Enjoying the Mystery

Sunday Morning Musings:  I told someone this past week that my favourite theological word is “mystery”.  This word not only fits with my understanding of “God” but the relationship between creation and the one I call “Creator”.  It is also like the adage that tells me that the more I know I realize how much I don’t know.

Many who know me will not be surprised when I say that it is unfortunate that most of us don’t start to live and until we learn and accept that this physical life doesn’t last forever.  (Cheap plug:  my novella is called “Dying to Live” with a play on words).  We are all spiritual beings yet most of us pay little or no attention to this element of our lives until we reach the end-of-life stage of our physical living.  Of course, there are many reasons why we choose to avoid the topic of dying and death despite the fact that so many would encourage us to do otherwise (this writer included).  Yet, we continue to fear dying (if not death) for many reasons, some of which are rational and some not.

But back to the idea of “mystery”.

We also live in a society that has often pitted religion against science, beliefs against facts, and even The Bible against other writings. Sadly, to do so is to hinder our spiritual growth at our own peril.  We live in a society that teaches us to “prove it”.  Too often this concept is used with the re-telling of biblical stories.  Last week I preached about the story of Noah and his boat (ark).  I mentioned that there are endless humourous quips and tales about this story.  For some everything is just as the Bible tells us, even including the dimensions.  The “unbelievers” might question the idea of “two of every living creature” (Genesis 6:19); even citing the above mentioned verse in contrast with Genesis 7:2 which calls for Noah to takes seven pairs of clean animals. Can you see the mystery within the mystery?

The quest for me becomes not attempting to “solve” this or any other mystery – (I am no William Murdoch or Agatha Christie or…- you get the point). On the other hand, I am not about to simply throw up my hands in defeat and quit.  I can still learn and question.  But I should never assume that I have all of the answers either.  Far too often, one piece of learning leads to a new question and quest in my faith journey; in my spiritual journey.

Unfortunately, many people don’t want the challenge of such a quest.  Some want the answers – simple and now.  They are the ones who often don’t question any aspects of their faith, even though they may not be totally willing to accept all the precepts of their religion.  At the other extreme are those who find themselves so at odds with what they are told that they simply turn away altogether.  Interestingly, I wonder how many “new” denominations (not just in Christianity) have been created out of differences of opinion.  I remember reading one time about a group that divided over a disagreement about whether facial hair for men should or could include a moustache as well as a beard.  Now if I believed in a God who had anthropomorphic characteristics that thought would be both sad and humourous at the same time mixing laughter and tears.

There are many things that I believe about my spiritual journey and these include that I don’t know all there is to know and that is okay.  My spiritual journey will not end when my physical body can no longer support itself (with or without medical assistance).  I enjoy the mystery fulfilling for me the called from the Westminster Catechism (1648) to “enjoy God” – enjoy the mystery.

Heaven and Hell

Sunday Morning Musings:  My apologies for missing last Sunday, I was away on holidays and was just too lazy to write anything.  But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about things that might make for interesting topics.  Yet, it also proves that there is a huge difference between thinking about something and actually doing it.  In some ways I guess it proves the old adage that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Now as I thought about this adage I also started to reflect on “hell” and its seeming opposite,” heaven”.  In earlier times (and even for some today) heaven and hell were/are quite literal places or destinations after this life.  If I am good (and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour – I am Christian or am I?) then by the grace of God I will be rewarded with a home in heaven.  Should I choose to be bad and not make such a confession before death, there is no choice for God but to punish me eternally.  Quite literally then I will either spend eternity in heaven or hell.

When it was believed that the earth was flat and the universe three dimensional, heaven was above and hell was below.  Above were clouds and angels and a great place to spend the rest of time.  Below existed as a fiery dwelling place where hard work continued (shovelling coal?).  Of course, this life was lived here on earth (here in the middle of the two) until we died.  In the middle of the last century as the Soviets and the Americans raced into space one of the first cosmonauts upon entering outer space (the abode of heavenly creatures including God); he remarked how he encountered none such beings which confirmed the atheistic stance that God didn’t exist.

For me as a youngster at the time, what was confirmed was that we didn’t live in a three dimensional world, and the travel into space only confirmed that learning was far from over.  In the last seventy years we have heard about many changes in our understanding.  In the 1960’s there was a “god is dead” movement which threatened some and resulted in more stringent lines being drawn.  God was put in a box (or Book) and sadly is still there for some.  For me, and others, there was a freedom created.  I was encouraged to view God as something more that even words could truly capture the essence.  God was called “the Other”, or various titles that attempted to speak of something more than could not even fully explain God.  Earlier this century The United Church of Canada’s Song Faith cited God as “Holy Mystery and Wholly Love”.

As a result of changing views of God, my understanding of heaven and hell also required more thought from me.  I began to question even the sense of how I lived this life influencing how I might be received after death.  One of the main changes in my thinking (my theology) is I need to spend more time concerned with the life that I am living now.  That is not to say that I am not concerned with what is sometimes called the “afterlife”.  Rather, I have come to believe that how I live now is more important.  I like the idea that how we live now influences life after our death in that if we have a positive attitude and motivation toward life now, it will be amplified after death.

If I choose to live love and compassion today, I will continue to do so.  If I choose to “create hell” on earth for myself and those around me, why should I expect anything different in the time to come.  Some have said that heaven and hell are here on earth and we create them.

Spiritul But Not Religious

Sunday Morning Musings:  Earlier this week I was talking to a person about some work I am having done around my house.  As most conversations end up, because of my calling as a minster of religion, we got to talking “shop” – mine not his.  (aside: I find it truly amazing how often the “unchurched” wish to talk about the church and religion.)

One of the many aspects we discussed had to do with what this person referred to as ‘Christian’ acts performed by the ‘unchristian’ ( or as some Christians might refer to them  – “the great unwashed”).  For clarification purposes he explained to me that he knows many folks that would not call themselves “Christian” but who are still loving, caring and generous people.  The discussion went so far as to include other world religions in that many people claim to have no religious affiliation but still adhere to or live out the “golden rule” and the laws about loving “God” and one’s neighbour.

On the opposite side of this coin, the comment was made that people who claim even strong religious connections do not live them.  An example he gave me concerned those who attend church regularly but have stated that they do so for business purposes (to make connections).  He spoke about the larger scale where even wars were fought for religious reasons.  (I wanted to interject that religions don’t cause wars, rather people do, but did not, so as not to interrupt him.)

Our conversation made me think of a quote I had read offered by the mystic Matthew Fox who is reported to have said: “Religion is not necessary but spirituality is.”  I would have to agree with him but with the caveat that as a choice, good and proper understandings of religion are okay and even beneficial.

Too often we interchange the words “religious” with “spirituality”, sometimes at our own peril. I call myself a “Christian” because of a choice I made long ago. Back then it was pretty much the only religion there was in my little part of the world.  As my world has grown, I remained following The Way of Christ, this Christian way. However, I have also learned along the way that my views are not the only views and what seems right for me, doesn’t have to apply to everyone.  I say that knowing that I am in direct opposition to some in my own tradition.  Here I would be quoted John 14, verse 6:  “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’  (New Revised Standard Version).  Were I inclined to argue further I might quote John 3:16 and emphasis the words “God so loved the world”.

To take either of these verses at face value could eliminate all others from ‘coming to the Father’, but that is not what I believe following the Christ was or is all about.  It is not mine or anyone else’s task to convert anyone to Jesus.  Rather, it is our responsibility to live and love as we are loved (like Jesus did).  He didn’t die that I might “live” somewhere in the great beyond.  He lived showing me how to live here and now.  Jesus lived showing the true nature of God which is love for all of creation.

Living love is what it means to be a spiritual person.  I don’t have to belong to any religion to do that. But belonging means something else too. Everyone needs a community of loving people (like-minded people if the sameness doesn’t involve exclusion and narrow thinking which often results in various forms of abuse (which also means abusing the Bible to make our point).

God is Spirit. We are spiritual. Now we only need to learn how to live it.