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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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

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

Jesus: Healer of False Consciousness (Reflection)

Fat Cats“Jesus said, ‘You cannot even see the Kin-dom of God unless you rise above your false consciousness’” (John 3:3).

Introduction
Yes, I have taken some liberty with the original text, but not the original meaning. Jesus proclaimed that to live by the Spirit, one needed to be “born again”—to see through the blindness that the “world” (or the empire) has imposed on the common people. This blindness or false consciousness is what Jesus came to heal (Luke 4:18).

False consciousness is the imposed and erroneous beliefs of the oppressed as they adopt the ideology of their oppressors—when the poor and working classes believe that the elite class deserves to unjustly rule over them by virtue of their place of power. False consciousness also manifests itself when the poor and working classes falsely believe that all individuals have the ability to become a member of the elite class.

False consciousness is often violently (verbally and physically) acted out by the poor and working classes in their misguided attacks on other poor and working-class people (e.g., blaming the poor or the victim, union busting, police brutality, participating in imperial warfare, etc.). Only when the poor and working class awaken (are born again) from their false consciousness can they be “set free” and begin to overcome their oppressors (Luke 4:18).

Jesus was assassinated by the Roman Empire because he preached class-consciousness (e.g., “blessed are the poor”) and he healed those blinded by false consciousness. Jesus healed through his preaching rebellion by the poor and working classes over the political and religious elite (“Do not be like the hypocrites…”). Jesus’s preaching took place in three arenas: the personal, the institutional, and the imperial.

Personal, Institutional, and Imperial False-Consciousness
In the personal arena, Jesus challenged the prevailing religious-elite imposed attitude that a poor or oppressed person was that way because of personal sin. “Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him’” (John 9:2-3). Jesus flipped the script on false consciousness which wants to blame the victim of poverty or disability. Jesus declares that poverty or disability are actually the means by which the goodness of God can be demonstrated.

In the institutional arena, Jesus challenged organized religion that regarded itself as a power to be obeyed, rather than as a vehicle by which the oppressed and poor could be served and set free. “Jesus said, ‘Tear down this evil temple which represents corrupt religion and in three days I will raise it up.’ ‘What,’ the blind disciples replied, ‘This temple took forty-six years to build and you think you can rebuild it in three days?” (John 2:19-20). Jesus, again, in healing the false consciousness of the working class, shows that any institution that doesn’t serve the poor and working classes is evil and must be destroyed.

Finally, in the imperial arena Jesus took on the Roman Empire, yet the religious elite (or labor aristocracy) of his time opposed him because of their false consciousness and desire to hold on to their own limited power. When Pilate, the representative of Rome, said he had the power to crucify him, Jesus replied, “You have no power over me, other than the power I give to you” (John 19:11). And then when Pilate presents Jesus as the “King” or “Emperor” of the poor and working classes, it is the co-opted religious elite who betray Jesus. “Pilate said to the religious elite, ‘Here is your King!’ At this, they shouted back to Pilate, ‘Crucify Him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but the Emperor,’ replied the religious elite” (John 19:14-15).

Conclusion
Our function as liberated and transformed spiritual individuals, people who have come into class consciousness, is to help heal other individuals trapped in false consciousness, to dismantle the corrupt institutions of the ruling elite, and, ultimately, to replace imperial, capitalist rule with the truly just rule of and by the proletariat (the poor and working classes).

© 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