Maybe the ‘me’ that must die is the ‘I-want-to-be-God me’ and maybe the ‘me’ that Christ saves and breathes life into is the ‘Made-in-God’s-likeness me’ which is totally loved and cherished by Creator, Christ and Comforter.
Following a talk entitled ‘Evolving Biology, Evolving Theology’ that was presented in one of the southern suburbs of Melbourne last month, a person of Indian descent spoke to me about animals and spirituality. He was concerned about the lack of understanding of the roles and importance of animals in our spiritual learning and, unlike Hinduism, he felt that modern Christianity does not know how to effectively extract wisdom from our fellow species. This conversation has prompted me to watch and consider my goat, Holly, more carefully in recent weeks and seek an understanding of the concept of ‘scapegoats’
So, Holly is a middle-aged, anglo-nubian she-goat. She has been with us since kidhood and is tame, quite verbal, friendly, cranky at times and very-much a part of our mixed-species tribe. When we first met Holly, someone informed me that goats were more like dogs than sheep; they like human companionship. Although Holly does not get a lot of human interaction, over the years she has shared her paddock with other pasture-dwelling species including kangaroos, horses, sheep and an alpaca (called Rory) who seems to be a bit of a favourite.
What have I noticed about our goat? She is strong, tenacious, wiry, versatile, adaptable, good-natured, guileless, simple-minded, willing to please and carnal. She’s a goat! I once heard a quote: ‘If you want to know what it means to be a human, meet a goat’. This wisdom probably only makes sense if you know a goat, and, it is almost impossible to put into words the meaning of this quote (so I will not attempt this).
Why then, do we have scapegoats, rather than scapesheep, scapedogs or even scapealpacas? The original idea of a scapegoat goes back to a very old Hebrew ritual. We have a detailed record of this ancient atonement ritual in the book of Leviticus (which is easily found in any self-respecting bible). In the days when animal sacrifice was practiced by most peoples of the earth, it was usually done in the context of religious ritual and/or worship, or appeasement, of a deity. It is hard for we pet-loving moderns to understand what ‘they’ were thinking in this archaic and cruel treatment of animals however, since we were not there, let us withhold moral judgement and focus on the symbolism.
We are told in Leviticus 16 that two unblemished, young, male goats were chosen and, by lot, it was determined which goat would be a sin offering (involving certain death and blood-letting for the alter) and which would be the ‘scapegoat’. The scapegoat was brought alive to the priest who was to lay both hands on the head of the goat and confess over it all the sins of the people. The goat was then driven away from camp (away from it’s herd and secure food supply) into the desert. Scripture tells us that ‘The goat will carry on itself all the people’s sins to a solitary place’. So, a man was given the task of driving the goat away deep into the desert so it would not return to camp. This ritual was conducted with intricate attention to the details once a year to ensure the cleansing and ‘acceptability’ of the Israelites.
The Christian understanding of this ancient ritual is that it preempted (or prophesied) God humbling Him/Herself and entering into humanity in the person of Christ to become the ‘scapegoat’; to take the blame and punishment for the sins of human beings. Christ was to become both the sacrificial goat and the scapegoat to ensure our acceptability and holiness to live in an eternal relationship with a guileless loving God.
Other ancient peoples had similar practices involving goats. In Ancient Syria, a she-goat with a silver bracelet around her neck was driven out into the wasteland to remove evil from the community. This ‘elimination rite’ was connected with ritual purification on the occasion of the king’s wedding. Ancient Greeks practiced scapegoating rituals using humans (instead of goats) based on the belief that the repudiation of one or two individuals would save the whole community. A poor person of low-status would be chosen, treated with great dignity through feasting and adorning with expensive clothing to establish ‘worth’ (and/or purity), and then driven out of the city with stones. This ceremony was expected to appease the gods and bring relief from drought, famine or plague.
The practice of scapegoating has survived the passage of time. It may be observed all over the globe in families, classrooms, work-places, churches, clubs, communities. Psychologists would define it using terms like projection; where we avoid our own shadow, darkness, shame and guilt, instead placing it onto another person. This behaviour is often unconscious but sometimes it is quite intentional. The chosen ‘scapegoat’ may have incited our jealousy; they may be free-spirited, beautiful, successful, strong. Alternatively, if we are behaving with much cowardice, we may choose someone who is weak and undervalued to project our anger and inadequacies onto. It can be cruel and often results in the ‘scapegoat’ becoming isolated and traumatized, struggling with poor self-esteem and paranoia. Even in Christian families/churches scapegoating is common, especially when there is no understanding that Christ has removed our mental torture of guilt and shame along with the inpurities of human lovelessness (or ‘sin’ if you prefer that word).
Most people have experienced both sides of the equation; they have been the scapegoat and they have skapegoated others. We can do better. We can recognize when we are being treated as a scapegoat and refuse to play that role. We can realize that ‘perfect love casts out all fear’ and face up to our imperfections, bad attitudes/behaviours. ignorance and darkness. There is no need to be judgmental as ‘there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus’. There is no need to pass the blame or guilt or shame onto another as we do not need to be perfect. When I acknowledge the truth of my lovelessness, forgiveness flows and freedom grows. My mind clears of the aggressive clatter of guilt and denial, and I have more time to spend with my goat!! Shalom.
Scriptures tell us that ‘God is the same yesterday, today and forever’. The Divine’s character is ‘Faithful and True’ and able to be relied upon while the world around us changes. The seasons of life and nature create the experience of constantly ‘shifting sands’ in our mortal human lives. We struggle sometimes with our own adjustments and the way our closest relationships evolve and change with the passing of time on earth.
However, relationships must evolve; to remain vital, they must unfurl, grow, change, mature. Imagine a romantic relationship continuing forever in the high-energy state of obsession with one glorious (but in reality, flawed) human being. If nothing else, the limbic system would ‘burn out’. Meaningful relationships, whether they be friendships, parent-child or lover partnerships, must develop with time. So, what of our relationship with the Divine?
The Christian narrative tells us that in the beginning, when humans were freshly evolved (and/or created), God declared his/her delight in us: ‘very good’ and ‘made in my image; male and female’. We began to make choices; some were good, some were bad and some were ugly. Like an attentive parent of a young child, the Divine watched over us protectively, guided us and allowed us to discover our world in safety. We were taught consequences and given rules (or laws) to help us make good choices and be kind to one another. The earth provided what humans needed to grow and develop into adulthood under the watchful eye of a loving Creator. God spoke through nature, dreams, burning bushes, misty mountains, prophet/esses and even a donkey!
And then a time was reached when the Divine chose to presence her/himself alongside those image-bearers in human flesh. Jesus Christ was born as a baby onto the earth as fully human and fully God, and the Divine was now dwelling in human flesh amongst the people he/she loved. This was an intentional step (or evolution) towards intimacy; the distance between a perfectly loving God and mortal imperfect humans was being eroded. Christ lived, died and rose again to bridge that gap and secure a guiltless friendship between humankind and the Creator. People could now freely receive/give devotion in relationship with God based solely on belief in Christ and the love of God shown through him. And surely, this would have been enough for us.
But the Divine had even more generosity planned for us. When Christ returned to the heavenly realms, the Spirit (God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit that was in Christ) was sent to the earth to dwell within each person that chose to have faith in Christ, the God-person. The Spirit was given to comfort, guide, teach, counsel and be a guarantor of God’s eternal life within us. This level of intimacy between humans and the Divine is extraordinary and I am often overwhelmed by the deep respect and honour that has been given to us. Along with the constant companionship of the Spirit, God has also given us advocacy through prayer, spiritual gifts and the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc).
I am greatly moved and thankful for the way God has chosen to evolve his/her relationship with human beings over time. My hope is that we may all continue to grow into this profound love relationship with our Maker, and that the freedom intended for us becomes a reality.
Peace is something we all want, even if it is amongst an adrenaline-filled pacy existence. As our lives are filled with appointments, visual stimulation and stress, we become aware of our essential need for calmness alongside our busyness. Is this a possibility?
In English, the word peace implies a rather passive picture of the absence of disturbance or hostilities. It conjures up pictures of a personality free from internal and external strife. However, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom and this word has a much fuller meaning. It rests heavily on the root slm which means to be complete or to be sound. It speaks of wholeness, of life, of health. It refers to right relationship between two parties or people. The word, shalom, implies prosperity, success, fulfillment and victory over our ‘enemies’. It refers to things that are quite disparate, like wellness of body and an absence of war. Encompassing so much meaning in the nature of the word, shalom is as complete a word for well-being as we could find.
In Jewish communities, shalom was (and still is) used in both greetings and farewells. It is meant to act as a blessing on the one to whom it is spoken: ‘May your life be filled with health, prosperity and victory’. And what a wonderful blessing that is!
Some Christian gatherings include a time when people pass the peace to each other. When I first came across this small ritual, I panicked. I had no idea what it meant; whether I had peace to pass, who I was suppose to pass the peace to if I did have peace to pass, how many people I could pass the peace to before I would risk being left with none? I jest a little. Passing the peace in a church simply involves shaking another person by the hand and saying ‘peace be with you’ and they reply ‘and also with you’. This greeting is also founded on the word shalom and affirms the Christian belief that Christ has established a pure shalom between Yahweh (god) and humans through His living, dying and rising experience. In believing and receiving Christ, each person is given friendship with Creator and an eternal shalom. This speaks of a well-being freely given based on grace and faith instead of good works or rule-keeping.
When shalom is used as a verb , it conveys both a static and a dynamic meaning; to be complete or whole or to live well. This implies that it is both a state of being (a gift given to us) and a state of doing (a gift received by us).
Now that I am totally overwhelmed by the beauty, generosity and love contained in the meaning of this word, I must sincerely pass shalom to each one of you:
And may we all have the courage and humility to receive it.
Science has become an extremely sophisticated and, often exclusive and expensive, practice. It has not always been this way. In the past, science was based predominantly on observation and experimentation. It was accessible to most people and the knowledge generated was used by many in practical ways relating to agriculture, architecture, food preparation and preservation, natural/herbal medicine, childbirth, cartography and navigation, philosophy and even spiritual worship.
In the ancient writings of the Hebrew/Greek sacred text, we can read of many scenarios where the scientific knowledge of the time was used in everyday situations by everyday people. Let me retell some of these stories.
If we look back to 750 BC (as recorded in 2 Kings 20), the King of Judah at that time was a man called Hezekiah. King Hezekiah was very sick and preparing to die. We are told that ‘Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD’ and, that in response to this, Isaiah (the prophet) then said (presumably to the King’s health attendants), ‘Prepare a poultice of figs’. The poultice was prepared and applied to the boil and Hezekiah recovered quickly and returned to ruling his kingdom. This is a beautiful example of natural medicine being used in the records of the Sacred Text to bring about rapid and complete healing.
Around one hundred and fifty years later when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had besieged Jerusalem, a young Israelite man called Daniel was brought into the King’s service to be trained and taught the language and literature of Babylon. The King assigned Daniel and three of his fellow Israelites a portion of food and wine from his own table. However Daniel convinced the chief official to allow Daniel and his friends to perform a ten-day experiment whereby they would eat only vegetables and drink water instead of consuming the rich food from the King’s table. You can read about the outcome of this experiment in Daniel 1 found in the Hebrew Sacred Text.
Agricultural Science is described throughout the Hebrew/Greek Texts with reference to animal husbandry, leaving the soil fallow, seed planting, weed control, threshing, grafting, fertilizing, and many other agricultural practices. In the four gospels, we read many accounts of Christ teaching spirituality and wisdom using allegories that assume his listeners had a good understanding of agriculture and the natural cycles of the land around them.
And, of course, the record of the first Christmas describes astronomers (Magi) from the east who recognized a new star in the night sky and presumed a new king had been born.
So, let us be aware that science and the study of nature, via observation and experimentation, have been implemented by humans for a very long time, and the Sacred Text is not devoid of writings that describe such activities.
This post completes our series about love, for now. In the next few weeks we will focus on the theme of ‘Science and Spirituality’.
G is for God. God is Love and everything God is, says and does is grounded in perfect love.
R is for Righteousness. Righteousness is also a God-thing and refers to God’s perfection in purity, justice, truth, kindness, mercy, fairness, compassion and (of course) love.
A is for Action. The action of God in sending Christ to remove the gap, the unwanted separation, between God (the perfect righteous lover) and humans (the imperfect, but worthy, lover).
C is for Christ. God in human flesh: born, lived, died and raised up. Christ’s gift of salvation-by-faith is offered to each person and, when received, the Spirit (of God) dwells in the believing human.
E is for Everlasting Life. Eternal life, freedom, forgiveness, friendship-with-God is now (and forevermore) a living reality for each person who believes in Christ.
What is there not to LOVE about Grace!?
It’s about LOVE
How tired I am with lovelessness in all its ugly forms. What part about ‘God is Love’ do we not understand. It is not a hard thing to read, spell, say, think. It is simple: G_o_d i_s l_o_v_e.
And don’t tell me you don’t know what love is. Even if you don’t know what love looks like, if you are over the age of three, you know what lovelessness looks, feels and smells like. Just look and listen for the opposite of lovelessness if your life has had no experience of love.
Love feels warm and nourishing. Love looks like beauty and your favourite color. Love smells like rain on the earth after a drought. Love tastes like the morning dew and your favourite fruit. Love sounds like thunder or the silence. I have no idea what love is like.
Love makes us feel everything is going to be OK. It causes us to weep (or laugh, or both) with relief. It assures us that there is some reason for this crazy life on earth. I am guessing that love can achieve these things for us.
From now on I will intentionally orientate my life around love. Love will be my standard. Love will be what makes sense to me. Love will be my meditation and my conversation. Wish me luck and power. I don’t know where I am going but you are welcome to come with me if you want.
‘This was our new paradigm, newborn and a bit shaky about its place in the universe, but lusty in its cries for attention, it’s insistence on life. However, some of us have been rocked by the death throes of the old paradigm.’ (The Molecoules of Emotion, Candace B. Pert, pg 179.)
A major shift in our understanding of the way human biology functioned caused a renowned scientist to write this statement. I believe the same piece of writing can be used to describe the shift that has been occurring in Christian spirituality. We are experincing a new Christian paradigm.
What is this new Christian paradigm?
- It is a gentle, powerful, receptive understanding of the kind of spirituality that Christ demonstrated to us over two thousand years ago.
- It is not pushy, aggressive, exclusive, arrogant, sexist, racist, age-ist, overly-intellectual, judgemental, repressive, non-emotional, violent, purely rational.
- It is time-rich; part of eternity. It is the fruit of Christ’s travail. It is the fulfillment of Christ’s sacrifice. It is the power of God that raised Christ up from the dead. It is about fairness.
- It is not about authoritarian structures and hierarchies. It is not about admiring ‘good’, ‘functional’ people. It is not about oppressing the poor. It is not about repressing the emotions of people made in Creator’s image.
- It is about love. And life. And warmth. It is about passion. And kindness. It is about equality and meeting the needs of all people. It is about food, shelter, warmth, learning, justice, love. It is about love.
- It’s about love
- It’s about love