Sunday, June 02, 2019

No Need to Worship Jesus

I just finished reading Richard Rohr’s latest book, “The Universal Christ,” as well listening to his accompanying series of twelve podcasts. My take away was the same I had with his previous book, “Immortal Diamond.” In both books, Rohr wrote, “Jesus said follow me. He never said worship me.” In case the reader missed the line, Rohr punctuated it more than once in his podcast.

Rohr’s point is clear—it is much easier to worship Jesus than practice his teachings. One can praise Jesus while only giving a pious head nod to his difficult teachings. For evidence, Rohr simply points to the history of Christianity’s failures of practicing what Jesus taught. And his critique of the current state of Christianity is scathing. Those who are screaming the loudest about Christian dogma seem to be the ones building the highest walls preventing other people from having access to the One Holy Living God.

Let’s just take the simplest of Jesus’ admonitions and ask ourselves how well Christianity is practicing what he taught. Be your own judge. No need for me to overstate the obvious.

• Love God.
• Love your neighbor as yourself.
• Love your enemy.
• Feed the hungry.
• Give water to the thirsty.
• Give clothes to the naked.
• Visit the sick.
• Visit those in prison.
• Embrace the stranger in your land.

Seems to me that Christianity got off the path of Jesus’ Way when it changed its archetypal symbol from the “fish” to the “cross.” Jesus’ teachings are primarily about loving and feeding the starving body and soul, not crucifying them. Jesus’ only mention of worship is directed toward YHWH, the One who is the Lover and Provider for body and soul.

Rohr repeatedly tells us that Jesus’ purpose was not to change God’s mind about humanity, but however, to change humanity’s mind about God. In other words, Jesus was not sent to the earth by God to die on the cross for our individual sins. Jesus, instead, is one who realized the “Christ within.” Through his enlightenment and example, Jesus teaches his followers the way to God, the One who is the Reality of Love.

To change the modern Christian’s understanding of God, Rohr takes on the primal theory of salvation; that Jesus died for our sins so that we might be saved (the theory of blood atonement). Using Jesus’ words, Rohr provides another theory, one that feels more like the One Jesus called Love. Jesus said God is Love and God’s unconditional Love requires no reciprocal transaction on God’s part or ours. Rohr writes, “We are all saved in spite of our mistakes and in spite of ourselves. We are all caught up in the cosmic sweep of Divine grace and mercy.”

While Rohr wouldn’t go as far in print to say as much, I would point to Marcus Borg and his writings about Jesus and his primary purpose. Borg writes that Jesus’ mission was to reveal God’s true nature as Love not retribution. And that Jesus practiced what he taught by being a healer, a miracle worker, a mystic, and a revolutionary; more than enough, but no more. Jesus called himself the “son of man,” and us co-equals as the children of God. All of humanity and all of creation, are abiding in God’s unconditional Love as children of the One. As Jesus was a Christ, so we too are called to be a Christ; and we do so by being a people who practice the teachings of Jesus.

The secret is this: the true practice of following Jesus’ teaching happens outside the corporate Church.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Psychedelic Christianity

I write book reviews for The Speakeasy. The only compensation one gets is to keep copies of the books. My selections for review are based on the same questions I use to purchase books: do I know the author; is the title intriguing; am I interested in the topic; and are the first five pages compelling?

Not having previously read anything by Jack Call, who is the author of "Psychedelic Christianity: On the Ultimate Goal of Living," I had to rely on the later three reference points to make my decision. I love the title and the possibility the topic presents. Admittedly, his first five pages were a bit pedantic. Now having read the complete essay (the book is only 69 pages in length), it’s unclear that the content lived up to the expectation created by the title. Given that lack of satisfaction, the brief time it took to read the book was worth the questions it posed.

For all the potential of the book’s title, Jack Call may have simply stuck the word psychedelic and Christian together without merging the ideas. “My two guiding stars are psychedelic experience and Christianity. Neither one shines brighter than the other…” He says that “A psychedelic Christian is just a Christian who acknowledges that psychedelic experience is a way of learning how to be in the right relationship with God,” a concept of which his explanation is too vague. “Having a right relationship with God” is often a trite phrase. To expect the reader to assume they know what the writer intends is a costly mistake. Nothing should be left to my imagination; I can fill in the blanks in ways the author may not have intended. In the case of this book, Call fails at sharing with us how his two guiding stars would inform each other, and thus, the reader.

He describes his psychedelic experiences as “a way that can’t be put into words.” That may be good enough for him, but not for us. How are we to imagine our own spirituality being shaped by psychedelics if he can’t lead us through his experience? He’s almost teasing us, saying that his psychedelic event was so profound that he came to understand “the ultimate goal,” which becomes the central purpose of his Christianity. The whole point of writing a book is to share your experience with the reader.

He is, though, very willing to present his perspective of a Christian philosophy. His “ultimate goal” is “when God will be all in all, and all things will be restored to an original state of glory.” He tells us this will be achieved when “everyone freely chooses to do God’s will.” Something he admits will never happen, because his philosophy underscores free will; God’s and the individual person’s. “God is in control of the things he chooses to control, I am in control of the things he chooses to allow me to me to control, and I choose just as he would choose if he were in control, and likewise for everyone else.” Call wants to use traditional Christian theological language, but his premise and his terms lead to some confusing conclusions; like the one I just quoted. Sometimes unique concepts need new terms in order to give us clear pictures. Even without the psychedelic component, however, his path, at times, winds through a haze filled maze—often leaving his epistemology incongruent.

Jack Call defines himself as a Protestant Christian. He tells us, because of that, he is led to think that “each of us is entitled to say what he or she thinks is the true message of Christianity.” He believes Jesus obtained universal salvation for everyone by achieving the ultimate goal. “That is why I believe that if anyone (Jesus) has really attained the ultimate goal, then everyone has.” But that is not enough. Then he tells us that once the ultimate goal is achieved, a new goal will be revealed. This is because “I want to be able to change without the change ever being that I no longer exist. I want the change to be enjoyable…morally and emotionally satisfying, and sensually and intellectually beautiful.” The author, therefore, does not want to personally have to experience any painful process to achieve transformation. Though he never says so, I assume this is because Jesus already went through the human process.

I also assume that because Jesus went through the human course, we are excused from such? The author writes, “I think it is wrong to speak in terms of ‘transcending the ego.’” That, he says, would make us appear to be superior beings. I don’t agree. That would make us mature human beings. I think he missed the point of the process of integrated maturation. Something many believe Jesus was pointing the way toward, not excusing us from. Richard Rohr, for one, in his latest book, The Universal Christ, makes this point about the Christ very clear.

Jack Call says he wants to be in relationship with God, but doesn’t see God present in humanity, or nature; meaning his spiritual relationship is exclusively with God. Which evidently, is the premise that leads him to declare he is a dualist; he and God are not one and never will be.

He says he follows the historic teaching of Jesus regarding morality and ethics, however, he never connects Jesus with the Christ. Were he to explore the possibilities of the Cosmic Christ, I would imagine he might have come to another conclusion. Oddly enough, Call only references one theologian—Rudolf Bultmann and his 1958 book, Jesus Christ and Mythology; a book I would recommend. Yet still, Call might have been well served to explore an endless list of theologians, Christian and otherwise, who might support his point of views, or maybe better yet, enlighten them.

I had high (pun intended) hopes for this book. But, frankly, I was disappointed. The potential for psychedelic Christianity, an altered state of consciousness Christianity, has long existed in its mystic tradition. The use of altered states of consciousness, drug induced and otherwise, have also long been a component of the perennial mystic tradition. Call never addressed any of these rich mystical traditions other than to dismiss them for their goal of unity, or in his words, the annihilation of the individual. Call wisely points out that psychedelics are not for everyone. I would agree. But he offers no other alternatives for an altered state of consciousness, which he promotes, sort of.

I have friends who have entered alter states of consciousness through the use of psychedelics and they have been able to recreate the scenes with some graphic detail. Their drug induced experiences, in many ways, mirror the experiences of my friends who have entered deep spiritual experiences, specifically through deep prayer, meditation, chanting, yoga, speaking in tongues, the Kabbalahic trance, active imagination dialogue with their Ally, extended pilgrimages, and long fasts. The esoteric experiences of my friends have richly informed their spirituality. I think maybe another book could be written on the topic, one that would include the ancient traditions of the mystery, the knowledge, and the magic of “An Awakened Pilgrimage.”

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Rev Dorothy Saucedo

Dorothy Saucedo is a friend, mentor, and colleague. Though she walked through the veil from this life to what awaits her on the other side, I cannot use passed tense. She was, is, and will always be friend, mentor, and colleague. Though I may not see her with my earthly eyes, I will see and hear her with other eyes and ears.

The Reverend Dorothy Saucedo’s and my life became woven together at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Parish, Tempe, Arizona. Her mystical life intertwined the convergence of the Presence and the human. She was authentically her Self. She did not suffer the pretentious. She spoke truth to power; that Word often frightened the shit out of those who had the power. Marginalized by White culture as a woman of the Dine, she would not be silenced. Though some tried—her Strength made the episcopate cringe and she would not be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. Jesus wept. The church’s loss. The people suffered. Same old tired story. Nothing within the institution truly changes.

But Dorothy didn’t need to be ordained to be her Self. She is Priest. Her life exudes the Presence and the Real. Dorothy’s experience of the Presence, the divine, the Spirit, was her own; a beautiful mystical marriage of her ancient People’s religious practice and the christian (that is not a typo). She didn’t force either into the structure of the other; they simply co-existed as oneness in the eternal Flow; she is the conduit. Had you not experienced the divine, she would introduce you to the Presence of the Real with a warm smile, gentle laugh, a gracious embrace, a story, her mystical prayers, and sage; lots of smoke, feathers, and a dance with Spirit. To know Dorothy, was to become intimate with divinity.

With such a mystical relationship, though, comes the Reality of Lightness and Darkness; one cannot exist without the other. And Dorothy experienced them both—she knew the Light, she knew suffering; thus, she became the Light her Self. She cared for the marginalized, the disabled, the outcast. She had experienced that grief in her own life and could teach others how to carry such loss with grace—ever the mystical teacher.

Those who know Dorothy will grieve her earthly death in their own way. Tears will be shed. Stories will be told. An exchange of forever transmuted lives will be passed from hand to hand like the bread and wine Deacon Dorothy served with her Holy soul to our hungry hearts. We love you Dorothy and we will miss your power hugs; keep teaching—those who have eyes will see and ears will hear.

Monday, March 18, 2019

What if God Were a Woman

Last week, I was at the Spiritual Director’s International Conference in Seattle. One of the breakout sessions I attended was “Gender, Sexuality, and Spirituality in the Art of Spiritual Direction.” The three-hour workshop was led by five under forty queer folk. The gathering was informative, enlightening, and encouraging. The discussion wandered more than a few times into pondering upon the divine sexuality; the notion of the “Queer God.”

One of the more “enlightened” cis white straight dudes in attendance, suggested that his God was beyond masculine or feminine, his God was, he said with ethereal emphasis, “Being.” I get it, intellectually, that is—God is not, not; God is nothing. Yes, I understand. But I don’t think my body gets it.

“What if God was one of us? Just a stranger on a bus?” Joan Osborne style.

Right now, one of you, a Christian, is saying, “God is one of us; that would be Jesus Christ.” Okay, well, I’ll restate my premise. What if God was really one of us? Not someone who has become the European white, male, beautiful, perfect, celibate, American, picture hanging on your Sunday School wall, Jesus. Not that one of us. But a real one of us. The one of us Jesus, was; a Jewish Galilean, poor man of color, born of a woman, a woman without a husband, and who died alone, like the rest of us, one of us. That’s good, but—that Jesus still leaves God a man. Better yet then, what if God were a woman, one of us? Even better, a queer woman. I do wonder?

What if Jesus had been born Sophia? I wonder? I wonder where we would be, today? I wonder if the followers of Sophia would have allowed the empire of Rome to co-opt their religion? Would the Roman Catholic Church be reeling from horrors of child abuse? Would America already have instituted reasonable gun control like New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern immediately promised her people after Friday’s tragic mass shooting? Would there even be rampant mass shootings? Would the Episcopal Church be breaking its arm patting itself on the back by electing twenty-five percent of its bishops, women—for the first time? I do wonder?

For those of us who are less enlightened—Sophia is Divinity. She is a central figure in the holy texts; she has many names and she has spoken her truth to us. She is the co-creator. “Before the beginning of the earth…I was there when Yahweh drew a circle on the face of the deep.” (Proverbs 8:23, 27). She is the teacher. “Now my children, listen to me; happy are those who keep my ways.” (Proverbs 8:32) She is the great high priestess. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Proverbs 9:5) She is the revolutionary. “The Divine has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; the Divine has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53). She is the Queen. “A woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1) She is worthy of praise and worship. “Nothing you desire can compare with Her…She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of Her.” (Proverbs 3:15, 18) Sophia is the beloved Mother of God, the beloved Daughter of God, the beloved Bride of God. I do wonder, what if we turned our eyes to Her? My body feels like we would better off, today. No need to wonder about that; I’m pretty certain.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Cheese Wiz

My grandsons call me Giz, it was my nickname during those long-ago baseball playing days. The grandboys like it because the name differentiates me from the other two grandpas in their life. Lately, the youngest one, who is four, has taken to calling me Gizzie. He’s cute and funny. He could call me anything and it’d make me laugh.

A few weeks ago, Gaga, yep that’s what they call their grandmother, the two boys and I were playing Mouse Trap. The name pretty well describes the game; involves building a mouse trap, to catch the mouse, and using cheese. The boys are seven and four, so we were playing a very modified version of the game. As the game digressed, we resorted to making up rhyming names for cheese. As you might know, seven and four-year-old boys will laugh at about anything. At one point, I mentioned Cheese Wiz, and then the youngest called me “Gizzie, the cheese wizzie.” Good lord, they burst out in that pure child laughter from the gut that is unforgettable and undeniably fun. I laughed so hard at their new name for me, I almost peed my pants.

I’ve had a variety of nickname’s or titles in my life. Coach, Skip (which is a variant of coach), Dr. Stafford, and Father Gil. I never cared much for any of them. The last one I detested, primarily because I knew most people who used the moniker were throwing their daddy issues on me, or worse, their projections of God. Over my fifteen years as an active Episcopal priest, I implored people to just call me Gil. Which set me up to really suspect those who wouldn’t, as having serious unconscious projections. Of course, I really wondered even more about those priests or other leaders who insist on being called by their special title, earned or otherwise. What kind of unconscious insecurity issues are they caring around? Not that I don’t have plenty of my own issues, I just don’t want them attached to my name.

So please, just Gil, or Giz, or Gizzie, the cheese wizzie.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Did you give up Lent for Lent?

"Stations of the Cosmic Christ"
By Matthew Fox and Marc Andrus
Artists M.C. Richards and Ullrrich Javier Lemus

Richard Rohr, Marianne Williamson, and Caroline Myss each wrote a glowing advance for this book. The fact that these three divergent authors would converge to support Matthew Fox’s latest book speaks volumes about the genuine uniqueness of ideas and art found within the covers of this beautiful book. And then throw in Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus and you have a theological explosion of color and imagination.

Fox and Andrus bring to us the perfect example of how Interfaith conversations intersect best within the context of spiritual mysticism, science, and art. And the artists, M.C. Richards and Ullrrich Javier Lemus are magical. “God is the eye…God is the dragon…God is exciting.”

“Stations of the Cosmic Christ” also offers some spiritual practices for your spiritual pilgrimage. Some you may be familiar with—others not so much. But even if you’ve tried them all—I imagine you might have a different experience when used in conjunction with the meditions and art in this book.

If you’re into Lent, this is the book your church probably won’t want you to read; but it’s the book you want to. For those of you who still practice Lent, “Stations” will shine a new light on your spiritual practices. And if you gave up Lent for Lent, the “Cosmic Christ” may be your portal into the ancient/future mysticism of hidden arcana. I love this little piece of art.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

What would happen if Frida Kahlo was Mary Magdalene

What would happen if literary apocalypticism collided with surrealist art? The answer would be, “The Book of Revelation” translated by Michael Straus and illustrated by Jennifer May Reiland. These two might be the twenty-first century’s equivalent of William Blake and Frida Kahlo.

While I have read the Book of Revelation, also known at the Revelation to John, several times, admittedly, I have never read it in one reading. Now I have, thanks to this magnificent piece of art produced by Straus and Reiland.

These two met at an open studios event in New York, where Reiland’s “Self Portrait of Mary Magdalene Having a Vision of the Apocalypse” was on display. Straus was inspired and approached her about collaborating on a new translation of the Revelation. She was very enthusiastic, and the project took off.

Straus has successfully maintained the mystical poetic rhythm of the original language, while bringing the first writer’s vision into the modern era. We hear the phrases we expect from the original author, but then are surprised by words and phrases in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, and Spanish. The use of non-English words is included at the perfect moment, which add to the mysticism of the text. Straus gives depth to the prose with the accompaniment of musical stanzas, complete with Hallelujahs and Amens.

Reiland transports the first-century Apocalypse of the Four Horsemen, wild beasts, the whore of Babylon, and the Antichrist right into New York City’s collapse of the Twin Towers, Isis beheadings, and graphic eroticism. Her epic drawings are unexpectedly detailed, granting the full sweep of history’s timelessness—giving the beholder a gut punching view of modernity’s apocalypse. Reiland’s art does well to deliver the unconscious visions and dreams of the Revelation to John.

This book is beautiful little secret well worth the time and a few dollars to uncover. It definitely has enriched my reading and more importantly, my experience, of the Revelation. Fair warning to the reader, beware if you’re offend by graphic erotic art.