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World Machine Dream

David Priilaid hates descriptors, but 5 things that best describe him are:

  • He is an academic working at the University of Cape Town
  • He teaches entrepreneurship with a view that people have lost their voices and with insight can rediscover their “abilities to sing”
  • He is a post-anglican evangelical charismatic christian
  • Has experienced 10 years of Jungian psychotherapy and is a great fan of James Hollis
  • Loves Steely Dan, Bill Evans and a good glass of Cape Red at his right elbow

I had this dream in the early hours of Sunday 29 November.  The vivid and technicolor character of it made me feel that this was some kind of vision.  You as reader can be the judge.

Continue reading “World Machine Dream”

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Revisioning Atonement

A year ago, around Lent, a competition was announced on emergent village for people to rethink the meaning of the Cross of Jesus. Several new ideas emerged, together with some fresh reflection on the issue, and an interesting interview with Mark Baker and Tony Jones. I would like at this time of thinking about the Cross, to present a visualised framework, which might help us to come to terms with something much debated through the ages, the issue of Atonement.

Most accept the doctrines of their tradition without much deeper thought. Continue reading “Revisioning Atonement”

An Economy of Grace

I have been reflecting on Afrika Burn 2008, with 2 articles, a general synopsis called “AB08 scorecard” and a cheeky cultural crit called “Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place“. But now I want to get to the heart of the experience, from the point of view of the theme camp that our community set up, Sanctuary. Continue reading “An Economy of Grace”

Inclusion and maturity.

“For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [Mt 7:13]

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” [Mt 22:14]

Dedicated to my friend Don Rogers.

This post forms part of a synchroblog on “Maturity” (see the list below). I would like to explore the idea of how growing more like G-d means becoming not more elite, pious, or exclusive, but rather more Inclusive. That to become mature, we are “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”, expansive, hospitable, and generous.

Is Jesus for the few? Generally speaking, people associate Jesus and his message via the church with a view that he is somehow beyond reach; the one thing ties both these texts together is the word “Few”.

Continue reading “Inclusion and maturity.”

The Ambivangelical

The kind of conversation I like is one in which you are prepared to emerge a slightly different person.
[Theodore Zeldin]

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” [Mark 16:15]

I became an adult under the influence of evangelical Christianity. Quite willingly – it was my idea, or at least my assent to someone else’s idea, and it was based on a primal epiphany. And as I re-evaluate my life and my choices, as we all should do, I see good and bad in what I took on.

The key tenants of the church culture I made mine, were those of the evangelical. To quote Wikipedia,

Evangelicalism is a theological perspective, most closely associated with Protestant Christianity, which identifies with the gospel … most adherents consider belief in the need for personal conversion, some expression of the gospel through evangelism, a high regard for Biblical authority, and an emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus to be key characteristics.

Continue reading “The Ambivangelical”

towards radical inclusion

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” [Luke 9:50]

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” [Luke 11:23]

Note – this post follows on from another on Emergent Africa

I have been exploring the idea of Inclusion for some months now. My starting point has been the end point: how do I envision life ending up? What is the nature of the hereafter: is it a divided or a united state? Those who have read along will see that I lean towards the idea of Universal Restoration, that is, that Love will in the end “draw all”.

This conviction is based upon :

  1. A particular (my) reading of Scripture, and a particular (my) view of G-d.
  2. A revelation of Grace, and the character of Love.
  3. Tradition, for example that of the Early Church, where the Universalism of Origen held sway.
  4. Logic; the inferences from the above matters of faith.

It’s worth noting once gain the variety of names for an inclusive eschatolgy (i.e. view of the future): Apokatastais, Radical Grace, Gospel of Inclusion, Universal Restoration, Advaita, the Reintegration of beings. I’ve leaned towards the use of “Inclusion” as it for me has the best implications for the present, and brings eschatology into focus in such as way that it affects us here and now.

One crucial assertion along the way has been this: How we act now is almost totally dependant upon what be believe about the future. If you believe in a divided finale (eg. most people are going to “hell”), you will live a divided life. If you believe in NO finale (there is no life after death), you will live a life without ultimate meaning. If you believe in a united finale, you will live an inclusive life. The word radical here denotes an understanding or belief that goes far enough to be relevant for all time, as well as beyond time.

So, my proposition is this: the general tenor of the New Testament, and the Life of Christ, suggests Inclusivity. Exceptions are evident and plentiful (e.g. “I come to bring division and a sword”; “what accord has darkness and light”, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed”) but my current understanding means that when studied, and not taken simply at face value, what is revealed is a radically Inclusive God.

I have been puzzling over the Luke texts. Are they contradictions? It’s certainly a logical disjunct, worthy of any Zen koan. Or do they invite/force us to enter the mysteries of the sacred imagination rather than remain in that typical human mode, of logic and reason severed from feeling and imagination? Let’s go there, shall we?

“He who is not against you is for you”: Here we see the inversion of human categories and hierarchies, the inversion of the old dualism us/them and inclusion as the default state in the Kingdom of G-d.

“He who is not with me is against me”: Here, instead of justifying exclusivity, I see the risks of exclusivity being demonstrated. One can set up a kingdom with walls, but then one stronger than you may take you by force. But if you have no boundaries, you cannot be invaded.

This risk amounts to the risk of rejecting G-ds rule; if one does not take an active part in this Kingdom, he will be subject to the laws of survival, to decay, to the second law of thermodynamics (the law of increasing entropy, or disorder). The closing thought in the passage is “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” The only justifiable exclusion I see is the willing self-exclusion of rejecting this Kingdom.

I’m not saying I hve thie all wrapped up, remember, or that I have a watertight system of Universalism, but I am on a road of discovery. Many things remain unanswered, such as the Anger of God, the mechanism of salvation for the disobedient, or readings suggesting exclusion.

The “Kingdom of God” is not a human category, subject to human reason, limitation and decay, it is preclusive. To “preclude” means having essential nature, is uncreated, has no cause. For example, essential “holiness” precludes sin; essential oneness precludes all that divides. The Kingdom of Satan (whose strength is the law and the accusation) is created, so cannot stand. The law brings death.

The apparent exclusion (“Not with me is against me”) Jesus applies to himself (as Judge), but the implicit Inclusion (“Not against you is for you”) he applies to his followers. Elsewhere, the reaper is explicitly commanded NOT to separate wheat and tares.

So in reponse to the 2 texts from Luke, I see 2 principles at work

  • G-d’s preclusive nature, G-d’s will for ultimate reintegration as demonstrated by Jesus, the gathering of things, Inclusion as default.
  • The tendency of creation to disintegration, death, and the scattering of things. Exclusion is a by-product of the created order, and not, as many would have, a charateristic of G-d.

one punk under god

“I do not feel shame, I AM shame.” [Jim Bakker]

“As Christians, we’re sorry for being self-righteous, judgemental bastards.” [Jay Bakker]

I have just watched the Sundance Channel series “One punk under God”. This features Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the disgraced televangelists. It is a tale of the truly miraculous – how one man survived being a PK (Preacher’s Kid) in severely twisted evangelistic subculture, and has gone on to proclaim a heartfelt message of grace and forgiveness.

Jay is in many ways the antithesis of his media-, religion- and money-crazed upbringing. Of course, things have moved on, Jim served 8 years of his 45 year prison sentance for fraud, and reinvented himself as the “New Jim Bakker”, but somehow never saw much life beyond television. Tammy, she of the false eyelashes and guarenteed-to-run-mascara, died last year of cancer. Despite it all, and approaching the end, she said (paraphrased) “A son needs his Mom to tell him everything is going to be OK, but his Dad to tell him he’s proud of him.”

Never denying his parents, Jay nevertheless places himself in a very different mileau. He is essentially postmodern punk: piercings, cigars and cigarettes, tatoos. He seems quite at home in his skin, too. His wife of 7 years, Amanda, similarly has almost as many tatoos and a shrieking vermillion hairdo. She just wants him to be happy (but does wish he’d quit preaching and find another career).

Jay took the bold step of declaring his belief that homosexuality was not a sin, which cost him the support of a major backer. Of course (especially in the USA) homosexuality is a big political issue. But perhaps the main story running through the series is Jay’s attempt to reignite a relationship with his father.

With great pains, after several ignored calls, he eventually manages to visit him in his studio and appears on his show. Clearly strained after a pre-airtime summit in which his pro-inclusion views are discussed, Jay diffuses the situation and appeals to the basic need for love and acceptance. Jim (who knows with that guy what is real) breaks down at one point and confesses that Jay is doing what he should have done, but cannot.

This conflict epitomises the deep tensions which underlie so many lives: generational, theological, political and cultural, but most of all, with attitudes of the heart. And one pressing difference has to do with Inclusion, or ones ability to live generously and non-judgementally. Clearly, religion, and specifically Christianity, has failed miserably to live up to the inclusiveness of its founder.

I marvel at the grace that has allowed Jay be himself. At how he walked the narrow path, holding the tensions between breaking away from what he loaths and yet honouring those he loves, and seeing them for who they are … such discipline is the deep stuff of the spirit.

Jay … to merely be who you are, a punk and a christian, goes a long way towards the meaning of Incarnation. Holding that “disgrace” who is your dad so in mind, though left bereft of his affections yourself, is a true act of courage.

See Jays church website, Revolution NYC .

new.old.wine.skins

Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.  [Matthew 9:17]

Nobody drinks aged wine and immediately wants to drink young wine. Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break, and aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil. [Gospel of Thomas 47]

History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today. [Henry Ford]

History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals. [El Malik el Shabbaz (Malcolm X)]

WineskinAfter some decades of bandying about the phrase “New Wine”, meaning the “Exciting, relevant, latest, greatest thing that God is doing” I have been brought short in my tracks by a reading from the Gospel of Thomas. The assumption I have held is that new wine (meaning new content) is better than old, and that new wineskins (new forms) are better than the old.

However I enjoy wine enough to understand that generally speaking, aged wine is finer. The party animals of Jesus’ day, concur. It is mellower, smoother, and the product of nature’s processes. New wine is generally an easier product as it does not take up space for extended periods of time. So old wine is a symbol of quality, and stands against the cheapening contemporary trend towards profit making and comodification we find in any “eminently quaffable Vin Lite“.

I have assumed all along that Jesus stands for “New Wine”, a revelation of Grace, and against the Old, the dispensation of Law. Also I assumed that with the new wine it was necessary to use new wineskins. This for example meant that if you had a revelation of the “Charismatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit”, (non condo bondo shondo, rikki tikki ninga nuum), you should then create spaces in your “liturgy” for that.

So no longer did you adhere to the program of the hymn-sermon-hymn sandwich, but you made room for spontaneous prayer, song, insights, prophesies, readings, dance etc. and tried to go with the flow not merely the established pattern. So, in the church, acoustic guitars replaced the organ in the 70’s, then in the 90’s came the U2-charist, and rave worship, for example.

But now I am not so sure. Maybe Jesus was in fact pro-Old wine. His concern in Matthew seems to be with the wineskin more than the wine. Certainly he rejected the religion of the Pharisees, but that was primarily a stand against hypocrisy and the righteousness of law. And when he says “both are preserved” is he referring to old wine and new wine, or old wine and old wineskins?

Thomas’ rendition makes me even less certain of my old assumptions. The first half, “Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break” seems to be concerned about old wineskins, while the second half “aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil” is mostly concerned with old wine. So is Thomas confirming Jesus’ preference for the old?

RedFrom my current point of view, where I embrace traditions with a new understanding that tradition is not bad of itself, in fact we are in the West very affected by the “cult of the new”. Henry Ford, a preeminent symbol of modernity, shows us in the above quote just how debased our thinking can become when we put Progress on the throne of life.

In more contemplative traditions, this tendency is far less apparent. What matters here is the acknowledgment of centuries-old practices, rituals and creeds. The novel and the current are seen as mere eddies at the edges of the broader main stream, and are of little concern.

So, I have come to see the following concerning tradition:

  1. It is not bad merely because it is old. This view, that of “contemporary chauvinism” is a relatively new phenomenon, prevalent for perhaps only just over a hundred years.
  2. Much of the enduring content of faith is that which has stood the test of time.
  3. The main thing to ask about a tradition is the question of quality, not the measure of time. 
  4. Truth appears in all traditions. I for one consider myself heterodox; an Orthodox view tends to see ONE tradition, for example Catholicism, as the one true tradition.  

Malcolm X, growing up in the whirl of baby-boom, racist America, rejected the culture and spirituality that resulted from Fords vision. He embraced radical Islam, and he lived and died for his faith. He reminds us of the power of remembering. To re-member means to bring together afresh.

So perhaps Jesus was suggesting that as we move towards a future, the quality of the life for which we hope, will be found in our gathering and re-integrating that which is noble, fine, and mellowed, whilst allowing culture and spirituality to naturally evolve and emerge. Both what is new and what is ancient need to be finding their right places alongside one another.

 

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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