2- The Forerunner of Subversion

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Last week we explored how John’s proclamation and baptisms in the wilderness gained the attention of both Church and State. It was a free offering to all people without distinction, not a carrot on a stick to bring people into compliance to the tax violence of the State or the ethical violence of the Religion. It was a widespread message of liberation that sin was no longer keeping people from God, no strings, no loopholes, no exceptions. John is forerunning a subversive kingdom, a promised new world that is not originating from either Church nor State.

When the religious leaders heard about John, they rushed out to the Jordan to investigate. John’s reception of them is anything but a welcome. He pays no homage to their pomp or their process. Calling them a Brood of Vipers (v.7) he makes it really clear that if they truly want to be a part of this New Thing God is doing, then they would need to abandon the prideful power plays that have hijacked historical Judaism (v.9). Like everyone else, they would have to bear fruit in keeping with repentance (V.8). This institutional kingdom was about to be under cut–“The axe is laid to root…” (v.10).

I imagine there was an emergency board meeting once they got back. John’s message was going to be a problem for religion and the main character hasn’t even come on stage yet. What would it look like if people could be forgiven and experience the favor of God without institutional power?

The State also heard about John the Baptist. King Herod actually liked John and found his message quite compelling and perplexing (Mark 6:21). Herod desired to protect John but even the most powerful king is no match for sobering truth. John knew Herod had taken his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, to be his own. John calls it like it is naming them both as adulterers and perhaps even worse.

Herod was content to let this ride, but Herodias would not tolerate having her reputation tarnished so she made Herod throw him in prison, but she wanted him dead. On his birthday Herod wanted Herodias’s daughter (Salomé) to dance for him. She agreed only if he would grant her a request. In front of all the nobles and military Herod promised to give up to half of his kingdom. After the dance, Salomé requested (at her mothers insistence) that Herod provide the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Knowing a King cannot go back on his word, he had John beheaded. Once in the flow of institutional power it’s almost impossible to go against tradition.

Religion and state are two sides of the same coin. They are both extremely powerful and ironically take liberty from people by providing small bits of freedom intermixed with taxation. It’s important we understand the frameworks of power, otherwise we will not really understand the Good News or Gospel. Paul says: we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness… (Ephesians 6:12).

The battle is the same for each of us today. Liberation is series of breaches away from institutional power. The Gospel liberates us from each one in turn. I believe (Corporate Christianity) has neutered the Gospel into a detergent for spot free living. We pay billions to have our naughtiness washed. Of course we slip right back into naughtiness, so institutional religion has created a program that John and Jesus subvert.

I’m not saying the Gospel doesn’t cleanse sin, I’m saying that I’m no longer convinced that “shampoo Christianity” was gospel’s goal. The Gospel is a (good news) message about the arrival of a paradoxical Kingdom.

The Gospel liberates people in a way that Religion and State cannot. It has one rule, institutional power requires many.  The gospel frees everyone to be themselves by vaporizing “otherness” leaving an experience where diversity and unity perfectly coexist.  If you think I’m talking about Heaven, you are correct. If you think I’m talking about a magical place beyond earth, then you’re mistaken. The message John died for was that The Kingdom of God starts now (Matthew 3:2)!

The evidence of the gospel’s power is that it undermines institutional powers. The prophets said long ago that this kingdom was coming. A kingdom where the rule and ruler dwell within, and God forgets all sin (Jeremiah 31:33-34). A kingdom that would be “Good News” to the poor, a binding of broken hearts, liberty to captives, opening of prison doors, and a proclamation of the Lords favor (Isaiah 61:1-2). The sign that this kingdom was coming was that Elijah would return. According to Jesus, John the Baptist was essentially the Elijah of their day.

John’s message that this kingdom had now come was the best news anyone could here, except Religion and State powers. This promised kingdom subverts corruption and abuses to personal power. It derails the institutional status quo. This kingdom of personal power disrupts everything from the inside out. It was never God’s design that people have a king (1 Samuel 8:6). They were to be free and God would govern each from within. Kings create dependents.

To know the Gospel is to have eyes to see it’s subversion. It’s seeing all ruling powers as they are. We must appraise their reach as well as our participation. Joining the Gospel is to re-think (repent) everything. It’s to join each revolution as it becomes visible to you. The Gospel questions all authority. It invites us to leave our three sided prisons. It’s to trust that something bigger, and more expansive is transpiring. Are we awake enough to see it? Jesus said all of this has already been fulfilled (Luke 4:18).

This story of personal power subverting institutional power has been told repeatedly. It’s the backbone of American. It’s the story of Rock-N-Roll. It’s the marginalized rising up. It’s the resistance of oppression. It’s the basis of civil rights, it’s the Christoform pattern of all life. It’s the foundation of Hollywood blockbusters, the theme in every great song, the Gospel is everywhere people push back against suffering.

Do we now have eyes to see it?

Religion and State can’t see it. John and Jesus were right under the nose of those who should know better and they missed it.

May that not be the case for us.

 

 

1-The Forerunner of Forgiveness.

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Forgiveness becomes a sort of GMO once it finds its way through religious frameworks.  Forgiveness is often sold as a transaction between those who seek it and a God who might withhold it. Once we insert our superstitions and traditions, God is viewed as unsafe. Then we usually fall into three general categories of forgiveness:

  1. Those who see themselves as forgiven, (sometimes good sometimes bad)
  2. Those who don’t believe they are forgiven,
  3. Those that don’t care.

What if forgiveness isn’t a commodity traded by religion? What if every human soul that has ever lived is already forgiven? Is that even possible given what we’ve been taught? How does life change if people aren’t required to appease an angry God? Today we’ll examine John the Baptist and his message of forgiveness. Please note that John’s forgiveness comes before Jesus ministry and death, thus it doesn’t yet contain the ingredients the modern church has put into its message. 

So how did we get here?

Forgiveness presupposes an offense. If no offense takes place, no forgiveness is required. In religion, sin is always the offense to God, not our humanity. Christianity is not the only religion talking about forgiveness. Judaism’s law and sacrificial system was an intricate behavior modification program to purify sins and remove our offenses to Yahweh. In Islam, Allah is not the friend of the sinner unless that person is truly remorseful for their sins and commits to live out the five pillars of Islam. In Hinduism and Buddhism, forgiveness isn’t as vital as Karma, which is viewed as God justly doling back what people give out.

Clearly, the default mode of humanity is to try and get on God’s good side….or else. Religion is the infrastructure invented to convince us that God will pick us on field day. It’s the “Star On Machine” in Dr. Seuss’s tale of the Sneetches. The key ingredient within all religion is the justice of God. We’ve mistakenly assumed that God thinks just like we do–based on retribution. Religion ratifies “an eye for an eye.”

The bible is constantly subverting religion’s agenda. It’s message is that forgiveness comes from God and not from religion. It never did. Never will. John the Baptist had Jewish parents who were both righteous before (forgiven) God (Luke 1:6). So apparently religious frameworks can function if people live in faith. So how do their ingredients compare with modern Christianity? Why was their son, John a different story?

John lived in the wilderness after he grew up (Luke 1:80). He didn’t live in the temple’s shadow, do ceremonies,or eat and dress like others. After twenty plus years in the wild, you tend to be a bit gamey and off the grid. At his birth, John’s dad prophesied over him that he would prepare the way for the Lord and give to people the knowledge that there sins were forgiven (Luke 1:76-77). It’s a similar prophesy given 500 years earlier in Malachi 3:1. Thus it was unimaginable to the religious minded that the forerunner of forgiveness did not emerge from their practice.  

John wore camel skin and ate locusts with honey (Mark 1:6). How else do you eat a locust? After thirty years of incubation, the prophecy his dad put in him had germinated into a proclamation to anyone who would listen. Matt 3:5 says they came from surrounding regions.

Baptizing was a ritual of purification and thousands came not to do another ritual in hopes of forgiveness, but to see if the forgiveness was for real. Mark 1:4 says they came for a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” or in other words they came to “rethink (metanoia–repentance) forgiveness for sins.”  This is the first direct to consumer ad campaign where forgiveness came to everyone and by-passed the temple leadership. No animal sacrifice. No tithe. No offering. No high priest or even a low one for that matter. Just a caveman dunking people and proclaiming they are good with God.

Is that how your church spins it?

How did this happen? It’s not that everyone drip-dried their way home as forgiven people. The proclamation meant they came to the river already forgiven-many confessing as they came (Matt 3:6). Baptism symbolized getting “all-in” to the fact that God has finally fulfilled the promise of forgetting our sin (Jeremiah 31:34). This is what John meant by “Rethink, the Kingdom is at hand” (Matt 3:2). Jesus was also baptized by John. God afterward proclaimed in the biggest TWEET in history, that he was so pleased to offer this.

Note that this forgiveness wasn’t based on substitutionary atonement yet. Jesus hadn’t died yet. Forgiveness wasn’t based on temple laws or rituals. It wasn’t good deeds or alms. It was simply the mercy of God to all comers. John inaugurated a scandal. One that he and Jesus would not survive. It’s still a scandal! Try telling a devout Christian, Jew or Muslim that God forgives everyone and they don’t need to subscribe to a religion to get it. What do you think will happen?

The first response to forgiveness is disbelief, but it need not stay there.

HERE are three responses to forgiveness:

  1. The religious mind will continues in unbelief because it sees this as too easy-they call it cheap grace.
  2. Likewise the apathetic, or those who love wrongdoing also remain in disbelief because they are too asleep or distracted to hear their “Ollie ollie in come free!”  I don’t think anyone dies unforgiven! We die throughout life because we can’t believe forgiveness is true for us.
  3. The last response to forgiveness is to really hope it’s true. These went out to see John for themselves and went home living in a new world–one where God isn’t evening a score, but healing the wound.

God’s justice is not based in retribution, but restoration. Religion makes righteousness the byproduct of a moral score card. (If you do everything right, you’ll obtain righteousness). Righteousness is actually the means of healing everything. (It heals the wound, closes the gap, makes things right) God isn’t mad, or distant, or giving us a stink-eye. God is all in! Through Jesus, God is baptized with us, in us, and through us. No religion, no transaction, no exclusions, nothing stands between any of us and God–NOTHING.

Do you believe this? If so, what changes for you? Nothing to buy, do, go or say. We are just forgiven!!!! Is your theological “wine skin” big enough? Do you see how this levels the playing field for everyone? Paul says in Rom 3:23 “No distinction…We have all fallen short.” Does your inner accuser think you are the exception?

John’s message prepared the way for Jesus’ message to the woman caught in sin-Where are you accusers? (John 8:10).  So I ask you to check your soul. Are you able to accept forgiveness?  John’s message is for us to rethink everything and then get “all-in” to our lives.

May John’s message become true for you.

 

 

5- Living, Moving & Being

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I’ve spent the last month breaking down Paul’s sermon in Athens as a way of opening up the modern God conversation. Sometimes we need to look deeper at things or else we skim over the depth of our lives. Skimming is far too easy when we read this story.

Modern people don’t possess the historical framework or context to understand this story and as a result, we import into the scripture our own presuppositions and theological frameworks. This is known as eisegesis and it’s a big no no when interpreting the Bible. Eisegesis causes the Bible to say what we want rather than what it actually says. If we’re careful, we can avoid this mistake.

We’ll start by gaining the context through some Greek history. This will illuminate Paul’s approach to addressing the God question and than we will continue to contrast Paul’s theology with what we see in the modern church and in religion as a whole. Lastly we’ll touch on the implications that bubble up from Paul’s Alternative Orthodoxy.

Epimenides was a Greek philosopher and poet from Crete dating around the 6th century BC.  Within the Greek culture he gained a quasi-mythical status after he reportedly fell asleep in Zeus’s cave for fifty-seven years. When he awoke he became a prophet and purified Athens some of the smaller deities and their unorthodox Cretan belief that Zeus had died.

Paul actually quotes Epimenides twice in the New Testament, Once in Titus 1:12–“One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.””

The second quote is found within the passage we’ve been exploring in Acts 17 but first I’ll share the original poem from Epimenides.

“They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one.

Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.

But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,

For in you we live and move and have our being.”

Now we have a context.

Now we can see what Paul is actually doing here. Paul is not playing “My God is bigger than your god” with those at the Areopagus. He’s actually affirming their belief, not undermining it. He’s not trying to convert them away from their belief, he’s completing it by providing a wider framework to understand it in a new way.

How many Christians run with this passage about living, moving, and being IN a God that never dies without the slightest thought that it was originally written about Zeus. How many Christians diminish Greek mythology as untrue, but then live a binary life of Platonic dualism, separating everything between the sacred or the secular, the valid from the invalid?

Paul’s approach is hidden between the lines. Other religions are not a problem for Paul because he is inclusive not exclusive. His theology is bigger and wider than others. In (v.27) he says that “God is actually not far from each one of us.” This statement clearly shows Paul doesn’t see himself as being close to God while these “Pagans” are far away. There isn’t a distinction here. So what does a church look like today if they adopt Paul’s posture?

Later, when Paul talks about God appointing a man that will rise from the dead (v.31) the Greeks really want to hear more, but not for the reasons most of us think. Most will presuppose the Athenian’s interest is in Jesus (eisegesis). It’s partially right, their interest was likely more about proving Zeus’s immortal power. So if Zeus (their framework) appoints a righteous man, then that man is probably worth hearing about. Paul helps them come to Christ by way of Zeus.

Living, moving and being are experiences. They are not religious activities, they are not frameworks of achievement, self promotion, or works. They are not dogmas, or rituals of doing. They are ontological-they are all about being. They are about existing. Life, breath and everything are all encompassing. Living moving and being is accessible to all creation. Paul takes the poem about Zeus and basically says, “my belief in God is exactly the same even though I come from a different religion. The problem with both our religions is that neither is big enough. Yet despite the infinite scale and power of God, the dwelling place of God is within us all. The place of experiencing this infinite power is in the everyday experience of living, moving, and being. Our temples are too small.”

Living, moving and being are not limited to Sunday morning. The meeting place of God is not in temples made my man, but in each and every moment. If we can wake up to this reality, we will appreciate Paul’s theology. God dwells only in the eternal moment, never in the past, never in the future. The presence is only in the present.

A lot of times people are confused about how to handle those who have a different religion. We’ve been trained to steer clear of religion and politics. Now there is a trend to be on the offense, to attack or criticize those of differing beliefs. This is not a defense for the faith, it’s the reason churches are shrinking. I believe the trend to be “spiritual but not religious” is actually a move toward conformity to Paul’s theology. It is a category of great expansion and inner awareness.

The test of faith is not in our profession of belief, it’s not our status within some religion, it’s in how we are experiencing this moment. How are we living? How do we move? Who are we? Now we have come full circle from the first episode. The question of who or what is God takes us outward toward religion, but Paul shows us that God is the ground of all BEING.

What happens when we just go for a walk? When we reflect upon our life’s path? The Ground or God of all being is always with you and me, and that is the healthiest place for us to start or RESTART or soul. Perhaps the path outside your front door is your road of inner experience. How will you experience the moment? Will you stay distracted or will you be here now?

 

4- Nations of Feelers and Crawlers.

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This series is exploring Paul’s approach to the God conversation, which lately is the conversation very few people actually want to have. We dodge the question because things immediately get weird or tense, especially if someone religious is in the room. The church could do a much better job with this question. Too often it answers back with finger pointing, fear tactics, threats or power plays. The church sees itself in competition (if not war) with other religions, belief systems, or ideas, and that is our clue that the Christian faith has gone off track.

By now, we should be gaining a glimpse of how different Paul’s Christianity is from today’s. Pauls is an invitation to go deeper, right where we are, because the altar of the unknown God has relocated to life, breath and everything. Paul’s admonition is not a more dogmatic theology, to become politically involved, or more aggressive in on our apologetics. Paul’s faith never avoids reason, but it doesn’t stop with reason either, it continues into inner experience. His message was so scandalous that the religious vowed to kill him (Acts 23:12). It’s a scandal today. There are people who invalidate movement to online ministry.

Sadly, some of our most divided, polarized groups are those from religious frameworks. These produce much of the war, hatred, prejudice and division on our planet. The unbelieving world sees this and rightly opts out, but unfortunately they often toss the baby out with the bathwater.  If people of faith could adopt Paul’s anthropology, it would transform the church from an exclusive contender to an inclusive restorer.

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” Acts 17: 26-27

We are all different and different is good. Different is the design. The times create differences. Location, geography, and culture create differences. Modernity and intelligence create differences. Preferences create differences. This is all exactly how it’s supposed to be. Yet within every difference, within every time, within every life is the burning God question, that of existence, purpose and being.

Where did we get the idea that we needed to make everyone believe like we do? The great commission of Matthew 28 says to make disciples (students) of everyone of all that Jesus taught. What if baptism isn’t so much about conversion, as it is helping people to wake up (resurrect) and get “all in” to the “Flow” (trinity) of their lives.  Paul’s theology points us to a new, wider place, one where he personally lived the great commission. Helping a person to believe and become free (teachings of Jesus-Gospel) is not converting them to a religion. A unified belief is not the same as a single framework for God.

Is there a part of you that wants to “kill” me?

Once I learned this, my online ministry exploded. Once I quit trying to convert people to an alternative religion, I became free to help people complete their exploration of God through the Christ experience. Two totally different things.

That is why Paul starts where he does. He knows we are all different. He never judges a person based on their belief, but based on their proximity to God. His admonitions help shore up the places where we lose sight of God or lose faith. Paul knows that God gives life, breath, and everything to all people who all bear Gods image. There are no “others” in his mind only variations in proximity.

Paul shows us that all people of all times have tried to address the God question as they “feel” their way toward him. He is not picking apart the means here. He is not addressing the frameworks, systems, or institutions, only that each and every one is trying their best. Some with more success than others, each with an equal sincerity.

Sincerity matters.

Modern Christianity must seem so hostile to Paul. Too often religion is defined by what it’s against. It argues, debates, and diminishes those who are different. Look around, does the church believe that different is good or bad (or evil)? Along the way we became entrenched into one side of a binary system (thanks Plato) and now we fight tooth and nail to defend the means, the apparatus, or the structure. All too often “THE FAITH SYSTEM” (or Box) is more important to us than the seeker of faith. If the seeker doesn’t comply, we retaliate, shun, or diminish. We fail to see that those who are crawling and feeling their way toward God are no different than us.  Unless they do it our particular way, we tell them their efforts don’t count. We are blind to the fact that they feel and crawl in their system, while we do so in ours.

Paul believes strongly that we are all different and different is good. In Romans 14:12 & 22 he explicitly tells us that we have to give account for our own faith, not others and that our faith is between ourselves and God.

I know some of you will struggle with just how open ended Paul’s theology actually is. If our institution, religion, or framework gives us a sense of power, or an identity, or superiority, then you may react in a similar way to the religious of Paul’s day with efforts to suppress, stop, or debate such liberty. Yes a liberated faith does spell trouble for institutions who love the means more than the message, but as more and more people move into the expansive, inclusive theology of Paul, the means are changing. This online ministry is living proof.

For those who are just barely feeling your way. I know just how ambiguous and free floating the God question is. Paul’s invitation to all of us is not to abandon or abolish the frameworks from which we all come. They aren’t bad, just limited, they only incubate us so far. He asks that we don’t become overly attached or distracted by a delivery system that we forsake our own feeling and crawling experience

May we all feel OUR way to God.  “How am I experiencing this moment?”

3- Life, Breath and Everything

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Today, we continue exploring Paul’s sermon in Athens as a way to open up the wider conversation about God. In part one we addressed why the question “Who or what is God?” has become somewhat meaningless and unhelpful in our modern culture. In Part two, we saw how Paul proves that the “unknown God” is actually known by all (vs27), thus eliminating the idea that Christianity was an exclusive new religion, but the means to God for everyone. Today we go deeper into Paul’s alternative orthodoxy as a roadmap into the modern conversation for our religious and culturally diverse world.

Paul never offers those at the Areopagus the sinner’s prayer, or an invitation to accept Jesus into their hearts. No threat of Hell, no requirements for church attendance, not even the requirement to leave their religion, and yet many believed (v30). How is this possible? Paul is NOT using the same framework the church uses today.

Paul’s anthropology is not based in “otherness.” His faith is inclusive, not exclusive. Paul doesn’t differentiate based on paths, but on proximity (v.27). Paul sees the work of God in others who are very different from himself. He doesn’t diminish their belief, he simply starts on common ground, not in their differences. Expansion, not contraction.

“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Acts 17:23-26

Paul goes right to the heart of religion and points out that while we get all worked up about frameworks, protocols and pomp, God is not so impressed. The altars around Athens showed their religious was similar to Paul’s own belief prior to his Christ experience. Greece was full of temples just as Jerusalem. Paul identifies with the framework, but then proclaims that God is beyond it (v23).

Religion is a box or container. It may be nice, even historical, traditional, and cultural. The pomp and circumstance, rank and file, power hierarchy, elaborate rituals or nuanced requirements certainly take up our time, our energy, and are distracting enough to convince us that “the God in our building” is concerned with all that stuff. Paul deconstructs the whole thing by opening the box of human spirituality, namely: God is the contents not the container, and access God will always be on God’s terms, not ours.

The Christ story means we don’t access God, but God access us. God is found in the marginalized, mundane, and suffering human existence, not the elite, sacred, and set apart.  What is more mundane than the life of man? And yet God goes there in Christ Jesus. Paul is saying: “Your religious framework won’t bring you to God any more than mine did. God comes via inner experience” (Saul’s conversion)This is a scandal to Platonic thinking.

Access to God is no longer via external, but internal. The work of Christ is inside-out, not outside in. Paul finds solidarity with their sincerity in which they assemble their altars, then exposes the real altar is life, breath, everything. We don’t go to God, God IS. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. God inhabits all breath. The altar has relocated.

Our ability to see the new altar has to do with “how” we think. Platonic dualism separates sacred and secular, good and bad, right and wrong and divides the world into valid or invalid. The church’s struggle to see how God dwells in every person (regardless of religious belief) indicates that it thinks more like Plato than Jesus or Paul.

What would Paul say if he were walking through our modern cities? What altars would he see? What would he think of our endless suburban temple mortgages and cradle to grave empires? I doubt Paul would celebrate our elaborate faith systems that separate themselves from each other and everyone else. He’d see it as moving backwards.

Humanity and Divinity are joined and displayed in Jesus, and experienced in Paul. This was unbelievable in the Platonic world, and it’s still a scandal today.

Paul’s theology reveals that God is not up there, out there, over there, but only HERE, only NOW. Paul is relocating the starting point of any conversation about God, away from religious frameworks and into inner experience. Thus the modern conversation is for all comers, regardless of belief, origin, or tribe. We all start with the experience we have, nothing more, nothing less. From there we become aware! Waking up is the essence of resurrection.

We know we have awakened to this same experience when we no longer possess “otherness.” Religions compete with their temples. But the Christ story of the temple veil torn in two, creates an open floor plan where otherness is forever lost. No otherness between man and God, nor between each other. We are now the temple (1 Corinthians 6:19).

What about you? Are you completely hung up on religious distinctives? Can you distinguish between your box and its contents? Do you diminish others over your box? If so, Paul’s invitation to you is to go wider and exchange Plato for Jesus. The voice of the institution is strong but narrows us, but the inner voice of God expands us.

Are you skeptical of organized religion? You’re in good company. Like Paul you probably intuit that one is no better than the other. Paul’s invitation to you is to go deeper and narrower with that part of you that wonders, that possesses awe, or has endless questions. Work from the inside out, trusting the voice within.

God’s voice within always leads to a bigger, more inclusive place, where God and humanity are joined. By any other name, this is always the story of Christ.

Thus the altar of the unknown God is now relocated within each of us. The meeting point of God is not our religion box, but in all life, breath and everything.

May we have eyes to see.