Palm Sunday – A Tale of Two Processions

 

Battle of Pydna - Ancient History EncyclopediaTwo Parades | Block Island Times

The journey to Jerusalem began in a small hamlet of Galilee. It was filled with exciting adventures, with plenty of twists and turns, ups and downs. It began with a sense of hope. It began not with those in power but with those on the fringes of society, struggling to get by each day.

Traces of it can be found by the Sea of Galilee where the peasant fishermen cast their nets. It is here, in this Herodian territory, Simon and his brother dropped their nets and Joined in. The invitation was so compelling that James and John couldn’t hold back either.

The call of the Galilean peasant, Jesus, “Come follow me, and I will make you fish for people” was compelling, but it was also a bit disturbing. After all these young men were supposed to continue family fishing business, not drop everything and follow the Galilean Rabbi.

But they did, leaving behind social and economic security tied to the family structure. It was a call into the unknown, into an alternative social practice that required not just a change of heart but a reorientation of social and religious life.

The call included a promise: those who forsake human security, including their families, will receive “a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29–31). The invitation is to imagine a different reality, an all-encompassing community based not on natural ties but on discipleship. This new reality is grounded in the ground of all Being.

Many who watched him with cold, hard eyes witnessed new teaching. He taught them about the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom not as they already know, in terms of tax and debt, malnutrition and sickness, agrarian oppression and demonic possession. But a Kingdom which included a lame child, blind parents and demented souls. This Kingdom welcomed all who came, young and not so young, the lowly and the powerful, saints and sinners, strangers and outcasts, the sick and the healthy.

To their surprise He sought God’s Kingdom not among the healthy and whole but among the sick and sinners. His teachings unconventional. His actions unruly. When invited in the house of a village leader, he instead goes and stays in the home of a dispossessed woman.

And just when they want him to stay a bit longer he leaves them all by saying, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ He moves on to the neighbouring town only to be despised by the authorities. “The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’

But others say that the worst and most powerful demons are found not in small villages but big cities. Maybe that is where the entire demons he exorcised went, to Sepphoris, to Tiberias, or even to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is where he is found now, riding not on a royal chariot but a humble donkey.

The story is on the verge of climax. But just before the end, it takes a new turn—one last celebration of Palm Sunday. Perhaps a reason to pause and to peek into what is taking place in the city of Jerusalem.

On that first Palm Sunday, in 30 CE, there was not one, but two processions entered Jerusalem. One was a peasant procession, from the east of Jerusalem, where Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives. And the other was an imperial procession, from the west, Pontius Pilate at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.

The procession was preplanned. As Jesus approaches the city from the east at the end of the Journey from Galilee, he asks two of his disciples to go to the next village and get him a colt they will find there, one that has never been ridden, perhaps a young one. Once the colt is there, Jesus rides that colt down the Mount of Olives to the city where he found himself surrounded by an enthusiastic bunch of followers, who spread their cloaks, leafy branches and shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”.

Least to say that this demonstration is rooted in the prophetic tradition and uses the symbolism from the prophet Zechariah. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem, “humble and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9).  The rest of the Zechariah passage gives us some details as to what kind of King he will be: “He will cut of the Chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations” (9:10).

This King, who rides on the donkey, will banish war from the land – there will be no more chariots, war-horses, or bows. Instead, he will command peace to the nations; he will be the prince of peace.

With this prophetic tradition in mind, we suspect if Jesus’ procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled Rome. In contrast, Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative vision, the Kingdom of God, which he has been preaching and enacting in the countryside. The two processions symbolize the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.

The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus’ life. As we know, the week ends with Jesus’ execution. And the Holy week is the storytelling about this confrontation. It is also an opportunity for us to pause and reflect………………………Whose side are we going to take? Are we on the side of Caesar, whose Kingdom embodies brutality and death or on the side of a humble Galilean who rides on the donkey?

We know whose side that same crowd took after few days when Jesus was in front of the Pilate. In the face of imperial power, their enthusiasm evaporated. They abandoned him and called for his crucifixion. Their Hosanna soon turned into a demand for blood and brutality.

While the temptation is to focus on positives, it is impossible to neglect the undercurrent of tragedy, of the impending crucifixion. Historians tell us that the entire city was in turmoil. People were clamouring to know who was gathering all of this attention. Since most of Jesus’ ministry was in distant Galilee to the north, those in Jerusalem would only have heard of him but not seen him.

But those who knew him exclaimed! “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,”. One can imagine the atmosphere in Jerusalem was electric. The whole city was charged with political and religious tensions. Not only were people rushing to see Jesus, but there were political radicals—the Iscarii—who were keen to set off a conflict between Jerusalem and Rome.

The story of Palm Sunday locates us all directly in the middle of life’s conflict. I am reminded of a German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, who coined the idea of Being thrown into the world. In Being and Time, he locates human beings within the finitude of everyday existence. Human beings are not merely isolated individuals working for their own material benefit. Rather, we are part of a vibrant yet complex world.

According to Heidegger, we cannot exist independently of our relation to the world. We are delivered into the world we share and shape with others, for good or bad reasons. Our existence is grasped by the emotions we feel as a result of the conflict and chaos around us. These emotions reflect but also determine the very texture of the world in which we live.

It is true of Christianity as well. Christian faith is hardly a solitary one. Saint Augustine tells the story of Victorinus, professor of rhetoric at Rome. Victorinus had a lot of sympathy with Christianity, and used to read the Bible and Christian books. He would say to Simplician ‘You know I really am a Christian already.’ Simplician would reply ‘I will not believe it, nor will I rank you among Christians, until I see you in the Church of Christ.’ Victorinus would reply ‘Do walls make Christians?’ He kept the jest up for a long time, but in the end the professor came where he knew he belonged, and joined the mixed company of the Church of Rome.

Yes, it has always been so. Christian faith is more than a solitary faith. Christian spirituality might be personal but it’s not isolationist. It is deeply intertwined with the complexities of life. Palm Sunday is another reminder that Jesus steps into the centre of the conflict. He steps on a road to redemption, new life, forgiveness, transformation, love, hope, and most of all peace. In a violent and chaotic and backstabbing world, Jesus trots down the road of peace on a donkey.

In doing so, he sets an example for us to embrace realities amid life’s conflicts and complexities. Palm Sunday is the day Jesus shows us that he comes to us, to our city, to our home, to our families, to our lives, into our sickness. He comes to transform the love for power to the power of love. He comes not in a panoply of imperial power but on a humble donkey.

And so I leave you with the following questions: where are you in these two processions? Are you in the procession of God’s Kingdom? Or are you in the procession of power intent on killing that Kingdom?

Two Kingdoms. Two processions. Chariot or donkey?

Your choice!

 

(For an extensive study on the two processions see: Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem. Harper San Francisco, 2006)

From Fear to Compassion: Contradictions in the Time of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Dr. Rey Ty has a wide experience in academia and practical approaches to interfaith peacebuilding, human rights, gender, environmentalism, and social justice issues, with a focus on training peace activists. He is currently the Program Coordinator of Building Peace and Moving beyond Conflict of the Christian Conference of Asia. Rey has an interdisciplinary background. He has taught at different universities in the U.S.A., Thailand, and the Philippines. Rey has a Master’s degree in Political Science and a doctorate from Northern Illinois University, specializing in human rights and peace education. He also has a Master’s degree in Asian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. Rey has published both peer-reviewed academic and popular non-academic materials in his fields of specializations.

Latest Coronavirus News (Live Updates)

We live in a time of intense contradictions. Despite advances in science and technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), we humans live in dangerous times during which we cannot control the spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19. This pandemic demonstrates that free-market corporate globalization is biologically unsustainable. The disease lays bare our tininess in the scheme of things. It knows no borders and hits everyone. While scientists are working hard to find a vaccine or magic pill to stifle the virus, we must remember that the ruling classes throughout recent history use bacteria and virus to create both bacteriological weapons and the quarantining of our rights and freedoms.

 

Epidemics and pandemics are nothing new. The Roman Empire fell under an epidemic. During the Bubonic Plague, countless people died. The Black Death recurred for centuries stretching from Central Asia to the rest of Europe, thanks to international maritime commerce. Other epidemics included the Spanish flu, SARS, and MERS.

 

What lessons can we learn from prominent thinkers about the relationship of power, mega projects, and pandemics in fiction and nonfiction?  Weber indicated that rulers since antiquity used discipline for their self-aggrandizement, such as the construction of the pyramids in North African Middle East and the trafficking and abuse of free people as slave labor in agricultural production in the Americas. People are programmed to perform tasks to suit the interests and needs of the powerful economic and political elites.

 

In his book The Plague (1947), Camus wrote: “The plagues indeed are a common thing, but one hardly believes in the plagues when they fall on your head.” True to his existentialist philosophy, Camus says plagues cause suffering which is randomly distributed and thus is absurd. He noted that when people praise medical professionals for their heroism, most would say they were not being heroic, just “doing my job.”

 

In his Discipline and Punish (1975), Foucault gave a stern warning about what the ruling elites do to control the people. Due to the fear of the plague, institutions and techniques are used to measure, quantify, supervise, discipline, and control the population, especially the sick and those deemed abnormal. During the 17th-century plague, governments resorted to quarantine and purification campaigns, which included partitioning off spaces, closure of houses, inspection, and registration.  However, these draconian solutions create new social problems. People internalized their fear and became submissive sheep as they are being monitored. Surveillance measures become normalized and permanent. Bentham’s panopticon and Orwell’s Big Brother are metaphors of the surveillance state. People lose their civil liberties way beyond the duration of the epidemic. Hence, ruling powers’ measures to deal with epidemics have long-term impact on human rights.

 

Under the current international political economy in the time of the pandemic, more contradictions come into play. There are (1) non-antagonistic contradictions between the economic elite and the political elite; and (2) antagonistic contradictions between the ruling classes on the one hand and people and Nature on the other hand. In a word, we are witnessing a clash of values in favor of (1) selfishness or (2) compassion at work.

 

What are needed now are mass testing, medical equipment, medical supplies, and food supplies, the latter especially for the poor and marginalized during the quarantine and lockdown. The political elites are torn between serving the health needs of the people and the economic motive of profit of the economic elites. Some political elites align themselves with the economic elites, while others with the masses of the people. Some governments err on the side of Big Business, opting to conduct business as usual as soon as possible at the peril of exponentially increasing coronavirus infections, while others err on the side of the health of the people. Some governments are half-hearted in providing the much needed medical supplies and equipment needed during the pandemic, while others provide full medical support for the people. Some national governments make local governments engage in a bidding war for ventilators and masks, while others provide free and full medical support to health workers and the sick, regardless of citizenship. Thus, some political elites view wealth more favorably over health, while others consider health as wealth.

 

Instead of inflating their egos, the ruling powers should show their leadership, take their responsibilities, as well as use compassion and fact-based science in decision-making, especially in emergency situations. Lack of or delayed action to prevent the spread of the disease shows their lack of leadership.

 

We are witnessing the best and the worst in humanity at play right now. The world is not flat and we don’t have a level playing field, as we do not suffer equally during the pandemic. Sartre stressed that plagues highlight the contradictions between classes: epidemics attack the poor and spare the rich who disinfect their homes and ask their cleaning ladies to enter their homes first and stay there for a week to ensure it is safe for the rich to enter. Many individuals post online, offering help to strangers, family, and friends alike. At the same time, discrimination and hatred abound.  The rich hoard goods and hide in luxurious bunkers with medical and culinary staff. The poor cannot afford to be sick and not work.  Day laborers, gig workers, poor peasants, street vendors, and small businesses have a day-to-day economic cycle. The very poor stay in densely occupied living quarters and the homeless don’t a roof above their heads: so much for physical (or “social”) distancing for the poor. Washing hands with soap and water is a great preventive measure. However, roughly 785 million people, or one in nine persons on Earth, do not have access to safe water. Clearly, the current situation and the involuntary lockdowns to varying degrees around the world have a lopsided effect on the poor, small peasant villagers, self-employed, and small businesses. Furthermore, some partners and spouses are trapped in domestic violence during lockdowns.

 

On the macro level, Naomi Klein emphasizes that during crises, such as pandemics, off-the-leash predatory free-market disaster capitalism is at work. Economic and political elites capitalize on crises, making money from other people’s misery. Some governments bail out the already super-rich and call for austerity for the urban and rural poor: this is a case of socialism for the rich. This is the sorry state of our current history.

 

What are our tasks ahead?

 

In the backdrop is climate emergency, whichever forces seize the moment during this conjuncture of virus and climate crises as well as the general crisis of the structure of the current international political economy will set the agenda in the post-pandemic period. This is the struggle between the forces of selfishness and greed on the one hand and of caring and sharing on the other hand.

 

This pandemic exposes the utter corruption of corporate globalists who only look after themselves. The current pandemic is a wake-up call for us to employ this short window of opportunity to push for our comprehensive agenda for economic, social, cultural, civil, political, environmental, climate, and animal justice now.

 

Some ask: Where’s God? I ask: Where’s humanity? What are you doing in the face of the pandemic: nothing, withdraw from the world, pontificate, ill-intentioned and deliberately spreading disinformation, well-intentioned but spreading misinformation,  sharing scientific facts from reputable sources, or “I don’t give a damn as I have good immunity,” potentially spreading the virus to the vulnerable?

 

In his Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague (1527), Martin Luther expressed that individuals make their own personal choices whether to leave or to stay. While asking for God to protect mercifully the people, he delineated certain responsibilities for people. Individuals must do what they can so as neither to get the disease nor to spread it to others, such as washing, quarantine, and taking medicine. Pastors provide spiritual care. Parents and children take care of each other.  Paid public officials such as public administrators, public health workers, cops, and emergency responders ensure the safety and health of all. Service to God is a practice of faith via service to neighbors in need. In whatever capacity they can, Christians ought to help their neighbors in need in whatever capacity they can. Surely, all other religions have some teachings regarding assistance to the poor and the sick.

 

In the Old Testament, Noah’s Ark reminds us that we need to be in self-isolation for the common good, not to procrastinate, to get on board, and to do what needs to be done. In the New Testament, Jesus always cared for the sick, the poor, and the marginalized.

 

In our time of the coronavirus pandemic, on the micro-level, we need to give whatever we can quietly to those in need, including our families, friends, neighbors, elderly, widows, children of others, orphans, travelers, strangers, refugees, migrant workers in cramped labor camps, detained undocumented migrants, and those who don’t have money to stockpile supplies. Assistance can come in the form of listening ears, kindness, love, time, patience, talent, prayers, a helping hand, or treasures. If you have the wherewithal or spare resources, support others with food, medicine, soap, hand sanitizer, or money. Communicate: Knock at the door of, send an email to, or call your family, friends, or neighbors, especially those who are alone, the elderly, and widows, if there is anything they need, without compromising your and their health. Sincerely offer support, out of the compassion, neither for competition, nor honor, nor publicity. Verbally give thanks to the selfless health professionals who serve the sick. Support small local businesses. Seek the humanitarian release of old, sickly, and non-violent prisoners who don’t pose public safety. Give decent tips to delivery drivers who were hitherto considered as unskilled workers but are now providing much needed emergency service.

 

On the macro-level, we have to reflect and act on structural changes now. Defend civil liberties.  Support living wages, decent life, small local businesses, full medical care for all, protection of workers’ rights, government accountability to the people not to corporations,  international solidarity not sanctions, emergency relief assistance, social services, and social safety net for the poor, vulnerable, and disadvantaged, including our planet and animals. Aside from stricter bans on the killing and consumption of wildlife, this pandemic has led to the clearing of the air in most parts of the world because of the temporary stoppage of most road transportation and the shutdown of rapacious economic exploitation of nature in the form of industrial production of commodities produced which are meant to be obsolescent. The people need to recapture power to control our livelihood, health, food, and medicine, as the so-called free-market corporate globalization is exposed to have failed in providing the goods and services needed in the pandemic and well as the in protecting nature in general.

 

The public generally accept travel restrictions and physical distancing as appropriate to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, shoring up their public images, many governments are using the pandemic to stifle legitimate critique and the opposition, limiting the freedom of speech and expression under the pretext of ceasing fake news. In one country, the security forces attack quarantine violators with canes, while in another country, its president orders troops to shoot them. In these times of emergency, political elites lust for and are engaged in power grabs that codify and further limit the rights of the people against which we must raise consciousness in order to push back against these encroachments on our rights. We have to keep an eye on and defend our civil liberties and human rights constantly.

 

Stay strong. Be optimistic. Care and share.  Mutual assistance. Our compassion should show no borders. Don’t lose hope.  But hope is not a strategy. We need to be vigilant and take action now. Our destinies are all tied together, as we are all connected: humans and non-humans. When Japan sent supplies to China, on the boxes they put a Buddhist poem:  “We have different mountains and rivers, but we share the same sun, moon, and sky”.  When China sent medical masks to Italy, they put on the crates ancient Roman philosopher Seneca’s poem: “We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, flowers from the same garden.”

 

Now is the time to show love, solidarity, compassion, mutual assistance, as well as political commitment to action for deep structural changes in whatever way you can. Seize the moment: the time to act for people and Nature is now. Do whatever little or big thing you can do. Nothing is too small. The hour for change is now.

 

 

 

Unpacking Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play”

 

Jacques Derrida Quote: “The end approaches, but the apocalypse is ...

 

“language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique”

Today I got stuck into reading Derrida’s seminal text: “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences”. While I am yet to completely grasp the argument put forth by Derrida, here is a meager attempt at understanding what the text is about.

According to Derrida there was an event. This is the event of rupture in western philosophy due to which we can think about and asses the structure of an idea, or what Derrida calls structrality of structure. According to Derrida, a particular breakthrough in western philosophy enabled us to learn that philosophical [and theological] ideas, especially language, has a structure and logic to it.

 

Let’s think about it in the following sequence:

  1. Imagine you are flatting. You have a room. You wonder how to organise that room: what pictures and paintings will go up, where the bed and chair will go etc.
  2. But your room is not on its own. It is only one room in a whole building, as part of a structure.
  3. But still, your room has distinct qualities. You wonder about the roomness of your room. The qualities that make it “your” room. It makes you wonder how it relates to other rooms in the structure of the house. The room is your room because it’s not your friends’ room.
  4. The moment you start thinking about the roomness of your room is the “event” Derrida is talking about. The event when philosophers began to understand the philosophical systems have structures in terms of how one thing relates to another.

 

Derrida’s Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences remains one of the most significant documents of literary theory. It inaugurates what is known as post-structuralism in 1967. Post-structuralism does not mean an outright rejection of structuralism. Rather it means going beyond it by critiquing structuralism.

According to Derrida the concept of structure is as old as anything. All structures are held together by a centre: “an organizing principal that allows of limited play”. The centre holds the structure together, giving structure its stuctrurality.

While centre offers balance and stability,  it also limits creativity by inhabiting new thinking and only allowing limited creativity withing the structure itself. Centre brings balance but also introduces boundaries. Another feature of centre is that it remains unaltered by the changes taking place within it. For example, God is the centre of human activity, a source of meaning, a guarantor of law, certainty and creativity, but at the same time the notion of God or the assumptions behind God remains unaffected by the creative play inside the centre. If anything the play conforms and consolidates the structure.

In Derrida’s account, all structures or systems orient themselves through a centre that fixes or holds the structure in place (God in the medieval feudal hierarchy as a central force). The centre is conceived as providing the reason (logos) of the structure. It is the nodal point to which everything ultimately referred to, that which lent the system its closure. And, further, this centre is associated with the fullness of presence, of being, of positivity, of essence, of being something.

But, Derrida is here to offer a critique of this practice of centring from within. For him, “language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique”. To make his case, Derrida critiques Levi Strauss, French anthropologist who popularized structuralism.

The statement that Language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique sums up the enquiry of Derridean project.

According to Derrida, structuralism, since its inception, was an attack and criticism of metaphysics on one hand and science on another. Science was a predominant way of acquiring knowledge in the West. Structuralism began as a critique of the assumption behind science as well as metaphysics or religion.

But what Derrida is questioning is how come then Levi Strauss is using the same assumptions that you find in metaphysics and science in his own practice of structuralism? Derrida highlights that on one hand structuralism is a critique of science and metaphysics, while on the other hand it uses the same assumptions which it claims to reject.

Derrida talks about the similar cases that has happened in the past. For example, how Nietzsche critics the earlier traditions of western philosophy and religion. And, then Heidegger says that Nietzsche is the last metaphysician and then Derrida actually critics Heidegger saying that he was the last metaphysician.

What seem to be happening is the criticism that is levelled against tradition uses the same assumptions that tradition is using. What this shows is that criticism can never go out of tradition. It works withing the inherited legacy of that tradition.

The reason for this, according to Derrida, is the use of language. He argues that language contains within itself all the assumptions coded into it. When a philosopher sets out to critic another system of thought they end up using the same language and assumptions. For example, the atheist subject consciously denies a belief in God, yet their actions might convey that they still unconsciously believe in such a being or ordering principle. The denial of God does not necessarily mean the denial of assumptions behind the concept of God. One centre can easily be replaced by another. This is why Derrida claims that structuralism falls prey to what it wants to prey upon, that is science and metaphysics (religion).

Take for example Buddhism which sets out as a critic of Vedanta. It actually ends up sounding more like Vedanta. Similarly, Christianity began as a critic of empire. But soon it became an imperial religion itself. Another example of this logic is beautifully articulated by G.K Chesterton. In the last pages of Orthodoxy Chesterton asserts, “Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the church.” In each case we are reminded that whenever we start critiquing something, we are in a danger of repeating and resembling that thing which we set out to attack.

According to Derrida this is due to the language. In language we are met with a fundamental lack because of which the ultimate meaning/closure/end/ revelation is always differed, postponed. One can never catch the final meaning. The end is not the end.

The lack in language, its inherent incapability to communicate, demands critic. Any philosophical/theological system will always contain a blind spot which asks for a criticism. And this applies as much to Derrida’s own project which falls prey to metaphysics as Derrida says. This is why [philosophical] thinking is auto-critical. It must question itself. It must come with a degree of self-suspicion. Because when we question western tradition, we are also questioning ourselves, subjects shaped by the same philosophical tradition.

 

Lent 5A Order of Service Trinity@Waiake

The following service is produced by Rev Andrew Gamman 

 

Lighting the candle

“You, Lord, are the light that keeps me safe.

I am not afraid of anyone.

You protect me,

and I have no fears.”

Psalm 27.1

 

Call to worship

Come to the Lord

marvel at his goodness,

and ask for his guidance.

In times of trouble he will be your shelter;

he will keep you safe

and make you secure on a high rock.

Hear the Lord, when he calls to you!

He is merciful. Come and worship him

Don’t hide yourself from him!

 

 

Hymn Fire of God Titanic Spirit (Tune: Ode to Joy)

Fire of God, titanic Spirit,

burn within our hearts today;

cleanse our sin – may we exhibit

holiness in every way:

purge the squalidness that shames us,

soils the body, taints the soul;

and through Jesus Christ who claims us,

purify us, make us whole.

 

Wind of God, dynamic Spirit,

breathe upon our hearts today;

that we may your power inherit

hear us, Spirit, as we pray:

fill the vacuum that enslaves us –

emptiness of heart and soul;

and, through Jesus Christ who saves us,

give us life and make us whole.

 

 

Voice of God, prophetic Spirit,

speak to every heart today

to encourage or prohibit,

urging action or delay:

clear the vagueness which impedes us –

come, enlighten mind and soul;

and, through Jesus Christ who leads us,

teach the truth that makes us whole.

 

Michael Saward CCLI 230013

 

 

Opening prayer

Oh Lord, you are most wise, most great and most holy

In wisdom and power and tender mercy

you created us in your image.

You have given us this life to live.

You have appointed our lot, surrounded us with your grace and

written your law on our hearts.

 

In our hearts’ most secret room

you are now waiting to meet and speak with us

freely offering us your fellowship.

Help us to travel this open road to peace of mind.

Help us to approach your presence humbly and reverently.

Help us to carry the spirit of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ

and leave behind all unworthy desires

and all hesitancy in surrendering to your will.

 

You are all our hearts’ desire.

Who do we have in heaven but you?

There is no-one on earth that we desire besides you.

O Lord you are the one God and Father of us all.

 

Be near us this morning

Graciously keep watch over us.

Hear our prayer for Jesus Christ’s sake.

Amen

John Baillie 1886-1960 from A diary of private prayer (adapted)

 

 

Short talk about what I’ve been up to in 2020

WAINUI HANDS-ON CHURCH

You may recall that I had plans to plant a new church in the Wainui area, which is a developing northern housing suburb. This was to be a sister church to the one in Waitoki. After securing some funding from Mission Resourcing and Auckland Synod, I looked around for a suitable venue. I booked the Wainui Community Hall for a monthly Sunday service with the cost being covered by a donation from an Orewa woman. Our first service was on 15 March with a programme around the parable of the wise and foolish builders. We had a congregation of 10… and had a great time (despite a coffee machine mishap). A couple of days a later, with COVID-19 looming, the Council told us we could have a max of 10 in the hall. At capacity already! A few more days on and we have had to suspend services until further notice.

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KERERU PUBLISHING

As a response to COVID-19 Pandemic we’ve been busy providing a free weekly email church service for those in lock-down or with cancelled worship services. This has had a significant international uptake.

 

Hymn Dear Lord and Father WOV 519

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqOnjmr9Ah0

 

Confession & Lord’s Prayer

In a moment of silence,

let us reflect on the quality of our discipleship

and our responsibility

for the fragmentation of God’s world.

(Pause)

 

When we have failed to be attentive to your word

Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

When our hearts have been closed to your grace

Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

God is rich in mercy.

Hear the Good News

God offers healing to us, and to the world.

God offers forgiveness to us, and the world.

In the name of Jesus, we are forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours

now and for ever. Amen

 

Offering and prayer

 

Lent

Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent. We are now in the second half of our journey to Easter and our lectionary readings today unite around the theme of death and resurrection. They come as a preparation for Easter Sunday. In both the gospel reading about Lazarus, and the prophet’s vision of a valley of dry bones, we are confronted with the reality of loss, grief and despair. We know these emotions. But these are break-through passages filled with hope. We may come to the end of ourselves and our own resources, but that is the very place the Holy Spirit breathes resurrection life into our hopeless situations.

Prayers of intercession

Lord in this time of the COVID-19 epidemic we pray for the sick and infected. God, heal and help. We ask that the infection will be contained.

We especially think of our vulnerable populations. God, protect our elderly, the poor, those with mental health challenges and those suffering from chronic disease.

We pray for our Prime Minister and our elected officials as they allocate the necessary resources for combatting this pandemic.

We thank you for our scientific community, leading the charge to understand and cure the disease. God, give them knowledge, wisdom, and a persuasive voice.

We ask your grace and mercy for the homeless. Protect them we pray.

We ask that you would help students trying to get home from university and international travellers stuck in foreign countries.

We thank you for frontline health care workers. Keep them safe and healthy. Keep their families safe and healthy.

Lord God, we trust that you are good and do good. Teach us to be your kind, loving and faithful people in this time of global crisis.

Amen.

 

Readings

Ezekiel 37.1-14 & Romans 8.6-11

Hymn Dem bones

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DO0NKiP-qfM

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones

Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones

Now, hear the word of the Lord!

 

The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone

The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone

The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone

Now, hear the word of the Lord!

 

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around,

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna hop around

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna jump around

Now, hear the word of the Lord!

 

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Now, hear the word of the Lord!

 

The thigh bone’s connected to the back bone,

The back bone’s connected to the neck bone,

The neck bone’s connected to the head bone,

Now, hear the word of the Lord!

 

 

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around,

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna hop around

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna jump around

Now, hear the word of the Lord!

 

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Now, hear the word of the Lord!

 

Message: Can these bones live?

Legends of the phoenix go back over 2500 years and come from places as diverse as China, Persia, Egypt and India.

The stories vary considerably, but they tell of a very large bird like an eagle but with scarlet and gold plumage, a melodious cry and soaring flight.

 

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According to one of the most common forms of the story only one of these birds exists at a time and it lives for 500 years.  At the end of its life it makes a nest of aromatic spices and branches.

Then it sets fire to the nest and burns itself in the flames until only ashes are left. That is when the miracle occurs.

From the ashes a new phoenix arises.

In China it was believed that when the phoenix was seen momentous events were about to occur.

It is not surprising that the story of the phoenix features in early Christian art and literature.

The appeal of the legend was that Christians saw in it a parable of the resurrection.

New life rises from the ashes.

 

It is to such a story that the prophet Ezekiel takes us today.

His vision was given to a captive nation in an apparently hopeless situation.

It was a vision of hope for the exiles in Babylon that things will come together.

The vision tells of the absolute necessity of the presence of the Holy Spirit to bring hope and life. His breath is life.

 

It also speaks to us on our Lenten journey.

As we exercise the disciplines of prayer, generosity, fasting, scripture reading and serving others through Lent the Holy Spirit breathes into us taking away the arid dryness and making us alive again.

 

Our reading from prophets today is the best known chapter in the book of Ezekiel. Maybe people know this passage because of the old African American ‘spiritual’ that tells about “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.”

On the other hand, it may be the best known passage because most of the rest of the book is so outrageous and strange. Some commentators have even suggested that the prophet was suffering from mental illness.

Ezekiel is a challenging book, but well worth having a read through if you have never done so, or if you haven’t read it for a while. In chapter 37 Ezekiel is caught up in the Spirit. In a vision he is transported to a valley.

It is the scene of an old battlefield where heavy losses have been suffered.  The valley is full of human bones that have been lying out in the hot desert sun. “There were very many… and they were dry.” (Ezekiel 37.2 NRSV).

God says to the prophet, “Can these bones come back to life?”  The answer, of course, is – No. No way! Do hens have teeth? Can the Blues win the Super Rugby competition?… forget it!

But Ezekiel knows that he is dealing with God… and “impossible” is not how God sees things… so he warily replies, “only you Lord can answer that.” God tells him to speak to the bones and tell them that they will be wrapped with muscles and skin and God will put his breath into them.

(It could be “breath” or “spirit” or “wind” as each of these English words is a valid translation of the word in the text.)

So Ezekiel speaks and while he is still speaking there’s a rattle, rattle… and the bones come together… and muscles and skin cover them… but there is no breath. God instructs Ezekiel to speak again and tell the spirit to enter the bodies.

When he does, they come to life, stand up and form a great army.

The last few verses of our reading from the prophet (Ezekiel 37.11-14) give us an interpretation of the vision.

A fugitive had arrived among the exiles in Babylon (Ezekiel 33.21) bringing news that Jerusalem had fallen. The nation had, to all appearances perished.  Further, Jerusalem was where their faith was centred.

Its fall seemed to be a sign that their faith was breaking up.  God said that the bones are the people of Israel (Ezekiel 37.11). The people that make up the shattered remains of the nation are prisoners in Babylon who had been in captivity for more than ten years.

The hope that they had earlier has now been extinguished.

They are like dry bones.  “They complain that they are dried up and that they have no hope for the future.” (Ezekiel 37.11). But God responds by telling them that he doesn’t know the word “hopeless” – that he will raise them from death and restore them to their land.

“My Spirit will give you breath, and you will live again.

I will bring you home, and you will know that I have kept my promise. I, the Lord, have spoken.” (Ezekiel 37.14)

We don’t have to think very hard, to realize that there are applications here for us and our situation, when all the news is of pandemic, and some people are feeling hopeless.

 

 Can these bones live? What an important question for the church.

When New Zealand Pakeha are exiting the church in unprecedented numbers we ask…Can these bones live?

When so many church buildings are virtually empty of worshipers… Can these bones live? When few of those participating in church life are under fifty years old… Can these bones live?

When most of the community thinks that the church is simply the pretty building in town that needs to be preserved because it is an historic landmark… Can these bones live?

Others think of the church as a quaint and dying institution that is locked into a moral code that comes from a past generation…Can these bones live?

And the gospel, that once was once so full of life and strength, is often stripped of its essence by a cynical liberalism or by a simplistic fundamentalism.

What is left is just a pile of dry bones. There is no life left there!

There’s no content left – it is like one of those hollow chocolate eggs we have at Easter – we scratch through the surface and there’s nothing inside.

And some, clutching at straws, are drawn to climb on the latest Christian band wagon. We are told that what we need is emergent worship, missional church, a progressive Christianity, fresh expressions, a decade of evangelism, youth church, a Bible reading challenge, messy church, an ecological project…

All of which may be very good in themselves… but we can be doing them and still be just dry bones.

Can these bones live?

 

It’s God who asks the question (Ezekiel 37.3).

Is there any hope for my people?

Is there a prospect of life for my people?

It is when the Lord breathes on the bones, when he gives them his Spirit, that they come to life.

For without the life of the Spirit:

− the scriptures and the liturgy are dry as dust

− the most creative worship techniques are just a matter of going through the motions

− our theology is lifeless dogma

− the Christian life is a mere display of respectability

We need the breath of heaven. And God asks, “Can these bones live?”

Ezekiel responds, “only you can answer that.” (Ezekiel 37.3) There is nothing we can do to make ourselves lively Christians. We need the Spirit that God offers to us. And his word to the church this Sunday is to stop striving and look to him for the resources to bring life and vitality to the church.

The church needs the power from on high.

 

Can these bones live? What an important question for you and me.

Have you ever felt that your spiritual life is dry? Or have you ever been in a personal space where you have felt that you’ve lost all grounds for hope? Do you read the news in these times and think that it seems there is no possibility of recovery or resolution.

There is nothing that you can do to make things right. The situation is disastrous, impossible – and you feel powerless.

At such a time we need to hear the message of Ezekiel’s vision. For the coming together of dead bones speaks of a God who can bring life from any situation. It speaks of a God who achieves the impossible. Isn’t that the message that we get from “dem dry bones”?

And there are people here who can testify that from personal disaster has come a new closeness to God, new life and a more resolute purpose. Oh, it may not happen in our way or in our time… and sometimes not even this side of the grave.

But we can never be totally disheartened because with God there is always the possibility of new life – even if all he has to work with is dry bones. Our hope is in the power of the Spirit of God.

Here in Ezekiel is one of the few passages in the First Testament from which we can develop a doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Here we meet the Spirit who gives life and strength when all seems to hopelessness and despair

Pray for God’s power to come into your situation – to refresh, to enliven, to create new hope. But be careful – this is God’s Spirit and he doesn’t move to our dictates!

He will do things in his way and in his time.

Can these bones live? “My Spirit will give you breath, and you will live again… I the Lord have spoken. “ (Ezekiel 37.14)

 

Hymn There is a hope

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_yv5yGZnBc

 

Blessing

You are God’s servants gifted with dreams and visions

Upon you rests the grace of God like flames of fire

Love and serve the Lord in the strength of His Spirit

May the deep peace of Christ be with you

The strong arms of God sustain you

And the power of the Holy Spirit strengthen you in every way Amen

Dianne Karay Tripp

Sermon on John 9:1-41

Let me begin with a question: Is seeing is believing ?

We all like to think we can trust our own eyes. But what if things aren’t always as they appear.

 

Take this image, for example: What animal do you see?

Image result for duck or rabbit

 

Most people see either a rabbit or a duck. Neither answer is wrong. It’s a matter of perception, of how you individually experience the image. But why did you see what you did? Is it a matter of your eyes seeing one thing while your brain thinks another?

 

Take a careful look at the Hermann grid:

 

In the white space between the black squares, you probably noticed small grey dots flashing in the intersection (look again). There are no grey dots in this grid, so why do you seem them?

It’s because the space in the middle of each intersection are larger and receive more light.

There is also a psychological phenomenon at work. It is called lateral inhibition. It causes areas with bright surroundings to appear darker and areas with dark surroundings appear brighter. Human perception plays a significant role in interpreting present environment. We see what we want to see based on our social, cultural and emotional predispositions.

Everything we sense, think, feel, and even remember, actually arises in response to a combination of what is currently happening and our stored long-term (unconscious) memories.

Philosophers have long questioned the notion of objective reality. Our sights (or lack of it) are guided by our expectations and beliefs. Indeed, we see what we want to see.

Our lectionary reading from John is a good example of how our visions of reality is guided by our preestablished beliefs, led by our hopes and expectations. Yet, genuine sight needs to get beneath the appearances governed by our expectations.

John’s story of Jesus and the blind man is a complex case of seeing beyond expectations. John has an elaborate theme of visibility and invisibility, sight and blindness.

As Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they encountered the blind beggar. The disciples asked whether the man was born blind because of his own sin or because of that of his parents. The connection of blindness to sin has a powerfully ironic twist at the end of the story when Jesus said: ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “we see,” your sin remains.’” To put it differently, if they had not claimed understanding, they would not be accountable for sin.

In response to the disciples’ question about who was responsible for the beggar’s blindness, Jesus denied that any one was responsible. But he did say that the man’s blindness had a purpose, namely, to set Jesus up for an important public miracle, demonstrating the work of God.

Now you may or may not approve of this conception of a God who makes a man suffer blindness from birth to adulthood just to demonstrate Jesus’ divine powers.

Similarly, you may or may not believe that illness has a purpose, for punishment or anything else, although of course we can give meaning to illness. At any rate, Jesus gave the blind man sight, without even being asked to do so, by the way.

The man’s neighbours were sceptical. The Pharisees asked how he had been healed and the formerly blind man gave them just the facts: he put mud on my eyes, and washed, and I could see. When asked where Jesus was, the man said simply that he didn’t know, which was true.

The Pharisees then got into a theological wrangle. One side said that Jesus must be a sinner because he worked on the Sabbath, while the other side said that he could not do such miraculous healings unless he were from God.

Then, strangely, they asked the formerly blind man what he thought about Jesus. It’s strange because the man had been blind all his life and worked only as a beggar, he is certainly not a theological expert.

The man said Jesus was a prophet because of his power to heal. Not believing in miraculous healings, the Pharisees then decided that the man could not have been blind previously. But his parents confirmed that he had been. The parents, however, expected to be thrown out of the temple community for not agreeing with the Pharisees, so they sent them back to talk with their son.

When the Pharisees told him, that Jesus must be a sinner, the man said he didn’t know about that. What he did know was that he had been blind, and Jesus gave him sight. When the Pharisees annoyed the man, he suggested sarcastically that they must want to be Jesus’ disciples because they kept questioning him about Jesus. He then said that, if they were right about God listening only to the righteous, then Jesus the healer must be from God.

Both the Pharisees and the man’s parents were blinded by their expectations. The Pharisees by their theological expectations, the parents by expectations of retribution from the Pharisees.

Even Jesus, it seems, was a bit callous toward the blind man by treating him only as an occasion for a revelatory miracle. Although when he heard that the Pharisees expelled the formerly blind man from the temple, he sought the man out and declared his identity as the Son of Man or messiah. Jesus gave the man not only sight but a new home when both the temple and his parents failed him.

The one person in this story who had perfect sight was the blind man. He knew who he was, a blind beggar, and had no expectations. He accepted Jesus’ gift of sight with gratitude and told the story of it with no great embellishments.

Unlike his parents, he saw through the confused and hypocritical Pharisees with fearless steadiness and irony. He learned who Jesus was only when Jesus told him, not from any religious expectation, although he always understood his healing to have been divinely caused. When he realized who Jesus was, he worshipped him.

What do we make of this story? Would we not be blessed to have the sight of the blind man?

With no ego expectations of grand righteousness or self-excusing victimization, we would know just who we are without illusions.

We could accept sudden and unexpected blessings, such as serious healing, with gratitude and calmness. We could tell others the truth, saying what we know and admitting what we do not know, without having to embellish the truth with hopes and disappointments.

We could take the consequences of the truth without fear, knowing that whatever is comes from God. Best of all, we would not blame God because of the pain in our lives and we would not love God because of the good in our lives.

Rather, with the blind man’s sight, with his attractive lack of expectations, we would love God for God’s own sake. We would delight to discover that the person (in community, neighbourhood, in parish, in family) who dispenses grace is also the gift of God. We would see through to God as found in the least of our brothers and sisters.

It is conventional and, in some cases, customary to see God primarily in terms of what God can do to us or for us. Fear of divine wrath on the one hand and hope in divine promises on the other are the doorways of most religious views, if not the substance of most religion itself (see The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg)

Yet those are only appearances, too human ways of seeing, because they really are about us, projections of our fears and desires, rather than about God.

Perhaps, like human Jesus, we should strive to see beyond the appearances into the heart of individuals, human affairs, and God. Perhaps, we shall strive to see beyond the intrigues about religious righteousness to the grace of true reconciliation and gratitude. Christian faith is an invitation to absolve us of appearances and lead us into the depth of true engagement with our faith and those in our communities.

In doing so, we might see beyond God “for us” to the true God to whom the only real response is worship.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Advent, somewhere between hope and despair

We live between hope and despair, a theme discussed by Claudia Eppert, Sharon Rosenberg, and Roger Simon at great length in their profoundly insightful book Between Hope and Despair. The book is faithful to its title. It holds in tension the concept of hope and despair. After all, can we even have great hope without great despair?

 

The concept of hope and despair is not foreign to us. In one way or another, we have experienced it and can relate to it. We know the feeling of despair. At times life sucks, and it’s difficult to bounce back from setbacks. But we also know the feeling of hope, few and far between as they are.

 

The season of Advent is upon us. Advent marks the beginning of the Christmas season by rekindling the messianic expectation. At the heart of Advent is a longing of a messiah – a messiah who will rise above the ashes of despair.

As I think of Advent and the hope it speaks of, I am reminded of the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In Chapter 5, The Grand Inquisitor, Dostoyevsky grapples with the future hope associated with the coming of Christ. The thought that one day, in the future, the Advent of Christ will happen, and Christ will recuperate the people from pain and trouble is seen in a new light.

 

The story commences with the arrest of a person who alleges to be the messiah. But before the arrest, he works some miracles. He gives sight to the blind, heals the lame, touches the untouchables, and therefore gives hope to the hopeless wondering crowd.

 

At that particular moment, people start out claiming that he is the one. Our Messiah, our Saviour. He is the one who will save us from the grips of the empire.

 

At that time, the Grand Inquisitor enters the scene and arrests the Messiah.

 

Messiah does not resist or reacts but quietly walks away from the crowd with the Grand Inquisitor and soldiers. Messiah is kept in a prison cell. Not a single word comes out of his mouth.

 

After a while, The Grand Inquisitor enters the prison room. He starts asking questions to the prisoner messiah. In this rather important part of the story the Grand Inquisitor poses some serious questions to the messiah, but again the Messiah holds tightly to his silence; he does not answer a single question.

 

 

In the end, The Grand Inquisitor says: why have you come back, we have been living our life, and at least we have been striving to enhance the conditions of human life?

 

We know that people are not particularly happy, but they have understood it, they have accepted and made peace with their miserable conditions. They know it is their fate, which they must endure without any one’s support.

 

After a brief silence, the Grand Inquisitor continues: due to your arrival, people will start building hope again. They will hope that their messiah and saviour will take away all the troubles of life. But this time, peoples are not imbecile, they have gone through enough pain, and they have pinned their hope and security in their loved ones. And I tell you, tomorrow, the same people will lynch you and kill you in front of the crowd.

 

But as usual, Messiah does not speak a word, due to that the Grand Inquisitor is frustrated. The silent messiah was creeping him out. Finally, he controls himself and tells the messiah to go back and leave us in our condition. He tells Messiah never to return, never to come again. Messiah quietly stands up, he looks at the Grand Inquisitor, kisses him, and disappears from the dark prison cell.

 

For Dostoevsky, this episode is the external expression of concepts he was grappling. A pious Orthodox Christian, Dostoevsky had to grapple with some very unsettling questions about the nature of Christian hope associated with the Advent of Christ. What if Christ truly arrives? Do we realise that his arrival will interfere with our lives, with our hopes, with our dreams? That it may actually cause some disturbance. It has the potential to turn our existing hopes and dreams upside down.

 

 

Throughout the centuries, people have hoped for a saviour who would come and rescue them from their misery. Other times they have pinned their hopes on political ideologies. Not to forget that the Enlightenment was supposed to be a perfect programme for human progress. In our own time the marriage between capitalism and liberal democracy is seen as the endpoint in human progress – for example, the End of History, a book by Francis Fukuyama.

 

I think Dostoevsky conjures up a striking image of Advent and hope associated with it. He informs us that the Advent of Christ is never a straightforward affair. And this shall prompt us – to ask – if we have realized the impact it will have if Christ is really to arrive? It will actually interfere with our lives. Our lives will never be the same again. It would change our reality in ways that we cannot even fathom. What if the Advent of Christ turns our greatest hopes into deepest despair?

 

Dostoevsky was grappling with these existential questions amid political struggle. He was not interested in bland optimism or feeble compromises. I believe that for him hope was more about possibilities, not certainties. He knew too well how quickly our most sincere dreams, when realised, could turn into nightmare.

 

I wonder if Adorno and Horkheimer were mindful of this inherent tension between hope and despair when they wrote: “I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.”

Jordan Peterson on myth as a matrix of meaning

 

The Intellectual We Deserve | Current Affairs

 

We are all living a story which we do not understand. What if human beings, although not fully aware, are acting out a narrative?

For Peterson the world has a deeply meaningful structure. But it might not be so apparent in this nihilistic postmodern world which claims “everything is subjective”; “everything is relative”.

 

To discover this meaning one must move beyond mere empirical description of the world. The empirical or scientific description, preoccupied with objectivity, strips the world of meaning, of affect, of valance and of drama embedded deeply within its structure. It is not enough to simply know the world as an object but also to know the meaning it carries for human action. The world, therefore, should be construed, not in objective terms, but in phenomenological terms.

 

The phenomenological world is primarily concerned with meaning of the environment in which individuals find themselves. This environment, Peterson claims, should be considered as “what is and has always been common to all domains of human experience, regardless of spatial locale or temporal frame.”[1] of reference. All human being, regardless of time and space that separate them, are united in their experience of the world which is constituted by three key elements: nature, culture and the individual[2]. Nature and culture are on the opposite extremes, representing the domain of unknown and known[3]. What is unknown is the nature. Consequently, what is known is the culture. The individuals, phenomenologically speaking, is the knower who is caught up between the two extremes of nature and culture. The knower must accept the reality of existence and learn to live between the two bipolar forces of nature and culture – known and unknow – by negotiating and overcoming the unpleasant and often unforeseen realties of the contrasting domains.

 

Secondly, each of these categories are characterised as being universally paradoxical, appearing both positive and negative to human apprehension. Navigating through the paradoxical dimensions of these categories is a central challenge that universally characterises human existence. No matter where human beings are in the world, they must face the natural world in all its ambiguities. On one hand, the natural world, Peterson describes, offers “the great realm of beauty and endless possibility that makes up the extended reaches of our being.”, but on the other it is “the eternal susceptibility of the human organism to mortal vulnerability, physical limitation and psychological isolation”[4]. It is creative but also destructive. It can bring forth life but can also cause calamities. It can fill us with beauty and awe but can also induce fear and anxiety. The vagaries of nature mean that its meaning is deeply paradoxical to human apprehension. Equally paradoxical is the social and cultural world – the known world – in which individual have their existence. While the social world offers protection, order and familiarity, it can also descend into tyrannical if the imbalance occurs, [5]. It can be helpful, but it can also hinder individual progress. It can be oppressive, but it can also give rise to creativity. It can give but it can also steal: “Culture takes with one hand, but in some fortunate places it gives more with the other”[6]. The vagaries of nature and culture spills into Peterson’s conceptualisation of individual being. The individuality is both a gift and a curse[7]. While acknowledging that human individuals have great capacity for wrongdoing, Peterson also believes that within each individual person is the image of God and therefore inherent capacity for goodness. Beyond any spatial and temporal frame, Peterson favours a paradoxically shared universal essence of human experience in the world. He outlines that all human beings, across time and space, are experiential being. All human beings experience fear, anger, happiness, disgust, curiosity, lust, jealousy, envy, surprise, etc. The world of conflicting experience means that each individual is faced with the capacity of transcending the social and cultural order but is also limited and bound by the fact of their natural mortality[8]. The world as experienced therefore appears fundamentally ambivalent and paradoxical to human apprehension.

 

Questions remain though regarding the source of these categories. Where does Peterson derives these categories from? What is the root of the three consistent yet paradoxical constituent elements that structure the world?

 

For Peterson this structure of the world manifest itself in a form of mythical narratives. Hence, mythological narratives become the basis for deriving the categories of nature (unknown), culture (known) and individual (knower). The experience of the phenomenological world takes a form of myth within the semantic system of the time. Peterson believes that “Narrative accurately captures the nature of raw experience”[9]. Subsequently, if narratives have the capacity to accurately capture the experiential world then they also become the basis for discovering the inherent meaning of the world.

 

Human being, Peterson maintains, fall under the spell of narrative, of myth as soon as they attempt to attribute meaning to things they experience. In return the attributed meaning shapes behaviour. For Peterson, things are meaningful because they give rise to action in their presence[10]. To demonstrate this point Peterson gives an example of a toddler (the knower) who, out of sheer curiosity and accident, touches a fragile glass sculpture (the unknown). She observes its material characteristics, its color and shine and how it feels to her touch etc. All this is her primary experience of the sculpture. But, then, her mother (known, the cultural voice) interferes. She grasps her hand, telling her never to touch the object.

 

However, the mother is not an isolated being herself. Instead her “being presupposes culture”[11]. In other words, the mother is a product of her culture, through which she has learned that the sculpture, in its unaltered form, is meaningful. Mother’s individual psyche is integrated within the social psyche.

 

What this means is that the human beings, although not fully aware, are acting out a narrative which has been passed down through the centuries in a behavioural form. The behavioural patterns which forms the story is stored in social behaviour. The stored-up behavioural, according Peterson, is the most fundamental definition of the “collective unconscious[12]. Drawing on the theories of Carl Jung, Peterson maintains that the collective unconscious account for the universality of embodied behavioural wisdom. Building on Jung’s work, Peterson claims that the medium through which the collective unconscious is transmitted is culture: Adults embody the behavioral wisdom of their culture for their children. Children interact with adults, who serve as “cultural emissaries.”[13]. For Peterson, even though we do not fully comprehend why we do what we do, we do it anyway. The collective unconscious animates and informs the behavioural patterns of the conscious social beings without the fully disclosing its presence. “We are all” in Peterson’s word, “imitating a story that we don’t understand[14].

 

Secondly, the collective unconscious takes the form of mythological narratives when the behavioural patterns are abstracted and condensed in a form of metaphoric or archetypal images. The archetypal images of human experience of the world – for example of an admirable adult, an identifiable individual, keeps her house tidy and neat, reconciles her warring brothers and learns hard moral lessons when such learning is necessary. The archetypal hero makes order out of chaos, brings peace to the world, and restructures society when it has become rigid and anachronistic[15] – serves as the building blocks for myths. The distilled images, although emerging across different time and space, take form of a story with a universal structure. The universal structure of the narrative is the archetypal representation of the structure of the world, as it is experienced, in narrative form[16].

 

What does this form looks like, though? What form might the (unknown) nature, (known) culture, and (knower) individual take in a mythic universe?

 

 

[1] RELIGION, SOVEREIGNTY, NATURAL RIGHTS, AND THE CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF EXPERIENCE

Jordan B. Peterson, pg. 136

[2] RELIGION, SOVEREIGNTY, NATURAL RIGHTS, AND THE CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF EXPERIENCE

Jordan B. Peterson, pg. 137

[3] Ibid, 137, also Maps of Meaning, pg. 19-30

[4] RELIGION, SOVEREIGNTY, NATURAL RIGHTS, AND THE CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF EXPERIENCE

Jordan B. Peterson, pg. 136

 

[5] Maps of Meaning, pg. 20

[6] 12 Rules, pg. 302

[7] Ibid, 137

[8] RELIGION, SOVEREIGNTY, NATURAL RIGHTS, AND THE CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF EXPERIENCE

Jordan B. Peterson, pg. 137.

 

[9] Maps of Meaning, pg.2

[10] Ibid, 2

[11] RELIGION, SOVEREIGNTY, NATURAL RIGHTS, AND THE CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF EXPERIENCE, Jordan B. Peterson, Pg. 137

[12] Map of Meaning, pg. 93

[13] Ibid, 93

[14] Ibid, 95

[15] Ibid, 93

[16] RELIGION, SOVEREIGNTY, NATURAL RIGHTS, AND THE CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS OF EXPERIENCE, Jordan B. Peterson, pg. 137