Sunday, September 25, 2005

Such a Precarious Position

Through many conversations and a fair amount of pondering over the past few weeks, I have come to a sort of conclusion. It seems to me that the path to Truth, be it by the path of light or that of darkness, demands amazing balance. Immediately two thoughts come to mind; that of the fence straddling Christian, and the symbol of the Yin-Yang. My upbringing tells me that both of these things are wrong, though, of course, more emphasis was put on the latter, merely because it is part of a different religion. To be the fence straddler is to “have one foot in this world” or be “lukewarm”. While the Yin-Yang, which speaks to a balance of opposing forces, validates the existence of the devil by having him be the balance to God. This is a snap-shot of the teachings I was raised with. But, again, something about this bothers me. I believe that to truly “be in the world but not of it” you must be IN the world, not the Christian bubble, but in the world at large; “secular” would be the Christian word for it. Perhaps to slightly adjust the first thought by way of the second, what is called for, for seekers of the True God, is some fence walking. To not throw your lot to one of the two extremes; to see the value in the Yin-Yang, while not necessarily believing the religion itself; and to realize that to label a Christian as “lukewarm” is a judgment on your part, and you are called not to judge.

It seems that I am going after the mindset of Christians, which of course is true on some level; but the rules apply to both sides. Once you only see what you believe, and are unwilling to listen, perhaps even understand, views that oppose yours; the only result is that your beliefs are weakened. Sitting with a friend for coffee recently, we’ve been discovering the defense of opposing views. Understand we come from drastically opposing viewpoints. What always seems to be missing is the ability to listen. That every interaction we enter into, we come with our views and our bias’s, and we are prepared to defend them and fight for them. It speaks to our desire to be right. I’m not just talking about religion, politics is an easy one, economics as well; basically anything that someone could have an opinion about. If we can’t listen, we can’t grow. It’s funny how the slightest opposition to some personnel ideology will send a person into a rage. What are people afraid of? That their long held beliefs will be invalidated? I have learned from those I didn’t agree with. I have questioned what I believe, and in some cases, found myself changing thoughts, if only slightly.

Some would say that changing beliefs shows a weakness in what I claimed to believe. This line of thinking saddens me more than any other. It is a stubborn approach to living. It is a backwards way of thinking. And it dominates our society. Christians scream relativism; society cries out of weakness. But I believe that that is the path to Truth; the way to God. Walking atop the fence, seeing the balance yin-yang speaks to, realizing hatred never helped anyone, and if you claim to fallow Christ, that above all else you are to be a person known by their love. Not mushy, lovey-dovey BS. Real Love. The type that does not hate homosexuals though you may not agree with them; the type that does not vilify politicians just because they ally themselves with beliefs you do not hold; to welcome the outcast into their churches with no prerequisites as to what they must change to be accepted into the fellowship. I’m revealing a bit much of where I come from, and why I’m where I am. But this is who I am, and I believe in the guidance of the True God. I believe God wants a change of thought in the Church, and I’m not talking about buildings, but people. A people known for their love, not their judgments, now that’s something I want to be a part of. But first one must learn to balance on the fence, which is a very precarious position.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Karmaic Christianity

My journey into the "Caves" has led me in many different directions. One of those has been a study of Buddhism. The book I started with was "The Four Noble Truths" written by the present Dalai Lama. The four noble truths are, simply put, the foundation of Buddhism; and shockingly quite similar to Christianity. 1. The Truth of Suffering; 2. The Truth of the Origin of Suffering; 3. The Truth of Cessation; 4. The Truth of the Path. Putting these Truths through my little "christian" filter, I changed the word "suffering" to "sin". So the four noble truths of Buddhism can be translated: the truth of sin, the truth of the origin of sin, the truth of the ceasing of sin, and the truth of the path to the ceasing of sin. This didn't make the Buddhist terms easier to swallow, but rather made them MORE TRUE to me. Suddenly Buddhism is teaching me more about my current beliefs; and from the writings of this book, I believe that the Dalai Lama would be pleased.

When I entered the sections of this book dealing with Karma, I got a little cynical. The typical christian response to concepts I really wasn't at all familiar with. I just thought that living a life based in Karmaic Law means trying to always do good stuff, and not bad stuff, just so you don't get reincarnated as a worm. Basically, a life of faith based in fear. But the more I read, and the more I tried to put aside my christian history and my biases, I started to see Truths in how the Buddhist approach Karma. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that I don't think that the Dalai Lama would say that living a Karmaic Life in fear is a good thing; more so, I think it's probably a bad thing. Now these are totally my thoughts, and should in no way be interrpreted as the thoughts of Buddhism or the Dalai Lama, but I think that if a Buddhist lived a life of fear, and based all of their actions on that fear of coming back as a worm, that's probably exactly what they would come back as. The Dalai Lama's writings speak to a development of a "good heart". And that from that good heart will flow "Bodhichitta" or compassion. That a Buddhist, practicing Karma with a "good heart" will not be compelled by fear, but rather, he will be compelled by compassion, which speaks to who he really is. The Buddhist cannot fake goodness, for Karmaic Law would see right through it. You must TRULY be a good person, and your actions will be but a reflection of yourself.

Now throw all of that into Christianity and a picture starts to form. One of a faith that is not about doing the right thing under compulsion, but doing the right thing because it is right. One might say that Jesus lived a life perfectly in harmony with his Karma, and perhaps when asked to "conform to the image of Christ" we are asked to do the same. I sat down for a cup of coffee with a friend yesterday, and she said her chief issue with "Protestant" Christianity (she is Catholic) is that they seem overly-concerned with appearances. More concerned about "doing the right thing" instead of "being a good person". I think goodness is under-rated in christian circles, as if "goodness" isn't a high enough aspiration; that we should be shooting for "greatness" instead. As was said in "What about Bob", what's called for seems to be "baby steps". And that may be the quickest way to greatness; in the midst of contradiction, often God seems to be found.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Problem with Uncle Jesus

This is a thought from several months ago, that over the past few weeks has been evolving into something new. In the near future I plan to explore these new thoughts, but they won't make as much sense without this context.

This is a portion of my ponderings on who Jesus is. For the record I am a Christian, for those who don't know me. This isn't an effort to find Jesus the first time; but rather to understand who Jesus really is for the first time; having lived my entire life within the walls of the Church.

I have identified my key isssue with understanding who the Jesus is, and that is a problem of familiarity. The Jesus has been reduced to a familiar family member. So what are the traits of "Uncle Jesus"? 1. Love (by that I mean "Uncle Level" love). 2. Lots of good stories. 3. Magic (but that which no longer fascinates us, as it did in younger days). 4. Ever present (it's no surprise that he's around). 5. There when needed; but not a part of daily existance. I don't find this contradicts point 4 becaue they speak to different levels of presence. Point 5 means he's not who you naturally turn to for help. Speaks to a distance. I think, overall, these points emphasize a relationship done at "arms length". Uncle Jesus is not a part of my "life"; he's just a person in my world. His position as a "person in my world" is a good thing, but maybe not as good as some might assume. For some Jesus crashes into their world and radically changes it. But when Uncle Jesus has been in your world for so long it's hard to see this "uncle" as radically changing anything. After all, he's just the "special circumstances" guy; not a part of my "life". That's what I have so far in my search to answer my own question "Who is the Jesus?" I hope you don't find my use of the term "Uncle Jesus" degrading to Jesus. No disrespect is intended; just allegory in search of Truth.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

A picture worth several thousand feet

This pic was taken while sitting in the Bright Angel Creek at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Was the trip worth all the effort? You be the judge. Hopefully more pics to come, along with the story.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Iceman Cometh

A couple weeks ago I found myself sitting around a fire pit in North Minneapolis talking about God. I actually do this quite often, but this time was unique because there were only four of us in the discussion, where there are usually many more. We were discussiong the organized church, and our varying levels of frustration with it. We were at the same time talking about Absolute Truth, and how "believers" believe in the faith without wavering; which can be both good and bad. One friend, 'round the pit, said that when we first come to faith everything is loose, not in any way solid, and everything is up for question. But as we come futher into faith, things become solid, you begin to believe "absolutely" in the tenements of your faith.
This talk really got me thinking. It seems that when we are examining faith, or an organized religion of any sort, that it is like working with water. Examining the water; "swimming in thought". And as we come to ally ourselves with certain beliefs, that water turns to ice. It is solid; it is "Absolute". Where I take issue with this is not the freezing process itself, but rather the fact that these "ice" believers try to sell the ice to the world, when they ought to be selling water. For it was not ice that these believers began with, it was water. Now, another friend around the pit, pointed out that what motivates these people to sell ice rather than water is generally, though not always, compassion. For it is a desire to spare new believers the often painful process of freezing the water into ice. In a way saying, "No questions to ponder now! We've got the answers!!" This, in my eyes, is compassion, but it sounds very much like arrogance; and in a lot of cases it is. And in all cases it is naive.
Some wil take the answers and the ice will be Truth. Others will take answers, and the ice will never actually be their own. Though where that leaves them is not for me to say. Some, like me, were born with the ice already provided for them; but something didn't seem right. So melting was required; which is very frightening to the organized church of ice. I have not rejected the water of my faith; just the ice of Absolutes. Even that is deceiving, for it sounds like relativism, where nothing is absolute. I do believe in Absolute Truth, but I also believe the path to it is a solitary one, and different for each traveler.
So how do I believe in Absolute Truth, arrived at by a Relative path? There's where I struggle. But I know rejecting the water is not the answer; just as much as keeping the ice you really don't believe in. Truth, absolute or relative, lies somewhere in the middle. And that is, now, where I find myself.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Gregory of Nyssa's take on Cave Theory

St. Gregory of Nyssa calls the spiritual life a journey from light to darkness, and darkness to light. But it is “a transition from a light which is darkness to a darkness which is light.”

He goes onto say the “the mind must detach itself from sensible appearances and seek God in those invisible realities which the intellect alone can apprehend.” “This darkening of the senses is like a cloud in which the soul becomes accustomed to traveling blind, without relying on the appearances of changing things or on the emotional import of experience in its judgments of truth and falsity, of good and evil.”

These are the words of Thomas Merton, from his book “The Ascent to Truth”. In pondering the concept of finding truth in darkness (the Cave) I have found these quotes interesting; while not necessarily buying into them completely. My question to put forth here is, what does seeking God in the “cloud” look like? How does one discern the difference between false light and true light, and false darkness (which is truth) and darkness (which is falsity). Merton speaks of “traveling blind”, but what does that really mean? It is obvious, in his book, that he is not speaking of ignorance, but some sort of letting go of pre-conceived notions to understand Truth. This stuff freaks me out, but also leaves me with a desire to understand these concepts better. Hence a posting of questions to see what you think. One last quote referring to the light found in the cloud of darkness.
“But this darkness is pure light because it is the infinite Light of God Himself. And the mere fact that His light is infinite means that it is darkness to our finite minds.”
Something about that last line hits me, but I’m not sure yet what I think. How ‘bout you?

Zip Line Theology and Spiritual Spelunking

Now this is one I’ve been wrestling with for longer than I’d care to admit. It wasn’t until I sat down at the table with a group of like-minded people that I finally began to understand the idea, which had been on my mind for so long. Out of these “round table” discussions, I have found terms that speak to the truth of what I am trying to do. Terms like “zipline” and “dangerous questions” and “spelunking”. Here it is, in a nutshell. I desire an environment where people feel free to question everything; and though we speak primarily of the spiritual, we soon discover how wide-spread the effect of spirituality is. So in this environment we ask “dangerous questions”. By dangerous, I mean the ones we are afraid to ask, not because we’re afraid of the answers, but rather because we are afraid of pet answers; sugar coated answers; in a word, the one’s we already have. Where, if the answer might shake your faith, it’s not worth questioning. I, for one, have rejected this sort of thinking. So, here we are asking the dangerous questions. But how will we know what is true, and what are merely answers to questions? An analogy. Say you were raised in a box called truth, and everything outside of that box was evil. But one day you realized that the box wasn’t truth, but just the truth of those who had come before you. Suddenly, you find yourself in a much bigger space, but your desire remains the same; you want truth. Now you begin to explore this new place, searching for truth; the “walls” of a much bigger box. How do you know where the walls are? How do you know when you’ve gone too far? This is where the “zipline” comes in. It’s my assertion that the only way to really discover the box of truth that will define you is by going too far. For only in crossing the line can you really know where it is. (3,2,1, Argue). That is why you must surround yourself with people you trust to pull you back when you’ve gone too far. It’s the idea of cave spelunking. You never repel into a cave without having someone at the top to pull you back. At least you wouldn’t if you’d never been in the cave before. And that is where you are when you ask the dangerous questions; you are in the cave, you are in the darkness; you are outside the box of truth you were raised in, and that’s a very dangerous place to be.
Now many are not called to this place. Many find God on different terms than these. And they should not be marginalized because they don’t need the cave. There is value in their perspective; in many cases there is truth as well. There seems to be an on-going conflict between those who need the dangerous questions and those who don’t. Both tend to believe the other is wrong. I believe that the only time either is wrong is when one thinks they have the answer; that they have the truth. It seems that the “top dwellers” think that the “cave dwellers” see themselves as smarter, or deeper. That since the “top dweller” answer wasn’t good enough , the “cave dweller” is better. But what the “top dweller” might not realize is that the truth, that defines their life, might not have come to the “cave dweller” yet. And by denying him entrance to the cave, he might never find that truth. That’s the best defense I, as a cave dweller, can present. Yes, to spelunk alone is folly. But to have those who will “zipline” you out when you’ve gone too far; those you trust with such decisions; this is not as reckless as you might think. And for some, the dangerous path in the only way. Not a better way, not a “truer” way. But the only way to see God, as Truth. And, as always, we each have things to learn from each other. For that is the reason that our paths are not the same.