THE APPLE OF GOD’S EYE

A Fourth Awakening of Christianity may be coming –

postmodern Christianity started in the 1960s and is more

pluralistic/egalitarian/experimental/environmental.

Harvey Cox, a Harvard sociologist/theologian thought

a 1500 year “Age of Belief” was ending

and an “Age of Spirituality” was beginning.

Some think the 300-year-old “Enlightenment” has fizzled:

people no longer trust science for all the answers.

Phyllis Tickle described an ongoing “Christian rummage sale:”

every 500 years or so everything changes –

500 AD Christianity became the Holy Roman Empire

1000 AD the Western and Eastern Churches split

1500 AD the Protestant Reformation

20th Century: the Second Vatican Council.

 

“In the monomyth of the Hero’s Journey

the normal rites of passage are magnified: you separate

from ordinary life and enter a world of supernatural wonders/

overcome fabulous challenges/return with boons

for all mankind.” – Joseph Campbell

 

After the first millennium, the “wandering ascetic”

was abolished – monks were ordered to “leave the world”

and live in monasteries. However, now we see

that ordinary, everyday life abounds with fabulous challenges:

opportunities to practice holiness/honesty/commitment/

trust/compassion/patience/forgiveness – we used to think

holiness consists of heroic deeds somewhere else

but it is all right here/right now.

 

Canadian folk music legend Bruce Cockburn:

“If you don’t see beyond normal sight

you can get trapped forever in the fraying-rope/

uneasy/anxious treadmill our culture is on.

You never see that the whole world is full

of the Spirit’s light/life/love.”

 

It is true that in the cosmic scale you are nothing

but “Do you not know that your name

is written in heaven?” (Luke 10:20) –

to God you are everything – the apple

of God’s eye – the strawberry of God’s “I.”

 

 

 

LGBTQA HAVE GIFTS TO GIVE CHURCHES

The criticism by Pope Francis of laws criminalizing homosexuality (London Free Press, January 26) was hailed as a new milestone by gay rights advocates, but it fits with his overall approach, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that gay people must be welcomed and respected by the church rather than marginalized or discriminated against. “We are all children of God and God loves us as we are” he said. 

    Personally, I find it helpful when thinking about this issue to keep in mind Richard Rohr’s tricycle. Rohr, a Franciscan priest, says that the front wheel is your own personal experience: does this religious teaching make sense given what you have experienced? Then you check your experience against the back wheels of scripture and tradition.

    My own experience of life is that God loves diversity – there are so many varieties of plants, animals, and birds. No two moons, planets, stars, or galaxies are exactly alike. The same holds for people, we are all different. Perhaps God loves sexual diversity too.

    Some of my own life experience with sexually diverse people is as follows (with names changed to protect confidentiality).

    Walter, who was not interested in sex at all, fits the new category, asexuality (the ‘A’ in LGBTQA). Ronald was a devout Catholic I met in the early 1980s. Among the staff where we worked, the heterosexual married and single staff were all jumping from one bed to another. My wife Grace and I, and Ronald and his gay partner, were the only monogamous couples. This blew apart any stereotypes I had about gay men. Arnold, a devout Lutheran, seemed to be a woman trapped in a man’s body. He had the voice and all the mannerisms of a woman.

    Lawrence, a youth minister, told me he wasn’t sure he was gay. We were both concerned that if he came out of the closet, he would lose both his job and his marriage. So, for two years we explored all the reasons why he might not be gay. Finally, we concluded that he was in fact gay, did not choose it, and was born this way. He said he knew it all along but wanted to double check it with a trained spiritual director.

    My experience with gays is most of them would love to be straight so they could fit in with the majority, but they cannot deny how they were created. As Ronald said to me “I did not choose to be gay – why would anyone choose to be persecuted?”

    Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest whose book Building a Bridge addresses how the Catholic church and the LGBTQA community can get along, has had positive meetings with Pope Francis about this, and spoke in London a few years ago. He started off by asking “When did you choose to be white, heterosexual, male or female, short or tall?”

    He also made many suggestions about how any religious community could constructively approach LGBTQA people. First, like all of us, LGBTQA people are much more than their sexual lives, so do not reduce them to this. For Catholics, he reminded us that if a LGBTQA person was baptized as a Catholic as a child, you don’t have to try to get them into Catholicism. They already are Catholic and part of the church.

    Not only that but LGBTQA people bring a lot of gifts to any church. They know the suffering of the marginalized and therefore can minister more effectively to outsiders than a straight person can. So, they should be included as part of the church’s ministry.

    As far as the back wheels of the tricycle go, although the scriptures contain a few verses some interpret as anti-homosexual, they also contain many other things we now see as outdated, such as stoning to death people who work Saturdays (the Sabbath)!

     In general, the scriptural message is one of love and inclusion of everyone. Jesus never said anything about homosexuals and repeatedly reached out to the marginalized – prostitutes, the crippled, blind, and lepers. It is no stretch to believe he would welcome LGBTQA people. And Christian tradition has always taught that we are to imitate Jesus.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. www.brucetallman.com/books

 

   

 

HOW TO INTELLIGENTLY APPROACH GOD’S WRATH IN THE BIBLE

The Bible, although inspired by God, came to us through human beings, and so there were often two steps forward and one step back in understanding God, until we arrive at Jesus, who is the best “hermeneutic” or “means of understanding” the Bible.

    In approaching God’s wrath in the Bible, we ideally would move from a vengeful God, which is what the ego wants, to the merciful God of Jesus, which is what the soul wants. However, humans have always lived in ego-based, divisive, reward and punishment cultures in which wrongs should be punished. On the other hand, God is soul and grace-based and responds to wrongs not by punishment but by love.

    Much of the wrath of God, in the Old Testament at least, was due to human authors failing to separate God and nature: floods killing people, poisonous snakes biting Israelites in the desert, bears mauling children, must be from God, since everything that happens is from God. This mentality is still with us today when insurance companies refer to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes as “acts of God.”

    However, God and nature are not the same. God is in all nature, but these so-called acts of God are not God’s will, they are due to nature obeying natural laws about heat, gravity, and tectonic plates. The Old Testament writers knew nothing of these laws.

    Despite this, there are many instances in the Old Testament of God’s loving restoration. It was prophesied that God would restore us through a Messiah (Isaiah 53:5-6). In Ezekiel 33:11 God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” And the prophet Micah declares “Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity? You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18).

    We also find God’s restorative justice in the New Testament. Zacchaeus was hated because he collected taxes from his fellow Jews for the occupying Romans, but Jesus tells Zacchaeus he wants to have dinner with him. Zacchaeus is stunned by the grace of Jesus and says, “Behold Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor,” and Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, because Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham.” Jesus thus restored him to the Jewish community (Luke 19:8).

    What then do we do with the “hard sayings” of Jesus? In Matthew 5:29-30, he says it is better to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin, than to end up in hell; the sheep (who took care of the poor) go to heaven and the goats (who didn’t take care of the poor) go to eternal torture in hell (Matthew 25: 31-46).

    Context is important here. Jesus was speaking to Jews, Romans, and Greeks who were masters of rhetoric – the art of dramatic speech to make a point. Jesus knew it was not the hand or the eye but the heart that caused sin. He didn’t expect people to actually cut off their hand or pluck out their eye, as if that would solve anything. He is speaking dramatically here to make the point that sin and not taking care of the poor are extremely serious. They destroy human community and create hell on Earth. He knew people do not change easily, so he had to speak dramatically to make his point.

    Jesus also said other hard, countercultural things such as love your enemies, which is the essence of restorative justice: God does not punish his enemies, God destroys them by loving them more and making them his friends. This is the essence of wisdom.

    This spirit of restorative justice carried on in the early church. “If anyone has caused sorrow, you should forgive him and reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2: 5-8) and “If anyone is caught in any trespass, restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).

    This idea of God as a God of love not punishment has continued in the modern church. The largest Christian denomination, Catholicism, has never said that anyone, even Hitler or Stalin, are definitely in hell. On the other hand, it has said that many people are definitely in heaven: the saints and martyrs.

    Jesus was all about restorative not retributive justice. His great commandments, to love God with all your heart and to love others as you love yourself, were meant to restore the original unity between God and humans found in the Garden of Eden. And as I concluded in an earlier article, the healthiest image of God is that God is a God of pure love, not a mixture of love, wrath, and punishment.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and religious educator of adults. btallman@rogers.com

GOD IN HUMAN FORM

Within Christian ranks in the past 40 years or so there have been persistent attempts to recast the basic tenets of Christianity itself. One of the most remarkable of these has come from Tom Harpur, who noted in The Pagan Christ in 2004 that other cultures had myths about the dying and rising god, and therefore the early church just made up a myth about the dying and rising Jesus.

    My sense is that Harpur is either not being true to himself or has somehow forgotten his theological studies as an Anglican priest. Every student of Christian theology is taught that the distinctiveness of the Jewish God was that this God acted in history. One of the most dramatic examples of this was when God liberated the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. God acted throughout Jewish history from the time of Abraham to the kings and prophets.

    This experience of God acting in history simply continued in the most dramatic way of all when God became human in Jesus Christ. God acting in history was not a new idea that the early church made up. The church did not try to change a myth into a reality. Rather, it proclaimed that all the myths of other cultures suddenly became a reality when Christ was born. This was Paul’s basic approach when he told the Greeks and Romans that Jesus was their Unknown God.

    It makes sense that God would not just tell us how to live, as God did in the Ten Commandments, but God would also show us how to live by becoming human. In Christ, God gave us a three-year audio-visual demonstration of what a true human being is and what God is really like.

    There were many witnesses to the specialness of Jesus before, during, and after his life. First, there is the ancient scriptural record. Before the historical Jesus appeared, there were dozens of prophecies in the Jewish scriptures of what the Messiah would be like: royal, suffering, and divine. Jesus fulfilled all these prophecies, particularly the ones by the prophet Isaiah, who said that a child will be born who will be called “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” and will have a kingdom without end (Isaiah 9: 6-8). This suffering servant will be “pierced for our sins,” but “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

    Then there is the vision of the prophet Daniel of a man who was led into the presence of God. God gave this man everlasting authority, sovereign power, and glory, and the people of every nation worshiped him (Daniel 7:13-14). There are many other Jewish prophecies like this.

    During Christ’s life he gave great and sublime teachings such as the Sermon on the Mount, in which he focused in the Beatitudes on the nature of true happiness. The rest of Christ’s teachings also extended and completed the spirit of the Law and the Prophets.

    Another witness is the astounding miracles: Jesus calming a raging sea, multiplying food for the hungry, healing all manner of illnesses, raising a man to life who had been dead for four days!

    Even if we overlooked the miracles, there is the witness of the way Christ lived. His courage, integrity, wisdom, and compassion were so complete they must have had a supernatural source.

    There is the witness of the appearances of Christ after his resurrection to hundreds of disciples, and there is the New Testament record of miracles performed in the name of Jesus by these disciples.

    There is also the witness of people dying for their faith in Christ, the record of all the martyrs in the early church. No one would lay down their life for some mythical human being. Then there is the record of the ongoing growth of the church through the centuries, and of so many present-day martyrs.

    Put all this together and one is almost forced to conclude that in Jesus something extremely special was going on. In fact, it all points to one reality: that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God. In the birth of Christ, God gave us the greatest gift of all: God in the form of a human being.

Bruce Tallman is a spiritual director and author of God’s Ecstatic Love (Apocryphile Press, 2021). See www.brucetallman.com/books

 

 

THE EXPANDED UNIVERSE AND THE COSMIC CHRIST

Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality likely came from the Celts

who spread across Europe and may have come from India

where Hindus saw the divine in all of nature –

in trees/rocks/rivers/animals.

 

From the Patristics, the Church Fathers, to the Middle Ages

cosmology and theology were one

but then the heliocentrism (Sun-centerism) of Copernicus

gave a different cosmology than the Earth-centrism of the Church

so that cosmology and theology divorced

and God was separated from the universe

but this is “deism” not Christianity.

 

Contemporary theologians cannot ignore the new physics

which is the relativistic and revelatory context in our time –

and the sacred story of the universe is being told by astronomy

with an unimaginable cosmology of billions of galaxies.

 

And evolution is the process by which Trinity becomes cosmos

and cosmos is Christified –

Unconditional Love (the Father) is poured into the Word (the Son)

forever breathed anew in the Holy Spirit.

 

Since love is the basis of all created orders

and the Cosmic Christ is first in God’s intention to love

“exoChristology” (the theology of Christ on exoplanets)

claims that planets outside our solar system will be related

to the Cosmic Christ and completed by an Incarnation –

Christ after all is the Alpha and the Omega

the Origin and End of all.

 

If Christians are to survive in this expanded universe

we need a bigger Jesus – there needs to be a shift

from a focus on the human Jesus of Nazareth

to a focus on Jesus as the incarnation of the Cosmic Christ –

for there might be incarnations of the Cosmic Christ

on exoplanets, incarnations not with the name of Jesus

but with other names

but they would still be the Cosmic Christ Incarnate.

 

I know this is mind-boggling but so is the new universe.

However, faith allows us to live in confident patience

that God will eventually fulfill all God’s promises

and we will one day understand it all.

 

EVERGREENING LEVELS OF CONSCIOUSNESS

The ever-expanding consciousness of the Israelites:

God is transcendent – available to all –

not just their Hebrew tribe –

and God is personal

all came to a head in Jesus

and a new level of consciousness was born

and continued in the Church.

 

A still higher level of consciousness

came in the 20th century with the discovery

that the human person is not a random accident

but the arrow of evolution – the constant movement

towards greater consciousness/love/freedom/creativity.

 

And a still higher level of consciousness is emerging:

being Christian not only involves taking care of earthly life

it discloses the true meaning of life on Earth

going beyond humanization to divinization –

God divinizes us – we share in God’s divinity.

 

The insights that connect us to the Holy One

do not come from discursive thinking

but from radical awe and wonder

and our awareness of mystery and the ineffable –

this is where great things happen in and to the soul.

 

As Christians we come to truth not just thru our minds

but also thru our bodies when we begin to trust

our own experience/our own intuition/our own heart.

 

This is because the real religion of human beings

is spirituality – indeed we all secretly know this –

that the spirituality of mystics

is the origin of all the world’s religions.

 

And so the beat of Jewish consciousness goes on

and this ever-growing consciousness is ‘tikun olam’ –

the constantly evolving/never-ending/evergreening

‘healing of the world.’

 

RECONNECTING SEXUALITY AND SPIRITUALITY

 In medieval times the Church made a theoretical separation

of the sacred and the secular which was a brilliant political move

to preserve the Church’s power in the “Investiture Conflict”

that is, the Church wanted priests and bishops chosen by the pope

whereas politicians wanted them chosen by kings and the state.

The state would then have been in control of the Church

with clerics kowtowing to the wishes of whatever politicians wanted.

 

However, this sharp separation meant the last thing seen as sacred

was sexuality. The word “sexual” comes from the root “secare”

which means to “cut off” – we are all cut off from the whole

and so we all have this constant longing for union and communion

with everything, which is the essence of sexual desire.

 

Sexual morality is a key concern of quantum theology

but not in terms of dualistic right and wrong behaviour

but rather how foundational values

like love/justice/freedom/peace/truth/equality

are socially and sexually incarnated.

 

Loneliness for humans is a taste of death

a form of solitary confinement

so no wonder the lonely sometimes lose themselves in violence

as a way to retaliate against the pain:

“No one loves me? I will show them how little I love them.”

 

Our shadow projections can make the world into a mirror

that shows us our own ugly face.

If we project our negative intentions/motives onto others

we will be hostile toward them

and they will be hostile toward us.

What we do to others will be done to us –

the Law of Karma/Consequences/Sowing and Reaping.

 

The only time to be enlightened/wise/kind/loving

is right now. So let us live in the Now

which does not separate the sacred and the secular

the union of body/heart/mind/soul

sexuality and spirituality –

both come from the desire to love and be loved.

 

“God has made us for great things – to love and be loved.”

– Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

 

CHALLENGING OUR PARADIGMS

The new cosmology revealed by science

like the parables of Jesus

shatters our old paradigms

and challenges us to broader/more inclusive thinking.

 

Irenaeus had a cosmic Christology

largely lost because the Church Fathers

focused on practical/down-to-Earth matters

such as combating Arianism

which claimed Christ is not divine.

The Council of Nicea (325 AD) asserted that

Christ’s incarnation saves us and deifies us –

we become like Christ.

 

Theology has always been otherworldly –

about metaphysics – “What is the nature of God

and God’s Kingdom?” – things ultimately ineffable

instead of teaching us how to live the teachings of Jesus.

 

Teilhard de Chardin’s hyper-physics (union before being)

overthrew metaphysics focused on

stasis/unchangeability/sameness.

Union always searches for ‘moreness’ –

more being/consciousness/love –

it is never satisfied with the status quo.

 

But in the West, religion has done our work

for us: scholars and bishops have told us

what to know not how to know

and what to see not how to see.

The result? People who never had to think

and are unable to comprehend

great and holy things.

 

Still, a spirit of prayer pervaded the Second Vatican Council

and reading the documents of Vatican II

can be a form of ‘lectio divina.’

The Council encouraged all believers to put prayer first

urged people to pray while reading scripture

pray for the conversion of hearts

and begged all of us to follow the ways of

universal love/peace/justice –

it was a fresh take

on an old paradigm.

DIVESTING DOMINANT PARADIGMS

Gospel love means divesting oneself for God

of all that is not God – all earthly attachments –

particularly to the self, but even to the Church.

 

Conservative Christians believe the Church

is the Kingdom of God in the world.

Liberal Christians believe the Queendom/Kingdom of God

is to be built outside the Church in the World.

However, one needs humility and detachment to see

that both are transient. The Church and the World are not God.

If one arrogantly makes the Church or the World eternal

one ends in idolatry. Like everything, the Church and the World

had a beginning and so will have an end.

 

Theology is an attempt to integrate God/Church/World

without reducing one to the others.

When theologians stop asking questions

and start making dogmatic statements

the spiritual search ends.

 

Artists can break through the captivity

of our dominant paradigm – idolatry

by exposing the dysfunction/pain/terror

covered up and denied.

Then healing may begin.

 

A similar dominant paradigm is insularism –

self-protection, like idolatry, takes many forms:

individualism (me first)

tribalism (my family or tribe first)

nationalism (my country before other countries/the planet)

historicism (ignoring human history – 1000s of years

or the history of the universe – billions of years).

Insularism loves sexism/racism/ageism/ablism –

people with disabilities are often terribly lonely

and show us our own loneliness

and how we all have a deep need to break out of insularism

and find community/friends/love.

 

A Christian woman and man, who thru the marriage covenant

of conjugal love are one flesh, render mutual service

to one another through this intimate union

and show us how the Church and the World ought to be –

united in Christ and reaching out to help everyone.

BEING ONE YET MANY

Christ’s fiery touch at Pentecost

brought our souls and the Church alive.

Christ’s touch separates us from others

and yet binds us to them

so that at the same time each Christian

is a hermit and the whole Church.

 

The challenge for us is to be one and many

as symbolized in the three-in-one Trinity:

Father/Son/Holy Spirit are all distinct yet one –

so we must be united to all and yet our self.

Nature can help us imagine this –

since it is a ‘process’ – a flowing whole movement

of interconnected organisms

not a series of independent mechanisms.

 

In Zen, spirit and matter are one not separate

and so it flumoxed Francis Xavier

that Zen Master Minsitshu

was not convinced he had a ‘soul’

as an object one can ‘have’ and ‘save.’

 

Xavier’s goal was to save Minsitshu

but we should have goals only for our self

not expectations for others, since this means

asking them to live up to our own self-centered ideals.

 

Being one yet many and having no goals/expectations

for others – loving them as they are

not as we want them to be – challenges us in relationships

particularly marriage, the most intimate of all relationships –

where we are called to be one with our partner yet our self.

 

Being one yet many also challenges us spiritually:

to be one with God yet not God –

wisdom has two basic tenets:

there is a God and

you are not God.

 

“Spiritual challenges can be overcome

by more prayer/meditation/self-examination/

penance/patience in desolation/

and humility in consolation.”

– Ignatius of Loyola