Wherever You Are, God IS!!!

In this post, I want to talk a little about one of my very favorite subjects– God.

Ever since I was little, I’ve always loved God and Church. Even before I was old enough to got to school, I went to Sunday school. And then on Sunday afternoons, at home with my dad and grandmother, I would have Sunday school with them, teaching them the lessons I had at church.

And the God I learned about way back then was the one that created the world and everything in it. He was said to love the people he created.

This God was usually portrayed as a very old man, the Ancient of Days and he was white and had a great long white beard and hair. In fact, as I think about that image, he was just a really big jolly green giant sized version of my dad or Santa Claus.

As I grew up, this picture was enlarged to include the side of God that loved some people who followed all the rules and also judged sinners who broke the rules. The good people were promised heaven when they died and the sinners, well they just got to roast in hell for all eternity.

This version of the story just never really made a lot of sense to me but since this was what I was told the Bible said and meant, I believed that it was the truth.

Now I have come to the place where I question both that version of God and also the idea that just because the Bible says it does not necessarily make it true. (But I will tell you more about that journey another time.)

Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity says

 The starting place of spiritual attainment is the right understanding of that one that we designate as the ‘Almighty.’

So let me share some of who God is for me today.

God Is Omnipresent

There is a wonderful verse in the Christian scriptures that says, “in whom (God) we live and move and have our being.”

Now I used to think this was just one of those nice saying put in there to fill up space or it was one of those “mysteries” that we just were not supposed to understand.

But now I believe that it’s a statement of truth and really just means what it says and says what it means. It shares with us the fact that God is all there is and that everything that exists, exists in God.

David, in the Psalms, says that if we go to the highest heights or to the lowest depths, that there is no place that we can go where God is not. (Now what does that say about hell?)

God is omnipresent — present everywhere.

God Is Love

Another wonderful truth about God is that God is love and love is God.

This love is unconditional and eternal. It’s not some on again, off again type of love. The “I love you when you love me and do what I want” type of love.

God is love.

And God’s love extend to and includes all of God’s children. No one is excluded.

You see, I let go of the old idea of a God that was just waiting for me to slip-up and do something wrong so he could just whack me good and punish me. I have some to realize that we are not punished for our mistakes in life but we are punished by our mistakes. What we sow, we reap.

God set in place the wonderful law of cause and effect. And we are offered every provision to correct anything that we deem a mistake so they can be changed from chains that bind and enslave us into steps that lead us higher and higher as we are transformed.

I guess one of the most important things I have learned on my journey of spiritual attainment is to trust my own heart and my own experience.

I have experiences the presence of God and I have felt my heart warmed and enlightened by this presence.

I have taken the time to look at my beliefs about God, to examine them and to see which ones ring true with what my heart says. And this has caused my love for god to grow and increase as endeavor to see and sense God’s presence everywhere I go and in each person I encounter.

Final Thoughts

As I close, I want to share with you something I came across recently in my reading. It is called The Golden Key written by Emmet Fox.. The basis of this key is to practice the presence of God. Fox says that too often we spend our time focusing on our problems and what is wrong with our lives and our world. He then says that the golden key to changing things in our life is to instead focus on the goodness of God.

Look for Good!

Look for love.

Look for beauty.

And as you do, you will find more Good, more love and more beauty. You will find more God.

For you see my friends, wherever you are, God is. A friend of mine told me once, there is only God or not paying attention.

Try paying more attention this week and see where you find God.

 

Undressing Jesus or “Hey, Who Forgot to Put the Rabbit in My Hat?”

I love unpacking my spiritual beliefs and ideas. This has been a big part of my own spiritual journey. If you are unfamiliar with my spiritual life and the evolution of my theology and beliefs, check out the about this site page where I take you on a journey though all the various spiritual paths I have explored.

I have already undressed the ideas we hold about God.

We now come to a subject that has been at the center of Christianity right from the beginning. For 2000 years, Christians have been debating the place of Jesus in our faith. And for almost this long, the story of Nicodemus that is recorded in the Gospel of John has been used to explain how Jesus fits in God’s plan.

We will begin by looking at what is really said about Jesus and see if we can recover the naked truth about the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

So what is the naked truth about Jesus? Was he merely a magician that just appeared to make a difference and pull rabbits out of his hat or was there really something about his life, example and message that cause real transformation in his life and the life of his followers. I believe the later is the naked truth.

According to the New Testament, Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.” And as the image of God, Jesus disclosed what God is like. He often told his followers that if they wanted to know what God was like, to look at the way he lived in relationship with God and other people.

But we must remember that it was about 30 years after Jesus lived among those early Christians, that they began writing down the things they remembered Jesus saying and doing. And as they wrote, two layers of material emerging. These layers present two different pictures: first a picture of the pre-Easter Jesus or the Jesus of history and the second is the post-Easter Christ, or the Christ of faith.

When looking at the Jesus of history, we see five components to this image.

1. Spirit Person

The pre-Easter Jesus was what I call a “spirit person.” By this I mean that he was a person that frequently and vividly experienced the sacred, God, the Spirit. And this experience became the foundation of everything else that he was.

2. Healing Person

Jesus also was a healer. More healing stories are told about Jesus than about any other figure in the Jewish tradition.

3. Wisdom Teacher

The third part of this picture is that Jesus was a wisdom teacher who used short saying and parables to teach and often saw the world and reality just a little bit differently from those around him.

4. Social Prophet

He was a social prophet like Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah who challenged the domination system of his day that was an oppressive social order with sharp social boundaries. And he did this from a social vision grounded in the compassion of God.

5. Movement Initiator

And finally, he was a movement initiator. Well, at least a movement came into existence around him during his lifetime whose inclusiveness and egalitarian practice embodied his alternative social vision.

These were all part of the image the early Christians saw in the pre-Easter Jesus. But as we read the gospels, there is another layer that emerges. This is what I call the Christ of faith.

This presence of Christ continued to be experienced by followers long after Easter, even until today and is a very real but radically different reality — it is a spiritual and divine reality. You see as the church experienced and continues to experience the risen Christ, we see God saying a divine “yes” to the message, activity and vision of Jesus.

So, what relevance should the pre-Easter Jesus have for our lives? If we take the pre-Easter Jesus seriously as the epiphany of God, what do we see?

First, Jesus disclosed that God can be known. God was not a distant reality who could only be believed in or who might be known only in the future or beyond death. God is “at hand” and knowable.

Second, Jesus showed us that God is compassionate. Compassion was the core quality of two of Jesus’ most famous characters: the father in the Prodigal Son parable and the Good Samaritan.

Third, Jesus revealed that the divine-human relationship was not based on meeting requirements. Requirements were replaced by relationships as the central dynamic of the religious life.

And fourth, Jesus spoke and enacted a social vision grounded in God. In his role as social prophet, he indicted the ruling class at the top of the social system of his day and ours. He attempted to break down the boundaries that divided people and to establish an inclusive movement. And in doing so, he disclosed a God that cares passionately about what happens in human history.

I believe that we need to affirm both of these images of Jesus — the pre-Easter Jesus of history and the post-Easter Christ of faith. Both are significant. One glimpse of the pre-Easter Jesus discloses what the Word made flesh, the Spirit of God embodied in human life, looks like. And the Christ of faith shows what Jesus became in the experiences and life of the early Christian communities.

We do not need to chose between the two. Our understanding of Jesus’ significance is richer if we see and affirm both the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. Both are the image of the invisible God. Both disclose what God is like.

Now I want to close by talking about a very familiar Christian phrase — believing in Jesus — and how it relates to the image of the Christian life I have been talking about today.

For those of us who grew up in the church, believing in Jesus was important. For me, what that phrase meant in my childhood and into my early adulthood was “believing things about Jesus.” To believe in Jesus meant to believe what the gospels and the church said about Jesus. That was easy when I was a child, and became more and more difficult as I grew older.

But now I see that believing in Jesus means something very different from that. The change is found in both the Greek and Latin root meaning of the word believe. Believe did not originally mean believing a set of doctrines or teachings. In both Greek and Latin its root means “to give one’s heart to.” The “heart” is the self at its deepest level. Believing, therefore, involves a much deeper level of one’s self. It means to give one’s heart, one’s self at its deepest level to the post-Easter Christ who is the living Sovereign, the side of God turned toward us, the face of God, the one who is also the Spirit.

Believing in Jesus in the sense of giving one’s heart to Jesus is the movement from secondhand religion to firsthand relationship, from having heard about Jesus with the hearing of the ear to being in relationship with the Spirit of Christ. For ultimately, Jesus is not simply a figure of the past, but a figure of the present.

While there might not have been a rabbit in the hat, or even a hat, we do find Jesus as someone who has the ability to change lives but not through feats of magic but through the experience of transforming relationship.

My prayer for each of us is that we will experience God’s presence through the living Christ in new and powerful ways and that as we do, like Jesus this will cause our lives to be forever changed and different.

Undressing God or “Did You Just Use ‘Judge Judy’ and ‘Justice’ in the Same Sentence?”

As I look at beliefs about God, I am going to use as a framework my own spiritual journey. This journey began as a fairly traditional Christian one as I mention in my bio and my previous post Spiritual Striptease.

I believe that you will find many places where your journey touches with mine — where you can identify with my question and discoveries.

For too long, Christian, and many other traditions, have seen God as just an old man with white hair and beard who is separate from creation and always ready to judge us when we stray.

My Spiritual Journey

My spiritual journey began when I was a child. My grandmother believed that I needed to be in Sunday school and church every Sunday. She also encouraged me to read the Bible and to say my prayers and she taught me the great hymns of the church.

But the faith that was imparted to me was a very literalistic faith. It took the stories and images found in the Bible very literal.

My Beliefs About God

There were two main components to what I believed about God.

First, I believed that God living up in the sky and on special occasions, God would interact with the world and people and these occurrences were called miracles.

And second, I knew God was an old white man who always had a suspicious look on his face and a finger that constantly wagged in displeasure. This was because I just could not seem to live up to God’s list of requirements.

This reminds me of one of my favorite TV personalities — Judge Judy. Judy, like the God of my childhood, is always looking for someone to make responsible for any accident or error that occurs. She is very quick to point her finger and boom out a pronouncement — “Does it say stupid here?” And this is just like I thought God did.

And this image of God continued to be mine for the first thirty some years of my life. And unfortunately, the church I attended didn’t try and challenge this. In fact they seemed to reinforce these ideas.

Then, beginning about 1990 and continuing during my years at Brite Divinity School (between 1995 and 2001), I began to examine what I believed about God and realized how limiting my God image really was.

As I looked afresh at the Bible I discovered people who did not believe that God was a distant figure and did not referred to this One using exclusively male images.

You see the psalmist did not agree with my idea of God as someone who was far removed. This one experienced God as close as the waters of the Jordan, as real as the flashing of lightning. God was a very present reality — known and experienced “right here” in this world.

The writer of Psalm 139 says that there is no where we can go to escape the presence of God. If we go to the highest heights or to the deepest depths we will find God. God will be found wherever we are.

In the New Testament, Matthew tells us that Jesus was called Emmanuel –meaning the God who is with us. Now, that does not seem to me like someone far away in the sky.

Jesus attempted during his whole ministry to show people that God was not just an old man who was detached from creation and sitting somewhere just waiting an opportunity to pronounce judgment. But this is the picture that I held to for many years and that the Church continues to have.

The writers in the Hebrew tradition and Jesus wanted us to see that God was more than just an old man. They knew this way of thinking led to a life based on performance. Trying to make daddy happy. Father knows best.

To balance this idea, they used images of a mother bird, a woman searching for a coin and others when discussing God. In these instances, they tried to show that it is not enough to know about God but what we lack and need is intimate direct knowing of God like lover and beloved.

Our Beliefs Affect Our Thinking And Our Perceiving

You see, how we image God shapes not only what we think God is like but also what we think the Christian life is about. People who want God to be a warrior may become warriors themselves, whether in a Christian crusade, a Muslim jihad, or an apocalyptically oriented militia. People who think of God as righteous are more likely to emphasis righteousness and keeping all the rules. And those who think of God as compassionate are likely to emphasize compassion.

Jesus showed us through the way he lived and interacted with people that God is compassionate, the one who gives us birth and nourishes us.

Yes, God still has requirements but these should not be seen as a violation of God’s laws but as a betrayal of a sacred relationship and an absence of compassion. As we become aware that we have not been faithful to our relationship with God, we turn and return to that to which we belong, God as spirit, realizing that all of our actions have consequences.

As we embrace this new image of God, we live our lives not concerned so much with meeting God’s demands and satisfying God’s justice as entering into relationship — with God, the world, and each other. The spiritual life becomes all about turning toward and entering into relationship with the one who is already in relationship with us — with the one who gave us life, who loved us from the beginning, and who loved us whether we know it or not.

May this be good news in your life today and all the days of the rest of your life. And join the conversation by laving your thoughts about God and how you relate to this wonderful Divine presence!!

Spiritual Striptease – Undressing Our Beliefs!!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if God or Jesus would do a striptease? What would it look like if they took off everything that was not necessary to their existence? Or maybe the better question would be, what would it look like if we stripped down all of our beliefs about God and Jesus and got back to the bare necessities of belief? How would that make our lives better? Can we get back to the simple message of a teacher who lived 2000 years ago? I have to answer yes to this question.

Together, we are going to take a look at Christ’s simple message. This message has been complicated by 2000 years of additions by religious authorities. We are going to see if we can reclaim this simple intelligent message that Jesus presented. And as we do, we will take a look and see where we have covered it all over with human invented doctrines like a heavy robe here, a blanket there.

We find this to be true when we look at our beliefs about God, Jesus, humanity, heaven and even the Church.

Undressing Our Beliefs

So let’s begin our search for simplicity by looking at some of our current beliefs about each of these items. Since I come from a Christian background, my thought will start with this point of reference.

God

For too long, God has been imaged as just an old man with white hair and beard who is separate from creation and always ready to judge us when we stray.

Jesus

Jesus has been imaged as God’s only Son who died for us.

Humanity

Humanity resides under a curse from God, even though we are created in God’s image. We are sinners and deserve God’s punishment.

Heaven

Heaven is where we all intend to go when we die, that is if we are good. If not, well, it’s just hell waiting. We will either be rewarded or punished.

Church

And the Church, well it’s a hospital for all those people who are sick in sin. It is cluttered with rituals, creeds and liturgies.

American Conventional Religious Wisdom

All of these ideas are part of the “American conventional religious wisdom.” By this I mean “the central messages that we get from simply growing up in our culture.

On the surface these all sounds good but when you cut into them — revealing the naked truth about them — they are rotten to the core. They won’t offer much in the way of satisfaction or nourishment or direction as you continue this journey of faith.

I hope that together we can look at these five major topics — God, Jesus, Humanity, Heaven and the Church — and begin to reconnect with the naked truth Jesus came to teach us and we will find that we move beyond a dogmatic religion to a more authentic and contemporary relationship and faith where we will meet the God we never knew.

I encourage you to also look at your spiritual journey.

Where did you begin and where are you how?

How have your beliefs grown and changed and what has remained the same? Please feel free to share your thought and comments and insights with us as we journey together, seeking on purpose! And while your here, check out some of the book below by a great author, Eric Butterworth. Blessings and namaste!!!