Tag Archives: Christianity

Literally

I just finished reading the book of Genesis this morning.

I’m not impressed.

My mother, who is my spiritual mentor, told me not to. She told me we’d go through it together soon. She understands that it’s difficult.

Incest. Infanticide. Polygamy. (Which I actually have no problem with, assuming it’s amongst consenting adults!) Lying about a woman being your sister so that your wife ends up in bed with someone else. Floods wrought by God to destroy most of the world. Etc.

I’m cool with myths. I’m cool with parables, with literary interpretation, with grappling with cosmic issues.

But now that I’ve read these stories thoroughly, stories that I’d only heard piecemeal or in children’s stories, now I realize: if you take the Bible LITERALLY, word for word, I-can-quote-it-and-claim-it-as-literal-truth, then I have nothing to say to you.

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”

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Guilty by Association

I quit the Catholic Church when I was 13. Hadn’t really been into it for a few years at that point.

Just joined a Christian church, which is essentially alternative Methodist, a couple of weeks ago.

How much responsibility can I take for the horrors that have occurred in the name of Jesus?

My mother has been a devout and practicing member of the Catholic Church since she joined as a teenager.

How much responsibility must she assume for the horrors done by the decrees or the turned eye of the Pope?

The guilt of the individual as member of a religious group is something I hadn’t considered until recently.

First let me state the ways in which I feel I myself have been harmed in the name of Christianity (mostly by way of Catholicism):

  1.  soul-crushing guilt
  2.  a very dysfunctional and unhealthy view of sex
  3.  an image of a demented, angry, vengeful God who is an old man bent on tricking, coercing, threatening and bribing people to bow down before him. Or else.
  4.  the fear that truth comes from outside, that one cannot listen to one’s own inner voice, that one cannot trust
  5. the guilt and hopelessness that come from the belief that any negative/bad/unpleasant thing that happens is my punishment for being so wicked
  6. a focus on the negative, hell, the evil one, sin, the essential badness of humanity, etc.

I’m sure there are other effects I haven’t even thought of. But I have lately read enough about Jesus by people who seem to genuinely understand him to realize that throwing Jesus out with the bathwater is wasteful for me. For me. Allow me to emphasize, for me. I do not and will not subscribe to the belief that it’s my way or the highway. It’s my way for me, your way for you. If there is some kind of a judgment day, I’m going to have to answer for what I’ve done, and that’s going to be a big enough task without my having to answer for what others have done.

My goal in aligning myself with a Christian church at this point is to have an outlet for the deep desire I have for togetherness, for observable manifestation of Oneness, for the opportunity to serve the community at large through established channels. As much as I profoundly enjoy my solitary study and communing with the One, I know that I must at some point enter the world and apply what I have learned.

Just this morning I read this in the Hua Hu Ching as translated by Master Ni, Hua-Ching:

“My venerable teacher, should one spend all of his time and energy in quiet sitting meditation in order to remain above all worldly conditions and maintain absolute mindedness?

Kind prince, one who spends all of his time and energy in quiet sitting meditation for this purpose is establishing his mind to do something in a certain, definite way. By doing this, he clearly does not practice absolute mindedness, but instead demonstrates the narrowness and partiality of his mind. He cannot reach anywhere or become any kind of super-being. You see, the practice of absolute mindedness is not the practice of stiffness. That which is stiff belongs in the company of the dead, whereas that which is supple belongs in the company of the living. The mind should be like clear water that is always flowing smoothly. One should not designate a specific time or place in which to practice absolute mindedness, but should practice it in all aspects of life, whether essential or trivial.

My venerable teacher, should one intentionally and completely avoid all worldly troubles and activities for the purpose of practicing simplicity and keeping the mind clear?

Kind prince, if there are no worldly troubles and activities, where can one practice simplicity? Simplicity is the key to handling the troubles and activities of daily life. Simplicity is the law; the manifold, multiple forms are the events. Use the law to govern the events. This is the meaning of simplicity in the larger sense.

I want to expand my spiritual studies out from the realm of me, sitting in the early quiet hours of the morning by myself, reading and contemplating, and put them into action in the realm of Us.

Christ Church is, from my current point of view, my best option to achieve this goal.

But I recognize that by entering into association with a group, I am assuming responsibility for things done in the group’s name. Past things I had nothing to do with? Present things that I wasn’t in on the planning of? Future things that my input is not solicited for?

An interesting issue that I will revisit as more insight and information becomes available.

Can’t Stand the Heat; Getting Out of the Kitchen

This photo was recently posted on my friend’s Facebook page:

Kind of a welcome message of sanity after the whole Christian vs. Bible-thumper vs. rational thinker circus that happened here in North Carolina during the Amendment One fiasco.

Here’s a comment that one of her friends posted:

I think you all miss the point and satan is winning by splitting the church. Why is it that agreeing WITH the Bible that clearly states marriage is between a man and a woman AND standing with God now all of a sudden Hate? I think you all need to look in the mirror, seek God to convict your heart and ask the Holy Spirit to help you see and understand exactly what you are being manipulated into. Abortion is losing popularity and we can only pray that legalized murder cloaked as a womans right is stopped soon. Abortion is not birth control, if someone cannot control themself then put God’s child uo for adoption where a loving family can provide the love and care he or she deserves. I do not understand how compromising God’s Holy Word is denying rights there is NOTHING equal about a man and a man being married as there is to a man and a woman being married. Are we really trying to become a nation of Soddom and Gamora, really? We know where it got them… Please pray about this, Please.

To which one can only respond, “Heavens to Betsy!”

But after the opposing view had its say, this wise soul added a smidgen more (which I edited to eliminate personal details that might identify the original poster or the commenter) (also, I don’t actually expect you to read this whole slew of nonsense, just put it here to make my point):

There are several verses in the bible, and before I begin I am not trying to take a stand of hate, I pray for anyone that struggles with homosexual feelings just as I do for someone that struggles with alcohol, drugs, not knowing Christ as their personal savior, the first 3 are sins and the bible states if you are living in sin knowingly it is detestable to God, whether homosexuality, alcohol or drug addiction. Continuing to practice without a desire to turn from it or change is not accepting Christ so it is not just the homosexual that risks not going to heaven it is anyone that does not turn from their sin. Most of the verses in the bible do not refer to “homosexual” most of them refer to words such as Leviticus 18:22 “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable…” Romans 1:26-27 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” 1 Corinthians 6 “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” The point is that the bible states that many types of sins will be exclusion from Heaven, so many think that just asking Jesus into their heart is all that they have to do and that is not it, you must take up His cross and expect to be condemned as He was as written in Matthew 16:24-27 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Fathers glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” The verse in Matthew that goes with Luke 6:37, Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Meaning if you judge with hatred or without knowing all of the facts (jumping to conclusions) that is how others will judge you, if you judge harshly you will be judged harshly, I am not sure how this comes into play in this discussion, other than you feel that I am judging which I have stated to you in previous posts I am not doing that I pray for them as others, I know many who are and they respect my conviction on this and our relationship is fine and they know that I pray for them daily, without hate. The part that I do not understand is this has been on most state and most other nations laws for centuries, in fact before 1994 or somewhere there about the old Greek dynasty was the only culture to allow homosexuality and they fell as a nation. Currently there are only, I believe 19 of 268 nations worldwide that allow homosexuality (you can verify on Wikipedia, many nations still enact punishment by death as cited in the Old Testament – Thank God we are under a new covenant). The above post referring to Matthew 12:31 is not just taking the name in vain it is referring to giving glory to Satan for work that the Holy Spirit performed such as stating that when someone is healed saying that it is the works of the devil is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, ALL other sins are forgivable but not if you continually commit them, God will forgive you if you get drunk but will not forgive if you are a drunkard, God will forgive if you commit a homosexual act but will not forgive if you refuse to turn away from what God states is detestable, God does not changes and for the many that think that simply asking for forgiveness gives the license to continue will be sadly mistaken at judgment and the sadder part is that many individuals that practice homosexuality to not feel that they are committing a sin and will never ask for forgiveness, that is the saddest part, many believe that most or all will go to heaven and I believe that is a mistake, there is a church called the Emergent Church, one of its leaders Rob Bell (wrote a book called Velvet Elvis (and others) very popular on the Christian circuit) that states all will go to heaven and pretty much contradicts the Bible in complete errant disregard that God’s word does not change just because society does, Bible based teaching churches are trying to get the message out that it is incorrect teaching, I do want to go back to your comment regarding freedom of religion and can’t help think what it would be like if we allowed Sharia law and the way that they treat women and have a right to kill family members if they do not follow the law, please do not take this as an attack on Muslim as it is not, I pray for them as well and pray that our world can get along at some point but also believe that much of this is exactly according to God’s greater plan. I am sorry, I am not trying to make you angry nor challenge you I am simply stating my belief’s and not trying to challenge what you are stating, the post was on my page as well, (I am not asking you to defriend me as I am not wanting to defriend you) I pray that we can both have differing opinions and even be convicted with where we stand and not have it turn into a hate fest between friends. God Bless You and I hope that you know in your heart that I am not trying to attack you I am simply stating my views as well and do welcome your feedback and comments. Please disregard all of my grammatical errors, not that I even notice them but I know that they are there.

To which I can only say, I give up. I cannot imagine wholeheartedly adopting the Christian faith and have to listen to this on a regular basis. I cannot and will not ever take the Bible literally. I really do NOT see how limiting Spirit to words on a page is a constructive exercise. I see it as the act of a childish person too afraid to think for themselves.

I do believe in Jesus. I believe he is the Son of God. I believe he died on the cross to save humanity. I believe he worked miracles, and that he was resurrected.

But I cannot be associated with these people. I cannot say “I am a Christian” and risk people thinking I agree with even half of what these people say. I’d rather say “I’m a Buddhist” and have them simply be worried that I’m going to hell. (Because after all, isn’t that what a label is for? Presenting a certain face to the world, who is going to judge you based on the string of syllables coming out of your mouth? When no one can ever really give a name to their personal relationship with Spirit?)

There’s nothing in Buddhism that precludes me believing in Jesus or studying the Bible, or anything else for that matter. But there is plenty in “Christianity” that says, “OH NO! Don’t step/look/think/be over there! That’s oogey-boogey land! The cooties will surely send you to hell!”

Done. I need to be done with this struggle, and come to peace with the fact that I can’t, as Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, return to my spiritual roots, which is Christianity in general, the Catholic faith specifically. Can’t do it. I can still learn from and interact with the people and the texts and ideas. I can still accept Jesus as The Way, but I can’t adopt “Christianity” as my foundation and my path. I’m done.

Saved

I was saved the other day.

I’d been thinking about how much I’d like to begin afresh, to start over with some aspects of my life, to wake up one day and not be the same angry, neurotic basketcase I normally am (on the inside, at least.) I was thinking about how it might feel to be “saved” in the way you always hear about, “reborn” to a life in Christ. What sort of energy would that give a person toward being a better, more useful human? I thought about how much I’d love to have that kind of renewed spirit.

In the 13 months that we’ve lived in our new home, we haven’t once had anyone come to our door spreading the Good Word. Well that very evening, after I had the roundabout wish to be saved, a preacher from a local Baptist church came to my house.

In previous encounters in past residences, I have politely but firmly sent them on their way. But he was a much older man and it was hot outside, so I offered him a glass of ice water. We’d just gotten our new porch furniture, so I was able to offer him a seat outside and sit with him for a moment.

He gave me his schpiel and didn’t say anything that would have made me stop listening, such as talk of the devil or hell. I do not believe in them and I will not allow someone to harangue me on the subject, unless I’m having a philosophical conversation with a trusted friend.

His sales talk led him to ask me if I’d like to pray with him to be saved (I am paraphrasing everything he said, because I’m not familiar enough with the Evangelical lingo to parrot it exactly.) For a second I flashed on the story of the man trapped on the roof of his house in a flood. He prayed to God to be saved. A man rowing a boat came by and told him to hop in, but the man refused, saying God would save him. A helicopter flew by and threw down a rope, but the man refused, saying God would save him. A while later he died in the flood. When he saw God, he sadly asked why God didn’t save him. God said, “I sent a boat and a helicopter, what else did you want?”

I wasn’t going to send away this rescue mission, having just hours ago requested it.

So I said I’d like to say the prayer with him. He asked me to repeat the words after him and to believe them as I say them. I remember answering, “If I believe them, I’ll repeat them.” I wasn’t going to say anything I didn’t actually believe.

The prayer was about accepting and trusting Jesus, following him, stating that he died for our redemption, that sort of thing (again, I’m paraphrasing). I really did believe everything he said.

Then we exchanged some further niceties, he said he’d see me in heaven, and he left.

Afterwards I was very aware of how I was feeling, and what might have been different. He had talked about how now I was saved and forgiven of all my sins, past, present and future. I’ve always rejected this idea, because it seems like a carte blanche to engage in all kinds of less-than-holy behaviors, and it also seems to eliminate accountability for future errors.

But I felt a bit lighter, and it occurred to me how much Catholic guilt I’d been living with my whole life, and that this might be an experiment in letting go of all that. I’d operated my entire existence under the assumption that I was a horrible sinner who had probably committed some awful sin when I wasn’t paying attention and if I got hit by a bus, I’d see that my tally sheet was woefully in the red.

According to this man, I was now saved no matter what. You can’t earn heaven, he’d said, it’s a gift, and all you have to do is accept it.

How would my life look and feel different if, instead of feeling this constant, nagging guilt, I had a sense of lightness and joy? If I had a sure sense that Jesus really did save us all with His selfless life and sacrifice?

In the days since I was saved, I have mostly forgotten to remember that I am saved and to live accordingly. Old habits die hard. I’d love to live in joy, even if I feel pain. I’d love to always come from a place of love, even in the face of challenges. I’d love to trust completely in SOMETHING, anything, even the ground under my feet.

Have you ever been saved? How did it change your life?

God is Love

My mother and I have been having regular Sunday afternoon phone conversations for years now, and in the last few months we have turned them into a book club of sorts, which is just heavenly and makes me miss her all the more (we are currently on opposite sides of the North American continent.)

We assign ourselves chapters of some book or other and then we chat about what we read for part of our conversation.

We ran out of book ideas for the time being, so we’ve started in on the Bible.

Anyone familiar with me knows that I struggle with labels. I am a believer, but I don’t feel comfortable adopting any religion in particular.

Watching the documentary Journey into Buddhism yesterday, in which they travel throughout Asia and give commentary on Buddhist thought, history and tradition as they go, I alternated between reactions: on the one hand, ‘YES! This is exactly what I believe” as the narrator was talking; and on the other hand, “No, not so much,” when I see the visuals, the ornate temples, the gigantic statues of Buddha, basically, the culture. Fascinating, but doesn’t resonate.

It feels false to take on ideas with none of the background that goes with it.

Then I’m reading our assignment, my mother’s and mine, for this week: the first letter of John. I read in Chapter 4, beginning with verse 7, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. ”

Yes! So simple! God = Love. A rock to stand on. A declaration that I have no problem declaring allegiance to.

Further, verse 18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”

Fear is something I struggle with moment by moment, and here is a way out! Rather than compounding the fear, as I’ve heard “Christians” do so often, the goal is to be free from fear, just as the Buddha says it is possible to be free from suffering. Life will still be difficult, there will still be pain, but we don’t have to suffer or be fearful.

“Put aside all doubt and meditate on the pure and holy nature of the regarder of the cries of the world.”

Perhaps my desperation for a label is my doubt that what I believe has no value or truth unless it has a pre-printed sticker on it, unless I can hide among a group of people or take refuge in their building.

For now I stand with my mother, who knows exactly the label she feels comfortable with, and who accepts me without one.

My Problem with Heaven

It’s childish.

“I love God so I can go to heaven!” That’s like my four year old telling me that he’ll love me if I’ll just buy him that shiny new toy.

“I do the right thing so I can go to heaven.” Yeah, and I’ll return your lost dog if you give me a reward. Shouldn’t you do the right thing because it’s the right thing, reward or not?

“I won’t hurt people so I can go to heaven.” Some kind of babyish extortion, that you won’t hurt God’s beloved children if God will let you through the pearly gates.

“I’ll put up with all the crap dished out to me because my reward is on the other side.” That’s a good way to waste a life. Don’t fight injustice, don’t face your problems, don’t tackle challenges or stand up to oppressors or otherwise put yourself in an inconvenient position. Just wait around like a passive tot for Mommy and Daddy to make it all better “later.”

And what if after you die God meets you on the other side and says, “Hey, I’ve got another somewhat challenging adventure I need you to go on…” Are you going to stomp your feet and wail, “But you PROMISED!!!”

Can we grow up, engage in the task at hand and quit jonesing for an eternal reward? Adults shouldn’t need such juvenile motivation.

The Goal of Sainthood

The eyes of the saint make all beauty holy, and the hands of the saint consecrate everything they touch to the glory of God, and the saint is never offended by anything and judges no man’s sin because he does not know sin.  He knows the mercy of God and he is on earth to bring that mercy to all men.” — Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation

Spencer Butte - Eugene, Oregon

 

The idea of the saint was very important to me as a child raised Catholic.  I enjoyed the organized system wherein individual saints are patrons of different things (my mother has been known to suggest that I pray to St. Joseph to help with our housing issues – we will be moving into our new home in about a month).  The relation of saints to worldly categories resonates for me in the same way as Jung’s archetypes, the Kabala and the correspondence of Tarot cards to various aspects of reality.

In addition, being female, I understood even as a child that sainthood was the only real power and status that women could ever hope to achieve.  I didn’t particularly want to martyr myself or suffer to the extremes that these women were said to have done, so sainthood wasn’t really a viable option.  But it was at least, unlike popehood, a possibility.

St. John's River - Florida

When I first read this quote by Thomas Merton, the image it presented amazed me.  That a saint’s job might not be to suffer horrific trials and be tortured to death with a pitiful smile on one’s face, but it might be simply to see beauty and acknowledge it as holy.  It might be to embrace all things as reflecting the divine.  It might NOT be to adopt a holier than thou attitude and spend one’s days pointing out faults, but to spread love.  To turn one’s back on evil, fear and judgment and walk always toward joy.

That everything one senses throughout the day glows with the spark of divinity!  That everything to which one reaches out becomes deep connection, an experience of sacred Oneness!  That no one can offend you, because you are open at all times only to love, acceptance, joy and peace.  To know through true union the love of the Great Spirit and to serve as a channel of that love spreading across the world.

Beetle and Bean

The job of saint when seen through Merton’s eyes still seems impossible, but even the attempt to fulfill it may be worthwhile.

If you find this Merton quote inspiring, please share your thoughts!