Sunday, September 4, 2011

My Spiritual Journey

I recently had to write a paper for my ordination course on my personal spiritual journey and my call to ministry. Most of it is all information I've shared here on my blog at one point or another but some people said they were interested in reading it, so I'm going to go ahead and post it since I haven't really had any time to blog lately anyways:

When did my spiritual journey begin? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when as I grew up in a conservative Christian home that frequently had me attend church, Sunday school and Bible schools. I would say around the age of seven is when I started to embark upon my spiritual journey by reciting the “sinner’s prayer”. At the time though, it was only an acknowledgement that I didn’t want to go to this scary “Hell” place I was hearing about, so there was yet to be a heartfelt desire to actually follow God. I would spend the next few years recommitting my life to Christ through many prayers and being a bit unsure where the whole Christian religion was to fit in my life. Then around the age of twelve, I heard a sermon titled something to the effect of “getting real with God” at a church summer camp. I don’t recall much the content of the message but by the end of it I just decided it was time for me to know God intimately, rather than just call on him whenever I felt unsure about my afterlife destiny.

After that point, it was clear that something in me had really changed. I remember a few days later after I came back home, sitting on my friend’s lawn just staring at the sky feeling a spiritual “high” so to speak. Knowing that the Lord of All loved me, accepted me and wanted to use me was quite the over-powering feeling. I would evangelize frequently to my friends at school (often to the point of unintentional annoyance) and I’d even find random people on the internet solely to inform them how Jesus could change their life and save them from everlasting punishment. Even though I was a shy person, I took Jesus’ call for us to “go and make disciples” seriously.

Some years passed and I started to give up on evangelizing due to how few people I had actually led into the faith. Sadly, as a result my own faith took a back-seat for awhile and I didn’t focus on it as much. I still believed deep down inside but I didn’t feel the passion for ministry that I once did and I didn’t feel as close to God either. It wasn’t long though before this started to bother me, and through the conversion story of Brian “Head” Welch (formerly of the rock band Korn) I remembered the power of a life transformed in Christ. So one night I simply prayed that God would give me such a love and a passion for Him and others like I had before.
Almost immediately, my interest in faith matters was rekindled and I could feel God’s presence again in an exciting way. Yet there was something else that soon came along with it: honest doubts. Perhaps they were doubts I always had tucked away in a corner somewhere in the past, or perhaps they were just things I never thought about much before? Either way, I perceived them as being from Satan himself because they cut at the core of things I always believed and told others about.

These doubts included many aspects of my faith but mostly involved the idea of a never-ending Hell for those that died without accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. I had always told people previously that God had to send people to Hell (or rather, allow them to send themselves there as the cliché goes) in order to be “just” and “holy”; but that reasoning no longer seemed compelling to me. It no longer made sense to me that there could be anything “just” or “holy” about endless torments befalling anyone for any reason; let alone mistaken beliefs about God or his way of salvation. And no matter how many pastors or Christian friends I talked to, the idea continued to feel wrong in my soul.

It was around this time however that I had come into conversation with some of my online friends about an idea called “universalism”, the belief that everyone eventually goes to heaven. At first, the idea angered me and seemed nothing short of wishful thinking; but after a few days it began to make a lot of sense. So I wrestled with the concept a few more months before finally ordering a book I found on the website titled “Hope Beyond Hell”.

I started reading the book on a college bus trip and I remember it seeming so revolutionary to my mind that I felt absolutely euphoric. I could look around at everyone else on that bus and believe that they too would be bound for heaven; it was truly an incredible thought. And the more I dug into the idea of Christian universalism, the more it continued to amaze me and ended up fostering a deep interest in theology in general.

My actual “call to ministry” was something I guess I’ve always felt in my Christian life, at various times and in varying degrees. As I stated earlier, I was big into evangelism at one point and even still I like to make people think about spiritual matters and ideas. I often entertained the idea of being a missionary or a youth pastor, though it was always kind of a secondary idea. People would often tell me things like “you’re smart, you should be a pastor” but I usually dismissed the idea as silly because I didn’t feel I was wise enough for such a role.

Some time passed though, and one day while earnestly praying and asking God what I should do with my life, the idea of minister came up and I felt strongly that it was something I was supposed to be involved in. I second guessed it a few times but God really began to show me how I already had a vision for the future of Christianity. He showed me that even though I have different ideas about some mainstream doctrines, that there was already an underground of ministers and churches breaking out from the norm. And that’s helped affirm things for me because I know this isn’t a battle I have to fight on my own and that I can be a part of something that really makes a Kingdom-minded difference.

As far as what I would do as a minister, I would like to basically help guide the next generation of Christians in emerging from fundamentalism. There are an increasing number of people disillusioned with church, Christianity and even religion/spirituality as a whole; this is tragic to me because there is such a foundational worth to those things. So I want to help people see that you don’t have to believe things like a never-ending place of punishment or that every word of the Bible is to be taken literally. I want to help people see that the Bible, regardless of what translation errors and ancient perceptions may exist, can be a tremendous tool in our search for meaning as humans. It is extremely useful for people in its function; which is to connect us with the divine force that crafted our very being.

I’d also like to either start a church or become involved with an established church that is universalist and open-minded in its theology. This church would be centered on God, Jesus and the Bible but would allow freedom to question ideas. It would not only respect but also celebrate the diversity of perspective and would seek to help us learn from one another. It would teach people the Christian tradition and inform it of its history, yet not claim to be “superior” to all other faiths and would leave room for personal interpretation. Ideally, this church would overall be big on outreach to the surrounding community, providing support, hope and the love of God to all those in need; rather than expending a bulk of resources on big buildings, staff salaries or flashy productions.

In conclusion, the words of Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 inspire me as a foundation for the ministry that I want to undertake: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Reading the Bible (for the rest of us)

One of the main mental walls that I keep hitting as of late is this: if everything we believe about the Bible is ultimately based on assumptions (including the assumption that it's Gods revelation to man), is there really much to be gained from studying it? If I can't be sure if "God did this" or "Jesus said that" what is the point of trying to apply it to my life or help others apply it to theirs?

As I've said before, most people at this point simply give way to atheism and secular humanism (which I guess would be in line for me to do seeing as people already consistently ask me whether I'm an atheist or not). However I still feel there is more to this than I am seeing, or at the very least other possible alternatives. The first being that if there is anything to be gained from studying the Bible, I think it needs to extend beyond the old perspective of it being God's revelation---more specifically God's 100% inerrant and infallible Word. For if it is God's Word, then I'd say we are doomed to be lost within the never-ending halls of interpretative guess-work. What I mean by that is such a conclusion forces us to undergo a tireless process of guessing which translation is most accurate in regards to the original "God-breathed" manuscripts, which we obviously don't have. Then after that, guessing what the original intent of the each text was, which is hard to determine given that all the authors died 1,800 years ago or more. And lastly, guessing what the application to your life is which is usually influenced by particular pastors, authors and theologians (and of course you have to guess which ones are dispensing "Biblical truth").

Of course, to make this process sound easy we're told all this can be done by following the Holy Spirit's guidance, which was always the litmus test I banked on in the past. But it doesn't take a seminary student to notice that many devout Bible believers in several denominations all claim to follow the Holy Spirit, yet come to several different conclusions. And the few central conclusions those denominations have are probably only still shared because there are simply some things you're not allowed to question (like the deity of Christ). So if the Bible is the divine product of God, the honest inquirer has to wonder if He was serious about the part that states that God is not the "author of confusion"(1 Corinthians 14:33)? "Confusion" would indeed seem to be a fitting word for the common approach to the Bible.

I will note here, however, that despite the seeming complexity of this old perception of the Bible, many Christians seem to be just fine with it. They simply don't see it to be as messy as I have laid out. And for those people I would say there is probably no real reason to change their perception if they feel it works for them. Yet for those of us that have grown weary of that perception, I'd say there needs to be an alternative approach in order for the Bible to still play a vital and honest role in our lives. So I'm going to attempt to lay a very basic framework for just such an approach, based on what I've thought about so far:

I make my first point by noting that the old perception of the Bible as God's word is obviously very much concerned with historical accuracy. For if God put historically inaccurate information in his Word, He must be a liar and not trustworthy Himself (or so the logic goes). So for those of us who no longer think it is entirely historical are often confused on what exactly to make of stories that seem only likely or true in part. The solution though is rather simple if we are willing to look for truth in the metaphorical sense rather than the literal or historical sense. Adam and Eve, for example, don't have to be actual people who existed and conversed with a talking snake for them to be an allegory representing humanity. Adam and Eve can easily represent humanity's inclination to trade a God-experience for deceptive promises that ultimately cause us much suffering, without anything having to be accepted historically speaking. This is simple truth that I think is evident from our everyday lives and thus can serve as a cautious reminder. So whether all the Biblical stories happened or not as is recorded is not as important, I think, as the power and wisdom that can be gleaned from those stories.

Secondly, the old perception typically identifies the thoughts and opinions of the Biblical authors (and those whom the Biblical authors talk about like Jesus) with the thoughts and opinions of God himself. But some of us are unable or unwilling to make that connection 100% of the time. So alternatively, I think we can appreciate the perspectives of the Jews and Christians of old without believing those perspectives to be God's own. After all, is there really any good reason to think that the authors of the Bible necessarily understood God and His ways any better than we ourselves do today? And though many Bible stories record God being physically present in some form or speaking audibly, does it mean that He really was? Could it not simply represent how close to God the people involved felt? Or represent how strong their convictions were on what they believed God was telling them? It doesn't mean that God was actually telling them to "conquer this city" or "stone that sinner" but merely that that is what they believed based on their limited perception of God.

Lastly, our perception of God should be able to grow beyond our ancestors' ideas about God and spiritual reality. This does not mean that we completely scrap their ideas of course, but rather we build upon them with not only our own experiences but with our ever expanding scientific and philosophical knowledge. Suggesting that we can only construct our theology with "Biblical" ideas is akin to suggesting we can only construct towns with the tools and technology available in Biblical times. Yet I doubt too many people would sign up for that idea, because it is generally good and necessary for us as humans to improve upon past methods and ideas. If that seems a bit discomforting though, I would urge you to briefly consider the matured perception of God in the new testament as compared to the old.

In the old testament, God was often painted as angry, dissatisfied, vindictive, and for the most part only concerned with the well being of the Jewish people. He has rule, after rule, after rule, many of which seem down right silly to us today (such as wearing mixed fabrics in Deu. 22:11). In the new testament you can still pick up on those aspects to a degree, but it is greatly over-shadowed by Jesus' radical perception of God. Jesus' perception of God is much more focused on His desire for restoration and reconciliation, for both Jew and gentile---He is not prejudiced. God's grace therefore evolved (from a cultural standpoint) from the tribal success of one people to the spiritual success of all peoples. This evolution is often missed or masked by the idea that God was just teaching us a lesson about how we couldn't live under the law and needed grace. Which may be true in a sense, but I think more importantly the Jewish God concept had matured. Likewise, our perception of God should evolve and mature with the minds and hearts of the human race. That is the journey I think God calls us to and is why He doesn't just make obvious all truth about Himself and the universe.

If this all sounds really hazy and ambiguous, thats probably because it is. And truthfully I've become so burnt out from the old way of reading the Bible that its hard to really get back into it even with such refreshing ideas as these. But even if I had spent hundreds of hours doing it, I still wouldn't want to hammer it down to another ritualistic formula. We always want specific formulas for these sorts of things and if you explore deeply into the realm of Christian theology, formulas is exactly what you'll get. The thing I dont like about formulas though is they deduce the nature of God and truth-finding to a science---which makes it sound like we can find out much more than we really can. And in my opinion, Biblical study (and theology in general) should be much more free and exploratory than the common methodology of Christendom.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Can one be a Christian and still think?

The more I analyze my personal beliefs and in what ways I still identify with the Christian religion, the more lost I tend to feel. It seems the more I learn and the more I critically examine the ideas I once held as facts, I honestly just don't know what to believe sometimes? Two years ago I would have said that I agree with mainstream Christianity on most things besides concepts like everlasting punishment for unbelievers, but now its hard to say I agree with it on much of anything at all. And I think this dilemma has only come to amplify itself over the past year and a half since I felt a call to ministry. After all, if I cant concretely make up my mind about what I actually believe and what direction I should go, how on Earth can I teach others what to believe and what direction they themselves should go?

This is to be expected though, since within the last few months its finally dawned on me just how much you're never taught in church. I mean, if going to church is any way supposed to be a Christian education for the average believer, I think its safe to say it has failed miserably. You're never taught, for example, what the actual differences between the gospels are or that many scholars are unsure if any of the apostles even wrote them (in other words, every saying and deed attributed to Jesus should be taken with a grain of salt). You're never taught much, if anything, about alternative views on Hell and salvation such as Christian universalism. You're never taught that the Bible is in fact not without error and has quite a bit of internal disharmony theologically speaking. You're never taught about alternative eschatologies such as pantelism and preterism which date Christ's symbolic return within the lifetimes of the apostles as opposed to 1,978 years into the future and counting. You're never taught that there is little to no historical mention of Jesus outside the New Testament. And you're rarely even taught that one can be a Christian without completely disregarding the scientific consensus of the Earth being billions of years old, rather than a few thousand years old. So if Christianity were compared to an iceberg, I think its fair to say you're only shown the very tip of it in church, while the rest is kept submerged beneath like some deep dark secret that its ashamed of. Or perhaps a crazy old uncle that has a room in the basement that no one really talks to or about.

Honestly, why is that?

My guess is that these types of things aren't taught because if they were it would undermine the faith of a good many people. More specifically it would undermine people's faith in several popular church doctrines. But if the truth really does set us free, as Jesus supposedly said, what could really be the harm in at least giving such things some mention? Should we not be seekers of truth first, and Christians second? What importance is any religion if it is either at odds with or turns a blind eye to the facts? I'm aware of the inherent uncertainty that comes about when some of this lesser known information is brought to light, but regardless of what we make of it the facts still remain. People deserve to know of these things even if it doesn't change their faith or their approach to it in any way. And this is one of the reasons I'm thankful for individuals like Rob Bell who are bold enough to put some of the lesser known viewpoints like universalism and post-mortem salvation out on the Christian table for all to see. We need more leaders in Christianity who are willing to do those sorts of things no matter how controversial they may be.

Anyway, to the point of all this rambling: I often wonder if one can (or at least if I can) be a Christian and still think with honesty and sincerity? Most Christians I'm sure would respond positively to that and of course there have obviously been many Christians who have also been very deep thinkers such as C.S. Lewis. But what I've come to find is that it's often times hard for me to be true to my faith while also being true to my conscience. Faith can be a great tool to fill in what we humans cannot yet fully grasp about our purpose and our existence, but it can also act as a pair of blinders when it comes to things outside of what we've been taught to believe. For instance, it doesn't matter how heartfelt and sincere a Muslim or someone of another faith may come across, they're still in conscious rebellion to God because they do not see Jesus like we do. God has revealed the "truth" to them as obviously as He has to us Christians but they just choose to do all this other stuff that they don't really believe in. Or it doesn't matter how many conflicting passages and ideas seem to be in the Bible, or that it was written in an ancient time and culture far removed from our own. It is still the perfect Word of God and to say anything else is to call God a liar. Or so mainstream Christianity often teaches.

I guess to my mind, there is just little to no reason to believe some of the things that many Christians do. Some beliefs (like eternal torment) I honestly don't want to believe anyway, but then there are other things (like the accuracy of the gospels) that I really wish I could believe but just cant for the most part. I believe in God as the creator of our universe, I believe in Jesus as a savior from sin and from more primitive views of God. And I believe the Bible contains some wise insights and musings about God and His relationship to us. Yet beyond that I just have mountains of questions and doubts, most of which I have really no idea how to process. Even on the more liberal side of Christianity, I find people super confident in things I can only find to be a bit entertaining to think about (like with basically all eschatology), yet beyond that I just have to kind of shrug my shoulders. And most of which I'm coming to conclude doesn't matter too much in the grand scheme of things, since I don't believe in a God who's future acceptance of us depends on which religious avenue we died on. But they are important questions none the less and I will need to figure out some way to approach them if I am to take this pastor thing seriously.

So can one be a Christian and still think? Well, I sure hope so.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Lord will provide?

One of the most famous Christianese phrases from the Bible is the line "The Lord will provide", which comes from the story where Abraham is told to sacrifice Issac, but God instead provides a ram in a thicket (Gen 22:1-18). This is used as an attitude within the faith that states that whatever we go through in life, God will ultimately provide what is needed. And this has always brought much hope to me as Im sure it has to others throughout the centuries, but recently I've noticed a negative aspect to this attitude.

Ever since graduating college two years ago, I've been waiting for something to hit. Waiting for my life to blossom in full-bloom and live a life of purpose and direction. Sadly, it never seems to happen. And many times I've wondered why, since this basic principle of the Lord providing should be at work in my life...shouldn't it? Shouldn't God lavish me with blessings and opportunity for firmly placing my hope in His wise guidance and great plan as I always have? Shouldn't my prayerful requests grant me a fulfilling career, money and a successful love life to boot? Dont I deserve these things? Why then has the Lord not been providing for me?

Then I one day I wondered whether this idea of waiting on God to provide can actually give us the opposite of peace? Maybe in its extremes, it could actually cause us to be depressed simply because God hasnt given us the life we need, or the life we want? It certainly seemed to be the case for me, anyways. Rather than take some responsibility for my own situations, I wanted to blame God for not blessing me as well as others (or at least blame the Devil for being all-up-in-my-grill, as they say). This, I now see, was a big mistake because I've come to realize that its probably not Gods job to do everything for me, or everything for any of us.

Regardless of how you see the free will vs determinism issue, I think its safe to say that on some level God is inviting us all into creativity, He's inviting us to do something positive. "Waiting on the lord" doesnt have to be simply praying for something and then sitting around until that something happens (if it ever does); it can instead be envisioning what you feel is necessarily, asking for guidance, and then stepping onto the water in faith much like Peter is said to have done in Matthew 14:29. And if you read that whole story, I think it actually reveals one of the most important aspects to living the Christ-life: if you ask God to do something, and you step out in belief, what would normally seem impossible actually begins to happen. It was only when Peter focused on the wind and his scary surroundings that he began to sink. He took his eyes off Jesus and let the negative forces purge the faith from his heart and mind.

This principle is echoed again in Luke 11:9-10,
"And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened"

All this to say, if you feel a desire in your heart that God has placed, yes, the Lord will provide but even before that, you have to step out and walk into what you're envisioning. I'm not sure that it guarantees anything to happen, but Id say its got a much better shot. Not only that, but I think that is the way in which God works through the human soul to manifest the kingdom and its good things all around us.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Problem with Theology

*Capitan’s log, star date: I don’t really give a a flying borg’s eye…*

If you were to take two people with two differing theologies , put them in a discussion on a differing belief and you stripped down what they were saying, it might go something a little like this,

“No, you’re wrong. You’re wrong because this verse says so” Said Person One.

“Actually, I’m right because that verse doesn’t mean what you say it does, it means something else” replied person two.

Person one looks puzzled and shouts “What? No, that verse can’t possibly mean that! It has to mean this because this other verse says this, and that confirms what I’ve been saying all along!”

*rinse…repeat…sometimes for hours*

I’m sure we’ve all heard or read or been in a conversation like this before. And it is always interesting how one theology interprets everything to fit in a certain “grid”, so that when someone else suggests one of those pieces should change its position, the first theology shouts about how that can’t be so because it doesn’t fit properly in their “grid”. But seldom some wonder whether or not part of their grid (or perhaps the whole thing) may be incorrect. And this is to be expected, since such a question is quite daunting and uncomfortable, but what happens is this: What could be a potential learning process becomes more of a war of the doctrines. It is a war in which no one ever really wins (just YouTube a controversial video dealing with religion, and you will see what I’m talking about). Hence, to some degree I’ve lost interest in the topic, or at least debating it with any vigor or desire to show others that I’m right.

You think I'm wrong? Well, cool...but I just dont really care. I'm more than willing to hear you out on why you think I'm mistaken, but at the end of the day, who really knows who's right? I mean, in all genuine honesty, how? The problem with everyone is that they think they've arrived at the highest form of truth (or at least somewhere in the ballpark of it), when there's absolutely no way to prove what the highest form of truth is. In fact, not only is it something you cannot prove, but your opposition probably thinks they have the highest form of truth as well.

Everybody’s enlightened…everybody’s saved…and everybody is lucky enough to be the chosen ones. Or so everybody thinks, at least.

I mean once upon a time I loved theology. In some way I still do love it, but not so much in the sense of trying to pin point every right belief about God and the Bible. This, I would say, is mostly because no matter how much you study (the Bible, the Christianities, etc), all the conclusions you come to are merely assumptions. That’s it…assumptions. Assumptions based on other assumptions. Some of those assumptions might be more historical or traditional than others, but they are usually based in no more objective evidence than the next assumption. And then we feel inclined to take those assumptions and spend loads of time trying to beat the differing assumptions out of someone else. It's all rather pointless, and usually not that loving either.

This is also why I waste absolutely no time in calling people “heretics” or “false teachers” just because they disagree with what I think is true. I mean, between the velvet lies, there may be a truth that’s hard as steel, but that doesn’t make it any more obvious in a world where God seemingly made it impossible to prove such things, does it? Do I really need to call you a name or judge your character or relationship with God, just because you believe differently than me? And do you really have to brand me as “out of your club”, just because my ideas didn’t get the highest votes among some old stuffy men in Rome, over a thousand years ago? I think it’s just better to accept our differences, and share ideas when and where civility isn’t going to be an issue.

So what do we do? How do we determine the “right” theology? Is that even possible? No, I don’t really think so. Yet, I think one can get an ‘A’ for effort, if they are at least trying to determine what is most true about God and spiritual realities. All we can do is make the best assumptions that we possibly can. After all, we don’t have any other choice but to abandon the search all together and be content with an existence only in-tune to the physical and provable dimension (which some do). Yet some of us still have a hunch that there is still some very real truths to be uncovered (even if only partially) within this spiritual quest we find ourselves in.
So, we must push forward and continue to test the fruits and test the spirits, as I mentioned in my last blog.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Rebirth of faith

Since I sometimes get a kick out of reading my past religious musings, I decided to read a couple of my old blog entries the other day and happened to notice that while I had written thirty-three entries in 2009, I only had six entries for 2010. And so my question to myself was naturally, why did I write so little last year in comparison to the year before? Was it a lack of time or lack of ideas? Or was it the fact that my blog entries dont typically spur the conversations that my facebook posts tend to? Did I just have more to say as a new universalist/heretic in 2009 than in 2010 and beyond?

Truthfully, probably each of those things contributed a bit Im sure, but maybe the main reason is that the more I question every bit of my past understandings of God and faith, the less neat and definable my personal theology becomes. And its a little frustrating, honestly. I often find myself wishing I could return to the days of simplistic faith, when I didnt over-analyze everything I believed and why; when I just assumed the preachers could understand God and the Bible better than me. Yet in another sense I am glad that I am free of that dogmatic and legalistic system. My nervousness does not outweigh my feelings of liberation; a liberation that encourages me to finally go through with this ordination process and help others seek out God in Christ even beyond the orthodox understandings.

None the less though, I feel confronted with a belief-structure that is on its deathbed. And when a lot of religious people come to this point, the majority seem to find ways to just let go of spirituality all together (even if its over the course of several years). However I feel to do so would "throw the baby out with the bathwater" as the old saying goes. This is because I still find value in the spiritual symbols I've come to know and love, as well as my Christian tradition and its scriptures. Yet I've come to find that the more I examine not just individual doctrines, but the entire paradigm ive constructed is in desperate need of a refreshed and updated approach. Like the legend of the mythical Phoenix bird, no matter how magnificent it may have seemed at one time it eventually gets old, tired, and in need of that final rest. But as the story goes, the sun would shine down upon the bird bursting its remains into flames (or...something) and from its ashes a new fledging Phoenix would arise. And I am hoping and searching for God to do much the same thing to my faith (which I dont think is a stretch, giving the whole "born again" concept is a fairly big staple concept in Christian tradition).

So what might this reborn faith or approach to faith look like? To be honest, beyond a few vague ideas, I dont really know. I definitely dont think it means giving up on either God, Jesus, the Bible or even certain Christian rituals. What I think it does mean however, is attempting to look at all those things in a different (and often times, more reasonable) light, only returning to traditional ideas when and if they actually seem to work in a consistent spiritual paradigm. Its the kind of faith that isnt interested in being different from traditional Christianity merely for the sake of being different, but at the same time doesnt hold to it and its answers unquestionably so. It would be aware that it can be deceived and wrong at times, yet it is not afraid to use the heart and mind that God himself gave us. It is a faith that loves and cherishes the Bible (and even possibly other holy books or books period) but is aware that realistically no one writer or person can speak for God, even if he/she has a message inspired by their God experience or Gods spirit. This faith would be free from the delusion that any one religion or spiritual perspective can fully contain, define and confine the vast and mysterious entity we call God. And this faith realizes that for every statement or hypothesis about God and truth that we can make, it will most likely only be a shadow or outline of the actual reality. In a nutshell (or bird eggshell), this faith is simply interested in discovering and experiencing the God and His/Her/Its truth, whatever and wherever that is.

Is this kind of faith possible without drifting off into extreme spiritual vagueness and uncertainty? I honestly dont know. I suppose the best one can do is to try to "test the spirits"(1 John 4:1) and determine if what we believe or are coming to believe is worthy of the God we have come to experience, which is not an answer that will be the same for everyone. We should also look at each of our beliefs much like Jesus suggests we should look at people (Matthew 7:15-20), and determine from the "fruit" produced which is good and which is not. If said fruit causes us to be violent, angry, sad or in any way abusive to others and the world/opportunities given to us, then it may indeed be bad fruit. However, if it causes us to show love, use our resources wisely, discover peace and connect us with the God experience, it is likely to be a good fruit. And while this approach doesnt necessarily determine which beliefs about God and truth are indeed true, it may at least give us a guiding star by which to determine what may be MORE true about God and what may be MORE true about ourselves and others.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why I believe (Pt.3): Belief in "Christianity"

As you may remember from some time ago, I was trying to critically examine and explain my beliefs in other aspects of my faith such as my belief in God and my belief in the Bible. In this installment I (finally) want to talk about why I view those previously mentioned beliefs through the lens of Christianity (and by "Christianity" I mean in the most basic sense of belief in the life and teachings of Jesus, and not necessarily all the mainstream christian views)

First, it is inevitable to say that one of the reasons I believe in Christianity is because of my environment. I grew up in a Christian home that regularly attended services and sent me off to church camp every summer for a solid decade. On top of that I've spent countless years around Bibles, C.S. Lewis books and plenty of friends and conversations associated with the Christian faith. So while I've come to amend many of the beliefs instilled by said environment, I suspect Christianity is always going to affect my world-view in some form or another, like it or not.

My emotions also play a big part as to why Im a Christian. While there are things in the traditional mainstream faith that emotionally disturb me (like eternal punishment), a great deal of other things appeal to what seems to be ingrained in me as subconscious truth, if you will. For example, the idea that our salvation is not our work but God's work is very appealing. As well as the christian belief that Gods love for us is unconditional and everlasting (but more realized in the universalist's theology of course, which is part of why I embrace that as well).

The idea of the afterlife is perhaps another big one, because I just cant imagine a world where countless cruel things happen without something on the other side to balance it all out, and not let those who died in poverty or slavery or poor health be given the short end of fortune forever. There is many an injustice that goes unrighted in this world and I cant imagine there isnt something on the other side to make right what has gone wrong. If God exists and has a good plan for us, I would imagine no experience in this life is ultimately meaningless and therefore it is my hope that He will one day show usall the meaning we missed, as well as its value on the other side.

The last reason is simply my life experiences (which I guess ties in with emotions too, as they affect how I perceive said experiences). Not that I've had too cool of experiences, but I have seen a few "demons" being cast out of people in the name of Jesus. Ive also "spoke in tongues" on several occasions, at least the first time being something Im pretty sure was genuine. Those times were some of the most peaceful and divine moments in my life. When Im away from seeking God, I feel empty and like I need something more. So I try to seek him in the ways that have worked previously, because thats usually when I feel the most peace and direction in my life, and are most loving and guiding to those around me.

Perhaps you're thinking that I just believe a bunch of stuff because I want to, and it sounds sensible to me? And thats probably true to some extent, but I think everyone else does something similar whether they realize it or not. The reason being for that is when it comes down to it, we all need to organize abstract concepts like love, justice, and mercy in some way to give our lives meaning. Not that one has to be christian, let alone religious, in order to organize and interpret such things, but I personally find that a modified-Christian paradigm provides a good foundation for achieving just such an organization. And I feel a sense of truth radiating from many of its key ideas and perceptions.