Or, so said the recipe. I bought some fresh, yellow squash day before yesterday. Grabbed an internet recipe off the web with instructions for making squash and sweet onion. The recipe instructed me to slice the squash, quarter inch in width, and place the pieces side by side on a paper towel. Then, I was to pinch a little sea salt and sprinkle it across the top of each slice.
I don’t usually follow recipe instructions the way I used to feel I had to follow the Bible – with scrupulous attention to detail, preciseness in application, and all served up with a kind of background fear that, if I do not, the recipe might just go up in flames just like the world will go up in eternal flames if the Bible isn’t taken literally.
This time, however, I followed the instructions closely, sprinkling a little sea salt on the freshly sliced yellow squash.
After a few moments preparing something else, I looked back at the squash and, sure enough, little beads of sweat were popping up on the surface of the squash. The salt was drawing some of the moisture from inside the squash. As a consequence, it fried better in the skillet, alongside the caramelizing sweet onion slices.
A very tasty spring dish, I might add, too.
Then, it occurred to me that Jesus likened his followers to “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13-16). Neither of these metaphors of your presence or my presence as Jesus followers in the world carries one iota of effort or struggle or war-making associated with it. Yet, when I think about much of my spiritual life throughout its several decades, my religious life was nothing less than one big struggle with failure sprinkled over most of my efforts like salt on squash slices.
Instead of my efforts at being “spiritual” bringing out the best in me, my efforts made me miserable much of the time and a misery to almost everyone around me.
I struggled to feel close to God. Sometimes I did. Most of the time, however, I did not. When I did, it was usually at a religious rock concert or a revival meeting when the preacher was yelling and scaring the hell out of everybody as he described all the horrors of what was coming when the world came to the end and just how close that end is. His stories were like Stephen King novels filled with suspense, lots of horror, especially for the lost and those left behind.
At such times, I felt something I mistakenly thought was God. It was more an emotional reaction I realize today. It also explains why my spiritual life was mostly dissatisfying and much like a roller coaster of madness. Some days “ON” but most days “OFF.” My whole spiritual life was really pretty pathetic and no matter how hard I tried, I could never quite make it with God.
Or, so it seemed.
I wrestled with unanswered questions that, had I ever admitted those questions out loud to other Christians – a mistake I made more than a few times – I was quickly pounced on by the “We’ve got it all figured out crowd” of religious zealots who would wave their two-ton King James Versions of an inerrant, answer-filled Bible the way Brad Pitt would wave his sword in Troy and they would dare anyone to disagree, or raise questions because, to these misguided souls, questions were akin to compromise, just as they mistakenly thought that doubt was akin to disbelief. They were wrong, of course, but they would counsel me with their mindless cliches’ ”Stop asking so many questions, Steve, there are some things you just have to accept by faith.”
“Really?” I would say to myself. ”There are some things I shouldn’t question? That I should just accept by what you call faith? Isn’t what you’re really doing is just avoiding the hard questions yourselves, while hiding behind your presumption of faith? Isn’t it really fear and not faith you’re living by? And, you’re so deceived by your own fear, you can actually call your fear, faith?
Faith isn’t your BELIEFS
Fear can be dressed up, however, to look like faith.
One of the things I’ve come to learn is that, the more absolute and certain a person tries to sound about what they believe, the more certain you can be of just how uncertain they really are – inside, that is. Where it matters. In one’s heart.
Somehow, it seems phony to me to disregard the mind as do so many “religious” or “spiritual” people…that God-created and God-endowed capacity to question things…to probe, as did Job in the Old Testament, that seems infinitely more real…more genuine…more honest and authentic to me today. Unfortunately, the Christians with whom I spent most of my time were anyone but like Job. They were more like Job’s inauthentic, know-it-all friends…who were really religious bigots…the kind so abundant today…the “we’ve got it all figured out,” crowd…the so-called friends of Job were offended by Job’s questions and they came to set him straight…to correct the error of his theological ways.
You cannot imagine how many emails I get from Christians thinking I’ve gone off the deep end. What I’ve left is only the madness they wish they could leave. But so many of them are drawing their salaries from equally mad places of presumed spirituality that they are like incarcerated free people. They look longingly through bars of restriction, wanting to be free of the religious madness paying their salaries. The door is open, of course. And, they know that, too. But, fear keeps them right where they are…pretending to believe things they don’t believe…saying and preaching things they have sincere questions about…I know this, my friend, I am coach, counselor, and friend to scores of these religious leaders all across America.
Job’s “friends” struck down his questions, told him to confess his sins – since everybody knew such bad things would never happen to a righteous person for no reason whatsoever. Job obviously was a sinner and had done something to deserve his misfortunes.
It didn’t work with Job.
It didn’t work with me.
It doesn’t work with anyone who intends on finding…on knowing an authentic faith…a spirituality that is beyond religion…a sacredness that knows the real temple of God is the Temple within (1 Cor. 3:16), as Saint Paul reminded us.
It was only when I realized that I needed to do nothing at all to become who I am already, that the salt of God’s presence began to sweat from within me all that was inauthentic…phony…playacting.
In case you missed it, Jesus did not say, “One day you will be like salt and light. Soon enough, but only after confirmation…only after baptism and a new members class and a lot of Bible study courses…no you don’t have to worry about a Bible yet but you will. Right now, you just need to confess that I am the way and the only way to God and that all these other religions are wrong and that I’ve come to start a new religion – I think we’ll call it Christianity…yes, that sounds like a good name…So, from this point on, what I’m starting is right and it is the only way…and once you’ve gotten the theological stuff all figured out – you know, once you’ve accepted the virgin birth – don’t worry about that now, the Catholics whom you don’t yet know but, they will be here soon, they’ll help you sort out your theology and then there will be some Protestants who’ll come along to correct the Catholics…and then, there will be the Evangelicals who’ll correct both the Catholics and the Protestants…and so, once you’ve acknowledged the great doctrines of the Trinity, and the virgin birth, and the immaculate conception…the substitutionary atonement for original sin…and, of course…once you’ve got the inerrant Word in hand…and, oh yes, all this after you first repent of your sins in a revival meeting…that is, repent of your original sin nature you inherited from Adam after his even more evil wife duped him into eating the apple off the forbidden tree…and then…
…and then…and then…
…and so goes the madness we call “religion” today.
“You mean, Jesus, there is more?” you ask.
“Oh, yes,” says Jesus, “lots more you’ll have to get straight in order for this salt and light metaphor to work…you see, you’re not there yet. I mean look at you guys. You don’t even have a Bible yet. So, you’ll have to get together and, after the Holy Spirit comes…that’s the third part of the Trinity you’ve not heard about yet but you will. You’ll have to figure that out and He will guide a group of folks who’ll convene a Council of Carthage, and they’ll need to be lots more Councils as almost all of these will be divisive in nature but, but you’ll need to get all my words recorded – and it would be best if they were recorded in red and I prefer the King James Version but that’ll come later and so will a man named C. I. Scofield. Remember that name. He’s important because he’ll explain Saint John’s Revelation. Most will think John was smoking weed when he wrote what will be the last book in your upcoming King James Version of the Bible. So, God will raise up Scofield to correct the stuff that wasn’t so clear in the Revelation. He’ll put his own notes in the margins of what will be called a reference bible and, if people will just read his notes, then Revelation will make sense and the pre-millennial, dispensational rapturist theology will finally be the correct version of how the world will come to an end. So, be sure you get that correct. Gotta know how it’s all gonna end, my friends.”
“So fellas’ you see you’re hardly salt and light yet. But, don’t give up hope, you’ll get there someday…somehow…I promise…you’ll make it one day with God!”
Whoa! Sort of wore me out just writing what you and I know inside is the nonsense…the madness of what so much of religion has become. Right?
So, can you see, my friends, can you fathom why I have struggled to get through much of my spiritual life? What was around me and, unfortunately, what is still around so many spiritually hungry people…and maybe you, too…is what I would call a salt substitute, anything but the REAL thing. A kind of religion that is devoid of any power. Just a lot of puff and smoke, or smoke and mirrors.
I had all but given up hope that the religious world could change…that I could change…
Then, one day, sitting on a couch, watching a PBS special on television, a remote in one hand, a Bud Light in the other, I woke up. I both died and resurrected in the same instant. My search ended. The war within was over. The confusion with which I had lived for decades disappeared. All my efforts to know God ceased. Peace…confidence…blissful joy, even the most profound and indescribable serenity came over me and…
I quit seeking God from that instant onward. Why would I seek that which had found me already? Not since then have I ever felt the need to seek after God, like the prophet erroneously suggested. I live daily with a profound sense of the Presence. Why? I am salt….light. I am.
And, the same is true of you.
I stopped looking at the Bible, too, as an “answer-book” and, when I did, it took on a life to me. It is no answer book. Never was. People who think it is are just wrong. It’s an old book. It doesn’t even address half the problems we face these days. Probably needs updating with some new and equally inspiring books. But, from the moment of my transformation, I began to see the Bible as it really is, a collection of the faith stories of people just like me, faulty, full of faults, full of themselves, sometimes flippant, almost always arrogant, but, at times, too, seemingly in touch with Source…with life…with themselves…with God.
Try reading the Bible this way my friend and you’ll see for yourself what the Bible was intended to be.
From that moment on the couch – I wish it would have been a bit more dramatic – like when, after reaching the summit of Mount Everest, I met GOD!!!!! – my “burning bush” story – something like that would make my story a little more believable. But it wasn’t dramatic but the consequences have been. Beyond description.
No longer do I feel the need to BECOME anything. I AM everything already. So are you. I am salt. I am light. So are you. Together, we are already making the church sweat and the world salivate after that which is real in us…authentic…and true. People are leaving religion my friend for the precise reasons I’ve described above. They have not left their longing, however, to be spiritually connected. They resonate with the truth of Jesus’ words “I am the light of the world” and his equally truthful declaration, “You are the light of the world…You are the salt of the earth.”
We are little Jesus’ in this world. We are not becoming anything. We are just being who we are…brothers and sisters, standing alongside Jesus…loving, to the best of our ability, those our culture wants to call “gays” and “fags” and “immigrants” – hell, my friends, we are all gays and straights and immigrants because, just as Jesus prayed, “I pray that they may be ONE” (Jn 17), we now know we ARE all ONE. The Boy Scouts of America have gotten it half right. Now, in time, they will get it completely right.
Why? Salt and Light is here. We are that salt in this world that causes what’s evil to “sweat” – what’s evil in culture, even what’s evil in the church…in religion gone mad…and we are salt and light in the world to provide perspective and presence and power.
And, my friend, there is no effort in any of this. Just be who you are. This moment.
I am…that’s not “will be” “hope to be” “one day I’ll make it”
It is who you are now. When you cease struggling to find God…to be like God…to be good…when you stop trying to find God…
Well…just give up the struggle, my friend and see what happens for yourself. In yourself.