Month: June 2015
All Means All… Except for you… Oh, sales and you too—and I’m not so crazy about you in the corner, either. But otherwise, yeah, all means all.
We’ve been having an ongoing discussion in our church about how to describe ourselves to people we meet. Compared to my somewhat horrendous past experiences with churches, I find our church to be very different. Nobody ever believes that when I tell him or her so. Just the word “church” conjures images of hardwood bench seats and people dressed in fancy clothes, holding Bibles or hymnals while a preacher tells everyone why they’re unworthy of God’s love and going to Hell—except for the chosen, of course, and for some reason, I’m never in the chosen. Sound familiar?
Then of course we have the hurdle of being not just any old church, but a Christian church. So now we’ve got Joel Osteen, Creflo A. Dollar and every white-male on conservative television or in the Tea Party to contend with. However, these people don’t say or do anything that Jesus would remotely understand as part of his teaching. If flight had existed in the 1st Century, I doubt Jesus would have asked his followers for a $32 million dollar jet. He’s the guy who fed 5000 people with two fish and some stale bread, remember? Our job is to serve, not to be served. But now I’m just ranting.
All this makes the task of people actually trying to live up to Jesus’ ideals and integrity—people like Pope Francis, that much more difficult.
Other than the abusive history of Christian churches in general, there is another problem facing Christianity today. Really, this is a problem for all religious institutions. Churches, synagogues, mosques—religious institutions in general all tend to lack diversity. Just like neighborhoods, religious gathering spaces often reflect a specific demographic. So within the Christian church, there are white, black, straight, gay, Hispanic, Asian, etc. churches, but very few churches that are white, black, straight, gay, Hispanic and Asian all under one roof. This is a pity, and not at all reflective of the sort of God-connected unity through diversity Jesus was after.
It’s natural for similar people to gather together. That’s how we get vibrant neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. Yet, when the only people we associate with are just like us, it’s difficult to create peace, love, and understanding. Jesus never asked his followers to be the same. He traveled to all sorts of different places. He talked to people the rest of society had discarded, and told them they were all God’s beloved. For Jesus, all truly meant all, no exceptions. Jesus celebrated diversity because diversity is a reflection of God’s creative nature. Our churches might share in that celebration, but they are still largely homogenous congregations. I think this needs to change if the church is going to be an agent for peace and love in the 21st Century, as Jesus was in the 1st Century.
How do we ever get to know each other if we’re all celebrating God’s presence behind closed doors, with people who believe and think exactly like us? How does God change the world if not by getting all sorts of different people together so we have the opportunity to understand each other better? No war was ever started between people who took the time to get to know each other. No war was ever won until two people came to an understanding. That sort of awareness and insight can’t happen unless there is interaction. The same is true of our relationship with God. There is no awareness nor insight, no real change, until there is interaction.
The church—the movement Jesus started, and the Gentile/Jewish movement Paul propagated, was meant to be different from the rest of the world. Church is meant to stand apart from the values (or lack thereof) of our society. We’re supposed to be the voice of the disenfranchised, not the people who disenfranchise. We’re supposed to be the people who feed, not the people who take away food stamps. Like Jesus, we’re to be the people who heal, not the people who constantly wound others—emotionally and physically. Our church is trying to do something new by creating a space that is honestly open to everyone. Yes, we have disagreements, but thankfully, most of the time we learn from those disagreements and move on. Our task is to make space for everyone: a diversity of culture, a diversity of beliefs, in one space, one people of God. It’s difficult to describe, and even more difficult to accomplish. But even in our diversity there is one thing we all believe in common: With God, all things are possible.
Meditation: A different world is possible. One world, where everyone fits.
The Tao of Christianity
The main principle of Taoism is the idea of being in harmony with the Tao, which means “way” or “principle”. Tao is also the thing that is the source of and force behind everything that exists. When we live in harmony with the Tao—when we are people of The Way, we are flexible and agile, enjoying the ride as if we’re floating down a lazy river on an inner tube. We don’t fight the current. We go with it, knowing that the journey is what the ride is all about.
The early followers of Jesus were called “people of The Way,” and I’ve always thought that Jesus was a perfect example of one who lived in harmony with the source and force behind all things, the one and only Tao—God. Jesus went wherever God led him. This often meant he went against the flow of the prevailing culture. The same is true for people who follow Jesus today. The Tao Jesus teaches us is a way of compassion, universal love and acceptance, and a responsibility to care for each other, especially those discarded by society. Practicing these values keeps us in God’s all-encompassing flow of love, but sets us up for tension with society. That’s okay. Just as a river smooths away the rough edges of a rock, being in the Tao of God dulls the sharp edges of society.
Part of the reason we are calling our new building The Current is to emphasize God’s presence within and all around us, all the time. God is the current of the universe, and when we ride that wave, we are constantly taken to new and exciting places. It often means we have to be open to doing things differently.
When we purchased the building, we hoped that other groups would share the space with us. We wanted to create a place that would welcome diverse groups, both faith-based and secular. We prayed that other congregations might want to use the space for worship and outreach, and that independent non-profits might use the space for meetings and events. As always, we just sort of put everything out there into God to see where the Tao would lead us. And as usual, something new, different, exciting, and unique has been presented to us.
Our good friends at New Day MCC have asked not only to use our space for worship, but also to become part of our worshipping and service community. It’s a new idea that has tremendous potential. Rather than using the space on their own, we’re tossing around the idea that New Day MCC would become part of The Current worshipping community, much like FCC Naples is also part of The Current. In essence, New Day MCC would become a ministry of The Current, contributing time and talent just like members of FCC.
Reverend Burns and I have done much work in the community together. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity, and one that would require all of us to be very much in the Tao. We would need to work details out over time, as we see how we all fit together and where we are being called to serve. We would keep our distinct Disciples of Christ identity, and New Day would keep their distinct MCC identity, because both are important and unique voices. Working together, we could send a powerful message to other faith-based communities about the body of Christ: we all have many gifts. We are all diverse and important parts of Christ’s body in this world. If that body is to continue Jesus’ important, world-changing work, it makes more sense to work together.
As Paul wrote, “Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Cor. 12.15-20).
This coming Sunday, June 21, we’ll have a congregational meeting to discuss this interesting idea. Please bring your questions, thoughts, hopes and dreams. We have the opportunity to be the body of Christ in a way Paul imagined and hoped for, but never really saw come to fruition. In many ways, this idea is exactly what the founders of the Disciples of Christ had in mind as well: Christian unity through diversity.
Christianity was never supposed to be about conformity. Jesus was a major non-conformist! Rather, Christianity has been, and should be, about all people working together for the common good—no matter what we call ourselves.
If you’re out of town and can’t make the meeting this Sunday, please send me your ideas and questions. I’ll present them to the rest of the congregation for discussion, contemplation and prayer. Our plan is to worship together July 12. We’ll probably have a congregational vote after church on July 19, and if all goes well, begin our partnership in service to God on August 2.
FCC Naples has been presented with some amazing opportunities over the past seven years, and I think we’ve made some courageous and inspired decisions. We sold our building, we wandered around and did worship without walls, we created feeding programs, and moved ever more in line with Jesus’ progressive message of social justice and intimate, personal connection with God. For many, change is scary. For us, I think it is simply what we do. We change things. Sort of like Jesus.
Meditation: I am open to the way of God, the path of Jesus.
The Song of God, viagra Part 1
Recently, sildenafil a fragment of an Early Bronze Age pithos (a large clay storage jar) was discovered in Israel. The fragment is at least 5, treat 000 years old and depicts a musical performance. The scene was made by rolling a cylindrical seal in the clay. When I was a kid, I had a Play-Doh set that came with a little roller wheel. I’d smush the Play-Doh out flat then roll the wheel across it to make an imprint. Little did I know I was replicating one of our most ancient technologies.
As ancient as the rolling seal is, music is even older. Archaeologists have found evidence of musical instruments dating back 60,000 years. It is likely that humans began mimicking the sounds of nature hundreds of thousands of years ago, although whether or not that can be considered music is a matter of debate. For many historians and psychologists, music requires intentionality. Simply mimicking a sound is not music, although one could argue it is intentional.
What I find theologically interesting about this discussion is the idea that sound plays a very important part in creation. Biblically, God breathes life into humans (Genesis 2.7) and is “the Word” preexistent (John 1.1). These are both very musical ideas!
Modern string theorists posit that all matter is created from a single fundamental harmonic vibration—a sound. Could it be that God is literally singing the universe into being? Are we all part of a beautiful symphony of love with God our composer and conductor? If so, then we can think about the state of our personal being, and our planet, as one of harmony and discord (dischord?). When we are living a life fully attuned to God’s song of creation, we live with and create harmony in the world. We welcome everyone into our lives and do what we can to serve others. When we are disconnected from God, we’re out of tune. This causes us to view the world askew, and to react to the situations we see with fear. Perhaps we even create uncomfortable situations—for ourselves and others, because we are out of tune.
Our ancient spiritual ancestors connected to God through music. The book of Psalms is an ancient book of songs to and about God. They intrinsically understood the power of musical connection. We are just starting to understand how powerful musical frequencies are. We have discovered very low frequencies that can make objects fall apart, and we have discovered ultrasonic frequencies that create refrigeration. This science of thermoacoustics is also very ancient. Glass blowers create heat-generated sound when blowing glass through a tube, for example. But now we can go the other way around—we can create heat and cold from a sound wave itself.
Sound is a creative force—perhaps the creative force, God’s very breath singing everything into existence, and constantly retuning us so that the song of songs is constantly being refined and reformed into harmonious union with God. We are part of that cosmic overture. We, too, are constantly being retuned and reformed into beings that live more harmoniously with our planet, each other, and God.
Meditation: I’m playing a little off-key today. Retune me today and all days.
that we are unleavened bread, salve
We come to you today
asking you to be
our spiritual yeast.
We realize that living into the Christ—
a more enlightened,
and enlightening being,
We must do our part
to make room for you
to do yours.
Connect us more deeply
to your presence
around and within us.
Raise our spirits
so we might raise the spirits
of the world.
Help us see
in the midst of the world’s turmoil.
O Eternal Consciousness,
so we might the change the world.
What is Real? The Trial of Jesus as Spiritual Revelation
There is a very interesting conversation that takes place in The Gospel of John, ask 18.28-38. It is a conversation about the nature of reality. Pilate’s final question to Jesus, and “What is truth” couldn’t be more profound. Read in its appropriate mystical context, this is a question not about legal perceptions, but about how we as human beings perceive reality. It’s essentially a quantum physics question, although neither Jesus nor Pilate could have known that.
However, because of his incredible spiritual tuning, Jesus did understand that the reality of the world is more dynamic—and more susceptible to massive changes, than we believe. In his time, his people—the Jewish people, were living under Roman occupation. They largely accepted the consequences of this reality, although occasional armed skirmishes showed they didn’t necessarily like it. Jesus, who is much more highly attuned to God than anyone else around him, sees through this. He sees “reality” as purely temporal, and something that not only can be changed, but also is somewhat artificial. I don’t think Jesus would have said, “we create our own reality,” like so many proponents of the Gospel of Wealth. He was more concerned with social justice than that. I do think he understood that the way we view reality as sort of, “that’s just the way it is” has profound consequences on our spirituality and the health of the planet. By aqueiscing to the currently accepted thinking, we do in fact create a reality that is often not in our best interests, the interests of our brothers and sisters, or the interests of the planet. “What is truth?” Most of the time it’s what I tell you the truth is. To that Jesus says, “Yeah, no.”
Remember, before Pilate makes his profound statement, Jesus makes one that is even more mind-bending: “My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world.” He says this because he knows “this world” is an artifice of human creation and is, to a large extent, the result of a lack of imagination and our unfortunate willingness to accept things the way they appear, even though our senses constantly deceive us. Like sheep, we do what we are told because someone we think holds power over us—either because they are a tyrant or because we think they’re smarter or more experienced, told us to do something. “The Bible is literal and infallible!”
“Okay,” we reply, even though everything we know about history and science informs us otherwise.
“We must sign global trade agreements to improve the economy”
“Okay,” we reply, even though global trade agreements have historically only benefited the corporations they are designed by.
“This Jesus is a rabble rouser, an insurgent, and a heretic!” they proclaim.
“Okay,” the crowd says. “Okay,” his disciples say, because we are programmed to listen to and respond positively to authority. Yet, when Jesus proclaims his authority comes from God, we find it impossible to believe, so entrenched in the reality of human power are we.
This reality is but a shadow of things that happen on a level we cannot physically perceive. We’re not even ready to perceive it mentally. We are just starting to figure out that everything we think is real is just one of many probable realities, and that which reality is truth depends largely on what we think and believe.
For decades, physicists have been trying to work out how light acts as both a particle and a wave, but never both at the same time. In fact, it doesn’t seem to collapse into one state or the other until it is observed and measured. On a sub-atomic level, there is no reality, there is only all possible realities. There is, in fact, no reality in our 4D world until we begin to measure things, and it turns out that measurement is never, ever, objective—it is always subjective. There is no absolute truth.
Now, on a macro scale—the place humans and planets and other things exist, this in-between place, this reality where atoms are both particles and waves, collapses. It cannot be sustained as atoms assemble into plants and trees and Pilates and Jesus’. But there have always been people who intuitively understood that if reality doesn’t actually become real until we observe it, then there is the potential to change it before it even happens. So to claim flight is impossible—to claim anything is impossible, is ignorant. In truth (see what I did there?) anything is possible. In fact, anything is so very possible that all we really have to do is realize the truth of a reality beyond that of this world. You know, like the one Jesus continues to try and show us.
This alternate reality is what Jesus means when he says “my kingdom doesn’t belong to this world.” What he’s really saying is, “I don’t accept this reality, and in fact, I know of another reality that is more beautiful and accepting, one where I would never stand trial for talking about our social responsibility to each other, our connectedness to each other, our duty to share the wealth and to treat each other as brothers and sisters rather than slaves and masters. I can show you this world. I have shown you this world, only you refuse to believe—or just don’t want it to be, possible. What is truth? I am truth, and I can show you the way to the light.”
Now. If only we could believe that was true.
Meditation: I am open to a deeper reality, a deeper way, a deeper truth, a brighter light.
Death is Not a Sin, for sale part 2
Every story in the Bible has at least two layers: a layer based somewhat, but not necessarily accurately, in history, and a layer meant to convey a spiritual ideal. When we read about death in scripture, on one level it is about the physical death of something, but on another it is about the human things we must allow to pass as we become ever more spiritually attuned to the universe around us.
The idea that death is a punishment for the transgressions of our species can be traced back at least to St. Augustine, who misinterpreted the Bible because he read it out of its historical Jewish context. He was also a literalist who entirely missed the spiritual overtones. This still happens today. If you search the web for a string like “death and sin” you’ll find all sorts of horrible interpretations of Romans 6.23 (“The wages of sin is death”).
What Paul is talking about, though, is a spiritual disconnect. The natural entropy of life is not a sin. The message Paul is trying to convey is that willfully doing things that disconnect us from God is a sin—and it causes spiritual death. For Paul, especially now that we have the example of Jesus Christ, the example from God that shows us exactly how to think and act to stay perfectly in tune with God, doing anything else is a sin. And he’s absolutely right. Later in Romans he’ll say, “You used to let the different parts of your body be slaves of your evil thoughts. But now you must make every part of your body serve God, so that you will belong completely to him” (Romans 6.19).
In a very real way, we must allow ourselves—force ourselves, even, because it’s hard work, to die to the things of the world in order for the world of God to break through us. We need to allow God to reprogram us, and we need to do whatever we can to reprogram ourselves, in order to see the world differently. “ For now we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13.12). There are instructions throughout scripture, and in many other texts, about how to do this. One of the main instructions is charity. By being charitable to each other, the veil begins to lift from our eyes. Our clouded hearts become filled with love. Now we see the world not as inevitably marching toward ultimate doom (and in some unfortunate cases cherishing the thought, because that means Jesus will return), but instead as a Lotus blossom, working it’s way from the muddy bottom of a lake, cracking through the hard shell of global, systemic sin, until it ultimately comes into the bloom of spiritual fullness, gently resting on the baptismal waters that give it life–eternal life, if you consider that the Lotus will have seeds that will make the same journey someday.
God is not punishing us for anything. Physical death is natural. Read through a spiritual lens, the passages in the Bible that talk about sin and death are meant to help us understand that we must die to the ways of the world in order to live to into (and for the world to live into) the world of God. One of the most effective ways to do that is to start giving more than we receive, loving others more than ourselves, and speaking and living this truth into the world.
This means we must stand with those who want to change the global systems of oppression. We must fight for immigrant worker rights. We must raise awareness about the plight of the homeless in this country. We must constantly educate ourselves and others about new ideas, ideas too often tyrannized and oppressed by the global corporate power structure, about reforming and recreating education, healthcare, politics, economics, and the other global social systems that right now emphasize sin—the things that tear us apart from God, because they emphasize self-preservation and profit. We must always remember that the key to God’s kin-dom is not self-preservation. It is death, always and forever followed by new life.
Meditation: Kill my selfish heart so that my true, selfless, God-attuned being may be born anew.
Death is Not a Sin, part 1
For a long time, Christianity has been preoccupied with the idea of sin, which is sometimes called “the doctrine of sin.” This is unfortunate because doctrines tend to be codified and turned into unbreakable rules. Doctrine becomes dogma (something that is incontrovertibly true), and dogma is the death of discussion. What “sin” is—in particular the idea of “original sin” and what it has caused, has become dogma for the majority of Christianity.
The two main schools of thought about sin are typically called “federal hardship” and “natural headship”. Both of them have to do with Adam’s supposed transgression. In the federal hardship idea, Adam is representative of the entire human race. His sin (not obeying God’s command to leave the tree of the knowledge of good and evil alone) is punished by death. In this too-patriarchal model of Christianity, God’s punishment for Adam is as the head of all humans and thus becomes a judicial punishment for all humans throughout eternity.
The other prevalent school of thought about sin, “natural headship,” argues that the entire human race was physically in Adam—that we are literally genetically related to this first man (of course, since this is also a patriarchal view, the first human has to be a man, even though that makes absolutely no sense). In this view, we all receive God’s death penalty because we are all born from sinful flesh. First sin leads to eternal sin, and it all leads to death, which is an unnatural punishment.
There are so many problems with the idea of death as punishment for original sin I’m not even sure where to begin. For today, let’s just consider this: death is natural and not in any way God’s punishment. There is nothing sinful about it. Everything in the universe dies—not only human beings. Every seedling that becomes an ancient giant Redwood eventually also passes to dust. Every great star like our Sun (which is actually a pretty mediocre star as it turns out) will one day burn itself out, or perhaps explode in a cataclysm of creation. Death leads to new life, and even the story of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension is about death leading to new life. Since everything dies, it must be natural. Otherwise, the God who proclaimed all creation good somehow punished everything in creation with the death penalty–not just humans. I wonder what the fish, stars, sun and moon did to deserve such a harsh judgment from the God who once loved everything into being?
Our entire universe, in fact, is born from death. It’s natural. It’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s definitely not a sin. My parents died not from the sin of Adam, but from devastating diseases that slowly ate away at them. Watching them pass was painful, and it was a relief when they finally evolved through death to a new state of being—because their last days here were devastating for all of us. Did they die because Adam ate some fruit and realized he was naked 6000 years ago (never mind the fact modern humans have been around 250,000 years)? Did they die because they were still paying for the sins of God’s original human? No. They died because death happens. Disease happens (unfortunately). Moreover, it happens everywhere, not just on this little blue speck of dust.
If we really want to understand the Adam AND EVE story (why is she always left out—the mother of creation, the necessary component to this story? Forgetting the feminine nature of God is truly what causes us this trouble in the first place), we must consider that the spiritual revelation of it is to make us aware that death is a passing to a new state of consciousness, a new awareness of God’s eternal presence. If we’re going to be people of scripture then we need to stop reading it as a text about a punitive and petty God, and reclaim it as a text about our human journey as we come to understand our holistic connectedness to all things in the universe.
To say that Adam (and subsequently every human being that has ever existed) was punished for disobeying God is the same thing as saying that God punished God’s self for disobedience. How does an eternal being sentence itself to death? Adam is as enfleshed a part of God as was Jesus, as is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as are you and I. There is no escaping God’s presence because everything is God’s presence. And everything eventually dies. Where is the sin in nature?
What sense does it make for Adam to have transgressed and been punished, especially for something as naturally human as curiosity, which must also be one of God’s most significant traits, since we are made in God’s image? And without God’s curiosity, I doubt this universe would exist at all.
Death is not the end, it’s not a sin, and it’s neither a genetic nor a judicial punishment. In fact, if we’re reading the Bible stories appropriately, death is a spiritual metaphor and has nothing to do with the physical cycle of everything that exists.
Death is, in fact, natural, beautiful, and necessary.
Meditation: May I die 1000 times today, and each time awake more aware of your presence.