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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Startling - Augustine's "The City of God"

Near the end of his life, Augustine spent a decade writing his major work, "The City of God." I'm at location 4,900+ out of 29,000+ locations on my Kindle, and he still hasn't given much in the way of his Christian theology, for which he is most famous.

His beginning is odd. I'm not sure - stoic, fatalist, or just coldly observant. He writes at the beginning of this book of the sacking of Rome that went on in his lifetime, beginning in 410 C.E. This book was completed in 426 C.E. in Hippo where he lived. He writes of the huge numbers of deaths in Rome and says things like They were going to die anyway, sooner or later, for all die. He writes of the stacks and stacks of corpses and says things like Dead bodies feel no sensations, so it really doesn't matter they are not yet buried. For someone who is going to be sainted, this seems oddly lacking in compassion, although technically accurate.

I guess this fits in with the next sections and premises. Rome and Greece have been wicked, violent, licentious, while true to their gods who were either ineffective in protecting them or were demons. He argues through huge mountains of data regarding wars and insidious attacks and murders and intrigues and horrible things in the history of these powerful nations. He indicates that there is a popular point of view that they were sacked because of Christianity and the people's slacking away from their traditional gods. Augustine, in excruciating detail, debunks this theory.

I look forward to getting to the point where he feels his case is laid sufficiently and can go forward explaining his view of Christianity. So far, in his defense of Christianity, he has made a few comments such as Christians would not behave so. He has made a point that I have made from time to time, that once Christianity became an imperial religion, its nature and teaching changed. I personally work to peel the imperial stamp and theology away, and to go back to the brilliant teachings of Jesus.

I also see in the history of Rome some disturbing parallels to our current situation as a nation and as Western civilization. I am reminded of the old adage He/She who does not know history is condemned to repeat it.



Sunday, January 29, 2023

Slander of God

I'm reading Augustine's "City of God," which is astounding in many ways. Right now, I just want to note one idea.

What he says is that when a leading person is slandered, there are all sorts of repercussions. Why not "when the gods are objects of so wicked and outrageous an injustice?"

Why not? Why do people disparage God by loudly saying the opposite of who/what God is? 

God is unconditional love, agape love. In perfect, unconditional love there is no hate, no violence, no ugliness. Yet, some continue to accuse God of being violent to those of any group called "other" by the accusers. They puff themselves up by calling themselves part of the "in" group, and warn of horrible things to come for those not in that particular group and not followers of their particular point of view. They make God in their narrow, egotist view, full of human error and emotional problems.

Let us take charge of ourselves and move to be more and more like that unconditional love. Let us move to know the actual God of all. Let us heal our spiritual wounds, and let us move forward together.

May it be so.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Teresa of Avila, Wow!

This morning I was re-reading "Let Nothing Disturb You," and this quote struck me as something I need to share.

We pray to our Father “who art in heaven.” But where is heaven? Where shall we find our Father? It is important to know and experience the answer to this question, if we are to concentrate our minds and souls. You know that God is everywhere; and this is a great truth, for, of course, wherever God is, there is heaven. No doubt you can believe that in any place where his majesty is, there is fullness of glory. Remember how St. Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding his father within himself.

Remember that Jesus said that we've looked all over the place, lo here and lo there, but the kingdom is actually within. It may be general knowledge among those on the spiritual path that we each must do our inner work in order to know this at an experiential level. One of the current problems, however, as I see it, is that way too many have given up on the spiritual path for various reasons. 

Some have given up because they think secularism or other isms are more modern and useful, or because they cannot swallow the ancient myths and strange beliefs, or because they don't see any use of it, or a thousand other reasons. I gave up on it, sort of, when I was in college. I gave up on church, but I kept on searching spiritually. I found out what they were telling me in church did not match up with history or science or any number of other things. I read a mountain of books, went to a lot of seminars, talked to a lot of people, and eventually, there I was, being ordained in 1978.

Now, I see a dire need in society to turn again with fresh eyes and hearts to the spiritual path. People are becoming untethered from the morals and ways that hold civilization together and give us the opportunity to grow and seek, to prosper and share, to be more and more of who we can be. It is as if some act as if they are feral, like feral cats - wild, scratching violently, fighting, only for themselves.

Science, medicine, arts, history - all areas have been updated. None are like they were a hundred or two hundred years ago, let alone thousands of years ago. Yet most of religion has not been updated with the breakthroughs in language, history, archeology, theological understanding or anything else. In fact, it's gone backward in many groups, adding 19th century misunderstandings (such as John Darby's rapture) or dismissing parts of itself because of the "enlightenment,"  and ignoring the consensus of the great mystics who had a direct relationship with The More, and lived across all times and places. 

If we wish to reattach ourselves to the spiritual path, I think we can go backward and forward in our search. We can read and contemplate words of people like Teresa I quoted above or others including Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, and Mechtild of Magdeburg, We can read and even watch on YouTube modern thinkers on all things spiritual - for example: Richard Rohr, John Dominic Crossen, John Shelby Spong, the Napa Institute and Fr. Robert Spitzer (for amazing science + religion), Brian McLaren, Cynthia Bourgeault, Matthew Fox, Amy Jill Levine and a huge number of others. You can read the two best sellers in the religious category in the 20, the century - the first half was Evelyn Underhill's "Mysticism" and the second half was Aldous Huxley's "Perrenial Philosophy." These and others include new information on history, language, science, and how it reframes our view. If you seek at least some of these out, I guarantee your spiritual engine will be recharged and off and running.

Clear spiritual thinkers are needed right now, yes always, but maybe especially now. Together we can lift the present and set a direction for a positive future.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Looking Through the Eyes of ...?

This month the scripture we discussed at our United Women in Faith meeting is below. This morning I felt led to share a few thoughts about it with you.

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20, The Message translation -- One of the 7 authentic Letters of Paul

This passage is quite astounding to me. First of all, Paul echoes Jesus' statement to not judge by appearances, but use righteous judgment. Paul says "now we look inside." So I think it would be good to take a moment and ask ourselves - How am I doing with that? When/where do I only see the surface and not look inside? How can I be more self-aware, so that I look at the inner and not the outer? How much calmer and more loving would my life be, if I truly were doing this consistently? It seems to me that spiritual growth is a process, rarely an instantaneous leap into cosmic consciousness. We need to be consciously involved in our process, not just let it happen willy nilly. That is, assuming we actually want to develop a mature and deeply meaningful spiritual life. Maybe that is a foundation question to ask ourselves. I sort of assume that, if you are reading my blog, you are focusing on being more and more spiritually awake, aware and in tune with the Infinite.

Paul tells that once we put our foot on the path, we get a fresh start and can be made new. Something clicks, shifts, opens when we sincerely align ourselves with the Infinite, the Christ Presence, the More. It is certainly a discernable difference.

He tells us that God has settled our relationship. We're all right with God. And then we are given a job to do --- tell others. Not only that, but we are now Christ's representatives - and we are to persuade others to drop their differences and make things right. We are to encourage others to join in the work of bringing everyone into harmony, to remember we are all God's kids, all siblings, one family. 

But then Paul goes farther --- We’re speaking for Christ himself now. That is an immense prospect. That carries huge responsibility. It also carries the possibility of slipping into hubris, which we have seen so many do. It can, however, be humbling and life-changing. 

It seems to me, if I speak for Christ, I need to be totally aware of his life and teachings, not the theology heaped upon him over the ages, but the original teaching. I need to speak and act as much as I possibly can in attunement with Him. I must speak and act out of unconditional love. I must forgive without limit. I must help and care and give and shine the Light that is within freely. I must root out of myself all that is unlike the Christ, which means I must honestly see myself and keep shifting every day, every moment to the goal of being all I am called to be. 

It might seem overwhelming, but it is a process that will make life so much fuller and more fulfilling. And, it might just change the world.

 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Christian Women Across History

In preparation for our United Women in Faith Sunday in February, I have written 8 scripts for our members to portray to the congregation. It strikes me how incredibly difficult it has been for us to achieve and to give our spiritual gifts in most times in history.

Jeanne-Marie Guyon, for example, was an advisor to King Louis XIV, wrote to the Pope, and had disciples, including Fenelon. But she was jailed for about 8 years for teaching "Quietism" after she wrote a book, A Short and Very Easy Method of Prayer. She was basically teaching what many of us practice and teach nowadays, Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading. 

It seems wild to think of a woman imprisoned for teaching prayer, but women have been held in various stages of vulnerability for eons. I know in some places this very day, people are jailed or exiled for religious beliefs, and that is despicable of course. But that does not negate that across eons, women have been thought of as possessions, or less human than men, a subspecies, or unfit and unable to think, and who dare not teach men. And this very day there are women living under such conditions in some parts of our world.

In Western cultures, that is pretty much overcome. But, we have sisters still suffering humiliating restrictions and barbaric treatment, mostly in the eastern part of the world. Clearly, there is much work to do to bring freedom and equality globally to everyone.

I want to get back to history for a moment. Since women have been generally devalued, we have only a few great spiritual women whose words and thoughts have been written and preserved so that we can read and consider them today. I think we should celebrate them and relish their precious words. Let's listen to a few:

    St Bridgid of Kildare
  • Christ dwells in every creature
     Hildegard of Bingen
  • We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others.
  • Even in a world that's being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong.
  • Dare to declare who you are. 
  • Humanity, take a good look at yourself.

Mechthild of Magdeburg
  • If you love the justice of Jesus Christ more than you fear human judgment then you will seek to do compassion. 
  • The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love.

Amen, Amen and Amen

I hope you will look up these and other women and deeply hear their words of insight and inspiration.

May 2023 and beyond be overflowing with blessings for you and yours.




Saturday, January 7, 2023

Individual/Unique or Universal?

This morning I was rereading John Dominic Crossan's book on the different sacred art of the East and West in regards to the resurrection. He makes the point that it is not described in the writings we have, perhaps being indescribable in words or not actually witnessed. He starts the book with this quote:

 If Christ did not rise for us, then he did not rise at all, since he had no need of it just for himself. In him the world arose, in him heaven arose, in him the earth arose. For there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

ST. AMBROSE OF MILAN, On the Death of His Brother Satyrus

This quote sums it up. 

Western art portrays Jesus rising alone, maybe  with observers down below him, often with mouths open, watching his unique and individual rising.

Eastern art, however, portrays a very different resurrection. Jesus empties hell and brings everyone with him. His is a universal resurrection, bringing everyone with him.

Modern scholarship has moved towards the Eastern understanding, and I concur. It makes sense to me that Jesus already knew life eternal, so to rise alone would be snubbing lowly people who were unlikely to follow. But to show that we can all rise with him, is a game changer. It is a very different message.

Let's consider/contemplate Ambrose's quote and take it into our hearts and discover deep within us the meaning of his words for us.

God bless you, dear ones.



Sunday, January 1, 2023

Hear and See My New Year's Sermon

Just go to Temecula United Methodist Church on its YouTube channel or Facebook page.

I was honored to be the worship leader and gave the sermon on New Year's morning. I'd love for you to hear it. 

Have a truly blessed New Year.

I love you,

Marlene