Sunday, April 30, 2006

This Little Light Of Mine...

If your leaders tell you, "Look, the kingdom is in heaven," then the birds of heaven will precede you.
If they say to you, "It's in the sea," then the fish will precede you.
But the kingdom is inside you, and it is outside you.
When you know yourself, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living father.
Gospel of Thomas 3
There is light within a person of light and it shines on the whole world.
If it does not shine it is dark.
Gospel of Thomas 24

I remember as a child attending a lot of "Vacation Bible Schools" during the summer in my area of rural Michigan. "This little light of mine..." I remember singing. I think the Gospel of Thomas, other Gnostic works, and Quakerism (which I must admit I know much less about) have all caused me to think about this simple little song in new ways.

I think at the time I thought, in my child's mind, of the "light" in the song as God's light, or Jesus' light. However, the lyrics say the light is "mine." Sometimes we "seekers" spend an awful lot of time looking for God, Heaven, the Spirit, whatever, in many places, overlooking the obvious. God, or a "divine spark" of God lies within us. Our challenge, and it is a great one, is to let go of the arrogance or insecurities, the clinging to things worldly, and, sometimes, the thinking and intellectualizing, that keep us from that spark. We build up barriers which prevent us from seeing the kingdom of God that is within us.

Perhaps we don't even have to look to the ancient writings outside the Bible to find this idea. Examine Luke 17: 20-21. This passage has a statement from Jesus that is very much like that found in the Gospel of Thomas 113. Jesus instructs his followers not to look here and there for the Kingdom. "... the kingdom of God," He says, "is among you." But, next to the word "among" is a footnote in most English language Bibles, and that note indicates that the word "among" in Greek could be translated as "within." That is exactly how the verse is translated in the Bible used in the Eastern church. "The kingdom of God is within you."

To me, that is a powerful, very powerful, verse. Think of the hope that verse provides. We have to look no further than the nearest mirror to find God and God's Kingdom. No doubt, it is challenging to see that as we get caught up in the superficial and temporary, forgetting the substantive and lasting. But there is still great hope if we take up that challenge.

Another challenge, and perhaps a much greater one comes in learning to recognize, and learning to live based on that recognition, that the kingdom of God is "within" others as well. How much different I would treat my colleagues at work, my acquaintances in life, indeed the next person I meet on the street if I look at them and see God in their eyes. This, I believe is one of God's great calls to us, and I will be looking into the meaning of this in future posts.

Want to read the Gospel of Thomas for yourself? Look here

Other early Christian writings are available here


Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Da Vinci Code and the Gospel of Judas

Something interesting is happening in our culture regarding thinking about Christianity, and The Da Vinci Code and the recently published Gospel of Judas are both signs of this, as well as forces that are driving this cultural event.

The Da Vinci code is such a poor book, in many respects, that some reflection is necessary to understand why it has sold approximately 46 million copies to date. The characters are thin, the plot heavy handed at times, and, despite Brown's protestations to the contrary, his "facts" are routinely not facts at all. It's an entertaining enough read, I suppose, but 46 million copies?

I suppose part of the interest is due to the American love of conspiracy theories. The JFK assassination is the most prominent example of this in our society, but conspiracy theories abound with virtually every major event in our society.

I don't think that's all, however. It has become so common for people in the US now to call themselves "seekers" or "spiritual but not religious." While I share the suspicions that some have about such declarations, in many cases they are heartfelt and meaningful. Many are seeking. The interest in The Da Vinci Code may be partly driven by this. "What if what we've been told is all wrong? What if the truth has been hidden from us? Will some new truth set us free?"

Well, seekers won't find the truth in Brown's book, but this may be an opportunity to get people to look for deeper answers and not simply to accept received wisdom. By asking questions about "The Church," they may well ask questions, and find answers, about their own faith. Time will tell.

The Gospel of Judas has a similar appeal, I think. Many at my church were talking expectantly about the prospects of watching the National Geographic program on the book, its discovery and restoration, and its contents. Again, I think people are asking the same sorts of questions as a result of this work as they are regarding The Da Vinci Code.

I suspect that works like the Gospel of Judas (, the (largely) Gnostic works found at Nag Hammadi, and perhaps other non-canonical works and perspectives will be an important part of the reflections on this blog. Time will tell. Until then, I hope I and many others will challenge ourselves to examine the meaning of our faith and its application of the world due to the publication of works like these. Even a mediocre to poor work like Brown's can lead to personal growth.


A Journey Begins...

... and it is an experiment.

I hope to use this blog for reflections of life, political issues, and religion. These are issues that, for me, are intertwined.

In case you're wondering, I don't fit into any neat category. I don't like partisan politics, prefering thoughtful analysis, reflection, and positive action. If this experiement works, perhaps some people will run across the site and find my thoughts useful. If not, perhaps I will find the process of putting my thoughts into words useful. If not, then I'll end the experiment.

So, this journey has begun, and, like any important journey (and I write this without pretention) you just never know where it will end up.