Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Wisdom of Jesus -- June 24

Notes on Encountering the Wisdom Jesus--June 24
Session Three: The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You

What did Jesus actually teach? How often do you consider the teachings as a whole? Over familiarity with Jesus in our culture may get in the way of appreciating Jesus’ teaching. One Texas theologian remembers Sunday School teaching: Jesus is nice and he wants us to be nice too.

Bourgeault recommends the book: Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality, Jim Marion (Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads, 2000). Title is direct quote from St. Paul. The tendency to relate to Jesus through belief is characteristic of Western Christianity. But it was not necessarily the emphasis of the early church. Moreover, relating to Jesus through beliefs is not necessarily the only way for us today. The central challenge that Jesus offered was finding a new way of seeing the world and in “right practice.”

How do we put on the mind of Christ? Marion notices that Jesus repeatedly describes his teaching as the “kingdom of heaven.” It is a foundational idea. What is the kingdom of heaven? Biblical scholars have debated it for centuries. Not where you go when you die. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is at hand; it is within you. Not later, but “lighter.”

The kingdom is not an earthly, political utopia, either. Jesus specifically denied it in his day. He said the kingdom of heaven is not of this world.

Marion suggests that the kingdom of heaven is a code word for a state of consciousness, a new way of looking at the world with non-dual, or unitive, consciousness. Earmarks of non-dual consciousness are no separation between God and humans, or between humans and humans. All is one. Two core teachings.

Jesus describes a complete mutual indwelling: God in us, we are in God, we are in each other. I am the vine, you are the branches (The Gospel of John). Mutual abiding: whole and part live together in mutual, loving reciprocity.

No separation between human and human: Love your neighbor as yourself. We often hear it wrong. Not “as much as.” “As” means “the same.” Your neighbor is you. No competition between people who are in a sense “one.”

Jim Marion uses language pioneered by philosopher Ken Wilber: human beings live on a continuum of consciousness.

Jesus as a master of non-dual consciousness, calling people to that transformed consciousness. Kingdom of heaven is what you see when you see from that unitive consciousness and life lived from that consciousness.

Computer metaphors help us understand what this all means. We come into existence with a certain operating system but have the opportunity to “upgrade.” Our original operating system is a binary operating system. Built into the structure of our brain. Ability to stand outside ourselves with a self-reflective consciousness. Subject/object oriented. We experience ourselves as persons with distinct attributes, not like the other. We experience others as outside ourselves. We think in terms of discriminating differences between objects and people. We experience ourselves as distinct, unique persons, different from every other person. We experience others as outside ourselves. We think in dualities, good versus bad, up versus down, etc.

Each one of us is at the hub at the center of this perception of dualism. But it is a mirage, an illusion, per most wisdom traditions. There is no ego, separate from everything else. The perception of separation is a function of the binary operating system.

Jesus suggests that you can upgrade your operating system. Most people get stuck in the binary operating system. But we have the capacity to upgrade, it is also programmed, in latency, into us: the non-dual, unitive system. Bourgeault likes to call it the operating system of the heart. (In contrast, the binary system operates thru the brain.) Not separating, does not make distinctions.

Transformation of the mind means upgrading to heart awareness. Heart is not necessarily the emotional center. Heart is an organ of inner alignment, perception of the world as well as of the spirit. Heart picks up reality in a more profound way than does the brain.

Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski (Living Presence: A Sufi Guide to Mindfulness and the Essential Self, New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1992):

"We have subtle subconscious faculties we are not using. In addition to the limited analytic intellect is a vast realm of mind that includes psychic and extrasensory abilities; intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity; aesthetic, qualitative, and creative capabilities; and image-forming and symbolic capacities. Though these faculties are many, we give them a single name with some justification because they are operating best when they are in concert. They comprise a mind, moreover, in spontaneous connection to the cosmic mind. This total mind we call 'heart.'”

The heart is an instrument that can pick of signals from all sorts of sources. Heart is super-rational; picks up all kinds of information. Wisdom traditions see the heart as an organ of spiritual alignment, like a GPS (God-Positioning System). Allows us to go beyond the obvious and to pick up on things unseen as well as what can be perceived by the senses.

Heart is not based on separation. It perceives by means of harmony. Heart awareness is “upgrade of the operating system.” Sees from a perspective of non-duality. No separation between God and Human; no separation between human and human. A whole new way of seeing and being.

A new way of seeing the teachings of Jesus and possibilities for the followers of Jesus. Metanoia, Greek word that “repentance” translates: Going into the larger mind, the “butterfly” mind. She attributes this insight to Marcus Borg.

Jesus calls us to see with the mind of the heart.

Centering prayer is an exercise in repentance, of going into the larger mind. Jesus is the master of repentance, that what allows us to go into the larger mind.

This transformation is illustrated by the parable in Matthew 20, the laborers in the vineyard, one of the hardest parables to understand. You cannot understand the parable if you hear it with binary mind; the owner seems to act unfairly. You must shift your operating system to a more unitive consciousness to see that the owner is acting out of a place of abundance; there is enough for everyone. It represents a whole new way of seeing.

A hint of what Jesus is up to; he is trying to “fry our mental sockets,” to show us a whole new way of being. Until this mind shift has taken place, it is impossible to live the gospel. Jesus was probably the first in the Near East to model this non-dual teaching. We live with hypocrisy and burnout because of the gap between our beliefs and the teaching of Jesus. Very few people have been able to live in the heart consciousness.

Jesus does give us a path and future sessions discuss this path.

Next session: The Path of Metanoia, looking at the Beatitudes, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the hard sayings of Jesus.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Calling All CUCC Youth: Your Design Ideas, Please

Over the next two weeks (by July 15!), please call, email or send to Jane sketches of your ideas for painting the Youth Room.

Here is what you have to decide.
1) Bathroom color
2) Main room color & trim
3) Decorations for the half wall
4) Small room color
Favored colors so far - red, lime green, light blue, a color from the half wall (NOT TOO MUCH WHITE)
Debate: Do you keep the crosses and add to them OR does each youth group decorate the half wall in a new way?

June 24 workday
The ceiling is almost done and
we made a good start on drywalling the new doorway.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

From the Archives ...

Mary Pruneau has turned up a bundle of old newspaper clippings that paint a dramatic picture of an era that is growing faint in the memories of even our most senior members. I'm just starting to work through this, but in particular I want to share some photos from a full page spread in the Raleigh Times (afternoon companion paper for N&O) from February 17, 1951. The text on the page states that the Institute of Religion is in its "twelfth year", which would put the startup as having been in 1939. Take a look at our past ...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Notes for the Adult Christian Education Summer Experience

Notes on Encountering the Wisdom Jesus

Audio Course by Cynthia Bourgeault

Session One: Jesus as a recognition event (June 10)

Our task is meeting Jesus through insight, not hindsight. This series presents a new take on Jesus, as Wisdom master.

What do we believe about Jesus? In Western Christianity, we tend to focus on who he was, what he did. For example, from the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

Bourgeault points out that we live the Christian life with hindsight—we know how the story comes out. This is the primary way in which we approach Jesus, that is, through what we believe about him.

However, all this knowing about Jesus gets in the way of living our Christianity. It gives us a false sense of security that we would recognize Jesus if he were to appear before us. Moreover, hindsight prevents us from finding and using the key tool to find and live the path and to connect with this person Jesus.

We may have a window of opportunity. Mainstream Christianity is breaking down. It is marked by conflict and polarity.

Recent scholarly discoveries give us new information about gospels.

Paradigm shift: What is it that we mean by Christianity? Who is this master in whom we profess belief?

Jesus as a Wisdom teacher. Wisdom is an ancient tradition, not limited to one particular religious expression but at the headwaters of all the great sacred paths. One of the greatest losses in our Christian West has been the loss of memory about our own Wisdom heritage. Wisdom is concerned with the art and science of the transformation of the whole human being from our animal instincts and egocentricity into loving and compassion.

GK Chesterton: Christianity is not a failure, it has just not been tried yet.

Brief bio of Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal priest, writer, retreat leader. One of the first 100 women ordained in the Episcopal Church. She calls herself a Contemplative—spiritual practice of meditation, silent prayer, lectio divina. It is through practice that she has come to learn what she knows. She is a student of the wisdom tradition across other cultures and religions.

Through this work she has come to see Jesus as teacher of the path of inner transformation. Emphasis on paying attention to what he taught. How we can walk the path.

She is a seeker. Most important thing she had to learn was not what to seek but how to seek. Raised as Christian Science but educated in Quaker schools. This nurture pit mental discipline against the experience of the presence of God in silence. Quakerism did not give instruction: silence assumed to be natural. Could not reconcile the two streams of knowing. Crisis came in the death of a family friend when she was age 12. Experienced a consolation—realized that something in her KNEW and recognized the voice of truth when she heard it.

Problem with living the story in hindsight—dulls the knowing.

Imagine you are there by the Sea of Galilee. How do you know who Jesus is? He looks like anybody else. You are thrust onto your own naked knowing. What in you recognizes Jesus, if indeed you are able?

Fr. Bruno Barnhart, monk, mentor to Cynthia, prior of Camaldolese monastery in Big Sur, California. (Second Simplicity: The Inner Shape of Christianity. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999.) Key piece is recognition energy—the Gospels are based on it. One person after another encounters and recognizes Jesus: John 1 narrative of the awakening of meeting Jesus. The blind man on the road to Jerico, father of the paralytic boy, centurion with sick servant. We feel the breakthrough of light, the wave front of wonder. Who is this person? Who do you say I am? What in you recognizes?

Would it make any difference for you if Jesus did not rise from the dead? For the first disciples, they did not know the outcome of crucifixion and resurrection. What caused them to say yes to Jesus?

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). It is an odd story: Jews did not normally speak to Samaritans. Notice the mutual boldness—Jesus sees something in her; she challenges him in return. She “catches” it, she follows him—there is a heart to heart connection and inner seeing. Mutual recognition that empowers each other to greater disclosure of the truth. First time in the Gospel that Jesus reveals himself to another. She finds knowing in her heart, belief grows in nature of the heart connection between the two of them.

Jesus as a mirror of her true self.

People who left Jesus learned about him through what others said about him; those who remained encountered Jesus through the heart. Luminosity of true being—in each one of us; our paraclete, our guide; built into us when we were born.

Thomas Merton, “A Member of the Human Race.”

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of Heaven is everywhere.

Beginning point of the seeking journey is in the mutual recognition of the point of pure truth in each one of us. It keeps us safe. You may have found it in yourself.

She will recommend Lectio Divina as a way of seeking; it is a practice of reading scripture in a way that lets the truth enter your heart.

Purpose to reframe old teachings, challenge you to think about them in new ways, ponder, grow in depth, meet the risen Jesus in a deeper place within yourself. Also, to open some fresh space to allow your real imaginations and faith questions to breathe.

Gospel of Thomas:

Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, the will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. (The Gospel of Thomas, 2.)

“If you are searching you must not stop until you find. When you find, however, you will become troubled. Your confusion will give way to wonder. In wonder you will reign overall things. Your sovereignty will be your rest.”

Seek with full heart and trust in the goodness of the path, what we find will be real gold.

Session Two: Jesus in Context. (June 17)

Setting the stage: Jesus was a Near Eastern event and its influence radiated in all directions—taken west by Paul, to Turkey, Rome and the rest of Europe; but also to Africa and, from there, up to France and the Celtic lands; east, to Persia, India and even China; and, very significantly, to what are now the Islamic lands. Therefore, there are several streams of Jesus teachings, each with its own flavor.

Even as recently as 50 years ago, we enjoyed a much simpler picture of Jesus. We thought of what is in the Bible as orthodox. But remember, the Bible was not always with us. Canonical format in 4th century. What was in was orthodox; what was not, non-orthodox. We did not think about other kinds of Christianities: Syriac, Nestorians, Orthodox. We called these traditions Gnostic—we have been trained to think of it as non-orthodox.

What we thought of as orthodox was seen through a western filter—really Roman. This view tends to confuse unity with uniformity. In this course, we start the journey by realizing that we have filters that skew and distort knowledge about Wisdom Jesus.

Orthodox means “right praise”, not “right doctrine.” Early Christians saw that we’d never all believe the same thing. What holds us together is worshiping together. In the West we have lost the inner tolerance of early Christianity. We need to get back to this place in our thinking about Jesus.

In the past 50 years, new materials that have forced us to reevaluate. 4 streams of new knowledge:

First, we have the discovery of new primary materials, particularly the Nag Hammadi codex—collection of new texts used as sacred scriptures in the early Christian church (first 5 centuries) found at the end of WWII in a field in Egypt. Smuggled out of Egypt and assessed—determined to have been buried in the 5th century by a monks when there was a shift in what was viewed as canonical. They are gospels and gospel fragments, in particular, the Gospel of Thomas—radically new take on Jesus.

Second, there are the Syriac studies. Scholars have scraped below the surface of texts and practices in Syrian churches, to find living memories and oral traditions of Christianity before Islam, particularly the rite of baptism. Preserved memory of Jesus and Christian practices, very different from Western tradition. In the West Jesus is seen as a rescuer; in the Eastern church, Jesus is seen as the life giver. Ihedia-the one who came to initiate people into light.

Third, finding of Qumran scrolls. Not Christian practice. Mystical Judaic practices, particularly Essenes. Jesus was a Jew. These mystical practices were background for his development. What he taught was in the apocalyptic teachings of this stream.

Finally, recovery of Christianity’s contemplative tradition. Simple ways of recapturing practices of centering prayer, Christian meditation. Thomas Keating. Dom John Main, Benedictine scholar. 200,000 Christians meditating. Fastest way to put us in contact with inner knowing of the heart. Turns off the mind with its 20/20 hindsight. Contact with stream of knowing in the heart, experience the wisdom master. Opens up a different way of knowing—epinoia (vs dianoia) We are learning the process again. Helps us to take advantage of the new sources on Jesus event.

What emerges from this different picture?

Soteriology—savior—Western Christianity: Jesus died for our sins, rescued us. Largely the spin put on the Jesus event by Paul. Paul’s story—worried about something in his being that was imperfect. Had a conversion experience on the road to Damascus—picked up, saved into joy and a new beginning. What he took out to the West, Turkey and Rome. Increased as it worked thru filters of St. Augustine—emphasis on keeping meticulously to a particular path. Amplified thru the medieval church, Calvinism. Emphasis on original sin; people are evil.

Sophiology—Christianity of the East—Wisdom teaching. Jesus as a master of consciousness. The unified one—I hediah—Jesus came to teach a path to becoming Enlightened Ones. Emphasis on the path, how Jesus was like us, we can do what he did. As I am, you can become. Ideas that come back to us from other traditions.

What is said about him in the West—not the primary thing in the rest of Christianity. Instead how he can help us become like him.

Near Eastern Context—master of wisdom is a recognized category. In immediate Judaic tradition, priests and prophets. A third category, the moshel, the one who taught the ancient Wisdom practice.

Other traditions, transformation of the human being. We are victims of a tragic case of mistaken identity. Small self vs the larger self—the butterfly inside our caterpillar. To become the butterfly we must recognize that we are something else. We need practices to aid in our transformation. Jesus was a wisdom teacher.

How do we know he was a wisdom teacher? He taught in parables, meshal. A wisdom genre. Parable is not a wise saying. It is like a koan. A story that works with your mind to push you from a small understanding to something bigger. Not a priest, nor a prophet. How the human can die, lose the little life to find bigger one, live abundantly. A recognized tradition in the near Eastern world. A person walking as friend and brother who taught people to recognize wisdom from the center of their being.

Sufism is the closest analogue to what Jesus did and taught.

The Cosmopolitan Jesus

Jesus was not an uneducated hick. (To think that he was strengthens the Western case that Jesus came directly from God). He was sophisticated and culturally interactive.

Galilee was not Jerusalem. Galilee was on the Silk Road, viaduct of human culture, connecting East and West.

Jesus was exposed to a variety of ideas, the cutting edge of teachings from China, and elsewhere.

According to scripture Jesus could read (Luke 4:16). He probably spoke several languages, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He certainly received some religious training or apprenticeship, perhaps Essene—Jewish ascetic, mystical sect. John the Baptist may have been Essene. Jesus may have been exposed to it.

He was a master of wisdom, not just a teacher. Look at his teachings. He used familiar teachings and added a new twist to them, to push things further.

Example in Luke 6:27-38—Love your enemies and do good to them.

Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find---familiar teaching. In Thomas 2, seeking and finding is the beginning. When you find, your boxes will be broken (paradigm shift) resolve when you give way to wonder. You will begin to grasp mastery and that only will bring you to rest.

His teaching was more powerful than that of other teachers. Not proverbs for daily living. Program for transformation of the human consciousness.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lake Wheeler Celebration

The CUCC website will soon have a feature and photo gallery on the Celebration at Lake Wheeler today. In the meantime let's make do with the proverbial "a good time was had by all" and a small sample of pictures of CUCC folks from later in the afternoon. More to come.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Report from Rome

(posted for Marcy Halsted)

We are fine and have seen lots of sights (churches galore, catacombs, ancient Roman ruins) but a real big event was that we were in the right place at the right time and saw the Pope, about 20 feet away from us in a processional. Also saw cardinals, religious orders, nuns, etc in the processional and then heard him deliver a prayer to the crowd. This was at a basilica in the neighborhood where we have been staying, not at St. Peters where we spent today. Sistine Chapel is amazing! We are on to Umbria tomorrow and looking forward to a more relaxed atmosphere. Rome is a bundle of energy!
Our Love to All,

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

CUCC Climate blog up and running

Gary Smith and I decided to begin a special blog dedicated to the CUCC Global Climate initiative which was approved by the Congregational Meeting on May 20. The Climate Initiative also will include a special feature of the CUCC web site.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

new email address

I have recently gotten a DSL account with new email address, I still have the old dial up and old email address but please use my new email address for correspondence to me. Sam