Afterlife and the Wider Picture
Posted on 12 August 2014, 8:56
Christchurch, NZ, clergyman, Mike Coleman preached a sermon last Sunday, in which he mentioned that “last year, 2013, the global military expenditure was $1.747 trillion (US), on average, almost $4.8 billion (US) spent every day.” But, before I quote him further, I ask this question: “Do you think these remarks are out of place, put alongside the kinds of books and articles we read at White Crow?” I would be most interested in how readers might respond.
I put the question, because by nature I am a generalist, and generalism is a point of view that acknowledges that all is one, and that everything affects everything else. And before we start feeling overwhelmed by problems impossible to solve we need to remind ourselves of St Paul’s words that we all participate in body of the (universal) Christ, and as parts of that body, each of us have our own function in that body. All are not called to be Florence Nightingales. Not all will be psychics. The roles we play in this “body” cannot be counted.
I am sure I am preaching to the choir. People who go to “White Crow” will usually be certain that there is an afterlife, and the reality of the spiritual world. So, let us suppose that there are no more closed-minded Skeptics to convince, and let us suppose we are agreed that our knowledge of the spirit world is based on well studied human experience: in what directions would philosophers and others investigate? We could have Spirituality and Consciousness Studies and… conflict and war…traditional accounts of Spirituality and Consciousness as given in various kinds of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, various forms of mysticism, animistic traditions, and superstitions. Can we develop a system of morals and ethics? An educational program for the masses? Is there a consensus world from which we can investigate these topics? Is there a place for organised religion, where people of all stages of emotional and spiritual development can form communities of mutual support and service? Can we re-interpret existing religions in the light of our existing knowledge of the spiritual world?
Have our consciousness studies arrived at sufficient maturity for us to do this? Is there sufficient agreement? If we examine such studies as are published in the ASCSI Journal, or the many journals to which we are now gaining access in WISEWiki, there are endless studies relevant to these questions. Can educational programs be developed on the basis of this consensus?
Perhaps there may be readers who will have opinions?
Anyhow, here is the rest of Mike Coleman’s sermon.. the one that set me questioning…
“Over the last hundred years wars have spread across our world devastating our earth. Often the single strongest reason for such wars has been economics and the quest for power all at the expense of people; sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, families throughout the earth.
It is obvious the desire for more is stronger than concern for the disaster of those who do not have enough.
Leaders talk of peace but have lust for power deep in their hearts.
Thomas Merton wrote in his reflections on War and Nonviolence,
‘To some men peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace means the freedom to rob brothers without interruption. To still others peace means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those who their greed is starving.’
There is an evil motivator in the heart of humanity to want to be strong and powerful.
Jesus was confronted by these evil and powerful inner forces at the beginning of his ministry. As he spent time in the desert, in silence, he was allowing God to prepare him to proclaim a kingdom of peace and love. Into this space, this quiet, the evil one came and placed kingdoms before him, showed him how wondrous he would be if he performed miracles. The three pinnacles of what it means to be successful in our society were placed in front of Jesus; power, possessions and prestige; to be something, to have everything, to be totally in control of one’s life and destiny. Instead, Jesus , out of his deep faith points every evil force back to God. He said clearly, “I can only truly live and be who I am called to be on this earth by knowing I live by the word that comes from the mouth of God”.
Those who give into humanities greatest of evil forces bring much evil to the world. This is as prevalent in our secular society as it is in our church. Richard Dawkins, is possibly not wrong, when he says religion has been the greatest contributor to war and destruction on our planet. (Unfortunately, he forgets the greatest movements of compassion also come from religious people living their love.)
The western church, in particular, has been plagued by the desire to be dominant, to be stronger, own more land and gain more wealth. This is why it loves the distinctions between right and wrong, what is good and bad, who is in and out so it can justify its acts to create more for itself and go against the very gospel given to it from its inception.
Richard Rohr makes a sobering statement,
‘Christians are usually sincere and well intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We are often given a bogus version of the gospel, some fast food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of “Christian” countries that tend to be as consumer orientated, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else.’
In Jesus’ own powerful temptations in the desert he reveals all war is created first and foremost in the hearts of people, people who become saturated in their desire for control and wealth. This is why Jesus during his ministry told his disciples, ‘you are not evil because you ate some food the law and Pharisees said was unclean, evil comes out of the hearts of people. Out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.’
The heart with its inclinations to evil is only turned when a person lets go of these desires and journeys in metanoia back to God.
Only in the inward journey in desert silence can we allow our deepest darkness to be embraced by light.
This is the call of Jesus proclamation to let the kingdom of God come. Only in faith which brings forth love and peace are our frailty for greater things transformed.
Faith helps us to know deep in our hearts that we can be ok if we don’t have everything, that we can be full human beings if we don’t achieve everything that we can be wonderful people even though we sit in our homes unknown to the rest of the world. Faith gives us the deep assurance that we are held with an eternal caring by the God who we will spend eternity with.
The greatest challenge of any Christian or spiritual person is to live honouring their faith within our secular society.
For it seems in today’s world to be content with your possessions is to be backward, to be happy with your place in life is seen to be not using your potential, to live in prayer and in peace while challenging power bases of injustice in our society is considered fundamentalism.
This is what we see in our gospel today of Jesus and his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When the disciples are fearing for their lives in the storm they see Jesus walking toward them, when Peter who has stepped out in faith on the turbulent water feels his faith wavering he cries out, “Lord save me!”. Matthew, the gospel writer, is declaring when the storms of life are battering you from all sides look to Christ. When you are living the gospel in a world that fights for power, craves prestige and idolises possessions the hand of Jesus will hold you and lift you and help you to say, “I cannot live by bread alone but need to worship and serve only God“.
This is the essence of our Lord’s message, only in allowing love to reach into our inward self can the move to outward peace flow.
I believe, there will be no peace in the Middle East until each side allows the essence of their religions to touch their inward heart both individually and corporately. There is no doubt that both the Israelis and Palestinians were terribly wronged by evil in the 20th century. The Palestinians were violently uprooted in 1947 by the world’s powers to create a homeland for Israel. Even though Israel would end up only a fraction of the overall population on the land they were given 55% of the land split between them and the Palestinians. They then went against United Nations conventions and created Israeli settlements on Palestinian land deepening the hate and violence.
The Jews were also violently wronged and viciously murdered in their millions in World War 2 and they had no place they could call home.
It is natural to want to hold on to hate when this level of injustice and brutality has violated a nation but Hate and violence on this scale only lead to the death of innocence.
There can be little lasting hope unless there is the inward movement by each side toward their God. Only in God can forgiveness replace bitterness, love replace hate. This on the face of it sounds superficial and trite but the heart needs to be transformed so the need to control land and maintain power can fall away. Letting go is the way to creating a fair, unoccupied and safe homeland for the Palestinians. There needs to be the place of compromise where Israel retracts from settled areas that was unlawfully stolen so a Palestinian homeland can be created. Hamas likewise needs to now let go and accept the right of Israel to exist. From here both nation’s peoples can begin to live new lives.
Thomas Merton said, “So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed, but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”
Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
His forthcoming book, Into the Wider Dream will be published summer 2014 by White Crow Books.