Spiritual but not religious (poem)

There are many people who say
that they are spiritual but not religious.
Perhaps they are this way
because there are so many
other people
who are
religious but not spiritual.

These are people who
go to church
but they don’t realize that
they are the Church.

They go into a building
but they don’t realize
that the Church
isn’t that.
It is them.

They believe that their
entire obligation to God
is to go sit passively
in a building
and listen
to someone else talk
for an hour
once a week.

This is not what Jesus meant
when he died for us
to create his Church.
When he said
“upon this rock I will build my Church”
to Peter,
he’s talking to a human being.
He didn’t mean a building.
He meant that we are supposed
to serve God
with every moment
of our days.

This does not mean
sitting in a church building
and singing hymns
and praying for people.
This means actually working.
This means actually helping people.

Many people have
left the Church
because the church
has left Jesus.
Many people don’t go to church
because they don’t find
Jesus
there.

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Easter and Ostara

I have an opportunity this week to go to two different religious events that are not part of my faith tradition. They are being held at a Unitarian Universalist Church. I’m interested in other faith traditions and attending their events. I feel that we cannot truly “love our neighbors as ourselves” if we don’t know anything about them. It is important to know where we are both coming from.

But I’m conflicted. The first one is a Purim celebration. That is a Jewish festival, celebrating the defeat of people who wanted to kill the Jews. It centers around the story of Queen Esther. I’d like to attend because I’ve never participated in this festival, but do I want to do it at a place where they might not be doing it correctly? It might be more “show” than real, because the Unitarians aren’t Jewish. Going to a synagogue would be the best option if I want an authentic experience, but I don’t want them to feel threatened by the fact that I follow Jesus.

This then leads me to this thought. I find it interesting that the very things that the Jews hold against Jesus for why they can’t accept him as the Messiah aren’t true. They think it is blasphemous that he said he was God. But, he never said he was God. He said all the time that he was the Son of Man. He said he was the son of God, but said that we all are. They are also repulsed by the idea of human sacrifice, as well as the concept of sacrificing yourself for other people’s transgressions. I’ve not found anywhere that Jesus said he “died for our sins” – Paul said that, but he isn’t the Messiah. Jesus died out of obedience to God’s commandments, and to show us that death is not final.

I’m also little confused as to why the Unitarian Universalists even call themselves a “church” – as the term is associated with Christianity. If they want to be inclusive, then the word “church” is going to be a problem for the very people they are trying to attract. “Congregation” or “community” might be a better term for them. They don’t consider themselves particularly Christian, nor do they act in usual Christian ways. They don’t even mention Jesus or God in their services. They don’t read from Christian scriptures, and in some gatherings they don’t read from any scriptures from any faith tradition. They want to not offend anyone and be as inclusive as possible. This means that they have watered everything down so much that it doesn’t taste like anything at all. Sure, some Christians go there, but so do atheists and agnostics. How can it be a “church” if you can be a member and not even believe in God?

There is also going to be an Ostara celebration at the same place in the evening. This is the origin of the Easter celebration in Christian churches, where they celebrate Jesus being raised from the dead. But Ostara is most certainly a pagan celebration, not Christian. Is it appropriate for me, a disciple of Jesus, to go to?

What does the Bible say? When in doubt, it is good to look to good examples.

Paul, when asked if it was OK for Christians in the early church to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols said that it would not harm them, but that it could cause other members to falter in their faith.

1 Corinthians 8
About food offered to idols: We know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. 2 If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. 4 About eating food offered to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth—as there are many “gods” and many “lords”—
6 yet for us there is one God, the Father.
All things are from Him,
and we exist for Him.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.
All things are through Him,
and we exist through Him.
7 However, not everyone has this knowledge. In fact, some have been so used to idolatry up until now that when they eat food offered to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not make us acceptable to God. We are not inferior if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat. 9 But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, the one who has this knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols? 11 Then the weak person, the brother for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge. 12 Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.

Jesus said after being resurrected from the dead that we wouldn’t be harmed, even if we drank poison or handled snakes.
Mark 16:17-18
17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; 18 they will pick up snakes; if they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.”

Jesus did not separate himself from people and only associate with people who were “safe”. He constantly was challenged by the religious authorities who mocked him for “dining with sinners”. They said that if he was a prophet, he should know that the people he was hanging out with weren’t righteous. His answer to their challenge –

Mark 2:17
17 When Jesus heard this, He told them, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus touched and healed lepers. Nobody touched lepers – they lived apart from everyone else because their disease was so contagious. To touch a leper was to become one. Yet he touched them, along with those with other infirmities that were seen as socially stigmatizing.

Matthew 8:1-3
When He came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. 2 Right away a man with a serious skin disease came up and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 3 Reaching out His hand He touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his disease was healed.

I remember one time I went to a talk and guided meditation that was sponsored by a Hindu meditation group. The vast majority of the attendees were Caucasians. I felt OK listening to the talk, but very uncomfortable closing my eyes and participating in the group meditation, so I didn’t. Afterwards, the members all descended upon the newcomers and started questioning them in a manipulative way. Yet I had chosen to wear a necklace that had the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the image on the pendant. I used it as a way to show them a side of Jesus that they had never heard of, with Jesus being so open and vulnerable that he was willing to share his heart with the world. He didn’t hide who he was from people. He lived fearlessly.

So instead of being afraid that I’m going to be led astray by the Ostara celebration, perhaps I need to go as a representative of Christ. Perhaps I need to go in case there is an opportunity to show people who Jesus really is. But I still don’t know. I don’t want to “crash” their party. I don’t want to be “that Christian” who is rude and who covers over other traditions with her own. There are too many of those kinds of people. But, perhaps I am being called to go, to hang out with people who have either been excluded from the Church for being different, or have never heard the message of Jesus clearly.

I’m still praying about it, and I think this is always the path we need to take. We should always remember that it isn’t what we want to do, but what God wants us to do. Only through prayer and discernment can we know the difference. Only if we are truly following God can we do any good in this world.

(All Bible translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

What is the job of the church?

I find I miss the “church experience” but I can’t stand that so many churches seem to worship Jesus rather than follow him. They’ve turned him into an idol.

I’m not into a “church” that just gets together to hang out. A “church” that is more about socializing than social work isn’t a church. It is a club.

A church needs to do real work in the world – and I don’t mean “evangelizing”. I’m for “bringing Jesus to people” rather than “bringing people to Jesus” – we are to act like he did – healing, helping, loving.

A church needs to have a strong presence in social justice causes.

I don’t want to preach the Gospel. I want to live it out loud.

I want to serve people like Jesus served them.

Jesus healed people by forgiving them, by letting them know that they are loved beyond measure by the very God who created them. He healed them by uniting them – by removing differences and obstacles. Nobody was excluded or deemed “unworthy”.

When did the Good News become the guilt trip? That needs to stop today.

What should Church be?

For many people, church looks like this at the most basic level
cross

Yet remember that the angel said to the women who went to find Jesus at the tomb –

The angel said to the women “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. Why are you looking among the dead for the living? He is not here – he has been resurrected!” (Condensed Gospel rendition)

The church as we know it is dying.

The Christian faith tradition must change what it looks at in order to survive. It must change from being a religion of rites and creeds.

It must stop being an institution focused on
the historical Jesus
and the future Jesus
and learn to BE Jesus right now,
to the people in the world.

It must stop the idea of “Bringing people to Jesus”
(preaching the Gospel)
and start living the idea of “Bringing Jesus to people”
(living the Gospel)

Many people have left church because they know that something is missing.

There are many large abandoned church buildings.
abandoned1
abandoned3
abandoned4

And at the center of them is the altar, a shrine to death, to sacrifice.
abandoned2

For many, church is a place of divine insight, of sudden epiphanies

light1
light2
light3

But then when they leave, the everyday world is dull and boring.

For many, church is a sanctuary against the storms of life

lighthouse1
lighthouse2

But does this teach them to live in the world?

Perhaps Church can be seen as a boat, to rise above the dangerous waters, or to safely travel to visit or help others.
boat1
boat2

Each person gets their own boat. They learn how to row it themselves. They develop the strength to help themselves and to help others.
boat3

It is a place where we can each learn how to learn and grow safely. Others watch our progress and make sure we are not going to get hurt. They cheer us on.
belay1

It needs to be a place where we can learn that right here is where God meets us – that God loved us enough to come down to Earth to be with us and live among us. That God loves us enough to still be with us right now, right where we are. That God wants to work through us, and with us.
here1
here 2

Church should be small, human sized.
small1

It should be intimate and personal.
small2
small 3
small 4

Why have we so long built churches that are immense, that dwarf us, that make us feel insignificant?
big1
big2
big3

They feel lonely, cold, isolating.
big4

They are out of proportion with us.
big 5

When God came to earth, God came as our size. The Temple is not a place, but within us.

Often churches are built far away, high up, hard to get to.

far1
far2
far 4
far 5
far6

This is especially true of monasteries. They are places to retreat from the world.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be in the world – not apart from it. Jesus trained them to feed, to clothe, to help – everyone, not just those who are “in”.

For so many, God is seen as immense, and difficult to get to.
far 3

There are narrow paths, and gates, and boundaries in the way
gate1
gate2
gate3

We need to break apart the idea of church. We need to see through it, to reinvent it.
apart 1
apart 2
apart 3

Even modern churches, while looking different, still have the perspective wrong. The focus is on the preacher – on one person. The people sit passively, staring in the same direction. If they speak at all, it is from a script (a hymnal, a prayer-book) Only one person is allowed to speak something different, to direct the service.

pew 1
pew 2
pew 3
pew 4
pew 5

This sets up a hierarchy – of one person higher than the rest. This is directly opposed to what Jesus wanted, who wanted us to have only God above us. To have a person above us is to make them into an idol.

I’ve met many people who’ve left church for all of these reasons. They felt lost, alienated, alone. They too read the Gospel and met the real living Jesus and made a home for him in their hearts. They know that Jesus says that the Church is us – people, doing the will of God here in the world.

Yet, God says that people were not made to be alone. We are meant to be in community. We are meant to live and work and be together. No one person has everything required. We must work together.

Church needs to be all of us working together to help others. It isn’t a building or a place. But even if we remove the idea of the church being a building, we still have to remember the ideas that have long been part of church, so even when we take the Church out of the building, we must still make sure the old ways don’t come along.

It must be open to all.
It must be human-sized.
It must not be led by a single person – all must participate.
It must be a place where all can grow.

Again- it sounds like I’m talking about a place – an institution. I’m not. Certainly, people need to gather together occasionally. People cannot truly connect online. But, the money raised from members cannot go to a building or a salary. It cannot be inward-based. This will cause self-collapse, and is the opposite of what Jesus wants. The Church cannot support the church. The Church – the Body of Christ, must give aid to the world. That is where tithes must go. Outward.

People can meet in small groups, in each others’ homes.
They can meet in school gyms (they are not being used on the weekend)
They can meet in community centers or hotels.

There are plenty of already-built places that have meeting areas that are either free or inexpensive.

But when they meet, it must be a place to organize to go out into the world, to bring Jesus to people, by feeding, clothing, healing, visiting.

Not by preaching the Gospel,
but by living it.

(All pictures are from Pinterest)

Poem – what Church really is

Christmas stamp

I dream of a world
where people understand
that you don’t
go
to church.
You are Church.

That service is what God wants,
not hymns,
not prayers from a book.

Where people see every window
as a church window
and see the whole world
through it.

Where church buildings
are more like
thrift stores,
the Red Cross,
food banks,
soup kitchens.

Where they aren’t a place
to escape the world
but to equip people
to serve it

– not by preaching the Gospel
but by being a living example of it.

Who are the Samaritans? And why is this relevant today?

There are many stories in the Gospels about the Samaritans. Why are they referenced? Who are they? Why is the fact that they are Samaritan significant? I believe a little background is in order to help us understand the Gospel stories in question.

The following is taken from the Wikipedia article “Samaritans”. It is rather long. For our purposes the entire article can be reduced to these few paragraphs –
—————————————
“The Samaritans are adherents of Samaritanism, an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism. Samaritans believe that their worship, which is based on the Samaritan Pentateuch, is the true religion of the ancient Israelites from before the Babylonian Exile, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel, as opposed to Judaism, which they see as a related but altered and amended religion, brought back by those returning from the Babylonian exile.

Ancestrally, Samaritans claim descent from the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (two sons of Joseph) who survived the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) by the Assyrians in 722 BCE, as well as from the priestly tribe of Levi.

Samaritan historiography places the basic schism from the remaining part of Israel after the tribes of Israel conquered and returned to the land of Canaan, led by Joshua. After Joshua’s death, Eli the priest left the tabernacle which Moses erected in the desert and established on Mount Gerizim, and built another one under his own rule in the hills of Shiloh.

The Samaritans claimed that they were the true Israel who were descendants of the “Ten Lost Tribes” taken into Assyrian captivity. They had their own temple on Mount Gerizim and claimed that it was the original sanctuary. Moreover, they claimed that their version of the Pentateuch was the original and that the Jews had a falsified text produced by Ezra during the Babylonian exile.

Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each other’s territories or even to speak to one another.”
————————————————–

The stories that have Jesus directly interacting with Samaritans are:

Jesus and the Samaritan woman JN 4:1-42
The parable of the good Samaritan LK 10:29-37
The ten lepers LK 17:11-19

You can look the verses up in your Bible, online on BibleGateway.com, or by using the search feature on this blog on the far right column, towards the bottom.

I invite you to read these stories now, either again or for the first time, knowing the huge rift that was (and still is) between these two faith traditions. Notice how Jesus bridges these traditions to point them towards the One True God – with no more divisions. Jesus says that we are to love God where we are, that there isn’t a specific place to worship (not a mountain or a temple). Jesus says that are to love everyone equally, and this includes those people who historically have been our enemies.

What does this tell us about what the Church is – is it a place, or a way of living?

What does this tell us about how we are to interact with people of other faith traditions?

What does this tell us about how we are to show the love of God in the world, as followers of Jesus?

What does this tell us about including and excluding?

Specifically relevant to the issues of the day, what does it tell us about refugees who are of other faith traditions?

Poem – God and money

I saw a church sign that said
“Did you give back to Him this week?”

I’m pretty sure what they meant
was money.
But what God wants
is work.

God wants your service.
God wants you to use your talents
to help someone,
to feed someone,
to clothe someone,
to visit someone in prison.

Bono said
“The God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister.”
I think he’s on to something.
If God wanted money,
God would make money.
Instead,
God made people.
God made us
to help each other.

God doesn’t want your money.
It isn’t as easy as that.

To give your money
to a church
or a charity
is to pay someone else
to do
your
good deeds.

What God wants
is for you
to help people
directly.
When you give money
to a charity
or a church
you’re letting someone else
get that good feeling
that comes
from helping someone
directly.