Sunday, November 16, 2014

SERMON:' INTO THE HAND OF A WOMAN' ... Judges 4:1-9, 17-23


  1. This ancient story of the importance of the feminine ironically comes out of the midst of the thoroughly patriarchal culture of ancient Israel. This sermon encourages you to view it as a model for the complete equality of women that in recent decades has become more conscious in our American culture. Or one can use some tools of Analytical Psychology to see this story symbolically describing every  man's need to find and integrate his inner feminine function. Since such an ancient story comes mostly out of the Collective Unconscious of a culture we can expect it to introduce themes that are timeless and relevant. In this vein the story demonstrates  male and feminine qualities as symbols of different aspects of every human's personality, no matter ones physical sexuality.
  1. This will be more of a Bible lesson than a sermon. I ask you to consider the story not as history but as symbolic of some basic characteristics of what it means to be most fully human. It means to have both male and feminine capacities. Jungian psychology specifically speaks of a man being more familiar with or conscious of his male function but hopefully, as he matures beyond midlife, finds and develops what would be considered as some of the more feminine qualities. The opposite of course is true for a woman. 

    Deborah, leader of men.
    3. The Bible is primarily writings produced under male or patriarchal influences, so in general it says little proportionately about women's lives and generally depicts women as  less important, less powerful, less reasonable , more weakly emotional etc than men. But since the Bible is also a product , I believe, of  the Collective Unconscious forces surfacing to consciousness, over all the Bible is bound  to 'show' to some extent the conclusion that men and women are of equal value, of equal need in the world. And are both able to develop both those qualities that have been eternally associated with  maleness and femaleness. For example,  through the ages some  female qualities are considered: tenderness, able to hold back rather than rush ahead, adjust to the moment, focus on relationship, able to build quality friendships, to cross artificial social  boundaries and to build families and culture. Where as qualities that are associated with maleness are being head strong, well developed reasoning capacity, the sex of  humanity most prone to act, pursue, penetrate, to build alliances and empires. Since this story comes from a male dominated culture we can correctly see, spiritually and psychologically, the women here, Deborah and Jael, as symbols of part of the male psyche; feminine forces and factors that probably before midlife are totally unconscious and unpracticed in conscious behavior. Or if you prefer you can also be seeing them as real women who have well developed both their feminine, but far more difficult, their inner males aspects. It is always a good thing when a flesh and blood man or woman is able to discover , integrate and use as a life resource their inner contra sexual function

I. Some background of  the O.T. image of God. War is historically a product of  male instinct. So it is here and throughout the O.T. War, an effort at overt dominance and oppression of others, was central to the culture in which Jesus lived. He rose up with his  more feminine like capacities to cry out against a totally unbalanced culture with the male aspects fully out of control, dominating and oppressing those with less power. It was his speaking out against this that resulted in Jesus being killed. Also notice the God image of Yahweh here, as is common in the O.T. , presents as an all male god which is acting out strong, often enraged, relationship destructive male attributes. He is jealous and possessive of Israel who he refers to as belonging to him. He also is deeply involved in unilaterally  setting up wars. He frequently  blames Israel for being totally unfaithful and accuses her of being an adulteress.(and he totally innocent of any of the failure)  With Yahweh there is no  room for a more realistic, considered, conscious  view that  maybe Israel did some things right, that they were trying to do the right thing at least some of the time. In his exaggerated male quality of seeking dominance and being right he puts total blame on the other party in any dispute. (Fortunately, there are places in the O.T. where the God image is pictured as feminine wisdom such as in Proverbs. There God is personified as wisdom and is given a female name Sophia. This was shown in the liturgy in last week's bulletin.)

II. Of interest, in the story, Barak confesses his need of a woman to help him do his work, even the work of war. We can see this symbolically as a man becoming aware of the need of his feminine aspect. Not taking  this  literally but symbolically and psychologically, it not primarily  real flesh and blood woman that he needs  but even more importantly he needs to find  his inner feminine function. World renowned psychiatrist and religious writer Carl  Jung called this living function the 'anima' and it can be thought of as the 'soul.' It comes in dreams and fantasies as a female personality.  When a man finds and integrates his anima  he finds and  becomes united with his own soul is the implication. With his feminine function more conscious Barak trusted he could have the kind of wisdom that is of a feminine quality. Its not enough to be tough and plow the enemy down. He needs to be also be clever and cunning, to be able to adapt as every situation changes. To be able to carefully  persuade rather than to  directly over power another person, a counter idea, or even a physical enemy. These become natural functions, as needed,  when the anima function is conscious and integrated more fully.
 
III. So he outright says,  I will take on this task but you Deborah , or  his inner feminine aspect , must be present for him to function at his very best. Deborah shows another feminine quality that all people need and that is faithfulness. 'Yes, I will go with you', she says ' But You need to realize Barak that when you invite the feminine along in your projects you may well not get the glory.' In real life the job will more likely be done better but it may not be you that gets the credit. So the man in search for his anima, his soul, must be humble enough to want the task  to be done whether or not he gets credit for it.  In fact she implies, ' If I go with you it will be a woman, whether outer or inner, who is the hero in this war.'  The  story is showing how desperately man spiritually needs to become conscious of his inner feminine function(and not simply keep projecting this onto outer real women) in order to accomplish the tasks of his fate. The male function alone is not sufficient for such wholeness. 

Jesus' Feminine Aspect Imaged.

It appears rather obvious in the many paintings of Jesus across centuries that the artist is ,usually unconsciously, picking up on Jesus' feminine aspect. More recently Jesus is painted as the 'strong hard male'(likely fearing he may appear too gay) only; but let's face it, it is the more delicate Jesus that has been the insistent primary image of him for people for 2000 years. The opposite developmental task, described through Analytical Psychology, is true of a woman. Her task is to integrate the more 'male' considered capacities without losing her central feminine nature.(that is a danger in both of these processes) Deborah and Jael  are images of such women. They are still very much feminine but also strong, decisive and able, if need be, to drive a tent peg through the abuser's skull.

IV. Well it seems that God Yahweh has another plan that is not quite so brutish as the one he announced earlier(Judges 4:1-2.)  And he expresses this through the feminine. Instead of God owning a feminine side, so very needed,  which I think we see happening in the personality of Jesus he uses a human woman to explain this plan to the men involved. She emphatically tells Barak that he should take all the forces he can find and go up on Mt Tabor. For there is where the enemy King Jabin will have his general Sisera to have 10k soldiers with a vast array of arms to assemble. There Barak will be able to take the enemy by surprise and crush them. Here we see a woman who has integrated inner male qualities and can have a will of steel and compete in the mens war as effectively , probably better, than most men. So it happens this way in the story.

 V. The end of the story is the the enemy general abandoned his horse and chariot and walked toward home. Exhausted from battle he invited himself into the home of fa Hebrew couple. The wife Jael, in her woman's intuition, recognized him as the oppressor of her people for two decades. She invited him in and here is the story...4:18-21. She used her feminine capacities to hold back, to anticipate, to lure …. and at the right moment she strikes the enemy with deadly force. And so it was as Deborah said, ' The Lord shall give the victory today into the hands of a woman.' 
 
Conclusion : The story of the feminine aspect of men would not be complete without music. I grew up in football country where a boy would likely be called a sissy if he wanted to play an instrument or be in the band. I imagine this culture was a lot like that and thought of only women being music creators and singers. So this story of the feminine ends with a long song called the Song of Deborah. Judges 5.  It praises Deborah for providing wise judgment for her people, for her wisdom and prudence. And for her courage and seriousness for even war if it came to that. So whether you want to take this symbolic story as being a reminder of the strength of women to participate in the fullness of life along side of men or even the deeper meaning that it shows the reality and healthy goal of a man, as he moves through life, being able to find and integrate and live out of his inner feminine as well as his outer male attributes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

SERMON: GOD IS MULTIFACETED... November 14, 2014

      Judges 4:17-21, Zephaniah 1:7, 12-13, Matthew 25:28-30, Psalm 23:1


After some struggling I decided to think with you about an area of Bible fact that I've had in the back of my mind for three decades. How can we best think of the quite terrible images and stories in the Bible which say these  are somehow a part of God's nature? I think this has been often swept under the rug in much Christian teaching in our efforts to defend  God as being  good and only good. (note the darkness of the passages above.) Do we not owe sincere truth seekers and ourselves an explanation of such horrendous descriptions of God throughout the Bible? This goes hand in hand with the very appropriate question ,' If God is all good, all powerful  and all loving why are such horrible and sad things a part of every life and culture? One of my personal awful experiences was the sudden death of my mother when I was 10 years old. I do look at that very differently than I did the first half of my life. So I offer you some things to consider that I have found helpful. None of this is new but not often spoken of.
  1. We can be humble enough to say, 'We can never fully know God.' By any basic definition 'God is all, encompasses all that has been, is and can be.' So by our very situation as being only a part of the whole of all things we cannot ever hope to grasp the total which is God. The Dominican priests have a slogan that says, ' God is in all and all is in God.' This refuses to split reality into what is of God and what isn't or is conveniently passed on to an equal god, called the devil. So when we split our lives up into what is of God and not God we really fail to stay true to the belief that God is actually all of it somehow... good and bad, what we interpret as beautiful and ugly, what comes into our life that saturates us with joy and love and gratitude and that which comes that we must call tragedy and even evil. Taking these as aspects of the nature of God means that we and all else in the universe is contained. Nothing, absolutely nothing spills out , is rejected or is left out of the container which is the ultimate meaning of God. Though somewhat difficult, I think this is a good, sound and solid way to think of God.


  2. Since we are forbidden by our knowing capacities to fully know God we can accept that we have only our own personal experiences of life to base our idea of God on. Some of these are experiences of material reality that come through our senses. We also have images and ideas and dreams that spring up spontaneously in our minds. But none of these images can ever be the actual full reality they point to outside ourselves. Our experiences can only point to the actual realities that stir up and cause our various experiences. So we can be honest to ourselves about what we know and don't know and not claim more. We have only estimates of those realities outside of us. Two can look at the same mountain and feel some confidence they both see the same thing. That is only because we trust we each have basically the same seeing equipment, our eyes and nervous system. But if one of us should look at the mountain through an electron microscope or an infrared lens we will have an entirely different image of the same mountain. And none of these images in our minds can ever be the actual 'real' mountain for the real mountain is simply not ever in our head, only different estimates of it. How much more this is true of things outside the material world such as the idea of God. It is our personal experiences that can point to some aspects of God but never are the ideas and estimates in our head able to be the actual transcendent reality of God. Someone will say, 'Well if we only have experiences that point to God than do we have any right to speak of God at all. To not know the fullness of God must mean that God is not real to us.

  3. My thought here is that even though our experiences are not the totality of God itself, they are extremely important and they are very real, the only real thing we have that connects us to anything else. So it seems it is our human privilege and obligation to seek meaning from the experiences we have. And this humans, since consciousness entered our minds, have done and continue to do. Religions and science come from making meaning of human experiences. Being able to embrace life depends on the human capacity to 'make meaning' from his/her experiences. And to have meaning in life might be viewed as the most basic thing a human needs to keep the zest for living alive. Without it depression and anxiety threaten to overwhelm. Our experiences can lead us to meaning and for many that highest meaning is the idea which includes ALL and is always called God. This view reflects the Oneness that so many Bible passages, including Jesus' prayer for unity, implore as creation's destiny. Our human experiences range from  glorious to horrible. We all say sometimes, 'That's  life.' and that is absolutely and everywhere true. So we may very reasonably say that 'Life's experiences are God'. Life's experiences are to us God and God is life's experiences. This way God is truly All in All and nothing is not of God.  We understand God to be One, All in All.

     
  4. One more suggestion. We might stop thinking and saying that God does this or that. This creates a confused situation for it implies that God blesses some and curses others. It is hard for humans to escape thinking that God is a great and powerful human-like being out there somewhere. But it seems time for us to work at giving that cherished image up. 

    Isn't it truer to the nature of God to say that ' God is experienced'?  For this is true always. The great importance of finding meaning in the idea of God shows itself when anything suddenly runs against our conscious expectations. Humans everywhere exclaim, “ Oh My God.” They experience God at that moment I believe. Everything we experience is an aspect of God, but not to be thought of God deciding to do to this or that. My mother's death was not a choice God made for me, as I see it, but it was I think indeed an undeniable aspect of God as are all life's startling experiences. The awe I experienced as a young teen when I found arrowheads... objects shaped and last touched by a fellow human thousands of years ago.... was an aspect of God, an experience that pointed to God for me. Falling in love is an aspect of God as is a heart attack or any infirmity. Such formative parts of life do not have to be left as ones with no meaning and no connection to God. St Francis experienced God in the animals and flowers. Pierre Teilhard experienced God in the rocks and fossils. Paul experienced God in his 'thorn in the flesh'  as well as his inner experience of the 'third heaven.'  These are best thought of not as God doing something but as experience which points to aspects of God whose full actuality is forever beyond us? Is this not honest and consistent to our actual experience? God is truly multifaceted, as multifaceted as every inner and outer experience that humans have.
Conclusion: These tools of thought may help us to be in closer harmony with an evolving image of God for the 21st century. 1. God does not consciously do but every human experience is an aspect of God. 2. God is never fully known but is pointed to potentially by every human experience 3. God is in all and all is in God. 4.God is life's experience, all of it. 5. It is human spiritual work to find meaning in our individual and collective experience and to many such meaning points to the idea of God. We cannot impose our meaning on someone else. If many persons' experience points to a similar meaning then this will happen and a new collective harmony forms. We can't manufacture it. 

This can mean that the terrible descriptions of God in the Bible were for these people experiences which pointed to aspects of God. So we do not have to pretend these horrific aspects of God are not a reality or are illusions. The  unspeakable good and bad experiences humans have can be understood as aspects of God. I am  convinced that both humans and God are evolving toward that which is more fully and completely good. But honesty insists that neither human life nor anything in the Bible suggests that such a time has yet arrived. Yet great strides in pockets of human consciousness in recent decades indicate we are due a major shift toward the better. So we can  ask for  and desire to have an attitude that all which happens with us needs not be separated into two piles, but it is all of God. God is in it all and all of it is in God. Let's close with an image of God's goodness that has been a great source of strength and hope for billions and many can gladly claim that its meaning points to an eternal aspect of God. …..

Psalms 23. A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; 2 he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

LEARNING CURVES... Ebola and the importance of science.. November 1, 2014

 I think maybe a significant portion of Americans do not believe that life individually and collectively is, by its very nature, a series of many 'learning curves'. We are becoming a 'quickie' , 'sound bite', 'don't ask me to think, learn and grow' people to an alarming extent. When a new challenge to our comfort  isn't immediately  understood  our tendency is to  panic,  fear and blame others.  Some seem to  believe we should not have to take the time or bear the discomfort of learning anything, but that life's troubles should come already solved on a silver platter.

 One place this surfaces is in the fearful public  reaction to any new contagious disease. Now Ebola. There is only one source for the best information on such a thing in today's world. It is not in Facebook opinions or religion or politics. It is the purest science that humans have so far accumulated via the scientific method. Many medical scientists have been on a learning curve for decades on this and their consensus, as imperfect as it may seem at times, can give us hands down the best guidance available. So far, after all the fear, exaggerated stories and blaming.... the science has been right. Everyone in America who has contracted the disease had very intense physical connection to an Ebola patient WHEN THEY WERE AT THE HEIGHT OF THEIR SYMPTOMS, NOT BEFORE or after. This is how it is with Ebola.  Hospitals who engaged the learning curve months ago have had nearly flawless performance in caring for Ebola patients and protecting workers and the public. Hospitals that didn't enter that learning curve made some tragic mistakes and added to public fears. Politics in places has yielded to the fear and ignored the science, has refused to join the learning curve and has thus set a poor public example.  Science teaches the best way to keep Ebola from becoming an epidemic is not by erecting travel blockades and enforcing unscientific quarantines. Such behavior is a fearful rejection of  sound knowledge and actually backfires to increase the likelihood of Ebola getting out of control.

Thankfully, in spite of ungrounded fears and politicians and  radio celebs acting  irresponsibly;  and because of courageous front line medical workers,  we seem to be holding reasonably well  to the science based course. A majority seems to have joined this learning curve challenge of our nation. It seems very important that Americans manage to generate more trust that God does provide various highly  gifted humans who have dedicated their lives  to the study and expertise  of  various areas of life. It is good to accept, with grateful yet attentive minds, their gifts of learning and experience. Sometimes learning includes a good dose of following those who know more than we do about a particular area of reality. But also, the human experience  calls us all to  face the reality that no one or  group is all-knowing or ever perfect, including us.



Saturday, August 2, 2014

IS A LIVING HOPE IN HUMANKIND'S FUTURE SLOWLY BUT SURELY FINDING REALITY IN THE COLLECTIVE HUMAN HEART?..Aug 2, 2014

Has any sizable portion of humanity ever had a genuinely lively hope in the future of Humankind?  Has any group, nation, political or religious demographic ever from the heart  been convinced that the natural movement of humanity over time is  to a state of unprecedented unforced harmony and  creatively tensioned peace?  Has a  major mass of humanity yet  found  itself in love with its own species  and highly expectant that the brightest days of life on earth are yet to be? Why even such a thought brings scowls and cynical smiles from both the typical religious and nonreligious person of our day. Yet isn't such a living  united hope essential for  providing  the motivation for marshaling the resources and taking the necessary  actions precisely what is needed  for such a good future to even  be possible? We ask, 'Where could such a hope and motivation come from? It has never been found consistently before?"   Most of us say we  are very 'positive' in our view of life but the longer such a conversation goes the more the underlying pessimism is revealed, for tragically it is our pessimism about our own species, about the likelihood of the human collective to help shape a world that is actually much better, more informed by knowledge, good mindedness and genuine mutual care than has yet existed. Pierre de Chardin envisioned such a hope and a source of  motivation behind it and he found support for this in his Christian point of view buttressed by scientific evolution. We may be moving in that good  direction far more than we suppose.  Part of the  contents of this essay seeks to point out that at a deeper, often barely conscious, level even our broadly experienced  pessimism  is being challenged by real  life enhancing forces that grow stronger by the day.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

To start these thoughts, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin         (1881-1955) presented a vision of the future of humanity that may be the most positive, and I think surely with the most scientific substructure, ever described in much detail. Teilhard was a Jesuit Priest and true to the Jesuit motto of 'God in all things' saw an imminent 'mind in matter and life'(my phrase) at work in the processes of the world's evolution. He was a world wide most highly  respected evolutionary paleontologist/geologist  who devoted his life to the direct study and interpretation of meaning of the fossil record of the world. Based on patterns of biological and social evolution he 'saw' in the record what made it certain to him that humankind is not at the end of it's extension of consciousness and mind but hardly just begun. He saw evidence there that, unlike other animal species, which continue to seek to spread out from itself on the earth like a fan shape, that human beings' evolutionary process has entered a time, over the past few thousand years, of strong 'convergence' on and intense understanding of it's mindfulness of  itself. He notes how especially in the most recent 100 years humanity physically  covers the full skin of the earth, unlike any other species, and has been 'pushed' by this crowding and 'infolding  on itself' through such things as wars, world wide communications systems, machines ,  a growing sense that the greatest problems faced in our survival are now ' all our' problems that can only be adequately addressed as a united humanity; whether it be efforts to contain wars, find cures for horrendous diseases, addressing wide swaths of humans who live without adequate food, water and health care or threatening changes in climate and pollution. The world more and more shares a common serious research of  connected community through science(For example we and Russians are in joined space programs.) for a full range of 'truth seeking' that more and  more is  accepted as an important  part of all our realities.

 Like it not we are in each others face and communities; we are learning more about each other no matter how much we may resent it. We can try as individuals or religious/political groups or hermits to run away from the pressures of this gigantic infolding pressure  but that choice we know is becoming less feasible every day. Is it more wise to consider as Teilhard that  our human species itself is a  growing developing organism still in its prime and  which shows signs of having  a 'collective mind or brain' that is far more than any separate disconnected  human minds. This does not mean the forces are coercive over the individual but that we are being naturally and evolutionarily prepared to be ready for the next phase of higher consciousness. Unlike in previous millennia we humans  now can reflect on the patterns  and participate in our own evolutionary process. This we are already doing in numerous ways. And there are other ways in which we have not yet with a united mind taken up the responsibility to exercise this new unprecedented humanized/divine  power.

So this compressing nature of our species' evolution is hardly a pleasant thing that we would have ever sought or desired but it is as real as anything we can consider. Teilhard's 'God is in all things' may be the best way for us to accept what is stronger than any separate or combined human  effort could stop..... and better yet to see these awful 'growing pains' as evidence that we are actually moving to a 'knowing' of our fellow humans that has never happened before. And where 'knowing' happens,  also what Teilhard calls a 'new kind of love not yet experienced by humans' can also be a new part of the collective human consciousness. There is a growing sense, whether one rejoices in it or fears it , seeks to understand it or just rejects it,  that there is no 'one religious faith that is the right one. ' Many  of us have a sense that we have crossed that line  some time ago (one most of our parents never even had to consider and would have shuddered) at least intellectually, no matter how exclusive the sermons we still hear tell us to reject it. Our nation's drastic change of attitude toward the portion of our fellows who are LGTB in sexual orientation is another example of how 'by better knowing others' we also better care about them and their well being and their  personal pursuit of happiness. This was in a real sense experienced as being forced on many Americans but for those who have had a significant transformation, they are nearly without exception glad that they have 'improved' their personal knowledge base  and understanding of such things  and their moral consciousness. Surely, many will fight these rather 'destined' by evolutionary patterns of change with all their might. But I think Teilhard's understanding of the 'big picture' would be to recognize  a rejection of such patterns in the fossils  themselves, and now in our daily outer reality,  as a lost cause and truly a last, and maybe somewhat stubborn,  gasp for the air of a world that has really already passed away. Arguments about such deeply proven and successfully used in every area of life concepts as biological evolution are hardly worthy of an argument in our present time. Teilhard, a man of strong Christian faith uses little time for such 'leading nowhere' discussions.

Examples of a developing higher collective consciousness, and of homonization( the process of persons becoming convinced that they are personally connected to all others as  part of a whole) are all about us. I just watched the popular movie Life of Pi where the key character takes on a belief of parts of three major world religions and , comfortable or not, most viewers today received 'in their hearts' his thoughtful approach to religion as a positive happening. This is the psychological fact experienced even if their church dogma would tell them otherwise. Such a movie would have received strong disapproval from some religions even a few decades ago for including that 'harmony of the religions' scene at the very beginning of the story. Any day's news gives examples of ' fundamental improvements in human caring' which our enfolding on ourselves as a species is helping create. We are bombarded with most every kind of ambiguous moral scenario of real life and asked what we think is truly moral and right. Only  unprecedented mass audio/visual communications give nearly all humans such learning moments every day. The world has already changed so much, much of it toward something better. Two Americans with the deadly Ebola virus are being flown to the U.S. , increasing in some small extent the possibility  that the disease could find this as an entrance to affect other Americans. Eight decades ago the public would not have been informed in real time,and enabled to react, what higher officials were doing. And if they had may have said the infected should not be brought to our shores? There is surely that voice today but I think it is that same gasping for the past voice, destined to become a whimper. My guess is that a majority of Americans, through reasonable trust in officials, do approve this decision today due to a commonly held view of the Sacredness of all lives and that this facility had been planned and built    ( in harmony with many workers and experts) as the best place to help one with this disease.  When we can, let's do good seems to be growing mantra. The fact that the major drug companies have not yet invested in finding treatments for this deadly disease seems to be directly linked to it being a 'poor peoples' disease. This kind of 'selecting' who gets best care would be frowned on in a collective humanity with a raised consciousness that De Chardin's evolutionary pattern projects is now underway.

 I suspect congress is far behind the general American consensus that it should be a government priority that children languishing at our southern boarders, no matter how they got there, should be given basic life and soul sustaining resources while working with involved others on the best course of long range action. These are immediate examples of the kind of 'inclusive human values' regarding life that would be expected to be a natural consensus-not ones enforced by a committee of any kind-  with the collective raised consciousness being advocated by evolutionary patterns in the vision of Teilhard. I suspect that Europe is ahead of us in 'hearing the voice' of some of  these collective  values naturally  forming. After all they have a much deeper and older common consciousness, one that has survived far more changes in time than we Americans have.

Without continually quoting Teilhard I am attempting here to express in my own words what his kind of vision might mean if, welcomed at first or not, a large mass of humanity became infected with such a hopeful view of the future of humankind in a very natural and non compulsory way. Teilhard is obviously speaking of a major transformation in world view, in how we imagine Sacred presence, and in the capacity to 'care for the other' that the world has not as yet experienced on any wide scale. That to me is why his vision is very much spiritual, because it believes in such possibilities and thus naturally  comes to expect them. And perhaps in some real sense creates them.

Such a vision of the eventual evolutionary complexities and consciousness that Teilhard lays out are not new. This kind of vision of humanity has been stated, but surely only in brief moments and situations realized in the real world, by the most prominent spiritual leaders throughout history. I think of the statement in Hebrew story where  they are told by God,  ' You are blessed that you may be a blessing to the rest of humankind'. The gospels state this culmination of the human story in various imagery. Jesus speaks of reality becoming 'on earth as it is in heaven.' One gospel opens with angels declaring the end game of humankind as there being 'peace on earth and good will to all people.' Jesus prayed that ' They all( humans I'd interpret) be one.” Christian people can broaden their understanding to know these visions were just that and have not in any grand way become humanity's reality, quite the contrary it seems. With  just that much  of  a change in perception these can become statements of a still  living hope that are in exact harmony with so much of Teilhard's vision, and I suspect to their initial meaning.  But most have not read them that way, with that challenge. In contrast to Teilhard's vision of the human collective future, many have taken literally NT images that depict an end where God loses relationship to most of his human family due to their supposed incapacity to live morally or faithfully enough. It is believed then they suffer forever in Hell or are simply written off as if they never lived, struggled and loved. This is an old idea that has gained renewed popular Evangelical support. I just ask for practical purposes: If a parent lost, for whatever reason, all loving relationship with three out of four children. Would she be OK with herself by saying, “Oh well. I did my part. I'll just pretend they never lived. I'll evaporate their human memory, tears , fears , joys , hopes laughter and smiles” Then I will just enjoy eternity with my one child who did measure up and I was able to keep a connection with. I think the ethical foundations of the transformed/evolved collective human psyche that Teilhard envisions could never support such an attitude by either a human or by a god. And in accordance with the belief that such a raised consciousness is already in progress, I do not believe that most humans today would find such a view compatible to their own heart's voice.
Atom Bomb Explosion

Teilhard remained a devoted priest to the end of life. His works reflect his formal faith. This may be a problem for some and seem as contradictory to his 'God in all places' point of view. You can decide for yourself. I find him fully embracing all people and all aspects of the created world. His approach to scripture is primarily symbolic and allegorically understood. He speaks of 'The Christ symbol being the alpha and the omega.' He was numerous times taken away for his excavation sites by fearful church leaders and sent to different parts of the world. He would only start digging again wherever he was and he reported he was always sent inadvertently to exactly the place he needed to go to discover the very facts he needed to support his vision. His main works were censored by the church until after he died. Like so many of our species' courageous geniuses he suffered much for the gifts he managed to bring back to us all. What a legacy if some day it may be said of Teilhard that he greatly helped clear the way for a broad based collective living hope for humanity when such hope had truly never been consistently and collectively found. He taught his peers how to trust in themselves and their yet undeveloped  powers for good and love which had   nearly  completely escaped their imaginations.

This is only a brief essay introducing some basic thoughts of one of the most positive visions ever imagined, and by a man of high caliber, strong knowledge in his area of expertise and an authenticity that is born out in the biography of his life. In his book The Future Of Man he not only lays out clearly in layman's terms his science based vision but he also anticipates some very real questions that serious readers would ask. He addresses questions regarding the balance of individual personal development vs a naturally developing collective ethical standard. He speaks of the need of a balanced value with both the secular and the Sacred in harmony. He reflects on how many very negative realities also are contributing most positively to the movement of  humanity's learning toward to a higher human complexity and consciousness including: war, infighting of all kinds, unemployment phenomena, discovery of the atom bomb, downsides of personal technology, efforts at totalitarian governments, and the human record of there always being bullies, trouble makers and what most think of as generally 'bad people.'  I recommend  for reading The Future Of Man to anyone interested in a strong possibility for hope in  a bright future for humankind.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Teilhard_de_Chardin

Friday, July 18, 2014

SERMON: A Ladder Connecting Two Worlds...July 20, 2014

                                         Genesis 28:10-18      Matthew 13:44-45
This is a sermon I'd ask you to think of as the preacher thinking out loud. I suppose that is what every sermon actually is. But I ask that you take my words in the spirit of  being for  your consideration and questioning.

This Genesis story of Jacob's Ladder, and the gospel reading today, are like a 'dream' (no pun intended) for me for they give examples of some of the ways I have come in recent decades to view the nature of scripture. And ways I think Sacred text can be more successfully used as a resource-- to open up opportunities for experiencing the Divine other, or God. So I will seek to share how, especially the story of Jacob's ladder dream, strongly supports some of these ways of hearing and using scripture; ways which I think are being rediscovered in many quarters. Such changed perceptions I think are more likely happening in faith groups like the UCC for many of our pastors have pointed out to our people that much of scripture is symbolic rather than literal , inspired  mythical story rather than historical. So we can have this kind of conversation in a UCC church whereas I might not be invited back in many other places. But I hope these topics are being more discussed in many places in recent years.
                           

  1. The text clearly shows that ordinary human nightly dreams, even when a stone is one's pillow, are potentially a rich source of spiritual transformation. After the dream Jacob declares, "Surely  the Lord is in this place, I just did not know it." The dream gave him needed wisdom he did not have before. If you read through the Bible time and again a person is led to an elevated spiritual insight, a genuine repentance, a transformation by a dream. A few whose lives and commitments were transformed by dreams include Joseph and the youth prophet/king Samuel. Interestingly, Eve is spoken of metaphorically as coming from Adam's rib while he slept. So for Adam we might say, Eve is pictured as his dream come true. In the NT both Peter and Paul were converted and transformed by dreams or visions. The whole book of revelation claims to be a dream like vision. So many of the major players in the Bible story were given wisdom and direction by their dreams. 

    But I think we all know that no prominent church today, conservative or liberal , shows signs of taking dreams seriously as a spiritual resource for transformation or enlightenment. This is primarily because our materialistic , over rationalistic culture has actually influenced us more than the Bible on this subject. When someone says 'I had a dream' most people even if interested are saying to themselves . 'Well its only a dream' so should not be worked with conscientiously. Fortunately many people were able to believe the prophetic Martin Luther King Jr, that his dream was substantive, an agent of social transformation. But where is the church that advertizes a 'dream class' where people are empowered in their effort to receive their dreams? That would be a very sound Biblical kind of class to have would it not?

  2. I believe the word 'inspired' means that someone has written words or music or done art that is timeless in its application and its potential to transform persons at the level of their soul, spiritually transformational.  This is because it comes from the deep well springs of inner collective unconscious energies. Creative persons often confess that something came out of them that was more than their hard study, training or thinking. Something from another place was moving them as they worked. Break through scientists and mathematicians  often give such reports. If the creative minds who wrote scripture knew what we know now they would surely write a very different story and so must we in order to be faithful in our time.  We learn from the inspired giants of the past but we should not copy them.  For that is not truly us. With inspired material ,whether the Bible or Dante,it  thus means we are free and maybe obligated to find meaning that was completely foreign to the author and its first readers.

    It perfectly fit the ancient Hebrews' world view for Jacob's ladder to reach heaven , for heaven to them was just right there, the other side of the clouds, just beyond those tiny stars. But you and I distort and abuse our post-modern personal and collective knowledge to think of it that way. We understand the universe continues endlessly. And that heaven is not a physical place but a reality that is a mesmerizing state of mind and heart. So we distort this text if we fail to ask ourselves, 'What , for us, is the ladder connecting the earth to?"  I'd suggest that we all do have convincing reasons that there is a 'great unknown', a world beyond the world of our senses, an 'other world.' The best word I have heard to describe all that we do not yet know, that we are unaware of, that remains undiscovered is the Unconscious, the Collective Unconscious which is a term from analytical psychology. The idea perfectly fits our now expanding mentality and is not in conflict with our present day minds. Thus the Collective Unconscious can be as real and mysterious and as close to us as 'heaven' was to Jacob and his friends. 

  3. So for the dream to have living application for us it can be saying , ' The known world and the unknown other world are connected, not split apart from each other, not strangers to each other. And just as angels have always been depicted as messengers of things otherwise unknown, we too can receive urgent hints, intuitions and dreams carrying to us important personal and collective natural wisdom. Wisdom so needed in our confused and hostile world. This then becomes a living dream and when we let that sink in might just cause transformations in us.. Suddenly our dreams, our hunches and intuitions become valuable and looked for treasures of wisdom. We begin to realize we are not only connected to all that is in this seen world but also to that unseen world. This might cause us to have our own spine tingling sense that , ' The Lord is truly in this place but I just did not know it. How awesome, this dream is the gate to the Unknown.” God is not only in majestic nature though God is there, God is not just a part of the unknown world though God is there, not just in temple , synagogue, mosque , church or cathedral -though God is there. God, because there is rich communication happening continuously now( the angels on the ladder never stop their information process) between this world and the unknown world , is always right here, right now. Such is the potential power of a transforming dream, hunch or intuition arriving at just the right time.
  1. Finally, the best open minded Biblical scholarship for the past century informs us that this whole story may very likely not be literal history. But instead is primarily inspired symbolical story. If we emphasize or insist that it is history it becomes frozen in the past and only a 'once upon a time' event with little present relevance. The power of this story, and most others in scripture, lies not in its history but in its symbolism. When taken symbolically it can potentially live today and even be trans-formative just as the story says it was for Jacob. Interestingly, when Joseph began to have his dreams as a child (people today might say with raised eye brows.... when he was crazy.) his brothers mocked him and called him the silly dreamer. Unlike Joseph's brothers, Jacob is not shown ridiculing his youngest son. Why? Perhaps Jacob, from his own dreams like this one, had learned that the strongest and most needed wisdom does not come from rational logic and common sense(though how very important these are), but it comes from the unknown world.... like a flash, fully irrational, just like your own dreams. It comes by dreams, visions and timely intuitions or just from out of the blue. But is it not far more likely to come if we take with genuine seriousness there is a Great Unknown(How can we deny that humbling confession?)? A Great Unknown we can name the Collective Unconscious, the source of everything that has been, is or can be? And when we are convinced by inner and outer realities there are indeed messenger processors continually bringing back pearls of great price and buried treasures more valuable than the fields where they were found? 

    May God bless and strengthen our natural longings to trust that the Great Unknown seeks our open hearts and minds where she can bring the much needed wisdom into everyday individual and collective human life. Amen.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

AN ADDENDUM TO 'JESUS AND THE NEW TESTAMENT' June 29, 2014. Edited July 1, 2014

This is an addendum to the post of July 23, 2011 'Jesus And The New Testament'. It is a significant enough insight, in my judgment,  that I am making a separate post of only the addendum  itself.

Addendum  June 29, 2014:  (Based on a Facebook post describing a book Notes From (Over) The Edge.. by outstanding progressive Christian writer Jim Palmer.) I think there is a need to find words as Christians that do not make the name of Jesus the center and end-all  of the human path to fuller love,  joy and  meaning of life so needed today. I think it is closer to the truth to say  that the archetype of Jesus and 'The Christ' is an example of the first fruits of humanity's evolved capacity to receive and give love in a more extensive way than ever before. Jim  Palmer's message is a great resource to those suffering the throes of Christian dogma but Jesus is only part and one opening to the path to a more embracing, inclusive human life and love. This may be missed  in Palmer's continuous Jesus emphasis? But  I am indeed very grateful for his voice and the attention it receives by those suffering deep religious transformations. It is a good and loving voice born of real experience.                                                                                                                                                

The Jesus story must surely be a great leap forward  in the unfolding  process of God becoming human , not the completion of it. Because by the time the gospel writers have finished writing about  him he is truly no longer a representative of the  pure empirical human .... but one born miraculously, existing with God from eternity, living beyond nature at his willing, whereas nature and its principles is the only true and full  home for all humans.  So the incarnation of God in man, in the Jesus story,  had its start in one who became, in the minds of the collective who followed him, far more than a human. 

The Jesus story describes what was a profound  leap  in history toward more and more truly ordinary humans  (not of unnatural miracle making  or 'eternal with God' humans ) to be the place of God becoming fully human. I think such did happen in the real and limited human Jesus of Nazareth. But the "darkness(the collective consciousness of Jesus' day) could truly not comprehend that light" and the drastic change it heralded in the meaning of direct connection and interdependence of God and Human. And so the collective human psyche protectively  backed away from  such bedazzlement by producing, in the gospels,  the archetypal hero Jesus, the claimed 'one and only ' place where God has "dwelt among us." (It's like humanity could only bear the consciousness of its evolving  mutuality with God by approaching it in historical stages, Jesus thus  being interpreted as only half human. This way humans could indirectly approach the dazzling light of the Sacred.  That light was just too bright to contain at first  for the mortals who surrounded Jesus).

The latest evolution of  God and Human drawing near to each other  is what  could be a dazzling 'numinous' image for some, otherwise quite materialistic and/or past  believers in an orthodox anthropomorphic(human like being) god, people today..... that God incarnate in the human Jesus was such a bright light psychologically  it could only be tolerated by creating Jesus into something  more than human. The split moment a person first  realizes, becomes conscious,  today that God seeks to become fully human in  ones own self can be such a leap into the beyond-space-and-time world that it calls forth in today's human consciousness an authoritative non-negotiable experience of the 'numinous' or bedazzlement  of the reality of  God. One at such a moment may become a 'believer' in the richest and most comprehensive meaning of the word. This potentially could parallel and transcend  the experience behind any  'miracle' story we read about in ancient religious texts. Jesus is  clearly  presented in the gospels  as only perhaps half human and the rest god.  But  now, two millennia  later, we are more psychologically prepared  to 'see' just what the expression 'God becoming Human' is actually saying about us all and our mutual connection to the Divine.   

 Hopefully we are beginning to see more clearly the continuation of what the Jesus story shows us in its natural  mythical symbolism, not historical recording, as the first fruits of the emerging capacity of the creature-human, in a mutual cooperation with the eternal creator God principle, to experience personally being extensively  more fully loved and loving.(The gospels have not become mythical and  symbolic in our day, they have been that from the beginning. We are just rediscovering it. ) This to me is the nature of the hope that is now available , not just to the individual but to collective humanity with all of its hostilities and threats to end itself.  

This can be a sound psychological/spiritual  understanding for the next great step for a third millennium new unfolding of the meaning of the Jesus story, making it more transparently not self-serving but collectively relevant and meaningful for our day and for humanity's  most urgent needs.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

SERMON: Encouragment Along The Way... John 14:1-14 May 18, 2014

INTRODUCTION. The phrase 'the way' is our central image this morning. In your mind consider life as a path through a dangerous woods where one could easily get lost or harmed. One could lose awareness of what their life is about. Such a tragic loss that would be. The author of John has Jesus saying there is such a path or way for each of us and Jesus has found it and shown us how he walked it. I grew up the youngest of seven boys. The summer before I began first grade, one day at the dinner table my Dad said to one of my brothers, ' Gene, take Jimmy today and show him 'the way' to school, show him  'the path' to take.' So that afternoon George showed me the literal narrow red earth path that went off an alley, through a heavy thicket, up a hill and opened up on a main street where the grade school was. It as less than 200 yards from our back door. But till then I had never noticed where the school was or how to get there. Five year olds are not that aware of their extended surroundings. But now I knew 'the way' to school and had an image of 'the path' from my house to the place I'd be going many times for the next eight years. This gave me a sense of security, foundation, groundedness about that part of my life.

You now hold a hard stone in your hand. Of all natural earthly things nothing is so certain, solid and dependable as the hard rock of the earth. The timeless  imagery of such natural  dependability  fits the deep meaning of  Jesus assuring his friends that he had found 'a way', a way to be, a way to live, a way to behave as a human being in this life. “ I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” This statement can help us know what Jesus was doing for his friends as he also says,' Let not your heart be troubled.' ….You can know and feel confident there is a 'a way' that is given to you to make your way meaningfully all the distance of your human life. Jesus wants all people to have that kind of assurance.

Yet this passage became a problem for me about the time I hit midlife. This full passage should encourage Christians to be free to accept people of other backgrounds and faiths but has notoriously been used to claim that one's religious faith is the best or only faith that assures being accepted by God. Many Christian people have not yet found a way to own their own assurance without suggesting others are rejected by God. This way of thinking of our faith contradicts the spirit of Jesus' other teaching. For example he informs his followers to 'not judge others, lest we be judged negatively also' and he practiced accepting people as approved by God whom his own religious group rejected. It is said of Jesus that he came to “save, not to condemn the people of this world.” Hopefully our own traditions and interpretations help us to not be caught in such an embarrassing intellectual trap in our use of scripture.
    I. It is somewhat common for one's religion to become something that makes them feel superior to other humans and judge them as not saved, less related to God or as perhaps not as moral, or ones who have not performed necessary sacraments etc. This is an interpretation problem in the Christian religion today. Recall the warning in Jesus' story of the Pharisee and tax collector. The religious Pharisee judged himself as right with God and the tax collector as not. The tax collector knew and declared his imperfections without any judging of the one who judged him. Jesus said this less respected person was the one who was finding the meaning of heaven , thus was walking 'the way' we are discussing. There are honest and responsible ways for this passage to be fully embraced without leading us to imply the condemnation of others.

    II. We can hear these words in the gospel as highly symbolic rather than literal or historic. Some of the very best biblical scholars explain that much language in the Bible is symbolic, not literal. This does not make the meaning less real or authoritative. This writer is likely using symbolic language here to explain how the Christian community years after Jesus died interpreted his life and how it had captured for them the very presence of God. We might consider that this includes the same God that other World religions are also describing in their view of the Divine. Just as Jesus especially imaged God as a Heavenly Father he would not have likely said that is the only way to image God. He also referred to God, in this same gospel, as a Spirit which is how many non Christians describe God, including most native American religions. That is that God is not ever fully definable and predictable but is like the 'wind that blows where it wishes.' So we can hear Jesus saying that to follow his way of life, trust and action will lead one to think of and experience God in the same way he did...as a loving Father. But he would not have said this is the only path to relating to God.
    III. Let me ask you to consider  this at yet another level. When we speak of walking Jesus' way. Just think about it; we know so little actually of the details of how Jesus himself handled the many situations of his personal life. He likely did much that would surprise us? One story says he sent a herd of someone's swine over a cliff to die; and it does not imply he took responsibility for it. Don't we have something very general in mind when we ask the good question, ' What would Jesus do?' Much too general to think we can copy it in any consistent way. It seems to me 'the way' Jesus, and other spiritual giants,walked is even larger than Jesus, yet also as small as any single person's unique 'way' of living life responsibly and as fully as has been placed within them. John's gospel's author's goal is to make Jesus uniquely 'the way.' Many sound scholars doubt that Jesus of Nazareth thought of it that way personally or placed himself in that light? It required his admirers to see that in him. And they really did begin to see him that way, especially after he died and as several generations reflected on the remembrances of him. Such a development led to these statements of who Jesus was, what he did and what it meant to following generations ?
    IV. Finally, followers of Jesus, as in Acts 9:2, were referred to as people of 'the way' before being being called Christians. So to think of Jesus being 'the way' did not at first refer to a formal church, organization or creed but to 'a way', a way of trusting, valuing, acting and living. 'The way' refers to Jesus' values and his willingness to follow those values. He said that every human person should be seen as a most important thing in the world. And when he saw humans being cast aside, abused, mistreated, marginalized, held back from the full use of their gifts or discounted by higher powers he was disturbed. The gospels all finally describe Jesus' way as the 'way of the cross.' The 'way of the cross' was the way of serving others, of standing up for the underdogs and mistreated of society, of being willing to give of oneself for such a cause. The 'way of the cross' was the way of trusted resurrection. Symbolically that can mean that any Good done which appears dead always eventually comes back to life. Resurrection spiritually speaking can only follow some death experience. So when Jesus' way' is what we choose to follow, we are agreeing that the way of God and the way to God is one of service to others, standing up for the value of other humans even, if need be, to the point of sacrifice. And we believe that even if this effort looks like a total failure it will in ways we can't anticipate bring about the good that God approves and supports. This 'way' certainly implies we would never indicate that someone is not presently acceptable to God. Such lack of value and trust in another person is the opposite of 'the way of Christ.'

CONCLUSION: We can recognize and give God thanks when we see such a way being followed whether by a Christian, Jew, Buddhist,Hindu, Muslim or nonreligious person. And we can rejoice that the same way which Christ found has likely been found by other deeply spiritual persons as well. As Christians, Christ's way is always our chosen way. We are, as our text says, always encouraged by the Living Spirit of Christ. Because of 'the way' our hearts are not overcome by trouble or fear, and we are enabled to value the many ways God opens 'the way' of life to others.

Monday, March 17, 2014

SYMBOLISM ...THE MORE POWERFUL LANGUAGE OF RELIGION March 17, 2014

I think we are seeing competent scholars who are sincere believers such as Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg moving to what many admirers of Jesus are prepared for: the realization that sacred text, including most of our New Testament, are primarily symbolic- not literal and historical. As long as we read these materials as presenting a literal history such  familiar words as ' death , burial, resurrection and forgiveness' remain attached to one historical person, the man Jesus of Nazareth.

By Raphael  @ 1500

But when death , burial, resurrection and acceptance are seen as symbols that lie at the base of humanity's common collective unconscious(which contains the whole spiritual/psychological development of humankind similarly as how our physical bodies contain the entire history of our physical evolution) these internal dynamics become potential real life changing experiences for every human everywhere.

We might begin by realizing that 'the Christ' is a collective eternal symbol for something far more than the amazing human Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus the man is a barely provable historic person but 'the Christ' which that human life had appropriately, because of his dazzling spiritual excellence, projected onto it was and is an eternal truth and goal embedded in every human psyche(soul). I should add that only the Christian tradition will call that ultimate symbol Christ but others will contain a God image similar to it. Valuing symbol as the language of religion is what we are moving toward individually and collectively in the development of religion, certainly in the West. Only symbol can carry such a dynamic force of development for the individual or the collective. It has always been this way but we have lost awareness of such symbolic roots, they have become unconscious to our dominant conventional collective points of view.

This situation speaks to us of how the universal power of symbol(the true language of the origins of all authentic religion) is in a different and higher category of language than anything we humans can try to convert into a one time event in history. But this is what popular Christian teaching and emphasis has tragically tried to do for several hundred years. I've noticed how religious dialogue on Facebook is nearly all about interpreting words of texts rather than desiring and  asking how we might more practically  experience of being  influenced by the eternal symbols of truth which  words can only point to. In my strong conservative religious heritage we had public debates where 'your' own man always won. Word splitting and text quoting , especially the words of the Bible, is not using the Bible as a spiritual resource but as a rather  materialistic ego driven one.

The best I can tell from scripture Paul uses highly symbolic language when speaking of 'death, burial and resurrection.' We generally read Paul through our literal interpretation of the gospels which we should not do to get Paul's intended message.  For one thing the gospels themselves are primarily symbolic and also because all of Paul's authentic writings and likely his death  preceded the gospels gospels being written.

Paul's conversion and witness of Jesus is described in Acts as a 'vision' which  no one else even saw though some were present with him. 'Vision' by definition is a symbolic language, as is 'dream', and  neither refers to literal or only once in history events. So all of Paul's witness is based on his being impacted and transformed by symbol. That is just how powerful living symbol is. Paul surely can still say that 'If Christ is not resurrected' he is miserable etc for it would mean the symbol which he was confronted with did not adequately effect his internal being. From the quality of his life it obviously did.
Saul's Conversion

We can miss much if we make too much of supposed history retrieved from ink and paper, however sacred, and too little on eternal living symbol which inspired words are able to point to or describe. Each of us, as Paul, when effected by living symbol 'is indeed in our own time and space' but we are not left to being affected only or primarily by someone else's time-space experience. I hope my reasoning is clear even if it is strikes you as a very different way of 'seeing' these essential realities.

Western culture has been fully trained for about 400 years to view all things materialistically and not spiritually or symbolic. We act as if vision and dream are 'nothing' today even though the scripture plainly describes Paul's whole conversion process as being based on the power of symbol. There are good and necessary reasons we have got ourselves into this blind alley but hopefully we are seeing our way to a fuller appreciation of scripture by realizing its symbolic nature. That is a hope of mine.

Most people when they hear symbol think 'only symbol' as if symbol is an inferior kind of communication or way to understand deepest reality. It is quite the opposite. I will return to the important example of Saul of Tarsus' conversion experience...According to what is said about him in Acts his whole conversion is based on experiencing a 'vision' or a symbol of The Christ-not something or someone historical or material. Let's let scripture speak to us about our topic. All Paul says himself about his encounter with God is that he was 'taken up into the third haven' and told things that he could not and would not repeat. Can anything be more overtly symbolic than such a description? We have dismissed the central meaning of such passages and their importance as to how religious message is originally and uniquely conveyed.

When someone shows me how that Paul's conversion was not fulfilled entirely by symbolic language to him then only can I agree that the whole group of 'gospel' words including 'death, burial, resurrection and ascension' etc were not themselves once the living symbolic language by which Christianity was given birth. To hold 'death , burial and resurrection' hostage to a one time place in history event rather than something that lives always in the human psyche, awaiting to become conscious, is a loss beyond measure.

I think and hope we are on the cusp of breaking out of that very materialistic way of limiting how the ultimate God gets known most fully in the hearts and minds of humans. I'm very aware of how different this sounds to many of my friends and acquaintances but different is not always less or inaccurate, and sometimes is extremely redeeming. This is how I have come to see our religious texts over the last three decades. They are not generally seeking to relate historical 'one time' only verbal information but something that is too deep and profound for such words. Symbolic language is able to do that and has done so forever. Symbol both ancient and present is the language of the soul, dream and vision.

I bet Moses would have something to say today about the 'burning bush' we so repetitiously figure was a literal event outside of him rather than a living symbol that changed his life from within. And we can go right through the Bible with this transformed symbolic awareness... from our materialistic bias for everything that is 'real' to an awareness of the transforming power of symbol that 'comes ' to the human soul /mind.

Let me stress I do not resent at all anyone who does not share this changed understanding of approaching Sacred text. But I share these thoughts in earnest for anyone's careful consideration, especially those interested in the messages of the Bible and in how we humans connect with God. I cannot  speak with or  for such Bible scholars as Spong and Borg but I think what I am describing fits with how the changes they confess from their first literal/historical  understanding of Bible themes can more consistently be explained and more easily come alive in any of us today. And I know this is the case in my own developmental process.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

SERMON: TRANSFIGURATION... WHAT CAN WE SAY? Matthew 17:1-9 March 2, 2014

What can we say? Perhaps it's best to close ones eyes and simply be open to the impact and mystery such a dazzling image can deliver from out of the ancient past. Here Matthew does not just use reasoned words of persuasion that Jesus shines brighter than Moses and other past Heroes, but he ventures into an imaginative style and creates a strong mesmerizing image- a dazzling Jesus with the ghosts of Moses and Elijah. The author creates a scene where the disciples have what can be called a numinous experience of Jesus. This is Matthew's effort to put in words what is completely beyond words or reasoned explanation. Numinous refers to the dazzling, fearful , joyful and overwhelming sense of the presence of the 'utterly other' or what has always been called God.


Transfiguration   1824 CE.
Numinous experience has always been the foundation of every living religious heritage. But 21st century persons influenced by science and our trusted use of strong reasoning skills may leave little way remaining to take the transfiguration story seriously. It easily becomes a yearly read story at church which we think must be thoroughly 'made up' with no real experience behind it. Or we go the other extreme and say. 'It happened literally just as it says'        ( Some might even claim if a video camera had been there it would have recorded both the images and the sounds just as we read them. But embarrassingly those taking it so literally would likely hesitate to report having had or expecting to ever have such an encounter with the Holy themselves. Such a claim destructively splits off Biblical times as if it were a different world than where we live now.And in the process splits our human  head from our heart.)

Yet I remain convinced there are ways by which modern folks can find it comprehensible that there is real life changing human experience, inner if not outer, being spoken of in this story and many others like it. The kind of experience which leads one, without claiming a 'split world' supernaturalism,   to ' know' they have been in the presence of that which is beyond our materialized world. I choose to refresh your awareness today that such dazzling numinous experiences have been handed down from all cultures by all kinds of people throughout human history. I offer these for you to mull over, consider their meaning and how you might also be strangely moved by such images. I'll read several of these.

On the face these are reported as if they are literal happenings in the real tangible outer world. Yet they also always include a misty, uncanny, foggy, ghostly atmosphere. And they involve a holy fear as well as an indescribable joy and often invest the observer with a grand inclusive love for others and the whole creation. These examples come from among the highest functioning people of their times. Don't we need such numinous experienced people today?

Moses : Exodus 24: 15-18 Notice Moses' encounter with the Sacred is pictured as something going beyond any straight forward command-obey relationship between human and God for it so convinces Moses of a Sacred reality that he naturally seeks harmony with the source of such a vision. The question of belief becomes moot after such an encounter. One senses this kind of powerful motivation for living in such numinous experiences. Is this not greatly needed in our day?
Transfiguation  12th Century CE

Disciples with Jesus. Matthew 17: 1-9 Clearly, Matthew is taking the Moses story as a model and saying that Jesus' connection with God was confirmed by a similar but even brighter event. Even the exalted dead approve. So mesmerizing that the disciples fall down in fear. I have no question that persons present with the human Jesus, as they meditated on their times with him and grieved his death found themselves having dreams and visions of the numinous Holy being fully present in Jesus. Also it is reasonable to ask if the author of this story , as he contemplated his inherited Moses story, found himself drawn into a state of ecstasy and revelation as these word images flowed from him. So the inspired writer has his own numinous experience. Just because something is not in the literal physical world but in a human's inner world takes nothing of the reality and authority from it if one has a broad and solid enough view of reality to begin with.

Falling in Love: The fairly common experience of 'falling in love' should I think be taken as a strong sense of Sacred experience. Charlie Chaplin, like millions of others, writes ' Why are me feet so light? Why are the stars so bright? Why is the sky so blue? ..from the hour I met you?.. The world cannot be wrong if in this world there's you.” Such out of the ordinary ecstatic experience by so many probably says much more about a God of love in our hearts than it does about the beloved partner.

Dante's poetic experiences in Divine Comedy.(13th century)

























Other personal reports of ecstatic experience by famous and ordinary people from Marcus Borg's book ' The God We Never Knew”





Dear God of all that is and can be. Grant us an open heart and mind which can at moments catch a strong sense of your glory that was impressed upon those who walked with Jesus. Amen