Nostalgia for Paradise Lost

“The Eden story is certainly not a morality tale; like any paradise myth, it is an imaginary account of the infancy of the human race. In Eden, Adam and Eve are still in the womb; they have to grow up, and the snake is there to guide them through the perplexing rite of passage to maturity. To know pain and to be conscious of desire and mortality are inescapable components of human experience, but they are also symptoms of that sense of estrangement from the fullness of being that inspires the nostalgia for paradise lost. We can see Adam, Eve, and the serpent as representing different facets of our humanity. In the snake is the rebelliousness and incessant compulsion to question everything that is crucial to human progress; in Eve we see our hunger for knowledge, our desire to experiment, and our longing for a life free of inhibition. Adam, a rather passive figure, displays our reluctance take responsibility for our own actions. The story shows that good and evil are inextricably intertwined in human life. Our prodigious knowledge can at one and the same time be a source of benefit and the cause of immense harm. The rabbis of the Talmudic age understood this perfectly. They did not see the “fall” of Adam as a catastrophe, because the “evil inclination” (yeytzer ha’ra) was an essential part of human life, and the aggression, competitive edge, and ambition that it generates are bound up with some of our greatest achievements.”

Karen Armstong – The Case for God

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The Truths of Religion

“The truths of religion are accessible only wen you are prepare to get rid of the selfishness, greed, and self-preoccupation that, perhaps inevitably, are ingrained in our thought and behavior but are also the source of so much of our pain. The Greeks would call this process kenosis, “emptying.” Once you gave up the nervous craving to promote yourself, denigrate others, draw attention to your unique and special qualities, and ensure that you were first in the pecking order, you experienced an immense peace.”

Karen Armstrong – The Case for God

Virtual Church Debate Round-Up (and why I’m partially wrong on the matter)

There has been a fair amount of conversation floating around the web lately regarding the proposed validity of “virtual church.” Doug Estes, author of the book Sim Church, posted a defense of virtual church on the Out of Ur blog. Scot Mcknight chimed in on his blog. Nick from the Nick and Josh podcast asked me to take part in a little conversation about the matter. Bob Hyatt has provided the most thoughtful push back on this issue, raising questions that the most notable proponents of virtual church seem to just push aside, as to not even acknowledge Bob’s effective critique.

It’s been great to read all the varying opinions while processing this issue. It’s an issue that clearly exposes a fundamental shift in the way the usefulness web has altered the way we perceive and experience relationships. Through it all I’ve found a little bit of a change of heart in how I view the validity of virtual church.

I do believe that this push for the validation of virtual church truly comes from good intention and a longing to serve the needs of others. Doug Estes seems to be coming at this from a more evangelical strategy. For him it seems to be a matter of simple math. There are millions of people who spend 40 plus hours surfing the web each week and how can we convert them while not requiring them to actually join a local church community. As if encouraging folks to go to a join a local church community is a cruel “colonization” of a lost soul. It’s an argument that says that the conversion experience should be one of ease and convenience. This begs the question, is the Gospel message itself one of convenience?

But there is another aspect of this that I hadn’t really considered before until I began a back and forth with Kimberly, a pastor of the virtual church Koinonia found in the virtual, web based world of Second Life. You can read the back and forth here. The blog comments led to a video chat between myself and Kimberly that gave me a more full understanding of what this community is all about. Koinonia is a small community of folks where more than half of the congregation are GLBT. They have found something profound in their experience in Koinonia that they simply haven’t found in “first life” church communities. While many members of Koinonia do participate in first life church community, there is an aspect of this virtual church that serves the desperation of folks who’ve been deeply wounded by their previous church experience. In many ways, it serves as a spiritual triage for folks who’ve no where else to go. As a pastor, Kimberly comes along side these folks and enforces to them that they are accepted and loved by God and the community. As you might imagine, this very well may be the first time a congregant of Koinonia has ever experienced such a feeling. As a white, married, heterosexual male, I could never pretend to understand the obstacles that gays have experienced in the Church so I regret that my previous critique of virtual church never really took this into consideration. I can say with great confidence that the (C)hurch is much better off with the Koinonia community doing what it does. If Kimberly senses that one of the congregants is hoping for a first life community that resembles their experience at Koinonia, she does what she can to research and help them find a local community for them to try out.

The overall fear I still have is that while these kinds of options can be very helpful for folks, we are not paying attention to the way the web is altering the way we fundamentally view relationships. We can all agree that our most important, meaningful relationships are at their best when physical proximity is an essential value. We don’t talk about virtual parenting or virtual marriage as valid forms of relationships. I think the same should be said for the Church. The web burns into our conscience an ethic that if we don’t like something we can just delete, unfollow, or edit out of our lives. It sells us the notion that we deserve an experience that is 100% deferential to our preferences. While I don’t desire to argue over the semantics of what is and isn’t church, I still believe the push back on the unblinking acceptance of virtual church is very much needed.

Divine Ignorance

Enlightenment is not “omniscience” but “ascience”–not all-knowing but no-knowing–the utter release from the cramp of knowledge, which is always of the world of form, when all you are in truth is formless. Not the cloud of knowing, but the cloud of unknowing. Not divine knowledge, but divine ignorance. The Seer cannot be seen; the Knower cannot be known; the Witness cannot be witnessed. What you are, therefore, is just a free fall in divine ignorance, a vast Freedom from all things known and seen and heard and felt, an infinity of Freedom on the other side of knowledge, an eternity of Release on the other side of time.

— Ken Wilber, One Taste

Integrate the Unknown

“Faith does not simply account for the unknown, tag it with a theological tag and file it away in a safe place where we do not have to worry about it. This is a falsification of the whole idea of faith. On the contrary, faith incorporates the unknown into our everyday life in a living, dynamic and actual manner. The unknown remains unknown. It is still a mystery, for it cannot cease to be one. The function of faith is not to reduce mystery to rational clarity, but to integrate the unknown and the known together in a living whole, in which we are more and more able to transcend the limitations of our external self.

Hence the function of faith is not only to bring us into contact with the “authority of God” revealing not only to teach us truths “about God,” but even to reveal to us the unknown in our own selves, in so far as our unknown and undiscovered self actually lives in God, moving and acting only under the direct light of His merciful grace.”

Thomas Merton, New Seeds Of Contemplation

You know how a book stops being a book and starts being a companion? I like that.