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creation

The Nested Storyverse

Based on a few ideas coming out of conversations on the advent of evolutionary christianity, I thought it would be good to articulate a schema of our stories, especially in the light of the  evolutionary/emergent paradigm, and compare it with the orthodox/evangelical construct.

As I grow towards an understanding of the universe as a divinely imbued processes (emergent spirituality), rather than a predetermined machine (deist/theist orthodoxy), I have come to appreciate the centrality of story in life.  Indeed, I did an album a year back entitled “Story” (The Sout Project) and have just done another quite different offering, entitled “Space and Story: Soundtracks for mythmaking“. So the understanding of us being involved in a “Storyverse” is resonating.

Our stories help articulate our realities, far better than other “objective” modes such as sermon, text book, news report, bullet-point summary, or twitter snippet. (Story can however exist in these spaces, but they are not necessarily the best media).

The subjective, experiential or imaginative nature of a story enhances the opportunity for connection between us and our world at a deep level. Stories exist at different levels simultaneously, and that is why we can say we live in a Storyverse. In fact we could say that our stories are “nested” in one another. More local stories belong inside larger, more universal ones.

Having said this, indulge my analytical bent as I present a few ideas about these nested levels of Story.

  1. My story – The core of it is my life, history and particular sensibility having a unique shape which can be shared in telling, writing, or any other form of creative expression.
  2. Our story – As an individual I have a communal context, made up of the confluence of many stories, all told within this community.
  3. Our tradition – Our community usually centres around shared interests which have history in themselves, such as a faith community like a denomination, sect or philosophy, or other interest group to which we belong.
  4. (At this point I will get more particular regards my own christian tradition).

  5. The “christian church” – the tradition/s I have been part of have all existed in the context of 2000 years of christianity.
  6. The Abrahamic promise – In turn, christianity grew from Judaism, whose roots are in God’s promise to Abraham “In you I will bless the nations of the Earth”.
  7. The Wisdom traditions – alongside Jewish history, we need to include other wisdom traditions, both those emerging from the middle East as well as from the Far East – (Vedic, Taoist etc.), and importantly, the natural primal spiritualities existing globally outside of “civilised” urban cultures.
  8. The history of man – homo sapiens consciously (“knowingly”) develops and lives within a religious frame of reference (to a greater and lesser degree) as part of life.
  9. Life on Earth – man emerges from the process of life as a unique and highly complex species, and relatively recently in Earths 4.3 billion years. However, some of us draw too exclusive a line between man and the rest of life, forming the basis for many of the crises we experience today – a lack of appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things.
  10. The Great Story – The Epic of the Universe, the 14 billion-year journey of light and dust, humanity’s common creation story. To me, this makes sense in the context of a Creator who spoke this into existence. However, this cannot be proved – scientific knowledge seems to stop at 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang, and so a barrier exists beyond which no evidence appears to be currently accessible. So it is by faith that we can say with the writer of Hebrews that “the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” [1:3]
  11. The transcendent Creator – the first cause, ultimately much larger than any category we might hold, mysterious at heart, who can only be accessed through the mystery of faith. Here, all categories – time, matter, mind, and even “story” itself – break down.

It might be best to allow the perennial texts to speak:

A way that can be walked is not The Way
A name that can be named is not The Name
Tao is both named and nameless
As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
As Named, it is the mother of all things

Tao Te Ching 1 (trans. Jonathan Star)

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Paul’s letter to the Romans (11:33)

Eye cannot see It, tongue cannot utter It, mind cannot grasp It. There is no way to learn or to teach It. It is different from the known, beyond the unknown. In this all the ancient Masters agree.

The Upanishads

I began by suggesting a contrast of 2 Storyverses I have inhabited. This involves my journey from modernist deist-theist orthodoxy to the emergent/evolving wisdom consciousness.

Typically, the orthodoxy misunderstands, ignores or rejects 6 – 9, in which the Abrahamic promise is hardwired to “God”, with no cultural or physical context or consideration. This eliminates the arena championed by the natural sciences, and creates the quite unnecessary conflicts of worldview typical of the young earth creationalist vs. materialist evolutionist stand-off.

If we consider the materialist side of the debate, including evolutionary atheists, their story will include points 1-3 and 7-9, rejecting both historical expressions of religion (4-6ish) as well as a theistic first cause (10).

The more we accommodate these nested stories, the more credibility and integrity our spirituality will have, not just as presented to the world, but as lived and experienced within our own lives.

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The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity

All Mother, its been almost 2 months since my last post. And I confess that it was a bit of a downer: the non-event (for me) of Lausanne 2010.

That shut me up for a bit. But now, the news just got good again…

I’ve been following one of the most inspiring events of recent times online. It’s called “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity” and curated by Michael Dowd, author of the 2009 book “Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World”.

Continue reading “The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity”

Fundamentalism’s fatal flaw

“The Earth is the Lords, and the flatness thereof.” [Ps 24, NFV]*

If it does not seem possible to dialog directly with fundamentalists, we can at least reflect on why this is so. While some refuse point blank to enter any debate regarding the/ir truth, other might see this fact as an opportunity to learn about compassion, difference, peacemaking and unity, and allow the potential “logs in their own eye” to be challenged as they identify the splinters in the eyes of their detractors.

Fundamentalism may have had a good purpose once, as a response to liberal modernism. But now, it is not just unnecessary, or outmoded. It is not only unpleasant and damaging. It does not just discredit the God of Compassion. No, its final flaw is more basic: from where I stand, fundamentalism is in fact impossible.

One of its chief features is its lateralization of language. To literalise is to flatten, removing all poetry or ambiguity – all Life – from ideas. A true fundamentalism outlaws all metaphor. But who does not use metaphor daily: “I’m just popping out” means I am leaving then returning, but true fundamentalist literalisation would be bound to ask “You mean your eye? Or are you leaving us via an explosion?” Yet they do not – they accept metaphor.

And did Jesus not abundantly describe his mission via simile – “The Kingdom is like a net…” Perhaps the fundamentalist requires a strict delineation between metaphor and simile, so that we are very explicit about abstract comparisons, by using the disclaimer “like”. If Jesus had said “The Kingdom is a net”, what would anti-metaphorical fundamentalists make of his words? “Not so Lord, it will never be a net”? No, Jesus assumes his message will be filtered via our imaginations, in order to fire them up and grow faith for the hearers.

And when Jesus says (rather curiously I have always thought) “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” is he not implying that it is impossible for this earth not to be good, so long as those who trust him remain true? It is a chemical fact that salt – Soduim Chloride – is extremely stable, and can virtually not lose its salty properties.

As Kabir says, “I laugh when I hear that the fish is thirsty.” Meaning, it is impossible for the fish to be thirsty, and that it is impossible for the earth not to be good:  seasoned, purified, preserved and fertilized via the Grace of God and the Salt of Faith.

As I read the scriptures, and as I contemplate the world in which I live, I see abundant evidence of a Poetic God at play in his Universe of Marvels. My ultimate response to Life is one of awe. It is to perceive an endless mystery at every level of being.

If Life, God or the Cosmos are even in the slightest bit Poetic, then any attempt to do away with this poetry in the name of God, Life or the Cosmos, is impossible. It goes against the Truth, and this attempt at the impossible is therefore hypocrisy. And hypocrisy is sin.

From this reasoning, the sin of fundamentalism, and its fatal flaw, is the rejection of the Poetic God of Multifaceted Beauty and the embrace of the Reductionist Idol of Unifaceted Fact.

As we wrestle with truth, these are some of the questions we might ask:

  • Is this created Universe reducible, as the Newtonian approach would have it, to an objective series of mere facts?
  • Is this essentially Greek approach to truth “biblical” – does it line up with almost all other non-modern traditions, especially the Hebraic – of narrative truth as revealed through story?
  • Are the words of Jesus and the biblical authors reducible to a set of codified truth propositions – in effect, laws?
  • Is there a single meaning of the cross by which we determine a single, simple approach to Salvation?

To the extent you answered yes to these, you are a modern fundamentalist. Your worldview, whether you know it or not, is deeply influenced by the Enlightenment and Scientific rationalism. You probably see this as normal, and are unwilling to countenance another point of view. You partake in an “excess of confidence”.

If all of this remained merely a philosophical issue, then the sin of fundamentalism would not be that serious. It would fall into the category of abstract problems like any other “ism” might. But the fact is this: the actions and morality based on an impossible belief system, one at odds with Life and ultimately with God, is bound to be problematic. The fruits speak for themselves: a hypocritical belief framework leads inevitably to hypocritical deeds.

In my online skirmishes with fundamentalists I often find myself cast as the villain, the renegade and the rejecter of God. My attempts to effect reconciliation which as I see it are a foundational (fundamental in fact) part of the gospel of reconciliation, are met with scorn and worse. My desire to forge peace is mirrored back as an act of war. Any talk of truth is interpreted as deception on my part.

It is this same toxic thinking that makes people hate homosexuals, for instance. Or kill them. In the name of the Christian God.

We should not be surprised then at the vehemence with which certain people reject the emergent message. The postmodern tendencies of this message, which attempt to reclaim the mystery which rightfully belongs in the broad tradition of Christian spirituality, confound the Modern thought process. Any attempt to question or any hint of ambiguity in the written words of scripture is demonised and condemned as compromising truth by making it less clear and less one-dimensional.

To this, Peter Rollins can have the last word:

“… if we were to do the impossible and render the text into the ultimate fantasy of the fundamentalist (a text at one with itself) then the Word of God would not be clearer; rather, the Word of God would be systematically eradicated.” (The Fidelity of Betrayal, Peter Rollins, Paraclete 2008, p 57)

* The New Fundamentalist Version is not currently available (and will hopefully never become available).

Make Something Day.

For many years now Friday (US) and Saturday (International) after thanksgiving (that’s November 29th in South Africa) has been Buy Nothing Day, in recognition that we consume and waste too much. Originally suggested in 1992, the idea has been promoted by AdBusters, an activist media organisation.

But now it has been suggested that withholding purchases is not going far enough. A positive idea is to actively create something, and to rethink BND as Make Something Day. This includes: Organise It, Make It, Give It or Share It.
It sounds to me like a challenge of liturgy. Don’t forget, liturgy means “the work of the people”.

How will you be spending MSD?

 

the conundrum of inspiration

inspiration creates form,
form institutes habit,
habit dulls inspiration

The shamanic shadow in the new testament.

In “The shamanic shadow in the old testament“, I did a lightweight survey of shamanic myths and practices throughout the Pentateuch, poetry and prophets, moving in a more or less linear way through time.

I now want to continue to examine the rest of the canonical bible. This time however, I’d like to start at the “end” and move towards the “centre”, ending up at the crux of the matter – Jesus Christ.

John of the Revelation
Lakota trinity from mattstone.blogs.com
The Revelation was written by John (not necessarily the same John as author of the Gospel or disciple of Jesus) while in a state of exile on the isle of Patmos. It is possibly the most controversial book of the 66 and its inclusion in the canon was not unanimous.

Revelation has been open to misinterpretations by readers (with an underdeveloped sense of the metaphorical) confused by the relationship between the literal and metaphor. This includes looking for inappropriate meanings in its rich set of symbols and reading chronological events into its structure.

Aside from fitting Revelations into one or another agenda, one of the reasons for this wildly varied speculation is no doubt as a result of ignorance of its literary genre, known as Apocalyptic. (Daniel is another example of this). One feature of Apocalyptic literature is an abundance of highly symbolic imagery.

Continue reading “The shamanic shadow in the new testament.”

In memory, a letter

Jonathan Stewart Paton 5 July 1936 – 26 June 2006

So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed
and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

Colossians 1:19-20 (The Message)

Dad

The peace with which you departed last midwinter, has held me close this last year. I remain thankful for how things came together at the end. Your lifelong struggle against the authority-based religion imposed on you at a young age by cruel forces beyond your control was not in vain.

Our hard earned honesty meant you knew where I stood, you knew I rejected your petulant juvenility, your indulgence, your inability to hold me, your absence. But regardless of that, I now remember you as a lamb, an ungrown, a sort of innocent, whose very passivity brought salvation.

It went against all my hubris, all my action, my iron will for meaning, and in a sense you have prevailed. You were the Dionysus to my Apollo, you were the pleasure seeker to my meaning addict, and I the father to your child. Actually, this argument has been won not by you or I, but by Grace.

Umzimkulwana ceremony 2Umzimkulwana ceremonyI have no doubt that you saw how we as a family scattered your ashes into the Umzimkulwana River. You saw how out of your legacy we managed to hold a ritual rich and generous in honor of your life. Without priest or leader, meaning simply flowed as each and every member of your family gave something of themselves, back to you, back to the waters, back to our shared origins. We each took several handfuls of ash and within a few days, those tokens of your earthly life were in the Indian Ocean. Rejoined with the oneness of all creation. Free at last.

As you are now. And us to, us too.

Looking a lot thinner now...
The Awe
Song of sadness

Being hit on the head with a pulpit.

Courtesy ShipOfFools.com

Paraphrasing an encounter over the weekend, between me in the back row and one behind a pulpit.

Pulpit – “Those who are seeking a place for their gifts need to submit to Eldership.”
Me – “Yes, I agree that discipleship is very important, but feel that the church easily  misunderstands creative people. Don’t you think that there are problems with the way the church does not reach those with creative gifting?”
“No, I think people need to learn the costly sacrifice of submitting.”
“I speak for all the marginalised, and say the church has a problem with unconditional  acceptance.”
“No, the people with the gifts have the problem.”
(Woman in front row jumps up, turns and practically spits this scripture at me:
Proverbs 18:16 says A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.”

Implication: standing up for the artist is siding with rebellion and selfishness.
Realising the “conversation” has run its course, I withdraw.

I now realise, too late, what the next verse says:
17 The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.

People are afraid,
afraid of silence,
afraid of asking questions,
afraid of their own demons,
afraid of trusting the unknown,
afraid of not being in submission to authority,
afraid of not justifying everything by bible verse,
afraid of the creative.

Afraid of being seen to be afraid, which makes for contradiction.
Afraid of being seen to be contradictory, which results in wrong reasoning.
Afraid of wrong reasoning, which leads to hypocrisy.
Afraid of being hypocritical, which makes for a closed set of truths the outside of which is banishment.

Banishing and not integrating, not circulating as is natural.
Buildup of toxins which are never flushed out by truth.
Toxins which kill, kill enthusiasm, “Godwithinness”, and ultimately, are killing G-d.

4 Temples

across great seas she travels
up through rising lands
she is everywhere and noplace
her church not made with hands
— The Waterboys

Here are 4 notions of temple. Each is valid, but I believe there is a journey to be embarked upon between the first and the fourth. But none of these are exclusive, they are 4 interdependant views towards a more complete idea of the residence of the Sacred.

1. Temple is a PlaceGrotto of Gethsemane (Franciscan Cyberspot)

Temple, here, is a place which is set apart from other places, a place for the sacred. This honors the principle of “genius loci” – the Roman protective spirit of a place, which recognizes its unique qualities.

The ancients were adept and attuned to certain mountains, rivers, grottos, rocks, lay lines, or any geographical feature, which inspired awe. Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Central Australia is one of the most famous of these. These places were set apart, and commonly sacrifice or ritual occurred there.

In addition there were places which were constructed. Starting with simple cairns (rock piles), mounds and fountains, to simple shrines, to the more incredible and monumental edifices like Stonehenge, or the pyramids, this trend to build holy places has never ceased. It finds perhaps its ultimate expression in structures such as the Taj Mahal or St Peters.

As modern building technologies have made the process less labor intensive, it might be argued that the significance of any modern place of worship has diminished. During the middle ages it would be common for anyone involved in the building of a cathedral to expect its completion not in their lifetime.

It is hard for anyone to deny the numinous and awe inspiring qualities of sacred places. Even hardened atheists or materialists acknowledge the respite to be found in a cathedral or in a place of natural beauty or awe. We need to be aware of the essential qualities of places, if we are to do honor to them in our activities. This applies as much to the home, or civic space, as it does to our places of worship.

2. Temple is the Person

Meditation by Carol Buchman (www.explorefaith.org)Temple as person means that we recognize that the sacred is within us. We do not simply exteriorize our devotional or spiritual practices, but start to employ disciplines which have to do with diet and exercise. Yoga is a preeminent practice of the temple of the person. It centers around attunement, wholeness and health. The ideas expressed in the chakras – significant areas of the body – take the Person-centric idea to a very refined place.

By contrast the fragmented attempts at healthy living and self improvement in western societies are proving very shallow and ineffective at helping us house the sacred in any meaningful way. Negative ideas such as “do not smoke or drink, for your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” emanate from puritanical dualisms which will never achieve an inner integrity, for their spiritual foundations are flawed.

3. Temple is the People

Any creator worth worshipping is the creator of all. Therefore we will do well to acknowledge that our worship is corporate. All ideas of Person as Temple, from whatever tradition, will be limited; they are all marked by individualism. This individualism can pose as community; we can appear to “belong” but inside remain alone and unreached by others. For many an attendee, the sum of religious life is warming a seat for an hour a week.

On the other hand, religious communities can play a very large part in the societies in which they are sited. For some they are the be all and end all of their expression of shared life. But the mosque, temple, synagogue or church contains not just the apparatus of religious practice; it contains the focus of tradition and identity as well. Most religious communities offer sanctuary and assistance of some sort to the communities of which they form a part. And many traditions see reaching out to these communities as part and parcel of their worship. The effectiveness of this outreach varies greatly according to the sensitivity, skill and attitude of those enacting it.

So it is very important to value and support community for its own sake. Generally speaking, it is better to work through an existing community than delude oneself with dreams of a new world or way of life. Of course there examples aplenty where a new movement prompted painful severing with the known order. 

4. Temple is Praise

Sydney Morning HeraldLet me offer a starting point. Not a solution, strategy, or a politic. Not an analysis, an idea, or a theory. But rather, a vision. Something central to our being, something which deals with the heart. The idea of personally knowing our creator.

Starting all thoughts and actions from this place. A place where the bigness breaks through, and this limited pool of human experience receives an inflowing from beyond the time-bound gene pool. An encounter with Love, the Love which is bigger than the grave. The Love which forgives all, takes all, restores all.

The means to this encounter? I say, worship. Ascribe worth to one who is worthy. And righteousness, the living in right relationship to all.

The real miracles lie here. Not in twisted, sentimental, pious, sensationalist, media-obsessed pseudo-spirituality. But the miracle of changed hearts. The new beginnings possible only through knowing (or unknowing) encounter with the Giver of Newness, the Beginner of all.

These, my poetic proclamations, are a litany of praise I have learned to sing because of my own experience, a real encounter with my Creator from my own history. Right now, I simply want to point. There – on a hill far away, a wooden cross, and over there – an empty tomb. I let you the reader exercise your own imagination.

This is where I am, this is my aspiration. To live in the temple. To honor place, whether natural or built by hands; to honor my own person with an indwelling presence; to honor my people, those whom I love, choose to love or am chosen to love; and in my praises, no matter how eccentric or halting.

To live in the temple.

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