Archives For January 2014

A New Beauty Treatment

adeleh72 —  January 31, 2014 — Leave a comment

Image

“Forgiveness, the best beauty treatment”

This was how Jacqueline Bisset ended your acceptance speech on the Golden Globes Award Ceremony

“WOW”, was my thought. “WOW” because I know that forgiveness is not for the person who wronged us but for us, an antidote to the anger and resentment we hold onto when someone hurts us.

What does anger and resentment do to our physical well being? Well, it is toxic. Jacqueline Bisset is one of the few female actors who has not had plastic surgery and at the age of 69 she looks amazing. I would dare say that she has mastered the art of forgiveness.

According to Huff Post Money, in 2011 people spent a total of 10.4 BILLION dollars on cosmetic procedures. Forgiveness costs us nothing but gives us everything. Most importantly is gives us freedom. Freedom from anger, resentment, bitterness, and out right miserableness.

I write this as much for myself as the greater public because I have an uncann ability to remember every hurt and every person who dispensed the hurt in my 41 years of life. I don’t think it is a good way to use my memory. While I have been able to forgive a lot of people there are still a few that I cannot. I have successfully given my power away to the greatest offenders in my life. I think that is why Ms.Bisset’s statement struck a cord with me. Just like most women in America I want to look beautiful and I don’t want to have cosmetic surgery. Maybe in my vanity I can now do that which will give me freedom- forgive my greatest offenders.

Matthew 6:12 Contemporary English Version

“Forgive us for doing wrong,
    as we forgive others.”

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I have been writing on the subject of how the concept of idolatry applies in our modern age.  This post is a continuation on this theme – if you have not done so already, you might want to read the beginning of the series:

  • Part I explores the idea that God is not like an idol which can be manipulated to fulfill our desires
  • Part II explores how our limitations prevent us from understanding infinite reality
  • Part III explores how the Bible is worshiped over the person of Christ
  • Part IV explores the hero’s journey

Be the Resurrection

In my last post, I explored the concept that Jesus calls his followers on a hero’s journey.  Through this understanding, I think it should become clear that we should also view Jesus crucifixion and resurrection not just as something that happened at a point in history, but as a model for our own life.

Take up your cross and follow me...

Take up your cross and follow me…

Now you may say “whoah, you’re sounding a little crayzay there!”

But I’m serious!  Let’s examine for a minute, starting with Jesus’ death.  What is the point of the crucifixion?  Is it just an event in history that we’re supposed to look back and reflect on?  I don’t think that’s the point – I don’t think it’s supposed to be a painting on a wall.  I think it’s also supposed to inform how we live!  Just as the disciples followed Jesus’ so closely that they were “in the dust of the Rabbi”, I believe that Jesus taught that they were supposed to take their own part in his crucifixion as well!

Now, of course I do not mean that we should literally hope that someone comes along and offers to hoist us up on wooden crosses until we die.  This would be abhorrent.

But, Jesus did say (in Mt. 16:24-25):

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

So what is it that Jesus means when he says we should take up our cross?

The apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

Now Paul was writing this as a living embodied person on this earth.  So obviously this is not talking about a death ritual.  No, what I think Jesus and Paul are both talking about is a death of the false self – our egotistical drive to serve ourselves, to live up to cultural standards (even if they involve a sense of tribalism), and to please others in order to be held in favor.

wafer2This view transforms the crucifixion of Jesus from a historical event into a present reality – a “sacrament” (a practice through which one may experience the presence of God).  In John 15:4 Jesus says that if we “abide in” him, he will “abide in” us.  This is not some voodoo magic he’s speaking of.  He’s saying that if we live out the way he’s taught – following in his footsteps – we will experience his spiritual presence!  And this “following” includes a death of the false self, which we must continually seek!  By living out the life of Jesus – through acts of kindness, through denying ourselves, through love of our enemies – we can come to understand God’s thoughts!

Now, do not misunderstand me and think that I am saying that we will reach a point where our finite minds can contain the infinite – this is not at all what I am saying.  But we can find rest in the process – as Jesus said (Mt. 11:28):

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

To understand the scriptures, love, Jesus, and even come to know God, we must transcend ourselves.  This includes transcending our biases and tribal identities – the tribalism of our political, religious, and social identities.  We must continually seek to understand our neighbors – no matter how different they be – and seek their well-being over our own.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a pastor in Germany who opposed Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II and was eventually martyred for it – wrote in “The Cost of Discipleship”:

The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality).

I am the resurrection and the life

I am the resurrection and the life

Through this death of self, I believe we can also discover how the resurrection is not simply a historical event, but is also a sacramental, present reality.  After leaving behind our old, dead selves and transcending them, we embody the resurrection in this life!  In her book “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening”, Diana Butler Bass writes about an exchange she witnessed between Bishop Dan Corrigan and a parishioner.  This person asked the Bishop: “do you believe in the resurrection?”  And his answer was: “Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.”

In Luke 24:13-35, there is a story where two of the disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ death.  According to the text, Jesus comes along beside them and is walking with them, but they do not recognize him.  They walk with him for a ways and are involved in a discussion the whole time, without ever realizing who it is that they are speaking to.  Afterwards, they invite him to eat with them, and still they do not recognize him!  It isn’t until he breaks the bread and passes it out to them that they realize whose presence they were in.  Recognizing the resurrection required a new level of consciousness on the part of these disciples.

We should also seek the find the resurrection in our present life – the resurrection of former addicts, amputees who learned to live without their limbs, formerly homeless people who built a life out of the rubble of their past, and many other ways that the resurrection happens in real life.  And we should take part in this process – we should life our neighbors up out of the ashes of their former lives, and incarnate the resurrection in our present world.

In “Christ in Evolution”, Ilia Delio writes:

The cross and resurrection won the victory over evil, but it is the task of the Spirit, and those led by the Spirit, to implement that victory in and for the whole world. The victory is found not in the life of Jesus alone but in his death and resurrection. It is in the resurrection that the power of Jesus as the Christ is experienced.

In my next post, I will explore how love is like the wind.

Don’t Should On Me!

Brett Gallaher —  January 20, 2014 — 5 Comments

Port-O-Potty-e1381947235468

So I went to see an R-rated movie the other day. Well, first I sat through the forty-five minutes of commercials about buying the giant discount popcorn bucket, and then I watched an R-rated movie. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself again. After the popcorn propaganda came the previews (including the preview for that upcoming Coca Cola bears movie, aka the upcoming 90 minute commercial about Coca Cola). Since I had paid to see an R-rated film, the previews were for many R-rated films as well. One time I read the description of the rating itself, being told that minors must be accompanied by an adult. For some reason, it made me laugh. I mean, the content of the film doesn’t change simply because your parent is sitting next to you. Obviously the message is “We don’t care if your kid should see decapitations and raunchy sex scenes at age nine. We just want to make sure you don’t mind if your kid sees it. And don’t sue us by the way.”

Can't beat the real thing!

Can’t beat the real thing!

~

I had to catch myself, because my inner monologue had begun should’ing all over the place. You see, I think one of the un-evolved elements of humanity is our propensity to tell other human beings what they should and should not do, think, believe, or feel. We do it all day long. It saturates every conversation from religion to politics to education to… who should see an R-rated movie. I mean, I was sitting there in the theater thoroughly enjoying the adult humor and language used in the film. Honestly, a few years ago I would not have felt comfortable with such content, but I have changed. Depending on your own beliefs you may think I made a change for the worse, letting my morals slowly decay and allowing my mind to be infected with unholy influences. Maybe not. Maybe you think R-rated movies are more in-line with the real world, unfiltered and consistent with our modern society.

What really struck me was the fact I couldn’t simply enjoy the show without first dealing with these kind of thoughts; I was somehow compelled to entertain fabricated debates in my head regarding the nature of morality. That’s annoying. I mean, I paid $10 (plus the nearly $15 for the giant discount popcorn bucket) so I could yell internally at my third grade Sunday School teacher (who was a lovely woman by the way). Why was I letting people “should” on me from the past? From decades ago?

"Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!"

“Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!”

~

I observed the actions of the characters on screen. The uncensored tone of the dialogue was refreshing, but it reminded me of how any truth or lesson lying behind the film would be totally lost on certain individuals. The unmarried couple laying in bed after sex, having a real human conversation filled with laughter and joy and hope… none of that would come across to those only preoccupied with condemning the “sin” of premarital sex. The woman abused by her husband of fifteen years shares a dance and a kiss with a younger man in a bar… but she’s an adulteress whore and a drunkard to some. You see, characters in films may not be real, but they represent very real ideas, people, situations, etc. Movies are truly art imitating life.

So, who is to say how we should live? What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? It’s easier for us to get those answers from other people. For some that is as easy as picking a religion. Right and wrong are able to be defined, creating a framework for living. In such a scenario, one must simple do all they can to avoid what is wrong and pursue what is right. This creates a tendency to dismiss “gray areas” as confused or twisted logic, created by dark forces conspiring to trip you up at every turn. Reality is only black and white to many people, therefore anything gray is to be met with suspicion at the very least.

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon...

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon…

~

While I won’t fall into the verbal trap of attempting the phrase “You shouldn’t tell people what they shouldn’t do” …I’ll propose what I see as an obvious downside of should’ing on people. To define life (and particularly your life) as existing within any pre-defined framework is to reject the experience of life. If you tell someone else how they should feel, who they should love, what they should do, etc., you are telling them that their own experience, their own journey, their own path is pointless. Their unique existence? Meaningless. And worse, you are tell them that your unique existence isn’t unique either. You’re kindly (or often unkindly) breaking it to them that life isn’t about doing the work of discovering your own place in the universe; you’re saying life is already decided to be [fill in the blank]. Get use to it.

And much worse, you can rob people of some of the most beautiful moments. You have the power to take something miraculous, or freeing, or life-giving, and write it off as selfish, sinful, or even demonic. Any particular brand of happiness not grounded in your particular worldview can be met with ridicule, dismissal, or scorn. And again, the real tragedy is that you reject the truth behind the packaging. You miss out on life, trading it for a concept you’ve elevated to the place of God.

Obviously we can have our convictions. We can believe strongly in principles that guide our lives. We can fight for what matters to us. But it must be the fruit of our own labor, to work out who we should be as individuals. It will involve trial and error. You will mess up. You will get discouraged. But if you pull through, if you discover what is good and pure, what is dark and empty, what gives you meaning and what poisons your soul… if you experience pain and rebirth, if you conquer yourself and find who you really are…

…No one should ever be able to define life for you ever again.

——–

brettBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

WOJ Book Bingo!

kareninthedesert —  January 20, 2014 — Leave a comment

Last year, I set a New Year’s goal to read (and finish) 2 books each month of the year.  I did it, but it seemed to encourage in me a certain kind of rigidity.  So this year, I was thinking about doing something similar, but structured differently.

2013 book list

My nerdy-and-slightly-rigid 2013 book list, taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet

I saw a fun reading Bingo game here and thought I would modify it a little for our wacky WOJ readers.  See what you think… and feel free to let me know what other squares would work, what topics or categories I neglected, or what books you would recommend to cross off certain squares.

For me, it might be a way to broaden my reading horizons.  Like most folks with strong opinions and just enough knowledge to be dangerous, I tend to choose books from authors with whom I’ll mostly agree.

Peace to you all, and happy reading.

B

I

N

G

O

Published This Year

If Protestant, with a Catholic author

If Catholic, with a Protestant author

“Classic” Theologian

Fiction with a religious protagonist

More than 10 Years Old

Spirituality or Spiritual Disciplines

Jesus Seminar Author

Book That You Read With a Friend

Book Out of Your Comfort Zone

Book That You Disagree With

Environmental Issues

Buddhist

Was Supposed to Read It in College

Gen X or Millennial author

Journal / Devotional

Activist Author

Social Justice

Prayer

If Atheist, recommended by a religious friend

If religious, recommended by an atheist friend

Book By a Blogger

500+ Pages

Recommended or Mentioned on We Occupy Jesus

>100 Pages

Poetry

Book For Which You Wrote an Online Review

I have been writing on the subject of how the concept of idolatry applies in our modern age.  This post is a continuation on this theme – if you have not done so already, you might want to read the beginning of the series:

  • Part I explores the idea that God is not like an idol which can be manipulated to fulfill our desires
  • Part II explores how our limitations prevent us from understanding infinite reality
  • Part III explores how the Bible is worshiped over the person of Christ

The_Shire

Leave the Shire

In my last post, I wrote about a phrase that was used by ancient Jews to describe the relationship between a disciple and his/her Rabbi: the dust of the Rabbi.  This phrase described how a disciple would follow their Rabbi so closely that the dust from the feet of the Rabbi that was kicked up would cover the disciple.

I believe that this picture adds clearer meaning to a strange story in Matthew 14:22-33.  In this strange and miraculous tale, Jesus has instructed his disciples to part ways with him for a while, and sent them in a boat to cross to “the other side” – Decapolis, on the other side of the sea of Galilee.  As they are crossing this body of water, Jesus decides to catch up with them and, according to the story, walks right out on top of the water.  When the disciples see him they react with terror, but Jesus assures them that there’s no need to be afraid.

dustoftherabbiWith the picture of “the dust of the Rabbi”, Peter’s next move comes as no surprise – as a disciple, you would see every action of your Rabbi as part of a lesson of some sort, and you were to learn through mimesis.  So Peter says “if it’s you, tell me to come out on the water!”  Jesus simply says “come”, and Peter jumps out of the boat.  You see, in Peter’s understanding, Jesus wouldn’t do anything in view of his disciples that he didn’t believe his disciples could also do – the whole point of the Rabbi/disciple relationship is to transform the disciples into the character of the Rabbi.

So, with this understanding in mind, the next part of the story is illuminated further.  Peter is out of the boat, and he starts walking on the water towards Jesus.  But then his focus is diverted, and he notices the wind and becomes afraid.  As a result of this loss of focus and fear, Peter begins to sink.  In verse 31 of the passage, Jesus explains this reaction as a result of a lack of faith.  But it’s not Peter’s lack of faith in Jesus that is the problem – Peter sees Jesus walking on the water and believes he can do this!  The problem is Peter’s lack of faith in himself!  Peter didn’t believe that he could do these great things that he saw Jesus doing!

superhero-JC

You see, much of modern Christianity has made Jesus into an ancient superhero – we read his comics and say “oh, how cool is that?”, and that’s the whole point of it all: to read about Jesus and profess our belief in and affection for these stories.

But Jesus cuts right into this idea in John 14:12:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

Did you catch that?  The followers of Jesus will do greater things than what Jesus has been doing?
Later on in the passage, Jesus drives the point that belief plays out in action home in verse 23 when he says:

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

There’s a simple analogy that can be made to clear this up a bit.  Jesus’ story is an embodiment of the truth within the common themes in every hero myth in literature.  This is something that the author J.R.R. Tolkien picked up on, and which was alluded to in various ways throughout his most famous fantasy series, “The Lord of the Rings”.  The story of Frodo in this series follows a very common pattern – the pattern of the hero’s journey.

heros_journey4_8462The hero’s journey starts out with the hero – who at this point is a very plain and ordinary person – being called to go on an adventure by a mentor who often has a supernatural appearance.  Often in these tales, the call is resisted or refused at first and various excuses are given – the hero has important things at home to attend to, the journey is too dangerous, the hero feels that there’s no way he could possibly make any difference, etc.  But in every hero’s journey tale, these excuses eventually fade away in light of the importance of the adventure, and the hero makes the decision to commit.  Often, in return for this commitment, the hero receives some sort of talisman that gives him supernatural aid – in Frodo’s case, the ring of power.

NazgulHorseBut once the hero makes this commitment and sets out, he or she is immediately beset by a challenge of some sort – this is called the Threshold Guardian.  The Threshold Guardian’s goal is to prevent the hero from leaving the safety of his or her home, and in Frodo’s story this Threshold Guardian comes in the form of the fearful Ringwraiths, whom Frodo faces again and again throughout the story, which is part of the temptations and sufferings that every hero experiences.

At some point in every hero’s journey, the hero experiences a sort of death of his old self, which always occurs when the hero faces his deepest, darkest fear.  But the hero overcomes this great fear and emerges through a type of resurrection, where their true nature – much greater than what they were before – is then revealed.  They return to their home a much different person and often find that the darkness outside – which the people of their home were ignorant of and even in denial of at the beginning of the story – has invaded their home.  And it is only because of the hero’s journey and resulting change that they are then able to help the people of their old home overcome difficulty and conflict.

But the hardest part of the story is always that first step – in “The Fellowship of the Ring”, Bilbo says:

The scariest thing on earth is stepping out of our front door, because we don’t know what adventures we’ll walk into.

We see so often this version of Christianity that protects its idolatrous ideas – its conceptual forms of stone – by withdrawing from the world.  Like the people of the Shire, they are completely unaware of the darkness of the world outside.  What so often happens when a person withdraws like this is that they construct their own false reality in their mind.
But the funny thing about the story of the hero’s journey that Jesus presents is that Jesus is not the hero of the story.  Not if you believe John 14:12.  No, in light of this passage, we learn that Jesus is the mentor character – the “Gandalf” of the story!  He is the one calling us to go on a hero’s journey!  He is the one telling us to leave our comfortable world to face the death of our false selves and emerge in resurrection, refined to reveal the nature of our true selves!  We are not called as Christians to withdraw from the world – we are called to embrace it and through this embrace, we learn who God is, and thus who we are!

The Christianity that withdraws from the world is a religion of idolatry – it remains safe in its home in the Shire, ignorant of the troubles of the world around, even denying their existence when word from the outside arrives.  I see this so often in Christianity: an attitude that says that even the act of engaging with “outsiders” – people of differing cultures, political identities, theological ideas, scientific ideas, etc. – is a transgression.  Knowledge is dangerous to this form of Christianity, and it is treated with contempt.  And those who live in this environment build for themselves a reality that looks nothing like the world outside.  Whenever anything from the outside world comes into their perspective, they immediately reject anything that does not match this construction of ideas.  This often results in a complete rejection of science – or to put it more precisely, Christians often seem to construct their own version of science by starting with the image they already had and building science around it.

But the Bible does not teach withdrawal from science as the way to understand God – the Bible teaches that it is the creation itself which teaches us about God!  Psalm 19:1-2 says that the heavens declare the glory of God, and that they “pour forth speech” day and night, revealing knowledge!  This Psalm declares that the skies are a love note from God Himself, and by reading it we learn His character!

In the story of Job, when God answers Job, He continually asks Job to contemplate His greatness by…pointing to various acts of creation!  This section even starts out by saying the God spoke out of a storm!  (See Job chapters 38-41)

Romans 1:20 continues this theme and says that God’s invisible qualities can be understood through what has been made!

When Christians withdraw from the world of science and treat it with contempt, what they are really doing is rejecting God in favor of an idol.  Christianity has a duty to engage creation to discern the glory of God.  Pope John Paul II once said:

Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.

In one of my previous posts, I wrote about a view of God that perceives God through embracing all of creation in love.  Through this embrace, we experience the miracle in the mundane – as Albert Einstein wrote:

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Not only can we challenge our idols through a continual contemplation of creation – embracing scientific methods of perceiving the logos – but we must also seek to find Christ in our neighbor.  In the parable of the sheep and the goats (see Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus implies that the way to experience God is through embracing our fellow man in love and caring for the needs of “the least of these”.  Jesus also said that “where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20).  This helps us to understand that in order to challenge our own filters of understanding, we must seek to understand our neighbor (and even our enemies are our neighbors, since Jesus commands us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:43-48) in order to experience Jesus.

So often we make idols out of false realities – false images of ourselves based on what we own, what we profess to believe as true, or political identities.  These are the Threshold Guardians – the Ringwraiths – which prevent us from taking the first step out our front door and beginning our journey out of the Shire.  But when Jesus says that he is found when two or three gather in his name, I believe that this does not mean “two or three people who are exactly like me.”  Because all throughout Jesus’ life, we see him with people of all different kinds: fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, Roman centurions, and even Pharisees!  In order to find Jesus, we cannot huddle in the dark corner of safety – we must leave the Shire!  Through Jesus, we see that the love of our neighbor – who might even be our “enemy” – is the lens through which we will see the Truth in the scriptures!  To follow Jesus is to transcend tribalism and idealism – to cast off our false, ego-driven images of self – and to embrace those who are “different”.

Through the love of our neighbor, we discover our true self.

In my next post, I will explore the meaning of resurrection in our daily lives.

Everyday Jesus

summersone —  January 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sometimes I stare out the window and contemplate the existence of everything. Are all of these atoms and cells and all the other biology terms that I forgot from high school predestined or is it all just the result of good timing? I would like to believe someone or something created me. I have even given thought to the idea of God creating the process of evolution, like the universe is God’s massive chia pet, all he had to do was add a little water and sit back and watch everything come to life on its own.

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Of course I’m not allowed to think that and call myself a Christian–that would be blasphemy. I have come to the point where I don’t want to be slapped with that label anymore because in this country, if you call yourself a Christian you have to have a certain belief system full of marriage bans and death penalties.

Frankly, that is a load of crap. I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t come start a revolution to keep two guys from getting married. I know I am not the only one to think these things up. I can’t be.

As my mind is lost in deep thought about the existence of God, the meaning of life, and the theology of man, a sound starts to creep into my consciousness. Suddenly my ear drums are filled with the sound of crying from my newborn daughter and I am awoken out of my day dream by my parental instinct to go check on her.

When I pick her up and look at her, I am reminded that finding God is not achieved by staring at the sun for too long or spending hours with your face buried in books on theology or even the bible in some cases. God is found through the miracle of a new life coming into the world. He is found by staring out the window not to ponder his existence but to see the birds cutting through the air as they take off in flight. He is found by realizing that God is not just found or experienced through the supernatural or extraordinary but the natural and ordinary.

We find ourselves begging for a sign from someone or something and don’t realize that sometimes you must get up off your knees and open your eyes to find it.

___

jonathan summers 2Jonathan Summers is a new writer, craft beer connoisseur, free thinker and brand new dad. He lives in Columbia, MO with his girlfriend. Jonathan will soon be launching a blog of his very own called Beer Dads (www.beerdads.wordpress.com) so stay tuned.

flickr: BartEverts

flickr: BartEverts

 

Can you picture it? Waking up on another Sunday morning, dragging yourself out of bed to go to a church service because the bible says go to church, and you feel like a good Christian when you go. You get to church, you sing a few songs, you recieve communion, you realize maybe you should have done the dishes because your wife told you to, and you judge the people around you. You drive home feeling accomplished.

This is the part of Christianity that needs to die.

This idea of being able to just go to a service and believe that that’s all there is to it. What happened to going because you wanted to learn how to become a better human being?  There are so many positive instructions that Jesus has given us. But when we make Christianity about a couple hour church service one day of the week, we are destroying what Christianity was meant to stand for. It was about the man on the mountaintop saying to treat your neighbor as yourself. To love people. To be humble. Jesus said it’s not about how many words you can say while you pray. Jesus preached going after the lost lambs, and for us to wash each other’s feet.

We weren’t put on this Earth to go to church. We are here to make impacts upon people, even in the smallest of ways, and that’s what the ministry of Jesus was about, that is what Christianity was suppose to be about. Instead we’ve corrupted it (surprise). But that doesn’t mean Christianity is dead. There is hope for the ministry of Christ. It’s up to this next generation of believers to strike down the barriers that the church has put up. It’s about taking what they learn and applying it to their lives. Not to judge others or to shove religion down someone else’s throat but to actually love our neighbor.

Because it seems like to me, Christianity needs a savior.

___

jimmy arwood smHi I’m Jimmy! I live in the great state of Arizona, and I am very involved in politics and spirituality. I am currently a senior in high school looking to go to ASU to major in sustainability. I have a deep passion for many things in life, sports, music, theatre, and social justice. I enjoy working for my church and volunteering. I was selected as one of two delegates to our Arizona’s boys state convention, where I ran for governor and won. I was later selected as one of two delegates to the national convention to represent Arizona at boys nation. I love life, people and the teachings of Jesus

I have been writing on the subject of how the concept of idolatry applies in our modern age.  This post is a continuation on this theme – if you have not done so already, you might want to read the beginning of the series:

  • Part I explores the idea that God is not like an idol which can be manipulated to fulfill our desires
  • Part II explores how our limitations prevent us from understanding infinite reality

An Idol of Paper and Ink

In my last post, I touched on the idea that when we accept finite, unchanging views of God, we have created a conceptual idol.  I touched on the idea that inerrancy is one way this kind of conceptual idol is expressed.  I explored how, even if the Bible is inerrant, this does not guarantee that our understanding of it is.  And to believe that our own understanding of it is not flawed is to ignore two thousand years of history.

Yeah, that's how it works...

Yeah, that’s how it works…

 

Now, one of the problems you’ll find with claiming that the Bible is inerrant is that it raises the question: which one?  You see, what we call “the Bible” is a collection of various writings that were voted on in a council hundreds of years ago.  And if you study your history, you’ll find that in 367 AD, Athanasius came up with a list of books which was later approved by Pope Damascus I in 382 AD and ratified by the Council of Rome the same year.  This canon contained 73 books.  Later on, councils at Hippo in 393 AD and Carthage in 397 AD confirmed this canonization.

In 405 AD, Pope Innocent I wrote a letter to the Bishop of Toulouse affirming this canon, and the Council of Carthage reaffirmed this list in 419 AD (which Pope Boniface agreed upon).  But, the Council of Trent then removed 7 books from this canon in 1546 AD, and now the Protestant Bible holds 66 of the original 73 books!  Additionally, the original King James version of the Bible, published in 1611 AD, held 80 books!  So if you wish to say that the Bible is inerrant, the first question would be: which one?

itsallgreektomeNext, you’d have to ask the question: which translation of the Bible is inerrant?  It is exceedingly difficult to accurately translate the extinct, ancient languages of Greek and Hebrew into English for a number of different reasons.

One issue that translators have to deal with is that Greek and Hebrew words often had multiple meanings, and the authors would often play on this by choosing words that could work within the text with more than one of the meanings – perhaps indicating that the author wanted us to consider all meanings of the word in the context.

Another problem is that these languages often had more than one word for a concept – for instance, Greek has three different words for “love”, which all have a different nuance to them.  Furthermore, one should always consider this little headache when considering the difficulties of translating from Greek to modern English:

THEGREEKLANGUAGEDURINGTHETIMETHATTHEGOSPELSWEREWRITTENDIDNOTUSEANYPUNCTUATIONLOWERCASELETTERSSPACESBETWEENWORDSORPARAGRAPHBREAKS

But that’s not all – perhaps the biggest problem with inerrancy is that it claims more about the Bible than the Bible claims for itself.  Actually, the Bible makes specific claims that it is not inerrant.  For example, in I Cor. 7:12, Paul clarifies very specifically that what he is saying comes from himself, not the Lord.  So if we believe that the Bible is the direct words from God dropped down from the sky in whole-cloth, how do we distinguish between this statement which Paul claims did not come from the Lord and every other statement?  Is this the only one that didn’t come directly from the mouth of God without any filter whatsoever?

Further on in the same chapter, in verse 25, Paul states that he has no commandment from God but that he gives his judgment anyways “as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.”  There’s another one that didn’t come directly from the mouth of God!  Then again, in 2 Corinthians 11:17 Paul says that what he just stated earlier in the chapter was not Paul talking as the Lord would, but as a fool!   Paul deliberately said something foolish in order to prove a point!

And then we have the scientific problems with taking the Bible as inerrant – if you know your history, you know that Martin Luther (who invented the phrase sola scriptura) interpreted Joshua 10:10-15 as indicating that the sun revolved around the earth, not the other way around.  When scientific views began to contradict this view through Coperinicus, Luther said:

There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.

Well, Luther lost this battle, and now this passage is interpreted metaphorically.  But the question is – would the original authors have understood it this way?  There are plenty of scholars who would say no:

Ancient-Hebrew-view-of-universe

Add to this the problem of dealing with the many contradictions within the Bible – which I have written about at greater length in another post – and you have a massive headache to deal with.

Now, if you ask someone who believes in inerrancy why they believe this, they will most likely point to 2 Tim. 3:16-17 as the “proof” that the Bible is inerrant.  But this passage does not say that the Bible is inerrant.  It says scriptures are “God-breathed” – or in some versions, “inspired by”.  So the first question that is raised is: what is included in the word “scriptures”, since the canon had not been developed at this time?

(The fact that Christians lived without a canonized Bible for the first 3 centuries is problematic for inerrantists and sola scriptura believers in and of itself.)

Also, being inspired by God is not the same thing as “coming directly from the mouth of God to us without any filter whatsoever” now, is it?  I’ve been inspired by many things in my lifetime – art, music, poetry, my wife and children, events in my life – and it meant nothing like that.

This makes people who have been raised to believe in inerrancy very uneasy – they say “if the Bible isn’t inerrant, how can we trust it?”  Easy – do you trust your mother?  Is she inerrant?  No?  Well, have you learned many things from her?  Did she teach you how to live before she sent you off into adulthood?

The way I look at the Bible can be summed up in the phrase: progressive revelation.  I believe that throughout history, God progressively revealed bits and pieces of his character through the various writings, people, and events in Biblical history.  And this reached a culmination in the character of Jesus Christ.

In John 5:39-40, Jesus says:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

This verse is saying that the Scriptures themselves are not Truth – they are finite signposts pointing towards infinite truth!  And infinite truth is embodied not in paper and ink, but in a person – the person of Jesus Christ!  If you want to understand Truth, you need to get to know this person!

In the Jewish culture, a Rabbi would teach children the Torah starting at a very young age.  And then, when these children reached the age of 15, children would request to be disciples.  This process was somewhat similar to applying to college – the best Rabbi’s would have many applicants and would choose the best of the best, much like Harvard would.  What’s very interesting is that Jesus reversed this by choosing his disciples – he asked them.  And he didn’t go after the richest, best, and brightest – he went for the “dregs” of society.

The Jews had a phrase they used to describe how a disciple behaved when he was an apprentice to a Rabbi – “in the dust of the Rabbi.”  What this phrase meant was that the disciple would follow his Rabbi so closely that the dust kicked up from the Rabbi’s sandals would scatter all over this disciple – he didn’t want to miss a single beat, but wanted to observe everything his Rabbi did.

This phrase – the dust of the Rabbi – illuminates the hubris of those who claim to be able to understand the scriptures without having ever studied the historical context they are set in.  And it also shows the weakness of claiming to understand them simply by reading, rather than through practicing them – living them out in real life.  When a “Christian” refuses to find understanding of Jesus’ words through living them out, he makes Jesus into a static, dead idol of stone.

In John 15:4, Jesus says that if we abide in him, he will abide in us.  To understand Jesus’ words, we must live the way Jesus lived!  Paul says in Romans 13:14 that we should clothe ourselves in Jesus, and in Galatians 3:27 he repeats this theme.

To live the Christian life is to enter into dialogue with peoples of all tribes and all statuses in unconditional love, just as Jesus did, and to give with no expectancy of the returns, accepting whatever comes.  This is the surrender of love that Jesus showed on the night that he was betrayed, giving himself as a gift and pouring out God’s love into the world.  In the act of the cross, Jesus showed us the mystery of the paradox of vulnerable power.  To live like Christ is to accept this vulnerability and express it in whatever ways are possible – entering into dialogue with all who are available to us and making ourselves available as a gift, even unto death.

Jesus is the door...but you have to step through to infinity...

Jesus is the door…but you have to step through to infinity…

 

Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word, thus the true fulfillment of the scriptures.  And if the Word is infinite, then no understanding of this person fully encapsulates this reality – Jesus is a finite point of reality which opens the door to knowledge of infinite reality, and thus “knowing Jesus” means that one has become fluid and open to infinite change.  Christ is the perfect union between an infinite God and finite creation, and Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane that we would have that same union (see John 17).

To understand this is to understand that the reality of Christ is not exhausted through Jesus’ historicity – rather, Christ is the center of reality itself which incorporates all.  Christ is the very life of the universe itself in a union with finite creation – infinite expressed through creaturely union.  Through this view, we see that Jesus is not an exception to creation, but the fulfillment of the purpose of Creation.  In him, we find the meaning of what it means to be truly human in its very fullest sense – that is, the union of finite humanity with infinite God.

This transforms the finite, static view of Jesus Christ as an ancient superhero we merely observe from our viewpoint into a fluid, living and present reality – New Creation continually arising and changing and shaping the Universe.  If we solidify our views in rigidity, we enter into death, but even this will not conquer Christ as Christ has conquered death itself.  But by embracing the change of the Holy Spirit working in the world – the act of New Creation – and by accepting the death of our old, rigid selves, we are able to say, with Paul: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

If God is infinite and eternal, than no understanding we can ever have of this being is ever truly representative of this God, but can only be incomplete and very likely incorrect in some ways.  To understand this is to understand that every understanding of God is an idol, and we must continually strive to destroy our own idols without judging our neighbor, for by judging our neighbor we judge ourselves (Luke 6:37).  This does not mean we cease to try to understand, but rather we should embrace the journey of understanding itself.

In “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith“, Brian McLaren wrote:

…idols freeze one’s understanding of God in stone, as it were. This approach also warns us about the danger of another kind of idolatry to which we today are more susceptible. Although few of us today are tempted to freeze our understanding of God in graven images, we may too quickly freeze our understanding in printed images, rigid conceptual idols not chiseled in wood or stone but printed on paper in books, housed not in temples but in seminaries and denominational headquarters, worshiped not through ancient ceremonies and rituals but through contemporary sermons and songs.

To guard against these conceptual idols, we must understand that an infinite God is a God of eternal mystery.  We must understand that each new day, if we are truly experiencing God, we will be continually evolving our understanding of Him/Her (that’s right – God has no sex, but is both sexes and neither sex at the same time, and it’s a grave misfortune that English has no sexless pronoun with which to address this being).

In “The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots“, authors T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley write:

In the mid-twentieth century, the German theologian Paul Tillich formulated the phrase “the God above (or beyond) God.”  Tillich’s words remind believers that in Jewish terms, at the heart of monotheistic faith is the enigma of “I am who I am,” that in Christian terms, “we see through a glass darkly,” and that in Muslim terms, even the ninety-nine names for Allah do not suffice. The God of the cosmos, a universe eons old and light-years big, is only hinted at in human theologies, however accurately.

This eternal mystery of infinite being is also hinted at in The Tao Te Ching:

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name

Likewise, in the Lankavatara Sutra it is written:

These teachings are only a finger pointing to the Noble wisdom…. They are intended for the consideration and guidance of the discriminating minds of all people, but they are not the Truth itself, which can only be self-realized within one’s own deepest consciousness.

In my next post, I would like to explore how infinite reality expresses itself through the resurrection.

The Nature of Darkness

jordanmb08 —  January 15, 2014 — Leave a comment
the darkness inside

flickr: INTVGene

 

Many religions and cultures believe that in every person there is light and dark, good and evil. Often, the darkness is a synonymous with evil. But what if darkness isn’t evil or bad? What if it is just another piece of who we are? A piece that helps us to better appreciate our inner light?

The nature of darkness

The nature of darkness is one that can be complex and can be hard to fully understand due to our preconceived notions of what is good and what is evil. The thing is, to understand the nature of darkness, as with the nature of light, we have to cast aside our preconceived ideas of good and evil, light and dark. Just because something is light does not make it good and just because something is dark does not make it evil.

Borrowing from the Christian tradition, the entity that is known as Satan or Lucifer is often said to appear as an angel of light, per 2 Corinthians 11:14.  Many traditions in other religions have evil entities and people appearing as people of light when they are truly evil and full of qualities of what is truly horrible.

Often, people see darkness or see people dressed in a Goth fashion (black hair, black lipstick, black nail polish- I have heard many times when out and about with a Goth friend of mine the whispers that people say and the looks that are given) and assume they are creepy, wrong, evil, or that they are someone to be avoided.

Your own personal darkness is not something to be feared but understood.

It is something that is needed to provide balance so that we are not completely driven insane by just one half. Yin yang, balance- it is needed. To appreciate the light, to appreciate the healing, the hope, the joy, and the other good things, we need to be able to experience and gain an appreciation for the lessons learned from our darker selves.

The nature of darkness is understanding, seeking, truth, and thankfulness- as stated above, a thankfulness for experiences learned and gained. A thankfulness of experiencing the dark to gain an appreciation of the light and of the goodness.  You can better understand yourself once you face your darkness and once you get beyond your fear. 

[Note: This is the final part in a 3-part series on living like Jesus. I delivered it as a Sunday morning message to a Christian retreat last winter. Please check out part 1 and part 2, and while I write it from my own worldview, please consider it in light of your own understanding of the source of all Love. Thanks.]

Do yourself a favor and google "love graffiti."

Do yourself a favor and google “love graffiti.”

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that God isn’t up in heaven keeping a tally list, with a section for the times I do the loving thing, and the times that I don’t. Because, you know, I like to think that I walk in love, that I treat people out of a sense of extending the love God has for me. But there are so many times when I feel like I fail!

If you’ve been walking in the light of Jesus’s teachings for a while, you’re probably familiar with that still, small voice, that niggle in the back of your head trying to guide you through life, if only you’d listen. Well, I like to listen to that voice mostly when it’s telling me to do things I don’t mind doing anyway, like make my family a really special, delicious dinner that, you know, I’ll get to eat too.

But a lot of the time that voice is just asking for too much, you know? Like, OK God, I see the person walking on the side of the road, in the rain, and she’s got no umbrella, and she’s all hunched over and getting soaked, and yeah, I could stop and offer her a ride, or at least the umbrella that’s in my car, but it’s just so inconvenient.  Because, you know, I have places to get to.

But it’s those kinds of things that we need to be open to, because like Dave sending Ben out on a mission of RAKs, God has sent us out with a mission to be hands and feet for him.

If you’re not familiar with that little voice, or if you are, but like me, you don’t always listen, let’s make a deal to tune in to what God–or our conscious, or whatever it is that you call that good-speaking voice–has to say to us, in each moment of our day. Let’s start our day asking God to keep us open to what he wants to do in and through us. I promise that, if you do this, God will take you to new, often uncomfortable, always interesting places.

In acting out God’s love, we are to utilize the gifts he has given us. 1 Peter 4:10 says “10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” So take time to suss out and develop your gifts. You’ve got ‘em. I know. In Romans, Paul writes that people should teach if they teach, should give if they can, should lead if that’s his thing. Maybe you can play guitar. Maybe you are really good with handling finances. Maybe you know just what to say and how to say it. Whatever it is, it’s been given to you to help you love all over your neighbors. Find out your gift. If you need help, talk to your pastor.  Don’t worry that maybe he’s too busy for you. I’m pretty sure that “discerning spiritual gifts for the betterment of the kingdom” ranks pretty high on the list of priorities for most.

In their book Untamed: Activating a Missional Form of Discipleship, Alan and Debra Hirsch talk about the many unconventional places they’ve followed God in their desire to love the world. They tell the story of how, in 2001, they bought a night club in their city’s entertainment district as a way of opening a welcoming space for society’s more marginalized people, and say that when they visit a new city, they try to visit the red-light district. Their goal is to reach people regardless o whether it makes THEM uncomfortable.

To the Hirschs, love means “identifying with people, hearing them, understanding the issues they face, humbly living with them, and knowing how they experience and express their search for meaning.”

Now, we are not all called to minister in quite the same fashion as Alan and Debra Hirsch. That is their calling. That is where their gifts lie. But I do want to urge  you to step out of your comfortable boundaries when it comes to loving like Jesus. Sit down with your family, pray together, and talk about some ways in which you can put God’s loving grace into action with people you know and people you meet and people you see once and never see again.

So that’s Love. It’s a big thing. I’m thankful God equips us for the things to which he calls us. We know that this Love is meant to serve. But who are we to serve? Who is our neighbor? I joked about it a little, about the guy on one side and the guy on the other, and the guy across the street, but we all know it goes a little deeper than that.

You probably know the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s told in the Bible, in Luke 10:30-37, and recalled in the third episode of Veggie Tales, “Are you my neighbor?” So, the people from Flibber-o-loo wear shoes on their heads, and the people from Gibber-de-lot wear pots on their heads, and each town thinks the other town is silly, and they don’t want anything to do with the other, right? Well one day, a Flibber-o-loo resident is playing on the road when he’s robbed by some bandits. They leave him headfirst in a hole.

Along comes the mayor of Flibber-o-loo, and you’d think the mayor would help him out, but the mayor is much too busy. Then a doctor comes along who is also from Flibber-o-loo, and wouldn’t you know, she’s also too busy to help out a fellow countryman. But then along comes a kid from Gibber-de-lot, with his pot on his head, and he actually stops and helps the guy with the shoe. Then he brings him back to Gibber-de-lot and pays for his care and everyone takes away the lesson that you should love on people, no matter who they are or where they’re from.

No matter who they are, or where they’re from. Or if they look different from you. Or smell different or think different or live differently from you. How good are WE at this? Are we like the Flibber-o-loos who just walked on by?

When you come across someone who makes you uncomfortable for some reason—for me personally, this is usually people who reflect my own darker side—do your eyes gloss over? Do you try to not look?

I’m not just talking about someone holding a cardboard sign on the side of the road. I mean the person you deal with at work who you just don’t get along with? The barista at the coffee place who just looks at you the wrong way, and oh yeah never gets your coffee order right? Your neighbor who plays the loud, angry music? The kids on the news, in far away countries, who don’t have enough food or a place to stay?

The family member who has completely different political views than you and they just cant’ see reason.

The single mom.

The street walker.

The multitude of lonely, hurting people we’re in contact with every time we venture outside our house. They’re all our neighbor. Do we love them? Or do we turn away?

compassion
flickr: analogophile

In Mark 6:34, it says “when Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Those are the eyes I want to look through when I look at other people. They may be loud, obnoxious, smelly, deceitful, or a thousand other things that bug me in my flesh, but they’re just lost sheep, and I know who the shepherd is.

So. We’re to love, love, love. In action. With our gifts. To pretty much everyone. But what’s this about loving others as we do ourselves?

Well, the world wants us to put a heavy emphasis on our selves. In the world’s eyes, our first priority should be looking out for #1.  We’re to find our identity in what we do for a living, what we drive, what kind of house we live in, where we went to school, what brands we’re wearing, what television shows we watch, and how big of a television we watch them on.

But when we find our identity in who we are in Christ, a new creation  made with the purpose of serving out God’s love to a lost and broken humanity, suddenly the worlds order gets flipped on its head. Instead of a world existing to serve us and all our needs, we serve the world. It’s what Jesus preached when he said the last shall be first and the first shall be last. But what does that look like? What, exactly, does serving the world with the love of Jesus mean to the very next person I meet when I’m done talking here and I walk out that door. I used to think this was complicated.

I used to think God was withholding form me the truth about what exactly I was supposed to do in each circumstance. A friend is going through cancer. Do I tell her I’ll pray for her? Well, praying for her certainly isn’t the least I could do. Do I send her some bible verses? Do I back away, afraid of saying the wrong thing? What do I do? What does loving her entail?

I have a friend who has struggled with addiction. She just got out of a program and is doing well, but we weren’t able to talk the whole time she was in the house. How do I love HER?

I have friends who are struggling to have a child. This is so hard for me to empathize with—my husband and I just looked at each other funny and what do you know, we’re having another baby. But I love my friend emotionally. How do I love her practically? How do I serve her?

I used to think there were big, involved answers to these questions that only the spiritual giants had the answers to. You know about the spiritual giants, right? Those are the people in your church who are always asked to pray over meals and speak at funerals and lead at events…I love those people but I’ll never be one, so I thought I couldn’t have the answers on how to love in difficult situations until I realized Jesus told us how right when he told us that that’s what we’re to do! “Love your neighbor as you love your self.”

Well heck. I know how to love myself. I’m really pretty good at it. I know just what I want in any given situation.

Oreo-cookie-java-chip-chocolate-swirl ice cream, with whipped cream and hot fudge. Hold the nuts.

But really, seriously. Jesus is trying to tell us that, when we’re in a situation and we dont’ know how to respond in love to that person, we need to put ourselves in that person’s place and figure out what best serves at that moment in time. It’s like your mom always said. Right? My mom was ALWAYS saying I needed to put myself in the other person’s shoes. Who knew it came from the bible?!

So when you have a friend who is suffering, or celebrating, or doubting, or you meet someone who is different from you and it feels awkward, or when you see someone on the news who needs help, ask yourself what YOU would need if it were you in that situation. Don’t worry if what you want isn’t necessarily the same thing as what they want. Because, I bet when I said “Oreo-cookie-java-chip-chocolate-swirl ice cream, with whipped cream and hot fudge. Hold the nuts.” I bet half of you went “YUMMMM” and the other half went “GROSS.”

I can’t actually be friends with that half.

But when you’re following the leading of the Holy Spirit like we talked about, listening to that still small voice and acting when it pushes you, guess what? God will guide you on the specifics. You just have to be willing.

So. Love. Everyone. Like you love yourself.

Can you?

Will you?

Daniel T. Niles says the disciple “does not offer out of his own bounty. He has no bounty. He is simply a guest at his master’s table, and, as evangelist, he calls others, too.”

Let this be our challenge, to call others to be guests at God’s table. When you and I wake up, each morning, let’s make it our goal to be a living love offering to the people we share this planet with.

References:

Out Live Your Life, Max Lucado;

Untamed, Alan Hirsch & Debra Hirsch