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Everything posted by possibility

  1. possibility

    Free Will

    Tough one. I think our language is ill equipped to define what may exist in the universe that is independent of physics and chemistry. So I'm going to ramble for a bit, if you'll indulge me, because I can't deny that there is something... We often refer to it as 'something else', something undefined, unexplained, strange or surreal, a sensation, a gut feeling, a sense we can't put into words. We struggle to observe it, measure it or quantify it objectively, and often dismiss it because it exists only within the subjective experience itself, and is changed by the act of observation or measurement. Perhaps it is that 'wave of potentiality' inherent in each particle, oscillating continually in spaces between molecules, between elements of matter, between life forms and objects. Perhaps it is 'life' in action. We tend to think of the universe in terms of subjective experiences that we can share with others. If I experience something, I know it is real only if that experience is verified by others. The more people I can share it with, the more real it seems. If others can't relate to what I communicate then they doubt the experience, and I begin to wonder myself if I really experienced it at all. This is the basis of science. The key is communication. If I see a flash of light move briefly across the sky at night and disappear, then I turn to others around me and ask "Did you see that?" "See what?" "That bright flash moving across the sky." "Where?" "Over there, above that clump of trees." "When?" "Just a second ago." "Oh - no, I was looking at my phone." "Oh." Then someone else speaks up. "I thought I saw something, too." "You did?" "There was a flash out of the corner of my eye. In that direction." "Yes! It was moving down like this, and then it disappeared." "What was it?" "Maybe it was a meteor?" "Probably. It makes sense." The flash of light could very well have been a meteor, or it could have been something else. But it is an experience successfully shared through communication, and that makes it 'real'. But sometimes we respond to something in our subjective experience that we fail to share or verify convincingly with others. David Eggers' novel The Circle illustrates this purely subjective element of experience, and its rapidly decreasing importance in a world that relies more and more on sharable data. A crucial turning point in the novel comes when the main character must justify her decision to paddle on the river alone, without sharing the experience with others. She is unable to articulate the value of her unique experience, where she encountered a group of seals, and eventually accepts that her actions were dangerous, selfish and anti-social. For those of us who acknowledge the value of such an experience independent of any sharable data, her capitulation at this point is tragic. Society may be rapidly approaching that point where you can no longer trust your own experience - as if you didn't really go on that holiday or swim with dolphins unless you've posted a selfie on Instagram to prove it, and it's almost considered selfish or anti-social to not share everything. But the experience of paddling with seals or swimming with dolphins can't be fully expressed in a selfie, a tweet, or even a conversation. There is an element to the experience that can't be recorded or measured, satisfactorily explained with physics or chemistry, or proven to exist. Admittedly, you won't understand quite what I'm talking about unless you've perhaps swum with dolphins yourself, and even then you may not have been fully in the moment, or your own experience may have had a different focus. I'm think maybe what we insufficiently describe as the 'beauty' or the 'magic' of such an experience exists only in the space between molecules that are actively participating in that particular place and time. You're either conscious of it at the time, or you're not. And once the moment has passed, your memories (the retrievable data in your mind) can only point to the experience without recapturing it entirely. The subjective value of the experience leaves no trace in your physiology that can be reliably attributed to anything other than a 'feeling' or 'emotion', which we then reduce to chemistry and physics. But every possible method you have available to objectively share this subjective value with others feels incomplete, insufficient. Something isn't covered. And yet it is that 'something' more than anything measurable, that has changed you. Your view of the world is different, your decisions affected, even in some small way, by the experience. The closest you may get to sharing such an experience is through artistic expression: fine art, literature, dance, music, sculpture, theatre, film, etc. In this way you can attempt to fabricate a subjective experience for others that approximates your own. Looking at pictures of Michelangelo's David, for instance, or reading a book on the subject, is so far removed from the lived experience of standing at the statue's feet imagining a young man at the turning point of his career, embarking on a task that many 'greater men' had abandoned, using nothing but a questionable method of approach, his courage and his raw potential. The parallels are striking, and the result is nothing short of a masterpiece. The experience is as if thousands of years and thousands of miles were condensed into the truth of humanity carved into this block of stone, humanity in the process of conquering its sense of fragility and realising its own awesome potential. But many people don't share this experience at the feet of David. Does that make mine less credible? If I make decisions based on this experience, can it be reduced to chemistry or physics, or is there something else there? Is inspiration perhaps independent of physics or chemistry...?
  2. possibility

    Shades of Grey

    Thanks for clarifying, Paul. It seems like your definition of 'traditional' differs a little from Burl: it can mean regular, common or usual as well as conservative, orthodox or old-fashioned. This only points out that such sweeping generalisations as 'traditional Christianity' aren't doing either of you any favours. Personally I see the points you made as traditionalist teachings within Christianity, because these types of teachings also occur across other faiths, and undermine interfaith discussions as much as they damage progress within a particular religion. What we try to do with religion is to make the spiritual or eternal appear concrete and tangible - it seems to be the only way some people will accept it as real, because we have learned to distrust our subjective experience. Then we begin to define it, perhaps kind of manipulate it, even try to control it... But it's like trying to keep pure white smoke in a gilded cage. Eventually you're going to have to decide which is more important - the smoke or the cage? I like to keep the cage handy because it reminds me about the smoke when I have trouble seeing it. It also makes a handy talking point. But I'm focused very much on the smoke these days. I know the cage can't confine it - all I have is my subjective experience to share with others. Traditionalist teachings will insist: - that the smoke is only inside the cage; - that the cage makes the smoke precious; or - that the cage is the smoke. But all you really possess in the end is an empty cage.
  3. possibility

    Shades of Grey

    Yes, it does include it, but to 'run far away' from traditional Christianity as a whole is to deny the positive influences it has had on your life, alongside the negative. Perhaps this is an example of the 'black and white' thinking to which you were referring. My own Catholic upbringing has been a factor in a lot of problems I've experienced: my relationships, feelings of shame and guilt, my sexuality and the narrow view I've had of the world for the first twenty or thirty years of my life. It's easy for me to focus on these negative influences, and dismiss traditional Christianity as 'bad'. I did walk away from traditional Christianity from the age of 18-19, but I know now that it never left me because, like it or not, it's a fundamental part of who I am. I came to realise that I am fifty shades of grey - no purest white or darkest black, but everything in between. Any attempts to deny a part of who I am, to label it as 'bad', hide it in the darkness or reject it as something outside of myself only contributed to the shame and guilt that plagued my life, and prevented me from truly understanding (and accepting) myself. Letting go of black and white thinking has enabled me to accept my traditional Christian upbringing as a factor in many aspects of who I have become - from the issues I've had to work on, through to the values I want to pass on to my own children. My kids are now attending catholic school, were baptised and even decided for themselves to be confirmed in the church. With guidance from my own experiences and from my agnostic husband, they haven't been indoctrinated by any of the narrow-mindedness you've listed above, although they've certainly experienced it. But I see the positive influence this 'traditional' foundation has on their developing worldview, as they draw from all the myths and legends of their childhood alongside their experiences and expanding knowledge of the universe. And I have no regrets.
  4. possibility

    Shades of Grey

    FWIW - EL James actually handles the 'black and white' versus 'shades of grey' discussion you're referring to surprisingly well in her books, particularly in terms of power-play in relationships, good vs evil, strong vs weak, etc. It's a trashy bodice ripper because the illustration works best this way - and it challenges our ideas of good and bad fiction, morality, etc. in the process. Just saying.
  5. possibility

    Shades of Grey

    Hi Paul I agree that my own Catholic upbringing fits the points you've listed describing 'traditional Christianity', and I certainly wouldn't recommend this type of upbringing for those reasons. But - I also agree with Burl that there would be many others, particularly in the churches you listed, who would take exception to your denigration of 'traditional Christianity', because, while they identify with the term by their own definition (not yours), they weren't all raised with the same myopic attitude. I think an open-minded upbringing within a traditional christian church environment can be a good grounding for progressive Christianity as the children approach adolescence.
  6. possibility

    This Week's Lectionary

    Hi thormas, Thanks for your comments. You make a couple of excellent points. You're right, and I didn't explain myself very well. My use of 'given' comes from the text itself, and in hindsight I should have placed it in inverted commas, because I think the wording of the parable is aimed at the perspective of God that was prevalent at the time. I don't believe that God is up there dealing out pain and suffering to specific people according to their ability to handle it. From our adult point of view, yes, a child suffering cancer does seem particularly ill-equipped to deal with the devastation and possible death, and it certainly doesn't seem fair for their young shoulders to bear it. It's tragic and heartbreaking and collectively we should work towards eliminating this kind of suffering. But to question why a particular child has to suffer while others don't assumes that a healthy, long and pain free life is somehow a birthright. In every species of nature, some lives are short and painful while others are long and prosperous. Humans are no exception in this respect. Faith, prayer and even science cannot fully eliminate this terrible reality that is a part of the natural world. I do believe, however, that human beings in general have a capacity and potential far greater than most of us will ever realise. That is what we have been 'given' through evolution in terms of ability and responsibility. In many ways children facing terminal illness or permanent disability gain a clearer understanding of this capacity and potential than most adults, because they're not yet conditioned to expect certain things out of life. It seems we have to confront the limitations of our all too brief physical life before most of us ask ourselves what we're doing with this opportunity of human consciousness beyond 'go to school, grow up, get a job, get married, have kids, make money, buy a house, etc....' I'm not under the illusion that what Jesus is reported to have said in the Bible is what was actually said in real life, and I probably should have pointed that out. All we have is a collection of writings, each offering their own take on Jesus. And by 'the example Jesus set for us' I didn't mean what Jesus is reported to have said in the quote (although I can see how you could have read it that way), but the sum expression of his life and death. His example reminds us that much can be achieved in a short lifespan, without formal education, without money, prestige or power, and without avoiding pain, humiliation, suffering or death. I also agree that the quote from Luke doesn't always need to be taken quite as literally as I have. Interpreting 'life' as 'selfishness' seems to me like it's saying the same thing, only not as strongly. Being willing to give your life up for love is the ultimate in selflessness, but I think the message loses something in this interpretation. Why water it down to mean 'selfishness'? Why convince ourselves that Jesus didn't really mean our physical life, when the example he set for us to follow clearly shows that he did? Is it impossible when interpreted as our physical life, or just too frightening to contemplate - too much to ask? I'm not suggesting that we all go out and become human shields. But when faced with choices and opportunities in our own life where our discipleship - following Jesus - carries a risk, what risk is too great? Interpreting it as selfishness and NOT physical life gives us permission to stop well short of the potential that Jesus showed us, because of our fear. I'm not saying that's wrong - it's part of being human - but we can't pretend the shortfall isn't an issue to work on. I think what matters is not whether we overcome pain and suffering, oppression or poverty to live a long, healthy or prosperous life, but how we make use of the brief time we have as a conscious human being, including, despite or because of what we have to go through, to build on our collective awareness of this interconnection between all life and all matter that transcends the apparent limitations of nature. I think that's what Jesus taught. But, again, it's only my opinion.
  7. possibility

    This Week's Lectionary

    Sharing my thoughts, if you'll indulge me: Fear can prevent us from taking action to fulfill our life's potential. But God has given us in life only what we are capable of handling - both in ability and responsibility. We can spend so much of our lives 'buried' in the ground, protected from anything that might risk this precious, mortal life we have been given. We are so afraid of losing or squandering it that in the end we do so little with it. Jesus also said: So it isn't the physical mortality of my life that I should be holding onto - I think that's apparent in the example Jesus set for us. Instead I am called to use this brief existence and potential as 'me' in the fullest way possible to help bring about God's plan. Personally, I have found that it is only in connecting with others that I can have any real and lasting impact on life beyond my own physical existence. So I am starting there, and working on developing the courage to risk embarrassment, humiliation, all my physical possessions, my professional and personal reputation, and possibly even pain, torture and death in order to achieve what 'my' unique combination of abilities, interests and life experiences have laid out for me in terms of living as close to my understanding of Jesus' example as I can manage. It's a work in progress, I'll admit. In the end I believe it's only fear - that unique human awareness of a precious 'self' participating all too briefly in the cycle of life - that keeps me from risking 'my' one temporary, physical life (and its connections to loved ones and family) for the sake of a spiritual connection to all life. How valuable is my life? Was I given one thousand, two or five? Do I understand its full potential? Am I willing to use what was given to me to increase my impact on the eternity of life, and earn a place as 'partner' in this grand scheme? Or is it all I can manage to return this untapped potential, safe and sound, for another life to put to better use?
  8. possibility

    This Week's Lectionary

    Hi Burl, I've only recently found this forum, and this set of lectionaries. I enjoyed reading them from the beginning, including your attempts to stimulate discussion. Having recently grappled (unsuccessfully) with biblical hermeneutics, I was interested in exploring interpretations from a PC standpoint, and many of the readings are precisely the ones that both resonate with me and seem to be ignored or misinterpreted, in my opinion, by many Christians. But I noticed some changes occurred as I progressed through the thread. The discussions have ceased, and the bible version seems to have changed to a modern, 'easy-to-read' one that incorporates its own interpretation, rather than inviting one. Are both of these changes intentional or incidental? Are you still attempting to stimulate discussion, or is this serving a different purpose? I wonder if there are some further details you could offer in your introduction regarding what you hope to achieve here... Previous discussions seemed to get caught up in the idea of an 'original version' of the writings, and the assumption that when one offers their opinion they are trying to persuade others to agree with them. There is a tendency for those 'discussing' to attempt to provide some kind of solid, widely accepted basis for their opinion - but the problem is that no such solid ground exists in spirituality, so this seems a pointless exercise to me. All we can do is share our own subjective experience of the text (which in itself is an attempt to share subjective experience and form a basis of 'truth'), and recognise that there is no 'truth' or 'fact' - only an interconnection of a variety of experiences. Perhaps 'debate' is not how we should approach this particular thread, although I am not so naive as to think it can be avoided completely. I like BillM's idea: perhaps this is an opportunity to offer our personal interpretation of how a particular reading resonates with our own lives and our understanding of Progressive Christianity, of 'God' and of our experiences with traditional Christianity. Maybe we can enter discussions in this thread acknowledging that: - there is no 'correct' or 'original' wording or interpretation of scripture that can be agreed upon; - any interpretation of scripture is a personal one, based on the sum of our own personal experiences including what we think we know; - all we can offer to these discussions is opinion and personal experience, not facts, evidence or truth. Or perhaps I am being too naive...
  9. possibility

    Greetings from Oz

    Thank Paul. Nice to see a fellow West Aussie willing to talk about religion along these lines. I look forward to many discussions with you here.
  10. possibility

    Greetings from Oz

    I have been wandering around the Internet of late in search of a faith community. I was raised Catholic: church every Sunday, private schools, 'the pope is infallible', and 'ours is the one true church' type of Catholic. Then I went to university and discovered the rest of the world as well as my own mind. I soon stopped attending church, married an agnostic and put aside any thoughts of spirituality. I was never an atheist, but I lived almost entirely in the material world for the next two decades, before a series of life experiences led me to pick up the bible and read it, from the beginning, with an open mind and a quiet prayer seeking understanding. What I began to realise was that the bible communicates something very different to what I had been taught - and that it actually makes more sense. If God is eternal and unchanging, then all the many instances of change in the nature and personality of God as described in the bible must have been written in by the authors themselves. Suddenly the bible was just a series of very human writings, documenting a particular cultural group's valiant attempts to share their experience of 'God' as it developed over many centuries, and in doing so, try to make this spirituality appear more concrete than it is. These days I still consider myself to be 'Christian', in that I strive to follow the teachings and example of Jesus as a human being who connected so completely with this eternal and limitless source of life, wisdom, power and possibility. But I don't consider 'Jesus' to be the only way to this spiritual connection. I cannot say the creed, and I cannot assert what are widely proclaimed as the main tenets of Christianity: the divinity of Jesus, the concept of the trinity and the physical resurrection, among other things. I firmly believe that we've somehow got confused - we got lost somewhere between the death of Jesus and the creation of the bible, and then we called a halt to what, up to that point, was an ongoing journey of spiritual discovery and understanding. So I explored other faiths, as well as online forums and meeting points of Christians, atheists, ex-Christians, biblical hermeneutics, interfaith communities, etc. I found lots of argument and debate, lots of attempts to label my beliefs as agnostic atheist, Christian, New Thought, Jainist, etc. Then I read Spong's Twelve Points for Reform, and I have never felt more fully understood. That's why I'm here.
  11. possibility

    Any Sisters In Christ?

    Late to the party, here. Another mum of 2 kids, in my 40s. I'm here because I've been looking for a community that can discuss Christianity alongside biblical criticism and non-theistic concepts of spirituality, without resorting to name-calling and squabbles over semantics. In home and work life I encounter either Catholics or people unwilling to discuss religion in any depth at all. On most other forums I tend to get labels thrown at me like outfits I should 'try on', as if by refusing to be pigeonholed into a religious or ideological grouping, I've shown up either unacceptably under-dressed or naked. Still looking around at this stage, but so far I like what I'm reading here...
  12. possibility

    Deleting 'god'

    Great post, BillM. Words are only lines on a page, shapes or sounds without the interconnection of shared experience. Removing the word 'God' from our vocabulary only limits our ability to connect with the experiences of others, and therefore to communicate meaningfully with them. As long as we focus on the interconnection of experiences and not the words used, and recognise that when I write 'God' it could be different to your experience of the word or it could be the same, I think we open our minds to the possibility of understanding each other without necessarily having to agree on everything.
  13. possibility

    Living with Uncertainty

    I think wanting to know and having to know are not the same, thormas, so I don't believe you differ with BillM as much as you might think. In my opinion, wanting to know is part of who we are as humans. We have this amazing capacity to at least strive to understand the universe, as well as our own position in it, that is not available to other animals. There is a reason for that - and it's a potential that can't be fulfilled by being like the flowers or grass. In terms of having to know, I think the problem occurs when we close our minds to the possibility that our current understanding might be flawed, or that someone else with a different perspective might have something to teach us. We need to be prepared to continually return to that feeling of 'not knowing' in order to develop and evolve our understanding of the universe and God. It requires courage, facing that fear - not having to know all the time. My own quest to understand God led me to a point where I realised that there are no boundaries - all the limits we think are there don't actually exist. They are constructs of the human brain. Religion, nation, law, walls, words - nothing can protect me from someone or something that intends to do me harm, because there is always a way through. Everything in life relies on the interrelationship between elements of matter. That is my only protection. It was tempting at that point, and at many other points along my journey, to seek refuge in the words of those who claim to 'know' a different 'reality' with absolute certainty, and to perhaps ignore or close my mind to any evidence that might challenge that reality. But if I'm honest with myself, that isn't knowing. And I think I'd rather not know than pretend to know. When we use the word 'faith' outside of religion, we refer to the attitude employed in taking a journey away from what is known towards something else. Those who emigrate to another country talk about faith - trusting limited information that what they are heading towards and what they take with them are more important, more essential, or better, than what they leave behind. The whole process of 'taking a leap' requires one to leave solid ground. There is nothing solid or certain about faith. It is part of wanting to know - which involves both the acceptance that where we currently are is not knowing, and the hope that we are moving closer to knowing with each courageous leap we take away from the solid ground of pretending to know.
  14. possibility

    Introduce yourself

    That babies and bath water saying is favourite of mine in relation to Christianity and the bible! I too have been on a journey of evolving faith that included an existential crisis, and I have struggled to find a community that fits with what I thought was a pretty radical view of Christianity - 'the heart of faith', as tariki so beautifully put it. I haven't been here long, but I really like it here. Turns out my view isn't so radical. That's nice to know.
  15. possibility

    'Sharing' as being the proof of 'The Kingdom of God'

    HI Anthony I understand your frustration with some people's focus on statements of belief that seem to close doors, instead of striving to connect in a meaningful way with the people around us. But I notice your frustration is causing you to intentionally block connections with those who don't see things the same way you do, and that is not love. I don't believe you intend to dismiss others - just that you don't want get into discussions on what you believe or don't believe. You're new here by the looks of it, and so am I. I'm thinking maybe you are bringing with you frustration from other forums. I get that. Perhaps spend some time exploring how this community shares and communicates first. Personally, I'm hopeful that this will not be another of the same. For what it's worth, I may not be in a position to share my life, my home or my car with you, but I don't think that leaves us with nothing worth talking about. On forums such as these, we can only share words and they are prone to misinterpretation. But that doesn't mean we can't strive to love through the words we choose. Peace, hope and joy to you.