Go Your Way!

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I like stories. Stories are the only containers that can hold expansive truth. Data, facts, dogmas and theologies can only hold the small stuff. I think that is why all great spiritual teachers use parables. Story allows us to go beyond what is and see what really is.

One such story is found in Luke 17:11-19. When we are a part of the church delivery system, we interpret scripture within that bias. Now that I have been outside for almost four years, I can finally interpret Jesus words as the outsider that he was. I hope you find this as refreshing as I do.

The story tells of ten samaritan lepers. Samaritans were considered “dogs.” They were not viewed as true Jews because they lacked the genealogy and heritage since they were half-breeds. Thus Samaritans were seen as foreigners, and were always outcasts within the Jewish culture. Jewish prejudice prevented them from even associating with those kinds of people.

On top of being Samaritans, the ten were also lepers. This meant that they were really relegated to the very fringe of society. They lived always outside the security of the city walls and usually in or near the city dump. Scavenging was a way of life for obvious reasons. Our term for Hell (Gehenna) is the name for the city dump. It is where the fringe of the fringe lived. Wild dogs were a part of the scenery as were terrible human conditions as they lived among the smells of burning and rotting waste. This is where we get the ideas and imagery of Hell. This is the context for weeping and gnashing of teeth. Luke 13:28 depicts this reality of how some people dwell outside the city.

Back to the lepers. One day they see Jesus coming into the city and they cry out to him to have mercy on them. Jesus knows they are Samaritans and gives them the command to “Go show yourselves to the Priests.” This was the Jewish law of Leprosy found in Leviticus 13.

Jesus is offering the foreigners the Jewish system for purification. It was a sort of test of their true motives. On their way they see they are healed. Nine continue to the priest and one goes back to Jesus (more on him in a minute). Most bible teachers never say much about the nine beyond the fact that they see them as ungrateful. But I don’t think this is the case.

The nine are grateful. So grateful that they get to go and be a part of the system for once in their lives. If the priests deem them clean, they get to live under the Jewish system and within the safety of the walls.  The nine lepers actually depict what most modern churches would call the faithful converts. These are those that happily take all the rules, regulations, dogmas, and exchange their life for the life provided and validated by the institution. They were happy to embrace systemic acceptance, and based on where they were the day before, this was certainly a base form of deliverance. This is a key point that is often missed.

The former leper went back to Jesus and was praising God along the way. He simply fell at Jesus feet. Jesus asked, “Were not ten cleansed?” (key distinction) Jesus tells him that his faith has healed him and to “Go your way.”  This is huge because he didn’t say, “Go to the priest.”

Jesus offered all ten lepers his love and mercy and cleansed them all (the priest didn’t do it). All were cleansed, but only one was healed. Remember healing always means liberation.  All ten were offered enrollment back into the social status and religion delivery system and for nine of them that was more than enough. The one leper probably remembered what it was like to be outcasted by the elite and wasn’t wanting to do that to others.

What about you? Is the system more than enough for you? For most of my audience, its not. Yet for many in our country, their church has created a distinction for themselves by diminishing those they don’t consider “saved” and as a result it makes them feel superior to others.

One in ten can see the thing beyond the things. One in ten found the contents rather than the container. This leper was not only cleansed, but was healed. He was delivered into his own life and was free to bypass the priest and the system’s appraisal. He was not only free from the oppression and suffering of his disease and from being a social outcast, but now he was free from the burden that the religious system would now require of him. He was free from being stuck on one side or the other, he was liberated to the middle way.

In one sense, he became another outcast again, since he remains a cultural and religious outsider. By recognizing the source, he can now view the system for what it is. It may have value, but it doesn’t really free anyone. His community is now with others who share this higher consciousness.

In my experience, this ratio is about right. Only about one in ten people can see beyond their delivery system. Christians vehemently over-defend their corner church and it preaching. Atheists vehemently diminish story and shrink into fact.  All of us lepers are free to live within the safety and protection of the city walls, but now, only a percentage can go back and forth between where we were and where we are. Only one in ten lepers can live freely in heaven or in hell. Only one has the freedom to no longer separate himself from any others. He found The Way.

Thoughts on Orlando.

There is nothing like a national tragedy to evoke people’s fundamental beliefs. This particular event struck at least three major cultural themes: Islam, guns and gays. Each topic will split most dinner conversations yet alone this mirepoix.

Just like you, I’ve heard just about everyone’s take on it and our best seems to be to blame another group.  Who do you blame for this horrible thing?

In one sense, I get why this happens. We are all trying to wrap our heads around what happened and without a wide-angle lens we use others to distance ourselves from this tragic reality by pointing out that the system is broken and we think we have figured out where the problem lies- no surprise, it perfectly coincides with our prejudices.

Since I focus much of this blog on the path to spiritual maturity, I’m going to take issue with both Islam and Christianity briefly.

It is true that Islam can be a peace loving religion. Our political candidates love to tout this as a fact regularly. So, where are the muslim Imams who will get on the news and decry the acts of terror that we see? Where are the mosques that are inclusive of homosexuality? It’s frustrating, but the answer may surprise you. This religion is still in its early stage and is trying to find its way. Many Muslims in America are here because they are seeking to bring Islam (albeit dragging and kicking) into the new millennia. Islam has not had the freedom to think independently from the herd and it hasn’t undergone the self criticism that Christianity has and as a result, there is a tremendous fear culture that still exists. Physical violence is how it has dealt with dissidents. Not unlike every religion in its own history. Islam is a late bloomer and it takes a lot to change fundamental beliefs.

Every religion has its extreme wacko’s. ISIS sympathizers are the evil fringe of Islam, and wacko pastors like Roger Jimenez belong to Christianity. Jimenez, from Sacramento, made news by stating the Orlando shooting made the city a little bit safer be eliminating gays which are synonymous for predators.

Countless Christians decry such hateful comments along with every normal person in the world. But while its easy for Christianity to throw stones at those who would kill others, lets not forget that this is the faith system that has shot abortion doctors. And while most believers would not think of killing gay people, most are nowhere near accepting and inclusive to homosexuality. Most are content to believe that God will do all the gay killing later on. So on a heart level, most churches aren’t much better than the shooter.

This brings me back to my original statement. Large tragedies expose our fundamentalism. These events entrench us into our myopia and we polarize. This of course sells on the news and gives us all something to fear and hate which are two walls of our spiritual prison.

We don’t seem to learn our lessons because we aren’t learning anymore. Instead we insist that our perspective is the only correct one and rather than learn from others, we fix our course and dig in our heels. This is the very essence of fundamentalism. The only antidote is humility. We must be students or learners (disciples). Then and only then will we gain a wider perspective of the truth and become transformed by it. Until then our only option is to try and get other to conform to our slice of truth.

My heart goes out to the families and friends and our world as seen through Orlando. May we find peace during this difficult time, but more so may we realize that the problem is not them, its us. If we can liberate from our fundamental beliefs, the world will follow.

I have addressed these subjects in previous blogs if you would like to review them.

Homosexuality

Terrorism

Pick Up Your Matt!

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I’ve read or heard this story at least a hundred times before I saw what I’m about to share with you this morning. So get ready for a sermon that your not likely to hear at your corner church.

John 5 tells of a mystical pool of water in Jerusalem called Bethesda. It was believed that if the still waters become “stirred” that the spirit of God was moving and the first person in the pool would receive healing.

Healing is synonymous with liberation.

An invalid had been sitting by this pool for 38 years when Jesus comes over to him. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked.

The invalid tells Jesus that no one will help him into the water and that others get in first. Some say these are excuses. Perhaps, but they are his imprisoned reality nonetheless.

I think religion has created a reality like that of the invalid. It sits by the pool where magical stuff is supposed to happen, but for many it never delivers. It doles out hope via its programs and just repeats the process.

Jesus drops a nuclear bomb in order to alter the invalid’s reality. He tells the man; “Get up, pick up your matt, and walk.

Most sermons stop here and celebrate that Jesus healed the man. Instead, let’s consider what Jesus just said.

It was the Jewish Sabbath. Keeping the religious day holy meant not working. Carrying a bed matt around was work. So was walking around. Jesus was saying; “Your liberation comes by breaking the Ten Commandments”

In fact the bible tells us that Jesus message and subsequent liberation was constantly tied to breaking the sabbath. That’s really important. This is because he claims to be the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28).  In other words, Jesus is that which is beyond all the ritual, dogma and religious practice. He is the actual liberty that all religion is supposed to provide but never does. He is liberation from religion by relating to ultimate reality via faith, not rules. He is The Thing beyond the things.

Sadly, our world is caught up in the things. Religious leaders are caught up in their things, their buildings, their staff, their budgets, their plans and programs, and their doctrine. Most are struggling to get by and Jesus is asking, “Do you want to be healed?”  Lawbreakers experience a liberty that abiders can’t possess (more on this in a second).

The invalid in this story parades around on the Sabbath with his bed and is the talk of the town. Open violations of law are not good for a system that uses fear for behavior modification. The loss of fear of the individual equates to the loss of the system’s power. Jesus knows this.

What is a system to do? They diminish the invalid. They cast doubt on the liberty and ultimately squash anyone who subscribes to a reality beyond their own. Those in power like to define reality for others.

Later, Jesus catches up to the man and says: “I see you are well, sin no more so that nothing worse will happen to you.”  This doesn’t mean that his sin caused him to become an invalid, and that future sin will bring something worse. No, it means his freedom, expressed by his present sin of violating the sabbath, would get him killed by the religious elite. Even the lawbreaker has to abide by at least one law.

Healing and/or liberation is the heart of the gospel (Isa 61:1 Luke 4:18), which tell us that the “good news” is the liberation of the captive. Our world is full of systems (religious and otherwise) that imprison us by pitting us against outsiders. This empowers the system and erodes our humanity. Jesus undermined all of this.

The gospel of liberation is not a world with no rules, but a world governed by one rule: LOVE. If we think we have God within our highly structured, organized, an dogmatic containment system, then we have a religion and not God. If we are afraid to leave that system (that keeps us in by the use of fear) in our search for God/liberty, we have become the invalid. Yes, I read all your emails, I know for a fact that our yearning for God often leads us out of our small religious communities and organizational structures.

Liberty is the ability to see on an entirely different level. It’s called awareness or higher consciousness.  Having the eyes to see and the ears to hear means we can perceive the difference between the essence and its container. This is true of all religions, academics, the arts, sports, businesses, and kingdoms.

This story shows how liberation is being in or from but not of such containers. Will we trust God is calling us if it is “sin”(carrying our matt) that puts us out of the container?

The guy who tried to convert me.

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Have you ever received a post on Facebook where the person writes a long post bemoaning something and then asks you to say a word about how you met, or a word of significance, and then requires you to share or post it on your own timeline. Sometimes these are linked to prayers or good fortune.

When we get these, there is always that point where we feel manipulated. I think they’re appealing to our herd mentality as they appeal for specific action. As a result I never share any of these to my own timeline, but I do let the person know I read their post.

Deeply religious people are kind of like this. I met this guy and we engaged in a brief dialogue. He was using the tribal language that is common in religion and because I was wearing an AC/DC Highway to Hell shirt I think he assumed I was one of those people. I don’t remember his question, but I remember how it made me feel, it was just like the Facebook ploys.

I told him I’d pray for his situation. He paused and looked at me and asked if I was a Christian. I said yes, but perhaps not in the common sense. Immediately, the conversation went into another direction. He wanted to know if I believed the bible. I answered, “I’ve read it nearly 50 times and studied it in its original languages, so I must believe something about it, but do I believe every english word on every page? No.”

Those with fundamental mindsets don’t quite know what to do with me. I’ve traveled a long road of faith so they usually give up trying to convert me, but because I’m both more conservative and more liberal than they assumed, they struggle to pin me down. I’m not dogmatic and I’m very inclusive of other faith systems which causes some to want to debate me, which is code for reject or dismiss me.

And thus the heart of the problem. Be it Facebook or religion, the moment we become rigid, certain and inflexible, is the moment when we develop a plan for everyone else and the world becomes us versus them. Once the lens of otherness overtakes us, unity is only possible if another shares our distinctive convictions. Otherness comes from binary (either/or) thinking.

The cure is always humility. While I’m not the guy who tried to convert me, I’m not other than him either. I too used to try and convert people. I’m not other than the skeptic. I’m not other than the fundy, the flunky, the doubter or the devout. Neither are you. Humility comes from ternary (both/and/other) thinking.

In the end we are all converts. We’re all incrementally converted to the Truth via lifelong processes and many diverse experiences. In fact, the Truth is the only thing that transforms any of us. Only a pursuit of the Truth can free us from binary thinking and nothing is as spiritual as humility.

 

 

Dark Days 6: The Dark Night

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We never begin with the goal of becoming depressed. We don’t plan to go through life disproportionally weighting little things within our velcro brains. Despite how it seems, we don’t end up in dark days because everything around us went to hell. Dark days are placed upon us by a larger, more benevolent force for the purpose of expansion.

If we can’t subscribe to the above thesis, then our only option is to deflect our dark days via a combination of traditional psychotherapy, pharmacological intervention, and CBT.

If this thesis is at least possible, then we have access to a truth narrative big enough to counterbalance our suffering. In this sphere both the mystics and the puritans have something to offer.

St. John of the Cross was a mystic who wrote “The Dark Night of the Soul.” In this work he outlines what he calls our purgation via several nights. Too many from religious backgrounds interpret dark days as apostasy or God being angry and punishing us for our wrongdoings, leaving us in a state of hopelessness. St. John beautifully illustrates the opposite if we have eyes to see it.

A loving parent always weens her child. Similarly, St. John depicts a loving God withholding certain comforts, consolations, and experiences in order that we come to know the essence or nature of God rather than his/her affects. The dark night of the soul is the crucible of suffering through which we come to a deeper, broader understanding of ultimate reality. Dark days are not detours from life, but the portals to a deep life.

Depression and anxiety are the loss of consolations, but faith knows these to be temporary and worthwhile for our inner self (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Henry Scudder was a puritan who wrote “The Christian’s Daily Walk.” For Scudder, the soul suffers due to distempered thoughts. Depression and anxiety are depicted as a court jester blowing a feather aloft in the presence of the king. Dark days are the result of losing the big picture via distraction. Our modern mindset can learn a lot from diligent attention to the long view. Spiritual maturity always provides a perspective which is a corrective lens to the myopia that slinks amidst our darkest days.

C.S. Lewis compares the process of gaining spiritual maturity to that of an unborn baby. The baby, not knowing all that is before it, may very well prefer to stay warm and safe in the womb, and will resent all contractions.

Through the spiritual lens, our dark days are the precursors to a profound expansion if we will give ourselves to the process. Powerlessness introduces us to True Power. The soul’s searchlight of hope shines very dark at first.