Mythic Adventures

Sacred Stories from around the Globe

Archive for the category “Philosophy”

Radio Interview

On Thursday, June 9, 2016, I was once again a guest on iWork4Him with host Jim Brangenberg. We talked about my book, What Does God Do from 9 to 5?

To listen to the hour-long broadcast from Tampa Bay, Florida, click here.

For more about Jim and his show, here is a link.

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Episode 94 The Dawning of the Christ Culture, Part 7

The Apostle Paul visits the city of Athens, home of Greek philosophy. Click on the link below to listen (22:00).

Episode 93 The Dawning of the Christ Culture, Part 6

A brief introduction to Socrates and Plato. Click on the link below to listen (17:58).

Episode 88 The Dawning of the Christ Culture, Part 1

Over the next several weeks, I’ll share excerpts from some lectures I’m giving this fall at Portage Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Portage, Michigan (USA).  Today I introduce the subject of the course: how the Christ Culture grew to be a world-changing power within the Graeco-Roman and Jewish cultures of the time.  Click on the link below to listen (13:15).

Episode 67 Something to Offend Everyone (Part 2 of 2)

This is the conclusion of a keynote address I presented to the Large Church Initiative at Portage Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, May 17, 2012. Click on the link below to listen (13:53):

Episode 0067 Offend 2

Episode 66 Something to Offend Everyone (Part 1 of 2)

On May 17, 2012, my congregation hosted an event called the Large Church Initiative, in which pastors and staff from five large United Methodist Churches gathered for an all-day conference.  The theme of the day was Radical Inclusion, and I was invited to deliver the keynote address.  The title of my speech was “Something to Offend Everyone.”  Here is the first half of that keynote address.  Click on the link below to listen (13:56):

Episode 0066 Offend 1

Episode 61 The Meaning of Life (Part 22 of Series)

To listen to the audio version, please click on the link below (8:06):

Episode 0061 Pt 22

In the stories we have been surveying, life is viewed as more than an arena for mere enjoyment of pleasure or avoidance of pain. It is a time to make progress in the formation of the soul, a progress which is possible only by surmounting difficulties.

Although Christ teaches his disciples to pray for help in avoiding temptation (Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4), this does not mean that Christians are to request freedom from adversity. The Epistle of James in the New Testament advises: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (The Greek word translated “steadfastness” is hupomenay, which means patient endurance of suffering or a perservering state of mind.) “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4 RSV).

In this passage, the word “perfect” and the phrase “full effect” are English translations of the Greek word teleios. This word was important in ancient Greek thought, thanks especially to the writings of Aristotle (a few hundred years before Christ). It refers to the full realization of an idea or the complete maturation of a thing into what it is supposed to be. What James is saying, then, is that Christians’ struggles can transform them fully into the people God wants them to become.

The same word is used in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. In one section of the sermon, Christ talks about the necessity of loving one’s enemies. He concludes that section of his remarks with these daunting words: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 KJV). The word “perfect” in both phrases is teleios again in the Greek. Christ is telling his followers that their goal should be to become fully matured into the compassionate people God wants them to be. And, as we have seen repeatedly, this happens as heroes take on challenges that transform them.

The ancient Greek poet Hesiod writes: “Badness can be got easily and in shoals: the road to her is smooth, and she lives very near us. But between us and Goodness the gods have placed the sweat of our brows: long and steep is the path that leads to her, and it is rough at the first; but when a man has reached the top, then is she easy to reach, though before that she was hard.” (Hesiod, Works and Days, lines 285-295. In Hugh G. Evelyn-White, trans., Hesiod, Homeric Hymns, Epic Cycle, Homerica, Loeb Classical Library, volume 57 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 25.)

The phrase “sweat of our brows” does not refer merely to the performance of menial tasks, although there is no doubt that Hesiod does have that kind of work in mind. More importantly, it refers to the difficulties which arise in trying to live well. Hesiod believes that he lives in a benighted age, a day when true heroes are gone from the earth. In such a time, it is hard work to live a praiseworthy life. “For now truly is a race of iron,” he writes (as opposed to earlier ages of gold, silver, and bronze), “and men never rest from labor and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils” (Ibid., lines 175-180, pp. 13-15).

That last remark, for Hesiod, is what matters. Despite all the troubles humans face, there is some good to be had. But it will not come without hard work.

The subject of Plato’s Republic is whether such hard work pays off in the end. Socrates and his friends consider whether it would be worthwhile to live justly if they were to receive no rewards for being just. By the end of the book they decide that right living is its own reward. On this note, Socrates asks his friends:

And shall we not agree that all things that come from the gods work together for the best for him that is dear to the gods. . . ?

By all means [they reply].

This, then, [he continues] must be ourconviction about the just man, that whether he fall into poverty or disease or any other supposed evil, for him all these things will finally prove good, both in life and in death.  For by the gods assuredly that man will never be neglected who is willing and eager to be righteous, and by the practice of virtue to be likened unto God so far as that is possible for man. (Plato, Republic 10.612e—613b. In Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, eds., The Collected Dialogues of Plato (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 837-838.)

Notice, however, that one must be interested in self-improvement in order to appreciate the benefits of adversity. By themselves, problems do not make life better. Suffering is advantageous only if the heroes use their experiences as opportunities to grow into exemplary individuals. As they seize these opportunities, they benefit even from misfortune.

The Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, writes: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 KJV). What Paul says about the Christian life is proclaimed by all of these stories, from a wide variety of religious traditions. The obstacles that the heroes face along the way can speed them toward victory and, more importantly, toward transformation.

But the heroes have to be receptive to such transformation. It is not that all things work together for good for everybody. All things work together for good to them that love God (or rather, to those who are willing to accept adversity as a gift from God and use it to become better people). As one Book of Mormon prophet says in reference to God: “He shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (Book of Mormon, II Nephi 2:2 (Kirtland ed: 1:61)). This consecration of the heroes’ afflictions for their spiritual gain is what life is ultimately about, according to these stories.

Episode 0020 A Personal Reflection

I take some time out to talk about my own experience living life as a mythic adventure.  Click the link to listen (15 min).

Episode 0020 Personal Reflection

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