Remembering the reason
“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.” ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS – STEP ELEVEN
The chapter, STEP ELEVEN in “Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions” published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., uses as its theme prayer the popular Prayer of St. Francis. The last stanza teaches:
“For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying to self that we are born
to eternal life.”
That last line of the prayer of St. Francis – it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life – creates a sense of timeless, never-ending spaces filled with nothingness. Eternity is, after all, a long, long time. I spent an eternity waiting for you at the grocery store. That boring movie lasted an eternity. The pastor’s homily seemed like an eternity. I suppose my point is this: who wants a life of endless moments of boring eternity? Eternity presents itself as action-less, a void filled with forever. What happens should we substitute everlasting for eternal? Everlasting life.
“Larry,” you are asking, “what’s the difference?”
I like to think that everlasting applies to values, to a faith that sustains, to a relationship with that Higher Power referenced in Step 11 of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program. Everlasting has survived religious philosophies, social fads, and worldly obsessions. Everlasting will continue to the ‘other side’ of this life via the memories of us in those we leave behind and perhaps as a basis for our after-life continuance. Yes, it is eternal, but it is vibrant and exhilarating to behold.
Along with other faith-based Scriptures we often turn to the wisdom writers of Christianity’s Bible for inspiration. Galatians 5:22-23 names these everlasting gifts:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Against such things there is no ending. They endure. They are everlasting. Hallelujah, we can choose our eternity filling it with good fruit. Why would anyone want to fill life with hatred, unforgiveness, doubt, despair, darkness and misery when the everlasting gifts are freely available?
Make me an instrument of peace
where there is hatred, let me sow love
where injury, pardon
where doubt, faith
where despair, hope
where darkness, light
where sadness, joy
from the PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS
Again turning to Christianity’s wisdom literature, Matthew 19:16-24 relates the story of a wealthy, young man who encounters Jesus and asks,
“What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments, sell his possessions and give to the poor.
“Then come and follow me.”
The man went away saddened because he had great wealth. We are not told what the man chased – eternal joy or worldly comfort. Where is my wealth stored? Is it comprised of internal values that sustain or is it a temporal storehouse filled with stuff that will rust and rot? Lord, let me be an instrument – a tuba, loud and thundering with your peace and kindness. What would you be?
EPIPHANY. It’s dictionary definition is “a moment of profound insight.” The Christian tradition celebrates this feast as the last of the 12 days of Christmas sometimes calling it Theophany or Three Kings Day. It is the day when the Magi, having followed the star over Bethlehem, arrive to witness the arrival of God incarnate, Jesus, the Christ.
“We observed his star at its rising.” Matthew 2:2
In the dialog presented by the author of Matthew, the birth of a peaceful Savior greatly disturbed King Herod and frightened all of Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2:3) leading the King to order the murder of all infants less than 2 years old. The scriptures don’t tell us of what Herod and Jerusalem were afraid. Competition? Losing power? Change?
Even though Jesus has been with us for the past 2000 years, our world hasn’t changed, has it? Those in power want to hang on to their power; they are afraid of change. They are afraid of competition from a spiritual entity which could usurp through the sharing of a peaceful message the materialistic and egotistic power which they wield. Jesus had an uphill battle from his birth to bring God’s message of peaceful existence to a corrupt and heartless humanity. That humanity crucified Jesus in hopes of neutralizing a lifestyle totally contrary to the ways of greed and degradation which the world loved and pursued. But, they failed to realize that the God-spark, that divine DNA within each of us, cannot be quashed. It cannot be denied its rightful place as heir to our divine nature. Jesus’ spirit lives on forever having been victorious over physical death and human depravity. He reigns!
That star over Bethlehem typifies the light of Christ. The book of Matthew tells us that the star drew the Magi from distant lands with earthly gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh, but they then bowed in spiritual reverence at the cradle of a Savior, a messenger of peace.
Happy Three Kings Day. The light of Christ continues to shine independent of one’s religious tradition or lack thereof. It is the light which overcomes our fears, which relieves our anxieties, which blazes on eternally to remind us that who we are in Christ should be the brightest star in our personal universes. It is God’s light which shines into the deepest recesses of our fears bringing, through Jesus, a reign of inner peace and serenity. It is truly an epiphany worthy of celebration.
Lord, let it soak in, let that light enter all my fearful spaces and create from my spark of divine DNA a beacon of comfort to mankind. Amen
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.” Philippians 4:7
I have this recurring thought of a meeting and conversation between Jesus and Buddha, both of whom are verifiable historical figures, in which, after offering solutions to the world’s suffering, Jesus bows to Buddha and says, “The Lord be with you.” Buddha replies, “Namaste, I bow to the divine in you.”
Wow! How different would our world be today if the major religions could take it upon themselves to honor and respect each other’s faith walk? Not only could we honor and respect, but we could also embrace each other as co-inheritors of the grace and mercy of our respective Lords. All of us are children of God who have received different messengers throughout history to teach the truth of one universal entity which we, as Christians, choose to name God.
That, in essence, is the teaching of Jesus which I believe exhorts me to live life inclusively and compassionately. Man’s created theology is secondary to this nugget of truth revealed by the author of Mark.
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
A few scholars of religion have tried to connect the two, Jesus and Buddha, through historical access. Jesus, in his lifetime, could have easily heard the teachings of Buddha from merchants and Buddhist priests who undoubtedly travelled the trade routes between Israel and the Far East. It’s an interesting theory which would add a dimension of mystery to the story of Jesus; however, it is not a necessary component to verifying the validity of our messenger.
Marcus Borg in his book “Jesus and Buddha: the Parallel Sayings” attributes the similarity in sayings to the probability that both mystics were inspired by an indwelling Spirit of holiness which enabled them to recognize the unitive presence of a Oneness, a universal energy which transcended human understanding and religious distinctions. Following is an excerpt from that book:
Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). The Buddha says, “Consider others as yourself” (Dhammapada 10.1).
Jesus says, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” (Luke 6:29). Buddha says, “If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon any desires [to hurt him] and utter no evil words” (Majjhima Nikaya 21.6).
Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45). Buddha says, “If you do not tend one another, then who is there to tend you? Whoever would tend me, he should tend the sick” (Vinaya, Mahavagga 8.26.3).
The Jewish Kabbalah, Muslim Sufism and the teachings of Tao also reveal this Oneness, the unitive energy of God within. Contemporary Christianity seems to have become exceedingly concerned with establishing its Jesus story as the only truth to the point that it has lost the Jesus teachings which reveal lessons of detachment, non-violence, simplicity, and anxiety. CAC.ORG
“The Liberty Counsel was founded by conservative activists Mathew (“Mat”) Staver – an attorney and former dean at Liberty University School of Law – and his wife Anita. The Counsel bills itself as a non-profit litigation, education and policy organization that provides legal counsel and pro bono assistance in cases dealing with religious liberty, “the sanctity of human life” and the family. Mat Staver chairs the Counsel; his wife Anita is the president. The Liberty Counsel shares a close affiliation with Liberty University (founded by the late Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Va.) , especially the university’s school of law. The partnership includes the Washington, D.C.-based Liberty Center for Law and Policy, which conducts legal research and writes about current legislation and policies.”
“Now [the group will] allow homosexual young boys in the Scouts and allow homosexual leaders in the Scouts, and what are you going to have? You are going to have all kinds of sexual molestation. This is a playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.” – Mat Staver, “Faith and Freedom Radio,” August 2015.
I am convinced that it is futile to argue the propaganda set forth in the above statement relating to the Boy Scouts of America. An enlightened, discerning America knows this is absolute hogwash. Those who wholeheartedly support this claim by Staver will always choose to live in their darkness and homophobia. But, let’s talk about hypocrisy. Those of us who are familiar with the writings of the Bible and the words which have been attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, know that Jesus strongly and frequently condemned the Jewish religious hierarchy of his day. He referred often to the hypocrisy which had taken an ancient faith based on one’s personal trek with God to a ritualistic cult of animal sacrifice and human oppression. The commoners of Jesus’ contemporary society were in bondage not only to the Roman overlords but also to the Jewish elite. Only a few references are made to the oppression of government while most of the writings focus on the oppression inflicted by religion.
John 8:7 He said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Mark 12:30-31 “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 7:3 “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to see the log in your own eye?”
Matthew 23:28 “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Do your own research of the LIBERTY COUNCIL through the links provided above and their own website which proclaims on the opening page:
“Liberty Counsel is Restoring the Culture by Advancing Religious Freedom, the Sanctity of Human Life and the Family” liberty council
Yes, they are promoting freedom if it is their very narrow and intolerant interpretation. Fundamentalist religious persuasions tend to take this route. However, what is most disturbing about its agenda is their need to legislate their brand of morality and to attack a minority of American society which has historically been marginalized by a homophobic society intent on promoting hatred and distrust rather than acceptance and inclusion.
The opening quote from Mat Staver is just a sampling of the outrageously uninformed and unsubstantiated misinformation coming from this non-profit organization posing as a legal refuge for the victims of religious persecution.
Anyone -believer, agnostic or atheist- who has read the Gospels of the Bible with an open mind can only interpret the message of the great mystic, Jesus the Christ, as a message of love, tolerance, compassion and inclusion. Anything other than this is religious heresy and hypocrisy.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Many years ago I found myself at a crossroads in my spiritual life. Having been sober for several years I began searching for an extension of the entity I called HP. Believing that sobriety had cleared my mind sufficiently to venture into the world of theology, I found what I believed to be a true path to a better understanding of God. Sincerity and fervor was not an issue; I wanted to be one of those ‘normal’ people who worshipped in churches.
A local community church promised to be the answer to my searching; it offered to me the ‘black and white’ of every issue which life raised; there were no gray areas. Promoting itself as inerrant, literal and true to the Word of God, this fellowship of Godly believers covered me with their version of righteousness.
Unfortunately, it did not accept the recovery program of AA as Biblical and I was encouraged to abandon the AA fellowship. They told me the AA program was an unacceptable theology for a true believer. In retrospect I know today that it was only by the grace of God that I continued to stay sober while worshipping in their version of godliness.
The dilemma of breaking away from AA and then leaving the church was not part of the sobriety script. It left me with a foot in both doors; neither fellowship fulfilled my need to fellowship or worship. I learned from this experience that theology, religion, and spirituality are not interchangeable words.
Theology is knowing about God or a God-belief system; religion is a personal walk with God; spirituality is the inner change as a result of that walk. Thirty years after that near fatal encounter with the inerrant literalists I joyously practice religion, graciously accept spiritual blessings, and warily keep an eye on theologians.
This evolution leads to the gist of my post: gaining knowledge about varying theologies is important to discernment, practicing religion is soul food, cherishing spiritual gifts from differing sources honors God’s inherent intelligence.
My self-identity as a Jesus follower does not ascribe me to any particular faith or theology. This journey I am undertaking has led me to revere and trust the historical Jesus as presented by numerous non-religious sources as well as the writings of early Jesus followers. It is my personal belief that when Rome established Christianity as its state religion, theology overshadowed religion and spirituality; thus resulting in the loss of the true message of Jesus Christ and the 1st century disciples.
My quest for spiritual sanity demands that I learn about other faiths and their messengers who have presented the truth of God to an unbelieving world; the God of my understanding, my HP, is universal and omnipotent using differing avenues to approach the unbelieving world.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
John 14:2 kjv
The author is not speaking in terms of the physical world, rather in the spiritual realm which in essence is what all scriptures are about. It is the spiritual manifestation of our desire for God. This verse speaks to me very clearly that my HP has room for differing religious persuasions, that there are many differing relationships with the Supreme Being.
“He marches to the beat of a different drummer.”
“Different strokes for different folks.”
We are a world of variety in life styles, persuasions and philosophies. What works for you may be anathema for me and your choice of music could drive me whacko. I love John Philip Sousa, Bach, and John Lennon and I have no idea what hip-hop is.
How often have you heard the above quotes used to describe someone who is not like we are? How do you react? Do you avoid, sneer, snicker, taunt, bully? Or do you love and embrace the differences? If we follow the entity which is the Higher Power in our lives, the path is clear to us. Bill W. exhorts tolerance in our AA literature. It is clearly stated in the sacred writings of all major religions and specifically cited as the greatest of commandments, after loving your God, repeatedly in New Testament writings of the Bible.
We have the instructions, the commandments, and the strength of Godly fellowships to guide us in our relationships with the rest of humanity which will lead to civility, tolerance, peace, and shalom (wholeness & completeness).
So, where have we gone wrong? Why are war, brutality, murders, suicide bombings, and genocide filling the screens we view every day? What we have is a far cry from what our world should be.
“The sky is blue.”
“No, stupid, the sky is green.”
Therein lies the problem. My truth may not be the same as your truth. I have been raised to equate the sky as blue. But, you may have been told that the color I see as blue is green to you. Or you could be color blind. Or one of us may have a need to be contrary.
Whatever the reason for disagreeing, it is evident that our truths are not the same even though we both call it truth. When we apply this to our religious philosophies, each of us certain that our truth is absolute and every other conviction is in error, we have created a breeding ground for hatred and discontent.
Jesus said, “I am the Way: the truth and the life.”
Obviously, a great number of his contemporaries disagreed. It got him crucified. Maybe he was the truth, maybe he and his followers of the Way had the answers. But others, Jews and Romans, held to a differing truth and had no qualms about pressing their version.
So, how can I honor my truth and yet respect and uphold the faiths of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists who sincerely believe they have the way? Answers were much easier and forthright in a previous church affiliation I experienced many years ago. Everything was in black or white, all answers were concrete, and everyone outside our church was damned…..or at least unblessed.
And there is my answer. I know from that church affiliation what the truth is not. It is not narrow. It is not exclusive. It is not bitter. It is not vindictive. It is not vengeful. It is not proud. It is not arrogant.
Truth is love. Love is truth. Jesus is both. And that, short and simple, is the entirety of my religion.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells me everything I need to know about religion, about faith, about conviction, and yes, about truth.
4″ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails……”
Krishna was there,
Yahweh and Buddha watched from above.
They saw and wept;
the Way, the great ‘I AM’, a Savior
nailed to a tree.
A man of peace,
a messenger of love,
hope for the hopeless,
life for the dead in spirit
nailed to a tree.
The heavens roared in pain,
the angels ceased singing,
the holy ones prostrated in grief,
the moon and stars hid in horror.
Their Son, their beloved,
shamed and ravaged,
naked and dying,
nailed to a tree
mocked and reviled.
“No,” they bellowed,
“this shall not be the end.
Our Prince of Peace will prevail.
He will be Lord of lords
and King of kings. Forever.”
The Way – the truth and life continued,
peace, love, tolerance, justice
revealed through other lives.
Mohammed, Francis of Assisi,
Gandhi, Martin Luther King.
……….you and I.
All of God’s children united
with the spirit of the Way
living in truth and peace,
eternally joined in Spirit.
The Way will not be crushed,
the truth will not be crushed,
the life will not be crushed.
Forever and ever.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” [Isaiah 53:3]
Were you there,
did you see it,
the cross, the nails, the soldiers?
Were you there?
He called himself the Way:
the truth, the life.
They mocked him,
nailed him to a cross.
Sign said ‘King of the Jews’,
they did not believe then,
why should we believe now?
Were you there to see it?
Did you talk to Mary…..
or John or Peter,
see Jesus on the road to Emmaus,
witness his ascension?
How do you know?
Were you there?
Did you see what I saw?
In spirit we witnessed,
in spirit we collaborated
to murder God’s messenger.
We did not defend or shield
as the soldiers raised him.
Did you weep,
did your turn your head away?
Jesus – my conscience, my spirit, my soul.
The world did not know him,
does not believe him,
mocks and ridicules him,
says he doesn’t exist,
wants to crucify him.
Where will I be?
At the foot of his cross watching
or nailed with him to the crossbar?
O, Supreme God, save us from ourselves.
Give us faith,
fill us with trust,
let us revere the unseen,
show us the Way.
Nail our doubts
to the cross,
crucify our unbelief.
Let us be redeemed.
“……I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” [Matthew 17:20]