Friday, October 23, 2015

Jesus Died for the Sake of God

Let’s start with a multiple-choice question. What do believe about the nature of God?

A. Do you believe God is violent?
B. Do you believe God is love?
C. Do you believe God is both?
D. Do you believe God is neither?
E. You don’t know?
F. You don’t care?

Why is this question important? What you believe about the nature of God should impact what you eat (the environment), how you spend your money (the economy), and how you vote (politics). What you think about the nature of God should influence every aspect of your life.

Many of you are doing the hard work of thinking about the nature of God. There are at least 50 people in our congregation that are reading Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond. I’m not going to apologize for the difficult and controversial nature of the book. I do commend you for your courage to accept the challenge. I want to encourage you to hang in there and keep up this difficult and important work. I also want to encourage those of you who are not in one of our House Church groups to read the book. Rohr is challenging us to think differently about the nature of God and how that changes how we think about every aspect of our lives.

To better understand Rohr’s work, I’ve been reading two of the authors that have influenced his ideas. Those of you who read Rohr’s daily meditations know that he continues to mine the writings of twentieth century psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung considered Jesus Christ to be the archetypal Self, as Rohr puts it, the True Self. Jung and Rohr believe we should model our exploration of our True Self after Jesus’s personal process. (See Jung’s Aion, especially Chapter 5, “Christ the Symbol of the Self)

Rohr has also spent a lot of time with the integral philosopher Ken Wilber, particularly his books The Theory of Everything and Integral Spirituality. Wilber’s ideas integrate spiral dynamics with ancient/future thought and practice. Wilber is attempting to create a philosophy that includes the complexity of our world in our efforts to evolve in every aspect, of mind, body, and soul.

When I’m doing this kind of difficult work, I also like to balance my non-fiction reading with good fiction, which can amplify my thinking. I’m re-reading one of my favorite novels Cloud Atlas by Irishman David Mitchell. His book was a New York Times bestseller for quite some time. A film based on Mitchell’s book starring Tom Hanks and Hallie Berry quickly gained a cult following. I think Mitchell is a contemporary blend of W.B. Yeats and Charles Williams. Cloud Atlas is a post-postmodern epic about the transmigration of souls. He has nested six stories in his complex novel—a story within a story within a story within a story within a story within a story within a story—a story about souls traveling across time. Mitchell has crafted a novel that dares to engage the philosophy of the spiral evolution of the soul.

Together, Rohr, Wilber, and Mitchell have provided me with an integrated way of re-engaging the stories of the Bible—stories like Job.

Today we’ve heard a portion of the story of Job—an ancient myth that typically makes us cringe. Job is a metaphor about the suffering of humanity and God’s complicity in that suffering. (See Carl Jung’s Answer to Job.)

In case you don’t know the story of Job, it goes like this—God and Lucifer are sitting in heaven admiring Job’s wonderful life. Lucifer wagers God that if Job had to suffer, Job would deny his love of God. The Divine One takes the bet. In the next scene, Job tragically loses everything—his wealth, his family, his health. He’s left homeless, his children are dead, and he suffers from an incurable disease. To make matters worse, Job’s friends tell him his suffering is due to his sin. Even Job’s wife tells him to curse God and die. But Job would have none of it—he had done nothing wrong. He would not accept blame. Nor would he turn against God. Finally, given the opportunity, Job, like Jesus, cries out to God, “Why have you abandoned me?”

This is when we hear the terrible words coming from the mouth God, violent, vengeful, immature, irascible words. These words make us look away. How can The Divine One stomp his feet and act like an abusive father? Then, in a weird twist, the story ends with Job gaining new wealth and a new family. But, really nothing was fixed. Job, like Jesus, still bore the scars of feeling abandoned by God, the grief of losing his children, and the physical pain he endured. Job still suffered. Jesus still suffered.

Unfortunately, throughout the history of Christian theology, the story of Jesus has not been nested within the story of Job. By reading Job in isolation, God has been left in the unfortunate position of being a blood thirsty God. Christianity has not allowed its view of God to grow up, mature or evolve from the irascible God of Job to the God of Jesus who is an unconditional lover. Christians have been left with a God who willingly sacrificed his only son as a ransom for the soul of humanity. The majority of Christianity still believes that God needed to sacrifice Jesus for their personal sins—and that, most unfortunately, leaves God trapped in the story of Job, a blood thirsty, violent, angry God. It also allows Christians to justify their own acts of anger, vengeance, and violence.

However, if we read the story of Jesus nested within the story of Job, where God is God and Job is Jesus, the story of Jesus redeems the irascible God of Job. Rohr says that Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about humanity, but instead to change humanity’s belief about God. If we nest Jesus’s story within Job’s story, we realize that Job and Jesus’s stories are about humanity’s evolution in their thinking of God—Job’s God of violence, matures into Jesus’s loving Abba, daddy.

So why did Jesus have to die a horrible death on the Cross? So that God could experience Job’s pain, Jesus’s pain, humanity’s pain. God came into this world at the moment Jesus became vulnerable enough to become One with his heavenly Abba. At that moment, God, the Lover, began to experience, through Jesus Christ, human fear, suffering, pain, and death. Jesus suffered so that God could suffer. Jesus did not die for our sake. Jesus died for the sake of God.

So what does this mean? It means that through God’s suffering, God became One with us. It means, we don’t have to worry about whether we are going to heaven or not. That decision was already made through God’s desire to be One with us—to suffer as Job suffered, to suffer as Jesus suffered, to suffer as we suffer.

What Richard Rohr is trying to teach us is that in order to bring love to earth, we must realize that we are One with God the Lover. Like Jesus, we must contemplate on God’s love for us. Like Jesus, we must love God like God loves us. Like Jesus we must love our neighbors like God loves them. Like Jesus we must love our enemies like God loves them. We must love like the Jesus we follow. Love is the answer, radical love, evolved love, a God matured love.

Jesus did not die so that we would have it easy. Jesus came to show us how to live in this complex and painful world. Jesus came to help us see that we are One with God, The Undivided Trinity, The Lover, The Beloved, The Spiritual Wisdom of Sophia. I know, this is all weird—but this will change everything.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Soul Conversation: Another Word for Theology?

What is another word for theology, incarnation, resurrection, salvation, sacrament, and every other theological word that the most people in the pew can’t define much less the person in line at Starbucks?

Several years ago, a good friend of mine, the Reverend Daniel Richards and I would regularly meet for coffee. Somehow the conversation always turned towards the theological end of the table. We talked about life among young adults. We asked big questions. We talked about God. We were doing theology. We carried those conversations into our Thursday night gathering with young adults; something we called Peregrini. The topics for those caffeine stoked nights were always built on a question; “God?” “Life after Death?” “Resurrection?” You know. Those small topics. What Daniel and I were discovering was that theology is best done out of the context of a conversation. The problem is, no one knew what the word ‘theology’ meant—much less words like Eucharist, incarnation, resurrection, salvation, or sacrament. Most of all, they didn’t care. They did have some reactions—mostly adverse feelings towards words like baptism, conversion, and sin. While words like grace and forgiveness felt better, few had little experience with those words when it comes to the church. But, having conversation, that was another matter. Young adults, and truthfully, most people, want to have a conversation, even about God. A conversation between two souls wrestling with God, questions can be helpful, even hopeful.

The word theology is typically a turnoff to anyone but certain clergy and academic types. Theology, simply put, is the study of religious faith, practice and experience. Words, especially religious words, are so loaded with negative baggage that most everyone, including those in church, has lost interest. I’ve begun to wonder if we could find ways to re-ensoul these ancient words with new life? Or do we have to find new words, or forgotten words without baggage in order to have soul conversations about God?

At times our Peregrini group got close to re-ensouling words. Peregrini reminded me of a more famous gathering who struggled with faith and words. I can imagine the Inklings gathered around a pint in Oxford. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams working at changing the course of art, thought, and theology. Instigating a revolution by evolution. They were doing theology through conversation. They were using old words in new ways—creating a fresh look at language to express their musings, fears, wonderings about the divine. They took bold risks. They made up words. Used ancient words in new ways. They didn’t think outside the box. They created a new box.

Barfield said that words have souls—souls that contain the souls of the ancients of the past; as such, they tell the story of consciousness; the souls of the words carry the consciousness of the ancients into the future. (Fellowship of the Inkling, 107) Something like what Saint John the Divine was imagining when he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God is a verb, not a noun. That changes everything. I think Saint John was struggling just like we do to find a poetic artistry in order to describe our evolutionary experience of the divine. The Anglican poets John Donne, George Herbert, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, R.S. Thomas were also crafting alchemical artistry through the words of life to tell us about their spiritual experience. They had a soul-centric worldview. A word-centric worldview. They had mystical experiences. They crafted their words. Their work was bathed in soul conversations with others who dared the same experiment.

Con-versation is the idea of creating a living poem—of verse flowing from one soul to another soul, through time. Having a vulnerable soul conversation in a public setting, a coffee shop, a pub, on a sidewalk, on Facebook can invites others and the holy to listen in. These soul conversations can create the possibility for words to evolve. We can explore how to use language to describe our experience with the divine. This public action of doing soul conversation about God with others, which includes God, is similar to what the Zohar teaches—rabbi’s interpreting scripture (doing Midrash) in community. They were practicing a personally felt spirituality of the soul that was steeped in the murky milieu of conversation. (Meditations on the Tarot, 267)

Words matter. The words we use in conversation matter. The words in soul conversation can matter the most. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Old Testament theologian Walter Bruggemann, Franciscan monk and Roman Catholic priest Richard Rohr, and post-postmodern philosopher Ken Wilber agree on one at least one thing—words matter, a lot, more than that, words are the I, the She/He, the IT, the We in human understanding. I suggest that we must be willing to have public conversations about God. Now is the time to have these public conversations using words of the “World Come of Age.”

We must search for words that are devoid of Renaissance, Reformational, Enlightened, Modern, and even Postmodern baggage. We may have to reach back for those words to a time even before Jesus. Or we may need to strain forward to find new words. We definitely will have to re-ensoul heavy theological words. Old words and new words, words that are open to new meanings and new interpretations. We must do this work for a time in the future we can only imagine but may never experience. We are compelled to do this work in order to have vital conversations about God—today—so that we may have conversations about these soul experiences, today, and tomorrow. If words like “theology” have lost their souls, then we have to either re-ensoul them or bury them. I wonder, what words do you imagine we could use to describe our conversations about God, with God?