Calling Women dogs…

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Recently President Trump called a former staff member a dog.  Disappointingly, name calling is a hallmark of this presidency. It’s the immature reflex of someone who is in despair over not becoming a true self. Lashing out is the tribal language of our pseudonym, our adolescent false self. We’ve been examining the true and false self recently and I thought I’d tie this all together with another man who called a woman a dog: Jesus.

Does it surprise you to learn that Jesus called a foreign woman a dog?  The basis for Jesus doing so was not a childish jab stemming from untransformed pain, but instead, it’s a portal through which a deeper conversation transpired.  The result was a foreign woman who teaches us how to be free from the despair of not being a self, and the power of being liberated from racial and religious bigotry, by taking God at his word.

The story in Matthew 15 tells of a Canaanite woman who was crying out to Jesus to heal her daughter who was oppressed by a demon. But Jesus ignores her. Yet she is persistent to the point that his disciples came to Jesus asking him to do something for her or send her away. He says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v.25). The women prostrates herself and begs for his help, to which he replies: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to dogs” (v.26). Then she says: “Yes, Lord, but even dogs eat crumbs that fall from their masters table” (v.27). When Jesus sees such faith, he sends her on her way with the daughter healed.

Matthew gives a bit more detail than Mark. There, she calls Jesus “Son of David.” This would have been a title that meant a lot to a Jew, but not to a Canaanite. This woman was a foreigner. She was not only culturally diverse, she would have been religiously diverse, she was a Greek, or a Gentile according to the Jews.

Following her request to heal her daughter, Jesus just ignores her. Then when he does address her, he seems to insult her. What is this all about? The reason this passage is so confusing, is because it seems to contradict the Jesus revealed in the rest of scripture: or does it? While I don’t claim to have this all figured out, I will offer what I think is a reasonable perspective.

Context is everything. Separating this story from the surrounding stories gets us off track. Both Matthew and Mark tell the previous stories as set-ups for this story. In both cases, Jesus is addressing the religious leaders who are criticizing he and his disciples obedience to the religious and moral law. The context is that Jesus is trying to help the disciples understand (v.16). The key question that ties it all together comes in 15:3; “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

Once again, Jesus reframes reality away from religious compliance from the outside in, toward a faith that transforms everything from the inside out (VS 10-20). Jesus exposes just how immoral a person can be inside their heart, even if they uphold all the externals. He exposes that compliance doesn’t transform the ugly, prejudicial parts of us.

For this reason, I think Jesus is making an example of the religious (tribal) mindset in his encounter with this woman. The pious religious would ignore non-Jews (Luke 10:32), so Jesus models for them what that looks like to a foreign woman who is desperate to help her daughter. What is more heartless than to ignore the need of a child? Religion is no protection from racism, in fact it often promotes it.

The Jews viewed themselves as the chosen people. They believed God liked them best, so Jesus reflects back to them just how arrogant this disposition is to the rest of the world. He does this by telling the woman that he was sent ONLY to Israel and that it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and give it to “dogs” (v.24, 26).

When the woman says, “Yes Lord, but even dogs get the crumbs” (v.27) Jesus has had enough. The charade of solidarity to religious rules has gone on long enough. He’s proven that the byproduct of obedience is the diminishment and dehumanization of another. Her faith is now rewarded and her child is healed. She takes him at his word and goes.

By reengaging with her at her point of need instead of deferring her, he is undoing religion at it’s heart (v.19) by reprioritizing people over process. He’s proven his point, religion becomes a place of untransformed pain which passes it to others. He turns religion inside-out by giving what is “ONLY for Israel” to someone who is culturally and religiously diverse. By healing the canaanite’s daughter, he not only shows that he has the power to heal, but that this power is NOT sequestered within a prejudicial tribe or people group. Jesus shows Israel and his disciples what it means when their own prophets teach that “Everyone shall no me (God), from the least to the greatest…” (Jeremiah 31:34)

So what about you? Who is the canaanite in your life? Is it the Muslim, the gay, or the democrat? Is it the atheist, the fundamentalist, or the TV preacher? What people group is “not your people”? Who is easy to call a “dog?” Which team or tribe can you easily diminish as “less-deserving”? Do we break the commandment of God to love others, for the sake of our tradition? Our Tribe? A self (soul) like this woman, that is not defined by the labels, is a free and true self.

Folks this hits us all. Otherness disease is the ugliest part of our humanity. But it can be overcome by taking one sentence deep within our heart.

The next time we think of “those people” we must say this to ourself:

“While I am NOT you, I am not OTHER than you either.”  Then, right before our eyes, we will see a new world emerging from the inside out.

May we all learn something from this faithful foreigner.

 

Gates, Roads and Authenticity.

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The last two weeks I’ve offered a new framework through which we can view the scripture. The false self (Fake ID), and the true self (union with God) widen our field of view to see that spirituality is a much bigger consideration than conversion to a religion. Until we are free from religion’s framework, the teachings of Jesus will be misunderstood and used to make another religion.

Consider the parable of the gates and the roads in Matthew 7:13-14 and a similar passage in Luke 13:22-30.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Religions frame Heaven and Hell as eternal destinations and leverage the fear of the unknown as a threat to gain converts. The framework Jesus uses seems to be nuanced differently and last week I shared the keystone of his framework: Perfect Truth can know nothing (or no one) that is false. Union with God is synonymous with authenticity.

This parable is one of several within the larger sermon on the mount. This sermon (Matthew 5-7) is the ultimate reframing sermon. Jesus comes along and says six times; “You have heard it said…but I say to you.”  The goal of his sermon was to reorient people from a scorecard religion, to a faith based on inner transformation.

The Golden rule is how we awaken our humanity (v.13)We must be awake enough to gain conscientiousness of others. Somehow, in knowing ourself and others, we come to know God. When we possess knowledge of God but not love of others, it proves we have a pseudonym (fake ID) and that we don’t know God, but also, God doesn’t know us (v.21-23).

The whole point is that waking up from the anesthesia of a false self doesn’t come easy. “Enter through the narrow gate.” (v.13) is the admonition. We must “strive” to enter (Luke 13:24). These parables are comparisons of how most people live their lives using the metaphor of gates and roads.

A gate is the entry point. It’s the onramp or transition period just before we are well on our way. The gate is the point of decision where altering course is the easiest. Once on a road, we may have to go some distance before we can turn around.

The gate is proportionate to the road. Wide gates open to wide roads, narrow gates to narrow roads. Wide roads are straighter, the pace is faster, it’s congested but travel is easy,  (v.13) and it leads to destruction.  Does this mean AC/DC is right? Is there a highway to Hell? The term “apoleian” is the Greek word for destruction or waste. Too often Christians infer this is a reference to eternal Hell. Considering this road “apago” (leads away, executes, extends to, deceives), a better translation is: “The majority of people live their lives asleep because its easier, but the end is a wasted life, a false life.”

Narrow gates are like subway turnstiles. We enter individually, not as a group. Passage is “thlebo” (constricted, difficult). The wide gate allows us to haul our trailer full of distractions, entertainments, and flags of self-importance. The narrow gate requires we shed even the smallest backpack of attachments. There is nothing on the narrow path that recognizes our fake ID. It’s a stark, single file, self-emptying process, that allows us to wake up to life. It is not a popular option. It defies conventional wisdom. The herd life numbs us, the stray, the solitary, is awakened to life by the struggle.

Last week I showed the end of everything false. This helps us see that this passage is not the typical binary threat of heaven and hell. While we would do well to get beyond the old fear based framework, we must not diminish the sobriety of the admonition within these texts. We don’t start out hoping to waste or destroy our lives, yet the majority of us do. Even our religions fail to free us from the false self and often just create a religious false self: “Didn’t we do many mighty works in your name?” (Matthew 7:23). The glaring truth is that despite what we think about ourselves, most of us are living a lie.

A few weeks ago I taught on the justice of Heaven and I know it ruffled some feathers. The same theme is retold in Luke 13:29. “…people will come from east and west, and from north and south and recline at table in the kingdom of God.”  Jesus is pointing us to a global inclusion and not a tribal religion. The qualifying distinction is not the religion to which we subscribe, but the authenticity or knowledge of our true self found in God.

The false cannot recline at table with Truth. The fake Id will not get us through the doorman. The pseudonym will want to go in, but will not be allowed. We’ll summon up our defense, we’ll justify why we should be allowed in based on our works (Luke 13:26, Matthew 7:22), but it’s useless so long as we think we are our false self. This is not a threat of eternal damnation, but a reminder that being separated from our true self, our true Source, is a place of suffering (weeping and gnashing of teeth (v.28)). Until that false part finally dies and burns a way (1 Corinthians 3:15), we will have no part of the Truth.

The path to life is here and now. So is the superhighway of pseudonyms and wasted life. The reason spirituality is so hard is because the false is so invisible to us. We latch on to everything under the sun. We exchange authenticity for a life of externals. We identify with all the wrong things and not our Maker.

But it’s not too late wake up. Ask the existential question: “Who am I?” Pay close attention to your answer. Ask again: “Is that really me?” Keep asking. Keep going and reverse engineer it all the way to eternity past. Find the “you” that is before all of this.. if you do, you’ll learn your true name.

 

 

The End of the Fake I.D.

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Most of us live our life slightly below the horizon of awareness. Only occasionally do circumstances cause us to momentarily see beyond our immediate needs or desires. It’s really hard to get out of our own way. The ability to see beyond everything is spiritual seeing, or spirituality. Spirituality is awareness of another plane of reality beyond ourselves.

A spiritual mind is aware of transcendent reality, and creates space for this reality on its terms. A natural (religious) mind either denies transcendent reality or insists it only exists on our terms. Our lives fade in and out of spiritual and natural reality everyday.

Our default mode is always ego-centric. Consider children, they’re hardwired for self-focus. Our viewpoint is all we typically understand and spirituality is the only correction for this. If we live below the horizon of awareness, then we construct the world around ourselves. Within us, the spiritual longing to be “known” causes us to try on various identities throughout life.

  • As children we are identified by our families.
  • As teens we try on identities of our peers.
  • As adults we wear the identities of our occupations.
  • We take on the identities of our communities, clubs, hobbies, and organizations.
  • We struggle to shed our over-idenfiication with our tragedies, weakness or failings
  • We latch on to our identities of success, power, and influence.

Without seeing the island just beyond the horizon, we’ll make a fatal mistake: we’ll think we ARE such things. Without spiritual seeing, we inevitably trade in our true self (soul) for a fake I.D. Jesus taught that we could gain the whole world and forfeit our self (Luke 9:25).

How dow we know if we are living under a fake I.D?  I’ll offer these two questions:

  1. Is your happiness in life based upon any of the following:
    1. Family and Friends
    2. Social status (married, job title, zip code, popularity)
    3. Financial status
    4. Material possessions
  2. How much of your life is spent running from the past or running to the future?

Religions at their highest levels access this quest for the true self, or the soul. The biblical word for soul is “psuxe” from which we get our word psychology. So even among the social sciences, the quest to find the true self beneath the noise and distraction of life is the goal of true self discovery. John Calvin said in his Institutes that the knowledge of God and the self are inseparable and “not easy to discern.

We know we live under a fake I.D. when we are not seeking self-improvement, but only self-gain, self-promotion, or self-comfort. The fake I.D. hides our ego and the depth of just how hideous we can be. The fake I.D. is tribal, dualistic, and gets offended easy. It’s quick to anger and lashes out at any criticism. The fake I.D. knows that it stands on a house of cards (shifting sand). Because the fake I.D. is directly tied to externals, the moment something is lost, the fake I.D. is lost with it, so it spends endless calories protecting, comparing, measuring itself to everything else.

It goes without saying that the fake I.D. causes us to do things we wish we didn’t do. We lie, deceive, hoard, scheme, manipulate and puff up. Those that fail to free themselves from their fake I.D. will inevitably conclude that they are what they do. The deception is that our doing creates our being. If you tell a lie, then you are a liar. If you stole something then you are a thief. If you fail at something then you are a failure. If you succeed at something then you are a success.

Spirituality is different–spirituality is about being, not doing. Our being is what leads to our doing, not vice-versa. We do bad things because we don’t know who we are. In fact “bad things” are really only us going after good things in bad ways.

“What about sin? What about punishment for sin?” This is where it gets really interesting…and theological.

There was never a time when any human soul was not in the perfect mind and wisdom of God. This means that before any of us came to be, God possessed complete knowledge of the real us. (Psalm 139:16). That true self that existed before we were born will exist in truth forever after we die. It cannot be lost so long as God is omniscient (all knowing). There can be no new or lost knowledge in God. Since God is perfect Truth, then as Thomas Merton says, “The false self is the only thing God cannot know anything about.” (Matthew 7:21). Light displaces all darkness.

Revelation 21:8 depicts the great day of judgement (separation). Here John lists all the bad horrible things people do as determined by the books of deeds (distinct from the book of life-the true name of all souls). Then he says “that part of them” (to meros auton) will be burnt in the lake of fire. That’s the future of the fake I.D., the false self. It will be consumed and lost forever. What’s left is that which is in the book of life, the real soul. Every false name (not written in the book of life) is consumed. Only your true name, true self is left and it returns from where it came.

Paul says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 3:15 talking about “the day“. He says: “if anyones work is burned up he will suffer loss though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

The admonishment is clear. Do all you can to know yourself, raise your awareness, working to free yourself from a life defined by a fake identity. Find yourself in God within the eternal moment and open your hand to anything that would pull you into the past or into the future. The God you discover is the shepherd of your soul in whom you have always existed, and always will.

Why would we try and be anything other than that?

 

 

Meeting God.

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Those who define themselves as Atheist may see this post as a bit off putting. After all, how could they meet something that doesn’t exist? Posts like this must seem like nonsense, time-wasters. As always, I’ll do my best to disappoint you.

Those who have some sense of a higher power will usually file this topic under “Conversations to avoid at dinner parties.” Most people aren’t really sure what to make of God. With all the competing religions, ancient and new-age spirituality, odd religious practices and traditions, its easier to just take our chances and figure something out as we go.

Those from a religious framework will dislike the above two options. Since both atheism and agnosticism don’t claim to “know God,” they’re viewed by the religious as deficient beliefs that would resolve themselves if “ those people” just joined the particular religious team.

Meeting God is religions primary commodity. All religion shares the following common framework:

  1. The ante. Just like poker, there’s a minimum bet in order to play.
    1. Islam–> five pillars.
    2. Judaism–>ten commandments.
    3. Cultural Christianity–>accepting Jesus as Lord and savior.
    4. Buddhism and Hinduism–>Dharma.
    5. Atheism–>empiricism.
  2. The disciple. The “student” process of  learning the traditions and practices while going deeper with the teachings. Each religion has a unique theological perspective along with its own tribal nomenclature.
  3. The practice. Going about life applying the new worldview. There is always pressure to find or create community with those who share the same worldview. If your team possesses the truth, then by default, all others don’t. Your practice makes you and your belief superior to others. Here you learn that God likes your team best.
  4. The promise. Throughout the ups and downs of life each belief system offers its best equilibrium to offset skepticism and doubt with a promise about the future or when we die.

What if religion got it wrong? What if meeting God wasn’t a formula, or a future promise, or worse, a future threat? What if meeting God was a common everyday thing? What if we’ve already met God.

Some people look to religion to meet God. But less and less each year.

Some religions are growing, but mostly due to birthrates. The greatest growth is within the most fundamental spectrum of each religion, mostly coming from people emerging out of chaos and disintegration. It’s easier for strugglers to seek divine intervention.

As people hit their 20’s, they are leaving religion in droves. Mainline religions are declining on average 15-20% per year.

Islam blames the influence of the West. Christianity blames secularism. Judaism blames the cultural erosion and hybridization. Eastern beliefs blame modernity, business, and distraction.

Religion sees this decline as moving away from God, but is it? How is that even possible?

We CAN know God without religion in the same way that we can math without school.

There is no denying that some have met God through their religion during a sincere moment during a ritual or practice. This is how practice becomes practiced.

The founders of each religion met God before their religion existed. Muhammad, Moses, Buddha all came first. Paul’s experience reordered his entire religion. This is the point of Jesus’ teaching and why Christianity could never have been intended as an alternative religion.  Instead, Christ is conduit to God regardless of religion. I’m not saying all roads lead to heaven. I’m saying none of them do. Heaven is not where we go, it’s the place from which we live. Eternal life includes this one.

So religion can provide a framework to meet God, but it is not required.

Sacred texts are called revelation. They “reveal” God to us. Like C.S. Lewis says, it’s like MacBeth meeting Shakespeare. It’s only possible when Shakespeare writes himself into the script. If you believe the world is created by God, then it must also be true that creation is the first revelation of God. Earth is the first Bible.

Is it any wonder so many find themselves drawn into nature? What happens when we are there? What happens in the quiet? What happens in solitude? Is it not true that we all see ourselves as part of the landscape?  Do not deeper, existential questions emerge within us? What exactly is our experience with beauty?

We’ve all met God in nature. We just called it beauty.

Every leaf, grain of sand, insect, creature, star, stream, mountain, tree and cloud is revealing something (telling its story) to us. It’s coherent. While you may believe it’s all random, your sense of beauty and awe denies that assertion. We may call it by another name, but we are meeting God. God is not the tree, rock or bird, but God is also not other than these either.

God isn’t out there, over there, or up there. God is within us all. We all share something of this cosmos. The degree to which we grasp that is the degree to which we have met God. We each reveal something of our Maker. Death hurts because we lose that unique revelation in the world.

We like to think we meet God on our terms. As if God must fit within our limited frameworks of understanding. Death is the moment where our Maker’s terms are visible. Meeting God need never be a threat, but it is a redefinition of terms. At which point, our terms, definitions and frameworks will look really silly. What’s amazing is that our terms can be waved before we die. May we all lay down our terms.

When Jesus came, he proved that God has met us all. The religious, high class, the working class, the prostitute, the tax collector, the warrior, the corporate climber, the poor, the broken, the rich, and the leper. Each had a unique experience/theology. We know it was God, because each lost their social index and heard their true name.

When we meet God, we realize we all bear the same name: beloved.

None of us have to die in order to meet God. God is here now, continuously within us, dwelling permanently within each moment, and calling us by our name that can never be lost or forgotten.

I used to try and convince people to come and meet God. Now I merely point out how everyone already has.

If you can abide in this moment, you will here your name being called…

Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.