Sunday, July 22, 2007

ASP Team Heads Out

Ron Howell, Anna Roach-Howell, Abby and Gary Smith, Sam and Jack Alcorn, and Austin Osborne-Newman left for their ASP week in West Virginia this morning. They are part of a 37 person team from Prince of Peace Episcopal Church in Apex. Let's keep all of them and the families they'll be serving in our prayers this week.

Friday, July 20, 2007

What do the youth know that you don't?

The Pilgrim House workday July 15 wasn't all that bad.

To see Rachel's photos of the progress we're making, check the Children & Youth bulletin board across the hall from the kitchen.

Abby is leading the group in the design & decorating part of the process for her International Baccalaureate project at Broughton High School. The group's decision on colors? The green of an ivy leaf for the main room, the sky blue/navy blue of a cross for the small room, and clean white for the bathroom.

A few more adult carpentry hands for our August workday would help us speed things along so we can begin painting. If you have a few hours to spare Aug. 5 after Taize', let Jane know.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Justice for whom?

We describe ourselves as a "peace and justice" congregation, but the recent murder of Jenna Nielsen and her 8-month old fetus throws an uncomfortable spotlight on our hypocrisy. Jenna's family is correctly pointing out that it is folks like us who are responsible for the N.C. law that prohibits murder of the fetus being classified as anything other than assault. That law may or may not be useful as part of the political moat that the pro choice lobby has built to protect Roe v. Wade, but is it "justice"?

I've known many a pro choice mother who by the 5th month or so had bonded so strongly to her baby that nothing in the world would convince her that baby wasn't already part of the family. In one case the mother was wrestling with troublesome medical reports that the fetus may have some abnormalities, and I recall the mother concluding "handicaps can be dealt with" and letting nature take its course (and having a healthy baby).

When a mother has made this decision, bonded with the baby, and already considers it a member of the family, where is the "justice" in a law that says, "Sorry, society has decided otherwise because it doesn't fit in with the political strategies of the pro choice crowd?"

The lines in the abortion standoff were firmly drawn long ago. Those on both sides have persistently looked for ways to chip away at the armor of those on the other side. Here's one place where the pro choice side is caught trying to defend a position that is indefensible. Do we have the courage to cross the line and live up to our claim of being a "justice" congregation? If not, where does that leave us?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hair Grow Bingo

JoAnn Newman won the Hair Grow Bingo by choosing the exact date my crown hair would be an inch long, July 15. It was also her birthday! So congratulations to JoAnn and happy birthday too!
Joan McAllister

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Encountering the Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault

Session Five: Kenosis: The Path of Self-Emptying Love

In past sessions, we have seen how Jesus is a master of the art of metanoia, going into the larger mind, or, in other words, a radical change of consciousness that sustains unlimited love. The parable of the vineyard in Matthew 20 can be seen as a litmus test on where you are on in terms of this consciousness, binary operating system or non-dual thinking. In essence, Jesus is holding up a mirror. How do you understand the story?

How do you shift your consciousness? What is the path? What is the way? This session concerns praxis—the practice, the things you do that bring about the metanoia consciousness.

Not all wisdom paths have the same methodology. Jesus is typical of the wisdom tradition in terms of the center or goal but the way he gets there is very different from other traditions’ paths. Jesus’ path was radical in his time and still is today. One of the problems with modern Western Christianity is that we have not seen how different Jesus’ path is from all others.

Paul used the word kenosis, Greek for self-emptying, to describe the path, in Philippians 2:9-16. “Have in yourself the same mind as Christ.” Everything Jesus did, he did by self-emptying. In whatever life circumstance, Jesus responded with this same motion, descending. It is counter-intuitive to our cultural understanding of spiritual seeking: the way to God is generally an ascent, upwards. Think of Jacob’s ladder. Ascent mysticism was very much current in the time of Jesus, such as in the Essene community. Perhaps this powerful image of spirituality is built into the archetypal make up of our mind.

Ascent requires energy. Most wisdom traditions focus on the collection, concentration, or conservation of life energy, for example, chi, prana. This concentration of energy is at the basis of most asceticism in the service of inner transformation. Containing, strengthening strategies of fasting, meditation, etc., work. Self-mastery sustains contact with higher frequencies of the divine life. Powerful path to the center of being. The more ancient path of inner transformation.

But there is another route to the center: giving being away freely, extravagantly. This is Jesus’ way. It is revolutionary in Jesus’ time and ours.

Modern stories and dramas illustrate this path. “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry describes how the free squandering of possessions makes manifest what love looks like. “Babette’s Feast,” a movie based on a story by Isak Dinesen, is another example of how extravagant generosity mirrors what God’s love is like.

The goal of ascent mysticism is union; the kenotic path’s goal is self-disclosure. It shows what God is like. Mystical theologians say that this is how the world was created. Karl Broner: God was prodigal in creating the world.

This poem of Rumi describes best the path of kenosis:

Love is recklessness, not reason.
Reason seeks a profit.
Love comes on strong, consuming herself, unabashed.
Yet in the midst of suffering, love proceeds on like a millstone,
hard surfaced and straightforward.
Having died to self-interest, she risks everything and asks nothing.
Love gambles away every gift God bestows.

Jesus’ idea of dying to self does not mean self-denial; instead it is this extravagant giving away of self. John the Baptist’s followers were shocked by Jesus’ behavior. He hung out with the questionable people and lived in a most un-ascetic way. He kept breaking out the box of the law and bothered the Pharisees. He affronted even his disciples by his free-wheeling generosity. Think of the story of the woman with the alabaster jar who anointed his feet with oil. What the Laborers in the Vineyard and the Prodigal Son stories have in common is this extravagant, unreasonable generosity. (It frightens people.) Recall the story of the five loaves and fishes. Jesus had been in search of some peace and quiet before he was called to both teach and feed; responding to that call became his prayer. He faced his death with anguish, again characteristic of the kenotic path. But finally he came to the point of trusting his spirit to God.

Jesus may not have been the first or the only teacher of the kenotic path but it was revolutionary in his time and place. The first time that anything of this teaching had been seen in Jesus’ time and world. Even his disciples could not stay with it. They’d catch it and lose it. Paul struggles to hang onto it. Jesus’ followers keep going back to more familiar models.

One group of people really got it. A wisdom school developed in Capedocia in the 4th century. Gregory of Nyssa and Basil of Caesarea created an image of the trinity in which the father poured himself into the son; the son poured himself into the spirit; the spirit poured herself into the father. They used the word kenosis to describe these mutual outpourings. The trinity is an icon of this self emptying that goes around in a wheel. They called the wheel parachoresis, or “the dance around.” This is how God moves, how God shows what love is like. The constant dance around of emptying is like a water wheel, generating love manifest.

What are the implications for living the Jesus path? Self-emptying may look like a pointless sacrifice. But the trinity assures us that no act of kenosis is ever isolated. All kenosis is connected to parachoresis, the ultimate act of self-transcendence and connects us to God manifested. Divine love is endless and infinite and will always come to us, if we don’t cling. As we practice it in our lives through acts of kindness and compassion, something is born out of self-emptying—what God looks like mirrored in our deepest and most real face.

This poem, left by the body of a dead child in Ravensbruck concentration camp, shows us the mystery of kenosis:

O Lord,
Remember not only the men and women
Of good will, but also those of ill will.
But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us;
Remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to
This suffering—our comradeship,
Our loyalty, our humility, our courage,
Our generosity, the greatness of heart
Which has grown out of all this, and when
They come to judgment let all the fruits
Which we have borne be their forgiveness.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Interested in a Weekday Prayer Group?

I'm hungry for a weekly time to sit in prayer with others. Perhaps a little time to share prayer requests & to read the notes in the CUCC prayer jar, then silent and spoken prayers as the Spirit moves? Sometime after Aug. 27, one hour max, between 8:30 am and 2:30 pm on a weekday, location negotiable. Interested? Every week or every other week? Try it for the fall and then revaluate?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

In defense of American troops remaining in Iraq

I listened intently to the sermon on sunday about the war in Iraq. The sermon was excellent and it really did make me think. It helped make me realize it is time for me to write down my thoughts on this war. I’ve not been outspoken in my position in part because I have seen my fellow left wingers go from divided about Iraq to united against it. I tend to vocalize more what unites me with people rather than what divides us. And Iraq can be divisive. Nevertheless, here goes.

Human rights as the center of foreign policy

I am a believer in human rights as a pillar of good foreign policy. This is not to say I am a pacifist. Just as standing up to a bully may require violence, so does aggressively defending human beings from the brutality of dictatorships. When a murderer gets into power, I believe that doing nothing is actively protecting their power.

Here are examples of major human rights violations in this century. What is the Christian thing to do when faced with them? How do we act knowing we are our brother’s keeper?

  • Armenia 1915-1918
  • Russia 1930s
  • Nazi Germany 1940s
  • Cambodia, late 1970s
  • Rwanda 1994
  • Bosnia 1990s
  • Iraq under Saddam Hussein 1980s-90s
  • Sudan 2000s

In each case, brutal regimes acted in outrageous ways to murder many people. In some cases, the desire for peace caused muddled action or inaction. In other cases, military action was taken to end genocide. Non violent social action is not an effective weapon against these evils. I criticized president Clinton for not acting in Rwanda. I supported his effort to end genocide in Bosnia. And I supported the effort to remove Saddam Hussein.

Military action to get Saddam Hussein was good

I have no doubt that had the Americans not invaded Iraq, Saddam would still be in power and his brutality on the Iraqi people would continue. Many thousands of people would have been killed in order to retain his power.

I have heard people say that if we avoided the current war, the Iraqi people would not suffer and die in the numbers they are now. To this I reply - what if we had taken out Saddam before the Iran-Iraq war? How many hundreds of thousands of lives would we have saved if we had taken a stand against brutal dictatorship and prevented that war?

I also believe it is probable that Saddam, had he stayed in power, would have started another war with his neighbors. Regimes like his don't stay peaceful long. How many lives have we saved by preventing Saddam’s next war?

And - most importantly - how many lives might we save if would-be dictators think twice about their actions knowing that the world may intervene in defense of human rights?

The action to remove Saddam was a good step in defense of human rights.

Why I don’t support the president

Of course it is obvious that human rights is not the center of the current president’s foreign policy. One need only point out the lack of accountability for the Abu Ghraib atrocities to see this as fact.

I am in the awkward position of agreeing that Saddam should have been taken out, but not supporting the policies of this president who ordered the invasion. (I am joined by people such as reporter Tom Friedman in this awkward position.) I believe the president lied to me about the WMD evidence. I believe he lied to me about the connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. I believe he lied to me about the connection between Iraq and 9/11. And when I had criticisms of his incompetent preparation and execution of the war, he called me unpatriotic.

I am not writing to defend a liar. I am writing because I believe our troops should not leave Iraq. The human rights situation will become much worse if we let the civil war rage and stand by while slaughter occurs. Will we not feel the need to intervene if the carnage in Iraq becomes genocide in a civil war gone out of control?

We should remain in Iraq not because of the president, but in spite of his incompetence. I wish he would visit every major world leader on bended knee asking for help in stabilizing Iraq.

How can military force be a moral defense of human rights?

Using violence in defense of human rights is the great moral hazard of my argument. I understand this and don't shy away from it. It is a very high risk and is fraught with peril.

However, one can frame the question more in terms of standing up to injustice. Non-violence is a key tool to use. But it is not the only tool available. When standing up to vicious dictatorships, violence will happen regardless. The only question is what we are willing to do about it.

Are we the world's policemen?

If we are to intervene militarily as I suggest, are we going to get involved in every terrible conflict in the world? No, that is just not possible. But because we cannot do everything does not mean we should do nothing. Because we will certainly make mistakes and misunderstand doesn't mean we should not try. We are our brother’s keeper and I support our continued military presence in Iraq.

Hair growth

Hi all- update on the hair growth- as of Sunday (8 July) it was just shy of 7/8"- so I am figuring that another week to 10 days will be it. The pot stands at $64. Good luck to all!! Joan McAllister

Monday, July 9, 2007

Greetings from Cape Cod

Greetings from Cape Cod!

Steve & I have just arrived here following a wonderful week camping in Acadia National Park. The weather was delightfully cool - a lovely change from the heat of NC in July! We were with old friends and did a lot of fabulous hikes, took a sailboat ride, and spent one day biking on the carriage road system that crisscrosses the lovely scenery of this glorious place. Birding was excellent here as well and Steve was especially excited by the spottings of a pair of immature Bard owls, a pair of loons, and an immature eagle.

Prior to leaving for Acadia, Steve spent several days at the Synod in Hartford and was quite inspired by the experience. He especially liked listening to Bill Moyer speak, as well as Barack Obama. He also got to spend a day there with his former mentor, Pastor Win Nelson, and his wife and was very grateful to have the time to do that.

We will be here on the Cape now for the next two weeks. While we are here we will be visiting with some folks from our former church in Albuquerque who will also be here for a few days. That will be a nice treat and we'll get to catch up on the happenings in the southwest.

We hold our church family at CUCC in our thoughts and prayers during this time when we are away from you.


Marcy & Steve

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Wisdom of Jesus -- Session 4

Encountering the Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault

Session 4: The Path of Metanoia

What does repentance mean? Bourgeault posits that it means “to move beyond the mind” to see the world from a perspective of wholeness, instead of the conventional “reality” of separation, difference, and selfishness (AKA the binary operating system). In fact, the heart of the message of Jesus concerns getting into the larger, unitive mind. How do we do it? What is it all about? What does it look like? In this session, we experience the familiar teachings of Jesus through the lens of Wisdom teachings about inner transformation.

The Beatitudes. These are the most densely packed teachings of Jesus. They are nine little sayings that summarize his teaching in a nutshell. Bourgeault presents a Wisdom interpretation of the first seven Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. From a Wisdom perspective, this means, “blessed are those with an inner attitude of receptivity to the spirit, for they are capable of receiving wisdom.” This point is illustrated by a Zen story about the student who wants to be accepted by a master teacher. As the student describes all his learning and accomplishment, the master pours tea into a cup. He continues pouring even as the cup overflows. Eventually the student notices, giving the master the opportunity to make the point that the student’s cup is overflowing, how can I possibly teach you?

Remember that teaching of Thomas Merton—“at the center of our being is a point of pure nothingness.” Only through the gate of emptiness can we enter the higher non-egoic mind.

Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Here Jesus is talking about vulnerability and flow. Mourning is a state of open heartedness to the deeper meanings in life. When we are in that state, something can comfort us. Again, a state of inner emptiness must exist before transformation of consciousness can happen.

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. According to Bourgeault, a better translation for “meek” is “gentle,” or even better, “gentled, domesticated.” In other words, only when we have tamed the aggressiveness of our human nature (that is the binary operating system), can we inherit the earth and live abundantly.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied. A Wisdom interpretation of this beatitude turns on the meaning of righteousness: not virtue but a state of being in the presence of God. It refers to a hunger for being centered in and connected to God. And as you yearn, you will be filled. When you can feel the hunger, it shall be filled. The most valuable thing we have is our yearning for God; the yearning itself connects us to God.

Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. As we step into the flow of compassion, we enter transformed consciousness. Indeed, unitive consciousness thinks thru compassion (mercy).

Blessed are those whose heart is pure for they shall see God. Again, purity of heart is not necessarily virtuousness in a moral sense. In wisdom teaching, purity means singleness. The pure heart is not divided. It wants one thing only. When the heart becomes whole, you see God—that is, you see with the eyes of the unitive consciousness. (How we make the heart whole is the subject of next teaching session.)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God. When our hearts are gentled we become peacemakers. We no longer separate people into “us” and “them.” We see with singleness and compassion.

The Beatitudes, then, call us to a radical transformation of consciousness: openness to a poverty of experience and willingness to domesticate the violence in our hearts. They are akin to the Dalai Lama’s teaching of making lovingkindness the heart and soul of your being.

Parables as Wisdom teachings. Parables are like Zen koans, stories that intend to turn the mind upside down and push us into new ways of thinking about things. John Dominic Crossen and Brandon Scott are two contemporary Biblical scholars who realized that the parables are subversive stories.

The Good Samaritan sounds like the story of a do-gooder. The subversive nature of this story may be missed because of the loss of the cultural context. The beaten man was a Jew, one of the chosen people; the helper was a Samaritan, one of a despised group of people. Jesus is upsetting the apple cart: do you really know who is righteous and who is not righteous? The story is a challenge to the part of us that is quick to judge; to see ourselves are meritorious.

The Prodigal Son story is even more radical. The older son is upset by his father’s compassion for the prodigal son; he has been “righteous” all along. The point of the parable is that the binary operation system is always stuck in judgment; insists on keeping score. The story challenges the basic structures and assumptions about ourselves that keeps the binary operating system in place. Sit with the story to see yourself in all three persons in the story—use it as a tool for self-transformation.

Nicodemus, (John 2:23-3:15). The Pharisee Nicodemus is split: he sees something in Jesus that intrigues him but he doesn’t want to risk his position in society, so he goes to see Jesus by night. When he asks about the signs that Jesus performs, Jesus tells him he must be born again. It seems like a crazy response to his questions! This common thread in the parables—the element of subversiveness—is meant to destabilize the mind. To Bourgeault, Jesus’ teachings are meant to lead one around the linear brain and its egoic programs to enter the new consciousness.

The Hard Sayings of Jesus. These are found in the later chapters of Matthew and Luke. They are the teachings that can’t be shoe horned into our conventional understanding of who Jesus was.

In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus tells the story of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, or bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom. Five have remembered oil for their lamps but the other five have forgotten it. Those with the oil refuse to share with the others. What does it mean? Doesn’t Jesus teach us to share? From a wisdom perspective, Jesus is teaching about inner transformation. The five with the oil cannot give it away; oil is symbolic of something that has to be forged in a person. It cannot be given; it cannot be taken. You cannot become conscious unconsciously. You have to do it for yourself.

In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus tells his followers that they cannot be disciples without turning their backs on their family. We have to be wise and calculating. You cannot be sentimentally identified with any conventional value, including family values. Otherwise, you will not be free to accept the new consciousness. Bourgeault calls these sophiological teachings in a soteriological gospel—they stand out like a sore thumb.

The Gospel of Thomas (found at Nag Hammadi) supports the wisdom understanding of Jesus. Initially scholars threw it out as inauthentic and decided it was gnostic. But it was discovered to be quite old, as older than those in the canon. It is profoundly in the sophiological tradition. It is without narrative, a collection of Jesus’ sayings only.

There are 114 Sayings in the Gospel of Thomas, some of which overlap with what is in the canon. These teachings are in the wisdom tradition calling for personal transformation of consciousness. Bourgeault likes Lynn Bauman’s version of the Gospel of Thomas which includes commentary on the sayings.

#69: Blessed are all those persecuted right into the depths of the heart, for in the heart will they come to know their true father and source. Blessed are the hungry ones, their inner longings will be satisfied.

#70: When you give birth to that which is within yourself, what you bring forth will save you. If you possess nothing within, that absence will kill you.

#97: The father’s realm is like a woman carrying a jarful of meal. While she is walking on a path some distance from her home, the handle of her jar breaks and the meal spills out behind her on the road. She is unaware of the problem for she has noticed nothing. When she reaches her home and opens the door, she puts the jar down and suddenly she discovers it is empty.

These may be unsettling, troubling teachings but also are profoundly hopeful in the sense that our heart does know them on its deepest level. The path of transformation is considered more in the next teaching session, “Kenosis, the Path of Self-Emptying Love.”