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

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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

Anti-War Is Not Enough (Reflection)

Anti-Imperialist Button 1900I served thirteen years in the U.S. Army, including a consciousness-altering year of combat in Iraq.  Upon my return in 2010, I began the process of becoming an outspoken critic of war, especially U.S. wars. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1946, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Yet, since re-engaging my anti-war activism I have discovered that hating war and being against violence is not enough. Because the causes of war are systemic, our whole way of organizing political and social life must change if we are ever really going to end war.

I know I am preaching to the choir when I repeat the immortal words of Jane Addams that “True peace is not the absence of war; it is the presence of justice.” This presence of justice, of course, can only be achieved when neo-liberal capitalist political, social, and economic systems, which create the impetus and machinery for war and the domination and subjugation of “weaker” peoples, are replaced by more equitable, human needs-based systems. Thus, true peace can only be established, not by simply holding a moral stance opposing war or witnessing to end violence, but by the more active engagement of joining the fight against imperialism—of intentionally opposing the neo-liberal capitalist system of the United States empire.

Recently, I have experienced pushback from some anti-war allies when I call for the expanded use of the term anti-imperialism. They say that the average person cannot understand the complexities of anti-imperialism.  Yet, this elitist position contributes to conflating instances of war with the systems that cause war, which keeps the anti-war movement in an infantile position where it doesn’t experience much success in thwarting or ending actual wars.

When I use the term imperialism, I mean when states, especially the United States, its allies, and their finance-capitalist handlers, attempt through huge corporate monopolies to exploit the resources of weaker nations.  Michael Parenti defines imperialism as “the process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials, and markets of another people.” If the weaker nations do not submit to the imperialist’s expropriation, then various forms of violence (military interventions, sanctions, blockades, etc.) are used to keep them in line or to punish them. In the U.S. where there is a significant labor aristocracy (a large so-called “middle class”) the imperialist system is seen as beneficial for the “majority” and thus must be maintained by scapegoating any nation or people group that is opposed to the imperialist’s will (through racism, xenophobia, sexism, historical revisionism, etc.).

As a Christian and an Eastern-Rite priest I have come to understand the evil of imperialism not simply through my experiences in war or even studying political theory, but also through the Scriptures which are clear about God’s opposition to the oppression of the poor, violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, and capitalistic greed. The church is complicit with the imperialists when it does not stand in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, not just in our own backyards or communities, but also with those around the world. If the church is not the church of the poor and the marginalized but supports the neo-liberal capitalist status quo, then it is not the church of God. It is part of the empire.

Nevertheless, being an anti-imperialist cannot only be based on a metaphysically derived moral position or personal experience. It must be based on the concrete needs of all people to live in safety and have their needs met in interdependent communities of mutuality. The anti-imperialist position is one that is also understood through scientific study, which empirically shows that our humanity and our planet are sustainable only through cooperation, not “free-market” competition (the basis of neo-liberal capitalism). Thus, anti-imperialists promote the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of all of life. Anti-imperialists oppose racism, patriarchy, sexism, fascism, homophobia, and anything that undermines the dignity of the human person and the environment where we live. Being an anti-imperialist is to stand for and with the worker, the tenant, the immigrant, the transgendered person—all marginalized people—and for the protection of our sacred environment.

So, simply being anti-war is only the first step in coming to understand the more mature and intersectional anti-imperialist stance, which is the true basis of an effective mass-movement for peace and justice.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2018

Intersubjectivity (Reflection)

intersubjectiveI used to enjoy reading William Safire’s weekly On Language articles in the Sunday NY Times Magazine. Safire would look at how various words were being used in the press, in politics, or somewhere in the life of people. He then would look at the word’s etymology, wondering if the word’s meaning was still graspable or was it being changed by the new usage.

When I first started reading philosophy books almost forty years ago, I often had trouble understanding the words the philosophers used. Some philosophers spent their whole lives defining a single word or term. Sadly, at the end of the day, the word’s meaning was often still understood only by that philosopher. For instance, Karl Rahner’s use of the words “grace” or “transcendence” cannot be read with a dictionary understanding of those words, or even other philosopher’s understanding of those words. Rahner’s definition of some words was peculiar to him.

Sometimes I feel an odd sense of guilt or shame at not understanding some words. Two of the words I went a long time having trouble wrapping my head and heart around were subject and subjective. I still can’t say I understand them fully today. Now, you might ask, “What’s the problem? These are easy words to define.” Well, below are just a couple of very different ways to define the words—and there are others.

Subject: A vassal; someone who is under someone’s control.

Subject: A unique person; the mind; the consciousness; compare to an object, or a thing.

Subjective: one who lacks freedom; obsolete.

Subjective: a perception of reality peculiar to an individual; compare to an objective reality that is accepted by all observers.

I believe the words subject and subjective and their corresponding antonyms (object and objective) may be some of the most important words to wrap your mind and soul around. The reason that these words are so important is that if we are to live peacefully and cooperatively on this planet—with this planet, with the universe—then we are going to have to move towards greater intersubjectivity.

Intersubjective: the sharing of subjective realities by two or more individuals; compare to solipsism, where only my own mind exists.

Intersubjectivity respects the uniqueness and dignity of every person and recognizes that objectivity will always be a noble but, nevertheless, elusive goal. Starting from intersubjectivity, we ask the question, “What does this mean for my relationships with God, people, the universe?” Intersubjectivity, understood, rejects the objectification and commodification of life. Intersubjectivity is non-dual but still values seeing the differences. Intersubjectivity honors direct democracy but also emphasizes collectivism and the need to share without fear.

Anyway, these are some very imprecise, rambling ideas today. They are subjective, but I hope they spur some fruitful and hopeful intersubjective reflection.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Soul Kitchen – A Parable

Soul-KitchenJuly 6, 1971 – Los Angeles, CA

Two teenagers were sitting in a grungy coffee shop called the Soul Kitchen in south LA. One of them was weeping; the other was downcast. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, a man in his thirties, a hippie, walked in and sat in the booth behind the teenagers. They did not recognize the man because of their bleary eyes.

The man overheard the teenagers conversation and asked, “What are you discussing together?”

They were shocked at the question. One of the teenagers asked, “Did you not see the news or read the papers? Are you from another planet, dude? Didn’t you hear about the thing that happened the other day?”

“What thing,” the man asked?

“About the Prophet. He died in Paris on Friday. The world couldn’t handle him. He was killed by the evil of this world. We thought he was the One. And the crazy thing is now they can’t find his body. Some people say he is not dead, but we saw the pictures. We heard the witnesses. But now some are saying he is alive. They even went to the morgue and the Prophet wasn’t there.”

“Man, you guys are dense,” the hippie man said. “Don’t you know that the Prophet wasn’t made for this ‘world’—that the Prophet is immortal and all the prophecies from all the Books have attested to this Truth. The Prophet cannot die.”

The young teenagers asked the man to sit with them at their table.

When the man sat with them, he ordered some French fries and a beer. After the fries arrived he gave thanks for his food and broke some of the larger fries and shared them with the teenagers.

After eating with the teenagers, suddenly their souls were opened and they realized that they were in the presence of the Prophet. They remembered the words from one of the ancient Psalms, “Well, I woke up this morning and got myself a beer” (RB 4:1).

Just then the man got up to leave and the teenagers asked, “Hey what’s your name?”

“John.”

“John, what? What’s your last name?”

“Doe, John Doe.”

The teenagers were amazed. And the man disappeared from their sight.

Immediately, the teenagers got up and ran to find their friends. “It is true! The Prophet has risen, He is alive.” Then the two told what had happened at the coffee shop, and how the Prophet was recognized by them when he broke the French fry and drank the beer.”

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© Paul Dordal, 2018

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

 

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