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

Advertisements

Revolutionary Hope (Reflection)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Faith “In” The Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Growing Beyond Conventional Christian Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Dordal, 2017

 

Good News For All People? (Christmas Reflection)

Good News For All PeopleWhen someone tells me they “believe” in Jesus these days, the question that pops into my mind is, “Which one?” Is it the Jesus who is the universal Savior of the world or an exclusive, personal savior concerned with our personal sins and problems? Is your Jesus for all people or just for you and some people?

Religious scholars have long debated whether we could really know the historical Jesus. They have also debated a variety of pictures the New Testament paints of Jesus. There seems to be a diversity of Jesus’s out there. Yet, the Church institutional would like us to believe that there is one unified Jesus to be found only in their magisterial or traditional systematic teachings (e.g., the Nicene Creed). This institutional version of Jesus seems to be a Jesus who is exclusive for Christians only, inordinately focused on personal piety, and more interested in life after death than what is happening in the here and now.

Recently, I was talking with an atheist in the company of a nominal Catholic. After hearing how I presented Jesus to the atheist, the nominal Catholic remarked to one of my chaplain colleagues the next day, “I don’t think Reverend Paul believes in Jesus!” The following week the nominal Catholic and I had an opportunity to discuss his perception of my beliefs and I assured him that I did believe in Jesus—now, more than ever. But I did say that the Jesus I believed in and followed was probably not the same Jesus he believed in—that my Jesus was the savior of all people, not just my savior.

Over thirty-five years ago, James Fowler wrote a ground-breaking book called Stages of Faith Development, which somewhat mirrored the ideas of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. In his book, Fowler noted that most Western adult Christians were comfortable in what he called the third stage of faith development which he labeled “Synthetic/Conventional Faith.” At this stage, Christians stop growing spirituality and are pretty much committed to what would be the party-line theology of the institutional church. They simply believe intellectually in the Jesus who is their personal savior who will grant them life after death in some celestial heaven. They may or may not be part of a community of faith, but beyond that, Jesus is not seen as for all people: for the Muslim, for the LGBTQ+ person, for the undocumented immigrant, for the oppressed person of color, or for anyone that might upset or interrupt one’s personal religious life or their individualized “American pursuit of happiness.”

So, if your Jesus is not “good news of great joy for all the people,” that is, especially, all marginalized people, then we don’t believe in the same Jesus. If your Jesus is only a personal savior, then what you believe in is a religion, an intellectual belief system, a dogma—not the Jesus of the Bible or history. Once Jesus is dogmatized he stops being Jesus, he becomes an object, an idol and a weapon to be used against those who do not “believe.” Dogmatic Jesus is the human construct of institutional Christianity.  And that dogma leads to domination and exclusiveness.

The Jesus I believe in was born “made poor” in the Middle East, raised under the oppression of an evil Empire. He grew up to become both a priest and a prophet, a healer of souls and a righter of wrongs—a fierce revolutionary, a person of peace and a warrior for righteousness. The Jesus I believe in knew it was not enough to simply minister to the needs of a few poor and oppressed people, so he died a sacrificial death for the whole world. This Jesus calls on Christians everywhere to struggle against the systems that create poverty and oppression (capitalism, racism, militarism, etc.)—to love the whole world and give up our lives for the poor and oppressed just like Jesus (1 John 3:16).  Jesus calls us to be both healers and revolutionaries, priests and prophets, peacemakers and warriors of justice.

If the Jesus you celebrate this Christmas is simply a personal savior (a never-ending baby in a manger) and not the incarnate, revolutionary savior of all people, then yes, I don’t believe in your “Jesus” and neither should you.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Suffering Prophets (Reflection)

Emil-Nolde-Prophet-1912I am re-reading Walter Brueggemann’s book Prophetic Imagination with some friends who meet every other week for discussion and breakfast. It is amazing to read a book so many years after first looking at it to see how things have changed in one’s own life.

In the second edition preface to the book, Brueggemann states, “… ‘prophetic imagination’ requires more than the old liberal confrontation if the point is not posturing but effecting change in social perspective and social policy.” This means that if the goal is a societal change, which is what the prophet is calling for, not reform, but revolution, then simply joining a liberal justice group to protest this or that injustice or inequality is not prophetic.

The prophets of old and the prophets of our age were all willing to suffer or die for structural societal change. They didn’t choose or seek out suffering, but they knew that the true prophetic path was one of suffering and self-sacrifice. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. were all willing (albeit reluctantly sometimes) to put their lives on the line for the sake of enacting God’s just and beloved community. Jesus, of course, was and is the exemplar prophet who sacrificed his own life for the whole world.

Martin Luther King said, “A person who does not have something for which he is willing to die is not fit to live.” Certainly, MLK was following the prophetic path of Jesus when he said this. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Thus, the prophetic path is not set aside for a group of select, elite individuals or “leaders,” but Jesus is saying that all of his followers will be suffering prophets for the sake of the whole world, for the future City of God.

As we live in the heart of the U.S. empire, whose government is wreaking havoc on the whole world, where are the prophets, where are the followers of Christ willing to go the cross to enact the future City of God, what I have called the Commonweal of Love?

We are at a critical point in history, an opportune time to move the evolutionary process of humanity forward, a liminal period to fundamentally change the social structure from one that oppresses the masses for the sake of the few towards a new society based on meeting the needs of all people. To do that we need those who are called to be prophets to accept their calls to suffer, to sacrifice, and to enact the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Zoe, Agape, Kairos: A Material Spirituality (Reflection)

dance editThe material world is, and the spiritual world is. As we live in the here and now of the material, temporal realm, we, nevertheless, integrate our spiritual, eternal lives in the here and now as well. Spiritual people do not separate the natural from the supernatural; they never negate the physical to validate the metaphysical.

Yet, the body is barren without the breath of the spirit (pneuma), as the spirit is formless without the body (soma). Beauty cannot exist without both as the body is lifeless without the soul, and the soul cannot be beheld without the body.

The relational perichoretic of the Trinity brings this notion to the really real—the supranatural. The Father is the creator of biological life (bios) and gives second-birth by the spiritual life (zoe). The incarnated Child takes physical love (eros) and elevates it through the self-sacrificial Cross (agape). The Mother Spirit labors to effect the movement of evolution (chronos) and moves to effect needed revolutions at just the right time (kairos).

Thus, matter/intellect and spirit/emotion are always working together, as positive theses and anti-theses, to generate new syntheses that create the possibility of an eschatologically free, equal, just and beautiful world: The City (polis) of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

To My Fellow Ephesians (Praxis Poem)

Arise,
Night shadows
Shroud constricted pupils
From perceiving, receiving
The pure light of Love.

Asleep,
Lids encrusted
Not willing to admit
The liars we believe
Are our rulers.

Aware,
The forces of darkness
Like winged ants
Masticating our minds
Against the grain.

Artless,
Scattered
Rootlessly marching
To the oppressor’s beat
Begging for orts from his table.

Awake,
So ends
The nightmare
Now struggle for
Those in the clutches of Fear.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

On Not Killing (Reflection)

no-killingIn World War II, at least three out of four U.S. combat infantryman did not fire their weapons at the enemy—even in the midst of battle. In that decisive moment to engage in mortal combat more than 75% of infantry soldiers became conscientious objectors.  LTC (Ret.) Dave Grossman, in his ground-breaking book, On Killing, said, in World War II, “… 80 to 85 percent of riflemen did not fire their weapons at an exposed enemy, even to save their own lives and the lives of their friends. In previous wars, non-firing rates were similar.”[i]  Other research shows that there is, “a powerful, innate human resistance toward killing one’s own species….”[ii]

After World War II, the U.S. Government/Military decided that their combat training had to change in order that soldiers could become reflexive firers. The military realized that soldiers needed to be conditioned to believe that they had no choice but to fire, and to fire on reflex or muscle memory. They had to be conditioned to kill, because killing other humans is antithetical to humanity. Additionally, this new training and conditioning included the systematic dehumanization of real or potential enemies to ensure that the soldier would not be presented with a moral dilemma when the moment arose to engage the enemy—other human beings. Thus, the soldier had to be dehumanized as well.

Since the combat training program was changed after World War II, individual fire rates of U.S. service members have increased in every U.S. war to almost 95% today.

Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that retired Navy psychiatrist William P. Nash found that upwards of 75% of returning combat veterans since Vietnam are suffering from a PTSD-like malady called Moral Injury. Nash said, as soldiers come home from war “something is damaged, broken. They feel betrayed; they don’t trust in [the military’s] values and ideals anymore.”[iii]

If it is in the nature of humanity not to kill other humans, and we condition people to do so, once that conditioning is no longer needed (post-combat), a significant moral crisis inevitably occurs. In order for humans to kill humans, the military must convert humans into something inhuman to kill those they have convinced are worse monsters.

Now, if the U.S. as a society allowed the government through its military to forcibly convert 75-80% of peace loving humans into killers in just a span of a few decades, could not we as a society have more readily converted the 20-25% of those who might kill into peacemakers? If we think war is inevitable because a small segment of society is capable of using deadly violence against others, should we not also believe, based on the evidence, that there exists the capacity of the overwhelming majority of peaceful humans to nonviolently restrain the potentially violent? Do we not delude ourselves when we believe that the best way to combat violence is with the same means that violence is perpetrated against the innocent and peaceful?

The apostle Paul called Christians to not use the “weapons of this world” to resolve conflict (2 Cor 10:4a). Jesus said, “Put your sword away. Everyone who uses a sword will die by a sword” (Mt 26:52). The call of Christ is to be peacemakers, not killer-makers or war-makers. We are called to “transform deadly weapons into farming equipment, and swords into kitchen utensils. Nations shall not attack other nations with military force, and all the countries of this world must cease from training their citizens to become killers” (Is 2:4). The message of all true religion is to bring peace to the world.

So, what can we do? If you are veteran, please join a local chapter of Veterans For Peace. If you are a civilian, join your local peace group (Code Pink, Peace Action, Pax Christi, Pace e Bene, WILPF, Peace Links, etc). If you are a Christian or religious person join a peace-promoting congregation or call on your current congregation to join the peace movement.

Let’s get busy! It is time for us to live up to our human nature as a peaceful, cooperative species.

Peace is possible.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2017

Notes
[i] Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009, 252.
[ii] Ibid, xxxi.
[iii] See David Wood, Moral Injury: A Warrior’s Moral Dilemma. Downloaded from http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/projects/moral-injury/the-recruits

Tearing Down The Veil Of Bad Religion (Mt 27:51)

Anarchist Veil TornCraig Keener asked rhetorically in his commentary on Matthew, “Is it possible that the very criticisms Jesus laid against the religious establishments of his day now stand institutionalized in most of his church?” (IVP Academic, 2011: 334). The answer, of course, is yes.

It is abundantly clear to me and many other Christians (scholars, clergy, and lay commentators alike) that Jesus never intended to start an institution called church.  In fact, if anything, he started a movement that was intentionally anti-institution. There is overwhelming evidence of this even in Scripture, but if you would like a brief overview of this idea, please purchase my book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist.

Today, let’s examine what Jesus’s cross and resurrection mean as seen through the tearing of the temple veil in two: “When Jesus took his last breath, at that very moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Mt 27:51).

At least three radical principles can be drawn from this metaphorical statement (since the veil was not actually torn in two):

First, without a veil to separate the people from God’s presence, access to God was made universal by Jesus’s death and resurrection. The veil represents human’s separation from God, and Jesus corrects this erroneous religious construct by his sacrificial death. Thus, with the tearing of the veil, the resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, there is no longer any need for priests to mediate between people and God (1 Tim 2:5). Any individual can access the actual reality and goodness of God.

Second, the power structure of temple worship, the very institution of religious power, was destroyed by the tearing of the veil. The temple veil represented institutional power– the power of a hierarchical priesthood coopted by imperial Rome to oppressively rule over people. Yet, by Jesus’s death and resurrection this power was rendered impotent. Jesus had earlier proclaimed that the time had come for the end of power based religion (Jn 4:23-24).

Third, the notion that only Jews could access the one true God was also nullified by the tearing of the veil in two. There is not a God of the Jews and lesser gods for the rest of the world. There is only one God for all who loves all.  St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, black nor white, gay nor straight, young or old, abled or disabled…. For all are one in Christ!” (Gal 3:28). All religion that excludes based on identity is bad religion.

So, what application should we take from all of this? If we are to follow Jesus then our call is to tear down the dividing walls between people, to flatten all hierarchies in order that all are empowered to be free, and, yes, we need to destroy all the man-made “temples” (institutional religion, capitalism, militarism, imperialism, patriarchalism, etc.) that create oppression, division, and inequality in our world. And we can accomplish this because “The tombs were broken open and the dead came to life…” (Mt 27:52). We have been resurrected to co-create God’s Commonweal of Love on earth as it is heaven (Mt 6:10).

© Paul Dordal, 2017