Equally Offensive to All Religions by a Born Again, Baptized in the Spirit, Catholic Mystic, Liberal Presbyterian, Humanitarian Heretic, Loved – though Imperfect – Child of God
Wake up religions! This is not about you. This is about God being in imperfect human lives, all human lives.
No religion has a monopoly on God and no religious institution controls grace.
It’s not about spiritual country clubs, spiritual insurance policies or power.
It’s about human grace filled spiritual encounters with a living God incarnate in every moment, every place, every relationship, every stranger, every struggle, every person.
The church is called to awaken us to them, to pray for us and others to experience them, to encourage and support us in our spiritual journey and to celebrate our encounters of grace with us. But that is all.
Religions are actually obscuring God under their religious baskets by claiming the power to limit and control the human experience of grace. And religions are wasting their gifts by crying out against others instead of shouting out the good news of grace.
Institutions can: tell the world they believe in God; be a witness to the reality of a personal relationship with God through their own love of ALL the children of God; share, nourish, and celebrate others’ relationships with God and one another.
But institutions cannot create, control, deny, or teaspoon grace out according to their own current interpretations of any particular holy writings. That is Hubris, with a capital H.
Religions: Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, etc. etc. etc., YOU ARE NOT GOD. Get over yourselves.
God is bigger than your bread boxes, bigger than your temples, cathedrals, mosques, holy mountains or holy places, bigger than any nation, bigger than any person’s or group’s limited human understanding of any holy writings or rules.
ALL see through the glass darkly. Religions are like the three blind men who each pictured the whole elephant by the small part they personally encountered. None of us has the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because we are NOT God. We are not even close approximations. We do the best we can and seek the grace to do better, but the more we listen to one another, the better our chance of actually recognizing God among us.
The Sacraments are the grace incarnated in our daily lives and our relationships.
The institutional church is there to call us: to recognize, experience and respond to the grace in our lives; to share it with each other; to celebrate it together.
The church celebrations are not the sacraments. God is the sacrament and God just IS. That’s why God’s name is I AM.
IN our tiny imperfect daily lives,
IN our tiny imperfect selves,
IN our relationships,
IN our natural world,
IN the universes and beyond.
IN people and communities witnessing to faith in a God of love/forgiveness through both declaring it and living it (declaring faith and living it are inseparable),
IN individuals, families and communities recognizing the presence of God IN the sharing of our daily bread with others,
IN our responding to the gift of faith by seeking to be pruned and filled by God’s Spirit within us,
IN an ongoing circle of experiencing God’s forgiveness and forgiving others,
IN our acknowledgement of most humans’ need for the grace found in the intimacy of marriage (in the challenge of learning to love another imperfect human being “up close and personal” in a relationship of commitment).
IN witnessing to our faith in the power of God to heal through acknowledging our own need for spiritual and physical healing by both asking others for prayer and by praying for others and being willing to be healed.
Our daily personal encounters with grace are acknowledged in our communal Sacraments: God incarnate in both our personal and communal lives, in our ongoing human need to be forgiven and to forgive, and in our relationships with one another and our world.
To sum up, the heart of the spiritual life is a personal journey of recognizing our human weakness, learning we are loved unconditionally and responding by growing ever more loving of others in the same way. And the heart of unconditional love is forgiveness. No one is perfect. Everyone needs forgiveness and new beginnings all their lives. Truly accepting forgiveness and forgiving others are inseparable. Forgiveness and love are interdependent. You don’t get or give one without the other.
True religion begins with spirituality, which is a personal relationship with God of experiencing being forgiven and loved, so we too can learn to forgive and love. Then and only then does it become communal. If our faith communities are not made up of people with a humble personal relationship with God based on our ongoing needing and receiving forgiveness, our faith communities will become legalistic, judgmental, unforgiving, worldly, about pride and power, and then conflict ridden.
Each day we are called to open our hearts and minds to God, to find God’s grace in : a first cup of coffee, morning birdsong and sunlight, star filled skies, storms, fear, beauty, a tearful child, a faithful pet, sharing our daily bread, our own and others’ brokenness, sorrow, joy, forgiving, laughter, loss, love, in every moment, every human experience, every human relationship, in every human being.
In old age, the life question, “Why am I here?” becomes, “Why am I still here?”
In the past fifteen years scientists have discovered that the natural human life span
may be one hundred and twenty years or more. I’m not sure if this is good news or bad news!
Does the Gospel message have any good news for the challenges of later life?
Many people have conscientiously lived the Gospel message, that it is better to give than to
receive all their lives, so they find it difficult to figure out how to answer the call, “Come, follow
me,” when they are flat on their back, stuck in a wheelchair, in pain, and dependent on family
or nursing home care.
I’ve become convinced that following Jesus in our later years is a completely different
call. Jesus does not limit the “Come Follow Me” to his years of healing the sick, feeding the
hungry, and taking the Good News of God’s love to others. It includes following Him, like loyal,
doubting Thomas to Jerusalem, where we know that in worldly terms, things will not go well.
Jesus was in God’s accelerated class. What He learned from His experiences on Good
Friday may take the rest of us years.
Through my years in a wheelchair, I experienced things that I never would have, if I
were walking under my own power. Painful and challenging as these were, they were learning
experiences. Shocks do get our attention.
Shock One: was being imprisoned. I could no longer go either when or where I wanted.
I was helpless and dependent on others.
Shock Two: was that my church community pretty much went about their busy lives without
me. I felt abandoned even by my Christian family.
Shock Three: Though blessed with free air travel abroad, I discovered that the handicapped
are literally hated in many countries. (Note: Many people were kind in these countries, but the negative experiences were a shock.) In the Czech Republic, I was hissed at and we were forced
off the sidewalks into the streets and even out into the rain by middle-aged, middle-class
looking women. In Lucerne, Switzerland a taxi driver with a trunk easily spacious enough for the
wheelchair, vehemently and arrogantly refused to take us from the airport.
In a two story museum in Paris, we were told that the elevator was out of order, though we
could see workers using it. In Vienna, the manager of our small hotel refused to help
us find a safe place on the ground floor for the wheelchair that wouldn’t fit into the tiny
The first few times I experienced this kind of rejection, I cried at night realizing that it didn’t
matter to these people, whether I was a good person, smart, talented, or had even achieved
things. I was rejected, because in their eyes I was defective, and that probably threatened to
force them to recognize their own vulnerability as human beings. These experiences made me
feel terribly naked and vulnerable out on the streets among hostile strangers. In fact, we would
go blocks out of our way, when we spotted groups of young skin heads on the street.
Shock Four: When we had to struggle to get me and the wheelchair up long flights of stairs
while hurrying to make a connecting train, no one offered any assistance, some even
angrily pushed past us. Those days left me with both a great deal of physical pain and the
emotional pain of feeling so universally rejected.
But grace came in Prague in a huge ancient cathedral. As we toured the cathedrals of Europe
several things struck me. One: the only people actually using them for prayer were the old,
mostly women. Two: The Catholic ones were filled with gold and silver ornaments and
elaborate tombs of Popes and Bishop, the Anglican/Episcopal ones were filled with gold and
silver and elaborate tombs of Kings and Queens and other nobility. The Presbyterian one in
Scotland was a little less gilded, but no less ornate and filled with the tombs of warriors.
In Prague the cathedral not only had many gilded angels, ornaments, and tombs, but one
room with walls almost completely covered with embedded semi-precious stones.
My son wanted to climb to the top of the bell tower and my husband was taking photos of all the
glitter. It was jam packed with tourists, so they parked me in a dim unadorned corner without
any people in it. I was newly wounded by my experiences of rejection and when my son and
husband were gone a long time, I began to feel depressed and sorry for myself. I started
looking around for something that represented the love of God, not the silver and gold in
honor of men. Finally, I looked up at the wall behind me. There was a life size wooden crucifix
with the body of Jesus right over me. We were alone together in the darkness, since the crowd
was entranced by the silver and gold and the famous. I remembered a quote from Paul Caludell, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with his presence.”
Somehow in that moment, I experienced a oneness with Him. We were in this together. I
was not alone and never would be.
God chose, through Jesus, to experience our loss of purpose, imprisonment, falling
under the weight of the cross, needing the help of strangers, being
stripped of image, being rejected by the world for vulnerability,
being abandoned by friends, suffering physical and mental pain that makes the minutes
seem like hours and the hours like eternity, and even finally feeling abandoned by God.
Yet, still saying, “ God, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
I knew then, that He is not only with me and all of us, but He is in us, experiencing
everything through us. Right then, right now, and always. He told us that whatever is done to
even the least of us is done to Him. And in the helplessness of old age, we are finally freed to
accept being the least, those totally dependent on God. We are not alone, ever. And
when that becomes more important to us, than all the losses we mourn, I think we get to go