Sacred Cow Tipping

I’ve run into my fair share of Sacred Cows in my time in the ministry. At my first appointment, there was the “Friendship Room” which was decorated and cared for and managed by the women’s group. It wasn’t truly as “friendly” as it sounded… and if you valued your life, you didn’t move the furniture. And of course, there was the Bible on the altar, and the flag in front of the sanctuary, that were never to be moved (because clearly we were worshiping the Bible and the US, not God. Yes, this made me a little crazy.)

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A Sacred Cow (if you need a formal definition) is an idea, custom, or institution held, sacredcowtipping2especially unreasonably, to be above criticism (with reference to the Hindus’ respect for the cow as a sacred animal).

May people hold Sacred Cow beliefs – theologies or philosophies that they won’t compromise on, question or consider changing. It takes some major cow tipping to get some of these folks to budge from their rigidly held beliefs.

The problem with many Sacred Cows is that they hold us stagnant, closed and unwilling to engage a process of self-reflection, analysis and growth, both personally and spiritually. Sometimes having our cows tipped over is the best thing that can happen for our lives and our spiritual journeys. It removes some of the limits that we’ve placed on our thinking and acting, broadens our minds, and brings the possibility for new understandings and a deepening of relationship with the Divine. In a metaphorical way, we need some of our cows tipped over to experience resurrection – new life, new understandings and new consciousness.

Peter is (again) a great example. I think Peter had a lot of Sacred Cows. On Sunday we talked about the passage of Acts 11:1-18 which takes place after the resurrection. Peter was traveling around preaching and baptizing, but he was still keeping Jewish law – especially Jewish Kosher law. (This is somewhat understandable since Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion, but came to revision Judaism.) Peter’s understanding about this law and its role in one’s relationship with God was his Sacred Cow. It took a message from God, via a very vivid dream to understand that what one ate had nothing to do with their relationship with God! But Peter could not experience the fullness of Jesus’ message, he couldn’t experience resurrection (metaphorically) – new life, new consciousness, oneness – with this darn cow in the way. The cow was creating boundaries between people that, for the God of Jesus, were not there.

I looked over my book shelf and realized that every spiritual memoir I have tells the story of how the author had their world views, or theological views shattered. That awakening was tough, but it was the best thing that ever happened to their understanding of the Divine and their spiritual journey. As Sue Monk Kidd says, “The truth will set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.”

We cannot experience resurrection, nor help others to experience resurrection, if our theology is going to hold ourselves, or others, in a contractive place of guilt, shame, anger, fear. Nor if we continue to judge and blame others.

This works on a psychological basis as well.

So, here are the questions this raises for us:

  • What Sacred Cows have been tipped in your spiritual journey?
  • When have you had your world views shattered?
  • What are your Sacred Cows?
  • What makes you defensive the moment people start to question or criticize that belief or practice?
  • On what beliefs or practices are you unmoving? Rigid? Uncompromising?
  • Do they hold you in a contractive place, or are they truly expansive beliefs that helps you to grow and embrace positive aspects of life and faith? Do they allow you to experience resurrection – new life, new consciousness, abundance, oneness?
  • Where might you be holding yourself in judgment, blame, shame, fear?
  • What do we need to give up, let go of, or tip over to experience resurrection?

Be aware that if we don’t make an effort to open up ourselves, the Spirit likes to tip over Sacred Cows, and it is usually really uncomfortable. Still it is necessary for growth!

Love & Light!


I’m a believer

Are you a believer?

Honestly, those words are enough to strike fear into my heart. A friend sat down in her airline seat and greeted the person sitting next to her, who responded by asking “Are you a believer?”

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This is typically code for “Do you believe in Father God, that Jesus died for your sins, that women shouldn’t be pastors, being gay is a sin, there is only one right way to God (and they know what it is) and the Bible is the inerrant authoritative word of God for all time?”

My first instinct is to run. They are welcome to their views, but I prefer to avoid being told my way of understanding God is wrong. Of course, the safe thing to say (to avoid the discourse about giving your heart to Jesus so you won’t go to hell) is simply, “Why, yes, I am a believer. How nice of you to ask.”

Belief is a tricky thing, and I probably have more questions about it than answers:

How do we come to belief?
What do we believe?
Why do we believe?
What does it mean to believe?
What would it take to stop believing?

The book of Acts is full of stories about how the early church spread, and how people came to believe. PaulThe story we read yesterday was the infamous story of Saul’s conversion where, with a flash of light and the disembodied voice of Jesus, Saul is struck blind (a metaphor for people who couldn’t see the truth of Jesus). Saul is duly freaked out and repentant and spends the next three days fasting and praying. After which Ananias cures him, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and baptized. And the rest, as they say, is history.

[Interestingly enough, Paul himself never talks about his conversion experience in his letters.]

So, the stories tell us that Paul believed because of this amazing conversion experience. Thomas and the other disciples believed because of personal mystical experiences with the Risen Christ. And many other people came to belief because of signs and wonders that the disciples or Jesus performed.

If I were to ask you why you believe, how would you respond? Do you believe because of an instantaneous conversion, like Saul/Paul? (If you’re curious, no one at worship yesterday claimed this to be the case.) Do you believe because you were brought up in the church? Do you believe because of personal mystical experiences? Or are you simply erring on the side of caution and considering belief to be an insurance policy just in case there is a God and afterlife?

Then my next question is what do you believe? If you were to write a personal credo what would it say? What do you believe about God? Jesus? The Holy Spirit? What is your relationship to these three? What does communion mean for you? Why do bad things happen? What happens after we die? How should we live? (Those should get you started!)

Perhaps you don’t know… and then I think the questions are worth sitting with. Part of the spiritual journey (I believe) is bringing to consciousness what you believe about your spirituality, and about the theology and doctrine in the religion you follow. Consciousness takes us out of the superficiality of just going to worship, or taking our kids to church because it is the “right” thing to do, or getting to know the pastor so you have someone to do your funeral. Consciousness is taking our spiritual journey seriously.

Our beliefs about the Divine and our spiritual lives are important because our words, actions and behaviors are an outgrowth of what we believe. If one believes that God is unconditionally loving and forgiving and that all people are of sacred worth, then their actions should be filled with love, compassion and forgiveness. If one believes in heaven and hell, then they may find themselves speculating about who around them is going where, or perhaps condemning certain people to that place of fiery torment.

I challenge you to write a personal credo (belief statement). But, please, do not simply recite the creeds. Write it in normal language and be specific. If you believe that Jesus died and was resurrected, fine, but what does that mean to you? Was he resuscitated? Was it metaphorical? Can you experience Jesus’ spirit today and how do you? If you believe God is unconditionally loving, what does that mean for you? Get it?

I encourage you to really think things through. You may not have all the answers, in fact, I hope you don’t. Our questions keep us growing. And it is best to remember that what you believe today, if you are intentional about your spiritual journey, will continue to change and evolve.  I wrote my own personal credo about 8 years ago, and, while I still believe what I wrote then, the new one I wrote it much different. That’s a beautiful thing.





Many Faces of Doubt

This last Sunday we heard the story of doubting Thomas (John 20:19-31), again. I wasn’t going to Thomaspreach on it and then I was reminded that doubt is everywhere, it is in our very nature, and has many different faces. Things we’ve heard or learned, things that have happened in the world, ways we’ve experienced grief or pain, things that we, ourselves, have said or done…so many many things lead us to doubt the presence of the Divine. The more I thought about it, the more amazing I realized it is that we believe in a Divine Essence at all.

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I can name as many times of doubting God as the next person. Any one of my episodes of doubting could have taken me off the deep end where I would not only give up on the church, but give up on God as well. But I have come to understand that what I am really doubting is who or what I think God is, not the actual existence of God. I doubt what I’ve been told, and taught, and absorbed about God. I’ve doubted the Bible, and the creeds, and church doctrine. I questioned what I had been told were the facts about God: God is in control, God will protect us, God doesn’t let bad things happen to good people, God is all-powerful, be good and God will reward you.

So, here’s an interesting thought… the word that is translated “doubt” conveys more than just skepticism. It conveys a lack of trust in or loyalty. Jesus never asks Thomas to believe in a set of doctrine. Jesus asks Thomas for heart-felt trust in him; and, in the Gospel of John, this means believing that Jesus and God are mystically One. If Thomas can’t believe that, then how will he be able to experience that unity himself?

Pastor Sean Gilbert, in an article in Seasons of the Spirit, wrote “According to the post-Easter story, what was at stake for Thomas – and now what is critical for the contemporary church – is not a pure and watertight belief system, but a radically open heart and mind.”

What if we approach our doubts with a radically open heart and mind? What if we used the distinctly uncomfortable place of questioning the existence of God as an opportunity to expand our thinking? To analyze what we’re struggling with, to read, to pray, to study, to talk to people, then reformulate and rethink our understanding of the Divine.

Plenty of people have taken the easy way out and given up on God. I am not one of those people. And you must not be either because you’re reading this!

Joan Chittester, in her book Between the Dark and the Daylight, shares this story:

Once upon a time, there was a bird that sheltered in the withered branches of an old tree that stood in the middle of a vast deserted plain. One day a whirlwind uprooted the tree. The bird was bereft. What would he ever do now? Where could he go? There were no other trees in sight. There were no berry bushes in this place. There were no companions with whom to flock for support. Alone and distraught, he flew and flew and flew hundreds of weary miles in search of sanctuary. Almost in despair and ready to give up, he suddenly saw it. There, over the last dune, was a forest of young trees. Each of them heavy with fruit. And thus began a whole new life.

Of course, there was no certainty for the bird that the next tree would be there for the rest of its life, either. And so, like our ideas about God, they serve us well for a while, and then it is time to move on to improved understandings and deeper knowledge.

Times of doubt and unbelief can become places of growth. It is our choice. Will we give up or will we rethink our understanding of God? Will we give up or search for the answers to the tough questions? Will we give up or grow?

Love & Light,