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Hunky Jesus Hubbub

kareninthedesert —  April 17, 2014 — 9 Comments
flickr: Steve Snodgrass

flickr: Steve Snodgrass

 

I had my own blog for a few years.  When I started I promised myself, ‘no low hanging fruit.’  By that, I meant no clickbait posts; no commenting on the scandal of the day; no poking-in-the-eye-with-a-stick of the latest evangelical scandal or rape culture politician.  Maybe I’m breaking that promise with this post.  You, gentle readers, can let me know what you think.

A local, progressive new church start is having a Hunky Jesus Contest on Holy Saturday at a Phoenix gay bar.  How many triggers can be in one sentence?

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First, some background… Read about Rebel and Divine UCC here: rebeldivineucc.org

Read about their founding pastor Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim here: Echo magazine story

Read about some push-back they’ve received about this event here: Hunky Jesus Contest Event Page

Read about the San Francisco festival that inspired Rebel and Divine here:  www.thesisters.org

Read about the United Church of Christ’s Open and Affirming designation here:  www.ucc.org/lgbt/ona.html

Does Hunky Jesus offend you?  What does it even mean to be offended?  If you’re offended by someone or something, what response are you expecting?  What does it mean to understand Jesus as fully human?  What is our relationship to our bodies?  How do we see sexuality with the eyes of faith?  Questions like these and more have been swirling around in my head over the past week.  And I admit that when I looked at the Facebook event page and saw a comment “maybe I’ll get nailed,” I winced. Ouch.

I don’t have any answers.  But I do have these reflections and I’m staying in the conversation.

1.  I don’t get to tell a marginalized group how to proceed with their struggle.
I’m straight.  That status comes with certain privilege.  I won’t elaborate (you can Google it), but let’s just scratch the surface by noting that none of my friends feel anxious about how to explain to their children my relationship with my life partner.  I can be an ally, an advocate, a friend… but I can’t fully comprehend the struggle LGBTQ people experience.  Maybe I know how to do things that are helpful to their cause.  Maybe I can offer my gifts and resources.  But I can’t say, “Gee, that’s offensive.  Be patient and be on your best behavior.  Equality will come in time.”  I can’t say, “Wow.  Hunky Jesus… why would you be deliberately controversial like that?”  I can’t say, “But this will hurt your cause among people who are actually supportive!  This might mean a set back for gay rights!”  I can’t say any of these things EVEN IF I MIGHT BE RIGHT.

2.  Ministry can take place in lots of different settings.  I trust life and the Spirit of God.
Imagine a setting in which a young gay man can feel comfortable, a setting in which he can mock the church that wounded him as a teen if he chooses, a setting in which he might be able to have a significant conversation with someone about the hope of Easter.  That setting might look a lot like Hunky Jesus.  There’s a delightful United Church of Christ congregation in a retirement community not far from me.  They probably won’t be hosting a Hunky Jesus contest and it probably wouldn’t be an appropriate choice for them.  But for Rebel and Divine UCC, this event (it is raising money for their work, by the way, which supports homeless and at-risk teens and young adults in many ways) is coming out of the conversations happening in that faith community.  I trust God:  that the Spirit can move in any setting, that what looks like foolishness to many is God’s wisdom in disguise, that it’s precisely when we feel most uncomfortable that we are growing the most.

3.  There’s a distinct possibility that churchy folk take our holy days too seriously.
I’m totally guilty of this.  When my youngest child was in a church preschool, her shiny happy Easter party was on Maundy Thursday.  I protested; this is a solemn day for communion and foot washing.  I wasn’t thrilled with pastel eggs and candy on that particular day.  But today I remember the words of Amos:

I hate all your show and pretense -
the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.

So the hangups about Hunky Jesus on Holy Saturday don’t trouble me much.

4.  There’s a story to be told about the church, about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, about the pain and shame people of faith have heaped on the gay community.
I was just 10 years old when Ronald Reagan was elected to the Presidency.  I picked up on the mood of the country, even then.  Our years-long national upheaval was coming to an end:  Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis.  All that we were putting behind us.  The AIDS epidemic was just not part of Reagan’s Morning in America.  As a teen, I went to a youth conference with church.  A preacher told us that babies come from their fathers only.  That’s why, he said, Jesus could be Mary’s baby and still completely sinless.  That bit of crazy was easy for my United Methodist group to scoff at… wrong biology, at the very least.  But when that same crazy preacher told us that AIDS was God’s punishment on gay people, we didn’t laugh that off.  I had a bumper sticker circa 1988 that said ‘Fight AIDS, Not PEOPLE With AIDS.’  It’s painful to remember just how radical a notion that was.  The church behaved badly back then:  refusing funerals and sacraments and pastoral care to dying people.  Gay men who are now in their 40s and 50s have watched their friends, lovers, partners, and mentors die.  It’s no wonder then, that so many, many people associate religion with suffering and fear and shame.  Can we who have never felt the church turn its back on us accept that maybe Hunky Jesus can open the door to healing for someone?  If that’s a possibility, isn’t it worth any discomfort or offense on our part?

5.  Healthy sexuality and reverence are profoundly connected.
When I trained as an Our Whole Lives facilitator, we did an exercise that helped me see this connection more clearly.  We separated into two groups.  Neither group was aware of the other’s assignment.  One group wrote on newsprint the words they associated with a healthy, loving sexual experience.  The other group wrote on newsprint the words they associated with a spiritual experience.  Expanding, beautiful, hopeful, fun, profound, acceptance, love, energy, holy:  THE SAME WORDS APPEARED ON BOTH LISTS.  I didn’t make this up.  It’s the way we were created.

Now all of this reflection doesn’t mean that I would feel comfortable at the Hunky Jesus Contest.  I have to assist the Big Rabbit in her deliveries to my own kids that night, so I probably won’t make it down to the bar.  But everyone there – Jesuses and judges, angry folks and curious folks, Rebel and Divine people and Kobalt’s regulars – will be in my prayers.

Peace to all.

About these ads

Don’t you just wish that Jesus had been a memoirist?  I know there’s that incident in John when he scribbles in the dirt, but I really want to know more.  As his spiritual development blossomed, as he contemplated his path, what was Plan B?  Lots of scholars think that Jesus probably spent some time with John the Baptist, as an apprentice or protégé.  What made him decide to strike out on his own?  And I’ve always wondered – how much of the bumbling ineptitude of the disciples was real and how much was a literary device on the part of the evangelists?

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We’ll never know, but the wondering and imagination has sparked the prayer life of many Christians (most notably, the Jesuits, whose style of contemplation relies on our vivid imaginations in conjunction with the stories of scripture).

I write stuff.  Unlike Jesus, I depend on the written word to express something that needs to leave me-space and get out into the world.  Why?

5.  I’m shy, so writing is easier than talking.
It takes me some time to suss out what I think about things.  Writing – for an audience or for myself – comes more naturally than speechifying or preaching.  Also, again with the shy thing, writing allows me to find like-minded folks without a lot of meet-and-greets.

4.  The English language is like my dog – it needs exercise.
I get great satisfaction from making words do what I want them to do.  A great article or reflection or blog post takes the reader on a little journey, but (at least when I’m at my best) the path is a circle that brings you back to the idea from which you started.  In other words, I ramble on a bit, sometimes without an evident purpose, but by the end, things are tied up with a little bow.  This way of using language is part of being civilized.  Words are limited, often clumsy, but they are the tools we have.  Best to keep them sharpened.

3.  Sometimes I need a forced slowdown.
Do you ever find yourself thinking in Facebook statuses or tweets?  Our minds move quickly and jump from topic to topic or from distraction to distraction. Writing can be a kind of meditation, an experience of flow, that makes me a better me.  I read cookbooks and it makes me want to cook.  I read glorious prose and it inspires me to sit back down at the keyboard.  My cooking is like making mud pies, just like my writing, but participation in this very human task is imperative for me.

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2.  Writing brings clarity.
I begin co-leading a writers’ workshop this week.  My teaching partner loves this quote from Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”  Words force clarity on me.  I write, particularly about religion and spirituality, and I find that I am writing what I need to read.  I teach what I need to learn.  I write, for instance, about the profundity of everyday life… about moments that we treasure with family and friends, moments in nature, experiences that we want to capture and remember.  And in this writing, I find that I do *really* believe in the sacredness of the ordinary, in the experiential nature of a life lived in faith as ultimate trust.  My best self reminds the rest of me.

1.  Everyday people writing their everyday lives is revolutionary.
History is written by the winners.  We know about Napoleon, not his servant; Charlemagne, not the royal blacksmith; Marie Curie, not her grocer.  Memoir flies in the face of this notion.  In writing our small yet profound lives, we speak the truth that every life matters, that every person is unique and unrepeatable.  Every time I write, I make a claim on the universe:  ‘This is MY story.’  The words and the reading of them; the recalling and the sharing; that beautiful recognition when we read something written by another and can say, “Yes!  This is true for me also!” : this is the reason I write.

iamwrong

Hey everyone. This is Brett, head blogger and founder of WOJ. I have decided to take my work to the next level and actively pursue a career in freelance writing. I will continue to develop weoccupyjesus.org, however my personal reflections and more self-promotional posts require a separate site. I am now officially launching…

iamprobablywrong.com.

If you have enjoyed by previous work, please follow the new blog. I have written an introductory post that I’d be honored to share with you. Please read, like, share, and comment! I would love your feedback. The site is optimized for all mobile devices, so have at it.

Thanks for all the support. #heregoesnothing

 

World Vision, LGBT community, and hungry, thirsty children.

Image: worldvisionmagazine.org

 

As we all know, World Vision recently began accepting LGBT people as employees, provided they remain celibate if single, and faithful to their other halves if married–just as they require of their heterosexual employees. However, after World Vision announced their acceptance of LGBT people as employees, many of the modern legalists of Christianity today threw a fit and threatened to withdraw funding. Because of the outcry that resulted in an enormous amount of people withdrawing their support, World Vision then reversed their decision, catering to the Pharisees of Christianity today.

Betrayal.

Much like Judas betraying Christ for thirty pieces of silver, World Vision has turned their backs on those that are being targeted and oppressed by legalists of today. I understand why, but this does not make it correct or right or just. In fact, it flies in the face of everything Christians should stand for and it also flies in the face of World Vision’s mission statement.

“World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.”

World Vision Mission Statement, “Who We Are

Tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. And discrimination, oppression, and denial of rights to ANYONE is not injustice?

Who Does This Hurt?

Not only does this hurt the LGBT community, it also hurts the children and families that World Vision helps.

This organization employs 44,000 people and helps 100 million people in 100 countries (including 1.2 million in the United States).

This is not just some company like Wal-Mart or McDonald’s that reigns supreme right now because of capitalism.

This is a charity that makes a huge difference!!! How can you turn your back on all of the people that this helps and call yourself a Christian? How can you completely ignore the message of Christ, just because of some employees?

If you committed to sponsoring a child through World Vision, you probably did so because you saw a need, and felt convicted enough to help. So what happened to that conviction when World Vision announced its new hiring policy? Suddenly the need to stand against LGBT people became more important than feeding and bringing fresh water to children? I wonder what Jesus would think about that.

Returning to the Bible, Jesus did say,

“You who are without sin cast the first stone.”

And he also said,

“Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto Me also.”

Oh wait, I know I have that exact verse somewhere. Right, here it is:

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Matthew 25:44-46 NIV

 

For Thirty Pieces of Silver.

I am not going to tell you to not donate time or money to this organization. I recognize that World Vision does so much good for many people across a wide spectrum of the world. But I am going to point out that this episode of hypocrisy is appalling. They should expect the backlash that will occur.

You cannot preach love and speak against injustice when you actively participate in injustice and when you do the least loving things imaginable.

You cannot proclaim to love God or to know God while speaking hate or holding hate in your heart.

This will result in more divides and more hurt occuring between those who are LGBQT, those who have already been hurt by the church, and those who are struggling with their faith.

We need to be more concerned with our fellow people and creatures, and stop this hate, this oppression, and stop actively participating in it.

World Vision and the legalists today are betraying people for thirty pieces of silver…

And for their precious Old Testament law that they do not even follow themselves, all in the name of eternal salvation.

Distraction. Flickr: ChodHound

Distraction. Flickr: ChodHound

 

I always get frustrated when I click on a link to an article or blog post only to find out that it is ten pages long. That is when I let out a huge sigh and hit the back button. I’m not bashing on any writers that may write like this, I just don’t have the focus.

I feel like Christians read the message of Christ with a whole lot of A.D.D. We get distracted by all these things that we want to happen that we miss the real message of Jesus.

Love.

God calls us to love the world around us but we are distracted by the exclusive shininess of heaven. There is a song from one of my heroes Mr. Johnny Cash that says:

Come hear me good brothers come here one and all
Don’t brag about standing or you’ll surely fall
You’re shinin’ your light yes and shine if you should
You’re so heavenly minded and you’re no earthly good
No earthly good you are no earthly good
You’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good
You’re shinin’ your light yes and shine if you should
You’re so heavenly minded and you’re no earthly good

Come here me good sisters you’re salt of the earth
If your salt isn’t salted then what is it worth
You could give someone a cool drink if you would
You’re so heavenly minded and you’re no earthly good
No earthly good you are no earthly good
You’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good
You could give someone a cool drink if you would
You’re so heavenly minded and you’re no earthly good

If you’re holdin’ heaven then spread it around
There are hungry hands reaching up here from the ground
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
So heavenly minded and you’re no earthly good
No earthly good you are no earthly good
You’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
So heavenly minded and you’re no earthly good
No earthly good…

I’m pretty sure that sums it up. People make Jesus out to be this complex theological giant but his message was simple: Love you’re neighbor as yourself. So don’t get caught up in the A.D.D. of Chrisitianity. Stay focused on the simplicity of love.

I believe homophobia is natural.

There, I’ve said it. Shoot me down in flames. But let me explain…

Firstly, remember: a phobia is not hatred or victimisation; it’s fear of something.

Secondly, it’s natural to be afraid of anything different. Prejudices tend to be based on ignorance about a particular culture / race / sexuality etc. We naturally flock together with people who are like-minded or similar to ourselves, and tend to keep our distance from people who are different.

Thirdly, for us straight men (I can’t speak for women), homosexuality can feel like a threat to our masculinity. Homosexuality naturally repels many of us.

Fourthly, just because a reaction’s ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s right or appropriate in a developed society.

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We all have to make choices about what we do with our instinctive reactions, whether we’re talking violence, lust, racism or homophobia. Jesus often called his followers to go against such natural impulses, giving us instructions, power, and the example, to forgive, to overcome hatred with loving action, to reach out, and to break down barriers between people groups.

Thank God, many countries and cultures across the world are overcoming these barriers. Sadly, as we know from recent news on Russia in particular, the war against prejudice is far from over.

Let me tell you about my own homophobia…

My prejudice, already shaped by society’s general attitude of the day, was aggravated by my experience of hitch-hiking alone as a young man in America (see My Life’s Soundtrack Parts 4 & 5). Sometimes men would stop and offer me a lift in return for certain ‘favours’ – and would drive off when I declined. Other times, after I’d been given a lift, unaware of any ‘ulterior motives’ of the driver, I was subjected to gay or bisexual men trying to touch me up.

This led me to the conclusion that this is what gay men are like – they’re only after one thing...

…because the other common reason for prejudice, apart from fear of difference as mentioned earlier, is limited experience. The bad experience of one person or a few persons means we (subconsciously or consciously) tar all people with that quality with the same brush.

In later years, I realised: this is what some men (gay or straight) are like, objectifying other people as objects for the release of their lusts. This had nothing to do with being gay, but all to do with being men. And it’s given me, I think, a little insight into the more common experience of women who are daily objectified, used, abused and/or assaulted by men.

From homophobia to solidarity

Soon after that, I came to faith in Jesus, and all my attitudes began to shift and adjust as he changed me from the inside out.

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I have a treasured memory from just after that time, just after I’d returned to England. I was sitting in a café in Lewes with a friend (who we’ll call Andrew), when this young man in his late teens revealed to me that he was gay. I was the first person he’d told. I felt nothing but honoured. No prejudice or homophobia from me.

Skip forward about 2 years – I’m not long into my nurse training, and one of the people sharing the hospital residence where I’m living is a man in his 40s (we’ll call him Jim), who had been a keen Christian in his teens, doing ministry tours of Europe with a prominent Christian leader. During this time as a teenager he was beginning to realise he was gay. Seeking some advice, as he tried to come to terms with this self-realisation, he confided in a church leader. He was subsequently rejected from his role and forced to leave the church.

Jim and I spent long hours talking about Christianity and sexuality. I learned that he had never lost his faith but had not felt able to return to church. Astoundingly, he wasn’t even bitter. Jim was a very gentle and kind man working as a health care assistant, who showed dedicated Christ-like love to the elderly patients he worked with.

Maybe it was these encounters with Andrew and Jim that not only reversed my homophobia but instilled in me a deep longing to understand the division between church and gay / lesbian people.

I know that the public perception of sexuality as one of the main issues that divide the church from wider society (as I wrote about in A Sense of Perspective), and my longing to see all people come to believe in the Father’s all-welcoming arms, have motivated me to wrestle with these questions.

Coming down off the fence

For years I’ve sat on the fence when it comes to the church’s traditional position on sexuality. My first ever blog post, Redefining Marriage, written about a year ago, reflects my indecisive stance.

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I’ve now come down off that fence, partly as a result of hearing some articulate biblical arguments, such as:

This one by Matt Vines

And this shorter video.

[Readers of this post who don’t identify themselves as ‘Christian’ or ‘religious’ may be saying: “What’s all the fuss about? This question is a no-brainer! Of course there’s nothing wrong with gay relationships!” If that’s the case, please bear with us Christians who see the Bible, rather than current society norms, as our starting-point and source of ultimate inspiration.]

To sum up some of the points from these videos, mashed up with some of my own:

There are only a few verses in the Bible about homosexual activity, and they all seem to be in the context of pagan, idolatrous practices. God is love and desires our love and adoration towards him, because this is how we’re made – we function best when we live in his love. His heart is saddened, spurned, when we give our hearts to other ‘lovers’, i.e. other ‘gods’.

Homosexual and bisexual activity was often carried out by straight people in those ancient cultures, against their own nature (Romans 1:27), as part of pagan rituals and orgies, and it was those idolatrous rituals, rather than a particular sexuality, that went against God’s heart.

The Bible seems to say nothing about homosexual orientation, nor about faithful, monogamous, homosexual partnerships.

It does say a lot about love and faithfulness. Jesus said the whole will of God can be summed up in the 2 commandments to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Paul takes this even further by declaring that the whole law is fulfilled by loving one another (Romans 13:8-10). Yes, he misses out God – can you believe it!

Our love and obedience to God is entirely evidenced by treating others with respect, kindness, understanding, empathy etc.

I’m left with the conclusion that the Bible has nothing against gay or lesbian monogamy.

(That’s a very brief summary)!

But I’m the sort of person that likes a balanced argument. So here are a couple of points from ‘the other side’:

Firstly, let’s be clear that holding a Biblical understanding that homosexual practice is wrong in God’s eyes does not constitute homophobia. There are plenty of Christians who hold such views who do not condemn or judge gay people for their sexuality or their actions.

A certain objective belief does not necessarily imply a certain subjective attitude.

Secondly, there’s another important, and growing, voice in this debate, represented intelligently and graciously by a group called Living Out, for example. These are Christians who, rather than define themselves as ‘gay’, describe themselves as ‘experiencing same-sex attraction’. Affirming the traditional Christian view on homosexuality and choosing celibacy, they claim to lead fulfilled lives rooted in God’s love and loving, platonic friendships.

I have great admiration for these people, and I welcome their voice and example for others who would aspire to that choice.

At the same time, I also believe that not all gay or lesbian people who have faith in Christ are able to make such a brave and committed step, just as celibacy would not be a welcome choice for many straight people.

My ideal world

In Roj-world: all churches would of course welcome gay and lesbian people with open arms.

But further than that….anyone coming to faith in Christ and trying to work out how their faith and sexuality intersect with each other would be graciously presented with each of the different Christian viewpoints instead of being told that only one view can be correct.

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They would be allowed to make up their own minds and act according to their own conclusions and conscience.

Their decision, whatever that may be, would be fully accepted and welcomed by all in the church.

Now surely that would fulfil the law of love.

 

IMG_1007RRoger (or ‘Roj’) and his wife Janine have 3 lively children ranging from teenager to toddler; he goes to work for a rest. A trained nurse, he’s in his ideal job, utilising his skills and passions by running a homeless healthcare service, and learns a lot from the people he works with, including the idea that God is more inclusive than people sometimes give him credit for. To let off steam, he runs reasonably fast around the hills of Hastings (England), where he lives. Now writing for We Occupy Jesus, he’s childishly enjoying being ‘Roj of WOJ’.

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I remember a time when “Heaven” was the lens through which I saw all of life. I was taught, as were many of my peers, that life here on Earth was a test. Nothing mattered except getting into Heaven. Nothing. Suffering was fine, as long as we ended up in our mansions in paradise after we died. Having no friends because we had to weed out all the cool ones who said dirty words? No problem. We’d have Jesus to push us on the celestial swing set. Dismissing all that inconvenient “scientific data” because our book of spells told us God made us “zap zap” style? Piece of cake. We knew the truth. Everyone else was just a sucker sippin’ the worldly “cool-aid”. In the meantime, we were to sit still and vote Republican (because the Democrats would usher in the reign of the Anti-Christ, just like the… Bible said would happen… which is what we… wanted… since it was God’s will… but, never mind that).

Over the years I would finally succumb to the irresistible seduction of education, people with different opinions, and the ministry of common sense. Whether you believe in God, or whether you only believe in Oprah, I think we can all agree that Heaven… at least as traditionally promoted… is for suckers. If you feel a sudden urge to defend your very own pie in the sky, that’s cool. Save it for the bloodbath, I mean “comments section.”

You may think you want to live forever, but you don’t. You really, really, really don’t. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s play this out logically. If you live forever, there’s only three possibilities: Conscious eternal existence, unconscious eternal existence, or reincarnation where you only remember one lifetime as a time. Which do you prefer?

Conscious Eternity

To infinity, and beyoooond!

To infinity, and beyoooond!


This is by far the most widely-held belief when it comes to Heaven. Somehow our consciousness will survive the death of our mortal bodies and be transported/sucked up into God/the Cosmos to some other dimension-ish place that somehow defies the known laws of physics, or at least operates on some plane of existence that is more or less magic by our standards. We all agree this place is supposed to be at least pleasant if not borderline orgasmic. And hey, while that sounds all good and reasonable at first, let us consider just what “eternity” would mean.

Imagine the longest day you’ve ever had. Maybe some of us have been awake for a couple days, maybe even more than that. Most of us start feeling really weird when we have stayed up all night. I personally feel like I’m in a time-warp. Other people have started their new day when I’m basically still working on finishing up yesterday. It’s just not right. We all need closure on our days. We are supposed to have a beginning and an end. In an eternal Heaven scenario, we would have no need for sleep. It would be just one, super long, endless day. If we did sleep, it’d be an insult to conscious Heaven since we’d be choosing unconsciousness. What would we be dreaming about? Heaven? Nope, we’d be awake. Forever.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. It would be Heaven, so we’d have some kind of super Heaven-brain that didn’t get all weirded out by how long our day would be. I’m sure we’d also have God-bodies that never got tired. We’d also never be bored. Ever. Why? Because Heaven is about being content. This means that either Heaven would give us an unending supply of entertainment options, or we’d be forced to like everything we would be doing. Therein lies an interesting point to ponder. What if Heaven couldn’t please everyone?

Now that we can imagine what it would be like to simply “exist” in a conscious way in this Heavenly realm, let’s revisit just what it would mean to be there forever. Humans, accustomed to living lives of roughly 70-90+ years, would never die. One thousand years would pass by. One million years would pass by. One billion, one trillion, one hundred trillion, ninety-nine trillion-trillion, and on and on and on.

Try to perceive that quantity of time (impossible, I know. Just try).

What if I said something like “And after all that time, you’re no closer to _________ (fill in the blank) than when you started.”

Did you think of the word “dying”? Did you think “being done”? Did you think “Not existing anymore?” Did you think to yourself, “Wow, eternity does kinda sound like overkill, or at least a little unnecessary.” Honestly, I think a number much, much lower would sound reasonable. Can you even imagine living for a few thousand years? Really, think about that. Isn’t that long enough? Maybe today you think you need more time to make things right. But who needs eternity? That’s like saying I need Unlimited Data from my cell phone carrier, when realistically I only need like 20 Gigs a month.

(I actually need much less, of course. But give me this one thing!)

So, why would you want to live consciously forever? If it’s anything like consciousness as we know it, it would be Hell. If it’s something completely different than consciousness as we know it, then we have no basis to judge its benefits. “I can’t wait to experience the joys of something that is completely unlike joy as I know it! Hooray!”

Unconscious Eternity

I so sweeeepy... I sweep for-wever...

I so sweeeepy… I sweep for-wever…


This one is interesting because… we’ve already done this one. All those trillions of years that the universe existed before the earth was made? Yeah, that’s what unconscious eternity feels like. I mean, it’s not like you were sitting around bored out of your mind waiting to be born. You were totally okay with it. Now, imagine that you die but some part of you lives on, maybe “with God” or in some type of “soul sleep” setup, but you’re not conscious of anything. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re unconscious for a minute or for twenty-eight universe lifetimes; unconscious existence is all the same to you. Your atoms and/or soul-stuff are free to float about deep space or the tenth-dimensional soccer field as long as necessary. Maybe you’ll get a new skin suit, maybe you won’t.

So, while there’s not a huge downside to unconscious eternity, there’s not really any difference between this idea and simply dying. If you’re not conscious, you’re pretty much dead. If you’re not dead, it’s still (like conscious eternity) a way of living that’s so unlike human life that it’s not anything to “look forward to”.

 

Reincarnation

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 4.13.10 PM

I think this is the most intriguing perspective on living forever, because in a way you get three-in-one. If you perpetually reincarnate, you may indeed be more or less “stuck” in a loop of death and rebirth “forever.” The difference would be that instead of existing on a linear timeline, you’d be existing in a circular one. For example, you could possibly be stuck in a loop that is primarily happening during the 18th Century over and over and over, but it could go on and on seemingly forever if you reincarnate into a new 18th Century human (or insect, or blade of grass, or American Flag) each time. That hundred years might resemble thirteen billion before you’re done with it.

What is very interesting about reincarnation is that you don’t remember your previous lives. In that way, it is no different than living once and dying once. (Wait, maybe atheists are just pissed off Buddhists?) And if there is even one second between your multiple lives, that one second was most-likely an unconscious second. So, you might as well have never existed at all before your new (and hopefully improved) upcoming life since you’d have no recollection of that second you didn’t exist.

And when you do reincarnate, are you really you anymore? If you are Jim in this life and Pam in the next (ponder THAT one, fans of NBC’s The Office), then is it really you at all? Maybe we’re all the same person, or the same universal consciousness making the rounds to everyone (kinda like Quantum Leap, perhaps?)

So why would you want to live a reboot-style life forever? Do you really want be the main character in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, without the benefit of the information learned from yesterday? I mean, isn’t the whole purpose of reincarnation to break the cycle of suffering and death, i.e. TO FINALLY DIE AND JUST STAY DEAD?

Conclusions:

I don’t know if there is an afterlife, or what it would look like. I don’t. But I do believe in Heaven.

I honestly think humans gets so hung up on living forever because we feel like we don’t have enough time. We think that one lifetime just isn’t enough. We cling to the idea of eternity because it feels secure. I’ve had that same feeling multiple times during this finite life though. Have you ever felt the embrace of a loved-one who kindly whispered to you “You’re safe now” or “You don’t have to be afraid ever again”? In that moment you didn’t need reassurance that trillions of years would pass without a moment of discomfort. We can experience the miracle of that moment in the temporal way it was meant to be felt, eternity or not. I think many of us equate Heaven with such a feeling, like a hug that’s waiting for us on the other side to say that everything will be okay, the pain is over, you’re safe now. Who wouldn’t want that?

I don’t ridicule the idea of Heaven in gerneral, or think those who seek it are merely small people looking for a way to cope with the fear of death. I do, however, believe that Heaven isn’t cheap. It goes much further than the superficial themes of pleasure and reward. Heaven is when you carry your kid on your shoulders after a sports game on the way back to your car. Heaven is when you walk across the stage to take your diploma from the president of the university. Heaven is emerging from poverty, or lowering ladders for others to climb out. It is a baby’s laughter, a negative cancer screening, or marriage vows renewed.

No, I do not believe what we seek is life eternal. We simply want to leave here on our terms, when we are good and ready. Are you ready to die? It’s okay if you’re not. Just stop waiting for Heaven.

It’s been waiting forever for you.

——–

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.

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.

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.

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.