Bible “Rebel”

First, allow me to introduce myself–kind of.

Although I am currently writing anonymously, I will share with you that I am an educator and public speaker. Through my graduate studies and professional work, I help people discover their barriers to learning as well as the tools that can help them learn more wholly and organically. I do this–and have done this–for decades in almost all academic areas with all ages and in various settings. I believe that we can learn how to act and think compassionately and with love. It takes work and it takes practice–as all learning does. But it is possible, regardless of religious affiliation, political leanings, educational background, etc.

Okay, so Bible “Rebel”?

The New Testament contains stories of those who rebelled against the power and judgmental hierarchy of Jesus’ time–which is much like modern times.

Jesus not only declared that everyone deserves to be regarded as equal–the leper AND the king–but that everyone has or is “God” (or a sacredness) inside. Everyone, no exceptions.

So then…how can it be justified that most of the power and riches belong only those on the “top” or only to certain people?

It can’t. That’s the point.

This view was groundbreaking and new–within his culture and social structure. It was peacefully and lovingly and compassionately rebellious.

Jesus not only talks to outcasts and people he’s not supposed to mingle with (foreigners, woman, the sick, and other outcasts), but he touches them! This was NOT to happen, even for a lowly carpenter.

His every interaction seemed to be infused with this gentle rebellion.

But tragically and ironically, the Bible (and specifically the New Testament) is used to justify keeping “certain” people at a distance and stripping them of their rights or even their chance to have those rights.

It’s not the “Bible” or “religion” or “Christians” who do this. It’s humans who do this. They miss the entire point.

We’ve been doing this (misusing messages of love) for thousands of years now. Jesus recognized it 2000 years ago and chose to live differently.

Wow–the concept that we ALL are precious and equal was so refreshing and so much needed that people equated it with being given a new life.

That perspective–seeing oneself as precious–may not affect the outcome of one’s situation. You may still be oppressed. You may never get them to see that you hold just as much value as they do and deserve equal treatment.

This is the kernel inside the crucifixion and resurrection story. No one can take your value from you or remove the God/love within. Even if they kill you.

Hold on.

Don’t read anything into that besides what is written.

The point: People can and do harm others. But those violent actions do not diminish the worth or the “God” inside each one of us.

Hold on–again.

Does that mean that we should allow people to do hurtful things because hey–everyone’s God?

Of course not. We still need to hold people accountable, keep safe, and draw boundaries. Yes, it gets complicated.

But in my thoughts and my actions I need to remember that love (or “God” or kindness or whatever you may want to call it) gets to define everyone, and I have no right to say it doesn’t–no matter how “awful” someone is.

I strive to let that be what directs my thoughts and actions:

Love gets to define everyone.

I strive to be a gentle rebel.

From this point, I will discuss particular New Testament passages and how they apply to today’s world or how they illustrate this rebellious love and compassion. My goal is to learn, always learn, about love and compassion–and to share that learning process. There is much to learn.

As always, feel free to comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Party Time

So is it all about suffering?

We’ve all heard the story of Jesus turning the water into wine (John 2).

Wine in biblical stories has come to symbolize holy rituals and covenants. Not this wine. Jesus and his mother were at a wedding party; have you ever been to a wedding party? If there’s one thing you don’t want to run out of, it’s alcohol, right? But that’s exactly what happened. Now what?

According to John, Jesus then made sure there was enough wine for the party— and there’s no indication that he was even part of hosting this party. Let’s be clear here: This was not done to heal the sick, feed the hungry, or lift someone from suffering. As the story goes, Jesus turned water into wine so people could continue to have a good time.

Not only that, but John says that this was Jesus’ first miracle! No, not raising someone from the dead, not healing someone who was sick and suffering—but something rather frivolous to keep people happy for a few hours.

So let’s see—after a conference with God, Jesus found a way to bring the best of something to a group of people who were gathered for a good time and to celebrate an occasion.

What can I learn from this?

  1. If I think that following Jesus’ teaching is solely about suffering, I need to expand that concept.
  2. Sure, I have things that I can do to help alleviate suffering — mine and others’. Can I also explore (or continue to explore) ways that I can bring my talents and gifts to those around me or to my community to have fun, to celebrate, or to honor someone?
  3. We’ve seen in gospel stories that everything Jesus does is done to reflect the God within himself and within others. Perhaps before I bring “my wine to the party” (my talents or gifts), it would help me stay grounded and not get lost in ego to help me stay mindful of That Which Is Within (call it “God,” “Love,” “Creator,” or whatever is preferred) while preparing to share my gift and while sharing it.
  4. Serious fun is not a bad thing. Sure, this was a party and we are talking about wine. But clearly, Jesus took the situation seriously—meaning that people’s fun or joy was his priority at the time, enough for him to perform his very first miracle. So he did some work. And had some fun.
  5. It was clear in the story that most people did not know where this wine came from. They did not know that Jesus was behind it. And he did not seek crowd adulation for it; he sought no credit for it. Why? Because he was just doing what he does without expectation of something in return. Can I give of my talents and skills this way? Even if my gift involves being noticed (like singing, for example), can I stay mindful of the intention of sharing (rather than seeking attention)?
  6. I need to remember that this takes practice. Every day life presents plenty of opportunities for bringing something to the “party.” I don’t have to wait for a big occasion. Start small.
  7. While I try to stay mindful of how I can be helpful, too, what can I bring to the party today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering?

Remember the story of two disciples asking Jesus for a favor–to each sit beside him when he becomes king?

If I had been Jesus, I would have had a hard time not rolling my eyes at that one. They still didn’t get it, did they?

And his answer–we’ve all heard it–is that to be “great,” one needs to be of service. That’s what God wants.

So we see Christians performing acts of service all over the world.

That’s great.

But did we miss that one part in the beginning of that story?

“Can you drink the cup of suffering that I’m about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).

Jesus was harassed and ultimately executed for standing up for the outcasts: the poor, the sick, women, and others who were disliked. He was executed for telling people to just love and accept each other…that no one could dictate their value because “God” loves us all the same–and that this sacredness dwells within each one of us.

If Jesus lived today, his outspokenness would probably not jive with an employer, his fellow townspeople, or possibly his family or extended family. He would probably lose friends or family. He would be harassed, threatened, and trolled on social media.

He’d be speaking all over the place, and people in positions of power (politicians, religious leaders, etc.) would want him gone, one way or another.

How do I know that? Because that IS what happened!

While he didn’t call for a revolution or an overthrow of power (he did not), he did call for a gentle revolution indirectly, where he urged people to act out of love, kindness, and compassion–and to stop using fear to maintain some kind of rule of fear. And perhaps more significant to leaders of his day was his message to people that they didn’t have to subscribe to that fear…that each person was “enough,” that each person held deep value that no one could destroy, manipulate, or take away.

Jesus was NOT executed for calling for a political revolt. He was executed for calling people to act out of love for each other AND to be mindful of one’s thoughts and feelings regarding others.

“Suffer” has many different shades of meaning, including “endure.”

In the stories, Jesus didn’t specify what he meant by “suffering”…because everyone’s suffering is unique. And how one suffers is not the point.

In today’s world (and in the timelessness of these stories), it’s still incredibly hard to act, speak, and think out of love, kindness, and compassion all the time.

It’s incredibly hard to know when or how to draw boundaries out of love–and when to knock down walls. There is a time for both.

And so we contemplate, learn, struggle, act, feel brave, feel scared–over and over–in our quest to be loving, kind, and compassionate. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot to endure. That sounds like some suffering.

So why do I try to do it?

Because I choose to acknowledge That Which Is Within for me and everyone else. And to do so with every interaction is hard and sometimes painful work.

I find that to be quite comforting, actually–so it is hard to do this–it’s not crazy to feel sad and angry sometimes!

It is hard to try to be kind or loving all the time, especially when I feel “irritated” or hurt by someone.

It’s not  abnormal to feel sad or frustrated at my family or friends or coworkers for certain comments.

It’s not extreme to be tired at the end of a day after being with people who say or do certain things.

And it’s not a sign of weakness to be worn out or sad by the hatred heaped on me when I speak up.

Nope–that’s suffering.

How do I cope with a lifetime of suffering, then?

Some call it “mindfulness.” Some call it a “positive attitude.” Some people call it “prayer” or “unconditional love.” Others call it “unconditional positive regard.” And others call it “meditation” or “contemplation.”

Some stay focused on sharing their talents or skills.

Keeping a constant awareness of the sacred within us all–and choosing to honor that, even silently–is, I believe, the heart of Jesus’ message…and it is how he recommends that we deal with this hardship of suffering.

In fact, he compares that to a sort of “kingdom come” or connection to “heaven” or the sacred right here, right now–not some arrangement later where we sit on the left or right of a deity in the sky.

But how to I cope in real-world terms?

Everyone finds comfort in something different…or by using different coping skills.

Really–if we’re going to suffer, we’ve got to learn to cope or we quit.

I can try these things to learn to cope–and learning to use them AND learning to cope are the keys:

  • I can use my imagination to visualize a beautiful glowing light inside those who I think cause pain to me or others. I can try to focus on the sacred inside of them, even if I need to create a permanent boundary.
  • I can try to always keep that image of the glowing sacred light (or dark, if I prefer that imagery) or warmth or color (whatever I like) inside myself…sort of an eternal glowing ember that never extinguishes–and no one can put it out. Ever.
  • I can visualize myself enveloped in love. I use my imagination to really feel love, to feel surrounded by love. Why not? What can that hurt? For me, it only makes me feel much more at peace.
  • I can use my imagination to “hear” some kind of beautiful music or sound, even in the din of stressful situations.

Ultimately, I remind myself that it’s because of this, that glowing ember of sacredness within us all, that I choose to speak up or do and say things that are rebelliously kind, loving, or compassionate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgive, Rebuke, Love- Which Is It?

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People love to create rules.

From the time we enter kindergarten, we are given rules and guidelines for our behavior.

It takes the pressure off us; if someone we trust tells us to just simply do this or that, we can feel safer, and we can focus more on other things. It helps keep chaos at bay.

Rules and guidelines have their place.

So we did that with God, too.

Oh, did we ever.

Rules? Guidelines? An all-powerful judge and administrator?

No problem! We can even come up with rules that say this all-powerful God wants us to wear certain things–or not wear certain things. We can enforce rules that tell us who we can and cannot love. Wow–talk about the ultimate rule.

But wait–there’s more!

If this God is on “my” side, I can use these rules to boost my own power and push myself up the hierarchy. Cool!

I can use these “divinely-inspired” rules to justify all kinds of things.

This has been happening for thousands of years. It’s what we humans do.

Jesus recognized this human behavior–and spent his life trying to get us to see that this is a root of suffering for us.

Instead of the scary Almighty Judge, Jesus claimed that God was actually within us all.

Do you realize how revolutionary that was? And still is?

Instead of defining “sin” as an act of bad behavior that angered an Almighty Judge, “sin” was reframed to mean “to miss the mark” or make a mistake–its original etymological roots.

Not only that, but we can actually sin against each other!

How is that possible–isn’t “sin” something we do against our God?

Well, yes–and no.

Jesus’ message was that God is present in all, outcasts and revered alike. Sick, strong, old, young, man, woman.

If we hurt anyone, including ourselves, we have “missed the mark” when it comes to loving, respecting, and honoring That Which Is Within (call it what you like: God, light, Christ, Source, Creator, etc.).

“Missing the mark” sounds an awful lot like making a mistake–not like one is about to be tossed into flames for eternity by an angry deity.

“Missing the mark” means I could try again. And again.

Sin and Forgiveness

If I believe that God lives within all of us,  then I simply cannot judge anyone else’s worth or measure the “evil” of someone else’s sin–or even my own. It’s not about value, measure, or assessment.

Our “worth” is unquestioned if God is within.

If we do something that forgets or disregards this, we miss the mark.

When we miss the mark, we create an illusion of a barrier between us and God. Of course, the barrier isn’t real, but we experience it as if it is.

Sometimes we feel something to be true (like maybe we feel worthless at times), and maybe we even act that way. But it’s not actually true; you aren’t worthless, although sometimes it may feel like the absolute truth–and you make decisions that hurt you and others based on that illusion.

Being aware of our oneness with God keeps us flowing harmoniously within and without. Sure, we do things that miss the mark and “forget” about that oneness. That’s when we hurt ourselves and others. That’s “sin.” That’s “hell.” This happens all day long.

Forgiveness is understanding that we missed the mark–and letting ourselves try again. Forgiveness means that we feel others have missed the mark. Maybe we let them try again–or maybe we need to create a boundary.

Jesus said that if someone sins against you, rebuke him (Luke 17:3-4).

Wait–what? I thought we are all about forgiveness?

“Rebuke” originally meant to cut away. To separate.

Why? Aren’t we about love?

It does not rebuke love and compassion to create a boundary.

If we are with someone who, we feel, is always missing the mark toward us and causing us pain, that pain is a separation from our feeling of connection with our sacred within.

And how terribly painful for that person; Jesus emphatically says that someone who continues to miss the mark and causes people to feel a barrier between themselves and their sacredness is truly suffering more than words can describe. (Matthew 18:6-7). Why? Because he or she keeps passing on that hurt. What an awful place to be in.

And if he does this, the most loving thing we may be able to do is to create physical space so that this person no longer can miss the mark with you. It’s better for both. Because being hurt is also a terrible place to be in.

What if this person repents?

Repent means to “go beyond the mind.” This is not the same as an apology. To repent is to do the hard work of examining where one missed the mark and how to feel that connection to God within–and without.

And if someone sins against me (misses the mark and causes me -and him/herself–pain) multiple times and repents, I must forgive, over and over (Luke: 17:3-4).

Forgiving an abuser?

Forgiveness is not saying, “Aww, it’s okay.”

It’s not letting someone hurt you because Jesus said to just keep on forgiving.

To forgive is saying that no matter what someone has done or continues to do, I will insist on recognizing that God lives within everyone; therefore, there is no judgement about that person’s “worth” from me.

…and that I strive to feel that connection to God within…which means I strive to keep hurtful thoughts, actions, and words away.

And I can choose to create a boundary so that someone (or I) can get another chance to not “miss the mark.”

[NOTE: This is not to imply that someone else’s abusive behavior is our responsibility to manage.]

Forgiveness can include separation as well as union.

The point is to create opportunities to stop missing the mark.

The goal is to learn how to create those opportunities to not only stop missing the mark but to also create opportunities to feel constant awareness of our connection to God within.

When we are aware and living out of that connection to God within, we feel “heaven” in our lives.

The learning continues…

What do I need to do to learn to stop missing the mark toward myself and others?

What do I need to do to learn to feel that connection to God/love/sacred within?

Today I continually make the choice to embrace learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daddy God

The books and stories in what we call “The Bible” were written by people who were influenced by their culture, and they felt inspired by their beliefs and the concepts they held.

New Testament accounts of Jesus’ activities and teachings were not written to be interpreted as journalistic accounts with precise details.

The authors were moved by this man’s rebellious love and compassion; their goal was to communicate these “new” concepts of love, compassion, and inclusion (“new” within their culture at the time). So we look for the gist. We sift for the main idea.

At that time:

Before Jesus, God was depicted as an almighty (male) king who, much like human kings, destroyed his “enemies.” He demanded human sacrifice. He could destroy anyone at anytime for any reason.

You did not approach this God, who commanded with thunder, lightning, and floods. He angered easily and would even zap people with dreaded skin diseases for ticking him off. He sent famine to people to make them starve. He made certain people rulers and kings and others, servants. He turned rivers to blood, filled entire countries with flies and locusts.

You had better fear… and praise the Almighty God…or else!

This was the accepted concept of God — for generations — in Jesus’ day. The God concept of his day influenced the political structure (and vice versa) as well as absolutely everything in daily life.

Love? Not in this power structure. It was about authority. Obedience. Fear. Oppression. Rule. Absolute male dominance.

Enter: A guy born out of wedlock who is not far up the hierarchy. Just some builder from an insignificant agricultural village.

He tosses aside a concept from thousands of years about the scary God who plays favorites within a might patriarchy.

Not only that, he tells people that you can just call this God “Daddy.”

God, he says, is actually more of a caring, loving parent than a scary vengeful ruler. In fact, God, he claims, sees us as his very own children, not his subjects. This loving God sees us more as sheep, and this God worries if even one of us is struggling (Matthew 18:3).

This God doesn’t send hail and floods. This God makes the “sun shine on bad and good people alike…” (Matthew 5:45).

Sunshine? What happened to locusts and dreaded diseases on bad people? This God seems to let you do your thing and hopes that you will choose love.

The Twist:

Jesus intended to get people to see that “God,” rather than ruling on high, was more of a loving presence that dwells inside absolutely everyone regardless of position in the hierarchy.

This was a dramatic change — and seen as unforgivably rebellious and dangerous to those in power, those who relied on that generations-old authoritarian structure to retain their power.

Now:

The “father God” concept, unfortunately, was eventually intentionally misused to keep power in certain people’s favor. How’s that for irony?

It was not meant to reinforce that God is male. That wasn’t remotely the point.

It was to show that “God” is love, and this God shows ideal parental love and acceptance.

He used masculine pronouns and imagery because those were the norm. Also, had he used a more inclusive language, such as “God is mother” and/or “father,” the shift would have been so startling that the concept he was conveying would have changed or been lost.

Had he done this, his message could have been seen as “God is female, too.” And he would not have been opposed to that concept. He actually embraced it. He made clear that God is in All of Us by breaking social rules to speak with women.

But he simply was trying to get people to make a conceptual shift from “Scary Male Vengeful God” to “Approachable Daddy/Parent Loving God.” There was no additional message of “and you better remember that God is male.” Even the authors of these stories sometimes interspersed “vengeful God” concepts within the messages of love. Change is hard — especially making conceptual shifts.

Learning like a gentle rebel:

How can this concept of “God is a loving parent or internal presence of love, not a vengeful ruler” influence me?

  1. I can understand that humans invent concepts all the time. It’s what we do. Concepts (or “ideas”) help us make sense of the world and help us cope. But they can also be used to control.
  2. Although concepts are taught and ingrained, I can change them or let them go.
  3. It’s okay for me to question and explore what concepts I hold. In fact, it’s essential.
  4. I can create my own concepts.
  5. If I change or question the concepts that have influenced me, I ask myself if the changes I’m making are based on love, compassion, inclusion, and equality.
  6. I try them. I explore these conceptual changes.
  7. I practice.
  8. I evaluate — are my conceptual adaptations leading me toward a more loving existence?
  9. I can keep those concepts to myself if I’d like. Although people sometimes ask others about their spiritual or religious lives as if they are talking about the weather, I am not obligated to share or explain what concepts “work” for me.

Learning is work. Its practice. It’s worth it.