Friday, April 22, 2011
This being Holy Week I have been spending a lot of time wrestling with what it means to be an independent, affirming progressive Christian.
If you have followed my blog or preaching, the you are familiar with those scriptures which drive me both as a person of faith and a pastor.
As long as I can remember these words of scripture have rested in my soul:
These are the passages that drive me, haunt me and really define who and what I am as a pastor.
I say drive me because to me they seem to be the core of what a follower of Jesus strives to be about.
I say they define me because despite falling far short I really try to live my life by what these passages proclaim. For me this is not a head thing but a matter of my heart, the depths of my soul. These passages help shape who I am.
I say they haunt me because the church I grew up in and the church universal today seems to have forgotten these passages and lives out an existence that is more about exclusion than inclusion, more about money and prestige rather than simple service, more about moral enforcement and judgment rather than sharing and proclaiming grace, more about dogma and creeds rather than openness and an intentional inclusive community.
Because of the aforementioned, the church universal is no longer safe, no longer a place of peace, no longer a place of refuge from the terrors of the world. Hell, it is not even a refuge from the terrors brought about by so-called Christian leaders.
So I am haunted…what would God have me to do? How does one little gay pastor push the church universal back to its roots, back to a time when God, not dogma were the order of the day? See, can any of us remember a time in which dogma did not rule our lives?
Frankly, I am pretty content to try and do this with Gentle Spirit Christian Church. We are a church “without walls”. Every day of our existence we try to “walk the talk” and some days we do better then others. Those scriptures I mentioned are a part of our core beliefs, they in fact drive our church.
Yet I and some of those around me have been restless, frustrated, and disappointed as we fall short in meeting the needs of the larger community.
This was made so clear to me a few years back when I was at a meeting with a group of clergy who had received a large sum of money to be used to feed the hungry.
We were a good hour into the meeting debating the rules for this food distribution. Rules for how to fill out the paper work, which people get the food, how much and how many times a month. There was even discussion, no actually an argument over how much info to keep on file and not mess with people's privacy.
To that point I had been very quiet and trying to devise an excuse to leave, when one of the pastor's asked me what I thought. I responded that they probably did not want to hear what I was thinking. However, I was encouraged to share.
So I told them I was thinking about the story of Jesus when he fed the 5,000. Of course all these pastors started nodding their heads in agreement. However, I was stuck on the differences of that story and what was being discussed. See, I wondered who of the disciples went through the crowd that day and had the folks fill out the paper work? Which of disciples did the assessments of who was in real need? Was there somebody who determined if the folks who got the food were just going from rabbi to rabbi to eat each day?
I have a friend who is a pastor in “The Progressive Christian Alliance”
There was a point in time I was working with him to get this movement in Atlanta off the ground.
Some of the “progressive and affirming” thoughts back then and still today offer a different way of approaching our faith.
• Jesus' central message is about radical inclusion, thus anyone is welcome to participate in our fellowship without judgment or forcing them to conform to our "likeness" or affirm our creeds in order to be accepted. We invite and offer all a place at the table - no exceptions.
• Faith is not about concrete answers, religious absolutes, creeds, or dogma. Faith is about the search for understanding, the raising of important questions, the open honesty of having doubt, and the realization that no one has it all completely right nor does any human hold all the answers. We seek to follow the advice found in 1st Thessalonians 5:21, which is to "seek truth out in all things and hold firmly onto that which is good."
• Religious absolutes of dogma, legalism, and strict doctrine become stumbling blocks and "litmus tests" for who is "in" and who is "out" of the circle of God's grace. These false tests that Jesus never required get in the way of truly following Jesus and his teachings.
• Following Jesus is counter-cultural, radical, and disrupts the status quo. The good news of the gospel is intentional in its inclusion of those who are traditionally marginalized and refused by Mainline Christianity.
• The words of Jesus found in the gospels are to be the focus for any disciple of him. We submit the rest of Scripture to the position of "sacred commentary."
• Recognition and affirmation of the differing belief systems of others, whose faiths offer a way into relationship with God and call upon them to further God's love and grace on the earth, is crucial. Jesus revealed this path in the acts and works of the Gospel. According to Matthew, chapters 5-7; and demonstrated this inclusion on many occasions - including in his witnessing and affirmation of the Samaritan woman, whose culture and people were looked down upon for worshipping God in a different way (the Gospel). According to John 4:1-42), As Jesus taught and revealed through example, any "spiritual" or "non-spiritual" person adhering to this way of life are indeed furthering the Reign of God and God's message of radical love and inclusion here on earth. As Jesus said, "Anyone who is for us cannot be against us" (the Gospel According to Mark 9:39-41).
• Creating fellowships and communities that are dedicated to lifting up, affirming, and equipping one another for the work the Spirit of God has called us to in Micah 6:8: active peacemaking, striving for justice and equality of all people and nations, loving those who are labeled by our government, society, and - at times - ourselves, as "enemies," caring for God's creation, and bringing hope to the poor and poverty-stricken.
• God created humans with a brain capable of discovery and reason. God does not require us to "check our brains at the door," along with our coat and hat in order to be a part of the faith. Faith and Science are not in conflict; they are in harmony. The Bible is not a Science textbook and should never be taken as such. We affirm that if God is truth, then any discovery we make about ourselves, our origins, or the way the universe was created has come from God and should not be viewed as heresy.
• The Church is not simply a four-walled institution, but a ministry without walls that surrounds and encompasses everything and everywhere we go. Our brothers and sisters are not only those who label themselves as "Christian," but are everyone we meet.
I do not believe scripture to be without error and I also believe that over the years some very important stuff got lost or left out. I think one has to follow the over riding theme of our faith in relation to the "good book"..."to do justice, act mercifully and walk humbly with God". It is following this theme which does not allow me to easily dismiss someones belief system just because they do not subscribe to mine.
Now what is interesting, there are some who will not even discuss or think about what is written here. Rather, I will simply get an email (s) stating I am a heretic or worse and I shouldn't call myself a Christian.
Which sort of makes my point does it not?
So on this “Good Friday” as I contemplate my relationship to God, my mind wanders to what would “The Church” look like if the focus of “The Church” was not to spend its time in matters of exclusion and conserving tradition and spent its time in progressing towards God and being intentional in the inclusion of all of God's creation…just thinking…
Friday, April 8, 2011
Here is a thumbnail sketch of what I think is wrong with the modern day church…”hell”
The modern church teaches hell, lives in hell and promotes hell. In fact the whole premise of the church has become do as it says or experience the fear of a God who will send you straight to hell.
The Church will fight to the bitter end anyone who does not fear God will send them to hell if they do not live in one accord to their traditional rules, polity and dogma.
The most recent target of the wrath of the Church is Reverend Rob Bell a pastor and author who has achieved rock star status in the Christian world, whom they say is preaching a false gospel. As near as I can tell the entire furor is simply because Rev. Bell says essentially that love trumps everything else including hell.
As reported by Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
“On Saturday, in a blog post on the popular Christian website The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor blasted Bell's new book, out March 29, for teaching "false doctrine":
I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay [sic] his cards on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism.
Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles, universalism is a dirty word.”
First, let me say I probably will not cause as much of a stir as Rev. Bell, because I am just one small voice in an ocean of millions…he is the pastor of a church of 10,000 or so.
So here it goes. I not only agree with Rev. Bell but would also take it one step further and say there is no physical hell one is sent to by God.
Further, I believe for those of the Christian faith, Jesus is the Christ. I also believe God appears and speaks in many other visions, physicality’s and spiritedness for the many and varied creations in the universe.
I will not spend this blog writing a defense for my rather pluralistic belief; suffice to say I don’t think God is nearly as limited as the traditional Christian Church has made God to be. So to think there is only one way to be in relationship with God would be akin to saying there is only one way to have sex.
The Christian Church for two thousand plus years has kept it adherents in line with the threat of people being sent to hell. If anyone has dared to stand up to this weak theology they have been ridiculed, written off or at the end of the day called a heretic.
The main-line traditional church over the years has come up with so many rules and requirements just to be served Holy Communion are to have made it irrelevant for most.
In fact the church has spent so much time telling people all the things that will keep them from a God, a funny comedic line has become all too true for some; “If I am going to hell I am going to enjoy my time getting there”.
RBS, does not fear a place called hell because it is not a place, but rather a state of being. Further, God does not send one to hell, one chooses that destiny for themselves.
For the believer, the only path to this state of being called hell or if you will “the total absence of God” is to choose to not have a relationship with that which created us. I dare say the choice to be in relationship with God can and is often made in an instant, as the testimony of those who have died and or had that “outer body experience”. For the vast majority of folks their lives have changed for the better and there was no fire breathing God screaming “you didn’t do it my way”. In fact, the stories are just the opposite.
The Christian Church has capitalized on the people’s apathy and fear of being responsible for their own relationship with God. Why, because we are afraid of making a mistake or worse. People have often said to me, “Pastor, what if you are wrong?” My response is, “I am not wrong! God is about “agape”, unconditional love! To believe otherwise after reading the “red-letters” is to buy into the power and control of the institutional church.
I don’t know about the reader, but I need a moving, powerful and intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe, not a puppet master relationship with the traditional church. In fact if one reads about Jesus closely enough they will see that is what Jesus life, death and resurrection was calling us too, a full, powerful and intimate relationship with God!
The Christian Church has missed the point of Jesus, which was to place people in a position of having a full and intimate relationship with the Creator.
Yes, Jesus spoke of hell but always from the point of view of what it is to be out of relationship with God. That is something we choose not God. God’s choice according to the teachings of Jesus is always to be in relationship with us. In fact as Rev. Bell has suggested love trumps all!
Read the story of the Prodigal Son…love triumphs!
The women caught in adultery…love triumphs!
The paralytic lowered through the roof…love triumphs!
The woman at the well…love triumphs!
The tax collector…love triumphs!
I could go on and on. However, I know some are already asking what is it that God requires for this unconditional love, for this relationship to be strong? We know what God requires, “to do justice, to act mercifully and to walk humbly with God.”
God’s love, not anger is what brings us home…gives us heaven in death and gives us peace while on this earth.
Just how do you think you know that RBS? You are nothing more than an inconsequential pastor with a small group whom dares to call itself a church, so how do you know?
I know because just as Dr. King said, “the arc of history is long, but it always bends towards justice.” There is only full justice when acts of love rule the day!
I know because at the core of my beliefs reside these truths:
Yup, there are those who will consider me a heretic or preaching a false gospel…but hey, love triumphs over all!