centuries.  So if this does not really make perfect sense to you, you are in good company!

  • If, and when, one finds speaking of God-as-Trinity useful, I say go for it!  Where it is not useful, I suggest, speaking in different terms.

Active Agent of God

When I speak of the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, which is the transliteration we get from German scholarship on the Holy Spirit/Geist) I mean the active Spirit of the Divine, of which we are aware, and with which we seek to interact.  Our Christian history has offered this idea to us as the Holy Spirit, so I frequently use the same name-title.

  • “Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” are two different names for the same thing:  Holy Spirit is translated from the Latin, Spiritus Sanctus;  from German as, heiligen Geist;  both of which are translated from the original Greek, άγιο πνεύμα, which is roughly “agio pneuma“.

From this perspective the “Holy Spirit” is what I sometimes call the “Active Agent” of God in the world.  I think of this as the aspect of the Divine with which we have interaction.  If one is able to go along with this interpretation, then I think we are getting close to being able to see the Holy Spirit as the Second Coming.  But we still have some more ideas to explore.

Transformational Christianity

I view both the Holy Spirit and the Second Coming as related to Transformational Christianity.  By this I mean the emphasis to first transform ourselves, and through and as a result of our personal changes -a transformation in our thinking, speech, and behaviour- to transform the community in which we live.  I believe this is how we observe the Holy Spirit as being active in our lives, and in our community.

  • As we think, speak, and act better toward one another, I propose calling this change in our personal formulation, the Holy Spirit as active in our lives. Some have also called this Putting on the Mind of Christ.

In this view, we understand the primary function of the Holy Spirit as that which transforms these elements (thinking, speech, and behaviour) in us, and through us, into our wider community.  Thus, the Holy Spirit is that aspect of the Divine which initiates significant changes in our lives;  It is the aspect of the Trinity with which we interact in this physical world.

But what of Jesus?  What about the Christ?

This is a closely related, but somewhat different question.  Here we must address the question of Christology, which is the effort to understand and make sense of the role of Jesus and the Christ, both in the early Jewish-Christian church, and in our own day and age.  This is a very deep subject, asking the very nature of Jesus the Christ!  Entire books have been written on this topic, and there is yet more to say.  This is obviously not a question which may be adequately addressed in one essay.

Christ is the Greek word for messiah, which in Hebrew is mashiach.  It means “anointed” or “the one anointed” and was a ritual anointing which identified the king of Israel as chosen of God, or as the son of God.  When the Babylonians wiped out the line of David, this began to symbolize something more than the kingship;  the idea of the messiah began to be associated with ideas of freedom and liberation from foreign powers.  God’s messiah would come in glory and overthrow the foreign rulers, and put the son of King David back on the throne.

In the Jewish understanding, the messiah was never thought to be a person executed by the state!  This is perhaps the single largest barrier to Jews coming to understand Jesus as the messiah.  He simply could not be, because far from overthrowing the Romans, he was crushed by them!  (Gentiles did not hold this presupposition, so it was easier for a gentile to see Jesus as the messiah, than for a Jew to come to the same understanding.)

  • In the synoptic gospels ―Mark, Matthew, and Luke― we find Jesus hesitant to speak of himself as the messiah.  I think this is because Jesus did not embrace the popular understanding of what this meant to his fellow Jews:  one coming in power to overthrown the Romans.  This concern is not shared in the Gospel of John, however.  But we also cannot read the Gospel of John as remotely literal.  To do so, is to miss the point entirely!

What I think I may say about Jesus and the Christ, in just a few words, is that the way in which Jesus is interpreted in the Gospel of John, expressed as a work of Jewish-Christian mysticism, is that Jesus is the embodiment of the Life of God flowing into the world.  Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, does not mean we “believe Jesus is God.”  And it is certainly not saying that Jesus has to be killed to save us!

Instead, we are asked to believe that Jesus lived his life in such a way as to promote the in-flowing of the Divine Spirit of God in him, and through him, into the world.  But more than this ―and more importantly I believe― is the proposition that you and I may do the same thing!  (“Even greater things shall you do,” Jesus is made to say in the Gospel of John.)

This is the core meaning of Jesus as understood in the Gospel of John.  Jesus lived a life which brought the vitality of God’s Spirit into this world, and we may do the same thing.  God is not “out there” somewhere, but rather God is “in here” ― dwelling within us.

  • The way to get more God into the world, is to allow more God to flow within us, and through us, into the world:  exactly as it did in, and through, Jesus.

And that ―I believe― is what the mystical Gospel of John is trying to relate to us as the Second Coming.

So, may we think of the Holy Spirit as the Second Coming?

Yes, I think we may.  In the same way, the Kingdom (or Realm) of God is always at hand.  But we are required to participate in bringing it into existence.

God is not going to just drop the Kingdom of Heaven upon us, crushing the wicked and rewarding the good.  That was the thought behind apocalypticism, which was very popular in the time of Jesus (both roughly 100-years before and after his execution).  This was the idea that God would come in glory, displace the evil (Romans) and install the City of God in his Heavenly Realm on Earth.  And all would be ruled in peace for 1,000 years.

But that did not happen.  2,000-years have passed, and despite that some argue “soon” means aeons may pass, that is clearly not what the people of Jesus’ time meant.  They meant really soon, as in their own lifetimes soon.  If we choose to read “soon” to mean thousands and thousands of years later, we are not reading the books as they were written to be understood in their own day and age.

And the writers of the mystical Gospel of John were aware of this!  Nearly 70-years had already passed, and a lot of people had given up on the apocalyptic understanding of “soon.”  So they searched for a new interpretation, one they viewed as replacing what they now understood to have been a mistaken interpretation.

And this leads to the mystical understanding of Jesus’ life and the way God seemed to be expressed in the life of Jesus.  This is why we get the “I am” saying, which very clearly means Jesus is God the Father.  But so too, as Jesus is in God, we are in Jesus, and Jesus is in us.  We all are able to embody God the Father!  This is the very radical change that John is bringing to our understanding, not only of Jesus, but of God the Father;  meaning the Uncreated, which brought all that is, into being;  that same vital essence is available to us, and may flow within us, and through us, and through us into the world!

John is a wonderful gospel! Wonder-filled Good News!  From within the Christian New Testament, it offers the most transformative way of understanding Jesus and God.

  • Yes, we may think of the Holy Spirit as the in-dwelling transformative Breath of Life, which brings about the Second Coming, and creates the Realm of Heaven on earth.  But our participation in this transformative experience is required!

May the Lord bless and keep you!
Erik+

References:

“The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic” (HarperCollins Publishers, 2013) John Shelby Spong.

Logic of Trinitarian Doctrine  http://www.scribd.com/doc/2385278/The-Logic-of-Trinitarian-Doctrine-by-Phillip-Cary

Putting on the Mind of Christ ― Levels of Human Consciousness (Introduction)

St. John's Ashfield, StainedGlass of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (cropped to portrait)

St. John’s Ashfield, StainedGlass of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (cropped to portrait)

Putting on the Mind of Christ ― Levels of Human Consciousness (Introduction)

Putting on the mind of Christ is an analogy Paul uses to encourage us to create in ourselves the same manner of looking at the world, and of relating to our fellow humankind, as did Jesus.

The change which Paul is encouraging us to embrace runs extremely deep, he in fact, wishes for us to assume the very mind of the Christ; which in our modern language, we may read as learning to evolve our own psychological and spiritual growth to the same degree as did Jesus.

Let the same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 2:5 (NRSV)

We have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:16 (NRSV)

But is this feasible? The author of John thought so:

John 17:21-ff  (NRSV)

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us…. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one….

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

[Note: In John, when we read “glory” we ought to envision an image of divine Presence; this Light shines through us, to others; by example, by our way of living, by our treatment of others; it is a metaphor for a hierophany (a revelation of the sacred) which calls us to develop the highest level of psychological and spiritual wholeness and health. In the passage above, Jesus extends the metaphor to say that God the Father, Jesus, and the divine Love of God the Father lives in each of us; and importantly, all are One (Unity Consciousness). EW]

Developing a Background for the Exploration of Spiritual Maturation

In his book “Putting on the Mind of Christ” Jim Marion uses the work of persons such as James Fowler (“Stages of Faith”) and Ken Wilber (“Integral Spirituality”) as jumping off points to explore his own spiritual journey and maturation. Marion’s exploration of human consciousness ―beginning with his own― is seen as a process of spiritual evolution, in which we all play our own role; we may each do so either mindfully aware, or blind and deaf to that which Jesus seeks to enlighten us.

I find this process suggests a fascinating way of discovering, and better understanding, our own spirituality, and its development as a natural process. Equally fascinating to me is viewing our individual ―and communal― spiritual development as a means of understanding the role of Spirit as an evolutionary force that is woven into the very fabric of the cosmos (a tenet of Process Theology, which in itself is a means of better understanding what Paul Tillich tries to convey in his discussions of God as the Ground of Being). While this sounds outlandish, there are quantum physicists who suggest this may a reasonable hypothesis, including David Bohm (1917-1972).

  • Sidebar: Bohm’s intriguing contributions include: quantum theory, neuropsychology, philosophy of mind, implicate and explicate order, the holonomic model of the brain; his books include: “Quantum Theory,” “Thought as a System,” “The Undivided Universe,” “Wholeness and the Implicate Order”.

But first, we must understand there are various levels ―or stages― of human consciousness. As we will see, some of these stages all healthy adults process through as a result of their natural psychological development; but not everyone is equipped to attain the later stages of human consciousness; certainly not without consistent, mindful effort.

Second, we must view the evolution of the human species from the perspective of the predominate level of human consciousness presenting at different stages of human culture. This is a means of characterizing the average level of consciousness development in human cultures through history; the predominate consciousness during the Stone Age is not the same as during the Middle Ages, which is not the same as in the developed world of the 21st century of the Common Era.

This is to say that once we come to understand the development of consciousness in individuals, we are then able to see that human culture is itself a reflection of the level of consciousness held by the majority of persons at that time (or of those persons holding power). This also offers a means of understanding the literary arch of biblical scripture. However, this is not a topic widely discussed, so it is a perspective of which a great many persons remain unaware (if this sounds interesting, you may wish to watch the sermon given by bishop Spong, listed in the references below).

As one might expect, this is a very complex topic which I cannot hope to fully develop in one essay (dozens if not hundreds of books have been written exploring these matters). I will however, examine these topics in a series of essays.

For further study I would direct those interested in this subject to the references I have listed at the conclusion of this essay. The primary topics include process theology and the various levels of consciousness of the human personality. I will begin my discussion with a brief introduction to the later, largely adopting the framework of Marion’s work (who in turn, adopts the framework of those authors he most respects).

Similarities Observed in Maturing Levels of Consciousness

As we begin to learn about the various levels of consciousness, it may initially seem confusing. For this reason I thought I’d begin by briefly introducing similarities shared by all of the levels of human consciousness, specifically from the point of view of the process of consciousness maturation. In his book “Putting on the Mind of Christ” Jim Marion identifies four traits shared by those maturing in consciousness, regardless of their predominate level of consciousness (“Putting on the Mind of Christ” pg. 34):

 

  • All growth in consciousness is a process of inner realization.
  • All inner realizations are the result of personal experience “meditated upon” in some fashion.
  • All growth in consciousness is a lessening of self-centeredness, a “death” to the old self-centered way of looking at the world and a simultaneous “rebirth” into a less self-centered way of seeing things.
  • As a person’s consciousness goes up the spiritual ladder from level to level, the person’s consciousness becomes less and less attached to (i.e., stuck in or define by) physical matter.

 

When we consider human societies as a whole, we note another common thread shared by them all: the predominate level of consciousness present in a society impacts and limits the thoughts, goals, and behaviors of members of that society. Thus, human societies reflect the average level of consciousness of the society; or at least of those who dominate and rule the society (a behavior which by definition, is a trait only displayed by lower consciousness societies). Thus we may observe, the vast majority of human societies have been inhabiting the lower levels of human consciousness development throughout recorded history.

Persons of significantly lower or higher levels of consciousness (as compared to the average level of consciousness found within that society) tend to be marginalized. Furthermore, it is always easier for a society to backslide to a lower level of consciousness, and much more difficult to evolve into a higher level of consciousness. So while we do see growth over time, it is slow and halting, and more easily stymied than stimulated toward progress.

Levels of Consciousness of the Human Personality

Viewed broadly, certain levels of human consciousness are typical of youth, and others are typical of adults who have begun the process of spiritual maturation. All developmental levels are vital to us as individuals. It is important we recognize these developmental phases are necessary and desirable stages of psychic development in each of us.

Indeed, we do not skip levels of consciousness, but rather grow and mature from one level toward another, and later to another. As we move from one level of consciousness to the next, there are varying degrees of overlap between them during our transition. Our understanding and perception of the world typically changes slowly, by degree. We see this both in the individual, and in human cultural evolution over thousands of years.

Thus, when we are dealing with a person who inhabits an earlier level of consciousness than our own, we must remind ourselves we too matured through that level, and that we benefited from our experiences within that level of consciousness; just as is the person with whom we are dealing. We may now observe certain limitations in that earlier level of consciousness, but the other person may not yet be able to do so. This is simply because our capacity for perception is radically different from one level of consciousness to another; certain insights are occluded to those of younger development.

The following are the identified levels of consciousness of the human personality which I will discuss in future essays:

  • Youth Stages:
    • Archaic Consciousness of the Infant
    • Magical Consciousness of Children
    • Mythic Consciousness of the Pre-adolescent (1st Mental Level)
  • Adult Stages:
    • Rational Consciousness (2nd Mental Level)
    • Vision-Logic Consciousness (3rd Mental Level)
    • Psychic Consciousness
    • The Dark Night of the Senses
    • Subtle Consciousness.

May you be blessed with an increasing experience of connection with the Holy Spirit within,

Erik+

Resources:

My Other Essays:

Stages of Faith – Introduction (March 2013)
Stages of Faith – Intro to James W. Fowler (May 2013)
Stages of Faith – Intro to M. Scott Peck (May 2013)
Stages of Faith – James W.Fowler: Approximate Ages During Stages (June 2013)
Stages of Faith – Miller’s Four Floors of Consciousness (June 2013)

Videos:

Miller, Ron: Nine Talks from the Theosophical Society
http://www.ronmillersworld.org/updates/eight-talks-from-the-theosophical-society/

Spong, John Shelby: “Bishop John Shelby Spong ‘From a Tribal God to a Universal Presence: The Story Of The Bible'”

Books:

Bohm, David:

“Thought as a System”
“Quantum Theory”
“The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory”
“Wholeness and the Implicate Order”

Artson, Bradley Shavit: “God of Becoming and Relationship: The Dynamic Nature of Process Theology”

Fowler, James: “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning”

Marion, Jim: “Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality”

Smith, Paul: “Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve”

Talbot, Michael: “The Holographic Universe”

Whitehead, Alfred North: “Process and Reality” (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh, 1927-28)

Wilber, Ken: “Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World”

Scriptural References:

Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (NRSV)

The True Wisdom of God

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”―

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

[or: …interpreting spiritual things in spiritual language].
[or: …comparing spiritual things with spiritual].

Those who are unspiritual [natural] do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

Philippians 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Imitating Christ’s Humility

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that you have [or: was] in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

[Note: Here Paul is quoting an early Christian hymn or poem. Paul’s inclusion of this type of material offers us a glimpse of Christian thought from the 20 year gap between Jesus’ crucifixion and Paul’s writing (which is the earliest surviving Christian writing). EW]

Palm Sunday & Non-violent Resistance

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti

Perhaps the most frequent gospel reading for Palm Sunday is Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-10).

This is the scene in which Jesus is riding into the city of Jerusalem upon the colt of a donkey, amid the excited shouting of a crowd,

     Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
     Hosanna in the highest heaven!
     (Mark 11:9-10)

What is going on here? What are we to read into this scene?

Jerusalem was located in Judea, which during the first century was occupied and ruled by Rome. This was a contentious rule, literally maintained through the strength of the sword. The ancient historian Josephus informs us of several major uprisings and a number of smaller revolts against Roman rule. Some of these were violent uprisings and others were peaceful forms of resistance.

An especially turbulent and potentially violent period reoccurred annually during the celebration of the Jewish festival Freedom and Redemption (Pesachof in Hebrew; Passover in English). This festival celebrates the Jewish exodus from Egypt. It requires only a small leap of imagination to see the parallels between liberation from slavery in Egypt and how suffering under the rule of Rome might renew a call for freedom.

Clearly, Roman rulers would take extraordinary precautions during the week of Passover, and any disturbances were crushed ruthlessly. This is why prior to the festival of Passover, Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, marched from Caesarea Maritima into Jerusalem. This would have been an impressive display of imperial power, with Pontius Pilate mounted upon a war horse.

Jesus riding a colt into Jerusalem is the antithesis of Roman rule and domination by force. Jesus was signaling an alternative vision of rule, which those who were familiar with his teaching would have known to be the kingdom of the Holy Blessing One (God) on earth.

But Jesus was also signaling his was a peaceful, nonviolent form of resistance. Pilate rides a war horse. Jesus rides a colt. But make no mistake, it was a demonstration of resistance against Roman authority and power (which is why Jesus was executed by Rome).

“What we call Palm Sunday featured a choice of two kingdoms, two visions of life on earth” (Borg, “Jesus” pg. 232).

To Which Kingdom Do You Pledge Allegiance?

The subtext would have been obvious to those gathering in Jerusalem. The choice is between the kingdom of Mammon (wealth, riches, Caesar) and the kingdom of the Holy Blessing One (God).

Both refer to an earthly kingdom, which is a point often lost. Jesus was a strong proponent of reforming this world, by transforming our own consciousness, and by transforming the community in which we live. And we transform our community by transforming the lives of persons living in our community.

It all begins with a choice. Do we pledge allegiance to the kingdom of Mammon, or to the kingdom of God? Do we choose to live in Darkness, or to live in Light? This is the choice Jesus acted out as he rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
Erik+

Resources:

Borg, Marcus “Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary” (pgs. 229-232).

Ehrman, Bart “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings” (3rd Ed., Ch. 15, pgs. 231-249).

Josephus (Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100), born Joseph ben Matityahu)
Antiquities 14.2.1. 21-28; Ant. 17.9.3 213; Ant. 18.2.2 29; Wars of the Jews 2.1.3 10;
http://www.josephus.org/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus
http://www.josephus.org/Passover.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_Sunday

Image: Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti (Wikicommons).

Mammon: a Chaldee or Syriac word meaning “wealth” or “riches” (Luke 16:9-11); also, by personification, the god of riches (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:9-11). Online reference: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/mammon/

Mark 11:1-10 (NRSV)

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Pauline Mysticism

"Saint Paul Writing His Epistles" by Valentin de Boulogne

“Saint Paul Writing His Epistles” by Valentin de Boulogne

Pauline Mysticism

It was on icy January day in South Carolina, that the sacrament of Holy Orders was celebrated in which I was ordained.  It was the feast day of the conversion of St. Paul.  So, as this anniversary fast approaches, my thoughts turn once more to St. Paul.

Conversion of Paul

Paul’s is the earliest Christian voice we hear.  His earliest surviving letters date to about 20 years after Jesus was crucified, to about the year 50.  Paul is thought to have continued writing until the year 67 or so, when he was martyred in Rome.  During this brief span of 15 years or so, Paul traveled throughout the eastern Roman empire, spreading his understanding of the Christ.

The surviving undisputed letters of Paul account for some 25% of the Christian New Testament.  If one includes letters written in Paul’s name ―but almost certainly not by Paul himself― we can say Paul directly or indirectly influenced nearly half of the New Testament!

But Paul initially persecuted followers of Jesus.  Indeed, Paul was engaged in a mission of persecution right up to the moment of his conversion, when he was struck by a vision so powerful, that it changed his life forever!

Thus, Paul became a Christian instantly, directly as the result of a profound mystical experience.  And if we take Paul at his word, he continued to have visions and mystical encounters throughout his life.

This is why I believe it is accurate to call St. Paul a Christian mystic.

Emotional or Sense-Based Mysticism

Many of us associate mysticism with highly emotional, or sense-based experiences.  One of the better known works of Western Christian mysticism is “The Cloud of Unknowing” written in the 14th century by an unknown author.  This author encourages feeling, especially love, when seeking an ecstatic state which they understand to be a means of drawing nearer what we may of the Divine.

But Paul did not speak well of this kind of mysticism, despite reporting that he had such experiences.  Perhaps the best example of this is found in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, when Paul speaks in the third person of having been “caught up to the third heaven … caught up into Paradise and [having] heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.”

But he doesn’t mention this experience in order to suggest others should seek similar experiences.  Rather he uses it as a cautionary tale, as an example of what one should *not* seek.

Among Paul’s concerns with feeling- or sense-based mysticism, is that it may lead to boasting of one’s accomplishment in having had the experience.  This in turn may lead to a sense of self-centeredness, or as we might say today, our falling prey to an inflated ego.

More to the point, it draws attention inward to ourselves, and may lead one to believe that observing the Christian tradition ends with ourselves.  What Paul fears I suspect, is that we may pay too high of a price in that we may neglect our service to those in our community.

Ekklesia-Based Mysticism

Paul was very concerned with the ekklesia he was establishing.  Ekklesia is the Greek word which we often translate as church.  But it may mean many different kinds of gatherings or assemblies of persons.

  •      The sense which I mean to convey with the phrase Ekklesia-based mysticism, is a form of mysticism that is based in concern for one’s community.

For Paul, in our dealings with one another ―in community― love is always of central importance.  Paul said this most famously in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians, “…faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).  But he also spoke of the critical importance of love ―and specifically of love working in our community― in one of his earliest letters, to the Galatians:

     “…through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Gal. 5:13-14).

 

     “For in Christ Jesus … the only thing that counts is faith working [or: made effective] through love” (Gal. 5:6).

Living in the Mystery of the Christ

Paul’s mysticism does have a personal component.  We each are to individually seek the Christ, and anticipate encountering a very real experience of the Christ in our lives.  I believe this is certainly part of what Paul was trying to relate when writing to the Galatians:

    “…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

And this remained an important theme for Paul, as we read in the 2nd chapter of Philippians:

     “Let the same mind be in you that was [or: that you have] in Christ Jesus”

Seeking the Mystery of the Christ in You through Theosis

I speak of theosis with some frequency.  Theosis is what I believe Paul is encouraging us to seek when he says we should put on the mind of Christ, or live is such a way as to have the Christ live in us―through us.

One aspect of this is captured in the popular question, what would Jesus do?  Psychologically, this is a re-frame.  We prompt ourselves to step out of the human animal-driven moment, and ask what a person who lives within a higher spiritual frame of reference might do?

Jesus also spoke of this when asked what were the most important laws of the Torah.  Jesus basically answered that one must love God, and love one’s neighbors (there are more subtle points, as well, but I am simply paraphrasing).  As we read, Paul said the same thing (Gal. 5:14, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'”).  This is not surprising, as it is a long-held ideal in Jewish thought.

One of the main points of theosis is to strive to become a living embodiment of Christ Jesus.  Another main point of theosis is to strive to help others become a living embodiment of Christ Jesus.  And on a practical level, the point in doing so is transformation of our own consciousness, and to transform our community into a living example of God’s kingdom, right here on earth, during our own life time.

And what is the key to seeking the mystery of the Christ in you?

Love.

I believe this is the most important message Paul delivers.  If you get nothing else out of reading and studying Paul, understand that love is at the center of all that we do, when we are striving toward our highest standards.

Do you want to put on the mind of Christ?

Do you want to live in such a way as to uphold the Word (what I would argue is the Christian apprehension of the Torah)?

Do you wish to see Christ Jesus living within you more strongly each day?

If so, then take Paul’s words to heart, and live them to your utmost:

    …the greatest [virtue] is love.
…through love become slaves to one another.
For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment,
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

May you be blessed
Erik+

References:

“The Cloud of Unknowing” (unknown author)

“The Mystery of Christ in You: The Mystical Vision of Saint Paul” by George Maloney

Seeking the Face of Christ

Christ And The Two Marys by William Holman Hunt

Christ And The Two Marys by William Holman Hunt

 

Seeking the Face of Christ

 
While reading Celia Hales’ blog, “Miracles Each Day” (https://celiaelaine.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/seek-to-find-christs-face-and-look-on-nothing-else/) the following observation struck me as worthy of reflection:

“Until we see the face of Christ in all others, we are still in the learning stages. And often, even when we succeed briefly, we do not sustain this manner of looking. When we see Christ, we are being loving and forgiving.”

This strikes me as one example of what I imagine Paul may have been suggesting when advising us of the importance of putting on the mind of Christ.  In so doing, we are seeking to emulate the behaviors that Jesus modeled for us, and to live in such a manner as to encourage the Christ to flow into us, and through our thoughts, words, and deeds, into the world; thereby affecting others positively through the example of our lives.

Understood in this way, I believe putting on the mind of Christ is one aspect of the process of theosis.

  •      Theosis  ―  Deification;  divinization;  in Eastern Orthodox theology it is the process of coming into union (or oneness) with God;  “The Son of God became man, that we might become god”  (St. Athanasius of Alexandria).

I believe we Westerners often have great difficulty seeing through the lens of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  In the above quote of St. Athanasius it is important to understand there is a difference in becoming God, and in becoming god:  the capital G God points to one meaning, and the lower case g god points to another.

The upper case God is the Uncreated;  that from which all that is created flows.  In the Christian tradition -both Eastern and Western- we perceive a line which cannot be crossed, between that which is Uncreated, and that which is created.

Henosis, in contrast, is the ancient Greek belief that one may literally be fully absorbed into God.  Therefore, using Christian terminology, henosis fails to make a distinction between the Uncreated and the created.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity appreciates there is a power or energy of God flowing from the Divine, into and through, all that is;  everything which exists, is caught up in the process of becoming or being, and does so as a result of being bathed-born of this energy flowing forth from the Divine/God.

There is a further subtly, in that there is both the potentiality to exist, and the actuality of existing.  Many things are possible;  some of these come into being.  This becoming is the the actuality of God ― the point at which a creature attains real-ness, as opposed to merely having a potential to become real.  The same may be said of atoms and rocks and suns.

This is how we see the cosmos itself as comprised of the Immanence of God.  The energy (Energeia) of God is sustaining the cosmos coming into existence as the actuality of God.  Were God *not* flowing into Time and Space, the cosmos would cease to exist.  Thus, the Immanence of God is the very fabric from which Time and Space is constructed.

Our solar system and planet may offer a useful analogy.  Energy flows from the sun, and this energy has the potential to sustain all manner of life on earth.  If the energy radiates out of the solar system, missing our planet, it’s life-giving sustenance may be said to have remained only in potential.  However, if the energy from the sun strikes earth, this potential blooms into life, and becomes the actuality of the sun on earth.

The energy of the sun (God) flows everywhere;  in some cases it also transforms into life, and becomes the actuality of the sun (God).

So, while we as creatures can never share the ontology (being-ness) of the Uncreated (we can never become the sun), we are living in the field of energy (sunlight) flowing forth from the Uncreated.

Perhaps this is what Paul Tillich had in mind when he spoke of God as the Ground of Being?  

The concept of God as the Ground of Being, I continue to find an awkward idea to wrap my mind around, but I suspect there is something to it.  It certainly better lends itself to the understanding of “God” as Transcendent, as well as panentheistic.

The pay-off is that a Transcendent, panentheistic God is the Immanence which sustains all of the cosmos, and without which/whom the cosmos would cease to exist (Hinduism and Buddhism have long held this view).  This is the aforementioned effect or “energy” of God within Time and Space.

But if we are to take panentheism seriously, there must be another aspect of the Divine which is outside of both Time and Space, which is totally alien to us.  We are creatures of Time and Space, so we cannot intellectually grasp what it means *not* to be of Time and Space.  Time and Space define everything we know and have the capacity to know.

However, I believe this is largely a mental-intellectual limitation.  If we reside only in our head, we cannot grasp God.  God must remain forever abstract, alien, and ultimately unknowable to us in any literal, logical sense.

In fact, every time we intellectually define God, we limit and diminish God.  We must do so, because we are taking what is Transcendent, and forcing it out of the Infinite, into a concept tiny enough for us to wrap our minds around.  This is seeing with our head.

But the mystics tell us we can learn to see with our heart.  They indicate we each possess some facility to sense there is something More beyond the confines of Time and Space.  This seems to be based in experience, is intuitive, and suggestive, and cannot be adequately described with words.  (Words are tools of symbolic logic, and therefore within the intellectual domain, not the domain of the heart experience.)

Becoming a lower case g, god

It is because we are living within the “energy” of God that we may aspire to become a lower-g god.  God is always everywhere, and God is always the center of the cosmos.  As the late Joseph Campbell observes:

God is a circle whose center is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.

Thus, God is anywhere we happen to be.  God’s Light, God’s Radiance, God’s Immanence, *is* the cosmos in which all the galaxies of the universe spin.  Thus, in a certain sense, we cannot help but be in the presence of God;  God is everywhere, always.

  •       God is always open to us.

The critical point is that we must open ourselves to God, so as to be able to perceive the Immanence of God.  But this does not normally happen spontaneously (although some report that it has);  typically, it requires that we change our perception through mindful attention and intention.

When religion is operating at its greatest spiritual potential, it helps open us to the Transcendent;  but when religion is made concrete and literal, it has the opposite effect, closing us to the Transcendent.

Living into the actuality of the Divine

Given that we are alive, we are already caught up in the actuality of God;  as with a fish living in the ocean, we cannot do otherwise.  But unlike the fish, we have the choice of living mindfully within this actuality, or of living our life in metaphoric darkness, unaware of, or denying, any connection to the Ground of Being.

With all of the above informing our thoughts, let us return to the observation made by Celia Hales:

“Until we see the face of Christ in all others, we are still in the learning stages. And often, even when we succeed briefly, we do not sustain this manner of looking. When we see Christ, we are being loving and forgiving.”

 

All of us are living within the actuality of God;  whether we know it or not.  Not only is the fish in the water, but the water is in the fish.  So when we look at another person, we should look for the Divine in them.  If we do not recognize the Divinity present in all persons ―and other creatures, for that matter― we are operating from a very young, early stage of faith, and we have a great deal more to learn about our spirituality.

As our spirit matures, and we become increasingly aware of the Divinity in others, at first we tend to do so only for short periods of time.  Life gets in the way, and we forget that we are all moving and living in the same God, sharing in the same Ground of Being.  Such is human nature.  Strive to do better, but do not beat yourself up unduly for simply being human.

With sustained observation, mindfulness, and practice, over time we will do better.  We do not physically or psychologically or emotionally mature over night.  So too with attaining greater spiritual maturity.  We are all works in progress.  But the work begins with mindfulness;  being present in each moment, and throughout our interactions with others.

Seeking the face of Christ

Where do we seek the face of Christ?  We seek the face of Christ in others!

When we are able to look into another person’s face, and see in them the Christ, we are able to recognize the Divinity living in each of us.  And seeing this, how can we fail to rise ourselves to a higher standard of living ―even if only briefly― and how can we fail to treat others with greater compassion and love (agápe)?

The more often we practice holding this vision of the Christ, the longer we will be able to retain it, the more easily it will return when disrupted, and the more deeply, and naturally it will become part of us.  All of this is related to the psychological and behavioral transformation of self.

Where do we seek the face of Christ?  We seek the face of Christ in ourselves!

This is why we strive for theosis, so that we may open ourselves to the in-flowing energy of the Christ, to first fill us, and then flow through us, into the world.  This is the process of conditioning ourselves to become beacons through which the Divine Light may illuminate the world.

Water, Light, Energy, the Christ, these are all metaphors which are designed to open us to some experience of the Transcendent in our lives;  hopefully, guiding us to engage in more compassionate dealings with ourselves and others.

And this is what takes place during the Eucharist.  We seek to open ourselves to the Divine, so that we may become entry points for the Divine into this world.  Ideally the in-flow of the  Christ energy takes place not only during the Eucharist, but continues to take place as we move through the world, revealing itself in our compassionate interactions with others.

This is why we seek the face of Christ in others.

This is why we seek the face of Christ in ourselves.

And Jesus said:

 
…Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?  (John 10:34, quoting Ps. 82:6, “I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you”)

…Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above [or born anew].  (John 3:3)

…the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.  (Gospel of Thomas, 113)

…the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.  (Gospel of Thomas, 3)

…the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21)

May the Lord Bless and Keep You,
Erik+

Resources:

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Theosis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosis_%28Eastern_Orthodox_theology%29
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potentiality_and_actuality

https://celiaelaine.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/seek-to-find-christs-face-and-look-on-nothing-else/

Joseph Campbell, “Mythos” (Vol. I, II, and III)

Gospel of Thomas:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas/
http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gosthom.html

Thin Places: Opening the Heart

Modern Celtic cross at cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

Modern Celtic cross at cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

 

My title is taken from the eighth chapter of Marcus Borg’s book “The Heart of Christianity” which prompted my thoughts for this essay.  This is a moving, thoughtful book which I enthusiastically recommend.

 

Thin Places

The image of Thin Places occurring throughout the physical world is often attributed to the Celts.  And while the Christian tradition may attribute the term to the infusion of ancient Celtic influences, we should recognize that the concept, and more importantly the experience of Thin Places, is far older than is Celtic Christianity (dating from the third century CE).  Thin places are in fact reported in all spiritual traditions of which I am aware.

A closely related concept is that of the axis mundi:

Axis Mundi (Merriam-Webster)  turning point of the world; line through the earth’s center around which the universe revolves

Everywhere the divine realm meets the earthly realm in which we live, that intersection becomes an axis mundi.  Frequently these locations are sacred mountains (Mount Fuji, Mount Olympus, Mount Hermon, Mount Sinai) or sacred trees (Bodhi tree, Yggdrasil, The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).

A church, temple or an altar may also become an axis mundi.  Less obvious to many Westerners, one’s home may become an axis mundi (as in the practice of Feng shui).  Our physical body may also become an axis mundi:  the chakra system common to Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the practice of Yoga and Tai Chi, are all rooted in the understanding that the human body forms a pillar between heaven and earth (an axis mundi).

Within the Judeo-Christian traditions we can easily recognize the shared concepts of the axis mundi and of Thin Places in the telling sacred stories such as Jacob’s Ladder, Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, and the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor.

We may also recall that Jesus often sought out a special place to commune with God (Mark 1:35, Matt. 14:13, Matt. 14:23, Luke 4:42, Luke 5:15, to name just a few).  Among the more memorable occasions are his 40-day fast in the wilderness,  praying in the garden of Gethsemane,  and the aforementioned transfiguration upon Mount Tabor.

While we seldom refer to Jesus as seeking out Thin Places, it seems obvious to me that the gospels tell us he did so with great frequency;  only the words used to describe his experience differ.  Thus, seeking out Thin Places, or a private sacred space in which we may seek an encounter with the divine, is as authentically Christian as is Jesus himself.

By whatever name we give it, persons from all cultures have sought an experience of the divine.  Thus, we may quite properly observe seeking Thin Places in which one may encounter the divine is a shared human experiences, common to all religions.  It is as much Christian as Buddhist;  as much Muslim as Hindu;  as much Jewish as Taoist;  as much Shinto as Native American.

It is true that the highly personal and subjective nature of the encounter with a Thin Place makes it difficult to convey to others.  And for those who have not had their own experience, it is also very easy to deny that it ever happens.

For those of us who have not had our own Road to Damascus experience, we must rely upon testimony of persons trying to share something of their encounter with the divine, however limited by language their efforts may be.

In 1931, during a trip to England, Mahatma Gandhi was asked to record an address.  He chose his essay “On God” which opens with the following lines:

     “There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything, I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.”

One may note that Mahatma Gandhi was speaking of a personal encounter, somehow perceiving a presence, which he identified as God, yet transcendent to his senses.  Near the end of his address, he states, “I confess that I have no argument to convince through reason. Faith transcends reason.”

I suspect another way of saying this, is to observe that having had the experience of encountering the divine, one no longer questions the existence of the divine.  But one may never “prove” the divine exists to a person who has yet to have a similar experience or encounter.

In this we are all alone:  we perceive the world only through the lens of our own sense experience.  Anything we have not yet experienced, we may only appreciate through the testimony of those who have gone before us, those who may light the flame of our own imagination.

And we choose to accept or reject their testimony.

“Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. That is not just fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows Himself everywhere, in everything ― in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him. It’s impossible. The only thing is, is that we don’t see it.”
― Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, in a 1965 audiotape

 

Opening Our Closed Heart

Marcus Borg observes that our heart closes as a result of the very natural process of growing up.  As we mature psychologically, we grow more deeply into a sense of “us.”  We become increasingly aware of the lens through which we observe all that lies outside of ourselves;  in fact, we perceive ourselves as that lens.

I am convinced Borg correctly identifies this process as “[t]he birth and development of self-awareness [which] involves an increasing sense of being a separated self” (page 153, “The Heart of Christianity”).

It is this self-awareness which creates the sense that we are separated from the rest of the cosmos.  And this sense of isolation and disconnection is what must be overcome, at least to some degree, if we are to begin opening our hearts.

This is part of what it means to be born again (or born from above).  I am convinced the author of the Gospel of John is alluding to a psychological-emotional-spiritual process ―although they would not have used that language 2,000 years ago― which brings about a reforming of one’s state of consciousness.

  •      (For a deeper discussion of the psychological and spiritual aspects of the Gospel of John, I recommend Bishop Spong’s book “The Fourth Gospel” and John Sanford’s book “Mystical Christianity.”)

Opening our heart is a process, and one which requires a daily effort.  We must seek out ways of opening our senses to the sacred, of feeling that presence of which Mahatma Gandhi spoke, or as Thomas Merton intimated, of forgetting ourselves enough that we may see that divine light shining everywhere into the world.

Perhaps it is useful to hear how we might recognize when we are failing to open our heart.  Borg gives us a stark example (“The Heart of Christianity” page 154):

     “When I stand in a supermarket checkout line and all the people I see look kind of ugly, I know that my heart is closed.”

 

Thin Places Facilitate the Opening of Our Heart

We truly are creatures of habit.  If we never seek out a Thin Place, we are unlikely to find one.  Yet if we make it a habit to seek Thin Places, thresholds where the divine crosses over into the physical world are increasingly likely to be revealed to us.

There is no guarantee this will happen, but I do believe it becomes increasingly likely over time.  (Especially if we are attentive to how we are being affected by our behaviors;  see Newberg in the Recommended Resources.)

Thin Places may be physical locations.  I have been in places where I felt something which may be described as a presence.  I suspect there may be some merit to the argument that we may encounter something like a “spiritual battery” if we enter a physical space which has been regularly used for spiritual and/or religious practices.

  •      ( And if this is true, we may ask whether the religious relic makes the shrine holy, or whether the heart-felt prayers of pilgrims sanctify it. )

But I am not suggesting we seek out a specific physical location.  One may, of course, but I suspect this is of secondary importance.  I am suggesting of primary importance is that we seek inwardly for our Thin Place.

A Thin Place may be encountered wherever we happen to be.  It is a matter of changing our state of consciousness.  It is a matter of training our body to trigger certain mental, emotional, and psychological states so that we become sensitive to the existence of a Thin Place being created within us.

This may happen any where.  It may happen at any time.  It may happen to us unexpectedly.

But I firmly believe we may also engage in certain behaviors which make the experience more likely, and increasingly so over time, with practice and iteration of our behaviors.  I see this as one of the practical functions of ritual.

Practical examples include:

  • Attending regular places/modes of worship
    Sermons (although words tend to be least effective)
    Liturgical ritual
    Liturgical language
    Liturgical time (Easter, Christmas)
    Study of the bible and other sacred texts
    Contemplation of the bible and other sacred texts
    Internal, silent prayer (especially wordless, feeling-based)
    Communing with/in nature
    Participation in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist)
    Music, hymns, poetry
    Speaking/chanting in tongues
    Dancing, drumming, chanting
    Praying the rosary, or other prayer beads

 

Getting Thin

Getting “Thin” is about entering a psychological-emotional state in which we are more receptive to the Divine.  Intention is also important.  I believe fostering a sense of love is key to improving our spiritual health.

And we need travel no farther than where we are to do so;  provided we travel within.  We certainly may travel to a sacred place, but this is not required.

The specifics of the process are best tailored to the individual.  My best triggers may leave you unaffected, and vice versa.  Experimentation is required, and sufficient time so as to develop a sensitivity to the technique in question is recommended.

In trying to decide what practices may be more likely to bring about results, I suspect that C.G. Jung is correct in suggesting those behaviors which diminish our strongest conscious psychological functions, while supporting our unconscious psychological functions are the better choice.

But I do not think it matters whether one takes a quiet, subtle inward-directed approach (meditation and contemplation, for example) or whether one takes a louder, active outward-directed approach (singing and dancing, for example).

One approach to developing a trigger, is to so thoroughly engage either the active or quiet portions of the mind, that the neural networks supporting these areas of the brain saturate, and create an over-flow or cascading effect which ends up triggering both the active and quiet portions of the brain-mind simultaneously.

  •      ( To gain some insight as to how this may take place, I refer you to Dr. Andrew Newberg books, “Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief” and “Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience.” )

 

The Practice of Esoteric Christianity & Christian Mysticism

All of the above is part of what I understand to be the practice of Inner (Esoteric) Christianity, as well as the practice of Christian Mysticism.

In addition to reading classics on Christian Mysticism, one may study Dr. Newberg’s material on neural-theology as well as Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP).

I believe Dr. Newberg’s material offers valuable insights as to what is happening in our brain as we seek to enter transcendental states of consciousness, providing a useful over-view of what physical-psychological states we are trying to induce in ourselves.

NLP offers a number of very practical suggestions as to how we may “speak” to our own brain, so as to be understood most effectively.  NLP communicates to us the importance of appreciating various “states” of physiology and consciousness, as well as how they are related.

Some of the elemental aspects of NLP include understanding triggers, state, and modes of perception.  I believe each of these are very useful concepts with which to be familiar as we attempt to travel into Thin Places.  (See “Frogs Into Princes” by Bandler and Grinder.)

And, as described above, I do believe travelling into Thin Places is one means of Seeking the Divine Center.

 

May the Lord bless and keep you,

Erik+

 

Recommended Resources:

Bandler, Richard; Grinder, John:  “Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming”
http://www.amazon.com/Frogs-into-Princes-Linguistic-Programming/dp/0911226192/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417408101&sr=1-1&keywords=frogs+into+princes+by+bandler+and+grinder

Borg, Marcus:  “The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”
http://www.amazon.com/The-Heart-Christianity-Rediscovering-Faith/dp/0060730684

Gandhi, Mahatma:  Spiritual Message (“On God”), 1931
http://youtu.be/EtWr04MBGYI
http://www.gandhiserve.org/information/listen_to_gandhi/lec_1_on_god/augven_spiritual_message.html

Newberg, Andrew:
http://www.andrewnewberg.com/
“Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief”
“Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience”

Sanford, John:  “Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John”

Spong, John Shelby:  “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic”

Hearing the Voice of Jesus

Icon of Jesus Christ

Icon of Jesus Christ

Why is Hearing the Voice of Jesus a Problem in the First Place?

The most obvious reason we find hearing the voice of Jesus so challenging, is that in so far as we know, Jesus never wrote anything.

At the best of times, literacy rates in the ancient world were very low.  Literacy rates of peasants living in the backwoods of Galilee would have been vanishingly low.  It took a great deal of time and money to learn to read and write.  Dirt poor farmers, fishermen, and other peasants simply did not have the luxury of the time or money required to acquire this set of skills.

So speaking from a strictly historical perspective, it is very unlikely Jesus was able to read or write.  Some biblical scholars argue that Jesus was an exception to this rule, however, while one cannot categorically state Jesus was illiterate, we have no objective reason to think otherwise.

And we ought not cite the story of the woman accused of adultery as evidence to the contrary.  This story, which includes the observation that Jesus wrote something in the dirt, does not appear in any manuscripts until the late 4th century, well over 300-years after Jesus’ death.  This story now appears in the Gospel of John, chapter 8, but over the centuries is has appeared elsewhere, including in an entirely different gospel.  It is a lovely, instructive story, but it cannot be properly attributed to the historical Jesus.

In any event, no writings of Jesus survive.  So to discover the voice of Jesus we are unable to appeal to Jesus directly, as we may with Paul, for example.

20-Year Silence

If anything was written about Jesus during his lifetime, it no longer survives.  In fact, we know of no Christian writings during the 20-years following Jesus’ crucifixion.  There are indications of an oral tradition during this period, but it remained an oral tradition for two decades.

The earliest Jewish-Christian writings we have about Jesus come from the pen of Paul, who began writing in the early 50s.  And as surprising as it may seem to us today, Paul wrote very little about Jesus.  This is because Paul wrote what are called occasional letters, meaning he wrote in response to specific occasions, or problems.

Why is it Important that we Hear the Words of Jesus?

To many ears this may sound like a crazy question.  Some answer, who would *not* wish to hear the very words of God!  Others answer that the original words of Jesus are long lost to history, and can never be recovered, so only a fool would propose the question in the first place.

My answer is to be found somewhere between these stark responses.

I start with the recognition that recovering the original words of Jesus is challenging.  We certainly cannot simply read the Red Letter Edition of the Holy Bible and assume that Jesus really spoke all these words.

The evolution of the Christian New Testament ―which is an anthology of 27 books and letters, written in Greek― grew organically, over a period of decades.  These writings were then transmitted to us over the course of several centuries.  And it took nearly 300-years for these books and letters to coalesce into an agreed upon canon of scripture.

Scholarly historical and textual criticism is able to inform our understanding of this organic process.  Through this scholarship we are able to discern layers of redaction (editing) and interpretation laid over one another throughout the New Testament.  And this is equally true for the words put upon the lips of Jesus by the gospel authors.

But those who already “know” Jesus’ voice is forever lost to us, will never hear it;  just as those who already know every word attributed to Jesus “must be” authentic, will be unable to hear the other voices laid over his.  Both arguments have their strengths and weaknesses.  And one must carefully weigh their merits, one saying at a time, teasing apart the accrued layers, when present.

Yet, provided we listen carefully, I do believe we may hear the voice of Jesus through these accrued layers.  But I also acknowledge it takes most of us some time to acquire that ear.
So how might we begin to train our ear to hear Jesus’ voice?  

One approach is to contemplate the various characterizations of Jesus, as represented in the gospels.  If we read these accounts carefully, what might we discern of Jesus?  What might we discern of the author who wrote the text?  Or of the audience to whom it was directed?  What were the completing religious-political concerns of ancient Palestine?

Each of these are useful interrogations of the text.  But in this essay I wish to discuss Jesus.  Some observations about Jesus are almost obvious, while others are quite complex and variously debated even among professionals in the field of biblical and New Testament studies.  So if we become confused at times, at least we are in good company!

Jesus the Jewish Mystic

Jesus was clearly a Jewish mystic.  “Mystics are people who have vivid and typically frequent experiences of God. … As a Jewish mystic, Jesus lived a life radically centered in God; that was its foundation”  (Marcus Borg, “The Heart of Christianity” pgs. 89-90).

Jesus spent long hours in private prayer, which I suspect we would today understand as periods of deep contemplation and meditation.  We might even think of his 40-days in the wilderness as a kind of “vision quest.”  God was an experiential presence in Jesus’ life.  He spoke of God as his father, and even more affectionately as his Abba, which we may translate as Daddy or Poppa.

This speaks to a profound closeness Jesus felt with God.  For Jesus, God was not some distant sky god like Zeus or Jupiter, nor even a remote, abstract version of the Jewish God.  For Jesus, God was present in a deeply meaningful way;  God was experienced as present to Jesus, both in time and proximity.

Jesus the Jewish Prophet

Jesus was clearly a Jewish prophet.  Like other Jewish prophets before him, Jesus spoke of the God of Israel, the importance of centering one’s life in God, and specifically that a deep change was required of the people of Israel, because they and their nation had lost their way.

Prophets tell us we each face two paths:  we may estrange ourselves from God, and suffer as a result;  or we may return to the proper observance of what is important to God, and live with God’s blessing.

And as Marcus Borg observes, Jesus was specifically a social prophet, in the likeness of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah, and “as such he was a radical critic of the domination system of his time” (Borg, “The Heart of Christianity” pg. 91).

Jesus the Teacher of Wisdom

Jesus was clearly a profound teacher.  He was a master of the aphorism (a short, memorable, insightful saying) and metaphor, often teaching in parables.  Jesus was a travelling teacher, so most likely he used his most memorable phrases and stories frequently, although finessing them to fit specific occasions, which is typical of oral traditions.

“At the heart of the alternative wisdom of Jesus was the path of death and resurrection understood as metaphor for an internal psychological-spiritual process.  It involved dying to an old identity and being born into a new identity, dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being” (Borg, “The Heart of Christianity” pg. 90).

Jesus Taught “The Way”

In the book of Acts we are told the earliest name for what evolved into Christianity was simply, the Way (Acts 9:2).  And choosing to participate in the Way does seem to me an accurate characterization of many of Jesus’ sayings.

We may further observe that many of Jesus’ stories and parables fit quite well into a well-established mode of teaching, common to many world religions, frequently called “Two Way” teachings.  As Marcus Borg states in “The Lost Gospel Q” (page 18):  “There is the wise way and the foolish way, the narrow way and the broad way.  One way leads to life, the other to death.”

Jesus the Healer

Jesus was clearly a extraordinary healer and exorcist.  We know of other noted healers and exorcists in the New Testament period, but “more healing stories are told about Jesus that about any other figure in the Jewish tradition” (Borg, “The Heart of Christianity” pg. 90).

Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

I believe this is one of the hardest choices one must ultimately make about Jesus.  Was he an apocalyptic prophet or not?  It seems pretty clear that John the Baptist was, and many scholars believe Jesus must have been a follower of John.  And the canonical gospels do present Jesus as speaking with an apocalyptic voice (as does Q);  Matthew chapter 24 is a good example;  verse 34 is of particular interest to me:

>  “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place”  (NRSV).

Which leads me to ask the obvious question of how long does a generation last?  2,000 years or longer?  The old work-around to this troubling question is that it is merely metaphoric language, and generation means humankind.  While I do consider the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament to be highly metaphorical ―in the richest meaning of that term― in this case I’ve never found that argument convincing.

A far better explanation to my mind, is this language is reflective of the apocalyptic voice in the 1st century, which was common roughly 100-years before and after the life of Jesus.  In the Jewish apocalyptic movement, there was widespread belief that God was going to overthrow Rome and put in its place a kingdom ruled by God, through his emissary, the Messiah (the Christ, as it comes to us from the Greek, Χριστός).

So the question we have to answer to our individual satisfaction, is to whom shall we attribute these sayings of Jesus?  Did the historical Jesus really make apocalyptic prophecy?  Or did a later author put these words upon the lips of Jesus when writing his gospel?

I will not presume to answer for you, but I will state that I do not believe one may simultaneously hold Jesus to be an apocalyptic prophet and a divine incarnation of God.  Incarnation, means in the flesh, so if one posits that Jesus became divine after his death, this dilemma may resolve itself.

The Kingdom of God

This is a phrase we hear throughout the canonical gospels with some frequency.  Do these words reach back to Jesus?  If so, what might Jesus have meant?

To my experience, main stream Christianity predominately teaches the kingdom of God is referring to a heavenly existence to be experienced after our physical death, or a future second coming of Jesus on earth.  I however, disagree with these views.

The kingdom to which the authentic Jesus spoke, I firmly believe is to be found right here on earth, within each of us, and is found in our loving interactions with others, expressed through such actions as shoeing children, helping to feed the hungry, and providing winter clothing to homeless persons.

This is what Dom Crossan and Marcus Borg sometimes call the participatory model of Christianity.  They use this phrase to mean that the kingdom of God is only going to come about through our personal investment and actions to bring it about, directly into the communities in which we live.

I find this to be both an interesting and practical perspective which holds a lot of merit.  It may be that God could “invade” earth and establish his kingdom forcefully;  but I also think that would defeat the entire point of doing so.  What good would it be to artificially force such a kingdom upon persons who were not sufficiently evolved spiritually to sustain it?

The point is this:  our very natures are changed if we invest ourselves in the process of bringing the kingdom of God upon earth during our lifetimes.  And it is that very process of spiritual transformation that I believe may very well be the critical point.

Which is to say, it really does not do us any good to be “given” the kingdom;  we really only undergo personal, internal spiritual transformation if we mature ―evolve― to the point that we *desire* to help bring that kingdom into existence.  And I believe *that* is the point to which Jesus was trying to open our hearts.

Luke 17:20-21  Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed;  nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among-within you” (NRSV).

The Jesus Movement

Jesus was a Jew from rural Galilee.  Jesus’ followers were primarily Jews, and Jesus primarily ministered to his fellow Jews.  This is the Jewish Jesus Movement which predates Christianity.  A few years after Jesus was crucified, Paul began to teach his understanding of Jesus’ ministry to the Greeks.  Used in this way, to be a “Greek” simply means one is a gentile ― a person who is not Jewish.

Thus, we may also speak of a Greek (or Gentile) Jesus Movement.  As greater numbers of gentiles entered the Jesus Movement, it evolved from a Jewish Jesus Movement, into a predominately Gentile Jesus Movement, and later into various forms of early Christianity.

Identifying the Authentic Voice of Jesus is Far from Obvious

I hope the above discussion allows you to see we may find a number of ways of understanding and characterizing Jesus.  And we may do so while remaining rooted within the canonical texts.  This is an important point.  One may arrive at a number of ways of seeing Jesus, while supporting one’s view entirely from a biblical point of view.  One need not introduce non-canonical texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas.

Now, I happen to like the Gospel of Thomas, and take the late Prof. Ron Miller’s lead, and that of The Jesus Seminar, and suspect that perhaps a third of it may reach back to the authentic voice of Jesus.  And for this reason, I do make use of the Gospel of Thomas;  but thoughtfully, and with deliberation.  After all, if we hold the position that about 1/3 of the Gospel of Thomas may be the echo of Jesus’ voice, we are also observing some 2/3 of it fails to capture the voice of Jesus.

The Jesus Seminar

The Jesus Seminar is a fellowship of a biblical scholars who have spent decades attempting to identify the authentic voice of Jesus in the ancient texts available to us.  They do include the Gospel of Thomas as viable source material.  Their work has determined that approximately 20% of the “red letter” words of Jesus may be properly attributed to Jesus.

Q Hypothesis

Q is a hypothetical early text of the sayings of Jesus.  No surviving Q manuscript is known to exist.  This is the weakest link in the Q Hypothesis argument.  Supporters will however, point to the recent (mid-1900’s) discovery of the Gospel of Thomas, which is an authentic sayings gospel.  Where one such gospel was written, so too a second may have been written.

But what is Q?

Q is short for Quelle, from the German, meaning “source.”  It is alternately known as the Q source, the Q document, the Q Gospel, and the Q Sayings Gospel.  But most frequently it is simply called Q.  It is primarily composed of the sayings attributed to Jesus which are found in both Matthew and Luke, but not Mark.

Scholars who find this hypothesis of value believe that the authors of Matthew and Luke wrote without knowledge of one another, so there must have been a source for the sayings which they share, which are not taken from Mark.  Since both are known to have drawn extensively from the earliest gospel, Mark, it is a natural deduction they may have similarly drawn from another, as yet undiscovered, source document (Q).

Incidentally, the Gospel of John does not enter into such debates because it is clearly, dramatically different than the other canonical gospels.  John was written in the 90’s, after the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) and is often referred to as the Fourth Gospel.  (And the Gospel of Thomas is sometimes referred to as the Fifth Gospel, even though it is non-canonical.)

Detractors of the Q Hypothesis often have great difficulty with the invention of an undiscovered document.  Supporters of Q point out there may have already been such discoveries, but we cannot identify them.  Does this sound like a strange claim?  Their point is that if we discover a small scrap of ancient manuscript that only contains a portion of a saying which is shared between Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark (a partial definition of a Q-saying) we cannot determine whether that scrap originated from Matthew, Luke, or the proposed Q.

Thus, the only way to provide evidence of Q is to find a much larger, much more rare, document fragment which contains at least large portions of two proposed Q-sayings.  Anything less, and detractors simply assume the small fragment originates in either Matthew or Luke.  This logic cannot prove Q ever existed, but it does demonstrate that proving Q will be very difficult.

How Might One Begin to Hear the Voice of Jesus?  

First and foremost, recognize that it is up to each of us to discern our own interpretation.  We may avail ourselves of a great deal of critical scholarship over the last 150-years which may greatly inform our investigation, but ultimately, we each have to come to terms with difficult and sometimes contradictory information.

>  Was Jesus an apocalyptic prophet?

>  Was the historical Jesus divine?  If so, when, and to what extent?

It is up to *us* to answers these and other difficult questions to our own satisfaction.  Through the process of resolving such questions, our apprehension of Jesus, and his role as the Christ, will progressively be revealed to us.

With the goal of informing our search for the voice of Jesus, I highly recommend studying each of the following books, which discuss Q, Jesus, and the Gospel of Thomas.  “The Lost Gospel Q” and “The Gospel of Jesus” may be read quite quickly ―over the course of a quiet afternoon or evening― because the actual text of the ancient documents in each case is quite short;  but do spend time reading their introductions and appendixes.  Ron Miller’s book on the Gospel of Thomas is somewhat longer, but I find it to be superlative (as are all his books and lectures).

>  “The Lost Gospel Q: The Original Sayings of Jesus” (Marcus Borg)

>  “The Gospel of Jesus: According to the Jesus Seminar” (Robert Funk & The Jesus Seminar)

>  “The Gospel of Thomas: A Guidebook for Spiritual Practice” (Ron Miller)

I always welcome opportunities to mention the talks the late Ron Miller gave to the Theosophical Society.  And since I suspect many readers will not have these three books immediately at hand, I would like to recommend Ron Miller’s talks, which you may immediately access on-line:

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/updates/eight-talks-from-the-theosophical-society/

In reference to this essay, I would begin with his discussion of the Gospel of Thomas:

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/the-gospel-of-thomas/

For those who enjoy trying to discern the voice of Jesus, I would recommend another book published by The Jesus Seminar:

>  “The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus”

Guided by these books, authors such as bishop Spong and Marcus Borg, Ron Miller’s wise counsel, and time spent in quiet contemplation, I believe I have heard an echo of Jesus’ voice, reaching to me across 2,000 years.  My hope is that you too encounter the voice of Jesus.  And that through hearing, you are able to discern a variety of layers which have accrued upon Jesus’ words, as they have come to us in the Christian New Testament.

Upon attuning your hearing to Jesus’ voice, I suspect you may very well apprehend the Way of which Jesus spoke.  Once you do, you cannot help but to begin reading the New Testament with a heart born from above.

Erik+

Resources:

Marcus Borg

Book: “The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith”

Book: “The Lost Gospel Q: The Original Sayings of Jesus”

The Jesus Seminar

Book: “The Gospel of Jesus: According to the Jesus Seminar”

Book: “The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus”

Ron Miller

Book: “The Gospel of Thomas: A Guidebook for Spiritual Practice”

Video: http://www.ronmillersworld.org/updates/eight-talks-from-the-theosophical-society/

Video: http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/the-gospel-of-thomas/

Transformational Christianity & Liturgical Address of Sept. 2014

Expansion by Paige Bradley (New York)

Expansion by Paige Bradley (New York)

What do I mean by Transformational Christianity?

I view Transformational Christianity as a deliberate, mindful, and active process of spiritual formation.  Spiritual formation itself presents a large stage, upon which there are many players, not all of whom are Christian.  All enduring religions speak to matters of spiritual formation, and in each case there are usually at least two key areas of work in which this formation takes place:

  1. Spiritual changes internal to oneself.
  2. Changes which take place within the community one lives.

One might note there are examples of persons retreating from society, seeking isolation, when undertaking deep spiritual formation.  In many cases, such individuals do later provide feedback to their society, or form communities in general isolation from the larger population.  The Desert Fathers and the formation of monasteries serve as Christian examples (there are parallels to be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism, among others).

In some cases, we might observe a third key designation, which applies to those living outside of one’s community.  When seen from within young spiritual paradigms those who live outside one’s own community are seen as “Other” and in cases of extreme spiritual immaturity, even as sub-human.  (The late Ron Miller identifies this as living in the basement of consciousness.)

In contrast, when seen from within spiritually mature paradigms, the category of *Other* dissolves, and all persons are understood to share their humanity with one another.  The most highly refined spiritual paradigms see that all life is an expression of the One ―however that may be understood― in which, and from which, we are all rooted.  (The late Ron Miller identifies this as living in the rooftop garden of consciousness;  same talk as linked to in the previous paragraph.)

Thus, Transformational Christianity is a subset of the larger category of spiritual formation.

Proponents of Transformational Christianity employ the lens of Christianity to inform their spiritual formation.  And Jesus is the primary example of how we may best live our lives, serving as guide to both our interactions with others, and as the model for how we are to conduct our internal spiritual life.

By using the word “transformation” we are identifying our spiritual formation as an active process through which we seek to transform, or change, from one state to another.  This implies the transformation (changing) of oneself from one state, to another state, which we identify as being more spiritually refined.

Proponents of Transformational Christianity also recognise the need to sponsor transformation within our community.  This process simultaneously takes place within oneself and within the community in which one lives.  To a degree this happens automatically, because we each produce an effect upon the environment and community in which we live.  As we change, we also affect others.

There is also a degree of positive feedback, through which we are affected by the environment and community in which we live.  By means of this mutual feedback, both the individual and the community are influenced, and influence one another.  Thus, Transformational Christianity forms a symbiotic relationship between the individual and the community in which they live.  To the degree we are mindful of this dual process, we may better direct these influences favourably.

Several key points follow from these observations:

  •      Transformational Christianity is a process-driven model of spirituality.  This means there is more to it than simply affirming one’s belief.  It requires action.  Some may read this as the dirty word “works” which they read in stark contrast to “believing” in Jesus.  In my view this stems from a mis-reading of what constitutes “faith.”  In its older meanings, faith is active, and it was assumed to convey action within its very nature.  This is why faith without works is dead (James 2:14ff).  I would suggest one consider “belief” and “faith” from this perspective.  One is what one does, not what one only believes.  (One may also wish to watch Ron Miller’s presentation on James, “A Very Different Christian Story.”)
  •      Transformational Christianity is a “team sport.”  It does require community.  In its ultimate expression, in fact, it requires that the entire world become one’s community.  This however, is overwhelming, so it is important to focus one’s attention and energies upon a community with which one can directly interact.  In my opinion, this transformational understanding of community is best affected in those persons in whose eyes you can look.
  •      Think Globally, Act Locally is how the once-popular bumper sticker phrased this concept.  It is important to guide our choices with a mind toward our global impact.  We are all one.  We certainly all live on a single planet, and it is about time we lived our lives with this in mind.  At the same time, our actions are similar to other forms of energy.  Like heat, light, or radio waves, our action’s energy dissipates with distance.  This is why our ability to affect those persons in whose eyes we can look is greater than those persons living on the other side of the planet.
  •      When feeling stymied, just do something!  By yourself you are not going to change the world overnight.  But you can immediately begin your own internal transformation of thought.  Changing one’s thoughts promotes changes in behaviour.  And once you start looking for the opportunity, you can very quickly find some meaningful way to help another person.  When we all pull together, helping others in our individually small ways, the overall results are quite large.  And perhaps more importantly, the individual you help will be positively affected.

 

Liturgical Addresses

In September 2014, I offered several short liturgical addresses.  I intended some of these remarks to direct one’s thoughts toward what I think of as Transformational Christianity, because I believe the process of spiritual formation is one of the practical goals of Christianity.  I also appreciate that Transformational Christianity plainly acknowledges the importance of personal spiritual transformation, in parallel with transformation of community.

The service took place at the Community Christian Church, which is a progressive non-denominational Protestant church located in Springfield, Missouri (http://www.spfccc.org/).  I have retained the original section titles used during the worship service.  I have however, expanded upon the liturgical addresses.  If all goes well, those remarks actually delivered during the service should display in bold letters.

 

Wisdom Reading

(The purpose of the Wisdom Reading is to introduce the subject of the main sermon.  Thus, if commentary is offered, it should foreshadow the subject matter of the sermon to follow.)  

Romans is a letter Paul wrote to the Christians living in Rome.  A few of the more salient points to keep in the back of one’s mind when reading Paul’s letter to the Romans are:

Paul did not establish this church.  In fact, Paul had never even been to Rome.
Therefore, Paul is writing his own letter of introduction.
Paul is attempting to defuse negative impressions of his ministry in the East.
Paul wishes to secure funds for future ministry missions as far West as Gaul (Spain).
While Paul can display a very sharp tongue, in this letter he intends his best behaviour.

An additional point that should be remarked upon is the claim that Paul’s letter to the Romans is his attempt to fully lay out his thoughts on God, Jesus, his understanding of Christ, and how these relate to the church (which is often an anachronistic reading).  Attempting to do this is called systematic theology.  But this is not what Paul attempts to do in his letter to Rome.  If Paul ever wrote such a document, it has not survived.

I personally consider Romans to be another “letter of occasion.”  This simply means Paul wrote all his letters in response to a specific occasion.  Topics which would not be pertinent to the topic (occasion) being addressed, ought not be expected to be addressed by Paul.  And we certainly have no reason to think he told us everything he considered important.

What is different about Paul’s letter to Rome, is that he did not establish this community.  In all the other authentic letters of Paul, he is writing to communities which he founded, and as such, he assumed the role of “father” to that community.  And in the ancient world, a degree of authority ―in some cases a great deal of authority― was granted to the “father” of a given community.  And there are letters in which Paul does play to this role of “father” to the community.  But this is not the case in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.

The overwhelming majority of biblical scholars believe there are several authors of Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  In addition to the authentic Paul, there is the author of the Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus), and possibly the author(s) of the the contested letters (Colossians, Ephesians, 2nd Thessalonians).  And no credible scholar any longer believes Paul write Hebrews.

The primary reason this is important to me, is that the hurtful things “Paul” is supposed to have said of women are forgeries!  If you are a woman, or there are women in your life you care deeply about, this is a very important discovery!

Once this barrier was out of the way, I was open to discovering Paul, the Jewish Mystic.  And that is the Paul I find so inspirational.  In the 14th chapter of Romans we catch only a glimpse of the mystical Paul.  In verses 7-9, Paul essentially reminds us that “as we are born from God, we also die into God.”

This, by the way, is the response I remember Marcus Borg offering during an interview, when asked how one might respond to someone on their death bed, should they ask of God and the afterlife.  To date, this remains the single best piece of advice I have yet heard on that question.  I find Borg’s observation beautifully eloquent.  It reminds us that we are born from a realm beyond this world, and assures us that into that realm or state of existence we shall return upon our death.  And it allows one to understand what this means in one’s own terms.  In the context of a hospital or hospice visitation, I find it to be a brilliant, caring, hopeful response.

The other person being interviewed ―a former hospital chaplain― held the opinion that the only proper response is to attempt to force a dying person to accept his (the chaplain’s) theology.  Namely, the person dying had to acknowledge belief in Jesus Christ, and a very literal interpretation of the resurrection account, or burn in hell.

The differences in these views, are similar to what I imagine may have been taking place in Rome, some 2,000 years ago.  One point of view is taking a very hard line on what is the proper and improper understanding of Christianity, and they are belittling or brow-beating those who do not agree with them.

We may ascertain that some Jewish-Christian members of the community were having difficulty in laying aside concerns over ritual purity;  I suspect the reference to meat carries a similar concern as addressed in the 8th chapter of 1 Corinthians;  we may further presume, that other Christians were demeaning these Jewish-Christians for their “weak faith” or “weak conviction” (in this passage the Greek word *pistei* may be translated as “faith” or “conviction;”  possible alternates would include “trust” or “confidence”).

I am given the impression some were mocking these Jewish-Christians, as being in some way lesser Christians for not being able to give up what Paul considered to be superstitions, or to transcend the cultural mythology in which they had been raised.  We find these same judgements being made today.

In the face of such abuse, Paul suggests that we must refrain from judging one another.  This is in fact, the main point of the first half the 14th chapter of Romans.  Learning to effectively, and meaningfully, relate to persons who occupy a stage of faith development which is much younger than our own presents a real challenge.  Yet, we must find a way to speak with persons occupying other stages of faith, without judging them.

Paul suggests that we sincerely follow our beliefs, and extend grace to those who are following their own sincere beliefs.  The small details of our behaviour ―do we eat meat?  which days are holy?― in the final analysis, these are really of very little importance.

What is of critical importance, however, is that we sincerely honour God, in whatever way we understand that observance.  And, that we allow others the same freedom!

Implicit to Paul’s argument is that we honour and respect others, even when their religious practice is not our own.  Paul, of course, meant this only in the context of the developing forms of early Christianity;  I would argue, this is better understood and practised as a general rule governing our behaviour and interactions with persons of all faiths.

     Today’s Wisdom Reading is from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.
 
     Paul has become one of my favourite authors.  Once, that is, I learned there are several Paul’s, and that the hurtful things said of women were forgeries.
 
     This opened me to Paul the Jewish Mystic, and Paul who so passionately speaks of putting on the mind of Christ, and of learning to live our lives in imitation of Christ.
 
     This is the Paul I find inspirational.
 
     There is a hint of this mystical Paul in today’s reading, when we are reminded in so many words…
 
               …as we are born from God, we also die into God.
 
     But Paul also has a very practical, down-to-earth side.  Throughout this passage, Paul speaks to the very practical matter of NOT judging one another.  Some Jewish-Christians were having difficulty in laying aside concerns over ritual purity.
 
     Other Christians were demeaning them for their “weak faith” or conviction…  as if they were somehow lesser Christians for not being able to give up superstitions, or to transcend the cultural mythology in which they had been raised.
 
     But Paul tells us NOT to judge others.
 
     We are to sincerely follow our beliefs, and we are to be gracious, to those who are following their own sincere beliefs.
 
     The small details of how we act out
     – whether we eat meat, or which days we consider holy –
     these are of little, real importance.
 
     What is of critical importance, is that we sincerely honour God,
     in whatever way we understand that observance,
     and allow others the same freedom.

 

Romans 14:1-10(a)

Do Not Judge Another

1 Welcome those who are weak in faith [or “conviction”], but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions.  2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.  3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.  4 Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another?  It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.  And they will be upheld, for the Lord [other ancient authorities read “for God”] is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.  Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.  6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord.  Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God;  while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord;  so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister?  Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?

(This is the YouTube presentation of the main sermon, given by Rev. Dr. Roger Ray.)

 

 

Offertory Sentence

(The Offertory Sentence is a brief affirmative statement one makes with regard to one’s attraction to the church and/or faith community.)

This small church helps feed persons every week at a local food kitchen, bringing food for that meal and providing volunteers to serve those who are hungry.  Volunteers also perform a variety of chores at a local food warehouse which distributes food directly to needy families.  Helping one’s neighbour does not get much more basic than this!

Members also solicit, collect, and then send shoes to needy children in Nicaragua.  I had not been aware children needed shoes in Nicaragua, but if kids run around barefoot, they naturally cut their feet, and these cuts easily become infected in their jungle environment.  Given there is little access to basic health care, these cuts may become so badly infected that amputations are required to save the child’s life.

These are the primary ways this church seeks to serve needy persons in their local community, and in a specific community in another country.  And, I must say, I find these efforts quite heart-warming.

The point of departure I chose for my Offertory Sentence is once again based upon a remark I once heard Marcus Borg make.  He offered the opinion that Christianity is transformational, and that this effect may be further divided into two different areas of our lives:

Transformation of Self
Transformation of Community

I find there is a lot of value in this perspective.  Transformation of self and of community are certainly related, but they are also different in many ways.  Transformation of self, is primarily an inward-looking practice.  Transformation of community requires becoming involve with other persons, and can only be accomplished through interaction with others.

     For me, Christianity is about Transformation.
     Transformation of Self.
     Transformation of Community.
     I believe these to be symbiotic relationships.
     
     Transformation of Self can be very inward-looking.
     Introspective. Mysterious. Elusive.
     
     In a great many ways, I feel it is beyond words.
     So how do we talk about it?
     
     With awkward, stumbling attempts, I suspect.
     But talk about it we should.
     Regularly.
     
     But Transformation of Self, is also found in experiences.
     And Transformation of Community, must be a result of shared experiences.
     Transformation of Community, we “talk about” by doing.
     
     My attraction to this church, is your Commitment to Community.
     I see this in the sharing of food at Bill’s Place and at Crosslines.
     I see this in the collection of shoes for needy children.
     
     What has attracted me to this church?
     It’s the opportunity, to do something, for someone else.

 

 

Invitation to Communion

(Communion, is also known as Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, and the Eucharist.  The observance of Communion dates to the earliest churches of the 1st century.  This is the formal reception of bread and wine which symbolize the body and blood of Jesus.  While this is a central practice of many Christians, specifically how it is understood and enacted varies widely.)

     I think most of us stand at one margin of society or another.  
     I suspect most people here are “recovering Catholics” or “recovering Protestants.”  
     Or “recovering something-elses.”
     
     I suspect many of us are the “church people” no church wanted!  
     Trouble makers.  Broken toys, exiled to the “Island of Misfit Toys.”  
     Or maybe… just thrown away.  
     
     I suspect many of us, come here by way of pain, neglect, or abuse.
     But I hope we also come here to mend, and to heal.
     And I hope, we come here to offer mending and healing to others.  
     
     This Open Communion is symbolic of this desire for healing.
     In ourselves. In our loved ones. In strangers.
     In those who may become friends.
     
     This Communion is also an open invitation to share in our community.
     Even if this is your first visit.
     Even, if this is your only visit.
     
     And I hope, those we meet at Bill’s Place or Crosslines also feel part of this community.
     
     Sharing Communion always turns my thoughts toward Jesus.
     
     Jesus asked, that we love God with all that we are.
     Jesus asked, that we love others, as we wish to be loved.
     
     Jesus shows us, how to help those living at the margins of society.
     Shows us, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
     Shows, in fact, that how we treat others, reveals the Kingdom within ourselves.
     
     This is what I hear in the Transformational words of Jesus…
     
     “Do this, in remembrance of me.”

 

May the Lord bless and keep you.
Erik+

 

References:

 

Marcus J. Borg

http://www.marcusjborg.com/

 

Community Christian Church

http://www.spfccc.org/

 

Community Christian Church YouTube Home Page

https://www.youtube.com/user/CCCSpringfield

 

Community Christian Church, Sermon for Sept. 14, 2014

http://youtu.be/0BF8YhqnHWA?list=UUeF1t9dro_UwXa5qO_FH7bg

 

Bill’s Place

http://www.thekitcheninc.org/bills_place.php

 

Crosslines Food Pantry

http://crosslines.org/

 

Overview of Holy Communion / Lord’s Supper / Eucharist

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucharist

 

Putting on the Mind of Christ

http://thepracticingcatholic.com/2011/09/22/putting-on-the-mind-of-christ/

 

The Mind of Christ

http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/1-corinthians/the-mind-of-christ

 

Ron Miller’s Presentations to the Theosophical Society

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/updates/eight-talks-from-the-theosophical-society/

 

Ron Miller on Pluralism:

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/guess-whos-coming-to-dinner-the-new-pluralism/

 

Ron Miller on the Letter of James

http://www.ronmillersworld.org/watch/a-very-different-christian-story/

A Brief Valentine’s Day Thought

When asked to express the most important part of the Jewish Torah, Jesus responded by saying the most important thing we can do is love God, and love others.  Upon this all of the Law and Prophets stand.

The Greatest Commandment

  •   35  and one of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him.  36  “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  37  [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38  This is the greatest and first commandment.  39  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  40  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matthew 22:35-40, NRSV)

Thus, Love, is the Greatest Commandment.  I suggest this means for us…

  •   When we are struggling over the interpretation of a given passage of scripture, or over church doctrine, we should ask in what way our understanding advances Love?
  •   When we are experiencing an internal debate about how we should respond to a given situation, or how to behave toward a certain person, we should remember Jesus’ words.  Thus, we should ask in what way our response advances Love?
  •   Do our thoughts, words, and actions advance the Love of God?  Are we promoting Love of the person standing before us?

Only when we are able to answer in the affirmative -for Love- are our actions and behaviors likely to measure up to the standard offered to us by Jesus, who believed the most important thing the Hebrew bible can teach us is Love, both for God and for others.

And I personally believe this is the most important thing Jesus teaches us:

  •   Love God
  •   Love others
  •   and by extension, Love Oneself