God Is Not Bound to Our Ways

This is my first post since I decided to change the focus of this blog. After much prayer and counsel from my Spiritual Director and my counselor, I feel that, at least for awhile, this is the direction that I must go.

I’ve reflected on my personal experiences and those of others. I’ve read a lot that has been written by people who have been hurt by abusive ‘teachers.’ Heavy chains have been wrought out of the iron of dogma. This has been done primarily by White men who drape these chains upon the shoulders of the meek; the hurting; the marginalized.

So, this is a beginning. My desire is to reveal what I believe are errant interpretations of the Christian Scriptures. Also, I desire to shine a light on the fallacies of historic precedent that so many leaders try to use to validate these interpretations.

I know that this may appear to be a lot to consider. And, it is. But, it is important that we take this journey together at this time. Many good and sincere people are trapped in abusive institutions. Many others are leaving the faith journey altogether. There has been a marked rise in the number of folks who simply can’t believe any longer. I have been one of those who has questioned that God even exists. But, I can’t go there. Something…that ‘still, small voice’… keeps me from walking away. I BELIEVE that there is more to the Universe…to our existence…than simply cosmic dust. I have only my experience to hang on to. My experience with the transcendental ‘Other’ compels me to continue on this path.

Perhaps, you also, are in a similar place in your life. If so, ‘Come!’ Let’s walk together for awhile. You, me…and God.

The masthead of my blog quotes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). I have thought about this verse for many, many years. What does Paul mean? What did the folks in the Galatian church hear? How does this apply to me/us some 2,100 years later?

For starters, most Fundagelical leaders dismiss this whole concept by saying that the meaning of this verse is that we are all ‘free’ to not sin. WTF?!?! I’m free to not do something? But, what AM I FREE to do? What am I free to think and believe? Who am I free to be?

I have never really felt comfortable with that definition by negation. For one to be free implies that there is something to be freed from. Some kind of bondage or prison that is not good. So, they would say, “Well, you’re free from sin.” As I’ve grown and matured in my faith, I honestly don’t know what that means. No one can provide a definitive answer to what ‘sin’ actually is. (This is the subject for a future post.) Some say it’s simply ‘missing the mark.’ However, the most common term for ‘sin’ in the Greek New Testament is hamartia. This has to do with being evil, wrong doing and guilt. And, many of the people who hold to this holiness outlook are more than willing to pile on the guilt.

There are many kinds of slavery. Slavery to addictions, praise, food, etc. In this passage from Galatians, Paul was writing about slavery to the Jewish works of the Law. These were primarily the ‘identifiers’ of who was a Jew and who was not. Basically, it set the gates for who was in and who was out. Things like circumcision, dietary laws and Sabbath-keeping were what Paul had in mind. Today, many Christians bind themselves to laws that effectively perform the same function. They have developed ‘laws’ that must be adhered to in order to be members in good standing in their ‘tribe.’ What is one’s stance on abortion? LGBT people? Has one followed whatever ‘formula’ is currently in vogue for tribal initiation, (did I say some kind of “sinners’” prayer correctly)? Do I hold to the ‘correct’ doctrine, (whatever that means),?

What these do not do is free people. They heap on the unsuspecting a burden that they cannot bear. Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:4 are true of these people, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

This may sound like the rant of an angry person. Well, actually, it is. I am angered by the presumption of these people to say they speak for God. Every time one of them states, “God said this or that” the hair on the back of my neck stands up. When I hear hate speech being spewed from pulpits I cringe. I recently saw a video of a man claiming to ‘know’ God’s will screaming at a second grade girl who had the audacity to hold a rainbow flag. Somehow, I can’t picture Jesus, the One who welcomed the little children and blessed them, doing this.

I think that my favorite passage in all of the Bible is Luke 4:18-19. The story recounts Jesus’ coming out at a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.

He stood to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He found the text he desired and read,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives. And recovery of sight to the blind. To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

I could go on and on. And, I will. Eventually. I intend to broach issues that Evangelicals prefer to ignore. Or, worse, disparage. I am going to poke and poke to evoke a response in folks who think differently. This is a place for civil discussion.

So, let us begin. What do you think about slavery? If there is some bondage, how do we move toward freedom? Does God require that we wear some heavy yoke?

Use the comments. Please note that I moderate the comments. Refrain from inflammatory language.

Just A Thought From Thomas Merton

Anyone who knows me knows that Thomas Merton is a major influence on how I understand prayer and contemplation. So, I offer a small bit of his to you all. This is where I am.

When The Road Ahead Is In Darkness – Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.

 

Happy Imbolc!

ImbolcHappy Imbolc! This is the day that our Gaelic forebears celebrated as the turn from deepest winter to the beginning of spring. In the U.S. we celebrate this as Groundhog day. It is the mid-point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. New birth is coming!

Imbolc is considered a pagan holiday. So, those of us who have been a part of the Christian community either don’t know about it, or dismiss it as pagan. (It’s not worth our consideration.)

However, I think that we do creation a disservice by dismissing this. The pagan and indigenous communities seem to be more in tune with the true workings of the cosmos than those of us who claim to know better. They understand the cycles of life. And, they respect them. They celebrate them. For crying out loud! Here in the Northern Hemisphere it’s cold and bleak and gray and too freakin’ cold! What’s not to celebrate about the turning point toward warmth and new growth?

But, many of us. Especially, those of us in the Protestant persuasion consider this beneath us. It’s not in the Bible, so it can’t be good.

Protestant can look back to our birth…the reformation for much of this thinking. At that time we became “people of the book.” We tossed out the title “people of tradition” and leapt headlong into a different way of thinking.

We looked at the Biblical text and ‘voila’! We read that God had created all things and had made humans the masters! How cool! We’re the boss! We can control and exploit all of the resources that the Earth can provide FOR OUR BENEFIT!! Yea, God!

But, there is another way to look at things. Genesis 2:15 states, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” In the Hebrew the language is a little clearer. I mean, what does it mean to “cultivate” and “keep” it?

First, the word to cultivate can also mean ‘to serve.’ Surely, ‘till’ and ‘cultivate’ are part of the meaning. But, by far, the references are to service.

Second, the expression ‘to keep’ has as it’s primary meaning to watch and guard. Other meanings are to stand guard and protect.

For so much of our history since the reformation we have viewed the Scripture to say ‘subdue’ the world. But, is that what God has really desired?

Paul, in Romans 8, wrote that the whole of creation is groaning…waiting for the daughters and sons of God to stand up and be recognized. Even Jesus taught about an unfaithful servant who abused his fellows. In Matt. 24:42 and Luke 12:37, Jesus taught about a certain servant who, realizing that his Master was gone for a prolonged period of time, began to abuse his fellow servants. The Master of will return at a time that this wayward servant doesn’t expect and will punish him for his waywardness.

How much more will we, who have the Scripture to enlighten us, be punished for the way we have abuse the Good Creation of God?

Imbolc and the other so-called ‘pagan’ celebrations can teach us all a lot about how our world actually works. We can find life and purpose in them. That doesn’t mean that we embrace the deities and practices of pagans. But, it does mean that we listen to and respect the natural cycles of the world in which we live. The world that God loves and has redeemed.

Happy Thanksgiving…Not

thanksgiving_440Well, it’s Thanksgiving 2014. There’s a cosmetic coating of snow outside. And, holiday expectations in the air.

Ok…so what?

Beside the 2.5 ton plus weight of that elephant in the room…the Pilgrims…what does this holiday bring with it?

Well, there’s the frenetic activity to get home and hearth prepared for family that have not been seen since this time last year. Food? Don’t get me started on the typical Anglo Thanksgiving gorging. It seems as though the 3 ‘F’s’ of Fun, Family and Food, (Ok, maybe a 4th ‘F,’ Football), should more accurately be “Fear, Frustration  and Futility.’

Call me a killjoy. But, for me the holiday season would be better spent somewhere in Montana where there’s only about 1 person per square mile.

Yeah, Bah, humbug. So, shoot me.

New Tools and New Questions

questionsI found a new tool this morning. Well, it’s not new. It’s just something that I had never paid much attention to. It’s the Voice Memo app on my iPhone. With this I can quickly note thoughts that maybe I can write about on this blog. I’m always thinking of things. But, usually when the time comes to sit and commit, the thoughts blow away like vapor in the wind.

Also, I’d like to enlist your help. What things are you concerned about that we may be able to discuss here? Maybe a pet peeve? Perhaps a thought about life and spirituality? Like my home page states, this is a “safe place for releasing hurts, disappointments and frustrations.” Or, anything else that’s important to us.

This is a small community right now. And, I moderate it pretty closely in order to keep it safe. So, please share!

Remember, tho…I’m an equal opportunity offender. I may take your ideas and twist them just a bit and toss them back to you. I do like to stir things up and make people think.

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

Wednesday Musings Reprise

I was going back through some old posts. I came upon this one from one of my Musings on Wednesday posts. Originally posted in October 2013, it seemed appropriate for today. Considering the struggles that I’ve been dealing with, this offers a glimmer of hope.

I love sitting in the stillness of the morning. Outside there are the sounds of crickets and the occasional acorn falling on a nearby rooftop. A candle, the scent of cinnamon, burns and fills the room with autumn. My thoughts wander here and there. They touch memories and sensations within me; without me. In the core of my being, my heart, I sense God’s presence. Peace. Be still, O my soul.

riverI allow the Muse to guide me. ‘Where shall we go? To what far off land or sea or star?’ Perhaps, we’ll simply drift on a river as it meanders through green fields. We listen to the sound of the water flowing gently over a bed of small rocks and pebbles. It tells tales of aeons past. It knows the fish and the fowl by name. Ancient people traveled along its banks; floated on its back. Never tiring, it bends and winds its way from its source to the Great Sea. There its life mingles with that of the Other in brackish love-making in which it is embraced, consumed by this One. Is this not the way of it? We travel the path before us. Touching and being touched we grow and we learn. From our beginning, our source, we are destined to live, laugh, cry…love. If fortune smiles upon us, another may join in our journey. A companion, a friend…a lover. However, our path and theirs are not the same. Even though we walk together I have my own quest. And, you have yours. Joyful as our time spent together may be, one day our ways must diverge. You will be joined to Another. Embraced by the One who is the true Source. And, I…I will flow into the Great Sea.

Frustrated with Where This Road has Taken Me

frustratedLast week I wrote in my journal for the first time in nearly 4 months. I think that’s the longest I’ve gone in 3 years. I don’t know why I stayed away so long. I enjoy putting words to paper. It gives me a safe place to share my thoughts. Somewhere that I can vent my anger and frustration and communicate with God and my soul.

I also noticed that I have found my frustration with my job, again. For at least the last half-year I’ve experienced a lot of ambivalence toward it. I mean, I haven’t been happy doing it. But, well, I really haven’t given a shit about it, either. I get up; I go to work; I come home. In the words of the famous sage, Garfield, “Big, fat, hairy deal.”

I found myself spending way too much time imbibing in my favorite adult beverage. Yeah, the pain and frustration diminished. But, so did my health.

So, what’s different now? I’m not sure, actually. I suppose part of it has to do with the season of my life. I’m pushing 60 and, looking back, I can’t see all that much that’s been positive. Yeah, there have been moments. The birth of my kids and watching them grow into incredible people. I’ve experienced some joy, (re. a little here; a little there), making music. But, by and large my life has been one bad decision after another. Shame, anger, frustration…these have all been my closest companions. Now, sitting at the cusp of another decade on this big, blue marble dancing in space, I’m not sure that I know who I am or what I’m doing here.

Some may simply blow this off as some kind of ‘mid-life crisis.’ Maybe it is; maybe not. I’ve been in the same industry, doing roughly the same thing, for 45 years. And, it was not my first choice for a career. I entered it as a convenience since my dad was in the same industry and opened some doors for me. My true love was making music. And, while my parents bought me my first guitar, they also made it very clear that playing would only ever a be a hobby. There was simply no future in music. So, it basically became a hobby. Because, you know, you’ve got to make everyone else happy.

As I entered into high school my interest in Christian ministry was piqued. I decided to go to Malone College in Canton, Ohio to begin walking the path to the pastorate. However, a month before I was to leave, I decided to go into the workforce. I had been working all that summer, had a new car and some money in my pocket. So, why bother with college? (Another bad decision.)

So, why am I sharing this? Well, I think that I’m not alone. I think that there are a lot of folks out there that experience depression, frustration, anger and regret because their lives have been something less than they expected. As teens and young adults we had great aspirations. I had the great fortune to grow up in one of the most idealistic times in history, the 1960’s. We witnessed, and were a part of, tectonic shifts in western culture. We were going to lead the world into a new reality that encompassed equality and justice. We fought against the horrific debacle that was Viet Nam. We pulled at the scaffolding that held up the political machines that oppressed African-Americans, women and other marginalized people. The so-called ‘establishment’ was vulnerable and we went after that vulnerability.

Since then, however, I’ve watched nearly all of those who stood with me for justice and equality join in the very establishment that we worked to get past. They have embraced the same white, privileged, patriarchal way of life that has placed it’s heel on the necks of the marginalized.

So, here I am. Looking back at lost purpose, missed opportunities and many, many bad decisions. I guess that I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. Or else, I wouldn’t be writing things like this. Things to stir up shit. Things to make complacent people think about their own place in the cultural cosmos.

What do you think? Has your life been what you once dreamed it would be? What suggestions do you have for moving forward? Or, am I a total loon that has missed the point? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Is it really OK for Christians to Celebrate Halloween?

Snoopy on punkinWell, here it is All Saints’ Day. The day after All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. This Christianized Pagan holiday has been around for a long time. Back in the day, the Celtic folks celebrated this holiday. Only then, it was called Samhain,( pron. Sah-win). It pretty much was a time to celebrate the end of the harvest and the beginning of a new year. It is said that these people considered this a ‘liminal’ time. That is, a time when the veil between the world of spirits and fairies and our physical world was very thin. This allowed those from the other side to more easily enter our world and interact with us. This is similar to the Mexican celebration of “dia de los muertos,” or the Day of the Dead. Far from being a theme for a bad zombie movie, people celebrate by offering flowers and sugary goodies to those who have passed on. Many actually go to cemeteries so that they can be closer to their deceased relatives. It is a time to remember and celebrate their lives.

So, why do so many Christians find harm in these celebrations?

I remember when my children were young, we wouldn’t allow them to dress up and go trick-or-treating because we were taught by the fundamentalist cult we were a part of the Halloween was demonic. It was a night that Satan and his minions were honored. So, or course, as true Bible believing folk, we had to shun that lest we catch some sort of dreaded Halloween cuties. We even took them out of school on the day when their classes had their Halloween parties. You know that you can’t allow candy, cupcakes and cider to threaten your eternal soul.

We did, however, allow them to be involved in church-sanctioned alternatives. You know, Harvest Celebrations and such. They could dress up as Bible characters or some other ‘safe’ character. My son dressed up as Curious George one year. This made the sting of being some kind of weirdo a bit easier for them to take. At least, that’s what we thought. I found out years later that our separatist practice had a very negative effect on both of my children.

Since leaving that Fundagelical world behind, I’ve found a new freedom to engage with our culture rather than hide from it. The holidays and celebrations that are part of our culture allow us to be part of a larger community of people. They provide an opportunity to rub elbows with neighbors and other people we may not usually spend time with. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?

Halloween also gives us a chance to remember and honor our ancestors. We in the West are so hung up on death and disease as horrible things that must be stamped out, that we miss the opportunities to grab hold of our mortality…our humanity. I have had some of my most spiritual experiences while walking through a cemetery. There’s nothing to fear there. But, there is much that can be gained as our imagination reaches back through time and space to meet those who went before.

So, can real Christians find truth and meaning in the celebration of a Pagan holiday? Follow this link to Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. I have to agree with her. And, with all of those other souls who find life while celebrating the dead.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you!

It’s Been a Hard Summer

I met with my spiritual director on Monday for the first time since June. I was a bit self-conscious about the meeting. You see, I spent about 6 months in a spiritual formation intensive…the Ignatian Exercises. I’ve shared a bit about this before. The exercises require a lot of focus and energy. By the time I got to the end I was spent. I don’t think that I could have gone one week further.

Then…nothing.

I found myself in a dry and desolate place where the heavens were steel. I have lost all motivation to do anything. I was running. No more. I was writing. No more. My job has lost all appeal. I just don’t feel like doing anything.

When I went to meet with my director I felt like the high school kid who didn’t have his homework done. But, I couldn’t say that my dog ate my prayer time.

He told me that these kinds of feelings are not unusual for folks after they go through the exercises. They’re not expected. But, not unusual.

He was incredibly understanding and non-judgmental.

The encouragement he offered was helpful. Take time to breathe. Realize that God is not absent. I agreed with that. Even though I haven’t been actively spending time in so-called ‘prayer,’ I have experienced God’s presence. I realize that regardless of my condition, God is present.

So, this is kind of a response to his encouragement. Here I am….writing.

Blessings.

I’m Human. Things Have Been Hard.

I’ve got to share that the last 3 months have been rough. I don’t know why. Things were going great as I worked my way through the Ignatian Exercises. Then…Lent. The Exercises took on the texts of the last week of Jesus’ life. Then, the crucifixion. Everything went dark. All of my experiences prior to this had been wonderful. Then, the heavens became bronze.

That’s where I’ve been for the last few months.

I want to share a journal entry from 7/8/14. Please know that I am not usually very open with my feelings. I’ve been ‘bitten’ for this more than once. But, I don’t think that I’m alone.

“Still wish that this sojourn would end. I feel so much shame & anger that life suck.

Is this all there is?

Internal suffering that just won’t end?

I look for peace & solace in the written word & in drink.

Yet, both are selfish.

Or, so I’m told & told & told…

There’s no peace for me with people or stuff.

God seems far off & somewhat aloof.

I do wonder sometimes if there truly is a God.
But, then I can’t believe that this life is all that there is.

I remember past experiences where God seemed to be real.

Was the God? Or, just my mind?

The prophet Albus Dumbledore once said, “ Of course it’s all in your mind! That doesn’t mean it’s not real!”

In my mind I can travel to distant lands. Hell, I can travel to distant galaxies

I can imagine the multi-verse. Fairies, gnomes and other mythic creatures fill my senses with withes & sounds no other person can sense.

So, why am I held hostage by this life filled with “reality”? When will I actually believe & act on what I see as reality?