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.