"Having a blog is like wandering around your house naked with the windows open; it's all very liberating until someone looks in the window. However, while being caught unawares is one thing, it is quite another to stroll up to the window and press your naked, flabby body against the coolness of the glass in a hideous form of vertical prostration for all the world to see..." These posts are the smudges that are left behind on the window.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Killing God

It's coming to be Easter. A time when people's thoughts turn to daffodils, bunnies, chocolate and ...

"Why, exactly, did God kill Jesus?"

The other day I reluctantly entered a discussion on Facebook initiated by neXus church in BC. The whole thing surrounded conservative vs liberal theology; the role of other religions; universalism; and the point of Jesus' dying. I had been thinking of writing a blog on this topic anyway, so I jumped right in. Below is essentially my first post in that discussion, but fleshed out a bit for this blog.

It is only in the past couple of months that I have come to understand that Grace is EVERYTHING. Barth has said that the gospel - the "Good News" - is Grace. And by Grace I don't mean the narrow view that most evangelicals have of that word that restricts its meaning to something concerning atonement. When I say Grace I mean; love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance - true Grace. I have come to realise there's nothing that can separate us from the Grace of God. NOTHING. We don't have to accept it, or reject it. To place any kind of condition on the Grace of God is to diminish it.

The only thing we have to do is to accept the fact that it's free.

If you start to think about the unconditional, unrelenting, all consuming Grace of God, a lot more things start to make sense in the bible. Grace is the reason God chose a pig headed people like the Israelites. Grace is the reason God called an adulterer like David a man after his own heart. Grace is the reason God chose an inconsistent person like Peter to be the rock of the Church. Grace is the reason Jesus ended up with a disciple like Judas.

God's Grace is beyond us. It's beyond our actions or our decisions. It's beyond anything we can say or do, or anything we don't say, or don't do. It has nothing to do with us.

Barth also said that the only difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the Christian knows he is saved. On the surface this may seem very superficial and universal, but if you think about it, it's more profound than it initially appears. The person who knows he is saved will (should) go out and start to act like it, which is what Jesus talked about all through his ministry on earth - the Kingdom of God.  We need Christians to start acting like Christians right here and now. Not to act like they've got their ticket to heaven, and they're just waiting to get on the bus.

God's Grace is holding the door of the bus open for everyone - with, or without, a ticket.

Although there is value in other religions, we still need Christianity. Christians, the ones who know they are saved, who have an experiential knowledge of God's Grace, are supposed to be the ones showing people how to live in the radical, kingdom, Grace filled way portrayed by Jesus.

Why then, if it's just about living a good life now, did Jesus have to die you ask. Good question. I've wondered this for a lot of years and I suspect that there are several different layers of meaning to it. But part of it, I've just come to realise, is to show that the Grace of God is so sufficient, so pervasive, that you can even kill God and he will still extend his Grace to us in resurrection. And that my friends, should spur us on to extending that same Grace to everyone we encounter.

The Kingdom of God realised.

And by the way, when Jesus told the thief on the cross that today he would be with him in paradise, he didn't turn to the other thief and say; "and you won't".

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Swearing at Jesus

When I was about 12 I had a tobogganing  accident right before Christmas. It left me on crutches for the entire 2 week break with torn ligaments in both my knees. My Mom and I would usually spend Saturday afternoons together. Typically she would bake bread, and I would play. When the buns started coming out of the oven I would  try to scoop out the middle of a bun, while it was still warm, and eat the soft gooey mass with lots of butter. While this was going on we would normally listen to the radio - to a show called Unshackled. They were usually stories about how down-and-out people finally reached the bottom, and, through some miracle or other, would suddenly make a decision for Christ.

The Saturday I was on crutches was no exception.

My Mom was baking bread and I was playing on the floor with my Lego while we listened. I don't remember the story that day, but I do remember thinking that maybe I needed to make that decision for Christ myself. Perhaps it was the accident that got me thinking that my life was finite and I should do this before it was too late; I don't know. But, I do remember thinking that I didn't want to go to hell, so I said the prayer (to myself), that ended each show, and asked Christ into my heart.

There's an old evangelistic tool where, if you are trying to convert someone to Christianity, you ask them; "If you were to die tonight and God were to ask you why he should let you into heaven, what would you answer?" The proper answer is something to the affect that Christ died for your sins and that you had accepted him into your heart.

Case closed.

These days, this is how I see that whole scenario playing out.

There's a line of us waiting our turn to talk to Jesus. Eventually it's my turn, so I walk up to Jesus as he stands behind a small table with a large book on it. "That must be the Book of Life with all the peoples names in it that are allowed in" I think to myself.

"Name please"

Jesus runs his finger down the page. Leafs back and forth a few times. "Hmmm...."

"That can't be good" I think to myself

Then Jesus looks up and says; "So,.. Rudy,.. why should I let you into heaven?"
"Well, when I was 12 I asked you into my heart." I say confidently.
"Sorry, not good enough"
"What the hell?" "Why not?" I ask in dismay.
"It's not about you" Jesus replies.
"What the fuck?" "Sorry,.. I didn't mean to swear"
"It's OK" Jesus says. "It's not like I haven't heard it before. Besides, it's about what's in your heart that matters, not necessarily what comes out of your mouth."
"Hmmm ... Oh,,, I know." I say hopefully. "You died on cross for my sins."
"I died on the cross for everyone's sins. Sin isn't the issue."

I stand there looking at my feet, suddenly realizing they're bare, trying to figure out what I'm missing.

"Look, why don't you go over there and sit on a bench for awhile and try to figure it out while I process some of these other people" Jesus suggests.

I look to the left and there are a bunch of benches, with several people already sitting on them. I find an empty space and sit down. I look up and down the benches at the people sitting there. Some have obviously been there awhile. Every now and then I think I recognize someone. "Is that Pastor Bob? What's he doing on the bench?" I wonder.

Then I notice that I can see past Jesus, through the pearly gates, into Heaven - there are lots of people there. I see them sitting and talking to bright orbs of light. I see them talking to each other. I see them playing. They seem really happy - but more than that. Eventually, I start to recognize more and more people, but there's something peculiar, these people weren't what I would have called Christian when they were alive. "How'd they get in there, and I can't?" I ask myself.

I start to get a strange sensation. I can not only SEE they are happy, but I can FEEL that they are. As I tune-in to this new ability, I realize they aren't feeling happy at all - they're feeling  unconditionally LOVED.

Suddenly a voice interrupts my thoughts - it's Jesus;"Rudy, come back up here please."

I get up off the bench, and slowly make my way up to the table again.

"So ... I believe we have more to talk about?" Jesus says quizzically.
"Yes. I think so." I reply.
"Well let's start from the top again, shall we?"
"Why should I  let you into heaven?"
"Because thou, O God, art LOVE" I reply humbly.
"That's better. Welcome" Jesus says, and stands to the side to let me in.

As I move slowly past the table, I glance down at the book, and, somehow, I know that everyone's name is in there.

Monday, 22 December 2014

God Gets What God Wants

"Our son has been putting us through hell," she said. "Didn't even know where he was for months until last night. My husband and I were eating dinner, and suddenly, without warning, he bursts through the front door and begins cursing us, demanding money, refusing to join us at the table. After an ugly scene, he stormed down the hall and slammed the door to his room. "

"Well my husband gets up, goes over to the kitchen, pours himself a drink, turns on the TV, and slumps down in his chair. That's how he handles these moments. I walked down the hall and said, 'Son, can we talk.' I could hear him curse me inside his bedroom. I tried to open the door. It was locked."

"So I went into the garage, got a big hammer. Walked back in, stood before my son's bedroom door, drew back, and with only one blow was able to knock the doorknob clean off the door. Took about a third of the door with it. Then I lunged at my surprised son, grabbed him by the throat, and said, 'I'm not going to put with this shit anymore. You are better than this! I gave birth to you, went through labour for you, and I'm not giving you away!'"

"I really think something important happened for us last night. I think he heard me. We're on a new track." She said.

That excerpt is from William Willimon's book, and I believe God is something like that.

Jesus' death and resurrection has confounded me for many years now. I don't necessarily believe the way it works is the way most evangelicals believe it to be, but I've been struggling to figure it out. The best I can do is to think that it has meaning on several different levels, and maybe this is one of them;

Maybe one of the points is to show that we all reject God to some degree, but even if you reject him to the point of taking his physical Son, and kill him physically, God still gets what he wants in the end. God's salvation and grace is for everyone. It is an accomplished fact. And no matter if you know it or not, God's love will win in the end.

It's just a matter of time.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Metaphorical Violence

Like most people I have a problem with the violence of the Old Testament. How does a God who is loving condone, if not outright sanction, violence.

I was just reading from Brian McLaren's latest book, We make the Road by Walking, which is a daily devotional book. The section I was just reading has McLaren trying to justify a more metaphorical reading of the Bible, specifically the Old Testament. I'm OK with reading the creation story metaphorically, but I haven't expanded this view to other stories, although I have heard lots of people try. Most of the people who try, eventually get to the point where the death and resurrection of Christ is also metaphorical, and at this point, I still have a problem with that.

But McLaren got me thinking. He makes the argument that all these stories are derived from an oral tradition with stories being handed down from generation to generation, each modifying it.  He was trying to say that as the stories progressed, we learn a bit more about our God; that they are not literal stories, but stories that are there to teach us about God. After all, the story of creation wasn't written anywhere near when it was supposed to have happened. Job is the oldest book of the Bible, not Genesis. Genesis was written somewhere around 500BC.

I must admit that if you view these stories as metaphorical (Old Testament) it makes much more sense. The creation story shows us how arrogance can separate us from God, how we are not living the way God designed things to be, and we are paying the price for that arrogance. The Flood story shows us that God abhors evil and eventually it will all be wiped out, that God loves those who do righteousness. Even those stories where God commands the Israelites to go in and destroy people, even to the extent of smashing babies heads, shows how we should make every effort to rid ourselves, and the world, of evil and injustice, in all its forms.

My only problem is, where do you draw the line between literal and metaphorical?

Friday, 19 December 2014

The Lust of God

As you know there is a small group of us that meet on a semi-regular basis to discuss books and videos that challenge the traditional perspective of Christianity. As related in the previous blog post, we are discussing world religions and how Christianity should be relating to a multi-faith world. Whenever this topic is discussed, the exclusivity of Christ is brought up by whoever is new to the group, and this time around it was no exception. This led me to, once again, go in search of articles that could articulate a more generous point of view, better than I could, and, hopefully by someone with more credibility than myself.

As I mentioned previously, this led me to the book by Howard Storm, and the quotes from that book. Another aspect of that book, and the conversations he had with Jesus and the angels (if you take him seriously) was how much God loves us. Yes, I know, we all talk about how God loves us. We even say God IS love. But, if he is correct, we don't really understand what that means. Storm describes a wild, reckless, all consuming love that God has for all people. And, you can't really understand the statements that I quoted previously, concerning differing religions, if you don't understand how much God loves all mankind. I also think that's why so many evangelical Christians have so much trouble accepting other religions;

They don't really understand the love of God. They can't fathom a God who loves a Muslim or a Buddhist just the way they are.

The reason I ended up at that blog site in the first place, was because the author was commenting on a book by William Willimon; Who Will be Saved. I found some of the statements quoted to be extremely interesting as they seemed to be coming from a more traditional Christian, but with a more generous attitude. It turns out that Mr. Willimon is actually Bishop Willimon. I am only part way through the book, but the last section I read was titled "The Eros of God". We all know the different kinds of love in the bible; Philia, Agape and Eros are the three main ones, with Agape probably the best known. I must admit that when I flipped the page and saw the title, my first thought was;

"Seriously ... God ... Eros??"

If you don't know, Eros is sexual love. But then the good Bishop goes on to point out passages like Solomon 3:1-4, and all those passages about the church being the bride of Christ, and many others. He points out passages showing how God desperately desires an intimate relationship with us and seems willing to do almost anything to get it, like two adolescents in lust; very much in keeping with the story that Howard Storm tells.

Towards the end of the section he moves more into the topic of grace and how salvation is a "free gift". In quoting Paul in Romans 5:15,17 he notes that receiving salvation is a very passive act. Paul uses the passive word "receive" and not the active "decide" or even "choose". Our evangelical friends are fond of saying that Grace is free, but you have to accept it. But this isn't what Paul seems to be saying. Paul seems to be saying that you just receive it, the way the ground receives the rain.

"The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike."

And if this is the case, then salvation has come to ALL men.

I was happy to read that someone with a more traditional background had such generous views. I sometimes fear that I have become too generous in my orthodoxy: that I have given up too much of my Christian heritage in the search for truth (I'm pretty sure if I wasn't a Christian, I would be a Buddhist). This gives me renewed faith in my tradition. It makes me happy to know that I can be true to my tradition, while still accepting those of other faiths, and validating all that is good in them.

But ... I just have one concern, and it's a big one.

Does this mean I have to start singing all those Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs again, after making fun of them for the past several years?

Monday, 15 December 2014

My Religion's Better Than Yours

During the last meeting, of the small group of confused travelers that meets in my house, we had a conversation concerning Christ’s apparent claim to exclusivity in John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me” and how that pertains to other religions. Wanting a bit more clarification, I did some research the other day on the inter-web, which led me to a certain blog post that I found quite interesting. On the website were some books recommended by the author. Given that I thought the author made a lot of sense, I thought the books probably had a fair bit of credibility, even though I had never heard of the books or their authors. One in particular caught my attention; a book describing a near-death experience by a former atheist/agnostic Howard Storm called, “My Descent into Death: A Second Chance at Life".

Since my early teens, when I learned that such things existed, I have been fascinated by peoples stories of their near-death experiences, so I downloaded the book. So far, this one is the most detailed I have come across, and, as it turns out, he answers the question of Christ’s claim, and the role of other religions. In the book he describes asking Jesus and the angels a series of questions and the answers he was given.

So, here’s the answer straight from the horse’s mouth;

Q: Which is the best religion?
A: I was expecting them to answer with something like Methodist or Presbyterian or Catholic, or some other denomination. They answered, “The religion that brings you closest to God”.

Q: But which religion is that?
A: There are good people in bad religions and there are bad people in good religions. It is not so important which religion, but what individuals do with the religion they have been given. Religions are a vehicle that takes you to a destination. The purpose of religion is to help you have a personal relationship with God. God wants us to love him with all our being and to know the truth of God. If we find God in an intimate, loving relationship, then we are going the right way.Too often people find religion to be self-serving, interested in perpetuating itself and controlling peoples lives in order to be dominant. Religion is only a means to find God. Religion is not the destination. True religion is the love of God in every word, thought, and deed of the person. God loves all people and is pleased by religions that seek him in spirit and in truth.
God abhors the misuse of religion that creates divisiveness between people, that justifies violence, that promotes pride in self-righteousness. God is far greater than any religion. The spirit of Christ speaks to all people in all time to draw them to God.

Interestingly, in other parts of the book, the author affirms Christ’s statement in John 14:6, but not in a way you would expect. The only thing I will say about that, is that according to what he was told, our spiritual journey is not over when we die.

The author is now a pastor and says that everything he reads in the bible, especially the new testament, confirms what he was told during his near-death experience.