On God

The Christian understanding of God as Trinity is an incredibly meaningful vision of Transcendent Being with many layers of significance, the brilliance of which cannot be exhaustively explained or comprehended. One level of meaning contained in its theology relates to the three symbolic Personalities of the eternal Father, Son, and Spirit intimately bound together in one Being. Understanding the transcendent symbolism requires considering its relevance to the immanent, generational patterns between fathers and sons who are bound by a common spirit.

The eternal Father is the perennial representative of the old and existing order of things. The Father ideally trains the Son in the wisdom and ways of their ancestors for the purpose of raising the Son to full maturity. The Father provides the Son with a safe home to grow up in as the Son learns the Father’s ways. The Father also perpetually guides the Son in his development and life as the Son seeks help from the Father, even as the Son ventures beyond the Father’s domain. In evolutionary terms, the Father signifies that which continually conserves and supports present and future generations of life.

The eternal Son is the perennial representative of the new and changing order of things. The Son begins his journey as a child by learning the Father’s ways and faithfully reproducing them in his own life. The Son earnestly seeks to know the Father and obey his leading throughout the Son’s budding development. Once the Son has reached adulthood, with the Father’s supportive encouragement the Son eventually leaves the Father’s home, the known boundaries of safety and comfort, to endeavour into unknown and dangerous places for the purposes of confronting and conquering the forces of chaos for the good of the world. In evolutionary terms, the Son signifies that which continually recreates existing orders while also exploring beyond them into new domains for the benefit of present and future generations of life.

The eternal Spirit is the perennial representative of the indwelling and enduring bond that unifies the Father with the Son across geographies and generations. The Spirit actively indwells both the Father and the Son to eternally bind them together in a living union that outlasts each generation. The Spirit reminds the Son of the Father’s ways, instilling the Father in the Son’s heart, and connects the Son to the Father no matter where the Son may go, creating an unbreakable and living bond between them. In evolutionary terms, the Spirit signifies that which continually revitalizes and unifies old orders with new orders across the generations of life.

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This vision of God should influence our understanding of Christian life and community. Christian disciples are called to honour the Father while following the patterns of the heroic Son.  Any Christianity that rigidly resists change, development, and growth is a Christianity the denies the recreative role of the eternal Son, Jesus Christ. Such a “Christ-ianity” is not worthy of the name and should arguably find another label for its religious parody of the recreative Way of Christ. Some Christian churches are all Father to the exclusion of the Son and the Spirit. These communities and their members tend to become rigid, stagnant, and lifeless since they resist the movements of the Son and Spirit that would change and renew them.

In contrast, other Christian churches react against the tyrannical Father by forming churches that exclusively follow the patterns of a rebellious Son. These communities and their members sometimes have the initial attraction of being new and progressive, but they may risk becoming chaotic, shallow, and aimless if they evolve without being firmly oriented in the developmental history of their ancestral traditions. Sadly, it is exceedingly rare to find a Christian church that honours both the eternal Father in union with the eternal Son in a Holy Trinity of Being, perhaps because these Personalities exist in perfect relationship only in God. Elsewhere they tend to be dysfunctionally related.

Interestingly, a Trinitarian vision of Transcendent Being is also strikingly compatible with an evolutionary understanding of the dynamics and nature of living development. The vision of God as Trinity portrays the eternal Father, the eternal Son, and the eternal Spirit as living together in a loving unity of uncreated Being as they simultaneously work at conserving, supporting, creating, progressing, unifying, and revitalizing created being for the perpetual good of all life. Simply put, life thrives and flourishes when it properly honours the Holy Trinity of Being.

On Politics

How do we form a healthy, thriving society together?  What should be our highest ethical values and goals?  Should we strive to create a free society?  An equal society?  Or should we strive to create a free and equal society?  Lately the political right and left have become even more deeply divided along these ethical fault lines than usual.  The right wants a free society (sometimes to the neglect of promoting social equality), while the left wants an equal society (sometimes to the neglect of protecting individual freedom).  Rarely do I hear individuals voice an interest in transcending the dominant dichotomy by seeking to create a society that is both free and equal.  Most public voices are so partisan that they appear to assume talking positively about the ethical values promoted by “the other side” would be perceived as a violation of trust, a punishable act of betrayal, by members of their own tribe.  Stepping out beyond the safe boundaries of a one’s tribe to express independent views or suggestions can surely be a harsh and dreadful thing.

One rule of warfare is never cede any ground to your enemy unless you absolutely have to.  The current political landscape has become so combative that opponents tend to approach one another in ways that are oddly like warriors engaged in some tribal conflict.  Attempts are rarely made the understand the moral motivations of “the other side,” let alone affirm some of their legitimacy.  The extreme right (which has increasingly become the mainstream right) wants smaller governments and less state intervention in the lives of individuals for the purpose of maximizing individual freedom.  The extreme left (which has increasingly become the mainstream left) wants bigger governments and more state interventions and controls for the purpose of maximizing social equality.  The right promotes their own agenda in ways that focus on positively expanding individual freedom and interprets the left’s agenda in ways that negatively restrict individual freedom.  Whereas the left promotes their own agenda in ways that focus on positively promoting social equality and interprets the right’s agenda in ways that negatively diminish social equality.  In the process neither side tends to acknowledge the inherent mix of potentially positive and negative outcomes associated with promoting freedom or promoting equality, but rather only those potentials that serve their partisan priorities.   This isn’t to suggest there aren’t some on the right who also care about creating an equal society and some on the left who also care about creating a free society.  But the public discourse has become so polarized that nuanced discussion has no place in it.  It doesn’t fit or support the dominant narratives.

You can notice the biases in the one-sided narratives partisans present of themselves and their opponents, which sometimes verge on parody.  Right partisans say things like, “We’re just standing up for the freedom of individuals to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives and what they want to do with what belongs to them without outside interference.  The left just wants to create a tyrannical totalitarian state that controls our lives, forces assimilation, and eliminates independent thought and freedom.”  On the other hand, left partisans say things like, “We’re just standing up for justice and equality for individuals and groups, especially for people who are poor and marginalized.  The right just wants to get rid of the government so our lives will be thrown into anarchic chaos and the rich and powerful will be allowed to ruthlessly exploit the disadvantaged and increase their dominance to no end.”  The way extreme partisanship has steadily become more mainstream on both sides is certainly cause for concern.  There is a disappearing middle ground typically occupied by moderates where most of the productive dialogue and debate usually happens.  But this middle ground is hard to hold when the political battle becomes so polarized that the only way to find some social support and shelter is by exclusively allying with one of the two warring tribes.

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Our current problems and situations are strangely reminiscent of those found in ancient polytheistic cultures.  These were times when separate tribes worshipping separate gods would go to battle to determine whose god was more powerful and therefore deserving of collective allegiance.  Typically each god (consciously or unconsciously) functioned as a personified representative of particular ethical values and hierarchies in these wars.  With the collapse of Western society’s shared, cultural monotheism—a cultural system which, among many things, provided our recent ancestors with social stability, coherence, and orientation—we have functionally returned to a kind of cultural polytheism where different tribes (and individuals) ally with different gods as they battle out their differences on both earthly and heavenly planes.  The current battle escalating between the high gods of Freedom (exclusively worshipped by the extreme right) and Equality (exclusively worshipped by the extreme left) deeply threatens to disrupt the already-shaky stability of our society, especially if we accept the increasingly popular assumption that this war is a mortal struggle between irreconcilable enemies where only one can emerge victorious.  We consider it a sacred right for each individual and tribe to pursue their separate interests and ultimate concerns, and for good reasons.  But one potentially dysfunctional consequence of the collapse of our society’s unifying values and narratives is each tribe fights to remake society in the image of their separate gods.

Is there any way of moving beyond participating in a mortal battle between Freedom and Equality and instead seek a society that simultaneously promotes freedom and equality?  E.F. Schumacher has offered a helpful distinction between “convergent problems” and “divergent problems” that is relevant here.  He says convergent problems are problems that clearly have only one answer.  So the answers to these problems converge on a single solution.  For example, what does two plus two equal?  What is the capital of Canada?  What temperature does water boil at?  Convergent problems are problems that have been solved.  In contrast, divergent problems are problems that tend to elicit multiple, sometimes equally legitimate answers that may even conflict.  So the answers to these problems tend to diverge into many solutions.  Does God exist?  What is God like?  What is the highest good?  What is the best way to educate and raise our children?  How do we create a healthy, thriving society?  Divergent problems are of a different order than convergent ones since properly respecting and addressing the dilemmas they present requires tolerating ambiguities and paradoxes without hastily forcing them to resolve into easy but inadequate certainties. Divergent problems, then, are problems that are unsolved and perhaps even unsolvable.

Schumacher writes that “Everywhere society’s health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims.  The adoption of a final solution means a kind of death sentence for man’s humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, generally both.”  He notes that the only ethic that is able to reconcile the ethics of freedom and equality in human communities is an ethic of love.  For love both honours the freedom and dignity of individuals, and yet voluntarily acts to promote the wellbeing of others.  Love does not coerce or force or oblige or impose itself on others.  And love does not neglect or ignore or exploit or abuse others to get what it wants.  Love freely seeks equality amongst the people within its sphere of concern.

This highlights an inherent limitation of governmental solutions in addressing all social problems.  For love cannot be forcibly legislated by any authority—not even by God.  Love may inspire and invite, but it cannot coerce.  Otherwise it ceases to be love and becomes something else.  Interestingly, the Christian theology of God understands God as Love: three Personalities eternally existing in perfect freedom and equality of Being, and thus intrinsically concerned with promoting the freedom and equality of all people made in God’s image.  God as Trinity is a transcendent reality that actively hold the ethics of freedom and equality together in loving harmony.  Is it a coincidence that our deepening social and political divides seem to be worsening in the recent wake of our culture’s monotheistic collapse?  Are we witnessing a functional return to a more polytheistic, tribal society that is fragmenting ethical values once held together by our recent ancestor’s trinitarian vision of God?  It’s hard to say for sure how related these events are.  Though it seems to me to be more than a mere coincidence, to some degree, that these polytheistic patterns have been emerging in the aftermath of monotheistic breakdown.

 

On Jesus

Life is everywhere indwelling and surrounding us, right here, right now, immanently pulsing, permeating, progressing, and present, within you, and within me, as radically close as our next breath yet as prevailing as the winds.  You don’t need to look long or hard to find it.  Simply pause and take notice.

The psychotherapist Carl Rogers believed one of his primary tasks as a therapist was to notice the impulses towards life innately growing within each of his clients and to help cultivate their unique development.  Supporting this transformative work requires creating the right conditions and providing the right care for new life to grow.  I might need to till up dry ground, remove stones from the earth, pull up weeds, and prune back dead growth.  I will need to ensure what’s growing receives enough water and sunlight to flourish.  And I will have to plant new seeds where they have adequate soil and space to develop into full maturity.  Properly cultivating new life—whether in my garden or in myself—requires a careful combination of ongoing work, attention, wisdom, patience, and time.

Jesus says, “I have come so that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”  Elsewhere in scripture he uses a vivid agricultural metaphor to creatively describe the way we participate in living this abundant life with him and through him.  Jesus says:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful… Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

true vine

This striking biblical image of living in close and intimate connection to Christ, as branches to a supporting vine, partly portrays the nature of Christian identity.  It symbolizes what it means to profoundly identify with the Living Christ and participate with him in continually revitalizing all things.  To find one’s identity in Christ—the eternal Son and the world-creating, world-sustaining Logos—means, among many things, to identify one’s most profound and enduring sense of self with the recreative, exploratory, courageous Spirit of Sonship, the Spirit which is always actively at work in the dynamic processes of reordering, reforming, restoring, renewing, reinvigorating, and resurrecting, so all things may continually bear fruit that fulfills their innate purposes.  So I identify myself with Christ by becoming a partner and agent of recreation, participating with Christ in the constant renewal of the world.

Learning the art of living involves fully and actively participating in the dynamic unfolding of Life.  Indeed, the ultimate call of Life is to risk actively trusting and participating in it, which cannot be fully done from the safe place of a detached observer.  The answers to life’s most perplexing and pressing questions will not be found in a fixed set of abstract ideas.  My life and your life are not static events or still frame images, but dramatic and dynamic processes continually evolving in us and around us across time and place.  Life is a winding river, not a stagnant puddle.  Life, properly lived, is more of an active verb than a static noun.  It is only when I resist flowing with the movements of Life that my life becomes stuck, stagnant, static.  

Likewise, Christian spirituality is less of a commitment to a rigid set of foregone conclusions and more of a voluntary participation in the dynamic processes of abundant living. Christian spirituality is more of a faithful commitment to practicing the transformative mode of being and becoming modelled by Christ, a mode that involves continually deconstructing and reconstructing, dying and rising to ever-greater Life.  Following the Spirit of Christ may require voluntarily cutting away deadwood in myself, my personality, my character, my habits, and my traditions—cutting away anything that is preventing Life from becoming every good thing it could possibly be.  Partaking in this process can be simultaneously painful and reinvigorating.  Indeed, this experience illustrates the paradox of Christ’s teaching that I cannot discover greater Life until I willingly lose the life I now have.

 

On God

A perennial story of humankind is the generational narrative of fathers and sons who are unified by a shared spirt.  This eternal drama has been playing and replaying, generation after generation, for so long that its looping (and transpersonal) themes have profoundly impressed themselves on our collective traditions, memories, and ways of life.  The Christian doctrine of God as Trinity partly represents the ideal roles of the archetypal Father in relation to the archetypal Son as they share intimate communion through a common Spirit that eternally binds them together in an unceasing mutual exchange of love.  There is a great deal of practical significance in the Christian understanding of God as Trinity, since Trinitarian theology at least partly signifies these perennial, archetypal Ideals.

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It is important to remember these archetypes emerged in traditional societies that practiced traditional gender roles.  So it is easier to grasp the meaning of these ancient symbols by attempting to understand them in their original wordings within an ancient context.   Ancient mythology creatively uses gendered symbols (feminine and masculine) such as the Great Mother and the Great Father to communicate insights that often extend beyond gender categories.  This means the archetypal significance of gendered symbols is not necessarily exclusively relevant to only one gender.  The media and the meanings should not be too tightly conflated.  Nevertheless, erasing gender when interpreting ancient mythology would create unnecessary, anachronistic confusion.  Since I am interested in highlighting some of the archetypal significance of Trinitarian theology, I will use the symbolic language of the Father and the Son along with its corollaries.  But understand that the meaning of these archetypes are not exclusively relevant to men.

Fathers and sons have fulfilled important roles through history.  According to the Trinitarian Ideal, fathers have been responsible for raising their sons to know the ways of their people.  Good fathers love their sons dearly and desire the best for them as responsible members of society and contributors towards the common good.  Good fathers wisely judge and guide their sons in their budding development with the intention of bringing their sons to complete maturity, while allowing them to realize their full potential.  Good fathers provide security and order and standards for their sons that support their growth.  Good fathers teach their sons the boundaries and expectations of the family and adult society to prepare them for entering into adulthood.  Good fathers instil their spirit within their sons to be a guiding light and helpful presence throughout their sons’ lives.  And good fathers eventually allow their sons to bravely leave behind the comforts and securities of their fathers’ households, and move out into harsh and treacherous lands to actively conquer threatening forces of the unknown.  In other words, good fathers teach their infant sons the ways of their forefathers, and then encourage their adult sons to venture out on their own, beyond the familiar boundaries of their fathers’ territory, heroically exploring new lands and advancing the known domain of their ancestors.  Good fathers therefore allow their sons to evolve in this perennial, heroic, generational adventure, as sons revitalize the ways of their forefathers for the good of those living today and tomorrow.

Good sons love and honour their fathers throughout their childhood development.  Good sons listen to their fathers and learn the ways of their people from their fathers who act as generational representatives of their forefathers before them.  Good sons obey and respect their fathers’  authority, trusting that their fathers are genuinely concerned for their wellbeing.  Good sons deeply internalize the traditions of their fathers and carry them in their hearts wherever they go.  Good sons cherish their traditions so dearly that they refuse to let them die with their forefathers.  Good sons intimately learn and know their fathers’ ways for the sake of regenerating and reincarnating the living spirit of their fathers for present and future generations.  When the time has come, good sons bear the responsibility of adulthood, and intelligently carry their traditions forward in response to the new challenges of today and tomorrow.  Good sons engage in this process by moving beyond their fathers’ domain of safety, while still carrying their traditions in their hearts, and actively assimilating new experience and information from unknown territories with the known ways of their fathers, thereby participating in the perennial pattern of creatively updating the past for the present and future.  In other words, good sons make all things new.

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Fathers may fail their sons if they do not adequately or correctly teach their sons the ways of their forefathers or the ways of society.  Fathers may also fail their sons if they rigidly oppose their sons’ desire to heroically venture beyond the security of home and become transformed by encountering that which remains new and unknown.  Fathers who expect their sons to strictly adhere to their cultural traditions without any freedom to adapt whatsoever risk crushing their sons’ exploratory spirit of sonship and stunting their growth.  Overly obedient sons may learn to present themselves as identical copies of their fathers before them, but they will have become spiritually dead inside in exchange for choosing the path of strict conformity.  Permanently shackled to the heavy burdens of dead tradition, they will have paid the high but necessary price to receive approval from their tyrannical fathers.

Likewise sons may fail their fathers (and their children) if they carelessly and rebelliously ignore their fathers’ wise instruction, making a mistake that will ripple through the generations after them.  Sons may also fail their fathers (and themselves) if they do not voluntarily embark on the hero’s journey by harnessing their youthful spirit of sonship towards bravely advancing beyond their fathers’ familiar domain, creatively regenerating their fathers’ spirit and traditions in themselves for the future benefit of their sons and their society.  Fathers fail their forefathers when they unsuccessfully teach their traditions to their sons or rigidly discourage their sons from advancing beyond them.  And sons fail their future sons when they fail to learn their fathers ways or if they fail to heroically leave their fathers house to be transformed by the unknown.

These archetypal themes appear throughout the biblical story surrounding the activity of God as Trinity, particularly in the drama of the Incarnation of Christ.  The Apostle Paul describes some of the Son’s heroic journey in the following hymn from his letter to the Philippians.  He introduces the hymn by encouraging his readers to be of one spirit and one mind as they are united in Christ and committed to patterning their behaviour after his example:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

The Son’s heroic journey of descent becomes his pathway of ascent to the most exalted realms.  It is this Christlike pattern of behaviour that Paul encourages his readers to practice in their own lives and relationships. Paul, at least in part, is encouraging his readers to adopt the courageous and transformative Spirit of Sonship as their own—the Spirit that inspires us to voluntarily venture towards life’s most incredible challenges with an intimate love and trust in the Father in hopes of becoming transformative agents of recreation.

trinity crucified

Christ voluntarily left behind the securities and comforts of his heavenly home to assume the new form of a human being.  He continued loving and serving his Father as he acted as a heavenly ambassador in a foreign land, sent by his Father to represent his Father’s ways to estranged people.  Christ faithfully followed the leadings of his Father’s Spirit within, daily seeking direction from his Father in solitude and prayer.  Carrying and honouring his heavenly Father’s Spirit in his heart, Christ reinvented and revitalized the traditions of his earthly forefathers, challenging and changing them where they had become dangerously rigid and dead, thereby fulfilling the perennial task of the eternal Son.  Christ demonstrated his heroic spirit of Sonship most clearly in willingly facing down the threatening and unknown forces of suffering, evil, and death in his crucifixion, and conquering them while becoming transformed in the victory of his resurrection.

The Father, Son, and Spirit clearly need one another to form an interdependent Living Reality that continually contributes towards the good of all people and the revitalization of the world.  The Father and Son without the Spirit cannot share a common bond or power of life, which causes them to become relationally estranged and impotent to renew historical traditions.  The Son and Spirit without the Father cannot be solidly grounded and oriented within ancestral wisdom, which leaves them vulnerable to developing historical amnesia and disordered identities.  The Father and Spirit without the Son cannot proactively explore beyond what’s already known and heroically adapt in the face of new experience, which dooms them to a future of spiritual ossification and extinction.

Future progress always belongs to the children of every generation.  It is up to the Son to intimately know the ways of the Father and creatively embody them in his way of life.  The Son must continually learn and regenerate the Father with the help of the indwelling Spirit for each successive generation.  It is up to the Son the learn his Father’s ways and reform his forefathers traditions to meet present circumstances without betraying their original Spirit.  The Son, with the help of the Spirit, is the perennial source of fresh creativity, vitality, newness, and transformation, the perennial explorer of new territories previously unknown and unconquered.

Any society that persistently fails to honour the Holy Trinity, either willfully or by foolish neglect, will suffer and eventually perish if it stubbornly continues in unrepentance.  This isn’t just true for explicitly “Christian” cultures for the archetypal symbolism of the Trinity I’m referring to here is a universal process that all healthy, thriving societies have practiced throughout history.  The Father, Son, and Spirit also symbolically parallel the perennial evolutionary processes of ongoing conservation, ongoing creation, and ongoing regeneration, which need to be coordinated for stable adaptation.  Together they form a powerful and eternal Living Reality that must be respected if we truly desire to flourish.