Eye Has Not Seen

Eye has not seen,

Ear has not heard,

Nor has it ever entered into the heart of man

the things which God has prepared for those who love him.

Some say nothing exists beyond the world seen with the eyes or experienced through the senses; that there is no life beyond what we daily experience. And, that life, in the end, is nothing more than chemical reactions in our biological matrix. There is no “heaven”, no “hell”, no after life, no resurrection, no God.

I do not fault those who believe this. I, however, do not find that explanation of things to be satisfying. There are hundreds or thousands of questions I can not answer. Questions that seem to confound the notion of a good and all loving God. Theodicy, as it is called, cannot be solved by human logic. I am not satisfied with that, but it is something I accept. This does not keep me from lying awake at night wondering why there is hunger in the world, or pain and suffering of innocents, or wars and famine and disease. I fail to understand how these things can be reconciled to an all loving, omnipotent God.

Yet, as strong an argument against the existence of God as that is, for me, there is a stronger more subtle and sublime reason I continue to believe. If there is a name for it, I don’t know what it is. It is the experience I have when I view a great work of art, or the wonder of a spectacular sunset, or grasp momentarily the indomitable spirit of some aged soul who has emerged from great suffering.

These are experiences that draw me out of myself to encounter the “other.” Beauty, aesthetics, wonder, awe. We all say certain things make us grateful or that we are thankful for this and that thing or experience. Whether it is purely *human* to say and feel such things and nothing more, I cannot say. But I feel, and I’d like to think, I intuit, that such feelings and aspirations are something more than biology. More than chemical reactions in my brain.

Religion as such is, and always has been, and in some sense, always will be, human and man made. There is no religion, per se, that is revealed as divine. Even in the Bible, in the Epistle of St James, it states, “Pure religion, and undefiled before God, is this: to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Loving ones neighbor and living a good life. Elsewhere in the Bible, somewhere in the Old Testament, it says these words, “He has told thee, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee, to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

“Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.”

In America today, as in much of the world, Christianity has little to do with Christ. Any casual observer can see that Christians lead the world in hate and fear mongering. There is nothing of God in this religion. Nothing at all. Yet Christianity is not dead. There are little fountains of hope where the Way of Christ is remembered and practiced. It is not in the grand palaces of the Prosperity Gospel, nor in the old stalwart Churches of the old guard, but here and there, almost invisible. The ugly, the lame, the blind, the sick, the poor, the outcasts, the disenfranchised, the lonely…the dregs of society; these are places where the Spirit is moving. Not in the whirlwind, not in the fire, not in the earthquake, but in the stillness with a small quiet voice, God is speaking.

In times of great spiritual famine, such as today, when the Word of God is so rare that it has been forgotten, God calls his people to come out of Babylon. A small drop of water at first, then a trickle, a stream, and then a mighty river. When every effort has been made to induce God from heaven to no avail, he speaks to those who will listen. He who has an ear, let him hear. It is not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.

Christianity has sold it’s soul for a mess of pottage. It has exchanged the truth for a lie by courting political power and creating a god of its own imagination. It will die in the dust bin of history. Even now it is gasping for breath and grabbing at the air.

The end is near.

Christendom is dying and it is not a noble death, but an ignominious one. For more than 2000 years the Church has existed with saints and sinners in her pail. I wonder if she will survive this famine. We cannot hearken back to the past. Science has become the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know too much now. To go back would be hypocrisy and an unconscionable evil. Having eaten the fruit of that tree, we are bound to live with the results. The old must die and fade into the misty memories of an early childhood.

We have indeed begun to grow up as a race. We would be fools if we despised Science and all that it has taught us and the great promise that it holds for our future. We must embrace it and change ourselves. A Christianity that cannot or will not change and adapt, is already a dead, lifeless, corpse.

As for me, I will continue to be awed at the mystery of reality, at its beauty and tragedy. I will continue to believe in the ultimate victory of good over evil, of light over darkness, of life over death. I will continue to follow Jesus as best I can, to love my neighbor as myself and to do good in the world. I think ALL of us can agree on those last two parts, loving ones neighbor and doing good. It matters not what one believes if one does those things. This is all that is required for a better world. A better humanity.

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Loss and Gain

Someone recently asked on Facebook, “Why do some people beat others down to get ahead?”

People do this for two reasons: to get an emotional high and because it works. The survival of the fittest in its most animal expression.

These people are not endowed with, or at the least are suppressing, all that is noble and good that causes the human race to be somehow more than an animal.

To beat down others is to exploit weaknesses for self gain. It is also self destructive, in the end. What is left of such persons, when they have obtained the pinnacle to which they aspired, is little more than a shell of their former humanity. What does it profit to gain the whole world but lose ones own soul? A very apt question we should ask in these present days.

The joy of Christmas

Dear friends,

A gentle reminder for those of you who celebrate Christmas. After the giving and receiving and eating and joking and fellowship and fun are over, please pause to reflect that the joy you experienced is but a drop in the bucket compared to the good things which are to come.

Remember that the joy of Christmas is Jesus. Not just an ordinary man but the incarnate God Almighty who came to right all wrongs, lift all burdens, heal all wounds, satisfy all hunger and deliver all who are oppressed.

In the words of the Christmas hymn by Christina Rossetti,

“What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part.

What I can I give him, give my heart.”

It is in giving that we receive, in righting wrongs that we are justified, lifting the burdens of others that we are relieved of our own, tending to the sick that we are healed, feeding the hungry that we are fed ourselves, and in delivering the oppressed that we are delivered. Go, and carry the Incarnate God in your hearts and do good in the world.

Piety and Me

aristotle-philosopher-for-though-we-love-both-the-truth-and-our-friends-pietyFor most of my adult life, including also my teen years, I have striven to be a pious Christian. Being a questioner by nature, I have always wanted to know exactly what piety is and how to obtain it.

I remember in high school “senior seminar” class, we studied the American puritans, briefly. I recall being impressed with their austerity and conviction and wondered how they arrived at such certainty and willingness to be faithful to their beliefs. I have always been introspective, and this questioning about puritan piety led me to a time of deep reflection. I was filled with doubts about myself, as most teens tend to be, but I also had, unknown at the time to me, clinical depression.

I loved God. I loved the Church. I loved Christianity. I was persuaded in the depths of my soul that it was the true and correct faith and that I should and would live the rest of my life seeking to be as good and loyal and pious a Christian as possible.

But, in the cocktail of emotions that was my inner self, I could not settle down on anything. I was down and sad most of the time. I would try to be good, and fail over and over. Every time I believed I had made some success, I would fall back; all because of my emotional distress over which I had no control. I thought, however, it was my own fault and the fundamentalism I was raised in reinforced this.

In the year after I graduated from high school, I left the Baptist church of my youth, and became Reformed Presbyterian and a Calvinist. Calvinism, with it’s far reaching implications, gave some structure for me to bind up my emotions. I began to read the works of the Puritans and formed my piety after theirs. In doing so, I very nearly destroyed myself. I was wracked with guilt, constantly. I saw myself as a failure as a Christian and a human being. Perversely, Reformed theology lauds such a view of oneself. It is on this pretense that one may “flee to Christ, resting only in him.” And so, I did.

As the years passed and I reached my mid 20’s, I began to realize that I was actually dying inside. The more I worked to be holy and pious, the more reviling I found myself to be. I began to explore Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and discovered a rich trove of spirituality that not only supplemented my Puritan approach, but seemed to correct it…for a while.

I married in 1994 at the age of 24. We had a very Reformed wedding and continued to attend the Presbyterian church of which I was a member. Then, one year into our marriage, we went to seminary. It was a seminary of a conservative denomination in the Episcopal tradition. At first, I was stoked, but as time went on, the pressures of school, work and marriage took a mighty toll on my life. I was literally falling apart at the seams and had no idea what to do about it.

When 2001 and 9/11 happened, I was in a state of major depression. I had spent nearly that entire summer in bed; unable to work or do anything meaningful. My wife and I were fighting every day and in February 2002, she left me. I returned to my parents house as a broken, confused, essentially dying, man. In late 2002 I admitted myself to the hospital for suicidal thoughts and was sent to a mental hospital for a week. There I was diagnosed with major depression and put on medication. I began to feel better. A lot better. I was beginning to see some light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Yet, I was still broken inside. My faith had failed me. My mentors and their promises of happiness if I obeyed the Lord failed me. My orthodoxy failed me. The only things that did not fail me were my parents and a few close friends.

After I was on the meds for several years, I thought I had “dealt” with the underlying issues that were causing my depression. So, under my doctors supervision, I went off the medications. Within six months I was suicidal again and again admitted myself to the hospital. However, this time, I was determined not to come out of the hospital the same person. I made an oath to myself that I would find out the truth about myself, God and the world, and then I would be free. What I didn’t realize, was that by making such a promise to myself, I had already taken the first step in the right direction by acknowledging that the ways of the past had not worked and I needed to separate myself from them.

I began to systematically deconstruct my entire moral and ethical system in my head. I seriously wanted to start over again and I did my best to rid myself of any and all baggage from the past. I realized what I needed was not to be good or follow the rules, but to have someone, like my parents, who loved me unconditionally. I needed a God like that. Not the God of the Puritans who was impossible to approach and only rewarded impossibly difficult to keep rules.

I was nearly 40 by the time I came to myself, as a real person, and decided I would no longer believe anything simply because someone told me, no matter who they were or what esteem I held them in. I determined to find the truth, but this time without so much baggage from Fundamentalism. I largely threw that out the door with it’s narrow piety and legalism.

Now, as I am in my mid 40’s, reaching on toward 50, I still feel the baggage that I have tried to offload. But, the future is much brighter. In the past, I had lived my life in fear of everything, especially hell. But I have made it clear to myself that I will fear nothing because where there is fear, there is not love. Love being the key to happiness.

My piety has greatly changed from my teenage years. I still love God, the church not so much because of the horrendous abuse and evil I have experienced in it. I still want to be holy. I still pray every day. I still seek to do the will of God, but my perspective is very different now. Whereas before, I would be mystified at how to be “good”, I no longer feel the need. Being a Christian is not about right doctrine, tradition, or a specific brand of piety, but about following Jesus. According to St James, “True religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is to visit widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” There is a vast difference between the piety of James and that of most Christian traditions today. Most traditions have lost sight of the simplicity of piety as “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” and myopically focused on the emotional/internal aspect of piety. Feeling right has trumped doing right. In fact, doing right, in these traditions, cannot be pleasing to God unless it is done from a “pure heart” aka: right emotional state. I’ve left that all behind. All that matters to me and God is that widows and orphans and anyone who is oppressed, disenfranchised, marginalized, should be treated with love and respect and dignity as is becoming for a human being. I will stand against injustice wherever I see it.

This is genuine piety. Say your rosary. Do your prostrations. Pray the daily office. Fine. But these are merely peripheral practices that have little if anything to do with piety. If you do not love your neighbor as yourself, you have failed both God and the Gospel. That is the bottom line.

The Path to Peace

pT5e4eapcI have written about this a number of times, but it is more pertinent than ever that it be reiterated.

We live in times of great uncertainty and that uncertainty is rooted in fear. Fear of the future, fear of losing the comfortable paths of the past, fear of people who are different from us, and ultimately, fear of losing all that is familiar and being thrust into a world we did not ask for or want.

We are strongly tempted to cling to the past as though we can project its peace and security into the future by holding on to it. We do this in spite of the world falling apart all around us. We turn a blind eye to reality and grasp ever more firmly onto those things which are even now fading away before our eyes.

This week it became more apparent than ever that this is not simply an American problem. It is world wide, and the majority of the human race is in the grip of this fear. Falling markets, declining values, listless workers; everything points to the utter failure of human culture. There is no time in this brief essay to delve into or discuss the causes or reasons, for they are legion. I only wish to do one thing here, and that is point a clear way out.

I have said many times that the opposite of fear is not bravery. Bravery is doing something heroic in spite of ones fear. Not being afraid in the first place is quite a different thing. And, there is only one way to dispel fear: genuine, authentic, vibrant, love. Love is the exact opposite of fear and where it exists, fear cannot thrive.

We are beyond the point of no return. We have extended ourselves beyond the place where petty matters are relevant. There is no longer time to discriminate based on skin, religion, culture or anything else. Literally NOTHING, at this point, is more important than uniting behind our common humanity. We can argue point after point after point and we will sail ourselves and the whole human race into oblivion by our stubbornness and arrogance. We must leave the ways of fear behind and love one another. We must work for the common good. We can afford no less and we owe no less to our neighbor, our brother, our sister, our fathers and mothers.

Perfect love casts out fear, for where there is fear, love has not yet been made perfect.

It is time for honesty and humility, for grace and mercy, for love and kindness. Biases be damned. Opinions be damned. Do what is good and pure and clean and loving. Do not demand anyone conform to your criteria, simply do good to others. Forget “tough love.” The time for that is gone and what is needed now is love plain and simple.

Whatever your religion, you are obligated to love one another. Whatever your culture, you have been taught to be kind. Do it indiscriminately. Love and be kind to all alike, it makes no difference who or what they are.

God bless us all.

Science + Faith = Christianity

Tiffany_Education_(center)Contrary to the opinions of many, Christianity is an evidence based religion. The claims of Christianity are rooted in history. Let me be clear, Christianity per se, is not about theism. It is about the man Jesus who lived in Palestine about 2000 years ago. Christianity claims that Jesus was born, lived and died and subsequently raised from the dead. This is the core claim Christianity makes. Should the body of Jesus ever be found in the desert, the whole religion will have been revealed to be but a misguided ruse. The absence of such compelling evidence against Christianity, though, does not *prove* it’s truth.
We are far removed, historically speaking, from those who claimed to witness first hand the resurrected Jesus. Because of this, we cannot consider the claims of Christianity to be self-evident. It is a certain perspective with which we interpret documented events. We cannot therefore, condemn those who do not see things the way we do as Christians. Judgement is always best left to God.
Jesus remains, imo, the most unique character in history. Not because of who the Church says he is as God Incarnate, but because of what we believe happened, historically, 2000 years ago a short while after his death. He was a great moral teacher, a miracle worker, a prophet. The very early Church didn’t know what to make of him. All kinds of theories arose about him ranging from the now orthodox opinion that he was God incarnate, to the disavowed opinion that he was a phantasm.
The fact of his blatant humanity has always been scandalous; even to many Christians. He is GOD says the pious mind in a failed effort to “preserve” his deity. In so doing and making this emphasis, his humanity is lost and we no longer have a God incarnate.
Jesus is bound to history. Demonstrate that he did not exist or was not raised from the dead, and Christianity is dead. Period. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of history and verification of historical data to Christianity. As St Paul argued, “if Christ is not raised….then you are still dead in your sins.”
I see so many Christians dismiss or vehemently object to issues like evolution because they say it conflicts with the Bible. They then have to come up with cockamamy conspiracy theories about how science is out to destroy Christianity. In doing this they do not realize that they are removing Christianity from a firm historical basis and placing it into the realm of the mythical and legend. To deny science is to deny the Faith. As St Augustine stated, “All truth is God’s truth.” Therefore science must not only be embraced, it must be revered.
Faith is not ignorance. Faith is not opposed to science. In fact, faith cannot exist without science. Science tells us the facts. Faith tells us what those facts mean for us. Science cannot answer the question “Is it right to kill?” Only faith can address this issue. Science can tell us the results of killing, the pros, the cons, the long term effects…it can provide data. But it cannot speak on the morality of it. It takes something beyond science to do this. Call it faith, intuition or what have you, it is beyond the realm of science.
Science can be performed even by lower animals. We have all seen animals learn by repeating something, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. This is science at it’s most basic. But it is faith that is unique to humanity. At least so far as we know. Lower animals do not seem to have any moral concerns. Occasionally we see animals do things that appear to approach love or care, but we really, at this point, have no way of verifying that is what they are actually doing. Humans alone among the species have the ability and drive to make moral judgments. But without science, without data or facts, moral judgments are meaningless. Lions kill their prey, but it’s not murder. Lizards mate but it’s neither marriage nor rape.
The long and short of it is that without history (science) Christianity cannot exist. Likewise, without Faith, Christianity is an empty claim. It takes both together for Christianity to live.

The Beastly Priest

There once was a priest
who was a little beast
His name was Daniel Brown.
Hellfire and damnation
was what he preached
in the church in the center of town.
Women would swoon
in the warm afternoon
when the heat of the hellfire was hot
Ol’ Daniel would bellow
and scare all his fellows
til repentance they had got.
The little ones cried
and the elderly died
under the hand of the beastly priest.
At judgement I”m sure
he’ll come out like manure
Because he didn’t care in the least.
When the graves open up
and the carrion birds sup
When Armageddon is nigh
Then Father Brown
will stroll into town
to watch all humanity die.
Some call him “Scratch”
others, after a match,
call him Lucifer because of his smell
But the truth, dark and sordid
Is Farther Brown always courted
The devil in his preaching of Hell.
The moral is this
you cannot achieve bliss
by threatening people with fear
For fear leads to dying
and eternal sighing
in the place where nothing is dear.
If you’re going to preach
then season your speech
with mercy and grace and love.
For this is the way
that in the end will pay
with everlasting joy up above.