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Be Humble or Be Humbled

Since my experience of the total love of God through Jesus when I was thirty after several years of rather hedonistic agnosticism and then several more years spent searching for spiritual meaning and purpose, my heart’s desire has been to somehow communicate that love to others.

God’s love didn’t make me perfect, but it brought meaning and purpose, an acceptance of the reality of my human weakness, and hope for growth and change through grace. Change for the better has been slow and spotty, but is still part of my journey at “almost’ eighty. ( I have a couple of hours left till the eighty.)

My most natural gift is speaking. And a Spiritual gift of seeing the connection between Scriptures and daily life came with my conversion. For a long time I just did whatever needed doing, like teaching, making soup for the sick and poor, smiling at people, organizing my husband and children into a work crew for church and school events, recruiting and getting training for religion teachers, and and at that time a new ministry for laity and particularly women, reading the Scriptures aloud for worship services.

Some of the more obvious experiences of God curtailing my tendency to hubris seem worth sharing, if only to give others a chuckle.

One came to mind this morning as I was checking my old lady chin for whiskers. Forty years ago when teaching a fifth and sixth grade confirmation preparation class in a Catholic School, I was (I thought) waxing eloquent on the opportunity at confirmation to make their own choice of Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord and how wonderful that is. At the end, I asked if anyone had a question. One rather quiet boy raised his hand. My heart filled with joyous expectation as I said, “Yes, Jesse?” To which he replied quite seriously, “Mrs. Norman, Do you have a mustache?”

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The Self-Destruction of Christianity

Martin Luther didn’t plan to start a new religion. He hoped to renew the heart of Christianity. But from the time when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, the church had appropriated the power structure of empires and monarchies, claiming the God given right to rule, complete with the assumption of a monopoly on truth. The shepherd’s role was transformed into that of a tyrant with absolute power and no accountability. Christianity’s history quickly became one of violence against dissenters.

Even now, when violence is rejected, the lack of dialogue and openness to growth in our understanding of the gospel has become the root of the ongoing splintering of Christianity, So we continue to waste our time and energy fighting among ourselves.

Few institutional religions have adopted a democratic structure, so they become stagnant through lack of diversity and through power structures devoted to preserving the status quo. As chaotic as democracy is, it gives even the least of its members a voice and the hope of change, so that diverse people with extremely divergent views can remain united without the violence that tyranny provokes.

If humanity is evolving, so will our understanding of our relationship with God and one another. Jesus listened to diverse voices, not only responding to the needs of the outcaste and foreigner, but even allowing them to challenge his assumptions about his mission.

Unfortunately, the power structures with vested interests in institutional religion generally have kept Christianity as the rear-guard of the status quo, rather than as leaders in social change and spiritual growth in unconditional love. We still throw stones at the prophets in the name of God.

The tension between the value and rights of the individual and the good of the community calls for on-going dialogue. We witness the break-down of Christianity over and over as each new call for inclusion of those different from the majority occurs. Institutional Christianity has become about power and preserving the status quo. It is no longer the answer to our human search for meaning. Secularism isn’t destroying Christianity. Christianity is self-destructing.

The Journey through Disillusionment to Meaning

I’m pretty sure that anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a big God and Jesus and Holy Spirit fan. What not everyone knows is that I was an agnostic for some years and a big Madalyn Murray O’Hair fan.

When in college, I visited Nursing Homes, in my mid twenties I taught ballet at a Children’s Psychiatric Ward, in my late twenties, I worked at the NAACP offices for Project Equality, and also wept while watching battles in Vietnam on TV. It was hard to find God in those situations.

In 1963, my dad, Pope John 23, and John F. Kennedy all died. It seemed like all my heroes of hope were gone.

It isn’t very comfortable to hate God, so I simply stopped believing in Him.

My journey to personal faith ultimately took several years spent in a serious search for some sort of meaning to life. That search was motivated by having my own children begin asking me hard questions. And though it is still obvious to me that life is not fair and that life is often hard and miracles are rare, I have found purpose, meaning, and great joy in life through an ongoing growing relationship with Jesus Christ, who made life and God understandable for me. It was a journey starting from faith in religion and faith in heroes, through disillusionment with those, on to a first hand experience of the love fleshed out by Jesus and the call to pass it forward.

I worry about the young people who are being exposed to both the hardships of life and its dark side in so many ways long before they have their love for their own children to motivate them to seek meaning in life instead of escape.

That seems to be the crux of the problem. Whenever we become aware that life is going to be hard sometimes for everyone, will we have the maturity to search for meaning rather than to seek escape?

Everyone’s journey is different, so all I can do is share that the search is well worth the effort and struggle and pain. My way may not be your way, but ultimately the truth will set you free for joy, hope, and love.

Hubris (Part One)

A long time ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, I became disillusioned with religious institutions. Since I had been brought up in one that declared itself the infallible mouthpiece of God, I was also disillusioned with what had passed for God up to that point in my life.

My father’s premature death and the inequalities and suffering I saw in the world convinced me that if there was a God, I didn’t like him very much. Not liking God was uncomfortable, to say the least, since the feeling might well be mutual. It was easier to just not believe in one.

I simply abandoned God to a mental file labeled “Probably Not,” and proceeded to enjoy a reasonably affluent lifestyle of many delightful pleasures.  The problem with a life of pleasure is that it is addictive.  It took more and newer pleasures to keep my naturally questioning mind turned off.  And my children were becoming old enough to ask me some of the questions I was avoiding. At the same time the increasingly blurred edges of society’s moral boundaries left me without the guidelines that had kept me safe from the more destructive human behaviors while I was growing up. I finally admitted that the life I was leading was becoming increasingly bereft of any purpose that I truly valued.

I began a search for meaning. I had read most of the classical philosophers, the thinkers of the enlightenment, and contemporary books about the death of God. But I had never actually read the entire bible, so I decided to start with the scriptures. I read it from Genesis through Revelation.  Since I brought a skeptic’s mind set to the project, I had also thrown out most of the interpretations I had been taught or exposed to in daily life. So, in some ways, I came to the scriptures without preconceived opinions. I was surprised by the relevance of many of the ideas, though puzzled by obvious contradictions. The claims about Jesus and his promises to his followers challenged my credulity, but set off a tiny wistfulness deep within me. Mostly, reading the scriptures just increased my hunger for meaning and purpose.

So, I began a search that eventually included taking introductory classes in several of the major Christian denominations and a couple of courses at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School, one of which was on world religions other than Christianity, and initiating discussions with church attending friends about some of the more difficult to believe claims made in the New Testament.

The major denominations seemed to all emphasize certain (and different) parts of the New Testament, while ignoring others. The part about give all you have to the poor appeared universally unpopular. The humanity of the person, Jesus, seemed pretty much unexplored, though the miraculous was also downplayed.

Modern Christianity was a very anemic version of what was described in Acts. In fact, it looked mostly like a combination of an insurance policy and a spiritual country club, rather than the life and world-changing force it claimed to once have been.

I came to the conclusion that Jesus was a good man, but a somewhat delusional idealist, who got himself killed. I sadly put Christianity and God back in my file that was labeled Probably Not.

Since humanity was on its own, then it was up to us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and try to make our planet a better place to live for future generations. I began to invest some of the time and energy I had spent first on pleasure, then on seeking God, to a search for meaning through working for justice for those still disenfranchised under our political system.
(to be continued)