Doing What is Right

Sunday Morning Musings:   Many times I have heard it said that some people are “spiritual but not religious”.  I have also said that I believe that it can and often does mean different things to different people.  Earlier this week I shared a post from Facebook that read: A religious person will do what he is told, no matter what is right.  A spiritual person will do what is right, no matter what he is told. I shared it because I felt that it contained a certain amount of truth, and I liked the contrasting opinions offered.

There can be a big difference between some who is religious and someone who is spiritual.  As I have said before that such is not always the case but certainly this saying shows a significant difference between the two.  To acknowledge one’s ties to a religious set of beliefs can and sometimes does lead one to do what they are told to do regardless of its moral, ethical or just plain common sense outcomes.  We see much of this thing happening today with political as well as religious matters when it comes to separating families that have entered the USA illegally.  It is the law or the Bible has said that such actions are required.  If one is told to accept what is being said or done without as much as a question of what it means in the larger picture, then we are in serious trouble.

The sad part of this theory is that both sides will claim that they are right and obviously the other side is wrong.  Such is the result when “sides” are chosen.  My concern is that if we can stand together on certain issues, what is it then that separates us?

The answer is that we let our own interests or our egos to get in the way, which to me is the difference between being spiritual and being religious.  When we can get ourselves and our own needs out of the way; when we care about others first, we can begin to live in a way that is bigger than any religious beliefs. It doesn’t mean that we throw out our beliefs, rather we let those beliefs be guided by a different (I could have said “higher”) set of priorities. We are no longer ruled by the authority of the law, or the authority of our religion, nor religious books or persons.  Rather the final authority becomes our sense of providing care and compassion and love first and foremost.

The spiritual person may belong to a religious group, but each one must choose to think beyond oneself.  Even sometimes one’s ethical sense is stretched and our actions go beyond the utilitarian sense of what is the good for the nation or even the self.  The law or religious beliefs must be put aside in the name of doing what is loving and caring.

This past while there has been much discussion and controversy about the separation of families of illegal immigrants.  As mentioned in a previous article, the Bible has been used to support such actions. It is in just such a situation that we have to realize that any interpretation that calls us to support any action that is harmful is wrong.  When we let our own needs become such we must decide which is more important to us, our religion or our spirituality.

The Bible is Not a Weapon

Sunday Morning Musings:  When I was a child we used to be drilled on finding Bible verses in the hope of speeding up our abilities to be able to find things in the Bible.  This game was in complete agreement with Biblical teaching that recognized the “Word of God” as a weapon of great repute. As the writer of the letter to the Ephesians says: …to stand firm against the enemy, take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (6:17).  To be clear, the Christian Church as equated the Word of God with the Bible.  (Of course, this is a whole other topic since the writings quoted were written before the Bible came into existence.)

Despite the above fact, for the sake of these musings I will equate the two as has been often done for my argument today is abusing the Bible when it is used as a weapon.  Strangely enough it happens far too often and this past week has been no exception.  The President of The United State speaking though staff stated that it was considered Biblical to separate children from their parents.  Sadly, there were those that retreated to the Bible to refute such a contention.  To me, that is like meeting violence with violence – or like saying “if you want to sword fight, well, let’s do it.

The Bible is not a weapon and should never be used as such.  Nor should it be considered the only way that God has spoken or continues to speak to us.  To discuss the creation of “The Bible” and when it was determined to be God’s only word, would require a history lesson about canonization and include the Westminster Catechism of the 17th century, so we shall not go there in these musing.  Rather let’s spend what space is left discussing the Bible in general and its use.

Two ideas come to mind when discussions are had talking about the Bible.  They are infallibility and inerrancy and are often related.  The former reminds us: “To confess that the bible is infallible is to confess that the Scriptures are incapable of teaching any error.”  Whereas the latter states: Since the authors could not err when writing Scripture, the bible contains no affirmations of anything that is contrary to fact. Inerrancy is a quality of the original text of the bible. Translations may err, but the original manuscripts penned by the prophets and apostles do not (Ligonier Ministries).

Such a statement about inerrancy does allow for “misinterpretation” which many seem to ignore choosing rather simply to say:  “if it is in the Bible it must be true because God wouldn’t lie”.   And since the Bible is God-inspired, why would any of the many writers lie to us reader?  Yet, that fact in itself is a problem since we also know about “unconscious bias”. Nor does it take into account the fact that “history is too often written by the winners” to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill.

I am not suggesting that we no longer read the Bible, but do suggest that we not use it as a weapon to defend our point of view.  I am also hope that we would include other writings as sacred texts that can also contain “the Word of God”, that is to say, they contain important truths about our relationship with “God and how these truths are revealed to us.

Only when we begin to broaden our perspectives about God; about how love is more important than defending our points of view can we ever hope to live together in peace and harmony.

The Hereafter

Sunday Morning Musings:  Recently I heard the story of the old minister who said to his younger associate that he had been thinking a lot about the “hereafter”.  When pushed to explain himself more the older minister said to his colleague that whenever he entered a room he would usually have to ask himself: What did I come in here after?   But it is the former “hereafter” that I wish to muse today.

There was a time, and for some it still is, the goal of Christian faith was a safe arrival in the hereafter.  To be saved meant that one had secured a place with the Almighty.   One’s halo and wings were just waiting for the end of our earthly journey and they would be awarded.  That’s right; I am talking about “heaven”.  At one time, our earthly life really didn’t mean much.  What mattered was achieving the ultimate goal – according to the Apostle’s Creed – being judged worthy by Jesus who “will come to judge the living and the dead”. Of course, it doesn’t offer any specifics on which we shall be judged, nor what will happen should we be judged as “inappropriate”.

Before I muse any further, let me assured you that I do believe in “heaven and hell”, just with certain caveats.  Firstly, heaven (and hell) is not a physical place.  Such an idea may have had some resonance with the idea of a three-level world (heaven above, hell below with us living here in the middle).  In the early days of the race to space a Russian cosmonaut radioed from “outer-space” that he did not see “God” or any semblance of heaven.  Although, volcanoes do indicate that below the surface of this planet called “earth” is plenty hot.

I can only say again, that to speak of the “hereafter” is not spoken of a place, rather a state of being.  Some have told me that “heaven and hell” are experienced by us in the here and now.  There are times when we can experience such a positive feeling that we might describe it as “feeling like heaven”.  As well, there are times when we can experience “hell on earth”.  I am not about to deny such experiences.  To be honest, I believe that we have all experienced both feelings at different times during our earthly lives.  What I will say about the similarities of these experiences is whether or not we feel that presence of God (my word used to express a sense of something beyond myself). To feel a presence is a heavenly feeling.  To feel totally alone feels like hell.

But all this talk doesn’t say much about the “hereafter”.  What happens after this earthly life is over – what happens when we die?  I don’t believe that it is all over for us.  Our physical bodies die, are buried, even cremated.  Yet, we are more than our bodies.  That which is called our “spirit” lives on in the “hereafter” but like the spirit in this life, space and time don’t come into the equation.  Beyond that fact, I am sorry to say that I don’t have much to add.  We become once again part of all that is, all that was, and all that ever shall be.  Some will tell us that how we experienced life while we were alive will be enhanced after death.  Goodness will become more goodness.  I supposed the opposite must also be considered as holding true as well.

Does it matter how I live now?  Of course it does.  Will how I live now determine my life in the hereafter?  I don’t know.  But I am certain that as God is with me now, God will always be part of my life, not only here but hereafter too.

I Don’t Believe Anymore?

Sunday Morning Musings:  Someone asked me if I would be remaining with The United Church of Canada now that I am retiring.  At first the question seemed strange but as I pursued it with the person asking, I realized that the question came from a place of concern about whether or not my “theology” would allow me to remain within the confines of a religious denomination.

My answer seemed straight forward – yes.  On the other hand, I was intrigued by a comment I also read wherein the author had said: “I don’t believe anymore.”  At first, I had no problem agreeing with the comment as I don’t believe anymore either.  But as always there is more to what one sees and says.

What I believe now is not the same as I believed 40 years ago or 6o years ago.  If it is the same, then I am in trouble.  Belief cannot become or remain stagnant.  I do not have the same belief and understanding of “God” as I did as a 10 year old.  For the most part I believed what I was told.  In terms of faith development that could be called being in the “affilliative” stage.  Such a stage is liked by the church hierarchy because it keeps “believers” in control.  Sadly, there still are church leaders today that want their followers to “trust” them.  (I have a lot of problems with the minister who tells his followers that God told him to buy a 50 million dollar jet – more with those who “blindly” listen to their minister than the minister themselves).

I strongly believe that we must move past this type of belief.  Of course, to move on and start to question and think for ourselves does not always feel safe and comfortable.  In the non-religious realm the next stage feels dangerous.  Some have referred to the next stage as one of myth-busting. Immediately, I am at odds with those who cannot understand that myths are also part of the very Bible we read.  A few years ago my grandson asked if I thought that one could really lose all his powers if his hair was shaved off like happened to Samson in Judges 16.  What is the truth not is it true or not?

If we fail to think for ourselves, if we fail to question (yes, even the Bible) then we do a great injustice to our beliefs and to our faith.  Too often we have been led around by those who have claimed they are the ones to be followed.  It has happened again and again and sadly is still happening today. Even Jesus was put to death for questioning the religious leadership of his day.

I don’t believe anymore those things that keep me from “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God” (to quote Micah 6:8).  We don’t have to agree on the meaning of even these things but we must keep doing that which gives life and love.  It is important that we all have teachers, but not teachers that expect us to follow them, rather ones who support us to ask the questions and explore the various answers.  A Chinese proverb I read on FB this week said:  “Your teacher can open the door, but you must enter by yourself”.   As scary as that may sound it is true, but remember, as you enter this new world, you will never be alone.

That is something that I do believe.