Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Love 'em all, and let God sort 'em out!

I believe marriage between two consenting adults should be a civil right. Gay couples who have committed to spending their lives together, who share their finances and living space, pain and joy, should be entitled to the same benefits and responsibilities as any heterosexual couple. It is not proper for a group of Christians to impose their religious convictions on a secular society. This has nothing to do with whether or not I believe being gay is a sin (a pointed question Rob Bell appears desperate to dodge), and everything to do with the separation of state and kingdom. Creating laws based on "majority Christian" values and imposing those laws on a diverse group of believers, non-believers and other-believers, is a recipe for resentment and division. Enforcing rules will not usher in God's kingdom. We do more harm than good when we treat gay people as less than. We need to love people into the kingdom, not convict them of their sins -that's God's department.

But is being gay a sin? I really wish Jesus had met a homosexual at the well, or given us a parable about this issue, but he didn't, so we are left to consider how Jesus treated other marginalized people. Who were the marginalized people in Jesus' day? Who were looked down upon, considered less than, or morally suspect? The poor, the disabled, women, children, Samaritans, adulterers, tax collectors, criminals... and in every one of these cases Jesus elevated their status. He built them up rather than tearing them down. He was radically inclusive and had harsh words for anyone who sought to dismiss, exclude or destroy God's people -even those who didn't consider themselves one of God's chosen, even those who were considered the worst sinners of his time! Jesus never once addressed the issue of homosexuality, and as such, I am inclined to believe it wasn't a pressing issue for him.

Having said that, I do not believe all sexual orientations/expressions are spiritually healthy. Gay people, like straight people, may be personally convicted about their sexual practices and God will let each and every one of us know what is right if we choose to ask and listen. In the early church eating meat sacrificed to idols was considered an abomination by some, but for others their conscience did not convict them that it was wrong. Even though we clearly read in Acts and in Revelation that it is wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, Paul states in Ephesians that those who feel convicted to abstain from meat should not condemn those who are not convicted, who do not struggle with the issue. This may seem like a stretch for some people, but this was a big deal for the early church, and it received much more attention than homosexuality. Culturally, the early church had little to no context for two consenting adults engaging in a committed, exclusive relationship, and following Jesus.

I will admit, I could be wrong about this whole thing, but I don't think I am. Nonetheless, let me be judged as loving too much, including too many people in God's kingdom, than for dismissing, excluding or shaming. Love 'em all, and let God sort 'em out!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What I Learned About Christians Since Becoming One

Whenever I reveal to someone that I am a Christian, I immediately want to, and sometimes do, qualify that statement with an explanation of what kind of Christian I am. I am not one of those Christians -you know, the conservative, judgmental type. (My appologies to conservatives; it's my own prejudice, I know.) I think I'd prefer to tell people I am a drug addict than a Christian most days. Why is that?

I think most non-Christians think of us as weird, hypocritical, sheltered, ignorant, judgmental, arrogant, easily brainwashed and/or emotionally weak. We are dependent personalities. Baa! We believe absurd stories that people with half a brain would recognize as myth. We live in a bubble and don't see the real world.

But I wonder, is that what people really think? Or am I projecting my own insecurities?

Truthfully, from my experience in the church, well, my church anyway, I have found Christians to be stronger, more accepting, and more humble than the average non-Christian. Maybe my church family is an exception, but I have a feeling we are pretty average.

I've been on both sides of the fence, and I've seen more non-Christians look down on Christians than Christians look down on non-Christians. I don't say that to point fingers. I did it too.

However, I now know that not all Christians believe the same things (and if you are part of a church in which every question has an answer, and all hold the exact same beliefs about the Bible/heaven/hell/the nature of God/etc. you might want to check out the characteristics of cults, because even the greatest theologians of all time, even those who walked with Jesus and laid the foundation for Christianity, had differing opinions); I now know that many Christians are intelligent, critical thinkers; I now know that Christians are often more broken than they appear; I now know that most Christians experience doubt and feel absolutely no connection to God by times; I now know that it takes an enormous amount of perseverance and strength to follow the Christian path in our current culture; I now know that there are literally thousands of Christian movements, and some of these movements make other Christians just as uncomfortable as they make non-Christians. We are not homogeneous; we are not blind to the absurd among us; we are not static, unchanging people.

We are hungry for God. We experienced something that may or may not have had anything to do with the Bible or church, and that experience ignited a spark of faith in the supernatural. Each of us have our own story as to why, but following The Way of Jesus intuitively makes sense to us.

Does that mean we now have answers to life's big questions? Hardly.

Does that mean we should now be "good" people? Here's the thing, like every other human on the face of the earth, just because we know something is wrong doesn't mean we can easily stop. Non-Christians and Christians alike are guilty of judging Christians with less mercy than the average Joe. From my experience, people in the church are, on average, living healthier lives spiritually, but everyone still struggles with some sin, and some Christians struggle with pretty hardcore stuff. However, I would bet that Christians (again, on average) are more likely to recognize shortcomings and want to change them. We are often acutely aware of where we miss the mark. That's not to say there aren't assholes among us. That's a fact of life. Some people just suck, whether Christian or not. As Christians, we are called to love (care for, treat) the assholes among us, rather than ridicule or shun. My less Christian self would want to (and sometimes does) ignore or lash out.

I'm not sure where these ramblings are going, if anywhere, so I will end with this final thought. If you are a non-Christian, and you are a little intimidated around your Christian friends/relatives/neighbours because you think they are taking your inventory or judging your lifestyle, let me tell you a little secret: most Christians, like everyone else, are too caught up in their own stuff to be worried about yours. Sad, but true.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Not Sure Where This Is Going

Ever get the feeling that the life you are living is not the life intended for you? Do you ever feel disconnected from the everyday and deep down certain that you have a higher calling that just isn't being fulfilled?

I trudge on, day after day, through what could be a very beautiful life. I am fed and safe and healthy. So are my children. I have the freedom to live life as I see fit -a privilege many women around the world can only dream of. And yet I feel fearful and trapped.

I used to think I knew the difference between right and wrong but these days I cannot make heads or tails of the decisions (or lack of decision) in my life. Am I doing what I am doing out of guilt? virtue? laziness? fear? love? selfishness? I cannot identify my own motivations. Perhaps there is a little truth in each.

I pray and I wait but there is no inspiration or certainty. I ask for a sign and wonder if I'm perhaps a little unstable mentally. What if there is no response because God, as I have imagined God to be, does not exist. Then I start to rail against the small gods I have created. The Father Christmas with his naughty and nice lists, the physician who prescribes bitter medicine for my own good, the loving but impotent old man, the intelligent but impersonal energy that connects us all. How can I believe in all these gods and none of them at the same time?

Intellectually I am aware that God is beyond understanding but emotionally I cannot accept it. Unlike carbon that is transformed to diamond under heat and pressure, I seem to reduce God to one of many juvenile caricatures when spiritual stress sets in. Aware of my mistake, the big fear then sets in: what if no one is watching? What if I have been comforting myself with nothing more than a psychological crutch. Deep down I think I know what I believe, but some days even that comes into question. Am I regressing? Am I losing my faith or just growing up? It seems as if I've been at this place too many times before. Perhaps it's not God but Christianity that is failing me. I mean, other than the life and teachings of Jesus I find it hard to understand let alone respect the God I encounter in the Bible.

But I digress.

If it seems as if I'm all over the place lately it is because I am all over the place. Everything is up in the air and I'm feeling rather foolish with all this juggling.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not So Delicate Awakening

I want to sit up straight, suffer quietly and break a sweat. I want to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. I hunger for righteousness but my laziness overtakes me. My distractions are plentiful and intoxicating. I am a slave to the meaningless and I knowingly subscribe to the illusion, momentarily satieted by big shiny lies. I eat heartily until the sun sets and then groan with regret when I lay down on my pillow at night. It's so quiet. Too quiet.

What if it's real. Really real. What if every prayer is heard and every hair numbered? How can I account for my behaviour other than to say, I just didn't know. Because it's true, I don't know.

I'm haunted by the thought that God is even more than the thought that God isn't.

Are you hanging on these words God? Do you hear you deaf old bastard? Sometimes I hate you.

Apparently only a wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign. So be it. I never claimed to be anything but. And yet I don't want you to move a single finger in my direction because I suppose I know which one it will be and I don't need the confirmation.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I Know This Much Is True

There is an infinite and timeless love pulsing through the universe. There is a source of light and mercy and hope and miracles that flows like a river. I am a giver, receiver, creator and destroyer of miracles. There is a conscious, intelligent spirit guiding me. I choose to participate and cooperate with divine wisdom or I choose not to. I can heal and I can wound. God is not separate from me. God is a part of me, bigger than me. God is my source. God is growing and I am helping God expand. God is more than I can begin to define or understand. God is not a He or a She. No religion owns God. No religion owns me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The 24 Hour Fast

I'm going to fast today. I've tried to fast in the past but I've never been very successful. I am sometimes able to abstain from specific foods for a period of time but giving up food altogether for any length of time has proven very difficult. I plan to fast on water only.

Over the course of the day I am going to update this post to offer my insights and challenges. I have not eaten since last evening so I'm already well into this fast. For the sake of simplicity I'm going to consider midnight of last night as my start time.

7:00 AM - I have not had anything to eat since going out for ice-cream with some friends after supper last evening. I'm not much of a breakfast person so I'm not feeling any loss yet. I have tea or coffee every day but my hot water substitution is surprisingly satisfying.

8:52 AM - I'm hungry. This is where I usually fail -the first hurdle! I might say something simple and dismissive to end the fast without debate, like, 'fasting is stupid.' Or, I might give myself a rational excuse about how I have to work tonight so I need to keep up my energy. I'll tell myself I will fast another, better day when there will be fewer challenges because I don't want to set myself up for failure. I'll remind myself that there is fresh fruit in the fridge that is going to spoil, that I am meeting a friend for coffee later, that God loves me just as I am and I need not prove anything with such an outdated, legalistic practice. Today I am going to try simply being aware of such thoughts and letting them float by without grasping and playing with them.

10:42 AM - I made some pancakes and topped them with a generous amount of butter and maple syrup for the girls. When you're a mom you don't get a break from preparing food, even if you are fasting! My belly is starting to growl.

4:25 PM - We live in an apartment building and I can smell at least 2 tasty dishes being prepared this evening. My belly actually aches. It's been a good day so far though. My hunger reminds me to turn to God with some extra prayer.

8:30 PM - Still fasting. I work the night shift tonight so I slept a few hours which helped the time pass. I am surprised by how well I am doing. Once I took the option to eat off the table, so to speak, the hunger became manageable. The real battle is the mental war, the hunger pangs are a small discomfort.

11:00 PM - I'm suffering with nausea and a little shakiness now. My body is definitely ready to break this fast. Just one more hour to go. Thank goodness I can eat as soon as I arrrive at work! I can only imagine what it is like to live with hunger all the time. I know one day of hunger cannot begin to compare to a lifetime of poverty but I have been reflecting on these issues throughout the day.

Final Reflections - I broke my fast at midnight with an orange followed by a banana. For the last hour, and even for an hour after I ate, I felt miserable. I was extremely nauseaus and very weak/shaky. Heading to work after 24 hours of fasting is not recommended! However, this particular job is not physically demanding and I didn't need to interact with anyone so it was manageable.

I wish I could have spent more time in prayer and meditation yesterday, but it's not always possible to carve out a half hour or an hour when you are a working mom. I did find myself leaning on God a little more throught the day and I will definitely be fasting periodically from now on.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I am tired, empty and confused. I feel suffocated by the circumstances in my life. Do I follow my head or my heart? Do I even know what my heart wants anymore? No. Why is the voice of God so hard to distinguish from my wants and fears? God feels a million miles away. I cry and I pray and I sleep away the day. I try to play with the kids and talk to my husband and do the next right thing. But I pretty much feel like the walking dead. Yet, there is something there. A spark of hope. I think I am becoming much better at dealing with suffering. Some days anyway. A lot of days I still find myself looking over the edge and wondering if today is the day I jump. I can't tell you if God is trying to push me off or hold me back. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Beauty in Brokenness

I dig deep
and pull up a shard
a fragment of my broken life
sharp, jagged edges
clutched in hand

I squeeze tight
and bleed

I have found the source of my pain, but I don't want to let it go.

Then, prayer
silence and waiting
more prayer

Something almost imperceptible shifts
a pinky quivers
and a shadow of hope is cast

I start to notice
hands lifted in surrender
scars on palms

Another finger relaxes
I let go completely

A brief silence, a skipped beat, a sharp breath
catch me?


Long exhale
rest and recovery

God raises that shard to the light
and rainbows dance in dark places
spreading hope

The promise of life has been fulfilled,

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Back in the Garden

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden continues to weigh on my mind. I find it a little funny to be hung up so early in The Story, but here I am, questioning from the get-go. I'm pretty sure that having a proper understanding of this myth or parable will greatly influence how I read and understand the rest of the Bible. I have no doubt there are very profound truths about the human condition contained within this deceptively simple narrative. Although I am willing to admit that we are imperfect beings, I don't subscribe wholeheartedly to the doctrine of original sin as commonly understood.

In fact, from a certain perspective I don't consider The Fall of Man to be a rebellion or corruption at all, seeing it instead as a necessary step on the journey toward spiritual maturity. The garden story is the perfect example of ignorance being bliss. Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the dawn of consciousness. At that point, man grew beyond his oneness with nature (was expelled from the garden) by becoming aware of right and wrong. He developed a conscience. Do animals feel shame? I don't think so. But from that point on, Adam and Eve felt vulnerability (nakedness) and shame.

Once man evolved beyond his animalistic instincts he developed the ability to consciously bring harm to himself and others. He was also able to use his mental powers to judge despite his errors in perception. Consciousness, or self-awareness, created the fundamental spiritual challenge: overcoming the temptation to serve and preserve oneself at the expense of others. In short, learning to love.

There's a similar perspective I learned through the writings of Emmet Fox and I can't tell you how true they ring. To me, it makes more sense than anything else I've heard up to this point. (These points are paraphrased for the most part.):
  • Adam and Eve represent two aspects of the same person. Adam represents the physical body and Eve represents the mind.
  • The serpent represents our lower nature -our carnal mind or ego (an aspect of Eve), thus it was Eve who the serpent tempted.
  • Eve eats the fruit first because mind is the builder and body is the effect. The mind can bring harmony or trouble into the body/world but the body cannot act independent of the mind.
  • When Eve ate the fruit (gave in to the temptations of the ego) she started to view herself as separate from God, this mistaken belief is the Fall of Man.
  • When it says Eve shared the fruit with Adam, it represents those mistaken beliefs becoming manifested in the material world (acted out). (I guess you could call this sin!)
  • The result of these mistaken beliefs is much suffering and effort. (Eve experiences pain in childbirth; Adam must till the ground.)
  • A belief in separation from God also causes us to feel vulnerable and fearful, hence the feeling of nakedness Adam and Eve experienced and the desire to cover up that feeling with material things.
I don't know about you, but I find all this stuff absolutely fascinating. The Bible is an amazing, amazing book filled with truths beyond what we can even currently imagine. I really must spend more time reading and meditating on these inspired writings.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I'm Doing Nothing For Lent

(c) Holly Stanley

In a world where productivity rules and efficiency is king, intentionally leaving the margins blank seems counterintuitive. We text while waiting in line-ups, read on the toilet and respond to emails while watching television. I've become so accustomed to doing that I have a hard time not doing. Just lounging on the couch without music or television, a laptop or telephone, writing or reading seems totally foreign to me. And yet this is the place where dreams are made, this is when we are most creative, and it's also when we are most likely to be receive revelation.

We don't need to carve out more time for rest, we need to use the time we have more restfully. Multi-task less, go for walks without the iPod, sit and stare out the window for an hour. Do nothing, intentionally. And do it every day.

This is my plan for Lent.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Am Who I AM

Sometimes, the hardest thing to be is yourself, nothing more and nothing less. The past few years I've been peeling back layers of my personality and getting to the fruit. I am coming to accept that I am who I am. Social stuff, even close relationships, weren't easy for me and I have battled feelings of inferiority for as long as I can remember. I didn't think anyone would like me just the way I am. I feared being found out -that people would eventually realize what a fraud I was. If I spent an evening with friends I'd spend the next 3 evenings picking apart every "stupid" thing I said or did. I despised my own words and feelings. I rejected my own story. 

But something really wonderful has been happening lately: I am seeing myself as a child of God and fellow sojourner -just another Bozo on the bus really! 

This perspective of brotherhood heals me in a fundamental way. We are equals. No matter how pretty she is or how intellectual he is or how much compassion or creativity or success they have, I am an equal.

Nowadays, when I catch myself being completely myself there is a quiet freedom that teeters on joy. I can ask questions when I am uncertain without being afraid of looking dumb. I can share my view, even if it's unpopular, without fearing judgment. I can tell my story without feeling shame. Why? Because when I tap into that perspective of brother/sisterhood and seek to share honestly and humbly, I have no facade to maintain or persona to defend. I am no longer speaking to impress, I am simply sharing/engaging without an agenda. At that point, I simply am who I am, nothing more and nothing less.

Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Broken Body of Christ

I'm back at church for the first time in over a month. The worship team is playing one of those songs that put a lump in my throat and little Kathleen, who is usually running wild, is resting in my arms with her head on my shoulder. The air in the room is heavy with grief. We are saying goodbye to sweet Elinore. I am crying too, but not for Elinore. I am crying for us. We are a motley crew of lost and broken-hearted. We sit alone together: an adulteress, an alcoholic, a rape victim, a man so lonely his pain is palpable. The body of Christ is still bleeding.

Not one of us gets through life unscathed. For some the pain comes early, for others it will be much later, but misery will find us all -if only because we have decided to take up the cross of our brother who can no longer carry it himself. If we are living safe, comfortable lives and belong to a church filled with good, happy people then we are either delusional, in denial, or lazy. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 

Across this broken body of Christ a new vision is formed and hope springs from bended knees. Our wounds mark our brotherhood and surrender becomes our salvation.

We are one. We are one. We are all one.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To Be a Prayer Warrior

I can only imagine what it would be like to consistently begin and end each day with prayer; to seek guidance and express gratitude as a way of life; to say grace before every meal; to pray with each child at bedtime; to humbly present myself at the Throne of Love when I am floundering.

I believe in the miraculous power of prayer.
I believe prayer can change lives.
I believe prayer will change my life.

Today, I pray.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Questioning 'Questioning Christianity'

Lately I feel less than inspired to blog here at Questioning Christianity and I think it's because I'm not in the same place I was when I started writing. I still have loads of questions, I'm just not as hungry for answers anymore. Or maybe the answers don't satisfy so much because as interesting as it is to debate God stuff it's infinitely more rewarding to experience God stuff. These days I'm keeping busy practicing Christianity rather than studying it. I don't plan to stop blogging but I do think the content has been generally moving in a new direction -one that balances questions with experiences and pays just as much attention to the heart as it does to the head.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Love

I am God's beloved. Beloved! Have you ever heard such a sweet word? I love how it rolls off the tongue. I am sweet and precious in His eyes. I am cherished. Now, if only my head would tell that to my heart. I have a feeling that when I truly get it, when I tear down the walls I have built to protect my poor bruised heart and let the light in, nothing will ever be the same.

Have you ever tried to be good? I mean really tried. Have you ever set out to love well only to fail miserably? I have. My desire to be kind and gentle, compassionate and forgiving, are quickly forgotten when I face the weakest of opposition. A mere look, a simple slight and I fall to pieces. Why is that? I think I know the answer.

I am still looking to externals to validate my worth. I am still operating under the false belief that I am not enough. Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not funny enough, not spiritual enough. Deep down, way deep down, there is a part of me that believes there is no good thing about me and that belief drives me. I seek recognition, affirmation and approval from others because I don't possess it for myself. When I try to love, and I am confronted with a word or thought that challenges my fragile sense of worth, I protect it at all cost.

But here's the thing. When I rest in God's love, when I open myself up to His light, when I seek Him first, the whole world loses it's power over me. In fact, I actually become a channel of blessings to others because who among us can contain the light? When we let it in it shines everywhere. It pours out of us. We leak love.

On my own I have nothing to give. Sure, I can reciprocate that which is given to me -I can love the lovable and have affection for the affectionate, but I cannot create light where darkness exists. Instead, I myself become blinded by the darkness too. I become fearful, arrogant, self-centered, jealous, resentful and hurt. We cannot give that which we don't have.

But God's love changes everything. Darkness does not exist on it's own. It has no source. It is the absence of light, not an equal and opposite force. I'm trying to meditate on that today. I am not going to focus on giving, I'm going to focus on receiving and in doing so be filled to overflowing.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Daily Examen

A few days ago a friend mentioned Ignatian prayer in a blog post which led me to research St. Ignatius and his spiritual exercises. Wiki tells us that Ignatius of Loyola was "a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, hermit, priest since 1537, and theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)." His spiritual exercises, consisting mainly of prayer and meditations, are meant to bring people into a deeper relationship with God.

The Examen of Consciousness is one of St. Ignatius' most well-known spiritual exercises. At the heart of this daily practice is a review in which one reflects on their day with the intention of becoming more spiritually minded and tuned into God. This prayer method helps us see how we have responded to God's movings and promptings throughout our day and when we have failed to do so.

I scoured the net and found all kinds of variations on this exercise, but generally they all follow the same process. I noted the things that resonated with me then whittled it down to a simple practice I could easily incorporate into my day. I've only been doing this for a few days but the results are profound. I already find myself much more God-conscious and I'm receiving supernatural help for issues that have held me back for a very long time. For the review I chose and created questions that I felt would be most helpful for me.


“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

God is always present but I am not always mindful of this. I'll now take the necessary time to fully experience God’s presence.


“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thess 5:18)

What do I have to be grateful for today? What have I taken for granted that deserves thanksgiving? I'll now talk to God about these things.


“The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything.” (John 14:26)

Only the Holy Spirit can help me to know my true self as a child of God and shine light on that which I need to see. I'll now invite the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide me.


• How were my thoughts, words and deeds today?
• Which of my feelings and moods are drawing me closer to God?
• Which are driving me away?
• How conscious have I been of God’s presence today?
• Where were there barriers to God's presence or resistance on my part?
• When did I reach out to help others?
• What held me back when I neglected to do so?
• Was I so preoccupied with my own plans that I missed an opportunity?
• Did I bring Christ to my community?
• Did my community bring Christ to me?
• Did I go out to the lonely, the sorrowful, the discouraged and needy?
• Have I been a sign of God’s presence and love to the people I met today?
• When did I neglect to stand up for truth, to share my beliefs and faith?
• Am I sharing my story honestly with myself, God and others?
• How was I drawn to God today?
• Did I see God in the beauty of nature, a song, poem, story, scripture?
• Did I call on God in my doubt, fear, work, failures and weariness?
• Did I share my peace, hope, joy, successes and gratitude with Him?
• Are any of my daily habits interfering with my spiritual growth?
• Are there spiritual practices I need to cultivate? 
• Are there specific people I am allowing to influence me negatively?
• Where has Christ helped me overcome challenges today?
• Could I have accepted more help from Christ?
• Can I become more sensitive to God’s grace?


Now it's time to have a heart to heart with God. I may need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern or express gratitude in response to my daily review. What changes can I make? What specific graces do I need to make those changes? I'll now ask God to provide that which I need to draw closer to Him and resolve to be more conscious tomorrow. Finally, I give thanks to God for His gentle work inside my heart as we labour together to help me become more Christlike, day by day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

20 Spiritual Questions to Ponder

In the documentary ONE: The Movie filmmakers asked well-known spiritual teachers and everyday people philosophical questions that explore the meaning of life. I haven't seen the movie yet but I did read the questions and they are great food for thought. What do I believe? Some answers came easily but others required much more reflection. It's interesting to ponder how my beliefs have changed over the years and consider how they will continue to evolve in the future. Feel free to copy the questions and post your answers on your own blog. Make sure to share a link in the comment section so I can read your answers!

1. Why is there poverty and suffering in the world?
Because the majority of us that could do something about these issues are too far removed from the problem to really care. Humans can be selfish, greedy, fear-filled creatures. We live in an unelightened world.

2. What is the relationship between science and religion?
Science studies creation but religion is focused on the creator.

3. Why are so many people depressed?
They've lost a sense of meaning and purpose. They are disconnected.

4. What are we all so afraid of?
Being criticized, abandoned, forgotten, alone. That death is the end.

5. When is war justifiable?
I don't know.

6. How would God want us to respond to aggression and terrorism?
With prayer.

7. How does one obtain true peace?
By surrendering.

8. What does it mean to live in the present moment?
To act without an attachment to the results, let go of the past and stop trying to control the future.

9. What is our greatest distraction?
The limitless void. The illusion that more (money, stuff, power, recognition, talent, travel, friends, prayer, etc.) will make us happier.

10. Is current religion serving its purpose?

11. What happens to you after you die?
I'm pretty confident that our spirit separates from our physical body and based on accounts from near-death experiencers I think it is possible that we are guided by spiritual beings and participate in a life review. I believe we continue our education while in the spiritual realms and reincarnate if necessary. I believe hell does exist and some souls go to hell because they have made a conscious decision to reject God. I also believe there are realms beyond imagination in which we enter into communion with God.

12. Describe heaven and how to get there.
Heaven is communion with God. It is experienced when we take up our crosses and follow Christ -when we die to self and become Christlike.

13. What is the meaning of life?
To encounter and transcend adversity. To experience the physical realm, practice free will, embrace life and learn to love. To find pleasure in God's creation.

14. Describe God.
God is the sentient life force that exists in all living things and watches over us at the same time. God is a part of and separate from; intrinsic and transcendent. God is the creator and the creation.

15. What is the greatest quality humans posses?
The capacity to love that which seems unloveable.

16. What is it that prevents people from living to their full potential?

17. Non-verbally, by motion or gesture only, act out what you believe to be the current condition of the world.

18. What is your one wish for the world?
That everyone will feel safe and loved.

19. What is wisdom and how do we gain it?
Wisdom is the ability to see the big picture. We gain it by learning from our past and listening to God.

20. Are we all One?
We are, but we don't yet know it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Can Christians Become Enlightened?

As much as I love the Christian path there is a mindset common among followers of Jesus that really disappoints me. I'm finding this a little hard to put into words so please bear with me. 

What I have observed is that very few Christians appear to work on their spiritual health in any practical way. Often, they genuinely want to change but instead of doing work to help themselves they choose to put their faith in God. It's as if they expect God to flick a switch and make them better people. 

Some Christians believe that incorporating certain practices not only demonstrates a lack of faith but is potentially dangerous. Personal development resources (books, programs, counseling, etc.) are often viewed with suspicion if not fear. There may be the outright rejection of any spiritual teaching that is not found in the Bible or even hints at New Thought. (Ironically, sometimes the Bible says the same thing but frames it differently!) Self-help books, yoga, meditation, body work, cognitive therapy and the likes are often dismissed entirely as being too new-agey and therefore risky business.

Many Christians are afraid to claim their own (God-given) power. Afraid to even admit they have any. I happen to believe God created us in His image, with the divine spark, and capable of greatness. Our animalistic nature (what many would call our fallen nature) is a considerable handicap but I won't allow it to be the defining characteristic of my being. I am a child of God first; a creature of this world second. Can we overcome the flesh? Jesus did. He received a glorified body in its place. What if that is what the resurrection was all about? The overcoming. What if Jesus' death on the cross was a symbolic message rather than a substitute punishment? What if we paid as much attention to the resurrection as we do the crucifixion? 

What if God can only give us new glorified bodies when we have freely surrendered our earthly ones for crucifixion?

It's almost like Christianity promotes this fatalistic thinking that we cannot fix ourselves, that we are broken beyond repair, and our only hope is that God will restore us after we die. Although there is some truth in this we are allowing it to have too much power over us. Yes, as long as we remain in this world, in these (unglorified) bodies, we will be tempted and we will stumble. But is that evidence that we belong on the ground? No, even Jesus stumbled on his way to the cross.

Don't get me wrong, I wholly believe we need to trust in God, just not in the believe now so he can fix us later kind of way. God leads but we must listen and follow his directions. He gives us strength and wisdom but we must do the work. God empowers us, here and now, to be healed, to be transformed, to become (dare I say it) enlightened! To me this is the most beautiful message of any teaching in any religion. We can be born again and made anew. Of course we never do it alone. Aloneness is an illusion. Our spiritual nature is intimately connected with its source; it cannot be disconnected any more than an estuary can be disconnected from the ocean. All that craves God comes from God and is God. Deep calls out to deep.

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is within and you know what? I believe him.

What do you think? Do Christians shirk spiritual work? Is the doctrine of original sin a self-limiting belief that prevents Christians from reaching their full potential?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Belief is More Important Than Works

At least when it comes to nutrition.

Most of us are aware of at least a few people who have little interest in diet or exercise yet manage to live long, healthy lives. I remember asking a youthful 94 year old her secret and she replied, "a cigarette after dinner and some whiskey before bed." I laughed; she was serious!

It sounds fanciful, but this sweet lady may have been sharing some profound wisdom.

For starters, it appears that our beliefs about the food we eat have a greater impact on our health than the actual composition of the food. This really isn't surprising when you consider all the conflicting evidence research provides for healthy eating. What is found to be beneficial in one study becomes detrimental in the next. Furthermore, cultures around the globe thrive while eating highly diverse diets; many of which would be considered controversial if not foolhardy.

What does this have to do with Christianity? Maybe nothing. But, well, I'm wondering if perhaps the same principle can be applied to our spiritual well-being. A few verses in particular recently got me thinking:

"Someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required." (Luke 12:47-48)

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned." (Luke 6:37)

Does the expression 'ignorance is bliss' come to mind?

And if I'm interpreting these verses correctly then perhaps faith really does trump good works. I mean, if I truly believe I am saved by grace regardless of my actions then perhaps God's mercy really does cover me.

If I have not condemned myself or I don't know any better...

Would this make God the greatest relativist ever? I mean, not only does He judge our sin but He considers our perceptions and attitudes toward them as well.

Hmmm. Could this cover non-believers too?

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

It sounds to me like Jesus thought it was at least worth asking...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Church: Stepping Stone or Stumbling Block?

Peter Rollins wrote a book of parables called The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales. I think it's exceptional. My favorite parable is called Finding Faith; a story in which a preacher has the unusual gift of causing people to lose all their religious convictions when he prays for them. The preacher doesn't see much use for this gift until he meets a man who, despite declaring his love for Christ and being very involved in his church, engaged in ruthless business practices. He explained to the preacher that the business world was a cold one and he simply did what he had to do, but he went to church every Sunday to remember who he really was. The preacher finally understood the value of his unusual gift. He prayed for the businessman, causing him to lose all his faith in God. Without his prayer groups and Bible studies to put a glossy finish on the lens through which he perceived himself, the businessman had to face the reality of how he was actually living. He started to despise his business practices, had a breakdown and left his job. Eventually he put his skills to work challenging the corrupt system he once participated in.

In the commentary that follows Pete asks if perhaps our religious convictions and church activities have become safety valves, allowing us to blow off a little steam, inoculating us against a deeper change that would permeate every aspect of our lives. I remember watching a video a few months ago in which Pete was lecturing at a university and he explained how it's actually in an employers best interest to have their employees sit around the staff room complaining about management, because if they weren't allowed that release the pressure would build to a breaking point and people would be forced to take steps toward actually changing the situation.

Does going to church inoculate (that links to a great talk our church pastor shared on a related subject) us against more meaningful spiritual practices? I think it's a big risk for some and completely true for many. I mean, if I couldn't talk about Jesus with my church family who would I be having conversations with? If I wasn't giving my time and resources to the church who would I be giving it to? If I couldn't worship on Sundays or be inspired by a good sermon where would I go to worship and be inspired? Without church to help us let off a little religious steam we'd really have to live by our beliefs because there would be nobody else to do it for us.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think the answer is to join the ranks of the de-churched but I am becoming aware of the huge potential for complacency and compartmentalization inherent in church life. When we are a part of a large institution, like a church, it's easy to lose our sense of personal responsibility. For example, I may not go out and feed the poor but if there is a group within our church who does this I probably feel that I am in some way contributing; especially if I throw a few cans of soup their way. We probably use the collective term "we" in church way too much; usually it's only a handful of people actually contributing. The next time our pastor says "We did this!" I'm going to reflect on who was actually involved and scratch my name off the list!

So that's what I've been reflecting on tonight. Any thoughts?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Better Together: The Spiritual Practice of Community

Western culture places enormous value on the individual, independence and personal achievements. We often live completely removed not only from our neighbours but also from our own family. Gone are the days of the multi-generational home and a true sense of community. There was once a time, not so long ago, when a family would (literally) not survive without their neighbours. Nowadays those who work, eat and play with their actual neighbours are probably Amish or living on a commune. Even those of us who start out in a nuclear family and grow to have children of our own usually end up alone. We break away from our parents, our children fly the coop and our spouses die. If we are lucky enough to grow old we will find ourselves among the loneliest, most depressed demographic in the world; either living alone or dying with strangers in a nursing home.

I know many people, mostly introverts, who are quite comfortable in their own company; but even introverts need to be intimately involved with others. Living in community challenges us in ways that no other spiritual practice comes close to: we learn to work together, make sacrifices, forgive, share and cooperate. We also learn that we can't always get what we want, that we aren't the centre of the universe and that other people matter. We share in their joy and suffering. When we know people well they become real people, with histories and dreams of their own; not just two-dimensional characters in our own story.

It seems to me that stronger communities, not communities of like-minded individuals but actual side-by-side neighbours helping one another, just might be the most important step backwards the world could hope to make. A few months ago I heard a popular feminist on talk radio. I can't remember her name but she's been around for decades and the interviewer asked her what change would most help improve the lives of women. I expected her to say something like more women in politics or equal pay but she surprised me by saying (I'm paraphrasing here) that women need to start working together again. That every day in every neighbourhood women are in their homes doing the exact same chores: cooking and cleaning and raising their children. We are all exhausted and lonely. Imagine how much more efficient it would be if the women worked in groups, some minding the children, a few prepping evening meals, others spending the afternoon folding laundry or running errands for the group. By the end of the day all the work would be accomplished with much less effort and in the company of others.

I know I am an idealist but there is a realist in me too. I know this would never work and I think I know why: we have forgotten how to live with others. We want it our way, right away. We have preferences for how the socks are folded, how much cumin is in the curry and which route to take through town. We live in the kind of society where if we don't like the way someone looks or how they spend their time we never have to talk to them -even if there is only one wall separating their home from our own. And we won't even look like snobs if we ignore them; they expect us to! In fact, we'd be going out on a limb if we walked next door to introduce ourselves. We'd probably be received apprehensively if not suspiciously. Who can blame them? We ourselves don't want to be inconvenienced or imposed on. Sure, we'll help out at church on Sunday but heaven forbid someone knock on our door after supper when we've put our feet up in front of the television after a long, hard day. We want to give on our terms. We guard our time jealously, as if it actually belongs to us.

I want to live and work side-by-side with other women and their families. If I spend a whole day inside this little apartment with my husband and two children I start to go a little crazy. I get mean, impatient, bored and discouraged. I need other women to talk to, to teach me how to be a good mother, to help me stay on course, to show me how to make a good casserole. I want my children to grow up with friends who live next door and not spend my days driving to play groups or activities across town. I want to be in relationship with people simply because they are people who live close by not because they meet a certain criteria to be considered my friends. It seems we no longer need to enter into any relationship that really challenges us. Real life neighbours make for complicated relationships: they are alcoholic, elderly, wealthy, cancer survivors, immigrants, drug dealers, prom queens and assholes. We choose our friends because they are like us. They like the same movies, share our religious beliefs and sense of humor. We are usually close in age, have similar incomes and dress pretty much the same. Boy, we must really love ourselves! Every relationship we choose reinforces our choices and affirms our worth.

But it ain't so with neighbours. We don't choose them. They are kind of like family in that respect. We must learn to work through our differences, to tear down walls and build healthy boundaries, to let go, to be useful, to be valued and to be vulnerable, to give and receive. It's very difficult to be spiritually well on our own. We grow together or we stay sick alone (in our little oasis of a home where the laundry is folded properly and the curry always has just the right amount of spice!).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Learning the Art of Patience

I'm not a very patient person. I've been aware of this shortcoming for many years but only recently have I made a conscious decision to practice patience as a spiritual discipline. It's a deeply challenging commitment and I feel it pushing me into a whole new level of being. My impatience has lead to poor decisions and missed opportunities. I have hurt myself and those closest to me. Not only that, instead of being fully present and enjoying the moment, I often find myself racing through life like an addict desperate for her next fix.

I'm so caught up in getting things done that I lose the ability to see let alone meet the needs of those around me. I see tasks instead of people and practice efficiency when I could be expressing empathy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in my work as a nurse at a long-term care facility. The workload is heavy so we have very little time to spend with any one resident. I find myself avoiding small talk, dismissing needs and rushing residents through their meals and cares. At home I am painfully aware of the extra time it takes to allow my toddler to figure things out for herself. I can do it myself, let me do it! is her everpresent mantra these days and my rebuttals are just as predictable: We're too late. Hurry up. Focus. You're taking too long. Just let me do it!

Even more difficult than the time crunch factor are the inevitable personality conflicts that arise. Learning to have patience with someone who is deliberately mean or manipulative is far more challenging than having patience with someone who is unwittingly pissing me off. At work I am expected to maintain therapeutic relationships with some very hostile people. On a regular basis I am criticized, ignored and degraded. I've had my wrists grabbed and my face slapped. Usually these people are suffering with dementia or mental illness, but some are just plain hateful. Here's an example of a situation I encountered just this past week:

Resident: Get me an egg sandwich; this dinner is terrible. 

Me: We don't have any egg sandwiches but there are some tuna sandwiches in the kitchenette.

Resident: I don't eat tuna! I pay top dollar to live here. There must be someone who can make me an egg sandwich.

Me: (Taking a deep breath and trying to remain calm.) As soon as I finish passing out the dinner trays I'll go down to the main kitchen and see if the staff can make you one.

Resident: You always have to wait for something in this place. What happened to actually caring for people? Nurses aren't what they used to be.

I did go down to the main kitchen and wait while the cook made an egg sandwich but when I brought it back to the resident she ended up taking just one bite and spitting it on the floor. This is horrible. I wouldn't feed this to a dog! I wonder if you can imagine how much it made my blood boil to wipe up spit food off the floor and dumping that uneaten sandwich in the garbage after going out of my way to appease her. Mealtime is very busy in nursing homes and we rarely entertain last minute special requests.

This resident remained rude throughout my shift. I did my best to remain kind and professional but eventually I cracked. As I was getting her ready for bed she threw another snarky criticism at me and it was the straw that broke the camel's back. You're right, I told her angrily, I can't do anything right so why should I bother trying? With that said I abruptly turned and walked out of the room. I didn't return to help her with anything for the remaining hour of my shift. I lost patience.

Actually, I shouldn't say I lost patience because truthfully I don't think I had any to begin with. I was remaining outwardly calm and polite but underneath the surface I was still a ball of nerves. She set my teeth on edge and I hated every minute I spent in her presence. My defenses finally crumbled and I showed my true colors. Then, within minutes, the guilt set in.

I spoke to my pastor about this incident and he lead me to some important insights. Not least of which was that I had been expecting this person to be won over by my actions. Deep down I believed that if I was kind enough she would stop being mean to me. I viewed her bad attitude as my own personal failure. I had been treating her with respect and kindness but she wasn't returning the favor. It was so unfair!

I had been modifying my behaviors but I had not yet changed my thinking. I was merely hiding my frustration. Practicing patience, it turns out, is much more than simply controlling my angry outbursts. True patience involves abandoning my agenda to enter a new perspective -one that seeks to accept and cooperate with the will of others. By acknowledging their independence I free myself from the misery of expectation. Some people will remain distressed and miserable no matter how much love we shower them with. When I approach a relationship with a personal agenda, using my patience and kindness as a tool to get someone to do what I want, I am simply being manipulative. Can I still be kind and patient when that person tosses my agenda out the window? Now there is the real test!

"In your patience possess ye your souls." (Luke 21:19)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Does Church Turn You Off God?

About two years ago I started attending a local church on a regular basis. That isn't to say I wasn't seeking a relationship with Him long before that time. As a child I paid attention to God because He was a mysterious, magical being that, like Santa Claus, was creepily watching everything I did. As a teen I suffered paralyzing existential anxiety and turned to (a seemingly deaf-mute) God with big questions about the meaning of life and my place in it. As a young adult I became intrigued with New Age spirituality, yoga and the mind-body-spirit connection. I also attended the occasional Catholic mass or Protestant service. Meanwhile, I had formed a few close friendships with Christians and I was in love with their love for God. Their faith made me thirsty for my own intimate relationship with the Divine, but their churches turned me off.

Surely the God of the universe was infinitely more complex and unknowable than the Sunday school version we were being spoonfed. Those who claimed to know God and His nature often struck me as naive or ignorant in the sweetest possible ways. Not only that, I sensed a cloud of unreality hovering over the Christian subcultures I encountered. Where were all the broken, desperate and needy? Everyone looked pacified, generic and sanitized. If they spoke at all about serious struggles (addiction, domestic violence, depression, etc.) it was in the context of a testimony about their transformation. On several occasions I heard preachers share about God's healing powers but no one around me looked like they needed to be healed. They kept their wounds well hidden. When did the church become a spiritual country club for middle class do-gooders and socialites? Going to church was like watching an ABC Afterschool Special; it felt lame. It didn't inspire me into a deeper relationship with God. If anything, it underwhelmed and disappointed. Or, it felt forced. Much like a person who invades your personal space, the Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour? spiel was desperately awkward. It certainly didn't fan the spark of intimacy that was developing between me and God. It was all too much, too soon.

I was highly suspicious of the prosperity gospel, although I wasn't familiar with that term at the time. I just knew that many churches promoted Jesus as if all your troubles (health, finances, etc.) would melt away if you trusted Him. If only it were that simple. That message is a much loved lie. Truly following Jesus involves carrying your own cross and being a willing participant in your own crucifixion.

Another thing that bothered me as I straddled the line between heathen and Christian was that the relationships between the 'saved' (them) and the 'lost' (me) often felt tainted by agendas or expectations. I can remember feeling like everyone was wearing a Jesus mask and trying to sell me something. I often felt more like a project than a friend. I doubted these people had any interest in remaining my friend if I didn't eventually cross the line -that gulf of belief that separated us. I wondered how long their interest would last. They appeared to care more about leading me to Jesus than me as a person. (I have to add, the longer I stayed in the church the more blurred that line between the lost and the saved became.)

But you know what I've realized? Not everyone in the church is faking it. There are many genuine people who, once you get to know them, will surprise you with their experiences and candor. And yes, there are those who do have simple, straight paths and rather boring stories but does that mean they are any less deserving of our time and attention? Does that mean they have less to offer? It seems to me that prejudice can come from both directions. Those who share struggles aloud and claim to be "keeping it real" are sometimes more critical of people who appear to have it all together than vice versa. Yes, there are those who are severely wounded but work hard to hide their dysfunction and there are people who preach fear and hate disguised as God's plan. But aren't they the saddest cases of all? Their egos are like iron maidens preventing God's love from getting through.They need the kind of love and patience that is rarest of all.

I guess what I'm trying to say is the church community is much more complex than it appears on the surface and it is to our benefit to keep an open mind when we encounter people who don't think about or worship God in the same ways we do. For a long time my knee jerk reactions kept me isolated from the living body of Christ. It took a few years before I realized that I was being just as arrogant and judgmental as those I claimed to be separating myself from. Don't get me wrong, I realize not everyone will feel comfortable in every church and that's okay. But I think it's important to keep looking until you find a community of believers who will help you grow spiritually and support your journey in an authentic way. We come together to challenge and encourage one another, to learn patience, sacrifice and the art of cooperation. We teach one another what love really is and we do it intentionally. No church is perfect, but when our goal is to serve most churches will suffice. A large group with a common goal is much more powerful than the will of any individual.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Does Satan Really Exist?

Many religions, new and old, believe there are two supernatural forces battling one another: good and evil. I've heard Christians talk about the existence of evil as if it were a conscious, external power that can attack and even take over our lives if we aren't vigilant. I've been told this 'enemy' can wreak havoc by feeding us lies, or worse.

I'm not sold on this dogma. I'll try to explain why.

If God is love (and I think He is) then we do God's will by being loving. But true love is always a free-will choice which means there has to be another option. Therefore, evil (which I'll simply define as not God's will) is a necessary alternative to love. So God created not only love but nonlove as well; He simply cannot create the option to love without the option not to love.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

I see evil as the absence of love. However, just because I don't believe evil is a powerful, omniscient, conscious being capable of personal attacks doesn't mean I dismiss the existence of evil beings (those who set out with the singular purpose of opposing love) altogether.  I think they probably exist in human form and could exist in other forms as well. I can't be certain I've ever encountered one though. In general I think people oppose love because they are wounded, fearful and ignorant -not because they hate the very spirit of goodness.

As for God, I understand Him to be an omniscient, omnipresent, life-giving, creative energy that birthed each one of us into existence. And as the sons and daughters of God we possess a spark of divine light, or God-consciousness, that serves as a moral compass to guide and instruct.

"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." (Jeremiah 31:33)

Now, finally, here's what I do believe about the battle between good and evil:

We grow spiritually by overcoming temptations and aligning ourselves with the will of God. I don't believe these temptations need to be personified into a supernatural entity: we are the enemy! The 'devil' is alive and well in each one of us as our lower, self-serving, God-ignoring selves. The great spiritual battle isn't taking place in the heavens above; it is God's Kingdom Within that is being attacked by our animalistic natures. I think collectively we have projected our evil natures onto this supernatural being to reduce our anxiety and blame something else for our shortcomings. Convenient, but not entirely healthy or helpful. We can't control that which exists apart from us, but we do have authority over ourselves. Through the practices of restraint, discipline, surrender and sacrifice we can crucify our beastly natures and allow God's love to flow in and through us. We must feed the good (God's will) and starve the bad (self-will) by nourishing ourselves with prayer and communion. As our God-consciousness strengthens and our self-consciousness weakens our whole nature changes and we come to identify more with God and less with self.

I don't know how biblical all that is, but it's what I believe. I've spent a little time trying to make a case for Satan (as most Christians define him) from the Old Testament but I don't find the arguments convincing. As for Jesus' teachings about Satan, I think they are open to interpretation as well. But, truthfully, I haven't spent a great deal of time studying the text. Perhaps some of you, my readers, can enlighten me on the subject.

Speaking of Jesus, where does he fit into this battle between good and evil?

Now that is a good question. I suppose, more and more, I am doubting the substitutionary atonement theory. I trust that Jesus was the physical manifestation of divine love and his life had a divine purpose but I'm not convinced his death in any way purchased my salvation. But that's a whole other discussion isn't it!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Atheism: It Kind of Makes Sense

Why are we (Christians) so willing to let God off the hook when terrible things happen but give Him the credit when things go well? We see bad things happening to godly people all the time and even hear it described as God's will. (Yet, if it were anyone else who desired to see tragedy and suffering befall the innocent or defenseless we'd consider them sadistic psychopaths.)

The atheists are right. It doesn't add up.

One 'simple' but inadequate explanation: God gave us (humankind) free-will and we (Adam and Eve) chose to turn away from Him (sin) so now we live in a fallen (imperfect) world (because that one sin was actually a gateway sin that opened the door for an evil disease to infect all life) and He (being the gentleman He is) doesn't force His will on us so we are left to decide for ourselves if we want the cure. 

The cure consists of accepting/following Jesus, the only son of God, who was sent for us to kill as a perfect sacrifice so that the evil curse would be broken. There is a catch however, the curse is only broken for those who worship (the raised-from-the-dead but now invisible) Jesus and acknowledge what his death on the cross represented (a substitute death penalty because we all deserve to die).

But wait, even if we accept the cure we won't be immune to future infections. At least not in this world. Presently the cure can help, but it doesn't take full effect until the World to Come. Someday, probably long after we're dead, God is going to restore His Kingdom and everyone who accepted Jesus' cure will be healed of their sin-infestation forever.

So you see, God has a perfect plan to fix this big mess which is all our own fault to begin with. Get it? And yet I have to ask, if God really has the power to transform this war-torn world into a Kingdom of Paradise then what is He waiting for?

I guess the (typical) Christian response to Epicurus' questions is that God is both willing and able to prevent evil; just not yet and He won't do it for everybody.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Transfiguration

When he took the three disciples
to the mountainside to pray,
his countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came;
they were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.

Then there came a word
of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade.
They fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God,
the face of God, covered in a cloud.

What he said to them,
the voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come.
The prophecy was put to death,
was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision till the time has come.

Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear!
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Hardest People to Love

Jesus told us that the most important commandment, after loving God, is to love our neighbours as ourselves. I have lived in apartment buildings most of my life so I know firsthand that sharing space with strangers who have different values can be frustrating to say the least. I've been neighbours with people who party loudly, drink and fight, let their kids run wild, use the halls as a place to store soiled diapers, leave their laundry in the washing machines for days, dump old appliances and furniture in the yard for others to deal with, are ignorant and abusive, smoke in the hallways, get too close for comfort and sell drugs.

Then there are the leeches. These folks, often sweet but socially inept, are overly friendly and invade your life by knocking on your door just to chat or ask favours. They've known you for five minutes and suddenly you are their best friend. You find yourself sneaking in and out of your own home hoping they won't see you coming or going. They assume that living in the same building means they should know about your personal life and don't hesitate to share their own. These situations are probably the most frustrating for me because I have a hard time establishing and maintaining boundaries. I am always nice but deep down I want them to leave me alone. These people are hard for me to tolerate let alone love.

And this love commandment gets even harder. You see, I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus didn't limit his definition of neighbour to the family next door. It's (usually) pretty easy to love our own clan, and even to love anonymous strangers who we see struggling, but when someone is close enough for us to see their faults and invade our space but not close enough to be in our personal circle, it gets mighty difficult to feel the love. These neighbours are our coworkers, classmates and church family. We might not see eye to eye, share values or even like each other's personality, but we need to spend a lot of time together.

Can I love the coworker who is always bossing me around and treating me like a child--the one who has worked with me for four months but still can't remember my name? Not easily.

Can I love the clerk who never returned my calls when my daughter needed medical treatment, who misplaced paperwork, didn't put us on the waiting list and was unapologetic if not annoyed by our inquires after waiting weeks for an appointment? Probably not.

Can I love the woman at church who often offers constructive criticism of my initiatives with the toddler ministry even though she has not stepped up to offer any help herself? Barely.

Can I love those who are arrogant, dumb, oblivious, weak, snobby, ignorant, judgmental, bossy, phony, two-faced, mean, lazy, weird, overly dramatic, painfully chipper or emotional vampires? Sometimes.

I know I am not perfect--some days I am painfully aware of this fact--but I still seem to have a major problem accepting others in their imperfection. An old friend recently told me something I shared with him years ago that stuck with him. Apparently I said, "people are at where they're at," which basically means we need to accept people as they are. Sounds like I was pretty wise back then. These days I am acutely aware of just how little I am able to love. I consider myself active, conscientious and generous but am I truly loving?

Perhaps loving acceptance comes easily to some but for me it takes conscious practice. I need to recognize the voice of the enemy--my ego--who is eager to tell me I am being offended, threatened or rejected. This voice separates me from others and feeds on my fear. But there is also a quiet voice within that unites and heals rather than wounding and isolating. It is this spirit, call it the Holy Spirit if you will, or God Within, that connects me with all that I lack. Infinite love, boundless joy, forgiveness and serenity. There is no fear when I tap into the Divine Source and drink from the Eternal Cup. Oh, but that gentle voice is so often drowned out by the loud and angry ego. One must remember to listen if she wishes to hear.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,but have not love, it profits me nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Hope in the Valley

My fears are big and my chest is tight. I find it hard to breathe right, to pray, to love. Okay God, where the hell are you? I'm so fucking sick and tired. I'm bored, lonely, resentful, easily frustrated and nitpicking. I'm overwhelmed by life's disappointments and all that will never be made right.

The storms rage on across this dying planet, orphan children are sold as sex toys, holy wars hold whole nations hostage and trees that stood when Jesus walked the earth are being cut down for a quick buck. Unfortunately most of us who could make a difference are too preoccupied organizing potlucks, designing blogs and making money to pay for our car insurance to notice all that.

I've resigned, given up and checked out. You are hiding somewhere far away from here God. Perhaps you are on a retreat ministering to suburban housewives or maybe you and Zeus are sipping margaritas on a Greek coast somewhere. Who knows. All I know is I'm having a real hard time seeing you these days. That probably says more about me than you. Probably.

I won't pull myself up by my bootstraps or fake it 'til I make it. I can't ignore, repress or pretend. But I won't allow myself to be paralyzed either. I am blind, deaf and lame and the path has turned into a treadmill but I continue on. I choose to put one foot in front of the other, acknowledging the sham and drudgery without becoming entirely intoxicated by it. I have come to embrace the valleys and be still in the darkness. This too shall pass. Dawn is inevitable.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
~Alexander Pope~

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

LGBT in Light of Reincarnation

Be forewarned, I'm going way out there in this post. My beliefs about sexual orientation are bizarre even among the unorthodox. (Well, at least among unorthodox North American Christians!) My theory is uncommon but not entirely original; there are variations of this thought among those who research and believe in reincarnation.

We find very few clear descriptions of the world to come in the Bible but on one occasion, when the Sadducees present Jesus with a hypothetical situation involving marriage after the resurrection, Jesus shares some surprising information:

"At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." (Matt 22:30)
Now, I have no idea what the angels in heaven are like in form or character but I'm going to make a few fun guesses. What if there is no marriage in heaven because there are no sexes? What if the angels, and our heavenly bodies, are androgynous? (I am aware that angels showed up as men in the OT but I don't think that is their true form; just one that made for good communication!)

Could homosexuality be an overstatement -i.e. a case of the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction as the soul struggles to overcome the male/female polarity? Or perhaps when a soul has incarnated as the same gender for many lifetimes it carries with it a sexual imprint, subconscious memories, making it difficult to identify with their new gender.

I'm not discounting the biological component here: sexual identity/orientation most definitely has a physical component, but what if the soul is the architect, the mind is the builder and the body is the temple? If that is the case then being straight, gay, bi or whatever isn't just an issue of anatomy/physiology, psychology or sociology; it runs even deeper than the typically understood influences of nature and nurture.

The irony here is that it seems I've come to the understanding that at our deepest level of being homosexuality (and all non-heterosexual sexual identity expressions) still 'miss the mark.' True, but I don't believe missing the mark automatically translates as sin. Let me illustrate: suppose two dark-skinned/dark-haired people living in a very hot climate give birth to a child who has considerably lighter skin and hair. From an evolutionary perspective the child has 'missed the mark' because the recessive fair-skinned/fair-haired genes do not offer as much protection from the sun. Likewise, non-heterosexuals are at an evolutionary disadvantage because they are less likely to procreate. From a purely physical perspective this is not ideal. However, from a spiritual viewpoint we can see that the overstatement, or the state of transition from one gender to another, is a necessary experience for the development of that particular soul.

In the end, when the human condition is no longer a necessary lesson, there will be no need to identify as gay or straight, male or female because we will all be reconciled as one. At least, that's what I believe.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hey, Don't Think So Much!

I was recently told that I suffer with analysis paralysis. I let the comment sail by without offering a rebuttal but it felt like salt in a wound. It seems I keep getting the same message: these thoughts, these questions, aren't really okay. People might say it's okay to question things but their subsequent words or actions usually betray their (often subconscious) true feelings. Not everyone is a "thinker" and I get that, I really do. I don't have a burning desire to change or challenge every Christian on my radar. Some followers are content to trust the Bible and accept traditional teachings without much thought. That's okay. I don't understand it, but I can (usually) accept it. Sometimes I even envy it. Where I start to feel defensive is when it is implied that my questions betray a lack of commitment or faith; that eventually, as I mature spiritually, I will no longer ask so many questions.

Wiki defines analysis paralysis as over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation, so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. I am hurt and disappointed that someone has made this assessment of me. I wish I were secure enough to let people have their opinions without feeling the need to defend my position. Unfortunately I'm just not there yet. So I sat, a little stunned, and changed the subject.

But this is what I wanted to say:

My relationship with God, my decision to and the action of following Jesus, is not dependent on me wrapping Christianity up in one tidy little package. I prefer to unwrap this precious gift again and again; examining every last inch. I am okay not always having one definitive answer and I thoroughly enjoy exploring the plethora of possibilities. But that doesn't make me any less of a follower. I have made the decision and I do follow. That is why I am alive, here and now, living a new way of life, surrendering all my shame and hate and loneliness and failures to the One who loves and leads and takes pleasure in my questions. That is why I make choices everyday that go against my desires and instinct. I am certainly not paralyzed; I'm more free than I have ever felt in my whole life. Please don't clip my wings or knock me down a notch.

Yes, I am struggling. Every day I wake up and think, God, I am so broken, please help me do something useful today instead of hurting myself and everyone around me. Please help me love well. This is me making a decision, this is me following. I am very self-centered but (when I humbly ask) God gives me strength to get out of the way and do the next right thing. I'm not saying I do it perfectly, or even well, but this practice is very much a part of my life.

I've read a lot of dialogue (online) between more conservative and progressive Christians and what I've observed is that most conservatives perceive questions like mine as an avoidance of truth because we don't like the traditional answers; i.e. we don't like what the Bible says so we'll keep twisting and reinterpreting it until it says what we want. Like every good lie this one has a seed of truth, but this same accusation can be made of any group or individual who tries to interpret the Bible. We are all human -not mechanical, objective creatures. Dismissing my search as an attempt to distort truth is a convenient way of sweeping my questions under the rug and I don't like that. Truth should stand firm against scrutiny. If progressives are disregarded as relativists who try to impose 21st century values on a timeless message then conservatives are blind to their own cultural baggage and warped lenses. Just because a lot of people believe something to be true doesn't make it so. The church used to think the world was flat, used the Bible to prove it and punished those who thought otherwise as heretics. Our understanding of biblical "truth" is constantly evolving; it just happens more slowly among conservatives.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make here is that my questions are anything but a denial of truth, they are a search for it, in spite not only of the challenges and discomforts of not having quick and easy answers but also the criticisms of those who don't understand my journey. I don't believe I suffer with analysis paralysis. I think my analysis enriches, not diminishes, my faith and I'll go so far as to say that it is more likely that it is those who don't have questions who suffer with paralysis.

I really wish all this didn't bother me so much. I know a big part of the reason is that I am still learning to give myself permission to be me -to keep exploring that which puzzles me. It's tempting to keep it all to myself and just focus on the similarities. But man, that would be so boring and phony on my part. It takes a lot of guts for me to say what I really think and it brings me down when I feel misunderstood or judged. A few days ago I came across this sad website and immediately wondered how many of my Christian friends would have my photo up there among those who need to be evangelized to: Michelle the Heretic! Hopefully one of these days I'll stop feeling the need to defend my position and these kinds of posts will become less frequent. Until then, I still need to vent and work through the mess. It's just part of my process right now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Everything

You are God
I am me
You are big
I am small
You are strong
I am weak

I am in the spirit
You are the spirit
I am in the light
You are the light
I am in the music
You are the music

I am not safe
You are my shelter
I am hungry
You are my bread
I am alone
You console me

I make mistakes
You forgive me
I stumble
You pick me up
I turn away
You follow me

I am your child
You are my everything