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January 2012 Archives -
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January 2012 Posts

Meditation On the Complexity of All Things

There is not an object or understanding in life that is not composed of the most intricate parts. The most basic of organisms is composed of complex cells, atoms, and strange subatomic particles so bizarre it  baffles the imagination of those who research their random movements. Our conversations are riddled with complex meaning, our very speech a marvel of innovation in both bodily functionality and mental processing.  The actions we take, the way we interact,  the beverages we consume, are all steeped in hundreds of years of development and tied to thousands of years of cultural refinement – not to mention billions of years of evolved forms.

When we look at life in these terms the resulting sensation can, or should, be something along the lines of amazement and overwhelming disorientation! To truly comprehend this reality is to conceive the impossible.

I truly have no deep, life changing purpose in writing this. I merely want to be sure to reflect on these ideas regularly.  I can often lose sight of the context of things when I am living the day to day. But in being aware of the immensity of life in all its parts I can reflect on the significance of the situations that effect me daily.

As the title suggests, consider this a 21st century meditation. :)

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Building a New Christian Theology: Jesus on the Betterment of the Community

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Gehenna).”
-Matthew 5:22

I spent three years of formal education studying theology at the university level. If I learned anything during this time it was that the text of the Bible was more than subsumed into the tremendous deluge and breadth of theological understanding; the studied texts interpreted in light of the beliefs of the community. Simple chapters of Biblical text were expanded into volumes of dissertation, elucidated then by simple phrases or apocryphal connotations like dispensation, eschatology, soteriology, and pelagianism. Esoteric terminology more than causes a separation between initiated and nescient, it creates a chasm between the sacred and the profane or secular. The simplicity of a text was subject to a significant knowledge base necessary for full understanding.

Part of the danger of theological discourse is that the original meaning can become lost, leaving the system of belief and interpretation to possess a seeming absoluteness without the option to consider other possibilities. Once a term or belief is agreed upon it becomes part of the paradigm. Questions are not considered healthy or relevant.

For many years I wrestled with the above verse. The meaning baffled me. How could one deserve the fires of hell for simply calling someone a fool? What kind of a loving God would create such a simple excuse for damnation?

As I left the church and began to study the words and their meaning in the Greek language and  context, I found the word “hell” was actually “Gehenna”.  Not actually an analogy for Hell, as my former theology taught me, Gehenna was a valley outside of Jerusalem where the trash was burned and social outcasts were sent. If you were not a part of the community, if you broke the spoken and unspoken cultural rules you would be sent there to live your life alone and separate from the community of which you were once a part.

In this context Jesus is then referring not to sin against God punishable by death, but a place you simply deserved if you could not be forgiving, kind, and a part of the betterment of the community.

Even more so than today, in ancient times you relied on your community for survival. In fact, the bloody sacrifices in the Old Testament upon the alter of YHWH reflect this truth. Sacrifices were not made for the forgiveness of the  individual, but for the nation or community as a whole. All may play a part in this redemption, but it was not the forgiveness of the individual that mattered, it was that of the community as a whole.

In this sense contextual interpretation takes on a simpler and more satisfying meaning than that of eternal salvation, damnation, and penance for sins committed. To be ostracized was to formally relinquish the most meaningful aspects of your life: your relationships and connections with others.

The very simple truth, and one that I wish our churches, corporations, and country would understand, is that the happiness and success of the individual can only be predicated upon the success and happiness of the community. Perhaps the simplest truth presented by Jesus is simply that we are all in this together.

To read further in to the words of Jesus is to discover this meaning permeating the text. The Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most meaningful text ever written, is Jesus’ great discourse and reflection on the acts of the individual impacting the group as a whole. How much of this text is ignored by much of Christianity? Topics such as forgiveness, private prayer, doing good deeds in secret, and judging amongst others demonstrate for us what is needed for a community to not only survive but also flourish. If salvation was truly the point of what Jesus was teaching, why is it that in this text Jesus does not repeat over and over that we should each believe in him in order to escape the flames of Hell? Instead Jesus words reflect deep human and cultural needs and lack extremely complex themes unknowable to only the theologically literate elites of society.

In essence, Jesus came, in his words, to give us or teach us life to the fullest . This abundant life, as we have seen, is only obtainable in a community of love, forgiveness, and amongst consciously aware individuals actively seeking a better version of their selves. In writing a new theology the emphasis should always be on the betterment of the community, not the salvation of the individual.

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Life Beyond Organic Chemistry: Consciousness Versus Awareness

Anthropology teaches that ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own culture is the standard by which all others should be judged; that there is a standard way of living and all other variations are simply deviations of the better way. While ethnocentrism deals with human cultures, what is the term used to explore this concept at a larger, perhaps even cosmic scale? What if humans are not just convinced of being part of a superior race, but perhaps we are putting too much reliance on the idea that what we define as life is the only means through which the universe is conscious and, in some way different than ours, alive? Could we call it lifecentrism?

What if the universe is itself evolving? What if we, as living, self aware creatures are the apex of an already self aware universe? What if it is possible that the miracles of our existence are simply reflections of what the universe is already, but in a more articulated variation? In this sense, we are not purely conscious, but more conscious than rocks and pure, elemental material? What if we are not the conclusion of this chain of development but merely a step in a path that leads to a creation that we could not comprehend, but could possibly comprehend more of what the universe is in itself?

We are, it seems on earth at least to be the crowning achievement of biological evolution, a system of change related to organisms comprised of the basic building blocks of the universe. We are deeply connected to the system from which we came, and reliant on a fragile global and cosmic ecosystem. In our fragility we are adaptable. We are aware. We are conscious.

Consciousness is viewed by some to be a function of organic chemistry. Molecules formed in certain ways give rise to the sophisticated systems of our bodies’ internal wiring and structure. We operate because certain constants allowed this to happen. Consciousness is simply a lucky combination of evolved wiring in the brain.

But what if consciousness is separate from our biology, as many quantum physicists are beginning to find? In a sense our biology allows us to become aware of this system and perhaps even tune into consciousness. So it seems, consciousness and awareness are actually two different things. What if not only life as we deem it is conscious but also the very material that are the building blocks of not only life but all material is conscious?

If consciousness is not a function of awareness, than what if then rocks, trees, stars, planets… all aspects of the universe are a part of this remarkable universal connection of pure being that the religions have for centuries reported?

Sometimes I believe I’m becoming more animistic, the ancient belief that all objects contain a life-being. In antiquity, rocks and trees contained spirits, or a life force, that one could connect to or interact with. Though I don’t know if we directly commune with objects on a consciously aware level, I am beginning to think that we just might have more in common with these objects than we think.

If the universe is at some level aware we might just be one solitary manifestation similar to all the rest. One might need a brain or tool of some sort in order to be aware, and this may mean that the stars themselves might in their own way be alive. It is as if the spirit of life, the God or element of pure being alive in us is in all things in the universe, not just what we define as being life.

When we ask if we are the only life in the universe, we might in fact be asking the wrong question. We should be asking two questions: Does organic life exist elsewhere? How else can we define the term life beyond the search for a reflection of what we are in a tangible sense?

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A Better Word for G-o-d

What if we have the idea of God all wrong? What if our very labeling of the term God has limited our perception and understanding of the immensity of this subject or object? Should we call this object everything? How about ALL? Whatever word we use our minds will still be limited by the potential.

Christianity, through Biblical interpretation, teaches us that God is in the sky, above us. God is separated from us by miles of sky and possibly space. But why and how could a being outside and above our four dimensions of space and time be so far from us unless we accept Jesus into our lives? Why is God there and not here?

I purpose a different idea. I propose we more than have our definitions wrong about God, we have our understanding about God’s place in our lives incorrect. I am beginning to believe that that the thing we call consciousness is like an enormous tree, from which we each, like a branch, are connected to each other and all things. We are each, and every time, quantum aspect of us, connected and interconnected to each other. Consciousness is our small and possibly evolved or developed ability to tap into this connection and be a aware of the immensity of it all.

I believe God isn’t out there, it is inside of us. The Vedic Hindus put it tat tvam asi, thou art that! When you bow to someone you bow in that culture you were bowing to the God-piece inside them. In a mystical sense you bowed to everything and all. God, in this sense, is not in the clouds but makes up a part of our very fabric of being.

In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus states it this way:

"If those who lead you say to you, ‘look, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds will get there first. If they say ‘it’s in the ocean,’ then the fish will get there first. But the Kingdom of God is within you and outside of you. Once you come to know yourselves, you will become known. And you will know that it is you who are the children of the living father."

When Moses spoke with God and was told to tell his people of their God, Moses asked for a name. God said “tell them I AM”. As Rob Bell taught in his Everything is Spiritual series, I AM was understood by some Rabbis as Pure Being. God is above and beyond any and all boxes we might have. God is Pure Being.

How would we treat our lives if we were consciously aware of I Am, of Pure Being racing through our very atoms?

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Tree of Life Movie Review

There seem to be two basic types of emotional movies. The first allow you feel basic human emotions: happy, sad, compassion, anger, fear. I would say the bulk of movies made utilize these emotions, or are based upon a premise connecting with one or many of these emotions. The second allow you to feel something below the surface that does not necessarily have a name. We might attribute abstract contextual labels to these feelings, such as longing, or uncertainty, or hopefulness, or angst. We might not be able to easily describe how we felt, even if it deeply connected within.

Tree of Life is not tremendously quotable. Its not easy to follow. And though stunningly beautiful, almost in a hallucinatory sense, it is not easily captured by the senses. Much of what is important is said in barely audible whispers, in between vaguely related images and scenes. There is no easily recognizable climax. The meaning is buried beneath layers of feeling and understanding.

From what I understood (rather than directly experienced), Tree of Life is about, well, life. It carries two narratives. The first is explained through the depiction of the creation of the universe, the solar system, and then eventually its destruction with a supernova of the sun and the universe becoming a wave of beautiful movement or potential again. The second narrative is about human life, centered on family and their three boys living in Texas in the 1950’s. The story primarily focuses on Jack, the older brother, and R.L., the middle child, and their relationship to each other, their parents, and the world around them. But it is mostly focused on Jack, and his internal struggles and awareness, his internal monologue becoming almost a soundtrack throughout the film.

The movie opens and leads you to think the story will be about loss, as the parents receive word that their 19 year old son, R.L., has died. Though we are not told how, we can assume it was in Vietnam. The story flashes to the present day, to a grown up Jack, as he struggles to feel the presence of his deceased younger brother. He struggles to place him in space and time, as he recollects about their lives and moments he could not have known that span his early life and prehistory. His brother is out there. Not in a corporeal sense, but out there, somewhere barely perceivable.

And this is where we find the real story. He struggles to find him in time; in this little bleep of an existence we have in relation to the vast history of the universe. Our lifetime is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But rather than take a nihilistic approach to this concept, the life we have with those we love so deeply and profoundly becomes so meaningful it is somehow more to us than the universe as a whole.

The story touches on wonderful themes such as the death of innocence (an illusion to the Biblical decision taken in Eden between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). In a very touching scene I can very much connect to, Jack as a child does something wrong, and then another, and then another. But in these actions he feels such sadness and despair, asking at one point “how can I go back to where they are”, meaning the innocent state of his younger siblings. The story moves us into themes of forgiveness, compassion (in both a dinosaur and humans), acceptance, and love.

Throughout the movie you feel more than you experience. I found my self connecting with the sons to such a point that I left the theater wanting to call my parents and tell them I loved them. You experience the difficultly of being a parent and balancing your own insufficiencies and fears with the raising of your children, struggling to understand what you will impart upon them of yourself and of what you wished you were.

I loved the movie despite my feeling so desperately unsure about my life after it was over. It was as if a wave of existential crises rushed over me upon leaving the theater. I spoke to my wife in hushed tones, afraid to break the silence. I began to picture my life within the grand scheme of the universe, feeling that at 31, I’m most likely only years from halfway through my life. But as pictured by the director, my short, little existence might be nothing in comparison with the immensity of time and space, but that nothingness is everything to me.

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