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Christians at this early time taught that paradise had always been here on earth. They believed that Jesus, through his life and teachings reopened for humans the way to experience this paradise on earth. Christians could taste, see, and feel glimpses of paradise in their ordinary lives. But they experienced paradise most fully in their worship together as a community.

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In these early images of Jesus, he appeared, not as the bleeding crucified corpse of later imagery, but the Jesus who had healed the sick, who had taught his followers, and who had transformed the world with the spirit of love. So the focus for these early Christians was on the possibility of paradise in this life, rather than the bloody death of Jesus to atone for the sins of humankind.

He is clearly saying that the Kingdom of God is not something to come later, but something that is here right now if only people could perceive it.

Jesus called it the Kingdom of God, but we could also refer to it as a kingdom of the spirit, of a Buddhist-like state of awareness, or as an earthly paradise. In these churches, the Eucharist, or communion meal, was celebrated as a feast of life, not as a reenactment of a death. Worshippers greeted each other in peace and reconciliation, they brought gifts to support the church, and food to share. So where and when did the crucifixion begin to appear?

Brock and Parker finally located the earliest known surviving crucifix in a gothic cathedral in Cologne, in Germany. Known as the Gero cross, it was sculpted from oak in Saxony in around The life-sized work depicts a nearly-naked Christ hanging on the cross: his eyes are closed, his mouth gapes open, deep lines scar his face. Depictions of the crucified Jesus began to appear in Europe in the 10th and 11th Centuries, and they became increasingly grotesque and bloody.

These gory images appeared because they reflected the increasingly brutal lives of the people. Until this time, Christians had taught that shedding human blood was a sin, and that participation in war was evil. Soldiers were required to do penance.

Paradise in This Life

But now, the needs of empire dictated that there needed to be justification for violence. In , Pope Urban the Second called for the first crusade. Across Europe, nobles, bishops, monks, and laity were urged to take up arms and journey to Jerusalem to attack and kill Muslims. Engaging in warfare became a short cut to paradise. And the theological underpinnings of all this were provided by Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury. Sinners, which meant all humans, would be punished unless they had done penance to fulfill their debt to God, who was like a kind of feudal lord.

Well, this leads to all kinds of ramifications, of course, ones that theologians, and priests, and ministers, have debated over ever since. But note its effect on the focus of religion for the worshipper, for the believer. According to one view, to be a good Christian, one would follow the life and teachings of Jesus.

The goal would be to discover, to claim, paradise in this life. Through worshipping together, through love and compassion, followers would find earthly paradise in the form of loving community. By the other view, which came along with crucifixion, and the theology of substitutionary atonement, humanity was saved, and admitted to an otherworldly paradise, by the bloody, agonizing death of Jesus on the cross. And so the focus shifted to an emphasis on death. To kill or be killed for God became the quickest route to paradise.

Humanity was divided into the saved and the damned. And paradise was lost — it was changed from a spiritual realm to be entered into in this life. It was postponed to an afterlife, or it was secularized as a land to be conquered. For example, our Universalist ancestors continued to challenge the theology of redemptive violence, and to preach salvation in this life through the redeeming power of love. Entering paradise meant being spiritually transformed into a person rooted in love.

Paradise could be now, Leade taught, and our lives could be part of a renewal of paradise. In 19th Century New England the Universalist preacher, Hosea Ballou argued that heaven and hell are not in some afterlife, but in the life we create here and now for one another. Ballou categorically rejected violent doctrines of atonement. What this narrative illustrates, is that there are two ways that we might approach Christian teachings. We can see Jesus of Nazareth as a man — a man who led an exemplary life.

Spiritual Awareness

A prophet, a teacher, a healer, a rabbi, a mystic, a radical social reformer. Love is the central message of his life and teachings. By building loving, caring relationships, we do the work of reclaiming, of re- discovering, paradise in this life. We neglect our creativity and squander our gifts.

This disconnect from our true nature keeps us from seeing our greater purpose as well as the rippling consequences of our actions that affect other people, other creatures, and the planet at large—our greater family. Our Dispirited Dream conditions us to believe in scarcity. Not enough resources, not enough for all of us, at least.

This myth tells us that we, as individuals, are also fundamentally inadequate. As a result, we always need more, more time, more money, more products to make us better. In a scarcity culture, survival becomes the primary objective and another reason to turn away from what matters to us most deeply. This dogma of lack fuels our greed, causing us to take too much, hoard, binge, overuse, deplete resources and manipulate others. We have to be vigilant that others do not take our share. We end up worshipping stuff and bowing to a ruthless economy that determines our access to abundance.

Then when you know better, do better.

Our Dispirited Dream diminishes our inner authority and our inborn capacity to craft our reality. We struggle to own our own power and are a bit confused about who is really in charge of our lives. We have inherited the illusory dream of our predecessors who believed in an outer force to make decisions and determine our destiny. Whether you were educated religiously or not, western civilization is influenced by Judeo-Christian religious myths, many of which relegate much authority to an outer God.

I recall my first introduction to God early in childhood.

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He was portayed as an angry, old white man who lived in the sky. And yet it was impressed upon me that I should love him. You can understand why I found this portrait confusing. Remnants of delegating authority to an external authority are still alive within our collective psyche. We assume the role of child in a universe controlled by an outer, harsh, punishing force. This entrenched perspective leads us to believe that we are powerless to change the conditions of our world, which is the biggest travesty of all. Not being empowered allows us to be unaccountable for our actions, as if someone else, some unknown parental force in charge, will come and clean up the mess.

I tell you, no one is coming. We will be the ones to change the dream.

Life Force: Experience Paradise in Your Lifetime

Our Dispirited Dream demands conformity. We are conditioned to believe that making our way in this world is a battle and that we better go along to get along. Once I was truly able to live according to my own dream, my own dharma, once I allowed new story to define my life, then the chronic, allegedly chemical and familial depression disappeared altogether from my life and has not returned. If you could fly above, you would witness your unquestionable membership in the cosmic verse. You are constantly effected and effecting, undeniably woven into an ecosystem, a food chain, eating and being eaten, hosting and being hosted by many other life forms at all times.

Your living, in whatever minuscule way, impacts the ecology — the soil, the flow of rivers, the cleanliness of oceans, and the quality of air. Flying above, you would see how your ideas and emotions rapidly reverberate along a human circuit. You would witness how many acts of cruelty are stopped with your one small, conscious refusal to pass on the suffering.