This is a blog post that should not need to be written. Art and artistic expression has been part of the church since it’s inception. And while art often is
This is a blog post that should not need to be written. Art and artistic expression has been part of the church since it’s inception. And while art often is a physical expression (but not always, for example poetry) it is not carnal as defined by the false dichotomy of carnal/spiritual or materialistic as in the equally false dichotomy material/spiritual.
Art is first and foremost an expression of creativity which is in itself one of gods primary attributes (creator), when we create art we co-create with god, we further gods creation act and add expressions of beauty and diversity to the creation.
Art is sacrament (an outward expression of an inward grace) it aims to make manifest that which cannot be seen but that we intuit, feel or imagine.
Art is spiritual as art draws upon our sacred imagination and creative powers and embodies (incarnates) that which only exists in thought and spirit.
The word in itself comes from the latin word artus which means joint, the root is ar which means to join or connect. And so the definition of art is that it joins or connects the unseen (spirit, grace, imagination) and the seen (materia).
Now art can become idolatry when we once again mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself or we mistake the artist (co-creator) for the creator of all and spirit source, source of all creativity. But that is us missing the mark and not the fault of the art or the artist. when viewed with love, spirit and discernment the art becomes icon, a window into the divine. A doorway to that which is hidden from plain sight a joint that re-connects us with the divine source of love.
So art is not carnal even when it is expressed in and with our bodies in dance, theatre or other performing arts. Not even when it covers deeper subjects like sexuality or darker subjects like horror or violence. However the most beautiful art is the one we create with our lives, when our everyday dealings become an artistic (connecting) expression, weaving together worldly and divine, spiritual and carnal in a divinely inspired song and dance. The scriptures tells us we are artwork (Eph 2.10), and when we join in in the creative act and create lives that express the artistry and love that has gone into our creation we are also artists so therefore:
Go, create, live, love!
Ministry is an interesting word for many reasons, the most important reason is that it does not mean what most people assume it means. For me as a Swede it has double significance as it is one of the Christian buzzwords that do not exist in the Swedish language. The closest we get to the the word ministry is “tjänst” which just like the english counterpart means job in the common vernacular but the word actually means service or favour.
In the same way the english word ministry (which for evangelical Christians seems to be a very important word) is assumed to mean my job in the church or the church program/outreach I run/am a part of.
But just like the Swedish word ministry actually means service as in “to serve“. That is why both political leaders and clergy are called ministers because they are called to serve the people.
Therefore ministry cannot be something I do a certain day of the week or between certain hours of the day. Ministry, I think, is part and parcel with who you are: A gift to the world, and more specifically, how your unique gift to the world is presented. Your ministry (your service) happens every time you meet and see another person and love them. It happens each time you care for the planet, the animals or the people around you. It happens each time you are moved by the divine to do something beyond your own sphere of interest but also when you love your self.
As we are all part of the great organism called kosmos (in John 3.16), ministry is the serving you do as a part of this organism. Ministry is the sacramental life (an outward sign of an inward grace). Ministry is life lived in ubuntu, in fellowship and community, recognising that we are all one and all I do, I do, in service, for the one.
Grace, it’s such a beautiful concept. Grace an (undeserved) gift freely given. We read in the scriptures that god loved us before we knew about god, before we saw god, before we had our first god experience.
God’s grace is scandalous, outrageous and completely free, for EVERYONE. There are NO exceptions! There are no conditions, nor rules to follow, no magic prayer to pray, no special ritual or spiritual hoops to jump through. You are loved! God’s grace is there for you, no matter who you are, where you are from, what you believe, whom you love, what you have done, what you are going to do!
The whole thing about unconditional love is that there are , funnily enough no conditions. No if’s no buts, only love.
This makes grace not only all encompassing and scandalous it makes it as Brennan Manning said, downright vulgar. It is grace given freely to the worst, most evil without hesitation or condition.
And now all the pharisees have awoken and scream at the top of their lungs, such outrage, you are peddling cheap grace!
As if! There is nothing cheap about unconditional love or unconditional grace. In fact in my experience there is nothing that is so costly as grace given to everyone regardless, loving the ones that clearly are not interested or throw that love back in your face. The road of judgement and conditional love is easy, the road of unconditional love, love in the face of brutality, greed, hostility, contempt, now that is a hard road that will cost you everything. To love people even though they mock you, hurt you, even though they crucify you, seems to be the way of the divine. Love and grace with absolutely no exceptions!
The holy grail of church planting in my opinion is the building of a community. The way we traditionally do this is by planning activities in our church buildings and we put on meetings. That is we create structured environments in which people can meet and greet. I am not saying there is anything wrong with community building activities and structured meetings that have a purpose. But once again we must not confuse the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself.
The meeting, the activity that we use to promote the sense of community is like the scaffolding you put up when you build a house. Once the house is built the scaffolding should come down. Community then is what happens between the meetings and activities. It is all the ways we are tied together and our lives are entwined in every ordinary moment. It is having someone to call when we are alone, it is meeting in the streets and deciding to have a spontaneous coffee. It is sharing meals together on weeknights, it is the children playing together in the park.
The community can be built around a church activity or a weekly gathering, but the community should transcend the structure become organic and have a life of it’s own. I think if you can point to it and say this is it there is our community, then you have missed it or rather reduced it to something structured when in fact community is organic, it is messy, it is life it is the web of all our relationships it is our utter interdependence made manifest.
To me it is the true purpose of church to create a community within which we can be safe enough to be vulnerable and be transformed by love.
Anyone who has seriously read their bible knows this is true. There are no clear doctrines found in the bible. If this was the case then all churches would adhere to the same set of doctrines but as we all know the universal Christian church has split into countless fractions all over tiny (or sometimes not so tiny) differences in
If there was a way to just read scripture and distill a simple teaching from it, it would have been done, and we would all be in agreement as to what the text actually says. The bible is not the word of god (logos) however we read the new testament the scriptures seem to say that Jesus is the living word of god. The bible does not mention the bible, mainly because the bible did not exist when the bible was written. When the bible mentions the scriptures it refers to the Jewish TANAK and not the new testament gospels and epistles.
So if the bible is not a book of doctrines, not a clear document detailing what we should or should not believe, what is the bible then?
The bible is not one book, it is 66 (or more) ancients documents bound together in a library.
The bible is not written by one person, Many of the text have several different authors and have also been edited over time.
The texts in the bible do not belong to the same genre. Some texts are mythical, some are historical accounts, some are poetry, some are allegorical, some are instructional, some are informational, some are liturgical and some are very informal. We cannot read every text in this diverse collection the same way.
The texts in the bible are written in various different historical contexts, these must be taken into account for full understanding of the meaning of the text.
In my opinion the best way to see the bible is to treat is as the witness of gods love and care throughout the generations. It is the testimony of those who have gone before us. It is the narratives, the stories of our tradition. It unparalleled in value and it is precious to us and at the same time we must be careful not to make the sacred text into an idol, or a law book, or a prooftext, or a living thing. The bible only comes alive when infused with the spirit of the divine, something (or someone) that we bring to the text. The bible is dead on the shelf, it is dead on the page but it comes alive in the hearts awakened to the divine source, to those who abide in love.
In evangelical circles we keep saying this, Church is the people not the building, but do we really understand it? The word church comes from the german kirche which in turn comes from the greek word kurios meaning lord. So the word church means “those who belong to the lord”, well you could of course make it mean houses belonging to the lord but that would be rather stretching it. When Jesus proclaims to Peter “on this rock I will build my church”, he is actually not saying the word church, it didn’t exist. He also did not say Synagogue which would have been the contemporary term. No, Jesus uses the word ekklesia which means gathering, assembly, coming together.
The gospels report Jesus saying where two or more are gathered, Paul states your body is the temple! It is that simple. Every person you meet is a temple housing the holiest of the holy. Everywhere you look you will see temples housing divine love, the source of life. “one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4.6)
Church then, can be everywhere at once, all the time. It is a way of being or maybe a way of seeing, where every person you meet is holy, every place you set your foot is holy ground. In the Salvation Army we call this the sacramental life, where everything and everyone is an outward sign of an inward grace.
Church is with you, within you and also with me, within me. When we meet we can be church together and honour the divine source within each other. We can be a living sacrament in the world, living the love of the divine, manifesting or incarnating god in the everyday-everyplace.
Do not go to church, be church wherever you go.
It’s not! Ask yourself this, are you a Christian? If so, why are you a christian? Is it because you believe certain things? The right things? Is it because you do certain things? Or are you a Christian because there is a divine reality of love and you live or at least wish to live in it!
At the center Christianity states that: god is love and that we love, because god first loved us. This would lead us to a Christianity that fundamentally is about discovering divine love, living loved and loving others.
The early Christians did not call themselves Christians (little Christs) but rather, followers of the way. What way was that? Well first of all it was not the way of the existing Jewish community: legalism or religious observance. It was not the way of setting up specific criteria for belonging to the way. It was Kurios Christos; Jesus is lord not Caesar. Love is lord not law!
The most quoted text of the bible: John 3.16, makes it clear that gods incredible, scandalous, unconditional love is for gods creation (kosmos) of which you and I are apart and therefore we are so loved. Now most people run straight from the agape love of god to the condition of belief. But the divine agape is unconditional, which funnily enough means without conditions. And the word belief as in accepting a truth claim is a modern concept, as the enlightenment swept through Europe the word believe went from meaning trusting, loving (the word actually is rooted in the word belove) to believing that a fact is true. And so the meaning of John 3.16 went from loving relationship to intellectual, propositional truth. Even so gods love is not dependent on us loving or trusting god. Because gods love is unconditional. There are no conditions for receiving gods grace and love. What then are we to do with what seems to be a choice between eternal life and destruction?
The early Christian text Didaché states that there are two roads, one that leads to life and one that leads to death. I firmly believe that while it is easy to cram this text and John 3.16 into the eternal heaven/hell dichotomy it is far more likely that the text is actually talking about a living reality, here and now.
While everyone is included into gods scandalous, unconditional love, no ifs no buts, we can still choose to live a life where we feel more dead than alive, more alone and desolate than loved. On the other hand we can choose a life living in freedom and love where every step of the way makes us feel more alive, more connected, more loved. This is the way of life! This is the way we follow and so this is Christianity. There is no list only love.
While one can assume that Jesus may have been a religious man, Jesus himself is not a religion. He did not come to start a religion, he did not found a church and he did not write a sacred text nor did he ask anyone else to do so.
I think if Jesus had intended for his teachings to be written down, he would have been much more clear: Listen guys, make sure you get this down correctly! Instead he said: “I am the way”, not I know the way and I can tell you about it, so you can believe it. There is a difference in knowing the way and being the way, in knowing the truth and being the truth, in knowing about life and being life, being alive.
Instead Jesus in a prophetic manner speaks to religion, deconstructs religion. Primarily Jesus deconstructs the Jewish faith but I believe Jesus by virtue of being the way and by his life deconstructs not only Jewish faith but speaks straight into the heart of all religion. In fact the beautiful sayings and prophetic actions of Jesus transcends religious dogma not to form a new and better religion but to show a way without religion in a way Jesus marks the end of religion.
This I think is why he asked people not to simply believe but to follow, this is why the early Christians called themselves people of the way. Jesus being god incarnate once and for all dispels the notion that there is a separation between humans and the divine source. So he prays “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John 17.20-23 NRSV
Jesus embodies this scandalous and gracious oneness with the divine source. His teaching is not one of separation and division but of unity and love. Therefore Jesus does not teach a system, a theology or a doctrine but a way of being a reality where all are one united in the divine regardless of race, religion, creed, social status, sexual orientation or gender. Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of god, the life eternal is at hand, it is near, it is within us and it is knowing the divine source by becoming one.
It is a simple truth really: god is god. God is not what we believe of god. God is not our theology or our doctrines. Since the dawn of time humans have had various ideas, religions, doctrines, theologies about god. God has remained god all that time. I will not say that god is unchanging, because I believe that god is love and love is a relational term, any living relation involves anyone involved in the relation changing in response to the other. So have we changed in response to the divine source, so has the divine source changed in response to our devotion, love and creativity. But having said that, our theologies and doctrines do not change the nature or the will of the divine.
Augustine said: If you have understood it, then it is not god. Anselm described god as always being more, greater, deeper than anything that we can imagine. Scripture supports this and shrouds the divine into mystery making sure that we can never nail down god (the popular joke is that we tried to nail god to a cross and he walked away). Faith and what the author of John calls eternal life (aionos zoe) cannot be grasped with the mind or the intellect. Forever it eludes even our most creative attempts.
No matter how much we would like to have god in a box, so that we could explain the divine, so that we can master the ultimate reality and explain the metaphysical in scientific terms, Jesus simply asks us to believe and follow. To believe is not as many people think to have a set of propositional statements that you hold true, rather believing is the act of trusting, loving in the absence of hard proof. You simply cannot believe with only your mind, you must be/love with your heart and your spool and your strength (body?) and your mind.
It is not up to me to tell you how it is, but I take this time to try to point at how it isn’t. The finger pointing to the moon must not be mistaken for the moon. In the same manner our theology, our doctrine, our tradition, our religion must not be confused with the divine. The divine is love, the divine is free the divine is not, in the words of C.S. Lewis, a tame lion.
I have been returning to thoughts about this the last couple of days in several conversations with friends. As an officer of the Salvation Army I think it is an important question that needs to be contemplated often.
For many people Salvation is a word that is not used much, it is an antiquated religious notion that has little bearing on everyday life. For me, however it is a central question, that occupies all that I do, every day.
Salvation as forgiveness of sin
Most people are familiar with Salvation as a simple transaction: Jesus life for my sin equals salvation. While I agree that part of Salvation is forgiveness, I think that this needs some closer examination.
The most common word for sin in the bible is hamartia which most often is translated as missing the mark. For most people this slots nicely into the sin management system preached in most churches. There are certain things you are not supposed to do, when you do these things (a different list for each religious community) you miss the mark (of holiness). Personally I think this is way to narrow an explanation both of sin and also becomes a much to small salvation.
The perennial tradition states that:
There is a Divine Reality underneath and inherent in the world of things,
There is in the human soul a natural capacity, similarity, and longing for this Divine Reality, and
The final goal of existence is union with this Divine Reality.
If we can agree to this then maybe missing the mark is when any person finds themselves not in union with the divine reality. Salvation then becomes union with divine reality!
Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.
Salvation and forgiveness is then finding that the truth about me is that there never was a division between me and the divine. The process of forgiveness is not so much god forgiving me as it is me forgiving myself for all the ways I have missed the mark and for holding on to a view of reality where I am separated from the divine.
Salvation then is becoming my true self, embracing all the parts of me, including my shadow and accepting that as a human being I am loved and I am part of the oneness of the divine.
Repentance (metanoia) is a change of heart, seeing the world differently, not asking for forgiveness. Believing (as in trusting, loving) in your heart that Jesus Christ is truth incarnate, the truth that all are one, there is no separation between human and god.
Jim Palmer writes that:
Metanoia … It’s a turning about in the deepest seat of our consciousness or awareness. It’s looking out at the way things are through a different pair of eyes … The word “repent” does not mean to be sorry for your past wrongs or to turn away from a life of sin. The word “repent” (metanoia) means “beyond the mind” or beyond the way we typically process something. In other words, Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is here now but you can’t know it in the same way we are accustomed to knowing other things. Metanoia involves knowing something a different way.
Salvation as healing
One of the most used words for salvation is in the greek text soterion, which means healing: Becoming whole. Just as the word religion comes from latin and means to re-connect (with the whole). So maybe, instead of seeing salvation as this judiciary process where we plea-bargain forgiveness, freedom and a ticket to a future fairy land over the rainbow maybe we can see salvation as the process of becoming whole. Or rather the process of repenting/waking up and understanding that at the deepest level we are already whole and in unity with the divine.
What of the cross? As an evangelical christian I have been taught that there is a great divide separating me from god and that the cross is the bridge a/cross the great divide. If I was always one with the divine what purpose does then the cross fill?
If I am depressed and I go to psychologist who helps me see that life is indeed filled with wonder and purpose and I walk out of that office without my depression is not this psychologist my healer, even though I already lived in such a world?
In the same way, it does not matter if the divide between me and the divine is real or imagined, if the cross helps me like the roman centurion to realise that Jesus was indeed the son of god, and that Jesus teaching that the kingdom of god is already at hand then is not that cross still the instrument of my heeling, my salvation?
Understanding the truth that Jesus manifests (Jesus said, I am the truth, not I know the truth) is understanding that Jesus was 100% god, 100% man and that this is the truth of salvation, the way of salvation and life itself. That Jesus would insist on this “even unto death, death on a cross” becomes the key to accepting and understanding this truth not with your mind but with your entire being.
Salvation as coming home
So Salvation then is a coming home of sorts. realising what was always already true, that I to am a son of god. I can return home like the prodigal son and step into what was already true. That I belong, I am one with this divine that is the foundation of all this universe: the divine.
The good news is that Abba stands at the crossroads, waiting for your metanoia your homecoming to what is and always has been true. You belong!
Salvation for the world
Creation is groaning, Paul tells us, longing for salvation, healing. When i at last repent, see the underlying truth that all is one. I first become whole in myself and with myself, with what was already true about me. I then realise that I am also one with all the people I have around me and work for wholeness not only in my life but in my community and in society at large. I will also see that I am not only one with god and with the people around me, but also with the rest of creation. I therefore start working at unifying and healing the world around me.
What would this world look like if we all realised that we are one with god, on another and the creation wi live in as integral interdependent parts of?
Those who follow Jesus are to become wholemakers, uniting what is scattered, creating a deeper unity in love. … Christian life is a commitment to love, to give birth to God in one’s own life and to become midwives of divinity in this evolving cosmos. We are to be wholemakers of love in a world of change. – Ilia Delio
As I write this I can hear the pitchforks clanging and the torches burning, the distant cries of “heresy”.
But is it really? What else did Jesus mean when he spoke of the kingdom of god within? What else did Jesus mean when he stated in his clandestine meeting with Nicodemus that he must be born again, not in the flesh, but in spirit.
What else could Jesus possibly have meant when he prayed:
I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. … I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17 selected verses, emphasis added)
What else could he possibly mean than the truth that all are one? Or what else could Paul possibly mean in his letter to the Galatians where he asserts:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
What then? If it is true that repentance is to see the world in a profoundly different way that salvation is to wake up and realise that we all are one, that there is no separation between you and god, how would our lives be different then?
Would not all reconciliations be salvific acts, would not all hugs be sacramental. All instances where people, societies and nature becomes a unified whole manifestations of the kingdom of god. Would not evangelism become the proclaiming of this truth: “we are one” and all acts of whole making whether on the personal, societal or universal plane be at least evangelistic if not salvific acts?
Would it not make each and everyone of us an evangelist with the commission to heal each other and by that heal the world?
Every person would be holy and important to us every place sacred and every moment filled with salvation potential.
Churches would become houses of healing: physical, emotional, psychological, relational and societal healing. Hospitals, psychologists offices, counselling rooms, government buildings an NGO headquarters would become churches and we could se the divine hand in every act towards wholeness.
I want to live in this world, to me this is the kingdom of god.