No Religion

Someday, there won’t be any mosques or temples. There won’t even be any churches. There won’t be any religion at all.

That sounds scandalous, doesn’t it?

Bear with me here.

It’s not that we human beings will develop to a point where religion is unnecessary or that we’ll get so freaked out by the excesses of religion that we’ll outlaw it altogether. We might well do that, but it won’t matter. There will always be religions because religions are our humble, stumbling ways of articulating who God is and what it means to live as God has created us to do so.

We are religious people because we are hungry, starving even, at the deepest levels of our beings. No amount of law can obliterate that hunger nor can any human philosophy nor material wealth satiate it.

In this world, we will always have religion.

Maybe our building will be destroyed, our freedom revoked, still, we’ll worship.

If the great Roman Empire was incapable of destroying the sect of the Nazarene, we have no reason to fear that some more modern power will be any more effective.

And as for Islam, the Russians tried to destroy it, but failed. The Chinese tried to destroy their own indigenous religions and they failed, too.

As long as human beings live separated from the full revelation of the God of the universe, we will have religions.

But someday, religion will come to an end. It will simply cease to be necessary. Mosques, churches, temples and all our human efforts to understand, experience and articulate the divine will disappear in the full, unveiled presence of the God whom our souls crave.

Until then, we will keep building our mosques, our temples and our churches. We will keep studying our Bibles, our Quran’s and our other sacred texts. Each one of us, each member of the human family, compelled by an undeniable hunger, will do whatever we think we can, to find and love the God we each know exists.

And that’s what I think of when I see a mosque, a temple or a church, when I hear the call to prayer or the sound of church bells; I think, we’re hungry, we’re all so hungry.

And until that day when religion becomes unnecessary, I will honor the quest in each of us.

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Wealth beyond currency

I’m not adverse to wealth. I’m not offended by those who own two houses and take European vacations. I don’t carry a gut level aversion for the 1%.

Nor do I view those with fine cars, fashionable clothing, and cool gadgets as worth more than the woman who works for hourly wages, shares her late-model car, and has no idea who Siri is.

Here’s the thing, the having and spending is a gift, and like all gifts, it can draw us away from or toward God. It’s all in how we receive it.

Personally, I’m blessed. I have more than enough to live on.

I know that all I have comes from God and yet it’s delivered to me through my own efforts and the efforts and generosity of others. Human beings mediate the gifts of God and we are all recipients. So I start with gratefulness; grateful for all I have and grateful for all the others who make what I have possible.

Now that my hands are full, what am I doing with what I’ve received? Can I open my hands; my time, my skills, and my bank account to share with others? Can I be even more a human being who mediates the gifts of God?

Here’s the thing I know; no matter what I do, the very asking draws me closer to God. I hold his gifts, mediated through human effort, and lift them before the God I love.

When I do, an astonishing thing happens.

He asks me to look around; to see the single mom with the late-model car, the strangers on the far side of the earth, and even my financially wealthy friends.

It’s a mystery, isn’t it? We offer our gifts to God and he invites us to share who we are and what we have with the world.

When we do, we find another paradox.

We get richer. No, I’m not talking about money. I still drive an old car and wear lots of hand-me-down clothes, but I’m rich. I keep receiving more than currency can purchase.

What is it that I receive?

Love, joy, peace, righteousness in God’s Holy Spirit, that warm, solid experience of being human – all through sharing God’s gifts with the world.

Yeah. I want more of that. How about you?

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I love this verse…”Lovingkindness and truth have met together. Righteous and peace have kissed each other.”

Something within my soul aches for it and yet lovingkindness and truth are more like twins wrestling in my heart. Some days one wins and some days the other.

I want to say; play nice, work together! Here’s what will happen if you do; the glory, the goodness of God; compassion, grace, patience, lovingkindness and truth, forgiveness, all will be yours, ours and everything about our world will be different.

But my twins are two halves of the same soul who forget that the same blood runs through each. Instead they compete, claiming dominance over the other.

Is it just me?

A friend tells me I’m too insistent on Jesus, the incarnate, crucified and resurrected Messiah. Another tells me I talk too much about God’s love and forget his call to repentance.

I know they’re both right, yet I struggled to carry lovingkindness and truth, moment by moment, in my words and actions.

Jesus is different. In him, lovingkindness and truth have met together. In him, righteousness and peace have kissed each another.

I recognize that. I recognize that he is the only one who carries both in perfect balance. So each day, I look to him, and when I do, the twins in my heart pay attention. They learn, join together and grow strong.

So here is my open confession; I lean one moment too far toward the truth and in another moment, too far toward love. Grace to me? Grace to all of us?

And here’s my commitment; to keep looking to Jesus, listening to him and learning from him. I know that as I do, lovingkindness and truth, righteousness and peace will continue to grow together, intertwined with one another and as we do, we’ll change the world.

How do lovingkindness and truth meet within you?

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Just a little Earth geek

I’m a bit of a protect the earth geek. Not a tree hugger, although I’m quite grateful for those whom God has called to put the earth first. I’m grateful for engineers who are developing energy efficient trucks and electricians who are installing solar and wind systems. I’m grateful for researchers who are trying to figure out climate change and what, if anything, we can do about it. I’m also grateful for those who advocate on behalf of the earth; wildlife, forests, jungles and oceans. I’m glad God has given us people who do such things.

I’m not one of them, but I am a bit of a protect the earth geek. I try to do small things in my day-to-day life to care for this treasure God has given us.

I’m always looking for new ideas. Perhaps you have some. I’d love to hear them!

I suppose I’m doing the obvious; careful about my driving, trying to reduce my trash, turning lights off, insulating my house, that sort of thing. This year, I’ve added a few new ideas, so I thought I’d share them with you. I’m a little shy about this, though because I’m not sure these are all good ideas, but you can correct me if you think differently.

Here goes:

  • Buy local! A friend brought this one to me. I love blueberries and was buying them out of season. That meant they came from Argentina. That’s a long way for blueberries! Now, I try to buy what’s in season.
  • I make my own notebooks. I go through notebooks like people go through water. Now, I use regular notebook paper, a 2 hole punch, a file folder and a clip. When the notebook is full, I take the paper out, clip it, store it and fill the folder again. I think I’ve probably got 10 notebooks worth of paper already.
  • I also make my own yogurt. I get a better product and I don’t throw away all those little plastic containers. Besides, I get to share the whey with my dog!

I know, it’s all small stuff and I’m tempted to think it doesn’t matter. After all, I’m just one person, but I think it does matter. Perhaps you do, too.

I’d love to hear your suggestions. I really do want to do this well.

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Knowing God through my mother

Ah, Mother’s Day! A day to celebrate mothers. And I’ll get this out right up front; I’m very grateful for my mother. Not because she’s perfect. She isn’t now nor was she ever. She is as much a stumbling human being is any of the rest of us. Still, she’s my mother and within and through her, I first came to know God, although I didn’t recognize it at the time.

No, it’s not that my mother sat down and read the Bible with me or even took me to church. I would never call her a religious woman. Still, her very act of mothering revealed the nature of God in whose image she is created.

So today, I turn my attention toward the God who created my mother and all mothers in His astonishing, multifaceted image.

(Don’t worry. I am not about to rewrite the Bible nor reinterpret theology in this short blog!)

I am going to reflect on just a couple of ways through which my mother represented God to me, even when I was too young or too arrogant to notice.

The first is that my mother gave me life. I was conceived and nurtured in her womb and no one else’s. I drew her blood into my veins.

When it was time for me to be born, my mother struggled greatly. Like many children, I was breached and nearly took her life. I cannot even imagine her travail, the pain she endured for my sake!

When I was too small to feed myself, my mother nursed me. Later, she tied a bib around my neck and fed me with a spoon. And when I was old enough to feed myself, she still provided the food and prepared it for me to eat.

Now, in every pregnant woman, I see God (Isa. 46:3-4), glowing with joy for the life He’s bringing forth. When I see a nursing mother, or a mother preparing a meal for her children, I see God who feeds us when we’re helpless and who, like my own mother, never forgets us (Isa. 49:14-15).

And I see me; conceived in the mystery of God, drawing His life into my veins, His breath into my lungs and His sustenance into my body.

And yes, I’m grateful. For my mother and for the God in his image she is created.

How do you see God in your own mother?

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Are we made to judge?

Maybe we judge now because someday we will judge and we’re just getting ahead of ourselves. Could that be true? Could we be made to judge, but we’re just not ready to do it?

Jesus was emphatic; “Judge not.”

I hear that loud and clear. Not only do I hear it from Jesus, but I hear it from everyone around me and from myself, especially when I hear people judging others.

But why is it that we have such a proclivity for judgment? What is it, in us, that so quickly evaluates and declares its opinion? Is it possible that this attribute, the ability and desire to judge, is also a part of our image-of-God-created-humanness?

Certainly, it’s true that God is judge. That’s another thing the Bible is clear about. So maybe our propensity for judgment is an expression of our God created image.

And if it is, what do we do with that?

I wonder if the real message is; don’t judge now. Don’t judge here. Yes, you’re meant to judge, but you’re not ready for it yet.

Am I making this up?

Maybe, but the apostle Paul wrote, “do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” Really? Someday, we’ll judge the world? That’s a staggering thought. Who are we to judge the world? We who are so shortsighted and uncomprehending?

Or maybe, we are only today shortsighted and uncomprehending. Maybe someday we’ll see clearly and then, maybe we’ll judge well. So perhaps we’re just getting ahead of ourselves.

Is that possible?

Again, I consider Paul’s words, “do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.”

So maybe we will judge someday, when the Lord reveals all that’s hidden in the human heart. Maybe we’ll judge with Jesus and we’ll do so in truth, with generosity and love.

I don’t know, but that’s the way I’m reading this teaching today. It gives me grace; not only for myself, but for everyone around me.

Instead of, “Hey, knock it off. You can’t judge!” The real message might be, “Someday, you’ll be able to judge and then you’ll judge well. In the meantime, be patient, my friend.”

How does that sound to you?

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Where’s the punishment?

I read a quote recently that caught my attention. It said, “We are not punished for our sins but by our sins.” Apparently, the quote belongs to Elbert Hubbard, an anarchist who died on the Lusitania.

I don’t know much more about the man. Really, it’s just the quote that caught my attention. Something in it resonates. Yes, the impact of sins, our own and others’, tears us to shreds.

Immediately, my mind is flooded with stories from Afghanistan, images from Iraq, US news reports, and the sharp memories of those who’ve hurt me. On the heels of such realities run my own failures and destructive behaviors.

Everything in me shouts yes. We, as an international community, as families and as individuals are punished by our sins. The consequences of our destructive decisions and actions range from hand grenade blasts to nuclear explosions; violence in the human family and violence in the human soul.

I would collapse defeated, if this were all I knew.

Yet there’s more, isn’t there?

First, of course, I’m grateful for his forgiveness. Grateful that God will not punish me again for my own sins. I suppose forgiveness should be enough, but actually, there’s more, isn’t there? Another sentence that perhaps Mr. Hubbard didn’t know or simply didn’t choose to share. The missing sentence starts with Jesus and speaks into the now.

Yes, when God looks at me, he doesn’t see me through a screen of sin. But he does see the me who is wounded and scarred, the one who has been torn to shreds by the sins of the world (and by my own).

He doesn’t just declare; okay, you’re forgiven in my eyes and that needs to be enough. Forget the rest of it. Keep your human, this-life punishment, and do the best you can.

If he did, I would continue dragging my broken limbs and filthy bandages.

Instead, God says, I see and I care. Let me heal you. Let me heal your psyche, your body and your relationships. Let me save you from the punishments of sins.

And I sigh and breathe my grateful ‘Yes’ and my ‘please’ and my ‘thank you’ and I offer my wounds to the healer’s touch.

How do you understand sin, punishment and salvation?

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