Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Claiming the Role of Prophet/ Knowing the Mind of God

Today I am interested in the articles from England, from the BBC and in the Guardian, saying that Bishop Gene Robinson has claimed to know the mind of God regarding the actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both articles mention that Robinson told the interviewer that he had received death threats.

Robinson claims to know that God is "very disappointed" in the leader of the Anglican Communion. Now, many people are disappointed with the ABC's leadership. And the Anglican Communion is big on trying to discern the mind of the communion and through this, the mind of Christ. Here we have someone who already knows the mind of God, or claims to. Unfortunately, Robinson does not share with us how he knows the mind of God.

Both the BBC article and the Guardian say that Robinson claims that God is very disappointed that the Archbishop has not confronted the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Rev. Peter Akinola, for his outspoken opposition to homosexuality.

Of course it is the role of prophets is to confront the leadership when they have strayed from God's word. The problem we have here is that we have two prophets, each confronting the leadership, but with opposing messages. One claims the role of prophet and claims God wants full equality between heterosexual and homosexual behavior. The other claims that homosexual activity is abhorrent to God.

How can we judge the legitimacy of these opposing prophetic claims? Christian tradition requires:
a review of Holy Scripture to look for conformity with God's Word written,
a testing of the fruits for no good tree will bear bad fruit, and
the agreement of the leadership.
This was shown in Acts when the apostles Peter and Paul were claiming that there were no longer forbidden foods.

When we look at the case of Archbishop Akinola, we find a clear conformity with scripture, an abundance of fruit and the agreement of the major Christian denominations. Homosexual activity is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The Anglican Church in Nigeria is growing with followers deeply committed to the Christian faith. And the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern and Russian and Greek Orthodox churches all agree with Akinola's traditional understanding.

When we look at the case of Bishop Robinson, we see a denial of the clear words of scripture, withering fruit, and disagreement from the major Christian denominations. Homosexual activity is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The Episcopal Church in New Hampshire is has been declining in both active baptized members (2003: 15,627 vs. 2006: 14,347) and Average Sunday attendance (2003: 4,858 vs. 2006: 4,553). (See the Episcopal statistics tables here.)
And the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern and Russian and Greek Orthodox churches all disagree with Robinson's prophetic vision.

But does that mean Archbishop Akinola knows the mind of God and Bishop Robinson is falsely claiming to know the mind of God? Part of Robinson's argument is that violence against homosexuals is a result of the articulation of the Biblical injunctions against homosexual behavior. (Here we can see the strategic importance of Robinson's repeated assertions that he has received death threats.) Thus, Robinson claims, God wants Christian leaders to cease from articulating these Biblical injunctions to help insure the physical safety of homosexuals.

Is it possible that people with same sex attractions would be more likely to come to God and overcome their same sex attractions if the social stigma was removed? Certainly, in Robinson's case, the reduction in social stigma caused him to move in the opposite direction. As being a gay man in the United States became more acceptable, he chose to divorce his wife and assert himself as a sexually active gay man.

However, we also know that the sin that is not fully confessed to God is less likely to be removed by God. And it may be much more difficult to confront and confess one's sin if the social stigma against acknowledging that part of oneself could result in violence. Peter Ould has had two good recent posts in this regard: Day of Truth /Silence/ Golden Rule and Something Sensible from Gene Robinson. However, there is ample documentation of the Archbishop of Canterbury taking a stand against the stigmatization of same sex attractions. Gay activists may have extrapolated from the Archbishop's stand against abuse of those with same sex attractions to expect his advocacy for full equality between heterosexuality and homosexuality.

I do think we need to be sensitive to the fears of people with same sex attractions and denounce violence against those with same sex attractions. However, I would not be surprised if God was very disappointed in the Archbishop of Canterbury for his failure to confront Bishop Robinson on his advocacy of sexual immorality. And I am not claiming to know the mind of God on this matter.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Guns for Protection and "Adult Melancholy" Part 2

I was interested in the Stand Firm discussion about guns because of the relationship to Dream Work and the review I had just written of Jane Hamon's book on dreams for a charismatic readership. She devoted a lot of the text to the idea that the dreams about people may not actually be messages from God about those people. Rather, that the people in the dreams may represent parts of the dreamer. This is very similar to the way dreams are interpreted in the Jungian Christian tradition.

In the same way, I was thinking of the discussion about guns being divided between people who say the threat coming from the strangers, the thugs breaking into the house versus those who were concerned about guns being a problem to those inside the house. It would be "blinking at reality' to deny that home break-ins occur. They obviously do as a disturbing link on the thread demonstrates. However, more people may actually die from gun violence among the inhabitants of the house. And as I mentioned in my Part 1 of this yesterday, there is also a concern with guns being accessible to the suicidal.

Taking it back to dream work, a dream about a threatening stranger may be a message from God about a threatening stranger that will soon appear in one's life. But usually, it is not. Usually, as we work a dream, we find that the threatening stranger in the dream is a disowned part of oneself -- "the shadow figure". When God speaks in dreams, God often speaks in the language of visual symbols, using the symbols that resonate with us. Thus, surfacing the characteristics of the shadow figure and exploring it in a safe environment can help the dreamer to mature as God has directed. So the dream may actually have been a message from God, but a direction for personal growth and development rather than a warning about physical safety. God does send dreams of warning but also of admonishment, encouragement and direction.

This sort of work is particularly helpful to people who are having inner conflict. I began this two part post concerned about people who are suicidal. In fact, personal growth often feels like suicide because, metaphorically, our old self must die. In general, working with the associations with images in dreams helps people to understand metaphor. It is particularly important that people understand that the murders in dreams are often referring to parts of themselves that need to die to make room for maturation.

Jeremy Taylor tells a great story of an exchange between Robert Johnson and an audience member during the question and answer session after a talk. Johnson was asked "My dream is telling me to kill myself. Should I do it?" Johnson answered "Yes. By all means kill your self, BUT DO NOT HARM YOUR BODY."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Guns for Protection and "Adult Melancholy"

Over at Stand Firm they are talking about guns tonight. I do admire people who have learned to handle guns properly and care enough to protect their families. Greg Griffith talks about using guns for protection, but where I live, people seem to use guns to commit suicide and kill their own families.

At Stand Firm, Moot expressed discomfort with keeping a gun in the house and referred to “grown-up melancholy”. None of the other commenters picked up on it.
But at Stand Firm, I have been on threads where one regular commenter was talking about being suicidal. And on one thread, another commenter was still in mourning over the suicide of someone.

This spring there have been two suicides in my extended social group. My father’s cousin’s side of the family had a young man commit suicide. And my husband had a work colleague kill himself a week ago. And last June, my dermatologist and her two daughters were shot and killed by her husband, right before he shot himself. I don’t know of anyone having their house broken into.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jane Hamon's "Dreams and Visions" -- How the Charismatic Church Does Dreamwork

I have just finished reading "Dreams and Visions: Understanding Your Dreams and how God Can Use Then to Speak to You Today," by Jane Hamon. I was pleasantly surprised by the degree of alignment with the contemporary liberal/ mainline dreamwork tradition. I thought this was a good integration of the ideas of Morton Kelsey, John Sanford and Jeremy Taylor with an emphasis on the importance of conformity to Scripture.

As well as her emphasis on the Word of God in Holy Scripture, she differs from the liberal/ mainline in cautioning people about sharing their dreams. I think there is wisdom in this. I do lead dream groups and we do benefit from sharing the dreams in the group. However, this requires experienced leadership and I like to have co-leaders, so that two people are responsible for maintaining the safety of the group.

The benefits I see in group dream work are the building of community, the learning by experience about "projection", and the decoding of the symbolism. As Jeremy Taylor (a D. Min in the Unitarian Universalist Church) says, "The dreamer is uniquely blind to the meaning of his or her own dream." However, when the dream's meaning is suggested by others, the dreamer will have what Jeremy calls the "aha!" moment. As he puts it in his Basic Dream Work Tool Kit:
Only the dreamer can say with any certainty what meanings his or her dream may have. This certainty usually comes in the form of a wordless "aha!" of recognition, and is the only reliable touchstone of dream work.

Hamon makes what I perceive as the similar point, but ascribes the "aha!" to the work of God and the Holy Spirit:
Whatever symbols appear in a dream, they must be either interpreted by the Holy Spirit or analyzed in light of the dreamer's experience and not solely by an interpretation imposed by another individual. Never impose your interpretation of a symbol on another if the dreamer does not bear witness to it. God will give the dreamer assurance and peace when the proper representation if the symbol is found.(pg 150)

Hamon's emphasis on caution regarding sharing dreams with others may be based on the dynamics of prophetic, charismatic churches. Her words suggest that people in these charismatic churches may use their dreams to accuse others (and even challenge the leadership of the churches -- see pg. 170).
This is the area where people tend to make the most mistakes in responding to their dreams. While God does in fact sometimes give us dreams regarding others, it is imperative that we use extra caution in responding to such dreams. As we have seen, many times when you dream of of other people, you may not be receiving a revelation or message for them; instead you may be actually dreaming about a part of your self.(pg. 166)

As implied here, Hamon has developed in the book a Christian charismatic presentation of the idea that the characters in a dream represent the parts of ourselves. At the beginning of the book, she presented a dream about her concerns for her out of control child, that she explains was actually about a part of herself that was immature. She notes how a wrong interpretation would have been to fear for her child, believing the dream was a prophecy about him. Rather, God showed her the area of herself that needed development.

I liked Hamon's book very much because of her emphasis on the Bible and symbolism and especially because of her understanding of the potential for other people in one's dream to be aspects of oneself.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Christian Criticism Part 2

I ended the post yesterday:

So, I realized that the dream was telling me that my area of growth was to focus on my own fault rather than my original focus on the fault of the woman represented by Molly cat.

Hmmm, focus on my own fault rather than the fault of the other ... where have I heard that before?

Matthew 7:1-8 (New International Version)

Judging Others

1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

6"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

Ask, Seek, Knock

7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Well, that makes me wonder: Why is the "Golden Rule" the conclusion of this thought? I guess this idea of focusing on one's own fault and being careful not to judge makes sense if we reverse it. I would like others to be focusing on their own faults rather than mine.

Actually, it makes me very ashamed. As well as publicly criticizing "Molly Cat" (against the Matthew passage as I reviewed yesterday), and as well as focusing on the speck in my neighbor's eye (against Matthew 7:1-5), I also didn't present my criticism in a way that I would have wanted such criticism to be presented to me (against Matthew 7:12). I really should have carefully reflected on what was bothering me and the best way to explain it.

Now let's see what the other version of the speck in the brother's eye metaphor gives us:

Luke 6:37-45 (New International Version)

Judging Others
37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

39 He also told them this parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.

41 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

A Tree and Its Fruit

43 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Yes, it is all tied together again -- Not judging others, focusing on one's own faults, being able to forgive. With the hope that we may be good trees that bear good fruit.

I'm also thinking of the Lord's Prayer. The whole thing is a request to God except that there is one bit that refers to our own behavior -- "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive the trespasses of others."

(Digression regarding my cats trespassing on the table and my desk. They never learn, really. Over and over, it seems to have become a game for them. And lately I have been suspecting that it isn't really about the warmth at all. I have begun to suspect that I don't give my cats enough attention. And bad attention is better than no attention. It is very hard not to forgive them when I think it is just that they are trying to get me to pay attention to them. So I have decided that I am not going to be so harsh in enforcing the boundary with my cats. I will still enforce the boundary. But I am not going to be so harsh anymore.)

Well, based on my reflections on my dream that brought me to Matthew 18:15-17, I did write apology letters. And based on my further reflections, I did ask for forgiveness and to be restored to relationship. And I did suggest a way of atonement. So, I am pretty resolved that I have taken all the appropriate actions from my side.

Now I am thinking of another quote from Matthew, the one about trying to resolve one's differences with the person, before asking forgiveness from God.

Matthew 5:21-24 (New International Version)

21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b]will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,[c]' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.


1. Matthew 5:21 Exodus 20:13
2. Matthew 5:22 Some manuscripts brother without cause
3. Matthew 5:22 An Aramaic term of contempt

Well, I've attempted reconciliation in a variety of ways. And I am now in a position to give it to God.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Christian Criticism Part 1 (Revised)

I was recently confronted by my own lack of skill when I am upset by something someone is doing. I have the tendency to share my criticism with others instead of the person with whom I am actually upset. I want to learn to handle my criticism more appropriately.

In a recent incident, I first thought I was in the right because my criticism was valid. I realized my own fault by working my dream:

My Cat Molly is Dying and I Need to Find Her

I am standing at the top looking down. There is a presentation going on on the floor below. I am at the top of the escalator. The chairs are set up on the floor below for a presentation. TC is there.

I have punished Molly for getting up on the table. I threw her off firmly and spoke harshly to her. Now I am worried. She did not feel her usual weight. She has lost a lot of weight. She is sick and going to die soon. I need to find her and take care of her. I try to find a towel to wrap her in. My father offers a towel, but it is used. It is still damp. I don’t want it. I see some towels in a Spa Display. I take two out for me and the other woman with me to use. My father disapproves of my messing with the hotel’s Spa Display.

I go to find Molly. I go down the levels. At the far end is the grotto area. I think I see a cat up on the top of the rock wall at the back. I scale the rock wall and can see the top ledge area. There are two cats but they are young and of a darker fur than Molly. I want to get down. The other woman is still with me. We find that we can climb on the very tall Tiki statue built into the rock wall, and it will bend sideways to reach the ground. When we get off, it snaps back up into the rock wall again. We do this one at a time.

I work a dream by looking at the associations I make with the images in the dream. In this dream, punishing the cat harshly referred to my criticism. Ironically, my criticism was that the woman was being too harsh in her own criticism, using ridicule and contempt.

Cats often represent women in dreams and in this case it is particularly appropriate as my concern was with "catty" behavior. I have a problem with my cats getting up on the breakfast table by a sunny window and also on my desk when the computer is warm. I do put them off harshly, hoping to discourage this behavior. When I clip my cat Molly's claws or give her medicine, I first wrap her in a towel to keep her still. So, my dream is telling the story of me trying to stop the woman's catty behavior using the metaphor of how I treat my cats.

Dreams that have what seem to be significant scene shifts with unrelated plots are often actually telling the same story over and over with different metaphors. A three act dream is classic, telling the same story three times, with each succeeding version elaborating and developing the problem. As I worked this dream, I realized that my old friend TC, my father and the Tiki God were all images of the same person. I used to think of TC as "Top Cat" and he was my superior in a work situation. So the first two images were of a male superior, while the third was of a stone idol. I realized that I "idolize" someone who I view as a male superior.

I resisted acknowledging the idol worship aspect of the dream for a while, but when I confronted it, I then asked myself "why do I idolize this man?" I remembered it was because of the way he had handled a situation in the past. He had used the procedure in Matthew 18: 15-17:

15 "If your brother sins against you,[a] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

So, I realized that the dream was telling me that my area of growth was to focus on my own fault rather than my original focus on the fault of the woman represented by Molly cat.