“emerging” Christianity

“We are on a quest for a new kind of Christianity—a faith liberated from the institutional and dogmatic straightjackets we inherited, a way of life that integrates the personal and the social dimensions of spirituality, a practice that integrates centered contemplation and dynamic action. In our quest, we must remember how easy it is to self-sabotage; we must remember that how we get there will determine where we will be.”  Brian McLaren quoted from cac.org

rainbow-solidarityI can’t help but love the phrasing, “a faith liberated from the institutional and dogmatic straightjackets we inherited.”  That is exactly where many of us have been led by our traditional faith endeavors.  Even within my liberal Lutheranism the dogma and theology can become binding chains of thou shalt and thou shalt not.  I have been given a very basic set of values in the Ten Commandments which facilitate a sane and peaceful social structure and then an unmistakable rule by which to live:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

What more do I need?  Everything else within my faith tradition is gravy on the meat.  I don’t need to have gravy but it makes for a more fulfilling meal.  The weekly church service, the hymns, the scripture readings, the communion, the Advent services, the Christmas Eve candlelight celebration, the fellowship, they all are gravy atop the meat of Christianity which I can now define as devotion to a lifestyle emphasized by the story of Jesus.  He and his disciples called that manner of living the Way; I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. These are words written by the author of John 14:6.  Within those parameters of love, compassion and service to mankind I  have a path to successful and victorious living.

The concept of “emerging” Christianity is an exciting development.  Many of us must first learn how to rise above the pain, anger, and frustration which our old institutions of religion have caused in us.  The fire and brimstone from the pulpit serve no purpose in our new way of living.  When we join hearts with Jesus, we abandon the meanness and bitterness of our old beliefs and habits.

Idealism needs to be controlled.  There is no perfect religion, church, or congregation in this lifetime.  I will continue to stumble and bumble along my faith walk because I continue to harbor character defects, but, in the realm of emerging Christianity, I am accepted as I am and I am covered by the grace of a loving and compassionate God.  I no longer fear the wrath of a vengeful God or eternity in the pits of a lonely hell on earth.

Within this radical practice of the Way, I accept personal responsibility for my actions and behavior.  I control no other brother/sister nor religious institution and I give up the need to judge/condemn their actions and behavior.  I accept that they are also giving life the best shot they can within the  guidelines of their beliefs.  If my church affiliation does not emphasize a ministry to the homeless, then I should do so personally.  If my church does not openly accept ministry to the LGBT community, then I should.  If my church does not embrace a multi-racial ministry, then I should.  I have been freed from dogmatic and doctrinal restraints and it is my responsibility to extend that freedom to others suffering under religious oppression.

Again from the words of Brian McLaren:

“Finally, we need to start small and celebrate small gains. One of the curses of late modernity was the belief that unless something was big and well-publicized, it didn’t count. . . . [Jesus] spoke of tiny mustard seeds, of a little yeast in a lot of dough, of a little flock, of the greatness of smallness, of a secret good deed and a simple cup of cold water given to one in need.”

I want to be a little mustard seed, a cup of cold water to the thirsty.  How about you?

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”CANDLE

 

Bill W.

Bill Wilson in his writings often discussed the periods of depression he suffered long after he claimed sobriety:

“When I was tired and couldn’t concentrate, I used to fall back on an affirmation toward life that took the form of simple walking and deep CANDLEbreathing.  I sometimes told myself that I couldn’t even do this – that I was too weak.  But I learned that this was the point at which I could not give in without becoming still more depressed.” Bill Wilson “AS BILL SEES IT” 

It sometimes seems that those of us who face our alcoholism have  battles with depression that defy the serenity and joy we ought to have as recovering addicts.  Those bouts support one of the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous which says that “the drinking is just a symptom of deeper, underlying illness”.  Treating our character defects with the prescribed 12 step program is one pillar of our recovery, but, addressing the emotional baggage we carried with us into sobriety often requires professional counseling and guidance.

As a younger man, jogging was a huge part of my life.  On the trail in my Nikes the pitfalls of life became secondary to my breathing and the cadence of my footsteps.  I was able to center on the inner journey coinciding with my external activity.  The experience of runner’s euphoria was the carrot on the stick, a reason to get my head out of my butt and do something about the lurking depression just waiting to immobilize me.

Physical limitations have retired my running shoes, but I know today, many years into continued sobriety, that the walking/hiking routine is essential to a happy, contented Larry.  The pace has slowed considerably, but the focus on breathing and the “clop, clop” of stepping still carries me to another world.  It is a world of victory over depression.

Much of the AA program seems akin to the “Path” of Buddhism and also the “Way” of Jesus and his followers.  Meditation is advocated by both.  Meditative walking is a new endeavor for me.  It is also an activity focused on breathing and stepping.  The intent is to empty the head of worldly concerns and replace that circus with the beauty of the inner self, the soul.  Repetitive chanting enhances the exercise.  This is a  much slower, deliberate type of walking very suitable to a much slower, deliberate Larry.

With entry into the “golden years” (whoever coined that phrase was undoubtedly drunk or high) the clutches of depression can increase.  Our bodies fail us, our friends leave us through relocation or death, our family ties become weaker.  We feel lost in the loneliness of retirement and many younger folks see us as burdens which they would sooner ignore.  Financial security is a joke; one uncovered medical emergency will wipe us out and scammers are lurking on every website to relieve us of our monetary resources.

I need my walking to stay balanced emotionally and fit physically.  I need my faith to approach the “final stretch” of this QUEST with confidence and joy.  Scripture, the words attributed to Jesus and the Buddha, feed that faith.  In John 16:33 Jesus tells me:

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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that divine spark

CANDLE

I love to read about things that inspire people to become a closer image of the spiritual person which God has intended for them.  When reading or listening to others who are sharing their journey, I try to look for the nugget of truth that is intended for me, that divine spark which they harbor inside of them and that inspiring thought which is meant for me.  There are no coincidences in this experience.  You, my fellow human, always have something to teach me.

“Namaste” roughly translated means, “I bow to the divine in you.”  Shared with another in a position of bowed head and folded hands, this one word says to you that I may not agree in philosophy and “isms”, but, I know that the same divine presence which motivates and inspires me is also within you.  It’s a wonderful way to overcome the inherent prejudice and bias which we all endure.  Possibly it is the only way we can avoid species annihilation at the hand of hatred and intolerance.

Buddhism, for me, is a rich sojourn through the thoughts of the character of the Buddha.  The image given to us is that of a weighty man, sitting in the lotus position, transfixed in meditation.  According to the tradition of Buddhism, love, self-less behavior, and compassion are the essentials for a peaceful coexistence with fellow-man and with the entirety of creation.  The practitioners of this philosophy don’t necessarily see it as a religion, but rather, as a way of living.  They name it “the Path”.

Jesus, who historically came to us about 500 years after the Buddha, also referred to this devotion to selflessness as “the Way”:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

This idea of self-less, compassionate co-existence is not a Christian discovery formulated by Jesus and his followers, nor is it an invention of the Buddha.  It has existed forever in the heart of mankind since the beginning of time.  Religion and the “isms” will never capture it or copyright it.  That divine spark which dwells within, which leads me to try harder, do better, suffer with my brothers and sisters, hope for enlightenment, and realize I need a Lord and Savior in my life is inherent in all of us.

Choosing to acknowledge and follow, to recognize a higher power is a choice.  Whether I soar with eagles or mire in the muck is a decision I must make each and every day.  Come, fly with me today, the skies are spacious and refreshing.  Truth is awaiting.

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take stock & regroup

When I undertook this format for writing several years ago, it was with the intent to share my experience, strength, and hope in my personal quest for sanity and serenity as a recovering alcoholic.  I had no aspirations for a blog that would draw thousands of readers or ambitions for a post that would go viral.  And, I have not been disappointed.

The events of the past year have tilted my concerns and attentions to the political arena.  Certainly my personal opinions are valid, my voice needs to be counted, and my vote will continue to be registered, but, continual attention to a situation which is beyond my control exacts a toll on serenity and composure.

Today, I realized that common sense will ultimately prevail, that goodness and mercy will prevail, and that life will go on with or without my input.  But, I also came to understand that our culture ( Western, specifically American) is driven not by a sense of spirit, but rather by a sense of self.  We are a culture of egoism and self-absorption.  It is the only explanation for the politicians we have installed as leaders of the free world.

A wealthy friend, let’s call him Joe, is a minor millionaire who spends more money on a pair of shoes than I can spend on monthly groceries.   Joe has called our current President a pig.  He has questioned our President’s shady connections.  He is one of the voters who voted for the least worst of the worst candidates in decades.  Yet, Joe confided that the stock market is doing great, he is making money and therefore he is happy with the pig with shady connections who is currently posing as POTUS.  Another pair of designer shoes for Joe and maybe a Rolex are in his offing.

Yes, today has been a time of refection and redirect.  I know who I am in God’s world, I intend to strive on for a compassionate, caring, communing interaction with the world’s peoples, creatures, and environment.  This is the only wealth which is worth chasing, it is the eternity detailed in the chapters of the great scriptures, it is that which the greatest of God’s messengers have attested as truth; it is the way of Jesus, the path of Buddha and it is available to all who will subdue themselves to the greater power so simply presented in the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Oneness which we call God, or Allah, or Brahman will continue with or without us.  The universal, omnipotent power of the Oneness will do this…with or without us.  Our reason for being here on this earth in this life is to promote and assist the physical/spiritual welfare of our brothers and sisters, to cherish the creation and to protect the environment.  We are not here to promote our version of God, to defend our version of God, or in any way assist our version of God.  The one you name as God, the one I name as God is perfectly capable of handling those details.  Let’s appreciate the simplicity of our solidarity.

rainbow-solidarity

 

 

the Sword vs ego

Jesus of Nazareth was a man depicted by the early writers of Christian scripture as peaceful, compassionate, yet revolutionary.  His followers, calling themselves “the Way”, lived communally, healed the sick, and preached love.  In today’s society they would be  labeled a band of misfits and rabble-rousers, a gang of runaways and losers.  They did not fit into the religiosity of the Jews nor the submissiveness demanded by the Romans.

The book of Matthew attributes the following words to Jesus:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace , but a sword.”  Matthew 10:34

Those who translate the Bible literally as the inerrant and infallible word of God have great difficulty explaining this “violent” Jesus who is described in other verses as “the Prince of Peace.”

We can, however, better understand this verse when studied in the context of Jesus the spiritual essence of God rather than Jesus the man.  The stories, the parables, attributed to Jesus convey a veiled spiritual axiom which is the intended message to his followers.  Others, the Romans and the Jewish elite, could not grasp the meaning because they did not see this simple, Jewish peasant as a messenger of God .  This verse of Matthew in terms of the mystic’s experience does not propose a sword to inflict physical wrath but rather a figurative sword to slash away the restraints placed by human ego upon the brotherly love and compassion inherent in the Spirit.  It is a sword of soul liberation.

Also to be considered are the meanings lost or misinterpreted  in translations.  Consider the following:

The Book of Kells, a Celtic illuminated manuscript copy of the Gospels, uses the word gaudium, meaning joy rather than gladium which means sword, rendering the verse in translation: “I came not [only] to bring peace, but joy”.[4]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_peace,_but_a_sword