"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, 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.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Third Way

What do you call a Jew who also follows the teachings of Buddha? .... A Jewbu ... and no, this isn't a joke. Apparently this mix and match of religions has been going on for some time now; however, most recently people have been putting little names to it, such as Jewbu. These days the most common ones to combine seem to be Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, but I'm sure there are others. The possibilities are endless.

What about Atheist and Christian?

A couple of years ago I ordered a video series called Living the Questions for our small group to go through. I ordered it from an organization called the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. If you're a former fundamentalist, such as myself, this is an excellent series to go through as it forces you to think of possibilities you never considered before. Since I ordered it from this organization, they were nice enough to place me on the mailing list for their journal called Progressions which comes out 3 or 4 times a year.

Initially I read the journals from cover to cover, but the more I read the more confused I became; I couldn't figure out where they were coming from. They would write on topics of Christianity, liberally quoting from the bible, and yet at the same time they seemed to deny any form of deity, all the while calling themselves Christians. This behavior seemed to afflict all the contributing writers, but especially the founder Gretta Vosper. Eventually I started reading less and less. I always had good intentions of reading at least some of the articles, but sometimes I just didn't get around to it and, when I did, the articles still had this same dynamic to them. In the past year I have seriously considered writing an open letter to the organization asking the question, "At what point do you stop calling yourself a Christian?", not as an accusation; I really wanted to know. After all, if it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck and looks like a duck, then it's probably a duck.

But, if it does none of those things, can you still call it a duck?

I got the most recent edition a couple of weeks ago. There was a clarification of the title from the previous edition - which I hadn't read - called Breaking Faith by Vosper, and some feedback on that same article from one of the readers. Apparently I had missed something important. So I looked up the article online as I no longer had my hard copy.

It turns out that Vosper - a UCC minister - basically comes out as an Atheist, but not in the way you'd think. It was a very interesting article and I will try to summarize part of what she said, as best I understand it, without doing her a disservice. I admire her honesty, openness and concern. You can read the full article here

Vosper doesn't believe in an interventionist god; at least not as most people would define god. As an Atheist, Vosper doesn't believe in any supernatural deity, Christian or not. But, she does believe in the bible. In fact, she believes the bible to be essential to the long term sustainability of humanity. She even criticizes those who have left the church who say that they don't need church to be a good Christian as breeding "a frightening biblical and ethical ignorance". So, how does one believe in the bible, but not in the god of that bible (as commonly understood)? She believes the bible and everything in it to be metaphorical - metaphors worthy of basing your life on. And, she believes that god is not some supernatural interventionist deity, but a concept and metaphor.

Although I have come a long way since my fundamentalist roots, I'm not sure I'm willing to go as far as Vosper. After all, if the bible is so influential and wise, where did this wisdom come from? I don't know that I'm willing to base my life on any wisdom of man-made origin when it has proven so fallible in the past. But, if I had to choose between the interventionist god of the fundamentalists and the metaphorical god of Vosper, I would choose Vosper's god. It seems to me that belief in the interventionist god hasn't created the fruits of the spirit spoken of in the bible - in fact it has created the exact opposite a lot of the time.

But, do I have to choose?

E.F. Schumacher says that when there are divergent views such as this, it is this very divergence that causes us to seek God. That causes us to seek the third way. To find, and hold, the tension of the two views in the love and compassion and understanding that is God.

At least for anyone honestly seeking truth.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Death of Raoul

Raoul was evil incarnate. He killed out of the shear pleasure of it. If there was anything he could do to make his enemy's life more miserable, he would do it. He took pleasure in inflicting slow, methodical pain. He had goals, and God help anyone who got in his way.

Fortunately, Raoul is only a character in a James Rollins book; The Map of Bones. As far as I know, Rollins isn't what you would call a Christian. I suspect he has deep Catholic roots though as many of his stories center on religious themes with the Catholic Church playing a major role (at least in the books I have read so far).

In the closing moments of Map of Bones, Raoul needs to place a golden key into the center of a maze in order to unlock the final secret; the secret to the magic contained in the relics of the bones of the Magi - the Three Wise Men. However, unknown to him, the hero of the story has given him a forged key that instead of unlocking that secret, will destroy them as a fail-safe to protect the secret.

Think Indiana Jones.

When Raoul places the key in the hole, the earth starts to tremble. Things start falling and a deep unearthly moan emanates from the cathedral they are in. Suddenly, a beam of light focuses on Raoul. It is so intense and pure that it forces him to the ground. Raoul writhes in agony; it is worse than hell itself. It only lasts a minute but it has torn Raoul's entire life apart. The light has reached into the core of his being and shown him what he is, but worse than that it has shown him what he could have been.

When it's over, Raoul is lying on the ground, a waste of a man and the only thing he is capable of saying is:

I never asked to be forgiven.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Timng is Everything

Ok, I admit, I have a very caustic, sarcastic sense of humour. Most people seem to think I'm fairly funny, at least at times. I guess I have my moments. The trouble with this kind of humour is that timing is everything. Say something too soon and you've just insulted someone, too late and you've lost the moment and it's not funny. I'm afraid my timing has sometimes been less than perfect. My kids have inherited this sense of humour, but when they were younger it didn't always work because their timing was off. So I would remind them of the importance of timing. They're way better at it now.

I've often wondered why Jesus came when he did. Why that particular time in history. Was the world an especially bad place at the time? Was there something about the Jewish people that triggered it? Did God just suddenly say "well, now's as good a time as any"?

I have a lot of problems with the violence of the Old Testament and God's part in it. I also have problems with a lot of the rules and regulations in the Old Testament which can seem arbitrary and outdated.

Lots of very smart, published, people think that the Bible isn't so much a rule book as it is a giant narrative of God's people. A narrative that has a single overarching theme of Love. That it's the story of his people and how they progressed, and failed, and progressed again. How God led them, and his faithfulness despite their failures.

In Rob Bell's latest book he  points out that a lot of the less progressive rules that were instituted were actually very progressive at the time. How, given the culture, what seems like an arbitrary, or even backwards rule, was actually inching them forward.

All of which brings me back to sarcasm and Jesus.

Maybe God was moving his people slowly forward, baby step by baby step, until they had been brought to the point that he could send Jesus and they would finally get it. Perhaps, if Jesus had come sooner, it would have been too much of a difference for them and his teachings would have been rejected outright. Maybe God looked down and said "Now's the time. They're ready for the next step".

Which makes me wonder some more.

If the Bible is the story of progression towards Love, why do we keep quoting it when we're trying to deal with modern issues like homosexuals, divorce, and the roles of women. Maybe those were baby steps and the time has come to move on.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Staggering Down the Street

I must admit that these days I have a hard time with Christians who say things like; " I've been so blessed by God". I mean, does God like them more than non-Christians or even other Christians? Generally speaking it's mostly fundamentalist Christians who use words like that, which drives me crazy. Even when I was in the fundy scene it drove me crazy. I'd hear words like that, and I'd think I must be some kind of loser, because I didn't feel blessed - maybe I was, but I certainly didn't feel that way.

I have a certain viewpoint on the Christian life and what it's all about, and it's different from the "I'm on the bus to heaven" viewpoint of the fundamentalists.
Shalom is the state of all things and all people doing what they were created to do. It is nothing less than God's intention for his creation. In an fallen world, shalom is always falling apart. Our job as people of faith is to always be repairing and extending it. The concept of shalom offers a core principle by which to make decisions within our stories. We should repeatedly ask ourselves, What, in this situation, contributes most to the repairing and extension of God's shalom? What action, what attitude, what use of money, what vote, what words?

Daniel Taylor
And I agree.

And what's God's intention for his creation? To get to heaven? No. It's Love. Love for all people. Not just love for those that are lovable, or those in our tribe, but all people. Now, the word shalom includes other nuances like justice, peace, righteousness, etc. but at it's core, it's love.

Sin is any act or attitude which undercuts God's shalom. It is best not thought of as hurting God's feelings by breaking his rules; it is an offence against wholeness, justice, and righteousness. As such, it is always harmful - to the self and to the community ...

Daniel Taylor
In other words sin is any act or attitude we have that isn't loving - that isn't contributing to the repairing or extension of shalom; which probably makes sin much more about what we don't do, than what we do.

And it affects everyone.

When we love everyone around us - when we act according to God's intended purpose for his creation, and the world moves just a little closer to the way it was designed to be in the first place - everyone benefits.

Back to my irritating little phrase.

Mostly when I hear that phrase - if not outwardly, then at least inwardly - I roll my eyes, have a little smirk, and then carry on as if I'd never heard it. Because, truth be told, I suspect most of these so called blessings are really just coincidences. But, the other day I paid attention as the person who made it started to recount their various blessings. The person who said it is outgoing, friendly, always willing help someone out; a real roll-up-the-shirtsleeves-and-get-the-job-done sort of person. And it occurred to me that most of the blessings they were talking about were probably just people responding in kind - effectively, it was shalom in action.

Maybe it's not that fundamentalists are irritatingly naive in this regard, maybe it's just that their practise of shalom is so limited. Your typical fundamentalist is very good at practising shalom with others within their church community, but not so good with people outside that community, unless they're a project to be saved. However, maybe in a small way they've actually got it right, but what they attribute to God's blessing is really just the natural consequence of living as designed.

You know, I look over what I just wrote, crossing the I's, dotting the T's, trying to make sure it flows, and I think to myself;

"What a bunch of BS".

I mean, what I wrote is 100% true, but do I have any right to criticize anyone? Sure, my outlook might be more generous - I try really hard to treat everyone equally with the shalom of God - but I fail miserably, and regularily. At least a lot of these fundy's are consistently treating those in their tribe with shalom, but is that better or worse than my inconsistent treatment of everyone?

Maybe I need to preface every blog post with those infamous words from Tolstoy:
"Do not judge God's holy ideals by my inability to meet them"
But then he goes on to explain;
"... you preach very well, but do you carry out what you preach?” This is the most natural of questions and one that is always asked of me; it is usually asked victoriously, as though it were a way of stopping my mouth. “You preach, but how do you live?” And I answer that I do not preach, that I am not able to preach, although I passionately wish to. I can preach only through my actions, and my actions are vile. … And I answer that I am guilty, and vile, and worthy of contempt for my failure to carry them out.At the same time, not in order to justify, but simply in order to explain my lack of consistency, I say: Look at my present life and then at my former life, and you will see that I do attempt to carry them out. It is true that I have not fulfilled one thousandth part of them [Christian precepts], and I am ashamed of this, but I have failed to fulfill them not because I did not wish to, but because I was unable to. Teach me how to escape from the net of temptations that surrounds me, help me and I will fulfill them; even without help I wish and hope to fulfill them.
Attack me, I do this myself, but attack me rather than the path I follow and which I point out to anyone who asks me where I think it lies. If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way because I am staggering from side to side! If it is not the right way, then show me another way; but if I stagger and lose the way, you must help me, you must keep me on the true path, just as I am ready to support you. Do not mislead me, do not be glad that I have got lost, do not shout out joyfully: “Look at him! He said he was going home, but there he is crawling into a bog!” No, do not gloat, but give me your help and support.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

A House Without Walls

As stated in my previous post, I will attempt to give an alternate understanding of John 14. Why John 14? This was another section of scripture that was quoted at the funeral I attended which is quoted at a lot funerals for people within the Christian tradition, particularly of the evangelical persuasion. If you are part of a community that values the prospect of everlasting life in paradise above all else, this section is what you are basing that belief on.

First off a disclaimer; I don't know shit. Maybe, everyone else is right and I'm wrong. Could be. And what I'm offering is only one possible explanation of many. But, it seems to me, given the context, it has some merit.

To understand where I am coming from I need to explain one of the fundamental goals of mysticism. All traditions, Christian and otherwise have their mystics; for Christians it's people like Augustine, Theresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, and even C.S. Lewis. Muslims have the Sufis like Rumi. Buddhist have ... well Buddha ... but others as well. etc. The thing to understand about all these mystics is that their ultimate goal - the reason they are called mystics - is that they are so in tune with God that there is no distinction between them and God. Here are a couple of Sufi quotes to give you the idea;

The Beloved gives us the water of life,
which cures every illness.
In the Beloved's rose garden of Oneness
no thorns survive.
I have heard it said that there is a window
between one heart to another.
But what supports the window
if walls have ceased to exist?

Remove me from myself ,
so that all that remains is you, Beloved.
Take my life so that I can stand in your Presence.
Let all that remains be you.

Nothing exists but you, Beloved.
You are my speech. You are the silence of my mind.
You sleep with me. You walk the path with me.
There is nowhere I can go where you are not.
I have disappeared. Only you remain.
Bulleh Shah

Back to John 14. The key section here is the one where Jesus says that in his father's house are many room, and he goes to prepare a place for [his disciples].
If you start reading this section at John 13 and keep reading to the end of John 17 you get a better idea of what this section is all about. There are two things that Jesus keeps harping about throughout these 4 chapters; One is that his disciples need to follow his example, and the other is that he and the Father are one; if you've seen Him you've seen the Father and vice versa. There are also some mentions of the Holy Spirit coming after he is gone so they know what to do when he's not there.

But it isn't about going to heaven.

To try and get a little clarity on John 14:2, I think you need to jump all the way to John 17:24-26

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

In John 14:2, and throughout these 4 chapters, I think Jesus is speaking as a mystic. He is saying, in parabolic language, that as he and the Father are one, so the disciples are to be as well. That he wants them in the same place (relationally speaking) as he is where there is no distinction between God, or Jesus, or them. When he says to them; "In my father's house are many rooms ... I go to prepare a place for you" he is saying come live with me in complete union with the Beloved where you disappear and only the Father remains; where not only the windows between you and him disappear, but also the walls.