Friday, October 31, 2008

Honesty First

Many of you will remember the cartoon character named Pogo Possum... Pogo was the creation of cartoonist Walt Kelly... Pogo is remembered for many wise sayings, but perhaps the most quoted of his axioms is this one; “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” This is what is referred to as a ‘circular declaration’. WE have met the ENEMY and they are US!

The 14th century Christian theologian Eckhart von Hochheim, referred to by most writers as simply Meister Eckhart wrote a somewhat circular declaration when he wrote these words; “The eye with which I see God, and the eye with which God sees me… are one and the same eye.”

If I were to be so bold as to paraphrase Meister Eckhart in the language of Pogo Possum, it might sound like this; “We have met God, and He is us!”

Some might hear this statement and cry, blasphemy!… Others will hear it and simply ignore it, not realizing the depth of its wisdom…. Still others, in growing numbers, will hear and understand the implied message that “God and humankind are one.”

Certainly the statement, “We have meet God and He is us,” is a considerable departure from the description of the Biblical Deity, and one that requires a great deal of study and dialogue to understand.

This is, however,- in my opinion – the first point of departure that must be taken from ‘Popular’ Christianity, if we are to ever reach a more intellectually honest state of ‘Progressive’ Christianity.

Those who would skirt this most important issue in order to safeguard the comfort level of those who think they cannot deal with the loss of their “Father who art in heaven”, are simply being dishonest with both themselves AND those they profess to protect.

An honest understanding of the concept of god is an absolute requirement if we are to preserve the future of the Christian faith.

That’s what I think….. but I could be wrong !

barry e

Monday, October 27, 2008

Paul and the Doctrine of Atonement

Have you ever thought you would like to travel backward in time and experience some particular event or happening from the past?

I can think of several that would interest me…. Religiously speaking, I think I would like to go back to the day Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth was received by that little group of followers. We really don’t know how little or big the group was. It could have been six people or it could have been sixty. We just don’t know.

The year was somewhere around 56AD.On that day, the people gathered either in the synagogue or perhaps someone’s home, or in some public place to have one of their number read this letter, just received, from this self-proclaimed itinerant preacher named Paul.

I have stood in the ruins of those homes in Corinth. I have walked up the steps of the synagogue there. I stood in the public meeting place and listened to part of the letter from Paul being read, ….but this was in 2005.

The church at Corinth was having problems. Apparently discipline problems among its members. Paul was writing to attempt to get them to ‘straighten up’.

I’ll not read the entire letter, just one sentence from chapter five where he writes, “For our Passover feast is ready, now that Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”

Had I been there, that day in 56AD, I think I would have spoken up at that point and said to the reader…”Wait, wait… read that part again, please.”

“For our Passover feast is ready, now that Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”

I may have listened in silence to the rest of the letter, but then I would have hurried to my home and searched for a piece of parchment and I would have penned a letter to be carried back to Paul (he had written from Ephesus).

I would have written something like;

“Dear Sir….We just finished the reading of your letter. Thank you for your concern for the people of this area. It is very kind of you. However, I have one question for you…. By what authority have you called this man Jesus, ‘our Passover lamb’? ….Where did you come by the idea that he was sacrificed for us?”

You see, on those simple statements, hinges the entire church doctrine of Atonement and Salvation. …Paul said it, the people accepted it, apparently without question, and for the ensuing two thousand years, it has dominated the doctrine of the Christian church ….

By what authority?… what special knowledge?…. what evidence?

The answers, of course, are …None …..none …..and none !…. No authority,… no special knowledge,… and no evidence.

Where could Paul have gotten such a story? Did he make it up? Did he have a dream? Did this thought come to him through meditation/prayer? Did he base it on his interpretation of some portion of ancient scripture? We are not given a clear indication of any of these. Yet the church has followed this vague line of self delusional thinking ever since.

I wish I could have had the opportunity to query Paul about that statement and the other similar statements he made to the Galatians, the Thessalonians, the Romans, the Ephesians and others.

Perhaps Paul, knowing that many nations and many religions of that era had deemed certain of their heroes ‘Savior’, it would be quite alright for him to promote Jesus to the same status. If he could get people to believe such a thing it would certainly strengthen his cause as well.

Paul wrote nothing of the teachings of Jesus, only that he died for the salvation of all humankind.

By what authority did he declare these things to be true?….By what special knowledge?…. What evidence?

Unfortunately the answers seem to be,…None…. None…. and none.

Copyright © Barry E Blood 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pondering the Meaning of Life

Excerpt from an essay titled ‘Religion and Respect’ by Simon Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge (England)

There are two directions in which people look for the meaning of life. One is beyond life itself; this is the transcendent and ontological option. We are to fix our gaze and our hopes on another world, another way of being, that is free of the mess and sorrow, the meaningless motions and events of present life. We are to transcend the small, squalid, contingent, finite, animal nature of earthly existence. Our insignificance in this cosmos is compounded only by assurance of significance in a wider scheme of things. There is hope in another world. And if this is hard to believe, spiritual disciplines of contemplation and prayer are there to help us. Others who have made the journey, wise men and mystics, inspire us with their reports, telling us of glimpses of the world beyond.

In this picture, the source of meaning transcends the ordinary mundane world of our bounded lives and bounded visions. The literature, art, music, and practices of religion are then thought to give voice to this attitude to meaning. This is, of course, onto-religion, since the attitudes are possible only if we believe in a world beyond.

But there is another option for meaning, and for our interpretation of religious art, which is to look only within life itself. This is the immanent option. It is content with the everyday. There is sufficient meaning for human beings in the human world – the world of familiar, and even humdrum, doings and experiences. In the immanent option, the smile of the baby, the grace of the dancer, the sound of voices, the movement of a lover, give meaning to life. For some. it is activity and achievement: gaining the summit of the mountain, crossing the finish line first, finding the cure, or writing the poem.

These things last only their short time, but that does not deny them meaning. A smile does not need to go on forever in order to mean what it does. There is nothing beyond or apart from the processes of life. Furthermore, there is no one goal to which all these processes tend, but we can find something precious, value and meaning, in the processes themselves. There is no such thing as the meaning of life, but there can be many meanings within a life.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bicyclist saved by helmet—and God’s love

(This personal story came to me from a reader of this blog... He tells me he sustained several broken ribs and a broken (four places) collar bone.)

My bicycle and I were picking up speed. It was a little after two on Saturday afternoon, August 23. I was on Business Loop I-196, just past Paw Paw Drive, heading back to Zeeland. Suddenly my front wheel found its way into a two-inch gap between the asphalt shoulder and the concrete of the traffic lane.

The next thing I knew I was in the fetal position on the concrete of the traffic lane, unable to move back to the relative safety of the shoulder. But I was alive. A miracle? Had God spared me for some reason only God knew? Problem was that the God in my life doesn’t do things like that. So I figured I was alive because I had the God-given good sense to wear a helmet. Yet I still felt pretty much alone.

Then I heard someone yell, “Call 911!” and other voices nearer by saying things like, “Don’t move him” and “Don’t take his helmet off.” I could see dozens of feet and legs gathered around me. I thanked them, to which one replied something like, “We saw you fall, Of course we stopped. We couldn’t just leave you here.” Suddenly I wasn’t alone. God was there, in their care and concern. I mustered the strength to lift my head to see their faces. I thanked them again; again they assured me thanks were unnecessary. And again I saw in their faces the face of God.

I wasn’t alone. Nearest to me were a young Hispanic couple and their twin toddlers. As the husband saw my wife being escorted to the scene, he went to her and, not an English speaker, mimed that I had flown over my handlebars and landed on my head. Then (and here was God again) he tented his fingers, tipped his head, and said, “We pray.” Soon the equally caring medics arrived. On the gurney heading for the ambulance, I could see that the people who had come to my aid had parked their cars in such a way as to shield me from oncoming traffic. Another act of God’s love!

God’s love continued to show itself through the concern of the health care professionals, my wife and other relatives, people of my church and other friends. I am now more convinced than ever that our best prayers of intercession are acts of love. When others care, it is God among us. We are not alone.

Terry VandeWater
Zeeland, MI

Hope you are feeling better soon Terry........ barry e

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bishop Spong's Q&A 1/10/08

Shari Miller of Denver, Colorado, writes: Why is the current Catholic Church position on transsexualism so dreadful, so lacking in compassion?

Dear Shari,

The Catholic Church, like most religious bodies, is in an inner struggle between the values of yesterday and the rising consciousness of a changing world. Because that church is also autocratic and allows so little dissent, it is very difficult for them ever to change their thinking until new truth is so established in the world at large that their position becomes embarrassing. It was not until December of 1991 that the Vatican announced that they now believed that Galileo was correct. This was only 50 years after human beings had launched space explorations, which were based on Galileo's insights. Similarly this is why their stated opinions on birth control, the role of women and homosexuality are, as you say, so lacking in compassion and dreadful.

On the other hand their attitudes toward capital punishment, war and the need to care for the poor are sometimes far more advanced than what one finds in Protestant fundamentalism.
No one can fully escape the culture and ideas that form a particular age. The rise in human consciousness toward such things as war, the role of women and homosexuality is never implemented at once by all. It grows, beginning with a single protest, until it becomes a heresy, then a movement and finally a reformation. It then becomes a new orthodoxy equally resistant to change.

You serve the Church well when you raise uncomfortable questions. I hope you will continue to do so.

–John Shelby Spong