A Vow Of Poverty…

When I was a kid in the Catholic church I remember that the priests and nuns took a vow of poverty. That is they put their obedience to God above monetary gain. That seemed like a noble thing to me. Of course I have come to realize that this vow of poverty did not mean that the Catholic clergy lived a lifestyle of the poor around them. They were provided a handsome house with a housekeeper/ cook to provide for them and when they retired there was a rather comfortable living arrangement for them to live out their lives.

A vow of poverty was just not the same as living in poverty. Even that being the case they are giving up much of the luxuries that are common in this world. I do admire them for that. I’m not sure if this vow is exclusively Catholic or if other denominations follow suit. I do know that the clergyman of the Lutheran church which I used to belong to was very well compensated for his efforts. His salary and benefits exceeded most in the congregation he served.

Maybe that is one of the problems that churches have when it comes to ministering to the poor. Many just have no idea what being poor is really about. A vow of poverty kind of makes sense for those who are teaching us that we are only visitors in the world and that our true home is in the next.

Except God Alone….

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.“No one is good—except God alone. 

Mark 10:17-18

These words have always troubled me to one extent or another. Let me explain why.  The story which they came from was about the rich man and the kingdom of God.  It is a well known and often cited story to indicate that God’s grace is a gift and impossible to earn but when the words above are isolated from that story they suggest a truth that goes counter to many current Christian beliefs. the primary belief being the concept of the Trinity.

Before I delve into why these words are troubling to me let’s look at the history of the concept of the Trinity. The concept of the Holy Trinity was made into Christian doctrine more than three hundred years after Jesus. Terms like “the father, the son, and the holy spirit” were used much before that time.  Ignatius of Antioch was perhaps one of the first theologians to coin this phrase. Jesus did of course mention God the father and the Holy Spirit but without a codifying statement about any relationship.

When we talk about things like the Trinity it is very easy to get bogged down in “church speak”. That is using special words to describe the varying conflicts that were present in the early church leaders. I try to avoid that as much as possible in this blog. Instead I will give you some simple words I found in Wikipedia that I think describes what went around the discussions of the trinity.

Although there is much debate as to whether the beliefs of the Apostles were merely articulated and explained in the Trinitarian Creeds, or were corrupted and replaced with new beliefs, all scholars recognize that the Creeds themselves were created in reaction to disagreements over the nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These controversies, however, were great and many, and took some centuries to be resolved.

When there has been conflict within the church a new creed was usually developed to exclude those who thought differently. The Nicene Creed is the predominant one today that attests to the concept of the Trinity. We are taught that basically the father, the son, and the holy spirit are three equal parts of the same God and cannot be divided but are three in one. This concept is often called “a mystery of christian faith” in that the very concept is difficult for human beings to understand.

Getting back to the original purpose of this post, when I read the words  “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.”  Jesus seems to be telling us that he is not the equivalent of God and that he was shocked that someone would even make the comparison. Of course the concept of the trinity had no meaning in Jesus’ day among Jews and Jesus was a Jew.

The questioning about the validity of the Holy Trinity is not accepted in many Christian churches. We are told to just accept it on blind faith.  We are told we must pledge our allegiance to that concept. To do otherwise is to risk our membership. To me that is the sad part of the  church today; many seem to unwilling to admit that maybe those involved in the past church history my have developed a man-made concept that is really not critical to being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Fear of Death….

Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there.

I first heard the above quote many years ago but have never tried to learn its source. I looked it up and here is what I found:

   According to research by quote maven and Oxford English Dictionary contributor Barry Popik, the earliest verifiable use of this insightful saying seems to be as a song title and lyric by Delaney. The date of the song’s composition is uncertain, but it was mentioned as one of Delaney’s popular sings in an article about him in The Afro American newspaper on October 16, 1948. Delaney was a prolific blues and jazz music composer whose career started in the 1920s.

I am not at all surprised that a African-American blues singer was the author although the last few words seem to have been added later.

Those who reject the idea of a life after this one don’t want to leave as there is nothing out there. They basically don’t believe that there is an underlying spirit around us that survives death.  What I find sad about some of these folks is that they seem to spend their life trying to convince others of their viewpoint. If I thought this was it for me and my spirit I would try to spend my only life more productively.

Those who look at their life and think maybe they have not earned heaven don’t want to leave. That is also one of the reasons for so many deathbed conversions. They fear the consequences of what they have done or maybe not done with their life. Then there are those who believe that they took an altar call many years ago as “fire insurance” but they just don’t know if the policy is really up to date.

Those whose world has been totally self-centered fear losing the spotlight in the next world. I am very familiar with one such person. She insisted on having the attention on herself throughout her life.  I think this person really had doubts that that was the way their creator intended them to live and therefore dreaded what might be beyond.

I personally don’t dread death especially as my body continues to degrade. There will likely come a point where I just want to end the pain and suffering. But I hope that time is still many years away. 🙂  I am coming to believe that when God says he wants all people to come to him that he will eventually make that actually happen; maybe not in this life but in the next one or somewhere in between. In some ways I really look forward to seeing just what is beyond this life and to learn just how badly we have botched our interpretations of what heaven really is.  I think every living soul, popes and all, will be very surprised just how little we could conceive what God has in mind for us in the next world wherever that might be.

The Practice of Exclusion…

I have been thinking lately about the words of Jesus and how he interacted with those he came across. Except for some of those in the religious establishment I couldn’t find any instance where he chose to automatically exclude from his saving grace or the wisdom of his teachings. He treated men and women pretty much the same; he welcomed all to his ministry. The poor and marginalized seemed to be special targets for him to reach out. He just wasn’t one to exclude anyone, even tax collectors and Roman soldiers. The sick and the lame were often the center of his attention.

Fast forward to today and there seems to be a common thread in almost all the religious establishments who call themselves Christian. They in one form or another seem to be more inclined to exclude people from membership in their organizations as they are to include them.  If you can manage to jump through all the many hoops that they require and keep your mouth shut in regards to questions you might have of their doctrine and practices then you are welcome as a member. Just don’t ever step over the line.

This is especially true for those who have chosen to be ministers in their organizations.  Tow the line or else be called a heretic. Almost all of these groups  seem to be convinced that if they allow any level of dissent they are opening themselves up to falling down a slippery slope into Satan’s domain.  They, for the most part, view the world as completely dominated by the evil one and therefore everything and everyone outside their personal groups are to be viewed with skepticism at the least and evil at the worst.

I know from personal experience of perhaps the most moving Christian minister I have ever encountered who was personally chastised for joining those outside his denomination in a prayer situation. He was stripped of his preaching duties for a year; his sermons were by far his most dominant God-given ability.

I know from personal experiences that when I questioned the claim that the Bible was 100% literally true and without error a process was started where I was to lose my membership of almost ten years and thousands of hours of volunteer work for the group. When I professed that I believed that the earth is more than 7,000 years old the process was begun to exclude me. I am no longer part of that organization.

Jesus was all about inclusion. He went out of his way to bring in all those around him. Sadly today’s churches, almost all 39,000 versions of them, are  constantly looking for ways to exclude people.  I am greatly saddened by this ever-present practice and I’m sure Jesus is devastated by it.  What happened to his church of the first two hundred years? I will have some thoughts about that in a future post here.

Fire Insurance???

Here is an extended quote from the second chapter of James for our discussion today:

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?  As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

For the matter of discussion I also want to bring up a quote for Paul in Ephesians 2:

For it is by grace  you have been saved,  through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works,  so that no one can boast. 

The first quote obviously shows that faith and deeds (works) are inevitably linked. As James says a body without a spirit is dead and faith without works is equally dead.  Can dead faith save you? James answers that in a very emphatic way. The second quote seems to directly contradict the first.  Unfortunately most current day Christian evangelical denominations latch onto the second quote as a means to treat Christianity as a fire insurance. To them just by saying you have faith you are therefore saved from any consequences of your actions, or maybe more appropriately lack of action. This is what saddened me more than anything else during my extensive three year study of current day Christianity.

So, let’s not deceive ourselves into believing that Christianity is a “something for nothing” religion. When you sign on to be a Christian you also sign on to the duties of showing that you are a Christian. Words without action just don’t hack it. Don’t treat your Christianity as a fire insurance; do what Jesus says….

Today’s Church Building, What Would Jesus Do……

I got to thinking recently about what did Jesus teach us about where we were supposed to come together to worship God. As I have mentioned before there is actually almost nothing in the Bible about this topic. But I can take the many other words of Jesus and postulate what he would likely say if he had addressed this area.  Here is what I think Jesus would say.

The ideal church building would be in someone’s home. If the group is too large for that then it would be in a rented facility that is used for other purposes the other six days of the week.  Things like a dance studio, a movie theater, or other similar places would be ideal.  When Jesus told the rich man that in order to be a follower of Jesus Christ he should sell everything he had and give it to the poor and then come and follow him he was pointing us in this direction. When we spend such large amount of money building giant cathedrals aren’t we actually repeating what the rich man was doing?  Aren’t we putting ourselves and our comfort before God’s commands?

Jesus clearly told us that the church is not the building, it is the people themselves. As long as there are people in need, and as he said there will always be people in need, we should spend our collections in meeting those needs and not on lavish, or even not so lavish, buildings. If we did that then we might not have to rely on our government to do it in our place. The early Christians did meet in homes but somewhere along the line the Catholic church turned their attention to brick and mortar and became distracted from people’s needs.

So, in my mind Jesus would be pleased if we just stopped all these massive building projects in his name. Why do we spend so much money on buildings that are basically only used on Sunday mornings?  Are we actually just building comfortable club houses for ourselves?  God does not intend us to build monuments, some would say idols, to Him but instead to build loving relationships with each other including the least of these.

Putting God in a Box….

When we insist that our version of God is the only true one are we putting God in a Box?  That is are we limiting him to how we currently perceive him or maybe just want him to be? I think that is the case with many Christians today. Here are some examples of putting God in a restrictive box:

  • The Bible contains everything we need to know about God — Jesus clearly told us that we are not, nor in my opinion will we ever be, ready to know everything about God; he will wait until the appropriate time to give us additional information as we need it.  When we block out that new information we are blocking out God himself and limiting him to what we currently know about him.
  • When Jesus said xxx he was definitely talking about yyy — This is the practice of taking something that Jesus has said and turning it around to mean something else. This seems to be too common in some of today’s religious institutions.  When Jesus told us the story about doing for the “least of these” he concluded it by saying if you don’t do this then our father in heaven will not recognize you on judgment day.  Those are direct words from Jesus that seem to have been totally changed into something else today, particularly by those who deem “works” to be a totally unnecessary aspect of Christianity.
  • All we need to know about God is he saved us wretched beings from eternal damnation — Several Christian denominations today put all of Jesus’ messages to be centered around his coming to save mankind from themselves.  They fixate on our sinfulness instead of our potential.  In that regard they make God into our savior and for the most part ignore the he is also, and maybe more importantly, our Lord. They turn Jesus into a life insurance policy and ignore the other 90% of his messages to us.
  • God is only going to save people who believe as we do. Everyone else is damned to eternal agony. — If this is not putting God in a box I don’t know what is. The people who fixate on “everyone is going to hell except us” have made God into their own personal savior. They totally discount the possibility that God just may, as he said through Jesus, desire that all men come to know him. They don’t give God the power to do what he says.
The above examples are just a few that are around today where people fashion a god to meet their personal needs and then limit him to that task. It is ludicrous for us to limit God to what we want him to be based our current understanding. When we do that we are saying that we know the heart of God and there is nothing else to be learned about him.  When we say we know everything about God and what he wants us to know isn’t that to one degree or another  putting ourselves in God’s place.
God is who he is and that is something that none of us can ever totally fathom.  To try to keep God contained in your personal or even denominational vision of him is almost as detrimental as not believing in God at all. God cannot be contained in your versions of him nor can he be totally contained in a small compilation of words written by men about him.

The Nature of God….

Trying to determine the nature of God is something many who are much smarter than I am have been doing since our very existence. I don’t pretend to have any answers that they have not considered.  But, I have been looking at a different understanding of God at least from a personal perspective. This new approach came from a comment on a previous post here on RLL.  In that post I was lamenting how I have  trouble reconciling the God of the Old Testament to Jesus Christ in the New.  To me these two faces of God have always seemed to be in stark contract to each other.

The comment I received on this post was to the effect that maybe differences between the Old and New Testament Gods is the difference in men and not in God? I have been living in the “literal and inerrant bible” world for so long that I never really considered this a possibility.

  • Could it be that the Old Testament writers just didn’t understand the true nature of what God was telling them?
  • Could many of the words that they recorded have contained some well-intentioned words of man and were not words from God?
  • Many of today’s evangelist, mostly of the TV variety it seems, say they have direct contact with God but then they say things that are contrary to God’s nature. Could this be the case with some of the Old Testament writers as well?

I cling to the idea that God is God and therefore infinitely more wise than any of his creations could possibly be. When we see differences in our written text of God those difference just might have occurred due to man’s inability to understand God and his messages to us. Are we are making God into our image of what we want him to be by believing everything the biblical writers thought (or maybe wanted) him to be?

To my “literal and inerrant” friend this idea goes against everything he believes God to be. As he often says that if the Bible contains even one error then the whole thing must the thrown out as we therefore cannot believe anything in it. This type of logic, which primarily has come in to prominence in the last century or so, has put a tight straight jacket on their versions of Christianity. To say that if somethings is not 100% pure then it is worthless certainly prevents them from gaining new insights of God.

So, here I am contemplating the idea that the God of the Old Testament is very much the same God as Jesus Christ portrayed Him in the New Testament. The only difference is that in the beginning man’s understanding of God was very hazy at best but has evolved over time. Do I cling to this concept the same way my “literal and inerrant” friend clings to the total purity of absolutely ALL Biblical words? Certainly not!  I only think of this as another  possibility.  As God permits me to understand him more thoroughly this concept may end up in the trash alongside the totally inerrant and literal Bible.   The Bible is absolutely the greatest document ever written by man but the total understanding of God is just too big for even those pages. As man evolves, God continues to give us increasing understanding  into his true nature.

So it turns out that this intended study of the nature of God is actually a continuation of the study of man. God is unchanging; our study and understanding of him is not.

The Duality of Jesus??

I’m sure according to the theologians I have the wrong word in the title  but in this post I want to spend some time pondering the duality of Jesus. That is Jesus the man and Jesus the God.

Here are some words of a Quaker friend of mine:

It is not that Jesus is God more than he is human, or human more than he is God, but that the nonduality of human and divine is encapsulated in his life….                     http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/jesus-christ-a-integral

While I don’t by any means agree with all of this post this sentence got me to seriously think about Jesus being human  It is hard to conceive that Jesus being God could ever think and have emotional responses as we humans do!  I remember bringing this up as a young boy in Catholic grade school. I believe a nun’s, or maybe it was a priest’s , explanation made me more confused than before I blurted out the question. The answer basically, as a twelve-year-old remembers it, was that Jesus did not really understand his divinity until he was baptized by John the Baptist. The thirty years of his life up until that time he lived pretty much as a human, that is with human understandings and emotions. I don’t know how the responder to my question would have handled the gospel story about the young Jesus in the temple as I did not know enough to bring it up at the time.  I am not saying that this answer is according to Catholic teachings or even if I remember it correctly.  But this was the first encounter with my questions about Jesus being human.

After contemplating this dichotomy for the next fifty-some years I still have problems dealing with the human side of Jesus. Jesus being human would almost be like me morphing into the body of an ant and still maintaining my human intellect. Would any of my fellow ants really understand if I tried to tell them about that “other world” of human beings? Could I really understand and live my life as an ant? It seems my human side would drown out that possibility. To me the divinity of Jesus would also surely drown out his human nature. How can the two co-exist?

Jesus several times in the Bible said he did not know the answers that God the Father knew. This goes to the understanding of the trinity more than the human side of Jesus but maybe in that response Jesus was displaying his human nature. If as the theologians conceived several centuries after Jesus left the earth that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three in one (the Trinity) then how could one know something that the other didn’t? I’m sure if I dug into this deeper I could find a myriad of different explanations from scores of different theologians. But, that is not what I am about at this point in my life. I guess I am just ready to continue to ponder this type of thing and let it ride as such. It is small stuff when it come to my faith. But as usual I have questions. That is just who I am.

An Act of God???

Given the large loss of life due to the Goplin Missouri tornadoes recently I got to thinking about why we call tornadoes and other such events an act of God? Isn’t it really just an occurrence in nature? Did God really conger up these weather events to kill so many people in that city?  Many search throughout the Bible for the answers to these types of questions and they seem to come up with an amazing variety of answers depending on which segments of the Bible they choose to use.

I tend to believe that events in nature are just that; events in nature. I would certainly not take that power away from God  but at the same time I would ask why he would need to kill people in that way? Being a scientist of sorts I can understand the factual reasons for weather events. I understand that when weather fronts collide they produce powerful updrafts that become tornadoes.

I am just not one to believe that God finds it necessary to kill people for whatever reasons in natural disasters anymore than he finds it necessary to kill people by making them slip in the tub. So, to conclude this story yes tornadoes are an act of God in as much as God set down the original laws of nature that sometimes combine to make it happen.

Some believe that absolutely everything that happens in the universe is directed by the hands of God and is his will.  They go on to say that we can’t possibly understand the reasons for instance why God makes a drunk driver to kill an innocent person but they say he does it for a purpose.  The God that I pray to and adore is a God of agape love; who has an immense love for each and every one of us.  He grieves for every life lost in Goplin this last week. It was not his will that it happen but yes he set the law of nature in place that came together to create the event.