On Nature of God. We’ve confused religion, top down morality, and people who are judgmental and self righteous with God. They are not the same thing.
Those who interpret holy books such as the Bible, the Koran, or other ancient religious, scribed documents tell us what they believe it to mean, hopefully taking into account the context of the situation, culture, and thought process of the writer. We can’t forget the interpreter either. The interpreter will translate from their view of the world as well. It doesn’t always mean the interpreter is trying to push her own agenda, but rather that the interpreter can only translate with the information they have to translate with - in other words, they are translating from the foundation and information that shapes their understanding of the writer at the time of translation. They are living within their paradigm of what they believe to be true, and it’s often impossible for them to see beyond that worldview to another way of thinking, seeing, or believing. For this reason, it’s crucial that we are discerning, open hearted and open-minded when reading the interpretations of others, as well as in formulating our own understanding what we believe or experience to be true or real for us.
We are often resistant to the idea of God these days because the concept doesn’t make sense, or because most people we know no longer resonate with religion. Is this because we don’t relate to the kind of people who are religious, or because religion is illogical, or because we believe in science and we assume the two contradict one another, or because it cannot be proven, or because we don’t understand a thing they’re saying in church, or because we are just too busy to squeeze in church. Or is it simply that churches don’t speak our language?
As for being too busy, I’d suggest we’re not too busy to get there, but instead that we don’t get enough out of it to make time for it when we are so busy. Plus, our friends aren’t there anymore. There was a time attending church was an expected social activity, and a week would feel incomplete without it. Was this because our parents were so “into” church, or because it was expected of them? I’d suggest the latter.
The next generation found itself supporting a lifestyle with two parents working, and a schedule that far exceeded that of their mostly housewife mothers who had time to get us and herself dressed for church on a Sunday morning - and to watch soap operas for an hour or two a day throughout the week. Times changed.
I assert that we don’t understand the concept of God anymore, and have stopped thinking for ourselves. We rush to assumptions about who God is, and what God looks like, without thinking about what the idea of God really means. Our information culture world feeds us information that characterizes religious people as fundamentalists, or self-righteous bigots, and we know we don’t want to be one of them. But what if that’s not at all what it means? Or that we can be the main character of our own story? What if God isn’t about their understanding, but about our own? What if we take ownership of our understanding and relationship to our spiritual life. Our acceptance of spiritual things being for other people might be cheating us out of a deeper meaning we didn’t even realize was there for us. Meaning is the one thing we all seek in life, and hope to find it somewhere even though it often eludes us. A deeper spirituality often brings a meaning to our lives we couldn’t even imagine.
Abraham Maslow speaks about something he calls “peak experiences,” which are those moments in life in which we connect with something that is bigger than ourselves - and we can’t deny it. We just know it’s real, whatever “it” is. Maslow was a leading psychiatrist in the 20th century, and found the healthiest, most creative and resilient people he saw were people who had experienced what one might call mystic moments. In his definition, peak experiences were the same as mystic moments. Brother Rendhl-St says He also found that truly great human beings could be characterized by people who allow their lives to be shaped by their mystic insights. He says they treat others the way we treat people to whom we belong, and are “gratefully aware of the goodness and beauty we encounter everywhere.”
We all know these moments even if we aren’t sure how to define or describe them. We feel them when we experience an expanded sense of connection with a baby, or get lost in the stars while lying on a perfect piece of earth. These moments are what it feels like for those who describe communion with God. We’ve all had them. It is an experience of belonging without understanding what it is we belong to. The only way we are likely to describe it is a sense of being part of something bigger than us - and that’s spot on. We are. Of course, this experience never lasts and if we’re lucky, the memory does. We can’t help but hope to have that sense of connection and belonging again. This longing for deep connection is a desire to connect to God...or whatever one calls that which connects all that is.
Why do we want to connect to this sense of connection again? Usually it’s because we want to belong to something that gives our life meaning. When we think about what gives our life the most meaning, it’s almost always something that leads to belonging. This can be friendships, or our family, or how we serve others in the world. Brother Stendl Rast so aptly says, “Meaning stems from belonging.” We also have a deep desire to belong to something greater than ourselves - something that gives meaning and purpose to our lives, but don’t know how to connect that to everyday life - and we don’t want to get all religious either. We simply don’t want to miss an opportunity to have found meaning in life, or to have had a purpose, or discovered we belong to something amazing. This would be tragic - and each one of us knows it! The mistake we make is assuming that God is something we already understand. We think we know what we mean when we say God, and then quickly dismiss it as something that’s either not our kind of thing, or not the kind of person we want to be - because we fear we’ll turn out like “them!” But if we approach this thought a little differently, we might find it’s not at all what we think it is.
Ask yourself what you mean when you say God. Is it something you think you’re supposed to “believe in?” Is God a man on a throne on a cloud - with a long white beard whose followers make you want to run in the opposite direction? If that’s God in your imagination, you probably should consider running. Or revisit your ideas. Ideas we hold on to can sabotage us - and it’s no wonder. Ideas are planted in our minds often as children, or through the media - almost always from outside sources. We, not unlike the translators mentioned earlier, ingest the information and create pictures of what we’re told and form an opinion about that thing based on the information we’ve been given blended with our own mind’s maturity at that time, and our own understanding of what we live and what we heard. This is a dangerous cocktail of ideas and information that can often result in a misguided perception of something that might have otherwise been helpful or fed our spirit. I suggest you wipe those images from your mind, and create your own. Build it from the ground up - from the deepest and innermost parts of who you are. Your answers lie right there in wait - combined with your life experiences in this moment.
God has been described by people throughout time, and the pictures they share with us are their interpretation. There can only be one God if we agree that God is all that is. If you agree that God is all that is, the glue of what we are all a part of - then you have one understanding of God. I would next ask you as it was asked to me: Where do you find your deepest experience of connection and belonging in your life? Is there a place where this sense of connection and belonging can always be found, no matter what changes, who dies, or how bad you feel? It’s a grounded and anchored knowing - where we find some semblance of meaning and connection. This is where God lives for us. This is the place that anchors us, and it’s out of this place that we live our best life. This can be a place within or simply a knowing or understanding that gives us meaning - and we often forget about this place in the course of our daily routines. If we paid it more attention, and remembered to stay a bit more aware of it by allowing it to be part of our expression or the grounding in our actions throughout a day, we would probably find we are not only having a stronger experience of who we are, but also living a life with more purpose than we knew we were capable of.
It’s not necessary to think about God as something “out there” because the truth is that’s not where God is. God is not out there, or in there - God is all that is. God is found in the place you find your meaning, the place you see as a safe harbor for your soul to anchor in during a storm, in your innermost center. Over the years as I’ve thought about this, I’ve always tried to find better words for how to describe God because I’d spent years frustrated with all the people who sound like they have an inside scoop into God. They talk about God as if he was over for chicken dinner last night and, quite frankly, it pissed me off. I knew darn well that’s not what it looks like to know God - unless, of course, you’re psychotic. And in some of these cases, that might’ve been true - but in most cases, it’s simply language. Language can deceive us into more misunderstanding than emotional baggage, even if that’s hard to believe. We traditionally assume language is only a barrier when we don’t speak the same native language, but this isn’t true.
Cultural language is a powerful tool - which, like any tool, can be used as a weapon or as a useful implement. (help) Language is interpreted in the same way theologians interpret ancient scriptures, and we project a wide narrative of meaning to the words of others.
For example : Examples of language problems. Including words and the assumptions made and by who.
These assumptions are the reason we need to give the word God it’s fair shake, and give it it’s proper place in our lives, instead of deny or reject it as something we don’t understand. We do understand it - if we allow ourselves to. God is thread that connects us all to one another, the substance of the tapestry we weave in an intricate pattern of beauty and joy and gratitude. When we let our lives be led by this sense of who we are, we are led to the things that bring us undeniable joy, a sense of trust, connection to others, and my favorite of all - deep gratitude.
When you find you can identify this place, and if you agree or can at the very least, conceptualize this idea of God, do you find it easier to identify with the idea of God and see how you might actually believe in God, and understand how standing in that understanding and knowing gives you a different experience of connection and belonging to all that is? You may already see the deeper meaning life can offer - because you are living out of a more anchored place in your own spirit - you are standing in the true nature of who you are, and when you do, you are moving towards living your highest purpose in life. At least as far as you know today. At this moment you don’t know just how high your purpose is, you simply know this is a good place to be standing right now. We only have now....as we all know.
The last decades have given birth to a new sense of environmentalism around the globe - one that has been a long time in coming. Some fundamental religious writers have commented that people have abandoned God for nature and Mother Earth. They even go so far as to say they worship nature and the earth instead of God. This is simply their interpretation, in my opinion. I’d suggest people have simply chosen not to see God the way they do - or at least not to talk about God in exactly the same language. There is a great difference between the two. Perhaps, instead, those who appear to be worshipping the earth are actually loving the earth. Perhaps they understand this is God’s creation, and the source of our sustenance, made lovingly by a God that we all belong to. Not just them.
Perhaps God is using them to bring us back to remembering to love the earth. There was a time - actually most of time overall - in which the earth was so much a part of our daily lives that one wouldn’t even consider not caring for it. Our connection to it was so intertwined that we lived interdependently with it, not as observers of it.
This was so apparent to me in working on the land, and in teaching sustainability principles in the western US states. I came from the city, and began working with farmers and ranchers in the American west. After I’d acclimated to this culture, I was invited to attend a month long training with Paul Hawken and some other renowned scientists in a new framework for sustainability called, The Natural Step. It was held in Northern California, near San Francisco, and many of the participants were city people...just like I’d mostly been. I had changed. I didn’t know I’d changed though. When I walked into that room of 16 people who were hand picked from across the United States to learn this new framework from Sweden, I saw something I’d never observed before.
Most of the people standing in the room looked as if their life force, their expressions, their way of being all came from the waist up. I realize how strange this sounds, and it may not even be understandable, but it was true. When someone walked in who was from the country or had rural roots - you could see their spirit flow all the way to their feet. It was as if their “Feet were on the ground,” as they say. Without sounding too new agey, I could only surmise this was an energy of sorts - a way of relating to the world around them through their bodies. It was as if the city people were thinking their way through life, and making choices based upon these thoughts. Their ideas shaped who they were and how they experienced what was around them. On the other hand, the people who farmed or lived in rural places had a different and more grounded feeling about them. It was as if they were rooted, and who they were was spread throughout their body and continued into the ground and back into them again. It almost seemed cyclical in a way I didn’t experience the other people.
i realize this sounds nutso, but honestly it isn’t. It makes sense if you take a moment to think about it. It’s been over 15 years since I had that experience and it makes more sense to me now than it did then. Then it was simply an experience that I stood in awe of, to be honest. It was like a revelation to me! Now I know it to be true.
Farmers, and those who live in rural places have a completely different experience of the land, or the earth. They are interdependent participants with one another. They take care of each other. The earth is not something pretty to go out and look at - or walk on - or kayak on...it is a living, breathing, organism just like us who provides us our food, destroys our homes in floods, feeds our wildlife, etc. We are co-habitants. We are roommates who demand respect from one another. But those who were from the city, who traveled to work on subways and stepped out their front door on to concrete, whose friends were environmental activists trying to save the planet - these people lived out of the ideas that had lives in their heads, in their minds. They knew the science and the information, but didn’t udnerstand the reciprocal nature of this life. They didn’t understand that even when one was out of balance, or it’s needs weren’t being met - such as in overgrazing, polluting or floods and drought - they were still communicating with each other, they were still saying good morning or sweet dreams at the beginning and end of each day. It could be a good marriage or a bad marriage - but a marriage it was. In all it’s rawness. The city people were only reading the books. This was the day I saw the difference - and it took me a much deeper understanding of the culture we live in.
August 29, 2013
My husband and I talk about God differently, but our experience of God is very similar I think. I can see it in his eyes when he experiences communion with God. I take a lot of photographs, and often when I’m reviewing photos of people during an important event or an emotion filled moment, I’m touched beyond my human understanding. I’m filled with a love for humanity that cannot be explained. My body is filled with a light, and my spirit soars. Tears stream down my cheeks because the love is so big it spills out of me. This is God. I hear myself repeating “thank you” over and over again to God. It is a gratitude so deep, so big, so wide that the earth couldn’t hold it. Only God can.
This is God love. My husband feels it in worship or through an understanding he has in scripture, but my understanding doesn’t always come through scripture because I’ve had experiences with some who live and die by each literal word who are the opposite of a holy spirit, or a Christlike human being. This has caused me to be more protective, and discerning. I am suspicious of their interpretations and attachments to their own understanding and set of beliefs. As a result, my heart doesn’t open as easily to God through the Bible right now. I know God gets that. My connection to all that is comes through people. Through hearts. Through love. It is ignited like a flame in these moments. We are each unique and complicated and simple. The trick is to find the door that unlocks our heart.
I was with a group of pastors yesterday at a weekly prayer meeting. The pastor who led the meeting is a very kind, intelligent, and good man. I respect him even though I don’t know him as well as I hope to someday. He started off the meeting reading Isaiah 5. This message spoke to him by reminding him that without giving God moral authority, we are Godless. It is the guiding force that defines us and dictates our path. At least that’s what I heard him say. He might say this differently. He was frustrated by the behavior of Miley Cyrus on a recent stage show in which she twerked in her act, and at the idea of a 25 year old parishioner who drove 12 hours to meet a guy she knew in high school. He is a strong advocate of discipleship, and as a pastor, takes this role very seriously. I respect him for his commitment to God, to his calling, and to the people he cares deeply about. As he shared his frustrations, passion, and anger about the state of the moral code in today’s culture, he felt a strong conviction to do something about it. He was driven by his anger. Honestly, it reminded me of how Jesus felt at the temple when he turned over the tables of the money changers. What parent can blame us feeling this way as our children are being exploited at the hands of profit driven businesses and money in general? He had a very good point. But at the same time, he was missing the point. I think.
The Christian community gets angry at the lack of morals, or when society seems to be going astray, and I simply wonder if we are missing the opportunities right in front of us by responding in anger. After my initial response to Miley Cyrus’ act, I wondered why she did this. Then I heard news anchors from the liberal and conservative sides experessing outrage at her decision to perform in this way, particularly as someone who’s been a role model to girls everywhere since they were young children. Everyone was in an uproar. In this day and age, when everyone from both sides of the aisle are in an uproar over a moral issue, it is a good thing! It means we agree! It means we can do something about it and work together. It means we have a shared goal. It means we won’t make the issue the means, but the end - just as it should be. I saw her indiscreet behavior as an opportunity for all of us to come together on an issue that matters - not because it is wrong in the eyes of God, but because it is wrong for the good of girls! Does God expect us to simply be trying to win his approval, or does God expect us to do what’s right for our children, our neighbors, our families? Clearly it is the latter. At least I hope that’s your response.
When religion is driven more by the word than by love, we are losing sight of the goal. I think Christians are missing the mark, and I witnessed it in that room yesterday in too many ways to explain here - mostly because I don’t want to appear judgmental or be judged in return when those who read it don’t understand my meaning. We are so quick to jump to conclusions about our belief systems...and before we think about what we might have to learn, we are busy defending our position.
Theologians have come to agreement for centuries on
These men wanted to stand up and fight for moral authority. He clearly cared about these women in his church, and clearly wanted to do something to create a better world for women - but I didn’t feel that. This is key. He judged the woman who drove 12 hours to see a boyfriend, and determined it was wrong. She is 25 and knew him in high school. Why was it wrong? How do we know if it was wrong? He was angry about the Cyrus Miley situation as well. Many people are in his shoes, and this may be an issue whose time has come. Parents of girls are having an uprising. Good for them...because they probably really love their daughters. All I heard him say, however, was how wrong young people are. He sounded like an old person. When we stand up and proselytize about how wrong others are, we don’t draw them to us. We are not listening when our response is anger. We are attacking.
Another pastor chimed in and said with disgust, “This is all because of the 60’s feminist movement and the _____!” He blamed twerking on the feminist movement. Huh? I’ve heard a lot of logic in my day, but this one took the cake. Is he suggesting in a roundabout way, that if men still controlled women they wouldn’t do this because men could stop them? I’m not exactly sure what he was implying here, but that’s sure what it sounded like.
The conservative Christian church is out of balance. It’s been out of balance for a long time. When we take diversity out of nature, it creates an environment for disease, floods, and other destructive consequences. This is because the system needs to operate as a whole, and when one piece of the whole is removed it knocks things out of balance and it doesn’t function well. It may self correct, but it will take time to adjust accordingly. It’s no different if we lose an arm or another body part. We may or may not survive depending on its role, but it will do its best to compensate. The church, not unlike Detroit in the 80s and the housing market in the 90’s, has reached the point of entropy. These are biological principles defined by us, but created by God in perfect design and order. I remember hearing somewhere, but have no reference for it, that if you left a group of men alone on a desert island they would eventually kill each other. However, if you left a group of women together on a desert island, they would create community. This resonates for me, even though I have no idea whether it’s true.
Men are protectors and warriors. It is not their nature to create community, even if they like being part of it once they let their defenses down. The conservative Christian church has listened to Paul for too long in my opinion, but this will probably never go to print because I don’t want to be burned at the stake or lose all my friends - which I might. In defense of Paul, he states that women should not speak in church, or teach, etc. and qualifies it by saying these are his ways in the churches that he oversees. By suggesting this is his choice, he also lets us know it wasn’t a directive by Jesus or God. It is a cultural decision on his part. Probably to avoid too much controversy, and Paul leans heavily toward black and white thinking; and a strong sense of order by nature.
I left the church many years ago, and have attened here and there over the years, never finding a church that contained a similar spirit to the churches I attended when I first became committed to God as an adult. Yesterday, after years of attending church again and writing and reading and learning, I understood why.
I left the church because it didn’t seem to fit into my paradigm anymore...more
A pastor asked me what brought me back to the church. I flippantly responded, “I married a pastor,” which was not a wise choice of words. I was being flip and thought it funny, but the truth is I’ve never left God - and God never left me either. I did not receive spiritual food in church. Period.
The quick response by pastors and bible thumpers always seems to be something akin to: “You want to project your own meaning into the word” or “you simply don’t want to hear the truth.” or “You dont know how to be obedient.” or “You’re not willing to surrender.” On and on it goes. Another example of this kind of behavior - behavior that dismisses the feelings and experiences of others; while being so attached to their set of beliefs and view, that they dismiss everyone who walks in the door - and who is walking out the door.
Why wouldn’t their response be more loving? Do they seek first to understand, as Covey put it so well? Do they bother to turn the gem a touch to see it from another perspective, communicating in a way that others can hear? Are they meeting people where they are, or simply demanding people meet them where they say God is? Have they forgotten God is everywhere? Do they stop and think about what their goal is? Then, do they consider the best way to achieving this goal, or are they so sure pounding the words of the Bible is the only way to get there?
Sure, there is great power in scripture. There is something so powerfully mystical inside the pages of that book when we’re able to experience that - but we can’t have that experience until we do. And we can’t have it until our heart says yes. And God knows that. Men who think beating people into submission is the way to the cross have lost their way. Of course, they don’t really think this but they might want to look into vulnerability training.
I read some writings by one of the big name gurus this afternoon - it was on a website or something similar - and it got me thinking about how I experience the Holy Spirit, and how this is an experience that has never been part of any other discipline I’ve been part of. It is a multi dimensional aspect of Christianity that’s not found in any other spiritual path that I’ve been part of. Christianity is the only path that has the ability to incorporate ALL the other spiritual traditions and practices that celebrate or encourage a spiritual walk, while also having the capacity to catapult us into dimensions spiritually that move beyond the earthly realm and are a catalyst for a spiritual deepening on another.....NEED.
If Christians expect to have an easy road in their walk with God, they are mistaken. This is not the easy way. But it’s also not the miserable, angry, morally strict, rule laden, path we seem to hear so much about. Christians come in all sizes, shapes, and colors.
There is a dynamic that happens when we are in a committed relationship that takes us deeper into who we are, and calls us to be more than we knew we were. Relationships are challenging. This is how it is to walk in relationship with God. It challenges us - primarily because it calls us to walk on the high road. The high road is not easy to get to - but it is awesome to arrive at.
Creative Tension between
loving God....trusting it’s the high road and wanting that....our own desires...a deep knowing that cannot be explained, but when we lean into it, it makes us quicken. THIS IS WHEN WE CREATE THE PERFECT ENVIRONMENT TO ALLOW THE HOLY SPIRIT TO ENTER. Is it something we can make happen? It’s not. But it is a combination of the mystical, a personal surrender, and a creative tension that points towards the desires of the self and, simultaneously, the highest path we can attain of good, love, God. And we know it’s true. And we’re scared. But in a good way. It’s a little like falling in love each time, just different.
CREATE ILLUSTRATION OF THE ABOVE
We can no longer expect people to
When I came back to the church, the church had changed. It wasn’t the same anymore.
We must experience life as a series of choices, not as a list of have-to’s. When we’re told what to do, but haven’t the understanding or readiness to make the change, real change won’t happen. It doesn’t work that way.
Just like a plant that requires the right conditions for growth, we need the same to create lasting and deep change that sticks.
Bottom up and top down....are two different ways of approaching behavior in society. When we