Monday, December 30, 2013

The Good News

We need to spread the Good News.
Jesus came to tell the world that God loves us all.  In those days, the Jewish people believed they were the chosen ones and that only by following Jewish law could a person find favor with God.
The Good News was and still is that we are all chosen and all Children of God.
Even more important is the rest of the Good News and this is the part that is often lost in the translation of the message.  Jesus told us and showed us how to save the world.  Love God.  Love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is our salvation and the salvation of the world.
For several thousand years, man has been muddying that message;  first in defining God and next with defining which neighbor to love as ourselves.  Piety and righteousness are far removed from the Good News and often Jesus taught that this would not gain favor with God.
We first need to let go of the notion that God has a chosen people - not Jew - not Christian - not Protestant - not Catholic - not Muslim - not Buddhist - not Hindu - not you and not me.  God loves all equally and unconditionally.  Put down your stone.  Quit looking for splinters.
We cannot define God in human terms or in human ways.  We need to bow to that knowledge and simply view "God" as the source of all things and a part of all things.  Be in awe of that!  It is infinitely complex and infinitely simple.
If we can do that first, we begin to see everything around us in a different light.  Nothing and no one is separate from God.  We are all part of the whole.  The glue that holds the whole together is love.  Anything other separates us both from God and from one another.
We may each come to our understanding of "God" in a unique way and by a different name.  Look for the glue (love) and the salvation - one source and that source is bound in love.  This is the truth.  This is the Good News.  This is how the world is saved.  This is our salvation.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Head Boppers

Not long ago I thought about writing the story of a church in some small town where the parishioners decided to make huge foam hammers and bop one another on the head as a reminder of the need to get right with God.  So, every Sunday morning they all carried their big foam hammers into the sanctuary and bopped one another on the head.  No one really remembered how this head bopping practice started but it went on for a while every Sunday and they felt God had inspired and blessed the practice.
One Sunday morning the pastor suggested that they needed to spread the message and bop heads wherever possible.  So, the congregation began taking their huge foam hammers to the streets of the little town and began bopping the heads of anyone who came close.  This became accepted practice in the little community and went on for many years.  Some were not happy about it but the church was powerful in the community and so no one complained.
Then one day someone spoke out against the head bopping practice.  They did not appreciate the significance and though it may have been a harmless huge foam hammer, they felt it was an annoyance.
Before long, the issue was front page of the newspaper.  There were letters to the editor - for and against.  And very soon the issue came before the court with non-head bopping believing citizens seeking to prevent the practice of bopping heads willy nilly throughout the community.
The head bopping parishioners were outraged that anyone was offended.  "You are infringing on our religious freedom," they insisted. They rallied and marched carrying their huge foam hammers saying God would reign terror on the little town for their disobedience.
The people who did not believe in head bopping also rallied and carried huge umbrellas as a symbol of the need to protect their heads from bopping.
After months of testimony, the court ruled that head bopping could not be done to anyone who did not wish to be bopped.  And the ruling was fairly popular in the community - especially with those who didn't believe in head bopping.  But it was not at all popular with those who felt they were called by God to bop people on the head with their big foam hammers.
After the ruling, the head bopping parishioners were very upset. "This has been our practice for many years and must remain so."
"People should be allowed to have an opinion", they said as they realized their head bopping days were no longer accepted as normal and necessary.
So, how should the story end?  Perhaps the huge foam hammers need to stay within the sanctuary of those who share the belief in the significance of head bopping.  The actual reign of terror would then end in the little town.  And everyone lives happily ever after.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rational and Reasonable

As many predicted, including dismayed Supreme Court Justice Scalia,  marriage equality is being contested in many states across the nation.  One court after another is beginning to rule in favor of marriage equality.  If you are interested in learning more check out this site:
Cases are currently pending in Alaska, Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, North Carolina, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  Other cases have had initial rulings and are in various stages of legal wrangling.
Why are opponents of Marriage Equality loosing these battles?  Because there is no rational, reasonable argument against marriage equality that can hold up in court.  There is no evidence of social harm or personal harm caused by same sex marriage.  In fact, plaintiffs are proving just the opposite - that there is great personal harm in denying marriage equality.
Long believed myths about gay and lesbian people don't hold water in court.  These myths are believed less and less by society at large.  As these myths unravel, all institutions clinging to the myths will be pressured to begin making rational, reasonable decisions.  It's been interesting to watch as the myths are less believed, those desperate to fight marriage equality are beginning to tell more exaggerated stories in an effort to be convincing.  Instead, they are destroying their own credibility.
Over the next decade I expect to see churches carefully examining the full context of the scriptures they have held as evidence to deny acceptance of marriage equality.  Anyone who has actually read the Bible knows it cannot be followed literally.  It has to be viewed in a larger context.  As a result, churches will examine themselves in a full context as well - seeking understanding of their most important purpose and mission.  The change will be incremental and gradual but it will come in most mainstream Christian churches.
Of course, sadly, there will remain a minority group that will continue to attempt to spread a Ugandan style of "kill the gays" rhetoric or Russian "don't speak of gay" policing.  That is the fruit of intolerance and lack of equality.  On this issue, the choice is clear and there is no place in the middle.  The days of accepting oppression are over.  It can't be covered in a pretty package called religious freedom.  Religious freedom does not oppress.  If you believe oppression is an important part of your religious practice, you don't believe in religious freedom.  That argument might work to rally like minded people behind anti-gay rhetoric but it isn't an argument that will work in court.
You have the right to speak about and practice your religious beliefs for yourself.  Likewise, people have the right to speak out against what you say.  You do not have the right to legislate your religious beliefs simply because you decided that's how God wants it.  If that is really how God wants it, there will be a rational and reasonable explanation that will hold up in any objective court.  God's rather perfect that way.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Moral Compass?

Recent headlines continue to highlight the religious institutional struggle with accepting marriage equality.  The Methodist church has threatened to strip a pastor of his ordination because he performed the same sex marriage ceremony for his son.  A Catholic school has fired a teacher because he will soon marry his same sex partner.
Their explanation for these actions is that homosexuality is not in line with church teachings.  Those who believe they must take this moral line insist it's because of scripture.  But it is not about scripture.  There are 3 to 4 times the number of scriptures denouncing divorce.  Romans 7: 2-3, Matthew 5: 31-32,  Mark 10: 2-12,  Luke 16: 18, I Corinthians 7: 10-15, I Corinthians 7: 39 are just a few.
My point in listing these is not to criticize divorce.  Whom you decide to share your life with is a personal decision and you have the right to choose.  Both the Methodist and the Catholic churches appear to have accepted that and do not lament about divorce.  In both these churches you can marry, divorce, re-marry and hold leadership positions.  What the scriptures say have nothing to do with it.
One argument I've heard is that divorce is a one time mistake and is not a recurring sin.  However, that argument is not scriptural.  Read the scriptures listed above.
Churches attempt to be a moral compass assuming a leadership role in determining what is culturally acceptable and what is not.  That is not all bad and every culture needs a moral compass.   That moral compass needs to be firmly based in teachings of love and compassion.  Telling people they cannot love whom they love - whether an issue of divorce or an issue of same sex relationship - is NOT based in a teaching of love and compassion. 
Yes, you can argue God is to be obeyed and quote scripture after scripture.  And the next person can quote scripture that YOU are not following.  The Law and obedience path is an endless cycle of failure.  And that was the whole point of Jesus' message.  Law is not the path to God.  It is impossible to lead a life that follows scripture literally.  If churches are going to survive, they need to get over that way of thinking.
I do believe the truth is in the teachings of Jesus.  You are most likely to see those truths if you also look for the same threads in the spiritual teachings of other beliefs.  If we could all land together and focus on those common truths, we would stop fighting over issues that divide us and cause one another harm.
Marriage equality is just one of those issues.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A speck

How do you rank yourself?
Around some people - reading their words - hearing their words - I want to ask.  How do you rank yourself?
I'd be most interested to hear the answer from those who seem most certain that they have life's answers.  I'm most curious about those who "know" so much and are quick to point out how others are not measuring up.
Recently one of those people lamented about a criticism they had faced.  It had clearly shaken him and I mused.  How often I have seen him dish out searing criticism and when he faced it, he was distressed and somewhat dismissive about it.  I believe he ranked himself quite above that.  But he was having trouble processing it because it came from someone he respected.  He could not easily dismiss this person.
There are some people who simply rank themselves above most everyone else.  Having a positive relationship with them is totally dependent upon your accepting that ranking.  If they sense that you do not, they will dismiss you.  If they cannot easily dismiss you, they will seek damage.
I believe that people who rank themselves in such a way and are so protective of their position on the mountaintop, are driven by a deep seeded fear.  There is a lot of Wizard of Oz behavior going on.  Pay no attention to what's behind the curtain and simply listen to the booming voice.
We've all got a little curtain thing going on.
Humility, civility and empathy are things we should be ranking in ourselves.  We can get far too caught up in our own self importance.  Reality is that we are each just a speck of sand.  At best we can create a ripple of good that goes out and carries on.  That's not going to happen if we are focused on self importance.  That's just a ripple inward that satisfies you for a speck of a moment and goes nowhere.
So ripple in or ripple out?  If you are most important - ripple in and make yourself quite happy - for a speck of time.  OR ripple out and watch a multitude of ripples continue.  Rank that.