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    • #47005
      Rich Paxson

      Where would you like to go from here?

      Sheelah, thank you for all your comments, on my last post, and in your many other responses. You’ve taken the time to reflect on what I wrote. Your persistence and counsel have helped me reach this ending point and have helped me to grow in patience and understanding.

      My two and a half year experience here changed my life. I’ve learned to recognize the profound difference between the demands of the social other and the Call of the Other other. I hear God’s call ‘… just there, alongside, calling [me] into being, forgiving and challenging, teaching [me] to laugh at [myself], not despising [me] or putting [me] down.’

      Now that I’ve completed the course, I will go back and review its interwoven ideas and concepts. I will explore the requirements of teaching the course in a study group at our parish church. I’ve begun a journey as a lay preacher. I will ground sermons that I write in “Jesus, the Forgiving Victim,” who walks alongside each of us every day challenging, teaching, and laughing with us.

    • #47003
      Rich Paxson

      Discuss the different ways goodness and badness is achieved according to sacrifice and according to mercy.

      Goodness According to Sacrifice works through beliefs and actions the believer employs to shield him or her from the effects of God’s violent response to human sin. Death reflects the contamination of human failure to find perfect cover from God’s anger. Jesus was the only person whose cover was perfect and who then paid the price for God’s redemption of all humankind. Believing in Jesus ensures the immortality of the believer. Just as Jesus’s resurrection and ascension back into Heaven validated His immortality, so also after death, if one believes in Jesus, the ordinary women or man will rise from the dead to follow Jesus into Heaven.

      Goodness According to Mercy comes through human participation within God’s eternal life, the Christ presence within each of us. Immortality and eternal life are different concepts. Immortality transcends mortal perception. Eternal life is about God’s inscrutable but loving presence within human perception. James’s discussion of the Parable of the Good Samaritan reflects the immediacy of eternal life, which takes form in the Samaritan’s visceral, emotional and open-endedly merciful response to the victim. Responding to God’s gut-wrenching love, we bring immediate and accessible “Goodness According to Mercy” to the aid of our neighbor.

      James gave a talk on the conversion to Goodness According to Mercy in 2010 at Sturt University in Canberra, Australia, which echoes what James wrote in “Jesus, the Forgiving Victim.” James put a transcript of his talk online. The transcript’s last paragraph reflects what it means to recognize and to begin following the road to eternal life. The process of giving up Goodness According to Sacrifice feels both excruciating and exhilarating simultaneously as God’s living presence actively loves in the form of personal actions that move toward, not away from, victims of sacrificial ‘goodness.’ God loves eternally with the goodness of God’s presence – now.

    • #46997
      Rich Paxson

      In the Discussion Forum of this unit, share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous session showing up in your life.

      What have I been noticing? I am much more patient than I was. Recognizing the privilege of spending time with another person, I argue less. If I must argue a point, I say my piece and then stop to listen accepting that there may be no immediate resolution.

      What I desired before I no longer want as I relax into the moment where the next step may be unknown. Means not ends, become more important than desired outcomes. I watch the drivenness of my life fall away leaving no clear picture or need to know what comes next, and yet, there always is a ‘next.’

      Of course, I’m not living with all these changes all the time. The structures of my prior life endure providing the forms that carry new awareness into being. That is good, except at those times when I regress into longing for an object and seemingly step off the path for the journey.

    • #46992
      Rich Paxson

      In the Discussion Forum for this module, join the conversation around – “The approach in Paul’s letters is not ‘do X, and then you will become Y,’ but rather, ‘Because you are finding yourself X, so do Y.’ ”
      Rules that say Do X to become Y, until I took this course, described my approach to personal morality. It took me a while to complete this particular post because I acknowledge here a release from dependence upon unstated external rules to manufacture goodness.

      God’s creative love, the only real foundation of righteousness, is not about producing virtue or based on any particular morality code. St. Paul writes that goodness comes like this – Because I find myself X, so I do Y.

      Because this course introduced me to a new way of knowing and experiencing God’s love, now I share that love with others. I first became conscious of this change during daily walks through the same neighborhoods where I’ve lived the past forty-two years. Jesus, the other Other, walks alongside me on these rambles. Then, as close as my breathing in and my breathing out, I remember Christ-Presence throughout the remainder of the day.

      What I feel while walking calms and energizes at the same time. I feel loved walking and so find myself acting lovingly toward others at later times and in other places. I remain calm in the company of ‘social situation shoulds’ that before would only have irritated. Now as my fears evaporate, some quickly and some not so fast, I speak and act with a loving purpose that becomes apparent through no mental gymnastics but in the words and the actions themselves.

    • #46989
      Rich Paxson

      In the Discussion Forum for this module, join the conversation around these questions: Describe someone who has been a mentor in your life. What about this person inspired you? What qualities or abilities of your mentor did you try to incorporate into your life? How did those qualities or abilities express themselves in your life?

      When April arrives each year, as it has now, I begin my daily four-mile pilgrimages. Rain or shine, I walk through nearby Mason City’s neighborhoods accompanied by Harry Caldwell, Professor of Geography and my graduate advisor at the University of Idaho. Harry was a significant mentor in my life. Although Harry died many years ago, he remains with me on my walks because it was he who introduced me to the significance and meaning of borders in spatial analysis.

      Now as I walk through Mason City, I search for evidence revealing the many natural and artificial boundaries that signal the end of one and the beginning of the next neighborhood. I wonder how and why these areas of town differ as I cross the boundaries separating one region from another. What’s it like to live in the central business district? How would my life change if I lived in nearby, expensive areas like Rock Glen or River Heights? Homeowners there surround their communities with stone walls. One wonders if they allow pilgrims to walk along their secluded bluffs or down below in the river valley.

      How then can I relate my urban area walks to my faith journey? Jesus, the Forgiving Victim, walks alongside in my daily peregrinations firmly yet lovingly encouraging me to engage the people I meet. The Rev. Marlin Whitmer, another of my mentors, used a Greek term for Jesus’s companionship – ‘parakaleo,’ which means walking alongside.

      I thought of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales when I began writing this. Now, equally as unbidden here in the last paragraph, Gerry and the Pacemakers’ 1963 song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” comes to mind. We all need neighbors as we walk through life, whether we live in the fourteenth, the twentieth, or the twenty-first century. Daily walking “restoreth my soul” as the Psalmist wrote. Mentors; chance encounters – human and canine; the past, present, and future all dance within the steps of each daily pilgrimage.

    • #46980
      Rich Paxson

      In the Discussion Forum of this unit, share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous session showing up in your lives.

      Sheelah, thank you for your comments and for sharing James’s quotation regarding the ‘grandeur of creation erupting through subtle changes in the relationships among ordinary people.’ I notice this reality as an inner peace that I don’t talk much about yet, but which is more and more present in my life. This quiet reality replaces conditioned (social other) personal responses at unexpected times and places. For example, when I stand in a grocery store check-out line, or when I present in front of a large group, or when I respond to what previously would have been unwelcome interruptions to cherished daily routines. This inner sense of peace and gratefulness expands the space for me even as it finds room for itself through me. Is this the experience of secondary beacon-ness? I read “secondary beacon” but haven’t until now connected the term to real time and real events happening to me. Now I am grateful to sink into this new, and most ancient, way of being.

    • #46977
      Rich Paxson

      What grandeur is made possible by finding ourselves part of a real family, one that forms its unity around the presence of the Forgiving Victim?

      Jesus, the Forgiving Victim, opens up each one of us to the grandeur of discovering our true selves as created daughters and sons of God. We are not the false selves, the patterns of desire, that the social other consistently works to create within us. The Forgiving Victim brings us to recognize and to love our neighbors even as God first loved us. We find the grandeur in this fellowship in both old and new friendships in the ever expanding family of God. The inner peace and the joy of life in Jesus flow within the regular cycles of the day where the warm embrace of neighbor happens in places as disparate as a grocery store aisle, in a church, or on a stage in front of millions.

    • #46974
      Rich Paxson

      4.4.8b-The grandeur in the everyday: Listen and Share — Please share what Mary, Jesus’ mother, has meant to you and your faith journey. Has your understanding of Mary changed in response to this module? In what way?

      I think of Mary playing only a slight role in the growth and change of my faith journey. James describes Mary as one who “… patiently helps us undo the knots that tie us into the old creation, so as to help us come to reflect the new” and also how in her life Mary was “stretched.”

      “And here it really is worth our while to spend a little time with Mary, for if there is any way at all that we can understand the things I’ve been trying to point towards here, it is in her company. Her personal history is one of being stretched out of myth and into history. There is a continuity between the old creation and the new, between the Old Israel, and its institutions, and the new, and it is lived out by Mary being stretched by what is done in her as she provides the flesh for the Lord God to come among his people; and then in what is done to her as the Lord God works among his people. She is the first, and most complete example of that “secondariness” that I’ve been trying to bring out in this essay, receiving who she is through the regard of the Presence which has come into history through her.”

      While that’s a long quotation, I wanted to include it all, because it reflects my dawning understanding of the meaning of Mary’s life, its connection to “secondariness,” and the reality that grace stretches each of our lives into the grandeur of relationship with all generations of our brothers and sisters.

      My wife’s Aunt Dorothy comes to mind. Dorothy left Emmetsburg, Iowa in the 1930s for Detroit where she began her faith journey as Mercy nun Sister Concetta. In the second half of her life, Dorothy left the Mercy Order and married. She and Paul never had children. No, Dorothy’s children lived all over the United States.

      Dorothy dedicated the last half of her life to ‘parenting’ the growth of the Teen Encounters Christ (TEC) movement in the American Roman Catholic Church. I witnessed a small fraction of Dorothy’s life of sister in Christ to thousands all across the country as she regularly reached out to include her family of origin in the witness of her faith journey.

      In those times I knew I was in the presence of something both ordinary and grand. Until now in this course, however, I haven’t had the theological framework through which to understand the real genesis of Dorothy’s life and work. God stretched Dorothy’s life to receive “… who she is through the regard of the Presence which has come into history through her.”

      Am I saying that Dorothy was some latter-day Mary? I don’t know. And yet I remember that when Dorothy died, many at the celebration of her life witnessed to Dorothy’s help facilitating God’s presence and action in their own personal faith journeys.

    • #46972
      Rich Paxson

      What once was a safety line or a lifeline, can, under new circumstances, bring harm, not security, into one’s life. For example, unorthodox eating patterns that may have been healthy as an adolescent when carried unaltered into later life may be related to obesity or bulimia. When ‘bad habit’ patterns first come together, they meet some real or perceived need, which allows the person to see these practices as lifelines. It’s the personal perception that counts, whether or not the underlying reasoning, or lack thereof, is warranted.

      Perhaps the phrase ‘old habits die hard’ sums up the idea that what met a real need at one time can later become a knotty problem, not the solution. For example, lying and deceit may protect a child in an abusive parent-child relationship. When such a pattern of lying and deceit lives beyond the abusive relationship, those behaviors become at best self-defeating and at worst self-destructive.

      We need to look at the way our present habits, developed in us through past interactions with the social other, affect our openness to a new relationship with the Other other. We need to recognize that our social other conditioned past is behind us and become open to new growth into a future facilitated by the Other other. Our turning points may be dramatic, ‘road to Damascus’ moments, or they may come upon us gradually. In either case, we need to decide to turn, to repent, to trust in God’s grace, no longer driven by social other approval.

    • #46970
      Rich Paxson

      4.8 The grandeur of the everyday: Remembering ourselves
      How do our memories remind us of who we are?

      We were fishing for halibut on my friend John’s boat in Kodiak Island’s Roslyn Bay on the Gulf of Alaska one breezy June 1973 day. Our long-lines had been soaking on the seabed for a couple of hours, so it was time for us to reel them in. We hoped there were at least a few halibut caught by the sharp steel hooks. The day had been sunny with a slight breeze, but our timing was bad because we began reeling in the lines just as the early-afternoon onshore wind began to blow.

      The rising wind made for choppy waves. We hadn’t caught any of the up to one-hundred-pound halibut when one of the hooks on the ocean floor got snagged on something. The big stern drum kept reeling in the line, which pulled the boat lower and lower in the water. My friend John believed that a big fish, not a snag, was dragging the gunwales down to the waterline, so he refused to cut the fishing line.

      It was a snag that was dragging us down. We knew for sure only after clambering into our lifeboat, a dinghy tied to the stern, to escape a now swamping fishing boat. It all happened so fast. We could untie the dinghy only after abandoning the sinking fishing vessel. Untying the dinghy was now my job.

      The North Pacific water was icy and very choppy that afternoon when I reached down into the water to undo the knot in the line holding the dinghy fast to the fishing boat. I wasn’t the most accomplished fisherman and had tied a square knot in the line. That square knot, underwater and under high tension, was impossible to untie. The swamping fishing boat was close to pulling the dinghy down with it under the water. John struggled forward in the dinghy with a knife. He reached down into the water, cut the line, and the dingy immediately bobbed free.

      We were about a quarter mile offshore. It took awhile, but we finally made it. I’ll never forget the feeling lying there in the rough seagrass in the sun-heated, black sand. Gravity pulled me tight to the earth, and I wanted never to leave that spot.

      John and I are still friends. We may have talked about this incident in conversation over the years. John went on to captain several large North Pacific ships in a long career at sea. Capsizing a boat on a sunny, breezy day in a protected bay for him is probably just a blip on his radar screen of years of sea stories.

      The memory for me, however, reminds me now about trust, and dependence on others, and our frequent inability to control an unpredictable world. The story tells me that rather than individuals, we are inter-dividuals. Our actions can reflect new arrangements, or they can undo existing arrangements; for example when a knot in what was a safety line turns that line into the instrument of our drowning.

      My story leaves me with a question. Where in my life do today I find the knotted lines working no longer to save but now to harm?

    • #46967
      Rich Paxson

      In the Discussion Forum of this unit, share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous session showing up in your lives.

      Peaceful Listening, acceptance of people and situations that would have been bothersome before my time studying here come to mind as Forgiving Victim insights ‘showing up’ in my life more frequently now. James writes “[Our] being is given to us from what looks to us like a future that is opening itself into our midst, making us alive to it as it does so.”

      These ongoing irruptions of ‘new beginnings’ seem to fit James’ idea of “secondariness,” which we encountered in section one of Essay Eleven: “While I’m held in that experience [of secondariness], part of the aliveness of the moment in which I glimpse my “secondariness” is that it is a moment of someone else’s presence towards me which opens up for me my own relationship, simultaneously, to my past and my future. The longer I’m held in their regard, the more easily I am able both to remember, to cope with, my past, and to imagine a future to which I can aspire.”

      The concept of secondariness intrigues me. I need to follow Moses’ example at the burning bush. I need to stop, to leave my usual path paying attention to the unpredictable, Godly irruptions of ‘secondariness’ in my life.

    • #46947
      Rich Paxson

      In what ways might God still be active in Creation? How might God involve you in the ongoing work of Creation?

      While I don’t know exactly how God might “… still be active in Creation,” I am free to “taste and see” God’s Creation knowing that Jesus said I am so much a part of God’s Creation that even the (diminishing number of) “… hairs on [my] head are all counted,”

      According to the news, just yesterday. Scientists found 3.77 billion-year-old fossils containing evidence of life on the earth. Fossil evidence gives us a sense of the distances between moments in geological time and those in our mundane, diurnal lives. And yet, God’s presence compasses both the geological and the ordinary. God’s ongoing work of Creation comprehends all past, present and future moments. Past moments, embedded in the deathless present, inform future creation within the eternal cycle of growth and decay.

    • #46945
      Rich Paxson

      “James says that in Luke’s account of the Passion, we see Jesus, the definitive Adam, getting right what the first Adam got wrong. What was it that Adam got wrong? What is Jesus getting right? How does it feel to discover that the Creator loves you that much?”

      The Discussion questions for this lesson made sense but also engendered feelings of cognitive dissonance. I think it’s their seemingly great distance from my psychological and social world that bothers me. In my background, the Adam and Eve narrative has no direct or behavioral connection with Jesus. Maybe there’s a conceptual connection through the forgiveness of original sin. But a direct storyline connection, Jesus’s actions ‘literally’ reversing the consequences of Adam’s actions, no.

      I see the Adam and Eve narrative as a model that’s useful for understanding humanity’s attempts to control conflict and to explain humanity’s consequent alienation from God. But, did the Gospel writers, knowing a relationship between Jesus and Adam as James explains it, craft their narratives with the Genesis model in mind rather than sticking to the ‘facts on the ground’? The Gospel writers crafted a narrative combining myth and reality, which I’ve known in theory, but until now haven’t thought about integrating into how I live my life.

      This acceptance is both disturbing and liberating. The insight does not engender feelings of being loved, no, the moment of ‘liberation’ feels confusing. Abstract ideas, like Jesus reversing Adam’s sin, require time to percolate through my psyche before I can feel emotionally connected to them. I need time before I can live into new actions that I base upon my new understandings.

    • #46936
      Rich Paxson

      “God isn’t finished with me yet!” This phrase implies that God and I are separate and that God has some goal or end-state in mind for me. “… isn’t finished with me” suggests “failures and imperfections,” so also there must be successes and perfection. Apparently, both God and I are working on me. What separates us? I can fail, or succeed. What is my proper role? and God’s role?

      In the Introduction to Essay Eleven James writes “… everything that is, is shot through with what I might call ‘secondariness’.” James goes on to say “This “secondariness” is not a form of diminishment, or being put down, but an accurate and objective sense of createdness, something which can in fact be relaxed into with gratitude.”

      Rather than a mindset of “God is not finished with me yet.” I like to think of ‘relaxing into acceptance of secondariness.’ God is primary. Humanity is secondary. Gratitude is the key to relaxing into a relationship with God from our secondariness. And yet, what is gratitude? In a recorded lecture I once heard, Brother David Stendl-Rast said that gratitude is ‘thankfulness in advance.’ Relaxing into acceptance of secondariness means being thankful in advance for new, fulfilling relationship with God and therefore our neighbor.

      Relaxing is an iterative process. That is, we don’t move from the tight muscles of defensiveness to a willing acceptance of God’s gifts in one leap. No, gradually, over time, we drop our defenses, and in so doing we relax. Slowly we awaken to the beauty of the Lord in our surroundings, to our secondariness, thankful for God’s unceasing gifts to which we previously had been blind.

      Rather than “God is not finished with me” a grateful, secondary life observes its surroundings and orients itself to God’s reconciling love. As we relax, we accept God’s love. Then as naturally as the falling rain, God’s love flows through us quickening the love of neighbor. An alternative to the phrase “God is not finished with me yet” could well be: Where now am I most loving toward my neighbor?

    • #46960
      Rich Paxson

      Thank you, Sheelah, for taking the time to respond to my posts! I’m glad the Raven Foundation followed through to repair the JFV website’s technical issues. I will send Maura a thank you email.

      You wrote about James’s “vastly superior force moving [me] towards them.” Often now, this dynamic is quite apparent to me – both in private and in social occasions where I’m now responding with significantly increased tolerance. That is, I find myself becoming willingly present in situations I used to avoid or try to control. Now, I relax into just about anywhere I find myself.

      I’m reading the epistles appointed in the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office, along with Kindle editions of Collegeville Commentaries. The commentaries regularly trigger reminders of JFV material, so these daily quiet times reinforce and refresh the study I’ve completed so far here. Thanks again for your guiding responses, here in the Forum.

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