Hope More Abundantly

Maxwell Dodd has kindly gifted his writings to us and this is a sample – where Christianity meets Buddhism.

I felt as a youth as long ago as the 1950s that what I was hearing on Sunday night in a fashionable Anglican church on the North Shore of Sydney was less than sensible.   I had little doubt that the God of the service was being very inadequately presented though I kept my questions to myself.    In 1989 after a very successful career in Sydney in the law where I was a litigation solicitor and the senior partner of a three office city and suburban practice with surprising gifts as a “rainmaker,” I went to the (Presbyterian) San Francisco Theological Seminary and met my own guide and encourager the Revd. Professor Warren Lee (with whom I exchange even now emails almost daily).   Warren’s advice was not to seek an Anglican ordination – he saw the institution to be far too conservative for one who had been so accustomed to high levels of accomplishment – but to wander as a “bodhisattva” – a term I understood with my Buddhist enquiries – and bring “hope” to a wider world.

Hope More Abundantly is a series of essays written over the last 15
months in Germany and Scotland. It reflects my concern that the
triumphs of Evangelical Christianity have done great harm to the
Church and to its message. I am sure that the widely trumpeted
interest in the apparent certainties of “Bible believing” creedal
positions is finally the road to a perdition of irrelevance.
As Paul observes in the final verse to the 12th chapter of his first
Epistle to the Christians in Corinth, there is a better way – agape –
“love” or “charity” or “compassion” or even “fellow-feeling” – in
short, the equal other. Difficult, yes, and calling for courage, yes,
but it is the Way – and all spiritual traditions agree on it. The Other.
Read on, and give and share and surrender yourself to the other –
and be deeply blessed.
Maxwell Dodd
St. Goar (Rh), Germany
Thursday 12 September 2013

A word to begin with….
We are blessed with endless potential to lead full and constructive
lives. So few of us do. It is the duty of the Christian to lead a life
worthy of his call; again, he or she fails signally to do so. Pursuing
that vision is the source of this work.
A few weeks short of my 70th birthday, I feel constrained to offer
some thoughts to the man or the woman in the pew of any age on
the wisdom that has led them to be sitting there.
I do not see Jesus in the conventional Evangelical Anglican way. I
am a child indeed of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney in far off
Australia, a diocese well-known in the Anglican Communion for
the rigorousness of its Evangelical opinions. I have to confess that
even as an early teenager with a vision of what I shall be calling in
this little work “the Eternal,” I was singularly uncomfortable with
what was being offered. Energetic presentations based on man’s
“sin” and his need of “salvation” and the substitutionary death of
Jesus left me quite cold. I was sure that we were of an accessible
Eternal of unimaginable immensity (in all necessary departments)
to which we were (perhaps unexpectedly) personally important but
that we had to seek forgiveness of these mysterious things called
“sins” astonished me. I saw the Eternal at night in the scope of
what lay above my head in those remarkable pin-points of light
that we called “the Universe” and in the utter acceptance that I
knew from an adored smooth-haired fox terrier bitch of impeccable
pedigree who shared so much of my life and who listened so
patiently to all my questions. She still wagged her tail and wanted
to share my bed and have me throw a tennis ball. For that vision of
simplicity in the order of the Creation I am deeply grateful. The
journey of the years since has been one of a long and at times
difficult confirmation of something of astonishing beauty and
clarity.
My awakening began in the southern winter of 1961 when I met the
remarkable Wednesday mid-week ministry of St. Stephen’s
Presbyterian Church in Macquarie Street in Sydney. The Revd.
Gordon Powell (and a string of major international clergy from
both the United Kingdom and the United States – I recall hearing
the famed Norman Vincent Peale) preached to an overflowing
congregation of those working in the local surrounding banking
and professional area of all that was positive and constructive. It
was a Christianity that sent us (nearly 2,000 people we were told)
back to the workplace revived and strengthened by the support of
an involved God in the minutiae of committed daily commercial life.
For nearly four years Wednesday by Wednesday I experienced a
view of Jesus which inspired the searcher to seek growth and
challenge with the utmost vigour. My eyes had been opened.
By 1963, I was 21 and nearly through the professional course of the
law conducted under the Legal Practitioners Act, 1898, (as
amended) of the State of New South Wales in the Commonwealth
of Australia. I was a capable examinee more than a good student
and I was to finish the course and be admitted as a solicitor at 22 –
even then very early, now impossible. I knew little of the law but I
had convinced one or two barristers of my good memory of
essential material and of my capacity for regurgitation. Such was to
be my sole formal tertiary education.
In 1963, too, I was becoming aware from what I was reading in The
Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney’s only broadsheet newspaper itself
owned by a prominent Anglican family) of the work of an Anglican
bishop in England, one John A.T. Robinson, who had written a
highly controversial book called Honest to God. When later in that
year I should have been studying for the then forthcoming Torts
and Crimes examinations of the Board in October, I was retiring to
my bedroom (accompanied by my fellow student) and instead of
reading of negligence or homicide or larceny and the procedures of
enquiry and enforcement, I was wrestling with the utterly new and
unexpected notions of “the Ground of our Being” and “the Beyond
in our Midst,” terms which were remarkable and slightly
frightening to me. I found the work difficult – I had no familiarity
with theological discourse – and the language at times virtually
impenetrable. I did however realise that there was a revolution
taking place abroad in the way highly intelligent people were
daring to look at the questions of God and meaning and especially
how the message of God and Jesus ought to find its way to the
consciousness of the churchman or churchwoman. I found this so
consoling and struggled on in the assurance that the light would
come. It did – my explorations were themselves the wisdom of the
Eternal.


Then in January and February 1964, Scots (Presbyterian) Church, 44
Margaret Street, Sydney, on the other side of the Sydney financial
district from St. Stephen’s, had a visiting preacher to whom my
debts of soul are substantial. I have never quite been able to
re-construct how it was that I first attended a service at which the
Rt. Revd. Jack Dalziel, of St. Columba’s Presbyterian Church,
Parkview, Johannesburg, South Africa, came to my attention but for
six or perhaps even seven consecutive Sundays in the height of the
Sydney summer and for the same number of Wednesdays I found
myself morning and evening listening and dazzled. Here was a
man with a distinguished war record in the Royal Air Force and
himself a keen Rugby footballer and cricketer, who was a
clergyman – he was so quintessentially a man with a vivid
understanding of God, but there was something about him that was
as robust as it was priestly. He understood all about “agape” and
human concern but he remained a symbol of what a young man of
21 of intelligence and sensitivity could aspire to. When at a special
youth service on Friday 24 February 1964, he spoke of his having at
the age of 14 been high up in the Drakensberg Mountains in Natal
and finding himself overwhelmed by the immensity of the clear
night sky, he had me – it was just my own experience in the garden
in Pymble at much the same age. I recall that when his visit to
Sydney finished on the following Sunday night I felt that I had lost
an anchor though not before he had given me the sense of a God of
a very masculine quality of agapeistic love and concern for the
other. It was an astonishing time and whether his visit to Sydney
had any other impact, this lad would never be the same. He had
been given his insight. For that I am forever grateful.
The combination of the challenging writing to which I was led by
Honest to God, which was to include Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers
from Prison and Tillich’s The Shaking of the Foundations and the
ministry of vigour to which I had been guided both at St. Stephen’s
week to week and at Scots Church for this brief time was for me
foundational and life-changing. There were still endless
outpourings of horror in the Anglican world of Sydney and indeed
in the Australian press about the “modern theologians” and all the
abominations to which their thinking was leading. I became aware
of Nietzsche and the idea that “God was dead.” These particular
“blasphemies” were endlessly rebutted and I found in the
Australian press few willing to say that the questions being asked
were relevant and highly so. A law student from Sydney at its
most privileged with little interest in the profession for which he
was studying so successfully but a fascination with the larger
questions carried on studying and throwing tennis balls for his
great ally to retrieve and kept his ideas to himself. These questions
were the future; everything around him was the past.
I went on to practise law in Sydney with considerable success and
ended up the senior partner of a three office practice in that city
with substantial revenue and indeed as a respected advocate in the
courts of all levels though as a solicitor and not as a man in a wig
and gown. The law taught me that I was not very interested in it
but that I had gifts that I did not entirely understand as an easy
communicator and the practice grew and grew as a result. As a
counsellor and problem solver and as a patient negotiator I had few
peers, even if I say so myself – I had discovered my own essence as
encourager and healer but it was not being applied in quite the
right place. I had even found in my contact on a pro bono basis with
young criminals that I had an unexpected gift of gaining their
confidence and my successes on their behalf in keeping them out of
the hands of the penal system of the State surprised me greatly.
When one of them kept coming back to me to seek my advice on
how to live better (I ended up lending my car to this lad for his
wedding and attending it), I realised that a new call was opening
up for me. I was learning much of myself from a boy whose earlier
life had involved horrors I could barely contemplate. By 1980, I had
had enough and to the astonishment of all, I pulled out of the firm
that bore my name and looked for other challenges.
Those challenges did not come easily. Executive employment was
not available to me notwithstanding the energy I poured into what
was called “job search.” I was dumbfounded and constantly
disappointed to be told that I was “too high-powered” – to me
getting to the result intended easily and quickly was second nature.
In the wider world than the one I had inhabited, such clarity was
seen to be less than attractive. I found myself virtually
unemployable and, to my horror, the man of unquenchable vigour
(my guide had shared hers with me though she had now gone to
pursue tennis balls in another place) found himself flattened and,
for the first time ever, cautious and tentative. I had learnt the pain
of the world and I was myself suffering from it and with it came a
fear that I had never quite known before.
My salvation came not in Christianity but in Buddhism. Buddhism
appealed to me for its sheer pragmatism and its concern that the
enquirer find peace and a deeper spiritual understanding of life and
himself within. This led me to commencing to meditate in a way
that I found convenient and comfortable in October 1984 and I have
maintained a practice that I might call “meditation” ever since on
an almost daily basis. I ascribe the excellence of my physical and
emotional health and so much more to that discipline. Slowly my
deeper serenity was returning and a new vision was coming to me
that took me back to the provocative reading that I had undertaken
over 20 years before. I had a sense of the Eternal being lovingly
involved in the human condition and of the extraordinary capacity
individuals have for growth and wholeness when they seek them.
That this was spiritual and not religious was self-evident and I
found myself seeking guidance on what to do with this unusual but
developed life experience. I found few guides; my questions were
abnormal and they needed individuals of considerable daring and
they are few and far between in ecclesiastical circles.
Then on Thursday 20 April 1989, I met the man with the answers.
The Revd. Dr. Warren Lee of the (Presbyterian) San Francisco
Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California (just north of the
Golden Gate Bridge which I was to cross endlessly in the years that
followed) was involved with the continuing education programmes
of the Seminary and especially the conferring of the degree of
Doctor of Ministry upon students who were already ordained
within any denomination – I was astonished to meet some
fascinating Jesuits, indeed. If anyone would have a good idea, he
would. And he did. After hearing my story for nearly an hour in
silence, he burst out laughing and told me that I did indeed have a
very obvious “call” and a ministry but not one within the system.
Mine was a ministry of hope which would see me wander like a
Buddhist bodhisattva (a wanderer known to the Mahayana school of
Buddhism as a soul who has deferred enlightenment in order to
return to be of service to the world). I would bring to individuals,
usually the outcast, the needy and the damaged, the message of
their capacity to be reconstructed and revived and of the healing to
which they could come. It would have its own shape and be
involved with no institutions but lives, usually lives not within
systems, would benefit and be blessed. That forecast has proved
especially true.
As I approach 70 however I wish to bring that very message back to
the Anglicanism which nurtured me so long ago and from which I
have never quite departed for all my silence at Morning or Evening
Prayer when the Creed is being said and my not usually taking the
Eucharist when available. I am saddened that Anglicanism has
become overwhelmed by its Evangelical branch with its concern to
inflict on individuals a belief system that I find frighteningly bleak
and negative. I am mindful that they accept Biblical authority with
an almost literal significance (I am alarmed when I hear the word
“inerrant”) as all that I understood so long ago and grasp even
more firmly now is that what has come down to us is allegorical
and poetic and, if it be the right word as I think it is, mythic. This
work which is to be seen as serving two purposes is written with a
view to offering those in all pews, Reformed and Protestant and
even Roman Catholic, a wider and richer vision of the God of
whom they are speaking as the Source of Human Well-being. It is
reported that Jesus said of Himself according to the Gospel of St.
John (in the 10th verse of the 10th chapter) that He had come so that
they (men and women at large) may have life and have it more
abundantly. I see this as the touchstone of all Truth and that
anything else is less than a statement of spiritual integrity.
Individuals should celebrate that very abundance in the search for
their own wholeness. If this were a work directed at inspiring
car-salesmen to sell more cars, I would be making much of the
remarkable gifts of the individual to be and to do and of the fact
that in the being of that car-salesman lies all that he or she needs in
order to be totally effective in the performance of their duties. That
same inspiration is now offered with the wisdom of hope to the
individual of any age or experience in the pews as the furtherance
and development of his or her Christian beliefs. That I accept very
little of the corpus of the Church’s beliefs is totally irrelevant. What
is relevant is that we share a vision of a deeply involved Eternal
Presence in its Universe and of our own important individual role
in the working out of the flow of that Universe in all its constant
changing – its endless fluidity and motion. We are to grow and
expand and fulfil ourselves and to do so as a manifestation of our
being in the pews on Sunday. We are to be “new” men and
women – “lights on the hill” to use an American political reference.
This is the ministry of hope and the outcome of a vision that speaks
of “having life and having it more abundantly.”
The message of a ministry of hope is indeed so simple. It is of the
greatness and scope of all that lies within any individual enquirer
and of his (or her) duty to explore and develop that greatness as the
manifestation of the God in whom he says he believes. We are born
to expand and enlarge ourselves all the days of our lives whether
we die early or late or, even, nowadays, very late. How that growth
will come to any one of us is a matter of personal decision and a
solitary quest on which guidance only (and never instruction) can
be offered. One thinks of the finger-post which points but never
travels. What is offered is to be seen in those terms.
For all the fact that I expect that many who read these words will
not share my questions or my doubts, I trust that they will also see
the Eternal deeply involved in their own expanding and
developing experience. The church is so polite, so refined, and so
unlikely to “rock the boat.” It is time that we as its men and
women did “stir the pot” (to mix my metaphors) with our
determination that we lead the lives of the blessed but not as
distant judges with a rigorous view of formalities and social codes
but as souls rich in a selfless loving concern for what was called in
Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison “the nearest Thou at
hand.” The second person singular is sharper in German even if in
this case it ought to be accusative rather than nominative!
Christians must accept the other, no matter who he is or how ill we
may see to be his conduct. We must be totally willing to be
trusting and open and vulnerable and authentic – if being in a
church on a Sunday has any meaning at all it is that we should be
the world’s leaders in ministries of hope and personal
re-construction, however that may need to manifest itself in any
life, and whatever disfigurement we may be observing.
While I may have considerable doubts about all manner of religious
practices, the shared vision of God is a ministry of faith and hope
and love – the other, the nearest other, is the only contact we have
worthy of the God we would worship.
I shall continue to discuss this in the next section but remember that
for any differences we have about matters of formal belief, we can
have deeply in common a sense of the Presence of God that is a
vision of a God richly involved in His world and concerned for us
to grow in all we were born to become and in offering His love to
all – whomever and wherever.
The Daily Living Experience of Wholeness
The message of this work remains of the potential of any individual
to know in the day-to-day experience of a well-rounded life the
manifestation of his or her own destiny. Individuals are born with
enormous capacities to develop themselves into the remarkable
statements of the Eternal that each one of us is. It is the outpouring
of the Eternal into its elements – and we are of that Eternal.
Buddhism teaches a very simple, very pragmatic exposure to life.
The Buddha’s concern was that each individual rise to his or her
full “wakefulness” (women were an active part of the sangha from
the earliest times) – through searching inwardly by the processes of
meditation and by the full discovery of the significance of the other.
In terms comprehensible to the Christian, God the Eternal was to be
found inwardly as something immanent and was inextricably
linked to the richest meeting of the other in compassion or what the
Greek of the New Testament called agape – usually and
inadequately translated into English as “love” or “charity.”
Buddhism has no interest in theology or creeds – its only interest is
the destruction of egoism and the peace and freedom that will
follow in any life. What is available to any individual is a
continuing experience of the deepest serenity and the most intense
invigoration in the pursuit of a life that reflects all that is in the
adept.
My discovery of this exquisite simplicity so long ago now (nearly 28
years) was for me life-changing and the perfect development of all
those enquiries of earlier days. I had found myself questioning
Christian rule-books of “sin” and “wickedness” and human failure.
It seemed to me that the structure that Christianity had devised for
itself was a source of empowerment for the strong over the weak
but that this had little to do with the ordered individual life of a
believer worthy of the Jesus so tantalisingly described in the
Gospels. I knew little of the development of the Gospels or of the
construction of the Christian canon of what was in the New
Testament (and in the Old Testament and even the Apocrypha for
that matter). I was sceptical of too much literalism in the
understanding of the Christian Bible not because it was in essential
error, but for obvious reasons of the nature of the development of
myths and legends and the conferring on the poetic of a prosaic
literalism.
As I now age, and come to know more of the origins of the writings
that are considered canonical (and I discover how much difference
of opinion surrounds so much of it), I become warier than ever of
taking too much of it too exactly. I was always appalled that Jesus
was said to have “spilt His blood” as a means of the restoration of
the human condition and that, in His death, lay our only hope of
salvation. I was not very comfortable with the term “salvation”
itself as it connoted that we were born separated and that a return
was necessary. Restoration by the means suggested did not seem to
be the work of a loving God – how He should have found it
necessary to bring the earthly life of His only Son to an end as a
means of our re-unification with Him was not one bridge too far,
but many, many bridges and just as implausible.
As I have come to know more of the theological and intellectual
disputes that underlie (and diminish) the great wisdom of God, I
become all the more determined that a vision of God be presented
to those in the pews of an Eternal that is as large and indeed as
unknowable as that Eternal One really is. We do not have to fear
ignorance – God is so large and yet so close that our efforts to try to
create order and to give names to our understanding lead us in
singularly unhelpful directions. We start seeking to find in the
Word of God explanations that are best left untouched.
I have become aware that Biblical criticism is itself reasonably new.
Any churchman would know that the discoveries of the Copernican
revolution still only 500 years ago startled a religious system which
saw this planet as the centre of the Universe for the good reason
that as the home of “sin” it was the place to which all that was evil
finally returned. It was as though sin was pouring in on us. To
have been made conscious that we lived in a sun-centred system of
planets (we were to make more discoveries of new planets as well
and indeed in the last ten years we have found for the first time
other solar systems with planets orbiting stars) was novel in the
extreme and re-thinking what we believed was mandatory. In the
1830s we learnt first from the German theologians (one thinks
especially of D.F. Strauss and Feuerbach) all the questions of what
the historical Jesus may (or may not) have meant and it was not
long afterwards Darwin entered with his own suggestions about
man and his origins. A Biblical view of the nature of the Universe
for “man come of age” could only make sense as poetry or myth –
literalism was the denial of our intelligence – itself God-given.
Buddhism taught me that the real test of all spiritual enquiry was
not whether it solved intellectual riddles but whether it allowed
man to give himself a more comfortable and constructive life. We
were of another dimension – the Eternal was immanent – to the
Hindu, Brahman, the eternal reality, was identical with Atman, the
individual’s deepest self. In that perception, lay a very rich
understanding of the potential both of man and of the universe and
the most exciting challenges of being.
To see Jesus in such terms and to read the Gospels accordingly was
to meet very fresh insights and to rid canonical writings of their
restrictions but not to reduce their authority – rather, it was to see
the Jesus represented in the Gospels as a totally human life but an
all the more extraordinary one for that reason. To recognise Jesus
as a “Son of God” and to know that this term had nothing to do
with any suggestion about a second person of some mysterious
intellectual notion called “the Trinity” but as a Jewish phrase for a
soul of great development was to give the phrase a new meaning.
Again to hear the stories and to read the words put into His mouth
so long after He had died somewhere between 29 and 33 A.D. by
those who were probably not there anyway was to liberate those
stories, not to diminish them. Some of the words ascribed to Him
and, equally, some of the events of His life are probably well dealt
with. The shared reports of His death make clear that He died by
crucifixion and that His death was a political execution based upon
social concerns. The stories of His healings have obvious qualities
of the real too – but it is necessary to know that sickness in the
Judaea of the first century was seen to be caused by “sin.” Those
who found healing, and there were many of them, were usually
outcasts because of their illnesses, and were well separated from a
smug and safe mainstream. The Healer however never judged and
was always available: the touch of the hem of His garment was
enough.
The great question is what to say about the Resurrection – again, I
saw what was said of it as a step much too far. For all that, one is
compelled to agree that the life of the man Jesus had imposed itself
with such astonishing and life-changing vigour on those who had
been with Him that they were willing to die for Him. It is that
willingness to go out into the world and face its worst in His name
that is significant and not the story of his Resurrection. It is that
“living” Jesus that we proclaim – our experience should reflect that
we have been met by such a quality of empowerment in both our
spiritual and our outer lives by His example that we are in the
words of St. Paul, “more than conquerors.”
I am not therefore interested in the world of intellectual quibbles
which destroy rather than build. We are challenged to grasp
wholeheartedly that in the life of Jesus we are seeing humanity in
all its best and at its most constructive. In the same way, one sees it
in what little we know of the life of the Buddha (and it has to be
said that what has been done to the Pali Canon is itself of the same
measure of over-statement and embellishment as Christianity’s
narratives of its founder). Jesus healed and reconstructed – He did
not judge – He accepted individuals as they were and sought for
them not extinction but renewed effective living and fullness of
experience. This is the Gospel at its most hopeful and at its most
abundant and the very Good News we are called to take out into a
damaged and unhappy world.
Hope, it must be added, is not concerned with an after-life. I am
reminded of a story of the Buddha that comes about 20 years after
his “enlightenment” (whatever that experience truly meant) under
the bodhi tree. He had gone to a different part of India to the east
of the Ganges Plain where he had met some people who were
considered outsiders. In answer to their questions of the
relationship of his Dharma (his body of guidance – “teachings” is
too strong a word) and the after-life, he is reported to have said that
he did not know whether there was an after-life, but, that if there
were, his Dharma would prepare one for it and, if there were not,
one would live better in this life by following it anyway. I find such
advice in its Christian translation eminently wise and acceptable.
We are called to live dynamically day-to-day in the here-and-now.
We as the men and women of the pews of any age are challenged to
fulfilled existences of great constructiveness and purpose. Our
beings must bear the mark of the richest sense of the other, but the
message has to remain that our lives wherever we may be in them
must fully and creatively reflect the empowerment and enablement
and indeed the invigoration that comes of a soul that is free and
unburdened. We should be seeking not to reduce the demands of
life upon us, but to enlarge them and to lead lives that reflect the
touch and guidance of the Eternal. We fail our religion when we
see it as a comfort and little more. Constructive Christian living is
indeed a comfort in times of loss and distress but the Church will
again be a significant institution and a great blessing to a wider
world only when we as its individual worshippers display in our
contact with the world of Monday what benefits have come to us as
a result of our involvement of Sunday. We are not to be the
uncertain hand-wringing weaklings so afraid of causing pain or
embarrassment that we remain inactive but the individuals whose
colour and purpose are the stuff on which all the events around us
are built.
These words are written at a time of economic crisis when all that
we know of the material world around us is under threat. We must
be the dynamic builders not merely of commercial enterprises by
which economic reconstruction is to be found but the individuals
who are the sources of rescue and support and healing for all those
around us whose faces and bodies reflect the pain and dislocation
of our day. Going to church on a Sunday is not a “nice” social
contact of meeting the neighbours but an experience of
empowerment and enlargement that will take us whoever we are
out into the world of the morrow to be its leaders and guides. We
must not fail either Jesus or our neighbour.
Towards a New Beginning
We are moving towards times of major celebrations of the Christian
age. It is now precisely 2,000 years since Jesus was walking the
streets of Nazareth after returning from Egypt. On Tuesday 31
October 2017, it will be 500 years since that great opening of
modernity in the nailing of The Ninety-five Theses to the Castle
Church door in Wittenberg by the “little monk,” Martin Luther.
That latter event saw the start of the great political and social
journey in the West to totally new paradigms of personal freedom
(admittedly long and bloody and not even partly resolved until
1648) – and the adventures of discovery that accompanied that
liberty. Western man as I write in the autumn of 2012 has been
enormously blessed by the courage and the wisdom of those who
have gone before us in the last 500 years, though much of our
history over that time has been of our studied resistance to change
and our regular lack of respect for those whose inventiveness has
given us in the West our technological and social advances. Our
cleverness has also led us to the most destructive of wars and the
most tragic of follies but no-one would deny that our advances
have been astonishing.
The religion of the West, Christianity, and its external embodiment,
that amorphous thing called “the Church” (a term of such a variety
of definitions that I use it with considerable wariness), have failed
dismally to keep up with those changes. That this is to the cost of
the church is to be regretted: that it is to the cost of individuals
blighted by a belief system that has run out of steam, so to speak, is
much more serious. Western Christianity, in the beginning of the
twenty-first century of the modern age, sees its membership falling
dramatically and its impact accordingly. What is perhaps worse is
that the church has chosen a very defensive attitude to its decline
when the only course open to it should have been to see decline as
an opening to growth. As Henry Ford reminds us, failure is the
opportunity to start again. To make the struggle worse, however,
our reaction to all that has happened has been to retire behind the
laager. Finding the way forward is the thrust of all that follows.
I have learnt major lessons of the enormous potential of any
individual to experience a complete life of quite remarkable scope
and measure. The days when the possibilities of a full life were
restricted by a social structure which conferred upon those born to
the world of privilege opportunities denied nearly all others (and
those who did succeed were rare creatures and usually
extraordinary people in themselves) are now long gone and
opportunity abounds. That does not mean regrettably that those to
whom such opportunity has been given will necessarily avail
themselves of it. Champions are as rare in the early twenty-first
century as they ever were. Championship living is however as
important now as ever and indeed with the spiritual lives of
Westerners so unexplored, it becomes yet more important that
Christianity re-assert itself as the essence of the Western tradition
not merely as a social or political matter but as the source of the
West’s exploration of that wider dimension of the individual, his
soul.
In the day-to-day world of business and commerce, those who
bring to the attention of those involved in the secular religions of
money-making and all that goes with it, confidence and success,
those who inspire others to expand and grow, are called
(hideously) “motivators.” Their message is one of undeniable truth
– the individual has endless and remarkable capacities of being and
doing and their exploration is the basis not only of a full life but
also of a well-rewarded life (however the word “reward” may be
interpreted). Motivators will speak ad nauseam of goals and
purpose and well-constructed programmes for their discovery and
implementation but the essence of their message is one of “action” –
what lies at the heart of success in the world’s eyes is the
performance of all that is required – fearlessly and with vigour and
energy. Great commercial empires were founded by people of
sharp vision and force of character, totally committed to their
ambitions and possessed of a very clear eye. I see these
commercial virtues to be so absent from the leadership of the
church and those whose function it is to see religion advanced as
the basis of a full life.
Decline needs to be halted and it will only be reversed when those
in the pews take the beliefs that they say bring them there seriously.
This small work is an attempt to bring to the leaders of the church
the vision of an independent mind and soul, now of three score
years and ten, with the experience of the world that goes with such
a time.
The world sees Christian belief as an anachronism with little to
offer man come to the third millennium of our age. It was that
remarkable German theologian who was murdered in the closing
weeks of the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who coined
the phrase that defines twentieth century man – “man come of
age.” He saw that in the years to follow the defeat of the horrors of
Nazism, the Church as the embodiment of Christianity (both terms
used in their widest senses) would be dealing with people whose
world had expanded so much and so rapidly in the time since the
Reformation that the spiritual might almost have become an
irrelevance. He saw in the scientific and technological advance and
of course in the wider discoveries man was making of his own
mind and his body such a challenge to the beliefs of Christianity
that completely new approaches would have to be found and
implemented for its presentation. He seems notwithstanding that
he was writing 70 years ago to have foreseen the very times in
which we live and to have found a clear expression for our
dilemmas. The empty churches speak for themselves and the
ignorance of the canon of Christianity by the wider population is
itself frightening. Christianity has become something irrelevant to
the lives of so many people and seems destined to continue in its
decline until it can find how to present its message in a world
different from that in which it was created and to do so with an
easy self-confidence.
Traditional Christianity as presented in the recent past was the
consequence of nearly 2,000 years of development of the nature of
belief and the matters said to be fundamental to that belief. Jesus
had been deified and made into something that the Biblical canon
may not support. The Christian beliefs based upon creeds which
make much of His being the Second Person of some mysterious
notion called a “Trinity” and doctrines of original sin and a
universe of three tiers were the result of developing statements of
what belief in the man Jesus had led to. It was only in the early
nineteenth century that the “historical” Jesus came to be explored
(in the first instance by German philosophers who had lost their
faith in the Jesus presented by religious people) and the genie of
doubt was well and truly let loose on a world already wondering.
The Copernican revolution may not have been the subject of formal
publication until 1543 but it was actually first propounded by its
discoverer as long before as 1512 – 500 years ago this very year.
We have seen the Church wrestle with what it saw as blasphemous
challenges to its authority and its repression of the adventurous
minds that had new scientific understanding was deeply
regrettable. The church had to find new ways of its presenting its
timeless insights – the “old three-tiered” universe no long made
sense – heaven was not above, the earth beneath, and hell yet
further down. We were able to see ourselves as part of a larger
living universe that, instead of applying Archbishop Ussher’s 23
October 4004, B.C. as the commencing date, went back as far as
thirteen or fourteen thousand million years and an event we call
“the big bang.” Christianity as a source of an explanation of life
had taken a severe jolt but our greater knowledge of science need
not be seen to have reduced it but to have given it back its proper
function as a source of spiritual guidance for daily and effective
living without the baggage of inaccurate celestial fictions. We
inhabit a biosphere of astonishing intricacy whose very balance
suggests – certainly to this writer – an extraordinarily loving and
indeed interested Mind and Heart underpinning it. That such a
Mind may have invested itself in us and see us to be individually
important is a message to be shouted from the housetops.
Modern man has come to understand with a totally new clarity his
own nature both physically and psychologically. We know more
of our bodies and our minds almost daily and this has enabled the
health and kindred professions to assist in giving many people not
merely longer lives but also much more fulfilling lives. This is to be
welcomed and not to be denied. With this deeper understanding
of ourselves, we have come to cope with many of the illnesses
which afflict us as the possessors of bodies and minds. The Biblical
healing miracles seem less and less incomprehensible. We need to
be reminded that the illnesses that Jesus healed were usually of the
mind of the sufferer and that His great contribution was to remind
the sufferer of his or her individual worth. “Strangers no more” –
one could say. We have come to understand too that the genders
are significantly more equal than the historical patterns of social
authority suggested and we have discovered so much of our own
nature that what was seen to be aberrant behaviour may indeed be
perfectly natural while remaining statistically abnormal. I would
see this to be especially true of the sexual revolution and questions
of homosexuality and the behaviour to which it leads.
Christianity had made a first class hash of these issues. The
struggles for women to be ordained and to take a more active part
in the life of the institution of the church reflect less than credit on
the organisation and the rejection of homosexuals likewise. We
now can safely say that the church’s attitude to these questions has
brought enormous pain to many individuals, who are themselves –
perhaps, surprisingly – faithful to the institution and that their
continuing loyalty is something that it may not deserve. I see so
much time and energy devoted to such questions that the church
has made itself a body seen by a wider world to be out of touch.
The Church is not irrelevant but its beliefs and the structure of
behaviour to flow need entirely to be re-thought and simplicity and
directness (dare I say “authenticity”?) re-discovered.
I am especially concerned that the Church and Christianity make so
much of Jesus as the Saviour of the world (something I would
suggest that would astonish Him) as though He were some
extra-terrestrial visitor who landed here and who after some
30-plus years on this planet returned by His Ascension to some
“place in the sky.” This fails entirely to meet the rationality of
twenty-first century man and His rejection becomes more likely
than ever and individual suffering larger. We must rejoice indeed
in our uncertainty: it is the basis of the quest for understanding and
not a source of fear.
The way forward is clear and unambiguous. The Jesus we preach
is a living historical figure who like the Buddha who preceded Him
by perhaps 500 years (I am aware that modern scholarship is now
suggesting that Siddhartha Gautama was walking the Ganges later
than we first thought though this is not to deny him or his
guidance) is firmly set in the annals of modern man. We have so
embellished the canon of both Jesus and the Buddha that both have
stepped so far beyond their historical contexts that both have
become “gods” in their own right. Mahayana Buddhism and
Christianity both effectively see God playing charades with
mankind and in making those claims, so much has been lost. The
true quality of all the great spiritual guides whose lives are
paradigms of the completeness to which they wished to take
individuals is that they were utterly human with all the pressures
and aspirations of human beings at their most normal. In the
contexts of their time and place, they did all the things we do and
they knew the same demands of life in all their complexity. To
suggest that they were in some way so special that life as we
understand it did not touch them is indeed to reduce their message
to something of another world and of little significance. As has
been slightly cynically observed, we can be so heavenly minded
that we are of no earthly use. Jesus would have understood this
with the utmost clarity.
And yet the message should be one of the unbridled potential of the
individual to be and to do and to have a life of such richness that
one barely has the time to stop. Dynamic, vigorous, confident
living should be the substance not merely of the tycoon and
successful entrepreneur but of the man or the woman in the pews.
Hope and love are the great messages of all spiritual experience –
there is another dimension to us. In dealing with that other
measure we are touching our true essence and that richer Presence
of the “Beyond in our Midst” that is the touchstone of all leadership
and development. We are called to be the individuals whose lives
of colour and purpose are so rich that we set the standards for
others to follow. Church-going is not some “nice” social thing
which wins the approval of those around us but the re-invigoration
once a week or more often that sends us out into a damaged world
as its guides and healers. We have touched the hem of His garment
and this must be apparent from all that we are – and especially in
the darkness of a bleak world carried into such pain by the twin
modern false gods of materialism and consumerism.
We are not to be the effete inoffensive smiling weaklings the world
sees with some measure of contempt but the creators of vivid lives
of enormous benefit to a suffering world and the ones whose
experience is of such unimpeachable merit that others will wish to
follow us. We are to be totally courageous and committed in all we
are and in all we do – we are those to whom the Light of the Eternal
has been given and this must shine through in our lives. That we
make much that we “believe in” Jesus (just what do we “believe”?)
must be the utterly unambiguous statement of our lives – not in
some esoteric and abstract construct that may be highly conditional
and may reflect the embellishments of time, but as those whose
existences glow with the Light of the Eternal Presence.
I think of the prism that has the pure white light of the Eternal
entering on one face being refracted into the colours of the rainbow
on departure as the way we are to touch a needy world. We must
be those whose lives display the purity of the light of the Eternal
and His Presence in His world and the same acceptance of the other
as Jesus gave all men and women without condition or question.
Wakefulness for the Churchman
The Buddha said of himself after his enlightenment that he was
“awake.” By that he meant nothing more or less than that he had
opened the pathway to the discovery of his full potential as a
human being, in all its dimensions, of body, mind, emotions and
soul. He saw, too, that this potential had all to do with the other –
“compassion” was his word for it – St. Paul’s epistles spoke of
agape. I have just summed up the total spiritual journey in one
short paragraph.
This work is a plea to the Australian churchman not to wallow in
the dreariness of a belief system that may be under attack and
defend it passionately as though it were beyond commentary but to
recognise that the guidance and wisdom of other traditions can cast
much light on our understanding of God and of ourselves. That
there are those who would deny this and wish to see their
understanding as the only or true pathway is indeed something so
deeply unspiritual and at the same time unintelligent that I shall
not dignify it with a response. We are all fellow travellers on the
planet and we owe it to each other to be at one at all levels with that
other – without quibble or without confusion. “Oneness” is a term
never to be forgotten.
I am seeking to offer this wisdom to the man or the woman in the
pews in Australia (and around the world no less). More
specifically, I am seeking to offer it to the one who would not even
think of attending a conventional Sunday church service of any
denomination but for whom there remains a part of their lives
which they feel has been left unexplored – at their cost. Spiritual
hunger is real but few there are who are offering solutions to the
dilemma beyond what has been tried and found wanting. And yet
there are many who are crying out for guidance on the
development of their souls and who are equally unsure of how to
find it. The Church is for them, too, and I am now offering a means
of introduction, perhaps in two directions.
I have recently sent copies of a small work that was compiled in
Scotland in early October 2012 at the time of my meeting in
Edinburgh the former Anglican Primus to the leaders of the
Anglican dioceses of many of the major Australian cities and to
“talk-back” radio stations in Sydney. It is the essay called Towards a
New Beginning. I have sought to bring to them for transmission to
the souls in their care (there are remarkable similarities between the
duties of the pulpit and the broadcasting studio) a spiritual vision
of individuals who are rich and full and whose experience of living
is an adventure daily to be undertaken for the benefit not only of
themselves but also of the wider world.
I have made clear that I do not see many of the matters of Christian
belief stated Sunday by Sunday in the various creeds to be essential
or fundamental (or logical, though I concede that cold rationality is
not to be the test of worth). It is my firm view that much of what is
presented reflects a sense of the world that has run its course and
which is in need of major re-assessment. That said, the perspective
remains of individuals whose lives reflect a recognition that the
attainment of their full potential has a very significant spiritual
dimension. I am, for all that I have said, sure that it is one that is
best sought with the assistance of the church and with its support
and comfort.
I am equally confident that there is a simple truth (no, Truth) that
can bring all men and women together. It is the Truth of
“compassion” or “love” (for all the torture inflicted on that
wonderful word). It is the recognition of the dignity and worth of
the other whoever he or she (the singular is of major importance)
may be. Respect is a word that comes to mind – each of us is
worthy of it as part of the fullness of our humanity.
Over the last few weeks, with the aid of YouTube and the internet
generally, and without the benefit of books in English, (I am writing
in Germany), I have had the opportunity of immersing myself in a
programme of rapid learning of modern liberal Christian
scholarship. I have been enormously comforted by the wisdom of
such people as the British historian and former Roman Catholic
nun, Karen Armstrong, and the American Episcopal thinkers,
Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong as well as others from both
sides of the Atlantic from the so-called “Jesus Seminar.” It has
been a blessing to a very interested layman whose experience of
living has been touched so fruitfully by his own interpretations of
liberal Christianity in his youth and in his middle years by the
insights of Buddhism and its call for inward journeying in deeper
silence and stillness, to realise that the enquiries which have guided
him have considerable highly intelligent and articulately expressed
support. Perhaps, as the man out of step with the Anglicanism of
his origins, I am not the wayward creature that others may see me
to be. Perhaps, indeed, liberal progressive Christianity has much in
common with other major religious traditions. They are all it may
be suggested looking at the same thing merely through different
windows. I am reminded of the story that apparently comes from
the Buddhist tradition, and perhaps even from Gautama himself, of
the six blind beggars and the elephant. Each beggar described what
he felt as something separate but in fact each was merely describing
a different expression of the same thing. That would seem to sum
up the commonalities of the great religious traditions rather neatly.
What has especially comforted me has been the recognition that in
action lies truth and not in deep cerebral pondering. The wisdom of
Karen Armstrong and her extraordinarily widely pursued
universalism (I am so grateful to her for introducing me to Axial
Theory) has been a particularly refreshing Godsend to me. I have
been blessed also by Spong’s remarkable observation that it is more
important to be loving than to be right. I observed Miss
Armstrong’s use of the same phrase the other day and wondered
who had the idea first – it hardly matters – its Truth is undeniable.
What has come from all this learning is that for all the vast
literature of religion and especially that of the three great
monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the end result is a
deepening confusion in the minds of men – and ossification of
opinion. I have always been alarmed by Evangelical Christianity
and its apparent certainty of its “correctness” and its unblinking
assurance that the Bible is the “Word of God” and therefore
without error and unchangeable. To have read an interview with
the newly enthroned Archbishop of Canterbury in The Financial
Times of London a few weeks ago in which he observed that he
accepts the Virgin Birth of Jesus staggered (and horrified) me. As a
teenager, I saw the presentations in Anglican services of
“witnessing” and “saving souls” (presumably in order to win more
favourable accommodation in heaven for oneself in an afterlife) as
absurdity and irrelevance. What was explained of Jesus as “the
Saviour” struck me as an apparatus for men’s control of men and a
particularly sterile view of an astonishing source of wisdom. All
the rest was falderal and the excessively clever efforts of men to
deal with things so large and ineffable were futile. This was to lead
me in the early 1960s to read the writings of what were then called
– pejoratively – the “modern theologians” – I still passed my law
examinations in torts and crimes though the subjects interested me
far less than these particular adventures of the soul and the
intellect. I found myself often more perplexed than before though I
was hugely relieved to find that obviously daunting minds were
asking earth-shattering questions and finding almost unfathomable
answers. I presumed that understanding would come and indeed it
did.
What I have met in recent weeks has been an especially stimulating
thing as it has dared to acknowledge not how much we know but
rather just how little – especially of the life of the man Jesus. I have
found the recognition that the best way to deal with defining God
was “apothatic” (a word I had never met before – it connotes a
definition by what a subject is not, rather than by what it is)
fascinating. To learn that to the early Vedic searchers and the
authors of the Upanishads, Brahman defied all definition (they spoke
of “The All” as a shorthand way of seeking to put some form of
linguistic clothing on an otherwise inexpressible notion where
language would never suffice) was very comforting. To go further
and to find that to them the possibility of better understanding
Brahman was in a deepening silence within oneself was itself quite
astonishingly reviving. To hear Marcus Borg discussing the tale of
Jesus after His crucifixion and His encounter as recorded in Luke’s
Gospel with those who did not recognise Him on the road to
Emmaus was so reassuring. It made possible an understanding of
the Resurrection that did not require blind faith in a notion of a
physical resuscitation and an “empty tomb.” To comprehend Jesus
as a man with all the richest human qualities (He could be every bit
as irascible as Paul – and yet this is the Paul of the concern for the
welfare of a boy who was a runaway slave – read the Epistle to
Philemon) was to find larger inspiration. This was just as true of
the tales of His willingness to deal with the outcast and the stranger
and to see in the lives of those outside the pale, so to speak, souls in
need of love and care.
This led me to see in what all these modern thinkers and indeed the
earlier writers of the middle of the twentieth century, and my mind
goes to the Bonhoeffer and Tillich I have read, saw, was a God so
large and overwhelming as to be totally beyond our capacity to
define or describe. But they also saw that the Great Unknowable
was strangely accessible by meeting the simple principle that
governs all human existence of Love. Whatever synonym is used
“compassion,” “charity,” “fellow-feeling,” or so forth will never
quite meet the absolute quality suggested by agape. It is in the
surprisingly and if need be daringly vulnerable recognition of the
other in the singular as an equal to whom one owes an absolute
duty of sharing and the giving of oneself and of all that one is and
has, that this God – the Ineffable – beyond all words – becomes
comprehensible and alive – and, most importantly, experienced.
It is in an unconditional acceptance of the other (even the other who
may wish one harm) as an equal to whom a duty of robust
generosity exists that the Incomprehensible and Ineffable can be
best seen – and, perhaps, even in an introductory way, be
understood.
Love, agape, no matter who, no matter what, no matter… The way
of God.
“S” is for Silence, Stillness, Solitude, Separation
I go to church services and find them so noisy. Worship and the
liturgy is all sound and so much of it is din unalloyed. Modern
(“contemporary”) services engage pop bands with much percussion
– the way of the world, perhaps, but I feel not quite the way of
heaven. Let me offer a deeper experience.
Karen Armstrong, the noted religious historian of our day (and
much more, no less) tells a tale of the early Vedic enquirers in India
of possibly nearly 3,000 years ago who conducted a competition to
find who of the sages could best define Brahman (“the All”). The
winner was the one whose definition took the group to silence and
it was in that wordless aposiopetic pause that they sensed most
clearly the Presence of the Ineffable. The All was so far beyond the
powers of men to fix by language or speech or to define in some
other way that the searchers were to be struck dumb. This is a
major point of guidance.
The wisdom of a purely mystical experience of the Something
Greater so far beyond us and yet by the largest of all paradoxes so
deeply within us and so close to us (the Buddha’s most significant
discovery as the forerunner for men and women was the
astonishing point that Brahman – “the All” – and Atman, the inner
core of all that lived and breathed, were identical) is of our potential
– however it is to be translated in any life. We are of the Universal
Whole so great and so large and so ineffable – so utterly beyond us
that to seek to put words to it is to fail miserably. We are at our
most comfortable in not even making an effort to find the language
but in the richest soundlessness to discover that we are for the
ground-breaking extra moment lost (and found – the absolutely
normal paradox of spiritual enquiry) in something so large and yet
so near and so comforting – so inspiring, so expanding, and so
enriching. To the Buddha, this was the outcome of a search that he
had made within himself by the strictest disciplines of his body and
his mind. He showed us that we could find the fullness of our true
nature and with it the source of that nature. To do so however was
to be taken beyond our thoughts and our minds.
This is the very opposite of the church service with its orders of
service, its Bibles, prayer books and hymn books. I am aware that
in the 1979 Episcopal Prayer Book in the United States which I
understand has much of the 1928 revision of the traditional 1662
Book of Common Prayer so beloved of traditional Anglicans in it,
there is even part of the Communion Service which provides for the
observance of the Great Silence – capital letters intended. And yet
my experience is that such a time is brief indeed.
What I am now making is indeed a plea for quiet. I am sure that
the Quakers had it right – worship was the total absence of sound
and that voice was to be offered only as a special gift. I am certain
that in the daily experience of seeking deeper levels within
ourselves of silence and stillness by a fuller, slowing breathing and
a steadily encompassing relaxation and detachment – the
experience of the years and not the days or even the months – we
shall find peace and empowerment beyond our ability to describe.
We shall have followed, thirty centuries on, the journeying of the
sages of another day and of another world and culture, to find that
the lessons that were relevant then are the same today.
We shall have touched the Eternal and the Constantly Evolving and
have been expanded and so it may seem, completed. Try the
process of the gentle journey within of silence, stillness, separation,
a straight back, little clothing and unshod, of a slowing and
deepening practice of inhalation and exhalation to your own inner
world. All that lies ahead is warm and loving and wholesome –
you are meeting the Universal Eternal in its glorious innocence and
simplicity.
The Buddha said of himself only that he was “awake.” You will
find the same thing.
A Way of Life
I am mildly amused when people tell me usually with such
seriousness that Buddhism is a “way of life.” They are speaking of
it rightly as a system of guidance on living at its fullest. But there
always seems a suggestion that this is slightly odd as it would
indicate that Buddhism is not a “religion.” Religions have great
bodies of philosophy and learned writing going back over aeons in
their support and outpourings of temple doings. They have heroes
with memorable names and whole lexicons of learned words and
works to be weighed and considered.
Buddhism does of course have all these esoteric riches as well but
its measure remains the potential of the individual to attain an
inner quality of calm and assurance that none of the storms of life
will touch. The Buddha said of himself simply that he was
“awake.” Essential Buddhism has no creation legends and no
desire to worry about celestial or mathematical or scientific matters
not within its province. Its interest is that we as human beings rise
above our troubles and our pain and that, while we shall still feel
the winds and get a soaking, we shall be there when the storm is
past, alive and well, and ready for effective daily living. Buddhism
is for life’s successes.
But so is Christianity. For me as a youth, the greatest sadness was
to sense that so much of what I was hearing in the noise that was
the church service for all the majesty of Thomas Cranmer’s
language and the bombast of the sermon that came with the
territory so to speak was some extraordinary system that men had
devised for their own enslavement. It seemed to have so little to do
with a full life and to be so much a body of opinions that were bleak
and negative. There was a thing called “sin” and men were
“sinners” whose lives failed to meet heavenly standards not of
generosity but of a cold and sterile purity of little interest. I recall
that in the 1950s in the Sydney of my origins Protestant and
Reformed Christianity was so concerned with the intended
liberalisation of the laws relating to gaming and the hours of hotel
opening that all else seemed less than central. Even as a teenager, I
saw this to be folly though I was careful to keep my mouth shut – to
articulate what I have just observed was to invite a fire storm of
older horror. My dog was the sole repository of my doubts and she
did not tell tales – she only wagged them – even if the difference in
spelling was beyond her! And more than half a century later
(nearly 60 years no less!) I realise a second time that what touched
me then as a source of doubt was justified. That the ecclesiastical
establishment was so small-minded and blinkered was the cause, I
am sure, of the decline I now see all around me in what should be
the adventure of the presentation of the Christian message.
That message has much in common with the guidance of
Buddhism. Within each of us lies the potential of a fullness of
living so large that our failures to pursue it will reflect so badly on
the institutions charged with its advancement. It is the message of
the dignity and worth of the individual – the immensity of all that
lies within and the openness of any individual to qualities of
greatness and heroism, and nothing else. And yet I fear that the
Christian message is presented as a belief system grounded in a
passion for guilt and failure and all that is demeaning and cold.
Why bother?
And yet as I say, the message of Jesus and His church is of the
capacity of the individual to lead a full constructive life of
enormous worth and grandeur, where every element within the
individual has been applied and developed. That message, as with
its Buddhist equivalent, has of course the second strand – love,
compassion, “charity,” or, if you want the Greek, agape. Only in
touching the other and meeting him or her individually on a basis
of acceptance of total equality and empathy and an unconditional
openness and trust will the message of any “religion” have any
substance. The “nearest Thou at hand” is the full measure of our
duty of care and of support and of the self-surrendering generosity
and openness to go with it.
That is the real message of Christianity and Buddhism and it is the
message of a life fully led moment to moment and of enormous
benefit to so many. It is also the basis of a life well developed
which, if there is a hereafter, will have provided all due preparation
for it. The here and the now and the other – that is the ultimate
message of all spiritual enquiry – Christian, Buddhist or anything
else. All the rest is mere commentary.
1 Corinthians 13
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am
only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of
prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a
faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I
give all I possess to the poor and give my body to hardship that I may
boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not
proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily
angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but
rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes,
always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease: where
there are tongues, they will be stilled: where there is knowledge, it will
pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when
completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I
talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I
became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see
only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know
in part; then I shall fully know, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these
is love.
Spooner Dodd Consulting Services is an international operation that is
the outcome of the life experience of Maxwell Dodd. Though he is
Australian, he sees the wider trans-Atlantic world to be a better place to
offer its wisdom. The – operation has two homes, so to speak, one in the
grounds of the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo,
California, (north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County and under
the towering strength of Mount Tamalpais), and the other in the world
of a small German Rhine-side village, St. Goar, named for a French-born
hermit who died in 575 A.D., and who, though never formally
canonised, is apparently considered the patron saint (inter alia) of
boatmen, inn owners and brick-bakers.
Maxwell was born in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales in August
1942 in an Australian world of social and intellectual privilege and after
a classical English education at one of Sydney’s major schools, he was
admitted as a lawyer at the very early age of 22 – he could not have been
greener. He found after some years of ever-growing professional
success and a hugely developing practice called M.A. Spooner & Dodd
that he had wider gifts than those of the successful advocate that he was
and that he was somewhat unexpectedly coming to be involved more
and more in lifting the lives of those whose existence had avoided
incarceration to some extent by his skills – and by their willingness to be
open with him.
An odd valuable gift had to be explored and after many false dawns, he
finally met in San Anselmo, his own great guide and encourager, the
Revd. Dr. Warren Lee, who was in charge of doctoral programmes of the
Seminary for those already ordained. His advice was that Maxwell’s
vocation (he most certainly had one) and the ministry to flow from it
was a ministry of hope. He would wander like a Buddhist bodhisattva
and bring to the needy, the unhappy and the pained, the message of
hope and human potential in all its dimensions and especially the
spiritual, and the healing of mind and heart to accompany it. That
advice has proved utterly prophetic. What you have just read is that
message distilled in all its simplicity.
Maxwell’s motto is “upwards, forwards, onwards”.

1 thought on “Hope More Abundantly

  1. Dr Douglas Simper Australia

    This long Maxwell Dodd article is very powerful and real and it mirrors my own journey (but without the Buddhism). I came from a working class and Methodist background. My parents, because of the depression had only Primary education. The Parable of the Talents fired me up and I was able to complete multiple degrees, become a leading music educator, work in music Ministry and develop a substantial track record as a composer and music teacher. The massive success of Hillsong with it’s regressive Fundamentalism has been frustrating. The sin and guilt message has saddened me a lot. Thank you Maxwell.

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