Monday, December 31, 2007

It's New Year's Eve afternoon, and...

we are enjoying a cloudless day with soaking-the-skin warm temperatures. The Atlantic is our front yard just a short walk across the buffer of a shell-strewn beach. Sunlight pours from its low winter angle and shimmers wide as a primal river from the horizon to the gentle froth of surf. Interesting that the weather forcast for home when we get there Wednesday warns of several inches of snow and a high of 16 degrees!

I'll continue the series I left off last week once I am warm by the woodstove. ;^)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas

God is love. I John 4:8

It is His nature,
His joy of love motivating Creation,
His peace responding in love as an effect to man’s cause in the fall
(the curse was tough love),
His loving patience bringing forth a chosen people governed by holy law,
His kindness and goodness through love in sending His Son,
His faithfulness on the Cross: love in its fullest fruit of sacrifice,
His gentle, eternal power of love and rising gloriously from the tomb defeating death,
His self-control in giving the church a guide at Pentecost and because of love allowing her
to seek the way as a function of man’s will.
In Him, we know love.

I hope each of you know fully through this holiday season, the warmth from the fire in His heart!

We are headed for the beach after Christmas on our annual family beach retreat. I probably will not be able to post again until January. See you then! Below are a couple of pictures from past retreats. I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Loving God is...?

I posed the question in the previous post, "Loving God is about what...exactly?" I received the following ideas from some of my readers. I agree with each one.

kim's hotrod said, "...I'm beginning to think that it's something totally different (from the things I do for God). That maybe loving God is accomplished by loving each other, especially those whom we least want to love."

I agree and see the love of God and accomplishing actions which are motivated in us by His love as inseparable. Clearly, the action of loving others His way drives the building up of our love for Him.

steve said, "To me, it's allowing his life to be lived through me out of sheer gratitude for the fact that I even have the opportunity to let him live through me!"

This also speaks to the connectedness of His love and our choosing actions in harmony with that love.

alan said, "There are certainly many evidences of our love of God: devotion toward God, feelings toward God, doing things for others, caring for things that God cares about, etc. But I don't think these are the essence or nature of love." This comment articulates evidences of something going on in our hearts, but raises the question is such "the essence or nature of love?"

jesse added this: "I think loving God is simply loving without fear of rejection, like is illustrated to us by a small child loving his parents." Jesse, I think is digging more into the essence how the love we feel for God may be hindered by some lack of faith in us.

josiah says, "So loving God is response to his love thus, if you love Me, obey." Again we see a witness speak of that connection between what we know of loving God and the actions we choose in response.

As I have mentioned in a previous post or two, I have a sincere trust in the view that the voice of many brings into focus the fullest possible meaning. I think the witnessing of experience amongst readers who chose to respond establishes loving God and loving action are connected, and that we will encounter hindrances. God is a compelling motivator to loving actions. However the actions alone are not the evidence that we love God. It is difficult to separate what we feel from and for God and the actions which will follow. As kim's hotrod alluded to, we must guard against doing the actions alone, as if "doing" automatically indicates "being" in connection with and loving the Presence of God within us. jesse speaks to something which must be dealt with in order to enter into loving God. Our faith must embrace that His perfect love for us is reason to cast out fear from our hearts. This is an important precursor to entering into the loving of God. Such a good insight I had not considered as I thought over what I would write!

I do not wish to enter into absolutes of what explains loving God. I understand that this will begin to take on separate meanings for individuals, and I respect the authenticity of such. Yet I do believe there are some attributes of loving God which may be identified as universal. I also do not suggest that what I am about to write is an exclusive list of a universal human experience. These are just a few of my thoughts.

I think we believers need time, call it prayer, meditation, thinking, in which honest emotional feelings of love for God are engendered. I love my wife and children intensely. Thinking of any of these individuals always brings a stirring of my emotions. I decided a few years ago to allow thinking of my heavenly Father and His Son to engender an emotional response as well. God is not simply an intellectual construct. He is a living Being. Further, I seek in moments of rest (not lying down, drowsy rest, but emotional rest from the mental and physical work of existence in this life) to open my heart and sense His love for me flowing into me. I believe that the Father has expressed a desire to commune with humans. Adam walked with God in the evening. This relationship was broken, but has been restored by the Second Adam, Jesus. Communion with God is an act of faith, not just study. Study gives my mind the needed constructs. My heart opens me to feel the reality.

In the day to day, there is a simple emotional maneuver I may practice. That is recognizing that my personality is on "auto-pilot". I am the person I was shaped and nurtured to be. I cannot stop being me. I respond to the stimulus of life in predictable ways, in patterns that reflect my inner-being. In order to keep the auto-pilot from calling attention to myself or mandate a situation to go in my favor or toward ends I find desirable, or not describe the story going on around me to myself as if I am what it is all about, I have to do something. I have to override the auto-pilot. I must make a willful decision to see God in the moment, feel His Presence, and act accordingly.

A key to loving God is by faith to find one's will enabled to move toward Him regardless of how the natural man is reacting to the stimulus from the outside world. We die to inclinations and impulses, and as a function of the will, be the new man He has birthed within us. To do such is an inward act of loving God that has very fruitful consequences in how we conduct ourselves.

If that makes any sense to you, then take one final semantic step with me. To exercise one's will toward God, based on the faith that what God has done enables such, and motivated because an active sense of loving exists between the Father and one's self is an emotional reality and a spiritual state. This state, I contend, is that which we reference in Scripture as,"walking in the spirit." Therefore, to love God is to be opened to the walk in the spirit He desires for us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pile on the Fodder (as in raw material to create with)

Roll up the sleeves and get down to the grunt work. Loving God is about what...exactly?

Your thoughts?

I know mine.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Edwards, Whitefield, Finney and Love

Most folks reading these essays here at Spirit in the Wild Wood will recognize the name of Jonathan Edwards in connection with the Great Awakening of the 18th century. Add to his name that of George Whitefield and eighty years after these two, the name of Charles Finney. Together these three largely shaped the heritage and practice of evangelism prevailing in the 20th century American church.

Through Jonathan Edwards’s ministry, the emoting of deep repentance as response to a message of fire and brimstone, including noticeable physical affectations like “swooning,” reached levels of such common renown that the established church of the day repudiated him. George Whitefield increased the numbers attending meetings in amounts greater than many of today’s mega churches. Ben Franklin once verified mathematically that Whitefield was vocally reaching audiences with his natural voice numbering in the tens of thousands. Finney developed a place for those affected by his preaching and interested in becoming Christians encouraging these move to the front and wait on the “the anxious bench.”

In reading the histories of these three, detailed references regarding their “passion” either at conversion or in the ministry are frequent. Each had theological specifics that differentiated them one from the other, but nonetheless the common denominator of passion cannot be mistaken. From this period of time, two very significant American Christian standards of the 20th century are unmistakably rooted. These are the large evangelical meeting intended to produce large numbers of converts known variously as revivals, crusades or harvest meetings, and the sinner’ prayer at conversion. That this conversion experience is associated with a strong emotional response to one’s condition of sin and need for saving grace is a situation which we have all witnessed. Certainly most of us will admit having seen in various degrees a direct attempt of appeal to emotion as part of the ambience and rhetoric of the altar call.

The passion of these three historical leaders are cause for debate even today, largely because we as a broad body of believers do not share perspectives on the appropriateness, efficacy, or authenticity of emotion in the experiences of conversion and the Christian walk. I could possibly expound on my thoughts concerning each of these men and their ministries, but that is not my purpose.

Rather I simply submit one can neither separate passion from the human experience generally nor from the Christian walk singularly. We are a passionate race despite individuals known and highly regarded for being dispassionate.

Further the gospel calls us to love. Because Christ first loved us and He died for us (known euphemistically as His passion), we love Him in return. Extending this concept, we are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love others as we love ourselves. These two commandments fulfill the entire law! How can we honestly teach anyone that walking in the truth of Christ is about getting one’s doctrine straight according to a prescribed list of what is and is not correct doctrine?

Why do we shy away from attempting to teach about a heart experience with Christ and elevate an intellectually based theology instead? I suspect this is because the rational approach is both quantifiable and easily reduced to a check list of who should be perceived as “in” and who is “out”. Maybe we need the quantifiable approach, because along the way we believed from experience that the best ministries reached tens of thousands of people at the time. These needed to be rapidly processed through a justifiable means--the sinner’s prayer—enabling a peace of mind that the emotional responses generating conversions were not just emotional. Thus we grew the church. Now in the 21st century, the standard denominational church is fighting to keep membership from being solely gray-haired and those not attending are stating a desire to know God not ritual.

The Christian experience is a human experience involving love. If we do not embrace the emotional level of this reality, we fail the convert in equipping him or her to walk in the newness of life; we fail one another in the substance of the shared experience; we fail ourselves in never understanding our true potential; and we will fail God in our lack of faith. Or so it appears to me in the Wild Wood.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bernard and the Bellwether of our Heart

I have done very little reading from the volumes of Christian literature generated over the two thousand years of history since Jesus walked physically among us. “Little” relative to the amount which exists and the bit of reading I have accomplished from authors I selected. My reading could never qualify as formal research. I have simply stumbled upon or sought out random questions that lead me into various volumes. Despite the brevity of this smattering of experience within Christian history, I have used such to grow in understanding. Here goes.

Somewhere along the way about ten years ago, my wife picked up a book of devotional essays that were taken from across the centuries. It is interesting to read these essays in one volume bringing a bit of illumination to Christian thinking in varied cultures and historical contexts. In this book (cited below) I met Bernard of Clairvaux, of whom I had never heard, writing from 12th century Europe. My lack of knowledge is a clear function of experiencing Christianity largely within the Protestant framework of thought, which draws very little from church history after the time of Constantine and prior to the Protestant Reformation.

The author was a monk known as Bernard of Clairvaux, and though I knew nothing of him at the time, I have since learned he was a major player in many political and church related events of his day. Within such context, there is one very interesting fact about the man: he always refused promotion to higher ecclesiastical office. In reading the history, he undoubtedly was intelligent and influential; yet he began his work in the church of the day as a monk and finished his life’s work as a monk, though he had been one to work along side regents and popes.

“There (the abbey he founded) he remained abbot all his life,
despite many efforts to elevate him to higher ecclesiastical office.
A holy life, a reputation for miraculous cures, and unusual
eloquence made Bernard renowned, and he became the most
powerful religious influence in France and, in time, in all Western Europe.”

I read other Christian blogs and often find there debates on doctrine. I have come to a place in my own life that I am more interested in the fruits of the Spirit. I am not discounting the importance of sound teaching based on biblical text; but if that teaching does not produce something of the Kingdom of God growing evidently in the heart, is it valid? Anyway, back to what I wanted to tell you about Bernie and his journey. The history written of him speaks of humility and that to me speaks of Jesus. Folks who confess the Lord with their mouths and evidence His character in life are evidence of a profound reality, the Holy Spirit at work in mere humans. That gets my attention.

What I originally spotted about Bernard is what I wanted to mention foremost in this post. He taught something he called “The Four Degrees of Love.”

First Degree: love of self for self’s sake.
Second Degree: love of God for the self’s sake.
Third Degree: love of God for God’s sake.
Fourth Degree: love of self for God’s sake.

Foster and Smith. Devotional Classics. Renovare, San Francisco. c 1993 pp 41-2

Until I read this, I never fully understood love your neighbor as yourself. By that I mean, I had reached a place where I knew the Bible was true and everything it said. However, among the things which did not move beyond my intellectual comprehension, I could never quite divide within my own heart where I behaved selfishly as separated from loving myself. Honestly, hating me was my condition before I came to the Lord. That root lingered in my life for a long time. It took me a while to understand many things about the soul and mine in particular. Specifically, without loving myself for good reason--and that being as a function of my love of God--I could not begin to separate my selfishness from my motivations.

This was a part of my inward journey into love, which I now regard as essential to being an effective, loving Christian. Love cannot be imposed upon our hearts from the outside through teaching, demand, or social expectation. The inward life, the heart, is the bellwether of our outward experience.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Innie or Outie?

I drank mug of coffee #2 staring at the screen waiting on a posting idea to materialize and reflected a bit on my experience thus far as a blogger. I’ve enjoyed the challenge to attempt communicating with others some of my thoughts. I am glad to have a reason to write on a regular basis. As a teacher, facing the rigors of writing and understanding this process better strengthens the instruction of my students as writers. I am thankful for a venue which may be of use encouraging our young-adult children in their faith; they mostly live on their own and we no longer have daily contact. (One lives at home and another is about to move back in for a semester of school, but all are eighteen or over and the pace of our lives limits everyday connecting.) I desire to avoid sounding so much like a teacher. Well, it’s worth a try anyway, eh?

I was pondering a topic, no the topic: the absolute of love. All the meaning of life or lack thereof is woven around those four letters. It is ridiculously simple and unfathomably complex at once. Like a kid in the store, I was imagining the ways and means and varieties of approaches to speak on this topic. I felt incredibly small before the shelves. One thought later, a literal moment of insecurity considering this and an immediate sense of, “Give this up now!” Then I pinpointed in that moment how my mindset to the blogging medium didn’t fully serve my goal. Writing a blog post for me so far is like microwave cooking. I need to write (eat) in a sitting. I get the piece prepped, covered in a dish, into the oven, punch a few buttons and then present immediately for consumption. If I am still hungry (have more to say on the topic), I repeat the process.

Today I did a little prior mapping of a route. The title above is the prologue to an undetermined number of posts—though I have identified several legs of the journey ahead of time. (That's new for me!)

“Are you an ‘Innie’ or an ‘Outie’?” is not a question about five year old anatomies. As the father of five though, it popped in my head as a way of describing a basic divide I see in the way Christians approach love. While love is both inward journey and outward expression, perspectives on which is the important focus for the disciple of Jesus tend to divide as if love was easily polarized. Generally, I observe those who emphasize inward terms and topics that are weighted "spiritually" and outward folks use terms and topics weighted "practically." Love is, of course, both. My goal here is to explore, maybe challenge, how someone might develop a fuller experience of love. Discussion is invited, as I am firmly convinced the Mind of Christ is revealed in the fuller view of many Christians speaking together.

Even if you only read, think and make no comment, I hope you will take the poll to the right. It will be of interest to me what the numbers are in final tally.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Dilemma Dehorned

I raised a dilemma in the last post purposely. The tension existing between the two sides identified, an intellectual approach to scripture and the experience of the heart as lived by the everyday person, is real.

I have talked with many, many members of the established church system who say in effect, “This isn’t what God intended, but it is all we have.” Members of leadership are rarely this candid; however, if for some reason this level of participant is separated from the status quo, these often repeat a similar sentiment. I think the problem is our level of understanding of what it means to “walk in the spirit.”

craig v., commenting in response to the last post said,

“I would say the goal isn't an intellectual or spiritual state but
rather the love of God finding its goal in the love of His people.”

This statement is clearly a simple truth. The message of this season, “Emmanuel, God with us,” is the spiritual interjection of God’s love into fallen humanity. The Incarnation of God, Jesus, intended that humans experience redemption not just for the sake of eternity but unto the depths of love during this life. Though we cognitively understand as Bible-reading Christians we are called to love others, do we experientially and confidently know the move of the Spirit of God through our souls? Can we will the love of God to move through us toward others? (I use Can purposely not coincidentally.)

josiah’s next comment was,

“Our minds, whether complex or simple in understanding,
serve love or rationalize disobedience to God. This root is
where the divergence between fruitful and vain discussion
takes place.”

This comment thrilled me on two levels. Within the context of the discussion, the commonality of being human is clearly described. Regardless of giftings, the condition of our heart to pursue divergent paths is the human condition.
I concur. This is the taproot of all the experiences of the soul. Our will is planted in the soil of the soul. From the exercise thereof springs either the peaceful fruit of righteousness in Jesus or the vanity of our earthly nature. (The more personal level is, that’s my son saying that! Oh the joy of seeing one’s offspring walk in Truth!)

postmodern redneck contributed next,

“A lot of the theological distinctives I have seen are the
result of a Christian seeing a truth new to him in the Bible,
and then obsessing on it to the exclusion of most other
truths (including many more important issues).”

Have we not all done this? Or at least I have, and I have observed others do the same. This is one source of confusion and discord among brethren. From something within us which is vain, we plunder from the Word and pursue under the banner of Truth our own self aggrandizement. Because of the substance in the Word, we feel justified. Because of the deceitfulness of our heart, we fail to see our motivation.

george then commented,

“Only if God/Jesus/Spirit is alive and lives consciously
within him, such that a relationship experienced in both felt and cognitive ways is (this) possible.” (I added “this” for clarity)

George is referring to my ending question of whether or not a spiritual state of being satisfied and deceit-free independent of rationalism can be achieved. He has identified what I intended to identify as the source of balancing the dilemma. This spiritual state is (or so I contend) “in the spirit," or to cognitively and emotionally embrace an active relationship with God, Who is understood as Emmanuel, a Resident within one’s self.

steve sensenig ended the comments with,

“I find that the dilemma between "the deceitful heart"
and "the pure heart" only seems to come from a particular
way of approaching the biblical text.”

I could not agree more, and this identifies the problem. The modern Christian experience appears, in practice at least, to not accept the message of the whole of Scripture. The Father has answered our need not simply in the redemptive message of Christ (a composite rationalization of the Word), but through the fullness of the message, the in-dwelling Spirit sent to guide and comfort His children; and this reality known as the common experience of His disciples.

Our fear of the deceitfulness of the heart is answered when Jesus said, “The pure in heart shall see God.” I realized one day that it was hopeless I would ever see God in the earth, let alone for eternity, except that the righteousness of Christ become my heart, the center of my being. I am deceit and love of the darkness when left to myself as that is my nature on the earth. Yet, His prayer (John 17) and promise is that we will be in-dwelt and be one with the Father.

However, this is not a call to independence. It is a call to dependence. First, we must learn the rest of the in-dwelling Christ; and second, we learn that His manifestation on the earth occurs within the context of community. “Where two or more are gathered, there I am in the midst of them.”

Therefore, the answer to the dilemma is that a rational thinking which includes careful reading of the Scripture and identifying particularly, interpretations inconsistent with the meanings of the original language and/or customs of the day, is part of our understanding. However, rational understanding of the Word is not the goal. Rationality supports the goal of discipling anyone into a daily state of grace wherein the will is freed from the influence of the old nature and one embraces a new creature experience supernaturally because Jesus is within; thus one can fulfill “the love of God finding its goal in the love of His people.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Where am I?

I am in the middle of a busy week: on Monday, another teacher and I developed a mid-year assessment in math for two grade levels to be used across our county in January; had a team meeting after school on Tuesday; bounded out of bed at 3:50 AM this morning to prepare being away from my class for a day while I went to a development seminar on reading today in Charlotte; and I am running the clock for the middle school basketball games on Thursday. Such extra stuff pushes my regular preparation time into other slots, which pushes what was in these other slots, blogging for example, out.

I hope to have a follow-up post done by the weekend.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Dilemma

The following is based on a few prerequisites:

Nobody has a complete handle on the Lord. His ways are higher than ours. Our perspective is developed inside the limited bubble of our existence on earth within these physical bodies, our tents, if you will; these bodies are corrupted flesh; and He is spirit and not of the earth.

The French have a proverb: “The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.” It sounds prettier in the French, but you get the idea.

Jer 17:9
“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

Mt 5:8
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

On to the post.

Along my journey I have learned many things. Much of this is useless, though it sticks in my brain. Did you know that among the improvements to the 1954 VW Beetle as compared to its predecessor, the crank turns to raise and lower the windows went from 10 ½ in ‘53 (and all previous models) to 3 ½ in the ‘54? It has never benefited me to know this!

I have also learned that humans are difficult to understand. If it were a simple, factual matter wherein we analyze from a purely objective, natural world perspective, it might prove a little easier. However, humans make errors in recall, application, and synthesis so objectivity is out, and humans as a studied object do not function logically. We are not computers, nor can we be reduced to a finite list of yes/no answers.

We have a heart. Psychiatric science would call it the “psyche”, poets like to mention the “soul”, and politicians fear it.

There is no escaping that humans have a piece of themselves which completely influences them, and this contrary part is separate from the intellect. We are not rational beings. We can determine to think rationally and be magnificently successful, but our irrational times are inexplicable and many. The French, in their inimitable way, have reduced this hard concept down to its essence. (See proverb above.) Are you trying to understand a woman, guys? Are you trying to understand a man, ladies? Every human has an emotional reason for why he or she is making the decision he or she is making which defies logic. ‘Nuf said.

The Scripture warns us in Jeremiah 17:9 that this aspect of being within us, the heart, cannot be trusted. Evangelical Christianity has fully accepted this notion of never trusting the deceitful heart as the culture of rationalism in which Protestantism developed has progressed. This logical response is called systemic theology among other things. We attempt to rationally interpret scripture for a variety of reasons, but at least to protect ourselves from demagogues who would build a following on fear, and this post is not to suggest that working to correctly interpret scripture is wrong. Yet, those with intellectual strength and, er... pride maybe--there’s that heart issue again--excitedly engage in attempting to establish one intellectual system of interpretation over another. How successful has that proved to be in uniting Christians and supporting the everyday person?

Where does the common man find support for spiritual seeking and awareness of God the Father? On the one hand, those who rationalize Scripture warn him that the heart is deceitful, therefore he must move beyond the deceitful heart to live in an intellectual and systematic approach. The Scriptural proof of this is Jeremiah 17:9. However, as he reads the Word for himself, Jesus states he will see God, as a function of a pure heart.

Which brings us to a real world dilemma: Does Everyman trust in a trained, intellectual discourse on Scripture or is there a spiritual state he might achieve which does not rest on rationalism in which he may secure a satisfying and deceit-free spiritual awareness?

I know what I think. What do you think?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Deciding on Being a Teacher

It is interesting being a teacher. Hard sometimes, but mostly rewarding. It can be embarrassing, too. I wax didactic because it's just the way I'm put together, and everybody groans. Or at the very least, my wife is gently, discreetly touching my elbow. That means I am talking too much again and hadn't noticed.

I never thought about being a teacher growing up. I wanted to be a pilot or an actor; movies or Broadway both seemed reasonable to me. When the Navy took me up in that plane the summer after high school (1973) and gave me the joystick, I signed up as soon as we landed; but that didn't happen. I entered college and became consumed by a fairly broken but demanding bunch of emotions that lead me into many, many foolish, dangerous or just plain stupid decisions. Among them, I quit school and that meant the Navy didn't want me anymore.

By 1979 I lived in a basement cubicle, 8 x 8 with a six foot ceiling, in a rooming house across the street from a state university. I had spent two years in college and four years wandering around the country--San Francisco, New York, Key West and places in between. I had owned first a car, then a motorcycle, followed by a ten-speed, but finished my travels either using my thumb or by Greyhound, depending on how much cash I had at any given time. I slipped into this small NC, mountain town escaping the big city life I had known and was surprised by grace! I had become a believer in Jesus, but only weeks separated me from the dunk washing my sins away and rising to new life in Him. Resisting the urges to walk on the path I had known a month prior was still my main daily occupation. I worked as a tree-planter in the western NC mountains. I'd lived twenty-four years, and the six lived on my own had left me, hmmmm, pretty much warped. I did believe Jesus was the answer; but I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. One afternoon when I had the day off (can't remember why), pondering the future while having my daily punching battle with the desires of the old man, I said out loud, "God, what do I do with the rest of my life?" The absolute, split-second, next word in my brain was teacher.

I stood, walked acrossed the street to that university and inquired about transferring my records from the small two-year school in north Georgia I'd attended. It would take me five years to finish with an education degree--marriage and children kept interrupting school work, wonderful!--but now 25 years into teaching vocationally and avocationally, I understand I had something written on my heart from God.

I think this is the reason I have become a blogger. There are endless aspects of the Father I want to understand and hearing others share facilitates learning; and the few aspects I feel I understand about God, I need to share...but it will probably sound like I am teaching. Oh well.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

an aside...

I am not sure how many regular readers I have at this point besides my kids, but this is to you whomever you are. I visited the computer this morning and reread my last post written in the evening before going to bed. I disliked it so much, I felt to delete it. I edited a few things and let it remain. The end of the day tends to be my most vulnerable time to bad attitudes. I know this about me. I might have exercised some discretion by leaving the post in draft form and looking it over after a good night's sleep! Hindsight is ...well, you know the cliche.

This morning, what I wrote last night appears cynical and lacks the life which springs from having a non-condemning spirit. I left the piece and draw attention to my failing in the interests of developing an honest, personal expression about myself with you, since that is what a blog is--personal.

I hope you will bear with me while I discover my voice and develop my skills as a blogger.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why I Think I am Writing

I asked the questions about American values thinking input from readers would drive a discussion about the differences between American values and Christian reality. Now, several days later, I don’t think that is happening.

In the interim, I took time to figure mid-term averages for my students, which I had to send home today. I hate grades. Sorting kids into categories of achievement and consequently building their sense of whom they are academically, when grades so poorly reflect whether or not they are learning to think, is an emotionally charged issue for me. Yet, I do it because the system requires that I do it. I can see a few benefits, I guess. The whole school thing is a wholly different line of thinking, at least currently, from what I intended for this blog, so I’ll drop this and move on.

I have also used the few days that I haven’t been trying to compose a new post to just hold the idea of open communication with an outside world before the Lord. Why am I writing, anyway?

Many possibilities come to mind, but one of which I am sure is a deep concern for the Body of Christ. Simply put, I think the theologies driving many Christian discussions are missing something vitally important. The common, everyday person is being left out.

When what is taught about God requires the hearers have an IQ over 120 to effectively sort through what is being said, something is wrong. The gospel is for everyone, and I think teaches very well when presented and lived as such. I am highly suspicious when folks with high IQ’s hold forth exegeses based on high-level, critical-thinking skills which marginalize the experience of God into something only the college-educated really understand. Additionally, when Christian organizations use the muscle and perseverance of every day folks in accomplishing the grunt work of the institution but teach toward intellect rather than the heart, there is a violation of brotherhood occurring. In such an atmosphere, the Body is divided into an intellectual elite favored by the system and everyone else who exists simply to serve the greater good of the institution. God bless ‘em, everyone, though, of course.

We fail the main issue of love on so many levels. I am as guilty as anyone here. I am not describing an intellectual elite without charity in my heart for them or in an attempt to distance myself from them. I speak about something more than just to complain over an attitude with which I take issue. The Body of Christ is a place where all things being human are not just equalized but are upended from what we understand naturally. The world values the talented, the beautiful, the strong and the intelligent, whereas the Kingdom exalts the humble, supplies the poor, protects the weak, and gives honor to vessels of lesser honor. The least are the greatest and the first are last, or some such opposite thinking to the-cream-rises-to-the-top philosophy.

Maybe this is about American values after all. Are we Christians who enjoy American citizenship or American citizens wearing the label of “Christian” to order our religious responsibilities aright?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Questions for Readers

Is there a "common" American? What are common "American" values?

I hope you will tell me your ideas.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

...and to our Father, thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the most favored holiday for our family. We enjoy being together, the simplicity of a celebration centered on a meal of loving fellowship and the notable lack of intrusive commercialization. Around here, the orange lights come off houses on November 1 and the red and green show up within days of that. Maybe this holiday will escape the eye of the marketers a little longer. Who would decorate their houses with brown lights anyway?

Today is a holiday tradition of simplicity and beauty with legendary roots. Those starving colonists survive in the wilderness due to the kindness and help of indigenous people, then celebrate a feast of thanksgiving before God together with their helpers. Strangers of starkly different cultural backgrounds move into fellowship. The "civilized and Christian" English were dependent on the kindness of the "uncivilized and unsaved" natives. Our heavenly Father is written all over that scenario!

This historical moment is usually rendered as one of the stepping stones that built our nation, and thus we quickly shift the topic of the holiday to the significant prosperity we now enjoy as the reason for our thanksgiving. We do not tend to celebrate the humility that underlines the story. The humble circumstances of natives who lived as functioning members of an ecosystem contrasted with the worldly sophistication of the ability to launch and achieve an ocean crossing. However, despite the colonists' technological and civilized sophistication, they are reduced by starvation into dependence on the aid of others. A final scene in the story is an act of grace, of humility, as both groups choose to join strangers, even potential enemies, at a meal of friendship.

A relationship with the Creator of the Universe is begun and lived by our willful decision to become humble. We humbly recognize the enmity between a holy God and ourselves due to our sinfulness. We adopt the humility of children to enter into trusting Him, and we must consistently embrace humility to reject our sophisticated self-effort at holiness in our day to day walk with Him. The love of God and His holiness is not achieved; it is simply lived through knowing His Presense on earth. We are strangers taken in by Him and sustained by Him. The whole of our relationship with Him rests on His generosity!

I am thankful today for so many blessings, but the greatest blessing of all is God humbled Himself to reveal the Truth through becoming one of us, that we would not be strangers to Him any longer and would be welcome at His banqueting table forever.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Matthew 7 and Using Inference

Sometimes in reading Scripture, it would seem an organizational structure we use is not present. A focus on a topic which flows from one paragraph to the next is not evidenced. Rather it appears that the Scripture has simply begun to list ideas. Proverbs tends toward this format. A general reading of the Sermon on the Mount appears this way as well, though several Scriptures together are often on one topic. For example, the Beatitudes are clearly connected.

Recently I was reading Matthew 7, and I noted eight topic changes in 29 verses. Listed these were,
  • instruction regarding improper judgment
  • a warning about not giving what is holy to "dogs" or "swine"
  • those who ask, receive; those who seek, find; unto those who knock, it is opened
  • the golden rule
  • the narrow way
  • know the good and bad tree by its fruit
  • the house built on the rock contrasted with the house built on sand
  • Jesus is identified as one who teaches with authority by those listening

These are often considered as separate messages taught as each standing alone rather than taught in sequence as one related speech. (I know that the divisions of chapter and verse were added later, so separating these thoughts was not the intent of the Matthew as the writer, and I am separating these 29 Scriptures from the context of what precedes and follows.) For my purpose here, think about the bearing of context and infer within the reading by thinking of chapter 7 as one related essay. Then...

1. Verses 1-5, which exhort us to remove the log from our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from our brother's eye or else we enter into the realm of being a hypocrite have a related meaning to not casting what is holy among us before dogs and swine.

2. In context then, metaphorically calling another human a "dog" or a "swine" is not judging brethren as Jesus is clearly teaching against such judgment. Rather, it is something else. I think the metaphor is intended to help us understand the total lack of understanding the lost have for spiritual matters. Little can be discussed with these folks except the need for salvation, as we are all sinners. Attempting to discuss issues of judgment as a violation of brotherhood or as something requiring humility with someone who is lost and hasn't bent the knee to God's judgment is a fruitless exercise which will only result in an attack from lost ones. Verses 1-5 are among many concepts too holy for the lost to comprehend.

3. Yet for all those who belong to Him, the deep things of the spirit which cannot be shared with the lost are available if we ask, seek and knock. All understanding can be opened to us, if such is the hunger of our hearts. We can be confident that the Father will deal faithfully with our requests to know and understand His ways.

4. Even as we can expect God to deal with us faithfully, that is the simple expectation He places on us: Treat others the way you wish to be treated. Be faithful. (No doubt, referencing other standards Jesus has related but which are part of the previous two chapters.)

5. This truth of living is the core of the narrow way which is of the Father, faithfully acting within the confines of love toward others.

6. Since this is an evident condition of heart, we can easily spot those who are "bad" trees and those who are "good" trees by the fruit they produce. The fruit of God always lines up with the golden rule.

7. Just before He finishes this teaching, He assures and warns His listeners of the consequences of living within the teaching--following this teaching stabilizes one's life against life's storms--and the reverse is consequentially the reverse, as well. (This is a summation applying to the whole Sermon on the Mount, not just Matthew 7.)

8. Those hearing the Sermon on the Mount were startled by the authority which His words revealed.

Summing up using inference, Matthew chapter 7 is about life lived according to the ways of the Father: avoiding judging brethren improperly; avoiding needless attempts to teach the lost the holy things of the Father; seeking to understand these deep issues ourselves and receiving the knowledge/understanding needed to do so; such are examples/details of the gospel lived out by following the golden rule; we accept this standard as the narrow way of God; and are able to identify the good and bad fruit of those who claim God by the standard of the golden rule; such a living of the narrow way sustains ones' life through the challenges of life.

Do you think inferring is an acceptable way to digest Scripture? Do you think the inferences I have drawn are reasonable? Do you prefer to just take each topic as an insight on its own?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Suggestion for How to Meditate

The idea is to control a busy mind, which is conditioned to constantly adjusting its focus. We either are juggling more than one line of thought; or our emotions are pushing for us to bring a variety of factors into balance which trouble us; or maybe we just think the way the culture comes at us, fast, varied and noisy.

Set aside ten minutes, even if it is scheduled time usually dedicated to prayer. Get quiet and get your surroundings quieted from the noise of the culture. Decide for yourself what supports your endeavors, but even gentle background music is likely to distract. Think about Jesus. Nothing else. Most folks cannot do this. A solid ten minutes on one topic is harder than anyone might think! Make the thoughts come back again and again to just Jesus. Imagining events that include Jesus or Him actively teaching words like the Beatitudes which we associate with Him are a means of maintaining the focus. While disciplining the mind, be somewhat conscious of the body. Keep your breathing even, steady and relatively deep. If tension in one muscle group grabs the attention of the brain, for example you realize you are frowning, relax those muscles purposely and return to the focus on Jesus.

That's it. No bells and whistles, no deep spiritual first.

Why bother with this? Two things are being learned by the exercise:
Control of thoughts and a sense of dwelling peacefully in the heart with God.

The benefits over time are many. The control of thinking and focus on Jesus will begin to transfer to everyday life. It is discovered that the sense of peace and relaxation associated with a focus on Jesus is transferable to situations in the day to day challenges which are high pressure and intense. A person can learn experientially (not just academically) through meditation on Jesus that life springs from the heart not the intellect. I have heard this called "Practicing the Presence of Jesus."

Further, as the practice continues one learns to listen to the deep Presence of God within. He is alive and so much more than the printed words we have about Him! The written word is vital, absolutely. It provides the frame or mode for our intellect to experience during the exercise which is intended to develop the heart. Think on the things stated in the scripture which reveal Jesus, but avoid attempting to intellectually divide the Word. Rather, allow the heart to know a deep wonder and worship on His being alone.

Words fail to allow me to fully describe what I have come to know through meditation on Jesus. Nonetheless, I encourage it here. The practice itself is not the end. Adding the discipline just as another thing done to reach God is not the point. Rather meditation stands on the notion that the work of Jesus was finished at the Cross. The power of good over evil was accomplished in the Resurrection. The Presense of the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost. Meditation is an acceptance that all this is true and to "rest in Him" strengthens the new creature, birthed in spirit, whom the believer is. Prayer is a dedicated time of supplication and making one's requests made known to the Father. Meditation is learning to rest in the beauty and wonder of the Father, present within us through the Holy Spirit, and is a connection authorized by the sacrifice of the Son. Meditation becomes an act of communion with the awesome God we serve.

I do not contend this is a commandment of the Lord for believers from a doctrinal standpoint. However, if you are feeling distant from God, or some of your experiences within modern church practice are not a strength to your heart or you simply desire to increase your heart's capacity for loving God and your neighbor; this may be a useful tool to stir your heart to a deeper sense of the Father as a loving God caring for your soul. When we are more aware of the depth of God's love, we begin to overflow with love for others.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Teaching is Important to Meditation

In the last post, I asserted that meditation brought our three levels of being together.

We utilize the intellect and the teaching of the Word so that we might hide the Word in our hearts. Psalm 119:11. Interesting place to keep the Word, in the seat of our emotions, in the place we all acknowledge leads us to trouble, in the one part of our being absolutely subjective!

This is exactly the point! Culture has inculcated within us, including church transmission mechanisms, a perspective that trusts the intellect and disregards the emotions--one full third of our being. Yet our intellect can support the exercise of our hearts in meditation. Our understanding and familiarity with the Word is very important to successful meditation.

Talk of meditation is largely rejected in Protestant Evangelicalism because it does involve the emotions. We suspect our emotions will lead us astray. Hence we don't trust the idea of "Christian" meditation. But if we our honest, meditation is in our Bible.
Consider these OT phrases lifted straight from a word search:

meditate in the field
meditate on it (the law) day and night
Meditate in your heart
meditate in His temple
meditate on You
meditate with my heart,
meditate on all Your work
meditate on Your precepts
meditate on Your wonders.
meditate on Your precepts.
meditation before God.
meditation of my heart
Let my meditation be pleasing to Him
O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.
I have more insight than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation.
meditate on Your word
meditate on all Your doings
on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.
Your heart will meditate on terror (a statement attributed to God by the prophet Isaiah.)

Also, Philippians 4:8 doesn't mention meditation but describes what I am appealing for us Christians to do:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Teaching fills our hearts with the parameters that safely guide long periods of holding an open heart to the spiritual realm. Learning to meditate (muttering to ourselves the Truth -- thanks Terry, commenter on the last post for this very insightful image) opens us to an interaction with the Holy Spirit that is rewarding, comforting and full of instruction on spiritual matters directly from the Lord.

Basically, meditation isn't mystical as in the meaning of mysterious or enigmatic. It is a simple practice which can increase our love for the Father and our sense of His love for us, which then supports a more active love for others. More in the next post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why Practice Meditation?

We understand our lives by analyzing, categorizing and decision-making at three levels. We know things from the perspective of our physical life, our cultural life, and our common universal life. The narrowest view involves our personal bubbles--my body, my feelings, my likes, my dislikes, my fears, my dreams and aspirations. A view larger than ourselves is the one shaped by culture. We tend toward ethno-centrism or the view that our way of life culturally may not always be right, but it is the best to be found. Our commonality with other humans is often not fully developed, but all of the human race has some core motivations centered on the emotions: love, hate, anger, sadness, depression, jealousy, pride, fear. These three levels of understanding are the essence of our natural lives. (Notice the three areas of life susceptible to temptation and expressed by the world fallen man has created? The lust of the flesh--the body, its needs and desires; the pride of life--intellect and cultural structures; the emotions--the lust of the eyes and our hearts' imaginations.)

I believe there is a fourth level of understanding, life according to the spirit-birth in Jesus. Living by the spirit, living in the spirit, being spiritual all receive verbal repetitions in Christian exhortations, but what is it?

It is the level of understanding that is illuminated by God. It is above and beyond the physical, cultural or human experience. However, it releases us from none of these levels. Rather, by learning to abide in the Spirit of Christ through understanding the division between soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12) we become better decision-makers regarding the three natural levels of our experience. Simply, it requires the illumination by God's Spirit within our spirits to develop the fullest maturity and the deepest sense of life as a human. The three levels of understanding that are of the earth only begin to make sense as we approach all levels of earthly knowledge with our knowledge of God in spirit.

Our sense of the Presence of God within us and our ability to live from a position of faith in His divine Presence is the key to maturity as a Christian. I do not propose that meditation is a requirement to facilitate this level of spiritual knowledge and the resulting level of faith. However, I do believe it is a missing element in the lives of many Christians, at least as a deliberate discipline. I think it is useful in developing Christian maturity.

Meditation is a unique Christian discipline which takes place utilizing all three levels of our human experience. Our bodies, our intellect, and our hearts all combine. This unity of being is in itself a strengthening time. As meditation opens one to knowledge of the spirit and of His Spirit, an individual grows in ways teaching alone cannot facilitate.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Meditation's Connection to the Imagination.

I have traveled this line of thinking about meditation in my own life for a practical reason. Teaching, the delivery to my intellect of the meanings of Scripture and doctrines to be understood and followed, was not having the full effect I felt it should. That is, I still found myself behaving in contradictory ways. I didn't understand me, or why I acted the way I did. Likewise, I found this to be true in those around me. People I considered devout would evidence odd opinions or behaviors that I could not reconcile with "living in the spirit of Christ." Reducing such to considerations of maturity was accurate but incomplete. I was most aware, of course, of my own feelings. Honestly, there were times when I knew I was "behaving" like a Christian because it was the socially acceptable thing to do within my sub-culture, the church group. More painfully, as an elder I knew there were moments when people searched me out for my opinion/insight, as if I held some understanding that would help them. I found myself giving rote answers, a "doctrinally" correct intellectual stance and socially correct disposition of our belief system. I truly, deeply wanted to help them; I said what I thought would help, but some place in my heart knew I didn't fully believe everything I said. Or was it that I simply didn't fully comprehend? I lacked understanding. This left me desolate at times and empty. I never doubted God, I doubted me. Later by extrapolation I doubted all of my fellow elders and some of the practices of traditional religion all around me which I had identified as my "theological home", the Evangelical movement.

Please understand that I am not attacking the Evangelical movement. I do not suggest such is wrong. I believe it lacks understanding because it is a product of Western culture. From before the Renaissance, Western thought has developed along a philosophic path that traces itself back to the Greeks. Church scholarship developed and held the lamp of knowledge for Western culture through the Medieval period such that church and culture existed in a symbiotic relationship of sorts. This philosophic path has a practical component through which it meanders, the rational mind. Western culture emphasizes rationality and thereby cuts itself off from the human heart. There have been a few reactions like the Age of Romanticism, but the onward development of a rational explanation of the human experience has never lost steam. The Evangelical movement is both product of this combined history of church and culture and remains a participant today. It does not do so without consequence to its intellectual and spiritual constructs.

Remember my discussion on Christian diversity wherein sociologists define human social experience in terms which I contend reflect the whole human? (Oct. 10 post) This is our three-part being of body, heart, and mind. Western culture focuses primarily on the intellect and secondarily (pop culture in particular) on the body. The Western Christian church preaches there must be a changed heart, but I believe as an institution lacks in its understanding of how the heart affects the whole human. (I cannot here take the time to validate this assertion of mine, maybe another post.)

Our culture has developed a "heart" obsessed with the lust of the eyes. Literature, drama, the visual arts, musical arts and tech media are overrun with imagination applied to expressing the fallenness of the human heart. It isn't just pop culture of the day either. Ever read the lyrics of great operas or pay close attention to the themes in Shakespeare? Western religion's answer to this problem is to preach against lust. This is an intellectual exercise; and from a practical standpoint of the state of the human heart, is an ill-fitting application producing mixed results. In Western culture, we do not understand the effective application of meditation in overcoming our own hearts' vagaries. Consider this quote from scripture:

Psalms 77:3-12
When I remember God, then I am disturbed; When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. Selah.
You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I have considered the days of old, The years of long ago.
I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, And my spirit ponders:
Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again?
Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever?
Has God forgotten to be gracious, Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Selah.
Then I said, "It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed."
I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds.

The author of these words is sorely troubled in heart over his relationship with God, the core relationship of life. His answer is to meditate on God and His work. Of all the words in the Hebrew which can be translated meditate or meditation, they share one common possible meaning. That meaning is muse. Actively, muse can mean in our language to meditate or ponder. Interestingly, another use in our language is drawn from Greek mythology. This use is muse as in "a guiding spirit". Within artistic expressions, to find one's muse means to discover inspiration.

I submit that to meditate as a Christian means to find guidance from the Holy Spirit by filling the eyes of our hearts (requires the faculty of the imagination) not with lustful concepts from the world but with the purity of God Himself. In so doing, we access a source of growth for both our souls and spirits which is of God. Further, this growth will not be stimulated by teaching our minds, the intellect.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I am driving at... Imagination, Part three

One last disclaimer before I delve into developing the "Christian" imagination. I am not suggesting that Christians begin to use the imagination to create alternate realities. That is, I am not suggesting that imaginary products are to be achieved. This is not about being creative and producing an interpretation of Scripture never conceived before. What I am thinking here is not an outcome, it is a process wherein we access the ability to alter the depths of who we are by support found surprisingly in using the faculty of imagination. I also am not suggesting anything which cannot be supported scripturally. Of course, we all knows how that still don't free what I'm saying from subjectivity!!

Ps 19:14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Meditation is an act of focusing on God, deliberately, for an extended time period, with an openness to Him, with an intent to be impacted, and to bring Him pleasure.

Meditation is accomplished using all of our faculties including the imagination.

More in the next post.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Lack of Contentment May Mean a Lack of Imagination

The word for me today is contentment. I get home from work, which has been demanding but rewarding this week, and find an e-mail from an old friend. I am separated from him by distance but our contact is always warm, if somewhat infrequent. I had e-mailed him to let him know I had started the blog and am approaching a personal milestone of which he is aware. Dave emailed me encouragement in his gentle way. He finished his e-mail stating he thought I was a contented man. Perhaps, but there is more to know. I have every reason to be content, though like anyone I suppose, I have to address the content of my thoughts.

Then I check the blog of another old friend, he can be read at Looking for the Long Ride link on the right. He has written his latest blog entry exploring among other things, contentment. I do not find such overlap a coincidence. God is in every aspect of my life, and such circumstances as these described here occur continually in my life. I always accept them without question as God calling my attention to something. This may cause you to question, but I don't anymore. I have seen this proven over and over. It a reason I am content in the Father. His faithfulness to communicate with me never fails.

Last year at work, a colleague lamented, "I want to hear from God, if that's possible." I ached for her. Her Christian tradition has shaped her by liturgy and tradition. Her concept of God is deeply carved but limited by the cut marks of her particular system. It has informed her for years on end how to perceive God, and so she does. The culture she participates in communicates strict boundaries for the structures she must abide in, the symbols she must reflect upon and draw inspiration from, and the conflicts which are hers in the natural.

After we left the church we had been in for 18 years, I visited many local congregations. I was open to the Lord leading me again into the arena of organized groups. On one Sunday, I entered a congregation to discover in attendance there a family whom my wife and I knew from community soccer. The husband was an usher and led me to the pew in which his wife sat. I slid over near her, and we greeted we another. Since I was seeking, and she was "full-time", I led off after the pleasantries with, "So how do you like it here?" She was visibly shaken and turned to me with newly formed tears and spoke of her disappointment and disillusionment with this particular system. I did my best to sound supportive and remain neutral. I began imagining what could cause such a reaction. She was a chronic complainer, though her example on the sidelines of soccer disproved that muse. She did not clearly understand her circumstances and was overwhelmed by life, though her respected position in a local public school undercut that possibility. Her true feelings erupted when I touched on the sore spot of her life. That clicked with me as the truth of that moment.

At another prominent evangelical church in our community a week or so later, after I had been handed a "Prospective Member" card to fill out in Sunday School. (I filled this in with the questions "Why do you automatically put me in the category of prospect?" and, "If I am in Jesus like you, am I not part of you already?") During the Sunday School class itself, a regular member (some one with far more status within this group than most) delivered a scalding message of condemnation against anyone who was not actively witnessing for the purpose of expanding the roles of the church. was clear from these two social mechanisms, the card and the message, that the church was focused on numbers. Additionally, the abject disparity between Romans 8:1 and the empty-hearted scolding I had just heard demonstrated this group 's spiritual lack.

What did these three people have in common? My takes is a lack of contentment because of a failed or inactive spiritual imagination.

Imagination 1A (?)

In the comments section of my last blog post, Craig V. suggests that delineating thinking from the imagination might be helpful. He mentions how imagination is readily accepted generally, but the fruit of the Arts in particular is held somewhat suspect.

I understand. Well it should be suspect. The imagination has been used to promote much ungodliness in our world, and not just in the Arts. How about in education and philosophy in particular? Consider don't, he is nihilistic and hedonistic, but he is a good example of the imagination run amuck. Yet, I believe that when the Father redeems us, He lifts our whole being out of the miry clay, including our imagination, by virtue of the new creature referenced in 2Co 5:17. The imagination is part of our being. My renewed mind, and yours, has an imagination. This series of posts is about how to use the imagination in pursuit of a deepening relationship with our Father and His Son.

In my last post, I attempted to establish how the imagination is a part of us in ways beyond creative applications. Imagination is not simply about bringing creativity in arts, math and science applications. Our imaginations are a running sub-program of every one's thinking. I write this series of posts to encourage brethren to recognize the fullness of the whole being we are and learn, as commenter Josiah noted, "Our freedom to imagine is thus found in the charge to bring every thought into obedience to Christ."

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Imagination and the Spiritual Walk. Part 1

I imagine some are wondering why I use the word imagine in the sub-title of this blog. I think imagine is an important word that many of us don't fully understand in spiritual terms. I would be among those, of course. I claim no special knowledge here. But, I have been working on this one because it's important to me, and as a result, I have some thoughts to share.

Think about thinking. How do you do it? What do you recognize as thinking when you do it; or what do you reject as feeling when you want thinking, but all the words in the brain are pouring forth rapidly out of your heart? What do you do when your thinking fails and you don't have an answer to the problem at hand?

Pr 4:7
The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding.

Hebrew word for understanding = discernment; act; faculty; object

Notice the variants of meaning include discernment, insight into what is going on around you, and faculty, the ability to do so. We all have the faculty to understand at some level. Commonly we humans, cleansed and dirty, work at gaining some degree of understanding about the natural world around us. This is often motivated by selfishness, which produces mixed results in gaining discernment of the natural world, and no results at gaining discernment of spiritual matters. (I will reference the following concept often, and so begin here.) Those who are not born of the spirit of Jesus can never gain discernment of spiritual truth, except by direct revelation from the Father at His discretion. Without birth in Christ's Spirit, one's faculty to understand is locked completely within the paradigm of the material world. True enough the material world is under the dominion of Satan. Knowledge gained through him can provide illusions of separation from the material; but as he is the Father of Lies, he cannot give one separation in Truth. I digress, that is probably a post of its own.

So this post is about using our faculty of understanding to increase what we discern about spiritual matters. (I feel as if I am about to plunge my hand into boiling water, but here goes!)

I think Christians need to do two things.

1. Be honest that the imagination is part of everyday life all the time. We need NOT be afraid of it.
For example:
  • We engage in "fantasies" of how the conversation with our boss about a raise is going to go. This use of imagining interactions with others repeats, so ...
  • If we do not have a calculator and do any math in our head, yes we are thinking; but we imagine the numbers visually; or we imagine their values genius recently interviewed on television explained that numbers take on geometric shapes in his head and he "sees them combining" according to the function at hand.

Imagination is a function of the thinking processes in our heads. They go together. We think in concepts that are imagined, that is we use the faculty not to be confused with create an imagined object. What's more, I believe the heart is directly linked to the imagination. Our minds translate the feelings of our hearts into the words we speak and physical actions we choose by using our imagination.

2. Gain understanding of what purposes imagination can serve in gaining spiritual understanding of the Father. Apologies to whomever wrote this for not citing you as the source, but I read it back in the early nineties and have no clue where I did. This is stuck in the cobbed files of my brain, though: (this is not a direct quote just a remembrance)

Our development follows a course and our lives are a recurring function of our development. Feelings first (babies have "no" verbal constructs, though research indicates that fetal hearing allows the basis of language to develop in utero) then thoughts, thoughts lead to imaginations, imaginations spawn desires, desires direct actions, actions become habits, habits develop into lifestyle patterns and lifestyle patterns are one's destiny.

I submit breaking free from the natural existence into spiritual birth is the spiritual experience all humans need. Period. This occurs when the Father in His mercy reveals Jesus as Messiah to someone and they choose to so trust Him. However, walking out one's salvation in fear and trembling employs our faculties of understanding and the discernment so gained. There should be a continual gain in the mind and heart in these areas as one grows spiritually, I think...or am I just imagining this? Perhaps we can understand and grow in the utilization of our imaginations as part of walking with the Lord.

Yes, I knew the word "imagination" would cause some folks to pause and experience feelings, possibly even negative decisions about my blog. That's OK. Yes, I also knew it might stir in some a questioning of whether or not I was a New-Ager, full of double-speak about the word "Christ." Oh well. Such is how the spirits spar in the Wild Wood. It cannot be avoided.

We must sort through "spirit" as Christians and understand what we can. While some things will remain unknown to us, the Father knows all, and we are safe in Him.

Next up: thoughts about being a Christian and connecting with the value of our imaginations before the Living Father. For those who feel a tug of concern about the topic, I'll tell you the "safety net" I will talk about in conclusion, so that you know it is place. The Word, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and heart to heart fellowship are together our safety net in this. We must all be grounded in realizing we are connected to the material world by our bodies. We are not creatures of the imagination. We are creatures of earth who experience a God-given imagination. Some of us are reborn. The imagination is available to common humans and is a tool He provided us. Our new birth renews our mind. Is the imagination exempt?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Christian diversity -- final thoughts

Picking up where I left off, I submit that as mere humans what we believe about the origin, nature, and methods of Christianity is limited by our worldly, corrupted human knowledge of Christianity. Our quarrels and disagreements are not from the Father. We do not recognize how we have concerned ourselves with an elemental wisdom that is from the world. We function as Christians all too often as if we are part of this world system. We focus on issues that are rooted and expressed in terms of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. When someone else claims to be a Christian and disagrees with us, we look for ways to undermine their position, rather than looking for the fullest expression of familial love and affection that we might share.

Pulling back up the original question of what causes such great diversity among Christian believers, the simple answer is money-resources conflict, religion as we imagine it in our hearts and politics over what our institutional structure should be. Further, think of all Christian brethren on three levels: an individual level, a local corporate level and a universal cultural level.

As individuals, we are influenced by nature and nurture. We are born with a particular gift mix, mental abilities, and inclinations toward temperament. Additionally, we are selfishly inclined and this selfishness is bundled in three areas, our bodies, our hearts and our minds. Gordon's comment in part three was that Eve and Christ were tempted by Satan in these three areas. We have fallen natures, but it is important to recognize this nature has three parts.

On a corporate level, whenever we build communities of believers, we not only bring our individual baggage but we also encounter a corporate structure inherited across centuries of development. Regardless of our current stream, this structure includes decision-making by others reaching us through time. The natural, social construct we call "church" dictates to the individuals how to behave directly through "objective" teaching and indirectly through "subjective" teaching. We call this tradition. Another factor of seeing differently is that a relatively short stretch of time causes people who know an older set of mores to mix with folks inculcated amid a set of altered cultural norms.

From the broadest cultural view, the Body of Christ experiences some twists in thinking as well. The church develops concurrently with the culture in which it is based, interacts and can be pulled in. There are plenty of examples of churches taking cultural stands that were wrong. Southern pastors of the early-mid 1800's "preached" in favor of slavery. Many churches in Nazi Germany supported the fascist regime; the Crusades and the Inquisition were cultural mandates of the church itself.

This is becoming long, but you can see that the ground of our hearts is rich for disagreement and the opportunities for us to see things differently as a function of our socialization are many. When I confront someone whose whole social experience culturally and historically is different from me, and he disagrees with my take on Scripture, how do I respond? Is it not understandable that differences will be there? If we realized and embraced that what we are being asked by God is to establish among ourselves deeply loving relationships built on the social order of heaven, we would approach strangers who profess Christ differently. What if we understood Christianity as a spiritual state that is wholly different from our identities shaped of the earth? What if we sought to simply love others inspired by the Spirit of Christ within us?

Maybe I just discovered my next group of posts!

Jas 3:13 t0 Jas 4:1
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Christian epistuh--WHAT? part three

I know epistemology ain't a regular, every-day word, but it says exactly what I need to say about Christianity in this train of thought. More on that a little later.

epistemology = a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.

Consider also the following scripture reference, and I hope this all comes together for you like it came together for me sitting in that classroom thirty-two months ago:

1Jo 2:16 (
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. NASB

Everything wrong in the hearts and minds of men is a result of the fall. Let's be more specific:
  • What we desire related to our bodies -- lust of the flesh
  • What we view (symbolism in images) -- lust of the eyes
  • What we do with our intellect -- the boastful pride of life

We are triune beings, a composite of body, heart, and mind. Semantic baggage we will have to sort through in some other post is the piece of us some call heart, some call soul, some call psyche, and some call spirit. I am using the term heart purposely to enable the inclusion of the word imagination separated from the intellect.

Humans are corrupted in all three parts of our being. Our bodies and every decision we make motivated by providing the body security, comfort and pleasure is affected by the lust of the flesh. Our imagination that allows us to conceptualize abstractly and see meanings behind the material world is corrupted by the lust of the eyes. (The Cadillac coat-of arms carries a complex set of connotations wholly different from the Volkswagen V over W inside a circle, while both are just an identifying mark on a vehicle. We understand the connotations and connect with them emotionally by a look at the symbol. ) All that we are able to build materially, not just skyscrapers and bridges, but our institutions and social order are corrupted by and are themselves a source of the pride of life.

Sociologists cannot agree on whether or not Conflict Theory (control of resources), Symbolic-interactionism (power of symbols) or Structural-functionalism (social order as a function of institutions) is the unifying theme for society because all three exist together. I submit each of these organizing matrices can be identified in society because each is a function of one of the three parts of humans. Conflict Theory deals with issues of resources and wealth because we have physical bodies; Symbolic-interactionism deals with issues springing from our heart and its imaginations; and Structural-functionalism deals with our mental acuity and various applications of the same. We are triune beings and we have established a world system that reflects ourselves. (for evidence of this rooted in the US see previous post discussion of capitalism, religion, and republicanism)

All of what we have done is corrupted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. All that is in the world, is from the world.

Part four will examine the consequence of what I suggest here on the historical diversification of Christianity into sects, our modern day debates about how we interpret Scripture, and thus how we think about God, the Father. Ultimately as mere humans what we believe about the origin, nature, and methods of Christianity is limited by our worldly, corrupted human knowledge of Christianity.

Questioning more experienced bloggers: What does it mean and/or do when I create a label for a post?

Friday, October 26, 2007

second part on Christian diversity

The cycles of teaching in an elementary classroom tend to follow holidays. With darkened Jack-O-Lanterns on porches this coming Thursday morning, our students' attention will shift toward Thanksgiving, the next break from school. I'd like to use the Pilgrims of Plymouth to further the discussion I started in the last post along with their sister colony of Jamestown to the south.

The story of the United States begins with the founding of the English colonies of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. From a sociological perspective, these colonies represent the three major forces which shaped society in the colonies, through to the United States and today shape our world.

The North American colonies of the 17th and 18th centuries are a bridge between monarchism and the rule of democracy across Western cultures, then expanding worldwide during the 20th century. Jamestown was strictly a business venture. Plymouth was a religious freedom movement for the Pilgrims, and a political exercise as the group sought an opportunity to pursue the rights of man distanced from the power of the English crown. Within just a span of thirteen years, the colonies had created the opportunity for three groups of thinker/adventurers to launch concurrent experiments in sociological functions. Jamestown represented capitalism. Plymouth had a dual thrust of religion through its Puritan Christian social order and fledgling republicanism in the Mayflower Compact. Together these two colonies comprised three societal forces that can tear any family apart: money, religion and politics.

I identify these three sociological forces as the thread that ties this post to the last. Sociologists inability to identify a unifying theme for social order is because they have identified three main theories and debate rages over which is "the one". These three main theories are Conflict Theory, Symbolic-interactionism and Structural-functionalism. I suggest the three theories together represent a three-footed basis of human interaction. The colonial experiment illustrates these three forces and identifies sociologists' elusive unifying theme, not one theory but all three exerting influence simultaneously, a braided rope on which society hangs.

I apologize to the regular reader for the sociology lesson, but it is necessary to make my point. I apologize to any sociologists for the over-simplifications.

Conflict Theory states that conflict between have's and have-not's is the key that turns society. (my opinion follows) What causes this conflict? It boils down to who controls the land and the women who go with the land. Women represent men's ability to extend control of land across generations through an established lineage. Land is wealth. Men fight over it. (back to theory) Once a group establishes itself as in-power, the marginalized workers struggle for ascendancy and this shapes society. The capitalism of the US and now the world at large is typified by Jamestown and representative of Conflict Theory. Follow the development of Jamestown across the centuries until one examines the World Bank: do the have's join together to reach out to the have-not's of the developing world for altruistic reasons or to insure that developing-world instability does not disrupt the wealth and power of those in control? Either way, conflict between have's and have-not's is a major sociological function in today's world.

Symbolic-interaction Theory is about the power of symbols to motivate people to action. Consider the Cross of Christianity, the Crescent of Islam, the Menorah of Judaism, the pervasive designer symbols of Madison Ave. and the power of the American flag to bring tears, cheers and rants. The Plymouth connection to this theory seems fairly obvious.

Structural-functionalism Theory is about human ability to establish institutions with an order of purpose, policy, and procedure to insure societal functioning. Republicanism in the colonies was the next wave carrying the political ship of state from monarchism into democracy, such as it is. Political demarcation and compromise remains a major component of most governments in this modern world.

Next, I will connect modern sociological theories to a basic premise of Christian epistemology.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

why Christianity is so diverse

Those who claim Christ as Savior express a wide set of opinions on a varied set of topics. I became acutely aware of this after I left organized religion. I fully believed at one time the true Christian looked, spoke and believed similarly to me, regardless of his or her particular stream. The "true" Christian was "sold out to Jesus", full of the Holy Spirit, someone dedicated to all things Christian and exhibited strong character as a result.

Then I began to doubt in the character of those I walked with largely because I could no longer be dishonest about my own immaturity. I had to face it. In doing so, my sensitivity to what immaturity looked and sounded like became more acute. So I left. The others did not want to deal with our mutual immaturity, and it was either sink with them or swim on my own.

Once I had left the organized church, I told myself I wanted to think again. I had allowed myself to think only what I had been told was safe to think for too long. Eighteen years to be exact, twelve of these as an elder. (This is not intended to suggest that organized religion does this routinely. It is simply what I experienced.) I began to read and often from what before had been labeled by my teachers and spiritual leaders as inappropriate theology. Since I no longer recognized their authority over what and what not to read, I read...widely.

I discovered broad parameters of a significant diversity of "Christian" opinion. I simply wanted to know, "What is right belief?"

It actually came together for me in a secular, graduate sociology course. Much of current Christian theology seems intended to make the world a better place. I think this is misguided. In order to explain and follow Kansas Bob's advice for a blog post to be brief, I think I will need three different posts...maybe four. So please bear with me, if I have gotten your attention.

Beginning in the middle:
Sociology is a modern, established scientific discipline in disarray. Some would even say that it is not even truly a science, though a degree in sociology is a batchelor's degree in science. Many colleges have even begun to dismantle their sociology departments. (It's been two and a half years since I took the course that delivered this information to me; so if this state of affairs has significantly changed, I apologize upfront for any disinformation.) As reported to me then, the problem is that sociologists cannot agree on a unifying sociological theory for why society functions as it does. Please do not be put off by my know-it-all impertinence, but I know why; and the answer explains, in part, the great diversity of Christian opinion about what Christianity should be.

See you soon with more.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

volition and His Being

Consider volition:

1. the act of willing, choosing, or resolving; exercise of willing
2. a choice or decision made by the will.
3. the power of willing; will.

Do we volitionally (will and act to) place ourselves in the Spirit of God resident within us? If the answer is "yes" that is a statement of faith in the supernatural. That is, God the Father is a supernatural being and believing that this Being labeled God the Father is accessible for a human to choose to be in Him is a statement of belief in a supernatural experience between human and God.

I for one believe this is the exact state the Father intends we enter once Jesus regenerates us from sin, and the Holy Spirit in-dwells us. Further, this is the place of completion and peace we know while we traverse this earth as aliens away from home. In my view, there is no other way to truly know the peace that passes understanding.

Often as I experience Christians, I catch attitudes of superiority or disdain for the lost or even fear of them. I wonder where that comes from. I have an explanation for this phenomenon myself, but that is not why I am writing this post. Rather I am attempting to make the point that there is a set of thoughts and expression that claims Christianity which is nothing more than a religious system of thinking characterized by particular ways of being that are not supernatural. In contrast, there is an authentic experience of the in-dwelling Christ characterized by the way of Christ; He directly referred to this when He said, "I am the way, the truth and the life."

True enough, Jesus is the way one gains access into the Father's presence. However, I see a deeper statement that once Christ in-dwells us, we also enter into a way of being human which was demonstrated in the human life of Jesus, ie the way He did things = the way we will do things in Him. Therefore, the volitional act of placing ourselves fully within His in-dwelling Presence is at once an act of faith in the supernatural and an active participation in the divine nature that lifts us into a place of authority in the spiritual realm while we exist in the natural.

Adopting an attitude of separation from the humanity around one's self based on a self-perceived special knowledge as a Christian announces in both body language and verbiage a sub-conscious function of one's true state of self dressed in Christianese, "I am above you." (This is not about how and with whom we fellowship or other choices based on sanctified living, but how we behave toward other human-beings who do not know the Presence of Jesus.) However, the Spirit of Christ in us fully identifies with the sinner...not because He is a sinner, of course, but because He was fully human and He is filled with compassion for those who live under the condemnation of the curse.

I will be interested in your response, whatever it is. Don't be afraid to use your imagination. It is a fruitful path in the Wild Wood.

Monday, October 22, 2007

doctrine and opinion in the Wild Wood

The Wild Wood is a metaphor for the world around us. Not the majestic and sometimes threatening physical world, but the fragmented, ponderous and very dangerous social world created by humans. Spirit refers to what we sense is the spiritual framework running like blood and air through the society. Society is at once both a material reality and a function of our imaginations. Within this social milieu historically and presently, Christians have had so very little understanding that we've killed one another while claiming we are the representatives of the same Spirit. I can really pontificate on this one, but I will spare you that today.

As I write this blog, those of you who may continue to read me will find a hodge-podge of ideas from a variety of disciplines. I am moderately educated as a person and have been exposed to a fairly broad set of notions and authors represented within a liberal arts education. I am an expert at nothing, not even teaching, and as many of you know from reading my comments over at Steve's, I can sometimes get my facts confused. ;^) Alas, such is the weakness of right-brained people like me.

What stirs me most and frequently is how to articulate the deep things of living life in the Spirit of God. God here identified as the Eternal Father, revealed by the Son who left the comforts of His divine place with the Father to have His earthly flesh sacrificed for humanity; Jesus' purpose was and is to reveal the Father and to restore communion between Himself and His creation; Jesus experienced literal resurrection and ascension into heaven, immediately intertwining the realities of the natural, physical existence of humans with the Spiritual realm of the Father and thus precipitated the entrance into this Wild Wood of His Spirit.

Beyond the above, you will find very little heart within me to argue about "doctrines". In fact, let's demystify that word here and now. didaskalia from the Greek=teaching. Doctrines are little more than what someone teaches from the text. These may be either right or wrong from the Father's perspective, and that perspective alone is what matters to me. Folks who insist their "teaching" is the correct one are often so ill-tempered as to clearly reveal they do not walk in the Spirit of Christ, and such is among the vagaries within the Wild Wood I want to explore. Why is that?

Finally, you will find me not attempting to teach here about how to divide the Word, though I intend to use the Word in this mental exercise. However, my perspective is intended to spring from the heart of me as a common man. I cannot separate my intellect from my functioning, but the intellect (here comes my first real opinion) is not the center of any one's existence; believing it is, is a serious deception which leads down very tangled paths within the Wood.