Two Might Be Better Than One

by John K. Stoner (June 23, 2017)

Today I would just like to intrigue you with the idea of finding a partner to walk with you in this journey of awareness and active living.

The awareness I speak of is awareness of being part of something greater and good, some sense of awe before the grandness of the  created world and human relationships. 

The active living is creative engagement to address the ominous signs of decay and failure which mark our world today.

I suggest that another person who shares your caring, thinking, listening and acting could be a greater resource than you’d first suppose.

My friend and mentor in California, Dennis Rivers, is writing and experimenting with “teams of two” as a more democratic and inexpensive way of  mobilizing human resources for social change than most forms of “education” and “political action” which our society offers.  He asks, What if mortgaging your future to get an education, or joining a political party, are not actually the best ways to understand what is happening or to get involved in making something better happen?  

For today, let me just ask you to probe your memory for an experience or relationship with one other person that you found noticeably rewarding.  Have you ever discovered an insight or accomplished a task with the help of a partner?  Is there anything there which you are willing to share with other readers through the comment function below?

How Can We Become Aware?

by John K. Stoner  (June 22, 2017)

To summarize my blogs since June 6 on finding an alternative to the empire’s way of running (trying to run) the world with violent, dominating power, several points:
1.  Prior to my blogs, Berry’b blogs have been diagnosing and disclosing the futility and fraudulence of the Empire’s narrative of world events.

2.  I’ve said that there is another voice to be heard and another way to be taken—starting with some learning from Lisa Miller’s book THE SPIRITUAL CHILD:  The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving.  The wars and environmental destruction and mindless capitalism/greedy wealth we are looking at in todays world is not “lifelong thriving,” am I right?

3.  As people, from childhood right up until where we each are today, we have an innate capacity to receive experiences of the beauty, goodness, and life-giving possibilities of a planet and universe. 

4.  Recognized, remembered, and appropriated for motivation and guidance, these experiences can be the foundation of human actions and responses to life which create alternatives to war, greed and environmental destruction. 

What I have started to probe, and invite your comments and input as I continue this exploration, is “How can we become aware of this neglected innate capacity for contact with the universe’s mystery of life and love?”

Lisa Miller’s book recounts the findings of science in the past 15+ years on our capacity for hearing this other voice; religion is another human project which has paid attention to this listening for millennia.  Spirituality is Miller’s word for naming this inborn capacity and proclivity.  Science, religion, spirituality—I invite you to walk with me in this creative exploration.  Use the comment function at the end of the blog to send your thoughts and experiences.  Talk to a friend about IF NOT EMPIRE, WHAT?, on the Bible’s exploration of an alternative to empire, and about our continuation of that journey on these blogs.  

Tomorrow, thoughts on the value of finding a partner, one serious, fun, interested fellow-traveler to make a team of two in this creative process.

All Is Well

by John K. Stoner (June 21, 2017)

Over thirty years ago I made an eight day silent retreat at the Jesuit Center at Wernersville, Pa.  This was the first time I had done an extended retreat like this.

It was October, and I spoke to no one for those days except my spiritual director, Father Frank Miles, in a once-a-day hour long conversation.  It was October, the weather was beautiful, and I spent most of my time outdoors on the 300 acre grounds.  

One day I found a quiet small field a long walk from the retreat center.  I sat in the grass, by trees in a mixture of sunshine and shade.  The air was clear, calm and quiet.  I felt at peace.  My spirit was relaxed and my thoughts were calm. 

I was quietly sensing my surroundings—the touch of the grass, the feel of the earth under me, the slow drift of white clouds in the sky, and the green of the trees around me.  Then I notices a small whitish yellow butterly flitting through the air.

It’s freedom, delicacy and beauty impressed me.  It flew here and there.  My arms were clasped around my knees as I sat.  And then the butterfly flew to me and landed on my arm.  There I looked at it closely, amazed that it had chosen to make a friend of me. 

It was a moment of ecstasy.  I felt at one with the little butterly and all that was around me.  I felt safe in the womb of the universe.  I felt the pulse of Life that evolved over billions of years to produce all that I saw, and myself.  I sensed that I existed in a good world that moved more by the energy of love than any other energy.  

I was aware of mystery, and goodness, and possibility.  I knew that I could choose love as my way of living.  Today I still find it possible to choose to return to those sensibilities and to act on those possibilities.  

Experience of a Vital World

by John K. Stoner  (June 20, 2017)

Still hoping to hear of reader’s experiences of transcendence, today I will share one reported by a young person.  In THE SPIRITUAL CHILD, Lisa Miller gives the account of a high school senior girl, Morgan, on a grueling hike with others up a glacial mountain.  Morgan writes:

I saw the water of the light on the glacier and the brightness and the beauty—it was like I could feel the beauty and I was part of it—and its really hard to describe, but it was like a real feeling.  It felt sacred.  And ever since then, when I’m stressed out or feeling really down in my mind I go bak to the mountain  I can take myself back to the mountain and that feeling is always there for me (p. 40). 

Miller says Morgan’s experience was “a transcendent experience to which she returns and which informs her view of a vital world.”

The reader will recognize that an “empire” view of the world does not see the world as living,or vital, but a commodity and resource for exploitation. 

Who Has Been Touched by Goodness and Love?

by John K. Stoner (June 19, 2017)

The comment which was published in the last blog (Friday) ended this way:

“And so, to your question, ‘Do humans have a capacity for experience of transcendence, a spiritual capacity to touch goodness and love and to act on it?’—Yes, we have the capacity for the experience.  The capacity to act on it—probably—but I‘m still groping in the dark to find my way to that point.”

The human race as a whole is groping to find its way to that point of acting on its better nature and capacities.

That groping is our corporate search for an alternative to empire—an alternative to this disastrous effort to run the world by endless war, using homicidal violence to make things better.  All of these nuclear bombs, two of them dropped on civilian cities by the USA killing tens of thousands of people , and all of this individual terrorism, killing people by two and tens—is suppressing our human capacity for doing better.

And is it making things better?  Who could think so?  Only the deluded rich, who profit from war.

What I would like to hear from readers is more testimony to personal experience of goodness and love—the awareness that better is possible, and could be chosen as the way.

Please use the comment space below to tell a bit of your story, short or long.

To Feel the Power of the Universe

by John K. Stoner (June 16, 2017)

Here is a response to my invitation on Tuesday for your comments on your experiences of transcendence and spiritual energy.  My thanks to this woman who looked beyond my cajoling (and whining?) to send a comment! 

There are two key things that have led me to the ability to feel the power of the universe at will:

Key number One:  A Choice
As mother says,   I finally "got it" the moment I realized that I get to choose my emotions.

  The vast majority of people never realize this. (My arrival at that realization is a story in and of itself.)   Choosing every morning to say "Good morning!" in a bright and chipper voice —to myself, to my other half, to everyone I contact all day long makes my life so much more enjoyable and full of energy than the life "before the choice".  People who knew me 15 years ago would never believe my nickname now is "Sunshine". 

Key number Two:  An Awareness
From my husband:  "When you feel blue, find something to be thankful for."   

Just a second of stopping to think about all I have to be thankful for makes my heart swell with the knowledge and wonder that there is a power who wants us to do well and live differently.

       The epitome of the awe I often feel was when Mom and Dad were here for a visit.  I started to say grace before dinner: "Papa God"  (I'm 1/2 Jewish you know 😉 ) and could go no further. My heart and soul were filled with love, promise, energy, a solidness that cannot be explained.    There was nothing special about it except appreciating my family and that I still have active, independent parents as they approach 80.

     The problem, that I face — and the trouble with being human — is that while some of us may arrive at this point of awareness, there are two challenges:

First:   being in the habit of drawing on it when things are tough. 
      I recently had a few really bad days with work and my husband’s reaction to the chemo.  I got sidetracked and forgot to choose my emotions.  I told several people "superbitch" had entered the building and I couldn't figure out why.  The answer, when I paused long enough to let it come to me?  I had stopped making my choice to start every day with "Good Morning!"  I had gotten sidetracked.

Second:   having the will to do all that the feelings call us to is a different matter.  

       Do I have the will to convince my partner we should give away our wealth to help the homeless?  Not yet.  Do I know that there are troubled teens who need a home and parent figure to help them succeed in life? Yes.  Am I ready to trade my comfortable world - and probably lose my partner in the process - to take on that challenge.  No.

And so, To your question do "humans have a capacity for experience of transcendence, a spiritual capacity to touch goodness and love and to act on it". Yes we have the capacity for the experience.  The capacity to act on it - probably - but I'm still groping in the dark to find my way to that point.

I thank this reader for her candor, and courage in sharing.  She gives us much to ponder.  She is in touch with a resource within herself which she knows she could ignore and suppress, because she does that sometimes.  But sometimes she does not!

Seeking Your Comments, Any Signs of Life...

by John K. Stoner (June 13, 2017)

In the June 6 blog I introduced the new series I’m starting on our human capacity for a better-than-empire way of running the world. 

In the June 9 blog I asked to you consult your memory and your heart for your own experience, anytime in your life, of that capacity for spiritual awareness and energy.  I asked you to bring that experience to my next blog entry—so here we are!  Let’s think about it. 

Did you find anything in your experience like what I tried to describe last Friday?  Anything like Lisa Miller develops in THE SPIRITUAL CHILD, from which I drew on June 6?  (Take a moment to review those two blogs.)

Last Tuesday I asked, What if there is a major human capacity which is being denied, ignored, and disastrously underused to address the problems we face?  I said I believe that there is, and now I am wondering if you are helping me to prove my point!  Ha!  Indeed, have you located anything in your own life like what I asked you to look for?  Have you even looked for it?  Are you denying this capacity?  Ignoring it?  Most certainly underusing it?

Tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.  Indeed, that is possible.  Would you take a moment to write your frustration…or just to tell me you don’t know and don’t care—I’m used to ignorance and apathy.  Am I trying to insult you, you ask, or just doing it without trying?  To be honest, I am trying to get a dialogue going.  We’ve made a change on this blog, now we have the capacity as well as the desire to post your comments.  So try it out—use the new comment function at the end of this post.  

Let’s talk about whether we think that humans have a capacity for experience of transcendence, a spiritual capacity to touch goodness and love and to act on it.  Let’s talk about whether you think that you have that capacity yourself— whether you have ever touched or been touched by mystery or love. 

Maybe it’s the voice of half the population I’m looking for here—the female half which is more in touch with heart and less fixated on head….

A Spiritual Experience?

by John K. Stoner (June 9, 2017)

What was the best moment ever of your life?  

Can you think of a time, a kind of ecstatic moment or peak experience, however short, when you felt any or all of the following: most fully human, most secure, hopeful, totally unafraid, filled with well-being and joy, totally connected to another person or all things, amazed at something or everything,  feeling the universe as a generous habitat for life, in touch with the transcendent,  or yourself in a home of peace? 

Maybe you have had more than one such moment of spiritual awareness.  

Reflect on that.  Was it perhaps an awareness of being in touch with, or touched by, something transcendent, a scene in nature or experience of friendship, more than you can by any means understand or describe, but which you felt to be a loving and guiding energy of goodness with great potential to shape your life and impact humanity?  A personal capacity for life that is very different from the empire’s ways of domination and violence?

I know that I’m asking you for a degree of introspection that you may not do very often!  I’m asking you to move from your head to your heart.  Maybe it’s OK to do that once in a while, right?  Who ever tries to sort out the best moment of their life?  But now, please read all of the above again. 

Do you believe that experience was real and genuine? What have you done with it?  May I ask you to bring that experience back to this blog next time, for further reflection.  

Or better, would you use the comment function on the right margin of this page to send me a brief description of your experience, if you are willing to have it published (over your name or anonymously as you prefer) in my next blog.

Is Empire the Only Way?

 by John K. Stoner (June 6, 2017)

We are in big trouble, as a species, and a living planet.

Are the assumptions of nation states and empires the only way to run the world?  I think not. 

What if there is major human capacity which is being denied, ignored and disastrously underused to address the problems we face?  I believe that there is. 

And I am far from alone in that belief.  I will use this blog for the next dozen or more weeks to describe and explore this unsung human capacity.  I invite you to join me in this exploration.  
I will be drawing substantially from Lisa Miller’s book THE SPIRITUAL CHILD:  The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving (Picador, 2015).  This is a book about children, to be sure, and I cannot think of a single thing more important to the future of the planet than how we raise our children.  But the book, and my blogs, will have as much to say about adults as children.

Lisa Miller defines spirituality as “an inner sense of living relationship to a higher power (God, nature, spirit, universe, the creator, or whatever your word is for the ultimate loving, guiding life-force)”  (p. 6,7).  

She then comments on the relationship between spirituality and religion:   “So, while organized religions can clearly play a role in spiritual development, the primary engine that drives natural spirituality is innate, biological, and developmental: first an inborn faculty, then a developmental impetus to make it our own, and the resulting deep personal relationship with the transcendent through nature, God, or the universal force.”  Notice she does not equate the transcendent with, or limit it to, any one of nature, God or the universal force.  But notice most of all her phrase “an inborn faculty.” 

That would be the human capacity which I suggested at the outset is being denied, ignored, and disastrously underused.  More on that the next time.

Note: Most of the readers of this today, I assume, have been reading my colleague Berry Friesen’s blogs.  He has been giving extraordinarily valuable commentary on current events and the behavior of the American empire in the world.  I will say less about that directly, but will be addressing how to find and embody the kind of alternative to empire which our book IF NOT EMPIRE, WHAT? implies.  

Our Sin Problem

(Over the coming months, Berry will be writing less as medical procedures take priority; John in turn will be writing more.  To be informed of John's postings, follow @JohnKStoner on Twitter.

We mark this juncture by republishing a post from June 2015 that explains better than anything else we've written the connection between the biblical texts that animate us and the subject of empire that so frequently appears in our writing.)  

by John K. Stoner and Berry Friesen (republished June 2, 2017)

When people in the church talk about sin, they often add a highly theological meaning: our sins are an offense that separates us from God. This relational rupture is said to be the crucial reason we need a Savior. It is the core of what many churches refer to as “our sin problem.”

Since this understanding is so prominent in Christian theology, we would expect to find Jesus speaking of it often. But that is not what we find in the gos­pel accounts. Instead, Jesus describes God as sending rain on the just and the unjust, forgiving us as we forgive each other, standing on the front porch watching for our return from a long and fruitless journey and as eager to meet our needs as any human parent to feed her hungry child.

Yes, Jesus often engaged people who were estranged from God. Recall, for example, his encounters with people possessed by evil spirits. But always the estrangement was rooted in the human side of the relationship. Never did Jesus suggest God had a score to settle with us.

Some parts of the Bible can be interpreted to support the notion that our sins prompt God to turn away from us in disgust. Generally, such passages describe the real-life consequences of our sins, not God’s rejection of us as sinners.

What’s a Savior for?

If it is biblically incorrect to say God rejects us because of our sins, then why do we need a Savior?

Behind every First Testament call to “repent”—and there are many—is the assumption that the Israelites were able to repent (metanoeo in Greek), to change their minds, to make a different choice. Yet repentance must have been nearly unimaginable for them. They assumed the world worked by violence and greed. Everything in their experience confirmed this. Though the prophets called for repentance, it was beyond the people’s reach.

This is the sin problem the Apostle Paul writes about in Romans. God’s compassion and grace are on display all around us, but we are blinded by false gods and deceitful power structures that find great advantage in exploiting our fears and weaknesses.

These false gods and deceitful structures fix a false concept of reality into place. This is the “the power of sin” Paul wrote about (Romans 3:9), a power that renders us incapable of imagining an alternative to the world’s bleakness. So repentance, a new way of thinking, remains out of reach.

Broken stranglehold

Until, that is, we look at Jesus. In him, the “righteousness of God has been disclosed” (Rom. 3:21). He breaks the stranglehold of the imperial worldview, reignites our imagination and raises high a standard of compassion and justice that shines a light on all that is violent, tawdry and deceitful. Jesus overcomes evil with good.

Jesus did this by his life, death and resurrection. The memory, power and vision of his life are what enable our repentance today.

From Genesis to Revelation, we read of God opposing empires and structures of deceit and coercion. It is most obvious in the story of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt, but the same dynamic was at work in the movement launched by Jesus. Paul wrote of it in Colossians: “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them” (Col. 2:15). It is from their tyranny that Jesus saved us.

The neglected gospel

The gospel invites each of us as individuals—and our cultures collectively—to repentance and the new life Jesus has shown us. It is a life very different from the one the rulers and authorities tell us is the norm. This is the part of the gospel neglected by the church, which often views principalities and powers, kings and empires as better teachers and examples than Jesus of how to live this life and run the world.

This, then, is the meaning of salvation we must recover: Jesus has rescued us from false concepts of reality that hold us captive. Because we have seen the world set right with a new form of power in Jesus, we are able to recognize the pretense and deceit of the powers that bind us—whether those powers take the form of the mighty US-led empire, an economic ideology or a set of lifestyle expectations. And we are able to repent, turn and walk in newness of life.