______________________ LIFE, FAITH, ETCETERA

Naked Spirituality May 30, 2011

“The Spirit of God is the fine wine of justice, joy, and peace; the uncontained wind of creativity, comfort, and liberation; the living water of holiness, beauty, and love.  Whenever people encounter justice, joy, peace, creativity, comfort, liberation, holiness, beauty, love, or any other good thing, they are in some way encountering the Spirit, or at least the signature or aftermath of the Spirit.  The Spirit, then, is bigger than any particular religion or religion in general.  Nobody has a monopoly on Spirit.
Get that straight, and a thousand other things begin to fall into place.”
– Brian McLaren

This is my fourth Brian McLaren book. (Plus, I have three others on my “to read” shelf.)
This is the most noticeably different of the ones I’ve read.
“This book is  about getting naked — not physically, but spiritually.”

In part, this is a book of practical disciplines: Practices of experiencing (or maybe recognizing) the spirituality of life.
Some seem quite similar to the disciplines I once practiced, yet strangely different.
Different in approach.
Different in feel.
Different in spirit.
Different because these are not “rules,” or measurements of why “I’m a better Christian.”  They are not things I have to do to please God, or to satisfy the mandates of a religious group.  Rather, these are disciplines born out of journey. Born out of growth, into growth, and through growth.
They come from being “naked” before God. Without the clothing of religion, pretense, or self-righteousness.

The reader is often asked to stop, set the book aside, and engage in meditation.
This, which I often do anyway, helps to understand, retain, and benefit from what has been read, rather than just trying to “finish the book.”

This book is also a map, of sorts.  An observation of paths taken, and a sort of analysis of those routes.
This book’s full title is “Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In Twelve Simple Words.”

To me, this initially smacked of “twelve easy steps.”
I’m not into “steps religion.” I’m don’t believe in cookie-cutter Christianity.  I’m distrustful of those books where the author claims to have it all nailed-down, and all you have to do is buy their book, and suddenly you life is just hunky-dory.
That, of course, is not where Brian was going.

His book is divided into four “seasons” of Christianity, or spiritual growth. Each season contains six sections, two each for a given word.
The seasons are: Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony.
The first 11 words are:  Here, Thanks, O, Sorry, Help, Please, When, No, Why, Behold, and Yes.
The title is right. The words are simple. But the meanings and practice behind them are quite deep.

The sections of “Here” really touched me. They helped me to see, again, that God is always “here”.  I sometimes need to still myself so that I am also “here.” But God does not need to be summoned, invoked, or prayed and fasted for in order for Him to be here. I remember a common phrase in “church” was “God is really here this morning.” We needed to realize that we were only better aware of His presence that is always with us.

“Why?”  is a section to which I believe everyone can relate.  “When” is close on its heels.
“Behold” is aimed at opening our eyes.  I found  it a wonderful and moving section.
And the final word of the twelve isn’t even a word.  It’s simply “…”

I could give a synopsis of each of the 12 words, but I’m not going to. In this case, I think it would trivialize the whole of what the book has to say.

As for the seasons, each has its purpose, but none are meant to be permanent.  There are things from each season we will keep, but they will grow and “morph” into newer versions of themselves.
Even when you’ve gone through all of them, they start over on a new level.
Maybe a new “plane” would be a better way to phrase it.

Simplicity is the stage with clear boundaries.  Black/White.  Right/Wrong.  Us vs. Them. Who’s Good/Who’s Bad.  Who’s In/Who’s Out.  Everything can be understood, categorized, explained and conquered.  We’ve got God all figured out.

Complexity shifts our focus “from right versus wrong to effective versus ineffective.”  “To our core of dualism we now add a new layer of pragmatism.”
One thing we see is that many Christians never leave the second season. I know I spent most of my life there. It’s a comfortable place. It’s probably the hardest one from which to move on.

Sooner or later, reality kicks in. You can shut down. You can move to the next season. Or, as many do, you can live with this suppressed disconnect, wondering what’s wrong with you, and why this “christianity” doesn’t “work” for you like it’s supposed to.  All the while, sitting in the seat of judgement, deciding who God accepts and who He rejects.

In Perplexity, “what matters most to us — more that being right, more than being effective — is being honest, authentic…
At the very least, we will need to add a margin for mystery and unbolt some of the structural elements of our faith that have been until now tightly fitted together.”

I may have actually dipped my toes in the waters of this season around the year 2000, when I was (in season two terminology) “away from the Lord.”   I began entering this season a little more, without quite realizing it, around the year 2005 or 2006.  It probably became a conscious  directional pursuit in late 2006 or early 2007.
Moving on…

Harmony: “A quiet transcendence that brings along the previous stages.” “This is the stage when faith takes off its dualistic, pragmatic, and relativistic clothing and seeks to encounter God nakedly.”  A requirement of this stage, we are told, is humility.

Stage four is not the end.  “Far from feeling we have arrived…we finally begin to understand that arrival has never been the point.”

I do not agree fully with everything written here.  Brian’s view of giving seems dangerously close to what I see as the anti-Christian practice of tithing.
(I can’t give God the “first fruits” when it’s all His anyway.  I am to let Him be in charge of it all.)
Yet, with McLaren, I still know it’s more about being Spirit lead that following rules and creeds.
There are other minor things I would approach differently.

Despite my disagreements, I really enjoyed this book, but in a much different way than I enjoy most of my reading. It went into a different part of me, in a way I can’t quite explain.

It’s just another part of the ever-unfolding whole.
Another step in leaving “destination-based religion” and, instead, enjoying “journey Christianity.”

Buy  the book.  CLICK HERE.

Some Quotes:

Naked spirituality is different [from religion].  You don’t argue about the fountain — you drink from it and experience its movement and flow within you.

We may falsely assume that our idea of God is identical to god. (C.S. Lewis)

Gratitude may be the greatest secret to happiness there is… A lot of people spend a lot of money every day trying to keep you from being grateful.

Contemplating a loving God strengthens portions of our brain — particularly the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate — where empathy and reason reside.  Contemplating a wrathful God empowers the limbic system, which is “filled with aggression and fear.”  It is a sobering concept:  The God we choose to love changes us into his image, whether he exists or not.

‎”God is here, and if you do not find God here it is useless to go and search elsewhere.” – Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

In many churches in my childhood people could passionately confess certain personal sins, but remain absolutely oblivious to our racism, Antisemitism, Islammophobia, environmental irresponsibility, homophobia, nationalism, and denominational pride.

God gives Moses a mission, but Mose’s response is surprising. Moses argues. The experience of God is not normally so overwhelming that one is reduced to quivering mush; instead, it invites one to stand tall, to push back, to question, even to resist.

“If it is possible, let this cup pass from me…” That word “if” tells us something terrifyingly significant: at this moment, Jesus doesn’t have clarity about a predetermined, set-in-concrete plan. Jesus isn’t trusting a plan; he is trusting God.

In an environment of grace, avoidance of sin stops being the focus, and other things — generosity, creativity, fun, learning, whatever — can occupy our attention,  so we sin less by thinking less about sinning.  We can now yield to the good temptation of better things.

Buy  the book.  CLICK HERE.

[God’s] oneness is not a numerical oneness, like a tree is one, but a relational oneness — like a forest is one.

Jesus consistently rebukes his disciples whey they use their affiliation with him as an exclusive barrier; he intends their identity as his disciples and apostles to be a bridge to others, not a barrier that excludes them.

Teaching against revenge is one of the most frequently repeated imperatives in the New Testament.

[In the season of Complexity] we begin to be able to see some good in what we previously categorized as evil, and some evil in what we previously categorized as good.

The Bible looks different once you’ve survived the autumn. It’s no longer a repository for theological abstractions that can be organized into a tidy fortress called a “Christian Worldview.” It’s no longer a weapon by which you vanquish those who don’t have the good fortune of sharing your approved opinions. [Now] the Bible is the living legacy of people who have lived in the real world, a diary of complexities and perplexities survived and reflected upon.

Jesus was right. Paul was right. John was right. The Buddha was right. Even the Beatles were right. It all comes down to love. You know God by loving God. You know God by loving others.


Sunday Morning Worship May 29, 2011









          What a wildly wonderful world, God!
     You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
          made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.
     Send out your Spirit and they spring to life—

               Psalm 104:24,30 (The Message)


A Spiritual Man May 22, 2011

We really enjoyed the recent B.J. Thomas concert here in Fort Wayne. Lots of great music by a fabulous vocalist, with a really good band.
Unlike many artists, he still has that great, versatile voice.
Hits like “Hooked On A Feeling,” Raindrops…,” “Theme from Growing Pains,'” “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” “Mighty Clouds of Joy,”
“Home Where I Belong,” and so many more.
He closed with a powerful version of “Suspicious Minds,” which he originally recorded around the same time Elvis did.
(The song was written by Mark James.)

Mr. Thomas gave lots of background stories, humorous insights, and bits of wisdom from his personal journey.
He even managed to work in a few comments about that night being “the end of the world.”

It didn’t take much to see that he had, long ago, started down a path similar to the one I have taken.
He gave testimony to the omnipotence of Father, the lordship of Christ, and the universal love of God, all while acknowledging himself as being a
spiritual man, while being decidedly NOT religious. He says, as so many have, that no one religion can contain God.

The whole audience seemed full of love for the entertainment and insights of this man. He just came off as being a really nice guy.
He had a great rapport with the crowd, interacting with verbal comments yelled from the seats, and allowing everyone to take
pictures during the concert. That’s very rare. People would walk right up to the edge of the stage, just inches from him, and take pictures.

Anyway, my wife a met some nice people, sang, danced, clapped, and had a great time with old memories while creating new ones.

Thank you, B.J. Thomas. It was a night to remember!

(Here’s a bit from a previous interview that I just found)

“There’s lots of ways to find your faith and your spirituality. Yeah, that was what turned us around in those days. That was kind of a spiritual awakening to us, that we found through Christianity. I don’t think I ever was a religious person, but there was a spiritual awakening that happened. When you go back and make a lot of specific references to certain things, certain things change, and evolve over the years. I might have been presented as a very religious entity in those days, but I’m not a religious person as we speak. And, I’m not sure that any one religion can serve all humanity. So, I think you have to have your life experiences and you have to dig your faith out of your own heart and your own spirit. There’s an evolution and a progress that goes on in a lifetime.” – B.J. Thomas


Bill Maher on Christianity & Osama bin Laden May 17, 2011

[The following is a transcript of a Bill Maher monolog.
I’m not necessarily a big fan, but I think he pretty much nails this one.
If you click on his picture, it should take you to a Facebook page with the video segment]

{Explicit Language Warning}

New rule: if you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.

Last week, as I was explaining why I didn’t feel at all guilty about Osama’s targeted assassination, I made some jokes about Christian hypocrisy and since then strangers have been coming up to me and forcing me to have the same conversation.

So let me explain two things. One, I’m not Matthew McConaughey. He surfs a long board.

And two, capping thine enemy is not exactly what Jesus would do. It’s what Suge Knight would do.

For almost 2,000 years, Christians have been lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how “love thy neighbor” can mean “hate thy neighbor” and how “turn the other cheek” can mean “screw you I’m buying space lasers.”

Martin Luther King gets to call himself a Christian because he actually practiced loving his enemies.

And Ghandi was so fucking Christian he was Hindu.

But if you rejoice in revenge, torture and war – hey, that’s why they call it the weekend – you cannot say you’re a follower of the guy who explicitly said, “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you.” The next line isn’t “and if that doesn’t work, send a titanium fanged dog to rip his nuts off.”

Jesus lays on that hippie stuff pretty thick. He has lines like, “do not repay evil with evil,” and “do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you.” Really. It’s in that book you hold up when you scream at gay people.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but nonviolence was kind of Jesus’ trademark. Kind of his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales.

There’s interpreting, and then there’s just ignoring.

It’s just ignoring if you’re for torture – as are more evangelical Christians than any other religion. You’re supposed to look at that figure of Christ on the cross and think, “how could a man suffer like that and forgive?” Not, “Romans are pussies, he still has his eyes.”

If you go to a baptism and hold the baby under until he starts talking, you’re missing the message.

Like, apparently, our president, who says he gets scripture on his Blackberry first thing every morning, but who said on 60 Minutes that anyone who would question that Bin Laden didn’t deserve an assassination should, “have their head examined.”

Hey Fox News! You missed a big headline; Obama thinks Jesus is nuts!

To which I say, “hallelujah,” because my favorite new government program is surprising violent religious zealots in the middle of the night and shooting them in the face. Sorry Head Start, you’re number 2 now.

But I can say that because I’m a non-Christian.

Just like most Christians.

Christians, I know, I’m sorry, I know you hate this and you want to square this circle, but you can’t.

I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing.

You’re not Christ’s followers, you’re just fans.

And if you believe the Earth was given to you to kick ass on while gloating, you’re not really a Christian – you’re a Texan.


More About My Journey May 9, 2011

As part of an ongoing online conversation, I was recently asked what “inspired” me to leave institutional religion.  I actually get that question, and ones similar to it, a lot.

The following is (with a few added statements) what I had to say in response to the most recent inquiry:

I can’t pinpoint at what part in my journey I started having the inklings to leave the institution.  I know that in part it was affected by books like “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” “Pagan Christianity,” “So, You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore,” “The Shack,” and “Velvet Elvis.”

But these books often just put words and clarity to what was already happening in me.

Anyway, yeah, it doesn’t feel good to have old friends and “church family” see you as having strayed, or being deceived.  I have to keep remembering I used to think the same way.

But I’ve learned this for SURE:  You can’t argue people into agreement.

Arguments are usually only to convert the “other,” and never really intended to find agreement.  There is a “winner” and a “loser.”  Plus, fundamentalism is steeped in an “us vs. them, I’m right you’re wrong” mentality.  The mere idea of agreeing to disagree is enough to send many of them into tirades.  It’s happened to me more than once.  It’s amazing how their focus is on a list, rather than on knowing Christ, or living in harmony.  The discussions are usually “Is this a sin?  Is that a sin?  What can I do or not do and still get to heaven?”  What a ridiculous way to live.

I have both friends and family who I know I can’t have those kinds of discussions with.  In those cases I try very hard to steer clear of theological topics, and do my best to just share our lives together.
No one “convinced” me of my different (and ever-growing) beliefs.  It’s truly a God-thing.  There’s so much that I’ve learned that could only come gradually, as God knew I was ready for it. Look, if our understanding of God is growing, then our beliefs will change. Change is inherent with growth.

You really have to get to a place that Brian McLaren describes this way:
“I gradually learned to simply share with those who either “got it” or wanted to get it and not to bother – or look down upon – those who didn’t.”

That’s usually not as easy done as said, but it’s the best way I’ve found so far.

Of course, some people only want to “fight,” and it may be best to end, or at least limit, contact with those people: The kind who love debate, but couldn’t care less about conversation. I know I don’t need that kind of negativity and stress.  We need people who will lift us up, not tear us down.  I wish I had more people like that, but for now, most of that “gathering together” has been online.  But God is good, and it’s all part of the journey.

I hope this has addressed some of the issues you raised, and maybe brought a little bit of encouragement your way.

In His Love,

For more about my journey, growing understanding, and some personal info,


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