Monday, April 15, 2013

And you’ll do harm.

“[Jesus] has a lot to say about self-righteousness, which he compares, not very tactfully, to a grave that looks neat and well cared for up top, but is heaving with ‘corruption’ down below. Maggots, basically. And the point of this repulsive image is not just that the inside and outside of a self-righteous person don’t match, that there’s a hypocritical contradiction between the claim to virtue and the actual content of a human personality: it’s also that, for him, being sure you’re righteous, standing on your own dignity as a virtuous person, comes precious close to being dead. 

If you won’t hear the bad news about yourself, you can’t know yourself. You condemn yourself to the maintenance of an exhausting illusion, a false front to your self which keeps out doubt and with it hope, change, nourishment, breath, life. If you won’t hear the bad news, you can’t begin to hear the good news about yourself either. And you’ll do harm. 

You’ll be pumped up with the false confidence of virtue, and you’ll think it gives you a license, and a large share of all the cruelties in the world will follow, for evil done knowingly is rather rare compared to the evil done by people who’re sure that they themselves are good, and that evil is hatefully concentrated in some other person; some other person who makes your flesh creep because they have become exactly as unbearable, as creepy, as disgusting, as you fear the mess would be beneath your own mask of virtue, if you ever dared to look at it,” - Francis Spufford, from his recent book,Unapologetic.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The biblical God is a starter kit

The biblical God is a starter kit

Karen Armstrong
Most of us are introduced to God at about the same time as we hear about Santa Claus, but over the years our views of Santa mature and change, while our notion of God often gets stuck at an infantile level.
As a result, “God” becomes incredible. Despite our scientific and technological brilliance, our religious thinking in the west is often remarkably undeveloped, even primitive, and would make Maimonides and Aquinas turn in their graves. They both insisted that God was not another being and that you could not even say that He (ridiculous pronoun!) existed, because our experience of existence is too limited. God, said Aquinas, is Being itself (esse se ipsum).
The biblical God is a “starter kit”; if we have the inclination and ability, we are meant to move on. Throughout history, however, many people have been content with a personalized deity, yet not because they “believed” in it but because they learned to behave – ritually and ethically – in a way that made it a reality. Religion is a form of practical knowledge, like driving or dancing. You cannot learn to drive by reading the car manual or the Highway Code; you have to get into the vehicle and learn to manipulate the brakes. The rules of a board game sound obscure and dull until you start to play, and then everything falls into place. There are some things that can be learned only by constant, dedicated practice. You may learn to jump higher and with more grace than seems humanly possible or to dance with unearthly beauty. Some of these activities bring indescribable joy –what the Greeks called ekstasis, a “stepping outside” the norm.
Religion, too, is a practical discipline in which we learn new capacities of mind and heart. Like premodern philosophy, it was not the quest for an abstract truth but a practical way of life. Usually religion is about doing things and it is hard work. Classical yoga was not an aerobic exercise but a full-time job, in which a practitioner learned to transcend the ego that impeded the ekstasis of enlightenment. The five “pillars” or essential practices of Islam are all activities: prayer, pilgrimage, almsgiving, fasting and a continual giving of “witness” (shahada) in everything you do that God (not the “gods” of ambition and selfishness) is your chief priority.
The same was once true of Christianity. The Trinity was not a “mystery” because it was irrational mumbo-jumbo. It was an “initiation” (musterion), which introduced Greek-speaking early Christians to a new way of thinking about the divine, a meditative exercise in which the mind swung in a disciplined way from what you thought you knew about God to the ineffable reality. If performed correctly it led to ekstasis. As Gregory of Nazianzus (329-90) explained to his Christian initiates: “My eyes are filled and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me.” Trinity was, therefore, an activity rather than a metaphysical truth in which one credulously “believed”. It is probably because most western Christians have not been instructed in this exercise that the Trinity remains pointless, incomprehensible, and even absurd.
If you don’t do religion, you don’t get it. In the modern period, however, we have turned faith into a head-trip. Originally, the English word “belief”, like the Greek pistis and the Latin credo, meant “commitment”. When Jesus asked his followers to have “faith”, he was not asking them to accept him blindly as the Second Person of the Trinity (an idea he would have found puzzling). Instead, he was asking his disciples to give all they had to the poor, live rough and work selflessly for the coming of a kingdom in which rich and poor would sit together at the same table.
Credo ut intellegam – I commit myself in order that I may understand,” said Saint Anselm (1033-1109). In the late 17th century, the English word “belief” changed its meaning and became the intellectual acceptance of a somewhat dubious proposition. Religious people now think that they have to “believe” a set of incomprehensible doctrines before embarking on a religious way of life. This makes no sense. On the contrary, faith demands a disciplined and practical transcendence of egotism, a “stepping outside” the self which brings intimations of transcendent meaning that makes sense of our flawed and tragic world.
Karen Armstrong is the author of “The Case for God: What Religion Really Means” (Vintage, £9.99

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kickstarter for a blogger friend

Our friend Milton has gotten published and is raising funds to promote his book - which is much more than a book - it is an experience - will you consider supporting him?

Keeping The Feast Book Tour Kickstarter Project

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Living with both arms

It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price.... One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.

Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman

Via Inward/Outward

Thursday, May 03, 2012

God's math

"God doesn't go by the kind of arithmetic that you and I go by. God has never learned to deal in fractions. God didn't get that far in school. I think he's like my father who had ten children, and many a time I thought, "Well, my goodness, with a family this big, Daddy can't love me very much. I can only claim one tenth of his love." But my father loved me with all of his love. It's just that way with love. There is no fraction in it. You can't break it up into pieces. And God wants the whole human race. He just can't deal in fractions.

And so Jesus is saying to these people who were griping and mumbling and grumbling about the fact that he was taking in all kinds of people, bums and drunks and the poor folks and everybody, he was saying, "Well, I just can't help it. God just has a sentimental attachment for his people. And, whether you like it or not, God loves 'em, and it does seem to me that if they're precious in God's sight, they ought to be precious in yours, too."

Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Parables of Liberation

Friday, March 16, 2012

Brene Brown - Vulnerability and Shame @ TED

"Empathy is the antidote to shame.  If you put shame in a petri dish it needs three things to grow exponentially, secrecy,silence and judgement.  If you put the same amount of shame in a petri dish and dose it with empathy it cannot survive. The two most powerful words when we are in struggle is "me too."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everything changes

The process of conversion begins with genuine openness to change--to be open to the possibility that just as natural life evolves, so our spiritual life is evolving.... Each time you consent to an enhancement of faith, your world changes and all your relationship have to be adjusted to the new perspective and the new light that has been given you. Our relationship to ourselves, to Christ, to our neighbor, to the Church--to God--all change. It is the end of the world we have previously known and lived in.

Source: Thomas Keating Contemplative Outreach News (Winter 1988)

via: inward/outward