Do What Thou Wilt Nonsense

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Laying in bed nursing a fever and wondering what to do with my evening , and lo and behold, Facebook to the rescue. In my newsfeed I see shared quote by “The Great Beast” Aleister Crowley, an often sited quote but typically misrepresented, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Often used in a context similar to “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Or “do whatever you feel like.” This is a complete misrepresentation of Thelema and is not what Crowley was saying. The second part of that quote is also typically conveniently missing “Love is the law. Love under will.”

Thelema, the religion Crowley founded, means “Will. Or True Will.”  Ones True Will is not your everday desires but is ones calling or purpose in life. The goal of Thelema is to uncover your calling or purpose through contact with your higher self or “Holy Guardian Angel.” Your calling is descerned through this contact and then Yoga with, or union with, the Absolute. Thus resulting in “Love (agape)” that can now be properly known and expressed “under will” as a result of this union. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” is not “do whatever the Hell you feel like.” In Crowley’s thought it is the constant awareness of, and contact with your higher self or Holy Gaurdian Angel (a self above and seperate from the ego) then seeking union and dissolution with the Absolute. Only then could your True Will or purpose be known and properly expressed. Whether you like Crowley or hate him. At least know a little about quotes that you take from him. That should go for any quotes from anyone ideally. Thats my fever induced rant for today.

 

A different take

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Further to my last blog post I wrote where I mentioned  the various schools of thought among the early Christians. Among them and probably the main alternative groups, were the gnostics. The earliest gnostic Christian text being the Gospel of Thomas, one of a number of gospels that were not included in the canonical gospels when the Bible was put together a few centuries later while Christianity was becoming the dominant force. Religiously, politically and militarily . Leading to the gnostics being labeled heretics and actively persecuted.

But this Gospel of Thomas is dated, at the very latest 140ce. But that is only by Christian scholars that don’t want it considered as old, and therefore as valid, as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Non religious scholars however, date it much earlier. Perhaps actually the earliest gospel, possibly written just 20 years after Jesus lived. Certainly no later than late first century and therefore at least as old as the ones picked for inclusion in the Bible. In Thomas, Jesus is depicted much less as a divine being, more as a spiritual guide. Some scholars suggesting that Jesus is depicted more as a “Living Buddha” than how he’s viewed today.

Among the various Gnostic Gospels found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt Jesus is often quoted as speaking of illusion and enlightenment, not sin and repentance. Instead of saving us from sin, he was opening the doors of spiritual understanding.

This wasn’t *the* original view. It was one view, a significant one, among many. There never was “one” view. But by the year 200A.D “Christianity” was becoming a real institution and began to define itself in terms of “orthodoxy” and the “true faith” as apposed to what it called “heresy” that it then suppressed and actively attacked. Those in and those out. This view of Jesus, as a “Living Buddha” of sorts, of course became heresy. What a different religious landscape it would be if that hadn’t happened.

Ramblings from a Heretic that likes Lent but hates Easter.

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This isn’t an angry post as the title may imply. But it will be a bit of a rambling about my thoughts around how I not only view Easter, but Christian history in general. Somewhat murky and incoherent. Lent is now turned into Easter weekend and I find I’m reflecting on what that means to me. I know what the party line is of 21st century mainstream Christianity. Its about death and resurrection. Specifically good Friday is about when Jesus, after having been betrayed days before by Judas, was nailed to a cross where he very slowly and painfully died, thereby acting as a substitute sacrifice for a wretched humanity. Then rose from the dead 3 days later, overcoming death and proving his divinity….and stuff.

I like the season of Lent. Its a time for intentional contemplation, introspection and engaging with spirituality. I don’t however like Easter. I try, I really do. But I don’t like the popular story surrounding it, nor do I think its even particularly healthy. Now, to be sure, within modern Christianity you don’t have to believe in a literal physical resurrection, nor in the stand in human sacrifice to appease a blood thirsty God because the humans He created are too wretched to be accepted as they are without it. But even in the traditions that leave that open to interpretation, the language used in the liturgy explicitly sticks to that theme. Easter as a result, is my least favourite time of the liturgical year.

To me, I like to see not only if there are other ways to engage with religious traditions and holidays outside the mainstream view (seriously, when is mainstream *anything* authentic or valuable?) but specifically I like to look at its roots and see whats there. What was early Christianity like? How did or would they have viewed the “party line” of today? One thing I’ve learned is that “Christianity”, was never uniform in the early days particularly, much less so than today. What we see today was a development. Its not simply “Jesus dictated the gospels as we have them today in the Bible, that’s all that there is, and how we celebrate Christmas, Easter…do weddings, worship, is just as he wanted. Period.”  Simply not true. At all.

There is for one thing, whether people like it or not, actually very little that we can know about Jesus or what he taught with any degree of certainty. The scriptures that exist about him were written decades, or in some cases a century or more after his death. His life and teachings were an oral tradition before that. I’m actually reading an interesting book on that topic at the moment, “Jesus Before the Gospels,”It deals with the topic of what we can know about how the oral tradition developed. What do we know about cultures that rely on oral traditions? How reliable are stories from those cultures? Is it true that they put such a high value on maintaining the story, that the story stays reliably intact as it was originally told?  Actually it turns out, no. It really doesn’t work that way, particularly in that culture, and at that time, given the fact that they put much more importance on meaning than historical accuracy. The stories are embedded with meaning. Much richer meaning than is typically recognized in today’s churches or by today’s Christians. But accurate descriptions of Jesus’ life and accurate quotes from him? Nope.

There were also many manifestations, many “Christianities” right from the earliest days. As a result there were many gospels, many snippets of religious scripture about Jesus and his teachings, not just Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. There was the Gospel or Mary, the Gospel of Thomas,Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Judas (yes, that Judas) and many others. Many saying similar things, but sometimes they painted a radically different picture. With Easter for example, Judas for some early Christians was not a bad guy, but was thought of as a hero. And really, why wouldn’t he be? If Jesus whole reason for being born in the first place was to die on a cross, then Judas helped Jesus fulfill the will of God. He needed to be turned over to the Roman authorities for execution.  Judas helped facilitate that, so why is he the bad guy? He was doing the will of God after all.

Jesus himself was viewed radically different by different Christian groups. There were those that viewed him as being the Bringer of Knowledge, and therefore equated him with the serpent in the Garden of Eden of the Jewish scripture. In that metaphorical story, man (Adam and Eve) was ignorant, so the serpent came and told them to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge so they would awake and gain wisdom. They would become enlightened. So they did, and they were. If Jesus was the Bringer of Wisdom that came to wake up humanity. Then he must have been the serpent in the story. That view would later become heresy when Christianity began coalescing into one *thing* centuries later , but it was an early view of some early Christians. Again, it makes sense to view it that way too, and I tend to like it personally over the current view of the serpent being Satan deceiving humanity. After all, in the story he was right. God had kept man ignorant, but the serpent wanted them to gain wisdom by eating the fruit. They ate it a woke up. Jesus was also viewed as having come to wake humanity up. Soo, they’re the same. The bringer of knowledge and wisdom. That in fact is how “Jesus saves”, by what he teaches, by the wisdom he encouraged his followers to gain for themselves. Not by simply believing the right things. Which, even in the cherry picked gospels in today’s Bible, Jesus didn’t seem to have a high opinion of belief for beliefs sake. Its what you did with that that mattered.

Some thought Jesus was a human, some thought he was mostly spirit. Some thought he died and rose from the dead, some thought he simply died. Some thought he was the serpent from the Garden of Eden come to bring knowledge and wake up humanity. Some thought he was the human form of God, some others that he was a magus. Someone trained and very adept in one of the schools of Egyptian magic that was prevalent in that region at the time.

So Easter…like all of Christianity right from our earliest records, is a mystery. There was no “orthodoxy”, that was a centuries later development in an attempt to make it uniform in order to have it a more effective imperial religion. Easter in my view can be engaged with however people see fit. How do they view Jesus? All are as “authentic” as another. For me? As typical to how I view most things, I don’t like the mainstream, nor do I like toeing the party line because someone, somewhere thinks I should. Whatever you think of Jesus and who he really was, or what he should represent, there is no doubt that the simple fact that he lived changed the course of human civilization for thousands of years.

Easter for me I think isn’t about sin. Its not about how wretched and miserable little creatures  we are and that God somehow finds it in Her heart to love us anyway. It is about a personal resurrection of sorts. Of engaging with the what little can be known about the mysterious Bringer of Knowledge and what he may represent. What does that mean? Who was he? He’s an idea much bigger than the man. But I’ll save that for another time.

 

Koan: How do you pray your life?

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summer_day_4-t2I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with the question of what to do with the rest of my life. Perhaps a bit more so now that Lent is underway. A season of contemplation. And of existential realities. How should I go about engaging with it in a manner that feels authentic and brings meaning to it? The poem “A Summers Day” by Mary Oliver beautifully captures this existential question that haunts me like a koan:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

 

What do I want to do with my one wild and precious life?  How *do* you go about engaging with that question? There are many ways. The Benedictines have what is called a “rule of life.”The word “rule” can often have a negative connotation in today’s western culture. But its meaning here is a bit different. Its not a rule that can be broken as such, or that makes you bad if you fail to live up to it. Its meant as a guide, as something that gives some focus and direction. The garden metaphor is sometimes used in describing its function.

What do you need for a garden to flourish? Its not just one thing, you of course need good soil, nutrients, as well as an appropriate amount of water and sunshine. But you also need to consider other things. How large of a plot do you have? Do you have room to do lots of planting? Or is it more of a patio sized garden right now? What season is it? That will determine what can realistically be expected to flourish at this particular time. Also don’t forget about pruning things every now and then. Sometimes a little pruning is needed in order to bear good fruit.

This approach helps in both giving you a direction and narrows your focus. Back to the garden theme. You can compare it’s function to that of a garden hose nozzle that takes the water from spraying in all directions at once and focuses and narrows the stream.

Mary Oliver in the above poem commented that “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is” but then she went on to describe her knowing how to pay attention, of the experience of falling down and kneeling in the grass, of being “idle and blessed.” That really struck me as being prayer *itself*. Her living as a prayer instead of merely speaking one. “What is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?” Maybe that’s the answer to my koan? To live with intention, to live a life of meaning and reverence. To live ones life as a prayer. Maybe when you do that, the answer to the question “how should I live my life?” just falls into place, and the koan answers itself….

Haunted by God

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What do you do when the path ahead looks impossible to transverse? When the road ahead is forked and both paths have a “danger” sign marking them?

I’ve had a couple of friends, that are clergy, say to me that they think I may do well in ordained ministry. Something that I’ve thought about. Never really dared too all that seriously, after all, what would that mean? How would it look to others? What would my friends say? What would my family think? How would it change my own self image? How could imperfect and flawed me be an ordained member of the clergy…I mean, I know we all have flaws…but seriously. Some of us more than others. All of these things come up. But I can no longer deny it. Religion and spirituality have always at some level, been a huge part of who I am. I recall that in Grade 2, so what around 7-8 years old?  I organized a prayer group with my a few of my fellow students. Every lunch hour we would meet up just off to the side of the playground where we had staked a small homemade wooden cross into the ground and we would pray, and talk about God and Jesus to the best of our Sunday School understanding. I remember playing make believe when I was alone, fantasizing that I was one of those Catholic priests that I saw on TV. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I suppose I liked the collar and how religious and serious they seemed. A drive has been with me a long time for full time religious life.

Finally on the recommendation of a clergy friend I asked my spiritual director what he thought. He should have a more unbiased opinion since we aren’t “friends” outside of that setting. I’ve only seen him a couple of times but I respect him a great deal, not just because he has many years in ordained ministry. But is also a former professor of theology, holds a doctorate in psychology, and is a contemplative (Benedictine oblate). So I could take his unbiased opinion seriously. An opinion, part of me may have been hoping, was that me being a priest was maybe some kind of joke. Something like “Cory, you’re a nice guy and clearly take your spirituality seriously, but ordained ministry? You? Sorry…I just really don’t see it.” But instead he looked at me very intently and a somewhat scrutinizing and said “Yes, their is something there.” And proceeded to encourage me to look into further.

Part of me was actually thrilled. Part of me was terrified. It also just happened to coincide on that very day, with my work insurance coverage that I’d been getting since I’ve been off work injured, being cancelled. I need that money. While I have been upgrading my high school courses to prepare myself for a career change, as I do strongly dislike my current occupation. I’m now forced to do something while I wait to see if I need surgery. I need to work. I have to ask my doctor if he’ll sign me off to return to my job, maybe with modified duties and hope not to injure myself further. I don’t want to. I’m concerned I’ll do more harm than good. I’m concerned my schooling will suffer. I’m concerned I’ll be trapped there forever.. but I can’t have no income. So how do I pursue this path into ministry, something that would require several years of full time studies, when I can’t even afford to be out of work? How would I even personally do in ministry anyway? How would it work being the only one in my household even religious at that? Then be a priest to boot? How……..will I ever be happy if I don’t pursue it anyway?

 

My spiritual director told me last meeting, that its a blessing to be “haunted by God.” I feel haunted. And I feel this incredible squeeze at this point in my life. Both paths in front of me say “danger.” So which do I choose? There may be only one right answer. But no matter which way it goes. The path seems to be fraught with uncertainty, even peril.

Rant: Why do we not Speak out against our own?

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There was an article in the Huffington Post today stating that “Britain First Denounced by Every Major Christian Denomination in the UK.” It has quotes from representatives of each of the major denominations. The Church of England is quoted as ” They are deeply provocative, self-fulfilling, self-serving and not recognizably actions motivated by the Christian faith.” The Methodist Church said “We are deeply saddened when Christianity and the cross are abused to serve such extremist agenda.” “Lets get this straight. Britain First do not speak for Christians” said the Evangelical Alliance and  “Jehovah Witnesses follow the Bibles advice to respect everyone- regardless of their religious beliefs.” On and on it went…It was great to see the various and difference voices of Christianity denouncing this hate group. And make no mistake, Britain First is nothing more than a extremist hate group. They’re as “Christian” as the KKK. But that brings me to my thought reading this article..

..many of these denominations themselves vocally speak out against gay marriage and spew all kinds of venom towards the LGBT community on the whole. Where is the loud vocal and public condemnation against that? The Fellowship of Reconciliation pointed out that “Britain First do not represent Christian values. Particularly the core values to our faith, like nonviolence and love..” And its true. Those are core values. But why are they ignored, or at least  begrudgingly tolerated by so many when it comes LGBT people? Why are those that while they may not side with Britain First, still considered Christan when they promote hate and intolerance in other ways? Why do we see what passes as Christianity in the West with the homophobia, xenophobia, overt racism, discrimination towards the poor and persecution of the marginalized… and the laughable “theology” of the “Prosperity Gospel” go on without the Christian sense of Justice kicking in and screaming from the hilltops that this is wrong? Its actively harmful, its heretical and its decidedly unchristian. Why are we to pretend its otherwise? Has anyone that subscribes to this being “Christian” actually read their own gospels? That’s not me being flippant.  Its a serious question. Because in the Jesus encountered there,  was clearly and vocally and vehemently at odds with these things. I think Jesus, that could be fairly pointed and sharp tongued when the situation called for it, would respond with something like a “You brood of vipers!”(Matthew 12:34)  to them. Why is what is called “tolerance” practiced towards bigots that have no sense of what the core tenets of their faith they claim to subscribe to actually are? At the expense of many..Why do those that practice their faith to the best they can still quietly try bandage the wounds that our “Christian brethren” inflict on others, but our sense of justice doesn’t kick in sufficiently to proclaim from the hilltops that this is wrong? So wrong that we won’t stand for it. So wrong that like Jesus we will take up our cross and willingly be crucified along with the weak, and marginalized, persecuted and those without a voice if its necessary to try prevent it. Why as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said do we not “drive a spoke into the wheel itself”?

 

The FBI has white Christian Nationalist listed as a greater threat to National Security than Islamic Terrorism. In fact, they’ve killed more Americans in the last 10 years than Jihadists have. Yet we expect the condemnation against hate and intolerance and violence  to be publicly stated by every Muslim when there’s a terrorist attack . Where’s the Christian condemnation against hate and intolerance within its own house? Why are the extremists within Christianity (which is mainstream Christianity in the US today by the way)  simply “subscribing to a different theological interpretation” instead of being heretical hate groups? I don’t get it.