Tag Archives: theology

christmas, love, agape

these days i really seem to enjoy to quote from books.  here’s one i have talked about before: the priority of love: christian charity and social justice, by timothy p. jackson.  let me give you some quotes.

jackson puts the christian virtue of charity in close context of agape.  according to the stanford dictionary of philosophy, “‘agape‘ has come, primarily through the christian tradition, to mean the sort of love god has for us persons, as well as our love for god and, by extension, of our love for each other”a kind of brotherly love.”  says jackson, in his often woolly and overly academic yet nevertheless deeply touching way:

agape is beyond all economies of exchange, all questions of desert or contract

one does not determine love to be the universal human good the way one might discover a dime in one’s pocket.  love makes itslef the good by enriching whomever it touches

the love awakened in us by god’s own love has priority in relation to other basic values … it is their necessary source and end

he quotes liberation theologist juan segundo

to love means to lose our autonomy and to become dependent on another … all love is a gamble … it is an act of faith launched into the air, without any precise name or clear content.  it is a belief that love is worthwhile …

then ..

there is a sublime excessiveness to charity manifest in words as diverse as jesus’ sermon on the mount, lincoln’s second inaugural address, and etty hillesum’s letters from the concentration camp

jackson maintains that their charity (and by extension he points to all christian charity, i would assume) is indiscriminate, indomitable egalitarian, “made perfect in weakness” (2 corinthians 12:9) and almost paradoxically expansive.  he also suggests that

because of its chronological priority (loving care is the first thing we must receive as infants), its axiologocal priority (without care individuals do not mature into responsible persons), its lexical priority (without care we have no substantive access to other human goods) and its priority of itself (care’s agenda is to make others caring), agapic love is rightly deemed the first virtue in all contexts.

and of course jackson cites the famous, beautiful words of saint paul in first corinthians 13:4-8

love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  it bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.  love never ends.

if the jesus religion (or any religion, for that matter), please don’t throw out these words with the biblical bath water.  while they are written from the point of view of a theologian deeply rooted in christianity, i think they still have something to offer to anyone who thinks about and wants to contribute to good relationships among people, or/and with the divine.

and, what can i say, it’s a fitting post for christmas day 🙂

scribbling like mad: an excerpt from my nanowrimo novel

here’s an excerpt from the novel i’m writing for national novel writing month (NaNoWriMo).  it’s raw and unedited, just the way i wrote it.  19,391 words and counting …

“next thing i can recall is a bed, the softest, most comfortable bed i’ve ever slept in. there were blankets all over, so soft and so colourful, there must have been at least 6. all very light and clean-smelling. and the pillows! big and poofy, a whole bunch, and the bed was big but not too big, and there were stuffies all over, my favourite ones, too! all cats and birds. that’s kinda strange, don’t you think, strange and amazing and i loved it. and the room, it was so cute! windows all over and the sun shining in and it was warm and so, so cozy. the person who had picked me up, he came in once in a while, and everytime he did, or she, really, i could never figure it out, this cat came in, too, big and gray and fluffy. always smelling of patchouli. the person, i mean.

there was – love. yes, it’s true, there was love. somewhere. in the house. in the food. i felt it. and the cat, she had love, too. then there was a big bird somewhere, a raven maybe? and a turtle. and love. i’ve often wondered since then, what kind of love was that? i mean, there was no sex. i couldn’t even figure out, ever, whether that person was a guy or a woman. but she kept bringing me food and put stuff on my leg and on my back, and it just didn’t hurt anymore, i have no idea how she did that. pills, too, some pretty potent sleeping pills but not the kind that makes you feel awful when you wake up the next day.

what kind of love was that? it felt big and real, like bread maybe.”

“love like bread?,” asked lu, incredulously. “what happened to the mansion?”

“what mansion?”

“weren’t you in a mansion?”

“when?”

“well, when you got picked up, weren’t you in a mansion?”

“who said that?”

“robin, i think.”

“robin? what does he know about this?”

“he said burke had told him.”

“burke? that’s not what i told him. he’s full of it. there was no mansion. just this nice person and the rook and the bed and the cat and stuff.”

“and love like bread,” snorted lu.

“you leave her alone!” all of a sudden mohan’s index finger was in lu’s face. “it was love, and it was like bread.”

“yeah, like bread. now that i think of it, that’s what jesus talks about, isn’t it? in the bible? the bread is his body, and that means he loves people. maybe it was like that. i’m not sure what that means. i have to think about it. hey, tomas!”

she waved at a thin, tall man standing at the entrance to the room. “tomas, come over here!”

the man detached himself from the dirty wall – everything was dirty, or at least dirty looking because it was so old and used, the walls, the furniture, the door, the floor, the dishes, and often enough the people – and ambled over to the three of them, gangly, black-clad arms dangling, black hair falling into his hawk-nosed face. big brown eyes. big mouth, big teeth.

“what’s up, ella? hey lu, hey mohan.”

the two others nodded.

“tell me, when jesus broke bread, was that his body, and was that love?”

“absolutely! everything that jesus did was love.”

ella looked at lu with a look that was both confused and triumphant.

“jesus is the embodiment of love. therefore everything he does is love. jesus was born to embody love. love needed to be seen and felt, and jesus came to this earth. that’s why his parents sent him.”

“his parents?” now ella really was confused.

“see, when they say it was his father that sent him, that was because they did not want to tell the truth. but think about it – how can he have a father and not a mother? they made love, like, they MADE it, the way guy over there makes coffee and they gave it to people but often they didn’t understand it, so that’s why they sent jesus. he told me so.”

“right. right.” ella slurped some coffee and said nothing for a while. then, “well, thanks, tomas. you cleared that up for me.”

the four of them were quiet for a while. lu looked around a little lost, wondering what was going to happen next.

“love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. love never ends.”

more coffee slurping.

“st. paul, first corinthians”, added tomas with a helpful smile.

“in that way, love is like the bread that jesus keeps breaking with us. it never ends. you don’t see bread being boastful or resentful.”

having given this proof, tomas smiled even more broadly.

mohan didn’t say much but he wasn’t stupid. he liked tomas, everyone did, but – “bread believes all things?” how was tomas going to explain that one?

“well, bread is a metaphor for love. of course, as a metaphor, it can’t cover everything. metaphors are good for illustrating concepts but a metaphor is not the same thing as the thing it illustrates. it is similar to a simile – i know, that sounds a little confusing – in that a simile performs mestoctomal economics that prefer silvicultural anomies. marx said that – ”

that’s where the three saw themselves forced to stop listening. tomas was a wonderful guy, friendly, helpful, well educated, extremely intelligent. the illness had struck him as he was starting his PhD in theology at the tender age of 22. he went in and out of it, from moment to moment, he’d have a clear head for months on end and then one day it would strike him, sometimes in the middle of a sentence, then he might go back and forth a few times within an hour. it was completely unpredictable.

a minute or two into his incomprehensible monologue, tomas stopped talking. he just sat there, looking off into space, his mind occupied by the complicated tangles of his inner world.

“you know, in a way, tomas is right. what he said about love is perfect and kind and refreshing – ”

“not resentful,” that was mohan, back to muttering but still paying attention.

“well, yeah, whatever, not resentful but refreshing, too. what happened there in that room, it refreshed me, that’s for sure. i can’t believe in god the way tomas did and i can’t believe that that guy or woman or whatever he or she was spent a lot of time in church – actually, i was always wondering whether she was some sort of good witch – but what happened there, that was love.

we didn’t talk much, we didn’t talk much at all. i didn’t feel like it at first and by the time i would have liked to we already had some sort of rhythm, the little guy coming in, dressing my back, checking my ankle, bringing me food and something to drink, the cat jumping on my bed, all that, and all we’d say would be how are you, how did you sleep, here, you have to finish this, it’ll help you get better, that’s it. for some reason i never asked for her name. she also put a CD player in my room that played all the music i liked, i don’t know how she, or he, figured that one out. maybe i said something about it at the beginning.”

“so what happened in the end? are you still in touch with, uh, whoever it was?”

“oh no. i have no idea where they live. i don’t think it’s here. for some reason i think it was out on the sunshine coast.”

“sunshine coast? so, how did you get back down here? did you take the ferry?”

“it gets a little fuzzy, i don’t know. remember i was still stoned most of the time back then, really until i met mohan, you know. no it’s just the occasional beer and joint but back then -”

“what? she’d give you stuff? crack?”

“no, no, but still, it’s all a bit fuzzy. really, i think it was on the sunshine coast because it all reminds me of that trip my aunt took me on when i was 9. that was the best trip i ever had, the best summer i ever had, and the place was like that.”

belief in a personal god

through my twitter connection @UUsoul i came across a post on the topic of a personal god at celestial lands. i figured that rather than replying, i’ll comment in a post here.

david from celestial lands says

i believe that there is no division in god, that every moment of every day we are intimately involved with god; in a flight of birds, in a breath of wind, in a cab driver who cuts us off, in a moment on the zen cushions… all one, all god. we are a part of god, and nothing can be more intimate than this. god is a holy spirit that is intimately involved in all things, and we are intimately involved in the part of god we can touch and sense.

however, god does not, in any personal way, know that we exist as individuals. i wonder whether god is even capable of “knowing” in any human sense. more, my faith in god does not require god’s knowing of me. i am “known” simply in my being, along with all of being, and together we are becoming… and becoming… and becoming. to me, nothing could be more intimate than this.

my reply:

very interesting!

if i may spin this a little further, in a bit of a free-association way …

i can have a personal relationship with (a) god, believing on an intellectual level that god mostly IS, as you describe it, yet allowing myself to imagine some sort of intelligent god, which makes the interaction easier. (an analogy: i know that the number 1,000,000,000,000,000 exists but i am not capable of imagining more than 7 discrete things at a time) (wow – i’ve never written it down like that before. talk about the limitations of being a human animal!)

if my guiding principle is that god simply IS and add to that the belief that god is infinite, then i can invite all sorts of imaginary, emotional and intellectual helpmates. for example, i can be open to and play with the possibility of god having some sort of intelligence, consciousness, or even power of intervention.

is this related to the idea of “i believe THAT god” rather than “i believe IN god”?

a buddhist carnival – first 2009 edition!

camelswelcome to the buddhist blog carnival! sometimes, rather than a carnival, i would like to call it a caravan. i’ve always liked camels, what can i say …

poem: man is not our enemy
we always start off with a poem. here is one by thich nhat hanh, presented by change the dream

promise me,
promise me this day,
promise me now,
while the sun is overhead
exactly at the zenith,
promise me:

even as they
strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they step on you and crush you
like a worm,
even as they dismember and disembowel you,
remember brother, remember:
man is not our enemy.

the only thing worthy of you is compassion –
invincible, limitless, unconditional.
hatred will never let you face
the beast in man.

you can read the rest of this poem here.

emptiness, buddhism and monotheism
ben offers nothing in its essence. i hadn’t met ben before but really enjoyed his careful insights and obvious knowledge of theology. this post draws interesting connections between how buddhism, christianity and the jewish tradition deal with the idea of “nothing” or emptiness.

buddhism is one means of liberation from what william blake called “the mind-forg’d manacles.” within the monotheist tradition one can find echoes of the same refrain, for what else is idolatry but the worship of that which behind appearances is not real?

lazy!
zen habits has a great post, the lazy manifesto: do less.  then, do even less. the post itself is quite inspiring (love the saying, “lazy people never started a war”), and some of the comments are interesting, too. for example, here is one by tara:

in the introduction of the tibetan book of living and dying by sogyal rinpoche, the author (i think) discusses laziness. he describes what he calls the laziness in the east, where people lounge around and smoke hookahs all day (i’m paraphrasing). but in the west, he says that people are lazy by being busy – filling their days with unnecessary movement and busywork. i always thought that was an interesting take on laziness.

boring?
genkaku was the first buddhist online writer i ever followed, even before i started blogging.  what do you think of his take on the proliferation of buddhist sites?

last night, when there was little work to be done … i went snooping the internet for topics on buddhism. there were a lot of sites and i skimmed them as i might pop another potato chip in my mouth while watching a football game — without much attention.there were diatribes against e-sangha and there were descriptions of NKT and there were general outlines of one kind of buddhist approach and another. what caught my attention was how little interest i had in any of it. it was like chewing a piece of gum … the jaws kept moving, but the flavor had disappeared …

too many buddhas. maybe that is more frightening than too few. but it does remind me of a calligraphy a monk friend once gave me: it said, “not one buddha.” and it also reminds me of an ill-remembered ikkyu — cranky as i imagined him — complaining about those who badgered and informed others about “buddha” … “stop being a goddamned pest!” he said more or less.

yoga mind, beginners mind

day after day, month after month, year after year, practice can grow stale and arrogant if i don’t re-invigorate mind and body in what zen master, suzuki roshi refers to as beginner’s mind. in yoga asana practice i need to remind myself to approach the physical aspect of any pose with “beginner’s body.”

this is an excerpt from the laughing yogini’s beginner’s mind and body: one-legged yoga.

“yes we can!” – who can?
praveen points to an article in the latest edition of oneness – the quarterly newsletter of the bright dawn institute for american buddhism.

this article by the rev. koyo kubose, called “yes we can!” started out by commenting on the excitement around the recent historical u.s. presidential election, and how it has rekindled hope and optimism about america.

but then, the article took a very interesting turn, and offered the reader a very profound exercise:

imagine that you are a “nation” and have just been elected “president”. can you translate all your new wishes and hopes into hard work and action? can you stop dwelling on and making excuses for past failures? can you overcome apathy? can you avoid “wars” with others?

buddhism, desire and the law of attraction
abraham-hicks, the guru of the law of attraction, discusses desire at you are truly loved. i think it’s useful  for this type of conversation and cross-reference to take place, especially since buddhism and the law of attraction seem to be very much at cross purposes when it comes to the topic of desire. let’s hear what they have to say.

in buddhism it is taught that the source of all suffering lies in both desire and ignorance. the ignorance stems from not knowing who we are and not perceiving the world as it actually is. by desire, buddhists refer to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality, all of which are wants that can never be satisfied. as a result, desiring them can only bring suffering and so desire is, in a sense, considered a ‘bad’ thing.

as fellow spiritual blogger tom stine points out, it’s not truly the desire that’s the issue, but rather the attachment to and identification with desire by the separate self. this attachment is sometimes called ‘clinging.’ it is the clinging that is what needs to be let go of, not the literal dropping of desires altogether to become some sort of celibate monk. desires that arise are like anything else that arises within the field of awareness. they’re inherently neutral. just an object of awareness.

good people, bad people
you gotta go to wise curve’s post and look at the image! please! especially if you like to see george bush happy 🙂

and even though wise curve doesn’t talk about buddhism, there are some good ideas here. labelling people “good” or “bad” isn’t very useful.

in our life, there’s a small percentage of “good” people who always support us and a certain percentage of “bad” people who always trouble us. the rest are majority who are relatively “neutral”. this should be our rational expectation toward people around us. it’s too optimistic to expect everyone to be “perfect” and if we really have this expectation, we will live miserably because we will meet “bad” people who break our perfect expectation from time to time. this is the same as meeting “bad” people in life. there will be “good” people coming in to your life so we don’t need to focus too much on the “bad” apples and neglect the positive aspect of social life.

in reality, there’s no such thing as good or bad people. people only make “good” or “bad” decision or action in a specific time. someone may do good deeds 10 minutes ago and commit crime on the next day.

finally, two more submissions: from richard about consciousness and awareness and from jon, containing a poem called nirvana.

that’s it the january buddhist carnival. if you have any submissions for next month’s carnival (february 15, 2009), please send them to me here, or, if you have a hard time connecting to blog carnival, drop me a line.

image by wildxplorer

prayer

there’s a new web site, prayer 2.0, with an interesting discussion regarding different ideas about prayer. my reply turned out to be quite long so i figured i’d simply post it here. one contributor said this, among other things:

in my mind, “pray” is something you do when you don’t want to do anything yourself. it is a way of unshouldering responsibilities …

another problem with prayer is that it is not about conversation: prayer is one way. it is an odd sort of monologue, in that it is subservient, but it is still soliloquy. it has none of the back and forth that characterize reason.

here are my thoughts:

prayer, as it is conceived in various traditions, is very multifaceted. at its most basic level, it is engagement with a benevolent other-than-ego, non-corporeal other. (how’s that for theological mumbo-jumbo? i hope the next words will shed a bit of light).

what form that engagement takes and who that other-than-ego is – well, that’s an interesting question.

let’s take two extremes. feeding monkeys on your birthday to ensure prosperity is a form of prayer: “hey big power, i need/want more money, i’m doing what your priests have told me, so let’s make it happen!”

on the other extreme, there is work as prayer and the buddhist metta or loving-kindness meditation, in which we ask, among other things, for good things to happen to our adversaries.

in the first instance, we have a desire for something that is not essential, and we try to persuade whatever forces “out there” to get it for us. that would come close to what you described as shirking responsibility.

mother teresa saw her work as prayer. few people would call that unshouldering responsibility.

whether there is a god or not, prayer focuses. for example, when i make an effort to ask for good things for my enemy, next time i meet that person, i will be more inclined to act kindly towards that person.

deep prayer is often more like a conversation. it is engagement with god – whatever/whoever god is/stands for. and there is absolutely nothing that says that prayer has to be without reason. i think that’s a misconception by people who are under the mistaken assumption that god is only the the very limited god that is being talked about in some christian churches.

but god, or the concept of god, is much, much bigger than that. he/she/it/they ranges/range from the very human gods as, for example, envisioned by the hindu gods, to the immanent human goodness envisioned by some unitarian universalists – and anything in between. i don’t think it’s useful to judge spiritual practices only by what happens in one form of practice of one religion.

(this post can be found on the carnival of life, happiness and meaning)