Spiritual but not religious – poem

“Spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to create a religion
he came to start a relationship.
Jesus wants you to know
that God loves you personally.
That God isn’t some
amorphous thing in the sky
waiting to catch you screwing up.
God loves you
God made you.
God wants you
to know God personally,
directly,
without an intermediary.

Jesus couldn’t stand
the religious authorities
of the day
and how they made sure
that people
saw them praying,
and saw how big
their prayer shawls were.

Jesus wants people
to show
how big
their hearts are.

Jesus wants us
to be in relationship
with each other
and with God.
He wants us to serve God
not by religious observance
but by taking care
of each other.

Jesus would rather a person
never go to church
than spend all their time
in church
and none of their time
helping people.

With Jesus,
your religious observance
would be in a soup kitchen
or helping people clean up
after a tornado
instead of sitting for an hour
in a building, in “church”.

Jesus came to tell you
that you
are the church,
not the building.
That we collectively
make up living stones.

Jesus didn’t want us
to be anything
other than equal.
We are not supposed
to have
ordained and lay people,
but all the same people.
We’re not supposed
to have
bishops and popes.
The only one
above us
is God.

So “spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
His teachings are true.

This message is for many, but not all.

There is something that I came across in the Gospels that doesn’t make sense. Is Jesus for everybody, or just some people? Is his message for everyone, or just a select group? Did he come for all, or a few?

At times, Jesus seems to be misdirecting people. He had just given the parable of the sower. It is here –

Matt. 13:1-9
On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore. 3 Then He told them many things in parables, saying: “Consider the sower who went out to sow. 4 As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep.6 But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. 7 Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. 8 Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown. 9 Anyone who has ears should listen!”

But his disciples – those people who he handpicked to help him and to spread His words, are confused. They wonder why He is using parables.

Matt. 13:10-15
10 Then the disciples came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered them, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. 12 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.13 For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand. 14 Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You will listen and listen,
yet never understand;
and you will look and look,
yet never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown callous;
their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
otherwise they might see with their eyes
and hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn back—
and I would cure them.

This seems to not be inclusive at all, and in fact excludes some people. Aren’t all supposed to be cured? Isn’t the message for all?

He explains this parable to His disciples later –

Matt. 13:18-23
18 “You, then, listen to the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. 20 And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.”

Then He tells another parable. This one is one about sowing seed as well.

Matt. 13:24-30
24 He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. 26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this!’ he told them.
“‘So, do you want us to go and gather them up?’ the slaves asked him.
29 “‘No,’ he said. ‘When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn.’”

His disciples still don’t get it. They’ve been given the template for understanding one of the parables, but they can’t make it fit for this one.

Matt. 13:36-43
36 Then He dismissed the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached Him and said, “Explain the parable of the weeds in the field to us.”
37 He replied: “The One who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world; and the good seed—these are the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 Therefore, just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!

If his disciples can’t get it, even after having it explained to them, then what is the chance of anybody else understanding it? He used parables all the time, and explained them later. Sadly, those explanations aren’t recorded. Why? To further hide the message?

Mark 4:33-34
33 He would speak the word to them with many parables like these, as they were able to understand.34 And He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, He would explain everything to His own disciples.

Matt. 13:34-35
34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables, and He would not speak anything to them without a parable, 35 so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:
I will open My mouth in parables;
I will declare things kept secret
from the foundation of the world.

Now, from this next verse, it seems that Jesus chooses who knows Him, and through Him, God the Father.

Matt. 11:25-27
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure. 27 All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal Him.

Then, during the Last Supper, Jesus says something really interesting. In Matthew and Mark he says it is for “many” – not all. In Luke, he just says it is “for you.” The Last Supper is not in the Gospel of John.

Matt. 26:26-28
26 As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.” 27 Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Mark 14:22-24
22 As they were eating, He took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.”
23 Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them, and so they all drank from it.24 He said to them, “This is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many.

Note that in this Gospel he doesn’t say “for the forgiveness of sins.”

Then lastly, we have –

Luke 22:19-20
19 And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
20 In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.

So, if Jesus’ message and sacrifice isn’t for everybody, then why do Christians get so upset about people not being Christian? From these verses it appears that it means that they haven’t been called to hear the message or be part of the new covenant. If so, then it isn’t for Christians to push the point. Sure – tell people about who Jesus is.

Once.

If they get it, then they were meant to. If they don’t, then it means they weren’t meant to.

This approach seems to me to be the most Christ-like of all. Don’t push. Let people approach you. Jesus never pushed His agenda on anybody. Neither should we.

(All Bible quotes come from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, using the Bible Gateway website.)

I’m not a Christian. I’m a Jesus follower.

I’m not a Christian apologist. In fact, I’m not even comfortable admitting I’m a Christian. But I am for Jesus. And I want to make sure that people don’t confuse the two.

There are many Christians who are awesome Christ-followers. There are many who quietly work for justice and peace. There are many who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit those in prison. You know, the stuff Jesus said to do.

But they are quiet. They are quiet because that is part of it. They understand that they aren’t supposed to toot their own horn or call attention to themselves. They understand that they are to keep their piety private. They understand this because they have read the words of Jesus. They understand this because they have Jesus in their hearts.

My issue is with the people who aren’t pious and who aren’t quiet. My issue is with the people who give the term “Christian” a bad name. Those people who make “Christian” mean anything but love and service.

I’m not apologizing for them. They are like the relatives that you don’t talk about. While Christians generally agree that the Westboro Baptist Church people aren’t following Jesus, they get a little iffy on the Duck Dynasty patriarch. They feel that some level of crazy-hateful-intolerance is OK.

The problem is, it isn’t. It isn’t Christian to be anything other than loving, and ‘loving’ doesn’t mean telling other people they are wrong and going to hell because of how they are living their lives. The more you read of Jesus’ words, the more you realize that.

I feel like I keep writing this same thing over and over, yet I feel it is still necessary. I almost didn’t write my Duck Dynasty piece. I feel like they don’t need any more attention. I feel like the whole thing needs to die down. But then, I realize that they are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus wants, and they are besmirching the name of Jesus. Way too many people can’t see Jesus because of all the fake Christians standing in His way.

I’m not a Christian apologist. I don’t want anybody to become a Christian – not now, not with what “Christian” means right now.

But I will say I love Jesus, and I want you to know that Jesus isn’t like His followers at all. They say that you know a tree by its fruit, and if you look there are a lot of really rotten apples in the bunch. But it isn’t all bad. The good ones are hiding.

Sometimes I want to burn the whole thing down and start over from scratch. I want to strip away everything that gets in the way of following Jesus, of serving God. Jesus did this. There were ten Commandments, and Jesus stripped them down to two. He saw that people were getting bogged down in the details and missing the big picture.

Sure I’m upset when people use Christianity as an excuse to be judgmental and hateful. I’m also upset when they do this to the exclusion of focusing on more important matters.

Christians, if we really are going to be worthy of the name, need to focus more on poverty and homelessness than pornography and homosexuality.

Instead of telling others what they are doing wrong, we need to start doing things right. There are people who are dying every day because they don’t have enough food or water. There are people who are suffering because they don’t live in a safe home. People are illiterate and undereducated. People are in prisons, both real and mental.

This is our calling. This is our place. This is what we are here to do. We are here to relieve suffering. We are here to lighten the load. We are here to help.

That is what being a Christian should mean. We need to be known for our love.

That is who Jesus is.

We need to be more like Jesus, who was totally obedient to God. He broke all the rules of his society and declared everybody “clean.” He touched the lepers and the menstruating woman – both were excluded and inhuman in those times. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He violated every rule to show us that nobody is unclean. Nobody is inhuman. Everybody is welcome. Everybody is loved.

This is what we are supposed to do. Love. Welcome. Serve. Forgive. Bless.

So if you were to ask me right now if you should become a Christian, I’d say no. Become a Jesus follower instead. Read the Gospels – any translation. Don’t read someone else’s interpretation of the Gospels yet. Read the words of Jesus. There are some bits that don’t make sense – that’s OK. Even his disciples didn’t get everything and he had to explain it to them. There are some bits that are repeated. That’s OK too. It is the same story from four different viewpoints. The people who put the New Testament together thought that this story was too important to try to mash together into one story, so they left it the way it is.

You’ll come to see that the Jesus you find looks nothing like the one you’ve been sold all these years.

Multi-faith prayer beads.

This is a new creation. These are prayer beads, in a whole new way.

bead2

I took three different sets of prayer beads, broke them apart, and then put them back together again. There is no centerpiece, and there is no beginning or end. They are all connected, and they are all one. I have included a fourth faith tradition as well with the number of beads that I used.

bead4

I have Hindu prayer beads, made with rudraksha seeds, said to be the face of Shiva. These are the knobbly brown beads.

I have Christian prayer beads, from a Catholic rosary. These are the ones that are made with iridescent faceted glass.

I have Buddhist prayer beads, made with bone that has been dyed with the OM symbol, to reference the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”

Then I have put them all together so that there are three sets of 11 beads, so there are 33. This references Islamic prayer beads, which sometimes have 33 beads, which are said three times to complete the 99 names of God.

Four faiths, in one chain, hand linked with copper wire, because it is a conductor of electricity and power.
bead1

We are all one. We are all searching for connection with our Creator. We seek unity.
bead3

Here, now, is a visual symbol of it.

John 3:17 – Jesus came not to condemn…

So many Christians like to quote John 3:16. You know it. “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

They don’t go on to quote the next line. John 3:17 is really powerful. “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Jesus didn’t come to condemn us.

He came to let us know that we are loved and forgiven and needed and beautiful. He came to let us know that we are precious right now, as we are.

We aren’t sinners. We aren’t guilty. We aren’t to blame.

We are human, and fallible, and faulty. We won’t ever get it right. And that is all right. That is who we are. That is part of the package deal we get with this human life.

Sure, we need to constantly examine our actions. Are we acting as well as we can? Are we trying to be kind to everyone? Are we treating everyone with kindness, regardless of their status or station?

Since Jesus came not to condemn, part of the job of Christians is to also not condemn. We must not judge. We have no business telling other people that their ways of living are wrong.

We have to examine ourselves only. The rules for living are for us only. God calls people. They won’t seek God because we harass or berate them. Jesus doesn’t need people who follow him out of guilt. Remember, the Lord loves a cheerful giver.

Remember, go and sin no more. Once you know better, do better.

At least try.

And when you fail, try again. That too is part of the deal.

It isn’t the job of Christians to tell other people how to live their lives. It is the job of Christians to follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t berate others. So we shouldn’t either.

9-11-2013

Today is the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks in New York City. I don’t think we’ll ever forget that day. That day was a landmark day in America – a day where everything changed. It was a day we mark time by, like the day Kennedy was shot, or the day the Challenger shuttle exploded. We changed after those days. We lost some of our innocence.

It is important to remember that just a few people took part in that plan, not an entire religion. We can’t paint everyone with the same brush. This is a country that was founded on religious freedom. The Puritans came here because they wanted to be able to practice religion their way, without persecution. This is part of what makes America amazing. People from all around the world come here to be free.

Yet we stopped being free after that day. We all stopped being able to live freely without the government watching us. We are tracked, photographed, interrogated, and frisked. Our every move, cyber and real, is watched. We can’t get on a plane without being scanned. Our passports and IDs have security features they didn’t have before. Young boys who are any shade of brown are at a risk for murder by cop just for walking down the street.

We are all hyper aware. We are all on our toes. The collective paranoia is a bit much.

Sure, life is a lot safer and saner here than in much of the rest of the world. Bomb blasts aren’t normal. We don’t hear of attacks so often that we are immune to them. They still shock us. Being kidnapped and tortured is still something that doesn’t happen here on a daily basis. We still think we are fairly civilized.

But there is still a lingering fear that we are headed that way.

And while we are fairly enlightened enough to say that not all Muslims are terrorists, we are wary. While we can admit that the Westboro Baptist Church, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart don’t represent all Christians, at least their actions haven’t killed anybody. There is just bombast, not bombs. Their actions result hard feelings and ugliness – but not death.

I want to trust all Muslims, but I don’t. I want Islam to be a religion of peace, but if you judge a tree by its fruits there’s a poison apple there. Sure, there are many many more Muslims who are peaceful than jihadist, just like there are many more Progressive Christians than Fundamentalist. But I’m wary. I’m afraid. I think deep down many Americans are, but don’t have the words for it. We want to be kind and forgiving and trusting, but we hesitate.

I want everyone to be able to follow Creator in the way that they are called to follow their Creator, no matter whether they use the name Jehovah or Allah or any other name, or none at all. We have the same source. I want everybody who lives in America to feel free to live their lives the way they want to live them – up until it infringes on other people being able to live their lives. If someone doesn’t like Western culture – if they think it is too extravagant, too ostentatious, too carnal – then don’t participate in it. It is totally possible to live here and not do any of those things that define average American culture.

The Amish do it.

Instead of attacking what they don’t like, they live their lives as an example. But just as they don’t want to be forced to live life the standard American way, we don’t want to be forced to live life their way. This works for Amish and Muslims and anybody.

There has to be a middle ground. There has to be trust. There has to be dialogue, not debate. It isn’t either-or. It is yes-and. We can live in peace. We can share.

We can all get along. Teach us by example. Show us peace, by living it.