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

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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

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

Suffering Prophets (Reflection)

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Dordal, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Multi-Being Vs. Multi-Tasking (Reflection)

being-461780_960_720Recently, I typed “How To Multi-Task” in my web search engine and got back over 10 million hits. Multi-tasking, it seems, is a highly treasured skill. The dictionary says multi-tasking is the ability to “perform more than one task or activity at a time.” Of course, many high-functioning, go-getter-types claim to be great multi-taskers, presumably because that’s what employers and organizational leaders are looking for.

But there is a problem. The human brain was not designed to multi-task. In fact, what is actually happening is not multi-tasking at all, but multi-switching.  “Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.”[i] Furthermore, research shows that the more we try to multi-task, the less we accomplish. Our brains are designed to focus, not multi-task.

This got me thinking about a sticky note that I have on my computer screen at the hospital where I minister as a chaplain.  The sticky note says,

Ministry Goals:

  1. Be Available
  2. Be Present
  3. Be Not Rushing
  4. Be Intentional
  5. Be Mercy-Full

Those five “be” statements really are what I attempt to be and to grow into being.  When I am with someone or a group of people, I am to a greater or lesser degree “being” with them. So, really I desire to be good at multi-“be”ing, not multi-tasking. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably not being available or fully present. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably rushing.

Jesus perfectly exemplified the “multi-being,” non-multi-tasking lifestyle. When he was told his best friend Lazarus was seriously ill, Jesus stayed focused where he was on the people and mission before him. When he had finished his ministry in that place, Jesus left to go to Lazarus’ home and found that he had died. Jesus wept openly at his burial place, and the people said, “See, how he loved him” (Jn 11:36).  Jesus was always available and present to those who were with him; he was always intentional, full of mercy, and not rushing.

Unfortunately, the typical capitalist business environment of do more, do it perfect, and do it now is antithetical to being human and certainly not multi-being. Businesses and other organizations who desire people to multi-task do not care for their workers. They are oppressing them. And the irony is that it is scientifically impossible to multi-task and multi-tasking actually lowers productivity.  So, let’s promote multi-being, rather than multi-tasking.

And while we’re at it, maybe we could change the name from busi-ness to being-ness.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Reference

[i] Anonymous. “Multitasking: Switching costs.” American Psychological Association, March 20, 2006. Downloaded on August 15, 2017 from http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx.

You Say You Want A Revolution? (Reflection)

revolution of loveThere is a significant amount of chatter about revolution lately. However, I am not impressed with what I am hearing from certain corners. Several spiritual writers that I read have mentioned the need for a spiritual revolution (Google the term to get a taste). Of course, Trump, Sanders, and others from mainstream political parties have spoken of a political revolution (and look at the fine mess we have gotten into Ollie). But, ala Inigo Montaya, I don’t think revolution means what many people who use the word think it means.

Even the dictionary seems to correctly understand revolution as something people do, not what people say. A revolution has two qualities, and the first is “a sudden, radical, or complete change” of a social system. This understanding of revolution is closely tied to its root word “revolt,” which means that a revolution is the process of people revolting against power structures. Thus, revolution is not when well-known spiritual writers or politicians wax eloquently, yet benignly, about spiritual or political change. Revolution, spiritually and politically, is renouncing allegiance or subjection to a corrupt structural and systemic power. It is the action of joining others to overthrow corrupt political structures (like capitalism) or for religious folk the corrupt religious structures (i.e., dogmatic denominations/churches). So, it should be clear that these “spiritual writers” and “mainstream politicians” are really talking about reform, and not revolution.

The second quality of revolution is also fairly easy to understand. A revolution is an “action by which a celestial body goes around in an orbit or elliptical course.” Something that is revolutionary, then, is ongoing. In a spiritual sense, a revolutionary is someone who is radically repenting (changing) in a continual dialectical fashion. Just like a radical is someone who gets to the root of a thing, a revolutionary is someone who recognizes and operates in a recurrent dialectic of being changed spiritually and socially and changing corrupt spiritual and social structures to liberate others. It is a constant process of death and resurrection, of acknowledging blindness and then seeing, over and over again.

It is quite different from semper reformanda. It is semper revolutio!

Jesus clearly was a revolutionary in this sense. He wanted to tear down the temple and rebuild it differently (Jn 3:19). He called us to hate our own parents, siblings, and even our own life in as much as they/we were participating in oppressive systems (Lk 14:26). Jesus told us to sell our possessions and give them to the poor, in order not to be corrupted by greed (Lk 12:33). Yes, the revolutionary Christian is always working towards personal/spiritual and political/social change by radically sacrificing oneself for the cause of others: “We know what love is because Jesus gave his life for us. That’s why we must give our lives for each other” (1 Jn 3:16).

This can be frightening stuff, yet it is also quite liberating. This understanding of a revolutionary spirit is needed to recognize the futility of reforms at this stage. Real paradigmatic change has always come through revolutions, not by reforms. Furthermore, it is well-known that the powers that control much of society, whether political or religious, will only allow reforms up to a point and will never relinquish their domination of and stranglehold on the masses. Reforms will never wrest power away from the oppressors and give it back to the people.

Only revolutionary work—both spiritual and political—only a mass movement of the people working together to take power back from the oppressors will result in equality and freedom for all. We need both a spiritual and social revolution, and they must work dialectically as well. And it’s not enough to change society, we must simultaneously help humans have a spiritual awakening to be in concert with the knowledge and purposes of The Holy Spirit.

For the sake of our families, our communities, our world, it is time for Christians to take up our crosses and truly follow a revolutionary Jesus (Lk 9:23).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Nothing Else Matters (Reflection)

Nothing20Else20MattersFaith (God)
At the foundation of our lives is our faith, whether we are aware of it or not. Now, faith is not just a simple belief in something or someone; faith is where we place our hope, trust, our dependence. As small children, our faith was in our parents, who provide everything for us. As we got older, and more independent, we begin to adjust our faith dependency to other people or even things: teachers, friends, religions, political systems/figures, intellect, science, money, self-image, etcetera.  But, if we are honest, we soon come to realize that our parents or other people or things or systems or intellect are not 100% worthy of our trust. These people, things, etc., are very fallible and sometimes (or oftentimes) harmful or unhealthy.

However, if we were fortunate to have been brought up in a healthy, nurturing family system that emphasized a truly loving, gracious God as foundational or we later discovered a truly loving, gracious God (without being constrained to a strict dogmatic religious construct) our faith may be said to be based on the eternal spiritual foundation of love. This is what St. John discovered when he said, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Thus, what matters, first and foremost, is expressing our faith in love as the meaning and purpose of our lives: “When we are in Christ, being religious or not doesn’t mean anything. What matters most is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6).

Family (Jesus)
Moving forward from this eternally existent foundation of faith as the crux of what matters in life, we practice faith expressing itself in love in our present lives to our fellow beings. We live and love out of the “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27) This is filial love, the love of other not as other but as an extension of our very own humanity—our family. The Christ that is in me is the Christ that is in you. We are indeed all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our view of the world then becomes this: there are no borders, or nations, or religions, or politics, or any constructs that can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. We are all interconnected by a Divine Reality. When we move beyond the dualistic belief that there is a material reality separate from the spiritual reality, and instead move towards an integrated spiritual/material reality, the barriers that separate us are broken down. As I said in my last post, the dividing veil has been torn in two. We were blind, but now we see through the veil (or the pall), and the indwelling Christ compels us to love the world.

Future (Holy Spirit)
Therefore, we recognize that to live in the here and now as faith expressing itself in love means that we are being called to co-create another world—a just world—a Society or Commonweal of Love—the eternal City of God. The divided world we are now living in needs reconciliation (re-integration), and the movement towards our preferable future is no less than a social revolution. Prior to being able to co-create this world means, of course, destroying the idolatrous world of harmful dualistic beliefs, systems, and structures which are not life-giving, but life-destroying. Our call, especially as those who name the Name of Christ, is to become revolutionaries who struggle, yes even with those who do not name the Name of Christ, but who understand the struggle and need to co-create God’s Commonweal of Love.

So, nothing else matters except our eternal God-given faith in Christ expressing itself in love to our family (the whole world) and participating with the Spirit in the co-creation of the eternal City of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Overcoming Sin: Restoring Right Relationships (Reflection)

we-shall-overcomeOne of the most profound statements of the angels who announced the coming of Jesus was that “Jesus will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

Recently, I had a conversation about sin with one of the student chaplains at the hospital where I work. He is a recent seminary graduate, fresh with a command of systematic theology. After a bit of back and forth on the nature of sin, my final question to him was, But just what is sin? Initially, he gave the typical dictionary and theological answers. Dictionary: An immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. Theology: Sin is “missing the mark,” and the “mark” is God’s moral law. The moral law has to do with purity or holiness, for God is Holy. He also noted that there were sins of commission and sins of omission. This is standard Sunday School fare, really.

When I challenged him to go deeper, about the effect of these individual sins, what they caused, he was able to quickly recognize the relational basis for sin. He said, what I had hoped he would conclude, “Ultimately, sin is broken relationships.”

It is quite disconcerting that most Western constructs of sin interpret sin in a very individualized manner with a focus on personal holiness (moral living). The scriptures most often misquoted to support this individualism come from the Old Testament: “Your sins have separated you from your God” (Is 59:2). (Though, clearly, this should be interpreted collectively, as in Israel). And especially, David, who said, “Against you [God] and you alone have I sinned” (Ps 51:4).

But is this true? Did David sin only against God. Is sin primarily a private affair between individuals and God? Undoubtedly, we have to say no to this. Undoubtedly, our sins against God are primarily relational sins against our own selves and others (which includes God, of course). David’s sins were against his own body and other people. Is not God, represented in David’s cry, the entirety of David’s relational world. Misinterpreting David’s assessment of his personal failings reduces the goal of life to personal moral sin avoidance or “personal holiness,” which further disembodies and detaches us from the material reality of our inherent interconnectedness.

Nevertheless, when we view sin primarily as broken relationships (or matters of justice), we must still begin with ourselves. We begin with the brokenness of self, which is a lack of understanding our own true belovedness–our innate relatedness to God and others. When we recognize our broken relationship with God, we realize our failure to understand and abide in God’s perfect love for us and respond to God with reciprocating love. Our broken relationships with ourselves and God leads us to regularly respond in selfish ways which leads to despair and a cycle of sinful behavior–of more broken relationships. Our shortsighted selfishness leads us to break relationships with others, primarily because of our own brokenness, but other’s brokenness as well.

The key to overcoming sin, then, to restoring our broken relationships, is to confront our own sinfulness, our own intra-relational brokenness. We do this by recognizing, receiving, and abiding in Christ as perfect love, sitting at the foot of the Cross, and reciprocating our received love towards God and others. This experience of God as perfect love inevitably will lead to us engaging in the joy-filled, blessed, but hard work of reconciling ourselves to others, of reconciling the whole world to Christ.

Thus, Jesus is the foundation of saving our broken relationships, of saving us from our sins. This is the work of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the restoration of the Garden of Eden, the bringing of justice on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, we are each called to live a cross-life, receiving and abiding in Christ’s perfect love for us, and bearing our own crosses for the world (see Figure 1).

relational-restoration-graphic

(c) Paul Dordal, 2017

I Don’t Believe The Way You Do: And I’m Still A Catholic!

conformity-2It is clear that Jesus was not a member of any of the sects of Judaism in his time (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, or Zealots). Jesus was critical of much of these sect’s beliefs and practices, but also praised them when they were in line with the goodness and love of God. Jesus was not beholden to one theological construct over another, and Jesus never identified with any of these sects as his own. He simply was a “believer” and called God his Father. Jesus was a universalist; he was for everyone, and that is why Jesus was a Catholic.

In his book, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, scholar and Catholic priest Raymond Brown found seven distinct traditions in the various churches that were started by the apostles. Brown said, “There is no reason why there could not have been in the one city house churches of different traditions….”[i] Yet, Brown shows that even though these churches had different traditions and theological emphases, they would have still have been in communion with one another.

So, Jesus was not a member of any sect, and the early Christians did not practice exclusivism even as members of unique traditions. Yet, today Christians, to become members of churches, are obliged to hold to the distinctives of the various denominations and sects of Christianity, which way too often do not have communion with one another. Even within a particular tradition there are those who would criticize and even condemn those who don’t hold perfectly to a certain “party-line” of dogmatic teachings. Rigid religious exclusivism abounds and is often encouraged!

This is why I am advocating well-ordered anarchism as the solution to the exclusivism nightmare from which so many Christians cannot seem to awake. I want us all to be Catholics (universalists), if you will, no matter what group or non-group you identify with. All who even remotely have faith in Jesus are Catholics, no matter if some Grand Poohbah, clergy person, or even the person sitting next to you in a pew tries to say otherwise. You are free in Christ! You are beautiful before God!

Some of the issues of which I have been indoctrinated by an Evangelical or conservative Catholic upbringing are simply man-made constructs based on a narrow and often times erroneous interpretation of Scripture. For instance, Just-War Theory simply does not line up with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Rigid and absolutist teachings about divorce and remarriage, male-only clergy, hierarchical organization, homosexuality, abortion, capitalism, and how we see other religions are simply unhelpful and, worse, they are hurtful and oppressive.

It is time to do away with the denominations, do away with rigid dogmatism, do away with systems of theology which are exclusivist, do away with church institutionalism, and to embrace the diversity of belief which Jesus and the early church proclaimed and embraced.  It is time to see God for who God really is and always has been: Ultimate Love! When we do this, we can be like Jesus, the One and True Catholic.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Note
[i] Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1984, 23.