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Easter is upon us. The days are a bit longer, the weather is a bit warmer, and the new life of Spring is emerging incrementally around us. Easter is a big day for candy sales. It’s a big day for all sales in our commercial economy. Beyond all of this, Easter is a big day for sales in the religious world too. It’s a holiday where Christians focus on the atonement of Jesus.
Churches throughout our cities will make a big deal about Easter. It is the best opportunity to make an impact on new visitors, who will help church growth metrics. I’ve seen it all. I’m seen flying angels suspended from ceilings, I’ve seen a bloody Jesus get whipped as he walked through the crowd, I’ve witnessed celebrities perform, I can’t count how many paper maché rocks I’ve seen roll out from an illuminated tomb. I’ve even seen live animals take a dump in the sanctuary. “It’s all worth it, IT’S EASTER.”
From a theological perspective, Easter celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Jesus story is that both Church and State captured, condemned, tortured and punished an innocent man to a brutal death on the cross. He was then buried in a guarded tomb and then miraculously rose from the dead three days later proclaiming his victory over death. I think most people resonate with the idea of new life emerging from death. It is the story of Spring. It’s also a pattern that is seen in all of life. Sacrifice and suffering are required for new life to emerge. That’s the easy part of Easter.
It’s the subplot that trips up modern people. It’s the subplot that is not open for discussion. In fact, many feel that the subplot is the defining belief of whether a person is a true believer. It is foundational and thus cannot be questioned. Of course, I questioned it.
What is the subplot? In a nutshell, the view is that ALL people are terrible, hell bound sinners, and as such we all stand guilty before a holy God who will judge us. God therefore sent his only son, Jesus, to pay for our sins on our behalf, thus putting us in good standing with God. That’s what atonement means. The implication is that Jesus isn’t so much saving us from our sins as he is saving us from God. A scary, angry, judgmental, harsh, exacting, punitive God. I refer to this as Sniper God atonement.
Did you know there are other atonement theories?
- Satisfaction/Penal substitution: This is the most common theory of modern Christianity and it is the one I just described. In the Reformed traditions, Jesus only loves and died for those he will save, not for everyone. The rest are purposed for destruction. Thus his death is effectual for only a few. Thomas Aquinas widened the net much further by making the death potential rather than actual, thus all people are savable, but they have to choose it. Do you see how evangelism is birthed here?
- Ransom: Jesus death was paid to Satan to get people back from his evil grasp. Thus Satan is seen as the controller of the dark, evil world and owns all souls unless Jesus beets him in a cosmic game of chess, or maybe you prefer a UFC event.
- Moral Influence: The death of Jesus is archetypal of how martyrs influence moral change. Faith in Jesus equates to behavior modification and saves us from badness.
The bible says Jesus will save people from their sins (Matt 1:21, 1 Tim 1:15),but doesn’t really detail how his death does this. But did you know that that most of the places in the bible where it talks about salvation, it doesn’t mention sin? Salvation was seen as what modern people call conversion. Conversion means to change ones mind. Churches today don’t see salvation like this.
In my doctoral thesis I prove that sin is not limited to our deeds, but is ultimately a necessary context of non-faith (Rom 14:23). Sin is unawareness. Our bad deeds always come from low consciousness. (otherness is low consciousness, love is high consciousness) To be saved from sin means to be raised in consciousness or awareness (belief), and then to act in accordance with that consciousness (action). Jesus called this loving others (Luke 10:27). Paul called this being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2). The Greek word to change one’s mind is Metanoia, which is translated as repentance. The writer of Hebrews calls this enlightenment (Heb 6:4). In fact all religions call a transforming awareness enlightenment.
Atonement is one of those areas that I believe the church really needs to re-examine. Most people think that sin is a bad thing we do. This translates into a theology that says: “If you are naughty, God will be angry and punish you. Jesus will make you into a good person that God will love.” Is it any wonder people are confused?
How is that Good News? The scandal of the Christian faith is that rather than destroying sinners, God loves them (John 3:16), thus leveling the playing field and making one people out of all distinctions and categories. Sin actually unites us.
When I began to question atonement models, I was quickly cautioned and even rebuked or diminished because this subject wasn’t really up for debate. The question that no one was able to answer was: “If Jesus died to take away all my sin, then why do I still sin? If Jesus then died to take away the punishment for my sin, then why should I concern myself with sin any longer? If Jesus transforms sinners then why are churches full of them?”
Why is everything always about sin? Is it me or does it seem the church has lost its focus? The obvious answer is the system doesn’t run on good news, it runs on bad news (sin).
I invite you to try these questions out on your pastor. See if you are not given a chicken and the egg scenario, something like this: “Well, you see, he has forgiven you for your sins, but you are still a sinner. You have to fight against sin, to show that you are grateful for him forgiving you. Then when you do accidentally sin, he will forgive you again. Faith is about struggle with sin, not sinless perfection.” Behind it all is behavior modification based in the fear of hell.
I’m not the only one who got trapped in this feedback loop. I’ll bet you did too. This loop traps people into a behavior based faith system or works righteousness. It keeps our churches and small groups and bible studies full, but obscures the atonement of restoration.
I have a solution if you are willing to consider it. It’s kind of radical. I believe it has always been radical.
What if Jesus death actually atoned for all the sin of all humanity? What if there was absolutely nothing standing between any person who ever lived and God? If this were true, then the most religious people in our world would be the unbelievers (Matt 7:21). The power structures that separate people would fall apart since no one could quarantine and patent or promote their own God experience. All experiences would be valid and varied. This would only be possible if the death of Jesus is a culminating event in history, that is archetypical for a much larger, broader and diverse and ongoing Christ experience.
Easter then would not be about replaying an historical event over two thousand years ago, but it would be the present and ongoing christ experience known as enlightenment. Atonement would be an awareness of present things being restored. The incremental changing of ones mind is transformation (Isa 28:13).
Do you see how Christmas (incarnation) and Easter (atonement) become present experiences?
It turns out the cosmic aspect of Christ has been saving people long before Christianity ever existed (1 Cor 10:4, Num 21:9), and it continues everyday in all people in all religions. Abraham wasn’t a Christian. Neither was Moses, neither was Jesus. Christianity was never intended to be an alternative religion to which we must be converted. It was the Christ revelation that completed all purified religions starting with Judaism. Atonement is completion, not initiation, thus it is restoration.
This doesn’t diminish in any way the Jesus story, in fact it makes it even bigger. It does so by exposing an atonement that is perfectly represented and displayed in the Jesus story, but is in no way limited to the Jesus story. It is an atonement story that has been told in every tradition throughout human history, and is being retold in every life that is living today. It doesn’t belong to Christianity, but it is beautifully displayed there. Instead of seeing oneness with God as a single event in history, it can now be seen in every atom of the universe, quantum science is proving this. Maybe this is what Paul was explaining to the Philippians when he said at the name of Jesus ever knee should bow in heaven and on earth (Phil 2:10).
Maybe Easter is good news because it is the end of a low consciousness sniper God, and the beginning of a complete and total awareness and the experience of oneness with God’s very being, which we experience everyday in each other.
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The word God has become a nebulous term in our culture. For example, if I say the word dog, one person will think of a poodle while another person thinks about a German Shepherd. Our unique experience with or relationship to a particular type of dog dramatically influences our grasp of the term. Yet despite the diversity of the breeds, if we discuss the dog experience as a whole, we find the common ground between us.
It is similar with the God experience.
God is not a feeling, but can be felt deeply and intensely. God is not knowledge but God can be known on one level, yet completely unknowable at another level. The New Testament and the Hebrew scriptures have several hundred names for God, the Quran has over ninety, Hinduism has several hundred names. Not unlike the breeds of dogs, the names of God bring to the forefront unique attributes or aspects of God. One aspect of God is known by science as energy, some call it the universe or something else.
If we were to list off the names of God along with the attributes of those names (Ex: Elohim: Strength, power or Yireh: Provider, the one who sees) we would essentially be stitching together a Theology. A theological construct is simply the framework by which a person tries to understand God. Some theologies are very complex and integrated, requiring years of seminary training to unpack. Some theologies are very simple and organic. It is important to know that every person who has ever lived has a theology of some sort. Countless divisions exist because people disagree about theology. This says more about us than it does about God.
The key is that a theology is NOT God. It is humanity’s conceptual framework to try and understand the God experience. I believe it was Ray Anderson who said: “The acts of God are the hermeneutical horizon for the being of God.” In other words, until you experience God’s kindness, you don’t really know if God is kind. You could read about it, you could intellectualize it, you could even feel warm and cozy about the sentiment of kindness, but without the experience, you don’t really grasp God’s kindness. This is the same for all attributes of God. Thus we can see why there are so many theologies, because there are so many experiences of God.
This means that religions are essentially campaign managers for a particular God experience.
Whenever a person has a God experience, they usually make sacred the means to that experience.
- If you had the experience during a worship service, then worship becomes sacred.
- If you had the experience during the reading of sacred text, then study becomes sacred.
- If you had the experience during poverty, pain or suffering, then suffering becomes sacred.
- If you had the experience during meditation, then meditation becomes sacred.
Of course the more people who have the same experience via the same means will all gather together to participate in those practices. This can be good so long as we know the difference between the means to the experience and the actual experience. Sadly, far to many religious services are all about the means and there is little if any experience.
Since we are talking about God, religion and experience, let me say a word about atheism.
It is not uncommon in our culture to see competitive religions diminishing the God’s of other religions. You would never see a Christian pastor begin a sermon on mercy by saying: “Allah the most merciful, the especially merciful,” yet that is how nearly every chapter in the Quran begins. The Mosque or Synagog will not be kneeling to a crucified Jesus. This is because each holds one experience of God above another. We all do this. We play favorites. This is another way of saying that if they believe Jesus is God then they usually do not believe that Allah is God. They are atheistic toward Allah. The Muslim and Jew are atheistic toward Jesus in that they do not see him as God, but only a prophet.
The atheist then is the person who simply goes one God concept further than everyone else. They are atheistic toward Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, Buddha and any other experience. Yet they believe deeply in randomness, time, physics and chance. Thus we are all atheistic in that there are certain aspects of God (God concepts) that we don’t believe or won’t believe. For example: one believes in divine healing, another is atheistic toward that God experience. Thus all people are only partial believers as well as partial atheists.
This is the landscape into which we ultimately begin our God conversation. It’s actually a level playing field, but we perceive it as unequal.
The common solution is to relegate the God conversation to the sphere of personal preference. It doesn’t really work to do that. It’s not as simple as saying you like green, I like blue, you like Buddha, I like Jesus. The atheist is not off the hook here either, because while they may not subscribe to a particular God campaign, they most certainly have a God experience, although they will call it something different. It is only an alternate faith commitment, but it is still a faith commitment.
Exodus 3:14 (a story to which all religions subscribe) tells the story of God telling moses that His/Her name is “I am that I am.” In other words, God is the ground of all being.
- Being is NOT knowing, but contains knowledge.
- Being is NOT feeling, but contains emotion.
- Being is NOT a theology, but contains ideas.
- Being is NOT a sacred text, but shows up in them.
- Being is NOT the past, or future, but an experience with the present.
You see, when we ask “Who is God?” we are essentially asking “Where is God?” This is the human cry for experience. It is a cry for help or contact in this moment. For example; we hear God is good, then we ask where is God in all the suffering today? We hear God is merciful, then where is God in the oppression that we feel? We hear God is love, then where is God in this world?
These are real questions. They are forming a God concept; a theology. If the God experience does not show up, the concept will be unbelief or confusion. Simple as that. If the experience appears, the concept will follow in order to try and make sense of the experience. Simple as that.
So the underlying question in our world is that of experience, not concept. How can we experience God?
There was a time in my life when I would answer this question by giving you all kinds of things to do. I won’t do that anymore. Most religions approach it by giving you concepts until you believe and invalidate any experience but their own. So you have to be careful in your search. I’d hate for anyone to search for God and end up with a religion. That is the worts possible exchange.
The best I can offer now is to start with being. If you don’t yet know God’s being, then start with yours. Be open to receive and be ready to do some soul work and go deeper. Be honest about the crud you find within yourself. Celebrate the wonder that is there too. Find a way to live authentically and fully present within each moment, and ask that if there is a God that He/She will be revealed. This will be the beginning of the experience. You’ll begin to see the Thing beyond everything. Once you have the experience, then you can learn about the various means to go deeper, and that is where religious systems can offer you some real help. The richness of the traditions, the community and the teachings will greatly supplement and empower the experience, but they are not the experience. So long as you never confuse the two, you will be ok whether you are a part of a system or not. If you mistake them, you’ll either be a part of a system for the wrong reasons, or you’ll be angry, proud or alone.
Each name for God is a different experience of God. Find a name that resonates with your experience, then be open to other names.
By learning the experience first, the concept of God will become more clear. This is how we can move beyond conversion and competition, and into completion.
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Whenever you watch an athlete or a sporting event, have you ever payed attention to the pause? There is always a pause. There is a moment just prior to the action, where the athlete coalesces their emotions, their mind, and their body into a single focused purpose. We see it with the gymnast, the diver, the weightlifter, the swimmer, the downhill racer and the list goes on.
This pause exists before a person goes on stage to speak, sing or perform. This pause exists for the mechanic when engaged in a frustrating or challenging task. This pause precedes a worship ceremony, a big hunt, or some big news. Many people begin and end their day with this heavily loaded, purposeful, pause, we call that meditation or contemplation.
All things have both a positive and negative space. There is the positive space of the action that precedes and follows the pause. There is also the negative space of the pause in-between the action. Don’t confuse negative space as nothing. That space is filled with something amazing.
I know it sounds cliché, but the pause is pregnant. In fact this is the perfect description because it is the vital point from which a transcendent moment is possible. Within the negative space of the pause is the possible birth of greatness, achievement, advancement, satisfaction, survival, and countless changes to life as we know it. It is not an overstatement to say that all advancement, achievement and progress grew out of the pause.
We are told that the ancient King Solomon was the wisest person that ever lived. He said; “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” (Ecclesiastes 7:4). The Hebrew word ( ֵאֶבל -abal) means to mourn, and Solomon is contrasting the wise heart and the fools heart by saying one is mourning and the other rejoicing. This doesn’t mean wisdom is equated to feeling depressed or downtrodden or sad. Nor is it saying that rejoicing is a bad thing.
Solomon is speaking about being sober minded.
What is sober-mindedness? Wisdom is the skill to use the knowledge we possess. A sober mind is free of clutter and distraction. It isn’t swayed like a mind under the influence of a drug, an emotion, or an ego.
Thus if we would use the most skill, we must free our mind both from and toward something.
An athlete can train and practice all their life and a life’s effort may come down to a single moment or performance. We’ve all seen people choke on the moment and deep down we all know what that is about. It’s a loss of concentration. A loss of focus. Another way of saying this is that they have become distracted by the immensity of the moment.
A loss of focus IS a loss of skill.
It doesn’t matter how good we are in practice if we are not able to bring that sober mindedness with us to the moment when it counts the most. The difference between the Gold medal and any other rank is far less in the preparedness of ones physical abilities and more about the skill of the pause. Why else would events produce such disappointment.
So what are we to do? Many of us are not seeing the progress in our life that we would like to see. Many of us feel like areas of our life have plateaued despite us putting a ton of effort and output into them. I’m convinced the problem is not a performance problem. The problem does not reside in our doing, but in our pausing.
You see, the pause is not about doing. The pause is about being. A sober mind produces well-bing or shalom. Our world is full of millions of life-coaches that are trying to get us to do more so you can be more. Yes, many of us need to get off the couch and actually try something, but there are many who are trying and are still not seeing the fruit of their effort. If that is you, then perhaps your coaching is 180 degrees out of sync. In my approach to coaching I help people learn to pause first. We start with being then move to doing. I believe doing flows from the being, not vice-versa as the world tells us.
We must understand that a pause is spiritual in its nature. It is sobriety with all that is at stake. It is our alignment with the present moment, The Presence. It is a vital aspect of our humanity and we all share it in common. Are we really surprised then that peace, well-being, confidence, execution, and optimal performance actually originate from the deep well of the pause?
I know I talk a lot about spirituality, religion, God and life. I also know that those terms are loaded for many of us. I believe that too often we see religion trying to get people out of their lives and into another life, or some exclusive system of belief. This too is a distraction from the base form of experience that we all have access to and I think it causes people to label themselves or others as unbelievers simply because not everyone subscribes to such exclusive claims of faith.
The pause is found in the deeper parts of all religions, but the pause is not about religion at all. The pause allows each of us access to the deep waters within all of us. Scripture says the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook (Prov 18:4) and that deep calls to deep (Psalms 42:7). The deep within us, connects to the Depth with the pause. It receives all comers. It’s pure. It’s unfettered. It’s simply a person finding themselves juxtaposed between the present moment and the eternal moment. It’s where we recognize that the past has brought us to this moment and it has all been purposeful, useful, and instructional. It’s where we look forward in anticipation and action by bringing that sober mind of the present with us as we go.
So it turns out that the pause that we think is beginning point of faith, is also what we discover at the higher levels of religion is actually the ending point of faith as well. In one sense, that is all there really is to faith. If that makes sense to you then you can touch Proximity and you can do it without the scaffolding of a religious system. Your faith is between you and God (Rom 14:22).
May I encourage you to find the pause today. Then acknowledge it and be willing go deeper if the Deep calls you on. All you have to lose is distraction, and all you have to gain is wisdom.