We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Box (Reflection on John 10:9)

bigger-boxOne of the most iconic lines in movie history was in the film Jaws when Roy Schieder, upon seeing a twenty-five-foot Great White shark jump out of the water, said, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” When the ugly realities of life jump out at us or when monstrous suffering comes upon us, we might need, not a bigger boat, but a bigger life-box. And if we are not in abject distress, but want to grow in our own life, to become our most free and fulfilled selves, to heal from our previous woundedness and progress toward the ideal of Holy Mystery, then we are going to need ever bigger life-boxes.

Exploding The Myths
It is an urban myth that a pet turtle will grow larger if you put it in a bigger tank or life space. However, it is absolutely true that for humans to grow spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually they will need to expand themselves into ever bigger life spaces—bigger boxes.

Another myth is that humans can “think outside the box.” To think outside of the box is to be beyond our limits—an unreality. Outside the box is a vacuum, it is disconnected. But if we create a bigger box, expand our horizons, and slowly push out our limits, we can stay within ourselves and include all our previous boxes—all our histories, prior beliefs, and relationships. This is the way towards integration; our newer and bigger boxes always include all of our previous boxes as well as our newer understandings.

Therefore, thinking outside the box is a misnomer, since, as finite beings, we are time, space, and matter bound. But the box that God has created for us to live in is bigger than we can imagine; it is infinitely expanding and we can, we must, enlarge the confines of our self-imposed boxes in order to encounter God and grow as human beings. Thus, we don’t ever really think outside the box, but we can and should continue to be open to learn, to be transformed, to push the limits of our understanding and create ever larger boxes.

Escaping The Prison System?
The notion of our lives as boxes might seem confining, and it should. We are finite people. And sometimes the boxes we create (our beliefs, relationships, values, etc.) are so confining they can become like a prison that keeps us from growing and becoming truly free. I have noticed in my own brokenness a sense of needing to escape from one box or prison of my own making to another. On the other side, sadly, I have also noticed many others simply biding their time in their own prisons until their sentence is done and they die. They never grow, other than in despair and loneliness. Others learn how to escape their prisons, like me, thinking they are free, but still don’t realize that in escaping one box, they have just entered into a new prison-like box.

If we really come to understand ourselves, we will arrive at the conclusion that we are trapped in an extensive prison system (various rigid belief systems). So, escape isn’t the answer, but expanding the walls of our boxes (prison walls) ever further outwards is. Yet, how do we do this?

The Way To Growth And Freedom
Jesus said, “I am the gateway to the infinite; you can come and go as you please with me” (Jn 10:9).  As I have encountered, who I am now calling, Jesus the Anarchist, the One who is absolutely free, yet in submissive communion with the whole world, I am starting to experience an ever-expanding life-box. I am no longer confined to just one way of reading the Bible, one way to worship or believe in God, but I am open to whatever the Spirit wants to teach me about myself, God, and the universe. Some people have discovered Jesus in a similar way, but call him the Cosmic Christ, Divine Mystery, or something else altogether. How ever you understand the infinite God, and whatever way you have opened yourself up to be changed, to expand your limits, the key is to encounter and believe in the Absolute Paradox, even Jesus, who can set us free. Jesus said, “With me you can know the Truth and then become truly free” (Jn 8:32; 14:6). This Truth does not confine you to being a “Christian” in the conventional sense, but opens up the possibility to expand your limited universe.

Helping Others Into Freedom
In my ministry, many of the veterans I serve are suffering from PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, Moral Injury, Homelessness, or a host of Addictive or Mental Disorders. As I have come to embrace Jesus the Anarchist, the Absolute Paradox, I realize that I am not to minister to the suffering by helping them to reduce their pain, or shrink their suffering, or return them to some previous state of homeostasis. This is often impossible. I have come to understand that the way to spiritual healing for many of these suffering folk is to help them find ways to expand their boxes, increase their options, grow their choices, enlarge the size of their playing field, to broaden their healing potential rather than try to decrease their suffering. In growing the life-box, the suffering, the pain, or the distress takes up less life-space and permits the sufferer to roam more freely in their expanded self. This is what God wants to do for all of us. Jesus says, “Come to me and I will give you rest for your souls. I will expand your horizons and give you peace” (Mt 11:28-30).

Still, this is just an invitation, a choice we all need to continually make. Do you need a bigger box? Jesus is inviting you to grow with him. What better time to do this than now, on Christmas Day, the day we celebrate the always giving gift of Jesus!

© Paul Dordal, 2016


The Gospel of Nonviolence (Prophetic Reflection)


What if the Church, since its founding, had obeyed Jesus’ Gospel of Nonviolence instead of rationalizing the need for so-called just wars? Simply, we would be, today, a world at peace. If the Church of Jesus Christ had consistently preached and practiced peacemaking as Jesus commanded, wars, as we have known them, would have disappeared.

Wars and violence aren’t the world’s fault.  They’re the Church’s fault.

But hope is not lost. If Christians of the world would repent, get rid of their guns, stop supporting war, and, love, instead of fear, their neighbor as Jesus taught, the world can still be transformed.

God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Jesus Saves? (Reflection)

jesus-savesYears ago there was a woman who called into a Christian music radio station and excitedly told the D.J. that her daughter was listening to the station and “got saved.” The station played the recording of that call-in over and over again. Every time I heard it I asked myself, What did she get saved from? How did she get saved by listening to music? Now that she is saved, does she know why Jesus saved her? With deeper reflection, we must all ask what does it even mean to be saved?

Why did Jesus save you and me? In my experience with the Church’s doctrinal teaching, theologians seem to focus too much on the how of being saved; who’s in out, who’s out; and how it happens. But since we cannot know for sure how one is saved, thus who is and who is not saved, what is really gained from focusing so much on the how? The why question seems eminently answerable; the how question will always be an enigma.

I believe Jesus saved me so I could be in a deep, abiding relationship with God. This relation with our Creator through Christ is the only lasting satiation of the existential angst that we all experience because of our finite separation from an infinite God. By Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we are all given intimate access to God as we open ourselves up to transcendent mystery.

Additionally, Jesus shows us, through his incarnational relationship to and with humanity, what it is to be in abiding, loving intersubjectivity with all creation. This includes primarily human relationships of love and compassion, but also the ecological connections we have as individuals with the whole world.

So, simply, we are saved to be one with God and with each other through Christ in an ongoing process of sanctification. Nevertheless, this pietistic understanding of faith is only half the story. Though we are ultimately saved on earth for eternal life with Christ in beatific union in heaven, we are also, and maybe more importantly, since we all live in the here and now, saved by Jesus so that we can abide with him as he brings heaven to earth through our Christian witness.

Thus, we are not saved just so we can go to heaven when we die; we are saved by Jesus so that heaven can come to and through us on earth as we live in Christ.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Trinitarian “Intensionality” (Reflection)

TrinitySundayYesterday was Trinity Sunday on the liturgical calendar. I enjoy preaching on this Sunday because the Trinity is one of the most misunderstood core doctrines of the Church. Unfortunately, some also believe the Trinity to be an irrelevant doctrine. When I personally reflect on the doctrine of the Trinity I am blessed with mysterious insights and comforting assurances of the reality of God. But I also understand that doctrinal preaching is not the most well-received sermon style. So, I endeavor to make preaching doctrine not merely informational but transformational as well.

I attended a conference on Friday that was addressing race relations in the Church. I had a sense while listening to the conference speakers that the issue of divisions between the races is an area where the doctrine of the Trinity could have direct relevance for Christians. So in my sermon yesterday I used race relationships to help the attenders at chapel to understand the Trinity. I won’t rehearse my sermon here, but I do want to share briefly with you some reflections on how I came to my own understanding of how the Trinity intersects with race relations.

One of the eminent speakers at the conference I attended repeatedly used the term “being intentional” in her remarks about how to address racial divides in the Church. As I heard her speak, I believe the Holy Spirit gave me the word “in-tensional” to reflect on.

As I reflected on the word “in-tensional” I was reminded of an article I read a while back on Ego Development by Dr. Susanne Cook-Grueter, an expert in the area of personal development. She believes that individuals who are psychologically mature have developed an ability to discern and live comfortably in the tension between polar opposites (polarities). She notes that mature individuals are able to discern between seemingly value-laden (good/bad; wrong/right) and value-neutral (tall/short; boy/girl) polarities. Cook-Grueter said, “Since ego development theory is about meaning making, how we deal and work with polarities becomes a significant dimension to focus on in the context of enhancing our self-awareness and facilitating development.”

So what does this have to do with the Trinity? Well, first of all our language is not capable of understanding how three can be one or one can be three. Thus, believing in the Trinity has the potential of becoming polarizing. You see, the Trinity is a mathematical conundrum, but a paradoxical truth nevertheless. If we think of paradoxes as polarities (we value them as right/wrong), then there is no way we can live in the tension of those two poles (One God cannot be Three Persons/One God can be Three Persons). Hence for me the Trinity as a Mystery is not a tension to be solved, but a grace to be lived in. This is what I believe was the basis of my neologism of “intensionality.”

St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female–for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Ga 3:28, NET). Here the apostle is addressing the issue of tensions and polarities. This is not to say that a person’s Jewishness/Greekness or Blackness/Whiteness is obliterated because of his or her being in Christ. St. Paul is saying that the tension of the polarities is absorbed in the Trinitarian understanding of Christ, who exists in perfect tension with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The two can become one (or three as in the Trinity)! For all those interested in identity politics this may be a way to move towards integration out of the endless polarizations of divisive identity constructs: race, gender, ethnicities, diseases, etc.

Race relations are tense; they are in tension. The way forward is to sit in the tension of our differences—to be intentional and “intensional.” The way forward is to look to the doctrine of Trinity as our example of mystical and practical integration.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Progress? (Reflection)

ProgressI remarked recently to my boss that when I was younger and studying Western history in middle and high school, I used to imagine myself living in other eras. The age of the Greek philosophers, the age of Christ, the age of scholasticism, and the age of the Renaissance were all eras of incredible human progress. I thought then, How amazing it must have been to live in those periods of history. But then I said to my boss, I have recently come to realize that we are living today in what might clearly be the most amazing era of history. I now imagine people in the future looking back on our era and saying, “Now, that was an amazing time to be alive!”

Philosophers and pundits have argued for centuries about what constitutes real human progress. Some have claimed that much “progress” has come at too great a price due to the loss of human life, and that history’s “golden ages” are wrongly glorified because they ignore the immense suffering of the majority of people alive during those times. Thus, progress seems to be best studied as a two-sided coin. Progress for one group of people could mean death for another group. For example, in our era the same planes that help humans fly have dropped bombs on innocents below. The same inventions like asbestos, lead-based products, and certain medicines that seemed so promising wound up killing millions of unsuspecting people. The same fuels that heat our homes, propel our cars and mass transit are also destroying the very environment we need to survive. The progress of the last century has been nothing less than remarkable, but the light that shines from that progress also casts a dark shadow that is too often ignored.

Progress in the West over the last 150 years, especially in the sciences and technology, has been nothing less than astounding. Because of the sciences we have travelled into space, seen cures for many diseases, and scientific advances will continue to astonish us even more in the future. Technology has provided new ways to make food more abundant, and the World-Wide-Web makes just about every bit of information and knowledge available at the fingertips for just about every person on earth. I could go on for pages describing the wonderfully helpful ways science, and her offspring technology, have made our lives better. It truly is an amazingly time to be alive, and hopeful too.

Yet, over the last century, as our world, especially in the West, has undergone seismic societal changes marked by undeniable technological progress, there have been prophetic voices that have challenged us to be very careful about how we understand this progress. These voices are not simply naysayers, modern-day Luddites, or what leadership experts call “laggards” on the change adoption curve. Like the prophets of old who called the people back to their gods, these voices are calling us back to our true humanity. They seek to remind us that science and technology too often work from premises that over mechanize humanity, thus dehumanizing us in the name of so-called progress. And though humans are indeed the learning species, science is too often dismissive of the notion that to be human is not to know everything, but to continually learn how to live in the mystery of paradox; that to learn is not to solve faith’s enigmas, but to seek joy-filled understanding within the tension of endless polarities; that true learning often comes from being critical, which I call the ability to unlearn untruth.

Unfortunately, science has become in many ways the new fundamentalism, with its uncompromising mantra that science will discover all that there is to be known, asking everyone to bow down at the altar of the laboratory or be excommunicated from the ostensible civilized world. Sadly, the beaker, the computer, and the pie chart are touted as providing all we need to know; these have become the new idols we are being called to worship. But the questions that will never be answered by science or technology is “Why we are here? How do I make sense of my life?” We will always need philosophers, theologians, and artists, who do not see humans as machines but beautiful creatures. Most of all we will need prophets, who say to the world, “Unless I see more love, I will never believe in the world’s (scientific & technological) progress.”

© Paul Dordal, 2016

This Is Eternal Life (Reflection)

eternal_life_titleFor many Protestant Christians (and Catholic and Orthodox Christians too), there is a clear and necessary connection that John 3:3 (“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.'”) has with John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”).

Yet, there is another verse in John that is not always connected to the aforementioned two which will have a powerful impact for Christians who desire to live an abundant life today, and not just see this life as a way-station for the next. John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ….”

Eternal life is living life in deep communion with God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit; not simply knowing where you are going to live when you die.  By connecting necessarily all three of the above verses together, the Christian will realize that eternal life, and the kingdom of God, has begun in their lives today.  This life is not a way-station for the next.  This today-eternal life is the critical part of really being born again, because it shows forth that God’s will can be done on earth as it is heaven. It shows how heaven has indeed come to earth in Jesus.  It emphasizes that Christ is really human and divine, and that we are like him in our resurrected life.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2016

Grace Revisited (Reflection)

graceIn Christianity, grace is often defined as the unmerited favor of God in Christ. This definition is connected to the notion that the relationship between God and humans is irreparably estranged because of humanity’s intrinsically deficient sin-nature and God’s perfect holiness.  And this definition, almost exclusively, is related to the soteriological view that God must “save” us in order that we can to go to a place after death called heaven. So, grace then is the gift of salvation (life after death) given to those who don’t deserve it. Yet, in order to receive this gift, one must “repent” of his or her sins and acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord and Savior of his or her life.

But God’s grace is so much more than that, isn’t it?  Isn’t God’s grace more of an experiential reality, rather than an intellectual or metaphysical one? Isn’t God’s grace more than an it? I want to feel God’s grace, to experience God’s grace, to be familiar with God’s grace; not just think about “it.”  Theologian Karl Rahner has rightfully expanded the definition of God’s grace as God’s self-communication to all humanity. That is, God is giving and has historically, since time immemorial, been giving grace, God’s self, as a gift to anyone who wanted to receive God in myriad ways.

When I experience God’s grace, I am experiencing so much more than the assurance of what will happen to me when I die.  Though God’s grace is greater and more amazing than I can ever express with words, I believe the more real or experiential aspects of my relationship to God in Christ are founded on three immediate realities of grace:  Grace as acceptance, grace as forgiveness, and grace as love.

God’s grace accepts me for who I am.  I am God’s son.  There is nothing I can do to change that, enhance it, or undo it.  And because I am God’s fully accepted son, I no longer have to succumb to shame—a shame that often tries to tell me that I am not good enough or that I am somehow deficient in my God-imaged humanity.  So, I apply the Gospel of grace to myself, and because I can accept myself, I can accept others as well.

God’s grace completely and always forgives, because I so often know not what I do. My sins, through Christ, are wiped away—past, present, and future.  Since, I often think and act selfishly, because I am self-deceived or I allow others to deceive me, I rely on the reality of God’s ever-present grace of forgiveness. And this forgiveness allows me to have a clear conscience and not wallow in guilt. As I appropriate God’s forgiveness, I walk in self-forgiveness.  And because I can forgive myself, I can forgive others.

God’s grace also fills me with unimaginable love, and this love brings me into the deepest intimate relationship with God.  I will never be alone; I will never be empty; I will never not be satisfied as I drink from the well of God’s never ending love.  God’s grace as love makes real relationship possible, and ultimately compels me to love myself, to care for my own being.  And because I can love myself, I can love others.

Three scriptures jump out to me: “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory” (Ro 15:7, NLT).  “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ep 4:32, NLT). “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (Jn 13:34, NLT).  Christ accepts you and me; Christ forgives you and me; Christ loves you and me. Period.  Exclamation point!

In revisiting grace in the here and now, and not just for the future, helps me and should help you to experience the reality that “… now is the time of God’s grace, now is the day of salvation” (2 Co 6:2b).

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Ego Transcendence: Christosis (2 Co 3:18)

Salvador-Dali-Woman-Nursing-Her-Son-1923What is the ego? Literally, the ego is the self, the “I” that a person truly and fully is. It is not the roles we play, the stuff that we do or have, but the innermost reality of who we are as individuals. Yet, the ego is more than our individual person, because the “I” is always in relation to the “other” and the world. The “I” is not alone. We cannot know ourselves as “I” unless we can see ourselves in others. For the “I” to be truly or fully “I” is to transcend himself or herself to be with.

The ego transcendent, then, is one who is able to be truly with, who can fully incarnate into another’s life. Thus, the ego transcendent is fully accepting of the “other,” so much so that the “other” is not an “other,” but at one with the ego transcendent. Therefore, the ego transcendent has no agenda but to join with the “other” in mutuality and solidarity. If the “other” is open to growth, the ego transcendent journeys with the “other” to explore the universe.

When God states that God’s Name is, “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14), God is expressing the fullness of the Deity’s ego transcendence. God is beyond God-self and is at one with all of creation. The Transcendent One, the Christ, then comes to be – to incarnate – with us, Emmanuel. Jesus is the archetype Ego Transcendent human: “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58), so that “they might be with him” (Mk 3:14) .

Jesus announced a new age, the age of Christ, the age of ego transcendence (Mt 3:2) to mark the beginning of his ministry. The age of ego transcendence is discernable by being involved in the process by which we divinize our souls (the Eastern Orthodox call it theosis), becoming the “I am” to be with God and the “other.”

Becoming the “I am” is not different than who we already truly are. We need only strip all that is not “I am.” So, our present reality is as the “I am” but we esteem not the “I am” nor do we receive the “I am” (Is 53:3, Jn 1:11). And because we esteem him not, nor receive him, we do not live in the truest state of ourselves, but as others to ourselves. It is not surprising then, because we live as others to ourselves that we treat others as others, and not as our true selves. This is why Jesus gives us the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all that is within you, and love your neighbor (the “other”) as you love your “self”– your “I am” (see Mt. 22:34-40) Thus, we are all called to be involved in a life-long recovery process, recovering the “I am” in each of us.

Today, ego transcendence, becoming the “I am”, is often spoken of as a psychological process, but has, as I have shown, been a spiritual/religious process for time immemorial. In Christian religious parlance the process has been variously called sanctification, divinization, perfection, conversion, or as Karl Rahner called it, simply, transcendence. Whatever it is called, whether with psychological terms or spiritual/religious terms, it is what the Transcendent One wishes for us, in order that we be joined to the Divine Mystery, to be with God and others.

Ego transcendence is becoming Christ-like: “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” (2 Co 3:18, NET).

© Paul Dordal, 2015