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Christianity: How To Practice


fatherman
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A couple years ago, I read the Dalai Lama's book How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life. I was fascinated by the notion that a religion could be as much or more about practice than belief. I was led to ask the question, "How do I practice Christianity?". I was disappointed to discover that my list of practices was significantly shorter and less frequently practiced than that of the Dalai Lama (imagine that! . ;) ). I've spent my time since exploring traditional and non-traditional ways of practicing Christianity.

 

How do we, as progressive Christians, practice Christianity?

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How do we, as progressive Christians, practice Christianity?

 

 

Hmmm. :huh: I'll have to think about that for a while.

 

I've bopped around so many different thought systems over the past few years that I'm just now coming back to feeling comfortable identifying as Christian.

 

I've been away from the Bible and Christianity for so long that I need to reconnect with Jesus and with scripture. All the views about the Bible, Jesus and Christianity that I had in the past certainly don't apply now. So right now I'd say my main practice as a Christian is studying, reading and learning about progressive thought.

 

I don't believe in divine intervention in human affairs, so I'm relearning how to pray and what it means to pray. I'm learning about contemplation as "prayer" instead of active prayer. But I'd say that "prayer" is a part of my practice.

 

I don't currently attend a church. I don't preach. I'm not involved in any ministries.

 

My faith and practice is a work in progress, so I'll let you know as things go along.

 

Aletheia ;)

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Prayer is one of the most fundamental Christian practices. I think that is why every one of us here has probably spent considerable time trying to come to terms with it. My views on prayer have shifted several times. Looking back, I believe each approach has been valid and worthwhile.

 

I've had a dilemma with prayer that is similar to yours, Aletheia, but I get to it differently. I believe in divine intervention/participation, but I don't believe I yet have the wisdom to know what intervention to pray for. I'm probably in the minority here, but I believe that when we tune ourselves to God we add momentum or a spin to God's will. Working with God, our prayer can cause change in the world. When we choose to do this, though, we are also choosing to take some responsibility in the outcome. But if we have not yet tuned ourselves fully to the Wisdom of God, the outcome can become disastrous. So....that leaves me where you are. If prayer isn't asking for what we want, what then is it?

 

My personal approach to prayer these days is to become calm through meditation, hold the person in my mind, kindle love in my heart for them, surround them in love or light, ask that their highest need be met, then let them go. Interestingly enough, it actually seems to work (theorize all you will about how).

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If prayer isn't asking for what we want, what then is it?

 

 

Exactly.

 

I believe that the universe/reality is constantly in a state of "becoming" and that all conscious beings (and maybe even unconscious ones?) participate with the Divine in co-creating reality.

 

I think, like you do that I need to "realize" how to better participate in this co-creation. (Boy, this isn't making sense.) I don't believe that we can "push" God's energy into creating anything bad. I do feel though, that our tuning in to God and surrendering to the experience is part of our learning process.

 

One of my meditative practices is to breath white light into a bubble around myself, filling it with love, compassion, acceptance. Often times I'll "send" this energy outward.

 

At other times, I'll sit quietly and try to "hear/feel" the heartbeat of the universe/god. For me, this is the most fulfilling.

 

And at other times I find myself just saying "Hey God/des, it's Aletheia. Just want to say hi. It's been a _____ day."

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I found a post over at beliefnet that eloquently sums up my current view on divine intervention and such. It goes well with what I posted above. Hopefully the person won't mind my quoting them here. I put in the italics.

 

The idea is that God is active in and constitutive of everything.

 

Therefore, to say that God "intervenes" in the world is to assume that there is some realm in which God is not actively present to begin with.

 

According to this line of thought, then, God's power is generally more persuasive than coercive; more guiding than forceful.

 

Therefore, some beings are more responsive to God's activity in their lives than others - sometimes by choice and sometimes by accident. Some are not responsive to God because they simply haven't experienced the development of discernment.

 

Aletheia

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Another core Christian practice is Worship. There's another challenging one. One of the things that we all have in common here is that we are willing to evaluate the bedrock of the Christian faith, so the basics like worship, prayer, and scripture get a good looking over from time to time (or even constantly).

 

Do we worship God, Jesus, anything, anybody? Is worship even appropriate? Sure, their's "worship services", but are they really supposed to be for worshipping?

 

My thoughts:

 

God does not need worship. God does not need. We need. We need to behold something (anything!) with Awe and Wonder and be filled with Gratitude for it. It nourishes the soul. How do we do that in a typical Sunday morning service? If we're lucky, we have leadership that is skilled at guiding the congregation into an environment that is at least conducive to it. Ultimately, though, it is up to the worshipper. It doesn't work very well if we spend the whole week with no sense of awe, wonder, or gratitude.

 

The worship service can be a culminative (new word?), corporate expression of worship for the preceding week's living as well as a tone-setter for the week of living to come. This is something that Evangelical Christians do very well. We (progressives) are often hindered by our own inner philosophical/theological/christological/cosmological debates to the point that we just don't know what to do.

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I'd also add that another progressive Christian "practice" is engaging in intentional acts of humble service to the needy in the world.

 

This is based upon scripture of course; e.g. Jesus' commandment shared at the last supper for His disciples to follow Jesus' example of humble service (foot-washing) as well as much of the letter of James: e.g. "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (1:26; see also chapter 2).

 

So this means we should engage in acts of mercy and charity and to avoid getting caught up in the ways of the world. Furthermore, IMHO, we progressives (in the spirit of Jesus) radicalize this call even more by not merely being content to perform acts of mercy/charity as "after the fact, Band-aid" manner, but rather, we also seek to do what we can to prevent so much harm from taking place to fellow humans in the first place; i.e. we seek to systemically reform the socio-poltical realm to prevent homelessness, poverty, disease, pollution, etc. So, mercy and advocacy go hand in hand.

 

Moreover, evangelism should be seen as a progressive Xtian practice - i.e. sharing the Good News of the Gospel that there are no earthly powers or principalities than can triumph over God's rule and that following God's ways as manifested in Jesus is what provides the real "good life" - abundant and eternal!

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And, I should also mention that, though we progressives tend to not read the Bible in a literal manner, many of us do take very seriously Jesus' words in Matthew 25:31-46 (the sheep and the goats)

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Hi Fatherman et al,

 

I'm new to the board, and thought I'd weigh in on the issue of how we, as Progressive Christians, can practise our Christianity. I think the answer to this question is central to our ability to feel at one with ourselves, each other, and the wider universe.

 

I've given a lot of thought to the question of how to live each day from the heart (a.k.a. the soul). In fact, answering this question is pretty much my full time work. I've been struggling to boil down everything I've learned to a few, short sentences. I hope these thoughts help you.

 

Perhaps the most important thing I've learned is that everybody's soul is hardwired into their central nervous system, and in particular their brain. If all goes well as you're growing up, your brain and your soul are more or less indistinguishable from each other. A truly healthy brain thinks, speaks, and acts from a place of profound integrity, faith, courage, commitment, and, of course, love. But a brain that's been damaged through illness, trauma, emotional abuse, or toxins doesn't always operate "in synch" with the needs of the soul. In the worst case scenario, a person's brain is so badly scarred that all connection with the soul is (temporarily) lost, and a person begins to behave in dangerous, aggressive, even psychopathic ways. This is the kind of person we tend to label as "evil", but if you were to look at the brains of these individuals using up-to-date scientific imaging techniques like SPECT and fMRI, you'd see dysfunctional brains. You'd see brains that have gradually lost the capacity to think, speak, and act with integrity and love. The key to healing for these individuals -- and, indeed, for society as a whole -- is to tackle brain health. Once a person's brain is restored to a state of optimum health (that's the long part of the story) he or she no longer has to try to connect with his/her own soul or with the God Team. It sort of happens whether you're trying or not. (Many young children display this tendency in a guileless way that can inspire us as adults.) As you slowly rebalance your brain, incredibly healing emotions like forgiveness, non judgment, and courage start to bubble up from somewhere deep inside you. Eventually, you wake up one day to realize you're living in a state of grace. It becomes a natural part of your life. It becomes as normal as breathing.

 

It's pretty awesome.

 

So here's how I live my day. I pay a lot of attention to the choices I'm making inside my own mind. I keep a sharp lookout for any choices that don't match the model of soul-based living. When I catch myself making a choice that's not the most loving I'm capable of, I forgive myself (because I know I'm human and make mistakes), I correct the mistake if it's caused harm to anybody else (human or otherwise), and I eagerly look forward to doing my best the next time. I spend a lot of time focussing on my relationships, because I know that strong relationships are "soul food." First, last, and always, we're challenged as souls-in-human-form to create the most mature, respectful relationships we're capable of. I stopped praying years ago for anything other than help in improving my relationships -- my relationship with myself, with my fellow incarnate souls, and with the God Team.

 

One place where I feel traditional religion has really missed the boat is the issue of helping people understand the heart, mind, and dare I say the soul of the God Team. (You've probably noticed I keep calling it a Team. Once you start to tap into your own soul, you can't help noticing the universe is made up of countless beautiful souls all of whom are different from each other -- as different as snowflakes -- and all of whom are totally equal to each other in their worthiness to be loved and cherished. So God isn't a big Him or a big One. God is . . . well . . . a them. A great, big, happy family which you belong to as an angel who's worthy of all the love the universe has to offer -- which is a lot!)

 

Members of the God Team -- in other words, angels who lack a physical form in the Newtonian universe -- have feelings and personalities, just like you. Traditional religion has taught people to pray to God in a way that's not very respectful of the sensitive feelings all angels have. The last thing any angel wants is for you to get down on your knees and beg for mercy and forgiveness. It tears the heart out of an angel to hear an old friend (you) debase yourself. To tell you the truth (and I learned this the h-a-r-d way) angels toss all such "prayers" into the big galactic recycling bin in the sky. They respect themselves and you too much to listen when you ask for all the wrong things.

 

Very few prayers get answered because very few people are brave enough to look God right in the eye as an equal (which you absolutely are) and say, "God, I'm having some trouble getting in touch with my true soul ability to forgive, to feel gratitude, to make a difference in the world with my own unique talents. It's stressing me out, and messing with my brain's neurotransmitters. Can you guide me to the information I need so I remember how to make the awesome choices I'm capable of? Can you please me help me remember the first thing I ever learned as an angel -- how to treat all creation as my equal, no better and no less than me? I need to ditch the chip on my shoulder. I need to understand myself better. Point me in the right direction, and I'll do the rest. I know I can do it. I believe in myself."

 

When you ask these questions, you'd be amazed at how quickly your prayers will be answered.

 

The other thing I can't emphasize enough is that you have to be patient with yourself. Don't expect everything to happen overnight, and don't -- please don't -- judge yourself when you slip up. God doesn't. You're gonna make lots more mistakes before you die and return to your eternal and very perfect angelic state (quantum physics, anyone?) Learning to recognize your mistakes is a big part of the journey.

 

This message is lovingly co-sponsored by Jesus, who has a real sense of humour, and has taught this channel how to communicate clearly, simply, and effectively what he learned as a physician, feminist, musician, and channeller 2,000 years ago.

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I like the idea of mindfullness and self-examination as a practice (very Buddhist, but very Christian as well).

 

Yes, as someone who still does regular zen practice, I have to agree that mindfulness practices appear to me to be very helpful in terms of creating a place within where the voice of God can be heard above the usual noise and chatter.

 

Since coming to know Christ, my way of practice has not changed very much. I still sit quietly in meditation, I still bring myself to mindfulness throughout the day. But I do remind myself, from time to time, that I am in the presence of Christ, and in the presence of God, and I do understand now that in those most mindful of moments it is God's presence that I am feeling.

 

I'm strongly convinced that the buddhist path of selflessness/ego-loss is no different in practice from the Christian path of reconciliation. In order to fully reconcile oneself to God, it is essential that we completely surrender our will and give ourselves up to the will of God. But, we cannot do this as long as we cling to preconceived notions about what it is God wants from us. Only through opening up completely in mindfulness to what is all around us can we see and hear God in everyday things, everyday life.

 

My take on it, anyway.

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Hi Fatherman,

 

Thanks for the tip about the Christian Mystics site. I'll check it out. You've asked whether I consider myself a mystic. Well, sort of yes and sort of no. Very long story. I've given up trying to label what I do. Most of the time, I tell people I'm a writer. It's a lot easier that way.

 

Happy New Year!

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I agree, Lolly. I equate the losing of self/ego to the Christian notion of dying and being born again. Surrender is especially hard when you've been taught to raise the intellect higher than any other human attribute. Intellect is a great gift from God, but it can also be likened to the Tree of Knowledge. It is what creates the illusion of separation. At least for a little time every day, I try to surrender the ego and the intellect if only to remind myself that I'm not just a walking brain.

 

Luke 17:33 - Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it
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A while back I started writing my own story. I did so hoping that first of all I would eventually finish it and it wouldn't be like all the other writings that I've started and dropped. I thought that maybe it would help those who identify as "postmoderns" who are struggling with what it might be to be "Christian" as well. If you don't mind me taking up so much of cyberspace in one fell swoop, I thought I'd post a bit of it here to give a sense of the direction that I am going on my own spiritual path.

 

Everybody has a story to tell.  Some are wild and spectacular.  Others not so much.  As I present mine I recognize the extent to which my own story has vacillated between the extremes of exciting and downright boring.  But it is still my story nonetheless, and I believe that everybody’s story is worth telling.  For to tell one’s story is to wax poetically in the native tongue of God: the language of life.  To tell one’s story is enter into a deeper state of vulnerability to both God and ourselves.  To tell one’s story is part of what it is to pray. 

 

I don’t understand prayer the way that I used to.  When I was quite young, I learned that praying meant talking to God.  To be honest, I don’t recall at what age I learned that lesson, I just know that learn it I did.  And so I spoke aloud, praying to the Spirit that I had encountered, who came to be known to me as “God,” asking for help when I needed it.  Sometimes, though, I also felt like I could have a conversation with this Spirit who seemed so near.  I felt like I could tell God about my troubles and concerns as well as my joys. 

 

Later in life, I encountered contemplative prayer.  Although I had done meditation before, now I had come to see this as a valid form of Christian prayer.  It was at that time that I learned to pray without words.  I leaned that part of prayer was to sit and simply rest while knowing that God was near.  I have seen others metaphorically describe the move to contemplative prayer as like moving from “loving” someone to “being in love” with someone.  Loving someone is the emotional state where two people who love each other do things together, talk with each other, and actively seek to participate in each other’s life.  Being in love includes that, but is also comfortable with just being in the presence of the other without interaction, which means being comfortable with silence  The experience of contemplative prayer was a breakthrough for me.

 

And yet later, I read a book by Jacob Needleman entitled Lost Christianity.  In it, he talked about prayer as the state of being “vulnerable.”  Prayer, for him, is “attention.”  And so he quotes Father Sylvan who writes:

The attention of the heart, this quietness within movement is actually another, intimate movement that spontaneously arises in the moment between life and death, when the ego is wounded and God is still distant; this attention is prayer in the sense of the Psalmist who asks, and asks and asks; it is that which watches and waits in the night. (Needleman, Lost Christianity, 165, author's emphasis)

Once again my understanding of prayer had been transformed. No longer did prayer include only conversation and silence, but it had now become part of the fabric of life itself. The way that I now understand this is to say that “to pray” is to be attentive, seeking, listening…in other words, to be authentic. To live life authentically—to seek to know God, one’s self, and the world in which one lives, and then tying it all together—was to become a living prayer.

 

And so now I try to live my life as a prayer unto God. My conversations with God continue, but now they also include seeking to converse with the Spirit of God as encountered through my neighbor. Times of silence and solitude still happen, but they also include those times of “inner quiet” when I listen to hear God speak through the lives of those around me. Paul calls us to “pray without ceasing.” That is what I’m trying to do with my life.

Edited by XianAnarchist
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At last, IMHO, a truly worthwhile discussion.

 

To paraphrase, "Practice will get you through times of no belief better than belief will get you through times of no practice."

 

I have long harbored the suspicion that articulating one's beliefs is, in reality, just laying the groundwork for a disagreement.

 

Those who teach reconciliation, teach communication of experience, not belief.

 

To communicate practice is to communicate experience.

 

For me, to live a spiritual practice is to increasingly become aware of the sacred presence in everything around me... and in me. The White-Shirt Warrior said "Walk in a Sacred Manner; Treat everything as Holy." I experience the Jesus Christ of scripture as living that way. I try to live that way.

 

To the extent that I experience things as bad, evil, mean, etc., I dwell in unholyness or hell.

 

amarado

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I'm glad you liked it and you are very welcome.

 

I did a google search on my nickname to see what would surface and found a pretty cool websight with a very awesome poem.

 

I'd post the entire thing here, but don't want to infringe on the author's copyright. Here is the first and second stanzas:

 

The Greek saw my reason, the Jew heard my law;

Saint Paul sought salvation, Mohammed felt awe;

The Buddha sensed void, and the Hindu grasped all,

From sunrise till nightfall they followed my call.

 

I am the I AM, the beginning and end,

Whom all creatures know, yet none comprehend.

Eternal foundation, both thinker and thought,

Galactic electron, the whole and the nought.

 

The rest can be found here: http://thefourprecepts.com/propublish/art.php?artid=31

 

Aletheia

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