Category Archives: spirituality
Freedom from Religion is the flip side of freedom of Religion. As a born again Christian I try to share the joy of knowing that we are loved unconditionally by God who fleshed that Love out in Jesus. But no one experiences the Love of God in Jesus by force or by the abomination of discrimination in his Name.
I am BOTH a born again, evangelical Christian and a liberal Democrat. Here’s the Booker quote and a few of my problems with it.
“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all his children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith; teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I ‘m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
If people were perfect there wouldn’t be any need for going to church or believing in Jesus. If Cory Booker were perfect, then he could throw stones or even boulders. We Christians and Agnostics and whatevers, in our conviction that people who disagree with us are worse morally than we are, have stopped trying to understand each other. The thing that has puzzled me all along the great political and religious divide is that most of the people I know personally,(who are NOT politicians,) but are either: 1. Trump supporters, and /or: 2. Evangelical Christians, are kind people, who actually do go the second, third, etc. mile for anyone they don’t consider a possible serious threat to their children, loved ones, or their own freedom. In my attempts to actually dialogue with and understand several of my family members, I found that they have reasons for some of their fears that I had not heard before and I don’t yet have enough facts to prove them wrong. Politicians and the Press have manipulated us ALL into being judgmental, self-righteous, offensive, and closed minded. If we want to claim the moral high ground, we have to start with loving each other enough to commit to trying to understand one another. This is where it needs to begin. Trump winning or losing the next election isn’t going to change the stalemate of “solution blocking” division. Listen to what Cory Booker actually says by what he wrote that at first sounded reasonable: “Don’t talk to me about Jesus or grace or a need for moral guidelines until you are perfect.” I doubt if anyone on either side can measure up to that. Please, please, please…..let’s start rethinking on what the biggest blocks to solving our problems actually are. Some major blocks are everyone needing to win, needing to feel righteous, and wanting a scapegoat instead of working together to find some sort of reasonable solutions to our shared problems. There are real and scary problems to be solved and it won’t happen until we try to hear each other and find a way to work together. We are choosing to self-destruct as a nation because of our own pride. And pride goes before the fall. Is it really worth it?
I got a Christmas card from a beautifully spiritual priest friend of Julian’s. We’ve been exchanging Christmas cards and notes from a long time ago when Julian designed a very contemporary Church for his congregation . An amazing man, who even fills in for Protestant preachers and works with all sorts of other religions for the poor. I look forward to the card each year because his hand written notes usually have insights that speak to me. This year his card had the words “I want to see like Jesus” across the front over a silhouette of the Baby Jesus in the manger. I started thinking about what Jesus sees and got overwhelmed. He sees the children in war zones, the hungry ones, the abused ones, the lost to drugs ones, Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting everyone, even good people throwing out the baby Jesus with the dirty bath water of bad Christian leaders and causing their own children to close their minds to the Good News. I don’t think I could bear seeing like Jesus. To see all those he loves on both sides of wars and economics and politics and religious fanaticism and all the other suffering in so many lives would simply destroy me. I can barely survive the suffering I see in my own family and other people I know and care about. Even when I love someone who is actually causing their own and others’ suffering, it is almost worse, because I don’t know how to help them get free of their destructive responses to the pain of life. Ultimately, we are helpless to save even those we love enough to share their pain. How heartbreaking it must be to see like Jesus.
Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door Christmas day to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise? Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you? Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his worn and callused feet? Would he want to do the same for you? Would you protest because you feel unworthy? Or would you let him help you feel so very tenderly loved?
Maybe he’d accept a cup of coffee and then want to tell you the stories his mom used to tell about giving birth in a dirty drafty place and about the terror of having to flee to a foreign country in the middle of the night with only a few clothes and a little food.
Do you think Jesus might just try to fit in by eating second helpings and then nodding off now and then in front of the TV set like most of us do? Or would he possibly suggest, “Why don’t we pack up some of this turkey and dressing and yes, definitely some pie, to take to families living in small rooms at some of the local Motels?” Might he even ask, “Would you drive me up and down the interstate to check under the bridges for homeless who may need food?”
Or perhaps he’d gently make a more discomforting suggestion: that some presents could be returned and the money sent to help refugees fleeing with their children like his parents did.
Maybe he would just look into your eyes all the way to what’s hidden in your heart and quietly say, “If there is someone you have hurt or anyone who has wounded you, will you make me happy by using your phone now to reconcile with them?”
And then you’d remember what he said at that last dinner with his closest friends, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Then you’d feel not guilt, but regret, that you hadn’t thought of celebrating his birthday by doing more for others, even strangers, as he did his whole life.
So, you’d get your coat and gather food, even your favorite fudge pie, to take to others. And you’d see that he was smiling at you as he waved goodbye.
You wouldn’t feel condemnation, only his love and a stronger desire to love others as he loves you. Because now you’d really know that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn us, but to free us by his love.
And as you start out, you’d whisper, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” And you would know he heard.
To survive, I have had to get more realistic over the years. This morning’s newspaper had advice on surviving Holiday depression. Inevitably, this kind of advice includes the suggestion that you think of people worse off than you are.
From the time I was very young, this advice sent me deeper into depression. Thinking about all the hungry children, all the homeless, all the seriously sick, and the war torn countries was overwhelming. Even today, if I focused on just the many friends and family I have that are experiencing heart break, pain that limits their lives, and fearful financial situations, I’d curl up in a fetal position and suck my thumb. Because I’ve learned from experience that I can’t fix anything. At best, all I can do is put a band-aid on things that appear to need much more than that for healing.
I do better if I remember the hard times and heart break that I myself have survived in the past and remember the little things people did that helped me not only get through those times, but grow stronger. Then I pray that God will show me the people that I have the resources to help even with just an emotional band aid like a call or card if they are lonely, some homemade soup if they are sick, a lift to the store or out to lunch if they are home bound, and a charity to support that I can trust to reach across borders to people I don’t know. But perhaps even more important, I can share a story of how God got me through a hard time. I know that these are band aids, but sometimes a band aid gets us through the day and we can only live one day at a time. If we all share what God has given us, however small, we can bring hope to others.
Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas music, even in stores pushing the season earlier and earlier for their own purposes, all fill me with wonderful memories, anticipation and joy. I’ve learned over my eighty-two years, that what puts the focus on Christ at Christmas is my own hunger for his presence.
Advent is the traditional pre-Christmas season of preparing our hearts for his coming.
Those four weeks were arbitrarily set centuries ago to reflect the four thousand years that the world waited in darkness, longing for his coming. Many years ago, I began on the first Sunday of Advent to pray each day, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life.
And some years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize his coming.
One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribboned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.
As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. (Having ended up the “cleaner upper” by default, I was grumbling to myself a little.)
And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him(and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter over on the lake in town.
When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly
and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve
As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.
For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked what happened when Mary and Joseph
knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”
It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family.
And then when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction,
“Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”
On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would. At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, even realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others.
And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more
in the heart of a child.
As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior he and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers down town in the Memphis August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer. Since then, David has taught in schools in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Bolivia.
Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”
Focus on mainly one aspect of Christianity: Unbalanced Scriptural Interpretation, A Hierarchy that comes between God and humanity, Over emphasis on either this life or the next, ALL lead to idol worship.
Fundamentalist Christians have to struggle not to make an idol of scripture. Jesus is the Word of God. Scripture is vitally important, because scripture introduces us to Jesus. Jesus speaks to where individuals are and calls each to growth now, just as He did the people in the scriptures. He wasn’t adding more rules. The Jews had plenty of them. Our call is to an ongoing, deepening relationship with a living Savior who continues to show us the way of love that changes us. Though scriptures may be like letters from God about Jesus, they are not God, and He is not limited to them. And Jesus himself, was sent to awaken us to God’s Spirit within us and all around us.
Catholics have to struggle to not make an idol of the hierarchy of the church. Again, Jesus is the Word of God to each of us. The spirit of God grows in us through a personal relationship with Jesus. The church can be a rich place of nurture with its tradition of spirituality, but ultimately we are personally accountable for growing in our relationship to God through Jesus, the Way of love. The Church may be our mother, but it is not God, and God is not limited to it.
Liberal Protestants tend to idolize ideals for our physical world and this life. Which once again, are good things, and part of our call to stewardship and love, but are not God or our ultimate reason for being, because physical life is not all there is, either now or forever. That’s what the resurrection was about. Humbling though it may be, it is not just about our intellectual ideals for this life. It’s about recognizing our incompleteness and accepting the call to a growing relationship with God through the human expression of both His love and the spirituality that He is calling us to, Jesus.
The Scriptures and the commandments; the church and its traditions of spirituality; caring for the physical well being of others and our world, are all good and absolutely vital parts of Christianity, but none of them is God. None of them are a substitute for a personal relationship with God, which for Christians is given life and nurtured by our relationship with Jesus who is the love of God fleshed out for all.
Out of that relationship can flow a love for scripture, a love for the spirituality and community of the church, a love for all creation and all humanity and a valuing of all of these and appreciation for those whom God has given gifts in each area. It is not any one or two of these. It is the balance found when we value all equally. There is one God, expressing Love in Jesus, and empowering us to grow and minister to others by the gifts of the Spirit within each of us.
We are all children of God, but we are born with different personalities that have different gifts and ways of both seeing and being, so we need each other. When we only value one aspect of the kingdom of God, the one that is easiest for us, we have turned a good thing into an idol. Our inability to value and incorporate others’ focus and understanding, has led us to a church on every corner claiming to have a monopoly on truth, all of the truth and nothing but the truth, which pretty much is a claim to being equal to God.
Jesus, Himself, was sent to lead us to God, not just to Himself. His love, laying down his life for us, is the Way to God. He was taken away, so that we too would be filled with and led by God’s Spirit. And God’s Spirit is love, love for all His creation and all His creatures. And the world will know that we are His by our growth in love, love that will free us to lay down our life with its hubris of believing we have a monopoly on truth.
Anything else is an idol.
As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. . . . Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot. . . . No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance, is the impression which we receive from an account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus. . . . No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful. Even if some them have been said before, no one has expressed them so divinely as he. (Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 26 October 1929; see also Denis Brian, Einstein — A Life [John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996], pp. 277-278)
What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.(“Einstein and Faith,” Time Magazine, 5 April 2007)
The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations. . . . (“Science and Religion,” cited in Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, pp. 41-49; from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, 19 May 1939. It was also published in Out of My Later Years [New York: Philosophical Library, 1950] )
GUEST: I have a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to my father in 1943. In 1940, my father read a “Time Magazine” article that stated that Einstein was quoted as saying that the only social institution that stood up to Nazism was the Christian Church. My father is a Presbyterian minister in a little northern Michigan town called Harbor Springs. And he quoted Einstein in a sermon, and a member of the congregation wrote my father a letter saying, “Where did you get your information?” So my father wrote “Time Magazine” and “Time Magazine” wrote him back, and I have that letter, too, but they didn’t give the source, so my father wrote Einstein and he wrote back, saying, yes, he did say that the Christian Church was standing up to Hitler and Nazism. [ . . . ]
Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living. (From a written statement [September 1937] as quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, editors, Albert Einstein: The Human Side [Princeton University Press: 1981] )
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force. In “Moral Decay” , also published in Out of My Later Years  )
I think one very basic human trait is wanting more of whatever we need or value most. The “what” varies greatly from person to person, but we always want more of it.
Some people want things you can see and touch. Whether it’s collecting unusual or expensive things, or something as simple as recipes, or tools, or books, or even as someone once said to me, ” I just want the land I own and all the land that touches it.”
Other’s collect people: friends, lovers, fans, followers, students, or people to help in some way.
Quite a few collect power whether it’s over family, fellow citizens, employees, soldiers, clients, or even animals.
Many want visible accomplishments, whether on a grand scale like city planing, building sky scrapers, or simply working with our hands at a craft or garden. It’s the being visibly productive that appeals.
Others seek experiences, like travel, extreme sports, or the arts, nature’s beauty, even food.
Then, there are the challenges of developing skill in things as varied as golf, or dance, or photography, or writing poetry. Then it’s the always trying to become more proficient.
And the lucky ones are focused on collecting knowledge, which is something in abundance and variety all around us.
And of course,there’s collecting wealth for its own sake, like the story of King Midas.
I guess failing to achieve in any of these, there’s always indiscriminate hoarding.
But what we all have in common is that we always want more.
And maybe that is what old age, even illness, is about. It can free us to stop and let go. Then we can be still enough to open our hearts and minds to the greatest treasure, the glory of God,. And that is what all these things have in common. They are tiny tastes of the glory of God.