Monday, December 26, 2011

Review of "Clean Water for Elirose", by Ariah Finz

What I loved so much about this children's book was that it didn't just speak of ideas (and educate through its teachings), but that it offered a very real way for children - who are often times very aware and interested in problems of the world - a direction to actually do something about it.

Two lessons struck me the most. (And I hope, as an adult, I'm not missing its point)
The first was to make children aware of things we take for granted. Like Maria first starts off by saying, "Do you like it if your drink is dirty and yucky? Me neither", only later to be introducted to Elirose who,  "Has to walk a long way every day to get water for her family. And the water isn't even clean, it's yucky and dirty."

The second are some very practical activities children can do to raise money to help, but more importantly, to learn that they have the ability within their own hands, to change to world. They aren't helpless.

The book ends with questions for discussion along with ideas and activities to participate in!

What a beautifully simple yet profound book.
I plan to have my children read it and hear their take on it.





Disclaimer: I received this book free from SpeakEasy Blog Network. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

XXX-mas: Porn for the Soul

I can remember my dad saying every Christmas time how he was upset that the commercial industry would abbreviate Christmas to Xmas. He thought it took the spirit out of it. I can remember thinking this same thing for years myself. It wasn't until I was in St. Pius X Catholic High School that I learned what the X in Xmas stood for. Khris-tos in Greek, meaning the anointed. I would have never guessed that the Greek letter “X” was often used as the abbreviation for the “Christ”, or the Messiah. It made sense after learning this, and I couldn't really fault my father for not reading Greek. I don't read it either; I guess few do. So, in this case, it wasn't so commercial.

Christmas is never the same until you have children of your own. Christmas this year will be the 16th year we, as a family with children, celebrate Christmas. But this year, like last year and the year before, I'm not looking forward to it at all.

I know why that is. Ultimately, I'm teaching my children the value of porn. Yes, that's right, porn, as in pornography. Not the culture of porn, and definitely not the imagery of porn, but the philosophy of it. The philosophy of porn teaches us the quick fix. It teaches us near instant gratification. It offers us something we all legitimately desire and crave, and hope and long for. But offers something shallow and hollow in its place. I like what society thinks porn should be. It's supposed to be fun and exciting, and alive and pleasurable. It supposed to simply be sexuality. Sexuality is a normal aspect of being human and we enjoy it within our relationships – it is supposed to be harmless. No one really gets hurt. But why does porn leave me empty? What's missing? Porn is really a bait-and-switch sales tactic, isn't it? Porn's selling you one thing, but delivering you something else.

One kind of Christmas teaches our children and us materialism. And the fat ol' jolly elf named Santa Claus – who Coca-Cola Ltd. played a big hand in creating and establishing – only adds to this frenzy. But, I say to myself, that's only one kind of Xmas – that is only the secular, commercial driven materialistic kind of Xmas. This kind of Xmas is so akin to porn that I have to start teaching my children otherwise!

Another kind of Xmas is attempting to connect with the religious facet of it. "The real meaning of Xmas", as some say. "Jesus: He's the reason for the season", and cute catchphrases like that. Of course it's all true, but sometimes it sounds like a formulated marketing scheme, and I'm beginning to wonder if it really is.

So how do you connect with a spiritual part of it? I guess you go to church. We attend church. We sit and watch the spectacle and entertaining shows and hope to have our emptiness filled. Like porn, a different aspect of society (Christianity) tells us what Xmas should be like. Like porn, we're still searching for gratification - not physical pleasure, but spiritual gratification. Attending church, especially at Xmas, is supposed to be exciting and alive! It's supposed to be a celebration of our liberty and salvation! Not only is it supposed to be harmless, but's supposed to be just the opposite! We're expecting - somehow - to be healed, to be made full and whole again. This kind of Xmas is still nothing more than the bait-and-switch sales tactic. This kind of Xmas is selling you one thing, but delivering you something else.

But is this even true? It's been historically established that Yeshua of Nazereth wasn't born on December 25th - or for that matter anytime in December. 
Like far too many Christian holidays or celebrations, previous pagan celebrations had been paved-over in Christianity's attempt to erase or snuff them out. If this really is "the reason for the season" then we're really celebrating anything but tolerance, love, or good-will.

I can't speak for anybody but myself, but Xmas celebration in church leaves me feeling empty. Maybe because Xmas - and I mean the religious aspect of it - has really become XXXmas. The religious Christmas today has become, for many people, porn for the soul. They're showing up looking for their "fix". They're searching for the quick fix - whatever that may be. They're looking for the permanent "feel-good" pleasure of the spirit, but are left with something that very quicly fades, and often times leaves feelings of guilt.

The true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with church. And it doesn't have to do with giving to the poor. Giving to the poor is about charity, not about Christmas day. If you honestly believe Chrimstas is about giving to the poor, then you're trying to fulfill some sort of checklist the easy way. And I know this is a cliche, but Christmas is about giving. But it's not about giving gifts and presents. It's not about volunteering at the soup-kitchen once a year and serving the poor. It's about giving ourselves, our time, our relationship, our friendship. And not for just one season of the year! Strangers make the worst people to give these gifts to, because it makes these strangers little more than "projects" or receptive object of our "obligatory" dues. These "gifts" do not come from the heart, they come from some sort of installed sense of obligation. We are attempting to appease our own sense of hollowness - our own sense of guilt. Because deep down inside, these people know how miserable, wretched, and empty they truly are. Deep down inside they know that no one single day has that kind of magic to cure what ails them. They are fallen and they damned well know it. To hope and search for this kind magical cure at XXXmas is looking for love in porn. We will never succeed.

I cannot find the meaning of Christmas in the materialism of this commerical "Holiday Season".
I cannot find the meaning of Christmas in the pews of churches and in the holy quest of porn for the soul.

The meaning of Christmas must lie beyond the churches and beyond the shopping malls. There must be another kind of Christmas.


(Notice: This is a significantly older piece, rewritten from 2006 and reposted. Some of you may be familiar with it).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hook-Line-and-Sinker, or Through-the-Looking-Glass?

Old Highway 17

I have a vague memory of the first time I encountered God. I shouldn't say “God” for at that time in my life I held absolutely no concept of the divine.

“God's” a funny word. We should really be careful when we use that word. It means so many things to so many people. To a child it's an old man with white hair and beard sitting on a cloud. To some it's an impersonal entity or force running or guiding the universe. To others it's a universal-mind itself. To many God has been imbued with a personality - “personhood”. I suppose this is necessary for our very finite minds to wrap themselves around a very infinite being – the Being. The problem with this is that we also tend to pass on all too human traits. Jealousy, anger, Tribalism, Nationalism, Hatred, let alone using God as a tool to further our own agendas and ends.

Allow me to just say that I can remember the first time I encountered something other.

My mom and dad and I were on a car ride. It was long before my sister was born – during that long chapter in my life as the only child.

I can remember that I had absolutely no sense of time-reference. Not days of the week, not actual dates (numbers), not even larger time-frames, like Grade-1, or Grade-2. It must have been pre-kindergarten so I'll put myself as being under 4 years old; probably 3.

I can remember the car traveling what felt like west-bound (not from my childhood memory, but from how I remember it as an adult), but towards to main-city of Ottawa with a body of water (river?) on my right and rocky fields to my left. (For any locals, I figure it was Old Highway 17 between Ottawa and Wendover).


We stopped at what I can only remember as a sort of rocky quarry. I can't remember any machinery or equipment so it probably was more of a outcrop of rocks than a quarry proper, but there was definitely what appeared to be a sharp (cut stone) wall behind, with a litter of stones and rocks everywhere.

I remember my goal was to find and collect rocks! (Not any sort of special rocks. Just rocks!) It felt like I must have been miles away from where my parents were. I was busy 'exploring', but in all likelihood, I'm sure I wasn't far from them.

And then, suddenly, I became aware of a presence. Like someone or something accompanying me. Friendly, warm, caring. I never questioned whether it might have been my imagination or not, I think I was simply too young. But that memory has always stuck with me.

Ultimately, it was the genesis of my searching out God.

However, simple and powerful that one 'encounter' with the unknown was, it wasn't my any means the only one.

I have had several paradigm-shattering encounters and experiences in my life. This earliest one in the quarry was the first. Then there was my dream of The Storm in '83. My mother's death in '87. My precognitive dreams the led to my wife and marriage in '90; the end of a 10-year exile from God in '97. The birth of my autistic son and an experience 20 years later at my mother's grave.

All of these experiences have feed this quest and journey and search.

~

Allow me to switch gears – change topics. I think I might go at this from a different perspective.

I have never been one for institutional religions and I know by some people, I have been accused of taking the easy path; the path of least resistance.

I have been told by some that being an adherent to a particular church or temple (or religion or even community) requires a commitment not unlike a relationship, or even a marriage. By these same people I have also been told that I fail to make this sort of commitment. I should actually be insulted (most specifically because of the comment to failing to commit to a community) because – really – what I am being accused of is a lack of loyalty, and loyalty is something I do not lack.

I have recently reflected upon, not so much my experiences themselves, but upon my attempts to search out the truth behind them, and what I discovered.

Often times, I so wanted the truth to be enlightening, to lift all worry and anxiety and give me an overwhelming sense of peace, that I would be more than willing to suspend my disbelieve, to suspend my cold analytical eye. And sometimes, briefly, it would work.

As my searching brought me into more and more contact with more and more people and others' experiences my understanding of God, my belief of God, grew and changed. Ideas and images that I struggled with died and newer, better ones came into existence. Certain problems with the idea of God ceased to be issues once viewed from a different point of view. Spiritual maturity? Possibly.

I have often wondered whether I subject myself to believing something hook-line-and-sinker. (Because when I think back to numerous experiences and involvements with various groups it's kind of embarrassing. My, how I've changed). Am I just lost soul, floating from one to another faith, desperately embracing everything or anything like a drowning man clings to anything thrown to him? Maybe my naysayers are right.

I came to realize something that I eventually called -ologies.

You know, as in Archeology. Biology. The science of, or the study of any said topic.

However, it was with Theology that this method fell apart in my opinion.

As a biologist studying a paramecium under a microscope this same analogy absolutely could not work – or at least would fail miserably – in the realm of theology.


You could not objectively observe and study God from a distance. (And on a side note, I think that is what's wrong with so many churches, religions, and theologists today).

In this particular “science” you must go through the looking glass. The biologist would need to use his microscope as a slide to sit side-by-side with the paramecium he is studying (and hope it doesn't mistaken him as a food source!)

You cannot 'study' God. You experience it. The act of “studying” God is to change you. It doesn't work any other way. Or so I thought.

I don't think I take the path of least resistance. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that 'how' I pursue my searching for this encounter I had as a 3-year old puts me in danger.

I think what I 'do' is not so much like a lost soul adrift, nor like a drowning man desperately clinging to absolutely anything thrown to him, but more honest and more akin to traveling through the looking glass. Putting myself 'out-there' and allowing myself to be affected and changed by my encounters. Not objective and distant.

But the more and more I've practiced this, the more and more I realized that it wasn't God that I was encountering and experiencing, but people. It was people's hopes and dreams and ideas, and projections that shaped what we hope God is. (And even what God isn't in the case of Atheists).

Broken China

I've realized that I am a potter.

I've spend most of my life inadvertently making theological pottery. Beautiful China if you will.



I've also realized that God has spend most of his life breaking it.

So, my question is really, do I, as a spiritual sojourner, indiscriminately swallow numerous 'truths' hook-line-and-sinker, or do I practice going-through-the-looking-glass? I have found precious few brave enough to travel down this path. Allowing oneself to be changed is a scary thing.

Path of least resistance? I think not.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Masks

What is an identity? Is it your name?

Well, I own my names and they are not my identity, most especially if you have gone through more than one.

I think identity and one's name are two very different creatures; one being a sort of manifestation – a reflection if you will – of the other. But for the time being I am going to use 'name' and 'identity' as synonymous and interchangeable.

You wear your name; you wear your identity like a mask. I have found that once they're removed, we can never see them for anything other than exactly what they are: masks.

It doesn't change the fact that we still wear them, but it does change our level of awareness. We will no longer mistaken the perceptions and ideas we project to others – we will no longer accept the labels placed upon us by another – the masks we wear – as ourselves. It is simply self-delusion.

It is terrifying and exhilarating and enlightening once we see beneath our masks. It becomes extremely difficult to name the thing we see below the surface.


It becomes difficult to even clearly see any distinctive outline of the being beneath.
 
Where I end and my wife of 23 years begins - half my entire life - all of my adult life! - becomes blurred. Where my existence is seen as an extension of my children and my existence as an individual can only be expressed through an analogy of a manifestation of identity.


Where my long since dead mother – little more than a dead thing in the ground, dust and bones, continues to exist and live through me, even now influencing me as I speak and write. I am equally a product of the traditions (or lack of traditions) and environment and culture they had brought me up in as I am a product of their specific DNA. I am an indistinct part of a continuum, a living aspect of a century-spanning life form we call humanity; a tiny member of a great gestalt. Individuality is the illusion.
 
In July, 2008 I had to opportunity to spend a few days and nights out on the moors, in the Yorkshire Dales.
 
I haven't included many pictures because they simply do not do the beautiful and desolate landscape justice.


My days and nights of the lonely moors has served as a sort of private and personal spiritual retreat, giving me time to collect my thoughts, regroup, and reflect over this recent identity 'crisis'...
 
On the moors I was surprised at all the wildlife I saw. Giant black slugs the size of my thumb, all racing towards a local congregation for purposes I can only imagine.


Multitudes of brown bunnies, perfectly camouflaged and hidden, visible only when they moved; and when they moved they would run and race, each triggering and affecting another. Pheasants and quail, fowls I could not identity, all going about their daily business. Sheep and rams looking for little more than new grasses to eat. Single individual lone trees standing on cloud-shrouded hilltops, silent witnesses and sentinels of decades.
 
All this life and activity thriving and existing interdependently and outside of my consciousness and awareness. How truly alien I must seem to them. How truly arrogant I must be in my ignorance to their lives. They exist and live and eat and reproduce and die independent of whether I acknowledge them or not – regardless of whether I believe or not.
The rains that fell on me; the constant moisture and dampness in the ground; the clouds that would pass and literally kiss the hilltops and engulf me, blocking out all vision. The water I would drink and even the very water that would compose my physical being... all the same... all one.

As alien as I was, I was still part of this unseen world. The giant black slugs, the brown bunnies, the Pheasants and quails, the sheep and ram, the lonely trees and the water that surrounded and permeated us all. We're all composed of the exact same material. Stardust. Fully recyclable. Fully interchangeable. Fully interrelated.

After the masks that I wear were removed, I could no longer find individual identity in my being – seeing myself as only an “inter-being”.

I can no longer find individual identity in my physical body, being made of the simple raw material we all share; interconnected.

How truly arrogant of me to have entertained the idea that I might have a unique spiritual identity. Why must I think that the bunnies dash and run randomly and without guidance or purpose; victims of chaos? Why must I believe God is not present in the giant black slugs' morning routine of gathering at a certain given plant?

As desolate and lonely as the moors were, there was also an awareness of something pure and holy. Something truly beautiful. It was a place where God walked barefoot. It was a hidden place where God walked naked of our assumed projections. Unclothed in our pretentious theological knowledge. A place where God's only answer to one's questions and mental meanderings was simply and repeatedly ”I am”.

As I returned to the cobblestone and concrete wilderness of civilized towns, I realized that this very same God live and walks barefoot, naked, and unclothed. He/She/It is just more difficult to see because of the masks we wear. They obstruct our vision somewhat, but they don't need to.

On the first morning of my return from the moors I walked through a town. I saw faces and people I do not know, speaking in an accent and dialect that was not my own, living lives I could only imagine.

At first I felt out of place; alien. They would look at me. They didn't know me. I was a stranger but in a far more profound way. They couldn't recognize or understand me for what I was because I wore no mask. Etched on each one of their faces was evidence of their mental meanderings. Imprinted on their expressions was one question: ”Who are you?”

I realized the truest answer was that barefoot-naked-unclothed-God's answer: "I am".

I also realized that I had to replace my mask. I realize that we cannot function as a civilization or a society without a sense of individuality; without some degree of illusion; without our masks.. But I hope we can all realize that our masks are not us. I hope we all can begin to see the seams around the edges of our faces, the edges of our identities – the awareness of our masks.

I hope we can also begin to realize that we dress and put masks on God. Whether it be through projections of what our traditional upbringings have taught us, or what our hopes and aspirations are, or stoically through our acquired theological knowledge, or even through pure pretension.
“...an old Zen caution: “Don't mistake the finger for the moon.” Buddhism, Zen, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Judaism, Confucianism, and so on are all useful fingers. Teachings that point the way to fully actualizing ourselves and benefiting others are pointers, but not the end itself. All religious teachings are about what is, but if we focus on the teachings as objects we miss the point.” Dairyu Michael Wenger, Soto Zen priest and Dean of Buddhism Studies at the San Francisco Zen Center, San Francisco, California

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Cure for Lust

What do we look to religion for?
Why do we seek it out?
To some, I’m sure, it's in search of the truth. But I've learned 'religious truth' is an ambiguous, fickle, and tricky thing at the best of times, with a tendency to become more subjective and righteous than anything else. (And I would include Atheism within this umbrella, 'religious' definition). To some (I hope a minority) this subjective truth and righteousness, unfortunately, is exactly what they seek.

I should like to believe that we look to Spirituality in hopes of learning and better understanding Compassion towards others and Solace for ourselves. To find peace with the world around us and be at peace with ourselves.

Solace. Although in times past I am sure I would not have been able to successfully articulate it, it was what I've spend decades seeking and searching for.

I have written on how Christianity has failed me, but maybe it was I who have failed Christianity's test. Maybe I have never been baptized by Fire, by the Holy Spirit. Maybe it is I who has never successfully been born again. Baptized through Catholicism but never Confirmed, maybe I truly am not a part of the Body, but apart from it. Maybe at one point in my life the cleansing fires of the Holy Spirit washed over me, measured me, and found me wanting... My point being this isn't about pointing the finger at Christianity but simply that it hasn't 'worked' for me.

I think the three darkest demons I have wrestled and struggled with have been Fear, Anger, and Lust.
Capital “F” Fear. Not so much being scared or afraid of something or someone, but Fear as in Worry, Anxiety, Dread. The kind of worry and fear that consumes your Perpetual Now and obliterates your tomorrow. The kind of fear that controls your ability to make decisions for yourself.

~

I've never been sure exactly how to label the second; Anger or Rage.
A distinction should be made between righteous anger – anger one feels at an injustice – vs. blind, out of control anger; rage. When rational thought evades you. When it is the anger, the rage that is calling the shots.

I am by no means pretentious and I have no intention to give the false impression that I have successfully and permanently purged them. There are still moments when I battle them. However, I have through my decades of searching, through various 'methodologies' and 'religions' and spiritual paths and avenues found control, peace, and solace. Primarily through – believe it or not – martial arts. (Taekwon-do to be exact. I've written a blog on it. Tattoo: Solace in Pain. And don't kid yourself into believing that a martial art is all about combat and fighting an opponent).

~

...but Lust is another demon. When I say Lust I am referring to Lust of the sexual kind. (Truth be know, I have never really suffered from coveting material goods and 'stuff').
The church, Catholicism, Christianity, and Christ have in every method and way failed to offer succor. The closest I've come was the realization – or maybe it's better and more accurate for me to say, acceptance, of God, as the Holy Spirit, as most definitely female. “God the Mother”. Sophia. The divine feminine Catholicism sees in the Virgin Mary (not Mariolatry).

Just use your innate ability of Imagination (as opposed to 'make-believe') and pray and confess to a female God. It is a drastically different and refreshing experience.

But even this only succeeded temporarily to suppress Lust, not battle it.

It was only recently, through a serious of coincidences, that I came across a simple Buddhist mediation. A simply Buddhist method of combating Lust that has knocked it flat on its ass. (No, this isn't a story about religious conversion or proselytism. I'd have to definitely be something first to convert to another, wouldn't I?)

It begins by sitting cross legged, preferably on a pillow or something soft. Then, remove “counterproductive currents of energy” or “airs” or “winds”, through 9 inhalations and exhalations.
(I know this part might sound a little bit silly, but bear with me).
First, inhale deeply through your right nostril by pressing the left nostril closed with your left thumb; then release the left nostril and press your right nostril closed with your left middle finger, exhaling through the left nostril. Do this three times.
After that, inhale deeply through the left nostril by continuing to press the right nostril closed with your left middle finger; then release the right nostril and press your left nostril closed with your left thumb, exhaling through the right nostril. Do this three times.
Finally place your left hand back on your lap beneath your right hand, both palms up with your thumbs touching, forming a triangle. Then inhale deeply through both nostrils and exhale through both nostrils. Do this three times.
Then I conjure an image of a Lustful object of desire. But now, meditate and contemplate on their body, from the top of her head to the soles of her feet. Skin, flesh, blood, bone, marrow, urine, feces, etc. Focus on her hair, but her removed hair, like clumps you might find on a hair salon's floor or in a bathtub's drain. Finger and toe nail clippings. (This isn't for the faint of heart). Then I focus on the body's decaying and decomposing. The soft subtle skin being quite literally stripped from the body through its disintegration. Its liquids spilling out. (I've even had moments when my mind meandered on its own and animated this corpse into some sort of zombie horror)
… and I think you get the idea. Lust is the last thought on your mind. And no, I don't enjoy this, and yes, I find this exercise extremely disturbing.

I have since “streamlined” this method over time down to a single simple image. A tiny statue of a skull carved out of stone and I can summon this image into sharp focus in my mind's eye – usually – without going through the meditative process I previously described, if needs be. Its quicker that way; more practical and useful.

In fact, I use 3 images (3 tiny statues), one for each Fear, Anger, and Lust.
So far, so good. I can't complain.

I'd be interested in hearing how some of you deal with these issues – Fear, Anger, Lust – or whatever you may struggle with and successful methods.
But please, success stories only. I've heard my fair share of BS over the years, ranging from ”When I get lustful thoughts, I read my bible”, to ”I never suffer from fear or worry since I've been born again”.
… ya... okay.

I like to believe spirituality – like truth – is progressive and cumulative; it grows and evolves and expands. For those of us on this path, it makes us spiritual sojourners.

What's your story?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

...nothing...

Mu... nothing... not.
Mu can mean 'nothing'. The absence of anything.


“I see nothing.” - Alice

“My you have good eyes.” - Cheshire Cat
"Do you hear silence?"

But even nothing must have great value.

It isn't the clay vase that is of importance, but it's center, it's hollow, it's nothingness, that makes it useful.


One of mankind's greatest inventions was the wheel, yet the wheel itself, its spokes, and even its hub isn't of most value, but the center hole that drives the wheel.

There is no hollow in the vase without making the vase, no center hole without making the spokes and hub that define it.

It is to remind us that there is always a passive and empty component that coexists with an active, coercing and shaping component. The two provide the means towards action and purpose.
Nurture and acting.

Action is often coercion and coercion often manifests as aggression. If we can separate aggression from action we are not left with emptiness but inactive action. Wu wei.

~         ~         ~
I've always loved bonzai trees. They are fantastic examples and manifestations of universal wisdom.
Although we can coerce and control and shape them (yang), ultimately they passively remain the same - a tree (yin). We must accept this because we cannot change it. It is it's nature. It lives and grows on its own. Some might argue that if we were to stop watering the tree it would die, but even death is within its nature as all things eventually die (impermanence). It is inactive action. Wu wei.

~         ~         ~

Mu... not.
It may be used grammatically as a prefix. Not good. (Bad). Not day (Night).
But in Buddhism, Taoism, and Eastern religions, it can stand alone. Simply Not; an answer to a koan; an answer to unanswerable questions. Mu.
Unask the question. It indicates the question cannot be answered; that the question itself is at fault.


I have found it becomes a good philosophical method or tool, when addressing and struggling with the contradictions within theological conundrums – for I believe is in the contradictions and the paradoxes in which the divine wisdom – Sophia - is most challenging and speaks the loudest. It is not in the religions' commonalities that she speaks and challenged us to change and grow and learn but in their apparent conflicts. And to claim that there simply are not any conflicts or contradictions is nothing more than denial and suffering from an ostrich-syndrome.

~         ~         ~
I can't help but wonder if, in the center, the genesis point of all creation, there exists a Great Nothing. I think to attribute this as God – a Creator – is 'asking' the wrong question. It's looking at the situation from the wrong angle. For Creation itself, and even the act of creating itself, are controlling and coercive actions. Yang energy.

This central genesis point must be Yin energy. Non-coercive. Nurturing. Loving. Lacking aggression.

From a Theistic perspective, we really cannot have a God that is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent. We can, however, have a God that suffers from necessary, involuntary, and irreversible kenosis. Self-emptying.

... that is, of course, if we are forced to address this issue within a theistic context...
...but, like the banzai tree, what is the nature of this "divine" center; this divine Great Nothing?
What is the inactive action of this central nothingness?
What is God's wu wei?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review of Seven Spirits Burning, by John Crowder

Allow me to begin by saying, many of the pitfalls and criticisms present in John Crowder's previous book – Mystical Union – are present in Seven Spirits Burning as well.

Poor editing and/or grammar, contradictions, use of 26 biblical translations (which, ultimately, must be better than the 48 used in Mystical Union). John Crowder tends to fall victim to speaking in Christianese; words and terms that only Christians or church-goers would readily identify and recognized, yet terms that are mostly ambiguous and undefined; possibly with intent to deliberately allow the reader to assume.

~            ~            ~


The book, primarily, is about the Holy Spirit. Early on Crowder begins by, what I can only assume to establishing that Holy Spirit (he tends not to use the term the Holy Spirit, but truncates it down to a proper noun - Holy Spirit) is indeed God and not some sort of impersonal force.
“Since Holy Spirit is a spirit being, we should understand that He has a personality and traits. He speaks (Tim. 4:1); He has a will (1 Cor. 12:11); He is knowledgeable (1 Cor. 2:11), He teaches (John 14:26); He has a mind (Rom. 8:27); He loves (Rom. 15:30); and He can also be grieved or insulted (Eph. 4:30; Heb. 10:29).

“Furthermore, He is eternal, omnipresent – existing everywhere – and He is omniscient – knows everything (1 Cor. 2:10, 11; Ps. 139:7-10). Scripture is clear that He was involved in the creation of the world, along with the Father and the Son. He brought life to mankind as He was exhaled by the Father”.
pg. 14-15
If we are going to lay-out the 'properties' of the Holy Spirit – establish Holy Spirit's nature, if you will – then let's go all the way, shall we?

Let's list Proverbs 8:12-30 (which I think may be the reference Crowder is making in the final two quoted sentences). And if this is the case, let's address the fact that this Sophia - God's personified Wisdom – is female.


If we are to provide biblical quotes and support to establish that Holy Spirit is indeed omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and has a personality and an individuality as Crowder so seems inclined to do, why not quote Wisdom of Solomon (or Book of Wisdom) 7:23 and 7:27? They are perfect examples.

Oh, but wait! I know why. Wisdom of Solomon is an apocryphal book, belonging to the Catholic Bible.
And here is what John Crowder has to say about that:
“When we count up all of the various almond parts of the lampstand – flowers, buds, blossoms, etc. - we find a total of sixty-six parts. Did you know that there are sixty six books in your Bible? This is an ancient confirmation of the canon of scripture”. pg. 44.
[So, Jeremiah 1:11-12 is to become the infallible bible's Table of Contents? The historical fact of the matter is that the 66 books were established by a Church Council. Whether or not this council was divinely inspired is up for debate].
“Never let anyone try to convince you that religious leaders suppressed other books of the Bible, or that apocryphal works hold the same weight of authority as the canon of scripture. Some apocryphal works are helpful, but they are not infallible...” pg. 45
But yet, shortly afterwards while attempting to convince the reader that the power – the Glory - of Holy Spirit will enrich and fill the believer to overflowing, he quotes Psalms 65:11.... four times over.
“...where thy feet have passed, the stream of plenty flows”. Psalms 65:11, KNOX
“You... deluge your tracks with butterfat”. Psalms 65:11, ARTB
“...your paths overflow with a rich harvest”. Psalms 65:11, NAB
“Thy footsteps are dropping with riches”. Psalms 65:11, DEW
pg. 54
All from various biblical translations/versions; including the Catholic NAB (New American Bible).


This quote from page 54 completely flabbergasted me!

I cannot say what stuck me more. That fact that he's willing to discredit the Catholic Bible (apocryphal books) but yet contented to quote from it when it suits his needs, or the fact that he's willing to quote the same verse four times over, to support a simple point he is attempting to make.


I can't help but think of Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Goebbels. What was that quote again?
”A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth”.
I am not necessarily accusing John Crowder of attempting to drive a blatant lie down our throats, but commenting of the methodology employed.
In short, Propaganda... and it is at this point that I feel John Crowder has crossed a line.
He strikes me as hypocritical and double-dealing.


It should be noted that out of the hundreds (thousands?) of books I have read over the decades, whether for review, theology, fiction, casual reading, or whatnot, I can honestly count on one hand, with fingers to spare, how many books I've chosen not to finish. John Crowder's Seven Spirits Burning is one of them. I am going to write and post this book review having not read past page 54.

I see no point.

What little degree of trust I held for the author is now gone.





Disclaimer: I received this book free from SpeakEasy Blog Network. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Review of Mystical Union, by John Crowder

This book self-proclaims itself to be revolutionary and is said to speak of a scandalous truth of grace and the promise to wreck self-effort theologies. In fact, in the author's notes within the first 10 pages, he gives a humorous warning; "We will barbecue some sacred theological cows. At times, it could be a virtual slaughterhouse".


At this point, he had my undivided attention and unbridled curiosity! Unfortunately that is as far as it went.

He spends a great deal of time establishing that we do not have to add to God's grace.
That we are free from the laws of Judaism. That we are freed from the Law, that we are freed from legalism, yet often the church attempts to replace the old Judaic laws with their own new laws. He makes a great statement on page 150,

“Remember, grace has to be drunk straight. The law is an add-on

Always remember this simple equation: grace plus law equals law.”

He goes out of his way to bring into sharp focus silly self-help programs and those who might monopolize on those of us in need. Inner healing, deliverance courses, Christian counseling (having no differential comparison to secular psychology).

He then goes on to warn of the deliverance counselor's (focusing on keeping themselves in business indefinitely) who keeps their patients in a perpetual state of need – as well as making the patient subjective to a form of “works”. (Legalism as opposed to Grace).
Ultimately he is making all these things as being synonymous with a “Old Covenant, do-it-yourself perspective”.

He makes great points in regards to 'acquired' spiritual 'gifts'. The warning, the point being that these are some form of self-effort of their own doing.
“Paul said that the Galatians were bamboozled. They had been hoodwinked... The Galatian bewitchment, very simply, mean to work for the gift... These guys [Charismatic speakers] never fail to mesmerize the crowds with their self-abasement. Though they wouldn't say it, they take great delight in making you feel lazy, less spiritual and incompetent in comparison to them.” pg. 141

It has been years since I read a book that pissed me off as much as this one did. (And no, not because, as John Crowder says, this "gospel I may have never heard before... threatens to turn my Christianity upside down". Not as all. I thoroughly look forward and enjoy my ideas of Christianity turned upside down. It's sobering and refreshing.

I am faced with some difficulties when writing this book review.
Allow me to first say that I wholeheartedly disagree with the angle this book is pitching. But that posed a significant problem for me. Am I the kind of person who gives good book reviews to those whose opinions a line with my own and bad reviews to those who I disagree with, I asked myself?
Ultimately I fear this will not be simply a book review, but is going to contain elements for discussion, and a certain degree of analysis alongside being a review.

I needed to establish the parameters that this book exists in; John Crowder's rules of the game if you wish. Clearly an Evangelical, a Born Again Christian, and Charismatic.

“Jesus did not come to be your example. He came as your substitute.” pg. 164
So, clearly, Jesus is in no way an exemplar to this author.

He makes the point that the gospels were written for the sake of the Pauline epistles and not the other way around. (which is true and near impossible to disagree with). He then states that we have to see the entire bible through “Pauline eyes”, which if we're going to promote Grace, works quite well.

The basic message, put simply in a nutshell, is that once saved, the sinful nature is instantaneously gone. No more "old man" to do battle with. No more struggles with sin. No more personal cross to bear". No more purgation. In fact, a Christian cannot sin. No process, no time, no sanctification; instant change.

And more importantly, absolutely no need of self-effort (Because of grace) you cannot earn your way or God's favour. It's all instant and free. (I agree with this part).

But that's where the first cracks appear. On page 23 he says, "Your union with God in Christ is instant and effortless. It happened the first moment you believed". (I don't agree with this statement, but I need to remember that I am reading this book within the parameters of the author).

Rob Bell, in Love Wins puts it best,
"If the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him - a gift we cannot earn by our own efforts, works, or good deeds - and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, aren't those verbs?

"Aren't verbs actions?

"Accepting, confessing, believing - those are things we
do".

But John Crowder at least attempts to address this 'condition' to some degree by saying, “Granted, loving God is definitely the “greatest” commandment. But it is still a commandment. It is the grand summation of the law. And we know that law does not save us.” pg. 183
It is a great point and nearly echoing Rob Bell's point. But then he takes a complete 180, saying “The cross is the fountainhead of all love. If you won't accept that He [God] accepts you... then you have no part in Him” pg. 183, returning to a conditional grace.

I think one the the biggest stumbling blocks faced by this book is a lack of imagination when it comes to viewing metaphoric truths and literal truths.
“One of the most amazing aspects of martial union is that of co-habitation. You do not have an infrequent audience with the King. You sit ever with Him enthroned. Just as the husband and wife live together in uninterrupted fellowship, so do we dwell in God's house both now and forevermore. A wife is afforded benefit that a stranger could never conceive possible” pg. 190-191
Here is the inherent problem. When a metaphoric interpretation is forced into a literal reality it becomes delusional. He continues by saying,
“The abundant blessings of this union are far too many to account. Physical healing. Financial provision. Reconciliation in relationships. Emotional fulfillment. Unspeakable joy. Righteous authority to be wielded over regions and people groups. Creative miraculous abilities. Mystical powers. Authority in this age and the age to come. The possibilities are endless, as you are wed to God”. pg. 190
Physical healings? Financial provision?!
Really?!?
The danger with this is when these fruit do not manifest. What does that mean?

But then John Crowder answers this question.
“One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the gospel message (from charismatics anyway) revolves around the topic of manifestations. If I am really in effortless union with God, then why don't I levitate every day? Why don't I heal every single person I meet on the street? Why don't I glow like a light bulb?... A powerless life is a symptom of the fall. But be assured that the antidote to this disease will always [be] the same. Belief in Christ's finished work is the mother lode of all supernatural power and experience.” pg. 191-192
“So the born-again person can never be, basically, self-centered again. You can move in a self-centered act. You can't be self-centered”. pg. 85

“Your union with God in Christ is instant and effortless. It happened the first moment you believed.” pg. 23 (Crowder's definition of a true Christian).
“Saved people don't sin”. pg. 39 (Again, fleshing out his definition of what a Christian is).

But here's where the confusion starts.
“Nor am I saying that it is impossible for a Christian to sin”. pg. 202

”A powerless life is a symptom of the fall”
What?! I thought a Christian was free of, absolutely cured of, and immune to sin.
I think what he unknowingly and unintentionally revealed was the Achilles Heel of the Charismatic movement. But, ironically enough, he goes on pointing out the problems with churches.

He subtly ditches Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox churches. I believe he misses the values he would identify as Mariolatry and theosis, but yet rambles on about his witnessing miracles of levitation, healings, gold dust creation, oil running down church walls, tongues, etc., in what I can only hope is meant as some form of humour. Ultimately I think John Crowder is exhibiting little more than veiled Tribalism.
"When I wake up everyday, I just know that my old depressed self went into the grave with Jesus. It is difficult for a dead man to be worried about his bank statement or a bad doctor's report. No circumstance can dictate my emotional state. The gospel tells me that my old critically religious self no longer exists! If I'm feeling bored with my Christian walk, the message of the gospel quickly snaps me out of that lie. My old boring self is dead. The new me is intoxicated on the wine of the New Covenant. I can "reckon myself dead" with Christ... simply realizing that I do not own those negative feelings any longer". Mystical Union, by John Crowder, page 34-35
What is this, the Prosperity Gospel? What this is preaching is the delusion of perpetual happiness. The facts of the matter are people (yes, even Christians) do worry about their financial health and are concerned when bad news comes from their doctor. People/Christians do struggle with right and wrong and do choose incorrectly and selfishly at times - they still sin.
"Saved people don't sin". pg. 39
Yes, they do. So, how do we deal with the problem of evil?
“Some think that an over-emphasis on God's sovereignty and a diminishing of the human will blames God for evil. Rest in this: God is sovereign, but He is also good. Rather than blame Him for sickness and trials, let us believe Him for healing and deliverance. He doesn't dirty your water, but His sovereignty, He changes it into wine.” pg. 162
This really says nothing. It absolutely side-steps the problem of evil and relegates it into infantile levels. I can't honestly blame or fault anyone for avoiding the problem of evil. It's no simple issue. However, please don't spoon feed me crap if you're not up to the task.

This isn't even worth addressing, it is so outlandish.

...but all this aside! As scandalous and incredible as this all is, does he make his case?

Well, for those of you truly interested in reading this book, I won't give it away. But I'll say this much. In the introduction, he provides a biblical translation index (just to help you out and make things clearer) he goes on to list the forty-eight bible versions he quotes from!

Although I agree that making use of at least a couple of biblical translations is good practice, especially when attempting to make head-and-tails of some difficult passages, there is a danger when this many versions/translations/interpretations are used. The tendency is to pick and choose whichever one best fits the angle you're trying to sell. Not all translations are good and accurate.

~

In every book review I always like to attempt to address either the book's "target market" or who would be interested in reading it.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can answer these questions. I get locked up in a preemptive state. I notice what can only be poor editing or poor grammar. Take your pick.

...so I check who the publisher is.
"Sons of Thunder Ministries & Publications"
Founder?
The author himself; John Crowder.

Reminds me of how many magazine covers Oprah appears on. Wow! A lot... until you realize she owns the magazine.

I can't help but think the prime "target market" would be people in his ministry itself. (And I hope I'm wrong on this one because it sounds a little too cultish to me). Maybe people attending his seminars/speeches may pick of a copy in the spur of the moment.
“We do not base our theology on subjective experience. Rather, we allow the Word to be our springboard for experiencing the divine”. (read in Sola Scriptura or Biblioatry). ”Experience is in no way a qualifier or pre-requisite for union. But experience will follow true faith, because true faith always manifests, works and demonstrates”. pg. 195-196
What exactly is he saying here? I can't help but think his point is one's experiences are only valid if confirmed through the bible. What about those experiences that are not? But I think he ultimately answers this question as well.

A true Christian is sinless, cannot sin, and is immune to sin.
A true faith always manifests miracles.
...and for those who do sin and cannot or do not manifest miracles?
This is the same old divisive Christianity that the world has long since grown tired of. This is, yet again, another attempt to market Unconditional Grace with religiosity's conditions quietly slipped in. There's little 'scandalous and revolutionary' about this concept and even less so about this book.

“If you are exploiting the grace of God – sinning under the guise of your perfection – please do the rest of us a favor and stop calling yourself a Christian”. pg. 202





Disclaimer:
I received this book free from SpeakEasy Blog Network. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

State of Emerge-ncy

I have long since stopped (or at least attempted to avoid) using certain terms. Postmodernism, postmodernity, pomo, Emergent, the Emergent Church, etc.

To me, I see religion in general as having entered a particular (and dangerous) stage. We no longer live in a world where the religionist can enjoy the luxury of isolation. Cultures have little choice but to meet one another and either embrace or clash. I see this spiritual conflicts as  "A State of Emerge-ncy" .

But I wonder if it could very well be some sort of veiled Discordianism. (Although I'm not sure using the word "veiled" is necessary or not. After all, how difficult is it to successfully identify a real Discordian?! Irreligious yet spiritual? And let's not forget, Atheism is itself a Belief-System too).

What I am really curious about, more specifically, isn't whether spiritual postmodernism is or isn't Discordian, but rather whether I am or am not. (Or whether you are or are not). I think I'd have to admit some of my methodologies are. But what's at the core beneath it?

And let's not allow subterfuge to misguide us here. I am not going in a direction that Discordianism is the blight of all things spiritual and, therefore, must absolutely be stopped.
No, not at all.

Could holding a belief in a "parody religion" - a deliberate mock or faux religion - be a postmodern approach to religion? More importantly, could this "joke methodology" exercise actually be part of a legitimate path to "enlightenment"?




(And on a completely aside note, I wonder if a parody could be our modern (Sorry! Our postmodern) equivalent to a parable?)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dead Off-Center

Paul so often talks about Grace over the Law. There is an odd and strange tension between the two.



But what concerns me are two things: Firstly, either extreme manifests serious and dangerous issues. Jesus repeatedly and unrelentlessly attacked Legalism because of it's indifference and hard heartedness. But the other end of the spectrum, is a chaotic free for all! The belief that Christ's atonement has been complete and absolute, to the critical point where we no longer carry any accountability. The belief that we have been given free licence to do whatever we want with no consequences. After all, God will forgive us, right? This is Licentious.

My second concern is its effect on dialogue; on how Christians communicate (or miscommunicate) and suffer severe misunderstanding over this issue. We have a dichotomous scale with Legalism at one extreme end and Licentiousness at the other.



Both will warn the other of its potential danger, and rightfully so! Fundamentalism is a move, a shift towards the dangers of Legalism, while the "Emergent Movement" runs the risk of entering into the Licentious. But to point out flaws and errors while not offering any sort of solution or goal is not complaining, but bickering at best, or bitching at worst. Bitching and bickering are not only counterproductive, but also divisive.

But what is the answer? If we are not to be legalists and we are not to be licentious, what are we supposed to be?

I am not content with the cookie-cutter answer of, "we are to try to be like Jesus". Although the answer is true, it is lame, a cop-out, and poorly thought out at best.

Was Jesus a legalist? Absolutely not! Was Jesus given to free licence? No. So are we to believe that Jesus maintained a perfect balance between the two; the exact epicenter; the balance point of this scale?



Many would say, yes, but I would completely disagree. From what I have seen, this "balancing point" is a sellout and a watering down of all truth.

Jesus does not represent 50% Grace + 50% Law. Jesus is 100% Grace and 100% Law. This position does not exist on this dichotomous scale. I've come to the conclusion that this scale is only useful in determining where we begin our journey, but cannot be used to map our journey itself. To move in any direction on this one-dimensional dichotomy represents absolutely no spiritual growth.

This paradigm - especially within ecumenical discussions - must be laid to rest. There is a third option, a third direction in which we all need to focus on and move in.



Legalism: Exaltation of law or formula, red tape. Preference of the Law to the gospel, doctrine of justification by works.

Licentious: Lascivious, lewd. Disregarding accepted rules or conventions.
Liberty: Being free from captivity, imprisonment, slavery, or despotic control.

We are free to break the Law, but only for the right reasons.

What we really need to be aware of is that this message, this gospel, this good news, this Jesus, is an extremely dangerous one. One that is a threat to nearly every kind of establishment and institutionalism that we know of.

Are we ready to explore what this new avenue means?
Are we prepared to follow his lead?

I don't see this as a perspective or a certain point of view. I would hope this is something we could all collectively agree upon. Namely, that our spiritual maturity, our growth must not be in any sort of horizontal direction on this diagram, but only vertically, only "up"; only towards christlikeness.

It is the clearest it has ever been made to me personally. It seems clear to me this is the core of Christianity, framed in the context of "love thy neighbour".

If I had to trim Christianity down to it's core essentials, I think this would summon it up perfectly in its profoundest simplicity.

This is a christianity I can wholeheartedly embrace. This is a kind of christianity that I could cease being a Rogue in; that I could cease "living apart from the herd".

If this truly isn't the core of christianity; of God's will, then I'm not sure I want anything to do with it.

Please allow me to give credit when credit's due.
The core idea behind this post was from a friend of mine - a baptism youth minister - on his last and final sermon. You can listen to it here.
Freedom ... free from or free to?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Christianity Failed for Me

Why Christianity Failed for Me

I'm not a pretentious man. I don't suppose that I'm all that unique or the exception, or all that different from the average block. I'm actually quite common.

I fear for my wellbeing and safety.
I worry for my security and the security for those that I love and especially for those I've been entrusted to care for.

Like everyone else, I cannot know the future and the future is a devious thing. Since I cannot know the future, I need to grasp on tightly to the illusions of stability I have.
Because Stability is the antithesis of Change, therefore Change is never a good indicator to the maintenance of this desired illusion.

The last thing I want to hear is that I am going to be prosecuted and discriminated against.
The last promise I want made is that I will endure hardship.

Yet these are the very promises and statements Yeshua makes. (Now, it's debatable whether he's making these statements and promises specifically to me, a 21st century, while male, or specifically to his early first-century audience). But they don't bide well with my hopes of stability.
They're kinda a slap in the face!

Truth be known, I have found more comfort in Taoism with its statement that the only thing we can be certain will never change is Change. The entire universe – every aspect of it and us – are in a constant state of flux. Change is the only norm.

~

How Christianity Succeeded for Me

I can't honestly say that Christianity as a whole has succeeded for me. But certain, very powerful aspects, have.

The escape from the binds and shackles of religiosity; being made free from the endless rules and regulations and conditions needed to appease God and “get right” and “earn” the divine love, only to discover you've always had this divine love since your very conception. You've never needed to earn it.

The totally freeing concept of the death of religion. The idea of a truly unconditional Grace. I think that's unique.

I think that's unique to the heretical rabbi, Yeshua of Nazareth's teachings. Hell! He's the ultimate Religious Heretic of all time! (Including the Religion of Christianity).

~

I no longer get bogged down with issues or questions regarding the nature of Yeshua's divinity – or even if he was divine. It's a silly question really. Mu. We're clearly asking the wrong question.

I've come to realize that I hold an odd and strange relationship with Christianity's founder. I don't see him as a close friend or confidant. He's too dangerous for that. He's even a little scary at times. He needs to be kept at a distance. But at times he speaks truths that are undeniable and world-shaking. It's a love-hate sort of thing really. If anything, this peculiar tension allows me liberty. It allows me to springboard into outer, stranger, and undiscovered areas of spirituality. Without fear of getting lost and without fear of (a least divine) judgment.

~

How did it succeed and fail for you?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Symbiotic God?

This thought has been on my mind for quite some time now.

It really isn't a full blown idea or concept. Just a half-formed 'suspicion'...

...that God may be just as 'dependent' on us as we are on "Him".

...a sort of byproduct of humanity's existence... or, possibly the fruition of man's consciousness... No, not just an abstract concept we've imagined ... yes, transcendent but not subservient.

Not a parasitic God but a symbiotic one. We, the human species (and possibly all life beyond us) are just as interlinked and dependent on this entity.

...some sort of hybrid betwixt an anthropomorphic theistic deity and an amorphous non-theistic 'entity', potentially like the Tao.

Is this to suggest that we are all gods ourselves? Not in the sense that we are each individually gods, but possibly that the one singular God is all of us collectively.

I don't really like approaching this issue from this angle. I'd rather approach it like this; Imagine if humanity didn't exist – became extinct. So too would God. ... even this isn't really going where my mind's wandering, because it creates a conundrum. (What about the time of creation, before man existed? But what I'm approaching is a sort of 'created' God that becomes extra-temporal...it doesn't really create a conundrum, but rather a paradox).

We are (each other and God included) intrinsically and necessarily connected. There is no (absolutely no) separating man from God.

I can't personally see any other way it could be.
The idea of a God that is omnibenevolent, (is Love itself), omnipotent, and has 'person-hood' simply must be abandoned. God cannot be these three things simultaneously.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review of Thomas Jay Oord's "The Nature of Love: a Theology

(By Guest Blogger - Michel Weatherall)

”The God whose nature does not include love for the world is a God whose love for creation is capricious.” pg. 110

Thomas Jay Oord doesn't shy away from a challenge in this new book. In The Nature of Love: a Theology, he is attempting to tackle the theological problem of evil and what those implications are for God.

This is going to be difficult for me to write. Normally, when reading a book I am going to review, I have a loose method. (I am a creature of habit). I carry a hi-liter marker with me, and as something catches my attention, I will hi-lite that phrase, sentence, or paragraph, dog-ear the page, and continue reading.

Once done the book, I will habitually sit outside in my gazebo (usually just before the sun rises) and go through my hi-lited points and dog-eared pages. Occasionally some hi-lited points will be of personal interest rather than for the review.

I fear this book will, quite literally, left my method broken.

I had found myself left with as many hi-lited notes of personal interest as reminders for this review. I had began scribbling notes in pen in the margins and even debated using up to three different colours of hi-liters! So many dog-eared pages had I left that I used one of my daughter's hair elastics to keep the book shut.

This book clearly would greatly lend itself to a group study and discussion. How the author contained his (new?) theory – the Essential Kenosis Theology – which addresses the problem of evil, within a small book of about 157 pages is nothing less than incredible.

This book touches upon something close to my heart, as I have struggled and wrestled through tears and heartache with the question of an omnipotent Deity who either creates Evil Himself, allows Evil to co-exist, or indifferently turns a blind eye. My personal quest has led me into the distant past to Creation itself searching for answers, as has Thomas Jay Oord, who dedicates a fair amount of ink into the latter part of the book. He contrasts God as outside of Time (timeless) with God as fully immersed in Time (time-full). He also seriously questions God's need of Creation and asks who must god truly love?

Thomas Jay Oord has even provided some material that forces me to revisit and reevaluate certain conclusions I have already concluded!

”Essential Kenosis theology not only solves the theoretical aspect of the problem of evil. It also resolves the question of why a loving God would not guarantee the fair distribution of goods to the poor and needy. It solves the problem of why a loving God would allow errant and ambiguous revelation, rather than making crystal-clear the information apparently necessary for full salvation.” pg. 126

I have questioned this issue of ”errant and ambiguous revelation” in A Pluralistic Sophia (which I must now, at least to some degree, revisit).

However, it is also at this point where we begin to see some minor tell-tale signs of problems.

This book; this Essential Kenosis Theology theory, is based upon, as the author himself puts it, the biblical witness. Ambiguous and less than crystal-clear revelation. Although I believe Thomas Jay Oord is in all likelihood referring to other holy script, it never-the-less should apply to the bible also. It explains the possibility of errant, conflicts, and inconsistencies of the bible itself. So it “allows” for ”errant and ambiguous revelation” yet rests upon the authority of the biblical witness. That's problematic. (And on a side note, I would very much like to know what does “full salvation” and its implications – a lack of salvation – mean from a necessarily all loving God).

The Essential Kenosis Theology, as presented in this book, goes a long way in forwarding my understanding of addressing the problem of evil in this world. However, I believe it isn't a “whole”, complete, or finalized theology. It is on page 134 that it broke down for me:


”...a biblically oriented doctrine of creation... [should]... reject theories of creation that imply God initially created our universe from preexisting materials God did not create but “happened upon” or “found at hand”.”

“When the Genesis writer first mentions God's creative activity, he describes God creating from something rather than nothing”.

Here is a problem. Either we run with the “biblical witness” as authoritative, or we do not. We cannot have it both ways.

If you are going to broach the issue of initial creation (which the author has) you need to address it one way or another. Not leave it in a confused and ambiguous state and then attempt to sidestep it altogether, providing a half-baked answer like,

"...sharing power and asking creation to participate in the creative process"; co-creating alongside God and continuously creating from the created. Basically stating the (answer to this problem) is the ”everlasting God has everlastingly been creating from that which God previously created. In each moment of God's everlasting life, God creates something new from what God created in the past. God's creating has always been occurring in the past and will always occur in the future” (pg. 136).

But all this aside, there is a wellspring of refreshing ideas presented in the book contrasted alongside older and more traditional ones. I would say it is a relativity heavy read but one worth the while all the same.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review of Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, and Society, by Jay Bakker

Try as I might, I could not find an appropriate place to segue two outstanding quotes into this review. So, I'll open by simply listing them:
“We are punished by our sins, not for them”. pg. 1

“…what’s more important than believing in life after death is believing is life before death”. pg. 157
~

One of the most refreshing and striking points I’ve noticed with Jay Bakker’s book, “Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, and Society” is that he doesn’t avoid or shy away from the fact that there are issues, conflicts, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the bible, while maintaining the fact that the bible is still extremely important and valuable. Not only is this something I personally wholeheartedly agree with, it is also an honest and respectful position.

We are told this is a book about Grace; Revolutionary Grace!
But sort of on a side note, I am left wondering how revolutionary Jay Bakker’s grace really is.
In the introduction, he defines Grace as follows:
“Grace is so poorly understood that it’s worth defining right up front. Grace literally means ‘unmerited favor’. It is the idea that we receive salvation as a gift from God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Not as something we’ve earned”. pg. xi
Fair enough! I’ve no problem with this definition. I know many Christians who would happily cite this, or very similar definitions of Grace, yet only upon the acceptance of Christ. (And isn’t that in itself a criteria? Wouldn’t this become a required check mark?)

A little ways on he speaks of Robert Wright’s book, “The Evolution of God” mentioning that “…there’s a clear evolution in our descriptions of God – a trajectory that points inexorably from judgment and punishment in the distant past through time towards forgiveness and all-encompassing love… That’s right: Our understanding of God (though not God Himself) changes over time.” pg. 72 (another book that I’ve read and enjoyed), suggesting – I should think – that understandings must be subject to growth and change. Can the above definition of grace be capable of evolving and growth?

Although nowhere does Jay Bakker say that this definition of Grace is solely dependent upon acceptance of Christ, or even suggest it, it is a question of curiosity that remains and concerns me. (I would very much like to directly ask Jay Bakker this question should the opportunity present itself. And if you’re reading this review Jay, please feel free to contact or email me!)

I wonder this because one minor theme that seems to follow throughout this book is why believers and non-believers alike, stay away (or are driven away) from church. Although the question is not directly asked, it is glazed over and assumed that church needs and/or deserves to be saved through some sort of revolutionary revival. As I understand unconditional Grace, should we truly grasp and live it out, there would cease to be a need or dependency on church (… and church is not necessity for community, btw).

~

I’ve read, re-read, and then re-read again the jacket and sleeve of this book, looking for some sort of hint or indication as to this book’s real topic matter and I have found disappointingly nothing of the sort. The book is toted and sold as exploring the topic of Grace; Revolutionary Grace!; but ultimately it is about acceptance of homosexuality.

Now, please, my gentle reader, don’t misunderstand me. I have no problem with homosexuals. Like Jay Bakker, I do not consider it a sin. Nor do I believe they should be discriminated against or ostracized from their churches or religion of their choice, or in society in general. I do not have issues with people championing this cause nor do I have issues with reading books that champion their cause. However, I do like to be free to make this choice, which this book did not have to grace of permit me.

I cannot help but wonder if Jay Bakker just didn’t quite purge the Evangelical habit of bait-and-switch out of his methodology. His topic matter is clearly gay Christian rights but I’ve yet to hear this stated in any sort of synopsis, summary, or even made mention of the book’s jacket cover. Although I personally embrace and share his concept and interpretation of how open and free Grace is, I don’t believe this is really the direction the book is moving in, and I can’t help but feel duped; lied to even, which left a very bad taste in my mouth.

And finally, like all my book reviews, I like asking the question, who is this book’s target audience?

Well, for the Conservative mainstream Christian, I’m sure they will dismiss this book out-of-hand.

For the more liberal Christians I’m sure they’d find the reading interesting, but not without trepidation and hesitancy.

It will most definitely appeal to the more extreme liberal Christians – the ‘fringe-dwellers’ – but unfortunately, I’m not convinced this group has the power or authority to instigate the necessary changes.

To the non-Christian yet spiritually-minded, I am convinced they’d find a healthy amount of common ground, but there’s a reason why non-Christian-spiritually-minded- people are non-Christian… and I fear Jay Bakker is still – consciously or not – attempting to draw in converts and disciples (admittedly of a very different nature). He is still ultimately proselyting, and whether intentional or not, this will only serve to further divide the church.

Is Jay Bakker right about the absolute unconditional nature of Grace? Yes.

Is this a message that can change the world, break down racial, political, and religious barriers, and even heal and offer salus to this world? Yes, most definitely!

However, it is with a heavy heart that I regretfully say, I feel this is a book without an audience. I hope I am wrong. (God knows, it wouldn’t be the first time).

Is Jay Bakker’s “Fall to Grace” worth the read? I would recommend that it is

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Theological Problem of Worms

It was early in the afternoon the day I went for a walk around my neighbourhood. It had rained heavily during the night and early morning, but the sun was out and shining in its full force. The freshness after a good rainfall had now dried up and that scent of healthy moist earth along with it. Now all I came across was the shriveled bodies of hundreds of worms on the pavement; lifeless dried out husks.

As my eyes were drawn to their bodies I noticed they didn't count in the hundreds, but more like in the thousands. The road was absolutely covered with them.

What a horrible existence. What a horrible life.

Designed to live and thrive beneath the earth's surface, in the soil; warm and safe. But when the water comes; when the rain falls, they are faced with a terrible decision. Stay in their burrows and drown, or escape to the surface making themselves vulnerable to giant-sized predators. (Although a Red-breasted Robin isn't particularly threatening to us, to a worm they're a monstrosity). Then they must hope to time their entrance into their subterranean safety after the water's subsided but before the sun dries them to death.

Why would a loving God create worms? I can completely understand the need and function worms perform. They are a necessity. But why this horrific choice between drowning and monstrous hunters?

...but I guess this isn't really an important theological question, is it? After all, they're only worms, right?

~

I can remember the World Trade Center falling in 2001. we still struggle and reel with questions like why? How could so many innocent people, people just like you and me, fall victim to a crime like this?





I can remember when the Tsunami hit India in 2004.
We never really ever got an accurate body count but they estimated somewhere around 200,000 people were lost. Swept away. Whole and entire islands, simply gone.




...How can a loving God allow these things to happen? Most especially if we believe nothing in this world happens without God's permission or direction.

Please don't think I am making light of these horrific events. But they seem to put the blight of the common everyday worm to shame. But you see, the theological problem with worms is the exact same theological problem we face and question.

I partially believe the problem lies in the fact that we presume God plays favourites towards us humans. Not only that, but we presume God must absolutely be anthropomorphic. “He” is a god of us human beings.

I realize these thoughts and views are difficult. But this is the same God who has created worms as well as humans... the same God who loves us both.

The theological problem of worms is our theological problem.
I believe – at least in part – the answer to these problems lies within out anthropomorphic views (or maybe insistence) of God's nature. Maybe even our belief that God must be personal. Or even a 'person' as we understand the term. (Maybe God is significantly more akin to the idea of what the Tao is?)


To me, I have only come across 3 possible explanations. Atheism, Deism, or Gnosticism. Little else would seem to explain this theological problem of worms.