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

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People do not change. …except….

grace-changes-everything

People do not change. They almost never can.
Though some people have their eyes opened.
Then others say, “Oh, how you have changed!”
Yet nothing has really changed, except a blind person can see.

People do not change. They almost never can.
Though some people who were lost, get found.
Then others say, “Oh, how you have changed!”
Yet nothing has really changed, except a lost person is found.

People do not change. They almost never can.
Though some people are raised from the dead.
Then others say, “Oh, how you have changed!”
Yet nothing has really changed, except a dead person is alive again.

Amazing grace!

© 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

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

The Inverted Continuum of Truth Seeking (Reflection)

Moving SquareJohn Dewey opens up his remarkable little book Experience and Education by saying that, “Mankind likes to think in terms of extreme opposites.  It is given to formulating its beliefs in Either-Ors, between which it recognizes no intermediate possibilities” (1938:17).

I am not sure if the predisposition of humankind towards dualism is neuro-biological, but it does seem to be a universal inclination from a socio-philosophical point of view.  Nevertheless, dualistic thinking when confronted by a critical-realist usually exposes its limited objectivity. Dewey says later that one must compromise when the extreme beliefs do not work in practicality.  Either-Ors are extreme beliefs and often are only tempered by finding the mean between the extremes.

It hearkens to the notion that Aristotle spoke about as the ethical doctrine of the mean, where a virtue is “a state that lies between two vices, one of excess and the other of deficiency” (Kraut, 2014: Web).

Dualisms and the doctrine of the mean are Western ways of thinking in rather linear and mathematical ways. (I am not sure that Eastern people have these same philosophical difficulties, parsing and making endless distinctions.)  Since I am a Westerner I tend towards these dilemmas because of my socio-cultural formation.

Nevertheless, in my first Master’s thesis I proposed some paradoxical ideas which may have not be original to me, but I was unaware of their origin when I wrote about Intrafugal Force Diagramthem.  One of these paradoxes I wrote about in my first book, The Great Commandment Leader, was related to a missiological approach to Christianity that tapped into both centripetal and centrifugal forces equally. This both/and approach was not a mean between the two forces, but a paradoxical combining of these forces to create a new force, which I coined as intrafugal force (see the diagram, left).  Intrafugal force combined simultaneously a sending out of missionaries to un-evangelized areas from a particular center with equal force (emphasis) on evangelizing locally both the churched and the unchurched towards that center.

The above is parenthetical to my main idea that I want to explore today, which is the notion of an inverted continuum as a pathway to discovering deeper truth.  Nonetheless, it is the paradoxical that I want to emphasize. Thus, restating the intrafugal paradox emphasizes the possibilities that Westerners can, in fact, think non-linearly, and must do so to discover deeper things of God (see 1 Co 2:10).

If Dewey and Aristotle are right about the polemical nature of the Western (or even human) mind (and who I am to argue with such great thinkers), then a new way of discovering deep truth is necessary.  My experience has shown me that it is in the dichotomy of reality, the mystery of competing ideas, of polemical dualisms colliding together like atoms smashing into one another, that deep truth is discovered (as well as respect and love of others).

Thus, if we take a look at two ideas on a continuum, let’s just say something simple like left and right, we find that there is no reconciling them.  Aristotle might say that there is a moderating position, a mean which can be found somewhere in the middle.  But in this regard it is something less than Left and less than Right.  In politics this might be the moderate position, one who holds some conservative views and some liberal views, but not both at the same time.

Continuum

Holding competing beliefs simultaneously will not be possible by inventing some golden mean, but stretching and inverting the continuum.  We must make Left and Right confront each other in love to learn from each other, without giving up on their nature of being Left and Right.

Inverted Continuum

In the inverted continuum, as you can see, Left is still Left and Right is still Right, but they have met and co-exist in the same space and time (see Ps 85:10).  Now, my scientific knowledge is quite limited, but I hope that I have been able to convey a bit of my process in approaching the reconciling of distinctions, not solving the dualisms, but embracing the mystery of the both/and, rather than living in the either/or of often contentious and polemical distinctions.

What do you think? Does this make sense? Does it open up possibilities for you?

References
Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York, NY: Free Press, 1938. Print.

Kraut, Richard, “Aristotle’s Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2014/entries/aristotle-ethics/&gt;.

© 2015, Paul Dordal