Friday, August 26, 2005

What would Jesus say, do?

The other day when Pat Robertson made his rather bizarre comments about killing Venezuela's president, I immediately thought... "What would Jesus say?" Rather than debating whether something is biblical or not (which often depends on one's interpretation or personal biases), I usually go the more direct route and try to visualize Jesus of Nazareth either shaking his head forcefully and frowning or nodding slowly with a slight grin on his face.

In the case of Pat, I regularly visualize a frowning Jesus.

I've been thinking about Jesus and Scripture a lot lately. I've been focusing on the many times that Jesus set aside the Torah and opted to respond to human need. There seems to have been a pattern within Jesus' thoughts and actions when it came to following the Law or giving his love and compassion to human beings. The pattern is that love and compassion always won out.

In the third chapter of Mark and the sixth chaper of Luke, Jesus was quoted as having said... "The law was made for man, not man for the law, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath".

There is sometimes a tendency to view Scripture as infallible, inerrant because supposedly it is the "Word of God", rather than the human interpretation or experience of God's wisdom (... my preference, of course). In my opinion, when this happens the danger is that we may be tempted to view Scripture as God and ultimate Truth, rather than something pointing to God and ultimate Truth. In other words, we start to worship, idolize Scripture... and that is precisely what Jesus was critical of. That is precisely what I view as dangerous within Christianity.

In the words of one of my favorite authors, Fr. Joseph F. Girzone... "Where there is a human need the law must bend. It is God's children who are sacred to God, not laws. Laws are to protect or assist God's children. If a law does not do that, it should be re-evaluated, and, perhaps, abrogated."

"One cannot help but think of religious laws and customs today that may have had meaning at one time but are a hindrance to the healthy practice of spirituality in our times. This is not to say that morality should change, but there are many religious laws that have nothing to do with the moral law. They are merely arbitrary ordinances that could be changed. Often people's attachment to traditions and customs resist changing them even though they may cause of occasion untold damage to many good people. When religious leaders see the damage done, one would think as good shepherds concerned for the sheep they would be the first to recognize the need for change. It is difficult to understand their obsessive attachment to customs and practices when they more often give rise to scandal than inspire goodness. It might do well for the religious leaders of all the denominations to re-evaluate practices that are totally out of sync with the mind and spirit of Jesus, and which many good people no longer observe because they know they are foreign to the mind of Jesus."

One can twist Scripture to support any thought process, any speech, or any action in which one might choose to engage. Some are laughably, obviously twisted and un-Jesus-like... such as Pat's comments about Hugo Chavez. Others are more debatable.

Again, though, my litmus test is always... "What would Jesus say (and do)?"... based on what we know of Jesus' personality and teachings.

Original blessing

I am currently reading Matthew Fox's book, Original Blessing. I like Fox's exploration of the myth of "original sin", on which so much of Christian doctrine is based. Probably the guy that has harmed Christianity is Augustine with this invention of his. So much of Christian thinking is based on the inherent sinfulness of humanity, based on original sin, and the need for atonement. This whole concept God becoming incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth for the sake of him/her becoming the ultinate blood sacrifice to make up for the fall of Adam and the passing on of original sin has always sounded silly to me. But I always thought, "What the heck... nice story."

Unfortunately, the story has done a lot of damage because it has been used throughout the centuries by the Church to make people feel unworthy, guilty, and inherently evil. The focus has been on attaining "salvation" from this evil through acceptance of the ultimate price that God/Jesus paid to rescue us. The line goes, "By accepting that Jesus Christ died for our sin(s), we are cleansed and thus saved."

It is refreshing to read the contrary view that humankind is essentially good because we are the perfect and divine product of God's creation. Creation theology is much much older the the theology based on Adam's fall. It is positive rather negative.

The problem for traditional Christianity is that does not provide the same opportunity to coerce people into following the teachings of the Church. Take away guilt and feelings of being unworthy, and people perhaps don't need the Church as much. It also makes it much more difficult to explain the Incarnation, the Death, and the Resurrection. What's the point of the God's sacrificial lamb when human's have nothing for which to atone? What's the point of this myth when the relationship between God and his/her creation has always been just fine, thank you. God created us as an act of love, grace. We were "originally blessed", not originally damned.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"Do-it-yourself" religion

A few days ago, I ran across a quote from Pope Benedict that disturbed me. It was taken from a speech he gave before the World Youth Day festival in Cologne, Germany. The Pope acknowledged growing frustration and dissatisfaction with the institution of the Church, and the phenomenon of a growing interest in "religion". His problem is that the religion people are increasingly turning to has little or nothing to do with traditional religion.

He's probably alluding, at least in part, to some of the post-modern thinking which is gaining ground these days, questioning many of the core tenets of traditional theologies and doctrines. The Pope was quoted as saying, "But religion constructed on a 'do-it-yourself' (DIY) basis cannot ultimately help us."

I have not read the full text of the Pope's address, and I obviously was not present to listen to the tone in which it was given. So I will reserve full judgment as to the Pope's intent. However, I do get the feeling that this yet another effort by the Church to discourage individuals from thinking for themselves and seeking a relationship with God in a way that is not limited to those things that are "authorized" by this earthly institution.

One of the discussions in which I would love to engage has to do with the authority of Church and the authority of the Bible. To me, the authority of any human institution, tradition, or document is either derived from superior force or from the consent of the people who they serve. The Church will of course claim authority from God. Many also claim the Bible's authority comes from God. But what good is this authority if no one acknowledges this authority? What good is it to have wonderful cathedrals and churches that are empty? What good is this authority when most people regularly ignore the Church doctrines and dogma. What good is this authority when the Church is becoming increasingly irrelevant? Irrelevancy is authority's great enemy.

Increasingly, I am sensing frustration and even desperation within the Church that it no longer has the force that it once did to enforce its rules and regulations, nor does it have the consent of the masses that it once did. My sense is that the reason churches in throughout Europe are empty has less to do with "corruption by popular culture" and more to do with the fact that traditional religion just doesn't make sense to people. It has probably never made much sense in the past, but now people are more willing to question and explore on their own without being fearful.

Another quote that I ran across in my readings is one by Charles W. Slaton in "Biblical Malnutrition & Today's Episcopal Church"... "We should all take issue with the notion that man inherits the right to update and revise Scripture as he sees fit. This is what the revisionist movement is all about, changing God to accommodate man."

Suffice to say, the arrogant tone in this one bothers me even more. No one is seeking to "change God". What people have always sought is to "better understand the mind of God". For better or for worse, all of Scripture doesn't speak to all of us. That does not mean that we are negating or seeking to change God. It simply means that we do not agree with some of the things that a guy or gal wrote a long time ago, and that we prefer to trust the spiritual insights gained through our own personal journeys.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The process of picking and choosing from scripture

There's no question that most of what I know about Jesus originates in the Bible, although I've read much about him within the noncanonical Scriptures as well. Of course, much of what I "sense" is true about Jesus also comes from my observations, discussions, meditations, and readings of works by dozens of theologians and scholars. The totality of this is the core of my "Faith".

I have no problem looking at something that Paul or one of the Gospel writers wrote and saying... "Hmmm, I think he got it right about Jesus" and "Well, I think he kind of blew it... no way the Jesus I know would subscribe to that".

There is nothing that says that I am not free to pick and choose from the Bible. Yes, it may sound "convenient" (maybe perilous)... but that doesn't bother me much. Fear is no longer an active element of my relationship with God.

The Bible was never meant to be a single work that makes sense for everybody throughout all the ages... It is the end-product of many unique and diverse documents assembled, edited, and translated over many years by various councils, motivated by many things (not always God). Thus, I do not feel bound to the work in its entirerity.

Whenever I sense a writer in the New Testament going down a path that runs contrary to unconditional and complete love, forgiveness, and acceptance for all (... especially "sinners"), then my radar automatically goes up. It's that simple. Scripture is
a tool for helping find the way, based on the teachings of Jesus.

Some Scripture is more helpful than others. And some Scripture is completely unhelpful.

Jesus' message vs scripture

There are choices to be made with regard to Scripture and with regard to one's life. With regard to Scripture, there are many choices to be made because "in my view" it is inconsistent and just plain misguided (... okay okay, wrong) in so many cases. I do not adhere to the concept of Bible inerrancy. One can use Scripture to support any cause. Unfortunately, this has been the case throughout history, and millions of people have suffered and died because something was considered to be "biblical".

With regard to the manner in which we live our lives, there are also many choices to be made. No question about that. In my opinion, however, there are two basic choices. There are choices that bring you closer to the Source of all creation and thus closer to each other. And there are choices that create distance between you and the Source of all creation and thus greater separation between us. The first set of choices bring us closer to realizing the true Kingdom of God (... salvation, enlightenment). The second set prevents us from doing so.

Many assume that all of Scripture provides keys to the Kingdom of God. I do not subscribe to this assumption. I do not believe that all Scripture is inspired by God.

I believe that the teachings of Jesus were/area inspired by the Holy Spirit. I believe they hold the key to Truth. I believe that the power and the beauty of Jesus' message of love and inclusion is its simplicity. I believe that the sad part of Christianity is that its leaders and its masses have consistently paid only lip service to the message because it runs so contrary to our ego-based tendencies. Chrisitianity all too often uses Scripture to find "loopholes" to side step the full implementation of Jesus' message, teachings. That is why humanity, at its core, has not evolved very much.

We still do not love unconditionally. We still do not forgive completely. We still practice hatred. We still seek revenge. We still judge each other. We still use religion and the Bible to condemn
things that we are uncomfortable with or fearful of. We still use religion and the Bible to validate those things we find familiar and comfortable.

Most of my choices in life are based on the simple question... "What would Jesus do?" If the answer I receive seems to run counter to certain verses in the Hebrew Scriptures or something written by one or more of the faith communities that wrote the Gospels known as Mark, Matthew, Luke and John or one of Paul of Tarsus' letters to some of the early followers of The Way, then the choice is easy.

In all honesty, the idea of "pleasing God" is not even a consideration for me. My primary motivator is being One with God. I would imagine that that closeness is "pleasing" to the Creator because that is the most natural state of being... in my view. I do not see following a set of behavorial do's and do not's written 2,000 to 3,500 years ago by Jewish communities as a prerequisite to pleasing God.

On self-righteousness

I think we as human beings should be able to disagree on issues without turning against each other. Obviously, this has usually not been the case throughout human history, which is why there continue to be wars and conflicts... and which is why religious institutions/communities continue to divide and go their separate ways.

One would think that institutions whose primary focus is supposed to be spiritual would distinguish themselves from the ways in which other earthly institutions act. Not so.

I think that so long as we continue to have the mentality that "ours is the right way, and the only way"... and that we are superior and preferred by God over all others (... in other words, that we are special), then we will continue to be blind to the idea that we are all One and headed in the same direction, albeit at different speeds.

I believe that it is precisely this mentality that will keep humans from evolving to the point where we can disagree in a manner that is so filled with love, understanding, kindness, and compassion that we can remain family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and yes... members of the same faith community.

Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the direction the Anglican Communion is heading. In my opinion, the reason for this is that the focus of the ongoing debate has been on "sin" (... the idea of "displeasing God") as dictated by tradition, a few passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, and a few passages in letters from a guy named Paul who lived 2,000 years ago. All of this has superceded love, understanding, kindness, and compassion -- all that "Jesus stuff".

Again, I just don't think we have evolved very much. We know what we need to do. We know what Jesus taught us to do. We just can't seem to do it on a large scale. We just can't seem to accept that our human differences are irrelevant, given that we are all One in the Spirit.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


I am still relatively new to the missions field, and thus I am still trying to grasp why it is that mission is so important... "Why are we engaged in this activity?"

I for one am not in it to convert anyone to Christianity. That's just not my thing. Besides, the people we help through our mission work are already Episcopalians. We'd be preaching to the choir. No sense in that.

I certainly understand the concept of helping those in need. So from that simple perspective, mission work makes total sense to me. However, I guess I've been searching for a deeper spiritual meaning to mission work since, after all, I am engaging in it as a member of a spiritual community, a church.

A year ago, I received a partial answer to my question of why we are doing this. It struck me that we are involved in mission work to let our fellow brothers and sisters in Honduras (and in Africa) know that they are not alone, that they can count on us for support.

So far so good. Still, though... not nearly enough.

Today, I came upon some passages in a book ("Your Sacred Self") by one of my favorite spiritual writers, Wayne W. Dyer, that gives me another piece of the puzzle.

The words reinforce much of what I've been reading lately... that we in the world (and the universe) are all One, and One with God. But yet we continue to treat each other as if we are separate from each other and that God is out there "somewhere" looking down on us. And that this is the central reason many of us feel so alone and fearful, and find it difficult and strange (if not impossible) to treat each other (particularly those who are physically and culturally very different) with complete and unconditional love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and (here's the tough one)... nonjudgmentalism.

I humbly believe that we are just not used to the concept of Oneness. Because we see each other primarily as separate physical beings rather than One in the Spirit. I believe that our true nature is spiritual, and that we are experiencing a temporary physical existence. I've always grown up with the view that we are human beings and that eventually we will transform into spiritual beings. I've always believed that this is who we really are. I do not believe that anymore.

I believe we are spiritual, and that we have to learn how to treat each other in a spiritual manner... meaning we have to treat each other as if we are One. Strange, I know. But look, the way we've been treating each other for thousands of years doesn't seem to work very well... so I figure there must be a better way.

The activity that we call "mission work" is one very good way to learn how to become One because the more we engage in it, the more our eyes are open to the fact that we in the world are more alike than different. And that those superficial physical traits to which we subscribe, in the end, mean absolutely nothing.

Here are the passages from Wayne's book that have provided me with some additional pieces of the puzzle...

"It is insane to continue believing that we are a collection of tribes, each with a separate identity and a special mission. It is insane to believe that anyone who does not fit into our particular tribal mentality is a potential enemy."

"We know that there is not a separate God for each of us, or even for each of our tribes. We know that there is a universal divine intelligence that flows through all of us, and in that sacred space within us we are all one and the same. We know that we are spiritual beings trying to learn how to be human. We know that the best within us is love, kindness and compassion."

I have tended to look at mission work as something we do for others, for those who are less fortunate than us. Surely, that is part of it. But increasingly I am seeing that mission work is something we do for ourselves to learn how to be One with each other.

On the opening page of my church's website, it states that we are a "life-transforming" church.

To me, "life-transforming" means truly learning how to treat each other as One in the Spirit, not as different human beings. Mission work in foreign countries like Honduras and regions like Africa offer another dimension to the work that we can and should be doing every day within our home, our workplace, our church, our neighborhood, our city, and our country.