The Sum of All Hopes

We’ve covered a lot of ground here and I’m wondering if I can somehow summarize it all. A recap may be helpful to you; I know it would be helpful to me…

God is a loving, patient, passionate Father. The story of the Prodigal Son exemplifies the Father’s heart for his children (both the externally rebellious and the internally rebellious).  He throws a party for the one who squandered his money and time on wild living. He invites to the party his resentful, self-righteous, judgmental son. The Father wants EVERYONE at the party.SumOfAllHopes

Those who love both know God and are born of God. Period. And that’s not just me saying that – it’s a direct quote from 1 John 4:7. Too many religious people fail to love, thereby showing the lie that their religion is. We don’t need more knowledge – we need more LOVE. While the mythical Adam & Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge (which kills), we desire to eat from the tree of LIFE. Knowledge puffs up, it inflates out of proportion; love builds up – it constructs, reinforces, strengthens. It is the identifying mark of those who actually follow Jesus with their lives and not just their mouths.

The good news – the “gospel” – is that the kingdom of God is available to everyone right here and now. It is an economy that transcends all boundaries – social, gender, political, economic, religious, etc. It frees those held captive by their poor choices or by the evil will of stronger men. It heals those deeply wounded by life and violence. All who embrace this kingdom find they never lack what they need (whether or not they ever get all they had originally wanted out of life). Those captivated by the values and principles of this way of living reveal it by how they invest their lives (despite doing so imperfectly as humans do). This good news transforms and restores the world at the grassroots level, beginning with a single human heart and radiating outward. And those who enter into this society (NOT a religion) trust that when this short physical life is over somehow they will continue on in this kingdom forever but leave the details of that in the hands of God.

We make that vital connection with God through terrifying risk. This is faith. It is a leap into the unknown with the possibility for serious damage to ourselves if God does not somehow rescue us, assist us, come through on that which we believe God called us to. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” wrote the author of Hebrews. The first time is of course the most difficult; later opportunities to exercise faith at least have the history of God’s power to refer back on. But each time, faith is a tremendous choice that in the end enables us to boast on how powerful and great God is (not ourselves) and to cultivate a comprehensive attitude of gratitude.But we still must do that which is within our power; it is a partnership with God, an apprenticeship with the Father who is guiding us into becoming more than we ever dreamed we could become.

We listen for God whenever, wherever, and however it occurs. We realize that interaction with the Divine is not reserved to a weekly club meeting for an hour or so, but that God is speaking to us far more often than we usually tend to realize in things both huge and miniscule. Our lives become saturated with expectancy and hope, and grand adventure where we play a unique role in the restoration of this planet and its inhabitants. We are open to finding truth anywhere, boldly considering everything and holding on to what we find good while not fretting over the bad. We realize much is uncertain – in fact, most is uncertain… and that’s okay. There is great freedom in not having to have all the answers, and great power in loving anyway.

We view ourselves as conduits of blessing, pipelines for God’s grace to be channeled to those who in need. It’s not about us. Instead, it’s about what God is up to – we get in sync with that and let the rest take care of itself. We value what Jesus valued – which if you review what he taught comes down to one main thing: relationships. That includes relationships with others, with God, with creation, and even with ourselves. We are not meant to live a groveling, self-abhorring life saying over and over to ourselves “We’re so unworthy…”. God has called us worthy – worthy of Divine love, mercy, grace, air, food, sunshine, beauty, hearts that pump blood and tongues that taste delightful things. God wants us to enjoy REAL living – life “exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think.” That’s not to say there won’t be difficulties – how could you appreciate light without living in darkness? But the amazing thing is that this life manifests joy in spite of the circumstances.

Whether or not the entire Bible is the actual words of God, regardless of whether humankind was created or evolved, and whether the future is all predicted and understood by a select group of people who have their particular “rigtht” interpretation… we are to love. We are to forgive. We are to learn to let go of anger and condemnation and manipulation. We are to heal, to forbear, to hope for the best, and to resist thoughts of fear that are enemies to the spirit of God. We trust, we hope, we love because… well, because that’s what we were made to do.

Lightning Rods

In April 2013 I shared an interview with philosopher/author Peter Rollins on my personal Facebook page. It’s a great read – check it out.lightning-rods

Some of the things that struck me from it were:

“…when we reduce God to that object that will make us complete and whole and happy, we just put our own product in the vending machine. The church becomes the shop front, the clergy become the salespeople and the worship becomes the jingles.”

“My broad critique of fundamentalist and conservative communities, is that in them we verbally affirm a God that is basically a guarantor that we’re right. The critique is more subtle than simply saying that we don’t really believe it. We say God takes care of everything, but still put a lightning rod on top of the steeple.”

A few of my regular friends responded in ways consistent with their personalities and beliefs (not all agreeing). That’s fine – I’m learning to love without demanding agreement. We’re all on a journey, and none of us are now what we shall become down the line.

But then I received a sharp reply from of all people my high school youth pastor. He also happened to be the one who officiated our wedding. He was one of the people responsible for guiding me into an intolerant fundamentalist mindset, including the notion that the King James Version of the Bible was the only perfect translation and actually improved upon the original manuscripts of scripture. I bought into that as a teenager.

Needless to say, he did NOT agree with any of the above, and felt the urge to point that out and correct me on my Facebook page (something of which I’ve been guilty on more than one occasion). So I guess I had it coming – you know, karma and all…

At one point he included a reference to a passage in the book of Job where one of Job’s “friends” was “correcting” Job’s thinking. I found that really funny because this friend (Bildad the Shuhite) was later corrected by God for basically talking out of his posterior. After that came a slew of scripture references and challenges typical of his paradigm.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having an argument – by that I mean and exchange of ideas where neither side is in agreement but hopefully both are trying to clearly explain while also trying to understand one another. After an exchange or three I could see this was not that kind of argument. I understood his perspective, but he had no intention of understanding mine. I had to stop it, so I took it off-line in a direct message that in retrospect seems worth sharing on this platform. Here is how I replied:

I don’t mind answering your questions…and I do have responses. I just didn’t want that particular post to look like some argumentative exchange because I have no interest in debate for debate’s sake or to make myself appear “right” to anyone. I’m just being honest about where I am, and I’m confident in God’s love and mercy because I know he knows my heart, I know he still provides for me and my family in amazing ways, and I don’t live in fear of the wrath of my own Father. So if you’re really interested, here goes:

Q. Are you an evolutionist?

A. I’m uncertain about the distant past. But I do believe however it all happened, there was a Creator/Designer who initiated it. I can at least say for certain that I do not believe Genesis is literal history; it is Hebrew poetry, probably documented during the Babylonian captivity, for a distinct purpose and agenda: to encourage the Jews to hope in God who brings order out of chaos, redemption out of bondage. Pete Enns “Genesis for Normal People” provides a good discussion of that and resolves a number of anomalies I’ve noticed in the past and turned a blind eye to.

Q. The reference to Bildad is not hilarious – some of what God drew from was what Bildad was thinking….was true…..based on what God in other places had declared. (“Thus saith The Lord”)

A. It wouldn’t be hilarious to you; it is to me. Proof-texting is comical to me, as it ignores the plain meaning to the audience of its day and ignores the cultural meta-narrative  thus robbing the text of its intended meaning. It is based on a pre-supposition that God himself “wrote” the whole Bible (which is a man-made teaching based on proof-texts ripped out of context).

Q. What can you know about God without the Book?

A. “…that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…  (Romans 1:19-20)” Now, it is circular reasoning to say that I can know about God through creation because the Bible tells me so. I’m just including that passage because you already know the answer to the question based on your paradigm. God is known in creation, and he is known in my heart, and he is known in my history as I look back and see his hand and trust him. And yes, some of what I understand about God is based on the sacred writings where God affirms them to my heart and confirms it in my life. These are the things I “really know”; the rest is just wishful thinking or arrogant assertion, and I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t believe it honors God.

Q. I don’t worship a book…

A. Then you don’t understand the meaning of the word “worship”, because your book comes before your God, and you use the book to rationalize that behavior “…for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.” (which is an out-of-context proof-text).

Q. …but if God cannot write a book….what kind of God is He? How unfortunate and sad would He be?

A. You would consider the God who created the friggin’ UNIVERSE weak because he can’t write a book? That’s absurd. You’d consider him weak because he needs a book to communicate with humans? That’s absurd. To NEED a book -THAT is what would make God weak.

Q. John 3:16 must not be true than! Man wrote it, according to you. Every thing that Jesus said and did was just the recollection of some deluded men ….according to you. –

A. It’s unhelpful and unkind when you try to put words in other people’s mouths. And you’re revealing your inability to think logically, which is sad. To say that men wrote the Bible is NOT to say it’s all a lie. It does NOT logically follow that John 3:16 is untrue, nor that the followers of Jesus were necessarily deluded. They were just HUMAN…they had agendas, they fought, they dissembled, they let pride get in their way… and this is AFTER the resurrection! They were HUMAN…like you and me. So I have to take that into consideration when I’m reading anything they wrote, and – like Paul recommended – I “test everything and cling to what is good”. It’s a personal judgment call, as is EVERYTHING. For me to go along with your teaching just because you said it – that is irresponsible, and I believe God would hold me accountable for that. He gave me a brain to USE, and he WANTS me to test everything… I do believe that.

Q. I Cor. 1 & 2 are something you might read. Hebrews 4 might also help.

A. I’ve read them many times; I’ve read the entire book from cover to cover at least 8 times in my life. It isn’t about more reading; it’s about actually DOING what Jesus said, learning more and more to take on his character and live as an ambassador of his kingdom. Yes, I got that from the sacred writings, and it resonates within me. I LOVE Jesus and I LOVE his way. I’m humbled to be a citizen in his kingdom for the restoration of the world.

Q. My only prayer is that you were really “born again” before you “swallowed all this claptrap!” Anyway, I am praying for you.

A. How condescending of you. It’s that very attitude that many find repulsive about you. My wife was wondering why in the world I was even writing back to you… but I think clarifying matters is a loving and kind thing to do.

Q. By the way, God is not the Author of confusion!

A. I agree with that statement, which is why I wanted to clear up any of the confusion you were posting about me and my position. It would help if you actually tried to understand rather than to assume you’re right and engage in a condescending diatribe and misrepresent what you don’t understand.

I realize that posting such things makes me a lightning rod for certain kinds of criticism, but that’s ok…I don’t mind having my steeple blown off.