Archive for Church

Falling upwards or sin is not that bad

sinSo this week we are talking about sin. It doesn’t happen a lot around here. I abhor the notion of sin, not because of what it means but because of the cultural baggage that we have attached to the idea.

Let me just say outright that the whole concept of a catalogue of sin, certain actions being in themselves sinful, is a very unhelpful way of thinking about sin.

Sin in the scriptures

In the holy texts there is no one word for sin! This is important. We believe that sin is a single thing. But reading the New Testament we find 10 different words that derive into 33 different notions of sin.

One means to refuse to listen to the prompting of the divine. One means to fall when one should have stood up. One means to not arrive with full measure. One means to miss the mark.

Missing the mark

The most important or at least the most frequently used word for sin in the new testament is hamartia which means to miss the mark. This word is used 147 times in the books of the New Testament. The word is what would be used at an archery competition for a shot that didn’t hit the bulls eye in the middle of the target. So this tells us that the New Testament idea of sin is almost but not quite, it’s close but no cigar, it’s simply put ‘not perfect’.

Seen from this perspective, sin, is just all the attempts before we get it right. It is the stepping stones towards success, it’s every dropped ball as I learn to juggle. It is every misstep on the way towards the ultimate goal.

What then is the goal?

See that is the ultimate question, isn’t it. If sin (and this seems to be a major focus in church these days) is missing the goal, what then is the goal? Jesus seems to summarise the goal by quoting the Shema, Love the lord your god with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. In the light of this the goal is love. From the perspective of the perennial tradition, the goal is to be reunited with the divine. In my eyes tees two perspectives focus into a single goal, unity with god, immersed in love or maybe being divine love.

Sin shows us the way!

So from this perspective, missing the mark, falling when one should have been standing or showing up without full measure, sin is simply the indicator of how far from hitting the mark we are; showing us when and where to keep standing; showing us when we are holding back and not being ourselves fully.

Like Paul says about the law, it only shows us that we ‘are not there yet’. Sin then simply is life’s feedback, it is the ego popping up saying: ‘Hey, I am still here’. It is simply the absence of divine love in our thoughts and actions.

 

Shame or guilt?

If sin is simply how far we are from perfect then it’s not something we should beat ourselves up about. Here is where a healthy view on guilt and shame is very helpful.

To be guilty is to own your thoughts and actions. It is to say, Yes! It was me I did that, or I thought that. Guilt shouldn’t have to carry any enmotion with it. You can also be guilty of good things. Yes, I did that, I did the dishes, I am guilty! Guilt is the healthy confession to oneself and to others, it is the owning of ones thoughts and actions.

Shame on the other hand is a diabolical feeling. Instead of acknowledging an action or a thought and owning it, shame morphs into self hatred with: I did it, I am an awful and disgusting person, I understand that you want nothing to do with me.

If there is such a person as the devil, then shame is the only weapon that the devil ever had. The deception of shame is to transform guilt (owning the action or thought) into self hatred and self abasement, thus creating self made barriers between oneself and love.

So we need to let go of shame and let self awareness and self critique show us how we have missed the mark, not fully been our true selves, and then autocorrect, do over and do better.

Falling upwards

When we can simply observe our daily shortcomings own them and learn from them, they become the stepping stones towards wholeness (holiness). Therefore it becomes evident that the one that falls often and gets up again, grows much. And so step by misstep we fall upwards towards wholeness and divine love!

Science is not secular

machinery-of-the-stars-2We live in a secular society, which for most people means separation of church and state. We have this idea that church simply should not be political or involve itself in matters of state. In the same way we have this notion that church has nothing to do with science and that science have nothing to do with church. Christians in most peoples minds are a backwards people not interested in or even working against science.

The word secular comes from latin seculare which means temporal as opposed to eternal. So originally secular means everything inside the time and space continuum, the Christian religion was supposed to deal with things eternal, that is, things outside time and space.

As above so below

What we are finding though, is that the temporal that which is bound to cycles of birth, ripening, wilting, dying and rebirthing is the way of the eternal. Jesus, who is our image of all things eternal, was born, matured, died and ressurected. So we are finding that this earthly or temporal cycle is the way of things eternal. We are finding as we are gazing into the heavens with better and better telescopes that what we see out there is the same thing we see in our better and better microspcopes. With the advent of quantum physics we are learning that the study of our world is the study of the eternal.

The theopoesis of science

The finer detail science tries to paint the more the language of the scientist starts to sound like the language of the theologian, it is riddled with metaphors and poetic language. This because language is not adequate to express the eternal, no language, not even mathematics.

FlammarionWoodcutScience, while studying things temporal has always uncovered things eternal, science has never been secular in the sense of separation (although many scientists have tried). Science was from the very beginning the art of discovering god through studying the creation. Since “the enlightenment” science has tried to break up with religion with varying degree of success. Like disgrunted lovers, science and religion have wrestled and fought, ignored each other, engaged in heated arguments only to fall back in each others arms. Because the study of god’s creation will always lead to the discovery of the immanent divine presence.

Science is not secular

So here we are, try as we might to make clear distinction between disciplines, the lines will always be blurred because you can never analyse a pice of art without at some point take into account the artist. You can never truly digest a poem without picking up the resonance of the poet. You may do so unknowingly, but the true scientist will never stop at unconscious knowing but will always relentlessly push deeper into truth, into reality and at the very core of reality at the very center of truth, there rests the divine source, the source of love.

Why are we so afraid?

fear-not1Those of you who have heard me teach have probably heard me say that joy is the Christian trademark, well that and or grace. While there are a lot of really awesome teaching in most of the world religions, the idea of grace, the completely undeserved, unconditional gift that inspires a no holds barred kind of joy in the believers life.That said, I have to ask, Why are we so afraid?

When I hear Christians speak both amongst themselves and from the pulpit. We are afraid, afraid of other religions and what they might do to us, afraid of the devil and demons, afraid that god will punish us, afraid that we have gotten it all wrong, just afraid.

Isn’t it funny that gods messengers in the scriptures always starts with “do not fear”. Isn’t it funny that Jesus always speaks of love, grace and joy. There simply is nothing to fear. If god is so great then what could possibly scare us? If our god is all that, why are we afraid of Muslims, Mormons, Jehovas, Hindus, Wiccans, of Yoga, of Astrology, of secular music, Harry Potter books, of tattoos and any alternative anything.

Do we not have faith in Christos Victor?

It seems to me that Christians should be able to walk through life, and partake in all of life, fully,  without any fear; Without the fear of condemnation; Without the fear of contamination; Without the fear of the devil and most importantly without fearing god.

“Perfect love casts out all fear”

I think we need to quake with love, we need to be shaken down to our roots with love. So filled with love that wherever we go we bring love to that place, into that which we are doing transforming it in the process. Guided by the spirit of divine love I will transform anything I do into sacrament and worship whether it is a handshake or an embrace, yoga or martial arts, whether it is in a synagogue or a mosque, church or an oak grove.

Greater is the divine source within me than any opposition. If you dare greatly, you may recognise the same divine source of love operating out there in the wild just as it is inside of you and your church.

 

Kiss me, I am a Christian!

thinkgeek-kiss-me-im-elvish-2014-530x627-1So I was looking at one of my favourite geeky webpages when I found this T-Shirt that said: “Kiss me I’m elvish”. Which of course is a rip of of the old “Kiss me I’m Irish” slogan. And it got me thinking…
Today Christians are so afraid of any physical contact, because we have fallen into the gnostic trap of the body and it’s desires are evil and the spirit and things spiritual (that is not material) that come from god  are good. But it was not always so. over and over again the apostles, Paul in particular, but also Peter and others write to the early followers of the way to “greet each other with a holy kiss”. Most Christians are aware of the fact that the kiss was the greeting used by the disciples when they met Jesus (evidenced by Judas kissing Jesus in the garden). But as good Christians we quickly assume that it is a holy (read not very physical) peck on the cheek with an embrace that is actually not an embrace at all.

How wrong we are, and how little we understand of our heritage and in fact how great god is. For who, to quote John Eldredge in Wild at heart, made a kiss so delicious?

Peter and Paul kissing

Peter and Paul kissing

The holy kiss was a full kiss on the mouth. It was the sign of peace (eirene) and a sign of complete openness and vulnerability. It was a mimicking of god’s breath bringing life to Adam and Jesus bestowing the holy spirit through breath. It was the symbol of us all being one in Christ through the mixing of breath and closeness of the body.

Augustine wrote the following in one of his easter sermons:

Then, after the consecration of the Holy Sacrifice of God, because He wished us also to be His sacrifice, a fact which was made clear when the Holy Sacrifice was first instituted, and because that Sacrifice is a sign of what we are, behold, when the Sacrifice is finished, we say the Lord’s Prayer which you have received and recited. After this, the ‘Peace be with you’ is said, and the Christians embrace one another with the holy kiss. This is a sign of peace; as the lips indicate, let peace be made in your conscience, that is, when your lips draw near to those of your brother, do not let your heart withdraw from his. Hence, these are great and powerful sacraments.

Such openness and vulnerability, such love and intimacy. Only by being truly close to Christ and filled with spirit source and divine love could we handle this.

tumblr_static_richard_and_bobThe Irish slogan kiss me I’m Irish comes from the folkloric tradition of kissing the Blarney stone for good luck, if you could not get to the blarney stone, you took the next best thing, an Irish person! What if we would embody the love of the divine so fully and perfectly that we could experience the peace of god through the holy kiss. or if that is to sacred for our modern dulled sensibilities, a holy embrace. As Augustine rightly states, this is a sacrament!

Women are not inferior

Shulamite BrideThe title should be enough, that should be the end of discussion. However, since we are prone to get stuck in patterns based on fragmented readings of scripture we have to go deeper than just this statement. We have gotten stuck on a handful of bible verses about submission and male dominance instead of letting the grand narrative and the foundational truths of the sacred text and of course the divine voice of unconditional love set us straight.

Let´s start from the beginning….

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

What in the world does this have to do with women and submission, you ask? I am glad you asked. Our worldview can often be shaped by our view of god. If our image of god is a male one then it becomes easy to fall into the trap of patriarchy and misogyny (although, one would think that at this day and age that still would not happen).

This verse has been posited as one of the first verses that contain an image of the trinity. We have god the consciousness, the thought, the idea of the universe. We have the spirit, gods creative power, hovering over the waters and then finally we have the word a fusion of the two, a thought spoken, made manifest and carried out by the profound power of spirit.

In eastern traditions male is often depicted as consciousness, awareness, direction and purpose while female is portraid as life, power, creativity. All things are then created in the high voltage polarity between these two, equal but opposite forces. and it seems they are present i genesis too, if we can see god as equally male and female and earthlings (adama) as equal image bearers of different aspects of the divine, then I think we have come along way.

In genesis two it seems all goes down the drain as we read the familiar story of eve created from a rib and designated the role of helper. Our minds quickly form the image of a secretary, making coffee pots and answering phones (Mad Men?). What we often miss is the fact that the word ezer (helper) is, except for this instance, almost exclusively used about god and the meaning is more in line with saviour than secretary. In fact the word is often used to describe the liberating and protective power of god like for example in Deutoronomy 33.26, 29.

So if ezer means power maybe we should read the second creation story as god creating a power corresponding to the male power. This reading brings the second creation story back in line with the egalitarian stanza in the creation song of genesis one where humans are created equal in god's image as both men and women.

Patriarchal and misogynistic societies have always tried to hijack scripture and never more so than the famous Eshet Chayil poem (Prov 31) which has been reduced to a todo list for women in servitude, when it was meant as a praise song to women. In fact, many Jewish scholars argue that Prov 31 is an allegorical poem where jewish women are representing the Shekina (glory) of god, the Shabat, the Torah and the human soul. Which makes the poem a tribute to womanhood, in fact Racheld Held Evans claims that whenever a woman in a Jewish household does anything in service to the family the men would exclaim ESHET CHAYIL! as a praise of her valour.

The tragic scapegoating that happens in Gen 3 is unfortunately still going on.

“The woman you gave me, made me ….”

The punishment in Gen 3 is that the woman should submit to the man and her desire should be for her husband. Although we see a gentle correction balancing the scales in the Song of Songs where the shulamite woman exclaims “I belong to my beloved and his desire is for me” just before the powerful woman asserts “my garden is my own and I give it to whomever I choose”

I think it is extremely interesting that in spite of some of the latter writings of the early church (like 1 and 2 Timothy) there have been found contemporary parchments like this recent one that speaks of jesus high view of women.

FRONT

papyrus_front_text_500-1

All of Jesus' interactions with women attest to this sincere respect and love that honours the feminine and never demands submission. The first apostles (apostle meaning: witness of the resurrection) where women. And Junia was recorded by Paul to be the best of them all.

I could go on but I think the trajectory is clear from the very beginning of genesis until the last pages of revelation and especially through the ministry of jesus that as far as god is concerned, not only are women not inferior, rather, every woman is a powerful image bearer of god's unique power, glory and beauty!

So whatever we might glean from scriptures about the role of women, inferiority never was a part of the picture.

ESHET CHAYIL!

Ministry is not a program

Spirit-of-Ubuntu-photoMinistry 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.

 

Community is not a meeting

Community-internshipsThe 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.

Church is not an adress

bethechurch325x303In 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.

God is not a belief system

IMG_1117It 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.

The things Pope Francis did not say…

francisThe last couple of days there has been a post circulating on the internet with a bunch of statements allegedly made by the current Pope. People are upset that a pope would say such things (although he didn´t) and what it would mean for Christianity at large. Other people are praising the Pope for these statements sharing their relief that, here we have at least one pope that makes sense.

Now let me be clear, the Pope did not say these things, the statements are said to have been made at Vatican III a convention that has yet to happen.

So why write anything about something that is not real? Well, the contents of the Popes speech echo what is already going around in many Christian circles and for some this is fundamental Christian faith. In other Christian circles it is the ultimate heresy. So regardless of the veracity this “speech” that never happened lands in the middle of the current theological discourse.

There is no literal hellfire

“Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”

This is not a novel idea and has been circulating in Christian discourse as long as there has been a Christian faith. The idea of a literal hellfire is a medieval idea based more on the works of Dante and Milton then the bible. Please note that the statement does not in any way dismiss the reality of hell but rather dispels the belief in hellfire and hell as a place of punishment, like C.S. Lewis wrote and Rob Bell, N.T. Wright and many others have echoed, hell is not a flaming furnace but the isolation from god, something that is not only an issue of the afterlife but a reality in the here and now.

Adam and Eve is a fable

Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.

Here the article touches on the idea that the first narratives in our scriptures are not historical facts but mythical narrative written to teach us about who god is, what it means to be human and what our relationship to the divine is and can be. The use of the word fable is apt as we indeed have a talking snake in Genesis 3. I will return to the idea of biblical authority further down in the article. We need to at least face the fact that our two creation stories in Genesis do not line up neatly and cannot both be literally true. We would do well to recognise that the creation myths of the Judeo-Christian scriptures are not factual historical documents and does not answer the question “how?” but rather tries to give us a hint at “why?”

God changes constantly

“God is changing and evolving as we are, For God lives in us and in our hearts. When we spread love and kindness in the world, we touch our own divinity and recognize it.

The idea of a god that changes and evolves is very much presented in scripture in fact it is more present than the idea of the “changeless one”. As evangelicals we are prone to say things like it´s not a religion it´s a relationship as we believe in the idea that we can have a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus. Furthermore we believe that god is love and love also implies relationship. How can we believe in a relational god if we do not believe that both parties in this relation can change. Only death is static, changeless. Life is constant change and growth, why can this not be true of god as well? How can we at the same time argue for a literal reading of scripture and then ignore the countless passages in the bible where god changes gods mind and gods plans?

All religions are true

“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

I think this is the most upsetting statement of all the ideas presented in this short text. And while I agree in principle I would have liked the statement to read “there is truth in all religions”. C.S. Lewis famously said “Just because we are right, does not mean that everybody else is wrong”. To believe that Christian faith and doctrine is the only truth is a fallacy as there are countless variations of Christian belief and various different truth claims. If there was only one truth and Christians possessed it, then all Christian churches would preach and teach the same thing. However the reality is that we are sometimes so varied in our description of this truth that we may as well be different religions. I think we need to be at least a little suspicious when we believe that there is only one truth and we (as in our little group of Christians) have it. The text actually makes clear that the church’s mission or mandate is to include all, including the ones that have a different take on truth than us.

The Authority of the Bible

The Bible is a beautiful holy book, but like all great and ancient works, some passages are outdated. Some even call for intolerance or judgement. The time has come to see these verses as later interpolations, contrary to the message of love and truth, which otherwise radiates through scripture. In accordance with our new understanding, we will begin to ordain women as cardinals, bishops and priests. In the future, it is my hope that we will have a woman pope one day. Let no door be closed to women that is open to men!

In my opinion this is the key issue, the question that we all come back to over and over again. If there is one question that the church must face, wether Catholic or Protestant, Orthodox, evangelical or emergent, it is this one. The place of the scriptures in our faith community. If we cannot re-evaluate how we have historically interpreted some passages to be literal and others not, then we can never as a church or faith community grow. In many conservative circles we have come to worship our tradition (and/or the bible) rather than god. And we state blindly that god does not change neither does our understanding of scripture. The reality looks different, we have time and time again revised our understanding of scripture and tradition and changed how and why we act and believe in certain ways. In some liberal circles we have gone the other way and tossed out all tradition and historical understanding, changing things that may not have needed revision, just to make a clean break with the old.

It is my opinion that we need a far more sensitive and humble approach where we tread softly, recognise that we have always interpreted our scriptures and our faith through cultural lenses, some good and some bad. It must be the work of every generation to return to these scriptures and traditions and carefully re-evaluate and re-imagine what it is to be a follower of the way in our time and place.

So whether Pope Francis said these things or not is rather irrelevant (at least outside of Catholic circles), I for one would have loved to hear this speech made by a Pope or any other religious leader. We need this conversation in all of Christendom, and we need to be able to converse with love and charity, humility and grace.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8 NRSV)

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