The ego is why

My friend Bob Griffith (Hypersync ?), a soon-to-be-ordained Episcopal priest, put up an excellent post, asking “Why? ?” He deplores pre-emptive war, and the support of so many Christians behind it:
>Why are our innocent civilians any more important or valuable than are innocent civilians in any other country . . . especially if we consider how God views us all? . . . I cannot say they don’t understand, because these are intelligent people. Yet, it seems they simply cannot see; they do not seem to understand. The crime, in my opinion, is that many of these same people claim Christ as their example–their attitudes, ideas, and actions are so contrary to the example and call of Christ that it is mind-boggling.

I couldn’t possibly agree with Bob more. Millions of Christians have little awareness of the actual teachings of Christ regarding universal, unconditional love and generosity. The question remains, why? I believe it’s largely that we do not understand what the Gospel is. The original Gospel (Good News) wasn’t about “believing in” Jesus, but the News Jesus dedicated his life to proclaiming and demonstrating–that the Kingdom of God is here. At hand. Within. Spread out upon the earth. To be in the Kingdom of God means that God’s presence is felt everywhere, that God is in control, not the self. The Kingdom is present when the ego is absent.

I believe it isn’t seen because it’s unacceptable to the ego. And so the Good News shifted from being the teaching of Christ, to the gospel about Christ. This is not nearly as threatening to the ego, which can choose to “accept” it or not, but still retains control.

The ego objectifies whatever it can. Realities such as regions of the earth are abstracted into concepts like “country.” We’re further indoctrinated into believing that there is “my” country and others are “foreign” countries, and their citizens’ needs are of a much lower priority. A lot more becomes “mine” to disguise simple reality. There’s *my* heritage, *my* race, *my* religion, *my* property, *my* desires, *my* rights, which are important. What’s yours is up for consideration. Or dismissal. Or labeling. Iraqi/American, saint/sinner, man/woman, gay/straight, black/white/Oriental, and most of all, good/bad.

The ego is like the surface tension bounding a drop of water. To fall into the sea seems like death to it, but the surface is not the water. When the drop falls into the ocean, the water is not damaged, but it is now without boundaries, connected to all the water in the ocean.

Jesus often used the metaphors of birth and children. Be born again, born of the Spirit, he said. Receive as a little child, or you cannot enter the Kingdom. Little children know nothing of the thicket of illusions that form the ego. Another child isn’t an Iraqi or an American, but a friend.

We need to know that concepts and distinctions are games of the mind. While they’re essential to
playing in the Matrix—working, living, thinking, building — they remain games. Reality is still unchanged. It’s the Kingdom of God.

Peter Pan

To die would be an awfully big adventure.

—Peter Pan

A Modern Myth

Peter Pan poster

Peter Pan is one of the few stories that really qualifies as a modern myth. It has endured for over a century now, and is almost universally known in the English-speaking world. Director P.J. Hogan gives the tale wonderful impetus into its next century with this beautiful and intelligent film version. This is the telling of the Peter Pan tale par excellence, not only because it’s so professionally done, but also it brings out the undercurrents in the tale that have never really been expressed before, foremost of which is that Peter Pan is really a story of first love.

Why is this the first time the love story has been presented in Peter Pan? Because this is the first film version where Peter is played by a boy and not a woman! In addition, Peter has usually been shown as a very young child, which made his terror of growing up feel considerably “off,” not to mention his confused love for Wendy. Hogan rectifies this by showing us Peter on the verge of adolescence. This makes everything—the romance, his fear of growing up, and his mastery of the sword—ring far truer.  

While it definitely remains a children’s film, this Peter Pan is neither dumbed-down nor sugar-coated. The dark undertones of Barrie’s original are not glossed over. Peter is not cute and sweet, he’s a young warrior who longs to kill Hook. Mermaids are dangerous creatures. Tinkerbell is funny, crazy, and sometimes murderous.

Flying is presented smoothly and nonchalantly, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. There are no self-conscious interruptions like the “bullet time” in The Matrix. I highly recommend watching the DVD extras which detail the grueling months spent in flying practice and sword training to appreciate what an impressive accomplishment this was.

Wendy’s story

Hogan’s film brings home something else that generally escapes us—that this story isn’t about Peter Pan, but Wendy. Wendy Darling is wonderfully portrayed by Rachel Hurd-Wood, who might be the next Jodie Foster. As the story opens, her Aunt Millicent notices that Wendy is becoming a young woman, and persuades Wendy’s parents to give her her own bedroom, and begin schooling her in the arts that will help her to “marry well.” Wendy must soon stop regaling her brothers with pirate stories, and to start learning to prepare for what Mrs. Darling calls the greatest adventure, love. 

On one of the last nights she’ll spend with her brothers in their shared bedroom, she wakes up with a start, to see a half-naked boy floating in the air above her bed, who quickly vanishes. In school the next day, she draws a picture of him hovering over her bed, and her teacher dashes off a note to Mr. Darling regarding his daughter’s “unseemly preoccupations.” (We’re in the Victorian era, after all.)

When Peter returns the next night, Wendy learns that he’s been listening for months to her telling stories to her brothers. Partly, he’s enchanted by the story-telling, but mostly he’s enchanted by her. “One girl is worth more than twenty boys,” he says. When he tells her that the Lost Boys are children who fell out of their prams and went to Neverland, she asks why there are no girls there, and Peter replies, “girls are far too clever to fall out of their prams.”

pic of Peter and Wendy practicing with swords

Wendy is just as entranced by Peter. He’s charming, cocky, slightly surly, and has an oh-so-exotic American accent. She offers to give him a kiss, and Peter holds out his hand to receive it, thinking a kiss is an object. Not wanting to embarrass him, she gives him a thimble, and he reciprocates with an acorn. When she tries to give him a real kiss, Tinkerbell’s dangerous rage comes into play, so that will have to wait. Wendy asks if her brothers can come along to Neverland with her, and Peter agrees, clearly not because he wants to, but because he doesn’t want to disappoint her. (Five minutes later, he can’t remember their names.)

“The Wendy’s” Choice

When Wendy arrives in Neverland, she finds it full of adventure, although she’s unprepared for the level of danger in this world. Tinkerbell tries to get the lost boys to kill this strange visitor she calls “the Wendy;” her plot is foiled only by the acorn “kiss” that Peter gave her, which stops an arrow from piercing her heart. (That “a kiss is a powerful thing,” is a recurring motif.) When Peter finds her, she falls into her role of being mother to the lost boys (and her brothers), with Peter acting as the group’s father.

pic of Peter and Wendy watching the fairy dance

Peter is enamored with Wendy, and eagerly shares with her all the magic of his world. In one beautiful scene, he shows her a fairy dance inside a hollow tree, and the light from the fairies illumines their faces. Peter and Wendy move away from the tree, and begin to dance themselves, their happy thoughts lifting them into the air, as the fairies circle around them showering them in a golden circle of fairy dust.

Wendy, though, is growing up; she knows that no fantasy can satisfy her forever. She’s seen Peter’s world, but not his heart. Intuitively, she knows that the environment isn’t real, but the heart is. She asks Peter if it’s all just make-believe. He answers, “Yes, if I were a real father, I’d feel so old,” and they begin to spiral down. Wendy presses him to talk about his true feelings; he can relate his feelings of anger and his knowledge of jealousy, but nothing of love. Once his inability to love is exposed, he lashes out:“Why do you have to ruin everything? We have fun, don’t we? I taught you how to fight and how to fly! Go, and take your feelings with you!”

This scene is powerful. It speaks to all the boy-men (and their female counterparts) in the real world who want the benefits of love, sex, and relationship without giving themselves. Although Peter enjoys the feeling of being in love, he can’t give himself in love, which would meaning sacrificing his eternal youth. All real love entails some sacrfice, from the everyday sacrifices of couples to each other and parents to their children, to the profound picture of God’s love in Christ’s self-surrender.

Hook witnesses the scene and senses the enormity of Peter’s mistake, realizing that he is simply an older version of Peter Pan. He acutely feels the ache of having lived a loveless life, and schemes to make Wendy his own.

Wendy is tempted. Hook seems mature, while Peter wants to be a boy forever. With Peter, Wendy can only be a mother, but Hook offers her the more exciting role of piracy as “Red-Handed Jill.” Yet Wendy is able to sense that both Pan and Hook are playing at love, something neither is really capable of. Wendy decides to stop holding on to that which isn’t real, and return to real life, with its possiblity of real love, in London.

Fear of the next step

Peter isn’t the only one afraid, though, he’s simply the most honest about it. Peter is unafraid of death, but fears life—specifically the ordinariness of adulthood. That other lost boy, Hook, is afraid of death and old age. Time is after him and will devour him, symbolized by the ticking clock inside the enormous crocodile. Wendy is afraid of life choices. She’s excited by both Peter’s wildness and Hook’s debonair manners, but knows that both are wrong for her; she must leave Neverland and return to reality.

pic of peter w. sword

All fear is really fear of the future in some respect, and it’s often about the next change in our life situation—to put it broadly, about the next part of our “growing up.” This film can disturb you if you watch it openly, because you will likely see some of your own fear mirrored in the those of Wendy, Peter, or Hook. At some level, we all have this hesitancy about that next step in some part of our lives, and mere physical age is no evidence of not stopping in Neverland and refusing to go forward. Neither is having a family; many people go through the motions of development, while freezing huge parts of their lives, very often their spiritual lives, at a childish level. As Jed McKenna wrote in Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment, “a seventy-year-old is often an eleven-year-old with fifty-nine years of experience.”

Although there’s a happy ending of sorts—Wendy returns home along with her brothers and the Lost Boys, who also now have a home, there’s a profound sadness at seeing Peter turn back from her window to fly back to an emptier Neverland, with no Lost Boys to guide, no Hook to fight, and no Wendy to love. His last words are:

To live would be an awfully big adventure.

It would be, if he took it.

Movie stills © 2003 Universal Studios.

A little resurrection

It’s been a great Lent and Easter for me. Besides my ongoing study with my teacher, Kitabu Roshi, I’ve celebrated the presence of God in a Native American prayer lodge, in my parish, at Catholic Campus Ministries, and among new friends at Symphonic.

This is also an anniversary for me, at least by the church calendar. Ten years ago, on Holy Saturday, I joined the Catholic Church. A couple of hours before the Vigil Mass began, I broke my fast at Long John Silver’s in Kent, and had my picture taken outside with Harley, a tame mountain lion. (Kent is the kind of cool place that just happens to have mountain lions hanging around fast-food restaurants sometimes!) A frimmin’ mark for this transition in my life. (I’m having problems with my scanner. Hopefully, I’ll be able to include the picture soon.)

I thought I had been through faith changes before (and I had!), but I had no idea what lay ahead for me. When you open yourself to wanting to discover all God has for you, prepare to be changed. *A lot.* I didn’t know that I would discover a Christian teaching called “theosis” that would change my life, I didn’t know that I would try for a time to become a priest, I never dreamed that I would be studying Zen with an enlightened master, nor how difficult some of the path ahead would be.

At the Easter Vigil Mass last night, I felt something wonderful break in me. My ever-present “inner theologian” shut up. Suddenly, all the differences in concepts in all of the traditions became irrelevant. The only thing that mattered is the simply the divine presence of the One. I felt not only reconciled to my church, but also with the Evangelicalism of my youth. It’s a little resurrection.

What am I? I don’t know. All I know is God is alive here and everywhere, and I want to awaken to that fully and become one with that fully.

The Greatest Lesson (pt. 3)

After nearly two full days had elaspsed since his death, it looked like the end. There would be no kingdom of God. There were nice ideas, there had been healings, but the religion had killed the Teacher, and the Empire had squashed the Kingdom. His friends huddled in fear behind closed doors, wondering if they too, were going to be nailed to crosses.

It was the first day of the Jewish week, and early in the morning before the workday began, some of the women who followed him went to his tomb to pay respects by anointing his body.

What they found was that the Teacher had been **vindicated** in an extraordinary miracle. He was alive again. The final lesson would not be forgotten:

>Love is stronger than death. Love is stronger than hate. Love is courageous, and will even sacrifice itself for the benefit of others. Love is the power of God.

Forty days later, the Teacher would be **greatly exalted.** He would be enabled to share his spirit with all who asked. This “second coming” would be greater than the first, for it allows an intimacy that was impossible when Jesus was in the body.

>He [Jesus] has given us all the things that we need for life and for true devotion, bringing us to know God himself… through them you will be able to share the divine nature (II Peter 1:3-4a).

Christ is risen. Hallelujah! May we live out his Good News.

The Greatest Lesson (pt. 1)

Nearly two thousand years ago, the Teacher taught in a crowded, downtrodden section of the Roman empire at the juncture of three continents. He taught a message that was gripping, revolutionary, liberating, and . . . unacceptable. It was that the Kingdom of Heaven, where God is in control of everything, was a matter of living selflessly, of considering others before oneself, of loving selflessly, and knowing God as the Father and Source of everyone. He called it “the Good News,” and urged everyone to turn from their present ways and trust the Good News, which he saw it as the purpose of his life (Lk 4:43).

His message was never well-received. According to one source, his first public lesson was such a hit that his hearers tried to throw him off a cliff when he implied that all peoples are equal (Lk 4:29). After that, he began teaching more carefully, performing miracles of healing to show the love of God to all, and using parables to teach the truths of the Kingdom to “those with ears to hear.” Parables put off most of his hearers (Mt 13:13), but he hoped some would listen with their hearts, and let the lessons penetrate their souls.

He openly disputed the religious teachers of his time for hiding God behind the screens of legalism, prejudice, and indifference. He concentrated his direct teaching only to a handful of friends he chose, but after more than two years of living with him, they were still not “getting it,” and were still embroiled in the prejudices of the time.

People constantly tested him. What about the Romans? The Samaritans? Adulterers? Possessed maniacs? You can’t mean to love them! But he did, and he showed it by doing it.

He spent hours alone in prayer in the hills. He taught that constant connection to the Father was essential, and that he himself could do nothing without Him (Jn 5:19.) But his friends still didn’t get it. At some point, he determined to go to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51), knowing that his greatest lesson would cost him his life. It was not an easy choice to make. “There is a baptism I still must receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!” (Lk 12:58)

That distress was not fear of death, but the frustration of trying to teach people who were unable to hear what he had to say, and time was running out. He emphasized the point “The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, and there is no one to say, ‘look here! Look there!’ For the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk 17:20-21) In spite of this, even his disciples still hoped that he would become the divinely-anointed king of Israel, and drive the hated occupiers out of the country.

In Jerusalem, he was hailed as a hero, and then immediately went on to attack religion directly. He continued preaching and warned that the destruction of Jerusalem would take place within a generation, but that his followers should “look up,” and see him, even in the clouds. (Lk 21:20-33)

He shared a final, sacred meal with his friends, and used the Passover Seder to urge them to remember him. The final lesson was coming, and he knew it must not fail. Then the Lesson began. He was betrayed, arrested, “tried,” sentenced, mocked, beaten, scourged, And while being tortured to death, he forgave. . .

Two Years, Two Millennia

It’s been two years now since the beginning of the second American war in Iraq. For the last few months, I’ve been reading Baghdad Burning ». a blog by an Iraqi woman writing under the pen-name of River. I find her blog more moving and informative than any “on the scene” reporting or theological discussion of nonviolence / just war. The blogosphere enables us to share our hearts with complete strangers on the other side of the world in a way that was never possible before.

In her most recent post », she recounts what the attack two years ago was like from her family’s perspective. She ends it with this question:

“Remember when the fear was still fresh- and the terror was relatively new- and it was possible to be shocked and awed in Iraq?”

It’s not that after two years, we still don’t get it. It’s that after two thousand years, we still don’t get it.

>Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

What’s all the Pomotion?

Since I joined the Catholic Church ten years ago, I haven’t kept up much with the happenings in the Protestant world. But several weeks ago, I noticed that my friends Ron » and Bob » had several identical links on their blogs, to places like theOOZE », Mars Hill », and Solomon’s Porch ». This intrigued me, because not only do they not know each other, they feel very differenly about many things. So I checked out their links, and soon discovered the wave of post-modern or “poMo” Christianity, also known as Emergent, emerging church, post-Protestantism, post-foundationalism, and many other names which are meant to be as open as possble. (I tend to capitalize the M, to keep “pomo” from looking like “porno!”)

This is may be something big. Very big. I’ve visited dozens of poMo sites, and have also been visiting Ron’s church, Symphonic », regularly. I’ve also read Brian McLaren’s » A Generous Orthodoxy, and last week, I finished his two dialogue novels, A New Kind of Christian, and The Story We Find Ourselves In. (The final book of the set, The Last Word… and the Word after That, is to be released on Good Friday.) I’m impressed. I feel that Brian is essentially doing for Protestants what Matthew Fox tried to do for Catholics about 20 years ago.

One difference, however, is that McLaren is writing to a much broader, and generally more conservative audience, and is much more careful with words. (Fox was actually booted from the Dominican order for not being careful enough with his words.) In McLaren’s case, it’s even more critical, because in conservative Protestant circles, words tend to be interpreted as narrowly as possible. Christian can sometimes mean “someone who interprets the Bible like my pastor does.”

One of the basic ideas of the emerging church is that just as humanity moved from the ancient world to the medieval world in the 6th century, and the Middle Ages yielded to the modern world in 16th century, in the 20th-21st centuries, we are moving into the post-modern age. What that means is uncertain, except that modern institutions (including the modern conception of church), built in the modern age to serve the modern world, are no longer working that well and will soon be irrelevant to post-modern society.

This was just the sort of stuff I was looking for in my church environments about 15 years ago, but it simply wasn’t there then. In short, I’m thrilled about the potential of the emergent movement (though Emergent » says don’t call it a movement). However, I use the word “potential” deliberately. Some self-described poMo churches seem to be simply changing matters of style, creating “groovy” new ways to worship and evangelize, like the Jesus movement did in the 60s and 70s, while keeping a truncated theology that still sees getting people “saved” as the end of the road. Others have a sense that this really calls everything into question–and are open to the possibility that we have grossly misunderstood what Jesus’ Good News is all about–something that I as a mystic, strongly believe to be the case.

I haven’t really heard the emergent conversation address theosis or awakening yet. Because of this, I wonder if poMo Christianity might run the risk of looking for the answer, without finding it. Still, how wonderful it is to see people actually looking!

The Breastplate of St. Patrick

Today is the feast of Patrick of Ireland, the father of Celtic Christianity. I’ve long drawn inspiration from Patrick, whose strength and courage have inspired me, and whose panentheistic faith helped shape my own. Besides being an apostle, Patrick has the distinction of being the first person in Church history to argue for the abolition of slavery.

Below are two versions of the stunning poem known variously as “The Breastplate” or “Lorica” or “The Deer’s Cry,” which is ascribed to him:

This is the traditional text:

The Breastplate of St. Patrick

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who
shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose
my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry,
against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man’s body and soul.

Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning, against drowning,
against wounding, so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord.

It has been beautifully shaped into this hymn by Cecil F. Alexander:

I Bind Unto Myself Today

I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River; His death on the cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb; His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom: I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet “Well done” in judgement; the service of the Seraphim;
Confessors’ faith, apostles’ word, the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
All good deed done unto the Lord, And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heav’n,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray; the whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free; the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks;
The stable earth; the deep salt sea, around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead.
His eye to watch, his might to stay, His ear to hearken to my need;
The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name, the strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation; Eternal father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.