29 January 2013

Agape Without Isms or Ists

This is the fourth...and final...part of the series "More Love...and Some Civility" that began on 1/18/13.  My goal is to complete the "translation" of images that have been part of daily contemplative discipline for some weeks.  In being as transparent as possible, please know that what I have written is not a "rant" or a personal "crusade."  Some of what I have written is even a surprise to me.  It comes from deep within, and from a growing and abiding love for those of whom I have spoken...most especially the Lakota People.  They have opened hearts and doors to me in a kind of loving way that cannot be expressed.  My mission for the coming years is solidifying on its own...as if I have been born to do this phase of my life as it seems to be unfolding...in spite of me at times.  Thanks for reading and sharing these "showings."

Peter and Paul...

Since birth, I have been part of the Christian Tradition known broadly as Anglicanism, and specifically as the Episcopal Church in this country.  Part of our family history...on both sides...go back to Non-Juror Anglicans in Scotland.  So, growing up, I was "tuned into" the liturgical calendar that drives the Church Year.  In addition to moving through the life and ministry of Jesus, the liturgical year contains a calendar of saints....women and men who have exemplified the characteristics and presence of Jesus in the communities and environments of their times.   This calendar includes the Apostolic core of what became Christianity...eleven of the original twelve disciples of Jesus; Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot; and Paul, who was incorporated into the Apostolic core by that community.

A skeptic, a tradesman (professional fisherman), and one who often engaged his mouth before evaluating the bigger picture.  He was impetuous...and pious...a typical member of Judean life in his day.  Jesus called Peter and his brother, Andrew, who dropped their nets and went with Jesus.  In the midst of being criticized and oppressed by both Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus asked a straight-up question of his disciples:  "How about you, who do you say that I am?"  Peter blurted, "You are the Christ, the Messiah of God!"
(read this story in Matthew 16 of the Christian Bible).  This confession of Peter is a major shift in the work of Jesus, and the Church celebrates the Confession of Peter on 18 January each year.

It bears note that proclaiming Jesus as Messiah did not "save" Peter. [this word "save" is simply a bad and abused term for what actually happens.  It's the difference between being opened and awakened.  The Greek term "metanoia" means to turn completely...to be healed/restored.  It is a process word, not an impact word].  Not days after making the incredible statement above, Jesus tells his disciples that it is time to head to Jerusalem.  Peter literally gets in Jesus' face and tells him it is suicide...they would all be killed.  Jesus rebukes Peter harshly:  "Get behind me Deceiver...you have no idea how God works!" [literal translation from Greek text].

The most important piece of Peter's narrative is captured in the last chapter of the Gospel of John.  It is the final post-Resurrection gathering with the now eleven.  After a breakfast that Jesus made, he asked Peter twice, "Simon, son of John, do you love me...?"  Peter responded twice...each time more vehemently..."Yes, Master, you know I love you."
Jesus asked a third time, Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  Peter is really distressed and responds, "You know everything there is to know.  You have got to know that I love you."

This scene only makes sense in the original Greek.  The first two times Jesus asked Peter about "love," he used the term "agapeo."  Peter's response each time used the Greek word, "phileo" as "love."  In other words,  Jesus asked Peter if he loved him with the love of Divine Grace.  Peter responded that he loved Jesus like a brother.

The third and final time Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, Jesus stepped down his expectation and used the term, "phileo"... as a way of meeting Peter where he was.  As I said above, Peter's heart had been opened, but he still had a lot of "baggage" to process.

Peter did get to the place of "Agape" as he began his apostolic work.  He finally did wake up.

Passionate and legalistic...both in his upbringing and his zeal to persecute the potentially toxic cult that had arisen in the followers of Jesus (as the Sanhedrin...the Jewish governing body...saw them)...Paul comes on the scene as leading the angry mob set on killing Stephen (read the story in Acts 9).  Paul grew up in Tarsus (now in Turkey) and was considered an Hellenistic Jew.  He also had Roman citizenship along with his birth citizenship as a Jew.  Paul studied under Gamaliel, who was the leading rabbinic teacher of that time.  Paul's zeal was for the Law and its strict adherence.

After the stoning of Stephen, Paul was given the job of leading a militia group to Damascus to "root out" the followers of Jesus and bring them bound for trial in Jerusalem.  It was on that trip that Paul was blinded by a vision of Jesus, who asked, "...Why are you persecuting me?"  When Paul responded with the only possible question, "Who are you?" the response was, "I am Jesus, the one you are hunting down.  I want you to get up and enter the city.  There you will be told what to do next."

Paul was healed of his blindness and disappeared for about three years.  Upon his return, his zeal had completely turned.  THIS was metanoia... a full awakening.  The Christian Church celebrates the Conversion of St. Paul on 25 January each year.

Unity in Diversity...

Peter and Paul take similar paths during their subsequent work in the Apostolic community.  Peter's final awakening opens him to accept and fully incorporate Gentiles (non-Jews) into the faith community.  Paul sees the decimation of famine in the community in Antioch (mostly Gentiles) and returns to Jerusalem to make a case for sending aid.  Peter, a rough hewn fisherman, and Paul, a cultured and educated scholar, bring alive the person of Jesus  in ways that, by the time both were killed, insured that Christianity was firmly planted around the entire Mediterranean basin.

Paul actually became the first theologian of the infant Christian community.  The core of his teaching can be seen in I Corinthians 12 and 13.  Paul did not write esoteric texts.  He wrote letters to the communities he had started...letters that taught, encouraged and sometimes chastised the faithful in their journey.

Basic to Paul's theology is the understanding of community as being like the human body.  The human body has thousands of moving parts...broken down into systems that function in a remarkable harmony (most of the time) to make us fully alive.  Yet, the parts are vastly different.  Eyes, ears, noses, hands, feet, stomach, lungs, liver, etc., are different even in the types of cells that comprise them...not to mention their individual function.  Bill Bryson wondered aloud how 'so many billions of atoms can function in ways that they come together and work in harmony to make a human being' (a summary paraphrase from his book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Chapter 1).

Yet, Paul not only suggests but outright tells the faith community that it must come to a place of functioning like a human body.  Separate parts but all working as One.  Where does this business of being One come from?

Paul does not wait long to provide that insight.  In Chapter 13 of I Corinthians Paul wrote the famous "Discourse on Love."  What was he talking about?  Agapeo!  

Nothing works without the energy and power of Divine Love.  The Christian Church calls it Grace.  It empowers, binds, embraces and holds together all things.  To be fully present to and motivated by Agapeo is to be awakened.


The coming of Christianity did not save its parent...Judaism.  The legalistic structure of 1st century Judaism did not save Judea.  The temple was destroyed in 70CE (AD) and Judea was rendered open territory in the Roman Empire.  That community would not come together again as a formal state until 1949.

Christianity was at its best in the first 800 years of its life.  The ravages of the Middle Ages shifted our theology in ways that twisted us well out of shape and sent us into several hundred years of fighting governance with abuse of sacred power (so-called sacred in many cases), infighting (the Reformation) and exclusivism (which created the reason, for instance, that folks were leaving England and the continent and heading to the, then, "New World").

Yet, in all this history, the thread of Divine Love continued to move.  We have a string of saints, scholars, mystics and liturgical practices that have kept the fires of awakening alive in the Christian tradition.  Grace abides in spite of us.

Also, this is true of every truly spiritual tradition.  Even while Christianity was emerging in the middle east, so were other expressions of Divine Love emerging in the far east, the Isles of Britain, and in the Americas.  No one gets center stage on this.

As long as there are human beings, we will be tried in the flames of our own egos.  It is the Divine spark that makes us truly human that also provides us with the opportunity to choose:  self or Other....eros/phileos or Agape.  To be awake means that ego has been removed as the driver of our being and has been replaced with Agape...Divine Love.

When we equate the governance of our culture...or the laws that govern us...with the "Will of God," we have employed one of the most ancient and patently absurd acts of hubris known to our human community's history.

When we use any type of Manifest Destiny (read:  God's command to exert corporate or national power) to seek the destruction of other humans, or any part of created order, we have become ourselves The Lie.  Not just liars, but The Lie.

As Peter was taught in his struggle with accepting Gentiles into the Body of the Faithful, adherence to a law of exclusivity is null and void.

Think about this in light of yesterday's (1/28/13) experience of a man grieving the loss of his son at Sandy Hook boldly beseeching state government for changes that would lead to stopping such rampant massacres.  As he did so in tears, dozens of "God fearing" citizens, denounced him and hollered, "Second Amendment" as a chant to shut him up.  Divine Love at work?  No, I don't think so.  We may be getting  a little close to what happened to Judaism in 70AD here.  I wonder what Paul would think in light of his persecution of Divine Love and subsequent experience of awakening.   My heart is troubled.

As long as extreme elements of our political spectrum refuse to turn and face each other (remember, I likened the spectrum to a circle...bent back on itself with the extreme ends back-to-back at the bottom...facing away from each other) there will not be the kind of humility and mutual respect that breeds true progress.

As long as individual and corporate egos exercise bigotry, behave exclusively, and use terms like "fascism," "socialism," or any of the '-ist' derivatives to describe others (not even counting that those terms are regularly used incorrectly and totally outside their origins), we cannot be a nation E Pluribus Unum.

As long as there is a part of our own nation's society that is treated as a conquered, third-world people, we carry the "karma," guilt and responsibility for the near extinction of their cultures.  Here I speak directly about our First Nations peoples.

The words I hear spoken today...bathed in religious rhetoric...that act to vilify, exclude, judge or abuse persons of other points of view mock Divine Love.

What would happen, if every person allowed him/her-self to have a Damascus road experience.  What would happen if every person allowed him/her-self to have a heart opened to the truth of real love...Agape?

There would be hope.  There would be reconciliation.  There would be progress.  There would be peace.  I am yet hopeful.  It is a journey worth taking.  It is a journey that begins with one and is complete in One.

Finally:  Phobos ouk estin en tey agape, all hey teleia agape edzo ballei ton phobos; hoti ho phobos kolasin exei, ho de phoboumenos ou tetelaiotai en tey agape. [transliteration of original Greek...I John 4:18...describes what happened to Peter and Paul...and all who are open to agape.

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; because fear has punishment, and the one fearing has not been perfected in love."

I stand as one also in need of the total centrality of this Love.



[NB:  For persons who do not see Christianity as The Way, what is written above is not exclusive.  I write from my tradition, because that is the point of my origin and the road of my journey.  I can only employ the tools of theology, science, history and social sciences that have been in my education and development.  I know a little about a lot in terms of other spiritual traditions and paths.  To attempt to use those tools to describe a journey would be outrageous at best and abusive at worst.  As I use the original texts of Greek and Hebrew to better employ my craft; I humbly ask that you use my language as one that can be "transliterated" to one that is more comfortable for you.  I think you will find common ground.  I most assuredly have...and give thanks for those patient enough to answer questions and provide compassionate correction when I have "got it twisted" a bit.]


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