Religion vs Spirituality

A friend of mine posted this a few days ago on Facebook. religionspirituality

I commented that “I could agree with that.”

And I can.

But like all memes it suffers from simplicity.

Often memes are just plain wrong upon further reflection. Sometimes they are right “most” of the time. Maybe they are mostly wrong except in a few circumstances.

This one I think is mostly right, but with a few caveats.

First of all, most religions are not “someone else’s experience.” They are a lot of someone elses. Where Christianity is concerned that numbers in the dozens. And that only relates to its scriptural base, the bible. If you add all the other writings not canonized, but still reflective of how people of generally the same time frame came to see the Jesus experience, then it grows substantially.

And of course, that says nothing to all the theologians and biblical scholars that have expanded our knowledge of exactly what that experience was, and how it should be conceived of. They number in the thousands over the years. And of course the mystical writers have their own experiences to relate.

So we actually have a lot to dig through in discerning what that “experience” is. Much the same could be said I suspect of most other religions. The end belief system is the product of hundreds if not thousands of minds. And of course, there is much conflict between minds.

But religions have surely set dogma and told believers that they should adhere to those beliefs. They divide them often into those that “must” be adhered to, those that should be, and perhaps those that are “up to your conscious”. And these change too, moving from one category to another. That is where the trouble begins.

Do we dare question the insights of a St. John of the Cross? Or The little Flower Theresa? Are their visions and spiritual deductions sacrosanct because of their sainthood? Is mine less so because I lack the imprimatur of the Church? That is where one’s spirituality conflicts it seems to me. And it is where the Church, standing for religion errs.

For the Church seeks, based upon its self-defined expertise, to tell the parishioner  what she must believe to remain within the good graces of said institution. An institution made by humans I might add, whatever your current theology might be about what Jesus intended when he laid the mantle upon Peter’s shoulders. This is error as I see it.

The Church has a serious and important role. That role is to nurture, care for, and raise up the individual who comes seeking. It can and should not judge, but only facilitate  with love and forgiveness, warmth and understanding, that relationship between God and creature. It should in no way be a barrier, EVER. When it does so, well as Jesus said, better tie a millstone around its neck and drown it.

And of course many would do just that. In the name of God.

And they are just as wrong as those who see the Church as God, speaking for, judging for, and forgiving for God.

For that purpose of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending to the sick, and ministering to all who are suffering, is the primary goal and purpose of religion, or Church. And if, I would argue, it limited itself to that purpose, it might well effectively reduce suffering in the world in a degree that would stupefy modern governments.

That is not it’s only purpose however. It serves to be the gathering forum for believers, and that is of no small importance. For the scriptures make clear to us, throughout them, that the gathering of the people in “church” is valuable and necessary. In some sense the Trinity teaches us that–one God in three forms operating in perfect community. We are communal creatures, and Church can and should mirror that perfect community. We are called to act selflessly, and no better place to learn it SHOULD be the Church.

Instead of course, we find nothing but judgment and rejection for so many. As if God needs humans to prevent other humans from approaching the altar. As if somehow the Church sanctifies and not God.

Spirituality is not a substitute for church in this sense. All too many people are walking around proclaiming their spirituality and their self-interpretation of scripture. The trouble is, scripture is not something that one can “just understand with an IQ of 100” as a self-proclaimed atheist recently told me. Although not a believer, he insisted that our “debate” be limited to the four corners of the bible, and using the common sense meaning of the words themselves. Of course such a notion is absurd.

Millions of unchurched Christianists proclaim what God wants, needs,  and hates. They then insist that we conform to their beliefs. Church can and should be the counterpoint to this sort of self-serving Christianity. If it is wrong for a church to speak for God, how much more so when an individual seeks to tell another what God wills or punishes? Here faith is simply used as a defense to calls of bigotry. We hear, “I personally don’t care about _______, but God is against it in the bible, and it’s my Christian duty to speak up.”

This is what comes from unfettered “spirituality” absent the restraints religion heterodoxy. But heterodoxy is in the end a human endeavor, and should never be confused with God, now with eternal truth. It is the best of what we understand now, and not what we may realize tomorrow.

Smart churches do this. All churches should do this.

Churches should be spending more time helping its members explore and think. As in all things, critical thinking skills apply. The dogma of the present church should but serve to start the discussion, and the exploration. God gave us these marvelous thinking instruments and they are meant to be used. Only by the deepest and broadest searching will we be rewarded with the most meaningful experience of God.

So, it’s not all one, or all the other. Each goes wrong by itself. It is the blending of both, and the value of both that enriches the individual.

Amen.

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Always in Hope and Prayer

Our_Mother_is_CryingAfter witnessing another round of Washington gridlock wherein all too many of the players jock only for their own personal best position, it is all too easy to lose hope.

All too easy to give up the fight when so many are aligned in an evil dance of pointing the finger at each other rather than at ourselves.

Our selfishness, our greed, our pride, our self-righteousness, our ambitions all serve to pit one against the other in an endless dance of death where neither can let go for fear of being dealt the final death-blow, and yet we slowly bleed  each other to death.

People are really suffering in our world, and people are really afraid. The two often don’t coincide. Those who live in fear, fear the one’s who are suffering and clutch all the more tightly those miserable things they have acquired, all the while attempting to build a fortress to contain these things from being taken.

Those who suffer do so in great silence, too weary from the struggle to just exist. The pain in their eyes echoes but one question: how can you let me die? Worse how can you let my innocent child die?

We argue over whether a human has the RIGHT to food, to shelter, to health care, as if it were a real question and not one created by forces that control the means of food, shelter and health and want only to exact a price for them in order to afford yet another jet, or condo, or island for their pleasure. It is all too awful at times, all to hard to fathom.

We were created in the image of God, yet we have distorted it by all the ugliness we continue to hold within us. Worse, we look at ourselves and see through this distortion our God become like us. How unnatural, how grotesque!

Yet there is this:

JUST ONE

I ask for just one miracle this weekend:
that I will no longer believe the impossible is.

That I will find the faith to believe
that liberation will come
for those who are imprisoned by their own
– or another’s –
fear and judgement.

That I will find the faith to believe
that the most intractable minds can be changed
– even my own.

That i will find the faith to believe
a different world will be born
from the empty hells of this one.

That I won’t stop living for the end
of all that would destroy us.

From Hold This Space

And from this praying upon unholy knees, we rise again to continue on, learning, teaching, reaching upward in love, in goodness, in equality, in justice, crying forth for a miracle of salvation for the human race.

Naming our Golden Calves

Golden bull sclupture on grey glassIt’s ironic isn’t it that the Israelites created a golden calf and not a golden bull. I mean given their belief that their God was a jealous God, one prone to dangerous anger, one wonders at their use of a newborn, still fragile, unknowing of much of the ways of the world, as their symbol of deity.

In any case, the story is fraught with puzzlement. Like much of the Hebrew scripture, God is portrayed as hardly all-knowing and often not all-powerful. He often argues and gives in to human logic (or what passes for it), and he seems to be in need of human hands to accomplish his ends at times.

This is perhaps why some folks think they know God and know what He wants on any given issue.

So Moses argues with God and dissuades Him from destroying the people for their “stiff-neckedness”, something one would have thought God had learned by now. It shows that Moses is the more rational of the two, reminding God that all His work to date would be for naught, and worse yet, he would look pretty weak and puny to non-Hebrews if in the end, he just mashed his sculpture into a ball and started over again.

Literalists of course, ignore all the strange and contradictory conclusions to be drawn here. Historically a lot of them used to (and perhaps still do) tsk, tsk, at the Catholic church for its use of statues of saints, calling it idol worship. One of course often misses the plank in one’s own eye when busy pointing out the planks in other people’s.

There are so many problems with concluding that the Bible is the “word of God” in a literal fashion. Least of which is that none of the fundamentalist crowd will ever answer the questions. They are quick to point out ( having matured no doubt) that they don’t claim that God literally “wrote” the bible, but only that he caused the writers to write down “in their own words” all that he desired humanity to know and nothing he did not want them to know.  Since they have pointed this out, I think it only fair to answer, “well why?”

Why what, you ask? Well, if God “used” people to write “in their own words” my question would be why would he do that? A God who can inhabit a burning bush, cause tablets to magically contain the ten commandments, part waters, create plagues of locusts, bring forth water from a rock, can surely manage to make a book of instruction can’t He? So what is the point of using these intermediaries?

Well, the answer begs the question. It’s just a not very logical way of explaining why God didn’t just start with one, and go through a list of commands. He did it once, so I guess he could make a longer list right? It explains why the Bible doesn’t read very God-like. Rather of course, than just simply state the truth–men (maybe women but we don’t know) wrote it.

My friend, Dr. James McGrath from Butler, said it thusly:

“People spoke it, others wrote it, still others copied it, still others collected the writings together, still others elevated the collection to the level of Scripture, others claimed that collection to be the Word of God, then the words of God. And that doesn’t “settle it.” The Bible tells me so.

So to claim that it does settle it, under the fundamentalist adage, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”, suggests to me somebody is busy sculpting that calf again.

Churches can become calves too. I’m afraid that given enough time, almost all of them do. The church becomes THE thing. Certainly true of the Roman church, where rules and rules upon rules tell every Catholic what to do and when. They’ve relieved a bit of that, given the falling numbers, but there is still plenty of it. The Roman church formed from a winning of the battle of orthodoxy. But it didn’t go away. It erupted full force during the Reformation. It continues today. Most every church is formed around the belief that only they have the “true” understanding. That human hubris  sounds pretty darn calfish to me.

Then of course there is the infighting within the denomination. Who is a heretic? Who is a real prophet, seer, Guru? What is right teaching, wrong? Churches split nowadays over gay rights even suing each other over the very physical structures. People vie for personal power within the institution. People steal from the coffers in the name of something or other that somehow or other they justify as being “Godly”.  Your preacher “needs” to live in splendor given that he is “sweatin’ for Jesus” and you have no idea how stressful that is with the powers of Satan working so feverishly at every moment.

All that power, so necessary to “rightly lead” is a calf for sure awaiting its gilt covering.

We can get real personal and find that calf growing in our garage with that car that is oh so essential “given my long commute”, or that state of the art entertainment center, because after working so hard for the Lord, I just got to unwind! The calf grows in our relationships as we struggle to be in control, and form our partner into what works for us, draped in a facade of “what is the right way” to be a couple.

We are a stiff-necked people. Until we stop using the poor Israelites to teach a story to OTHERS about their lack of piety, well, we will continue that tradition. It’s all about your own calves. They surround you and me.

Is it time to melt down a few?

Simplify. Quiet down.

Find your real God.

She’s waiting.

Inspiring Words Are a Gift to the Heart

eternityI found this really special blog the other day. And today it had this lovely poem.

It was and is powerful stuff.

I hope it inspires you.

To those who withhold refuge,

I cradle you in safety at the core of my Being.

 

To those that cause a child to cry out,

 

I grant you the freedom to express your own choked agony.

 

To those that inflict terror,

 

I remind you that you shine with the purity of a thousand suns.

 

To those who would confine, suppress, or deny,

 

I offer the limitless expanse of the sky.

 

To those who need to cut, slash, or burn,

 

I remind you of the invincibility of Spring.

 

To those who cling and grasp,

 

I promise more abundance than you could ever hold onto.

 

To those who vent their rage on small children,

 

I return to you your deepest innocence.

 

To those who must frighten into submission,

 

I hold you in the bosom of your original mother.

 

To those who cause agony to others,

 

I give the gift of free flowing tears.

 

To those that deny another’s right to be,

 

I remind you that the angels sang in celebration of you on the day of your birth.

 

To those who see only division and separateness,

 

I remind you that a part is born only by bisecting a whole.

 

For those who have forgotten the tender mercy of a mother’s embrace,

 

I send a gentle breeze to caress your brow.

 

To those who still feel somehow incomplete,

 

I offer the perfect sanctity of this very moment.

 

Author unknown
From the blog: Blue-Eyed Ennis

Holy Ground

burningbush-smIt’s been an interesting few days since I last posted here. Nothing to write home about as they say, but, well, interesting remains a good word.

It was odd on Sunday, yet breathtakingly freeing too. No screeching, nails-on-a-blackboard rendition of the Gloria to endure. If you were unaware, it fell victim to the “changes” initiated by the Vatican’s desire to change a few words here and there in the mass, throwing everyone into disarray and confusion. The Gloria, one of the most beautiful songs, has been torn asunder and reworded into phrases that no longer soar, but stumble around in the mouth, and search in vain for a key to lay them across.

And let us not forget the “Creed” now properly “authentic” with its reference to consubstantiality. Yes, those of us who had long said the Creed from memory are now back to flipping pages so that we don’t “screw up”. Nothing of course done with that “for us men, and our salvation” crap. Couldn’t drop the men in that phrase could ya?

I surely did not miss the homily. Our priest was on vacation for the month of July and so we had visiting priests. One gave a dynamite homily, the rest were pretty so-so. No loss there.

I’ve returned to more meditation.

I can’t get the picture from my head of Moses standing in the sand, hearing the voice. “Take off your sandals! You are standing on holy ground.”

I feel like whispering a lot.

I feel like I’m standing on holy ground.

The point is of course, that we are all standing on holy ground all the time. Yet mostly we don’t realize that. I’m just realizing it a lot at the moment. That is a very good thing.

I’m curious about where I am going, but not enough to sit and think about it much. I rather think it will all work out.

I have some desires in that regard.

The more I look around the religious world of my town, the less enthusiastic I become. I have little urge to “get involved”. They all want you to do that you know. They are always introducing themselves and inviting you to coffee after services, and gee, would you like to be a reader? It’s hard to be anonymous. And I had rather grown to like being anonymous. After all, I’m there to visit with the Lord, not to make friends.

Which is not to say that community doesn’t have its place. It does. But I rather think it more belongs in the food pantry and at the Habitat for Humanity work site than it does in the comfort of the Church hall over coffee and donuts. Just my thinking at the moment.

I so enjoy sharing information though, and it would be nice to find a community to discuss ideas. Let’s gather and unpack the liturgy! Let’s read this book and search out its insights. That I miss, or maybe it’s my often wrong but still arrogant belief that others have something to learn from me.

Arrogance and self-importance tend to attend with me at formal “church”. I want to “be” of note. It’s one of the reasons that I came to see my involvement at my previous Episcopal church wrong for me. I flourished in a world that thought like I did, and that caused me to “get involved” in all too many things. My ego supplanted Jesus.

The more we learn about Christ, the more we learn about the bible, the more I guess we are prone to that. I KNOW WHAT HE MEANT! I’ll explain it.

Well, that’s what a blog is all about isn’t it? I will explain it. I know what He meant.

Well, I don’t know what He means for me right now!

I fumble in my humility. But I really like it too.

I’m just a small creature. I’m that ant I look down upon in the desert, scurrying along, seemingly, to me at least, going in no particular direction or for no purpose. I expand his field to encompass even a block and I wonder could that little ant even contemplate how large his world is, even if only expanded to a block in size?

That’s me.

I’m just freaked out by how big God is, and how little I am, and how presumptuous I can be, and how He loves me anyway, and probably shakes his head with a wry smile on his “lips”.

I’m playing “church” for one. Just me and God. And God is setting out my altar every morning in shades of pink and red and spurts of white light coming over the mountains, and I plod along on this Holy earth, avoiding the mud holes left by last nights rain. Diego gallops along following his nose.

He’s the smarter of us two. He just does dog easily and without any thinking. I don’t do human nearly as well. But I’m paying attention now. And perhaps that’s all I’m supposed to do right now.

 

 

Become What You Behold

whenourheartsarewarmedwithloveThose who have visited here regularly expect the usual Sunday reflection on the lectionary offerings. That will not happen today, nor any time in the near future at least.

Ironically, as my life becomes more and more peaceful and settled, or perhaps because of it, God has seen fit to disturb my calm and shake things up. It is nothing of great import in the sense of urgency or some major life change. It is more a growing sense that God and I are off on another adventure. As usual, I have no clue where that will lead.

Let me say that my experience since leaving the Episcopal Church and returning to “Mother” Church has not been very successful. It has gotten worse (which utterly surprised me) since we moved here to Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Here, let me just say, tradition is applauded, and conservatism prevails. I’ve been a back-bencher, biting my tongue at the recurring invitations to “pray that government recognize and protect religious freedom”, some slap at the Obama Administration and it’s attempts to insure that women who want contraceptive care can actually get it from their employers. You can extrapolate from there to all the other “issues”.

At my church, most homilies involve chastising me  as a Catholic for not going to confession enough, not going to church enough, not reading the bible enough. After having visited several in the area, the message seems universal. This suggests that the trouble is not with individual priests but with a seminary system that pushes this kind of message as “pastoral”.

At the same time, I’ve been reading a lot of Matthew Fox and other things that speak to the evolution of the Christ Consciousness, which arguable is the future of “religion” in all its guises. It is definitely not about my faith being “better” than yours, or my salvation more assured than yours. In fact, it focuses entirely on something quite different: what would Jesus do.

Yes, that trite phrase, so bandied about is in fact the reality of what we should be as Christians, indeed as God-lovers. Jesus is but the universal term for God-love. Buddha, Krishna, or a host of other terms would do as well.

And I get nothing of that in church. I found it most ironic that our parish priest some weeks ago offered five suggestions on what individuals and families might do with the summer “vacation” to enhance their faith lives. While I can’t recall all five, they were things like, “attend mass during the week”, attend a family retreat”, organize family weekend drives somehow around faith”. It had everything to do with improving one’s “faith”, thus improving one’s salvation.

There was NO suggestion to, as a family, collect food from neighbors for the food pantry. There was NO suggestion to collect used children’s books for families who can’t afford such luxuries. I could go on, but you get the point.

So my “going to mass” has been a thing to do, not a joyful experience.

All the while I’m just starting a Self-Realization program offered by the foundation started by the Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda. It is a melding of Christian principles, i.e., the Christ Consciousness with Hindu meditation practices.

I am more interested in my small time each week at the food pantry. I’m more interested in setting up a small “free library” for the tent city behind it, where so many homeless veterans live. I’m more interested in “doing”.

I see Matthew 25 as THE call, not just a reminder to offer to serve Thanksgiving dinner once a year to those “less fortunate.”

Surely I’m not alone. Surely that is why the pews are so empty each week. People are not being fed by their churches for the most part. They are not celebrating love. They aren’t sharing it either.

I ponder looking at one of the local Episcopal churches here. One is decidedly not for me, plastering its website with words like “Anglican tradition”, “traditional”, and “word of God”. I know where they are coming from. The other is quieter. If I choose that route, I shall speak with the rector and I will lay my cards out, and hope that I get honest answers not designed to “get me in the door” rather than meet my needs.

For church is supposed to meet my needs, not their own. The more I read of Matthew Fox’s history with the Roman Church, the more sickened I am by the damage done by the past two popes. I have hopes for Pope Francis, but I fear he will not do nearly enough. Part of the reason is that I don’t think he’s inclined to actually believe he should.

My church is simply wrong, as wrong as it can be in its stance on birth control, women’s role in the church, and gay rights. I am not sure Francis sees that. My church talks a good game against poverty, and the uneven distribution of wealth in this world, all the while continuing to be bloated with all the gaudy trappings of extreme wealth itself. It continues to belittle the efforts of liberation theologies and wars against the best scholars of our day, pushing them out of the church as it to Matthew Fox or marginalizing them as it did to Jon Sobrino and others like him. It threatens women religious because they, unlike their male counterparts, do march, do feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort those who are marginalized.

Through all this, the one sadness (for I am peaceful, serene, and feeling renewed regardless of how my words may sound) is that I can find no one to walk this walk with me. Try as I might, I cannot seem to locate a spiritual director to guide me through this labyrinth. There are no Franciscans or Dominicans here, religious that I have come to trust.

So I wander a bit in the dark.

But that may be what is best, it is hard to say. I know it shall all work out for the best. But I know I would meet less dead ends with the help of a professional. Perhaps that too is part of my journey. God is fond of confounding my expectations and asking for me to trust. This seems one of those times.

Here, I will chronicle that journey, not with the idea that this serves the needs of another. Each and every journey is utterly unique, started form its own place, and traveling at its own pace and along its own path. Perhaps you will recognize a stop along the way. Perhaps you will then be able to offer me a bit of advice to get around this or that obstacle. Perhaps I might comfort you once in a while, with a recognition that you’re not alone on that problem confronting you.

But that is where we stand, or I stand today.

Again, if this sounds sad, morose, or defeatist in any way, it is not meant to be. I feel free, gloriously at peace, and eager to see where all this leads. My inner work is renewed and feels fresh and alive. God is close, and life is marvelously new and beckoning.

Blessings to you all, and please offer every advice that comes to mind. Surely we are community.

 

i-goddess

 

Dealing with Wealth

Luke12v13to21_2013Money.

Some call it the root of all evil, parroting the bible verse. Some see it as the means to accomplish great things of value to all mankind. There is every position in between.

The first reading today from Ecclesiastes is the dilemma I often see for the atheist. Life is harsh. Life is all about working. And in the end, it is all for naught. One ends up leaving their property to people who don’t deserve it. What is the point? The writer of Ecclesiastes seems like someone in deep depression.

Paul, in Colossians points out that greed is one of those nasty “earthly” evils that we must turn from in our quest to live in the heavenly realm.

And Jesus reminds us that greed leads us to focus on that which at a moments notice can be taken from us. For it will do us no good in the end.

As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you.

So how do we relate to wealth?

Jesus points to the answer surely in suggesting that hoarding wealth will not serve us at all. Yet much of what we do is just that. We think it’s good business to plow back profits “into the business”, growing it even larger. We are all concerned with the “bottom line”. We want to read our balance sheets as improving each and every year. We want that bank balance to grow.

Not all of this is bad of course. As much as we do know that our lives can be forfeit mere moments from now, we are obligated as good citizens and good family members to take care of ourselves in our older years. We invest, save, and plan for the days when we are not going to earn a salary any more.

Yet how much is too much?

Jesus’ parable is not just to suggest that greed is bad. He also speaks to what we do with our money. The rich farmer, rather than save up his grain to enhance his own wealth and perchance sell it at exorbitant rates in lean years?, should, after providing for the lean, offer the rest to those less fortunate.

Spread the wealth. Jesus asks, if something happens to you tonight, to whom will your wealth belong? A good question that takes us back to Qoheleth who moans that it will end up going to those who have not worked for it.

A ran into an interesting quote from Bill Gates, Sr., from something he wrote in Sojourners Magazine:

Society’s claim on individual accumulated wealth is … rooted in the recognition of society’s direct and indirect investment in the individual’s success. In other words, we didn’t get there on our own” (Jan-Feb, 2003)

In other words, it is the height of arrogance to make the claim that “I’m a rugged individual” and “I got where I am by hard work.” Surely these things may be true but they are hardly the entire story. People have died for your ability to set up a business and operate it in a manner that brings individual wealth. People have paid taxes so that you could enjoy free schooling. People have toiled in your factories because of their own pride in a job done well. People have protected your inventory because others raised them to be honest and fair.

Nobody gets there on their own.

Another point Jesus seems to make is that the uncertainty of our future should lead us to another thought.

We often put off charitable efforts until we “have more time.” We put off our families because the business needs our full attention. How many marriages suffer from the parent or parents who are too busy to get home for dinner or attend the soccer game? How many of us are too tired on Sunday to get dressed and attend our church? How many say we will get to mediation, that spiritual book, soon but just not now when we are so busy with LIFE?

What excuse will we use when the time comes and we may be asked to explain why we couldn’t be there for a friend in need, or spend that time in prayer? Will we say, “Gosh Lord, here are the numbers of my accounts. The money is all yours!”

The vanity is not the work. The vanity is not the desire for a nice home or a comfortable retirement.

The vanity is losing sight of all that is just as important, and that is not something to be put off until tomorrow, because that is a profound vanity. The vanity of thinking that we are in control. If we can see that God is in control, then we can order our lives accordingly.  We can prioritize more effectively when we step aside and get out of the way of our egos and recognize who is our guide and boss.

Wealth, work, and planning then fall into perspective. They are service to the kingdom, and nothing more. We work and accumulate to achieve much greater goods than our own small visions. We position ourselves to be of service in whatever manner is presented to us by a loving God.

Amen.

 

Who Am I?

whoamIMuch has been written about the passage in Luke wherein Jesus asks of his disciples: Who do you say that I am? Much will continue to be written about it no doubt. And the writings will be important and informative as they always are.

Who we view Christ as, will continue to be an important question, one that we must answer again and again as we move through this mortal life.

But I hazard the guess that our answer tells us far more. It  informs us significantly who we are. And I suggest that it is just as profitable that we ask this question of ourselves.

Who am I?

To say that Jesus is the Christ is to impart little real information. All believing Christians would say as much, yet one must admit that all believing Christians are not the same. What do we mean by that affirmation? If we mean that Jesus was the one sent by God to save us from ourselves, to provide the gateway to a place called heaven merely by affirming his correct appellation, then it says much about who WE are doesn’t it?

It suggests that our faith journey has been stalled at the most primitive and self-serving. Surely this is not what Jesus meant for us. Surely that is not the meaning of the what Luke records Him as having said:

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Those are powerful words. Worse, they are frightening. We must be willing to lose our lives in order to save it. And the ironic point of this is that while this might seem utterly self-serving, when we actively lose our lives we have lost any sense of saving ourselves at all. We have transcended that earthly way of being.

Losing our lives does not mean literally, it means to recognize and relinquish the daily investment in life that we as humans seem married to. The slogging it out in a world of like-minded individuals, each struggling to “make it” however defined. Each trying to secure their piece of the pie, getting their fair share, working for the “good life”, preparing for retirement, all the mess that we find part of life.

Letting go of that agenda, that mind-set is what is meant. Are you ready to live for others? Are you ready to spend your waking moments engaged in making the world a better place, not compelled by some belief that you are “working out your salvation” but simply motivated by love for humanity?  Are you uninterested in the newest model car, but finding “transportation” sufficient if it gets you where you need to be to help where that is needed? Are you unconcerned about the stock market and the condition of your portfolio on a daily basis, but trust that God will provide and keep your eyes on the tasks at hand?

If this is how you view Jesus as the Christ, then you have and are answering who you are.

It is a common enough question. It is all too often answered with the usual, spouse, parent, professional position response. We are those things surely, but we are something so much more. We are spiritual beings created to relate to our Creator. We are living out a human existence, but when that is over we shall return to our true existence.

If all that be true, then our time here as creature is purposely so. If life can be described by most as short and filled with a  fair amount of pain, then there must be something we are missing when we spend every waking moment worrying and fretting and plotting and scheming to get to some “place” of comfort and happiness. If that is who we are, then we are not in the Kingdom, we are running from it.

Jesus surely did not need to ask the question of Peter. He clearly knew from long hours, weeks and months of living intimately together, exactly what Peter thought of him. No, he asked Peter, as he asks us, in order to force us to confront ourselves and what we have made and are making of this precious time as human.

Who are you?

Amen.

 

And What of Love?

anewI’ve been thinking a lot about Abraham lately.

Specifically the story of Abraham and Isaac. More specifically, about Abraham’s call by God to sacrifice Isaac. The so-called “test.”

I’m as bothered by this as I am about God inflicting Job with all his woes as the object of a wager with Satan.

This is not my God, this God who uses and abuses his very own.

It is one of the reasons why any rational person should rebel at the demand that scripture be taken literally. For the God portrayed in these examples is not a God to love or worship. It is only a God to be ignored at one’s peril.

But of course, most of us aren’t literalists. We see that scripture is the reflection of those who came before us on how they came to recognize and live with this transcendent God. How they came to see their relationship to this all-powerful deity. How they came to enter into the grace of faith and understanding.

As is so often the case with scripture, because surely it is divinely inspired, scripture often informs scripture. We find answers to the deeply agonizing questions offered up by one text in another.

Such is the case today, at least for me. Today John tells us that in those final hours in the life of the Master, he said some amazing things. Among them, he issued his own commandment, a “new” one as he said.

love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.

Go back to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Think about it from the point of view of today. Your neighbor comes to you, a pious woman, one who you know goes to church regularly. You see a worn bible next to her favorite chair in her living room when you visit. She often makes reference to biblical passages in your conversations. She is known for her commitment to acts of charity.  She says to you:

“God spoke to me last night. It was the clearest thing you can imagine. He told me that he wants me to take my dearest child, my youngest, and offer her as a sacrifice to him. Please say goodbye to my darling girl, for you will see her no more.”

What would you do? Well, quite obviously, you would either alert the woman’s husband or call the authorities. In any case, you would do all you could to prevent her from this act. If you learned of the act after it had been done, you would expect the woman to be taken into custody and either held for treatment or otherwise confined. Many would of course dispute her “vision” and claim her either mad or a murderer.

That would be the sane response.

Yet we read the story of Abraham and Isaac as if it all makes perfect sense. In the story, Abraham, known to love Isaac as his long-awaited son by Sarah, makes not a single objection. He offers no mental reservation, no agony of decision whatsoever. Is this even normal?

Of course it is not. And the story is just that, a story. God does not and would not ask such a thing of his creatures. The story illustrates in some crude fashion, how important it is to put God first in one’s life. It suggests that God means more than anything else. God’s desires come first. And it is crude, let’s be clear.

As is often the case with a teaching moment, we go way over the top to make a point. This the writer did. If you think you know what loving God means, well let me tell you what it REALLY means, the writer suggests. It’s hyperbole in its extreme form.

God would never ask such a thing. No rational person would do such a thing. It it meant to instruct us on what it means to love God, and of course to show us how very very short of the mark we really are. We cannot comprehend even how to love God like this.

Yet, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus shows us exactly and perfectly how to love God. He simplifies it for us. Love your neighbor as I have loved you.

AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

Jesus, in his time with his disciples has shown them again and again the meaning of love. This willingness to think of others first, this willingness to get up when tired, and offer help, this willingness to bear the condemnation of others for the “company you keep”. Jesus showed his disciples that to lead, indeed to love, meant being last, being the servant, making sure that each and every person one encountered was brought into wholeness. Jesus was about to show them ultimately that life itself was worth sacrificing for a principle–not someone else’s life, but his own.

The principle of course was that being true to God in one’s heart, and living that out no matter what the personal sacrifice might entail was the way to bring heaven and earth into an embrace. Jesus answers the dilemma we face in the gruesome story of Abraham and his efforts to commit infanticide.  He shows us what the love that the ancient writer was attempting to define actually is in real and practical terms.

Scripture informs scripture, and forever teaches us that the stories are just that, stories which help us jump into the cloudy waters of our minds, to yet peel away another layer of darkness on the journey to the light.

Amen.

Who Are You?

fishermenOne of the enduring themes of the Gospels is the degree to which the disciples misunderstand Jesus. Mark makes this a major theme in his work, pointing out time and again that the apostles are unable to grasp the truth of who Jesus is, again and again. At times we, as readers, become exasperated by their blockheadedness , for it seems to obvious to us.

Yet, we fail I think to recognize what it must have been like for them. Even in a culture steeped in some serious measure of mysticism, the things Jesus said and did, were beyond they own experiences. Is it so hard to imagine why they found it so difficult to gather in and process the true magnitude of what they were experiencing?

In today’s Sunday readings we have but another case of Jesus having to explain the obvious. The disciples, are out fishing, and the catch has been nil. They hear a voice asking, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

Now, who else would be calling them children? And surely they were not fishing for food to eat, for the lot of them were not necessary for that task. Yet, John claims that they did not recognize Jesus.

This might be explainable if this was their first encounter with Christ after his death, but John points out at the end of the first section of this reading that it was their third such meeting with the Risen Lord.

Jesus instructs them to cast their nets on the far side of the boat. This they do, even though as of yet, they have no idea who has given the order. It falls to the “disciple whom Jesus loved” to identify him. Peter in his exuberance, plunges into the waters and swims ashore, only to find Jesus tending the fire and cooking fish!

The rest come ashore with their massive catch, and come to eat.

Now John relates the most amazing statement of all: “None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you’, because they recognized it was the Lord.”

What in the world is going on here? They have seen the Risen Lord twice before. The beloved disciple announces that it is Jesus. Peter, so excited, swims to shore ahead of the boat in order to see Jesus, and they are afraid to ask, “who are you?”

It is one of those mysterious statements that confound us. What is meant here?

I suggest that it relates not at all to the actual mechanics of facial recognition, but rather the continuing fog that seems to envelope this group of men and women when faced with what can only be a supernatural event.

They keep having this “vision” of the man they have lived with intimately for three years. They had ate and slept with him, traveled the roads with him, listened to him preach. They had seem him joyous, sad, pensive, angry, all the emotions that they were prone to. He had become all too human to them, albeit he was strange in his talking and behaving at times. He had bled on the cross and he had died. He did what any human would do.

Yet, in their sorrow and confusion about what to “do now”, they kept having these experiences of him. He was there, and then not there. He spoke, he was “touchable”. Yet suddenly he was gone again. They whispered among themselves, reassuring each other that they had in fact all felt his presence, yet all too soon, things returned to normal.

Imagine in those moments of his presence–how everything must have become surreal–the air must have shimmered, the smells sharp and piercing, the sounds muted, echoing, searing the mind. And then suddenly, as if in a second, a shudder passes over the landscape and all returns to normal. The room is stifling hot, the odors of animals and human sweat return, the cacophony of human transactions outside, the dust.

From a moment of euphoria, suddenly the stark reality of nothing has changed, returns. They try to reassure each other that what transpired was real, but as we learned last week, they could not convince even Thomas of the first encounter. And slowly their minds convince them that it was not really real at all, but figments of their desires and pain.

By this third encounter, this one where Jesus eats with them in such a normal human fashion, their perplexity once again rushes at them. This is the Lord they are convinced. But he is not as before.  Who and more importantly what is he? Who is this man/God who disrupts them again and again, refusing to leave them in their grief and desire to just get back to life as they knew it before Him.

Who is this Man?

Indeed.

Each of us is called upon to lose  our complacency of who Jesus is.

Each of us is called to ponder more and more deeply what this Jesus is.

Each of us is called to decide how this realization changes us, and changes everything about our lives.

Are we not all continually asking “who is he?”

Our answers, as we journey along will change, grow, and develop. That is what conversion is, a continually evolving thing.

That is what the disciples were learning in those days following the crucifixion.

Amen.

 

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