Tag Archives: questions

Quotes Worth Repeating – The Guru’s Cat

10257039_10204059223820221_7035561874645616129_n (1)The story of the Guru’s cat by Anthony de Mello is worth repeating:

When the guru sat down to worship each evening, the ashram cat would get in the way and distract the worshipers. So he ordered that the cat be tied during evening worship.

After the guru died the cat continued to be tied during evening worship. And when the cat died, another cat was brought to the ashram so that it could be duly tied during evening worship.

Centuries later learned treatises were written by the guru’s disciples on the religious and liturgical significance of tying up a cat while worship is performed.   – Anthony de Mello

You can find this story and many more in Anthony de Mello’s book The Song of the Bird

Stages of Faith and Beauty in the Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have done a rewrite so I could post it today as a contribution to the November Synchroblog: “Faith Stories”

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Over the years my faith has changed significantly – as I believe it should. For many years my faith was mostly about ascribing to a list of beliefs that were non-negotiable. Today my faith is more about living into the way of Jesus which mostly ends up being about loving others.

When I first started having questions and doubts about “the list” of non-negotiables I was really thrown off balance but over time I have become pretty comfortable with having more questions than answers and embracing the mystery of God.  I no longer believe that changing my mind about some faith related issue is evidence of a weak faith or being an immature Christian.  In fact, I ascribe to the idea that an active, vibrant life of faith will often lead to stages of faith that are filled with questions and doubts (see stage 4 in the chart below) which can lead to wonderful revelation and transformation (stages 5 & 6 in the chart) that always seemed out of reach in the midst of being so certain about everything. [1]

nextreformation.com wp admin resources stages of faith.pdf

These days I assume that I am surely wrong about a multitude of things that I believe at any given moment. However, that doesn’t stop me from living out my faith with conviction and passion. Instead, it imbibes me with a dose of humility that keeps me from feeling like the world has ended if I happen to discover that what I thought was true doesn’t hold up under serious study, thought, prayer and scrutiny.

One of the things that I have a significantly different perspective about these days is suffering … or “the wilderness” as it is often referred to by Christians.

“The wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” – Nancy Wynne Newhall

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 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.

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

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

[1] If you want to explore more about the stages of faith:

Read these three excellent blog posts about Stages in the Life of Faith  herehere and here which may lead you to read the book: The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet O. Hagberg & Robert A. Guelich

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Check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog:

Where is up now?

One of the major shake-ups in the last reformation of the church was the new knowledge about the earth and sun.   Scripture indicated that the sun moved and the earth stood still and could not be moved. When it was discovered that the earth literally revolved around the sun questions arose about the believability of scripture.   It was also discovered at this time that the world is round. This knowledge led people to ask the question: “If the world is round, where is heaven?”. Heaven had always been UP, but if there is no UP, then where is heaven?  These are the questions that shook up people 500 years ago.

Today we have different questions that are causing major shake-ups.   With scientific, intellectual and technological advances we are led to ask new questions.  One of the questions that tends to keep coming up in conversations these days is the question of authority as discontentment continues to grow over the inadequacy and failure of church authority and sola scriptura.

Some will say that this discontentment comes from those who are resisting authority  and who don’t like what they hear from the church and/or from scripture.  I am sure those people exist, but, at the same time, I know that there are those who are serious in their search for the answer to the question: “Where should our authority come from?”

I’m leaning towards the idea that Christian authority should come from community that is shaped by scripture and tradition.

What do you think?

Quotes Worth Repeating – Live The Questions Now

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like
books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some
distant day into the answer.”-Rilke

Deconstructing The Great Commission – Part Two

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‘To be a witness means to offer your own faith experience and to make your doubts and hopes, failures and successes, loneliness and woundedness, available to others as a context in which they can struggle with their own humanness and quest for meaning.’   –-Henry Nouwen (Spiritual Direction)

I didn’t get a lot of response to my previous post Deconstructing The Great Commission  but here’s some rambling in response to one of the comments:

Ken Bussell pointed out that the verses associated with The Great Commission don’t say anything about “sharing the gospel” – instead the verses speak of making disciples and teaching them to obey Jesus’ commandments.  Thinking about that and taking into account what Jesus said and taught I start to get the sense that The Great Commission is not so much about converting people to a particular belief system but much more about teaching a way of life.  Of course it is easier to tell people what to believe than to show them how to live.  Living life is a lot messier – it often seems to pull the legs out from under absolute statements that belief systems are typically built on.  I notice that people were always trying to pin Jesus down about what they should believe about all sorts of things, but Jesus didn’t seem that concerned with absolute statements that could be spouted off.  In fact, it seemed that he went out of his way to show that life would more often than not turn those statements on their head.  Just when someone thought they were being obedient Jesus would demonstrate that their form of obedience violated the very essence of what he was all about.

I guess at this point I would say that I am getting a picture that living out The Great Commission is much more alive and fluid than traditional teaching conveys. 

Deconstructing The Great Commission

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As many of you know I’ve been doing a lot of deconstructing of Christianity over the last few years – examining what I’ve been taught, what I believed about God, Jesus, and scripture, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. 

Let me tell you…it is a very, very, very long process – especially for someone with no formal theological training.  Not only is it a long process but at times it is a very uncomfortable process – living with the questions, the doubts, the “not knowing” – dealing with people who proclaim you are going to hell, saying you shouldn’t call yourself a Christian and assigning all sorts of negative labels to you.  At times I want to give up, but I don’t – not because I am this great person who is pushing themselves through this process, determined not to give up, committed to persevering (blah blah blah) but more because it is what is happening to me.  I am trying to follow Jesus and as I live my life these “things” keep coming up – it’s sort of like “shit happens”.  So, here I am today with another “thing” that I am trying to understand – and it has to do with “The Great Commission.”

I was taught that every Christian is commanded by Jesus to be a witness for him and that means telling others about the gospel (i.e. how he died on the cross to pay for our sins and how believing in him can save you from going to hell) and that our ultimate goal is to convert as many as possible and win the world for Christ – this was called “The Great Commission.”

When I first began to deconstruct this teaching I focused on “the gospel” – I deconstructed what I had been taught and began to try to understand what scripture had to say about “the gospel” (what was the good news?) – I eventually came to a different understanding from what I had been taught all my life but that is not what I want to talk about today.  Today I want to ask some different questions.  I want to ask:

“Is the Great Commission a promise or a commandment?”  “Was Jesus really speaking to all Christians or just to the apostles?” “What was the goal of the instruction that Jesus gave to the apostles?”  “What about all those things that Jesus said would happen – casting out demons, picking up snakes with their hands, speaking in new tongues, healing the sick?” “Are these passages relevant for me today?”

You see, when I read the first chapter of Acts it sounds to me that the only commandment Jesus gave was the one to wait in Jerusalem until something special happened (the Day of Pentecost).  When I read Acts 1:8 it doesn’t sound like a command as much as a promise.  It sounds like Jesus is explaining what will happen after the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

And when I read Matthew 28:16-20 and Mark 16:15-20 in context it sounds like this is a contextually limited instruction given only to the apostles and that there is a political aspect to the instruction that has to do with the Roman Empire.  I also sense that the purpose was much narrower than what I’ve been taught and that there may have been some  immediate urgency to make something happen before something else happened.

Could Jesus’ instructions to the apostles serve the purpose of creating communities that would “be” the “new creation” among all the nations and these communities would be the witness of Jesus because of the way they functioned?  Was there an urgency to do this before the destruction of Jerusalem – was that the reason for all those special signs?

I sense that there is a past, present and future wrapped up in these passages.  I believe that there is something in these passages that is relevant for me today but that it is different than what I have known up to this point. 

I have more questions and thoughts but I want to stop here for now.

I could use some help thinking these things through and so I am inviting you to come here and have a conversation that I can listen in on.  I am interested in all feedback but please be courteous.  (And not to be rude, but I already know the traditional teaching very well and feel that it is incomplete in some ways and embellished in others – I am looking for some new perspectives and insights that might help me to explore my questions.  Oh – and I am better with “not knowing” than trying to simplistically explain away my questions.)