SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS: THE FIRST VETERAN FOR PEACE

El_Greco_-_San_Martín_y_el_mendigoFROM “SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS: THE FIRST VETERAN FOR PEACE” BY PAUL DORDAL AND JOHN DAVID KUDRICK IN THE NEW PEOPLE (NOV. 2019)

The Veterans For Peace organization was founded in 1985 to draw on veterans’ “personal experience and perspectives gained as veterans to raise public awareness of the true costs of militarism and war—and to seek peaceful, effective alternatives.” As we pause to reflect this coming Armistice Day, November 11, it is important to remember this unique call for peace from those who have experienced war’s utter senselessness firsthand. Dwight Eisenhower, a WWII general and U.S. president, profoundly declared, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Many so-called war heroes have become the greatest proponents of peace after (and sometimes during) their enlistment.

Yet the question remains why so many millions, even billions, cannot see war’s futility and stupidity, and thus resist the evil powers and principalities who constantly call for the use of violence and war to solve conflicts. Currently, the United States is fighting its own global war, with tens of thousands of troops stationed in over 170 countries. Any reasonable person, though, can see that this continuous warfare has not resulted in true, lasting peace anyplace it is being fought. In a recent speech at the United Nations, President Trump noted that the U.S. “is a compassionate nation” who “will forever be a great friend to the world.” These words could not have rung more hollow to those who actually listened.

For many veterans and others, a time comes when the soul, mind, and body become one and there is a change in attitudes, beliefs, and actions toward war and violence. For some veterans, the experience of participating in or preparing for war becomes the “Aha!” moment that helps them realize just how wrong and futile war can be—even the most supposedly “just war.”

As I (Paul) was reflecting on my own “Aha!” moment and the decision I made after returning from the Iraq War that I could not as a Christian be involved with war anymore, I read about another veteran who could not participate in the military or engage in violence after his own epiphany. St. Martin of Tours converted to Christ in the fourth century. Soon afterward, while on patrol, Martin saw a shivering beggar alongside the road. Dressed in his military regalia, Martin tore his cape in two, gave half to the beggar, and declared, “I am the soldier of Christ: it is not lawful for me to fight.” Upon hearing of Martin’s conscientious objection, his military superiors charged him with cowardice and imprisoned him. Yet he remained convinced, as so many others have since, that to be a Christian precludes one from serving in any military—that Christians are peacemakers, not violence seekers. St. Martin of Tours could well be known as the first veteran for peace; if not the first, then at least one of the most remarkable.

Pondering the story of St. Martin, I (John David) am struck at how he took compassionate action as a great friend toward the beggar by choosing not to fall into the typical “us and them” thinking that dehumanizes people—denying and/or ignoring the inherent mystery, beauty, and wonder of every person in the global tribe of humanity. For it is such “us and them” thinking that allows intentional, accepted, and applauded violence and war against humanity in the name of “keeping the peace,” although it never leads to real peace among us.

As recognized by almost every Christian group in the world, the Feast of St. Martin of Tours is held, ironically, on November 11. For Christians and all peace seekers, then, Armistice Day should be a clarion call not necessarily to celebrate the sacrifices of veterans, but to recognize the sacrifice of true peacemakers like Christ to end all wars and violence—and especially to celebrate them by becoming peacemakers ourselves.

Veterans For Peace has a catchy motto that some members regularly use: “If you are not a veteran for peace, then what are you a veteran for?” Upon reflecting on the words and deeds of St. Martin of Tours (and, of course, the eternal words of Jesus), should not Christians and, really, all people also say and believe: “If you are not a person for peace, then what are you for?”

Paul Dordal and John David Kudrick are the co-founders of the newly formed group, Christian Alliance For Peace (facebook.com/ChristianAllianceForPeace).

You can read the New People version here: St Martin of Tours: First Veteran For Peace

Losing Faith, Finding God (A Reflection)

finding-god-coverIn a course entitled DSM-IV Religious & Spiritual Problems, the psychology course book states, “Loss of faith is specifically mentioned [in the DSM-IV] as a religious problem.” For the person who has seemingly lost faith significant emotional distress is common.

The psychological problem then isn’t the loss of faith, but the distress that is associated with the loss. Yet, the distress surrounding the loss of faith is necessary for healing, for finding the true God. So, before we can help ourselves or someone else who has “lost” their faith, we must first discover what is actually lost. Is it faith or religion; or maybe faith in religion?

My take on the loss of faith, especially as I have experienced it, is that a loss of “faith” is not real. Loss of faith is a painful shedding of something that was illusory to begin with. Maybe the most profound words that have come from Bob Dylan, and he has had so many profound words, are from his song Positively 4th Street:

You say you’ve lost your faith, but that’s not where it’s at/
You have no faith to lose, and ya know it.

The faith most people cling to and hopefully eventually lose is a false faith that provides temporary security, belonging, safety—the answers. It is constructed and though it may fit for a time, it is always uncomfortable. If you grow in authenticity or conversely grow in bitterness, this constructed faith starts to break apart like moth-eaten clothing. Until you lose your false faith, lose the need for security, belonging, safety—lose your need for the answers—then you will never find God.

Thus, what is really lost is faith in institutions, faith in religion, faith in work and money, faith in power, faith in family/identity, faith in ideologies, faith in science and progress, faith in politics and politicians, etc. And losing these faiths is good news because these are all idols—false Gods. These must be shed to find the true God, who is already imminently present to all creation. Jesus said, “… the one who loses their life because of me will find it” (Mt 10:39b). This verse could as easily be written: “the one who loses their faith because of me will find it.”

Loss of this false faith is the process of finding yourself, God, and then, of course, finding real faith: saving faith in the Alpha and Omega.

© Paul Dordal, 2019

When Did Christianity Depart From Christ? (Reflection)

Jesus-clears-the-templeWe are human beings. Beautiful, but limited. We interpret the world through myriad filters—biological, social, racial/ethnic, gender, religious, etcetera. Thus, we are imperfect and partial in our understanding of many things, especially history (since we weren’t there; and even if we were, we would still be biased). The quest for spiritual enlightenment or simply spiritual growth—to contribute to the advancement of humanity towards the “Kindom of God”—requires that we unlearn (or at least critique) what we think we know and challenge our understanding of our own and our collective history.

How do we unlearn what we learned about Jesus, the Christ, Christianity, and the Church that is either bad religion or bad history, without losing our faith? First, we have to admit that there was a departure, but even if there was a departure, that the body of evidence is sufficient for saving faith. Thus, the evidence of the Scriptures is reliable, but not all Scripture is prescriptive; some of the Scriptures are merely descriptive. Certainly, due to the limitedness of humanity the departure the “Church” took from Jesus occurred almost immediately after his death. This was due, in part, by the dogmatizing of that which was simply descriptive in the oral tradition.

“The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Ac 11:26) is a well-known Scripture, which seems to suggest that the dogmatic constructs of the first believers were starting to come together very soon after the death of Jesus. (Nevertheless, the original use of the term Christian was likely an epithet and not a term of endearment or classification). These new “Christian” groups believed differently from the Jewish religion from which they sprang.  Hence, the Christian religion began to move away from its Jewish roots quite quickly after Jesus died. This is the first departure since Jesus was, in fact, Jewish. Of course, that is not an inherently negative statement; it’s just a reality.

There was another sharper break, of course, at the Council of Nicaea, which codified the divinity of Jesus, but, for all intents and purposes, left out Jesus’s life and his humanity in its formulations. To their credit the Church quickly wrestled, albeit only intellectually, with Jesus’s humanity at the Council of Chalcedon just seventy years after Nicaea/Constantinople. Unfortunately, to this day the Nicene Creed guides the Church’s core beliefs, whether one believes in creeds or not. (I am tempted to put the texter’s letters LOL at the end of this last sentence.)

Of course, the Reformation (16-17c) and the subsequent era of Enlightenment (17-18c) further intellectualized the Christian religion, not that theologians before then had not already begin to scholasticize the faith (13-14c). The so-called progress of the understanding of the faith to my thinking really moved the followers of Jesus the Christ away from Jesus the man towards an idealized and supernatural version that would be hard to grasp as real. Though I am not anti-intellectual, I am cynical of linear understandings of progress. (Civilization may be the problem, not the solution to the advance of humanity). A quick study of history shows that progress is quite relative and subjective. Yet history, through its limited and dependent communicative voice, generally attempts to classify progress as foundational and objective. History personified believes itself neutral, but it is as compromised and biased as you and I are.

Today, we are so far from Jesus that the average person clearly knows that what we call Christianity, as a whole, is a severe aberration of its origins (or originator). The Scriptures are used like a giant power tool by witting or unwitting Church leaders to maintain a perspective that requires obedience and discourages critique. But, if we are to truly follow the example of Jesus, then it seems, from [hi]story, that one of our main functions as believers is to critique religion—yes, even, critique all history as the instrument of the powerful to control the weak.

So, now the inductive story: I was “doing my devotions” the other day, when I read about Apollos in a conservative Christian daily “inspirational” reading guide. Here is the [hi]story of Apollos from a self-described literal English translation of the Bible: “Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Ac 18:24-28).

The perspective of the reading guide on this particular day was that somehow Apollos was deficient in his understanding of the Lord. He only knew “the baptism of John,” and needed to be corrected to know that Jesus was indeed the spiritual savior of the world—not a leader that would transform the existing world, but a “Christ” who can save some individuals for a future, blissful existence in a far off heaven. Unfortunately, the Jesus who was to transform the existing world failed. Thus, the young Church of Christianity had to transform Jesus into a divine spiritual savior.

John’s baptism, which Jesus also undertook by the way, was a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk 3:3). Hmm, sounds a lot like the baptism of Jesus (though “baptism” post Pentecost, or Jesus’s baptism, is interpreted by most Christian groups to involve the reception of the Holy Spirit to become a “saved” Christian). For many Christians today, Jesus’s baptism is an individual’s ritual sacrament (insurance policy) for entrance into a mythically fulfilled Narnia like heaven after death. I believe we desperately need to recapture John’s baptism if we are going to save the Church!

Poor Apollos! He was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins instead of preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Another spot for the LOL).

The operative phrase that clearly shows the departure of Christianity from Jesus in relation to Apollos was that St. Luke acknowledges that Apollos “was instructed in the way of the Lord,” but not did not understand that Jesus was divine until he began to “powerfully refute the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (my underlines). Apollos repented (changed) from his oppressive, hierarchical worldly ways and followed Jesus the man, the inspiration/model for divine humanity. After his indoctrination by Priscilla and Aquila, early church leaders, Apollos “changed” his Gospel to one focused on the divinity of Christ and personal salvation—and abandoned his Judaism to become a true Christian.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I believe Jesus was and is the Christ. But that is not different than, better than, or a departure from the Jesus who was and is a human. In fact, being able to believe in Christ is a gift from God, but following the way of Jesus is my calling, my duty, my joy and love. I can’t follow the Christ, I can only follow Jesus, the prototype of what it truly means to be human.

Christianity, then, is really just, as the Internet Monk may have coined it many years ago, Churchianity. The Internet Monk seems to have believed that this departure was a post-Reformation event, but clearly, the departure happened immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Thus, Christianity never really departed from Christ, since Christianity is responsible for the creation of Christ.

The reality, or the unlearning that has to take place, is that Christianity is itself the departure from Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2019

Yo Soy: La Lucha Sigue

BessettI met a guy recently, and after a few minutes of chit chat about the weather and what ham rig he was running, I asked, like many Westerners might, “What do you do?”  He replied, “I am a farmer.” I immediately thought to myself, quite judgmentally, “No, you are not! I asked you what you do, not what you erroneously think your identity is.” But what came out of my mouth was, “Wow. That’s cool. I’m a city boy.”

Inauthentic much?

In my vocation as a priest, I have always resisted the theologically deduced notion that my nature was somehow changed at ordination, that somehow, miraculously, I became a priest, separate and distinct from other humans. Now, I do believe that being a priest or a farmer or whatever we do is a part of our identities and that we have many other unique aspects to our selves. But isn’t there a real danger that these distinct parts of our understood identity have the tendency to alienate us from our truer selves and also others? That is, haven’t we moved so far beyond our commonly understood interconnected humanity and allowed ourselves to be individually commodified primarily through the hierarchical, patriarchal, racist, and homophobic economic, political, and technological systems which we ourselves have constructed? So, we late-stage capitalist humans have become things and roles and titles and fans and extreme otherness.

Thus, I am a father and husband, a Nuyorican, a Windows/Android guy (who really doesn’t get all those Apple people), a combat Veteran who is an anti-war activist, a ham radio enthusiast, a homeowner (really?), a Mets/Jets/Islanders fan, and though I am straight I have sometimes felt zigzagged, and oh yeah, I am a doctor, a doctor of ministry, no I am a Chaplain, no, I am a priest who is a Chaplain, no, I am the, Grand Poobah, the Chief of Chaplain Services of a large healthcare system.  I could go on and never really answer the question:

Who am I?

This is the question I asked of all the intern/resident Chaplains when I was teaching chaplain classes at the hospital. I would have them write a “Who Am I” one-page paper, and then I would critique what they wrote, saying it was all just pedestrian inanities; where’s the emotion, where’s the humanity, where’s the spirituality? And of course, I could say that I was a confused follower of Jesus, a mostly sad and angry, but grateful, joyful and peaceful broken soul in search of God, and still not get it. The escape hatch might read: “Go Thru Here: I am complex and evolving.” Still pulling levers and making smoke behind the curtain.

So, who does God want you or me to be or say that we are? It is the same question Moses asked of God: Who should I say has sent me? God wants you and I to be who God is: simply, I am. When someone asks you who you are, tell them, “I am.”

Not so easy, huh? Ridiculous even? I know, no one is ever gonna say that. How bourgeois of me to even think about such things? While most of the world is sunk in an intense struggle of either life and death or merely surviving, I would have us asking elitist questions of ultimate existence.

Yet, God does want us to not only recognize, but also to appropriate and to live out that we are, in fact, divine beings and interconnected to all that is. That, at our best, We are. When we can actually become who we were created to be, then the fullest expression of who we are will be the fullest expression of who God is: Love.

Now, I know that I am not Love, but that I am meant to be Love. Nevertheless, the Evil One, who is in the world, is a liar and trickster that tempts us away from who we truly are.  Our whole world system is militating against us from becoming who we are, commodifying us through the death cult of so-called “free-market” capitalism. Knowing and becoming the gods that we truly are will destroy the evil world system.

This is the ongoing struggle we are called to.

That’s why when Jesus only intimated that he was God and that others were too, the opponents of Jesus tried to stone him (John 10:31-35). And when the empire and their co-opted religious puppets convinced themselves that even though Jesus wouldn’t come out and say that he was God, because for others to grasp such a thing is, oh so, difficult, they crucified him anyway. It is a real threat against power for ordinary people to begin to think that they are gods, much less empower them to become who they truly are.

Sorry, Jesus. We can’t be havin’ that.

But wait. Up from the grave, Jesus rose from the dead, because “I am” can never die. The struggle must continue.

And so God says to you and me, “I, the Lord God, say that all of you are gods; now go on and tell all the peoples of the world to become who they are—to immerse themselves in their godness” (Ps 82:6a; Matt 28:19). Sigue!

© Paul Dordal, 2019

Glaucon In The Cave

(I wrote this in 1997 and it appeared in the Nyack College Journal of Literature and Art)

THE END

The Cave

He had lost his taste for religion following his parent’s divorce, but not his desire for the knowledge of the truth.  Because of this and the many confusing and disturbing things that seemed to occur in the lives of average men, our young man, after he had grown a little older, undertook to discover the ultimate purpose of life.  There could be any number of reasons why he wanted to accomplish such a task, but I don’t think it was merely because he had a difficult upbringing or a hard time relating to his parents.  Anyway,  couldn’t that be said of most young men of his generation? Back then society and culture were changing radically and even the national institutions were in danger of collapse, and though there seemed to be great progress being made in the sciences and the arts, more questions were arising than were being answered.   Many young people began looking for new ways to understand the complexities of life.  And there were plenty of options:  LSD and other mind-bending drugs were being taken by many hoping to experience alternate realities, and all sorts of gurus and cults were springing up claiming to hold the secrets of life.  Some of these things interested our young man (he indulged in much experimentation), but he thought that if he could simply exercise the power of his brain in some minimalistic way, he could discover a truth that would appeal to everyone, but more selfishly himself.  If he could somehow reduce his thought processes to a rudimentary state,  he was sure he could get at the complete objective truth.  Because he believed that no one up to then had made the elusive discovery, he was a bit overwhelmed with the journey he was about to embark.  His first order of business, he reasoned, was to debunk all the new age gurus, pluralists, and so-called mystics.  He didn’t intend to do this because he was positive they were all wrong, but, because he heard the Truth say,  “Beloved, don’t put any stock in all these phonies, but test their spirits to see whether they are true because many false prophets are coming into the world.”

Not long after he decided to attempt to understand the holistic truth of life, he enrolled in a local college to study the great minds of old.  Shortly thereafter he found himself surrounded by many intellectual types, or more likely, individuals who promoted themselves as intellectuals.  Unlike those days when only a few people went to college, now a multitude considered themselves members of the intelligentsia. This new group considered all those who stayed away from higher education (read: blue-collar, poor, or disenfranchised) to be inferior and incapable of comprehending the finer aspects of life or its meaning.  But soon the young man realized that even the professors were just an assemblage of affected misfits who were only seeking to be praised for their clever ability to spew scholarly clichés rather than come up with any great insights of their own.  He then deduced that many of the people outside the hallowed halls of the university were probably naturally wiser than the pseudo-intellectuals.  Later on, he decided it would probably be best not to study under these merely mortal men, but return to his original hypotheses of conceiving a whole new philosophy based on some primordial knowledge.  Once again he pondered how dangerous this would be, because if he used just his mind (and nothing else) to conceive the truth and then attempted to express himself publicly or publish his opinions on the subjects of epistemology, cosmology, metaphysics and the like, wouldn’t he most likely be accused of plagiarism or, even worse, cerebral naiveté?  He knew he would be reinventing the wheel to some degree as it applied to truths that had already been discovered.  But, again, it wasn’t his a priori discernment or some empirical investigation which taught him this.   It was the Truth, who, in a still, small voice said to him: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new for you to unearth.”

Unfortunately, this young man was like so many other young men of that generation. They believed that philosophy alone held the keys to human existence.   He often times asked of his co-sojourners: “What is life worth living if there’s no readily understandable purpose to that life?”  That question just about plowed him under with its burden.  Yet, once more, the Truth whispered in his ear:  “… Let me give you some advice:  Don’t talk to these men anymore!  Because if they think they are going to find the Truth simply with their minds, they are surely going to fail.”

Since he had decided not to completely remove himself from societies influences, averting other philosophers and thinkers would prove to be quite the impossible task.   After a short time, while on his journey of truth, he found himself, much to his chagrin, firmly entrenched within his own small group of illuminati. Due to his almost casual refutations of the great philosophers, he became highly regarded amongst his pretentious circle of sophists.  He quickly received an enviable reputation amid his peers as a unique mind who was seeking after all the truths which life might offer.  He really didn’t say much at all though, but it was on those rare occasions when he did speak that he came by his prominence.  Or maybe it was his pained misunderstandings, and not at all any great profession of knowledge that won him such notoriety.  Nevertheless, he portrayed himself as pitiable, because he knew he was still light years away from the Truth which he desperately wished to acquire.

Indeed he was pitiable.  He soon took again to drinking heavily and indulging in mind-altering drugs, but this time not to satisfy the curiosity of its para-philosophical possibilities, but simply to escape the brutal experience of his own lostness and his utter aloneness.  He surrounded himself with other cynical savants who drowned their sense of inadequacy in a bottle or a pill.  They all knew that their behavior would be their undoing, but they dared not speak about it.  They were weak, spineless creatures, but their false pride kept them from taking their own lives.  Their shame was that they claimed life was ultimately meaningless, but they were too afraid to support their views with an appropriate action.   Yet isn’t it the same as suicide to treat your body with such contempt, that surely death comes quicker to your door than to others?  Still, the Truth continued to speak to him saying,  “… pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

And our young man’s excesses would finally catch up to him on one particular night of debauchery and luxuriance.  Dejected and unsatisfied again, he stumbled into his apartment and promptly fell flat on his face.  That night he had a dream, and soon he was the dream, and the dream became reality.  Then he seemed to awake in complete darkness. It was so dark he couldn’t see his own hand in front of his eyes.  If he had ever felt alone before, now he knew what being alone truly was like.  He sensed himself completely separated from existence itself.  This must be hell, he presumed.  He tried to run, but his fear made him trip over his feet.  Then he remembered something he read in a book as a child, “The way of the lost is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”  Now, with surprising abruptness, the Truth spoke in a clear voice as if He was right there with him:  “… I will go back to my secret place until you admit your wrongs.  And then you will seek My face; in your misery, you will really seek Me.”

In utter fear and without knowledge of whom he spoke our young man cried out,  “Forgive me, Sir!  I had heard about You, but I wanted to be like You.  Save me from my transgressions; do not embarrass me in front of my foolish friends.” There was no immediate answer from the Truth, but all at once the young man was lifted up and brought into a cave, and still, there was no light at all.  “Glaucon,” the Truth spoke to him, “remember the teachings of your dear old friend and mentor”:

———————————————————-

Behold! Can you see people living in an underground cave, which has an opening toward the light, which reaches into the length of the cave; they have been here since they were children, and  their legs and necks have been chained so that they cannot move, and they can only see in front of themselves, because the chains prevent them from turning their heads around. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and if you look carefully you will also see a low wall built along the way, like the screen which puppeteers have in front of them, over which they manipulate the puppets.

I see, replied Glaucon, who is our young man, talking to his long lost mentor.

And can you see, he asked, men, walking back and forth in front of the wall carrying all sorts of artifacts, statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and other materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others don’t speak at all.

You have shown me a strange sight, and they are bizarre prisoners, Glaucon answered.

One of them is you Glaucon, his friend replied; and you can only see your own shadow, or the shadows of the other prisoners, which the fire projects on the opposite wall of the cave.  The Truth again whispered into Glaucon’s ear in the cave:  “He is revealing the deep things of darkness and he brings deep shadows into the light.”

How could I see anything but the shadows if I can’t move my head? Glaucon protested, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Without answering him, his friend asked another question, And what if you were able to talk with your fellow prisoners, wouldn’t you try to make sense of what you saw in the shadows?

I suppose we would, Glaucon said, wondering if he was answering correctly.  After each time his old friend spoke, Glaucon waited a while for the Truth’s voice.

And now try to imagine if the prison had an echo which came from the outside, wouldn’t you think that when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which you heard came from a moving shadow?

No question, Glaucon replied.

To you, I say, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

Absolutely, Glaucon answered, now feeling his wits being restored.  And when his intellectual pride returned so did the Truth saying, “These are only a shadow of the things that are to come…”

And now take another look, and imagine what would happen if you were released and disabused of your wrong thinking. At first, when you were liberated and compelled suddenly to get up and turn your head around, then walk and look toward the light, you would suffer sharp pains all throughout your body; the light would distress you, and you wouldn’t be able to see the truths of which in your previous reality you had only seen shadows; and then you would hear someone say to you, what you experienced before was just an illusion, but now that you are coming nearer to the light and your eyes are tuned into the real existence, you will have a clearer vision.  What would you say to this person?

“Though I was living in darkness, I have seen a great light; I was living in the land of the shadow of death, but a new light has dawned,” Glaucon replied, not recognizing his own words!

To that his friend said, You have seen the Truth, and not mere reflections of Him in the water, but you see Him in His proper place; and now you will contemplate Him as He is.

Certainly, Glaucon exuberantly replied.

Will you not now argue that this is the One who gives the season and the years, and is the Guardian of all that is in the visible and invisible world, and in all ways the cause of all things? his mentor asked.

Clearly, Glaucon answered, I would first see the Truth and then reason about Him.

And just then the Truth, satisfied that our young man understood this teaching, appeared in all His Glory and spoke to Glaucon’s heart saying, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  While I am in the world I am the light of the world. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become a son of light.”

Glaucon’s friend returned, spoke again asking, When you remember your old way of life, and the wisdom of your fellow prisoners, will you not be thankful for your new knowledge and pity them?  Will you not also say with Homer, “It is better to be the poor servant of a poor master,” and endure anything, rather than think as they do and live like they do? 

To this Glaucon related, Yes, surely I would rather suffer anything than believe what I used to believe and live the life I used to live.

Imagine, his friend queried, that you are suddenly no longer in the presence of the Light and you are sent back to the cave, wouldn’t you certainly have your eyes filled with darkness again? 

Shuttering at the thought of his friend’s question, Glaucon cried out, “For the sake of Your name, O Lord, forgive my trespasses, though they be many.” Our young man, now trembling on his knees, looked up at the Truth and pleaded, “I have been a slave in this cave my entire life!  What must I do to be free of the darkness that has overtaken me?”

Then, just before Glaucon physically awoke, the Truth spoke to him and proclaimed, “If you do as my teachings say, then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”

———————————————————-

            Glaucon leaped out of his bed, got dressed, and ran towards the bar where he had spent the previous night and loudly announced to all of his friends, “Listen to me, I want to tell you about a man who told me everything I ever did. I am sure that this man is the Truth we have been searching for?” His drinking buddies stared blankly at the young man not really knowing if he was the same person that they were with just the night before.  Then one of the professors from the college asked, “My dear boy, have you seen a ghost?  You are glowing like a candle.”

So he started to teach the men in the bar:  “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand it.  I am speaking to you as a witness, testifying concerning that light, so that hopefully through me you might believe. I myself am not the light; I’m only here as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man has already come into the world.”

The men proceeded to ask our young man many questions about the Truth, but it was a little boy, eating dinner with his parents at a nearby table, who had overheard the talk of this wonderful man, and asked quite innocently, “So what was the Truth’s name?  Did He have a name!?”  “His name is Jesus,” our young man emphatically replied. Then the little boy filled with the knowledge of the Truth looked up to the heavens and exclaimed, “Praise the Name of the Truth!  Praise the Name of Jesus! The Name that is above every Name!” And soon after our young man spread the good news of his visions, many believed and came to know the Truth as well.

THE BEGINNING

(c) Paul Dordal, 1997

Getting Up In The Morning (A Stream of Reflection)

why get upWhen I get up in the morning, I don’t hit the snooze button. I rarely hesitate about getting up. It’s not that there are times I don’t want to get up right then and there. It’s just that I know that it is time to get up. So, I do. [glad].

With the advent of smartphones, I am sure I am not the only one who looks at their neo-idiot-box first thing after waking, much like when I was a smoker and lit up as my first ritualistic morning activity. What do I look at? First my emails, then Facebook, and then CNN. Then I get out of bed. I guess some marketer will be happy to hear that. I am hooked like so many others. Someday, maybe, I’ll throw that fucking “stupid” phone in the garbage where it belongs. [anger]. But for now, at least, I am human, and average, and weak, like so many others living in a self-imposed, but externally built, prison of “needing” to “know” something first thing in the morning. Did I miss something in the last eight hours? No. Nothing’s happened. Thus far some “thing” has only happened a smattering of times in my almost fifty-five years of existence. [fear].

Mostly I get up when the alarm clock goes off because I need to pee. But why not go back to bed, even for a few minutes more, or call in sick? I have tons of sick time saved up. [sad].

I get into my bed at around 10:15 or 10:30 most nights, with the thought that I will get eight hours of sleep, which I won’t because I usually need a half an hour to fall asleep, and I pee at least twice or three times a night. Damn prostate. Damn aging process. [anger]. But I like to think that my sleep routine is very healthy, getting up regularly at 6:15 or 6:30 in the morning.

One of the things I have noticed recently is that the moment I turn off the lights to go to sleep, after checking the weather app on the stupid phone, putting my earplugs in, and pulling the comforter up to my neck, I experience a significant mystical grace. I sigh long and gratefully at the very moment my body is cocooned under the covers. It just feels so good, so peaceful. Are there better words to describe it? Sure, but you have probably felt it too. What does it feel like to you?

Often, when I begin to close my eyes, I reflect on other moments of mystical grace, sometimes in the shower with the steaming hot water beating lovingly on my back, sometimes on the crapper when it actually feels good to shit, [anger at some of you for not liking my using “bad” words], sometimes eating full-flavored food that I haven’t eaten in a while, sometimes looking at pictures of my children when they were really little (or seeing their child-like God-beauty now in their teens), sometimes holding my wife’s hand or feeling her lightly rub my back, or oftentimes when I am listening to music, really listening to it, and imagining I am playing it on a piano in a bar with a lot of sad people drinking dry red wine which explodes like gentle Pop-rocks® on the palette. (I used to drink wine). [love]. I think you get it. There are times when these grace moments are just really real. They are spiritual moments, in which the material world is intentionally interrupted by angelic fairy dust.

But even so, those moments are not the reason I get up in the morning. I’d like to think that I get up in the morning because it is not fair that I get to have angelic fairy dust moments regularly in my life and millions, maybe billions do not. In my self-righteous, morally superior inauthenticity, I believe I wake up in the morning to struggle on behalf of the poor and downtrodden, the marginalized and the oppressed. Maybe so. Maybe even altruistically so. But it is just not so, not completely, at least. [sad].

The reason I get up in the morning may have to do more with shame and guilt or pride or something not so bright, but not so shadowy either. Maybe it’s filial piety. I have responsibilities to my wife and children. I covenantally married her and brought our kids (half-way, I suppose) into the world. That’s noble and true, but it’s not on my mind, or, at least, not on my conscious mind when I get up. I know and am certain, that I am not like others who get up simply because there is an animal instinct to get up—to simply survive. But, because I don’t like the sound of that, it must be at least partially true. There are members of my meandering family who just get up every day. And like the existentialists of the mid-twentieth century, I sometimes ask why don’t they just kill themselves. For millions and billions of people, there is just no reason to wake up. [very sad; depressed?].

Ah, but love. Love gets us up, doesn’t it? [disgust]. No, I do believe love is real. It is also angelic fairy dust. It is also God. But what is it? Why can’t I reproduce it more consistently? The mystics write about it all the time, but much of those writings feel like a novel to me. So, I call bullshit on a lot of it. [anger]. Not because I haven’t experienced love or I can’t experience it now or develop more of it, but because I probably have a mental illness, but maybe not. Maybe I just want to avoid the experience of pain like every other fucking bourgeois American. [sad].

Do you like or love your job? Good for you. [disgust]. That’s probably why you get up in the morning (maybe you’re a drone). I don’t mind my job. I don’t love it, that’s for sure. I need it, for goodness sake, even if the boss supposedly needs me more than I need him. I know I am, as Karl Marx noted, primarily, a homo-faber, a working-man, but in this post-apocalyptic technological age, it just isn’t easy to see how going to work eight hours a day, forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year, and 2,500 weeks a lifetime is a motivating reason to get up every day. Talk about a fucking prison. [anger]. But, since I know I “have to” go to work, I do get up. Yet, I don’t live to work.

So, what about on my days off. Why don’t I just stay in bed for two days a week?

I like doing the crossword. [Read this sentence embarrassed with an inflection going up towards the end of the sentence].

I like the online USA Today crossword because it’s timed. When I am focused and centered—mindful—I can do it in five to seven minutes. When I am stressed, distracted, or worried it’ll take me ten or twelve. It usually takes me eight to nine minutes. I actually consciously think about doing the crossword when I get up on my two days off. [glad]. Senseless and pure! Coffee works the same way for me on my days off. I get to drink it in a ceramic mug, instead of my metallic (tasting) travel carafe, I use on work days. [glad].

Nevertheless, when I see you in the morning (any you, but especially if you are a you I know), I am genuinely happy to see you. I will greet you with a hearty good morning, and I mean it. You make me feel, maybe not like dancing, but at least legitimately alive. [love]

There is also a weird “feeling” piece to getting up, maybe a huge piece of the puzzle, I just can’t finger it, that provides me an ontologically motivating understanding that human existence is itself a struggle worth living. [What?].

Curiosity may kill the proverbial cat, but I know curiosity gives birth and zoe life to the human soul. The struggle is for the harder questions that remain, the fleeting question of love, the utopian question of justice—just the fucking questions are good enough, damn it—being filled with anger, passion, shame, guilt, sadness, love—all the moral emotions that drive the bus to the next stop on a journey that must be going somewhere. It must be. I just know it. God. [anger]. [love]. [peace]. [joy].

And I am going to get up and get on that bus every morning. Even if I don’t know where it is going. [peace].

© Paul Dordal, 2019

Waterfalls of Grace and Truth (Reflection)

WaterfallIn both politics and religion (and certainly the physical sciences, but not just these) truth is seen as the arbiter between good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice, etc. Yet, shouldn’t we admit that truth in both politics and religion is very fragile. Though objective truth is pursued and often claimed by religious doctrinaires or political pundits, history has shown that it has rarely been achieved. The belief in objective truth, in theory, may be quite reasonable, but humanity’s ability to grasp it is fleeting. Thus, claiming that the truth is the only important thing in politics or religion could easily turn a noble person into a tyrant. When objective truth is claimed in politics or religion, even the meekest of persons can be directly or indirectly a party to all kinds of immoral acts of violence and oppression.

One of my favorite verses about God in Christ says, “And then God became human … full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). The essence of God is a full measure of both truth and grace. For humanity to evolve into empathetic beings that emulate God, the dialectical antithesis of one truth cannot be another truth, but instead must be grace. Do we really believe that we can synthesize opposing truths into greater truths? No, spiritual and material evolution require a revolutionary synthesis of truth and grace. Without grace, truth does not set people free but instead enslaves and oppresses them, while damning the person wielding truth as a weapon over others.

There is a great story told by Mark Cobb as remembered by John Swinton which exemplifies what I am trying to convey: “Imagine yourself walking through a deep, dense wood. You are surrounded by beautiful, luscious foliage; the constantly changing aromas of the rich shrubbery makes your head swirl. Suddenly, you reach a clearing. Right in the center of the clearing is a beautiful stream headed up by a magnificent waterfall. You stand and watch in awe at the mystery and wonder of the waterfall. Multiple rainbows dance across the glistening surface of the water. The sound of the water, the taste of the spray, the sight of the magnificence, and the power of the waterfall touches you in inexpressible places and brings you into contact with a dimension of experience which you can’t quite articulate. Eventually, your gaze of wonder begins to change as your curious side clicks into action: ‘What is this thing called a waterfall? ‘What is it made of?’ ‘Why does it have such an effect on me?’  “So, you pick up a bucket and scoop some of the water from the falls. You look into the bucket, but something has changed. The water is technically the same substance in each setting: H2O. It remains a vital constituent of your life; you need it to live and without it you will perish. Yet, something has been lost in the movement from the waterfall to the bucket. In your attempts to break it down, analyze, and explain what it really is, the mystery and awe of the waterfall is left behind.”[i]

What is the truth of H2O, the beautiful waterfall or the life-giving waters in the bucket?

For the sake of our own well-being and the well-being of other humans and the cosmos, could we each take a step back from all that we think we know to be factual about politics and/or religion and admit that without a full measure of grace we are the problem in our world and not the solution?

Grace is the waterfall; the water-bucket is the truth. We don’t have to choose truth over grace, but we can choose to hold both in glorious tension.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

[i] John Swinton, “Healthcare spirituality: a question of knowledge” in the Oxford Textbook of Spirituality in Healthcare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, p99.

Reformation, Revolution, and Resurrection (An Advent Reflection)

ArtistI had a couple of interesting and intersecting conversations yesterday with different folk. One group of folks were Christians who I meet with regularly to discuss the contemplative or mystical way of faith and the other group was a newly formed anarchist group working to return joy and laughter to organizing for a new society.

In the first conversation with the mystics, we were talking about the need for a whole new way of being the Church. One of our members recounted that he had been approached by someone who said that the Church was in need of another great reformation. His response was, “What the Church needs is a great resurrection.” In the second conversation, the group wrestled with the need of immediate reforms to assist the severely oppressed and marginalized while never losing sight of the revolutionary theory, tactics, and outcomes that are required for a whole new society to be realized.

All of this talk of revolution and resurrection frightens many people, both the weak and the strong, both the oppressed and the oppressors. What most people think they want is stability and certainty: homeostasis. Yet, normal life is filled with instability and uncertainty. In politics, hierarchal rulers enact powerful laws (violence) to maintain homeostasis, mostly for the benefit of the elite and the rich. In religion, hierarchies, theologies, and liturgies are rigidly structured and enforced, again primarily to the benefit of the elite (who write the theologies and liturgies).

When a societal or economic crisis occurs, which must happen because of the dynamic, chaotic reality of life, the common (“working class”) folk are usually most afflicted. The rich and powerful rarely suffer, because, frankly, it doesn’t hurt to lose millions when you still have millions. Thus, when the poor or disenfranchised demand redress, depending on the severity of the crisis and the response, those in power will sometimes offer a reform which doesn’t alter the fundamentally unequal or oppressive system. These reforms almost always placate the people until the next crisis.

The recent situation in France is a good example. The people power expressed in the streets caused the ruling elite to offer reforms and, unfortunately, then the protests died down. The collective memory of common folk is extremely short. They forget that unless they go all the way to revolution they will continue to be oppressed and suffer. Reforms rarely do anything but return the unjust system to an ostensible form of homeostasis.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote in 1899, “He who pronounces himself in favor of legal reforms in place of and as opposed to the conquest of political power and social revolution does not really choose a more tranquil, surer and slower road to the same goal. He chooses a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new social order, he takes a stand for surface modifications of the old order.”

The miraculous entrance of Jesus into the world scene was a revolutionary act by God, not to reform the broken world piecemeal, but to fundamentally change the trajectory of evolution in order to recreate individuals and society into God’s image (re-evolution). Radical love and joy entered our world in a new way. When Jesus began his ministry, it was to announce to the world the need to repent—to make a revolutionary 180-degree change from the direction it was going. This was not a reform; not a tweak; not some new legislation. God came to us and said you are going in the wrong direction: the direction of law, of othering, of war, of disintegration. We must turn around to the direction of love, of empathy, of peace, and of intersubjectivity.

Jesus was incarnated into the world to die, yes, but not only to atone for the violence of sin but primarily to prefiguratively embody that life is essentially a series of deaths and resurrections. Chaos and order, death and resurrection, suffering and joy are the alternating contexts of life.  We must enter the darkness to see the greater light.  A revolution requires us to die to self, both individually and collectively as a society.  Revolution is the ongoing dialectic of death and resurrection.

This is why Nicodemus can’t even see the Kin-dom of Heaven unless he is resurrected (born-again) into revolutionary mysticism (Jn 3:1-3). Nicodemus must repent, leave his group of elite Pharisees, even leave his family and its oppressive belief structures, leave his old-life of hierarchical relationships, and embark on a frightening, suffering, but life-giving journey of revolutionary praxis. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate their own parents, their spouse and children, their brothers and sisters, and even their own life, they cannot be my follower” (Lk 14:26).

This is the way of Jesus. This Advent Season walk in the way of Jesus, born on Christmas Day and reborn every day in the revolutionary Christian.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Possessed By My Possessions (Reflection)

PrisonProperty Is Idolatry
Recently, I saw a pithy quote on Facebook that proposed that, in order for us to survive as a human race, we must identify the root cause of all the violence in our world. My comment (which I rarely do on Facebook) was one word: “property.”

I love my property. I have an inalienable right, according to the Constitution, to my property. I love my car, my computer, my house (which actually belongs to both the bank and the state). I love all my stuff. I am an idolater. I love objects! I am possessed by my possessions. The demon god of Mammon controls me. This is, I have discovered, most definitely, my worst “sin.”

I want to repent, I do, but I have swallowed the key that opens the prison door of materialism which I have constructed. And the evil system of capitalism, which presents itself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14), supported by institutional religion, ensures that I have a very limited ability to retrieve that key and set myself free. Capitalism has given you and I the tools to construct our property prisons, just like a drug dealer gives an unsuspecting person the drugs that addict them.

Property Is Theft
Not only is my love of property a mortal sin of idolatry, which keeps me from intimate relationships with God and people, it also clearly violates the seventh commandment, which states “Thou shall not steal.” But how is simply owning property thievery?  The great saints of old were clear in their thinking:

St. Basil asked, “And you, are you not greedy? Are you not a robber? When someone steals a man’s clothes, we call him a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not?” St. Ambrose said, “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.” St. Jerome said, “Tell me, how is it that you are rich? From whom did you receive it? The rich person is either an unjust person or the heir of one. Do not say ‘I am spending what is mine; I am enjoying what is mine.’ In reality it is not yours, but another’s.” “St. Chrysostom said, “There is not mine and thine, but this expression is exterminated, that is a cause of countless wars.”

Over a thousand years later, political theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, would ask famously, “What is property?” To which he answered unequivocally, “Property is theft.”

People Are Not Property
Turning around the order of Proudhon’s thinking, where he stated that property is theft, he first said that the ownership of people (or slavery) is murder. People are not property. And here is another commandment I have broken and area where I must be set free.

The psalmist proclaimed this solemn truth: “The universe is the Lord’s and the fullness of it all, and all who inhabit it” (Ps 24:1). The process of setting myself free from property, from my idolatry, thievery, and murder includes setting free those people I think I own: “my” wife, “my” children, “my” staff, “my” ethnic group, etc. People are not objects, they are free souls who should not be controlled. The desire to possess or control people is the essence of pathological co-dependency. Interdependent folks view others as they see themselves: fully free and dignified in their sacred personhood, needing one another to become their fullest and most true selves. Our cultural language (which determines, to a great extent, how we live) of possession as it relates to our relationships will need to change for us to be free from our desire to control one another.

Thus, it is not surprising that Jesus proclaimed, “In order to find your true self, you must lose your false self” (Jn 12:25).

Nothing Left To Lose
If it is “for freedom, that Christ has set us free” (Ga 5:1), then the words of Janis Joplin must also ring true: “Freedom’s just another word, for nothing left to lose.” When we have no property, nothing left to lose, then we become free. Instead of fighting for our right to own property, we ought to fight to release ourselves and others from that which possesses us: our possessions.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

True Leadership Is Followership (Reflection)

#4 - Incarnation of LeaderDo Not Be Called Leaders
Did you know there is actually very little written in the Bible supporting hierarchical human leadership? In fact, Jesus was extremely cautious about, if not totally opposed to, humans having power over other humans: “Do not be called leaders…” (Mt 23:10).

In spite of this, a cottage industry of leadership resources has been produced by U.S. “Christian” publishers to develop, train, and multiply hierarchical leaders (not to mention the myriad leadership books published by “secular” booksellers.)  Ironically, I too wrote a leadership book called The Great Commandment Leader (2011). However, my book focuses much more on being a servant than being a leader, and my second book, In Search of Jesus the Anarchist (2017), further calls for the dismantling of the systems that create the sinful divide between leader and follower.

Over the last fifteen years or so I have tried to emphasize a new way of organizing life and society that promotes a leadership structure that is similar to the upside-down triangle popularized by various “servant leadership” models. Unfortunately, most of the servant models I have seen focus on individual leadership style changes, and not on transforming societies. Simply put, Western education and Christianity does not really teach a servant leadership or followership model of societal or economic life. So, what might it look like if we taught followership instead of leadership? Could we have a course (or, better yet, a course of study) called “Followership Studies?” Maybe there is one, but I have not seen it (and even the many new books on followership don’t address the misguided systemic hierarchical construction of almost all of our social and cultural institutions).

Thus, if I were to develop a course on followership, the outline might be something like: (1) Follow Down: An Incarnational/Non-Hierarchical Model (self-emptying); (2) Follow Up: Multi-Level Communication (self-sacrificing); and, (3) Follow Through: Finishing Well (self-denying). Though these three topics could engender a lot of sub-topics, my reflections today are on just a few overarching ideas.

Follow-Down
In my book on leadership, I challenged the prevailing definition of leadership as influence. Though, I do not necessarily say that “leadership as influence” was wrong, but how that influence was applied. For most leadership authors, influence is defined as the process of how a leader uses his power, privilege, and resources to get others to do what the leader or the organization thinks is best. My definition flipped the script and said that leadership is incarnational—it is the giving away of the leader’s power, privilege, and resources to enable followers to become leaders themselves. Jesus said, in reference to his followers, “Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.” (Lk 6:40, HCSB).

Follow-Up
So, Follow-Down is the humble (down-to-earth) movement towards recreating a society of equal and dignified human beings through self-emptying. Follow-Up, then, is the process by which people continually divest themselves of their privilege and resources through self-sacrificing for the sake of others. Unfortunately, the top-down, hierarchical, and neo-liberal capitalist system will always reassert itself, because that is how it is designed. Thus, the new flat/non-hierarchical society must be fought for continually; it must be perpetually communicated (followed-up) in different ways, primarily through loving, self-sacrificing actions matched with repeated words (e.g. Repent, the Kin-dom of God is near”). Jesus was the exemplary teacher/healer in this regard.  Like Jesus, we must follow-up with a ceaseless demonstration of the Good News of God’s Kin-Dom for all people.

Follow-Through
Lastly, as we incarnate by following down, and follow-up through a demonstrable program of the Gospel, then we follow-through by being consistent with our program of societal change. Accordingly, we recognize, as fundamental, that the oppressed and the poor will not follow if we do not follow-through. And by following-through, I am talking about knowing that we as “servant-leaders” are called to die to self (self-denying), not once in some mystical way, but through continually dying to self so that others may live. This can only be done through the Spirit of Christ coursing through our very being.

Final Thoughts
I have to admit that I don’t do this well. I am a work-in-progress. This is partly due to my own psychology and familial/cultural influences. Nevertheless, I refuse to beat myself up and see myself as the primary problem when the entire system of hierarchy, competition, and power that we all have been raised and currently live in (neo-liberal capitalism and hierarchical church systems) is opposed to what Jesus called for in his inauguration of the Kin-dom of God.

Thus, my emphasis now on followership focuses more on the societal possibilities of Jesus’s incarnational model. And though it may seem that this idea is not possible, that, overwhelmingly, people are always going to be followers and not desirous of leadership, even if this is true in our current reality, it is not true of human potential. Jesus’s Kin-dom of God, or what I have called the Commonweal of Love, is not unrealistic, it is simply focused on the potential of humanity, not on its current oppressed state.

A life full of meaning will be marked by our struggle for fulfilling our own potential as individual human beings and our struggle for a society where all people can fulfill their potential in intersubjective and interdependent mutuality.

© Paul Dordal, 2018