Friday, August 31, 2012

The Lake Of Fire: It Burns, Burns Burns...

"Ideas that have nothing to do with life after death, but everything to do with controlling human behaviour in the here and now, are simply not worthy of human beings, religious or otherwise. No one becomes holy through fear. No one becomes whole by a promised reward for good behaviour. We therefore must jettison from further consideration of life after death all concepts of reward and punishment, dismissing them as crude, debilitating, hostile and, finally, unbelievable. The secular world has long since done just that. It is time for religious voices to do the same, and to do it emphatically.
If the enhancement of life is the goal of all religion, then we need to recognize that the promised rewards and the threatened punishments of religion will never accomplish that. Behavior-controlling tactics always suppress life. They are never about becoming human or whole; they are always about becoming or being religious, about gaining an advantage. The emphasis is all wrong. That understanding of life after death is little more than one more aspect of the driving human need for survival. The fact is that if you and I live our lives motivated by our desire to gain paradise or to avoid eternal punishment, then we have not escaped the basic self-centeredness of life that is so natural to survival-oriented, self-conscious creatures. There is nothing worthy in that understanding of life after death. It must be abandoned and the personalistic God of reward and punishment, in whatever form we have been led to understand that deity, must be abandoned with it. It is the product of a childish religion continuing to live in an immature humanity. This mentality has produced a religion that has nothing about it that I can salute or that I desire to preserve. Its harm has been enormous. Its fruit has been minimal. Heaven and hell, as we have been taught to understand them, have got to go!"
~ Bishop John Shelby Spong, "Eternal Life: A New Vision" 

God At The Republican National Convention

Senator Marco Rubio (FLA)

It seems that God doesn't get much attention at the Oscars, Emmy's, or Grammys anymore. But as sure as Clint Eastwood likes talking to chairs, the big guy will always show up at the Republican National Convention.‎

Take for instance Senator Marco Rubio's warm-up speech for Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney last night.

"We are special because we've been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We're bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have."

And then, "Our national motto is "In God we Trust," reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all."

The night before, Vice-Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan had this to say: "Sometimes, even presidents need reminding, that our rights come from nature and God, not from government."

As for the Presidential Candidate himself, a Mormon, Romney kept his God-talk to "God Bless Neil Armstrong" and the usual "God Bless America."

Is it time to take God out of the political arena? This is of course easier said than done, especially in America, where God is everywhere. "God, Guns, & Glory." "One Nation Under God," "In God We Trust."

But just as Mitt Romney is trying to convince evangelical Christians that voting for a Mormon is alright, Romney should be reaching out to the large population who doesn't believe in a god at all - the atheists, and heck the agnostics. Marco Rubio's affirmation that "Faith in our creator is the most important American value of all" makes atheists or those who don't believe in his version of God seem un-American. 

This is in stark difference to when Barack Obama gave a shout-out to humanists in his inauguration speech.

The Republican Party can still mention God all they want, but they would do better to save a spot at the table for atheists and agnostics.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Swedish Jesus

"Her second gift that year was a very romantic, today I would call it schmaltzy, picture of Jesus, which I hung on the wall above the headboard of my bed so that Jesus could literally watch over me while I was sleeping. This portrait was of a northern European Jesus displaying fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes, and it came complete with both a heavenly light illumining his face and a halo, or at least a nimbus, around his head. I am confident that it was from this portrait that I got the impression that Jesus, far from being a Jew, must have been a Swede. With his picture dominating my room, the activity of singing in church every Sunday and my commitment to the daily reading of my new Bible until I had read it in its entirety, I became an unquenchable religious seeker at the age of twelve." ~ Bishop John Shelby Spong

Friday, August 24, 2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jesus & The Very Poorly Prepared Crowd

by Rev. James Martin

1. The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve apostles came to Jesus and said, "Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place." 2 But Jesus said to them, "Why not give them something to eat?" They said, 'We have no more than five loaves and two fish -- unless we are to go and buy food for all these people. 3 For there were about five thousand men. And Jesus said to his disciples, "You know what? You're right. Don't waste your time and shekels. It would be positively immoral for you to give away your hard-earned salaries for these people. They knew full well that they were coming to a deserted place, and should have relied on themselves to bring more food. As far as I'm concerned, it's every five thousand men for themselves." 4. The disciples were astonished by this teaching. "But Lord," said Thomas. "The crowd will go hungry." Jesus was amazed at his hard-headedness. "That's not my problem, Thomas. Better that their stomachs are empty than they become overly dependent on someone in authority to provide loaves and fishes for them. Where will it end? Will I have to feed them everyday?" "No, Lord," said Thomas, "Just today. When they are without food. When they have eaten their fill, they will be healthy, and so able to listen to your word and learn from you." Jesus was grieved at Thomas's answer. "It is written: There's no such thing as a free lunch." So taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and took one loaf and one fish for himself, and gave the rest to the twelve, based on their previously agreed-upon per diem. But he gave none to the very poorly prepared crowd because they needed to be taught a lesson. So Jesus ate and was filled. The disciples somewhat less so. What was left over was gathered up and saved for Jesus's next meal, should he grow hungry. The very poorly prepared crowd soon dispersed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Lord's Prayer And Guns

Monday, August 20, 2012

Believing Your Way Into Heaven: Depends On Who You Ask

"It is fascinating to see the standards that religious systems through the ages have imposed on believers as necessary for the people to meet before they can pass through the doorway into a promised eternity. The idea that creedal adherence alone opens the door to eternal life is still present in religious circles today, though it is not nearly as overt as it was just a century ago. In evangelical church circles eternity is reserved for those who have a "personal relationship with the Lord Jesus as saviour." Does that rule out, as it seems to do, those who have never heard the name of Jesus? In Roman Catholic circles, heaven is reserved for those obedient to and formed by the faith of the "one true church." Is heaven thus limited to the Catholic faithful? In the more overtly imperialistic and darker days of Catholic history, part of the conversion pressure was the assertion that Jews, Protestants, Unitarians, heretics (note: I LOVE how the author puts the Unitarians and heretics together) and those who profess other religions would not be present in heaven. They did not pass the "faith test." The "saved" were a specifically finite number. Aggressive and even hostile conversion tactics were not only encouraged, but were regarded as both loving and acceptable. "We are adopting these tactics," the pious would say, "because our love for these people and their souls compels us to seek by whatever means are available to enroll them in the only faith that guarantees them life with God after death." A professor of mine, Robert O. Kevin, once observed that he could deal with his friends and even with his sworn enemies, but he had great difficulty dealing with those who convinced themselves that the dreadful things they were saying and doing to him were really being done for "his own good." Heaven as a place of reward for proper believing and hell as a place of punishment for improper or false believing are concepts which have lost almost all of their credibility in the marketplace of contemporary ideas. They continue to exist, however, in the shrinking ghettos of "true believers." Eternal life, if it exists, surely cannot really be about these things."
~ Bishop John Shelby Spong, "Eternal Life: A New Vision" 
I was one of those evangelicals who was taught that if I believed in Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour, then I had a ticket to heaven. Thus, I accepted Jesus "into my heart" when I was 7 years of age. I thought that Catholics were going to Hell, and wasn't sure about the mainline Christians - the Uniteds, the Presbyterians, the Anglicans. Of course Jews or Muslims or Buddhists were going straight to Hell after they died, where they would burn in the inexhaustible lake of fire.

I am now what Bishop Spong calls a "believer in exile" or part of the "church alumni association." I have been for over a decade now, and currently I attend a Unitarian congregation. And I agree wholeheartedly with his professor who said that it is much easier to deal with friends or sworn enemies than it is with those (and for me they are evangelical Christians) who say or do things because they absolutely know what is best for my soul.  In this regard I have been belittled and attacked and of course prayed for. I am only glad that there are visionaries like Spong to lead the way to a more reasonable faith.

Mark Andrew Alward

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jack Layton: One Year Later, Let Us Be Loving

It is hard to believe that it has been one year since Canada lost a charismatic leader, Jack Layton. A year since the chalk memorials at Toronto City Hall, a year since spontaneous vigils popped up nation-wide, a year since his widow Olivia Chow showed such grace.

I have Jack's final letter to Canadians in front of me, but let me offer a few words of my own before providing commentary on the rich and inspiring letter that Jack left.

What I would like to say is that politics, and being involved in politics, is utterly meaningless if love is not present. I come from a religious background - as did Jack and our first leader Tommy Douglas - so let me quote from Scripture:
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Politics must be about love and love ultimately is about community.  How often can you and I forget these basic principles - that politics is about taking care of each other - as the weeks and months go by in the heat of either provincial or federal partisanship. How often do I demonize any Conservative politician with (or without) a pulse? How quickly do I offer my stamp of disapproval at any idea that any opposing politician may propose, no matter if it may be good for the citizen?

Here's an example. Currently in our region there is a provincial by-election set for a few weeks time. Each of the major parties are holding rallies, with partisan speeches and enthusiastic crowds.  That's all well and good, and I quite enjoy them. But it doesn't amount to one iota if the candidate we are supporting is not committed to bringing positive change to their constituents rather than just warming a seat at Queen's Park. (For the record, I fully support our local NDP candidate and look forward to the race).

Jack reached out to a number of groups in his last letter, the first being people who also struggle with cancer. He wrote:
  "You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer." 
Jack knew that his time here was coming to an end, but rather than spend it in retreat, he reached out.  We would be wise to take Jack's words very seriously, to "cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey." Keep making those weekly calls to that relative. Keep asking if that friend needs a chore to be taken care of. Slow down as much as you can in this busy world and laugh with the ones you love.

Next Jack spoke to members of his party, emphasizing as always, social justice, and making sure that no one is left behind. Jack believed these words, it wasn't just a nice slogan. From my view, one of the NDP's greatest strengths is that it stands up for "the little guy" and stands up for the rights of those who society would marginalize, whether that be women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community.  As exciting as it is that we are only a step away from forming government in this country, we must never forget the values that have brought us here, the values that people like Tommy Douglas, Ed Broadbent, Audrey McLaughlin, Alexa McDonough, and Jack Layton believed in. I have full confidence that these principles, and our party are in more than capable hands with Tom Mulcair at the helm.

Jack then spoke movingly to the youth of Canada:
"There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future."
 Jack "just got it." He was in tune with the hopes and dreams of young Canadians - and particularly young Quebeckers - and knew that Canada and our party needed our drive (ok ok I'm 34) going forward. No longer should youth be an afterthought or merely backdrops at political events; they should be front and center as we build "a more inclusive and generous Canada."

Finally, to all Canadians, Jack wrote:
"Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done."
And then, as if riding his bicycle into the sunset, Jack offered us words that will stick in the hearts and minds of Canadians for a very very long time:
"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."
The greatest of these is love. Are you (am I?) involved in politics just to bring down the bad guys? Have we been working in politics so long that we've forgotten the broad values in favour of making sure one more sign gets posted and one more volunteer recruited?  What are we trying to do here people?

Politics is about people. Politics is about love.

On this first anniversary of your passing, we miss you terribly Jack, but are thankful for the legacy you have left behind.

Mark Andrew Alward is the LGBTQ  Representative for Kitchener-Centre's NDP.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Drunk On You

If you weren't so busy just now
I would have the courage to ask you your name
And how long you've worked here.

If you weren't already stroking your hair casually behind your ear
I would have the courage to simply and quietly do it for you.

If you weren't working the cash register just now
I would walk behind the counter and stand beside you
I would place my hand on your shoulder and kiss your neck.

If you weren't already smiling, 
I would take your hand and kiss it 
And tell you how drunk I am on you.

If we weren't talking right now
I would have the courage to pull you against me and kiss you
And tell you with my eyes how much I want you. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin??? Not So Fast

This is a quote from Christian recording artist and comedian Mark Lowry. At first read it sounds like quite an admirable quote. It seems here that Lowry is saying that instead of focusing on everyone else's sin, that we should leave them alone and focus on our own sin. He ends off by saying "I'll hate my sin and let's just love each other!"

But here's another question. What do you consider to be sin? Are sins certain acts that we take part in? Is sin the nature of our humanness? 

Growing up within fundamentalist evangelicalism, I was taught that sin was both. I was born with a sinful nature, and I committed acts of sin if I lied or cheated or watched Britney-Spears-in-a-bikini videos. Hating my own sin to a degree also meant hating a part of myself.  There is this fundamentalist evangelical mindset out there that were it not be for the grace of Jesus and God (which confusingly were the same, along with the Holy Ghost), that we would be miserable little twerps. Or as Amazing Grace says, "wretches."

The terminology of "hate the sin" can become obsessive for many Christians as they try to erase their unworthiness and each blemish that they can find.  Even if one believes that Jesus, by his blood sacrifice was the atonement for all of our sins - something I do not believe - it still leaves one to have a pretty glum view of their filthy selves.

I believe instead that we should have grace and gentleness when it comes to ourselves, and often our "sinful" or dark parts can teach us more about who we are. Often it is a better thing to accept our so-called sins in order to be a more whole person. Of course sometimes this isn't the case and we need to work things through with therapists and counselors.

But "Hate The Sin"? Nah. How about "Understand Yourself."

The Guest House (by Rumi)

by: Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī
13th Century Sufi Mystic

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

When You Can't Feel Better

Those who also deal with "mental illness" may be able to relate to this. Inevitably when some people hear that you deal with depression, anxiety, bipolar, phobias, schizophrenia or another illness, they may say something like "tomorrow will be another day," or worse "the sun will come out tomorrow," or worse still, "there's a reason behind all this you know."

Those of us who deal with mental illness often want to give a swift kick to the groinal region of the person who has just offered up such "wise words."

The truth is, that while there may be nuggets of truth in what they're saying, their timing sucks.

The truth is that sometimes you can't see through to the other side, when everything will be better. Often this is because that "better time" hasn't shown its face in weeks, months or even years.

The truth is we just feel like I pile of steamy, ooey gooey shit and words often aren't enough to snap us out of it.

Currently I'm on the swings at the parkette: for a couple days I'll be up, and then for a few days I'll be down. Guess where I am tonight.

You just feel like you're putting in time, like you're watching the world pass you by and you're just watching it from a café window.

  1. Suggestions: Realize that millions of Canadians and others around the world deal with some form of mental illness. There's nothing to be ashamed of, you're not crazy.
  2. Seek professional help: It doesn't make you crazy if you seek professional help or go into the psych ward; it means you're smart enough to reach out and get some help. It IS out there. 
  3. There's nothing wrong with taking medication for your illness. I take several.
  4. Try to have a core group of friends and/or family who you can pick up the phone and talk to. They are key.
Also, allow yourself to have your fucking shitty days, like I've been having lately. As long as you are safe, - and that's of utmost importance - feel how terrible you're feeling, don't try to gloss it over, it will eventually pass. But enjoy it while it lasts. Sometimes I like feeling like shit; it allows me to have the double chocolate muffin at Coffee Culture.

You can feel better. But don't feel bad about feeling like shit either.

Mark Andrew Alward

  • chronic depression with episodes of major depressive disorder
  • mixed anxiety disorder, including general anxiety and OCD.
  • bi-polar II

Monday, August 13, 2012

What If?

What if happiness is found in the waiting rather than the striving?

What if there is truth to all of this "stay in the present" business?

What if it is best to find time to slow down, even if it's for 10 minutes a day?

What if all we have is now?

What if our fears are shadows and our dreams attainable?

What if it is my job to love all those around me, not just my friends and family and those who seem lovable?

What if the Divine Lover has placed me in this world, in this moment, for a reason?

What if I should spend more time letting go when everything around me seems so attractive?

What if simple graces are to be found, if only my mind wasn't so preoccupied?

What if the best thing I could give to a friend is not advice, but time and a listening ear?

And what if I have plenty of time to heed the call I have heard like the beating of a drum for years?

Mark Andrew Alward

Friday, August 10, 2012

We Are Seen By God With A Gazing Love

Brennan Manning

"Preoccupation with our past sins, present weaknesses, and character defects gets our emotions churning in self-destructive ways, closes us within the mighty citadel of self, and preempts the presence of a compassionate God. From personal experience I can testify that the language of low self-esteem is harsh and demanding; it abuses, accuses, criticizes, rejects, finds fault, blames, condemns, reproaches, and scolds in a monologue of impatience and chastisement.
Rather than being surprised that we have done anything good - as certainly we have - we are shocked and horrified that we have failed. We would never judge any of God's other children with the savage condemnation with which we crush ourselves. Indeed, self-hatred becomes bigger than life itself, growing until it is seen as the beginning and the end. The image of the childhood story about Chicken Little comes to mind. In our self-hatred, we feel that the sky is falling.
Understandably, then, we hide our true selves from God in prayer. We simply do not trust that he can handle all that goes on in our minds and hearts. Can he accept our hateful thoughts, our cruel fantasies, and our bizarre dreams, we wonder. Can he cope with our primitive images, our inflated illusions, and our exotic mental castles? We conclude that he cannot and thus withhold from Jesus what is most in need of his healing touch.
In order to grow in trust, we must allow God to see us and love us precisely as we are. The best way to do that is through prayer. As we pray, the unrestricted love of God gradually transforms us. We open ourselves to receive our own truth in the light of God's truth. The Spirit opens our eyes to see what really is, to pierce through illusions so that we can discover we are seen by God with a gaze of love."
~ Brennan Manning, "Ruthless Trust" 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Outrageous And Vulgar Grace

"In Jesus, God has put up a 'Gone Fishing' sign on the religion shop. He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it - to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single religious exertion: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed - no nothing...The entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ - even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it's crazy. And yes, it's wild, and outrageous, and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn't sell worth beans. But it is Good News - the only permanently good news there is - and therefore I find it absolutely captivating."
~ Robert Farrar Capon, "The Romance of the Word" 

Christian College Student Leads Rally Of Support After Mosque Burned To Ground

by Josh Levs, CNN

When 20-year-old Ashley Carter heard about a mosque burned to the ground in her town this week, she was shocked.

"I was very saddened," she told CNN on Wednesday. "I thought it was very evil."

So Carter, a student at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri, texted a friend, suggesting they organize an event "promoting acts of love."

But quickly, the idea changed: They would organize a "rally of people coming together, from all walks of life, all religions, a really diverse group of people trying to promote this radical love."

She called Kimberly Kester, spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of Joplin, whose worship house serving about 50 families in the southwest Missouri city burned down Monday. Investigators have not determined the cause, but the mosque has been attacked in the past.

Kester supported the idea. So Carter and some of her friends created the plan for the rally and announced it on a Facebook page. The next day, Tuesday, word began to spread. By Wednesday morning, more than 400 people had posted that they would attend the event, scheduled for Saturday, August 25.

Carter said she was inspired by "my love for Jesus. And I know that Jesus calls us to love people."

"With everything that's been happening in the news this week" - which includes a shooting Sunday at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left six worshipers and the gunman dead - "I was pretty discouraged," Carter said. "Regardless of what you believe, I think everybody's entitled to loving whoever."

Kester told CNN she and other members of the mosque plan to attend the rally.

Read the full article at CNN's Belief Blog.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bishop John Shelby Spong: 3 Biggest Biblical Misconceptions

Bishop John Shelby Spong is the retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, and the author of many books including "Rescuing The Bible From Fundamentalism", "Why Christianity Must Change Or Die," and "Jesus For The Non-Religious."
The Bible is both a reservoir of spiritual insight and a cultural icon to which lip service is still paid in the Western world. Yet when the Bible is talked about in public by both believers and critics, it becomes clear that misconceptions abound.
To me, three misconceptions stand out and serve to make the Bible hard to comprehend.
First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it.
The facts are that Abraham, the biblically acknowledged founding father of the Jewish people, whose story forms the earliest content of the Bible, died about 900 years before the first story of Abraham was written in the Old Testament.
Can a defining tribal narrative that is passed on orally for 45 generations ever be regarded as history, at least as history is understood today?
Moses, the religious genius who put his stamp on the religion of the Old Testament more powerfully than any other figure, died about 300 years before the first story of Moses entered the written form we call Holy Scripture.
This means that everything we know about Moses in the Bible had to have passed orally through about 15 generations before achieving written form. Do stories of heroic figures not grow, experience magnifying tendencies and become surrounded by interpretive mythology as the years roll by?
Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.
Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history? If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written - that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John - we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.
For example, miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade. The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.
In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.
Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all.
Instead, it’s an interpretive account designed to conform the story of Jesus’ death to the messianic yearnings of the Hebrew Scriptures, including Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.
The Bible interprets life from its particular perspective; it does not record in a factual way the human journey through history.
The second major misconception comes from the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense “the word of God.” Only someone who has never read the Bible could make such a claim. The Bible portrays God as hating the Egyptians, stopping the sun in the sky to allow more daylight to enable Joshua to kill more Amorites and ordering King Saul to commit genocide against the Amalekites.
Can these acts of immorality ever be called “the word of God”? The book of Psalms promises happiness to the defeated and exiled Jews only when they can dash the heads of Babylonian children against the rocks! Is this “the word of God? What kind of God would that be?
The Bible, when read literally, calls for the execution of children who are willfully disobedient to their parents, for those who worship false gods, for those who commit adultery, for homosexual persons and for any man who has sex with his mother-in-law, just to name a few.
The Bible exhorts slaves to be obedient to their masters and wives to be obedient to their husbands. Over the centuries, texts like these, taken from the Bible and interpreted literally, have been used as powerful and evil weapons to support killing prejudices and to justify the cruelest kind of inhumanity.
The third major misconception is that biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging. Instead, the Bible presents us with an evolutionary story, and in those evolving patterns, the permanent value of the Bible is ultimately revealed.
It was a long road for human beings and human values to travel between the tribal deity found in the book of Exodus, who orders the death of the firstborn male in every Egyptian household on the night of the Passover, until we reach an understanding of God who commands us to love our enemies.
The transition moments on this journey can be studied easily. It was the prophet named Hosea, writing in the eighth century B.C., who changed God’s name to love. It was the prophet named Amos who changed God’s name to justice. It was the prophet we call Jonah who taught us that the love of God is not bounded by the limits of our own ability to love.
It was the prophet Micah who understood that beautiful religious rituals and even lavish sacrifices were not the things that worship requires, but rather “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” It was the prophet we call Malachi, writing in the fifth century B.C., who finally saw God as a universal experience, transcending all national and tribal boundaries.
One has only to look at Christian history to see why these misconceptions are dangerous. They have fed religious persecution and religious wars. They have fueled racism, anti-female biases, anti-Semitism and homophobia.They have fought against science and the explosion of knowledge.
The ultimate meaning of the Bible escapes human limits and calls us to a recognition that every life is holy, every life is loved, and every life is called to be all that that life is capable of being. The Bible is, thus, not about religion at all but about becoming deeply and fully human. It issues the invitation to live fully, to love wastefully and to have the courage to be our most complete selves.
That is why I treasure this book and why I struggle to reclaim its essential message for our increasingly non-religious world.

This article first appeared on CNN's BeliefBlog in December of 2011.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Facing Our Angels & Our Demons

On this blog I talk a lot about my experience with fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, and this post will be no exception.

I found that when I was a Christian that oftentimes other people - and myself - thought that they were supposed to be happy all of the time. If you were wrestling with "negative" emotions such as anger or lust or bitterness, or if you were depressed, then that either meant that a) Satan was attacking you, b) You had to pray harder, or c) You hadn't been a good enough Christian. It often left me, and I'm sure others, feeling like they had done something wrong and perhaps were being punished.

There wasn't a place for "the dark side."

In this short clip, U2 frontman Bono discusses this fear of duality within Christianity:

Yesterday I got a short piece of writing in my in-box from the American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. She, and many Buddhists, advocate a completely different approach:

The Practice Of Compassionate Abiding
"A question that has intrigued me for years is this: how can we start exactly where we are, with all our entanglements, and still develop unconditional acceptance of ourselves instead of guilt and depression? One of the most helpful methods I’ve found is the practice of compassionate abiding. The next time you realize that you’re hooked, you could experiment with this approach.
Contacting the experience of being hooked, you breathe in, allowing the feeling completely and opening to it. The in-breath can be deep and relaxed—anything that helps you to let the feeling be there, anything that helps you not push it away. Then, still abiding with the urge and edginess of the feeling, as you breathe out you relax and give the feeling space. The out-breath is not a way of sending the discomfort away but of ventilating it, of loosening the tension around it, of becoming aware of the space in which the discomfort is occurring."
What? Actually allowing ourselves to feel our "entanglements," or our negative feelings?  Yes, surely this is a much healthier practice than constantly trying to push these feelings away or feeling guilty about them.  I think sometimes we're afraid that if we "let the demons roam" that they'll take us over. This isn't the case. As we let our anger, lust, jealousy have some room to breathe, they gradually dissipate. They do. Sometimes we need a good therapist to help us work through this process, but it is much healthier than feeling guilty or suppressing our feelings.

Johnny Cash - "I See A Darkness"
American III: Solitary Man (2000)

Come Now, My Love. My Lovely One, Come.

Come Now, My Love. My Lovely One, 

For You, The Winter Has Passed,
The Snows Are Over And Gone,
The Flowers Appear In The Land,
The Season of Joyful Songs Has Come.

The Cooing Of The Turtledove Is
Heard In Our Land.

Come Now, My Love. My Lovely One, 

Let Me See Your Face. And Let Me Hear
Your Voice, For Your Voice Is Sweet
And Your Face Is Beautiful.

Come Now, My Love, My Lovely One, 

(Hebrew Scriptures, Song of Songs 2:10-14, New Jerusalem Bible)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gore Vidal: The Death Of An American Legend

Gore Vidal
(October 3, 1925 - July 31, 2012)

Gore Vidal, one of America's greatest essayists, screenwriters, playwrights, and novelists, died Tuesday at the age of 86. He was a contemporary of other American legends such as Norman Mailer and Truman Capote.

Here are a few things that Vidal had to say about religion over the years:

  • "Religions are manipulated in order to serve those who govern society and not the other way around." (1979)

  • "The idea of a good society is something you do not need a religion and eternal punishment to buttress; you need a religion if you are terrified of death."
  • I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam — good people, yes, but any religion based on a single...frenzied and virulent god, is not as useful to the human race as, say, Confucianism, which is not a religion but an ethical and educational system that has worked pretty well for twenty-five hundred years.

  • "I'm a born-again atheist."

  • Once people get hung up on theology, they've lost sanity forever. More people have been killed in the name of Jesus Christ than any other name in the history of the world."
  • "God is blackmailer. God is a warden of the prison. He created this all in his image - probably a mistake - and then allows us to run wild and punishes us or rewards us with his beaming vision of himself. This is no God I really want to have any traffic with at all. The idea that good behaviour only depends upon your fear of what will happen to you after you die, that you will be punished, well it excludes all of philosophy. It excludes Plato, it excludes the mystery cults of Greece, it excludes the Roman idea of what is a good man. There goes Marcus Aurelius, there go the Stoics. These are all better thinkers than anything the Christian church has come up with in 2,000 years.

Vidal certainly didn't limit his remarks to religion, and he often had a scathing tongue and acerbic wit. But he often cut right to the heart of the matter especially when it came to politics.  Here is a later-in-life interview from the CBC, during the George W. Bush presidency: