The Seduction of Unconsciousness

Photograph: Fayaz Aziz/Reuters

Living consciously is difficult and requires that we invest time and energy in the practice, and maintenance, of a clear mind.
Because awareness is costly, we all to easily lapse into unconsciousness.

During the years of struggle against Apartheid one of the biggest challenges was to get our most oppressed citizens to believe that they actually were oppressed.
One constantly heard the protest from poor people of colour that the White Nationalist government was good, and looking after them, better than they could do so themselves.
Conscientization, was an important step in energising the majority of South Africans to say No to Apartheid.

The sudden resurgence of Taliban dominance in Afghanistan in recent weeks has shocked us all. How could this movement with its dreadful history of human-rights abuses, particularly against women, have surged into the power-void created by the withdrawal of American troops?
I don’t pretend to know the whole dynamic of this complicated region of the world, and I distrust anyone who claims to. Single-factor explanations are at best simplistic and at worst just arrogant.

I do wonder however, if part of the problem is that we in the West, while correctly addressing the suffering of the poor and vulnerable, don’t fall into the trap of assuming that our values and lifestyle are the generic panacea for all human ills?

Afghanistan’s flip suggests that at least some part of the population agrees with the Taliban, or is the memory of the Red Toyota bakkies and the public beatings so strong that like a battered woman in an abusive marriage, Afghanis are acquiescing to power simply because to oppose it would bring more abuse and suffering? I don’t know.

Could it even be possible that not everyone on the planet wants to live in a free-market democracy where gender equality, human and gay rights are the norm?
Listening last week, to some Americans interviewed at a Trump rally inside the US, it seems that even in the land of the brave and the free, libertarian values are not embraced by everyone. One person actually warned the Biden administration that as quickly as the Taliban resurged in Afghanistan, so the American Right could overthrow the US Government!

Conscious living, understanding more than one’s own point of view, embracing and championing those not of your “in group” or echo chamber; are all challenges demanding careful thought and skilful action.
Rational and free thinking is exhausting.
Perhaps, more demanding than our overworked, locked down, narcissistic self-interest can afford?

Why not give in to fundamentalism and let others tell us what to think and how to live?
Do we, like the numbed and exhausted Afhanis, allow the anti-intellectual “Talibans” in our own church communities, clubs and social media platforms to overrun our free thinking and return us to the oppression of that unquestioning hive-mind where free thought and free speech are treated with the same hostility as an educated, young, Afghani woman?

The future of civilization hangs by the slender thread of those willing to keep thinking even when their brains hurt!

Radical Christ 28 – Good Friday Recipe: Roast leg of Scapegoat

I love pourquoi stories.  They are tales we have told through the ages to explain certain phenomena.  Pourquoi (pronounced pork-wha) is French for “why?”, any pre-schooler’s favourite word!

You know the story of the family that always cut the end off the lamb roast, before cooking. No one knew why.  On consulting great granny they discovered that in her day she had a small roaster and had to cut the joint to make it fit!

Pourquoi stories are the way cultures, religions and families pass on their rituals and sadly, their biases too.

The Crucifixion of Jesus is a multi-layer pourquoi story which like the mythical Urobouros swallowing its own tail, circles around and challenges our comfort zones.

The most common level of the story tries to explain why a peaceful prophet from Galilee was cruelly killed at the hands of Rome and the religious establishment in Jerusalem.  This orthodox answer is an extremely unhelpful one, “God planned it to be this way.” 

What! That’s a disgusting image of God! What father would kill his own son? How the church came to this brutal understanding of the horror, requires some questioning.

The Church was trying to make sense of Jesus’ unfair death and rationalised it back to animal sacrifice which was the religious forgiveness ritual then.

But why animal sacrifice in the first place?  Pourquoi?

Well, it’s preferable to sacrificing humans!  The Bible story of Abraham wanting to sacrifice Isaac, but God substituting a ram, is another pourquoi explaining the transition from human to animal sacrifice.

The pre-schooler in me continues – Why human sacrifice?  The answer to this one lies in our collective unconscious, and long before the bible was written.

Paleo-Anthropology studies these ancient myths and Rene Girard was one of its great scholars.  Studying ancient pourquois, Girard discovered that as humans began living in groups, they had to deal with troublesome people who didn’t fit in and disrupted the status quo.  The easiest, primitive solution was to demonise these characters, which then justified killing them.  

Individuals and groups were treated this way in times of stress. Medieval Jews were blamed for Bubonic plague just as recently, some blamed the Chinese for COVID19!  Ironically, right now the Christian church itself is being scapegoated for all the troubles in the world from paedophilia to colonisation. 

Yet in a strange anomaly within our mental processing, a residue of remorse lingers toward those we have scapegoated and destroyed.  

So the Greeks took Oedipus who killed his parents and they made him a god. Many of the Greek gods were rebels who achieved divine status.  We scapegoat our suspicious ones then remorsefully deify them.

Preachers proclaim that God killed Jesus, but if that’s true, we’ve been exonerated from our collective culpability in the greatest scapegoating crime ever committed!

Humans, not God, kill and destroy those who challenge and threaten us.

Jesus broke no taboos. He taught only an inclusive path of love, yet we killed him for it.  

Why in God’s name do that?

Radical Christ 26 – Dying to find Paradise

Lets face it, we all want to go back to paradise.
That idyllic, virus, tax and crime free place, where we can walk with God in the cool of the day. Where a heavenly being caters to our every need and all we have to do in return is not think for ourselves and blindly follow the rules. If you study the Judeao-Christian story, living in paradise meant living forever too. What a bonus!
Philosophers, psychologists and all students of human consciousness have speculated on this universal human desire for paradise. Perhaps it’s a primal memory of the carefree nine months we all spent in our mother’s wombs, when all had to do was feed and grow. Until that terrifying moment of contraction and constriction when were thrust headlong into the life we are living now!
The tipping point for our mythological proto-parents Adam and Eve, was when they chose consciousness and independence over unconscious dependence on God. By eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they set themselves up to go it alone against the harsh and life-threatening environment outside the gates of paradise.
In the story it is only after their expulsion, that human life is bounded from an eternal to a fixed term deal. Yet despite it seeming a curse, our limited lifespan is actually a gift for those who still choose consciousness over an unthinking life. Sages throughout the ages have realised that our mortality is a blessing and inspiration, not not a curse.
Pema Chodron a Tibetan Buddhist uses a simple three phrase statement as her ethical measure for skillful action, “Death is certain. The time of my death is uncertain. Knowing this, how should I live now?” A simple focus on reality.
Jesus knew this secret too. He said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Medieval thinkers used the phrase, “Memento Mori – Remember your death” as similar inspiration.
Life coaches recommend we develop our “Future Self”, and I understand the intention. Goal setting and visioning are critical life disciplines.
But I would offer one essential condition. Please bear in mind that your ultimate Future Self is a corpse!
Our present self is that grain of wheat Jesus spoke about. Filled with life and generative potential, we thwart our destiny if we cling to self preservation above sacrifice.
We are designed to die with all other seeds so that our species, our children and their children’s children may continue the cycle of life, death, germination, fruitfulness and harvest.
Paradise is forever lost and we cannot go back. Life in this present is all we have.
It is our greatest legacy, well worth living for, and then, worth dying from when our time is complete.
Ultimate fruitfulness is to live sacrificially for the future, but in this moment.
That’s the true, accessible paradise.

Radical Christ 25 – Nicodemus and the Great Reset

The Great Reset, was the theme of the World Economic Forum in January 2020.
At this meeting IMF director Kristalina Georgieva, listed three key aspects of a sustainable response to the current global crisis: green growth, smarter growth, and fairer growth. With the gap between rich and poor continuing to widen everywhere, the world could do with a reset.

Anne Lamott – an American novelist, Christian, recovering alcoholic, single parent and political activist known as “The People’s Author”, has said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
Nicodemus would have agreed with the Great Reset, and with Anne Lamott.

Nicodemus who? You ask…
An interesting bible character, Nicodemus only appears in John’s gospel where he is introduced as a Pharisee and Jewish ruler. Nicodemus makes three appearances, all of them at night.
He comes to ask Jesus about a new way of living in John 3.

He advocates for Jesus with his fellow Pharisees, asking he be given a fair trial in chapter 7,

and finally appears in John 19 when he joins Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial and donating 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes for the process. The usual amount of spice required was 5 pounds, so the excessively generous gesture of twenty times the norm, demonstrates the love of Nicodemus, and echoes the extravagant love of Mary who “wasted” a pound of rare perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus in John 12.

Nicodemus’ Greek name means “victory to the common people” from nike = victory and demos = common people. In New Testament Greek usage demos is associated with the rabble. As in “democracy”?
So Nick, the representative of the victorious rabble, is recorded by John’s gospel, consulting Jesus about the Greatest Reset ever, the switching off and on of our very identities.

John 3
1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You* must be born from above.”* 8The wind* blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.* 16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

In a discussion completely misunderstood by many Christians, Nicodemus, whose nighttime appearances symbolise the shadowy internal nature of The Greatest Reset; is informed by Jesus that no one can see the reign of God unless that person is “born from above”.

Jesus makes clear the imperative. A complete transformation of the way we look at the world, and behave in it, is required. Our natural survival drives and selfish interests, our power plays and perpetual domination of those weaker or poorer than ourselves, have to be reset in a radical transformation that is every bit as dramatic as being born afresh.

This is not some arrogant rank of spiritual superiority that “Born Again” has come to mean for some fundamentalists. It is rather a deep inner change process that happens in the depth of our beings, most often in the dark despairing nights of our souls.
We are ready for this rebirth when we know the taste of defeat and failure, and can advocate and attend to the crucified and broken ones as Nicodemus did for Jesus.

So don’t tell me you’re Born Again, show us all by the sacrificial service of your life.

Radical Christ 24 – Wrecking his Father’s House (John 2:13-25)

They say, there’s no place like home. If only we knew what our home, Port Elizabeth was called! Once the Mayor and the Ministers have agreed, maybe the Mlungu’s will learn to pronounce Gqeberha?

It’s clearly karma for making second language English speakers struggle for decades with Fort Beaufort!
Yet, despite the name, there’s no place like home, as young lockdowners from all over the planet discovered as they returned to their parental nests.

If you are a Christian in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, this Sunday you will hear the gospel reading of how Jesus went to his Father’s House and wrecked the place!
John 2:12-22 records that Jesus went to the temple to celebrate the passover, but found a lucrative business in operation. Jews from all over the known world dreamt of Passover, “next year in Jerusalem”, and like Muslims to the Haj, or Christians to the Camino de Santiago, they pilgrimaged to Jerusalem.

The business of the temple had two profit centres – foreign exchange, to convert the pilgrims’ currency into Tyrian shekels (the only currency permitted in the temple, because it had no engraved image on it), and the second business arm – the sale of bulls, sheep and pigeons (for worshippers on a tight budget).
It is estimated that in Jesus’ day the entire economy of Jerusalem was based on the sacrificial throughput of the temple.

Finding forex stalls set up in the only space where non-Jews (Gentiles) were allowed to stand during rituals so enraged the inclusive Jesus, he chased the livestock out of the court and upended the workstations of the money changers.
“Do not make my fathers house a place of business”, he shouted. “Father’s house” is the conventional translation of “Oikon tou Patros” and “place of business” translates “emporiou” (the English emporium), so “shopping mall”, would a be a fair translation.

Jesus had clearly lost faith in the temple, which is why when interrogated by the Jews about his permit to do what he did, he said “Tear down this temple and I will build it up in three days”. John records how the disciples later realised Jesus meant his body and not the building, which suggests the home of God is no longer a building. The temple is wherever our heart is.
There’s no way to make money from that, Jesus’ priority was people not profits, so religious businessmen killed him.

Interestingly the next time Jesus speaks about his parent’s house it’s in John 14, where he says “In my Father’s house there are many rooms”. Again a little digging reveals that the phrase “many rooms or monai pollai” in Greek can also read “multiple abidings”.
So it’s not a building, and not a business, neither an exclusive, mono-cultural, single room; but a diverse, multiversal home of tolerance and hospitality.
Jesus also says in the very next chapter 15, “meinate en emoi”, Greek for, “Stay here with me.”

That’s ultimate hospitality. Welcome home everyone!
No exclusive identity, nor tongue testing language skills required!

Radical Christ 23 – The Transfiguration Pivot Point

The Transfiguration of Jesus is the turning point of Jesus’ ministry.
From preaching, teaching and healing in Galilee, after the Transfiguration he heads south to Jerusalem to confront the oppressive and exploitative religious establishment there.
The transfiguring light of Mt Tabor will progressively dim to the darkness of a cold tomb where Jesus’ dead body will be sealed after the crucifixion.
The disciples want to stay on the mountain in the glow. Who wouldn’t? But Jesus insists they must go and confront the darkness.

Radical Christ 22- Integration Practice for Raising Lazarus – What are Miracles?

There is so much information around us, and we who live in the information age can easily mistake information for transformation.
For this reason, the Radical Christ series, from time to time, inserts Integration Practice sessions to allow the information about Jesus, the Map for each of our lives, to become an integrated transformation of our inner life.
I trust this will be of help to your journey and practice.

Radical Christ 21 – What are Miracles?

Miracles have been largely trivialised by Literalism and Fundamentalism.
Remembering that Scripture is best understood on the mythical level which enables it to be accessed in any age and context, we begin to grasp the life and actions of Jesus as a Map for our own lives.
The Raising of Lazarus illustrates some powerful truths which may help us in our daily dying and coming back to life?

Scripture reference : John 11.

What miracles are not! Crazy Pastor of “Doom”

Radical Christ 20- Lost and Found – 3 Ways

The video
The soundtrack

Jesus often spoke about seeking and saving the Lost,
In this video Peter unpacks three parables of lost things from Luke chapter 15. The Lost Sheep, Coin and Son.
Linking these to phrases from the Prayer of Confession from the Communion liturgy opens an interesting choice of how to seek for the lost and is dependent on how the lostness occurred.

How we get lost may determine how we get found and by whom?