Learning what to believe

There is an interesting opportunity that comes with forming a new spiritual community that has no ties to any denomination, we are not bound by specific institutional doctrine or dogma. In fact, we formed the community, in part, to get away from it. For me, that means that I’m not expected to preach certain “traditional” theological belief systems. Now, mind you, I wasn’t very good at preaching traditional doctrine even when I was in the institutional church. But this is like having a “Get Out of Jail Free” card!

As I approach Holy Week, I feel a freedom to explore these events in a way that I couldn’t before. I feel free to ask questions that couldn’t be tackled out loud. As a result, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter are taking on new life and new meaning for me. I find it exciting – but I’m a theological geek in that respect.

In the readings for my Religion class last semester I found this wonderful quote from Buddha:

Do not believe what you have heard.

Do not believe in tradition because it is handed down many generations.

Do not believe in anything that has been spoken of many times.

Do not believe because the written statements come from some old sage.

Do not believe in conjecture.

Do not believe in authority or teachers or elders.

But after careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it.

How wonderful! Don’t believe in something just because you’re told to believe in it, but weigh it with what you know and experience, and see if it is based in love for everyone. Yes, that takes a lot more work that listening to the pastor on Sunday morning and simply buying everything they say. Yes, it takes more work than blindly believing every word of the Bible to be true. But, I believe this type of engagement with one’s faith brings us to deeper levels of truth, because we learn to trust the truth and knowing that already lie deep within each of us.

In the next week or so I will attempt to share some of what I’m learning and discovering, but I hope that you’ll join us at Meadowbrook Country Club for worship if you are able:

Palm Sunday, 10 a.m.

Good Friday, 7 p.m.

Easter Sunday, 8 a.m.

Peace, Kaye

What to do with atheists…

I was raised by an atheist, and no, I haven’t been completely scarred for life because of it. My dad was raised Methodist, my mom was raised Catholic (squirrel: that’s an interesting story… her parents didn’t actually go to church with her because they couldn’t afford to get married in the church, so as far as the Catholic Church was concerned they were living in sin and weren’t allowed to take the sacraments). When they got married my mom became Methodist, then my dad promptly decided he was an atheist (at least that’s how I remember the story).

My father wasn’t exactly a quiet atheist, either. I distinctly remember him inviting the roving Jehovah’s Witnesses into the house to argue with them about the existence of God. But, he assured me that if I ever wanted to go to church or learn more about Jesus, I was perfectly welcome to do so. Yea, right.

Having this history, and having broken out of the mold (so to speak), one would think I’d have a better clue about what to say to atheists. I don’t. I was never much good at debate (ask my high school friends), and in some ways I completely sympathize with their viewpoint. If it’s an Old Testament God full of vengeance, wrath, jealousy and judgment that they don’t believe in, well, neither do I. If it’s a doctrinal God, who is only concerned that we follow the rules of the church in order to get to heaven, that they don’t believe in, well, I don’t believe in that God either. Perhaps no one ever explained to them that there were different ways to understand God, even a Christian God.

My dad does take credit for the fact that I doubt and question everything, and that includes the Bible. I used to think that was heresy, but then I discovered that the Bible was written by men (duh), has tons of contradictions, used myth and metaphor as standard storytelling methods, and was a people’s experience and understanding of God in that time and culture. Wow. That freed me up to critically read scripture, study it and judge it on its own merits and on the basis of love. In the midst of doing that I found an unconditionally loving God, and guidance in the stories of Jesus, which inform the way I live.

There is also a deeper part of my belief in God that I was never able to put into words when I was growing up, and I still struggle to articulate it. You see, I didn’t follow my dad’s atheist example because I knew inside of myself that there was something more. That something more is not tied to any doctrine or belief structure… it is the pure energy of love that I call God (sometimes Goddess). How do I know this? That’s the part I can’t explain. I just do. Perhaps I allow myself to experience it. I don’t know, but I sure wish I could give the experience to others.

Peace, Kaye

P.S. Ironically enough, my dad did a complete 180° and is now a very spiritual person, though he doesn’t do the “organized religion” thing… perhaps I’m coming closer and closer to him all the time.

Teaching the Unknowable

I went to a Faculty Forum at Carthage today and listened to the chair of the religion department, Romwald Maczka talk about “Teaching the Unknowable.” Really sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? How does one teach the unknowable? It’s one thing to teach about math or science or english, things that are tangible and measurable, but it’s another thing completely to teach about God. We can study religion, or religious texts, or religious people, but theology – the study of God – becomes a bit more tricky.

It raises the question of how anyone can preach or teach about something that is, by definition, truly intangible and impossible to fully comprehend? I have my own personal “knowing” of God – that which I’ve personally experienced. I have accumulated knowledge based on other’s experiences and understandings of God. And I have done research on religious texts and religions. Awkwardly enough, the more I learn the more I recognize how feeble my attempt is to articulate the fullness of God. I am keenly aware, each time I step up to preach on Sunday morning, how much I still don’t know. Perhaps this explains my reluctance some days… I wonder where I get the audacity to try to say anything about God or spirituality. Yet I feel called to do exactly that. Craziness.

I found this great quote by Kosuke Koyama, from Water Buffalo Theology: “It is of great importance for us to remember that these theological insights are humble theological insights. They are servants, not masters, to the “inexpressible gift” of God in Christ.”

Everything I proclaim about God, I do so humbly, knowing that what I believe today is different then what I believed a few years ago, and will continued to be shaped by future experiences and learning. However, I will say thatat least one thing has remained unchanging in my theological attempts… whatever I believe has to be in line with the unbounded, unconditional love of God. So be it.

~Kaye

Wu Wei

Okay, I confess, I was really preaching to myself yesterday. I always believe every word of what I say Sunday mornings, it’s just that sometimes I need more practice doing what I say than other times. For those of you who missed my sermon yesterday, I preached on the Taoist concept of wu wei, the action of non-action.

Wu wei suggests that, if we can get out of our own way and let go of our need to control, we will cultivate a way of being that connects with the natural ebb and flow of life, and with the movement of God and the universe. Wu wei is the art of “letting-be”; going with the flow. Sometimes we try so hard to make things happen our way, in our time, that we leave no room for the Spirit to work. Letting-be opens up space in our minds and hearts for new possibilities, different ways, and new paths, because we have let go of our preconceived notions and expectations.

There are weeks when I struggle for hours at my computer trying to write my sermon for Sunday. Either I can’t find the right stories, or my words aren’t coming together well; either way, the longer I try to force it to come together, the more frustrated and anxious I become. Finally, I’ll get smart and practice wu wei (I just didn’t know there was a name for what I was doing) and walk away. I’ll let it go for hours or maybe even a day in order to clear space in my head for God to come in and arrange all the pieces to make sense. Typically by the time I feel ready to try again, the stories will have appeared, my ideas have sorted themselves out and my sermon will flow together easily.

As with everything in our spiritual journeys, it comes back to self-awareness. We need to cultivate awareness of when we are striving too hard, practice a little wu wei, and then watch to see how things play out in their natural course. I’m constantly amazed at how well this works… when I let it!

Wu wei! ~Kaye