Archives For Things Spiritual

The Nature of God

I was recently part of a Bible study where the tone – and apparently intention – was quite different.

As the leader asked a series of programmed and predictable questions (literally from the back of the book), I noticed that almost everyone seemed to be looking at each other warily as if they were searching for the ‘right’ answer. And they seemed to share the assumption that there was – and should be – only one ‘right’ answer.

And, above all, that the ‘right’ answer should be comfortable and familiar and should certainly not challenge any of us in our thinking, and definitely not our values, lifestyle or behavior.

And I realized that most ‘Christian questions’ that I hear are like this; they make us and our faith smaller, not larger, more about ourselves and our concerns, and less, usually far less, about any divine destiny for ourselves, our communities and certainly for the world.

SOURCE: Christian Questions | Morf Morford | Red Letter Christians.

Morf over at Red Letter Christians doesn’t mince words when it comes to his spirituality does he?  I believe that he points out one of the biggest needed changes for most of us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. We just don’t ask the hard questions or anything requiring action outside of our immediate clan. We want a comfortable religion, one that fits like an old glove.

Looking to others for the “right” answer as Morf says is an all too familiar scene for me. I have come to realize that there really are no “right” answers. Right answers are most often dependent on your experiences and attitudes at a given time in your life. One person’s right answers can be quite different from another’s. All of us are at different levels in our spiritual journey. Simply stated there is no one “right” answer.

One thing that irritates me more than most others is how we want our answers to fit comfortably within our current circumstances. We want our world to be smaller, not bigger. I can recall one clergy leader who I personally knew  who constantly said that all God expects of us are things like taking care of your immediate family. He just never challenged us to get out of our comfort zones and do things for others.  In my mind that cheapens the words of Jesus and especially his actions. Jesus told us that all of humanity is our family and we should be as concerned about everyone as we are about our biological brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. But since this particular clergy was Lutheran and they do seem to have an aversion towards works I should not have been surprised at this approach to following Jesus.  I will sadly admit those words fit very comfortably within his congregation and in me for a time. It is easy to follow Christ when you don’t have to get out of your comfort zone.

When we make our version of religious faith small and about ourselves or immediate clan and not about divine responsibility for our communities and our world we are taking a much too easy road in our spiritual life. It is not about us. It is about loving others and yes even giving them the shirt off our backs or maybe some of our tax dollars if they need it.

Being Pessimistic

2014 15897… Today’s Christians have a bad habit of seeing the worst in everybody and everything: A natural disaster is surely a sign of the end times. An MTV show reflects our hideous moral decline. A particular nation (obviously not one of our political allies) is being used as the Anti-Christ’s puppet to eventually invade and destroy the United States.

The apocalyptic and hopeless assessments about our world—and Christianity—propagated by Christians themselves are pathetic and worrisome. Do we have nothing to be thankful for?

We treat our faith as if it’s in a rapid decline, as if the “glory years” are over. Really? The past was Christianity’s brightest moment? When racism, segregation, sexism, war, and fear plagued our country—this was the high point of Christianity?

Christianity is about bringing an uplifting and energizing hope—but we’ve turned it into a fear-based horror story.

SOURCE: Six Things I Wish Christians Would Stop Doing | Stephen Mattson | Red Letter Christians.

This post is a continuation of last Sunday’s discussion. This week it is about Pessimism. The first thing I thought about when I read these words above was of the old man I encountered in Times Square during our recent visit. Here everyone was having a good time being dazzled by all the lights and music and in the midst of it was this guy who wanted to tell everyone they are going to hell for having a good time. There are far too many people who identify Christianity by the pessimists among us certainly that includes this guy.

When I regularly attended the adult Sunday Bible study at a small church a few years ago I occasionally got a heavy dose of how bad the world is from several of the others who attended. Being it was a Lutheran church and they still seem to hold a mighty grudge against Catholics they were often the topic of conversation but there was plenty left for several other groups. There was much criticism about this group or that because of their actions or beliefs. They were the enemy…. The glory days are over….

If only more of us  were enthusiastically bringing the uplifting and energizing hope to those we  were condemning. Too many of us say we like the ideas of Jesus but stop short of actually putting them into practice. Shame on us…

I need to end this post by saying that the words above apply to all of us in one degree or another but it is the degree that matters. Yes there are many optimistic Christians out there, I like to think I am usually one of them but of course that is not always the case. I get down on the world just like everyone else from time to time. Each one of us must always be conscious of what kind of Christianity we project to the world. Are we mainly looking backwards to what Christ did for us or are we looking forward to putting his words into actions? That is the critical difference….

Thanks Stephen for bringing out these thoughts in me….

 

Arguing

Instead of having a reputation as being peacemakers, promoting reconciliation, and working towards unity, Christians are known for being loud, argumentative, petty, and contentious. Unfortunately, any semblance of Christ’s gospel message of hope, love, and grace is lost within the endless noise, debates, accusations, division, and hatred.

Christians need to stop obsessing over being right and having all of the answers and start focusing on following Christ’s example: sacrificially serving, helping, comforting, and loving everyone around us.

For Christians, it’s often easier to yell and scream instead of doing the very hard—and humble—work of loving others. Arguing is addictive because it feeds off of our need for self-glorification, self-righteousness, pride, power, and recognition.

Acting like Jesus, a person who ultimately died on a cross and devoted His life to selflessly helping others doesn’t seem that appealing—it isn’t. But we need to try—and the first step is to stop being combative and start focusing on being a peacemaker.

SOURCE: Six Things I Wish Christians Would Stop Doing | Stephen Mattson | Red Letter Christians.

Stephen Mattson’s posts frequently weigh heavily on me. He is a true kindred soul. Arguing is the first of six things on this post. Click on the source above if you want to see the entire post. I will likely be posting on some of the others in the coming weeks.

Insistence of being right is certainly not an exclusive Christian quality. Almost, if not all, religious institutions are heavily involved in “being right”. Wars have been fought throughout human history of one religious group fighting and killing another for their insistence on the other group being wrong. If anything would reverse the seemingly decline in Christianity around the world arguing and particularly being right is probably a primary cause.

I am becoming fully convinced that the principle of coexistence is the path for me. That is to agree to disagree on some topics without having to argue that I am right. Little changes when we insist that we are right and they are wrong. It only stiffens up resistance to learn anything from the encounter.  It is a turnoff for many who just might otherwise find some answers through the teachings of Jesus.  If only we Christians started actually doing what Jesus demanded and quit arguing with everyone who thinks differently. Actions speak MUCH louder than words in my mind. Let’s all do a better job of acting like we are his followers….

The Two-Sided Coin….

October 26, 2014

I am again going to talk about the two-sided coin of Christianity. The last time I mentioned it was to relate the idea of faith and works.  That is practicing what we preach or accepting Jesus as the Lord of our daily lives as well as our savior. This time the two-sided coin concept will take on a different topic.

When Jesus told us the law of God and all the past prophets boiled down to only two things: to love God and to love each other, he gave us another linked duality for our existence on this earth.

The first side of the coin is to love God — To love God also means to love and take care of everything that He gave us.  The earth, at least for us humans is a very important part of the gift. We are to be good stewards of this planet and that currently means reducing our carbon footprints.

Another important part that God gave us is the laws of nature. In Jesus’ day very little was understood about these laws but over the last two millennia we have learned much. It starts with what are now considered simple things such as gravity up to the latest revelation of DNA. All of our scientific advances happen because God allows it.

And finally we are to take care of the essence of our very being. To me that means that we must constantly be trying to discern between for the basic truths that God has engrained in us verses those things that we have taught ourselves. We must very careful not to do things in the name of God that didn’t really come from God.

The second side of the Christian coin is his command to love one another –  He told us very clearly that we are to love one another and that means all of us not just fellow believers, not just Americans but all of humanity. I upset some when I tell them that my love of country comes pretty far down the list of my priorities. First I love my God, second is humanity, third is family, fourth is trying to do what Jesus commanded of me, and finally I love my country. And I do love my country. I wouldn’t wish to have been born anywhere else.

For me humanity comes before country. If something hurts other but help us in America then I am likely opposed to it. Our senseless wars in the Middle East are an example. We have as collateral damage killed thousands of innocent people in our thrust to get rid of the “bad guys”. Many times that very act simple creates more “bad guys” than it destroys.

Christianity is a two-sided coin and we must pay attention to both sides. It is simply not good enough to just say you are for something you must put some action into your words. That is what we seriously seem to miss in our present times.  It is easy to sit back and complain but hard to actually get down in the trenches and act….

 

Coexist Foundation

October 19, 2014

2014-10-02_14-25-24Coexist was founded in 2006 in the United Kingdom. The organization formed as a direct response to heightening tensions between religious and cultural groups across the world, as evidenced by a 2002 Gallup Poll of the Islamic world. As a result of the poll, Elgawhary says, “people got to see what opinions the Muslim world had of the outside world and the West, and also what people in Western countries thought of the Muslim world. There was a glaring disconnect of understanding and perceptions between the two.”

SOURCE:  Coexist Foundation – National Geographic Education.

The one thing that saddens me more than anything else is all the killing around the world that is done in the name of God. Not only do people get stuck in their current view of God but they are ready to kill those who have a different view. I have become totally convinced that absolutely none of us have a lock on God. We all cling to our own religious documents as proof that we worship the only true god. When others disagree with us it far too often leads to conflict and death.

I have become very aligned with the ideas of the Coexist foundation. If only all of us could agree to disagree about spiritual things we would make the world much closer to what God probably wants.  But that won’t happen within the hierarchies of our existing religious institutions. They are simply too engrained in their own rhetoric to be open to the possibility that they might not have it totally right about everything.  The idea of coexisting with other religious beliefs must happen at the grass roots level. It must be a ground swell that simply overwhelms our ever present religious establishment biases.

Religions to me are more about their self convinced truths than they are about God.  Surely deep in our hearts none of us really believe that God will utterly reject for eternity the vast majority of his human creation in favor of our very narrowly focused beliefs of him? Because of all this inter-religious strife I am currently very spiritual but not very religious and I think there are many others out there with the same mentality as me. As a matter of fact I believe that this is the primary reason that so many are currently leaving many church organization today or not even joining them in the first place.

When we die we just might come to learn that God loves all of us. Let’s all pledge to simply coexist with each other and wait for God to tell us his truths if he ever cares to do that….

If the old guard on the partisan Christian right envisions itself to be crumbling, there’s nothing more apt than a forceful restatement of terms, preferably with a fresh face. But if it’s crumbling, it’s because the foundations are weak, and illustrating that inadvertently isn’t going to make its last gasps any more graceful. Far from being the death knell for the American Christian left, Vicari’s book might be little more than a signal that this is the Christian left’s moment to rise.

SOURCE: Christian conservatives have a terrifying new bogeyman: The Christian leftist – The Week.

Another interesting article from my new friends over at The Week.  I think I have made it pretty clear here that I am a “Christian left” as described in this article and yes I do very much tire of seeing the Christian right bemoaning the condition of the world today, particularly the Christian version.  The church which I was once a member had its members that had strong opinions in this area. The major problem in those cases is when the pastor/leader of the church is also in that mode.

I continue trying to learn a lesson from my blogger friend Stephen Mattson that Christ is perfect but his church on earth is far from that state.  It distresses me when I hear my fellow Christians put down the Christian left for seemingly caring too much for others, particularly when those others are not of the same religious beliefs. I now thoroughly believe that God loves all his children equally; there is no one outside his favor. More on that topic next Sunday.

It troubles me when the Christian right adamantly oppose our government having programs to help the poor and disadvantaged. They say that is not the government’s job but since the church on earth as a whole  gets a D- in this area someone has to take over that responsibility?

I kind of think that the quote above is the reason for all this moaning among the Christian right.  The foundations of their narrowly focused beliefs are weak and that is the problem. At least I hope that is the case….

2014-08-26_17-21-49This is going to be one of those posts that jerks at my soul.

I remember hearing the title phrase pretty frequently when I was growing up. It usually meant that the speaker was surprised at what I had done and usually disapproved of it.

Today it seems so many people are doing things, abominable things, in the name of God. Almost every war in my lifetime has been in the name of God. So much hatred is spewed in his name. If God is really paying attention to all of us puny human beings I wonder if he is also say the same thing. “What are you doing in my name???”

They say that Mother Teresa often had doubts about the existence of God. Here is a quote from her about that from Wikipedia

“Where is my faith? Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.”

I am certainly no Mother Teresa but I too have doubts on occasion whether God is really there and involved in our personal lives as they say he is. At times he seems very remote to me. With all this evil going on in the name of God why doesn’t he set us straight and tell us to quit killing each other in his name?  Why does he allow so many radically different beliefs about him to even exist? If there is a God it seems he would put a stop to all this idiotic garbage!

To try to resolve my conflict I spent thousands of hours over a ten-year period studying theological things. I approached the study with a somewhat open mind given the religious baggage I carried into it.  One thing I gleaned from this journey is just how close-minded most are when it come to beliefs. Once we latch onto their favorite religious system we tend to shut down any openness to anything else. Most will never study or give any credence to another possibility. We, for the most part, are convinced that we have it right and everyone else is just plain wrong. This fact is true of every religious brand out there.  Christianity alone has over 40,000 different versions of faith!  Who can figure it out?

There have been millions savagely killed in the name of God. Realizing this fact has caused me periods of depression. I found that the only way I could effectively deal with that was to simply walk away from the conflicting views.  I know that I am no one but I have concluded  that we are all seeking the same God and that eventually all of us will be reconciled with the true image of God. Due to our stubbornness, it won’t likely happen in this life for many, perhaps most, of us but I believe it will happen. If God truly loves us all, and I believe he does, he will eventually bring everyone back to him. This belief changes my view of many things including fortifying the belief that we are ALL God’s children and are meant to love each other as He taught us. It is sad that we can’t seem to do just that….

 

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.

–Thomas Jefferson’s Letter, 10 Aug. 1787

I am going to combine my usual Sunday post on things inspiring/spiritual with my usual Thursday quotes. Thomas Jefferson, like most of the founding fathers was a Deist. That is he believed in a God who was in control of the universe but not so much into our daily lives. His quote above is very contrary to many religious communities today.

Questioning the existence of God is a no-no to many.  They say you must believe everything in their religious documents and question nothing. If you do dare to question you may quickly be deemed a heretic. I know because I have some personal experience in this matter.

But I very much believe in the quote above. If there is a God, and I certainly do believe that there is, then he must approve of the homage of reason. He does not fear our questions or certainly doesn’t condemn us to utter agony if we dare to ask them. I simply don’t believe that God wants us to be in a blind-folded fear of him. He told us to love him and that is just not possible if we think that he holds a hammer over our head just waiting for us to say the wrong words, believe the wrong things, or ask the wrong questions…

I thoroughly denounce the idea that God expects us to check our “God-given” intelligence at the door on Sunday mornings and to believe things that go against any level of reason….

Before Becoming A Christian…

September 21, 2014

2014-09-20_08-08-101) Christ is perfect but “Christianity” is not. Don’t mistake Christian Culture as God, they aren’t the same thing. Churches, pastors, theologians, and other believers will inevitably fail you, but Jesus never will.

2) It’s OK to change your beliefs. You’ll never have Christianity fully figured out. You won’t have an answer for everything. Theology is a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress. Life, relationships, and experiences form, shape, and change the way you see, experience, and understand God. The disciples didn’t understand God much of the time, and you probably won’t either.

3) Christianity Isn’t Easy. It doesn’t magically fix things, make you more popular, wealthy, or healthier. In reality, it’s not a form of escapism but a lifelong process of dedication, service, sacrifice, and humbly loving others. It’s very, very, very hard, and not for the faint of heart.

4) Christianity Is Complex. Nobody believes the same thing. There are hundreds of denominations. Doctrines, practices, and traditions are as varied as the people that represent them. This diversity of faith should be appreciated and celebrated. The goal of Christianity isn’t conformity, but an honest and intimate relationship with God.

5) Christianity is ultimately about loving God and loving others. It should never be co-opted by a political movement, a religious institution, gaining power, obtaining control, spreading influence, enforcing laws, or becoming rich and famous. It’s about a relationship with God—never let anything supersede this

5 Things You Should Know Before Becoming A Christian.

I am going to do something here that I don’t often do and that is to reblog an entire post from a blogging friend. This one’s name is Stephen Mattson. He is near the top of my blog reading list as he seems to have just the right words to express what I am feeling about so many issues. He is a trained and practicing theologian but I won’t hold that against him. :)

My big complaint is that too many people try to make Christianity a sit back and wait religion but Christ told us he was about anything but that. This list should be read and practiced by all of us who are just approaching it or have been in it for a while.  At times in my life I have almost succumbed to number one.  I took a serious look at Christianity as it seems to be practiced today and found it to be anything but perfect.  That almost turned me away but as Stephen says the institution of Christianity might seem to fail you but Jesus and his words won’t.  That is what keeps me coming back to the well.

 

 

Having All The Answers….

September 14, 2014

This Sunday post is going to take a personal drift.  Some of my antagonists over the years say that I have a smug attitude about Christianity and that I proclaim to be the only one who has all the answers. I hope these views are an exception rather than a rule for most who read my Sunday posts. But just in case I want to tell you what I think about that view of my words.

First of all it hurts me that anyone would take that as my message about being a follower of Christ. If you are one to have that opinion I would encourage you to look at my 5+ years worth of posts over at RedLetterLiving.  It should be clear from those posts that I don’t think I have all the answers. As a matter of fact I’m not even sure I have any answers but just have many unanswered questions that just don’t seem to be answerable by current day religious establishments.

I approach my spirituality with my intellect fully in-tact. That is I don’t just take what some say is the truth as the truth. I check out other opinions. I am not seminary trained but only self-educated. In some ways that is an advantage but in other I probably don’t know what I don’t know about many theological issues.

When I talk about spiritual issues here I am not trying to convince anyone that I am correct and I certainly not trying to convince anyone they are wrong.  We all are seeking the same thing via our spiritual search. Some take different paths and that is OK. I am not trying to force anyone down my path. I am just offering my current view on spiritual matters and yes that view has evolved over the years.

I was a serious student of theology for about a dozen years and at the end of that period I became convinced that for the most part “Theology is a crock”. Most of the theologians of our time don’t have anymore of an idea of these things than any of us do. They either parrot what they have been told or go off on a tangent, but not too much of a tangent for fear of being called a heretic. I know no more than anyone else about the true image of God. I can, only like them, speculate what I imagine it to be.

But because I often speculate in a different mode than many I sometimes raise eyebrows. I don’t want anyone who reads my Sunday posts to think that I am trying to convince you that I got it figured out because I am sure that like everyone else I don’t. During my studies I have found three authors that I am most aligned with. They shape many of my feelings about these issues. They are Philip Gulley, Shane Claiborne, and Greg Boyd.  If you feel like it check them out. While I don’t try to convince others that I have it right I do try to convince everyone to take it upon themselves to learn as much about God as they can. If you do I pray that you will then love him as I do. And that is why I post here on Sundays.