Knee Deep in a River

“We go through life parched and empty… standing knee deep in a river, dying of thirst.”

I heard those words, sung by Kathy Mattea, and thought about the deep truth embedded in them. The goodness of life surrounds us. The Holy One surrounds us. That which can nourish our souls and cause us to cry out in wonder surrounds us. Yet we are perfectly capable of walking through life feeling a holey piece of Swiss cheese, searching for that which will fill the empty place in us and quench our thirst for that magical drink to sustain us. We’ve forgotten how to see and we’ve forgotten how to dip our cup into the water around us.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

The brink of Thanksgiving Day is the perfect time to remember that living life with gratitude is like constantly scooping water into our cup and drinking heartily. Let’s face it, we could all be a lot better about being grateful for all that we have. Beauty, blessing, love, hope, abundance, joy and light are all around us, but we often take them for granted, or we’re so caught up in our egos and troubles that we can’t see them. Plus the commercial advertising industry is doing its best to make us believe that our appreciation should be about things we have, or at this time of the year, things we can get for a really good deal. But true appreciation feeds the soul and lightens the heart.

In Philippians 4:7-9, Paul has a nice little five point formula that we might find helpful.

  1. Rejoice for God is near!
  2. Dismiss anxiety because why would we worry if God is near?
  3. Present our needs through prayer (trusting that God is near and will take care of us).
  4. Give thanks “in” not “for” all the circumstances of our lives (thus lifting us out of our problems for the moment, giving the Divine a chance to work because we’ve let go of control for a second, and giving us a slightly more positive perspective on life which is good).
  5. Find peace, the kind that only God can give (because if we’re so focused on being worried and anxious about many things, we’re back to standing knee deep in water dying of thirst!)

I know it is all much more difficult than Paul makes it sound. Authentic gratitude (not just saying the words) takes practice. So, what would happen if you tried for one day – just ONE day – to live in a space of gratitude? No matter what your circumstances may be, could you try to focus on being grateful for a day? Let go of your worries and anxieties. Let go of your expectations and need to control. Let go of the things that go “wrong”. Recognize the life-giving river that you are standing in. Dip your cup in the water and drink. I encourage you to try it… maybe even on Thanksgiving day. Hmmm… now there’s an interesting concept.

Peace,  Kaye

Jesus – God or man?

I don’t believe Jesus is God. There. I’ve said it. That probably would have gotten me burned at the stake during the Inquisition. In fact, after I said this in worship yesterday a few folks wanted to know if one could still be Christian and believe that. I’ve struggled with that question myself, and have come to the conclusion that yes, I can be a Christian and not believe Jesus is God. Certain kinds of Christians I’m certain would disagree. But for me, being Christian simply means that Jesus and his teachings are the primary spiritual path we are following.

(To listen to the full audio version, click here.)

Let me unpack my comment a little bit.

To backtrack, the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE definitively answered this centuries old question of Jesus’ humanity and divinity by determining that Jesus was fully human and fully divine: “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.” There were great reasons to declare this, not the least of which was that if you were going to institute a new state religion your new God had better be bigger and better than the last one. And ever since this has been the plumb line for “right belief” on the question of who Jesus was.

I’ve always had questions and doubts about some of this. I never really bought the Virgin Birth, though it’s a nice story to work with. I’ve never believed that God required Jesus as a perfect human sacrifice for our sins, in the same way that an ancient God might demand we throw a virgin in a volcano to make it rain. Jesus has not been the object of my worship. And, I have not used Jesus as an intermediary to God, nor prayed to Jesus.

I ask myself if Jesus wanted to be thought of as Divine, if he wanted to be worshiped. And the answer is always no. Jesus was always pointing beyond himself to God. What I think has confused people most is the number of times in the Bible where we hear that God was in Jesus and he was in God. For me, it is simply a very mystical way to say that we all have the divine spark in each of us.

It’s like this… have you ever used walkie-talkies? Well, to hear the other person you need to be on the same frequency, right? To use this metaphor, I believe that God operates at one frequency and that, we as human beings each operate at our own frequencies, but occasionally – through prayer, meditation, worship, a walk in the woods, an experience of love or just sheer grace – we bump into the frequency of God. If we’re really lucky we get to go with that for a little bit, but usually the world pulls us back out of that frequency. Still, while we are there we have a moment of clarity, communion, oneness with all of creation, awe, wonder, peace, love. Those brief moments are enough to keep us searching for more.

To continue the metaphor, I believe that Jesus simply operated at the God frequency the majority of the time. He was one of those special people who could stay connected regardless of what was going on around him.

I believe that Divine frequency flows through each of us. When Jesus says, “The words I speak are not spoken of myself; it is God, living in me…” (John 14:10) I believe that he was so tapped into the Source that he spoke with profound authority and wisdom. This may sound terribly conceited, though I say it with all humility, there have been times when I’ve finished worship and thought, “Wow, I have no idea where those words came from.” They weren’t planned, but they just flowed, and I would have a sincere feeling that it went better than I could have created on my own. That doesn’t happen all the time, but I get what Jesus is saying.

In moments when we connect with our Source, we are one with the Divine. Inasmuch as Jesus seemed to be connected to the Divine almost constantly, he was one with the Divine. He was in God and God was in him. And in that interconnectedness, there is also an understanding that there is no difference between any of us, we are all connected. We are all one.

So, here’s the kicker… Jesus was human AND Jesus was divine AND SO ARE WE!

In my opinion, the meaning of his life and ministry for us in the 21st century begins when we stop holding Jesus at arm’s length because, “he-is-God-and-we-are-merely-imperfect-humans-and-we-need-to-worship-him” box and wrap our heads around the fact that we are just like Jesus. In John 14:12, Jesus says, “If anyone has any faith in me, if you believe what I’m saying, then you must know that you can do the works I do and even greater.” Yes.

Given his connection with the Divine and the loving, compassionate, justice-filled way he lived his life, he is the greatest example we could ever have. And he has much more impact on our lives as an example and mentor than as a god.

There was a pastor who once said that “some people will tell you Jesus is only an example for how we should live, but anyone can be an example.” Baloney. Being an example does not diminish who Jesus was or is. We don’t find many people who are examples like him. I know I fall far short.

Jesus is an example of how to live out of a deep, intimate connection to the Divine whether we are at work, with our children, encountering someone who we don’t like, faced with the outcasts of our society, struggling with a love relationship, advocating for justice, or tempted by the desires, worries and fears of this world. No matter where he was, he sought to share the love of God and to transform lives through that love. We can do that, too!

Peace, Kaye

The God Box

It figures. The “Let Me Out Of Here” box toy I bought as a prop for yesterday’s sermon about God was broken. You see, when you push the button, the box is supposed to shake and then you hear knocking and a voice scream out, “‘Scuse me, ‘scuse me… can you let me out of here!” Sadly, as soon as you put the batteries in mine it begins to go off and doesn’t stop. Perhaps that’s apropos, after all, I think I’ve been trying to get God out of the box forever. Well, maybe not forever, but that’s how it feels.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Not only was my God Box broken, but it scared the dickens out of one little boy at children’s time who went tearing off down the aisle. Maybe that’s appropriate, too. Maybe we’re all a little afraid to examine the box that we’ve put God in. Let’s back up for a bit.

Scripture and the church have given us a very interesting box within which is contained a conglomeration of characteristics of God –  many of them seemingly contradictory. This is by no means complete, but here is a sampling of what that God looks like in the traditional box:

  • God is not partial, yet God is gracious to those who obey, but full of wrath for those disobey (Deut. 10:17, Ezra 8:22)
  • God is loving, yet God will test you and send an evil spirit to torment you (1 John 4:8, Deut. 13:3 1 Sam. 15)
  • God is light with no darkness, yet God is a devouring fire and a jealous God (1 John 1:5, Deut. 4:24)
  • God is for us and with us, but God will judge us and send us to hell if we screw up (Gen 21:22)
  • God is male (this has caused a multitude of issues over the centuries)

Over the centuries, the church has discouraged spiritual seekers from questioning this box. To challenge and question, to believe something different, these were seen as blasphemous and heretical. But if our goal is to grow spiritually, then we need to be able to explore our images for God and determine if they make sense in our hearts.

So, here is my thought for today… it is actually somewhat unimportant whether the Divine exists or not. What IS important is our God-image (the God box we’ve constructed for ourselves) because our God-image is a dynamic force in our well-being – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and physically. The God-image that we create, or buy into, affects how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the world.

Think about it… if our God is loving, yet judgmental, prone to anger and insists that one be obedient to him as the only God, how are we likely to behave? We may say we love people, but our love may be colored with judging others, determining if their actions are good enough for heaven, saying things like we “love the sinner and hate the sin,” having an exclusive church that “knows” who is good and who is bad, who is in and who is out.

Inside ourselves, we may never feel good enough when we believe that God is always judging our actions. We are likely to lack self-esteem and self-worth because, while we believe God loves us and is faithful, that only really counts if we love God enough, if we’re good enough, if we’ve behaved enough.

If we believe in the kind of God who tests our faith, then every challenge in life becomes a test from God to determine if we are good enough, faithful enough, worthy of heaven or rewards or blessings. Sadly, we know that we can never be perfect (no one is), so deep within we may live with a shame and unworthiness.

But if our God-image believes in an unconditionally loving God, then that looks completely different. This God-image would lead us to understand that God loves all people regardless of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, favorite football team, eye color, or country of origin. Hopefully, then, our behavior would follow suit and we would accept others without judging. And from a personal perspective we would know that, no matter what, God loves us. We are good enough. We don’t have to beat ourselves up over our mistakes. We can concentrate on healing, and seeking wholeness without getting stuck in our mistakes.

Walter Kania in Healthy Religion states, “The spiritual journey consists in the search for the truth about oneself, life, and the universe. Finding truth does not occur by locking oneself behind the walls of tradition, irrationality, or obedience to a closed system.”

Most of you have already given yourselves the permission… but if not, I’m giving you the permission to explore your God-image. What box do you have God in? Is it healthy for you? What might need to change in your God-image so that you can live more fully, more lovingly and in a way that heals and makes you whole?

Peace, Kaye

 

Religion vs. Spirituality

I began my message on Sunday by asking the congregation to define religion and spirituality. The characteristics of religion that they listed included: dogmatic, rigid, external, knowing, controlling, man-made, rules, rituals, exclusive, organized, social community, and hierarchical. The characteristics of spirituality included: interior, individual, open-ended, experience, inclusive, freedom, peace, feeling joy and love, and intangible. Sadly, Christian culture has consistently emphasized religion and right belief over spirituality and exploration, even though Jesus (I would suggest) was by far more spiritual than religious.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

For Jesus the Kingdom of Heaven was within, loving was the highest ideal to strive for, he spoke to and had physical contact with women, children, the sick and the outcast even though that was against Jewish cleanliness laws. Jesus constantly condemned the religious leaders of the day for being so stuck in their laws as to forget how to be loving and compassionate. In the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, found within the 50 years among Nag Hammadi scrolls in Egypt, Jesus implores his followers, “Beyond what I have already given you, do not lay down any further rules nor issue laws as the Lawgiver, lest you too be dominated by them.” And, yet, Christianity has done just this. It has insisted that we believe in doctrine such as original sin, transubstantiation, the trinity, and the virgin birth, when Jesus said nothing about these things. His “law” was simple, love God and love your neighbor as yourself. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

Many of you have heard me say that when I started seminary 21 years ago I expected to receive all the answers about God, Jesus, religion and church. I’m sure there are seminaries that would have gladly given me the answers to those things, but I was blessed to have gone to a seminary where they weren’t afraid to teach me to be critical, to question, to challenge, to look at the historical context, to delve deep into the text and the culture, the traditions and the doctrine. In hindsight, I don’t believe they took it far enough, still I learned that there are no hard and fast answers – that was probably the hardest thing, but the most important thing for me to learn.

As I began my work as a pastor, I was exciting to have all kinds of tools for digging deep into scripture and meaning. I was looking forward to a spiritual exploration with people of faith. But I was not prepared for people who didn’t want to do that kind of work. There was a deep fear of asking questions, fear of suggesting that doctrine (that Jesus had nothing to do with) was irrelevant, fear of exploring other ways of looking at God and our spiritual journeys. The indoctrination to be religious NOT spiritual is so strong that the opposite is looked at as heretical and blasphemous.

What I have finally received here at Sacred Journeys is a place where people aren’t afraid to question, explore, learn and challenge. I think churches are afraid that their religions will die if they allow people this freedom… but perhaps it is simply time for the churches to evolve into something that helps people to connect with God at a deeper level. To understand that we need to seek God within ourselves, not be ruled by a God who is outside ourselves. To emphasize intuition, meditation, personal time with God. To truly study scripture so as to understand it more deeply, not just take it at face value with a literal interpretation. To give ourselves freedom and authority over our own spiritual paths. To glean spiritual knowledge from many different paths and people. To simply follow the two commandments that Jesus said were the most important – love God and love your neighbor – and let the rest of our lives fall into place.

Peace, Kaye