Fear or Faith: what’s it going to be?

I used to look at the world in black and white, extreme black and white at that. It went something like this: “either you were or you weren’t; either you did or your didn’t; either things (or you) were good or bad; black or white; in or out. Fill in the blank at the end but the meaning is still the same: life was made rigid; exclusive self-righteously all bundled up in neat, little packaging (socio-cultural/economic/political/religious MREs if you will).

It seemed to make life safe for a twenty something who was new to faith and scared of almost everything in life.  In my twenties, I so desperately needed the world to be black and white because it had been so painfully colorless and empty as the fourth son of a tormented alcoholic father.

At 50 years of age, my life and my view of the world is more an appreciation of the entire color-spectrum of life: the kaleidoscope of God’s very Being reflected and deflected in, through and off of all of creation – us included.

But…and there’s always a but. But there is one area of my life I am still a bit “black and white” with and that is about the dance between fear and faith. The way I look at it either I live in fear or I live in faith; I live by fear or I live by faith. Now granted, I know it is not so neatly packaged, far from it.

But it seems to me those two choices are the existentially paradigmatic choices of our lives.

And depending upon which one I choose, determines in all likelihood the quality and maybe even the quantity of the direction my life takes.

If I choose to live (mostly, say 51%) by faith, then the world is just more beautiful. God is more present in all things and in all Ways and I feel connected to all that is – the Creator, the creation and the created.

But if I choose to live by fear (let’s stick with the 51% option again), the scales of life and my perception therein seem to tip and tilt towards the darker, sadder, painful parts of living – the “less” ness of life (as in there seems to be less of everything I desire if I perceive and experience life through the lens of fear).

By choosing (and yes, I do feel at the core, it is a CHOICE) to live by faith – faith in God, faith in myself, faith in other people, faith in love and service, and faith in the healing process – a miraculous metamorphosis begins to take place within me and in all those with whom I share life.

Life gets bigger.  Life gets more abundant.

Life gets fuller of, well, almost everything: joy, suffering, emotions – the veritable messiness of it all.

Life doesn’t necessarily get easier, or prettier, or more neatly packaged. In fact, it’s quite the opposite because looking and living life by faith involves such things as crazy leaps, pain, heartbreak reckless abandon and ruthless trust. Living by faith involves fearless looking at the person I am, all of me, and embracing it as I am not as I want to be. For that is how God does it.

And here is something I am learning slowly and deeply: not only is living a life of faith all of the aforementioned, a life of faith means living with the ever growing knowledge that God actually has faith in me!

That may seem like heresy to some, but if we all step back and look at the gifts, miracles, roles and responsibilities we are blessed with, those things that we seek after and get and those things that seemingly fall into our laps throughout the days and years of our lives, Someone must indeed trust and believe in us to endow us with such abundance!

So, today although life on the outside is a bit scary, I still find myself a bit more relaxed, nestling rather than wrestling into this life of faith over fear, hoping against hope, trusting even as my eyes are still getting accustomed to the Light, that in the end (and at the end) that by choosing a life of faith, my life becomes a valuable gift both given and shared to this wonderful wounded world in which I live.

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When God is Useless…

“At times like these God is useless…”

Minister at a Service in NYC held the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.

That statement may seem harsh, caustic, even a proclamation that God is dead.  But that is far from the truth.  It speaks to a rawness of truth that people who have been through tragedy can relate to, and often need to hear.  One of the biggest problems of living a life of faith is the images of God we create for ourselves.  You see I have discovered that most people believe in a God who has an “ego” – because only a God with an ego would get “mad” or seek revenge or have his feelings hurt of I spoke some personal truth in anger towards him.  I have actually had people judge me and tell me I have lost faith all because I tell them that when I pray I sometimes cuss, that I rage at God when I pray because that is who I am; I am being true to the man God made, and yet somehow I am supposed to NOT be human towards God?

Let me state this to people as simple as I can, this thing that transformed my relationship with God making it more real and authentic then at any time in my life is this change within me: I came to believe and know that God does not have an Ego.

Ego is defined as a “person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem.”  In psychoanalysis, ego has to do with the role the “mind” plays in mediating between the conscious and unconscious mind.

See where I am going with this?

God does not need to have a “sense of self importance” for God is self-contained (so to speak).  God does not need me to placate his feelings with trite remarks of praise.  God does not need anything from me, at all.  Nada.  God does not have a Mind that needs a mediating element.  God does not need a mind.  God just is.  God is the all that is and that is all.

And because I now live my life from the particular space/place that God has no ego, I can freely state such things like God is useless sometimes and it is not heresy.  In fact, it is particularly freeing and relevant.

Freeing because there is nothing more dangerous and powerful than a person who has been released to love and be with a God Who is so freeing and relevant because in the last few days I have had conversations with 2 different people – one whose sister died in a car accident a year ago and the other a young father whose infant daughter had died three months ago – where not only did I feel inadequate, but God seemed so useless as a source or presence of comfort.  And know that all I wanted to be was some symbol of God’s presence and comfort in the midst of the unexplainable rawness of our joint humanity.

Much has been written about God, suffering, life, etc., and because I am feeling so spiritually bankrupt (more like overdrawn on the spiritual bank account), I’m throwing my truncated two cents.

If there is anything I have learned in my struggles – which include the death of my both my parents (Dad when I was a teenager, Mom as I entered my forties), the death of my son in childbirth, the death of grandparents, an aunt, a brother, and the numerous deaths of friends to addiction and mental illness, and even in my own personal darkness – is that God can’t be made a scapegoat.

Frederick Buechner said “God cannot make [tragedies] unhappen any more than we can use a floodlight to put out a fire.”

If I blame God for all tragedy, then in my scapegoating of God I remove free will and the grand mystery of it all and I end up hating God.  Some Christians talk about the permissive will of God as a way of explaining away tragedy and evil (i.e., God ‘allowed’ this to happen for some lesson to learn (which is a bullshit excuse, by the way).

Here are some squirmingly uncomfortable realities: EVERYTHING that happens falls under the will of God (if it does not then God is no longer omnipotent or omniscient); not everything has an explanation or a “purpose”; and some things in life will forever remain a Mystery and our job is not to solve the Mystery, but to live it.

God is always being blamed for all sorts of human tragedies and errors, while simultaneously we remove all elements of human error and the laws of nature as well as the reality that we humans create much of the variables that lead to tragedy and I refer back to the aforementioned reality of Mystery.

So when I echo the sentiments of the pastor from the post 9/11 service – that in times of suffering and death and pain, God can indeed be useless – I am not saying God is not a present reality.  What I am saying is that it is a futile exercise to expect God to give us pat answers or solutions when tragedy occurs; that is putting ego into the equation.

I can hope for God’s presence, but in the brutal rawness of misery and tragedy, my senses tend to be numb and blind to any divine presence.  I become lost in my own emotions, swirling and swimming, drowning me.  What I can say is that in all the tragedy I have experienced, God is present more so in the pain than in any so-called answer given to me by well meaning people.

So I try and remind myself when pain comes, and come it will, when suffering overwhelms my world, and I grasp and grope for God, for answers, hell, when I am grasping for anything to make sense of the pain, I will remind myself that although God is useless, God is still present.

 

Revised Musing on God: Evolution & Revolution

“It is good and right that our own understanding of God and God’s purposes should change and develop.”  Geoffrey Tristram, Anglican monk

“[All of] life is engulfed in God and God can reach out to us anywhere at any level.” – Evelyn Underhill

I firmly believe that God appears to us as we see God; if we see God as Love then so God appears. If we see God as angry, so too will God appear.  If all I see is an angry God in Scriptures, then so shall God be.  If I see God as Love, then too shall God be.  In truth, each of us holds the power of perception over how God comes to us.  Maybe all that needs to happen is the slight transformation of how we see God in order to become more open to real grace and to grow closer to God as God Is (and not as I see God).

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Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong said that “imagining God as a “being” with primarily anthropomorphic constructs is an immature way of imagining God.”  I could not agree more.   The late theologian Paul Tillich nailed it on the head when he spoke of God not as “a being,” but rather as the “Ground of all Being.”

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My spiritual task is to “discover the Infinite in the finite.”   My passion, my hunger and my search in life is for oneness with God, not some fairy-tale, mythological/magical intervention by God.

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As I watch and study Christians from all walks of life and from every construct (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) I am coming to believe that the greatest enemy of (our) faith in God is not doubt, but certainty.  By its very nature, certainty blocks the child-like nature needed to see and experience God unfettered, without constraint.    ‘Certainty’ assumes a perspective that can become myopically idolatrous – the belief that my beliefs are the Truth (rather than my experience of truth) and that there is no need or room for the evolution of beliefs.

Our Scriptures are thousands of years old, our creeds are more than 1500 years old and our liturgies are about 500 years old and our Christian faith has evolved almost nil.  Every single facet and paradigm of human existence has evolved and changed in some capacity or another in that time period: science; technology; medicine; politics; education; economies; philosophies.  But NOT so much in the Christian faith.

I wonder why that is…

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In the early years of Christianity, the common hallmarks of those who followed Jesus (and and who were called people of the Way long before they were called Christians – which means by the way, “little Christ/little Messiah”) included their immense and passionate care and love of each other, their enemies and the poor, the widows and orphans; they were also known for not serving in the military and for burying not on their own dead but the dead of the ‘pagans’ as well (not only a gracious thing to do but a HUGE public health positive that helped stop the spread of disease).  You can study the manuscripts of non-Christian historians and writers and even they wrote of this as a “marvel to behold.”

Now if I run that by what Christians are known for today (at least the ones we see on the news and on political talk shows and read about in the news) : almost violent and all consuming in their being against abortion; hating gays, lesbians and all who are different; cutting social welfare programs and healthcare; hating all Muslims; protecting the 2nd Amendment at all costs; anti-immigration nationalism; and a stark aloofness towards climate change and protecting and preserving God’s creation.

As the old 1990s song says: “things that make you go, ‘hmmmm.’”

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God may be never changing, but I must…change.  I must allow God to ‘evolve’ me with a revolution of the heart – a revolution of radical love that alters my own agenda, placing it at the service of loving neighbor, showing mercy, doing justice, and practicing kindness regardless of my religion or denomination or political slant.

In the end, I pray for God to evolve me into someone who imitates God and that, my friends, would indeed be a Revolution!

An Excerpt from “Guide Them Safely Home, Lord” (Internet Monk)

Note form Niles: Today’s post is taken from one of my favorite online writers and sites, Internet Monk.  The live link to the site is found at the end of the article.

“Bearing (and Sharing) Burdens” – Chaplain Mike

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Galatians 6:2

Sometimes as I deal with my patients and their caregivers, it’s the religious people that befuddle me most. One cliché I have heard repeatedly from caregivers who are people of faith is, “I just try to remember that God tells us he will never give us more than we can bear.”

I hate to burst your bubble, but God never said that. Never. Said. That.

I’m not sure where that cliché came from, but it is not in the Bible. Jesus didn’t say it. Paul said something like it in 1 Corinthians 10:13, but if you check you will see that he is talking about our common temptations and how God provides the means we need to escape them. The text does not say, “God will never give us more than we can bear.” Nope. Somebody made that one up.

The plain fact is that there are burdens in life that are too heavy for any one person to carry.

For some reason, many well-intentioned folks don’t want to accept that. So they try to handle challenges that are simply beyond their ability to deal with alone. The results usually aren’t good.

That’s when I direct them to another verse in the Bible that is clear and unambiguous: “Bear one another’s burdens…” Is not this verse telling us that everyone needs help sometimes? There are loads that are too heavy for one person to carry, and we can’t do it all by ourselves. So, help each other out! That’s pretty clear, right?

One more thing: I also won’t buy it if you tell me that since God helps you carry your burdens, you don’t need other people to assist you. This is the same God who said that it is not good for us to be alone. God created us to live in relationships, families, and communities for the very purpose of loving and supporting each other. God wants you to get help from others!

Instead of what I often hear, I’d love it if more caregivers would say, “God regularly gives me more than I can bear. That’s why I love and appreciate his gift of others in my life so much.”

 

By Chaplain Mike.  Original can be found at Internet Monk.

Musings on the Incarcerated

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Hebrews 13:3 (NIV)

Moses committed murder and was never brought to (human) “justice.”  And Moses was still called by God after his crime to lead one of the greatest liberation/freedom movements the world has ever recorded.

King David set up a plan to ensure the death of one of his closest, beloved, and most faithful generals because he, David, had had an extramarital affair with the generals’ wife, even impregnating her. He did all that premeditated to cover his own arse from getting caught.  And even after all that God called David the “apple of His eye.”

Jesus spent time in prison during his trial for sedition and was crucified between 2 thieves.

The Apostles served time in prison. John the Baptist was incarcerated. Joseph did time at a juvenile detention facility.

The Book of Acts is often celebrated for being the book that introduced us to the early Church and what the earliest followers of Jesus lived like BUT did you know it’s also the Book of the Bible that mentions the word prisoner more than any other Book in the Bible?

Though most ‘Christians’ and followers of Jesus take a “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality and also support capital punishment, it would do us well to reflect upon this truth: that God has used prisoners and criminals time and again to bring “salvation” and healing to various communities. And this God also mandates that we remember and care for the prisoner (saying nothing about doing so based on acceptable and unacceptable crimes).

God only states that when we visit the imprisoned we are visiting the Lord Jesus.

Not a sermon, just a challenging thought.

For more on this check out the Gospel of Matthew 25: 34-46 and www.captivefaith.org.

Four Thoughts on Grace

Gratitude is a doorway to Grace. Gratitude takes me from being closed to being open, and opening up leads me to see just how blessed I am and how much I have been given so that I can be a blessing to others.  Gratitude leads me away from resentment, arrogance and judgment into a place of forgiveness, acceptance and tenderness. The attitude I must have is one of gratitude for in every circumstance, every encounter, and every person is an opportunity for me to see God and share God.  Every opposition, taken with gratitude, becomes an opportunity to meet God and give his love away.

Grace is a moment when we learn (sometimes painfully) that anyone can be used by God as a messenger. Anyone. It is not my place to judge the ‘quality’ of the messenger; it is my place only to listen, discern, and receive the grace given.

I am learning that the people God has placed around me do not need me to correct or validate their feelings; they need me to love, listen and accept them.

More and more each day, I am understanding that God’s grace is like an ever-flowing river and all I need do is come to that river and drink to my fill. I need to understand that is the Reality for others as well: God’s grace is always available to them as well.  I cannot block, dam or clog up this river nor can I drink it for them. They must drink from the River themselves and I must never block passage to this ever-flowing river.

 

The Presence of Listening

Every year, around my birthday, I take stock of my life: reviewing where I am; how is my spiritual condition; am I growing closer to God and others, things like that.

I am realizing that a few things about me are being noticeably transformed – all thanks to God and those who have helped me in my recovery. I have grown from a totally rigid black and white thinker to a place where I am being led by the Spirit towards a more tolerant, compassionate experience and view of life – mine and the worlds.

In short, I have become less arrogant that my way is the right way, much less even “a” single way being the ‘right’ way.  I have come to know and see that the Spirit is like the Wind indeed – blowing wherever the skies and landscape take it.  Who am I to judge the Spirit’s leading and intention in a persons’ life?  I am learning that God can work in any way God sees fit, and can obviously do so without any input from this particular ragamuffin.

I am learning again one of the indispensable foundations of spirituality (and spiritual growth) is listening: listening to God, to our hearts, our fears, our pain, our joys, and especially to others.  Spirituality (and spiritual growth) can and do occur in solitude, but for them to flourish deeply they must grow in relation to another – in community.

And I am fast learning one steadfast truth: all community begins with listening.

It is an initial listening to a call from the Other Who then leads us to others and in listening to them we are led to ourselves, and it is vital to listen to each one clearly because at the Center they are all saying the same thing: “we are loved and we are one.”

It is in the mutuality that grows from listening that the deepest spiritual significance occurs, namely the mutuality between listening and telling: knowing someone will listen without judgment and knowing that one can tell their story and it will be heard.  That is one of the greatest powers of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous – story telling, listening, a shared struggle and a shared healing experience.

Those of us who are wrestling with spiritual dilemmas and demons, creeping and crawling ever so slowly towards awakenings, do not necessarily need answers but ‘presence’ – the permission to confront the dilemma, struggle with it out loud knowing we will be heard, and finding solace in the ‘defeat’ of terminal uniqueness (the belief that we are so different that we are alone in a chaotic, random universe).

Listening begins and deepens our spiritual experiences.  Listening affords us the space and silence needed to empty out our pain through storytelling and mutuality.   Listening is where we find not only answers but maybe more importantly the Presence Whom is the Source of all our longings.