"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, 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.

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.