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.”

————————————

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Advertisements

The Incomplete Human: Homo Faber, Homo Sapien, and Homo Adorans in Search of Homo Spiritualis (Reflection)

Miriam_Anselm-Friedrich-Feuerbach1I am indebted to both the brilliant philosophy of Karl Marx and the exquisite theology of Alexander Schmemann for having a chance to reflect today on understanding our humanity, though I am, admittedly, only crudely reflecting anthropologically, and not necessarily philosophically or theologically.

Broadly, the term homo sapien refers to the modern human species as differentiated from earlier hominid species and, of course, other so-called lesser animal species. Homo sapiens were distinguished because of their ability to think critically and to develop complex language. However, this being accepted cosmologically doesn’t tell us anything ontologically about homo sapiens. It doesn’t add anything to the question, why or what is a human? Homo sapien is woefully incomplete as a descriptor of human beings.

For a deeper understanding, we need only to discover that early homo sapiens were already burying their dead in what is likely an indication of humans as religious beings: homo adorans. Whether this is thought to be primitive behavior because of early homo sapiens limited brain development is not so easily proven. The historical record indicates, most provocatively, that to be human is to be religious, that is, to be in awe of a being of divine origin. However, for most mainstream Christian theologians, stuck in a box of magisterial or dogmatic doctrine, this empirical observation may become ammunition for the continued belief in the reductionistic notion, paraphrased from both the Westminster Creed and the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, that the chief end of humans is to glorify God. Anthropologically speaking, homo adorans is certainly not the chief end nor the primary distinguishing factor of humanity. It is but one, albiet important, factor. Thus, homo adorans is, as well, limited and incomplete in understanding the ontology of humanity.

This is true, furthermore, because long before homo were sapien or even adorans, they were homo faber—hominid beings who worked with tools and creatively produced. Now, other “lesser” animals did work with tools, but, again, the distinguishing factor here is the significant degree in the difference between early homo and their closest relatives in the animal world. The fact of homo faber may be why Marx has used homo faber as the primary (or even sole) basis for examining the material and historical record of homo sapiens (at first cooperative but then through increasing class struggle). Nevertheless, Christians should not be scared off by Marx’s discarding of homo adorans in favor of homo faber. Homo faber is no more empirical (or material) than homo adorans simply due to the length of time that homo has been involved with an activity. Certainly, the later capacity of homo sapiens to discern the reality of divine transcendence could be considered as empirical/historical evidence of the evolution of the species, not simply metaphysics.

It is homo sapien becoming homo adorans, not homo faber becoming homo sapien, that makes us more human. Yet, from a Scriptural point of view, conversely, we ought not disagree too hastily with Marx, because the Scriptures clearly indicate that immediately after humans were “created” they were put to work: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there God put the human, who had been created, to cultivate and keep it.” (Genesis 2:8; 15). Still, homo adorans, though created by a mythologically perfect divine being, is, again, incomplete because “It is not good for humans to be alone” (Gen 2:18). (Being human is “very good,” but it is not good to be separated from the rest of life which is also “good”.)

Thus, it is homo spiritualis that we aspire to, because it is only homo spiritualis whose very existence can be understood to be “inspired” by the breath of the Divine, and it is homo spiritualis who is contemplating ultimate meaning because of her or his inter-connectedness with all of life. It is homo spiritualis that can bring homo faber, homo sapien, and homo adorans to completion. It is homo spiritualis, then, that can mystically and scientifically discern how to live and work in harmony with all of life, politically, economically, and socially. It is homo spiritualis who has the potential to integrate together abstract thought, phenomenon, creative work, and worshipping awe to become truly Human.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

Holiness Is a Moving Target (Reflection)

makeyourmarkwhiteIf you are a Christian what you believe about sin affects what you believe about other aspects of the Christian faith, especially human nature, salvation, and what I will talk about here today: sanctification. Sanctification is the progression of a Christian towards a holy state of sinlessness, what some call perfection. The verse that powerfully describes this potential progression comes from 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” If you are not growing “from one degree of glory to another” as a Christian, if you are not progressively becoming holy, then you are not being “sanctified.”

Our English word for sin is a translation from the Greek word transliterated hamartia, which literally means to “miss the mark.” Conventionally, sin is normally understood as violating God’s Divine Law, whether natural or ecclesiastical, whether by commission or by omission.

Nevertheless, the course of sanctification, that one is progressing towards holiness, is not the achieving of perfection in a static reality. As much as we want things not to change, that life would consist of a set of easy, reductionistic, black and white set of choices, life, in reality, is not static. Knowledge is cumulative. Our universe is expanding, as well as our evolutionary minds and spirits. Adherence to many of God’s Divine Laws has changed over the centuries because our understanding and interpretations have evolved. Even Jesus often used the phrase “You have heard it said, but I say…” (Matthew 5) to emphasize an evolving understanding of the Law and pointing out the misunderstanding or misconstruing of the Law even (especially?) by the religious experts.

For those Christians who believed that slavery was permissible under the Law, that races were not allowed to intermarry under the Law, that women be obligated to wear head coverings in public under the Law, these beliefs are now understood today to be not only wrong but moral evils. The Law was wrong; not just our interpretation of it. In a contemporary example, the internment and separation of immigrant children from their parents (also done to African slaves in the U.S.) was a recent case where a law (that is, an Executive Order or policy, akin to a Divine Law?) was deemed to be so immoral that it had to be rescinded immediately. (Nevertheless, millions of U.S. citizens, many of them self-described Christians, including the scripture misquoting Attorney General, still believe that the internment/separation law was justifiable and even good, simply because it was the law).

So, when we say that sin is “missing the mark,” the assumption often is that this mark is fixed as in an unchangeable law. The etymology of the word comes from the sport of archery:  sinning is like missing the bullseye on a fixed target. For Catholics, the levels of guilt of missing this mark might be understood as the outer circles on the target. Nonetheless, the target metaphor is deficient because it also implies one hundred percent intentionality, that there was a conscious moral decision made without circumstantial factors or considerations. But it is also deficient, primarily, because the mark is not static—because man-made laws or man-made declarations of or interpretations of God’s laws are not static, nor are they perfect.

Additionally, since the goal of sanctification is to be holy, many Christians believe the work of sanctification is to not sin, to abstain from wrongdoing, from breaking the law, or to stop missing this imaginary static mark. But again, this limited understanding of sanctification does not take into account that God is not Holy because God does not sin. God cannot sin, because God is incapable of sin. God is Holy because God is perfectly good in all God’s thoughts and actions. Therefore, it is not the abstention from evil or sin that is the goal of sanctification, but the positive becoming of the good.

The negative “missing the mark” word picture thus infers a human nature that is inherently evil, as opposed to what I want to propose as “making the mark,” which infers neither an inherently good nor evil human nature. If sin is the breaking of Divine law, and that Divine law is not fixed because it cannot be fully understood in its evolving perfection, then it is not the missing of the mark that constitutes sin, but the failure to make the mark by following the moving target which is sin. Sin as a moving target allows us to grow spiritually so we can begin to see things that we once, perhaps, were convinced were sinful (e.g., homosexual marriage) and conclude that they are not because we now understand the goodness (e.g. loving, committed homosexual marriage) of the once perceived sinful behavior. Sin as a moving target gives us flexibility so that we don’t see human thinking or interpretation of Law as static, but evolving and full of grace. This, then, is sanctification: not missing the mark, but being open to and moving with a loving God as God makes the mark and we participate with God in this evolving, growing spiritual life, we call human being.

© Paul Dordal, 2018

 

The World of Ideas (Personal Reflection)

idea headAs a person who writes regularly as a means of self-expression, I often travel in my mind to visit strange and wondrous places. Thus, I am comfortable in the world of ideas, of thoughts floating here and there, of visions and dreams waiting to come to be.  Most of my ideas are focused on God — who Christ is, who I am, how I relate to God and others, and what God wants for me.   Trekking through the world of ideas can be very stimulating and exciting.

Yet, sometimes the world of ideas can be frustrating, even depressing for me, because some of my ideas, visions, and dreams may never come to fruition. I also see and feel things in the world of ideas that are very disturbing and scary.  And sometimes I feel guilty because roaming about too much in the world of ideas creates a dangerous potential for me to be aloof from the actual world of the challenges and problems that I and many others face.

Nevertheless, I often remind myself that the world of ideas is a real world too, and that nothing that is tangible or touchable can exist or could have come to be if not for an idea, a dream, a vision.   In my world of ideas I travel to places no one else can go, and see things that physical eyes can never envision.  Henry David Thoreau said at the end of his book Walden (1854: 345):

Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find
A thousand regions in your mind
Yet undiscovered.  Travel them, and be
Expert in home-cosmography.

As an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I realize that my personality type is oriented toward the world of ideas — that I may have been born this way.  Ever since I was young, ideas were my constant companion.  I was encouraged recently to read about my personality type in a book called SOULTYPES by Hirsh and Kise.  The authors say of people who are oriented towards an INTJ on the MBTI, “INTJ’s tend to be strong individuals who seek novel, logical ways to look at the world.  With their clear sense of direction, they are tireless and determined in developing hypotheses, ideas, and principles. Using their dominant function, Introverted Intuition, is the natural starting place for soulwork.  However, their auxiliary or second function,  Extraverted Thinking, calls them to find some sort of community, be it a small group or formal religious organization, for further exploration of spiritual truths” (2006:129-130).  However, Hirsh and Kise also note that INTJ’s prefer “to work out their beliefs by themselves or with a trusted other.  Many INTJ’s find it hard to accept a pre-established system or conventional model of spirituality” (2006:131).

I also feel the need to translate some of my ideas into words, and words into actions.  Words then give new life to my ideas.  The more I write, the more my ideas travel into the world of my reality.  My hero growing up, Jim Morrison, said of his ideas translated into words:

Words dissemble
Words be quick
Words resemble walking sticks
Plant them they will grow
Watch them waver so.

I’ll always be a word man.
Better than a bird man.

So, I live in the free world of ideas, and though, I also live in the sometimes constraining day to day mundane world, these two worlds are always interacting with each other to produce who I am and what I do.

References
Hirsh, Sandra Krebs & Kise, Jane A.G. (2006). SOULTYPES: Matching Your Personality and Spiritual Path (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Books).

© Paul Dordal, 2015