"The image of Jesus as the 'once for all' sacrifice for sin has often been misunderstood in Christian history. It has been placed within a theological framework that emphasizes that we are all sinners, that our sins must be paid for in order for God to forgive us, and that Jesus is the sacrifice who paid the price. This theological framework is a later development, not present in the first thousand years of Christianity."
That got me thinking about the notion of hell, and my thoughts in my (Your) God is (Quickly Becoming) Irrelevantseriesofposts. The shocking thing is not to question the existence of hell and the idea that most people are going there. I've abandoned that idea on it's merits (or lack thereof) alone. That being said, the really big deal is when you consider what happens to the Christian faith as it stands today when you reverse-engineer hell out of it. To my mind the implications are nothing short of staggering. Give that some thought and let me know what you think.
Bonus: I've been talking about hell here so let's have a show of hands of those who thought about Rob Bell and his book Love Wins. I thought so. Maybe you've already seen the news this morning about Rob's latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God and Oprah's interest in it. Mike Morrell has the story, along with an interview he did with Rob several years ago.
Richard Rohr sent out this missive a couple days ago, and I was reminded again of the beauty and brilliance that is the book of Wisdom. (One of the reasons that I love my Catholic Bible, and further proof that The Canon of Scripture is not closed and never will be, and is after all a human construct!)
All that is hidden, all that is plain I have come to know, instructed by Wisdom who designed all things. — Wisdom 7:21
The irony of ego “consciousness” is that it always excludes and eliminates the unconscious—so it is actually not conscious at all! It insists on knowing, on being certain, and it refuses all unknowing. So most people who think they are fully conscious (read “smart”) have a big leaden manhole cover over their unconscious. It gives them control but seldom compassion or wisdom.
That is exactly why politicians, priests, CEOs of anything, know-it-alls, must continue to fail and fall (spiritually speaking) or they never come to any real wisdom. The trouble is that we have to put up with them in the meantime and wait for another growth spurt. Sometimes that very power position makes failing and falling quite rare and even impossible for them.
I've said a few times now that I believe this "Chinese chapter" of my journey has been about learning to see.
Parachuting into a country where you don't speak the language and the culture is so entirely different does funny things to your vision. I was here for almost 8 months before I started Mandarin classes, but that was not wasted time. Missing 95% of what is said around you opens your eyes. I decided very early on that I could either be frustrated by this inability to communicate, or I could smile, look people in the eye and pay attention.
And the things I saw!
Mostly, I started to see beauty. Not just beautiful things, not just beautiful places, not just beautiful people. I started to see beauty as a form. It's almost as if I had lost my sense of hearing (in a comprehending way) so my sense of sight compensated. I actually think it's more than that--it's a new sense entirely--but the comparison is useful.
Then as I started to pick up a little Mandarin the experience changed again. First I learned to see beauty, then I learned to connect with it.
And now it's time to return to Canada for the next chapter.
I get that some people think I live a strange life. I call it "decidedly non-linear", and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Over the years I've learned to trust my instincts. After all, we're made in the image of the Divine, so for the most part, I think our instincts can be trusted. So while I can't explain to you why it's time, I know that it is.
A few weeks ago Richard Rohr sent out a daily meditation titled "It's All About How You See". Obviously that caught my attention. At the risk of relying on the good Father too much in this space, here's what he had to say:
I think the contemplative mind is the most absolute assault on the secular or rational worldview, because it really is a different mind—a very different point of view—that pays attention to different things.
The mind that I call the “small self” or the “false self” reads everything in terms of personal advantage and short-term effort. “What’s in it for me?” “How will I look?” “How will I look good?” As long as you read reality from the reference point of the small self of “how I personally feel” or “what I need or want,” you cannot get very far. The lens never opens up.
Thus, the great religions have taught that we need to change the seer much more than just telling people what to see—that is contemplation. It does not tell people what to see as much as how to see.
Reading those words, I realized that this was what this experience had helped me with.
As I said, it's time. On September 30 I'll fly from Xiamen to Beijing and on to Toronto. I'll spend a couple weeks in Ontario with my family, then it will be on to Vancouver. Of course there's the minor matter of employment to deal with, and I'll need to update my resume... assuming I can find it! It's a strange resume, that's for sure.
I'm sad to be leaving China, but I'm confidant that the timing is right. I have no doubt I'll be back here some day, I'm just not sure in what capacity that will be. I'm leaving full of gratitude for this place, this experience, the incredible people who have come into my life, and for the way all of it has changed me.
Afterword: While I no longer buy into the dualistic thinking, thinking about this post brought me back to this song. This is the Holly Cole Trio at their exquisite best. Enjoy.
There are many reasons why I need to put this series of posts to bed, not least of which is there are other ponderings I want to post here! Originally I thought this would be quick. I wanted to respond to the seminar title, which is what I did in Part 1. But that led me to Part 2 with some thoughts on meaning, and what happens when the dominoes start to fall. Finally, in some ways it feels like I need to make some statements about what I believe now.
But it's not that easy.
There's certainly been a change in what I believe. As I've already made clear, I don't believe that those who fail to accept Jesus as their personal saviour will suffer eternal torment and damnation*. And that's a pretty central card to pull. If there's no Hell, then there's no need for someone to save us from that fate. In fact if you take Hell out of the equation a lot of other stuff goes away very quickly. (Think about that for a moment. Remove Hell and reverse engineer your faith and see what happens.) There's been a change in what I believe, and a reorganization or reprioritization of those beliefs. But this is not a rejection of or an opposition to belief. But how I believe, and why I believe... they have also changed.
I still willingly self-identify as a follower of Jesus. (I would use the word Christian, but for a lot of reasons that label has become problematic. At the micro level some of the beliefs I've left behind may disqualify me in the minds of those with a more traditional faith. And at the macro level the word carries to much political baggage to be helpful anyway.)
I believe Jesus is the archetypal human, the prototype for what humanity is destined to become.
My thinking on this has been aided by several thought leaders. As usual, Richard Rohr has said it better:
I believe the Risen Christ is the Symbolic True Self, a Corporate Personality that is offered to history, where matter and spirit finally operate as one, where divine and human are held in one container, where “there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). He is the icon of the whole.
Some will think I am arrogantly talking about being “personally divine” and eagerly dismiss this way of talking about resurrection as heresy, arrogance, or pantheism. The Gospel is much more subtle than that. Jesus’ life and his risen body say instead that the discovery of our own divine DNA is the only, full, and final meaning of being human. The True Self is neither God nor human. The True Self is both at the same time, and both are a total gift—and it takes an essential dying to know that, which Jesus also dramatically exemplified.
And again here:
The clarification and rediscovery of what I am going to call the True Self lays a solid foundation—and a clear initial goal—for all religion. You cannot build any serious spiritual house if you do not first find something solid and foundational to build on—inside yourself. “Like knows like” is the principle. God in you already knows, loves, and serves God in everything else. All you can do is fully jump on board.
I would call that jump consciousness, and I believe the Risen Christ is the icon of full consciousness. In the human mind of Christ, every part of creation knows itself as (1) divinely conceived, (2) beloved of God, (3) crucified, and (4) finally reborn. He carries us across with him, assures us it is okay, and thus models the full journey and final direction of consciousness. That is my major thesis about how Jesus “saves us.”
That's enough for now. I'm sure if you're interested we can generate some good conversation. In Part 2 we talked about the loss of meaning. From what I am coming to understand about who we really are, I gladly release those old identities and beliefs. This is so exciting! I can't really explain that; it's a feeling that must be experienced.
* I actually don't think that anybody believes that. Not really. But that's a conversation for another day.
As the gaps disappear we have no need of a God of The Gaps.
As the shallow spectre of eternal damnation for those who fail to execute a simplistic transaction recedes in the face of a deeper mysticism and an evolving human consciousness, we have no need of a God of Salvation, at least not in the terms we have become accustomed to.
What are we left with? How is God relevant in this brave new world?
There are many different directions we can go with this follow-up. I don't want to belabour the point I was trying to make in Part 1; either it resonated or it didn't. It was not a broad, comprehensive statement about the Christian religion, but I did try to address a kind of faith that is more popular than we might like to admit, particularly those of us with western roots.
"Meaningfulness needs a framework to exist. People lose meaning with no heaven for a context, no significant relationships, no life purpose that might relate to their work. And with no context larger than day-to-day life, negative feelings take us over and eventually drive one to some kind of crash."
There's a danger with any kind of deconstructive work. In the community I was once a part of we often talked about our Toy Box metaphor.
The Box is full of all our toys. These are our accumulated beliefs, principles, doctrines--anything that we once accepted as truth. We pick up the box and unceremoniously dump its contents onto the floor. Often we're surprised by what comes spilling out. We'd forgotten some of this stuff was buried in there, down near the bottom, yet still influencing our thinking, our outlook, our worldview. Slowly and carefully we pick up each item, examine it, and decide if it goes back in the box, or to the curb with the rest of the recycling. When we're finished there are always several ideas that are no longer serving a purpose and need to be discarded.
Tossing the stuff is difficult but it's not the hardest part of the process. The really terrifying moment comes after we have dumped the contents out, and the box is temporarily empty. Some people don't survive that crisis. Or more to the point, some people's faith doesn't survive the crisis. It takes a great deal of courage, usually buttressed by the sad realization that the status quo, that which we had clung to for so long, is now killing us.
Back to the Willard quote.
The quote is taken out of context in that it was originally provided for a "success to significance", personal purpose conversation, but I think my meaning is clear: For many, the faith I have described has formed the meaning in and for their lives. It's understandable that some would resist the rejection of this narrative.
The good news is I believe there is a much deeper, more universal story. It's not the "final" narrative, but it is the next iteration, a further refining if you will. While I still struggle to find the words for it, I will do my best in Part 3 to articulate where I believe we are moving to.
In the meantime I'd like some feedback. If you've gone through the crisis of meaning, or are going through it now, what are you feeling, what have been your fears, etc. Where is the meaning to be found?