Category Archives: faith

Beauty In The Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have edited it to eliminate the connection to Lent so I could repost it today as I have recently been connecting to many people who are presently wandering in the wilderness and I wanted to remind them that God is not causing their wilderness but he is with them in the wilderness.

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that way anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.

It was during a wilderness experience where I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay for me to be me – in fact, it was better than okay, it was good.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in the wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God and about the world you live in even when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

 

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The Best Religion

This month’s synchroblog asks the question: if you were to change to another religion, what religion would you choose and why?

 

There is a story that has been circulated online about a conversation that took place at an interfaith conference between the Dalai Lama and the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff.*

When recalling the conversation, Leonardo Boff confesses he thought the Dalai Lama would defend oriental religions as being the best, but instead, His Holiness answered, “the best religion is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.” 

Expanding on that, he went on to say, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more responsible.  The religion that will do that for you is the best religion, for you.” 

Clearly inspired by where his thoughts were leading, His Holiness added, “I am not interested, my friend, in your religion, or if you are religious or not. What is important to me is your behavior with your peers, family, work, community and in front of the world.” 

I am a Christian and have been all of my life.  I was born into a Christian family, as a young girl I chose to be a Christian and many times throughout my life I have chosen to remain a Christian.  However, my idea of what it means to be a Christian has changed so dramatically over the last decade that it sometimes feels like I have completely changed religions.

I have changed enough that some Christians have even questioned if I still have the right to call myself a Christian.

To them I would say, “the best Christianity is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.”

I might even add, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more loving, more responsible … that’s the kind of Christianity one should pursue.  You should not be so concerned with what I believe as how I behave … with my peers, my family and friends, at work, in my community and in front of the world.”

Just as some have reasons to choose a new religion I have reasons to remain a Christian and yet, that doesn’t mean that I am not changing my religion.

I hope I continue to change my religion as I grow and learn more about what it means to be the best kind of Christian – the kind that moves me closer to God and makes me a better person.

*I could not verify that the story is true, however, the ideas presented seem to be harmonious to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and the teachings of Buddhism.

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Here are links to all the contributions for this month’s synchroblog:

Give Up Your Good Christian Life and Follow Jesus

This post is part of the August Synchroblog.  The theme is  “Follow” and bloggers are invited to share their thoughts and ideas about following Jesus.  The Synchroblog is once again partnering with Provoketive Magazine and all the contributions will be published on the Provoketive Magazine site throughout the month of August.  Go here for a list of all the August Synchroblog posts.

My journey of following Jesus led me to a point where I had to completely start over. Some real life stuff came along and made me take a closer look at what I believed about God, following Jesus, Christianity, the Bible, the church etc. and I realized that most of the stuff that I had been so devoted to … attending church, listening to sermons, reading the bible, witnessing, maintaining the church building, adding to church membership … didn’t seem to have much to do with following Jesus.

In recent years I have come to think that following Jesus is more about justice and love than about church and believing – more about community than about me getting into heaven – more about people than about institutions or buildings.

Starting over hasn’t been easy. It has often meant enduring criticism, rejection and loneliness. But from where I sit I can’t see that there was another way for me.  I had to let go of all the preconceived ideas, religious dogma and conventional wisdom in order to get a fresh look at Jesus, his mission and his message.

These days following Jesus for me is about accepting the call to follow Jesus into the world as an agent of the Kingdom of Heaven – working to bring the way of heaven to earth.

Sometimes that is as simple as sharing a meal with someone and sometimes it is as complex as working to dismantle an unjust system.

In the beginning of my journey of following Jesus I thought the main questions were “who is going to heaven and who is going to hell?” but now I think the main questions are “how can I bring heaven to earth and how can I participate with God to bring restoration to the world?”

The humorist Garrison Keillor said “give up your good Christian life and follow Jesus” and that is what I feel like I have had to do.

These days I am more committed to following Jesus than any other time in my life and yet I’m not a member of a church and I don’t often read the bible. My worship of God usually comes in the form of working for justice, and serving and loving others rather than singing songs in church while clapping or raising my hands. I don’t care about converting people to Christianity but I do want to influence people to live in a loving and generous way. I am interested in cultivating my faith to be a bridge that connects me to others rather than a barrier that separates me from those who don’t profess to be followers of Jesus.

I certainly do not think that I have arrived anywhere and on any given day I would be hard pressed to even tell you where I am going … but for now I am trying to follow Jesus where he leads me even if that means giving up my good Christian life.

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The Resurrection I Firmly Believe In

This post is part of the April Synchroblog: The Resurrection Hoax.  I will list the links to all the contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

Few really believe.  The most only believe that they believe or even make believe.  ~John Lancaster Spalding

I had to chuckle a little when I read the description of this month’s synchroblog because it said “we” (we being the synchroblog organizing team which I am a part of) firmly believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I chuckled because that isn’t true for me.  I don’t like to say it out loud because I don’t want to deal with the outrage of Christians who believe that makes me a heretic or who claim if I don’t believe in a literal resurrection then I should not call myself a Christian (I don’t use the label much but it still bothers me for someone to tell me I’m not a “real” Christian).

I don’t have a problem with those who do “firmly” believe in the physical resurrection of Christ.  I’m not even one of those people who would think it is an irrational belief because I do believe miraculous things sometimes take place.  I just can’t say I “firmly believe in the historical reality of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus”.

I don’t want people trying to “prove” to me the resurrection of Jesus really happened.  I could make all of the same arguments they will make (maybe even better than they will make them) and I probably did at some point to someone.  But, the truth is no one can prove the physical resurrection of Jesus really happened.  If you believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ you must believe it even though it cannot be proven to be true.

For years I did believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ but during my journey of faith I was duped (in my opinion) by the church about some things and so these days I don’t place my belief in things so easily.  These days I am more careful about what I claim to believe.  I pray, I study, I examine, I think, I listen, I talk about something (a lot) before I claim it as a belief.  If it cannot be proven then I try and decide if it is necessary for me to believe one way or the other about whatever it is.  If not, I just let it be and settle in with “I don’t know”.  I’m okay with “I don’t know” when it comes to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So if you ask me if I believe the physical resurrection of Christ really happened my answer is “I don’t know.”  However, I do “firmly” believe in the deeper truth the resurrection of Christ symbolizes.  I believe that the work of God and the way of Jesus brings life out of death.  I’ve seen it too many times not to.

So, how has my lack of belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus affected me and my Christian faith??

Well, after a lot of time pondering the resurrection I am much more likely to take the time to listen to others – to love the unlovable – to bring joy and hope to situations – to forgive instead of holding a grudge – to love justice more than individual rights – to put other’s interests above my own – to be generous in all ways – to stand up for those who are oppressed and marginalized – to work to change unjust systems – to try and follow in the way of Jesus Christ.

The interesting thing is these days of not believing “firmly” in the physical resurrection of Jesus are actually proving to be days when I am much more likely to live as if I do believe in the resurrection – as if I do believe the tomb was empty – as if I do believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Go figure!

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Check out the other contributions:

We Cannot Capture The Wind

This post is part of the June Synchroblog: Faith, Feasts and Foreshadowing in which we were invited to reflect on Shavuot and Pentecost and what we might learn from the similarities or differences in the two religious feasts.  I will post the links of all the participants at the end of this post when they are available.  To learn more about the synchroblog please visit the Synchroblog site.

The Spirit is like the wind.  The wind often arises unexpectedly, and blows with such force that everything in its path is toppled over and displaced.  If we are honest, this is the challenging aspect of this metaphor concerning the Spirit.  We cannot capture the wind. In this way, Pentecost serves as a reminder that the Spirit blows through all of our categories and continues to do the unexpected.  We may think we have grasped the wind, only to find that it has blown in a different direction.  In the face of such a wonderful mystery, we can either shield ourselves from its power, or revel in the wind that eludes our grasp.  – Margaret Manning

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This month Jews and Christians will each celebrate a spring festival.  Jews will celebrate Shavuot on June 8 and Christians will celebrate Pentecost on June 12.  The two spring festivals have some remarkable similarities: 

Shavuot is 50 days after Passover.  Pentecost is 50 days after the resurrection. 

Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah at Mt.Sinai.  Pentecost marks the giving of the Holy Spirit. 

At Shavuot the law of Yahweh was written on stone.  At Pentecost the law of Yahweh was written on hearts. 

During Shavuot about 3,000 were slain.  During Pentecost about 3,000 received salvation. 

Shavuot represents the founding day of Judaism.  Pentecost represents the founding day of the Christian church. 

During Shavuot the spirit of God descends in a fiery cloud.  During Pentecost the spirit of God descends as tongues of fire. 

In both stories, the divine word comes down from heaven and is spoken to God’s people. 

However, there is one distinct difference between Shavuot and Pentecost that I find particularly interesting and insightful.

According to the book of Acts Jesus’ disciples were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they begin “to speak in other tongues as the spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4b)  As this happened a diverse crowd gathered and was amazed that each one heard what was being said in their own language.  The sign that they were surely hearing from God lay in the miracle that each one heard the same message but in the language they needed to hear it in.

In contrast, the event at Mt.Sinai is described by Rabbis as each person receiving the teaching that he or she most needed to hear.  An older person would have heard something different than a younger person.  A sick person would have received a lesson that was different from the one a healthy person received.  A child would have heard what he or she needed to hear.  A person with much would not hear the same thing as a person who had little. Men and women would have heard according to their own needs.  The content of God’s message was different depending upon who was receiving it.  The sign that they were surely hearing the voice of God was not that one message went out to all, but that each person heard what they needed to hear.  In other words, an infinite God spoke in infinite ways and what he said depended upon who he was speaking to.

Although I don’t believe that these two experiences “have” to be pitted against one another; I do find it interesting that most Christians today will insist that there is only one correct interpretation of scripture (what that interpretation is depends on the Christian you are speaking with) while the Judaic tradition still believes that there are many different interpretations of the Torah and that people typically “hear” the lessons they most need in their life.

An infinite God who speaks in infinite ways and what he says depends on who he is speaking to … that is what God sounds like to me. But many Christians would find the idea that there are numerous interpretations of scripture to be dangerous.  They would worry that someone would abuse the scriptures if we took that approach. (As if the abuse doesn’t already take place as people have used scripture to justify slavery and war, the oppression of women, racism and the unjust treatment of LGBT people)!  They insist that God must sound the same to everyone, everytime.  IMO that is making God much smaller than he is – that is like trying to “capture the wind.”

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Be sure and check out the other synchroblog posts:

Kerri at Earth’s Crammed With Heaven… – Transformation

Sarita Brown at Gypsy Queen Journals – Pentecost: A Poem

Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – The Incarnation of the Temple, Torah, and Land

Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Random Biblical Calendar Thoughts, Unity & Love

K. W. Leslie at More Christ – Pentecost

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – We Cannot Capture The Wind

Emma Nadine at Life by List – An Outpouring of the Spirit

Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms – Shadow of Things to Come?

Abbie Waters at No Longer “Not Your Grandfather’s CPA” – Spiritual Gifts

Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – A “Wild Goose” Festival at Pentecost

Kathy Escobar at kathy escobar. – more than the leftovers

John O’Keefe at john c. o’keefe – What’s With This

 

What do you do when you are not sure?

This post is part of the May Synchroblog “Life Unfurling” which asks: Have you found more life by letting go of something? So many of us are continuing to grow in our faith by letting go of things that we once held tightly.  These things aren’t easy to shed.  Sometimes people think we’ve lost our minds, are ascribing to bad theology, or have put our souls in mortal danger.  But many of us, in different ways, have found a deeper, richer, and riskier spiritual life as we’ve let go of certain rules, doctrines, theologies, or practices along the way.   

A list of all the participants and their contributions to the synchroblog can be found at the end of this post.

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Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. – Voltaire

Skepticism is the beginning of faith. — Oscar Wilde

 

I still remember where I was and who I was talking with the day that I first seriously entertained the idea that a “real” Christian did not have to be absolutely certain about what they believed.

I have to admit that at first I was rather appalled by the idea.  After all, uncertainty and doubt were viewed negatively in my faith community (for the most part). They were viewed as signs of immaturity or spiritual weakness.  If someone was uncertain or doubtful the standard response was to pray for them to find certainty about their beliefs.  (and, if certainty wasn’t regained then perhaps they never were a “real” Christian)

But something about this conversation struck me deeply and I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t really as certain about a lot of things as I said I was.  Although I suppressed and hid my doubts, questions and uncertainties (not just from others but also from myself) they certainly existed.

In the days that followed that conversation I couldn’t help but begin to confront my own doubts and uncertainties.  And as I did – as I got honest with myself – I found that there wasn’t really a whole lot I was sure about.

What in the world was I to do with that????

That’s the question that Father Flynn asks in a sermon he delivers at the beginning of the movie “Doubt”.

“What do you do when you are not sure?”

Father Flynn doesn’t give an answer.  Instead, he leaves the question hanging out there to be pondered.

As I pondered the question I came to the conclusion that there are two things we can do when we aren’t sure.

We can either confront our doubts honestly, stop pretending they don’t exist, stop flippantly explaining them away, honestly explore and seek answers to the best of our ability, accept that there are some things we can never know for sure, live with the ambiguity that is so often a part of human life and learn to exist with the tension that this kind of honesty creates for our faith.

Or, we can, as I had been doing, embrace a dogmatic kind of certainty, ignore our doubts, live as though our certainty is the absolute truth and that anyone who disagrees with us is absolutely wrong and live with the tension that this way of life creates for our faith.

I chose to let go of my certainty and I believe that I gained a lot more than I lost.

What did I gain when I let go of certainty?

I gained some much needed humility as I adopted what is known as a proper confidence or a chastened epistemology.  In other words, I could have enough confidence in what I believed to be able to live out my beliefs with conviction but I could be humble enough about what I believed to be aware that I may be wrong.

The gained humility then created “more space” for the transforming work of God to be active in my life… thus allowing for spiritual growth to take place.

The humility and spiritual growth helped me form better relationships – more honest, authentic, loving relationships.

The new and better relationships helped me become better at loving others.

Loving others better helped me become more passionate about actively living in the way of Jesus.

Of course, I am human, and I fall down and get up a lot…so I am certainly not saying that I am doing all of these things perfectly all the time.

But, I am certain that I have gained much more than I lost when I let go of certainty.

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Check out the other synchroblog contributions: