The confines of humanness.

Last night, I was sitting on my bed, meditating. For me, meditation can be a great way of making my grocery list for the week, or a form of prayer whereby I pull and poke at God trying to get some attention and validation, or an almost transcendent experience (I’ll let you decide which of these is my usual form).

So, I was mediating and miraculously not planning my meal list when a huge gust of wind hit the side of the house and scared the absolute willies out of me.

It was a case of: peace-bam-fear.

And the idea instantly struck me of how incredibly limited we are as humans. It’s just all emotions, all the time, isn’t it?

We are constricted by our humanness. So confined. Just aware enough to know that there is this amazing eminence surrounding us, just able to be glimpsed and to be understood a little and imperfectly, but only by our limited and finite selves, who are so easily knocked off course by fear or lust or anger or just that general low level irritation which is barely even a real emotion- enough to distract us but without even the commitment of a real, honest expression of feeling.

We know just enough to understand our own limitations.

“Paradox, physicist Neils Bohr tells us, explodes our everday linear concept of truth and falsehood by positing two qualities that exist on a single continuum…Paradox thus points us to the mysterious place where two or more profound truths pull against each other in a tension that cannot be resolved by the clever machinations of the rational mind”

…On the frontier where human reason shades off into divine unknowing, you may find a resolution to the paradox or at least a sense of acceptance that can help you assent to the apparent contradictions in your spiritual life. But if God remains inscrutable beyond the farthest reaches of the most brilliant human mind, sooner or later we can expect to stumble across paradoxes that simply cannot be resolved. These insoluble paradoxes are at the core of faith *

The paradox, perhaps, that we are limited and finite yet eternal and heavenly. The fact that we are stuck between knowing about God, and knowing God, and our fear/anger/lust/irritation selves are pulled back to striving to know about God, when our pure selves already know God.

But then, of course, there’s this;

‘If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I can have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”(1 Corinthians 13;2).

If we are going to have the chance to try and emulate the agape that we have all been given unconditionally and absolutely, by nurturing phileo, then we need all these emotions, don’t we? We need to be able to love despite our inner selves railing against it, despite anger and fear and misunderstandings and mistrusting ‘other’. We need to hone our ability to love, to forge it in the furnace of real life and real feelings because nothing good comes without work. Without roots. Maybe these emotions do constrict our ability to grasp the transcendent, but equally, maybe our very humanness is the only way we will ever be able to appreciate and understand the nature of this love. Pushing ourselves to love others through our limitations and our faults may be the way that, ultimately, we can connect with the divine.

Our very humanness is the way that we can access our god-selves, and rather than despairing at how far we have to go, we should rejoice in how close we really are.

*The Big Book of Christian Mysticism; the essential guide to contemplative spirituality; Carl McColman

Has being a Christian made you a ‘better person’?

So, interesting side effect of my new found faith is the changes that have appeared within me. Some I’ve deliberately made, (but too few of these, sadly, as I have the will power of something with very little will power. A puppy?) but when I look at my life a year ago and my life now, there are some real and fundamental differences that, while unexpected, are welcome. Not necessarily at the level of ‘Better person= selling all my shit and moving to Africa to care for orphans’ different, but growing into being more fully myself is probably the best way to describe it.

Apparently I’m a late developer. Your 40s are the new 20s, right?

Some of these are elements that I never really loved, but just assumed it was ‘how I was’. Despite decades of reinforced patterns though, they seemed to have shifted without any conscious effort on my part. I don’t know. The Atheist Me would scoff at the very entertaining of the mere thought that fundamental things about me have changed since I accepted my faith. But I don’t listen to her as much any more.

Which makes me wonder; has Christianity made you a better person? For those of you who chose to become a Christian, how (if at all) are you different as a person now as compared to before you found faith?

And for those who were born into faith, how do you think your faith makes you different from someone without it? This is obviously tricky because you don’t have a ‘before’ to base it on. But is there another path that you might have gone down, do you think?

Of course, this is all subjective and I’m not trying to prove any point. I’m also not defining ‘better’ so really, go for it. I’m just interested. I know enough now to realise that nothing is ever just me. If I experience it then I’m fairly sure that a million other people have also had the same thoughts (sob, not special) and I’d like to hear how this may have manifested for you.

Richard Rohr; Christ is Plan A

Richard Rohr’s reflection from Sunday was especially good, and I’m sharing it here in full. Without commentary, because seriously, it’s Richard Rohr. No commentary is needed.

“Christ Is Plan A
Sunday, May 31, 2015
The mystery of Incarnation is the trump card for any Franciscan spirituality (and the Christian tradition itself, though sometimes hidden). Incarnation literally means enfleshment, yet most of Christian history has, in fact, been excarnational–in flight from matter, embodiment, physicality, and this world. This avoidance of enfleshment is much more Platonic than Christian. Incarnation means that the spiritual nature of reality (the immaterial, the formless, the invisible) and the material (the physical, the forms, that which we can see and touch) are, in fact, one and the same! And they always have been, ever since the Big Bang, which scientists estimate happened around 13.6 billion years ago. “God’s Spirit hovered over” creation from the very first moment of existence as we know it–and this statement is at the very beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1:2), setting the trajectory for the rest of the book. Yet we strangely have to remind Bible quoters of what should have been obvious to them. (Keeping matter and spirit separate is the occupational hazard of being a clergy person. It keeps us in business, because our job is then to put them back together. The only trouble is they do not need “putting”–only proclaiming and revealing!)

Most Christians were taught to associate the Incarnation only with Jesus’ birth 2,000 years ago. Yes, that was the unique and specific human incarnation of God, which Christians believe is found in the flesh and blood person of Jesus. That was perhaps when humanity was ready for a face-to-face encounter, what Martin Buber would call the “I-Thou” relationship. But matter and spirit have always been one, since God decided to manifest God’s self in the first act of creation. Modern science (especially quantum physics and biology) is demonstrating that this is, in fact, the case. Where does this endless drive toward life, multiplication, fecundity, creativity, self-perpetuation, and generativity come from, except from Something/Someone we call an indwelling “Spirit”?

Unfortunately, many Christians believe that the motive for divine incarnation was merely to fix what we humans had messed up–which seems rather self-preoccupied to me. The “substitutionary atonement theory” of salvation treats Christ as a mere Plan B. In this attempt at an explanation for the Incarnation, God did not really enter the scene until God saw that we had screwed up. Creation was not inherently sacred, lovable, or dignified. And, further, God was revealed to be petty and punitive. At least theologians had the honesty to call substitutionary atonement a “theory.” But it has done much more damage than good, and we are still trying to undo this view of God and reality.

By the modern age, which seemed to read everything in mechanistic and transactional terms, most Christians acted as if the only real rationale for the Divine Incarnation was to produce a human body that could die and rise again. This is no exaggeration! It did not matter much what Jesus exemplified, taught, revealed, or loved. Things like simple living, non-violence, inclusivity–which are now proving necessary for the very survival of the species–were ignored. Christians focused instead on the last three days of Jesus’ life and his freely offered quarts of blood. Our narrow focus on this explanation for Jesus’ divine-human existence allowed us to ignore almost all of what he taught. Jesus became a highly contrived problem-solver for our own guilt and fear (a problem that was inevitable if God was not indwelling) instead of the Archetypal Blueprint for what God has been doing all the time and everywhere. Jesus became a mere tribal god instead of the Cosmic Lord and Savior of history itself (Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 1:3-14). Christianity ended up just another competing and exclusionary religion instead of “good news for all the people” (Luke 2:10b), which was the very first announcement at Jesus’ birth. We all lost out. Forgive me for stating this with such passion, and perhaps without subtlety, but the core message is at stake.”

Adapted from Franciscan Mysticism: I Am That Which I Am Seeking, disc 1

Live Below the Line, the fairly lacklustre reflection.

So, the Live Below the Line challenge. I promised a reflection and some wise thoughts on social justice or the like.

I don’t think I have anything of great import to reflect on though. Of course, the fact that I was surrounded by food but couldn’t actually eat it can be compared to the fact that the planet actually has enough food to feed everyone but our inequitable systems means that too many people starve (too many=anyone).

It was a good way to raise money, I admit. I’m generally uncomfortable in asking people for money at any time, but there was something in the fact that I was doing it fairly tough for a week that made me feel a little more…worthy? The fact is I felt more comfortable in asking people to sponsor me and raised over $800 which I was thrilled with. So thank you, all. There was certainly a lot of feedback that my friends 1) felt guilty that they wouldn’t be able do the same thing so they donated or 2) felt really, really sorry for me and though that a donation might be what I needed to pep me up.

Guilt and Pity. Highly undervalued human motivations.

As for the ‘experience’ itself, well, I was a bit hungry and really bored. It wasn’t really comparable to actually living in poverty. So much so that it doesn’t merit discussion.

I personally found it emotionally hard more than anything- I’m used to eating to cover up all sorts of feelings so it was probably more unpleasant for the other people around me who had to deal with me andd my feeeelings. (No worries though, I’m back on the chocolate now.)

With so many charities competing for a given amount of Australia’s hard earned cash, it makes sense to come up with new ideas, ‘gimmicks’ if you like, and the Live Below the Line challenge is a great idea. Next year though, I think I’ll just donate $800 myself and pray for those who are doing it ;)

Asylum seekers are not a problem: they’re people

Eva:

The fact that this is happening right now brings a whole new dimension to the lessons that I’m teaching on the Holocaust this week.

Originally posted on Musing on...:

dystopia

With thousands of asylum seekers and refugees in the Straits of Malacca, crammed into boats without food and water, rejected by country after country and towed back out to sea, the desperation of vast numbers of people scrambling to reach safer shores could not be starker. They may be fleeing terror. They may be fleeing destitution. And we must strive to understand the circumstances of such flights in their entirety before we dare to point an accusatory finger.

The blame game will only succeed for so long. A hugely successful propaganda technique is to isolate the ‘fall guy’ and blame to the hilt. When it comes to asylum seekers, we are told to blame the people smugglers. While I dare say such traffickers are not my kind of folk, because I prefer to spend time with people with scruples, they are, like many agents and go betweens, providing an essential…

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No Room For Hatred

Eva:

Powerful stuff.

Originally posted on Living a Life That Matters:

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 8.50.05 AM

If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is that there is no room for hatred. As a Holocaust survivor, I learned this long ago. It is what allowed me to move on from the darkest days in my life, through the death, the pain, the loss. To me, hatred is the root of evil. I live my life free from this feeling, despite what I endured.

A few months ago, I was fortunate to talk to someone I never thought I would – Rainer Höss. On paper, we are polar opposites. Rainer, well, his grandfather was one of the men who kept me imprisoned in Auschwitz, one of the four camps I survived before being liberated from Dachau.  Who killed. Who showed no mercy. No compassion. He killed thousands of people, including my family.

But, not Rainer. This man is like me, although from a…

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It was a good idea at the time.

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Behold, my food for the week. This week. It’s nearly over and I’m thrilled to have raised almost $800 dollars but I can freely say that I have not done this challenge with any degree of stoicism or grace.
There has been complaining.
There has been resentment.
There have been very few lessons learned at this stage because I’m hungry and irritated and cold (nothing to do with the challenge, it’s just freezing here).
On the up side I do not have any caffeine withdrawal to worry about. That’s because I swapped coffee and milk for the oats in the picture shortly after I realised that milk powder doesn’t transfer into black coffee as seamlessly as I’d hoped. So I gave up food before 12.30pm in order to keep my coffee and MY GOD I STAND BY MY DECISION.
I shall reflect and ruminate at a later stage, when I’m not feeling so bloody deprived and resentful, OK?
(Reflect on the fact that I’m a spoilt brat, very probably).

Live Below the Line Poverty Challenge.

I’ve been skimming over an advertisement on Facebook for the last few weeks (we all skim over those, right?) but this morning I finally gave in and clicked on it. (It was about poverty and justice and that kind of thing so, to be fair, it is the sort of thing that I’m interested in.) I’m so glad that I took notice! It was about the Living Below the Line challenge, which looks fabulous and worthwhile and really, really demanding.

Basically I have to live on $2 a day for five days. My first though was ‘no (fairtrade) coffee for a week’ which probably shows that I have absolutely no idea what I’m in for.

You can read more about the challenge or even sign up yourself. I’d love to share tips and ideas with someone!

I’ll blog about it over the five days. I’ll share what I’m eating and how I’m dealing with it and how it might fit within my faith given that Christianity should be synonymous with social justice.

I know of course that the experience isn’t actually going to be anything like actually living in poverty. My warm house and comfortable life will massively make up for any hunger pangs that I experience along the way. But I think that the challenge is a good idea and am not going to get into the overly- critical mind set that I sometimes (!) can get enmeshed in.

If you would like to make a donation to the cause then click here and search my name (Eva Leppard). Yes, I am wearing a bunny hat in my photo. It’s complex…

What if we listened to stories?

Every two weeks I spend time with a Japanese hating anti-Semite.

On purpose.

We drink coffee (she puts milk in hers only because the doctor says it’s good for her bones although I tell her that her bones have done OK for 94 years, and the damage is already done), we read the paper and she gives my boys too much chocolate.

I know which topics not to get her started on. What’s the point? She’s an old lady living in a run down house who won’t be with us for much longer. My opinions aren’t going to change her. I don’t define her by our differences but by what we have in common. I know her stories, I know what she wishes that she was and what she was never able to be.

But there aren’t that many occasions during the week when I choose to spend time with someone with views that are so different to my own. I find it difficult to love people who don’t agree with me on the ‘big issues’. OK you’re not going to see me yelling at them or waving placards or being abusive but I can do some hard core seething and my righteous indignation (even if totally invisible to anyone not inside my brain) can be absolutely withering.

Even if I’m not actively arguing with people though, creating a mental ‘us’ and ‘them’ can still be very damaging both on a soul and real-world level. As I yell at my children when they’re bickering or unforgiving or just generally not agreeing with each other, ‘THIS IS HOW WARS START, YOU KNOW THAT?!’.

We see the people that we love with different eyes. We may be sad at their opinions or their views but we either understand why they hold them (in my Nan’s case, a very poor upbringing, little education, the loss of loved ones and the stress of all the men in her life away fighting in WW2) or we realise that there is more to them than the things that we don’t agree on.

We know their stories.

Is that the solution to all the name calling and hatred and just general awfulness that gets us down even on the brightest and shiniest of days? If we could just listen to the stories of those who we disagree with then how different would the world be. This is what has happened to me in my life. This is how I have suffered. These were my dreams.

I don’t even think that this is a way to get people ‘on our side’. I don’t think that knowing someone better should segue into a clever way to evangelise for our cause. I just think that it’s harder to hate or make blanket statements about someone when we really know where they’re coming from. When we know that they were bullied as children or that they had an abortion and regret it or that they got trapped into a minimum wage job and just couldn’t find a way out.

We can’t change other people. We just can’t. The best we can do is try to understand them, and love them where they’re at. And pray that other people can do the same for us.