Monday, January 29, 2007
“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the Shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Carl Jung, Alchemical Studies, Vol 15, p. 470
SUFFERING AND SOUL MAKING
Jesus once healed a man that had been born blind. There were people who had known the sightless man from infancy. They asked Jesus a philosophical question:
“As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” John 9:1-2
Jesus indicated that there were three possible reasons for the man’s suffering, or what moderns might call pathology:
1. His own immoral choices: Personal Responsibility
2. The abuse or immoral choices of others: Abusive Victimization
3. The direct work of God: Suffering as Soul Making.
This story in the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel is fascinating because it recognizes three explanations for human suffering. Quite often, we pick just one explanation. For example:
1. Personal Responsibility : Christians typically choose the first explanation, teaching that problems come from “this man.” In other words, it is our sins which bring about our maladies and sufferings.
Christians point to a statement from the Apostle Paul which says, “The wages of sin is death.” Non-Christians are sent to hell for their sins. Christians, while saved, ruin their personal lives and ‘walk with God’ through their sins of choice.
However, this is true of the New Age followers as well. It is normal to hear a New Age adherent say, “Your consciousness created this negative condition in your life. If you keep your mind in the light, you'll be healthy and prosperous."
So both traditional Christians and modern New Agers frequently point to personal sin or ego as the cause of suffering.
2. Abusive Victimization: Modern psychotherapy tends to focus on the second explanation, teaching that “his parents sinned.” In other words, we are victims of the wrong and hurtful behaviors of others. While most therapists will encourage their clients to take personal responsibility, they often name the past abuser as the cause or reason for the neurosis, psychosis, dysfunction or disorder.
The Christian religion also says that the human race suffers disease and death because we all sinned and fell into suffering when Adam ate from the tree in the Garden of Eden. This has been called Original Sin.
3. Suffering as Soul Making: Jesus presents a third alternative which I call Soul-Making. This point of view holds that problems arrive “so that the work of God might be displayed in (ones) life.” In other words, my problems have nothing to do with the sin’s of others or my own sin. This point of view sees suffering as being a necessary and normal part of the Intelligent Cosmos. Just as icy comets smashed into the earth to supply life sustaining water, so meteoric suffering smashes into my psyche in order to “do the work of God.”
ALL THREE EXPLANATIONS HOLD TRUTH
I suspect that all three explanations are true at times, often simultaneously. Clearly, we have all experienced "past abuse” from others (often parents) that caused us suffering. Likewise, there are times our own negative thinking or behavior attracts afflictions and ailments into our lives. These two causative sources keep many Americans in therapy or church, getting healed or saved.
However, we must make adequate room for this third option – seeing that problems arrive directly from God in order to teach us. If you bristle at the notion of God (or the gods) bringing suffering, perhaps it is time to consider re-visioning your concept of the Divine. If you bristle at the term God or gods, then call It Spirit or the Intelligent Universe. The terminology is not as important as the concept.
LIVING IN THE TRIADOX
Dr. M. Scott peck recognized these three options, or what he calls a 'triadox' instead of a paradox. In a 2002 Psychology Today interview he speaks of these three options:
Interviewer: "Can you tell me more about the roots of your spirituality—about the intellectual and experiential side?"
M. Scott Peck: "All my work can be traced back to my Harvard college thesis, "Anxiety, Modern Science and the Epistemological Problem." I outlined three basic ways to try and look at things. They can be looked at as if they were caused by something external, or they were caused by something internal, or they were caused by relationships between things. Unfortunately, none of these three ways can answer all the questions we have. That is, our questions about the cause for intellectual anxiety. Increasingly, modern science is about our realization that we just don't know. Much of my life since has consisted of working out that thesis. The answer to understanding things is not one of those three, but all of them simultaneously. It's more than a paradox—it's a "triadox."
THE LORD MAKES MEN BLIND
Jesus’ third option represents a Hebrew attitude toward suffering. He doubtlessly had studied the Jewish Torah and the story in which Moses is told by the LORD to free the Israelites from Egyptian oppression. Moses was concerned about his ability to speak properly, especially to the powerful King of Egypt. Moses told the LORD he had a speech impediment:
“The LORD said to Moses, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD ?” Exodus 4:11
THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUL MAKING
My personal suspicion and current position holds that even when there has been past abuse from others, or troubles arising from my own sins or negative egoistic thinking, Spirit is still the Ultimate Source and Teacher in each predicament.
Soul-Making means that all events, pleasurable and painful, are listed on the syllabus when enter life at the University of Cosmos. Each course and subject brings learning to Soul while shaping my vocational destiny. This means that pain and suffering are absolutely normal and necessary, and not always caused or chosen by me or others.
AM I ALWAYS IN CHARGE?
One New Age belief is that we humans are in charge of our happiness and achieving our potential. We are at choice. We are in control of our thoughts and can create either a world of bliss or world of misery. It is all up to me and my thoughts to actualize my potential.
A New Age friend recently sent me the following quote:
"We're like light bulbs. If bliss starts growing inside you, it's like a light; it affects the environment... and if you ramp it up brighter and brighter, you enjoy more and more of it. And that light will extend out further and further." – Anonymous
This is a beautiful and true statement. However, as we saw in the passage from John 9, there is more than one point of view to any event in life, blissful or tragic. Is it really up to me exclusively to ramp up the light? Is it only in the light that we experience bliss and positively influence the environment?
In my opinion both traditional religion, modern therapy and the New Age Movement give humans far too much responsibility and an impossible burden to bear around experiences of suffering. When the above quote says, "you ramp up the light", I can agree to an extent. There are times we can ‘ramp up’ the light and shine more and more brightly, heal disease, change the world and elevate internal and external bliss. Our minds and thoughts can co-create some pretty amazing demonstrations.
THE SELF AND THE SELVES
However, we are only co-creators, not solitary -creators. We are not always the doer that ramps or un-ramps the light in our psyches or the world.
Sometimes, suffering arrives “to do the work of God.”
Soul (God) has many faces and we are many selves. Some of these faces or selves plunge us into darkness and chaos as well as light and order. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas speaks of the one self (ego) and the mysterious many hidden selves:
Jesus said: When you see your self, you rejoice; but when you see your selves which came into being before you – these selves neither die and are invisible -- how much will you bear (suffer)? Gospel of Thomas 84
Jesus recognizes that there is the ego-self we bathe, deodorize, dress, educate, feed, polish and show to the public. It has a basic personality, a name and visible presence. We often rejoice at this obvious self image we present each day – and we ought to rejoice for our egos are sweet and amazing little manifestations of God.
But according to Jesus we also have many invisible, immortal selves that accompany us. They express in and through us each day, and especially at night. These other selves can be “hard to bear.” Why?, because they are unpredictable and a little crazy! They are perfect and fascinating, but still a little crazy. They are hard to bear.
These invisible selves rebel below the psyche’s surface - incite fears and insanities, question convention, become our unsolicited addictions, bring strange anxieties and move us to obsess on the troubling and forbidden. They stir our passions and taint our motives. They surprise us with thoughts and behaviors that we didn’t know we were capable of. They disturb our night dreams and sneak into our day fantasies. They are so hard to bear that many westerners demonize or dismiss them by labeling them disorders and neuroses. Some try to deny them out of existence. Many punish them like rebellious children or avoid them like psychotic relatives. Some go to therapy, which is a modern version of exorcism – casting out the unwanted demons!
A POPULATED COSMOS
My experience more and more is that these selves, these troubling intruders, are a necessary and normal part of the Living Cosmos. They are God’s Teachers, sometimes bringing blindness and other forms of suffering, as well as Light and Prosperity. We did not choose them and our parents did not cause them.
We in the west reveal our limited reality by capitalizing only the “I”, or sometimes ‘God”. Surely we are an important little “I”. But what of the multitudes of Cosmic Teachers, the Invisibles, the Immortals, the Other Selves that populate the Cosmos, that suffuse the stars and our dreams? Our depersonalized science has swept the living cosmos clean, replacing it with dead matter and scientific equations. No wonder we compensate by filling the sky with aliens, reindeer drawn sleighs, movie stars and space ships.
We exist in a Universe filled with many Selves, with Archetypal Energies or Invisible Teachers. These Teachers ramp it up or ramp it down, bringing on the lessons. Sometimes they shock us, our friends and families by ramping us down into alcoholism, depression, suicidal thoughts and a whole host of dark problems and pathologies we did not consciously invite or inherit from a bad parent.
They come to expand our souls beyond boundaries which neither self help nor positive thinking could accomplish. We are large and fascinating because these Invisible Selves lead us into thinking, speaking and doing insane things. We go through these times of blindness – mental instabilities, hard marriages, rapes, institutions, jail, suicide attempts, child support, rage, depressions, anxieties, loneliness, relationship despair, loss of jobs, etc - and come out as fascinating and interesting souls.
DON’T FORGET THE THIRD PERSPECTIVE
This is not to excuse, justify, glorify or encourage such painful experiences. I am speaking of those moments or years that come upon us like a tsunami, sweeping over our tranquil soulscapes with disastrous consequences. What do we do in the aftermath of such catastrophes, as we survey the debris and corpses? Our own internal voice and those around us usually ask, “Who caused this blindness in your life, you or your parents?” Perhaps both are partially responsible, but don’t forget the third perspective, “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in my life.”
We are not always in charge of the lessons or outcomes of life. Some suggest that our souls choose these lessons before birth. Anything is possible, but that may just be another attempt to deny the Selves and place the ego self in complete control, which is a pretty common western attitude. We are terrified of giving up control and just being baby souls.
It is not always up to us. Psychological or physical blindness and suffering are as normal and necessary as the arrival of fall and winter after a long bright florid summer. It’s all natural and essential. Imagine walking by a brilliant orange Maple tree in October, and hearing it whisper, “I am not dying. I am not losing my leaves. I am not plunging into darkness and dormancy! Oh what did I do to cause these green lives to wilt and die?!”
Why do we romantically appreciate the darkness and death in Nature each fall and winter, but treat our own seasonal dying and dark times as intruders to be gotten rid of or fixed as quickly as possible?
ARTISTS AND HUMANS REQUIRE THE DESERT TIMES
I have never known a deep artist or human being that hasn't been led into the barren desert and through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the disorderly wilderness to spend time fasting with the Devil as his only companion; Jesus emerged as a purpose filled teacher who would influence the entire earth. So we too will spend time fasting with our devilish teachers. These times and experiences are just as much God (or the gods) as any of the light, 'love' and bliss experiences. Depth of soul comes by going into the depths. Depth of soulful education, just as in a public school or college classroom, results from being exposed to problems that cause us some anxiety and stress.
AVOIDING THE EITHER/OR MENTALITY
This is not an either/or position. Life’s challenges involve all three of the sources mentioned by Jesus in John 9 - me, others and God. Go to therapy and deal with past family issues and abuses from others. Continue your self help program, utilizing positive affirmations for healing and prosperity. However, remember that all past family issues and abuses are Archetypal Teachers making Soul and moving each of us into his or her destiny. Remember that every self help formula and affirmation is an act of co-creation, not solo creation; this means that I don’t always know what I REALLY want or need.
Be open to do your prayers and affirmations, and then fully release them into the Cosmic Curriculum of Soul-Making. There are Invisible Teachers in our midst, and They often surprise us with lessons we would have never chosen for our ‘self’.
For a sympathetic Jewish view of purposeful suffering, see Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner's articles on suffering: Why Rabbi Kushner is Wrong About Suffering.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I originally started this blog thinking that our world was like that of Amos the ancient Israelite prophet, a world starving for a word from God. But then it dawned on me that we may actually be in the opposite condition, suffering from a gluttonous flood of so called words from myriad gods.
The modern world is inundated by preachers, prophets, ayatollahs, imams, priests, rabbis, gurus, doctors, motivational speakers, channelers, maharishis, therapists, sages, guides, psychics, trance mediums, spiritualists and countless teachers. And each thinks his or her version of the deity, gospel or ‘way of living’ is right, or at least a little better than the other guy's. In this modern information age, we are exposed to more psycho-spiritual ideas, formulas and opinions than ever in the history of humankind.
A few years ago, Alvin Toffler spoke of Future Shock, the coming age of information overload. His prediction was before the invention of the ubiquitous internet. Today you can Google God and get a pantheon of articles, blogs, images and advertisements for every religious and spiritual commodity imaginable. Who can keep up? You can accompany your favorite psycho-spiritual guru to various sacred sites through prestigious travel agencies – you can stay at a $400.00 a night hotel and get a guided tour the next morning of the raunchy barn in which Jesus was born. You can sip tea and listen to a cello ensemble near a pyramid. You can trace the steps of Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed or Ronald Reagan in an air conditioned bus or boat.
Tao Te Ching 12
Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.
The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky.
Perhaps humans have always had a propensity to push their own amazing agendas and better ideas out in front of the masses. Perhaps that is just what we humans do – wave our arms around, make colorful banners, noisome sales pitches and enticing appeals to the desires of the searching masses always seeking glossy, quick solutions to deep internal problems.
On second thought, perhaps the words of Amos do fit our modern situation:
We have religion and spiritual formulas aplenty. Glib answers and superficial solutions abound. Everyone can converse about the latest book or movie on the topic. We have thousands of anecdotal stories about miracles, spiritual healings, positive outcomes and supernatural phenomena – but where is ‘our own story’? What about the non-healings, the starvation of children, the death of men and women in war, the imbalance of abundance on the planet?
Are we growing souls? Are we ready to die? Are we ready to live well? Can we account for the horrible chaos in the comsos as well as the glorious beauty? Are we any deeper and wiser than a year ago? Do we have our own depth of soul without props and confirmations from our religious dogmas or gurus? Many of us, though sated with spiritual junk food, are starving.
We have adequate material comforts, our funerals arrangements are made and paid for and we have some money left to leave our kids – now what? That is where I will end for now, by simply asking, “Now what?”
Of course a ‘good’ spiritual mentor would answer his own hard question, serve up a quick snack of superficial mac-n-cheese for his readers. I suppose my only response right now is, if this has struck a chord, go grow a soul, find some ingredients, maybe grow a garden and harvest it.
Visit Michael's website at: http://michaelbogar.com/pages/home.php
Sunday, January 14, 2007
"Every material incarnation, or immaterial idea, are clothing worn by Psyche, adorning the characters of the Archetypal Realms. And there is an Organ in us, perhaps the Heart-Brain, which can dematerialize or deliteralize, and see through the clothing into Soul that is beneath all that is."
"We’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.’" Rod Serling ----------> Click here
Some random ideas about Imagination:
- The usual psychological description of imagination goes something like this, "Imagination is accepted as the innate ability and process to invent partial or complete personal realms within the mind from elements derived from sense perceptions of the shared world. The term is technically used in psychology for the process of reviving in the mind percepts of objects formerly given in sense perception."
- The Catholic Encyclopedia says, "Imagination is the faculty of representing to oneself sensible objects independently of an actual impression of those objects on our senses."
- Notice that these descriptions assume all information for imagination arrives via the five senses, is innate and arises from 'realms within the mind'.
- Perhaps there is another way of viewing imagination.
- Imagination is a sensory organ; seeing into the abyss from whence dreams arise, drawing from the chasm where authors extract their stories, the well from which artists draw their visions.
- Think of imagination as an unrecognized sense organ that can “see” into the Realm of invisible particles before they are assembled. These images that are conjured up in dreams and fantasies have substance of some kind. They are the sub-atomic Legos waiting to be assembled.
- Remember that bacteria and other microscopic elements went unseen for centuries, until the microscope was discovered. Remember that countless objects in Space were invisible before the invention of telescopes. Perhaps one day, we will invent a scope that can peer into the realm of Imagination - until then we will just have to use dreams and fantasies.
- There have always been those who posited the existence of these unseen realms or Realities, beginning with the Greek philosophers who fantasized about atoms long before they were 'proved'.
- Image-ination is every bit as much a sensory organ as seeing and hearing; imagination sees into what we have named infinity , into a realm that exists behind the eyelids.
- Joseph Joubert said , "Imagination is the eye of the soul."
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge said , "My eyes make pictures when they are shut."
- When Jesus said, “Let him who has eyes to see, see. He, like all 'spiritual' teachers, was referring to the organ of imagination and the realm where perceptions cannot be explained except in metaphors, similies and myths. And it is not just "in your head", or the mind or brain.
- The brain is more like a monitor that receives the images, not the studio that produces them. Soul-making draws from this Realm, and we are guided by Invisible and Intelligent Archetypal Energies.
- Modern psychology has ignored the imagination, mistaking it for childish fiction or the world of madmen, as opposed to rational and empirical fact. Hence, modern psychologists gather statistics and data from study groups and rats in mazes. These are interesting facts, and doubtless good for something, but it is not psyche-ology (science of soul) and has nothing to do with soul making.
- Imagination is the magna boiling and pressing upward beneath the psychic surface; writing is the eruption that transforms the whole landscape, expanding soul, shifting character - bringing the Invisible selves into sight.
- Imagination stretches soul like new wine stretches a wineskin. Soul-making occurs when imagination pours into the heart like wine into new leather pouches; initiation, fermentation and expansion. This is not the imagination of the western kind, of fiction as opposed to rational fact.
- This is the imagination Einstein had as a young boy when he would stare at a candle wick being lit, and wondering how long it would take a surfer to cross the room if he were on the beam of light. Those who heard young Albert speak of his fantasy thought he was a mental defective or ‘just making things up.’ He was - that is the source of all physics.
- This is the imagination of all scientists who have wondered and theorized before they had 'evidence'.
- This is the imagination William Blake was referring to when he said, "What is now proved was once imagined."
- This is the imagination James Dewey spoke of, "Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination."
- Those of us educated in the west have a difficult time with this version of imagination; for we have a mental block or prejudice against the word itself.
- We hear the word “fiction” as synonymous with “false information” or “those things which cannot be."
- Perhaps the ‘objective’, empirical manifestations are qualitatively different than the 'subjective' fictional or imaginative, yet the realm from which both originate are identical, like light which shows up as both ethereal waves and objective particles.
- When we hear the word 'fiction', we think in terms of unicorns, tooth fairies and Santa Claus. With that mindset, you can’t blame us for not taking imagination seriously. But the first cartoon of a rocket ship that took people to the moon was fiction. Imagination is as real, the origin of the Real, the Sears Catlogue of Infinity.
- Break down the world 'Imagination'. Think of images fished out of a Sea of Soul, the Ocean of Anima – of a mind receiving images of possibilities and potentialities from the Realm from which everything we now see around us began.
- Imagination is not seeing the literal or material, but seeing the bits and pieces of images that float up behind the eyelids. Most people don't take the time to see what's playing on the screen of their own eyelids.
- Every dreamer that has struggled to communicate the complexity and depth of his or her dreams knows the frustration of finding language to describe the dream; dreams are from the realm of Imagination.
- When Picasso said, "Everything you can imagine is real”, he was referring to real in a sense slightly or maybe drastically different than real as referring to a stone or cabbage. Picasso meant real in the realm where imagination can see, the things actually exist like a sketch preceding the material form.
- "In the world of words, the imagination is one of the forces of nature." Wallace Stevens
- "There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man's mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination." GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
- "Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere." Carl Sagan
- "Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, with takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice." Arnold Toynbee
- "The world is but a canvas to the imagination." Henry David Thoreau
- "Probably the difference between man and the monkeys is that the monkeys are merely bored, while man has boredom plus imagination." Lin Yutang
- "A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming." Ralph Waldo Emerson
- "I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities." ~Dr. Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss
- "Some stories are true that never happened." ~Elie Weisel
- "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards." ~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
- "My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It's the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz. You'll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond 'Z' and start poking around!" ~Dr. Seuss
- "They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea." ~Francis Bacon
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
THE MODERN DISENCHANTMENT OF THE UNIVERSE
The once Intelligent and Enchanted Universe has been reduced to an impersonal universe of dead objects. Newton and other well meaning scientists have left us moderns with a mechanistic universe. How did we get to this state?
If you examine the history of western civilization, you find the gradual loss of a Living Cosmos. Most ancients, sometimes referred to as Pagans, felt there were Living Forces underlying all of Reality. Over time, we moved to a paradigm that views the universe as largely dead matter.
In the modern western world, there are two main groups that hold to the dead, inanimate universe theory.
1. Secular Materialism: This group believes that the universe is governed by a set of impersonal scientific Laws.
2. Traditional Religionists – For them, the universe was made by a Creator who is separate from His Creation. This view is sympathetic with the scientific notion of a universe of dead objects, but seeing humans and angels as the solitary specks of Life in an otherwise lifeless cosmos. Creation is lifeless and corrupt, but humans may be salvaged through being good or by faith in God.
However, there are increasing numbers of folks who are re-examining the ancient Enchanted Universe. More, including physicists and archetypal psychologists, are questioning certain western religious and scientific views of Reality. Perhaps the so called Pagans were onto something.
THE ORIGINAL VILLAGE PEOPLE
The Pagans, meaning villagers, saw Reality as an Intelligently interconnected body. The stars, the clouds, the fish and deer – flowers and butterflies, beauty and truth, life and death – were not only connected, but directed by Enchanted Intelligences beyond the five limited senses. These Archetypal Forces comprised the universal Cosmos as a living Psyche. Some have called this the anima mundi, or world-soul.
Many moderns would agree with one of Webster’s top definitions, “a pagan is one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods.” This definition has nothing to do with the first so called Pagans. These were people who found themselves as one piece of a vastly Intelligent and very much alive Cosmos. Their goal was not dominion, but understanding and participation.
Ancient urbanized Christians derogatorily called these folks ‘villagers’ (paganus). Christians inaccurately stereotyped these folks as ignorantly worshipping ancestors, rivers and stars, evidently forgetting that Matthew's gospel speaks of Pagan Magi who followed the brilliant star to Bethlehem. That sort of dismissive typecasting prompted Pagans to respond by saying the Christian Eucharist was an act of cannibalism. The rift has continued to this day, Christians versus Pagans.
INSPIRED UNIVERSE, INSPIRED BISHOPS, INSPIRED BOOK, INSPIRED BRAIN
These Pagans felt that they swam like fish in an ocean of Infinite Soul, in a Living, Intelligent, En-souled Universe. Imagination was a psychic sense organ which perceived these magical Energies that somehow suffused all of life. They named them and communicated with them through dreams, stories, rituals and fantasies. Their Universe was inspired.
The Christian religion came along and gradually shifted the inspired enchantment from the vast Pagan Cosmos to their growing Christian Church. The Church became the new and improved inspired Universe. Thousands of displaced country folks could go to Basilicas and Cathedrals and find the magic in the One True God, His resurrected Son, interceding Saints and magical Bishops who could perform hocus pocus on the Sacraments. Just as modern inventors reduced recorded music from cumbersome vinyl albums to smaller compact discs, the Bishops reduced the cumbersome enchanted Universe to the compact Catholic Church.
THE iPOD GOD
In the sixteenth century, the invention of the European printing press fueled the Protestant Reformation. These astute spiritual inventors condensed the enchanted universe even further. It went from an unwieldy Catholic Church down to a single inspired book, The Bible. The Bible was the religious iPod of its day, allowing people to carry the whole magical system in one relatively simple unit.
A few decades later, a marvelous movement called the Enlightenment debunked the Bible through rationalistic analysis, revealing contradictions, conundrums and all kinds of errors. These new scientists successfully reduced and relocated the enchantment from the Bible to a place in the human brain. The scientist and philosopher, Rene’ DesCartes, said the soul was located in the pineal gland at the center of the brain.
LOOK HONEY, I SHRUNK THE UNIVERSE!
So we see that over the centuries, the once Enchanted Universe has been shrunken down to the size of the human brain. But, modern biological theories have reduced the brain to nothing more than a collection of remembered experiences interconnected by synaptic explosions and chemical messages along dendritic paths. Poof! The Enchantment was gone, for even the human brain was nothing more than a box of inanimate electrical currents.
HUMANS NEED ENCHANTMENT
Many are drawn to conservative religion because they feel the loneliness in our mechanized cosmos. Their routine jobs, boxed entertainment and cookie cutter educational processes have left many feeling like assembly-line clones, useless dust bunnies under the immense bed of the cosmos, waiting to be swept into a grave after a life of meaningless work, inane recreation and mindless distractions.
Others, less religious, are looking for enchantment by exploring self help books, vocational success, celebrity adoration, sex and love, sports, food, drugs and a host of other experiences.
FEAR OF EXISTENTIAL INSIGNIFICANCE
I think that traditional religion opposes evolution, abortion and homosexuality on existential grounds rather than moral. By that, I mean that many alienated conservatives don’t like the random world science has given us: namely, that we are animals (evolution), bits of impersonal tissue (aborted fetuses) or born with arbitrary gender orientations (homosexuals). They oppose these issues to guard human uniqueness and cosmic order.
I sympathize with their struggles while maintaining that the problems are not primarily in the issues raised above, but in the paradigm itself. They must become aware that God is not a separate entity somehow apart from a material universe; the Universe is Alive and Intelligent. It is the body of God, the ocean of Soul Itself.
RECOVERING AN ENCHANTED UNIVERSE
One of the purposes of this blog, and my teaching, is to recover the enchanted Universe. I want to walk the narrow line between being overly rationalistic and the other extreme of being sucked in by every religious or New Age fad that comes along. The Hebrew prophet Amos once declared, "There is a famine in the land, not for bread, but for a word from God." His declaration is very contemporary. The danger of famines is that people have been known to eat almost anything, including feces, urine and their own children!
I have a strong sense organ of Imagination and am very inclined to appreciate Logic. Both are from the gods. Logic has ruled the past 300 years of western civilization, Imagination has limped behind. The solution is not to throw out Logic, but to recover and fortify Imagination.
That is my aim and purpose in life.
If you are curious about those who are working to recover the Enchanted and Intelligent Universe, let me suggest two sensational books:
1. James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
2. Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche
Michael Bogar, MDiv, ThM can be contacted through his web site at www.MichaelBogar.com for classes, speaking, seminars, workshops and personal spiritual coaching.
Most Americans consider Monotheism a no-brainer. It goes right along with truth, justice and the American way. To question monotheism is tantamount to desecrating the flag, the One God and the one nation indivisible for which it stands. It is heresy of the worst kind to even question that there is One God. After all, the three great western religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are founded upon this assumed principle.
Only pagans and atheists doubt this absolute truth. And more enlightened moderns remind us that physicists are seeking the Unifying Principle of physics in order to reconcile the laws of mechanical physics with the relativity of Einsteinian quantum physics. They are sure there can’t be two sets of laws running the natural world. But until they find that ONE, we must assume that there are at least two kinds of physics, maybe more!
But consider for a moment how this doctrine came into being, without even looking at the assumed truthfulness of it. When you examine western religion, you have to examine western politics right along with it. Moses and Mohammed were political leaders with a religious foundation. Later, Constantine in Christianity would play the same role as Moses and Mohammed. All three of these men found Monotheism to be very useful for ruling the masses, whether Jews, Muslims or Christians.
ONE GOD, ONE CHURCH, ONE WAY, ONE BISHOP, ONE EMPEROR
You see, Monotheism is often a cover for Mono-supervision. The early Christian Bishops, beginning with Clement of Rome and later Ignatius of Antioch in Syria, emphasized the doctrine in a utilitarian or practical manner. They weren’t arguing from evidence, but from usefulness. They reasoned that if there was only One God, there could be only one ruling Bishop in each church; eventually, this would be applied to the whole church, and Rome would be seen as the seat of the One head Father (patros) of the Church Universal. Today we know it as the Papacy (papa) or Head Father.
This wasn’t so bad until it was applied to doctrinal matters. The One God sent His One Son to reveal the One Way to the One Church which was ruled over by the One Bishop in Rome, and secondarily by the One Bishop in each major city. Eventually the eastern Christians rejected this, and around 1000 AD, dismissed Roman One-Man authority and formed the Orthodox Church. They were really the original Protestant Reformers, preferring the term ‘orthodox’ (straight teaching) to the heretical notion of Catholicism (According to the One or Whole).
NOT ONE POPE, BUT ONE BIBLE!
Sixteenth century Protestants, with Luther as their leader, would also later separate from the same Roman Episcopal (Bishop) Supervision with its corrupt teachings. The Protestants, however, would retain the doctrine of Trinitarian Monotheism for their own version of Mono-Supervision, replacing the One Pope with the One Bible. The irony is that the 66 books of the Bible were originally chosen by the early Bishops who were thought to be the only true earthly Mono-Supervisors of Truth.
Protestants ever since have been trying to find a way to justify and defend the Christian Bible without the original doctrine of inspired Bishops. Protestant criteria for an inspired Bible are never uniform and always wishy washy. Fortunately, most Protestant parishioners just accept the doctrine of the inspired Bible without much question.
UTILITARIAN AMERICAN MONOTHEISM
One can hardly blame Moses, Mohammed and Constantine for their insistence on Monotheism as the foundation for their one society with one law and one God. Rulers and rule-makers know that societies run much more smoothly with minimal problems when there is a single authority.
Even the founding Fathers of America knew this. They jettisoned the notion of a Triune Christian Monotheism, but kept the notion of a single vague Mono-deity, sometimes called Deism. He was an omnipotent guiding divinity that was mostly absent but very sympathetic to republican, democratic capitalism. Doctrinaire Christians acquiesced, feeling that they could do away with Trinitarian language as long as they got to keep their One God. This One God was eventually ironically invoked by both the North and the South in the Civil War, placed on the dollar bill, into the pledge of allegiance and in the prayers of the senate. One God, One Nation, One People, One form of government, One manifest destiny…
TALIBAN MEETS THE BAPTISTS
One of the biggest problems with Monotheism is that it creates Mono-Meism. Mono means one, usually me or mine. When you find a Monotheist, you will find someone who thinks his or her way is the only way, especially in matters of religion and morality. They will take pride in their one-minded stubbornness, deriding those who believe in two or more ways, sometimes saying, “By God, I aint no relativistic Darwinian humanist. I believe in the One True God and His One Word and His One Way!”
This reminds me of the story by Dr. Suess where the two Zax meet, one going North and one going South. They meet up belly to belly, nose to nose and neither will budge "out of my tracks, for I am North going Zax and I am a south going Zax." Fortunately, in the story, people just build freeways and cities around them, leaving them in their stubborn trax. Historically, that is usually what happens with religious Zaxists, but todays Zaxists have missiles and atomic weapons.
SOME MONOTHEISTS ARE NICER
Now I am not equating the Baptists with the Taliban, so don’t say that I am. I would much rather have a Baptist ruler or neighbor than a Taliban ruler or neighbor, but I am not so sure that some of the Baptists I know wouldn’t be a lot like the Taliban if America didn’t have laws against religious intolerance.
Monday, January 8, 2007
sense insoluble…they can never be solved but only outgrown.”
Carl G. Jung
PURPOSEFUL DESTINY INCLUDES ALL PAIN
It seems to me that most of our “psychological problems” and dysfunctions are not rooted in bad childhoods, but in purposeless adulthoods. The woman or man who clearly knows her/his destiny sees every incident from their past as a positive character shaping blow from the hammer and chisel of purposeful vocation.
Even those who cannot find this approach to be philosophically defensible will find it to be pragmatically useful. Taking responsibility for my past and using ALL OF IT to fashion my amazing future is the position of a successful and serene adult.
When we are unclear about our calling or vocation, we typically look to the past. Humans are always motivated by and live from images. The German philosopher Hegel said, “You always behold an object before thinking it.” That means that the mind and heart cannot think or feel from a vacuum. Before we have a thought, there must be an object. Before we feel an emotion, there must be an object. The object will be either from the painful past or the purposeful future. We always operate from some object or objective. We always live from images
reconstructed from the past, or from images we construct about our future.
ARE YOU LIVING FROM THE END?
The word purpose literally means ‘forward position’. Pur is the Latin prefix forward, and pose is from the Latin place or position. A purpose is a set position in front of us. Imagine being tethered by a rope to a solid rock. As long as you hold onto that rope, no mater which way you walk, you will be pulled toward the tree. That is the image of purpose, or a forward position. A friend of mine calls it ‘living from the end’.
Unfortunately, many of us do not live from our purposeful end – but from a past position of old resentments and failures. We might call this living from pastpose. There is no such word in the dictionary, but there ought to be. This is being tied to the past, and thereby guided by the past
DO WE REALLY NEED 'HEALING?
Much modern therapy uses a model which attempts to heal the painful past. While there are clearly benefits from grieving old hurts, this approach too frequently freezes us in painful images of childhood or adulthood. We spend hours discussing past abuse, dysfunctional behaviors, bad parenting, absent fathers, emotionally distant mothers and sibling rivalries. The longer we focus on these images, the more evidence we find to support them. As we spend weeks, months and decades discussing and reinforcing these images, they work as intentions that create our futures. We literally are living from the past.
I am not suggesting that we ignore the past, but I do suggest that we grieve the old wounds and find the gold in the manure pile. Every past wound has a piece of education or experience that informs your purpose and calling in life.
POOR ABUSED, DYSFUNCTIONAL JOSEPH
If you want to see this illustrated in our popular culture, go see Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. This popular pla yrecounts the biblical story of a young man that was betrayed and sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. The young man, Joseph, had a very unique talent for interpreting dreams and was especially loved by his father. Once sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he is falsely accused of raping his master’s wife and thrown into a dank Egyptian prison. Rather than curling up in a corner and nursing past resentments for his unfair lot in life, Joseph freely shares his ability or purpose in life with the other inmates. He interprets their dreams.
Eventually word of Joseph’s ability gets out to the King of Egypt who is desperately seeking a dream interpreter. The released prisoner helps the King out of a jam by telling him the meaning of his dream and Joseph rises to prominence in the political world of Egypt. His position eventually allows him to save his family from a terrible famine.
Joseph did not live from the past, but from his calling. He was tethered to his purposeful ability to serve others from his internal calling. As the great Swiss doctor C.G. Jung said, “The greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble…They can never be solved but only outgrown.”
OUR CHOICE: LIVE FROM VICTIMHOOD OR PERSONAL DESTINY
Wayne Muller develops this notion in his excellent book, Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood. As a therapist who has spent his life working with troubled adults, Muller writes, “A painful childhood invariably focuses our attention on the inner life….we learn to cultivate a heightened awareness.”
He goes on to note that those clients who had much trauma, typically had deep spiritual lives and unique gifts of insight and service to others. Victor and Mildred Goertzel, in their book Cradles of Eminence, noted the same
phenomenon. A majority of influential and highly recognized individuals had traumatic pasts.
So then, we make a choice: we either live as chronically wounded victims making our pain our identity, or we discover our unique purpose and draw from all past pain as sources to further our calling. It is a conscious choice, one that is made each moment of the day.
Copyright Michael Bogar, MDiv, ThM
Saturday, January 6, 2007
I must begin by saying that the 16th century Protestant Reformers didn't go far enough in their religious reforms. Had they gone all of the way back to the Gospels of the New Testament, they would not have found Jesus calling himself or anyone else a Christian. It seems to me that Jesus was a Spiritual Humanist rather than a Christian.
THE BIBLE IS GOD'S COMPACT DISC
That being said, I still have great affection for the Bible. But now I see the Bible as God's Compact Disc rather than God, live in concert. I read, or to continue the CD anaology, listen to it frequently. I meditate on it as Spirit's call echoing out of the valleys of other's spiritual experiences, but hardly God's pure untainted and perfect Voice.
The personal and fascinating Voice of the Sacred sometimes comes to me THROUGH the Bible, but never AS the Bible. I will not make the limited Bible a substitute for Infinite Spirit.
Unfortunately, Fundamentalist Jews, Christians and Muslims give their followers two simplistic choices:
- Either their particular Holy Book is the only inerrant Word of their God to be read literally and obeyed as they interpret it, or:
- Every Holy Book is nothing more than false stories, human lies and factual mistakes.
I refuse to be restricted to this narrow, either/or reductionism.
A THIRD OPTION
The third choice is that Infinite Spirit, some call it God, may speak through the Bible. Some humans from the distant past have had exceptional spiritual experiences and they communicated them to subsequent generations through the spoken or written word. Their words about those unique experiences have been copied and passed down to others. The words are symbols on a page until those symbols are stirred by an auspicious situation, and then Spirit touches the heart and mind of the reader in an unusual way.
Sometimes these written or spoken accounts mesh with our life circumstances and become a vehicle or bridge for Spirit to cross over into our experience. The words are not God, but a bridge to an experience of God. The bridge is not the other shore, but a means to the other shore. The Bible is not Spirit, but a means to Spirit.
The people we read about in the Bible had experiences similar to mine, powerful emotional encounters with a life changing Presence. Like me, they told others about their experiences. The stories were told and retold and eventually written down. These amazing stories were gathered into communities, and some were esteemed very valuable, and eventually esteemed as especially sacred.
However, such personal experiences could never be contained by a tiny alphabet on a page. I have come to believe that The Divine communicates with all humans in different ways, each according to his or her unique place and set of life circumstances. That Voice and encounter, I call it Soul-Making, speaks to each human in every detail of ordinary life. Sometimes we 'hear' it, often we do not. Like radio signals, the presence of the Voice is always 'in the air', but without a receiver, nothing is heard.
SPIRIT IS NOT LIMITED BY RELIGION OR BOOKS
Many biblical, and non-biblical, characters admit to “hearing” such a Voice. Jesus heard and felt it, as did Paul, Peter, Mary the mother of Jesus, Abraham, Moses, David, Rahab, Ruth, Deborah, Daniel and a host of others in the Bible. This Soul-Making Voice is not limited to any one religious system. Most spiritual people from the ancient world had no Bible or books of any kind. Most couldn't even read or write!
B. A Christian
C. A Muslim
All humans have direct access to the Divine Voice. In my opinion, it is ludicrous to have to even assert and argue for such a point! How dare we deny that the Universal Intelligence is incapable of making souls without our puny religions and books of stories? How dare we asssume that we tiny humans can stand in a pulpit or look another in the eye and tell them dogmatically what God says?! This is arrogance for which we will surely be held accountable one day. No wonder the New Testament writer, James, said, "Let not many of you be master teachers for you shall receive a more severe judgment." James 3:1
CAN YOU CAPTURE THE SUN IN A MIRROR?
But once we hear that Voice, and that Divine Voice is sifted through a unique individual's conditioned mind, it becomes the Voice of Spirit intermingled with the voice of the specific human being who 'heard' it. Then, when that person's words about the experience are spoken and subsequently written down, their dynamic experience is reduced to a set of limited and limiting symbols on a tiny page disconnected from the living, individual context where it originated.
The Infinite can never be reduced to an alphabet on a piece of paper. The experience of the Living Spirit is no more contained and conveyed by the written word than a love letter can convey the actual experience of love making. The Living Voice can no more be captured in a book than the sun can be captured in a mirror. You may see and feel the warm reflection of the sun in the mirror, but only a madman would believe that the sun is actually in the mirror! Similarly, the Bible may reflect the warmth of God's Presence on a page, but it is only mirroring the vast and dynamic Real Thing.
THE BIBLE HAS BEEN TOUCHED BY MANY HANDS
Once the limited and limiting words of the ancient author are written down, the inscribed words must then be translated into the reader's unique culturally conditioned language, and then filtered one more time through the incredibly unique context of the reader's personally circumstantial life and uniquely personal interpretations. This creates a new set of mental images for each individual who is conditioned by his/her education, experiences and culture. Then the new reader's words are spoken aloud, making the original experience several more steps removed from the supposedly Pure untainted Voice of Spirit.
I remember the chef Julia Child once saying, "When I see a plate of food that has been decoratively arranged on the plate, I know it has been touched by many hands." The same is true of every written and interpreted holy text. When you see a book like the Bible, and works of biblical interpretations that have been neatly arranged on the theological plate, you are not looking at the original Voice of God. You are looking at the work of many hands.
At this point, conservative scholars perform all sorts of theological magic tricks by saying, “the scripture has somehow come down to us from God protected and pure, even though the texts retain the unique mark of the human author."
When I used to hear that kind of argument in seminary, and in various sermons from pastors, I nodded the expected bobble-head orthodox assent, but something inside of me detected B.S., and that doesn't stand for Bible Study. That kind of logic is nothing more than scribal gymnastics, theological sleight of hand. It smacks of priestly invention, apologetic shenanigans and baseless religious rationalization. There is no proof offered or even possible, just an assumption that you can somehow have a perfect word of God that sounds exactly like the unique human author's limited vocabulary and personal life experience. Once you examine the notion, it sounds ludicrous and quite Pharisaic. Why not just say that God can speak directly to each human's unique situation? The latter is far easier to believe and much more God-honoring!
MANY MINISTERS ARE IN ECONOMIC BONDAGE TO THEIR CREEDS
These semantic jugglings and scribal justifications allow seminary trained 'professional clerics' the freedom and power to use the text to define, defend, and build elaborate theological and moral systems while claiming that their positions have God's authority and stamp of approval. Besides, if they finally admitted that God worked in, and spoke directly to, all humans without an inerrant Bible, these guys would be out of a job! Many Pastors defend these Bible-based doctrines out of economic necessity more than being devotees to truth. Their jobs depend on their Wizardof Oz like status, standing behind the pulpit, pulling textual levers and setting off theological fireworks to maintain their image as the Great and Powerful Ozian Pastor. Many ministers have chosen a monthly paycheck, insurance benefits and a parsonage over the rigorous pursuit of Truth to wherever it leads.
JUST WHICH INTERPRETATION IS CORRECT?
For years, as a dedicated and studious Evangelical, I tried to reconcile an inerrant Bible with so many diverse theological systems and institutional interpretations. Most often I just ignored the problem of theological contradictions within Christianity, thinking I was probably close enough to the truth to be alright. But as time went on, I realized that I was incapable of discerning the blurry line between Orthodoxy and heresy.
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN: Condeming the Works of Spirit
I recall becoming very confused when I read the story found in Matthew's Gospel where the Jewish religious scholars accused Jesus of healing and helping people by the power of Satan. Jesus's response to these professional clerics was troubling, "Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men." It hit me like a bucket of wet cement that Jesus's comment was directed at people attributing evil to someone doing spiritual good, even if they were not 'theologically correct'. As an Evangelical, I was making those sorts of accusations all of the time, judging the Mormons and Buddhists as doctrinally wrong, even though they were doing many good works for people.
I don't know the literal meaning or cosmic consequences, but the statement was clear: The Holy Spirit often worked outside of the boundaries of traditonal Orthodoxy, and human religious systems have a propensity to limit God's sphere of influence to their little sectarian circle. When good is being done, God is present, in spite of doctrinal correctness or following biblical principles.
EVANGELICAL SUBJECTIVISM: We're All Subjective Ultimately
Divergent biblical interpretations are literally as numerous as the people who read the Bible. Each interpreter claims to be revealing God's Absolute and Perfect mind; the more interpreters, the more perfect interpretations. That’s why the early Roman Catholics kept the Bible solely in the hands of the Bishops and ultimately The Pope. They knew that in order to keep the doctrines singular and objective, they had to limit the number of interpreters. Monotheism means mono-theologicalism; One God, one interpreter, one doctrine.
When I hear Evangelicals call me subjective for having my own view of the Bible, I shake my head at the irony. Each denomination, each theological system, each Bible student reads the same Bible and ends up with different interpretations; of course, each thinks their's is correct.
The Bible is not like math where 2+2=4 always and in every culture. The Bible is always interpreted subjectively because each reader filters it through his or her own uniquely developed mind and life. But in fundamentalist Bible interpretation, each group or person thinks he/she is the only one who got the equation right!
JESUS SAID HUMANS ARE INSPIRED, NOT THE BIBLE
Jesus reverses modern Evangelical biblical theology. He suggests that humans are inspired, not the Bible. Spirit breathes into us, then we can see Truth almost anywhere. The Hebrew Psalms teach that the only requirement to hear the Word of God is a broken and humble heart. Let's admit what we know in our hearts and minds to be true, namely that God speaks to each of us through many means - the natural world, meditation, poetry, scripture and every experience in life. All of life is infused with the possibility of revelation because God’s Presence and Wisdom is not limited to one arena. Even the writer of Proverbs said, "Wisdom (Sophia) calls aloud from the streets and from every high wall." (Proverbs 8)
Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Jesus was implying that revelation is everywhere in God's world, in the growing lilies of the field, the nesting birds, the farmer sowing seeds and the widow sweeping her house. You don't need a Bible, you need ears! Too bad publishing houses can't print and sell hearing ears.
SPIRIT SPEAKS THROUGH WHATEVER MEANS IS AT HAND
God's Voice fills the heavens and the earth, It can be perceived in a dream, an ordinary conversation, the birth of a child, a near death experience, the act of sex, an alcoholic hangover, a book on science, the Sunday sermon, a fight with your partner, or your personal reflection on a sacred text.
Is this Infinite Voice limited to the educated and literate? Is God so small that He must be relegated to limit His/Her best teaching sessions to biblically intelligent folks, especially those fortunate enough to know Greek and Hebrew? Hardly. God speaks primarily to and through the humble and broken heart - with a Bible or without a Bible!
King David once stole another man's wife and ordered the heartless assasination of her husband to cover the smarmy affair. When the prophet Nathan exposed David for being a selfish adulterer and murderer, David didn't repent because he read the inerrant Bible or knew the doctrine of Jesus' substitutionary atonement; David repented because the Word of God was written on the Kings broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 51).
Neither Adam nor Abraham spoke Hebrew or Greek, and they understood God just fine. Some of the most spiritually astute and spiritually fruitful people I know are biblically illiterate. Conversely, some of the most ego centered, arrogant, self absorbed Narcissists I know are ministers, theologians and apologists.
The early Christians saw every symbol, ritual and every sacred book as a means to the Living WORD, but never an idol or substitute for the Living WORD. It is a short step from loving the written word to worshiping the written word. It is a short step from reading about Saint Paul's experience WITH the Christ, to making Paul's words a substitute for THE Christ.
LOVING THE BIBLE WITHOUT ADOPTING MANMADE DOCTRINES
So then, with this third choice, I can love the 'word of God', but not mistake it for the 'Word of God' that became flesh. The Bible is a mirror reflecting God's Presence, but it is not to be mistaken for God's Presence. The Word dwells among us, in our hearts and minds. Jeremiah said the Word would be written on the heart, not on stone or paper. (Jeremiah 31)
Jeremiah also said, "No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD.
All will know! Jeremiah was a futurist. He saw beyond the narrow sectarian religion of his countrymen. He saw what most Christians cannot see today, namely that God was powerful enough to speak to each person without a priest, a Bible or a doctrinal statement. Jeremiah's God is wild, untameable and free. He is not trapped in a book.
This notion of a wild, subjective Spirit that is alive and fluid terrifies theological control freaks that want to tell people what God teaches on every subject. But remember what Jesus told Nicodemis, that the Spirit is like the wind, and It "blows where it will." You will never limit or capture the wind with a bag, nor will you ever limit or capture the Spirit of The Infinite Mystery in a set of books or doctrinal formulations. The way and means that God 'saves', 'calls', 'destines' and 'guides' us is unfathomable to the puny human brain.
My third biblical option allows me to love the Bible as a series of fascinating spiritual accounts, a set of books that can build a bridge to the Divine - but not a literalistic recipe book that freezes God in theological concrete poured during the first four centuries after Christ.
CHASING SPIRIT INTO A BOOK
When the second century Bishop, Tertullian, saw his fellow Bishops moving closer and closer to a standard canon of Scripture to be enforced upon all believers, he said, "Brothers, I fear we are chasing the Spirit of God into a book." He was prophetic.
With Thomas Jefferson I say, "I will fight to the death any system that aims to bring human hearts under human tyranny." With the Apostle Paul I say, "The letter kills, the Spirit makes us alive."
Copyright Michael Bogar, MDiv, ThM
1. "Are you a Baptist?"
2. "Are you a Catholic?"
3. "Are you filled with the Spirit?"
4. "Are you a priest?"
5. "Are you a Lutheran?"
The other night at the supermarket, a fellow walked up to me with a big smile and in a very foreign accent asked, "Do you love Allah and his prophet Mohammed, are you a Muslim?"
These moments of identity interrogation are always a bit awkward. I feel like the fellow who was asked, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Either answer, yes or no, is not accurate if you have never beat your wife.
All 'yes' or 'no' questions leave you trapped in the dark alley of the inquirer's narrow view of the world. People want to label us in order to discover whether or not they can trust us, or how they should interact with us. The title we take is the spiritual litmus test for many human beings. The 'right answer' either includes you or excludes you.
I have wondered what Jesus would have said to the above questions. Or if you follow the teachings of the Buddha, how he might have answered the question, "Are you a Buddhist?" I think both men would have looked puzzled and answered, 'huh?'
As I look at the life of Jesus, I see two consistent qualities that gave him his identity:
1. He loved all human beings - Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, sinners, soldiers, whores, swindlers, revolutionaries, Pharisees, women, children and men.
2. He worshiped God in Spirit. He would not be drawn into the Jewish or Samaritan or Roman version of religion. He saw God as universally present, like the wind, blowing everywhere, unpredictable.
Jesus was a Jew, but it was not his badge of exclusionary identity. He never excluded anyone, nor did he require anyone to become a Jew.
He never called himself a Christian. Jesus was spiritual and he loved all human beings. You will never read of Jesus giving people tests before he accepted them as God's beloved. He never asks, "Have you accepted me as your Savior?" He never gives them a doctrinal grilling about the inerrancy of Scripture or Trinity.
That is one reason I call myself, if pressed to wear a name badge, a Spiritual Humanist. I follow and seek the same Infinite Spirit that Jesus spoke of. If this free and mysterious Spirit was not limited to Samaria or Jerusalem, then It is not limited to any religion. It is working in and on every human being on the face of the planet.
In Mark 4, Jesus told a parable that few even know about. He said that the Kingdom of God is like a farmer that planted a seed. After the seed was planted, the farmer went into his house and the seed grew "all by itself".
In this story, Jesus is letting the religious crowd know that they didn't have as much to do with the Kingdom of God spreading and growing as they thought they did. The seed grew "all by itself". In the Greek New Testament, the phrase "all by itself' is a single word, "automate", which of course is our word automatic.
As a Spiritual Humanist, I believe that God's Kingdom or the garden of Spirit is a work that goes on day and night with or without my religious farm tools. Most religious groups and individuals think themselves far too important. They would have you believe that without their crusades, organizations, large churches, mosques, publishing companies, missionaries, Scripture translation societies, rambling doctrinal statements and evangelism programs, poor God wouldn't be able to work in the hearts of human beings. That is just plain arrogance, not to mention abysmal ignorance.
Spirit works 24 hours a day in every human heart; whether serial killers or Baptist pew sitters. Jesus recognized that every heart was soil for spiritual development.
Each of us knows our own unique stories of spiritual awakening. It took what it took to move us to spiritual awareness, and it is still going on.
No human is excluded. Every man, woman and child - every religious tradition - every level of saint or sinner, swims in the Universal Ocean of God's active agency. There is no place in the Universe where Spirit is not doing It's work. The heroin addict in a cheap motel and the polished TV evangelist in his beach front home are right in the middle of God's soil of spiritual growth.
The recent incident with Pastor Ted Haggart reveals that no human heart is completed. Many religionists would have you believe that they are special and a little more 'completed' because they have the right title. I know from experience that such an attitude is setting you up for a mighty fall into the human pool of humility. Spiritual growth is taking place in everyone, and often the first shall be last while the last shall be first.
You couldn't escape the spiritual process if you tried. Psalm 139 states this fact poetically when it says, "Even if I make my bed in Sheol (Hell), You (God) are there." Many of us have made our beds in Sheol, and that is exactly where we found God, or God found us. Some of us found Spirit staring back at us from the bottom of a Tequila shot glass, or in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. Some of us found Spirit helping us put down roots in the midst of a sordid sexual affair or financial disaster.
The soil of human experience is the garden of Spirit. The Universe is the field of Spirit.
That is why I refuse to limit God to a title or label. I cannot with a clear conscience presume that God favors Trinitarian Christians over Unitarian Christians, or Abrahamic Jews over Tibetan Buddhists, or New Age Peaceniks over Fundamentalist Republicans. God works with humans, all humans.
I am one that sees the Presence of Spirit in every human life. I will not set myself up as judge by grilling people about their intellectual belief systems or Orthodox practices. I know from experience that when I am in my least 'religious' and most unguarded human moments, I am ready for the most phenomenal next stage of spiritual growth.
Copyright Michael Bogar, MDiv, ThM