The Order of Being and the Life of Faith

Leaving aside the problem of evil (which is touched upon in our Skeptic’s Corner), perhaps the biggest barrier erected by our modern minds against a saving knowledge of the truth is the chronic incongruity between (both) our sincere ideals (and our pious rhetoric), on the one hand, and our actual lived experience, on the otherWhile we may rightly refrain from judging others, it is difficult not to despair in the face of our own failures and inconsistencies.

This general sense of incongruity and personal inconsistency comes to light as follows:

  • in the conflict that we experience between the flesh and the spirit (a la Romans 7)
  • in the apparent absence (in our personal experience) of anything remotely resembling the promised victory over this conflict (a la Romans 8)
  • and in the underwhelming evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (a la Galatians 5).

The purpose of this essay (together with its sequel) is to attempt to remove the aforementioned sense of incongruity (construed as an obstacle to faith) by further illuminating this classic conflict, together with its ultimate resolution.  We will attempt to accomplish this by drawing a careful distinction between the carnal mind, on the one hand (together with the order of appearances which is its correlate), and the mind of Christ, on the other (which is itself the order of Being) — and also by showing how those who sincerely desire to transcend this conflict (which arises in the order of appearances) can do so if (and insofar as) they authentically recognize and honor Reality (which IS the mind of Christ).

If that seems like a lot to take in all at once, try breaking it down as follows:

  1. The order of appearances is generated in, by, and for the mind of the flesh…
  2. The order of Being, in contrast, IS the mind of Christ, aka Reality or True Nature (in contrast to Fallen Nature).
  3. The conflict of Romans 7 arises at the point of intersection between these two minds (or orders) as we take our eyes off the Lord and attempt to proceed (in the order of appearances) on the strength of the flesh alone.
  4. More precisely, the individual who is experiencing the conflict is attempting to replicate, in the order of appearances, an ideal that can only be realized– indeed, IS only realized –by the mind of Christ in the order of Being.
  5. Deliverance comes when we are able to recognize (and distinguish between) each of these “minds” or “orders” and are willing to give due honor and precedence to the mind of Christ.
  6. It is at this point that our apparent lives begin to reflect that which we ARE– in Chirst –in the order of Being, rather than our desire to merely appear a certain way (whether in our own eyes, in the eyes of others, perhaps, or even– as we may imagine it –in the eyes of God).

Assuming that is at least partially intelligible, so far so good…   Let us consider two additional points of reference that should help to further situate and frame the discussion which is to follow:

1) Just as there are two archetypical men– Adam and Christ –so there are two archetypical minds: that of the flesh and that of the Spirit…

With regard to these two men and their respective minds, it may be helpful to think of the former (the carnal mind) as being entirely oriented towards that which is sometimes referred to as the horizontal dimension, while the latter (the mind of the Spirit) is vertically inclined.  Whereas the former tends to think (exclusively) in terms of genealogy and causality and is preoccupied with control in its temporal relationships (perpetually attempting to reconstruct the past and anticipate the future), the latter is, in contrast, steadfastly attuned to our Spiritual origin and destiny (i.e. our eternal life in Christ).  As it is written:

  • “Marvel not that I say unto you, you must be born from above” (John 3:7).
  • “We have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16).
  • “Old things  have passed away, behold all things have become new and all things are of God” (II Corinthians 5:17).

2) The flesh and the mind of the flesh can be fruitfully compared to the “ego” or the “egoic mind” (see also: The Carnal Mind ≈ The Egoic Mind).

With regards to this second point of reference, more conservative readers may want to consult John Piper’s The War Within: Flesh Vs. Spirit.  While this reference to Piper should not be construed as an endorsement of his more general perspective, it is worth noting that he also seems to acknowledge that “the flesh” or “the mind of the flesh” is at least roughly equivalent to the ego.

And when it comes to the egoic mind, generally, let us each simply look within ourselves and observe:

  • the running mental commentary that is seldom absent from our lives…
  • our personal preoccupation with the story of “me”
  • our preoccupation with manipulating outcomes so as to secure that which is “good”, in our eyes, and to avoid that which we fear or otherwise judge to be “evil”…
  • our overarching concern with our personal ambition or success and, generally speaking, with that which enhances our personal prestige…
  • and even, at times, our inordinate awareness of and preoccupation with our own personal failures and regrets.

Each of the bulleted items above are– or at least can be and tend to be –a manifestation of the carnal or egoic mind.  Moreover, in the New Testament (especially in the gospels and the Pauline epistles), it is repeatedly said that such personal preoccupations must be left behind–that, indeed, even the most innocent of our personal preferences must be subordinated to the will of God as we take up our cross:

  • “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…” (Matthew 16:24).
  • “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (Mark 10:39).
  • “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
  • “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…” (Philippians 3:7).

In short, whatever the turn of events, His grace is sufficient… (cf. II Corinthians 12:9).  We need not lean on our own understanding… (cf. Proverbs 3: 5).

Moreover, in addition to these foregoing points of reference, most of us would also agree that the story of Adam and Eve, the gospel narratives, and the Pauline epistles– together –serve to illuminate our first-hand experience of these two minds and their respective orientations to these two very different dimensions (i.e. the flesh and the Spirit; the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God; time and eternity; fallen nature and True Nature; appearance and Reality; etc).

Perhaps we can agree, as well, that as we (by the grace of  God) become more fully aware of (and more appropriately oriented to) these two dimensions, we can begin to properly distinguish between “the carnal mind” and “the mind of Christ” in our own experience–and can, as a result, stay more fully connected to the locomotive of the Spirit (according to Piper’s metaphor) through which we find deliverance from the conflict in Romans 7.

With these things in mind, then, let us consider a series of scriptures with which most readers will be familiar, but which they may never have considered in this light.  In addition to highlighting the distinction between the flesh and the Spirit, generally, this analysis will also serve to demonstrate that while, in the order of Being (i.e. with regards to our eternal life), Christ (and our creation in Christ) is prior, it is nevertheless the case that in the order of appearances (i.e. with regards to our personal and cultural narratives), Adam (the so-called natural man) comes first.

Referring to these two “orders”, as such, is not without its limitations, but this way of framing the discussion should help to clarify the distinction between these two minds and their respective worlds or kingdoms.  With that goal in mind, we will paraphrase the scriptures below by interpolating [in brackets] some references to each of these two “orders”, as follows:

[the order of Being] or [the order of appearances].

As we shall see, the carnal/egoic mind, considers the horizontal/natural/temporal dimension (i.e. the order of appearances) to be the only reality (or the only reality that really matters, at any rate).  And when the personal ego or “I” usurps the place and presence of God in our hearts– attempting to rule, instead of being willing to serve –this is the “mind” with which we become wholly identified.  As a result, we become fully immersed (or lost) in the (merely) apparent world which is thereby generated. 

But it is also the case that we have the mind of Christ and that (in and through Him) we also have access to the vertical/eternal dimension (i.e. the order of Being) in and through the power of the Spirit.  As such– insofar as we live and walk in the Spirit — it may legitimately be said that we are crucified with Christ and that we no longer live (which means that the “I” no longer sets on the throne of our hearts, trying to manipulate the flow of appearances), but that Christ lives in us (the One who IS before Abraham was — in the order of Being, as such — in the beginning with God).

Relinquishing the throne of our hearts in this way, we die to “the world” (as represented in and understood by the carnal mind) and become alive to the kingdom of God (which IS the mind of Christ–aka Reality or True Nature).

When it is said that we have access to “the vertical dimension” or “the order of Being”, this is not to suggest that we will have (or should desire to have) imaginal (or prophetic) visions of supersensible realms or celestial beings (or future events).  Any such (alleged) experience– and even the desire to experience such things –is usually considered suspect (and rightly so).  Without denying or disparaging any experience that may authentically unfold in our lives, we would do well– as a general rule of thumb –to adopt Thoreau’s deathbed observation as our motto, namely, one  world at a time! 

What is important is not whether we have celestial or prophetic  visions, but whether (and to what degree) we see the Reality of the kingdom– here and nowthrough the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit.  For it is by clearly recognizing and honoring this Realitythe Way, the Truth, and the Life that is with us always –that we find deliverance from the Romans 7 conflict.

The ego in Romans 7 may “believe the gospel” and “accept Christ” (perhaps in an intellectual way; perhaps in an emotional way; or perhaps in a way which reflects some combination of the two).  And while it may be necessary and appropriate for us, as a community, to acknowledge  and affirm that such a one is “saved” and will “go to heaven” when (s)he dies by virtue of such “belief” and “acceptance” (insofar as this kind of intellectual and/or emotional posture reflects a sincere desire to participate in the life of the church), it is nevertheless difficult– when and for as long as the conflict of Romans 7 persists –to acknowledge that such such a one really recognizes and truly honors the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit.  Rather, given the lack of trust and reliance indicated, it would seem to be the case that (s)he is still attempting to understand and control the flow of appearances merely with reference to the horizontal plane–that (s)he is not fully connected, vertically speaking, to the locomotive of the Spirit (referring, once again, to Piper’s metaphor).

NOTE:  Piper’s metaphor of the locomotive must not be taken out of context.  He is not suggesting that the Spirit somehow gives us brute strength to power through difficulties.  Let us remember, rather, that His strength is made perfect in weakness (cf. II Corinthians 12:9).  Indeed, Lao Tzu’s water metaphor may be more apt (and may also be more comparable to the living water that Jesus spoke of then is generally imagined).

It is also worth noting that none of this is intended to disparage or discourage anyone’s desire to understand the natural world or to take action on the horizontal plane as long as such understanding  and action finds its ultimate inspiration and satisfaction in the mind of Christ and the power of the Spirit.  Indeed, it is by virtue of such enlightened action (or inaction, as the case may be) under God, that our lives begin to reflect the kingdom of God into this world, Here & Now.  But as with most matters of the Spirit, this too is subject to much misunderstanding

Finally, the idea of being “vertically connected” can, itself, become a matter of pride–and can itself, therefore, be a kind of spiritual trap (i.e. yet another “achievement” or “identity” for the ego to lay claim to).  So perhaps it is with some trepidation that we should speak of these things, fully realizing our many limitations (and personal shortcomings) and without suggesting that our lives, as a whole, necessarily provide a very good example for others.  Nevertheless, those of us who have struggled with this conflict over many years– and have reflected rather carefully on the transition between Romans 7 and 8 (both in the text and in our own lives) –are naturally inclined (if not duty bound) to share what we have learned.  As such– our personal shortcomings and trepidation notwithstanding  –let us continue by working our way through the following scriptures which may be fruitfully understood in light of this general framework:

Two Men ≈ Two Minds Two Worlds or Two Kingdoms:
The Order of Being & The Order of Appearances

Note:  To read the remainder of this essay, please follow the link below and scroll about a third of the way down the page…

–> The Order of Being and the Life of Faith continued….

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Our Sunday School Theology

Getting to Know Jesus in the 21st Century is, in part, a creative response to our (all too typical) Sunday School Theology which can be outlined as follows:

  • Outcasts from the Garden of GodWe often speak of an all powerful, all knowing, all loving God…
    • …who chooses to create a world which he knows will fall into sin…
    • …and who knows that the result of that sin will be:
      • …untold generations of natural suffering in a fallen creation
      • …untold generations of human suffering throughout history
      • …and the eternal, conscious torment of untold numbers of human souls in hell.
  • We also (often) say that this is due to the sin or our original parents…
    • …who are often understood as two, historical human beings living approximately 6000 years ago in a literal garden of Eden…
    • …whose sin resulted in our being born into sin so that…
      • …because of their choice, we had no choice…
      • …and, as a result, we are condemned already.
  • subdeath2Against this backdrop, we often teach that:
    • God in his mercy sent Jesus in the middle of human history…
      • Our perfect/penal substitute…
      • Who died a substitutionary death…
      • Thus paying our sin debt…
      • So that, because he died, we don’t have to…
    • And that whoever hears and receives this good news will go to heaven when they die (instead of hell).
    • However, we also often teach that those who live(d) and die(d) without accepting the Judeo-Christian revelation cannot be saved…
      •  …whether or not they have been exposed to the gospel…
      • …or may have heard and rejected a misrepresentation of it…
  • for the bible tells me soMoreover, in order to preserve our preferred standards of Christian behavior and our preferred modes of Christian discourse, we often teach our children to believe that:
    • …the library of 66+ ancient texts written over 1000 year period (which we refer to as The Holy Bible) are basically free of errors and internally consistent and coherent with one another.  This is true, we may say…
      • …not only when it comes to matters of faith/salvation…
      • …but also when it comes to any claims that might seem to have a bearing on science or history
    • As such, we often teach our children
      • …to disregard the theory of evolution and interpret Genesis literally…
      • …that they should never question the historicity of any of the other Biblical narratives…
      • …that they must accept Christ as their penal substitute…
      • …and that so doing, they will be saved–along with all the others who “accept Christ” in this way.
      • …while everyone else will suffer eternal, conscious torment…
  • indoctrinationBy persuading our children of this at a young age and by limiting insofar as possible their exposure to alternative points of view, we desire to:
    • Preserve our tradition and to…
    • Create the optimal conditions for the salvation of our children’s souls…

What’s wrong with this picture!?  Does this really do justice to the depths and the riches of our knowledge of Christ?  While this Sunday School Theology may work after a fashion as a kind of initial instruction for children, it comes across as logically incoherent and/or morally repugnant when understood and promulgated among adults in a rigid and simplistic way.  Moreover, because the moral and intellectual horizon of those Christians who never out-grow this understanding of the gospel tends to be rather limited,  they are often low-hanging fruit for demagogues of various kinds.  We can do better than this…

–> Reading the Bible in the 21st Century

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Christmas Morn

Christmas Morn“, by Already Shining ~ John Astin
[Listen Online]

What We've Always Been

When you lose your life you’ll find me
You will find me everywhere
There’s a joy inside of laughter
And a smile inside despair

When you lose your life you’ll find me
There’s a love in everything
Nothing can be separate
When there’s only this it seems

You are the wonder–glory, the life…
Miracle gazing from your eyes…

When you lose you’re life you’ll find me
You will find me everywhere
There’s a joy inside of laughter
And a smile inside despair

When you lose your life you’ll find me
As a love in everything…
Nothing can be separate
When there’s only this it seems

You are the wonder–glory, the life…
Miracle gazing from your eyes…

When you lose your life you’ll find me…

–> What Do We Have To Lose?

lamentations 3 -- 22-24

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For God So Loved The World

Our Categories Give Us Our World

Whether we are:

Theists, Atheists, Agnostics

Idealists, Materialsts, Phenomenalists

Realists, Essentialists, Nominalists, Nihilists

Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Jews

Ascetics, Aesthetes, Sensualists, Legalists, Libertarians, Libertines

Liberals, Conservatives, Centrists, Center-Left, Center-Right

Capitalists, Communists, Socialists, Fascists, Anarchists

Heterosexual, Homosexual, Transexual, Asexual

Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender

Masculine, Feminine, Androgynous

Rich, Poor, Begging, Thieving

Mr. Mrs. Ms. or Miss

We must admit:

Our Categories Give Us Our World

The possibilities are seemingly endless and we can mix and match as much as we see fit!  Such worldviews give form and structure to experience…   Consciously or unconsciously, we define ourselves and others…  Categories within categories… Cultures within cultures…  Layers upon layers…  Our name is legion for we are many…

“Precept upon precept; line upon line . . . here a little, and there a little; that [we] might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken” (Isaiah 28:13). 

But has it always been this way?  Under Popes and Monarchies, western culture seemed more uniform, perhaps… More stable…  More circumscribed…  Our available categories relatively limited… Our use of them more strictly choreographed…  God was in his Heaven and all was right with the world…

But perhaps this is just a superficial impression.  Maybe there was a relative stability and uniformity– at least we can imagine it that way in retrospect –but, if so,  it would seem to have been largely imposed from the top down by a power elite who’s worldview (at least to our minds) did not really do justice to reality.  In any event, that world is gone and its passing seems to have been marked by the protestant reformation and the subsequent transition from monarchies to democracies.

Progress?  Age of enlightenment?  Perhaps…  But this new-found freedom resulted in an even greater proliferation of social and cultural categories– which resulted in a corresponding proliferation of worldviews and worlds –so that, increasingly (especially in this technically astute, socially networked, post-modern age) each individual seems to have the option of constructing and defending a unique vision of the world.  But this raises several seemingly unanswerable questions:  In this hall of mirrors,

  • What is truth? 
  • Which world is real?
  • Is God, in fact, dead?
  • Must the phenomenology of Spirit finally be reduced to the will to power?

For God So Loved The World

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” ~ Albert Einstein

As the quotation, above, suggests, it is unlikely that answers to the preceding questions will be found by those who seek them in moralistic rhetoric, hermeneutical wrangling, or other conceptual gymnastics.   But for those who have an ear for it, answers can be found in the “I Am” presence which transcends all social, cultural, and political categories.  This is not just the thought that “I am”, but the aware Presence that is prior to thought–the profound sense of Being that is encountered in alert stillness, between each breath we breathe; and in deep silence, between each heartbeat…  Indeed, this is the One who is with us alwaysthe One who is given that we might have life and have it more abundantly:

John 3:16 [paraphrased] For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son [to the world], so that everyone who [trusts in and relies on] him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who [trust in and rely on] him are not condemned; but those who do not [so trust] . . . are condemned already, because they [do not trust] in the name of the only Son of God [“I Am”].

John 10:7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I Am the door of the sheep. 8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I Am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes not, but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I Am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (KJ2).

–>  Joint Heirs With Christ

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Joint Heirs With Christ

John 15:15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

i am exodus 3-14Language (in general) and spiritual modes of discourse (in particular) are often ambiguous and Jesus’ teachings are no exception.  At times they seem intentionally cryptic and were– more often than not, it seems –grossly misunderstood.  His frequent references to himself, for example, seems to have given his critics the impression that his teachings were self-serving–that he was seeking his own glory.  Indeed, his repeated use of the phrase, “I Am”, as reported in the gospel of John, must have seemed to them like shameless self-promotion which– given its association with the name of God in Exodus 3:14 –bordered on blasphemy.  Jesus responds to such criticism as follows:

John 7:16 Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. 17 Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. 18 Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him. 19 “Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?”

imagesCALNH9PFThey were, indeed, looking for an opportunity to kill him and, a few chapters later, they thought that they had him dead to rights when he said,

“The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

This claim followed on the heels of several of the aforementioned “I Am” expressions which, as indicated above, are provocative enough in their own right.  They are itemized, below, compliments of Henry Morris:

“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35,48,51).

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

“I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7,9).

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14).

Moreover, his assertion that, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30) is, in turn, followed by three more “I Am” expressions:

“I am the resurrection, and the life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am the true vine” (John 15:1,5).

Egoic minds are, indeed, self-serving and self-promoting–imagining as they do that the whole world should revolve around them.  And perhaps it is natural that it would seem to such minds that Jesus had a similar agenda–albeit one of megalomaniacal proportions:

John 10:31 The Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”

But looking ahead a few chapters, it does not appear that Jesus is necessarily claiming or desiring anything for himself that he does not also claim and desire for everyone else–if only  they are willing to receive the Word of God as he receives it and are willing to know themselves to be in the way that he knows himself to be.   For if they are willing– indeed, if we are willing –he prays for both them and for us as follows:

We are One in the LordJohn 17:18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one…

As such, it is at least questionable whether or not Jesus intended to set himself apart and glorify himself, personally, in contradistinction to the rest of humanity.

–>  Seeing Beyond Worldviews

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What Is Looking!?

St. Francis in he woods...St. Francis is supposed to have said, “What we are looking for is what is looking” and Meister Eckhart wrote,

The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.

That’s the mystery…  That’s why it is forbidden (and impossible) to make a graven image of God.  Nevertheless, the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handywork (Psalm 19:1).   And we live and move and have our being in the Divine ‘image’ which is the light of the world… 

headless circleTo recognize the Lord is to notice what is noticing…  The light which lights everyone who comes into the world…  The stone which the builder rejects…  The gate of the Lord…  Whosoever will may come…

Have you noticed what’s noticing?  Listen to this song by John Astin and/or scroll down if you’d like to read the lyrics:

What is Noticing?  [Listen Online]

John Astin ~ Already ShiningHave you noticed…
That something is here…
You can’t see it…
But it’s nearer than near…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
And listened…
To what is listening…

Oh, what you’re searching for
Is what is searching…
And what you’re looking for…
Is what is looking…

Have you noticed…
That something is here…
You can’t see it…
But it’s nearer than near…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
Have you listened…
To what is listening…

Oh, what you’re searching for…
Is what is searching…
And what you’re looking for…
Is what is looking…

Have you noticed…
That something is here…
You can’t see it…
But it’s nearer than near…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
And listened…
To what is listening…

You’ve been searching for the truth…
And all the time…
The One you’re looking for…
Is seeing through your eyes…

Have you noticed…
something is here…
You can’t see it…
But it’s nearer than near…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
And listened…
To what is listening…

Have you tasted…
What is tasting…
And remembered…
What’s remembering…

Have you noticed…
What is noticing…
And listened…
To what is listening…

–> What Is Awareness?

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Seeing Beyond Worldviews

Our categories give us our world, do they not?  And is it not the case that if we can control the categories through which people see the world, we can also control them?  How, then, do we know that Jesus’ teaching isn’t just another power-play?  Is he not, by virtue of his teaching, attempting to control our categories?  And if he succeeds in controlling our categories, is he not circumscribing our worldview?  And what might his motive be if not to secure power and glory for himself?  perception and realityAnd even today, if we can control the way in which his teachings are understood and applied, are we not similarly attempting to take charge?  Are we not attempting to secure power and glory for ourselves–at least among those who are willing to follow our lead (i.e. those who are willing to say “Lord, Lord” in more or less the same way that we say, “Lord, Lord” — cf. Matthew 7:21-23) ?  How can we show that Jesus’ teaching is different?  Indeed, how can we show that this representation of Jesus’ teaching different?  Why is this not just another worldview?  Why is this not just another power-play? 

To be sure, many people– associated with many different groups and institutions –are happy to invoke the name of Jesus as they promote themselves and their particular worldviews.  They honor him with their lips, but their heart is far from him (cf. Matthew 15:8).  not everyone who says lord lordThey are quick to say, “Lord, Lord,” but not only do they not enter the kingdom, they do their best to prevent others from entering, as well (cf. Matthew 7:21 and 23.13).  Indeed, it has been incredibly easy (and very tempting) for later generations to project their misunderstanding of his teaching (not to mention their intentional distortion thereof) onto the person of Jesus.  In contrast to the scribes and pharisees who, in their pursuit of power, opposed him (fearing that his popularity threatened their position), later generations– looking back at him in an idealized way, his name having triumphed –are eager to hitch their wagon to his star as they attempt to secure power and glory for themselves (showing themselves, in the end, however, to be like the scribes and pharisees after all).

Language is notoriously ambiguous, but there are two particular ambiguities that makes it especially easy for us to associate ourselves and our worldviews with Jesus of Nazareth.  We quite naturally assume, as we read the gospels, that his references to himself– especially his use of the expression “I Am” in the gospel of John –are, as far as we are concerned,  merely (or primarily) references to himself as a historical personage on a historical mission–a person who (in our frame of reference, at least) also happens to be the only begotten Son of God (aka the second person of the Trinity).  Subordinate to this, but closely related, is our further assumption that any references to “my word” or “my words” refer merely (or primarily) to the words reportedly spoken by him (or to the words that allegedly apply to him) that we find recorded in the scriptures.  And while all this is plausible enough from a particular point of view (i.e. a particular worldview that idealizes the Bible as “the inerrant word of God” and that projects the conclusions of later theological speculation back onto the life and teachings of Jesus), the real jesusthe end result is that these two icons– Jesus  and the Bible –are simultaneously powerful enough and ambiguous enough to attract and accommodate a wide variety of (more or less) self-promoting prophets and conflicting worldviews.  But rather than attempting to sort through all these as we search for one that is true, let us see if we cannot discover a deeper and more authentic significance in Jesus’ references to himself and his words that will lead us beyond particular worldviews– and beyond the power struggles implicit within them –to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that Jesus said, “I Am” (John 14:6).  We shall attempt to do this by strategically paraphrasing a series of texts from the gospel of John in hopes that they will speak to us in a fresh and authentic way.  To the extent that we are successful, we will be in a much better position to ascertain the relative value of the various worldviews we encounter.  Like the prisoner who was released from Plato’s cave and who– having left the cave, and having seen the form of the Good –decides to go back into the cave out of concern for the other prisoners, we too may choose to re-engage the world and debate, on some level, the shadows on the cave wall (but we won’t mistake these shadows for reality); we, too, may once again consider the relative value of various worldviews (but we won’t mistake these worldviews for the Truth).

Two Dangers

Before proceeding with this enterprise, however, the reader should be aware of two dangers:

1) like Jesus, himself, we may open ourselves up to the charge of blasphemy (the reasons for this becoming apparent, below); and 2) we may risk actually blaspheming– in a manner of speaking, at leastinsofar as we are liable to mistake the relative for the absolute (e.g. the egoic mind for the mind of Christ–or a particular worldview for the Truth).

Godman! by devan78 via Flickr

Godman! by devan78 via Flickr

While, at this point in history, the first of these two dangers is not a huge concern– unless, of course, we are beholden to a particular church or related institution for our paycheck and/or our sense personal identity –the second of the two may be related to the Jungian concept of inflation and should not be taken lightly.  Indeed, whether we ourselves suffer from this kind of “inflation” and are engaging in a kind of megalomaniacal “self-promotion” OR whether we are promoting a particular “world-view” as if that worldview were, itself, the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is sought– whether we do either of these things  –a certain prospect of judgment looms over us as the thoughts and intents of our hearts are exposed to the light:

Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Nevertheless, while we would do well to pause for introspection, at this point, we should not imagine that any attempt to avoid the light of life would be a virtue:

John 3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Ephesians 5:13 . . . but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,  14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake!  Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

–>  Recognizing the Light of Divine Presence

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Recognizing the Light of Divine Presence

It is worth considering– with the help of some strategic paraphrasing —whether Jesus of Nazareth may have intended neither to point to himself, in the flesh (i.e. to his social or historical persona) nor to make theological pronouncements about his unique standing (as the second person of the Trinity or the long awaited messiah), but that he was instead pointing to the Divine presence that is also in us–the Divine presence which is both deep within and high above that which we normally take ourselves to be.  still-small-voiceMoreover, let us consider, in addition, whether his references to the importance of hearing and obeying his word(s) [or the Father’s word(s)] were not merely (or primarily) references to his literal words (or words about him), as recorded in the scriptures, but rather to the possibility of recognizing and abiding in his Divine presence and of becoming attuned to the still small voice which is the Word of God in our hearts, here & now (cf. Hebrews 4:12 and the reference to “the sword of the Spirit” in Ephesians 6:17; cf. John 16:13).  For if we have access to the same Divine presence and living Word of God that Jesus shared with his disciples, rather than taking refuge in worldviews, however plausible (or consoling; or personally empowering), let us instead take this opportunity to enter into life– the abundant, eternal life that Jesus offers –here & now:

John 17:3 [paraphrased] And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ [the Divine Presence] you have sent. 4  I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6a “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.

I AmIt is worth remembering that Jesus is said to be “a prophet like unto Moses” (cf. Deuteronomy 18:18-19; Acts 7).  Not only is his description of himself, in verse 6a, above, somewhat reminiscent of the role of Moses, in the Exodus, his repeated use of the “I Am” expressions most certainly calls to mind Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush:

Exodus 3:13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, “What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.’ “

But in contrast to the children of Israel, in Exodus– who are characterized as a rebellious and stiff-necked people –the disciples are said to have kept God’s word:

John 17:6 “I have made your name [“I Am”] known to those whom you gave me from the world.  They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

This is also in marked contrast to the scribes and pharisees:

John 7:19 “Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law.

The disciples, however, being both hearers and doers of the word (cf. James 1:22; Matthew 7:26-27), now know with certainty that Jesus’ teaching is not just another worldview– that it is not some conceptual scheme intended to bring honor and glory to him, personally –but that it is, indeed, from God.  This also calls to mind another verse from chapter 7:

John 7:17 Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.

I Am PresenceThere is no question, then, of merely “adopting” some abstract doctrine or worldview on the word of some itinerant preacher, however charismatic, and then mistaking some combination of  group think and confirmation bias for a demonstration of its truth.  Rather, when the word of the Lord– the Divine presence that “I Am” –is both heard and hearkened to, the Truth is obvious and it is seen to be in no way dependent on the turn of events.  Indeed, the Divine presence that “I Am” is the condition for the possibility of any turn of events.  One may simply

“Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalms 34:8).

Moreover, it is also obvious– to those who resolve to do the will of God in this way –that Jesus was not seeking his own glory, but the glory of the one who sent him:

John 7:18 Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.

Thus, in Chapter 17, he continues to pray as follows:

John 17:8  for the words that you gave to me [in the stillness of the Divine presence] I have given to them, and they have received them [in the stillness of that same Divine presence] and [they now] know in truth that [the Divine presence that “I Am”] came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

Moreover, just as Jesus had earlier affirmed his oneness with the Father (John  10:30), in the latter half of this chapter he prays that his disciples, including  those of subsequent generations, will be also be oneone with God, one with him, and one with one another:

John 17:17 [paraphrased]  Sanctify them in the truth; your word [the Divine presence that “I Am”] is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me [in the Divine presence that “I Am”] and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  22 The glory that you have given me [i.e. the glory of the Divine presence]  I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I Am, to see my glory, which you have given me [i.e. the Divine presence that “I Am”] because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them [“I Am”], and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and [the Divine presence that “I Am” may be] in them.”

In light of this prayer, then– if we are truly hearing and obeying his words –we:live simply

  • are sanctified through the truth…
  • are sent, by Christ, into the world…
  • are one with Christ and the Father…
  • share in the glory of Christ…
  • are  indwelt by Christ and the love of Christ…

It should be stressed, at this point, that those who attempt to “hear and obey” the words of Jesus in their own strength and according to their own understanding, will sooner or later realize the futility of their efforts (cf. Romans 7), while those who those who recognize the “I Am” presence and walk in that light– those who resolve to do the will of God, both in Spirit and in Truth –are truly free (cf. Romans 8).

–>  I Am” Not What You Think

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From The Inside Out

[scroll down for music video]

from the inside outA thousand times I’ve failed
Still Your mercy remains
And should I stumble again
Still I’m caught in Your grace

Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

My heart and my soul, I give You control
Consume me from the inside out, Lord
Let justice and praise become my embrace
To love You from the inside out

Your will above all else
My purpose remains
The art of losing myself
In bringing You praise

Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

My heart and my soul, I give You control
Consume me from the inside out, Lord
Let justice and praise become my embrace
To love You from the inside out

My soul cries out to You
My soul cries out to You
To You, to You

My heart and my soul, I give You control
Consume me from the inside out, Lord
Let justice and praise become my embrace
To love You from the inside out

Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

And the cry of my heart
Is to bring You praise
From the inside out
Lord, my soul cries out

From the inside out
Lord, my soul cries out

–> What Is Awareness?

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No Effort Is Necessary

Romans 8:1  [paraphrased] There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus [the “I Am” presence] has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh [the egoic mind] but according to the Spirit [the mind of Christ].

bicycle-boyIn a recent post it was observed that the difference between these two “walks” cannot be put into words that the egoic mind can understand.  In some ways (it was said) it’s like riding a bicycle.  You just keep trying until, at some point, you realize that no effort is necessary.  The following verse was used to illustrate that sense of effortlessness:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

couch potatoPerhaps it is worth pointing out, however, that the effortlessness that is needed is that of one who stays on the bicycle– not the one who parks it in the garage and becomes  a couch potato.  But how to stay on the bicycle without trying?  A few things to note:

  • It doesn’t mean no energy will be expended, but that it will be expended  in faith, hope, and love (not in fear, guilt, and/or despair).
    • Note:  Hope is tricky–this does not mean a desperate desire (or pretense) or wishful thinking about the future, but a confidence in the face of that which is unknown (in the ordinary sense of the word).
  • Rest in the Lord, indeed, but do not fall asleep at the wheel (aware presence or alert stillness is what is called for).
  • In lucid awareness, trust in and rely on the Lord– the Divine presence “I Am” –unconditionally (surrendering all to Him and accepting all from Him as the gift of  God).
  • Take up your cross… (the cross of Christ is our cross).

If this seems cryptic or obscure, consider the alternatives:  1) you can continue to play tug of war with the flesh (a la Romans 7), 2) you can park the bicycle and become a couch potato (cf. Luke 9:62), or 3) forgetting those things that are behind, you can

“…press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, NKJV).

And that upward call is to be found, here and now, in the Divine presence “I Am”.

–>  Trust in the Lord with all your Heart

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