Friday, 27 January 2017

The Power of Your Love

Another recording of me singing. This is probably my favourite worship song of all, and one I can get totally lost in. 

"The Power of Your Love" by Hillsong Music, from around 1992.
Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That I found in You.
And Lord I've come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love.

Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait
I'll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love.

Lord unveil my eyes
Let me see You face to face
The knowledge of Your love
As You live in me.
Lord renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life
In living every day
by the power of Your love.

Theology and Apologetics Yet Again

"Theology must mean knowledge of God, not knowledge of scripture, or it has no value"
Theology and apologetics is one of my least favourite topics, but as a Christian and a person who moves in Christian circles, it is a topic I often return to.

However much I dislike "theology", I am a Christian. Here is a statement of my faith and my struggle with faith and what seems to be the normal expression of faith.

As a Christian I uphold the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. I believe that Christianity as a practise and a philosophy stands or falls on the divinity of the Christ and on the resurrection as a historical event. I understand that to the non-Christian this leaves a case to be proven, and I understand why these claims alone would cause many of my thoughtful and loving atheist friends to reject Christianity. They understand that I disagree and we are able to love and respect each other despite our differences.

I also uphold The Eight Points of the Progressive Christian Network (PCN Britain) as a beautiful expression of faith and practise.

  1.     Seek God, however understood, guided by the life and teachings of Jesus
  2.     Affirm that there are many ways to experience the Sacred and that we can draw on diverse sources of wisdom on our spiritual journeys.
  3.     Recognise that following Jesus leads us to act with compassion and to confront evil.
  4.     Place hospitality at the centre of our communal and worshipping life and see the sharing of bread and wine as an expression of our common humanity.
  5.     Seek to build communities that accept all who wish to share companionship without insisting on conformity.
  6.     Know that the way we behave towards others is the fullest expression of our faith.
  7.     Gain more insights in the search for understanding than we do in certainty.
  8.     Work together within and beyond the Church to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.
What I repudiate as a great error and failure of understanding (an intellectual and moral abdication) is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978, which makes claims about scripture that scripture does not make of itself! Unfortunately, for many in the Charismatic Evangelical Christian movement, a movement that started in genuine and great love, the attitude exemplified by the Chicago Statement is the foundation of their faith.

On this point hinges much of the divergent way of seeing the world between myself and Christians from a more "traditional" Charismatic background. Ironically, many of those who see themselves as part of the "progressive movement" are part of traditions much older than the Charismatic movement (birthed in the seventies), which they feel is so "philosophically immature" as to barely count as part of the Christian tradition at all (not my words I assure you).

Point seven of the PCN eight points highlights what I consider to be this grave (although well intended) error of the Charismatic movement (and again, lest I be accused of arrogance for thinking this - this is a view shared by many, many other Christians - the witness of those of our brethren supports me). Point six of the eight points I find to be the most significant and the most convicting.

 So there you have it. My faith and my struggle with faith.

My great hope for the near future of my church is that where there are doctrinal differences we can genuinely - nay even officially - acknowledge that it's alright for us to not all think and believe the same things. To accept that we can have unity of heart whilst being in different places on our own respective journeys into the heart of God. My desire for doctrinal tolerance comes, at least partly, because I think that doctrinal issues actually matter not one jot in the grand scheme of things and the only thing that really matters is the substance and depth of your love, for this is the extent to which you actually know God who is love. (A view supported by scripture.)

For those who profess to adhere to the Chicago Statement, I would say that if the role you ascribe to scripture requires you to say that Numbers 5:11-31 was ever the heart of God towards women then you know a different God to me. That's before we look at the intellectual dishonesty required to ignore Paul's attitude to women (which no church follows now because it's abhorrent) whilst still claiming it is the word of God (the mental trick is to invent a cultural context that makes him mean something other than what he says).

I find philosophical proofs of any aspect of Christianity (i.e. pretty much the whole field of apologetics) unsatisfying. Either we prove God, and Jesus, is real through our life and the reality of how we love people (i.e. God must be evident, and therefore evidenced, through us) - or any other form of proof has no value anyway. So either people are convinced that God is real because of who you are and how you love, or your words are worthless. Very few people (but not none) have been debated or argued into the kingdom of heaven.

This is why I say, the only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise. Trying to practise the theory is entirely the wrong way to approach Christianity. It may seem like a subtle distinction but in my experience it makes all the difference in the world.

The reason it makes a difference is because if you attempt to practise your theory and it doesn't seem to work, your likely conclusion is that you're not doing it right or not trying hard enough. This is a vicious trap, and it's the same old trap there's always been: "law". Just try harder, you're not doing it right, you're getting it wrong. It's a lie, that's not who God is. God is love. So *only* concentrate on loving, and work on understanding the nature of love in practise. And then you'll know God. At least that's what John says in scripture. (The ones who know God are the ones who love. A slight paraphrase of 1 John 4:7.)

If you attempt to practise your theory you project your view of the world onto it (something we all do anyway to some extent or other), and you limit what you can see and experience. If you seek to understand the practise of loving, finding the theory of the practise, then you work  hard to accept reality however you find it - and no matter how much truth differs from your preconceptions. 

When I say concentrate on loving people, I don't mean that in a weak and wishy-washy way. I mean work hard at it, make it your goal, you're only goal dammit! Then we can make it real.

The danger is that theology becomes a form of tribalism: we're right, they're wrong and these are all the reasons why... By this means Christianity becomes (as all tribalism is) a way to reject and exclude people instead of a path to love and include. A horrible tragedy.

I love tribes, I hate tribalism.

Visions of Heaven and Hell

"The truth is like a Lioness, you don't have to defend her. Let her loose and she will defend herself."
In 2016 I took part in a three day Ayahuasca sacred ceremony. It was a beautiful, terrifying and healing experience. During this three day retreat I had an extraordinary series of visions like nothing else I've ever experienced. I've been reluctant to talk about them lest people would accuse me of lying or think me delusional or worse. But they happened and I don't appear to have gone mad.

Visions are regarded by mystics, and those who study mysticism, as the least reliable source of divine knowledge. This is because they are, like any spiritual experience, completely subjective. Visions come through, and perhaps are the product of, the depths of the subconscious mind. The meaning and significance of any vision is rarely objective truth, but a subjective expression of the state of the recipient. Not unlike dreams, but carrying more significance and potency as they are experienced by the conscious mind rather than the unconscious.

So I present this writing here merely as a very brief and inadequate record of an extraordinary experience.  I do not need to know, nor care, how "real" any of it is or was. However, I am happy to let the experience change me and work in.

I looked into the fire and I was all ashes. I have been unmade.

I made friends with death and the destroyer and I think I'm no longer afraid of death. Death makes things new. As strange as it seems death and the destroyer are good and they're on our side.

I felt the rule of heaven. We've won.

I saw angels and gods and they helped. I was bitten by the snake of beauty, but I couldn't look at beauty. I don't think you can, I think you die.

I was in the mouth of the lion.

I've never felt more ill than I did on the second night. But the third night was gentle. Agony and torment but never too much.

I saw the trickster and I did not go mad. I danced with the nightmare.

I saw the mouth of hell, but I wouldn't look and I won't go there. And I felt heaven destroying hell. Hell is not something to fear. Hell is good, it is where the evil goes. First we must rescue the people trapped there.

I saw people choosing hell, choosing ugliness. And we must let them.

I spoke death to evil men who must die before we can be free.

I went very deep, right to the edge of the realms of the dead, and that made me very ill. However, I felt that there was a path there and a path back and that gave me much hope.

I saw and felt the godhead incarnate who was dead and yet lives and who makes all things new.

"When it comes to life, my most considered conclusion, the one on which I have spent the most time and effort and the one of which I am most firmly proud, is that I really do not understand in the slightest. Not one little bit."

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Purify My Heart

Something of an experiment. A youtube video of me singing one of my favourite songs. It's a song of desire. "Purify my heart".

Done in a single take with an iPhone in a kitchen. So about the quality you'd expect. The song is by Brian Doerksen, from 1990.

The refiner's fire is a potent metaphor recurring throughout scripture. The refiner's fire is where impure ore becomes pure and precious metal.

Christian's sometimes teach that suffering is the refiner's fire, and therefore it is a place of pain to be feared. The refiner's fire is actually the fire of life. A place to abide.

"Desire is beautiful. She may even be beauty."

"I have fire and I know how to burn. What could possibly be more fun that that."

Rage and Roar

Let the worlds rage and roar,
Let the madness sing and soar,
For when she's spent reality remains
Our friend.

She'll join whatever song we sing.
Songs of joy she loves the most,
But when we sing of pain, of loss, of misery and heartbreak,
Her heart breaks too but she joins our song,
If we together sing of misery that's our right,
She won't stop us.

So let the worlds rage and roar,
But sing a happy song and sing it loud,
In the end love wins, it's just a better song.

And my friend, reality,
She'll sing that one loudest if we let her.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Power to Curse or to Bless: On Swear Words

The most important thing is to find out what is the most important thing.
To those of you who dislike swearing, it is perhaps worth considering how much power you are willing to let certain words have over you.

If I can shock you, interrupt your train of thought viscerally and change your mindset with a word, merely because you have chosen and trained yourself to be offended by that word then you give me a power over you that I don't deserve. When understood, it is therefore possible to express something with great force, in a way that you can be certain will remain with the recipient for some time, by the careful use of specific words.

I promise to mostly use that power judiciously and in a considered manner, but the only person who can remove that power is you; and to do that you have to choose not to be offended. If you have any respect for my intelligence it is worth considering that when I curse it is not because I am out of control, but maybe because I understand what I am doing. This of course is only worse...

(And sometimes I use this power to deliberately force you to not take offence and to reduce the power these words have over you: for which you may think the less of me, whilst I believe I am genuinely helping. Both of these things are our respective rights and the only reasonable recourse either party has is to complain. I am sure we will all play our part in this. Those of you able to recognise and enjoy instead I salute.)

If you think that being offended by "curse words" is the right thing to do then you will already have all sorts of reasons at hand as to why I am wrong to think like this. I promise you that all you do is give me, and others perhaps less honourable than me, utterly unnecessary influence over your state of mind. And after all, when it comes down to it "you" are ultimately little more than a "state of mind".

I'm not talking about gratuitous swearing. This has no impact because it is easy to filter. It is only in the power to shock that these words have any effect. But when you have spent a lifetime training yourself that they are "bad words" then you, by deliberate choice, give them the effect of their affect.

This is why I choose not to be afraid to swear. If you tell me that you are not afraid but you merely choose not to do it, then I'm fairly convinced you're kidding yourself. That of course is your choice, and as always I may be wrong. I do test my ideas empirically however and feel I have reason for confidence in this area.

Naturally however, in the truly immortal words of Ben Goldacre, "I think you'll find it's more complicated than that". Each of the specific words we find distasteful has a root and a history, a reason for our fear and disdain. Mainly they refer to fecal matter and bodily excretions, sexual organs or the sexual act itself. Why we fear and disdain, or are so willing to fear and disdain these words and are willing to let them embody concepts that arouse disgust within us is itself another extremely interesting topic. At the risk of causing further offence, I would intimate that fear of the body and fear of the raw sexual act are at the root of why these words are chosen to be imbued with particular significance.

The key question I believe is this: if swearing is "wrong", is it because swear words are intrinsically bad words or because they express concepts that are intrinsically bad? To answer this we have to be willing to ponder what it means for a word or concept itself to be "intrinsically bad" and unacceptable to express. Without addressing that question in detail, my experience is that the mere process of rationally examining this question inescapably leads you to the conclusion that it cannot be never acceptable to express an ugly concept because there is much in the world that is very ugly that we must often discuss. Additionally, a word in itself, a mere sound or collection of letters, cannot be "intrinsically bad" because when you get right down to it language is nothing more than the expression of concepts. Words themselves are empty vessels to be filled with meaning by the recipient. (Wittgenstein has much to say on this topic, unfortunately in an utterly impenetrable manner, which itself is perhaps a terrible irony.)

The most common argument I hear amounts to little more than "I must be offended by swearing because other people are offended by swearing, and if I too am not offended then I risk causing offence". I am genuinely sorry to find that argument ridiculous. But I do.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Christian Music and the War in Heaven

Christian music can be so insipid, so tame, so limited in its expression of the whole range of human emotion and experience. So musically weak. But it also points me to God and a deeper experience of love, which is the only thing I care about.

This song however is not insipid and it inspires we greatly. As sung by Noel Richards, from around 1994. My only issue is the gendering of God, which has historically been such an excuse for the denigration of women, but we'll overlook it on this one occasion:
The Lord is a warrior
We will march with Him
The Lord is a warrior
Leading us to win

Waken the warrior spirit
Army of God arise
Challenge the powers of darkness
There must be no compromise
We shall attack their strongholds
Our hands are trained for war
We shall advance the Kingdom
For the victory belongs to God

Our God is awesome in power
Scatters His enemies
Our God is mighty in bringing
The powerful to their knees
He has put on His armour
He is prepared for war
Mercy and justice triumph
When the Lion of Judah roars

Many Christians love singing stuff like this. How many of us want to experience, and live, a love that is genuinely as fierce as this? Personally, I'm up for it.

Do you know what it means to have hands trained for war? I have no idea what you've been up to in the last few years. Me, I've been learning how to fight. And I call you all to the war.

But perhaps let us be clear what I am fighting for. My religion is love and that trumps, in every way and every time, doctrine and tradition. It's not that these things have no value, but the law of love supercedes them every time. My single obsession is to experience reality and to learn to love love with everything I am. I don't particularly need to believe anything to do this, reality exists (of that much I am certain) it doesn't need me to believe in it. This actually draws from Christianity, Buddhism and science and is essentially progressive Christianity in action. (I am not an evangelical, I am a progressive Christianity.)

Elements of Christianity, particularly the person and pain of the Christ, are my "current working model" which is an approach based on rational scepticism and the scientific method. What I would add, without I think too much pride I think, is that if you get to know me, and see how I live, my "current working model" is working out damn fine thank you very much...

So I seek and aspire to fight for love. I seek to fight for the oppressed, the lonely and the hurting, and in large part at the moment that seems to mean those hurt and oppressed by modern Christianity! Which is a tragedy that breaks my heart and makes me so angry. And then my Christian friends get angry that I am angry. And that hurts.

It is worth adding a further footnote about the language of war, because it makes some people very uncomfortable when used in a religious context. This is understandable but I still believe it is appropriate. Appropriate not because of religious beliefs but because of the reality of being alive and seeing how people are treated! It's not a war we started, or even want to be in, but if you genuinely care about people you must respond to the call.

The war I see is the exact same war the Social Justice Warriors fight, and boy am I smug that we got our enemies calling us Social Justice Warriors. Too damn right! The only weapon worth fighting with, the only weapon worth having, is love. Look at what is happening particularly in America with the hate directed towards gay and transgender people, the regular killing of young black men, and so on. The same things happen here and in the rest of the world too, there is a genuine struggle for life against "forces of evil" (personified in individuals and understandable as an abstract movement of bad ideas). I am not at war with people, I seek to love people, I am at war with bad ideas and the hateful actions that are the consequence of those ideas.

I understand the fear and distaste for warlike language. I still strive to understand what it means to be a warrior, with real warlike capacities inasmuch as it's possible for these concepts to have any real meaning, the better to be able to support the cause of love. Ultimately, and gradually, yes I believe the rule of genuine love can and must be imposed by force. However, let's rightly understand what that means. The force I refer to here is merely the legitimate exclusion from voluntary social structures of anything that isn't love. As those social structures become clearly better, and larger (therefore more powerful - but power being merely a side-effect and not the intention or goal), people will not be able to tolerate exclusion and be forced to love. That is a path fraught with difficulty and danger, genuinely, but I do not believe it to be an unnavigable path.

One of the tangible things I have done in the last few years to "learn how to fight" is train in Krav Maga for six months with the Krav Maga Defence Academy. Krav Maga is a non spiritually pretentious martial art for self defence, based on the principle that the best defence is to ensure your attacker is not able to get back up again for a while. In essence it teaches the ancient and noble art of street fighting. I am so grateful for the lessons I learned, the most important of which have nothing to do with physical violence.

Krav Maga taught me how to manage, and channel, a great deal of aggression without fear or losing control, something that is useful and powerful in a personality utterly unrelated to physical violence. The specific practical technique I learned that has stayed with me (I am generally physically inept) is how to punch hard, fast and repeatedly. I've never had to use it, but knowing I can allows me to be confident in situations that used to scare me a great deal. I feel that these are both very good reasons to appreciate and be grateful for those who taught me.

On Social Media

Haters gonna hate
Through social media, modern technologies enabled by pervasive internet access and cheap devices for accessing the internet, I feel globally connected to networks of people who love and uphold each other. Facebook, twitter and the like are how we make this real on a daily basis. This is not without dangers and can be a source of consternation for those who see the risks and for those who fear the public nature of social media interaction. It is nonetheless very real human interaction, with all the dangers and mess that come with any form of human interaction. In fact you can see the whole of the internet as the global psyche of humanity on display for all to see: weird, horrible, wonderful, beautiful and terrible. Just like us. My main plea would be that we are as quick, indeed quicker, to praise and laud the beautiful than we are to denigrate the ugly.

I am aware (because I have been told) that my own use of social media is a source of consternation to some people. Here are my thoughts on the topic. As you would expect, it originated as a facebook post.

True love, true beauty, the source, is actually a poison: a deadly longing. It will unmake you if you look too long. True love is a slow acting but inexorable toxin, if you've already looked then maybe it is now too late for you. And if you refuse to be unmade, well, perhaps you die.

Anyway, back to the topic of social media that some of us were discussing over the last few days. First of all I see all of life as performance art. The only thing to be taken seriously is love, and that we take deathly seriously. About everything else we can't be certain anyway so why take it too seriously? If you try to take everything I post seriously it might actually*drive you mad. I'm not even kidding, I have actually been mad - so I know the path there and I know the path back. I don't recommend it.

It's very hard to tell the difference between a released personality and showmanship, mostly because in many cases there isn't a great deal of difference. Russel Brand is someone who I consider does both to great effect, and I admire him for it. He is much more astute than many give him credit for and he greatly enjoys being himself.

On twitter I maintain two accounts, one geek (@voidspace) and one non-geek (@mfoord). This allows my beautiful and genuine (amongst the most beautiful people I've ever met) programmer friends who distrust religion to interact with me without being subjected to my spiritual craziness. And the non-geek account allows my non-geek friends to interact with me without being subjected to the impenetrable nonsense that goes with being a high level geek. This means that everyone thinks I'm crazy for some reason, but they can interact with the parts of me that they can relate to (I don't think they're wrong that I'm crazy - I just enjoy and can cope with being this way). Some people can cope with all my craziness and follow both my accounts.

On facebook I have just one account and I post whatever I want. It's my account and if you can't cope with me then unfollow or unfriend or whatever. I like to respect people's boundaries, which is why I don't post spiritual content on my geek twitter account, but I need people to respect my boundaries too. I enjoy being me and I have lots of wonderful friends who enjoy me too, and I enjoy them. If you don't enjoy me, then I'm very sorry, it probably just means we're not really friends. That's sad, but it's a fact of life. In direct interactions with anyone I will modify my behaviour as much as I feel is reasonable in order to avoid hurting or offending people unnecessarily whilst still standing up for what I think is right. On facebook I get to be me.

It's worth noting that I have no problem with my geek friends not wanting, nor being able to cope with, religious and spiritual content. Many of them have had terrible (evil) experiences of religion and the religious and I respect their right to hate it.

For those who question the integrity of seeing life as performance art I have two things to say. Get to know me and see how I live. I take loving deathly seriously and, human failings notwithstanding, it is what I seek to do all the time. Secondly, calling it performance art doesn't mean I don't mean it. I think beauty is a poison that will change everything about how you see yourself if you let it. And to not let it is even more dangerous. It's a wild, idealistic poem, but it's also a warning.

Love means business, do it or die. Those are the only two options. The war in heaven has begun.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Passion versus Peace: The Sith Code

So, this may come as no surprise to many of you, it looks like I may be more Sith than Jedi. I concur with the Sith code:
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
Drawing a slightly problematic parallel between spirit and the force, perhaps made less problematic if we recast as "the living force", and seeing myself as a man of war rather than a man of peace, I can agree with this whole-heartedly. I fight just because there is a battle to be fought.

It is through strength we find freedom, and strength can be found in its passionate pursuit. Power is merely a side-effect of real strength (the direct pursuit of power is evil).

Actually the idea that Buddhism and Yogic teachings contrast passion with peace (or desire with peace - but passion is merely desire in motion) is a western misunderstanding of eastern teachings.

Buddhism teaches that craving is the cause of suffering. Both craving and suffering are inadequate translations of the original Taṇhā and dukkha. The craving (desire/passion) that causes suffering is a craving to escape suffering (the pain and basic dissatisfaction of life) through external means. Ultimately it is a desire for obliteration.

To earnestly, indeed fiercely, desire and pursue life and wholeness is not a cause of suffering but the motivation towards freedom - both for yourself and others.

To that extent the Sith code is correct.

The next mistake however is to confuse hardness and strength. Real strength is capable of great tenderness and of accepting pain without numbing itself. Strength is both gentle and fierce, one without the other is not true strength.

The root of the western misunderstanding comes from not really believing in life. No matter how small you dissect the frog you don't find the life; life is in the whole.

And of desire I say, well. Desire is beautiful. She may even be beauty.