Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Fear of God

The Fear of God

Occasionally I go to a Philosopher's Cafe at SFU Harbour Centre after teaching my Friday morning class.  The most recent topic was on the Fear of God - the beginning of wisdom.   Dr. Michael Picard was the moderator, and was very good at bringing out the best in a discussion with diverse perspectives.

At first the discussion was hung up on a view of fear as in fear of punishment or fear of hell, and how potentially manipulative that was and unhealthy for human flourishing.  Then came the reductionist arguments about how religion and the concept of God are often used socially and politically by those who wish to dominate and control others.   In this view the fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom, but its death; rather, skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom (Clarence Darrow).  This can be the case when one's view of God is restricted to a single category of status versus non-status, as in an absolute monarch's rule over his subjects.  However, if one views God from the perspective of providing a governing context in which people can discover the facts, principles and laws of universal truth, then a very different kind of fear emerges. It is a mature and healthy fear of knowing that one is responsible for how one chooses to live life and transform into the person they desire to become, and graduate, as it were, from the school of life with the collected treasures of his or her soul.  Akin to this concept is the recognition of a universal moral law including existential encounters and realizations of truth, goodness, love, pain, grief, suffering and the ultimate inevitability of having to face fear and death.  These universal categories consciously or unconsciously combine to form one's metaphysical position from which one's system of right and wrong emerges.  For example, the fundamental attitude of karma towards victims of injustice is far from compassionate, since victims are viewed as getting what they deserve from a life of bad karma before being reincarnated into this one. 

Dallas Willard, a leading author in spiritual and character transformation, states in Renovation of the Heart that significant humanist and spiritual leaders of all perspectives see the necessity for personal transformation.  Where they differ is in what aspects this transformation ought to take place, and how this effectively takes place.  Willard suggests that it is a systematic process of relational honesty and growth - with  one's self, with God and with others.   This presupposes that God is personal and knowable (see James Houston's The Transforming Friendship), particularly in the aspect of His will for human life, which is based on His laws and character. The fundamental shift needed at the core of a human being is to agree with, delight in and obey God's will out of an understanding based on love.  Without this, no lasting transformation is possible, because it opens up the mind to further understanding and participation in the divine nature (II Peter 1:4).  Indeed, this is the restoration of the image of God in people, rather than people making God in their image.

The discussion at the Philosopher's Cafe barely touched on this presupposition, because I did not clearly state the analogical comparison I was making between how abstract thought in science leads to concrete application in technology, just as a theology of God guides spiritual experience and transformation. Someone commented that spirituality goes beyond science, and that is true.  However, there are some who have begun to make the topic of the subjective spiritual realm more rigorous by unveiling how objective and subjective thought work in both science and religion by examining how the mind works within a theory of mental wholeness.  Lorin Friesen's synopsis of John McDermott's Seeing God, a revivification of  Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections, is one such example, where he examines the Fear of God. 

"I suggest the most fearful thing in human existence is free will, because God seems to respect it.  Personal decisions seem to make a difference.  I am not talking about being scared about choosing the wrong kind of toothpaste.  Rather, I am talking about being scared about becoming the wrong kind of person, because it appears that I have to continue living with myself and that I will be condemned (or privileged) to interact with others who are like me."

This sense of fear is similar to that of C.S.  Lewis who wrote in The Weight of Glory that we don't simply meet and interact with mere people.  This awareness heightened for me when I saw some of the same faces around the table as at other Cafes.  One elderly gentleman, rather ragged in appearance and with quaint and incisive intelligence, struck me as needing a friend and hope, even though he carried himself with a sure and dauntless independence.  My heart cried that often the most insightful of human beings get discarded and marginalized in a culture that no longer has the will to see or to seek the cure for its inadequacies.

"There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.  this does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play.  But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption."

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Porta Coeli

Porta Coeli

Porta Coeli or "Gateway to Heaven" Convent church, or El Convento de Santo Domingo de Porta Coeli in Spanish, is located in San German, Puerto Rico, and was built by the Dominican order in 1609, making it one of the oldest church structures in the western hemisphere.  I have never been to Puerto Rico, and have never heard of this church until now, but as a celebrant of the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his historical death on a cross more than two-thousand years ago, these words were given to me as I was driving to perform in a choir concert named "Journey to the Cross"

As a western Christian in the Reformed traditions, I have been seeking to help translate the intellectual and social problems people have with Christianity by integrating a scientific and universal understanding of truth with my worldview and personal faith journey.  In so doing, I have often been stretched to the breaking point, because of the lack of connectivity present in western culture between the empirical sciences and the realm of metaphysics, philosophy and religion. We claim tolerance and peace as a universal spirituality of oneness with the world of nature, but are intolerant of religion that presents dogmatic truth claims that can be proven and argued rationally.  It can be said that Christianity is the only falsifiable religion, because it is based on legal truth claims that can be proven or dis-proven in a court of law. From the perspective of legal apologetics, the four gospel witness accounts of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are legal documents which should not be tampered with posthumously, as is often done by groups like the Jesus Seminar

The post-modern west is going through a fragmentation of the internal structure and cohesiveness of how things fit together, not just organically or mystically, but in fact, history and conscience.  The latter must precede the former.  A once secular journalist, Lee Strobel, found this out when he researched the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, written in his book "The Case for Christ"

Because historical facts and eternal truths underlie mystical experience in the unseen realm of the mind and spirit, a cohesive worldview is possible that embraces all of human life, dying and experience as having ultimate purpose.  Universal truth is for all times places and peoples, and the gift here is this: it is both abstract in a paradigmatic sense, and concrete in a personal and relational way. If you take the abstract route of scientific investigation, you will ultimately come to see your universal theories as personifying the God of the universe.  As C.S. Lewis put it in the voice of one of his characters, Uncle Screwtape, who instructs his demon nephew Wormwood on how to distract and befuddle people, 
"Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things [This can also be a recipe for boredom and hell].  Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean the real sciences) as a defence against Chrsitianity.  They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can't touch and see.  There have been sad cases among the modern physicists.  If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology, but don't let him get away from the invaluable 'real life'.  But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is the 'results of modern investigation'" (Lewis, C.S. [1942].  The Screwtape Letters. New York, N.Y.: Harper Collins, p. 4).

Conversely, if one is on the relational route of believing God loves you in Jesus Christ, you will ultimately continue in relationship with Him and come to know more of His character and righteousness.  The gift of grace precedes knowing God within His boundaries, or laws.  Only a personal knowledge of God creates meaning and purpose for the laws we do observe in nature.  Here lies the power of the cross, the universal principle of death and resurrection personified and incarnated in the perfect Son of Man and Son of God, Jesus Christ.  He comes to each person as a gift, as each recognizes their ultimate unseen end without a Saviour, dies to it, and rises in hope with Him.

Jesus Christ is the historically evident, factual, actual, proven, universal Porta Coeli, the gateway into heaven.  It is a narrow way, but the only universal way. Universality comes at great cost in the unseen, the cost of death and the cost of the life of the Son of Man who defeated death by his perfect life and death, sufficient to save all people in His death and resurrection.  In Him, we receive fresh eyes to view the suffering of the world, death, sadness and the loss of life as ultimately fading and eternally untrue (Mike Hsui, Grace Vancouver Church lead pastor, March 5, 2015). All who have this hope purify themselves (I John 3:3) among other things, from a cynical heart committed to self-preservation that recoils from hope.  The God of the universe does really touch and heal our wounds, calling us out of easy despair, self-sufficiency, boredom and lethargy to hope in God and delight in His coming kingdom, when He will make all things new.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Living and Learning from the Inside Out of the Outside In?


Living and Learning from the Inside Out or the Outside In?

Integrating one's internal world with the external world is the most comprehensive and difficult task of a mature and whole human being (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, 1962).  Whereas the MBTI personality continuum divides the mind between thinking and feeling, sensing and intuition, perceiving and judging and introversion and extroversion, the goal of education and maturation is to integrate these polar opposites. Integrating the internal and external is difficult to teach, but once recognized, a student will find traction to advance further than he or she could have by expending efforts to change their external world without first listening to their souls. One could term this intrinsic motivation. 

One example can be taken from the singing studio.  Jeanie Lovetri lists some core principles of her method,   and one particularly stands out:

When a student can't sing something the problem lies with the instruction, not with the student or the student's ability.
According to Lovetri, it lies with the instructor to find what the student is capable of and build a bridge to extend that capacity, and thus create a pleasure for learning and an inner motivation to continue learning. This in itself is not revolutionary pedagogy, but consider this.  A young singer came to me with a recorded sample of a song she had sung at a peer sporting event.  Her sound was big, brassy and bold.  It was an impressive and mature sound for her age, with a chest register that belted up high.  She was externally motivated by the pop songs she had imbibed from the radio.  Recognizing her talent, I encouraged her to think of her voice within a larger culture of music appreciation that spans several centuries instead of just the present moment.  That motivated her to understand where I was asking her to journey.  After a few months of occasional lessons and public performance auditions that she had successfully completed, I began to ask Jill to listen to the inception of her sound with an inside ear and connect it to her breath.  The pure beauty  of her sound soared beyond imagination, and the shackles of tension fell from her vocal chords.  It reminded me that when one listens internally to one’s soul, the external world benefits, much like when you live for heaven, you receive heaven and earth.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Vision from the Crest of the Wave

Surfers probably know best what it is like to be on top of the crest of a wave.  However,  the image referenced now is not one of pleasure, but of a vast ocean plummeting into darkness, much like the dream recalled by the character of Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings:  "I dreamed I saw a great wave climbing over green lands and above the hills. I stood upon the brink.  It was utterly dark in the abyss before my feet.  A light shone behind me but I could not turn.  I could only stand there waiting..."

Eowyn, shield maiden of Rohan and daughter of Kings, saw her fate as tied to that of her people, the race of men waging desperate war against the evil of Sauron and the ring of his power. Her apocalyptic vision, fearful and yet fearlessly borne in her heart, represents the tide of human history in its travail and tribulations.

Metaphors for waves, seas, oceans and waters are replete in literature, and in the Bible.  In Robbie Burns' poem, "My love is like a red, red rose,"  one line sings:
"And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry."

Until the seas go dry?  Whatever for and why?  This is a reference to the book of Revelation (21:1) where in the new heaven and new earth the sea will be no more.  Metaphorically speaking, these are the waves and billows of events and misfortunes that often overwhelm human lives and whole nations. I think of the past massacres in Nigeria, and terrorist attacks in Paris.  These are the striving of the nations, as restless as the sea.  Legend has it that the pinnacle of human civilization, Atlantis, has even been swallowed up by the sea. So what does the idea of standing on the crest of a wave have to do with all of this?

The sea will be no more.  That is a promise, and nations will find rest in the return of the King.  He rides (Rev 19) and is a rock for all who stand in Him.   Standing on the brink, yet planted on the rock, as a shield maiden if you will, with outstretched arm to lift others from the swirling death awaiting all those swept away by the sea, is a worthy place for daughters of the King. Ride on King Jesus, for no one shall hinder thee!  Thanks for this song, Steve Bell:

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Unveiling the Mundane through the Epic

Where do you live?  In our space-time continuum of cockpits of conflict, pinnacles of power, slime pits of slavery, mole hills of the comfortable and mundane or foxholes of desire, we get into ruts of expecting and seeing the world in specific limited ways.  Changing things up is just one way to get out of that rut and grow up.  World travelers and globe trotters know all about that.

Mas Edimburgo The Hobbit

Bilbo Baggins knew all about it.  His life changed from mundane to epic because he met an interesting friend.  Abraham heard the call to leave Ur of the Chaldees to a land he did not know, but that God would show him.  Moses knew about it when he met God at the burning bush (great clip by Dreamworks' "Prince of Egypt") and became God's mouthpiece to confront Pharaoh and call Israel out of Egypt (depicted in the "The Ten Commandments" starring Charlton Heston

World travelers, Bilbo Baggins, Abraham, Moses and the People of God all experienced the epic, where their little stories were transformed into the greater story and explanation of all things.  Another way of stating this is that they felt called to live by a radically alternative vision of reality.  Whether one gets there through geographically external ways, or by gaining new habits of mind to transform thinking, life can be a precarious business when you venture out your front door!  Traveling to new countries in the seen or unseen will forever change our perception of reality, and this is what an unveiling or epiphany is all about.

Turning to the great apocalypse of the Revelation of Jesus Christ and Darryl Johnson's (2004) commentary, "Discipleship on the Edge" helps one focus his or her vision on the journey out of the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of Heaven:

"The Lamb's people know they are not their own anymore.  They know they are an offering, a living sacrifice.  They know they are engaged to the Lamb, and will do everything they can to remain loyal.  The want to be like the Lamb, full of light and integrity.  They follow the Lamb wherever He goes.  They win the victory over the beast by not fearing the beast.  And they are known by the song they sing" (p. 278). 

This is the Song of Moses and the Lamb, which begins, "Great and marvelous are Your works oh Lord God Almighty!"  So when you are being nudged and directed to leave comfort and familiarity for an adventure to a new land or place of being, don't resist.  Follow the call and allow faith in the promises of God to transport you, putting your toes in the Red Sea and being ready to watch God act.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Dreams from a Sleeping Giant

 "The giant sleeps, and let it, for should it wake the world will shake." Napoleon

During the Ming dynasties through the 15th-16th centuries China was the most powerful land in the world.  The Forbidden City in Beijing was called the world's meeting point.  However, since then China became inactive, falling behind other developing countries, until after the death of their revered Chairman Mao in 1976.  Since then it has been playing "catch-up" with the rest of the world.

Certainly since the Beijing 2008 Olympics, China, the Sleeping Giant, has woken up.   As a nation on the international stage, China lends to most of the developed world.  Its infrastructure is growing by leaps and bounds, and its technological advances nearly match those of the US.  Its cities surpass those of any other nation in size, architecture and transportation systems. Now its cyber wars with the United States have become the norm, and the "Great Firewall of China"  keeps out foreign influences the Communist Party does not want.  Even social media is controlled, with Weibo instead of Facebook, and you had better be careful what you tweet, or how you pun!

Christianity in China is on the rise as well, with younger, well-educated urbanites no longer sensing Christianity as distinctly Western.  The perception that becoming a Christian is like becoming a traitor to China has been shed, but because Christians make up the largest civic group in China, the government is stepping up on repression:

One wonders what sort of dreams China has had during their long sleep of being suppressed since the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  You cannot erase centuries of Confucianism, traditional Chinese religion and culture in a nation with an orientation to longevity. A type of longevity that dismisses the deaths of several hundred student demonstrators protesting inflation, limited career prospects, and corruption of the party elite in Tianamen Square (1989), as just one more sacrifice on China's path to freedom, is a formidable instantiated cultural characteristic.  Add to this value of sacrifice in service of the greater good, the freedom and love of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and you have dynamite for cultural renewal on a global scale. Notably, the only doctrine the Chinese government tried to repress in the state-run Three-Self Church was the second coming of Christ and the eschatology surrounding that.  With patience already built in the Chinese psyche, they are naturally conditioned to believe and wait for the fulfillment of God's promises, and that has the Communist Party on edge.

In teaching international students from China I have noticed a difference in the last ten years in their awareness of the Western world, and their desire to join an international community mediated by the English language.  In a time when most ELT research and practice has gone the route of localizing standards and methods and emphasizing the social aspects of language learning, the Chinese have come on stage in a big way desiring English as an international language.  Within them resides the dream that global communication is possible, and that it transcends nationality and even culture. This is analogical to their attitude shift towards the Christian faith.

In a book edited by Wong, Kristjansson and Dornyei (2012) called Christian Faith and English Language Teaching and Learning,  both chapters by Don Snow in  "The Globalization of English and China's Christian Colleges" and Peng Ding in "Cosmopolitanism, Christianity and the Contemporary Chinese Context: Impacts on Second Language Motivation" address the ongoing trend of English language learning opening doors of opportunity for Chinese young people. Perhaps this dream was even kept conscious throughout Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution, and even watered the seeds planted by 18th century Christian missionaries to China such as Hudson Taylor and Gladys Aylward.,+Wong,+Kristjansson&ots=JKKQupztRq&sig=JNMigUCBL22gUerrcCQyi4LXkm0#v=onepage&q=Dornyei%2C%20Wong%2C%20Kristjansson&f=false

In any case, long slumbers lend themselves to dreams of great substance.  When it is a giant, these dreams reconfigure the whole world.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


Peter Pan is epic.  Why else would the recent TV series "Once" make him the big villain and father of the deeply troubled Rumplestiltskin storybook character?  Even better is the movie "Finding Neverland (2004)" starring Johnny Depp as author James Barrie, where the man writes his own inner landscape in an unforgettable children's story.  He speaks to the child within each of us.

However, Neverland is a negation of land, a figment of one's imagination, or pie in the sky.  That is what is often associated with the concept of heaven.  However, what if the thoughts in our mind build an internal landscape for the future of our soul?  Can we get to a good place in our minds that is actually real?  God promises His people a land where righteousness, justice and mercy reign, a spiritual home foreshadowed by the land flowing with milk and honey that was Canaan.   It is promised, and it is a real unseen place seen in the spirit.  The ears hear, the heart takes faith and the mind builds upon its truth, which is both a gift of love and a renewing of the mind as it transforms a person by discovering how things really work in the unseen.

Robin Williams depicts a doctor in love with his wife who ends up in a fatal car accident in "What Dreams May Come." The movie pictures his life after death in heaven, which is a picture of his ruling loves.   This is a Swedenbourgian view of heaven, where it is an expression of someone's mind.  This  is an interesting concept, giving further weight to the necessity of the discipleship of the mind.

Intuition and the Unseen Realm

In Dr. James Houston's book (1989) "The Transforming Friendship" there are number of insights linking one's spirituality and psychology with daily life. First is the importance of intuition expressed here,  "Our materialistic and rationalistic society is afraid of intuition, because it awakens us out of the sleep of a false world with shallow values.  The devil is afraid of it, because it activates an awareness of the spiritual, inward life" (p. 132). Second, the idea that prayer links the events and people of one's days to what is opening or closing in the unseen realm, provides a metaphysical sense of existence in relationship to God, self and others. For example, the mere greeting, "hello," carries with it an etymology that is quite breath-taking.  It is from the Old English, "to hallow,"  which means to make great, and it begins the Lord's Prayer where we pray, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name..."  When we greet a person with awareness of the full meaning of this word, we are proclaiming that the image of God in him or her would shine forth.   Third, the function of one's dreams in refurbishing emotional processes, connects one with realities in both the seen and unseen realms. The sense and intuition needed to live in both these realms is within our human capability, but prevalent in individuals more gifted in this area.  This is the world where dreams can speak healing or meaning into our lives, and one's vision can become clearer after it has been veiled.  Often people from Middle Eastern cultures understand and give more significance to their dreams than in the Christian or secular West.  This left-right brain split between science and religion has us tied in knots, except for a fringe of New Age mystics, spiritists, and charismatic Christians. Post-modernism has been the severe remedy for this, but has thrown the baby of structure and coherence out with the bath water of emotional and visionary stultification.

When the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is referenced to the insights above, the splits between thinking and feeling, sensing and intuiting, judging and perceiving and introversion and extroversion, illustrate how the mind can be blocked from a full spectrum of possibilities.  If one looks at psychology or the mind and soul from an integrated perspective (, the first split, thinking and feeling, can be integrated by helping a person see that when bad things happen to a person, it is not necessarily a personal attack, even though it may feel that way.  The ability to separate thinking in general to feeling specifically is a necessary ingredient for intellectual and emotional well-being and development.  In other words, can the structure of your think tank contain the emotional pressure in the tank? The sensing and intuiting continuum is particularly left-brained. Sensing functions concretely in present reality, finding practical solutions such as what you will make for dinner on a given night, whereas intuiting thinks in generalities and theories such as an idea for solving world hunger. The intuitive area is emotional and abstract in its ordered complexity, and awakens a person to the realm of the unheard, unspoken and unseen.  Some may call it energy, spirituality or enlightenment.  This is difficult to integrate in a secular, empirical society, as explained above, so it often gets repressed as children grow older, and people revisit this area of their minds in fantasy escape in one form or another.

For now I must get some rest, for dreams may come as my sleep architecture has gotten more robust in the last year.  Take heed to ask for dreams.  Sleep tight!