No God in Church (revised)

Author’s Warning: the following diatribe may step on your toes, anger you, disgust you, challenge you, or cause you to judge me, lose respect for me, make you give off a sigh of relief…or you may merely shrug your shoulders and say ‘big deal, get original.”  

Here is my starting point: we do not find God in church.

Before anyone starts sifting through stones to see which ones is best for casting, pause and permit me a moment to expound on what I see as the truth that we do not find God in church.

For you see, I believe, it is the other way around.  We ‘find’ God (a misnomer) and out of that flows a living community incarnation called church.  For no “model” of church will produce God or God’s life in us.  It is in fact our life in God – our shared life in and through Jesus – that becomes the building blocks of the expression called ‘church.’

Because we have gotten it backwards (thinking we find God in church) has led us to become dependent, or codependent, upon church – both the building and the denominations – as well as church leaders for ‘creating’ God’s life in us.  We have done this so much so that we become passive in our own spiritual growth.  When we rely upon others to “impart” God’s life to us, we become spiritually lazy; veritable spiritual coach potatoes.

We not only end up waiting for others to show us how to grow spiritually but we even begin expecting others to do the work for us (as if spiritual growth can be imparted magically with no effort or desire on our part).  And to top it off, we then end up complaining about the lack of “fruit” or growth and as a result of our spiritual passivity we then tend to give up on the most important relationship we will ever have in our lives – the one we have with God.

It is vital that we become active in our spiritual journeys; we must hunger for Jesus and desire to experience what it means to live deeply in God and to follow and imitate Jesus (the word “Christian” means “little Messiah”).   And the great work that we do is the mere desire; for grace comes and draws us closer to the One Who is closer than our own skin.

I can tell you about my experience of God, but I cannot impart my experience of God into you; you have to have your own experience of God.  Others can offer guidance, but the truth be told, there should be 8 billion spiritual experiences happening, namely each and every person in the world must have their own personal (and therefore unique) experience with God.

In our modern age, it seems everything has become too easy, too fast to obtain that we have surrendered the daily, lifelong journey of a life with God.  We have settled.  We have settled when we allow our relationship with God to become an historical event instead of what it has always been meant to be – what Jesus showed us it could be – a dynamic, living, breathing, loving, bare bones to the wall, intimacy with God!

And this relationship is about God sorting things out within us.  God transforms us and by God’s grace and doing (not ours), we learn to live contentedly in God’s love and Providence instead of in the realm of worry, hurry, and religious structures.  But to have this life, to be this type of people, we must each and every one of us be friends with God.  Reading spiritual giants, reading about spiritual giants is all good, but at the end of the day, I am held accountable for my own spiritual growth.

I must actually have a relationship with Jesus rather than merely talking about having one.

Paradoxically, I cannot do this alone, but I do this within myself.  Community of some sort nurtures our connections to God, but we must in some form of solitude come face to face with God Who is the Ground of All Being (see Paul Tillich).  And rest assured, God longs to have this dynamic intimacy with each of us.  God pines for you and me more than we desire God.

So hold on to this Truth: God starts it; God sustains it; God waters it; God nurtures it; and God completes it.  Our role is to “show up” and surrender to this Living God of love.

Here come some toes stomping: forget the rules, the rigidity, the exclusiveness, the holy rollers club techniques, the loopholes that allow the church to reject me because I’m a democrat, a republican, an anarchist, gay, black, white, yellow, red, brown, poor, rich, a dope fiend or a drunk, all tatted up or whatever.

Jesus longs for you, as you are, where you are.  And it is up to God to do the transforming, not me.  If we seek Jesus we will be rewarded with an intimacy that is beyond comprehension, beyond words, beyond being.  But for this kind of intimacy, there is one basic “requirement” – we must surrender to God, plain and simple.

And as we surrender (daily, if you are me), we learn to depend upon the power of God’s in all things and for all things.  And as we do this we gradually learn and discover the fullness of life – the fullness of God’s life – within us.  I believe that when Jesus said that he came to bring life and to bring it abundantly, that is what this aspect of life first and foremost that he was talking about (see Gospel of John 10:9-11).

This abundance of God’s life, both in and through us, is not based on circumstances.  For circumstances do not make or break us, they merely reveal us.  And in this ‘revelation’, God reveals more and more of the divine life to us, and the more God reveals to us, the more we grow in love with and become more like Jesus.

This reality – this dynamic of all of us experiencing God and having Christ’s life in us – leads us to experience called “church.” And rather than trying to figure out how to “do” church, force community to happen, or even worse creating a place where a false sense of community and conformity is commonplace, something else happens – we begin to focus on God’s love and what Jesus is doing inside each of us and through this, we learn to be with each other in God’s love and from this comes authentic community – a living church.

God is the God of community.  Some examples include the Trinity (God in relationship with God’s own self), the ancient Hebrews who were brought together by YAHWEH – which literally means I AM WHO I AM – and were made into a people by this I AM and of the I AM; and then there are the apostles, the disciples, and the early church.  All these forms of community, of “church”, flowed from people being called into deep, intimate relationship with God and concurrently with each other.

The paradox here is that we must have our own intimate encounter with God, but what authenticates it is our connection to and relationship with others.

“Church” is our experience of God and God’s love flowing freely into us, through us, and out of us through Jesus – and towards a wounded world in desperate need of God’s grace.

The world does not need the experiment called “church” that is about being rudely right, or smug or pious or having a holier-than-thou attitude that has become so symbolic of the frozen chosen lost in a holy huddle – that is not what Church is supposed to be.  Church is meant to be a symbol of our collective experience of God and the unconditional love found in Jesus.  Without God’s life in us, in each of us, our expressions of church can become administratively-based religious country clubs, where the broken, hurting, and addicted are excluded from membership.  Without authentic intimacy with God, church becomes a place of self-righteous ethics dictated by appearances rather based on the crazy love of God.

We sometimes forget the very people that hung out with Jesus when he walked the earth would nowadays be frowned upon and judged right out of our congregations.  And lest we forget, Jesus – the man who said if you have seen me, you have seen God – hung out with the whores, the traitorious, the forgotten, the poor, the unclean and the ostracized, and the unholy not the righteous.  The only occurrences we know of Jesus ever judging anyone is when he was confronted by the pious hypocrites of his day, those who thought they held the keys to the rule and reign of God’s love and grace.

God’s life in us – coming from our intimacy and friendship with Jesus – will by default pour into us the very nature and love of this God Whose love is relentless and Whose mercies are never-ending.  As we become a people filled with this God, we are bound to imitate the lives of the early followers of Jesus: turning the world upside-down with divine love.

Now that is Church.

When we are with God, allowing the Spirit to change and mold us like the Master Potter, we are transformed.  And when we share what God is doing inside of us – instead of focusing on what we think others “should” be doing – God uses that to draw us all together, to grow the circle of a place called “Church.”

Advent Musings: Birthing Hope

“What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to [Jesus] fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to [Him] in my time and in my culture?  We are all meant to be Mary.

Meister Eckhart (14th century)

 

Author’s Note: I am doing two Advent revises and reposts on Hope; one is on Wild Hope and this one on Birthing Hope.  I am fond of saying all the time to people (like a random broken record) that although Scripture tells us “Love is the greatest” thing, I truly believe that hope is the most necessary. Without hope, the ability to even carry on is almost unbearable and impossible. – Niles

 

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming.”  Indeed, it is a time of year when we tune our hearts and minds to remembering the birth of hope in Jesus the Messiah.

I have written previously about Advent as a time of wild hope, and it is. But the thoughts just keep coming about the hope that Advent offers. And since I am in the throes of depression, and seeing little hope in my current days, I am doing all within my reach to seed and water any hope I can. So here are more thoughts on Advent.

This time of the “Coming” is indeed a time of true hopefulness because it is a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos is a Greek word for time that is unlike the human concept of time known as chronos (from which we get chronological time). Kairos is not a time of the clock but is a time of divine visitation, a rending of the human cloak of reality when God comes to dwell among his people in an extra-ordinary way.

Kairos in many ways sums up Advent: God going to great lengths to come to us in a manner which we would truly be able to relate. It is God coming to us through the fragile vulnerability of a newborn child, who would grow to be Messiah, a human being through and through acquainted with the pain of sorrow of life as well as the power of resurrection.

We need this sign of Hope desperately today: a sign of faithful love and solidarity given with no expense spared. But it seems we have fallen prey to some of the same distortions as the people who lived during the birth of Jesus, namely the misled belief that Messiah would come as a powerful military King to liberate his people.   

But God, it seems, had different plans.

As is the case in most of Scripture, God did not come to people the way everyone ‘expected’ it; not in power or might, not in a giant warrior or a billionaire CEO.  No, God chose instead to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed teenage mother in a land under the occupation of a vast Empire.  This reality truth defies all logic and reason.  It makes no sense that God did not come to us as some warrior king with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for obsessive control.

God’s way if often upside-down…

No, Jesus came to us, as one of us, and chose to make God known in vulnerability, fragility and poverty.  And this, my friends, is what hope is all about: in the midst of chaos, feeling lost, wandering, and despair Hope chose to come to us to shine brightly the warm light of God’s love upon us.

Advent reminds us that Hope, coming in the Man of Sorrows, is indeed a scandalous moment: a moment where God made his unfathomable grace known and available to each of us in ways comforting and disturbing.

This time of year is a time to remember that the hopeful coming of the Messiah occurred in relative obscurity, with little pomp or circumstance, with no “Black Friday” sales, or shiny decorations, and without the hottest new toy that we somehow deem necessary for our survival.

God comes to us again this Advent just as God did over 2,000 years ago: in the gentleness of vulnerability; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; and in the promise of hope when all hope seems lost.

Advent is not only about God coming to us; it is also about opportunity.  It is an opportunity for us to remember during the darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become like Mary, a place where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.

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.

 

“Incarnation” (Frederick Buechner)

Frederick Buechner is one of my favorite spiritual/religious writers in the world.  He is a pastor, an artist, a poet and to top it all off he spent many years in my favorite place in all the world – Vermont.  His words on the Incarnation are rich and challenging.  EnJoy!

“The word became flesh,” wrote John, “and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). That is what incarnation means. It is untheological. It is unsophisticated. It is undignified. But according to Christianity, it is the way things are.

All religions and philosophies that deny the reality or the significance of the material, the fleshly, the earthbound, are themselves denied. Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it. If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth, but our bodies and our earth themselves. Jerusalem becomes the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). Our bodies are sown perishable and raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42).

One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.

~ Written by Frederick Buechner and originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words.

Three Things, Simply

Love.
God is love.  And not the kind of love that is necessarily Hallmark like, but the kind that is Present when no one else is, when all else has failed, when there are more doubts than assurances.  And in all things and through all things I am keen to remember (re-member) two solid truths: one, that God is Perfect Love and two, I gave my life to God.   All else in my world must flow from these truths or I am lost.  And if God is perfect love, and I surrendered my life to this God of Perfect Love, then I am wise to allow that divine love to flow into me and through me.  I must get out of my own way, so to speak, and allow God’s all embracing, all encompassing love to BE just that in me and through me: embracing all and encompassing all.

Learn.
I am here to have my mind conformed to the will of God.  And God’s will is that of love, so therefore I am also here to learn of God’s love and to let God’s love teach me the divine ways of being.  For me, God’s love cannot be learned in a book of paper but rather in the and through the book called Life.  I have joked around that the definition of LIFE is Love In Full Expression.  And so must my learning be: learning to let God’s love have full expression within me, burning off the dross of my banal ego and my leanings towards the pettiness of things.  If I am to learn of God’s love, I must place myself consciously “in the way” of this love, and I am here to learn of this will of God that is love in being and action.

Lean.
And finally, since I am oh so human and I need to learn to lean on God and others for my support, my growth and also how to be someone others can lean on.  Love received can only be nurtured if it is love given.

So simply put, I need to Love, Learn and Lean…

“The Heart of It All” (Kayla McClurg)

The Heart of It All

For Sunday, May 8, 2016 – John 17:20-26

Jesus longs to plant deeply within all who will listen the central truth of his life—that at the heart of it all is love. The love of God  has poured prodigally into Jesus, causing the love of Jesus to pour into his friends so that the love of his friends will pour lavishly into the world, until generations later here we are, learning to receive and give from that same bottomless well of love. God’s glory, Jesus says, has been given to him, and whatever comes to him flows through him, to us. What is this glory river that flows to us and then through us? It is the awareness that we are one—one with God, one with each other—and loved so bountifully that we can do no less than respond to all of God’s creation in love. What a simple way, this way of love!

Except when it is not. The easy flow of receiving and giving love becomes blocked with jealousy, anger, selfish motives. We do not see ourselves as one; we become alienated from each other, lost. Some call this the evidence of our functional atheism. We disconnect our believing from our living. We might say intentionally chosen words, trying to sound pleasing to God and others, but we do not embody these words in an intentional way of life. Jesus challenges our lofty concepts about love, our fantasies about how remarkable our love could be, and sets us on the path of action. What matters is love’s practical implementation day by day.

If we are going to have the full experience of God’s way of love, we will start by being more at ease with being one. We will seek to love others as ourselves, knowing that what happens to one happens to all and to ignore suffering is to ignore our own. When will we wake up to each other and stop excluding whomever we please? Regardless of birth nation, gender identification, political affiliation, degree of education, sexual orientation, being an aggravation, craving adulation, believing, or not believing, in transubstantiation—we are, the whole lot of us, God’s absolute favorites. We are amazingly broken and beloved beings, and like it or not, we are in the little boat of this life together. Whether resting in or resisting this truth, we are right where God intends for us to be—at the heart of it all, where we are one.

By: Kayla McClurg, Church of the Saviour

Wrestling with God or Two Things with Which I Struggle

Billy Joel was right when he sang “honesty, it’s such a lonely word.”  And I know Jesus said the “truth shall set you free” to which I always add “but first it will piss you off.”  I crave brutal honesty with my God, at all cost, at the expense of propriety.

I often ask myself happens in a relationship when people are brutally honest?  Growth, intimacy, destruction, despair, loneliness, resentment?  All of the aforementioned?

I know personally I can be brutally honest with God and there will be no real repercussions; not like there can be when I dump truth on to the people in my life.  You see the one problem that most people create in their relationship with God is in assuming God has an ego.  Only those with egos get their feelings hurt, feel jealous, harbor and nurture resentments, plot and plan revenge and retribution.  But God has NO EGO therefore God cannot like other human beings be ‘wounded’ by any unrefined truth laid bare in prayer.

Oh how so many would be freed up in their relationship with God if they could just fathom deeply, experientially, that God has no ego; that God is Love, pure love, holy love, perfect Love.  God is free of the ego, unlike you or I.

But I digress, because my point is not so much that God does not have an ego. No, that is just the precursor, ,my point is to share about two of the greatest struggles I am living in and through right now.

The two ‘issues’ are this: one, I know God has the power to do miracles in the world and in my life but I do not necessarily believe that God has the willingness/desire to do so in my life; and two, I experience God these days more so as an historical Memory rather than a Present Reality.

I do not feel judged when I write these lower case truths.  In fact, there is a certain freedom that occurs when unburdening myself of the need for propriety when praying.

So I live with this creative tension that God is all powerful but not necessarily all willing. I live with a rich historical sense of God and God’s presence in my past, but not so much today (or the last 12 months for that matter). 

I try and come up with metaphors to explain these two things more ‘rationally’ or easily, but to no avail.  I am not saying I have no faith nor am I saying I will never get over or through this.  What I am saying is I must start from where I am rather than where I am not.  And where I am is struggling – wrestling as it were – with God.

I believe the greatest gift I can give to people is me being as real and authentic as possible and in that posture pray somehow, some way, you see the grace and love of God.  The best way for me to help people, to walk with people as they grow spiritually which is my calling, is to be velveteen rabbit real, even when that ‘realness’ makes people uncomfortable, gasp, or wonder if I have fallen away.

Indeed, Jesus was spot on when he said that we would know the truth and that truth would set us free.  So, even though I am fighting and struggling, I am indeed free in God’s love to do so, free to be fully human, and velveteen real.