Know Yourself and Know God

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” (Part of the Catholic “Hail Mary” prayer)

“I, a poor, miserable sinner confess to You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended you and justly deserved Your punishment now and forever.” (From the Lutheran liturgy – Missouri or WELS synods)

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” (Roman Catholic Mass, response of the people)

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Lord’s Prayer)

“Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us.” (United Methodist Communion Liturgy)

 

We have been inundated by our sinfulness for centuries by both the Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity. Is this really the take home message from God each Sunday morning? Remember you are miserable rotten sinners? Shape up or ship out? Really?

From the beginning of Christianity, the Orthodox church presented a subject-object relationship between God and humanity. God made us, we were made. God acts upon humanity: God punishes, God rewards, God saves, God loves, God forgives, God smotes (spell check doesn’t think that is a word, but God did smote people), God helped, God hindered. And if people suffered, it was because (clearly) they were sinners and not doing what they were supposed to be doing in the eyes of God.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Conveniently, The Church has held people in their sinfulness and given themselves and their priests or pastors the sole ability to forgive in God’s name. One could not receive communion, much less get to heaven, without confessing their sins and receiving forgiveness. One could not do what was right or know the will of God without going to church. What a nice self-perpetuation scheme. (Can you hear the steam coming out of my ears? This really burns me up.)

Contrary to this, the early Gnostic Christians believed that Jesus was an enlightened being who came to help humanity find the Divine within. Here is one example from the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the kingdom is in heaven,’ then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you.

When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty, and you are poverty.”

With the spark of God at the center of our being, our innate selves are not sinful creatures, inner lightbut beings of light and beauty. The very essence of who we are is Divine… we are inherently good, we are ONE, we are connected to all things. According to Gnostics, people suffer not because they are sinful, but because they’ve forgotten who they really are, they are lost in ignorance. For example, it is almost impossible to believe in ourselves when the church and society continue to tell us that we don’t measure up and that God is keeping track of our sins. When we don’t believe in the good in ourselves, we inwardly judge ourselves harshly and come to the conclusion that we are unlovable, unforgivable and definitely not beautiful. If we judge ourselves harshly, as innately bad, then everyone else must be innately bad, too. This almost gives us carte blanche to judge and treat others poorly. Ignorance of who we are causes no end of problems and conflict.

This is ancient wisdom that we have all but lost, and the Gnostics weren’t alone in declaring it. Take a look at these quotes:

“The Kingdom of God is within you” (Jesus – Christianity)

“Look within, thou art the Buddha” (Buddha – Buddhism)

“By understanding the Self all this universe is known” (Hindu – the Upanishads)

“He who knows himself knows his Lord” (Mohammed – Muslim)

“Man, know thyself and thou shalt know the universe and the gods” (Ancient Greek)

Yet, what hold would the church have on anyone if each person could simply journey within to find the Divine? If there were no magic formula? No priest with answers and powers to forgive and transform bread and wine?

This is Holy Week, a time of deep thought and reflection. Consider this, that, in the words of Lee Ann Fagan Dzelzkalns, “Your true essence (that is, your true state of being, the individual connected to the ultimate divine nature of the Self, as opposed to existence itself) has always been whole. Yet somehow, you, like so many others, have drifted apart from knowing your goodness and greatness in wholeness. Now is the time to embrace your essence and expand your concept of self. The head (ego) can keep you very busy in the external world of form… It can keep you far, far away from the inner reality of your true essence. When the ego is fragmented, the physical body is not happy, the mental body is caught in negative cycles, and the emotional body is on the “poor me path. The ego maintains a grip on the past by replaying old scripts (is thoughts of failure or feelings of inadequacy) and firmly spearheads the emotionalizing of the self. Until you make a choice to break the cycle fear or anger or resentment, self-doubt, self-rejection, etc. you will be caught in its continuous cycle. Know that it is within yourself to harmonize and synthesize the physical, mental and emotional self, which will provide a healthy, balanced and whole personality.”

I just couldn’t say it any better than that. Have a blessed week.

Kaye

 

 

The Gnostic Church

From the beginning Christians have argued over who had the “One True Church” and what it meant to be a Christian. The Orthodox and the Gnostic factions were particularly contentious until Constantine stood firmly behind the Roman Catholic Church in the fourth century and Gnostics were condemned as heretics and criminals.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

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What I find fascinating is that the characteristics, attitudes, and beliefs of the Gnostic groups in early Christianity are very similar to what scholars are predicting the Christian church of the future to look like. In addition to that, I believe that Sacred Journeys has adopted many Gnostic traits without even knowing that was what we were doing.

So, let’s take a look at the difference between the Orthodox and Gnostic Christian Churches of the first few centuries.

By the late second century the Orthodox Church required the following for membership:

  • Confess the creeds
  • Be baptized
  • Participate regularly in worship
  • Obey the clergy
  • Understand that outside of the church there is no salvation
  • Bishops validate the Eucharist
  • No questioning – questioning leads to heresy
  • Follow only the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as authoritative
  • Welcome everyone, if they follow all the rules above!

Gnostic Churches, on the other hand, looked like this:

  • Profession of faith not necessary; they welcomed anyone regardless of how differently they approached topics
  • Required evidence of spiritual maturity (knowing oneself, recognizing they’d been living in ignorance, experiencing enlightenment as resurrection)
  • Baptism was not necessary; rituals were irrelevant
  • Did not acknowledge authority of clergy; often shared the duties of “priest”
  • Believed that “by their fruits you shall know them”
  • Extremely important to seek God and to ask questions
  • Used other text than New Testament scripture; challenged interpretations of key scripture text
  • The quality of relationships among members was important
  • No hypocrites, arrogant, ignorant, or self-interested people
  • Regard all doctrine, speculation and myths as only “approaches to truth”
  • Many renounced materialism and sexuality

While the Orthodox Church may have facilitated an easy way to join, and an efficient way to determine who is in and who is out, the formula they devised has (in my opinion) outlived its usefulness. In this post-modern world, the old answers and dictatorial nature don’t work anymore.

What many Progressive Christian scholars foresee as the future of Christianity sounds awfully similar to the Gnostic track that was forced into near-oblivion 1,800 years ago. So, I’m not sure if we’re going backwards or forwards, or both, but exciting changes are in the works. Here are just a few examples that I pulled off my shelves:

In The Great Emergence, by Phyllis Tickle, she believes that the emerging church will look something like this:

  • Ultimate authority will lie in Scripture and the Community
  • Totally egalitarian – no one member of the community has the entire truth
  • Each person and group is part of a larger network
  • A Conversation
  • Mystical

In Why Christianity must Change or Die, Bishop John Shelby Spong asserts that the church needs to move toward this:

  • A non-theistic religion (no more white male guy in the sky)
  • Jesus will not be a gate-keeper, but an inviting presence to discover “the infinite dimensions of transcendent wonder…”
  • Rituals must be rethought in a deeper way, in terms of non-theistic spirituality and a call to be what we were each created to be.
  • Eucharist must be “transformed from something in which ordained hands have the power to transform ordinary elements to supernatural realities of body and blood.” Instead God is met as community is built around a common meal
  • Mission of the church is not to convert the world, but to call all into the fullness of life.

Philip Gulley, in The Evolution of Faith and If the Church were Christian, suggests that the future church will need to:

  • Honor and assimilate the best of each religious tradition
  • Let go of the preoccupation of heaven and hell
  • Encourage people to search for and discern truth for themselves
  • Teach people how to think theologically… not just tell them what to think

And, Ann Kania is quoted in Healthy Religion as proposing that the future church will be:

  • About keeping the individual’s personal ego-self related to the Deity
  • Psychotherapeutic – to help us confront our fears, anger and subconscious drives, face our shadows

To be honest with you, I don’t like to label myself a Christian. In fact, I’m always sort of shocked when I realize that is how people look at me. I think I have a hard time with it because I feel people will put me into that traditional, orthodox mold. But, I could be okay being labeled a Christian if it had this Gnostic, progressive bent.

I believe we are crossing over into a new type of Christianity. We need the courage, the creativity and the stamina to continue on the journey. We haven’t arrived… we are in process… and you are all part of the conversation of what we become.

Peace,

Kaye

Is suffering “The Way”?

Is suffering really “The Way”? Or, from the song lyrics from The Offspring, is it true that “the more you suffer, the more it shows you really care?” Here’s my short answer: NO. So, why on earth does it seem that the traditional Christian church touts this path as the way to God and heaven? Read on for the synopsis of my sermon and a glimpse into early Christianity.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

It wasn’t long after Jesus’ death before Christians were being persecuted and even executed. crossWe have Gospel accounts of Stephen being stoned to death and Paul being beaten and imprisoned, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. For at least two centuries Christians would be persecuted, arrested, tortured and killed for their beliefs. How did this movement withstand all of this? Well, part of the strategy of the traditional orthodox Christian church included convincing its members that suffering was a privilege, and martyrdom was the ultimate way to follow Jesus.

Their position went as follows: because Jesus physically suffered and died, if one really wanted to follow Jesus, then they should be prepared to do the same. Mark 8 promotes this idea. Followers should take up their cross – literally be ready to lose their life and follow. And this was a good thing because suffering and death was the fast ticket to forgiveness, salvation and resurrection. In Mark 8:38, Jesus says, “If you are ashamed of me” (in other words if you deny Jesus or run away just to save yourself) “then I and the angels will be ashamed of you when you find yourself before God.” Wow. Shamed and guilted into sticking around.

What began in the orthodox Church as a way to keep followers from defecting has, over the last 2,000 years, turned into an oppressive theology that leads people to believe that suffering glorifies God. Churches have proclaimed over and over that people should be happy in their suffering because then they can truly identify with, and become one with, Jesus. They should gladly bear their crosses and give up their lives.

This theology has been used (and abused) to glibly explain why bad things happen to good people. I have heard the phrase “this is your cross to bear” when it came to dealing with someone who has lost a loved one; for a person dealing with a critical illness; for a caregiver of a husband with Alzheimer’s; to convince women who have abusive husbands or people with miserable marriages to stay; and even for parents of children with disabilities. Suck it up and like it. Don’t get mad at God about it, because if you dis God there is a good chance you’ll get dissed when you get to the pearly gates.

It is abusive theology.

I firmly reject this theology.

Seriously, what type of loving God would require human sacrifice? In the form of Jesus’ death or in the form of martyrdom? What type of God would want us to suffer?

Yes, suffering is part of life. None of us will escape unscathed. But to seek suffering because we believe it will please God, or to joyfully relish in one’s suffering because we believe that is the will of God, is foolishness.

The Gnostics (that “heretical” early Christian sect), for the most part, had a different take on this. Their focus, as with all their theology, was on the spirit rather than the body. According to Elaine Pagels in her book, The Gnostic Gospels, Gnostics saw the crucifixion as an occasion to discover the divine self within.

The Gospel of Truth says:

Through the hidden mystery Jesus Christ enlightened those who were in darkness because of forgetfulness. He enlightened them and showed the way, and that way is the truth he taught them… He was nailed to a tree, and he became fruit of the knowledge of the father. This fruit of the tree, however, did not bring destruction when it was eaten, but rather it caused those who ate of it to come into being. They were joyful in this discovery, and he found them within himself and they found him within themselves.

For Gnostics, the Way was truth, not suffering. And truth included looking within to find the eternal self with each of us. With that discovery, each person would know that they were in Jesus and he was within them. All are within the Divine and the Divine is within all.

While the Orthodox are saying,”your suffering is good because it brings you close to God,” Gnostics are saying, “You are more than your suffering.”

Makes sense to me.

Peace,

Kaye

Gender Equality in the Divine

“Then do not be faint-hearted.  I am with you always. I am [the father], I am the mother, I am the child.” ~ The Secret Gospel of John

We have been led to believe that for the entirety of Christianity, and even before that – the entirety of Judaism, God was one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Sure, in the official, canonized Bible, there is a metaphor or two here and there alluding to feminine qualities of God (God is like a mother comforting her child; God is like a woman who has lost a coin; Jesus wanted to gather Jerusalem as “a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”). But a masculine God occasionally letting his feminine side out comes no where close to a Goddess, a fully feminine Divine figure.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

What we haven’t been told is that many, many Christians esteemed a Mother God, masculine-feminine1Sophia Wisdom, the Feminine Holy Spirit, even the Mother-Father God at the very beginning of Christianity. But these images were effectively exiled from orthodox Christianity by the year 200 CE.  Who was she and why was she lost?

To find her we need to once again explore the depths of the Gnostic Gospels, the texts from those early Christian sects that were eventually deemed heretical and destroyed or lost until about 60 years ago. In the Gnostic tradition (those who felt they had experienced – first hand – the Divine), almost without fail, and unapologetically, spoke of a Divine Feminine in some way shape or form. After reading through many of the Gnostic gospels, I wouldn’t say she is as prominent as the male God, but she is clearly present.

Our scripture this morning from the Secret Book of John shows us one way they named and claimed the Divine Feminine, and that was as part of a Divine Couple – Mother God and Father God. Both genders are present. Sometimes they are present in a dyad (a god consisting of both elements), the mother-father, masculo-feminine God.

Another way they speak of her is as the Holy Spirit. This should come as no surprise since the Holy Spirit is feminine throughout the Old Testament. Sadly in her translation into Greek, she becomes a neutral figure (pneuma) and then becomes male when translated into Latin and German. The Apocryphon of John slips her into the traditionally Holy Spirit spot of the trinity: “I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son.” And Jesus, in the Gospel to Hebrews, is heard to proclaim, “My Mother, My Spirit”

A third way the Gnostics spoke of a feminine Divine was as Wisdom (Sophia in Greek, Hokmah in Hebrew). Divine Wisdom was the “first universal creator”, “mystical, eternal silence”, “She who is before all things.” We don’t even have to look any further than Proverbs 8 to read all about her. No to mention she is the fourth major presence in the Old Testament.

While upper class women in  Roman and Greek societies were making strides in the area of gender equality, Jewish culture, and the typical Roman and Greek middle class, treated women as property. It isn’t surprising that many women were drawn to Gnostic groups because they used feminine imagery when they prayed, they encouraged women to prophesy and they allowed women to serve the Eucharist, essentially acting as priests.

But the orthodox church went with the majority of the middle class in opposing the move toward equality, so that by the year 200, any female imagery that had existed in Orthodox Christianity, and any privileges women had, had disappeared. All secret texts revered by the Gnostics were omitted from the Orthodox canon and deemed heretical. By the time of Constantine, it was a criminal offense to be in possession of Gnostic texts.

Fast Forward 2,000 years:

We have had 2,000 years of a male savior. 2,000 years of a primarily male imaged God. He is ingrained in our psyches and in our language. He has become cellular. It has shaped our churches, our religion, our homes and our society. In 1977 Pope Paul VI stated that women can’t be priests because “our Lord [Jesus] was a man.”

Sue Monk Kidd, in Dance of the Dissident Daughter, tells a story about a woman and her 6-year-old daughter.  The child, freshly home from Sunday school, was reporting to her mother what she’d learned that day about God.  Over and over she referred to God as “he.”  Her mother asked, “Why do you say ‘he,’ Ashley?”

“Because God is a man, Mommy.”

“But why is God a man?”

Ashley thought a moment.  “I guess because God thought that was the best thing to be.”

There is something wrong about girls growing up understanding, consciously or unconsciously, that God is male because that is the most valuable thing to be.

Early on in my clergy career, I found that the young male clergy were the ones most desired by the conferences and churches.  I watched them consistently receive better churches and nicer parsonages, than women who had much more experience.

I have had people refuse to let me do a funeral because I was a woman. More than once I heard, “that was a pretty good sermon, for a woman.” I was the first woman pastor at Franksville United Methodist Church. The knocks against me, named by their interviewing committee, were that I was young (I was 35) and a woman.

Judith Duerk, in her book Circle of Stones, asks a profound question, “How might our lives have been different, if deep within, we carried an image of the Great Mother? And when things seemed very, very bad, we could imagine that e were sitting in the lap of the Goddess, held tightly embraced, at last. And, that we could hear Her saying to us, “I love you… I love you and I need you to bring forth yourself.”

How might our lives have been different, if the Gnostic text hadn’t been banned? How might our lives have been different if Divine Feminine had been honored and revered as the Divine Masculine had? If women had been encouraged to prophesy, to be priests?

How might our lives have been different if women’s experience of the Divine had been valued?  If women were validated in hearing that they were created in the Divine image?

We are no longer trying to turn the ocean liner to avoid the iceberg. We’ve hit it and we’re taking on water… fast. Women are being dismissed, marginalized, abused, oppressed, killed all over the world, and it will not change until religion changes. It will not change until there is gender equality in the divine image. Perhaps it’s time for a new boat… one called Yahweh Sophia.

Peace,

Kaye

The Viscosity of Truth

Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for through You will I know wholeness; I shall reflect your light both day and night” (Psalm 25:5, translation by Nan Merrill, Psalms For Praying).

What is truth? Yes, it is true that I jumped off a bridge when I was 17 (stupid, but true). Yes, it is true that the earth revolves around the sun (the Catholic Church didn’t want to believe it for a long time, but too bad.) But the truth that the Psalmist is asking for is far beyond these types of truths. I believe the Psalmist is looking for the eternal truths that underlie all things, the truth that doesn’t just answer a question, but makes a person whole.

This truth is not about what we’re supposed to believe or how we’re supposed to spirit of truthbehave according to some creed or doctrine.  This truth is not written in stone, yet is more permanent. This truth is not as easy to find, but is more freeing. This truth, in the words of Sue Monk Kidd “will set [us] free, but will shatter the safe, sweet way [we] live.” This truth is within each of us if we dare to look.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Walter Kania, in his book Healthy Religion, says, “There is no necessary truth or magic in what presently exists in your religion or in what you have received from others. There is an internal truth validation center in each of us. The real truth of universal resonance is within each of us.” (13)

Buddhist teacher Samu Sunim, in Stumbling Toward Enlightenment by Geri Larkin, teaches that, “Truth, salvation, and enlightenment are not separate from oneself. You are the very source of what is true and wise.”

That’s really pretty amazing stuff. But it seems to me that we have this problem… I’ll call it the viscosity of truth.  The measure of our resistance to the flow of truth. Picture the difference between pouring water or honey through a sieve. Then on even worse days, we’re as apt to let truth flow through us as mashed potatoes through that darn sieve. Why? Well, I think there are a few reasons, but here’s my top one (you’ll have to listen to the podcast to get the other two).

The Jewish Talmud observes, “we do not see things simply as they are, but also as we are.” In other words, we have our infamous ego to contend with. Our ego is adept at creating our inner conflicts. It seeks to cover our insecurities, to justify our anger, to rationalize our defensiveness, to protect our soft spots. Our ego is not fond of our inner truth, because our inner truth sees ego for what it is – an illusion.

Let me give you an example: My partner, Julie, and I occasionally have ridiculous “fights” … ego takes hold, we each get caught up in the need to be justified in our anger and frustration. Yep, you’ve got it, mashed potatoes all the way.

So, what does it mean to seek truth in this situation? If I can calm down enough and look under all the layers of ego, I find the Divine waiting for me. And she’s smiling a sort of smug smile that says, “Are you done now?”

If I’m not, I tell her to shut up, I’m planning on being angry and aloof for a while, and I slam my inner door on her and the truth she brings with her. Sometimes I can keep her locked up for really long periods of time, or at least refuse to listen to her on a few subjects.

If I’m smart and I listen, she often has things to tell me that I need to hear… may not want to hear, but need to hear. Like, “Kaye, you’re blowing this way out of proportion. Kaye, you need to see this from another point of view. Kaye, you need to apologize for your part in this. Kaye, you need to not blame, but to seek understanding.” “Really, Kaye, let it go… let it go…” (she breaks into song and it immediately gets stuck in my head with its annoying message, well, not really, but you get the picture.)

How do we know when we’re hearing our inner truth, the Divine within, and not our own ego? I know because I feel it in my heart, in my gut. She reminds me that most often my issues are issues of ego, of fear, of insecurity, of wanting to please others. She pushes me out of my comfort zone. She asks me to be kind, understanding, loving, compassionate, forgiving. Asks me to love myself as much as I love others. Most of all she asks me to step back, to look at things from a new perspective, one where we are all connected, one where one person’s pain or joy is also my pain or join. She shows me how fragmented I’ve become and leads me on the path of wholeness.

Peace,

Kaye