Progressive Christianity & Realistic Living http://realisticliving.org/blog Articles From Realistic Living Thu, 15 Jun 2017 20:46:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.10 Some Easter Poetry http://realisticliving.org/blog/some-easter-poetry/ http://realisticliving.org/blog/some-easter-poetry/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 20:40:07 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=170 Continue reading Some Easter Poetry ]]> Resurrection is about me!
I always sort of knew that.
Why else would I care about it?

And resurrection is not about life after my death.
Resurrection happens now.
Was that not so for Mary, Peter, and Paul?

So what was it that had died in them or me.
that made a resurrection possible?
What died was who I thought I was,
what I thought reality was,
what I thought thought was,
what I thought WAS was and IS is.

Yes, everything had died!
Is that not what death is?
Gone, gone, gone of everything!

Resurrection is what is left
when everything has died!
Leaving plain me, plain reality,
plain thought, plain plainness.
human essence, profound humanness
Holy Spirit, Body of Christ, the REAL ME.

This grand GIFT
is given at the tomb.
No wonder those women in Mark’s narrative
fled from the tomb in terror
saying nothing at all to anyone.

Let us picture these women in the resurrection story in Mark’s “GoodNews” story. They came to this tomb with spices to honor the body of their mentor. Their male companions had already fled to Galilee. Let us further imagine that these women discovered, instead of one more dead body, that they were now, in their own bodies, the resurrection of Jesus. They were Jesus—not Jesus exactly, but the life that was in Jesus was now seen as their own life.

Jesus is the Christ in the sense that this event opened to humankind our authenticity. The event of Jesus—his teaching, healing, being, and yes his dying a most disgraceful death that crushed all the expectations of his followers—resulted in those followers discovering that this destruction of their temporally-based expectations was the transformation they had followed Jesus to find. Jesus had manifested our human essence, our true being, our profound humanness. So this Jesus manifestation was not dead, but was risen indeed in a continuation of living bodies, beginning with these women and moving on down to those of us who join this body of living.

As these followers of Jesus now faced one another and told one another what had happened to them, they saw the life of Jesus bodily presence among them. They themselves were “the Body of Christ” as Paul came to talk about it. They were according to Paul “in Christ” because they had been “crucified with him and thereby raised up with him to newness of life.” Indeed, by this reconciliation with Eternal Reality, they were Jesus, and thereby, like Jesus, they were now assigned to be the reconcilers of the rest of humanity.

Here is an astonishing aspect of this “crucifixion/resurrection” event as it occurs in human lives—the temporal qualities of their lives had not changed. They were still the same personalities living in the same religious culture under the same Roman oppression. Nothing temporal had changed. What had changed was their relationship to everything temporal and their relationship with the Eternal that we humans meet in the temporal flow of events.

The temporal changes that we associate with this “new birth” come after this temporally contentless transformation, not before it, and not with it. And these changes in our temporal lives are whatever we choose to change based on this new-found freedom that we enjoy with this totally transformed state that has changed nothing, except our relationship to everything.

It is understandable why people in the first century and every other century have been offended by such a “Messiah” as Jesus. According to many of Paul’s distractors, the Messiah was supposed to change things, certainly not get crucified, a most disgraceful and fruitless waste of whatever good qualities this man Jesus may have had. And it was certainly true that Jesus left the Roman Empire intact.

Nothing was changed, yet those who revered Jesus as the Christ were transformed in such a total way that what they did thereafter did change things in Palestinian, in other Mediterranean places, and eventually in the entire Roman Empire. Many of these changes can appear odd to us, changes we may need to do over, and indeed have already been done over many times. Changes in our temporal societies and personalities are never final. Even religious practices become out of date, corrupt, and open to revision. It is surprising to me how many big temporal changes were made in the first-century of the Christian religion.

So, here is an astonishing and enduring truth: the Jesus-Christ revelation is not about changes in our social fabrics and personalities, but about a much more massive revolution in our whole relationship to all the temporal matters of human living. Because this transformation is temporally contentless, this massive revolution in human living can take place in any human life at any time and place, within whatever social content and whatever personal content is transpiring.

Understood in this way the Jesus Christ revelation is not about a religious invention, or a religious reform, or a religious or cultural anything. It is about a transformation of our entire relationship to human living. It is also about the transformation of our entire relationship with the Eternal that is meeting us in temporal event.

“Crucifixion/resurrection” is a general type of happening that applies to minor events as well as momentous events. For example, when I was in my early forties undergoing a mid-life crisis, having already changed my vocation and remarried, I was 46 pounds overweight, out of condition, my gums were bleeding, and my teeth were falling out. My new dentist challenged me to radically change my diet. This kicked off a crucifixion/resurrection happening in my life.

After that happening I was still 46 pounds overweight, out of condition, my gums were still bleeding, and my teeth were falling out. But everything was transformed. Something had happened to my relationship with eating, with having bad teeth, with neglecting exercise and common sense eating and other practicalities. This is the sort of experience that crucifixion/resurrection is—nothing is changed, but everything is transformed.

Changes did follow as I attempted to live the new context of having died to some old attitudes. And that death had left me with a slightly deeper experience of my essential humanity. I had already had other crucifixion/resurrection experiences before this dietary event. Some of them were even more consequential, and I have had other very consequential crucifixion/resurrection experiences after that dietary transformation, but all of these transformations have the same basic character: no change in the temporal content, but everything was transformed. Living out of the crucifixion/resurrection experience does change things, yet the transformation experience itself is nothing more than the gift of WHAT IS that is given to me or you from Eternity, acting in the midst of my or your temporal ongoingness.

Do I have a right to use the profound symbols of crucifixion/resurrection for interpreting what can seem to be trivial events? Yes, I find support for this in Mark’s narrative. On every page of Mark’s story we see Jesus as an exemplar of what living out of the crucifixion/resurrection foundation looks like and how this healing can happen to ordinary people who are struck by this revelation.

I am in the process of rewriting a detailed commentary of the Gospel of Mark. I have completed the last three chapters on crucifixion and resurrection. Here is the downloading code for those pages:

http://www.realisticliving.org/PDF/MarkCrossResurrection.pdf

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Uses of the Word “God” http://realisticliving.org/blog/uses-of-the-word-god/ Sun, 14 May 2017 20:27:21 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=166 Continue reading Uses of the Word “God” ]]> A Definition of Theology

“God“ is a relationship word—a word of devotion similar to sweetheart, lover, friend, rock, foundation, shepherd, mother, father, and other such words of devotion. When we call the Final Mystery “God,” we are making a religious confession. If we are not making a religious confession, we do not need the word “God.” We can get along without the word “God” or any word like it, unless we are a self-conscious Jew, Christian, Muslim, or a member of some other religious community that uses ”God” as a devotion word—as a relationship word for the Final Mystery.

Honestly living within today’s culture, we find no heavenly realm of rational meanings that humans can access to make sense of the absurdity of a Big Bang Beginning, or of an evolution from the single-celled organisms that mysteriously arose on this minor planet of a marginal star in one of the hundred billion or so galaxies. The sheer Mystery of this vast expanse and of the infinitesimal minuteness of this physical cosmos is not made less Mysterious by presuming a First Cause or an Ongoing Creator of all this wonderment. As a solution to scientific meaning or contemplative awareness, the word “God” is not needed for any rational solution.

If we call this Final Mysteriousness “God,” we are making an act of will, an act of devotion, an act of commitment, a leap of trust. Trust of this Final Mysteriousness does not alter the fact that we still know absolutely nothing about this Mystery—nothing with our scientific research, nothing with our contemplative inquiry. We know things, but all that we know is approximate and changing.

The famous Sufi Muslim poet, Rumi, captured the shock of calling the Final Mystery “God” with this provocative verse: “Life and death are two wings on the same bird.” For Rumi, the name of that “bird” is “the actions of God.” Rumi uses the word “God” devotionally. And the object of his God-devotion is Whatever this IS that is ISING what is ISED.

Some theologians are trying to say that God is changing. It is true that our human uses of the word “God” can be said to change or evolve. But “changing” is not something that can be said about this Final Mystery, this Absolute Mystery about which nothing can be said. Similarly, “unchanging” cannot be said about the Absolute Mystery, unless “unchanging“ means that the extent of the Absolute Mystery is no less Mysterious today than it ever was or ever will be.

The human mind cannot speak about the Absolute Mystery itself, but only about our relationship with this Absolute Mystery. Therefore, there can be no models of God, no images of God, no attributes of God. Why? Because Absolute Mystery cannot be thought by a human mind. The much rehearsed God-talk found in our Bibles, Torah, Koran, and other theologizing is now seen to be story-talk about our human relationship with this Mystery. The entire 3000 years of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim “God-talk” is story-talk about our human relationships with the Unspeakable Mystery, not about the Unspeakable Mystery that remains unspeakable in any human language.

We can indeed describe our experiences of our conscious relationships with this Indescribable Mystery. We actually know a lot about our experiences of this Mystery. We often call these experiences “Wonder” or “Awe”— where “Awe” means a shaking of our rational foundations resulting in a deep dread and fascination—experiences for which we need courage to sustain them as our conscious state. Such courage is part of our faith, our trust-devotion that reveres this shattering Awe as good for us. Strange as it can seem to our knowledge-hungry egos, we can revere our total ignorance before the Absolute Mystery as good for us.

Following Søren Kierkegaard’s insights, we only have two basic options for our relationship with this Absolute Mystery, (1) “Yes, this is my life, and it is good” or (2) “No, I will insist on having some other ‘reality’ (or perhaps I will simply resign myself to consciously fleeing, fighting, and inwardly hating what IS).” The word “God” fits into this awareness as a devotional name for the Absolute Mystery when that Mystery is being related to in accord with the first basic relationship with this Unknowable Mysteriousness. In other words, the name “God” is a name that is expressing a positive relationship with the Absolute Mystery. “God” is not about some rational understanding of this Mystery. Similarly, Father, Mother, Friend, Rock, etc. are all words of story-time talk that describe a relationship of trust with the Mystery for which we have no description.

Relationship

What does it mean to have a relationship with any object or process? Relationship includes an encounter of my consciousness with some otherness plus a response by my consciousness to that otherness. We have all sorts of relationships with temporal entities and processes: parents, stars, planets, children, enemies, gravity, etc. Some of these others can consciously respond back, some cannot. We also have relationships with internal others, such as our own bodies, minds, feelings, and consciousness. And we have an unavoidable relationship with that Absolute Mystery that is ISING every temporal isness and all our relationships with these temporal othernesses.

The argument that there is no otherness, that we humans are simply an inseparable aspect of an inescapable Oneness is only half the truth. This Mystery is indeed an Everythingness in which we and all things exist. But this Mystery is also a Nothingness, an otherness from which we and all things have come and to which we and all things return. This paradox of Everythingness/Nothingness is simply an expression of the realization that we know nothing and will forever know nothing about this Absolute Mysteriousness.

Oneness

The Oneness of the Absolute Mysteriousness is part of our faith, our leap into the darkness of Mystery. We who cherish a truly monotheistic faith do not believe that we face two powers—one that is for us and another that is against us. Rather birth and death are two wings on our experience of the same Oneness. The same “Love for us” is trusted in our death as in our birth. In other words, our faith in Oneness is not about a description of the Unknown Mystery. Rather, Oneness is about our relations with the Absolute Mystery. Again, the Absolute Mystery is that about which nothing is known, including Oneness.

When monotheistic faith seems to be in rejection of the many warring, quarreling, battling mysterious powers, this only means a rejection of scatteredness in our human devotion, not a rejection of the many Awesome aspects of life. To worship Venus as help for our love life and Mars as help for our conflict life is a scatteredness in our devotionality. Of course both love and conflict are real powers in our human existing. But worship is not about whether something exists, but about the quality of our devotion to what does exist. Monotheistic faith is about an affirmation of the goodness of every Awe-filling aspect of the Overall Awesome Mysteriousness. This quality of Oneness in our monotheistic God-talk is a confession of faith—a relational quality of trust in THAT WHOLENESS about which we know nothing with our mental faculties or with our emotional sensibilities.

Every Psalm in the Bible is a poem about a relationship of trust with the One Eternal Mystery. Here is one of my favorite Psalms, plus a bit of substitute wording and some notations for reading it aloud, as I believe all Psalms are meant to be read.

Psalm 139

Eternal Mystery, my God, . . .
You see through me. . . .
You know everything, . . . when I sit down or rise up; . . .
You watch my thoughts. . . .
You have traced my journeys and my resting places. . . .
You are familiar with all my paths. . . . . .
There is not a word on my tongue that has missed your observation. . . .
You have kept a close watch in front of me, behind me, and over the top of me. . .
Your knowledge of me is beyond my understanding. . .
I cannot comprehend it. . . . .

Here there is a shift in tone of voice: it is louder now, more openly full of dread, a tone of satirical humor is added.

Where can I escape from Your presence? . .
Where can I flee from Your sight? . . .
If I travel out beyond the last galaxy, . . You are there. . . .
If I bury myself in the grave, . . You are there. . . .
If I flee to the east where morning begins,
or go west till the ocean ends,
even there You will find me . .
Your awesome actions will grasp me. . . .
If I say, “Surely darkness will cover me,
black night will hide me.” . .
No darkness is dark for You.
The night is as luminous as the day. . .
Dark and light are alike to You.

Now the voice tone shifts to sheer amazement.

It was You who fashioned my inward parts. . .
You stitched me together in my mother’s womb. . . .

I marvel at Your presence,
for You fill me with AWE.
You overwhelm me with WONDER,
And each specific entity You bring forth is full of WONDER. . . .

You see me through and through. . .
My private body is no mystery to you.
You saw as I was secretly shaped,
patterned in the depths of earthiness. . .
You saw me unformed in the womb.
You marked down in Your records each of my limbs,
as day by day they were formed.
Not one limb was late in growing! . . .

O trusted One, how deep is Your sense of things!
How inexhaustible the subjects of Your wisdom.
Can I count them? . .
They outnumber the grains of sand . .
To finish the count, my years would have to be as numerous as Yours. . . . .

Now the voice tone is loud and angry.

O trusted One, if only You would slay all those who oppose You.
If only those killers of Your truth would but leave me in peace–
those who challenge You with their deliberate falseness,
those who viciously rebel against You. . .
How I hate them, O Eternal One, those that hate You.
I am cut to the quick when they oppose You.
I hate them with undying hatred.
I hold them all as my enemies. . . . . .

Now the tone is more quiet, but with the intensity of humble confession and sober trust.

Examine me, O trusted One, . . . know my thoughts. . . .
Test me, . . see my ignorance. . . .
Watch me, . . lest I follow any road that departs from You. . .
Guide me, . . in Your primordial path. . . . . . . .

Theologizing

Theologizing is a confessional witness meant for a community of faith and for the building of that community. Theologizing is a planet-wide address only in the sense that it is about the profound humanness that is possible for all human beings. But as rational content, Christian theologizing is only one of many viewpoints on this quest for realism. And Christian theologizing is a group process, rather than a merely individual opinion process. If that group is a vital community of Christian faith, we theologizers in this group work together on a common theological project for our era. We Christian theologizers serve each other, and we do so in obedience to a specific revelation of Final Reality, a revelation called “Christ/Jesus.”

When the best of Christian theology speaks of revelation, it speaks of an encounter that illuminates all encounters for those who join this revelation. When the best of Christian theology speaks of faith, it speaks of a current human response to a current human encounter with specific events in the life of a living human being. In faith, specific current events are viewed through the Christian revelation of the meaning of all events. Christian theologizing is reflection on such revelations of the Christ Jesus revelation.

A similar theologizing is taking place among many members o f Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In what I view as the best of Jewish theologizing, we find an inquiry into a revelation about Final Reality given to us in the event of the Exodus and its accompanying new mode of law writing. In what I view as the best of Christian theologizing, we find an inquiry into a revelation about Final Reality given to us in the “New Exodus” event of dying/resurrecting into the ongoing body of Christ Jesus. In what I view as the best of Muslim theologizing, we find an inquiry into a revelation about Final Reality pulled into focus by events surrounding the life and teachings of Muhammad, who is also a devotee of the God of Abraham. At least some of the theologizing within each of these vast religious communities can be seen to grapple with the implications for living the total round of life in the light of a unique revelation about the meaning for humans for living every event.

We can discern a great deal of overlap among the deepest theologies of these three monotheistic religions. There is also considerable uniquenesses in each of these three religious points of view concerning how Final Reality is to be viewed and trusted. In spite of these differences, all three of these Arabian-originated religions emphasize “eventfulness” and history and living that history in the light of a specific revelatory vision.

Buddhists, in their theoretics about Final Realty, make little or no use of the word “God” or “eventfulness,” so their theoretics need not be called “theologizing.” But Buddhists also revere a type of revelatory event found in the life and teachings of the one called “Buddha.” Christians talk of participating in dying with Christ Jesus in order to be resurrected with him to newness of life. Similarly, Buddhists talk of participating in the enlightenment of this historical Buddha. As actual experiences of the depths of human living, resurrection and enlightenment have overlapping meanings. Clearly each of these four religions have enrichments to share with each of the others. All revelation is a unique viewpoint on the Absolute Mystery of Final Reality—unknown to everyone.

The above summary is a bare-bones picture of what a confessional theology or a confessional religious theoretics looks like. “Theologizing” is reflective thoughtfulness about an event of revelation concerning what we are encountering in every event. Each event of revelation includes the response of a primal choice of trust toward living that revelation—a response often called “faith.” In other words, revelation only becomes revelation when it is revelation to someone making the choice of faith to allow their lives to be so revealed.

This definition of “theology” makes theologizing (or any other confessional religious theoretics) a different kind of intellectual inquiry than the inquiry that is done by the disciplines of learning called “philosophy” or “history” or “art” or “physics” or “biology” or “mathematics.” These disciplines of learning explore our human experience of seeking better linguistic and/or artistic exposition of our outer and/or inner experience. Theologizing begins with a revealed Truth about the Totality of Reality, and inquires into the specifics of living out that revealed Truth in the entire round of life.

Our “philosophy,” “history,” “art,” “physics,” “biology,” “mathematics” etc. are parts of our entire round of life. Our Christian theologizing has relationships with all the disciplines of learning, because those disciplines explore Mysterious Realty. For the remainder of this essay, I will illustrate this with remarks about the discipline of philosophy and how that discipline of learning relates to my mode of Christian theologizing.

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is a discipline of learning closely allied with two other “humanities”—history and art. One branch of philosophy deals with the scientific approach to truth and the meanings and uses of language. This is often called “analytical philosophy.” Another branch or aspect of philosophy focuses upon the contemplative approach to truth, the inward-looking that we find in most religions, art, and historical story. This branch of philosophy has taken on the name “existential philosophy.” A third branch or aspect of the discipline of philosophy has to do with practical cultural overviews that combine the results of the scientific approach to truth with the results of the contemplative approach to truth into a third means of truthfulness that is rooted in the workability of a particular culture’s responses to its historical challenges.

My mentor Joe Mathews chose to call this third branch or aspect of philosophy “metabilt philosophy.” He was using this category as a replacement for “metaphysical philosophy.” In this discussion, metaphysical philosophizing presupposes the existence of a meta-world of reasonable content that is “over” or “prior” to scientific knowledge. Metabilt philosophizing assumes that there is no such “meta” to “physics.” But like metaphysics, metabilt philosophy emphasizes practical overviews for our cultural use. Metabilt philosophy views the so-called metaphysics of ancient Greece to be a discerning the accumulated overviews of Greek culture and the adding of further clarification and content to those overviews. Metabilt philosophy promotes a thoroughgoing cultural relativity; that is, the view that philosophy (human thinking in general) does not have access to any rational universals that are not the universals of some specific historical culture. Therefore, metabilt overviews do not purport to be “universal” in the absolute sense.

This same relativity-based attitude is taken in metabilt philosophy with regard to natural law. All natural law is merely natural-law-for-now. All our scientific universals are temporal constructs open to further development, and thereby no more than holders of truth-for-now. Philosophy is about truth, but only about truth-for-now in this culture—never the Truth for all time and everywhere.

My Philosophy of Religion

My interest in philosophy is centered in my interest in a philosophy of religion that establishes relative universals-for-now about what religion is and why “religious formation” appears as a social process in almost every human society. Such a universal-seeking philosophy of religion can explore what is lost when a society goes without a working religion, or when a society substitutes shallow, obsolete, corrupted religious practices for a working religion. These religious universals-for-now provide a means of evaluating religious practices as helpful or as corrupting.

Such a philosophy of religion is beyond the scope of this one essay. For now, I hope only to help clarify what I believe to be relevant Christian theologizing for our era of culture. In order to do this, I see that we need to respect the sensibilities of a workable-for-now, general (or secular) philosophy of religion. I have endeavored to write an entire book about such a philosophy of religion. Here is information about that book and how to order it:

http://www.realisticliving.org/books.htm
The Enigma of Consciousness
A Philosophy of Profound Humanness and Religion

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Washed of Your Era http://realisticliving.org/blog/washed-of-your-era/ Sat, 15 Apr 2017 10:59:10 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=163 Continue reading Washed of Your Era ]]> It was in those days that Jesus arrived from the Galilean village of Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan. All at once, as he came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open, and the Spirit coming down upon him like a dove. A voice came out of Heaven, saying, “You are my dearly-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!  Mark 1:9-11

Faced with such writings almost 2000 years old, biblical interpretation today requires a bit more work than simply reading the stories. It is important to know that most of these biblical stories are not scientific history, but it is needful to do a bit of scientific history to find what these stories meant to their authors. But such history is only the beginning. Here are my four steps for interpreting a passage of biblical writing.

1. Scientific History: What do we know about when and where this text was written, who wrote it, and what probable meanings were being given to the specific words used by this time-bound story teller?
2. Literary Analysis: Was this a poem, a teaching, a fictional story, a historical legend, a theological myth, etc.?
3. Metaphorical Translation: Interpreting any transcendent, two-layer, story-talk with our contemporary, existential, one-layer, transparency language.
4. “Word-of-God” Suggestions: What might this passage be saying to us today about the living of our authentic lives and about the power of these Christian symbols for our own depth living?

1. Scientific History

So when was the above baptismal story written and by whom, and what do some of the words in this story mean? The Gospel of Mark was written about 70 CE by the first of the four Gospel writers we find in our New Testament. Mark was the name of one of Paul’s followers, but this Mark may be some other man or women. Whoever Mark may have been, this person was putting together stories that were perhaps three decades old. John the Baptist had built a significant movement by the time Jesus was in this late 20s, and Jesus apparently joined the Baptist movement rather than the Zealots, Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, or some other movement of that time. The Christ-way movement that Jesus and Mark represent was a parallel movement with the John the Baptist movement that was still part of the public memory, and was perhaps still going on when Mark wrote this gospel. The ritual of baptism, in a slightly altered form, was part of Mark’s movement. It was important to Mark to both affirm the John-the-Baptist movement and to distinguish the Christ-Jesus movement from it.

What we know about the meaning of John’s baptizing is important for understanding the Jesus movement and the above passage from Mark’s gospel. John saw himself as part of a religious culture that was deeply sick, deeply estranged from its religious foundations, doomed in fact to be utterly destroyed along with that whole Imperial era in which it was tragically embedded. The Sadducees were thoroughly compromised with the curse of the Roman rule, the Zealots were trapped in serious anger and even military revolt against this unbeatable foe. The Pharisees were reducing the whole crisis to a set of superficial moralities, and the Essenes were escaping to a mystical dream land. These are my words, but I am attempting to picture how thoroughgoing John the Baptist was with his critique. He was washing people of their whole era of corruption. He was calling for a thoroughgoing repentance from the entire state of that religious people. Things were so bad in John’s view that he expected the Final Realty of cosmic history to clean house soon, to wash the world with a wrath only rarely experienced in the story of this religious people.

Jesus joined this movement. He came to John to be washed of his entire era. When John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus picked up where John left off with his own style of response to these grim times. Jesus announced a dawning of a positive alternative; the Kingdom of God, he said, was arriving in the very ministry he was conducting. John was a forerunner of his work, but Jesus and his disciples viewed John as a fabulous forerunner. The washing of baptism remained as a ritual that Mark’s Christ-way movement was still performing. A washing of this entire evil era was still seen as the first step in the journey of spirit that Jesus was leading.

2. Literary Analysis

This passage is part of the opening pages of a new literary form—the gospel. Mark, we might say, invented the gospel. This writing is not a scientific history. It is not a fictitious novel. It is not a historical novel. It is a piece of theologizing put in the form of highly symbolic and artistically constructed narrative. This is a religious work with all sorts of fancy symbols: “up out of the water;” “the heavens split open;” “the Spirit coming down upon him like a dove;” “A voice came out of Heaven, saying, ‘You are my dearly-beloved Son.‘ “ These story elements are meant to get our attention, and to provoke us to ask this primary question: “Who is this guy, reality?”

3. Metaphorical Translation

Almost every phrase that Mark includes has some sort of secret meanings. “Up out the water” can pass unnoticed if we do not associate this immersion with dying to the evil era. If we do see the allusion to dying, then “up out of the water” is an allusion to resurrection. In this story Jesus is becoming the resurrected one.

“The heavens split open” is an even more cryptic piece of poetry to a modern person who does not know what to make of the word “heaven” and certainly finds it very odd to speak of seeing “the heavens split open.” Translating that phrase from its transcendence metaphorical imagination to an existential transparency type of poetry takes a bit of thoughtfulness. “Heaven” means the realm of Absolute Mystery, and Mark is picturing that dynamic as right above our heads. There is a sort of big punch bowl with stars on it and if that bowl were to split open we would see right into the Eternal heaven. I believe that Mark is thinking more metaphorically and less literally than that may sound; seeing into the Eternal is the meaning of the text. As Jesus comes up out of the watery tomb in which John has dunked him, the punch bowl of Awesome Absolute Mystery splits open. What a story!

Next, this profound-eyed person Mark sees another signal of profoundness: “the Spirit coming down upon him like a dove.” Spirit, for Mark, is the Absolute Mystery itself manifesting as a state of our whole life sometimes called “Wonder” or “Awe.” And for anyone who has the courage for a dreadful, fascinating state of Awe, this happening is a gentle thing, like a dove settling on your head or shoulder.

Finally, Mark gives us one more symbol for how this baptism was an outstanding event: “A voice came out of Heaven, saying, ‘You are my dearly-beloved Son.‘ “ We need not believe that a tape recorder would have heard this voice. Mark included this bit of poetic flair to complete his view of the significance of this baptism for this simple roof-repair man’s son from the nowhere of Nazareth. And what does “Son” mean here? It means that Jesus is having a new birth, not of a father in Nazareth, but of a Spirit from Eternity. This is Mark’s “virgin birth” narrative. Mark is implying a virgin birth for Jesus, a birth sired from heaven that was now taking over his whole life from his biological birth in Nazareth.

The Awed One (Jesus) is filled with Awe (Spirit) sourced from the Awesome (Eternal Mystery.) This whole secret Trinity of Divinity is happening among us, to us, to humanity in these opening pages of Mark’s story. For the rest of Mark’s strange narrative, Jesus is the washed one, the resurrected one, a beloved of Reality one who is born among us to lead us into our own profound humanness. For the rest of Mark’s gospel we will see what a person of resurrected humanity looks like—walking, talking, calling, teaching, healing, feeding, eating, celebrating, living, suffering, dying. Women coming to honor him in his tomb find nothing there but their own resurrection.

4. Word-of-God” Suggestions

So, what might this passage be saying to us today about the living of our own authentic lives and about the power of these Christian symbols for our own depth living? Perhaps we might give Christian symbols a second look. Perhaps we might view these long-preserved stories as being clues to our own most profound matters of living. Perhaps we might ask of Mark and other resurrected witnesses, what must we do to inherit this life abundant. Perhaps we are drawn to read further in Mark’s story to see where our own particular healing is required to be washed of our own grim era—washed in order for us to enter here and now into this communion of the saints, this Kingdom of God, this Reign of Reality, this commonwealth of profound realism. Perhaps such an enigmatic interior baptism is the first step for each of us in beginning a walk with Jesus for the rest of our own life story. Who knows what our next steps will be?

I am in the process of rewriting a detailed commentary of the Gospel of Mark. I have completed the last three chapters on crucifixion and resurrection. Here is the downloading code for those pages.

http://www.realisticliving.org/PDF/MarkCrossResurrection.pdf

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New Testament Living http://realisticliving.org/blog/new-testament-living/ Wed, 15 Mar 2017 12:22:43 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=159 Continue reading New Testament Living ]]> How does a viable and vital next Christianity need to be grounded in the originating revelation witnessed to in the New Testament texts? In our contemporary culture we honor or we need to honor both the scientific and the contemplative approaches to truth. How does this affect Biblical interpretation? Following is a four-point summary of the biblical interpretation methods I am promoting.

(1) Scientific History: What do we know about when and where a text was written, who wrote it, and what probable meanings were being given to the specific words used by this time-bound story teller?

(2) Literary Analysis: Was this a poem, a teaching, a fictional story, a historical legend, a theological myth, etc.?

(3) Metaphorical Translation: Interpreting any transcendent, two-layer, story-talk with our contemporary, existential, one-layer, transparency language.

(4) “Word-of-God” Suggestions: What might this passage be saying to us today about the living of our authentic lives and about the power of these Christian symbols for our own depth living?

Here is an illustration of Bible-based theologizing for a next Christianity. Following is a text from Luke 9:28-36 (J. B. Phillips translation) and my commentary on this story of the transfiguration of Jesus:

About eight days after these sayings [about the son of man coming in his glory], Jesus took Peter and James and John and went off with them to the hillside to pray. And then, while he was praying, the whole appearance of his face changed and his clothes became white and dazzling. And two men were talking with Jesus. They were Moses and Elijah—revealed in heavenly splendor, and their talk was about the way he must take and the end he must fulfill in Jerusalem. But Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, and it was as they struggled into wakefulness that they saw the glory of Jesus and the two men standing with him. Just as they were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus,

“Master, it is wonderful for us to be here! Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But he did not know what he was saying. While he was speaking a cloud overshadowed them and awe swept over them as it enveloped them. A voice came out of the cloud saying,

“This is my Son, my chosen! Listen to him!”

And while the voice was speaking, they found there was no one there at all but Jesus. The disciples were reduced to silence, and in those days never breathed a word to anyone of what they had seen.

Here is my take on interpreting this story: First of all, it is helpful for us to know some historical facts, like the highly probable fact that this story was written years after the crucifixion. The whole story is fiction—not a word of it is actual history except for the names of the people. “They never breathed a word to anyone of what they had seen” is an admission of the story teller who first told this story that he or she is making up this story. Seeing Jesus in his glory (as the Christ) did not happen until the “resurrection experience” happened. Indeed, seeing this glory of Jesus by the disciples, or by us, is the resurrection.

So, this story is about the meaning of resurrection, told and read by resurrected persons after the horror of the crucifixion became for them a doorway into the deeps of life. The teller of this story knows that “there was no one there at all but Jesus.” That dynamic applies to us today: until we participate in the resurrection experience, there is no one there at all but Jesus.

The bulk of this story is told in a type of dream imagery. The dazzle of Jesus garments is something seen only by transformed people who see the dazzle of Jesus along with the dazzle of Moses (author of the law) and the dazzle of Elijah ( grandfather of the prophets). We can translate the meaning of this dazzle for our mindsets as an experience of awe—a dread and fascination moment that is mysterious, that requires courage, and in the end redirects our lives.

I reject the sort of literalism that implies that a tape recorder would have picked up that voice from a cloud. I view this cloud as a symbol used to indicate the “heavenly source” of the message. And “heaven” is also a symbol for what we today might call, “the realm of Mystery that can penetrates any ordinary moment.”

And what does this dream-world “voice” say? It says, “Pay attention to Jesus, for this human being is revealing the nature of the Mysterious EVERY-THING-NESS/NO-THING-NESS that Moses and Elijah were also dazzled by, and that awake people today might meet in every moment of their lives.”

“The disciples were reduced to silence.” In other words, these still-learning disciples had no words for what they, in this story, were experiencing. They were, in this story, experiencing a preview of the resurrection, that rebirth on the other side of having all their illusions crucified in an event that so shattered the foundations of their lives that they never got over it. Only when this shaking of the foundations is complete, does the dazzle noted in the story appear. Only when all our illusions are exposed for what they are— when we have died to all our egoistic projections upon Reality, does the dazzle of Reality appear to us.

Peter cries out, “Let us build some altars [some religious formations] at this place.” In this story, Peter did not know what he was saying, but he did know that he was experiencing Final Things, appropriate for marking this place with some sort of humanly invented religious something.

In this story, all the above happens to these three disciples as “they were struggling into wakefulness.” We can identify with this phrase, for this story is what it is like for any of us to struggle into wakefulness, concerning our true being and our encircling Reality.

I have shown how we can translate a bit of New Testament text from first century poetry into contemporary language that might enable 21st Century humans to notice the “Awe-level” or “Primal-truth-level” that this story contains for our lives today. The final step (step four) is examining what it might mean to “Hear the Word of God” in this passage of Christian scripture.

So, what might we have heard at this deep level? In reflecting more carefully on this passage, we may have realized that we may have been walking with Jesus to hillsides and villages, so to speak, but it will take his death to wake us up to being the body of Christ who sees Jesus as the Christ, as the Truth, the Life, and the Way to live our lives. This story may also be telling us something about the human experience of “the resurrection from the dead”—the transformation from our deadly, despair-destined deludedness to our essential being in the body of the resurrected Jesus. If we do indeed feel some shallow deluded approach to living our lives, we are hearing the Word of God. If we do indeed see more clearly what authentic living might be for us, we are hearing the Word of God.

For more on death and resurrection as the core of the New Testament witness, I recommend the following portion of my commentary on the Gospel of Mark:

http://www.realisticliving.org/PDF/MarkCrossResurrection.pdf

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My Contemporary Theologizing http://realisticliving.org/blog/my-contemporary-theologizing/ Wed, 15 Feb 2017 12:07:54 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=156 Continue reading My Contemporary Theologizing ]]> Perhaps I owe the readers of these e-mails (which are also Realistic Living blog posts) some information on who I am as a Christian theologizer. I am certainly not a great scholastic— a theologian in the company of Rudolf Bultmann, whom I consider to be the most important Christian biblical scholar and theologian of the last two centuries. I also include Paul Tillich, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoefer in my smallest circle of great recent Christian theologians. All four of these scholarly luminaries lean strongly toward what Tillich calls the “Protestant principle”—by which he means the perpetual critique of all religious and cultural assertions. These four theologians are also “catholic” thinkers in the sense of fully honoring the whole history of Christian expression. I am especially indebted to Paul Tillich and H. R. Niebuhr for my love of history and my perspective on church history.

But I am more of a preacher than a scholar. I am still leaning to write after a lifetime of preaching. I am also a proponent of every Christian becoming a theologian at the very strongest level of their experience. And I believe that each of us have the authority of our own experience— from which experience we are entitled to critique even the scholarly luminaries we deeply respect. The four men mentioned above lived several decades ago, and we still living 21st Century Christians have experienced life challenges that they did not live to see. And they are all four men. We need to learn from the experience of women. The four men named above did not live to see the full flowering of feminism, ecology, or interreligious dialogue and interreligious cooperation in social action. Technology, economics, and politics have also not stood still. The perpetual revolution in Christian thought that was emphasized in Tillich’s “Protestant principle” has continued. I have attempted to keep up with this historical flow. All this experience entitles me and you to say more, not less, than the above four mid-20th Century luminaries were privileged to say.

Thomas Altizer, like me, has claimed to be a preacher more than a scholastic theologian. I am a critic of Altizer, but not of his excellence in obliterating people’s obsolete views of God. I am, however, a critic of his substitute set of religious assertions that, from my perspective, result in a religion that is alien to the New Testament revelation. Of Karl Barth I have a different kind of critique; he, from my perspective, clings too firmly to the old forms of Christian expression that have become obsolete in terms of the most lucid philosophies of religion that now drive what I view as “edge theological creativity.”

In addition to being an amateur Christian theologizer, I am also an amateur philosopher of religion, but a very passionate one. I have written a whole book on this topic entitled The Enigma of Consciousness: A Philosophy of Profound Humanness and Religion. For popular consumption, this book may be one of the best things going on this topic. I certainly recommend it, even though such an unknown as myself will be read by few scholarly philosophers who discuss this topic.

I am mentioning my philosophy of religion in this spin, because I want to share with you how important it is for me to do Christian theologizing within the context of a philosophy of religion that honors all religions. My philosophizing includes carefully defining the very word “religion,” so as to distinguish religious superstition from the essential social process called “religion” that is part of every society, along with education and sewage disposal. A good philosophy of religion disposes of the superstitious “sewage” that the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, and others have managed to dream up.

All religion is “dreamed up” by the human species. No religion has dropped down from a top-story realm of supposed absolute truth. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as good religion as opposed to superstition. Good religion points beyond itself—beyond its rational assertions, beyond its rituals, icons, and myths, beyond its communal life organizations—to the Eternal, Everlasting, Mysterious, Empowering Every-thing-ness and No-thing-ness that is experienced to be simply THERE judging every human creation as either helpful or crazy.

When Hinduism points to a Brahman Otherness that promotes an Atman inwardness, and when Christianity points to an Almightiness in the flow of unstoppable time that promotes an inward Holiness of Spirit, we are seeing two very different religions point to the same overall experience of a primal realism that all humans face. To talk meaningfully about religion we must honor this pointing-beyond quality of any religion that is doing its job as good religion. This pointing-beyond quality is the secret to experiencing an actual “Word of God” for Christians or an actual “Enlightenment” for Buddhists.

If there is no beyond-the-temporal for a religion to point to, then there is no validity to any religion. In that case all religions are superstition—merely opium for people who have lost their courage for a quest for truth or for an obedience to social responsibility.

And it requires an extreme carefulness of thought to distinguish a truly objective philosophy of religion from a subtle universalizing of my own religious inventions that I then foist upon others who practice a religion other than my own. But unless such an objective philosophy of religion is possible, no religious critique of my own religion is possible, and no honoring of a religion other than my own is possible.

And what do I mean by “my own religion”? As a Christian I have what H. Richard Niebuhr calls a religious “point of view.” For example, I follow the Old Testament point of view that views an Eternal Presence in the flow of time with which we in my community of devotion are in dialogue—Thou-we-Thou-we-Thou-we-Thou. I also follow the New Testament point of view that views the “character” of this Eternal “Thou” in the flow of time being revealed in a specific event, including the life, teachings, deeds, and death of one Jesus. This Christian point of view needs to be further spelled out, but it basically means accepting the job of religious creativity that flows from accepting that this one event of Jesus, seen as Messiah, reveals the meaning of what is happening to us in every event of our personal lives and of every event in our social history. However preposterous this enduring paradox may remain for most of us, this is my Christian point of view by which the validity of any past or further development of the Christian religion is being judged by me. My religious point of view is not shared by Buddhist theorititions who do their creative thinking from another point of view.

I will not attempt in this brief spin to spell out what I view as the best of Buddhist thinking and how it overlaps and differs from my Christian theologizing, but this can be done. These two contrasting points of view can be viewed from the perspective of a philosophy of religion that honors both the point of view of Buddhism and the point of view of Christianity without universalizing or dishonoring either point of view. Doing an objective philosophy of religion includes giving up every religious point of view as universal. Each religious point of view is relative, not absolute—a temporal creation by part of the human species. In other cryptic words, the Eternal can be revealed in the temporal without the temporal becoming Eternal.

The existence of such an objective approach to the philosophy of religion can be very important in our current world in which Christian bigotry, Islamic bigotry, Jewish bigotry, Hindu bigotry, Buddhist bigotry, etc. are serious enemies of a viable future for humanity along with racism, sexism, nationalism, nativism, and yes even humanism of a dogmatic quality.

If you have not done so already, take a look at my book on these matters:

The Enigma of Consciousness:
A Philosophy of Profound Humanness and Religion

http://www.realisticliving.org/books.htm

Also, if my elaboration of the Christian point of view is of interest to you, take a look at my book on that topic, which you can see on this same web site page.

The Love of History and the Future of Christianity
Toward a Manifesto for a Next Christianity

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Theological Commonalty http://realisticliving.org/blog/theological-commonalty/ Sun, 15 Jan 2017 15:06:26 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=151 Continue reading Theological Commonalty ]]> I am assuming that the common culture of a vital next Christianity will include basic methods of theologizing. I am assuming that it is possible to create forms of Christian organization and practice that avoid the common flaws of: biblical literalism, doctrinairism, sentimentalism, moralism, institutionalism, ineffective witnessing to the core truth of the Christian revelation, and social neglect of economic injustice., ecological devastation, racism, sexism, and more. I am assuming a victory over all these obsolete cultural elements through creating a movement that features a better culture. A new style of theologizing is one aspect of that better Christian culture.

I am using the term “theologizing” rather than “theology,” for I want us to be clear that the theoretics of a vital next Christianity needs to be an ongoing thoughtfulness, rather than a settled “theology.” Nevertheless, there are theological qualities and methods that need to be observed, if we are to have a vital next culture of Christian religion of the sort that I am assuming when I employ the term “a next Christianity.

Here is an example of the Bible-based method of thinking that I am promoting. The following is my commentary on the story of the transfiguration of Jesus as told in Luke 9:28-36:

About eight days after these sayings [about the son of man coming in his glory], Jesus took Peter and James and John and went off with them to the hillside to pray. And then, while he was praying, the whole appearance of his face changed and his clothes became white and dazzling. And two men were talking with Jesus. They were Moses and Elijah—revealed in heavenly splendor, and their talk was about the way he must take and the end he must fulfill in Jerusalem. But Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, and it was as they struggled into wakefulness that they saw the glory of Jesus and the two men standing with him. Just as they were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus,

“Master, it is wonderful for us to be here! Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But he did not know what he was saying. While he was speaking a cloud overshadowed them and awe swept over them as it enveloped them. A voice came out of the cloud saying,

“This is my Son, my chosen! Listen to him!”

And while the voice was speaking, they found there was no one there at all but Jesus The disciples were reduced to silence, and in those days never breathed a word to anyone of what they has seen.

So, here is my take on what that story might mean. First of all, it is helpful for us to know some historical facts, like the highly probable fact that this story was written years after the crucifixion. The whole story is fiction—not a word of it is actual history except for the names of the people. “They never breathed a word to anyone of what they had seen” is an admission of the story teller who first told this story that he or she is making up this story. Seeing Jesus in his glory (as the Christ) did not happen until the “resurrection experience” happened. Indeed, seeing this glory of Jesus by the disciples, or by us, is the resurrection.

So, this story is about the meaning of resurrection, told and read by resurrected persons after the horror of the crucifixion became for them a doorway into the deeps of life. The teller of this story knows that “there was no one there at all but Jesus.” That dynamic applies to us today: until we participate in the resurrection experience, there is no one there at all but Jesus.

The bulk of this story is told in a type of dream imagery. The dazzle of Jesus garments is something seen only by transformed people who see the dazzle of Jesus along with the dazzle of Moses (author of the law) and the dazzle of Elijah ( grandfather of the prophets). We can translate the meaning of this dazzle for our mindsets as an experience of awe—a dread and fascination moment that is mysterious, that requires courage, and in the end redirects our lives.

I reject the sort of literalism that implies that a tape recorder would have picked up that voice from a cloud. I view this cloud as a symbol used to indicate the “heavenly source” of the message. And “heaven” is also a symbol for what we today might call, “the realm of Mystery that can penetrates any ordinary moment.”

And what does this dream-world “voice” say? It says, “Pay attention to Jesus, for this human being is revealing the nature of the Mysterious EVERY-THING-NESS/NO-THING-NESS that Moses and Elijah were also dazzled by, and that awake people today might meet in every moment of their lives.”

“The disciples were reduced to silence.” In other words, these still-learning disciples had no words for what they, in this story, were experiencing. They were, in this story, experiencing a preview of the resurrection, that rebirth on the other side of having all their illusions crucified in an event that so shattered the foundations of their lives that they never got over it. Only when this shaking of the foundations is complete, does the dazzle noted in the story appear. Only when all our illusions are exposed for what they are— when we have died to all our egoistic projections upon Reality, does the dazzle of Reality appear to us.

Peter cries out, “Let us build some altars [some religious formations] at this place.” In this story, Peter did not know what he was saying, but he did knew that he was experiencing FINAL THINGS, appropriate for marking this place with some sort of humanly invented religious something.

In this story, all the above happens to these three disciples as “they were struggling into wakefulness.” We can identify with this phrase, for this story is what it is like for any of us to struggle into wakefulness, concerning our true being.

This completes my illustration of what it means to translate a bit of New Testament text into language that might enable 21st Century humans to notice the “Awe-level” or “Primal-truth-level” that this story contains for our lives today. In other words, I have been examining what it might mean to “Hear the Word of God” in a passage of Christian scripture. So what might we have heard at this deep level? In reflecting more carefully on this passage, we may have realized that we may have been walking with Jesus to hillsides and villages, so to speak, but it will take his death to wake us up to being the body of Christ who sees Jesus as the Christ, as the Truth, the Life, and the Way to live our lives. This story may also be telling us something about the human experience of “the resurrection from the dead”—the transformation from our deadly, despair-destined deludedness to our essential being in the body of the resurrected Jesus.

In my biblical interpretation above, I have used at least these four contemporary methods:
Scientific History: What do we know about when and where this text was written, who wrote it, and what probable meanings were being given to the specific words used by this time-bound story teller?
Literary Analysis: Was this a poem, a teaching, a fictional story, a historical legend, a theological myth, etc.?
Metaphorical Translation: Interpreting any transcendent, two-layer, story-talk with our contemporary, existential, one-layer, transparency language.
“Word-of-God” Suggestions: What might this passage be saying to us today about the living of our authentic lives and about the power of these Christian symbols for our own depth living?

For further illustrations using these biblical interpretation methods as well as this type of radical Christian theologizing, I recommend starting with the following ten-session course of essays:

http://www.realisticliving.org/UR1/

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The Darkest Day of the Year and the Virgin Birth http://realisticliving.org/blog/the-darkest-day-of-the-year-and-the-virgin-birth/ Thu, 15 Dec 2016 17:45:20 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=148 Continue reading The Darkest Day of the Year and the Virgin Birth ]]> Medieval Christianity wrapped almost everything in a Christian ritual: birth, adulthood, vocation, marriage, death, the first day of the week, the seasons of the year, even the hours of the day.

The original Christmas rituals wrapped the darkest day of the year with the birth of a tiny light in this very dark season of Advent judgement—a single candle, a new star in the midnight sky, a tiny babe born in extreme poverty, an intrusion of something dangerous to the dark powers of degraded government. Even this inconspicuous tiny beginning of hope, the powers of darkness sought to kill.

The good-news narrative of Matthew envisioned the true wisdom of the world coming to visit this birth. And the good-news narrative of Luke envisioned poor nighttime sheep keepers joining the party.

This has been an especially dark Advent season for me. The biggest, richest, greediest corporations on the surface of the planet are doing cartwheels of delight over the president-elect of my nation, a man who claims that the climate crisis is a hoax. But I groan in grief that adequate action to moderate the most horrific crisis humanity has ever faced may be still further delayed. In addition, I see the prospects for relieving poverty and low wages being neglected and billionaires. further empowered I also see backward motion on finishing the overthrow of our unacknowledged and unconfessed minority enslavements and patriarchal oppressions.

I even groan over the unconsciousness of the population of my own Texas county, of my own mostly good-hearted neighbors, 1 out of 2 of whom did not even vote, and of those who did vote, 4 out of 5 voted for the dark side. Such are my surroundings as I light my Christmas candle on the darkest day of the annual calendar,

All rituals are, of course, sort of silly. It is only the darkest day in the northern hemisphere, and those Medieval ritual makers missed December 21st by four days. But silly rituals can sometimes point beyond themselves to the dynamics of life that matter most. So what is this tiny Christmas hope all about?

Our first good-news narrative, accredited to someone named “Mark,” did not tell of a baby’s virgin birth, but of a “heavenly” second birth of a poor roof-repair man being doused by a wild man in the waters of the river Jordan. Both John and Jesus apparently gave this ritual the meaning of washing away the cruel darkness of grim estrangements gripping that out-of-the-way religious people of ancient origins. When in Mark’s story, Jesus came up out of that washing, the very heavens announced him as another real threat to the evil powers of the world. Being such a hope for the downtrodden and such a peril to the establishment hypocrites drove Jesus to undergo a long fast, in which he grappled with his possible vocations. In the wilderness, alone, with only wild nature and enigmatic angels to comfort him, Jesus decided to take on his dangerous vocation. This was Mark’s new birth of hope. The rest of Mark’s narrative reveals the “secret” of this new hope. And here it is. When we die to our clinging to all our temporal devotions, we are left with the resurrection of our authenticity.

The fourth good-news narrative, accredited to someone named “John,” told of a “virgin birth” that can happen to any of us who choose to join Jesus in his mode of living.

What then is this “virgin birth” that anyone can share? Well, it turns out that it is simply this: When we die to our clinging to all our temporal devotions, we are left with the resurrection of our authenticity. When that has taken place, we are born of Final Realty—freed from our parental upbringing and open for the real future we face. This is the virgin birth. This is the hope of Christmas. This is the core healing of the dark powers of the world, and the dawn of the Final Commonwealth of Ultimate Realism.

How is this so? If by this “virgin birth” we are freed from the powers of the past and open for the future, whatever that future may be, we are participating in the solution to any and every cruel problem that needs to be solved.

For example, here is the virgin-birth contribution to the moderation of the climate crisis—dying to the need for fossil fuels and open for a future with only sunshine to power the lives of the many billions. This will include more dying and openness that goes along with the climate crisis. We will need to die to having billionaires and grueling poverty, and be open for an economic justice that includes everybody—blacks, whites, browns, yellows, reds, greens, women, men, and any other color or gender or culture.

It may seem strange that all this begins with a few million virgin births, but that is just the way it is. Without these virgin births the same old karma carries us into the abyss of disintegration and total despair. But when the millions and billions share in the virgin birth, anything is possible. When the virgin born say, “Move!” to our mountains of wrong, those mountains simply move. The demons will cry out in wild backlashes, but they are on the wrong side of realism. Reality always wins in the end. The virgin born get to choose how they would like for Reality to win. The cosmic power that the virgin born breathe and live, can enable these surprising but ordinary folk to claim the victories that they are willing to live and die for.

Sure, the future will be a surprise, for many other forces are at play than the historical forces of the virgin born; nevertheless, the future will be very different because the virgin born live their lives and do their doing.

For more 21st Century theologizing on these core topics, I recommend the following essay on the controversial topic of “God” and Part One of my revised commentary on the Gospel of Mark:

The “Death of God” Conversation

http://www.realisticliving.org/PDF/0NextChristianity/1GodDeathResurrection.pdf

Mark Commentary: Part One
Cross and Resurrection

a commentary on the last three chapters
of the Gospel of Mark

http://www.realisticliving.org/PDF/MarkCrossResurrection.pdf

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Certainty http://realisticliving.org/blog/certainty/ Wed, 16 Nov 2016 11:08:31 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=145 Continue reading Certainty ]]> A good philosopher of real life begins with what he or she can know with some certainty. We know that we are stuck in time. We have come out of a now absent past, we are in some sort of continuing now, and we are now facing an unstoppable future. We have no perfect knowledge of that past, we only have fragments of memories and factual research open to many different interpretations, all of which are fragmentary at best and delusory at worst. We anticipate a future that we know will be a surprise in many, or even most, of its aspects.

So, we don’t know where we have been, or where we are, or where we are going. We do have images and perhaps careful thought and plans about all of that, but none of those rational products provide certainty. The sheer MYSTERY of it all is our only complete certainty.

Christian faith includes trusting that very MYSTERY that anyone and everyone can know about and have certainty about if they will only admit their ignorance and stop assuming total certainty for their models of thought with which they express and exclude aspects of that MYSTERY. This strange certainty that there is no complete certainty graspable by a human mind is, paradoxically, a type of certainty that we can absolutely count upon.

Trusting that this MYSTERY is friendly toward us is an additional type of certainty. It is a risk into the unknown for which we have no rational proof. But we have no rational proof that this MYSTERY is not trustworthy. Of course, we do find it true that the MYSTERY is not trustworthy to operate entirely in accord with our preferences, hopes, neuroses, plans, moralities, social conditioning, personality constructions, loves, hates, passions, intuitions, fears, anxieties, despairs, horrors, or any other aspect of our temporal modes of evaluation. Trusting the MYSTERY means surrendering all of our temporal modes of evaluation. This surrender is experienced as a kind of certainty.

Such paradoxical certainty is the key to understanding properly the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Innocence. They ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of which Absolute Realism forbid them to eat. Our healing, rescue, or redemption from the Adam and Eve fall from innocence entails vomiting up that fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Trusting the MYSTERY means a return to full and complete ignorance about good and evil. All our choices become ambiguous. We never know if we are doing the right thing, No law is absolute. No teaching is absolute. No social conditioning is absolute. No fabric of consciousness is absolute. No intuition is absolute. No body-wisdom is absolute. Nothing! We have nothing but total ignorance on the topic of good and evil. According to Christian witnessing the Holy Name for this state of being is called “Freedom.”

Trust and Freedom are two aspects of the same Holy Spirit,
the same authentic humanity, the same primal innocence.

And a third aspect of Holy Spirit also exists as part of that Trust/Freedom state-of-being human. The name of this third aspect of Holy Spirit is “Love”—Spirit Love, Love of the MYSTERY, Love of the neighboring beings as we love our own beings, compassion to be with the joys and horrors of our own life, as well as with the joys and horrors of other people’s lives. Such Spirit Love is a deep experience, and it is a profound commandment to actually live our essential humanity. The Holy Spirit is a gift of our “creation” and Holy Spirit is a gift of our redemption or restoration to that essential humanity. Holy Spirit is simply our essential being. This Holy Spirit is simply there when all our escapes from the simply there have ceased to hide this essence. After the restoration of this gift, this Trust/Love/Freedom demands to be lived by the ones to whom this restoration has happened. Not living this gift of Holy Spirit means a return to slavery and mistrust, as well as malice, envy, avarice, greed, sloth, arrogance, pride, and every other deadliness of un-love, mistrust, and non-freedom.

So what does all this have to do with “God,” as that word is used in Christian theologizing? One of the faces of “God,” in the Christian view of God, is this Holy Spirit that we can access within our own beings. Another face of “God” is that MYSTERY we pointed to above. To call that MYSTERY by the name “God” means that we trust that MYSTERY as our ultimate devotion. It does not mean that there is a Big Person sitting back there in a second realm of things. That double-deck thinking is simply story-book talk that works somewhat for the childhood of our upbringing. As true adults, we can now be absolutely atheistic about any supposed need to believe in a second realm of Gods, Goddesses, angels, devils, and all other such supposed populations. In a true understanding of the biblical texts, “God” is simply that MYSTERY that we all face and that can be, according to the Christian good news, be understood as being for us in everything that happens to us—including our death, suffering, limitations, opportunities, joys, and our horrific as well as glorious possibilities and challenges. For Christian faith, nothing more need be said about that MYSTERY than its trustworthiness. And this trust in the trustworthiness of the MYSTERY is what Martin Luther was pointed to with his assertions that “redemption” happens not by achievements of good works but “by faith alone.” To be redeemed, nothing needs to be done by us, except trusting the trustworthiness of the Mystery.

So how is Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) also a face of “God” in the Christian elaboration of this devotional word “God.” Let us look at the literary story of Jesus (as portrayed in the fictional narratives of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John). These minimally historical narratives were composed not as biography, but simply to tell us what it looks like to live in that Trust, Love, and Freedom that results from of our trusting obedience to the MYSTERY. In these narratives we see the 12 disciples and an uncounted group of women followers becoming excited, confused, and eventually horrified by following this spirited Jesus. In the end, having experienced compete despair over what they thought they were following, they found themselves moving beyond the hell of this despair into a life that they called “resurrection”—resurrection from the dead, resurrection from the horrific estrangements of the devilish world of which they were members, resurrection form their temporal hopes (that were also temporal fears) to a new quality of hope that cannot disappoint because it is a hope for that MYSTERY to remain a MYSTERY that forgives us, supports us, and loves us completely. This basic message of good news is said to reveal the nature of the MYSTERY—that is, that this MYSTERY can be our ultimate devotion—our “God.”

In the event of encountering Jesus we meet the MYSTERY that loves us. Jesus, seen as the final coming of our essential humanity, is also a face of our ultimate devotion. Jesus Christ is a face of “God,” a never absent part of the dynamic of our ultimate devotion to the MYSTERY and to how that MYSTERY is love for us and therefore can be loved by us in return.

This ordinary, fully human, fully temporal, suffering, dying Jesus is, in spite of all of that temporal humiliation (as well as because of all of that down-to-Earth humanness), a revelation of the MYSTERY’s love for us. In that sense, Jesus showed us that the MYSTERY was God for us. In the face of Jesus these healed ones saw their God. Whoever truly sees Jesus sees God—sees the nature of the MYSTERY. This is the claim. And now on the other side of this death and this resurrection, the essence of Jesus walks among us, eats fish, feeds us fish, lives on among us as a member of our group of trusters. And get this full paradox, this trusted Jesus also lives in a “right elbow” association with the trusted MYSTERY. In other words, the Jesus-presence-among-us is understood as fully human and, you may not believe this, fully God. In so far as we share in this presence of authentic humanity depicted in Jesus as Christ, we are also, you may not believe this either, both fully human and fully God. That is, anyone who has eyes to see any one of us as a trusting person sees the trustworthiness of the MYSTERY. This human/God paradox is an essential part of the Christian revelation and an essential part of our ongoing theologizing about that revelation.

This very quick outline about “God” in the Christian sense of that word, is introductory to a project of theologizing that can fill thousands and thousands of books and centuries and centuries of living. For a further elaboration of a core part of this theologizing, see the following essay.:

Redemption From What to What?

http://www.realisticliving.org/PDF/Redemption.pdf

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Prayer Always Works http://realisticliving.org/blog/september-2016/ Wed, 14 Sep 2016 20:26:51 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=139 Continue reading Prayer Always Works ]]> Jesus spent many long hours in prayer–whole nights, 40 days in the wilderness preparing for his life mission. He probably spent hours every day in prayer. He was a busy man. Why was he spending all this time in prayer? And what was he doing with all this prayer time? Certainly, Jesus was not doing the sort of long-winded praying for which he criticized the religious leadership of his time. In his teachings, he clearly recommends solitude and sincerity.

In the opening verses of the 11th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we find the disciples noticing that Jesus spends much time in prayer. One day, after he finishes praying, they ask him to teach them to pray. Jesus, according to Luke, gives his disciples a brief set of terse sentences we call “the Lord’s Prayer.” Then Luke continues the subject of prayer with Jesus teling his disciples a story about a man who goes to his friend in the middle of the night to get three loaves of bread for his suprise guests. The friend is already in bed and won’t get up. Jesus says that if this man persists, his friend will get up and give him everything he needs.

Jesus applies this story to the subject of prayer, “And so I tell you, ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. The one who asks will always receive; the one who is searching will always find, and the door is opened to the person who knocks.” (Luke 11:9,10) These verses seem to contradict about half of what we experience in our real lives. We have all asked for things we never received. We have all done some passionate seeking without finding. And we have all done some knocking on doors that never opened.

Some interpreters of these verses have suggested that our problem is poor praying. If we were to pray correctly, we would receive what we are praying for. But such interpreters have never satisfied me; nor have they convinced me that this is what Jesus really meant. In the 14th chapter of Mark, we see Jesus himself praying all night not to have to drink the cup of crucifixion. As part of his prayer, he notes that all things are possible to God. Yet he apparently knew that God might not give him his request, for he concludes his prayer, “Yet it is not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)

So what does it mean to say that the person who asks always receives? An answer to this question can be found in the verses that follow the verses about always receiving:

“Some of you are parents, and if your child asks you for some fish, would you give that child a snake instead, or if the child asks for you for an egg, would you give that child the present of a scorpion? So if you, for all your evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more likely is it that your Heavenly (Parent) will give The Holy Spirit to those who ask (Him/Her)!” (Luke 11:11-13)

God gives the Holy Spirit! What a curious thing to say. The verse seem to imply that if we ask God for some fish or an egg, God will give us The Holy Spirit! And this gift is a “good thing.” The Holy Spirit is a better gift than fish or egg or whatever specific things we asked for.

Is this the way that prayer works? No matter what we ask for, God gives something better. God sends the Holy Spirit! Let me stretch this metaphor out a bit: The divine prayer-answering order-house works very simply: it only has one product, all packaged and ready to go. No matter what you order, you get this same package, the Holy Spirit. This makes things easy for the prayer-answering order house. You pray for a new car. God sends the Holy Spirit. You pray for better health. God sends the Holy Spirit. You pray for a lover. God sends the Holy Spirit. You pray for a workable, planetary social order. God sends the Holy Spirit.

So what is this Holy Spirit? And why is it so wonderful that it can be the answer to every prayer?

First of all, the Holy Spirit is freedom. This is the way Paul describes it. The Holy Spirit is liberation from sin, liberation from the fear of death, liberation from the law, liberation to creatively affirm the life possibilities coming toward you. Here is certainly one aspect of the way life works: If you pray for health to the liberating God of the Bible, this God sends you the freedom to take care of yourself, the freedom to read up on health matters, the freedom to give up your addictive eating, the freedom to exercise your body, the freedom to find tranquility in sickness and in health. God sends more than you ask for. God sends freedom. God sends the Holy Spirit.

If you pray for a new love relationship in your life, God sends you the freedom to look around you at the real possibilities you may have been overlooking. God sends you the freedom to improve your shy and halfhearted efforts to interest some appropriate person in a relationship with you. God sends you the freedom to find tranquility in being alone or in being mated. God sends more than you ask for. God sends freedom. God sends the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps I need to say a few words about the phrase “God sends.” This is metaphorical language. We must be careful not to fall back into thinking literally about a big being beyond the sky. “God sends” means “The Wholeness of Being issues forth to us.” We are talking about a real experience, not about a transaction in the sky, not about a Supreme Being in heaven stooping down to do something here on Earth.

Whenever you, in your freedom, persist in asking for something from that Final Reality which you confront, you will receive a response from that Final Reality. You will receive the Holy Spirit. You will receive freedom. No magic here. This is just the way life works. Persist in prayer and you will receive the freedom to live toward what you are praying for. You will receive the openness to have what you are praying for, if and when it happens. You will receive the liberty to do without it if what you are praying for does not happen.

Whatever you pray for, God sends you freedom, the freedom to go for it, the freedom to enjoy it, the freedom to do without it. God always sends you more than you ask for.

You can’t ask for too much, as long as you are willing to recieve a Holy Spirit answer. Ask for the moon, you will always get more than that. If you pray for everlasting life, God sends you the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is not just freedom, but also trust, compassion, and bliss, poured out on you here and now. These gifts of the Spirit do not end. They are everlasting realities. Indeed, God always sends you more than you ask for. God sends the Holy Spirit.

These insights give us a deeper grasp of the nature of true prayer. Prayer is not some sort of magic by which I persuade some Supreme Being to get me something I want, though praying might issue in getting what I want. Prayer is an exercise. Prayer is an exercise in two ways: (1) Prayer is a rehearsal of your freedom in preparation for the performance of your freedom in the wide world. And (2), prayer is exercise that builds up your freedom muscles, strengthening yourself for freedom living in the wide world. The more you persist in using your freedom to ask, to seek, to knock, the more freedom you receive. This is the divine economy. There is just one currency: freedom. The more you spend freedom, the more freedom you get to spend.

So let me invite you to pray with me for a planetary human society more in tune with nature, more just, and more sane. Our long hours of persistent prayer will be answered with the Holy Spirit welling up within us. We will receive freedom, the freedom to create winning strategies, the freedom to compose for ourselves effective vocations of action. God always sends more than we ask for. God always sends the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is also compassion or spirit love; trust or faith, and tranquility, peace, joy, or bliss. But I will save these vast subjects for another time. For now, let us simply meditate on using our profound spirit freedom to ask, and on receiving more freedom to persist in asking, and on using that freedom to ask some more. For, “the one who asks will always receive; the one who is searching will always find, and the door is opened to the person who knocks.”

If you are interested in more on the topic of “Spirit Freedom,” I suggest the following essay:

http://www.realisticliving.org/UR4/4AweFreedom.pdf

A still longer exposition of related topics can be found in the book The Love of History and the Future of Religion: Toward a Manifesto for a Next Christianity.

http://www.realisticliving.org/books.htm

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Spirit Penetration http://realisticliving.org/blog/spirit-penetration/ Sun, 14 Aug 2016 15:54:17 +0000 http://realisticliving.org/blog/?p=136 Continue reading Spirit Penetration ]]> In the stories of Matthew, Mark, and Luke we see Jesus engaging persons whose personality habit is to think that he or she knows what is good and what is evil.  Some come to Jesus complaining about what he does on the Sabbath day.  Jesus penetrates their personality with sayings like, “The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath.”  Or they express their shock and revulsion that Jesus is eating meals with tax collectors, riffraff, and other Jewish lawbreakers.  Jesus says to them, “It is the sick, not the well, who have need of a doctor.” 

One of the best stories about penetrating a moralistic personality is the story in which Jesus is having a meal and a discussion with a Pharisee who invited him for a visit and apparently has a modicum of interest in Jesus and his wisdom.  While they are there at the table, a woman comes in and begins washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.  The Pharisee recognizes her as a woman of the streets who has probably made her living providing bodily comforts to the male population.  He is repulsed that Jesus is permitting such a woman to touch him.  Jesus recognizes the Pharisee’s feelings and asks to speak to him.  The Pharisee consents, and Jesus tells a story about two men who owe another man a debt.  One of them owes a big debt and the other a small debt.  The lender forgives them both.  Jesus asks the Pharisee, “Which one do you suppose will love the lender the most?”  The Pharisee gives the obvious answer that it is the one who owes the most.  Then Jesus points out that this woman whose sins are very great is showing great love.  He also points out that nothing comparable is being shown him by the Pharisee.  Then Jesus makes this penetrating remark, “Her great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven; where little has been forgiven, little love is shown.” (Luke 7:47)  The Pharisee is left to ponder whether his harshness toward the woman and his lack of love for Jesus indicates layers in his own life that need forgiveness.

Here are some other examples of New Testament stories in which Jesus penetrates someone’s personality with a challenge to that person to access their Spirit Being:

[Jesus] said to another man, “Follow me.”  And he replied, “Let me go and bury my father first.”  But Jesus told him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  You must come away and preach the Kingdom of God.”   (Luke 9:59-60; J. B. Phillips translation)

Jesus sees that this man’s personality includes an attachment to family obligations.  For this man to enter the “Kingdom of Spirit” he must turn loose of that old pattern.  Jesus’ words penetrate his sense of reality, penetrate the box of personality in which he is living.

Another man said to him, “I am going to follow you, Lord, but first let me bid farewell to my people at home.”  But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts his hand to the plow and then looks behind him is useless for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62; J. B. Phillips translation)

In this case, the man wants to make everybody he loves feel good about his decision to be a Spirit person.  This is a violation of the wholeheartedness required for living the Spirit Life.   Jesus penetrates his sense of reality.

And while he was still saying this, a woman in the crowd called out and said, “Oh what a blessing for a woman to have brought you into the world and nursed you.”  But Jesus replied, “Yes, but a far greater blessing to hear the word of God and obey it.”
(Luke 11:27-28; J. B. Phillips translation)

This woman appears to be a helper, an outgoing person who says what she feels to encourage others, but does not appreciate fully the dynamics of her own inner being.  Jesus does not deny the truth of what the woman says about him, nor does he reject her enthusiasm.  Yet he cuts through this woman’s images of subservience and challenges her to be a Spirit woman herself rather than simply an enabler of someone else.  Her flight from Spirit is not her vision of the greatness of Jesus, but her reluctance to see herself as the very same greatness, a potential waiting to be enacted.  If she came to see herself as Jesus saw her, left behind her old images, and received her welcome into the clan of Great Spirit Beings, then Spirit could be said to have penetrated her personality cocoon.

In such stories, individuals in Jesus’ presence are provoked to look beyond their habituated patterns and see the hidden Kingdom, the Spirit Being, the personal essence that is our true human nature.  In such initial experiences of Spirit, one is not asked to demolish personality or to be completely detached from personality or even to stop identifying with one’s personality.  One is asked to simply allow a bit of Spirit into one’s consciousness.   Such is the challenge of the first beatitude:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

This might be reworded to mean:

Blessed are those who experience their profound need,
for they shall find the Commonwealth of Spirit.

Living exclusively in the box of personality sooner or later becomes a desert, lacking moisture, water, juice. Repeating old dry habits over and over ceases to be an alive and vital participation in life. Also, we begin to be more aware of the devilish quality of our own personality. Its addictions, defensiveness, reactive behaviors, violence, meanness, bitterness, and despairs become a never absent pain that haunts our lives that are lived in the box of personality.  Life in this box becomes a meaningless life, a thing of dust, useless worthless dust, like some old discarded something found in an attic, so useless that we might as well be a corpse rotting in the grave. These are examples of that sense of profound need that the first Beatitude calls “blessed.”

Such experiences are blessed because they indicate that the Commonwealth of Spirit is near, that the Kingdom of Full Reality is close by. The box of personality is being penetrated by a larger sense of Reality. This moment is blessed because the Reality that is seeping into our box is a moisture, a refreshment, an innocence, a vitality that we are missing and very much need. We can call this seepage “Awe” or “Spirit,” but whatever we call it, it is something more than living in our box. It means getting in touch with the Mystery, surprise and adventure of our lives

Here is a personal example:  While still in college I attended a lecture by an African American preacher who had written a novel about the life of Jesus. He made it plain that the power and courage of Jesus were possibilities for all human beings. He also made it plain that accepting this simple truth would be costly in terms of one’s acceptability to others. In a private conversation, he chided me that I might not want to pay this price. For some reason, perhaps my own stubbornness, this chiding prompted me to push into the matter even more vigorously. I began to look beyond the box of being a mathematics scholar and teacher acceptable to my parents and expected by my friends. I began to become poor in spirit in the sense that I began to sacrifice my riches of approval by friends and family in order to open to some radical qualities of awareness that most others found foolish and dangerous. But I experienced this rather difficult openness as a blessing, a road to happiness.

Blessed are those who experience their profound need,
for they shall find the Commonwealth of Spirit.

For more discussion of along these lines, consider the essays in:

Unreduced Realism, Course Three:
Steps Toward a Next Christianity
Transfiguring a Religious Tradition

http://www.realisticliving.org/UR3/

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