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dualism

Lausanne 2010 – the questions to your answer.

This week saw the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (yes folks, that’s spelled with a zee) take place in Cape Town.

I held an open posture (a “reverse pretzel”) towards the goings on, and met face to face with a few delegates. But by and large I remained fringer than the self-proclaimed “fringe”. Part of this advanced yogic manipulation involved my posting a question per day on conversation.lausanne.org.

For evangelicals, regardless of the plethora of diverse issues – globalism, truth, social action, climate- the answer is always “Jesus”. Even then, we shall have to ask again, “Which Jesus?”

So here, to summarise, are what I see as key questions to address going forward. Conversation around these on conversation.lausanne was not prolific, so let me simply repost them here:

  • Can Evangelical – Postevangelical interfaith dialog bear fruit?
  • How have liberal, postmodern and emergent values infiltrated evangelicalism?
  • Is evangelicalism inherently dualistic?
  • Is “worship” a separate idea from “evangelization”?
  • What comes first – belief, behaviour, or belonging?
  • Does the Gospel of Grace require the threat of Hell?
  • How does our salary affect our theology?
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“From wild man to wise man” session 2

Male and Female God created them

We were encouraged to enter small group conversation with the heart and not the head, and reminded that groups very rarely went “deeper” than the ethos with which they began. The idea of “Cell Memory” – the body-wide repository of accumulated feelings, was introduced. Sergio spoke of mourning as a process of owning our own feelings instead of projecting then outwards or suppressing them. The central idea of the “Father Wound” which marks so much of our Western civilasation was futher opened up.

We began exploring the idea that the Genesis account demonstrates that the image of God was expressed in the creation of male and female aspects. We touched on Rohrs idea that “all healthy spirituality will always have a truly ‘sexual’ character to it, a desire for re-union”. (Rohr p 13) Continue reading ““From wild man to wise man” session 2”

Pattern-based Worship: Sacred and Profane Time

This is a series of posts in which I hope to unpack thoughts and provoke practices around pattern-based worship. In so doing I want to examine  notions such as patterns: natures way, western music’s journey of civilisation, and postmodern liturgy.  And as an introduction, introduce the idea of sacred time.

At all times people have recognised that while we very often spend our waking hours struggling to survive, there are times when we transcend this and discover a deeper connection with the Divine. This connection may be experienced as God, as a oneness with all things, or simply a oneness with another. Certainly being or falling “in love” takes us away from our struggles or at least makes them bearable.

We all experience such times as inspiring, hopeful, and joyful, very often changing us (at least temporarily) from individuals trapped on a treadmill of obligations, to empowered humans. Many have called these transcendent times Sacred, in contrast to “normal” time which may be called Profane.

In this time of a heightened awareness of the dualisms of our western culture, we may reject the construct of the sacred and the profane as perpetuating unhealthy dichotomies. This suspicion is nowhere more evident than in our religious lives, which for many do not serve us by uniting the parts of our lives but rather create ever more entrenched categories, for example, the church vs. the world, religious vs. secular, or saint vs. sinner. These are by no means limited to the religious “sphere” either; we also experience the everyday divides of work vs. play, or us vs. them for example.

The Celts (who existed at the edges of the Roman Empire) saw this not so much in terms of time but place, calling locations which were steeped in the numinous (the unseen, mysterious presence of the ground of our being) the “thin places”. So we might say there are thin times, when the fabric of mundanity permits us to glimpse our ineffable underlying realities, which many of us call God.

Engaging the duality (as opposed to the dualism) of sacred vs. profane time can be helpful, if we bear in mind our tendency to compartmentalise. In fact, as far as questions of worship are concerned, it is vital that we grasp the distinction. Our confusion as to where the boundary between sacred vs. profane might lie leads to distortions and misunderstandings concerning what worship is or can become.

I write not as one with answers, but rather as one on a quest to explore, and driven by an intuition that there is more to worship than what is currently on offer. It is driven by a call to create new forms which honour the Creator and involve honest deconstructing of what is not working, reconnection with what has always worked, and an imaginative rebuilding of what lies ahead as we engage the unfolding future from a sacred perspective.

Does Emergence = Global Religion?

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
 
christ-buddha-shakti transfiguration mandala by Jack Haas
christ-buddha-shakti transfiguration mandala by Jack Haas

Few statements cause as much reaction in Christian circles as those proposing that all religions lead to God. After all, it is generally accepted that Jesus himself stated “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

One topical variant on this theme has to do with “Global Religion”, and the idea that Christianity is but one of many faiths which point us towards Divinity, the Sacred, or Enlightenment. And with the advent of Emergence Christianity, with its pluralism, and its revisioning of Biblical Faith, the Emergent Church is viewed by many as leading us away from true orthodoxy into a new religious synthesis. This urge is typified in such statements as Continue reading “Does Emergence = Global Religion?”

Eternal Punishment in Augustine’s The City of God

In many ways, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was the most influential post-Pauline theologian in Christendom. Even today he is widely quoted and revered, but more importantly, his theological approach has been deeply internalised so as to be seen as normal. Any disagreement with his writings is tantamount to heresy, and this applies equally to Catholic and Protestant traditions

Many major themes of Christian thought can be traced to Augustine. These include the Just War theory, the Trinity, and Original Sin. But what I want to focus on here is his profound influence on the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment.

Continue reading “Eternal Punishment in Augustine’s The City of God”

The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott

Published in 1999, Thomas Talbott’s thesis has just come swashbuckling over my horizon. In it he attempts to present a Universalist reading of the Bible, and especially Paul, an ambition that for most evangelicals at least, would appear doomed from the outset. Continue reading “The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott”

Moving towards worship: Homo Festivus; Man the Celebrant

“I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community” [Augustine]
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” [Deuteronomy 6:5]
“Theres joy, joy, joy in repetition” [Prince, Graffiti Bridge]

This post forms part of the synchroblog “Moving towards worship”, and is part 1 in my series “Myths for our time.”

Rio CarnivalFor some time I have been asking about the shape of things to come. I have wondered about models of community as well as of worship. And in the last month, myself and other venturers have been engaged in various activities, firstly the Afrika Burns festival in the Tankwa Karoo, South Africa, and secondly two NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action) movement sessions.

So, in the wake of some exciting, practical experimentation, (and to a lesser extent as the “season” of Christmas looms), I would like to offer a reflection on Festivity.

Celebration, are you quite mad?

Having been immersed in creativity, freedom of expression, dance and music, almost might we say, baptised anew into Celebration, I am compelled to consider the role of this in my and our life. Naturally, I also reflect up the nature of life and of G-d. So I have some questions:

  • Is celebration an aberation from serious life, something to do once, twice a year, at prescribed times like Christmas, on a holiday, or on a birthday?
  • With tragedy and despair all around us, and suffering an ever present reality, is it appropriate to celebrate at all?
  • In Anglocatholic culture, it is said that the Eucharist (Body and blood of Christ) is “celebrated”. I have always liked the sound of that, but sorry Father, I’m afraid your church services just don’t feel very celebratory.
  • Kids get so excited about things, ice cream, horses, swimming, TV, but from adolescence onwards we loose this – is this the proper way to grow up?
  • Is celebration equal to hedonism – for those who simply want to escape reality, or blot it out through indulgence, escape, sex, drugs, and partying?
  • Even if I do intellectually believe in celebrating, why don’t my attempts to do so seem very authentic or powerful?
  • What is the essential nature of the afterlife: solomn, pious and peaceful? Mao Tse Tung-era massed movement? The euphoria of a purple haze? Having all our messy earthy theologies nicely put into order, with a Mr-Bean-style smugness? Having all our needs finally met in the ultimate consumer experience?

I offer these questions from the POV of one who was raised in a Modern, Western, Eurocentric culture in South Africa, and one who has been on a lifelong journey to seek out the truth, a 15 year soujourn through the conventional church, a 10 year period on the via negativa, and in the last year, a freedom to ask and live whatever the hell question I wanted to of anyone, the cosmos, and G-d him-herself.

More importantly perhaps is the fact that I am not a natural party animal, nor am I that hedonistic. I have inherited my mothers Apollonic spirit, preferring the mountaintop, simplicity and asceticism to the ways of my father: he was an arch-Dionysian given to self-gratification, joviality and revelry. But it is his spirit that now calls me down into the valley, towards the sounds of mirth, partying and sheer enjoyment. 

So I am happy to say that I have some ideas, I have some vision about all this. But I wanted to frame these questions to give a context for where I am coming from now.

A Festive G-d

I’ll get to the point: We serve a Festive G-d, and as made in G-ds image, we are “Homo festivus”. It is part of our nature to celebrate, indeed we are called, coaxed and wooed to do so. I am indebted to John Morehead for introducing me to the term Homo Festivus, as well as many of these notions, and he and others have long been involved in this debate.

Now I am not going to say “Thou shalt celebrate”, because that undermines the free hearted giving that is part and parcel of loving response. Only a loving, thankful response can be sustained, and provide the fuel for authentic festivity.

In reality, we don’t always feel like celebrating. We may NEVER feel like it. We may be so caught in despair that we cannot see any reason for joy. I have felt despair. I have lived in loss for many years. I will live in loss in the future, and will feel despair again. But while, by grace, I glimpse the glory of this freedom, I want to live it, share it, write it, and move it, for THIS is a my foretaste of eternity … being one with the Creator, one with each other, one with creation.

Dancing and VJing at Camp Vuvuzela at Afrika Burns was a new experience for me. There was no sense in which “I, performer”, or even “I, reveller”, was present. “I” performed, sure, putting visuals to the DJ’s psytrance/electro offerings; but I never saw that DJ, nothing was announced, and everything just happened … this was the Anarchy of Love. It was for me a confirmation of Advaita – radical non-duality – or put another way, its was the joy of the ego being lost in Oneness. There was no me-you, or us-them. Those that lose their soul shall find it, reports the Gospel.

I’ve been brought up with a view that “Oneness” is an exclusive concept, defined by the orthodoxy of Christendom. This is based on the dualistic view of a future separation of the saved and the unsaved. So, Oneness is OK if it’s Orthodox Christian Oneness, otherwise it’s a pantheistic eastern notion incompatible with the bible, Christ, and salvation.

In case you misunderstand my embrace of Festive Culture, it is not without its dangers. To be consumed by the offerings of the ego – hedonistic self gratification, sexual conquest, shame at ourselves, or debilitating introspection – means that we are imprisoned slaves and, not true members of the Festive Race. I still can’t quite get my head around how this man said this, given his role in the propogation of many of the destructive dualisms that haunt us to this day, but … to further quote Augustine,

“Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the center of his life, who is not obsessed by lust for people and things and the demon of isolation in his own ego.”

Are we having a good time, yet?

Homo Sapiens, “Knowing” Man, has an inkling that he should rejoice, but is confounded by ego, sin, and systems of injustice that oppress this instinct. How he expresses this instinct to celebrate has in many cases, been substantially reduced.

  • Instead of Holiness of all Being, we have intermittent “Holidays” where what we “celebrate” bears little or no relationship to our lives. What exactly is “Family Day”, or “Heritage Day”?
  • Instead of deep, authentic humour we have jokes – little pills of laughter.
  • Instead of sumptuous, inventive expression through our garments, we have the tyranny of fashion and occasional Fancy Dress opportunities.

Our institutions have let us down. I’m not asking for a Cultural Revolution, I am saying wherever meaning has been lost, we need to refind and reinvent it. For example, primally, we know that the drum calls us to enter in. But layer upon layer of manners, sophistications, domestications, civilisations and barriers have rendered our sense of the Festive quite inane.

  • If a holiday is redundant, then dump it. If an important day is not noted, note it – who celebrates Beltane besides a few neopagans? And yet our connection to the seasons is far more important than artifical notions of nationality.
  • Stop filling up deep sadness with alcohol-fuelled jokes. I like good jokes, but often the “life and soul of the party” is actually a penguin-suited cadaver out of contact with real irony or deep authentic joy.
  • Instead of religeously branding ourselves with Nike, Gucci, or Calvin Klein, assemble your own outfit, one which IS you and comes FROM you. Authenticity is so much more powerful than cloned coolness.

The Isness

There is nothing that inspires me to dance, move and create, like the idea that G-d is present, present in all of creation. This panentheist vision – All is IN G-d, and G-d is IN all – is what drives me to give my body, energetically and wholeheartedly, to the moment, the community, to the Ground of Being. No E’s, no acid, no grass, no mushrooms, no drunken stupor, just a deep appreciation for being alive. No ulterior motive, no one to conquer, to impress, to rebel against, to convert, a simple isness, is a pround act of worship.

  • I am inspired by the the Sweedish movie “As it is in heaven”, reviewed here, in which a dour, fearful Reformed community is transformed by dance and celebration.
  • I am inspired by the River in Tolkein’s Third Earth called the “Celebrant”.
  • I am inspired by Brasilian, African and other cultures who host wild, spectacular carnivals, a celebration of carne (that’s flesh, brothers and sisters), the aroma of which MUST be more pleasing to G-d than all the incense floating up from 10,000 aescetic alters.
  • I am inspired by the trend to expressed, overt rhythm in music over the last decades. Long live Elvis, and his holy, gyrating hips. It’s largely a matter of taste, but I do love trance and other musics which until recently sounded boring to me. I have discovered a profound truth in rhythm, simplicity and repetition.

And in my brief introduction to NIA, I am inspired to combine robust bodily expression, an exploration of the healing arts, moving in community, freedom to express any kind of gesture my imagination might produce, and a profound sense of Festive worship as G-d intented it to be.

Other participants

making space for Halloween

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
” [Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi]

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders…” [Heb 12:1]

(Part of the Samhain Synchroblog “A Christian response to Halloween“.)

“Halloween”, hmm … that rings a bell or three:
dong: Isn’t it a commercial American kiddy candyfest?
Dong: Isn’t that when they show horror movies on TV?
DONG: Doesn’t it have its roots in satanism and witchcraft?

I am writing from Cape Town, South Africa. While relishing the opportunity to address questions once off limits, like the taboo of Halloween, it has to be said that I am in rather a quandary. I have been told by our local neopagans that we are actually celebrating Beltane (start of summer), not Samhain (end of summer, or Halloween), as the southern calendar is 6 months out of phase to the northern.

Anyway, I have already been wondering about calendars for the sacred  and paganism in general so this is a continuation of the thoughts presented there. As the theme here is to do with a Christian response, I would like to create some mental space in which we can consider the question of a festival all but owned by Paganism.

I pointed out in the second post Julie Clawson’s useful framework for interfacing with other faiths – Reject, Redeem or Root. The first 2 are common Christian  responses:

  • Reject Halloween as pagan and therefore evil … simple, or in South African parlance, “finish and klaar”.
  • Redeem Halloween (31 Oct), as we see in the adjacent traditional celebrations All Saints day (1 Nov) and All Souls Day (2 Nov). In this sense then “Hallow” means holy and “een”, the evening before. As to the question of which came first – the pagan or the christian, see Steve Hayes’ contribution.

But I’d like to consider the third way here – Rooting. Is it possible for a Christian to find a cultural rooting in what is seen as a pagan celebration? But to do so, we will need to take a step back and reconsider the role of nature in the christian tradition, and start to answer some of the questions raised by what is for many a real conceptual disjunct: can we serve and worship Christ via the tools and traditions of the “pagan”?

A big problem

By now most people in the west are aware that we have a very big problem, the size of Planet Earth, on our hands. Al Gore, president elect of Gaia, might be a chief proponent of political action on global warming, but the problem in my view goes deeper than this one specific issue.

For me, this is an issue of “righteousness”. To be righteous is not so much to do with being religious, pious or even sanctified. It is to do with right relationship. This includes relationship with our past, with one another, with our Maker, and with the Earth.

Now, the triune god Progress-Profit-Technology has blessed us with

  • the illusion of being better evolved than ever before such that we are losing our sense of where we come from, with the tacit assumption that latest = greatest.
  • an affluence which has removed us from the process of production, paying for the services required for survival and losing touch with the flow of life itself.
  • an abstraction from each other and the world via technology – houses, cars, urbanisation, privatisation, celebrity, entertainment and the ubiquitous distractions of commodification.

We are in what I call an advanced state of “Artifice”. Our lives are artificial, abstract and anesthetized. We need to eat, but we pay someone else to harvest, kill or manufacture our food. Fewer and fewer people use their hands; those that do are often in production lines doing mind numbingly repetitive tasks.

Our feet are perpetually shod, out of contact with the good earth. Our imaginations no longer see constellations in the sky, we have lost the subtle meanings of the world and all that it contains. We have been made to fear that which is wild and untamed. And our theology merely reinforces this prejudice, fear and chauvinism.

The dual to the death

The Paved over Paradise of the Artifice not only weakens our survival skills dramatically, but weakens our spirits even more. The Incarnational G-d as demonstrated in Jesus has chosen that we know and serve Him via the creation, not despite it. Of course, being G-d means you can circumnavigate natural law in the miraculous, but it is very clear that he who is G-d formed himself into matter, placed himself amongst people in a specific time and place, and communed deeply with the natural world. This is (for me) the core message of Christ. To respond to anything from “Christian” point of view, needs to have this Incarnational G-d at its centre.

Neo-Platonic and Hellenistic thought was very present in the writings of many over the ages but it was Augustine, arguably the most influential post-Pauline theologian of the Church, who embedded its dualism into this inherited culture we know as Christendom.

When combined with the Enlightenment’s emphasis in the mind (individualism), its belief in a rationally defined framework for understanding the cosmos (scientism), and an attitude of conquest and dominion (colonialism and capitalism) we end up almost totally losing touch with and respect for the Earth and by strong implication, G-d.

There are but faint echoes of the sort of wisdom required for this righteousness in non-westernized cultures, but their voice has been so brutally and systematically marginalized, mostly in the name of Christendom and its “civilization”, (although not forgetting communism, and other destructive fundamentalisms as well), it is no wonder we cannot hear the wisdom of Australian Aboriginals, Kalahari Bushmen, North American Natives, European Pagans, or Shamanic voices from around the world.

To be fair, however, I don’t want to idealize these minorities, and nor do I want to exclude many other peoples whose respect for their/our world puts us westerners to utter shame.

But once we acknowledge this shame, we need to find a way of redeeming ourselves. This will involve questioning many if not most of our deep held cultural assumptions; it will involve hard work, pain and humbling. I for one think it is worth it. Wisdom University’s Paul Ray has presented a fascinating case for this type of integrated spirituality in his presentation “Creating a Wisdom Culture“.

Any spirituality that hopes to find a true and appreciable union with its creator needs to hold nature in high regard. Christendom has failed almost completely to do so. The church has too often sided with and bought into individualism, colonialism, capitalism and colluded with progress, profit and technology. The dualisms of Spirit-Matter and Secular-Sacred have rendered the mission of Christ to “Love the world” almost powerless.

Prophetically pagan

If we are to serve G-d truly and fully, we need another way. One such way is hinted at via many of the teachings of the so-called pagans or neo-pagans. Note that in considering this, I am not suggesting taking on a philosophy wholesale or unquestioningly – I do not include the “ism”, only the “pagan”. The Wheel of the Year, based as it is on the seasons, makes a start at reconciling us with the world in which we live, with its seasons and its honoring of the importance of the Sun and Moon.

In the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, And first my lord Brother Sun, Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him. How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness. All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars; In the heavens you have made them, bright And precious and fair. [The Canticle of Brother Sun]

And Teilhard de Chardin:

For me, my God, all joy and all achievement, the very purpose of my being and all my love of life, all depend on this one basic vision of the union between yourself and the universe … I have no desire, I have no ability, to proclaim anything except the innumerable prolongations of your incarnate Being in the world of matter; I can preach only the mystery of your flesh, you the Soul shining forth through all that surrounds us. [The mass on the world]

I imagine that some people will now be asking question such as these:

  • Is this not “syncretism”, did Christ not say “I have chosen you out of the world”, are you not diluting the Faith, you heretic?
  • Is it not pantheism, the worship of the earth, you idolater?
  • Are you not walking directly into satan’s trap by flirting with witchcraft, you heathen, you wolf in sheep’s clothing?
  • Shouldn’t you be celebrating Beltane not Samhain in the Southern Hemisphere, you poor confused downunder fool?

These are all good questions, and I am prepared to answer them. But for now, I have just wanted to lay a foundation, create a mental space, for approaching the issue of Samhain/Halloween.

Praxis, anyone?

Further to all this mental wrestling, I am involved with a small local group who will be exploring “Halloween – All Saints – All Souls” on Friday 2nd November.

Here, we will be exploring what is in common between Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. We will examine the Celtic idea of the “Thin place” where the world of the dead comes close to the world of the living, the litany of the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11, and a few words on African Ancestral traditions from a Xhosa perspective.

I am asking participants to

  • Remember a person who has influenced you. To re-member is to “gather” ones thoughts and memories. This person might be alive, but a dearly departed would more in keeping with the theme. They may be a family member, a writer, a spiritual mentor, a friend, an artist, or any iconic person whose life has passed into yours.
  • How do you hope to be remembered? Here you can express both your actual achievements and your vision for you as-yet-unlived life.

So from me, and in the name of Jesus, Happy Samhain!

Other synchrobloggers are :

  • The Christians and the Pagans Meet for Samhain at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
  • Our Own Private Zombie: Death and the Spirit of Fear by Lainie Petersen
  • Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
  • John Morehead at John Morehead’s Musings
  • Vampire Protection by Sonja Andrews
  • What’s So Bad About Halloween? at Igneous Quill
  • H-A-double-L-O-double-U-double-E-N Erin Word
  • Halloween….why all the madness? by Reba Baskett
  • Steve Hayes at Who stole Halloween
  • KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
  • Hallmark Halloween by John Smulo
  • Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
  • Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
  • Removing Christendom from Halloween at On Earth as in Heaven
  • Vampires or Leeches: A conversation about making the Day of the Dead meaningful by David Fisher
  • Encountering hallow-tide creatively by Sally Coleman
  • Kay at Chaotic Spirit
  • Apples and Razorblades at Johnny Beloved
  • Fall Festivals and Scary Masks at The Assembling of the Church
  • Why Christians don’t like Zombies at Hollow Again
  • Peering through the negatives of mission Paul Walker
  • Sea Raven at Gaia Rising
  • Timothy Victor at Tim Victor’s Musings
  • Halloween: My experiences by Lew A
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