a Quaker shares

Sadly, many of those who disparage the Christian walk have never taken the time to research or embrace the truth of the Christian way of living as emphasized by the character of Jesus in New Testament scriptures and other mystics throughout history.  Instead, media blips of a dying faith, a ritual life of religious intolerance, and a hypocrisy CANDLEsimilar to that which Jesus encountered in Jewish culture are displayed on screens worldwide as the universal nature of the “evil” Christianity destined to betray humanity.

Father Richard Rohr in his daily meditation at cac.org quotes the Quaker pastor, Philip Gulley, in presenting to us the true nature of the Christian mindset:

Quaker pastor Philip Gulley superbly summarizes how we must rebuild spirituality from the bottom up in his book, IF THE CHURCH WERE CHRISTIAN.  Here I take the liberty of using my own words to restate his message, which offers a rather excellent description of Emerging Christianity:

  1. Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.
  2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
  3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
  4. Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
  5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
  6. Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
  7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
  8. Peacemaking is more important than power.
  9. We should care more about love and less about sex.
  10. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (eternity is God’s work anyway).

If this makes sense to you, you are already inside of Emerging Christianity.

namaste rainbow

The 10 points listed above clearly indicate that the prevailing world view of our faith, especially that of the strident anti-religionist, is based on misinformation and error.  Jesus is more than a mythical character whom some Christians remember and worship at Christmas.  The story of his life is an example to be lived by us in our lives today.  It is the greatest story ever told.  Namaste.

Advent

Those of us who celebrate Lutheran Christianity are welcoming the season of Advent.  It is a time of joyous anticipation of the Emanuel tradition, “God with us”.  My church affiliation begins special services on Wednesdays up until the Christmas Eve candlelight celebration on December 24th.  It’s all a part of appreciating the rites and traditions of an extended spiritual journey which has been taken with like-minded sojourners seeking sober-minded living within a drunken world system.tannenbaum

There has been much discussion regarding the reason for the season, Jesus, the Christ.  No matter how a person dices it, the Christian depiction of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem is Christmas.  Matters not if a man doubts the historical accuracy of the Gospel accounts of this story or if a man shouts “Hallelujah” this is literal truth, the essence of the season is the message shared by the mystical Jesus of Nazareth.  He arrived on the scene amidst a society controlled by a hypocritical religious doctrine and governed by a ruthless Roman Empire.

We have been fooled by the marketing geniuses of retailers like WalMart, Target, Macy’s, and Amazon into believing that spending money is a prerequisite for holiday joy and happiness and that the spiritual path is merely a side story that pleases Christian scrooges.  But scriptures tell us that this story is much more than powerful mega-retailers peddling their wares; it is about the arrival of truth and compassion on the world scene of brutality and intolerance which ruled 1st century Israel.

Many people dismiss that connection.  I did for many years and allowed myself to be drawn into the holiday shopping frenzy, the mindless drive to please people I didn’t really like with nonsensical presents that they didn’t really like, and the partying into oblivion with my friend, alcohol.  New Year’s Eve and January 1st usually found me too hungover emotionally, physically, and spiritually to even think about my soul’s path or the Father’s recently celebrated loving gift of Jesus to my life.

It’s a celebration, a birthday party, for the greatest humanitarian ever to walk the earth, for the greatest story ever told, and for the legendary purveyor of compassion and truth to a broken mankind.  I am broken and I need that savior’s fix.  I am searching and I rely on his message which was given for all of humanity.  I am lost and I need a shepherd’s guiding voice.

I come to the birthday party just as I am, in rags, in turmoil, with shattered dreams and disillusionment.  When I arrive, he puts his arms around me and shouts,

“Welcome to my party.  All are invited and I have gifts for everyone.  Merry Christmas.”smiley-face-2

O Tannenbaum

Ever had an ugly Christmas tree?  I mean, even the prettiest of ornaments could not cover the scraggly, lopsided, double-topped stick that Grandpa dragged home from the woods the year the crops were bad and our household was on a Christmas budget that did not allow for a “bought” blue spruce from the neighbor’s tree farm. Grandma whined, but, the tree went up as usual in the living room’s front window for all ugly treepassersby to see.  The saddest thing about that tree was that no amount of thrown tinsel and no arrangement of the strings of lights could justify calling that smattering of pine branches a Christmas tree.

The lights in those days were the kind that would heat to an unsafe level making it necessary to sit in the room at all times when they were plugged in.  I often wondered what fun it would be to watch that burning bush being scooted out the front door. My imagination envisioned Grandpa, a diminutive man, in the aftermath of the tree fire, being scolded by his 250 pound spouse and being chased with a broom about the house much as I had seen in my favorite cartoons on TV.

We have made great advances in the season’s lighting options.  Neighbors vie to present the most impressive outdoor light show in festive colors and themes.  The lights rock and bounce to the rhythm of the accompanying Christmas tunes much to the delight of young and old merrymakers who wind around the streets in a procession of vehicles.  Bulbs of the led variety shine brightly and safely on artificial trees which are often equipped with those strings of lights at the factory source.  Pre-lit is the tree shopper’s buzz word.

All colors, all shapes, all lengths of lights to choose from and all wonderfully convenient….when they all work.  Yes, every American male knows what I’m saying.  Long, irreverent hours are spent checking each of the 2500 bulbs on the string of lights trying to determine which one is not properly plugged in causing the entire circuit to remain unlit.  We sit on the floor muttering about that smug, smiling, underpaid factory worker in China who assembled this mass of wires and bulbs knowing that somewhere in America  a befuddled man will be sitting teary-eyed on his living room floor holding his string of 2500 unlit lights.  Often, we head to the WalMart for another cheap string of lights rather than endure the frustration of trying to fix the unfixable.

Perhaps that is the answer to our dilemma.  None of these ornaments and lights purchased today were ever intended to give long-term enjoyment.  They are not going to become heirlooms for the grandchildren to enjoy as are my beautiful icicles, glass Santas, and stars which my grandmother purchased at the local 5 and 10 cent store almost 100 years ago.  Today’s mass-produced ornaments “Made in China” will probably not find a very special place in the grandkids’ hearts or on their Tannenbaums.  Like many of us, the decorations are seen as conveniently disposable.

I don’t believe that God cares much about lights that don’t work or ornaments that end up in landfills.  But, I know God does not make disposable people.  Each life is a valuable heirloom to be cherished and held dearly in our hearts.  God does not see undocumented visitors/workers as illegal people.  They are his children who have legal status in his kingdom.   God does not make worthless people.  Each has immeasurable worth in his eyes.  God is not about fancy glass ornaments, expensive presents, and bright lights.  God is that small glow within that lights the world.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine this Christmas season.”christmas emoji 3

 

faith without works

I have a tough time feeling grateful.  My bank account does not rank up there in the stratosphere with the top one percenters; my transportation is a 21 year old pickup truck; my wardrobe is the finest the local thrift shop can provide; my daily menu is usually a variation of beans and rice.  Yes, when I compare to my neighbors and friends, Larry has missed the prosperity boat.happy thanks

Then I go to Reuters or Aljazeera or BBC, networks which present the world uncolored by rose-tinted glasses and news not saturated by American politics, and there I see the rest of humanity struggling in war-torn desolation, there I see a father unable to provide survival necessities for his family, there I see poverty which is unparalleled in our sheltered, ego-driven society……. and I get grateful for my beans and rice menu and my second-hand clothes.  A majority of the world’s population subsists on poverty level income often without even the basics of clean water, shelter and food.  Oh Larry, I say to myself, you are such an ingrate.

I cannot fathom the poverty of the world for I have been blessed to live in an America which has seen the greatest material prosperity ever witnessed by humanity.  Three car garages, college educations, designer jeans, meat and potatoes on the dinner table, boats, exquisite jewelry, penthouses, retirement accounts, golf resort vacations, all these are commonplace in the America I see surrounding me.  And still, Larry sometimes feels ungrateful and poor.  Then God says, “Rejoice!”

“Really? For what?  The country is going to hell in a handbasket, our government is corrupt, the poor are getting poorer, the rich don’t give a damn, and Florida State has a losing record this year.  What is there to be happy about?”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3

“Oh.”

It has just now been pointed out to me by HP that “poor” is not a bad thing, at least not spiritually.  Those who, with humility, realize and recognize that they are impoverished in spirit and need assistance are indeed blessed for it is then that God can and will intervene if that intervention is sought.  Only then can God fix what is broken in me.  It is not something I can buy at WalMart, it is not a commodity available through a broker, it is not a shiny new vehicle.  Even my church does not hand it out at the front door.  I need to earnestly assess my own weakness and spiritual poverty in order to be blessed.  I need to get grateful for the love and compassion given to me by a gracious God and then share that same love and compassion with humanity.

Gratitude is an attitude.  Gratitude is also an action.  Just as the feeling of love becomes active through participating compassion, gratitude is useless if it is not shared.

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  James 2:17

“We believed that faith without works was dead, but we have now conclusively proved that works without faith is dead also.”  Bill W. letter of 1940

What a concept!  Faith demands works and works build faith.

smiley 3

 

 

 

Martha & Mary

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!” Luke 10:38-40 happy thanks

Sound familiar?  Yeah, me too.  As I approach Thanksgiving Day, my mind wanders to memories of this holiday from years past that were anything but a time of giving thanks for the blessings bestowed upon me.  For many of us it was the time of year when we visited with or were visited by family members who were not in our journal of most favored people.  Resentments rekindled the fires of controversy, snide remarks were smuggled into the conversation about my choice of employment or, in some years, lack of employment, and in general that great day of thanksgiving turned into a battle of egos.

Then we all sat down at the loaded dinner table, sometimes gave a few, meaningless words in prayer, and filled our stomachs with all the wonderful food prepared by the family’s matriarch.  The traditional warm, mince pie was served up at the end of our meal topped with a shot of Grandma’s finest whiskey.  A few of the menfolk ate several pieces of mince pie and then settled into the living room to smoke cigars and continue the “camaraderie”.  It was usually a day which ended with a collective “Phew, glad this day is over.  Now, we need to brace for Christmas.”

I finally realized that my day for giving thanks for all of our Lord’s blessings does not need to be this way.  In addition to the challenges of visiting with family members who truly did not want to spend time together, the busyness of the preparations occupied minds that should have been quieted down into a mode of presence with God, a time to reflect and sit at the Lord’s feet in appreciation. A walk in the woods, a day on the river, a back porch reverie in the hammock all seemed to be more appropriate undertakings focusing on the One who was speaking.  I longed to be more like Mary rather than Martha.

I commented recently at a meeting of AA, in which the topic was gratitude, that in addition to creating stressors which are challenging to recovering addicts, Thanksgiving Day should probably be renamed “pre-Black Friday shopping extravaganza.”  Social media has been bombarding us for at least a week with Christmas sales, WalMart has had Christmas decorations on display since before Halloween and is opening its doors at 6 PM Thursday evening to get a head start on the shopping insanity.  On Friday I will see news stories covering the fights breaking out between shoppers jostling over the bargains and, if I care to venture out onto the busy highways, I will take an extra dose of my anti-road rage medicine……”God grant me the serenity”.

On this year’s Thanksgiving Day I have a choice.  Long distance travel to visit my few scattered relatives is not feasible nor desirable, a greeting card will suffice.  My options are to sit with Mary or busy myself with Martha, to read uplifting verses of inspiration or clean my house, to spend time in the woods or bake another apple pie, to appreciate what my Higher Power has revealed to me or complain about WalMart shoppers.

“Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen to do what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42smiley 3

 

parables

I’ve known the parables attributed to Jesus ever since my boyhood days in Sunday School class and vacation Bible School.  To me they were nothing more than neat stories which had no application in contemporary society.  Not until I was ready for God to illuminate my darkness, did I read these parables in a spiritual context.  They then began to pop off the pages with amazing truth and wisdom.CANDLE

The story of the prodigal son is my favorite because I lived that story through alcoholism and recovery.  The verses continue to humble me today even after many years of sober-living.  I knew of a God as a child, I turned my back and traveled to the “far country” to find my fortune and pleasure, I suffered financially and morally, I finally came home to Father who was waiting excitedly for me with open arms.  It was probably the most profound home-coming I shall ever experience.

One of today’s inspirational readings cites the parable of the talents.  “For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling to a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.” Matthew 25:14

In the times of Jesus a talent was worth more than $5000.  To one servant he gave 5 talents, to anther he gave 2, and to another he gave 1 talent.  The first two servants invested the money wisely and when the man returned from his travels his money had increased.  The third servant had buried the talent in the ground for fear of losing it and thereby bearing his master’s wrath upon returning.  The servant did indeed suffer his master’s anger because of his timidity in using the talent wisely.

Jesus is the travelling man who showered humanity with unfathomable wealth in wisdom and truth before he was crucified.  He entrusted his disciples with the “talents” of eternity instructing them to invest that which he had taught them and to increase God’s wealth throughout the world.  That’s his simple directive yesterday, today, and forever.

I am basically an easy-going man.  Don’t get excited about too many things and don’t rely on worldly wealth for validation or fulfilment.  There is a part of me that could be labeled “lazy”.  Yep, guilty as charged.  Sloth is one of my favorite character defects and it has been a reliable  bed mate  of depression for most of my life.  Two more of sloth’s definitions in the Merriam Webster are “inertia” and “apathy”.  If I am inert it is probably because I am also depressed.  If I am depressed it is probably because I am inert.  Both scenarios lead to apathy.  Therefore, it is in my best interest and the health of my sobriety to stay active, stay involved with other recovering addicts, and stay protected by the wisdom of AA literature and scriptures.  That is my best defense against sloth, apathy, depression, and inertia.

Not only during this special observance time of giving thanks, but always, my recovery from alcoholism needs a daily dose of gratitude, a fix of appreciation for the multitude of blessings received, unmerited and undeserved, from a power greater than myself, a Higher Power whom I call God.  It is my fix for the brokenness which I call Larry.

“This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine”.  Childhood Sunday School simplicity nails the heart of Matthew 25: 14-28, the parable of the talents.  God did not save me from the pits of hell lived in alcoholic stupor to rise up into the salvation of sobriety without stipulations.  Jesus has told me that merely being sober is not enough.  The wealth, the talents, he has bestowed are not meant to be buried or hidden under a bushel basket.  They are to be shared unselfishly with the broken masses.  They are meant to be invested in the still suffering addict, the depressed man who has no source of consolation, and ultimately returned to Jesus himself as payment with interest for his grace shed upon me.  It’s not complicated and with an attitude of gratitude, it is entirely possible for even a man like me, a wretched and lost soul, to return and bask in the light of God.namaste rainbow

 

Judas

I am reading a book by Elaine Pagels, “READING JUDAS”.   Ms. Pagels  is an accomplished scholar in the field of religion and has written several works which shed light on the complexities and inconsistencies of Biblical scriptures.  She compares the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John noting that contemporary scholars overwhelmingly agree that Mark was composed first about 40 years after the death of Jesus and that the remaining three were written later based mainly on the writings of Mark with additions and increased references to Old Testament prophesies.  Debate continues over whetherCANDLE the writers of the Gospels, none of whom are logically the namesakes of the books, attempted to show prophecy historicised or history prophesised.  The era of the formulation of the canon which we now know as the Bible was fraught with disagreement, conspiracy, and murder.  Many books, such as the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary were banned or burned having been labeled as heretical accounts of the events surrounding Jesus and his band of disciples.  Ultimately only one version of these events was authorized by Emperor Constantine in 325 C.E. at the Council of Nicaea, a lakeside village in present day Turkey.  It represented Christianity much as we know it today.  Only recently have the banned writings been discovered hidden in earthen jars buried in caves.  They are the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls.  Those scriptures have reopened debate and speculation regarding the veracity of the accounts of the Nicaean approved writings.

Just as the book and movie “The DaVinci Code” provided intrigue concerning the lineage of Jesus, the Christ, these new discoveries of ancient scriptures contribute another dimension to the mystery of Jesus, the centerpiece of Christianity.  As much as I  would like to have a definitive account of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, it simply is not available to me.  Who he was, how he lived, what he believed cannot be a certainty to those of us who claim him as Lord and Savior while also refuting the inerrant and literal interpretations supported by some Christians.

I have no problem with that.  My faith is based on a God which has blessed humanity with numerous messengers throughout history.  My faith is not dependent on the historical accuracy of those messengers nor the accounts written by their followers.  What those instruments of guidance have provided is a rich and wonderful foundation for living life to the fullest in compassionate communion with all of God’s creation.  I find the deepest inspiration in the verses which ancient mystics have passed on for me to discover and ponder.  I marvel at the wisdom and beauty expressed by both simple shepherds and royal kings.  I find many of the answers to contemporary society’s problems given to me by sages from centuries past.  I find strength in the thoughts and writings of others who have been deeply touched and inspired by their faith in a Higher Power.  I don’t require historical accuracy to follow a manner of living which honors and reveres God, the Higher Power of my understanding.

What I need is heart driven truth.  It is not necessarily historical nor factual by the world’s standards.  The truth which I seek emanates from a sacred place within, it wells up, it flows, it gushes from a spiritual presence which is timeless and eternal.  Jesus knew it, the great mystics knew it, Buddha knew it, Muhammad knew it.  Every one of us can have it and live fully in God’s glory, compassion, and mercy.

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10smiley 3

The Jewish faith says, “Stop striving and know that I am God.”  Stop striving with religious doctrine, stop striving with translations, stop striving with historical accuracy; go to that quiet place within your personal temple and know the loving kindness of a gracious Father.