Those who insist the Bible is “literally true” have all but destroyed the very Bible they want everyone to take seriously.
In two ways. First, by insisting the Bible is literally true they have established a level of expectation for its authority that people simply cannot accept. As I have written about already, for example, whenever fundamentalist Christians insist, and they almost always do, that Genesis is a scientific account of creation, taking place some 6 to 10,000 years ago and over a literal 24/7-day period of time, they are expecting people to accept this while denying everything science, astronomy, and biology have taught us.
This is not only silly, it’s suicidal. As the astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson so eloquently put it when he was recently asked by Stephen Colbert in his typically flippant and comical way, “What if I believe the earth is flat, even though you say it is round? Shouldn’t I get more than my share of time to say this, since my case will be harder to prove?”
“You get to say whatever you want…that the world is flat, if you’d like, because we live in a country that guarantees you free speech. But this is not a country that guarantees that what you say is correct. What we have learned about the age and origin of the universe is true whether you want to believe it or not.”
In other words, to expect people to believe things about the Bible that simply are not so is not to “defend the Bible,” as fundamentalists almost universally but mistakenly think. It is to discredit the Bible instead. Rather than preserving its authority, it undermines it.
Second, the mere suggestion that the Bible is literally true is heretical…even a heresy. It cannot all be literally true, nor equal in its authority. And, even Fundamentalist Christians, who claim to hold the loftiest view of the inspiration of all scripture, do not take the Bible literally or with the same degree of authority throughout.
1. The Book of Deuteronomy says that children who are disobedient to their parents should be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
Do they take this literally? Or, as equally authoritative?
2. The Book of Leviticus says that those who worship false Gods should be stoned to death, too (Leviticus 20:off).
Do they take this literally? Does anyone? Maybe the extreme radicals in all traditions. No sane person does, however.
Some say, “That’s the Old Testament. Admittedly, it has some things in it that we simply cannot accept today. But there are no such inconsistencies or contradictions in the New Testament.”
3. Then, what do you do with the Apostle Paul who instructed the Corinthian Church to discipline a misbehaving brother in Christ who was apparently living in some kind of incestuous relationship? Paul instructed the Church to gather at their weekly prayer service and “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
In other words, the “infallible” Saint Paul writing “inerrant scripture”…even the “words of God”…under the dictation and direction no less than the Holy Spirit instructs the Church that the next time they assemble for worship, they should release this man to Satan – was that in a prayer to Satan? – with the full expectation that Satan would kill him while God saved his eternal soul.
Not one of “Saint Paul’s” more saintly instructions, if you ask me. And, hardly an instruction that any sane person, much less Christian person, would take seriously today, much less literally. In fact, I’m pretty sure, if you attended church next Sunday and the pastor pointed out some brother’s failure and then summoned the church to pray that the poor soul be killed by the Devil so his soul would be saved for eternity…well…I don’t think I need to say anything else, do I?
Even Fundamentalist Christians do not take such scripture passages literally. If they, therefore, pick and choose those passages they do take literally, which of course they do, over those passages they do not, why do they continue the charade of insisting “all scripture is given by God?,” as even the saintly Paul once suggested to young Timothy? (2 Timothy 3:16).
It is all a charade. It is all dishonest. And, it must end.
After all, Jesus did not take scripture literally either. Or, as equally authoritative. Which explains why he frequently said, “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” (see Matthew 5:38 as but one example). He would quote a teaching from the Hebrew scriptures and/or oral tradition and then he would bring a new level of consciousness to the interpretation of that scripture.
Shouldn’t we read scripture in a similar fashion? Bringing to the Bible’s limited world view, its frequent ethical inconsistencies, and its often contradictory teachings our best wisdom and discernment?
Shouldn’t we bring a new level of consciousness to our reading of scripture?
Shouldn’t Christian leaders help people to see through the limited teaching, as well as the limiting way the people of God believed and behaved in times past?
Shouldn’t Christian churches end the charade of insisting the Bible be taken literally? And, instead, help people to read the Bible for its insights, its wisdom, its inspiration, as well as its direction? Not as a rule book. Not as a literal dictation of God’s word. Not as the final word to all peoples in all times and in all places.
If the Church does not do this, there is little future for the Bible.
Below is my response to Sandy Rios, the talk show host of the American Family Association, for her recently publicized remarks that “God will even the score” against Obama and gays soon enough.
I wrote the following response in an attempt to address why there is so much anger and hatred among fundamentalist Christians and Christian leaders toward the gay community. She just happens to be the perfect case study in this sad commentary on bigotry and hatred and fear so prevalent among many Christians and in many churches.
Here’s what I wrote (if you’d like to read an article related to what she said, click on the link below):
Let’s be real clear about this, Sandy Rios. What you are saying is not said “with humility and with fear” as you claim. No, this IS the delusion under which you are living and, coincidentally, I lived, too, for much of my Christian life. I am so grateful, however, to be free of such inner turmoil. Hopefully, the day will come when you tire of it, too.
Latent anger and hatred, as in your case toward Obama, gays, and, if you knew me, most likely toward me, too, is just that – anger and hatred. Not only do you live with this, but you project it onto God, too. This is delusional in at least two ways:
1. You assume that God feels about gays and “liberals” just as you do. What you do not know, however, is that it is you alone who hates gays and is afraid of them. It is not God who hates them or is afraid of them. Your error is that you are unaware of your error. In fact, I am sure you would vigorously defend yourself by saying, “Oh but I love the sinner; it is the sin I hate.” Really? I want to give you more credit than that. Surely you are smart enough to avoid succumbing to that level of self-delusion? It is my hope that one day you will see your own misperception of consciousness.
There is a second way that projecting onto God what is your own dysfunction is regrettable.
2. You dismiss your rage toward Obama, gays, and I’m sure others, too, by living out that rage via an imagined future punishment you are certain will come one day. You assume God will pour out his wrath on those you feel are sinners so you are able to cope with delayed gratification today because you imagine savoring it tomorrow.
I am no psychiatrist but I would guess that’s got to be akin to a mental psychosis. Just my uneducated guess but it seems a little frightening to me to think I would carry in my heart such anger and rage and dull that pain with a kind of morbid projection of payback one day.
This is all so very unnecessary and certainly it is a repugnant understanding of God with which you live. Having said this, however, I realize you are incapable of seeing this. Otherwise, you would renounce it once-and-for-all. Nobody would knowingly live with such a spiritual dis-ease or borderline psychoses.
You remind me of those whom Jesus regarded as blind but who thought they could see. This, too, you cannot see precisely because the lens of your soul are clouded by hate and anger. You would likely say, “God will forgive Obama and the gays,” but I wish to declare to you, Sandy, the good news that forgiveness is available to you…today. No need to live as you are living.
Unconsciousness is the culprit in all our failures, as well as all repugnant, judgmental behavior. I think this was one of the points Maya Angelou was making, when she said, “When you know better, you do better.” This is true for almost everyone. It is what precipitated Jesus’ comment from the cross, “Father forgive them, they do not know…”
When I speak of consciousness, this is that to which I refer. KNOWING-NESS. For me, salvation is “the transformation of the mind” as Saint Paul put it in Romans 12:1-2. It is a new way of thinking. It is a kind of expanded consciousness…enlarged awareness. It is a new way of thinking.
I really feel, Sandy, you cannot know what you are saying or doing. Nor are you apparently aware of just how hurtful your words are. The irony in all of this is that you probably feel better about yourself for holding on to your anger, fear, and hatred and projecting it onto God, too, so you don’t feel the demonic nature of such internal attitudes. You likely complicate things by telling yourself over and over that you alone are the persecuted souls of the world because you alone stand for a “truth” you mistakenly but actually think is the truth.
If it were even possible, I would hope you would know this one thing: Instead of your words lifting you up, as you likely feel they have done, you have really only successfully dragged God down into the pit of projected hate and anger where you live.
But then, I suppose you cannot see that. Or, can you?
Most people could care less whether it is or it isn’t. If you’re reading this, however, you probably care at least enough to read this.
To me, the Bible is important. It is for me the sacred story of the origins of my faith. In light of this, I could no more feel as if it were unimportant than a follower of Hinduism would feel the Bhagavad Gita is unimportant.
I do not believe, however, that the Bible is a Divinely-dictated book or a sacred text without error.
If you are a Biblical literalist, as some of you may be, what I’ve just said most likely bothers you greatly. You believe, not only that the Bible is Divinely-dictated and error-free, but you also believe that whatever it says must be taken as literally and factually true.
Furthermore, you feel, if the Bible is allowed to be a very human book, instead of a Divinely-dictated one…you would have to “throw the baby out with the bath water,” so to speak. That, if you questioned any of it, you’d undermine all of it and the end result would not be good either for you or the future of your faith. This probably also explains why you and other literalists are among those most concerned about the recent release of the Hollywood film Noah, starring Russell Crowe. Since the movie’s creators have taken liberty to create a movie not tied to a literal reading of the story of Noah, you regard that as objectionable, even a blatant disregard, and perhaps even disrespectful, of a literalist reading of the story.
As far as I’m concerned, however, I am bothered neither by Hollywood’s version of the story of Noah nor whether it conforms to a literalist reading of Genesis. If you’ve ever actually read the Genesis text for yourself, you will know there are actually two flood stories in Genesis, the one most familiar to people where God instructs Noah to preserve two of each species of animals (Gen. 7:15) and the other where God instructs Noah to preserve seven of each species of animals (Gen. 7:2). I am more bothered instead by such sacred stories being made into movies at all.
Why? Because these Bible stories were interpreted history, preserved for future generations, not for their factual accuracy, but their faith-generating component. When these movies are made, however, they are almost always recreated in a way resembling a literalist reading of the story. Which makes them about as believable as the movies Superman or Planet of the Apes. I can remember, for example, the first time I saw Cecil B. DeMille’s classic story of Moses. As dramatic as cinematography would permit at that time, DeMille captured a compelling but literalist depiction of the Moses epic. Even as a child, however, I found it completely unbelievable.
The real Moses never wielded a staff with supernatural powers, the tip of which, when dipped into the Nile, turned the river into a cesspool of blood. Or, when dipped into the Red Sea, caused it to part so Israelites could pass to the other side on dry, not muddy, ground.
None of these Biblical stories, including the ones where Jesus is depicted as defying the laws of nature and performing miracles…as in, walking on water or giving sight to the blind or, most amazingly, raising dead people back to life were recorded as factual, or literal, eyewitness accounts. And, even if they were, they cannot be depicted as such today, if you want any of it to be believed…to be respected…or, to be read with any seriousness.
For much too long, the Bible has been regarded as an encyclopedic collection of factual history complete with divine magic and mystery all bound together and defying every law of nature we know. This view of the Bible may have worked in a pre-scientific world. It will not, however, work in ours. In other words, it is past time to let go of a literalist reading of scripture. Instead, the Bible should be regarded for what it is: a sacred text of the faith stories as recorded through the Judaeo-Christian traditions. Inside those stories are timeless life lessons just waiting to be discovered by those who seek a more human and divine way of living and loving.
In Living the Questions, the author’s, Felten and Procter-Murphy, quote Marcus Borg who beautifully frames what I’m trying to say:
“There are many Christians in North America who are bothered by any suggestion that the Bible might be anything less than a divine product. There are also millions of people in North America and in Europe who simply cannot be biblical literalists. And my passion, my vocation, my mission even, if you will, is talking to the people who can’t be literalists. And what I want to say to conservative Christians who are upset by this other approach to the Bible is, “What do we say to the people who can’t be literalists? Do we say, ‘Sorry. Only literalists can be Christians.’? Or, do we say, ‘Sorry. God accepts only literalists.’?”
“Now, if you are a literalist and your literalism isn’t getting in your way or you’re not using it to beat up on other people, I have no problem with it whatsoever. God can work through literalism or non-literalism. But again, what do we say to the people who can’t be literalists? And here, my argument is that a more historic, and metaphorical approach to the Gospels, to the story of Jesus, and to the Bible as a whole provides a way for non-literalists to be Christian” (taken from Living the Questions, by David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, Harper-Collins, 2012, pp. 13-14).
The Bible’s real authority…power…is found in its stories and the imaginative way those stories have shaped the life of those who seriously listen for its divine message. It has never been what people say about the Bible that really matters.
So you say, “The Bible is literally true!”
Who really cares? No one, except you, the person who makes the claim. There is no power, however, in claiming something that increasingly looks no more believable than Hollywood’s version of Noah.
It has always been, and always will be, what the Bible says to you, in you, and through you that matters most.
When literalists finally get this, if they ever do, then the Bible will live again. There is no future for the Bible, however, where a literalist reading of the text is the only option.
(If you would like to read more of what I write, follow me on Twitter #DrSteveMcSwain).
Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill Church
Perhaps not “uncommon or illegal” Pastor Mark Driscoll and elders of Mars Hill Church, but certainly unethical and certainly not what an evangelical Christian leader or his elders should be doing, especially when you’re preaching Christian integrity in all things.
Wouldn’t you say?
At first, I wanted to judge Pastor Mark Driscoll for dipping into church funds, given by people who probably are deeply bothered this morning, and for the last several mornings, to learn how their donations had been used by their pastor. Siphoning over $200,000 of church funds, Pastor Mark hired a company that has learned how to “game” the publishing industry to make it appear (not unlike Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5) that his book on marriage was a virtual overnight bestseller when it was recently released – you can read the story to see how this company does it.
You might also want to read Acts 5 where Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and brought a portion of the proceeds under the pretense of bringing all from the sale of property. Different circumstances. Similar unethical motivation. Both designed to earn recognition, having learned how to play games, charades, doing one thing while pretending to do something else.
So, I found myself thinking of all kinds of things I could say here to “punish” him…as in, “See I told you so. These religious professionals are charlatans!”
I thought better of it, however. And I’m glad I did.
But I am going to weigh in on a couple of points: One is, I am frankly tired of religious leaders who believe ethics apply to everyone but them.
However, and this is my second point, as an author, I, too, know the lure of finding and using whatever means might be available to get one’s book into the marketplace. What author does not want their book to make the New York Time’s Bestseller list? Such things feed the hunger of that little me – the ego – inside all of us for recognition, status, notoriety, and fame. So, his actions, while forgivable and hardly ethical, are at least understood by this author.
Third, I wish evangelical Christians leaders, including Mark Driscoll, but all Christians, including myself…indeed all religious people of whatever persuasion…I wish we would just end the charade of telling other people that we hold the “real” truth…that our “gospel” is the “correct” one…that our beliefs are the right ones…that other beliefs are wrong or, at the least, secondary to our beliefs…that our way is the “right way,” or worse, the “only way” …that we are the saved and those who don’t come to Jesus (or whoever the “savior” may be) are the lost, the sinners, and still in sin.
I wish religious leaders would just stop the charade on Sunday mornings of believing and preaching, as Mark Driscoll does, that your understanding of the way to eternal life is the only way when such persons as this story illustrates cannot even find their own way through simple little matters of what’s right and what’s wrong…ethical and unethical.
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Since my terminal was the last stop, I watched, as did everyone else on the bus, as he made every stop, escorted each passenger down the steps and off the bus, retrieved everyone’s luggage for them to boot, and, if you can believe this, he even remembered whose luggage belonged to whom.
As I stepped off the bus, I handed him my business card and a twenty dollar bill, and I had no luggage besides my man purse, and I said, “My friend you are living proof that you can transform your world, as well as change any and every work environment, by regarding what you do as important, as of course it is, by bringing all of one’s creativity to it, and by just plain working damn hard and doing so with dignity, with pride, and with determination.
It reminded me of something someone said to me just yesterday, “I changed my future when I changed my mind about three things…
1. What I thought about myself;
2. What I felt about my role in this world; and,
3. Most importantly, when I decided that, what I did today, not tomorrow or next year, but what I was going to today was to make it the best possible day for everyone who might pass through my little world.”
I have to say, the longer I live, the more convinced I become, you change your world but only ever to that degree you have changed yourself.
Oh and one more thing. I told him,”If you ever come to Kentucky, you have a job already in my company. I’m looking for a great leader to run things and I suspect you would be perfect.”
— feeling wonderful at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Why at night? Why did he come at night instead of during the daylight hours?
“Because he was a secret disciple of Jesus,” I was told when I asked just this question after reading the story for the first time years ago.
It’s more than that, however. Much more than that.
Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening nails it, when he observes, “…we each carry a Jesus and a Nicodemus within us; that is, we each have a divine inner voice that opens us to truth and a mediating social voice that is reluctant to show its truth to others.”
Whoa! Wow, Nepo. Ponder his words, my friend. They will rattle your soul, to say the least.
So true, they are, as well.
Why is it that many of you – I know you’re out there because I was one of you at one time and for a long time – but why is it that many of you read what I write, ponder the questions I raise, and, often, perhaps not always, but very often find yourself actually agreeing with many of the things I write? There is a sound of truth to much of what you read, and so you keep coming back, albeit you come in the shadows, as it were. You read it on FaceBook or via BeliefNet or my own blog page but you never comment…no…no, you wouldn’t risk someone seeing you comment.
This is the telling part, isn’t it, my friend…you know, as I know, if you were to ever come out of the dark, out of the secret shadows where you question things just as I do…where you engage in conversations with your inner divine voice…conversations which you know, if you were ever to admit publicly…if you were to ever voice in the light of day the questions you ask in the dark night of your own soul…that, if you ever acknowledged publicly the spiritual doubts you’ve had, even the revulsion you feel for all that goes on in the name of religion…that you’re expected to be a part of but you almost always hate…you know, as I know, if you ever came out of the shadows with admissions like these, you are afraid you’d be ridiculed, reviled, rejected, and, maybe even jobless — if you are, like I once was, a minister.
What do you do?
You hide. You live a double life. In the light of day, you play by the rules. You say all the right stuff. You do your religious duties. You fulfill your spiritual obligations. You toe the line. You live by the beat of everyone else’s drum.
Meanwhile, you bury your real self, your inner self, the real you is kept in the closet. Which explains, does it not, why some Christians are so angry that gays and lesbians have come out of their closets of secrecy? It’s not that these Christians know why they’re so angry. But I can tell you why. They’re secretly jealous they don’t have the courage to do the same. To come out of their own closets of secrecy and be themselves.
So, you survive in the daylight by pretending to believe things you know aren’t so. You even say or maybe you even preach things you no longer believe. Inside, you feel divided…and, how could you not?…Two-faced, which of course you are…and, disconnected even with yourself.
Because you are. Isn’t this the same thing the writer of James was talking about when he referred to the “double-minded person” in James 1:8?
Wasn’t James really just describing you?
Of course, he was.
And, my friend, you are mistaken if you think I’m judging you. I write these thing because I know you. For, I, too, lived in the shadows for decades. Sure, like you, I loved Jesus passionately. But I had very serious questions about things, too. Things the church believed I knew were not so. Things the church was doing I knew were not right. But I went along to get along. I was afraid. Afraid of losing my job…of losing friends…of being rejected.
The day came, however, when “the pain of remaining the same was greater than the fear of changing.”
It’ll happen to you, too, I think. I cannot say for certain. But the fact that you’re still reading this must mean something is rattling in your own soul, too.
Don’t you find it strange that we never really know what happened to Nicodemus? Of course, there’s the minor reference to him at the crucifixion, helping to prepare the body of Jesus for burial (John 19:38-42). But, even there, you don’t get the feeling he’s emerged…that he’s come clean with himself, much less anyone else.
But, maybe…just maybe…he’s making progress. Stepping out of the shadows. Maybe this is John’s way of saying he was beginning to make peace with what psychologist D. W. Winnecott calls the “True Self” and the “False Self,” the innermost Nicodemus in communion and candid conversation with Jesus, and the public Nicodemus, full of phoniness pretending to be and to believe what everyone else pretends to believe, too.
“How do I set my inner Nicodemus free?” you ask. “How do I garner the courage to truly be who I am?”
Those are big questions, my friend. But here are three things you can begin doing now to initiate the “becoming” within yourself…the journey toward authenticity…the “True Self”…”higher self…the real you, fully human, fully divine, complete, whole and at peace.
1. Do not judge yourself, my friend. That’s the first thing. Right now, you’re reading this, thinking about how true these words are to your own experience but, inside, you’re spitting with disgust all over your soul. Stop it. Stop it now. Love and forgive yourself instead. Rejoice that you see the split. That’s the beginning of the shift. More and more, if you’ll keep moving in this direction, you will bring your outer self in line with your inner, divine self.
2. Start stepping slowly out of the shadows, my friend. Here’s what you’ll discover. Rather than all of the fearful things happening you have imagined happening, you’ll discover a feeling of liberation coming over you like you’ve never felt before and a freedom from the anxiety with which you’ve lived of being rejected. You’ll also experience little rejection. Oh, maybe a little. See below. But not nearly as much as you’ve imagined.
3. I love the advice Mark Nepo gives, too. This will be the third suggestion: “Comfort the Nicodemus in you that it is safe to honor what it knows in the light of day.” In other words, the illusion is fear and all its imaginary demons. If you will begin to acknowledge in the light the stuff you think about in the dark…the miracle is, most people will embrace you.
Because they’re looking for a way to be more authentic, too. Salvation is not becoming divine. You are that already. Salvation is the process of becoming more human. More authentically you.
“But what about those I know who’ll reject me?” you say.
OK, some will.
I know. Once, for example, I got fired from a consulting job by a pastor and right smack in the middle of the consultation. What happened is that a church member read an article I wrote years ago for the Huffington Post where I suggested there may be more ways to God than just through the Christian way. She was livid and complained to the pastor and demanded he must do something.
He fired me.
To this day, I know he regrets it.
You say, “How do you know?” Because the last thing he said to me was, “Steve, I am so sorry it had to end this way. But I promise to be in touch very soon because I want to meet you somewhere and hear your story…to know more about why you’ve come to the place you’ve come in your own spiritual journey.”
That was the last I ever heard from him. When, a year or so later, I wrote to tell him I’d love to meet with him, he wrote back, and said, “Yes, I want so much to do that. I’ll be in touch very soon.”
To date, now many years later, he has yet to contact me.
My own suspicion is, one day, when he’s retired, I’ll hear from him. And, I will be glad. Actually, I miss him and his friendship. So, I know he violated his own conscience by firing me. I know his actions were initiated publicly to protect his own image. He was afraid of what others would think of him if he did not “stand for the truth,” as I recall he put it. In the quiet shadows of his own heart, however, I know he lives in brokenness, not only because he betrayed me – which, of course, he had – but, worse, he betrayed himself.
I hope one day he steps out of his own shadows and into the sunlight of freedom. I know this much. To every soul who does, a joy…a fullness…a completeness will come over them, the likes of which make any words you use diminish it..
So I’ll just ask you this instead, my friend: What could be more important to you than living an authentic life? Today? Right now?
Or, to put it in the words of the Sufi poet, Rumi: “Why would you remain in prison, when the door is so wide open?”
The birds are singing this morning. Do you hear them? Or, are you dashing about preparing to plunge into the business of living on Monday morning?I will be, too, but the song I heard this morning stopped me right smack in the middle of the madness.
Were it not for the winter that remains…
…the ice and snow on branches still…
…were it not for the cold temperatures that linger still…
You’d think that spring had sprung already, by the sound of bird songs today.
Which makes me wonder, “Are the birds confused?” They sing like it’s spring. It feels like it’s winter.
No, my friend. The birds know something – creation knows something – but it has taken me a lifetime to learn it. They know spring follows winter as surely as summer is followed by fall. They are singing this morning as a little reminder of that cyclical and dependable fact of Life…
…that creation is perfect…
…and that, the secret to peace…to living…is to find ones place in that flow we call Life.
Why do they get it, my friend, but it takes you and me a lifetime to do so?
That is the mystery all religions have sought to answer.
And, frankly, not so well.
The longer I live, the more convinced I become that salvation, to borrow my faith tradition’s way of explaining the mystery, is not to clean me up so that I’m deserving to be around a thoroughly sanitized Savior who cannot tolerate the sight of even the slightest soiled soul.
No, that little explanation worked for the Church for centuries.
It works no more, however.
That’s not to say their explanation was wrong, any more than their explanation of the world as flat with four corners. Not wrong, just limited.
My friend, salvation is that lifelong journey, the purpose of which is to take you back to that place of eternal oneness…blissful peace…and total trust in the care and provision that is God…the Seen and Heard…yes, even in the song of birds at spring. This is what Jesus was trying to say, isn’t it, when he said, “No need to worry, my friends…Look at the birds of the air…” (Matt. 6:25-34).
This morning, he would have said, “Listen to the birds as they sing.”
I’ve been listening and their song is like the budding signs of spring on Dogwood trees.
Oh, today’s song is not the chorus…that’ll come later. It’s just the preamble…the teaser…the last chords of a hymn played just before the first words are sung. Just a little reminder of the perfection of all things and the secret to joyous, peaceful, and, yes, salvation living.
The goal of Life, my friends, of salvation…of enlightenment – is to help you learn again what all of creation knows already – what the birds sing about this morning – that you really CAN live in absolute abandonment of oneself into the care of the Creator herself.
Isn’t this really what it means to be Christian? To be Buddhist? To be Muslim or Hindu or nothing at all but just awake? Isn’t this what it really means to believe?
You can live without “beliefs.” You cannot live without believing…without trusting…without abandoning the incessant but meaningless attempts to control and manipulate life, to be in charge even of your own life, or to secure yourself and your future so there is no anxiety or fear.
You can call this process of discovery…this journey of the soul…whatever you’d like, my friend. Salvation. Conversion. Enlightenment. Awakening. Waking up. Frankly, I don’t give a damn. I’m pretty certain the Waker doesn’t either.
What I’m calling it this morning is this…
The Song of the Birds at Spring…
Or, is it still winter?
I suppose it does not matter. Ready for the second stanza?
Listen and enjoy.
“Why did people actually show up on earth?”
“What is the point of human creation?”
“What is the point of YOUR life?”
These are big questions and not easily answered. Anyone who answers them quickly is only admitting they have not explored them deeply.
I was told as a child in Sunday School that God created the world and that humans were the crown of God’s creation. That of all the created things…the solar system, the stars and planets, the earth and all plants and animals…that, of all of God’s good creation, humans were the most important to the Creator and the crown of his creation.
Well, if that’s true, why did it take God so long to get around to creating humans…modern humans?
This universe, my friend, is more than 13 billion years old and modern humans showed up only about 250,000 years ago. Now, if you’d like to put that into perspective – and, frankly, you might not – give consideration to this disturbing notion that, on a geological time clock of 24-hours, what this means is that humans have only been around for the last few minutes in the great expanse of time.
Here’s how the Science Magazine depicts it:
Notice where modern humans appear.
Clearly, humans were hardly the point and purpose of creation. It is the ultimate ego-trip to imagine we are. Which makes the reading of our sacred literature so interesting to me. Scripture was written by humans who proudly depicted themselves as the crown of God’s creation. Go back and re-read Genesis 1 and 2, my friend, if you think I’m just making this up.
Read Genesis, however, from the perspective of humans writing about themselves. In other words, stop reading Genesis, or any part of the Bible for that matter, as a document dropped from heaven itself as if God himself wrote it and in the language of King James himself.
Not so. The Bible, as indeed all sacred literature, was written by humans who sought to make sense of their human experiences in light of their place in the world, a world much smaller than our understanding today. They thought of the world, for example, as a flat surface and that, to venture out too far, one might just fall off the edge into the pit below – what later generations thought of as the place of the dead, and even hell. The heavens above were just beyond the clouds. That was the abode of God. The stars they observed at night were like little lights on a ceiling of their house, the world.
They had no conception of the vastness of this universe. Which explains how they could write about the bodily ascension of Jesus, as Luke does in the Acts of the Apostles (Luke 1), and see no conflict whatsoever. Since heaven was just beyond the clouds, why it made perfect sense that Jesus disappeared on a cloud just out of their sight and into heaven on the other side of the cloud and took his seat at the right hand of God. You see, parenthetically, they even thought of God as a grand human who had hands, too.
We know today, however, that heaven — whatever people believe it to be and most still believe it to be an actual place in space and time — but, whatever it is, we know that it is not a place just above the clouds. In fact, we cannot imagine where it might be. Since we have a pretty good idea that heaven is not likely located on one of our planets in this solar system, then most Christians are inclined to say it must be somewhere beyond our Milky Way galaxy.
That sounds reasonable enough until you consider what my good friend Brian Holley reminded me (by the way – follow the link to Brian Holley’s The Enabling – he’s a modern-day Rumi mystic) about just yesterday. Had Jesus actually been caught up in bodily form at the Ascension, as Luke and other New Testament writers seem to assert, and had this been some kind of magical cloud that enabled Jesus to travel through space without the benefit of an atmosphere like on earth where he could actually breathe; and, furthermore, had this magical cloud enabled him to travel to heaven at the the speed of light itself (186,000 MPS), guess what?
We now know – something which Luke could not have known even though he presumably wrote under the “divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (whatever people mean by that) – we now know that our galaxy is so large, although, quite small compared to the billions of other galaxies that exist beyond our own, still yet, our galaxy is so large, had Jesus been traveling at the speed of light, He would, two thousand years later, even now, still be en route to the outer edges of our galaxy, but not yet in the presumed heaven that lies beyond.
A two thousand year flight? Heck, I can hardly stand the thought of much more than a two-hour flight.
If you ever want to figure out the reason for human existence…and, equally as important, the point of your own life…you’d better find, my friend, more real-world explanations than the simple, uninformed answers you got in Sunday School – and, unfortunately, many children will still be getting in some Sunday School classes today.
Otherwise, your faith is founded on faith-filled fairytales that have no connection to the real world whatsoever. Which explains why much of what passes as religion today is disconnected from the real world and, as a consequence, is powerless to change human life or this world.
Where do you find authentic faith? Real-world faith? Faith that will carry you and sustain you and actually enrich your life with the power that goes beyond the occasional spiritual experience people feel in a revival meeting or religious music concert?
1. Start by being honest with yourself about your own questions and doubts. If you have no questions and doubts, that doesn’t mean you’re a person of faith. What it really means is that you have decided instead to be a person of “no faith” under the guise of actually having faith.
That’s right. Nothing is more phony and inauthentic than the religious person who says, “I just believe. I don’t question things.”
If you question not, you have no faith.
Let me repeat that for those of you a bit slow in using your God-given mind to actually think about things.
Until you question your faith, you have NO faith.
You might have religion. Pews today will be filled with religious people. I’ll be one of them. But there is a chasm of difference between being a religious person and being a person of authentic faith.
Do not believe anything any religious person tells you – which, yes, includes me, too. You must, instead, find out the truth for yourself. Which is why the Buddha said…
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
This is where real faith begins, my friend.
2. Honor truth wherever it is found. End the senseless debate between science and religion. Creationists are wrong. Plain and simple. And, if you are Creationist, you are just plain wrong. I mean no harshness or judgment in those words whatsoever. But, the facts are the facts. If my child said to me, “Two plus two equals five,” I would say the same thing, “Son, that’s just plain wrong.” No judgment. Just the facts.
So, you can understand why, at the same time, I feel often sick and tired of Christians making a laughing mockery of the Bible and who, in some twisted way, actually think they’re “saving” the Bible by making claims about Genesis that are just not so.
I got news for you. Not only are you not “saving” the Bible, you actually turning away people away from the Bible…and, hence, from the faith of the Bible. In other words, you are the hindrance to the very gospel you proclaim. You, my friend, are one of those about whom Jesus said, “Whoever would cause the least of these to stumble, it would be better if a millstone were tied about his neck, and he was thrown into the deepest sea” (Matt. 5:19).
Science and religion are not in conflict at all. They are actually just opposite sides of the same coin. They compliment each other. When I look into the vastness of space at night, for example, I am not put off by its expansiveness…its vastness that is larger than my little mind can comprehend. I do not, therefore, despair and feel as if it is all some random and accidental mistake.
I see instead orderliness.
I see mystery.
I see endless expanses of stillness.
I see you and me and just how inconsequential we are against all that infinity.
I see our interconnectedness with it all.
I see God.
3. Stop defending the Bible as if it is some perfect book of divine instruction. It is not. It is, instead, a very human book, full of errors and contradictions and inconsistencies and…well…the list of problems is almost endless.
Any honest person knows this.
“So, how can you believe any of it?” you ask.
Don’t even try.
Because the Bible isn’t looking for believers. It needs no believers. It needs no defending either.
The Bible is the record book of the human experience for those who primarily grew up in Judeo-Christian traditions. Not unlike the Bhagavad-Gita is the sacred human experience of those having grown up in the east.
Everyone should just stop making “truth-claims” about their scriptures that are not only not true but miss the point altogether. Give attention instead to the story…the stories…the experiences of the ancient people of faith. They were limited, yes, in their understanding of themselves and each other and the universe that surrounded them. So read their stories from their perspectives, as they sought to make sense of the world as they understood it and their place within it.
Isn’t that all we really need to do with the scriptures?
Of course it is.
It is here that we make the point of connection with the ancient stories of faith. When I read the Bible I know I’m reading about a people just as scared shitless as I am at times about the world they live in and how they’re going to survive in it. As I read, I observe how they coped, the mistakes they made, as well as the occasional right choices they made from time to time, too. Out of that observation and inquiry, I find real inspiration and transformative lessons I might apply to my life.
Do not be content yourself, my friend, with just defending an “inspired” Bible that, in reality, you do not know as a transformative inspiration in your own soul. Opt for the latter instead and give up meaningless rants about the Bible. They are useless.
4. Finally, Jesus promised, “Seek and you WILL find…” (Matt. 7:7). But only if you seek.
Seeking doesn’t mean glibly saying, as many Christians do, “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it.”
That settles nothing, my friend. It is a diversionary and delusional tactic used, not by a persons of authentic faith, but just the opposite. It is the kind of thing a person does who has “no real faith” and is quite content to live with a religion devoid of all power, too.
Is that what you want? Then, go for it. I assure you, you are not alone.
As for me, I want the truth, however.
Because it was only to truth-seekers, Jesus promised, “the truth you will find and that truth will set you free” (John 8:32).