Sins

I remember when I was young reading about phenomenon such as sin-eaters, and other ways of removing sins or atoning for them (usually through sacrifices of some kind).  Every culture in the world struggles with this.

I remember also reading a book called Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle to the Masai and one passage where the Catholic priest speaking to the Masai tribes noted that, “they understand sin. Everyone understands sin. You see the shame of the village outcast who has committed some crime. What they have not heard of is forgiveness of sins.”

I think most of us have, perhaps, not heard of forgiveness of sins, or not believed in it at least.  In the process of sin and atonement there is never any real way out.  We can not avoid sins and offenses, we cannot avoid causing suffering to others in this world through our own ignorance and selfishness.

But there are transcendental principles, very mysterious to this world, that somehow allow our reconciliation with God and with one another.

These are NOT easy principles to get to.  You have to give up everything else.  You have to have faith, and other transcendental qualities that you can’t get by your own powers.  It’s terrifying, actually.  You have to step down as the center of your own life.

It’s very hard.

But sins can all be forgiven, and love and connection–the things we all crave–can be restored.  This freedom and peace and joy is all there with God.

A friend of mine told a wonderful story.  Being in this world is like being a rabbit pursued by a hunter and his hounds.  The rabbit zigs and zags, terrified, but cannot escape the hounds of divine justice.  But, if turning, the rabbit leaps over the heads of the dogs into the arms of the hunter, nuzzling with affection and trust, he will not then fling the rabbit to the jaws of the hounds.

Truly Valuable

I will likely be writing about this topic (values) for some time to come.  It is an important one, and one I am needing to do some deep work on in my own life, as well as figure out myriad external details of what God wants me to do.  In the meantime, I hope from these writings, if anyone reads them, some help or insight can be gained as I know these are struggles that each and every one of us goes through.  It is because of this that the work that people do to promote and protect real value is so important.

Steven Stosny, PhD, is a psychologist who works with clients using a concept he calls core value. This is the idea that the most important things about us as people are values such as basic humanity, compassion, service, spirituality, and community.  When we become disconnected from our real values, we can get lost in devaluing things and people as a way to try and feel valuable, but because this behavior is in opposition to our real values, it makes us more miserable.  The way, then, to heal resentment, emotional abuse, trauma, or any other negative experience, is to do things, to take actions, that connect us to our core value, thus making ourselves into the kind of people that have value.  This is how each of us feel valuable–by being true to what is really valuable to us.

Four of the techniques used to connect us to our core value are finding ways to improve, connect, appreciate, and protect.  Automatically making these actions will make us feel better because it connects us to real values.  For example, protecting someone we care for–rather than doing something that hurts them–will increase our own feeling of adequacy and lovableness.

Today I was reading one of my author friend Bryan Davis‘s novels.  I deeply appreciate Mr. Davis’ service to the world in his Christian fantasy books–he very intentionally writes exciting fantasy stories full of dragons, legends, other worlds, characters that strive to act on and represent real eternal values, and thought-provoking moral dilemmas.

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One of the reasons he does this is to take a stand against the very prevalent mood in fantasy these days where it’s not good vs evil anymore, the way it was in The Lord of the Rings, it’s just evil vs evil vs evil.  Various factions and conditions of characters all similarly lusty, angry, and greedy, biting into each other, trying to get some pleasure and security out of the world.

“We’re all just doing our best.” “We’re all just trying to be happy.” “I’m trying to get my own life in order.” “Everyone is going to hurt you:  you can’t expect anyone to act on higher morals, you just have to pick who is worth suffering for.”

I maintain that this is a deception and a lie.  It is what the Bhagavad Gita describes as demoniac philosophy.

Bhagavad Gita 16.10-12

“Taking shelter of insatiable lust and absorbed in the conceit of pride and false prestige, the demoniac, thus illusioned, are always sworn to unclean work, attracted by the impermanent.

They believe that to gratify the senses is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus until the end of life their anxiety is immeasurable. Bound by a network of hundreds of thousands of desires and absorbed in lust and anger, they secure money by illegal means for sense gratification.”

Their end is also described in Bhagavad Gita 16.16:

“Thus perplexed by various anxieties and bound by a network of illusions, they become too william-brassey-hole-jesus-meeting-with-a-demoniac-in-the-country-of-the-gadarenesstrongly attached to sense enjoyment and fall down into hell.”

There is NO peace for those who order their lives in this way.  So what is the alternative to this unfortunate end, then?

Well… let’s look at John 14:27 from the Bible.

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

The peace which the world–the demoniac world of lust, anger, and greed–cannot give.  What is the source of it and how do we escape the network of pride and desire to get to it?

John 16:33 says:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

In ME you may have peace!  The Lord and Creator of all that is, the creator of the world, has overcome the world, and nothing else on heaven and earth will free one from the suffering and anxiety that pervades the pursuit of power and pleasure for one’s own self.

It is in relationship to Him that we find peace, that we find the repose of our eternal souls who hanker and lament in this temporary world.  A great soul is one who knows his identity as the servant of God… he accepts no other identity, and no tribulation or the inevitable ups and downs of the temporary world can faze him any longer.

Romans 8:38-39:

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Bhagavad Gita says the same in chapter 9.13-14:

“O son of Pṛthā, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.

Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.”

All things are not equal.  As human beings with free will and the power and consciousness to ask “who am I really?” and make choices and take action according to our answer, we will pay the price or reap the reward for what we choose to align our lives with.  Demoniac values, or eternal ones?  Values according to the world (and an identity as the flesh or bodily concept), or according to the laws of God (and identity as a soul, made for Him)?

That is why true good, vs true evil, presented concretely in character choices and moral decisions, in engaging fiction and media, can so powerfully affect our consciousness, our knowledge and understanding, and awaken our true identity as a soul.

What we feed ourselves with, what books, music, movies, friends, authorities we take in to our minds, makes a huge difference.

Thank you, Bryan Davis, and all those who see any glimmer of the real truth that the human soul MATTERS, that our choices and actions MATTER, and do the service to the world of showing others, by their own lives and endeavor, a possibility that can lead to real satisfaction, happiness… and peace.

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Masks and Laws of Nature

I heard in a morning Srimad Bhagavatam class here in Dallas that Star Wars was based on the Indian epic the Ramayana, and for some reason that kicked my mind into gear about my love for stories.  Which was, in fact, the original motivation for this blog and website being created–the exploration of the soul and its relationship to God through story.

I remember when I was very young I went through a couple of phases of Star Wars fixation.  This was long before The Phantom Menace was even heard of; I loved the original 3 movies and read all the novels and books written around them.

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I was, at that time, really in love with the masked bounty hunter, Boba Fett.  No one ever saw his face, and he was a heartless, careless, low class individual, but somehow this character was my whole heart’s desire.

Later on in my life, we studied The Phantom of the Opera in a highschool English class, and fell in love with that masked character–The Phantom, Erik–in just the same way.  This was even closer to home, with the pain, tragedy, and battle for redemption in the heart of that particular monster whilst in the story he was challenged by falling in love with a young opera singer, Christine, an innocent young girl engaged to another man.

The darkness cannot have part with the light… but in recalling this emotional fixation of my youth I see the seed of something that germinated, was apparently watered somehow, and grew only to bear terrifying fruit in my life at an older age.  Why did I want to marry a masked man?  Or if not want exactly, why did the presented circumstance not deter me in the least?

It’s a good question.  I certainly had no idea what I was getting into.

I was happily married to my husband, Mark C. Merchant, and a couple of months after we moved back to my hometown in Bellingham he cleaned out all of our money and left suddenly.  I found out some things afterwards about his history, of the extent of the emotional and financial wreckage that has been left in his wake in the lives of several women.  I came back to Dallas where the community here has really reached out to me.  They were shocked too, hurt, and very disappointed.  He really put on a completely different face.  It is hard to tell now how sincere that face was.  My husband is a con artist and a sociopath… ah, but he is my husband.

There is authority that entangles us, and authority that frees us. For example, if you follow the authority of the traffic laws and obey them, you can drive freely anywhere you like.  If you stop following the traffic laws, you can be fined or your license to drive taken away.

So it is with laws of nature, the laws of marriage, and why there is higher authority instructing us how not to break those laws.  There are very strict laws governing relationship between man and woman.  When they are broken, there is great suffering and destruction not least to individuals but worse, to the family and to society.

I have spent a good three months in pain that would not end, but between the support I have gotten and the prayers I have prayed… somehow a light of beauty has come from all of this.  Even agonies can be turned into glories when they are laid at the feet of the Lord.  How He does this, I do not know, but it is humbling.

IMG_7407An event like this in my life must be mined.  All circumstances and interplays, no matter how terrifying or tragic, have valuable gems.  So my marriage to a masked man—a man who had designer face tattoos, and whose face, I noticed (without understanding the implication), had always the same expression whether he was happy, angry, anxious, or content—is still a reality in my life, one that I must take care to understand the implications to my own self, the duty it calls me to.

When we get into relationships, we are giving up our independence. We are compromising, to some extent, with another person to achieve something more.  It’s very difficult, especially at first–especially because most people begin relationships out of an expectation of their desires being fulfilled.  That isn’t what marriage is about.  But it can become deeply satisfying when one is able to learn how to trust and to serve, to not demand to be controlling everything all the time, to be enjoying all the time.

This is part of what forges us, shapes us.  Are we willing to surrender and allow ourselves to be shaped?  It’s terrifying and it’s painful, yes.  There are so many people in this world who, when surrendered to, will simply gut and devour us.  There is a lot of evil.  Yes.  The protection from that evil is NOT to become like it, but instead to develop humility, compassion, and real value in ourselves and our lives.

The spirits of abandonment, rejection, resentment, emotional abuse, unfaithfulness, and all the deception and blame that accompanies the defense of these spirits.  The cure to all the suffering caused by these things is service to God, and love of Him above all other things or people… this is the key that enables us to bring relief to others, instead of suffering.

To be a GIVER in the world instead of a TAKER–this requires great humility and above all, a deep understanding of, and compassion for, our own traumas and wounds, so that we may rise above them and protect ourselves by adherence to higher values rather than by using and destroying others… these are not gifts that are EASY to come by.  More often than not we must pay the price for them by FIRE.

But truly they are priceless gifts.

I love my husband dearly, and here is the opportunity for that love to be centered and nourished on a platform I could perhaps not have achieved by living with him…

I would go through all of this again in a moment and pray I only can have the grace to have strength and clarity to see, always, what is my duty and where is the Lord so that I may not forget that His is the hand behind all of this and for a Greater Purpose than I can see.

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The Use of Culture

In the discussion of what spirit is and what matter is, and how culture intersects with both, I find myself again, as usual, pondering the differences of religions that are otherwise extremely similar in many ways.

Culture I am defining here as the habits, behaviors, practices, expectations, and understandings of a particular group of people.  Cultures tend to form around a value or a belief.  For example, we have our generic Western culture, that is both heavily influenced by and built up around the values of immediate gratification and worshipping the self (“It’s all about YOU! What do you want? What is your dream? How do you feel? That’s what is really important in life.”).

This is a material value, a value based on the mind, body, desires, senses.

There are cultures, however, or at least what slices of them we can get, that are based on other values.  For example, there is the value of the eternal soul and its relationship to God, and the subsequent value of the duties, behaviors, and patterns of living that nourish and orient the soul towards life on this platform.  This is a value based on consideration of one’s eternal position, rather than on the temporary, sense-based pains and pleasures of the temporal world.

To understand and accept, even, that there IS a soul, and that we ARE fundamentally spiritual beings, rather than bodily/animal ones, is rare in the world today.  But it is not lost.  The next question, then, becomes how do we clarify ourselves as a soul rather than as a body?  How do we get information about who we really are?

The spiritual world is founded on the relationship of the soul with God.

The material world is founded on the soul’s illusion that he IS God, or that he can be and so desires to be.

The material world is full of suffering, and disquiet, and many other indications that we are not situated the way we are supposed to be.

But God made that world.

The premise then is that we want to understand how the things of this world can be used to access and strengthen our spiritual position, our relationship to God.

Christians often call this “baptizing” things.  Pagan holidays, microphones, artistic talent, whatever can be used as a means to glorify and worship the Lord, or to serve Him, can be “baptized”, just as a soul in a body, who must be “born again” to spiritual life, is baptized to the service of God and the spiritual life, and is no longer subject to the flesh and the world.

John 3:1-8 describes:

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

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The Vedic scriptures describe this process as yukta-vairagya, which is defined as the sacrifice of using the mind, body, senses, objects in the world, and everything else in the service of God.  This is a higher sacrifice than simply renouncing things or controlling the senses, for everything used in the service of God becomes immediately purified, and the user is also purified as he works in this way.  Bhagavad Gita devotes many verses to describing the proper attitude towards work in this way, a discipline known as karma yoga.

The culture and philosophy of India and the Vedas is very grand, full of useful tools, practices, medical, scientific, and astrological knowledge, not to mention the delicious food, the practical and modest clothing, the simplicity of life, the science of health and diet, the opulent traditions of worship with water and fire and incense and flowers… so it is a wonderful culture.

Though it is not a Christian culture, it is a culture designed and very strongly oriented toward the remembrance of God.  Along with its monotheistic and devotional goals, the Vedas map out dozens of different paths and practices of worship, for all sorts of people, depending on what they desire, deserve, and have the facility to accomplish and make progress.  Even the most demonic person can, if he chooses, make progress towards God in some way.  Every soul is precious and shall not ultimately be lost unless its desire is to be lost.

Bhagavad Gita chapter 16.18-24 describes:

“Bewildered by false ego, strength, pride, lust and anger, the demons become envious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is situated in their own bodies and in the bodies of others, and blaspheme against the real religion.

Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, I perpetually cast into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.

Attaining repeated birth amongst the species of demoniac life, O son of Kuntī, such persons can never approach Me. Gradually they sink down to the most abominable type of existence.

There are three gates leading to this hell — lust, anger and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.

The man who has escaped these three gates of hell, O son of Kuntī, performs acts conducive to self-realization and thus gradually attains the supreme destination.

He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.

One should therefore understand what is duty and what is not duty by the regulations of the scriptures. Knowing such rules and regulations, one should act so that he may gradually be elevated.”

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Such an intelligent culture surely offers illuminating philosophical understanding, as well as time-honored traditions and practices designed to help the soul remember God.

Those of us who are Christians, who are called to be in the world and not of it, in the same way, are messengers and servants of the Supreme Lord.  We are given the teachings and mercy of Jesus Christ and commanded to make disciples of all nations, to love one another, and to let the lamp of our eye be FULL OF LIGHT, to walk according to the Spirit and not to the flesh.

The Vedas command the same thing.  So my question is, can the Vedic culture be “baptized”?  As human beings in the world we need a culture, and the culture of our mainstream society is not in the least conducive to spiritual life–it is a culture engaged in walking according to the flesh.  A friend of mine once described Christianity as a chameleon, an essential mechanism, in a way, that brings the power of God to earth no matter the nation, people, or culture.  Everything can be used as a vehicle for celebrating God and of bringing ourselves into the walk with Him.

That is not to say that all things are alike–Jesus makes this very clear as he tells us that we can always tell the true nature of a thing, or an activity, or a circumstance, by the results that it gives:

Matthew 7:15-20

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

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In considering our question of elements of different cultures and how much we should accept them and live by them, and for what reasons, this–their fruits–will be our measure.

All my life has been a meandering exploration of–very many things–related to matter (the flesh), and related to spirit, and the intense struggle to truly understand the difference.  The illusion of our own sinful nature and desire to be God, to be the controller and enjoyer of the world around us, is very strong.  We cannot conquer it alone, because it is a thing, a consciousness, generated by our very attempt to be alone.

I have always found Jesus’ instruction to judge a tree by the fruit it bears to hold me true eventually.  Even if I cannot see all the factors, or am deluded by my own feelings or expectations of something, in time, you always see the real results of a thing.

That is why spiritual values have my loyalty over self-aggrandizing ones.  The latter sows the seeds of misery and destruction, while the former creates the undeniably nicer qualities of peace and steadiness.

God bless you all!