Giving up Religion for Easter

Easter-825x510This Easter, I almost gave up religion altogether.

Don’t worry, I don’t mean giving up God or Christ or Krishna, I don’t mean giving up my passion for Love, Peace and Consciousness.  I’m not forgetting about Jesus and putting all my eggs in the Easter Bunny basket.  It’s just that this Easter the whole concept of organized religion somehow struck me as very very odd.

Palm Sunday morning, I walked up to my little St Cyprians church as usual.  Because it was Palm Sunday, the congregation was gathered outside the church steps, all holding palm leaves as we listened to the beginning proclamations from the Book of Common Prayer.  As I walked up to join all the sweet people standing in the sun, all of a sudden the whole premise of religion struck me as very odd.  At the same time that I love all religions and I love attending all types of services, pujas, meditations and prayers, I also think they are all kind of weird.

Palm SundayWhat a strange thing that 2000 years after Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem over the palm leaves put down before him all these random people all over the world should be standing outside churches on a Sunday morning holding palm leaves. I know that rituals have meaning, and I actually LOVE rituals – whether it’s smearing ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday or putting sandalwood paste on my third eye for Shivaratri, I love physical things that remind me about embodying the divine.  It’s just that it’s important to remember that all the physical things don’t really matter – it’s all an inside job.  And for some reason that morning, as I stood there outside the little church that I love so much, I was struck with the oddness of it all – if my heart is connected with Christ and I am loving God as I live and breath and move about my life, then what is the point of all of this?

Turns out, Father Ted’s sermon was the perfect answer for my feeling of strangeness at the whole concept of organized religion.  (Now, how does God do that?  Did He inspire those thoughts and feelings in me because He knew what Father Ted had written in his sermon?  Or when I had that sense of oddness, did He go back in time to earlier in the week and whisper in Father Ted’s ear?)

After the reading of the passion story from Mark’s gospel, Father Ted began to talk about Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  As Father Ted put it, “From triumphal entry to his death by crucifixion in just a few short verses. From riding a donkey into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week, to being put to death for speaking truth to power at the end of the week.”

Jesus had been preaching for years in Galilee and the areas surrounding Jerusalem, telling people that the Kingdom of God was inside of them, teaching people how to connect directly to God, showing them God’s love and mercy – and proclaiming that there is no burden of sin between us and God, and no need for any intervention or sacrifice by a priest or anyone else on our behalf.

In Holy Week, Jesus entered Jerusalem, the very center of both religious authority and secular Roman rule – and he went into the Temple and threw out the money changers and those selling doves for sacrifice.  He was challenging the whole system of both political oppression and organized religion that had been established – that people needed to exchange the impure roman coin for temple currency to buy doves or pigeons for the priests to sacrifice at the altar in order for them to attain atonement with God.  Jesus was telling us that we already have AT-ONE-MENT with God.  We don’t need organized religion to mend our broken relationship with God – to God, it was never broken.  We don’t need any rules or rituals or hierarchical system of priests and middle men.  And this challenge to both the religious and secular authorities is what led to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  And he knew it would.  This was the cause Jesus was willing to die for.

good-friday-copySo, sitting in the pew of my adorable little church, I am struck with the extreme irony that the establishment of religion has turned Jesus’s very teachings inside out!  Instead of realizing the absolute truth of our original innocence and our direct connection with God, the teaching that Jesus gave up his life for, the church has turned his very death into the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf – even though Jesus himself taught that we didn’t NEED a sacrifice, God already loves us completely.

Palm Sunday evening I attended my second service of the day – this time online with the Collective, the wonderful little mis-fit faith community in DeLand.  Pastor Ben, dressed in T-shirt and jeans, reading his sermon from his iPad screen in-between drumming in the band, talked to us about the parable of the Third Mile.

ArtBook__039_039__TheSermonOnTheMount____The parable Ben told goes like this:  Back in Roman Galilee there was a law that if a Roman soldier commanded a citizen to carry his pack, they must carry it for one mile.  One day, a small group of disciples heard Jesus preaching and he said “The law requires that you carry a pack for one mile, but I say carry it freely for two.”  The disciples were deeply impressed by this and after a year has passed, this custom of carrying the pack for two miles had become a “new law” among the disciples and the leaders among them would often quote this teaching of Jesus and the need to carry the pack for two miles as a sign of one’s faith and commitment to God.  Jesus heard about this new custom and came back to the community saying “Dear brothers and sisters, you are faithful and honest, but I have come to you with a second message, for you failed to understand the first.  Your law says that you must carry a pack for two miles.  My law says, carry it for three.”

What I got from the sermon is this:  if there is a religious rule that a person should carry the pack for one mile, then Jesus taught that we should go the extra mile, because it’s not just about following the rules, it’s about what the rules are trying to show us about giving, loving and our relationship with God.  But when the “extra mile” group of people, following Jesus teaching, re-set the rule to  two miles instead of one, Jesus said again, no, it’s about that extra mile, so go 3 miles.  But it’s not really about how many miles.  The problem is, however many miles you add on, it becomes exactly the same thing: a rule to follow to be a good Christian, a good Muslim, a good Hindu or a good something or other.

“What if instead of offering his followers an ethical system to follow, Jesus was inviting them to enter into a life of love that transcends ethics, a life of liberty that dwells beyond religious laws?”

If we just create a new religion in the name of Jesus and set up similar rules or roll calls that must be followed in order to get to heaven and a new order of priests and go-betweens, we’re not really following the teachings of Christ.  If we absorb the way of love which transcends systems that Jesus showed us back into a system of rules, requirements and safe ethical formulas, we’re missing the point.  It doesn’t matter how many miles the rule says you should run, it’s not about counting the miles or following the rules, it’s about transcending the rules and running towards God with all your heart.

“In the end, our wholeness and wellness, our goodness and flourishing, are not to be found in systems of accepted minimums, or in the predictable systems that arise to challenge those minimum requirements – not in religions or in our best attempts at better religions.”

So in the pew and again online at the Collective, I got the message – it’s not about the rules, it’s not about organized religion, it’s about connecting directly with God.  As Ben put it, it’s about “Love that transcends ethics.”  In all these churches and mosques and temples, in all these rituals and Palm Sunday ceremonies, the purpose of it all is to live closer to God, to live AT-ONE-MENT with God.

love-shoesIt’s the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter of the law.  And living the spirit of the law is an entirely inward process between you and God.  It has nothing to do with any organized religion or consecrated creed.  No amount of empty rule following or proper religious conduct can make any difference.  If a person runs 5 miles or half a mile doesn’t matter in the least. We could run an infinite number of miles or just stand still – as long as we do it with absolute sincerity.  It’s what is happening inside that matters.  It’s about the state of our hearts.  It’s about our direct connection to God.

That is the cause that Jesus died for!  And the ironic thing is, by Christianity creating this complicated system of rules and have to’s, in setting up an organized religion with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, it is recreating the same system that Jesus spoke out against.  We see this again and again, and it is up to us to keep bringing back the Love that transcends religion, just like Martin Luther speaking up about the Catholic church selling indulgences or Martin Luther King Jr. speaking up against injustice.

So, to truly follow Christ, we can’t just create a new religion, we have to let go of religion, let go of the outer show of faith and live our inner experience of faith.  And not just when we are dressed in our Sunday best, but in our every day moments.

In Father Ted’s Easter Sunday sermon, he also spoke to this direct connection of God and the Resurrected Christ not in organized religious ceremony – but inside our ordinary lives.

“After all the “Alleluias” this morning we will leave this sanctuary and go out into our ordinary lives.  But that is exactly where we will meet the risen Jesus if we will only open our eyes, and hearts, and souls to the world around us.  In our liturgy this morning we will greet each other in the “Peace of The Lord.”  This is a greeting of the Christ that is alive in each one of us greeting the Christ in the other.  It is a symbolic and liturgical action.  But when we walk out the door into the world we are called to see the risen Jesus in each and every other person we encounter.”

I have often grappled with the check box called “Spiritual but not religious” because I’ve at times felt that I am “Spiritual and ALL religious” or an “Everything.”   I love all religions and all ways of loving God, so I haven’t wanted to say that I am no religion – until now.  In the essential truth, the truth that Jesus died for, it is not about a new religion, no religion or all religions – it’s just about connecting with God.

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Further reading…

The Last Week
by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan depicts Jesus giving up his life to protest power without justice and to condemn the rich who lack concern for the poor. In this vein, at the end of the week Jesus marches up Calvary, offering himself as a model for others to do the same when they are confronted by similar issues. Informed, challenged, and inspired, we not only meet the historical Jesus, but meet a new Jesus who engages us and invites us to follow him.

Peter Rollins examines traditional religious notions from a revolutionary and refreshingly original perspective. At the heart of his message is a life lived through profound love.

Miracles Come in Many Forms

toothacheThis morning as I was sitting at church, my tooth started hurting really bad out of nowhere.  I’m scheduled for a root canal on Wednesday, and even though I hadn’t drunk hot liquid, I hadn’t bit down on something hard, I hadn’t gotten one of those chewy gooey mentos stuck on my teeth, all of a sudden it just started aching!  It was so bad I couldn’t sing along with the hymns or speak along with the prayers.  Ouch.

The exchange of Peace in our church is more involved than in most.  We don’t simply turn to those on each side of us, shake their hands saying “Peace of the Lord” and then sit right back down.  We mill about for many minutes, we walk up and down the aisles greeting everyone in the church, alternating “Peace be with you,” “Peace of the Lord” and plain old “God’s Peace.”  Hugs are happening, smiles stretch from ear to ear and the whole congregation sounds like a festive Peace Party until finally Father Ted raises his booming voice to call us back to our seats like unruly school children.

advil_10398_4_(big)_So – during the exchange of Peace I knew I’d have enough time to run up to the vestry, where I know there is a tiny little bathroom, and sip some water from the sink to swallow some Advil from my purse, hoping it would calm down the death pangs of my dying dental root.  I made it back with time to spare and still got to hug and greet and smile at several of my fellow congregants.

After the Peace, we go right into the Holy Communion, so Father Ted lead our focus into the sharing of bread and wine, which I always use as an inner meditation to become One with the Body of Christ – literally communing with my Beloved.  As I went up and knelt at the altar and received the body of Christ and the cup of salvation I put my whole focus on my love for Christ, feeling Him with me, holding me, entering into my heart and my whole self.  As I sat back down again I noticed my tooth ache was completely gone.

miracle healing 1It’s a miracle, I thought!  The communion healed my dental pain!  Becoming One with Christ took away my suffering.  Then immediately I reminded myself that I had taken the Advil 10 or 15 minutes ago, so it was probably just the IbuProfen kicking in, not a miracle.  But wait a minute – why isn’t that a miracle?

I think it’s pretty amazing that a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug that anyone can buy over the counter at any pharmacy, grocery store or airport news stand can take away intense tooth pain that throbs through half my face and keeps me from being able to speak – and does so in a matter of minutes!   Why is that NOT considered miraculous?  Why would it only be a miracle if a light had descended from the arched ceiling of the church, levitated me up into the air and a booming voice from the sky said “Shanti, be healed of this dental pain!”

Ibuprofen invention figure11What about the healing power of the Divine working through chemists and pharmacists in the 1950’s when IbuProfen was invented?  What about the Holy Spirit whispering inspiration to Dr. Stewart Adams and his colleagues John Nicholson and Colin Burrows and the miraculous power of the Christ working through the hundreds of people involved in this medication’s research and development? Why is that not considered the hand of God?  Why is that NOT a miracle?  Maybe God thought – “Hmmm… people aren’t as open to healings through faith the way they used to be and so many people have arthritis, headaches, and dental pain.  I think I’ll get together a team of doctors and develop a simple medication that can help…”  Does God only speak through burning bushes?

I think the whole thing is a miracle!  Not to mention the whole process of someone burrowing a tiny hole into the root of a tiny tooth, extracting the infected pulp and then flushing an antiseptic fluid in and out of said tiny hole until all the infection is gone and then filling the hole back up with a rubber compound called gutta-percha, a purified form of Mazer Wood Trees indigenous to Indonesia and Malaysia that is combined with zinc oxide and other materials to form a rubbery filling.  How in the world did anyone ever think of taking a tree from Indonesia and sticking it inside someone’s tiny root canal??  I say only God can come up with something so crazy!

You see, I see no conflict between modern medicine and God – I think it’s all good, it’s all God, it’s all healing and it’s all miraculous!

xray_2210115bAn ophthalmologist surgeon giving sight back to a blind person by implanting a light-sensitive microchip into the back of their eye is just as much PROOF to me of God’s miracles as Jesus giving sight to a blind person through prayer.  The wonders of Science doesn’t take anything away from God, it only adds to God!

In the Threshold weekend with Peter Rollins a few weeks ago, he talked about the group dynamics of some churches where doubt and questioning anything openly is NOT allowed, though everyone knows that everyone has doubt, including the pastor, and those who actually have NO doubt at all are a problem.  He gave the example of when the preacher will say that if you have absolute faith and you pray to Jesus Christ He can heal anything – and everyone nods their heads, but everyone knows that if someone broke their leg, you take them to the emergency room and the people who ACTUALLY sit and pray over someone’s broken leg are a real problem for the community – it’s showing that they don’t really literally believe what they SAY they do.

miracle18I say – pray with absolute faith AND take the person to the emergency room.  Isn’t it miraculous that doctors and nurses can take a bone that is shattered in tiny pieces and affix metal bars and add in additional bone matter and the bone regrows and heals and thank the Lord, the person can walk again!  Alleluia!  Just because God uses doctors and nurses and metal bars and bone matter, is it less of a miracle?  Why do we put these ridiculous notions on God that all miracles have to come thundering down from a cloud?

It reminds me of the old joke about the pastor and the flood.  There are flood warnings blasting out on all the radio stations urging everyone to evacuate the area, terrible floods are coming, but the pastor says, “No, I’m staying with my church, God will save me.”  Then the water rises up over the steps of the church and as the pastor stands there in knee-high water a boat comes by and they say “Get in, Father, we all have to evacuate.”  But the pastor says “No, I’m staying with my church, God will save me.”  The water rises and rises until the pastor is hanging on to the steeple, and then a helicopter flies by and the rescue workers throw down the ladder and yell “Grab the ladder, Father, and we’ll fly you to safety.”  But the pastor says “No, I’m staying with my church, God will save me.”  Then he drowns.  As he gets up to heaven and stands before God, confused and dejected he asks “God, I had faith in You, why didn’t You save me?”  And God says “Didn’t you hear the radio announcements?  And what about the boat I sent or the helicopter?”

scientific_education_evolutionary_biology_152God works through all of us – through rescue workers, radio announcers, emergency room doctors, chemists and dentists.  I was listening to Richard Rohr‘s “Christ, Cosmology and Consciousness” audio book the other day and he was talking about how the Big Bang, quantum physics and the study of the Cosmos is exactly in line with not only God but the bible.  There is no need for Christians to be opposed to evolution.  The highest testament to God’s greatness and glory is the ability for Her to create life that EVOLVES – life that is so intelligent and intuitive that it adapts and mutates as needed, life that is so filled with God’s creative power that it grows and changes and improves upon itself, life that is so inspired and filled with God’s spirit that it invents ocular implants, root canals and helicopters.

God’s miracles take many forms – and sometimes those forms look just like me and you.  We are ALL a part of the miraculous healing of our selves, our communities and our world.  God’s miracles are manifested through humanity and in humanity, all around us, every day, as plain as the nose on your face.  Sometimes God’s miracles come to us as a revelation.  Sometimes God’s miracles come to us as Ibuprofen.

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Do We Really Want to Be a God-Fearing People?

lovewinsI went to a wonderful event at The Collective last weekend – their Threshold Weekend with Peter Rollins.  There was much inspiration and food for thought and Peachy and I enjoyed it thoroughly (Peachy came, too, even though she is already enlightened).

At one point Peter Rollins mentioned a book by Rob Bell called “Love Wins” and how controversial it was when it came out, how certain churches would vehemently oppose it and shout “Blasphemy!”  I hadn’t heard of the book and wondered how something with such a benign title as “Love Wins” could cause such a stir?  What is controversial about Love winning?

When I looked up the book on amazon I saw that the full title of the book is “Love Wins: a Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”  Ah – Rob Bell wrote a book questioning hell, questioning the existence of some horrible realm of demons and suffering where people might get sent for eternity if they sin or even if they simply don’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior, even if they have never heard of him.  He’s simply asking the question – Would a loving God send people to eternal torment forever?

Again – why is this controversial?  Isn’t the answer obvious?  To me, it’s just common sense that a Loving God would not be capable of condemning anyone to an eternity of fire, damnation and torture with a red-hot poker. To me, it’s common sense that a Loving God would ensure that Happiness is Inevitable for all living things.  To me, it’s common sense that God’s love for us will ensure not only our eventual happiness but also the inevitability of World Peace.  Of course Love Wins!

I sincerely ask the question – why would anyone be offended and angry over someone stating that God loves us too much for a fiery Hell of eternal anguish to exist?  What is the attachment to hell?

inferno_purgatory_paradise_mapHell really doesn’t make sense.  I remember reading Dante’s Inferno in college.  It is a Medieval classic describing the many layers of hell (complete with a vestibule) with specific cruel punishments for specific sins, the torture becoming more and more atrocious with each level.  But oddly enough, the first layer of hell, called Limbo, is not such a terrible place.  In the first level of the inferno live Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and all the great minds of antiquity that Dante’s culture admired and revered.  Yet, they had lived and died before Jesus Christ, so they could not have been saved, no matter how intelligent or noble, and therefore they had to spend eternity in hell.  But because Dante liked them and they really couldn’t help it, he made the first level of hell an ok place to be – it’s just that they were technically eternally damned, so they certainly weren’t allowed into Heaven or even Purgatory.

Everyone can see the ridiculousness of that situation, right?  In order to conform to the non-sensical theology of his time, Dante invented a version of hell that wasn’t too bad for his philosophical heroes to dwell in. And we can all understand it – we don’t want our loved ones to burn in hell!  Of course not, even if we believe their religion or their life style choices to be wrong, we love them, we don’t want them to be damned for all time.  It’s heart breaking.  Shouldn’t we be glad to realize that a Loving God would never banish billions of soul to hell?

So why not just give up the idea of hell and embrace the reality that a Loving God loves us all?  Is it that we haven’t learned to love our unknown-23enemies yet?  Is it that we don’t like the idea of God loving those who we don’t love ourselves?  Is it that, even though we want a happy ending for ourselves, we’re not willing to give up on the idea that those we don’t like or disagree with will surely spend all of eternity in suffering?  Are we hanging on to hell out of our own anger, spite or vindictiveness?  That’s not pretty, is it?

Yet, here we are in 2015 and people are still clinging to the notion of God sending souls into eternal darkness and torment?  The idea of Love Winning and conquering hell is somehow controversial?  We are still hanging on to the Medieval sense of hell and of an angry God that will throw us in a deep dark dungeon and throw away the key.  What is the attachment to fearing God?

god-is-loveI’ve never understood fearing God.  I didn’t grow up in a religious household, which in this instance might have been a good thing.  I was never taught to fear God, I was never told that if I wasn’t a good girl I’d go to hell or God would be angry and punish me.  I had enough to deal with anger and punishment from my regular human parents, but at least I didn’t grow up with some kind of Heavenly Father about to strike me down with lightning.  Whenever I go to church and there is some kind of creed or prayer spoken about fearing God, I always abstain or change the words to “loving God.”

I remember at one point hearing a rather simplistic new age edict that every emotion was either from fear or love.  The theory was that every negative human emotion such as anger, hatred, envy or depression has fear as a root cause and all positive human emotions come from love.  I don’t know if the mysteries of the human heart and of all emotional energy in the universe is actually this simplistic, but it makes sense that fear is the opposite of love.  So, if God IS Love, how can we come closer to God through fear?  How can we know and feel God in our lives through fear?  Again, I ask, why would we want to be a God-fearing people?

hell-no-cd_thumbnailI saw that Richard Rohr also has a CD called “Hell, No!” questioning the existence of hell.  In the CD’s description it says:

“Until Christians deal with their false notion of hell, their capacity to love and trust God is seriously compromised. Such a belief aims the whole Christian life in a fear-based direction and with a narrow win/lose worldview that only appeals to the ego.  Love cannot happen through threat, punishment, or demand. God’s ways are much more subtle and true. The largely medieval notion of hell that many Christians hold to this day makes mystical union with God largely impossible and even undesirable.”

When you fear someone, you basically just want them to leave you alone, not notice you – you want to go about your business, following the rules and hoping God won’t notice any sins you might commit along the way so you can just skate through and not end up in hell.  If you know someone who will severely punish others for mistakes or transgressions, who will inflict pain and suffering – is that someone you want to be close with?  Is that someone you can love deeply and intimately, even if you think the punishments are justified?  No – believing that God would send souls to an eternity of pain keeps us from even wanting a mystical union with God and keep us from truly knowing and feeling the all-loving and all-merciful God that only wants our absolute healing and happiness.

Quite contrary to an angry punishing God of medieval hell fame – I experience God as eager to love us!  Eager for our happiness!  Eager for us to open and receive His healing presence of Peace!

If we are a God-fearing people, then we can’t at the same time be a God-loving people.  So, let’s give up the idea of hell and punishment, let’s truly believe in the forgiveness of sins and the Victory of God and Christ and Love.  Let’s eagerly run into the arms of our All Loving God.  It’s inevitable anyway.  Love always wins!


Love-WinsContinue your contemplation of a Loving God with these posts:

Stand on One Leg and LOVE!  The Rest is Commentary

Awakening Is Fun and Broccoli Is Delicious

holy_spirit_fire_by_jpsmsu40I started my first Peter Rollins book last night.  I’m reading ‘Insurrection – to Believe is Human, to Doubt, Divine’ as part of The Collective‘s Virtual Insurrection on-line group reading experience.  This is the book whose mere title inspired an entire blog post about Doubting Thomas.

In the introduction, Peter Rollins promises that this book won’t be an easy read, in fact, many will find it disturbing as it will burn up our false concepts of a religion concerned with life after death to reveal the true transformation of Christ that takes place now in our life before death.  It sounds terrible… but wait a minute, isn’t that a good thing?

I guess it depends on what part of your self you are identifying with – the part of you that wants to hang on to ignorance and suffering or the part of you that wants to awaken into Light and happiness.  If you identify with your ego, I guess it’s disturbing and uneasy.  If you identify with your soul, it’s a downright party!  Woo hoo – freedom and transformation, let’s go!

So, why not say this book will be a great experience because it will set you free from false outer holiness to experience happiness in the transformation into what is truly holy inside your very soul!  Doesn’t that sound like more fun?  Why should awakening be so hard and painful?  Why should awakening be something we embark upon with dread because we know it’s really good for us, kind of like eating brussel sprouts or broccoli (which can actually both be quite delicious).

happinessLast year I went to the Ash Wednesday service at Trinity.  The pastor started talking about how Lent is the time to rend our hearts and offer up anything that is unpleasing to God and I thought “YES!  How wonderful, thank you – I so long to purify my heart of anything that is unpleasing to God.”  I was so happy!  “What a wonderful time of year Lent is,” I thought.

Then all of a sudden the pastor starts saying, “I know, you’re squirming in your seats, you want to hang on to all your attachments and desires, you want to hide all that stuff from God, I know you’ve been dreading Lent all year.”  And the rest of the sermon was all about how we don’t want to purify our hearts.  Say what?

Why wouldn’t I want to get rid of anything in me that is unpleasing to God?  If it’s unpleasing to God, isn’t it unpleasing to me?  And what’s more, if it’s unpleasing, wouldn’t it be unpleasant?  Why would I want to hang on to attachments and desires that cause me disappointment and suffering? Why would I want to keep a bunch of ugly ego stuff that is festering inside of me keeping me from transforming into the happy, fulfilled, loved and healed human being God wants me to be?

And what’s more, why is the pastor who is supposed to be guiding us closer to God, saying that it’s an awful uncomfortable thing?  Isn’t that backwards? I guess he’s trying to be relatable, acknowledge the part in us that is actually attached to our attachments.  But there is a big difference between acknowledging a part of us that might have resistance to transformation and identifying our selves as that part.  Why not identify ourselves with the much much bigger part of us that has been yearning to purify our hearts of suffering for many lifetimes?  As long as I’m identifying myself as a soul, the only thing I’d be renouncing or “giving up” for Lent is my suffering.

firewalkOtherwise, even in church we are teaching each other that we don’t want to be close to God – that we don’t want to be pleasing to God.  And I’ve heard the same kind of thinking in yogic self-realization circles, talking about awakening as “ego-death” or “walking through the fire.”  If even in church or our spiritual communities we keep identifying ourselves with our baser selves and ego desires instead of our souls, then we will keep telling ourselves that we don’t want our own happiness and spiritual liberation and that it’s something we should be squirming to avoid.

Instead of making Lent out to be so terrible and difficult that the whole congregation should be squirming in our seats, why not simply say, “I know some of you might be having some thoughts of resistance, but remember that to let go of that which is unpleasing to God will make you so much happier!  Your soul longs to be free!”  Let’s not turn some thoughts of resistance into WHO WE ARE.  Wanting to awaken and be happy is after all the Divine Purpose of selfishness – let’s put our selfishness to good use.

bonfire partyInstead of making the reading of a transformational book out to be some difficult task and making our awakening out to be some terrible chore or some painful trial by fire – let’s make it a party!  It’s joyful.  It’s wonderful.  Let’s break out the bongos and marshmallows and burn up all our misconceptions of God and what is holy in a big ole bonfire and dance around it with glee.  Let’s live here as our souls!  Not only will we realize the Secret to Immortality, but we can go about this whole awakening business with the realization that it’s fun to be set free!


To join me in all the Awakening Fun:

Doubt is a Virtue (or How Doubting Thomas Got a Bad Rap)

1279824593jesusthomasDoubting Thomas got a bad rap.

Why would we consider it a bad thing to ask questions?  Why is it more virtuous to simply accept a belief without any examination or query?  If you think about it, it’s actually good to think about it, it’s good to think about things before accepting them blindly.

Doubting is a good thing.  Blind faith is not really faith at all.

Jesus taught in parables.  Jesus told stories that he did not interpret – instead he left the interpretation and the contemplation up to us.  Even the interpretations that are in the bible are not part of the quoted words of Jesus, but rather the commentary of the author that is added by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  If Jesus didn’t want us to question or think for ourselves, he could have just spoken his teachings in the form of commandments for jesus parablesus to accept.  But he spoke them in the form of stories for us to think about and pray over so that we could realize the truth for ourselves.  And if we stop doing this and simply accept the interpretations presented to us by the priest or pastor or pope, then we aren’t internalizing the teachings the way Jesus intended. 

A few days ago, my good friends Terry and Sarah introduced me to a “radical theologian” by the name of Peter Rollins.  We listened to a few chapters from one of his audio books, and it was captivating (and not just because of his Irish accent).  I looked up his website and saw the books he has written – and even though I haven’t even had time to read them yet, the titles themselves are thought-provoking:

  • The Divine Magician – the Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith
  • The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction
  • Insurrection: To Believe is Human; to Doubt, Divine

“To Believe is Human, to Doubt, Divine.”  Yes – to doubt is a virtue; to question and to contemplate is divine.  This is the practice of self-inquiry from the East – turning our focus inside to realize from within the truth of the Self and of God.  This is the “Inquire Within” of philosophers from every culture.  Even Plato’s Allegory of the Cave taught this – do not accept the shadows on the wall of the cave as truth, set your mind free, leave the cave and see for yourself what reality is.

To quote from more than just the title and include the back of the book as well (not that I’m recommending judging a book by its cover, in fact, that is expressly what I am advocating against, but it’s only been a couple of days and I promise if I actually read the books I’ll write about them from a more informed perspective later, but for now…):

Holy-Spirit-Fire“It is only as we submit our spiritual practices, religious rituals, and dogmatic affirmations to the flames of fearless interrogation that we come into contact with the reality that Christianity is in the business of transforming our world.”

Thomas asked questions when Jesus presented a teaching, not as some form of betrayal or undermining, but because he was internalizing the words that Jesus spoke and letting them transform him.  He was making the understanding of the truth Jesus was pointing at a part of his being.  Thomas doubting Jesus was a sign of respect.  In the gospel that was attributed to Thomas, which was later thrown out of the bible and ordered to be burned by Emperor Constantine and the Nicene council, he didn’t focus on Jesus’ birth, biography or even his crucifixion.  The Gospel of Thomas is simply a collection of Jesus’ teachings.  For Thomas, it wasn’t Jesus’ life story that was important – not even the virgin birth or the miracles and hoopla surrounding his life and death.  What mattered to Doubting Thomas was the truth that Jesus taught.

annunciation-midNow, I love everything about Jesus – the miracles and hoopla included.  And I think that God can do anything God wants and to split an atom in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit would be a piece of cake.  I don’t have any issues with anyone who chooses to believe that is what happened.  And I absolutely feel the presence of Mother Mary as a vibrant holy being filled with tremendous love and compassion here and now, so I have no qualms about people praying to her.  She is a saint and a Bodhisattva in her own right – an enlightened soul who is present to help those who ask her for healing.

It’s just that the virgin birth is not a necessary part of my love and faith in Jesus Christ – or Mother Mary, for that matter.  I cannot say with certainty if it happened or not, but it doesn’t matter to me and to argue about it seems silly.  If God had not split the atom in Mother Mary’s womb through the Holy Spirit but had as a matter of historical fact split that atom through more tradition means, it would not make Mother Mary or Jesus any less holy in my eyes.  Mother Mary would still be a being of vast compassion and Jesus would still be an embodiment of God’s love and grace – and his teachings would still hold the seeds of our spiritual freedom in knowing God.

I see this in the title “The Idolatry of God: Breaking our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction.”  In a sense, if we simply idolize God and Christ and do not doubt or question or contemplate, but just accept our religion because it’s more virtuous to have faith or because it’s more comfortable to feel certain than to question, this is not a very solid faith.   It is in practicing the virtue of doubting, of “inquiring within,” that we can really FEEL the truth for ourselves and decide what we truly believe in, not as an outside certainty, but as our internal faith.  And while there is nothing I love more than adoring God and I think it is right to give Him thanks and praise, I don’t want to replace the faith of my own inquiry with a blind idolatry of God.

extremism-islam_2526444bHiding out within a set of beliefs that is already put forth for you from someone else is in a way not very responsible.  God gave us our minds with the ability to think, God gave us free will – so it is honoring of God to actually use them.  In fact, on one side of the spectrum simply accepting someone else’s version of religion is downright dangerous.

We see this in extremism – when followers of fanatical religious leaders who spout hate and even violence do not doubt what they are told – and the results are horrific.  But we also see this in the less extreme ways where religious beliefs spawn prejudices or social norms that are exclusive and discriminatory – as in gay or lesbian human beings not having the same rights as any other human being.  And even though I have never been a religious extremist, I experienced the trappings of this mychristianextremismself by accepting someone else’s certainty as my own and feeling like it was wrong for me to doubt or to question.  It kept me disempowered from listening to my inner voice, the living word that exists in my heart and it was quite a struggle for me to embrace the virtue of doubt and listen to my true faith again.

This is why I love the title “the Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith.”  It is in the process of doubting the edicts of religion that we come to true faith.  And true faith is only between you and God – it is beyond religion.  These are the mystical teachings of Jesus that Thomas loved so much because through his doubt he came to internal knowing.

Faith is not about certainty.  In a way, faith is the opposite of certainty.  Faith is being a willing and humble participant in the mystery of God.  To quote from Peter Rollin’s Wikipedia page (that other cliff notes way of judging a book by its cover) “he views faith as a particular way of engaging with the world rather than a set of beliefs about the world.”  Faith is an active process – a verb, a living and flexible transformative power.

I do not pretend that I can know God with certainty, I can only trust the living loving Presence of God and do my best to follow Her. As Bishop John Shelby Sponge says in my very first post:

“The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system, by any human creed, by any human book is almost beyond imagination for me. God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don’t believe my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”

So, if we all honor our traditions and walk through our respective religions towards the truth of God that they point to, then we can heal our humanity of the wounds that religion has inflicted and live together in faith.  If we all incorporate the practice of Doubting Thomas into our religious experience, we could all stay humble and flexible and live in harmony with other seekers similarly doubting their teachings of God.

bloemen-vraagtekenDoubt and Faith are two sides of the same coin – it’s the paradox or Yin and Yang of belief.  The process of doubt gives our faith depth and dimension.  True internal faith is humble enough to not need certainty but to contain within itself its opposite – the virtue of doubt. 


If you’d like to read Peter Rollins books before I do, here are the links: