A number of Buddhist teachers insist that everyone is already a Buddha (The Awake One.) Underneath, we might say, all the falsifications about who we think we are, there exits our Buddha-hood. I believe that something similar can be said about being “in Christ Jesus.” If Jesus, as the Christ (Messiah), is understood as a revelation of our profound humanness, then all of us are already “in Christ.” Our profound humanness has never been missing, and it is still there. We simply have to get our alien self-images out of the way. That is a serious business, for we are sociologically conditioned to a human build world that is a far approximation of what is really real.
All social ethics takes place in a context of history. Christian social ethics is no different: as Christians we do not have a set of principles that apply to every generation of history. The ethics of Leviticus and the ethics of Deuteronomy were shaped for those times in history. The same applies to the ethics of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, and H. Richard Niebuhr. Time moves on and social ethics moves on with the times.
Your vision of the world is your world,
until you find a better vision of the world.
In the four years preceding 2011, five unknown visionaries, Ben Ball, Marsha Buck, Ken Kreutziger, Alan Richard, and myself, wrote a book entitled “The Road from Empire to Eco-Democracy.” This book named ten positive trends toward a viable and promising future for humanity on planet Earth. Trumpism manifests the opposite of all ten of these trends. If there were a Trumpite book on such topics, it might be titled “The Retreat from Eco-Democracy to Anthropocentric Empire.”
I am going to name those ten trends examined in The Road and give names to Trumpism’s ten retreats that are reversing those positive trends.
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.
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.
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.
Psalm 23 has been a favorite Scripture of many people, but it has often been cheapened through a sentimentalized understanding of the word “God” or “Lord.” The richness of this Psalm only appears when we view this “shepherd” as the Reality that creates, sustains, and terminates all realities, as the Reality that we confront in all the ups and downs of our daily lives. So here is my very slight rewording of this Psalm in order to emphasize its original meaning:
Reality is my shepherd, so I lack nothing.
This shepherd provides green pastures,
and leads me to peaceful drinking water.
This Ground-of-all-being persistently renews life within me,
and guides me step-by-step on the path of righteous realism.
Even when I walk through a valley dark as death,
I fear nothing, for the Great Shepherd is leading me.
Dear God, my shepherd, when Your staff pushes me
or Your crook holds me back,
I see these actions as my comfort.
Indeed, Oh Final Mystery, You spread a picnic for me,
even in the presence of my enemies.
My head is anointed in Your oil of honor.
My cup of aliveness runs over.
So I say to all of you here listening:
Goodness and love unfailing will attend me,
all the days of my life,
and I shall abide happily within this Enduring Wholeness
my whole life long.
When I first began my work in Christian religious renewal, the people with whom I was working were mostly nominal Christians who were interested in knowing answers to questions like: What do we mean by the word “God” What does it mean to say, “God loves us? What does it mean to call Jesus, the “Christ”? What are we pointing to with by being filled with Holy Spirit? How do we distinguish the true church from its many temporal manifestations and from its massive perversions? And what role does social justice play in a renewed Christian life? That was what I faced and learned to deal with in the nineteen sixties.
Today, in this second decade of the 21st century, many people have no interest, positively or negatively, in these old Christian symbols. If there is some relevant meaning in these old symbols, they don’t care. They even fear that finding some relevant meaning in this confused heritage will justify carrying on with the oppressive forms of Christianity that they have known and now wish to thoroughly avoid. Some of these folk have given up on religion of any sort. Why have a religious practice at all? What good is it? Who needs It? Some of these folk have given up on Christianity, but have moved on to a Buddhist practice or an Islamic practice or a Pagan practice or some other religious practice that they much prefer. Or perhaps some fresh, new therapeutic community or scientific discipline seems to help them well enough to not need a religion.
We live in a time in which dialogue with religions other than our own is almost unavoidable. Such dialogue can be nurturing to us and can also build cooperative relations for social action among the most progressive practitioners of this wide array of very different religions.
The downside of this opportunity is what I call “religion hopping”—jumping from the most shallow portions of one of these grand religious traditions to the next, to the next, to the next, but never following any religious practice to the depths of that profound humanness that valid religions come into being to express.
Projection: noun (1) an estimate of what might happen in the future based on what is happening now, (2) the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people or to objects; especially: the externalization of blame, guilt, or responsibility as a defense against anxiety, (3) the display of motion pictures by projecting an image from them upon a screen.
It has happened that human beings have projected the quality of human consciousness onto a tree or mountain. In these cases it is relatively easy to understand that such projections are projections, not facts. But let us notice how often we stub our toe on some inanimate object, and then take out our wrath on that object as if it had intended to hurt us. We also project the human form of consciousness upon our pets – a type of consciousness that they do not actually possess. Our dogs and cats are conscious beings, and we humans share in the type of consciousness they have, but these other intelligent, mammalian species do not manifest the uniquely human symbol-using, art-creating, language-forming, culture-building form of consciousness.