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Sound and Silence

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Month

July 2007

god in all, all in god

In him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw – and knew I saw – all things in God and God in all things – (Mechtild of Magdeberg)

For from him and through him and to him are all things. (Romans 11:36)

I laugh when I hear the fish in the water is thirsty. (Kabir)

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You might have noticed a very particular line of enquiry in recent posts, trying to relate Inclusion and Incarnation (with a side order of Hell). My observation has been that these 2 great mysteries of Faith are revealing themselves via seemingly unrelated streams of thought and culture. “Inclusion” has come via the likes of Carlton Pearson, Tentmaker Ministries, Martin Zender and a variety of blogging communities. “Incarnation” on the other hand, has been more associated with the “emergent” church, the contemplatives, and the alt.worship communities.

It seemed that the Inclusionists hardly referred to any new practices of worship. In fact, generally speaking the strongest voices for Inclusion are from conservative camps, for example Pearson is a Pentacostal Republican, Louis Abbott a Baptist, and FW Farrar an orthodox Anglican Cannon, and the latter duo, much to my Heterodox chagrin, defend Orthodoxy from within against the “heresies of hell”. 

On the other hand, the Emergents don’t seem to have a lot to say on Inclusion. I did however browse to Brian McLarens “The secret message of Jesus” where he intimates that Inclusiveness is a part of Incarnated Emergent Spirituality; the issue also comes up in his “The last word and the word after that”. But I’m not sure how many people really make the connection. You tell me, oh reader, this is a blog after all.

Intuitively I knew that Inclusion and Incarnation were intimately connected. It’s just that my brain hadn’t caught up. I was relaxing in the aftermath of an inspiring gathering (WeTube) and it came to me. The link is in the way that “God is in all, and all is in God”. Technically this can be referred to as panentheism, at the risk of over-intellectualising this powerful vision, this deep connection, with all the Life that it augers.

A year ago I read Matthew Fox’s seminal work “Original Blessing”. His ideas gave me the courage to press on with my investigations. I think many of the answers to my question lie in Fox’s Creation Spirituality. So what is significant about Incarnation and Inclusion, and how does panentheism contribute to the discourse?

Transcendance and Immanence

There are 2 concepts used to help us with the mystery. These are Transcendence (God being separate from the Creation) and Immanence (God being present in the Creation). If we don’t grasp the paradox, strike the balance – the narrow road – between them, we run the risk of perpetrating a dualism quite foreign to the Mission of Jesus.

Starting with Newton (although these schisms can be seen in much earlier thought, for example the Gnostics or the Greeks), the universe was seen to be a machine whose maker cared little for human affairs, and Descartes, whose dictum “I think therefore I am” started us on a road of disconnection and individualism, we began to lose whatever grasp we might have once had of the Mission of Christ. It paved the way for the separation of the material from the spiritual in western society. Transcendence gained the upper hand in the Deism of the Enlightenment, at the expense of Immanence.

It is worth noting here the difference between panentheism (God in all, all in God) and pantheism (God is all, all is God). Pantheistic beliefs tend to honour the world AS god. In pantheism, Immanence is primary and displaces Transcendance.

It is also worth taking account of the scientific point of view here. Lynne McTaggart, in “The Field”, argues that the type of science and philosophy which has held a monopoly on truth in the west for 3 or 4 centuries, is being forced to question its own assumptions about the nature of the cosmos as separated and disconnected. Fascinatingly, curious and open minded experimental scientists are beginning to suggest that the world is much more similar to the biblical or mystical portrayal than has ever been countenanced by science. What the ubiquitous “Zero Point Field” represents may equate to nothing less than universal, cosmic intellegence.

This theory suggests that at a subatomic level, matter is being created continuously, with particles coming into and going out of existence at an astounding rate, billions of times per second. Creation is an ongoing process deeply embedded into the cosmos. There are many who have taken the metaphor that “God rested on the Seventh Day” to mean that Truth is a closed, unchanging, orthodox system.

So if science is moving towards the view that there may be a unifying intelligence underlying all things, why do so many who confess faith have such a difficulty with the concept of unity?

Troubled by the flesh

Many acknowledge that Jesus was God, come into the world as Human. Yet at the same time they also hold that spirit is good and flesh (aka “the world”) is evil. This word “Flesh” represents our quandary as post-Enlightenment Humans. We have a vague theology of Incarnation (literally, “to be made flesh”), but when it comes to it we reject “the flesh” or “the world” based on our particular myths of sin, evil, or hell. Note that myth here denotes a psychological-spiritual complex, and does not simply mean “untrue”. In fact these myths for many westerners loom ominously true.

It is only when we dig deeper and take them apart by reason, intuition, biblical interpretation, and awareness of traditions beyond our own inherited ones, that we begin to see how this “gospel” is not good news at all. Bruce Cockburn in “The gospel of bondage” puts it this way:

You read the Bible in your special ways You’re fond of quoting certain things it says / Mouth full of righteousness and wrath from above / But when do we hear about forgiveness and love? / Sometimes you can hear the Spirit whispering to you / But if God stays silent, what else can you do / Except listen to the silence? if you ever did you’d surely see / That God won’t be reduced to an ideology / Such as the gospel of bondage…

Emmanuel

What is good news is that at a point in time and space, one named “Emmanuel” took delight in walking in our midst. Emmanuel means “God with us” and herein lie the roots of Incarnation. The delight of Jesus has to do with his enjoyment of shared life, of the fabled fellowship with tax collectors and prostitutes, the sick and the weak.

Furthermore his wrath was predominantly reserved for those who held to ideologies of Exclusion, the Pharisees (Heb prushim meaning “separated”) and the Sadducees (aristocratic high priests), two quite opposing religious sects (which we tend to lump into one); but both bigots whose pride set them apart from a sinful, or “non-chosen” world. This bigotry finds its ultimate expression in the doctrine of the eternal separation of sinners from god, in hell. I am fairly certain that this myth does not have its root in the books of the bible, when properly read.

So our prime model of Incarnation, Jesus, is characterised by an Inclusive grace, an attitude of forgiveness and love towards creation and all people. It is only by a twisted, fear-based logic, that one could hold that he “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, Taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2) would also be a loathsome Judge who would cast those he loves into eternal torment. Why would a god who bothered including himself in the sin and hellishness of a world fallen from grace, to the extent of dying for it, also be the architect of ultimate exclusion?

Incarnation is by definition an act of inclusion. Until we grasp the implications of Inclusion, our attempts to know the Incarnate God will falter, unable to attain the depth of grace envisioned for us. Once we fully enter the mystery of Incarnation, however, the potential is unleashed. The dualisms of Heaven/Hell, Us/Them, Work/Play, Sacred/Secular, or Faith/Works, fall away, rendered irrelevant by Grace, by a unified view of Life in God.

The All in All

What we desire and what God desires become one and the same, and we are able to “share in the masters happiness”. Our work and creativity need not be constrained by false notions of what is religious or worthy, right or wrong, but becomes an expression of profound breadth. Connections not able to be made because of these exclusive categories of thought can now be forged.

New combinations of imagination, action, culture, and tradition emerge from a multiverse of potential. Relationships between strangers and reconciliation between opposites and enemies become possible. And for one as fussy about authenticity as I am, at last I can see a way to being fully engaged with all parts of my life, without compromising creativity or art, culture or politics, faith or reason, uniting all the disparate elements into a generous whole, and experiencing the freedom to love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

In short, by grasping the twin mysteries of Incarnation and Inclusion, we take forceful hold of The Kingdom of God.

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undefined liturgists – WeTube

God is making a movie. He’s using us all—whoever we are, whatever our gifts, in a cast of billions. We make it what it is—a holy narrative of Love, with a screenplay of astounding complexity, resulting in accolades the likes of which have never been seen or heard. (Ephesians 2 paraphrased)

Friday 27 July, Cape Town: We gathered to explore the parable of Gods Movie under the banner WeTube. Whether or not we cut and post an actual movie remains to be seen, (candles are not optimal lighting for cinematic productions, as we found out) however I think all felt that the event was worth it.

After diving straight in, open spontaneous prayers from a diverse group of people (many who were meeting for the first time), ignited the atmosphere. Prayers of brokenness, desire, and seeking, evoked images of emergence from a silent, desert space, as well as the delight in connectedness revealed.

When we started filming, the screenplay ran seamlessly from one actor to the next. Implicit in the event was the understanding that we were not gathering to perform a precast liturgy, but that the liturgy would emerge from who we are as individuals and as a unique group, to the degree that we authentically brought ourselves into the narrative. Furthermore, unlike the cults of movie celebrity, we brought not our egos nor agendas of power and glamour, but the emptiness which could make place for an expression of Spirit.

Threads of conversation included estate agency as a mission of compassion, Jesus’ words concerning acts towards the least being acts towards himself, a meditation on breath (accompanied by a singing bowl), a reading of TS Elliot’s Marina, cardigan knitting as service, an Islamic enquiry into the nature of church, and the Eucharist served to Van Morrison’s Rave on John Donne.

Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken…

Incarnation, Inclusion and Hell, part 1 – a question.

I’ve just got my haircut in Cape Town. I get bored, so I asked the 5 people in the salon “Do you believe in Hell?”. Answer: 5 unswerving affirmatives.

Hell is a hot topic. Arf arf. Tomorrow, Friday 13th, US audiences get to see a special entitled “Hell: Our Fear and Fascination” on ABC. For further background to this issue in the context of this debate, see the posts on Universal Restoration and The Scandal of Carlton Pearson. You will see some of the bile and retro-bile associated with it in the latter. (And this includes my own; we’re all affected by this disease.)

Let me give you a little background to a question you may not see much relevance in. Theologically speaking, this last year has been an adventure for me. I’ve broken into new territory, and things are beginning to work together, to resonate in a very profound way.

The 3 areas that have come into my field of vision are these

1. Creation Spirituality. This was introduced to me via Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”. This is is a spiritual tradition going back to the earliest writers of creation accounts, including the Yahwist (author of Genesis), David, Jesus and Paul, and having a profound expression in the 11 – 13 Centuries in writers and saints such as Meister Eckhart, St. Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen. The tradition also espouses many other faiths as well as the new science. It has been misunderstood by the casual and uninformed observer as simply “New Age”.

2. Emergent church and alternative worship. This started to form as I deconstructed by own disaffections with worship as practiced by various (not least Charismatic) church traditions. However Brian Malaren is perhaps its leading prophetic figure. I have yet to read his “Generous Orthodoxy”. My view or EC/AW has been informed by fellowships associated with alternativeworship.org, specifically UK ventures Greenbelt Festival , Vaux  (1998-2005) and Grace . “Incarnation” is the key concept holding together a loose, diverse and heterodox grouping.

3. Universal Restoration. This was a line of enquiry started by my closest friend, who suffered much anxiety over the notion of “hell”. It led to the likes of Martin Zender, Tentmaker and Carlton Pearson. Essentially UR contests the 1500 year old doctrine of eternal damnation, based on the myth of Fear, Gods character and the misreading of scripture. “Inclusion” might be UR’s watchword.

Now, Creation Spirituality has been a big influence in the Emergent Church, and this link is reasonably well established. The theme of Incarnation runs throughout these 2 streams.

But what has seemed to be quite separate has been how Creation Spirituality and Emergent Church relate to Universal Restoration. When I saw that Carlton Pearson was talking at the “Sacred Activism and the power of Inclusion”  conference in Tulsa Oklahoma (The so-called “Buckle of the Bible belt”), I thought – this must be the missing link. Wisdom University is based in San Francisco and emerged from Matthew Fox’s now defunct University of Creation Spirituality, giving it a Creation Spirituality pedigree.

I ordered several recordings from the conference, which I have now listened to; I think Podcasts are also available (I’ve not hear them yet). I am now convinced that there a profound connection exists, but am not aware of too many explorations of the link between Incarnation and Inclusion, so I will introduce my view on this in this and related posts.

Let’s try define 2 key terms as briefly as possible.

Incarnation: the belief that we know God through Gods working in the World, not apart from it. Its mystery is alluded to in the scripture “In the world but not of the world.” There is an excellent debate on this hosted by Matt Stone.

Inclusion: The belief that all people (and all of creation) will be saved, and that none shall be excluded or punished for eternity. Note, Judgment and free will still exist, in case you think I am disappearing down a new age rabbit hole. This view is evolving, and I don’t have it all neatly tied up, but good scholarship indicates the “official” Church may just have been in heresy for the last 1500 years. Paul alludes to the truth in 1 Tim 4:10 “The savior of all men, especially those who believe”.

To some (perhaps Anglicans, Anabaptists, leftfield Catholics, and Universalists) this might appear a non-issue, but to many others, including those emerging from the Charismatic, Evangelical, Protestant and Catholic worlds, hell has always been a prerequisite for faith.

I will at a later stage attempt to round up thought on this, but for part 1, I pose a question, and it is this:

Is it possible to adhere to the Incarnational without a proper acknowledging of the Inclusive; can you hold to Incarnational teachings of the Emergents and Creation Spirituality whilst still holding a belief in Eternal Punishment aka Hell?

Contemporary Wordless Cinema

You may have seen from a recent post on imagemaking that I have become interested in visual creative work. This generally involves hyper-short-form moving image, mixed live, generally to music. I’ve been filming, editing, compiling and generally curating text, moving image and still image. My intention to explore “sound and silence” has been eclipsed (momentarily perhaps) by the realm of light and vision. And ironically when I can no longer read without glasses. Typical.

In the space of a week, a raft of films have exploded into my vision. These include the so-called “qatsi” trilogy – Koyaanisqatsi (1983), Powaqqatsi (1988) and Nagoyqatsi (2002) by Godfrey Reggio (with Music by Phillip Glass), Baraka by Ron Fricke (1992) (with music by Michael Sterns and Aussie Darkwave duo Dead Can Dance), Microcosmos and Winged Journey.

If there must be a word for this genre, I have yet to encounter it. Lush, compelling, compassionate cinematography set to music, without actors, plot, and no spoken dialog. Is it Impressionist, Natural History, Urban Landscape, Ecological or Technological critique? “Purely Cinematic”? C’mon Cinema buffs, fill in the gaps.

The most compelling for me are Baraka (Hebrew/Sufi concept of Blessing) and Koyaanisqatsi (Hopi for “Life out of balance”). For me they represent the coming together of various things
– Highly expert cinematography such as has been seen in the documentary work of naturalist David Attenborough.
– Global grassroots narratives such as Jamie Catto’s One Giant Leap (1999).
– A strong sense of emerging “wisdom culture” and return to the sacred.

Godfrey Reggio is one of the most compelling visionaries I have encountered. His grasp of contemporary life and the role of technology is profound, perhaps due in part to his spending his formative years in a monastic order. He sees the shift from nature to technology as the host of life. He has attempted to take that which we take for granted into the foreground, and remove the usual acting, characterization and plot from the movie.

Ron Fricke is a visual genius of note. Where Koyaanisqatsi deals with the USA, his Baraka is global, shot in 24 countries. His use of time lapse, first seen in Koyaanisqatsi, is mature and makes us privy to a view of the world that is both breathtaking and highly disturbing.

For more details, see
Spirit of baraka
Godfrey Reggio on wiki
Baraka on wiki
1 Giant Leap

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