No Savior Ribbons

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How do you respond to the storms of life? … frantic hysteria or calm peacefulness? What is the source of your response?

John 6:16-21 16 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. 17 They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn’t come to them yet. 18 The water was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When the wind had driven them out for about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He was approaching the boat and they were afraid. 20 He said to them, “I Am. Don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading. (CEB)

John 6:16-21 Musings

Since Yeshua had gone off alone, after the crowd dispersed the disciples went to the shoreline and procured a boat for their trip across the lake. As often happens on the lake, a storm came up quickly. They rowed furiously, pushing the boat toward the shore near Capernaum. They were terrified of the storm. All of a sudden, Yeshua appeared to them. His calm in the face of their fear settled them down. As soon as Yeshua was in the boat with them, they were on shore.

In the midst of scary situations
     I
 tend to try harder
          
and the harder I try
               
the more scared we often become.

When my frantic machinations
     
are confronted
     (perhaps I should say care-fronted)
          
with a centered peacefulness
               
I am invited into that calm port

All of a sudden
     in
 nothing flat,
          
immediately,
               
the situation changes
          
or, more aptly
               
I change.

Instead of being awash
     
in the midst of the storm-tossed sea
          
I find myself in safe-harbor
               
at the dock… Home!

There is a part of me
     
that wants to give out
          
Savior ribbons and
               
to the one who brought the calm.

Upon reflection it becomes clear
     
while others can be a catalyst for calm
          
there is only one who can calm me down
               
myself!

That is the dilemma
     
I want heroes and hero-stories
          
they are easier (so it seems)
               
than taking responsibility for myself

A Mutational Shift

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Yeshua set in motion a shift from God ‘out there’ to God ‘in  here.’

Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-2   21 When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”  1 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Reflections on Yeshua’s Baptism & Wilderness Experience

John, a throw-back to the prophets of the First Testament, came preaching the gospel of an apocalyptic Messiah who would establish God’s reign of Goodness on earth, banishing all evil. In order to prepare for this Messiah, John baptized people into a repentance and a new obedience to God. While he baptized with with cleansing waters of the Jordan (the unifying waterway of the people of Israel), he anticipated the coming of the Messiah who would baptize with fire. While water might cleanse the surface, fire would cauterize the inner being.

We don’t know what motivated Yeshua to come to John’s baptismal liturgy. His decision to do so, however, signaled the beginning of a new era in human history. Something new was afoot, brewing in the inner being of Yeshua. His descent into the waters of baptism was likely similar to that of all the others who came to John — some combination of curiosity, a sense of incompleteness, a desire for change and renewal, a longing for deeper connection with God, and/or hope for the restoration of Israel. His ascent out of the water, coupled with his wilderness experience, could best be described as one of the “hinges of history.” The world would never be the same again. As he came out of the water he experienced the beginnings of a shaping of his calling, an insistence in the name of God. Perhaps.

Yeshua’s experience was three-fold: First, he experienced the tearing open of God’s very being. God was now vulnerable to human experience. Secondly, Yeshua encountered the presence of Spirit (God, mystery, divinity) as an inner reality (a shift from heavenly realms to the human psyche). Third, his discernment affirmed a calling to a messianic vocation (though not the apocalyptic Messiah that John was awaiting.) It is likely that there was great intra-psychic conflict within Yeshua at this point. It was that conflict that led / drove him to the wilderness where the shape of his messianic vocation would be completed.

Today’s scientists tell us that humankind is the universe’s capacity for consciousness and self-reflection. Prior to Yeshua’s baptism / wilderness experiences, God had been perceived as the dynamic power of the universe that acted upon human beings – a mysterious Other that interposed itself in and through the nations of the world (with a special perceived relationship with Israel). Beginning with Yeshua’s baptism / wilderness experiences, a theological, spiritual quantum shift occurred. God was now to be experienced within the depths of human consciousness — Yeshua being the first fruits of this mutational shift. God now had consciousness — a shift from awesome (magnificent and terrifying) power to a weak force best described as ‘love.’ God was the ‘Thou” which is to be experienced within and in relationship with others (especially the poor, distressed, and suffering).

A Stranger Everywhere

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How do you respond the invitation of  a stranger? What if that stranger is Yeshua? What if you are the stranger?

Luke 9:51-58  51 As the time approached when Jesus was to be taken up into heaven, he determined to go to Jerusalem.52 He sent messengers on ahead of him. Along the way, they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival, 53 but the Samaritan villagers refused to welcome him because he was determined to go to Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to consume them?” 55 But Jesus turned and spoke sternly to them, 56 and they went on to another village. 57 As Jesus and his disciples traveled along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One[a] has no place to lay his head.” (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Luke 9:51-58 – Reflections

The time was drawing near for Yeshua, and he set his sights on Jerusalem. As he began the journey toward Jerusalem, he was considered off limits for a Samaritan village along the way. The disciples wanted to seek retribution on the village. Yeshua, having nothing to do with their shenanigans, scolded them. A stranger came up to them along the road and indicated his willingness to follow Yeshua wherever he would go. Addressing the disciples as much as the stranger Yeshua said, “Wild animals have their lairs, birds build nests; the Son of Man, however, is a stranger everywhere.”

A stranger everywhere”
     
a stranger in the midst of a people
          
commanded to welcome strangers in their midst
               
to show them the greatest hospitality…
     
a stranger in the midst of a world
          
disposed to show indifference
               
or antagonism…
     
a stranger in the heart of humans
          
though he resides there
               
within them…
     
a stranger to me
          
even when I have said
               
“I will follow you wherever you go.”

To show hospitality to the stranger
     
is less a commandment
          
and more an invitation
               
an invitation to selfhood
               
an invitation to wholeness
               
an invitation to authenticity
               
an invitation to integrity
               
an invitation to relatedness
               
an invitation to community
               
an invitation to the Way
               
an invitation to the Commonwealth
               
an invitation to God.

Will I proved to be a host
     
or the one who says,
          
“No room in the Inn”…
     
hospitality or animosity
          
to the One who came
          to the one in me who is to come?

Is my face “set toward Jerusalem?”

Press On!

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How do you “carry out your own salvation?”

Philippians 2:12-15

12 Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while I am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes. 14 Do everything without grumbling and arguing15 so that you may be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world. (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Philippians 2:12-15 in Other Words

Once you understand that the God-process is something that happens deep within you and not ‘out there’ … once you give up the expectation that God is a cosmic ‘fixer’ … once you engage God within your being … then you have begun to work out your own salvation.

While it is an awesome task, it is also a fearsome one because it can only be done by trial and error. Mistakes will be made. So, no mumbling and grumbling… stay the course. Press on toward that transformation which allows you to shine with the bright light concomitant with the inner insistence that comes in the name of God. Perhaps.

While world around you will try to quench that light, it will illumine the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice.

Do You Want to be Healed?

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Do You Want to be Healed? Where will you find the healing power?

John 5:5-9

A certain man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was well, and he picked up his mat and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

.

Reflections on John 5:5-9

Yeshua visited a pool by the Sheep Gate — a hang out for many people with disabling conditions. One man had been there most of his life — wanting, on the one hand, to be in the waters when they were at the peak of their healing powers; on the other hand, prevented by his disabling condition from getting into the water.

As Yeshua came by he noticed that the man had his patois down pat. “Hey, buddy, can you help a friend? Ya’ see, I’ve been here goin’ on 38 years and every time the water starts to stir, I get elbowed and pushed back by those stronger and more agile than me. I want to get me some healin’ but I need someone to make sure I get to the front of the line. Can you help a friend?”

Yeshua could see that the man had come to believe the story he told about himself and that he lacked a genuine inner sense of motivation. Yeshua confronted the resistance that was within the man — that being disabled was his self-identification, his sense of who he really was. Were he to engage healing, he would have to change — not only his mobility, but also his self-awareness.

Yeshua’s question to him (“Do you really want to be a healed person?”) unmasked his resistance. It cut him to the quick, chastening and discrediting both his inner disposition and his outer actions (or lack thereof). The confrontation from Yeshua shook him from his lethargy and gave him energy that had long since been buried deep within him. Yeshua said to him, “Stand up like the Human Being that you are and leave this place of illness and resistance. Go and be well!

When confronted — ostensibly about working (carrying his mat) on the Sabbath, but actually about no longer being oppressed by that which had paralyzed him — he simply told his story about being urged by a stranger to act in this new celebratory manner.

Later, in the temple, Yeshua suggested to him that he needed to take precautions so as not to repeat the pattern of listening to those outside voices that wanted to control him and incapacitate his ability to act on his own. A relapse could be worse than the original.

The man went away, finally having recognized Yeshua, and told others about how Yeshua was so instrumental in his transformation as a person.

A Pain in My Heart

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The concluding paragraph of Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian” (delivered on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall):

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world — its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. … We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.”

How easy it is to get lulled to sleep by centuries of repetition. Repeat the same religious bromides year after year after year and they seem to become embedded in individual and corporate DNA. Stray from these “truths” and you become classified a heretic, an outcast, a despised blot on society’s good name.

I have joined over 200 participants in the Atheism for Lent venture. Some of us are recovering from the constraint imposed by conservative or fundamentalist family and church backgrounds; others are from more ‘mainline’ traditions that have not been willing or able to grow beyond traditional understandings. All of us are hungering for more as we enter on this quest to advance our spiritual formation.

It is wonderful to have access to others who are willing to push against the boundaries and limitations, but it begs the deeper question – How / Why does the church, founded on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth incessantly move toward conspiring with the principalities and the powers to box in the very people that Jesus tried to break out? Why does the church settle for uninspired collaboration (imprisonment) with cultural values that are antithetical to its very existence? A mild challenge from the pulpit with a “we’ve got to do better, people” doesn’t machete its way through the jungle undergrowth that has infiltrated the church. When did calcified belief systems replace the plasticity of compassionate trust tending toward restorative justice for the salvation (that is, the well being) of all in society? Have we so gotten so far off the path (the Way that Jesus lived and taught) that we are never likely to find our way back?

A pain in my heart
anguish
disappointment…
but, to what end?

What will it take for me / us
to “stand up
and look the world frankly in the face?”

Can I / we conquer the world
with knowledge, kindliness, and courage?
Or will I continue to
hanker regretfully and fetter?

Where is my / our
fearless outlook and free intelligence?

A friend asked,
What is shape of your pain and anguish?”

My pain is seated
in the memories of
the years of active ministry

when I was trying
to walk the fine line
between traditional teaching
and new ways of understanding
Christian faith…

when I was preaching and teaching
people toward productive membership
in the institutional church..

when I thought that
a simple massaging
of theological ideas and practices
would reform the church

I anguish over the reality

that I was a shill
for organized religion…

that I refused to challenge
the culture of mediocrity…

that I was afraid
to trust that the church & I
might be transformed

And yet I am
an expectant romantic
hopeful
that the impossible possibility
might happen…

the blind seeing
the lame dancing
the marginalized inheriting the earth
and

the church alive –
a trusting community
of restorative justice
actualizing salvation (well being)
for all in society

Empowering the God-process Within

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What does the life-force stimulate within you?

Luke 19:10   “The Human One came to seek and save the lost.” (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Some Thoughts Arising from Luke 19:10

The Human Being (‘son of man’) archetype touches our deep human desire to survive death. The general (Jewish-Christian) theological conviction is that we need a Messiah, a savior. Yeshua’s experience of being called in the name of God (perhaps), who seeks intimacy with human beings, suggested another approach. We are lost when we chase after God / gods ‘out there,’ external ‘beings’ who will ultimately ‘fix’ it for us. We are lost when we demonize others who are chasing after other (different) kinds of God / gods ‘out there’ because, if their God / gods is/are powerful, then maybe my God is not as godly as I want to believe. In many ways, it is not even God / gods that many people want to preserve, it is heaven – assurance that I will not really die but, instead, go to some ‘everlasting’ place of bliss where my whole being will be preserved intact, along with all my loved ones (including my dogs and/or cats).

The Human Being in Yeshua reaches out to the Human Being in me (and you), inviting us to lay down our fears and restlessness about life and death concerns, so that we can become whole, wholly alive here and now, enjoying abundant life. Such a radical transformation can only happen in the deepest interiority — in that place within where our shadow interacts with our best and brightest character assets. Redeem the inner me (and the inner you) and the outer world is transformed. That is grace, mercy, salvation, redemption, eternal life. That is the dynamic field (life-force) that stimulates and empowers the God-process within.

A Hunger for Transformation

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Titus 3:4-7 4 But “when God our savior’s kindness and love appeared, he saved us because of his mercy, not because of righteous things we had done. He did it through the washing of new birth and the renewing by the Holy Spirit, which God poured out upon us generously through Jesus Christ our savior. So, since we have been made righteous by his grace, we can inherit the hope for eternal life.” (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Re-working Titus 3:4-7

In goodness and loving kindness Yeshua brought the saving revelation that God is at work within us as a hunger for transformation, calling us through the waters of our own baptism and renewing us spiritually. The spirit within us is the same spirit that was within Yeshua, opening us to the messianic dynamic, an interior process that urges us toward wholeness. That inner road to wholeness is the path of eternal life, here and now. What a rich heritage!

Fasting from Certitude

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The six+ weeks before Easter are time for the game called “Give Up Something for Lent.” It is the religious version of New Year’s resolutions. Identify a particular want, desire, or practice and “give it up” for the duration of the season (Sundays don’t count). The hope is that the religious atmosphere and sanctions will enliven the drowsy or sleeping inner spirit, enabling the game to run its full course.

I am all for personal transformation, but I have never played the “Give Up Something for Lent” game (and I don’t do New Year’s resolutions). I am not against them; it is just that they don’t work for me.

This year, however, I am going to play the game. I am giving up certitude for Lent. I have signed up for Peter Rollin’s “Atheism for Lent” online course.

Those who know me well would probably tell you that I have already put in my rear view mirror a fair number of the tried and true “beliefs” of traditional Christianity:

I have jettisoned the supernatural, all-powerful Supreme Being God of strong theology in favor of the weak theology of John Caputo’s “God doesn’t exist; God insists.” While I marvel at the wonders of the creation, I find no reason to go beyond Gordon Kaufman’s “serendipitous creativity” and posit a Divine Creator.

The concept of an other-worldly Heaven as a reward for those who believe the right things or belong to the right church / mosque / synagogue / temple doesn’t interest or convince me. I am content to discover resurrection on this side of death as I join others in the abundant life that radiates from restorative justice.

I shudder whenever I experience religious tribalism – the provincial and parochial attitude that claims salvation for Us and damnation for Them. Instead, I am willing to join hands across human dividing lines to seek the well-being of all in society through compassion, peace, and justice.

For this Lenten practice of fasting from certitude, I look forward to Peter Rollin’s leadership which I expect will put me in conversation with a variety of “non-believers” (and “believers”) who will challenge me at the very core of my being. I don’t expect to become a disciple of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, but I do expect to be in conversation with them. Genuine transformation sometimes necessitates stepping away from cherished notions and convictions – what Paul Tillich called the shaking of the foundations. Tillich wrote: “It is safe to say that a [person] who has never tried to flee God has never experienced the God Who is really God.”

The mantra of my adult life has been fides quaerens intellectum (faith in search of understanding). I am beginning to realize that my attempt to live into that mantra has been too linear and rationalistic. So, I have begun to deconstruct it. Hopefully my 2016 Lenten journey via fasting from certitude and Atheism for Lent will be a flight into a deep trust that grows as it is encouraged and supported by shared wisdom.

Meaning Illuminated

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 9.48.14 AMWhen human consciousness appeared as part of the universe’s creative process, the concept of God emerged. “God” is part and parcel of humankind’s each for meaning and purpose.

John 1:1- 1 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesnt extinguish the light. (CEB)

Reflections

Scientists tell us that we are the universe’s capacity for self-reflection. Teilhard de Chardin suggests that evolution proceeds by becoming more complex, culminating in the emergence of consciousness. We human beings have been tasked with the search for meaning. The directional arrow for that search has been inextricably tied to the search for god/gods/God. With the evolution of human consciousness came the emergence of the concept of God.

We have learned that the creative process holds complexity in tension with entropy. Complexity is the developmental process of order. Entropy is the reversing of complexity, the process of dying. Since the advent of consciousness human beings have been searching for God by exploring the tension between complexity and entropy. In order to avoid or at least lessen the impact of crop failures, damage from wind / rain / extreme temperatures, disease, and other threats to life, the gods were presented with gifts (rituals, prayers, sacrifices) to appease their anger (that is, to lessen entropy). Because complexity seems to win in the short term, it appeared as if prayers are answered. Prayers and other ritual activities are deemed successful and therefore powerful. We favor complexity by creating religious practices, building shrines and cathedrals, developing rituals and liturgies, and forming elaborate theologies. Since entropy seems to win in the long run (all life ends in death, the universe will run down), religion and its hand-maiden, theology, prosper in the meantime as coping and/or anesthetizing agents.

Enter Yeshua*, a poor carpenter from Nazareth, who had a very different understanding of the human search for meaning and purpose. Yes, meaning is to be understood as shaped by the name of God. No, God is not some other-worldly king-like being that “rules” all of life with an iron hand. Yes, the true meaning of life is centered on people. No, that meaning does not depend on political power, social status, economic means, religious sophistication, or wisely crafted belief systems. Yes, life has meaning and that meaning is ultimately found when the human playing field is leveled for all participants and “justice roll[s] down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

Yeshua* made an audacious claim about himself — namely, that he was the true Human Being (“son of man”) who was living out all those claims made previously in the name of God. If God is to “rule” it will be in the hearts and minds of those who become true Human Beings. Not only would Yeshua* preside over healings and offer forgiveness, so would others who accepted and lived into the mantle of Human Being. Many have called Yeshua* the Messiah (Christ). He seemed content, however, with the title “the Human Being.” And he did not assume that it was a title only he could inhabit. His invitation was to all the inhabitants of the Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem to become genuine, whole human beings. His mission took him into Gentile lands with the same message. His followers have taken that message to the ends of the earth.

That message, however, has been changed along the way — changed from the challenge of becoming truly human and bearing God within one’s heart and mind to the dictate of worshiping Yeshua* as the unique (divine) one who was able to be and do what we could never be or do. Hence, as the divine Son of God, he can fix our salvation, since we are broken. On the one hand, Yeshua* seemed to promote a messianic process accessible within each human being, wherein we each could “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) — that is become genuine Human Beings, characterized by the integrated wholeness of compassion, peace, and justice. On the other hand, the message has become that Messiah (Christ) does that work for us. We only have to believe.

The original message of Yeshua* seems something like the “religionless Christianity” favored by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I suspect that, at some far distant point in time, religionless Christianity will morph into God-less Christianity — that is a way of faithful engagement with life in its deepest forms without resorting to some external existent reality that bears the name of God. Instead, we will have arrived at the realization that being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) means that the responsibility for life — our own, each other’s, the planet’s — belongs to us and cannot be foisted off on to some external, supernatural entity.

 

Re-working John 1:1-5 Along with the emergence of human consciousness came a search for meaning and the name “God” was attached to that search. When meaning was found, it was associated with the name of God. Everything meaningful was attributed to the name of God. In fact, the very nature of meaning was named God. Meaning illumined life for all people. The struggle with meaninglessness has not been able to extinguish the light produced in the name of God.