Visions of Ultimate Reality

Ultimate Reality and Visions of Truth
The goal of our spiritual journey is to explore what is True, pursue what is Good, and practice what is Beautiful. And this journey begins with the question: What is Truth? Some say that Truth resides in a Holy Book of some sort, or a set of infallible statements about Reality. Some claim Truth is found in an inner experience, while others say it is found in evidence gathered from our senses. And then we find great spiritual teachers, such as Krishna who says “no Truth is superior to me”, or Jesus who says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. Despite all of the apparent differences, these visions of Truth share some commonalities: They assume we are part of a greater Reality. And we come to experience Reality, as it really is, through many ways. These ways include books, and our senses, and inner experiences, and relationships with others. Through these ways we find Truth when our inner self conforms to what is really Real, and we are brought into harmony with Ultimate Reality. And in history there are enlightened persons-- like Krishna and Buddha and Jesus-- who are so filled with Ultimate Reality that they claim to be living embodiments of Truth. 

So what is the greater Reality that we need to conform ourselves to, so we also can embody Truth? What is really Real in the world we experience? What is the Ultimate Reality which is beyond, or within, or underneath, the apparent reality we experience every day? 


Begin with the End in mind?

To begin with the end in mind: This was an ideal of Christian ethics long before it was a catch phrase for design thinking, an axiom of corporate management culture, or a technique for scientific application. Although many Christians have forgotten this, much to our detriment and the world’s. 


A Provocation on Western versus Eastern Theology

In the Western Churches (which include Roman Catholicism as well as all Protestant varieties) we love to debate Soteriology: What it means to be saved, how we are saved, and what are the roles of Divine grace, human free will, faith, and good works in saving us. Throughout History we see Augustinians versus Pelagians, Catholics versus Protestants, Calvinists versus Arminians (as well as Calvinists versus Calvinists versus everyone else). And a thousand variations of similar debates that center around ideas such as whether God’s decrees are Supralapsarian or Infralapsarian or Sublapsarian, or whether prevenient grace entails or merely enables salvation, or the extent and intent of the Atonement


We are all ethical hypocrites

I just read yet another meme where self-assured, self-satisfied, secular skeptics were mocking folks who wrangle over the ethical interpretation of the Bible. They snidely ask: Who has authority to interpret? What gives people the right to take some passages “literally” and other passages “symbolically”? And I get the snide mockery: Religion has excluded a lot of people; Religion is rife with hypocrisy; Religion is full of self-contradictions. I get it. But let's unpack this a bit more...


Is Consumerism to blame for everything?

After a recent blog post, a friend called me out for anti-Capitalism, and asked me "Is there anything you do not blame on Consumerism or Capitalism?" The really short answer is: No. I don't blame everything bad on Consumerism. I actually blame everything on Sin: The infection of human nature that manifests itself in selfish and predatory behavior to attain short-term material goals, at the expense of long term personal wellbeing and societal health. But saying everything is the result of sin can be a really easy way to avoid responsibility to change: If there is a universal condition called sin that infects and affects us all, who am I to change it? Who are we? We are better off being fatalistic, giving in, and going along.

But when we name how sin functions in a certain system, and how that system acts to focus and amplify the symptoms of sin, then we can devise counter-measures to deal with sin. We can be aware of the strategies and processes the system uses to dehumanize us and disconnect us from meaning and value in life, as God's grace empowers us and sensitizes us to those strategies and processes. So, at this point in world history, we have one over-arching ideological and socio-economic system which holds our entire planet in its thrall: Global Corporate Consumer Capitalism. So let's talk about that...


A Prayer for Notre Dame

I want to say something that could easily come off as flip or snide or holier than thou. So I want to preface it by saying that I struggle mightily with my relationship to “organized religion” even though I am a priest. So I do not blame anyone for being lukewarm or burned out on Church. With that said...


Religion is in retreat! All hail the new gods!

Recently a spate of articles have come out showing, yet again, the rise of “The Nones”, who have no religious affiliation, while traditional religions continue to decline. While there is truth to this trend-- predominantly white Christian expressions in the USA are in decline in terms of numbers-- this is not the whole story. For a better insight into the polling data, I would look at Pew Religion. They offer some explanations to go along with the current American data, which is reflective of the European decline of religion last century, but not reflective of the growth of religion in Asia, Africa, and much of South America. However, there is no definitive explanation of why the decline in some places, and rise in others. So, let's take a look at one theory...


Towel Rack Front Squat

Introducing the Towel Rack Front Squat: Learn how to use a beach towel to Front Squat pain free, with comfortable shoulders, and no issues with wrist mobility. To the best of my knowledge, I am the first person on the interwebs to develop this front squat hack. I *think* I invented this hack. If I did not, let me know who got there first and I will gladly give credit where it is due. I was noodling in the gym last week and figured it out. I cannot find anyone on the internet that does the same thing. And the wrapping of the towel around the bar really keeps it glued to the shoulders with minimal upper body effort.


A Provocation about Postmodern Thought

Theologian Ted Peters makes a distinction between two trends in postmodernism in his book “God: The World’s Future”. The first trend is toward holistic postmodernism, in which we recognize the immense diversity present in the natural and social worlds we inhabit, and we seek to find an organic unity within which they all inhere, which celebrates all our unique and distinct contributions to the whole, without distorting, denying, or doing violence to any of those distinctions. The second trend is toward deconstructive postmodernism, which disbelieves all metanarratives, distrusts all over-arching structures, and in general denies all absolute and objective claims about Reality. However...


The Rise of Homo Consumerensis

I’ve been pondering a feeling I have but cannot quite put into precise words. But it seems like our culture has less capacity, and desire, to think about and discuss ideas. Everything has turned into a politics of the putdown, and diatribes of denigration. In the late 90's to early 00's, I remember having lively discussions online and in real life about theological and philosophical topics with regular folks: From predestination, to the nature of God, to acceptance of LGBT persons, to capital punishment, to what goes on in the Sacrament.


In the Divine Symphony: Why I think God is Real

In the school where I am chaplain, two of the skills we try to teach students are: First, how to build an evidence-based argument, and second, how to present the view you hold without demeaning or belittling those who disagree. This is especially true with controversial subjects that people hold strong opinions on. 

Since we give feedback about this so often, to so many of our students, I thought I would create an example of a controversial, evidence-based argument, which was presented in a way that sought to include even those who disagree with my conclusion. And voila: This sermon was born. The texts read before this sermon included: Psalm 19.1-9; Acts 17.27-28; Romans 1.19-20; 1John 4.7-16.

As we continue our journey through Epiphany, the season when Christ's Light shines on ALL kids of people, through ALL kinds of experiences, I wanted to challenge you a little today about HOW we see God's Light. And this challenge comes from a question I frequently get asked, and that I was asked again last week. The question goes something like this:

"Fr. Nate, you seem like a smart guy. How come you still believe in God?" 


A Provocation on missing the point of the Prophets

It has been years since I have read through the Hebrew prophets continuously. On this read through it strikes me that the “standard” American interpretation of these texts is almost perfectly engineered to get people to miss the point of the prophets. (Engineered by whom or what? This is a great question!) This “standard” interpretation is to treat the prophets as some cryptic road map to a mythic future “end times” scenario. This places our attention in the future, rather than God’s action, and our responsibility, in the present. 


Why is the Pope "changing" the Lord's Prayer?

Recently, a very thoughtful Roman Catholic student of mine asked me the following questions: "What do you think about the changes [in the Lord's Prayer] Pope Francis plans to implement? Will TMI be adopting the changes, or will TMI not? Is there a centralized Episcopal authority that decides things like that, or does it depend on the Priest/Pastor?"

In response, I sent him the following essay, in addition to the video posted above, which is a fairly good, basic level summary of the proposed "change". And it is important to note that while this "change" does involve altering the words, it does not actually change the meaning of the text, but actually better brings out the intended nuance Jesus almost certainly meant when he originally taught the prayer. But, before we get to that, we need to look at the diversity of translations of the Lord's Prayer.


The Enduring Challenge of Nietzsche

When teaching Introduction to Philosophy, we often end with a discussion of the "Masters of Suspicion": Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. These thinkers mark the so-called "Interpretive Turn" (or "Hermeneutic Turn") into what is often called "Postmodern" Philosophy*. What this means is that ideas and beliefs are no longer what they seem to be about, but must be interpreted to see what values or commitments are REALLY motivating these convictions. All three of these "Masters of Suspicion" insisted that surface readings of our ideologies-- ideas about God, ethics, beauty, social order-- missed the true deep intent of the discussion. The deep, structural insight is this: Our ideas are always about something other than what we represent them as:


Passage Meditation for Busy Humans

Recently I've started practicing what is called "passage meditation". This is where you take a short chunk of Scripture and repeat it prayerfully over and over for a period of time, until it is driven deep into your consciousness, and it becomes a kind of prayer or mantra for you. It is based on ideas such as this:

Psalms 119.11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

How does one hide the word of God in your heart? While there may be many methods, one sure fire recipe that has been used across time, across cultures, and across religions is this: Mindful, committed, intentional, repetition. Repetition. Repetition. When we repeat something over and over again intentionally, it will bubble up later in daily life, in stressful situations, and even in dreams. 


Christarchy 2018

A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday 2018. Based on Romans 6 and John 18:33-37.

Today is Christ the King Sunday. And in a democratic culture where we have no King, where we are free to pursue anything we can imagine, and purchase anything our heart desires, it can be hard to wrap our minds around what it means to think of Christ as OUR King. 

So, to help us wrap our minds around Jesus Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords, I would like to begin with a story:


Virtue, Vice, and Cognitive Distortions

The chart above is also available in an INTERACTIVE PDF with live links to Scriptures and online materials that elaborate the brief descriptions in the chart.

For a long time I have had a fascination with the intersection of Theology, Philosophy, Psychology, and Pastoral Care. As a pastoral counselor, I have always trended toward the insight from forms of Cognitive Therapy that we tend to make ourselves miserable by the way we think, and the distorted thought patterns that govern how we process reality. As a philosopher of ethics and moral theologian, I have always been drawn to virtue theory as a way to describe how a person becomes more (or less) Christlike. In the Catholic Tradition, this centers on the Seven Cardinal Virtues as descriptors of Christlike character, and the Seven Deadly Sins as descriptors of the vices that inhibit Christlikeness. However, I prefer to adapt St. Paul's list of the "Fruit of the Spirit" (cf. Galatians 5.22-23) as a more robust description of Christlike Virtue, with a corresponding list of "anti-fruit" (or Vice) which describes unhealthy personality traits.


A Provocation on the Humanist God

At this stage in history I feel the need to qualify the statement “I believe in God” with what KIND of God I believe in. It is no longer enough to consider God as merely the singular Divine Source and Destiny of all worlds, the Ultimate Reality in which all beings inhere, and Ultimate Value toward which all beings are drawn. Because that template of God is used to support radically different visions of God’s character. For many God is at worst hateful and meddling (as in the God of so many Brands of angry Fundamentalism), and at best apathetic and neglectful (as in so many rehashed versions of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). Rather, I see God in and through Jesus Christ, and ONLY in and through Jesus Christ. And the God I see in Jesus is a thoroughly HUMANISTIC God, because God became thoroughly HUMAN in Jesus. Jesus reveals God’s chief concern is humans, or more precisely, persons made in God’s image (since these are the only fully sentient, metacognitive, communicative persons we find on this particular planet). God wants persons, each and every one of them, to not only survive, but thrive, and have the opportunity to grow into the fullness of the Divine Potential embodied in them. Full human flourishing for every human life: This is what God wants for us, and what God has shown us, in Jesus Christ. Full freedom. Full capacity. Full healing. Full knowledge. Full bellies. Full minds. Full hearts. Abundant life for all humanity. This is the goal of the Humanist God, because Jesus is God incarnate in a Human life. We may need to widen this thesis to include other persons, once we discover or create other kinds of persons, who are also made in God’s image (whether Aliens or Artificial Intelligences or Genetically engineered beings). But for the last 10,000 years, it seems we are having a hard enough time grasping how much God loves all of humanity. So for now, let us start with humanity, and focus our attention on Jesus Christ, the Humanist God. 


A Provocation on Polytheism

I used to think polytheism was ludicrous. But if I didn't know better, I would think that old gods with names like Mars and Mammon, Eros and Eris, Thanatos and Dionysios, are actually orchestrating events in our society. What is more, it seems like they are all perfectly willing to dress up as Jesus of Nazareth, so long as we worship and sacrifice to the values they embody.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.