breathe, just breathe

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

Breathe!  Inhale.  Pay attention to that breath as it filters into your lungs expanding the chest and replenishing the body with life-giving oxygen.  Exhale.  With that exhalation release the spent air along with emotional baggage, stress,  and fear.  Focus on that moment of nothingness between each breath.  Thought-less, care-free; this is you, whom God meant you to be.  Don’t go back, don’t go forward, just be now.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
praise him ye creatures here below,
praise him above ye heavenly host,
praise Father, Son and Holy ghost. Amen

Do I appreciate how sacred is the life which has been given in me?  The marvel of my body, the functions of my organs, the amazing coordination of all the parts, the depths of understanding, the inherent ability for compassion are all components of this gift which I inhabit.  Life is a gift.  Do I appreciate this unique blessing flowing from an indescribable, indefinable Oneness, the energy which I call God?  Breathe, just breathe.

This is the Christian season of Lent.  Slow down, contemplate, meditate, ponder, sacrifice and prepare for receiving the greatest gift given to mankind – life.  Not just a functioning physical presence, but a realization that there is more, much more than just enduring each day with resignation.  Life!  Appreciating the sounds of nature, the beauty of a sunset, the laughter of children, the voice of a lover, the greatness of Bach and Beethoven, the thrill of each new day, the light at the end of a dark tunnel, the rain which refreshes and soothes…..all of it, Life.  The stumbles, the pain, the heartache of loss, the dark days of depression, the joyless times of loneliness, the fears, the journey through the valleys….all of it, Life.  It is ours to behold and cherish.  Breathe, just breathe.

Divine energy, cosmic Presence, the Giver, the Restorer, Higher Power, Comforter, Oneness, God.  With every breath accept the gift of life.  Receive that which is available to every creature, every man and woman, every butterfly.  Life. Just breathe!

who are you?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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There was a time in my life when I thought that one day in the future I should be able to  describe and define God.  It was an element of my faith walk which led me to believe spiritual maturity could be captured and confined in a treasure box of heavenly secrets and knowledge.  When I had attained certitude in all things which previously were questioning and unknowing, I would then be a wise and ‘saved’ man of God.

Didn’t work that way, folks.  Today I know less than I did yesterday and there are many more questions than answers.  But, there is also comfort in knowing that the unknown is an integral part of the mystery which we call God.  The ancient writings of Judaism recorded in the book of Exodus tell us that when Moses had a personal encounter with God emanating from a burning bush, Moses asked, “What shall I say is your name?” and the answer was, “I AM Who I AM.”  (Exodus 3:14)

In my mind, that answer always seemed to be such an evasive response to a man as myself who wanted a definitive description or a name to use.  Essentially God said to Moses and to me, “You don’t need to get so familiar with me as to think you have unraveled the mystery which I AM.”  God, in Exodus 3, is a reassuring presence, not an identifiable entity.

I need to be satisfied with that.  That reassuring presence is all I need to know.  Maybe Jesus understood that presence in his life’s journey on earth.  He referred to God as Father while living a life motivated  by spiritual nobility more than absolute knowledge. He shared the essence of his faith in sayings and parables often confusing listeners who were not attuned to God as a spiritually reassuring Presence.   If I were to ask, contrary to contemporary theology, what if Jesus was not on earth to establish a divinity demanding worship and adoration upon his death?   Rather, what if he lived to present to humanity nothing more than an example of life dedicated to service and humility?

Fr. Richard Rohr in his daily blog commented,

“No one owns him (Jesus), and no one ever will.” cac.org

As an American, as a white man, as a Christian I need to be extremely careful what image I impose upon Jesus.  I need to eat some humble pie when thinking that I know everything there is to know.  I will never fully know the beauty of Jesus or the identity of God because I am still a broken vessel struggling to fathom the depths of God’s presence and Jesus’ soul.  All I can do is aspire to a fuller acceptance of and surrender to the universal mystery known as God, my reassuring Presence.

Jesus is attributed with the words of Matthew 7:7 that we should keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking and we will receive what we are asking and find what we are seeking.  The doors in front of us will open.  Beyond those doors will be more asking, more seeking and more doors to open.  If I should think that I have arrived, that I have the answers, that all the doors have been opened, then I, in my errant theological certitude, shall have strayed from the purpose of my own spiritual quest. Matthew 7:7open door

let’s build barns

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

horse and buggy

I have seen, in my lifetime, many changes in the roles of men and women within their respective societies.  Most changes are good, many more are needed.  A male friend of mine, old as the hills just as I am, pontificated about the role of women in the household.

“A woman’s duty is in the house taking care of the husband.”

“Hmmmm,” I replied.  “Sounds like old-fashioned chauvinism to me.”  He took offense.

Now folks, I am not the most progressive, liberated man on earth, but in my mind that kind of talk went the way of the horse and buggy decades ago.  Unfortunately, some members of my gender still adhere to it.  Equality for women is a good thing.  Equality for everyone is a better thing.  Argue with me if you must, but I know I am right.

However, some things from the horse and buggy days by far outshine our society today.  I remember, as a young boy, the neighbor’s barn being destroyed by fire.  Within weeks that neighbor had a new barn with a new hex sign on its side erected by his community brethren – labor intensive and cost free.  In the autumn when butchering of livestock needed to be done, the men of the community traveled from one farm to the next assisting each other until all the community’s members had stocked the larders, smoke houses, and shelves with a bounty of meats.  The women also participated by joining their sisters to prepare a dinner table groaning under the weight of meats, vegetables and desserts for the hungry working men.  Even the children escaped from school classes to assist whenever possible.  Some of our greatest lessons in life were learned during those times of shared communal outreach.  They were lessons a class room could never duplicate.

Our community lived as if every person mattered regardless of worldly goods and professional achievement.  Each man, woman, and child had a purpose and a unique contribution to the community’s livelihood.  None were denigrated because of poverty or social difficulty.  When the bounty of the land was brought in during fall harvests, none needed to be concerned if their crops were lacking or their larders were not filled.  Neighbors filled whatever the need might have been.  It’s was simply the right way to live and we all knew that it was right.

“Harvest Home” at our church was a special Sunday in October when the best of the harvest was presented at the altar for the pastor and his family.  In later years, when the pastor was  better paid, those offerings were taken to the church-sponsored home for orphans and the destitute.  Our community cared about its brothers and sisters just as they were instructed to do in their church upbringing, just as Jesus taught during his ministry on earth.  The farmers and teachers and artisans and laborers talked the talk and walked the walk.

Times today seem different, more impersonal.  I don’t know my neighbors down the street.  I attended a church of my tradition for 2 years and knew some of the congregants by name but none well enough to get together for coffee after the service.  Everybody seemed hurried to get home, change clothes and watch the game on cable or head to WalMart to buy a new kitchen gadget.  Yes, tithing was important, but that five dollar bill in the plate simply did not hold a candle to the basket of fruit setting at the altar during Harvest Home Sunday.  It’s too impersonal.  And we don’t build barns anymore.

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was the price right?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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Why was Jesus crucified?  Depends on whom you believe, doesn’t it?  The Christian scholars of theology and religion who believe in the fall of Adam and Eve from God’s grace, who believe our progenitors were expelled from the garden for their sin, who thereby believe that all mankind is saddled with a sinful nature will explain that the violent, ignoble, bloody death of his “only begotten son” was a necessary payment to God to attain God’s forgiveness.

Really?  I know I am questioning one of the foundational tenets of modern Christianity, but can we believe that?  Prior to the 11th century Christians did acknowledge that payment (ransom) was due, but it was not due to God, rather it needed to be paid to the devil.  Then Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109) wrote a paper WHY DID GOD BECOME HUMAN.  In this writing he asserted that yes “a price needed to be paid to restore God’s honor, and it needed to be paid to God the Father.” (1)

With the popularity of this one piece of literature during the 11th century, God was confirmed by the Church not only as a vengeful, condemning, agitator of fire and brimstone, but now a Father who had demanded his only begotten Son’s life.  Instead of a loving and compassionate Father, the Christian world embraced a bloodied, broken body on a cross as the price due for communion with their God.

Think about it.  The death of Jesus of Nazareth was a historical event.  Jesus’ ministry is documented by a multitude of writings by his followers and at least one unbiased historian, Josephus.  Jesus was an insurrectionist who dismayed the powers of the Roman Empire and he made himself a thorn in the side of the established Jewish hierarchy.  Both wanted him gone.

It is up to each of us to decide what we will believe in our faith walks.  But, what about forgiveness?  What does forgiving or being forgiven mean to me, to you?  When was the last time you handed your neighbor a $20 bill and then asked him to forgive you for mowing down his prized petunias?  You may have repaid him for replacement of his flowers, but the money did not buy his forgiveness.  Can forgiveness have a price if it’s an act extended and received by one man/woman to another freely from a mindset of love and compassion?  Would a loving Father demand payment for his forgiveness through crucifixion of his only begotten Son?

We must be concerned that possibly what is accepted as inerrant theology has somehow strayed off course by way of human fallibility.  I refuse to abandon my faith tradition because sometimes what I am told to believe doesn’t make sense to me.  If I am led to read the scriptures of our Christianity as examples of sober-living and paths to spiritual recovery, then I must ask questions.  I must question the scholars and theologians who have established inerrancy and certitude as hallmarks of their interpretations.  My adventure into the mysteries of eternity and God cannot be a trek which ends with definitive answers; rather it has to be a discovery process which only poses more questions.

(1) CAC.ORG

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betrayal

 

the last supper da Vinci

They followed him, believed him, ministered with him, sacrificed for him, learned from him, loved him, and then –  betrayed him.  

The world refers to the above painting as the LAST SUPPER.  The original mural painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century is housed by the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.  It represents the final meal taken by Jesus with his disciples before his trial and crucifixion as told in the Gospel of John. (1) (2)

Up until the end Jesus served his disciples.  The book of John tells us that before the meal, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and then approaching Simon Peter, Peter said:

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I am doing, but someday you will.  No,” Peter protested, “you will never wash my feet.”  Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

The narrative continues in verses 14 and 15:

“And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example to follow.”

In ancient times the trails were dusty.  It was a matter of ceremonial etiquette to present to the visitor to one’s household  a bowl of water for washing the feet. In a well-to-do household a servant would have been assigned the duty.   Jesus took this one step further and became the servant whose chore (or privilege) it was to wash the feet of his guests.  His entire ministry is summed up in THE LAST SUPPER – serving a spiritually soiled and hungry humanity.

Judas Iscariot is known infamously as the disciple who betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane for a handful of silver coins.  The death of his master and teacher earned Judas a mere handful of silver.  For us today, the task is to recognize and correct the many times we also betray Jesus, the one we name as Lord.  Our doubts are a betrayal, our addictions are a betrayal, our unspiritual thoughts, our lustful behavior, our profanity, our cheating, our lies, our violence, our greed, our prejudice, our gossip – all are acts of betraying the One who blesses us every hour of every day 24/7.  He has washed your feet then shared his bread and wine.  He put himself on a cross because he loved us enough to suffer crucifixion and die ignobly so that we could receive through the Gospels blessings from a loving, compassionate, just God, the same God whom he called Father.

Greater men than you and I have been traitors.  Simon Peter, the Rock, the Father of the Roman Catholic Church, when leaning into Jesus at the supper asked to go with Jesus to his destiny:

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”  Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”  Peter asked, “Lord why can’t I follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you.”  Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me?  Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (3)

Is it just my imagination, or do I hear a multitude of roosters crowing?

(1) THE LAST SUPPER

(2) JOHN 13:1-30

(3) JOHN 13:36-38

 

the angry Christian

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.

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I probably would not write about faith and recovery if I did not have an unyielding, nagging directive to dispute the abounding, fear-filled theology which controlled my life for many of my early, formative years.  It is my sense that many others also suffered and continue to suffer an “ism” of hell fires and damnation.  It is for them that I return to the memories of pain caused by delusional theology in order to propose another way, the Way proclaimed by Jesus, our Christ.  I am the way, the truth, the life seems to be lost on a religion more concerned with retribution, payback and profit than restoring life abundantly to the world’s lost and dying.  Mega churches, millionaire televangelists, a gospel of affluence are obviously missing the mark set by Jesus to minister to the poor and downtrodden, to seek heaven at the bottom of the social ladder rather than in the far reaches of the universe.

In the book of Mark, a man comes running to Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus answers that one must live by the commandments.  To which the man said he had followed them all.  Then,

“One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross and follow me.” (1)

The man went away sad.  We don’t know if he sold his possessions or if he cherished them more than a relationship with God.  Soul sickness, however, does not discriminate between rich and poor.  Selfishness and avarice are not limited to wealth and power.

Fortunately, through the recovery rooms of AA and the loving compassion of fellow trekkers, a restoration of soul for me was possible.  The first step in this restoration was grasping the concept of “God as I understand God.”  It is a foundational tenet of AA’s recovery program which has enabled millions of doubters like myself to find mental and spiritual health in a sea of unhealthy religious dogma.

God hates me, and God wants to burn me in hell’s fires.  Imagine living with those thoughts for the first 33 years of your life?  I tried to drink myself to death thinking I could drown with alcohol those haunting visions.  I tried to wear the atheist armor and the agnostic unbelief to no avail.  God still despised me and was waiting for me to commit the ultimate sin that would seal my fate in hell.  In truth, during the years of alcoholism, I was already serving my sentence in his realm of fire and brimstone.

I don’t go there today because the God of my understanding does not take me there.  Together we find green pastures and still waters.  We are as One enjoying peace, solace, contentment, and treasures of the soul.  It seems silly to me today that anyone who is seeking would choose a vengeful, wrathful, hateful old man as their God.

From Richard Rohr @ Center for Action and Contemplation:

In authoritarian and patriarchal cultures, most people were fully programmed to think this way” (the life of Jesus as a ransom to an angry, demanding God) – “working to appease an authority figure who was angry, punitive, and even violent in ‘his’ actions.  Many people still operate this way, especially if they had an angry, demanding, or abusive parent.  People respond to this kind of God, as sick as it is, because it fits their own story line.” (2)

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(1) MARK 10:21

(2) CAC.ORG

repent! and be saved?

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.
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Today, the thought ‘repent and be saved’ for some reason entered my brain and stayed there for a few moments.  Whoa!  Did I have a really good time last night that this morning I don’t remember?  Many years ago that would have been a legitimate concern when I staggered home and to bed in a black out too drunk to remember how I got home.  But today I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t smoke weed.  Yes, I still screw up and do unspiritual things, but now I have a memory to remind me that amends and corrections need to be made.

When I sat down to my blog, I googled “repent and be saved.”  The first entry was this:

Before anyone can be saved, they need to come to the realization that they’re sinners and believe that Jesus died and rose again so their sins could be forgiven.  That is what the phrase “repent and be saved” means.  Therefore, when we’ve asked Jesus to be our savior, the repenting has been done.

Ohhhh, I would love to pick this apart, but I’ll focus on the word repent.  What does that conjure up in your mind?  Yeah, me too.  I am totally unworthy of living on this earth because I am an immoral piece of human flesh who is absolutely devoid of any redeeming qualities which would satisfy the white-haired, fire-breathing, judgmental old man sitting in heaven with lightning bolts in hand ready to zap me for being a human failure.  If I don’t repent I’ll never be a part of the heaven crowd.

The implication of the word repent is moralistic.  It is used far too often by preachers and religionists intent on controlling a gullible audience being primed to swallow their particular brand of theology.  Some of the church-goers in my past drank like I did, lied like I did, cheated like I did, repented and got themselves saved and felt assured of a place beside Jesus in heaven.  They continued on with a life of drunkenness, lies, and cheating.  Didn’t change a thing about themselves, but they claimed they were saved by the blood of Jesus.  Yeah, OK.  I’ve got some swamp land down here in Florida that’s going to be prime beach front real estate in a few years.  Interested?

We know that the scriptures which comprise our New Testament were translated from ancient writings composed during the first 2 centuries following the walk of Jesus, the Christ, on this earth.  They were written in Greek.  In subsequent translations of the original manuscripts, the Greek word metanoia was translated as repent. The word repent lent a more powerful, moralistic connotation for a budding Roman Catholic church intent on religious and political control.

If you have a Concordance, look it up.  The Greek metanoia also means “to change.”  For me this was a game-changer.  I am no longer being judged; rather, I am being challenged.  I am being urged to change my mind about life, about Jesus, about God, about me.  And it is not a once and done deal.  This will be an ongoing, everyday process growing into the example presented to me – Jesus, the Christ.  Paul is attributed the book of Romans.  In it he writes in chapter 12, verse 2:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Remember what Jesus said to the woman accused of adultery facing stoning at the hands of the scribes and Pharisees?  In their eyes she had committed a grave sin and deserved death by stoning.  In Jesus’ mind she had done wrong just as every man standing there had also erred.  They were made to realize that none were perfect.  One by one the accusing scribes and Pharisees left until there were only Jesus and the woman.  He did not condemn her nor throw moral judgement on her.  He simply told her to go and not make the same mistakes again.  He told her to change her life.

Mark 1:15 quotes Jesus as saying:

The time has come.  The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news.

Change your thinking and believe the good news.

ROMANS 12:2 

JOHN 8:4-11

MARK 1:15

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