The Incomplete Human: Homo Faber, Homo Sapien, and Homo Adorans in Search of Homo Spiritualis (Reflection)

Miriam_Anselm-Friedrich-Feuerbach1I am indebted to both the brilliant philosophy of Karl Marx and the exquisite theology of Alexander Schmemann for having a chance to reflect today on understanding our humanity, though I am, admittedly, only crudely reflecting anthropologically, and not necessarily philosophically or theologically.

Broadly, the term homo sapien refers to the modern human species as differentiated from earlier hominid species and, of course, other so-called lesser animal species. Homo sapiens were distinguished because of their ability to think critically and to develop complex language. However, this being accepted cosmologically doesn’t tell us anything ontologically about homo sapiens. It doesn’t add anything to the question, why or what is a human? Homo sapien is woefully incomplete as a descriptor of human beings.

For a deeper understanding, we need only to discover that early homo sapiens were already burying their dead in what is likely an indication of humans as religious beings: homo adorans. Whether this is thought to be primitive behavior because of early homo sapiens limited brain development is not so easily proven. The historical record indicates, most provocatively, that to be human is to be religious, that is, to be in awe of a being of divine origin. However, for most mainstream Christian theologians, stuck in a box of magisterial or dogmatic doctrine, this empirical observation may become ammunition for the continued belief in the reductionistic notion, paraphrased from both the Westminster Creed and the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, that the chief end of humans is to glorify God. Anthropologically speaking, homo adorans is certainly not the chief end nor the primary distinguishing factor of humanity. It is but one, albiet important, factor. Thus, homo adorans is, as well, limited and incomplete in understanding the ontology of humanity.

This is true, furthermore, because long before homo were sapien or even adorans, they were homo faber—hominid beings who worked with tools and creatively produced. Now, other “lesser” animals did work with tools, but, again, the distinguishing factor here is the significant degree in the difference between early homo and their closest relatives in the animal world. The fact of homo faber may be why Marx has used homo faber as the primary (or even sole) basis for examining the material and historical record of homo sapiens (at first cooperative but then through increasing class struggle). Nevertheless, Christians should not be scared off by Marx’s discarding of homo adorans in favor of homo faber. Homo faber is no more empirical (or material) than homo adorans simply due to the length of time that homo has been involved with an activity. Certainly, the later capacity of homo sapiens to discern the reality of divine transcendence could be considered as empirical/historical evidence of the evolution of the species, not simply metaphysics.

It is homo sapien becoming homo adorans, not homo faber becoming homo sapien, that makes us more human. Yet, from a Scriptural point of view, conversely, we ought not disagree too hastily with Marx, because the Scriptures clearly indicate that immediately after humans were “created” they were put to work: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there God put the human, who had been created, to cultivate and keep it.” (Genesis 2:8; 15). Still, homo adorans, though created by a mythologically perfect divine being, is, again, incomplete because “It is not good for humans to be alone” (Gen 2:18). (Being human is “very good,” but it is not good to be separated from the rest of life which is also “good”.)

Thus, it is homo spiritualis that we aspire to, because it is only homo spiritualis whose very existence can be understood to be “inspired” by the breath of the Divine, and it is homo spiritualis who is contemplating ultimate meaning because of her or his inter-connectedness with all of life. It is homo spiritualis that can bring homo faber, homo sapien, and homo adorans to completion. It is homo spiritualis, then, that can mystically and scientifically discern how to live and work in harmony with all of life, politically, economically, and socially. It is homo spiritualis who has the potential to integrate together abstract thought, phenomenon, creative work, and worshipping awe to become truly Human.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

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Holiness Is a Moving Target (Reflection)

makeyourmarkwhiteIf you are a Christian what you believe about sin affects what you believe about other aspects of the Christian faith, especially human nature, salvation, and what I will talk about here today: sanctification. Sanctification is the progression of a Christian towards a holy state of sinlessness, what some call perfection. The verse that powerfully describes this potential progression comes from 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” If you are not growing “from one degree of glory to another” as a Christian, if you are not progressively becoming holy, then you are not being “sanctified.”

Our English word for sin is a translation from the Greek word transliterated hamartia, which literally means to “miss the mark.” Conventionally, sin is normally understood as violating God’s Divine Law, whether natural or ecclesiastical, whether by commission or by omission.

Nevertheless, the course of sanctification, that one is progressing towards holiness, is not the achieving of perfection in a static reality. As much as we want things not to change, that life would consist of a set of easy, reductionistic, black and white set of choices, life, in reality, is not static. Knowledge is cumulative. Our universe is expanding, as well as our evolutionary minds and spirits. Adherence to many of God’s Divine Laws has changed over the centuries because our understanding and interpretations have evolved. Even Jesus often used the phrase “You have heard it said, but I say…” (Matthew 5) to emphasize an evolving understanding of the Law and pointing out the misunderstanding or misconstruing of the Law even (especially?) by the religious experts.

For those Christians who believed that slavery was permissible under the Law, that races were not allowed to intermarry under the Law, that women be obligated to wear head coverings in public under the Law, these beliefs are now understood today to be not only wrong but moral evils. The Law was wrong; not just our interpretation of it. In a contemporary example, the internment and separation of immigrant children from their parents (also done to African slaves in the U.S.) was a recent case where a law (that is, an Executive Order or policy, akin to a Divine Law?) was deemed to be so immoral that it had to be rescinded immediately. (Nevertheless, millions of U.S. citizens, many of them self-described Christians, including the scripture misquoting Attorney General, still believe that the internment/separation law was justifiable and even good, simply because it was the law).

So, when we say that sin is “missing the mark,” the assumption often is that this mark is fixed as in an unchangeable law. The etymology of the word comes from the sport of archery:  sinning is like missing the bullseye on a fixed target. For Catholics, the levels of guilt of missing this mark might be understood as the outer circles on the target. Nonetheless, the target metaphor is deficient because it also implies one hundred percent intentionality, that there was a conscious moral decision made without circumstantial factors or considerations. But it is also deficient, primarily, because the mark is not static—because man-made laws or man-made declarations of or interpretations of God’s laws are not static, nor are they perfect.

Additionally, since the goal of sanctification is to be holy, many Christians believe the work of sanctification is to not sin, to abstain from wrongdoing, from breaking the law, or to stop missing this imaginary static mark. But again, this limited understanding of sanctification does not take into account that God is not Holy because God does not sin. God cannot sin, because God is incapable of sin. God is Holy because God is perfectly good in all God’s thoughts and actions. Therefore, it is not the abstention from evil or sin that is the goal of sanctification, but the positive becoming of the good.

The negative “missing the mark” word picture thus infers a human nature that is inherently evil, as opposed to what I want to propose as “making the mark,” which infers neither an inherently good nor evil human nature. If sin is the breaking of Divine law, and that Divine law is not fixed because it cannot be fully understood in its evolving perfection, then it is not the missing of the mark that constitutes sin, but the failure to make the mark by following the moving target which is sin. Sin as a moving target allows us to grow spiritually so we can begin to see things that we once, perhaps, were convinced were sinful (e.g., homosexual marriage) and conclude that they are not because we now understand the goodness (e.g. loving, committed homosexual marriage) of the once perceived sinful behavior. Sin as a moving target gives us flexibility so that we don’t see human thinking or interpretation of Law as static, but evolving and full of grace. This, then, is sanctification: not missing the mark, but being open to and moving with a loving God as God makes the mark and we participate with God in this evolving, growing spiritual life, we call human being.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

 

Faith is the Victory (Reflection)

Cornelia PetreaI don’t “believe” in god! To believe in god is to construct a thing, an object. It is to conceptualize an idea and give it a fixed, rigid shape. To believe in god is imaginary; it is childish magical thinking. The god that most people believe in is the god they created or had created for them by another, therefore not the God that created them. Our creeds and religions force feed us a patriarchal notion of god, which unfortunately cannot deepen a connection to God, but only further abstracts the object/idol of our own making.

So, how can I claim to be a Christian and not believe in god. Surely, I must have some belief. No, I do not nor do I want to “believe” in god in that way.

I am, however, distinguishing faith from belief. Faith is the victory, as the old gospel hymn goes. Faith is the actual experience of God. Faith is the know-ing of God (John 17:3), not the thought or idea of god. Faith is the concretizing of the abstract, the process of real-izing the Spirit of God that is within and without. “The Spirit joins with our spirits to assure us of our participation with God” (Romans 8:16).

So, faith does come by “hearing” the Word, even the Christ (John 6:68). It is not a word or words, but the Word or Logos. Faith comes by “hearing” the unconstructed Spirit of God—the real God which is beyond the grasp of language and thought.

Faith is the participation of Christ and our openness to Christ’s active participation in our lives.

Faith is the penetrating energy of Love.

Faith inspires compassionate action on behalf of God’s creation.

It is the God of faith that ought to be obeyed and followed: The God of the Kin-dom.

 

© Paul Dordal, 2018

A.C.T. For Activists

ACT+Hexaflex(This article originally appeared in the June 2018 edition of The New People newspaper.)

Depression. Anxiety. Despair. These are just some of the emotional distresses that I have observed in friends, comrades, and in myself, as we engage seriously in the work of social justice. Unfortunately, I have also observed a high occurrence of burnout among activists. It seems that many activists just do not have effective strategies for coping with the emotional rollercoaster that is part and parcel of confronting the myriad injustices in our world. And it isn’t just our justice work that is responsible for our emotional distresses. Poverty, war, racism, sexism, and other systemic injustices can be correlated with the mental illnesses suffered by millions of Americans.

So, what can we who fight the good fight do to take care of ourselves in the midst of all of these challenges? What practices can we engage in to keep ourselves emotionally fit for the long haul? In my work as a board-certified clinical chaplain, I am privileged to have been trained in several evidence-based therapeutic modalities, principles of which I use in my care of patients in the hospital setting. One of those modalities is called “Acceptance Commitment Therapy” or ACT. ACT’s overall goal is to increase “psychological flexibility” in response to the inevitable difficulties of life. Kershner and Farnsworth, ACT practitioners, define psychological flexibility “as the ability to adapt behavior to varying contexts and situations in the pursuit of one’s core values.” I have found that ACT’s core processes are effective in my chaplaincy work, but also for self-care as I engage in my volunteer work as a peace and justice activist.

There are six core processes of ACT which can be used for self-care. First, Acceptance is the willingness to accept our feelings in the face of suffering. Acceptance allows us to feel our feelings without judgment or defense. If you are extremely saddened by the racism in our society or anxious about all the work that needs to be done to end the senseless wars in our world, then accept your feelings as normative to the situation.

Another process of ACT is living in the Present Moment. For this, the practice of mindfulness is especially important. Mindfulness practice keeps us focused in the here and now and helps us to not ruminate on the unchangeable past or over-think an uncontrollable future. Defusion, a third process in ACT, is the method of responding differently to our negative thoughts about ourselves. When those negative thoughts enter your mind, you might say, “I am not my thoughts” or “I am having a negative thought, but I am not that thought.” Defusion is especially important in dealing with the often hurtful responses activists might get from reactionaries.

Related to Defusion, another ACT process is viewing one’s Self as Context. We, as “whole” humans, are not the content of what we do or what we have. As Henri Nouwen once said, “I am not what I do, what I have, or what others think of me. I am the beloved.”

Maybe what I appreciate most about ACT in relation to activism and self-care is its focus on living a Values-driven life. This is a fifth process of ACT where we remind ourselves what our core values are and recommit to living by them. This is a key piece to my own self-care. I refuse to see my emotional challenges as impediments to the valuable work I do for justice in the world. And finally, the sixth process of ACT is when we bring our values to life by moving into Committed Action. This means we can engage in activism based on an open, present moment understanding of who we are and in accordance with our values, in the midst of the anxiety, depression, or other strong emotions we may be experiencing.

To summarize, the ACT processes for self-care might be remembered simply as Accepting our thoughts and feelings, Choosing a valued direction, and Taking action.

Finally, I want to say that self-care strategies may not be enough if your emotional distress is severely interfering with your work, in your home, or relationships. I recommend seeing a mental health professional if your symptoms become acute or are too difficult to manage.

If you would like more information about ACT or to find an ACT counselor, go to http://www.contextualscience.org.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2018

 

The Traveler (A Parable)

Traveler Soft EdgesOne day, early in the morning, while several fishermen were preparing to go out on their boat, a traveler came to the fishermen and asked for a ride across the large lake. The traveler had a bandana on her head, a green neck pillow around her neck, and a small Columbia® backpack. The fishermen looked at each other, and not really sure about the skinny young woman said, “Why not? Just stay out of our way at the back of the boat.”

The skies were bright and sunny when the boat with the six fishermen and the traveler left the dock. The trip to the other side of the lake would take six hours, even if they didn’t stop to fish. The traveler went to the back of the boat, as she was told, and put her pillow behind her head and fell fast asleep.

About halfway into the trip, while they were fishing, dark clouds and high winds began to fill the air. The boat began to rock violently as the waves started to increase in size. Though the fishermen had been in severe weather in the past, they feared this unexpected and fierce storm. The boat was being tossed around and the fishermen began to panic.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the lake, an old farmer had been praying for his crops. It hadn’t rained in quite some time, and the farmer feared that his crop would be lost. When the rain came that very morning, the farmer praised God and thanked God for answering his prayers.

Back on the boat, the storm on the lake seemed to worsen, and the fishermen’s panic turned to dread. Yet, still at the back of the boat was the traveler, sleeping soundly throughout it all. The fishermen approached the strange young woman and asked, “How can you be sleeping? Aren’t you afraid of the storm?”

The traveler said, “Oh this. It’s just weather. It happens. Sometimes it’s sunny; sometimes it rains. We are not in control. Take it easy!”  The fishermen were amazed at her words and soon afterward the storm broke.

The fishermen decided to end their work for the day and went to the other side of the lake to drop off the traveler. As they approached the land the fishermen saw a strange figure on a farm off the coast. An old man was twisting and turning— dancing on the farm, and it looked like he was singing.  The young traveler saw the farmer and laughed. And then she started dancing and singing too.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Revolutionary Hope (Reflection)

Rev HopeAnyone who is in the world of the living has some hope; a live dog is better off than a dead lion. (Ecclesiastes 9:4)

Hope is in high demand in these dark days. War, poverty, discrimination of myriad types, and environmental destruction seem like they will never come to an end. Many young people can’t see a future where they will have reliable work, good healthcare, and meaningful relationships. I meet many folks who are in dire need of hope.

One of the problems that some have in finding hope is in the confusing tension of the inner/outer dimensions of hope. Inner hope comes from a meaningful personal existence and outer hope comes from being able to see humanity progress towards a peaceful and just society. Inner hope can be fostered primarily through gratitude: being thankful for your life and any blessings you can name. In the hospital setting, many of the patients I encounter express this inner hope as simply “being seen”—that is, simply being alive.  I say to them, “It’s good to see you.” And their reply is “It is good to be seen.”

Nevertheless, as many look out at the world, a darkness overshadows their hope because the future of our species and the planet looks so bleak.

So, how do I maintain hope in the midst of all that militates against it? Recently, I said to a friend, “The evolution of humanity is very slow—almost imperceptible. Sometimes it might even seem like we are going backward. Yet, throughout history revolutions of hope have always come, especially in the worst of times. These revolutions propel our species forward, despite the slow and deliberate evolutionary process.  My hope is in the coming revolution!”

A prophet once wrote, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). I have faith that we are going to overcome the darkness through an imminent spiritual and social revolution.

Are you at least grateful for your very existence—that you are seen—and can you see a glimpse of the next revolution? If so, then you can have hope too.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Faith in Action (Interview w/ Fr. Paul Dordal)

Paul at SCC Clergy Conference 2016By Bette McDevitt

Rev. Dordal is a member of the Thomas Merton Center and a coordinator of the Stop Banking the Bomb Campaign, which is targeting PNC Bank’s investments in nuclear weapons manufacturers. The following is an interview of Rev. Dordal.

Q: Please tell us a little about your background. What churches have you been associated with, what led you to seek that further training in Catholic theology, and then, what it meant to be a chaplain in the Army, and were you in a chaplain in Iraq?

A: I was raised in a Roman Catholic home in NYC, but in my teenage years, I strayed from my faith. It wasn’t until I was 31, in 1995, that I had a dramatic epiphany and returned to faith in Jesus. I discerned a call to the ministry, but I first was ordained as a Protestant minister. Upon redeploying from Iraq in 2010, I decided to return to my Catholic roots and joined an Eastern rite Catholic Church. Studying under a bishop for several years and studying Catholic theology at Duquesne University prepared me for my current vocation as an Eastern-rite priest.

As for my chaplaincy in the U.S. Army, it was at first a noble endeavor. I sincerely believed there was a great need for spiritual support of soldiers going to war. Nevertheless, it was while serving in Iraq during the war that my eyes were opened. I began to question my own moral convictions about my military service, but more importantly, I came to believe that US military involvement, not only in Iraq but all around the world, was also gravely immoral.

Q: What was it that made you become an anti-war activist, and a very public one, willing to do civil disobedience?

A: Seeing first-hand the devastation of war on so many innocents in Iraq and also [my time]  studying at Duquesne University sharpened my theological convictions about the senselessness and immorality of war. Additionally, I came to recognize that I could not only “believe” in nonviolence, but I had a moral responsibility to act publicly on those convictions.

Q: In your online bio, you mention the “revolutionary Jesus.” Our readers might like to know if that plays a large part in this decision.

A: Absolutely! I had a second sort of epiphany after Iraq, and I recognized that Jesus’s life was a ministry of radical confrontation of empire and its systems of violence and injustice. Jesus did not come only to die a spiritual death on behalf of all people, but his sacrifice was the revolutionary beginning of a whole new way of being human and ordering society. Now, this beloved Kin-dom of God (Paul’s own phrase)  that Jesus proclaimed in word and deed is our responsibility to enact, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This means that as a Christian, I must intentionally confront the evils of empire, especially the U.S. empire with its 800+ military bases, thousands of nuclear missiles and, most dangerously, its evil system of imperial capitalism that perpetuates violence and oppression in our world.

Q: How did you come to the Merton Center to work for peace?

A: A few years ago, when I decided to follow my convictions of becoming a peacemaker, I joined Veterans For Peace (VFP). However, there was no active VFP chapter in Pittsburgh at the time, so I made my way to the Thomas Merton Center and joined the Anti-War Committee. There I found kindred spirits, both Christian and non-Christian alike, who had the same passion to bring peace and justice to our hurting world.

Q: I would guess that finding so many people sharing your concern and supporting your action has been encouraging, and would you comment on that?

As a full-time hospital chaplain, I do not have a local parish that I am a part of. In many ways members of the Merton Center, Veterans For Peace, and other people from the wonderful justice groups that I am connected to have become a “church” community to and with me. Maybe it could be called Church on the Way.

Sometimes, when I think that our work is too daunting and the struggle too hard, I look to people like Joyce Rothermel, Edith Bell, Michael Drohan, and other Merton Center members who have been doing this work for many years and I say, “That’s me. I am in this for the long haul.” Also, I keep this Spanish liberation theology phrase in mind: Luchar por la justicia es rezar (To struggle for justice is to pray).

Q: To bring in the local aspect, how did you come to make your home in Pittsburgh?

A: My family moved to the Pittsburgh area in 2004 from the Bronx, NY when I was called to pastor a church in Aliquippa, PA. My family is now settled in Penn Hills, PA, where we have lived for the last ten years. It took a while to transition from the culture of NYC, but we are truly Pittsburghers now.

Faith in Action

 

 

Our Daily Bread and Roses

Bread and Justice PrayerEach day I pray the Lord’s Prayer several times as part of my prayer practice. Today, let’s reflect on what it means for God to give us our daily bread (Mt 6:11).

Oftentimes Scripture is very simple, but also profoundly deep. Thus, simply, our daily bread should first and foremost be understood to be the basics of life, what we materially need to survive.  For the people during Jesus’s time, the material life may have been understood to mean just the big three needs: food/water, shelter, and clothing.

But when we consider the three basic material needs, we ought also to consider the other, more modern and interdependent material needs that relate to the three basics: education, environmental integrity, work, transportation, and healthcare. In a sharing society, one in which God’s norm of neighborly love is prevalent, no one would go without their basic material needs. Yet, to reduce material needs only to the big three, such that everyone has food/water, shelter, and clothing, but only some have good/meaningful work, healthcare, transportation or environmental integrity, is a grave error of reductionism—of oversimplification.

If we take Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seriously, and we should, then it also means what is basic to daily bread is more than material needs. So, if we do not have the safety and security of our basic daily bread (food, shelter, clothing, living wage jobs, clean air, transportation, education, healthcare, etc.) we are severely diminished from moving into the more important, or higher, levels of human flourishing.

Additionally, in light of the Lord’s Prayer we should also recognize that humanity has never lived in an age of scarcity. Scarcity comes into play when a small number of people (elites) believe they have a right to a greater proportion of the resources of the earth. These elites believe they are entitled to more of God’s daily bread than others. The elite prayer is “Give me this day and my future daily bread and forget the rest.” These elites today are the captains of industry, media, politics, and finance-capital. They continue to try to convince us that capitalism is good for all, even though the basic material needs of all people are not met, despite God’s abundant provision.

The system that is opposed to God, to Jesus’s proclamation of a Daily Bread society is known today as Neo-Liberal Capitalism.  Neo-Liberal Capitalism will never create the conditions where everyone will enjoy the abundance of God’s provision—Our Daily Bread. Capitalism is not the creation of a free-market. It is barbarism, where the greedy elite are permitted and encouraged to create and continue to maintain an unfair advantage over the mass of humanity. Capitalism is what creates scarcity.

So far what we have talked about is mostly a materialist approach to daily bread, but it should go without saying that the needs of humans are not just material: they are emotional, spiritual, and relational. Humans are not mechanical commodities, we are spiritual organisms. When we pray that God would give us our daily bread, our sustenance for the day, it is also Jesus, the bread of life, the Eucharist, that is necessary for us to truly be alive—to thrive.

Our human thriving does not come only from material things, but through the relationships, we are able to engage in and maintain because we are provided the basic material necessities in life by God through the loving, caring people-focused systems created by God-respecting folk (or “Spirit” Consciousness for non-theists/atheists).

Daily bread then also means that I will have not only bread but roses too (see Rose Schneiderman’s famous speech where she said, “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”). Daily bread is not just about material needs, but about human flourishing spiritually, emotionally, and creatively. Praying (and working) for the provision of daily bread is about thriving as loving humans in a caring society focused on meeting the simplest and the deepest needs of all people.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Faith “In” The Union

workers-fist(This post originally appeared as an article in my local’s newsletter.)

Why is a priest and chaplain writing an article for a union newsletter? Well, first of all, I am a proud union member just like you. Second, I am simply following a long line of people of faith who have believed in and supported unions and workers throughout history.

Way back in 1893, Terence Powderly, the founder and president of the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, wrote about labor history up to that day: “Trade-unionists, members of guilds, leagues and other organizations of workers embraced Christianity and proclaimed its doctrines as being especially advantageous to the welfare of the toiling poor.”

Another important historical story is that of Father Thomas Hagerty, a Roman Catholic priest, who co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union in 1905. Fr. Hagerty wrote the following powerful words in the preamble of the IWW constitution: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.”

It is my firm belief that these great men of labor history were simply following the tenets of the faith which they avowed. From the original believers in the book of Acts, to the English Diggers in the 1600’s, to the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology movements of the 20th Century, Christian faith has consistently witnessed to the need for justice in the workplace.

Because bosses, landowners, and “lords” have long oppressed workers, the prophets of the Bible spoke out strongly against them. Jeremiah warned those who acted unjustly towards workers saying, “Woe to the one … who forces his own people to labor for nothing, who refuses to pay them for all their hard work” (Jer 22:13). St. James would write as well to the rich, “Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your workers. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields” (James 5:4).

Unfortunately, fairness in the workplace and equitable wages and benefits for all has yet to be achieved in our country. In fact, the union movement is under attack from just about every corner. Worker rights that were hard won by the fighting unions of the early days are slowly being stolen from the workers. We need to return to the fighting spirit that characterized our faithful union brothers and sisters of old. We need to have faith in the union again!

So, what motivates me to be in the fight for worker rights, to continue to have faith in the union? It is the mission statement of Jesus that inspires my union activism: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19).

I hear the lowly carpenter saying to you and me today, “Now, go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37).

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Growing Beyond Conventional Christian Faith

Arm TreeChristian spiritual development sometimes comes at a cost, especially if you are deeply religious (i.e., committed to a particular denomination or a tradition of theology). Many religious people are conditioned by their churches/pastoral leaders to stay at the level of spirituality they are at. Conventional Christians are threatened by the notion of growth in spiritual understanding because spiritual growth takes effort and is often very unsettling. Spiritual growth requires change: change in thinking, change in behavior. Those who are growing spiritually are often misunderstood by their friends and family who don’t see anything wrong with their conventional understanding of faith. Sometimes, Christians who are truly growing are viewed as falling away from their faith, when in fact they are maturing.

Below, I offer an example for Christians to test their desire or ability to grow spiritually.

Conventional Christian faith views Jesus’s death and resurrection as a transaction. In simple terms, Jesus came to change God’s mind about people. This is the conventional theology of salvation, whereby Jesus died a violent death to appease an angry, wrathful God. Jesus was killed as a replacement for the death that all humans deserve (because we are sinful). God killed Jesus in order that we could go to some far-off heaven when we die. This violent vicarious atonement theory has been the standard Christian theology of salvation for over 1000 years for hundreds of millions of Christians. It’s not just the belief of fundamentalists and Evangelicals, but mainline Protestants and Catholics as well. But it isn’t true; it is a theory. This theory promotes violence, justifies oppression, and leaves most people with a harmful, false belief that they are inherently evil, thus trapped in unhealthy feelings of guilt and toxic shame.

To grow spiritually is to consider afresh the basic narrative of Christian faith. It is to see the Bible with a renewed set of eyes. Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about people, Jesus came to change people’s minds about God. Jesus came to change our minds about a God who we erroneously were taught was angry and wrathful, but who in fact is absolute unconditional love. Humans are not separated from God by our sin. Humans were not created sinful, we were created good. The original blessing is a much more important and biblical starting point than original sin when considering our anthropology. Though we do sin, God loves us and never leaves us. Thus, Jesus’s death on the cross occurred not to appease an angry God but was the result of power-possessed rulers who could not accept the God of love, the God of peace, the God who is opposed to injustice and oppression. Jesus’s resurrection was God’s answer to the cross. It was, as Marcus Borg says, “Rome who executed Jesus, but God who vindicated him.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is primarily a picture of the process of individual and collective transformation and not just a transaction.

This is not a subtle shift in thinking, but one that will move you out of the oppressive, overly-individualistic, exclusivist, and Empire-supporting Christian “faith” that was corrupted and co-opted by Constantine and others over the centuries.

Are you stuck in a false construct about a God who is violent and requires appeasement (like the mythical gods of ancient idol worshippers), or are you ready to grow spiritually into a belief about a God who is True Love? Are you ready to be in a relationship with a God who wants to transform you into a whole, loving person, a God who wants to transform our world into what I call the Commonweal of Love (what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven)? Spiritual growth means moving away from an old way of thinking (and possibly even an old community of faith) and finding the narrow path of Jesus. Spiritual growth requires risk, yet replaces your old, broken wineskins with new wineskins that can handle the glorious New Wine of Jesus.

Contact me if you would like to have a discussion about this. I would love to talk with you about a new vibrant way to live the Way of Jesus.

© Paul Dordal, 2017