Category Archives: meditations

1 Corinthians 13 (III)


reLOVEutionWe continue with my meditations on 1 Cor 13, Pauls love chapter. See also part I and II.

The next verse is the last of the first part of this chapter, and goes on in the same way as verse 1 and 2 which we’ve already read:

If I give away everything I own,
and if I give over my body
in order to boast,
but do not have love,
I receive no benefit.

(I recommend you to read this several times and think about it in all its implications and everything else that comes up when you read this. Asking the Holy Spirit for guidance before you do this is not a bad idea either.)

Paul still talks about all we can have and do without having love. This time he says we can sacrifice all we have including our own body, but without love we will not benefit from it.

The interesting thing is that when we compare the 3 first verses, the first verse says that without love we will just be meaningless, the second verse says that we are nothing, and the third verse says we won’t get any benefit. We can’t bypass love as a Christian. Not with knowledge, nor with strong faith, nor with any sacrifice we could make.

In medieval times we did have places called ‘godshuizen’ (god-houses) in this part of Europe, in which poor people were given housing and food. Sounds very good, but in fact the whole idea was that the (rich) people who founded such things just did it because they wanted to be sure they would go to heaven after they died. If this was indeed the reason why they built those houses and took care of the poor without really caring for them, we can doubt that it did really work. Paul here seems to assume otherwise…

Without love we are nothing!

There is some ambiguity in the original meaning of the second part, so some translations speak about giving over the body in order to boast, while others speaking in giving over the body to be burned, but the principle stays the same. Modern people don’t bother much with giving up their body anyway, so I don’t know if this particular sentence is that relevant for us. We do seem to revere our body more than that we are willing to sacrifice it.

But what Paul says here is very important. We can give and sacrifice everything we have and more, if it isn’t out of love (or at least creates love in us in the process), it will not do any good to us.

I must think of one more thing here: Jesus quoting the prophet Hosea to the pharisees in saying “Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13). Let that sink in, here is the Living bible version:

‘It isn’t your sacrifices and your gifts I want—I want you to be merciful.’

We need to be merciful. We need to be loving. Sacrifices of any kind are meaningless without love…

Without love nothing can ever mean anything at all…

So what is love? What characteristics does it have? That’s something for next time. (you can cheat by opening your bible though…)

Peace

Bram

1 Corinthians 13 (II)


In this post we resume my meditations on 1 Corinthians 13 (see pt I here), Paul’s famous ‘love chapter’, and we do so by going to the next verse:

And if I have prophecy,
and know all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith
so that I can remove mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.

We started out with a rather radical verse, and now we continue in the same vein, maybe even more radical. What Paul says here is that even with all prophecy, mysteries, knowledge and faith we are still nothing if we don’t have love. The love mentioned here is still the NT idea of loving God above all and fellow humans as ourselves, which includes our enemies. The full characteristics ofreLOVEution this love will be summed up in the second part of the chapter so we’ll arrive at that later. Paul is very clear hear. In the first verse he used metaphor and said that all languages of the world and beyond without love are just a noisy cymbal, but here he is very clear.

If I have no love I am nothing.

Let that sink in again.

If you have no love, you are nothing…

The things Paul sums up are what a lot of people are searching for. Prophecies are divine revelations, mysteries are hidden things we cannot know until we are initiated. Knowledge is something we all still search for. All our modern science and technology comes out of that search for knowledge.

All these things will not benefit us in the end if we don’t have love…

Interestingly Paul does add one more thing here: faith. His wording hereis a direct allusion to Jesus, who said that if you have faith like a mustard seed you can move a mountain with it. But without this love for God and fellow humans all faith is just psychology and magic. Faith is relational, and comes down to trust, and trust goes together with love here. We are to have faith in God, to trust God.

(The more I let this sink in the more I wonder about certain things I’ve seen in certain corners of the charismatic world. But I am not the one to judge)

I do not at all think Paul means that those things are unimportant, but he is quite clear that, for a Christian, love is important in such a way that we can have all the rest and still be nothing without it. Love is not just the law, it is both the way and the goal, though it will never be complete on this side of the New Heaven and Earth.

Without it we’re indeed nothing.

(Note also here that stuff like money and power are NOT even mentioned here. I do think Paul mentions things that do have worth for Christians here, and omits things we should not give too much attention to )

Peace

Bram

1 Corinthians 13 (I)


I don’t know where my year of demodernisation is going, apart from trying to stay away from too much Dawkinsian naturalist fundamentalism and not ingesting too much American stuff at the same time. At the moment it might seem that I’m mainly exploring the occult, and sometimes going back to discussions about sex(ism) and stuff like that. I will try to go to completely different domains too though.

I thought it might be good, being a Christian blogger of sorts after all, to spend some time on the bible parts (and other texts probably) I’m trying to meditate on, and write rather short posts -or longer ones like this one- about them. So I will start in this post with a series on one of my favorite chapters of the bible, one of the most famous parts of Christian scripture: the famous ‘love chapter’ from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 13;1
1 Corinthians 13 is maybe one of the most romanticised parts of the Christian bible, but it seems to me that both the importance and the depth of what Paul is telling us here are often understated. The consequences of this chapter are beyond what you’d think when you just read it superficially. That’s why I’m going to break this into small parts of one or more verses, to let every detail sink in.

We begin with the beginning:
If I speak in the tongues of men
and of angels,
but I do not have love,
I am a noisy gong
or a clanging cymbal.

Rosetta_Stone I do know a few languages. My native language is Dutch, and my second language is English (especially written English even). I do know a bit of French as a Belgian, can understand a little bit of Latin, and if I’d work on it I’d be able to read some old Greek again. And then there are languages in which I know only a few words. (My Japanese is better than my Russian, but still almost non-existing…)

There are a lot of human languages that are spoken today, and even more if we count the extinct ones in which texts still survive. One can spend a lifetime learning to still master only a fraction of them. And then there are the languages of angels, of which we do know nothing, and will never know anything, they use our languages to communicate with us, but I do know some Pentecostals believe some people who speak in tongues might have a ‘prayer language’ that’s not human but angelic.

It actually does not matter. We could know all languages of all language-using beings in the universe, but if we don’t have anything to say, it doesn’t matter.
It will all be worth nothing more than senseless noise. I do feel a bit offended as a drummer here that Paul uses cymbals and gongs here to signify something like ‘useless noise’, but it’s true that banging on a cymbal is always a lot of noise, and unless that noise does fit in some context, like a composition, or a ritual, or a lesson or practice for learning to do these things, we shouldn’t do it.

Someone once said to not break the silence unless you can improve it!

And what is the only way to improve the metaphorical silence? What is the only way to make those languages more than mindless noise?

Love

Yes, let that sink in, Love!

Anyone who knows the NT should not be surprised. Love is what it all is about according to Jesus. To love God with all that we are, and to love our neigbor as ourselves is the whole law. And it is the purpose of the law. It’s the Kingdom of God breaking in into this present age when we live in this love.

And nothing else makes much sense.

This goes deeper than I can realise and I’m only scratching the surface here,  so I think I have to meditate some more on this one verse before I go to sleep

Peace to you all

Bram

fallible language III: experience of God?


Let’s go back now to a series that I’ve begun last winter but left unfinished, about fallibility of language (find part I and part II here, as well as the apophatic interlude featuring our Friend Rollins) in which we were looking at the way in which language fails us sometimes. This was not (as you would expect from a postmodern like me) from a postmodern viewpoint, but I started from the thought of G.K. Chesterton and mostly from the classical Orthodox tradition, on which I was reading a quite good book, and the church fathers.

I have been writing about the fallibility of language, and about how difficult it is to speak about God, as a created being. One of the most important things here is that we as Christians are in the first place not just expected to know about God (which requires human language) but after all and more important, we are to know God Himself. Christianity is not a gnostic sect in which we are saved by mere knowledge, but a restored relationship with the Source of all Creation (‘God’) through Christ… And relationality entails a completely different sort of ‘knowing’ than academic publishing!

I could say a lot about this, but other people have said much more intelligent things about this subject than I’ll ever do. I do know that in certain protestant circles knowledge of God by any form of ‘personal experience’ is frowned upon, while other traditions, from the Charismatics and Quakers to the Eastern Orthodox, see it as normative in very different ways. Surely, not only experience is important,without wisdom and guidance we don’t even know what we’re following, so we need reason, tradition, scripture and experience or are in problems. But experience is in no way unimportant here. Let’s for example go back to the Orthodox tradition, where speaking about God is considered to be utterly impossible by one who has not experienced God:

Personal experience is requisite to any valid talk about God, from an Orthodox perspective. Such mystical experience of God in the divine energies not only draws us to God, it also confirms within us the appropriateness of both positive and negative theology. We must speak about God because we are Christian; but we must also rise above these concepts, because God is transcendent. Personal experience of God draws us into union with him about whom theology speaks. Without that experience, any such talk about God is vacuous and presumptuous, according to Orthodoxy. (Payton, Light from the East, p 84)

We have to notice here that the goal surely is not just to talk of God, or to be able to make money by writing books about God; He is the Ultimate Reality… And the goal of our life is to be united to Him, and outside of Him we or anything else cannot even exist…

I got a gut feeling that the more we experience of God, the less we will be able to talk about it and the less intellectual systems we will be able to proclaim with absolute modern certainty… Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds of the middle ages, wasn’t able to write anymore after a mystical experience with Christ. When they asked him to resume his writing works, he said that he couldn’t because ‘”all that I have written seems like straw to me”

And this leaves us not with less, but with even more problems in speaking about God, and the paradox of Peter Rollins:

“That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking”

Which might make it quite complicating, but who did ever say that it was easy??? It isn’t, and I have a long Way to go here, and maybe not much right to say anything about God… Who just IS beyond all we can say or understand…

What’s your experience here?

shalom

Bram

Teach us to pray O Lord


The disciples asked their Rabbi ‘Teach us to pray’, and it’s a very important question indeed. If our good news of salvation means, among other things, being redeemed into in unbroken relationship with our Creator again, and prayer is communication with God. (Both are very standard ideas I’ve learned as a Christian) then we can’t underestimate the role of prayer. You can’t have a relationship if you don’t have communication, and if you have a relationship with someone you love one of the things you want to do is communicate with him/her.

So prayer is very important to us as Christians. Paul even says somewhere that we should ‘pray without ceasing’, which does not seem like a very simple task (quite impossible even), especially if you have ADD like me, but it’s undeniable that the salvation that Jesus brings, lived out in all its fullness, means a life that is in every moment connected to God, that is in every move informed by the spirit, and that results in the coming of Gods Kindom through our lives, on Earth as it is in heaven, as the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him that big question.

But, like I said, I’m a human who is very easily distracted. I struggle with prayer, even though I know and feel that I need it. I know I need to find more dicipline, and some kind of prayer rhytm, but at the moment I’m not there. So, ironically, one of the things I pray very frequently these days is ‘teach me how to pray’.

Here is a beautiful prayer from Christine Sine that expresses my struggle, and what I would want to see in prayer much better than I do:

Teach us to pray O Lord,
Draw us closer to you, to your world , to each other.
Teach us to pray, O Lord,
With compassion and love and forgiveness.
Teach us to pray, O Lord,
Until all that we are and all that we do,
Becomes a gift of prayer to you.
Teach us to pray O Lord,
Draw us closer to you, to your world , to each other.
Teach us to pray, O Lord,
With compassion and love and forgiveness.
Teach us to pray, O Lord,
Until all that we are and all that we do,
Becomes a gift of prayer to you.

what do you all think?

shalom

Bram

The imago dei, or very very basic Christian humanism…


A Japanese orthodox Facebook friend posted something quite beautiful this morning, that fits perfectly with something that I’ve been contemplating lately:

Question: Do you know why Orthodox monastics bow to the ground when they meet someone?

Answer: Because they see all they encounter as Icons of God, and honor the image of God in every person by bowing to them.

I don’t think bowing for everyone would be very practical, but I love the idea behind it, and I think it points to something we should learn about more as Western Christians: honoring the image of God in every human being.

God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.

(Gen 1:27, NET-bible)

I would call this ‘basic Christian humanism': the idea that every human being is of infinite worth, because he or she carries the image of God. This idea of the imago dei was behind the first wave of what was called humanism in the Renaissance time (think people like Erasmus). It’s only much later that humanism and Christianity were disconnected from each other, and that ‘humanism’ became associated with atheism.

Every human might be fallen and affected by sin, but it’s also true that every human bears the image of God. From the mightiest president and the noisiest rockstar to the poorest immigrant and the tiniest baby. All of them. And that makes all of them, even the ones we can’t help but dislike or hate, worthy of respect. Even enemies deserve our love, as Jesus taught us.

No human being is worthless,
no human being is disposable.
Treating any human like that is blaspheming Gods image!

God, open my eyes,
let me see Your Image,
in everyone,
let me see Your fingerprints
on all of Creation
let me honor all glimpses
of Truth and Beauty
they are all Yours,
everything good and perfect
comes from You
praise to Father, Son and Spirit,
Three-in-one,
Amen

what do you think?

shalom

Bram

Meditating on sexy models


Note: I write as a straight white male, and I do write from my own perspective. I do think a lot of what I say could be relevant to other readers that are not straight males, but for readability I don’t make everything gender-inclusive. If you are a person who is visually aroused in a sensual way by male bodies, or by both sexes, just read the sex you’re attracted to instead of female and your own gender instead of male.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some discussions I had on my facebook wall after I posted this next cartoon:

(Probably irrelevant note on this cartoon: I must confess that I do find sunglasses more unattractive than the Niqab the woman is wearing. I also find that sunglasses + bikini make it easier to turn a woman into something abstract than anything that shows the eyes)

I have the creepy idea that both our Western pornification and the Eastern way of hiding women are 2 sides of the same rotten coin, in which women (and more generally humans) get reduced to sexual objects that can be either pursued as such (in our heads or in real life) or should be avoided as a cause of sin, and this covered up and hidden from sight.

I’m not a fan of what I’ve just called the ‘Eastern’ view because I find it completely dehumanizing. I’ve read about ‘bleeding Pharisees’ who were alleged to be so afraid to see a woman that they did look away all the time when walking on the streaky and so bumped into everything that stood in their way in the street. [I hope that this is just a dumb religious urban legend] I also remember a conversation with a Muslim colleague in a former job, who explained to me that women had to be covered up because men just can’t control themselves when seeing one.

All of this is not just sexist towards women, I’m also quite infuriated by the low view of man that is espoused here, and I am afraid that men who are trained to think like this might indeed grow into the type of man that cannot watch a woman without having wrong sexual thoughts about her. As a Christ-follower I do try to take the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount serious:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

Yes, looking lustfully at a woman, using her as a sex-object in your head, is adultery of the heart. Auch; Note also: Jesus clearly speaks to the watching man as the responsible party, not about the woman. Our thoughts, and the way we look at women, are our responsibility. Jesus himself never practised the ‘run-away-from-everything-female-that-might-seduce-you’ tactics at all. He speaks with the woman at the well as an equal for example,  which goes against his culture. Even his followers are surprised by that. And in other places in the gospels we see that Jesus nowhere treats women as sex objects or dangerous sources of sexual sin, but as human beings.

anyway, let’s not blame just the oldschool guys and the Muslims faraway, and their Christian counterparts in certain more fundamentalist corners. We enlightened neoliberal capitalist Westerners are even worse. Billboards everywhere with sexy bodies on it, that are made to make us spend our money on completely unrelated crap. And I’m not even talking about porn here. The line of thought is scarily similar: men will not control their thoughts when seeing a sexy female body. Only we do not at all attempt to control it, we cultivate it, and some industries use it to make a lot of money. And I suppose the porn industry is making even more money than the advertisement industry that I’m criticizing right now.

Let’s go back to the billboards with half-naked women that I talked about. We are not able to avoid advertisements that are put there for everyone to see sometimes, and I do not believe at all that the ‘bleeding pharisees’ are a healthy model to copy at all…;We as Christians should exhibit a scandalous love towards all humans, including those abused sisters on those pictures!

The solution is not to always look away, we don’t do anything about the root problem then: women remain just something that makes us sin, instead of human beings made in the divine image. We have to learn HOW to look if we can’t avoid it.

Just running away solves nothing. Forming character is important. Which means sometimes that you actively have to form your habits, and that’s not always an easy task. But what I’ve been doing lately when I saw such female figures that I couldn’t avoid looking at was a small meditation, which did open my  eyes.

So here it is, as the title promised: a meditation on sexy models, to be performed while looking at a billboard of a sexy body that is used to sell something completely unrelated to the female human. And indeed, maybe it’s not very healthy to go looking for an occasion for such a thing, but when you’re already in the staring situation, this kind of meditation might be a good turnaround:

1.  first ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, for His eyes to look at people… Ask for forgiveness on any wrong dehumanizing thoughts (looking at her as either a sex object or a dirty slut!) if you have had any of those. Thoughts can not always be avoided, but they can be stopped. (The bible even speaks of ‘taking thoughts captive in Christ!)  And if the Spirit would say to look away, ignore this meditation. Your path might not be mine. But even then,

2. Look at her as a whole, as a person. Look for her eyes. Try to find the person behind it. (If possible) Maybe try to think about the photograph, how it was taken. About the fotoshoot, about how she was working and ‘acting’.

3. Think about her as a child, being with her grandparents. Or other very human situations. She is a person just like you, with friends and troubles, with hopes and dreams and little and big frustrations.

4. Remind yourself this: This is a human being, made in the image of God. Try to see it. She might be abused by a capitalist system, she might be abusing her body herself, but nothing of that will take away she still is a human being like you, incredably valuable since SHE IS CREATED IN THE DIVINE IMAGE, just like you are. Let that sink in. She should not be reduced to a sex object, but neither should she looked down upon as a ‘slut’ or whatever categories you have in your head for ‘sinful women’. She is your sister, and should be looked at this way.

5. Pray for her, for her life to be invaded by Gods kingdom.

6. Pray for God to help you look at every woman the way He does.

Remember that rewiring thought patterns is hard. But that does not mean that you cannot change and be modelled more and more to the mind of Christ.

This kind of exercises is also very good with other people that you tend to dehumanize in very different ways, like ‘your enemies’ (only if you love them and pray for them you will be ‘sons of god’ in Matthew 5:45-46)  those with, whom you disagree so much you don’t take them serious as a human being, those far away dying in wars on TV, etc… All of those are Human beings, created in Gods image, of immense worth! Even the worst criminal!

My question now: If those things are so important to Jesus in the gospel (loving our fellow humans, even loving our enemies) why aren’t these the things we train ourselves in as Christians, and train ourselves some more in it, and invite the Spirit to help us grow in it? Why isn’t this one of our top priorities?

so, what do you think? Am I crazy? Unrealistic? any other comments?

shalom

Bram