Wednesday, December 28, 2016

No Condemnation III

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by Henk Hart

"The Way," by Henk Hart

In today’s blog I am still looking for the way to a place where love fills all, especially when in our time darkness is so overwhelming nd hate so common. So one more time the picture of a way into and through the storm.
I can accept that at some time in history people were convinced that a true church would exercise discipline. I cannot accept that at the same time love was overlooked as a mark of a true church. Next year we remember 500 years of Reformation. This would be a great time to remove discipline as a mark of a church’s authenticity and replace it with love. Scripture seems to recommend it.

Aboriginals are our neighbours, mosques are built next to churches, Africans in hunger and fear flee to Europe, Western countries become xenophobic, the rich steal prosperity from the rest, crimes against humanity are seen on the internet as they happen. These irreversible events and many others first breed fear and confusion, then give rise to violence and hatred. Aboriginals are locked up, mosques are set on fire, Africans drown as they flee, neighbours rise up against neighbours, innocents are murdered. Fifty years ago Martin Heidegger said that in a world so rudderless only a god can save us. But where do we find such a god? In Taiz√© they sing: ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. God is where love is. Which is where? What’s the way?

The Christian church knows where, the Christian church knows the way. Love, love divine, can heal a world so broken. And God’s choice strategy for making such love visible, for showing the way, is in the community where Jesus seeks to be embodied: the church. In many ways God’s love for the outcasts of the world has always been visible there when sanctuary is offered, when the poor and the homeless are cared for, when places of healing for the sick are built, when prisoners are visited, when strangers are welcomed. These acts of mercy all embody love. Sadly, however, church-love has boundaries. Officially, doctrinally the church has made no full transition in Christ from Exodus 34 to John 8. In the church the jubilant and boundlessly generous, forgiving God of Exodus 34:6 remains bound to the guilt of the guilty pursued for generations in vs 7. When Jesus writes a new law in the sand: no condemnation, the church does not follow.

When John 1 speaks of the incarnation as full of grace and truth, he echoes Exodus 34:6 and does not include vs 7. God’s chesed and emeth, when read in Christ, are without condemnation in Jesus. In the church God calls people to show love divine in all its fulness. But the church practices discipline as a mark of its authenticity. Priests are de-frocked, parishioners are barred from communion, homosexuals are not welcome. So, after 500 years of Reformation, is it time for love to replace discipline and to allow the church to bear witness to Jesus’ no condemnation? In John’s gospel resurrection is forgiving sins, made more emphatic in Jesus’ saying: when we do not forgive, some will remain without forgiveness. That's Jesus’ challenge: Forgive sins and leave no one unforgiven (20:23).

Faith in the resurrected Jesus does not happen in affirming belief in the resurrection, but calls for living the resurrected life of forgiving. Jackie Pullinger, the missionary in Hong Kong who worked with addicts, explains in her book Chasing the Dragon that in her mission no addict falls off the wagon too many times and will then be told: this was your last time. Climbing back on is the never ending rule. Love has no limits, no boundaries, no conditions. In our world in turmoil the ubiquitous bill board slogan that Jesus saves might speak more eloquently in an invitation to trust the God who loves all and condemns none. The God whose church makes love its breath.

The church that continues the incarnation we celebrated at Christmas is not meant to be God’s police or court of law. Truth and reconciliation are a different way to resolve derailment. Armies, jails, electric chairs, or litigation do not heal. Redeeming love welcomes the prodigal home. There are no conditions. Open arms, new clothes, and a banquet authenticate God’s eternal intent. Our world needs the surprise of love’s generosity. A church that loves and never condemns would be a light on a hill in our pitch dark world.

The church, in offering people the sacraments, offers means of grace without cost. If someone has transgressed, what could better show the love of God than receiving these means of grace? So what message goes forth if transgression forfeits access to these means? Even if there is a plausible Scriptural argument to justify such discipline, can the argument be stretched to allow the church to put fences around the love of God? When Scripture speaks of that love its language sometimes testifies to the paucity of words to fully make known that incomprehensible love. Who has the authority to make that love subject to discipline?

A church aiming to fully embrace God’s love would be known in finding creative ways to walk together with transgressors to find healing, to walk together as fellow transgressors experiencing God’s love. Bearing one another’s burdens without condemnation fulfills the law of Christ, honors the new commandment to love one another. Would not such a church be amazing? Would not resurrection become believable? Would not brokenness begin to heal?

The most prevalent response to evil in our culture is to demand punitive justice, revenge, just deserts. If there is transgression in the church, is the response different? Unfortunately the rules require discipline, because theologically a just God demands punishment. But the prophet Hosea affirms that in God’s view, punishment is too human (11:9). God withdraws from punishment. “For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you.” As the prohet sees it, when we affirm God’s holiness with discipline, we assert our human nature. A holy God, quite differently, withdraws fierce anger. As Leonard Cohen sang in his last song:
... it's written in the scriptures
And it's not some idle claim.
Discipline as a mark of the true church has very deep roots and a long history. But next year’s commemoration of 500 years of Reformation could be an occasion to review this teaching. The original view found support in a particular time in history. Today's changed world could lead to confessing love as the prime mark of a true church. May 2017 spread more light and joy. Happy New Year.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No Condemnation II

by Henk Hart

"The Way," by Henk Hart

In our stormy times little seems as important for all people, all faiths, all cultures, especially all leaders as finding a way forward. So I stay with last week’s picture of a visible way in a distant darkness.
My explosive experience of love’s unfathomable depths ten years ago, my subsequent puzzling discovery that in the Christian tradition there is a measure of hesitation about love’s centrality in the universe, followed by my coming to understand Scripture as embracing the unbounded fullness of love, resulted in many notes in my archives. Is the way of the Spirit clear? Is my understanding of it Biblical? Today I continue exploring where the spirit leads. Does the way ahead hold promise?
In Jesus we see the triumph of love over condemnation as the direction in which rule pointed but did not make manifest. Jesus, says the opening of John's gospel, embodies the grace and truth that stayed covered in the law of Moses as his glory. In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:16 and 17), we see God’s ultimate intent made unambiguously clear: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever trusts in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” No wonder that in this gospel, 8:11, we find Jesus saying to the woman about to be stoned for adultery according to Moses: “I do not condemn you.” With his finger, the way God had written the commandments, he wrote the new commandment in the sand. Then he said: “sin no more.” Meaning?

A crucial place in the New Testament echoes Jesus’ refusal to condemn the woman. Romans 8 verse 1 says: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus....” We are encouraged to trust not only that in Christ we are not condemned, but also that we do not condemn. Verses 33 and 34: “Who will lay charges, who will condemn?” Instead we are invited to become children of God, to say Abba to God, to become like Jesus, the first child who does not condemn. In the New Testament the parent-child relation becomes the preferred metaphor for God’s relationship to us, setting the tone for the ruler-subject relation. God’s love finds a way to deal with broken rules. The son-of-David walks redemptively with David’s rule-breaking subjects. And we enter into that child-parent relation, not surprisingly, through suffering. Read 16 and 17: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Jesus’ “no condemnation" is God’s new way: we bear the transgressions of others as followers of the suffering servant, to make visible that God in Christ does not condemn when we, in the way of Christ, enter into the space of the cross.

For many Christians this is hard to believe. If we are called to sin no more, how can we, so it seems, allow people to sin and get away with it? But being heirs with Christ doesn’t mean we ignore sin. Not to condemn is not an invitation to condone. We deal with sin in the way of Christ, trusting the no condemnation. Gal. 6:1-2 calls us to bear one another’s transgression as our burden. Burden bearing is cross bearing. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Fulfilling the law of Christ is fulfilling the law of love which demands that we give our life for the other. The Noachite covenant: if you take a life, yours will be taken also, moves beyond that rule to give deeper expression to its direction. The rule’s direction was God’s affirmation of life. In Christ this becomes: if someone has gotten lost in abusing God’s gift of life, we are invited to give ourselves as burden bearers. Our neighbor's burden is light, because we bear with and for our neighbor. We bear our neighbour’s cross, we tolerate. This is not a toleration of indifferent letting be. The toleration of Jesus is the space of “qui tolle peccata mundi,” who bears the sins of the world. Telling people to “sin no more,” as the way to read Jesus not condemning the woman, misses the point. Rather, we experience the “no condemnation” when, in the community of faith, we enter into that space to experience God’s way of dealing with sin. In that space we find the power to sin no more.

The new Jerusalem at the end of Revelation gets its light from a source other than the created lights. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” We will reflect the glory-light of the Lamb when we share in his sufferings, that is, if we bear with him. From here on in the only rule we know is the rule of the Lamb, the only power we know the power of suffering love.

“Sin no more” does not mean: stop breaking rules. We can’t do that, as God observed after the flood. God found another way for us to live: no condemnation, no more flood, only the light that shines from the Lamb. That empowers us to seek life in the direction of no condemnation by trusting that life will emerge in that direction. The life of faith is turned into a different direction, not away from but toward the God who does not condemn when we break the rules. That allows us who do break the rules to turn in God's direction and thus to sin no more. To repent from sin becomes: turn to trust God’s “no condemnation.” To sin no more is to live in faith, to trust that though we continue to break the rules, there is no condemnation. Condemned rule-breakers will continue to seek life away from or against the rules. But if God has a way of life that can’t harm us even if we miss, we’ll want to seek that way. Rules that have lost their power to condemn now can indeed direct us to life. This, in truth, is Advent’s grace.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Religion, Faith, and Atheism: The Phenomenology of the Abyss

by Joe Kirby

In Precarious Visions, sociologist Peter Berger argues for a distinction between “religion” and “faith.” “Religion” refers to the understanding of social reality that we inherit from being raised in this or that culture, and which we have a tendency to view as equivalent to reality itself. “Faith,” by contrast, refers to the realization of the contingency of our society, the realization that our own particular social world is not grounded in the nature of reality, but that we are rather all akin to actors playing roles in an enormous social drama. For Berger, the essence of Christianity lies not in “religion” but in “faith,” as the shattering personal encounter with a reality that transcends our parochial social world:
The confrontation with the living God … strips men of their alibis and disguises. The aprons of fig leaves spun with the lies of institutional ideologies cannot cover man’s nakedness as God seeks him out of his hiding places. In this, indeed, all men are the children of Adam, who said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:10).
As an approach to the story of the Fall, this coincides with a Hasidic interpretation from Martin Buber’s Hasidism and Modern Man: the fall does not occur when Adam eats from the fruit, but rather when he hides from the presence of God afterwards, and the beginning of the path to redemption occurs when Adam speaks the words “I hid myself,” thereby recognizing what has occurred. For his part, Berger interprets this hiding from God in terms of the construction of a “religion,” which is often used to justify the killing of others:
[God] has not recognized the sovereignty of our card-house institutions or the extraterritoriality of the moral hiding places which men have concocted among themselves. He steps into the palace of the king and the judge’s chambers, ignoring the royal mantle and the judicial robes, and addresses the naked man underneath the costume as He addressed Adam: “But the Lord God called to man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). And as kings and judges renounce their human brotherhood with their victims, pointing to the immunity of their office, God will address them in words no different from those addressed to Cain: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). (Precarious Visions, 192)
Here, the socially conditioned justifications whereby we condemn our fellow humans, often in the name of the God of “religion,” are destroyed by the God of “faith.” Beneath the social role, as represented by ritually prescribed clothing, the king and the judge are nothing more than naked human beings, and they will ultimately be obliged to bear personal responsibility whatever they have done.

Peter Berger published Precarious Visions in 1961. Just six years later, however, in The Sacred Canopy, he repudiated the distinction between “religion” and “faith,” arguing that modern sociology shows how the God of “faith,” who calls to the naked human from the abyss beneath our cultural world, is actually just another instantiation of the God of “religion” – a further example of culture grounding its own parochial moral judgments in the nature of reality. This means, according to Berger, that the problem faced by Jeremiah concerning “how to distinguish genuine and false prophecy,” the “terrible doubt that apparently plagued Thomas Aquinas as to whether his own belief in the arguments for the existence of God may not after all be a matter of “habit,” as well as the “tormenting question of numberless Christians … of how to find the true church,” are all rendered moot by the “vertigo of relativity” to which the science of sociology exposes us.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

No Condemnation I

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by Henk Hart

"The Way," by Henk Hart

The Hebrew word for the law of Moses is torah, pointer of the way. New Testament Christians still referred to themselves as people of the way. Their way was, however, not a law given once and for all but a way of life shown by the Spirit. Our country side roads are often visible in the landscape for many miles. In our difficult times, like in the stormy scene in the picture, we need to see our way ahead. The way for our times, I trust, can become known when we follow the Spirit in love.
A longstanding, persistent, and tenaceously held understanding of love in the Christian tradition resists accepting love as the core of the entire relationship between God and creation and even more as the whole of the relation between God and people. This outlook seems based on a fear that if love is all, evil does not get its due, God’s justice is denied. In this multi part blog, going back to the early ’90’s, I share my struggle with this ambivalent attitude to love by focusing on a traditional reading of the expression “sin no more” in the encounter between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.
When Jesus addresses the woman caught in adultery after no one threw the first stone, he says: “Neither do I condemn you; sin no more.” Often people read “sin no more,” as a fence around “neither do I condemn you.” If in an encounter with evil we want to honour that Jesus does not condemn, someone will likely remind us: “Yes, but he also says ‘sin no more.’” Yes, but! We don’t move, don’t learn to fully accept that God in Christ does not condemn us, don’t fully trust the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas.

From early on in the Bible we can read how God, in crucially evil-laden situations, will do anything at all for our good. The story of the fall seems utterly judgmental. Adam, Eve, the ground, and the serpent are all cursed. Adam and Eve are naked and ashamed. In this now evil world they have become vulnerable. God knows it’ll take time to robe them in white. So what happens? “The Lord made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” God provides cover and shows the basic divine intent for dealing with transgression: I am your protector. In Genesis 2 God provided a helper. In Genesis 3, that resolve to help remains firm also after the fall. Advent begins here.

The flood story in Genesis 8 shows similarities. Noah’s family survives the flood. He brings an offering. “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man, for every inclination of his heart is evil from his childhood.”’ Evil is written all over us with indelible ink. It won’t wash out with water from a vessel of wrath. But God’s intent as protector remains visible. With condemnation as approach, incurably evil people will all be wiped out. But so will their pleasing aroma. And since God loves the smell of us, there’ll be no more total curse. The covenant is renewed. Life-preservation becomes the heart of it! Do not kill one another. God will hold you accountable

Israel’s struggle with the tension between divine protection and human accountability is vivid in 2 Samuel 13 and 14. The covenant with Noah, the demand for an accounting, is the theme of this story. Israel now has a king. God becomes known to Israel through its kings. Look at 14:17 or 20, “my lord the king is like an angel of God in discerning good and evil.” But kings are concerned with power struggles and with law and order. How does God fare in being representated by the king?

In the story, David’s son Amnon raped his sister Tamar and is then killed by his brother Absalom. The dead brother’s blood must be avenged. To escape death the murderer goes into exile. What does David do? David the king is also David the father. The king struggles for power, maintains order. The father loves Absalom. Look at 13:39: “the spirit of the king longed to go to Absalom.” But as keeper of order in the kingdom David could not go. In this situation a mother finds wisdom in her heart. In 14:14 she says: “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die.” She knows the human condition. She also knows God’s deepest intent. She continues! “But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” She knows God can find a way: skins for protection after the fall, no more total condemnation after the flood. She sees the deeper intent in the covenant with Noah: God’s love for our life. She dares to read God’s rule in depth. In 14:11 she challenges David to “invoke the Lord his God to prevent the avenger of blood from adding to the destruction....” The avenger represents God’s rule. But she knows the God behind the rule, the God who seeks life at every cost, the Protector. The rule is torah, shows a way of love. She persuades the king to listen to his father heart. In 14:23, “Joab ... brought Absalom back to Jerusalem.” But the prodigal son could not yet come home. Finally, in 14:33, “the king summoned Absalom ... And the king kissed Absalom.”

What the rule calls for is not what God finally wants. The rule, as torah, points in a direction beyond itself. But if we lose the direction out of sight, our inability to keep to the rule threatens us. The rule then freezes and no longer shows where it points. We fear that if we don’t keep the frozen rule we invite chaos. Judgment, discipline, and punishment beckon as safeguards of the rule. Trusting a father’s compassion seems to turn against us. Our story bears that out. The son on whom the father had mercy turns against the father. In 15:1 the son covets the position of the father, “In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him.” That’s just what scares us about choosing compassion over condemnation. Absalom turned around and instead of sinning no more he sinned some more. If David’s love had been tough love, we might think, he would have executed Absalom and by thus obeying God’s rule would have saved his kingdom. This son of David did not count equality with his father as something to forego, but rather to go for. He had not read Philippians 2 and did not humble himself. Absalom spoils the “no condemnation.”

David and Absalom are not a good picture of Father and Son. In this realm of earthly rule and control, power is the real issue. In this world the prophets continually have to remind kings that God is protector of the vulnerable. The raped sister is a mere footnote. In David and Absalom’s story Israel struggles with two sides they have seen in God: the avenger of blood, the God who takes rules seriously; and the protector of life, the God who smells our aroma and longs to guarantee our life. Next week we will get closer to Christmas when incarnation becomes “no condemnation” and “sin no more” is the new torah.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Advent in Newtown

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by Henk Hart

"Reading the skies and the times," by Henk Hart
In various places in the gospels Jesus expects us, since we are able to tell from a red morning sky that a cloudy day is coming, to also be able to read the signs of the times. The blog that follows is a shorter version of a piece I wrote following the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in which I tried to read the signs of those times.
The Newtown massacre happened on my 77th birthday. That was in the same time period during which the previous two blogs on Love/love were written. What might this cataclysmic event tell us about Love and love? I am sensitive to sevens as spiritually significant numbers, so I needed no prodding to start wrestling with the darkness and the sorrow of Newton. What emerged was a reading of December 14, 2012 as a story in advent.
In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament love summarizes all God's hopes for us. Sometimes love is not only an attribute of God but simply is God. To seek God's love in Jesus leads to being filled full with the fullness of God, says Ephesians. But in the history of the Christian church we find a persistent and dominant portrayal of love tempered by, especially, punitive justice. God does ask us to love one another, it is said, but also wants us to be just toward evil. The favoured interpretation of the cross of Jesus as substitutionary atonement brings together God's judgment on evil with God's love. In that tradition believers, too, must deal justly with evil. In line with major theological traditions, we are expected to practice love tempered by justice. This differs, however, from a more Biblical seeking of justice as rooted in love. Instead, in the traditions, we must both love and be just. Love and justice are taken as different but equal.

After some centuries of secularization in our culture, love of God and neighbour were not at the centre of our lives. The West pursued self interested individualism among law abiding citizens and a punitive justice system for those who transgress. The grace and mercy of God, along with God, are absent from the public square. The Christian witness to love proved too weak to survive the erosive powers of secularization. The historic marks of the true church promoted by the Reformation do not include love.

All the more surprising, therefore, is the rather sudden and marked reappearance of compassion as an essential practice in unexpected places. Significant examples are three recent films that in profoundly moving ways tell stories of love as the singular road along which to journey toward redemption. They were rewarded with high honors, as I mentioned in an earlier blog.

These strikingly exceptional as well as powerful films are not the only surprises. Scholar and writer Andrew Solomon very recently published his 10 year study of severely handicapped children, Far From The Tree, and concludes that love motivates and characterizes the bond between parents and such children. His 700 page book (with an additional 250 pages of notes, bibliography, and index) was met with a chorus of enthusiastic reviews in the press and on television. The Toronto Public Library, original owner of just over 40 copies now increased to 110, has a waiting list of 500 eager readers. People seem to hunger for a kind of love affirming those who are other than and different from ourselves.

These special sources from which our culture can learn about redemptive love are not in any technical sense theological. When I keep my heart open, I experience signs of a possible return to compassion everywhere. I specifically interpreted the indescribably horrible massacre at Newtown as scene of love and compassion, courage and hope. The responses of all kinds of people, especially parents of the dead, were very unlike events we have come to know from earlier such tragedies. So Newtown made me wonder whether darkness can be so deep that a deeper darkness cannot be imagined? Is there a darkness so utterly devoid of light that moving deeper into this darkness leads to light, the light at the end of darkness?

The many, many previous mass killings have often been dominated by dark thoughts of justice: judgment, revenge, retaliation, punishment, and condemnation. The Mennonite parents in Columbine stood out when they lived their faith in forgiving. People didn't understand parents could be like that. But responses in Newtown seem different. There too, people struggle to find a word for the depth of darkness, the unfathomable depth of anguish that brought all the world to tears. It reminded me of Rachel weeping for her children who were murdered to keep the Light from coming in. This time the response, even from parents of dead children, was so widely marked by compassion, so lifted up by love, that the darkness seemed to begin to recede; as though more darkness were unimaginable and darkness at its limits turned people irresistibly toward the light. Imagine a conservative American town inviting Muslims to join in a public inter-faith memorial of the dead. Imagine the state's Governor urging the mourners to have compassion.

We could, with reason, be cynical about breaks in the armour of weapon enthusiasts. Do corporations divest themselves of gun stocks because light has reached them or because it makes market sense? But my inclination is to see, all around us, living testimony of the Light that no darkness can hold back. Maybe this season's days devoid of light and malls filled with songs of light helped provide a setting for hearts pierced by Newtown's sorrow to be opened to receive the Life of Light called Love.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Love/love II

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by Henk Hart

"Night Light" by Henk Hart

Life, light, and love are a trinity of God-speaks into our reality. One of the message bearers is the full moon, whose bright light fills the night. When it is night in our life, the night light tells a good advent story.
When, now almost ten years ago, I had written down how my experience of love/Love had impacted my life an awareness came over me that something was missing. It took a few days to discover that the piece of text in front of me missed the dynamic of what I tried to say. The words and phrases, so it seemed, were asking me to let them dance. And so they guided me lovingly to find another shape for them. Together with the two preceding blogs (one, two) they complete the triptych that introduces a series of blogs related to love/Love.


At heart,
a human life
gains without measure
in depth and scope
exposed to giving
or receiving
primeval energy
of all that is.

In the embrace of Love
vessels of love
become aware:
irresistible energy
compels us
be centered
in all we do
in Love’s embrace;
to seek for ourselves
and others
peace, justice, joy, life,
fulfillment, patience,
hope, light, and healing.

Love begins,
guides us
to set our priorities,
distribute our energies,
choose our relationships,
value our involvements.

Love fills us,
its blessed awareness
whenever and wherever we follow
step by step but irresistibly,
bids darkness recede—
light spreads.

We become driven by Spirit—
Ruah, Wind, Breath
blows where it wills
harvesting without exception
light and life
wherever it blows.

Growing in trust
the Presence of Love
in our life
bit by bit
our presence as love
in the Presence.

I experienced Love
dawning forcefully
at the dark edge of the abyss
in their last journey.

The doom of death
revealed depths unknown
of Love.

Who are you?
fullness of evil?
part of life?
final separation
from self and other?
Why do we weep?

Death’s deepest sense persists
as ineradicable persuasion:
new life emerges for us all
after our death.

Daisies bloom another spring,
so do we.
Our death is singular,
no circling cycles,
no seasons,
we die
then live forever.

The birth of Love in our life,
foretaste of eternity:
this inexpressible joy will be ours

What is hereafter
after their death?
In my brain
survival beyond the end
is dead.

In my heart
a compelling reality
anticipated and celebrated
in music, in song.

Tears well up
with songs of visions of redemption,

No remnants of a childish faith,
a final maturation
of our trust
of Life and Love.

In Love's world
our tears of weeping

trickle into rivers of joy.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


1 comment:
by Henk Hart
"For the love of bees," photo by Henk Hart
Jim Olthuis’s exaugural address on creation as an act of love, "Creatio Ex Amore," opened our hearts to knowing love as having no boundaries. When all creation flows from love, love must flow to all creatures. The bee keeper shows us how.
Last week’s blog briefly told the story of how, really for the first time, hitherto unknown love became a reality in our lives virtually overnight. This week I share how after some years I wrote down briefly, as a marker, what the presence of love/Love had come to mean in my life.

After love/Love exploded in our lives while waiting for death, I was powerfully drawn to search for the meaning of love and Love. I now know that, at its core, a human life gains immeasurably in depth and scope when it is exposed to giving or receiving love as the primeval energy of all that is. Once we begin to be in the embrace of Love and begin to experience ourselves as vessels of love (I mean: to BE), we become aware of an irresistible energy that compels us to become centered, in all we do, in that embrace; to seek for ourselves and others peace, justice, joy, life, fulfillment, patience, hope, life and much more. Love then begins to guide us in setting our priorities, distributing our energies, choosing our relationships, valuing our involvements and in so doing fills us with a blessed awareness that whenever and wherever we follow this guidance we find that, step by step but irresistibly, darkness recedes and light spreads. We become driven by a Spirit (Ruah, Wind, Breath) that blows where it wills and that without exception harvests light and life wherever it blows. The more we trust the Presence of Love in our life the more we ourselves become a presence of love in that Presence.

I have experienced that Love dawns (!!) most forcefully when I lived at the edge of the abyss of darkness. In Esther's and Anita’s last journey the doom of death revealed unknown depths of Love. This experience has started in me a steady meditation on two meanings of death, as the ultimate concentration of evil and as a normal stage in the course of all that exists. And at this time I am inclined to see the two meanings used as a metaphor for each other. Death can then be a metaphor for the concentration of all evil as experienced in our final separation from self and other. But the other sense then seems to persist in us in our ineradicable persuasion that new life emerges for all of us after our death. Not only do daisies bloom another spring, so do we. And so strong is this persuasion that we interpret our death as a unique event, not occurring in eternally circling cycles, but happening only once: we die and then live forever.

So when we experience the birth of love in our life, we can feel that as foretaste of eternity: once this inexpressible joy will be ours forever.

Ever since Esther's death I have struggled with "hereafter." Slowly an awareness has ripened in me of our "future life" as inaccessible to our understanding, but felt as a compelling reality, especially when anticipated and celebrated in music. The tears that well up when we sing of visions of redemption, reconciliation, resurrection, and rebirth speak to me not as the left-over remnants of a childish faith, but as a final maturation of our trust of Life and Love. In God's world our tears of weeping trickle into rivers of joy.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

God, Virtue Ethics, and Rhythm

by Caleb Ratzlaff

There are countless ways of understanding God’s nature. New atheists such as Daniel Dennett, for example, reject a variety of theisms that defines God as a supernatural agent who desires humanity’s worship. Peter Rollins, a self-identified emergent Christian defines God as “that which we cannot speak of [and] the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”* Rollins finds inspiration in Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart, tending away from anthropocentric understandings of God like the one Dennett rejects. Like Dennett, Rollins aims to disturb conventional theism while, unlike Dennett, maintaining a semblance of orthodoxy. Jack Caputo, taking these ideas a step further, conceives of God as an “insistence” with little agency in the world other than the ability to disturb and haunt our actions.

Conceptions of God play a critical role in shaping our moral lives; some theists practise an escapism because their God shuns the world, while others become champions of social causes because that is what they believe God desires of them. This post will work backwards, so to speak, considering how our daily attempts to act ethically can shed light on God’s nature. To this end, I will employ virtue ethics’ approach to moral life, a school of ethics that emphasizes virtues, opposed to an emphasis on the need to follow rules (deontological) or an emphasis on the consequences of one’s actions (consequentialism).

In a nutshell, virtue ethics claims that we should always make decisions that encourage health. On a personal level, this means being concerned with one’s character, believing that if one engages in the daily practice of care, for example, one will be prepared to act caringly when a weighty ethical situation demands such action. Similarly, on a societal level, a subscription to virtue ethics would aim to develop life together in ways that encourage healthy relationships — for example, by building neighbourhood landscape that create opportunities to practice hospitality.

But what does this ethical school have to do with our conceptions of God?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Filled Fully With God's Love

by Henk Hart

The preceding half dozen blogs focused on finding God. I asked many questions, I wondered and wandered, and sometimes I found my way. When I did I often wrote of love and found God as Love. The next few blogs will especially focus on finding our way in loving, on finding God in Love. The joy of being with God and of trusting God's being with us are movingly illustrated in Old and New Testament in the life of sparrows. Psalm 83:4 expands the joy of being home with God by including “even the sparrow” who builds a nest on the altar in the temple and in Matthew 10:29 Jesus encourages the disciples by reassuring them of God’s presence even with lowly sparrows falling to the ground. So the picture I’ve chosen for the first of the following love/Love blogs is dark and cold, bare shrubs wrapped in snow and fog. The chill of that scene notwithstanding, however, is the promising presence of a home for the sparrow, on the bare stem in the centre.

The blog that follows tries to tell a story of being filled fully with all God’s fullness. I learned that expression from Ephesians 3:17b-19, where the author is confident that in following in the love of Christ we will come to know the unknowable, namely that we will be fully filled with all the fullness of God. I read this as meaning: As we grow in cruciform love, the image of God, who is Love, will be fulfilled in us. In the last weeks of our daughter’s life we experienced this knowledge-transcending love. With that short story I hope to share the deepest meaning of the blogs that follow.

A relative who learned how my wife and I cared for our daughter in her last weeks said: I could not do that. I understood. I thought the same when Esther asked us to help her die at home. No more hospitals. We were perplexed and afraid. Seeing our hesitation she asked: is your love not big enough?—How could we refuse?—But could we do it?

In death’s face love filled us to overflowing. Ephesians calls this love unknowable and also says that in our loving God makes it fully known.

Changing Esther's bed and clothing in the middle of night while giving her affection revealed the paradoxical character of death’s agony matched by love's treasures. Her pain riddled body and immobility often required 2 hours for us to clean the bed, bathe her, and provide whatever comfort we could. In these trying hours, in the dark of night, the rest of the house asleep to find strength for tomorrow, we found the unfathomable depths of love making possible the impossible. When she was vulnerable in her literal nakedness, weeping for her lack of control, too tired even to breathe, our fragile care revealed what, in all its depth, all great religions write about love: the light that shines in this darkness is the healing sun of God's love filling us.

Our dance together forged boundless bonds. In these despicable hours she smiled most. We whispered "I love you" and said more than we knew. We experienced love's bonds banish pain and nurture peace. Witnessing God loving us as children we cried tears of joy, moved by the mystery of love. In the darkest and heaviest moments for a caregiver, the stars see love through the windows of a dark house with lights on in the bed and bathroom. When Esther was finally back in a clean bed, washed of her pain, angelic peace on her smiling face, sleep came before she felt the pillows. Love unknowable became known. We could love because we were loved.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Spiritual Challenge of a Trump Presidency

by Dean Dettloff

The Temptation of St. Anthony, Niklaus Manuel

Along with the rest of the world, a lot of Americans woke up yesterday morning to the surprising news that, barring some miracle, Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. Yes, despite being an accused sex offender, identifying black people with “inner cities,” seriously suggesting banning all Muslims from the US, making fun of people with disabilities on the campaign trail, calling Mexicans rapists and planning to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and more, Donald Trump will enjoy a majority Republican Congress as he looks to implement the platform of anxiety and opportunism he ran on. It appears the baffled double-take of referenda like the UK's Brexit vote or Colombia's rejected peace agreement is becoming the norm. Surprising though the results are, the disorientation seems almost natural following the embittered struggle of the 2016 campaign season, an affair that brought out the worst of the American populace and stirred up a mixture of fear and resentment unlikely to stop swirling any time soon.

What are American people of faith to make of this situation (I ask Ground Motive's significant Canadian readership to permit me to address my fellow Americans)? Now that we know Donald Trump will inherit that swirling mixture of fear and resentment, we are faced with two choices. Either we do what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, among most other elected officials, advise us to do—accept Trump's presidency, painful though it is, and greet it with an open mind and willingness to cooperate. Or we do what a variety of Americans have already started to do—take to the streets and demonstrate, materially, an unwillingness to accept the presidency of a candidate who just days ago was being called unfit for the office by Clinton and Obama themselves, and try to build alternatives.

Many Christians have already begun to take the first strategy by appealing to Providence and praying for wisdom for Donald Trump in his new position of power. Trump won the election fair and square, even if he lost the popular vote, and the magnanimous thing to do is accept the results. The spiritual challenge suggested here is one of forgiveness and fidelity, reaching across the aisle in a spirit of good sportsmanship and charity. God is in control, so the view goes, and that means, for whatever reason, Trump could prove to be the negotiator many take him to be.

To accept the results of a Trump presidency under the assumption that God will sort it out without any help from us... is to take a view of divine sovereignty that serves the interests of polite society and party politics.

But this strategy is not so much a challenge as a luxury. It is especially easy for white Christians to make this suggestion, as we (since I'm a white Christian myself) stand to be least affected by a Trump presidency. For those who fall on the other side of Trump's campaign rhetoric, this strategy is tantamount to self-sabotage. To accept the results of a Trump presidency under the assumption that God will sort it out without any help from us, or to make voting the end-point of Christian political activity, is to take a view of divine sovereignty that serves the interests of polite society and party politics. It enables the privatization of religion so necessary for the smooth functioning of American projects, unimpeded by the annoyance of faithful believers whose shaping narrative is profoundly at odds with the story of exclusion and paranoia told by Trump. It rejects any prophetic vocation, as the prophets of the Old Testament certainly were not afraid to demonstrate their refusal to accept their leadership (whether by Isaiah's protests in the nude (Isaiah 20) or Ezekiel's odd theatres of resistance). What appears like an appeal to fidelity on the part of many Christians is in fact a betrayal, trading in the Gospel of a God executed by the state for good manners and civic duty.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

God, Church, Religion

by Henk Hart

"Take off your sandals." --Photo by Henk Hart

We are now in the 500th year of the reformation started by Luther. Part of its gift has been the availability of Bibles in every language. Sometimes that is explained as the official church losing control over what people would believe. But that’s true only in part. By means of councils, synods, confessions, and other official channels churches have kept and are keeping a fairly tight lid on orthodox teaching and proper beliefs. More and more, however, people exercise much greater freedom in deciding the shape of their faith. That seems an unavoidable influence of our times. When the tension between what churches consider proper and what believers none the less decide for themselves becomes too great, churches become emptier and memberships decline. I have a notion that if churches would encourage and participate in the questioning and searching that is more and more common in our world, the birth of more widely shared forms of faith could give rise to a global culture once again looking for wisdom in living a life of faith. That could be considered as attending to unfinished business of the Reformation. The United Church of Canada is in the process of deciding whether a pastor in that denomination should be defrocked for being at odds with its most recent statements of faith. Perhaps we are now living in times when such conflicts could also be addressed by engaging in a 10-year open dialogue and reflection on how faith could be shaped as a gift whose power is self giving love.

1. Do we invent God? That is not where I think I am. "Invent" sort of always sounds to me like "whole cloth" creations ex nihilo. I don't think that's true about what we "make" of God. The big unanswerable questions of life and our need to deal with them are not our inventions. Nor can we invent whole cloth how we deal with these questions. These issues and our needs in my view point to realities beyond us that, I take it, are real. Our struggle with these issues does not lead to any satisfaction unless we can experience them helping us move in a direction that bears fruit. However, that said, most of the realities humans relate to as God are mysteries we do not and cannot make fully accessible, even though we also cannot live without lasting intimations of what that “divine” reality is like and what it does to our lives. In light of that, I think, we do give shape to (which is not to say, we invent) whatever we experience the mystery to intimate, reveal, tell us. In the course of that, I think it is also helpful to say that in this very process we become who we are. God-in-heaven shapes us from the-earth-we-are. And in that mysterious process of mutuality, it seems entirely right to me to say that we experience God in ways to which we ourselves give shape. Is God a God who cares? I would suspect that this is far from a universal acknowledgement among people. A God who cares may emerge from eons of careful and reverent listening within some tradition. And, obviously, a God who cares is infinitely satisfying in our dealing with the big issues. But a God who cares also presents problems to tsunami victims, to those who suffered under Hitler, Stalin, Ceaucescu, Milosevic, etc. None of our God experiences are, I think, certain, settled, and safe. To entrust ourselves to the divine mystery as we have learned to know it always remains a vulnerable risk. And that, it seems to me, is just what helps us understand the mystery as divine: it transcends our domination and at the same time is our dominus.

2. Religion as a way, a path, is peculiar neither to the Japanese nor to me. Psalm 1 opens the Psalter with that theme, indicating its pervasive characterization of Israel's walk with God. Jesus refers to himself as the way that gives life in truth. The early Christians were, in Acts, referred to as people of The Way. That designation is dear to me.

Perhaps with Hinduism as an exception, religions view their way as unique, often at least in some respects exclusively so. When it sometimes seems that we can all too easily and too quickly switch from one "way" to another, I suspect we then refer to ways of thinking or expressing ourselves, rather than to the complex wholeness that is a religion. The OT's "no other gods," or the NT's "no other name" point, as full fledged ways to walk, to Jesus' saying that we cannot serve both God and Mammon, at least not successfully so. Syncretism as a thought experiment seems possible, but as a way of living (not as an individual but in intentional community with others) it seems undoable to me. When we say that we think we are not limited to one or another way very long, we cannot mean, can we, that people are Muslims for a short while, then Christians, and soon also Hindus? That does not seem true to life.

3. Some are skeptical about churches as exceptionally graced. I'd dare say that such churches are not as rare as we think. Good solid churches in which people worship with joy and are built up as members are not, I think, rare. Of course, not all of us would feel at home in all of them, because of social practices, theological views, etc. I do think that the life span of a church's bloom may sometimes be short. But I suspect that 4th Presbyterian in Chicago or Riverside in New York have been going strong for an enviably long time, as has People's Church in Toronto. So I base my expectations on what I think is an achievable reality. I see no reason why we should expect less of the church than we do of Carnegie Hall, Roy Thompson Hall, the Concertgebouw, Cirque Du Soleil, Tafelmusik, etc. That does not mean we should find them in every village. But it does mean, I think, that we have lots of living models of excellence. I know quite a few that feel palpably alive, spiritually energized, enthusiastic. No feelings of dead space, stale air there. The quality of the experience seems crucial to me here. But it can be a small very informal group on an attic as well as a huge church in Chicago or a "base community" found in Amsterdam's Dominicus, or even Amsterdam's liturgically rather traditional Wester Kerk. Sometimes the liturgy is so good that the sermon is not crucial. Music seems a very important ingredient. I can feel these qualities even in places where I'm not at home.

4. Now for the climax. God as person. Since I deeply believe that all we know about the Mystery can only be expressed metaphorically, I have slowly become more tolerant of the vast array of metaphors that are dear to people of all kinds, conservative or progressive. And since I also believe that people can likely best relate to a God who is like them or to whom they are alike, I think God as person is a supreme metaphor and consequently it plays a huge role in the life of the church, as it has for ages and ages. However, I have for myself become too conscious of the idolatry of the (logical) consequences we attach to the God-as-person metaphor. It is very difficult, also for me, not to relate to such a God as "really" a person. And for several decades now that has slowly begun to interfere with my being blessed by that metaphor.

I think only humans are persons and to be a person you need heart and lungs, brain and anus, nose and ears, etc., etc. Raccoons have those. But having these is not enough to be a person. I think that what makes people persons is lacking in raccoons. So for me, since God is never thought of as having the characteristics we share with raccoons, God is not a person. And since raccoons do have these but lack whatever else it takes to say "I" and to recognize other "I" sayers, raccoons are also not persons.

But perhaps God is person in its original sense. In ancient drama actors spoke through a mask and thus became the per-sona whose role the actor played. And we take it that anything whatever can be the mask through whom God speaks. In that way God is not limited to three personae because God speaks to us through sun and moon, sea and forest, desert and field, lion and ant, ruler and child. Panentheism encapsulates all this in a wondrous vision.

I certainly can find hope in God. I do believe that whatever is the mystery we name God, God is (the source of) love, life, peace, grace, justice, joy, and all those other positive forces that all of us yearn for and know would fulfill us, make us happy, give us life, etc.

Heady stuff here. But all of it is for me at the core of hours of daily awareness and reflection.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Experience of God

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by Henk Hart
"A garden, God's primordial meeting place." --Photo by Henk Hart
Many committed people of faith no longer resonate with traditional meanings of the word “God.” Some books written by Christians reject the classic notion of God altogether. This seems a good time for Christians to have focused discussions on who in their world God is. In the blogs I’ve submitted thus far I’ve shared my private and personal thoughts, in the hope of stimulating others to share their thoughts. Unfortunately, churches do not encourage such discussion. If they did perhaps less people would leave. This seems like a time to find God anew. Maybe churches can become gardens.
Can we talk with God? Does God hear? Does God answer? Can we know we’ve been heard? For many Christians God is no longer a specific personal being. They experience God as light, or force, or life. That way God is meaningful. For them (and for me) the questions just asked become irresistible, especially when we think about prayer.

When we reflect on this it helps to consider that when God is experienced only in symbolic or metaphoric ways, then it is likely that God’s and our speaking and hearing also need to be taken in that way. We can speak from, or with, or in our hearts in ways that do not specifically depend on speech as sounds made with lips and intended to be heard by ears. And we can experience God hearing us as an experience of gratitude and blessing. We can be in a garden (a classic place for meeting God) and silently focus on what surrounds us and after a while know that our hearts overflow with the nurturing presence of the light (God), that we are soothed and uplifted by the gentle wind (Spirit), and that all creatures address us (Word). Such meditative experiences can gain in depth when we experience these realities in ways that can meaningfully be translated as Presence, Light, Uplifted, Wind. The capitalization accentuates the spiritual concentration of our experience, indicating a hightened and intensified form of being with these realities as they point beyond themselves to their source. And we can relate this to more traditional language and experience by saying that the triune God saw our gratitude and blessed us.


When our hearts yearn for healing and we enter a garden, the trees, the blooms, the skies, the light, the rustling leaves can all speak to our hearts and direct our yearning to a power that comes to us in and through all these. When our hearts open up to them, they intensify their presence in surrounding us. Their reality is magnified. They can teach/tell us that from beyond them and through them, an invisible and impenetrable mystery comes into our hearts, revealing the power we experience as Healing Power. We can say we experienced God.


To hear God in the garden we need to hear the silence, to see the light as light, to feel one with all the other creatures and to feel accepted by them as one of them. In such a space a crow’s cry can carry God’s voice, the rustling leaves can whisper God’s comfort, the air can surround us with God’s presence.


Someone said: “Today is Sunday, I want to be with God today, I will not go to church.” Is God not in church? Not necessarily, not always, and sometimes emphatically not there (of all places). God will be found where our hearts tell us to seek/meet God.

Someone said: “Today is Sunday, I want to be with God today, I will go to church.” Is God in church? That Sunday God wasn’t.

Someone said: “Today is Sunday, I want to be with God today, I will go to church.” Is God in church? That Sunday the congregation joyfully acknowledged that God was there. But someone did not meet God.

Someone said: “Today is Sunday, I want to be with God today, I will go to church.” Is God in church? That Sunday people were upset, angry, and irritated because God wasn’t there. But for someone God was.


When or why do we say “God?” All things, all that is, all reality is found to be interrelated, in relationship, in contact, in touch. We can think of nothing to which we are not, in some way, related. When all we do is think of something, it cannot be something to which we are not in some way related. Our thinking is relational. In their interrelatedness things are mobile. They move out of past into present toward future. They move in and out of specific relationships. Whence does it all come, where does it go? Beginning and end are unsearchable. Who can find them? They are not visible, though they can be envisioned. Yet in the silence of alpha and omega we can, if we know how to listen, hear beginning and end, origin and destiny. Our destiny is hidden in hope. Our hope can reveal a mystery we can trust. In the sounds of silence we can discern paths to peace, joy, love, beauty, life, health, goodness, promise, truth, grace, light. Walking on these paths can lead to wisdom. In wisdom we can meet God, in whom we live and move and have our being; from whom and unto whom we are. God is a name for the deep well with the water for all that lives. We can give thanks for the ways in which the water gives life, and for the fulfillment of all that lives in fullness.


If God is all in all and all things to all people, the ways of God and to God are infinite. But we are finite. Of all the ways we can go, we can maybe go a few in our life time, probably only one. Recognizing our neighbors on their way is a way of living with God and cultivating our own way is a way of loving ourselves.


If the way we are on is the way of Christ (called himself the way and his followers called themselves people of the way), it will be helpful to articulate our spiritual experience in language rooted in authentic readings of Biblical texts. That will help us create spiritual communion with other Christians. Such authentic readings must have a “classic” feel, a ring of being true and revealing, authenticated by the text, affirmed by others and affirming of them.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Letter To a Friend

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by Henk Hart
Photo by Henk Hart

In this piece I reflect on how film or some other art form could promote inter-religious dialogue that transcends doctrinal or theological or ecclesiastical conflict.

This striking cross as source of the river of life invites those who enter the 8th century cathedral in Ely, England. It didn’t strike me as an invitation to evaluate its theological correctness, but moved me to drink from that river together with others, any others.

I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the curious reality that three secular movies all received wide acclaim despite their obviously spiritual focus. I've actually been thinking about that off and on and I now recall that quite a few weeks ago I wrote you about these movies and you wrote back that you had read the book on which one of them is based, Of Gods and Men.

As I meditate I ask myself:  how do we connect with people who seek to connect with "God." It's widely accepted I think that there is no way of speaking "about God" apart from symbolic, indirect, figurative, metaphorical language. How does that affect our knowing God? What does it mean that our access to (what we mean by) God is, in our language about God, never direct? Are God, Jahweh, Father of Jesus, Allah, Nirvana and others all different names pointing to the same underlying mystery? If that is so, despite the many ways toward that mystery, are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in essence bedfellows? Do conversion, missions, and evangelism still have a place on our agendas?

Many more issues seem to cling like iron filings to a magnet when we agree that language provides no direct uni-linear access to God. We can say metaphorically that God is our rock precisely because we know God isn't a rock. Who God is differs from tradition to tradition. We no longer insist that spiritual fellowship requires a shared language for God. Many of us can say with Karen Armstrong that all of us (our race, our kind) are in essence struggling to find the way of compassion as our access to grace and redemption. If so, I suspect we could likely recognize kindred spirits more easily by sharing our experiences of being on The Way, rather than in discussing theological articulations rooted in millennia of diverging traditions. Those traditions give us a vocabulary for why x is to be preferred over y, Jesus over Buddha, the cross over meditation, etc., But given the limitations of our language, what is the relative (un)importance of our differences? If we could make our deepest religious affirmations known without any reliance on language, would we experience people in other traditions as being essentially on the same way we are, the recognizable road, the path to a life that is the fruit of love?

This seems to be the core message of the movies I have been seeing, especially the two honored at Cannes. Both have their setting in the Christian tradition, but it seems to me that each is understandable and acceptable as meaningful in all major traditions. Both The Tree of Life and Of Gods and Men explore what it means to be compelled by love, the one in the form of an artistic vision, the other in telling a true story. In both films love lifts us beyond death. The one relies heavily on ritual, the other is focused on the experience of grace, but both seem to empower people of different traditions to walk the road of love together. As It Is In Heaven may have the same message. The conductor, Daniel, when asked how he could have fulfilled his life's ambition of making others happy with his music, responds: They love me and I love them. Film, too, is metaphor, and therefore, like language, multi-interpretable. But its boundaries are vastly more fluid than those of theology or other verbal traditions and a film's message could unite rather than divide.

Perhaps I can take this a step further. If metaphor is all we have to "speak of God," do we any longer have good grounds for recommending our own theological/confessional preferences as best for all? We can (and I do) make a choice to follow Jesus on all sorts of good grounds, but not because he is the "only way" to "God." My personally most compelling invitation to the way of compassion is the life of the man who chose to demonstrate his love with his life. I experience that as a deeply radical and encompassing love and therefore struggle to be on the way of the cross. Could we consider artistic vision universally shared on digital media as a new way to give shape to how the world's spiritual community might become more unified in the pursuit of love, living lives of love? Could we see art as a medium that invites into fellowship all who recognize love as Way? Might this move us to look for metaphors that more compellingly have wider appeal than verbal articulations in theologies? Is this  a role for plays or films or even musical drama? What is it about Tree of Life or Of Gods and Men that provides an appeal which transcends their own immediate setting?

I recently received a very long review from the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews of Hugo Strandberg,  Love of a God of Love: Toward a Transformation of the Philosophy of Religion. Early on the reviewer suggests that a definition or description of love is elusive and often not even attempted by theologians and philosophers. That actually makes some sense to me. Jesus refers to love as the "summary" of all that God hopes for us. So love then becomes a single word by which, in concentrated focus, we say in one breath what at core all of life comes to when we rejoice, have mercy, do justice, pursue peace, abide in hope and all else we do that fulfills and redeems. Karen Armstrong's studies of compassion in all major religions points in that direction as well.

If there is something to this, the elusiveness of verbally and theologically clarifying love and God (God is love, love is God) becomes somewhat understandable. If normally we clarify things by referring to their connections and interrelationships, then the total concentration of all difference in one focus defies such clarification. The same difficulty exists among Buddhists in saying what Nirvana is. An example from our contemporary world is the Big Bang. It continues to elude scientists, though all agree that it relates to the point of origin of all that is—so full, that from its fullness all that exists not only broke into being when it exploded, but continues to expand into a universe whose boundaries ceaselessly recede. The One (the Unity, the Whole and the Totality of All) defies our grasp. It reminds me of some language in the Bible. The one in whom we live and move and have our being is the one who is all and in all, says a Biblical author. When Jesus prays in John 17 that all may be one, does he mean One? The author of Ephesians (pro)claims that humanity on the path of love will become filled with the fulness of the one who fills all in all and that this surpasses knowledge. This suggests we can recognize each other in the Way, but we do not have a shared language for what we then experience and what we do share in words is all metaphor. It would seem that (to use words I saw somewhere recently) film or poetry are not a stumbling way to say what philosophers and theologians say so much more clearly, but more likely an inspiring way to hear what philosophers and theologians say in ways that do not compel.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Faith Today

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by Henk Hart

Photo by Henk Hart

Especially in the Christian tradition it remains acceptable to deal with faith positions that are very different from ours by rejecting, condemning, excommunicating these. I prefer to relate to left and right in love. In this piece I suggest that the metaphorical character of faith language allows us to be more radically ecumenical than we often think. Loving our neighbour whose faith excludes ours is difficult at times, but leads to fulfillment when we embrace God as Love.
The contemporary Jesus sculpture is from the 8th century cathedral in Ely, England. The outstretched arms are a loving invitation to all.

In my spirituality I embrace metaphor more and more as I get older. This means in part that I am more patient with people whose metaphors differ from mine, as well as with people who tend to a more literal stance. Since metaphors abound, there seems no need to insist on the ones I embrace. What matters to me is that within their articulated position people find what they should expect from their faith: sustenance, redemption, hope, peace, joy, etc., and that they should welcome others with different articulations.

As I get older I am also increasingly impressed with how historical our faith is. None of the positions we take will last. Our theologies, our hermeneutics, our sense of what redemption is, etc., etc., continue to change. So I value a faith that speaks to us in our time and does not hang on to metaphors that spoke to earlier generations.

I have learned to see that we need to be more and more ecumenical across the spectrum. Instead of being more open minded to and accepting of people who are progressive like we are, we can be just as open minded to those who are more conservative.

In all of this I do, of course, need to make choices. I may respect Native American spirituality and learn from it, but I am Christian, and my allegiance calls for integrity toward my own tradition. So to guide me I take the Bible seriously, because within Christian faith the Bible is a touchstone. But I do not take this to mean, e.g., that I need to make sense in contemporary faith of whatever the Bible mentions as important. It may be important to discuss the relation of God's wrath to God's love when talking to Christians who take that wrath more seriously than I do. But in today's world I do not consider it my Biblical duty to dwell on God's wrath, or to embody it.

So do I still have faith norms and can I be critical of some forms and kinds of faith? I think I can deal with this by embracing God's love as the root of all faith norms and try to relate to people who in my experience depart from the call to love as a disciple of love.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Question of "God"

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by Henk Hart

Photo by Henk Hart
A secluded place in the garden was my favourite place to meditate on God’s presence. That did not always result in knowing God is near. At other times I struggled with the questions that won’t go away for many, especially younger, people in our times. This piece was written about 10 years ago during the days our daughter was dying. Her impending death often made God feel distant, but also spoke forcefully about God as love.

Mystical experience traverses all religions and is not limited to religious people. This raises a big question: when we speak of God in the context of mystery, what are we saying, what do we mean? The word "God" has such wide and indefinite usage that, one might say, it has lost its meaning. Is God Jahweh? Allah? Father of Jesus? Creator? An individual, immaterial, invisible spiritual being who is omnipotent and omniscient? Do atheists reject the same as what Christians confess? All of these? None of these? When I speak of God in conversation, how will my conversation partner hear me?

Our response to these questions is largely shaped by the tradition in which we normally use the word “God.” But in an age of universal ecumenism, many of the faithful in a tradition may affirm both that for them God is the God they have learned to know in their tradition and that God is not confined to that tradition.

The one God of monotheism is a late arrival, preceded by a world populated by good and evil spirits with divine powers. These spirits may have been invisible and immaterial, they may also have been embodied and been visible from time to time. Maybe there was a chief spirit, the great spirit, but not to the exclusion of river spirits, harvest spirits, sky gods, earth demons, etc., etc. It is likely that all of this can be seen as personifications of how the spiritual forces unleashed by the mystery were manifest to human beings in a truly enchanted world.

If we continue to be open to the presence of the mystery in all that surrounds us we should be able to connect with this earlier phase of our history. And we should also be able to relate to monotheism as born of the realization that in the most profound mystical experiences all is one. At the same time monotheism tends to lead us away from the earlier enchanted world. The mystical reality of God, however, may suggest monotheistic religion would benefit from re-inventing an enchanted world, that is, a world in which everything speaks of the mystery and in which, given the right conditions, we all can (to some degree) experience our oneness with all things and the bliss, peace, and love of that oneness. In the Christian tradition God as the All in all is a deeply Biblical perception. So when, in listening to Arvo Part's Te Deum, we feel transported outside ourselves in becoming one with the music, that could be called a "God" experience, a bit of revelation of the mystery. And I would say the same of the bliss I experience in the garden when all is silent and I feel myself as less separate and more one with the other creatures.

Historically our connection with God has come to us, in community with others, in the context of a given spiritual tradition and its richness. The great religions, each in their own way, help us give meaningful shape to living with the mystery. All global traditions, however, despite their own specific character, emphasize the spiritual priorities of oneness, peace, love, joy. By being immersed in the Christian tradition, the ecumenically shared experience of the One takes on more specific and concrete meaning when interpreted "in Christ." For in the following of Jesus one reaps the spiritual benefits of special emphases on servanthood, on sacrificial love, on being content by not seeking to be the first, on becoming oneself not in seeking but rather in losing oneself. And the meaning of these as Christian spiritualities can in turn only be experienced via the roots of Jesus' life in the history of his Jewish tradition. Nevertheless, an interpretation of life with God “in Christ” does not sever the connection with the fundamental orientation of other traditions.

To summarize the above one could, using language borrowed from the Christian Scriptures that has its echoes in all traditions, say that “God” names our origin and destiny. “God” names the depth of the mystery as the be all and end all of all reality in all traditions, allowing us to say that "in God" we live, and move, and have our being. In “God” the world is “in Love.”

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

On a Hot Day at the Lake

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by Henk Hart

In the 1980’s many dimensions of my faith took on new meaning. In that context I often experienced a yearning for more awareness of God’s presence and frequently I searched out private places to meditate, surrounded by unspoiled creation. Eventually these occasions yielded what I was hoping for and they have ever since inspired me to know that God is near.

On a hot day at the lake, the heat can dissolve the heavens and the waters into one another. Neither sky nor water-surface are visible. The heat has joined them in a veil of vapor that floats on the motionless waters, wave-less without wind. Earth and heaven have become one and no spirit troubles the waters. We feel peace. We can let go and become one with bluebells, bumble bees, brimstone butterflies, and barred owls, hardly aware of ourselves. In this state we can focus on any part of ourselves and feel it: the tip of our nose, our right eyebrow. We can lose all sense of time and space, yet experience minor details in sharp focus. We can also sense God's Spirit, whether buzzing with the bees or speaking in the silence. When this state resonates with our tradition of religious trust, our being one with creation yields spiritual guidance.

When I join myself to this unity of creation I can feel the warm, moist air surround me as a safe womb from which I can emerge a new creature. Such conditions inspire hymn writers and prophets to see the elements conspire together to declare some of the mysteries of God. The heavens declare the glory of God, says Psalm 19. If the warm wedding of water and the firmament quiet my heart within me and open my inmost self to speech from afar, I, too, can hear declarations of mystery that give me new life. So can we all. We can listen to the stillness and hear the speech of the heavens, coming soundless into our heart when all the earth seems to be a seamless gathering of all that surrounds us into peace.

God’s Spirit is our breath of life, giving us life in the truth that is God’s emeth in all relations, the covenant of love. That life comes from music, flowers, bees, and butterflies. People can be recognized as spirits when they make this all conscious and help move time into the right direction. To know our times spiritually we, as spirits, must search out God’s Spirit, to help us to make time for all things, all creatures. Listen to the birds, watch the flowers bloom. Make time for everything, for family as well as work, all spiritually enriching each other.

We are spiritual beings called to redeem all relationships in time, since in faith we can know the redeeming Spirit who is all in all, in whom all things move and have their being, whose fullness we are, called to be all things to all people.

Though the world is highly structured, it is not rationally predictable in its fullness. But other ways of knowing: meditation and prayer, being one with creation around us, seeking connection in illness, all help us when times are out of synch. The great connector is love, in which we connect with God and neighbor and which God manifests to us. The fullness of time is the fulfillment of all relationships in a simultaneity of faithfulness: all in all. Truth is fullness of the Spirit of God’s emeth.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Monday, October 03, 2016

From Henk's Archives

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Hendrik "Henk" Hart was the first Senior Member at the Institute for Christian Studies, where he taught from its founding in 1967 until his retirement in 2001. Over the course of his career, Henk explored such themes as, among others, the relationship between reason and faith, what the call to do justice means for Christians, and how the Bible might be read for the sake of wisdom in God's world. Many of these explorations were published in articles and books, but further investigations into these and other themes were undertaken in letters, notes, jottings, and journals. From Henk's Archives is a series on Ground Motive offering readers a look into this previously unpublished material graciously selected by Henk himself.

The material shows a wide variety in form, content, and length. Though it is edited for accessibility, it is not necessarily edited for more formal publication. Some pieces reflect more polish than others. What emerges is a panoply of writing that provides a way into the life and work of one of ICS's founding members, a career marked by provocations and consolations, ranging from devotional inspiration and personal introspection to theoretical frames and thought experiments. It is of interest for readers long familiar with Henk's work, now able to see other sides of and motivations for his thought, as well as new readers, who might encounter the seeds of contemplation that have grown into longer studies and projects. Pieces in From Henk's Archives will be published as they are made available from the author and collected into a dedicated page on Ground Motive.

Ground Motive considers it a blessing and a privilege to host this collage of literature from one of the founders of the Institute, and we hope it finds a wide and welcoming audience.

--Ground Motive Editors