Re-Framing Salvation

I never use the word salvation. It carries too much baggage and bad theology.

salvationSalvation, in the Christian tradition, has come to mean one thing and one thing only: Jesus died for our sins so that we will be saved from hell. And, frankly, I don’t believe in anything in that statement. I don’t believe in hell, so how can I believe that I need to be saved from going there? And I certainly don’t believe that God required a perfect human sacrifice to atone for the sins of humanity. That’s barbaric.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Sadly, as theologian Marcus Borg has said in his book, The Heart of Christianity, this  definition of salvation “hides rather than illuminates the rich meanings of the term in the Bible and the Christian tradition.” Borg proclaims that, “In its broadest sense, salvation … means becoming whole and being healed.” Wow. What a difference.

I think I’ve been spending too much time on the computer lately, because I was comparing this to default settings. Typically, when you get a new computer all the default settings are just right and everything runs great, and then something… some virus, or some button you inadvertently clicked on, or some update… who knows… something happens and your default settings get changed. Suddenly your computer starts doing weird things, it runs slow, or you get the blue screen of death.  It is extremely frustrating, to say the least. The nice thing about computers, though, is that we usually have the ability to go back to the original default settings.

So, I think that the original default setting for humanity is: “We are good.” Even Paul in Ephesians 2:10 says,“We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things God created us to do from the beginning.” Then somewhere along the line someone pushed a proverbial theological button convincing us that our default setting really is: “You are bad and going to hell, UNLESS you do certain things…”

Traditional Christianity would have us believe that there is a checklist to be fulfilled in order to be saved and make it to heaven. They include things like confessing Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, being born-again, being baptized and confirmed, believing in the inerrancy of Scripture, continually confessing your sins and asking forgiveness, going to church, tithing, doing good works.

After examining the scriptures and doing my fair share of research, I’m convinced that the salvation Jesus offered had nothing to do with getting to heaven. What he was offering was transformation.

If I asked you today what you feel you need to be saved from, what would you say? Or to put it another way… what needs transformation in your life? Perhaps it is your health, or your attitude. Perhaps you need help to be healed and let go of guilt, shame, and past hurts. Perhaps you need to feel loved and worthy. Perhaps you feel lost and alone. I imagine the list could go on and on.

Now, think about the parables Jesus told and the things he did. These were the exact types of issues he addressed with people all the time. The lost were found (the parable of the shepherd and sheep, the woman and the coin). The outcast were restored to their families and community (stories of the blind seeing, the lame walking, lepers being cleansed, a bleeding woman being healed). The poor were told they were blessed and loved (the Beatitudes). Sinners were forgiven, their shame and guilt wiped clean (the woman caught in the act of adultery).

Over and over again, Jesus acted in such a way that restored people’s relationships to themselves, to God and to others. That is what it means to be saved. It means we are being transformed as part of a continuous process in this journey we call life. And the transformation is an act of healing and wholeness.

I’m still not going to use the word “salvation.” I don’t know how to release it from the baggage it carries. But knowing the rich underlying meaning is important to me.




Original Blessing

Of all the traditional Christian doctrine, I have always had a problem with doctrine of original sin. In essence, the doctrine of original sin states that ever since Adam and Eve’s disobedience against God in the Garden of Eden, humanity has been born ethically debilitated, and is powerless to rehabilitate itself without the help of God. Honestly, it seems to me that this ridiculous statement, based on taking a myth literally, has been the root of much other bad theology, and has contributed to stunting the spiritual growth of humanity.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

I’d like to believe that the doctrine of original sin has all but disappeared  as an archaic notion, but it is still all around us. It is entangled in so much of our social and spiritual conditioning that it is hard to get rid of.

I received an email from a friend with a headline proclaiming: Erase “Original Sin” From Your DNA...


Marguerite Shuster wrote in Christianity Today, “We are corrupt, and creation suffers a curse on account of Adam and Eve’s lapse—and our own.” (April 19, 2013)

I see in the papers of my students over and over again the statement that they “know they are sinners.” Another woman recently said to me, “I know I’m a sinner and I need Jesus and God in my life to help me to be a better person.”

The doctrine of original sin, conceived of by Bishop Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century, assumed a literal reading of the story of Adam and Eve. But for those of us who take the Bible seriously, not literally, we’ve done our homework, we know that scholars agree that the story of Adam and Eve (in Genesis 2), and the Genesis 1 story of the seven days of creation, WERE MYTHS. Both were written long after the stories of Abraham and Sarah and Moses and the Exodus. The Adam and Eve story was written about 900 BCE while Genesis 1 was written about 500 BCE (during or shortly after the exile as an attempt to proclaim that the God of the Israelites was still ruler of the universe. The Babylonian God may have won the battle – hence the exile – but will not win the war.) Jesus never heard the concept of original sin, nor is it biblical.

Simply because they are myths does not mean they don’t convey truth. Myths are written to convey truths that are hard to explain – they are about our cosmology, social order, ethics, morality, and awe.

If we examine these two stories from the perspective of myth and metaphor we find that share many “truths” of what they believed and how things were:

  • God/goddess is the source of all that is (remember Proverbs 8 says that Wisdom was the skilled artisan at Yahweh’s side at the creation of the world).
  • All that is, IS GOOD.
  • We are creatures of the earth and we are mortal. From the earth we have come and to the earth we shall return.
  • We do toil on the earth and childbirth is painful (that was already the case when the myth was written)
  • Subjugation of woman to men
  • Why the snake crawls on the ground
  • Why the woman and the snake are enemies (not snake and man, which is interesting, I think it serves to denigrate the snake as the ancient symbol of the divine feminine.)

None of these say anything about original sin. I think it would have been wonderful if the church had (instead of original sin) chosen to emphasize our original blessing – we were created good! But that wouldn’t have served nearly as neatly to keep humanity in a position of dependence upon the church. To keep humanity dependent on the priest’s power to forgive sins.  To keep us on our knees asking for forgiveness, but never believing that we could be good enough to have it stick.

Now we’ve had generation after generation of people who were taught, by the church or social osmosis, that their very nature is sinful. I wasn’t raised in the church, but I got the message… you aren’t good enough. Perhaps my parents being raised in the church was enough for that to get passed on to me. Maybe now it is simply part of our genetic makeup in the same way the Irish Potato famine caused an epigenetic change in people that lasted for several generations. The famine stopped, but much of Christianity still touts this spiritually abusive doctrine.

When it has been so ingrained in us that we are inherently faulty, I’m not even sure how we break the cycle. But we must, because there is no such thing as original sin. Our inherent nature is good, not bad. Anger, guilt, shame, hurting others, hurting ourselves, is not our authentic state. Humanity is broken. We’ve been hurt and broken, and in turn have hurt and broken others. But that is not our authentic state.

Underneath all this, at the core of our being where we find our goodness, we also find our sacredness, we find the Divine, we find the pure essence of love. We’ve touched it, we’ve felt it, we’ve lived moments out of it… but then we get sucked back into negative, harmful behaviors.

We cannot give up. We must somehow strive to break this cycle that has hold. We need to remind ourselves, our children, our loved ones that we are GOOD and to be truly ourselves is to be a BLESSING to others.

I heard of a person once whose daily morning prayer was “Let me be a blessing to someone today.”images

What a great prayer! It reminds us of our inherent blessedness, our inherent goodness. It sort of says, “Hey, God, look, I want to live out of my goodness today, so feel free to help create that opportunity for me.”  And once we have stated the intention to live our blessedness, we have prepared ourselves to be aware and watch for those opportunities. Give it a shot.

You are good. You are an original blessing.



What’s Progressive about Progressive Christianity?

Too many people out there think that there is only one way to be Christian. Well, they are wrong. open bookWe are not your grandma’s Christianity. We call ourselves Progressive Christians, even though we’re not into labels. Many of us would prefer not to call ourselves a “church”, much less even remotely align ourselves with what appears to be the dominant version of Christianity in the U.S. today – conservative, rigid, and exclusive.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Being a progressive Christian does NOT mean that one simply has an amphitheater for a church, or a rock band, cool lights and projectors. And please don’t confuse the churches that label themselves “emerging” with “progressive” ones. All of these folks tend to have the exact same theology that they’ve always had, and that’s where I look to see whether a church is progressive or not – their theology. How do they understand God and humanity’s relationship with God?

While Progressive Christians do not hold to a common creed or doctrine, and often have a wide variety of beliefs about the Divine, I do believe that there are certain characteristics that define Progressive Christians:

  • Taking the Bible seriously, not literally. This involves study of context, history, language, and allows for myth and metaphor.
  • A theology based on love, not on fear. A fear-based theology includes anything that makes someone feel guilt, shame, unworthiness, or fear (say, of going to hell). It is not (in my humble opinion) acceptable to say, “God loves you, but you’re going to hell.” That is spiritual abuse.
  • There is more than one path to the Divine. Christianity is NOT the only “right” way. Progressives recognize the validity and worth of many different religious traditions and are not afraid to learn from them.
  • Inclusivity – all people, especially including the traditionally marginalized women and LGBT folks, are considered sacred and are welcomed into the full ministry of these communities.
  • Non-gendered deity. The Divine is recognized to be beyond gender and gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language is used for the Divine. Many are non-theists.
  • Questioning is good. Think about what you believe. Be curious. Ask questions. Keep seeking.
  • Active in social justice and outreach. We must care for those who are oppressed, poor and marginalized.
  • Ecologically-minded. We are one, not only with each other, but with all of creation.

Perhaps the defining feature that is necessary in all of the above points is the desire for growth. Progressive Christians aren’t afraid to think outside of the box, to change, to seek out new ideas and new ways of doing things.

I’ve been accused of not being a “Bible-believer” and not being “Bible-based”. These are code words for “You don’t take the Bible literally, therefore, you don’t follow the Bible the way you should.” And, yet, I find a great deal of wisdom and insight in the Scriptures. At least enough to preach off of every week. Do I dismiss certain passages in the Bible as wrong? Absolutely. I have studied those passages, placed them in their cultural time and place, examined them with my own reason and experience, as well as the insight of scholars and theologians, and am comfortable not giving them authority over my life or our spiritual community.

For me, this is a very rich way to live my spiritual journey.

Love & Light!


God of the Living

I had been drawn to the sacred, spiritual side of life from the time I was little, but what
finally got me in easter_eternitythe doors of the church was the death of my mother.  I was 17 and I had a ton of questions. Being brought up by an atheist, I had nowhere to turn to at home (or so I believed) to ask the tough questions. Why did my mom die so young? Where is she now? Will I ever see her again? Did she know I loved her? I can’t say I found the answers, but I did find a safe, supportive place to ask the questions.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Questions about the afterlife are certainly not new. At the time of Jesus, there were three sects of Jews. The Sadducees were theologically conservative and didn’t believe in resurrection. The Pharisees were more liberal theologically, and did believe in resurrection of the dead. And the Essenes, who were sort of an extremist group and were caught up in their own concepts of cosmic battles and holy war.

Actually, it was only in the 200 years prior to Jesus that the concept of resurrection gained popularity. The Jews were heavily persecuted during this time, and the idea of resurrection explained how the faithful Jews who kept the Law would be rewarded, even though they appear to have died in vain.

In Mark:18-27, the Sadducees, ask Jesus a trumped-up question about the afterlife based on Levirate marriage, which is the custom that if there are brothers and one brother dies after being married, the other brother must marry the widow. So, the question is, if a woman ends up marrying seven brothers (because each husband dies), and she doesn’t bear children to any of them, whose wife is she at the resurrection?

Basically, Jesus tells them, in no uncertain terms, that they are “mistaken.” It just doesn’t work like that. We are changed after we die, we are no longer constrained by the limits or relationships of earthly bodies.

But the part of Jesus’ response that really strikes me is the last part where he says, “As to the raising of the dead, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Sarah and Abraham, the God of Rebecca and Isaac, the God of Leah and Rachel and Jacob? God is the God of the living, not of the dead. “

Now remember, all those folks were dead when God was talking to Moses, yet God says “I AM the God of…” not “I was the God of…”

God is the God of the living, not of the dead.

Not even the living and the dead. All are ONE, all are living souls, to the Divine.

Psalm 139 says, “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you’re there; if I make my bed in Death, you’re already there.”

We all have our own ideas, beliefs, feelings and thoughts about what happens after we die, and that is fine. As far as I know there is no definitive answer. So, let me posit something that I have no proof for, though I think it falls in line with what Jesus is saying. As always, you can feel free to disagree with me.

It is my belief (today) that the Divine is beyond time and space. God is eternal.  God is fluid, not material or temporal. It makes sense to me that we, in these bodies, occupy a space within eternal time that is liminal and transient. When we exit the material plane (aka, die) we enter back into the wholeness of eternity, back into the fluidity of the Divine.

The Celtic believe, and I agree, that there is a metaphorical veil between this liminal world and the non-liminal world. Between this dimension and the next. When death draws near, or in certain places and times, the veil is thinner and we get a feeling, or a glimpse of the other for a moment. The two exist simultaneously, and while the fluid Divine is in all places at once, that veil and these bodies keep us in the material world for now.

Eternity is now. Has always been and will always been. We have always been and will always be a part of it.