Posts from 2021-09-14

Goodbye Old World, Hello New

Goodbye Old World, Hello New

by James L. Foster 

There are four revolutionary movements currently underway, any one of which has the potential for changing the world as we have known it. All four happening simultaneously virtually guarantees that a new world order will be born in the lifetime of most of the readers of this article.  What I am talking about here is not technological (though communications technology may well be an enabler of the revolutions) and it is not political (though politics will certainly be greatly impacted.)  No, what is happening is much more basic, addressing the world views and the deep issues of faith and reason held by most of the human inhabitants of this planet.  What is happening is a fundamental mind change.

1.  The first revolution is within the Christian Church.  Because Christianity comprises such a large number of people throughout the world, a major shift in its understanding of itself in relation to other major faiths will have significant effects on every other religion.  These changes have to do with insights into the very roots of its origin in the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Common Era.  Because of the work of numerous Christian and Jewish scholars on the comparatively recent availability of both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hamadi texts, Christianity is wrestling with significant challenges to its exclusivist teachings and the identity of it founder, Jesus of Nazareth.  It turns out that these texts, originally suppressed by the Church Fathers, seriously undercut Christianity’s exclusivist claims of superiority and historicity.

One immediate effect of the deciphering of these ancient texts is the discovery that we have new grounds for relationship with other religions, since major Christian doctrines that have purportedly been inspired by God to the exclusion of all other religious doctrines, may have origins that are far more human than divine.  For the centuries-old barriers between religions to come tumbling down, has a potential for peaceful relationships—even appreciative relationships—that has never before existed on such a massive scale.  One significant example of how these non-biblical writings are changing our understanding of the Christian faith has to do with the identity of Jesus Christ—born of a virgin? No; Killed for our redemption? No; Son of God? No, unless we are prepared to accept that we all, like him, are sons and daughters of God; Non-political and sinless?  Hardly.  Exemplary, yes, but as human and divine as the rest of us.

Another major example of this change is in the discrediting of the historical doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  This doctrine alone has been an impediment to interfaith relationships in as much as the Christian Church has characteristically taught anyone who thinks otherwise is destined for eternal separation from God—or, in a word, Hell.  As it turns out, contemporary historical research shows that it was not until 325 AD that this decision was made by a Church council that was badly divided.  Its conclusions were made not on the basis of reasoned theological debate but rather on the basis of political power and brute, sometimes lethal, force.

With these kinds of changes in the teaching of the Christian Church will come the opportunity for genuine dialog, particularly with Islam and Judaism.  If these three major religious faiths can come to the place of mutual respect and appreciation, the world we live in will be all the better for it.  Let the new dialog begin!

2. Nonviolent atonement is yet another challenge to a cherished doctrine of the Christian Church, this time on the basis of biblical exegesis.  Challenged are two theories of the atonement (the saving work of Jesus Christ by atoning for our sin), the Penal Substitution Theory authored by St. Augustine (4th and 5th centuries) and the Satisfaction Theory (authored by Anselm in the 12th century).  These theories have been bedrock theology in the Christian Church.

The first, Augustine, says the sin offended God’s honor and caused inconceivable debt and that the debt must be satisfied or punished to satisfy God’s honor.  Since the payment of the debt is so far beyond what humans could do, only God could pay it.  There fore Christ (who must be God) paid the debt by his death on the cross.

The second, Anselm, speaks of retributive justice.  God has to “get even.”  Sin incurred a debt and has to be punished (payback).  Therefore, since humans cannot possibly pay the debt, God punishes Jesus instead.

Both of these theories make of God a vengeful, violent ruler and compromise Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness.  If sin is paid for (i.e. the debt is paid and the account is balanced) there is nothing to forgive.  If God is truly forgiving, it means the debt is written off and there is no need for either repayment or punishment.

 Nonviolent atonement says that God is neither vengeful nor violent (the violence attributed to God, especially in the Jewish Scriptures, notwithstanding).  Therefore God cannot be blamed for Jesus’ death.  Jesus suffered the fate of many of his contemporaries—death at the hands of the Roman occupiers, with the probable collusion of Jewish antagonists.  It was man’s violence, not God’s that killed Jesus.

This distinction is important because it deprives us humans of a major rationale for engaging in violence, i.e., “God, our Father, did it, therefore, so can we.”  If, as God’s children, we wish to emulate God’s relationship to us in our relationship with others, we can no longer justify violence. 

3. Nonviolent communication is a discipline taught by Marshall Rosenberg.  Though many of the principles he teaches have been taught before by the likes of Jesus and Gandhi, Marshall is a gifted in formulating a clear and doable way to put the principles into practice.  Nonviolence is broken down into many tiny and tangible steps, that when learned and put into practice can transform formerly confrontive and hostile relationships--whether these relationships are between individuals, groups, or nations—and whether or not both sides practice it.  These nonviolent “techniques” can be practiced, as it were, unilaterally by anybody, anywhere, in any circumstance.

Marshall’s books and seminars are proliferating as others take up the work of spreading his teaching.  What was originally one man’s crusade, is becoming a movement which will grow exponentially as others both practice and teach the disciplines he has so neatly packaged. 

4. A fourth movement gaining momentum in our day is the result of the writings of the French philosopher Rene’ Girard.  Rene’s writings have the effect of holding up a mirror in which we see ourselves for who we really are.  The starting point for Girard’s theory is “acquisitive mimesis”.  Girard proposes that much of human behavior is based on “mimesis”, an all-encompassing expression of imitation, but focuses on acquisition and appropriation as the object of mimesis, contrary to most of the extant literature on imitative behavior (Girard 1979, 9). Girard describes a situation where two individuals desire the same object; as they both attempt to obtain this object, their behavior becomes conflictual, since there is only one object, but two people.  “Violence is generated by this process; or rather, violence is the process itself when two or more partners try to prevent one another from appropriating the object they all desire through physical or other means” (Girard 1979, 9).  In his mimetic theory, Rene’ argues that imitation is an “ability that is fundamentally linked to characteristically human forms of intelligence, in particular to language, culture, and the ability to understand other minds. This burgeoning body of work has important implications for our understanding of ourselves, both individually and socially. Imitation is not just an important factor in human development, it also has a pervasive influence throughout adulthood in ways we are just beginning to understand.” – (Susan Hurley & Nick Chater)

A related area of Rene’s A thought is scapegoating.  “This scapegoat is, according to Girard, an arbitrary victim: For Girard, there are several conditions for the choosing of the scapegoat.  First, the scapegoat is, by definition, an arbitrary victim, at least to the degree that the victim has, in reality, no direct bearing on the problems that are causing the community disturbance.  However, the victim is not arbitrary to the extent that most scapegoats tend to have similar cultural traits that allow Girard to classify them as a group.  Normally they are an outsider, but on the border of the community, not fully alien to the community.  This victim belongs to the community, but has traits that separate him/her from the community.  Several common victims are elucidated by Shea, summarizing Girard's list in The Scapegoat (1986): children, old people, those with physical abnormalities, women, members of ethnic or racial minorities, the poor, and '`those whose natural endowments (beauty, intelligence, charm) or status (wealth, position) mark them as exceptional" (Wallace 1994, 253). 

Paradoxically, this victim is often deified.  Not only was the victim the cause of the violence, but, since this victim was sacrificed, s/he also becomes the salvation of the community, since sacrificing the victim becomes the method of ending the violence.  So the victim is surrogate because s/he was sacrificed instead of the entire community being sacrificed. 

Once this process is established, it becomes mythologized.  The immediate memory reconfiguration becomes woven into the oral history of the people.  This figure that was sacrificed was the deity who saved the community from destruction.  Since the pattern started with the cessation of violence by the original human sacrifice, the continuation of that pattern is understandable.  But as culture progressed, and specifically with the introduction of the Jewish religion into the world's culture, symbols--animal sacrifices and sacred rituals--were used in place of human sacrifices.  Thus Girard claims the origin of religion is rooted in violence. (Jeramy Townsley)

If any of this sounds familiar, we have only to look at our own religion and consider its origin.  And if it makes us uncomfortable, it may be that when we look in this mirror, we do not like what we see. (For more on this, see the review of the book by Suzanne Ross.


Each of these revolutionary movements, as I have called them, qualifies for such a designation.  According to Webster a movement is “a) a series of organized activities by people working concertedly toward some goal” and “b) the organization consisting of those active in this way.”

The first of the above listed revolutionary movements is represented by several organizations, the most notable of which would be the Jesus Seminar that includes such notable members as theologians John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk and Marcus Borg.  Institutes for Christian Spirituality, the publisher of this journal, En Christo: A Journal for a New Christianity is another such organization.  The number of books that are being written to address the multiple changes that are already taking place continue to proliferate.  Change is hard, particularly when it is in areas in which we have a lifetime investment, but it is also necessary if we are to mature in our faith and vision of what God is doing in the world.  Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of the future of humankind was of a final stage of development during which we would mature spiritually to our fullest potential.  I have always hoped that he was right and that I may be one of the fortunate members of our species to participate in that process.  I dare to hope that the dramatic changes happening now in Christianity are an indication that it is so.

The second movement listed above, nonviolent atonement, is smaller but is quickly gaining momentum.  It, too, has just initiated in May of 2008 the formation of an organization called Theology and Peace to promote research and publications supporting fresh biblical understandings of the nonviolent, compassionate Father of us all.  Michael Hardin of Preaching Peace along with Catholic theologian Anthony Bartlett, Mennonite theologian Sharon Baker and approximately 40 other biblical scholars are among the charter members of the organization.

Marshall Rosenberg’s organization, Center for Nonviolent Communication, though new, is already spawning others devoted to spreading his program for teaching nonviolent communication in a wide variety of secular and religious contexts around the world.  It is already providing resources for the rapid dissemination of the principles he espouses.

Finally, the movement built on the teachings of Rene’ Girard, has fostered Colloquium on Violence & Religion (COV&R), a well-established organization with a world-wide constituency.  Other organizations, too, are involved in promoting Rene’s teachings on violence and religion, notably Preaching Peace, founded by Michael and Lori Hardin; The Raven Foundation, founded by Suzanne Ross, author of The Wicked Truth: When Good People Do Bad Things; and Institutes for Christian Spirituality.

How long will it take for these and other initiatives I have not covered to have a visible impact on our world?  My guess is years, not decades.  The impact is already considerable, but the world is a big place.   We will know that it is happening when these concepts become the fodder for conversations of the people in the pews.  The internet is providing the means for rapid dissemination of information, a phenomenon which Teilhard did not envision but would confirm his anticipation that each phase of human development would be significantly shorter than the one before.  God willing, this journal will have at least a small part in bringing about the revolution.

What We Will Discover When We Die

The following article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by James L. Foster, Holonic Humanity: How God Makes Us Holy, due to be released in 2017.  It is a sequel to his earlier work, Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff, published in 2013.  The latter book, Holy Humanity, is reviewed in the January 2016 issue of Awareness magazine.


What We Will Discover When We Die

(if we have not made the discoveries  beforehand)


Deepak Chopra has listed seven events which take place at the  moment we cross over to eternal life at the dawning of our new life  beginning at our physical death:


1.   The physical stops functioning.  The dying person may not be aware of this but eventually knows that it has occurred.   

2.  The physical world retires.  This can happen by degrees; there can be a sense of floating upward or looking down on familiar places as they recede.

3.  The dying person feels lighter, suddenly freed of limitation.

4.   The mind and sometimes the senses continue to operate.  Gradually, however, what is perceived becomes non-physical.

5.  A presence grows that is felt to be divine.  The presence can be clothed in a light or in the body of angels or gods.  It can communicate to the dying person.

6.  Personality and memory begin to fade, but the sense of "I" remains.

7.  This "I" has an overwhelming sense of moving on to another phase of existence."  (Chopra,  Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, 2006)


Others, especially those who have reported on their own near death experiences (NDEs) have characterized their experience somewhat differently, perhaps reflecting their acculturated expectations of the death experience.   These often included the inadequacy of language to describe the experience, feelings of warmth and peace and stillness, a perceptible rise in our personal vibration level, the experience of love as a vibration, the sensation of being out of our bodies, meeting other persons--known and unknown--who had died earlier,  meeting beings of light, a non-verbal and non-judgmental life review, entering a tunnel and moving effortlessly toward a bright light, disappointment at having to return to our former life, and an all-together new appreciation of death--almost a longing for it and a total lack of fear of it.  In our physical life our vibrational level was very slow and dense but we will feel our vibration level rise precipitously as we make the transition to pure Spirit.


Our afterlife is created by our own consciousness, but this does not mean that what we have created is not real.  It means that as divine beings we are quite capable of creating our own reality. We quite regularly do so, even in this earthbound life.


The following conclusions have come from a combination of insights I have received through (1) the first hand reports of those who have had near death experiences--particularly those recorded by Raymond A Moody, Jr., Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, George Ritchie and Ian Stevenson,  (2) my study of various religious traditions (primarily Christian, Hindu and Buddhist and shamanic mystical teachings--particularly the Christian mystics, including Jesus and Paul; the Tibetan Buddhist Book of the Dead; and the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita), (3) the writings of Plato (428 BCE), particularly in Phaedo and The Republic, (4) my reading of current discoveries from the sciences of quantum physics and cosmology, (5) the many intuitive insights I have received in the process of writing Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff and in this current writing on holonic humanity, and (6) current intuitions born of my contemplation of the meanings of "infinity" and "eternity" and "Spirit."  You, the reader, will probably have already discerned some of  the following affirmations.  If there are a number here that are new to you, don't worry about it.  Nobody is keeping score.



When we die...


 1.  We will discover that death as an end to life is a fiction and that death is, instead, a transition from our current life to an incomparably greater life.  This realization will be immediate and seamless.


2.  We will discover that our true essence is Spirit.  We are not the bodies we thought we were.  Our true identity, even throughout our earthly life, was and is, spiritual.


3.  We will discover that as our physical sensations recede our subtle spiritual sensations expand, eventually replacing the physical altogether.  Money, sex, power, sickness, sin--all these end. Our spiritual bodies will be ageless and free of sickness and all other limitations.  We will experience again, as if for the first time, pure consciousness.


4.  We will discover that there are some things we can take with us through death's portal--things we have learned during our earthly sojourn--our memories (contrary to #6 in Chopra's list above), and knowledge we have acquired, and understandings and experiences upon which we can continue to build in future sojourns.  We also take our consciousness of both our past and present.


5.  We will discover that Love can and does survive death.  Those we have loved in our earthly life we will still Love--even more and better than before.


6.  We will discover that connections made  during our life on earth continue into eternity.  This is particularly the case with those who we know to be our soul mates.  With them we have a bond that cannot be broken throughout eternity.


7. We will discover that we are reunited with loved ones who preceded us in death.  Our "homecoming"  will be the occasion for  celebration by those loved ones, family and friends, who have been awaiting our return.


8. We will discover that death is not painful. It is our somatic existence that was painful.  This we will realize immediately as we pass from sometimes excruciating pain to complete freedom from pain.


9.  We will discover that we are one with our Source, that we have never in fact been separated from our Source, and that our  only "sin" had been in believing we were separate when, in reality, we were not.  This, too, will be an immediate realization.



10.  We will discover that we really are One with the Many, that our perceived separation from others in this present life was an illusion.  If we had had this perception earlier, it would have significantly accelerated our holonic journey. 


11.  We will discover that to have been human was to be beautiful, even elegant and exotic.  Even in spite of our failures and mistakes, we were an incredible species.   We will come to see this because we will be seeing the essence of ourselves and all others, a startlingly beautiful essence in stark contrast to what we may have perceived in our earthly sojourn.


12.  We will also discover that the whole of Creation is stunningly beautiful and that we had not previously succeeded in destroying it.


13.  We will discover that our identity is spirit and we no longer identify with body, mind, or ego.   Each of these were limitations we no longer have.


14.  We will discover that the Cosmos was our planetary home, yet infinite;  full of life, and utterly the pregnant, nourishing and living dwelling of the gods.


15.  We will discover that we are not inherently evil,  that soul (that which is of God in us) is not evil.  Jesus came to show us who we are already (as did other prophets and avatars), not to save us from eternal punishment.


16.  We will, therefore, discover that we have no need to be "saved," not by Jesus or anybody else, that in all eternity we were never lost.  As eternal beings we were made to self-correct.  Jesus did not die for "anybody's real or imagined sins," as Christian theologian Roberta Bondi so succinctly put it.  And it was Bishop John Shelby Spong's conviction that "Humanity is not alone [as we once thought],...separated from God and thus in need of rescue." (Spong, Eternal Life..., p. 207)


17.  We will discover that Life in the astral realm is not just a time to do nothing, but rather a timeless experience of continuing holonic evolution.  We will be building on the things we learned in our  earthly sojourn.


18.  We will discover that we are enveloped in pure Light, that we have become one with the Light, and  Light Givers  ourselves.


19.  We will discover that our doubts and confusion have vanished, that what had been struggles on the earthly plane no longer exist.


20.  We will discover that the ability to choose did not end with our earthly passing, but is instead vastly expanded.


21. We will discover that the Big Bang, the beginning of our cosmos, the cosmos of which we were and still are caretakers, is but one of an infinity of Big Bangs distributing Life, Love, and Light through an infinity of universes.


22.  We will discover that creating is an endless process in which we are key participants as co-creators with our Source, that we as eternal Beings have indeed participated in the creation of an infinity of universes, including our own cosmos.


23.  We will discover that we are both within the interstellar void we helped create and that, at the other end of the size spectrum, the void is within us, in as much as infinity includes the infinitely small as well as the infinitely vast.  Infinity goes in every direction.


24.  We will discover that God is not just "out there" somewhere in the vast reaches of space, but is also "in here," in me, in you, in us.


25. We will discover that the whole of Creation, even our consciousness of it, and we ourselves, are made of Light, that God is Light, and that God is all there is--that God is Being itself, not a being.  (See my book, Holy Humanity, chapter 8, "The Omega Point", pp. 171-181)


26.  We will discover that the whole of the universe is imaged by Spirit, including all gods, all demons and angels and heavenly hosts, and that we, ourselves, are Spirit.


27.  We will discover (with the Persian poet, Rumi) that "death is our wedding with eternity" and is therefore an occasion for rejoicing.


28.  We will discover that death replaces time with timelessness, that eternity is not just a long, long time, but is the absence of time altogether.


29.  We will discover that such identity as we do have in the astral realm is non-local, meaning that we have not just expanded boundaries, but that there are no boundaries, that as spirit we may be in more than one place simultaneously.  Neither time nor space will have relevance in eternity and infinity.  The eternal "now" means that past, present, and future are all now.


30. We will discover that death fulfills our most audacious dreams.  If, for example, we have dreamed of travel, we will find that we can travel instantly, anywhere we choose, both within this universe, and beyond.


31.  We will discover that only our physical bodies were made of stardust--not our Spirit.  Our spiritual essence has always been.  We, along with all other divine beings, are uncreated, that there was never a time in which we were not.


32.  We will discover that our memories, both short and long term, are not contained in our physical brain.  We still have them, and that without our former physical brain.  They are, along with our memories of other lives, stored in an immense data field such as that postulated by Rupert Sheldrake as a "Mind Field" or the Zero Point Field thought by Albert Einstein to be the only reality.


33.  We will discover that Love is an emanation of Light and that as divine Lovers we spiritually embody  the Light, Power, and the Love of God.


34.  We will discover that there is no death in any final sense.  What we call death is just a transition to an old, but ever new beautiful and fuller life, in which we will continue to evolve into the fullness of God.


35.  We will re-discover that we are a part of God, that we have never been separated from God in the past and will never be separated from God in eternity.


36.  We will discover that many of the things we valued in this life--comfort, money, sex, privilege, material things--are gone but that the really important things--unconditional love, life, compassion, memories, knowledge, the capability to continue learning, loving relationships, and meaningful goals--these things remain


37.  We will discover that there is no Hell, at least no more than we had created for ourselves on earth.  In this latter sense we may have undergone a multitude of heavens and hells in many incarnations.


38. We will discover that the primary difference between the heavenly plane and the earthly plane is a matter of consciousness.  It is our consciousness in each that determines our perceived reality in each respective plane.


39.  We will discover that our physical body on the material plane was like clothing for the soul.  It gave us a planetary identity which is not needed in the heavenly realm.


40.  We will discover that the subtle energies we experienced on earth are no longer subtle, but are rather an acknowledged and trusted aspect of eternal life.  We will have immediate access to the entire spectrum of subtle energies.  These will replace whatever physical senses we lose at death.


41.  We will discover that our evolution continues, driven by our choices.  We can go wherever our desires take us and do whatever we wish to do.


42.  We will discover that as free spirits we can roam both the astral and the earthly planes.  We can roam  the cosmos, visit the places we were unable to visit in our earthly incarnation,  even return to our earthly home if we so desire, though this latter may be a bitter-sweet experience, as our presence will likely go unnoticed.   But as spirit beings we can be everywhere at once, should we so choose.


43.  We will discover that there is no retrogression in the spiritual realm--only holonic growth as we accumulate the skills and develop the will to be the bearers of unconditional agápé  Love. (See pp.16-23 above for the definition of holonic.)


44.  We will discover that if we eventually choose to re-incarnate, we will return to the earthly plane more highly evolved than when we last left it and it will likely be to a life of service to those who continue to struggle.  It may also be in the company of soul mates with whom we have traveled for eons.


45.  We will discover that death is not a movement to another place or time, but a change in our perspective, a change with which we resonate.  We resonate only with that with which we vibrate as in the quantum vibrations which connect us with all things physical and spiritual.


46.  We will discover that those persons who have shared deeply in our earthly lives will continue to share our lives throughout eternity.


47. We will discover that the mysteries we wrestled with on earth have passed into even greater mysteries on the astral plane, thus insuring that even as wholly spiritual beings we will never cease to be stimulated to dig deeper and to discern more.


48.  We will discover that on the astral plane we can only progress to greater understanding and enlightenment.  We cannot regress.  Our evolution continues on all planes.


49.  We will discover that we have finally transcended the limitations of our earthbound humanity--all of them.


50.  We will discover pure Truth, and further that Beauty is one of Truth's most eloquent expressions.


51.  We will discover that quantum physicist David Bohm correctly theorized that from a loftier perspective than that provided by earth we will see that everything and everybody are connected by a universal matrix (which he called the implicate order)--that there is no separation whatsoever, that we are all part of an undivided whole.


52.  We will discover that our consciousness is the key to our co-creative capabilities which, though potentially available to us during our life on earth, are fully available to us in our life hereafter.  We will discover that our consciousness does, both here and there, not simply observe the universe, but actively participates in its creation--fully so in our elysian identity  and partially so even during our earthly sojourn(s).  This is the implication of the Apostle Paul's assertion that "For now we see the dim image as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."  (I Corinthians 13:12)


53.  We will discover that earth is but a mirror of heaven, its beauty the obscure reflection of the heavenly realm.  The applicable rule of thumb is "As above, so below."


54.  We will discover that, collectively, as divine beings, we are the only intelligence and consciousness that the cosmos has.  Indeed, God has  no hands but our hands, no feet but our feet, no mind but our mind, and no heart but our heart.  God is all there is, and that all includes us as Her primary manifestation to the cosmos.  We humans, on both sides of the Eternal Now, have been and will continue to be the guardians of all Creation, including both incarnate and spiritual humanity, because we possess the only incarnate spiritual consciousness the cosmos has.  We are God's only self-conscious presence on this earthly ground and our presence makes it holy ground.   This  fact alone provides sufficient rationale for belief in reincarnation.  The Earth and all its creatures needs our representation as conscious agents of the Divine in order that it may fulfill the Divine mandate to bring about the  Kingdom of God throughout the Cosmos--"For God so loves the cosmos, that She incarnates Herself in her children to take up the task of filling the cosmos with Her Life and Light and Love." (a 21st century paraphrase of John 3:16 by the author).


Given the above, perhaps the only question we need to answer now, in this earthly incarnation, is...


How then should we live now?


Chances are that, in this life, we will not have completed our work, but that it will continue into eternity.  Whatever we accomplish in this life towards the goal of our evolutionary development will not be lost at death but will provide the foundation for our continuing development in eternity.  Our work will never be finished.  Even if we eventually reach the mountaintop, there will be others behind us who will need a hand up,  so our work will continue.  Our work will not be complete until all who follow us have joined us at the top of the mountain, so whether in this life or in the next, our work continues.


The next question we need to ask is:


What does  it mean to be the incarnate presence of the Divine now?


The following article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by James L. Foster, Holonic Humanity: How God Makes Us Holy, due to be released in 2017.  It is a sequel to his earlier work, Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff, published in 2013.  The latter book, Holy Humanity, is reviewed in the January 2016 issue of Awareness magazine.


One of Webster's many definitions of "inspiration" is "a divine influence upon human beings."  A common  verbal derivative of the term is "inspire" which means to infuse with life.  A lesser known cousin is a transitive verb "inspirit" which means "to put spirit into; give life to...," "to infuse" with life. It is this latter sense that is important to consider in the context of subtle energies.

One further term which begs definition is "life." In spite of the  branch of science we call "biology," sometimes called "the science of life," it has been difficult for scientists to pin down just exactly what life is--nor do we know where whatever it is originates.  One of humankind's modern quests has been to discover whether or not there is life elsewhere in the universe.  But how will we know what it is if we find it?  Just what are we looking for?  If life is something that is inspirited, as in Webster's definition above, how does one know whether or not any given living object embodies or is infused with spirit, thus giving it life?  To resort to an old conundrum, which came first--the chicken or the egg?  Did the chicken come from the  egg or the egg come from the chicken?  I think the answer is both and neither.  Life comes from the Spirit--whatever kind of life it is--plant, animal or human.  Our lives did not begin with the seemingly miraculous confluence of two cells, each dividing to make four cells, then eight,  then sixteen, ad infinitum, until we became fully formed human beings with trillions of cells.  Those first two cells, gifted to us by our parents, had beginnings elsewhere--or did they?  I would propose the wholly unscientific solution that our physical beings are the earthly home of Spirit which as such had no beginnings.  That is what it means to be eternal.  To be human is to be eternal, with neither beginning nor end.

Gregg Braden, quoting an article by molecular biologist Daniel E. Koshland, Jr. in the March 22, 2002 issue of Science offers seven determinates of whether or not something is living.  Living things, says Koshland...

1.  Must have a program to make copies of themselves.

2.  Adapt and evolve to reflect changes in their environment.

3.  Tend to be complex, highly organized, and have compartmentalized structures.

4.  Have a metabolism that allows them to convert energy from one form to another.

5.  Can regenerate parts of themselves, or their entire forms.

6. Can respond to their environment through feedback mechanisms.

7.  Can maintain multiple metabolic reactions at the same time.

 Though Koshland's criteria for life may indeed suffice for some living things,--perhaps weeds, mosquitoes and such--it is far too mechanistic and simplistic.  As such I find it a totally unsatisfying description of human life. In the first place, his and similar attempts to equate our human identity with our bodies fails to account for our physical existence, much less our psychic and spiritual endowments. Nor does he make any allowance  for the incredible complexity and depth of whatever it means to be living, functional beings.  Without the inclusion of Spirit human life is totally devoid of Life!  Apart from Spirit, we would not exist.

To be human is to be infused with Spirit.  Spirit is our essence.  We are the embodiment of Spirit.  Spirit is our eternal nature.  We were solely Spirit prior to our human birth.  We shall be solely Spirit after our physical death.  In our earthly sojourn we accept the yoke of physicality in order to accommodate our physical environment.  But our bodies are not our essence.  We are, first and foremost, spiritual beings, no less so than the angels of heaven.  Indeed, if the biblical author of the Letter to the Hebrews is right, we are the superiors of the angels. They are here to serve us, as the divine children of God that we are.  He writes...

"Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?"  (Hebrews 1:7-14).

In John's Gospel, "eternal life" supplants the phrase "Kingdom of God" which is the characteristic phrasing of the synoptic gospels.  Eternal Life is, in John's understanding, life under the rule of God, a life that is free from the constraints of time, decay and evil.  It is wholly a spiritual realm, preexistent and co-existent with this earthly life as well as a continuing life after our death in this earthly sojourn. Our essence does not change  just because we change addresses.  The life we live now is eternal life infused with the Spirit of God.  Apart from the life-giving infusion of the Spirit we would not exist.

So what is the situation with all the other creatures, both plant and animal, that appear to have characteristics we identify as life?  My conclusion is that they, too, are infused with Spirit.  They have their own life-callings, their own inspired roles to play in God's Kingdom.  As such they are due our respect and consideration as fellow inhabitants of God's Kingdom.  Whether they be weeds or trees, birds or fish or reptiles or insects,  they, too, are subject to God's rule and recipients of their own gifts of God's  spirit infusions.  And if, indeed, we have been charged with the responsibility for their care and welfare, we should take the responsibility seriously  as fellow participants in God's Kingdom.

I would suggest further that creatures in our folklore may be more real than fictitious.  Given the quite serious and contemporary explorations of quantum physics into parallel universes--i.e. parallel realities beyond those we can apprehend by our limited human senses--we may find that creatures such as elves, gnomes and other nature spirits actually exist.  Science has already demonstrated that there are many realities beyond the reach of our physical senses.  That some persons may have sensitivities that I do not have seems to me not just possible, but even likely.  That our Creator may have created more realities than just the reality my senses are tuned to, does not strike me as particularly strange.  The fact that I may never develop the  capability to personally perceive my mythological neighbors proves nothing.  That there are others who have developed such capabilities is reason enough to warrant an openness to whatever spiritual beings may exist.  After all, we humans are also, in essence, spiritual beings.  As noted above, apart from Spirit  we would not exist.  Perhaps nature spirits have as much trouble believing that we exist.

Following Jesus

Following Jesus

By James L. Foster  

Given the title of this publication it seems to me appropriate for us to consider how we are doing in following the one whom many of us claim as our leader.  In the records of his ministry and teaching given us by the writers of our gospels, Jesus has laid down some pretty clear markers of what it means to be en Christo, “in Christ.”  I think it is safe to say that none of us have followed him perfectly.  Indeed, if we look back over the last two millennia of the Christian Church, it would appear that on a number of issues we have not followed him at all. 

It is no secret that the Christian Church through the centuries has been wrong on many occasions and in many ways:  We were wrong morally by perverting the grace of God, as in the crusades (by which we set out under the banner of Christ to either convert the Muslims or to kill them), as in the inquisition  (in which we tortured or killed those who dared to disagree with the church), and as in indulgences  (by which, for a price, we offered to wipe the slate clean of the believer’s sins), as in papal infallibility (including our present Pope’s suppression of Nag Hammadi scrolls for 40 years), and as in character assassinations, Mary Magdalene, for example.  We have also been wrong intellectually, believing, for example, that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the world is flat, having four corners (Revelation 7:1).  We were wrong in our understanding of biology, believing and building our theology on the assumption that only the male contributed anything of substance to the character and identity of the new born child (the mother only contributed a safe haven for the fetus to develop). Therefore the birth accounts of the child Jesus, composed almost a century later, only needed to replace the human father, presumably Joseph, in order to eliminate inherited sin.  In later years, we have been wrong again in supporting slavery, shunning, and segregation; wrong in our participation in wars and genocide (for example Rwanda, Burundi, and Bosnia), and wrong in our support of consumerism, and neglect of the poor – to name a few.  Injustice has been our credo, and it still is.  We have a sorry legacy when it comes to following the teachings and example of Jesus.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the gospel writer has Jesus tell the story of a man journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among thieves who left him battered, bleeding and perhaps unconscious on the side of the road.  The Torah, the Law of God by which the Jews pledged themselves to live, demanded that human need must take priority over every other concern.  Yet, in this story, says Jesus, a Levite, a recognized leader in temple worship, who was surely aware of the Law’s command to show compassion to those in need, passes by on the other side of the road, ignoring the wounded man.  Next comes a priest, a holy man of Israel, ordained after becoming proficient in the study of the Torah.  He, too, sees the victim. Perhaps justifying his behavior in typical ordained practice by countering the text calling for compassion with another text prohibiting one from touching the flesh of a dead man, he refuses to stop long enough even to investigate and passes by on the other side of the road. *

Then, says Jesus, a half-breed, a Samaritan, journeys along that way.  He is not schooled in the Law and so may have been ignorant of the Torah’s demands.  But he sees a human being in need, and he responds without hesitating.  Going up to the wounded man, he pours oil in his wounds and binds them up.  He then gives the victim wine and water to drink and takes him on his own donkey to an inn, where he arranges to pay for his continued care and lodging until the healing process is complete.

Then Jesus says to the lawyer who prompted the story, “Go and do likewise.

This parable was a challenge to the defining prejudice in 1st century Judaism and it invited people to step beyond their prejudices, whatever they were, into a new definition of humanity, a humanity that emerges beyond the boundaries of our prejudices.

In this story and others, like the Prodigal Son and the Rich man and Lazarus, Jesus is shown to be a God-presence that calls those of us who would be his followers to become more fully human by opening up the dark places in our souls where our prejudices hide, the place to which we have assigned the Samaritans of our day.  For some of us the Samaritans may be persons of a different skin color.   For others they may be people who worship God in ways different from our way.  For still others the Samaritans may be those whose sexual orientation is not like our own.  To be followers of Jesus we are forced to heed his call to surrender all our killing stereotypes and to walk beyond all our fears into a new prejudice-free humanity, a humanity free of those barriers that divide us one from another.

The call of Jesus through his example and teaching to those who would be his followers is to put aside all gender and sexual distinctions.  The Apostle Paul apparently understood this when he said that for those who have clothed themselves with Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek…slave or free, male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)  These become only categories into which humanity is divided.  They are not divisions that indicate sin, as past rhetoric had suggested.

The portrait of Jesus drawn by the biblical writers shows him violating the sexual boundaries of his day, not just once but many times.  John’s gospel, for example, says that Jesus engaged the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) in a lengthy theological discussion, even though Jewish males did not converse with women in a public place.  No wonder his disciples were astonished when they returned to find the two of them in conversation, and though none of them said, “Why are you talking with her?”  you can be sure all of them were thinking it.

Jesus also had women disciples, among whom Mary Magdalene was prominent.  She was obviously a key person in the Jesus movement, despite the early church male leaders’ attempts at character assassination by turning her into a prostitute without a shred of evidence to support their accusations.  Apart from one unexplained comment in Luke 8:2 where Jesus is reported to have cast out demons in Mary Magdalene, she is described in very positive terms in every other reference.  She also went on to write one of the early gospels about Jesus, though it was never acknowledged by the Church Fathers.  But they do not reflect either the example or the teaching of Jesus.

As for those with a different sexual orientation, Jesus never says a word in any gospel about homosexuality.  Indeed, the word homosexuality does not appear in Scripture at all, nor does sexual perversion.  Jesus did mention adultery and fornication, both heterosexual sins.  And in the story in Genesis of Sodom and Gomorrah, though the inhabitants of Sodom were apparently homosexuals, their sin was in their attempted rape of Lot’s guests.  James is quoted in Acts 15:20 as advising the Gentiles to abstain from fornication, and Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 lists fornication as one of several works of the flesh, but makes no mention of homosexuality.  I know a few homosexuals and all of them with but one exception are people of integrity, struggling with the burden of rejection, placed upon them for the most part by Christians

The science is in and it is conclusive.  Sexual orientation, both heterosexuality and homosexuality, are natural, genetically imposed orientations with which we are born.  Just because homosexuality is not natural for those of us that have a heterosexual orientation, that does not mean that it is not natural for those born with a homosexual orientation.  The only thing that really divides us is the fear we have of an experience we do not understand, and for that we misquote Scripture to justify not following the teaching of Jesus.  Homosexuals are clearly the pre-eminent Samaritans of our day, and the call of Jesus is to reach across the divide with compassion and acceptance.

Another teaching of Jesus about which I suggest we should be very concerned is that reported by Matthew in the opening verses of chapter 7 of his gospel.  “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged, for with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

You, dear Christian friends, are my brothers and sisters.  But we also have other brothers and sisters who are not a part of our faith traditions and who are different from us in one way or another.  As we have opportunity, we need to embrace them, too, without judgment and without fear.  May there be for us no more Samaritans but only human beings who share the wonder of what it means to be a child of God.   


* Much of the interpretation of this parable is roughly quoted from the book  New Christianity for a New World  by John Shelby Spong, pp. 134-ff.


A Vision For the 21st Century

A Vision For the 21st Century

(Editor’s note:  John Lackey, a minister of the United Church of Christ, is here priming the pump for future dialogues.  In the future it is anticipated that reader responses to other readers and to the editor will constitute the bulk of the dialogue.) 

My vision for our world in this 21st Century is a biblically sourced vision having to do with economics. Douglas Meeks, in God the Economist,[1] points out that the Greek word from which we derive economy, “oikonomia,”is a compound of  “oikos,” meaning  “household,” and  “nomos,” meaning “law” or “management of the household.” “Economy” means literally  “the management of the household.” The Bible, throughout, is about a God whose purpose is to create a household in which all of God’s creatures can find home and abundant life.  This suggests lines from the World Citizenship Creed:   “I believe in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth...I believe in the stewardship of life and resources to the end that all may mutually benefit from the earth’s bounty and that no person may have to go without food or shelter...I believe in the global community, interdependent and mutually responsible for our physical and social environments...a world where justice and compassion rule and where greed and hatred are diminished...”[2]  The chief goal of this 21st century must be to develop the potential implied in these words.

This requires an understanding of today’s system of Global Economics--why it has failed to live up to its heralded promise that, in time, all of earth’s citizens would enjoy a decent standard of living. The basic problem is that global economics is under the control of the developed nations and giant corporations, which exist for profits and not for people. Even so, as Joseph Stiglitz says in Globalization and Its Discontents,[3]  “I believe that globalization--the removal of barriers to free trade and the closer integration of national economies--can be a force for good and that it has the potential to enrich everyone in the world, particularly the poor.” 

This raises some vital questions: 

(1) How did it come about that globalization became a  “domination system,” to use Walter Wink’s term?

(2) What changes are necessary if globalization is to be transformed into a just, humane system that benefits all of the earth’s peoples and nature?

(3) How does “outsourcing” fit into the picture?

(4) How can the greed in human character that drives the profit motive be transformed for the sake of both the victims and the oppressors?

(5) How can peoples of the developed nations begin to recognize how we support the system?

It seems that the needed reforms require that people around the world work together with collective action in shaping international agreements and regulating international corporations.  Global public institutions must be created to help set the rules.  Concerned world citizens need to join and support organizations that are working toward economic and environmental justice.

This kind of vision calls for a global communications system. It seems that such a system is available to us today through the World Wide Web. With global access to the Web:

(1) There could develop a common understanding about how the global economic system works and what is needed to change it.

(2) Workers in a given nation could share information with those in other nations about how the corporation-controlled system is affecting their lives.

(3) Peoples involved in the struggle for justice in their homeland could enjoy encouragement and support from around the world.

(4) Global action could be brought to bear on a local situation of injustice (refusal to pay a living wage, refusal to provide health care, damage to the environment, etc.). Peoples in other nations could write the corporation CEO with appeals for justice. When a corporation knows that the eyes of the world are on it, it may feel inclined to change its ways.

How important to the 21st century is the vision discussed here? William Sloan Coffin, in his Credo,[4] says it well: “the war against terrorism will finally be won by economic justice.   There is nothing meta-physical about terrorism. It springs from specific historical causes--political oppression and economic deprivation.  Until these injustices and our complicity and their furtherance are faced, our escalating counter violence will predictably result in more and more terrorists attacking more and more American institutions at home and abroad…”

What’s at stake in the 21st Century is world peace! This world must become a household in which all of God’s creatures find home and abundant life.