Wednesday, 28 June 2017

God is Doing a New Thing

In times of tragedy we see those who love evil, because it gives them a reason to hate.
A loving challenge to my Christian friends.

We all know what God is capable of. We all want many, many lives to be transformed by love. But if you say you want the new thing, is what you really want the old thing again? Are you willing to think differently. Are you willing to see things differently. Or is all that you can see the old thing?

God is at work, God is moving. There is a new thing.

God is love (1 John 4:8), this is the most beautiful truth in the bible. Wherever you see love at work, that is God at work. So the question was never "do you believe in a deity?", but "do you believe in love?". If people believe in the power of love, that love transforms and rescues, that love heals, that love is worth living for and can achieve anything, then they believe in our God. The question of what you think you believe with your mind has very little to do with it, and never did.

This is what John said when he defined who knows God (1 John 4:7); those who love know God. It's what James said when he defined religion that is acceptable to God (James 1:27) as love in action. This is the message of the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the ultimate question is not what you have believed but whether you loved. Jesus even said this explicitly when he said "Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:21-23).
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea
A great high priest whose name is love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
-- Charitie Lees Bancroft
We're all deep and complex people, full of hidden abilities and motivations that we don't understand. This we know [1]. So the substance of faith is not to convert our minds, or the minds of other people, but for the substance of who we are to know love. All that matters is the spirit and truth, the depth, of who we really are and how we live. Not what we think we believe. It is said that the longest road is the road from the head to the heart. This isn't true, it's quite a short road, but it only goes in the other direction. You just can't jam what you think from your head to the heart, but what the heart really finds you can understand with your mind.

But what about those passages that speak of belief, and preaching the name of Jesus, and how do we reconcile "all who love know God" with Jesus saying "I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the father but by me"? That last part is simple. John says that anyone who loves knows the father, and Jesus says if they know the father they came by him.

As for belief, well the only belief that matters is the belief of the heart. Even Romans 10:10 says "believe with your heart and proclaim with your mouth". It's perfectly possible to believe with your mind yet stay hurt, be hard or bitter, beset by psychological difficulties and never really change. Don't you see this in Christianity all the time? We need to find a real and deep experience of love, and that really can change us. It comes not from being loved, but from loving. The more we love the more we manifest God and the more we're changed. That's good news.

And proclaiming and acting in the name of Jesus. Well it's clearly not about the word "Jesus". That wasn't even his name, he was called Yeshua! When you go in someone's name you go in their power and authority. In mysticism true name reveals true nature. So to proclaim the name of Jesus is to proclaim love, to walk in the substance of his love and power. Let's convert people to really believe in the power of love, and the only way I know to do that is to really demonstrate the power of love. Stop trying to tell people about God and show them God.

This is a message of good news, that love saves, a message of the power of love, that all who love are our brothers and sisters. But it isn't evangelicism, it's progressive Christianity. God is not hidden, God is not hard to find. God is everywhere because love is everywhere. In everyone. Made in the image of God.

So to love God is to love love. To adore love with all your heart. To live for love and to love. Isn't love beautiful, isn't love worth it. I know of nothing better and I think there's nothing that love can't do. There's something worth living for. When your heart is truly captured by the beauty of love there are a lot of things that just fall away. My faith is in love and I think it can achieve absolutely anything.

Alongside political trouble and global trauma, perhaps even because of them, I see a huge movement of people determined to love, determined to see change. That fierce determination to love, and a determination to do something about it, is love on the move. Let's be them, join with them and help them. The forces of good in this troubled world are far stronger than you can possibly imagine. Let's end the tribalism of Christianity that makes us right and everyone else wrong and let's love the love in action. All you have to do is love people.

The trouble is that we make God into a mixture of love and rules. And as much as your faith is in the rules it isn't in love. Love has fulfilled the law. The standard is perfection, this isn't some permissive doctrine, but the law is love. Not a set of rules.

A big part of the problem comes from our shallow understanding of sin. We think sin is the things we do wrong, so we feel guilty whenever we do something wrong. We continually miss the mark, and we think we're meant to feel bad about it. The message of Christianity is exactly the opposite! Sin is dealt with, it's already forgiven. Sin is our separation from God, that we're not yet able to see God clearly. The problem is not really what we do, but who we are.

This goes along with the teaching of evangelicism that we're already made perfect, and if we could just somehow realise this we would stop sinning. Based in part at least on the scripture "if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation". Except that is no-one's experience of Christianity ever. Even with a dramatic initial experience of God and change, really finding the new creation is the work of a lifetime. No-one is made perfect in one fell swoop. A better reading is "as much as a person is in Christ, they are a new creation".

So stop worrying about sin. The past is gone. Sorrow instead (as I do) over who you are, that you don't really know God, that you don't love deeply. This is repentance, and is part of a change of nature, the work of God in us.

And especially stop worrying about other peoples' sin. It's none of your business. The law of God, which is love, is for us to look to ourselves, to worry about the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:3, Luke 6:31). The only way to change other people is to love them without expecting them to change, and to leave the rest up to their conscience and to God (John 16:8/13 - compare with this quote from Billy Graham “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.”). The greatest tragedy in Christianity is men who don't know God arguing about theology and the rules other people should be forced to live their lives by.
Woe to you teachers of the law.
Woe to you who teach law.
Woe to you who preach rules.
But this isn't how many of us were taught, and there's a cost to being different. I want to know who will pay the cost.

I explore more of what it means to say that the law is love in my article Tainted Love?.



In response to this article I've received several responses, at the time of writing this is my most viewed article of 2017. There are several common themes.

  • Aren't you trying to say that human love is God's love?
I could certainly be accused of saying that God is human! Or to put it a better way God encompasses humanity. In Jesus the completely orthodox Christian belief is that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, that his human love is fully divine love. This follows neatly onto the next topic.
  • There are several types of love. Not all love is God, only agape love. So God is love but love is not God.
So there is love that doesn't come from God and doesn't contain his nature? Perhaps John was wrong when hes said that everyone who loves knows God and is born of God? Or what about 1 John 4:7 "let us love one another for love comes from God", did he just mean "some love"? Dividing love into different types is a pre-Christian, Greek, idea. Aramaic, which is the language Jesus spoke, doesn't have this distinction and modern scholars agree that there is actually little to no difference in the use of agape and phileo in the new testament. See, for example, How do Bible Scholars Reconcile the Differences between Greek & Aramaic in John
God is pure love, perfect love, all the love. That turns out to be a lot of love. This is normally very imperfectly expressed by humanity, love mixed with all sorts of self-interest. But the perfect love at the heart of it, and the heart of us, is God. 
This fits well with the experience of Christian mystics who in complete union with God invariably exclaim with Julian of Norwich "God is everything good; its goodness is God" [2]. 
  • There is an apparent tension between John who says that all who love know God and the verses that say we must believe in the name of Jesus and proclaim the name of Jesus to be saved. We need to balance those two apparently contradictory set of scriptures and not take either of them too far. 
That's only a problem if you think those scriptures actually contradict each other. This of course is one of the problems of "typical" Evangelicism, it cannot reconcile these scriptures and they stand in opposition to each other. There's another way to see them that puts them in harmony and we can fully accept both. 
Believing in, and proclaiming, the name of Jesus. Has nothing to do with the word Jesus. If it means his name literally then we're in trouble because that wasn't his name. His name in Hebrew was Joshua, Jesus is a Latin transliteration of the Greek version of that name, Yeshua. Yeshua is still used, instead of Jesus, by Messianic Jews. 
See for example, this short article on What Does Jesus Mean
My favourite quote from that is: "When the New Testament tells us to pray in Jesus’ name, it doesn’t teach us that the name itself is special. It tells us that the person is special. When an ambassador speaks to a foreign leader, he speaks “in the name of” – with the power and authority of – the one he represents. Jesus is an ambassador, speaking to the Father on our behalf…and speaking to us on behalf of the Father."
Believing in the name of Jesus means believing in his power and his authority. To go in the name of someone means to go in their power and authority. So to think someone needs to know the word Jesus to be saved seems somewhat foolish - they need to meet the substance of who Jesus is, his power and his authority.  
With that understanding these verses are not at all contradictory. Anyone who knows love knows God because God is love, and Jesus is God - so anyone who knows love knows Jesus. It's not complicated and it makes sense of those scriptures together along with the others that I highlight in my article. If you move in the power and authority of genuine love you go in the name of Jesus, for that is who he is. 
  •  Your approach is unbalanced, we need love and righteousness.
Yes we need righteousness, but do you think righteousness comes from following the law? Righteousness is from Christ alone. The law cannot save, it can only condemn. Love fulfils the whole of the law. Following the law does not and cannot make you righteous, that isn't what righteousness is. Do you really believe that to the pure all things are pure or that all things are permitted, or do you think those scriptures actually mean "only following the law is pure", "only following the law is permitted"? That's the opposite of what they say. There are a great many scriptures on this topic. Do not put your faith in rules, put your faith in love. for more on this see my article Tainted Love?.
The major theme of the teaching of Christ is that love is not a set of rules. There's no set of rules that keep you from sin. In fact "woe to you teachers of the law"! You have to be willing to think, and thinking is not dangerous. What is right determined by the specific circumstances you're in, not from a set of rules. 
The trouble is that people suspect that if they try to work it out for themselves, they'll come to conclusions that are different from their current beliefs, or maybe that they'll just come to the wrong conclusion. Far safer to stick to the rules that everyone else follows. So the motivation is not in itself bad, but the conclusion is dire. It's not safer. It's dead. 
We don't even believe that righteousness comes from following the rules (at least we claim we don't), but from faith and through Christ. In Christ alone! So following the rules can't make you righteous either. If you want to not be under judgement then stop judging. If you don't judge then you can't be judged and you're free (1 Corinthians 2:15). Unfortunately people like the power that judging people gives them. That's their problem, not yours. 
Stop living under judgement.
Worshipping love (and in Jesus the personhood of love) and revering love as sacred and holy works! Love is truly beautiful, simply divine. Making love conditional on following a set of rules, however well-intentioned, is actually awful. Conditional love is not God's love

"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people." - Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28

[1] Repeated empirical studies (see the work of Daniel Kahnemann for example) have show that we make decisions based on subconscious promptings that we're not aware of, and then the conscious mind rationalizes the decision we have already come to.
[2] Page 129 of "Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian" by Grace Jantzen, also found in "Essentials of Mysticism" by Evelyn Underhill.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Aspects of the Divine

"Rest in Natural Great Peace, this exhausted mind." - Prayer by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche
Siva the destroyer and friend of the poor, Ganesh the remover of obstacles, Loki the trickster and the madman who is not mad, the horror who has no name whom I call nightmare, Sophia who is wisdom, Venus who is unbridled passion, Dionysius who is abandoned revelry and is also called Bacchus, Delia who is beauty and is also called Artemis, Diana in whom is the moon who may also be Artemis, Anubis who shows the path to the dead, Isis the mother who is all women, the Father from whom all springs, and Michael who is war.

And Jesus who is love, who is all in all. The Godhead incarnate who was dead and yet lives and who makes all things new.

These are the metaphors, the archetypes, the aspects of the divine that I know.

Oh, and you. I know you. If you will permit to be known.

Codicil: lest it remain unsaid, beauty has married war and their love is glorious and terrible. Look not.


"Dark chocolate, like black coffee, is a wonderful metaphor for life. The interesting flavours are hidden in the bitter edge, but all are unbearable without a little sweetness."

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Do What Thou WIlt

In times of terror we see those who love evil, because it gives them a reason to hate.
We often think about the struggle between doing what is right and what is wrong, but far more often the problem is not doing the right thing but knowing what the right thing is. In my experience, more often than not I want to do the right thing but it isn't clear what that is. There are often several options, none of which seems exactly right and all of which could be wrong.

Wouldn't it be good if you could trust your desires, if you could know that you are good and that what you want to do is therefore likely to be the right thing. Then you could usually just do what you want, except  where it is clearly wrong, and most of the time you would be doing the right thing or at least have the right intentions.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law". Aleister Crowley wrote this in the early 1900s. Contemporary society misunderstood him as saying "do what you want", and for this they called him the great beast. Actually he meant find your true will, and do what you really will. For your true will is to do good. Mr Crowley has a dark reputation, mostly undeserved but not entirely, but for good or for ill (and who knows) his words have had an influence on my life. He also said "Love is the law, love under will". We choose to love, and this it seems to me is a beautiful truth.

So how do you get there, how do you know what your true will is? This is pretty much the same question that most people ask for much of their lives; who really am I and what do I really want?

We spend much of our lives struggling to do what is right, and feeling that we are not very good and therefore we must fight against what we want. So we don't trust our own desires and we remain cut off from ourselves and struggle to know our own heart and mind.

So I'm afraid that the path to discovering who you are, to discovering what you really want and what your "true will" (whatever that may be) is, does largely involve doing what you want - and being prepared to take the consequences of your actions.

If you're willing to trust that you are basically good, with many flaws, and that you want to do the right thing. And if you're also prepared to accept that you can only do what you can do, that even if there is some hypothetical "right thing" if it is beyond your capability then you must simply do what you can and that's all that can be asked. If you're willing to trust that trying to love people is a process that will change you, trust that in having a genuine heart you will be changed, then do what you want. And gradually, if you really are genuine, what you want will more and more be good. As you do what you want, as you're willing to listen to what you want, then what you *really* want and who you really are becomes clearer.

Obviously apply common sense. Deny the clearly wrong impulses, but be willing to make mistakes. If you get things wrong then just deal with the consequences. You only do what you are able to do, no need to feel guilty just get on with facing what is before you right now. The past has gone and the future is not yet written. Let's have some fun and be good.

Love God and do what you want -- Augustine.


"It has been said that for many people their faith involves attempting to clamber from the evil branches to the good branches in the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Instead the call is to climb down from that tree and climb into the tree of life."

Monday, 5 June 2017

Why Should I Fear


Didn't there used to be magic 
When you were five the world was magic. And then gradually, the magic fades. But it hasn't gone, it's still there. When you were five.
When I was young I was haunted by a wild and ferocious desperation and I was so afraid. It cut me and drove everyone away. It hurt so much.

The thing is that emotions, these parts of yourself, don't really go away. Instead if you learn not to fear them you can turn them to good. My desperation is still there, a wild longing to love and to burn and to blaze. An unquenchable thirst for the river that never runs dry.

As for the pain, that remains too. And when I see it in others, because everybody hurts, I can sometimes bleed. As we bleed together we heal. Let your inner pain be the engine of your empathy.

Finally that lost lonely death that had me. That I can turn on the fear. Fear must die. Why should I fear, I've been dead.

"The best defence is a perfect mirror. The fiercer and uglier your opponent the less they can stand to see themselves. Mind as a still lake."

Objective and Subjective Realities


Beauty is to be found in a naked paradox.

Objective reality is the composite of all subjective realities. And right at the heart is love.

Fundamental reality is chaos and uncertainty, and I love her with all my heart.

Wherever you go walk the worlds. Let people into your world and enter theirs. Eventually they merge, as you evolve a common language.

Our common subjective reality is our objective reality. Let's share reality, all of it in every way. As we do our reality gets stronger.

Fear is what keeps you out of chunks of reality. Parts of reality are very frightening. So let's conquer fear and help other people conquer fear. My strong suspicion is that as we defeat fear we discover that actually it was really only the fear we were afraid of all along. The rest we can handle and sort out between us.
1 John 4:18 Perfect love drives out all fear.
The Litany Against Fear, from Dune:
"I must not fear.Fear is the mind-killer.Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.I will face my fear.I will permit it to pass over me and through me.And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
Codicil: so if objective reality is the composite of all subjective realities, what is it that actually exists beyond? Of that, no-one can ever know. We can expand our reality, but there is always a beyond. The great unknowable unknown. But maybe, just maybe it echoes. Ripples through space and time, that only the utterly still may hear.


"I know a spell of unbinding. It is worse than the spell of binding. It is the cost of a broken promise."

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Fragments of a Once Broken Mind


Awaken to dream and be the lucid dreamer.
This article is one of a series on my experience of psychosis. The articles are:

In a Different Place

In a different place, in a different life, I did community service in Cambridge. Three memories remain.

Clearing a lake a young gypsy lad asked me if I'd ever stabbed anyone. He meant me no harm and I replied that I didn't like the sight of other people's blood.

Then, in a workshop on Newmarket road, we built bikes painted green from abandoned wrecks or unclaimed stolen property. This was to be Cambridge's community bike scheme, free to use. Within a week of starting all the bikes were gone. Most probably drowned in the Cam. A common tragedy perhaps. Building bikes they bullied me and threatened me and I didn't go back.

After the court summons they sent me to a little charity distributing furniture, run by a queer man in his forties and a capable dyke. He told stories of sex with the Queen's horse guardsmen, all as queer as him it seems. They were kind and they were good, and although I was so bound up and couldn't speak much they saw me and they held me for a little while before I fell.

Love Poems

How nice it is to be held, by a promise or a kiss. Isn't it lovely. I promise to love you my darling, and see how its held me. Our love holds.


I should so like to burn for eternity with you. What do you say my love, shall we try it, and if it be possible maybe we shall find it. And if it be not, we're none the sadder for our dreams.

I should so like to burn with eternity for you.


IAO I adore thee, magickal thou art. Evoe. IAO, the black and red sigil of my desire that is also my love. Evoe, the green and white and silver response soft sighs from every evergreen bowed gentle with snow.

Horror

I have come to an uneasy peace with my nightmare. An agreement between me and the nameless, shapeless horror that swallowed my years and dragged me desolate and alone to a place no-one should go. For though it mauled and wounded me, it also shaped and formed me. In its way it birthed me, for it taught me and I am forever marked.

Never will I walk that road again, never would I have chosen it. That path I took marred everything I cared about, and I alone am to blame. But still, I wouldn't swap with anyone. There are lessons that only the nightmare can teach (and sure we must all learn to dance with our own nightmare as I have danced with mine). So in a manner I love that horror, for what I could have learned no other way. And in our mutual understanding we have become friends. And thus its power is mine.

But perhaps after all, the horror is just me.

Beauty

Beauty cries in the corner, alone. She weeps for no-one looks, out of fear we pretend not to care. And our secret love burns and hurts, but who will be the first to turn and look? Few it seems, and instead we dull the hurt and choose to be blind. After all, it's what everyone does and we can't all be wrong surely?

Now beauty is angry. What could be more beautiful, or angrier. Where did you get that idea my love? Well it just stands to reason. She stands. Beauty stands for reason, and she's angry.

Beauty is such a con. The only way to find her, as you seek and ache and burn, is to become beautiful. And then, the trickstress, you can't help but see her everywhere. She was never hidden!

Beauty goes by many names. My favourite of her names is kindness. Before her I am unmade.

At the heart of beauty is a poison, a molecular unbinding. And if you won't be unmade, perhaps you die.


"Remain rational in the face of irrationality. But for that to work the irrationality part is mandatory. Required by law. Possibly enforced. Who knows, not me that's for sure!"

Amethyst Treasure

I is a selfish perspective, and I is sorry.

This is one of my amethyst treasures. Amethyst is my favourite stone, for no particular reason. This ring is a medieval brass ring, dated from the Norman era around 11th-12th century. It's a metal detector find from Britain.

Up until the 18th century amethyst was one of the most valuable, gemstones (along with diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald). No longer true as there are huge amounts of it in Brazil and Uruguay. But "back in the day" this would have been an extremely precious ring.

The ring is large on me, larger than a UK size "X". In general rings from that era are smaller than modern rings, as people were also generally smaller. This means that this ring was probably once owned by a very rich and very fat man.

As another interesting factoid, medieval European soldiers wore amethyst amulets as protection in battle in the belief that amethysts heal people and keep them cool-headed.

In Greek legend the titan Rhea, daughter of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus, presents Dionysus with an amethyst stone to preserve the wine-drinker's sanity. Also, Amethyste/Amethystos was a beautiful mortal maiden who resisted the amorous advances of Bacchus, the god of intoxication. Diana, one of my favourite godesses, answered her prayer to preserve her chastity and turned her into a white stone. Bacchus poured wine over the stone, staining it purple. (Although confusingly Diana is a Roman goddess, her Greek equivalent being Artemis, notable in my mind because Delia is an epithet of the name Artemis.)

Tibetans consider amethyst sacred to the Buddha and make prayer beads from it.

"Wherever you go walk the worlds. Let people into your world and enter theirs. Eventually they merge, as you evolve a common language."

Best Practises for Software Development and Testing

30 best practices for software development and testing
30 best practices for software development and testing
I wrote an article and someone put it on their website: Software Engineering and Testing

This is the accumulated wisdom of my software engineering experience, boiled down into 30 points on the practise of building software systems. As always, the only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise. The website, opensource.com, is run by my employer Red Hat. 

In the first week after publication this article got around ten thousand page views and was the second most viewed article on the website that week. It prompted a good discussion on reddit (over 300 points and 50 comments at current count) and was shared a stack of times on Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn. Yes I'm boasting a bit, but it made me happy. The article only took a few hours to write, and more than ten years to prepare.

"What is reality is a dumb question. It is, and that's the end of it. And the beginning as it turns out."