LifeWalk

______________________ 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.

 

Picture This May 18, 2014

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Does Jesus Really Love Me? March 19, 2013

CHU
Does Jesus Really Love Me?
A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America
– Jeff Chu

This book is an incredible achievement.
It may be Jeff’s pilgrimage, but the stories come from many. At this time in history, this book is über-relevant, and much needed.

In his rather brave journeys, Jeff Chu has talked with/interviewed people across the nation, from various walks of life, with vastly, vastly differing opinions on the subjects of Christian faith and sexual orientation.  From Justin Lee (Gay Christian Network), to Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church), to everyday people who are just trying to figure out life.
His pilgrimage was also to help him understand how people can read the same Bible, and come to such dramatically different conclusions.

Mr. Chu not only shares his story and the stories of others, but he occasionally “steps aside” and just lets people, including John Smid and Ted Haggard, tell their own stories.
Some stories are uplifting.  Some are heartbreaking. Some are damn maddening.

One of the most unusual things for me was Jeff describing the people of WBC as friendly and warm.   Jeff actually went on a protest with them!
Still, they would use words like “fag” and “whore” with the comfort and ease of saying “tall” or “brunet.”
Sounds like they have some major cognitive dissonance going on. But we also see that, except for their trademark acts of extremism, their beliefs are quite similar to most fundamentalist churches.

Of course, there are stories of being rejected by family and friends.  Of being designated as hell-bound abominations by those who should be the ones most loving and supportive.  (How anyone can think that that kind of religiously-induced hatred has anything whatsoever to do with God is beyond me.)
There’s discussion of so-called “ex-gay” organizations. We look at the difference between “hate-based” and “fear-based” anti-gay sentiments.
We learn, too, that in Nashville Tennessee (the “Protestant Vatican”), “You can’t do anything without involving the church.”
We look at mixed-orientation marriages (Chapter 7 is awesome). And we discover the special challenges of being gay in an African-American church.

I was very glad to see a chapter on the Gay Christian Network, as well as an interview with my facebook friend  Michael Bussee. Oh, and Jennifer Knapp. She’s here.

This book isn’t just for straight Christians to understand those of other orientations.  It’s for all of us to understand ourselves. It is also (and I have found this essential) for people of varying orientations to understand each other.  Even though “christianists” have honed it to an art-form, being judgmental isn’t something on which they’ve cornered the market.  I, as a so-called “spousosexual” think Jeff’s book has the potential for helping all of us to better understand the “other.”  Just because people may share the common bond of not being straight doesn’t mean they inherently share much else.  Sometimes we talk about “both sides,” as if there are only two views.  Mr. Chu’s chronicle helps us see otherwise.

Some very misinformed people see LGBT persons as inherently uninterested in the Bible, or issues of faith.  Not true.  Some are, and some are not. I don’t believe that institutional religion is usually a good thing.  So it bothers me, somewhat, that people struggle so hard to be accepted by organizations that I don’t think should exist in the first place.
Still, I understand.
Tradition and religious structure are very important to some.
Wanting love and acceptance is universal.

If I have one disagreement with the author, it’s that America is a Christian nation. I know many people think it is. Many want it to be one. I, as a “Jesus lover,” do not. I get his point, though, when he states that “Christianequse civil religion prevails in America.”

So, “Does Jesus Really Love Me?” To what conclusions did this pilgrimage lead?
Well, I have to say Jeff through me a curve. I really didn’t see some of his comments coming. I’ll just say that I smiled alot during the final chapter.

– df

I had the honor of reading and reviewing this book before it’s release.
Mega-thanks to HarperCollins AND to Jeff Chu.
Buy The Book.  Click HERE
.

Some quotes:

– This issue is about sons and daughters, friends and lovers, our neighbors, ourselves. It is also about our freedom, our faith, perhaps our salvation.
– I doubt. A lot. And yet I can’t not believe in God.
– Christian maturity is partly about living in the tension of not knowing, and it’s okay not to be sure.
– [Here’s one from Andrae Gonzalo that many of us can identify with.] I got saved every night before I went to bed.

Buy The Book.  Click HERE.

– Nearly every relationship I had in the church community virtually stopped overnight. It was like I ceased to exist. [John Hauenstein, on coming out to his church “family.”]
– The term Christian means radically different things to different people.
– [Important!] While the anger among those who have suffered because of organizations such as Exodus makes sense, to channel it as they [often] do… helps nothing, heals nothing, and draws nobody closer to God.
– Humans are expert box builders. It’s what we do to make sense of the world.

Buy The Book.  Click HERE.

– Christian leaders have a responsibility to do image management and damage control, and that leads them to a natural tendency toward Phariseeism. [Ted Haggard]
– I stopped praying, “God make me straight,” and I started praying, “God, show me what you want me to do.” [Justin Lee]
– …Those moments…when the light is so pure, so clear. It’s as if you’d never seen the world with these eyes before, and once you do, nothing can be the same.
– I run into people all the time who say, “The Bible Says…” They never say “…as it has been translated and interpreted.” There’s no hermeneutical awareness, and you shouldn’t be able to get away with that. We are all interpreting.” [Mark Tidd]
– I searched dozens of congregations in a host of denominations. What I never found was _________. (You’ll have to Buy The Book to finish that quote.)

At the highest level, I want to live a life that pleases God.

Buy The Book.  Click HERE.

———————

Afterthought:
I must say, I’m not fond of the title.  Yes, ultimately it’s an important question, but it’s too “Sunday school” for the complexity of Jeff’s work here.  And the sub-title…
well, nevermind.
I just think this is a great book, and the title doesn’t come close to conveying that.

———————

Really. Buy this book!

 

Comments On A Comment August 29, 2010

[A friend posted a comment on my “Tribbles” article to which I started responding.  I saw my writing becoming rather lengthy, and decided to just make it another post.  You should read her comments and insights before reading the following post.  Her comments are at:
https://lifewalkblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/tribbles-arent-the-trouble-labels-are/#comment-322
There are a number of other comments on that post as well.]


I too, am hesitant to attribute events to the direct hand of God.  McLaren spoke of  how “in the ancient world, there is little consciousness of intermediate causality. If lightning strikes, God (or the gods) did it – because there’s little understanding of intermediate causes like atmospheric convection, heat transfer, cold fronts, static electricity, and the like.”

Sometimes, we still seem to have that mindset.  Yet I believe there is some kind of strange mix of destiny and free will.  I don’t know where or how they intersect, but I believe in both.  Christians, especially evangelicals, are all about having, as you said, to know exactly what they believe on every subject.  I, like you, hold to some personal “basics.”  But outside of that, I’m all for a lot of leeway.


We may not actually say it this way, but evangelical Christianity really is a “knowing all the ‘right’ facts about God,” more than knowing God.  It doesn’t take much to prove that.  Just tell an evangelical that you may believe in evolution; or that you not sure the creation story is a literal one-week period.  You may wish to stand back.
I’ve known it to be said that “If you don’t believe the creation story exactly as written, then you don’t believe in the Cross of Christ.”
What?!?!?
Of course, as I’ve said before, that’s why there are hundreds, if not thousands of denominations who disagree and fight, but yet somehow feel justified in saying “Well, we just believe the Bible.”  But that’s been covered in previous posts.

There’s a great follow-up to “The Shack,” called “The Beauty of Ambiguity.”
It talks, as you said, of finding peace in not having to know what you believe about every little thing.  I’m convinced that if we could get God all figured out, He wouldn’t be God.


You talked of people who “feel they have to hide their brokenness, or their doubts, or the fact that they smoke or vote Democrat or whatever, out of fear of being misunderstood or rejected by the body of Christ. And that’s a terrible shame.”

A terrible shame it is.  And it’s due in large part the self-righteous religion that now calls itself Christianity.  Some seem to think that how you vote might determine your final destination.  No wonder people feel the need to hide their true selves.  But legalism always breeds hypocrisy.


I like your reference to us as “characters in this beautiful story of redemption.”
I can’t say exactly when or how my story took the dramatic turn that it did..  Naysayers would say I started going down that “slippery slope.”  Really, I just started to think, as they say, “outside the box” of Westernized, fundamental, evangelical Christianity.

It’s like a thought, or seed, would be planted in my spirit.  Then I would read something and find it spoke to that very thing.  This happened again and again.  It was truly a growth process.  It’s still happening.  Sometimes I  get frustrated with the lack of understanding I get from many friends who still believe as I used to, but I have to remember that my reaction then to someone who was where I am now would have been much the same.


One of the early books on my journey was Philip Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace.”  A dangerous book indeed!  He said that after interviewing the Clintons (Bill and Hillary), he found that they could not be understood apart from their Christian faith.  The realization that someone could be pro-choice because of their Christianity was like, can I say this, being born again.
It was this sudden revelation that evangelicals represent only a portion of Christianity.  That right-wing Republicans don’t own God.  That if you are pro-war, pro-torture, pro-death penalty, calling yourself pro-life is a sick joke.  That the left, may actually have the higher moral ground on some issues.
The thing is, as Boyd points out in “The Myth Of A Christian Nation,” we should not label (here we are, back to labels) either side as “Christian.”  Our choices will, and should be influenced by our faith, but to call either side or stance “Christian” is a grave mistake.
Here’s another related McLaren quote:
“This sensitivity to vested interests in the Bible helps us, I think, when looking at political issues today. There are upsides and downsides to this or that immigration bill, tax bill, energy bill, whatever. People usually simply take sides – fer it or agin it. But the Biblical library teaches us that there’s a higher perspective, where we can learn to see both the upsides and downsides of all sides … That way, even if we are for something, we won’t be naive about its downsides, and vice versa.”

Soon after Yancey came Frank Viola with “Pagan Christianity.”  Then Wayne Jacobsen with “So, You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore.”  William P. Young’s “The Shack.”  The  a-m-a-z-i-n-g  Rob Bell’s “Velvet Elvis.”  The memoirs of  Donald Miller and Anne Lamott.  And yes, even Al Franken.
Books are a wonderful thing.  Someone should have invented them years ago.


So brick by brick…I’m sorry, I mean “spring by spring,” I’ve become less and less sure of what I know.  Which, contrary to the evangelical mindset has actually made me more and more sure of Who I know.
I’ve become much more willing to “agree to disagree,” which I’ve found actually angers and alienates those who feel they have to know everything.  I’ve been called names and “un-friended” because of choosing to opt-out of discussions that were going nowhere.  I love conversation.  I’m not at all fond of debate.


As I think back now, I can actually see seeds of this journey taking place during my separation and subsequent divorce.  It’s strange where and how God can get through to us.

You said you’re not sure where you’re at with the “gay thing,”  but that you are OK with that.  Being OK with uncertainty is, I think, one of the greatest forms of maturity in the life of a believer.
From what I can tell from your comments, you are in a wonderful, scary, beautiful place right now.  I’m actually excited to see where the river takes you.  Just be aware, many who are not where you are, even some friends and loved-ones, will see you and your beliefs as a threat to everything they hold dear.  Sometimes, that can hurt.  Sometimes, it hurts a lot.  But as a wise man once said, “Love Hurts.”  That is so true.  The love of Jesus got Him nailed to a cross.


Well, maybe this post addresses some of your comments.  Hopefully, it will create some new ones.
I truly looked forward to continued conversation.  Sure, I look forward to the later part of eternity.  But truly, there is joy in the journey.


May your journey be filled with wonder, awe, revelation, and all the blessings you can hold.
— df


[Note:  I’m reading a book right now I think you would love, since you’re such a fan of Lamott.  It’s “Evolving In Monkeytown:  How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned to ask the questions,” by Rachel Held Evans.]

 

 
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