Month: May 2015
Living In the Mystery, look part 3
Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
I spend a lot of time in theological discussions, here partially because that’s what happens in seminary, click partially because reading the Bible on a regular basis forces you to ask tough theological questions (or should, anyway). I’ve come to the conclusion that ultimately, any discussion about God must end with the phrase, “who knows?” As Job’s friend Zophar points out, humans don’t have the capacity to “fathom the mysteries of God.” This is not a copout; it’s just the way it is.
Think about it this way: When we discuss God, we’re talking about what we believe to be the nature of the ultimate power in the universe. For all of us, that power is a being that is both present in our reality (immanent) and beyond our reality (transcendent). What that looks like to each of us is different, though. Some view God as a conscious energy that pervades all creation, intrinsically part of creation, yet also more than the sum of its parts. Some view God as an embodied being of some sort, an alien creator whose relationship to us isn’t as part of our being, but rather as our puppet master. We all lean more one way than the other, and many people come down somewhere in the middle. In truth, it doesn’t really matter as long as whatever we believe about God is making us loving, compassionate, concerned, caring human beings. It is impossible to truly believe in God and do evil. We can make mistakes because we’re human, but if we are truly having a Christ-like, Buddha-like, out-of-body experience with God, The Universe, The Infinite one—whatever you want to call it, then we simply cannot harm another, and we become more concerned for the overall good of humanity than for our own welfare.
I believe in God because I have felt an unexplainable presence in the world that has given me a glimpse into a more connected and layered reality than our physical senses are capable of experiencing. I have personally been lifted beyond the limits of my body to what I can only describe as “oneness” with all being, beyond time and space yet in all time and space. It’s a thrilling experience, and it changes your outlook on the world forever, because in those transcendent moments, you realize there is no “you” and no “I”, no “us” nor “them,” there is only “all.” So the idea that I should scratch my way to the top, take advantage of another human being, harm another human being through war, or pollute the planet for financial gain becomes absolutely abhorrent.
I pray and meditate and ponder theology in order to have discussions with others in the hope that one thing will occur: that they too will have a God experience and be changed forever. I have realized that this kin-dom of God that was so important to Jesus is being brought to fulfillment one person at a time, as each of us becomes connected to each other through God that connects us all. It changes our outlook. It changes everything.
The world is full of fear. ISIS is destroying world heritage sites and would like women to be reduced to a role of subservience that, even during the most misogynistic of times, they have never before been relegated to. In America racism is so rampant that a white man can literally get away with killing a black man, and both black and white men treat women of color with such a lack of respect it shakes me to my core. Corporations are pushing trade agreements that will once and for all firmly place them outside the bounds of international law, so that the murder they already get away with in sweatshops from Indonesia to Thailand will become physical and spiritual prisons for millions of children and impoverished families, who will have no legal recourse against their slave masters like Nike and GAP and Apple.
This is not the way it has to be. When we have a God experience, we literally become lifted outside ourselves and our own tiny way of thinking. Enslaving another human being is reprehensible, but when we have a God experience it becomes unthinkable. It’s no longer even part of our consciousness.
This is shown very clearly through beings like Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lao-Tze… the list is long. There have always been and will always be enlightened beings walking among us, working to help us attain a much, much higher level of conscious awareness of God’s presence in the world, God as the fundamental of all reality. As more and more of us achieve this awareness, it becomes much more difficult for people to kill each other, to hoard resources, and to destroy the planet.
God is indeed a mystery. We can never understand exactly what God is or how God works. But becoming spiritually one with God is not that mysterious, nor is it as difficult as many would have us believe. It only takes desire and focus, which all humans have in abundance. It’s unfortunate that what we typically desire is money, and what we focus on is power. It can be different. It must be different. All it takes is a change of mind, the simple decision to wake up tomorrow and start thinking about and looking at the world differently. Just say, “Show me the truth, God.” Say it until it happens—and it always happens, every time we ask.
Change our minds, change our hearts, change our souls, change the world.
Meditation: Show me the truth, God; show us all the truth.
The Jesus Movement: Reclaiming Christianity in Jesus’ Name, help part 2
Christianity has never been a homogenous religion. In truth, buy viagra none of the world’s major religions is homogenous. There are many different forms of Judaism, sales sects of Islam and schools of Buddhist thought. Once the spiritual founder is gone, the ideas they taught are free to blossom in many different ways. In some sense, I think this speaks to the diversity of God and the needs of our individual spiritual journeys. Hopefully, we are in constant movement toward a more intimate relationship with God. No matter which religion or philosophy we are using to attain a higher state of consciousness, at some point our ideas about God and how we relate to God are going to change. We will need new practices and new challenges to keep us spiritually invested. This is all to the good.
For the first few hundred years of Christianity, this diversity was accepted and it seems encouraged. Paul wrote letters to early churches that were incredibly diverse in style. People from all walks of life gathered together to learn more about Jesus and his teachings. One of the earliest hallmarks of Christianity was the idea that all are welcome, no exceptions. Paul states over and over that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, for example). The earliest form of the church accepted everyone, no questions asked. Modern Christians might do well to remember this most basic fundamental (if I might reclaim that word) of the faith.
If we investigate more deeply, we’ll see that the Jewish foundations that Jesus and Paul drew from are the seeds of this universalist idea. The Rabbinic tradition was that the Bible (at that time the Hebrew Bible, the “Old Testament”) could be interpreted any number of ways—and should be interpreted any number of ways, as long as the conclusion drawn from the interpretation revealed a loving, compassionate God, and led the interpreter to acts of loving kindness—chesed.
Is this not exactly how Jesus teaches and acts? He loves everyone to a fault, constantly getting himself in trouble because the love of God is flowing through him so powerfully. Even Jesus can’t control it! He heals on the Sabbath, he is kind to society’s outcasts, he speaks to women at the equivalent of the pickup joint of his time, all to share the idea that God is real, God is the ultimate change agent, God is love, and God is with us—every one of us, no matter our station in life. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that the worse off we are, the more God is with us, struggling with us, suffering with us, leading us out of our misery by giving us strength, courage and hope.
Modern Christianity still takes on many forms, but when most non-Christians are asked to describe Christianity, they talk about closed-minded bigots more concerned with creating their own wealth than giving it all away as Jesus asks. Christians who are truly vested in the spirit of Jesus understand that wealth should be distributed equally, that war is never the answer to conflict resolution, and that caring about others more than caring about ourselves is the foundation of the religion.
Christians can have different ideas about the divinity of Jesus. They can discuss whether or not Jesus was a real, historical person or simply a literary invention. They can argue about the nature of God and the Trinity, and that’s all good, even respectful of the Jewish tradition from which Christianity was born. What Christians absolutely cannot do though, is forget the fundamentals of the faith, which have nothing to do with worship styles, architecture, or the color of the carpet in the narthex (or even whether or not there is a narthex).
The fundamentals of Christianity are simple: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we’re not doing that, we simply shouldn’t call ourselves Christians.
Meditation: God that is the being of everything, love the world through me.
The Jesus Movement: Reclaiming Christianity in Jesus’ Name, stuff part 1
We recently moved into a lovely new neighborhood. As we’ve been walking our dogs and getting to know our neighbors, stuff I’ve discovered that nothing stops a conversation faster than telling someone you’re a minister—especially a Christian minister. You can see non-Christians tense up because they think they’re going to be judged. Others who call themselves Christians immediately presume I am a pro-life Republican, which, for those of you who know me, couldn’t be further from the truth. If there was something further to the left than the left-wing, that’s where I am—out there partying with Aristotle, Fourier, Mill—and Jesus.
It’s unfortunate that Christianity—at least Christianity in America, is now almost entirely associated with the far-right, evangelical, Tea-Party Republicans. Unfortunate and ironic, considering Jesus, and the early movement that formed around him, exhibited the most socialist of behaviors (Acts 4:32, for example). Christianity in 21st Century America is nothing like the Jesus I read about in The Bible. The evangelical right has made it difficult to say “I’m a Christian” to anyone, especially if your neighbors happen to be gay. Like Jesus, my family and I love everyone—no exceptions. We are members of a church that accepts everyone as they are, no questions asked. Yet when I meet strangers and they ask what I do for a living, I immediately need to start explaining myself because I’m lumped in with people who protest in front of abortion agencies, work in Congress to shut down rather than expand social services, fight for Big Corporations rather than the little guy, deny scientific evidence and pretend might is better than wisdom—all concepts Jesus clearly fought against in his lifetime.
As Christianity became institutionalized, Jesus—and especially his ideals, somehow got lost in the mix. Granted, Jesus didn’t start Christianity—that happened hundreds of years later. The people that originally gathered to learn more about his teachings—people who shared their food, their wealth, their love, would be shocked and appalled at the organization that has anointed itself in Jesus’ name.
I have begun looking for new ways and new words to state who I am and what my church is. Disciples is a good word. Our denomination is the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Disciples are students—followers, and in that way we follow a man who was connected to the Great Mystery that is God, Universal Love, in a way unlike any other before or after. We don’t worship at the feet of Jesus, we do our best to emulate him. That means we love our neighbor, we abhor violence, we resist the powers that destroy community. We peacefully protest against injustice and wealth inequality. Like Jesus, we do what we can to feed, clothe, and shelter those on the fringes of society—which, due to a government filled with “Christians” more concerned with corporate profit than corporate love, is more and more of us every day.
Meditation: The infinite, loving energy of the universe flows through me. The infinite, loving energy of the universe IS me.
What is “Spirituality”?
Last week, the Pew Research Center released a new report about the continuing decline of organized religion in America. There are a lot of factors causing the decline of attendance in “mainline” churches, but by far the most frequent reason people give for not going to church is simply that they consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious.” What they mean is that they don’t like organized religion.
There are many reasons to dislike organized religion, of course, but in reading the granular Pew report, the corruption, scandals, and big-business like nature of most organized religions is not what’s keeping people away. Rather, the “nones,” the people who declare affinity for God but not for religion, don’t attend church simply because the version of God presented in most churches is archaic.
Being raised in a pluralistic world has been a blessing for most of us. People attracted to the more mystical side of life can draw from a variety of traditions to have a profound spiritual experience. Transcendental meditation, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam—these are all just different ways people use to seek an experience with God. None of the world’s great religions or philosophical systems is perfect. They all have something interesting to offer, and using them together is often more effective than using one alone. All the religions and spiritual philosophies draw from one another anyway.
Personally, Buddhism led me to intense and fruitful meditation practices. Judaism conveys the importance of family and the idea that God never abandons us, no matter how bleak the present looks. Christianity teaches me that God is nearer to me than even my own breath. Science reveals God as the very being of creation—not a being outside of it, looking down on us, judging us and finding fault. That’s the image keeping people away from religion.
When I finally found a church that was comfortable discussing all these things, a church that acknowledged that Jesus and the disciples were Jewish, a church that was willing to discuss and learn from Buddhism and Islam, a church that embraced people all over the world no matter what their religion or lack thereof, I knew I had found my home. I too had been firmly spiritual but not religious. But you know what? That’s a lonely journey. It takes a lot of work. It’s easy to stagnate. When I finally found a group of people who had also felt the very real touch of God, I was suddenly propelled back into action—both to spiritually connect with God, and also to serve my community.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of Christianity to the planet’s overall spiritual experience has been the idea that, like Jesus, spiritual people—whether religious or not, are called to serve the common good. We’re called to march on Washington to fight racial injustice. We’re called to take food to the hungry and fight city hall for shelter for the homeless. Christianity and Islam, like the Judaism that birthed them, is best done in groups—it’s a communal effort, and these spiritual communities are typically called religions.
We can be “spiritual but not religious,” but the church cannot—and should never be—religious and not spiritual. That’s certainly not the way Moses, Jesus or Mohammed experienced God. It’s not the way they taught their disciples to experience God. Spirituality without religion may be lonely, but it still leads us to a palpable God experience. Religion without spirituality does nothing except drive people away.
Meditation: Fill the world with your presence, Infinite Holy One.
Sovereign God, rx
every person on this planet
is made in your cosmic image.
we are one family.
Every bird in the sky
and fish in the sea, mind
and star in the universe, see
takes its place in the cosmos
and existing within
This makes our relationship
than we’ve been taught,
for you exist within us,
and we within you.
we live in difficult
and tumultuous times.
of broken promises
are strewn about our marketplaces,
living rooms and bedrooms.
The wreckage of
once great hopes and ideals
has shattered our trust in each other.
In all creation,
you alone are truly trustworthy.
Through personal relationships with you,
restore our trustworthiness.
while we make new beginnings together.
that we cannot be faithful to anyone
if we are not faithful first to you.
Help us respect,
love and trust you
above anything else.
Help us become more conscious
of your presence in our lives,
and in the lives of all those around us.
Envelope us in your loving presence,
and keep those close to us,
those far away,
those we love,
and those we mistakenly consider enemies,
blessed by your touch.
Raising the Church from the Dead, store part 2
This weekend my church family moved into a new, prescription permanent location. It’s the first permanent home we’ve had in nearly five years. We’re very excited about it. We didn’t move into this space in order to save the church. In fact, ailment we sold our old permanent space—the place that had been the church home for over 50 years, in order to save the church. The church isn’t a building, or a dogma or creed. The church is people, in all their diversity. Paul said there are many gifts given from the One Spirit of God, and that all these gifts should be celebrated in church. Unfortunately, over the years church has become a place not to celebrate God’s diverse array of gifts, but instead a place to beat people into submission to a particular set of beliefs. Church is no longer about faith. It’s about belief, and the two ideas are incompatible. The church of belief must die so the church of faith can be resurrected.
We the people are the church, just like those early followers of Jesus—the people of The Way. They came from all walks of life. Rich, poor, free, slave, male, female, Gentile and Jew, they created an alternate society that lived within yet never of the Roman Empire. They shared their resources. They told stories about Jesus and believed him, rather than believing in him. There is a distinct and important difference. Believing Jesus changes the world. Believing in him causes Crusades and Inquisitions.
The early churches were all over the map with regard to worship styles. They, like we, argued about the divinity of Jesus. Nothing was set in stone, and no idea was heretical. Spiritual growth and connectedness to God—discipleship, comes not from dogma and creed, but from open conversation and intense willingness to let Spirit guide us. The Christian Church of the 21st Century, much like the Jewish Synagogue of the 1st Century, is being reborn as a church of Spirit rather than a church of human hierarchy.
Our purpose in coming together as church should not be to recreate the past, nor should we attempt to find some magic church formula that will attract Millennials and other people who think church is useless or anachronistic in the 21st Century. For FCC Naples, which is reimaging and reimagining itself as The Current, we’re not interested in saving our church. We’ve realized that our church has died and been resurrected numerous times throughout its 55 year history.
We come together because as church we join with other people on a spiritual journey. In church we find a diverse people who have struggled throughout their lives to explain the deep connection they feel to the universe and everything in it. We are disciples.
We form church because we want to serve our community, to feed the hungry, to find ways to shelter the homeless, to try to influence the government to treat people fairly and justly, no matter their skin color, sexual preference or gender identification. We understand that our faith influences our politics, and we’re not afraid to embrace the radical, communal politics of Jesus—politics that got him killed.
We are church because in Jesus we have found an example of Oneness with God that gives us the courage to speak out against the unjust systems of humankind.
We form church because we are awakening and want to share our experiences with others who are awakening from the dead slumber of numbing, corporate mindlessness. We are becoming mindful of our actions and their consequences for the entire world. We are becoming mindful of God’s activity in our lives. We are becoming mindful of our power to change everything, and the mainline, dogmatic, creedal, corporate, complicit church hates mindfulness today as much as they did in Jesus’ time.
We may not be ascended, but we hope, and yes, we pray with passion for compassion. We are beginning to understand that our entire species is evolving spiritually—ascending as God raises us all from dead belief to living faith.
The new spirituality (which is really an ancient spirituality) is redefining church and filling it with people who have had personal, inexplicable experiences with something more, something Christians call “the risen Christ,” but something which goes by other names in other faith systems. All of them point to intense and intensely personal relationships with God.
We are waking up, and it is causing us to search for deeper religious experiences. These experiences might still happen in places we call church, but these spaces likely have little or no similarity to the “church” of the last two centuries, in look or feel. In my opinion, that’s very exciting and compelling. The “new” church is about a community of diverse people searching for a very real connection to God. This communal group is compelled by faith and the example of Jesus to serve a world being trampled into submission by a power every bit as merciless as the Roman Empire.
God’s new day is dawning. The church is dead. Long live the church!
Meditation: Lift me to a higher state of being.
Raising the Church from the Dead, site part 1
Over the past week I was sent at least half a dozen articles on why the “mainline” church and organized religion is dying. Each article had a variety of “solutions” that involved everything from a change in worship style to expensive marketing campaigns. I suppose the idea of a marketing campaign shouldn’t strike me as odd—after all, sovaldi sale the gospel stories of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were in essence marketing materials written by the early followers of Jesus to entice others into The Way. Paul was certainly a master of marketing. Were he alive today, I imagine he’d be comfortable sitting in a room with Don Draper from “Mad Men.” That should probably worry us a little bit.
Still, those early Jewish authors were writing about their experiences with and understanding of Jesus—both the Rabbi and the risen Christ. They weren’t trying to “save” a church. They weren’t even trying to start a church, since they all considered themselves faithful Jews. They were just filled with excitement over God’s revelation of unity in Jesus, and wanted to share that excitement with the rest of the world. So, what struck me odd about each of the articles I recently read was the idea that the church somehow needs to be “saved.” Of course, Christianity has become largely about salvation, so I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me either. It does worry me, though, more than a little bit.
As someone who is a Christian minister, what I’m about to say may strike some of you as odd: the church doesn’t need to be saved. The church needs to die. Without death there can be no resurrection. Jesus knew this. His first Jewish followers knew this. Jesus’ story is not just a tale about the martyrdom of a single human. It’s not even a story about the salvation of mankind through some sort of sacrificial act on Jesus’ part. It’s a sweeping analogy about individual lives and the systems individuals create, and the necessity for both to willingly give themselves up in order for something new and better to take root and blossom. That something new and better comes from being rooted in the loving justice of God.
I think Christians have by and large forgotten that the story of Jesus is a story about resurrection and ascension. It’s about willingly dying, knowing that in death God resurrects a new, more enlightened being. By continuing to insist the church must survive (or worse, be saved), I think we’re making it very difficult for God to raise it from the dead. Only in death and resurrection can church regain the higher sense of purpose for which it was originally formed.
The early “church” communities that sprang up around the stories about Jesus and his teachings met in people’s homes. They were groups of people who remembered and respected their past. They prayed, they sang, they shared meals, and they talked. They talked about what it means to be a disciple. They discussed the nature of God and Jesus. They disagreed about a lot of things, as we do still today, yet they universally understood that being together as church was more help than hindrance.
In church, they helped each other develop spiritually, knowing that ascension—resurrection after death to the lifestyle of the world, could lead to a better, more peaceful, more gentle, more loving world. They understood Jesus’ vision of God’s world where goods, services and wealth are distributed equally. For the early people of The Way, the way they shared their goods, services and wealth was meant to be an example for the rest of the world (Acts 2). Church was meant to be an example for the rest of the world. How many churches would you want the world to emulate today?
It’s a new world. It requires and deserves a new church.
Meditation: My heart is filled with the glory of God’s love.