Monday, December 10, 2007

Ok, I know that this is not really what this Blog and this site is all about (or is it?) but I need to vent:

I am getting sick of all the anti-Pullman propaganda being spouted by Christians. I’m referring to the controversy around the release of the movie The Golden Compass based on Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials.

One of the first problems I have is that Christians state that their problem with Pullman is that he is an atheist who is promoting atheism1. It fascinates me that these same Christians actively promoted Michael Drosnin’s, The Bible Code despite the fact that Drosnin was also a self-confessed atheist who stated when asked if the bible could have been written by a time traveller.

I've thought about it. I don't know. I'm a reporter and can't go past the hard evidence. There is a code, therefore there is an encoder. I don't know who or what it/he/she is.2

I do not deny that Pullman is an atheist who may well have said that “My books are about killing god” but does that mean that children who watch the movie or read the books will want to do the same?

I have read all the books as well as several interviews with Pullman and I have to say that I don’t see what all the fuss is about. In some ways all I see is a kindred spirit.

Pullman’s grandfather was an Anglican clergyman who had a big influence on Pullman after his father died when he was 7 years old. Pullman spent time at church and Sunday school and believed in God as a child3.It was only later that he changed his mind.

I read Pullman’s Dark Materials as an attack on institutionalised religion and, in that, he has my full support. The Church has much to be ashamed of – we are responsible for all sorts of atrocities, not just in the past but currently. One only has to look someone like Fred Phelps to be ashamed of a certain aspect of Christianity. I wish that Fred Phelps’ god was dead – and I think that’s the god that Pullman “kills” at the end of the trilogy.

It’s important to note that the “Authority” that is killed is not actually a god at all and especially not the Creator God of Christian orthodoxy. What is destroyed is an evil organisation and a deceptive and manipulative entity. Surely Christians shouldn’t be upset about that.

Pullman writes fantasy about other worlds and other dimensions. Surely children are not gullible enough to equate those worlds with ours. Please note that when I say children I mean those over the age of 13 (the movie was PG13 in the USA – this has been watered down to a PG rating in South Africa and I’m not sure I support this). I would not allow my 6 year old daughter to watch this movie or read the books simply because I think the violence and themes are too mature for her. I don’t think any child under 10 should be exposed to these images or themes either but that has nothing to do with my “religious” convictions – it has to do with my spirituality and that of my children. And some children can handle mature themes better than others.

Here is a list of some well-balanced Christian views about Pullman and his writing’s, I would advise Christian parents to read up thoroughly before making decisions based on one view-point only:





Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I have heard this story before but was reminded of it by a friend:


The story is told of the man whose son complained about the terrible circumstances he was facing. The boy said he didn't know how to cope with the adversity of his life.

The father took his son into the kitchen and had him put water in three pots. He had the boy put a carrot in one, an egg in another, and coffee beans in the thrid. Then they put the pots on the stove, turned on the heat until the water boiled for several minutes in each pot. They then turned off the burners and, using a pair of kitchen tongs, removed the carrot and the egg from their pots, and poured the contents of the third through a strainer into a cup. The dad asked the boy what happened to each. In the first pot, the carrot had become soft; in the second, the egg had become hard, and in the third, the water had changed to coffee.

"The lesson," said the father, "is this: adversity can make you soft by weakening your resolve and sapping your strength; or adversity can make you hard, by making you bitter or mean; or you can change the water of adversity into the coffee of opportunity."

I've been trying to make coffee the last 6-8 weeks. In fact, a lot of coffee! We have had continual, repeated, aggravating, pain-in-the-kazoo, frustrating problems with our internet and email server. The technicians have been out, multiple times, and each left with assurances
that 'you won't have any more problems." And within 24 hours, we would have to call back.

I've lost emails that I thought had reached people, and not received emails folks thought I had gotten (and wondered why I had not responded). We can't maintain our website efficiently. And I finally gave up on trying to do Occasional Sightings. Indeed, my 'strength' (at least cyber-wise) has been sapped, and I border on bitterness towards the service provider, when not wanting to throw the whole system out the window!

But now, I've decided to make coffee. I am trying to do so while using a breath prayer in such moments. I use the word 'frustration' in mine right now, but you can put your own emotion in:

Breathing in, I know frustration is in me.
Breathing out, I know the feeling is unpleasant.
(after a while), Breathing in, I feel calm.
Breathing out, I can let go of the frustration.
(after a while longer) Breathing in, I am at peace.
Breathing out, I offer peace to others.

Can I pour you a cup of coffee?

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Ungrateful Scorpion

Henri Nouwen told a parable about an old man who used to meditate each day
be the
Ganges River in India.

One morning he saw a scorpion floating on the water. When the scorpion
drifted near the old man he reached to rescue it but was stung by the
scorpion. A bit later he tried again and was stung again, the bite swelling
his hand painfully and giving him much pain. Another man passing by saw
what was happening and yelled at the mediator, "Hey, stupid old man, what's
wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for sake of an ugly, evil
creature. Don't you know you could kill yourself trying to save that
ungrateful scorpion?"

The old man calmly replied, "My friend, just because it is in the scorpion's
nature to sting, does not change my nature to save."

Monday, July 30, 2007

Love your shadows

Each of us has characteristics we define as ‘good’ and those we define as ‘bad.’ The parts of ourselves that we continually reject want to be acknowledged and loved. Until we honour these aspects, they will continue to assert themselves. They will do whatever they can to get our attention.

What aspects of yourself do you reject?

Take a few moments to open to the parts of yourself that you do not love. See each one honestly for what it is. Explore the wounds and the motives that gave rise to its condition. Love a wounded part of yourself and it will heal.

"Strangely enough we strengthen love in ourselves when we raise into consciousness the shadow side of our lives. Conversely, when we keep negative feelings out of sight, they smother the love that seems to lie deeper and closer to the real self. This is probably why there is so much pain in not loving. The life that is not able to express the love which is so integral to it grows deformed."

-- Elizabeth O'Connor


Thursday, June 28, 2007

by Daniel Walter
Thursday, Aug 18, 2005

The hour comes, the performance starts,
And all of us here are playing a part.
Another Sunday morning, and here we all sit,
And I try to see God through all of this sh**.

“Worship time” is a concert, it feels like a joke,
It’s hard to worship God through the lights and the smoke.
A “Worship Experience,” so meticulously planned,
But whose plan is it, is it God’s, or is it man’s?

We have all the tools, We’re so hip and so trendy,
And we have such plans, bigger buildings, more spending.
The sound system, the lights, sermons on Power-point,
Is it just me, or are we missing the point?

Week after week, it's always the same,
And it's starting to feel, well, phony and lame.
These people that I’m supposed to call my “Faith Family,”
Most of them are strangers, few really know me.

We’re told : “Look around beside you, look at all the empty seats,
Now go out and invite the people you meet.
There are people out there who need to be here,
‘cause we have a message that they need to hear.”

“Bring people to Jesus” ? Don’t you mean bring them in?
“Equip them for ministry” ? You just want them “plugged in.”
Often I wonder, Can this really be serious,
Are the answers really in another four-part sermon series?

We’re so convinced that we’ve got it right,
But there’s a beam in our eyes that’s blocking our sight.
Isn’t church more than filling the seats?
Would anyone notice if I wasn’t here next week?

Is this worth my time? Lately there’s been a doubt,
And my thoughts have been turning to leaving, getting out.
God, are you here? It’s so hard to know,
I’m having trouble seeing you through all of this “show."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Galatians 3: 23-29

I am growing more and more concerned that we have lost the RADICAL SUBVERSIVENESS of God’s Word and the above passage is a prime example.

When I talk about God’s Word – I mean the message of Christ – the Gospel (Good News) – John 1 talks about Jesus as The Word – Jesus is the embodiment of the Word of God.

Everything in the OT points forward to Christ

Everything in the NT points back to Christ

“Christ is in the old concealed
Christ is in the new revealed”
– Rex Mathie

Somehow we have become so focussed on the container that we’ve missed the contents (or as Martin Luther said – so focussed on the cradle we miss the baby lying in it).

The bible contains the Word of God (Christ) – somehow we’ve come to believe that the bible is Christ => it’s all about Jesus!!! We’ve missed the content.

Now, I know this sounds radical but think about it – do you think Jesus was treated like he was by the religious leaders of the day because his message was a comfort to them. No, his message made them uncomfortable. He was accused over and over again of blasphemy and eventually crucified for blasphemy.

In the passage we read it appears as if Paul is effectively saying that you can leave out a large part of the bible – many people would have believed he was compromising the Word of God – watering it down – sound familiar?

2000 years later nothing has changed – those who attempt to interpret the Bible through Christ are accused of compromising God’s Word. Those who believe that the bible (and especially The Law) only finds it’s meaning in Christ are accused of watering the bible down or worse of being heretics.

Paul argues that he is, in fact, taking scripture seriously. Abraham is his example (3:6-9). Abraham found favour with God before there was any such Law. The promise to Abraham was not just for the nation of Israel but for all the world. Gentiles come to favour with God not on the basis of keeping the Law, but simply as Abraham does: by faith.

Paul the goes on to explain the purpose of the Law:

His explanation is quite negative. The Law was designed to expose people's need of God by showing how they fail (3:10-14, 19-22). Even though given by God, it played a very indirect role. It was not set up to offer an alternative to Abraham's way of responding to God. Its function was to drive people to the point where they saw Abraham's way of responding to God as the only way forward.

The Law, he suggests, puts a curse on us and traps us in guilt and failure. For Paul, the death of Jesus was an act whereby he took the curse on himself in our place and released us from it.

God treats us the way he treated Abraham and expects from us only what he expected from Abraham.

The Law is not meant to enslave us or to create superior/inferior people – it’s there to show us our need for God. To show us that nothing we can do can win us favour with God – God has done it all through Christ and we rely on that by faith.

For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it. (Eph 2:8-9)

So, in Christ, (through our faith in him) we are all the same (in terms of our status with God) but we remain unique individuals.

We put Christ on like a coat (v. 27) but we don’t lose our identity.

We become one with Christ. We enter the sphere of his power and influence, especially understood as love.

As God's love flowed in Christ, so that river continues to flow and in baptism we celebrate our new relationship with him by diving into the river, as it were (or by placing our infants in that stream where it is flowing in the community of faith)

We don’t have to all be the same. We don’t have to all agree. We mustn’t try to force others to conform to our standards.

God is at work in all of us transforming all of us so that we can begin to bear the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5: 22). The problem is that when I look at the Church I very often don’t see this fruit but the opposite – condemnation, conflict, intolerance, judgmentalism, etc.

Let’s focus on producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and let’s stop judging the lives of others – we can leave that to God.

With acknowledgement to William Loader for some of his thoughts that I borrowed

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bono in conversation.

Harry Belafonte is one of my great heroes. He's an old-school leftist and holds on to certain principles like others hold on to their life. He told me this story about Bobby Kennedy, which changed my life indeed, pointed me in the direction I am going now politically. Harry remembered a meeting with Martin Luther King when the civil rights movement had hit a wall in the early sixties: [impersonating croaky voice of Belafonte ] "I tell you it was a depressing moment when Bobby Kennedy was made attorney general. It was a very bad day for the civil rights movement." And I said: "Why was that?" He said: "Oh, you see, you forget. Bobby Kennedy was Irish. Those Irish were real racists; they didn't like the black man. They were just one step above the black man on the social ladder, and they made us feel it. They were all the police, they were the people who broke our balls on a daily basis. Bobby at that time was famously not interested in the civil rights movement. We knew we were in deep trouble. We were crestfallen, in despair, talking to Martin, moaning and groaning about the turn of events, when Dr. King slammed his hand down and ordered us to stop the bitchin': "Enough of this;' he said. "Is there nobody here who's got something good to say about Bobby Kennedy?" We said: "Martin, that's what we're telling ya! There is no one. There is nothing good to say about him. The guy's an Irish Catholic conservative badass, he's bad news." To which Martin replied: "Well, then, let's call this meeting to a close. We will re-adjourn when somebody has found one thing redeeming to say about Bobby Kennedy, because that, my friends, is the door through which our movement will pass." So he stopped the meeting and he made them all go home. He wouldn't hear any more negativ­ity about Bobby Kennedy. He knew there must be something positive. And if it was there, somebody could find it.

Well, it turned out that Bobby was very close with his bishop. So they befriended the one man who could get through to Bobby's soul and turned him into their Trojan horse. They sort of ganged up on this bishop, the civil rights religious people, and got the bishop to speak to Bobby. Harry became emotional at the end of this tale: "When Bobby Kennedy lay dead on a Los Angeles pavement, there was no greater friend to the civil rights movement. There was no one we owed more of our progress to than that man;' which is what I always thought. I mean, Bobby Kennedy is still an inspiration to me. And whether he was exaggerating or not, that was a great lesson for me, because what Dr. King was saying was: Don't respond to caricature-the Left, the Right, the Progressives, the Reactionary. Don't take people on rumor. Find the light in them, because that will further your cause. And I've held on to that very tightly, that lesson. And so, don't think that I don't understand. I know what I'm up against. I just sometimes do not appear to.

From: Bono on Bono: Conversations with Michka Assayas p.86

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

By Meister Eckhart. (13th century)

What good is it to me
if Mary gave birth to Jesus 1400 years ago,
if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture…

What is the test that you have indeed undergone this holy birth?
Listen carefully.
If this birth has truly taken place within you,
then every single creature points you toward God…

God is creating the entire universe fully and totally in this present now.
Everything God created in the beginning –
and even previous to that…

God creates now all at once.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Defining “Spirituality” is extremely difficult. I am not sure that any one definition could do it justice. I am also sure that my definition will be constantly changing (developing, evolving).

These are just a few of the definitions that come close for me:

Ø [Spirituality] is the self-transcending character of all human persons, and everything that pertains to it, including, most importantly, the ways in which that perhaps infinitely malleable character is realised concretely in everyday life situations.
(Richard Woods, Christian Spirituality, p. 9.)

Ø The Quest for Meaning and Purpose (in Life).
(A working definition by Steven Lottering)

Ø Searching for the sacred within the precincts of the ordinary.
(Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spiritual Literacy, p. 28.)

Ø The journey towards wholeness
(Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spiritual Literacy, p. 29.)

Ø "Its mans quest, desire, and attempt to fully understand their potential in life, and their desire to reach their potential, thus fulfilling their reason for being alive." – DrD

What say you?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"There is nothing more exhausting for the person than the constant awareness that his life is being lived at cross-purposes. At such moments the individual seems to himself ever to be working against himself. What he longs for is the energy that comes from a concentration of his forces in a single direction, toward a single end."(Howard Thurman, The Inward Journey)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Leaving the Land of the Dead
by Dr. Marcus J. Borg

This is what the season of Lent is about, about being born again, about following the path of death and resurrection, about participating in Jesus' final journey. To become somewhat more concrete, some of us may need to die to specific things in our lives--perhaps to a behavior that has become destructive or dysfunctional, perhaps to a relationship that has ended or gone bad, perhaps to an unresolved grief or to a stage in our life that it is time to leave, perhaps to our self-preoccupation, or even to a deadness in our lives (you can die to deadness.) It is possible to leave the land of the dead. So, the journey of Lent is about being born again--about dying and rising, about mortality and transformation.

On Ash Wednesday, we Christians are traditionally reminded of our own mortality in a very vivid way, as the ashes are marked on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. In the sign of the cross we hear the words spoken over us, "Dust thou art and to dust thou wilt return." This is a reminder not just of our physical mortality, but of the very path of Lent itself. We begin this season of Lent not only reminded of our death but marked for death, and that path of death is about our transformation.

The journey of Lent is about being born again by participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus, about that journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The journey of Lent with its climax in Good Friday and Easter, is about embarking on the way of Jesus on that path of mortality and transformation that is at the very center of the Christian life. When you think of it, who of us does not yearn for this? Who of us does not yearn for a fuller connection to life? Who does not yearn for an identity that releases us from anxiety and self-preoccupation? To be born again, it seems to me, corresponds to our deepest yearning. May we this Lent experience that internal transformation that is at the center of the Christian life. May we experience being born again.

Copyright ©2002 Dr. Marcus J. Borg

--from "Born Again" by Dr. Marcus Borg
Read "Born Again" in its entirety.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Being born again is the work of the Spirit. Whether it happens suddenly or gradually, we can't make it happen, either by strong desire and determination or by learning and believing the right beliefs. But we can be intentional about being born again. Though we can't make it happen, we can midwife the process. This is the purpose of spirituality: to help birth the new self and nourish the new life. Spirituality is midwifery.

Spirituality combines awareness, intention, and practice. I define it as becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God. The words are very carefully chosen. Becoming conscious of our relationship with God: I am convinced that we are all already in relationship to God and have been from our birth. God is in relationship with us: spirituality is about becoming aware of a relationship that already exists.

from The Heart of Christianity (Chapter 6)
by Marcus Borg