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Getting Back In Order To Go Forward


Guest wayfarer2k
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Guest wayfarer2k

In the "Mary and Martha" thread, Autumn mentioned that we need to understand the scriptures in their 1st century context before we apply them to our 21st century culture. I think there is alot of wisdom in that recommendation.

 

In reaction to the Enlightenment, when the Church felt that science and rationality were attempts to destroy faith, some sects of Christianity began to interpret our bible in such a way that they thought of the book as God's very words, directly applicable to all people for all time. They had the notion (and many of them still do) that "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." So if Leviticus says that homosexuality is an abomination to God, they believe that this is God's view about homosexuality for all time. Or if Leviticus says that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin, they believe that Jesus' death was absolutely necessary as God's sole way of dealing with human sin.

 

In short, these sects of Christianity saw the bible as a divine book, infallibly and inerrantly written by God, not as a human book written by fallible and errant men of their experiences with that which we call God. The difference in interpretation is tremendous.

 

In taking this approach to the scriptures, the Church quickly found itself to be either irrelevant to our culture or even non-sensical. After all, the bible does teach (if taken literally) that the earth is flat, that slavery is okay, that menstruating women are unclean, that women are not in the image of God, that breaking any of the 10 commandments is punishable by death, that disease is caused by demons, that God lives just above the clouds, that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was sinless, that he went back above the clouds after his resurrection, and a whole host of other things that we would find to be nonsensical or even, in some cases, immoral.

 

So Christianity had to become very selective about which verses/parts of the bible were literal and which ones weren't. Even today, those who hold to a literal interpretation aren't true to their methodology. For instance, they are quick to say that homosexuality is wrong, a sin, but few (thank God) call for homosexuals to be killed as Leviticus says they should be. Though they quote the commandment that children should obey their parents, they ignor the punishment that the bible prescribes for not doing so -- death of the child.

 

Thankfully, not all Christians felt that the bible is "God's words for all time." Some branches of Christianity devoted themselves to studying the scriptures in the context in which they were written. Granted this is hard to do. We are at least 3000 years removed from the OT and 2000 years removed from the NT. But with some archealogical and historical help, bible scholars have been able to reconstruct much of the context of the ancient Jewish and Christian scriptures. Doing so has helped us to see that our scriptures were not written in a vacuum. They are just as much a product of their culture/time as they are a critique of their culture/time. And a large part of the results of this endeavor has been the quest of finding the historical Jesus, trying to get at the man behind the myth. It isn't an easy undertaking and those who are doing so are constantly criticized or even condemned by the Religious Right who have made their image of Jesus their God.

 

The bible has always been important to Christians and probably always will be. But we simply cannot "import" our beloved scriptures from OT or NT times directly into our culture. In our hearts, we know this. Few of us go to our priest when we are sick, instead we go to our doctor. Few of us disallow menstruating women or uncircumsized men from attending our gatherings. Few of us hold to a flat earth or a three-tiered understanding of heaven. I doubt any of us still believe that the sun goes around the earth as the bible clearly teaches. We know better.

 

It's my belief that the scriptures function best in our lives when we allow them to show us where we have been, rather than how we should be or where we are going. If we attempt to understand them in their own historical context, then we are better equipped to determine how/if they should be applied to our own cultural context. We need to "get back" in order to "go forward", not to say that what was true then is still true now, but to see how human understandings of God have changed/progressed through the years so that we can experience God, not as 1st century Christians, but as 21st century Christians. This is a risky endeavor. There is no guarantee that we will "get it right." After all, it is called faith. But it seems to me that the propensity to make the scriptures a rule for all for all time is the very opposite of faith. It is creating an image of God, not of wood or iron, but of words. And it is still a man-made image.

 

Thanks for listening.

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Thanks for the perspective Wayfarer2k,

 

I was interested in hearing a perspective of OA statement such as this.

 

It seems to me to be very well written and I found it easy to understand your points from the examples given.

 

Perhaps, to understand more about history, cultures and people of past times does indeed aid in gaining a better intellectual understanding of their writings and meanings. Having said that it is MY VIEW that the search for a better understanding of God and the things of God could not be so complicated as this. I say this because it SEEMS TO ME that many of us neither have the intelligence level, resources, time or ability to do the kind of research and study required for an accurate assessment. Nor do i believe that one should just take someone else's word for it that may have the intelligence, time , ability, etc....

 

It seems to me that we can study our whole life and fill it with history, concepts about God and the things of God and be no closer to Truth than when we started. It seems to me that God is found not in the abundance of knowledge about, concepts, books, study or even thinking but rather in the 'silence of being' that every man/woman and creature is endowed with. Perhaps every one has subtle access to these things and it is only apparent in the formlessness of silence though it can be glimpsed in nature, beauty or art in whatever form.

 

Suffer me to use a few Bible writings that SPEAK TO ME to make a point in this area though I do not suggest that they are proof nor do I use it as authority for my words as if I needed any.

 

The people of Jesus's time had access to their culture and history and original writings and all these things and yet relatively very few really understood his words. Yet it seems many of the ignorant and unlearned did. How can this be? An OT writing that was very profound to me said...

Jeremiah 31:33,34 (King James Version)

"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD:"

 

And even the NT seems to back up this precept.....

"But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things."

1 John 2:27

"But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him."

 

In my experience, (excluding 4 years of Bible College) , The way to God/Truth is so simple that it is most often overlooked. It is not in words, history, concepts, or out there somewhere to be found. It is This, right here, right now. It is existence itself, speaking for itself in silence. And even this remains a concept, a paradox until it is realized.

 

So in short, what I am pointing to, in my view, is that though all of your points are intellectually sound and logical, perhaps simplicity is being missed by making something so subtle and simple into religion, belief or complex analysis. Or as I discern, you have spoken deeply and wisely in your last sentence, "It is creating an image of God, not of wood or iron, but of words. And it is still a man-made image."

 

Just some thoughts to consider,

Joseph

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Guest wayfarer2k
Having said that it is MY VIEW that the search for a better understanding of God and the things of God could not be so complicated as this. I say this because it SEEMS TO ME that many of us neither have the intelligence level, resources, time or ability to do the kind of research and study required for an accurate assessment.

 

It seems to me that we can study our whole life and fill it with history, concepts about God and the things of God and be no closer to Truth than when we started. It seems to me that God is found not in the abundance of knowledge about, concepts, books, study or even thinking but rather in the 'silence of being' that every man/woman and creature is endowed with.

 

Allow me to first state that I am NOT arguing with you, Joseph. I agree with much of what you say here. I can also attest that God is primarily not found in "second hand" experiences, whether those experiences be books, testimonies, hymns, creeds, doctrines, etc. I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I am not saying one has to be a theologian to find God. :) I believe God is found primarily as an inner witness of the spirit (or Spirit) that involves a relationship or knowing that does not rest upon the "second hand" experiences of others. In fact, I would venture to say that if we have not yet begun to find God and his kingdom within our own hearts, we won't recognize him from the "outside."

 

What I am trying to say, however badly I am phrasing it, is that while we know God primarily through our own experiences and witness, we would be remiss, as humans and as people of a larger spiritual community, to ignor or even mistranslate the experiences of others. We can learn from others, from their experiences of the Sacred, from how they know and experience God in their own lives and cultural context. Would you disagree with this?

 

So if this is true, that while we don't rely upon the experiences of others to be OUR primary experience, we can learn from them. Because we are not "Lone Rangers" nor "islands", the experiences of other's sacred journeys can add richness to our own. I am NOT saying that we need spend our whole lives learning Hebrew, Greek, exegeting the scriptures, and understanding everything that can be known of history, secular or sacred, in order to know God. All I am saying is that if we are going to speak of the experiences of others, especially of those in our scriptures, it is helpful to understand their historical and cultural setting. We don't have to do this, I agree. Ask most fundamentalist what Yom Kippur is about and you will find that they can't tell you. They believe that Jesus died for their sins as a doctrine and that believing this doctrine is what saves them. But they have no idea where the roots of this doctrine comes from, only that to question it will send them to hell.

 

What I propose is a compromise. Yes, our own experiences of God and of the Sacred should be our primary "proof" that God is indeed a reality. But even our own experiences are shaped by our culture and context. And if we are going to talk about the experiences of others (such as what we see in the bible), I think it is helpful to understand their context.

 

So in short, what I am pointing to, in my view, is that though all of your points are intellectually sound and logical, perhaps simplicity is being missed by making something so subtle and simple into religion, belief or complex analysis.

 

I hope and trust that you don't think I'm trying to make something as "simple" as knowing God into a complex system of beliefs or analysis. I have, I hope, been arguing for the opposite when I stated how something like the Mary and Martha story was interpreted by fundamentalists to be about salvation by works or by faith. Personally, I've never found following Jesus to be complex. Yes, I'm baffled by man-made doctrines surrounding Jesus and God. But I've never found Jesus' teachings to be totally beyond my ability to understand. Rather, I have found them difficult to follow. It is not easy forgive, to turn the other cheek, to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, set captives free, love our enemies, etc. My problem is not with lack of understanding, it is with lack of obedience. :)

 

To use a metaphor, I don't think there is an entrance exam to heaven that involves how much scripture we know, the correctness of our interpretations, and how well we can quote doctrines, creeds, or writing from authors. I just don't think God works that way. BUT if we are going to talk about the scriptures, interpretations, creeds, etc., then I think it is beneficial to talk about them in context instead of simply quoting them and saying, "See? These words prove I am right!"

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Allow me to first state that I am NOT arguing with you, Joseph. I agree with much of what you say here. I can also attest that God is primarily not found in "second hand" experiences, whether those experiences be books, testimonies, hymns, creeds, doctrines, etc. I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I am not saying one has to be a theologian to find God. :) I believe God is found primarily as an inner witness of the spirit (or Spirit) that involves a relationship or knowing that does not rest upon the "second hand" experiences of others. In fact, I would venture to say that if we have not yet begun to find God and his kingdom within our own hearts, we won't recognize him from the "outside."

 

What I am trying to say, however badly I am phrasing it, is that while we know God primarily through our own experiences and witness, we would be remiss, as humans and as people of a larger spiritual community, to ignor or even mistranslate the experiences of others. We can learn from others, from their experiences of the Sacred, from how they know and experience God in their own lives and cultural context. Would you disagree with this?

 

No argument taken here Bill. You are just expressing your view as I was mine. And you don't need to make excuses for your phrasing as you do an excellent job with most posts as with this one. I would not disagree that we can learn from others but personally I count that knowledge as inferior (Paul might have used the word dung :lol: ) as compared to revelation knowledge of Christ.

 

 

So if this is true, that while we don't rely upon the experiences of others to be OUR primary experience, we can learn from them. Because we are not "Lone Rangers" nor "islands", the experiences of other's sacred journeys can add richness to our own. I am NOT saying that we need spend our whole lives learning Hebrew, Greek, exegeting the scriptures, and understanding everything that can be known of history, secular or sacred, in order to know God. All I am saying is that if we are going to speak of the experiences of others, especially of those in our scriptures, it is helpful to understand their historical and cultural setting. We don't have to do this, I agree. Ask most fundamentalist what Yom Kippur is about and you will find that they can't tell you. They believe that Jesus died for their sins as a doctrine and that believing this doctrine is what saves them. But they have no idea where the roots of this doctrine comes from, only that to question it will send them to hell.
Yes, I would agree that there is nothing wrong with sharing experiences. Neither is anything wrong with intellectual understanding or studying. Nor with being familiar with doctrine or the beliefs of others, their cultures and history. My only point was and is that in my experience all of these things just clutter up the simplicity that is in Christ and detract from experience. Perhaps many of us must go through this to transcend it. I know it is true in my case. To me, one must follow the path and detours that they are led into because there is a lesson to be learned in them. Therefore I have said there is nothing wrong with these things. They are necessary for most to pass through. To me, these things were necessary and are edifying to the flesh but of no use to the spirit.

 

What I propose is a compromise. Yes, our own experiences of God and of the Sacred should be our primary "proof" that God is indeed a reality. But even our own experiences are shaped by our culture and context. And if we are going to talk about the experiences of others (such as what we see in the bible), I think it is helpful to understand their context.

 

It seems to me compromise is of the nature of the flesh which if one must go through then so be it. I would not speak evil of this approach of yours. It seems to me the majority follow it as I have and are destined to go through it. Each must follow their own path yet I cannot deny that it was a detour for me that I no longer wish to follow.

 

 

I hope and trust that you don't think I'm trying to make something as "simple" as knowing God into a complex system of beliefs or analysis. I have, I hope, been arguing for the opposite when I stated how something like the Mary and Martha story was interpreted by fundamentalists to be about salvation by works or by faith. Personally, I've never found following Jesus to be complex. Yes, I'm baffled by man-made doctrines surrounding Jesus and God. But I've never found Jesus' teachings to be totally beyond my ability to understand. Rather, I have found them difficult to follow. It is not easy forgive, to turn the other cheek, to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, set captives free, love our enemies, etc. My problem is not with lack of understanding, it is with lack of obedience. :)
Only you know what you are trying to do. My thinking on what you are trying to do is of no real value to either of us one way or the other. Though my comments infer that it can be made into such (complex analysis and beliefs), I am certain that your fervent heartfelt seeking of Truth will manifest that which you truly seek regardless of your individual path. As far as your statement of finding following Jesus to be complex in the things you mention, let me comment on that if I may, by asking you a question. Is it easier/simpler to be the essence of who you are OR to constantly create, defend and maintain an identity that others have given you and that you know is programmed for destruction?

 

To use a metaphor, I don't think there is an entrance exam to heaven that involves how much scripture we know, the correctness of our interpretations, and how well we can quote doctrines, creeds, or writing from authors. I just don't think God works that way. BUT if we are going to talk about the scriptures, interpretations, creeds, etc., then I think it is beneficial to talk about them in context instead of simply quoting them and saying, "See? These words prove I am right!"

 

It seems to me when one finds Truth, one may talk about it and share but will find no benefit or need in trying to prove it by scripture, logic, definition, writing, creed or doctrine or interpretation. One may mention scripture or these things mentioned if they are a stumbling block to the hearer but in reality they offer nothing of proof except to the mind that esteems it as such. It is only past programming of the mind that assigns meaning to things. To truly see Truth, it is necessary for this function of mind not to operate.

 

Just a view to consider,

Joseph

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Is it easier/simpler to be the essence of who you are OR to constantly create, defend and maintain an identity that others have given you and that you know is programmed for destruction?

 

That's the question and that's the quest, isn't it?

 

Side note: Spong has a really good chapter on this in "A New Christianity for a New World." And I'm sure you wouldn't find Eckhart Tolle's writings to all be dung. lol

 

My life has been a journey to discover who I am. There are, I think, two major sides to this:

 

1. Life attempts to define us. We get our first identity in relation to our parents. Then, for most of us, notions of who we are are layered upon us by school friends, teachers, the church, those we date, college friends/professors, and then coworkers or corporate leaders. And let's not forget our country. Then, if we are lucky, someone in a collar who never even knew us will say a few words about us at our funeral. :)

 

With all of these layers, it is difficult to find/develop a journey of self in a vacuum or without the input of others. After all, most of our self-definitions are defines over and against the definitions of others. In other words, I can't really say who I am without also saying who I am not. And, yes, I find all of this to sometimes be a burden, especially when others try to dictate to us who we are.

 

At the same time, for me I don't find it very helpful to simply state "I am" and then say 'nuff said. Everyone "is". Stating that you exist may sound like some kind of New Age profound enlightenment but, to me, it doesn't say much. I don't doubt that this path works for some people, but it doesn't help me much.

 

2. Even IF we discover who we really are (or think we do), we still live in a world populated with other selves and need to interact with them. What I hear from much of the New Age movement is that "when the true Self is discovered, one discovers that one needs nothing and no one else." This, to me, is the height of foolish pride and selfishness. It is like saying to other people, "I have arrived and now I have no need of you." What kind of community can such a belief system build? I don't think it can. I suspect this is why there is a popular notion (even if it is false) of "the enlightened" sitting on a mountain top in a lotus position, deep in meditation and "oneness with the universe" while being separated from the rest of humanity. How enlightened is that when one thinks one is above one's neighbor and that we no longer need one another?

 

The bottom line for me is that I am still "in process." I'm not done. Or I don't feel that I am. I don't feel that I am the best that I can be. But I want to progress and that is one of the reasons I am on this forum. But I'm a slow learner. :)

 

bill

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That's the question and that's the quest, isn't it?

 

Side note: Spong has a really good chapter on this in "A New Christianity for a New World." And I'm sure you wouldn't find Eckhart Tolle's writings to all be dung. lol

 

:lol: Never read Spong. All writings are conceptual in nature that only point. Even Tolle's. Some read it and just don't get it. To get it makes the concept nothing more than a concept and is always inferior to the realization regardless of the book.

 

My life has been a journey to discover who I am. There are, I think, two major sides to this:

 

1. Life attempts to define us. We get our first identity in relation to our parents. Then, for most of us, notions of who we are are layered upon us by school friends, teachers, the church, those we date, college friends/professors, and then coworkers or corporate leaders. And let's not forget our country. Then, if we are lucky, someone in a collar who never even knew us will say a few words about us at our funeral. :)

 

With all of these layers, it is difficult to find/develop a journey of self in a vacuum or without the input of others. After all, most of our self-definitions are defines over and against the definitions of others. In other words, I can't really say who I am without also saying who I am not. And, yes, I find all of this to sometimes be a burden, especially when others try to dictate to us who we are.

 

At the same time, for me I don't find it very helpful to simply state "I am" and then say 'nuff said. Everyone "is". Stating that you exist may sound like some kind of New Age profound enlightenment but, to me, it doesn't say much. I don't doubt that this path works for some people, but it doesn't help me much.

You have pretty well defined the concept. Nothing you can say can say is who you are including "I am". But when you have found out who and what you are not the Truth will dawn upon you and no words will be necessary. "I am" is about the only thing you can say to accurately express what is unspeakable in words. But even "I am" can also be a concept without realization.

 

2. Even IF we discover who we really are (or think we do), we still live in a world populated with other selves and need to interact with them. What I hear from much of the New Age movement is that "when the true Self is discovered, one discovers that one needs nothing and no one else." This, to me, is the height of foolish pride and selfishness. It is like saying to other people, "I have arrived and now I have no need of you." What kind of community can such a belief system build? I don't think it can. I suspect this is why there is a popular notion (even if it is false) of "the enlightened" sitting on a mountain top in a lotus position, deep in meditation and "oneness with the universe" while being separated from the rest of humanity. How enlightened is that when one thinks one is above one's neighbor and that we no longer need one another?

 

When one uses a label such as "a new ager", one automatically limits oneself to a mind made definition that couldn't possible define who a person is. However, that is always a choice you can make. When one as you say 'arrives' (as if there is somewhere to arrive) there is no difference or separation between you and the other so why would one say "I have no need of you" . In that realization, only love is possible. There are many concepts concerning 'enlightenment' and they are still man made concepts. When all concepts are extinguished, enlightenment surfaces. Everything you see you have given meaning to and there is nothing that is as you have given it meaning. Even this is a concept but it is the undoing of the layers to expose that which you seek.

 

The bottom line for me is that I am still "in process." I'm not done. Or I don't feel that I am. I don't feel that I am the best that I can be. But I want to progress and that is one of the reasons I am on this forum. But I'm a slow learner. :)

 

bill

 

Perhaps, actually, you are done. You just don't know it. :lol: Tell me, Who or what is it that wants to be as you say "the best that I can be"? To me, that sounds more like subtle pride than "the height of foolish pride and selfishness" that you seem to have attributed to one who says he is complete already (in need of nothing). No offence is meant here. This is merely food for thought since you enjoy thinking and have expressed a desire to unravel 'layers' and progress. All that is written here is to be taken lightly and is just for your consideration and that of others.

 

Love in Christ,

Joseph

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Guest wayfarer2k

Okay, back to the original topic:

 

Some progressives (like me) feel that it is helpful, if we are going to quote or use "second hand" resources/experiences to talk about God, to try to understand those resources/experiences within their own context/historical background. Or, put another way, text without context is little more than pretext.

 

Other progressives find such endeavors to be a waste of time.

 

Just two views to consider,

bill

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"In short, these sects of Christianity saw the bible as a divine book, infallibly and inerrantly written by God, not as a human book written by fallible and errant men of their experiences with that which we call God."

 

 

 

That is actually incredibly false. Those beliefs are fairly modern. It is one of the many lies of conservative/fundamentalist "Christianity".

 

 

Most of the misinterpretations that come from reading the bible come from a superficial point of view. If one wants to know what the bible says they can't do it without understanding what it was meant to say. It is the same with understanding any type of literature. Sometimes bad means bad and sometimes bad means good. If you don't know what the author means you aren't going to understand what they said.

 

Does that mean you have to understand the bible to understand or know God? Hardly. I think many people who have never picked up a bible know God better than people who have read it front to back multiple times. That is a completely different discussion.

Edited by October's Autumn
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Hi,

I'd like to weigh in as one of those who has found it valuable on my spiritual journey to read the Bible, to learn what was recorded of Jesus' teachings and try to apply them to my life. It has been helpful to try to research the historical context and in some cases to learn what translation may have done to the Greek or Hebrew. One book I can think of that made a big impact on me in this area was What Paul Really Said About Women by John Temple Bristow.

 

I understand that each of us learns from our own experiences, but reading from the Bible has encouraged me to critically look at areas of my life where I could be more loving toward others. I believe that Jesus taught that loving action toward the needy, toward neighbors and even toward enemies is the way to show love for God and to grow closer to God. If we all try our best to do this and if we teach others this way, too, our individual lives will be more focused, less stressful, and our world will be a better place to live.

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