January 28th – Field Trip – BOTA in Atlanta

Our first “Field Trip” will be to the Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore in Atlanta, GA on January 28th at 12:30pm. This will be a regular meeting of The Builders of the Adytum, an esoteric study group established upon the work of the late Paul Foster Case, a giant in the study of Tarot and the Western Mystery Tradition. The meeting proper begins at 12:30pm but please arrive early to orient yourself and meet up with other members of the Narthex.

After the meeting we will do a little shopping and then meet at a local restaurant to discuss the Builders of the Adytum and how their Work can inform our own.

January 14th – Cup of Joe – Gospel of Thomas

“Cup of Joe” is the name of a Narthex meeting at a coffee shop to discuss the various sacred texts of our tradition over a cup of coffee and lead by Brother Joe Revels. These will be very informal meetings where anyone can show up, join in, and stay for as long or as little as you like. The books to be discussed will be mentioned ahead of time but you do not have to do the reading ahead of time as we will be reading the texts at the meeting (although familiarity with the source text is suggested).

Our first Cup of Joe meeting in 2018 will be held at the Dunkin Donuts in Calhoun, GA on January 14th starting at 6pm. Unless otherwise noted, most Cup of Joe meetings will be held at this venue and at this time.  Our topics will include the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip, both available for free from gnosis.org.

We hope to see you there!

The Yazidis and Me

In recent months we have heard a number of disastrous reports of the Yazidi people being specifically targeted by members of ISIL for rape, torture, enslavement, and murder. The terrorists seem to take special glee in butchering Yazidi men and forcing Yazidi girls (some as young as six) into sexual slavery. In part, I believe this is because the Yazidi people have long been a persecuted minority in the Muslim dominate countries and called “Devil Worshipers.”

The Yazidi are a small community nestled amongst the Kurdish communities in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey that have religious beliefs that predate Islam by hundreds, possibly even thousands of years. As is any living religious system, the details and nuance of this belief system are far too vast to handle here with even the most cursory treatment but I will say that many of their beliefs appear to be strangely Gnostic.

The Yazidis themselves would balk at such a categorization, I’m sure, and even modern scholarship would disagree but I can’t help but think about Classical Gnosticism when I hear of their worship of “The Peacock Angel.” They seem to have a concept of a “god above God” and on first blush worship al-Shaitan, the Satan of the Muslim world.  This parallels greatly to the Gnostic idea of the Demiurge being an inferior world creator and there being a greater Being behind him. This also parallels the labeling of Gnostics as “Satan Worshipers” because some Gnostic systems glorify beings that are traditionally portrayed as pure evil, such as the Serpent in the Garden.

While ISIL is not in any way representative of actual Muslim beliefs, most of the members have grown up in a Muslim world and from childhood have been inculcated with doctrines that include the Divine Inspiration and lifelong focus on the Koran and its teachings. The Yazidis have often offended even the religious moderates with their divergent beliefs and practices and so the normal mercy shown by a sensible and devout Muslim even for so called “Devil Worshipers” will be utterly compromised by a terrorist zealot that appeals to the most deranged interpretations of Scripture. In short, whatever basic decency that society has taught these villains is regularly thrown out in the pursuit of their political aims but even more so among the Yazidi in whom even the most compassionate Muslim could find cause for great disagreement.

The human tragedy of all this is painful for me to bear, sheltered and safe, thousands of miles away, how much more so is this agony endured by these victims? In no way do I wish to appropriate this sorrow but I do feel a certain kinship to it, distant as it may be. As Gnostics, we are the radical group nestled amongst the Evangelicals and the Catholics and all the others that make up the Christian majority of our home. While it would be ignorant to the point of evil to say that we have it anywhere near as bad as the Yazidi people, I do believe we share the kinship of having to be a bit more circumspect in our religious discussions in the public forum. We can and do face minor aggression and are targeted for social attacks or shaming. In the same way the “Muslims” (and I use the word very loosely) of ISIL feel extra free in targeting the Yazidis, I know that many of my Christian brethren feel extra free in showing the poorest parts of their character to the oddball religious minority we are a part of.

It’s strange how bigotry works. As a lifelong resident of the South, racial tension has been part and parcel of my life here and in that context, “half-breeds,” those who have both a white and a black parent, are hated by the lunatic supremacists even more than a full-blooded black African. It is somehow more vile to them that you are somehow corrupting the white blood with black blood rather than just stay a seperate, “inferior” black. I bring this up because this same schema plays out among Christian Gnostics who are seen as worse than actual atheists or possibly even cult members because we “corrupt” Christianity and deceive ourselves in our take on the Christian faith. We are the “half-breeds” of Christianity and have a large target on our back.

I’m very glad to have the freedoms that I have and any micro-aggressions I receive from the angry or ignorant are a far cry from rape, torture, and forced servitude. But with the Yazidi in mind, we should always work to insure the religious freedom of all people and despite being under the Christian banner, we should always take care to never let the assumption of Christian faith and values blunt our ability to relate to marginalized groups, even if they were our personal enemies. We have to love our enemy, after all; a very difficult command indeed.

Let us pray that the Yazidi people find peace and freedom from their torment and let us do all we can to protect the religious minorities in our country from persecution even if that persecution is often more annoying than lethal.

 

Hold up the Light of Christ in All Things,

Bro. Joe

Looking Ahead to 2018

After a rather chaotic start that consisted of trying a variety of meeting types, I hope to settle into a relatively predictable pattern in the new year. The largest change is going to be an increase in meeting times from once a month to twice a month.

The first meeting of every month will focus on Theory. It will usually be a coffee shop style meeting to discuss the Johannite church, specific theological topics or study Scripture, whether Gnostic, Canonical, Hermetic, or otherwise. The other meeting will be of a “rotating” type focusing on Practice. This will include Logos Services, Agape Meals, Nature Hikes, Esoteric Workshops, Meditation Seminars, and whatever else we can dig up to do.

As far as our studies in the coming year, we are going to start with the Gospel of Thomas, reading through it together as a group, and discussing any insights gained. We will supplement this with working through the new Johannite school of instruction as the various lessons come available. This school will cover basics of what makes the Apostolic Johannite Church different from other churches and our unique approach to the Great Mystery. Other study items on the table include the Gospel of Philip and Valentinian Gnosticism as well as a discussion on Heresy. This will be expanded as the year goes on.

Finally, we have a big blowout planned for the feast day of our patron saint, St. John the Baptist. This falls at the end of June and will be one part philosophical discussion and one part block party. More details to come.

I’ll be posting the schedule for the rest of the Winter months soon.

God bless you all and seek the Light in all things.

Bro. Joe

 

Feast of St. John the Beloved Disciple (Updated)

The Narthex Leader will be hosting an Agape Meal in his home in honor of the feast day of St. John the Beloved Disciple. The meal will be at Brother Joe’s house on December 30th, starting at 7pm.  Given the small and private venue, it is important for guests to communicate directly with Brother Joe ahead of time if they are planning to attend. This can be done via the St. John’s Facebook group or via email at [email protected]

For those who have never experienced an Agape Meal, it is a lovely ritual experience. It is based upon some of the earliest traditions of the church that nevertheless fell out of common use over a thousand years ago. The AJC proudly resurrected this practice and it is a real treat. It exists in this pleasant space somewhere between formal and casual, religious and social, ritualistic and hedonistic.

There will be no formal dress code for this event.

Conclave 2018

Our church’s Conclave is scheduled for May 17-22, 2018 in Portland, Oregon. It is a beautiful and edifying experience and I encourage anyone who is able to go to do so. You will make some friends and learn a lot about our tradition and yourself.

The Discipline of Prayer

I’ve never been much of the praying type.

When I was a child and everyone would bow their heads in prayer, I would look around at their faces. I think I was looking to see if they were really praying or just going through the motions; a sort of primitive check for authenticity. I barely joined in. Even as an adult and a lay preacher within various evangelical churches, I was always seriously deficient in having a regular prayer life. Maybe I felt inauthentic myself in trying to make up some words. Maybe I just did not theologically understand how prayer was supposed to work. Maybe I was just undisciplined and didn’t really care. Honestly, it was a little of all of the above.

Since my involvement with the Apostolic Johannite Church, there have been a number of “mundane” Christian activities that have had new life breathed into them. My gallivanting through the abyss of the occult and my dalliances with atheism have became a long winding story of me rejecting everything I was raised to believe only to come back to it in a dramatically new way. I suppose it is like the old adage, “If you love it, let it go. If it really loves you back, it will come back.” I left Christ, He let me go, and I came back. However, I came back on my own terms, not as an Evangelical Protestant but as an Independent Sacramentalist, an Esotericist, a Christian, a Gnostic, and a Johannite. All that said, prayer is one of those things that I feel I am seeing clearly for the first time. It still feels strange to institute something as mainstream as a “prayer list” but I  definitely see the advantage now.

First of all, my occult studies have taught me the power of intentionality and the Will. What is magick if not a way of materializing your desire through a symbol set? What is prayer if not magick? Think about it: You invoke a higher being, whether an angel or saint, by creating a ritual space. This space could be a candle-lit altar or just kneeling with a bowed head and closed eyes as a physical symbol of submission. I particularly like the act of pressing the hands together in the traditional stance of prayer. It is archaic and quaint but really sets the stage for the act of invoking the Divine. Once this ritual space (however simplistic or ornate) is made, you connect. It may be begging for help, seeking clarity for a decision, or simply saying thank you. Whether you meditate quietly or speak it aloud, you want this intention to be made manifest. The similarities to various occult processes are obvious, even curses and hexes.

How is prayer like a curse? When someone is cursed, the one hexing them wishes ill to befall them. They bind that hatred or ill will into a fetish or perform a ritual or poison an object or person against them. They take steps to get that pain placed upon their foe through metaphysical means. Now consider a prayer. Is it not a “curse in reverse?” You have love for them or good will. You attempt to call blessings upon them or set holy angels on a course to aid and comfort them. The easiest and most basic of the various means that this “reversed cursing” can be done is through prayer.

While there is a precedent for so called imprecatory prayers, I don’t think that it really resonates with most modern Christian Gnostics to call down hellfire on your enemies in the Name of God. Other than a few extremists, I would argue it does not resonate with most Christians either. Given that, almost all prayer tends to fall into two broad categories: thankfulness and requests. That second category is broken down into requests for others and requests for yourself. So you ask, you receive, you thank the Powers That Be for the gift, and then repeat the cycle. Some even give thanks before they receive to show their faith. Regardless, this creates two positive effects. The first of these is humility. Asking for forgiveness or for anything for that matter requires you to admit that you cannot do it all by yourself. You acknowledge that there are higher things than you. Of course, as Johannites, this does not render us riddled with guilt at our perceived “filthiness.” Properly understood, God dwells within Us and We dwell within God. Ontologically, on some level, we are One. However, we all strive to be greater than we presently are when measured in other ways, whether that is forgiveness, thoughtfulness, compassion, or temperance. Plus, it is certainly easier to be a good friend or family member if you realize that you are not “all that” and have some growing to do. Furthermore, by praying for others, you foster goodwill toward them. Jesus said to pray for our enemies including those that “despitefully use you.” These are your real enemies. The ones that want to make your life a living Hell. At the end of the day, our Love must trump their hate and prayer is powerful catalyst for that. It is difficult, and perhaps even impossible, to hate someone that you genuinely pray for regularly. And I don’t mean those passive aggressive “bless their heart” kind of prayers. I mean a real prayer that despite all of these temporal reasons I have to hate them back, I genuinely want them to be happy and blessed and to grow as I do. You can’t curse someone when your words are of constant blessing. I can speak from experience that if done regularly, your attitude towards your enemy will improve and you will come to see how small their revenges and insults really are. It takes you closer to that ideal of “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Furthermore, regular prayer of any type builds a third virtue: Discipline. Discipline is a virtue that every Gnostic, every Christian, every Occultist, every gym goer or dieter, and I would argue, any human person, needs in excess if they are going to succeed. Prayer is a very solid way to build a lifestyle of discipline for one’s self. On the one hand, it requires so little but on the other, it can be so difficult to remember and push yourself to do. In fact, you could cheat for years (as I did) and no one would ever know. Think about it. If you don’t diet and say you do, you get fatter or at least don’t lose weight. If you say you quit smoking but didn’t, then four flights of stairs will reveal your lies. But if you say “I’ll pray for you” and don’t actually do it, there is no scenario in which this is definitively proven. This is a discipline built upon personal responsibility and personal accountability. The only evidence that you do it or you don’t is spiritual, not physical. It is literally “out of this world.”

Also, let’s not leave the science out of the discussion either. While science is very hit or miss when it comes to it’s assessment of prayer and it’s effects there have been a number of instances where having a large group of people focus their thoughts towards a situation seems to change the situation. Maybe it has some impact on the quantum level. Maybe it is just bad technique. Hard to say, but there seems to be at least an anecdotal precedent for the effectiveness of prayer. Maybe asking God for help actually gets you help? Strange huh?

Finally, prayer creates opportunities to turn your heart, mind, and soul toward the Divine glory above. If we are imprisoned in this world of flesh, prayer is our letters to and from our family, the window we look out to see a bright teeming world beyond the prison walls, and our hope of parole or reprieve. Prayer is attempting to connect with beings and places that are in a sense “more real” than the illusions we call the “real world.” It is our power supply and we are weaker without it.

So given all these positive benefits only one thing remains: What do we pray about? Well, the cavalier response would be “Everything” which, while technically true, doesn’t help anyone. So I offer this simple advice: start very personal and very small. Pray for guidance in your own life, blessings and healings for those you know personally, and expand from there. Now, of course, there is plenty of reason to pray for big picture items out in the larger world but I also say that you should focus the bulk of your efforts on things that you most deeply care about. Everyone can throw a blithe prayer for “All the hungry children in the world” and I don’t think for a minute that we don’t care about this and similar things, but it’s important that you feel it in your gut. There is a lot of horror in the world and you will get fatigued and overwhelmed trying to pray a real, heartfelt prayer for every tragedy that ever befalls the human race. As a “prayer warrior” don’t feel guilty in picking your battles so to speak. You can’t actually pray for everything or your prayer list will look like the front page of the Drudge Report. You are human, after all, and you can’t pour your entire heart and soul into every misery or you will spiral down rather than build others up. Most commonly, you’ll just stop praying. That’s why I say, start small. You always are keenly aware of your own problems or blessings so use that as your foundation. Then make sure to move to praying for others around you. Pray for the big events too but stick to the ones that jerk your heart. Never offer the generic “thoughts and prayers” response just because you feel obligated to. I would argue that inauthentic prayer is worse than no prayer at all because then you are deceiving yourself. It’s like eating a Snickers bar and pretending it is an avocado. Start small but never neglect to “go big” when you are lead to.

In closing, prayer builds discipline. It builds a sense of good will toward your fellow man. It gives glimpses of the world beyond and allows us to communicate with its inhabitants. So for these reasons, and the many others hinted at, I suggest that every member of St. John the Baptist Narthex make some form of regular prayer a part of their spiritual regimen.

I’ll be instituting a basic prayer list for the Narthex in the spirit of keeping things small. It will be shared with the private Facebook group in the interest of privacy. If anyone is interested in joining, just email me at [email protected] for details.

 

Bless you all and keep praying!

Bro. Joe

 

Regarding Recent Events in Charlottesville

I am deeply saddened by the violence, death, and the rhetoric of hate that has poured out in recent days. I am confused and appalled at the various attempts to justify these actions or mitigate the horrors perpetrated by people who stand opposed to our most basic beliefs. Among these are that the life and dignity of all humanity, regardless of race, gender identification, or social class is tantamount to the life and dignity of God Him/Herself and any attack on it is an attack on us all as well as the Divine.

As the leader of St. John the Baptist Narthex, I have several duties and responsibilities. None of these include speaking on behalf of the Apostolic Johannite Church or any of its clergy so let me be clear: This is just one Johannite’s thoughts on the matter.:

 

We are here for you.

If you are a victim of violence, abuse, ridicule, or hate, we are here for you. We will do all we can get you the help you need.

If you witness such horrors and stand helpless and grieved by events and need someone to talk to, we are here for you.

If you are the perpetrator of such abuses and have realized the grievous crimes of which  you are guilty , we are here for you. We will do all we can do to free you from the grip of ignorance and see that you repay your debt to your fellow human beings.

As Johannites, we believe that many distinctions that separate us are illusions cast about by entities that do not have love as their goal. Sometimes these are called Archons or Authorities. Often, they are called You and Me. We all suffer and struggle under the yolk of Ignorance but some, including Heather Heyer and 19 others in Charlottesville this week, suffer much more. Much worse, they did nothing to deserve this. It wasn’t their ignorance that hurt them but the ignorance of others.

While speaking for the church is not my place, my duties DO include introducing spiritual practices to our lay community. One that I am introducing today is a simple one.

Burn a candle.

No, it won’t change the world. It won’t bring back the dead or fill hearts with love. But it is something we can all do. When you feel that you are powerless to change the evil of the world you can still do something. You can light a candle. A candle for the repose of the dead. A candle for forgiveness and healing. A candle for a stiff spine to oppose hate in all its forms. A candle to remember.

I will be burning a candle for Charlottesville. I will be praying and meditating, but mainly, just listening. I invite you all to do the same.

 

 

We are here for you,

Brother Joe

October 8th – Vespers Service of the Logos

We will be holding a Logos Service on October 8th at the Calhoun Recreation center. The service will be begin at 7:00pm but participants are encouraged to show up at 6:30pm to meet everyone and get settled in. We will be introducing the practice of Lectio Divina as part of the service using the Gospel of Thomas as the source text. Participants are encouraged to familiarize yourself with the text before the meeting.

September Meeting Cancelled

It pains me to do this but we will be cancelling our meeting originally scheduled for September 10th. My wife will be going into surgery on the 11th and will be in pre-op on the 5th. To complicate matters further, my daughter turns four that weekend. Additionally, I’ve spoken to others in the community and September will be a busy and difficult month for some of them as well. Given these facts, I feel that it will be prudent to cancel.

However, I will still be available via email at [email protected] or via our Facebook group if anyone needs to contact me for any reason. I will still be working behind the scenes to encourage spiritual growth in the community as much as possible given the circumstances.

Love, Light, and Gnosis to you all,

Brother Joe