Your Best Life Now

Your Best Life Now

What Is the Purpose of My Life?

posted by smcswain
What is the Purpose of My Life?

What is the Purpose of My Life?

What is the purpose of my life?

Haven’t you asked that question at least a million times?

I talk and write much about this, precisely because I think about it almost all the time.

How would you complete this sentence? “The point of my life is _________________.”

It’s not so easy to do, is it?

Mark Twain purportedly said, “The two most important days of your life are these: the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”

Have you? Figured out the “Why?” I mean. “I showed up for the purpose of ________________________.”

The Purpose of Your Life

  • When Moses came down from the mountain, after having visited with God, legend has it, his face was “radiant” because he had been with God (Exodus 34:29ff). Earlier, God called him to be the Deliverer (Exodus 3). Do either of these answer the question of the point and purpose of Moses’ life?
  • When the Buddha arose from under the Bodhi Tree, legend has it, he was mistakenly thought by some to be a God. So much so, in fact, one inquirer kept pressing, “If not a God, then what are you?” Finally, Buddha replied, “I am awake.” Is this the point? The awakening of consciousness? Expanded consciousness?
  • When Jesus spoke metaphorically and referred to himself as the “door” the “way” the “Good Shepherd,” the “light of the world” and so forth, and also said, “I have come that you might have life abundant” (John 10:10), was he suggesting he was the point of your life and mine? That to have the life he described as abundant, we had to have him? Or, was he pointing us by his example toward the way to such an abundant life?

And, what does “abundant life” really mean? And, what does it mean to be “awake” or to come down from a mountain, face radiant with presence?

I cannot say for certain. But maybe all of these stories and descriptions are pointing to something of the same thing. How you interpret any of them depends largely on your background or upbringing.

I was raised to believe the point of human existence is to get “saved.” That meant to confess to God my awareness of the miserable state of my sinfulness. Further, it meant to beg him to forgive me, as well as put my faith in Jesus who gave his own life as a sacrifice for me. The substitution of his life made it possible for me to be forgiven and, as a consequence, make heaven and avoid hell when I died.

That was pretty much it. Apart from this, the point of my life was to be a good person. Whenever I asked what that meant, I was told it meant to abstain from evil vices like smoking and drinking or having sex before marriage. It meant being a good American citizen and to not steal but especially from God. Therefore, weekly church attendance was mandatory, if I were a serious Christian, and the paying of my tithes and offerings to the church – which was considered synonymous with giving to God, were clearly the purposes for my life as well.

Sound familiar to any of you?

Now, had I grown up in the Pentecostal Christian world, all of the above would have been similar but with these additional explanations as to the point of human existence: The purpose of your life and mine was not only to be “saved” and so make heaven and miss hell but, as explained by Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer’s and the like, the purpose of life is to enjoy abundance also, and lots of it.

Abundance translated into health, the avoidance of sickness, as well as aging, and plenty of this world’s finer things, as in nice cars, a nice home in a good neighborhood, and money enough to buy whatever your heart desired, including a vacation home somewhere in the Florida Keys.

Are either of these messages, however, right? Is the point or purpose of your life to avoid hell, make heaven and have all the good things of life while you’re briefly trapped in between the two now?

If that’s what you think, then you have much explaining to do…as in, why neither of these purposes ever seemed to be discussed, emphasized, much less enjoyed by any of the spiritual masters mentioned above?

Moses, for example, left abundance in Pharoah’s palace, as did the Buddha. I think you know the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ life. Not only did he not have anything material, as far as we know, but he seemed infinitely more interested in how people lived in this life and treated each other in this world than he was about anything after this life. Besides, were it not for the women disciples who traveled with him and shared their resources with him, he might have lived almost exclusively in abject poverty (Luke 8:1f). Maybe he did in spite of their generosity.

May I suggest something to you? It will be radical to those raised, as I was, in very conservative Christian environments. It will be scandalous even for those who think their way of believing is the “right” way and that all other ways are either inferior or, worse, just plain wrong. But, if you have an open mind at all, then consider the following:

The Purpose of Your Life

You were not born to get “saved” so you would avoid hell and make heaven.
You were not born to be “healthy” and “wealthy” this side of eternity.

As far as I can tell, you and I show up simply to know and to share in the joy of knowing and walking with God…which is a whole lot like knowing yourself, as well as enjoying and sharing yourself with others.

I’m pretty sure this is it. That this is my “calling” and yours as well. Which is why I wrote The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God. Of Enoch, a mythological character in Old Testament folklore, it is said, “Enoch walked with God” (Gen. 5:24).

What could be more sacred than this? Or, more purposeful and satisfying? Or, life-enhancing?

I’m pretty sure your purpose in life…your reason for being…is somehow tied up in this mystery.

“How can I know this for certain?” you ask.

You cannot. You’ll just have to let go of your need for certainty. Security is impossible to find this side of eternity.

What I can say with some modicum of certainty is this: when I finally gave up the trite and meaningless explanations for my purpose in life given to me by sincere but sincerely misguided people, I set out on a journey to know…to discover for myself…to climb, so to speak, Mount Horeb, as did Moses, to sit under every Bodhi-like tree I could find, as did the Buddha, to figure out some how, some way the meaning of “abundant life,” as Jesus described it and, guess what?

I discovered for myself this single but important truth: There is NO destination on the spiritual quest; the quest IS itself the destination. Inside the quest I have discovered the question is being answered. The Sufi prophet Ghalib put it poetically, “For the raindrop, joy is entering the river.”

“How might I begin this quest, too?” you ask.

I’m pretty sure that the question means your quest has begun already.

Worth of a Dime…The Worth of a Soul

posted by smcswain
The Worth of a Soul

The Worth of a Dime…the Worth of a Soul

Do we all have value? Any worth?

Ever felt as if you had none? That you were worthless?

“Sometimes,” answered the lady I counseled on a street corner one day, “I feel nothing else.”

So this morning, I left the Hampton Inn in Tampa and dropped the rental at the Tampa International Airport.

I saw a dime on the terminal floor. At first, I stepped over it and walked on. Then, for no apparent reason, I just stopped, turned around, and walked back. I let go of my roller board travel bag, reached for my iPhone while dropping to my knees, and snapped a picture. I could feel the stares of the couple who walked by dragging their own oversized luggage. One of them turned around to see what I was doing. You can guess what he was thinking.

As I reached for the dime…

I gathered it up, looked at it, stood and dropped it into my pants pocket.

I asked, “Little fella’ ever been to Kentucky?”

I know. A bit strange perhaps. But I’m this way, you know. Furthermore, I have been thinking all morning about all the dimes and nickels and worthless pennies who inhabit our world. I wondered as I walked toward the gate and looked into the faces of strangers all around me…I wondered just how many of them felt worthless, as if their life was just a freak accident and their contribution to this world not much more significant than a dime on the floor of an airport terminal.

The world must be full of such people.

Or, maybe it’s because I’ve felt this way myself for much of my life.

Then, all of a sudden, I remembered something else – which is why I’m so glad I learned the stories of Jesus long ago and committed many of them to memory – I remembered the parable Jesus told of the woman who dropped a penny on her hardwood floors. She grabbed the broom and spent the remainder of the morning sweeping the floors looking for it.

Neurotic?

You bet it is.

Then, I thought about God and just how neurotic she is in her relentless search for you and me.

Why?

Even dimes matter in the Kingdom.

Is God Dead?

posted by smcswain
Is God Dead?

Is God Dead?

Is God dead?

I’m sitting on a plane waiting to fly to Atlanta the on to Tampa to visit clients.

And, I’m thinking.

“Oh no,” you say.”Not that! Not again!”

Agreed.

At the risk of getting too “heavy” into thinking – which is the blessing, as well as the burden, of our humanity, – the following are a few of the thoughts on my mind this morning.

What do some scientists and many fundamentalist have in common?

The Illusion of Objectivity

Both are blinded by the illusion of objectivity. Isn’t life, all of it, just a subjective experience? Of course, it is.

Some scientists, however, mistakenly assume their explanations of the cosmos are entirely objective, unbiased and based solely on empirical evidence. Certainly, every reputable scientist seeks to be as objective as possible. But complete objectivity is an illusion. What you attempt to explain objectively, you experience subjectively.

Many fundamentalist Christians make an equally problematic mistake. They assume, for example, ontological arguments both probe and prove the existence of God. St. Anselm, for example, Catholic archbishop of Canterbury, first popularized this argument for the existence of God. The existence of God is proven reasonably, or so he assumed, and rationally, without the need of perception or even evidence.

St. Thomas Aquinas summarized his popular cosmological arguments for the existence of God in his famous Summa Theologia.

Both of these men, and a host of others throughout Christian history, have held tenaciously to various explanations they mistakenly believed proved the existence of God. Their explanations, however, have become obsolete in our scientific world. As a consequence, in recent years, the argument for the existence of God most fundamentalist Christians rely on today is the one known as “Intelligent Design.” It, too, has credibility only with among those who want to believe God does exist.

All such arguments, however, mere feeble attempts to prove the existence of god, may sound logical, even very reasonable, and, if they do for you, there is an explanation for it. You cannot prove the existence of God. You only ever reveal the depth of your anxiety that SHE just might not.

What need would there be to argue God does exist except to overthrow the inner fear She might not?

You Cannot Prove the Existence of God

You seek to prove what you do not know. You argue God does exist, but only to hide the overwhelming feeling of insecurity at the thought He might not.

If you knew God, what would you need to prove?

May I suggest the following is infinitely more tenable and would serve your spiritual quest much more reliably in today’s world.

A Better Way

1. Let go of the need to explain or prove God. You can do neither.
God – whatever she is – cannot be explained or understood theistically. This is what the “God is dead” theologians were trying to tell us in the 60′s and 70′s. They were not altogether rejecting the possibility of God. What they were rejecting was our theistic definitions of God, or the God most of us have grown up being taught to believe in. In this, they were right.

And, what kind of God were most of us taught to believe existed?

If you are like me, you’ve grown up being taught that God is a kind of Super-human version of ourselves. This God humans created in their own image, therefore. The primary difference is that the God we created we endowed with all the capacities and capabilities that elude us.

Why else do you think super-heroes are so popular in print, in films, and in our imaginations?

Frail as we are and fearful of our death and disappearance, we project our fantasies for immortality, as well as our desires of transcending the limitations of human existence, onto that which we call God. In this way, we fashion a God in whom we might believe, as did the ancients before us, has the power that we do not have.

Furthermore, I was taught this God lived just above the sky and, as a supernatural being, he was a kind of Divine Superman, equipped with all the powers necessary to deliver us from our woes, wails, and fears of dying and death.

When you believe in such a God, you’ve got much to prove. Much, too, to explain. And, neither sound reasonable or convincing in the 21st century.

Consequently, if you are an evangelical Christian who believes it is your duty to seek to convert the world, then you’ll need to come up with a better argument for the God you believe in. No thinking person in our world is likely to be convinced by these old arguments that may have worked in the 19th century and for earlier generations, but no longer work today.

Still further, if you’re a five-point Calvinist (if you do not know what that is, consider yourself lucky) – and, I suspect this is exactly what Al Mohler is, in addition to being the President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky – then such arguments are no longer necessary. Neither is a defense for the evangelistic efforts to “win the lost,” as I heard it declared in my Christian youth and worked hard to do as a faithful believer.

Why?

A five-point Calvinist believes God will save those He wants to save (with or without your evangelistic help) and God will send to hell those he wishes to send to hell (regardless of what you think about it).

That kind of God I could never, ever, ever…did I say “Ever?” I could never believe in such a God. No wonder Southern Baptists have lost their way.

If all of this were not bad enough, when you believe in a theistic God who lives just above the sky and who has supernatural powers – or, powers you do not have – then, it is the inevitable consequence that you figure out a way to get this God to be on “your side.”

Hence, the birth of all religions.

Additionally, it becomes necessary to find a way to ingratiate yourself to such a God so that He will grant your needs, whatever you perceive them to be.

Hence, the birth of worship.

Do you need health? A healing? More money to pay the bills?

How about a little security? There are only so many AK-47′s you can afford to buy and place behind every door in the house to protect yourself against a government whose policies have gone wild? And, as a consequence, a world out of control, too.

Do you need a little more assurance that longevity is part of this God’s plan for your life? How about a little religious narcotic to anesthetize you from the fear of death? Or, the thought that life after death might not be real?

When your God is the version of God you’ve grown up believing in – a kind of Divine and Super-duper Santa Claus – only you’d better be good and believe in this one – then, it only makes sense why for most humans worship is something you do to “please” this God – as if, what this God wants is to be pleased by your groveling worship.

Yes, isn’t this what worship is for many? That time we set aside each week to fulfill our duty in order to have the right to lay claim on this God whom we need to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves? So, we praise and worship him, hoping he’ll be pleased enough to care enough about little you and little me? We offer our prayers in order to convince him to think more kindly toward us and to rescue us from our infirmities.

God is Dead

What does it say about this God you and I were taught to believe in who needs flattering cleverly disguised as worship before He’ll be pleased enough to regard our helpless estate?

Pretty hefty thinking for so early in the day, wouldn’t you agree?

What would you think of a father who had to have the groveling of his children and the bowing down of his children and the begging and pleading of his children before he’d muster enough love to respond to the needs of the child?

Yet, we behave toward this kind of God all the time and do not realize that, to the world, our God must be something worse than the Grinch who stole Christmas.

This God, and such notions of God as I have described, were part of our history and humanity, even a part of your upbringing as they were mine, but it is time they die. It is time we let go of them. It is time we stop fashioning God into ourselves – only a better version of us – and let God, whatever God is, be the Mystery we neither try to explain or presume to know.

God is not the Superman in the Sky.

In fact, God is nothing at all.

It’s OK to say this. It is infinitely more sacred than the primitive nonsense that passes for worship and devotion today. A statement such as the one I’ve just made only creates anxiety in those who are afraid it just might be so. Again, if you and I really KNEW God to be the big Kahuna in the sky, why would we feel offended when someone suggests that the God we’ve created does not exist? We only feel offended because we cannot tolerate the anxiety of thinking they might just be right.

There is a better way. First, let go of the primitive need to believe in the God you were taught to believe in. That God never really existed, except in our wishes. It will not destroy you to let go of such a God and you will not despair. Oh sure, it’ll be a little disappointing at first. And, a little scary. Not unlike the day you learned Santa Claus was a just a joke dressed up in a colorful outfit with a bag of toys draped across his back.

2. Every now and then be aware of nothing. You might just be surprised to as to what you find.

“That statement makes no sense whatsoever,” you say.

To the contrary. It makes perfect sense. What is there around you, for example, that is more than nothing? More than emptiness, spaciousness?

When I was young I was always fascinated by the planets and stars in our solar system. On a clear night, for example, I was often thrilled to look into the heavens and try to identify the many constellations.

Something happened to me a few years ago, however, and a shift took in my awareness…in my consciousness. I suddenly became aware of the nothingness that comprises most of space. It is emptiness. It is nothing. Or, so we think. And, we think this only because, if there is something there, we cannot perceive it with our ordinary five senses. But maybe there is something in the nothing that’s all around us. Just to perceive this that is no “This” is itself a mystery.

But a Mystery worth giving some of your attention.

God is nothing. No-thing-ness. Anything more we say is to diminish God, the infinite, ineffable, even inexplicable reality we probably should just stop calling God altogether.

Why? Because God, as a name has been so over-used, and abused, as well as associated with this Super-human version of ourselves living just above the sky, that the mere mention or use of that word conjures up the very image of God that is not God.

What I have discovered is that in the awareness of nothing, I find such peace, stillness, even more than I ever found trying to conceptualize God the way I was taught to think of Him, Her, It – whatever God is.

All I am suggesting is, give this a try. Do not let your fear of letting go of the Divine Santa Claus that Christmas, or the Christ story, will lose its significance.

For me, it has not. In fact, it has become infinitely more believable. And, vastly more meaningful. Consequently, my final suggestion to you is this:

3. Let go of everything. Your explanations. Your beliefs. Even your infantile need to explain everything, as if you have it all figured out. Which of course you do not. Practice living by faith. Faith has no need for props. Beliefs do. But not faith. In fact, genuine faith is foundation-less. Which is why you will often hear people say, “Faith is stepping up to the edge of reason…beliefs…all props and taking one more step.”

Trust what you can neither explain nor ever defend. Let go. This is what it means to be spiritual. To be whole. To be complete. To know beyond knowledge. Even to believe beyond beliefs. This is what it means, when Saint Paul says, “To grow up into spiritual maturity” (Ephesians 4:13).

You have nothing to fear. “Perfect Love,” said Saint John. “casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). To try and believe in what does not exist only compounds the very thing you wish to avoid: fear, hopelessness, death, and the end.

Let go.
Be aware of nothing.
Trust what cannot be proven.

And needs no proof.

If you like the things you read that I write, may I invite you to visit my website blog at www.SteveMcSwain.com, follow me on Twitter @DrSteveMcSwain. Facebook, too. I’d love to be friends with you. Have an enlightened day.

Things I’ve Learned about Leadership from the Masters of the Universe!

posted by smcswain

I’m writing this while sitting on a plane from Minneapolis to Denver.  I’m finalizing in my head the details of a talk I’m giving in Boulder later today and thinking about a recent invite I received to bring the keynote address at the Aviation Association of Indiana – their annual convention which is to be held at the Belterra Casino and Resort.

Things I've Learned about Leadership from the Masters of the Universe

Things I’ve Learned about Leadership from the Masters of the Universe

The event planner called and said “That talk…the highlights of which you have in a video on your website…that talk would be a perfect for our convention…It has humor in it. Yet, it’s thought-provoking. It’s full of leadership stuff and the Director of our organization has watched it and believes it would make the perfect keynote on leadership for our annual gathering.”

I said, “You mean the talk on leadership I call “Things I’ve Learned about Leadership from Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammed, Gates, Buffett, and Other Masters of the Universe?”

“That’s It,” he responded.

“Great!” I answered. “I’d be honored to share that talk with your association.”

When we finished working out the details of the contract, I put the date on my calendar and began thinking about the fact that I’ve been getting several calls lately from event planners and company CEO’s who like this approach I’m taking to teaching leaders about leadership – and, particularly, the way I try and blend the various spiritual traditions, sprinkled with lots of humor, with insights about leadership from those in the world of commerce.  All of it with deep insights too into life, leadership, and one’s legacy, and what we can learn, even from the universe’s spiritual masters…without favoring any one religion or shoving religion down the proverbial throats of people.

I suspect some of the reluctance of the business world to invite speakers like myself to give such respectful talks is the fault of religious zealots in this country (and I was chief among them at one time). In our country, religious zealotry comes mostly adorned in Christian clothing. Still yet, far too many Christians for far too long have believed practitioners of any other religious traditions were practicing something subpar compared to Christianity. And, if you were not practicing any faith…or were…dare I say it?…an “atheist,” or an agnostic, you were to be shunned as if you might have some transmutable disease. It is no wonder, therefore, our Democracy has had to enforce the separation of church and state laws. Such would not be necessary if people in this country would be respectful toward people of all faiths as well as those who claim no faith.

That’s precisely what I try to do in all my talks. I believe that even people who do not practice any faith tradition still have the wisdom to know wisdom when they see it or hear it, no matter where it comes from…whether from Jesus or Lao-Tzu, Muhammed or Moses, or from the likes of Steve Forbes or Michael Hyatt.

There are important lessons for life, living, leading, and legacy-leaving that Jesus and Buddha can teach us that are  just as profound as the lessons we learn from the Warren Buffets, the late Steve Jobs, Gates or other “Masters of the Universe,” as I call them.

Now, for me, a “recovering Baptist minister, the only weird part of this speaking gig will be that I will address this aviation convention in the banquet hall of a popular casino.

Hm! It should be fun. And, I probably should not be enjoying the thought of it so much! I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you like the things you read that I write, may I invite you to visit my website blog at www.SteveMcSwain.com and follow me on Twitter @DrSteveMcSwain. Follow me on Facebook, too.  I’d love to be friends with you.

Transplant Now! Today’s Decisions Determine Tomorrow’s Destiny

posted by smcswain
Transplant Now

Transplant Now: The Decisions You Make Today Determine the Destiny You Face Tomorrow

The flowers we ordered from one of the local Boy Scout Troops arrived last Saturday. One of the scouts left them on our front porch. We had been out for most of the day but, when we returned home early that evening, the porch was bright with color.

They were truly beautiful. Each flower in full color flourishing inside its own carton of rich soil surrounded by other equally bright and colorful flowers.

Transplant Now? No, It Can Wait

We gathered up each tray of flowers and carried them to the back porch where we had planned to transplant them into larger and deeper pots the following Saturday. That seemed reasonable. Besides, Pam and I were facing a busy week ahead. Saturday was the only free day on our calendars. The flowers looked vibrant, too, as if a transplant could wait for an eternity. Nothing appeared capable of stopping their flowering right where they were.

“In this perfect environment,” we silently reasoned within ourselves, the flowers would surely thrive well until Saturday.”

On Wednesday, however, they looked a little like a runner after a Marathon.

Drooping over, thirsty, and weakly looking, the flowers had lost their color. Some had lost their blooms. The soil around all of them looked hardened, like a noose tightening around the neck of a prisoner. While they looked strong and vibrant just a few days before, ready to multiply and grow in every direction, it was obvious now they were on life support. In some cases, death was near.

They had outgrown their birth world and needed more room and fast. To leave them in this cramped and narrow space would prove fatal and soon. Consequently, without saying a word to each other, Pam and I instinctively knew what had to be done.

Transplant Now! Or, You Will Die

What had to be done could not wait until the following Saturday.

We proceeded to transplant the flowers. As we did, I began seeing what you’re seeing, even as I write. The transplant parallels to your experience and mine are all too obvious.

But here are a few of them.

Each of us just appears one day on the front porch of life.
We have no say in the place of our birth. We just arrive.
We have no choice as to our family of origin.
Yet, we arrive with everything provided.
Depending on the care of our caregivers, we thrive and grow.
Some environments are obviously healthier than others.
This, too, we do not control. In various ways, we are all survivors.
In spite of challenges and, for some, handicaps, we grow.
The day comes, however, when a transplant is necessary or we, too, die.

Right there, however, the parallels end.

What makes humans different from all other sentient beings is our capacity to think…to remember…to imagine…even to assume responsibility for ourselves. In other words, our survival, our growth is ultimately not dependent on anyone else but us.

The flowers would have died had Pam and I not acted quickly. This morning, they look like a group of prisoners who’ve just been granted parole. The blooms are all turned toward the sun, as if to say, “Good morning!”

Their transplant, and survival, was in our hands. Your transplant, however, as well as your survival, is in your own.

Some of you are reading this and you just stumbled upon this blog quite by accident. Is anything ever really random? You’ll have to decide that. What we both agree on, however, is that this is the very thing you needed to read today because you know, just as I know, you need a transplant or you will not survive.

Transplant Now! The Flowering of Your Soul Depends on It

No, I’m not talking about a heart transplant either. I’m talking about a transplant of your soul. The flowering of your life…the flourishing of your soul depends on it. You must set yourself free or you will not survive.

What God does is give us little reminders. This blog is that reminder. Call it a seed of God’s grace.
What you must do is see and hear the reminders and take action.

A transplant is necessary and you are the transplanter. Remain where you are and you will be stifled and suffer continually.

The applications of this are varied and as limitless as are the colors in our newly planted flower boxes. And, the challenges you might be facing are very real no matter where you are.

Today’s Decisions Determine Tomorrow’s Destiny.

Transplant yourself and be free of that enslaving habit.
Transplant now and get out of that abusive relationship. Stop defending what you know is evil.
Transplant yourself for your spiritual survival depends on it. You know what they are preaching and teaching isn’t so. You cannot bury your questions and doubts. There is no soil deep enough to snuff out the life in your soul’s questions. They will just keep spouting and appearing, dying and reappearing. It’s your nature to grow. That’s how God made you. She will continue trying to help you take responsibility. If it isn’t a blog you stumble upon, it’ll be something else. That’s how grace works.

Grace: A Divine Seed

Do not be afraid to leave the faith of your childhood…the beliefs that no longer work. It is in your nature to grow. You’ll never be happy just surviving. Transplant! Do so now.

“But I’m scared!” you say.

I know about scared. I was scared, too. And, it wasn’t easy. But, when I took the shovel in hand, and the first step toward freedom, the courage came. The faith to proceed flourished. And, the flowering of my soul began.

To transplant is to transform.

Think of it as your TRANSPLANT-FORMATION.

And, Remember this…

The God who caused this blog to appear like an unexpected flower on the porch of your consciousness, will go with you through the entire transplant itself. You will never be alone.

You’ll see. Happy Transplant-formation.

My name is Dr.Steve McSwain. I’m a speaker, author, spiritual teacher, and, while a Christian by choice, I’m a proponent and activist for interfaith cooperation and dialogue. If you like the things you read, please visit my website http://SteveMcSwain.com/ There you will find my books on spirituality and my interfaith pendants all of which I hope will help to create a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world.

Crucifixion: A New Way to Think about Jesus’ Death

posted by smcswain

Crucifixion Of Jesus

Why did Jesus die? The most honest answer? Nobody really knows.

Not even the Apostle Paul and he was likely the first to write about these matters  (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 12).

Death by crucifixion is a painful, slow death and virtually unimaginable to the modern mind.  History tells us that the Romans put thousands of people by death by crucifixion.

Death by Crucifixion is Unimaginable

Photo used by kind permission from www.williambuter.ca

When it comes to Jesus’ death, any theologian, priest, minister or pastor who explains the mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection as if they understand it, is simply good at play acting. They may insist, “I believe the Bible” Or, “The Bible says it; I believe it.” But these declarations hide their uncertainty.

You only argue for what you do not know. The more certain they seem, and argumentative they become, the more uncertain they really are. Of that much, you can be certain.

The crucifixion of Jesus is mysterious. I think it’s meant to be. What’s not so mysterious is how the church and church leaders have attempted to explain the mysterious throughout Christian history. As a consequence, virtually every explanation is inadequate.

Most of them are downright offensive.

The most common explanation for Jesus’ death is the one provided in the fourth century by Saint Augustine. It is known as the doctrine of “original sin.”

I grew up being told and taught, as most Christians have in almost every tradition, Jesus died on the cross because we are sinners. Sin caused his death. The Four Spiritual Laws were proclaimed by my father, and later by me, as if they explained Jesus’ death. The fact they were called “laws” made them appear not only definitive, but indisputable.

1. God loves you and has a plan for your life.
2. Humans are sinful and separated from God.
3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for sin.
4. If you confess your sins and receive Jesus, you will avoid hell.

This explanation of Jesus’ death is really just one of several explanations of Jesus’ crucifixion that have been part of church history for centuries. I mention them briefly here:

Theories of the Crucifixion

1. Satisfaction Theory Based on the Jewish practices associated with the Day of Atonement where animals were sacrificed to appease God’s thirst for blood, Jesus is described as the supreme sacrifice, shedding his blood and so appeasing a blood thirsty God.

If you were raised where this theory of atonement was tacitly accepted, you understand why the congregation frequently sang, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is theology of most televangelists you see and hear on television and radio. It’s the theology behind books and movies in the Left Behind series and Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and in almost every sermon preached by the San Antonio pastor, John Hagee.

2. Substitition Theory: Here, Jesus is not so much a “sacrifice” as he is a substitute. Just as an animal sacrifice bore the sin of the people, so Jesus bore the sin of humanity. Holy and just — God can not look on sin.

Both unholy and unjust, sinners deserve to suffer and die. Jesus, however, is described as stepping in, acting as the substitute, suffering and then dying so that humans, undeserving though they may be, might be forgiven.

3. Ransom Theory: Here, God is not the one being appeased through Jesus’ sacrificial death. It is the Devil himself.

Ever since the fall of the original couple, humans have been under the curse of sin, the consequence of eternal death, and in the grip of Satan. Jesus’ death, however, delivers the ultimate sucker punch to Satan himself.

As a consequence, all who repent and turn to Jesus will be delivered from Satan’s control and ultimately from condemnation and consignment to hell where Satan and his angels will dwell for eternity.

4. Moral Theory: This view shifts the reason for Jesus’ death as the consequence of divine wrath to the human example of Jesus himself.

His selfless and sacrificial compassion are believed to be so extraordinary demonstrated in his crucifixion as to influence humanity to repent and turn to God.

Of all the theories, the fourth makes the most sense to me. However, none of these are adequate explanations of Jesus’ death. Instead they are wrought with innumerable problems.

The first two, for example, make God into some kind of Divine Jekyll and Hyde and the worst sort of parental abuser imaginable.

Animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice, may have been part of many cultures and religions of the past. They are not today. Nor have they been for centuries.

In fact, the whole idea is utterly repulsive. What kind of God would require the suffering, punishment, and death of his son before finding the capacity in his heart to forgive?

It is not only absurd it is offensive and plainly not even believable.

The third explanation is no better. It simply tries to shift the blame from God so he does not appear to be so evil that he would kill his own son.

Jesus, as a kind of Superhuman Savior delivers in his death the ultimate sucker-punch to Satan. While not finally punching him out, the blow was fatal enough to assure the world that ultimately Satan would be finally destroyed in eternity.

The fourth explanation, though less offensive and vastly more sensible than the others, does not adequately explain the problem of human evil. Humans can be evil, unimaginably so, as the holocaust, 9-11, the Crusades, and the clergy-abuse scandal demonstrate.

In our post-Darwinian age, however, human evil is better understood, not as the consequence of “original sin,” as Saint Augustine explained, but as the residue of misguided and misdirected primal instincts and impulses.

When Christians stop being afraid of evolution, for example, Darwin could teach us how the human instinct for survival, seen in all of creation, provides insight into the understanding of the so-called “fall” of humanity.

When one knows church history, and few of the remaining pew-dwellers do, one realizes how Saint Augustine would, given his inability to control his own sexual impulses and early sexual exploits, connect sex to sin as the means of sin’s transmission from person to person and generation to generation.

He tried to explain Romans 5 by saying that the sin of Adam deposited a defective gene, so to speak, into the human bloodline. The church not only believed this, but virtually every tradition has taught it for centuries.

If, however, the sin of Adam resulted in everyone being infected with sin, why did the Jews who gave Christians this story of Adam and Eve never read it themselves as the explanation for “original sin?” It’s their story. Not ours.

Furthermore, why did Jesus never know about “original sin” or teach this explanation of the origin of sin and evil to any of his followers?

Crucifixion: A New Way to Think about Jesus’ Death

It is time all Christian traditions let go of this inadequate, offensive, and downright evil explanation itself of the origin of sin and evil.

That brings us back to the question with which I opened this blog. When it comes to Jesus’ crucifixion, why did he die? Give consideration to this explanation. It isn’t complete. But then, what explanation is?

       “Jesus did not die for your sins, let that be said a thousand times. Jesus did not come from God to rescue fallen, sinful, inadequate, incompetent people like you and me…that is an idea from which we need to escape. Jesus has to become…the human face of what God looks like in human form…when you look at Jesus he lives fully…he never diminished anybody…people betrayed him and he responded by loving them. People denied him…forsook him…tormented him…killed him and he responded by loving them. How else could he communicate to people…that there is nothing we can ever do…that will place us outside the boundaries of the love of God.”

“It is not that we are some worthless inadequate person that God has to come in and rescue, it is that God’s love is so abundant and so overwhelming that this love calls us to live, and to love, and to be all that we can be so that God can live in us and through us. That is a very different way to think about God.” (the words of J. S. Spong, taken from Living the Questions, by David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 114-15).

Is love a more adequate explanation for Jesus’ crucifixion?

Isn’t love enough? Or, is this kind of radical self-giving love so radical, even so foreign to the church today, it is felt not to be adequate enough to probe the mystery of Jesus’ crucifixion?

You’ll have to answer that for yourself.

For me, it is enough. Furthermore, it’s the beginning, albeit just the beginning, of a new…old way to think about the crucifixion of Jesus.

Even so, the mystery of the crucifixion remains.

And, well it should.

Stop the Train, I Want to Get Off!

posted by smcswain

Stop the Train; I Want to Get OffLive fully into the life you have…into the person you are. All this straining, striving, searching, securing…

And, for what?

To BE more? How could you ever add anything to the perfect creation you are?

What? You don’t think God did well enough to suit your tastes when she created you just as you are right now? You’re always imagining what you’re not. No wonder you can’t rejoice in who you are.

But, of course, you cannot see that, can you? Or, can you?

All this effort on your part…the seeking…the striving…the securing…the saving…and, again, for what?

To HAVE more? Well, go for it, if that’s where you think it is. Struggle and strain to get ahead…to get more. You likely will get it. You’ll end up with lots more.  It’s the “American” way, isn’t it? Yes, yes, just imagine it. You’ll have it. You will have arrived.  You’ll be the envy of them all. You’ll drive a BMW. That’ll show them. Yes, they’ll know then, and so will you, that you’re finally getting the respect you deserve.  Instead of driving around as a depressed soul in the beat up Toyota, now you can drive around as a depressed soul in a fancy BMW.

What progress you’ve made. Just look at you. A successful, depressed soul.

Doesn’t make much sense, does it? You “dance round in a ring and suppose,” as Robert Frost put it, “but the secret sits in the middle and knows.”

“Where is the secret in the middle?” you ask.

Stop looking for it.

Stop striving for it.

You have it already. You ARE it already.

Just sit down. Right now. Right where you are.

You’ll see…

You’ll know.

The secret is…

YOU! What more could you ever need?

Fundamentalist Christians Do Not Take the Bible Literally Either

posted by smcswain

Those who insist the Bible is “literally true” have all but destroyed the very Bible they want everyone to take seriously.

“How so?”

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.

For example…

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.”

Really?

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.

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