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______________________ LIFE, FAITH, ETCETERA

Three For The Journey December 29, 2014

This is very unusual for me, but I’m currently reading three books at the same time.
Three authors.  Three different general topics.  Three points of view (at least).
Yet, the way the messages of these books compliment each other, and even overlap at times is amazing.
I’ve not finished any of them yet.  Still, I can already recommend each one.
The three books are:
Brian McLaren’s “We Make The Road By Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation,”
Peter Enns’ “The Bible Tells Me So… – Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It,” and
Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power Of NOW: A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment.”

walking

First up, the McLaren offering.  I briefly mentioned this is a previous post, “Left Behind.”  My ninth McLaren book, this is a “devotional” of sorts, meant to be read at the rate of one chapter per week.  It has suggested scripture readings to accompany each chapter, as well as discussion questions and ways to “activate” the principles discussed.  It’s great for an individual, but it’s even better for a small group. (We have 4 guys in our discussion group.)  If you don’t identify as a “Christian,” or you’re not really into reading the Bible, you may still enjoy the practical, real-world life lessons found here.  In fact, Christian or not, Brian’s book will help you see the Bible in a way you may never have before. These are discussions that have the potential to change the world we live in by changing the individuals reading the book.
I’ve just finished chapter 13, which concludes the first section “Alive In The Story Of Creation.”  The material just keeps getting better and better. So far, we’ve dealt with mostly Old Testament material.  We’ve looked at the stories, when and why they were written, what the authors were trying to convey, and how these stories can provide meaning for us today.  We see how, through time, the biblical authors express an evolving understanding of God. This explains so much as we see them move from a previous view of many gods, to a view of one “tribal” god, to the God Jesus spoke of (who was very different from what many OT writers thought!). Our group has had some really good chats, complete with some disagreements.  I’m certainly the most, well, “left-leaning” of our group.  We have some really different conclusions we’ve drawn, and can disagree very, very strongly sometimes. But we generally take the approach so wonderfully stated by Rob Bell:
“You can hold something with so much conviction that you’d die for that belief, and yet, in the exact same moment say, ‘I could be wrong.’”
Find out more about “We Make The Road…” Click HERE.

bible

I purchased “The Bible Tells Me So” based on a recommendation by Rob Bell.  Many people, usually non-Christians, think the Bible is a really, really awful book.  I totally get that.  But, as Peter Enns points out, the Bible isn’t the problem.  People not knowing how to read the Bible: That’s a BIG problem.  I love the Bible.  It’s a wonderful book.  But I believe with all my heart, many “christians” need their Bibles taken away.
Yes.
I said that.
And I mean it!
They simply do not know how to read the book.  And that one but powerful truth has been the source of untold tragedy, suffering, violence, hatred, prejudice, injustice  and death.  With scholarly adeptness, spiritual respect, and no small dose of humor, Mr. Enns offers a gold-mine of biblical information that is sorely needed.  Again, this is a great read for anyone wishing insight and understanding for what is arguably the most famous, and most misunderstood book in all of history.  If I was king of the world, I would decree that no one reads the Bible without reading “The Bible Tells Me So…” as a companion piece.  Of course, the Catholic tradition already has books in their Bible that Protestants do not.  So, maybe we could just stick Peter’s book right in between the Old and New Testaments.  (No, I didn’t think that would fly.)
It’s clear through the parables of Jesus, but we actually see through the entire Bible that “God likes stories.”  There’s a reason the Bible doesn’t lay out everything in bullet points.  A story does not need to be 100% historically accurate to be “true.”
The Bible has often been wielded as an object of terror. When approached and read responsibly, the Bible is truly an awesome book!
Mr. Enns helps us to quit jumping through all the hoops, trying to make the Bible “behave.”  We learn to accept the Bible on its own terms.  Part of that is admitting there are blatant contradictions.  And that’s fine, because we can also clearly see that each writer had their own viewpoint as well as their own agenda.  One of the strong take-a-ways (which many Christians acknowledge verbally, but certainly not in practice) is that “Jesus is bigger than the Bible.” The material here is fascinating, educational and entertaining.  Put this on you “Must Read” list.
Get more info on “The Bible Tells Me So.”  Click HERE.

now

The 3rd entry here is one I’m reading due to the impact Barry McGuire said it had on him.  It’s had a similar impact on many others.
I recently reviewed a book called “Notes From (Over) The Edge.”  I’ve little doubt that the author of that book has read “The Power Of NOW.”  A lot of information in that book could have come directly from this one.

The message/theme of this book is one I’ve been hearing many places, from many sources; Christian, Buddhist, and others.  It is a message that Christ also proclaimed.
Essentially: Life is Now.”
We spend (waste) so much time reflecting on the past, or projecting into the future that we truly miss life.
It’s not just that life is now, but also that “God” is now.  Any relationship I have with the Divine is now.  It’s in this moment.  It’s in this breath.
Eckhart Tolle helps us connect to that breath.  That breath that is now.  We learn to “listen” to our bodies.  We are taught the benefits, and limitation of our “minds.”  We become able to step outside our conscious thoughts and look at them objectively.  We start “watching the thinker.”  We  recognize that we are not just our thoughts.  There is a “true self,” an authentic self that is beyond the mind.  “All the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind.”  We can start to observe our thoughts without judgment or commentary.  This higher dimension of consciousness is what the author calls “presence.”
These are also principles my wife and I were taught in our recent meditation classes.  Accessing the power of now is said to be seen in the words of St. Paul, “Everything is shown up by being exposed to the light, and whatever is exposed to the light itself becomes light.”
I believe there is a “oneness” to all that is.  If “all” came from one God, then all must inherently be connected to that single Divine… well, Divinity.  At least part of living out our oneness with all else that is one is accessing the power of now.

I’m writing these thoughts and reviews right now from the hospital.
My wife is currently in surgery.   A little over a year ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Today, we hope that will all be soon behind us, as she is having her “port” removed. (You can Google info on that, if you don’t know what it is.) She’ll be out of commission for a few weeks, and there will be pain, but it’s still a step forward.
Anyway, it’s been a rough ride at times.  Though some may belittle our faith, and others may think we’ve lost it, I can’t imagine going through this without it.

Books like the ones listed here, or rather the paths to which they’ve led, have been an integral, sustaining, life-affirming part of the journey.  The platitudes and somewhat blind devotion of my religious past would have been hard-pressed to sustain me through these times.  I’ve often seen them fail people while the people they failed engaged in some major cognitive dissonance trying to maintain what they falsely perceived as “faith.”
I thank God for those who are able to put their thoughts and insights to paper, including the ones mentioned here.  I’m thankful for my friends and associates, of various faith traditions, with whom I can have the “hard” conversations without feeling we’re in competition or trying to convert each other.
My biggest “thank-you” going out to Divinity is for my wife.  We can’t choose how long we’ll be around for each other, but we have each other NOW.  And whether we’re living in “this” now, or a now in some other form of eternity, the truth is Now is all we ever really have.

Buy “We Make The Road…” Click HERE.
Buy “The Bible Tells Me So.”  Click HERE.
Buy “The Power Of Now.”  Click HERE.

Quotes from all three books, intermixed, more of which will be added later:

– We are in the early stages of a new moment of emergence, pulsing with danger and promise.

– Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.

– Canaanite genocide is par of Israel’s story of the past – not a historical account of something God did.

– I believe that the Spirit of God works everywhere to bring and restore aliveness.  Sometimes institutions welcomed this nonviolent spiritual movement and were strengthened by it.  Sometimes they co-opted, smothered, squelched, frustrated, corrupted, or betrayed it.

– Before Christianity was a rich and powerful religion, it claimed that everyone, not just a select few, had God-given gifts to use for the common good.  It exposed a system based on domination, privilege, and violence and proclaimed in it place a vision of mutual service, mutual responsibility, and peaceable neighborliness.

– Christians today have an obligation not to “follow the Bible” here.  For Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word.  The story of God’s people has moved on, and so must we.

– Eventually, through the biblical library, we find a beautiful new vision of God being revealed.  God desires justice for all, not just for us.  God is leading both us and them out of injustice and violence into a new way of reconciliation and peace.

– Jesus was living by a different interpretation of the old stories.  He freed [people] from both passive, pious complacency and desperate, violent action [for] something better: faithful, peaceful action.

– God comes off as a bit touchy.  When provoked, God wasn’t bashful about killing or plaguing his own people.  If we read this anywhere else, we would call it genocide.

– You believe this mind-made fiction is who you are. You would rather be in pain than risk losing the familiar unhappy self.

– Sweating bullets to line up the Bible with our exhausting expectations isn’t a pious act of faith.  It’s actually thinly masked far of losing control and certainty… a warning signal that deep down we do not really trust God at all.

– Shifting my thinking on the Bible did not mean I was losing my faith.  In fact, I had the growing sense that God was inviting me down this path, encouraging it even.

– Enlightenment means rising above thought. You still use your thinking mind when needed, but you are free of the involuntary internal dialogue.

– My decision to go through door number three would eventually come to make me an outsider in my own community.

– I gained a Bible – and a God- I was free to converse with… disagree with.. [instead of a god] like an abusive, drunken father you don’t want to wake from his nap.

 

Buy “We Make The Road…” Click HERE.
Buy “The Bible Tells Me So.”  Click HERE.
Buy “The Power Of Now.”  Click HERE.

 

Everything Must Change September 11, 2014

EMC

Everything Must Change
(When The World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide)
– Brian D. McLaren

This is not a quick and easy read. At least it wasn’t for me. But this is potentially one of the most important books you may ever read. The is one of 4 or 5 books I would like to see in everyone’s library.
More importantly, I’d like to see it in the hands of every “young” person between 18 and 30. I totally believe the future of the world as we know it depends on the issues addressed in this book.

“Everything Must Change” is written by a Christian, predominately to a Christian audience (although many fundamentalists doubt this target audience is “Christian” to begin with). But, the issues and principles here apply to every human on the face of the planet.  And they effect every human and non-human on the face of the planet.

Some issues covered are:

* The Prosperity Crisis – Environmental breakdown caused by our unsustainable global economy.  One that does not respect environmental limits, while creating great wealth for about one third of the world’s population.

* The Equity Crisis – There’s a growing gap between the ultra-rich and the extremely poor, most of whom are growing in envy, resentment and hate of the rich.  The rich become fearful and angry as they seek to protect their wealth.

* The Security Crisis – The danger of war arising from resentment between the groups at opposite ends of the economic spectrum.

* The Spirituality Crisis – This is the failure of the world’s religions (especially Christianity and Islam) to provide a framing story that could bring healing or at least reduction to, the previous three crises.

This is another book that will help readers see how we’ve misconstrued so many of Jesus’ teachings.  Brian helps us to hear Jesus’ words more in alignment with how his first listeners heard them.  We see that we have a “framing story” that desperately needs changed.  So we revisit “the essential message of Jesus.”  In doing so, we re-examine metaphors like “The Kingdom of God.”  We consider our human situation in connection with the message and purpose of Jesus

In one section, Mr. Mclaren likens our past religious attempts at understanding to those of someone piecing together a puzzle.  We’re trying to fit it all together according to the picture on the lid.  The problem is, we have the wrong lid!

In chapter 4, a young man from Khayelitsha, South Africa, delivers a very weighty message to a group of pastors and evangelists from America.  It is a message every pastor and evangelist needs to hear.  If you’re a “missionary,” please read this chapter.  Even if you don’t want to buy the book, borrow it from the library.  Borrow it from me.  Just read this chapter.

It seems many people shy away from politics and religion.  As Brian states, “A lot of us are very happy to go through life knowing as little as possible about economics, politics, and ecology.”  The thing is, these are both the problem, and part of the solution.  For me personally, my politics are intrinsically tied to my faith in Christ.  Yes, we pray.  But then we help bring God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven” by taking action: Action that can help bring about equality, justice, and environmental responsibility.  I believe a proper look at the teachings of Jesus will reveal that very thing.

This was my 9th Brian McLaren book.  My “Comrades” and I are getting ready, as a group, to read Brian’s latest, “We Make The Road By Walking.”

If you’re someone who cares about the future of your children, your children’s children, and so on; I would suggest you read “Everything Must Change” and seriously consider the message it contains.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.


Quotes:

– Not only am I often unsatisfied with conventional answers, but even worst, I’ve consistently been unsatisfied with conventional questions.

– Part of what it means to be “a new kind of Christian” is to discover or rediscover what the essential message of Jesus is about.

– Many of our religious institutions have taught us to see no horizon for the message of Jesus beyond the soul of the individual.
Buy the book. Click HERE.

– The way of the kingdom of God calls people to a higher concern than self- or national interest: namely, concern for the common good.

– We can no longer deal with global problems as discrete unrelated issues.

– Jesus bursts on the scene with this scandalous message: The time has come!  Rethink everything!  A radically new kind of empire is available.

– Theocapitalists have tended to see the rich as morally good and the poor as morally culpable for their own poverty.
Buy the book. Click HERE.

– Many of our current eschatologies, intoxicated by dubious interpretations of John’s Apocalypse, are not only ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral.

– We don’t have a violent “Second Coming” Jesus who finishes what the gentle “First Coming” Jesus failed to do, but we have a poetic description of the way the gentle First Coming Jesus powerfully overcomes through his nonviolent “weakness”, a prince of peace whose word of reconciliation is truly mightier than Caesar’s sword.
Buy the book. Click HERE.



 

 

The Secret Message of Jesus September 28, 2012



“What if the core message of Jesus has been unintentionally misunderstood or intentionally distorted”


The Secret Message of Jesus:
Uncovering The Truth That Could Change Everything



Yet another powerhouse of insights from Brian McLaren!
Reading books like this make one amazed at how far off track “Christianity” really has become.
Reading books like this also give one hope for getting back on track.
Of course, we’ve lost much of what the original audience understood, but there was a lot that they didn’t readily understand either.
Jesus predominantly taught in parables, rather than outlines and bullet-points. And he almost always answered a question with a question. Not the best choice if your goal is to communicate facts.  It is, however, the perfect choice if the goal is interactive relationship.

I’m not going to give a chapter by chapter review here, but I will tell you about a few of them.

Let me start toward the end with a “bonus chapter” called “The Prayer of the Kingdom.”
This is a wonderful exploration of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”  It really puts the words of Jesus into context, giving then a fresh vitality, and making them as relevant as ever.  It frees this prayer from being just a repetitive tradition, and helps us see its truly revolutionary nature.  Understanding the proper applications of this prayer, we see it as a crucial part of Jesus’ “secret” message.

Chapters 19 and 20 view “The Future of the Kingdom,” and “The Harvest of the Kingdom.”  We find out the true purpose of the “warnings and promises” of the prophets.  There’s talk of the book of Revelation, and how “neither the Bible nor the teachings of Jesus are intended to give us a timeline of the future.”  We also gain a new perspective of the “harvest” metaphor which Jesus employed.

Early on, we look at “The Political Message of Jesus.”  So much of Jesus’ speech used terminology to directly address and refer to the political (and religious) structure of his day.”  Brian believes that the message of Jesus “has  everything to do with public matters in general and politics in particular.”  One of the interesting tidbits here is that Roman emperors would send out messengers to announce their “good news,” and proclaim that “Cesar is Lord.”  Again, we miss so many of the pertinent references that Jesus’ audience readily understood.  We also realize that “the Jewish people probably felt about their occupiers the way Palestinians generally feel today about the Israelis.”

“The Jewish Message of Jesus” reminds us that Jesus was a Jew.  To understand his message, we must understand the Jewishness of his message.  The Jewish people said very little about any kind of afterlife.  Their concern was how we act in this life.
They did expect the Messiah to set up a kingdom here and now, in this life.  They just were not aware of the kind of kingdom he was going to establish.  It wasn’t the dominionist theocracy of church and state they expected.
Another way He tried to set them free from many of their misconceptions was through his “You’ve heard it said…But I say to you” speech.

In “The Medium of the Message” we see the power of the parable.

“The Open Secret” shows us how “the message of the Christian church became a different message entirely from the message of Jesus.”  This chapter also looks at “Christianity” vs. “Paulianity,” and whether or not there really is any substantial conflict between the two.

With “The Language of the Kingdom” we discover the urgent political, religious, and cultural electricity that charged the language Jesus spoke with.  It was then “contemporary and relevant; today, it is outdated and distant… If Jesus were alive today, I am quite certain he wouldn’t use the language of kingdom at all.”

Elsewhere in McLaren’s book we rethink the meaning of “repent.”
We observe the “sad adventure in missing the point” that the church has taken.
We learn to “abandon the bad idea that some people are ‘clergy’ and others are ‘laity.'”

All in all, the secret message of Jesus wasn’t intended to be kept secret.  It has been lost, suppressed, distorted, and misunderstood for (as we read in appendix 1) a variety of reasons.

Ultimately, we are challenged with what kind of lives shall we then live.
Will we keep the secret, or be part of the reality it was meant to bring about?

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

——

From the product description:

In The Secret Message of Jesus you’ll find what’s at the center of Brian’s critique of conventional Christianity, and what’s at the heart of his expanding vision. In the process, you’ll meet a Jesus who may be altogether new to you, a Jesus who is…

Not the crusading conqueror of religious broadcasting;
Not the religious mascot of partisan religion;
Not heaven’s ticket-checker, whose words have been commandeered by the church to include and exclude, judge and stigmatize, pacify and domesticate.
——

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

 

SOME QUOTES:

– Each of us not only prays, “May your kingdom come,” but we also become part of the answer to that prayer in our sphere of influence.

– The secret message of Jesus has far-reaching implications for the widest range of subjects — from racism to ecology, from weapons proliferation to terrorism, from interreligious conflict to destructive entertainment, from education to economics, from sexuality to art, from politics to technology, from liturgy to contemplation.

– We are invited to begin living now the way everyone will someday live in the resurrection, in the world made new…[a future] that has in some way, through Christ’s resurrection, been made present and available now.

– God’s ultimate dream: Not the destruction of this creation, but the destruction of dominating powers that ruin creation.

– What if Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion–but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world?

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– What’s crazy is thinking, after all these millennia, that hate can conquer hate, war cure war, pride overcome pride, violence end violence, revenge stop revenge, and exclusion create cohesion.  The kingdom of God never advances by or through war or violence.
(For a really good example of the futility of revenge, and the myth of redemptive violence,  Check out “The Hatfields and McCoys.”  One top-notch mini-series.)

– The [prophet’s] purpose is not to tell the future but to change it.

– Trying to read [Revelation] without understanding its genre (Jewish apocalyptic) would be like watching Star Trek thinking it was a historical documentary.

– I think of Jesus in his parables.  He seems more interested in stirring curiosity than in completely satisfying it.

– This idea — that the kingdom of God is about our daily lives, about our way of life — may lie behind the tension people feel between the words religious and spiritual.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– The Greek phrase John uses for “eternal life” literally means “life of the ages… a higher life that is centered in an interactive relationship with God and with Jesus.

– But the kingdom of God raises the level of discourse to a higher plane entirely.

– Faith that counts, then, is not the absence of doubt; it’s the presence of action.

– Church and state with their sacred theologies and ideologies, like all other human structures of this world, will – given the chance – execute God so they can run their own petty kingdoms.

– The church no longer saw the demonic as lodged in the empire, but in the empire’s enemies.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– There has to be a third way that is different from permissive, naive inclusiveness and hostile, distrustful exclusion.
Purposeful inclusion [is when the kingdom of God] seeks to include all who want to participate in and contribute to it’s purpose, but it cannot include those who oppose it’s purpose. To be truly inclusive, the kingdom must exclude exclusive people; to be truly reconciling, the kingdom must not reconcile with those who refuse reconciliation, to achieve its purpose of gathering people, it must not gather those who scatter.Buy the book.  Click HERE.


 

 
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