How Can a Follower of Jesus Reconcile Violence in the Scripture?

*Note: This by no means a comprehensive treatment of the question of violence in the Scripture. These mental ramblings are simply meant to inspire thoughtful reflection.

I read and listen to a lot of different people with widely varying worldviews. There are evangelicals and progressive Christians. Over there are the atheists and the Nones. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists. I entertain the thoughts and ideas of many people. Every once in a while, even a fundamentalist Christian sneaks in.

The reasons that I do this are many and varied. I’m not afraid of ideas and questions. We are all passengers on this Pale, Blue Dot hurtling through space. We all have responsibilities to each other and to the planet itself. We neglect these responsibilities at our own peril.

I’ve interacted with folks outside of my own faith tradition, several who question the basic morality of Christians and even the Christian God.

They react to Christians who say “God is love,” or “You can’t be a moral person without God as your moral compass.” They site the number of people who say that they follow Christ, yet live like someone has placed a magnet too close to their ‘moral compass.’ It doesn’t seem to lead them toward true North, but toward some barren desert on the outskirts of BFE, (you can Google that yourself).

It isn’t a far stretch for them to observe that if someone claims to live according to the words of their god, then that god MUST be of similar moral and ethical fiber as they are themselves.

So, the questions arise, “What about how your God commanded His people to totally destroy their enemies”? “Their enemies’ women and children?” “What kind of god would command such a thing?”

And, they are justified to ask such hard questions. The sacred texts of all of the Abrahamic faiths have passages that talk about the so-called righteous destruction of god’s enemies. And, in some cases, people who are not enemies, but happen to be living in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Believers then feel compelled to defend God. (Like that’s even possible.) They respond with things like, “Well, God is God and can do whatever God wants to do.” Or, “God must have given those people a chance to repent, but they chose not to.” Still others simply say, “I don’t know, but if God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Worse yet, many conservative believers use these texts to excuse violence against ‘others.’

Progressives don’t fare much better. They rationalize the text by alluding to the fact that these are ancient texts written by and for ancient people. So, it looks like God simply met them where they were culturally and ‘allowed’ certain behaviors that we enlightened folks in the 21st century find abhorrent. Or, they just ignore these texts. Of course, these are non-answers that simply seek to avoid the hard questions.

In fact, any and all responses like these do nothing more than perpetuate the idea that God is some sort of sadistic monster.

 

Then there’s the curve ball…Jesus.

 

The God that I see revealed through Jesus as recorded in the Gospels looks nothing like the God displayed in the Hebrew Bible.

What should one do with this apparent contradiction?

One person in the 2nd century C.E. came up with a unique way to look at this conundrum. His name was Marcion. Marcion came up with the idea that the God of the Hebrew Bible was not the same God as the Father of Jesus Christ. According to theologian Alister McGrath, Marcion believed that “The Old Testament relates to a different God from the New; the Old Testament God, who merely created the world, was obsessed with the idea of law. The New Testament God, however, redeemed the world and was concerned with love.”[1] Historian Justo L. Gonzalez adds, according to Marcion “Jehovah is an arbitrary god, who chooses a particular people above all the rest. And he is also vindictive, constantly keeping an account on those that disobey him, and punishing them. In short, Jehovah is a god of justice–and an arbitrary justice at that.”[2] Marcion went so far as to create his own canon that eliminated texts that did not conform to his special interpretation.

I suppose that’s one way to deal with the hard sayings of the Bible. Just cut them out and ignore them.

The thing is, we really don’t have that option. We’re stuck with what we’ve got.

So, how do we reconcile God with divine and human violence?

Simply put, we don’t; we can’t.

To explain away texts that the Church considers inspired in some simple, easy-to-wrap-my-brain-around-the-unwrappable isn’t something that we are entitled to do.

But, there may be another way to read these texts without ignoring or reading past them.

Recently, while spending time in contemplation, a thought occurred to me. Human history has been fraught with acts of violence and genocide. We don’t need to look any further than our own history in the U.S. Our very existence as a nation came about at the hands of European domination that was given strength by the Bishop of Rome, himself. In the late 15th century, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal Bull entitled, “Inter Caetera.” Basically, the Pope stated that any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered” and dominated by Christians. That’s how Columbus could get lost, yet “discover” land that was already occupied.

But, all of this is another post.

Some countries have recognized the abuses that have been heaped upon others. Notably, South Africa and Canada. Both of these countries have taken steps to reconcile their violent and oppressive pasts.

South Africa had a history of treating the indigenous Blacks living there with forced domination and violence. This system of “apartheid” was designed to keep the white minority in power over Blacks and other people of color at any cost. And, the costs were high. Many died and the freedom of all was taken away.

Finally, after much domestic and international pressure, South Africa ended apartheid in 1994. They set up a tribunal type commission whose mandate was to work toward reconciliation of ALL of South Africa’s citizens. The commission allowed people to have grievances and abuses recorded and, in some cases allowed for amnesty for those who came forward to report their own culpability. It was NOT a way for the oppressed minority to ‘get even.’ It was a way to get the wounds out in the open where they could be treated and healed.

The results have been breath-taking. South Africa has created a functioning democracy that they can be proud of.

Canada also began a process to help heal its own genocidal past. As European colonists invaded North America they ushered in an age of systematic elimination of the Indigenous People who had inhabited this continent for many thousands of years. The brutality and injustice of the colonists knew no bounds. From dislocation, to starvation, to the infamous Boarding Schools, Aboriginal people suffered.

“Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts,” one person involved with the process wrote. It is, in a nutshell, the overarching framework for the Canadian effort. There are many who don’t feel that this goes far enough,. Canada still asks the Aboriginal people to accept the reconciliation effort on the terms of the colonists. This is a valid complaint. But, it is a start. The Canadian government is beginning to understand their own culpability in the genocide and are becoming more inclined to work toward a better relationship with the First Nations.

A common thread in these actions is acknowledging and repenting from earlier behavior that caused hurt to others.

What if we read the violence written in the Scriptures in a similar way?

We could truthfully acknowledge the violence. Yes. Whether the violence actually happened or not, the ancient writers recorded them. And, the people who gathered the early Church Councils canonized them. These facts we must accept because, Duh!, they’re written down.

However, we don’t need to accept the interpretations of these texts that have been passed down to us. God gave us rational minds with which to think and contemplate these words. We are, I believe, commissioned to read the Inspired texts and allow them to live and breathe in our contemporary world. Therefore, we can forcefully denounce the violence for what it was: an abhorrent violation of humanity. There really is no way around it. The actions depicted in Scripture are hateful and bigoted. There is NO redeeming value to them whatsoever.

Through confession and repentance we could claim LIFE for ourselves, our friends and enemies, and the whole of the Cosmos.

I believe that the God revealed in the Gospels would be pleased with this. In fact, maybe God has been patiently waiting for humanity to grasp this. Perhaps we can enter into a new aeon of peace and prosperity with all of our co-inhabitants on this Third Stone From the Sun.

[1] McGrath, Alister E., “Christian Theology: An Introduction”, 4th Ed., Blackwell Pub., 2007, p. 126.

[2] Gonzalez, Justo L., “The Story of Christianity:Vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”, HarperSanFrancisco, 1984, p.61.

***If you like some of things that I share in this space, please feel free to give me a Follow. Also, please share with others who may be interested in these discussions.

As always, feel free to use the comments to express your own thoughts.

Blessings!

Saturday Musings

Be Still, My Soul

Be still…

Be silent…

Rest in the Presence of Yahweh.

How hard it is to be silent. To turn off the chattering of the Monkey Mind. It does not like being shushed. That mind wants to flit among the branches yelling and screaming, demanding attention.

Be still…

Be silent…

Rest in the Presence of Yahweh.

God is not in the chattering.

God is not in the flitting about.

God is not in the clamor for attention.

Where, then, is God?

God is in the Quiet Breeze that barely ruffles a leaf.

God is in the gentle, flowing brook as it winds thru the meadow.

God is in the Morning Glory as it opens its blue face to greet the Sun.

God is in the Silent Heart as it stands gazing into God’s Love.

Be still…

Be silent…

Rest in the Presence of Yahweh.

 

Some Words of Thomas Merton

Last night I was reading Thomas Merton’s small book entitled, “Contemplative Prayer.” In it Merton wrote about Christian meditation in the context of how monks within a monastery practice it.

At the end I came upon some interesting words. Interesting because they were written about 50 years ago just before Merton died in 1968.

“One thing is quite certain: the humility of faith, if it is followed by the proper consequences-by the acceptance of the work and sacrifice demanded by our providential task-will do far more to launch us into the full current of historical reality than the pompous rationalizations of politicians who think they are somehow the directors and manipulators of history. Politicians may indeed make history, but the meaning of what they are making turns our, inexorably, to have been something in a language they will never understand, which contradicts their own programs and turns all their achievements into an absurd parody of their promises and ideals.

Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the ‘opium of the people.’ And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system-when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for  a purely secular ideological program-then religion does tend to become and opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race. His ethic ceases to be the law of God and of love, and becomes the law that might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything. God is the status quo.” *

As I read these words, they seemed to foresee the future in which we now live. People who lay claim to the historic faith of the Church pervert the way of God and bend it to their own will. They worship their own image. And, we end up with abominations like the Nashville Statement. So-called religious people use their false-faith to tear down and destroy through political means every good thing that God truly builds.

If our religion does not lead us to God for God’s own sake and love, then it is false religion. We have a responsibility to call this out as ‘fake faith.’ Period. End of story.

*Merton, Thomas, “Contemplative Prayer,” Image Books, 1969, p. 91.

To Know Or Not To Know…That Is the Question

This morning in my time of quiet, that time I center myself in God’s Presence, I prayed for a particular Church leader. That’s really not unusual. I regularly ask God to grant grace, wisdom, and humility to those in leadership.

What was different today was how I felt that the prayer should be directed.

Rather than seeking God’s stability for this person, I prayed for God’s grace of uncertainty. For questions and doubt. I asked that God would grant an ability to see paradox.

In asking these things I am praying for this leader to find himself living in the tension of now/then, faith/doubt, reality/pie-in-the-sky.

I would that all who find themselves serving in Church leadership learn to embrace uncertainty. After all, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re left with.

Perhaps, Pete can help.

Story Reprise – Harry Potter Edition

It’s not often that I sit down to write without thinking long and hard about the topic. I can spend weeks developing a theme to discuss here.

However, today is an exception. Besides, it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want to.

Those of you who have followed what I write or have talked with me know that I put a lot of importance on the idea of ‘Story.’ Story provides us with roots that hold us firmly in place. Story teaches us respect for people and the entire Cosmos. Story helps enable our moral compass and encourages us to follow it. Story connects us.

So, today when I read about a conservative commenter showing contempt for Story, I understandably found it necessary to say something.

Apparently,  Hillary Clinton stated to an audience that the Harry Potter stories taught kids tolerance and empathy for others. I agree with her assessment. I’ve read every Harry Potter book multiple times. I’ve seen the movies in theaters and DVD and cable more times than some may think healthy. I love the way J.K.Rowling weaves mythology and history into each story. Simple details like the naming Sirius Black.

We were introduced to this character in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.” In that book we learn that Sirius is an ‘animagus.’ That is someone who is able to shape-shift into the form of an animal. In Black’s case, that shape is a dog. This is quite appropriate since Sirius is the name of the ‘Dog Star’ in the constellation Canis Major, or the ‘Greater Dog.’ Details like this are found throughout the books.

This seems to have rankled right-wingnut commenter Jesse Lee Peterson. Quoted from a podcast, he stated,
“If that is true, immediately stop your children from reading Harry Potter,” Peterson said. “If it’s true that reading Harry Potter causes kids to be more open to immigrants and LGBT people, then you’re going to pay for brainwashing, traumatizing, turning your children away from good toward evil. I would shut down those books right away if that’s true.” (Emphasis added.)

Heaven forbid! Children may learn tolerance and empathy for others! Especially those who are marginalized. Apparently, teaching such things makes Baby Jesus cry!

What is wrong with these people?! Are they so bloody arrogant that there can be NO possible way to understand reality than their narrow, hateful path?

I try to stay neutral on things political on my blog. I want to embrace as many people and ways of being as I can. But, this is simply Bull-SHIT!

I hope that no one is offended too much by what I’m sharing. No, I really do. But, these people are trying to control thought and ideas. Things which by definition cannot truly be contained and controlled. Or, at least should not.

Anyway, thanx for letting me rant for a few minutes.

As always, please use the comments section to share any thoughts you may have.

Off the Path – A Review

Off the Path: An Anthology of 21st Century Montana American Indian Writers, Vol. 1, Ed. Adrian L. Jawort, 2014, Off the Pass Press LLC, Billings, Montana.

I feel a bit strange reviewing a book full of stories written about Native Americans by Native Americans. Mostly because I’m not Native American. I’m a white male descended from the colonists who caused so much of the pain contained in these pages. However, in an interview published in Indian Country Media Network written by Heather Steinberger, the book’s editor, Adrian Jawort said that this book is important because, “it introduces Indian Country to non-Native readers who may not understand what lies right next door. ”[1] So, I purchased the book and read it so that I could get to know my ‘next door neighbors’ a little better.

This volume contains nine stories written by five different authors. Each of them brought their own particular perspective to what it means to tell stories as Native Americans. They shared the raw pain that can only be experienced by people who have been marginalized…who have had their lives ripped open…who have had their culture and history nearly destroyed.

It was a difficult read for me. I have tried to educate myself about our Original Nations and what I found is not pleasant. Our country spent almost 500 years raping, stealing land, and cheating our Native sisters and brothers at every turn so that we could make a profit from the minerals in their lands. We have brutalized these people and tried to assimilate them into OUR culture. In 1879 Richard H. Pratt opened a boarding school for the expressed purpose to, “kill the Indian and save the man.”

I don’t want this to be a history lesson. But, it’s important that we non-Natives have an idea of what has happened as a direct result of our colonial treatment of the Native people in this country.

None of the stories have to do with non-Native violence directly involved. I say ‘directly’ because I think that indirectly we are responsible for everything written. The narratives reveal deep wounds that present in Native violence on other natives. Rape, alcohol and substance abuse, and dysfunction in relationships are all prevalent. The domestic and familial violence shocked me. While I realize that these stories are fiction, I can’t help but feel that they are birthed out of true experience.

I’m not going to review every story in this anthology. I only want to touch on one to give you an idea of what they say. Shoot! If I tell you everything you won’t need to buy the book!

The first story was written by Cinnamon Spear. She is a Northern Cheyenne writer and documentary film maker. In the above mentioned interview she stated, “The greater society knows little to nothing about Natives. Having a voice is everything, otherwise people aren’t going to know the realities of our communities.” Her story is entitled “ God’s Plan.” It reveals a life that very few outside of the Native community will ever hear. A life about which we NEED to hear.

This story tells about a young woman living with a Food Channel expert mom. While the Mom works hard to keep the family supplied with food, clothing, and other essentials, the Dad doesn’t appreciate it. Apparently, Dad had aspirations of becoming an attorney and Mom did something that had shot down that pursuit. At least in his mind. For that he was angry. That anger spilled over to physical abuse. The daughter stated that, while “millions of other American children are in their pajamas carelessly enjoying the aroma of blueberry pancakes while watching Saturday morning cartoons on CBS, [she was] in East Bumfuck, Wyoming unknowingly prepared to practice real life First Responder EMS training in her living room.”

The rest of the story followed this track. The Dad was kind one minute saying, “Good morning, my girl,” to her. The next he was beating her Mom to within an inch of death.

In the end, the Dad announced that he and their Mom were getting a divorce. He proceeded to pit the children against each other by asking who would go with him and who would stay. The daughter chose to stay with Mom while her siblings chose Dad.

In the last scene the Dad says, “I said good morning, my girl. Did you sleep well? Hey! Go wake up your mom and sister, huh?”

The pain and dysfunction in this family resulted in physical and psychological abuse that went beyond extreme. We outside of the Native community do experience dysfunction and abuse. But, within Native communities these appear to be systemic. And, a result of 500 years of mistreatment by colonizers.

If there is anything about the book that disappoints, it is the editing. Or, lack of editing. I’m a grammar geek. When I read a book and come upon misspellings or parts that are not cohesive within the plot I become distracted. And, there was a lot in this book to distract. Perhaps, this was by design. Maybe the editorial staff desired that the work be ‘raw’ and ‘natural.’ I don’t know. But, for me, it was problematic.

Would I allow this to keep me from reading it? No! As I wrote earlier, these stories must be read. They must be read widely. We, as non-Natives owe it to our Native sisters and brothers to listen to their stories. We owe it to ourselves to hear their stories.

[1] https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/culture/arts-entertainment/off-the-path-native-writers-in-montana-share-work-in-bold-new-anthology-2/, Accessed: June 20, 2017.

ALERT! BREAKING NEWS!

We have breaking news today that affects millions of our citizens.

The Canadian Soldiers have landed!

By the billions these airborne invaders have attacked the U. S. North Coast. They have laid siege to homes, businesses, anything and everything. And, it appears there is nothing we can do to repel this audacious and unprovoked attack.

However, as I record this attack, I can hear our defense forces calling to one another…called to action against this insidious threat. Some wearing the red breastplates.Others in the Crimson cloak of their mighty divisions. All on the wing to rid us of this encroaching menace.

To these brave troops I say, “Good Luck and Godspeed!”

You Will Be Assimilated

Everyone likes a good story. We grow up with Aesop and Little Red Riding Hood. Stories that contain some kind of moral. There are the stories of Christmas with that old elf in Red. Stories of wonder. Tales of ancient heroes and travelers. Stories of adventure. All good stories capture our imaginations. They carry us to distant lands and worlds. They, in a way, form connections between us and the characters, our past, our lives. Stories can evince within us an emotional, even spiritual, identity with our world and ourselves.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “it is affirmation that story is true and takes us beyond the facts into something more real.” More real than our empirical Western minds can describe. For story unveils the true world that facts and figures cannot possibly discern. Things that reveal the deep longing for that which is truly “real”. The Germans gave us a word to describe this: sehnsucht. This may be defined as “Spiritual yearning; a longing after a higher, unbroken and eternal world in which something that is adumbrated in the images of stories – and in life itself truly perceived – will be real, and a conviction that that world is one’s true “home.”

So, what is story? Why is it important? Do we have one?

I think that many of us, in the U.S. particularly, don’t appreciate the power of story. Or, at the very least, we don’t recognize it in our lives and culture. In most parts of the world there is an ancient culture that has nurtured it’s own indigenous story for many thousands of years. We can look at the indigenous nations of North America and find a rich heritage of story passed from one generation to the next for over 10,000 years. These stories were born out of intimate relationships with Creation, especially the Land. Deep roots grew into the rich earth where indigenous Nations dwelt. This is spirituality that flourishes in gratitude and relationship to each other and every part of the Cosmos. Creator God was busy building God’s own relationship with these people. In a very true sense, Indigenous people understand the mandate to steward the land and its resources.

But, what about us? What is our connection to this land, the beings who live here; the People who live here? I don’t think that we who came across the ocean have a story. Well, we do. It’s a story of conquest and murder. We hail from people who, like the Borg of Star Trek, came to assimilate anything and anyone. “Resistance is futile.” Our fathers uprooted themselves and left their stories behind. In fact, I think that many of our ancient stories were lost as we assimilated another one. We took and owned the story of Israel and her Messiah. That story became ours. We even changed the Jewish Messiah, a Semitic man from the late Temple period, into a white savior with long brown locks and a Roman nose. By taking Israel’s story, her connection with her land, and making it our own we were cast adrift from any true moorings to our own land and history. And, without those deep roots to original cultures, we cast about for any other story that could fill the void of our loss. Yeah, Israel’s story helped. But, it wasn’t quite ours.

As we came to this land, new to us, we brought our assimilated story. This story formed our thinking and our way of life. The grafted connections to an ancient Near Eastern people had mutated and became a story of conquest. We overwhelmed the original inhabitants of this land through force and deceit. We stole their land and their lives in the name of our story. We then worked to assimilate these people. In the words of Steppenwolf, ‘the whole world’s got to be just like us.’

In the process of assimilation we attempted to graft onto ourselves the stories of the Original inhabitants. We appropriate what is rightfully theirs and made a cheap mockery of them and their story.

What would happen, though, if we honored their story as THEIRS and learned from them? If we let them tell their story and, if they were willing, to share in their wisdom and understanding of this land? Maybe we could be equal partners in the care and stewardship of this land. I’ve often thought about the Europeans’ so-called divine mandate to colonize these lands. What if there truly was a divine mandate to sail to these shores so that WE COULD LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED HERE. Instead, we came as rude intruders who burned and destroyed. Our Christian lust and greed decimated the people and laid waste to their land.

The real sad part of this story is that we are the same as our ancestors. Nothing has changed.

We have no story of our own. We have no roots. As the French say, we have no raison d’etre. When will we humble ourselves and seek the forbearance of our Original hosts? I believe that our very survival rests in the wisdom and knowledge of these people. They have the true story of how to live here.

Can we set aside our murderous arrogance long enough to listen?

 

 

Spiritual Discipline, or Disciplined Spirit?

I recently read a devotional written by Christian philosopher Dallas Willard. I’ve read Willard’s other works on Christian prayer and have found it to be insightful and quite helpful. The excerpt that I read was from a collection of devotional readings produced by Richard Foster entitled, “Devotional Classics.” This particular reading was taken from Willard’s, “The Spirit of the Disciplines.” While I appreciate where he is coming from, I have some reservations. For those Pentecostal type folks out there, I had a ‘check in my spirit.’

I wondered why those feelings were present. It was a simple reading. No big doctrinal discussion. Something to contemplate. Then it hit me. The term ‘disciple’ smacked me upside the head. Why, though? That word is used throughout the New Testament to describe the followers of Jesus. Hey! I’m one of those! Then I realized what triggered me. Willard coupled the word ‘disciple’ with the word ‘obedience.’

Now, many in the Evangelical traditions may ask, “So what? Disciples are obedient to there Master.” Nothing out of the ordinary with that. That’s true. Regardless of the tradition, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, fill in the blank, disciples follow a Master. Christians are followers of their Master, Christ. Or, so the saying goes. The last time I checked Jesus was nowhere to be found. At least not so we can see Him on T.V., or something. And that presents a problem. Who decides what Jesus would say or do in the 21st century?

Back in the early 1970’s I was part of what has become known as the ‘Jesus Movement.’ We were for all intents and purposes a rag-tag bunch of hippies who professed faith in Christ. I believe to this day that God was active during this period. It was exciting! We thought that we had somehow been called by God to reclaim and rebuild the original spirit of the Church that existed in the 1st century. We believed that what had happened in the book of Acts was happening again in our time.

We gathered together to worship and sing and hear brothers teach about the scriptures. Some of us moved into common households so that we could ‘hold all things in common.’ There were a few men who assumed positions of leadership. We believed that they were anointed in the same way that Timothy and Titus and the elders of the early church had been. And, we were taught that we were to be obedient to these men as ‘unto God.’

Now, I want to make it clear that there was no subterfuge involved. We, all of us, were truly trying our best to follow the words of the Bible as faithfully as we could. The only thing was, we were NOT the Church of the first century. We were not wrestling with what it meant to follow a dead Messiah in a pagan culture. We had 2,000 years of developed theology to follow. And, we lived in a culture unlike anything that the first church would have understood. Basically, we were privileged white kids trying to emulate a movement that began as an oppressed minority.

To return to the devotional, we were taught that discipleship has as its root the idea of ‘discipline.’ Physical, spiritual, and emotional discipline. We began to see the Bible as a User’s Manual. It had all of the answers on how to live a vibrant and successful life. That is, if one would follow all of the rules faithfully. And, the elders were there to make sure that we did follow them. In effect, we became disciples of those elders, who we trusted were disciples of Christ.

Alas, experience has taught me something else entirely. The Christian Bible is a collection of writings by many, many people from many, many different time periods. It has inconsistencies and contradictions and holes in it. For instance, there’s nothing in the Bible about water on Mars. The fact that our Sun is actually a star somehow got past the Biblical writers. What to do about global climate change isn’t addressed. Shoot! Global climate change itself missed the writers’ cut. The fact is that the Christian Bible does not, it CANNOT, have all of the answers for people to live vibrant and successful lives. And, it truly was never meant to fill that role.

So what? What does any of this have to do with my devotional? Willard made the statement that obedience, by  itself, was sufficient for a person to live the so-called ‘abundant life’ promised in the Gospel of John. In a way, that may be accurate. But, because of the manner in which it is taught to so many poor, unsuspecting people, it is not. In so many fundagelical churches people are taught that they must grit their teeth and press forward in order to reap the benefits of discipleship. They even have a saying, “Fake it til you make it.” Pretty cool, huh? No! It’s not. This is another link in a long chain that binds people. They try. They fail. So, they try again. They fail…again. All the time feeling inept, unloved, strange, or an anomaly. After all, didn’t their spiritual elders tell them that this would work? But, it didn’t. They think, ‘It must be my fault, my lack…my sin.’ So, the link is forged. From my perspective the link is forged in the fires of Hell.

The Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” I think that is pretty good advice. Truthfully, until we can rest and be still we cannot be transformed. No amount of sweat and grit will suffice. We can batter and bruise our bodies. Yet, we will still be lacking. In more than one place the writers of Scripture mention a ‘still small voice,’ or that God isn’t in the tempest and flame, but in the gentle breeze.

As I have walked, (maybe, crawled is a better word), along this spiritual path, I’ve found that the more I work and strive, the less I progress. It has only been in the last 6-10 years that I have learned that the Spirit of God doesn’t need our outward help. The Spirit needs us to shut up and listen. In the quietude of silent contemplation the Spirit, Ruach Elohim, chips and sands and refinishes. It is ALL grace and ALL God!

Perhaps, the most important insight for me is that I no longer have the shame and guilt that comes from FAILING to keep all of the rules. There truly is ‘no condemnation’ in following this path.

Please, if you’ve been troubled or weighed down by trying to follow all of those damnable rules; trying to force obedience; faking it hoping that you’ll make it; Take heart! Sit back! Relax! And, turn your heart toward the true lover of your soul. You’ll not be disappointed.