Three Taverns Church


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Anticipatory Memory

All life is experienced as memory.

Event X occurs; your senses perceive the event and nerves transmit information to your brain; your brain processes the information into meaningful signals and symbols; you act on the processed information. By the time you act on this processed information Event X is ancient history, milliseconds or more in the past. All of life is “past” by the time you acknowledge its reality.

You think you are reading these words now, but you’re not really; you’re a few nanoseconds away from the actual words: Your eyes had to see the screen; your mind distinguished between the contrast of the background and the letters, then put the letters together into words and sentences, and then translate all of that symbology into some sort of meaning.

One thing which seems to differentiate a mentally healthy person from someone with schizophrenia is the ability to distinguish between the memories of days long past and the memories our brains are just now processing. The schizophrenic “sees” and “hears” people from their memory and experiences them as present in the “now” moment. We don’t share their unique memory (and even if we did our minds would distinguish between “past” and “not-quite-so-past”) so we don’t see or hear the same people.

Or think of a professional baseball player. When he swings, the player is anticipating the place where he thinks the thrown baseball is going to be. At the moment of physical contact between bat and ball his mind has not yet registered it as happening; he’s still a few nanoseconds away from that memory. When he realizes he’s made contact, the contact was long-ago made and he actually perceives the memory of making contact. This may explain why it takes so much practice (10,000+ hours) to become an expert at anything: We have to build up a strong memory of our talent so that we can execute “without thinking”, which really means, “without stopping to try to remember”.

This also explains why I can’t teach you something you don’t already know, that is to say, that which you don’t consciously remember. If you cannot consciously remember knowing something, you say you don’t “know” it. The first time you learn something there is no record in your memory of the lesson, so your brain files it away as something “new”. You only know you “know” upon reflection of this newly-formed memory. And of course, your “knowing”, your memory, often does not align perfectly with the physical reality of the universe, as anyone who’s ever argued with a spouse knows all too well.

What does this mean, then, that all life is experienced as memory?

First, I think it means most of our life is lived as anticipatory memory. Every moment is perceived as “now”, but is actually “past”, so that as I reach for my coffee mug I am anticipating where I remember the coffee mug to “be”, “now”. There’s an element of quantum physics there, I’m sure.

Second, I suppose it means you can’t take anything that happens too seriously. If everything you experience is experienced as memory, it’s already happened; there’s nothing you can do about it. Even the moment you consider “now” is not really “now”.  Furthermore, if you consider the fallibility of your memory, you’ve got to allow that the way you are remembering the “present moment” may not be entirely accurate. Maybe the way you remember it is, is not the way it really is. You’re just remembering the moment through your particularly flawed lens.

Third, this helps explain ideas of grace and forgiveness. God herself chooses “not to remember” our sins any longer. Well, if the present moment is anticipatory memory, then God chooses not to remember even the sins now…and now…and now… As Jesus said, “You must become like little children” to enter the kingdom of heaven. And what is it that children haven’t got? Memory, especially anticipatory memory. They don’t remember that they sinned, or that you sinned against them, and they don’t anticipate the memory of sin “now” or in the “future”.

Fourth, this helps me understand the Eastern philosophy of losing your ego to obtain enlightenment. What is ego but the collection of memories you think are “you”? Even as you read this post and decide whether you like the ideas or not, whether or not you agree with me, whether you think you could’ve written it better; these are all functions of memory. To lose your memory of “yourself” is to lose your ego. To lose the anticipatory memory of your participation of what you perceive to be “now” allows “now” to be what it is without your memory obscuring or altering what IS.

Fifth and finally, I’m wrestling with the implications of this idea as it relates to the idea of death. When a person dies, their physical body ceases functioning; the heart stops beating; the brain stops processing information; cells break down and decay, including the cells holding memory. When you die you don’t physically cease to exist because the energy and matter of your body is converted into new forms. Instead, your brain stops processing information, stops anticipating and recording memories; the memory of your “self” stops. So what “dies” is not your physical body but the memory processes associated with it. You experience death as a cessation of memory accumulation. If you placed the current moment and your moment of death on a timeline, the two points would (hopefully!) be many years apart. But all that really means is that you have not yet “remembered” that you died; you have not anticipated that particular memory yet. However, we’ve all had the dream where we “die” and suddenly wake up in a terrified, cold sweat. How could we dream of dying if we’ve not experienced it, unless we are remembering our dying?

This is quite frustrating. I feel as though I’m right on the edge of something significant, but I can’t remember what it is…


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How To Be Present

I’m sitting on my porch, night is falling, its twilight. Crickets are chirping, people are coming home from dinner or from work. I have a citronella candle burning to keep the mosquitoes away. But instead of of being here in this moment, becoming dark and quiet and peace-full, I’m like a little boy peering through a curtained window at this world.

I’m looking through thin cotton linens and glass, and I don’t quite deserve or belong in the world that I’m in. So instead I gaze out, forlornly, through my window at the world and name things. It’s as if I think by naming things I earn the right to be here. And it’s not until I have named and understood everything I see, participate in, or experience, that I feel  I have earned a place in the world. Obviously this is false.

I deserve to be in the world because I AM in the world. My suffering and my eventual death are the price I pay to be part of this world. But so often I’m not in the world, I’m in my little house, my little cabin, looking out through dirty glass and gossamer window dressings. Because of my labeling mind I’m always at least one step away from where the action is.

The incessant naming, labeling, categorizing, quantifying, measuring; all of this is keeping me from full participation in the world. It feels like participation because my mind is so busy with it, but it’s more like the batter in a baseball game describing the pitch coming towards him rather than just swinging at it.

Presence is like trying to see yourself from outside of yourself, like trying to get a three-dimensional image of yourself sitting in the world, but your thinking mind is constantly trying to convince you that you’re not actually in the world, through its labeling, so that you can’t live with things while you look at them.

Being present means I can’t look at the tree in front of my porch and think to myself “tree”. There is no tree, because the tree is just there. It’s not to say that there’s nothing there, but the thing that’s there and the thing that’s here labeling things…they’re both just here. It’s only my mind that looks there and labels the tree and then reflects upon myself and thinks “myself”.

Being present also means being in the Present, which is the only time we have anyway. It means I can’t fall into the traps of Past and Future.

So how can you be present? Find a quiet place to sit. Turn off your cell phone, turn off the radio and the TV. If you have a quiet place outside, sit there; if not, sit in your living room or your bedroom and look out a window. Take a few deep breaths, but don’t think of it as meditation or immediately your mind will start to label everything through a meditative lens and you’ll find yourself forcing yourself to “meditate”. Instead, just take a few deep breaths and look out the window. Imagine watching yourself looking out the window from another person’s perspective. But you mustn’t think of yourself as “myself”, and whatever your eyes fall upon you mustn’t label either, because as soon as you think “myself” or “that tree” or “the birds I can hear”, you’ve lost it. You’re no longer present. You’re back in your head, you’re like me, a little boy looking through a dirty window and screen.

Go ahead, try it now. Turn off your phone, find a quiet place in the world, and be present with it without labeling it, categorizing it, or being a separate “self” in it.


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You Chose This Life

There’s an idea floating around that each of us ‘chose’ this life before we were born. Just because we don’t remember choosing it is irrelevant; our presence in our bodies and our psycho-social mess is proof we are here because we wanted to be here, wherever it is we are.

You might say, “That’s a bit hard to swallow.” Or maybe it doesn’t comport to your Judeo-Christian worldview, or your Atheistic worldview, or whatever. That’s ok, because there’s another way to say the same thing.

Think about your life for a moment: Your physical existence, with whatever physical pain and health issues you have; your psycho-social situation, with your complexes and neuroses. While you may have lots in common with others with regard to certain aspects of your life, the combination of all of these factors is unique to you, like a fingerprint. So your blessings and troubles are yours.

You agree up to this point, then you say, “But I didn’t choose to have this life, to experience bigotry, to have these health problems, to have the parents I had. I didn’t choose any of that; it just happened to me.

I know it seems that way.

Stop now, deeply consider your life, and ask yourself the following question: Would I trade my life with anyone?

I mean really, trade your whole life situation with someone else? If it’s a person who’s “better off” than you in some way (which it must be, or else why trade with them?), what you’re telling me is that you’d force someone to accept a life you deem inferior so you can steal their goodies. Is that what you really want to do? Let’s say you were abused as a child; are you saying you’d rather your neighbor was abused so you could escape the pain? Or let’s say you lost a child to miscarriage; would you rather the happy, glowing new mommy in line with you at the grocery store would have lost her baby so you could have kept yours?

If so, I’d say you have some real soul-searching to do, because you’re probably not a very nice person.

Or maybe you want to deny the existence of suffering in the world and say, “I don’t like things the way they are, no-one should suffer, everything should be bliss.” Well, I know some Christians are waiting for that day, but I have a feeling they’re in it for the long haul. This is it.

I think this is why Victor Frankl prayed, “God, make me worthy of my suffering.” Your suffering is yours, whether you chose it for yourself before you were born or whether you choose it now by agreeing that trading your life with someone else’s is immoral. Either way, your suffering is still uniquely yours! You have chosen it, one way or another, before the fact or after.

I pray God will surround you with people to help you bear your suffering; that He would shape you into an instrument of love through it.


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Do You Suffer From Spiritual Materialism?

I just discovered the name of the spiritual sickness I and many others suffer from: Spiritual Materialism.

Spiritual materialism is the practice of wanting to hold onto, or to seek out, spiritual experiences. You’re familiar with my bus story; what a wonderful experience that was! Instead of using that experience as a launching point into further realms of spiritual growth, however, I kept wanting to return to that past moment. For the last five years I’ve wanted to keep going back, back, back, back in my head…back to that moment, reliving it, asking God to repeat it, wondering if I should take psychedelic drugs to recreate the moment.

This kind of clinging to a past spiritual experience, or a similar desire to want to continually experience spiritual events, is spiritual materialism.

When you think about someone who is a “materialist” in the common understanding of the word, you probably think of someone who hoards possessions, money, cars, etc. A materialist is someone who values material possessions above all else. Similarly, a spiritual materialist is someone who values spiritual experiences above all else. Neither form of materialism is healthy because neither form acknowledges the object of (let’s be honest) obsession as only relatively real and important.

I see spiritual materialism rampant in my own life, and I also see it rampant in certain denominations of the Christian community. If you are a member of the following denominations you may be a spiritual materialist:

  • Assemblies of God
  • Pentecostal
  • Church of God
  • Catholic Charismatic Movement
  • Holiness
  • Non-Denominational churches emphasizing works of the Holy Spirit

A desire to experience Mystery is not uncommon or wrong. The constant desire for Mystery, however, may be unhealthy. If Mystery enters your life and you enjoy the experience: Mazel tov! That’s wonderful! Some people go through their whole lives and never have that kind of experience. But like anything (money, alcohol, sex, drugs) craving after a thing is not healthy.

Spiritual materialism, the craving after more and greater spiritual experiences, is not holy: It’s an addiction.

And it’s time for me to stop.


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4 New Symbols To Replace The Cross

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Believe it or not, a cross used to be something other than a polished wood “hood ornament” for churches or a piece of jewelry worn by everyone from your little old grandma to a “G” straight out of Compton.

Yes indeed my friend, crosses used to look more like a capital “T” than a lower-case “t”, and the Roman Empire (and others before them) used to hang people from them so that they’d slowly suffocate to death!

Crosses were symbols of murder and oppression by the occupying Roman force in the Near East, meant to act as a deterrent to those who might challenge the authority of Rome. Crosses were re-used, of course, because wood was more scarce than the humans that needed oppressing and murdering.

Thankfully you don’t see crosses being used for their original purpose too often these days, but because of that blessing the symbol of the Cross has probably lost some of its potency. I mean, Christians choosing the Cross as their identifying symbol is akin to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s family acquiring the gun that killed him and mounting it above the mantle.

To bring back the sense of oppression, strife, and suffering alongside their fellow human beings that the Cross was initially meant to induce, I’d like to suggest the following five replacement symbols:

image2 Police Weapons: Whether your local law enforcement officer carries a Glock semi-automatic, a Smith and Wesson revolver, or an automatic weapon of some sort, there’s no doubt armed police forces and occupying armies have been misusing their power to repress humans since the invention of the club and spear. Imagine getting a tattoo that has the verse “John 3:16” twining around the letters “H&K”. South Carolina knows what I’m talking about.

image3Electric Chair/Lethal Injection Table/Hangman’s Noose: Does anyone else find it odd that some Christians are vehemently opposed to abortion but in favor of capital punishment? I guess they missed the verse about God causing His sun to shine and rain to fall on the good and evil alike….Oh well! No biggie!  Innocent men may get murdered once in a while, you argue? That’s alright, as long as we keep the peace…After all, as Pontius Pilate might say, you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet!

untitledThe Almighty Dollar: In case it’s been a few years since you’ve dusted off your King James Version, you might be interested to learn that the only group to earn more scorn and dressings-down from Jesus than the religious leadership of His time was the rich! What with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the Dollar becomes just another tool for those with money to oppress those without it. Zig Ziglar once said, “Money isn’t everything, but it’s right up there with breathing.” Well, there’s a whole lot of poor people in the world who are suffocating to death, just like Jesus did on His cross.

images061TIRQGThe Cross: Ok, ok, I admit it’s a bit odd, suggesting the replacement of the cross with another cross. Maybe this cross is a picture of a guy wearing a cross…I haven’t quite nailed this one down (get it?)…but let’s face it: For a group of people who are supposed to love their enemies and lay down their lives, people who wear crosses to signify their system of belonging don’t have a great track record of following the guy they claim is God. Religious oppression, while not always violent in this country, is extremely oppressive and has hurt millions of people. So maybe we call a spade a spade and replace our churches’ wooden crosses with gold or silver ones to get the point across.

Have you got a suggestion I haven’t thought of? Please let me know! I’d love to read your thoughts. What other symbols of ruling-class-induced suffering and oppression could we use in place of the cross?


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What Would You Do If This Happened To You?

Let me go back to the beginning, to almost five years ago to the day when I had a vision on a bus. There were five elements of the vision.

1. A net, or grid, something glowing and white came down from the sky and was laid on the ground. There was a sense of power and order associated with these lines. A Buddhist I know says this corresponds to something in her religion regarding sacred jewels. In retrospect they remind me of ley lines.

2. I heard a voice. It was not audible, but the words came from without and there was a heavy weight, a gravity to them. The words were: “Everything is according to my will.” There was a feeling of strong pressure on my shoulders and chest, and the feeling that I could trust this voice completely.

3. My imagination was triggered and I had the image of my bus careening down the hillside in a fiery crash. Because of the first two elements of the vision, I was OK with this scene. Everything was under control; everything would be unfolding naturally, and I would be OK with that.

4. I looked around the bus in wonder; was no-one else seeing this? If they were, they were not reacting to it. And then I noticed their eyes. You know how they say the eyes are the windows to the soul? I saw that. I saw the souls of the people on the bus. I saw beings being these different people. And I realized that it was all some variation of the same Being.

5. My imagination was triggered again, and I had a vision of myself tell this story to people all around the world. At the time it felt like a story of hope.

But as I look back over the last five years I see that I have not been faithful to this vision. My message has not been hopeful. I don’t know what I was supposed to do, but I don’t think I’ve done it.

What would you do, if this happened to you?


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Grieving For God

Earlier today I was going to Tweet something along the lines of: “The sad truth is that I don’t tell God I love Him because it’s true; I do it so that I’ll hear it back from Him.”

I realized (again?) today how selfish I am. I may love God somewhere deep in my heart, but most of the time I’m a needy, clingy, co-dependent person who needs to hear God say “I love you” just once, or maybe just once more. My prayers are very sad attempts to manipulate God into saying the words I think I need to hear. I’m a manipulator of the Almighty.

Then tonight, while reading Be Not Afraid: Overcoming The Fear Of Death by Johann Christoph Arnold, I ran across this quote:

“After all, grief is the innate urge to go on loving someone who is no longer there, and to be loved back.”

I thought to myself after reading this, My gosh, that sounds a lot like what I feel all the time! An urge to love a God who doesn’t seem to be there, and to have Him love me back. Being able to label or describe my feelings in this way is helpful. I may be needy or clingy, but maybe I’m also just grieving the loss of God in my life. Or the loss of God as I liked to think of Him: Logical, reasonable, predictable, knowable, with His capital H’s, sitting up on those puffy white clouds, flowing beard, robes, the whole bit.

Reading on:

“And insofar as we hold ourselves back (or allow someone else to hold us back) from bringing this urge to expression, we will remain frustrated, and we will never heal. In other words, grief is the soul’s natural response to loss, and should not be repressed.”

I wonder, how often have I let someone hold me back from grieving for God? Why can’t I mourn the loss of the God I thought was there, the One I used to know but now is gone?

Maybe God will surprise me and show me that the fat old bastard up in the clouds was never Him at all.


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Bus To Nowhere

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I’m on a bus to somewhere with a lively bunch.
We talk, and argue, and play games to pass the time,
All so busy with our entertainments and with each other
That we’re too busy to look beyond the bus
And out the window,
And it takes me a while, quite an embarrassingly long time,
To notice that sometimes, once in a while, at maybe every third or fourth stop,
Someone gets off the bus.

The bus keeps stopping, picking people up,
People who can’t wait to get to where we’re going.
We sing in our seats, we dance in the aisle,
What a joy it is on this bus!

And yet — there it is again, at that last stop,
Someone got off the bus early again!

I think I heard, or just perceived, before they exited our merry band,
A sigh, or maybe a gasp or a sob,
Then they were gone.

But our games keep going, we keep laughing,
We are the triumphal procession on this bus,
We are the sounding trumpets,
We are the Sun rising,
Who could ever want to leave such a place?

Maybe out of morbid curiosity, I don’t know,
I happen to glance out the window as we make our next stop
As people file on board, so excited to get where we’re going.
Out in the darkness, away from the bus stop street lamp,
I see hundreds, thousands of hurting people.

Millions of them, gnashing their teeth, crying out to our luxury cruise liner on wheels,
Where we are having such a marvelously fine time that
No one can hear their cries.

All on our way to heaven,
All on our bus to nowhere.


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Those Who Speak Do Not Know…

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When you know what I know, you are dying to tell everyone you know, but you know it won’t do any good because you know no one is listening. Not really listening. Like when Jesus said the people of Israel had eyes to see and ears to hear, but didn’t.

You know everything I know, everything Jesus knew, but you don’t want to know what you know so you ignore it, or you hold it at arms length with academic arguments, or you rationalize it and spiritualize it until it fits into your denominational god-shaped-box.

I’m not claiming to be anywhere near the end of this journey, but when I look around I see the crowd is a lot thinner than it used to be.

When you know what I know, you realize there’s no real need to speak because those who want to know will find a way to learn, and the rest will be stuck wherever they are. So you find that speaking really only serves your egoic need to be a Teacher, a Healer, or a Hero.

And that’s where I’ll end it.