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"Having a blog is like wandering around your house naked with the windows open; it's all very liberating until someone looks in the window. However, while being caught unawares is one thing, it is quite another to stroll up to the window and press your naked, flabby body against the coolness of the glass in a hideous form of vertical prostration for all the world to see..." These posts are the smudges that are left behind on the window.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Timng is Everything

Ok, I admit, I have a very caustic, sarcastic sense of humour. Most people seem to think I'm fairly funny, at least at times. I guess I have my moments. The trouble with this kind of humour is that timing is everything. Say something too soon and you've just insulted someone, too late and you've lost the moment and it's not funny. I'm afraid my timing has sometimes been less than perfect. My kids have inherited this sense of humour, but when they were younger it didn't always work because their timing was off. So I would remind them of the importance of timing. They're way better at it now.

I've often wondered why Jesus came when he did. Why that particular time in history. Was the world an especially bad place at the time? Was there something about the Jewish people that triggered it? Did God just suddenly say "well, now's as good a time as any"?

I have a lot of problems with the violence of the Old Testament and God's part in it. I also have problems with a lot of the rules and regulations in the Old Testament which can seem arbitrary and outdated.

Lots of very smart, published, people think that the Bible isn't so much a rule book as it is a giant narrative of God's people. A narrative that has a single overarching theme of Love. That it's the story of his people and how they progressed, and failed, and progressed again. How God led them, and his faithfulness despite their failures.

In Rob Bell's latest book he  points out that a lot of the less progressive rules that were instituted were actually very progressive at the time. How, given the culture, what seems like an arbitrary, or even backwards rule, was actually inching them forward.

All of which brings me back to sarcasm and Jesus.

Maybe God was moving his people slowly forward, baby step by baby step, until they had been brought to the point that he could send Jesus and they would finally get it. Perhaps, if Jesus had come sooner, it would have been too much of a difference for them and his teachings would have been rejected outright. Maybe God looked down and said "Now's the time. They're ready for the next step".

Which makes me wonder some more.

If the Bible is the story of progression towards Love, why do we keep quoting it when we're trying to deal with modern issues like homosexuals, divorce, and the roles of women. Maybe those were baby steps and the time has come to move on.



Saturday, 4 January 2014

Staggering Down the Street

I must admit that these days I have a hard time with Christians who say things like; " I've been so blessed by God". I mean, does God like them more than non-Christians or even other Christians? Generally speaking it's mostly fundamentalist Christians who use words like that, which drives me crazy. Even when I was in the fundy scene it drove me crazy. I'd hear words like that, and I'd think I must be some kind of loser, because I didn't feel blessed - maybe I was, but I certainly didn't feel that way.

I have a certain viewpoint on the Christian life and what it's all about, and it's different from the "I'm on the bus to heaven" viewpoint of the fundamentalists.
Shalom is the state of all things and all people doing what they were created to do. It is nothing less than God's intention for his creation. In an fallen world, shalom is always falling apart. Our job as people of faith is to always be repairing and extending it. The concept of shalom offers a core principle by which to make decisions within our stories. We should repeatedly ask ourselves, What, in this situation, contributes most to the repairing and extension of God's shalom? What action, what attitude, what use of money, what vote, what words?

Daniel Taylor
 
And I agree.

And what's God's intention for his creation? To get to heaven? No. It's Love. Love for all people. Not just love for those that are lovable, or those in our tribe, but all people. Now, the word shalom includes other nuances like justice, peace, righteousness, etc. but at it's core, it's love.

Sin is any act or attitude which undercuts God's shalom. It is best not thought of as hurting God's feelings by breaking his rules; it is an offence against wholeness, justice, and righteousness. As such, it is always harmful - to the self and to the community ...

Daniel Taylor
 
In other words sin is any act or attitude we have that isn't loving - that isn't contributing to the repairing or extension of shalom; which probably makes sin much more about what we don't do, than what we do.

And it affects everyone.

When we love everyone around us - when we act according to God's intended purpose for his creation, and the world moves just a little closer to the way it was designed to be in the first place - everyone benefits.

Back to my irritating little phrase.

Mostly when I hear that phrase - if not outwardly, then at least inwardly - I roll my eyes, have a little smirk, and then carry on as if I'd never heard it. Because, truth be told, I suspect most of these so called blessings are really just coincidences. But, the other day I paid attention as the person who made it started to recount their various blessings. The person who said it is outgoing, friendly, always willing help someone out; a real roll-up-the-shirtsleeves-and-get-the-job-done sort of person. And it occurred to me that most of the blessings they were talking about were probably just people responding in kind - effectively, it was shalom in action.

Maybe it's not that fundamentalists are irritatingly naive in this regard, maybe it's just that their practise of shalom is so limited. Your typical fundamentalist is very good at practising shalom with others within their church community, but not so good with people outside that community, unless they're a project to be saved. However, maybe in a small way they've actually got it right, but what they attribute to God's blessing is really just the natural consequence of living as designed.

You know, I look over what I just wrote, crossing the I's, dotting the T's, trying to make sure it flows, and I think to myself;

"What a bunch of BS".

I mean, what I wrote is 100% true, but do I have any right to criticize anyone? Sure, my outlook might be more generous - I try really hard to treat everyone equally with the shalom of God - but I fail miserably, and regularily. At least a lot of these fundy's are consistently treating those in their tribe with shalom, but is that better or worse than my inconsistent treatment of everyone?

Maybe I need to preface every blog post with those infamous words from Tolstoy:
"Do not judge God's holy ideals by my inability to meet them"
 
But then he goes on to explain;
"... you preach very well, but do you carry out what you preach?” This is the most natural of questions and one that is always asked of me; it is usually asked victoriously, as though it were a way of stopping my mouth. “You preach, but how do you live?” And I answer that I do not preach, that I am not able to preach, although I passionately wish to. I can preach only through my actions, and my actions are vile. … And I answer that I am guilty, and vile, and worthy of contempt for my failure to carry them out.At the same time, not in order to justify, but simply in order to explain my lack of consistency, I say: Look at my present life and then at my former life, and you will see that I do attempt to carry them out. It is true that I have not fulfilled one thousandth part of them [Christian precepts], and I am ashamed of this, but I have failed to fulfill them not because I did not wish to, but because I was unable to. Teach me how to escape from the net of temptations that surrounds me, help me and I will fulfill them; even without help I wish and hope to fulfill them.
Attack me, I do this myself, but attack me rather than the path I follow and which I point out to anyone who asks me where I think it lies. If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way because I am staggering from side to side! If it is not the right way, then show me another way; but if I stagger and lose the way, you must help me, you must keep me on the true path, just as I am ready to support you. Do not mislead me, do not be glad that I have got lost, do not shout out joyfully: “Look at him! He said he was going home, but there he is crawling into a bog!” No, do not gloat, but give me your help and support.
 
Amen.



Sunday, 22 December 2013

A House Without Walls

As stated in my previous post, I will attempt to give an alternate understanding of John 14. Why John 14? This was another section of scripture that was quoted at the funeral I attended which is quoted at a lot funerals for people within the Christian tradition, particularly of the evangelical persuasion. If you are part of a community that values the prospect of everlasting life in paradise above all else, this section is what you are basing that belief on.

First off a disclaimer; I don't know shit. Maybe, everyone else is right and I'm wrong. Could be. And what I'm offering is only one possible explanation of many. But, it seems to me, given the context, it has some merit.

To understand where I am coming from I need to explain one of the fundamental goals of mysticism. All traditions, Christian and otherwise have their mystics; for Christians it's people like Augustine, Theresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, and even C.S. Lewis. Muslims have the Sufis like Rumi. Buddhist have ... well Buddha ... but others as well. etc. The thing to understand about all these mystics is that their ultimate goal - the reason they are called mystics - is that they are so in tune with God that there is no distinction between them and God. Here are a couple of Sufi quotes to give you the idea;

The Beloved gives us the water of life,
which cures every illness.
In the Beloved's rose garden of Oneness
no thorns survive.
I have heard it said that there is a window
between one heart to another.
But what supports the window
if walls have ceased to exist?
 Rumi

Remove me from myself ,
so that all that remains is you, Beloved.
Take my life so that I can stand in your Presence.
Let all that remains be you.
Hallaj

Nothing exists but you, Beloved.
You are my speech. You are the silence of my mind.
You sleep with me. You walk the path with me.
There is nowhere I can go where you are not.
I have disappeared. Only you remain.
Bulleh Shah

Back to John 14. The key section here is the one where Jesus says that in his father's house are many room, and he goes to prepare a place for [his disciples].
If you start reading this section at John 13 and keep reading to the end of John 17 you get a better idea of what this section is all about. There are two things that Jesus keeps harping about throughout these 4 chapters; One is that his disciples need to follow his example, and the other is that he and the Father are one; if you've seen Him you've seen the Father and vice versa. There are also some mentions of the Holy Spirit coming after he is gone so they know what to do when he's not there.

But it isn't about going to heaven.

To try and get a little clarity on John 14:2, I think you need to jump all the way to John 17:24-26

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

In John 14:2, and throughout these 4 chapters, I think Jesus is speaking as a mystic. He is saying, in parabolic language, that as he and the Father are one, so the disciples are to be as well. That he wants them in the same place (relationally speaking) as he is where there is no distinction between God, or Jesus, or them. When he says to them; "In my father's house are many rooms ... I go to prepare a place for you" he is saying come live with me in complete union with the Beloved where you disappear and only the Father remains; where not only the windows between you and him disappear, but also the walls.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Solomon and Buddha

We went to a fundamentalist church yesterday for the first time in a long time. But, it was for a funeral. I was dreading the salvation message that typifies most funerals in fundy churches; fortunately I was spared the embarrassment of having to walk out (I don't think I actually would have, but in my mind I'm sure I would have walked).

Overall the sermon wasn't too bad. When I do go to church these days - any church - I have the habit of picking apart the sermon and reinterpreting any scripture readings (which I will get to in my next post). Part of his sermon was the famous section in Ecclesiastes were Solomon - the wisest man in the world - says there's a time for everything; a time to be born, a time to die; a time to sow, a time to reap etc. Think Bob Dylan. The point the Pastor was trying to make was that nothing is random: there's a purpose to everything. A very comforting thought at a funeral.

The trouble is he's missed the point, even if well intentioned.

Conveniently he's forgotten the statement at the end of Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that everything is meaningless. It's really too bad that this selective memory is all too common when people quote scripture. Although more prevalent in fundamentalist churches, it's not unique. In fact it's not unique to Christianity; Muslims do it too (think of the popular definition of Jihad - Holy war - as misread by a select few), as well as others.

The proper reading of Ecclesiastes - all of it - is actually more in line with the concept of Impermanence, which is a cornerstone of Buddhism. To a Buddhist everything is impermanent, both good and bad. All relationships, possessions, and life situations will eventually go away. Nothing lasts forever. The point is to enjoy the good you have today and don't worry too much about the bad. It also ties in with another of their cornerstones which is Mindfulness; to be present in the moment, not worrying about the past or the future.

Who knew Solomon and Buddha were twins.

This is yet more proof that there is value in all religions. That we have more in common with our Muslim or Buddhist brother than we think. That any differences we might perceive to have may actually be due to our misinterpretation of scripture.

Scripture may well be inerrant - as the fundamentalists believe - but our interpretation of it, is far from it.



Thursday, 5 December 2013

A Robe of Words

Those who don't feel this love
pulling them like a river,
those who don't drink dawn
like a cup of spring water
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don't want to change,

let them sleep.

This love is beyond the study of theology,
that old trickery and hypocrisy,
If you want to improve your mind that way,

sleep on.

I've given up on my brain.
I've torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.

If you're not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words
around you,

and sleep.

Rumi

Monday, 18 November 2013

Donkeys and Pigs

There's a traditional Sufi saying: A donkey carrying a load of Holy books is still a donkey.

The modern version might be: You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.

The point of the Sufi saying, I believe, is that if there's no evidence that our spirituality has  transformed our outer lives, it's useless.

Let's live like we mean it.