RH Journals – Christian Meditation

Here's a peak at meditation from a more puritan-style perspective:

"…how do the truths of God’s Word find their way from our heads to our hearts? One forgotten way, prominent in the Bible and Christian biography, but much neglected in the contemporary scene is via meditation. We probably link this more readily with the practice of the eastern religions than with Christianity, but there is such a thing as Christian and Bible-based meditation too. Reflecting on this theme from a biblical perspective throws up the answer to at least four important questions." [more?]

The Sins of Scripture Interpreters

Well it seems John Shelby Spong is at it again. Offering the world some more modernist liberal deconstructions of Christianity with "The Sins of Scripture : Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love."

Has anybody read it yet? From reading the back cover blurb it seems he again fails to distinguish between the reading things out of the bible and reading things into it, dismissing scripture as flawed on the basis of the way its been abused by vested interests. Guilt by association. The fundies are fuming. No doubt it will be another best seller.

I wonder if Spong can even conceive of an evangelicalism that respects Scripture and social justice or is that just too much of any oxymoron for him (or for the usual suspects polluting the reviews section from both sides of the debate at Amazon)? I'd actually like to see him go head to head with Brien McLaren or Ron Sider. Now THAT would be interesting! A debate between them on the (1) substitutionary atonement model as divine child abuse or (2) scripture as cause of overpopulation arguements Spong raises would be far more interesting than the predictable polarised debate we already see emerging.

Bowing Down to the Golden Church

In a recent post (Just a mess…see if you can make sense of it…), Hamo was chewing the cud on a number of questions about church: What really constitues a church? Is structuring a church our idea or God's idea? Can two families be a church? and Can we learn from New Age networks? And there have been a number of follow up comments that take the questioning further. For what it's worth, here's how the living Word speaks to me on the issue…

I don't think we need to do away with church structure so much as dethrone it.

My thinking has evolved over a number of years, from a totally anarchist perspective to something that I hesitate to put a label on. The Catholicism of my youth nurtured in me a complete distain for dictatorial leadership. So much so that I could not bring myself to trust a minister for well over a year after turning back to Christ as an adult. Believe it – I used to feelings of physical sickness just at the thought of it. Even now I struggle to stay within mainstream church. In the intervening years (as a new ager) I was involved in green politics and some less than peacefull peace demonstrations, I read up on some anarchist litrature and loudly cried f*** authority. I say this at the risk of appearing crass to demonstrate that I have no reflexive, instinctual, drive to defend 'structure'. So when I question calls to do away with structure, don't take this as just another conservative critique.

What I have learned (through experience and reading God's word) over the years is that humans need structure. If there is no structure then we will create it. Yes there will be liminal, transitional phases when structure is at a low ebb, and this can be a good thing, but it is transitory. We can see this in the alternate spirituality circles that Hamo mentions. Within the ten-twenty years since the the New Age tsunami hit our cultural shores we have seen a lot of fads fizzle and froth, but the stuff that's had longer term traction has had elements of structure (eg Sannyassins, Wicca).

I found John H. Yoder's "Politics of Jesus" to be insightful in its ruminations about structure. Basically, structures are not inherrently evil; order is part of God's good creation. But structures, like everything else, have been twisted by the fall. In his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus said to the structures of the world, do your worst, and triumphed over them, dethroning every power and principality, both "spiritual" and "worldly". The church, as the body of Christ, is to be a testimony against the claims to godhood of these structures.

But what happens when the church, idolises itself? What happens when the finger that is supposed to be pointing outwards towards christ becomes turned inwards? I think this is the problem we face. An idolitry of church. Like the idolisation of the calf by Aaron and the Israelites in the Sinai desert, we have bowed down to structures instituted by men of God.

The implications.

1. Our task is not to tear down structures as some inherrant evil but to relativise their goodness as we attune ourselves to cultural ebbs and flows in step with the Spirit.

2. The best way to reform church is to spend less of our community time focussing on it, and instead shifting our focus outward. Face it, the best thing Christianity has to offer the world is Christ, not our institutions. And it will always be that way. Even low structured house churches have their leadership issues. So we need to cure ourselves of the addiction of dreaming of a golden church and, like the author of Revelation, shift our dreams to visions of the golden One. We need to recover the true purpose of church – which is not church growth.

3. Our focus should be on faithfulness not survival. People seem to get this at an personal level (hints of individualism?)but often fail to seem the implications for institutions. It does not matter if church as we know it dies out in the West. Revival of Christendom or the Western church is not the be all and end all. What matters is whether, whatever happens, we are living as a community of faith, hope and love. My fear is that we sacrifice too many of our own in the drive for institutional survival. Let's loosen up.

In summary, what I am saying is that we should take care we don't universalise the structured-unstructured issue. Structure is partly a reflection of cultural dynamics, personality types and a host of other issues. I do not think there is a perfect level of structure for all time. There might be an appropriate level for this moment in this place, but in different moments and different places we can expect it to be different. My critique of the mainstream church is not that they have structure, it is that they have held their version up as golden. Their calls to unity have been based on a non-universal.

Trojan Laden

This afternoon a work collegue asked me about an email she'd received claiming Bin Laden had been captured. Wisely she did not open it, noting it was not from a trusted source. Smelling a rat I did a quick google on "urban legends" came to snopes and determined within about 10 seconds that it was a trojan virus. Just goes to show that how important it is to sus out whether the stories people send you correspond to reality or not before you buy into it.

Trading up your traditions: towards a Christian theology of meditation

A major criticism I have with contemporary attempt to reconstruct a viable and revitalised Christian meditation tradition is the widespread failure to re-evaluate the appropriateness of Neo-Platonic baggage from the Middle Ages and other cultural imports we've accumulated over the ages.

I applaud the revisiting of history, to look for fragments of useful techniques in the writings of our Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant predecessors, but really, where is the deep theological reflection in all this activity? I don't see much, just a lot of romanticism going on. Its high time Christian meditators spent some energy moving beyond methodology to a more robust theology of meditation. Yes, theological reflection has to flow out of experience, and not out of abstraction, but I don't see much flowing at all yet. Just a cherry-picking of archaic techniques.

I challenge Protestants in particular, since their meditation tradition is even more anaemic than the rest. It's fine for emerging church leaders to host an alternative labyrinth worship service occasionally, or take up lectio divina for personal devotion, but have you forgotten your Bibles? You who claim to be so strong in this area! Where are your reflections on what the Bible actually says about meditation. Have you even looked? Don't just ape others, bring your own tradition to bear on casting the meditation tradition forward.

But I won't let the Catholics go unchallenged either. Can't you offer something more than the two options of joining a monastery or a John Main group? The problem of the first option should be readily apparent for the lay person. The problem with the second is, while I am again open to looking at eastern techniques, importing an Aramaic translation of "Come Lord" into a Hindu mantra technique does not automatically make it Christian. Focus and attitude is all important, and I see a lot of pluralistic wishy-washiness in what you're doing.

The reality is, there is not much in the way of a viable Christian Meditation tradition today. All we have are fragments of the past, a few monks and a few lay experimentors. So we need to begin again, to dig deep. Yes, cast our nets wide and see what we can find of interest in our past. Yes, see what unpaid bills of the church that new religious movements may be bringing to our attention. But lets exercise discernment and insight too. Let's see if we can begin to trade up our tradition into something with more Spiritual vitality. Why not meditate on it?

Acknowledging our ‘animal urges’

Why are so many Christians wary of trance experience? Could it be that the emphasis on rational thought that arose out the Modernist / Enlightenment period, cultivated a denial of the unconscious and other alternate states of awareness that still haunts us emotionally and theologically today?

Western theology abounds with false dichotomies. Here's a few:

  • Acceptable / Unacceptable
  • Heaven / Earth
  • Mind / Body
  • Masculine / Feminine
  • Conscious / Unconscious

It's almost as if the ancient Gnostics won the theological battle for the Christian soul in all but name. But if we deconstruct our dogmatic conditioning and revisit the Scriptures with fresh eyes we'll see little evidence for the dichotomies listed above. What we read instead is:

  • BOTH heaven AND earth were created / will be renewed one day.
  • BOTH mind AND body are needed to make up a whole person / will be resurrected.
  • BOTH men AND women are made in the image of God / will be glorified.
  • BOTH conscious decisions AND unconscious 'animal' urges need to be brought into alignment with the Spirit as our minds are renewed.

The division I listed above are things we tend to read into scripture, not out of it, if we pay careful attention.

Instead of demonizing alternate states of consciousness, we need to acknowledge that they are part of part of who we are; part of what it means to be created in God's image; part of God's intention; part of God's created order. The unconscious can be corrupted of course, but so can the conscious, rational side of us.

Denial breeds fear. So I believe what we need to do instead is acknowledge this side of us; make taming the unconscious mind just as much a part of the path of discipleship as the more rational disciplines. The pre-modern Christians understood this. We need to relearn it.

Forgive As The Lord Has Forgiven You

Forgive As The Lord

Has Forgiven You

(Col 3:13)

   Cool showers descend
And are quenching all.
Till drought is at end
With your drenching fall.

Then riverbanks burst
With reviving rains.
Turn deserts of thirst
Into thriving plains.

With pardon outpoured,
You have thriven too.
Forgive as the Lord
Has forgiven you.

by Stephen Wentworth Arndt

Earthen Vessels

Earthen Vessels (2 Cor 4, 7)

With wine and oil wash pure
The wound still oozing;
Spread salve and balm’s liqueur
On gash and bruising;
Pour myrrh and aloe-cure
God makes by using
Life’s mortar and the press
Of Love’s strong pestles.
Soothe each who in distress
Yet strives and wrestles,
With treasure we possess
In earthen vessels!

Poetry by Stephen Wentworth Arndt

Potent Poetry

I’ve recently been reading Margot Alder’s “Drawing Down the Moon” and was noting again the significant impact of poetry on Pagan spirituality. I think the resurgence of interest in poetry evident in Paganism, the emerging church, and the poetry slam scene is one of those characteristics of postmodernism. I’m finding its a great non-musical expression of worship too.