Monday, December 19, 2016


We are fast approaching Christmas but we're still in the season of Advent which ends on Christmas Eve.

The season of Advent, in the Church year, is a four-week period of spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus. It's a time when Christians also look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus.

Now, I don’t interpret the Bible literally for the most part. For me, the events in the life of Jesus depict and represent various stages in our potential spiritual growth. Thus, doctrines such as the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Second Coming of Jesus have for me a deeper, more spiritual meaning and importance than a literal reading might otherwise afford. We can be resurrected at any time into newness of life, with our minds and bodies being restored in any number of ways. We can ascend to greater heights of understanding and achievement. As for the Second Coming, it can be right upon us now. It is not a matter of whether Jesus will again appear in the flesh.

In all my years of regularly attending Baptist and Anglican churches I rarely, if ever, heard a sermon on the parable of the sheep and the goats. I think the reason why preachers rarely speak on the topic of that parable is simple--its message doesn't sit at all well with the ‘believe and be saved’ evangelical interpretation of Christianity.

In the parable of the sheep and the goat, in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus talks about the Day of Judgment. Now, once again, I do not actually think there will be a literal day of judgment when some people will go to their supposed reward in heaven while others will be sent to hell for everlasting punishment. You can believe that if you wish but that is not how I see it. The Day of Judgment occurs every day, and every minute of each day, when we get the result in our lives and in our world of our thoughts, words and deeds.

According to the parable of the sheep and goats, everyone we meet, everyone we serve, is in the image of Jesus, a personification of the divine. The Anonymous Christ, as he or she is known, comes to us in so many ways, and we fail to recognize that Jesus’ incarnation continues all the time, in us and in other people. In the parable, Jesus talks about the Day of Judgment:

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’

Notice how the separation of sheep and goats is not on the basis of what people believe or don’t believe. No, the separation takes place on the basis of what people do or don’t do with their lives. The sheep are the ones who feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, invite in the stranger, clothe those in need of clothes, look after the sick, and visit those in prison. The goats are the ones who do none of those things.

The message of this parable seems lost on conservative Christians. They are so damn good at judging others on the basis of what they believe or don’t believe yet they fail to realize that the Bible says they will be judged on how well they have looked after their fellow humans---as respects the provision of such things as food, water and clothes, and attending to the needs of the homeless, the sick, and those in prison.

Many Buddhists I know, even many atheists and other secularists, live lives that are so much more nobly and deeply and closely molded after that of Jesus than those fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. I repeat, many people, who would not identify as Christians, are real followers of the way of Jesus. There is a hymn written by Marguerite Pollard which contains this verse:

And there are some who love him well,
yet know not it is he they love;
he tends the holy fire within
and draws them to the heights above.

Of course, many, if not most, of the people who Jesus declares to be ‘sheep’—true followers of the way of Jesus—would not want to be called Christians. They have given up on Christianity. Well, they have given up on Churchianity. I don’t blame them. Far too many of the Christian churches have so grossly distorted the teachings of Jesus, and far too many so-called Christians are so damn unappealing, that the ‘sheep’ want nothing to do with Jesus. That is sad, because Jesus was a revolutionary.

The separation of sheep and goats takes no account of race, religion or ethnicity. It takes no account of what people believe or don’t believe. The separation is solely on the basis of what people do and don’t do with their lives. Deeds, not creeds.

Advent is all about the coming of the kingdom. Jesus envisioned a beloved community of all humanity living in peace with one another. The good news of the Gospel is that you don’t have to be a card-carrying Christian to seek, work for and hasten the coming of that kingdom.

Have a wonderful Christmas, all of you.

Image opposite. Detail of a stained glass window depicting the parable of the sheep and the goats. Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Gunthorpe, Norfolk, United Kingdom.


Friday, December 2, 2016


Mindfulness and the kingdom of God? Really? Well, yes. Let me explain.

The kingdom of God is a Biblical concept, in particular, a New Testament one. The phrase, the ‘kingdom of God’, does not appear as such in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) -- the Jews were, and still are, expecting a different kind of kingdom -- but you will find the phrase in many, many places throughout the New Testament.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its article on the kingdom of God, explains that the kingdom of God means not so much a goal to be attained or a place – although those meanings are by no means excluded – it is rather a ‘tone of mind’ and an ‘influence which must permeate [our] minds’ if we would be one with the Divine Life and attain to its ideals. The kingdom of God refers to the rule or reign – the sovereignty – of God in our hearts and minds. The kingdom of God is a past, present and future reality all at the same time. It’s a very powerful concept, full of meaning and beauty and wonder.

The Bible says that the kingdom of God is within [or among] us (Lk 17:21). Who or what is God? Well, God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and God is Spirit (Jn 4:24)  and that Spirit is LOVE. Another way of understanding Spirit is as pure Be-ing. So, if you think that God is a giant man 'up there' or 'out there', some supra-personal Being with a face, body, arms and legs and a penis – sorry to be crude – then you are horribly mistaken. The concept of a personal God has misled and confused many, yet the concept is valid if properly understood. First, each person's understanding of the Divine is personal. Secondly, the heart of Christianity is personality in the sense that our personality is to be moulded by the Divine. Thirdly, it is a key assertion of Christianity that God can be known as a person--as a loving Father or Mother. ‘Anyone who has seen me [Jesus] has seen the Father’ (Jn 14:9). So, who or what is God? As mentioned, God is love and Spirit. In other words, God is reality, truth, life and love in the most absolute, infinite and eternal sense. God is pure Be-ing, and we have our be-ing-ness in God. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). Jesus gave the world an entirely new conception of the Divine, and for Christians Jesus was and ever remains the supreme revelation we have of God as love.

The kingdom of God – also referred to in Matthew’s Gospel as the ‘kingdom of heaven’ – is the realm of divine ideas, producing their expression in us and others as the fulfilment of the nature of the Divine. The kingdom is a ‘heavenly’ one – that is, one of ideas, ideals, values and things not-of-this-world. The kingdom is an ideal state of society, an ideal way of being and living – our highest good. In their classic text The Mission and Message of Jesus (New York: E P Dutton and Co, 1938) by H D A MajorT W Manson and C J Wrightall of whom were eminent scholars and theologians, H D A Major writes in Book I, on pages 36-37:

‘For Jesus the Kingdom was not objective, but subjective. Its sphere was in the minds and hearts and souls of men. Where God reigns in a human personality, there the Kingdom of God has come on earth, and it is for this kind of advance of the Kingdom that Jesus taught His disciples to pray.’

Now, if you have trouble with the word ‘God’, then substitute for it words such as life, truth and love – in fact, anything representing the highest good. And if you have a problem with the word ‘kingdom’, then substitute for it words such as ‘state of mind’, ‘presence’ and ‘positive influence and power’. It’s not the word or phrase that matters but rather the reality behind the word or phrase. Never forget that.

The Reformed Church minister Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured right], in his book The Tough-Minded Optimist (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1961), on page 66 of the Fireside edition, writes:

‘… The Kingdom of God is a powerful recreative force deep down in your personality waiting to be summoned forth. When you do summon it and put it to work in your life you will live with so much power that nothing can really upset you again, at least not to the point of defeating you.’

Dr Peale often wrote and spoke about the kingdom of God. And why not? After all, the subject was the very heart of Jesus’ teachings. Peale would often say, ‘All of God’s values of strength, peace, health, and happiness are built into you. All of the riches of God's great Kingdom are potentially resident in your mind. Let them operate freely. Release them into abundance.’ In his book The Power of Positive Thinking (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952), on page 62, Peale wrote in reference to the kingdom of God that we have ‘within our minds and personalities all the potential powers and ability we need for constructive living’. Got the idea?

Yes, Jesus’ parables were all about the kingdom of God. Take, for example, this one. ‘First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens’ (Mk 4:28). The kingdom of God is like that, said Jesus. Then there’s this parable. ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches’ (Mt 13: 31-32). Now, that is the kingdom of God in action and expression. The kingdom starts with an idea and a presence – the Presence – and it grows and grows.

Mindfulness is a lot like the kingdom of God. It is a dynamic presence – a watchful, mindful presence and choiceless (that is, nonjudgmental) awareness of the content, both internal and external, of the action of the present moment, from one such moment to the next. Mindfulness is in this world, but not of this world. Mindfulness affords insight and self-knowledge. It is a state of power and oneness with the flow of life within you and outside of you. It is a state of pure be-ing-ness. Mindfulness can be secular or religious, but if it is divorced from the ideals to which I have referred -- especially the ideals of love and compassion for others, indeed for all living things -- it is an abomination. It is something to be shunned. Mindfulness must be more than a mere system or technique (ugh) of mental cultivation. True mindfulness embraces all things and recognises the fundamental unity of all life. True mindfulness empowers a person to be a better human being. Well, it can be that way.

A mustard tree

Mindfulness is not inherently Christian, but neither is the kingdom of God. Did you hear that? Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian, and he taught the idea of the kingdom of God to Jews and to some who were not Jews. None of those to whom he spoke were Christians as there was no Christian Church then. However, you don’t need to be a Jew, or belong to any religion for that matter, to experience the reality of what the Bible refers to as the kingdom of God. You don’t even need to believe in God as such except in the sense of standing on the side of love, which is God. ‘Those who do not love, do not know God, because God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8). It follows that those who love know God, even if they are not explicitly aware of it. So, those who have love in their hearts experience the blessings of the kingdom. Wow, how’s that for heresyBut it’s true. My authority for saying that is the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Bible. If you are seeking love, life, truth, peace, health and happiness, then the kingdom of God is for you – and is yours, right now!

I am firmly of the view that what I have said above is one hundred percent Biblical, but I suspect that it is still more than enough to give Christian fundamentalists apoplexy. Never mind. I don’t write for them. I don’t truck with them and they don’t truck with me. I have been a fierce and tireless opponent of religious bigotry and narrow-mindedness all my life, and I am not about to stop now. Too many so-called Christians preach a ‘gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’ – their commonly used expression – which, with its butcher-shop theology, is about as far removed from the ‘gospel of God’ (cf Mt 1:14) proclaimed by Jesus as you can get. They have a religion about Jesus as opposed to the religion of Jesus. The latter is the religion Jesus taught and by which he lived and died. That is the true Christianity.

The essence of the 'gospel of God' -- the real good news of the kingdom -- preached by Jesus at the very beginning, and right throughout the entire period, of his public ministry is encapsulated in this verse from the New Testament: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel.’ (Mk 1:15). The nature and substance of God is love. Where God rules in peoples' hearts and lives, love rules. That means there needs to be an inward change of mind, affections, convictions and commitments -- a complete turnaround in one's life (repentance, to use a Biblical word). And what of 'faith' -- faith in God? Put simply, faith is the living and lived response of a person to the revelation of God as love in the person of Jesus. It is not something intellectual. It is something lived out in one's daily life. 'Do this and you will live' (Lk 10:28).

When you come to experience the fullness of life in a truly selfless, self-sacrificing way – living deeply and mindfully, and loving and growing spiritually more and more with each passing day – you are then living in the kingdom of God. In the words of theologian H D A Major, the kingdom is 'the summum bonum [that is, the highest good or ultimate goal] of the individual' (The Mission and Message of Jesus, Book I, page 37).

The kingdom of God is a way of being and living – a state and tone of mind. So is mindfulness. Both are in the world but not of the world. Both can be yours – right now!